February 2007 Issue
Cooking classes encourage parents and kids to have fun while expanding their culinary horizons.
On a Thursday evening in December, it was hard to determine if the excitement at the Dorothy Lane Market's School of Cooking in Dayton was due to the upcoming holidays, or simply the result of putting a group of kids in the kitchen. Either way, the Let's Decorate a Gingerbread House class precipitated a buzz of activity while kids and parents worked together to decorate 24 awesome cookie structures.
While the results were phenomenal, the real fun was in the doing. That's why markets and cooking schools around the state are incorporating kids and families into their class lineups. And the participants are increasingly more sophisticated about food preparation. "There are lots of kids today who watch the Food Network, and they are pretty savvy about things," says Zebbie Borland, instructor at Dorothy Lane. "Some will even ask for a mortar and pestle for Christmas."
On this particular evening, about half of the participants were first-timers. The other half could already be classified as cooking-class veterans. Seven-year-old Abby Bishop was there for the fourth time. Her mother, Molly, and 3-1/2-year-old sister, Caroline, shared in the fun. "We each get a side and a front [of the house] to decorate," says Abby with authority. "And I man the icing!" says Molly. A short while later they'd completed their roof. Caroline was busy making a Necco Wafer pathway in the yard while Abby constructed a mailbox with Tootsie Rolls. "If we could get more candy after this, would that be okay?" says Caroline, as she popped yet another bright-red gumdrop into her mouth. It was definitely okay. Borland started the class with instructions and the go-ahead to eat some of the candy. "We all do it," she says.
It might seem logical that a roomful of kids and several bowls of candy would create an uncontrollable sugar high, but that was not the case. Instead, kids lined up for more pretzels, candy canes, marshmallows and Mike & Ikes in an orderly fashion, each one on a mission.
Not far away, Zach Kurdin, 12, his sister, Abby, 9, and mother, Jan, were busy decorating two gingerbread houses. "I love to cook," says Zach. "I am able to use all my creativity." Both Zach and Abby cook at home, watch cooking shows on television and frequently enroll in classes at Dorothy Lane.
In a typical kids or family cooking class, Borland talks about everything from washing fruits and vegetables to kitchen safety, such as knife skills, how to keep pots and pans from hanging over the edge of the stove and keeping hair tied back. She also tries to ask plenty of questions so that she's not lecturing the entire time. "[The kids] come up with funny answers sometimes," she says. "They end up teaching me different things." Borland is also a library fanatic and spends hours researching recipes and class ideas. She brings reference books to class.
"I want them to learn that the library can be good for fun things, too -- not just for school work," she says. On this particular evening, kids and parents pored through three-ring binders filled with ideas for decorating gingerbread houses.
The folks in Dayton aren't the only ones getting in on the family cooking action. At The Hills Market in Columbus, kids and their parents enjoy a host of cooking classes. For instance, a Valentine's Day class gives kids a chance to decorate cupcakes and cookies and dip strawberries in chocolate. When Mother's Day arrives, kids and their fathers decorate heart-shaped cakes for Mom. They also make a small floral arrangement to accompany the treat. During the June Tea Party, family members make Dirt Cake in Flower Pots, a recipe that includes Cool Whip, Oreo cookies and gummy worms. And always a family favorite, the Pizza Class means that families can create the pizza of their choice, cook it -- and eat it.
"If a child grows up with a parent who cooks, it helps a lot because they get interested," says Mary Jo Spaulding, cooking class instructor. "I try to make a variety of things so they can try them." Her favorite reason for including kids in the kitchen is to get them active. "Have your kids help in the kitchen," she says. "It's great exposure, and you are doing something rather than sitting in front of the television."
Whole Foods Market in Columbus is also jumping on the family-cooking-class bandwagon. In February, the store will host a Kids' Valentine's Day Class, and parents are welcome to get involved. They'll make heart-shaped pizzas, cookie lollipops and sweetheart cakes. Similar classes are held about once a month. On the first Tuesday of each month, kids are invited to participate in Half Pint Tuesdays. Beginning at 2 p.m. (preschoolers) and 4 p.m. (school-age kids), the class integrates a craft and a food snack.
The store's marketing director, Michele Mooney, knows that kids are getting more involved in the kitchen. "The Food Network has clearly opened the door," she says. "And just as many boys as girls are interested, which is really nice to see." Perhaps the Food Network has made us all a little more sophisticated about what's happening in the kitchen. Best of all, that sophistication, knowledge and general enthusiasm is spilling over to the younger generations.
Helping at Home
Zebbie Borland does much more than teach kids and family cooking classes at Dorothy Lane. She is also the mother of six boys and one girl, and spending time in the kitchen is a favorite pastime in the Borland house. Here are her tips for getting kids involved:
- Include kids in the menu planning. Take them to the grocery store and talk about the various foods and where they come from. It's not necessary to overwhelm them with facts, but a little bit of information about where and how food is grown and why various foods are good for you is not a bad idea.
- Teach proper nutrition when kids are young. When they are exposed to different foods early in life, youngsters are more likely to eat a variety of foods. While it may not be necessary to eat an entire serving, it won't hurt to at least taste it.
- Make sure recipes are age-appropriate. For instance, a 7-year-old could help make a salad or dessert. More challenging recipes could be partially made so the child only has to complete it. That means pizza dough could be rising, and the child simply has to roll it out.
- Keep it simple. Pick and choose the right days to involve kids - days when they don't have other activities.
- Lay out all the ingredients and utensils ahead of time. Kids get frustrated if the process is stopped because you ran out of baking soda.
- Talk about where food items come from, such as the fact that cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree.
- Relate cooking to learning. Talk about leavening agents, and you've incorporated a science lesson into the process. Likewise, measuring is all about math, and foods from around the world quickly become a social studies lesson. At Dorothy Lane, Borland takes kids on a trip across the states with such favorites as blueberry pancakes from the Northeast and tacos from the Southwest. At the same time, you might talk with your child about cooking careers beyond being a restaurant chef, such as food stylist or nutritionist.
- Remember, in the scheme of life, it's just cooking. If you make a mistake, kids are very forgiving.
GOOFY GREEN SMOOTHIE
Courtesy the Hills Market (Makes 2 servings)
1/2 cup grapes
1/2 cup pineapple (cut up)
1 6-ounce container vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup apple (cored and diced)
1/2 cup spinach
Put ingredients in a blender, and process until smooth. If they don't see you add it, kids will never know there's spinach in it.
ITALIAN DELI ROLL-UP
Courtesy Dorothy Lane Market School of Cooking
(Make 4 to 6 servings)
This meat-and-cheese-filled dish is great for a picnic.
2 to 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package rapid-rise dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
23 cup very warm water (120 to 130 degrees)
1 tablespoon Vera Jane's or other extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cornmeal
18 pound sliced salami, coarsely chopped
1/4 pound sliced provolone cheese, coarsely chopped
18 pound sliced pepperoni, coarsely chopped
7-ounce jar roasted sweet red peppers, drained and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons Vera Jane's or other extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour, yeast and salt. In another bowl, combine the water, oil and honey. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry mixture until a soft dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough, adding some of the remaining 1/2 cup flour if necessary, until the dough is very elastic (about 10 to 15 minutes).
Lightly oil a large mixing bowl. Place the dough in the oiled bowl, turning dough over, bringing the oiled side up. Cover with a clean cloth and let the dough rise in a warm place, away from drafts, until almost doubled in size (about 30 to 45 minutes).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornmeal. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to an 18 x 12-inch rectangle.
Top the dough with chopped salami, provolone, pepperoni and red peppers, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Starting at a short edge, roll up the dough, jelly-roll fashion. Secure the ends and the remaining short edge by pinching the dough together between your fingers. Place the roll, seam-side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with oregano.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for five minutes. Wrap the uncut roll in heavy-duty aluminum foil and pack along with a cutting board and serrated knife in your picnic basket. Serve hot or at room temperature and slice just before serving.
Garnish with fresh oregano leaves if desired.