"Kids in the Kitchen" is a new column geared to young chefs. Most children over 11 can prepare the short, easy-to-follow recipes without help, and younger children can do many of the steps with minimal assistance. Cues included with each recipe indicate where parents' help may be needed and age limits are offered as guides. (Paternal discretion should always be the final word.)
"Kids" was inspired by a cooking teacher and mother who recognizes that many of today's parents don't have the time to teach children the basic kitchen skills -- techniques that parents routinely handed down in the days when making dinner was a nightly tradition. She devised "Kids" after reading in a recent Gallup Poll-American Dietetics Association survey that 89 percent of children over 9 make many of their own meals, and that 49 percent do not have daily meals with their families.
Adults should not be put off by the kid factor here. This column is for any kitchen novice with enthusiasm and a willingness to learn about food.
In elegant French cooking, foods are sometimes wrapped in fancy white paper and baked so meat or fish, vegetables, potatoes and herbs steam in their own juices. The result is a delicious meal in a package that comes to the table all wrapped up. A waiter pulls the paper apart and, beneath a puff of steam lies a beautiful array of food. You can do the same thing by wrapping all the ingredients in aluminum foil and baking them. Then dazzle everyone at your table by presenting them with their own packet and explain that they are dining on your own version of a French recipe called poulet en papillotes (pool-AYE on Pap-ee-YOTE), or chicken wrapped in paper. They'll be quite impressed!
The nice thing about this kind of cooking is that everything is ready at the same time and there are no pots and pans to wash later. The packets can be assembled several hours ahead. Kids 11 and over can prepare this entirely without help. Younger chefs may need some assistance in slicing the potatoes and carrots. Most can put these packets in the oven to bake and
adults can take them out when they get home. Children who are not allowed to use the oven can prepare the packages, refrigerate them until dinner time, and heat the oven before parents arrive home.
A word of caution for all chefs. Although aluminum foil cools very quickly once it comes out of the oven, the contents of the packets will be steamy hot. Wait 5 minutes before opening, then do so carefully, using a pot holder to tug at the edges of the foil.
Preparation time: 20 minutes.
Cooking time: 50 minutes.
Do ahead: Packets may be assembled and refrigerated up to 4 hours ahead.
You'll need: Sharp knife, cutting board, vegetable peeler, garlic crusher, four 12-by-12 inch sheets of aluminum foil, small mixing bowl, set of measuring cups, set of measuring spoons, cookie sheet.
Chicken vegetable packets
4 boneless chicken thighs or 2 whole boneless breasts
2 large potatoes
1 medium onion
2 large or 3 medium carrots
24 whole green beans, fresh or frozen (and thawed)
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat oven to 375 degrees. If using chicken breasts, cut them in half. Peel the potatoes and the carrots and cut them into slices that are about 1/4 -inch thick. Peel the onion and cut it the same way. Wash the beans and dry them with a paper towel. Spread out the four sheets of foil and set 3-4 pieces of potato on each. Top with a slice of onion. Place 1 piece of chicken on each packet. Top with more onion, then carrots, beans and potatoes. Divide up any remaining vegetables and add to the packages.
Measure the orange juice into the small mixing bowl. Peel garlic and crush. Scrape into bowl. Add butter, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and mix. Cup the edges of the foil so they are no longer flat so the liquid doesn't run out. Spoon equal amounts of the orange juice mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Pull the eges of the foil up until they meet over the package contents. Crimp the edges so that steam will not escape while cooking. Set packets on cookie sheet and bake 50 minutes. Remove and let stand 5 minutes before serving. Use pot holders to move packets to plates. Open carefully and serve.
Tips: To melt butter, set in microwave-proof glass or ceramic dish, cover with paper towel and heat on highest power for 45 seconds. As a step saver, use the same bowl to mix sauce ingredients. (Make sure to use a microwave-proof bowl that's large enough to hold 1 cup of liquid.)
1. If it can become complicated, it will.
Keep it simple. Do one recipe at a time.
2. Anything that can become a mess, will.
Select recipes with not too many ingredients, pots or pans. Clutter leads to confusion and confusion leads to chaos in the kitchen.
3. Anything that can burn, will.
Kids can be easily distracted. Recipes that take too long to prepare will be half-done or over-done.
4. When it doubt, shout!
A child should always check with an adult before cooking and call immediately if something goes wrong. (Parents' work numbers should be posted in the kitchen.)
1992 by Beth Hillson