“People think it’s easy,” said Brooke Atkins, regarding food preparation. To which she added, “Keyword: think,” as she went back to capping and cutting strawberries for a fresh fruit salad during last week’s “Chef and Child” event at Surry County Extension in Dobson.
By day three of the three-day event, Chef Rob Creel was ready to let the kids tackle a full luncheon of homemade lasagna with a tossed salad and garlic bread, followed by fresh fruit salad and a replay of a crowd favorite from earlier in the week, ice cream muffins.
Creel, who has been a culinary professional for 22-plus years, has teamed up with Carmen Long, Surry County Extension Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, for Chef and Child for the past 15 years. The program is sponsored by the American Culinary Federation with food and ingredients donated by Lowes Foods.
Long says, “The children spend three days learning about nutrition and sanitation, preparing easy, nutritious meals they can help with.”
Chef Creel adds, “Kids get excited about food and have fun.”
The children learned that their recipes are a foundation but improvisation is acceptable and encouraged. When making a tossed salad to go with their lasagna, they decided to add some roast corn that was left over from the previous day’s lesson. Shaving the roasted kernels from the cob was considered a plum assignment as was any job requiring a knife. The kids liked “cutting.” There was disappointment when Chef Rob explained that some people prefer tearing lettuce. The children preferred cutting lettuce.
Long noted that sometimes peer pressure worked in a positive way when some of the kids would decide to try something new and thus encourage others to try it as well. She noted that a few kids who had previously disliked stir-fry decided to give it a go on the previous day when they saw how it was prepared and had assisted in that preparation. When that experience went well, the kids were less hesitant to try the next new thing.
By the third day, when Long suggested they add baby spinach leaves to one of the pans of lasagna, almost every child tried at least a bit of the resulting lasagna, though some of them had not been terribly keen on the idea of putting spinach in the lasagna in the first place.
The kids learned about the use of a meat thermometer to tell when meat is done, as color is not a reliable indicator. They learned the “two-hour rule” — food shouldn’t be left out at room temperature for more than two hours and that vegetables need to be washed as they are grown in dirt and are therefore dirty.
As Chef Rob conducted his lasagna demonstration and the children assembled two pans of it, a discussion broke out regarding Garfield the cat and how he might react to so much lasagna. Cassidy Mills concluded, “If he were here, he’d shove it all in his mouth by the time it came out of the oven.” Several of the children felt that was an appropriate response.
The kids also learned that not only should they wipe the tops of cans before opening them, they should not lick them after they were opened, as was suggested by one child overly jazed by the idea of lasagna. “No. they are like razors,” Chef Rob warned. No lids were licked. Volunteer Juanita Gillespie quickly disposed of the offending lids before anyone was overcome with temptation.
The children divided into groups for salad prep, fruit salad prep, and by popular request, another batch of ice cream muffins, which are exactly what they sound like, muffins made from ice cream. The groups switched stations partway through to get maximum cutting experience with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Mallory Estrada exclaimed incredulously, “I’m getting better and better.”
When Chef Rob asked the kids the purpose of the salad spinner, “Why are you doing that, other than that it’s fun?” they learned dry lettuce leaves are more attractive in a salad and don’t water down the dressing.
When the lasagna was finally out of the oven and the other dishes were complete, there was still a lesson to learn. They set the table by NFL rules — Napkin and Fork on the Left. Glass above, leaving spoon and knife for the right. Carmen Long explained to the kids this was a good lesson to learn, as it could prevent you from drinking out of someone elses cup.
And then it was time for the kids to tuck into the lasagna they had made themselves. They did their best Garfield impersonation and attacked it with gusto, though some showed a little less gusto for the spinach lasagna. But to their credit, most of them gave it a try. At least a little bit.
Easy Cheese Lasagna
Yield: 12 servings
1 can (15 ozs.) tomato sauce (no added salt)
1 jar (14 ozs.) spaghetti sauce
1 container (16 ozs.) 1% low-fat cottage cheese
1 package (8 ozs.) shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Butter or cooking spray for baking pan
9 lasagna noodles, uncooked
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl combine tomato and spaghetti sauces; set aside. In another small bowl combine cottage and Parmesan cheeses. Spray a 9”x13” baking pan, line bottom with 3 uncooked lasagna noodles. Cover with 1/3 of the sauce, 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Repeat layering 2 more times with noodles, sauce and cheeses. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 1 hour.
NOTE: After removing from oven, lasagna must stand for 15 minutes before serving to allow noodles to absorb moisture and soften.
Tossed Green Salad
Yields: Approximately 20 servings
1 medium head romaine lettuce
1 bag spinach leaves
4 stalks celery
1 green pepper
1 lb. carrots
Wash and dry all ingredients. Into a large salad bowl, tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Slice cucumbers, celery, radishes and carrots. Add these to salad bowl. Toss vegetables together with a big salad spoon and fork. Pour Dressing over salad and toss again until dressing coats all the pieces of vegetables. Cut green pepper into rings to garnish the salad. Serve immediately.
Oil and Vinegar Dressing
3 tbsp. lemon juice (or balsamic vinegar)
1/4 cup olive oil (or canola oil)
1/2 tbsp. dried oregano or 1 tbsp. finely minced fresh oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until mixed.
Yields: 16 servings
1 packet Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing Mix
1 cup light mayonnaise
1 cup fat-free buttermilk
Mix ingredients in a small bowl with a wire whisk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. This dressing will keep for up to 3 days.
Yields: 4 servings
4 ears of corn
To oven roast:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Trim top of each ear of corn slightly if needed with scissors or a sharp knife. Place corn in husks directly on oven rack. Roast 35-40 minutes. Peel the husks back – the silks will simply fall off.
Build a charcoal fire, using 40-50 briquettes or light your gas grill. Remove husks and silk from the corn. Wash well. Place each ear of corn on a square of aluminum foil. Wrap in aluminum foil, fold in the ends. Place wrapped ears of corn on the grill 4 to 6 inches from the hot coals. Grill 20 minutes (checking after 15 minutes) or until tender. Turn several times while grilling.
French Bread with Garlic
Yield: Approximately 10 servings
1 loaf whole grain French bread
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. garlic powder
Preheat oven to 450°F. Slice French bread into serving pieces. Spread butter over each slice and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle a small amount of garlic powder on each slice. Toast the bread for about 3 minutes or until lightly browned.
Fresh Fruit Platter with Dip
1/4 – 1/3 pounds of fruit per person
Slice fresh fruits that are in season (cantaloupe, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, apples, strawberries, bananas, etc.) and arrange on a platter. Serve with fruit dip.
Yield: 8-10 servings
8 oz. carton vanilla yogurt (or yogurt of your choice) .
Using a zester, zest an orange into the yogurt. Combine and serve with fruit.
Ice Cream Muffins
Yield: 6 muffins
1 cup favorite flavor Premium ice cream
1 cup sifted self-rising flour
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place ice cream in small deep mixing bowl and stir with wooden spoon until softened. (Ice cream does not need to be completely melted.) Add flour, stirring just until mixed. Spoon equal amounts into 6 buttered muffin cups. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Muffins freeze well for later use.
NOTE: This recipe works best with a premium Ice Cream that includes bits of chocolate. If the mix is too thick, you may add some milk. Recipe will make 12 miniature muffins if preferred. Shorten baking time to 12-15 minutes. Do NOT over mix.)
Light Iced Tea
Yield: 12 servings
6 to 8 individual tea bags
2 quarts water
1 cup sugar
2 quarts ice
thin slices of lemon, lime, orange or fresh mint
Bring a quart of water to a boil. Remove from heat. Put tea bags in pan, cover and allow to sit for about 3 minutes. Remove tea bags. Add sugar and lemon juice and stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour into a large pitcher. Add ice, stirring until melted. Add 1 quart of cold water. Pour over ice to serve. Garnish with fruit.
Fruit Juice Mixture
46 ounce can of pineapple juice
46 ounce can of orange juice
Combine equal amounts of orange juice and pineapple juice. Chill and serve.
You can use any combination of fruit juices you have. You could even save the juice from canned fruits or fruit cocktail and use that for this quick drink.
Easy Economical but Good Punch
Yields: 25 servings
2 packages lemon-lime drink mix (or favorite flavor)
1/2 cup sugar
Two 48 oz. cans pineapple juice
2 quarts water
1 quart diet ginger ale
Stir first four ingredients together in a large pitcher. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Add 1 quart of ginger ale. when ready to serve.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.