Archive for cooking

Cooking School for Kids: Chicken Paillard

Today’s menu: chicken sandwich wraps
Shopping list:
Chicken breasts
Panko bread crumbs
Egg whites
Salt, Pepper
cooking oil
lettuce/tomato/wrap filling other than your protein

Skill: paillard, touch testing meat for doneness, breading, panko crumbs

Kids seem to love chicken, so it would seem to be the obvious protein to teach. On the other hand, it can be frustrating as a teaching tool. The shape of a breast is incredibly uneven, sizing is unreliable. As a bonus, it’s the only food I can think of that, when cooked improperly, can be simultaneously raw AND overcooked. And what about cook time? A small breast can be done in 6 minutes, but a large one can take 6 minutes to a side.

So, let’s get to today’s lesson.

1) Uneven shape. The thickest part of a chicken breast can be as much as four times thicker than the thinnest portion. As a result, by the time the thickest part is safe to eat, the slender end may be approaching shoe leather. The fix: even out the thickness of the breast.

You will need:
a chicken breast
plastic cling wrap
something to pound with (I prefer a rolling pin, but you can use a small, heavy frying pan or an unopened can)


Cut two pieces of plastic wrap, about 12″ to a side each. Place the chicken breast between the two pieces and gently strike with the pounding tool. I like to start at the thinner end and use the tool to gently “spread” the meat out as I go. Continue until the breast is an even 1/4 inch thickness all over.

2) Get the coating to stick. There are all kinds of recipes out there to “coat” a protein. Before I found this method, the crumbs didn’t stick well, and those that did always fell off when being moved. This one works.

You will need:
3 shallow dishes (pie plates or cake tins are good for this), containing:
1) 1/2 C flour, mixed with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp garlic powder
2) 1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
3) 1 C panko breadcrumbs mixed with 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
4) A dish or tray to receive the chicken

Important: once your chicken is pounded flat, pat both sides dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Dredge the chicken first in the seasoned flour, then the egg wash, then in the panko. Press the crumbs into the chicken to help adhere, then rest in your tray for 5-10 minutes (it gives the flour and egg “glue” time set up).

Don’t have panko? Or just hate to pay supermarket prices for them? Here’s a secret: Japanese restaurants don’t buy panko, either. They make them fresh for use each morning.

Panko bread crumbs:
Slice the crusts off 4 slices good white bread. Tear into quarter-size pieces and run through a food processor. Toast about 10 minutes at 325F, stirring regularly, and watch so they don’t burn.


If you have more than 2 chickens, heat the oven to 200 degrees and use to keep finished product warm.

Heat 2 Tbs cooking oil in a 12″ skillet. When the oil is shimmering, lay 2 breaded chickens in the pan and cook, about 4 minutes to a side. Transfer to a baking sheet and pop in the oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining chicken.

Once your chicken is finished, you can cut it into strips and fill your wraps.

Posted by on April 7th, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: The Three Course Meal

Today’s menu:
Caprese salad, skillet pasta, lemon sorbet

Today’s concepts:
one-pot meal, menu planning, balancing your ingredients

When my son was little, the idea of making and serving a three course meal at home fascinated him. “Can we do that at home sometime?”

Sure we can, kiddo. Here goes:

Job 1: Skillet Pasta

I love this recipe because it’s so, so, so simple. Build a sauce by warming some minced garlic in olive oil, then adding a large can of crushed tomatoes and other seasonings. Here’s the brilliant part: instead of boiling the pasta separately, add 28 oz of water and bring to a simmer, then add the pasta directly to the pan. Simmer 15-20 minutes, stir in a handful of cheese, and you’re DONE. No extra pot of boiling water, no draining a giant pot of pasta. And as an added bonus, the pasta absorbs the flavors of your sauce as it simmers. A couple of cheats:

  • You can use a jar of sauce in place of crushed tomatoes.
  • You can drop in add-ins (pepperonis, meatballs, chunks of sausage) with the pasta, it will cook in the sauce
  • The original recipe tops the dish with shredded mozz and bakes 5-10 min to brown it. I skip this by simply topping with mozz and putting a lid on it, and letting it sit with the heat turned off for 5 minutes.

Job 2: While the skillet is going, Caprese salad gave us an opportunity to practice knife skills, and learn a new trick – how to chiffonade basil. (Roll it up lengthwise, cut in 1/4″ intervals. You’ll end up with a pile of beautiful little basil ribbons.) When I asked them to arrange alternating tomato and mozzarella slices on their plates, most of the class went for the haute cuisine look – stacked straight up. One student wisely took into account the But How Do You Eat It? and went for artful but easy.

While the pasta was simmering, we began discussions on how to pick dishes for a multi-course meal. Everyone was familiar with the idea of appetizer, main course, and dessert, but then I asked, based on what we’ve already cooked in this series of lessons, what they would select for each slot?

One student immediately selected his greatest hits – cheesy garlic bread and pasta. Ooh, and souffle. Okay, I said, but let’s look at what you’re really serving: starch and fat (garlic bread), starch and fat (pasta), some starch, a little more fat (souffle). Where’s the veg? And then there’s also the time consideration.

While cheese and starch are all well and good, it can be overwhelming for three courses. If you finished off the meal with tiramisu, your guests would go into a starch-induced coma in record time. That is, if they made it that far – heavy app, heavy main, heavy dessert. So, we looked at our lunch:

Appetizer: caprese salad. A few slices of cool cheese and ripe tomato, with a little basil to keep it fresh. Not too heavy, but gets your appetite going.
Main course: skillet pasta. Hearty, warm, filling.
Dessert: A scoop of lemon sorbet. Good as a palate cleanser after a heavy, rich dish, and light enough to finish off the meal. I also figure since they’re cooking two out of three courses, they can take a shortcut on the last. (They also took teeny basil leaves to garnish the sorbet.)

I sent everyone home with a shopping bag that contained a jar of sauce, a box of pasta, a few cloves of garlic, and a directive to cook for their families. Best homework ever.

Posted by on April 3rd, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: Tips for Roasting Vegetables

Roasting vegetables is pretty hands-off, for a hearty side dish. Thicker, heavier vegetables will take longer to roast than those with a lot of water in them – but you can roast them in stages, so everybody eventually comes out at the same time.

The procedure couldn’t be simpler.

  • Cut your vegetables into evenly-sized pieces
  • Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat
  • Lay out on a baking sheet.
  • Roast until done.

That’s it. Basically. (But I also like to give it a squeeze of lemon before serving.)

Things to remember:

  • Roast similar things together: Check the roasting times. Cauliflower and broccoli get along great; tomatoes and carrots, not so much
  • Similar also means size: Cut your pieces into even sizes. Also, smaller pieces will roast faster than larger ones.
  • You can roast in stages: hardest veggies first, pop in the softer, thinner ones later
  • Don’t crowd the veggies: crowding = steaming. Distribute them over two trays if necessary
  • Don’t skimp on the oil: don’t drown it, but remember you need the oil to help achieve roastedness

Vegetable roasting times:

information from The Kitchn

Root vegetables (beets, potatoes, carrots): 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how small you cut them
Winter squash (butternut squash, acorn squash): 20 to 60 minutes, depending on how small you cut them
Crucifers (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts): 15 to 25 minutes
Soft vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers): 10 to 20 minutes
Thin vegetables (asparagus, green beans): 10 to 20 minutes
Onions: 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how crispy you like them
Tomatoes: 15 to 20 minutes

Posted by on April 3rd, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: Eggs and Emulsions

Today’s menu:
Cheese souffle, green salad.

Time for eggs.

What can you do with eggs? Scramble, poach, fry, boil, sure – that’s a lot of options. Fry, boil – pretty simplistic. Poach? It’s a good technique, but best observed in conjunction with hollandaise, bacon and a muffin. Scrambling?

Right, right, you say. Beat up an egg and subject it to some heat, okay. Well, I figured we could go one step further.

Pt 1: Cheese Soufflé: Are you serious?

Yes. Because it turns out that soufflé is nothing more than bechamel (see previous lesson) lightened with egg whites.


Discussion points

How do you crack an egg? Contrary to the edge-of-a-bowl method, I greatly prefer to give a gentle rap on a flat surface.
How do you separate eggs? There’s the standard pour-back-and-forth broken shell method, but there’s also the catch-the-yolk in your hand method.
Why are you making us use three bowls for egg separating?I teach the kids to use three bowls when separating eggs: One to catch your white, a medium size for the yolks, and one main bowl to receive the clean egg whites. Break and separate your egg, make sure the white is clean, and dump it in the big bowl. Because the one time you contaminate an entire batch of whites with a broken yolk, you will kick yourself vigorously for ignoring this step.
The odds of breaking a yolk go way, wayyy up when teaching kids how to separate eggs. You’ve been warned.
What are the stages of beaten egg whites?

  • Foamy: The individual whites are coming together
  • Soft peaks: When you pull your whisk straight out, a soft tip forms but falls over
  • Firm peaks: When you pull out the whisk, a tip forms and stays

Mm, Emulsion

Kids and salad, like Oil and water

I don’t know about you, but salad seems to be a hit and miss proposition with many kids I know. However, this lesson is a great example of Kids Will Eat It If They Made It.

All my kids have seen the elementary school experiment of oil and water in a bottle. They don’t like each other because their molecules repel each other, so you can see them separate when you try to mix them together.

So how do you make a vinaigrette? You introduce an emulsifier. We could get into complicated explanations, but the easy one is this: an emulsifier is a fonger-trap type molecule that can grab a water at one end, and an oil molecule at the other end. When you add an emulsifier to oil and water and shake vigorously, the emulsifier forms a kind of web that prevents the oil and water from separating – at least for a while.

The easiest method to encourage salad dressing is this one, by Serious Eats. Kenji is a great teacher, go with it.

Posted by on March 17th, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: White Sauce, Roast Vegetables

Red sauce is easy: season your oil, drop in crushed red tomatoes, and simmer until thickened. That’s not a cooking lesson. White sauce, though – that was always a mystery. (I’m asian, so we didn’t grow up with cream-based anything.) I watched cooking shows on PBS where chefs in white toques whipped up bechamel and magically turned it into delicious sauces.

Then, one day, I found out that equal parts of fat + flour mixed with a cup of milk IS bechamel.


Today’s lesson: Bechamel and Roast Veg

Discussion points:

What’s a roux? Fat and flour cooked together in equal proportions.
What’s a bechamel? A fancy name for roux with 1 cup of milk added.

How can you alter a bechamel? The proportions of your roux. At 1 Tbs, it’s a thin gravy. At 2-3 Tbs, it’s sauce.

We talked about the different things you can do with a white sauce – use leftover fat from sausage patties instead and you have sausage gravy for biscuits. Add cheese and you have sauce for macaroni – which is what we did for today’s lesson.

Today’s lesson, pt 1: Cheese sauce
Step 1: Make a roux (melt 4 Tbs butter, stir in 4 Tbs flour)
Step 2: Slowly stir in 2 cups milk until smooth.
(Note: why 4 Tbs of butter and flour? Note that we are using 2 cups milk, so the proportion is still 2 Tbs fat/flour:1 C milk.)
Step 3: Season. Salt and pepper to start. Technically, by adding cheese we’re turning this into a mornay, so to boost the flavor we also added 1/2 tsp ground mustard. Then we started adding cheese, stirring in by handfuls until melted. Resist the temptation to add all the cheese at once; it has a tendency to separate and become grainy.

Today’s lesson, part 2: Roast vegetables

We sautéed vegetables previously. Steamed vegetables are good, but overly simple. Roast vegetables, though, can turn pariah sprouts into a dish your kids devour unquestioningly.

And the fact that they’re easy peasy doesn’t hurt.

Discussion points:

What happens when you roast vegetables? They caramelize.
Well, what’s caramelizing? A reaction induced by the application of heat. The naturally-occurring sugars in the vegetables start to cook, while the water cooks off. Tips become crispy, and darkened parts become sweeter. At the same time, the thicker parts soften as the interior cell walls break down.

Step 1: Heat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Step 2: Prep your vegetables. We went with broccoli and Brussels sprouts, two plants famously shunned by, well, everyone. Wash, and chop into roughly equally-sized pieces.
Step 3: Oil ’em up. Place vegetables in a large bowl and drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil. No need to be exact, just toss them around to coat until they look kind of shiny.
Step 4: Spread vegetables on the baking sheet and season generously with kosher salt and pepper. Into the oven.
Step 5: Roast about 25 min. Start checking at 20 minutes. They’re done when the tips are dark but stems are soft.


00:00 Preheat oven to 425 F. Start boiling a pot of hot water to cook macaroni.
00:05 Wash vegetables and start chopping.
00:10 Pot should be boiling. Drop in macaroni, stir to prevent sticking.
00:15 Oil and season the vegetables. On the tray, into the oven. Start heating one pan for the bechamel demonstration, start melting butter for mac and cheese topping in a small pan.
00:20 Start the roux. Send someone to drain the macaroni.
00:25 Add the milk for the bechamel, season. Have someone mix the bread crumbs with the melted butter.
00:30 Add the cheese to bechamel (now it’s mornay). Combine with macaroni in your serving dish, top with crumbs. Into the oven.
00:35 Start cleanup.
00:40 Check the vegetables, they should be ready to come out now. If the crumbs are browned on the mac and cheese, it can come out as well. While it cools for 5 minutes, finish cleanup and set out dishes to eat.
00:45 Serve.

Posted by on March 10th, 2017

Cooking school for kids: Knife stuff

Don’t be a cut-up

I did a pile of reading trying to get this together, but first and foremost in my head was safety. Knife safety, stove and oven safety, situational awareness, etc. Now, my students generally have a decent sense of self-preservation, so I decided to start them off with knife safety and knife skills.

Safely passing a sharp utensil
The procedure in our class is:
1) Person A must get Person B’s attention. THEN ask to borrow their knife. Your hands may NOT enter someone else’s work area.
2) Person B puts down the knife, handle toward Person A, and withdraws.
3) Person A may then pick up the knife and use it.

No exceptions. I told the kids at the beginning of the first class that everyone had to practice situational awareness – not just around knives, but around all the potential hazards in the kitchen. Horseplay of any kind gets you kicked off the island.

There are a ton of Knife Skills lessons out on the internet, so I won’t post them here. I just want them to remember basic knife handling safety:

  • Knife grip: you’re in charge of the knife, not the other way around. Don’t start until you have a firm handle on your knife, physically and mentally.
  • Stabilize your cutting surface and your object before beginning to cut or chop.
  • Use The Claw method to protect your hands. We are NOT eating fingers in this class.
  • Stay Alert: other people are using knives. YOU are using a knife. No reaching into another person’s work space, ever.
  • Never try to catch a falling knife. If you drop it, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Protect yourself first; we can always get a new knife.

Slightly more advanced knife information:

  • The middle third of the knife is the main working area. The tip is for picking out little bits, the tang third is for brute force (not being used at this time). Work smart, not hard.
  • Push in a forward motion, with the tip in a downward position.
  • Use a slight sawing or rocking motion when cutting through objects that resist. It’s better to keep control of the knife in short draws than try to hack through it in one go – this isn’t a samurai movie. If you push straight down on, say, bread, you squash the bread.

Cuts for student practice:

  • Large dice: regular cubes, about the size of playing dice
  • Small dice: regular cubes, about the size of peas
  • Mince: very small pieces, like pepper-flake size. Keep the tip on the board, and put the off hand on top of the knife. Use a repeated up-and-down motion with the on hand moving in an arc across the object to start breaking it down. Not small enough the first few passes? Carefully scrape them together and do it again.
  • Slicing: get used to the forward and downward motion, and consistent slices

Equipment tips:

  • If you’re going to buy knives for a class, do NOT bother with the $.88 Mainstays knives that Walmart sells. They suck. I spent the $4 for the Farberware 6″ chef’s knife, and it does just fine. Plus, it comes with a knife guard.
  • Got really little chefs? Try letting them use a nylon lettuce knife to practice.
  • What to practice on without ending up with a mountain of chopped vegetables: PLAY DOUGH. Yes, it’s a little on the sticky side, but you can use it over and over again, it cleans up easily, and your can demonstrate different types of cuts without drowning you in veg.

Practice recipe: Stir fry chicken and vegetables

Posted by on February 28th, 2017

Cooking School for Kids: Introduction


When I went to college, I had a great working knowledge of the microwave. I was okay at following directions to bake cookies. Oh, and I could assemble a sandwich – no problem there.

Cook dinner? HA.

A couple years out of school, I was asked to make dinner for some out-of-town guests one night. Skipping the gory details, I’ll cut right to the chase: it was inedible. Embarrassed as hell, I set out to learn to cook.

Fast forward a number of years: I’ve learned to cook reasonably well. A long way from MasterChef status, but well enough that I was asked by a kiddo if I would teach them to cook.

Hm, cooking school?

I start to look up some class options. Got $475 to hire a private chef who will give your kids cook lessons for a week? Me neither. I’m also cheap, so I wasn’t going to pay for a beginner’s curriculum. But, foolishly, I thought I’d look for one anyway.

My basic criteria:

  • For a complete beginner
  • That complete beginner is between 11 and 18
  • Small group size (10 people or less)
  • Lesson time kept around 1 hour
  • About 10 weeks worth
  • FREE (curriculum, not materials)

I know, I know – not asking much, am I? Well, just so you don’t waste 25 hours searching: what I was looking for, it ain’t out there. Well, until now, that is.

I found Home Ec lesson plans published by school systems (which is now called “Family and Consumer Sciences Education”, btw) but they were either too simple (“Let’s make a milkshake!”) or required resources I didn’t have (“Kitchen laboratory time: 2 hours/session, 3 days”).

So what do they need to learn?

I believe learning to cook is parts techniques, part fundamental thinking about food, and a little chemistry thrown into each.

The technique part includes stuff like knife skills and gathering vocabulary. Knowing what a saute is, or a roux, or roasting versus braising. Gathering the fundamentals gives you a reference point when you’re working in a kitchen.

The thinking habits are a little more complicated, but you can start asking with the core question: why is a corndog like a big mac? Answer: because they’re both, essentially, a kind of sandwich. Protein between two layers of starch, and portable. That’s it: the essence of a sandwich. The corndog has the added novelty of being on a stick, but other than that… you get the point.

For me, my views about food and cooking were permanently altered when I found myself deconstructing dishes in my head. Dice ingredients, saute or roast, add a sauce: that’s just about every weeknight casserole, ever. Make my own soup? Let’s see, I guess I would make a base, thin it out with my broth of choice – AH HA. It dawned on me that I really could make a better version at home, and usually for less money. Also, I realized that many, many, many dishes are the product of What Do I Do With These Leftovers thinking. WASTE NOTHING. Cheap, remember?

So, whatever we end up doing, the most important thing I want to impart to my students is a cooking mindset.

The practical bits

I’ve ended up designing a 1 hour lesson, to be taught once a week, and then the students spend the remainder of the week putting their skills into practice. Each week we’ll learn a skill or a concept, and practice by making a dish that we share at the end of the hour. Repeat and eat, 10 weeks.

Here are my notes. Feel free to read through them, but use at your own risk.

  • Week 1: Knife skills Recipe: Stir fry chicken and vegetables
  • Week 2: Onion and garlic. Recipe: French onion soup and cheesy garlic bread
  • Week 3: Saucy! Recipe: Red sauce, white sauce, skillet pasta
  • Week 4: The Incredibly Edible Egg Recipe: Cheese souffle
  • Week 5: Saute Recipe:
  • Week 6: Roast Recipe: Roast vegetables
  • Week 7: Boil, simmer, and steam Recipe: Skillet pasta, steamed vegetables
  • Week 8: Bake Recipe:The chocolate chip cookie experiment
  • Week 9: Recipe:
  • Week 10: Recipe:
Posted by on February 28th, 2017

Cooking school for Kids: Stir fry

Knife skills lesson plan


  • Practice good knife grip habits
  • Learn the most efficient way to use a knife when cutting
  • Practice some basic knife cuts
  • Practice good knife safety habits

Lesson Plan: Go over some basic types of knife cuts:

  • slicing
  • large dice
  • small dice
  • matchsticks (juienne)
  • mince

Things to remember:

  • Proper knife grip (see Handle Grip)
  • It may seem intuitive to adults, but none of my kids seemed to understand that not everything cuts like cake. Or gelatin. Or butter. Remind your students that, for food that has some resistance, you may have to go back and forth in a series of slices in order to cut through without squashing the bejeezus out of it.

    For practice, I picked this recipe so they could work on a variety of vegetables shapes and cuts:

    • carrots (peel, julienne)
    • bell peppers (julienne)
    • sweet onions (dice)
    • broccoli (slice florets)

    And then they can work on slicing chicken (different texture).

    Other concepts:
    Accurate measuring – remind students about proper measuring habits: fill to the top and level off for dry measuring, carefully fill to the top for wet measuring.

    You should be able to prep, cook and serve this dish in under an hour.


    00:00 Wash and rinse the rice. Wash the veggies.
    00:05 Put the rice on heat. Start slicing veggies, chicken.
    00:10 Ask a student to start mixing 2 batches of marinade.
    00:15 Check heat level on rice. Marinate chicken, refrigerate.
    00:20 Start heating oil in pan. Add garlic to season.
    00:25 Check rice. If done, turn off heat. Sauté vegetables.
    00:30 Remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. Start cleanup.
    00:35 Set vegetables aside, heat oil, saute chicken.
    00:40 Return vegetables to pan, along with non-chicken marinade. Bring to a boil. Finish cleanup, set out serving dishes.
    00:45 Serve over rice.

Posted by on February 25th, 2017

Sous Vide That Thing

In a subtle bid to mock British cooking (“Boil everything”), some genius has brought the art of sous vide to the masses. No longer the secret tool of professional chefs or people who spend wayyy too much money on kitchen items, you can now use this method to cook at home. At least, I can, because I got one for Christmas last year.

The gang over at Serious Eats has compacted a lot of basic recipes into one convenient place for the beginning sous vide chef. Also useful is the time-and-temperature guide put out by Chef Steps, in case you want to go off into the wilds of sous vide and modify your own favorite recipe.

Posted by on September 13th, 2016

Cooking with… A coffeemaker?

So I’ve been reading about cooking hacks lately, and the one that had me floored is: cooking in your coffeepot.

First you’re going to ask me: why? Because sometimes you’re in a space (hotel, dorm, office) with limited facilities. Suddenly, the iron is a planchette and the coffeemaker is your new best friend.

A few things were obvious – run plain hot water through to cook directly in the carafe (oatmeal, pasta, instant rice, couscous, hardboiled  eggs). Some tips were less obvious (the right teabag in the basket will make plain oatmeal fruity). But the genius tip was:

Cover the hot plate with foil and you can cook on it like a tiny stove.

Posted by on June 13th, 2016