Kids' stuff in the kitchen

Last updated 09:24 14/04/2010
CHILDREN'S CUISINE: Celia Hay's savoury meatballs.

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Children can be introduced to cooking early, writes Colleen Simpson.

Some kids need no help getting enthusiastic when it comes to getting their hands dirty in the kitchen, while others need a little encouragement.

It's worth nurturing their interest or at least planting the seed, as not only is time spent in the kitchen with a parent or a grandie the stuff that memories are made of, it also serves the younger generation well in the long run and might even be the start of a lifelong passion.

Celia Hay, mother of three and founder of Hay's Restaurant and the New Zealand School of Food and Wine, says the trick is to supervise young cooks to ensure they are successful in their endeavour as failure will only serve to diminish their interest in a repeat performance.

While there are obvious and necessary lessons in safety that need to be learned, try to teach them in a way which still leaves room for fun.

Hay says the learning to cook process for children is much the same as any other subject - you start with the basics and build up from there.

Baking is the typical introduction to the kitchen as kids tend to love the results and witness first hand the magic of what a hot oven can do to a few mixed up ingredients.

"Baking is exciting for them because they can get their hands messy," she says. "Butter and sugar are a bit like play dough and children already know the technique."

Though some parents may baulk at the idea, children as young as four or five can be included in the cooking of a family meal - even if it is just stirring a pot (while supervised) or peeling a carrot.

Participation leads to ingestion, says Hay.

Once a few basic skills and safety measures have been mastered, pasta dishes are the ideal next step as not only do most children gladly eat it, again the process is simple and the rewards immediate.

Hay says helping to prepare a dish as simple as cooked pasta with grated cheese or a grated vegetable is gratifying for children.

The next step in creating competent cooks is to teach them how to poach an egg. "All you need is a pot of water and a splash of vinegar to help it set in the water," she says.

"Then they can cook themselves something very nutritious and high in iron and protein and that makes them feel happy too. I'm a fan of getting eggs in wherever you can."

Zest has put together a few recipes which go from the basic to those requiring a little more skill so you can make a choice depending on which level the child in your life is at.

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After all, what would be the point of teaching them to cook something that they would never choose to eat?


A good addition to the school lunchbox and just as delicious with no icing at all.

200g butter, softened

110g caster sugar

175g flour

3Tbsp cocoa

2 cups crushed Weet-Bix

Chocolate butter cream icing (optional)

100g butter, softened

1 cup icing sugar

2 Tbsp cocoa

walnuts, pecans or sprinkles to top

Using the K beater on an electric beater, cream the butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy in texture. Sift flour and cocoa together and add in while still beating on slow speed. Once combined, add in Weet-Bix and continue to beat until they are broken.

Grease two baking sheets, roll mixture into teaspoon sized balls and press slightly with wet fingers. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, beat the sugar, butter and cocoa, again using the K beater, until light brown and fluffy. Using a palette knife smear icing on the cold biscuits and then press a walnut or pecan half in the centre. Alternatively, use a few sprinkles to keep those not-so-keen-on-nuts nippers happy.

Kiddies croque monsieur

The original is basically a posh version of the much loved ham and cheese toasted sandwich but here some of the more expensive ingredients less likely to be found in a family fridge have been replaced with more commonly found alternatives, or removed altogether. 4 slices toast bread

50g shaved ham

50g grated tasty cheese

1 Tbsp Dijonnaise

2 eggs

pinch of salt

1/4 cup water

1 Tbsp olive oil

Leg 4 Spread the Dijonnaise across two slices of bread, top with ham, cheese and remaining two slices. Press the edges together as firmly as possible. Mix the eggs, salt and water in a wide, shallow bowl until combined. Heat the oil on a skillet to a medium heat, dip the sandwiches in the mixture and move to skillet, cooking each side until the egg is cooked and golden. Use tongs to hold sandwich while browning along sides. Slice diagonally. Serves 2.

Celia Hay's simple pasta with savoury meatballs

500g mince

1 tsp marmite

2 eggs

1 cup breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

2-4 Tbsp sour cream or cream

2-3 courgettes or carrots

250-300g dried pasta

salt and pepper

In a bowl combine the mince, eggs, marmite and breadcrumbs. Mix well together and season. Roll golf-ball sized meatballs and then coat in flour. Add the oil to a heavy frypan, heat and saute the meatballs over a moderate heat, turning regularly, for 10 minutes until cooked. Taste and season.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add salt. Add pasta, being careful not to splash hot water, and cook as per packet instructions. Remove, drain and splash with cold water and strain again. While pasta is cooking, grate the courgette or carrots. Toss the grated vegetable in with the pasta and stir so that it is warmed by the pasta's heat. Stir through the sour cream or cream and add the meatballs.

Serves 4.

Spinach, red pepper and sweetcorn fritters

This dish is a great lunch or dinner option but smaller fritters can be good additions to kid's party plates or lunch boxes. Try partnering with a dollop of gherkin relish.

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

black pepper

1 egg, beaten

1 can creamed corn

1/2 red pepper, destalked, deseeded and chopped very small

2 frozen spinach portions, cooked and allowed to cool

vegetable oil (for frying)

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add egg and corn and once mixed well, add the pepper and spinach and mix until spinach is well distributed. Heat oil in a pan, once it reaches a medium temperature place egg-sized amounts, flattening slightly.

Cook until golden then flip and repeat, checking the fritter is cooked right through. Remove from pan and rest on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Keep cooked fritters in an oven on low heat while cooking remaining batter. Serves 4-6.

- The Press

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