New Castle News

July 13, 2013

Culinary Conversation: Cook with a kid and make a memory

Carol Colaizzi
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” — Helen Keller, American educator, activist, humanitarian

My niece Mia probably doesn’t know about Helen Keller.

And, having just turned 9, she didn’t have much choice in her “daring adventure.” But my husband and I joined her in that adventure and we all not only survived but thrived.

Because of various commitments, her parents and two brothers were going to be away in late June. So the decision was made that she’d spend 11 days in New Castle with her aunt and uncle.

I was a little nervous. She’d never been that far away from home — 300 miles — all alone. I thought it would be horrible or wonderful, no in-between, and held my breath.

It was wonderful.

Most days we were joined by the 9-year-old granddaughter of a friend of mine. The two girls meshed as if they’d known each other forever and Mia’s stay included two giggle-and-whisper-filled sleepovers with her new friend, Amelia.

As I cleaned up the kitchen after dinner the first of those nights, I noticed the bananas were well on their way to black. Before I hit the D at the end of “banana bread” there were two squealing girls clamoring to help.

Mia has joined my sister to bake Christmas cookies for several years and Amelia’s grandmother is teaching her to cook, starting with some basics.

This simple banana bread recipe — no mixer needed! — allowed them to mash, measure, pour and stir. They even greased the loaf pan like pros.

All I did was oversee the measuring and handle the oven.

“There is always a gift in any challenge.”  — Bronnie Ware, Australian author, blogger and musician

My husband and I were challenged to care for this little treasure, but we received the gifts of lots of quality time with our niece, loads of memories from fun and silly days together and the huge satisfaction of seeing her grow and stretch and mature.

We’re all three looking forward to a visit next summer.

Whether you’re a mom or dad, aunt or uncle, or somebody’s grandparent, I recommend you cook with your little ones.

Culinary Conversation columnist Lugene Hudson was gracious enough to allow me to guest-write this column as encouragement.

The key is to find something that’s not too complicated or time-consuming, then let them have at it.

Their sense of accomplishment is a reward in itself. The finished product is, as they say, icing on the cake.

In addition to the banana bread, we’re including three more kid-friendly recipes.

We invite you to send in anything you and your little ones have found to be a success. Lugene will use them in an up-coming installment of Culinary Conversation.

Banana Bread

Preheat the oven to 350.

Mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl.

With a wooden spoon, mix the melted butter into the bananas. Mix in the sugar, beaten egg and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and stir it in. Add the flour last and mix it in.

Pour the batter into a buttered 4-by-8-inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour.

Cool on a rack.

Lasagna Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 375. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray.

Brown ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Drain.

Cut wonton wrappers into circle shapes (about 2 1/4 inches) using a biscuit cutter or the top of a drinking glass.

Reserve 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese and 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese for the top of the cupcakes and start layering.

Begin with a wonton wrapper and press it into the bottom of each muffin tin. Sprinkle Parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses in each. Top with a little meat and pasta sauce.

Repeat the layers and top with reserved Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until edges are brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges, then pop each cupcake out.

Garnish with basil.

Makes 12 lasagna cupcakes.

Cheese-It Chicken

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.

Place the cheese crackers in a zip-lock bag and close securely. Crush with fists, soup can or kitchen mallet until crackers are the size of bread crumbs.

Dip the seasoned chicken breasts into the beaten eggs. Then press the chicken into the cracker crumbs until thoroughly coated. Place the coated chicken into a baking dish.

Cook in oven for about 35 minutes or until a meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken.


French Toast

This can be prepared on a Friday or Saturday night and baked the next morning for a weekend treat.

Generously butter a 13-by-9-inch casserole. Arrange bread slices in dish, staggering in rows.

In large bowl, beat together milk, eggs, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour over bread and press down, making sure slices absorb the liquid.

Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat oven to 350. Remove foil and bake for 55 minutes to an hour, until puffy and golden.

Serve with more maple syrup, if desired.

Serves six.