Cooking should be child's play
By JOHN CARAFOLI
CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Years ago, I noticed how many children show an early interest in cooking - usually when they are seven years old, or even younger. I thought children should have their own cookbooks, blending straightforward basics and step-by-step instructions with colorful and fun illustrations. So that's what we came up with.

When we wrote these two cookbooks, "Look Who's Cooking" and "The Cookie Cookbook" in the 70s, I was living in Chicago. I was an art director/designer and my former wife, Marci, was a children's book editor at a prestigious publishing house. Unfortunately, the books are out of print, but there are copies available through some Cape libraries. And, with summer vacation coming up, it seemed the ideal time to share these books with you in this column.

Experimenting with cooking can be an important part of development. It can give children an exciting, creative outlet and show them how to take care of themselves in a way that will last all their lives. Cooking a meal can build self-confidence, not only in cooking, but in other areas as well.

When my niece and nephew were young, they loved to come to Uncle Johnny's house to play and cook. The recipes that follow are a few of the things we would cook up. They are nutritious and simple, and were planned to give children considerable satisfaction with little difficulty. Your encouragement and praise will be as important to your child as it always is. You may find time spent cooking together adds yet another level to the parent-child relationship.

No child should be allowed to work in the kitchen unsupervised, no matter how simple the recipe is that he or she wants to try. For a child, a kitchen can be full of potential hazards and an adult should always be standing by as "second cook."

The second cook should always be there to turn on the oven, put food in and take it out of the oven, and help with cutting, chopping and grating. Explaining the basics of "kitchen know-how" is very important, for example: the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, and the graduated markings on a measuring cup. This information is very helpful to the child.

I learned it is very important NOT to take over when helping. Remember that the child is the chef and you are just the second cook. If you think you can have a clean floor when they are finished, forget it. Just enjoy the process!

From now on, it's the child's show and I have written the following for the budding chefs.

It is fun to cook a special dish to surprise your family or friends, or to cook just because you feel like cooking. Here are 10 things you should remember.

1. Always have a grown-up nearby as "second cook".

Have the second cook turn on the oven or broiler and help when you use sharp knives to try difficult things.

2. Wash your hands before you start.

3. Use an apron to keep you clothes clean.

4. Read the recipe carefully before you start.

5. Put out all the things you need. Be sure they are the right things. Measure what needs to be measured. Chop what needs to be chopped.

6. Always use dry potholders when you handle hot things.

7. Chop on a chopping board.

8. Turn panhandles to the side of the stove.

9. Keep paper towels handy to wipe spills, but do not keep them on the stove.

10. Be sure to clean up after you have finished.

Corny Crunch Chicken

(Serves 6)

You will need:

1/2 stick soft butter

3 cups corn flakes

6 pieces of chicken, (your favorite parts)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Salt and pepper

Baking pan

Bowl

Measuring cup

Potholders

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Put butter in baking pan. Put pan in oven until butter melts. Remove from oven with potholders.

3. Crush corn flakes in a bowl with you hands.

4. Put chicken on a plate and squeeze lemon over chicken.

5. Roll chicken on all sides in the melted butter in the baking pan.

6. Roll buttered chicken in corn flakes. The cornflakes should cover chicken on all sides.

7. Put the chicken pieces back in baking pan side by side and bake for 1 hour. Serve hot.

Cheese And Egg Salad Muffins

(Makes 4)

You Will Need:

2 English muffins or 4 slices of bread

Butter

2 hard cooked eggs

2 big tablespoons mayonnaise

1/8 teaspoon salt

Dash of pepper

4 slices pizza cheese

2 black olives cut in half

Toaster

Knife

Bowl

Fork

Measuring spoons

Spoon

Baking dish

Potholders

Pancake turner

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Toast muffin halves or bread, and then butter them.

3. Chop eggs in bowl with a fork.

4. Add mayonnaise, salt, pepper and mix well.

5. Spread big tablespoon of egg salad on each muffin half.

6. Top with cheese slice and olive half.

7. Put in pan and bake until cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Serve hot (but be careful not to burn yourself. Cheese gets very hot!)

Monkey Treats

(Serves 4)

You Will Need:

4 bananas

1/4 cup brown sugar

Crushed pineapple (8-ounce can), drained

4 tablespoons butter

Whipped cream or ice cream

Knife

Small broiler pan without rack or small baking dish

Spoon

Potholders

Pancake turner

1. Take skin off bananas.

2. Cut bananas in half, then cut in half again the long way, and put in pan.

3. Top with brown sugar.

4. Sprinkle with crushed pineapple.

5. Dot with butter. Use 1 tablespoon for each banana.

6. Broil, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove with pancake turner.

7. Serve hot, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

Uncle Johnny's Special Cookies

(Makes 4 dozen)

You Will Need:

8 tablespoons or 1 stick butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed firmly in measuring cup

1/2 cup honey

2 eggs

3 tablespoons milk

1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups granola

Cookie sheet

Measuring spoons

Measuring cup

Mixing bowl

Electric beater

Mixing spoon

Potholders

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and grease cookie sheet.

2. Put soft butter, vanilla, brown sugar, honey, eggs and milk in the mixing bowl and beat for two minutes with the electric beater.

3. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and mix well with a spoon.

4. Add granola and mix with a spoon.

5. Drop dough onto the cookie sheet a teaspoon at a time about 2 inches apart.

6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until brown.

7. Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet.

John F. Carafoli, cooking expert and food stylist based on the upper Cape encourages readers comments and food questions on his column that appears the first Wednesday of each month. Send inquiries to "Cooking with Carafoli" care of, Cape Cod Times Food Editor Gwenn Friss, 319 Main Street, Hyannis MA 02601, or e-mail to . Tips and information are also available at his Web site,

"Tempting the Palate: The Food Stylist's Art," a paper Carafoli prepared for the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, appears in this month's issue of Gastronomica, The Journal of Food and Culture

(Published: June 4, 2003)