Simple Sides: Baby Bakers Brimming!
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where can adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a” week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
The key to getting and keeping the attention of a child in the kitchen is coming up with an engaging recipe and ingredients that spark interest. No doubt the kids have seen and enjoyed many a baked potato, so there’s nothing special there. That is, with the exception of Melissa’s Baby Bakers, which are about as cute as a tuber can be! The toy-like size, especially if you present them on a cutting board along with one full-sized Russet, immediately signals to your young helpers that something fun is coming. Actually, what’s coming is a lesson in how to stuff a cooked potato with some fresh veggies in a form that even the most finicky vegetable “hater” in your family will gobble up. The secret sauce is the kids having a hand in making the dish.
Once these mini potatoes have been cooked through and cooled to warm, the fun begins! First, by repurposing them into potato skin “cups”— a moderately delicate task of carefully removing the fluffy insides through a single slit in the skin of each, per the directions in the recipe. Learning curve alert: bake a few extra tubers over the amount needed to account for first-attempt causalities on the cutting board.
The choice of veggies for the stuffing mixture is quite flexible. The fresh spinach, always a tasty combination with mashed potatoes also provides a hands-on lesson/demo to a beginner cook on how spinach cooks way down from its original volume—something we all had to learn a first time. The mushroom sauté also comes with another very basic culinary tip that should be pointed out to the kids as a useful tool to remember, the simple glaze. That is, explain the two-fold purpose of adding the soy sauce to the hot sauté pan of mushrooms, which adds both flavor and an attractive glossy appearance. It’s never too early to emphasize that both are important when cooking for others. Ha, also when cooking for just one’s self too!
It was already suggested to bake a few extra for the learning process in this recipe; might as well double up on what is bound to be a family favorite. These mini cups of cheesy goodness can be popped in the micro for a quick after-school snack or a reason for the supervising adult to check the quality of the leftovers in the ‘frig around midnight! If the kids don’t get the same idea first. Enjoy!
Stuffed Baby Baked Potatoes
Yield: 8 stuffed potatoes
8 Baby Baker Russet Potatoes, cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, chopped small
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 cup fresh mushrooms, roughly chopped (any favorite variety)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated and divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch parsley, chopped fine
What the supervising adult should do:
Handle the hot potatoes from micro and oven! Closely oversee both frying stages, even if your helper has stovetop experience. Once the potatoes have been stuffed, take over the baking process. When ready to serve, transfer the hot potatoes to a platter and serve family style so the young sous chefs who helped make them get maximum accolades.
What the kids can do:
Speed up the prep by popping these tiny potatoes in the micro or bake until cooked through. Let cool to warm, lay on cutting board, slit open with a cut lengthwise, squeeze from both ends to widen opening enough to scoop out each potato into a mixing bowl, leaving just a thin wall of potato to support the now empty shells of skin. Mash the potatoes in the mixing bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan to fry the onions for just 2-3 minutes, then add in the spinach to cook until wilted, 1-2 minutes longer. Toss lightly with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside. In the same pan, heat the rest of the oil, add the mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes. Then add soy sauce, cook for another minute while stirring to create a glaze on the mushrooms. Set aside.
Add the spinach mixture, mushrooms, and half the cheese to the bowl of potatoes, then gently fold together until thoroughly combined. Using a small spoon, fill each potato shell with this mix – stacking high to brimming!
Top each generously with the rest of the cheddar, sprinkle with parsley, then hand off to the supervising adult to oven bake at 350°F for 5-10 minutes until the cheese has melted.