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Recipes for teen chefs can become your family favorite recipes

For most teenagers, the weeks-long liberation from school has begun. They now have something many adults can only dream of: time on their hands. • Between part-time jobs and hanging with friends, there still should be a few hours left over to help around the house, in the kitchen specifically. Even the most cooking-challenged teen can pop meatloaf in the oven so it's near ready when the adults get home from work. (You can reveal those super-secret family favorite recipes the night before.) Their break from school could translate into a break from meal preparation for you. Plus, every nutrition expert will tell you that people who cook and prepare food at home eat a more nutritionally sound diet than those who rely on takeout. • Need another reason to get them cooking? They'll be leaving home someday and will have to fend for themselves. Really. Any college student or new apartment-dweller will tell you that frozen entrees get old after a few weeks. • These days, many teens know a lot about food, thanks to the multitude of shows on TV that focus on cooking, competition and extreme eating. Okay, maybe you don't want to come home to a kitchen that's been ground zero of an Iron Chef match and truly hope you won't be entertaining an all-bug menu inspired by Bizarre Food With Andrew Zimmern. Still, it's likely your teen knows some of the language of cooking, if not the techniques.

For a serious novice, start small. Set her loose with a couple of cookbooks and enlist her help in planning. That could at least lift the family out of the dinnertime rut. Have her make shopping lists and then leave money (and the car keys) for her to do the shopping. That's a BIG help. A more experienced cook can take on bigger challenges.

As the troop leader, you need to know what your teen knows. Is the oven a mystery to him? Does she know how to handle knives? Is nuking a Hot Pocket the extent of his ability? If there are some skills that need teaching, do it. If you don't know yourself, consider a cooking class aimed at young people.

Get real

Don't expect your teen to make dinner every night. Ask him to be responsible for dinner twice a week. If he can, have him take the meal from planning to execution. Enlist someone else to clean up or do that together. It's nice for the cook to kick back while someone else loads the dishwasher and scrubs the pots. As they say, do unto others . . .

Speaking of cleanup, think about one-pot meals. It's easier to focus on one hearty dish than to figure out the timing for three or four separate items. That's one of the big challenges for cooks, new or experienced. Also, consider vegetarian dishes. No-meat diets are popular among teenagers, and showing them how to get protein into their diet is important.

Making meals completely from scratch is nice, but a homemade red sauce or chicken stock is asking a lot of a beginner. Rely on convenience products for building blocks. The goal is not to intimidate and overwhelm.

Be open about dinner ideas, and really listen to what your teen suggests. Maybe you wouldn't have a baked potato bar for dinner, but is there really anything wrong with it? It's fun and simple, plus provides a way to get creative. Your goal is to hone skills — and get dinner made. If you make the rules too rigid, no one will play. Do not turn your nose up at anything. At least not until she's left the room.

Here are some ideas to get you and your teen started.

The Potato Bar. Potatoes are better baked in the oven than the microwave, so start there. For vegetarians, a stuffed potato is a good option as long as there is some protein in the toppings. Consider a variety of toppings beyond the butter-sour cream-chives trinity: steamed broccoli and cheese (try goat or feta instead of cheddar), chili (meat or just beans) and cheddar, crumbled bacon and pepper Jack, black beans and salsa, shredded rotisserie chicken and Alfredo sauce. Pile on according to dietary desires.

Salad Days. Nearly any kind of protein can top a Caesar salad, including chicken, fish, shrimp, crab cakes or steak. Make a Slider Caesar by topping the greens with mini-burgers. Other suitable offerings include taco salads, chef salads and seafood salads.

Mexican Night. Tacos, burritos, nachos and quesadillas fit skill levels from novice to expert. Burritos can be as simple as heating refried beans then adding toppings such as cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, salsa. A package of preseasoned rice is as easy to make as boiling water. Use leftover chicken or roasted vegetables for quesadillas. Make tacos from scratch or use a kit that comes with the seasonings. Nachos can be hearty or spare, meaty or vegetarian.

Soup's On. Store-bought chicken broth is the foundation for quick soups, including a simple one of canned northern beans, sliced kielbasa and handfuls of baby spinach. Look through cookbooks and online ( or to start) for recipes that have the right amount of chopping and prep work for your teen's skill level. Corn bread is a good accompaniment. Most new cooks can handle making a box of Jiffy corn bread. If not, keep the freezer stocked with corn muffins.

Food Prep. CrockPot entrees and marinades need some love during the day. Leave a recipe for a slow cooker dish and ask your teen to load it up midday. There's not much worse than slow cooker fare that has been cooking hours longer than needed. A few hours in a marinade is as much as most meat and poultry needs. Also, threading skewers with meat and veggies is an easy task. (This is a good opportunity to give the talk about washing hands, counter surfaces and cutting boards after handling raw meat and poultry.) A big green salad can be prepared hours before dinner. (Wet a paper towel and lay it across the veggies to keep them crisp.)

Breakfast for Dinner. Not cereal. Think bacon and eggs, omelets especially. Biscuits and gravy. Waffles (or pancakes) with fruit toppings. Sausage biscuits with a big side of fresh fruit. The freezer and refrigerated cases at the grocery store will inspire you. Summer brings a lot of luscious fruit to the produce section. Enjoy it at its peak.

That's Italian. Keep frozen ravioli or tortellini on hand for a quick meal. Frozen meatballs are handy, too. An assortment of prepared sauces is available, including red sauces, pesto and Alfredo. Get some vegetable in the dish by adding frozen peas, small broccoli florets and fresh, sliced mushrooms into the pasta water in the last few minutes of cooking. A green salad always goes well with Italian food. Bread, too. Don't forget pizza, frozen or made with refrigerated pizza dough or Boboli shells and whatever toppings they like.

Sub Sandwiches. Your local sub shop isn't the only place that knows how to load a hoagie roll with meat, cheese and veggies. Make a list of your favorites and then make them fresh at home. Don't skimp on veggies, and use whole-wheat rolls.

Stirring and frying. Stir-fries are easy but do require some knife skills and patient prep work. Don't worry if you don't have a wok; a large skillet will do in most cases. There are lots of recipes on the Internet and in cookbooks for homemade stir-fries, but maybe this is a job you tackle together. It's worth the effort, and it's likely you'll both learn something new.

Burger Extravaganza. Who doesn't love burgers? There are so many ways to make them and that includes the actual burger. Beef, turkey, chicken and veggie patties can be piled high with whatever fixings you'd like. Let your teen's imagination run wild, but remind her that there is cheese beyond American slices, including feta, blue and Swiss. Consider toppings of guacamole, sauteed onions and mushrooms, and even grilled pineapple on a turkey burger. Look in the freezer case for interesting frozen potatoes, including Alexia brand's sweet potato fries with no trans fats.

Imagine what the school year might look like if this goes well. A night off from dinner once a week. Or a teen who becomes a gourmet cook.

We can dream, can't we?

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at


Cooking classes

There are cooking classes all over the Tampa Bay area, some aimed at teenagers. Some places even have weeklong summer camps. If your teenager has mastered some skills, she may want to take one of the adult classes. Check on age requirements first. See more details in the Food File, Page 6E.

• Weekly summer camps through Aug. 20. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 550 Laura Lane, Dunedin. (727) 736-3070 or

• Weekly summer camps. Chefs on the Loose, 3401 Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa. (813) 835-7300 or

• Kids, tweens and teens camp: Four-day camps for ages 6-9 or 10-16 through summer. Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, 2080 Badlands Drive, Brandon. (813) 653-2418 or www.rollingpin

Other places with classes for young cooks:

• Let Them Eat Cake, 3805 S West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 480-5466 or chocolate

• Apron's Cooking School, Shoppes of Citrus Park, 7835 Gunn Highway, Tampa. (813) 926-4465 or

• Foodies, 2312 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 209-1418 or


Skillet Tacos

1 pound ground beef

1 small red onion, chopped

1 can (15 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained

10 corn tortillas (6 inches), cut into 1-inch pieces

1 (8-ounce) bottle taco sauce

1 ¼ cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Hot pepper sauce, optional

In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the corn, tortillas, taco sauce and 1 cup cheese; heat through. Top with remaining cheese and sprinkle with hot sauce if desired.

Serves 6.

Source: Taste of Home


Chicken Veggie Stir-Fry

4 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons soy sauce

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons cooking oil, divided use

2 cups broccoli florets

1 cup sliced celery (½-inch pieces)

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

1 small onion, cut into wedges

1 cup water

1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules

Cooked rice for serving

Cut chicken into ½-inch strips; place in a resealable plastic bag. Add cornstarch and toss to coat. Combine soy sauce, ginger and garlic powder; add to bag and shake well. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In a large skillet or wok, heat 2 tablespoons of oil; stir-fry chicken until no longer pink, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and keep warm. Add remaining oil; stir-fry broccoli, celery, carrots and onion for 4 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add water and bouillon. Return chicken to pan. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Serve with cooked rice.

Serves 4.



Slow-Cooker Corn Chowder

2 ½ cups milk

1 (14 ¾-ounce) can cream-style corn

1 (10 ¾-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

1 ¾ cups frozen corn

1 cup frozen shredded hash brown potatoes

1 cup cooked ham, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.

Serves 8.

Note: Omit ham to make soup vegetarian.



Barbecue Chicken Salad

¼ cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

¼ cup barbecue sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast from a rotisserie chicken

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 celery rib, sliced

5 cups torn salad greens or from a bag

4 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled

In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, lemon juice, pepper and salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Just before serving, combine the chicken, tomatoes and celery; stir in dressing. Serve over salad greens; sprinkle with bacon.

Serves 3 to 4.


Teens in

the kitchen

There are a number of cookbooks aimed at teenagers, but basic cookbooks will also be helpful. Here are a few teen-centric books to consider:

Hungry Girl 1-2-3: The Easiest, Most Delicious, Guilt-Free Recipes on the Planet by Lisa Lillien (St. Martin's Griffin, 2010)

Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat

by Meghan and Jill Carle (Ten Speed Press, 2004)

Cooking Up a Storm: The Teen Survival Cookbook by Sam Stern (Candlewick, 2006)

Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs by Rozanne Gold and Phil Mansfield (Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, 2009)

Internet blogs

The following blogs are written by teens about cooking: Jeremy Salamon, 16, writes about his cooking exploits in South Florida. Plus, he interviews famous people and makes videos. Kaitlin, 19, loves to bake. Read about her baking experiences, with recipes. Now 17, this unnamed Philadelphia teenager makes, and writes about, some pretty inspirational dishes. Graham cracker toffee and roasted cauliflower, anyone? Sisters Isabella and Olivia Gerasole have been blogging for years, even though they are just 11 and 13. Best thing here is the videos. Great for beginners.

Recipe sites

The following sites have solid recipes fit for beginners:





Recipes for teen chefs can become your family favorite recipes 06/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 5:43pm]
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