With Father’s Day coming, I thought it would be fun to propose a festive dinner menu that the whole family can engage in creating for Dad’s special day
When my children were young, watching me cook inspired them to help in the kitchen and ultimately to become good cooks themselves. When kids perceive activities are for adults, of course they want in. And with my boys, that ambition didn’t stop with me. Whether their dad was grilling, Grandma was frying chicken or I was baking cookies, they eagerly participated. Eventually, they wanted to do more than help — they looked for ways to be in charge. They loved offering their ideas and their interpretations so we could all participate in making the meal.
With Father’s Day coming, I thought it would be fun to propose a festive dinner menu that the whole family can engage in creating for Dad’s special day. Best of all, the kids will proudly say, “I made it myself!”
Youngsters enjoy busying their hands in the action. And while chopping may not be appropriate depending on age, they long to mush their fingers in bowls of “stuff.” So I’ve designed an uncomplicated and delicious menu where all hands can be on deck. In fact, several dishes benefit greatly from little hands doing the mixing. And nobody needs to be left out. Older kids can help chop the ingredients, while younger ones squish them together.
If you’re dealing with short attention spans, it’s probably a good idea to premeasure the ingredients and have everything laid out in small bowls on the table before calling your helpers into the kitchen to wash their hands. They can easily combine the ingredients for each dish, wash their hands between recipes and do it all again.
For appetizers, nothing beats guacamole or a plate of deviled eggs. Show the older junior chefs how to dice the tomato and green onions and chop the cilantro. But keep the ingredients separate. Have your younger assistants juice the lemon and help scoop out the avocado flesh with a spoon. Then they can dump everything into a mixing bowl and use their hands to mash to their heart’s content. After mixing, scrape the guacamole into a nice serving bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Taste testing allowed!
For the deviled eggs, I’ve toned down the filling seasonings to appeal to timid younger palates. But all the fun is in the mixing anyway. A pastry cutter is ideal, as well as safe, for chopping the egg yolk filling smooth. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Then, using a small gelato scoop, your helpers can plop a portion in each egg half. Sprinkle with paprika and garnish with finely shredded lettuce for an appetizer that looks as good as it tastes.
Off to the sink they go to wash up for the main course. There are two dishes to prepare: the “tots” and the burgers. For the potato tots, have the older helpers grate and microwave the potatoes. Use a blending fork to toss the cooked potatoes with the rest of the ingredients – or again, with clean hands. Then enlist that gelato scoop again to measure out half tablespoons of the mixture to be formed into the classic shapes. Don’t worry if the tots are not perfect: they will still taste awesome when baked. (You’re welcome to cheat and just buy store-bought tots, but it still can be their project. Have your helpers lay them out on the pan, set the timer and wait for them to cook.)
For the burgers, adding cheese to the lean ground meat, instead of just melting it on top, keeps the grilled results moist. To prepare, have the kids squash together the meat, cheese and mild green chile in a bowl until well combined. (If somebody doesn’t care for the green chile, divide out a portion of the ground meat and mix with cheese alone.) Evenly divide up the burger into balls, then have them help press the balls into patties. And when the time comes to cook, it’s also time to get Dad involved. Although it’s Father’s Day, Dad is still the grill master.
For dessert, try something gratifying, healthy and a little decadent — chocolate-covered fruit skewers. Show the tykes how to thread strawberries and chunks of bananas carefully onto small wooded skewers. Dip the arrangement on one side in chocolate chips melted in the microwave. Allow the chocolate-covered fruit to set on a rack-covered tray and place in the refrigerator until serving time.
As promised, I offer a tasty and simple Father’s Day menu that the whole family can help prepare. The important thing here is that everyone has a role, even Dad. And for older kids, it’s a chance to relive making mud pies!
KID-FRIENDLY DEVILED EGGS
7-8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1/4 cup Miracle Whip
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon Season-All, or other seasoning mixture
Finely slivered lettuce, chopped
Sweet Hungarian paprika (not hot)
Cut the eggs in half and pop the hard-cooked yolks into a medium bowl. Place the egg whites on a deviled egg plate or small platter.
Mash yolks with a fork until fairly even in texture. Add the Miracle Whip, the yellow mustard and the seasoning. Using a pastry cutter, or a fork, continue to mix until smooth. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula to be sure ingredients are mixed together well.
Use a gelato scoop or a teaspoon to gather about 1/2 tablespoon or so of filling for each egg half. Sprinkle with paprika. Garnish platter with the finely shredded lettuce.
Makes 14-16 halves, enough for a dozen deviled eggs for the egg plate, plus some extras for sampling along the way.
3 ripe avocados
1 large tomato with its juice, diced
1 large scallion, washed, trimmed and chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 small lemon, juiced (about 3-4 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (or to taste)
Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. With a large spoon, scrape the flesh into a medium bowl. Mash with a fork or by hand. Add the tomato and scallion and combine lightly with fork or hand. Add the remaining ingredients and mix together with the fork.
With a spatula, scrape the guacamole into a bowl. Serve with tortilla chips and raw vegetables, such as sliced English cucumbers, red pepper strips and baby carrots.
HOMEMADE POTATO “TOTS”
Store-bought potato tots are perfectly adequate, and if you check the label, you can find a brand that uses no preservatives. But if you have time, try making your own. You can vary the seasonings to taste, and for adults, you might mix in some red or green chile powder for a little extra bite.
2-3 russet potatoes, peeled and grated into medium shreds (about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Drain potatoes and if excessively wet, dry well with a dish towel. Place potato shreds in a covered microwave dish. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir again and cool potatoes in a mesh drainer. They will be cooked, but still a little firm.
Whisk together the egg, the salt, onion powder, cornstarch, pepper and the oil until custard-like. Combine well with the potatoes, using your hands. Mixture will be sticky. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the potato mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Chop the mixture with several 2-second pulses until medium fine.
Use a gelato scoop or a spoon to measure out 1 inch “tots.” Drop in rows on the parchment covered baking sheet. When all the mixture is used up, help shape unruly ones using damp fingers. Don’t worry if they’re a bit messy. They will firm up as they bake. These “tots” won’t quite look like the extruded store-bought kind, but they will be delicious!
Bake for 10 minutes. Using a thin steel spatula, carefully flip the tots over. Use the spatula to flatten them slightly. Bake for 10 more minutes or until brown.
Makes 24-30 “tots.”
GREEN CHILE CHEESEBURGERS WITH BACON
When I make these for adult friends, I always use medium green chile. But you may have more sensitive palates to satisfy, so I have specified mild chile. If even that is too much, reserve a portion of the meat and leave out the chile altogether — mix it only with cheese.
1-1/2 pounds ground round, 85-90% lean
1-1/2 cups coarsely grated cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped mild green chile
1 teaspoon salt
6-8 slices cooked crisp bacon
Potato hamburger buns
Mix ingredients thoroughly to combine evenly. Form into 6 hefty patties or 8 more modest ones. Grill until done to preference, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
Place a burger on the bottom half of a potato bun. Cut a piece of crisp bacon in half and crisscross over the top. Place a lettuce leaf and tomato slice on the plate next to the burger.
CHOCOLATE DIPPED FRUIT SALAD SKEWERS
I picked bananas and strawberries because most kids like them, they’re easy to handle and they’re divine with chocolate. But you can substitute your own family’s favorite fruit.
1/2 cup dark chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips
12 large strawberries, washed and gently patted dry with paper towels
2 medium bananas, each peeled and cut into 9 even chunks
6 wooden skewers (about 6-8 inches long)
On each skewer, alternate threading chunks of banana and strawberry, ending with banana. Set aside when all 6 skewers are ready.
Place the chocolate chips in a glass baking dish at least wide enough to accommodate the length of the skewers you are using. Microwave the chocolate chips for 1 minute. Using the back of a spoon, lightly stir the chocolate. Microwave for 1 minute more. Stir again. The chocolate should be perfectly liquid and creamy.
Pick up a skewer and lay it lengthwise into the chocolate, covering one side. If you have trouble getting the chocolate on the fruit, use the back of the spoon to paint it on. Place skewers chocolate side up on a cookie rack. Repeat with remaining skewers. Put the rack on a plastic tray and refrigerate until serving.
Makes 6 servings.
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