Jan 21, 2015

Preschool Arts Enrichment Summer Camp  2014

Preschool Arts Enrichment Summer Camp 2014

 

By:  Mary Ann Skaro  

 “Thank you Mary Ann for asking if you could write about your son’s experiences…such a beautiful act of kindness!”

 

Peak into the window of the Creative Kids Corners summer camp and you’ll see a lot of singing, dancing; creative art projects all weaved into a whimsical learning environment.  This seven week summer camp is filled with fun, and laughter all geared to stimulate creative thinking and learning.

Each morning before the children enter camp, they are greeted by an amusing and interactive display on the front table.  This gives the children a clue of what they can expect the theme to be for the week. One week the classroom was transformed into a farmers market, allowing the kids to pick out and buy pretend fruits and vegetables.  The following week, the kids were guided through the rainforest as they learned, and explored all about the animals and creatures living in the jungle. Creative Kids Corner takes theme week to a whole new level by merging songs, crafts and games all into one big, fun, and interactive atmosphere.  

 Each day the children are encouraged to set their imaginations free as they explore toys, play games, sing songs, and build friendships. Co-operating and listening are carried through all the activities, be it on the new outdoor play area or sitting around the table enjoying their snacks.  Lots of fun and special memories are made at Creative Kids Corner.

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Oct 12, 2013

Nosh For Nurture Annual Benefit – September 2013

Nosh For Nurture Annual Benefit – September 2013

CKC was a proud sponsor and participant at Nosh for Nurture’s annual benefit held this past Saturday evening at the Winnetka Presbyterian Church on Hibbard Rd. Nosh for Nurture is an organization dedicated to fighting childhood obesity and improving nutrition generally among underprivileged families through nutritional and culinary education. CKC’s culinary mission of teaching “Cooking for Life” to kids from four to13 fit right in. Other sponsors and participants included Big Bowl, Valerie Bolon, John Trueman, Creperie St. Germain, and well-known local chef Gale Gand. All of the food served had a distinctly “delicious/good for you” balance, including CKC’s, which was super-nutritious high-protein and gluten-free red-lentil pasta with a simple marinara sauce and Parmesan shavings.  As all 120 or so guests were fed, the church’s kitchens became beehives of activity, with all groups helping each other plate and serve appetizers. By all accounts it was a successful evening and for sure nobody left hungry.

CKC is proud to be among those trying to affect tangible change for good in the field of food and nutrition.

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Jun 30, 2013

The Cuisine Of Austria

 

Recently diplomats from many countries were polled regarding their favorite city in which to live. Conventional wisdom might think Paris, London, Amsterdam or perhaps Rome. Fans of smaller capitals might choose Stockholm, Copenhagen, Bern, or Dublin. Interestingly, none of these worthy capitals was the favorite. It was Vienna, the capital of Austria, our culinary destination this week. Vienna has many qualities going for it but here are two of the most salient: 1) it was long a major capital, home of the Austro-Hungarian empire and therefore the cultural and economic linchpin of what we would call Eastern Europe, and 2) it is breathtakingly beautiful.

 

Before we talk about our menus I need to mention coffee. Most everyone has heard of the Viennese coffee houses. These are refined and deluxe palaces of graciousness and relaxation where tuxedoed waiters wearing white gloves lovingly serve exquisite coffee and ambrosial cakes and tortes. The came into existence soon after the Battle of Vienna in 1683 in which the Austrian army defeated the Ottomans who, as they were retreating, left some bags of coffee behind. Legend has it that the coffee was so enjoyed it began a love affair with the rite of roasting, brewing, and enjoying coffee that flourishes to this day.

 

Culinary influences in Austrian cuisine come from both West and East--to the West the hearty cooking of Germany, and to the East the decidedly more oriental and spice-rich cooking of Hungary.  The national dish of Austria is Weiner Schnitzel (Viennese Cutlet). In the traditional manner it’s made with veal, pounded thin, then dredged with flour, egg wash, and breadcrumbs, and pan-fried. Because of the care given to the dredging process and the attention placed on the oil temperature, very little oil is absorbed during the cooking process so it’s a light dish.  While we don’t usually fry in Cooking for Life occasionally it’s the right thing to do and Weiner Schnitzel is well worth the little bit of oil.  We will replace the veal with chicken but all other aspects of preparation will be as in the classic recipe. Our junior chefs will pound the chicken cutlets, perform the breading process, and then I will handle the frying process for safety’s sake. We will make a spaetzle (home-made Austrian style mini dumplings) and an Austrian style salad. On the second day of Austrian cuisine we’re going to explore the Hungarian side of Austrian cooking, with a gulash and perhaps some stuffed peppers.

 

Of course as is her want Chef Linda will have scoured the Skokie library (which is fabulous, by the way) for books and music about Austria. I hope she chooses a CD with a classic Viennese waltz because I’m hoping the junior chefs and I can convince Linda to teach us all how to glide around the WCC gym floor with style and grace.

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Jun 27, 2013

Beginning Our Summer Ethnic Cooking

It’s time for Cooking for Life’s ethnic culinary travels and our two first ports of call are countries of the sun: Mexico and Sicily. We call Sicily a country because, although technically part of Italy, Sicily has always been fiercely independent and influenced by many different cultures—Greeks, Romans, Saracens (Arabs), and others.

 

Of course Mexico is also a melting pot, first a Mesoamerican culture and then a combination of Mesoamerican and Spanish/European. Both Mexico and Sicily have cuisines that reflect their hot climates and relative economic poverty. Thus many dishes are vegetable based which fits nicely with our Cooking for Life healthy eating paradigm.

 

Often we forget that chocolate was first used by the Aztecs, along with the tomato. It’s ironic that tomatoes are very much a staple in Sicily and that the world capitals of chocolate would have to be considered Switzerland and Belgium, both countries far away from any cocoa beans. The Spaniards brought domesticated animals like cattle to the New World and these slowly became part of the Mexican diet but most Mexican dishes rely on beans, vegetables, and more modest protein sources like fish and chicken. We made chicken enchiladas and a fabulous Chef Linda Mexican salad Wednesday of last week. I call the salad the Chef Linda salad because it was so colorful and as she always teaches, colorful food is food that is good for you. I am happy to report that in addition to being colorful it was delicious. The enchiladas were seductive, and the one I brought home was set upon by my college age children as though they had not been fed in a month.

 

In Sicily we see the Saracen influence in the sweet and sour dishes such as one we will make next Monday: caponata. This is a type of relish, almost like Indian chutney, made from eggplant, garlic, celery, raisins, and tomatoes. It is often an antipasto (anti—before; pasto—meal) or an accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats.  We’ll also make a braciole, a thin slice of meat pounded and stuffed with sweet and savoury filling, rolled and cooked in the oven. Braciole is a good example of a cheap cut of meat that is made tender by gentle cooking. Of course we’ll have to accelerate the process due to time constraints but we’ll manage.  Wish us “bon voyage” because we’re on our way!

 

July 1st and 3rd - Austria

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Jun 2, 2013

Complexity Leading To Harmony

This week we are going to make dishes from Thailand (pad thai) and Vietnam (spring rolls).  Having lived in Singapore and Thailand for quite a few years I am a devotee of these cuisines, and also the cuisines of Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Myanmar (formerly Burma).  Of course all these cuisines are subtly different but in one fundamental aspect they resemble each other: they all juggle disparate elements of flavors and ingredients to create a harmonious finish. I think of the analogy of the duckling swimming on a pond: looking from above it seems to glide effortlessly across the pond with no effort at all, but look underneath the surface and the little webbed feet are paddling furiously. So it is with these Asian cuisines: many ingredients, painstakingly prepared, with complex seasonings, all intended to achieve a final and peaceful harmony.

 

Thai meals always include a balance of the essential four flavors: sweet, sour, salty, and, my favorite, spicy.  Although not officially one of the Thai flavors Thai meals also include umami, that Japanese soy flavor which is at once mouth filling and meaty.  If you’ve had a perfect piece of “maguro”—sashimi tuna belly—you know what I’m talking about.  A rare steak will give you the same sensation but not a well done one, sorry,

 

I would characterize Vietnamese food as similar to Thai but perhaps more delicate. Other than cilantro the favorite herb in Vietnamese cuisine is mint, and this herb will almost certainly be part of our spring rolls. Incidentally some of you might wonder how spring rolls fit into Cooking For Life?  They fit in because unlike egg roils spring rolls are not fried, indeed not cooked at all, just beautifully sliced vegetables and herbs wrapped in a rice paper wrapper and dipped in a delicate sauce.

 

If pad thai, the noodle dish we’re making, is perhaps the Thai dish best known and loved by Americans, then the Vietnamese equivalent might be pho, a beef noodle soup that comes from the region of Hanoi, the capital in the North.  There are many varieties of pho but all of them feature rich beef broth, some part or other of the cow, and lots of veggies and herbs. It’s classic street food in Vietnam.

 

I recommend you YouTube “street cooking in Bangkok” and “street cooking in Vietnam” to get a first hand look at these wonderful cuisines and how they are prepared.  Even as I write this I have nostalgia for the many wonderful meals I had in Southeast Asia. I’d like to go back right now,

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The Origins of Pizza


Humans have been putting ingredients on top of flatbreads since the Neolithic time.  Many cultures have their own flatbread variants, from the paranthas and naans of India, to tortillas from Mexico, the foccacias of Ligurian Italy, and various flatbreads from Scandinavia which were topped with early versions of ingredients which we might find in a modern smorgasborg.

 

As best we know the first apparition of the word “pizza” dates from 997.  A Roman document mentions that one person owed another several “pizze” (the plural of pizza).  Pizza as we know it originated in Naples, Italy and came to America with the immigrants who flocked here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

The Neapolitan pizza is the model for pizzas all over Italy: the crust is thin, chewy, and crispy all at once, the toppings are spare, and the whole is cooked in a hot wood-fire or coal-fired oven.  Due to the high heat of the oven (700 degrees is common) and the thinness of the pizza cooking time for a typical Italian pizza is around 90 seconds. Traditionally there are some scorched edges to the dough and the ingredients are hot and bubbly.  In the Italian tradition pizza is eaten immediately so that if there are several people at the table nobody waits until everybody has been served their pizza, they just dig in to their own one.

 

We don’t have time to make dough and let it rise but we are going to roll out dough balls that we’ve bought from a pizzeria. We’ll roll the dough out quite than and then apply our toppings in the Italian way: not too much. We can’t get our oven to 700 degrees but we’ll get it as high as possible and see what happens. Once the pizzas come out of the oven we’ll top them with arugula with its peppery, tangy flavor and give the whole a spritz of good olive oil.

 

With our pizza we’ll enjoy a traditional antipasto (anti= before; pasto=meal) called “fagioli al ucceletto”—white beans stewed with tomatoes, garlic, and fresh rosemary. This dish is typical of Northern Italy and is as nutritious as it is delicious. Our junior chefs will get experience working with fresh herbs and achieving great flavor with simple and humble ingredients.

 

Buon appetite!

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May 15, 2013

“One Eats First With One’s Eyes”

 

This truism is a foundation of French classical cuisine but true of virtually all cuisines all over the world. It reminds me of the complaint my car-executive late father heard from his best friend, a multi-millionaire General Motors dealer in Switzerland regarding a new range of GM models developed on my father’s watch: “Mais alors, Gene, ca coute pas plus chere for les faire jolies.” (It doesn’t cost anymore to make them beautiful.)

 

In our cooking class yesterday we focused on presentation, along with deliciousness and healthfulness. Our junior chefs made a French “salade compose”, a salad of fresh greens, radishes, green beans, carrots, and fennel that was presented in a beautiful manner: Instead of mixing and mushing everything up all together each ingredient was laid out next to each other.  Colors, textures, and tastes complemented each other as each student received some of each ingredient dressed with a classic vinaigrette.

 

Of course this class was not just for herbivores. We also made an Italian frittata, a main-course worthy omelet filled with potatoes, sweet peppers, onions, a little garlic, quartered cherry tomatoes, fresh torn basil, and Asiago cheese. Many people add some half-and-half or even heavy cream to a frittata (think Ina Garten or Paula Deene) but we do not in the spirit of Cooking for Life. The naughty ingredients weren’t missed at all and all agreed the end products were delicious.  To cook the frittatas we used two of my old cast-iron pans, one square and the other traditional and round. The square one proved to be the more non-stick and the frittata came  out of that one in one perfect and beautiful piece. The other one not so much, probably because I was too parsimonious with the olive oil. Oh well.

 

PS: My favorite food is the national dish of Brazil, where I was born. It’s a stew of black beans and assorted meats cooked for a long time and served over white rice with collard greens and a toasted manioc-root condiment called “farofa”. The dish is called “feijoada” which means a big bean cook-up and is magnificently delicious. However, good-looking it’s not. Think a huge pot of Boston baked-beans except black, and meats blackened by the cooking with the beans. Some people probably take their first bites with their eyes closed…..

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May 6, 2013

Italian Lessons

To paraphrase the old rhyme, “One panino, two panini, three panini, four….etc”.  Likewise, “One raviolo, two ravioli, three ravioli four…..etc”.  In Italian, the plural form of most nouns ends in “i”, so if you go to a place (say, like Starbucks) and someone asks you if you want to buy a “panini” I recommend you buy the “panino”, because they’re really quite good, and reflect on the fact that even a huge and hyper-successful corporation like Starbucks can get simple foreign grammar wrong.

 

In our Cooking for Life series we strive for accuracy and fidelity to all the nuances and details of our recipes so that our junior chefs get an authentic experience and not a half-baked “light” version. To that end in this weeks class we’re going to make ravioli stuffed with pumpkin which is flavored with sage, a traditional Northern Italian combination.  We’ll use wonton wrappers, which work wonderfully well to make the ravioli and are even used by housewives in Italy for that purpose because they’re thinner and lighter than usual ravioli dough.  Once made our ravioli will be boiled in salted water until they float, drained, and combined with a sage sauce. Finally we’ll grate some fresh Parmesan on them and eat them hot.

 

In Italy the pumpkin ravioli would be a “primo”, a first course. It would be followed by a protein and a veg. Since we don’t have time for a two-course meal we’ll have our protein along with our ravioli: grilled tilapia with a mango chutney. Grilling a relatively delicate fish is an art our junior chefs need to learn because grilling imparts such a good flavor and texture to an ingredient that is—let’s be honest—not on everyone’s top five list. The chutney will seal the deal, providing acidity and lots of taste.  We’ll also have a sautéed green spritzed with lemon. We’ll need the sour to balance the sweetness of the pumpkin and the fruitiness of the mango.

And so we’ll make our meal incorporating all the basics of most Italian cooking: simplicity, balance, and healthfulness. Buon Appetito!

To paraphrase the old rhyme, “One panino, two panini, three panini, four….etc”.  Likewise, “One raviolo, two ravioli, three ravioli four…..etc”.  In Italian, the plural form of most nouns ends in “i”, so if you go to a place (say, like Starbucks) and someone asks you if you want to buy a “panini” I recommend you buy the “panino”, because they’re really quite good, and reflect on the fact that even a huge and hyper-successful corporation like Starbucks can get simple foreign grammar wrong.

 

In our Cooking for Life series we strive for accuracy and fidelity to all the nuances and details of our recipes so that our junior chefs get an authentic experience and not a half-baked “light” version. To that end in this weeks class we’re going to make ravioli stuffed with pumpkin which is flavored with sage, a traditional Northern Italian combination.  We’ll use wonton wrappers, which work wonderfully well to make the ravioli and are even used by housewives in Italy for that purpose because they’re thinner and lighter than usual ravioli dough.  Once made our ravioli will be boiled in salted water until they float, drained, and combined with a sage sauce. Finally we’ll grate some fresh Parmesan on them and eat them hot.

 

In Italy the pumpkin ravioli would be a “primo”, a first course. It would be followed by a protein and a veg. Since we don’t have time for a two-course meal we’ll have our protein along with our ravioli: grilled tilapia with a mango chutney. Grilling a relatively delicate fish is an art our junior chefs need to learn because grilling imparts such a good flavor and texture to an ingredient that is—let’s be honest—not on everyone’s top five list. The chutney will seal the deal, providing acidity and lots of taste.  We’ll also have a sautéed green spritzed with lemon. We’ll need the sour to balance the sweetness of the pumpkin and the fruitiness of the mango.

 

And so we’ll make our meal incorporating all the basics of most Italian cooking: simplicity, balance, and healthfulness. Buon Appetito!

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Apr 29, 2013

Curry Does Not Come From A Bottle

 

Until I had the great good fortune to begin my Asian adventures in 1974 with a year at the University of Singapore I thought curry was a powder and that it came in a bottle.  Quite soon, however, as I began to travel throughout Asia and the Indian subcontinent I realized curry was both ubiquitous and altogether different from the powder in a bottle.

 

The word “curry” derives from the Tamil word “kari”, which means sauce. It is thought that the first curries were sauces made in prehistoric times from mustard seeds, coriander, fennel and tamarind pods pounded into a paste with mortar and pestle. As trade led to travel curry spread, and each area adapted it to its particular taste. There are innumerable types of curry, from wet (including coconut milk, broth, or vegetable puree) to dry (more like a dry rub as we might use in barbecue), from fiery hot (the Vindaloo from Southwest India is known for fire) to mild (the mildest I know is from Japan where it’s one of the most popular dishes in the culinary repertoire).

 

Curry powder was invented during the middle 1800’s for English colonists heading home from time in India. The English are curry connaisseurs, and to this day some of the finest I have ever eaten is found in London.  Indentured laborers working the sugar plantations are thought to have brought curry to places such as Trinidad, from where it spread to other countries such as Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.

 

Why did curry evolve? The cynics say it was developed to mask the discouraging smell of food beginning to spoil in hot climates, much in the way that perfume was developed to address the fact that in times past bathing was a once in a very long while event for many people, especially northern peoples. I prefer to believe that human ingenuity led to foraging, which uncovered the richness of plants and herbs that could add flavor and interest to diets based on modest ingredients.

 

Our curry will feature fresh lemongrass, fresh ginger, garlic, cilantro, limes, coconut milk (the low-fat kind, thank you very much!), and chilies.  Our use of the chilies will be discreet, since I know that few people like to jump-start their endorphin rush with painfully spicy food as I do. Our protein is chicken, a perfect foil for curry because it’s a mildly flavored meat, and we have some apricots for a little sweetness. Some brown Basmati rice and a green veg will round out our meal.

 

I can’t wait.

P.S.: Given our ingredient list, is our curry a wet or a dry one? Certainly the Junior Chefs will know the answer to this question after the class.

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Apr 10, 2013

The Wonderful World of Lentils

When we lived in Milan, Italy for five years we spent every major holiday with “parenti”—relatives of my father-in-law.  One of my favorite holidays was New Year, mostly because of a wonderful lentil dish full of meaning. It was “Lenticchie con Zampone”—lentils with zampone (“big foot”) a spicy sausage stuffed into the outer skin of a pigs foot so that the foot itself was one end of the sausage.  Of course the same sausage could also be had in the less aggressive “cotechino”, essentially the same sausage meat except without the pigs’ foot attached.


The tradition of eating this dish in Northern Italy goes back to Roman times and has to do with the lentils themselves. As one serves the dish one wishes ones’ guests as much economic fortune (i.e., coins or money) in the coming year as there are lentils on their plates. Since lentils are small and it takes quite a few to make a serving people would ask for a large serving in the hopes of a lot of good fortune in the coming year.


Whether or not good fortune flows from eating lentils it is certain they are good for you, a member of the legume family, lentils are grown like peas and come in many varieties—brown, pink, green, and orange. I have a pot of orange ones cooking away on the stove right now for a lentil soup.  Lentils are rich in all the stuff that’s good for you—protein, folic acid, fiber, and vitamin B. In addition the presence of a high number of flavones makes it an important line of defense against breast cancer.




Lentils are also good for your wallet, and are a staple of many peasant-based cuisines. To this end if you have never had a good dal with hot Indian flatbread I advise you to go to Devon Ave. and enjoy a lunch buffet at one of the restaurants. For my money Viceroy of India is the best although Tiffin is the fanciest. Fancy or not the buffets are inexpensive and a good way to experience lentils in a variety of forms.


In Tuesday’s class we’re going to use lentils in a Greek-style dish: moussaka made with eggplant, lentils (replacing the meat) and topped with feta, yoghurt, and other cheeses.  All the ingredients served together make for a delicious low fat, high fiber, high protein entrée that we will supplement with a Greek salad and some toasted pita and perhaps some hummus. Can we all say “yum!?”

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