Baltimore chefs share their favorite kid-friendly recipes

July 17, 2013|By Kit Waskom Pollard | For The Baltimore Sun

Our sister publication, Maryland Family magazine, recently ran a four-week Kids' Cooking Club in which local chefs shared some of their favorite recipes that they love making — and eating — with their own kids.

Participating chefs were Gia Daniella of Cafe Gia in Little Italy, Riccardo Bosio of Sotto Sopra in Mount Vernon, Matt Kane of B&O American Brasserie in downtown Baltimore and Nikki McGowan of CKCS Foods Studio.

Some of our favorites are shared here and you can find more at

Nikki McGowan, the founder of CKCS Foods Studio, a company that teaches cooking classes at schools and organizations throughout Baltimore, kicked off the cooking club with a recipe for guacamole that's straightforward and simple.

"When you give kids forks to mash the avocado, it's like Play-Doh," she said. "When I'm making this with classes, I relate it to baby poop. The kids love it."

McGowan lets her students sniff and taste ingredients throughout the process. "I tell them the cumin smells like a campfire and let them taste cayenne pepper with their fingers," she said. "We always have a cup of water nearby. They love the drama of having their mouths on fire."

Nikki's guacamole

4 ripe avocados

1/4 of a red onion

1 lime cut in wedges

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Small bunch of cilantro

Hot sauce to taste (a couple of shakes)

Salt to taste

Parents: Cut the avocados in half, and use a knife to whack the seed so it sticks on the knife and can be easily removed. Use a knife to slice the halves of the avocado while it's still in the shell. Then let the kids slice the rest of the avocado halves with plastic knives.

Have the kids scoop out the avocados into a bowl. Using the back of a metal fork, mash the avocado until it looks like baby poop. (Yes, the kids will understand and enjoy the reference.)

Parents: Cut the red onion into slices. Then let the kids use plastic knives to cut the onion into a smaller dice. (Remind them that even plastic knives can cut fingers.)

Add onion to avocado, and stir to mix. Give lime wedges to the kids to squeeze into the avocado mixture. Add the cumin and cayenne.

Have the kids tear the leaves of the cilantro off the stems then cut up the leaves with the plastic knives. Add cilantro to avocado mixture.

Bring out hot sauces and have the kids choose which one or ones they want to add to the mixture. Make sure they don't add too much — you can't reverse "too spicy." Add a sprinkle of salt to taste. Mix well.

Enjoy with some chips!

Gia Daniella learned to cook from her mother, Giovanna Blattermann, a first-generation American who moved from Sicily to Baltimore's Little Italy as a girl. Today, Gia passes along that knowledge to her children, Luca and Giada, in the kitchen of Cafe Gia, the Little Italy restaurant she owns with her mother.

For busy parents, Gia recommends serving this sauce and meatballs over store-bought pasta — she prefers the Barilla brand (and Luca prefers the cheese tortellini). "There's so much variety in pasta shapes and meat choices these days," she said. "To mix it up, I cook farfalle, fusilli or any other fun shape. The kids just love it!"

Luca's favorite meatballs

Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer

For the meatballs:

1/4 pound ground beef

1/4 pound ground pork

1/4 pound ground veal

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

Dash of salt and pepper

1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs

3/4 cup Parmigiano cheese, divided

2 tablespoons dried Italian herbs, chopped (oregano, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary and marjoram)

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup milk

Butter spray

1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix all of the meat. Add garlic, salt and pepper, bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of cheese (the remainder will be used on the finished product). Knead with both hands until all ingredients are blended together. Add the herbs and egg and knead. Add the milk and knead until smooth. (Gia's son Luca loves getting his hands into the meat. She makes sure they're clean first.)

After the ingredients are blended together, start making the meatballs; they should weigh about 1 1/2 to 2 ounces each.

Spray a cookie sheet with deep sides with butter spray. Place meatballs about an inch apart on cookie sheet. After the sheet is full, add one cup of tap water.

Bake meatballs in oven for 7 to 8 minutes, until medium well. Then move onto the next stage with the marinara sauce.

For the marinara sauce:

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium white onions, peeled and chopped

4 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 16-ounce can plum tomatoes

4 basil leaves, gently torn apart

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until caramelized, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and lightly saute until fragrant, about one minute (do not burn the garlic). Add the tomatoes, turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Using a hand blender, puree the sauce until smooth.

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