|Final plating: Spinach Salad with Cranberry Croutons, Coriander Vinaigrette, and, inexplicably, Whole Coriander Seeds
However, for a pair of kids or a small group of kids or a large group of kids, playing Chopped is extremely fun, on the one hand, and, on the other, gets all or some of your dinner made. We've now done it loads of times (birthday parties, sleepovers, play dates, summer "camp") and kids get totally psyched, even if they're teenagers and you'd think they'd be too cool to get excited about celery seeds or almond extract. They'll surprise you.
|An unretouched photograph of enthusiastic teenagers competing at salad. Bonus Ava sighting!
1) Come up with a game plan. For kids with limited or unknown cooking skills, plan for them to make just a salad or dessert (more experienced cooks can do more courses and/or an entree, but make sure you have enough time). Gather or buy the 3 or 4 special ingredients that the cooks will have to use, and make sure that you have others that they'll likely want or need. So, say you're doing a salad: put the weird or fun ingredients in the basket (we've done raw cranberries, dill pickles, bread, coriander seeds, pomegranate molasses, shallots, hearts of palm, dates, turmeric and vanilla extract, among others) and then make sure you have some basic salad stuff (greens, cukes, carrots) on-hand. (We did a dessert one on New Year's Eve with a huge group of kids, and I think they had to use baguette, cocoa powder, navel oranges, and heavy cream. Tofu is a great ingredient for entrees, since it's safe to eat even if it's cooked improperly). I usually put a small amount of each required ingredient in a shopping bag for each team, so they can grab-and-go when the contest starts.
Edited to add a comment from below: "LOVE IT!! Just think that my kids and the kids we know wouldn't be as adventurous as yours. We might need to use Cream cheese, peanut butter, mini chocolate chips and apples in order to get them to produce anything eatable. Thanks for the tip!" Of course! That's a great idea. Rice cakes or toast could be a great base for an easier assembly-type project.
|A mortar and pestle is so great to have. Here, cranberries are getting shown what's what.
|Shallots getting chopped, before being sauteed and added to a cranberry vinaigrette.
|The littlest AND rowdiest kid, all rolled into one sharp-knife-wielding contestant! But look at that concentrating face. Those cranberries weren't going to cut themselves in half, after all.
|It is fine to make a "no heat" rule! There have definitely been some alarums, if you know what I mean. And what I mean is the smoke alarm going off.
6) Start the timer. Then retire helpfully to some comfortable nearby corner, ideally where you have installed a kitchen couch, like I am always reminding you to do. The kids will need to know where things are, especially if there are kids who aren't your kids. Also, they might want advice about ratios of oil to vinegar, and you can give it to them or not, depending on the ground rules you've laid out. Do be sure to give them time alerts in a dramatic and threatening way. Address them continually and menacingly as "Chefs!"
|The final plating.