Cooks Corner

Kids’ tastes go beyond grilled cheese, French fries and chicken nuggets

Orange-honey pork meatballs: A fun recipe that helps kids get involved with cooking.
Orange-honey pork meatballs: A fun recipe that helps kids get involved with cooking. National Pork Board

My daughter often accompanied me when I used to review restaurants in South Florida for the Miami Herald, and she loved fresh snapper, particularly with a Key lime beurre blanc at Louie’s Backyard in Key West.

She ordered duck whenever it was on a menu, though she was partial to the classic a l’orange.

Her favorite restaurant was the House of India in Coral Gables, where they brought a mango lassi to the table as soon as she was spotted, and she would share the curry but wanted her own biryani. Or maybe it was Versailles, where she could not get enough of the garlicky lime sauce for dipping mariquitas, and our waitress always put some in a cup for us to take home.

This was all before she started kindergarten.

I never relegated her to the kids’-menu wasteland of grilled cheese and chicken nuggets, so she was more adventurous in her eating than many adults.

Claudine Pepin, daughter of the legendary French chef Jacques Pepin, has written a cookbook that expands that notion. She says the whole idea of “kid food” disturbs her.

“As a society, we have tried to encourage kids to eat healthy foods by hiding them, disguising them as something else, or pouring processed cheese sauce on them, and I think that we do a disservice to children by doing so. Children don’t come into the world eating only chicken nuggets, pizza and French fries.”

Claudine Pepin says that growing up, she was always given “the same food that my parents and their friends were having.” Her father’s philosophy was “the moment for a child to be in the kitchen is from the moment they are born.”

That was her inspiration in creating Kids Cook French ($22, Quarry Books), which features classic French dishes redesigned in easier versions a child can prepare. Her father contributed whimsical drawings that illustrate the book.

Written in both English and French, the cookbook does not pander but presents the recipes as a way to introduce children to the joy and art of cooking while exposing them to a bit of French culinary culture.

Claudine’s style is wonderfully inclusive — she says of the beef Burgundy recipe, for example, “My father thinks I use too many mushrooms, but I like it that way. You should make it the way you like, too. We serve ours with buttered egg noodles, but it’s also great with mashed potatoes or rice.”

Another take on children and food: Popular Hispanic TV chef Doreen Colondres suggests getting children to try new tastes by involving them in the cooking of family meals. In this meatball recipe, for example, she says you can let them create different shapes other than the familiar round meatball, or after cooking have them spear the meatballs on a stick like a lollipop.

The pork meatball recipe was created for a cooking with children demonstration at the “Fun and Fit as a Family” event last Saturday for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Colondres, working with the National Pork Board, has created a series of recipes like this one, all available at

Sleuth’s Corner

Q. I’m hoping your readers can help me find some old recipes from back in the ’60s that my seven children used to like: 1. Meatloaf. What I remember was 1 pound ground beef, 3 tablespoons parsley, 3 tablespoons parmesan, 1 egg. No green peppers or ketchup. 2. Oatmeal pancakes. 3. Dumplings (flat and rolled) for Southern chicken & dumplings.

Mary Kilcoyne, Miami

A. Cooking for seven children must have been an adventure! This is the recipe I use for oatmeal pancakes, which has morphed from one on the Quaker Oats box from that time period. If you like your pancakes crunchy, don’t presoak the oats. I added that step because I don’t want my pancakes to be cookie-like. I also added salt and cinnamon and these days use Greek yogurt rather than buttermilk because it is more likely to be on hand.

You can make these plain, but I highly recommend adding at least one of the variations to the batter. I should also point out that these are not fluffy pancakes but a lot more substantial — the price you pay for using healthier oats instead of the white flour in a regular pancake.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172. Replies cannot be guaranteed.

Oatmeal Pancakes

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup buttermilk, Greek yogurt or milk soured with 1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine the oats with the buttermilk and let stand 15 minutes. Stir in the egg, melted butter and brown sugar. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon and add to the batter, stirring just until ingredients are well combined. Do not overmix.

Heat griddle or pan over medium-high heat (375 degrees on an electric griddle). Coat with cooking spray. Spoon about 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto griddle. Turn pancakes over when tops are covered with bubbles and edges are slightly dry; cook until bottoms are lightly browned. Makes 12.

Variations to stir into the mixed batter: 1/2 to 1 cup diced fresh or frozen fruit or blueberries; 1 medium-size ripe banana, mashed (stir into the butter mixture when making the batter); 3/4 cup shredded apple; 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts; 1/3 cup raisins and/or cranberries or other dried fruit; 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips.

Source: Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner.

Orange Honey Pork Meatballs

1 pound of fresh ground pork

1 egg (optional)

1 small garlic clove, minced

Chile serrano or jalapeño (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice and zest of 1 orange

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey or agave

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

In a bowl, mix together the pork, egg, garlic and chile if using. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, shape 12 meatballs and set aside in the refrigerator.

In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and zest, soy sauce and honey or agave and set aside.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Slide in the meatballs and cook for 2 minutes on one side. Flip the meatballs, add the sauce and cook 2 minutes more. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to deglaze the pan. Reduce heat, cover and continue cooking until meatballs are cooked through, about 8 minutes, depending upon the size and shape of the meatballs. Add the cilantro and serve immediately.

Note: The egg will help with consistency, juiciness and shape but you can do it without the egg in case of allergies of dietary restrictions. Serving size: Makes 12 meatballs to serve two as a main dish or six as an appetizer.

Source: Chef Doreen Colondres for National Pork Board’s Sabios del Sabor.

Boeuf Bourguignon

6 ounces slab bacon

3 pounds chuck, blade or shank beef roast

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound sliced mushrooms

2 medium yellow onions (about 2 cups diced)

4 whole carrots cut in 1/2-inch coins (about 2 cups)

1 large celery stalk, minced (about 1/2 cup)

4 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon thyme leaves, picked (about 7 sprigs)

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups good fruity red wine

3 cups chicken or beef broth

Remove the skin from the bacon and cut into 1-inch pieces. Sauté in a heavy 12-quart Dutch oven or sauce pot with a lid until beginning to brown but still tender. Remove the bacon pieces and set aside. Cut the beef into 1-inch cubes and sauté in the bacon fat (in batches if necessary) until nicely browned. Remove the beef and reserve. Pour off most of the fat and discard.

Lower the heat to medium low and add the butter. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula. Add the mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme leaves, and bay leaf with a pinch of salt and sauté until the vegetables just begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour on top of the vegetables and mix well. Continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and the broth. Scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate the brown bits on the bottom. Add the beef and the bacon to the pot. Stir well. Simmer on the stove top until the beef is very tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours. Skim away any fat that collects on the surface. Serve with egg noodles if desired. Makes 8 servings.

Source: ‘Kids Cook French,’ by Claudine Pepin (Quarry Books).