Malibu Way of Life

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Four-year-old Bruno Nispel rolls chicken tenders with help from his mother at Granita's Cooking School for Kids. Jody Stump / TMT

Summer camp for cooks

By Jody Stump

How did you learn to cook? I learned standing on a stool by my mother’s elbow. My earliest culinary memory is the sharp starched scent of her apron. What did we make? Scrambled eggs.

To a child, there is nothing more satisfying than messing about with goo, and mixing eggs and milk may be the perfect child’s play. I loved watching butter sizzle in the pan, and the caramel aroma of browning milk solids told me it was time to plop in the eggs I had beaten to submission. As I stirred and stirred, the liquid mess turned, like magic, into velvety curls of yellow puffs against the pan’s black satin gleam, and I knew to slide them off the heat while they still jiggled to have perfect scrambled eggs.

Breakfast was bonding, and it taught me useful lessons in life. Today, with take-out and packaged meals, many children never learn the joys of mucking about in the kitchen. They don’t experience with their own hands and eyes the alchemy of rising bread or congealing eggs, but Wolfgang Puck has set out to change all that with Granita’s Cooking School for Kids. It is run by Chef Jennifer Naylor on Saturdays until Aug. 16.

I was curious so I dropped in last week to watch Sous Chef Robin Atkins engage the kids in cooking old-fashioned kid-pleasers-corn dogs, pigs-in-the-blanket, chicken tenders and quesadillas. Thirty kids, ages four to 15, clustered around a handful of tables on the patio with a few parents supervising the youngest. For the most part, this was a kid’s day to do and be whoever they were. There were heads-down serious types who made pigs-in-the-blanket by carefully slicing their pastry dough into perfect rectangles; others nurtured their “pigs” by wrapping them head-and-toe and twice around the middle. And, yes, a few restless lads tossed a pastry scrap or two.

Some just wanted to cook. Jordan Blake, a second-grader at Our Lady of Malibu, liked the crispy chicken tenders so well he is adding the recipe to his repertoire, and a table-full of girls decided to throw a party to cook their day’s samples. Others just came for fun. One small group was so thrilled by the sounds of shaking, squishing and sizzling, they accompanied every course with a loud “swoosh” or “eeyooo.”

Each session includes four kid-friendly dishes even adults can love. I’ve included a recipe for something I never eat, but this version was so good, I ate two. Corn dogs. They were light and crunchy on the outside, and tasted like sweet summer corn with zip. Scrumptious.

Classes continue this week with Panini, and next week, desserts. One last class shouldn’t be missed, Wednesday, Aug. 20. Naylor will take the group on a gourmet picnic to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market to meet the farmers and sample the best of the state’s freshest fare. Enjoy!

Granita’s greatest corn dogs

Serves 8

1 package hot dogs

cornbread recipe (see below)

bamboo skewers

peanut oil

1. Make the cornbread coating and set aside. Note: it will thicken as it sets.

2. Cut hotdogs into thirds and skewer.

3. Heat oil to 350 degrees.

4. Dip the skewered hot dog into the batter and carefully drop into the oil. Fry until golden brown and remove carefully with tongs.

5. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with ketchup and mustard.

Cornbread

These may make the best corn dogs ever but, if the class has a fault, it is in the take-home recipes, which leave a great deal up to the skills of an at-home cook. I experimented with proportions until I came up with these- they are very close to Granita’s.

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

1/3 cup yellow corn meal

1 tsp. baking powder

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

4 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup milk

3 Tbs. water, or as needed

1/4 cup peanut oil

1. Mix together dry ingredients.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, vanilla and peppers. Stir into dry ingredients until well blended. Do not beat.

3. Blend in milk and gradually add water until the mixture plops from the spoon-it should not be runny or it won’t stick to the hot dog.

4. Finish by stirring in the oil.

Note: This recipe makes a good baked cornbread if you limit the water to three tablespoons. Bake the bread in buttered loaf pan for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.