Welcome to Week 6 (the final week!) of the Star-Telegram's summer Kids Cooking Club!
For six weeks in our Thursday Your Life section, we have presented a local chef and/or restaurateur working in the kitchen with kids, complete with recipes. The goal has been to have kids cook their way through the recipes (with some parental guidance), take a few notes and shoot a photo or two, if you like. As the summer now draws closer to ending, club members can take steps to receive an official certificate of completion. (See "How to Join," below.)
For our final week, we're featuring a recipe and cooking ideas from Mary Kha Ho, a Fort Worth restaurateur who co-owns with husband Jarry Ho the restaurant Jarry's parents opened in 1997, Tokyo Café. Mary is joined in the kitchen at her Ridglea home by an eager foursome of young cooks whose parents are among the loyal clientele at Mary and Jarry's popular Japanese restaurant.
Prepare an ample workspace and get ready to learn to make a delicious Asian appetizer -- and have fun in the process.
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Meet the expert
Mary Kha Ho
Co-owner, Tokyo Café, Fort Worth
With assistance from Olivia, Reagan and Katie Anne High and their friend Audrey Carter
Mary, who looks forward with husband Jarry to the Aug. 3 birth of their first baby, knows the value of organized, do-ahead meal preparation. Planning menus that allow you to make dishes in advance gives you time to relax before dinner, which is welcome at any time -- and especially during this hot weather.
Having a team of willing helpers in the kitchen makes any task easier, of course, and Mary finds such a crew from among the children who are regular patrons (with their parents) at Tokyo Café. The afternoon we stop in, Mary's assistants include a trio of sisters: Olivia, 3, and Reagan and Katie Anne, 6, along with their friend Audrey, 7, who all are eager to help make gyoza, a favorite appetizer served at the restaurant.
As Mary sets out bowls containing the recipe's ingredients, the girls talk about the Japanese dishes they've come to enjoy. Olivia likes miso soup, twins Reagan and Katie Anne are fond of fried rice, and Audrey raves about the sesame chicken.
All say they help a little in their parents' kitchens at home. "I really like baking," says Audrey, who notes that her favorite food is stuffed mushrooms.
The group gathers at Mary's dining table, which provides a perfect expanded work space. Mary shows the girls the gyoza skins, which are smooth dumpling shells similar to pasta, and places them in the center of the table in easy reach. She also sets out a bowl of coarsely chopped cabbage with ground pork and shows the young chefs how to stir the ingredients to combine.
In smaller bowls, Mary has divided other ingredients, such as green onion, salt, pepper, cornstarch and soy sauce. She helps the girls combine everything into the largest bowl. Each girl takes a gyoza wrapper in one palm of her hand and scoops one spoonful of the mixture onto the wrapper's center to make a filling. Mary shows them how to moisten the edge of the wrapper with egg wash and fold it in half.
"Make it look like a half of a circle," Mary says. "Press the edges together to close it, then place it on the pan, making it sit up."
She shows the girls how to push the wide part of the dumpling flat, giving it a base so that its crescent edge points up. Each girl quickly finds her talent for creating exemplary gyoza, and soon there are 50 little dumplings, ready for cooking.
To finish the gyoza, Mary uses a pan for a dual process of pan-frying and steaming. (Older kids or adults should handle the cooking process.) When the cooking is completed, the dumplings are served warm with a dipping sauce.
Helping kids broaden their palates can be as simple as getting them in the kitchen to help make new dishes.
"Don't make it a big deal when you're trying to get kids to eat exotic foods," says Mary, who notes that some customers as young as 3 or 4 love eating sashimi. "When you're working with them in the kitchen, you're showing them that the food's not weird."
The most important ingredient? Mary insists that's "making sure they're having fun."