Involve children in meal preparation

The Fearless Kitchen: Delicious recipes to share with family and friends, by Vanessa Baxter, published by Bateman Books, $40
The Fearless Kitchen: Delicious recipes to share with family and friends, by Vanessa Baxter, published by Bateman Books, $40
New Zealand cook Vanessa Baxter believes in children being involved in putting food on the table.

The former Master Chef New Zealand contestant, now a children's cooking teacher, believes sharing meals is part of the glue of family life.

She also advocates taking the kids food shopping and including children in meal preparation.

Having ''sharing'' meals - where different components are placed on the table for everyone to help themselves - helps make meal time a more interactive experience.

Baxter's book, The Fearless Kitchen, has plenty of handy tips and suggestions for how and what little hands can help with in each recipe.


Crispy pork dumplings

Makes 60 (dairy free)

Photos: Todd Eyre
Photos: Todd Eyre

My kids absolutely love dumplings. These are their go-to snack for after school or sport. They are filling and delicious, so seem to hit the spot no matter what the time of day.

We can eat them for breakfast or dinner, and the kids will often cook themselves a plateful for afternoon tea. We love them with pork the most, although the sweetness of red bean paste is a favourite for the boys.

You will be surprised at how super-easy they are to make, and the kids love to help.

With regards to the seasonings, don't panic if you don't have all of these.

Basically you want something salty, and most people will have soy sauce. The sesame oil gives it a nutty Asian kick; use peanut oil if you have it and want a substitute.

The sake is something I add for a little sweetness and depth of flavour. You could add a Chinese rice wine instead, or even 2 tsp rice wine vinegar and 1 tsp sugar.

The rice flour pulls the ingredients together, so if you need to you can substitute with potato starch or cornflour.

1 packet round dumpling wrappers (usually 60 in a pack)
¼ red cabbage (or green)
a bunch of fresh coriander, roots andleaves
1 red chilli
2cm ginger
1 clove garlic
200g pork mince
cooking oil, for frying

2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cooking sake (or mirin)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp rice flour

Hand-chop the cabbage into small pieces.

I don't like to use a food processor, as it minces it too finely so that it loses the textural crunch. Finely chop the coriander roots and a handful of the leaves.

Chop the red chilli (and choose large or small, depending on whether your children can handle heat well). Peel the ginger and chop finely. Crush the garlic clove. Mix everything together in a bowl with the pork mince.

Measure your seasonings and add to the bowl.

Take the dumpling wrappers and have a small bowl of room-temperature fresh water in front of you.

Take a small teaspoon-size of the mixture and place in the centre of the dumpling wrapper. Wet your index finger in the water and run it around the edge of the wrapper.

Pinch the wrapper closed to seal the edges. You can try to pleat it, or simply close it - this is only a presentation difference and will not affect the taste.

There are many different ways to cook dumplings, and I use different ways depending on where I am, how many I am trying to cook, or what end result I am trying to achieve.

My kids cook their own dumplings, so I am going to give you their method because this is probably the best for 1 or 2 serves (around 12-15 dumplings) and is simple and effective.

Take a flat-based frying pan with a decent deep side. Drop in enough oil to just cover the base of the pan. Heat the oil until it shimmers, and then carefully pop in the dumplings. Make sure each dumpling has its own space.

You can fit them all in lined up, but not on top of each other! Now pour in enough water to add 1cm of liquid into the pan. Have the heat on a medium temperature, and pop a lid over the top.

Allow the dumplings to cook for 4 minutes. Remove the lid and cook until the water has evaporated in the pan. If you leave them in for a few extra minutes at the end, the leftover oil should caramelise on the bases of the dumplings.

The insides will have cooked in the steam, and you will have a perfect dumpling. Serve on their own or with extra soy or chilli sauce.

Fast fact: Whether you call them gyoza, ravioli, pot stickers or pelmeni, the idea of wrapping flavourful fillings in moreish little pockets of dough is an idea that translates in any language.

They may be sweet, savoury, hot, cold, spicy or creamy; filled with meat, vegetables, beans, herbs, cheese or any combination thereof. Once you start, it will be hard not to crave them for your table.


Corn and bacon fritters with miso paste

If you can make these with first-of-season corn, then the crunch that comes with the corn will add a brilliant texture to these fritters. The miso paste gives a unique depth of seasoning which I love.

Makes 12

410g can of corn or 2 fresh corn cobs (steamed and kernels removed)
1 cup chopped coriander leaves
1 Tbsp oil
3 spring onions, chopped
3 rashers bacon, chopped
½ cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp miso paste
50g cheddar

To season
sea salt and cracked black pepper
paprika (optional)

To serve
miso butter or lime ginger butter

To garnish
coriander leaves

Mix the corn and coriander in a bowl.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the spring onion and bacon, and cook for several minutes, until the bacon is cooked.

Add to the corn and coriander.

Measure in the flour, lightly beaten eggs, miso paste and cheddar. Season with salt and pepper and paprika, if you wish. Mix together.

Heat a clean frying pan to medium-high and add a little extra oil. Gently pile in dollops of the mixture, and fry until the bottoms are golden and you can flip them easily.

Cook for another minute or two on the other side, and remove to a clean serving plate.

Serve with miso butter or lime ginger butter, and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and microgreens.


Cocoa fruit crumble

When I made this crumble on MasterChef, I took a little trick from a New York restaurant and added a touch of cornflour. I also cooked the crumble mixture separately from the fruit. The buttery crumb is so good, and fills your kitchen with the most amazing aroma!

Serves 4 (vegetarian)

50g butter
400g rhubarb
4 apples, peeled and cored
1 Tbsp maple syrup
a small handful of mint leaves, chopped

100g flour
1 tsp cornflour
100g white sugar
½ cup cocoa
85g butter

Preheat your oven to 180degC.

Take a medium-sized, heavy-based frying pan and drop in the butter.

Slice the rhubarb into 5cm sticks, and cut the apples into eighths. Add these into the melted butter along with the maple syrup.

Keep the heat on medium, and allow

the fruit to simmer in the butter for around 10 minutes. Turn the apple slices over in the butter a couple of times.

Add the mint, and cook until the apple is lovely and soft. I like to still have some bite to mine, but you may prefer a very soft fruit, so this is a personal choice - just cook until you are happy with the texture.

Meantime, make the crumble. Mix together the flour, cornflour, white sugar and cocoa in a bowl.

Melt the butter, and then pour it into your dry mixture. Mix it together with a spoon, allowing lumps of different sizes.

Spread the mix out on to a flat-style baking tray lined with baking paper. Pop into the oven for 25 minutes. Stir once during the cooking process.

Remove from the oven. Use a spoon to gather the crumble and sprinkle it over the fruit. Serve hot and bubbling to the table.

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