Cheese Plate Play Date

(Noe Valley’s 24th Street Cheese Co)

Here’s what happens when you let kids design their own party cheese plate: they come up with some interesting combinations that you would have never thought of and they might find a little inspiration to try some new foods. Most importantly, they’ll have a great time letting their creativity flow. Over the years I have really come to appreciate how much kids enjoy the chance to make choices at mealtime. Just giving them options reduces how picky they are and makes eating together a lot more fun for everyone.

I would like to take credit for this brilliant cheese plate idea, but all the credit goes to Ria. I’m not exactly sure where she came up with the idea, but once she put it out there it wasn’t hard to sell me on it. We spent a good deal of time discussing, then shopping for what would go on her cheese plate which included some of her favorite cheeses (she is partial to the ooey-gooey creamy triple cream ones), crackers, salami, fruits, nuts, olives etc.  Once the ingredients were procured she added her artistic flair and came up with this lovely design for a party that we hosted:

Our next adventure in junior cheese plate design came in the form of a dinner play date with Luca and Stacie. They brought over some of their own favorite bits and pieces to add to the mix and the kids got to work. They eagerly dove into the project first choosing their plates, then checking out all the goodies. It was delightful listening to Luca and Ria’s conversation and descriptions of what they were thinking as they worked on their designs — a rainy day-themed plate complete with raisin raindrops; artfully drizzled apple slices; sweet and salty dried fruit and salami bites — and a wonderful thing to hear them encourage each other to taste and sample. We made sure their plates were hearty enough to qualify as supper (giving us adults a night off from dinner duty) so Stacie and I sat back with a refreshing beverage, nibbled and chatted. Cheers to that!

We love this as a fun and fuss-free play date for kids of any age. Given the call for cheese plates this time of year, it’s also a perfect activity to keep little hands busy amidst all the holiday revelry.

Listen to the kids discuss their cheese plates:

Here are some ideas and tips for hosting Your own parti du fromage:

  • Involve your kids in the shopping and planning. We love any excuse to visit a specialty cheese store, but even a well-stocked market will do. Do some tasting and sampling to get the ball rolling.
  • Give the kids total free reign to pick some items, then suggest, nudge and supplement with others (and raid your pantry) so that you have a well-rounded assortment of things that will make a complete meal. You can still give kids a choice even in unfamiliar territory (“these olives or those?”, ‘”pick one of these”)
  • Keep it lively by tasting and sharing opinions. Consider taste, texture, aroma, presentation and encourage everyone to share the stories and ideas behind their creations.
  • For those who are less gung ho about the idea of cheese tasting, you could easily turn this from a cheese plate project into creative grilled cheese sandwich party. We recently hosted a grilled cheese party with a big bunch of kids and they had a blast experimenting with different combinations and coming up with crazy sandwich names. If you don’t have a panini press, you can toast your sandwiches up in a waffle iron which will make you the coolest play date host ever.
  • Have even more fun by letting kids create a menu, write a description or make a drawing to accompany their creation.

You might also like: 5 Minute DIY Ricotta, Royal Market and Bakery, Don’t Throw That Out! Meet Your New BFF, the Parmegiano Reggiano Rind

Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Yesterday we we spent the afternoon playing with dumplings and empanadas. Both are great projects to do with kids. Even the bambino got into the act! There are lots of tasks that little cooks can do and they might even be inspired to try something new.  As always, hunger for a tasty bite was our main focus, but we were also doing a trial run for our upcoming “Cooking with Kids: Dumplings and Empanadas” event on May 7th at 18 Reasons. Come on out and cook with us! Click here for  class and ticket info.

In addition to having a jolly good time, getting messy and eating way too much, we learned a few things which you may want to keep in mind for your next dumpling or empanada-inspired play date:

  • Make extra dumplings because the kids will probably scarf them down before you can get one (we made Simran’s Easy Peasy Dumplings with minced chicken thigh meat)
  • Mark whose empanadas are whose if you want to avoid an empanada guessing game. An identifying scrap of dough on top does nicely.
  • Chocolate and caramelized banana empanadas are to die for!

Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Makes about  6-8 Dessert Empanadas

[you could make a simplified and slightly healthier  version by mashing the bananas and adding a pinch of cinnamon rather than caramelizing them]

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Break up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate into small pieces and set aside.
  3. In a pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and stir in 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar until it dissolves. Add a pinch of cinnamon if you like.
  4. Stir in 2 sliced bananas and let them cook in the sauce for a few minutes. [For an adult version, you could add a splash of rum and flambe the filling]
  5. Roll out your empanada dough and cut into 5″ diameter circles (or you can use prepared empanada discs found in most latin markets). Fill each empanada with 3 Tablespoons of filling and place a few chocolate pieces on top.
  6. Brush edges with egg wash ( 1 egg beaten with a Tablespoon of milk).  Fold the dough over the filling making a half circle shape and press edges down to seal. Crimp edge with a fork and poke a few holes on top with the tines of your fork.
  7. Brush top with egg wash and  sprinkle with demerara sugar (optional).
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.