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Cooking up some fun at the library

Cooking up some fun at the library

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It’s not every day that the librarian says it’s OK to eat a pizza melt sandwich in the library.

But once in a while, Kenosha Public Library staff not only green light eating in the library, but help kids make food to eat there.

For several years, KPL staff have offered hands-on educational cooking demonstrations for children in the community meeting rooms at various branch libraries.

Some sessions are for children as young as kindergarten age through fifth grade; others are designed for teen participants.

The age-and-skill-appropriate classes introduce kids to making dessert parfaits, tacos and no-bake cookies.

Each session includes education about safe food handling, nutrition and sanitation, notes Lisa Rivers, one of the KPL staffers who leads some of the sessions. “We go over cooking, consistency and cutting — knife skills,” she said.

This summer, Kid Kitchen — presentations for the K-5 set — made parfaits and salad in a cup, with sessions held at both the Southwest and Northside branches.

During the week of Aug. 12, sandwiches were on the menu.

On Aug. 14 it was a full house at Southwest Library as 22 youngsters accompanied by relatives, guardians and siblings filled the community room in anticipation of that day’s dish: pizza melt sandwiches.

Before kicking off the class with sandwich Q&A, Rivers made sure all participants washed their hands with antibacterial hand wipes, emphasizing the importance of cooking with clean hands.

She then showcased the book “Sandwiches: More than You Ever Wanted to Know About Making and Eating America’s Favorite Food,” by Alison Deering and Bob Lentz.

Encouraging audience participation, Rivers asked, “Have you ever had a PB&J with lettuce? Or cheese puffs? These things take it up a notch! You could even have a spaghetti sandwich! (The latter eliciting several “icks” from the crowd.)

Noting that the simple sandwich can be made in varying levels of difficulty, Rivers informed the kids they would be making a “Level 4” sandwich.

“I didn’t want to have you just make PB&J.” What makes this a Level 4 is that it’s a grilled sandwich, she explained.

Next, the students watched a short video on the history of the sandwich, which introduced them to items like the Croque Monsieur, the Reuben, the Cubano and BLTs. “Who doesn’t like bacon? Let’s hear it for BLTs!” interjected Rivers.

After the video, students went to cooking workstations set up as place settings on the library conference tables.

“Today we’re making a pizza melt, which is version of grilled cheese. A pizza melt is a combination of a sandwich and a pizza,” Rivers said.

Rivers walked the students through the assembling of a pizza melt: slices of cheese, bits of thinly sliced pepperoni and a schmear of seasoned tomato paste she had made herself, atop slices of white bread.

She also explained that tomato paste is thicker than tomato sauce.

“Why wouldn’t you want to use tomato sauce on a pizza?” Rivers asked the group.

“Because sauce ruins the point of a pizza,” replied Jayden Tronson, 10. “It would be all runny.”

“Right — and mushy, too,” answered Rivers.

The class also got a small portion of cooking science. “When you grill you need some sort of fat to make things crisp: olive oil, butter or even mayonnaise,” Rivers said. Today’s class was using ghee, butter from which milk solids have been removed.

The griddle, she said, should be set at between 275 and 300 degrees.

Speaking to the young chefs as if they were young adults, Rivers informed them that their creations could include all or just some of the ingredients as they chose. When the sandwiches were constructed, the kids lined up to have them grilled on electric heating elements by high school volunteers Elizabeth and Colin.

“What do we want to do when we’re done?” she asked. “Clean up our workspace, just like any good chef would do!”

“They are enjoying themselves,” said parent Zineta Abazi, of Pleasant Prairie, who had brought two of her children, along with three nieces, to the program. She said that at home, her children, Agim, 9 and Hana, 7, are already learning to bake cookies and brownies.

The cooking class was a first for mom Sabrina Savra DeCarlo, of Kenosha, who brought her daughters Layla, 7, and Lily, 4, and son, Joshua, 3.

“It’s fun that they get to do this hands-on and get to eat what they make,” she said.

Rivers, an early literacy specialist for KPL, has been helping conduct KPL’s cooking presentations for the past two years. Her own culinary experience includes having worked in restaurants and catering.

The demos are free, but advance registration is required as space is limited, Rivers noted.

The classes are always well attended and always evolving, Rivers said. To expand the capability of cooking beyond electric griddles, KPL will soon be obtaining a mobile mini kitchen known as a Charlie Cart, she said.

“The earlier children start cooking, the better; it’s a life skill,” she said. “The classes are an opportunity for kids to get some exposure.”

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