While most teenagers may have spent the recent holiday break hanging out with friends, Jasmine Stewart happily spent part of the holiday hanging out in the kitchen.
The 13-year-old from Milton kicked off the season by whipping up a Thanksgiving Day meal for her family. This year — the year she was crowned the winner of MasterChef Junior Season five — was the first time Jasmine cooked most of the family meal by herself.
Turkey breast roulade, roast acorn squash filled with a green Thai curry soup, sweet potato sage biscuits and sauteed Brussels sprouts were just a few of the items on the menu of the dinner for six that Jasmine prepared.
Her Thanksgiving dinner debut came just a few weeks after the release of the “MasterChef Junior Cookbook,” (Potter, $20) which features recipes that Jasmine and the other junior chefs prepared while competing on the popular television show.
“Kids are picking up the tools and techniques needed to become great chefs at an early age,” said MasterChef judge and pastry chef, Christina Tosi in the book forward. “Their sense of wonder, of discovery with ingredients and techniques, is insane.”
Season five featured three junior chefs from metro Atlanta who made the final cut — Afnan Ahmad of Jonesboro, Justise Mayberry of Gwinnett County and, of course, Jasmine. Justise earned the runner-up slot in the competition, and both she and Afnan have recipes featured in the book.
Cookbooks played an important role in fostering Jasmine’s love for cooking. She would use the cookbooks her mother got for her to experiment and test out different ways of preparing the recipes.
Eventually, she began to create her own recipes, largely inspired by her family. “My parents have two different styles of cooking,” she said. “My mom likes Southern homestyle food. My dad likes to make very flavorful and bright dishes that are sweet, different and very exotic.”
Some of those instincts are revealed in the cookbook which features five of Jasmine’s recipes. Her Scallop and Smoked Trout Fritters with Romesco Sauce get a tangy boost when paired with her Green Papaya and Bell Pepper Salad. Her Vadouvan-Spiced Monkfish with Pancetta Lentils is a lean fish that can be tricky to prepare while her West Indian Lobster Curry features traditional Caribbean flavors but with her own special twist. And finally, for dessert, there is her recipe for individual Pineapple Upside-Down Cake with whipped coconut cream instead of the usual whipped cream.
Jasmine has a fairly advanced palette for a teenager (she likes asparagus!), and said she has always enjoyed trying different foods and tastes. There are just a few items on her no-try list. “I like everything,” she said. “There is not necessarily a thing I dislike except sushi and okra.”
In preparing meals, she really likes to use fresh herbs and veggies, along with trying different spices. Ideas for meals may just pop into her head, or she may write her ideas down and think about how they can go together. “I am always in cookbooks and watching videos. Sometimes I pull inspiration from those and try to make it my own,” she said.
When her plans for a dish don’t feel as if they are working out, she tries to stay positive and find a way to fix it or she just starts over, rethinks her plan and slows down.
For kids who want to start flexing their cooking muscles, Jasmine suggests they begin with the basics, then move outside of their comfort zone. “You cannot be intimated by cooking,” she said. “Find someone who inspires you in the kitchen and someone who cooks the type of food that you like to eat.”
A good place to start is the TopChef Cookbook, which pulls together a range of distinct recipes from the various contestants across all five seasons of the show. Jasmine admits some of the recipes may be more demanding than others. “A lot of recipes are a little bit challenging, but I would tell them, if we can do it, you can do it,” she said.
Learning to cook can help boost a child’s confidence, as it did for Jasmine, but it may also lead to a greater passion. “Cooking is something that I love to do,” said Jasmine, who is at work on her own cookbook and product line. “I love when I put something on the table and it spreads joy and happiness and makes people excited about eating.”
PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE (serves 4)
These individual pineapple upside-down cakes are topped with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, which might surprise you if you’re expecting regular whipped cream! It’s a small change, but it makes a big difference and ups the tropical flavors going on in this cake. For additional garnishes, you could drizzle the cakes with a spoonful of store-bought guava purée and top with a piece of dehydrated pineapple.
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons dark rum
½ cup heavy cream
¼ small pineapple, peeled and cut into ½-inch-thick wedges
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup pineapple juice
1 (14-ounce) can coconut cream (see Tip)
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved, 5 minutes. Pour half the mixture into four 6-ounce ramekins. Return the pan to medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the rum and the heavy cream, and stir well. Heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, let cool, and set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Arrange the pineapple slices on top of the brown sugar mixture in the ramekins, overlapping the slices slightly to create a spiral.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 6 tablespoons butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and the remaining 1 tablespoon rum. Add about half the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just blended. Beat in the pineapple juice, followed by the remaining flour mixture. Spoon the batter into the ramekins over the pineapple layer.
6. Bake the cakes on the middle rack of the oven for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
7. Remove the cakes from the oven, poke a few holes in each cake using a toothpick, and then pour the reserved caramel mixture over the tops. Let the cakes cool in the ramekins for 5 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edge of each ramekin to loosen the cake, and then invert each cake onto a dessert plate.
8. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the coconut cream and confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture holds soft peaks, 2 to 3 minutes.
9. Garnish each pineapple upside-down cake with a dollop of whipped coconut cream. Serve.
TIP: You’ll find cans of coconut cream on the same shelf as coconut milk in most grocery stores. They look similar, so make sure you grab the right one! If you can’t find it, here’s a quick tip: pop a can of full-fat coconut milk into the fridge for 24 hours, then carefully open the can and skim the cream off the top, leaving the coconut water below!
Reprinted from MasterChef Junior Cookbook. Copyright © 2017 by Shine Television, LLC. Food photographs copyright © 2017 by Evan Sung. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Keep up with Jasmine on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @justchefjasmine.