Welcome to Cooking Skool, a four-week series designed for young cooks. Each week serves up three themed recipes and how-to videos. Your kitchen guide is LNP | LancasterOnline food writer Kim O’Donnel, who walks you through every step of the way. Together, we’ll try new things, get creative and learn some math, science and history in between. Belly up to the counter and join us for our kitchen adventure!

In this third week of our series, we are taking things to a new level; we are making dinner. For many of us, dinner is the main meal of the day, when we gather as a family to talk about the day and refuel after work or school.

You may notice that some of this week’s recipes involve a few more steps. We are building upon our one-pot-and-pan skills and taking on maybe two pans and learning some new techniques. None of it is difficult, but maybe this week, you grab a partner to join you in the kitchen. After all, two sets of hands are more fun and gets dinner on the table in a flash.

On this week's menu: Homemade chicken strips, beans and rice and zucchini boats.

Beans and rice

Beans and rice is one of the most practical dishes a budding cook can learn. It is a filling combination that makes a lot of food for little money, a good thing to know when you are on a budget. In my 20s as a young journalist, I made beans and rice every week to stretch my tiny paycheck. And as you will see in the recipe, beans and rice is customizable; mix and match beans and topping as you like and come up with your own creations.

Kool Tidbits:

  • Rice comes in many colors, from brown to purple, with different cooking times, textures and sizes.
  • Rice is a staple grain of many cuisines around the world, from Mexico to Thailand; Cuba to India, Spain to Iran.

Tool Kit:

1 medium pot fitted with a lid (for rice); measuring cup and spoons; stirring spoon; sharp knife; can opener; 1 10-inch pan (for beans)

Tips:

  • Make the rice first, which needs a little time to cook. While it’s cooking, you can work on the beans.
  • For this recipe, we are making pilaf-style rice, which means browning the rice in oil, then adding water to cook. Some examples of white rice are basmati and jasmine. If your family has a rice cooker, feel free to use that.
  • We cook rice in a covered dish to create steam that gives us tender grains. That steam continues to cook the rice even after we take the pot off the heat. This is known as passive cooking.
  • The trick with the rice is to get the water so hot it is bubbling like crazy. That’s when you know it’s OK to lower the heat and cover the pot so the rice can gently cook.
  • We are using canned beans for convenience, but feel free to use dried beans that you cook yourself.

Beans and Rice

Makes 5 servings.

Ingredients: Rice

  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil

  • 1 cup long or medium-grain white rice
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Place the rice pot on the stovetop. Set the heat to medium-high. Add the oil and the rice, stirring until coated. Toast the rice for about 1 minute; it’s OK if it gets a little brown.

Add the water and the salt. You may hear a swooshing sound; that means the temperature is right. Bring the mixture to an active, rolling boil. This might take a few minutes.

Cover and reduce the heat to low. Set a timer for 12 minutes. With a fork, taste for doneness. Keep covered off heat; the rice will continue to cook.

Ingredients: Beans

  • 2 tablespoons neutral or olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cans black beans, or pinto or red kidney beans
  • Topping options: shredded cheese, lime, hot sauce, herbs

Directions:

Place a skillet on the stove and set the heat to medium. Add the oil, stirring until it is well coated.

Add the onion and cook until softened and the kitchen starts to smell like onions, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the spices and stir; the mixture may be pasty and that’s OK. Add the beans, stir, and cook until you see bubble — that means it’s boiling. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the mixture gets thicker, maybe 15 minutes. Add corn kernels if you like, or tomatoes. It’s cook’s choice.

To serve, scoop 1/2 cup cooked rice into each bowl, then top with 1/2 cup beans. Serve with any of the topping options, or create a fixings bar so that everyone can create their own bowl.