Tom Douglas Restaurants and Premera Blue Cross have formed a partnership to teach a series of Made from Scratch classes that pair parents and kids to learn how to cook at home. The goal is not only to learn to cook but to use more fresh and healthy ingredients. Children must be at least 7...

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SATURDAY, 11 A.M. As sun streams through the windows at the Palace Kitchen in downtown Seattle, kids in crisp white chef’s hats nibble granola and color their place mats under the watchful gazes of their moms and one loyal aunt.

It’s Made from Scratch day, one of a series of cooking classes presented by Tom Douglas Restaurants in partnership with Premera Blue Cross. During the once-a-month classes, parents and children learn how to cook healthy, relatively easy, family-friendly recipes.

The recipes are made by combining a handful of store-bought, fresh ingredients with items from a well-stocked home pantry to create “not-entirely-from-scratch” dishes that don’t require a lot of shopping.

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No smiley-face Jell-O here! This is real food like Chicken-Sausage Pizza, Roasted Potato JoJo’s and Baked Zuke Sticks. Food that helps busy families avoid the high-fat-salt-sugar world of fast food.

“We want to teach the lifelong skills of cooking creatively with what we have around us, to make sure that people lead healthy lifestyles and, ultimately, to create a sustainable health-care system,” says Amy Fleckenstein of Premera Blue Cross.

So Premera partnered with Douglas, one of the city’s most accomplished chef-entrepreneurs, who solicited suggestions from his own child — college-aged daughter Loretta — to formulate the first Made from Scratch classes that were offered last year for kids only.

Sean Hartley is lead chef of the classes, as well as operations manager of the Douglas empire. His 8-year-old son, Everett, likes to cook, and is a frequent Made from Scratch participant who says he may one day follow in Dad’s footsteps.

The appeal of the classes — which are limited to 30 people — is immediately apparent. It’s exciting!

Student-parent teams work amid giant commercial mixers, glistening walk-in coolers and screaming-hot grills. Grumbling air-conditioners spit streams of chilled air across the stainless-steel work stations as colorful butcher posters depicting cuts of pork, beef and lamb loom overhead. Aromas of garlic, ground cumin and fresh herbs swirl through the air, while the pulsing beat of a sound system keeps everybody hoppin’.

“We thought of having the classes at the Palace Ballroom demo kitchen to accommodate more people,” says CEO Pam Hinckley of Tom Douglas Restaurants. “But from the feedback we got, people like it to be hands-on in the smaller commercial kitchen.”

The children in today’s class range in age from 7 (the minimum age allowed) to 17. Their goal is to prepare two “base recipes” that are found, along with other healthy options, in a handy notebook that’s filled with information on building healthy habits.

The recipes for Stewed Tomato Ground Beef and Lemony Roasted Chicken Breasts are double portions of what a family of four would normally eat. The thinking is that the leftovers can be incorporated into a second meal during the week it’s prepared or frozen for later use.

Our second-portion recipes include four comforting classics: Tamale Pie with Cornbread Topping, Sloppy Joes, Chicken Caesar Salad and Chicken Tetrazzini.

“Cooking should be easy and fun. It’s not rocket science,” chef Hartley says as he divides his group into subgroups and assigns them tasks, such as chopping carrots and grinding spices. “Think of the pantry as a toolbox. You want a good pantry, plus several base recipes you are comfortable cooking.”

Hartley advises class members to make heart-healthy choices, but his diet tips are anything but draconian. “Sour cream is OK, but not at the same meal with ice cream. It’s all about balance.”

The kids and parents are intent on their jobs; they don’t back down from anything. I watch as the only two boys in class whiz garlic sauce in a restaurant-grade food processor. The petite blonde in the gingerbread-man apron presses hard-boiled eggs through a coarse-mesh sieve. I fear for the teenaged sisters’ long, polished nails as they chop onions and garlic. But somehow, both nails and knuckles survive unscathed.

The spoils of two hours in the kitchen? A groaning-board buffet featuring all six main dishes, several enticing veggie side dishes and fresh fruit for dessert.

“Hopefully, this is the kind of thing that will stick with you for the rest of your life,” chef Hartley says.

His parting words are met with a rousing round of applause.

Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author and food and wine columnist.

Visit her online at Ellen M. Banner is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

Stewed Tomato Ground Beef

Chef Sean Hartley suggests using grass-fed, extra-lean ground beef — which shouldn’t contain more than 15 percent fat — in this base recipe. But if you don’t like red meat, substitute ground chicken or turkey.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large yellow onions, sliced thinly

8 cloves crushed garlic

2 tablespoons teaspoons kosher salt, divided

2 tablespoons paprika (sweet, not hot)

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 pounds extra-lean and, preferably, grass-fed ground beef

2 (12-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes

1 (12-ounce) can tomato sauce

1. In a Dutch oven or large pan warm your olive oil.

2. Add the onions, crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon teaspoon of the salt, the paprika and chili powder. Cook over medium heat until the onions are fragrant and soft.

3. Add the ground beef and the other tablespoon teaspoon of salt and stir so it is in little bits and pieces. Once browned, drain off any remaining fat, then add the tomatoes and tomato sauce.

4. Bring the mixture to a simmer and allow to cook, uncovered and slowly, for 20 minutes or so. The liquid should have thickened up nicely and not be watery.

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