If you love to cook and you don’t have kids I envy you some days, ok, most days. If you love to cook and have kids welcome brother or sister to my world. Let’s hug and start a support group. This is what it sounds like when doves cry. Cooking with or for kids can be a fun, fulfilling experience…sometimes. There are also days where it will make you want to curl into a ball and hide under the dining room table. Let me tell you right now; that is a terrible idea. It is one of the first place the kids will look for you.
I think of myself as an adventurous eater/cooker of food. There isn’t much that I won’t try. I have worked hard, with limited success, to instill this in my two daughters. If you think pleasing adults with food is a daunting task just try to feed young kids. I can wow my friends and feel great about myself only to have one of the little ones tell me flat out,”Papa, this is disgusting. Never make this again.” Sometimes they will throw the food at me and mock me when I get sad about it. My mind always comes back to one specific instance when my oldest was about 3. I bought a whole rabbit and was really excited to make an Italian pappardelle dish. She saw the rabbit, obviously without any skin, on the cutting board and was not happy. “Papa, you are so mean! Why would you do that to a cute little bunny?!” Well, cause bunny tastes so good kiddo. So, I was left to barter with a 3 year old. I promised her that if she just tasted the dish I would pause dinner at that moment and give her a candy. So, I cooked it and she surprised me by tasting it. True to her kidness, she loathed it. She took one single bite. I held my end of the bargain and gave her a candy. I had a ton of the pasta left over so I tried to serve it to her again for lunch the next day and somehow, magically, she thought it was chicken this time! She ate the entire bowl and told me it was the best chicken she ever had. I didn’t feel right lying to her so I confessed that it was still the rabbit and she just shrugged and said that it was really good. Score one for the bad guy.
That little anecdote leads me to the point (yes I sometimes have one) that it is important that kids know they are eating an animal. Hell, it is important for adults too. It is really easy to walk into a grocery store, pick up a package and go home and cook without ever fully accepting or thinking about how that package came to be. It’s much tougher to go to a farm, pick your animal while it is alive and then have it butchered for you. But that is the reality of eating meat. If you are going to be a carnivore it is something you should be okay with. I remember another time when my oldest told me she didn’t want to eat pork anymore because pigs were too cute. So i said well alright but don’t you think you’ll miss eating bacon? Jaw drops. Silence. Bacon is pig? Yes dear, it is. I LOVE PIG! she screams at me. You see? Until that moment she didn’t even know that bacon was meat! I have a problem with that. So I work hard at getting my kids past that and keen on trying new things. How do I do that? I get them involved in the kitchen!
My girlfriend and I have gotten the kids to help in the kitchen from pretty much the time they could stand and wobble on a chair like a drunken uncle at a party. What I like to do on the weekend is bust out a few cookbooks at breakfast time and I go through them with the kids. This is what I did yesterday and they, for a change, agreed quickly on what they wanted for dinner: Tandoori trout with cucumber and lemon yogurt served on naan bread courtesy of a Jamie Oliver book. Great! This is a super easy, fast dish that they can help on and they always devour. I’ve got an old wooden ice cream machine that I “borrowed” from the in-laws when I discovered it at their cottage years ago so I tell the brats that we can even make ice cream. I am excited, the kids are bouncing off the walls too. This could work out!
Oh, foolish Phatman! Why do you jinx yourself so?As is often the case, cooking with kids never works out as planned. This is why it’s important to have an arsenal of recipes that can be ready in less than 30 minutes and aren’t overly involved. First change of plans is that one of the neighbors kids comes over for the day. This just makes my kids crazy hyper and harder to get them to do any work in the kitchen. I know right off the bat that getting them involved in cooking dinner tonight is likely not going to happen but with a friend around they also won’t be causing havoc around me.
I figure I can still count on them to help with the ice cream. I’ve decided on a maple and peach ice cream since I’ve got plenty of peaches that are about to be overripe and maple syrup goes with pretty much any fruit under the sun so it should be interesting at the least. In a mixing bowl I whip up one container of whipping cream, not to the point of stiff peaks(no dirty jokes people this is a kids article!) but whipped to a nice thick, fluffy consistency. I’d say about 2 to 3 minutes with a hand mixer should be fine. My lovely and talented sidekick sous chef girlfriend is getting the skin off the peaches with hot water and pureeing them in a blender. And of course, since I decided to write an article about getting kids involved in cooking, my kids are out in the yard playing with their friend. Once the peaches are cooled in the fridge I fold them into the cream along with about a 1/2 cup of maple syrup. I place all of that into the ice cream maker, surround the bucket with lots of ice and coarse salt and get to cranking! My kids finally make an appearance for this part and give me a hand. We work on the ice cream for a solid 15 minutes and when we are really feeling resistance we figure it should be a nice consistency now. I pop off the lid and let the kids have a try. I get a luke warm response. Everyone seems to think it is only ok. Here’s to hoping the flavors stand out more once it sits in the freezer for a few hours
Onto the fish! This dinner, with all prep work included should take no more than 20 minutes to get on the table. If you have time please feel free to make your own tandoori paste but usually, especially on a week night with the kids around, time isn’t a luxury I have at dinner time so here I used a jarred paste; Patak’s. I cut the trout filets into 1 inch slices and coat them with the paste. I remove the seeds from 1 English cucumber and dice it. I add 1/2 cup of natural Greek yogurt and the juice of half a lemon to the cucumber and season it. From there I warm the oven to 400 for the naan bread and preheat my frying pan for the fish. The trout takes only about 4 or 5 minutes to cook so just before it is ready I splash a bit of water on the naan and throw them in the oven on a baking sheet for no more than two minutes.
In the end, the kids didn’t feel too much like cooking today but they were hungry as heck when they sat down and ate really well. As any parent will tell you getting your kids to eat can be trying, exhausting, and a flat out pain in the ass some days so having them sit, eat and ask for more is still a success to me. It is an unpredictable process most days but an important one for a food lover like me. I don’t want them hooked on those frozen things you can just pop in the oven, or fast food crap. I want them to love real food, home cooked food, and I want them to love making it too!
Dinner is done. Time to check out if the ice cream has improved. It’s been in the freezer for 3 hours or so and everything from
the colour to the texture to the taste has all improved. I just kind of made this one up based on what I had lying around but I think it’s a keeper. The kids like it better now too. It’s so pretty. I almost don’t want to eat it.
So, get your kids involved in the kitchen, teach them how to chop, mix, stir, and let them choose the meals sometimes! When they’ve had a hand in it they will always be more willing to eat. Show them that there is more to a meal than beef, chicken, pork and the standard sides. Go nuts! Bust out duck, lobster, venison, whatever you can get your hands on. you’ll learn more in the kitchen, the kids will too and when it goes well it creates great memories. The other day my oldest daughter asked to make duck legs confit. I got all warm and fuzzy. Score another one for the bad guy!