Monday, May 26, 2008

Get Your Kids Into the Oven

Now that you've got your kids working most of the kitchen – they've learned some about using a knife and have started to get used to the stove – it's time to introduce the oven.

Ovens can be scary things. I know they scared me as a kid. You open up that oven door and WHOOSH out comes a wave of hot air. Get hit with that and you know you're in trouble! It's all you can do, as a little kid, to screw up your courage enough to step back close enough to the oven to close the door, let alone put anything in it. With a little encouragement, and plenty of supervision, the oven doesn't have to be so scary. In fact, maybe we should start with the broiler.

Open Face Toasted Cheese Sandwiches

Now, I know we've covered the stove version of the grilled cheese sandwich. This one you make under the broiler. I remember these well from my own childhood. I didn't know the grilled version existed until I got into college. This was the way it was done in my Mother's kitchen. To be honest, it's easier to make than the grilled version.

Toast about eight slices of good bread in the toaster. Spread mayonnaise or salad dressing (I like canola mayonnaise) and some good deli mustard (Western Family horseradish mustard is an excellent choice) on one side of each slice. Cover with a slice of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, or some other hearty cheese. Place the assembled toast slices on a large baking sheet and pop them under the broiler until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool a bit before serving.

By the way, these make a great accompaniment to tomato soup.

Pita Bread Pizza

My own kids love to make these in the microwave with just regular bread, but I think this way is better. It also looks more like a regular pizza and the bread doesn't gooey.

Spread marinara sauce on a round pita. Canned sauce will do just fine. Add your favorite toppings, plus some grated cheese. Pop them under the broiler until bubbly and nicely browned. Cut into slices just like a larger pizza.

Wondering what to do with that leftover meatloaf, lunch meats, sausage, chopped veggies, or what have you? Let your kids clean out the refrigerator by putting the leftovers on their pizzas.

Stuffed Cornbread Muffins

We're going to cheat with this recipe. Instead of going through the process of making great cornbread from scratch, were going to let the kids do it with commercial corn bread/muffin mix. Follow the directions on the package to make the batter. Fill the wells of a muffin pan about 1/3 of the way with batter. Drop in a rounded teaspoon of whatever filling you want, and cover with the remaining batter. Cook according to the package directions.

For the filling you can try all kinds of things. Slices of hot dog, grated cheese, chopped veggies, you name it. Your kids will probably go for teaspoons of their favorite jam. You'll want to let them after you taste it.

The point of all this is, of course, to get the kids having fun and developing good life skills at the same time. (Are you finally sensing the theme for this month?) Just emphasize the “fun” part and let them figure out the “developing skills” part when they grow up.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Easy Stovetop Recipes for Kids

Once your kids get used to using a small knife, it's time to graduate them to the stove. This can be scary for kids (and parents) because it's the first time they'll be working with fire.

WARNING: Getting burned is no fun. Make sure your kids know at least some of the kitchen safety rule, those dealing with hot things, anyway. Don't let very young ones try these recipes, either. If you do, just have them help with the parts that don't require them to be near the heat.

An easy first recipe to introduce kids to the stove might be Eggs Over Easy (the Easy Way) or simple boiled eggs.

A grilled cheese sandwich might be a good second choice.

Take two slices of bread and spread salad dressing or mayo on one side of each slice. Mustard is a nice addition, if you're kids like mustard. Put a slice of cheese (cheddar is my kid's favorite) between each slice. Make sure the mayo and mustard are on the inside of the sandwich, okay? (Yes, I know. You already knew that. I was just seeing if you were paying attention.)

Spread butter over both sides of the bread, on the outside. (At this point, some people start arguing about whether to put butter in the pan, or on the outside of the bread. I don't like arguing so I do both.)

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Melt about a teaspoon of butter in the pan until it stops foaming. Place the sandwich in the pan and cover with a lid (this helps make sure the cheese melts properly). Cook for a minute or two until the bread is nice and toasty brown. You can lift up a corner of the sandwich with a spatula to check. Turn over and repeat the process on the other side.

If you don't want to mess up your counter, butter only one side of the bread before putting it in the skillet, buttered side down. Then you can butter the other side once it's in the pan. Don't let your kids do this, though. Let's not risk them getting burned.

Sometimes I'll put ham (or bologna – hat tip to tkangaroo!) in with the cheese. It gives the sandwich more body. Unfortunately, sandwiches like this also gives me more body.

Another easy stove top recipe is Fruity French toast.

Beat together two eggs, two tablespoons of milk, a tablespoon of your favorite jam, a quarter teaspoon of ground nutmeg or cinnamon, and a dash of salt, in a bowl. Dip slices of bread into the mixture, both sides please.

Cook the egged bread in a buttered pan over medium heat until golden brown (about two minutes). Turn over and cook it on the other side. Don't let it get too hot or it will burn the jam.

If the jam in French toast is a hit, why not try it with pancakes? Add a tablespoon or two or your favorite jam to the batter before you start cooking. Again, don't let it get too hot so you don't burn the jam.

Be creative! The point is to have fun in the kitchen, and help the kids enjoy it, too. Now it's your turn. Do you have any simple recipes you'd like to share?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tea Sandwiches for Kids

Teaching kids kitchen skills is no easy task. It's important to give them tasks they can accomplish. You want them to feel successful, after all. One of the most simple foods you can teach your kids to make is tea sandwiches.

Oh, yes. I can hear it now. “Are you crazy, John? Little froo froo sandwiches? What in heaven's name are you making tea sandwiches for, anyway? You're a Mormon! You're not supposed to drink tea!”

Why not tea sandwiches? The prohibition Mormon's observe against tea and coffee is real. Mormon's aren't supposed to drink tea but, what's that got to do with little sandwiches?

Making tea sandwiches teaches a kid about the proper use of a knife, a vital kitchen skill. It's also easy for them to experiment with various shapes and flavors. Best of all, your little ones can now feed themselves and entertain their friends.

Remember that tea party your daughter's always asking to have with you? Who said it has to have pretend food? My girl's love having a “high tea” with me. We'll make little sandwiches, herbal tea, and serve it all on pretty china (I have a nice Chinese tea set). It makes it fun for me, too.

Tea sandwiches can come in all shapes and sizes. Just cutting the crust off the bread may be enough for some kids. Cutting the bread on the diagonal can make two, or four, little triangles. The sandwiches can be cut into three rectangular strips. You can even punch out circles or hearts with a cookie cutter (I like toasting them first). What kid wouldn't enjoy doing that?

Besides good old peanut butter and jelly, here are a few more “little sandwich” fillings you may want to introduce to your kids. Any of these can be topped with bread, or served open faced.

Cucumber and Cream Cheese Tea sandwiches

Spread cream cheese on top a round circle of bread and add a slice of cucumber. Add a dash of salt, pepper, and dill weed for extra flavor.

Ham and Cheese Tea Sandwiches

Make a regular ham and cheese sandwich, with a little salad dressing and mustard (if your kids like mustard). Make sure the ham and cheese are cut into very thin slices for this one. Cut the sandwich into little triangles by making two diagonal cuts across the sandwich. Buy different kinds of lunch meat and cheeses to let your kids experiment, and expand their palette.

Tomato, Spinach, and Cheese Tea Sandwiches

Cut a Roma tomato into 1/ 4 inch think round slices. Spread salad dressing little squares or rounds of toasted bread, and top with one tomato slice. Sprinkle with a little salt, and basil. Fold a small spinach leaf in half (or cut it to size) an put on top of the tomato, along with a very thin slice of Parmesan or siago cheese (use a vegetable peeler to cut a thin slice).

If you want to make egg or tuna salad for these things, you can try that, too. I know people that actually like tuna salad but, I'm not one of them. My cousins grew up with the stuff. I can't stand it. Egg salad on the other hand, is a favorite sandwich topping for me, my wife, and my kids.

Let the kids experiment. If they can think of something that might work as a sandwich, let them try it. At the worst, you're out a few ingredients. Don't worry. If it's bad, they'll never make it again. At best, who knows? Maybe they'll come up with something that'l have you asking them, “Can you make me another one of your specialty sandwiches?” Then just sit back and watch your little one's face light up as they enter the kitchen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Making Healthy After-School Snacks

One way to start your kids off in the kitchen is to teach them to make a few healthy after-school snacks. Most simple snacks are easy to make, which means your kids won't be overwhelmed by them. I think that's important in any teaching experience. You want your kids to be able to actually succeed at the cooking tasks you give them. In the beginning, that means the tasks need to be simple. Above all, they need to be fun.

Prepping your kitchen for the kids is a good idea, too. Clear a space on the counter or a table for them to work on. Sometimes I'll put things on the step stool so my littlest one can get in on the action. I just make sure I'm emotionally ready to clean up the mess, afterwards.

Getting your kids their own aprons can be fun, too. Please DO NOT put a frilly apron a young boy. Cooking is not a sexist activity and you want your kids to understand that. Putting a “girlie” apron on a young boy will drive him out of the kitchen.

The easiest after-school snack is probably fruit. Apples, especially. All the kids have to do is wash them. Bananas come in a close second. Instead of washing, you peel them. If you want to get a little more sophisticated, try a few of these:

Tortilla Wraps

Start with a wheat tortilla and add whatever you want. Peanut butter and jelly, lettuce with Ranch dressing, thinly sliced cheese and lunch meat, cucumber or carrot spears – whatever you like. Peanut butter and cheddar cheese is a favorite in my family. Peanut butter and bananas are tasty this way, too. Let your kids experiment with their own concoctions. After you add the filling, roll the tortilla up like a burrito, or just roll it up into a tube. The possibilities are endless!

Lettuce Wraps

Trying to cut down on the carbs? Show your kids how to roll up various fillings in a lettuce leaf, instead of a tortilla. Peanut butter may not be the best choice, here, but any number of cheeses will work great.

Microwave Quesadillas

Once the kids are old enough to handle the microwave, teach them to make simple quesadillas. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top of a wheat tortilla and fold it in half. Pop it into the microwave on high for one minute. My kids love using the pizza cutter to cut it into smaller portions.

Bread Sticks with Spaghetti Sauce

Left over spaghetti sauce is a great after-school snack. Toast some bread, cut it into one inch thick strips (teach your kids to use a knife before you let them do this on their own) and dip them in the sauce straight from the refrigerator. If you want, let them heat the sauce in the microwave, first.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Variations

Peanut butter sandwiches are a staple for me and my kids. Even as an adult, I still love them. What's great about peanut butter is you can put almost anything with it and still make a great sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly is a classic, but so is peanut butter with sliced banana, apple, or raisins. Peanut butter and cheese is interesting. Another really fun sandwich is peanut butter and potato chips. Just spread the peanut butter onto a couple of slices of bread and sprinkle on some crushed potato chips before putting the two slices together.

Crackers and Stuff

Crackers are great topped with all kinds of things. Anything you can put on a sandwich can be put on a cracker. A favorite cracker topping at my house is cucumber slices and a dollop of cottage cheese.

Flies on a Log

My son came up with this when he was about twelve years old. Fill a celery stalk with peanut butter. Press raisins into the peanut butter all the way down the stalk like little “flies” sitting on a log.


This one I owe to my mom. Got leftover pancakes? Spread butter or peanut butter on them, add a little jam or sugar, and roll them up into little tubes. She claims this was the only way she could get me and my brothers to eat pancakes when we were little.

Getting your kids working with food doesn't have to be a chore. Start with a few simple after-school snacks. This can help your kids make healthy choices, and can get them excited about cooking more complex things, when they're ready.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Kids and Kitchen Safety

If the Mother's Day breakfast rush was a success, you may want to get serious with your kids about working in the kitchen. If they're going to be in there trying to whip up breakfast in bed for Father's Day, they better know something about being safe.

(Dear Heavenly Father, please don't let my kids do this for me. You know how much I hate eating breakfast in bed. Thank you.)

I like cooking with my kids. I know that it's going to take more time and planning but, I still think it's worth it. There aren't any rules that I know of when it comes to teaching kids to cook. The biggest issue is safety. No one has any fun in the kitchen if someone gets hurt and there's plenty to get hurt on in the modern kitchen.

Here are twenty rules you may want to go over with your kids as you teach them to cook. You might want them just to refresh your own memory. They're in no particular order. Be careful how you present them, though. You want your kids to be safe, not frightened.

1.Wash your hands, first.

Mother was right. Good cooking starts with good hygiene. Dirt and germs don't need to be in our food.

2.Very small children must stay out of the kitchen.

If a very small child wants to watch, set them up at a safe distance. I don't know how many times I've narrowly avoided tripping over my youngest one as I've turned away from the stove to get something.

3. Same things goes for pets.

4.Remember, there's fire in the kitchen.

There's a problem with fire. It's hot. Very hot. It doesn't have to be red to be hot. Be careful before you touch anything that might hot.

5.The fire extinguisher is near the stove.

Teach your kids how to use the fire extinguisher. Make sure you've got one that's easy to use nearby. Just don't use it on grease fires unless it's rated for them. Make sure the kid's know that it's OK to ruin dinner to avoid getting burned.

6.Smother grease fires, don't use water.

Our instincts are to run for the water when it comes to fire, but with grease fires that just makes it worse. Water and oil don't mix, even when the oil is on fire. Cover them with a lid and smother them, instead. Yeah, you might get your arm singed a little bit, but the alternative (an explosion) is worse. Definitely don't try to pour flaming grease out of a pan!

7.Hot water can burn you.

I know, that seems obvious but, I can't count the number of times I've heard, “It's just water, Dad.”

8.Keep your work area clean.

A clean and clear work area means there's less things to bump into, and less accidents.

9.Keep the stove and oven clean.

Keeping the stove and oven clean reduces the chances of a fire.

10.Keep the floor clean.

My kids like to leave their toys on the floor. They've got perfectly good shelves for them but, for some reason, they like using the floor instead. My youngest wanders into the kitchen all the time, to see what I'm doing, and leaves little presents for me to trip over. Not safe.

11.Use a solid step stool to reach things.

You need to be above the food to work with it safely. Use a solid step stool in the kitchen if you, or the kids, need to. Make it a good one that won't easily tip over. Paying $60.00 for a decent stool is a lot better than paying for a visit to the emergency room.

12.Knives are important tools, not toys.

Knives are important tools that you, and your kids, need to master. Sharp knives are much safer because they don't slip like dull ones do. Keep your fingers tucked under when chopping and slicing. The sharp end is for food, not fingers.

13.Cut one side of food flat, before you start chopping and slicing.

Round food will roll when you try to cut it. It's better to slice it flat on one side, or chop in in half, before chopping.

14.Don't leave pan handles sticking over the side of the stove.

Handles are great for holding things, but not much else. You don't want to snag them and dump scalding hot liquids, oil, or food on you. Turn those pot handles away from the edge!

15.Don't use wet towels or pot holders to pick stuff up.

Wet or oily pot holders transfer heat to small hands, fast. Large hands too, for that matter. Keep a small stockpile of dry ones, just in case.

16.Don't pick up a hot pan unless you know where you're going to put it.

17.Make sure you know which stove burners are on.

I put a glass lid on a hot burner once. I'd turned it off and didn't realize it was still hot. In a few moments it exploded. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but I never want that to happen again.

18.Kid's aren't allowed to use powered appliances or sharp things without a parent supervising them.

19.Make sure you have enough light.

Can't see? Turn on the light. Open the curtains. Do both if you need to.

20.Warn people: Hot Behind!

I've never worked in a professional kitchen, but I've been told that the phrase “Hot! Hot behind!” is a common one when you're moving hot pans. Teach your kids that if they walk up behind someone with a hot pan to warn them by saying, “Hot! Hot behind!” Do this with your spouse and it might make them smile.

Can you think of any more safety tips for the kitchen, or ways to teach our kids those rules? I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Eggs Over Easy (the Easy Way)

My wife loves eggs cooked “over easy.” So do I, for that matter. So for her "Mother's Day Breakfast in Bed," she'll be getting some. Getting fried eggs to turn out with moist yolks and completely cooked whites, can be tough. It turns out there's an insanely easy way to do it, though. Believe it or not, it has as much to do with your toaster as it does your stove.

I love this recipe for kids, too. It's easy enough that a young cook can handle it. Just supervise them a bit so they don't burn themselves.

I first learned this technique from James Thorson in his book “Tough Guys Don't Dice.” It's a great book. I recommend it to any neophyte cook. As far as I know it's out of print, but you can find copies if you look.

By the way, this book is not an example of fine cuisine. No way. Instead, it's filled with basic recipes and techniques you can use to feed yourself (and others) using down to earth language that most guys will appreciate. At the very least, it's an entertaining read.

The secret to this recipe is to serve it with toast. Here's how you do it.


2 teaspoons butter (one if you're just cooking one egg)
2 large eggs (or one if you're watching your weight)
1 /4 teaspoon salt
1 /8 teaspoon pepper.
Two slices of bread

First, heat a small saute or omelet pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons of butter and melt until it stops foaming. You can use a teaspoon or two of vegetable or canola oil, if your prefer. Just make sure the oil is hot before you add the eggs. Crack two eggs into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover tightly, and remove from the heat. Trust me. There's enough heat left in the pan to cook the eggs.

Now, put the slices of bread in your toaster. Set it to make a reasonably brown toast, please. None of this “barely warm enough to melt the butter but not brown the bread” garbage.

When the toast pops up, the eggs are done.

I know. It sounds weird but, if you get the temperatures right, it works great. If you leave the eggs on the heat, the bottom will get too crusty. If you don't let the pan heat up enough before hand, the yolks will be too runny.

I like my eggs either way, so I don't mind so much when I don't get it perfect.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Kid Safe Mother's Day Breakfast in Bed

With Mother's Day coming up, honoring my own mother isn't the only thing on my mind. As a Father, helping my kids honor their mother kinda comes with the territory. A traditional Mother's Day treat in our house is serving Mom breakfast in bed.

Personally, I hate eating breakfast in bed. Any food that gets between the sheets makes it hard to go back to sleep after breakfast.

I think the idea of breakfast in bed is to give mom a break from the daily cooking. Seeing as how I'm the one that does most of the cooking in our house, my wife gets a break from cooking most days, anyway. I'm smart enough to not explain that part to her. Besides, my kids like doing it so I'm doubly stuck getting up in the morning.

Fortunately, my kids are getting older and more adept in the kitchen, so my part in their breakfast insanity is becoming more limited. My 13 year old daughter makes pancakes from scratch that rival the best mixes and the two younger girls are at least eager to help with the simpler tasks.

Of course, you know it's never that easy. My wife prefers waffles to pancakes to the point of making disappointed faces (or downright complaining) if we don't make waffles. In this case, if we don't feel like making waffles for her, frozen store-bought ones will work just fine.

I wouldn't want to eat them in anything other other than a pinch, but I don't have to. My wife does.

It's easier for my younger kids to get involved with frozen waffles, too. Even the youngest can make toast. My seven year old can mix up frozen juice and I've been teaching the two oldest to make eggs over easy (my wife's favorite) in such a way that you don't have to flip them over.

So, for my wife this year, I think I'll help (let) the kids make a quick breakfast in bed for my wife consisting of (frozen) waffles with maple syrup (I'll make the syrup), eggs over easy the easy way, orange juice (or milk), and sliced fruit. Probably apples.

If she wants something else for breakfast in bed she can get up and make it herself.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mothers Day with the Mormon Foodie

With Mother's Day coming up in a few weeks, naturally I'm thinking, “What can I cook?” I don't know of any chef, professional or otherwise, that didn't get started in the kitchen because of their Mothers. My own children might be one of the few exceptions to this (my wife hates to cook) but, as a general rule, I suspect it's Mommy that got most of us started.

My own experience is no exception. It was my mother that got me going. She was taught to cook by her mother and grandmother. Coming from a matriarchal tradition like that, teaching her three boys to cook probably didn't seem like much of a priority. When I started getting interested in cooking, though, she was at least willing to help me out.

I think at first it must have confused her. I seem to remember her giving me quizzical looks at times when I'd talk with her about cooking – looks that seemed to say, “Why do you want to know that? Your a boy.” In the end , I think she's kind of warmed up to the idea of her youngest son being in the kitchen. Now that I'm a parent as well, I think she enjoys chatting with someone about cooking and how she learned. The fact that I cook for her once in while probably doesn't hurt.

Recently, my mom went through her ceder chest and pulled out her mother's old cookbook and recipe cards. What a treasure trove of family history it is! I'm in awe. I actually get to see recipes written in my mother's, my grandmother's and great-grandmother's own handwriting, all in one place. I feel very blessed to have access to such a genealogical treasure. It's connected me to my heritage in ways only food, and family, can do. I've started learning some of these recipes, and modifying them to suit my own sensibilities, as well. I don't think Grandma would mind me changing them. It looks like she'd altered a few recipes, too.

By the way, thanks, Mom. Thank you for all the food you cooked for me, all the food you helped me cook, and for the love of the kitchen that you've handed down to me, from one generation to the next. I only hope I can fully share that love with your grandchildren.