cooking with kids

Only in NJ

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By Lisa

Only in NJ because we literally can’t buy Yoo-Hoo where we live, but also because, well, it’s so full of crap and so unhealthy and downright gross that I would never buy it if we weren’t on vacation. But buy it I did, and a six pack at that, for my son, and his sister and their 2 cousins, partly because I remembered it as a rare treat from my NJ childhood and because the packaging is still so iconic, and it’s sort of good and sweet and cold.

Suffice to say Finn had a quintessential NJ food moment, sitting in one of the country premiere delicatessens, eating a bagel that had literally come straight out of the oven, and sucking down a Yoo-Hoo in maybe 60 seconds flat.

But he can also do a mean dance to Rosalita. Both feats prove he’s my son.

Fava Beans

by Caroline

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In the last couple days, I’ve experienced one of those funny swirls of coincidence that crop up sometimes: we received fava beans in our mystery produce box; before I could cook them, we happened to eat some grilled at a local restaurant; the next day, my email update from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog offered a recipe for grilled fava beans.

The universe was telling me to grill fava beans.

However the grill, which turned out to be out of propane, was telling me to do something else with them.

Tony reminded me that roasting is a fine substitute for grilling, so that is what I did. You lose that nice smoky flavor that the grill imbues, but the beans are still incredibly tasty. Almost as important, this method of cooking the beans takes the effort of shucking and peeling the beans out of the kitchen (or wherever you prep your food) and onto the dining room table (or wherever you gather to eat). Prepping raw fava beans can be pretty labor intensive (shucking, blanching, peeling), and while it’s certainly something you can do with your kids, or delegate to them entirely, when my kids do it, they wind up eating all the beans raw and not leaving me any to cook. So this gets the cooking done fast, and then whatever’s left over of the roasted beans can be pureed into a delicious spread or thrown into a salad, a pasta or a risotto.

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Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse the fava beans and spread them out on a roasting pan with a generous splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and maybe some hot pepper flakes, to taste.

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Roast, stirring once, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are blistered and tender. Toss them into a bowl and eat. We found them so tender (and the roasted skins so salty and delicious) that we ate them pods and all, but you can also pop the beans out, of course, and just eat those.

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Mother’s Day Popovers

by Caroline

Mother’s Day Eve, circa 1973. The kitchen is filling with smoke. My mother is upstairs pretending not to notice and my father is, well, probably off writing somewhere, really not noticing. My older brothers, older sister and I have commandeered the kitchen in order to make a Mother’s Day treat for the next morning. No matter that my mom doesn’t really care to celebrate Mother’s Day (preferring instead to celebrate the Anglican Mothering Sunday), no matter that none of us has baked entirely unsupervised before, or ever baked popovers, no matter that popovers should be eaten immediately out of the oven rather than baked in advance — this year, in my memory, my oldest brother and sister have decided that Mom will have popovers for breakfast.

A pretty new basket has been purchased, and a napkin laid inside it. The first batch goes up in smoke, so we forge ahead and bake a second, exhausting the supply of eggs and milk. I don’t remember if they are any good, if we serve them to my Mom while they are still hot and delicious, or if we really save them for the next morning. What I do remember is that my siblings and I all spent an evening in the kitchen together, and the result of that time is far less important than the happy little kid memory.

This year, my husband and I are taking a rare night away from the kids together (rare = the first in four years) and it happens to fall the weekend of Mother’s Day. I have no big objection to the holiday, myself; it’s commercialized now, yes, but it’s roots are in anti-war protest and I make a point of that when I talk about the day to my kids. Tony makes sure I get to sleep in, and generally organizes the boys to create some kind of extra breakfast treat to go with my standard bowl of granola; this year, perhaps it will be these sugar and cinnamon popovers which are such a good idea, I wish we’d thought to make these for Mom all those years ago. Because they’re still pretty tasty the next day.

Recipe by David Lebovitz

For the puffs:

Softened unsalted butter, for greasing the pan

2 tablespoons butter, melted

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup flour

For the sugar coating:

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons butter, melted.

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Liberally grease a nonstick popover pan, or a muffin pan with 1/2-cup indentations, with softened butter.

2. For the puffs, put the 2 tablespoons melted butter, eggs, milk, salt and sugar in a blender and whiz for a few seconds.

3. Add the flour and whiz for 5 to 8 seconds, just until smooth.

4. Divide the batter among 9 greased molds, filling each 1/2 to 2/3 full.

5. Bake for 35 minutes, until the puffs are deep brown.

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6. Remove from the oven, wait a few minutes until cool enough to handle, then remove the puffs from the pans. You may need a small knife to help pry them out.

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7. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Thoroughly brush each puff all over with melted butter, then dredge in sugar and cinnamon mixture to coat completely. Let cool on a baking rack. Makes 9 puffs.
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Strawberry Fruit Leather

by Caroline

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Fruit leather is a bit of a thing in our house. On the one hand, I just don’t see the point. To me, it’s perfectly good fruit to which sugar has been added and plastic has been wrapped around. Why not just eat an apple or a cup of berries? But on the other hand, of course, I truly do see the kid appeal: it’s packable; it doesn’t drip; it’s never unripe and never has funny spots; plus, it’s fun to rip and smoosh and play with.

Years ago, when Ben was a brand-new preschooler, he eyed the snacks the other kids brought in their bags and asked his teacher to write me a note. She wrote:

Mommy and Daddy, I want fruit leather in my lunch. Love, Ben.

But Ben read the note to us a bit differently; he said:

Dear Mommy and Daddy, I hate my lunch! Give me fruit leather in my lunch! Love, Ben.

I learned my lesson.

Now Eli is in fruit leather corner, as he would say (channeling his beloved Pooh), and he asks for one in his lunch box every day, and I provide it, cringing slightly at the plastic but knowing, too, that it’s certainly not the least-green or least unhealthy thing in our lives.

When I had the chance recently to get a deal on a flat of strawberries, and started thinking of all the fabulous strawberry things I could make — tart! shortcake! jam! smoothies! — fruit leather rose to the top of the list, and I found a recipe over on Epicurious. It takes a while, but for the most part it can do its thing while you’re off doing something else.

1 1/2 lb strawberries, halved (4 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup sugar (depending on your berries, you can cut the sugar a bit; remember that the sweetness will concentrate as the fruit is cooked)

Purée strawberries with sugar in a blender until smooth:

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Then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large heavy saucepan:

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This is the most tedious part of the process, so I highly recommend enlisting your kids to do the job; just let them run the wooden spoon around inside the strainer to push the puree through and into the pot.

Bring purée to a boil, then simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally (more frequently toward end), until thick enough to mound slightly and reduced to 1 to 11/4 cups, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 200°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with nonstick liner.

Pour hot purée onto liner and spread thinly (as evenly as possible) into a 15- by 10-inch rectangle using an off-set spatula.

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Dry purée in oven until it feels drier (it shouldn’t stick to your fingers) but is still slightly tacky, 2 to 3 hours.

Cool on liner on a rack until completely dry, at least 3 hours and up to 24.

Place a sheet of parchment paper over leather, then peel leather off liner and roll up in parchment.

It will keep in a sealed bag at room temperature for a month, but it’s not likely to last that long.

Eat at Eli’s. (And Ben’s)

by Caroline

Sometimes, whether due to renovation or repairs, our kitchens become unavailable. Lisa’s family lived through this, my family lived through this, many of you have lived through this. We wound up moving out of our house for the bulk of our renovation, and during that time my husband and then three year-old son built a play kitchen out of scrap wood and various plumbing fixtures:

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It’s a compact little space, but it’s got 4 burners and a decent sink:

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It’s got good open storage underneath the sink, for appliances and the like:

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There’s even a spot to hang an oven glove (a felted mitten knit by my sister) and a few utensils:

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We moved the kitchen into our house when our renovation was complete, and both kids still cook in it regularly, now using a combination of tools filched from my kitchen and utensils given to them expressly for their play kitchen:

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Of course, its pantry is well stocked, both with toy food:
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And “real food” (empty packages that we save and repurpose):
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It’s got food made by family (again my sister with the creative knitting!):

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And food toys given by friends (shape sorter cupcakes!):

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With such a well-stocked pantry and well-equipped space, it was perhaps inevitable that they would start to think bigger, so they opened a cafe:

They advertise their specials and features with a few signs:

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And even brag a bit about the menu (the sign says: “this cafe has relly yummy dishes so you might want to come here more often then you do other restrunts…”

You don’t need an elaborate play kitchen to encourage cooking and restaurant play, of course; a couple pots and a wooden spoon in the corner of your own kitchen, some empty food containers, and  a pad of paper and a marker (to take orders) are plenty to get a kid going, and can result in hours of happy (and low parental-involvement) play. What does kitchen play look like in your house?