cooking with kids

Bake Sale Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Caroline

On a recent episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts (yes, I watch it, and I watch Top Chef, too), the contestants were asked to make items for a bake sale. One made a milk chocolate ginger pudding. Another made strawberry shortcake. Have these folks never been to a bake sale?!

The winning recipe, for a chocolate chip walnut cookie, is happily traditional and looks delicious. But this is the cookie I made earlier in the week, pre-Top Chef, and while I know (I know) we don’t really need another recipe for chocolate chip cookies (the one on the back of the chocolate chip bag really works just fine) I had to give this one a try, and I have to say, it’s particularly good. So the next time your kids are clamoring for chocolate chip cookies, get out more butter than usual, and then delight your kids by letting them dig out the dough with an ice cream scoop. You won’t be disappointed.

Eli’s Super Cake

by Caroline

It’s been a heady time for the youngest member of our family. In the months since he turned five, late last spring, he has learned to swim, learned to ride a bike without training wheels, graduated from preschool, started kindergarten, joined a soccer team — and scored two goals in his first game. (Not that anyone’s keeping score.) He has also done something that, as he has said, proudly and repeatedly, “the forty-three year old in the family [that would be me] has never done:” invented a cake recipe.

Coincidentally, he did it at just the same age his big brother invented a cake recipe:

. But Eli was two when that happened; he has no recollection of it. Apparently, for some kids, hanging out with their mom making weekly batches of cookies and muffins translates into the desire to abandon the cookbook and strike out independently. It makes sense, even though it didn’t happen to me; I helped my mom bake bread every week when I was small, and was sous chef to thousands of batches of cookies before I mostly took over family cookie production when I was eleven or twelve. But although I may combine three or four recipes, although I am casual with my measurements and I tinker, it has never once even occurred to me to just get out the flour and bake without a map. I always start with a recipe.

When asked what had inspired him, Eli said simply, “I was in the mood for cake.” I didn’t coach him on ingredients or method at all, I just wrote out exactly what he dictated (though some of the numbers, and the method, he wrote out himself):

When we had it all written out, it was time to get out the ingredients and start baking; I’ve been through this before, after all, when Ben invented a bread recipe (one that looked likelier to turn out well than that cake), and knew there was no question of trying it out. Besides, it seemed like it might taste pretty good.

We did endure one conflict, over the sugar. Eli, quite reasonably, listed it with the “dry stuff” and wanted to mix it in with the flour, baking soda and salt. I reminded him that usually the butter and the sugar are creamed together. He nodded and agreed — yes, he remembered that — and insisted on doing it his way. I really wanted his cake to turn out well, and so I pushed back. He stuck to his guns. And I, despite the little voice in my head telling me to just let the boy make his cake already (because when have I ever invented a cake? Right. Never.) started to insist a little more strongly. Eli started to cry. And then, thank goodness, I shut up and hugged him and let him make his cake the way he wanted: “Pour wet stuff in. Mix 10 sec. Pour dry stuff in. Mix 10 sec.” At the end of which process it looked like this:

You might want to mix your batter a little longer — I won’t tell — but maybe not. Because despite how lumpy and weird our batter looked, the finished cake looked like this:

We’ve made it twice now to prove it’s no fluke, and I have to say, the cake rocks — it’s moist and a little chewy from the honey, and it’s not too sweet nor too salty (amazing how the sugar and salt kind of cancel each other out). We bake it in a standard glass lasagna pan, and the only deviation we’ve made from the recipe is to bake it for 24 minutes rather than the prescribed 12, but we do set the oven to 360. I recommend you do, too.

Root Beer Float x 2

by Lisa

We have a great debate going in our house: which goes in a root beer float first, the ice cream or the soda?

This has been an ongoing experiment all summer long, since we discovered Trader Joe’s has a good bottled root beer (& a caffeine free cola that’s pretty terrific, too.) We don’t drink bottled soda as rule around here (although we do indulge in homemade kidtinis), but I’ve been making an exception lately and I keep a few bottles of this soda on hand for fun and nostalgia.  It’s great for a weekend cocktail and floats make for an easy, fun dessert in the hot weather.  Especially for guests and grandparents.  Lately, about once a week Ella will mix up a cherry coke before dinner or we’ll have root beer floats after dinner.

In our effort to settle the ice cream/soda debate, we stumbled upon Bobby Flay’s adult version, which includes bourbon and is pretty much the perfect end to a barbeque if you’re a grown-up.

To wit, our method is this, and involves floating the ice cream on the soda. But you put the ice cream in first and get a slightly creamier drink.

Fill a large frosty mug with root beer (and a little crushed ice if you like. It’s nice if it’s colder, but it also gets in the way).  Float 1 scoop vanilla ice cream on the soda.  If you’re an adult, add a up to a shot of bourbon over the ice cream. Top the ice cream with fresh whipped cream.

For adults only

Coconut Ice Cream

by Caroline

Even though it has been cold enough all summer in San Francisco to turn on the heat, one recent day we also turned on the ice cream machine. This recipe comes from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, by Bruce Weinstein, and it is absolutely fabulous.

1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 c sugar
3 large eggs
1 t cornstarch
1/4 t salt
1 c half-and-half
1 1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
1 c heavy cream
2 t vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for 7 minutes or until the coconut turns light brown. Set aside to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar into the eggs until thickened and pale yellow. Beat in the cornstarch and salt. Set aside.

Combine the half-and-half with the coconut milk in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and slowly beat the hot liquid into the eggs and sugar. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and place over low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the eggs will scramble (yuck!) Remove from the heat and our the hot custard through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in the toasted coconut, cream, and vanilla.

Cover and refrigerate until cold, or overnight.

Once the custard is nice and cold, give it a good stir and then freeze in your ice cream machine according to its instructions. Put on a wool sweater and eat.

Strawbery Balsamic Cookie Crunch Ice Cream

by Caroline

I usually don’t have much trouble getting my kids into the kitchen; we make sushi together, we make muffins, we make cakes and pancakes — mostly I bake with the kids, because mostly I bake, period. But anything I’m making, they’re welcome to participate, and they’re typically eager to help.

Still, when a link to this article about cooking with kids appeared in my inbox, I couldn’t help clicking on it; how are others getting their kids into the kitchen, I wondered? What are they making?

Well, among other good cooking projects, they are making ice cream! And so on a recent cold and foggy day, we made ice cream, because it is summer and summer means ice cream, and because this recipe (from High Flavor, Low Labor) sounded so delicious to me.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon strawberry jam
10 cream-filled chocolate cookies (such as Oreos or Newman-O’s)
1 pint vanilla ice cream

If you’re starting with store-bought ice cream, take it out of the freezer and let it sit in a big bowl while you start preparing the other ingredients; you want it to be soft so that you can stir them in easily. If you’re starting with homemade, prepare the other ingredients while the ice cream is mixing in your ice cream freezer, and then stir them in at the end.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the vinegar and jam. Simmer, stirring often, until reduced by half, about 8 minutes.

Eli says don’t stand too close; the fumes of the simmering vinegar are strong!

Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place the cookies in a zip-close plastic bag and gently pound with a meat mallet or rolling pin to break into small chunks.

This is, of course, a great job for kids:

Drizzle the vinegar into the ice cream and mix until blended.

Mix in the cookies.

Stir well, and then stir one more time to make sure the balsamic syrup is well distributed. Dump the ice cream into a container with a tight lid and return to the freezer until firm, 2 to 3 hours.