What are you cooking for dinner tonight? When was the last time you went to the grocery store? We felt like we had money in the bank when we pulled the baked ziti container out of the freezer Monday morning. A couple of weeks ago we made two batches, and cleverly stashed one away for a rainy day. And it rained on Monday. But we had a nice, easy meal ready in half an hour, complete with bread (from the frozen bread stash) and a green salad and candlelight. There was enough leftover for us to re-heat on Wednesday night, so it was another simple meal.
It is just the two of us right now. We miss those nights of chaos when we cooked for, and with, the children. There are plenty of households right now with families who are pent up inside together all day, who have to make complicated decisions about dinner and shopping, and who is cooking, and how everyone can help. It is a great time to for everyone to walk away from the virtual classes, and share a hands-on cooking experience with your kids.
A child who knows their way around the kitchen is independent, and better prepared for the future. A child who knows how to boil water for pasta, how to roll out dough, how to wash lettuce, and how to pick out fruit and vegetables will thrive. While they work by your side, you have a more opportunities to be a better parent, and share family stories and recipes while teaching someone to count out tablespoons, cups, ounces, pinches, dollops and soupçons. You will learn patience, and your children might thank you someday. (Spoiler alert: don’t count on that.) You will travel together, and these days of social distancing might become a warm memory.
Our first cooking experiences with our children came in the form of homemade pizza. I still have the photos to prove that initially we wore more flour than we seemed to actually knead. Eventually, in weekly progressions, we learned to make a decent dough. We experimented and tweaked the recipe every week – more flour, different flour, more water, more kneading. This is why Mark Bittman is our household god: https://www.markbittman.com/recipes-1/pizza-dough
Our children stood on Rubbermaid stools so they could reach the counter as we learned to measure level cups of flour, and level teaspoons of yeast and salt, and to pour tablespoons of olive oil without spilling. The dog was particularly found of these cooking interludes, as the dog believed in the magic of gravity and the bounce factor associated with falling food; particularly pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese as it was grated.
Using a box grater requires patience and some skill acquired with experience. Knuckles were grated, too, and tears ensued. But we all learned to be more careful, and discovered it is best to keep a box of BandAids in a kitchen drawer. But mozzarella cheese grating leads to Parmesan grating and then to lemon zesting and onward to fresh nutmeg, which leads to Fettuccine Alfredo. Which leads to learning to boil water, and then salting it before adding the pasta. Which leads from store-bought fettuccine to fresh homemade fettuccine. Which leads to someone reading a menu in a restaurant, and realizing that someone knows how to made pizza, or fettuccine, or eggs over easy.
It all starts at home. Jamie Oliver, who at last count has five children, learned how to cook with his parents, and he encourages his own children in the kitchen. It might be his way of crowd control, but his children seem to thrive in the kitchen. They aren’t whining for junk food. They know how to eat real food, because they know how to cook real food. https://www.jamieoliver.com/features/family-cooking-recipes-to-cook-together/
It doesn’t need to be fancy. Three ingredient cookies are easy, and most of the time you have all of the ingredients in the house, without needing to don your mask and head for the germs at the grocery store.
1 stick butter (softened)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
Roll into balls, and roll balls in sugar before baking equals sugar cookies
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then stir in flour.
Form the cookies into 1-inch balls, placing them about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. (Add sprinkles if you’ve got them.) Flatten cookies into a disc shape with a juice glass dipped in sugar. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are lightly golden.
Grilled cheese has saved many a day. Add a can of tomato soup, and call it dinner. But Nutella and Snickers? That will make you a hero of all time for sleepovers, if we can ever have sleepovers again. In the meantime, it will be a great cooking project for a weekend night, with the upmteenth viewing of Frozen.
As children learn to read recipes, they will learn to read ingredients on store-bought food packages. Now they know pizza dough only calls for 5 ingredients, and there are some more depending on your toppings, but they might still question all the chemical names on the side of a box of frozen pizza. This is the list on a box of DiGornio frozen pizza: INGREDIENTS: ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, AND FOLIC ACID), WATER, LOW-MOISTURE PART-SKIM MOZZARELLA CHEESE (CULTURED PART-SKIM MILK, SALT, ENZYMES), PEPPERONI MADE WITH PORK, CHICKEN AND BEEF (PORK, MECHANICALLY SEPARATED CHICKEN, BEEF, SALT, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF SPICES, DEXTROSE, PORK STOCK, LACTIC ACID STARTER CULTURE, OLEORESIN OF PAPRIKA, FLAVORING, SODIUM NITRITE, SODIUM ASCORBATE, PAPRIKA, PROCESSED WITH NATURAL SMOKE FLAVOR, BHA, BHT, CITRIC ACID TO HELP PROTECT FLAVOR), TOMATO PASTE, SUGAR, 2% OR LESS OF VEGETABLE OIL (SOYBEAN OIL AND/OR CORN OIL), WHEAT GLUTEN, DEGERMINATED YELLOW CORN MEAL, YEAST, SALT, DATEM, BAKING SODA, SPICES, WHEAT FLOUR, ENZYMES, DRIED GARLIC, ASCORBIC ACID (DOUGH CONDITIONER). https://www.digiorno.com/products/rising-crust/pepperoni
If you can take your kids to the farmers’ markets, where they can meet (at a safe social distance) the people who grow their food, they might have a whole new appreciation for the meals that you bring to their table every day and night. It won’t happen overnight, because nothing ever does, but if you start to introduce them with regularity to the local food chain, we will all be healthier for it.
Don’t think you will send them off to Le Cordon Bleu next week. Start small. Teach them to wash lettuce. You will have to learn to share that exciting salad spinner. And there is a lot of fun to be had in tearing the lettuce, and then learning how to peel carrots. This is just the beginning for the children, and right now we have plenty of time to spend together in the kitchen.
“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”
― Anthony Bourdain