There is no one way to approach cooking or baking with kids. Being in the kitchen with my daughter reminds me of when I used to be a primary school teacher — there were certain hands-on activities that would make me feel anxious because of the potential for mess. Part of what makes hands-on science or art activities successful is how you establish routines (how equipment or supplies are handled) and, how well the children understand the steps and instructions. Once the class was prepared then I set them free to complete their project. Even though each child had the same instructions and materials, each would work on their own project — taking enjoyment in the act of creation. While some students felt more comfortable with mimicking the example/model, some students would create something all their own — the activities, never about perfection, rather, it was about enjoyment and expressing their sense of self.
Maybe this is why I appreciate Melissa Clark‘s approach in her latest cookbook Kid in the Kitchen. In the introduction she tells the home cooks that “You have to learn some basics to get going. Every dish has a few fundamental steps that will make it work. In this book, I take you step-by-step through the process of understanding and making a recipe. You’ll find a set of rock-solid starting points that will help you cook exactly what you want to eat.”(9) After trying several of the recipes with my daughter, Katie, I could see how much Katie enjoyed the process (as well as the product). Since Katie is 6 years old, we worked on making the recipes together, but this cookbook would be great for home cooks of any age. Unlike some kid-focused cookbooks that can be a be twee or cutesy, I found Kid in the Kitchen to appealed to me because it avoided being cutesy. The recipes provide an excellent base from which the home cooks can experiment with — understanding what ingredients could be added or subtracted.
The recipes are organized into 11 chapters: Breakfast & Brunch, Sandwiches, Snack Like You Mean It, Noodles & Pasta, Sheet Pan Fever, Extreme Bowling: Grain Bowls & Salads, Food Parties for Fun Food Fans, One-Pot Meals, Breads, Sides, and Sugar Time! At the beginning of the book, Clark outlines techniques as well as crucial kitchen tools. There is even a section on food styling and photographing — how to show off the beautiful dishes that you make. Each kid is different and, what I’ve found with Katie is that she’s more likely to eat the food she helps to prepare. For anyone who is wondering, there is a variety of recipes to suit many different dietary preferences.
After looking through the book together, the first recipe that we decided to make was the Hot Honey Butter Popovers. This was an easy recipe to make because after mixing the batter all the work is done in the oven (unlike pancakes you need to flip). Katie and I got the ingredients ready, then we used an immersion blender to blend the mixture smoothly. Katie buttered the pan (Clark also gives a variation using a muffin tin) and I helped her to pour the batter into each popover cup. The magic happens as the batter cooks — it slowly creeps up the sides of the cup until it’s popping out of the pan (think: Dutch Baby pancake). Katie gave a triumphant jump as we watched her popovers bake. She also made the honey butter by mixing up the ingredients — this compound butter is the perfect accompaniment to the warm popovers. We also found it was delicious when slathered on the Crispy Skillet Cornbread.
One of our favourite meals is nachos (I like it because it’s an easy meal to throw together). So, when we saw the recipe for Cheesy Skillet Black Beans we wanted to make it immediately because it seems like a nacho-adjacent recipe — black beans, salsa, melted cheese — all the nacho ingredients we love. While you could serve this recipe with corn tortilla chips, we served it on rice (used the Master Rice Recipe to make it) with a side of the Crispy Skillet Cornbread. I really appreciate this recipe because it’s a one-pot meal that we can make quickly using just a few pantry ingredients. While Katie and I started off making this meal together, she took a break half-way through to draw (which sometimes happens with my young cook).
Going back to the Master Rice Recipe, I like how Melissa Clark provides instruction on how to make rice using different methods. Since I use the Instant Pot to make my rice, Katie and I went through the instructions and made rice using Clark’s method. Katie was able to rinse/drain the rice and then add all the ingredients to the pot. I helped to secure the lid and she pressed the buttons. Ask my family and they’ll tell you that I make inconsistent (sometimes awful rice). Using the Instant Pot I’ve found that my results have improved (I use the instructions provided with the pot) however, I think that the method here of rinsing the rice makes a huge difference to the final product. In this respect, I think that even adult home cooks can learn something from this cookbook!
What Melissa Clark’s Kid in the Kitchen offers is an excellent primer for young home cooks and, with the holidays approaching, I think that this cookbook would make an excellent gift (I would also recommend adding a popover pan too). The ability to cook offers essential life skills to kids so that they can make food they’ll enjoy, while helping to expand their palates.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Penguin Random House Canada / Clarkson Potter Publishers for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
One thought on “Book Club Tuesday: Kid in the Kitchen”