I expected a mess. I expected inedible food.
I was wrong. When I got together a group of kids - two aged 12, and one each 9, 8, 7 and 4 - to see if they really could be let loose in the kitchen, I was bowled over.I gave the kids recipes for muffins, omelettes and oven-baked French toast for a Mom's Day brunch. I chose recipes that didn't require any extra trips to the grocery store.
Sure, there was a mess, but not much worse than when I get in there. And sure, the food was decidedly brown, but after all, these are children, not chefs.
I did not supervise except to watch (and to maybe point out when the burner was left on).
The kids took their Mom's Day brunch so seriously that they wouldn't even allow anyone to sample the batter until the muffins were safely in the oven.
But the finished product met with kid approval, despite the fact that the muffins sank in the middle and at least one food person (it's my job), found them a tad bit undermixed with the distinct taste of flour and egg.
The omelette smacked of overbrowned butter and an overload of cheese, the French toast was a bit sweet, but the kids wolfed down every bite - with nary a glance at two of their moms who had shown up for a tasting. Yo, kids, this is for Mom's Day, remember?
Before you give the kids free rein, here are a few tips we picked up from watching them. Needless to say, an adult should be on hand to prevent any kitchen accidents:
- Suggest that one child should be in charge, to lay out what they should do first, second and third. It helps if the head kid can read. It also helps if the head kid doesn't want to boss everyone else.
- Help them choose recipes that are straightforward and easy to read. The children left the oven French toast recipe for last because it looked the most complicated - the recipe page was loaded with fancy graphics and alternatives, such as, "If you don't have brown sugar, try subbing powdered sugar with a touch of honey." Too much stuff on a page is overwhelming.
- Although it's easy to say a 4-year-old can do this, an 8-year-old can do that, we found that the kids seemed pretty tuned into their own capabilities. Although we're always concerned around hot stoves and ovens, the 8-year-old, who really likes to cook, instinctively seemed to know how to handle the skillet. The kids deferred without question to the 12-year-old when it came to removing muffins from a hot oven.
- Skip the frills. We had grandiose ideas that one child could make strawberry butter to go with the muffins or a fruit sauce for cut-up fruit. The kids could handle pretty much one task at a time and followed each other like lemmings. Most of the time was spent crowded around the muffin bowl as if they were looking for buried treasure.
- Don't attempt more than two recipes. The youngest child bailed out within 30 minutes (cooking was no match against Power Rangers). Somewhere just after the second recipe but before the third one, we looked up to find that every child, except a 12-year-old, had wandered off into another room.
The following recipes are from "Peas and Honey: Recipes for Kids", by Kimberly Colen, Wordsong, Boyds Mill Press, $15.95.
Marty Meitus is food editor of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.
1 tablesoon cold water
Salt and pepper (optional)
Butter or oil or nonstick cooking spray
Fillings: Shredded cheese, sliced mushrooms, onions, ham, salami, cooked and crumbled bacon, diced tomato.
Sweet fillings: Sliced strawberries, kiwi, bananas, shredded coconut, chopped nuts, sour cream, brown sugar.
Cut up fillings of your choice on a cutting board. Set aside.
Break eggs into small bowl and add water. Salt and pepper also may be added, if desired. Mix well with mixing spoon.
Place skillet over medium-high heat. Cover bottom and sides of skillet with butter or oil. Or coat inside of skillet with non-stick cooking spray.
Add egg mixture to skillet. As omelette cooks, use spatula to lift edges of cooked egg. Tilt skillet so that uncooked portion runs underneath the sides. Continue lifting and tilting until top side is no longer runny.
Spread fillings onto one half of egg mixture and turn heat to low. Cover and let eggs cook another minute.
Remove lid. Loosen half of the omelette and fold it over the other half. Remove skillet from stove and slide omelette onto a plate.
MUFFINS WITH SURPRISE
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup cooking oil
Jelly or jam
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put one paper bake cup into each muffin cup.
In large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and baking powder. Use mixing spoon to stir.
In small mixing bowl, beat egg. Add milk and oil. Beat mixture with fork until blended. Add to dry ingredients and mix lightly.
Spoon batter into muffin baking cups, filling each 1/3 full.
Put 1 teaspoon of jelly or jam in center of batter in each cup. Then fill muffin cups 2/3 full with remaining batter. Before baking, use damp cloth to wipe off spilled batter on muffin pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins are golden brown.
Remove muffins from oven with potholders. Sprinkle muffins with powdered sugar. Let cool.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup cinnamon applesauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar Mint leaf (optional) Apple (optional)
Chill cream, mixing bowl, and beaters by placing in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
In another mixing bowl, add applesauce, honey, lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Mix well.
Put cream in chilled mixing bowl. Beat until cream is thick and stands up when you lift out beaters. Use medium-high speed for electric mixer.
Carefully pour whipping cream into applesauce mixture. Scrape excess from bowl with rubber scraper.
Pour into dessert dishes or parfait glasses.
Mix sugar and remaining cinnamon in small bowl and sprinkle on top of individual portions.
For garnish, add piece of mint leaf or spoonful of grated apple on top of individual portions.
BAKED FRENCH TOAST
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup milk
6 slices French bread
1 to 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
12 ripe strawberries, sliced
Melt the margarine in the small saucepan on the stove. Or melt it in the microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. Pour into the oven-proof pan.
In one small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over the melted margarine.
In the other small bowl, combine the eggs and milk. Stir until well blended.
Dip a slice of the bread in the egg-and-milk mixture, coating both sides. Place in the oven-proof pan. Repeat for the other slices of bread.
Pour the remaining egg-and-milk mixture over the bread, cover with tin foil, and bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. Take the foil off and bake for 10 more minutes.
Sprinkle the powdered sugar on top of the French toast and top with the sliced strawberries. Serve with syrup, if desired.
Variations: Use regular bread instead of French bread. Substitute other fruit for the strawberries.
- From "Kids' Holiday Fun", by Penny Warner, Meadowbrook Press