As Nancy Drew might say, anyone who likes to solve mysteries should feel at home in the kitchen. Following recipes is just like following clues — and you get a rich reward in the end.
Being clued in is especially important for young cooks.
Here are some tips to help make that kitchen experience a good one:
Before you start, remember these basic rules:
Always have adult supervision. Older cooks may not need to be closely watched, but they should have permission to cook.
Read through recipes first to make sure you have everything on hand. Gather ingredients and equipment so you won't be hunting for them later. If you don't understand the directions or steps, be sure to ask.
Wash your hands with soap and water before you begin.
Always clean up when you're finished. No one enjoys a messy kitchen.
Safety is always a concern when you are working with food and equipment:
When using knives or vegetable peelers, always cut away from yourself, so you won't cut your fingers or hands.
Be careful around electric equipment such as mixers and blenders. Be sure your hands are dry and out of the way of blades.
When chopping or cutting ingredients, always use a cutting board; never cut on the table surface.
When using saucepans, be sure the handles are turned to the back of the stove, so contents won't be accidentally bumped and spilled.
Be sure you turn off the stove or oven when you're finished.
Some little tricks can make cooking go smoothly. Keep these in mind:
Break eggs into a small bowl first. That way if you get any shells, you can easily remove them.
When measuring shortening, press it firmly into a cup so there are no air pockets. You can use guidelines on cubes of butter or margarine to measure tablespoons. Remember 4 tablespoons equal 1/4 cup.
Pack brown sugar firmly into a dry cup.
For flour or other dry ingredients, pile gently into a measuring cup and then level off with a metal spatula.
For liquid measures, be sure the cup is on a flat surface. Check it at eye-level to make sure you have the correct amount.
Shortening, butter and margarine can often be used in place of each other. But don't use the new "spreads."
To grease a pan, hold a small piece of butter or shortening in a piece of paper towel or wax paper and rub it over the inside of the pan.
Be sure you know what you are doing before you begin. Here are some common terms:
Boil: Heat a liquid until bubbles pop through to the surface.
Blend: Stir until all ingredients are mixed together.
Cream: Beat a mixture of sugar and shortening and butter until it is smooth and creamy. It works better if butter is at room temperature.
Dice or chop: To cut into small pieces.
Preheat: Turn the oven on to the directed temperature. Let the oven reach this temperature before you put anything in to bake.
Sift: To avoid lumps, put dry ingredients through a sifter or stir together until everything is smooth and blended together.
A few Web sites
The Internet offers a lot of fun and information for beginning cooks. Here are some sites you might want to try:
www.kidscookingcorner.com — Recipes, jokes, cooking secrets and more from Hilary, age 7, and Ali, 4.
www.kidsfood.org — The Kids Food Cyber Club, sponsored by the Connecticut Association for Human Services, offers recipes, tips on healthful eating and activities for kids, parents and teachers.
www.dole5aday.com — tips, activities and ideas built around fruits and vegetables.
www.scoreone.com/kids_kitchen/ — kids can send in recipes or try those on this site for the messiest, yummiest, easiest and other categories.
www.familyfood.com — contests, nutrition, cooking tips and recipes from the National Dairy Council.