Why You Should Get Your Kids in the Kitchen

“By starting small, you can build the foundation that eventually leads to confidence in the kitchen”.
– Author Unknown

Children should learn how to cook. Period. At some point our cute little humans will grow up to be adults who will need to have a basic set of life skills in order to function and take care of themselves. Cooking is without a doubt one of those basic life skills. I would like to think that when my kids are grown and out of the house they will be able to do better for themselves than a bowl of cereal or an icky frozen meal. I want them to have enough knowledge and experience in the kitchen to be able to pull together a few simple dishes on their own without having to rely on prepackaged foods from the supermarket. I also want them to one day be able to prepare great meals for their own families and for that to happen, it begins with me.

I’ve been cooking and baking with my kids since they were toddlers, which I know sounds young, but they used to love being up on the counter helping to stir and mix ingredients. Helping me cook really made them feel useful and good about themselves. It is simple tasks like these that become the foundation from which you build up their skills and confidence in the kitchen as they get older. Every small task they accomplish is another step towards gaining independence in the kitchen. My daughter is almost 9 now and when she sees a dish in a restaurant or watches a cooking show her response is usually, “I think I can make that Mommy! Can we try to make that?” and it’s because she’s gained enough confidence in herself and in her skills in the kitchen to want to try. That confidence and belief in herself will carry her even further than just being able to cook, it’ll help her in life.

Got picky eaters? Involving kids in the meal planning and cooking process is a great way to get them to try new things and broaden their palettes. As a mom of two picky eaters myself I completely understand the challenge other parents face in finding foods that kids will actually eat. My daughter, who inspects every fleck of food on her dish, can be impossible to deal with at meal time. Recently, she took a cooking class where she made something called “Veggie Yakisoba” which in a million years I would never think she’d eat. Aside from the veggies it was made with soba noodles, an ingredient she’s never had before, so I was sure she’d resist that dish at every turn. To my surprise, she dove right in and ended up loving it! I know for certain, had I made that same dish and served it to her she’d turn up her nose but because she was involved in the process of cooking it she was intrigued to try it. It’s nice being able to add another food to the short list of things she will eat. So instead of fighting with your kids about eating and stressing yourself out, involve them in the process so that you’re working together to make mealtime a more pleasurable experience.

Cooking and baking with your kids is also the perfect opportunity to teach them a little math. Allowing them to measure ingredients is a great way to reinforce concepts such as adding, subtracting, and even fractions. Mathematical concepts when used in “real life” tend to stick with kids much better than when just seen on a page. You can also show them how recipes can be converted from the U.S. standard of measurement to the metric system and vice versa. Teaching them how to halve or double a recipe is another great way for them to stretch their math skills. Cooking, while fun, is also an excellent learning experience for children. Don’t miss these teachable moments in the kitchen!

Healthy matters! As you cook together, talk to your children about healthy eating habits and healthy foods. Show them how you can make their favorite treats even better by using fresh, wholesome ingredients instead of all of the junk that is in prepackaged foods.  Who needs to eat gross things like guar gum, carrageenan, and 40 different types of dyes? You will find that your kids palettes can change quickly and before you know it, they will prefer the healthier made foods more than the store-bought ones they were once used to. Show them how you can easily make your own cookie dough, granola bars, snack mixes, and more which I promise will taste better than anything from a store. Got a green thumb? Try growing a small garden together so they will have a bounty of fresh ingredients at their disposal to turn into delicious meals. There is nothing better than a summer warmed cucumber from your own garden! Start them on the right foot early so that later they don’t have to struggle with food issues.

Lastly, cooking brings families together. Being in kitchen with your kids is a great way to slow down, connect and make memories. The cell phones are away, the TV is off and you’re all focused on a common goal which is to make a great meal to share. This time together is the perfect opportunity to talk to your kids about their day, about their dreams, about anything under the sun. Relax, smile, laugh, and make beautiful memories together. The times you spend with your kids in the kitchen will be the times they remember when they look back on their childhood. Learning to prepare treasured family recipes and cooking alongside elders will undoubtedly become some of your children’s most treasured memories.

There really are no drawbacks to having your kids in the kitchen. Sure it might take a little longer to pull a dish together but in the end it will get done and your kids will have learned another skill, gotten another boost of confidence, and taken another step towards becoming an independent, functioning adult. Bonus for you? Maybe one day when you’re older and your kids are grown you’ll be able to sit at THEIR kitchen table and have them cook you a delicious, homemade meal. Then you can smile and give yourself a little pat on the back for a job well done because you paved the way for them to be confident in the kitchen.

Emme Cooking 2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get in the Kitchen and Get Your Cook On

cooking-2132874_1920

“This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun”

– Julia Child

Not only do I adore this quote, I live it. Every. Single. Day. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to be a chef to cook well. You don’t have to attend culinary school to cook well. Heck, you don’t even have to have grown up in the kitchen alongside your great grandma Agnes to cook well. The ONLY thing you need to do to become proficient in the kitchen and cook well is summed up perfectly in Julia’s quote. You need to be open to learning, you need to take risks and try, you need to learn from your mistakes (and their WILL be mistakes) and you must have fun. It really is that simple. If you’re afraid to fail and you dread being in the kitchen than you’ll never get any better. But if you keep yourself open to new challenges and you learn to enjoy the process of cooking instead of just the destination, you will soar.

I wasn’t born with a burning love and desire for being in the kitchen however, my experiences growing up in a big Italian family definitely helped to foster a love of cooking and baking. I loved the way food brought our family together whether it was to celebrate a holiday or a milestone. No matter the event, somehow everything centered around food in some capacity. My paternal grandmother had this way of always making people feel welcome around her table. She didn’t have a big gourmet kitchen, she had just the basics, but whether two people or twenty showed up at her house she would be in that kitchen whipping up a pot of sauce or some other simple Italian dish for everyone to enjoy. All were welcome at her table morning, noon, or night. She would feed you and love you and make you feel like family.

My grandparents were of the “kids should be seen but not heard” generation so I distinctly remember being at their house with all of the adults gathered around the table drinking, laughing, and talking while all of the kids were off playing together. The adults were able to enjoy their “grown-up” time and we were free to just be kids, carefree and happy. But when dinner was served, we all squished into every available space in their small dining room and kitchen and we ate together. Meals would be eaten slowly and with care, nobody was on a phone or in a rush to get up from the table and it was the food that brought us together. It slowed us down, made us relaxed, and in the process we made memories. Really great memories. I loved those meals. I loved the sounds of constant chatter at the table and everyone enjoying themselves. It was safe and cozy. It was happiness. In looking back at my childhood I realized that so many of my fondest family memories included a good meal where we were all gathered together around the table.

When I was younger, it was also an important tradition to prepare food with my immediate and extended family. On my mom’s side we would always descend upon my grandparents house a few weeks before Christmas to prepare the holiday treats and bake our traditional holiday cookies. We made fudge, homemade chocolates, butter cookies, cake balls, struffoli, and my absolute favorite of all time, Italian pizzelle cookies. Everyone, kids and adults, would be gathered in my grandparents small kitchen and dining room and we would spend the whole weekend baking, laughing, and listening to Christmas music. It was such a wonderful, fun, festive weekend and again, we were gathered around food.

Just as the kitchen is the heart of the home, food is the heart of the family. So many of our memories are somehow tied to a good meal, a special food tradition, or cooking alongside our elders. As I got older it became important to me to carry on my family traditions and to learn how to become a really good home cook. I wanted to be able to prepare special meals for my family and put a good dinner on the table for my husband and future children. So after college, when my husband and I moved out on our own, I threw myself into the kitchen and attacked every recipe I tried with gusto. I asked my grandparents, aunts, and my mom for all of the traditional family recipes so I could learn how to make everything from Easter bread to Christmas fudge. I was determined to learn and get better and I’ll be honest, not everything was a success. I failed. I made mistakes. Just take a look at my blog post, Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There, and you’ll see that sometimes I created an absolute disaster. But from the disasters I learned and the more I learned, the better I got. Over time I started to realize that being in the kitchen wasn’t just about the cooking or the baking, instead it became my sanity, my outlet, my passion and some of my best memories too!

When I am in the kitchen I feel so relaxed and calm, I feel at home. I have learned to stop focusing on the finished product and instead, enjoy the process as well. I love the delicate task of sifting flour, or watching the paddle of the mixer cream the butter and sugar together, or melting chocolate into a shiny, smooth ganache. I love watching each step of a recipe come together, piece by piece, until there is a beautiful plate of food in front of me. I love feeding people and seeing the joy on their faces as they taste a delectable bite of food that was made in my kitchen with my own two hands. But most of all, I love the memories that are associated with so much of what I make. There was the time my teeny tiny toddler daughter sat up on the counter mixing brownies for her Daddy’s birthday, or the time my kids, my husband, and my parents gathered around the table to decorate gingerbread houses, or the first time I let my daughter cook us a pasta dinner on the stovetop. All great memories, all centered around food.

The kitchen doesn’t just have to be the place to get a quick meal on the table, it can become a place where memories are made, where you can calm your frayed nerves, and where great meals and treats come together. I know that old meatloaf recipe is easy and you’ve made it countless times with ease but why not break out one of your cookbooks, blow off the dust, and dive into something completely new? Be fearless, remember? Learn a new cooking technique, try out a new herb, get your hands dirty, make a mess and above all, have fun! Embrace the challenge, learn from the mistakes, and recognize that with every new thing you try you’re taking another step towards becoming a better home cook.

Developing yourself into a success in the kitchen is such a wonderful journey. I love looking back on how I use to cook back in the day and then looking at myself now and being able to appreciate just how far I’ve come in the last 20 years. Although I’ve learned so much and gotten so much better I’m also still a constant work in progress. I love to devour every word in my cookbooks and cooking magazines, I read tons of other blogs and websites, and I am always challenging myself to grow on a daily basis. Cooking, baking, and this blog have become my absolute passion in life. Both are at the core of who I am and I love to share my passion with others. If I can help even one person cook better or gain more confidence in the kitchen than I feel like I am a success.

So, the moral of this story is this: JUST GET IN THE KITCHEN AND GET YOUR COOK ON! Don’t look at it as a chore. Don’t dread it like you do going to the dentist. Make it a challenge. Make it interesting. Make it fun. Keep pushing yourself and in time, you will become a pro in your own kitchen. Bon Appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“How-To” Cooking – Rendering

All animal fat contains some amount of meat tissue and the only way to separate the two is through a process called, rendering. As the meat is cooked the fat will begin to melt and separate from the meat tissue. The pure fat is then strained and the what is left is crisp bits known as “cracklings“. When roasting poultry, such as a turkey, you would strain the pan drippings to capture the rendered fat.

In the case of bacon, when cooked it will render most, if not all, of its fat. The rendered bacon fat is a favorite cooking medium in kitchens. It can be used to make popcorn, sauté vegetables, scramble an egg, or even as a base to make a salad dressing. Rendered bacon fat, free of any solids or “cracklings“, will keep virtually forever in the fridge.

“How-To” Cooking – Dredging

Dredging means to drag food through a dry ingredient such as cornmeal, flour, or breadcrumbs in order to fully coat the outside. Dredged food is generally deep-fried or baked as the coating helps to brown and crisp the outside of the food while retaining the moisture inside. Food can also be dredged in a plastic bag by adding the dry ingredients in and then shaking vigorously to coat. After dredging, food should be slightly shaken to remove any excess coating. Do not dredge food too far in advance of cooking as the coating will absorb the moisture from the food and it will become very gummy.

Kitchen Must Have – Cast Iron Pots/Pans

cast iron pots and pans

Cast iron pots and pans have so many benefits and are a wonderful (and inexpensive) addition to any kitchen. They are naturally nonstick, virtually indestructible, easy to clean, and they hold the heat very well. If properly taken care of, cast iron can last for generations. Once you get the hang of using them I have no doubt they will become some of your most favorite pieces, I absolutely love mine.

The two most common kinds of cast iron that you can purchase are seasoned cast iron and enamel coated cast iron. The seasoned cast iron pans are coated in oil and then heated to a specific temperature in order to create a naturally nonstick cooking surface. The enameled cast iron pans are offered in an array of vibrant, beautiful colors. These colors are created by a process in which a glass particulate called “frit” is applied to the cookware, the cookware is then fired in extreme temperatures where the frit transforms into a smooth porcelain. This process bonds the porcelain to the cast iron creating a very smooth nonstick cooking surface.

Both options are excellent choices and offer certain benefits however, in my opinion I think that the seasoned cast iron pans have a slight edge. For acidic foods I always prefer to use my enameled cast iron but for all of my other cooking and baking, I always grab my seasoned cast iron pots and pans. For starters, they are far more inexpensive than their enameled counterpart. Enameled cast iron pots and pans can run you hundreds of dollars, especially if you invest in some of the big name brands such as Le Creuset or Staub. The seasoned cast iron is also more durable, over time you might find that the enameled cast iron chips or stains. Lastly, I find that with repeated use, the seasoned cast iron actually has a better nonstick surface. The one drawback to the seasoned cast iron, which can easily be avoided, is that it can (and will) rust if not taken care of properly. The good news is though, even if you end up with a little rust on your cast iron it’s something that is correctable.

I highly recommend taking a look into the Lodge Cast Iron  line of pots and pans.  They are very affordable, excellent quality, and they even offer a line of enameled cast iron pots and pans that are far less money and of equal quality as the more expensive name brands. I usually purchase my Lodge products on Amazon as they almost always offer the best price. Below is one of my most favorite and useful pieces, their 12″ frying pan. It’s such a great and versatile piece, you can make everything from eggs to chicken to apple crisps in it. If you own even just one piece of cast iron in your kitchen, this should be the one!

 Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet – 12 Inch Classic Cast Iron Frying Pan with Assist Handle (Made in USA)

For those that are new to cooking with and caring for cast iron check out this great video below from the Tasty YouTube channel. It offers some great advice and will get you off on the right foot with cast iron. So many people think cooking with cast iron is hard and requires a lot of work but this video will show you just how easy it really is. Once you go cast iron, you’ll never want to go back. Enjoy!

“How-To” Cooking – Blanching

Blanching is a technique that is used to soften the texture of food to a nice “tender crisp”, set its color, and in some cases make them easier to peel. When blanching, food is submerged in boiling water for just a few seconds and then it’s removed and immediately plunged into very cold ice water. The hot water serves to soften the texture of the fruit or vegetable and the ice-cold water bath not only stops the cooking process but also sets its bright color.

For thin-skinned fruits such as peaches or tomatoes blanching makes it easier to peel their skin off while leaving the inner flesh nice and firm.
To blanch for peeling purposes:

  • Cut out the stem and then score (shallowly cut) an “X” in the blossom end of the fruit.
  • Plunge the fruit into boiling water for 30-60 seconds or until the skin begins to wrinkle.
  • Transfer the fruit to an ice-cold water bath.
  • Once the fruit is cooled, remove from the water, and peel away the skin using a small paring knife.

“How-To” Cooking – Sautéing

Sautéing is one the most basic French cooking methods and is used quite often in the kitchen. Sautéed foods are cooked quickly in a small amount of fat (usually butter or oil) over medium to medium-high heat. The food is stirred or tossed in order to cook the outside evenly without overcooking the inside.

Foods to be sautéed should be cut into small pieces or thin slices so that they cook fairly quickly. Typical sautéed foods are chicken, other tender cuts of meat, and vegetables. When sautéing make sure to not crowd the pan and be sure to dry all food with a paper towel before cooking, any extra moisture will cause the food to steam instead of sauté.

Kitchen Must Have – Penzeys Spices

penzeys

I will preface this by saying I do not in any way work for nor do I get any kickbacks from Penzeys however, I feel that I have an obligation to share when I find something amazing and Penzeys is truly amazing!!! Their spices and seasonings are without a doubt the best I’ve ever had. Everything tastes so fresh and bright as if it was bottled five minutes before they sent it to you. I’ve literally fallen head over heels in love with this company’s products!!

They are also super affordable, their prices are so much better than what you will find for stale, old spices in the supermarket and they run amazing deals on a consistent basis as well. Every order over $30 is free shipping and sometimes they will lower that amount down to only $20! Also, they always include one (or two) of their spices as a free gift when you spend over $50. Plus, if you sign up for their emails, they will also send you a slew of promo codes for free spices and some they will even send to you without having to buy a thing! No obligation. TOTALLY FREE SPICES!! You cannot beat that deal!

They carry every spice and seasoning you possibly can think of and then some! They have baking spices, chili spices, salad seasonings, different types of peppers, vanilla beans, salt free options, and more! All are available in different sizes and at different price points, many coming in at under $3 for the smallest jar. Some of my favorites are:

  • Shallot Pepper – This is OUT OF THIS WORLD! The smell alone will make your mouth water. It contains coarse salt, Tellicherry black pepper, shallots, tarragon, and bay leaves and it can be used on everything from meats to veggies. It’s one of a kind, I am crazy about it!
  • Penzeys Pepper – This is a nice, bold pepper but it’s finely ground so it blends in nicely on your food and in recipes.
  • Sunny Paris – This is a delicious blend of purple shallots, chives, green peppercorn, basil, tarragon, chervil, bay leaf and dill weed. It’s great on chicken, fish, or veggies and you can even combine it in yogurt for a yummy dip.
  • Penzeys Cinnamon – Literally the BEST, most fragrant cinnamon I’ve ever had. A little goes a long way with this one.
  • Lemon Peel – The second you open the jar it smells like fresh lemons are bursting out. This is absolutely wonderful for the times you need a little lemon zest but are out of fresh lemons.
  • Cinnamon Sugar – This has the most perfect blend and balance. It makes for the best cinnamon toast too!
  • Air Dried Shallots – These smell amazing and work great in any recipe that calls for fresh, diced shallots.
  • Apple, Pie, Pumpkin, and Baking Spices – It will smell like fall in your kitchen. Each one of these are amazing and they add incredible flavor to any baked goods.
  • Tuscan Sunset – This is a really fragrant and delicious salt free seasoning that pairs well with most everything.
  • Natural Cocoa Powder – This is a really rich grade of cocoa and it will make your baked goods taste extra awesome.

These are just a few of the amazing products they off but the list of my favorites could go on forever. They really are incredible and because they are so inexpensive, you won’t feel bad trying out a few. Check out their website (Penzeys Spices) and take a look around at all of the wonderful things they offer. They even have a really nice cooking page where a ton of recipes are available. Give them a try and then comment below and let me know what you think. You can thank me later!! lol I have no doubt that Penzeys will become your “go-to” place for spices. Enjoy!

“How-To” Cooking – Reducing

Reducing is a method in which a liquid is simmered or boiled until the quantity has decreased, the flavor becomes concentrated and the liquid thickened. Typical reductions include braising liquids, stocks, wine, and even balsamic vinegar.

To make a simple reduction

  • Add wine or stock to the pan after removing the sauteed meat
  • Stir over medium high heat, scraping up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir until the liquid has reduced down to about half and thickened
  • Pour the reduced sauce over the meat or strain first for a smoother reduction, then serve

In the Kitchen with Kids

My kids love to cook and bake, especially my daughter, and while I enjoy having them in the kitchen with me it can be a bit chaotic at times. My kitchen (unfortunately) isn’t very big so we’re usually tripping over each other constantly and then of course there is the constant bickering between the two of them. They bicker over who gets what spoon or whisk, who got to stir longer than the other, who did more than the other, and on and on. It’s usually a very noisy, messy experience with them but even with that, they always end up having fun and they are so proud of the meals and treats that they create.

emgraycheffers

I’ve learned that in order to have a successful experience in the kitchen with them there needs to be some guidelines for both the kids AND for me so that we have fun and don’t drive each other completely crazy. As with anything where kids are concerned, having routines and expectations in place really help to make things run a little more smoothly. With that being said, here are my top tips to survive having kids in the kitchen with you!

Choose A Recipe Together – It’s important to involve your kids in this step because if you don’t cook/bake something they are excited about they will lose interest, be completely bored, and end up walking away leaving you to finish on your own. Give them a few kid friendly options to choose from and let them pick which they want, they will appreciate feeling like they have a say in the cooking process.

Gather Your Ingredients – Teach your children to first read through the recipe and then pull everything they need from the pantry, fridge, and freezer so that it’s ready and accessible as they go through each step of the cooking/baking process. Having your ingredients organized, prepped, and ready is called “mise en place” which is just a fancy term for having everything in its place. Your little chefs will love knowing that fancy French term, my kids do!

Teach Them Good Kitchen Hygiene – Make sure to encourage hand washing both before you begin cooking and throughout the process. Also, remind them that good cooks do not stick their fingers in the food, lick their fingers or hands, or lick any of the utensils being used. If your kids are anything like mine, they will need CONSTANT reminding of this.

Get Ready, Get Set………. – Hair up, hands washed, aprons on!

ANNNNNND Cook!!! – Read through each step with them and then let them take ownership of each phase of the cooking process. Depending on their age and ability, assign them different tasks such as dicing, slicing, measuring, sifting, mixing, etc. Let them do as much as they can as you supervise, jumping in to help them only as needed.

As they are cooking/baking take this opportunity to teach them. Teach them about flavors, cooking technique, what certain tools are used for, kitchen safety, etc. The goal is for them to grow into competent, knowledgeable cooks as opposed to just getting one recipe over with.

Be Patient, Expect Messes – Things go much slower in the kitchen when you cook/bake with kids. So allow yourself some extra time and remind yourself to be patient with them. They don’t have the ability to measure, chop, and stir as fast as you or I. Give them the space to work at their own pace.

Also, kids are messy little creatures by nature so cooking with them is not usually a very neat and tidy experience. Expect that they will get messy as will your kitchen. Once you accept that fact, you’ll be a lot more relaxed throughout the whole process.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy Yourself – Remind yourself to enjoy the experience. My kids get SO excited to be in the kitchen and as chaotic and messy as it gets while we’re in there, I always try to remind myself to have fun with them, laugh a little, and enjoy our time together. Cooking and baking together should be a fun experience that you share. So enjoy it. Every crazy, loud, messy minute of it!

graymixing.jpg

Food memories are some of the strongest memories we have as humans. Don’t believe me? Just check out this article: Why Food Memories Feel So Powerful When I think back over my own life some of my best memories center around food. I specifically remember the times when I was in the kitchen cooking with my family and those are same kind of memories I want to create for my own children. I would love for them to be 40 years old, cooking “Mommy’s Tomato Sauce” for their own kids, and thinking back to that time when they learned how to make it cooking alongside me! That would be awesome!

So get your kids in the kitchen and get cooking! More importantly, enjoy every single second of it so that they do too!! Have fun, make memories, and eat well!

emmesifting