Kids in the Kitchen

Friday, 10 April 2009

I don't think we can underestimate how talented kids can be in the kitchen.

When we lived in Beijing, Ella would pester me consistently to "cook dinner" and it was always just too hard. Especially because ayi did most of the cooking and I just swanned around in a mumu with feathered mules on my pedicured feet.

It was when I received a kids issue of Donna Hay magazine, the editorial published by a renowned Aussie chef who has made something of a Martha-Stewart-esque institution of herself Downunder, that I changed my mind.

Donna’s gorgeous magazines and recipes have always inspired me to rapidly don an apron, and in that particular issue, she published a great section - Just For Kids (no adults allowed!) that teaches wee ones the basics of cooking (eg: what does “browning” mean?), introduces them to all those fandangled utensils, and gives them easy-peasy-lemon-squeazy recipes to try out for themselves (not that I know because it's a kids only section and I didn't peek, of course).

When Ella (7 years old at the time) saw this special kids' section, she was agog. “Can I cook dinner, can I, can I, huh?”

I looked at my daughter for only a few moments before answering with an earnest “Yes. Yes you can.”

So Ella became the master chef. Riley donned his apron as sous chef, and I donned mine as supervising culinary director.

And Ella cooked us dinner.

I was, like, SO excited.

Her menu featured mini pita bread pizzas topped with ham and pineapple and scattered with torn basil leaves (you must always tear, never chop). She then tossed a green salad with cherry tomatoes, tumbled slickly with French dressing. And for dessert, it was Berried Treasure Pots – or berry crumble.

She did everything.

How? Because I decided to try really hard to change my teaching style, which is normally so controlling, her breathing must be timed. So, when I tied on my apron strings , I untied Ella’s. I let her go. I threw her like a cold turkey into the deep end of a very large hypothetical pot.

I was nervous but it seemed to work. She occasionally asked the meaning of this or that, but for the most part, she did the whole lot herself. The. Whole. Lot. So so proud.

The only serious advice I gave her was on timing (“Berry pots take 30 minutes to cook, so start them first as the pizzas only take 15 minutes” etc). She nodded in agreement and set about her tasks.

First she gathered her supplies. Then she washed her hands, preheated the oven (teensy bit of help there), then prepped a huge glass bowl and used deft little fingertips to mush the butter into the sugar, flour and rolled oats. It smelled divine and that little nose frequently leant into the bowl for a deep sniff and even the odd pinch between the fingers for a taste. She then stirred the caster sugar into the blood red berries and spooned them into pots, then topped them with crumble and slipped them into the warm oven.

Next was the pizzas. The recipe said to slap the pita bread onto the tray so she did this, literally – whack! I opened the can of tomato sauce for her and she swirled it on with the back of a spoon then delegated the cheese-grating to sous-chef Riley (he was delighted).

Ella then tore the ham (because the recipe said to tear not cut) and skilfully sliced the pineapple into chunks with a small, sharp knife. She arranged said ingredients on the pizzas then made an executive decision not to use the basil. I instead stood on the sidelines (with one eye flailing wildly to the left to surreptitiously watch her every move) and tore it into pieces for the salad.

The pizzas were slipped into the oven, berry pots checked and bubbling nicely, then it was onto the salad. She washed and spun the leaves until they glistened, plopped them into a bowl, sliced cherry tomatoes neatly then tossed everything together with French dressing and my torn basil.

Checking her pizzas, she then dashed to the table and set it, complete with handwritten place cards – Mum, Dad, Ella, Riley.

She centered the salad on the table, filled glasses with water, checked her pizzas then instructed me to remove them from the oven, where they were mouthwateringly melty and intensely fragrant, with little pieces of pink ham curled and twirling upwards, begging to be bitten. One had even developed an air bubble and had risen like a cheesy volcano pie and spilled its guts onto the tray around it – “That one is Dad’s,” she announced before asking me to stab it on her behalf. I obeyed and it hastily sank to join it’s brothers on the tray – maimed but nonetheless delicious.

I did help slip the pizzas from the trays to the plates (with her instructing me which pizza belonged to whom) and she toted them to the table where we all sat in starved anticipation while she removed her apron and slung it over the back of her chair to join us for the feast.

And the results? Absolutely scrumptious. The pizzas were sensational and the Berried Treasure pots, with their golden crusts and tangy bubbling berry liquid swirled with blobs of melting ice cream… just too good to be true.

But the best thing of all? Our praise, our oohs and ahhs and mmms of delight were genuine, and to watch Ella’s face as she ate, with such a serene expression of satisfaction, well – it just made my heart swell.

Clever girl.


Market Girl said...

Wow, I would like a table for 4 @7.30pm thanks.
Any day will be fine just let me know!

Clever clogs!

Jen Leheny said...

So glad to have met you at Mathilda's Market, Tania. Your blog is great, though you write WAY too many posts and put the rest of us to shame. :)

Now, you also have me thinking I better get that website (blog) set up for my 8 year old son that he has been bugging me about, and wow, could he really cook dinner? And could I really keep to the sidelines and let him get on with it? :)


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