Monday, January 20, 2014

My Little Chef

Max loves to cook.  It started when he was small, and would get a carrot and a head of broccoli out of the crisper, put it in a pot with some water, and tell me he'd made soup for lunch.  Ooh, or there was this one very memorable snack he made for me.....Anyway, over the years, we have done a lot of cooking together, with varying results. For a long time, we were severely limited by his very picky eating...I never could reconcile how he would be so interested in cooking and yet so adamant about not trying anything new.  It kinda infuriated me, actually, to the point I flat-out refused to cook anything with him that he wasn't planning to eat, himself.

We've moved on since then, his palate becoming more adventurous as his skills in the kitchen have improved.  I still have to rein him in, occasionally: "No, I am not buying that tin of caviar because you MIGHT want to try it;" and he does tend to look for short-cuts that I know just won't work, but for the most part, cooking together has become a very satisfying bonding experience.  It's also a terrific homeschooling tool, if you're interested, incorporating reading, math, science, home economics, and social studies.

Yep, social studies.  Max, as you know, is fascinated with other cultures, and that interest definitely extends to cuisine.  Since he became a reader, it is not unusual to find him snuggled up somewhere with a cookbook, and most often it's Chinese or Italian or Thai.  My cookbooks are full of yellow Post-It notes, marking recipes that Max plans to try one day.

I never mind him looking through my cookbooks, but we've have more than a few instances of him trying recipes that proved too complicated for him, or resulted in dishes that he just didn't care for.  I try to guide him towards what I think he will like, but I also don't want to discourage him from trying something new....anyway, we've had some hits AND misses.

I am always on the lookout for good kids' cookbooks, but I have to be honest....a lot of what is out there, marketed as "for kids", is total crap.  My kid doesn't need a recipe to make a pinwheel sandwich, you know?  Or an English muffin pizza, or a fruit kabob.  He is fully aware that there is a difference between cooking a meal and assembling ingredients on top of a frozen waffle to look like a smiley face, and he's having none of that cute baby stuff.

When I was shopping for some books for Milo's Christmas, I happened upon this book:

Our love of Disney aside, I have to say, this is a fantastic cookbook.  It has real recipes!  Real, actually cookable by kids recipes for food that the whole family just might be interested in eating, explained in simple language and easy steps. It has cultural facts and other goodies that you can read all about here, but trust me, if you are looking for a good introductory cookbook for a semi-adventurous chef/eater, you should definitely check out this book.

I am not a food blogger, I don't ordinarily post photos of my dinner on Facebook (mostly because food photos by amateurs, like the one I'm about to show you, generally make even the tastiest, most beautiful meals look like the dog's dinner), but I am going to brag, just a little, on the first meal Max made out of this cookbook.

Peanutty Satays with rice and veggie stir-fry, by Max.

The recipe Max chose was Peanutty Satays, an Indonesian recipe.  I will admit to being more than a little skeptical about this recipe; beef is a new-ish protein for Max, and the ingredient list included such entries as curry powder, fish sauce, and Thai red curry paste.  Max insisted, however, and I capitulated, mostly because I really wanted to eat some Peanutty Satays even if he ended up hating them.

We made a commando raid on the Asian aisle of the grocery store, as I could not attest to the age of the jars of fish sauce and hoisin in my refrigerator and figured it was best to start with fresh, and then he was off and running.  Measured, mixed and marinated, only asking for my help with threading the slices of beef onto the skewers (he is still a bit squeamish about handling raw meat).  "Hey Mom?  Fish sauce smells like wet dog."

He decided to serve the satays with rice and a veggie stir-fry.  This was his first attempt at cooking rice, and I think he was more nervous about the rice than anything else.  (For the record, it came out just fine.)  I suggested a vegetable stir-fry for the side, and once he heard that he could choose what vegetables went into it, he was fully on board.  Celery, carrots, green onion, snow peas....and zucchini! I was surprised that he chose zucchini, despite the fact that I always tell him to just eat it, it doesn't taste like anything!!  He needed a little help getting his vegetables to a close-to-uniform size, but for the most part, he was able to prepare the stir-fry all on his own.  The sauce was a bottled ginger-sesame dressing at my insistence, I thought the beef marinade and peanut sauce was ambitious enough for one eight-year-old.

I grilled the satays for him while he made the peanut sauce, and then he insisted on plating ("It's the most important part, MOM!") all by himself.

Y'all.  This meal was SO GOOD.  I mean, I was literally swiping up all the leftover peanut sauce on my plate and licking it off my finger.  He made about a pound of meat, enough for each of the four of us to have two satays, and honestly....if there had been twice as much we all would have eaten twice as much.  It was that good.  (For my fellow tasted like Boma.  Not like any specific dish at Boma, just like...essence of Boma.  You know what I mean.)  I am incredibly jealous that *I* did not make this meal.

Max was so proud, that was the best part.  After a run of somewhat clumsy attempts, a fair number of "It was pretty good, next time I would do x, y and z differently" present us with a near perfect meal that he planned and executed almost independently was a huge boost in his confidence.  Two nights later he made a couple of baguettes that were better than any bread I have ever baked, after insisting that he try something other than my tried-and-true Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day recipe (full disclosure: I will persist with my 5 minute bread, kneading and punching and kneading again are not activities I choose to make time for).  We had dinner guests, and he prepared a lovely array of cheeses and tomatoes and oil and balsamic, all garnished with basil which he just learned how to chiffonade, and you could just see his pride as he carried it to the table and offered it to our friends.  It was lovely.

I hope that Max's interest in cooking persists.  I love to cook and entertain, so it's fun to share an interest and bond over it. It's a useful skill, to be sure, and I hope it will help him grow into an adult that makes healthy choices.  But even more than that, I hope it will continue to foster his innate curiosity, his adventurous spirit, his willingness to just TRY, his comfort with making mistakes and accepting failure, and his ability to celebrate and appreciate the small satisfactions in life, not just the big victories.

If you have a kid that likes to cook, do you use cookbooks? What successes have you had?  Please do let me know if you have a favorite kids' cookbook, because as great as Feed Our Small World is, we will run out of recipes sooner rather than later.


  1. First of all, you said "Y'all."
    Second of all, it should be mentioned here that recently, during one of my Wednesday visits with Max, we discussed food. Alfredo, specifically. And the fact that "my mom puts puree in alfredo." To which, I responded, "Yes, she does. And don't think I don't know that she put puree in the broccoli a la ritz last Thanksgiving..." NOT FUNNY

    1. Puree? Me??? I don't know WHAT y'all are talking about......

    2. This girl knows her cauliflower...

  2. I cannot tell you how impressed I am by this post. Please, please, please tell Max how proud his fairy godmother is of him (and I will tell him too, the next time I see him). He may have to come for a sleepover soon just so he can make me dinner.

    1. I will. Be careful what you wish for.....he's not great at doing dishes yet ;)


So, whaddya think?