“You have to love either what you are going to eat, or the person you are cooking for. Then you have to give yourself up to cooking. Cuisine is an act of love.” - Alain Chapel (1937-1990) renowned French Chef
This quote sums up my passion for cooking. I didn't start truly loving cooking and baking as much as I do now, until I had a family of my own. I wanted to be a better cook for my babies. I started pouring myself into becoming better, finding the best recipes, consulting with my family members for their tried-and-true favorites and spending countless hours testing and tasting - flops and all.
By the time my kids were starting school, my love of cookbooks was known to my family. When Connor went to his school library for the first time as a kindergartner, he excitedly checked out a cookbook for me! I was thrilled and the reaction he received prompted him to continue to check out cookbooks each week during library time. Because we frequented our local library each week and always made a detour for the cookbook section after the children's area - this little guy knew how much I loved cookbooks and was excited to share a new collection with me. The school librarian made note of sweet Connor's love of cookbooks and shared that she was ordering more cookbooks on behalf of Connor - the budding chef. Although we would sit down and "ooh" and "ah" over the recipes and plan to try a few, Connor's agenda at the time was not to become a chef (he wanted to become a geologist or paleontologist at the time), although he would eagerly help when it was time to make a dessert or anything to fuel his sweet tooth!
This summer we had all four of our chicks in this nest of ours and I loved it. Although exhausting at times with the endless laundry, dishes and the feeling that I am always in the kitchen preparing the next meal - it hit me that I love cooking for my family because it's the mode in which I show them how much I love them. My kids may not appreciate the home cooked meals and the "from scratch" cooking style now, but I hope that one day they will affectionately be able to realize that I poured love into all those meals I created for them.
Almost nothing beats the positive feedback that a prepared dish was "amazing" or "make this again" - as heard from four tween/teens with selective and somewhat picky palates. I have some tough critics (although the Hubs is always grateful for the meals and time spent in their creation). I've asked them to all rate new recipes and it's only the favorites that make the blog.
Making special sweets and treats definitely gets their interest peaked and letting them all share their feedback on recipes and what they'd like to see reappear again are other ways that I try to show them they matter most.
Each morning this summer, I crafted a list of "jobs" and each child, depending on who was first to wake up, would get to select their job of the day. One of my goals for the summer was teaching the kids life skills that they will be able to use when they have fled the coop off to college, careers and their own future families. Most days, the job list included creating a recipe, preparing a part of a meal, breakfast or lunch or dinner prep. I'd also include other jobs that were less fun but necessary such as folding laundry, watering plants or gasp, pulling weeds (very infrequently did this get selected and I just can't imagine why not)!
Some great kid-cooking resources that spurned many of the cooking creations came from kid cookbooks such as these:
Williams-Sonoma Kid's Baking - This baking primer provides great step-by-step photos for kids to follow easily and the recipes are wonderful. It's hard to find a "baking-specific" cookbook for kids but this one teaches the basics every baker should know. (It's also great for adults learning to bake!) My favorite part is the listed legend that "whoever eats the last piece of bread has to kiss the cook!"
Williams-Sonoma's The Kid's Cookbook - This book is designed for kids ages 9 and older and contains tasty recipes with terrific photography. The cookbook marks some recipes as "super-easy" and needing very little adult help and a few basic ingredients. I love the introduction to the book that breaks down all the skills needed in the kitchen with photos and step-by-step instructions teaching everything from cracking eggs and testing pasta to shredding cheese and testing for doneness. A section is dedicated to preparing fruits and vegetables for cooking as well.
Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids - This cookbook is geared to kids at different age levels so it truly "grows" with your kids. Rachael offers recipes outside the normal scope of what you'd find in a kid's cookbook yet has recipes that kids love. The recipes start for kids ages 4 to 6 years with a grown-up helper, moving to age 7-12 then 12-16 and older. There are two chapter for beverages and snacks that apply to all ages. The only drawback, in my opinion, is the lack of photos of recipe, although there are comic-book illustrations. This cookbook teaches kids to experiment and think outside the box for food choices.
Betty Crocker's Kids Cook! - Of course Betty provides solid recipes, along with appealing and cute illustrations and easy kid-proof recipes. The cookbook blends from-scratch recipes with many utilizing mixes such as Bisquick (but you can always make your own from scratch mix). The recipes are those kids love. Betty never fails in the recipe category with tried-and-true favorites kids will love.
Family Fun Fast Family Dinners - Most of these recipes are geared towards an adult preparing kid-friendly meals but they are clear and easy to follow for older kitchen cooks or those with supervision. There are over 100 receips to make quick and easy dinners that kids will like that have been featured in the Family Fun magazine. This cookbook helped me expand dinner options, making food more inviting and to utilize time-savers and planning solutions while cooking with my kids.
Emeril's There's A Chef In My Soup! - I love Emeril's recipes as his concoctions taste delicious and are beyond the basics take everything "up a notch". Note that his recipes are not for the faint of heart beginning cooks as they can often be a bit too intimidating for those learning the basics. He gives great direction but lacks photos.
Emeril's There's A Chef in My Family! - Again, Emeril's recipes create delicious meals but may be geared towards more experienced young cooks or tweens/teens. He actually admits that this cookbook is the "next step" for beginners. This is a great cookbook to use to cook alongside your child as recipes turn out tasty and pack a nutritious punch but allow for the teaching component to take place while spending time together. I miss seeing photos of real food vs. illustrations but that is just a minor setback.
I hope you can help inspire the next generation of adults that know their way around the kitchen by giving them the experience, tools and your time together in the kitchen. (It's worth the mess in the kitchen now!)