New devices may be at the top of your kids’ wish lists this season, and you may be regrettably attached to yours, but put ‘em down. Get ahead of your inevitable New Year’s resolution to unplug (well, except for small kitchen appliances) and get busy cooking with your kids.
Build a pasta bar and let everyone make it their own. Cook short and long pasta and offer up two or three sauce options — red sauce, white, and garlic and olive oil, perhaps. When it comes to sauces, keep it simple and make one from scratch, then buy one from some of the great local chefs who jar their recipes. (I like Dante Boccuzzi’s and Ohio City Pasta.) Think making your own sauce is too much work? Garlic and olive oil is as simple as it sounds.
Invite your kids to do some of the prep work. For the younger ones, try the kid-safe nylon knives from Curious Chef. Have them rough chop red pepper, broccoli, onion, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, etc. You can sauté up some shrimp, chicken and sausage, all with a blend of Italian seasoning, and let them choose their own protein. Have them build a bowl then toss it with their sauce of their choice.
Make something inspired by a favorite book or story. We’re fond of the book “Stone Soup,” where three hungry soldiers find a clever way to get the villagers to share their food and create a soup that feeds the whole town. Try your hand at your own stone soup and teach the value of sharing. Start with some broth and throw in various vegetables, noodles or proteins you might have around the house.
My girls love the “Fancy Nancy” series and all that it implies, like dressing up and tea parties. Make tea sandwiches and small muffins or cookies and have a tea party. “Dragons Love Tacos” is another one of our favorites — and, no, tacos shouldn’t be limited to Tuesdays.
Take a trip down memory lane and dig up some old family recipes. Once in a while, especially around the holidays, it’s nice to thumb through treasured family cookbooks and recipe collections. My Slovenian grandma left me some wonderful ethnic cookbooks, and those smells and tastes are so familiar. Her chicken liver dumpling soup, roast beef and buttery rolls…mmmm. It’s fun to try and recreate those flavors. My dad’s mother made great pies: pumpkin, lemon meringue, strawberry rhubarb. Roll out some dough and share some memories.
Sweet Edible Gifts
For a sweeter but messy experience, try making candy with the kids. You can create boxes or gift bags of treats to give to teachers, neighbors and friends. Head to a cake and candy supply shop for a few molds and chocolate wafers. Chocolate-covered pretzels also are a super easy crowd pleaser. It’s a combination of arts and crafts, baking and a whole lot of fun. I dare you not to lick your fingers.
Empower Kids With Cooking
Cooking and baking are my favorite ways to bond with my three daughters. They feel empowered when they learn a new skill, even if it’s as simple as cleanly cracking an egg. They are even more pleased when they can build on those simple skills, like learning to make their own scrambled eggs for breakfast. And they’re proud to present a complete dish that they’ve helped make. Bonus: I’ve always found that kids are more likely to eat what they’ve helped prepare, so this is always a great way to outsmart picky eaters.
Jen Picciano is an Emmy-winning reporter at WOIO-TV, Cleveland 19 News. Each week she dons an apron and gets messy in the kitchen with chefs all over the city to produce and host a cooking segment, Cleveland Cooks, for Cleveland 19 News. She also produces and hosts a weekly video podcast, Taste Buds, with local chefs Matt Mytro and David Kocab (available through WOIO), and appears on WQAL 104.1FM each week on “The Cleveland Feed,” to share the city’s latest food and dining news. She is also a regular contributor to the television station’s morning talk show, Sunny Side Up, and a special projects reporter there. In her “spare” time she writes a blog, Cheftovers, to showcase her clever use of leftovers and share her foodie adventures. She resides in Mayfield Heights with her husband and three daughters.