Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cooking with the kids is more than just green eggs and ham

I have always loved rolling my sleeves up in the kitchen and slaving over the stove cooking all manner of feasts; be it côte de boeuf or fairy bread, and it is the latter style of meal that gives me the greatest pleasure because my four year old daughter gets to help out.
Ever since Imogen was about two and a half she has stood by me on her little step and watched me cry while cutting onions to her current role of turning the handle on the pasta roller. As she has got older, her responsibilities have been growing, from peeling garlic, spreading the sauce on the pizza bases, picking rosemary leaves and grating parmesan for pasta dishes. From such little steps, she has developed her confidence so much that she will now warn me that the bacon I am reducing in a pan will soon be dry and start burning.
In the kitchen I have some whiz bang gadgets such as some new Bismark knives (recent birthday pressie), Le Crouset pans and a new twisty thing that dices the onions without the tears. To keep Imogen keen my wife, over time, has bought her a couple of aprons (children do grow, you know), oven mitts, rolling pins, whisks and mixing bowls. Her most prized possession however is from this week where she received a new oil bottle; the half bottle of Chateau Margaux 1995 infused with garlic. This is an upgrade from her previous bottle that was a classic Coke 250mL – oh how they grow up before our eyes.
So really, it’s about participation. My daughter gets as close to the action as she wants and, most importantly, as I want. Yet it is Imogen who knows when to help and when not to help. She knows when something may be too hot, be it the steam from the boiling pot of water or the taste of the chilli seed. She has a keen understanding of what’s happening because she is allowed, and encouraged, to help me.
So here are some little things you can get your little one to help with:
· Peel the garlic; remove the nub so they can get it away easy, or if you are not in a hurry leave it on so they can really get a feel of it.
· Whisk eggs; this is handy when doing a carbonara, omelette or a cake.
· Kneading dough; for pizza, bread or pasta.
· Pasta making; rolling pasta and gnocchi mix.
· Mix salad; a good way for them to taste different types of leaves and other bits and pieces.
· Washing dishes; fat chance you think. If you do them, so will they.
So have fun, and keep the chilli away from their little fingers, because they will inevitably end up in their eyes and that’s no fun, and yes, I am speaking from experience.

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