A week or so ago, my great-niece asked for help with her school project on England. We found recipes typical of that country, then thought about which she would bring as part of the presentation.
We decided on scones, and homework in her house that night was messier than usual, but a whole lot of fun.
We talked as we baked, and it occurred to me there were more lessons going on than cooking — a little math, a little reading, a little science and a lot of patience. I’m not saying who learned what.
I suspect this cooking education is not as typical a part of growing up as it used to be when I was a kid, and that’s a shame. Preparing meals has become a chore for most families, and there doesn’t seem to be much time left to allow the children to belly up to the counter and help out. Yes, it slows everything down … but is that really a problem?
Oaty chocolate chip muffins
Chocolate chip muffins can’t be classified as health food, but they beat those boxed breakfast bars by miles. The muffin method — combine dry ingredients, combine wet ingredients, stir together and bake — is a perfect introduction to the kitchen. These reheat well in the microwave and make terrific on-the-run snacks. Substitute whole wheat flour for up to half the total amount to improve the nutrition slightly. You can reduce the sugar or substitute baking sweetener for up to half. Don’t mess with the chocolate chips, please.
This recipe makes 12 medium muffins.
3/4 cup plain yogurt (regular or low-fat)
3/4 cup 2 per cent or skim milk
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not the instant cooking kind)
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. melted butter or margarine
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Whisk together yogurt and milk. Stir in rolled oats and allow to sit 15 minutes. Whisk in brown sugar, egg, vanilla and melted butter.
Whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk wet ingredients all at once into dry — be gentle and stop as soon as there are no streaks of flour. Fold in chocolate chips.
Spoon into 12 well-greased or paper-lined and greased muffin cups and bake at 375 F for 18 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean.
Honey-mustard chicken wraps
Who doesn’t like fast-food restaurant wraps? These are easy to make at home, especially if you have chicken leftover from dinner the night before. If your kids are diehard chicken nuggets fans, prepare them as you normally would, but turn them into wraps instead of serving the usual frozen French fries on the side. These are even good using canned chicken breast chunks.
If your family would rather barbecue sauce or mayonnaise, then of course that’s what you need to do. There are also limitless options for fillings — whatever you happen to enjoy. The carrot adds a great crunch but corn would also be delicious. The pickle adds tang and texture but if the very idea makes them cringe, then leave it out. If you aren’t sure, let your kids check out what’s in the fridge — maybe they will surprise you with their choices. One thing I have learned, though, is not to judge those choices. It may not appeal to you but then again, you aren’t eating it.
One wrap will be enough for smaller children but allow 2 or even 3 for teenagers.
3 tbsp. each liquid honey and mustard — Dijon if you can get away with it
1-1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken, chicken chunks or prepared chicken nuggets
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup chopped sweet or dill pickles
1/2 cup grated Monterey jack cheese
6 crisp lettuce leaves
6 flour tortillas — whole wheat or plain
Stir honey and mustard together. Toss with chicken, carrot, pickles and cheese. Lay one lettuce leaf on each tortilla and divide the chicken mixture among them. Wrap tightly, tucking in the ends on the first fold.
Kitchen sink twice-baked potatoes
You’ll have to help with the baking and scooping part, but hand over the mashed middles and let your kids do the rest. Everything but the potatoes is optional.
Low-fat cream cheese and sour cream work fine, as does reduced-fat cheese.
4 russet baking potatoes, about the same size
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup cream cheese, plain or flavoured
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt
1 cup grated cheddar cheese, divided
1 cup cooked and finely chopped broccoli (or other vegetable that will be tolerated)
1/4 cup bacon bits, preferably homemade
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Scrub potatoes — a great kid-safe job — and dry thoroughly. Rub the skins with oil and bake at 425 F for about 40 minutes or until tender. You can jump-start them in the microwave for six or seven minutes and cut the baking time in half if you wish.
As soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the middles, leaving 1/4 inch or so on the inside so they don’t fall apart.
Mash the potato flesh together with cream cheese and sour cream. Stir in half the cheddar cheese together with broccoli, bacon, green onion, and pepper. Spoon back into the potato shells and place on a baking sheet. Top with remaining cheese and bake at 375 F until bubbling hot and the cheese is melted.
Now for the kitchen sink part. The best twice-bake I ever made was with leftover ground beef taco filling. I mixed in some salsa and a bit more cheese than I should have. Don’t judge me too harshly, but I’m also crazy for salt fish in the filling; for those, I left out the cream cheese and bacon but increased the onion. One time I mixed in chopped cooked turkey, stuffing and gravy — they tasted like poutine and I was pretty chuffed with the result. Let your kids dig in the fridge and don’t give in to the temptation to scoff at their choices.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s.
Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.