Green Pi Day

Pi day and St Patrick’s Day fall pretty close together, so to celebrated both we made Key Lime Pie in class this week!

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To begin we crushed graham crackers for the crust. After mixing the crumbs with some melted butter and a touch of sugar with tamped down the crumbs in the pie pans to make the crust. The crusts got a quick turn in the oven while we made the filling.

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Key limes are tiny and take some patience to squeeze for the filling, but the flavor is so much better with fresh limes! After combining the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks and lime juice, we poured the filling into the par baked graham cracker crusts.

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Bake your pie for about 15 minutes. The baking times don’t really change much when you change the size of your pie. Our tiny pies baked for 15 minutes but one 8 inch pie would also bake 15 minutes. After baking, let the pie cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate the pie for about 8 hours. Top your pie with whipped cream and enjoy! The kids were reluctant to let their pies fully cool before eating. They seemed to think hot key lime pie was pretty good too! However, the texture of a fully chilled key lime pie is worth the wait!

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Happy Pi Patty’s Day!

Kitchen Science- making things pop!

In our kitchen science class we learned about different kinds of reactions. We made popovers and homemade microwave popcorn!

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Popovers are made from a thin eggy batter similar to crepe batter. First we cracked lots of eggs. Then we used a blender to get the batter very smooth and full of air bubbles.

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Pour the batter into a hot muffin tin, bake in a hot oven and…

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You get a round, hollow muffin-like treat. The batter begins to set immediately from the heat of the pan and the oven. But the batter is full of air bubbles that expand as they heat, turning the batter into an edible balloon.

We watched a really cool slow-motion video of popcorn popping. Much like the popover, the popcorn kernel has tiny amounts of water inside of it. That water turns to steam and expands as the kernel is heated. The pressure becomes so great that the kernel splits open, and the starchy center comes bursting out.

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You might have an air popper at home, or maybe you buy microwave popcorn. But did you know that you can easily turn regular popcorn kernels into microwave popcorn with a tiny amount of oil and a paper bag? Just add your popcorn and oil to the bag, shake well, press out extra air and fold the top over two times. Popcorn in the microwave takes different lengths of time depending on the strength of your microwave so stay close and listen for the slowing down of the popping sounds. Once the popping slows down take the bag out of the microwave, give it another shake and carefully open the top. There will be lots of steam in the bag! Pour into a bowl and enjoy!

Valentine Cookies

Valentine’s Day means you have to make something extra sweet! However when the kids showed up for class with their valentine treat bags overflowing, I was kind of wishing we were making green smoothies and oat bran muffins! Just kidding, that wouldn’t be any fun at all. Instead we made red sugar cookies rolled in colored sugar and topped with a little chocolate valentine!

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Measure out your dry ingredients in one bowl and set aside.

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In a second bowl cream together the butter and sugar. At home this is super quick and easy to do with an electric hand mixer or stand mixer. In class we did it all by hand with a rubber spatula and whisk. It really is a good upper body work out! Mix in the eggs and vanilla.

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At this point you can add food coloring to the wet ingredients if you’d like. Mix that in well then add your dry ingredients. You want to mix the dry ingredients in until fully combined.

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Roll about 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the dough- You should get about 24 cookies out of one batch of dough.

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Roll each ball in colored sugar (or sprinkles) and place on a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper. These cookies spread slightly so make sure to give each cookie some space on the tray. Bake at 375 for about 8 minutes. Baking time will vary from oven to oven. When I made these at home, 8 minutes was perfect. The school oven baked a little slower. You want to take them out when they still seem a little under done.

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While the cookies are baking unwrap the little chocolates for the cookie toppers. We had Hershey’s kisses, milk chocolate hearts and dark chocolate hearts. When the cookies come out of the oven press a chocolate into the center of the cookie.

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Here’s something we learned during class- the dark chocolates melted right off the cookies almost instantly! The Hershey’s Kisses hold up really well. They become soft when the cookies are hot, but they hold their shape well. As the cookies cool the Kisses firm back up but stay slightly soft, making them easier to bite into while taking a bite of the cookie. The Dove milk chocolate hearts held up ok, but dark chocolate was too unstable for these cookies! If you let the cookies cool more before adding the chocolate the dark chocolate will do better, but it won’t stick to the cookie quite as well. My advice would be stick to the Kisses for these cookies!

Twice Baked Potatoes

If you are a carb lover, a cheese lover or in need of some comfort food during this crazy winter, these twice baked potatoes are perfect for you!

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You want a starchy potato for this recipe, like a Russet. Wash your potatoes and then rub them with a little vegetable oil. Place them on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about an hour. (This can be done in advance but you might want to warm to potatoes a bit when you’re ready to proceed. I think it helps in the mashing part of the recipe.) Cut the potatoes in half the long way .

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Scrape out the center of the potatoes into a bowl , leaving enough potato to help the skins hold their shape. Add salt, pepper, sour cream, milk, grated cheese, crumbled bacon, and green onions to the potato in the bowl. Mash everything together. (You can leave out the bacon and the green onion, if you’d like. These boys even left out the cheese- opting to sprinkle cheese and bacon only on the tops, to better customize the potatoes.)

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Fill the potato skins with the mashed potato filling, top with more cheese and bacon and green onion and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

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Enjoy!

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Battle of the Oranges

For class this week, in addition to our amazing waffles, we held a Battle of the Oranges. I gathered up as many different varieties of orange as I could find at my local store.

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In case my labels aren’t totally clear in the picture above, the contenders (top to bottom, left to right) are: Meyer Lemon (not exactly an orange- I know), Cara Cara, Tangelo Minneola, Navel, Sumo Mandarin, Stem and Leaf Mandarin, Mandarin (cutie) and Blood Orange. The background of all these different varieties is kind of interesting but your interest may vary. I will allow you to investigate for yourself if you so desire.

It turns out I am nowhere near full representation of all the oranges available. There are 4 classifications of sweet oranges and I covered 3- the navel and cara cara are classified as “navel”, the blood orange is its own category- with many sub varieties (this one was just labeled ‘blood orange”, so…?), and the rest are all mandarins. I didn’t see any Valencias at the store- I think they’re out of season.

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The clear winner was the sumo orange. Have you tried them? They are in season now, so if you’re unfamiliar with them, now is the time. My first exposure to sumos was just 2 or 3 years ago. They are a fairly new hybrid- a cross between a mandarin and a California Navel orange developed in Japan. They look kind of strange and lumpy, they peel like a dream, they are the most reliably delicious orange I have ever tasted, and, the one downside- they cost 3-4 times as much as any other orange in the store.

Other worthwhile mentions: the mandarin category held most of the favorites. The tangelo (a cross between and mandarin and a grapefruit) was well liked as was the Meyer lemon. I included these because they are a cross between a mandarin and a lemon, so they are much sweeter than a traditional lemon. I don’t think anyone is going to be eating an entire Meyer lemon (my tooth enamel is terrified even at the suggestion!) However, most of us ate a slice of Meyer lemon and thought it was tasty.

So, never fear, these kids are all caught up on the vitamin C for the week and no one is getting scurvy anytime soon!

Waffles!

I am on the record as loving pancakes. But as my son pointed out, why eat a pancake if there’s the option of eating a waffle? Really the only reason to shy away from waffles is they tend to be a little more complicated than pancakes. So many recipes want eggs separated, with the eggs whites whisked and folded in. That adds time and a certain skill level that many people want to avoid, especially when cooking with kids. Well I am here for you, folks! This waffle recipe is pretty dang good, takes just a few minutes to whip up , requires no egg separating, and can be done by kids with very little supervision from you!

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Begin by cracking your eggs into a large bowl- check for any bits of shell and then begin whisking them to until they are light and fluffy. In class we used a hand whisk, but at home I would highly recommend an electric hand mixer.

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Dump in the flour, milk and oil and whisk everything together until well combined. The oil can seem like it will never mix in- but it will, never fear! Add the remaining ingredients- salt, baking powder, sugar and vanilla.

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Once everything is all combined you’re ready for your waffle iron. Since waffle irons are all a little different, you’ll have to follow your manufacturer’s instructions but here are a few things to note- We sprayed the waffle iron quite liberally with cooking spray. My waffle iron has really deep grooves so we put about 2 cups of batter in at a time.

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The waffle iron might have over flowed just a little! But that’s ok. I prefer a little spillage to skimpy waffles.

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The recipe can be adapted in many different ways. Instead of oil you can sub in melted butter or even applesauce. Try subbing in whole wheat flour, or brown sugar. Try adding cinnamon. You decide! And feel free to let me know how your waffles turn out.

Bread and Butter

Freshly baked bread was a common occurrence in my house as a child. My dad loves to make bread and I remember hearing him talk about optimal conditions- the right temperature, the best humidity level- for the perfect loaf of bread. Also I paid absolutely no attention to his wisdom, I hated cooking and baking as a kid. The appeal was completely lost on me. Even once I saw the light, bread continued to be low on my list of things I was excited to make. Sure, fresh bread is delicious and makes you house smell terrific, but it can be finicky and takes all day! My mother in law came to the rescue with this recipe for English Muffin Bread. (I am not exactly sure about the name- to me it doesn’t really taste that much like an English Muffin nor is the recipe all that similar to an English Muffin. But I didn’t write the recipe so who am I to change the name?) This recipe produces a loaf of delicious yeast bread that requires no kneading and is finished in about 90 minutes or less.

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We made tiny loaves in class because it cuts down a little on time and makes dividing the bread easier in the end. The recipe as written in the link calls for two 9x5 inch loaf pans. You can use what ever size pan you prefer, just fill the pans about 2/3 full and adjust the baking time as needed.

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To begin grease your loaf pans well. In class we use cooking spray but at home you have the option of butter, crisco, cooking spray- what ever you prefer. We skip the cornmeal part in class, but if you choose you can sprinkle some cornmeal into your pan and shake it around to coat the pan. Dump out any excess into the garbage. Set aside three cups of flour- you will mix some or all of it in later (remember when I mentioned my dad knowing all about optimal bread making conditions? The amount of flour needed will change depending on external conditions. I almost always use all of the flour here in Seattle but in drier climates you might not need the full 3 cups.) While you mix together the rest of the dry ingredients get your milk and water warming. They can go in the same pot, or you can even heat them in the microwave. You want very warm, but not boiling liquid (around 110℉). Mix the liquid in with the dry ingredients. You want all the flour to be well mixed in (If you’re using a stand mixer you can use the dough hook and you will miss out on the arm work out). Add in the reserved flour, up to 3 cups. You are looking for a stiff dough. It will still be sticky but it shouldn’t be runny. One group yesterday in class had a particularly runny dough, so we just kept adding flour about a 1/4 cup at a time until it achieved the right consistency.

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To make the mini loaves as close to the same size as we could, we dumped out the dough and cut it with a bench scraper. But at home you can spoon the dough into the pans and avoid some of the sticky mess. I usually use a rubber spatula to divide the dough in half in the bowl and then dump one half into each pan.

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Once you have your dough in the pans, cover it with a clean kitchen towel and set it someplace warm to rise for about 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 400℉ and bake 25 minutes. You may need to adjust the baking time if you change the size of your loaf pan.

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While our bread was rising and baking we made some butter to eat with it. Making butter is fun if you have friends to share the work with you! It takes about 20-25 minutes of good shaking to turn 1 cup of whipping cream into butter. Start with everything as cold as possible- keep the cream in the fridge until you’re ready to start. We shook the cream in glass mason jars- I stuck them in the freezer just as we were getting started with the bread. Add a pinch of salt to the jar, pour in the cream, put the lid on tight (that’s very important!) and shake away. This same idea can be used to make whipped cream, but you need to check more frequently to get the desired texture. with butter, just shake until the butter is a blob in the jar, surrounded by buttermilk. The buttermilk, by the way, is perfect for making biscuits, or pancakes! Your butter and your bread will be ready at about the same time, so let that bread cool a little and enjoy fresh bread and butter, made by you and your kid!

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Making Scones

Baking classes are back in session! We jumped right in with both feet, using a pastry blender and a micro plane on the first day of class. Hearing squeals of delight (“I love using a micro plane!”) over kitchen gadgets really made the class perfect! We made lemon poppy seed scones and quick strawberry jam and both turned out terrific.

A micro plane makes removing the zest and avoiding the bitter pith a snap!

A micro plane makes removing the zest and avoiding the bitter pith a snap!

To begin the kids read through the recipe and decided how to divide up the work. Then they began zesting, measuring, mixing, blending, stirring kneading and shaping until their scones were ready for the oven.

I teach the kids a method called ‘scoop and sweep’ for getting accurate dry measurements. Fill the measuring cup with a big heap then use something like the flat side of a table knife to sweep the excess back into the container.

I teach the kids a method called ‘scoop and sweep’ for getting accurate dry measurements. Fill the measuring cup with a big heap then use something like the flat side of a table knife to sweep the excess back into the container.

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Just like pie crust or biscuits, scones need butter cut into the dry ingredients. The butter should be cold and it needs to be in small pieces before going into the bowl. Then scatter the butter over the flour mixture and cut it into the flour using a pastry blender.

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Set aside the dry ingredients and mix together the egg and milk in a small bowl. I always crack eggs into their own bowl to check them for egg shell or weird stuff before adding them into a recipe. I was beginning to think that step was superfluous (for an adult who doesn’t often get egg shell mixed up in the egg) but just a few weeks ago I cracked an egg that had big red spots on the yolk. Ew. So crack the egg into a bowl and add milk. Use a whisk to break up the yolk and combine the egg and milk. Pro tip: kids love to crack eggs! It’s almost universal. They just love it! So call them into the kitchen when you’ve got eggs to crack, give them a small bowl and watch the inexplicable joy they find in egg cracking.

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Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients and mix them together with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. As the dough begins to form a ball switch to using your hands. Gently knead the dough to work in all of the little dry bits at the bottom of the bowl. You can add a tablespoon more milk if you need to get the dough to all come together. At this point, you need to assess the stickiness of the dough. Sprinkle a small amount of flour onto a clean work space. If the dough is sticky sprinkle the top of the ball with flour too. Your hands should be a little flour-y too at this point. Pat the ball of dough into a flat circle about 7 inches in diameter. Use a ruler to get a general idea of how close you are to 7 inches. Transfer your circle onto a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.

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Using a pizza wheel cut your circle of dough into 8 pieces. If the dough is still really sticky, be very careful not to tear it into pieces while attempting to make the cuts. A bench scraper or long knife can be used if the pizza wheel isn’t cooperating. Gently separate the 8 wedges on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees on the middle rack of the oven. In case of sticky dough the wedges can be left in a circle for baking. They can easily be separated after baking. While the scones are in the oven, juice your half of the left over lemon and mix it with 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Whisk until well combined. This makes a glaze that can be drizzled on top of the scones when they come out of the oven.

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Kitchen Science Class

Lots of kids have combined vinegar and baking soda to make a volcano erupt. It’s a good introduction to learning about chemical reactions, but in the end you’re just left with a plaster of Paris volcano and the by-products of the experiment: sodium acetate, carbon dioxide and water. Our experiment uses the same reaction and produces the same byproducts, but our experiment is deliciously edible! We made Lava Candy. You can do this at home too- it involves cooking sugar, so adults need to stick close by and lend a hand. 

We heated sugar, corn syrup and vinegar in a pot and cooked it on the stove until it reached 310°F. After removing the pan from the heat we stirred in baking powder and watched the sugar mixture foam up. We then poured the mixture onto a lined and greased cookie sheet and let the candy cool and harden. When you break the candy in pieces you reveal all of the holes created in the sugar by the carbon dioxide that was created when the vinegar and baking soda reacted.

A chemical reaction often will produce changes in color, will give off a smell or release light or gas. It often require heat or produces heat. A chemical change occurs when 2 or more things are mixed together and produce something that is different on a chemical level. Using the example of our baking soda and vinegar experiment: the chemical way of writing baking soda is NaHCo3 and vinegar is CH3COOH . When these combine, there are three biproducts: sodium acetate (CH3COONa), carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). Nothing was added or lost to the chemical equation, but on the other side of the reaction, there was no longer baking soda or vinegar. We practiced this simplified version of balancing equations by subbing in skittles for our elements: carbon, oxygen, sodium and hydrogen.

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We also learned about physical reactions, best demonstrated by our Mentos and Diet Coke experiment.


The explosive eruption looks at first glance like a chemical reaction- it looks similar to the vinegar-baking soda experiment, after all. But if we think back to the earlier list of signs- is there any change in color? No. Does it create a smell? No. Does it require heat or give off heat? No. So all that’s left is: Does it give off gas or light? Definitely not light, but what about gas? The vinegar-baking soda reaction gives off carbon dioxide. The Mentos geyser is also powered by carbon dioxide, so are they actually the same? The answer is no, although carbon dioxide is the force behind both reactions. Unlike the volcano. carbon dioxide was already present in the soda before the Mentos candies were introduced. All the Mentos are doing is helping the carbon dioxide escape from the soda. The force of so much carbon dioxide escaping from the soda at the same time and such a narrow opening cause the soda to shoot up into the air. It’s a physical reaction.

Can a physical reaction be harnessed in baking? We made popovers to find out!

Popovers begin in a blender. A thin crepe-like batter is blended up and forced full of air bubbles. The batter is poured into a hot pan, where the batter begins to set immediately. The pan is placed into a hot oven where the air bubbles in the batter begin to expand and trapped inside the batter that has begun to set in the heat of the oven, it begins to expand- kind of like a balloon. If we look at our chemical change check list, there is a change in color, there is a smell, and it required the taking in of heat. So a chemical change has occurred. However, the expansion of heated air is a physical reaction. So in this experiment we observed both physical and chemical reactions.

Cheese Bread

Making bread can seem like a daunting task- blooming yeast, getting temperatures right for rising dough, how many times should you punch the dough down? Is it going to take all day to get a loaf of bread? It definitely doesn't seem like the right choice for baking with a kid. So I have a  work around for you. This week we made a  cheddar quick bread that is fantastic!

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Mixing up the dough is very quick and does not require any special equipment. And you can cut down on baking time by making the loaves small. In class we mixed in cheddar cheese, but you can use any kind of cheese that you like. You could add in chives, or crumbled bacon too. It's very customizable- in fact you can even make this bread cheese- free if you’re not into dairy, so even the cheese is optional.  Just remember- if you change the size of the loaves, bake time will change. Our tiny loaves took 30 minutes but a full sized loaf would take about 45-50 minutes. 

So while the bread was baking, we made some butter to spread on it. Have you made butter before? It's simple! Agitate heavy cream until it passes the whipped cream stage and turns into butter!

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The kids took turns shaking a mason jar full of cream and a pinch of salt until it turned into butter. It takes about 20-25 minutes of shaking, so it's good to have some friends to share the work. At home you can speed things up by using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, but if you're looking for a job for a group of kids, let them shake the butter for you. They'll love it! 
(p.s. remind them that a glass mason jar needs to be treated with some care!)

Muffin Making Mania

Blueberry Muffins were abundant last week. Our recipe includes a crunchy topping of lemon zest and sugar that really make these muffins incredible! The kids were divided into groups and really had to work together to make their muffins turn out spectacular. In addition to learning to read a recipe, measure out ingredients and learn baking terminology, they are also practicing communications skills, team work and math skills. I think they *might* be having fun too!

A New Batch of Kids, and a Batch of Cookies

I began teaching Spring after school enrichment classes today. I will be wheeling my kitchen supplies to 2 local elementary schools for weekly baking classes until the end of the school year!

I bought this 3 tiered rolling toolbox to haul all of my kitchen supplies back and forth. Its inaugural trip today went pretty well. I did still need a bag of a few odds and ends, but I made it from my car to the school with no mishaps!

For our first class we made chocolate chip cookies. The kids were ecstatic and did such a good job of working together and following directions!

First they read through their recipe, divided up jobs and mixed the cookie dough.

Next they scooped out cookies onto the trays, we baked them and...

They were delicious!

After School Programs

We are going to be taking Kitchen Explorers on the road! In order to better connect with kids around the city, Kitchen Explorers will now be offering classes at schools around Seattle in after school enrichment programs. We are all booked up for the Spring session, but if your school is looking for fun baking classes, contact me about getting on your schedule for Fall 2018. 

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The Lunchbox

My kids don't like cafeteria lunch. It all started with what I can only assume is an urban legend. When my son was a 3rd or 4th grader he came home from school with a story that was absolutely true! Someone heard that someone saw that someone bought pizza for lunch and the lunchroom staff had forgotten to remove the plastic wrap before heating the pizza. The pizza was covered in melted plastic! And now neither of my kids will eat school cafeteria food. 

With all of the nation-wide concern about the nutritional quality of school cafeteria food I am not too worked up about the fact that my kids won't eat it. However, occasionally I wanted to simplify my day by just having the kids buy a lunch but they were totally against it. My first work around was buying Lunchables, those prepacked cracker and cheese monstrosities that no child should ever eat. We kept a few on hand for days when I didn't get a sack lunch packed. Not surprisingly, the kids turned on those pretty quickly. I mean, they are gross! So the next obvious step was for them to pack their own lunches. This was not a popular idea with the under 18 crowd in our household. There were actual tears, which makes them really sound like terrible little humans, and I promise you, they aren't! 

Time heals all wounds, and now that they are 15 and 11 they make their own lunch daily with narry a peep. And this is the reason behind my last class: Lunch Box. How can you make your children enthusiastic about packing their own lunch? It turns out I made my daughter much happier about the whole ordeal with cookie cutters. She wants all of her food in a fun shape. And I let the kids make Jell-o. 

I know we recently discussed kids' love of cracking eggs and pasta making, but let me tell you- it was utter joy and squeals of delight when I announced we would be making Jell-o.

Having been raised in a very Jell-o centric household, I have eaten 1 million Jell-o variations. While I must admit to not caring that much for Jell-o (mostly because I am now an adult, I assume), if I am going to eat Jell-o I want it to be filled with berries or mandarin oranges. So we took tiny containers, filled them with fruit, poured Jell-o on top and put them to set in the fridge. 

Since I knew the Jell-o wouldn't set during class time I had Jell-o activity #2 all ready to go: Jell-o Jigglers. Have you tried them before? Let's just say the texture isn't for every taste. But guess what? Kids  ❤ 💕 💘 💖 💜 them!

And since you don't want your kids' lunches to be solely Jell-o, we made veggie dip and cut our veggies with the cutest little shape cutters.

And finally, the kids made a sandwich or cheese and cracker stackers for the lunch. We cut out the sandwiches with cute sandwich cutters that make my daughter 67% happier about making her own lunch. 

Make Pasta With Your Kids

Kids love making pasta. Maybe because it's kind of like playing with play dough? Definitely because it calls for cracking eggs. I've told you this before- kids love to crack eggs! Do you have a pasta roller tucked away in a cupboard somewhere? If so, you're ready to go!

There are many variations of the basic recipe. I like the America's Test Kitchen version, which is as basic as you can get: Flour. Eggs. (And 1/2 teaspoon of water if you must!).  Many basic recipes call for a bit of olive oil or salt. You can also add herbs to the dough. Find a recipe that you like best, dust off your pasta roller and make some pasta!

Here are my tips for pasta making with your kids:

1.  Pasta making is kind of a one-on-one (possibly two) experience. One adult and one kid make a great team! I make pasta occasionally with my 2 kids- I pretty much stand to the side and tell them what to do, but let them work together because three is kind of a crowd when rolling pasta. 

2. Find a stress-free time. Maybe a weekend afternoon or during a school break, find a 2 hour window that doesn't necessarily end with people expecting a meal. That will keep expectations low!

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3. Use a food processor instead of mixing the dough with a fork. It looks amazing when you see chefs on T.V. making fresh pasta like that, but people, sometimes you just end up with a pile of smoosh. Use a food processor. You still get the fun of kneading the dough into a smooth ball. 

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4. If your dough is sticky at all it will gum up your pasta roller. Dust sticky dough with flour. Until it stops sticking. 

That's about it! Your pasta dough can be made into any number of final product-  I think starting out with fettuccine is a smart idea. You can make a quick sauce while the pasta is resting then buon appetito!

Winter Session

Winter Session is under way and we have some really fun classes lined up! Next Wednesday and Thursday is our Lunch Box class. I was inspired to hold this class because I have spent the last school year and a half trying to convince my daughter to pack her own lunch. We are now up to about an 80% success rate. With elementary school starting so early, I want every second of sleep I can find. That means I want school lunch packed and in the fridge the night before. And why can't an 11 year old do that on her own? Answer: She can! And an 8, 9, or 10 year old can too if s/he has some guidance. So. Sign your kiddo up today and I will give them fun ideas for packing a bento style box full of yummy and healthy foods for lunch. And then you might get an extra 10 minutes of sleep in the morning!

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Our other excited classes are: mini pies, kitchen science, valentine treats and pizza! Don't miss out, sign up for the remaining classes today!

Holiday Treats Round Up

Between the kids being on break, everyone getting sick, Christmas, family visits, post-Christmas travel and wanting to attempt relaxing a bit in the middle of all that, I am just now getting around to posting about our Holiday Treat class. It was epic and messy! We spent 2 hours frantically making fudge, cookies, candy bark, caramel corn and hot cocoa mix- there was barely a spare moment. The kids were amazingly hard workers and giggled their way through, so I can only assume they had fun. 

The next day I did it all again with a new group of kids. 

The treats turned out really good! Here's a quick run down for you on each and a link to the recipe.

The fudge is easily the simplest recipe around! Essentially you microwave chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk together and stir. Then pour the melted chocolate mixture out onto a lined tray and top (or don't) with whatever you'd like. Refrigerate, cut and eat. It will firm up enough to eat within 20 minutes or so but it will be more like the consistency of the more complicated fudge recipes after several hours of refrigeration. We topped ours with mini dehydrated marshmallows and candy cane crunch so that it had a hot cocoa vibe. The upside is it's cute and tastes good. The downside is the candy cane crunch turns runny after a day or two and then isn't quite so appetizing.  So just eat it all right away!

Requiring more adult supervision is the caramel corn recipe.  I make this every year to give to my neighbors, but I make it with tons of nuts as the original recipe was written. The orange zest is the clincher in this recipe! Give it a try with nuts, if your so inclined. It's divine. 

I was surprised by how much I loved the white chocolate cranberry cookies. Once again, it must be the orange zest that hooks me! I want to try these with some oatmeal in them too. Also with cocoa powder so that the cookies are chocolaty and the chips are white chocolate. And maybe with dried cherries instead of cranberries. Options!

Trickier than I thought- mostly because of the chocolate melting- is the candy bark. We tried two different approaches- swirling the two chocolates together and layering one on top of the other. Now that I have done both here's what I will do next time: Melt the dark chocolate, spread it very thinly on the lined tray, refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Melt the white chocolate, pour on top of the dark chocolate and spread very thinly on top. Then don't use pretzels and m&ms for the topping. It tastes great but it's not a great fit for the breaking into pieces part. The candy and pretzels popped right off the chocolate when broken into bite sized pieces. Maybe the fudge should have the pretzels and m&ms and the bark should have the candy cane crunch. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Last, the messiest one of all- home made cocoa mix. For these jars sent home, made in my kitchen and not yours, you're welcome! To cut down on the mess, help kids with the measuring of the powdered ingredients and maybe use a funnel to transfer the mix into a mason jar. This makes 4 servings of cocoa mix but it doesn't leave a ton of room in the jar for the toppings and also it was really hard to keep the toppings separate from the mix. The plastic wrap that we used as a barrier between the two was more successful for some kids than others. It isn't really necessary. It can all be layered together. Or the toppings can be bagged and given on the side or in their own jars. It's more for the aesthetic of the gift than the functionality. The instructions call for 1 cup of hot water and 1/2 cup of cocoa mix. That seemed a little over the top to me, but that's for real. There is a ton of powdered milk in the recipe so using hot water is just fine (as opposed to heating up a cup of milk) but don't skimp on the mini chocolate chips. They really make the cocoa yummy. I would love to hear back if you try any of these recipes! 

Fondue with kids

We have added 30 minutes to our class time. That means we can do things like make cheese and chocolate fondue, prep things to dip in to them, eat them, and clean up all without rushing like maniacs!

I have found that kids like cheddar cheese fondue better than traditional Swiss fondue, so that's what we made in class this week. I adore any kind of melted cheese so I will add 2 recipes for you to try at home. DISCLAIMER: the Swiss fondue recipe is still not totally traditional. It is made with apple cider instead of white wine and kirche. Hey, I cook with kids! But I had to at least acknowledge that any Swiss person worth their pocket knife would complain if I didn't add that disclaimer. 

And one more thing- we ended the meal with chocolate fondue. I must tell you- this is not Swiss. It's an American thing. But it's a delicious American thing. It's too simple for me to type up a formal recipe. I'll just tell you what to do: In a glass bowl mix 12 oz of your favorite chocolate (chopped into small bits or just use chocolate chips) and 1 cup heavy cream. Place the bowl on top of a sauce pan filled with water. Place the sauce pan on the stove and bring the water to a strong simmer. The heat from the boiling water will melt the chocolate without burning it. (This is a double boiler) Stir to combine the heavy cream and dip things into it.

Ta-da!!!

Holiday Recommendations

If you're looking for recommendations for the little chef in your life I have some suggestions for you! I was asked recently about cookbooks for kids. Here are my thoughts as of today:

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My first recommendation is William-Sonoma's  The Kid's Cookbook. (I can't tell for sure, but it looks like the one I have was updated and is now The Cookbook for Kids.) It's a pretty comprehesive book and I like that mine has the spiral binding, so the book lays flat. Cookbooks that flip pages while you're trying to cook and look at instructions make me crazy! It has clear instructions, a list of all the equipment needed for each recipe and a section at the beginning with some basic technique instructions.

Next is  Cooking Class by Deanna Cook- this book has clear step by step instructions. a good variety of recipes, starts with easy things and moves to more complicated recipes, and has the spiral lay-flat binding that I like! My favorite thing about this cookbook is the step by step instructions are illustrated with photos. I find that extremely useful! (The America's Test Kitchen Cooking School cookbook has this as well and I love it! In case you're looking for a good grown up cookbook!)

kid chef bakes  by Lisa Huff is also well thought out cookbook (there's also kid chef  by Melina Hammer but I don't have that one). The thing I like best about this one is the beginning of the book is presented as cooking lessons with a technique to learn and a recipe to make while practicing. On the down side it does not have the step by step photos nor does it lay flat. 

One non-kid cookbook I recommend is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. This is one of the very first cookbooks I ever received- I think it was probably a wedding gift. I didn't begin cooking until I was in college and I was too broke to buy cookbooks then! While I think there is benefit in cookbooks aimed at kids who are interested in cooking, I don't think they should feel they aren't ready for a regular cookbook. This is a very easy to use book, it has reliably good recipes for essentially everything. It's not fancy- it doesn't call for specialty ingredients nor does it take shortcuts with a lot of prepackaged foods. It has recipes labeled as 'fast' and 'easy' (I'm kind of giggling about that now that I type it out) but it's helpful to know which are the good introductory recipes.  

My last recomendation is the book I use for our kitchen science classes. It's called Amazing (mostly) Edible Science. This isn't a cookbook for every day recipes- but it's got some fun recipes for things like edible finger paint and some basic molecular gastronomy along with more usable recipes like pizza and popovers. And then explanations of the science behind the cooking. It's a fun one to have around. 

Save this one for Summer

Today I am contemplating wearing fingerless gloves while I type! The wind is blowing, I really need to go get the oil changed in my car, but I don't want to leave my house. It's too cold! (note: it's not that cold.) So why am I thinking about Gazpacho? Why aren't I telling you about some kind of soup made of tomato but hot? I don't know. Oh, wait I just figured it out! There's a gazpacho recipe in my mother-in-law's cookbook on the page just before the spicy sausage soup. Flipping through the book I saw it and it stuck in my head. Aparently I am highly suggestible.  

Do not make this recipe now, but remember it for next summer.  It's amazing! It's called Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz and it's from the America's Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook. They really don't want you to have this recipe for free- their site is behind a paywall. I am too lazy to type it out for you, but I found someone else who already had, so follow this link! I will asuage my guilt by plugging their cookbook. This is a cookbook worth owning! I have shelves full of cookbook and many of them are there so I can read through the recipes and marvel at them. I am not actaully going to spend the time and money required to craft those restaurant dishes. I will go to the restaurants and let them cook for me. However, the Cooking School Cookbook is a great source of well thought out, reliable recipes that I know will turn out delicious. It's not for your kids, it's for you. Even if you're not much of a cook, it's for you. 

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So this gazpacho recipe- I think you need to make at least a double batch. It's kind of a long process to make the soup- there's draining and straining and pureeing and then you have to refrigerate it until well chilled before serving. Once you go to all of that effort, you are going to want left overs! The good news is you can make it well in advance of when you want to eat it, so plan accordingly and once the weather heats up, make this gazpacho!