Cooking with Children
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be c̶o̶w̶b̶o̶y̶s̶ chefs
Don’t let ’em pick g̵u̵i̵t̵a̵r̵s̵ knives or d̵r̵i̵v̵e̵ cook on them o̵l̵d̵ ̵t̵r̵u̵c̵k̵s̵ ranges
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be c̶o̶w̶b̶o̶y̶s̶ chefs
’Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love
~ Ed and Patsy Bruce
I always feared my son Beau would follow my flour-dusted footsteps into the kitchen. I want him to learn to cook, it’s an important skill that is fastly disappearing at an alarming rate, just not to be a chef like I was. Being a chef is not the kind of life anyone should wish upon their offspring, especially ones they love.
Beau took a deep interest in cooking at a very young age. He sauteed imaginary vegetables in a plastic skillet on his bright red play stove alongside me while I cook dinner. He would imitate, always asking for small bits of whatever I am using to incorporate into his dishes. Little tiny clusters of thyme, pinches of Maldon salt, and Espelette pepper seasoned his imaginary stews.
Beau always wants us to taste his stews. I quickly learned the art of illusion sufficient to create a diversion and toss my taste into the sink while simultaneously shoving a spoon deep into my mouth and ooh-ing yum. Satisfied by my deception Beau moves onto mommy for her taste. Lisa hasn’t mastered illusion yet and despite her firm no’s and I can't he feigns tears until she succumbs. Apparently, he has mastered manipulation.
It reminded me of an incident when I was his age. I clearly remember the day my mother was replacing all the spices in the cupboard and gave them to me to play with. I did what any good kid would do — I pretended to be a chef and I gathered all the spices in a large pot and made a brick reddish sauce.
When my father came home he walked into the kitchen, saw what he assumed to be a delicious pot of tomato sauce, and dipped a big spoon in. I will never forget the look of ‘shit, what the fuck is this burning sensation incinerating my mouth’ as his face first turned bright red then quickly faded into a beet purple shade as the full fury of the cayenne kicked in.
It’s funny phenomena when you become a parent yourself; you start to relive moments of your own childhood and see things with a completely different perspective. It gives you an amazing appreciation of your own parents and the level of hell you put them through. All you can do is laugh as poetic justice runs its course and your little darling Tasmanian devil destroys your house and the last bits of sanity you might have.
Beau is on the cusp of developmental phases, somewhere between being a bébé and becoming a small man. We decided to navigate this stage ‘a la Francaise’, using Pamela Druckerman’s groundbreaking book ‘Bringing up Bébé’ as our guide. If I understood her correctly, we have reached the point where Beau is to learn he is not the only human on Planet Earth and frustration is good.
Beau must get used to the occasional ‘non’ and face repeated rejection. A concept most chefs aren’t used to. Like small children, most Chefs view themselves as all-powerful dictators issuing iron-fisted edicts from the comfort of their 110-degree lair. And like small children, it is not an uncommon sight to see a chef red-faced, crying and screaming after being told no.
Introducing children to the joys of cooking is a fun way to help them develop a lifelong skill set that promotes healthy self-reliance, confidence, and a better diet. Beau learns self-control by remaining focused on a task from start to finish. Besides, cooking together seemed like a good way for us to bond.
When picking projects, be sure to pick fun things that will hold their attention and help build confidence quickly. Start with easy recipes to engage them before moving on to more complicated ones. The first major recipe we cooked together was the bulletproof yogurt coffee cake from Pamela’s book.
The beauty of Pamela’s recipe is it is extremely forgiving and highly adaptable to improvisation. You can add one yogurt container of chocolate chips or two of berries or neither. I was so proud of Beau. By the twinkle in his eye, I knew he was proud too.
Our next projects centered around pasta and gnocchi, partially because they were very quick to make and mostly because both of us love to eat pasta. I taught him how to make ricotta cavatelli, classic gnocchi, how to hand roll pici, and even the more complicated sounding goat cheese ravioli with artichokes.
As parents, it’s good to involve your children in whatever you are doing. I know it’s easier to put a movie on and pray they will watch for an hour so you can get stuff done. We all have done that. This Saturday we cooked lunch together on the same range. The culmination was an old-school French dessert, chocolate profiteroles.
Beau pulled up his trusty blue chair and stood confidently by the rolling cutting board. He carefully measured the flour, sugar, water, and eggs for the choux pastry. Every time he added an ingredient he looked me squarely in the eye and asked if these qualified as green choices. No doubt planning ahead, assuring his quota of profiteroles. It was a real father and son moment that I will cherish forever.
Give this recipe a try and I guarantee your whole family will love the results! Tag us at #PistouAndPastis; we love seeing you introduce your children to the wonderful world of cooking!
Profiteroles filled with Turkish Coffee Ice Cream then drizzled with Hot Chocolate Sauce and Goat Milk Caramel
Pâte à Choux, (Choux Paste)
- 1 cup of water
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 stick of unsalted butter 4 oz
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 egg beaten for egg wash
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1-quart Turkish coffee ice cream or whatever flavor you like
- 1 jar goat milk caramel
Pâte à Choux
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with Silpat or buttered parchment paper.
- Place the water, sea salt and butter in a stainless steel pot, and bring to a rapid boil. Watch out, using aluminum will discolor the final product.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir in all the flour at once, and keep stirring till well incorporated.
- Continue cooking till dough dries out slightly, about one minute longer. If you have too much excess moisture your puffs will collapse.
- Let dough rest five minutes to cool down a little bit. Add eggs one by one, incorporating each one completely before adding the next. You can a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, food processor or get a workout and do by hand.
- Put dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large, plain tip and pipe little golf ball sized puffs.
- Brush lightly with egg wash, then bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
- Turn the oven down to 350, and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until dry.
- Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a pot, then bring to a boil.
- Simmer for five minutes until it reduces down to sauce consistency, check by dipping a wooden spoon in then running your finger through — if it leaves a track then it is sauce consistency.
- Season with a pinch of sea salt for extra flavor.
Final Assembly of the Dish
- Cut profiteroles in half and fill with a scoop of ice cream.
- Arrange in a pyramid shape on a large serving platter.
- Drizzle with first with chocolate sauce then goat milk caramel.
This is a great dish to make with your child. The prospect of the finished product is usually enough to keep them engaged. Try giving them easy jobs like measuring and stirring to help your child feel part of the project.
Goat milk caramel or Cajeta is readily available in nicer grocery stores and farmers markets across the country. If you have access to fresh goat milk you can make at home.
Recipe Bonus: Take choux paste and add a few ounces of shredded cheese. Makes for a simple, elegant hor d’oeuvres!