Home School Cooking!

finalMy daughter and I love to spend time together in the kitchen.  We started doing this when she was very young and it makes up some of my most favorite moments.  I have the best memories of her as a little girl (about 4 or 5) helping me prepare for our big Thanksgiving Meal for family and friends.  She liked assisting me while I cooked, but also wanted to be in charge of something that she could do on her own.  She was already reading pretty well and so I decided to make a big, long list of every ingredient we would need from the pantry, the spice rack, and the fridge and have her set it out on our kitchen island.  She absolutely loved doing this and set about doing it very enthusiastically.  She had the spices all lined up, the canned goods grouped together neatly and didn’t miss a single thing.  It was truly a beautiful thing she accomplished and she was so proud of herself.  We still do this Thanksgiving ritual together to this day, and she still loves doing it.  She also looks forward to the cooking part, but there is something about a solo victory that’s uniquely satisfying.

Sometime ago I began to train her to cook simple things for herself as well as for the family: a grilled cheese sandwich, an omelet, French toast, a quesadilla, pancakes.  She is also becoming quite the little baker as well.  This has been great training and preparation but, I also wanted her to be able to plan an entire meal with a budget, and then shop for the ingredients on her own, and finally prepare the meal and share it with her family.  I know this sounds simple, but frankly I know of many children her age, as well as some teenagers, who aren’t able to confidently even make ramen noodles and this can be quite problematic.

The first time we walked through it together and we started out on Pinterest looking for fun and simple recipes to try.  (You can find my Pinterest boards here.)  Then we searched for a delicious dessert and we were ready to make the list.  I looked over the ingredients required and, after determining what we already had, I assigned her budget – this was usually $5 (if we had the protein) or $10 if we didn’t.  She would write everything down and we would assign an assumed dollar amount to it, totaling to the budget amount.  I would have her put this list in an envelope along with the money I gave her to shop with.  She loved having the responsibility of being in charge of this process and became more confident as time went on.

The next step was on to the local grocery store and I chose one that had a self-checkout lane because I wanted her to do as much by herself as possible – she really LOVED this part!  We went through the aisles and she picked out the ingredients, choosing the best value and taking note of whether it was roughly over or under the budget for it.  We went in the order of ingredient importance and learned to adjust amounts or ingredients where necessary (broccoli is on sale instead of asparagus, so substitute).  Next we would head to the checkout line where she scanned or keyed in information, bagged items, and finally paid.  She always came in under budget, usually less than a dollar, but it was a significant psychological victory.  She would put the receipt and the change into the envelope for the following week when she could use the overage if necessary (she rarely needed it).  At the end of the quarter (we would do this seasonally), she would get to keep the difference, which was usually only a few dollars at most, but she was so proud of her accomplishment she took great care in how she spent it.

Finally, we would bring the ingredients home and she would set about to prepare them.  I helped much more at first, teaching her how to safely cut and cook things.  In the beginning I only let her make things such as casseroles, soups or sauces that didn’t require high heat sautéing or frying.  She has made many things and each of them has been delicious andipod july 2015 281 greatly enjoyed by our family.  She beams with a sense of achievement & self-assurance that I believe will prove priceless in her life.  She is learning so many values and skills, one of the most important being the satisfaction of serving others.

I encourage you to try this with your kids, because I think even resistant ones will find that they enjoy it.  It is a good way to engage picky eaters to try new things and gain a sense of empowerment over things that may unsettle them.  This is easily converted into as simple of a mission as you’d like it to be, according to age, enthusiasm and ability.  You can just have them decide on what to serve for a snack – strawberries, crackers & cheese, hummus and snap peas – whatever.  You can make a list together, have them put the items in the cart, take them home, wash & prepare them, plate them and serve them to the family.  Trust me, they will love doing it! When my daughter was younger we would use fruits and veggies to make silly faces on a plate.  We would use grape eyes, a strawberry nose and a banana smile.  Sometimes we would use goldfish crackers, cucumbers, celery, carrots and tomatoes to make an under-the-sea scene.  It is so much fun to cook with your kids and so rewarding and delicious in every way!

Firecracker Shrimp Caesar Salad

Here is my recipe for one of my most favorite salads, heck meals even, and I encourage you to try it – share with me if you do!


Firecracker Shrimp Caesar Salad

Approx. 1 lb of shrimp, cleaned & deveined, tails on or off as preferred (serves 3 nice sized salads, for other servings, please adjust accordingly)

1-1½t Fajita seasoning, can add cayenne pepper or pepper flake if desired

1-2 T butter or olive oil

4 C Romaine lettuce cleaned and chopped

½ C Cherry tomatoes halved or quartered

¼ C Chopped cilantro

½ C Roasted or cooked corn

2 Ripe avocados, diced

Pineapple salsa from Trader Joe’s

Chipotle cream sauce (chipotle puree mixed with sour cream)

Cilantro Caesar dressing (Caesar dressing mixed with fresh cilantro) or regular Caesar dressing

Tri-colored tortilla strips

Grated parmesan to taste

Begin by preparing the shrimp and then drying them well on paper towels.  Sprinkle the seasoning on and set aside while you heat up the butter in a pan on Med-High heat.

Toss the shrimp into the pan and stir them around to ensure even cooking.  Flip them over after about 1-2 minutes and continue cooking until done (another 1-2 minutes).  They are done when they turn pink and curl up slightly (about 4 minutes).  Do not overcook them, as this tends to dry them out and toughen them up.  Remove them to a plate to rest while you assemble the salads.  If you prefer them to be cool, you can place them in the fridge for a couple of minutes.

Assemble the salads in whatever order you prefer for visual interest and ingredient uniformity.

Grate on the parmesan cheese and season to taste.  Enjoy!

If you make this recipe, please let me know by dropping me a comment or sharing pics on my Facebook page.


You can watch me making this recipe on my YouTube channel, here – Don’t forget to subscribe!:

Why Cooking is my Favorite Art Form

Is cooking an art?  To answer that, first we see what art is.  Merriam Webster defines it as:  “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects”.  Well, it could be argued that sometimes making a meal is a creative outlet that uses skill to produce an aesthetic object.  In fact, I believe that a delicious and visually appealing meal can be far more powerful in evoking emotions and visceral reactions than other forms of art, and in a larger percentage of the population.  Some people never seem to have an interest in art or at least in a traditional, organized way.  However, almost every person on the planet has a powerful and consistent attraction to food, the better the food the stronger the reaction.

Aaahh food…. delectable food!  Food has almost limitless potential of embodiment.  It’s full of colors and textures and temperatures which all morph and change with various arrangements and service methods.  There is such a wide array of flavors, each with a spectrum of intensity that can transform with different pairings.  Furthermore, there is a whole vast universe of spices, seasonings, and herbs.  Each element can masquerade once again in various sauces and broths and a plethora of preparations, the possibilities are virtually endless!  Oh my, I’m getting hungry…

I love food and I love to make delicious food, especially for the people I care about.  Not only does it sustain them and make them healthy and strong, it can show them my love and care in a very tangible way.  It makes them happy, and because we make time to dine together it solidifies our family bond.  It conveys to them on a deep level that they are worth the time and attention I take to feed their body, and nourish their soul.

Whether you are like me and love to cook, or if you never step foot in a kitchen, challenge yourself to try something new this week or this month.  If you do cook, try a new recipe or type of food.  (After trying to make a coconut curry chicken recipe out of my lonely Betty Crocker cookbook, I fell in love with the flavor profiles I found there, and have since taken many rewarding excursions into Indian cuisine.)  If you rarely cook, try making something new and simple that you’ve enjoyed elsewhere and are familiar with.  If you NEVER cook, then go out and find a new cuisine or an interesting restaurant you’ve been wanting to try.  Be brave and step outside of your comfort zone, even little steps can exhilarate you and bust you out of the rut – you won’t regret it!!

(PS)  Cooking is where my heart lies, though I do like to bake occasionally too.  I guess I love the free-flowing way that you’re able to throw things together and guess about how much to use rather than measure every ingredient and mix it in such-and-such order.  I RARELY use recipes or measure what I put into dishes.  For me, it’s all about instinct and guessing, then adjusting, and it never turns out the same – BUT it is always enjoyable.  This is part of why this journey is delicious – life is meant to be lived live.  Is that redundant?  I don’t think so because it’s true, in life there are no pause buttons, no rewinds, no fast forwards and no restarts.  It’s live, unscripted and that’s where the magic happens – go with the flow!  In cooking, if you just learn to do a handful of simple techniques, you will always be able to “save” a dish.  This will be an upcoming blog post – sign up for my blog’s e-mail notification HERE so you don’t miss it.