By CARLA OFFENBURGER
OXFORD, Ohio, May 10, 2018 — This is getting serious, folks. Granddaughters Lindsay (10), Casey (7) and Audrey (3) just did a fourth “Master Chef Junior” meal with me last weekend. It proved to be another success for the chefs and for the recipients of a great meal.
We spent Friday evening scanning cooking magazines, Casey’s “Children’s Cookbook” and “Master Chef Junior Cookbook” (Christmas gifts from Grandma Carla). We put together our menu, which ultimately included spinach puffs, hearty chicken soup, caramel lime chicken served on shaved celery salad, veggie skewers, and fruit cobbler.
This cooking adventure started in early 2017 when Casey insisted that Chuck and I watch her favorite TV show at the time, “Master Chef Junior.” She was so excited about all the cooking that I suggested we could do our own “Master Chef Junior,” and the rest is history. And it’s history-making, too. What memories we are creating!
Before they got started on their fourth “Master Chef Junior” meal together, Carla and the young cooks knocked off an apple crumb pie together. That’s Casey at the left front, Lindsay in back beside Carla, and little Audrey on the right.
We’re producing some darn good cooks, too. There’s a lot to learn when you take on serious cooking at a young age. What they are learning and experiencing now will last a lifetime.
Lindsay and Casey basically can figure out what foods might work well together; chop and dice with sharp knives; create a thorough shopping list (designed course by course); figure times of when to start a dish so everything is ready at the same time, and do it all with plenty of laughter.
These are proving to be great lessons in things other than the actual cooking too. The girls are now able to come within $10 in their estimates of our total grocery bill; they’re appreciating the cost of food and not wasting it; they’re realizing that the best meal ingredients are mostly purchased in the produce department, and that you don’t have to make every meal a five-course ordeal.
Our spinach puff appetizers came out of the “Children’s Cookbook” and we had to triple the recipe for our planned dinner for seven. (Cooking requires a lot of math!). And this appetizer, while delicious, got a “thumbs down” from the young cooks for the intense preparation, which required that squares of phyllo dough be coated with olive oil, stacked on top of each other, stuffed into a cupcake tin, then filled with a spinach mixture that required finely chopping fresh spinach and mixing it with cream cheese, fresh grated parmesan and egg. Whew! Lindsay suggested next time we buy the pre-packaged phyllo cups, like we used for one of our earlier “Master Chef Junior” desserts.
The “hearty chicken soup”: was seriously hearty with heart-shaped noodles done with a cookie cutter and lasagna noodles, as well as heart-shaped carrots, shaped ever so carefully with sharp knives and a loose concept of a heart. It also had shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken, good chicken stock and veggies. What a hit!
The main course was a unique “caramel lime chicken” from my most recent “Eating Well” magazine. We used legs and boneless thighs, with a homemade caramel sauce. As Lindsay was stirring the water and sugar to start the caramel sauce, she said, “This is how Mom makes caramel sauce for flan.”
The shaved celery hearts, with a dressing of lime juice and olive oil, will most likely not be repeated. “Way too much work!” said Casey. But it sure was an interesting concept and made a nice presentation with the caramel chicken served on top. Tasted pretty good, too.
Dessert was a big hit. Again from the “Children’s Cookbook,” this recipe called for fresh blackberries and peaches (we used frozen) and a cobbler topping. Simple and delicious. We served ours with ice cream.
I love being in the kitchen with the girls. We laugh, we talk, and I learn all kinds of things about them.
Sometimes I get impatient when things take longer than if I were in the kitchen alone, but we work through it together. They know just how to keep things moving. I can tell they know more about their kitchen and where things are kept.
They appreciate a good mess and are thankful that Grandpa and Dad will do most of the clean-up. I can see how they are beginning to better appreciate all the work their mother does to prepare meal after meal for them.
So many lessons happening!
Cooking with kids is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a lot of instructing and cooking at the same time. On Saturday, we started cooking at 4 p.m. and served our meal around 7:30.
It was a long time in the kitchen and we were all exhausted. Lindsay thought maybe our noon-time picnic at a park and our afternoon bike ride might have been responsible for some of our exhaustion. Occasionally we worked from chairs at the dining room table for bits of our cooking escapade, and took a 15-minute break halfway through “to rest our feet.”
The girls do a terrific job presenting their meal. The first rule is that it is all a surprise – we don’t tell anyone what we are making. And we insist that Grandpa doesn’t “look” when we have him come into the kitchen to shoot pictures. If we need help from Mom finding something or hoping she has an ingredient we forgot, she is asked in secretive ways.
At some point during the meal preparation, I take the time to write out a little script of what we are serving , course-by-course, and then the girls announce each course with a little narrative. They take it all very seriously. They are so darned cute!
Our “Master Chef Junior” adventures have had us grilling pork tenderloin and salmon. We’ve prepared homemade pizza. We’ve tackled pie crusts, raspberry tarts and cobblers. We’ve done a variety of veggies and salads. We’ve made complex and simple appetizers. We’ve made hearty chicken soup. And we’ve done it all together, loving the time we spend doing it and the memories we are making.
It’s a real recipe for success in our grandmother-granddaughter relationship – and I hope they never grow tired of cooking with me.
Grandma Carla’s script describing the meal.
The granddaughters got started on meal preparation by all going to the Kroger supermarket.
Lindsay and Casey cutting and chopping celery.
Making appetizers in phyllo dough cups.
Casey serves up the “spinach puff” appetizers, while Lindsay does the narration.
Casey showing off one of the spinach puffs.
Audrey supervising the cutting of pasta hearts to go in the “hearty” chicken soup.
Lindsay serves her dad Andrew some hearty chicken soup.
Audrey shows a stylized carrot heart from her hearty chicken soup.
The dinner drinks were these tasty fruit specials.
Ready to start cooking the main course.
Here comes the main course to the table, with Casey on the narration.
Another look at the main course on the table, tended by Lindsay with mom Maria and Audrey in the background.
Lindsay has the fruit cobbler ready, Casey has the ice cream.
Andrew with the dessert, and Casey dishing up more.
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