Friday, August 28, 2009

"I want to cook."

Yesterday Addy and I spent the day here at home with her cousin. He'll be three in a few months. After nap as we are just getting ourselves together and planning the rest of the afternoon I ask them what they want to do. After a few suggestions from me, Braden adamantly announces he wants to cook. Well good. We'll cook then. I give him a few choices of what we could make based on the ingredients available. He picks chocolate chip cookies. Now I do feel somewhat guilty about making such a sweet project but ultimately the kids like baking and there are plenty of steps for turn taking and ingredients for tasting, touching, and smelling.

It took me a while after moving here to find a recipe that didn't fall flat. For me the "tried and true" recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag just couldn't handle the altitude. The recipe below is a based mostly on the recipe on the shortening container. I don't like to use a lot of shortening for health and flavor reasons but I think it makes the cookies stay a nicer shape and texture. There is more flour in my version than the original version. I find that I need it unless I want a really flat cookie.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:

preheat convection oven to 350 or regular oven to 375

2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup butter flavored shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 TBLS vanilla
2 TBLS milk
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips (substitute part of this with nuts if you like them)

Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside. Cream together the butter and shortening. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and milk and beat until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips/nuts. Bake for 8 minutes for a chewy cookie and 10 for a crunchy cookie. Keep the dough in the fridge in between pans. This way it stays firmer and it isn't so tempting to eat as when it is just sitting on the counter.

The kids really got into taking turns yesterday as well as smelling and touching each ingredient. We also compared the different sizes of measuring spoons and how much of each ingredient we needed. We touched on science concepts as they watched the lumps of dough melt into cookie shapes in the oven. We had fruit and yogurt for snack and then a cookie for dessert. Each kid was happy with just one cookie so I think it really was the process more than the product that Braden was asking for.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Morning Smoothies or Popsicles

This morning was definitely a smoothie morning. You can tell when it's time for a smoothie breakfast if it is already getting warm when you let your dog out into the yard.

This recipe is less about the amounts and more about the order of things. So with Addy I tell her the steps before we start and then see if she can help me remember all of the ingredients as we go along. Then of course I let her press the button on the mixer. This accomplishes a couple things. First if the noise is a surprise it scares both her and the dog. If Addy presses the button only Suka gets startled. It also helps with her fine motor skills and hand strength as the buttons are pretty tight on our blender. I bet all toddlers love to press buttons and this lets her see, hear, and taste the outcome of her button pushing.

We have used this "recipe" for a few years now. It originally came from a pamphlet about cooking with honey from the Indiana Beekeepers Association. This fills two large glasses and a small sippy cup or bowl for Addy.

1. fill blender half way with frozen fruit of your choice (it was strawberries for us this morning)-frozen fruit means you have a nice cold smoothie and didn't have to add ice
2. drop in frozen banana-fresh will do here and allows for more hand eye coordination development as Addy had to break the banana and then reach up and drop each piece into the blender
3. a large dollop of yogurt-we like vanilla yogurt in the smoothie but you could always add a splash of vanilla and plain yogurt
4. a dollop of honey
5. add a milk of your choice to the 5 cup line (soy milk is great in smoothies)
6. blend until smooth

We had ours with a piece of toast to make a balanced and filling breakfast. Sometimes I add nutritional boosters like flax or brewer's yeast flakes. We didn't have any on hand so we skipped that step today.

If you don't want them for breakfast or have some left over, pour them into popsicle molds, freeze and enjoy. Addy sometimes doesn't like yogurt but I've found that she loves popsicles made with yogurt. Often I'll just mash some fruit into plain yogurt add a little honey and cinnamon and freeze that for her. She loves it and it is a great way to get more nutrients into her snacks.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Starting Points

I've always enjoyed cooking and pretty much had Addy cooking with me once she could stand up on her own. Before that she was often in the pouch on my back while I cooked.

Here are a few things I've learned from our kitchen time:

1. Make sure your young helpers can comfortably and safely reach.
We started just using a stool or a chair to be able to reach the counter. That quickly became too precarious. We love our Learning Tower. It is adjustable and sturdy. There is room for two or even three kids on it and I can slide it around the kitchen. When she isn't cooking, Addy keeps it by the window. Then she can keep her eye on Suka and the cats or play underneath it. Kylan can stand on it to help wash dishes. It has been totally worth the expense. You can buy them new or watch for them on Craigslist. I saw a couple on there recently for about $60 less than I spent.

2. Forget about the mess. I just don't worry if she sloshes stuff out of the bowl or drops it on the floor. I try to give her advice or demonstrate how to stir or pour more carefully but she's still learning. I keep kitchen towels in a drawer that she can reach so when we're done cooking she can grab one and help clean up. I also use 1:4 vinegar to water plus a couple of drops of tea tree oil to wipe the counters with. That way not only is our cleaning solution better for the environment but if one of the kids comes in contact with it it isn't a big deal.

3. Relax about precision. Although we talk about measuring a lot and usually cook from a recipe I've learned that if not all the flour or what have you makes it into the final product it isn't the end of the world. The best coffee cake I ever made was missing an unknown quantity of the dry ingredients thanks to some enthusiastic stirring and it still rose and tasted delicious. That recipe has never come out as tasty.

4. It probably doesn't need mentioning but I'll say it anyways: Go with the flow. As all parents know, just because you think it is time to do something doesn't mean your toddler agrees. If Addy starts out strong but loses interest half way through a creation I just let her go do her thing or help her get started on something else and finish up on my own. Usually she'll still hang out in the kitchen with me and I'll just continue to narrate to her what I'm doing. That way she's still picking up on the vocabulary and doesn't feel that I'm ignoring her.

Here's a link to the coffee cake. Sour Cream Coffee Cake I suggest adding finely chopped peeled apples to the middle portion of streusel.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Banana muffins

Occasionally I watch my nephews who are almost 3 and 5. When they are here, one of our favorite things to do in the afternoon is make our own snack.

These banana muffins are a big hit with all of us and there is a range of difficulty to the steps so everyone can take a turn that interests them. Addy and Braden enjoy the challenge of one-to-one correspondence while putting the muffin papers in the muffin pan. Kylan enjoys the precision needed to crack the egg and sift the dry ingredients together.

These muffins are super healthy too. Made with whole wheat flour and applesauce; they are low in fat and high in fiber.

Preheat convection oven to 350
1 egg
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 ripe banana (use a very brown smooshy banana)
1/4 cup applesauce
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tp baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Line the muffin tins. We usually end up with 12 regular sized muffins or about 20 mini muffins.

In a large bowl whisk the egg, vanilla and the brown sugar together. In a separate bowl mash the banana with a fork and then add to the sugar mixture with the applesauce. Using a strainer or sifter sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon together over the sugar mixture. You will probably have some of the whole wheat left in the strainer. Add this to the bowl as well. Stir gently until moist. Spoon into muffin liners. Fill just over half full. Add sprinkles or a slice of fresh banana to decorate. Bake for 12-14 minutes.

The mini muffins make great snacks to take along to the park. Chad taught her to eat a whole one in one bite.