Wouldn’t it be great if you could harness the energy of your new “co-workers,” transforming them into sous chefs who can bust out some mise en place instead of bursting into cabin-fever tantrums? With these tips and recipes, you can.
1. Start on knife skills with pita chips
For first-timers, consider getting an offset plastic serrated lettuce knife that won’t cut hands. The Tasty series of videos on YouTube offers good knife skills summaries. Pay attention to grip, the guide-hand “claw” to protect fingers, and the rocking motion. Then try making pita chips. Practice slicing on pita bread, toss the pita pieces with oil and salt, and bake 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
2. Whip up homemade butter
Making butter is easy with Trader Joe’s most indispensable pantry item: shelf-stable whipping cream. Chill an 8-ounce box in the fridge for a few hours, then add it to a stand-mixer bowl and whip on high (or by hand for a phys-ed credit). After roughly 13 minutes in a mixer, the cream separates. About 6 tablespoons of butter will cling to the whip, and the remaining liquid, if fermented or cultured, becomes buttermilk. To make butter in full Little House on the Prairie style, fill a Mason jar halfway with whipping cream, cover, and shake — for a long time.
3. Scoop fruit, then bake apples
Melon ballers have no sharp edges, making them safe for kids to use. After the kids practice using one on a watermelon or cantaloupe (and then skewer the fruit into kabobs), promote them to coring apples to make an easy dessert. First, scoop out the core of 4 baking apples (such as Granny Smith or honeycrisp) from the top, leaving about ½ inch of the apple base intact. Using a vegetable peeler — kids should be reminded to peel away from themselves — remove skin from top third of the apple. Combine ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Fill each apple with a quarter of the mixture and top with a pat of butter. Put the apples in a baking pan with a ½ cup of water in the bottom, cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover, baste apples with the liquid, cook 5 minutes more before serving.
4. Blend fruit into smoothies
Smoothies are great for either breakfast or a snack. When using a blender, make sure the kids know to avoid the sharp parts and ensure the top is on tight. Add the liquids and ice first, then the solids: ‚ cup juice, 1 cup ice cubes, 1 cup Greek yogurt, 3 cups fruit (frozen or fresh), and, if desired, 1-2 tablespoons of sugar, agave nectar, or honey. Pulse a few times, then blend on high until well combined (serves 4). Find more recipes by searching for “Greek yogurt smoothies” on how2heroes.com.
5. Make four-ingredient fondant
Cooking show fans know that fondant can make the difference in a cupcake war. Grease a large microwave-safe bowl with canola oil. Add 4½ cups of mini-marshmallows and 1 tablespoon water, then heat for 30-second bursts until the marshmallows melt (it usually takes two times), stirring in between. On an oiled surface, add 4 cups of sifted confectioners’ sugar — one cup at a time — kneading until the fondant is firm but still pliable when pulled, adding more water (1 teaspoon at a time) or sugar if needed. Add food coloring if desired, wrap in plastic wrap, and store overnight before using. Doesn’t require refrigeration.
6. Mix up mug cakes and math
Making this easy dessert also teaches kids how to accurately measure dry ingredients. Overfill the measuring cup or spoon, then use the back of a dinner knife to scrape off the excess. This bulk batch will make about 8 cakes. Combine 1½ cups flour, 1½ cups sugar, 1 cup cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 cup powdered milk. Store in an airtight container. When ready to make, combine ½ cup of the mix, 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips, ¼ cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a large microwave-safe mug. Microwave about 1½ minutes until cake puffs. They’re best when warm.
Denise Drower Swidey is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org