Inspiring Young Chefs to Cook, Perchance to Eat!
Yesterday I had my two children from 'other mothers', 12 and 1/2 month old Jane and 4 year old Grace, along with my own 11 year old Mackenzie, here with me. Jane would probably eat the Lamb of God if I cooked it up for her. There hasn't been a thing yet that I offered her that she refused. We had Bacon Wrapped Apple Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with sides of Kickin Kale and Sauteed Gnocchi with Parmesan for dinner the night before and when considering what I'd put together for Jane's lunch, I thought, 'why not?'. The only concerns I had were the texture and the little bit of spice in the kale. Jane only has one tooth fully up, with a second just poking through the gum, so her food has to be fairly well blended still. No problem, I'd just toss it into the food processor with a little bit of no salt added chicken broth, and give it a few pulses before warming it up. But what about the crushed red pepper flakes in the kale? I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. Given that Jane's vocabulary is still very much a work in progress, I took the smacking of her lips, 'nyum nyums', and the kicking of her feet while pointing at the bowl between spoonfuls as a pretty good sign that she liked it, not to mention the little scream when I said, 'all gone'. One happy camper down, two to go.....
From the time that Mackenzie first started solid foods, I did the same thing by blending up whatever we were eating for her. Whether it's a genetic predisposition or this early exposure to a wide variety of food, Mackenzie will eat just about anything I place in front of her, (except lamb...she says she just can't eat a cute, fluffy little lamb). For now, I'm not going to push on that one. Grace is another story altogether. Grace has a habit of saying she doesn't like something without ever trying it. We've been working on it, and she is more open to at least tasting something before deciding she doeesn't like it. To further complicate matters yesterday, Grace has a touch of the flu and an ear infection and her mom said she hadn't eaten much at all in the past few days. So what could I make for dinner that Grace would eat too? Everything I suggested, she said, 'No thank you' to. Then it hit me...what about Homemade Pizza and letting Grace and Mackenzie make their own! Both girls gave me a resounding 'Yes!'.
I made the dough and while it was set aside in the bowl to rise just a little, I got all of the toppings ready: grated partly skim mozzarella and cheddar cheese, parmesan, salami, pepperoni, ham, chorizo, mushrooms, onion, green pepper and pineapple. I had a jar of homemade tomato sauce in the refrigerator from when I made Easy Chicken Parmesan last week so we were ready to put the pizzas together. Both of the girls pressed their own dough out into individual pans while I pressed the remaining dough out onto a large baking sheet to make a rectangular pizza for my husband and I. Grace had lots of questions about what the different toppings were and gave each a little taste before deciding what toppings she wanted on her pizza. She ended up with chorizo, pepperoni, salami, ham, mozzarella, cheddar, parmesan, a little green pepper, and both dry oregano and basil while Mackenzie's pizza had everything but the green peppers. (The recipes for homemade pizza dough and tomato sauce can be found in the Homemade Pizza recipe under 'Everything Else' in my recipe section).
After putting the pizza in the oven, Grace sat on the kitchen floor, watching her pizza cook with eager anticipation. The look on that little girl's face when her pizza came out, all golden and gorgeous was priceless. She ate all but one piece of her pizza, wanting to save that for her daddy, a pizza lover, telling me it was the best pizza ever, a sentiment that Mackenzie echoed about her own pizza. Not wanting to steal their moment of glory, I restrained myself from telling them that MY pizza was actually the best pizza ever! (Grace's daddy, who I would consider to be a Pizza Officianado, told me today that he thought Grace's pizza was delicious, adding that he thought it was better than any bought pizza he had here in St. John's! That's some pretty high praise there Kenny! Thank you!).
Making her own pizza wasn't Mackenzie's first time trying her hand at cooking. She's always making fruit smoothies or snacks for herself, but she's also made Nutella Cookies and recently, taking a recipe from her 'Unoffical Hunger Games Cookbook', she made her version of 'Sweet Grapes and Gorgonzola Salad with Candied Garlic' that Katniss, the heroine in The Hunger Games Trilogy, ate on her initial visit to the Capital, which she described as a side dish with "cheese that melts on your tongue served with sweet blue grapes". We didn't have any gorgonzola and the original recipe from the book called for no less than 36 cloves of garlic, so I talked to her about substituting aged white cheddar and drastically cutting back on the garlic, (we weren't trying to ward off vampires afterall...we were just gonna have a little salad!). She called her grandparents to come over, telling them she was making salad for lunch, and, God love them, they were very supportive. The salad was actually quite good, particularly the vinagrette!
This morning, Mackenzie woke up asking if she could cook dinner for us tonight. "Of course you can!", was my reply. She said she was looking through her cookbook again and she wanted to make a dish called, 'Orange You Glad I'm Chicken', which is very similar to Chicken a l'Orange. I was a little concerned the dish might be a little complex but I didn't want to say anything to influence her. When it was time to go pick Mackenzie up from school, I excitedly buckled the two little ones in, tucked the grocery list of things she'd need to make her meal into my pocket and off to the school we went. Wouldn't you know it, when she got in the car, she told me she didn't really want to make that chicken dish now. An involuntary, 'awwwwwww', escaped from my lips. But then she said, 'Oh, I still want to make dinner, just not that dish. What else can I make?'. I told her to think of something that I make that she really, really likes and she could make that using my recipe. She decided on Beef Stroganoff.
Mackenzie prepped all of the ingredients, and cooked the entire meal from start to finish with very little assistance from me. I hasten to say it but her Beef Stroganoff actually tasted better than mine! Perhaps there's something to be said for occasionally being the receiver of someone else's efforts! I am so proud of my little girl for taking the initiative and following through. When I started this blog, one of my main goals was to inspire others to create healthy, delicious meals for themselves and the ones they love. Even if only Mackenzie ends up being inspired, I consider my efforts successful. Not only do I have high hopes for my future grandchildren, but it doesn't hurt to think I might benefit from her cooking sometime down the road, when I'm old and feeble. Perhaps there's something to that saying my father says that 'apples don't fall far from the tree', although he usually says it in reference to my daughters and I being brutally clumsy. My young chef Mackenzie...creating meals that are easy, healthied-up, inexpensive and delicous!