Its the holiday season and the good vibes are flowing. Family time is supposed to be magical, especially baking in the kitchen together. I really want this to be true, don’t you? Yet, often the magical memory- making feels lost under frustration and extra spills to clean up.
How can we make this fun for them and us? Well, I have some tricks for you that I’ve picked up while teaching Little Chefs.
The key to success? Planning ahead:
Allow for extra time.
The extra “helping” hands are not the fastest way to bake, so pick a time to bake together when both you and your child have time to spare. Another option is to break the project into multiple days. Such as making the dough one day and baking and decorating another day.
Be choosy with the recipe.
Pick a familiar recipe. Your attention is on helping your child so it’s not a good time to try something new. Also, pick a recipe that both you and your child enjoy eating. Looking forward to the finished product is half the fun and can work as good motivation.
Do the prep work.
Get all the ingredients out and organized. Read through the recipe and have each ingredient matched up with the measuring spoon needed. Get bowls, whisks and spatulas, and any other tools out and ready to use.
Enjoy the process.
Like most aspects of parenthood, baking with kids is a balancing act of letting go of perfection. Yes, the cookies may not be perfect and the floor will have more flour on it than when you started, but that wasn’t the point anyway. The more I cook with my kids, the more I enjoy it for what it is: time spent together.
We’ve been touring middle schools this week (!!!) and I’m having to come face to face with the reality that yes, this is happening. I’m as nervous and excited as my son is. I feel the desperate desire to cling to every shard of his childhood, yet I have to remind myself that this is the whole point of raising our children. We want them to grow up and become the fullest version of themselves. It’s a new phase, yet reminds me of when we were getting ready to start kindergarten. Which school is best for him? Will he be able to remember his schedule and locker combination? Will he make friends? The truth is yes and no. It won’t be perfectly smooth but this is the truth of life. We learn and grow and change.
In an attempt to help myself make this transition to the middle school years, I have been reading a book called “Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World“. This book was recommended to me by a friend and WOW is it eye opening. I really appreciate how the book highlights how the relationship between son and parent changes. It gives us practical advice that actually comes from teenage boys. We get to see situations through their eyes and gain wisdom from those parents that have gone before us. Effective parenting, it seems, is a balance between letting our boys grow up and make mistakes while loving and supporting them through this complicated and complex world. Wish us luck.
Thankfully, February is one of my favorite months of the year. I love any excuse to shower the people I love with affection. especially if it involves something from the kitchen. I found these little heart shaped ramekins and knew immediately what I wanted to fill them with. When JP was two, I had a Valentine’s Day party at our house. We had heart themed activities and bright red jello cut in heart shapes for snack. I may not be able to turn back the clock but this is the beauty of food. It holds the memories for us, connecting our past with our present.
I think it’s time for jello to get an upgrade. Let’s do away with the watery, jiggly, artificial tasting, neon jello of our youth. This jello has everything good: a strong strawberry flavor (that is actually from strawberries), a firm texture, and a beautiful ruby color. I like how it feels in my mouth as the gelatin softens. The sweetened whipped cream is the perfect accompaniment to the juicy strawberries. Strawberries and cream are a classic combination in any form, but heart shaped might just be the sweetest of them all.
Fresh Strawberry Jello & Whipped Cream
Strawberries and cream are a classic combination that illicit happy memories of spring. Being a bit impatient for the perfect strawberries to arrive at the grocery store, I found that this recipe appeased my strawberry craving. Frozen strawberries are a good option to use here if fresh are not optimal. This recipe is adapted from the Knox gelatin package.
Makes 4 servings
1 pound ripe strawberries, washed and hulled; or frozen strawberries, thawed
2 packages unflavored gelatin (I use Knox brand)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar (or more to taste)
1-2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 small lemon)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
Puree strawberries in a blender, using a little water if needed to thin. You should have 2 cups of strawberry puree that is the consistency of heavy cream or slightly thicker. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the puree into a medium pot. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar, salt and lemon juice and stir. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. It should taste delicious at this point, full of strawberry flavor and just sweet enough to be pleasing to the palate. Adjust as needed.
Pour the remaining 1/2 cup puree into a wide bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top and don’t stir. The gelatin should mostly dissolve into the liquid but don’t worry if some still remains on the top. The back of the Knox package suggests 1 minute.
Once the strawberry mixture is at a simmer, take it off the heat and whisk gelatin mixture before adding it to the hot strawberry puree. Whisk to incorporate the gelatin mixture. There may be some lumps at this point but keep whisking and watch as it thickens. Whisk for 3-5 minutes. Strain to remove any remaining lumps. Pour into 4 – 4 ounce ramekins and cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. These will firm up in an hour or two but can be stored for 3-4 days before serving if desired.
To serve: Combine all the whipping cream ingredients in a medium bowl and whip to firm peaks. Spoon over strawberry jello and serve.
The other day I bought a baking mix (gasp!) and the side of the box said “Don’t just say it bake it” and then gave examples. If you want to say “We’re so proud of you!” make snickerdoodle cookies. If you want to say “Thank you for all you do!” make a hummingbird cake. Lastly, if you want to say “I love you!” a cherry dump cake would be in order. At first I was a little horrified. Is this what I do? Do I bake for my family instead of saying the words that my heart feels?
Communication can get trickier as the boys get older. It can be hard to know what to say or when to say it. It feels like the majority of what I say in the course of the day is either correcting behavior or giving instructions. I want to be sure that words of support and praise are said in between the “please put your clothes away” interactions that happen so often. As I was putting my little one to bed last night, I said “I love you” and he said “I know”. Whew.
As we head into the holiday season, food and gifts all get rolled into one massive expression of gratitude and love. This year I want to be sure to use the words that go along with the baking. I appreciate you. You mean so much to me. I love you. Baking really is an act of love and a tangible way to show that you are thinking about a person. There is a reason most recipes make enough for a crowd – muffins and cookies are meant to be shared.
I thought these orange chia seed muffins would be perfect for this week. Muffins are such a great go-to for breakfast, lunch boxes and after school snacks.
Now go put away your clothes.
Orange Chia Seed Muffins
Adapted from Joy the Baker, this muffin tastes quite decadent and straddles the line between muffin and cupcake. The top is nice and crisp with a balanced orange flavor. The chia seeds are slightly nutty and give some textural interest to the muffin. I have a feeling it would be a welcome addition to any breakfast table.
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons chia seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Zest of one orange (about 1 tablespoon)
3/4 cup sour cream (I use full fat)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 orange (about 2 tablesoons)
Granulated sugar for topping if desired
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons orange juice, plus more if needed
Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking cups or spray with cooking spray. Whisk flour, sugar, chia seeds, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, salt and orange zest in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine sour cream, butter, eggs, vanilla extract and orange juice in a small bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a spatula until flour mixture is just incorporated. Spoon into prepared tin and sprinkle with granulated sugar if desired. Bake for 18-20 minutes. The muffins will be golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean. Let cool in the muffin tin until cool enough to touch and then transfer to a cooling rack.
Mix glaze ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Add an extra squeeze or two of juice if the glaze is too thick to dip muffins in to coat. I like my glaze thick enough that it doesn’t drip down the sides of the muffin but thin enough to not need a spoon to spread it. Add a tablespoon of powdered sugar if the glaze is too drippy. Dip muffins in glaze and serve. The glaze will harden as it dries. Muffins are best the same day they are made but you can put a little life in them the next day by warming them in 350 degree oven for a couple minutes. Enjoy!