06/8/17

When Good Kids Cook Bad Food (and what to do about it)

teaching kids to cook

When Good Kids Cook Bad Food (and what to do about it)

Excerpt from: “The Home Chef’s Guide to Cooking with Kids.”
Coming Soon.

teaching kids to cookLearning to cook from a father who’s also a professional chef, isn’t always…fun.

I’m not talking about these television “stand and stir” celebrity chefs who smile, and make jokes, and have a team of cooking-college pukes doing all their mize off camera, either. I’m talkin’ about OLD SCHOOL chefs, the kind who viewed an 8oz steel ladle as a “tool of instruction”, if you know what I mean.

If you’ve ever cooked with me (and I apologize) try to imagine a guy who looks a lot like me, but with a hair-trigger temper, even less patience, and a MUCH more relaxed attitude toward profanity and volume.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my dad was a GREAT dad, he just wasn’t a very congenial teacher. I struggle with this myself (ask my wife about her one and only cooking lesson some time…) but I try to do a better job of keeping my emotions, and expectations, in check when working with my own daughter in the kitchen.

This morning was a good example…

The Pickle decided, as a celebration of the first day of summer vacation, that she was going to cook me breakfast. A lovely thing that happens more and more often these days. (Woo-Hoo!)

This morning she decided to make French-style scrambled eggs, a specialty of hers, but she got a little…exuberant…with the spices. WAY too much salt and pepper and, even on a burger roll, it was almost inedible.

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Now, while my father would likely have just tossed the whole thing in the trash and told me to “do it right this time”, I paused, took a breath, and thought about the opportunities in the situation.

First (and it’s important that this be first) what was GOOD about the dish? Well, the eggs were cooked perfectly, exactly the light and fluffy consistency that I like. Likewise, the toast with exactly the right shade. Looking in the kitchen I could see that the ingredients had been put away, and the cookware, if not washed, had at least been moved to the sink, and the eggs were still hot when she served it.

These are all simple, but very important, elements of a finished dish, and I made sure to let her know that she’d done that right.

teaching kids to cook

1. Inspiration will always produce better results than fear.

teaching kids to cookWorking closely with at-risk kids, many of whom have never (literally) boiled water before, has taught me that fear and anxiety, which most of these kids are already dealing with, will do nothing but increase the likelihood of an injury or mistake. My personal philosophy is that the younger the child, the more praise and encouragement is required. Are they holding the spoon right?

Praise them!

Did they crack that egg without getting any (or very little) shell in it?

Praise them!

Do they just generally seem to have a good attitude and are willing to listen?

PRAISE THEM!

Basically, go watch a few episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, and do exactly the opposite!

You see, no one is born knowing how to cook, or enjoying the tasks required to do so. When we’re praised for something, the brain creates new neural pathways and releases endorphins and dopamine to the pleasure centers of the brain, increasing the likelihood that we will remember to do it THAT WAY again, because doing it THAT WAY makes us feel good.

teaching kids to cook

Negative feedback also creates these pathways, but as a warning NOT to do it that way, which may seem like a good thing, but it’s not. Negative feelings (or lack of dopamine reception) triggers the human flight response, because, on an instinctive level, it’s easier to just NOT do it again (run away), than to risk doing it wrong.

This is why a lot of people don’t “like” to cook…their brain tells them it’s going to make them feel bad, and so they should avoid it.

And, before you start asking, “If YOUR dad was so tough, why do YOU love to cook?” it’s because as much as Chef Frank could rant, and rail, and slam frying pans, he also knew how to PRAISE.

When I did something right, he made a big deal out of it, he bragged to others about it in front of me. I guess you could say he made me feel good MORE than he made me feel bad, and though (at least in my case) that might sometimes work, it’s a risky way to do things.

teaching kids to cook
Also, it’s important to remember that any time a child brings you something they’ve made, even a bowl of mashed bananas covered in powdered sugar, they’re offering you a part of themselves, they’re giving you a precious gift and trusting you with it, and their goofy little brains can’t always distinguish between you rejecting a SANDWICH, and you rejecting THEM.

BUT (and there’s always a big butt) as much as patience, and praise, and making it “feel good” are important, there are still absolutes in the kitchen, there are rules, and reasons for those rules, and it’s far easier to establish those from the beginning, than to try to add them in later.

We observe the safety rules: proper knife handling, bar mops in place for handling hot pans, appropriate clothing for cooking (protective of heat and splatters, not slip, foot-protecting shoes, nothing too loose or baggy that might catch fire, long hair pinned back, or under a cap, keeping our station free of clutter and dirty cookware to avoid accidents, etc.

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We understand that, outside of the professional kitchen, clean-up is part of the cook’s job.

Cookware is rinsed, dishwasher is filled, and counters and stove-tops are wiped down BEFORE we eat. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is to teach them to clean-up as they go. This is a habit that will make their whole life easier, inside and outside the kitchen.

Oh, and a modern-day tip on praise? Take pictures of your kids cooking and/or their finished dishes, and post them for your friends and family to see. To a 9y/o having another adult come up to them and say, “Wow, that omelet you made last week looked SO good!” is a really, really big deal.

2. Every mistake is a learning opportunity.

First of all, EVERYBODY makes a bad dish now and then. I’ve been cooking, personally and professionally for more than 4 decades, and I will still, on occasion, put out a stinker.

An important truth to remember is that, if you really want to master a craft, cooking or anything else, and you’re NOT making the occasional mistake…you’re not trying hard enough, and you’re not growing your skills. It’s been said, and I believe it, that “Good cooking comes from experience, and experience comes from bad cooking. Every mistake is a learning opportunity.

This morning’s eggs were an opportunity to reinforce three important cooking principles to my daughter:

a. Sometimes, less is more. Great cooking isn’t about a laundry list of spices and ingredients, it’s about knowing what to DO with them, and when. If the main ingredient is egg, you want that to be the dominate flavor, and not buried under a bunch of spices.

b. A smart chef under-seasons while cooking, and re-seasons before plating. Or, as my dad used to say, “It’s a hell of a lot easier to add more salt, than to take it back out!” Which leads to…

teaching kids to cookc. Always, always, ALWAYS taste your food as you go! First of all, it’s educational. If you’ve ever tasted a spoonful of beef bourguignon just on the heat, it’s a nasty, depressing thing.

But when you taste is again after hours of simmering and reducing, allowing the flavors to marry and the alcohol to cook off, you realize that there’s something transformative, almost magical, that you can do to raw ingredients when you understand certain techniques and when to use them.

No dish should ever be plated without a final tasting, and any adjustments required (if any) at that point.

Here are a couple of more tips:

1. Have a plan, and work the plan

Even when you’re having them start a dish from scratch, YOU, as the teacher, should already know exactly what needs to be done. Make sure you have all of the ingredients, the proper cookware, and anything else needed for the dish.

Make sure it’s something YOU know how to make, so you’re ready to step in with advice and guidance if things start to go off plan. Nothing is more discouraging to the learner than having to scrap a dish because they weren’t supplied with the right ingredients and tools. It’s like the old saying, “Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to!”

teaching kids to cook
2. Never teach in a rush, or under pressure

Trying to teach an 8y/o how to make turkey gravy when you’re cooking six other dishes and have a dozen family members showing up in two hours for Thanksgiving dinner is…bad. (And half those dishes should have been cooked days in advance…what were you thinking?”)

I kid, I kid…sorta.

Teaching, well…anything requires a calm, focused head, and getting frustrated and demonstrating that cooking is stressful and no fun, is the last thing you want to do. Teach when you have the energy, the positivity, and the TIME to do so. A smart chef knows when to order a pizza, too.

3. Then, always have a Plan B.

Speaking of pizza…what’s for dinner if that casserole catches fire, or a cup of salt is mistaken for a cup of sugar? Don’t make your child feel guilty for “ruining dinner, and NOW what are we going to eat???”

When the Pickle’s in charge of dinner, I know in advance that if the spaghetti turns into a solid ball of gluten, or the chicken gets immolated, there’s sandwich fixin’s, or omelet ingredients, or the phone number for the local delivery place, close at hand. Praise what went right, discuss what went wrong, and then laugh it off and go eat dinner.

How about you? Any nuggets of wisdom to add, either as the learner or the teacher, for encouraging a little chef?

Have FUN,

Chef Perry
chefperryperkins.com

MY KITCHEN Outreach ProgramBy the way, if you’re enjoying this recipe, please subscribe to our free newsletter! We’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each Friday.

Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk kids, in our MY KITCHEN Outreach Program.

 

06/7/17

Home Chef Pet Peeve #756

Too many ingrdients

Recipes that claim to be “3 Ingredients” of “5 Ingredients or Less”, but don’t count things like spices, garnishes, or butter/oil really burn my biscuits!

Not only is it deceptive advertising (as an American media sheep, you think I’d be used to that, lol) but it hurts the very people that I bust my hump to help every day.

You see, people go looking for these recipes because they’re too busy, or too intimidated to to try ones that are more complex.

If you like what I’m posting, please share! If you love what I’m posting, and want to help me feed the hungry, and teach at-risk and special needs kids to cook for themselves, please consider becoming a patron at my Patreon page!

They’re TRYING, they’re dipping a toe in the pool, and these sleazy posters are the piranha that make them run away screaming when they see the actual 25 item list that includes all the seasonings and “optional” ingredients.

This is like coaxing a little kid up to the t-ball stand and then hurling a 100mph curve-ball at him (or her.)

Frankly, it pisses me off.

If you’ve been discouraged by these kind of recipe searches, take heart. There ARE some super-simple recipes out there that can help you test the (salted) water. I have a few, like yesterday’s Thai Grilled Chicken Salad (5ing), our Easy Southern Greens (4ing), and our Simply Amazing Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs  and there are many, many more out there on pages authored by cooks who really do want to help you, not just get another ad-click.

easy oven roasted chicken thighs

Easy oven roasted chicken thighs. Delicious right out of the pan, or amazing as an ingredient in dozens of other recipes!

Many times, the word “frugal” is a better way to find simple recipes, than words like “quick” or “easy.”

If you’re looking for something specific, just let me know. I’ve been tooling along this specific super-highway a long time, and I DO want you to cook.

In fact, I think our future depends on it.

You can comment below, IM me on Facebook, or email me personally at chefperryp@gmail.com

The only dumb question, is the one that isn’t asked.

Now, go cook somethin’!

~Chef Perry
chefperryperkins.com

06/6/17

Quick & Easy Thai Grilled Chicken Salad

Easy Thai Chicken Salad

Sometimes even I don’t have a lot of time to prep a delicious, healthy meal…and a little cheating is required. And sometimes, those meals turn out to be freakin’ awesome.

This is one of them.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 bottle Sesame Ginger Marinade
  • 1 jar Apricot preserves
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 bag Thai (or Asian) salad mix

This recipe couldn’t be much easier…

Easy Thai Chicken Salad

In the morning, mix the bottled marinade, preserves, and brown sugar in a non-reactive bowl, and whisk until smooth.

Add the chicken thighs, turning each to coat evenly.

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Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. If you’re home, turn them a couple of times during the day, if not, don’t worry about it.

When  you’re ready to start dinner, remove the chicken from the marinade and allow to rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes to take off the chill.

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Fire up your grill for indirect cooking, and grill the chicken for five minutes, then dip each thigh back in the marinade, flip, and grill another 5 minutes. Repeat until the thighs get firm, then move them over the direct heat to get a little char on them.

Remove from heat and let the thighs set and cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

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Mix all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl, divide between four plates, and top each with an even amount of chicken.

Enjoy!

Chef Perry

06/5/17
MY KITCHEN Hero Circle

Announcing our Heroes Circle!

MY KITCHEN Hero Circle

For our 2016 Spring pledge drive, we’re initiating the MY KITCHEN Outreach Hero Circle!

This new program is in response to many of you asking for a way to make automated monthly contributions to the outreach program.

MY KITCHEN is a hands-on learning program; a series of basic nutrition, planning, shopping, and cooking classes for at-risk youth, including children recovering from abuse, and foster-care teens who are preparing to live on their own for the first time. We also cook for homeless shelters and family warming centers, and offer our cooking services for other charity’s fundraisers.

We have partnered with organizations like Impact Northwest, Amy Roloff Charity Foundation, and Sparks of Hope to offer hands on, “real food” cooking classes for the youth they work with.

MY KITCHEN Hero Circle

These are not classes that focus on a career in the culinary arts (though, we’ll be adding those in the future), but instead cover the primary skills and techniques required to plan, shop for, and cook healthy, affordable meals at home, using basic cooking equipment that these young people are likely to have available starting out on their own.

Think of it as “Home Ec.” for kids who may have never had a stable home environment to learn these essential skills from.

We believe that the ability to cook for oneself is a basic skill needed by everyone, and that the confidence and independence that comes along with these skills will transfer into all other areas of these kids lives.

In other words, if they can cook for themselves, they learn that they can do anything they want to do!

MY KITCHEN Hero Circle

Become a monthly giver and help us change kid’s lives by joining our Hero Program!

$30/mo ~ Thirty dollars a month will put one new student through our entire program, and provide them with a syllabus/cookbook, and vital skills in nutrition, shopping, and healthy cooking.

$50/mo ~ Fifty dollars will teach a full 10 student cooking class, every month! Basic knife skills, how to prepare healthy vegetables, how to be a savvy grocery shopper…be responsible for providing our kids with a life-skill they will never forget!

$100/mo ~ One Hundred dollars will fund an entire weekend of youth camp classes. Each student will be provided a commemorative camp cookbook, vital skills in nutrition, their own personal cooking utensils to keep, a MY Kitchen apron, and hands-on healthy cooking classes. As a special thank you, each $100.00 monthly hero will be gifted 2 Pop-Up Dinner Tickets to the upcoming event of their choice!

MY KITCHEN Hero CircleCustomize your Donation! ~ You can set the amount you give to any amount, and change that amount at any time, on our donation page.

*All donations will be deposited into the MY KITCHEN Outreach Program’s general fund, to be used at the discretion of our board of directors for outreach expenses.

If you would like to join us in mentoring kids, you can sign up for automated donations with your credit card, here on our GoFundMe page. (See detailed instructions, below…)

If you would like receive a mailed reminder to make a monthly contribution by check, or bank payment, please contact us (below) with your name and email address and we’ll send you the information!

Thank you for helping us help kids!

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MY KITCHEN Outreach Program is a 501(c)3, and all contributors will receive an itemized giving receipt at the end of each fiscal year.