Teaching Kids to Cook: Stir-fry

A nine-year-old made this: Baked tofu, rice and stir-fried baby bok choy. It was delicious. She was very proud of herself. These recipes are of course perfectly suitable for adults to cook too. Here’s how:

Simple Baked Tofu (based on the recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics) and known in our house as Tofood, thanks to toddler pronunciation

1 package extra-firm tofu
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375°C. Cut the tofu into bite-size cubes, and toss in a 9×13 baking dish or a cookie sheet, with oil, garlic and soy sauce. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring about every ten minutes. We like ours really chewy so we turn off the oven and leave it in there while the rice is cooking. It is delicious and moreish and one of my sisters calls it crackfu.


Boiled rice, as taught to me by my dad, who remained convinced, even after he had five children, that one cup of rice would always be enough. He is otherwise a completely marvellous cook.

Use 1 cup of rice for every three people. Add two cups of water for each cup of rice, and put pot on high heat. When the pot boils, turn it down to low. Check it after about 15 minutes. Once there are holes in the surface of the rice and no water is visible, turn it off and leave the lid on.

So, you see where this is going? Two out of the three parts of this meal can sit happily and wait while the stir-frying takes place in all its splattery goodness.

Stir-fried greens in oyster sauce, from the Young Thailand cookbook. Young Thailand is a restaurant in Toronto and going there was one of our favourite treats when we lived there. I have not been able to find gluten-free oyster sauce, so I just use soy sauce instead.

A bunch of any kind of greens, such as bok choy. We used 6 baby bok choys and doubles the sauce quantities for five people, one of whom hates cooked greens.
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp cold water (As you mix it, you and the child can talk about how it’s a non-Newtonian liquid in that the pressure of the spoon causes the liquid to act like a solid for a few second. Newtonian liquids, like water, don’t do this).

20180130_181700.jpgChop the greens into a size you would like to eat. Heat oil until very hot in a wok or large frying pan. Add garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, making sure it does not darken. Add greens and water and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until the greens are starting to wilt. Add the sauces of your choice and cook for about 1 more minute. Add your non-Newtonian liquid and cook briefly until the veggies look shiny and you have a little sauce around them.

Serve your masterpieces!

Our younger two (nine and twelve) started learning to cook in January. The teenager started cooking one meal a week when he was ten. He has always been interested in food, and he started complaining that my cooking was getting boring. “Be my guest,” I said. It would be inaccurate to say I taught him to cook. I prevented the occasional conflagration, but this is a child whom it has always been difficult to instruct. He wants to puzzle out everything for himself. In the early days, while he was figuring out that recipes gave quantities for a reason, we ate some odd meals. The Japanese noodle salad with a whole package of dried seaweed in it, instead of a quarter of a cup, lingers in my memory as one of the saltiest meals I have ever eaten. He persisted, and last week he made homemade macaroni cheese based on a beautiful cheese sauce. When I’m ill, I know he can step in and make sure the household is fed. And that’s the goal. Yes, we want the children to be able to look after themselves, but what they really need to is to be able to look after other people

It’s a different story with my younger children. They relish the idea of cooking lessons. Little has hers on Tuesday and Middle’s is on Wednesday. We start at 4;30 at the latest, for a 6 pm dinner. Cooking takes a lot of time for beginners. I’m trying to teach them useful menus to have up their sleeves, as well as the art of making what it is in the house. Little’s first meal was chicken noodle soup, made from homemade stock and leftover chicken from Sunday dinner. I showed her how to serve it with chopped vegetables, herbs, lime juice and hot sauce in little bowls so that everyone could make it to their own taste. After struggles with the garlic press, she exclaimed, “I didn’t know you had to be a body-builder to cook.” Once the meal was ready, she professed surprise at how hard on the legs cooking is, and how tiring. I concurred, remembering the joyful days of bathing the toddler, putting the baby to bed, and getting supper on the table, all by 6 pm. That first week, Middle made meatloaf and baked potatoes and broccoli. Once we were sitting at the table eating their meal, each of them had an expression of delighted disbelief: “I made that, and it’s good.”

Cooking has made them notice the work others do in the kitchen, and appreciate it more. It’s one thing to be vaguely aware that there is activity in the kitchen that results in a meal, and quite another to produce the meal yourself. It’s like watching Olympic snowboarding and then trying to snowboard on your local hill. It has made them think about food differently. Middle, always, shall we say, a discerning eater, decided to try out the lettuce he had torn and washed himself, and he actually liked it. He was completely thrilled to be using the salad spinner all by himself. He also suggested a lesson on roast chicken so that when he was a grown-up he could invite people over for dinner and cook it for them. One Sunday his dad taught him how to do it, along with the roast potatoes for which the spouse is renowned.

The rules in our house are simple. Don’t complain; you only have to do this once a week. Cook from scratch; opening a jar and calling it spaghetti sauce does not count. Whatever you serve, we have to eat. Right down to the saltiest noodle salad in the history of the world. But mostly it’s a joy for all of us.

Gluten-Free Hot Cross Buns

Gluten-Free Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns are a non-negotiable part of Easter for me. I have them for breakfast on Good Friday before we do the egg-dyeing, and then again on Easter Sunday with the coloured eggs. Sometimes I hunt for them in GF bakeries in Ottawa, but this year I had some challah dough in the fridge left over from making onion pletzel from Gluten Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. You make the dough, leave it to rest in the fridge over night, slap some of it down on a baking sheet, sprinkle it with fried, but still crunchy half-onion slices and poppy seeds and bake at 400° for about 20 minutes. Yummy.


To make the challah dough itself:


6 cups GF all-purpose flour (I tried o20170411_112931ut a local flour, Pete’s,  for the first time, and I like it very much; they deliver to Ontario and Quebec)
1 tbsp granulated yeast
1 -1.5 tbsp salt
2.5 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup honey
4 large eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted

To add when making hot cross buns:
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup total of your choice of mixed candied peel, raisins, currants or candied ginger

For decorating:

1 egg
small amounts of flour and white sugar

Whisk dry ingredients together, then mix in wet, either by hand or with a mixer. Cover, but not airtight, and allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours. It can be used now, or refrigerated, covered, for up to five days until needed. 20170411_110724

For the hot cross buns, I used one quarter of the dough for 6 good-sized buns.

When you are ready to make the buns, add spices and dried fruit. I used everything except currants. 20170411_111349


Form into bun shapes and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, silicone mat or my new favourite, Cookina (available in Ottawa at JD Adam in the Glebe). It washes better than silicone and doesn’t get that horrible slimy feeling. With a table knife, mark a cross in the top. Leave to rest for an hour.



Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare an egg wash by mixing one egg and a tbsp of water. Paint the little dears pale yellow with it. Then mix up 2 tbsp flour and 1 tsp white sugar with 1 tbsp water, or maybe a little more, until you get a smooth paste. Drizzle the paste over the marks of the cross.  As you can see, mine turned out a little runny and spread while baking.


Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, brush immediately with a syrup made from 1 tbsp hot water and 1tbsp sugar, and let cool.

I plan to enjoy mine with lots of butter. Yum.


Gluten-free Carrot Cake

Gluten-free Carrot Cake

April is birthday month for the grownups in our house. I love baking and my celiac diagnosis of three years ago doesn’t slow me down. The spouse’s favourite birthday cake is carrot cake. Last year I made the version in Gluten-Free Baking with The Culinary Institute of America. That was good but this year I did not feel like faffing around beating egg whites.

Thank goodness my celiac diagnosis came in the Internet age. A little searching later, and Gluten-free Girl came up. She made a GF carrot cake adapted from the Barefoot Contessa’s gluten-y version. I have had a soft spot for the Barefoot Contessa ever since I realized that her Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe contained at least twice as many chocolate chips as anyone else’s.

This wouldn’t be a gluten-free baking recipe without a long exegesis about flour.  Gluten-free Girl has a proprietary flour blend which of course does not ship to Canada. I used my new favourite flour mix, which I make myself according to the recipe in Gluten-free Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a recent Christmas present. Since this is a flour made for breadmaking, it’s a “harder” flour than most of the mixes I have tried and contains sorghum. I was finding a lot of my baking with mainly rice-based flours was ending up very biscuity. The harder flour makes a more familiar texture for me. I remember reading years ago in Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen that Canadian wheat flour was naturally harder than American and that one had to allow for that when using American recipes. I just kept on using all that hard Canadian flour for everything and my palate has obviously been trained to prefer that texture. That’s my major GF revelation of the day.

So, the recipe! It serves 8-10.

This is my adaptation of GF Girl’s adaptation. She uses coconut sugar and coconut oil, which I don’t have in my pantry, so I used brown and granulated white sugar. I don’t have a stand mixer either so this was mixed up using an electric hand mixer and a Danish dough whisk for adding nuts and raisins.

2 cups gluten-free flour blend of your choice (add 1/4 tsp of  xanthan gum per cup if yours does not contain it already)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs (I use free-range because of the poor hens)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large carrots, grated
1 cup raisins of any kind
1 cup chopped walnuts


1/2 cup softish cream cheese
1/2 cup softish butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups icing sugar

Heat the oven to 400° F (200° C). Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, then grease again. I have not yet had the nerve to cut silicone mats to fit my baking pans, but go for it.

Mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Mix together sugars and oil in a big bowl. When well-mixed, add the eggs, one at a time and mix well. Add the vanilla.20160422_141012

Add the flour mixture and mix, in about three equal parts. Then add the grated carrots, raisins, and walnuts. This is the point at which a dough whisk or the good old wooden spoon comes in handy. Mix thoroughly.20160422_141447

Dump the very gloppy cake batter into the two pans, dividing as evenly as you can.  Bake for 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350° F (180° C), and bake the cakes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, another 30 to 35 minutes.20160422_142019

Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then remove them from the pans onto a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before attempting to ice them. (I baked mine the day before icing them). Do not let your teenager touch them.

Make icing: beat cream cheese and butter together until well-blended. Add vanilla and mix. Add icing sugar in about three equal parts. If the icing is too runny, add a bit more icing sugar. If it’s too thick, add milk by the quarter-teaspoonful.

Spread one third of the cream cheese icing on the bottom layer, then bung the second cake on top and glop the rest of the icing on the top. Spread it over the top and sides. My sister the totally amazing cake-icer would probably do a crumb coat (apply thin layer, allow to dry, add thicker second coat) but I was a bit pressed for time. 20160423_111538

It was incredibly yummy and when our backs were turned the teenager made serious inroads into the leftovers. 20160423_133538