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).
Chop 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.