I love to cook and bake but ever since I’ve had kids it’s a past time that I’ve had to adapt (significantly). Baking is pretty much out of the question because of concentration, precision, and timing. These are three things that don’t go well with watching young children while you’re cooking.
As an avid subscriber of Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Cook’s Illustrated, I’ve tried a number of new dishes at Thanksgiving over the past few years – some were great, but some were not. Do you spend a lot of time cooking while watching kids? Here are some tips I’ve collected – without these, I’d probably have no food and no sanity.
Cooking mags and shows make all recipes deceptively easy.
“I made my first sabayon at thirteen. If I could learn it then, you can learn it now.” – Lisa Garza, Next Food Network Star, Season 4
Could you do it with four kids, all under the age of five, running around your kitchen area? Could you do it if the minute you started beating your yolks, a fight breaks out, or someone needs milk or a diaper change?
So how do you get past this one? Look for recipes that have easy starts and stops, or aren’t super time sensitive. For example, letting a quick bread dough rise for an extra fifteen minutes is no big deal, but having to stop whisking your hollandaise halfway through to grab someone a glass of milk? Now that could be a recipe killer.
Pick dishes where you can be “liberal” with measurements. You’ll know what these dishes are. Delicately flavored custards, souffles or sauces may need more precision, and attention than you can afford. Avoid these and stick to things that can probably make do with here and there measurements (e.g. 5 oz. package of Arugula is just as good as the 4 oz. that the recipe calls for).
Consider what cookware and prep-ware you own. This makes the largest difference. Trying to make mashed potatoes without a masher or a whip attachment on your kitchen aid mixer? Trying to roast a chicken without a rack? or ribbon zucchini without a mandolin? Sure there are work around options for all these things, but when you have to figure it out holding a baby on your hip, it will feel like hell. Just do yourself a favor and pick recipes for which you have all the cookware (or maybe, already know the shortcuts).
Do your prep, or your mis en place, whenever you have spare time. It’s easy to stop mid-chop, so when your kids are quiet and watching Dinosaur Train, or busy with ABC Mouse, go for it! I spent two weekday evenings chopping carrots, squash, and other veggies before we did any of the actual cooking on Thanksgiving day. That way, all we had to do was add marinades, arrange and roast for most of our veggies on Thursday afternoon.
Baking can be a nightmare because it’s so precise. There are few things I love more than baking. I even make my own swiss merengue buttercream. But not since I’ve had kids. Anything that is time sensitive is out of the question, so you can forget about figuring out the done-ness of your cake through the color, or exactly the right time to start streaming sugar syrup to make your bombe. Here’s an idea – write a recipe book of forgiving baking recipes you can do while you are watching kids. One that makes you feel better than just using Duncan Hines, and the result something that looks better than the everday frosted cupcakes and Michael’s decorations that come out of most mom’s kitchens. I’d buy it.
Bring on the music. This is something new I tried this year. Sonos* was kind enough to send over some wireless speakers and a 3 mo. Rhapsody account for me to enjoy while prepping and cooking Thanksgiving dinner. With the right playlist, your kids stay engaged and you get to sing along while you mash potatoes, tie up garlic knots, or roast your turkey. I’ll write more about this experience in a future post.*
Wishing all of you a happy Thanksgiving and the start of a fun holiday season.
Have Kids, Will Work
*Please note – the Sonos sound equipment was provided to me free of charge for my use and review.