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Kids can cook!

Junior cook tip: find a guide. The internet is packed with lists and charts of age-appropriate cooking tasks. But remember, they are rough guides. All kids have different temperaments, maturity levels and dexterity, so use your judgment on what cooking tasks the child in your life can tackle. Pictured here: Nicole Esco and daughter Addi, age 6, of Wetumpka, baking Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cupcakes.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY  | FOOD/PHOTOGRAPHY BY BROOKE ECHOLS

Ask any chefs and avid home cooks you know when they first got interested in cooking, and there’s a good chance more than a few will tell you it was at a young age. Maybe it started as hanging around to sneak a spoonful of pie filling or hoping for permission to lick icing-coated beaters. Maybe they wanted to spend more time with their mom or nana or some other beloved relative. Whatever drew them to it, once they knew just a little, they wanted to learn more.

     Getting your kids in the kitchen is a great way to spend more quality time with them, time away from a screen of some sort. It offers the chance to pass along family recipes, share memories and make new ones. You can teach them about nutrition. You can augment the things they’re learning in school; your kitchen will become an interactive science and math lab, turning abstract concepts into applications they can eat.

     Once picky eaters see and understand what goes into a dish, they’re more likely to try (and like) new foods. And you’re teaching them a practical skill that will come in handy when they set off on their own. Plus, as they get more and more proficient, you gain a willing and helpful hand come dinnertime.

     When it comes to imparting kitchen wisdom, it’s best to start simple. Try a selection from this handy dandy roundup of kid-friendly, more “bite-size” recipes submitted by our younger readers. They’re just right for your budding junior cook’s beginner lessons.


Junior Cook of the Month:

Ella Grace Stapleton, Baldwin EMC

Ella Grace Stapleton, age 12, learned to cook from her dad, who owns a catering company. While she loves to bake sweets like cookies and brownies, she also loves the Stuffed Shells recipe she submitted. “I like it because it is so cheesy and creamy and because you can add or delete different things in the filling,” she said “I’ve had some versions with bell peppers, and I don’t like them, so I leave that out.” She enjoys eating her creations, but she’s also proud to be a help to her mom. “Sometimes my mom works late, and so I cook dinner for us, and I like being able to take that off her plate,” she said. She encourages other kids to get in the kitchen for the same reasons. “You can do it, and then you can be a help for your parents. Plus, it’s fun.”

 

 

Stuffed Shells

  • 1 package of jumbo stuff-able pasta shells
  • 1 jar of marinara sauce
  • ½ teaspoon of pepper
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon of onion powder
  • 30 ounces of ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups of mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 eggs

Before you start to do anything, make sure that you steam the shells completely. Turn your oven on 375 degrees so that it can heat up while you are mixing. Mix pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, ricotta cheese, eggs and 2 cups of mozzarella cheese well before piping in the shells. Place your mixed ingredients in a Ziploc bag, and cut a hole in one of the bottom corners of your bag so your ingredients can enter the steamed shell easily. Seal the bag and then gently squeeze the filling out of the corner hole into the steamed shells. After stuffing the shells, you must get a pan that all your shells will fit in. Spray the bottom of the pan with canola oil spray so that the shells will not stick. After you apply the oil, cover the bottom of the pan with marinara sauce (usually about ½ of the jar), but make sure that you still have enough to apply to the top. Add your shells into your pan and cover the top with the other half of the sauce. Now add 1 cup of mozzarella on top of the sauce. Before you place in the oven, be sure to cover with aluminum foil.  After you place in the oven set a timer for 50 minutes. When 50 minutes is over, remove foil and place back in the oven for 10 more minutes. When 10 minutes is over, take it out of the oven and be wowed.


Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 13/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup dark cocoa
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 to 1 cup boiling water
  • Marshmallow Frosting:
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-3 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (198 g) container of marshmallow fluff
  • Salt, to taste

Caramel Sauce:

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

Cupcakes:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with cupcake liners. In a large mixer bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for three minutes. Stir in boiling water by hand (batter will be thin). (NOTE: I prefer using in between 3/4 cup and 1 cup of boiling water just until it is perfect to my eye.) Pour into cupcake pan. Because they have a tendency to overflow, fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake 18-20 min. Cool 10 min; remove from pan to wire racks.

Frosting:

Sift powdered sugar and set aside. In a mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. You’ll have to scrape the sides of the bowl several times. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Add the vanilla and heavy cream and beat until smooth. Beat in the marshmallow fluff until smooth.

Caramel Sauce:

Mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes, until it gets thicker. Add the vanilla and turn off the heat, cool slightly and pour the sauce into jar.

Assemble:

Pipe icing on top of cupcakes. Drizzle on caramel sauce and you can put a pretzel on top.

Sarah Camp

Coosa Valley EC


Southern Pralines

  • 2 cups sucanat (sugar cane natural sweetener– a natural alternative to brown sugar)
  • 2 cups pecans (chopped or whole)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, plus extra to butter wax paper
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Roast the pecans by pouring them on a pan and placing the pan in the oven. Once the pecans are in the oven, turn the oven on to 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Combine sucanat, roasted pecans, butter and water in a pot and stir until sucanat has partially dissolved. Cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 240 degrees (soft ball) on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat; add vanilla. Stir until mixture thickens and loses some of its gloss. Drop immediately onto buttered wax paper. After pralines have cooled, wrap them in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container. Makes about 18 pralines. NOTE: Be sure to use buttered wax paper. The wax paper helps to lift the pralines after they are hardened, and the butter helps them not to stick to the wax paper. Optional: Brown sugar can be used in the place of sucanat.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Working with cooking sugar can be tricky. It can bubble and pop and really burn, so we suggest this recipe for older and/or intermediate kid cooks.

Kathryn Tipton

South Alabama EC


Ethan’s Banana Cake

  • 1 butter cake mix
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted in butter and chopped
  • 2-3 ripe bananas, mashed

Mix the cake mix according to box instructions. Add the bananas and pecans. Pour batter into a well greased and floured 13×9-inch dish. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out clean. While warm, pour on glaze.

Glaze:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1/8 cup water (2 tablespoons)

In a small saucepan, boil all ingredients for 3 minutes. Pour over warm cake in pan.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Working with cooking sugar can be tricky. It can bubble and pop and really burn, so we suggest this recipe for older and/or intermediate kid cooks.

Ethan George, age 12

Marshall-DeKalb EC


Tucker’s Potato Soup

  • 3-4 large potatoes, washed
  • 1 32-ounce carton chicken broth
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • ¼ cup of real bacon bits

Pour broth into large pot and bring to a boil. Chop potatoes and add to broth. (Peeling potatoes is optional.) Cook until potatoes are soft. Add cheese to melt. Sprinkle bacon bits on top.

Tucker Eason, age 8

Tallapoosa River EC


Baked Oatmeal

  • 2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 egg

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Spread mixture in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until it is set. Cut into squares and serve warm topped with milk. The mixture will be crumbly. It makes a great breakfast.

Sierra Joachim, age 15

South Alabama EC


Peanut Butter Blender Muffin

  • 1 medium banana
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup peanut butter (almond butter may be substituted)
  • 5/8 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put all ingredients in blender, except for chocolate chips, and blend well. Grease muffin pan or use cupcake liners. Fill muffin cups about 1/3 full of batter then sprinkle chocolate chips on the top of each muffin. Stir each muffin gently with a toothpick just enough to incorporate chocolate chips. Bake for 14 minutes. Makes 12 regular size muffins (or 24 mini muffins).

Anna Catherine Douglas

Arab EC


Coming up in June… Heirloom Recipes!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

July: Frozen Treats | May. 8

August: Corn | June 8

September: BBQ | July 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.