Posts Tagged ‘ cooking with kids ’

Cakes with a Surprise Inside

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Self-taught baker, blogger, and mother of five Amanda Rettke created her first surprise-inside cake four years ago. Since then, she has crafted countless confections that reveal rainbow hearts, butterflies, balloons, and even houses (!). The busy baker also homeschools her children, writes for FoodNetwork.com, and recently released her debut book, Surprise-Inside Cakes. Amanda’s recipes range from simple to intricate, so you can recreate her inventive designs no matter your level of kitchen experience. Read on for her tips for whipping up better-than-the-bakery desserts—it’s a piece of cake!

You were first inspired to bake a surprise-inside cake while preparing for a potluck. Where in the world did this idea come from?

To put it simply, I wanted to bring something completely different. It was Halloween and I knew everyone would have run-of-the-mill seasonal desserts. I knew I could make a pumpkin-shaped cake, but that wasn’t unique enough. When I saw a few white cupcakes sitting on my counter, the idea just hit me: pop them inside, in the shape of a candle. Honestly, I was shocked that it worked. And, ironically, that cake never made it to the potluck—we ate the entire thing at home!

And you had never done this before?

That’s right. In the kitchen, I had no formal—or even informal—training whatsoever. In fact, my husband did all the cooking when we first got married. So I had to teach myself everything. I was so terrible that the first time I tried to make a cake that I forgot to add some of the wet ingredients. Whoops!

So what’s the process like in creating one of these confections?

I use three general techniques. The first is deconstruction, when I stack multiple layers, cut shapes out, and fill in the holes with another piece of cake or a cake mixture [Rainbow Cake, page 41]. The second is batter manipulation, where I place different colored batters into the pan in a specific pattern [Leopard Cake, page 109]. And then there’s the twice-bake method [Candle Rose Cake, page 131], where I stick hand-molded cake shapes into new batter.

Okay, you’ve got me hooked. How do I begin?

Twice-baked is where to start. Cut a design from a sheet cake (like the hearts in my Candle Rose Cake) and place it in a clean cake pan. Then surround your shapes with cake batter, which acts as insulation and keeps everything moist.

 

 

And once I’ve mastered the twice-baked method, what’s next?

Move on to a layer cake. It seems simple, but it really does challenge your cutting, leveling, and frosting skills. Plus you’ll learn how to physically handle a cake and, in turn, build a strong comfort level required to move forward with other designs.

That’s easy enough. But with the other, more intricate cakes, it seems there is a lot of measuring and geometry involved…

Actually, there are only a few cakes that I’ve measured beforehand. Most others require such a trial and error process that I typically just get right into it: I dig in, cut out shapes, and add new colors and textures. To me, cake is a form of art.

With all this creativity, do your kids like to join in on the fun?

This is one of the best things you can with your kids. For my kids, the idea of making a cake and then playing with it is thrilling. I’ve also found ways to incorporate baking into home-school lessons: measuring, cutting, and building three-dimensional designs.

I can see beginners (like myself) getting frustrated when their cakes aren’t executed perfectly. Did this happen to you? How did you overcome it?

I’ve had more failures than successes by far, yet we’ve always found a way to hide the evidence … haha. But in all seriousness, I had more than 60 cakes that didn’t make it into the book. Because I’ll have an idea that I then try to create and it turns out nothing like it’s supposed to. For an important event, practice making your cake at least once ahead of time. Get a sense of what you need to improve on when you go to polish the final product before the big day. The plus side is that no matter what the result, you get to eat cake!

One of my favorite lines from the introduction is: “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be appreciated.” What does this mean to you?

You know, I really believe that mantra applies to all avenues of life, but especially with baking. There is a great debate between using boxed mixes and from-scratch recipes, but I just can’t embrace choosing sides. In my opinion the same amount of love goes into both. No one cares if you jazzed-up a store-bought treat or if your homemade cake slides halfway off in the car on the way there. When people bake and share their creations, they are simply spreading joy.

Where do you find the time to “practice, practice, practice,” as you advise, while balancing a high-traffic blog and busy family life?

The truth is everything doesn’t stay balanced. A typical day for me: We eat breakfast together as a family, and then the kids and I start school—sometimes that includes me holding a screaming baby, or changing a dirty diaper. Each day can be a struggle just as much as it can be a blessing. I can’t strive for perfection, but I do strive to make it through my day with peace. To us, the things that matter most are learning something at the end of every day, and figuring out how to be better the next.

Want more ideas? Try one of our super-simple birthday cakes.

 

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Images by Susan Powers; published with permission from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher.

Quick Cake Decorating Techniques: How-To Video
Quick Cake Decorating Techniques: How-To Video
Quick Cake Decorating Techniques: How-To Video

 

Add a Comment

Eating in Color: Helping Kids Love Fruits and Vegetables

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014


Frances Largeman-Roth is a registered dietician, author of four cookbooks, and a mom of two—with a third on the way. A health expert who has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, and the Today Show, she has helped thousands of women find the best foods during pregnancy, lose weight the right way, and incorporate healthier meals into their lives. Her latest book, Eating in Color, hits bookstores this month so we asked her how to add pops of color to our dinner plates and why it’s so important.

This book is entirely about fruits and vegetables—when they’re in season, how to choose them, how to store them, and, of course, how to use them. I have to ask: which is your favorite?

Mangos! When I spent a semester abroad in Australia, I learned how to cut them properly and incorporate them into many dishes. There are two seasons there: fall/winter and spring/summer, so you get different varieties.

You write about a study that found only 30 percent of Americans are getting the recommended 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day. Why is improving this statistic important to you?

My father passed away when I was 12. He had all the things that we now understand as warning signs for heart disease and diabetes. We just didn’t know it at the time. Growing up we ate fruits and vegetables, but with my mom’s German background there was also a lot of cured meats and pastries. Now that I’m a parent I understand that moms and dads are super busy, aren’t getting enough sleep, and are more stressed than ever. Because of that, convenience often outweighs nutrition. But this book is about eating better in a fun and visual way.

Tell us more about the five rules you created: eat color often, don’t be monochrome, go outside your comfort zone, make dates with your kitchen, and exercise.

I wanted to explain to readers how they can actually attain this lifestyle and not just admire beautiful images of fruits and veggies. I wanted to connect the message and explain the execution. Sure, everyone is crazy about kale right now, but you can’t just rely on that one super-healthy thing. Plus, trying new things is essential to your health. We all get stuck in ruts with the same go-to recipes or takeout dishes. Pushing out of your comfort zone, though it may take more time and planning, is worth it! And eventually a new recipe will become part of your repertoire. And getting active just has to be part of it.

You describe nutrition not just as a career choice but a life path. How can families make this a priority in their life while balancing their often-crazy schedules?

When you’re rushing home from work to pick up your kids to then rush home to cook something up for them, it’s easy to rely on processed food. But if you can spend time in the morning or on Sunday, you can make so much happen! Simply put it into your calendar to “chop veggies.”

A trip to a farmers market is a great way to get inspired and it’s really fun for your kids. It exposes them to new sights and tastes. You can do something similar at the grocery store because there’s always something new in season. Just the other day I saw a beautiful dragon fruit that turned into an entire lesson: I asked my daughter where it came from, what color it would be inside, how the rough and scaly texture looked and felt. The bottom line: What kid wouldn’t want to try a super-bright pink fruit? This is such an easy way to dive in.

When your daughter Willa was learning colors in school, you offered her “reds, oranges, and greens” instead of “beets, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.” How did changing your food vocabulary help?

It sounds like such a small idea, but it made everything much less frustrating at the dinner table. I completely understand that from the parents’ perspective, trying to get your child to try one item 15 to 20 times is just too many. By the tenth try, you’ve wasted too much food and energy. Instead, go into it with a no-stress mentality. Just put a new food on the table and see what happens. Remember: sometimes kids are simply exerting independence when they are picky about dinner. If you take the pressure off both them and yourself, much of it can be resolved. This doesn’t mean your kids will eat and love everything, but it helps them try new things.

I like to display fruits and veggies in little bowls and in compartmental kids’ plates. I often ask them, “How many colors we can get on our plates tonight?” My two can get a bit competitive with each other, which can help on the dinner-table front.


Some families have super-picky eaters. What else can they do to make the introduction of new foods easier or more appealing?

Let your child have some control. During a trip to the farmers market or grocery store, ask him or her to pick out produce by color—one yellow and one red. Depending on your child’s age, have him or her pick out a recipe and then make it with them. I can guarantee that because they had a hand in it, your children will be more willing to try it.

Just remember that it takes patience. Kids can love something one time and hate it the next. (And vice versa.) But don’t ever stop offering! Their tastes are constantly changing. Or, like in my daughter’s case, their siblings can be influential. When she saw her brother eating avocado, she wanted some.

Don’t cater to “kid food.” The more you offer tater tots and chicken nuggets, the less your children will try the other things. I’m a big advocate of the family meal. Sure, you can have back-ups on hand, but you are not a short-order cook.

Your recipes run the gamut from meals, sides, and snacks to drinks and desserts. Why so much variety?

I wanted to show that fruits and vegetables have a place in everything. When I first started working on the book, I made a list of my chapters. I always knew it would be organized by color. So I started asking myself tough questions like “Besides a pie or crumble, what else can I do with rhubarb?” I approached recipes from outside the box.

You also added a black and tan chapter—including grains, seeds, nuts, and oats. (And my favorite: chocolate!) Why are these are just as important?

I think of the black and tan chapter as the items you pair with all of the other colors. It’s your base layer. To me, these items are a great way to bring in a lot of texture to your dishes.

Okay, we want the scoop. What’s your go-to when you’re in a pinch?

We have pasta often because it’s very versatile. I personally like to make roasted veggies on the side. I use whatever’s in season—butternut squash, sugar snap peas, purple onion, baby carrots, zucchini, cherry tomatoes. Creating a mix is best! We always have grated Parmesan in the fridge so a spaghetti dish can be done in 15 minutes.


Interview has been edited and condensed.

Author photo by Quentin Bacon.


To help get your little one on board with fruits and vegetables, Elmo and Murray told Parents their favorite snacks:

Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating
Sesame Street Lessons: Healthy Eating

 

Add a Comment

Traditional Christmas Cake, French-Style

Friday, December 20th, 2013

To me, French is the most beautiful language. It floats like a cloud and feels romantic. It’s the language of love. In high school, I worked my butt off to become proficient, taking honors-level classes, joining French club, and even becoming a teacher’s aid. I had dreams of keeping it in my daily life and raising bilingual children. Unfortunately, like a flower, language is delicate and must be tended everyday in order to flourish. When I got to college, my schedule doubled and I didn’t hold a single conversation en français.

Enter the French Institute Alliance Français (FIAF), a non-profit organization in New York City that promotes cross-cultural dialogue for children and adults alike. One of the largest and most respected centers of French-American activities in the U.S., FIAF offers art and education workshops for families.

Last Saturday, I tagged along to FIAF’s holiday bûche de Noël cooking class, where kiddos spoke elementary-level French to their moms and dads—c’est manifique!—while slathering layers of sponge cake with rich chocolate icing (and tons of red and green candies). Taught by Sylvie Berger, a chef raised in Paris, the class fully immersed children in the French language and was sprinkled with bits of English.

The bûche de Noël (“Christmas log,” or “Yule Log”) is a rolled sponge cake filled with buttercream and traditionally decorated with meringue mushrooms, marzipan holly, and wood-grain scored frosting. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Celtic celebrations of the winter solstice, but French pastry chefs popularized the confection in the 19th century and each bakery became known for its unique and elaborate embellishments. Today, few French people celebrate Christmas without one of these cakes.

Though messy, making the baby bûche was a blast! Take a look at my mini how-to video (click the play button), then make your own Christmas cake using one of the recipes below.

 

BAKE A BÛCHE!

 

Want more? Check out these recipes for easy holiday treats!

Add a Comment

Whole Grains for the Whole Family

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Rye BreadKids (and parents!) need whole grains all year round, and autumn is the perfect time to incorporate these nourishing ingredients into your family meal plan. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children consume at least 2 to 3 servings of whole grain daily. In addition to lowering the risk of many chronic diseases, fiber-rich whole grains have been proven to keep you feeling full for longer, so you’ll eat less and feel energized all day long. There are plenty of fun ways to get kids eating nutritious and tasty meals, so what are you waiting for?

We spoke with Karen Mansur, program manager of the Whole Grains Council about how to help your family make the switch to whole grains. Here are a few of her tips:

1. Host a family taste test

Make three different whole grain pastas (brown rice, whole wheat and quinoa are some popular possibilities) and vote on the family favorite. Next time you make pasta, use the newly crowned whole grain favorite. Do the same with breads, cereals, pancakes mixes, etc. until you’ve switched out all of the classic meal components with whole grain options. And if your picky eater just does not like one particular grain, don’t worry—there are plenty of others to choose from.

2. Cook whole grains together

“Studies show that cooking with children encourages them to be more adventurous with flavors and textures,” Mansur says. Little ones can help out with simple tasks like measuring and stirring. “Getting their help in the kitchen also creates a bonding opportunity and best of all, teaches an appreciation for the effort required to put together a meal,” Mansur adds.

Here are some easy recipes that incorporate whole grains:

You can also adapt your current recipes by simple substitutions like switching from white to brown rice, or by replacing half the white flour with whole wheat flour for foods like cookies and quick breads.

3. Pack healthy lunches for school (or work)

Switch out potato chips for popcorn, make trail mix by combining whole grain cereal with dried fruit or nuts, or select an oatmeal cookie for dessert. Best of all, the whole grains will help kids stay full and focused for the rest of the school day.

4. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp

If you’re having trouble locating whole grains at the grocery store, just look for the Whole Grain Stamp. Food packages with more than a half serving of whole grains are eligible for the black and gold seal, making it easy for shoppers to identify nutritious options.

Image: Various rye bread via Shutterstock.

Add a Comment

Win a Cooking Lesson with Celebrity Chef Cat Cora

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Cat Cora

Cooking with your kids is a great way to teach them about the importance of healthy eating, but we know it’s not always easy to find the time and energy to do so.

Which is exactly why you and your child should enter Loukoumi’s Secret Ingredient Recipe Contest! The contest is part of the release of Nick Katsoris’s latest book, Loukoumi’s Celebrity Cookbook (which we’ve already raved about). Children between the ages of 4 and 12 simply submit their favorite recipe and why they love it in 10 words or less. One child will win a private cooking lesson with celebrity chef Cat Cora.

The contest is accepting submissions until March 1. Download the contest entry form and enter today!

Read more about Cat Cora on Parents.com:

Image of Cat Cora courtesy of Nick Katsoris
Add a Comment

Got a Food Question? Ask Chef Britt Kurent!

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Britt Kurent

True story: The other night I was on the phone with a friend at 11 p.m. when she had to put me on hold to answer the door. Her late night visitor? A deliveryman dropping off cookies for a bake sale at her child’s school the next day.

My friend is a busy working mom and didn’t have time to bake something herself (and is lucky enough to live in a city that delivers any type of food at any time of day). But what if there was no magical late-night deliveryman? What could she have whipped up with little effort in such a short period of time?

It’s a perfect question for Chef Britt Kurent. Trained at The Institute of Culinary Education, Kurent is founder and owner of Kurent Events, a catering company in New York City. She and her team cater everything from backyard BBQs to sophisticated weddings. Kurent was even a contestant on the hit Bravo show, Rocco’s Dinner Party.

And now she’s ready to help you! Kurent wants to answer your questions about food, cooking, and party planning. Hosting a party for kids and adults and clueless on what to serve to make everyone happy? Dying to learn how to stop burning every batch of cookies you make? Got an upcoming bake sale? Kurent has tips and suggestions for all of these questions and more.

Leave a question for Kurent in the comments section!

Add a Comment

Can’t Stop Thinking About Cupcakes

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

I’m finding it hard to focus at the moment. Not just because it’s Monday morning but because I’ve just spent some time on Nicole Friday’s site, The Cupcake Craze, and all I can think right now is Must…have…chocolate souffle cupcake…)

Like me, Nicole is a mom of two children, ages 6 and 3, who lives in New Jersey. (Those are her boys, Ellis and Edison, at right.) But unlike me, she’s a fabulous baker with her own catering business–just check out the slideshow of scrumptious desserts she’s created. I asked her to share some of her best baking-with-kids tips, and she happily obliged:

1. What’s a home-run flavor combo for kids?

Oreo Cookies & Cream is definitely a hit!  Anything chocolate works with kids, especially a supersize cupcake—chocolate cake with cookies & cream frosting and topped with an Oreo cookie. Simply irresistible!

2. How old were your boys when you started baking with them?

Ellis was 2 (he’s now 3 ½) ; Edison was 3 (now 6).

3. Any fun kitchen missteps you can share?

Oh yeah. Edison added a bowl of eggs–including the shells–to the batter and turned on the mixer. There was no picking out those shells—another batch into the garbage!  Another time, I had cupcakes for an event resting on the counter and Ellis, who was 2 at the time, stuck his fingers in all the cupcakes. (Luckily I made it to the event with  a new batch of “hole-less” cupcakes.)

4. What’s the best task for little ones brand-new to the kitchen?

The key is to start off small,  doing pretty much anything that doesn’t involve fire or hot or sharp things. So you can try beating eggs, adding and mixing pre-measured ingredients, licking the bowls clean. That’s a popular one.

5. Do you have favorite gadgets for kids?

Use a mini ice-cream scooper to fill the liners and a plastic spoon to spread the frosting (though fingers work too!). The picture above shows my boys doing just that.

6. Is there any such thing as a “healthy cupcake” that kids will love?

Yes. It’s all about the ingredients and the size:  I choose mini-cupcakes and sneak veggies and “good stuff” into my cupcakes all the time, especially when my kids are on a veggie strike.  Some ideas and healthier choices include:  applesauce, carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, raisins, cranberries, apples, blueberries, strawberries, bananas.  Instead of butter, use canola oil; opt for white-whole wheat flour or whole-wheat flour; use non-fat ingredients such as sour cream, buttermilk, and cream cheese. You can even skip the frosting and dust with powdered sugar.

7.  Care to share a recipe?

Here you go!

Candied-Yamberry Cupcakes by Nicole Friday

Yield: 24 mini cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 pound (2 medium) sweet potatoes

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon coarse salt

1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ cup canola oil

¼ cup sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¼ cup applesauce

¼ cup dried cranberries

½ teaspoon orange zest

Preparation:

  1. Boil sweet potatoes over medium-high heat until the center is soft and the skin begins to peel.  Remove from water, set aside and let cool.  When cool enough to handle, scrape skin from the potatoes and mash until smooth.
  2. Preheat oven 350°F.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Set aside.
  3. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, applesauce and sweet potatoes.  Reduce speed: add flour mixture.  Stir in cranberries by hand, until combined.
  4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups filling three-quarters full.  Bake approximately 25-30 minutes, rotating pans halfway through and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Transfer pans to rack or counter to cool before removing cupcakes.
  5. To finish, top cupcakes with mini-marshmallows mounds.  Using a small kitchen torch, brown marshmallows all over and enjoy!

(Note from Nicole: If you don’t have a torch, use the broiler. Works magically–just keep a close watch, otherwise you’ll have super-toasted marshmallows. Or take the no-frosting route and just dust the cupcakes with powdered sugar. Still yummy!)

 

 

Add a Comment