This halting of normal life has left many of us at home with our kids. While in some ways this is stressful and chaotic (my kids are 3 years old and 6 months old, holy tamale hand me a glass of wine!), there are some silver linings.
There is time (nothing but time!) for some quality experiences together. Cooking is a wonderful way to pass the time while “social distancing”: It’s predictable; it’s fun; and always ends with something delicious. (Not to mention, it’s a great way to teach and learn. If you’re a parent at home with kids, check out our new Kitchen Classroom over at America’s Test Kitchen Kids!)
Cooking and baking are some of my favorite ways to bond with my daughter, Olive. She’s an, ahem, particular eater, and cooking is not only a fun thing to do together, it’s a way to inspire her to try new foods. Our first week home, we didn’t cook anything very new. But what we did make was special.
That Tuesday was Olive’s third birthday. We spent a solid chunk of that morning baking her birthday cake together. We used the Confetti Layer Cake recipe on the America’s Test Kitchen Kids website. And then we dyed the frosting bright pink. (I’m not sure how I’ve raised such a stereotypically girly girl, but Olive’s one true love is the color pink.) We used fondant that I purchased online to roll and then cut out a kitty to place on top—white for the face and hot pink for the eyes, nose, and whiskers. That evening we had a dozen of our family and close friends call into a Zoom video meeting to sing Happy Birthday and watch Olive blow out the candles. It is a strange time indeed. But Olive didn’t seem to mind. The next morning she asked: “Can we have birthdays every year?”
Julia Collin Davison
Executive Editorial Director and Host of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country
Mom to Marta, age 11
Marta and I cook a little something together everyday to help keep the boredom at bay. Mac and cheese and spaghetti with butter have both become a bit repetitive, so we changed it up today with pumpkin muffins. On the list for the next few days are pizza, German-style pretzels, and homemade Nutella. I’m going to surprise her with the Nutella—she's going to go nuts when I tell her!
Executive Food Editor, America’s Test Kitchen Kids
Mom to Aidan, age 14, and Chloe, age 10
The first few days of working from home, while helping our kids navigate being in school from home, were a roller coaster. Trying to find balance will continue to be a daily struggle, but three days into this new “normal,” we found that a cooking project each day (even if it is small, like a smoothie), is a wonderful break. Chloe, my 10-year-old daughter, likes to plan and make schedules. The at-home school day schedule is mapped out on her whiteboard. When I suggested we create time in her schedule for a cooking project each day, she was reluctant at first. However, by the end of the first Monday (which felt like a very, very long day) she had changed her mind. That night at 9pm we were in the kitchen starting Almost No-Knead Bread (which rests overnight)—this is the first time she has ever made bread. By Tuesday afternoon, she had made Cream Scones (with chocolate chips of course!) and had planned out baking projects for the next two weeks! Now the big problem is that we’re almost out of flour. So when the flour runs out hopefully we can add some savory cooking projects to her plan!
Executive Food Editor, Cook’s Country
Dad to Nolan, age 14, Layla, age 12, and Tanner, age 10
Cooking with the kids has been a (mostly) pleasant reprieve while working from home. Even if all three kids aren't involved in a particular cooking project, at least all three benefit when it comes time to enjoy the fruit of whomever's labor. Cook's Illustrated Chewy Brownies kicked off the first work-from-home week. It was our first time making them. We followed the recipe, but my daughter insisted on layering more chocolate chips throughout. They were honestly the best brownies I've ever had a hand in making. Very similar to the brownie chunks in Ben and Jerry's Half-Baked ice cream. (The kids and I did a side-by-side comparison, so we know.) The Almost-No Knead Bread, which took a day plus a few hours to prepare, was devoured in about 10 minutes, long before it had time to cool completely. Trust me, you can disregard the "cool completely" instructions in emergency situations. There was a yet-to-be-published Cook's Country recipe for ultra-moist, decidedly not cakey, banana bread that we ran through last night just to make sure it worked. It did, and was outstanding. I took stabs at developing recipes for choucroute garnie and braised oxtails and the kids helped with some of the knife work, measuring, and stirring. Braises are incredibly comforting. And today, we have Snickerdoodles on the docket, another upcoming Cook's Country recipe.
Food Stylist and Cook's Country Cast Member
Mom to Jackson, almost 3, and Willie, 8 months
My son Jackson and I made brown butter crispy rice cereal treats. OK, I did most of the work—but he gave them a thumb's up! You can watch us in action below.
Senior Editor, Books
Mom to Teo, age 12, and Luca, age 9
During our first week at home as a family, our 9-year-old Luca had a chance to work on perfecting a recipe that he came up with a few years ago—pizza dough balls stuffed with Bolognese sauce. He calls them "boño balls." (When Luca was a toddler and we lived in Spain, he pronounced the name of the sauce in Spanish (salsa boloñesa) "salsa boñolesa," so we've kept it up!) In the past, he would form pizza dough into ball shapes, make holes in them, and stuff each one with a spoonful of meat sauce. Then we'd bake them on a baking sheet.
We always enjoyed these boño balls, but sometimes they seemed too dried out, or the filling would ooze out of the dough and make a sticky mess on the baking sheet. A few days in to our time at home, we tried entirely new methods of shaping and baking: Luca rolled each dough piece into an oval shape, piled some filling at one end, folded the dough over the filling, and sealed it "like an empanada." Then we tucked all of the filled dough pieces into a springform cake pan (a baking dish would also have worked), topped them with beaten egg and sesame seeds, then baked them. The result was a beautifully shaped, moist, pull-apart loaf of boño balls. We served the separated pieces with pesto for dipping and a salad of cherry tomatoes, canned beans, and avocado.
Deputy Editor, Cook’s Illustrated
Mom to Nate, age 11
My 11-year-old son is currently going through a stage of not wanting to follow recipes. That's how, in the last couple of weeks, he has become my spice guru: When I want to jazz up a plain piece of fish, a slab of tofu, or a pile of veggies, I give him free rein on our spice cabinet, which has about 75 choices (and counting!). He sniffs and tastes his way through the collection to make his own unique blend, sometimes using an electric grinder to pulverize any whole spices; other times, a mortar and pestle is more fun. No matter what he comes up with, it's a chance for him to be creative and contribute to our family meal.