Sunday, December 5, 2010

cooking for kids

I fancy myself a cook, and I've made some pretty cool stuff in the last few years, but the challenge ahead is going to call for a different set of skills in the kitchen.  Fortunately, I think I have stumbled onto some wisdom that will help out:

Kids eat like college aged boys.

Minus the booze, it seems that kids like all the same stuff that my buddies and I lived on in college.  Chicken fingers?  check.  Pizza?  check.  Frozen stuff?  check.  Mac and Cheese?  double check.

I'm not suggesting that I'm going to feed my child as though he's a freshman at the U, but I am saying that at least in a pinch I'm going to have some options to fall back on.  So here, in this space, I hope to catalog a few ideas for kiddie cooking, and then hopefully get back to thinking about, creating, and eating some grown-up nosh as well.

So, my first recommendation is for a piece of equipment that will serve you well, and a couple of things it is great for:

Get yourself a cast iron pan (or two).  Don't spend too much on it, because I suspect there's not too much difference from one to the next.  And get one that's at least 7" or 8" across, and moderately larger if you like.  Later on I'll write a post with some insights on how to take care of your pan, but for now and in brief - don't use soap on it and don't let it stand with water on it.  Normally a dry paper towel can wipe the pan out, and a little light cooking oil will keep it rust free.

So, this morning I used my pan to make...pancakes.  One tough thing about cast iron is that if you get it too hot, it will stay hot for a while.  A great thing about cast iron is that when you get it hot, it stays hot for a while.  Sometimes life brings you good and bad at the same time.  Enjoy it!

We bought some generic, clear, plastic squeeze bottles at Chef Mart with the idea of using some for homemade condiments at parties, but I also had a secret plan to try one to make designer pancakes someday.  I wish I could claim this idea was original to me, but I had some inspiration.  Anyway, our kid isn't here yet and he won't be ready to eat pancakes for a while, but I thought this morning would be a good chance to practice.

The wife enjoyed what I made, but the artistic part will take some work.  Maybe next time I'll shoot some video of the 'cakes making in action.

The other thing that I use the cast iron pan for on a regular basis is freezer food.  I'm talking about all that stuff in the frozen food aisle that tastes great but is probably not the best stuff to eat:  chicken nuggets, fish sticks, tater tots, french fries...  Most of these foods are flash fried in some industrial kitchen, cooked just long enough to make some breading stick to them, then they are frozen and shipped to your local supermercado.

I practically lived on this junk when I was a kid (my parents loved me and tried to get me to eat "real" food but I was a bastard about it).  I've cooked this kind of stuff every different way, from the microwave, to refrying in oil, to the toaster oven, etc...But what I've found to be the best option involves the old cast iron pan.

What you do is preheat the oven per the instructions on the box (normally somewhere between 350F and 425F), and you stick the pan in the oven while it's preheating.  *NOTE* Cast iron pans get hot.  Very hot.  And they retain the heat for a long time.  Be careful when handling one of these pans when it has been exposed to heat for any amount of time.  The handles get super hot too.***

When the over reaches the target temp, get the pan out and close the oven door.  Dump in the freezer food serving you want to cook, trying to spread it more or less evenly around the surface of the pan, and get the pan back in the oven.  Around halfway through the instructed cooking time, take the pan out and either shake the contents around a little or flip them with a spatula, and back into the oven for the remainder of the time (I normally flip mine a little before halfway, for a couple of reasons.  Not all ovens cook at the same temp, and this cast iron pan method can speed up the browning action on the pan side, so I like to check the progress a little less than halfway through to manage the overall cooking time for doneness.)

One of the primary benefits to using the pan in this way is that it makes the food a little more crispy by searing the sides touching the pan.  You don't have to use any oil, but the food comes out crispier than just baking, and definitely crispier than you can get in the microwave.


  1. Oh deltaromeowhiskey. The whole POINT of making easy food for kids is that it's EASY!!! As in no cast-iron pot to clean and oil and wait to cool down. A foil lined baking sheet is my best friend. But I do appreciate that you are prepared for the fact that kids hate all the food you try to get them to eat. It takes most parents a LONG time (I'm still fighting it) to realize that it's easier to just give in sometimes and let them eat fish sticks. You're ahead of the game.

    And can I just say that R and I have been married for 3.5 years and I'm still trying to convince him that there is some cooking equipment that cannot be washed with soap -- my wooden salad bowl, wok, etc. When I say this to him I can actually see his brain grinding to a halt as his entire schemata is re-programmed.

  2. Thanks, Jessica, for your "voice of experience" comment. But maybe there was something not explicit in my post that would help here...I will very likely be eating the fish sticks along with little DRW and I like my freezer food crispy! =)

    Also, if you get the pan hot enough, and wipe it out soon enough after the cooking, there's no need to wash it anyway.

    Thanks for reading - I had no idea my audience had doubled in size.

  3. Your point is well taken. My kids have beaten me down to the point that I just eat my soggy fish sticks :(