Saturday, 7 January 2012


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Since Amy was quite small we've been referring to a mythical golden age when she* will be old enough to cook dinner for the family on a regular basis. D and I have looked forward to that time because we won't have to shoulder all the cooking work, but also (and way more importantly) because I want Amy to be a part of the labour team that runs the household and gain confidence in herself to be able to run her own household some day.

By the time I left home I knew how to cook. I knew how to shop, budget and plan meals. I had a stable of things I knew how to cook by heart but also a collection of recipe books and the skill and desire to use them. I was by no means an excellent cook or a fancy cook but I could feed myself and my housemates wholesome and tasty meals for a reasonable price.

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I did not see cooking as an optional extra or a form of performance art. It was something I had been doing, in various forms at various levels since I was wee. In fact I was such a mummy's girl that one of my most favourite childhood places to be was on the kitchen bench helping mum to cook. And cook we did - from the daily loaf on up, my full time working mother made everything from scratch from a single weekly shop.

As I got older I positively enjoyed baking (it was getting to eat the results that did it), but I also had responsibilities to contribute to the family meals. I helped mum to shop and I picked our own home grown produce and I learned about produce and how to pick the best stuff, I top and tailed beans, stirred gravy on the stove and tossed salads. I also got home from school to notes about putting on the roast at a certain time or getting the vegetables ready.

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I was shocked to realise how many of my peers at school never cooked at all. A lot of my friends with stay at home or part time working mums came home from school to home baked afternoon tea delights and rarely if ever were put to work in the kitchen. When I was younger I was deeply envious but as I got older I was filled with gratitude. Understanding how to cook and feed a family in the routine and mundane way is something I am exceptionally pleased to not have to learn as an adult.

So, back to Amy. This is what I want her to have. To appreciate the work of proper old school cooking, to develop her understanding and skills and one day to leave home ready to provide for herself. While she's always been involved in baking and helping out the move to taking the lead was a whole new ballgame. I've bought her a few cookbooks - I started with ones aimed at kids but I find them pretty limited, with an emphasis on sweets, baking and processed ingredients, so more recently I've kept an eye out for the easy, quick, weeknight meal type books.

We started a year or so ago with the occasional mothers day or fathers day meals but at Christmas time Amy announced she wanted a regular weekly slot. We decided on a weekend night so there would be time to shop and prepare without rush. Last week she made risotto primavera and it was sensational, this week spanakopita.

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I find it really hard to teach and nurture her without getting too caught up in doing everything efficiently and well - it will be my ongoing challenge to hand over the reigns whilst still being supportive. I need to teach her more knife skills, and build her confidence with heat and somehow get her muscles going for handling big pots and pans - she's petite for her age and no match for the adult scale of kit. I also need to reinforce the lessons and tips she learns as she goes.

It was while mulling over some of these challenges that I came up with the idea of her blog posting her cooking. In writing down the recipes and steps she can relive the process and better cement it in her mind. She'll have a record to come back to if she wants to cook the same dish twice and I also thought she might gain a readership with some of my blog readers kids - maybe other households will take up the weekly kid cook challenge. I'm letting Amy post in her own words, as she wants, and if I feel the need to add anything I'll do it as a postscript at the end.

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Hi I am Amy and I cook dinner weekly and I am 9 years old. Here's something I made on the 7/1/12.
And here's the recipe for it:


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3 eggs

1 box of filo pastry

125gms melted butter

500gms cheese - feta and/or haloumi and/or ricotta

2 packets of frozen spinach

2 large onions

3 cloves of garlic



1. Dice both of the onions and finely cut garlic

2. Put garlic & onions in a pan over medium heat and cook without browning with a drizzle of oil
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3. Meanwhile crack all the eggs into large bowl [watch out for some shell]
4. Crumble cheese lightly over bowl with the eggs
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5. Drain spinach and leave over sink
6. Check on onion, if the onion is ready put it with cheese and eggs if not do this step later

7. Add spinach to the other ingredients and mix and mix

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8. After you have finished mixing get a square tin, filo pastry and the melted butter
9. Spread butter around the tin up the side and the bottom work quickly so that pastry won’t dry out
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10. Put a piece of pastry in the tin and spread butter all over fast, do it about 10 to 15 times then add the filling
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11. Then do the same as you did for the bottom by folding in the sheets that are hanging over the sides of the dish and brushing each one with butter
12. Put it in the oven at about 175 and clean up then wait till it is crispy
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serve with yoghurt or tomato and cucumber salad
hope you enjoyed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

by Amy

[Suzie's PS - we actually split our mix in two and made 2 smaller pies - one without spinach for the boy who won't eat green. We used a mixture of haloumi and feta cheese because we like the flavours - ricotta gives a milder taste if that's what you like. I also usually put a bunch of chopped spring onions and a handful of flat leaf parsley in - but we were cooking from what we had so we skipped these things. You can beef the meal up by serving with some steamed baby potatoes or rice and lentil pilaf, we had it with green beans from the garden with a bit of vinegar, pomegranate molasses and some chopped cherry tomatoes. This quantity made plenty for the 4 of us with enough left overs for lunch tomorrow - could have fed 6 adults. Next time Amy makes this I will encourage her to switch a few ingredients so she can explore changing recipes once she has the method down pat.]

Edited to add - as one commenter highlighted, this post gives the impression that all these expectations are placed on Amy and not Wil. And I just wanted to say this is absolutely not the case! When Wil is a little older he will be doing the same as she is now - but at 4 I don't think he's ready for kitchen resnsibility. He loves to help me bake and already shows a natural tendency for order and precision that bodes well for his cooking future, and he loves anything that involves following 'structions. And I fully intend to see him off in the world with all the capabilities in the home sphere that the girl child has and besides would I pass up the opportunity for 2 nights a week off cooking?!


Erica Spinks said...

Will you give your son the same cooking experience too?

Frogdancer said...

Good idea. My 15 year old has chosen food tech as an elective this year, so I'm looking forward to more help in the kitchen. He's a baker (loves to make gingerbread in particular) and has been helping me experiment with the thermomix, so this year his capabilities should really take off.

sooz said...

Erica, I most certainly will! Unlike his sister he has a natural flair for order and precision, but at 4 he's still too young for taking on more than a helping role or really learning much about technique. I also made this post very amy centric because it is about her cooking coming of age, not his. But thanks for highlighting the inadvertent message I have given that this is a girl thing - I will be editing the post right now!

Jules said...

Amy, this looks so awesome! Great work. And thanks for posting the recipe too- I'll be making it once we have our new oven! Hopefully I'll get to taste some of your cooking sometime ; )


Kate said...

Looks delicious Amy!
I have found the same problem with cookbooks for my girls, they want to cook, but cookbooks for children are not that inspiring and someone gave them the Junior Masterchef book which is the complete opposite so I am glad you are posting Amy's weekly cooking - it will give us lots of ideas.

MildlyCrafty said...

I don't think I did much cooking as a kid but I remember my sister doing a lot. She used to cook fancy dinner parties for my parents and their friends! So there's another bonus for you :)

Vic said...

Amy, your spanakopita looks superb, I'm glad you are learning all about cooking for your family & enjoying it so much; I look forward to more of your recipe posts - if a clever 7 year old can make something so yummy, then maybe, just maybe, there is some hope for a slightly cooking-averse 30 year old? ;)

Michelle said...

Amy - your meal looks fantastic! I started cooking at about 11 years old, and my younger brother was cooking around your age. We cooked once a week each. His specialty was chicken crepes, while mine was spaghetti casserole. I'm glad you're enjoying cooking!

Ali said...

Go Amy! Looks delicious. My Mum used to get me to do all the boring jobs in the kitchen, without the fun, fire stuff! Glad you are getting to do the lot.
Also you've made me realize it's high time I got my kids to help out a bit more in the kitchen. Lazy toads.

Natalia & Kee said...

Hi Amy. My name is Natalia. My twin sister (Kee) and I are 9 also. We live in Georgia (US). My mom showed us what you did. We think it's really cool that you can cook for your whole family. I really want to learn how to cook too!

nikkishell said...

Nice work Amy, it looks delicious!

As you already know Suzie, i have a little chef on my hands here who would happily make dinner every night. Her big and little sisters like to help too.

Esme has a few kids cookbooks she likes but she also likes to check out my collection of books and the internet too.
She will make her own shopping list of ingredients and sets off around the shop with her basket to collect everything she needs. She's can also get quite creative with recipes, changing ingredients, adding extras etc.
She tells me she wants to have her own restaurant when she grows up :)

Anonymous said...

And here I thought I started young! Age nine seems a good time to be a *helper*.

I started cooking for my family at age 12 and was scared to death when I made my first meal (not my choice—I was pushed into it by a mother who wanted a kitchen slave). I still remember that dish vividly.

My mother is an excellent cook, but she was demanding and particular about what I did in the kitchen and it led to lots of friction and tears. Nothing dampens a young cook's spirit more than being constantly corrected and nitpicked.

Fortunately, I went away to boarding school by age 15. For the next seven years, I lived on cafeteria food. It wasn't until I graduated from college that I cooked again. This time it was on my own terms and it was a lot more pleasurable.

I'm a professional food writer now and mom and I still bicker in the kitchen. (It turns out she can dish out advice, but she can't take it.)

A good book for young cooks is Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures. It was written when Rick Bayless' daughter was 12 years old. It's a cookbook-travelogue divided into regions of the world that the Bayless family has visited. You'll find Mexican recipes here, of course (that's what Bayless is famous for) as well as Peruvian, French, Morrocan, Italian, Thai, Japanese,and American recipes. You'll also learn a lot about the cuisines.

Each recipe contains headnotes written by both father and daughter and the book is peppered with "do this first" sidebars that offer good tips for beginners. There are also numerous information boxes scattered throughout. For example "5 Cool Things to Buy at a Mexican Grocery." The book has tons of photographs (all in color) and the majority of recipes are illustrated.

Rick Bayless has raised his daughter to have a sophisticated palate. This is not kiddie fare. It's a book that treats the reader with respect. (In fact, I often recommend this book to grownups.)

Recipes include: Tomatillo Chicken, Chocolate Cake, Poached Salmon with Irish Butter Sauce, Sticky Orange Butter Crepes, Moroccan Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad,Thai Red Curry with Duck, Chinese Hot Pot, Gougeres, Chicken in Mustard Sauce, Lime Zest Ice Cream with Mexican Caramel, Creamy Radish Leaf Soup, Shredded Beef Soft Tacos.

Ailsa said...

Amy, I am so impressed by your cooking. You are a great cook, and the spanokapita looks yum!
I am looking forward to seeing what you make next week.

Julie said...

Gd on you Amy. We were just given The Silver Spoon for Children, which has excellent clear instructions and helps children manage the logistics of the cooking, as well as the cooking itself. But looks like Amy may be beyond that level.

Ren said...

I love it, love it, love it, Sooz. When I was growing up, as soon as we were old enough, we were responsible for the family meal once a week. Mine was sunday dinner. I will be doing the same with my two boys when they're old enough.

And wow, Amy, your spanakopita looks delish. I can smell it and taste it all the way here on my computer. It's given me a great idea for our dinner tonight. Thanks!

red in oz said...

I'm another who started cooking meals around your age Amy, I hope you enjoy it, I loved it and used to cook when I got home from school in the evenings from when I was about 13 for pocket money (my mum didn't want me to get a paper round). It's a great skill to have, especially when you learn to cook a full meal when everyone else says that the fridge/cupboards are 'empty' and you can make something delicious appear like magic.

I'd love to hear about your favourite cookery books one day as my two little girls like cooking, although they are still only little and I'm always looking for ideas for things that they can cook with me, and hopefully learn to cook by themselves in a few years time.