As I mentioned recently, my 9 year old loves to watch cooking challenge shows. That was why he recently convinced his Dad to eat a massive steak when we were on vacation as it was a challenge the restaurant ran. That was down to those competitive eating shows. He also watches shows where the contestants are given a box of random ingredients from which they have to concoct a superbly delicious and delectably presented meal. He asked if he and his brothers could have a try at doing the same thing. Who am I to stand in the way of culinary creativity? However, given they have limited experience in the kitchen, I decided it was best to steer clear of savoury ingredients for now and let them work on creating desserts.
What was a cooking challenge for them was a control freakery challenge for me.
Phase 1 was to take them shopping for the ingredients. I promised myself that, aside from stopping them going crazily over budget, I would let them buy whatever ingredients for the box of options as they saw fit. It started really well. They chose some dried cranberries, prunes and dates – all things they have seen and helped me bake with. But then in the bakery aisle, they reached for a bright blue cake mix. I gulped and went to say something, almost reached out to snatch it from their mitts and place it back on the shelf, but I had a word with myself and let them plonk it into the trolley (cart). That blue cake mix seemed to taunt me from the bottom of the trolley. This was not going to be easy. Then they decided to pick some frosting. My youngest son, a total chocoholic, reached for a chocolate fudgey type one. “No,” I said. “I really don’t think that is going to go with the dried fruit you picked out.” My 13 year old tsked at me and reminded me that I had said I would neither guide them or interfere with their choices. OK. Lips sealed – but pursed – I let them continue. The chocolate fudge frosting was not selected. Instead they picked out a lemon frosting. I managed to say nothing. How is that for self-control? Then there were sprinkles and jelly (jello) and all sorts going into the trolley. Still I said nothing. We went through the checkout. I had not made them put back a single item. I gave myself a mental high five.
So then the challenge was theirs. They made up the cake mix according to the box instructions and made the jelly. Once that was all ready, all the ingredients they had selected at the store, plus a few things we had in the larder cupboards, were set out on the kitchen counter and I left them to it. I had to leave them to it because, you know, control freakery. About an hour later they ushered me into the kitchen to show me their creations. The kitchen was utter carnage. It felt like every mixing bowl, spoon, and spatula had been used. There were sprinkles all over the floor. All. Over. But their faces were beaming with delight and that was the important thing.
That evening, for dessert, Mr Pict and I got to taste test each of their random dessert creations. The sugar high was pretty intense and lemon frosting and blue sponge cake were an interesting combination as was biting into cake and squelching into a jelly layer. We were nevertheless entirely positive and encouraging in our critiques. The best part of this challenge was that the boys’ confidence in the kitchen had grown. By creating something edible without any adult guidance whatsoever they realised that they were capable of doing more in the kitchen than they thought they were.
Now they want to do a savoury food version. I might just have to retain some control over the ingredients for that one though.