Valerie Phillips: Cooking traditions can bring families together

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

This Minted Marshmallow Popcorn Cake is festive and easy for kids to make.This Minted Marshmallow Popcorn Cake is festive and easy for kids to make.

Valerie Phillips

Cooking together can be great bonding time for families, and the holidays offer so many fun opportunities. Chocolate-dipped pretzels, popcorn balls, decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread houses are just a few traditional kid-friendly projects.

Cooking with kids can also be educational. Counting mixing strokes or measuring ingredients use math skills. Following a recipe helps with reading and logic skills.

But, simply turning a few youngsters loose in the kitchen is bound to lead to chaos and frustration. Kids tend to be messy, and they can lose interest in the middle of a project. You don't always get picture-perfect results to show off to the neighbors. Also, the kitchen can be a danger zone of hot stoves and sharp knives.

It pays to have strategies and age-appropriate recipes to make cooking together an enjoyable experience for children and parents, and grandparents.

Ruth Kendrick, owner of Chocolot Artisan Chocolates in South Ogden, grew up learning the art of candymaking from her mother, Pauline Atkinson. The chocolate tradition has been handed down through the family. Her grown son, Ryan Kendrick, remembers dipping chocolates during the holiday season when he was a youngster. His mother made the candy centers ahead of time and the kids had fun covering them with the chocolate.

"I think family traditions are always good, and nothing is as inexpensive and readily available as food. And it's something that the kids can carry on with their own kids," Kendrick said. "Certain smells bring back holiday memories, such as wassail or chocolate."

An easy kid-friendly project, she said, would be to make the typical Rice Krispies/marshmallow mixture, spread it on a cookie sheet, and let kids cut it with cookie cutters. Kids can use frosting and candy to decorate the Rice Krispies treats. These take a lot less time than traditional sugar cookies that need to be mixed, rolled out, cut in shapes and baked.

This year, Kendrick's grandkids are decorating houses made of molded chocolate instead of gingerbread.

The houses will already be assembled so her grandkids (age 7 and under) will only have to decorate them. Often young kids get impatient when they have to attach the roof and walls, then wait for the frosting to harden. But if they start decorating too soon, the walls fall down and the roof caves in.

"The kids don't care about building it, they just want to decorate it, and eat candy while they're at it," said Kendrick.

Joy Sundloff of Kaysville uses graham crackers for her grandkids' gingerbread houses, and firmly attaches all the walls and roof with a hot glue gun ahead of time. The glue can be covered over with frosting, and the kids enjoy the creativity of decorating.

Donna Kelly, a prosecutor in the Utah Attorney General's office, grew up in a family where siblings had a nightly assigned cooking task. (Hers was making the salad.) The cooking experience paid off, as Kelly has written seven cookbooks and co-authors two different blogs. One, Apronstringsblog.com, is written with her daughter, Anne Tegtmeier, showcasing family recipes; the other is "Everyday Southwest" with her sister, Sandra Hoopes. Her most recent book, also co-authored with Hoopes, is "200 Appetizers" (Gibbs Smith).

Savory Herbed Popcorn, a recipe from "200 Appetizers," offers a change of pace from sweet treats. It also gives kids an opportunity to stir big bowls of popcorn, and can be used for neighbor gifts.

"Our family does a Pass Around Fudge where you place all the ingredients in a Ziplock bag and then pass it around and the kids squeeze it with their hands," said Kelly. "The heat of the hands 'melts' the ingredients and fudge forms. It's great fun for kids. And their little hands are warm and perfect for the job. It keeps them occupied and feeling like they're contributing to the cooking process."


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