We’re *this* close to March Break. As an elementary school teacher, I can tell you that my students can practically taste the holidays. And they’re not the only ones. It’s been a long week for us teachers with a day and an evening of parent-teacher interviews so the boys are not the only ones who can’t wait for 3pm on Friday 😉
I’ve actually spent a lot of this week chatting with parents not just about French but about food and cooking too which is perfect timing since the theme for this month’s Gay Lea post is “kids in the kitchen” (which many of you know is one of my favourite things to talk about!). One of my classes had groups of boys working on a food-related research project, a lot of my students are also in my cooking club and many of the boys and their parents have tested recipes for my book. I know I am SO lucky that I get to combine what I love to do with my actual real job! One of the things many of the parents mentioned is that having an “out of classroom” activity with the boys that I truly love really helps the in-class relationship. French is hard for lots of kids but if they are interacting with me outside the classroom, they can see that I am an actual person, not just the teacher who makes them speak in French and this can only help when it comes to attitude towards my subject. It’s been the greatest gift over the past 7 years.
Over the years, though, what I have found is not only the boys are learning valuable life skills in cooking lessons/ club, but so am I. Who would have thought?! I always say that the best teachers never stop learning and often people interpret that as the importance of professional development but I say there’s a lot of learning to be done right in our own classrooms and that our students can teach us a lot as well. So here are my top five take-aways from working with kids in the kitchen (a list I am sure I’ll continue to add to!).
1. Organisation is key
It goes without saying that being organised is a huge key to success when you are cooking with kids but let that guide you when you are cooking on your own too. As I’ve worked on recipe development pretty intensely in the past few months, I’ve had to bring that super-organisation to my own practice and it’s definitely helped me survive days when I worked on four or five different recipes. Like I tell the boys, one step at a time (from gathering the ingredients and equipment to following the recipe). Jamie Oliver always says “gather and prep your ingredients” at the start of some of this “30 minute meals” which makes me laugh because this is never counted in the “30 minutes” but it is a huge factor in actually being able to assemble those dishes in 30 minutes. Consider that.
2. I can (probably) do it!
Kids have an amazing “can-do” attitude because they don’t have the knowledge that something might be “hard”. I’ve made SO many dishes over the years with the boys that many adults have been amazed by and it’s definitely helped me as I’ve developed recipes for the book. Croissants, brioche, baguette? Yes, I can put those in the book (because – ssssh – they are not that difficult, just a little time consuming…). Over the past few months developing recipes, as I’ve approached something “difficult”, I’ve simply pushed those thoughts out of my mind and got on with it. There’s something to be said for thinking “What would the boys do?” because the answer is always “Have a go.”
3. Be flexible
Not everything in the kitchen will go to plan when you are working with kids. Same goes for when you’re cooking on your own. Working with the boys in a less-than-ideal space in a short timeframe (60 minute!) has taught me to think on my feet and that’s spilled over into my everyday. As I’ve been writing recipes for the cookbook and receiving tester feedback, I’m realising even more the importance of allowing a little flexibility in my own approach to cooking. Don’t have a piece of equipment? What can I use instead? Forgot to pick up an ingredient? Can I substitute something else? These are questions I am constantly asking myself (in the kitchen and as I’m writing the book). They are questions that can only help make us better cooks and bakers.
4. It’s ok to make mistakes
Working with the boys both in French class and when I am cooking with them, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make mistakes. If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not learning. Maybe you substituted an ingredient (see above) but it didn’t work out. Ok, lesson learned. You can’t substitute X for Y. Move on. It’s all good. I always say to students in my adult pastry classes that “Unless it’s burned, it’s still edible” so while things might not look or taste quite the way they were meant to, if you can eat them, chalk it up to experience and move on.
5. Simple is sometimes best
I often have grandiose plans for my students (both in cooking and French class) and have very high expectations of what we can accomplish (sometimes unrealistically high!). This term I’ve watched as the boys in my cooking club worked their way through a number of recipes from my book, helping me refine the language and re-testing things like yields. Some of the most successful classes have been the simplest. Palmiers are puff pastry cookies with two ingredients (pastry + sugar). I wondered how we would fill an hour. I should not have been concerned. Give kids pastry to work with and they will happily work all day with it (seriously!). Sometimes it’s good to step back and appreciate the simple things. Because, you know, “making pastry” is pretty darned impressive all on its own!
The recipe I’ve prepared this month is a nod to all these things I’ve learned from working with kids over the years – it’s a simple recipe that is impressive in itself and has a wide variety of applications. – I’ve used Gay Lea unsalted butter, parsley, garlic and salt to create a vibrant compound butter.
- 113 g (1/2 cup/ 1 stick/ 8 tablespoons) Gay Lea unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup parsley, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- In a mini food processor, blitz the ingredients until smooth and well-combined (you can do this using a rubber spatula as well, it might take a little longer to evenly combine the ingredients).
- Scrape the butter onto a cutting board or work surface lined with plastic wrap.
- Form a log shape about 10 cm (4 inches) long and 4 cm (1½ inches) in diameter.
- Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Use as needed.
- You can also cut slices roughly 1 cm in thickness then freeze them, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
Compound butters can be used to enhance flavours in meat and vegetable dishes and one of my favourite uses is to pop a little on a nicely cooked steak or over steamed vegetables. Last weekend, I used it on some smashed potatoes for a simple, flavourful side dish…
Disclosure: I am part of the PTPA Brand Ambassador Program with Gay Lea, and receive compensation as part of my affiliation with this group. As always, opinions expressed here are my own and I only write about/ recommend products I use and love. If you know me in real life or follow me on social media, you’ll know that writing a French food cookbook requires ridiculous amounts of butter so this campaign is a perfect fit 😉