I convinced my teen son to help me cook dinner the other night. (A little TV bribery was all it took.) Aside from the time they kabitzed on our worlds best hamburger recipe, cooking with kids in my house usually means me telling them what to do. I don't mind. There's a reason why I cook.
But this time I wanted to raise the stakes, and not only tell my son what to do, but why. I wanted my son to start thinking like a chef, to be comfortable altering recipes, to see what it’s like to put a meal together from scratch.
Little did I know, he and his sister would be schooling me.
“What can I do?” he asked.
We were making asparagus pasta, risotto style.
“Chop an onion,” I said.
“Onions make me cry,” he said. “You do that. What’s the next step?”
I figured he’s chopped plenty of onions in his day. He’s doesn't quite have the onion chopping prowess of Julia Child in Julie and Julia, but he’s certainly capable. I didn’t mind him passing on the onion task.
“Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in the frying pan,” I said.
He cut off a chunk from a stick of butter and dropped it in the pan. I finished chopping the onion, then brought the chopped onion over to dump in the pan. The butter had barely started melting.
“Can you break up that big chunk of butter so it will melt faster?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’m watching it dance around the pan.”
Anyone who remembers the movie American Beauty, and the video of the plastic bag blowing around, can certainly appreciate that my son was finding beauty and life in an inanimate object. But I had onions to sautee.
I dumped the onions in, even though his butter wasn’t melted. You can imagine how that went over.
I instructed my son on cooking the pasta, mixing in warm chicken broth, adding the asparagus, doing things at five minute intervals. He waved me off and took over. Fine. I went about making bruschetta: fresh tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, basil.
My daughter floated into the kitchen. “Don’t put in too much garlic,” she said.
“I won’t,” I said.
“But you always do.”
“I’m making this late. The flavors won’t have time to meld. It will be fine.”
She shook her head. “One clove, no more. And be sure to use fresh basil.” She’s half Italian, so she gets the real deal from her mom’s house.
“I don’t have fresh basil,” I said.
She heaved a sigh and shook her head. “Here, I’ll make it.”
Some cooking lesson I was giving.
With both of my kids preparing dishes, I figured I might as well shake myself a cocktail. My margarita recipe is to die for.
“Can I make your margarita?” my son asked.
“No, you’re too young,” I said.
“I already know how.”
Great. But I wouldn’t be swayed.
I started by rinsing the rim of the glass under running water, so I could dunk the rim in a container of margarita salt, and the salt would stick.
“That’s not how you do it,” my son said. “You’ll end up with salt inside the glass. You need to run a wet towel around the rim, instead.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“I watched them make margaritas at the Mexican restauarant.”
We’d sat at the bar of the Mexican restaurant plenty of times, eating while watching soccer on TV, usually when the restaurant was fairly empty. (I once hit on a woman in front of my son at that Mexican restaurant bar. It wasn't easy.)
I followed my son’s instruction, and wouldn’t you know, the rim salted perfectly.
Okay, so maybe I had nothing to teach my kids in the kitchen this particular night. Next time I’ll make something more complicated, like chicken and dumplings, and really show them the ropes.
Then again, the asparagus pasta and bruschetta came out pretty good. Maybe I should let my kids cook every night. We might start eating better.
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