Cooking seems to be a dying art in American as we lean more towards quick and convenient foods. Because of this I have make a conscience effort to teach my children how to cook for themselves. I think it is important for children to learn how to cook. Being a fan of the Food Network and as a family we often watch the show Chopped, so I thought it would be fun to have our very own Erickson Chopped Challenge. Since my children are still very young I decided that it would be best to not really “chop” anyone but to encourage each of them to do their best and award each of them with a certificate reflecting that. Our goal was no tears. Since we didn’t have an entire day to put on a show we also decided just to do the “Appetizer” category. We established that they would have 20 minutes to come up with their creations and present them to the two judges preparing two plates. The judges were Grandma and Dad – so they would certainly do their best to impress them. I was to be the cooking assistant and help all of them as needed. One of the rules we established from the beginning is that there was to be no fighting and if anyone was not sharing and getting along they would have a two minute penalty and have to sit on the couch while everyone else was cooking. With this being a timed challenge that wouldn’t be a good idea.
Being true to the show I placed four mystery ingredients in a covered basket that was only revealed to all of them at the beginning of the 20 minutes. I choose items I knew they were somewhat familiar with. The four ingredients were … (drum roll please)…
bread/buns, onions, fresh basil and cherry tomatoes from the garden. My oldest began working fast to create a yummy salsa (which turned out to be really quite good). I was impressed that he remembered about the cilantro we had available in the “pantry” (just like the show they were allowed to use other items in the fridge and in the pantry). He served his with butter toasted buns. My third son, chose to make “fries” with potatoes and seasoned them with some basil he cut up. He was super creative and built a log cabin with the pan fried potatoes to present to the judges. Mind you I did all the cooking for this 7 year old. I also helped bread, flour and cook my second 9-year-old oldest son’s “onion rings” that he decided to make (he has never done this before but grabbed for the season bread crumbs and started dippin’). I showed him how to do an egg wash and what seasoning might be helpful to add to the breadcrumbs to give them more flavor. He is super creative with how he balanced his finished ingredients on the plate to present. My four year old little girl created cut up tomatoes (yes, all by herself – she knows how to use a knife and can when Mommy is around only). She used a squirt of lemon juice on them with pieces of bread on the side. They were all so very proud of their creations as they presented them to the judges. We did end up adding two minutes for our littlest ones to finish up, but they did very well. Each child presented their dish and the tasting began. Before the challenge began I was a little afraid of what they might come up with and what we might have to taste, but all the dishes were surprisingly good.
As the judges deliberated and figured out what they would put on their certificates the children chatted in the other room giving each other praise. The award certificates reflected their efforts with my oldest boy getting “Best Use of Ingredients,” the onion rings winning “Daringly Difficult,” the potato log cabin wins “Creative Presentation” and my little girls tomatoes gets “The Most Yummy” (since that is what she kept saying and since they were so yummy she asked if she could eat both of her plates so the judges only got one bite – it was funny). They all got along beautiful with no fighting and no tears (unless it was from the onions). This was seriously one of the most successful family nights we have had. They all just gloated as each judge told them the unique things they did well. After that they all wanted to cook more and they immediately asked when we could do it again. I would highly suggest doing this with your family if you have little ones and want to have a fun night letting them create stuff. They impressed me. Don’t be afraid to cook with your children and encourage them to play with their food. Don’t be afraid to get in there and have fun and create with them. Happy cooking.