It's great having kids home over the holidays but keeping them fed and entertained can be both exhausting and expensive, especially since they've already been home rather a lot over the past few months. Getting kids into the kitchen gives them something to do that's fun and delicious. It also takes some pressure off you from the never-ending task of cooking and feeding everyone.
Learning to cook is such a crucial life skill. If you can't cook, then the chances are that you'll end up being dependent on takeaways, restaurant meals and industrial pre-prepared foods. The cost won't just adversely affect your pocket but also, in the long term, your health will suffer.
Finding easy success in cooking is the best way to build confidence in the kitchen. If things go wrong, it's hard not to feel a sense of failure. Even if it's the recipe that's at fault, we all tend to lose confidence when whatever we are cooking doesn't come out the way we expected it would.
In my opinion, a roast chicken dinner is the best starting point for any budding cook. It's a simple meal to prepare that's nigh impossible to ruin and it ticks the boxes for yum value and affordability. The oven is preheated to 180C fan bake (190C regular bake). The whole bird is taken out of its packet, placed in a large roasting dish (lined with baking paper for easy clean-up) and surrounded with chunks of potatoes and, if you fancy, other starchy vegetables like kūmara, pumpkin, beets and parsnip. Fat wedges of onion are also tasty. (I usually allow about 200-300g veges per serve. You can add another tray of vegetables to the oven if needed.) The vegetables are drizzled and tossed with about 2 Tbsp of oil and everything gets a good sprinkle of flaky salt before it all goes into the oven. About an hour later (or when the bird is skewered in the thickest part of the chicken and the juices run clear rather than pink and the cavity juices are a reddish brown rather than bright red) the bird will be perfectly cooked-through and the vegetables will be tender and caramelised. Leave it to rest on the bench for the few minutes it takes to throw together a simple salad. All you need is a bag or two of salad greens. Additions like avocado, oranges or grapefruit (tomatoes are crazy expensive at this time of year and don't usually taste any good, oranges or grapefruit make an excellent alternative), spring onions, cucumber, torn soft green herbs like basil, dill or parsley, or a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts are always good, but not obligatory. Toss everything together in a bowl with a drizzle of 1-2 Tbsp of good-quality olive oil, the juice of ½ a lemon, a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Just like that, no fuss, no mess, an inviting dinner is ready for the table. If you don't like chicken, take the same approach with a roast leg of lamb or a pork roast.
With dinner sorted, some kid-friendly baking is another great way to fill a few hours and satisfy hungry holiday appetites. My simple homemade magic baking mix is the fail-safe starting point for tender cinnamon scrolls, honey pancakes and griddle scones. Once these recipes have been mastered, you might like to make a little holiday bake-off challenge to see who can come up with the most inspired creations using this easy magic baking mix. Each of the following recipes can be adapted with the addition of spices, finely sliced citrus rinds, dried fruits, seeds, nuts and coconut, while the scones can be sweetened with the addition of 3 Tbsp of sugar in with the dry ingredients. The holidays have never looked sweeter.
Magic Baking Mix
Ready in 5 mins
Makes 8 cups
7 cups plain flour
4 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
150g cold butter
Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a food processor and pulse for 15 seconds. Dice the butter, add it to the food processor and pulse until the mixture is similar in texture to coarse sand. If you don't have a food processor, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl, grate in the cold butter and cut it into the dry ingredients with a knife until the mixture is similar in texture to coarse sand.
Store in a sealed container in the fridge. It will keep for several weeks.
Ready in 25 minutes
2¾ cups magic baking mix (see above)
¼ cup caster sugar
¾ cup milk, chilled
50g butter, melted
¼ cup soft brown sugar
2 Tbsp cinnamon
A little icing sugar, to dust
Preheat oven to 200C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Combine baking mix and caster sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add milk, mixing with a knife to form a soft dough.
Turn out on to a lightly floured board and press or roll out to create a 30cm x 20cm rectangle, about 1cm thick. Brush all over with melted butter. Mix soft brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the top.
Roll up from the longest edge to form a log about 30cm long. Cut into 3cm slices and place on prepared baking tray, leaving a little space in between for the scrolls to rise.
Bake until risen, golden and cooked through (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle with icing sugar just before serving.
Ready in 15 minutes
2 cups magic baking mix, (see above)
1 cup milk
A little butter, to cook and serve
Place baking mix in a bowl and add milk, mixing with a knife to form a soft dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured board and use floured hands to pat out into a disc about 20cm in diameter, adding a little more baking mix if needed – it should be sticky but not unmanageably soft.
Heat butter in a large (about 20cm in diameter) heavy-based or electric frying pan, or on a barbecue hotplate. Add the dough and score into 8 wedges like the spokes of a wheel, without cutting right through.
Cook over medium heat, turning once, until golden and cooked through (about 5 minutes each side).
Serve warm with butter.
The trick when cooking pancakes is to use only a smidgen of oil or butter in the pan – use too much and their edges will turn up.
Ready in 25 minutes, plus standing
Makes 8-10 medium pancakes
2 cups magic baking mix, (see above)
¼ cup sugar
1½ cups milk
2 tsp runny honey
Zest of ½ an orange, finely grated
A little oil spray or butter, to cook
TO SERVE (optional)
Fresh blueberries, sliced bananas or other fruit
Beat the eggs and sugar until thick and creamy. Whisk in the milk and honey, then the baking mix and orange zest. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add a little oil or butter and rub around pan with a paper towel to lightly grease (too much makes the edges turn up).
Working in batches, cook ¼ cupfuls of mixture over a medium-low heat to allow them time to cook through to the middle. Add oil or butter between batches as needed.
Serve with blueberries (or other fruit) and maple syrup.