On the one-cup cooking lesson

October-seeded radicchio, slowly forming heads in the newer greenhouse.  Winter requires lots more patience than summer gardening.

Since the gardening tasks are rather light right now, my time and efforts have naturally moved indoors.  And my favorite place to be indoors is the kitchen, that careworn farmhouse kitchen which drastically needs an expansion to make it truly inviting and efficient.  Though I may find it wanting, I do enjoy working here.

One cup.  She likes wearing her hospital bracelet (shrugs).

And since she’s been able to stand, I have involved our daughter in the daily cooking and making that takes place in this kitchen.  It started small; she could pour and stir at 2-1/2, of course.  Now that she’s nearing 8 (!!) she is able to cook certain things, start to finish, like eggs many ways or roast chicken with minimal involvement from me.  But now I am requiring her full mental abilities in cooking:  I am having her memorize recipes and formulas.

Before you call social services, let me simply state that I am having her do things she likes to eat.  And because I am leftover-phobic, I have her make the small portions of bread-y things for the daily dinner.  This stress on “not too much” is where one-cup cooking comes in.  And because our winter meals tend to be soup or stew, the added bulk of breadstuffs helps weigh out the meal.

Like most kids, she’s a carboholic (and like most parents who watch their weight, her parents are carbophobic), so that one cup usually means flour.  One cup of flour (semolina or AP) plus one egg plus one egg’s worth of both water and olive oil makes a mean pasta…plus, she loves the French rolling pin.  One cup of flour plus one cup of milk plus one egg and some melted butter makes a nice crepe batter, shaken up in a mason jar…she’s good at flipping them.  One cup of flour plus two cups of cooked potato make a lot of gnocchi, enough for two dinners for us.  One cup of whole wheat flour plus a little salt and dried herbs, even some grated parmesan and enough water to hold it together make lovely crackers in the pasta roller.  And one cup of flour plus half a cup of chopped cold butter plus an egg’s worth of ice water makes a great crust for her favorite leek tart.

The one-cup rule applies to lots of other things too:  one cup of beans soaking overnight.  One cup of rice and two cups water in the rice cooker is plenty.   One cup of ground meat is enough to flavor any sauce or chili, or to make mini-meatballs (with a half cup of breadcrumbs and an egg to bind it together).  I could go on.  Basically, my goal is to have a child who is actively engaged and confident in the kitchen…and teaching her to be thrifty along the way shouldn’t hurt her.

I am always surprised when parents shoo their kids out of the kitchen.  Granted; she’s not interested in cooking every day, but I do encourage her to stick her head in to see what I am doing.  She does have setting/clearing the table duties, so she’s never without something to do, meal-wise.  But how else are they going to learn unless they break something or make a mess or burn something?  It’s how we all learn, and yes, it’s messier and slower.  Allow some time, and take a deep breath.

(Now, if only I could encourage my husband to cross the kitchen threshold on occasion…but that could be a slippery slope leading to his wanting to garden.  Uh, maybe not.)

14 responses to “On the one-cup cooking lesson

  1. What a great column. I’m reposting it on Facebook for my friends and readers with children. Thank you, El, as usual.

  2. On the husband in the kitchen: mine practically lives in the kitchen when he’s home, and I have tried to get that to lead to him wanting to garden, to no avail. [Sigh.] But it works: I grow it, he cooks it. As a result, he has learned to cook seasonally and to be creative with an abundance of a given item – as the garden is wont to do. I am trying to encourage him to learn to can and ferment things. I’m getting closer – he’s started making refrigerator pickles of various types, and they’re darn tasty! Fortunately, on those, it doesn’t matter that he refuses to follow a recipe…

    Now, if only I could convince him to try that “I grow it, you cook it,” thing with meat. He’s adamant that “we won’t eat any animal that lived *here*!” What difference does it make if it was raised 1/2 mile down the road or right here? [Another big sigh.]

  3. The cookbook Ratio by Michael Rulhman is great at encouraging this kind of 1Cup thinking for anyone. The graphic on the paperback cover showing the slight differences between crepes, popovers, pancakes, etc. is, to me, fascinating and worth the price alone.

  4. There is no better time to teach a child than when they are curious. Allow them space and encouragement whenever they are inclined and you will relieve yourself of sole responsibility for kitchen duties – this rule applies to most other duties, as well. Fifteen years of kitchen experiments has yet to kill us (or even make us sick beyond heartburn). As a matter of fact, I have learned a lot from my kids. There is only one person in my family I have to worry about starving to death in my absence and I trained him to leave the refrigerator alone because, “that was an ingredient in my weekly menu plan”.

  5. You’ve just started what will be known as the “one cup revolution” 🙂

    At least I will remember this next time I so some cooking.

  6. At 10 my oldest cooks whole meals and, let me tell you, it’s fabulous! My youngest is a little slower though. She’s not as mature, but she’s getting there. I like the one cup guideline. That’s something very simple for them to remember. Rather than “I don’t know kid, just put some flour in the bowl…” I’m not much for recipes and that can certainly be a detriment when you’re trying to teach.

  7. My neighbors have involved their two kids in cooking since early on an we have varied our veggies and herbs grown behind our building each year in the city to get them involved in seeing how different things grow.The result is at 10 and 8 both boy and girl are foodies interested in helping to make meals.I love the medical tag thing.When I was released from the Hospital in 7th grade after being hit by a car I think I wore my Hospital ID for weeks and weeks.It was a badge of honor.

  8. HM…some good info here – may just have to copy it out for myself!

  9. Its true this time of year I find myself using a rolling pin every day at times, I guess it’s the pace of winter cooking. Last year I made a one-page cheat sheet with all my go-to carb-y recipes (pizza and pie crusts, biscuits/scones, etc). Amused to find so many were the same–flour tortillas and samosa wrappers–same recipe!

    Great that you’re starting the sprout on cooking so young. I had almost no training growing up: I mostly learned to cook from my guy, and now I seem to do most of it, though he’s still welcome in the kitchen 😉

  10. I learned to cook as a child the same way, and I was so surprised when I left to go to college how helpless other people I met were in the kitchen!

  11. This is great, El, so encouraging–and the lessons herein contained could be applied by cooking-phobic adults just as easily as to kids.


  12. Pingback: FarmSchooling

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