Tag Archives: Cooking with Kids


Posted: Aug 24, 2015

No, I don’t mean risotto with a side of kids but working with kids to prepare Risotto!

For those of you who have been following along this is an extension of my last post “1990’s: DJANGO STARTS TO GET IT TOGETHER”, where I was working for a family during the summer of 1993 in the Netherlands and enjoyed teaching their kids to cook.  So if your not into cooking or are a good cook already and won’t learn much from this than go do something else. The rest of you – follow me.

Most kids, especially by the time they are teenagers, are quite astute and if they are interested in a topic will grasp ideas and instructions very well. I have never had any kids and not spent a lot of time with them other than that summer in 1993 but I was really impressed. Intelligent ideas, inquisitive perspective, a steely sense of right and wrong – we should all be more like teenagers!

I know that Janice and Jim had a lot of fun doing the cooking school they had,  and one course that Jim and his chef designed was “College Survival”.  The idea was to cover in the space of five evening classes, a quick course in equipment, hygiene, and cooking techniques. Their experience with Risotto and young people was much like what mine had been.  We have compared notes and some of my future entries here will shamelessly borrow on their experience with their cooking school as well.   Time for a little plug – check out the link to the cooking school in the LINKS WE LOVE section.

The amount of time I have spent in North America in the last couple of decades has been limited but I think that pizza, mac and cheese, and burgers are still the staples of teenage diets there. European kids like pizza as well but really enjoy a variety of pasta dishes and sauces and risotto is a pretty popular one with them.

One of the things I love about this dish is that you can mix it up so much. We all think of using Arborio, but there are other kinds of rice that are fat, starchy and medium grain that will also get you that creamy texture: try Carnaroli, Roma, Vialone, Violone Nano and Maratelli.

What works so well with kids is that you can also put one “sous chef” on the rice and stock mixture while another is working on the prep of the toppings or ingredients.


But it all starts with the stock. At the end of this piece I have included some detail on preparing a good stock. I have worked in big kitchen operations on cruise ships that resemble food factories and in small little kitchens on private yachts with limited counter space and even less fridge space and after doing this for a few decades a few rules keep floating to the surface.


Ok so that may not be the epiphany of the century but too often we spend our time trying to see if we can make a component of a dish ourselves that takes a lot of time and energy to not really be appreciated by the guest. You need to find the sweet spot in each recipe that combines the efficiency of buying something prepared vs. the taste and quality of the result. The cost factor of course comes into this little equation as well. Most people who make phyllo pastry or puff pastry the first time will quickly realize that unless they are doing it all the time or for a large group – just buy it frozen at the grocery store and focus on what you are doing with it.

So if you are living in a place with great grocery or specialty stores available and have limited space go buy your vegetable, chicken or beef stock. If it’s not readily available or you have the time and interest go to the bottom of this piece and work away on producing a good stock. Personally, I do both. When I have the time I will produce a great stock and it will be the basis for a great risotto, and other times I will have some that I made at an earlier point in the freezer to pull out but sometimes it just doesn’t work out to make it and I will buy the stock. One of the benefits of buying the stock is that you can now focus your attention and limited time on more interesting components to add to the risotto or sit on top.  On the rare occasion I have lived on land and had a conventional kitchen, I have found freezing your homemade stock a great way to go, but most of the time my freezer space on a boat has been pretty precious.

Whichever way you go you will have to choose one of those three types of stock and the choice will come down to matching the stock with the protein or vegetable that will be the feature of the risotto: we will make a butternut squash risotto with a vegetable stock, a seafood risotto with a fish stock, a beef risotto with a veal stock and a duck risotto with a chicken stock, for example. Otherwise, the flavours just become jumbled. Of course, vegetarians are going to use a vegetable stock for everything.

So once we have our stock, here is what we are going to do to prepare the Risotto.

The grocery list is below the ingredients.

Before getting going on anything, turn the kids on to kitchen hygiene. Get them to wash up before handling food, and every time they have handled raw meat or fish, and get the utensils or plates that have touched those raw products into a designated area or sink or dishwasher for clean up later. They won’t know if you don’t teach them and getting them into good habits first thing is the way to go.

I like to set up two large stock pots. One will be for our finished Risotto and one is for the stock.

  1. get started by peeling and chopping fairly fine the onion, garlic, and the celery
  2. Put your stock into the first stock pot and put on a low- medium heat. We are really just preheating or warming this stock, not trying to boil it. The only purpose this stock pot is for is heating the vegetable, beef or fish stock so if any of my explanation is not clear – everything else is being added to the other pot
  3. Preheat the second large stock pot (or if don’t have two you could use a saute pan or fry pan) to medium-low heat
  4. add the two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to this second pot and about 15 ml of the butter
  5. add the finely chopped shallots or onion, the celery and garlic and sauté in the second pot, for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s better to do them at a lower temperature but have some control of the exercise, especially when working with kids or teenagers.
  6. get the rice into the second pot and saute for two to four minutes. Make sure you stir the rice at this point
  7. this is where I would typically add a glass (cup) or two of white wine, and once it’s largely absorbed or evaporated off you can move to the next step.
  8. So from this point, you have a wonderful task available for your sous-chef (child or teenager). Have them ladle (about a half cup size ladle) one scoop of stock into the rice mixture and stir to help the stock be absorbed by the rice. When it is largely absorbed into the rice give it another ladle full and continue with this process until all the stock has been added. This process is going to take about twenty or thirty minutes or more.
  9. Meanwhile, during this process of adding the stock to the rice mixture, you or your other sous chef can work on the other components that will either be added to the dish or sit on top.   (see comments below)
  10.  when the stock is all added and absorbed the rice should be al dente, just chewy to the bite, you can also decide if you would like to add another half cup of dry white wine (sauvignon blanc for example). It’s not usually done if you added it earlier but if you did not put in earlier it does add to the flavor and sweetness to put some in at this point. If you are poor the way I have been for most of my life I would not put it in earlier as much of it evaporates and putting in half a cup at this point gives a nice flavour.
  11. at this point its time to add our unsalted butter and Reggiano Parmigiano cheese and any of our mixtures we are mixing in. (See comments below)
  12. then plate up with your toppings and serve in heated bowls.

Common additions to put into the risotto are: grape tomatoes cut in half, asparagus cut at two cm (three-quarters of an inch)  lengths, mushrooms sliced or ripped and sauteed, chicken or pork cut into bite size pieces and grilled.

Common toppings are: Sauteed portobello mushroom slices, grilled jumbo shrimp or prawns, sautéed or grilled scallops, boiled or steamed lobster tails, boneless skinless chicken breasts or duck grilled and sliced on top.

Sometimes when we would go shopping together Isa and Tess would really get into it and be looking for different flavours and textures and when their older siblings would go shopping for us the envelope would really get pushed (anchovies and capers, sundried tomatoes and spicy meatballs, grilled squid with strips of grilled fennel) but it was a great way to include the older ones who had little interest in cooking but extensive interest in eating. I was successful at getting Luna to plant a potted herb garden on the back deck of the boat with Italian parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary and one or more of these would regularly find their way into the food we would make. Lars ended up quite pleased with himself when we made pesto near the end of the season with the fruits of our basil plant that was looking more like a small tree!

A Note on Salt: traditional risotto recipes will have salt added through this process and will use salted butter. Today the appetite for salt is considerably reduced from the past and as there is already salt in the cheese most of the time I will wait until the end to see if we are going to add any salt to the dish. It’s easy to put it in later and impossible to take it out!

If you are going to add pepper you would usually use a white pepper.

GROCERY LIST (for risotto as a main course for six)

  • 1 liter organic stock, such as chicken, fish, vegetable – or make your own – see below
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Five or six shoots of celery (about half a stock)
  • 100 g Parmesan cheese (3.5 oz) – when grated it turns into about half a cup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • unsalted butter
  • 400 g risotto rice (14 oz)
  • dry white wine or vermouth (optional)


As we go forward with more recipes you will learn that I love to share “cheats” or tips that largely come from commercial applications of food prep or just from my experience working in small spaces with future meals in mind.

Some of these relate to logistics and planning. In a commercial context, a chef or a cook is always thinking of the second or third day of the components of a meal.   A roast chicken or turkey the first day becomes chicken sandwiches or chicken soup the second day and also becomes the basis for our chicken stock. So whenever you are having a chicken, turkey or fish build in the leftovers and time to prepare your stock.

Another great cheat with making risotto is to have more ingredients on hand and to do some arancini balls that you can freeze for a future meal. At a future post, I will go through a recipe for Arancini balls.



The core of a good soup, sauce or risotto is a good stock, whether beef, vegetable or fish.

Always rinse chicken and fish bones in cold water to wash off blood and reduce impurities in your stock. It is important to use fresh bones.

A stock or broth is a semi-clear, thin liquid flavoured by soluble substances extracted from meat, poultry, fish and their bones, and from vegetables and seasonings.


Beef Bones-There are two different types of stocks for beef.  A white stock can be made from beef or veal bones. Cooking the bones without browning them first will make a white stock. Browning the bones in the oven on the stove top before cooling them will make a brown stock.


Chicken and Fish – Remember to wash chicken or fish really well in cold water before beginning.



Mirepoix– Aromatic vegetables are the second most important ingredient in flavouring a stock. The basic flavouring for mirepoix is carrots, celery, and onions. Other ingredients that can be added to a mirepoix are vegetables such as mushrooms and tomatoes. Tomato products provide both flavour and acid to a stock. It can also provide some colour that might be undesirable in some stocks. When making a white veal stock, we would not add a tomato product.


You can adjust the combination of vegetables in a mirepoix to get a desired flavour or colour for your stock. For example, increase the amount of carrots and your stock will become darker. Increase the amount of onions and celery and the stock will be lighter.

Note: Your vegetable stock will take on the flavours of the vegetables used so choose the ratio of vegetables wisely so your vegetable stocks flavour will complement the dish.

The size of the vegetables is also an important factor when cooking a stock. A beef or veal stock need to be cooked for several hours and the longer it is cooked the darker the stock.

  • Chicken stock need only be cooked for one hour or so to extract all the marrow and nutrients from the bones. A fish stock can be made in 30-45 minutes.
  • Vegetable stock can be made in 15-30 minutes. It is important to note that vegetable stocks were not part of classical French cuisine. The increase in demand for vegetable stocks has arisen from the increase in vegetarians. Making a good and consistent vegetable stock comes from practice.


Scraps-meat scraps can be added to a stock to provide additional flavour provided the scrapes are low in fat, clean, wholesome and appropriate for the stock being made. For instance, you should only use beef or veal scrapes when making a beef or veal stock. When making a vegetable stock, caution should be used in the amounts of strongly flavoured vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. These vegetables each have a strong flavour and will overpower the stock if too much is used.

Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash will make a stock cloudy.


Seasoning and Spices-Salt is usually not added when making a stock, however, using a slight amount will help to extract marrow and flavouring from the bones. Herbs and spices should be used only slightly. You can either put the herbs and spices in the mix and then get them out with a fine strainer but if you like your stock to be a bit more dense and you are using a more course strainer you should put the collection of seasonings and spices in sachet or cheesecloth bag tied up so that it infuses the stock but can then be easily pulled out later. It is also a way that you can see how the flavor is evolving as you are preparing your stock and pull the little sachet or cheesecloth bag out part way through the process. Common herbs and spices used when making a stock are, black peppercorns, thyme, basil, parsley stems, bay leaves, cloves, garlic, apples, star anise, and cinnamon.  The combination and amount of seasoning is based on the type and amount of stock being prepared.




Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brown bones (do not burn) in a roasting pan. When brown, add tomato paste to bones and mirepoix to roasting pan. Continue to roast for an additional 10 minutes. Add bones and browned mirepoix to large stock pot. Cover bones with cold water. Add all the other ingredients to the stock pot and bring to a boil. Deglaze the roasting pan with red wine and add to stockpot. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for three to four hours. The longer you cook the stock, the darker it will become. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock will keep for up to three or four days.  If you have freezer space it is great to freeze some for future use.

Brown Stock-Beef Stock

5-6 kg (10-12 lbs)  Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water


500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped


1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Note: After the stock has been strained add cold water over the bones again and cook for an hour. This mixture is called a remoulage or remi. It is a weak brown stock but is excellent as a starter for your next brown stock.


White Stock-Chicken or Veal

5-6 kg  (10-12 lbs) Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water


500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped


1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Rinse chicken bones in cold water. Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for one hour to one and a half hours. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days or frozen.

Vegetable Stock

1 lb. or 500 g Onion chopped medium dice

8 oz. or 250 g Carrots chopped medium dice

8 oz or 250 g Celery chopped medium dice

1 Tomato roughly chopped in ¼’s


1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes to one hour. Strain stock. Keep in the fridge for 3- 4 days or freeze.


Note: For a mushroom risotto stock add mushroom stems to the stock for flavour.






Posted: March 24, 2015

Well, that title is a bit over the top, not totally accurate and a little pretentious to refer to me in the third person, but yes, by the back half of 1990’s things were going better for me.

They did not start out that way. A cruise line that will go un-named decided to make an example to the staff by firing me for a long series of complaints about my behavior. At that time the cruise lines were all trying to fight each other for creating “a whole environment” for the passengers and part of that was to upgrade the staff. Up until then, it had been that if you behaved yourself and you were off duty and were discrete about it you be in the pool or go to one of the bars. No more. The new ships had much nicer kitchens and cafeterias on the lower decks just for the staff and more places to hang out with other staff members but if you were not to be on a deck for a reason as an employee doing something for a passenger (increasingly being called a “guest”)  than you were not to be on a guest deck.

So, it was in this environment that a young crew member had convinced me to go for a jog with her (something I would not characteristically do, so you can appreciate how nice she must have been) on the exercise deck. That was the excuse for getting rid of me. She got off with a warning, but I wasn’t even able to finish the cruise. Just me and my backpack on the dock in Amsterdam.  It was November 1992.

I thought that I had done alright with my finances at the time but had no idea what life was like when you had to pay for a place to live and for groceries. Living on the ship and being provided food every day was just a way of life for me. While my pay had been acceptable, I would blow most of it when between cruises and when you are only off the ship for a few days you don’t really gear up for buying groceries, preferring to just eat at restaurants or take out. During the previous decade, I had saved a grand total of $3,250.00. I had no idea how bad an achievement this was but I quickly learned that a few thousand dollars will not take you far, especially in Amsterdam.  Within weeks I had moved further north to the port of Harlingen in Friesland province on the coast of the Wadden Sea. While a nice enough historic town and place to summer today, it has a long history as a seaport and still counts fishing and shipping as major employers. As a cook, I was able to find various short-term gigs as the cook on working ships till the spring when I met Marc and Lotte.

Now as a little background, working as a cook in various jobs, particularly around large private yachts is a good gig if the yacht is large enough and if the season is long enough. The boating season in southern Europe, and North Africa or the Caribbean can work year round but getting up into France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the season ends with a thud in mid-September.

The positive part is that like other northern climates the summer gets jambed into about twelve weeks and often the pay can be very good, albeit for a short time. It also gets you out of those southern locations that are so nice in the winter but sweltering in the summer. So that spring I knew that I would need to take the best paying job I could find to start to build up a bit of a cushion for making my way back to the warmer weather when the fall would hit the Netherlands. The job was posted at the posting board near the port as a CHEF/COOK, but when I spoke to them it was very clear that it was a chef and babysitter role.  But Marc and Lotte were nice, the boat was amazing and fifteen euros an hour for 10 hours a day for six days a week could really add up. The math was dampened a bit by having to live at a nearby campground and buy my food for one day or two days a week but otherwise, the money I would save would hold me over for several months down south when the season wrapped up. My life was very much feast and famine at the time. So I took the gig – Chef, and Babysitter!

To say babysitting four kids sounds pretty ominous but the reality is that two were almost 17, twins – a girl and a boy, Luna, and Lars, and the other two were 14 and 13, both girls – Isa and Tess.  They were all pretty good kids and the twins I really didn’t have to do anything for other than feed. We were docked on a large canal in the old town, so there were lots of things to do but unless the younger ones were with me or with their parents or one of the twins they were not allowed to be off the boat. Isa and Tess were good kids but a boat, any size boat, is not big enough for teenagers to spend the whole summer and I spend a lot of time trying to find ways for them to be entertained. Their parents’ boat was a 22 meter (so about 72 foot) power yacht, only about four or five years old and was very well equipped.  While a boat of that size sounds large, once you put a few full-size mammals in it there was not a lot of extra room. They were all large Dutch people. The twins were both taller than me and even Isa and Tess were over 1.75 meters (5′ 9″).

During the middle of the week, we were docked and it was the kids and Lotte and like clockwork, on Thursday night Marc would arrive for three or four day weekends.  The weekends were when I would get some time off. I would prepare some things for them on the Friday or Saturday morning and they would head off for the day and evening and occasionally overnight, and rarely for two days and by Sunday or Monday morning, I would be back on board working on a big breakfast. It was a bit tiring as one of the girls would always be wanting something or me to take her somewhere in town and on my time off, living at a campsite was not ideal. Most people who are camping are off on holiday and cutting loose a bit. It’s not that they are doing anything wrong but for them, every day is a holiday and for me, I would have to be up pretty early to be out on my bicycle to get groceries, load up my panniers and get to the boat. I was also one of the few tents in the campground and the various caravans and trailers were all big looming structures around me.

After the first couple of weeks, however, we discovered that the twins liked the task of taking the car to go to the market to shop for me. After I showed them how to spend time at the market and how to choose produce, fish and meat they were pretty good but would often come to the boat with some off-list items to challenge me or with some pretty dreadful cuts that they thought were a bargain.

The younger girls both liked doing art and seemed to have an endless supply of art equipment and supplies and would work on that and sometimes would go into town with one of their older siblings to buy more supplies, books, and music.

The other big activity I got them onto was cooking. That was a sweet deal. I ended up with two “sous chefs” who seemed pretty keen. One of the things they loved to make for their parents and older sister and brother at the beginning of the summer was homemade pizza. I would make up the dough and they would do the rest. But part way through the summer I showed them how easy it is to make risotto. What is really good about risotto is that it is all happening in slow motion – so no issues of critical timing etc. It also lends itself to doing it several ways. The first couple of times we just did a fairly plain one but by the end of the summer I would just do the clean up while they would do the meal and it would have lots of variations.

I set out to include my recipe for MAKING RISOTTO WITH KIDS here but it was getting a bit long so it will appear as my next post.