It would be logical to assume, as children of a person who cooks for a living, that my sons would be passionate cooks. They are not. My sons, however, are passionate eaters. That’s not to say they eat everything – they pointedly do not – but they try most things.
While neither has a love of cooking, I believe self-sufficiency is a reasonable goal, and I’ve made it my aim for them to be modestly confident with basics by the time they reach their teens. We’ve got some years yet and a ways to go still.
But I’m not worried. Truth be told, besides baking, it wasn’t until high school that I did much cooking, so rushing their progress seems hardly fair.
We started with techniques. Cracking eggs. Whisking cream. Mixing batter. Kneading dough.
From there, my scheme was to set up a challenge. Ten recipes to have a familiarity with, even if not mastery. And specific recipes: full dishes to feed themselves. Each boy has his own list, but generally it includes two breakfasts, one savoury and one sweet, a salad dressing or dip, a roast chicken, meatballs or meatloaf, a rice dish, macaroni and cheese, a main of their choice, then either a cookie, a muffin or quickbread, and a favourite dessert.
If considering your own such list, breakfast might be pancakes and scrambled eggs, or waffles and a frittata. There is also a case to be made for learning to make biscuits or scones; the technique for both carries over to making tart and pastry dough.
A salad dressing teaches how to balance flavours, and invariably includes vegetable prep. A roast chicken provides meals for days, and the method works for turkey as well. Rice might be a pilaf, or fried, or in the case of my two, served under dal or cooked with lentils for kitchari.
Macaroni and cheese introduces a roux and béchamel, the foundations for gravies and sauces. Meatballs come with a quick red sauce – Marcella Hazan’s is famous and dead simple (we add fresh basil) – and can be used for pizzas or pasta bakes. One has asked to know how I make the seared tofu he adores, and the other has managed chicken pot pie at my side.
For the sweets, cookies will make you friends, while muffins and quick breads are the backbone of baking. Finally, everyone should have at least a general sense of preparing their desert-island dessert, just the way they like it.
With March break upon us, a loosened schedule provides opportunity for the revision and review of kitchen lessons.
In one of my old notebooks, there’s a scribbled recipe for baked oatmeal that is the framework for the one I’ve shared here. That slightly stained page from a decade ago reminds me that the boys resoundingly rejected the oats the first time around. No matter my assertion that the casserole was filled with bananas and berries – established loves – and the oatmeal was the same they had most mornings, just in a different form. But, because the oats were rolled and not steel-cut, baked until fluffy instead of stewed into porridge, the bananas hidden rather than visible, it was no use. My husband and I ate well that day, and for days after.
Through the years, the boys came around to baked oatmeal. My older son made his own version a few years ago, with those beloved bananas, plus cocoa and a handful of chocolate chips. When my younger son was enamoured with rhubarb compote, he learned to spread the base with a lush layer, then let a rainfall of raspberries tumble over top. In each case, the boys’ ownership and involvement sparked an interest in what we were eating, even if not a passion for the making.
The awareness was a vital first step.
To this day, we approach our bakes like a crumble. Consider peaches, pears, plums, cherries and cranberries. Stew or roast hardier fruit before baking, or make sure to slice them small. Here, I kept the spicing straightforward, but cardamom, nutmeg and ginger are all favoured additions, as is a touch of almond extract or citrus zest.
I like a collection of grains and seeds for texture and interest. Add or take away, but maintain the approximate ratio of liquids to dry ingredients. Switch the pecans for almonds or walnuts, or include sesame seeds or poppy seeds if inclined.
A note on the pan: Using a square makes for a crisper finish, closer in ilk to an oatmeal bar. In a round dish the middle retains a bit more fluff, and thus behaves more like a tender cake.
Heat leftover servings in a covered microwave-safe bowl, with an extra pour of milk. The steam will revitalize the bake, but the crust will accordingly lose some of its snap.
Apple Blueberry Baked Grains
- Melted butter for greasing the pan, plus 2 tablespoons (salted or unsalted)
- 2 cups rolled grains (old-fashioned oats and/or flaked spelt, buckwheat, quinoa, etc.)
- ½ cup pecans, lightly toasted and crushed or chopped, divided
- ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup pepitas, also called green pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
- ¼ cup hulled sunflower seeds or buckwheat groats
- 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed or wheat bran
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 apples, cored and coarsely grated
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons almond butter or tahini
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups cow’s milk or alternative milk of choice, any fat will do
For the topping and to serve
- 2 apples, cored and sliced thinly
- ½ cup frozen blueberries
- Extra crushed pecans, pepitas, and sunflower seeds
- Coarse sugar, to finish
- Extra milk, cream, or yogurt
- Hemp hearts or bee pollen
- Maple syrup, honey, or honeycomb
Preheat an oven to 375 F. Brush the inside of an eight-inch round baking dish with butter.
In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, pecans, brown sugar, pepitas, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, baking powder and cinnamon.
Strew the grated apple in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with the blueberries. Scatter the oat mixture over top, spreading into an even layer.
In the same bowl you used for the oat mixture, whisk the egg with the almond butter, vanilla, salt and reserved butter. Stir in the milk.
Pour the liquids into the pan, covering the oats completely.
For the topping, arrange the apple sliced on the oats, followed by the blueberries. Sprinkle on extra pecans, pepitas, sunflower seeds and granola as desired. Adorn with a smattering of coarse sugar.
Bake oatmeal in the preheated oven until puffed, golden, and set. You can test by prodding the oatmeal at the centre, it should feel bouncy, about 45 to 60 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving, with milk and other garnishes at the table.
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