I always told my kids they weren’t allowed to leave home until they could cook themselves a decent meal for every day of the week. Of course, there’s no guarantee they won’t choose to live on takeaways and convenience meals, but at least I know they won’t starve through lack of basic kitchen skills. Here are three staple recipes all kids should have in their culinary repertoire to get them started.
A basic tomato sauce is one of the best recipes any new cook can learn. It’s the foundation for so much more. They can add ground beef for a Bolognese, chili for Arrabbiata, or add peppers and other vegetables to jazz it up a bit.
Ingredients for four servings: 1 large onion, finely chopped; 2 large garlic cloves, crushed or chopped; 450g chopped tomatoes, tinned or fresh; 1tbsp tomato paste; 1tsp sugar; 1tbsp olive oil; salt & freshly ground black pepper. Optional – 1tsp dried oregano or some torn fresh basil leaves.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the onion over a moderate heat for a few minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar. (The sugar counters any acidity in the tomatoes, so it’s essential.) Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a little water if the sauce is too thick. If using dried oregano, add with the tomatoes; basil should be stirred in at the end of cooking.
Serve with cooked spaghetti; most kids should be able to read the instructions on a packet of pasta, but you might want to walk them through it to make sure. Grate some Parmesan cheese over the top if liked.
2Roast chicken & vegetables
This is another versatile essential. Leftovers can be used in sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads and more, or stirred into instant noodles and packet soups.
Ingredients: 1 chicken; ½ a fresh lemon; 3 large, peeled garlic cloves; a few tablespoons of vegetable oil; 1 large potato; 2 carrots; 1 onion; salt & freshly ground black pepper.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°. Remove giblets from inside the chicken and either discard or keep for stock. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with kitchen towel. Place lemon and garlic inside the cavity.
Lie the chicken in a roasting tin breast side up, so the drumsticks point upwards. Drizzle with a little oil, using a pastry brush or kitchen towel to ensure the skin is covered. Season with salt & pepper if desired.
Toss the vegetables in the remaining oil with some salt & pepper, and some dried herbs if liked. (Tip – a Ziploc bag is excellent for ensuring everything is coated correctly and helps cut down on mess.)
Arrange the vegetables around the chicken in the pan. Cover loosely with foil and place it in the oven. Cooking time depends on the size of the chicken – allow 20 minutes per 1lb/500g, plus an extra 20 minutes. So, if your chicken weighs 4lb/2kg, roast it for around 100 minutes. Remove the foil 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. To check your chicken is cooked, pierce the thickest part of the leg with a skewer – the juices should run clear. Alternatively, use a meat thermometer – it should read 74°C/165°F on the inner thigh. Once it’s out of the oven, cover the chicken loosely with foil and leave to rest for ten minutes before carving.
Cooking eggs well is a definite skill. It’s easy to get scrambled eggs wrong and end up with a solid, rubbery mound. If you can teach your kids to cook them properly, they’ll thank you in years to come!
Ingredients for one serving: 2 large eggs; 15g butter; salt & freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a small pan on the hob over a low to moderate heat. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a jug. Add salt & pepper to taste and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter to the pan and wait for it to melt. Once it’s bubbling and sizzling, pour in the eggs and let them sit for a moment.
Using a spatula, start pushing the eggs gently around the pan. Stir slowly but not too much – you should have large pieces of creamy scrambled egg. Cook for around a minute. There will still be ‘loose’ spots of egg, but this is fine – they’ll continue to cook once you take the pan off the heat. Serve immediately, adding more salt & pepper if required.
There are so many variations with scrambled eggs. Add chopped herbs to the mix, cook crispy bacon in the pan before adding the eggs, sprinkle cheese over the eggs after cooking – all taste delicious.