Cooking with Friends & Family

One of the things I love to do is cook with my family & friends. As a chef, it’s an opportunity to pass on knowledge to others in a fun way that gets them engaged. When preparing a big meal for a group it’s also a way to lighten the load by enlisting the help of others.

Cooking with family and friends in Italy this past summer

There are so many reasons that cooking with your family, especially with young children, is beneficial to their health and wellbeing. Most people, especially young children, don’t really understand how food impacts their health, both mental and physical. When we fuel our bodies with nutritious foods, we perform better at work, in school, in sports, and in life. Cooking with your kids provides an opportunity to transfer knowledge at the same time.

Pasta making at home with Brooke

In many homes, cooking is the responsibility of one person, often the mother. I love to cook, so this isn’t a chore, however anyone who has cooked for others day after day knows that you are not always given the credit that you deserve for taking time from your other activities to feed your family well. Involving the rest of the family in the process gives them an appreciation of the importance of the task of cooking, and allows everyone to feel that they are contributing to the process in a meaningful way. In our home we always make a point of thanking those that helped create the meal before we ‘dig in’.

In a world that is inundated with screen time, social media, and other activities that ‘disconnect’ us in physical ways, cooking together is an important ‘offline’ social activity that provides room for important conversations to happen. It also teaches important life skills that will carry your young people through their life. Sending my kids ‘out of the nest’ with the ability to grow food, cook for themselves and feed others, is one of my greatest accomplishments as a parent. I know they will never be dependent on someone else to feed them and will always appreciate the importance of those who grow, raise, cook and serve our food.

If you have picky eaters in the house, involving them in the cooking process goes a long way to opening their minds and their mouths to new flavours and textures. Most children will at least taste something they had a hand in cooking. It also helps teach them to respect food, and the people that prepare it. Furthermore it helps young children develop skills such as: using sharp tools; being cautious around heat or flame; measuring; reading; sorting; developing their touch, taste & smell senses. The list goes on….

Finally, cooking with friends & family has taught me patience. As a young, busy, and often overwhelmed mother I didn’t have patience to work with others in the kitchen. My goal was just to be as efficient as possible and get a decent meal on the table quickly! Now I enjoy the benefit of taking time, allowing others to contribute in a meaningful way, listening to their ideas and suggestions, allowing them to make mistakes and learn. It has undoubtedly made me a better person.

One way you can easily cook for and serve a family or group that might include picky eaters and people with allergies and intolerances is to create a ‘bowl bar’. We recently served a group event this way, as the group was looking to bring an element of creativity to their noon day break. We sent them a ‘composed lunch salad’ that they could build themselves. Ingredients were lined up along the buffet, and included grains, greens, roasted vegetable, chicken, two sauces and crispy garnishes. Participants got a bowl, and were able to pick and choose the items they wanted to include in their bowl. It was a tremendous success.

A new book that we are selling in the store, ‘Bowls – Vibrant Recipes with Endless Possibilities’, by America’s Test Kitchen,  will provide lots of inspiration for creative and nutritious meals, that can be served in this manner.

Our recipe for the week is for a composed salad that I made this past weekend while cooking with friends & family for brunch. I have to admit that I stole the idea from my good friend Calrly, the mastermind behind the Urban Element on Parkdale.

Bulgur, Butternut & Blueberry Salad

1 cup of Bulgur, cooked per directions and cooled (you could substitute faro, quinoa, or any of your favourite grains
1 small butternut squash, peeled, tossed in oil, then roasted until tender (you could substitute yams, delicata squash, acorn squash, or any winter squash)
1 cup fresh blueberries (you could substitute dried cranberries)
1 small log of fresh chèvre (or crumbled feta)
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts (or almonds, macadamia, sunflower seeds)
150 grams of fresh greens (arugula, baby kale or spinach)

For the dressing

1 teaspoon dijon
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or white balsamic or sherry vinegar)
1/4 to 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Wisk ingredients together.

For the presentation, I used a large wooden platter but you could layer in a bowl or on a tray. Start by mixing the cooked bulgur with a small amount of the dressing. Spread that as a base layer on the platter. Toss the arugula with the remaining dressing and arrange over the bulgur layer. Then place the cooked squash on, under and around the greens. Crumble the cheese over top and garnish with the nuts. A good twist of freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of finishing salt will finish it off. Serve with tongs.  This salad could be arranged on individual plates.