Monday, January 21, 2008

10 Steps for Cooking-Up Family Memories

The kitchen is the perfect place for making memories. When you spend time baking, cooking and enjoying meals with your family, you create happy memories you and your children will cherish forever.

The benefits of preparing and enjoying food as a family are clear. You save money and eat healthier meals. You create opportunities to connect and communicate with your children and spouse. And most importantly, you show love for your family when you spend time cooking and eating with them. Children of all ages need your attention and your time. By working together to create a meal or bake a batch of cookies, you spend valuable time together.

So, here are 10 steps to get your family cooking up memories.

Step 1: Teach small children the fun of cooking by helping them bake cookies and cakes. If you are short on time, you can use a boxed cookie mix and spend more time decorating.

Step 2: Encourage the littlest ones to play pretend cooking. Kids love to play with real mixing bowls, strainers and wooden spoons. These make harmless toys and can be easily thrown in the dishwasher for quick cleanup.

Step 3: If you live by your day-timer, schedule in baking cookies with your kids. Our schedules can be so hectic that something as simple as baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies can get skipped over. Write it down and do it.

Step 4: If you have teenagers, let them play their favorite music while they wash the lettuce and set the table.

Step 5: Work together with your spouse to prepare the dinner and use the time to catch up on each other's day.

Step 6: Even if you are in a rush preparing dinner, remember to reduce your stress and focus on creating a fun atmosphere that naturally encourages the whole family to participate.

Step 7: When spending time preparing food with your children, include lessons about healthy eating choices. Keep the conversation positive and avoid listing foods they can't have.

Step 8: On days where you anticipate time will be tight, consider taking a short cut by using a frozen stir-fry mix or pasta with a jar of pre-made sauce. Your family will appreciate your relaxed mood much more than a made-from-scratch dinner.

Step 9: Share the job of grocery shopping. One week have mom take one of the children as a helper, the next week dad can go with another child. Always work from a grocery list and let your children help you retrieve items and cross them off the list.

Step 10: Have big family meals where you share about your day. Keep the conversation fun and avoid negative lectures over dinner. Remember to laugh.

Take these steps today and make your kitchen a fun and memorable place for your whole family.

Cold Weather Outdoor Cooking

Many outdoor cooks close and cover up their grills and smokers for the winter months. They do all their cooking inside and force themselves to forget the great taste of outdoor-cooked food for long stretches of time.

Those who love to cook outdoors and enjoy eating grilled, smoked, or barbecued foods do not like to quit doing so just because it is cold outside. Outdoor cooking is not a passion that can be turned on and off because of the weather. It is a year-round love of some of the best-tasting food there is anywhere.

Fortunately, there are many ways to get around this dilemma of being left out in the cold when cooking outdoors in the winter.

Grilling is a process of cooking food quickly over an open flame. The operative word is "quickly" as this allows you to cook the food without having to spend a long time outside.

With a gas grill, where you control the heat, you can cook a steak or hamburger in just a few minutes. Because of the constant high heat, you will not be forced to stay outside in the elements for long stretches of time. And if the weather is really bad, you can time your cooking and be there to flip the meat or get it off the grill.

Other outdoor cooking methods work even better in the cold weather. A smoker, by its very nature, is designed to cook food at very low temperatures for long periods of time. In any environment, once you get the fire right, you basically put the meat in the smoker and forget about it for several hours. While you are inside, the meat is slowly cooking outside just the way it is supposed to.

Barbecue cooking works in a similar way, as well. It is cooked slow and over an indirect fire, although not usually as slow-cooked as in a smoker. Therefore, it pretty much cooks itself once you get the fire just right. With barbecue, it is usually better to leave it alone. The meat will be less likely to dry out and the fire will stay at more of a constant temperature.

Start getting into the mindset that cooking outside is not just a summer event. You will soon discover that the food actually benefits from being left alone, and you will be able to enjoy the great tastes of outdoor cooking all year and under just about any weather condition.