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Cooking with Kids

Susan (L) and
Mary Sue (R)

By Chef Mary Sue Milliken

One evening around the middle of December, just before everyone's fuses are about to blow from cramming too much into too little time, I like to slow things down by baking holiday gifts with the kids. Measuring flour, breaking eggs, and stirring batter has an old-fashioned way of calming nerves and bringing the family together for a common cause—baked goods!

Declan beats the butter for the cranberry corn bread as Kier takes notes.

Junior Pastry Chef

My 11-year-old, Declan, is an old pro in the kitchen. He started baking when he was three, helping out his grandma with her fabulous fruit pies. At this point, all he needs for something as easy as this quick bread and muffin is a recipe and an organized space in which to work. I just arrange the counter with all the equipment and ingredients he needs, turn on the oven and get out of his way. We have a stand mixer that he's comfortable with, but a hand mixer or plain old wooden spoons and bowls are fine for this kind of easy baking. (You may need to help with the hard part—creaming the butter.) Declan calls me when it's time to put pans in the oven, take them out, and clean up the mess. So far, cleaning up hasn't sparked any interest in my young bakers.

Tummy Pleasing Treats

This exceptionally moist cranberry corn bread makes a great holiday gift. It is so laden with fruit that it tastes like a fruitcake without the weird part—the dried fruits and liqueurs. Both my kids love the sour taste of cranberries. In the winter, I like to make a very quick cranberry topping by simply cooking down these airy berries with a spoon or two of sugar for about 5 minutes until they pop. Then I keep a jar in the refrigerator for morning toast.

Mary Sue gives her sons tips on making delicious gifts from the kitchen.

Early in my restaurant career, when I was broke, my mom and I baked about 100 of these in mini-loaves as gifts for the staff. They look beautiful just wrapped in red or green cellophane that you can purchase at an art supply store and then tie with a big gold ribbon. For special add-ons, you can add something small like a nutmeg grater and nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, or some fancy tea bags for a weary teacher. Though a little less fancy, the carrot raisin mini-muffins are a dependable treat—delicious spread with cream cheese for breakfast. They're also the perfect size for little hands.

The Littlest Baker

If your children are less experienced in the kitchen, these are great recipes to get them started working alongside you. Kids can help by chopping nuts, grating carrots for the carrot raisin muffins, coating the muffin trays, measuring ingredients and spooning the batter into the pans.

Kier, my 3-year-old, loves to be in the kitchen when someone's baking. He zooms in as soon as he smells the cinnamon and is a passionate bowl-licker and taster. While we're all waiting we might share a cup of Mexican hot chocolate. After all, it's the perfect cinnamon-scented nightcap for an evening of family baking.

Nutritional Information
per cup of hot chocolate
Calories : 206
Total fat : 4g
Saturated fat : 2g
Protein : 9g
Sodium : 127mg

Mexican Hot Chocolate
serves 2

Preparation time : 5 minutes
Cooking time : 10 minutes

2 cups milk
2 ounces Mexican-style chocolate, roughly chopped (If you are unable to locate Mexican-style chocolate, try our recipe for Cinnamon Hot Chocolate.)

serves 2

  1. Place the chocolate chunks in a blender and pulse several times until broken into small pieces or grate by hand.
  2. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil in a small pot. Pour the hot milk over the chocolate, cover (with the vent open) and blend until thoroughly combined and frothy. Or can help by whisking with a wire whip for 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Make everyone's holiday a little sweeter with Mary Sue's kids-can-bake treats:

Cranberry Corn Bread
Carrot Raisin Mini-Muffins
Mexican Hot Chocolate


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