Cooking with kids is such a fun and memorable experience. Safety is one of the top priorities in any kitchen and using a knife safely is essential. Kids can learn kitchen confidence and become a willing helper in the kitchen with these safe tips to get them chopping, slicing and dicing with ease. Feel free to print my info graphic for easy reference when cooking with kids!
Tip One – Keep it sharp
I can’t stress enough how much safer a sharp knife is. I know it can seem counterintuitive but a sharp knife does the job properly – accidents can happen when blunt knives need too much pressure to slice or chop through your ingredients. Small hands already grapple with a knife, adding pressure to their chop can create an unstable technique.
Tip Two – The right knife does the right job
Knives come in all shapes and sizes and each knife has a specific job and adds to the ease in which a task is completed. A small knife is easy for small hands to handle in the initial stages of learning how to cut. That being said ensure the small knife is used for small tasks – topping and tailing beans, cutting up soft meats like chicken, slicing herbs and cutting smaller sized potatoes. When your kid/s becomes more confident and able to complete harder cutting techniques a cooks knife is recommended for chopping, slicing and dicing. These larger knives are made to complete specific tasks – the front for precision slicing and the heel or back for rocking chopping and cutting hard vegetables.
Tip Three – Practice with plastic
To get your kid/s used to chopping use a plastic or lettuce knife and practice with soft foods such as bananas, grapes and hard boiled eggs. Even play-dough or salt dough can work a treat to create knife confidence.
Tip Four – Secure the board
On some surfaces a chopping board can slip and slide creating an unstable surface and accidents to follow. To secure your board just dampen a dishcloth or paper towel placing it underneath the chopping board then checking for any wobble.
Tip Five – Get a grip
Securely gripping the knife can make a difference in technique confidence – try and mirror the following pictures to get a grip and become confident
Tip Six – Use the claw
Wayward fingers are like targets for a slipping knife. Tucking fingers away prevents dangerous slips cutting into fleshy fingers. The claw can feel uncomfortable at first but it is the best way to control the item you are cutting and keep fingers cut free. To get little hands used to the claw, teach them to cut smaller items they can grip easily. I halve large onions for them to practice on, cut down large carrots into more manageable pieces and halve potatoes. They still get to practice but in a more manageable manner.
Tip Seven – Keep it cool
Watching anyone learn to cut with a sharp knife be they kid or adult can be stressful. Accidents do happen and cuts are distressing but hovering anxiously adds to the pressure to get it right. I always keep a watchful eye on the chopping but with enough distance they feel they are in charge of their skill. Speaking calmly and reminding them to hold their knife properly and use the claw will keep them on track and cuts out of the picture. In the learning stages the technique is more important than the outcome. So some of the onion is a little chunky or the dices a little wonky. These outcomes are arbitrary when cooking at home. Even as an apprentice my cutting technique needed constant revision and honing. I was taught to cut on items that were either going into a soup or stock or being blended so the final outcome was reliant on my technique. As my confidence grew and technique refined I was able to complete more precision cuts. For now, just keep it cool and allow your kid/s to hone their technique one chop at a time.
Place milk, onion, garlic and bay leaf in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and set to the side for 10 minutes to infuse
Place butter into separate saucepan, allow to melt and stir in flour to form a paste
Cook out paste for 5 minutes
Slowly whisk in infused milk to form thick sauce
Add salt and nutmeg, whisk well
Add cheese if desired
Don’t allow butter to burn when melting otherwise flavour will change[br]When cook out flour paste (roux) keep stirring to prevent catching on the bottom of the pan[br]If the mix becomes lumpy use a hand blender to mix out lumps[br]Add parmesan or grated cheese if desired at end – mix will thicken and doesn’t require further cooking
This recipe is a great way to prepare an easy meal for a family – add some steamed or roasted veg or a garden salad and you have a quick mid week dinner – prepping ahead saves future time
Herbed crumbed chicken
Recipe Type: family meal
Author: In My Own Kitchen
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 35 mins
1 cup plain flour
2 eggs, whisked
1/3 cup milk
2 cups breadcrumbs
Dried Italian herbs
2 large chicken breasts filleted
Vegetable oil to fry
Place flour, eggs and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls. Add milk to eggs and mix well. Add herbs to breadcrumbs
Using one hand gently press the chicken into the flour to coat then shake off the excess flour
Using other hand dip into the whisked egg allowing any excess to drip off
Using the same hand from the flour press the chicken gently into the breadcrumbs.
Place on a plate not touching or overlapping the other pieces of chicken. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to help crumbs set
Heat a frying pan to a medium heat and add the oil.
Place chicken into pan making sure you don’t crowd the pan – cook on one side until golden then flip to finish the other side. Chicken should be cooked through by this time and now serve
Ensure oil isn’t too hot or the crumb will burn before the chicken cooks[br]Ensure the oil isn’t cold as the crumbs will become soggy and then stick to the pan[br]The crumbed chicken can be frozen before cooking – place into containers and separate into layers with baking paper or cling film in between[br]Defrost frozen chicken in fridge overnight[br]Crumbed chicken can be made into parmigiana by topping with tomato sugo, sliced ham and grated cheese
Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan-forced. Grease and line a 20 cm round cake tin and line with baking paper
Using an electric mixer cream butter and sugar together, add vanilla
Crack eggs into a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly add eggs to butter mix until well combined
Add half the flour to the mix and use wooden spoon to combine. Add half of the milk. Stir to combine. Repeat with remaining flour and milk.
Spoon mixture into cake pan and spread to even out.
Bake for 45 mins – 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cook for 10 minutes before turning onto wire rack to completely cool
Dust with icing sugar or ice with butter cream to serve
If wanting two layers separate into two pans but reduce cooking time by at least half and check [br]Don’t overmix cake when adding milk and flour as it will become tough instead of crumbly and soft[br]This mix is perfect for tinting if desired with food colouring for birthday or celebration cakes[br]Mix in 1 tbsp cocoa and 2 extra tbsp milk for chocolate cake
Easy and delicious bolognaise great for sauce on its own or lasagne
500g grass fed beef mince (if it is in the budget)
1 red onion finely diced
5 cloves fresh garlic finely chopped (fresh is best)
1 carrot grated
2 stalks celery finely chopped
handful of herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme or herbs of your choice)
Splash of red wine (optional)
1 bottle tomato passata
2 tbsp tomato paste
Heat oil in large saucepan
Add onion to pan and saute until transparent
Add garlic and cook until golden – don’t be tempted to add garlic with onion, it can burn before it cooks
Season the onion and garlic mix with salt and pepper
Add mince in small batches and brown – adding all at once will cool the pan down too much and it will stew instead of browning
Add carrot and celery, stir well and allow to simmer adding the passata and paste, stir well
Add half a passata bottle of water to the mix (fill bottle halfway, place lid on, shake shake shake and tip in)
Add chopped herbs and allow to simmer for at least 1.5 hours (the flavour will develop and the sauce will reduce and thicken)
Checking seasoning, add fresher herbs (basil and parsley) at end and serve
– When adding herbs for the simmer use hard woody herbs which love long cooking such as thyme, oregano and rosemary[br]- Add basil and parsley at the end if you wish – these herbs benefit from a quick cook and lose fragrance if simmered too long[br]- Add tinned chopped tomato instead of passata for a chunkier sauce[br]- Add mexican spices and chilli powder plus some black or mixed beans to turn it into mexican style mince for tacos or chili con carne.
Becoming an apprentice chef – the list of working conditions doesn’t exactly read like a career you would want to pursue – hot, busy, high pressure, antisocial long hours, standing all day, minimal pay. You must be crazy to go ahead on this path. My Dad certainly thought so – for him education was currency, himself having not had the chance to be educated beyond primary school in rural Italy.
I couldn’t be convinced otherwise though. I had completed some work experience both through school and on school holidays and something about being a chef just felt right. So post school, 2002 I started to look for my first place of employment.
I had a few misses from job trials, my confidence waning as I heard nothing from yet another employer. I did start to question if this career path was perhaps the best choice for me. The tables turned though in my new approach of sending out resumes to city restaurants and just seeing what happened. They didn’t have jobs advertised but I figured it couldn’t hurt.
So began the job offer that shaped who I am as a chef. I still remember my interview – I wasn’t sure if this chef game was for me just yet and I spoke of possibly giving it a year and then looking into study again if it didn’t work out. Here I am over fifteen years later and yes I have done further study but not in the pathway I had envisaged.
The head chef offered me a trial – Monday to Friday 9-5. He was also going to pay me. This was certainly a different trial to the others I had been on. I didn’t realise he was hedging his bets and not signing me up straight away but also giving me the chance to see if I liked it as well. After the first week I was offered an apprenticeship at Il Centro Restaurant and Bar – an Italian restaurant that sat 120 guests and served fine dining Italian cuisine.
At the time my head chef was a formidable French man. Equal parts passionate, talented and intimidating he introduced me to life in professional kitchens. I don’t remember too much of my very early days, I dare say I was too scared to do anything but focus on what I was told!
Stepping into this world was like a baptism of fire. Professional kitchens are hot, busy, exhausting and exhilarating. You are constantly pushed to deliver right now. Time is measured in seconds and minutes not hours and days. You need that eye fillet? Two minutes chef. Risotto? Yours in thirty seconds.
At the beginning I couldn’t imagine getting the hang of any of it let alone being as confident as the older apprentices and chefs. I was lucky though in that my Head Chef saw something in me. He nurtured my interest and guided me to the shortcuts to success. I say shortcuts in that my notebook became my best friend. Garnishes for the plates? Write it down. How many portions I need? Write it down. Running out of an item? Write it down. So all of a sudden it began to make sense. I could do this. I don’t know if it was protocol but I asked him for feedback. How did service go? What did I do wrong? What mistakes did I make? How could I make it better? I don’t know if he knew what to think but he took it in his stride and helped develop my training and skills guiding me – sometimes via a stern word (yelling) and sometimes just with patience and care.
I’m not going to lie, there were moments when I cried. There were moments when I wondered what on earth I was doing becoming a chef. Learning how to cook cuts of meat that customers are paying $35+ for is intimidating. We had three different steaks, three different types of fish and usually 2-3 other meats cook on the menu and they all had to be delivered at the same time for the docket at the right amount of cooking. I never thought I would succeed. Sometimes my chef would swap around what I had put down on his board and ask me to tell him again what was what to test me. You had to be confident in your food. You had to not hesitate in what you were capable of.
My skills though started to flourish. I learnt how to back myself and trust my instincts. There we times though I stumbled and put up items I knew weren’t the best but I was in a hurry, time was ticking and the tables were waiting. Those were the times when I was inevitably pulled up in spectacular fashion. It was nothing to have your meal thrown in the bin told to start again. If I wouldn’t pay for it or wouldn’t be impressed with it why was I putting in front of a customer?
Harsh though these lessons were they taught me so much about myself and what I was capable of. If I could handle this level of pressure everything from here would surely be just another moment in my life. This is not to say it didn’t take its toll. It was hard work; many times I wondered what the hell I was doing. But being a chef is a funny roll of the dice – you almost hate that you love how much you thrive in this environment.
Learning how to transform raw ingredients into beautiful dishes was my passion realised. Service in a busy city restaurant pumps your adrenalin. The docket machines sound indicates another set of dishes is required despite the full docket rack in front of you. Waiters come and collect dishes almost as fast as you can present them. Working in a large team meant communicating in direct, short sharp instructions. Yes Chef is out of your mouth more often than any other sentence during the day.
In kitchens you start your career peeling the potatoes and vegetables, washing lettuces and oysters, portioning pastas and packing away sauces. After three to four years you’re cooking the prime cuts of meat and fish, you’re finishing the sauces, you’re guiding others with your knowledge. You have graduated from the simplest skills to cooking some of the most delicious meals you have ever tried.
(Proud to be a Chef Competition Sydney)
Then there are the culinary competitions. My head chef was a part of the competition scene and took great pride in entering us into these and testing our skills against other establishments. Days off and mornings or afternoons before out shifts became dedicated to perfecting our dishes. Imagine cooking two courses, four plates of each, in an allocated time, by yourself, with the public able to walk past and look and comment. It is intimidating enough being in the kitchen you work in let alone on a public stage. Time and again though I entered competitions and improved my results. I zoned out those looking at me and focused on the dishes I was making. It taught me how to stay calm despite the pressures and how to believe in what I was doing.
The culmination of these experiences was realised in two large competitions. One was a national competition for a chance at a spot in the international competition Bocuse D’Or. The other was a three course, 12 portion competition completed in a pair with a waiter to serve and a table set and decorated. Both had high stakes as the other entrants were from well-established restaurants. Both had different skills at stake. For Bocuse we had to make two dishes – one fish and one meat. The fish required three traditional garnishes for a mirror platter as with the meat. The fish and meats were my Sous Chefs part I was the garnishes. I was fortunate enough to learn how to work with sea urchin and abalone, to be able to cut delicate shapes and learn how to progressively set a jelly. Hours and hours of time went into perfecting these dishes. It was intense, creative and amazing. We didn’t make it past the national level but we certainly did our best.
(Bocuse D’or practice)
The second competition marked the end of my apprenticeship. Newly qualified and only 20 I entered this last competition with another newly qualified chef and we created a delicious three course meal. Our upper hand was that we thought we had three hours to complete the courses so had been training on this time frame. On the competition day we discovered it was actually four. We could breathe. We made sure not to become complacent in this new time frame and used it to execute the dishes with more finesse and attention to detail. Our efforts paid off as we took the trophy and the prize money. What better way to herald the end of my training as an apprentice and transition to qualified chef than to hold that trophy with pride.
(Jimmy Sawyer Trophy Competition)
When I started as a chef I knew how to cook at home. I used to make family meals and it was nothing to bake and create. Becoming an apprentice took me back to the basics and building blocks of cooking. For four years I tested my knowledge, honing the basic cuts to neat perfection, learning how to balance and season dishes, becoming addicted to seeing the glossy shine of a well made sauce. My hands started to produce all manner of dishes and items as if they always knew what to do. Soon it became second nature to cut, whisk, fry and grill. I had done my time. I was truly a chef no longer an apprentice.
Following my nearly four years at Il Centro it was time for a break. I wanted to see the world and relax for a little bit. I was nearly 21 and had spent the last few years working, working and more working. So I packed my backpack and embarked on a Contiki tour which evolved into side countries and a month in Italy with my Dad. In this time I could reflect of all I had achieved, embrace international cuisines and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Life as a chef was just beginning.