So it's Week 6 of Teenagers Tackle Dinner and we're shaking it up a bit. #1 teenage son had a stack of homework to do so his slot was ably covered by 'teenage houseguest' visiting from the UK. Good to get some new blood in the mix after all.
And this week they were tackling a culinary staple - Bolognese sauce - an essential weapon in everyone's armoury I'd say.
So what did the teenagers learn?
- Never make just one quantity of bolognese sauce - At least double the recipe and stash it in the freezer. It's the law.
- It helps to write it down - especially when you're doubling the recipe or when there are lots of ingredients to check off.
- Onions do make you cry - No matter how manly you try to be, it happens, and our teenagers were sobbing BIG TIME. A few minutes longer and it would have been time to get out the swimming goggles. We do have The National Collection after all.
- Clear up as you go along - I accept that I am sounding like a broken record but it helps. Really it does. Next week I'll just cut and paste.
- And still on the topic of clearing up - Clear the chopping board of rubbish as you go along, or otherwise, when you slide the chopped vegetables into the pan, you'll probably get a few bits of peel and 'ends' in there too. Think of it as helping to build your culinary credibility.
- But equally, don't be too quick to throw away - Especially things like the tops from the celery which will chop up perfectly for the sauce.
- Share your knowledge - And while we're on the subject of celery ... our teenage houseguest has a weekend job in a greengrocer back home in the UK and so was able to enlighten us that the price for celery is 89p per head or 19p per stick. Amazing (and handy) that you can buy it by the stick. We enquired about the price of carrots too, but there's a button on the till for that, so no need for him to keep it in his head. We'll never know. Shame that.
- Cooked wrist is painful - Make sure the pan is squarely over the heat on the hob or the flames will just cook your wrist. And that hurts.
- It gets hot, hot, hot - It's a schoolboy error, but remember not to touch the pan. It will be hot. #2 teenage son requested that I buy new pans - ones that don't get hot - but I suspect he's missing the point.
- Think about what you pour down the sink - So our teenagers browned the mince in a separate pan (to save time) and then transferred the cooked mince in to join the veggies. They used a slotted spoon to leave any excess fatty liquid behind. But what to do with that mystery liquid? For me, the Golden Rule is to NEVER throw it down the sink as it could turn solid and block the pipes. And nobody wants that. So here's a tip that I learned back in my student days ... Grab a cup and a square of tin foil. Make your hand into a fist and wrap the foil around it, then use this to line the cup. Pour the fat into the foil and leave it to go cold and/or solid before you get rid of it in the bin. Result.
- It's just like toothpaste - A tube of tomato purée can be handled just like toothpaste to make sure you get every last bit out. Roll it from the bottom and there'll be no waste. There's something mildly satisfying about it too.
- Don't start just yet - Wait until the pan is simmering before you start the timer. Otherwise, you may be caught short.
And what did I learn?
- Everyone in the kitchen needs to find their rhythm - Especially when there's a new chef in the mix. It took a few minutes for our teenagers to find their pace working together. A gentle reminder that talking to each other would be helpful seemed to make a difference.
- Try not to do too many things at once - This time on Teenagers Tackle Dinner I was trying to help supervise homework, 'age' #2 teenage son's history project in the oven (impressed? Gold star for me ...), make sure our teenagers were on the right culinary track, make notes as I went along and snap a few photos - all at the same time. Miraculously, it all came together but it was a bit fraught and I would do it differently next time.
- Think more about the timing - I'd forgotten that the Bolognese Sauce needs 1-1½ hours to cook once it's simmering. That was a lovely surprise when teenage houseguest read it out from the recipe! And it was already 7pm. And there was school the next day for us and flights back to the UK for our guests. And we were all ravenous. But actually, the bolognese was great after 1 hour - and it would have been even more so if the carrots had been chopped smaller. All's well that ends well.
And what was the verdict on the Bolognese Sauce?
It was yum. Served with some spaghetti (which I cooked because time was of the essence) and a little Parmesan for sprinkling, we had a delicious dinner
#1 teenage son tried to find faults (of course) but everyone else soon put him straight. Yes, the carrots were a bit on the big side but nothing else. Nothing at all. And there were seconds for most diners and sauce for the freezer. Result.
But the biggest result of all was that less than a week later, on his return to the UK, teenage houseguest joined forces with a friend and cooked dinner for the family - a chicken pasta bake. AND they washed up afterwards.
Take note #1 and #2 teenage sons ...
And if you (and your teenagers) fancy joining us on this culinary journey do let us know by commenting and of course be sure to snap a photo of your dinner and hashtag it #marmaladeandme. I'd love to see how it goes for you.