Well, our teenagers are on their 8th week in the kitchen and now that they've tackled dinner no less than seven times, it seemed only right that they turn their attention to another meal. How about breakfast?
#2 teenage son was home alone this time as his older brother was at a swim competition - a big one where you compete alongside your professional role models, swallow the same pool water as them (or maybe that's just me) and generally stalk your heroes to understand the lives and minds of pro swimmers. Ask him about when he was standing at the urinals and found that he had a hard-hitting, proper professional, world-record-breaking swimmer standing on either side of him. Now that's a lesson in performance pressure if ever there was one.
Anyway, while #1 teenage son rubbed shoulders with the swimming gods, #2 teenage son was getting down to business in the kitchen baking Overnight Date and Granola Muffins - wearing his trusty winter bobble hat of course + the AC on full. It's the fashion accessory that every teenager is wearing in the kitchen this season.
And what did this teenager learn?
- Wash your hands - Can't believe I've never mentioned this one before.
- Simple can be good - "This is SO simple, Mum", were the words of our old hand in the kitchen as he read through the recipe. And he was right. But not everything needs to be complicated, or even slightly tricky. Simple dishes that taste great are what we all want. And this is one of them.
- Measuring in cups is very American but sometimes very useful - I'm not always a fan of measuring cups (it's hard to be accurate with them and baking requires accuracy) but learning how to use them properly is a good skill to have under your belt. To measure things like flour and sugar, you can pile it high and then scrape off the excess with the flat side of a knife - although I was assured that, "I've seen you do this like a million, billion times, Mum". When did all those unnecessary 'likes' start to slip in?
- "You must always check the recipe twice, Mum" - That's telling me.
- It's not always easy to measure in cups - Using cups to measure granola is like pouring 'precision cereal' apparently. Especially when it's a ¼ cup. Just add milk.
- And some things need to be prepped before they are measured in cups - Chopped dates are a good example and I particularly liked #2 teenage son's analogy here - "You'd get more sand in a bucket than you would golf balls".
- A knife is not always the best tool - Especially for chopping dates (and other dried fruits). Scissors are always my weapon of choice in this battle.
- Sieve out the lumps - Sugar, flour or in this case, bicarbonate of soda ... if there are lumps then use a sieve to get rid of them. This is a cute one don't you think?
- Grab a spoon ... - to spoon out the yoghurt, but make sure it's a clean one (I'm a bit of a stickler about the clean spoon thing - particularly in jam and marmalade). Oh and finish the open pot of yoghurt before you start on the new one. You'll also need to stir it first as the top layer is often watery. Like emulsion paint. Oh and use the same spoon to coax every last drop out of the cup and into the mixing bowl. It will not jump out on its own. Really it won't.
- Don't break your eggs directly into the mixing bowl - Why? You might end up with shell in there and it's much easier to pick it out of just egg than out of egg + flour + lots of other ingredients. And also the egg might be bad and then you've wasted all the other ingredients too. Been there. Done that. And on an annoyance scale of 1-10 it's probably an 11.
- Have faith - ... even if your dish looks vile partway through the preparation. #2 teenage son observed that the mixture looked like stodgy over-soaked Weetabix and he wasn't wrong. But the muffins would be fine after baking. No, better than 'fine' - fantastic.
And the mixture safely stowed in the fridge ready for the morning baking, the pizza delivery arrived so it was time for this teenager to tackle take out. Until tomorrow.
And in the morning there were still a few more lessons to learn -
- There's a skill to correctly turning on the oven - Yes, you need to know which knobs to turn and which buttons to press but you also need to know whether the temperature is what it's supposed to be. Ours isn't. Not in the slightest. So, using an oven thermometer is key. Oh and don't submerge the aforementioned oven thermometer in water to clean off all the oven muck. It will NEVER work again.
- How long exactly? - If the recipe gives you the cooking time as a range (ie 15-20 minutes) be sure to check it after the minimum time. The author of the recipe is attempting to cover themselves for oven variation. You can put it back in the oven for longer if you need to, but nothing will change the fact that it's overcooked if you've let it cook for too long. Except for low lighting at the dinner table - that helps.
- What no washing up? - And here's the bonus of doing the prep the night before - there's hardly any cleaning up or dishwashing to do in the morning. Provided you did it the night before of course.
And what did I learn?
- That this recipe WAS confusing - At the time of #2 teenage son tackling these muffins, the wording of the recipe read, "Combine all the ingredients (except demerara sugar) in a large bowl." Now I thought that it was clearly implied that the ingredients should also be mixed together. #2 teenage son didn't agree. So I've now changed the wording to read, "Add all the ingredients (except demerara sugar) to a large bowl and mix thoroughly". Much better.
- And what's in a name? - I think the name of this recipe was also confusing. Previously the muffins were called Overnight Date and Muesli Muffins and yet they didn't contain any muesli - just granola. So, I've renamed them Overnight Date and Granola Muffins. This is the kind of learning that's a real bonus.
- It's not just about dinner - It's good to be getting the teenagers to tackle other meals as well as dinner. Not least because it's my birthday next week and I'm picturing a delicious, homemade birthday breakfast lovingly prepared by the children.
So how did the muffins for breakfast work out?
#1 teenage son took one bite of the muffins and declared that he, "could literally eat 5 of these in a row". Now I don't doubt that, but he's also always his younger brother's harshest critic, so that's quite a compliment.
And we all agreed. The muffins were delicious, especially paired with some fresh fruit and a few extra croissants for the big eaters. We also discovered that serving them with the Baked Rhubarb with Orange and some thick Greek yoghurt is even lovelier. And feels pretty special too. Is it wrong to just place an order for my birthday breakfast?
It's also clear that there's a special kind of brownie point to be earned from baking fresh muffins for breakfast. Tackling dinner is great, but laying on a special breakfast spread may be even better. Perhaps we need a few more tries to be certain ...
Maybe next week?
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.
Well done Finn - but you have left me wondering about the sand, the bucket and the golf balls.
I'm sure he will be happy to discuss!