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Open Dorie

The legendary cookbook author shares her advice for cooking with kids.

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Dorie Greenspan wasn’t born with a whisk in her hand. In fact, when the bestselling cookbook author was 12 years old, she burned down her parent’s kitchen and didn’t get back behind the stove until she was married many years later.

Dorie just released her 13th cookbook, Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook, a collection of her time-tested, repertoire-building recipes that every home cook should own—especially busy parents who need to feed their families. (Click here or read on to see her recipe for kid-friendly “Ricotta Spoonable” from the book).

We recently caught up with Dorie and asked her for some advice on cooking with kids. Here’s what she had to say:

On getting kids involved:
“I worked at home when my son, Josh, was little. I tried to keep him in the kitchen as much as possible, so he would be close to me. I’m not the easiest person in the world to cook with, however! I’m fussy and I like things neat and measured properly, but when Josh and I would cook together, I let all that fussiness go.

Rather than saying ‘now we’re going to make some cupcakes,’ it was the everydayness of being together in the kitchen that makes a kid comfortable and happy around cooking. If you’re in the kitchen every day, your kids should be there with you for some of it. I’d find different ways to let him pitch in. He liked his food at room temperature, so we did a lot more cutting and arranging than cooking. He loved arranging food to make the plate look better. He loved red peppers, cucumbers, grapes and dried fruit, so we’d work on cutting those ingredients together and he’d arrange them on the plate. Mise en place, or food prep, is a great way to get kids involved. They can see the little bowls filling up, so they know they’re making progress.”

On shopping together:
“I also think including kids in the grocery shopping process is important. I wouldn’t suggest taking them with you when you go to stock your fridge for the week, but if you’re making something together or planning a meal, it’s good to have them help you make a list and then make a quick trip to the grocery store—or even better, the farmer’s market. It helps them understand and appreciate what’s going into their dinner.”

Rather than saying ‘now we’re going to make some cupcakes,’ it was the everydayness of being together in the kitchen that makes a kid comfortable and happy around cooking.

On letting go:
“Josh went to his first cooking class when he was 3 years old. His teacher had kids deep frying, making bagels, and cutting with 8-inch chefs’ knives with their little hands. She believed that a bigger knife was a safer knife for little children. And I was scared to death. But it taught me that if you show a child the proper way to use a knife or tool, if you work with them until they’re very comfortable, it just becomes part of what happens in the kitchen.”

On “kid food”:
“I understand what baby food is, but I really don’t get ‘kiddie food.’ Good food is good food, and that’s what we cook, and that’s what we share. I think it’s important to make something that can be shared. Everything about food is sharing.”

On baking versus cooking:
“Baking is probably the easiest way to get into the kitchen with a child, because you’re making a treat. Dinner is something you do every night, but a homemade sweet is special, and baking makes it easy to share these treats with other people. You also have to follow instructions. It’s like a construction project, or Legos: You follow the directions to make building blocks, then turn those blocks into a castle. But you can also play around with those building blocks and make something else. You build up the kid’s experience until they’re confident enough to riff. Baking is great training wheels for being a confident cook.”

On the importance of reading the instructions:
I was in 7th grade, and my parents were out for the night. I came home with some friends and we were hungry, so we decided to make French fries. My mother did not cook; she was thrilled that frozen food existed. We pulled some fries out of the freezer and didn’t read the instructions. They were supposed to be baked, but instead we brought a pot of vegetable oil up to a boil, and I covered it because I remembered learning that covering the pot helped the liquid heat up faster. When I opened it, the flames—they were actually gorgeous—shot all over the kitchen. When my parents came home they found us on the front stoop with the fireman standing next to us. I didn’t cook again until I got married.

Did you know? Little Sous offers a monthly themed kids cooking box that will help your family connect in the kitchen. Check out our subscription options!

Ricotta Spoonable

Take a peek in my fridge, and you’ll find the usual staples—milk, butter, eggs, yogurt, and my favorite plus-one: “ricotta spoonable.” I started making it years ago and I’ve probably never made it the same way twice. It’s a mix of ricotta, lots of chopped herbs, freshly grated lemon zest, olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. It’s simple but special.

I prepare this year-round, changing the herbs according to what I have at hand, but I make it most often in summer, when I’m apt to fill the table with small plates of good stuff, things that don’t need to be eaten in any order and that lend themselves to mixing and matching. Put the spoonable into the mix, and it will match with beet salad, frittata, onion galette, charred peppers and so many other dishes.

A word on the ricotta

If there’s liquid in the container, it’s best to drain the cheese. Line a strainer with a double thickness of damp cheesecloth, place it over a bowl, spoon in the ricotta, pull the cheesecloth around the cheese and weight it with a plate or a can of something. Put it in the refrigerator and let it drain for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day.

Alternatively, you can make the spoonable, scrape it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and refrigerate until needed. Do this, and when you turn out the ricotta, the cheesecloth’s mesh pattern will be visible—it’s pretty.

Ricotta Spoonable (c) Ellen Silverman
  • Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (492 grams) whole-milk ricotta, drained if there’s liquid (see headnote)
  • 1 large lemon, or more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • ¼ teaspoon fleur de sel or ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • cup (13 grams) minced mixed fresh herbs, such as dill, parsley, tarragon, thyme, cilantro and/or basil

Steps:

  1. Step 1

    Put the ricotta in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of the lemon over it, then halve and squeeze the lemon and blend in the juice. Stir in the shallots, scallions, olive oil, salt and a healthy pinch of pepper. Taste for salt and pepper, then stir in the herbs. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before adjusting for salt, pepper and lemon juice and serving.

  2. Step 2

    CHOICES: A dollop of this on a cracker or sliced baguette makes a good appetizer; more of it on dark bread with roasted tomatoes, charred lemons or sliced cucumbers makes a tartine; and a lot of it stirred into pasta makes a dinner.

    STORING: The spoonable is best the day it is made, but you can keep it for up to 2 days tightly covered in the refrigerator. Stir well before using.