Imagine Mother’s Day morning without culinary chaos.
No last-minute questions for mom about cooking. No piles of dirty dishes. No calamity.Just the sound of a pan sliding into a preheated oven, while Momrests quietly in her jammies.
It’s not a dream. A Mother’s Day breakfast casserole, prepared a day in advance and tucked in the fridge, could make this serene kids-in-the-kitchen scene a reality.
Maybe it’s a scrumptious strata, a layered casserole made with bread, cheese and eggs that can be augmented with everything from almonds to zucchini. Or a hearty breakfast pie, the crust made with a thick layer of crunchy hashbrowned potatoes.
Delicious, no doubt. But can kids really make them?
One cookbook author thinks so.
"Breakfast casseroles aren’t intimidating to make, so they’re perfect for kids and dads to prepare," says Cheryl Alters Jamison, who wrote "A Real American Breakfast" (William Morrow, $35) with her husband, Bill Jamison.
To test the theory, we invited seven sixth-graders from American Martyrs School in Manhattan Beach to give these breakfast casseroles a try.
The girls formed a cooking club months ago, after their Girl Scout troop disbanded. They meet regularly, each bringing a homemade dessert or appetizer, along with the recipe. Each girl has her own uniquely decorated recipe box filled with recipes from their meetings.
First, Julia Blake, 11, scanned the recipe for Almond-Cinnamon Toast Featherbed, a sweet strata. With executive-chef confidence, she assigned chores, but told everyone that first they had to wash their hands.
As some girls broke eggs with gusto into a mixing bowl in one corner and others mixed butter with cinnamon and sugar in another, they got into a gabfest about guacamole.
"I made your guacamole recipe the other night for a party," Suzanne Evans said to Katie Chalmers. "People came up to me and told me how good it was. It made me feel so proud."
All agreed that Katie’s guacamole couldn’t be beat, but disagreed about how much of the butter-cinnamon-sugar mixture should be spread on each thick slice of toast for the strata. The directions said to spread it evenly, but didn’t mention how thick the spread should be. The gang eyed the buttery mixture and pile of bread.
Before long, dinner knives smeared smooth layers of mahogany-colored topping, some just thin veneers, others generously thick. The girls joked about the inconsistency and agreed that it probably wouldn’t make a difference in the end.
Julia pushed bread, topping side up, into the prepared pan, fitting slices neatly like pieces of a puzzle.
Some girls poured the milkegg mixture on top, while others sprinkled on bits of almond paste or mascarpone cheese. As they repeated the procedure to make three layers, many said that they’d never tasted almond paste or mascarpone cheese. They couldn’t wait to try it.
There wasn’t time for the casserole to sit overnight in the refrigerator as the recipe instructed, so they needed to speed up the process by giving it a flat-handed squish to soak the bread — a task accomplished with glee and giggles.
With the strata in the oven, Lauren Moniz, 11, started to chop an onion for the Hash-Brown Pie. Slowly, so sloooowly, she cut.
"My brother cut his finger really badly, trying to cut a baseball in half," Lauren explained over the hum of potatoes shredding in a food processor.
While Julia browned onions and potatoes in hot oil, the girls measured and mixed egg filling.
"Oh, it smells so good. It reminds me of a potato-onion dish from my mom’s Crock-Potcookbook," said Madeline Stone, taking in a big whiff while Julia pushed cooked potatoes into a crust-like crater in the skillet.
Filled with the egg mixture, the skillet went in the oven at about the same time the strata finished baking.
"I have to take stuff out of the oven for my older sister," Madeline said, lifting strata from oven rack with poise. "She’s three years older, but afraid."
"Afraid" wasn’t in this cooking crew’s vocabulary. They turned out two glorious breakfast casseroles, as well as a giant pitcher of Breakfast Lemonade, made with fresh fruit, mango juice and canned lemonade, in less than three hours. Plus, they cleaned up.
OK, we’ll admit it’s not a foolproof test. Those cookingclub girls have had some kitchen experience.
But there’s a darn good chance that any adult-supervised crew, proceeding with love and caution, could do the same.
Kids who cook
It’s fun! It’s challenging! And you get to eat the results! No wonder kids and cooking go together so well. Here’s what the kids who participated in our experiment had to say on the subject: "I like molding and touching food with my bare hands." — Colleen Grant, 11. "I love taste testing and learning how to make the next thing." — Suzanne Evans, 11.
"I like to taste my own creations. I cook for my parents — chicken breasts in white wine, caramelized apples with Cool Whip. I want to be a chef." — Julia Blake, 11.
"I like putting my hands in food and eating it before it’s cooked . . . and a mess." — Lauren Moniz, 11.
"I like the smell of all the foods mixed together." — Madeline Stone, 12.
"I like it (that) when you’re done making it, youcan be really proud. When you mess up, you figure out how to make it better next time." — Katie Chalmers, 12.