by Chelsea Plummer

With a long spring (mostly) behind us and what feels like an even longer summer ahead of us, I’ve had a lot of friends who are parents talk about how they are at a loss for how to keep their kids entertained over the summer months.

With so many of the usual activities and summer camps either limited or restricted, what is a parent to do? How do we keep the kiddos in our lives entertained, their creative juices flowing and their imaginations thriving?

I went back to my childhood in search of an answer. Immediately, I started thinking of the soups I made with my grandma, the baking I did with my aunt Lisa or the endless dishes of macaroni and cheese I’d whip up for lunch with my mom.

Whereas summers were about spending time at the pool, reading or hanging out with friends, they were also about cooking, exploring and having fun in the kitchen.

It was in the kitchen that I learned the comforting and self-confidence boosting power of making my own meal—of seeing something come from nothing. I also got the taste of creativity while exploring different flavors and seeing the many ways recipes could come together.

There was also something so scientific about cooking. I loved learning how leavening agents and yeasts work, the role of different ingredients in recipes, and why certain flavor combinations didn’t work. I also learned to not stress when I got a cookie recipe wrong and instead to step back and think through what I could do better next time. In short, getting in the kitchen as a youngster was the match that ignited my love for cooking. It is my hope that now is the perfect opportunity to help kids in our community find theirs, too.

Two kid-friendly recipes

It’s often hard to sort through which “kid-friendly recipes” are simply recipes kids are likely to eat, and which are recipes kids would also be able to make.

For that reason, I set out to develop recipes that were easy for most kiddos ages 5 to 12 to make and that they would also enjoy eating. The younger the child, the more he or she would probably need the guidance and assistance of an adult, but these recipes still wouldn’t be too complicated, complex or require any knife skills.

Pretzel dogs

The pretzel dogs are admittedly a bit of a more complex recipe, but please don’t let that scare you. They take careful measuring and five minutes of kneading, but that’s about it. Classic soft pretzel recipes call for boiling the pretzels in baking soda water before baking, but we don’t need that for these pretzel dogs to be great.

Have fun playing around with different ways to wrap your pretzel dogs or even follow my directions below on how to make soft baked pretzels. Either way, you will love the recipe because it’s fun and ready in just 40 minutes.

If making these pretzel dogs for adults, you can also wrap them around pre-cooked chicken or pork sausages. Just bake them for the full 18 minutes before broiling.

See my notes below on how to make soft pretzels with this pretzel dough.

Servings: 8 pretzel dogs | Cooking time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup warm water (warm to the touch, no need to take the temperature)

2 teaspoons yeast

4 teaspoons packed brown sugar

1 ½ teaspoons salt

3 cups (or 360g) whole wheat flour (preferably white whole wheat)

1 ½ cups (180g) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

8 hot dogs or pre-cooked pork or chicken sausages

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons water

Coarse salt

Dipping sauces:

Ketchup, mustard, honey mustard,ranch dressing, salsa, etc.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the warm water, yeast, brown sugar and salt for 1 minute, or until the yeast has dissolved and the water is a light, milky tan color.

Slowly stir the flour into the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the dough forms a craggy mass.

Sprinkle your work surface lightly with extra flour and turn your dough out onto it. Knead the dough for 5-6 minutes, sprinkling more flour onto the work surface if the dough starts sticking to it, or until the dough is soft and elastic.

Roll your pretzel dough into a large ball and cut into 8 equal pieces. Starting in the center of each piece, roll the dough into 20- to 22-inch ropes.

Wrap 1 rope of dough around each hot dog, pinching the ends of the dough rope down so they don’t come undone when baking. The ends of your hot dogs will also likely be sticking out the ends of the pretzel dough; that is okay because the dough will expand when baking.

Place the pretzel dogs 2.5 to 3 inches apart on the baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and water to make an egg wash. Brush the wash over the top and sides of the dough on each pretzel dog and sprinkle with salt.

Bake the pretzel dogs for 16-18 minutes, or until they have expanded and the bottom of the dogs are golden brown.

Turn the broiler on to 500 degrees and broil the pretzel dogs for 2-3 minutes, or until their tops are golden brown, but not burning yet.

Remove from the oven, let cool 1-2 minutes, and serve hot with your favorite dipping sauces.

Recipe Notes:

These pretzel dogs last covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Reheat them in the toaster oven on low for 2-4 minutes, or until heated through.

You can freeze these pretzel dogs in a freezer safe container or resealable bag for up to 2 months. For best reheating success, defrost the dog for 12 to 24 hours and then reheat in the toaster oven on low for 2-4 minutes, or until heated through. You can also defrost the pretzel dog on low heat in the microwave and then toast it to crisp it up.

To make soft pretzels, skip the step of rolling the dough around the hot dogs or sausages and instead shape the pretzels into your desired shapes. Brush with the egg wash and salt the pretzels before you bake them for 13-15 minutes and broil for them 2-3 minutes.

Easy alphabet soup

Alphabet soup was a dish I remember being so excited about when I learned how to make it as a kiddo. Floating pasta letters, a delicious tomato broth and learning I could make a soup that I had only ever before seen in a can got me excited enough to rattle on about it to my family for days.

That being said, this soup is on the easier side and will be something younger children can have fun trying their hand at making. Of course, parents will need to supervise the cooking on the stove top, but there are mild flavors (no onions), no knife skills needed, and the soup is ready in under 20 minutes (also, I give substitutions if you can’t find alphabet pasta).

Kids will love this alphabet soup because it is mild flavored, yet delicious and easy enough that some older kids might be able to make it alone.

If you don’t have alphabet noodles, substitute in orzo or small shells and increase the soup simmering time to what the pasta package recommends if the pasta dictates a cooking time longer than 8 minutes.

Servings: 8 cups of soup | Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 ½ cups frozen vegetable medley

¼ teaspoon dried garlic ½ teaspoon dried basil

1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes

32 oz (or 1 quart) vegetable or chicken broth

½ cup alphabet pasta or orzo pasta(see notes above on using another small pasta shape)

Grated Parmesan cheese to garnish (optional)

Directions:

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium-size saucepan for 1 minute, or until it sizzles when you flick a few drops of water on the oil.

Add the vegetable medley and sauté the vegetables, stirring every 30 seconds or so, for 4-5 minutes, or until the peas and beans are turning a brighter green color.

Add the dried garlic and dried basil and sauté for 1 minute, stirring the veggies every 15 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and broth to the saucepan and stir the soup well. Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a light boil.

Reduce the heat back to medium and stir in the pasta. Stir the soup well and cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring the soup every 1-2 minutes and to make sure no pasta sticks to the bottom of the pan, or until the pasta is cooked through.

Remove the soup from the heat and serve hot. Garnish with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Recipe Notes:

Soup leftovers last in the refrigerator for 4-5 days in an airtight container.

This soup can also be frozen in a freezer safe container for 2-3 months.