If your kids are housebound, it's time to make the kitchen the new playroom with these fun cooking projects.

By Dakota Kim
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You're likely spending more time than ever at home these days, and your kids are probably pulling long faces in the afternoons, bored out of their minds. If your littles are looking for more projects, these ideas will rival the TV in entertainment value and complexity.

No one knows boredom at home — and what alleviates it — better than kids. Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, 16, a Top Chef Junior season one contestant whose Oakland school recently moved its classes online, has found herself stuck at home. She recommends letting your kids do the research and pick the particular recipes. That way, she says, they'll be excited to execute the cooking project they chose, from start to finish. "When I was younger, I was really excited to cook because I was choosing the recipes I was making," says Bisseret Martinez. "Let them do the research on the key ingredient and what they want to make."

Kiran Alwy, 13, the Chopped Junior season nine runner-up, proposes teaching kids how to use unique ingredients like aquafaba, the magical cooking liquid of chickpeas. Novel ingredients will make them feel like they're doing a chemistry project, instead of just baking the same old cookies as everyone else. "I'm planning on making vegan cookies with aquafaba instead of milk and eggs," she says.

To pick recipes, the innovative Alwy suggests ordering, downloading, or dusting off cookbooks to prevent boredom and provide a theme. Her favorites right now include Bryant Terry's new Vegetable Kingdom and Julia Turshen's new classic Small Victories. If you're in short supply on an item, she says, you can sub things easily, since the basic recipe is what's important.

There's no better time to learn preservation techniques for fresh produce, especially since your freezer can only house so many bags of frozen veggies. If you're at a loss for ideas, Bisseret Martinez suggests collaborative projects, like pickling and preserving with your kids. She advises experimenting with three different types of preserving methods for maximum variety (read: your kids won't be bored eating the same pickles every day for weeks). Her recommendations include quick pickling, water bath canning, and making condiments.

Quick pickling, the Bisseret Martinez says, will be easy for all ages. The steps are simple: boil, add ingredients, and then immediately chill. She usually quick pickles quail eggs, Swiss chard stems, cauliflower, and other vegetables, experimenting with spicy or sweet variations. Water bath canning requires advance preparation or ordering supplies online, but could be a great project for a long period of staying at home.

If your kid doesn't like conventional pickles of any kind, try to interest him or her in preservation through condiment creation, which many kids don't realize is closely related to pickling. "Because most of the time your kids are getting ketchup and mayo from jars, it's really cool to teach them to make condiments themselves," says Bisseret Martinez. "You can customize things however you want, like adding jalapeños to one jar. Try making salad dressing or mustard with a few flavors or add-ons."

And if pickling and condiments are just too sour for your picky little one, go sweet. Baking is a no-brainer right now, says Alwy. For starters, she says, baking ingredients don't go bad as quickly, so you don't feel the pressure to use them right away. "All kids love baking, and I've never met a kid who doesn't want to help their parents make cookies," Alwy says.

Especially if the kids are younger, let your freezer replace the oven. No-bakes are crowd pleasers that can be made by all ages. Even older kids and some teens will enjoy making cookies that firm up on a baking sheet in the freezer. Alwy also recommends ice cream as a fun project where kids can choose the flavors and every time they eat the ice cream, they'll relish the satisfaction that they made it.

Alwy, whose Minnesota school is closed, hasn't been allowed to leave the house and says she's "extremely bored," so to make the days go faster, she's constantly looking for longer projects that require a lot of preparation. "Try a project that requires at least two to three hours, like a big soup, a huge pot roast, a curry, or a roasted chicken with a lot of chopping and prep," Alwy suggests, especially for kids who've never done a larger project.

If your kid is ready to graduate from roasted chicken, look to more gourmet projects. Since you have an extended amount of time with the kids, go big if they're ready. "My dad finally let me use the blowtorch to make crème brûlée," says Alwy. "It's hard, there are a lot of skills involved. You have to slowly stir in the boiling cream because you don't want to scramble the eggs. It need to get fluffy enough and you have to put some sugar on it and blowtorch it."

Alwy encourages simple ways for younger kids to get artistic with your desserts. "If you're making shortbread, try using a toothpick to create hearts and stars instead of the regular little holes."

Bisseret Martinez's own artsy plans include making hand pies: a creole mushroom pie with tomato crust. The crusts need to be hand shaped and encourage motor coordination in younger kids, while the older kids can use forks or fingers to form pretty indents in the crust. "They take some time, but not too many ingredients, and can be frozen," she says. "You've got extra time, and not enough ingredients, so it's a win-win situation."

To try out Rahanna Bisseret Martinez's hand pies, use the recipe below.

Creole Mushroom Hand Pies

Makes 12 hand pies

Pie Crust Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shortening (substitute butter or cooking oil, but it will not be as flaky and needs to rest before rolling)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (if tomato paste isn’t available just omit)

Mushroom Filling Ingredients

  • ½ bell pepper (about half a cup)
  • 2 small celery sticks (about half a cup)
  • ½ small white or yellow onion (about a half a cup)
  • 1 ½ cup thinly sliced mushroom caps (white button or cremini mushrooms work best but any mushroom is usable)
  • 1 peeled clove garlic
  • ½ teaspoon each of paprika, thyme, creole seasonings (if you don’t have these items just lightly salt and pepper to your taste)
  • 2 tablespoons your favorite cooking oil

Directions

1. Mix flour in a medium bowl with salt and shortening until it forms little pea sized balls. Technique tip: Some like to take a fork and knife in each hand and make cutting motions to create the pea size shapes of shortening. Don’t press down with the bottom of fork to combine because the crust won’t be as flaky.

2. Drizzle the water into the flour and shortening mixture and gently mix until it’s all combined into a soft dough.

3. Take out ¼ cup of dough and add tomato paste. Once combined, slightly mix with remaining dough to create a marbled effect.

4. Dice bell pepper, celery and onions. For selective eaters who don’t care for the Trinity ingredients (onion, celery and bell pepper), you can omit an ingredient but we suggest that you compensate with more of the other ingredients to have about three cups of mixture.

5. Heat a pan to medium heat and add oil, onion, celery, and bell pepper.

6. Once the onions are nearly translucent and the bell pepper is softened to your liking, about 8 minutes, add in mushroom, garlic, and seasonings. Cook for around 3-5 minutes, then set aside in a bowl.

7. Roll out the dough. Use a 3-inch circle cutter to make hand pies and lay 12 on a baking sheet. Technique tip: If there isn’t a circle cutter available use a jar lid, a comparable-sized bowl, or a hand drawn 3-inch circle stencil shape and a knife to cut circle shaped dough.

8. Layer 1/4 cup of filling on one circle of dough and place another circle of dough of dough on top. Take a fork and gently press the edges together just enough for them to seal.

9. Cut an x shape with a knife on the top layer of dough for each completed hand pie.

9. Bake on 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until pie crust is golden.