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{Review} Equipping Kids to Cook with Curious Chef Tools

Curious Chef 16-piece cupcake and decorating setMy kids have expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen practically since they could talk. At times, this was exasperating, but I tried to be patient as there is so much value to letting kids cook. In addition to teaching them a lifetime skill and getting them interested in preparing healthy foods, letting kids cook has been proven to help with math (all those fractions and equations involved when altering recipes), and may even reduce their chances of getting involved with drugs. There are many other benefits as well — improved reading skills, bonding time with family, real-life application of science, and more! So why doesn’t everyone do it?

In my very informal observation of friends who don’t encourage their kids to join them in preparing a meal, there are a few consistent objections:

  • Patience: It can take longer when kids are helping and they may not do everything “right”
  • Mess: Cooking can be messy, and more so with kids
  • Safety: Fears about kids getting burned or injuring themselves with a knife2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 044

I had all of the same concerns above when my kids started joining me in the kitchen, but I also have a Montessori-influenced approach to parenting. (My children have a very headstrong approach to being kids — they always want to try everything whether I think they are ready to or not!) In addition to encouraging cooking (Montessori school kids often have to prepare and bring in their own lunches at a very tiny age), the Montessori method encourages providing child-sized tools for any job.

This is why I was intrigued by the Curious Chef line of kitchen tools. Embracing the many benefits of having kids in the kitchen, they produce cheerful, right-sized tools for kids. They asked me to try out their products2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 078 and sent me a cupcake set and a 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and a 3-piece nylon knife set.

It turns out that the cupcake set was the perfect thing to cheer up JavaGirl (age 9) while her brother was away at camp. We had a jam-packed schedule, but in between her vacation bible school camp and horseback riding lesson, we quickly cooked up some cupcakes in the six-spaces tin. They have a recipe on the side of the box that is yields six cups, but inexplicably, I had every type of flour EXCEPT self-rising in my pantry that day! So we grabbed a box of cake mix and used that instead. In the interests of time we used pre-made frosting rather than mixing up our own from the directions provided.

What I was most interested in seeing was how the silicone cups would work (separate inserts that went into the metal pan, rather than a silicone pan). I have used some silicone tools, but I have never used these before. And because I’m perpetually curious, I decided to use our leftover cake batter to cook cupcakes in another pan of mine, in paper wrappers, to see if it would make a difference (JavaGirl loves the idea of an experiment).

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 208

The cupcake on the left was baked in the silicone cup, the one on the right was in a paper wrapper.

The cupcakes cooked beautifully and were very moist. The silicone cups kept the pan clean and the cupcakes came out of them easily. (Note the silicone cups can be washed in the dishwasher but are also easy to handwash.) When compared to the ones in the paper cups, we found that the ones in the Curious Chef cups/pan were more evenly baked and much moister. (Which may be true of any brand of silicone cups — these were just the first ones we had ever used.)

Next: Decorating

JavaGirl has decorated cakes using my Wilton bags and tips before, in fact, earning her American Heritage Girls Cake Decorating badge. But the Curious Chef set comes with a plunger-type of decorating system. The tips screw onto the end without requiring additional rings. There are five shapes of tips including one that would allow you to inject something into the middle of a cupcake. I really wanted to try that one, but JavaGirl wasn’t interested in that that day and time was tight, so, um, I may be using her tools another day! Though I was able to use the plunger (to demonstrate how to use it), it is nicely sized for children’s hands and in my opinion, is definitely easier for kids to use than a decorating bag. And also, easier to clean.  If there were one addition I would recommend to Curious Chef, it would be to include a small tip-cleaning brush and mesh bag (to hold tips while in the dishwasher), fortunately I already had both. The sixteenth piece of the set is a packet of blank recipe cards with stickers.

2015-07-07 Curious Chef Making Muffins w Lorelei 159JavaGirl enjoyed working with the decorating set and would’ve happily fiddled with it for quite a while if we had not been in a hurry.

Incidentally, the set also include a nylon mixing spoon, which again, is a nice size for kids, and a nylon frosting spreader which worked well for JavaGirl.

A final note on the set — at first I was a little surprised that the pan was only for 6 servings, but when I thought more about it, I like this. When we are cooking just for ourselves, 6 is just right and none of those extra cupcakes hanging out for days. Also, JavaGirl and I discussed other ways we could use the pan/silicone cups. Of course we could make muffins, but in our family, we’ve been enjoying making some of the many “muffin pan recipes” out there including breakfast eggcups (think scrambled eggs with seasonings and cut up veggies). We plan to try those out in this set soon to see how they come out versus just in our regular pan and the small size is convenient.

Overall, the set was a huge hit with JavaGirl, despite the fact she already has access to so many tools. She felt pride in this being HER set. And don’t think this is just for girls, JavaBoy tends to cook even more than JavaGirl, so I think he’ll end up using this a lot as well.

Child-sized Cutting Tools

IMG_2377The nylon knife set, on the other hand, got a mixed reaction from JavaGirl. When she was a preschooler, I started her out with a different kind of safety knife, and she has since progressed to using my Wusthof knives. However, I still worry at times about her injuring herself, so I was very intrigued to see how these would workout. Initially, she rejected them, claiming they required more pressure on her part. I tried one out on a few different things such as tomatoes, celery, and peaches — they could cut them all, but did require a little more pressure on harder materials. (Cut the tomato well, however!) Yet just last night, I caught JavaGirl using one of the nylon knives to slice up a peach. So my thoughts are that if you are holding back on letting your child cook due to fear of injury from knives, this is a great option. If your child already safely uses knives, you may or may not be interested in this set — there is some peace of mind with them using a nylon knife, but it has a different “feel” to it. By the way, in holding the knife myself, I oddly found it to be nicely “balanced,” not something I was expecting in a knife like this.

In terms of overall quality, I felt like the pan, silicone cups, and all the nylon tools were great. The decorating plunger was not flimsy but didn’t feel quite as “heavy duty” to me as the other tools, however, this is the first time I’ve used a plunger frosting tool  so I have can’t compare it to an “adult-sized” plunger tool. The finger holes on it worked well for both JavaGirl and I, which is a huge plus because it means parents are able to comfortably demonstrate how to use it to kids. (Also, JavaGirl is left-handed, I am right-handed, and it worked well for both of us.)

The cupcake and decorating set retails for $24.99 on the Curious Chef site, but I also noticed that it retails for less (and is also currently on sale tor additional savings) on Amazon.com (note this link includes my Amazon Associates code. The nylon knife set retails for $8.99 on the Curious Chef (more on the Amazon site, so price shop for any of the tools in this line.) The Curious Chef has many products, including child-sized oven mitts and aprons, food prep tools such as vegetable peelers, and much more. They are all cute and I think any child would feel proud to own any of them.

Whatever tools you use, try to find some time to get your kids in the kitchen with you. You’ll build some wonderful memories together and sneak in some educational benefits as well!

Disclosure: The Curious Chef provided me with the 16-piece cupcake and decorating set and 3-piece nylon knife set for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own (or JavaGirl’s) and were not influenced by receiving the complimentary items. This post contains links that allow you to purchase the items if you are interested in them, including links to Amazon.com, of which I am an Associate. If you purchase these or other items from Amazon.com through the provided link, I may receive a tiny percentage from Amazon, which will help support this site.

{Giveaway} Junior League of Northern Virginia’s The Enchanted Forest – 2 Tix

Junior League of Northern Virginia The Enchanted ForestThe holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day makes me positively giddy. There’s an extra bounce in my step, a holiday tune in my head, and a usually a goofy grin plastered on my face. I make an extra effort to remember what I’m thankful for, to spread some holiday cheer, and to reflect upon what to improve upon in the upcoming year.

A big part of my “getting in the spirit” tradition is attending the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s annual The Enchanted Forest. This event is so incredible, so magical, it is nearly impossible to describe in mere words. One simply has to experience it to really grasp it, but I will do my best. Mark you calendar right now for November 23 from 10 am – 5 pm and Nov 24 10 am – 1pm and read on!

One lucky CaffeineandaPrayer.com reader will win a two-pack of general admission tickets, so be sure to enter! Full disclosure here — I am a member of the Junior League of Northern Virginia. But if you’re a regular reader here, you already knew that…

The Junior League of Northern Virginia’s 13th Annual The Enchanted Forest

November 23-24
Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday: 10 am – 1 pm
Westin Tyson’s Corner (7801 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22043)
Tickets and schedule informationhttp://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

The Enchanted Forest

trees 1-lightenedFirst and foremost, there is the forest itself. This event is a fundraiser to support the mission of the Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), an organization of  women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.  The center of the event is a ballroom filled with pre-lit artificial Christmas trees that have been creatively decorated by theme with items and are up for bid via silent auction.  For example, there are trees filled with items for pets, or a tree that is all Barbie items, or everything needed to make martinis. Trees range from about 3 feet to 7 feet tall.  You can ooh-and-aah at row after row of creativity and generosity in the ballroom while performers such as Reston Conservatory Ballet, Pirate Magic and others are in the room. (See the TEF page for the schedule of performances.) Get your photo taken with Santa (see schedule) — and no, you don’t have to be a kid to do so! General admission tickets ($13) grant you access to the forest.

photo-kharris2More Family Fun

In addition to the forest itself, there are more activities at The Enchanted Forest event. The JLNV has brought part of their community work in-house for the public to see firsthand. The Kids in the Holiday Kitchen room allows the children an opportunity to learn about healthy food and exercise habits and prepare some food themselves. Family members of all ages can have fun with hands-on science experiments and learn more about the JLNV’s partnership with the Children’s Science Center in our exploration room.

What’s a holiday event without a model train? Marvel at the National Capital Trackers Model Train Display — popular not just with the kids, but with those who are still children at heart!

Get a jump on our holiday shopping at the Marketplace filled with a variety of vendors. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of “What Can I Bring?” – the JLNV’s coveted cookbook. (Hint: It makes a great gift for teachers.)

Premium Ticket Events

Extend your experience with these premium ticket events. See the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s The Enchanted Forest page for schedule and to purchase tickets.

Cookies with Santa: $25

Enjoy holiday cookies and some very special time with Santa. Event includes a photo with Santa, milk and holiday cookies, story time, a craft activity, and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket, and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free cookies.

Cocoa and Georgetown Cupcakes with Snow Fairy Princess: $25

JLNV The Enchanted Forest Snow Fairy

The Snow Fairy Princess is on her way to Town! Enjoy decorating Georgetown Cupcakes while visiting with the Snow Fairy Princess. Event includes a photo with the Princess, Georgetown Cupcakes and cocoa, story time, a craft activity, and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket, and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free cupcakes.

Breakfast with Santa: $30

Ever wonder what Santa eats for breakfast? If so, join Santa for a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes, assorted pastries, freshly baked bagels, assorted cream cheeses and jams and jellies, fresh fruit, assorted fresh juices, coffee, hot tea, and much more. Event includes a visit, story time, and photo with Santa, as well as a craft activity and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free pastries and bagels.

Gingerbread Workshop: $35 per house

This is always one of my favorites! Attend a Gingerbread Workshop where you will decorate your own edible gingerbread house with royal icing and an assortment of candy.  Your completed house, covered in candy trim with a cookie roof, will be yours to take home that day.  Event includes a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket.

Mistletoe Masquerade Ball (Gala): $90 – Saturday, November 23, 7 pm – 11:30 pm

Need a night out? Indulge in an evening of dancing and merrymaking at the Mistletoe Masquerade Ball, featuring an open bar, hors d’oeuvres, DJ, live and silent auctions and casino events.

Giveaway Details:

The Junior League of Northern Virginia has generously provided me with two general admission tickets (a value of $13 each) to give to one lucky reader. These tickets are good for either day of the event and will be available at Will Call. My family has also been provided with two tickets.

To enter:

  • The giveaway runs between now and 9 am Eastern, Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
  • I am using the Rafflecopter widget for the first time — please let me know if you have any problems.
  • Winner will be notified via email Wednesday and you must respond by Wednesday 7 pm ET or I will have to move on to the next winner as this is a quick turnaround and tickets are only good Saturday or Sunday.  At that time I will need your name and phone number so I may add you to the Will Call list.
  • You can use this shortened link to share the giveaway with friends: http://bit.ly/1j7H49i

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What you will win:

  • Two general admission tickets valid for one day only either November 23 10 am – 5 pm OR November 24 10 am – 1 pm.  A general admission ticket includes access to The Enchanted Forest of Trees, Marketplace, Holiday Entertainment on Center Stage, Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, National Capital Trackers Model Trains Display, Pictures with Santa, and the Children’s Science Center exhibits.
  • Tickets will be made available through Will Call.
  • Ticket recipients should bring valid picture ID.
  • Premium events and gala tickets are available for separate purchase.
  • Event information and additional ticket purchase: http://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

Whether you win the tickets or not, I highly recommend going, it’s a fun, fun time and a great cause!