Chef Interviews
Jennifer Low
by Kate Zimmerman for the Weekend Post, Table Talk

Tiny teeth crunchers

Just when you thought you’d tidied up after your own Christmas cooking, Jennifer Low wants to set loose your offspring in the hearth of your home. In Kitchen for Kids (Whitecap, $24.95), the food editor of Canadian House & Home magazine, who also appears on House & Home TV, presents recipes suitable for children as young as her own four-year-old and as old as 11. No sharp knives and no hot stovetops are the rule as Low leads the young’uns through recipes like Chocolate-Mint Pinwheel Lollies, Paddy Thai Noodles and Noisy French Toast, which crunches when they sink their little tiny teeth into it. Frightened of the culinary carnage pint-sized chefs could wreak in homes across the nation, the Post stood Low in a corner and made her answer this Q & A.

How old were you when you first started to cook?

At about seven I started taking cookbooks out of the library and cooking from them.

What did you make?

My first project was something called “Cuban bread.” I don’t know what was Cuban about it, but it was a crusty freeform loaf and the one recipe lobbed into a storybook I had. I baked it to find out what the characters in the book were tasting. My mom was amazed I’d made bread on my own. It was really quite good so I felt encouraged to cook more.

Who or what inspired you?

I loved watching a woman named Mona Brun on TV. She’s a well-known cookbook author out west (where I’m from). Mona was one of the first TV cooks on Canadian TV in B.C., I think. She put all her ingredients in these tiny little ramekins -- even a teaspoon of lemon juice had its own tiny dish. I thought that was so cool. My mother cooked by “feel” and never measured so I found Mona’s method fascinating.

How old was your son (now seven) when he first started to cook?

Three-and-a-half. We made chocolate cookies. He smashed open an egg when I turned away to set the oven. The egg dribbled down the sides of the cupboards. He laughed his head off. I was not as amused.

You’re a former business journalist. Which is tastier, food or money?

Food. Money tends to be a bit dry.

Which kitchen implement do you use daily?

A balloon whisk. I don’t whisk with it. I use it to stir everything from spaghetti sauce to pancake batter – it mixes twice as fast as anything else.

How do you cure a picky eater?

You put something new on their plate alongside the familiar stuff and you encourage them to just take a taste. You promise if they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it. But then I do this extra thing … just before they put it in their mouth, I lean in close, lick my lips and say hungrily, “But I’ll eat it, if you don’t want it.” Kids are very contrary so this added fillip on my part ensures they’ll be more open to liking the food -- if only to thwart me.

Which flavouring do you over-use?

Cumin. It’s my husband’s favourite spice. If I add it, he raves and does the dishes. What can I say? My life is made up of a string of survival tactics.

What would you choose for your last meal?

It would be my Mom’s secret recipe for panfried oysters. Oh, gosh. They’re like a heavenly oyster-flavoured custard when she’s done with them. She laughs and won’t even tell me her mysterious method. Plus, her stir-fried crab with scallions and ginger. And a bunch of other stuff, but those two are non-negotiable.

JENNIFER LOW’S PADDY THAI NOODLES

Plan ahead to allow at least 1 hour for the noodles to soak.

6-7 oz. uncooked flat rice noodles (1/4 in. wide)
one-half cup ketchup
one-half cup water
2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp garlic salt
½ tsp ground coriander
a few drops sesame oil, if you wish

Any or all of the following toppings:
2 or 3 slices of chicken cold cuts
4 oz. cooked, peeled salad shrimp, frozen or thawed
½ green onion
handful raw bean sprouts
chopped peanuts for sprinkling

  1. Put the noodles in a large metal mixing bowl. Break them up if they stick out of the bowl. Put the bowl in the sink and add enough very warm (not hot) water to cover the noodles. Place a heavy bowl on top to keep the noodles in the water and soak at least one hour, up to 3 hours, to soften. Drain.

  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  3. In a metal mixing bowl, mix the ketchup, water, oil, soy sauce, garlic salt, coriander and sesame oil (if using).

  4. Add the noodles to the bowl. Mix with tongs or a wooden spoon to coat with the ketchup sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Get help taking the bowl out and opening the foil. Leave the oven on.

  5. Use the tongs or wooden spoon to mix the noodles again. Lift the softer noodles to the top so the stiffer ones can reach the sauce in the bottom. Re-cover with the foil and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven (keep oven on) and carefully taste to check for tenderness. Noodles should be soft. If they are too hard and chewy, mix in 2 Tbsp water, cover and bake another 20 minutes, or until soft.

  6. If you are adding the chicken, use a pizza cutter to slice it into thin strips. Add the chicken and shrimp. Cover the bowl with foil. Bake another 10 minutes.

  7. Spoon Paddy Thai into serving dishes and sprinkle with green onion (snipped into pieces with scissors), bean sprouts and chopped peanuts, if you wish.

Makes three or four small servings.

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