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Summer cooking by the teenager

By Staff | Jul 28, 2017

-Farm News photos by Laura Carlson The pizza sits on a stone on the grill. It takes about 30 minutes depending upon the temperature of the coals, according the Carlson



Summer brings yard mowing, extra outdoor chores and making family meals for my son.

I am thrilled when my son, Ben Carlson, oversees our meals – it is a night I don’t have to decide what to prepare or cook for the family meal.

“Since I am home-schooled, I make my own lunches all year long,” he said as he opened a frozen pizza box. “My favorite meal has got to be a grilled cheese pizza. I even grill them in the winter.”

Ben is what most parents call the “picky eater.” To survive the oddities of a child who gobbles pineapple but then gags on mashed potatoes, I taught him how to cook for himself by the sixth grade. Remember, I home-school my son, so he is home with me all day, every day. There is no school lunch program to fall back on. There isn’t the novelty of bringing a sack lunch to school. I used all my 4-H skills to review hot ovens, preheating, proper oven mitt use and grocery shopping techniques that year.

A tip for grocery shopping for a picky eater is the “if you don’t write the item on my list, it won’t be purchased” rule.

Ben learned quickly to regularly update the list.

“My mom said she wasn’t a short order cook,” he said. “So I learned how to make more than peanut butter sandwiches. I burned the first few pizzas so badly I threw them out, but I am pretty much the expert now.”

Our family lives in northern Story County. In addition to Ben, my husband and I have five rescue cats and an adult daughter under our roof. Ben begins his senior year of home-school high school in August. My job as his mom is pretty much to help him learn time management skills. He takes college courses with two home-supervised online classes.

Along with pizzas, Ben can add pie-maker to his accomplishments.

“I used to eat cherry Pop-Tarts every morning for breakfast,” he said. “Cherry pie and Pop-Tarts are kind of alike. I asked for a cherry tree in the yard. We planted one and now it has a ton of cherries every June.”

“We always leave a few for the birds to eat,” he added, which is code for “Mom is too tired to pick the ones at the very top of the tree.”

Ben regularly grills pizzas for the whole family. The pizzas cook one at a time while he plays games on his phone in a lawn chair on the porch. His tastes are simple: plain burgers, cheese pizzas, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, bananas and vanilla ice cream with pie.

Many students are home all summer for lunches. What is my son’s advice to menu-weary moms?

“Make them learn how to cook what they want,” he said. “I can actually live on what I can make. I am more independent than most of my friends. That’s what kids my age want, to be left alone. I even do the grocery shopping occasionally. I kind of like to go through the aisles with no one telling me what to buy.”

And you know what? I kind of like sending him to the grocery store while I sit on the porch in that lawn chair.

Grilled pizzas

Ben suggests going to the store and buy any frozen pizza.

“You can add toppings at home,” he said. “My sister likes fresh basil and more cheese.”

Preheat the grill for 15 or 20 minutes. Place the frozen pizza on a pizza stone and place on the grill.

Close the lid.

Set a timer for 15 minutes to check it. Add minutes as needed. The bottom will burn quickly if you have it too hot.

Use oven mitts and a long-handled spatula to slide the pizza to a large plate.

Ben’s cherry pie

(According to Ben, his mother always uses Grandma Bonnie’s old cookbook, so that’s what he uses)


2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup butter or Crisco (Grandma used half butter and half Crisco)

About 5 tablespoons cold ice water

Measure flour and salt into large bowl. Add the butter or Crisco and mix it with a fork or your clean hands. Add the cold water one tablespoon at a time. The dough might be sticky, so add flour if it is. Make it into a softball-sized ball. Divide the dough into halves. Roll out each half on a floured surface with a rolling pin. Place the first crust in the pie pan and fill with the cherries (see below).

Roll out the second crust and fold in half. Then lay it onto the pie. (It makes it easier to put the crust on top of the cherries.)


7 1/2 cups pitted tart cherries

1 2/3 to 2 cups sugar (we always use more than 2 cups)

1/2 cup flour

3 tablespoons butter (real)

Mix cherries, sugar and flour together. Taste test and add more sugar if needed. Pour cherries onto crust, cut the butter into 6 pieces and place onto the cherries. Put the top crust on.

Use a fork and smash the crust edges together or pinch them. Cut slits into the top crust or it can kind of blow up. Put the pie on a cookie sheet so it doesn’t run out into the oven.

Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Serves four teenage boys.

(According to Ben Carlson, the secret to a perfectly grilled pizza is to set a timer)

Grilled chicken a la Italian dressing

(Laura Carlson said even picky eaters will enjoy it)

6 defrosted or fresh chicken breasts (with or without skin, with or without bone)

Bottle of Italian dressing (not low fat)

Gallon-size plastic bag.

Put meat and 2 plus cups dressing into the bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator for 3 to 5 hours. Grill over medium coals for 10 minutes or until juices run clear.

Remove chicken from grill. The meat will continue to cook for 5-10 minutes while you prepare rest of meal. Serves six.

Chicken casserole

(This recipe is from Ben Carlson’s great-grandmother. It doesn’t specify the amount of chicken or baking temperature. When Laura Carlson prepares the casserole, she factors in how many will be eating and how hungry they may be to determine how much chicken to prepare.)

Cook chicken breasts/thighs. Remove meat from bones (about 1 cup per person)

Cook 1 large package or 2 small packages frozen broccoli for 7 minutes. Drain.


1 can cream of chicken soup (can use low sodium)

1 cup mayonnaise (don’t use fat free)

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place in layers in a baking dish in the order of broccoli, chicken, sauce. Repeat. Top with purchased bread crumbs. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly throughout. Laura Carlson quadruples the recipe so leftovers are available the following day.

Grilled potato packets


Cheddar cheese (sliced or shredded)

5 potatoes



In large heavy duty baking foil, place 6 pats of butter. Over the butter, lay slices of potatoes and onions. Season with garlic, salt, and pepper. Dot another 6 teaspoons of butter on top of the potato mixture.

Wrap foil securely around the packet of potatoes. Place onto the grill prior to cooking meat, as these take longer to cook.

To avoid burning the potatoes, you can double wrap the packet or place onto the top rack of grill.

Allow about 20 minutes for 5 potatoes, depending upon thickness of slices.

Stays warm in the packet while the meat cooks.

Serves four.

Laura Carlson noted that this can be made “picky eater” friendly by permitting each person to personalize individual assembly of packets for grilling. She recommends using a variety of personal toppings for interesting summer meals. (No onions for some, more cheese for others, add peppers, etc.)

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