Janice Mitchell mixes it up with her family both inside and outside her Leawood kitchen. There’s always room in the kitchen for her two grown sons’ children: Abby and Bryce, 15; Kaelyn and Raegan, 12; and Brooke, 7.
Outside by the grill, things really start heating up when Mitchell and her husband of nearly 50 years, Donald, compete in barbecue contests. The couple have been part of a team that has participated in the American Royal Barbecue competition since 2007.
Owners of a metal fabrication business, they have built their own smokers to prepare award-winning dishes.
Q: Forgive the expression, but this ain’t your first rodeo when it comes to being featured with children in the food section.
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A: It was 14 years ago, with my first two grandchildren, who were toddlers at the time, when we used an Easy-Bake Oven to make holiday treats together. It was a fun and proud moment for my entire family. I framed the article, and it has always had a special place in my home.
Since then there have been three additional grandchildren who have asked so many times, “When can we do that?” while looking at the article. Being able to bake with my grandchildren just makes me feel so blessed.
Q: But is a taste for adventure what led you outside to begin competing in barbecue competitions with Donald and friends?
A: Donald and I took a class together with professionals to learn how to smoke meat and got bit by the barbecuing bug. We are active members of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and are certified judges, but we still love competing.
We have taken part in the American Royal Barbecue competition for eight years. Our team’s name is Smokin’ Suzy, named for my childhood nickname, and it is a dream come true to hear your name called at the American Royal with more than 600 teams competing.
In 2013 our team won the grand champion in the side-dish category, which included vegetables, baked beans and potatoes. This past year our team won grand champion in the dessert category for a cheesecake.
Q: But the recipe you’re sharing was also an award winner at the American Royal, too.
A: This was the first dessert I entered for competition in 2007, and it won a 10th-place ribbon. Pumpkin is now such a popular ingredient and flavor profile in both sweet and savory dishes. You can also control portions by using smaller ramekins, and rum can be substituted for the vanilla extract.
People need to take care when they’re dealing with the water bath, so scalding water doesn’t burn them. A tip I’ve also learned is that you can place a paper towel on the bottom of the baking pan, before adding the water, to prevent the ramekins from sliding around. Also, the use of the kitchen torch requires special care because of the fire element, and be cautious when caramelizing the sugar, because it can spatter.
Q: Do you have advice for families who want to cook with their children and grandchildren in the kitchen?
A: Time goes so fast. Those toddlers featured 14 years ago are now driving. Some of our greatest memories are with our grandchildren with their Grammy and Papa cooking and eating together. In our fast-paced society, it’s still important to remember to slow down, and making food and eating together really support that.
We have a tradition of making, frosting and decorating cupcakes with our grandchildren and have a little expression of “sprinkling things with love” when covering the icing with sprinkles. People shouldn’t focus on the mess that happens when children are getting creative. You can always clean it up afterward, but you can’t get back those precious moments together.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Pumpkin Crème Brulée
Makes 8 servings
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup (or 16 teaspoons), divided
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Fill teakettle with water and bring to a boil on stovetop.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk cream, vanilla, egg yolks, sugar, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger together until well incorporated. Run mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and skim any foam off top of strained mixture. Pour mixture evenly between 8 ramekins or custard cups and place filled cups in at least a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
Pull rack halfway out of oven and place baking pan full of ramekins on it. Create a water bath by carefully pouring hot water from teakettle into pan, without spilling water into filled ramekins. Stop adding water to the baking pan when the level reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully push rack back into oven and bake in a bain-marie, or water bath, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until custards are set around edges on ramekins but still slightly soft in center.
Carefully remove from oven and leave in the water bath until completely cooled. Remove cups from water and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or, covered in plastic wrap, up to 2 days.
Before serving, sprinkle 2 teaspoons sugar over each custard. Using a lit, hand-held propane kitchen torch, hold it 5 inches away from the sugared top to caramelize it by moving the flame in a slow and even motion over the top of each ramekin. The sugar will melt quickly, so be sure to remove flame before burning.
After creating a crispy sugared top, chill ramekins in refrigerator for another 5 minutes before serving.
Note: To light a propane gas torch, place on a flat surface, facing away from you. Ignite the lighter, then open the gas valve on the torch. Always turn off the burner valve when finished using the torch.
Per serving: 343 calories (70 percent from fat), 27 grams total fat (15 grams saturated), 294 milligrams cholesterol, 22 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 31 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.