By Ann Cipperly
With children being out of school early, parents and grandparents have been helping children with educational projects. Lenda Jo Connell has been teaching her granddaughter, 8-year-old Bentleigh Peters, how to cook. “For a lot of reasons,” Lenda Jo said. “I was challenged how we could spend our time together and include learning experiences. Bentleigh loves to cook. It seemed a perfect way to combine math, science and art.

“Cooking includes the math of learning how to do fractions and how proportions interact with each other,” Lenda Jo added. “There is science involved in cooking and art with plating the food and making it look pretty.”

Bentleigh started cooking with her mother, Laura Leigh Peters, and then with her Nana.

Last summer, Bentleigh attended a cooking camp at AUM and learned how to cook pancakes and muffins, as well as how to crack an egg.

Lenda Jo and Bentleigh have been cooking throughout spring since she has been out of school. They create dishes from scratch and also use brownie and cake mixes.

They have been making mini cakes using a Jiffy cake mix that makes one layer. Instead of using the cake batter in a 9-inch cake pan, the batter is baked in six-inch cake pans to create the mini cakes. They may buy frosting or make a simple butter cream frosting which can be colored with food coloring. Bentleigh does the frosting using frosting bags and assorted tips to decorate the cakes.

Another cooking project has been making homemade pizza. Lenda Jo uses a bread machine for making the dough. Children can also learn how to make pizzas using a purchased pizza crust. After the crust has risen, they spread tomato paste over the crust.

Bentleigh prefers a cheese pizza, while Lenda Jo enjoys a Hawaiian style with pineapple chunks and ham. The pizzas are garnished with fresh oregano and basil from the herb garden outside her kitchen.

Lenda Jo slices canned pineapple chunks for her pizza. She recently sliced a fresh pineapple to show Bentleigh the difference between canned and fresh. Instructions for cutting a fresh pineapple attached to the fruit allow Lenda Jo to teach Bentleigh about fractions as the pineapple is reduced from a whole piece to halves, quarters and smaller pieces.

The Impossible Cheeseburger Pie is another dish children enjoy and can help prepare. It goes together quickly.

During summer, the Southwestern Pasta Salad is a favorite and also easy to assemble. “The art comes in making the salad look attractive,” Lenda Jo said.

While the Basic Vanilla Custard is a wonderful dessert for summer on its own, Lenda Jo uses it to create a trifle-type dessert that Bentleigh can help assemble. The custard is layered in tall glasses with pound cake and fresh fruit and garnished with fresh mint for a lovely summer dessert. Pound cake can be homemade or purchased.

Another summer favorite is the Tomato Pie. After watching the tomatoes grow, Bentleigh is ready to see how they can be cooked. Lenda Jo suggests patting the tomatoes very dry before adding them to the pie.

The 4-H Good Chicken is popular with their family and has been a standby for quick meals over the years. The crispy chicken recipe is from the Alabama 4-H Center.

Photo special to the Observer Lenda Jo Connell is enjoying teaching her 8-year-old granddaughter, Bentleigh Peters, how to cook. Lenda Jo (Nana) is sharing a variety of easy recipes that mothers and grandmothers can use to teach children cooking skills over the summer months.

Lenda Jo and Bentleigh recently enjoyed time together at the beach. Bentleigh’s favorite beverage for cooling off after time at the beach is the Cherry Limeade. The refreshing drink is versatile and also good with ice cream added to it on a hot summer day.

When making her mother’s Cherry Cheesecake, Lenda Jo uses the time to tell her granddaughter about when her great-grandmother made this dessert that is now made by four generations. “When you cook with your grandchildren,” she says, “you can share generational family stories help the next generation understand their family history.”

Lenda Jo has had much experience in teaching. After receiving her graduate degree at LSU, she came to Auburn University to teach and then earned her doctorate while at Auburn. She taught apparel design for 42 years in the College of Human Sciences.

She is sharing easy recipes that mothers and grandmothers can use for cooking with children and grandchildren.

Lenda Jo feels it is a blessing to teach her granddaughter. “We are supposed to teach the generations that come after us,” she says. “That is our job as parents and grandparents. It is a blessing to be a grandparent and share your family history and the things their mothers and fathers loved when you were cooking for them.”

“It is fun to cook with Nana,” Bentleigh says with a big smile.

Ann Cipperly can be reached at

Basic Vanilla Custard

See how to create Individual Trifles below.

2 cups milk

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

1/3 cup sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla

Have eggs ready in a bowl and set aside where it will be within reach.

Using a whisk, combine milk, sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan over medium heat on stovetop. Allow milk to scald (heat to the point when tiny bubbles form around edges of pan). Whisk occasionally to prevent cornstarch from clumping on bottom edges of pan.

Remove milk mixture from heat, preferably to a burner that’s turned off.

Mix about 2 tablespoons of scalded milk mixture into eggs using whisk, then add eggs into milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking milk mixture constantly.

Immediately return pan to heat and whisk gently until custard thickens, another two or three minutes. Do not allow to boil. (If you find that you have egg white strands in custard, pour it through a fine-mesh sieve into a different bowl now.)

Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla. Makes 3 cups.

Individual Trifles

Layer custard in tall glasses with pound cake and fresh fruit and garnished with fresh mint for a lovely summer dessert. Pound cake can be homemade or purchased.

Impossibly Easy Cheeseburger Pie

Get all the great taste of a cheeseburger magically baked in a pie.

1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef

1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)

½ tsp. salt

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz.)

½ cup Original Bisquick® mix

1 cup milk

2 eggs

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9-inch glass pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.

In 10-inch skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until beef is brown; drain. Stir in salt. Spread in pie plate. Sprinkle with cheese

In small bowl, stir remaining ingredients with fork or wire whisk until blended. Pour intope plate.

Bake about 25 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Mom’s Cherry Cheesecake

1 (9-inch) prepared graham cracker crust

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

⅓ cup lemon juice

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 can cherry pie filling

Place softened cream cheese in a mixing bowl; add condensed milk, lemon juice and

vanilla. Beat until well blended. Pour mixture into the pie crust. Chill for 5 hours. Do not freeze.

Pour cherry pie filling on top of pie. Serve. Chill leftovers.

Southwestern Pasta Salad

1 (16-oz.) pkg. penne pasta, uncooked

Creamy Southwestern Salad Dressing (recipe follows)

Lettuce leaves

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (8 ¾ oz.) can whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

3 green onions, sliced

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish, optional

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain, Rinse with cold water and drain.

Combine pasta and 1 and 3/4 cups Creamy Southwestern Salad Dressing; toss gently. Chill.

Spoon pasta mixture onto a lettuce- lined serving platter. Top with black beans and next 4 ingredients. Garnish, if desired. Serve with remaining dressing. Makes 6 servings.

Creamy Southwestern Salad Dressing

8 oz. container nonfat sour cream

16 oz. jar mild thick and chunky salsa

½ tsp. ground cumin

2 gloves garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients. Chill. Makes 2 /3/4 cups.

Tomato Pie

1 pie crust

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese, divided

6 to 8 Roma tomatoes, sliced


3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 cup mayonnaise

Bake pie crust for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Then sprinkle 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese over crust. Pat sliced tomatoes dry with paper towels and place on top. Sprinkle garlic and basil on top of tomatoes.

In a separate bowl, mix the mayonnaise, remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese together. Spread on top of everything else. This will be the top layer.

Place pie on a cookie sheet to bake. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes.

4-H Good Chicken

Chicken breasts, cut into strips

¾ cup Parmesan cheese

2 cups breadcrumbs

¼ cup parsley

¼ tsp. pepper

2 tsp. salt

Mayonnaise or melted butter

1 tsp. garlic

Combine Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, pepper and salt. Dip chicken in mayonnaise or melted butter mixed with garlic. Then dip in breadcrumb mixture, and coil them in a spiral and secure with a toothpick.

Place in baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked. 

Cherry Limeade

1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 cup sugar

2-liter bottle lemon-lime soda

5 oz. jar maraschino cherries

Thin lime slices for garnish

Chill all ingredients before using. Everything needs to be cold. When cold, add lime juice to a pitcher, then add sugar and stir well.

Add lemon-lime soda. Then add a bunch of cherries. If you prefer a light pink drink, drain cherries before adding.

Pour over ice in tall glasses. Garnish with cherries and lime slices.

Cherry Limeade Float

Add two scoops vanilla ice cream to a tall glass. Pour in limeade to fill glass.

Butterscotch Sauce

1 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup light corn syrup

1 Tbsp. flour

2 Tbsp. water

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine

1/2 cup half & half

Combine all ingredients in a 4-cup measure or 1 1/2-qt. mixing bowl. Microwave at high 3 minutes. Stir. Microwave 4 to 6 minutes more until slightly thickened. Beat well.

Serve warm over ice cream or other desserts. Makes 1 ½ cups sauce.

Hot Fudge Sauce

1 cup sugar

4 Tbsp. cocoa

1 Tbsp. flour

1/8 tsp. salt

3/4 cup milk

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine dry ingredients in a 4-cup measure or 1 1/2-qt. mixing bowl. Stir in milk. Add butter and syrup. Microwave at high 3 to 4 minutes until thick, smooth and a rich chocolate color. Stir in vanilla, mixing well. Serve hot or cold.

TIP: To reheat, microwave at High, 15 to 30 seconds for each 1/2 cup of sauce. Makes about 1 ½ cups sauce.