Remember when lettuce was sold in heads, not bags? And “Dinner’s Ready” was a sweet song from your mother’s mouth, not a digital-ding from the microwave? Eating together, as a family, should not be reserved for special occasions. Nightly family dinners should be expected, not abandoned. You may be surprised what you can learn about each other at the dinner table.
When children play an active role in creating a meal, getting them to the table may not require a team of workhorses. Here, Mark Janssen musters up a menu of possibilities to introduce your kids to cooking.
Cooking the Middle Eastern Way
By Alison Behnke and Vartkes Ehramjian
Lerner Publications, $25.26 (Hardcover)
This intelligent and well-designed cookbook is aimed primarily at aspiring chefs in grades seven through ten. While the author takes pains to ensure that the recipes are simply written and easy to follow, this is not a cookbook for raw beginners. Some culinary background is advisable or at least supervision by an experienced cook. That said, there are some mouth-watering treasures here waiting to be teased out of the pages. In keeping with the spirit of the times, special emphasis is given to low-fat and vegetarian dishes. A brief historical section provides readers with a general sense of the region’s cultural diversity and its many cuisines. Subsequent notes take into account basic kitchen safety practices, necessary equipment, special ingredients and metric conversions. The recipes are broken down into appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and festival or holiday foods and each is linked to the country of origin. Full-color photographs accompany and enhance the appeal of the recipes themselves. This will make a good addition to the cookbook collection of your junior chef.
Roald Dahl’s Even More Revolting Recipes
By Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Viking, $17.99 (Hardcover)
If the Addams Family had a favorite cookbook, this would be it. Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake have teamed up again to create the companion volume to his first culinary compendium, Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes. Aficionados will recognize some of the dishes from Mr. Dahl’s other works including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While some of the recipes may sound fairly disgusting, none of them really is. The titles alone are enough to fill young and mischievous cooks with glee as they look forward to presenting company with a plate of Soil with Engine Oil or some Boiled Slobbages. Parents please note: while the dishes are calculated to appeal to younger appetites, the directions may get a bit overwhelming for junior chefs. Adult supervision is the rule rather than the exception here, so get a firm grip on your sense of humor and wade on in. Who knew lizard’s tails could be so tasty?
Pasta, Fried Rice, and Matzoh Balls: Immigrant Cooking in America
By Loretta Frances Eichord, Illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis
Millbrook Press, $25.26 (Hardcover)
The author traces ethnic contributions to the American palate in this festive mix of history, culinary lore, and recipes. With the notable exceptions of English and African American cuisines, which she addresses in an earlier book, Eichord manages to address nearly all of the most prominent gastronomic influences in American cookery since 1565, a feat of no mean proportions when weighed against the book’s modest size.
The historical contextualization makes this a singularly interesting and lively treatment of food in the United States. The author takes pains to show how the processes governing social assimilation of marginal groups extends to the acceptance of their culinary contributions, witness the relatively recent popularity of Chinese and Japanese cuisine which dates from the post-WWII era.
Eichord has chosen a few representative recipes for readers to experiment with: Matzoh Balls and Chicken Soup, Fried Rice and Swedish Meatballs among others. These are all intended to be undertaken with adult supervision. The usual strictures governing young children in the kitchen (surrounded by all those potentially dangerous tools) certainly apply. Cooking a few of these dishes will certainly open up new gustatory horizons for many readers and should lead to an enriched appreciation of the potential variety embraced by the term “American” food. The illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis provide a warm-hearted and visually entertaining counterpoint to the mouthwatering text.
Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad, and 38 Other Wild Recipes
By Jean Craighead George, Illustrated by Paul Mirocha
HarperCollins, $14.89 (Hardcover)
You don’t really need to fry up a pan of fiddlehead ferns to appreciate the beauty of this simple book. The author, a staunch environmentalist and advocate for the protection of wild animals and their habitats, has served up these recipes more as an example of what can be found and eaten without going to your local supermarket rather than as a guide to what you should be eating. In that spirit, readers can take a certain delight in dishes like Weedy Lawn Salad and Cat-o’-Nine Tails Pancakes. Actually, foraging for wild foods can be as much fun as eating them. What better way to spend the day than strolling down the banks of a creek looking for cattails and greens? You’ll need to practice your identification skills before you graduate to advanced collecting but all the foods assembled here are easily recognized and not that hard to find. Paul Mirocha’s beautiful illustrations are exquisitely detailed and provide ample visual cues to assist in identification. Next time you go for a hike, take a closer look at the plant life, lunch might be just around the corner.
Salad People: And More Real Recipes
By Mollie Katzen
Tricycle Press, $17.95 (Hardcover)
Here’s one book to put under the tree this year for the youngest chef in the family. It’s sure to pay delicious dividends down the line. Molly Katzen, author and illustrator of numerous award-winning cookbooks including the superb Pretend Soup, has collected twenty new dishes, tested and reviewed by children.
As with all great cookbooks, this one combines recipes with a generous leavening of corollary information about cooking in general. Katzen describes the advantages of early culinary education to develop general skills including simple mathematics, organization, cooperation, and language comprehension. She stresses the importance of early learning in the acquisition of good eating habits as an adult.
Like its predecessor, Pretend Soup, the recipes in this book are structured as cooperative projects for adults and children. The author notes the need for kitchen safety and parental supervision. No recipes is overly complex; all are designed to succeed, so young cooks can proudly exclaim, “I made it myself!” Salad People is a very well-designed cookbook that encourages aspiring chefs to have a grand old time in the kitchen.
Where Does Food Come From?
By Shelly Rotner and Gary Goss
Millbrook Press, $22.60 (Hardcover)
This simple book shows young readers where some of their favorite foods come from and how they are produced. Emphasis is placed on the post-harvest transformation of foods into their familiar forms. Copious and colorful photographs by Shelly Rotner provide a close-up look at some of the many things we like to eat. Peanuts, grapes, wheat, and cacao beans are linked to their refined forms: peanut butter, grape jelly, bread, and hot cocoa. The text includes interesting factual asides in a “Did You Know?” format to engage the curiosity of beginning readers. The author restricts her explorations to vegetarian foodstuffs, no pork chops here! Rotner’s photographs are eye-catching and her inclusion of shots showing children hard at work eating the very foodstuffs under discussion will likely generate quite an appetite on the reader’s part.
California Gold Rush Cooking
By Lisa Golden Schroeder
Capstone Press, $23.95 (Hardcover)
This book is part of an interesting and well-designed series called Exploring History through Simple Recipes. Here, the author takes us on a brief tour of the California Gold Rush from its inception in 1848 to the end of the boom in 1850. Along the way, we discover what life was like onboard ships bound for California as well as in the mining camps and towns that sprang up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. While this period is not particularly noteworthy for the quality or variety of its cuisine, Lisa Golden manages to incorporate a few simple recipes characteristic of the time. These include beefsteak (grilled over a campfire, of course), and the famous Hangtown Fry. She also notes the significance of the Gold Rush as an impetus to cultural mixing on the west coast and includes recipes for chop suey and coloache as evidence of other cultures’ impact on the region. This book is a nice addition to the series which has proven both innovative and useful as a means of making history more palatable to students.
Write Out of the Oven! Letters and Recipes from Children’s Authors
By Josephine M. Waltz, Illustrated by Christine Mix
Teacher Ideas Press, $23.00 (Hardcover)
Have you ever wondered what your favorite author throws together for a meal in between chapters of that upcoming best-seller? Josephine Waltz and her sixth-grade reading class decided to find out. Over a two-year period they sent out query letters, collected replies and tested recipes. Write Out of the Oven! is the sparkling result of all their perseverance and hard work, and a tasty bit of work it is, too.
Each recipe is preceded by a student’s letter and the author’s reply. The dishes are arranged by category from dips to soups and sandwiches to main dishes and desserts. Parents should note that these recipes are not designed to be assembled by children without adult supervision. The intent of this collection is to showcase a selection of authors’ favorite recipes, not to provide a working textbook for young chefs. With this in mind, be prepared to spend some time in the kitchen as an equipment manager, interpreter, assistant measurer, oven monitor and general dogsbody. You’ll have a blast and so will your culinary director. Christine Mix’s playful illustrations leaven the text while useful appendices clarify those knotty terminological problems and measurement equivalence issues that even bother the big kids from time to time. Bon appétit!
The Usborne Internet-Linked Children’s World Cookbook
By Angela Wilkes and Fiona Watt
Usborne, $13.95 (Hardcover)
Truly international and extremely well put together, this large book contains not only do-able recipes from nations far-flung as India, Ireland, and Australia, but also two-page colorful spreads on “Vegetables around the world,” “Cheeses from around the world,” and “Breads from around the world.” The recipes themselves are thoughtfully presented through text and diagram, and each page is a burst of beautifully laid out pictures of delectable delights. Also included are valuable internet links to more recipes, more info about food, and more about the countries and their traditional cuisines. I’ve tried several of the recipes, and if I can do them—any kid can. Top marks for this books.
Beni’s Family Cookbook for the Jewish Holidays
By Jane Breskin Zalben
Henry Holt & Company, $19.95 (Hardcover)
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this warm-hearted and delicious foray into traditional Jewish holiday cooking. It helps, of course. But who’s not going to like chicken soup and latkes? Every Jewish holiday has a group of dishes associated with it. Food and holidays, what could be more natural? Jane Breskin Zalben digs into her family’s extensive trove of recipes spanning four generations of cooks to present us with these loving renditions of classic Jewish cookery. The baked goods alone are to die for. You want to learn how to make rugelach? You came to the right place. And who would have thought that you could leaven matzoh balls with club soda? No more excuses for leaden dumplings! All this food is served up by Zalben’s family of Jewish bears, Beni, Sara, Rosie and the rest of the gang already beloved by readers of the Beni stories. While the recipes have real child appeal, no attempt is made to render them more accessible to young chefs and adults should be prepared to assist when the services of an experienced cook are called for. It’s worth noting that the dishes represented here come from both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions – plenty of variety. Eat in good health!
About the Author
Mark Janssen is a freelance editor and writer who lives in San Diego with his wife, one cat, and a dog named Peasley. His fond interest in children's literature owes mainly to the simple fact that he has never really grown up himself.