A Roundup of Recommended Reads
BAKE, MAKE & LEARN TO COOK: Fun & Healthy Recipes for Young Cooks
Written by David Atherton
Illustrated by Rachel Stubbs
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 5-9)
Bake, Make & Learn to Cook: Fun & Healthy Recipes for Young Cooks by David Atherton is an enjoyable but thorough first cookbook for elementary-schoolers. The wide range of appealing recipes is explained in easy-to-follow boxes of information. Recipes include kid-friendly foods such as pancakes, pizzas, and cake. I like how some weave in animal elements. For example, Banana Bear Pancakes, Octo-Pizzas, and Hummus Lion. It doesn’t take much extra work to elevate a seemingly standard recipe to something exciting.
Kids will enjoy exploring recipes such as Edible Chia Bowls, Happy Curry, and Zingy Cake Squares (lemon adds the “zing”). I appreciate new-to-me ideas such as making your own hot dogs (Veggie Hot Dogs) and the clever concept of serving soup from a teapot (Teapot Soup). Other personal favorites include Sweet and Spicy Dip (with sweet potato, garlic, tahini, lime, and spices) and the adorably tasty Crunchy Hedgehogs (a variation of twice-cooked potatoes with tuna, cheese, and peas coated with bread crumbs).
Care is taken throughout to convey information in a way that’s simple to grasp. The upbeat art by Rachel Stubbs helps further explain the directions and provides a pleasant, visual element. I would recommend this cookbook without hesitation for young cooks and their adult helpers
THE COMPLETE COOKBOOK FOR YOUNG SCIENTISTS:
70+ Recipes and Experiments for Every Young Chef (Young Chefs Series)
by America’s Test Kitchen
(America’s Test Kitchen Kids; $19.99, Ages 8+)
For science-minded kids or anyone looking to better understand the whys of cooking and baking, The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists has the answers! It’s beautifully laid out with full-color photos throughout and fun experiments leading into recipes that put the science into delicious use. When I saw the cover (which features an unreal-looking cake with a gelatinous black, purple, and teal icing), I knew I had to get this book and learn how to make that recipe—it’s a showstopper.
Adults will enjoy this book much as kids because there’s much to learn. I’ve made berry muffins for years and didn’t realize that the addition of yogurt creates a lighter, fluffier texture, or that adding baking soda when caramelizing onions enhances the sweetness. The Edible Spheres recipe blew my mind: using gelatin plus a flavoring (even hot sauce works!) makes tiny boba-size spheres form because of the reaction between oil and water.
If you’re looking to perfect a cookie or cake recipe, this book’s tips will surely get you there. I like the experiment where you make two batches of cookies, one using white sugar and the other using brown sugar. The results clearly show how swapping out just one ingredient makes a big difference in taste, texture, and thickness.
Questions that kids would ask start out the chapters. Some examples include: Can you tell the difference between crispy and crunchy? Why do spices have so much flavor? Why do the different parts of the chicken taste and look different? Answers are provided in a way that’s easy to understand and thorough, involving hands-on experiments where kids test their theories.
This book is the fourth in the Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs series and it does not disappoint. While marketed for a middle-grade audience, the content is also relevant for elementary-schoolers who love to be in the kitchen (or the lab!) and has enough fascinating information to hold the attention of teens and adults. My copy has been well-used in the short time I’ve had it. I’m on board for America’s Test Kitchen’s upcoming Teen Chefs book (March 2022) because this series is terrific.
LET’S MAKE DUMPLINGS! A Comic Book Cookbook
Written by Hugh Amano
Illustrated by Sarah Becan
(Ten Speed Press; $19.99)
Let’s Make Dumplings! is the latest comic-style cookbook from the successful duo, Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan. If you enjoyed their ramen book, this one is just as great. What sets these books apart is that they read like a graphic novel. Full-color panels that convey each recipe’s directions in a new and creative manner, making the content accessible to a wide range of readers. Varying skill levels are accommodated and the cookbook can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Who doesn’t love Asian dumplings?! Gyoza, potstickers, wontons, rangoon—yum! With so many shapes and fillings, the options are endless once you master the basics. After a bit of “dumpling lore,” the book begins logically with pantry, equipment, and an explanation of the different wrappers. I was excited to see a recipe for the dough since kids may just think wrappers come from the store!
Learn to make a variety of fillings (meat, vegetarian, even dessert styles) and different methods of sealing the delicious ingredients inside the wrapper. Finish by pan-frying, steaming, or even deep-drying such as for sesame balls). A new-to-me recipe that I particularly enjoyed was the Num Kom (Sweet Cambodian Rice Dumplings) which are filled with coconut and sesame seeds, then steamed in a banana leaf-lined basket.
And don’t forget about the ever-popular baozi. A comprehensive chapter explains how to make these delightful buns. Begin with the well-known steamed pork buns but be sure to move on to also try ones filled with curried beef, kung pao chicken, different kinds of pork, or savory mushrooms.
The final chapter brings it home with a wide range of fabulous sauces that complete the dumpling experience. Some are simply two ingredients: Kewpie mayonnaise and chile sauce. Others play off the sweet-and-sour elements such as the duck sauce made with apricot jam, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and cayenne. I can think of lots of foods I’d like to dip in that!
While this book focuses on Eastern dumplings, I like how the fact that food unites us is stated. A map shows where the recipes come from but the accompanying blurb explains how dumplings span the entire globe. Dumplings “transcend any imagined borders of culture and caste” and “unite us all.” Readers are encouraged to do their own research, travel, and make the recipes their own.
SOURDOUGH BAKING WITH KIDS:
The Science Behind Baking Bread Loaves with Your Entire Family
Written by Natalya Syanova
Photography by Haas and Haas Photography
(Fair Winds Press/Quarto; $24.99, All Ages)
Natalya Syanova’s Sourdough Baking with Kids gives everyone the ability to make this beloved bread. Start at the beginning and carefully read the instructions. Time is needed—ten days or so—to create a viable starter that will then enable you to try many recipes beyond the basic loaf. The photographs by Haas and Haas Photography showcase the many delicious recipes.
Kids will marvel at how simple it all is. The starter consists of only filtered water and flour. Amazingly, it comes to life and maybe bubbles over the side of the jar in response to being fed, or becomes weak when it’s past time to feed it. Facts add to the wonder. For example, the oldest sourdough starter on record was 122 years old; starter can be lovingly passed from generation to generation.
The first recipe is basic (and very delicious) sourdough bread. A beautiful version uses purple corn flour, which gives the loaf a lovely hue. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the Double Chocolate Sourdough Loaf may become a favorite in your household; or perhaps it will be the Sweet S’mores Sourdough Loaf. In chocolate chip cookies, sourdough makes the cookies tender and soft. The starter can also be used in brownies, babka, doughnuts, and more.
If you prefer savory dough, check out the pizza, English muffins, pretzels, bagels, and biscuits. If that’s not enough, there are also recipes for cheddar scones, tortillas, and naan. Once you get going, there really are no limits as to what you can make using your starter.
Each recipe has an enticing, full-color photo. In addition to the ingredients and directions, you’re given helpful notes and a sample schedule so you can plan out the time needed. I like the “fun part” sections because they speak directly to the young bakers. Even if they may not be able to follow a recipe (yet!), they certainly can mix and knead dough, divide dough, press it down, and roll it out.
For more independent baking, this book is best suited for tweens, teens, or adults who possess patience and the ability to follow recipes involving precise measurements and timetables. The investment of time and effort is worthwhile; helping something grow from almost nothing is remarkable. This book bestows a solid foundation to launch readers on their journeys of baking with sourdough.
EASY VEGAN HOME COOKING
Written by Laura Theodore
(Hatherleigh Press; $25)
Popular host of TV’s Jazzy Vegetarian, Laura Theodore, shares delicious recipes and thoughtful advice in Easy Vegan Home Cooking: Over 125 Plant-Based and Gluten-Free Recipes for Wholesome Family Meals. In addition to recipes, you’ll find helpful tips. For example, oat flour can be quickly made from rolled oats creating fresh flour. (Use it in breads, cookies, or other baked goods.) Or, soaked, drained, and blended raw cashews add a clever creaminess.
My favorite recipes included Pecan-Crusted Zucchini Filets. Squash is a go-to in our house; this version adds loads of flavor from the quick dip in mustard and maple syrup and the yummy nut and cornflake coating. Though we love broccoli and tofu, they feel boring at times—but not with this smoky sauce that accompanies Broccoli-Tofu Szechuan Sauté. For dessert, Petite Apple Ramekins with Coconut-Oat Crunch provide a new twist using items I often have on hand. Your family will feel special digging into their individual servings that smell and taste divine.
Beyond useful advice and wonderful recipes (many with accompanying full-color photos), I appreciate Theodore’s heartfelt sentiments about how she chooses a plant-based way of eating because of her compassion for animals, desire for better health, and aim to become more environmentally responsible. She believes that “we can all help save the world—one recipe at a time!”