In 2004 when Kitchen for Kids first came out, I knew I had to have it. I have been passionate about cooking since I was a kid and feeding my family and friends well has always been a pleasure for me. My kids always sat on the kitchen counter and "helped" when they were infants and stood on chairs next to me as toddlers. For years I had been waiting for just the right cookbook that would engage my kids and inspire them to conquer the kitchen, as independently as possible. A few great books came along like Honest Pretzels (for ages 8 and up), Pretend Soup (for preschoolers and up) and Salad People (for kids 6 and under) by doyenne of vegetarian cookbooks, Mollie Katzen. All three are great, especially since my oldest has been a vegetarian since she was eight, more than half her life now, with dad and eventually mom following suit a few years later. Katzen's recipes are simple and fresh and she illustrates every step of the recipe. But, for me, that was just the problem. Her books are illustrated and I am a complete and total photograph loving cook. Which is where Jennifer Low's delicious book - and brilliant premise -comes in!
Kitchen for Kids features recipes that require No Sharp Knives, No Stove Top Cooking and are all Kid Tested. The book is divided into six sections:
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Breads and Crackers
Pies, Pastries and Squares
Candies, Confections and Cool Treats
Yes, this book is top-heavy with baked goods and sweets. But that's just fine with me! Especially since, in what I think is a truly brilliant move, Low's recipes make roughly half the amount of a usual batch - half as many cookies, smaller cakes and loaves - so you don't have temptation sitting on the counter for the next few days because you eat almost everything (depending on the size of your family) in one go. This is great for the baked goods but may require some math when making the lunch and breakfast items, if you plan to feed more than two or three kids. However, the recipes are presented in a brisk and easy to follow fashion that makes it a snap. And, being a Canadian, Low includes metric measurements as well.
The most impressive recipes in the Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner section would have to be the Paddy Thai Noodles, Two Cheese Penne Pasta and Wee Shepherd's Pie. While there is no doubt that they taste great, to me, they are impressive for the innovative ways Low gets around using a stove top. The pasta is soaked in warm water for 30 minutes in the Two Cheese recipe, and finishes cooking as it bakes in the cheese sauce. The rice noodles in the Paddy Thai get the same warm bath treatment and come out better than when I boil them. In the Wee Shepherd's Pie, the ground beef (or fake meat substitute, as used in our house) is cooked/heated in the microwave and the mashed potatoes are from a box. I know, many of you may be turning up your nose at that, and I did too, but the ease of preparation and the sense of accomplishment a little chef feels in making this dish outweighs my food snob-ism. Other recipes in this section include ChickenBobs (meatballs baked on a stick in a crunchy coating), Tuna Fish Patties, Dumpling Raviolis (made with Won Ton wrappers), Peek-a-Boo Meatloaf (there's a hot dog in the middle) and Chicken in Crunchy Coats. There are also a few vegetable side dish recipes to round out the meal.
But let's move on to the goodies, and the gorgeous photography by Mark Burstyn. If you are at all familiar with (and impressed by) the elegant and simple gourmet style of Donna Hay, then this book will appeal to you right away. The food is always front and center in the pictures, but the background accoutrements, the cake stands, the utensils, the dishtowels, have a retro feel and are always from a cool color palette that makes the food the star. This is a book that you and your kids will sit and page through again and again, whether you are in the mood to bake or not, although you will be by the time you get to the last page. On her website, Low mentions that kids have told her that they take this book to bed for nighttime reading!
I love cake, and Low includes some very innovative recipes and ideas for different cakes in her book. One thing to always note, though: since she does do everything on a smaller scale, the pan size for the cakes is rarely the standard 8 or 9 inch one that most of us have in our kitchens. Always check the size before you bake. My son made the Fancy Fruit Flan last night for his sister's birthday and, while the cake came out great, he baked it in a tart pan that was 2 inches wider than what was called for and the cake came out a bit on the thin side - but still delicious! Aside from classic vanilla and chocolate cake recipes, Low includes recipes for a Vanilla Cloud Cake that has lemon curd in the center, Gooshy S'Mores Cakes and Lemon Pudding Cakes that both bake in ramekins, a Peach Topped Cake and an Applesauce Cake. However, it is Low's Triple Tier Cake (fudge or vanilla) and her Cake Truffles that are the most innovative and delightful recipes in this chapter. The cakes are just adorable and would make any birthday boy or girl smile. The Triple Tier Cake is baked in one pan and cut up to assemble the tiers. The scraps from this are combined with a bit of frosting and milk and rolled into a ball to resemble a doughnut hole, but better! I've been dabbling with veganism for a while now and I noticed this technique used by Erin McKenna in her amazing cookbook babycakes, which is also the name of her vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar free, wheat free, soy free, casein free, egg free, kosher bakery in NYC, and now LA. She has more than one recipe that calls for cake crumbs to enhance the treat, and this seems like a great idea.
The Pies, Pastries and Squares section is full of yummy treats like Caramel Cookie Squares, Cream Puffs, Rocky Road Brownie Cups, Baby Lemon Meringue Pies, Frozen Chocolate Cream Pie and Fudge Tarts (as seen above). Many of the recipes for squares and cookies could easily become holiday baking standards. But, the really fun stuff comes in the last chapter. The Candy Marbles, as seen above, are made from condensed milk, powdered sugar and a few other things and would make a lovely gift. However, my favorite is the last recipe in the book, Dinosaur Eggs. With a little imagination on Low's part, a basic meringue cookie recipe becomes a fun prehistoric treat. The cookies bake up into almost hollow "egg shells" containing a lining of marshmallow. Some of the eggs crack while baking and look like they've hatched. The picture even has a tiny dino standing next to an egg - I mean cookie.
Finally, if all of my ramblings in regards to Kitchen for Kids haven't made you drool yet, then try out a sample recipe offered on the website for Shortbread Domes !