November 19, 2020

(++++) YUM!

The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook. By Food Network Magazine. Hearst Home Kids. $19.99.

     There is nothing new about cookbooks aimed at kids, and nothing new about creating a cookbook with sections called “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Snacks,” “Dinner” and “Dessert.” Nor is there anything new about illustrating a cookbook for young people with photos of young people amusingly dressed as foods – as well as with scrumptious-looking pictures of the completed recipes. But it would be a big mistake to think that The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook from Food Network Magazine simply duplicates material that others have presented in the past – because this brightly colored, spiral-bound, well-thought-out book adds some new wrinkles to the young-people’s-cookbook genre and irons out some of the old ones.

     One of the new things here is that almost every page includes either a “Tip” relating to the recipe or a “Did You Know?” box that turns the cookbook into a mini-treasure trove of tasty trivia. Samples of the latter include: “There are 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world.” “It takes 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of [maple] syrup!” “Most [pineapples] come from Costa Rica.” “Pizza is the most popular food on Instagram. Users post an average of 190,000 #pizza posts every day!” That last “DYK” can serve as a reminder that there are plenty of recipes of all sorts to be found online – but it also shows the limits of online food searches, which require direction: you need to know what you want to make in order to find a way (or 190,000 ways) to make it. The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook instead provides a whole slew of delicious options, and the recipes really are kid-friendly: they are not overly simplistic, and a few may even be somewhat challenging for first-time cooks and bakers, but they are easy to follow, well-structured as to ingredients needed and processes to be followed, and really do come out looking a lot like the book’s photos. Not even cookbooks for adults always manage that feat.

     The specific recipes have a kid-friendly edge to them, too. “Doughnut Egg-in-a-Hole” is simply a doughnut with an egg cooked in the middle, complete with a helpful “Tip” to “use a round cookie cutter or a small drinking glass to cut a bigger hole” if necessary. “Chinese Meatball Sliders,” one of the recipes calling for less-than-familiar ingredients, are a tasty combination of pork, panko, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, peeled fresh ginger and more – with a “Tip” on how to peel the ginger more easily. “Ice Cream Wafflewich” simply melds toasted frozen waffles with ice cream and includes a “DYK” explaining that the first ice cream sandwiches “were sold from a pushcart in New York City in 1899” for a couple of cents apiece. As for snacks, they range from the expected (baked mozzarella sticks) to the unexpected (caramelized mango, sweet strawberry popcorn), and even include variations on “Ants on a Log” – the original adds peanut butter and raisins to celery sticks, but The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook creates toppings such as hummus plus Goldfish pretzels, or pimiento cheese plus bacon.

     The variations on the familiar are only part of the enjoyment here. Kids paging through the book will unexpectedly come across periodic “pop quiz” pages with titles such as “Name That Cereal!” (pictures of 15 cereals to be matched to their names) and “Lunch-Box Close-Ups” (highly magnified foods to be identified). But these are not the most distinctive element of the book: that would be a section that is not included in typical cookbooks for kids (or adults) called “Fake-Out Cakes.” This has 10 marvelous recipes for cakes that look so much like non-cake foods that you have to see them to believe them: “Ice Cream Steak and Fries,” “Candy Bar Cake,” “Cheeseburger Cake,” “Mac and Cheese Cake,” and half a dozen more. These are not the easiest recipes in the book – the section, appropriately, appears toward the end – but they provide some of the greatest feeling of accomplishment, even if young cooks’ creations are not quite as perfect as the photos shown.

     Every recipe in The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook starts with timing-and-servings information: “active” (preparation time), “total” (start-to-finish time), and “serves” (number of portions). This makes it easy to decide which recipes to try under what circumstances, and also simplifies the task of making more or less of a particular food. The basics of what to do and how to do it are all there in The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook, and the attractive layout, bonus features (even a six-page coloring section at the very end), mixture of ordinary and unusual recipes, and factual tidbits make this offering a winner on all levels. Well, all but one: somebody should remind the Food Network Magazine personnel (or whatever people came up with this book’s title) that even though kids often use the word “fun” as an adjective, it is really a noun. However, this is not to discount the fact that The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook really is, well, fun.

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