As a mom and a wife, I have always felt that one of the most useful things I could ever impart to my sons and any of their future co-inhabitants is the ability to cook and clean. (Whether they develop the desire to do those things may be beyond my ability, but at least they will never be able to complain they don’t know how.)
So this year, along with our other homeschool subjects, we’ve been doing a unit on food. It’s taken a little more effort than I expected, mostly because I haven’t yet found a good book or other resource that presents all the information I’d like to convey. There are cookbooks for beginners, but they aren’t particularly aimed at teenage boys. Books like Cooking for Geeks have stirred their interest in making the kitchen into a lab, but it’s not the best guide for dishes like mom used to make.
What my kids need is a book that combines food safety, nutrition, cooking techniques, meal planning, shopping, and budgeting tips with recipes that appeal to their limited palate. It would be nice if it also told them how to make a full meal from start to finish, including before-cooking prep and clean-up afterward.
Which is all a way of admitting I had high expectations when I requested a review copy of the book Teen Cuisine by Matthew Locricchio. Locricchio is a professional chef and instructor and the author of The International Cookbook for Kids (which I have not seen), so teaching kids to cook is not new to him. And Teen Cuisine scores on many counts, even if it’s not everything I dreamed of.
The book’s biggest asset is its balance of food groups older kids already like (including pizza, burgers, and pancakes) with dishes they might be enticed to try (Tomato and Cheese Lunch Pie, Fruit and Pineapple with Poppy Seed Dressing, Stuyvesant Corn and Potato Chowder). It also gives a homemade upgrade to several old favorites kids may have only tasted from a can, jar, or box, like Tomato Soup, Max Mac and Cheese, and Spaghetti and Meatballs with Fresh Tomato Sauce. Although there are only a handful of flat-out main courses (and here I should perhaps add that another reason for our food course this year was to rope the kids into helping get dinner on the table), many of the sandwich and dessert ideas also caught their eye.
The photographs by cookbook specialist James Peterson are plentiful and detailed, making it easy to see what the finished dish should look like. (Directions without photos is the biggest drawback to my usual method of finding recipes — by searching online.)
I also like that Locricchio encourages teens to cook from scratch, using fresh, authentic ingredients. “If you prefer recipes that rely on shortcuts such as canned foods, prepared ingredients, or microwave cooking,” he writes, “this is not the book for you.” However, along with the quick and easy recipes, he does feature some that are “long and call for lots of steps.” That’s great for kids who are interested in cooking as a hobby, but not really what my family was looking for.
Let me qualify that: my younger son does enjoy cooking as an activity, and he has tried some of the longer and more involved recipes in the book, such as the mashed potatoes with roasted garlic butter, which required first cooking a whole head of garlic in the oven. But what this book doesn’t do as well as I would like is reveal the secret of putting together a number of different dishes so they all are ready at the same time. The otherwise-clear recipes don’t give you the prep and cooking time, and they don’t tell readers how to figure out when to start what.
In my opinion, anyway, a cookbook for teens should make it possible to leave them alone in the kitchen and have them produce a complete meal on their own. In reality, I had to step in and help finish mashing the boiled potatoes while substituting frozen green beans for the Quick-Cooked Greens that were on the original menu so that we could all sit down and eat before the Oven-Fried Chicken got cold.
And no cookbook author ever went broke underestimating the attention span of the American teenager. Teen Cuisine helpfully gives directions for several methods of cooking a burger. Luckily, I caught my son before he applied them all to the same set of burgers, one after the other.
For what it is, though, Teen Cuisine isn’t a bad addition to the family cookbook shelf. Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for a book to prepare my kids for the inevitable day when mom won’t be looking over their shoulder.