Great Cookbooks for Families
Reviewed by Katy Killilea
A whole lot of wholesome–that’s what I notice when I look at recent cookbook releases. Since so many of us are interested in teaching our kids about where food comes from and even in growing our own food, I want to take a look at three books that focus on cooking with fresh, local foods.
Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes is a gorgeous book. So gorgeous that it seems more like a coffee-table book than something you’d have in the same room with spattering oil and jammy fingers. The stunning cover photo is of cupped hands cradling fresh blue eggs and yellow heirloom tomatoes, and if you look closely, you can see dirt under the cradler’s fingernails. So I can’t hate this book for being beautiful. It has grit, solid information for the home farmer and community gardener, and inspiring recipes for using homegrown ingredients. Even if it is awfully pretty.
What makes this book useful for a parent is the simplicity of the recipes. Clean, fresh flavors appeal to everyone, and instructions within the recipes regarding advanced preparation allow for flexibility if you want to cook during a nap and eat later on. It also includes a “Simple Kitchen Garden Guide” and a “Chicken Keepers Guide” which makes having a small flock seem fun as well as possible. This the perfect book for the family that eats lots of local foods, grows or raises some of its own food, and doesn’t mind beautiful photography.
Cooking With Shelburne Farms comes from the eponymous farm in northern Vermont. We all know people who visit Vermont and then rhapsodize about it. Shelburne Farms is why I do. It’s a working farm, with programs and exhibits to teach kids about raising food in harmony with the land. After you’re tired from milking a cow, you can buy delicious panini and smoothies from a truck in a field, sit on quilts made available to visitors, and watch a speckled chicken walk by and eyeball you from a respectful distance. It’s heaven.
The cookbook feels a lot like the farm. It is divided into eleven chapters, each organized around a traditional Vermont ingredient: milk, maple, game, apples, and the like. There are color photos throughout the book, and background information on the ingredients. The strong suit of this book is the recipes and many, like Rhubarb and Yogurt Fool, Tomato-Cheddar Soup, and Oven Roasted Applesauce, can easily be made with the help of a child or three.
Although not written specifically for families, the book is full of the homey, fresh food parents love to feed their kids and that kids love to eat. Notes for shopping and planning are included, and you don’t have to live in rural Vermont to make the dishes. They’re great recipes, even if you’re not going out back to shoot a deer to make venison chili.
The Farm to Table Cookbook, geared toward farmer’s market shoppers, has tantalizing photos throughout and is organized by season. Like Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, this book can help you figure out what to do with ramps or okra, and also includes notes on how to shop and what to look for at the market. (Who knew? The right place to smell a peach to check for ripeness is at its belly button.)
The recipes vary from sophisticated to simple, with plenty that kids will love to eat and/or help make (fresh cherry muffins, sweet corn chowder), and plenty that you’d be advised to reserve for an adults-only meal (roasted duck breast with bourbon-braised Italian prunes).
Sweet Carrot Soup with Dill Gremolata*
From Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes
Ingredients for the soup:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Â½ cup sliced shallots
2 pounds Nantes carrots or other sweet carrots
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
Ingredients for the gremolata:
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced shallot
Â½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Â¼ teaspoon fleur de sel
To make the soup:
Melt the butter in a heavy, very large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sautÃ© until tender, about 3 minutes. Cut the carrots into Â½-inch rounds, add them to the pan, and stir briefly to coat with butter. Add 4 cups water and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the carrots are very tender, about 25 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf and discard. Using an immersion or standard blender, puree the soup (in batches, if necessary). Season with salt to taste. (Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring over medium heat.)
To make gremolata:
Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with the gremolata.
Serves 4 to 6.
(*Note from Katy: only a few kids will want the gremolata part, but almost all kids will gobble up the buttery carrot soup.)
Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes
2008 Running Press
Cooking with Shelburne Farms
Melissa Pasanen and Rick Gencarelli
2008 Viking Studio
The Farm to Table Cookbook
2008 Sasquatch Books