REVIEW: The Whole Family Cookbook

By Michelle Stern

Cookbook review courtesy of contributing writer
Sylvie Shirazi

The Whole Family Cookbook is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores

The Whole Family Cookbook: Celebrating the Goodness of Locally Grown Foods (Adams Media $17.95 USD) is the first cookbook from Michelle Stern. Michelle is the owner and founder of What’s Cooking with Kids, a certified-green company that offers healthy and seasonal cooking classes to kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. This former biology teacher and mother of two started her own children’s cooking school in order to better educate kids and parents about making good food choices that are not only healthy but environmentally sound.  Her aim in The Whole Family Cookbook is to provide families with a resource they can use to easily cook local, seasonal foods with their children.

The simple and straightforward recipes in the book are perfect for burgeoning little cooks who want to join mom or dad in the kitchen. One of the unique features of the book is a color-coded system that indicates the appropriate age range for each step of the recipe. This feature is an invaluable tool for families with children of varying ages, as each child can be allotted their own task and feel good about being in the kitchen. The book has over 75 organic, family friendly recipes that will appeal to both children and adults alike. There’s also a seasonal recipe index to simplify seasonal eating and meal-planning.

The chapters are divided into the following sections: breakfasts (Breakfast Anytime Pizza, Corny Raspberry Muffins, Baked Apple Puff), lunch (A-B-C Frittata, Thai Spring Rolls, Smashed Avocado on Toast), dinner (Minestrone with White Beans and Kale, Acorn Squash and Wild Rice Bowls, Pumpkin Ravioli), side dishes (Kale Chips, Oven-Fried Zucchini Sticks, Purple Rice), mom-approved treats (Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet, Peaches and Cream Cobbler, Nutella Lace Cookies), and make your own staples (Butter, Hummus, Hot Cocoa Mix). Interspersed throughout the chapters are tips on ‘going green’, fun facts about food labeled Kid Zone, and suggestions on community service under Recipe for Action.

The book is full of useful tips on how to engage children in the process of cooking. Michelle offers advice on what kitchen tools are kid-friendly and how best to get kids excited about good food without having to resort to using tricks or bribes. No hiding vegetables in meals or rewarding a clean plate with a special dessert! She wants us to get kids involved in the process of making the food they eat, thereby teaching them about the value of eating whole foods.

Couscous Salad with Apricots, Ginger & Pine Nuts

RATING: 4 out of 5 (super easy recipe, great for entertaining)

THE TEST: This salad was easy to make because there’s not much prep work involved – only a little slicing for the apricots and grating for the ginger. The whole recipe came together really quickly, the longest part being the refrigeration time needed to cool down the salad. Right before you’re ready to serve, toast the pine nuts (a great tip which prevents the nuts from getting soggy) and adjust the seasoning to taste. Michelle notes that you may need to add a little extra vinegar and salt after the salad has been refrigerated, a suggestion that I think really helped brighten the flavours.

RESULTS: Like the Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet, this is a recipe from Michelle’s mom. She tells us that after watching her mother prepare this easy salad it immediately became one of her own go-to recipes. I can see why this salad would be a hit at a party! Fruity, spicy and nutty, this couscous salad would go well with pretty much anything. The fact that you can make the salad ahead of time makes this a great option for entertaining or picnicking. The next time I make it, I will add some dried cranberries or cherries for color, and oil to make more of a traditional vinaigrette which should help boost the flavour even more.

Kale Chips

RATING: 5 out of 5 (tasty snack that is healthy & quick to prepare)

THE TEST: This recipe is pretty straight forward: you wash and dry the kale, tear it into pieces, toss it with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt. The ‘chips’ are then quickly baked in the oven until dried and crispy. Make sure you thoroughly dry the kale before baking it – if it’s still wet when it bakes it will turn brown.  Dry the leaves thoroughly in a salad spinner before rubbing them with oil. I think kids will really enjoy tearing up the leaves and rubbing them with olive oil because they get to use their hands and get a little messy.

RESULTS: If you’ve ever got a craving for something crunchy and salty, try making a big batch of these crispy kale chips. Kale chips are lighter and less caloric than potato chips, and they’re also packed with vitamins like A and C as well as calcium, making them a good snacking choice for kids. NOTE: they are very delicate when baked and crumble pretty easily, but that’s what gives them such a lovely light and airy texture.

Lemon Buttermilk Sherbet

RATING: 4 out of 5 (light and refreshing, perfect for hot summer days)

THE TEST: With only three ingredients, the hardest part in making this sherbet is grating the lemon zest and juicing a few lemons which even the littlest of helpers can manage with some supervision. The color coded instructions indicate the parts of this recipe that are suitable for children between the ages of 4 to 6 and those 7 to 10. The 4 to 6 year-olds can measure the buttermilk and pour the ingredients into the bowl while the 7 to 10 year-olds can cut and zest the lemons. The buttermilk, lemon juice and sugar mixture is then refrigerated until cold and the sugar is dissolved, before being churned in an ice cream maker. Directions are also given for making the sherbet without an ice cream maker.

RESULTS: The sherbet is light and refreshing with an ice milk texture. It’s bright and lemony with a subtle tang from the buttermilk. This is the type of dessert you want at the end of a hot summer day with maybe a few crisp ginger cookies on the side. Super quick and easy, it took just a few minutes to put together. The only change I might make in the future is to use a micro-plane zester to zest the lemons instead of a regular peeler in order to get a really fine grate on the peel. And I might also consider using a superfine sugar to make dissolving the sugar into the buttermilk even faster and easier. I can see this working with other citrus fruit as well. For example; tangerines might be nice with the buttermilk.