WITH school days right around the bend, getting the kids into the kitchen could serve as the perfect segue from summer fun to creative learning.
Beyond just licking the spoon, kids can learn a lot through cooking and baking - even simple sandwich construction. Procedures involve reading, following directions, weighing and measuring, understanding chemistry and kitchen safety, and more. The best part is that parents and children can work together and then eat the result.
Cookbooks created especially for young people succeed if they are educational and practical as well as engaging and appealing. Here are some worth a look.
In 36 Strange Little Animals Waiting to Eat (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1992, $12.95) illustrator Graham Percy and recipe author Roz Denny introduce child and parent to make-believe creatures - all of which have favorite recipes to share.
"The little pink-eyed wing-wing sits alone at the kitchen table waiting for her special dessert to cool down. She's so hungry today that she doesn't want to share any of her ripe juicy strawberries - which she dips, one by one, into her own secret recipe chocolate sauce.... Although it's a secret, she'd like you to know how the sauce is made...."
The Wandering Yumptee likes Chicken Salad Pita Sanwiches; Mrs. Grizzle and her Little Velvet Grizzles tell how to make their favorite Slippy Green [Pea] Soup; The Little Purring Shutterblink shares her recipe for peanut-butter cupcakes; the Plum-Tummied Chump tells how you can chomp on Big Herby Burgers. The book's whimsical approach offers recipes for some off-beat and fun dishes, such as Vanilla Pudding Sea with Rocks and Icebergs (raisins and marshmallows) and Crunchy Macaroni and Cheese. Most recipes
have about six steps narrated into a story: "Although the spinach leaves look clean, Mr. Grizzle asks little Guy to wash them well in a colander under cold running water. Guy turns them with his hands and picks off any thick stalks." Even if you don't plan to cook, this is a delightful book to read or to introduce your child to the kitchen.
Fanny at Chez Panisse (HarperCollins, New York, 1992, $20) presents "a child's restaurant adventures with 46 recipes," written by celebrated chef Alice Waters (with Bob Carrau and Patricia Curtan). Fanny tells of all the goings on at Chez Panisse, the well-known restaurant-cafe owned by her mother (Alice Waters) in Berkeley, Calif.
The book offers insight into restaurant life, but even more important, tells where good food comes from (farms and people who care about the earth), and how good food is prepared. Adults as well as children will delight in the stories, recipes, and delicate painting-illustrations by Ann Arnold.
Karen Greene's Once Upon a Recipe (Perigree/Putnam, New York, 1992, $12.95) is "intended to bring parent and child together in the kitchen, mixing and giggling and baking and imagining." Ms. Greene pairs children's literature - quotes and references from fables, poets, and fairy tales - with simple recipes (about 60) designed with a whole-foods approach. At first it seems like a stretch to imagine classic titles associated with what most people would consider "health" food - Babar's Carob French Toast or
Lost Boys Tofu Kebabs - but the book is so well-designed, with its hand-tinted antique woodblock prints and snippets of cooking hints and children's literature, that it draws you in.
Before you know it, you want to try Mrs. Tiggy-Winkles Pineapple Right-Side-Up Muffins, Curiouser & Curiouser Casserole, or The Emperor's New Pudding.
Kids Cook! (Williamson Publishing, Charlotte, Vt.; 1992, $12.95) promises "fabulous food for the whole family." Sarah and Zachary Williamson, a sister-brother team, offer 150 of their favorite things to make and eat, from Breakfast Bonanzas to Dynamite Desserts. Since Sarah and Zachary wrote the book as high school students, it is naturally kid-friendly. They include safety alerts, "Do You Know?" trivia columns, nutri-notes, and "classy cooks" tips. Loretta Trezzo's black-and-white illustrations add a ca rtoon accent to the paperback book.
Two recent cookbooks for kids are in wirebound form - always helpful when setting a book down on the counter to follow a recipe.
Teddy Toast, by Rosie Wermert and Mari McClurg, illustrated by Bari Weissman (Random House, New York, 1992, $7.99) offers recipes for Teddy Toast and "12 other yummy easy recipes you can make yourself (with a little help from a grownup and very special cookie cutter!)" The plastic, bear-shaped cookie cutter serves as the basis of all the recipes and is included with this book, which could only be described as "cute." Especially helpful for young children, the pictures show what you will need for a recipe
and also illustrate the step-by-step instructions. Recipes are very simple; many of them involve cutting bread and building bear-shaped snacks (biscuits, waffles, toast, and pizza) as well as Ginger Bears (cookies) and Jiggly Bears (gelatin).
Another wirebound favorite is Sunset editors' Best Kids Cookbook (Sunset Publishing Corp., Menlo Park, Calif.; 1992, $9.99).
The book offers more than 50 recipes tested by a panel of children, aged 6 to 14. Tips, safety pointers, a glossary of cooking terms, cooking equipment, techniques, entertaining ideas, even an explainer for the Agriculture Department's food pyramid make this book extremely informative and thorough.
It is also practical, entertaining, and beautifully presented with colorful cartoon illustrations of kids having fun with food and nicely styled photographs of the actual finished dishes. Added attractions include historical tidbits about food, menus for special celebrations (Halloween, Christmas, and Hanukkah), and suggested activities, such as how to do an "everything backwards" dinner.