I’m not big on most kid or family cookbooks. They’re usually filled with cutesy foods or “kid menu” favorites in which I have no interest (or can figure out how to make myself). I mean, can you imagine your Hungry Papa getting excited about “Spaghetti and Eyeballs”? Really.
Before you write me off as a curmudgeon, I will say that kiddie food has its place. Everything in moderation, right? I’m just suggesting that its place may not be at the regular dinner table, so I don’t feel the need to have an entire cookbook of ideas that I can get online the 3 times a year that I want to make happy face pancakes.
To me, family food is healthy food, made with whole ingredients, that’s easy to adjust for every age (because we family cooks only have time to make one meal for everyone). Family food usually needs to come together quickly, but should sometimes take a while, for the fun—and taste—of it. Some family food should be simple enough so that kids can help, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. Sometimes good family food is about the family cook having an opportunity to experiment with new flavors and approaches on their own.
In other words, family food is good food.
Any great cookbook that offers as many quick, yet wholesome recipes as it does more involved recipes is, in my book, a great family cookbook. That said, every once and a while, someone puts out a cookbook specifically with family in mind that’s fabulous. That could be, in my opinion, a cookbook for even those without a family. In those cases, the bonus is that the author has thought long and hard about what it means to cook under “family” circumstances. Like cooking with two kids pulling at your pants. Or with lots of screaming in the background. Or feeding 4 very different tastes.
These three family cookbooks are my current favorites. They are win-win books chock full of recipes that anyone would be lucky enough to try and that family cooks are lucky enough to be able to make (without going insane).
Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners
I’ve been a huge Sara Moulton fan since before I was ever seriously cooking. The television chef and former executive chef at now defunct Gourmet is easygoing and super knowledgeable about food. Her dishes reflect both qualities, especially in this book filled with recipes designed for family home cooking. This book is full of inexpensive yet flavorful dishes and suggestions for easy variations to make meals lighter, vegetarian or with different ingredients. An example of her brilliance: I use her Peanut Sauce in endless ways to keep dinner easy and fresh.
Silvana Nardone’s Cooking for Isaiah
This book, by cookbook author and founding editor-in-chief of Everyday with Rachel Ray Silvana Nardone, is gluten and dairy free. Think that means it’s not for you? Think again! Silvana used to own an Italian bakery. When you ask a talented gluten and dairy loving cook to come up with gluten and dairy free family favorites, they do it right. Especially when said cook is a mom developing recipes for her gluten and (then) dairy intolerant son. Silvana’s recipes are fun riffs on family classics that anyone, with or without dietary restrictions, will love.
Michelle Stern’s The Whole Family Cookbook
This affordable book is full of delicious, practical recipes that everyone in the family can help make and, more importantly, eat. Think: Sweet Potato Biscuits, Croque Monsieur, Chewy Maple Granola Bars, Pork Chops with Sage Butter and Lemon Buttermilk Sorbet. The best part is that Michelle doesn’t just give lip service to the idea that kids can help with the cooking. Rather, she puts her money where her mouth is, color coding each step of every recipe for an age level. There are steps that can be done by kids as young as 2-years-old and as old as 11+ years. There’s that bonus I was talking about it. A great family cookbook, indeed!
I’m recently obsessed with this Baked Apple Puff recipe from The Whole Family Cookbook. It strikes me as a great example of the kind of goodness that comes from the good kind of family cookbook. It’s easy, a tasty treat full of only wholesome ingredients and versatile (this can be a breakfast, snack or dessert).
Baked Apple Puff
reprinted with permission from The Whole Family Cookbook
5 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
2 small crisp apples, organic if possible (go for Fuji if you prefer a slightly sweet apple, or Granny Smith if you enjoy a tart flavor)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.
3. In a medium sized bowl, crack the eggs.
4. Beat the eggs lightly and then add the melted butter.
5. Measure milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, salt, and flour, and add them to the eggs.
6. Mix all of the ingredients until the batter is well blended.
7. If you have one, use an apple peeler/corer/slicer to peel, core, and slice your apples. If not, use a vegetable peeler to peel the apples.
8. Cut out the cores and slice the apples thinly.
9. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a 10″ ovenproof skillet. Add the sliced apples and cook until they are golden brown, 5-10 minutes. (If you’d like, you can add a dash or two of ground cinnamon.)
10. Put on oven mitts and take the skillet off the heat. Pour the batter over the apples.
11. Measure 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and stir them together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the batter.
12. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for 15-25 minutes until gently browned and puffed. (Do not open the oven during the first 15 minutes of the cooking process, or the puff will deflate!)
13. Put on oven mitts, remove the skillet from the oven, and immediately place an oven mitt over the handle, so that you won’t accidentally burn your hand.
14. Cut the puff into wedges and serve immediately.
Kids change the way we cook, but they don’t have to change how well we eat. Read more of Stacie’s family-friendly recipes and tips at One Hungry Mama.