CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012
Clueless in the Kitchen: A Cookbook for Teens.
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 1998/2011.
216 pp., pbk. $14.95.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.
So, this is a cookbook... And it's full of recipes – which is pretty much what you'd expect. These recipes are simple without being stupid. They contain no scary terminology, no really strange ingredients, no complicated procedures. They also contain (almost no processed foods) -- no cake mixes, no condensed tomato soups, no frozen whipped toppings. You don't need them. Ever. Cooking from scratch is easy and cheap, and always tastes better. That's a fact.
This book is full of other stuff you need to know too. Kitchen stuff. Basic stuff that no one ever bothered to tell you. Or maybe you weren't listening. And now you're sorry, because now
you want to know. Now the kitchen needs sanitizing, or now you have to cut up a chicken or have to (yikes!) convert measurements.... You'll also find information on how to shop, where to find specialty items and how to plan a meal.
So how do you get started? Well, just start. Find something you want to cook and cook it.
Go ahead – be brave. After all, cooking isn't brain surgery. It just looks like it.
Actually, cooking doesn't really look like brain surgery (all right, there are knives involved, and if you cut up meat, or worse, your finger, there will be blood), and Clueless in the Kitchen makes it clear that it's actually a whole lot easier. The fact is this: cooking is cool, it's economical, and much healthier than a steady diet of even the best take-out or "ready-to-heat" dinners. Clueless in the Kitchen is a cookbook for teens (especially male teens) who find themselves having to cook a real meal: perhaps their parents are away on a short vacation, or they are at college or university, living off-campus and have to save their pennies.
Evelyn Raab, the mother of two sons, and the writer of "Cooking with Kids" in Today's Parent magazine, provides the novice cook with an accessible and fun-to-read grounding in kitchen basics. She starts "from scratch," providing lists of the equipment needed for cooking, where and how to store different foods (not everything goes into the refrigerator and not everything should be stored in the pantry), and most important, a primer in kitchen sanitation. Food poisoning is a life experience to be avoided! Then, there's an entire chapter on purposeful food shopping: stocking up on staples, making grocery choices that are economical, and some very useful tips on matching food purchases with menu plans and cooking techniques. For those who haven't ventured beyond a basic big box chain store, farmer's markets and ethnic groceterias offer value and variety. And there's more to the spice rack than good old salt and pepper; a listing called the "bare bones spice collection" will help out the herb and spice-challenged.
From there, the recipes are organized according to the meals of the day and the primary constituent of that recipe grouping: breakfast, "salads, soups and side things," "mainly meat," "primarily pasta," "extraordinary eggs," "something fishy," "vehement vegetarian," some basic baking, healthy snacks and munchies. And, the Starbucks (or Tim's) habit can be kicked, because this cookbook will teach the reader how to brew a proper cup of tea or pot of coffee. An interesting feature of this cookbook is a series of graphic icons which identify "cheap eats," "Mom food" (i.e. comfort foods like chicken soup), vegetarian cuisine, "cooking to impress" (celebratory meals as well as date meals), and most helpful for those still at home or those living with a group of classmates, "dinner for the family." Nor are these categories exclusive – many recipes feature several of these identifiers.
After more than 200 recipes, the book concludes with a short but helpful chapter on menu planning (yes, cooking does require some thought and planning) and a series of sample menus for a variety of occasions, from entertaining girl/boyfriends, cheering up a depressed friend, to a "slightly sophisticated brunch." The final pages include a glossary of basic food terminology (explained in language that anyone can understand), metric and imperial conversion tables for measurements and cooking temperatures, and a recipe index. My only quibble about this book is the lack of colour photos and/or drawings; a cookbook without colour photos is like homemade bread without butter (or olive oil). However, I realize that it's impossible to provide colour plates and sell the book at the highly affordable price of $14.95.
As a kid, one of my favourite cookbooks was Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls. Clueless in the Kitchen goes far beyond that childhood classic. Mastering the recipes featured in Clueless may not score a young chef a guest spot on the Food Network, but for a young adult whose formal foods and nutrition education stopped some time in junior high, this book is a gift. And, for teens who do like to cook, it's a handy, basic cookbook written in language and terms that they will readily understand. Most importantly, those junior cooks will find out just what all of us serious cooks know: when you cook your own food, you eat healthy, you eat less, and you will always, always have friends (all those people who claim they can't cook!). Worth purchasing as a supplemental resource for high school foods and nutrition classes.
Joanne Peters, of Winnipeg, MB, is a retired teacher-librarian who spends a great deal of time in her kitchen!
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