Bonjour! Êtes vous affamé? (Hello! Are you hungry?)
I don’t know about you, but after reading the yummy recipes in Kids Cook French (Quarry Books, 2015), I’m starving! At this very moment, I would love to feast on Claudine Pépin’s Spring Menu: Eggs Jeannette with a Salad, Chicken Breast with Garlic and Parsley, Sautéed Swiss Chard, Parsnip-Potato Purée, and Almond Cake. Mmmmmm!
You may know Claudine from any one or all three of the James Beard Award-winning PBS cooking series she appeared in with her father, legendary French chef Jacques Pépin. It is natural that Claudine (an accomplished home cook and wine educator who married a chef), should publish a cookbook for kids, since she grew up with fine cuisine and now cooks most nights for her 11-year-old daughter Shorey.
True to Claudine’s guiding philosophy — that there’s no such thing as “kids food,” only “good food” — Kids Cook French doesn’t look or read like a children’s cookbook. You won’t find rebus-like directions in large print with little measuring spoons, or yet another “recipe” for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This is not to say that the recipes are overly complicated, only that adult supervision is required for what are clearly family projects.
The book itself was a family project. Claudine and her husband Rollie worked on the recipes, Jacques and Shorey were in charge of artwork and tasting, and Claudine credits her mother Gloria with “everything I know about organizing, entertaining and cleaning.” Claudine is clearly her father’s daughter when it comes to the joys of cooking with and for loved ones. Jacques has often said, “There is no greater love than the love of cooking. One always cooks for another,” and “the moment for a child to be in the kitchen is from the moment they are born.”
Truly, the kitchen is the heart of the home, and even before children are able to physically help with cooking tasks, they can appreciate the sights, smells and sounds of good food being prepared by the family. Claudine has said that she ate her first caviar while still in the playpen, and while growing up, she was naturally exposed to a wide range of foods, even things like head cheese and tripe — a far cry from the chicken nuggets and pizza diet that is daily fare for legions of American children.
In her Note to Parents, Claudine says that when parents disguise healthy foods as something else or “pour processed cheese sauce on them,” they are doing kids a disservice. Kids will eat the food they are given, will develop tastes for them, and those will become the foods they become used to and like. Early exposure to a variety of foods is key — “it doesn’t have to be complicated. It needs to be wholesome, nutritious, and preferably well-seasoned.”
The 30 recipes, which are presented in both English and French, are grouped according to course (starters, main dishes, sides and desserts) and represent dishes Claudine grew up loving and likes to cook for her family today. Look for classic French favorites such as Vichyssoise, Fondue, Boeuf Bourguignon, Croque Monsieur, Quiche, Salade Niçoise, Clafoutis, Crêpes, Apple Tarts, Sablés, and Crème Brûlée. She’s also included her first original recipe (Spinach in Béchamel) and her favorite American Blueberry Pie, which Rollie made for her before they were married (oh, the power of pie!). 🙂
I enjoyed all the interesting recipe headnotes, most of which are family anecdotes, like when Claudine’s grandmother made soufflé for her grandfather without separating the eggs (worked anyway), how Jacques thinks she adds too many mushrooms to her Boeuf Bourguignon, and that Chicken with Cream Sauce was the first dish Jacques cooked on his own professionally when he was just 14.
Jacques’s charming free-spirited paintings feed my love of illustrated cookbooks — parts of his full-page spreads dot the recipes, as do Shorey’s delightful spot illos of birds, hearts, flowers and butterflies. I also like how several English-French words from each recipe are spotlighted in a friendly handwritten font (little mini language bites to snack on while studying ingredients and directions). Text boxes with quick cooking tips are sprinkled throughout and seasonal menus top everything off.
Kids Cook French: Les Enfants Cuisinent Á La Française offers families an opportunity to learn, cook, share, and eat healthy, delicious meals together with its emphasis on fresh ingredients and hands on preparation. It will appeal to parents wishing to step away from the obsession this country has with fast food and microwave meals, and will inspire budding chefs to be more creative in the kitchen. A nice blend of food, language and culture with a personal family touch. Bon Appétit!
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For many people, just the thought of cooking something “French” is intimidating. I’m happy to report Claudine’s recipes are accessible and very doable. There are no elusive exotic ingredients, complicated techniques, or long lists of steps. My aging eyes would have appreciated a larger font and a color other than the light orange used for the French, but otherwise the directions are clearly stated and easy to follow. I like that Claudine thought in terms of time and convenience (the recipes for Apple Tarts and Ham and Leek Quiche call for store-bought puff pastry). Definitely doable. 🙂
I whipped up the Almond Cake on a Sunday morning with good results. Those who are a little wheat sensitive will be happy to hear there’s only 1/2 cup of flour in this recipe, which is processed with 1/2 cup ground raw almonds and 1/2 cup sugar. Unsalted butter and whole milk add flavor and richness to a light, unfussy, very welcome treat, a perfect complement to morning or afternoon tea.
Eager munchkins can help with measuring the dry ingredients, whisking the batter, and sprinkling the sliced almonds on top. You’ll have to be very quick about getting a taste once the cake is cooled as it tends to disappear in a flash. A dollop of whipped cream and all’s right with the world. Très bon!
- 1/2 cup (73 g) raw almonds
- 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
- 1/2 cup (63 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, melted, plus more to butter the loaf pan
- 1/4 cup (28 g) sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 C).
Butter a 9 x 5 inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf pan, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) deep.
Place the almonds, sugar, flour, and baking powder in a small food processor and process until smooth. You will need a small to medium food processor since if the processor is too big, it will not be able to produce a smooth texture.
In a medium to large mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and melted butter. You may see little lumps, as the butter will be cooled by the eggs and milk — that’s fine.
Add the processed almond and flour mixture to the bowl and whisk just enough to combine them and make them smooth.
Using a rubber spatula, pour and scrape the batter into the loaf pan, evenly coat the top with the sliced almonds, place the loaf pan on an ovenproof tray, and bake 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes, and then remove the cake from the loaf pan. If the cake sticks, run a small paring knife around the outside of the cake.
Allow to cool for an additional 15 minutes and enjoy.
~ Adapted from Kids Cook French by Claudine Pépin, p. 70 (Quarry Books, 2015).
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KIDS COOK FRENCH: Les Enfants cuisinent à la française
written by Claudine Pépin
illustrated by Jacques Pépin and Shorey Wesen
translated by Christel Mazquiaran
published by Quarry Books, February 2015
Cookbook for ages 5+, 96 pp.
*Here are three more recipes from the book via the publisher’s blog, Quarry Spoon:
*Jacques (who turns 80 in December) has just finished filming his final television cooking series, “Heart and Soul,” which premieres on PBS in September 2015. I like this little video — it was interesting seeing him wield a paintbrush instead of a chef’s knife.
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 Claudine Pépin, illustrations © 2015 Jacques Pépin, published by Quarry Books. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.