Berkshire Eats caught up with “Cooking Class” author Deanna Cook who lives in nearby Northampton. An avid cook and former executive editor at FamilyFun magazine, she’s hosted numerous cooking specials on the Food Network and is a frequent spokesperson on cooking with kids.
The book was inspired by my own two girls — I wanted them to learn some basic recipes before they grew up and left home. After I left my 20 year stint as an editor at FamilyFun magazine, I realized that the girls could make a mean meringue but they didn’t know how to make a grilled cheese. The book is a collection of 57 easy, wholesome recipes that are made from scratch, plus open-ended food activities called Mix ’n Match that encourage kids to experiment with ingredients. All of the photos were taken in my kitchen and garden in Northampton, MA, with easy to follow step-by-step pictures (we didn’t use a food stylist—the recipes were made by the kids). So far, the book has inspired many children to start cooking.
Q: Are your daughters interested in cooking?
Yes, they both love to cook! One just started high school (Maisie) and one just started college (Ella). They are both featured in the book (Ella’s egg sandwiches and Maisie’s carrot cupcakes!).
Q: Why is it important to get kids familiar with cooking and become comfortable in the kitchen?
It’s an important life skill, one that will come in handy for the rest of their lives. The more time they spend in the kitchen experimenting with fresh ingredients and trying out simple kitchen tools, the better they will get at cooking, too. It’s like playing soccer or the piano – it takes time and effort to learn to cook, but practice makes perfect.
Q: The first few lessons cover rules, organizing the work space, listing ingredients, kitchen vocabulary, measuring and cleaning up. Why did you cover these topics first?
It’s important for kids to experiment with the kitchen tools so they feel comfortable using a paring knife, the stove, and the oven — so the book starts with the basics. The goal of this chapter is to help the kids feel confident enough in the kitchen to lower the heat if the food is burning on the stove or adjust the salt and pepper (and garlic!) to customize the flavor so it tastes good. They will feel proud of their home-cooked creations, and with practice, they’ll only get better it!
Q: What’s a good age for kids to start cooking?
I started cooking with my kids when they were toddlers, giving them pieces of dough to play with, then bake into biscuits.
Q: Of the 57 recipes, which are your personal favorites? Your girls?
Gosh, it’s hard to pick! My girls love to make egg sandwiches and pesto with pasta and mozzarella. The lemon squares are always a hit, too. But if I had to pick, I’d say kids should learn the following five things in the kitchen before they grow up and leave home: 1. Egg sandwich or omelet 2. Grilled cheese 3. Salad dressing 4. A pasta dinner 5. A chocolate dessert
Q: Were their specific criteria you used in picking which recipes to include in the book (fun factor? novelty?)
Yes, the recipes had to be made with whole foods (nothing from a can or packaged up). The recipes are classics with a twist—a fun name or shape.
Q: Many of our readers are from the Berkshires. What’s your next event that they can attend (cooking demos, book launches/signings) in our area?
I don’t have any events planned right now in your area, but I will be at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, on Halloween. I also have events this fall in New York City, Seattle, and in the Northampton, MA area.
Recipe Sneak Peak
How do I get a copy of Cooking Class?