New cookbook aims at next generation Back to basics: If you learn to cook early in life, you're likely to continue, author believes.

January 28, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

What Marion Cunningham really wants is for people -- adults and children, family and friends -- to sit down at the table together once a day and have a meal.

"I feel that we live our lives with strangers these days," she said. "Everybody is busy. We don't make time for the one most important connection. I don't think there's any substitute for being with people you care most about, and nothing else you do is the same as sitting at the table. It's primal."

She had long wanted to write a children's cookbook, and her interest in maintaining the tradition of family meals led her back to that idea: If children are involved with cooking, they'll be much more likely to continue the practice. The result is "Cooking with Children: 15 Lessons for Children, Age 7 and Up, Who Really Want to Learn to Cook" (Knopf, 1995, $18). Ms. Cunningham was Baltimore last month to promote the book.

As befits the woman who revised the traditional "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook," Ms. Cunningham took a methodical approach: She opened a cooking school for children in Walnut Creek, Calif., her home. "I decided I should teach classes so I could see what children of different ages could physically do," she said.

Giving children cooking skill is "one of the best gifts you can give," she said. "It gives them a self-reliance. Who knows what life is going to deal out? We need to change our attitudes and think of what a creative thing [cooking] is -- and you can eat everything you make."

"Cooking with Children" starts with a recipe for vegetable soup, to provide lessons in using the stove and cutting foods, and to provide an introduction to such techniques as sauteing, simmering and boiling. Every lesson is accompanied by illustrations of procedures and by boxes with tips and instructions.

Here are two of the recipes.

Vegetable soup

Makes 4 servings (about 7 cups)

1 onion

1 carrot

1 rib celery

1 tomato

1 zucchini

2 tablespoons butter

salt and pepper

4 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade

Use a paring knife to trim off the fuzzy small brown root end and the tan papery top of the onion and discard them. With the paring knife, make a cut in the papery outer skin of the onion, then peel it off with your fingers and throw it away. Cut the onion in half from stem top to root end. Put the onion, cut side down, on a cutting board. Cut 8 or 9 slices crosswise from each half, about the thickness of 2 pennies. As you slice, curl under the ends of the fingers of the hand holding the onion so you don't cut your fingertips with the knife; move your hand back on the onion after each slice. Cut the slices into three equal parts. Scoop all the onion pieces into a small bowl and set the bowl near the stove.

Slice off the coarse top and the bottom tip of the carrot with a paring knife and discard. Holding the thick top of the carrot in one hand and the vegetable peeler in your other hand, slide the peeler down the length of the carrot, pressing just hard enough to remove the coarse peel. Keep turning the carrot slightly and repeat the motion from top to bottom until you have removed all the peel.

Put the carrot on a cutting board and cut the carrot in half lengthwise. Put each half flat side down and cut crosswise into half-moon slices the same thickness as the onion slices. Add the carrot slices to the bowl near the stove.

Wash the celery rib and dry it. Place it rounded slide up on the cutting board. Slice it crosswise into half-moon pieces the same thickness as the carrot and onion slices, and add them to the same bowl with the other vegetables near the stove.

With the tip of a paring knife, cut out the little round brown stem of the tomato by cutting around it. Discard it. Now cut the tomato in half from stem top to bottom. Put the halves on a cutting board, cut side down. Cut each tomato half crosswise into 6 or 8 slices, just as you did with the onion. Cut the slices into 3 pieces. Put them into a separate bowl and set aside.

Zucchini does not need to be peeled -- the bright green skin is tender and pleasant to eat. Just rinse off the zucchini and dry it. Remove the hard stem end and the tip. Now cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, the same way you cut the carrot. Put the flat sides down on your cutting board and cut half-moon slices the thickness of 2 pennies, the same as the carrot slices. Put the zucchini slices into the bowl with the tomatoes and place the bowl near the stove so that it's right at hand when time to add these vegetables to the soup.

Put a 2 1/2 -quart saucepan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Put the butter into the saucepan, and, as the butter melts, tilt the saucepan a little, up and down and around, so the butter covers the bottom of the pan. Now turn the heat down to medium-low.

Add the onions, carrots and celery, stirring to mix and coat them with the butter. Cook, stirring the vegetables often, for 5 minutes. Shake a little salt and pepper over the vegetables and ** stir them again.

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