Too Many Cooks by Emily Franklin

Book Review 2009

About a week ago we shared a kitchen tour with you. It was a big, open kitchen that usually is filled with four children under the age of 9, and it belongs to author Emily Franklin. Emily just released a new book all about cooking in this big kitchen packed with kids. We highly recommend this book, and we hope that the fact that it's (partially) about kids doesn't keep you singles and child-free folks away; it's practically a primer on cooking quick, healthy, sensible meals by instinct and not from recipes, from scratch and not from cans, and on the go when you've got nine other things clamoring for your attention.

Title & Publisher: Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes, by Emily Franklin. Published by Voice, 2009.

First impressions: Hardcover book with spacious print and attractive paper. This is a pleasant book to hold and read for long periods of time. The recipes are at the end of each chapter and listed in an index.

Number of recipes: 102

The angle: Emily Franklin used to be a chef, but now she is a well-published novelist with four kids. This book is about her adventure of introducing her kids to all sorts of foods in a sensible, practical way that engages their imagination and also deals realistically with their objections and, at times, stubborn resistance to new things. The recipes are all things she created for her family, often in an attempt to introduce her kids to something new in a non-intimidating way.

She isn't out to promote any one style of parenting or cooking, however; she is documenting her own experiences, and if there is one law that she advocates it's flexibility. She says in the introduction:

This book is not a judgment on how other people cook. I have friends who shop exclusively at organic markets and insist on local produce. I have others who don't give much thought to food, shopping at big chain stores and whose idea of cooking is pressing the Start button on the microwave. But no matter how we cook or what food means to us, we need to feed our families. The kitchen is a microcosm of family life, and eating together is the most universal of gatherings. I want to teach my kids to explore new ideas and tastes.

Each chapter is a vignette, a story, about exploring a new taste or idea, along with stories and anecdotes from a year's worth of growing up, new baby milestones, and the changes that happen so fast in children.

The other stuff: There are some hilarious bits in the book, many dealing with the trials and pitfalls of mothering and cooking at the same time, but one of the best bits comes early, with the discussion of "nuggets." Emily talks about how "nuggets" (breaded chicken or fish) are the bacon of the child's world: anything is better as a nugget. She creates her own version of nuggets to stave off the requests for frozen things like "pizza nuggets" and then has a brilliant chart that shows us how she stepped her children by slow degrees from nuggets through more adventurous breaded things until they ended up at Lemon Panko Chicken.

Strengths: This is one of the best books I've read on cooking by instinct. You can't learn to cook by instinct just from recipes or instructions, obviously (although if you follow enough recipes you'll start to develop instincts). Emily shares story after story of cooking in the kitchen surrounded by kids, a busy schedule, a nursing baby, a busy husband with his own tastes and preferences, and tells these great little stories about how recipes and dishes emerge out of those busy moments, influenced by what she does or doesn't have on hand, or the children's particular preferences at the moment.

Recipes for right now: Coffee-Vanilla Custard, Crunchy Snacking Beans, Dreamy Polenta, Buttery Apricot Bars, Impromptu Asian Marinade, Arugula Sunflower Pesto, Mummy Nuggets. Also, we shared Emily's granola recipe in the kitchen tour post. Look for another recipe from this book tomorrow!

Recommended? Yes, especially for those of you with kids or who would like to have kids at some point. It's an engaging, funny book on the perils and promise of the kitchen when there are many children underfoot.

• Buy the book: Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes, $16 at Amazon.com

Visit the author's website: Emily Franklin
See the whole kitchen tour: Kitchen Tour: Emily's Wide-Open Inspiration

More 2009 Book Reviews
Big Food by Elissa Altman
Edible Schoolyard, by Alice Waters
The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Milk, by Anne Mendelson
The New Steak, by Cree LeFavour
Cooking For Two, by Jessica Strand
A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg
Fresh Food From Small Places, by R. J. Ruppenthal
Picture Yourself Cooking with Your Kids, by Beth Sheresh
Eat Feed Autumn Winter, by Anne Bramley
The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet, by Paulette Mitchell
Heirloom Beans, by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo

(Images: Amazon.com; Kayla Hicks for Apartment Therapy)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.