Lauren Stein is a local journalist who was inspired by her young daughter to write a cookbook -- with a twist. All of the recipes in "Fresh Made Simple" are illustrated.
"I wanted to create something that we would enjoy looking at together," Stein says. "She would begin to learn colors and shapes and foods, and at the same time it would actually give me ideas for what to cook for our family."
Stein's idea evolved into a collection of everyday recipes, easy to prepare, for the whole family to enjoy.
"The drawings are so playful, but at the same time very instructional with the cooking action and ingredients all in there," she says. "My hope was cooks of all ages and skills would be inspired to cook something fresh and delicious."
Here's some more about Stein, her cookbook, and how she's teaching her kids to love cooking and eating good food. You can enjoy three of her illustrated recipes for mushroom dishes here.
Which of the recipes in your cookbook is your favorite?
Man -- that's a tough question, I love them all! The Leek Corn Egg Bake is an all time fave - I just love the combo and creamy, tangy goat cheese with eggs. We love the Red Pepper Cheddar Dip and it's easy to pack in lunches (nut-free!) and for snacks at the beach. Plus the kids devour it. The Tortilla Soup was inspired by time I spent living in Mexico -- it's warm and fresh and filling. And the Cacio e Pepe is one of the coolest illustrations -- the water pouring out of the colander -- it's incredible what Katie Eberts, the illustrator, can convey visually.
Do your kids help you cook? How do you encourage them?
YES! If possible, I try do our cooking together when we don't need to have a meal on the table immediately. My kids are young, (5.5 and 3) so when people are already hungry it's a bit too late for us! They help get out all the ingredients for a smoothie and help me hold the immersion blender, for example, in the mornings. Or if we are roasting veggies, they pour the oils and mix the seasoning. I have tools available that they can use on their own -- measuring cup, potato masher, wooden spoons, and safe pizza cutters and knives. I keep plates and bowls accessible in low drawers so they can get them themselves. They each have their own stool to join me at counter level. And we all have fun aprons to wear -- that is incentive!
Are your kids picky eaters? If so, how do you deal with that?
I think the challenge is expanding their repertoire. My kids will love fruits and veggies for ages and then one day stop eating them. Classic! So allowing them to eat the fruits and veggies they like, but trying to remember to offer/encourage new things is always on my mind. Like most kids, they love snacks! So it's always a balance between healthy snacks and not too many that they won't eat a meal. Also, my kids at this age don't love things mixed together. For example I make a big salad for the family, and on the kids plates I will do goat cheese on crackers, small pile of dried cranberries, chicken, peas, nuts....the same ingredients adults are eating, just not all tossed together. I'm not cooking two separate meals, but they are still getting a good dinner.
What is your go-to, in-a-pinch recipe that you make when you’re short on time and inspiration?
Eggs. Always eggs. The whole family likes them. They are filling and nutritious. It's easy to mix in some veggies (green beans, herbs, kale, potatoes). And they come together quickly. From Fresh Made Simple, we love the Burrito Scramble -- eggs, beans, tortilla, cheese, tomato and scallions!
What is your favorite fruit or vegetable?
I love pears. My grandparents used to ship us a box every winter growing up -- so I guess my affection is both taste-based and sentimental. A just-ripe pear is so juicy and sweet and satisfying. I like using pears in salad. And they were the inspiration behind the Open-Faced Pear Gruyere Melt.
Other than your own, what is your favorite cookbook?
I love The Flavor Bible. It's such great tool to have in your kitchen. For us as a family, I love Dinner - The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach. It's approachable and real and thanks to much research, truly a way to get a family meal on the table.
What is your favorite Boston restaurant?
I go back to Orinoco and Island Creek Oyster Bar over and over. For quick bites and coffee or tea, I love Tatte Bakery and Sofra.