What's Cookin', Kiddo? America's Test Kitchen Unveils Book For Young Chefs : The Salt NPR's Lynn Neary drops in on a cooking session with America's Test Kitchen Kids editor in chief and an 8-year-old chef to try one of more than 100 recipes for foods that kids love to eat — and make.

What's Cookin', Kiddo? America's Test Kitchen Unveils Book For Young Chefs

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"America's Test Kitchen" is celebrated as a reliable source of advice for home cooks. They test tools, techniques and recipes before making recommendations on the TV show, in magazines and cookbooks. Now for the first time, America's Test Kitchen is taking that know-how to the youth in the complete cookbook for young chefs. NPR's Lynn Neary recently visited a young chef as she tried out a recipe with some help from an expert.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: 8-year-old year Lucy Gray is wide-eyed and vibrating with anticipation when her dad, Paul, opens the door to greet me and Molly Birnbaum, editor-in-chief of the cookbook.

PAUL GRAY: Nice to meet you, Lynn. This is Lucy.

NEARY: Hi, Lucy.


NEARY: So good to meet you.

GRAY: We're a little excited, huh? She's a little nervous and excited at the same time.

NEARY: Lucy likes to cook and has helped make some meals for her family. But this is the first time she will cook something by herself. The cookbook has more than 100 recipes. And Lucy has chosen to make one-pot pasta with quick tomato sauce. We begin assembling everything we need - olive oil, crushed tomatoes, penne. As she takes out basil, Lucy decides to taste it.

LUCY: It's like a...

NEARY: What does it taste like?

LUCY: Basil.

NEARY: At one point while reading the recipe, Lucy stumbles over an abbreviation. She doesn't quite understand.

LUCY: So this is one tablespoon?

MOLLY BIRNBAUM: See, that's a - it says TSP, which is the abbreviation for teaspoon. And this is one capital T. That's a tablespoon.

LUCY: OK. Yeah, that's a tablespoon.

NEARY: And let me ask you something, Molly. At the beginning of the book, you talk about sort of the language of the kitchen.


NEARY: You call it...

BIRNBAUM: Decoding kitchen speak. There are so many words in these recipes that you just don't know until you've cooked a lot. So it is a lot about understanding the foreign language that comes with cooking.

NEARY: The cookbook lays out the basics with everything from photographs of tools and equipment to instructions on how to measure mints and chop. This recipe calls for a chopped onion. But first, it has to be peeled.

LUCY: This is fun. You're like, what's inside?

NEARY: The cookbook emphasizes safety in the kitchen, which Birnbaum demonstrates when chopping the onion.

BIRNBAUM: It can be hard to make this first cut.


BIRNBAUM: So - yeah, and you see how my fingers are like this little bear claw? And that means that my fingers are never going to get accidentally under the knife. So this is the safe way to hold a knife when you're cutting anything.

NEARY: With prep work finished, it's time to cook, beginning with those chopped onions.

BIRNBAUM: Here's your spoon. And so we want to stir the onions pretty frequently. You don't have to do it constantly.

LUCY: Get all softened. Voila.

NEARY: After adding garlic, Lucy pours in the tomatoes.

BIRNBAUM: I'll take this spoon.

LUCY: Whoa.

NEARY: As the tomatoes begin to simmer, Lucy notices an ingredient that hasn't been used yet.

LUCY: Am I supposed to put the salt in right now?

BIRNBAUM: You know what? We missed putting in the salt...


BIRNBAUM: ...Which is totally fine 'cause let's just put it in right now.

NEARY: Birnbaum assures Lucy that it's OK to make mistakes when cooking.

BIRNBAUM: For kids, mistakes are part of the process. And we really embrace them. So I think that doing a good technique and taking your own spin on it even if it results in a mistake is an awesome way to learn how to cook.

NEARY: In this recipe, the pasta is not cooked separately. It goes right into the simmering tomato sauce.

BIRNBAUM: All right. So the next step - let's look at the recipe.

LUCY: It's water and pasta.


NEARY: Lucy pours out the pasta, then adds water.

LUCY: Now we got to mix it and make it look like pasta (laughter). OK. I think we added a little too much water.

BIRNBAUM: No, that's perfect amount of water.

NEARY: Now we settle down to wait as the pasta cooks.

LUCY: This looks really good.

BIRNBAUM: It's starting to look different, isn't it?

LUCY: Uh-Huh.

NEARY: I love this idea of doing the sauce and the pasta together.

BIRNBAUM: Yeah, I love this recipe. It's so much easier. It's truly a one-pot dish.

NEARY: Yeah. I mean, this is an easy sort of come-home-from-work-and-cook-it dish.

BIRNBAUM: I cook from this cookbook all the time. And I don't have kids in the 8 to 13 at home.


NEARY: As the timer winds down, Lucy counts the seconds.

LUCY: 5, 4, 3, 2, beep.


NEARY: Once the pasta's finished, Lucy adds the basil. And as a final touch, she grates parmesan cheese over each portion. As Lucy serves her guests, her older sister Kate digs in.

KATE: What's in this? It tastes so good.

NEARY: When dad's turn comes to taste it, he agrees.

GRAY: This is delicious.

KATE: It should become a new, like, routine dinner.

GRAY: I think this is going to be in our rotation, especially when the kids cook it (laughter).

NEARY: And with that, we all settle down to eat, though Lucy is already looking forward to her next culinary challenge.

LUCY: And then we make dessert.

NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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