In addition to all the shopping and eating you’re doing this time of year, it also feels like the season to circle the wagons ’round the kitchen and get to work on some projects. Maybe that’s the biggest gingerbread house you’ve made yet or an experiment to see how many seeds you can sprout from your windowsill. These five books will guide you through these adventures and hundreds more.
With the right know-how, any kind of cooking can be studied as a science experiment, but National Geographic takes that idea a few steps further with “Edible Science: Experiments You Can Eat” by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen and Carol Tennant (National Geographic Children’s Books, $12.99). The experiments range from familiar old-fashioned fun — like shaking cream to make butter, and making ricotta cheese with milk and vinegar — to the more obviously scientific, like baking color-changing cookies or building a water purification system. Parents will learn, too, and then you’ll never again make couscous or beef jerky without thinking about osmosis.
Growing food is one of my kids’ favorite food-related science projects, and who knew there was enough to say about growing plants from pits to sustain an entire book? Holly Farrell goes deep on seeds of all sizes in “Plants from Pits: Pots of plants for the whole family to enjoy” (Mitchell Beazley, $14.99), which explains the most basic — how to sprout an avocado pit — to fruits with the most tedious tiny seeds: strawberries, apples, tomatoes, blueberries and figs. Botanists of all ages will be surprised to find out what you can grow from kitchen scraps.
There’s this beautiful time when kids become aware of calendars but not stressed out by them. If yours are in that sweet spot, or maybe they just really love planning things, they’ll enjoy “The Family Calendar Cookbook: From Birthdays to Bake Sales, Good Food to Carry You Through the Year” (Running Press, $23) by Kelsey Banfield, which gives you ideas for cooking projects tied to whatever is going on during the year, including official and unofficial holidays and seasonal celebrations. Banfield shares ideas for teacher appreciation and graduation in spring, beach picnics for summer, preservation and back-to-school cooking in fall and more Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s ideas than you could use in five years.
Houston baker Kristine Samuell doesn’t only make gingerbread houses in December. She makes them for every major holiday and created a guidebook called “A Year of Gingerbread Houses: Making & Decorating Gingerbread Houses for All Seasons” (Lark, Crafts, $19.95) to inspire you to think outside the candy canes and snowmen. Even if you only end up making gingerbread houses this time of year, her recipes and techniques will help you make sturdier — and tastier — creations.
If you already have a copy of “Betty Crocker Kids Cook” (Betty Crocker, $19.99), you probably don’t need the latest edition. But if you don’t, it’s not a bad kids’ cookbook. Many of the recipes call for packaged cookie or cake mixes, not-so-subtly nudging you into buying Betty Crocker products, but your kids will like the ideas nonetheless — brownies, pies and cake balls on sticks, bottom-of-the-cereal-box cookies, and this cauliflower “popcorn” that won’t fool anyone but will satisfy the craving for something salty during a movie.
Movie-Time Cauliflower ‘Popcorn’
3 cups small, fresh cauliflower florets
1 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper (optional)
Heat oven to 450 degrees. In large mixing bowl, combine cauliflower, oil, salt and pepper; stir with a wooden spoon until well mixed. Pour mixture evenly into ungreased 15-by-10-by-1-inch pan.
Bake 10 minutes. Use pot holders to take pan from oven. Using wooden spoon, stir cauliflower mixture. Return pan to oven. Bake 8 to 12 minutes longer until light golden brown and crisp-tender (use a fork to test). Sprinkle with cheese. Let stand about 1 minute or until cheese is melted. Serves 3.
— From “Betty Crocker Kids Cook”