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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Cookbook author Karen Berman is tackling two big challenges -- finding family activities that don't involve television and getting children to eat healthier food.
In her new book, "Friday Night Bites", she presents 20 themed family meals ranging from Dinner on the Moon and An Evening at the North Pole to Dino Dinner and Teddy Bear Picnic.
Each chapter includes recipes and craft projects, educational information for conversation and after-dinner activities, along with suggestions for how children can help prepare some of the food.
Berman spoke to Reuters about devising child-friendly recipes and getting children to try new types of food, especially fruits and vegetables.
Q: Was this the first project you've worked on with recipes for children? What were the challenges and rewards compared to other things you've done?
A: "The biggest challenge for me was that I didn't do the kind of spicy foods I like. I didn't do Thai, with its hot, salty, sour and sweet flavors all in one dish ... or really spicy Mexican salsa. I really tried to keep it to, not bland, but really pure, approachable flavors.
Q: You studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. How did that training come in handy for this project and how much did you have to modify?
A: "I tried to keep the recipes accessible. Some are quick and easy. Some require more prep and more time, but I don't think anything is beyond the skills of the home cook. That said, I definitely use techniques I learned in cooking school.
"In the Teddy Bear Picnic, the sauce in the honey-kissed pork tenderloin ... uses one of the techniques of French sauce-making -- cooking meat with various flavorings and letting the pan juices collect, removing the meat from pan, adding stock and maybe a thickener to the pan juices and cooking the mixture down-letting some of the liquid evaporate -- to intensify the flavor. That's what we call reducing a sauce and that is something that is a basic part of the French repertoire. It's part of a lot of the culinary cultures, as well.
"In Dinnertime on a Pirate Ship, the treasure chest meatloaf, is another example. I think pretty much every culinary culture from wherever creates flavor bases or flavor profiles. One of the ways to do that ... is to take vegetables and heat them in a little bit of oil or other fat. ... It caramelizes the food, releases the natural sugars ... In that meatloaf, you start with a classic group of vegetables ... carrots onions and celery. ... Place it in a thin layer of fat in the pan and when you add heat ... all the flavors mingle and create a yummy new flavor. ... I wanted to create little treasure chest meatloaves with little colorful bits -- gems -- of flavor. I added red peppers too because I wanted red in there. I sautéed them in vegetable oil before I put them in the ground beef."
Q. You use a lot of fruits and vegetables in these recipes. How did you find ways to use them that would appeal to children who can be picky?
A: "I figured if I used enough different fruits and veggies in enough different applications, there would be something for everybody ... I tried to do a lot of fruits and veggies in side dishes and appetizers and desserts -- smoothies sometimes as an appetizer. Cold fruit soup is one of the desserts ... For the pirate dinner, the classic floating island dessert became Floating Treasure Island ...
"One of the best gifts we can give our children is to teach them to eat widely from the plant world. We have such a tendency to demonize food and say what you shouldn't eat. It's nice to give kids a positive message about things that they should eat.
Recipe: Rain Forest Smoothie (Makes 3-1/2 to 4 cups)
1-1/2 cups frozen mango chunks (from the frozen food aisle)
2 cups frozen vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups passion fruit juice
Place the mango, frozen yogurt, sugar and juice into a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If necessary, stop the blender and mix to be sure it's thoroughly blended and all the mango chunks are being chopped. Frozen mango can take a while to blend, but keep going until you have a nice, thick, creamy drink. Pour into glasses and serve.