Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner (Review and Giveaway)

Our family was excited to try Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner, a new cookbook by Cherilyn Dahlsten.  I am often at a loss when my children ask me to tell them how I cooked something -- I tell them that I just watched and helped my mother make that dish so many times that I just do it.  How much garlic or oregano?  "Some."  How much milk in the mashed potatoes?  I don't know, until the potatoes look right.  A lot of cooking really is by sight or feel or taste, but when you're first starting out, you don't have that instinct honed.  We've been hunting through cookbooks, from my 1920s-era reprinted Betty Crocker to 21st century Alton Brown, looking for simple recipes that will help the boys improve their cooking skills.  Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner is written for kids, but it's not a child's cookbook.  The layout is simple and the directions broken down step by step, making it a good choice for new cooks.

Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner Review

Cherilyn's cookbook takes a team approach to getting dinner to the table.  It's not just a parent making dinner, but the kids learning to work together with the parents as a family.  Some recipes can be started by a younger child - Cornbread batter (p. 88) can be measured and mixed by a child and Mom or Dad can handle the oven.  Some of the entrees may need a parent to get it started by grilling chicken breast, then letting the child reheat the meat with tomatoes, vegetables, and broth as Enchilada Soup (p. 44). 

One thing I appreciate is many of the recipes here are easily made gluten free. Either they are inherently gluten free (like the enchilada soup), or they are easily made gluten free (choosing gluten free pasta for the spaghetti or macaroni and cheese).  However, I was a little uncomfortable with oats being the choice for flour for many of the "gluten free" option.  Regular oats are notorious for being contaminated with other grains, so I really feel like there should be a note somewhere that says "Make sure you find ones that are certified gluten free."  If you're a gluten free family, you probably already know this, but if you're baking for a gluten free family and thinking, "Oh, I have a recipe marked gluten free," and don't follow oat farming practices, it could cause problems.

We made several recipes from the book. Among them, Luke made Spaghetti (p. 70) for dinner while Matthew adapted the Peanut Butter Cookies (p. 94) to use sunflower seed butter.  While both recipes turned out well, we had a few hiccups along the way.

Luke has been working on earning a Cooking/Home Ec credit for high school.  He has been learning the basics of cooking, from planning what you're going to make to reading the recipe completely before you get started.  He was really excited to make the spaghetti recipe - the sauce is a simple yet hearty Bolognese-style sauce.  However, I had to help him more than I expected I would have.  I handed him the cookbook and said, "Go." The directions stumped him, almost from the start.

 You can see the ingredient list, but the second step is "Set out the butter to soften."  He came to me saying, "Mom, I'm sorry...but I can't figure this out."  At first, neither could I.  Finally, I realized that on the facing page, it says "Suggested sides" and includes French Bread as an option.  We had seen that, but took it at face value - "French Bread" being a type of bread, and it would just be sliced and served alongside.  If you follow the directions, it actually has you buttering the bread and then heating the slices in the oven down in Step 23.  Step 3 says to "Get out a saucepan."  Most sauce pans, even large ones, have a maximum capacity of three or four quarts. A 4-quart saucepan is going to be cutting it really close for holding that much sauce once the meat is added back to the tomatoes.  In a way, I'm glad Step 2 was not clear to him, because then I caught this and said, "Wait, use one of the dutch ovens since it's bigger," or else we would had a huge mess.  The directions definitely could have been much clearer or pointed.  I would definitely recommend the parent reading the directions carefully ahead of time and making notes of any adjustments that may be necessary.

Matthew needed direct supervision and often an extra set of hands while he was cooking.  First we were adapting the recipe to be nut free, so we had to not only swap sunflower seed butter for the peanut butter, but also take the baking soda out (baking soda and sunflower butter in a baked item yields a harmless yet disconcerting green tinge).  He's also less experienced in the kitchen, and not quite ready to cook solo.  With a little bit of help, he got the cookies mixed up and into the oven. 
Pre-reading the recipe

Putting cookies on the sheet

Flattening the dough

A plate of yummy cookies

Because it is meant to be very streamlined and simplified,  many of the recipes rely on canned tomatoes, corn, beans, soup bases, and frozen items like spinach and corn.  This isn't necessarily bad, but if you are a family that sticks to whole, fresh, or unprocessed foods, you're going to be doing a lot more prep work to get your ingredients ready.  For example, every summer I put up plain, quartered tomatoes into quart jars.  (Neal arranges with some of our customers to get case boxes of plum tomatoes, and I put up about 100 pounds every year. I purposely do them "plain" so they can be used for any purpose - as a base for barbeque or Italian style sauces, or as a base for salsa, etc. depending on what is added to them when we're ready to use them.)  While it was  not difficult for Luke to crush the tomatoes and add Italian herbs to them, seasoned tomatoes aren't something we normally have on hand. I don't think that it's necessarily a dealbreaker, but it will mean that your child needs a little extra direction or a note in the margin for if he's cooking when you're not home if you prefer to use less processed versions of ingredients. 

Overall, we are happy with the cookbook.  While the boys might need a little extra assistance the first time they try a new recipe, it will likely be used often because of its simplicity and step-by-step directions. There are no fancy or intricate recipes - just simple, basic meal ideas that are good for beginning cooks.

 Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner lists for $19.95.  It is available directly from the author's website or from   You can peruse a sample at

Cherilyn Dahlgren is offering my readers an eBook version of Hey Mom, I'll Start Dinner.  Enter below to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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  1. My favorite weeknight recipe is... one that I don't have to cook! Lol. But if a magic cooking fairy or anyone else isn't available, then some of my favorite weeknight recipes are taco soup and baked chicken. :)

  2. This is a great series and I have really enjoyed it. I have several budding 'chefs' in my family, and I think this cookbook would be really neat for them to expand their skills a bit! :-)

  3. I really don't have a favorite! Just anything simple!

  4. Anything I don't have to cook!!!! I have really enjoyed this series. This cookbook looks so great for kids. I love all of the extra instructions in there to teach them about cooking.


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