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This Canadian cook makes French cooking so simple even a child could do it

Kyla Zanardi

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Scared of souffle? Petrified by pain au chocolat? What if we told you that crème brûlée was actually so simple that a child could make it — and not some culinary prodigy child, but your child (with some help from you, of course). That’s the premise behind the new cookbook In The French Kitchen With Kids, in which a Toronto-based cook breaks down French cooking to a level where anyone (even us, even you) can tackle classic French recipes in your own home and, best of all, turn cooking into an activity the whole family can have fun with. Ah, we can smell the hot, fresh croissants already! Here’s what you need to know about the new book:

Who it’s by:

French language teacher Mardi Michels, the author behind eat. live. travel. write where Michels blogs about her adventures in travel and food. The Australian native spent five years teaching in Paris before settling in Toronto where, as part of her teaching curriculum, she runs cooking classes for boys aged seven to 14 at Royal St. Georges school in the west end of the city.

Who it’s for:

Parents and kids. Uncles and nephews. Babysitters and their charges. Adults scared stiff by the thought of making pastry dough (the kind that’s actually edible) in their own home.

Why you’ll love it:

Not only does Michels’ book present you with step by step instructions on how to make things you previously thought impossible, it also explains how to make French cooking manageable enough that your kids can join in (and like it).

“Any type of cooking is accessible for kids if you set yourselves up right,” Michels says. “Cooking is naturally fun and accessible for kids because they are natural risk-takers… Kids never even consider that a dish is not going to work out unless you tell them it might be hard to make. My best advice is just to get in the kitchen and give it a go!”

Why your kids will love it:

Kids will be excited about the wow factor of making something that looks fancy (and tastes delicious).

“I always felt so fancy when I ate French food growing up,” Michels recalls. “I’ve come to realize that actually, despite the fact that things might sound or look fancy, even these dishes are actually quite doable.” Cream puffs, which look so impressive are actually so easy. But don’t tell your friends, Michels jokingly says.

“Over the past 10 years teaching kids to cook in after school clubs, the reward [of] seeing their faces when they announce, ‘Wow, I made this!’ or  ‘It looks just like the photo!’ has really taught me that kids can do just about anything when you give them the chance.”

What you’ll both learn:

“I hope the book will inspire people to cook more with their children, period,” Michels says. “Something my students always love to make that impresses their parents is pastry — they can never believe it’s from scratch! And it’s so versatile — once you’ve mastered shortcrust pastry (for quiches, for example), rough puff pastry (a more accessible version of puff pastry) or choux pastry (the base for cream puffs and éclairs), you’ve got a whole repertoire of recipes and meals available to you. I’d love to think that the book inspires more people to make pastry from scratch!”

The soon-to-be-your-new-favourite recipe:

We’re all about the no-knead bread, and Michels agrees. “As far as a new weekly tradition, I’d love to think that the omelette or baked eggs along with the no-knead bread or the breakfast rolls might become part of people’s brunch menus. And the same for the roast chicken for Sunday dinner!”

The kids-don’t-need-my-help recipe:

“While the book really encourages parents to get in the kitchen and cook with their kids, there are a number of recipes that are easy for kids to prepare on their own,” Michels explains.  “Any of the basic pastry recipes can be made by kids with very little supervision, the coeur à la crème, the creamy yoghurt pots and the chocolate mousse. Prep for the no-knead French loaf. There’s a trio of salads that kids can prepare on their own pretty easily too.”

The save-for-a-rainy-day recipe:

Michels has you covered here, too: “In terms of a recipe that’s more a weekend project,” she says. “I’d suggest the croissants or the pain au chocolat. Neither are particularly complicated, they just require time and patience. The book offers helpful timetables so you can plan backwards from the time you want to eat.” Um, we’re ready now.

Where to find it:

Pick up In The French Kitchen With Kids at your local bookstore (or online retailer) for $30.

Inspired by all this French food talk? Here are some other interesting French food tidbits:

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