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Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006 07:46 am

Culinary coming of age

The cookbooks for children are getting better

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Ruby is my special pal who lives in Oak Park, Ill. She lives with her kid brother, August, and her parents, Miguel and Nancy, who have been in my life for the past 17 years. Rubes is more like a de facto niece; I remember her big eyes in the bassinet.

Now 10 years old, she’s on the cusp of teenybopper land, her womanhood blossoming by the day. Last year, we built a gingerbread house together, and I got to thinking that maybe it’s time for her first cookbook.

I was about her age when I received a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book. It had a red-and-white-checked hard cover, like a tablecloth. Already a voracious reader, I loved receiving books as presents, but this was special. It contained possibilities, such as pancakes, ice-cream sodas, and scrambled eggs. The world suddenly seemed bigger and definitely more delicious, even if it meant using Bisquick.

Recently, while in Portland, Ore., I came across Look and Cook: A Cookbook for Children, a definite upgrade to the BH&G editions of yesteryear. Chockfull of vintage illustrations and clear instructions for its 55 recipes, this spiral-bound beauty is the stuff of culinary muses.
I can’t wait to get on the next plane to Chicago for a plate of Ruby’s spaghetti and meatballs.

Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com

Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs
Adapted from Look and Cook: A Cookbook for Children, by Tina Davis

Spaghetti Sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
One small onion, finely diced
One clove garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, including juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons butter

Place oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft but not browned, about five minutes. Add remaining ingredients except the butter and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add butter and simmer five more minutes. Turn off heat and set sauce aside until you’re ready to add meatballs (recipe below).

Meatballs
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
One egg, lightly beaten
One small onion, finely chopped
One clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients except oil in a large bowl and mix well with your hands. Form the mixture into about 16 balls, about 1.5 inches in diameter. Heat half of the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add half of the meatballs. Cook for eight to 10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until well browned on all sides. Remove meatballs from pan and transfer to a plate. Add remaining oil and remaining meatballs to pan and repeat. Putting it all together: Taste the sauce to see whether it needs more salt, then add the meatballs. Simmer sauce with meatballs for about 10 minutes, until warm. Serve over spaghetti.

Makes four servings.

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