Karen Berman had always been interested in writing a cookbook, but it wasn't until she completed an editing job for Running Press that she was approached with an idea: create a guide that combines good tasting recipes with fun and games that families can do together.
"Friday Night Bites: Kick Off The Weekend With Recipes & Crafts For The Whole Family" took only six months to complete, and the 251-page book hit stores earlier this year. The brightly packaged book, with large font and a funky layout, was exactly what Berman had in her mind - meals that call for a main dish, sometimes with a soup, with plenty of healthy choices.
"I wanted there to be a salad and lots of fruits and vegetables," she says. "I think that's one of the most positive things that we can teach our children. If you make it fun it will stick with them."
Most of the menus have some sort of dessert, whether it's a fruit bowl or a graham cracker house.
"I'm not trying to demonize any food. I'm not saying no to donuts. In moderation, I think you can indulge in those things, but I think it's good if you have a philosophy of eating fresh fruit and produce," she says.
Berman's goal was to create balance within the meal. For example, some menus have complicated main dishes but a very simple side to prepare. Some desserts require prep the night before while others can be whipped together while your family finishes their meal.
"We're all busy. We all live in a cluttered, fast-paced world, but sometimes you really want to cook from scratch and create flavor profiles," explains Berman.
Growing up, the author didn't have theme nights at her home. However, a quick and easy meal (Chinese on Sunday nights) was welcomed so that her mother could take a break from the kitchen.
And that's the idea Berman was trying to run with when creating the cookbook - meals, and crafts, that both kids and their parents can enjoy, but ones that aren't overly complicated so that your time can be spent enjoying each other's company.
For "Silly Hat Night" Berman encourages families to throw out the "no hats at the table" rule. The appetizer "Signora Caprese's Broad-Brimmed Hat," are small slices of bread topped with mozzarella, basil, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. The treats are baked in the oven for 10 minutes and can be enjoyed while the kids work on creating their silly hats.
The "Mad Hatter Mushroom Caps" (stuffed mushrooms filled with breadcrumbs and spices and topped with golden raisins), the "Toque of the Town Souffle" and the "Curly Head Salad" all tie into the hat theme, which has children create chapeau with the help of pipe cleaners, cloth patches, plastic jewels and a bit of construction paper.
Even the most discriminating eaters - kids - had a hand in helping with the cookbook. Berman's daughter, Jessica, her niece and her daughter's friends would come over to the house and sample dishes Berman created while they worked on crafts for each section.
"It was not a scientific panel by any means, just kids that we knew," says the author. "Sometimes I would do a whole dinner and have the parents and kids over, sometimes it would just be me and Jessica. But my sister would test each recipe on her own (to make sure it worked)."
Berman has even created a way for the not-so-sly parent to get in a little education during the family nights. Each section has a "Table Talk," which are bits of information that parents can share that can spark conversation.
For "An Evening at the North Pole," the table talk section explains a polar bear, including height, color and how the animal survives in cold weather. It also talks about the North and South poles and what to do in warm or cool weather.
"I imagined a discussion I would have with my children," she says. "I think that the world is such an interesting place and parents have a great opportunity to share this world with their kids. When you share something you love, something that interests you, it sticks with them.
"They are like little sponges if you give them the information. Family dinner is the time to talk about the world and all the interesting things in it," says Berman.
Friday Night Bites: Kick off the Weekend with Recipes & Crafts for the Whole Family
By Karen Berman
Running Press, 2009