NEW YORK — "Sam Stern has been a passionate cook for as long as he can remember. This is his first cookbook. It's brilliant."
That succinct review on the inside jacket of "Cooking up a Storm" is accurate, if somewhat immodest, for it was penned by none other than Sam Stern.
That it comes off as mischievous rather than arrogant is a tribute to the talents of this spiky-haired 15-year-old from England, whose self-styled "teen survival cookbook" is captivating multiple generations of readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
With its bright print, ample photographs, easy-to-follow directions and versatile menus, the book (Candlewick Press, $16.95) is the perfect gift for a son or daughter heading off to college. The recipes range from homey (Silver Dollar Pancakes) to exotic (My Friend Joe's Thai Green Curry), with plenty of vegetarian options. A front cover featuring an author as handsome as your dream prom date is a definite plus.
But what sets "Cooking Up a Storm" apart from other beginners' cookbooks is its tone: blunt, humorous, enthusiastic and unmistakably adolescent.
Its authenticity was apparent when San Stern gave an impromptu cooking lesson in New York City in early August to three teenagers recruited by The Associated Press to test recipes from his book.
"I wanted to write a book for kids like me in our own voice," he explained in a lilting Yorkshire accent while his three students chopped and stirred.
"Some of my friends didn't eat well because their parents work long hours — they're doctors and such — and I thought it might be nice to kind of point them in the right direction. They needed someone to give them a shove."
Sam needed no shoving. The son of an antique-book dealer and a Shakespearean acting coach, he's the baby of a blended family of five children who all cook, and is 10 years younger than the next in line.
By the age of 3, he was helping his siblings knead bread. By age 9, he was combing his mother's cookbooks for recipes to make on his own. "The first thing I tried was gazpacho," said Sam. "I had no idea what it was; I just thought it sounded cool."
By age 11, Sam was watching all the cooking shows on British television and competing in the kitchen with his brother Tom, 21. "He likes to take over," Sam Stern said with a laugh, "so I take up the challenge."
When Tom left home for medical school, he sent text messages home requesting recipes from the family files.
"We had never written them down, so my mom assigned me that task," said Sam, who was 13 at the time. "It had to be simple enough to fit in a text message. That gave me the idea of putting them in a book to teach kids my age to cook."
He divided the recipes into categories that reflect their function in his life. The result is chapters with titles such as "When Friends Stop By," "Exam Survival," "Party, Party, Party" and "Impress Your Crowd."
With his parents' help, Sam pitched the concept to an agent, who promptly got him a contract with Walker Books, a London publishing house. Sam completed the manuscript during his summer vacation — "Well, technically," he confides. "Then I had to chop it all down again, for I wrote far too much."
The book's publication in Britain last October caused an immediate sensation. Sam made the rounds of the morning television talk shows, and was invited to cook at a charity gala with his culinary hero, Jamie Oliver.
"I was so nervous, I was like 'Oh! Dear!"' Sam recalled. "But everyone was really nice to me, so helpful, and after it felt so good!"
Robust sales in Britain led to publication of the U.S. version this month by Candlewick, and an appearance on the NBC Today Show. He has a contract to write three more cookbooks, including one divided by flavors — "You know, like sweet, sour, salty and such" and another according to the time needed for preparation, "like, 10, 20 or 30 minutes."
Will success spoil this unassuming young man before he even graduates high school?
Not to worry. Sam refuses to view any of his taped televised appearances — "It would be too weird watching myself" — and purposely gave his friends the wrong airing dates so they'd miss his shows.
Nor is there much of a buzz about him at school, he insists, despite his trans-Atlantic fame. "We have several outstanding athletes, including boys who've played cricket and rugby for England (against other countries)," he said. "So publishing a cookbook is not that big a deal."
The following recipes from "Cooking Up a Storm" were prepared successfully for The AP by untrained cooks ages 13, 16 and 17. When served together, the dishes make an elegant three-course meal suitable for a dinner party.
"They were easy to make, they taste good, and I could even serve them to my parents," said Darby Nelson, 17, an incoming senior at Bronx Science High School.
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NEW YORK — Here is how Sam Stern introduces his recipes for afternoon snacks, in a chapter titled "School Recovery" in "Cooking up a Storm" (Candlewick Press, $16.95)
"Hey, school's out for the day. And if you're anything like me, you'll want to slump down on the couch for a bit and celebrate the occasion.
"INGREDIENTS: One cat (if she's in), a bit of TV to clear the brain (essential before homework) and something delicious to eat and drink."
"DIRECTIONS: Cruise the cookie jar and fridge to see what's there. Hang around the kitchen, putting it together. Avoid all questions like, "So what did you do at school today?" Treat yourself to a slice of banana bread. Or a home-baked scone with raspberry jam. Make a batch of cookies. If you've got the energy, a little light cooking is great therapy.
"RESULT: eat, recover, recharge — fantastic."
— Molly Gordy, For AP Weekly Features
CARROT SOUP WITH COCONUT AND CILANTRO
4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
10 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
Handful of chopped cilantro
4 cups of canned vegetable stock or water, or 3 cups water plus 1 cup canned chicken stock
1/2 cup of canned coconut milk
Juice of 1 orange
2 limes, cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Tip in the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook gently on low heat for about 5 minutes to soften without browning.
Add the carrots and potatoes. Stir. Cover and leave to sweat for 10 minutes.
Add the cilantro, stock or water, coconut milk, orange juice, a squeeze of lime, and some salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the carrots are soft. This could take 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the carrots.
Let cool, then liquidize in a blender until smooth. Reheat gently on a low flame, stirring, and check seasoning. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing.
Makes 4 servings.
4 skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons prepared pesto
5 ounces soft cheese with garlic and herbs (like Boursin)
8 slices prosciutto (see note)
1 lemon, cut in wedges
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375 F. Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise almost all the way through. Open out.
Spread the insides of two breasts with pesto, two with garlic-and-herb cheese. Close them up.
Wrap a couple of slices of prosciutto around the outside of each one, and lay them in a baking dish.
Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Add lemon wedges. Scatter basil leaves over the top. Bake for 30 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: The book calls for bacon, as available in Britain. The recipe was tested in an American kitchen with prosicutto.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Put some cherry tomatoes in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Add some garlic, fresh herbs and salt. Roast for 10 minutes.
2 garlic cloves
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
6 green onions
1 cup green beans
1 cup sugar-snap peas
1 cup baby corn
1 cup broccoli
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
1/4 cup cashews (optional)
Finely chop the garlic. Grate the ginger. Trim, cut in half, and slice the green onions lengthwise. Cut the beans, peas and corn into short diagonal lengths. Break the broccoli into small bits.
Heat the oils in a wok or large frying pan until hot. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and stir for 1 minute. Add the other veggies in turn, stirring between each addition.
Stir for 5 more minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. Add the soy sauce and the lime juice, cilantro and-or cashews, if using.
Makes 4 servings as a side dish, 2 as a main dish for vegetarians.
4 large eggs (see note)
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate
2 tablespoons strong black coffee (use a heaping teaspoon of instant coffee to make half a mug)
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 teaspoons orange juice
Separate the eggs, yolks in one large bowl, whites in another.
Fill a saucepan, or the bottom pan of a double-boiler, one-third full with water. Bring to a very gentle simmer. Break the chocolate into the top pan of the double-boiler or a heatproof bowl big enough to fit into the saucepan without touching the water.
Add the coffee and let the chocolate melt into the coffee slowly — too fast and hot and it will spoil. Stir twice with a wooden spoon to combine.
Remove from heat. Working quickly, stir in the egg yolks.
Add the butter and orange juice. Beat fast and furious till glossy.
Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until white and stiff but not dry.
With a big metal spoon, fold the whites into the chocolate in figure-eight movements. Don't overwork it, you want to keep the air in. The odd spot of white doesn't matter.
Spoon the mousse into dishes or cups. Chill for a couple of hours or longer. Delicious.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: This recipe uses uncooked eggs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises against eating raw eggs or food with raw eggs in it. U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests using either shell eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella, by pasteurization or another approved method, or pasteurized egg products.
Molly Gordy can be reached at profgordygmail.comOn the Web: www.cfsan.fda.gov/d-dms/fs-eggs.html