Cooking Up the Good Life with Jenny Breen and Susan Thurston

Jenny Breen is a Minnesota "good food" legend. She's a caterer, chef, Bush fellow, student in public health and nutrition, teacher, visionary, wife, and mom. She's very good at being all of these things, and chances are excellent that she knows more about good, local, healthy food than you do.

I've known that Jenny was working on a cookbook with writer Susan Thurston for a long time; I run into her every other month of so, it seems, and as an admirer of Jenny and her work, I've been looking forward to getting my hands on the thing.

According to its back cover, Cooking Up the Good Life (the title is a nod to Good Life Catering, which Jenny and business partner Karn Anderson share), subtitled Creative recipes for the Family Table, aims to show readers "that cooking at home can be a joyful, rewarding, and healthy experience for the whole family ... If you have kids, the kitchen can become one of the best living classrooms they will ever enter."

Given the book's focus on eating and cooking with kids, many of the recipes included in Cooking up the Good Life seem ambitious, especially when it comes to the eating part. Dishes like African peanut stew with spiced millet; smoked salmon, asparagus, and goat cheese tart; Brussels sprouts with honey horseradish sauce; autumn pasta with tarragon and cider sauce; and barley "risotto" with wild mushrooms, leeks, and sun-dried tomatoes may sound mouth-watering, but they don't immediately scream "kid-friendly" to most parents.

But being ambitious can be a good thing. As a parent who's easily intimidated by recipes with more than five ingredients -- and one who's often quick to give up cooking with the kids when they get squirmy -- the authors' words serve as both a challenge and a reminder. "You should know that most kids are capable of doing much more than you might expect in the kitchen," they write, "... let go of high expectations and the need for order, focusing instead on the fun, and it will be easy to share the tasks of cutting, chopping, measuring, and mixing that are required for nearly every recipe." Amen!

Photo of author Jenny Breen by the University of MinnesotaPhoto of author Jenny Breen by the University of MinnesotaWhile the lists of ingredients included in each recipe can get long, the recipes themselves are very doable. They're also written in an engaging, conversational tone ("Brussels sprouts intrigued me as a kid," Jenny writes), making Cooking up the Good Life a fun book to read even when you're not in the kitchen. As a parent, I especially like "The Family Kitchen" tips included in many of the recipes, which call out tasks that are perfect for kids (like shaping food into balls, making mini quiches, and rolling out dough, for example).

Many cookbooks claim to include recipes that are both delicious and healthful, but I tend to be skeptical about them. Paging through them, it's easy to find dishes that look delicious but not healthy, and vice versa. Maybe it's because I know Jenny, or because I know her family eats what she cooks, or because I trust her completely, but Cooking Up the Good Life seems to me to strike the perfect balance between delicious, local, seasonal, and healthy foods.

As I think about how I'll use the book to cook with my own kids, my plan is to start with recipes I know they'll love, like the ones for peanut sauce and wild rice soup. In good time, I'm confident that we'll be able to work our way up to wild mushroom stroganoff over buckwheat noodles. I also know that we'll learn a lot -- and have a lot of fun -- in the process.

Upcoming Cooking Up the Good Life events include:

  • Saturday, May 7, 2011, 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
    Lakewinds Natural Foods
    17515 Minnetonka Blvd
    Minnetonka, MN 55345
    book signing only
  • Saturday, May 7, 2011, 2:00-4:00 pm
    Seward Co-op
    2823 E Franklin Ave
    Minneapolis, MN 55406
    book signing only

But Wait! There's More!

In conjunction with this book release, our friends at Kitchen in the Market (a terrific shared kitchen space that grew from one of Jenny Breen's ideas several years ago) are offering a special deal on classes (including Jenny's class on May 10th), just for SGT readers: get 20% off any cooking class during the months of May and June.

Register online at and use promo code COOKLOCAL. Have fun!



Lee Zukor is the founder of Simple, Good, and Tasty. Email him at