Friday, November 23, 2012

Why Your College Cook Needs My Cookbook

Miss Em forwarded me a story from her college paper. The intrepid reporter--also a good writer--did a test drive of some recipes for a cookbook geared to college students. The book itself has quite favorable reviews on Amazon, as it happens. The article is titled: Simple Recipes for Students End Badly. After Miss Em read the story, she emailed the writer and said, "My mom and brother put together an ebook that addresses all the problems!" So Frugal Son and I may be interviewed. Fame??

The problems with the college cookbook--this one in particular and in the genre as a whole--are many: they are a bunch of discrete recipes, and hence don't take into account the issues of shopping, equipment, know-how, storage, cost, and whattodowithleftovers. These are issues for any cook, of course, but especially for the College Cook, who often doesn't even have easy access to a stove.

The problems with the cookbook under review can be summed up in two words: PINE NUTS (or is that one word?). I looked at a pasta recipe. It called for a ricecooker (good for the stove-less). It called for simple ingredients. It was easy. BUT IT CALLED FOR A TABLESPOON of pine nuts!A 2 oz bag of pine nuts will run about $4.00 at the store. The leftovers will no doubt languish in the fridge. That's an expensive tablespoon.

Below, I've pasted the review of recipes. If you want to read the original, here it is. Basically, the author spent over $50.00 for three recipes that didn't come out well. UGH.

The book Frugal Son and I put together can be found on Amazon (if you have Kindle) and here (for a pdf). For the $50.00, you can eat for a week. And shop once. And everything comes out. Because we tested all the recipes (and they are forgiving recipes in any event).

Here is the article.

My “kitchenability” skills involve making grilled cheese, baking brownies from the box and, if I do say so myself, making an excellent bowl of cereal.

College life has made me appreciate all the foods I have at home that I don’t have here. As such, I found myself turning to “Kitchenability 101: The College Student’s Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food” by Nisa Burns, which is a cookbook meant for students who live in both dorms and apartments that offers basic recipes and tips for beginning cooks.

Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I thought I would start off with a “Creamy, Gooey, Drippy Bagel” (34). All I needed was a bagel, cream cheese, cinnamon and honey, which were all easy enough to find at Publix.

Next came “Avocado Lettuce Wraps” (56). This is where I found myself wandering through the grocery store trying to track these ingredients down. Two avocados, two tomatoes, lime juice, salt and pepper, cilantro and one head of lettuce.

Finally came the main course, “Tropical Pineapple Chicken” (78). This required three chicken breasts, but I substituted for two. I kept looking for a package that only came with one chicken breast — you know, the kind meant for single people who are more often than not making dinner for one — but that package did not exist.

Reaching the checkout line, I cringed as I watched each item go through the scanner. An action card swipe at the dining hall hurts a lot less than a credit card swipe at the grocery store. My total came to $52.93, a swift blow from reality and the reason why I have a meal plan.

Since we are not allowed to have a toaster in our dorm room, I had to stick the bagel in the oven on a broiler pan so it could toast. Lacking a timer on our archaic oven, I had to keep checking it every few minutes to make sure it had not caught on fire. After I spread the cream cheese and sprinkled the cinnamon, the bagel didn’t look quite as dainty as the one pictured. Mine was scattered with clumps of cinnamon cemented in place by the honey.

For the lettuce wraps, what the cookbook failed to mention is that it is nearly impossible to get a leaf fully intact after you have peeled it off the lettuce head – my lettuce “wraps” looked more like lettuce tacos. While they did taste good, most of what I ate ended up in my lap due to my beginner lettuce-wrapping techniques.

When it came to the “Tropical Pineapple Chicken,” the recipe did not specify how long to cook the chicken. It might as well have said, “If it looks good, then I guess you can eat it.” After I cut through the middle and it appeared fine, I served it to my roommate. A few bites of rubbery chicken later, it was safe to say it was actually not cooked all the way through.

Although my roommate now believes that I tried to poison her and my bank account aches, the endeavor proved worthwhile as I discovered something I never knew before.

I should stick to microwave meals only.

Poor Hannah! I sent her a pdf.

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