Pros: Perfectly suited to the college lifestyle
Cons: It isn’t fine dining, but then, that wouldn’t really be appropriate to the topic
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of 10 Speed Press
Also published on Epinions
Most college kids eat abysmally. I know; I still remember that period of my life. In “College Cooking: Feed yourself and your friends,” college students Megan & Jill Carle decided to create a no-fail collection of recipes and tips to allow college students to cook delicious, reasonably healthy meals on a shoestring budget with a minimally-furnished kitchen.
Guidelines and Necessities
The book starts out with a few “kitchen basics” including notes on their assumptions and decisions regarding ingredients. They’ve truly taken a college lifestyle into account; for instance,
We use dried bouillon instead of canned stock because it’s cheaper and a lot lighter to carry home from the store.
After all, your average college student doesn’t have a ton of spare cash and probably doesn’t have a car to go fetch groceries with.
There’s a section on necessary tools and equipment–what you can get away with purchasing in terms of quality and quantity that’ll allow you to make the widest array of recipes with the least outlay of money.
You don’t need to buy everything at once. You can get the basics and fill in the rest as you go along. Better yet, you can give the list to your mom as your holiday or birthday list. If your mom is anything like ours, you will end up with most of the items on your list and they will be better quality than you would buy yourself.
In addition, a “Stocking Your Pantry” page includes lists of what every kitchen should have (items such as cooking spray, salt, pepper, and so on), other things to consider keeping on hand (primarily some optional-yet-useful seasonings), and baking essentials in case you plan to make your own cookies and so on.
The simplest recipes in the cookbook–and the best place to start if you’ve never picked up a spatula before–can be found in the first main chapter, “Survival Cooking.” Here is where you’ll find a variety of recipes primarily made with a handful of simple ingredients, including classics such as chicken recipes that use cans of cream of mushroom soup and dry onion soup mix. Fine dining it isn’t, but that isn’t what we’re looking for here–we’re looking for something that’ll teach a college student to cook and keep her in basic healthy food. It serves this purpose beautifully. Much of the food in this chapter makes great comfort food, such as the baked penne pasta with Italian sausage, and it reheats well. The portion sizes seem generous as well; the penne recipe says it serves 4-6, but it lasted well beyond that for us, so it should certainly serve 4-6 hungry college kids!
Many of the recipes include handy little sidebars featuring everything from tidbits of food trivia to suggestions for converting recipes to vegetarian versions, reducing the fat content of a recipe, substituting other interesting ingredients, or even finding cheaper options for some ingredients. For instance, the penne recipe includes a recipe for making your own, cheaper sausage from ground pork and seasonings rather than having to buy it pre-made. The recipes are heavy on college-kid-friendly comfort food such as pasta, but there are plenty of healthy vegetables involved as well, carefully dressed up so as to be appealing to young palates. For example, the eggplant, tomato, and mozzarella stacks are incredibly simple and appealing.
Other chapters include “Avoiding the Freshman Fifteen,” which provides plenty of options for trying to keep your weight down while still enjoying your food. It ranges from chicken and broccoli stir-fry to a low-fat version of beef enchiladas, Szechuan chicken, and a vegetarian chili. “Eat Your Greens” includes quick, substantial, flavorful salads such as an Italian tomato salad, spinach salad with strawberries and goat cheese, and zucchini olive salad:
If the fact that they are easy and taste great isn’t enough incentive for you, just think about your mom’s reaction to the inevitable question, “Have you been eating right?” when you can answer, “I made a Tuscan salad for dinner last night.” That falls into the priceless category.
Some chapters provide themed recipes, perfect for throwing dorm parties. One includes recipes for a “toga party”, such as tzatziki, some simple and exquisitely delicious bacon-wrapped dates, feta-stuffed cherry tomatoes, spinach phyllo tarts, and baklava. Another includes recipes for a Cinco de Mayo celebration, ranging from queso dip with tortilla chips to shrimp quesadillas, tres leches cake, and mini black bean tostadas. We have the tapas party chapter to thank for the garlic shrimp, goat cheese-stuffed mushrooms, and caramelized banana cake. Oktoberfest includes coleslaw, German potato salad, beet salad, and apple strudel. And of course, what would a college cookbook be without an 80’s themed party that includes grape jelly meatballs, shrimp cheese puffs, and salami tortilla rollups?
Bang for the Buck
“Cheap Eats” help you to get the most nutritive value for your money:
Each of these recipes serves four people for about the cost of one fast food meal.
Whether you want potato pancakes or spaghetti carbonara; what’s-in-the-fridge frittata or oven-fried chicken with potato wedges, it’s cheap and in here. Recipes range from the very familiar (beef chimichangas) to the not-so-much (tomatoes Farci, or meatball-stuffed tomatoes, which are quite delicious). The food also tends to be very filling, designed to keep a hungry college student satisfied.
“Just Like Mom Makes” also concentrates on the homey, comforting kind of food that college students often miss so much: oven-baked chicken parmesan, fresh tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, and so on. “Food for the Masses” is the chapter you turn to when you want to feed a bunch of friends, which in college is sure to make you popular; go ahead, just try serving your dorm-mates or apartment neighbors homemade chicken cacciatore, chili with green chile cornbread, jambalaya, lasagna, or Moroccan chicken stew with couscous.
Impressing Your Date
And finally, because there’s one ultimate reason to cook while in college that beats all others, there’s a whole chapter for “Impressing Your Date.” Make roasted asparagus chicken with parsley potatoes and asparagus, salmon with herbed cheese and broccoli, or smoked salmon asparagus “risotto”. Skip ahead afterward to the “Satisfying Your Sweet Tooth” chapter to finish off with brownie bites, pecan pie bars, crepes with ice cream and chocolate sauce, or apple pasties.
These recipes and more could get any student through four years of college without having to resort to a solid diet of fast food and sugar. All you need are a minimal kitchen and the desire to give cooking a chance. When I was around college age I found that students were so desperate for a good meal that you could trade a home-cooked dinner for almost any sort of favor you needed done, and Alton Brown himself has waxed rhapsodic about the utility of being able to cook in wooing college dates. There are as many reasons to try out cooking in college as there are recipes in this book–so if you have any kind of kitchen facilities at all, I urge you to ask your own parents to pack this book along to you as a basic tool of college life.