When writing a cookbook for beginners, it’s best to assume complete ignorance. Mincing may be new to the reader’s vocabulary. Rice may require step-by-step instructions.
“The Ultimate Student Cookbook: From Chicken to Chili” (Firefly, $14.95), by Tiffany Goodall, offers an almost foolproof guide for college students who may have been eating cereal for every meal. Photographs accompany each step so that you can see what it means, exactly, to quarter an onion. Thought bubbles remind you to wash the raw chicken off your hands.
From a simple omelet to a more ambitious roast chicken to a homey (the author is British) shepherd’s pie, Goodall knows her audience. A section on “food on the move” has a default serving size of one. A budget-friendly recommendation involves inviting friends to chip in for a big midweek meal. Several recipes are described as being choice for hangovers (Thai green curry) or before a night out of partying (sausage and mashed potatoes). A page is dedicated to making “vodka watermelon,” which entails scooping a hole out of the melon, pouring in vodka and inserting a bunch of straws.
And, brilliantly, among Goodall’s smoothie recipes is one calling for dried instead of fresh fruit, which often meets a sad end in the refrigerators of the kitchen-averse – a group far larger than students.
The dried apricot and raisin smoothie was the first in a series of recipes I tried from Goodall’s cookbook, to test its novice-friendliness. Combined with a banana and skim milk, it was a frothy and somewhat chunky concoction, but tasty and worthwhile considering the shelf life of the key ingredients. Next I whipped up a chickpea, cucumber and red onion salad to take to work, dressed with just lemon and olive oil, which took about seven minutes to make and served as lunch for the next three days.
Inviting a friend over for dinner, I presented as an hors d’oeuvre “the ultimate cheese on toast,” which is basically shredded cheese combined with milk, onions and Worcestershire sauce on bread, and baked under a broiler – which I don’t have, so I stuck it in the oven and it worked just fine. Feeling confident, I added serrano ham under the cheese, which was a good move.
The main dish was a goat cheese and rosemary risotto, a labor of constant stirring that turned out fragrant, delicious, perfect, probably my proudest culinary triumph ever thanks to the easy directions and, let’s be honest, a profound amount of butter. As Goodall might say in a thought bubble: “Amazing!” I only wish she had offered suggestions for accompaniments.
I had less luck with the chicken and coconut curry, which turned out bland, thin and soupy. Was it because I didn’t buy the sunflower oil the recipe called for, opting instead to use the vegetable oil I already had in my pantry? Was it because I used light coconut milk? Perhaps, but then it would have been helpful for the recipe to say why such details are important.
Again, assume complete ignorance.
©2012 Chicago Tribune
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