I'm baaaaack! It feels like I've been away for yonks rather than only a week. It has been killing me not to blog every two or three days but uni and placement had to start again at some point and that point arrived last week. Hopefully I can make up for my absence though with a post I'm really excited about - a recipe book review AND some recipes! Ok, ok so I know the book I'm about to show you isn't your standard recipe book but I think it's a really good one and I've had the brilliant fortune to be given a copy by the lovely people at StudentBeans.com . (Thank you!) So here's the book...
Some of you might be put off straight away because The Ultimate Student Cookbook is quite obviously aimed at students but please hear me out because I think I might just be able to change your mind. My first impression was that it is a book that anyone could enjoy, no matter your culinary expertise, student or not. Yes, it's student based and yes, the language is written in a student way but the recipes are things that range from the basic how to cook eggs in a variety of ways to Teriyaki Salmon and Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry. Not so studenty really are they? Yet if you are in that uni/college group with no experience of coking whatsoever, the instruction are really clear and precise with little or no unnecessary jargon to baffle you. It's rather refreshing to be honest for a recipe book to contain top class ideas without all the bumph with has you flipping through without really reading properly. The book was released last month ready for the new term and fits in well with the bright, cheerful and above all fun that is StudentBeans.com (head over there now for lot of offers, freebies, advice and articles). The sections include a welcoming intro, basics, a variety of following chapters building in complexity as the skills of the cook improve, homemade versions of favourite takeaways culminating with my personal favourite, sweet stuff. Naturally I've tested a few recipes and have bookmarked others and I'm pleased to report that those I've tried already have worked brilliantly. Here's what I thought overall.
The stuff I particularly loved:
- The brightness of the book. It makes everything seem more cheerful and encouraging which I think is essential to someone starting to cook on their own for the first time. Not everyone has been grabbed by the home baking bug spread by GBBO so I think it is important not to scare anyone off, especially when there are so many other things to think about at the start of university.
- The photography. Everything I said above applies here too. Words can only tell so much of a story and mouthwatering images are often the final push to try something new. I've admitted before my lack of photography skills and I'm always so envious of the beautiful pictures I see on the likes of Pinterest and the blogs I follow. Some of these pictures are so good they can be a tad intimidating. For me, this makes it more of a challenge I want to beat to recreate the dish but those with less kitchen confidence might be put off. The images in this book don't do that in the slightest although they still managed to make me hungry despite me looking at the book for the first time just after I'd eaten lunch. Moreover, I have another student recipe book that my mum bought me before I started uni, and although I really like it for the sheer number of ideas it contains, there are no pictures so you're on your own trying to guess if something was supposed to turn out like that.
- The language. I've mentioned this already but it deserves another going over. I feel like it will really appeal to the target market, linking with StudentBeans.com to make them feel like they're on familiar ground. And for those outside of the target, the conversational town is still great.
- The introduction. At first I wasn't so keen on the introduction because I felt that it needed more to encourage readers to eat healthily/substitute ingredients/experiment with recipes once they are confident enough. However, after reading it again I realised it did all that with out being patronising which is the most important thing. If I were a fresher this year I would feel like I could be independent, cooking gorgeous dishes for myself and friends to enjoy. I was being unfair on my first run through and I'm sorry for that. The intro contains all the important guides like using containers which most people will have to measure things (instead of scales which most people won't have unless you're like me and have three sets), the essential equipment and food basics, basic food hygiene and safety, how to include and prepare veg, and portion sizes etc.
What I thought could be better which isn't much:
- This one might be just me who thinks this. There is a handy little code included with each recipe telling you whether it costs less than £1.50, £1.50-£2.50 or £2.50 to £3.50 per person and I was surprised to see how many higher costing recipes there were. This point should be taken with a pinch of salt though because I've had a few years practise at finding ways to cut costs and as I've already said, this book is about teaching so readers will learn their own ways too. Plus, the book contains proper meals, not quick cheats, and proper food costs. There is no point in trying to hide this because then we'd all be eating the cheapest pasta sauces every night and that isn't good for the body or soul.
- I feel there ought to be a section on using up leftovers and teaching about reducing food waste. The Unbelievably Easy Ham and Cheese Pasty' recipe highlighted this for me when it instructs to cut out the pastry circles and then discard the off cuts. Alright, so the recipe calls for puff pastry which won't puff up if you mush all the off cuts together in the same way you would shortcrust pastry but if I had written the book (I would love to write my own recipe book by the way) I would have said use shortcrust pastry right from the start. The waste bits can then be used to make things like jam tarts. I would've also included how to make your own shortcrust pastry because it is so easy and satisfying. Cooking for the freezer tips to reduce waste and costs would be good addition too.
- Another thing I would have done if I had written the book would have been to include at least a small section on alternative diets. Granted, the Ultimate Student Cookbook is about teaching general cooking so there is little scope for much in depth but so many people now know someone who has to follow a certain diet for health reasons, or even by choice and they might want to treat them to a meal or cake. Perhaps that is the foodie in me though.
Ok you've probably had enough of my waffle by now so let me leave you with my favourite recipe titles plus one full recipe reproduced with permission of course. I can't take credit for the first three pictures, I just feel the recipes deserve a special mention!
Favourites Recipes from The Ultimate Student Cookbook
Favourites Recipes from The Ultimate Student Cookbook
- Gnocchi - I tried this one out straight away because it was this book which showed me how easy it is to make. Ok so I played around (I just can't help myself) and added carrots to add in some veg but I loved it. I'm still not totally sure of the pronunciation mind!
- Bean Cassoulet - so yummy and comforting so I'm glad I tried it. It's so easy and adaptable because you can use your favourite beans or throw in some meat as you wish. I reckon bacon would be nice. Why didn't I think of that the first time round?!
- Sausage and Red Pepper Rolls - I've never thought of putting pepper in a sausage roll before but the picture makes it look oh-so-good. I'll be testing this soon.
- Black Forest Pint-o-Trifle - I haven't tried this one but I thought it was a brillliant idea. I've seen loads of individual desserts in glasses but never one like this. It would be good for a barbeque party of if it were made by students then it would be a fantastic end to a dinner party without the need to go buying a big trifle bowl.
- Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies - these were my absolute favourite so naturally I tried them out and they certainly didn't disappoint. I did some big ones and some smaller but they were all gorgeous. I wasn't the only one who though so too. They are cripsy on the edges and soft in the centre with a brilliantly peanut buttery taste to complement the chocolate. I can't sing their praises more so why don't you give them a go for yourselves. Then when you see how easy they are maybe buy the book for more really easy, tastey dishes. It's available at Amazon here.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies
- Generous splash of milk
- 125g light soft brown sugar
- 125g butter
- 100g smooth peanut butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 250g plain flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 egg
- 150g milk chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).
- Put the milk, sugar, butter, peanut butter and salt in a large saucepan over a medium heat. As the butters and sugar begin to melt into the milk, stir to combine. Once all the ingredients are well incorporated, take the pan off the heat and allow to cool briefly.
- Place the flour and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Pour in the melted peanut butter mix and stir this into the flour.
- Crack the egg into the bowl and add the chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly until you end up with a dough-like consistency.
- Take a golf-ball-size portion of the mixture and roll it in your palms to form a ball. Gently flatten the ball until it becomes a disk about 1cm thick. Place on a non-stick baking tray. Repeat the process with the remaining mixture, making sure you leave a couple of inches between each soon-to-be cookie.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and place on a rack to cool for a few minutes before devouring.
Disclaimer: StudentBeans.com did not pay me for my time and all opinions are my own. I wasn't forced to write a positive review - that just wouldn't be fair.