June 07, 2014

The Bumper Student Cookbook - Good Housekeeping

My Mom told me to get this book from the library. 

I really don't know why. 

Well, I do. She thinks that I need to read some student cookbooks. You know, I'm going away in a year, and I'll be in self catered accommodation, and you know, I'll need a stockpile of cheap, EASY (consider that, at the moment, I am physically unable to make myself ANYTHING) vegetarian meals that serve one. It would be a bonus if these didn't rely to heavily on eggs or cheese. Cause I'm not picky or anything (and I'm even worse at the moment, I'm still waiting for my tastes to go back to normal post chemo. It took Moms friend over two years... oh dear). And I'm going two find recipes that fit these criteria in a student cookbook. 

Not if all student cookbooks are like this one. 

If all student cookbooks are like this one, I now know why students are notorious for living on beans on toast. 

For the short, here's the review I posted on Amazon:

"For a start, there are very few recipes in this book which serve 1, and as all the students I know are cooking for themselves, a recipe which serves 4 is no good, especially a lot aren't recipes that freeze/make good leftovers. They have a 'Food for Friends' section - keep these meals for there! Also- how many students have £15+ to spend on beef FOR ONE RECIPE? (although it does serve 4 - not freezable). That may be the worst example, but a lot of the ingredients are just not budget friendly. Fresh herbs, pine nuts, jarred antipasti, creme fresh... It would be fine if they were one offs, but you're looking at maybe 2/3/4 a recipe sometimes!!!!

The front of the book has some very good - but pretty basic information on food hygiene/shopping/meal planning/storing fresh produce and some very good advice on things like how to prepare each ingredient - like individual instructions on how to cut up each vegetable, and how to cook eggs. They looked like clear, concise instructions, and I'd imagine that they would be very helpful if you didn't already know how to prepare food.

Overall, if you are completely new to cooking, this is a good resource with pretty much everything you need to know in one handy place presented in a helpful way, however, you will be left with a book full of recipes that are good - but they're not student recipes. Recipes to cook at home when you're parents are buying the food and helping you eat it, but not for when you're on your own and on a budget!"

Now that we've got the short version out the way, I will warn you, you are subject to the long versions of my ramblings in the long version. 


Here goes. 

I do know some students who are feeding a family of four. My Mom has been one such person. However, these students are all OLDER, MATURE students who learnt to cook a while ago, when they left home at 18 or so, and so have no need for a new, student cookbook. All the students I do know that would have use of a student cookbook are not serving a family of four people. Occasionally, they may cook for their friends, and if it's something like chili or bolognaise sauce, which freezes well, then making a big batch and freezing in individual portions is a good, cheaper and easy alternative to expensive convenience foods. However, there were just far too many recipes that fed four people and weren't suitable for freezing, and no were near enough recipes for 1 person. 

The book did contain a 'Food for Friends' section. In my opinion, at least 75% of the recipes in the book belonged in that section. Which would make it a very overlarge section. Maybe I'm the only one, but I imagine that when I'm a student (assuming I will be physically able to cook) I will, for the most part, want quick, cheap, and easy meals that I can 'whip up' when in between lectures, studying, and doing whatever else a student has to do. As a student in college, a step down from university, when I was cooking for myself (which I did regularly), it was food that was prepared in under ten minutes, from store cupboard staples and whatever fresh produce we had, and that weren't necessarily 'sit down' food. I was busy. Surely, a step up at university, it will be no different? I wasn't interested in cooking for others very often, I was more interested in feeding myself at whatever odd time I need to, which probably doesn't coincide with everyone else. (One day last summer, I ate lunch at 11, and didn't have dinner until after I got in at 8. Yes, I had eaten a snack in between.)

Yes, you can always quarter a recipe, but really, for almost every recipe in the book, who can be bothered? Its quicker and easier to just pour yourself a bowl of cereal! and not all recipes work when they have been scaled down. For example, what do you do with the 3/4 of a can of chopped tomatoes left? and is it really worth chopping an onion for 1 tablespoon? and will a quarter of a tablespoon of oil be enough to coat the frying pan to stir fry your veg? 

So, would it be a good cookbook if you were a 'grown up person' and looking to make some cheaper meals for your family- you know, saving money by living on a notoriously small budget? Er... no. Just no. Why? They are just not budget friendly. 

I wasn't joking in the Amazon review I wrote. The Beef Stroganoff recipe calls for 700g of trimmed rump or fillet steak, which Dad (I'm really no expert in meat prices) says would be at the very least £15 worth of meat. Now, that's almost a weeks worth of food blown in one recipe; and that's before you add the other ingredients! And it's not just this recipe, most of the recipes include ingredients that are not what I call 'budget friendly ingrediants'. If you are trying to eat as cheaply as possible, do you want expensive fresh herbs or relatively cheap dried ones? Do you want to be buying relatively expensive ingredients, 'posh' ingredients, only to use a few tablespoons and the rest left to be wasted? No, you want to be frugal, you don't want to spend more than you need to! So a lot of these recipes don't belong in a 'student' cookbook because they're too expensive!!! And many of the money saving tips included wont save you a whole lot of money!

The recipes in themselves are, as far as I could tell, good recipes. It is a good all-round cookbook. If you are a complete cooking novice, but want to start cooking your own foods instead of buying convenience foods, this is a good book. There is nothing wrong with the recipes themselves, they're just not what I was expecting to find in a student cookbook!!!!!!!

One last gripe is that a constantly reoccurring 'Top Tip' is to use a stock cube mixed with boiling water - and use that as the stock called for in a recipe. That is not a top tip. I cannot imagine very many (notoriously lazy) students could be bothered to cook stock from scratch (and other people need to use the kitchen to - stock is not quick to make) neither can they afford to buy those tubs of fresh stock!!!!

Okay, so the good bit of the cookbook.

The first bit of the cookbook is dedicated to teaching students how to cook - and this is not just how to do  the actual cooking, but how to shop, how to store items, how to meal plan and how to eat healthily. All very useful information if you are a complete novice; however, I would expect that at the very least some of this would be familiar to most 18 year olds. Though I may be wrong, I do believe we're a bit past 'eat lots of fruit and vegetables'. But it is, on the whole, its useful information

They also have lots of instructions on how to prepare and cook many different 'staples' - like how to cook an egg and how to chop an onion. The instructions here (and I admit in the recipes themselves) are very clear and very easy to follow. If you don't know how to boil an egg or saute a pepper, this is a good book for you.

If you could buy this section on its own, it would be worth it.

They do however, assume that you probably buy your chicken in a way other than prepackaged from the supermarket. I may be a dumb vegetarian- but really? Or is just the omnivores I know who buy it in a package? Just wondering.

It may be very stereotypical and slightly unfair... but when someone said that this was a "cookbook for students with rich parents"... yeah, I kinda get what they mean. 

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