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As you can see from the title I am not too keen on 'the ultimate student cookbook' - putting peas into a pasta carbonara is like going jogging in high heels. When I finished high school I moved to Milan in Italy to live with an Italian Family for one year. On my first day (and mind you, I not speak much Italian beyond 'ciao') the lovely but fairly intimidating Italian nonna thought me how to cook proper pasta. With her not speaking English at all it was quite an entertaining day. The one thing I learnt was definitely NOT to put peas into any carbonara sauce. But we digress here...
The 'ultimate student cookbook' is another book in the endless line of books aimed at students that had their parents cook for them until now. They usually all follow the same scheme - cheap and easy recipes that can be prepared without much effort and, unfortunately, much creativity. I would simply love to see one student cookbook without the obligatory 'toast & cheese'. But alas, I do not think that's ever going to happen.
The book features an introductory section including shopping lists, kitchen essentials and general advice. The actual recipes are divided into a few categories depending how difficult/expensive they are to prepare. Throughout the book indicators show if the recipes include veg (very important), how much it costs to prepare (even more important) and finally the time needed for prep and cooking (time is the one thing you do have as a student). I found the indicators to be fairly accurate in terms of time; however most dishes could have been prepared much more cheaply.
- - - - Quick & Easy Meals for 1 or 2 - - - - -
Right, let's get started on the recipes - and of course one of the first is 'Cheese & Toast'. I mean, honestly even as a student you do not need anyone to tell you how to do this. I would have appreciated some more variation, maybe something like 'curry cheese & toast' which is just a simple and tastes so much better. (In case you wonder, simple grate cheese, add cream and curry powder and stick in the oven - it's lovely!)
The recipes get more adventures throughout the section with my favourite being Spaghetti & Bacon & Cockles. Still, there was nothing in there that screamed 'cook me'. If you read my review about the 'Levi Roots Cooking for Friends' book you know that I simple had to prepare some of the dishes the very day I got that book. Here it is just a lukewarm reception of dishes that we could try but probably would not bother to go out for to buy any ingredients for.
- - - - Cheap & Tasty meals to share for 3,4 & More - - - - -
This section includes dishes that can be prepared in bulk for quite a few people or frozen in smaller portions to keep for later. Dishes include all time favourites like pasta with bolognese sauce and mac&cheese. Right, these are fairly simple dishes that can easily be prepared in any student kitchen. I don't really see the point in following a recipe for pasta bolognese - it's so straight forward that I would not waste my time looking it up in the book. This might be just me but most dishes are so basic and intuitive that I just would not bother looking them up. Special dishes from a different cuisine - yes, I would look them up any day and take the time to understand them. But honestly, we are talking about mixing minced meat with chopped tomatoes.
There are of course also some quite nice recipes including Greek shepherd's pie and cottage pie with guiness (which is very nice).
- - - - Flashy, Show-Off Recipes - - - - -
Well, this is just the most pointless section possible, If I want high end cooking I'm certainly not going to look in a student cookbook for help. Recipes like hair-dried duck and slow roasted lamb are neither possible to be prepared in my kitchen nor does my budget allow for them. I'm not saying that these are bad recipes but certainly not something that a typical student can afford regularly.
- - - - Yummy Puds, Cakes & Cocktails - - - - -
I'm not a big fan of baking and our oven is only a poor excuse for a working one so I cannot really comment on this section. The recipes look nice enough but would not tempt me to try any of them. The cocktail section is limited to the very basics and really nothing to get excited about. I do like my cocktails but honestly, I have yet to go to a house party where we actually mixed cocktails. But this might just be me and my mates...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
This is actually quite a tough review for me. The Ultimate Student Cookbook is a book that I simply dislike without being able to pin it down to anything specific. It is more little things that annoyed me throughout the whole book and are responsible that its only function is to look good in our kitchen. I share my student house with 6 other people and let me tell you - no one ever uses this book. Whereas our Levi Roots, our Da Nonna and our veggi cookbook are in regular use. I love cooking and I like trying out new recipes and experience new cuisines, but in this book there are no interesting things that warrant the effort to look them up.
None of the recipes in this book are 'new' or 'interesting' whatsoever. They are mainly the basic things but not tailored to student needs. Well, they are but more towards students that really, really love to cook. If you fall in this category I would recommend you to get a proper cookbook and not this watered down version.
If, on the other hand, you are like me - on a very tight budget with a very old, limited kitchen most of these recipes are not feasible. What we would need is a book (or a booklet would do just fine) that has some interesting and creative things with very few and cheap ingredients. Something that uses ready made things to create something new. Like Tuna pesto pasta - simply mix a can of tuna with pesto in a jar and add to cooked pasta. There you go, that's what a student needs - no fancy cooking but a cheap and tasty dish.
I guess that's my overall opinion - most students do not need a student cookbook. Option one is that they can cook and are much better off with a more in depth cookbook. Option two is that you are not that interested in cooking and are much better off using the internet for the very rare occasion that you want to impress someone.
Reading back on this I am almost sorry how negative it sounds but this is just how I see it. If you are looking for a present to get your child when they are off to uni you are much better off getting them a year supply of baked beans and other tinned goods to use. That's what my parents do - every 3 months a huge supply of pasta, herbs&spices and tinned stuff. All I have to do is stock up on fresh veg and meat.
However, if you do want to get a student cookbook you are better off with buying a different one for several reasons:
The recipes in here are not described very well and assume that you have a variety of kitchen appliances and different sized pots and pans at hand. Our kitchen we share only a few things and our oven is hardly good enough to prepare a frozen pizza. Also, there are hardly any pictures in the book - in my opinion one of the most important factors when deciding on a new recipe.
There are several books out there that teach how to cook with easy and simple to follow step by step guides. They usually include pictures of all major steps to make sure you are doing it right. A book like that would be more useful if you are trying to learn how to cook.
Personally I can only give it 05 out of 10 possible points. It is not a book I would recommend and is not going to move with me in my next house. By bringing it to a charity store I hope somebody picks it up that will appreciate it a lot more than we did.