Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kitchenability 101: A Cookbook for College Students


When I was at UCLA and living in a tiny dorm room at Rieber Hall with a roommate, dining revolved around the student meal plan and our illicit popcorn maker. I know we had a mini fridge but I can't remember what we put in it. Probably beer, of course, but I think there was butter for the popcorn and perhaps some fruit. It never occurred to me to try to cook in my room; that's what the meal plan was for. And it showed; I gained that inevitable freshman 15.

I don't have kids, but I have nieces and nephews, three of whom are in college and two who are rapidly approaching it. And Nisa Burns' Kitchenability 101: The College Student's Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food ($17.95, Kitchenability Press) would be a worthy gift for any of them.

Burns calls herself the "Chef of a New Generation" and she's not much older than the kids she's writing for. A graduate of the Art Institute of Virginia Beach, she's been cooking since she was five years old--something I can relate to--so she brings a joy and commitment to kitchen independence that translates into easy, mostly healthy, and winning dishes.

The first thing to appreciate in the book--as opposed to a more traditional cookbook--is that the recipes are designed to appeal to and be appropriate for a college audience who may have nothing more than the dorm room mini fridge or a limited kitchen space--and budget. So some recipes are not much more than elevated PB&J sandwiches or yogurt mixed with fruit.

However, Burns does ease her readers into homemade dishes that are the first step to a more sophisticated kitchen experience that includes exposure to ingredients some college kids may not have had or refused at Mom's table. Her Lemon Cilantro Chicken is all of six ingredients: olive oil, garlic, lemons, cilantro, salt, pepper, and chicken breasts. But Burns subtly teaches her readers how to marinate proteins and poach the chicken in the marinade to cook it and create a sauce. Not bad.

There's Asparagus with Balsamic Vinegar, Gnocchi with Pesto, Feta-Spiked Turkey Burgers, and even homemade Chicken Soup for the Tummy. Plus, there are a slew of breakfast dishes, party dishes, snacks, desserts, and drinks. Yes, some come from mixes or packages (think semi-homemade), but you have to start somewhere.

Additionally, Burns coaches her readers on kitchen basics--everything from what equipment, spices, and utensils to have on hand to how to dice an onion. In fact, QR codes scattered through the book lead to short videos accessible via cell phone or tablet to show how to shop a supermarket aisle or chop that onion.

Kitchenability is well conceived and mostly well delivered. I have a few quibbles with some of the cooking directions in the recipes, which could be clearer--especially for kitchen novices. But the recipes are appealing and lean toward the healthy and budget friendly. It's a good start toward independence.

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