Chat Leftovers: College Kid Cookbooks, Heart-Smart Apps

Bethesda Mom: Do you or any of the clicksters have a recommendation for a good super basic cookbook for college students -- i.e. people cooking on a budget and without fancy equipment? My son will be in his first apartment next year after two years of dorm living (at your old alma mater, Penn), and I don't want him living exclusively on cheesesteaks and deli from Koch's. I have not done a good job in teaching him up to this point and I want to make August "Cooking Boot Camp" for him and his younger brother. (I plan to have younger brother cook dinner at least one night a week next school year).

Hey Mom, the first title that springs to mind is "Now You're Cooking" by Elaine Corn. I much prefer the optimistic tone of Corn's cover copy ("Everything a Beginner Needs to Know to Start Cooking Today") than confidence-deflating titles such as "Cooking for Dummies " or "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cooking." A kick in the stomach, if you ask me.

Corn's book is for beginners of all ages, who are ready to learn the basics, from making a proper cup of coffee to roasting a chicken. Her tone is both friendly and firm, like a good teacher, and at no point does she make you feel like a dingbat. She omits the use of fancy or unusual ingredients, too, which as we know from other books, can be distracting.

If your kid is a geek with a penchant for miscelleanea, I highlyrecommendd "What's a Cook to Do?" by award-winning writer James Peterson. In this hand-held paperback, you get nearly 500 kitchen tips (many of them with accompanying photos), from basic (how to steam, ten instant sauces) to more complicated (how to make baba au rhum, how to make a prime rib roast). I love flipping through this book just to get ideas and to brush up on old tricks.

I've not had a look at "Look, Dude, I Can Cook: Four Years of College Cooking Made Easy" by Amy Madden, which was released last summer, but based on the excerpt available on the Web, I'm gathering it's written in young adult vernacular (lots of "Dude" references). I'm also curious if anyone has come across "The Healthy College Cookbook" by Alexandra Nimetz, Jason Stanley and Emeline Starr, who studied and cooked together at Williams College.

Chantilly, Va.: I'm bringing appetizers to a Memorial Day cookout. I need some suggestions for a heart healthy appetizer that tastes great. I want to surprise a friend who had a heart attack about a year ago with something made for him in mind.

There's something about a cookout -- or maybe it's just an informal gathering of friends =- that lends itself to dip. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking zuke-a-mole, which is a puree of roasted zucchini and onions that's packed with flavor.

Pumpkin seeds, which contain cholesterol-lowering phytosterols, figure into Sikil Pak, a luscious and exotic Mayan dip adapted by Heidi Swanson in her "Super Natural Cooking."

Walnuts are loaded with heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, which actually help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and help lift "good" HDL cholesterol. Ever have the pleasure of muhammara? It's a a red pepper and walnut spread with Syrian origins. Recipes vary from country to country throughout the Middle East, but generally speaking, you'll taste a touch of pomegranate molasses, the heat of chile pepper, the texture of bread crumbs and the pungency of cumin.

Here's a take on this addictive spread from Dana Jacobi, in her new "The Essential Best Foods Cookbook":

1 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and coarsely chopping (If using jarred, drain well)
1 slice whole wheat bread, crust removed, toasted and cut into 1-inch cubes (a hunk of hearty bread will do equally well)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses or pomegranate juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (alternatively, ground red Aleppo pepper)
Salt to taste


In a food processor, combine all ingredients (except salt) and pulse until mixture is a rough paste but well combined. Season to taste with salt.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

Nutritional info: Per serving (about 2 tablespoons): 101 calories, 9 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 2 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber.

Find more Q&As in this week's What's Cooking transcript.

Got an extra helping of cookbook advice for our young co-ed? Or another heart-smart app to add to the buffet? Add your tidbits to the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 21, 2008; 9:50 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Cook's Library , Entertaining
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For a basic cookbook you can't beat the Joy of Cooking - the size may be a little intimidating but the diagrams, charts, etc are invaluable. If not a good absolute beginner choice, an advanced beginner.

Posted by: Kate | May 21, 2008 12:28 PM

I was just going to post Joy of Cooking but someone's already beaten me to the punch. It describes how to make eggs! The best part is, it's the kind of cookbook you keep forever, easily the best reference resource I have in my collection.

Posted by: Arlene | May 21, 2008 1:46 PM

Please explain how the Joy of Cooking is such an icon. I had my mother's copy (a gift she never used) and I never could find any recipe that called to me (so I gave it away). I'm a very good, inventive cook, from a line of very good, inventive cooks. Give me Delia Smith any day (she has a cook book series on how to cook that covers how to boil eggs and how to make several other dishes with those eggs.)

Posted by: Expat now repatriated | May 21, 2008 1:50 PM

Oh Yay! I went to Williams with the students who wrote "The Healthy College Cookbook" and I have to say I STILL use recipes from there! The cookbook is very instructional and the recipes really are very easy. Its my go-to if I need a quick weeknight dinner.

Posted by: sjcpeach | May 21, 2008 2:32 PM

The Better Homes and Garden (red and white checked) cookbook is also a good starter staple - it tells you everything from how to store food (and for how long) to some more indepth recipes (when the boys get a little better at cooking). But it also covers the basics in easy to understand terms. I love this cookbook for good versions of standards as well.

Posted by: CA | May 21, 2008 3:22 PM

i second the better homes and gardens - everyone i know has one. it's fun to compare different editions (mine is heavy on the jello salad) but they are all great resources with excellent basic cooking and baking recipes.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 4:06 PM

My mom made sure all of her kids had a copy of Peg Bracken's "I Hate to Cook Book." Easy recipes with NO gadgetry. Lots of humor, too. I don't think it is in print anymore, but I am sure you could find a good used copy somewhere.

Posted by: dstu | May 21, 2008 4:11 PM

A book that I used extensively was Marian Burros' "Keep it Simple". It is good meals from scratch in 30 min or less. It is also apparently out of print but Amazon shows some used copies for as $.26.

Posted by: Alexandria | May 21, 2008 4:25 PM

People have beaten me to the punch. I was going to recommend the Joy of Cooking and the Better Homes and Garden. When my daughter was in college (last year and the previous three), I taught her how to make spagetti and meat sauce. Very simple: saute onions and garlic, add some ground beef, add tomato sauce and a can of tom paste, season with basil, oregano, bay leaf etc. She beamed she was so proud. She would make it for her friends and co-workers and got the reputation of being a gourmet cook. And it gave her the confidence to try other dishes. I couldn't be more proud.

Posted by: Dave | May 21, 2008 6:17 PM

For Bethesda Mom, the best primer/teacher will be cooking alongside your son(s) this summer. Nothing beats hands-on instruction.

For what it's worth, I'd say that the Joy of Cooking is worth it's weight in salt, but only if you're going to be really COOKING. I asked for it when I graduated from college, because I was interested in things like proper table setting, as well as how to handle a knife and what bechamel sauce was for. College was definitely my place for honing the very basics of stretching a weekly budget of $40 between two roommates, with a lot of mac n'cheese, nachos, and rice and bean experiments. Coming home was always nice to be back in a kitchen under my mother's tutelage (sp?) for a few weeks, and then off to school to wow my roommate with new skills.

Kim, I'm surprised that you didn't also mention "The Mindful Cook," as it is a great help to create good kitchen karma around the new cook.

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | May 21, 2008 7:38 PM

To the lady in yesterday's chat who had a problem with odd tastes when making dessert in the cast iron skillet--you might want to invest in another pan.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 21, 2008 8:38 PM

Thanks for the suggestions! I'm heading to grad school next year and know my way around a kitchen but have been spoiled by California's affordable bounty and variety.

My suggestions are _Pasta e Verdura_ by Jack Bishop, _The Minimalist Cooks at Home_ by Mark Bittman, and _How to Cook Without a Book_ by Pam Anderson.

Posted by: CMS | May 22, 2008 2:35 AM

For anyone and the college junior setting up a first & likely small kitchen, Justin Spring's, The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook: Everything You Need to Know About Setting Up and Cooking in the Most Ridiculously Small Kitchen in the World--Your Own (2006)is a delight. It gives great tips on equipment (what to buy/not) and set up, and some fine basic recipes. Also very fine is Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything (1998), which is this generation's Joy of Cooking. Meat, vegetables, baked goods, variations, it's all there...

Posted by: monticello | May 22, 2008 5:21 AM

If you are a working Mom, you probably have tried and true easy, quick recipes to get a meal on the table. Just make sure that your college bound student has copies of a few of his favorite Mom's Recipes. When my daughter went to college years ago with copies of some of my recipes, her friends requested copies of Elizabeth's Mom's Disgraceful Chicken Cacciatore, Elizabeth's Aunt Dot's Baked Beans, etc.

Posted by: Mary Frances | May 22, 2008 7:17 AM

I have the Joy of Cooking on CDRom, it has a conversion calculator for scaling the portions up or down, a calorie counter and will download a grocery list from your menu to your Palm. The recipes are from very simple to gourmet complex. Any beginner would find it very useful.

Posted by: Jenny | May 22, 2008 8:21 AM

When I was in college I learned to cook out of the Betty Crocker Bridal Cookbook--not just for brides! It certainly isn't gourmet, but it's very, very easy w/ lots of good charts.

Posted by: Arlington | May 22, 2008 8:58 AM

I had the Healthy College Cookbook in college. The ingredients and cooking methods are simple and inexpensive. I think it's a good beginner book. Part of the reason it's a good choice is that it's short. Cookbooks like Joy and Better Homes and Gardens can be intimidating for new cooks.

Do send him off with some of your family recipes (and maybe some of the ingredients too).

Posted by: mollyjade | May 22, 2008 10:34 AM

Why hasn't anyone suggested the obvious? Make sure the son's laptop has a bookmark to Kim O'Donnel!

Posted by: Arlington, VA | May 22, 2008 11:28 AM

why is joy of cooking such an iconic book? well, for me because it has a broad range of recipes for all levels of cooks. it can start with a basic white sause & then take it all the way to something really fancy. when i couldn't make a decent salad dressing to save my life (mixing oil & vinegar w/ herbs just wasn't doing it for me) i went to joy of cooking. i found a simple recipe that became my standard. i wasn't interested in making it fancier but i could have. if you didn't find it helpful maybe because you were already beyond most of their "starter" recipes. the fancier stuff in joy of cooking doesn't appeal to me that much but it's a great source for starter reccipes.

i can't remember the name of the book & i gave it to a friend whose daughter was in college but it was a good budget cookbook. i think if you go to amazon & search for budget cookbooks you could probably find a whole slew of books.

Posted by: quark | May 22, 2008 12:54 PM

before i left for college, my mom showed me how to cook a few family recipes and then made me write them down in a little notebook (that i still have and refer to years later). my husband's mom did something similar, and sent him off w/ family recipes printed on index cards in a recipe box. very helpful.

as for cookbooks, i also have the basic better homes and gardens cookbook that everybody keeps recommending. it's good for telling the little details (how to cook X and for how long). other good, basic cookbooks (although probably not for mom who wrote in w/ the original question) are the student vegetarian cookbook and the vegetarian 5 ingredient cookbook. easy, tasty, simple recipes - very non-threatening for a new cook!

also, not a cookbook, but my guy friends in college all swore by their george foreman grills. i'm not sure what they would have eaten otherwise!

Posted by: gk | May 22, 2008 3:54 PM

I'd recommend Pam Anderson's "How to cook without a book" It teaches basic techniques which gives a new cook confidence in the kitchen. For baking "Baking Basics and Beyond" by Pat Sinclair (that's me) has simple recipes that are easy to follow and lots of tips for success.

Posted by: pat sinclair | May 22, 2008 4:42 PM

For the college cookbook, try "Healthy, Fast and Cheap." It's by health counselor Seth Braun so the recipes aren't just yummy and easy, they're also good for you.

Posted by: Cindy | May 22, 2008 5:01 PM

I so agree that Now You're Cooking is the BEST book for beginners, particularly college kids and newlyweds- both bride and groom.
People forget that when The Joy of Cooking says to peel potato, a true beginner doesn't even know how to hold the peeler. Elaine really begins at the beginning. Her book explains what anyone who already can scramble an egg does not even realize a real beginner does not know. She does it in the most engaging way, too.

Thank you for suggesting the walnut and roasted red pepper spread from my new The Essential Best Foods Cookbook. It is a crowd pleaser. Pita or bagel chips go really well withit.

Posted by: Dana Jacobi | May 22, 2008 5:56 PM

Here's another vote for Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Comprehensive and understandable and includes the most basic basics. For people whose budget or ethics don't include much or any meat, Jane Brody's Good Food book from the 80s has held up well, as well.

Posted by: Suzanne | May 22, 2008 9:26 PM

I have an unrelated question: I have a brownie recipe (chocolate coffee brownies) that calls for 2/3 cup pitted, chopped dates. If I'm not a huge fan of dates, is there a suitable substitute? I thought figs or cranberries...would those suffice?

Also, is there a MA email so I (or others) can email you with questions? Thanks.

Posted by: dates or figs? | May 23, 2008 4:29 PM

One suggestion I haven't heard is The Simple Recipe. It's a book from the Cook's Illustrated folks (and America's Test Kitchen) that is focused on relatively easy to make meals. The stir fry recipes alone are worth the price of admission. On the healthy side, toss in Moosewood. Great stuff!


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 23, 2008 10:26 PM

Here's another vote for the cookbooks by Mark Bittman-he's got a great philosophy when it comes to his approach to food. I really like his videos over at, too (yeah, ok, I know it's sacrilegious to suggest that). I think college kids (I was one myself a year ago) are also very receptive to online recipes; is a good resource. But for very, very beginners, nothing beats instruction from Mom!

Posted by: Sarah | May 26, 2008 12:37 PM

Better Home and Garden is great because most of the recipes don't require a lot of equipment. So many "easy" cookbooks assume that one has a food processor and a standing mixer.

But armed with my BH&G, a few good wooden spoons, a cheap hand mixer and a bowl, I can cook anything.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2008 9:27 PM

When I first got married, someone gave me The Kitchen Survival Guide - A Hand-Holding Kitchen Primer with 130 Recipes to Get You Started, by Lora Brody. I wonder if it's even still in print - copyright 1992 - but the author wrote it specifically for her son who had just gone off to college. All these years later, I myself now head for my Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, but once in a blue moon I'll grab this one - just randomly opening it up I come to "How to Wash Lettuce" - so it gets pretty basic.

Posted by: Susan | May 28, 2008 9:07 PM

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