In an interesting turn of events, my family actually reads what I write in The Mac Weekly. That’s hardly a surprise for any of my Facebook friends, but to the rest of you it turns out they took notice. And then they took action.
This Christmas I received not one, but two fantastic recipe books: “College Cooking: Feed Yourself and Your Friends” by sisters Megan and Jill Carle, and “Cooking With Beer” by Paul Mercurio. I tore into them, was quickly enlightened and am more or less a master chef at this point. Well that’s stretching it, but I can make food people want to eat!
Let’s start with “College Cooking.” The Carle sisters are both students at Arizona State University and are fairly well-known cooks from their previously published works “Teens Cook” and “Teens Cook Dessert,” which they pumped out in high school. Once you stop feeling dwarfed by their success, it’s quite a good book.
“College Cooking” comes highly recommended just because of the “and” in the subtitle. Not only are you cooking for yourself, but other people. It’s an important distinction that we’ll get to in a moment.
First, cooking for me!
The Carle sisters lured in me with some self-interest recipes. The What’s-In-The-Fridge Frittata, which consists of eggs, milk and four cups of leftovers. Seriously, that’s it. My last attempt involved half grilled cheese sandwich and a pancake. If that doesn’t sound delicious to you, that’s pretty normal and a perk of “College Cooking.”
When I’m the only one eating, I’m lucky if the dish ends up between raw and burnt black. Once others get involved though, the “at least it’s sustenance” argument sort of falls short. Not to worry—the Carle sisters know food can help foster important social interactions.
For example, they have entire sections dedicated to Toga, Cinco De Mayo and 80s parties. These consist of Greek foods, Latin America-inspired creations and assorted other foods. My one critique is the 80s section fails to include a cake with 16 candles.
Even more important for those romantic hopefuls is impressing your date. These include lovely recipes like Smoked Salmon Asparagus “Risotto” and Roasted Chicken with Parsley Potatoes and Asparagus. As a special feature, these recipes are designed to “make it as easy as possible for you to serve a nice dinner and make it look like you do it all the time.” Not that I’ve actually tried any of this section’s recipes, but I suppose it could be useful if I ever need to make up with my housemates.
But enough about “College Cooking,” I’m graduating in May! The next book offers a great solution to the panic that transition can bring: beer. Mercurio’s attitude that beer makes everything better parallels my similar mantra for bacon.
Mercurio designs recipes leaps and bounds behind the standard beer can chicken. Not that shoving a beer can up a chicken and grilling it for an hour isn’t incredible, but he showcases beer in delicious ways.
And I have approval beyond what my questionable palette can offer. On two separate occasions I have entered the fray that is beer cooking and emerged with dishes my family and my housemates have not only approved, but used for lunch the next day. That’s right, people wanted to eat my leftovers.
These recipes included Spanish Lentils and Chorizo with wheat beer, a Tomato and Arugula Wheat Beer Risotto, Kick Arse Mustard and Wheat Beer Vinaigrette. I can take no creative credit, but I can tell you that if I got positive results, anyone can.
My only critique of Mercurio is a certain ignorance of the average person’s cash flow. Nearly half of the recipes involve meats I don’t even know how to obtain. If you are in the know for procuring rabbits, goat shoulder, octopus or oxtails please share your knowledge.
I do have to thank Mercurio for rejecting Foster’s, the beer of his native Australia. Unfortunately, his brews of choice tend to be German and Belgian imports or fancy local crafts. On one occasion, he suggests one of four beers from a brewery that is one of seven in the world run by the Trappists, a sect of monks in Belgium. And you thought Summit or Surly was special.
That being said, I’ve done some a side-by-side cheapness comparison and cannot personally taste the difference. Of course, I’m no connoisseur, I’m just a guy trying to get rid of a 30-rack o’ Hamm’s from his birthday.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with treating yo’self with a trip to the Ale Jail. In fact, it was a great way to welcome my housemates home and make amends for the kitchen abominations of last semester.
Unfortunately, these leaps and bounds come with a price: I mildly care about my outcome. Armed with a cookbook, I am leaping up the learning curve to a place of accomplished mediocrity, which is far less humorous. My inability to create a risotto without turning the rice to mush is (much like the inability to pointedly ask, “Wanna get a drink?”) just sad, not endearing.
Yet something is still drawing me to the kitchen. I’m drawn to the crazed, poorly planned frenzy that is my cooking style. It’s like the rush you get from pulling an all-nighter, but with a delectable treat as a reward in lieu of a half-assed, half-thought out paper. Miraculously, I, Kitchen [email protected]%# Up Kyle Coombs, enjoy the act of food preparation.