What the “simple” cookbooks fail to tell you

It’s the time of year for articles titled “Off to uni? Here’s what you need to know.”

Lots of these will focus on feeding oneself, which students are assumed not to have done before*. Others will focus more reasonably on feeding oneself on a budget. Yet more will try to educate the soon-to-be students in the skill of “keeping stuff in the cupboards”.

One thing that the chefs and journalists writing these “student” recipes seem to have forgotten is that things like shallots (I’m looking at you, Jamie Oliver) are not really that critical.

Every recipe, not just those aimed at students but those aimed at anyone who might not have done a special shopping trip for that particular meal, should include the following four things.

Things that must not be changed – the stuff that is absolutely critical, and if you change it everything will go horribly wrong.

Things that can be substituted. Onions can replace shallots. Sour cream and creme fraiche are basically the same. If you don’t have a griddle pan a frying pan will probably do.

Things that you think might substitute but don’t. Fromage frais might look similar to creme fraiche but don’t try heating it up (that one is from personal experience).

Things that you can leave out entirely. If the base of your bolognese has only onions and garlic, and no carrot or celery, the world will not end. Ditto that bay leaf.

If you are looking for recipes and tips I can recommend http://www.beyondbakedbeans.org and not just because they once gave me a wok for winning a noodle recipe competition.

*Note to all parents of teenagers. It’s scary to say “Here is £X, go to the shop, buy ingredients, turn it into dinner for the family” and then hold yourself back from interfering, but there’s no substitute for practice.

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2 thoughts on “What the “simple” cookbooks fail to tell you

  1. Pingback: “Student” recipe – arrabbiata | screenfulofwords

  2. Pingback: Interview: Dr Charlie Edmunds, Fashionista and Marketier | Reading Vogue in a Labcoat

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