Although I cooked quite a lot as a student, it was longer ago than I’d care to admit and it’s hard to think back to what it was like coping with a student budget, restricted space and equipment and a desire to spend less time in the kitchen and more in the student union!
I do remember cooking lots of pasta, stir fries and sausage curry (the first time, I thought I had mince in my freezer, so made-do with sausages, after that it was deliberate!) but I also remember cheapy chicken burgers with coleslaw from the student snack bar!
So when I was asked to review The Ultimate Student Cookbook I turned to my niece, Rosie, who is now in her final year of an undergraduate biology degree at Imperial College. I invited her to visit, browse the book, select a recipe, cook it and give me her feedback.
Her first comments on the book were mixed. She really liked the sections at the front advising on basic equipment but thought some of the items were really unlikely, even for students who are really, really into their cooking. The advice on shopping and budgeting could be handy, she thought. Many of the recipes struck her as too time-consuming – although some of the overall time didn’t involve effort – marinading or cooking time for example – she pointed out that recipes with a long total time really meant having to think about what to make pretty far in advance, which didn’t fit in with her lifestyle very well.
But she persevered and found a handful of recipes that appealed.
Sweet & Sour Chicken was her choice for the evening – a dish her mum cooks at home, and one she judged as suitably straightforward, with easy-to-find ingredients.
The main variation was the substition of dark soy for regular soy sauce, which was down to what we had in stock. I assume this is what made the finished dish so dark in colour. But what Rosie liked about the recipe was that one could clearly vary both the meat and vegetables used according to one’s tastes and what was going cheap on the day.
After a trip to the supermarket with my husband Rosie got on with prepping and cooking, interrupted regularly my me and my camera.
Before too long, the meal was ready and it certainly smelled great.
Although the dish didn’t look like the bright red dish so familiar to customers of Chinese takeaways, the taste was great, with a rounded sweet and sour flavour.
Rosie’s final analysis was a big thumbs up and a comment that she’d be making this recipe again! I sent her home with the cookbook (and some food, of course, what kind of Aunt do you take me for?) and she’s promised to let me know how she gets on with other recipes from the book.
A week after taking the book home, Rosie sent the following message:
“Have used the cookbook several times now, cooked the spring lamb stew with lemon for my housemates and it turned out nicely, like many of the recipes it took ages but was a filling meal and made us feel all virtuous about the number of vegetables in it. Also worked out favourably pricewise, as for 4 ppl at around 2.50 each.
Made the macaroni cheese when mum came up to stay, added garlic to the white sauce and it came out really nicely. Instructions were easy to follow so although i knew how to make a cheese sauce, I’dve been able to do it had i never seen one before.”