If only college textbooks were just $12! In Andrea Lynn’s I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook, the beginner or the experienced cook will get much more than their money’s worth. Reminiscent of Rachel Ray’s first cookbook, TILTJCC is an inspired gift idea for the college-bound youngster – or for anyone just wanting to “get cooking” using fun and delicious Trader Joe’s ingredients.
Perfect for the busy social life of a college student who is a beginner in the kitchen, one could even make it a novel and creative basis for “date night” or the platonic study partner! Inclusion of “party food” (drinks and desserts) emphasizes the FUN of college life, creating an appealing, aromatic hub of activity in the dorm or apartment kitchen – a place to include and impress your friends. (Warning: If you cook often, and use some of these recipes, they may NEVER leave!)
Helpful in the continuing development of positive lifelong habits – budget conscious cooking as a healthy alternative to fast food or dorm grab and go, TILTJCC uses affordable, healthful, convenient Trader Joe’s ingredients (creating the only possible drawback if a Trader Joe’s is sadly NOT available).
This cookbook has an especially bright, colorful, lavishly illustrated non-intimidating layout with concise recipes which, as the cover states, cannot be effed up! Helpful tips, techniques and conversions sections are a major bonus (as is a practical “leftover” section) — though the core of the cookbook remains an impressive variety of recipes, from the sophisticated – curried couscous and pesto roasted potatoes –to vegetarian — to “comfort foods” –such as tamale-enchilada casserole, meatloaf muffins and loaded potato soup. The delicious vegetarian section will definitely please your non-meat eating friends AND the carnivores, too.
Do yourself or a friend a favor and purchase this book, and get cooking! I mean, really! Frito Pie??? Count me in!
*Link to Amazon website:
If you have read my “About” page you already know this blog is not only about cooking, but how I believe that everybody should cook, at least some of the time. I have promised to post interviews and stories about real people from various backgrounds who cook, or would like to, but are a bit daunted by the idea. I am proud to introduce my good friend, Matt who was not only eager to eat food I had cooked, but he actually wanted to write about the experience! Okay, I have to admit, I love when I see people smile with pleasure when they bite into something I’ve prepared, or compliment the smells coming from my kitchen, but the biggest payoff for me, is to inspire people to cook and to limit a life of processed food and being carry-out addicts. Matt has vowed to do just that. Enjoy his article…comments are most welcome!
¿Cómo se come? Comment mangez-vous? Come si mangia? 怎麼吃？ How do you eat?
I love to eat – plain and simple. I especially love Mexican, French, Italian and Chinese food. My problem? I don’t cook — much, haven’t thought I could cook, never thought it was “worth it” to try to learn how. I was, however, the kid in my family years ago who complained about the lumps in mom’s mashed potatoes. Typical of my mom’s child-rearing philosophy, thereafter I became the kid that mashed the potatoes. It was worth it then and, decades later, is still worth it today. True — at 12, I made a coffee cake for my mom on Mother’s Day. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that it came out perfectly. I’ve never repeated the feat. It was a fluke, beginner’s luck – perhaps even a miracle. But it did happen. My point? There may be hope for me in the kitchen after all.
My kitchen today? Regrettably, mostly just a place to store processed food. My “cooking”? 95% microwave or stovetop. The results? Just what you might expect – nothing to write home about. Regarding this aspect of my life and lifestyle – change would be very good and is certainly needed. For years – the entirety of my adult life really – I have never really considered an approach to feeding myself in any other way than being guided by maximum convenience and by passable “taste”.
My mother, oldest brother and sister-in-law are superb cooks and have shared their inspired culinary creations with me for decades. I’ve looked upon them as magicians or wizards, who are capable of what I, as a mere mortal in the kitchen, could only stand back, watch and smell with wonder – then ultimately enjoy at the table. Either I was too lazy or too macho or too ignorant to realize that I could not only join their ranks in the kitchen, but could learn to enjoy the process along with the end results. Real men can cook and, crucially, live long and well enough to talk about it – and proudly.
Having recently been a very fortunate dinner guest at ‘Chelle’s house, I have been witness to something really quite amazing. On the menu was a dish that she and I had collaborated on choosing. We had both agreed that we couldn’t go wrong with “something Mexican”. Once that was decided, ‘Chelle became automatically inspired to make something she called “authentic street tacos”. Trusting her judgment and the “can’t miss” nature of tacos in general, I had no, nor offered any, objections.
Once the festivities began, I sat at the counter and watched with almost child-like fascination as ‘Chelle did her thing. The traditional smashing and mincing of garlic (so oft repeated in her kitchen) set off the panoply of aromas. This was followed by the vigorous chopping of cilantro – which I could not resist sticking my nose into to get the full effect of – quite pleasing and distinctive!! Combined with jalapenos, scallions, cumin and lime, a marinade for high quality steak strips was begun. Soon a sweet onion relish was prepared, the flavor of which more than lived up to the promise of how amazingly colorful and appealing it was.
Meanwhile, another fortunate dinner guest was preparing homemade margaritas – causing us each to vow never to settle for margarita mix again. Keep in mind that anything tequila-based can cause any number of vows, oaths and promises to be spontaneously made. This particular promise, I believe even now, shall be kept! Yum! Continuing on the theme of “homemade”, genuine guacamole was prepared. Though I insisted on sour cream on the side, ‘Chelle easily convinced me that to add it to this concoction would render it into “a dip” and was to be avoided. Even my very-American suggestion of Monterey jack cheese was gently and rightfully refused. You gotta love a purist!
Once placed upon a fresh corn tortilla, all these wondrous ingredients, combined with homemade oven-baked Mexican rice and specially prepared homemade refried beans, made for a completely delicious and satisfying meal. See the photos to get an idea of the tremendous pleasure of this dining experience, but understand that no photos could completely represent the skill, love and care that went into preparing it all. Once again, thank you, ‘Chelle! – very much.
In my next installment, I will tell you, dear reader, just how my first real experience as “The Cook” goes. I’ll give it my best shot, all the while no doubt under my breath chanting “coffee cake, coffee cake, coffee cake…” – which will no doubt seem odd, since I’m scheduled I believe, to make some kind of killer spaghetti sauce! Oh well… Wish me luck…!
*For recipes from this awesome dinner click on Mexican Food under Tags, or recipes.
Though I am one of those people who truly enjoy cooking anything that takes time, I am also a fan of a quick-meal that doesn’t require a lot of steps or clean-up on a busy evening when I just don’t have a lot of energy. I’ll admit, sometimes I’m a bit of a food snob. When I see “semi-homemade” dishes that are pretty much processed store bought items thrown together at home, that doesn’t appeal to me at all. When I see recipes for “skillet-dinners” in magazines, it seems like a good idea until I read the list of ingredients. Somehow, it often seems reminiscent of Hamburger Helper, and the appeal is gone. However, in my new favorite cookbook, “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show” there are some recipes for skillet suppers that looked interesting. I have been really pleased with their other recipes, and since the goal of a test kitchen is to find the best recipe for any given dish, I decided to give one a try.
Skillet Baked Ziti
To complete this recipe in 30 minutes, preheat your oven before assembling the ingredients. If your skillet is not oven safe, transfer the pasta mixture to a shallow 2-quart casserole dish before sprinkling with the cheese and baking. Packaged pre-shredded mozzarella is a big time-saver. Penne can be used in place of ziti.
1 tablespoon olive-oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Table salt (I used kosher salt)
1 (28 ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 ounces ziti (3 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Ground black pepper
1 cup whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 475 degrees.
2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, water, ziti and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a vigorous simmer until the ziti is almost tender, 15-18 minutes.
3. Stir in cream, Parmesan, and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with mozzarella evenly over the ziti. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and browned, about 10 minutes. Using potholders (the skillet handle will be hot), remove the skillet from the oven serve.
This turned out to be surprisingly fast to prepare. The cream added to the crushed tomatoes really gave this dish some depth, and took away the “tomato pasty” taste that usually comes with recipes like this. The basil added a fresh taste and the whole milk mozzarella melted like a dream. I would definitely make this again, and some leftovers when in my son’s thermos for his school lunch today.
For those of you who have ever enjoyed an asian-style noodle bowl, you know of the “slurpy” goodness I’m about to discuss! Fresh noodles are made from scratch and served in places that specialize in these little hot pots of yumminess. Last time my family and I were traveling, we went to a Whole Foods Grocery to pick up something fresh instead of eating at a restaurant. We opted for noodle bowls from their convenience food area, made to order…..we got to choose the ingredients and somebody dished up a nice bowl of noodles in broth, piled with vegetables and in our case, chicken. They tasted pretty good, but they were pretty pricey! I never mind paying “more” for good, fresh food, but when I can make something at home just as good for a fraction of the price, well…it just drives me nuts to spend the cash. (We were in a hotel, so I had no choice in this case.)
There are all sorts of recipes on the internet for noodle bowls, and I encourage you to find and try any that interest you. But what I do at home, is super simple, cheap and very healthy. It is such a quick way to have a really fun meal, and my son just loves them. Noodle bowls are very “slurpy”, with little bits of broth flying in the air as you eat. (Don’t gross out, it happens with spaghetti, too…and everyone eats spaghetti!)
Here is what I do:
- Use any sort of chinese egg noodles, or even fettucine noodles. Buying fresh pasta from the refrigerated section of the grocery store make a great noodle bowl, but don’t sweat if you don’t have fresh. I use the dry chinese egg noodles and love it. The idea is to use a long noodle, and this is what causes the “slurpiness.” Cook them according to package directions, but instead of water, use chicken or vegetable broth. Add extra, and do not drain…you will be dishing out the noodles in a bowl with extra broth. Go for “soupy”, but not soup. You should see mostly noodles, but little puddles of broth, especially at the bottom of the bowl.
- Slice up any vegetables you like. I tend to go with Napa cabbage, shredded, mushrooms, carrot matchstick pieces, green onions and sprouts. I always slice all of this before or while the noodles are cooking so it is ready to go. You can give the veggies a quick saute in hot sesame oil with garlic and minced ginger, or top noodle bowls, with uncooked raw veggies.
- Add a protein. I use shrimp or chicken that I have pre-cooked or leftover from another meal. If you want to go veg only, and I often do, I will quickly fry up an egg and slice it, to top the noodle bowl. (Eggs are commonly used in dishes such as this, and almost always in traditional, chinese friend rice.)
- When noodles are finished cooking, use tongs to remove desired amount of noodles into bowls, then use a ladle to add a little broth. Top with veggies and protein of choice. Salt and pepper if desired and enjoy.
You are only limited by your imagination! You could add anything you want….the idea behind noodle bowls is asian-inspired so I love adding ginger and garlic for flavor and health benefits. Try chinese 5-spice power or “Spike” seasoning, these work well, too. I love putting these in asian-style bowls and eating the noodles with chopsticks and drinking the broth at the end from the bowl. This is such a great, quick and healthy meal. I hope you try it and love it as much as we do!
When the weather starts to cool down and leaves start to change colors, most of us start to change the way we cook. After a hot, sweltering summer it is great to finally slow down, and make some comfort food like soup. I am a soup enthusiast but will admit that piping hot, filling soup isn’t exactly what I want when it is 95 degrees outside. So, I have anxiously awaited cooler, breezy days and chilly nights. It’s finally here, folks…time for soup.
Soup offers so many benefits it will be hard to mention all of them, but I will attempt it, as I am a die-hard fan. (Did I mention that already?) Between the creamy soups, broth-based soups and hearty vegetable soups, there are so many delicious options. Soup is usually very inexpensive to make, and most can be made in a slow-cooker if you want it to do all the cooking while you’re gone all day. I do this as well, but I absolutely love making soup in the dutch oven on my stove because being active in the process, slowly adding and layering ingredients and letting the aroma fill your house is pure pleasure, let me say. Most recipes produce large enough yields to have leftovers, and soup leftovers are great in your lunch the next day, or even re-visited from your fridge a few days later. (It usually gets even tastier after a few days). The economic benefits I cannot stress enough. Simple soups made from scratch are less expensive than buying prepared at the grocery store in a can or the deli, and most certainly from a restaurant. It also taste so much better because it is fresh, and you made it…nothing is more gratifying.
As a mother, I love soup because it is a great way to pack massive nutrition into one meal. Adding grains such as rice, barley and pasta, while using a variety of vegetables will make an superbly healthy meal that everyone will enjoy. If soup is going to be the main dish, I would recommend making sure you use some form of protein such as meat or beans in the soup. (A bit of protein should be eaten with every meal). Soup is great for single people, college students and families. Soup is great alone, or with crusty bread and a salad for a complete meal. Try making some soup this week, it will make you happy.
I was just thinking to myself how lucky I am to live in a town with such an amazing farmer’s market. Here in Bloomington, IN we have a regular Saturday morning market that is packed with people perusing the aisles of the most beautiful, fresh-picked produce you have ever seen. We have several options for purchasing fresh meat, from the exotic to the American basics such as chicken and beef. We have fresh cheese, milk, yogurt and eggs. You could easily shop here for almost everything you need to prepare a beautiful meal, except possibly needing flour, olive oil and pantry items such as these.
I missed last Saturday’s market but was itching for some fresh produce. My 8-year old son and I went to a smaller version of the farmer’s market which is held on Tuesday evening. We sampled fresh watermelon, and purchased tiny cherry tomatoes, green beans, zucchini and yellow squash, yellow and green bell peppers and cucumbers. As much as I love almost all food, (I am not picky, except for quality) I normally will push cherry tomatoes from salads in restaurants off to the side. A tomato just isn’t a tomato unless it is home-grown. Let me tell you, my son and I eagerly popped a few of the little orange and red tomatoes in our mouths that we had just purchased and they were so delicious! We were eating them in the car like candy on our way home! My son sneakily asked me to keep our purchases in the back next to him, where he would “keep an eye on them.” He not only was eating the tomatoes as fast as he could get them in his mouth, but asked if he could sample the raw green beans, dirt and all. (These were all organic, so I was ok with a little dirt.) When vegetables are fresh, and hand-picked that day, they taste great! You really don’t have to do anything to them, except eat them. If vegetables were always fresh, I imagine kids would be eating them like crazy.
The produce you get at the grocery store may be a bit “cheaper” (though not always) but it is far from fresh, though they go to great lengths with their advertising dollars trying to get you to believe they are fresh! These vegetables are generally shipped from faraway places such as California, or even South America. Items like peppers are dipped in a wax coating to help “preserve” them for their long trips to their destination. Conventional grocery store produce is high in pesticide and herbicide levels and usually picked before they are ripe so they won’t rot on the truck. The cucumber I just purchased at the farmer’s market smelled like a cucumber when I cut into it. I cannot describe the flavor of fresh. It is what they would smell like if we created a “scratch and sniff” for a picture of a vegetable! Fresh food should actually smell and taste phenomenal.
Here’s how you can deal with the so-called higher prices: (It costs more for family owned farms to supply us with food than it does for subsidy-receiving corporate farms. Please keep this in mind!)
- Buy fresh and use it! Cook your meals and don’t waste anything. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, take it in your lunch to school or work, or warm it up for a snack or even another meal. Warning: It is unlikely you will have leftovers, because fresh food just tastes so darn good!
- Eat out /buy carry-out less. I buy locally and seasonally whenever possible, and only buy free-range meat from my local butcher or farms. I eat less meat (healthier and better for the environment) and I eat out as an occasional treat, not as a means to simply eat. Because I keep a stocked pantry full of staple items that I use to cook with, I usually just purchase produce and meat fresh, and I am ready to cook something simple or more extravagant, depending on how much time I have.
Have fun at the farmer’s market, have conversations with your farmers and get to know them. Let’s support them, they work so hard to bring us fresh-picked beautiful produce! Keep your local economy by supporting family farms.
Oh, and back to all of that wonderful produce….the next night I made balsamic-honey glazed chicken thighs right on the stove-top (I will post the recipe), fresh bread in the bread machine with organic flour from my local co-op, and my son made the salad! He had so much fun, and the best part is watching a child sneak vegetables in his mouth while he thinks you aren’t looking! So shop at your local farmer’s market and buy fresh, and buy delicious! Happy cooking….
Anyone who has followed this blog at all has noticed that I have a category called, “Cooking with Kelly” and I’m not sure I’ve explained what that is all about. Kelly and I hit it off right away, first of all, because our sons are best buddies, and Kelly is a super-cool person. After getting to know her a little she expressed her desire in learning to cook, but felt it was daunting, and she really didn’t know where to begin. Read more…