Plate of the Union: Cookbooks are literature, too!

October 10, 2012

Even as Amazon packages filled with copies of International Economics and the Oresteia arrived on campus, almost every Georgetown student was still missing a crucial text. If you already own a college cookbook, you can stop reading now. Go make yourself some mushroom risotto and study for midterms.

While I hate to add another required purchase to the already long and horribly expensive list of schoolbooks, a cookbook is more important than Plato. We may philosophize in class, but we eat and sleep and earn our GPAs in the cave, so Julia Child and Mark Bittman count as true scholars.

The necessity of owning a cookbook in college is less a function of training for a culinary masters program and more a function of simply feeding yourself. It’s certainly possible to live off of Ramen noodles and Easy Mac alone, but that diet is guaranteed to eventually make you sick. Most of the time, frozen meals aren’t the result of some passionate love for reheated green beans and plastic wrapped palak paneer. Microwaves are a matter of convenience, and a well-stocked freezer readily answers the eternal question: “What the fuck should I make for dinner?”

Phrasing the culinary conundrum this way is certainly crass, but when Zach Golden asked it on his website, the aptly titled whatthefuckshouldimakefordinner.com, he saved the diets of a thousand college students. The site answers its own question on a Spartan interface of large Arial text laid over a plain white background, but that’s all it needs. Every time you refresh the page, it ends the phrase “Why don’t you make some fucking…” with a different dinner idea. Even vegetarians benefit from Golden’s genius recipe-producer, as it churns out meat-free meals when you click on “I don’t fucking eat meat” at the bottom of the page.

The Internet overflows with recipes—Golden’s site links to hundreds of them—but a computer with a WiFi connection can never take the place of a solid cookbook. Google won’t solve a lack of culinary creativity; it will only worsen mealtime indecision by producing a million iterations of pasta salad. A good cookbook gives you plausible meal ideas, not just a list of the ingredients needed to put them together. Which is why it comes as no surprise that What The F**K Should I Make For Dinner? showed up on shelves as an ink and paper cookbook shortly after Golden launched the website.

Different cookbooks will benefit different students, but for most of us, what we keep in our dorms and apartments shouldn’t be the same as what we keep at home. I didn’t bring my Fannie Farmer cookbook to Georgetown because I don’t stock all of the ingredients its recipes call for. And unless you’re willing to buy thyme and gouda on a regular basis, encyclopedic cookbooks like Bittman’s How to Cook Everything won’t get you very far.

Instead, smaller themed and targeted cookbooks serve college students better. The Hungover Cookbook bills itself as “a gastronomic comedy, a burlesque homage to the possibility of snatching hope from failure, triumph from despair, laughter from tragedy,” and it might just prove useful on Saturday mornings.

In my Village B, I keep The I Love Trader Joes Cookbook because I can get every single semi-prepared ingredient at the same store. Even when I wander the grocery’s aisles and pick up a pastiche of snacks and fruits and starches, the cookbook never fails to make order out of my random pickings. Recipes like its asparagus tart are ridiculously easy to assemble—chopped nuts, oil, and cheese get thrown over a Trader Joe’s artisan puff pastry—but they end up looking gorgeous and professional.

College cookbooks are good for students’ wallets and stomachs. They save us from wandering aimlessly around the kitchen or impulsively walking down to Sweetgreen to grab a $10 salad between classes. So buy yourself a cookbook and you may find that college staples like André double in recipes like risotto. Now, with Leo’s as the bar, there isn’t too much to hold you back, go make some fucking dinner and happy midterms studying.

Waiting for your cookbook from Amazon, check out this easy recipe.

Adapted from Andrew Marsh’s (COL ’13) risotto:

Feeds one rower, or four NARPs (non-athletic regular people)

2 Tbsp. butter
2 cups rice
1 cup André (or dry white wine if you’re classy)
4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper


Put butter, rice, broth, and André into rice cooker. Once cooked, stir in cheese, salt, and pepper.
(For a saucepan, melt butter on low heat, add rice and André, and gradually stir in broth.
Continue stirring for about 30 minutes until all the broth is absorbed.)


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