If you happen to be a cookbook reviewer, when folks find out your profession, the cocktail party conversation will soon become a running list of every brilliant cookbook idea the martini fan standing in front of you has ever had. It is from one of these gin-induced brainstorm moments that we imagine that ever-growing pile of Trader Joe's cookbooks surfaced over the years. The recently released I Love Trader Joe's College Cookbook: 150 Cheap and Easy Gourmet Recipes by Andrea Lyon is the latest among them.
Despite the subjectivity of the word “gourmet,” using that word in the subtitle to describe some of the 1980s-era recipes in the book (eggplant Parmesan made with frozen TJ's eggplant cutlets, jarred marinara sauce, and no-boil lasagna noodles) is a more than a bit of a stretch in today's international cuisine-forward cooking culture. With more than 6,000 Farmers Markets in the U.S. today, it also seems somewhat negligent not to offer our college-bound kids the tools to cook up their inexpensive grocery store staples with a side of Farmers Market fingerling potatoes — also affordable, and certainly tastier. Or at least mention all of the glorious Farmers Market freshman exploration possibilities in the Introduction.
Then again, this is a cookbook aimed at college kids with a emphasis on selling Trader Joe's hummus. The “real world” is not the end game. And the occasional mint gremolata (on roasted beets) and tzatziki (the store-bought version on salmon burgers) actually do make appearances here.
And so, if you have a college-bound TJ's aficionado, the I Love Trader Joe's College Cookbook might be just what they need to “feed a study group,” as we are told in the Introduction, with bratwurst-in-a-blanket and tabouli-stuffed mini pitas. If the dorm room is only microwave-equipped, the book is loaded with quick-nuke options. The “Quick and Hearty Brain Food for Finals” chapter includes berry-almond oatmeal and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon (we are imaging the look on those dorm-mates faces when they smell those zapped eggs and fish wafting down the hall after an all-nighter). Should you need more microwave inspiration, there is an entire chapter on “Microwave Main Meals” (beef fajitas with guacamole and pico de gallo, stuffed red peppers with chicken and orzo).
As to be expected, the book also includes plenty of quick and hearty pastas (chickpea penne, portabella mushroom ravioli), one-bowl salads and sides (asparagus with aioli, heats of palm with mango and onion), and a few oven-baked dishes and sweets (roasted cherry tomatoes, vanilla pudding cake).
All well and good for the neophyte college cook. But if you're lucky enough to still be on mom and dad's dime, we suggest you think beyond the grocery store (Farmers Markets, the local butcher shop) when parceling out your culinary education dimes. Because in the very near future, you'll be spending plenty of time — trust us — in the TJ's bargain pasta aisle as you try to balance your own lasagna bolognese-laden pocketbook.