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Staff member's book guides young cooks

By Mike Krings

Mike Krings/University Relations

Jody Johnson displays a copy of his cookbook

Anyone who's gone to college has been there: the student kitchen. Whether it's the origin of boxed mac and cheese for a week straight or stacked with empty pizza boxes, the young person's kitchen is often nothing short of an adventure.

Jody Johnson, associate director of the Freshman-Sophomore Advising Center, has been to plenty and knows students can be good chefs with a little help. His book "All Grown Up and Nothing to Eat: A Guide to Cooking and Entertaining for College Students and Young Professionals" aims to help them realize that.

Working with students, Johnson has seen all too often the hesitance and intimidation of a young person who's inexperienced in the kitchen. He's also seen the interest those same students have shown in learning to cook and entertain. With his large family background, he knew the value of a home-cooked meal for one's mental and social health.

"I came from a big Mennonite family with a lot of Sunday meals and gatherings based around food," Johnson said. "I always cooked growing up, but my first job out of college was in admissions and I traveled a lot. I thought 'great, I can eat out all the time and get paid for it.' But after awhile I wanted to get back to home-cooked meals."

Tortilla Crispers

(to accompany a hearty southwest soup)
(Makes 2-3 cups, depending on size of tortillas)

Ingredients:

  • 3 6 or 8-inch flour tortillas
  • 11/2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons chunky salsa

Thinking it through

A small food processor is handy for this task, but you donít have to have one.

These "crispers" might seem like an unnecessary extra, but they really add to the presentation and flavor of southwestern style soups. In my experience, theyíre often talked about more than the soup. Make enough to fill a small bowl on the table in addition to any used for garnishing individual bowls of soup.

You can make as much or as little as you need of this recipe ó just keep the ratio of tortilla pieces, butter and salsa proportionate (See step 2).

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a small food processor, tear the tortillas into 1 to 2-inch pieces and process until about ľ-inch in size (not crumbs). If you donít have a food processor, tear them with your hands or use a knife.

In a small bowl, mix Ĺ tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon salsa to 1 cup tortilla pieces. Toss with a fork to coat the tortilla pieces. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Pull them out of the oven and stir, returning to the oven for 5 more minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Serve as a garnish or crouton with any southwestern style soup.

Making it Fit

Depending on the flavors of your soup, you could substitute corn instead of flour tortillas.

If your soup is mild, use a hot salsa. If it already has a lot of heat, use a mild salsa. For hearty southwestern soup, a medium to hot salsa works well.

If you donít have a chunky salsa on hand, use what you have. Chunky salsa adds to the look and taste of the crispers, producing tasty roasted bits of black bean, corn pepper and tomato.

He realized there was a gap in available cookbooks. There were those with nothing but quick, easy recipes and others more befitting of experienced cooks or gourmet types. He wanted to show students they could cook tasty, elegant meals that didn't have to look like they came from the kitchen of Wolfgang Puck, and hence the book was born.

"There have been a lot of college students who say, 'I'm going to get this, I'm tired of just the quick and easy,' " Johnson said.

All Grown Up features recipes like any cookbook but also addresses the elements of cooking that are often taken for granted, such as attitude, necessary cookware and utensils, the social aspect of cooking and a student's tight budget.

Several chapters help develop the attitude necessary to succeed in the kitchen, suggestions for acquiring pots and pans from one's parents and grocery shopping tips.

The recipes feature necessary ingredients and procedures, but also helpful tips to ensure a dish's success. A "thinking it through" section points out ideas that may not occur until the cook is deep in the recipe. A "making it fit" section helps craft each recipe to a cook and guest's tastes and provides practical tips. Tips include inviting friends to take part in chopping vegetables and preparations, making some recipes vegetarian friendly and using leftovers.

Students and young professionals are often limited not by ability but by the kitchen itself. Johnson sought to make sure the recipes would be achievable by preparing them in small kitchens of students with the cookware they had available.

Home-cooked meals are not only better on the waistline than endless fast food burgers, but also better for the peace of mind. Johnson is a firm believer in the value of entertaining with a home cooked meal and slowing down life's hectic pace, while building confidence in the kitchen and life in general.

"I think it promotes physical and mental health," he said of home cooking.

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