When my daughter, who is off to college in August, asked me for a panini press for her dorm room, my first thought was that she might burn the building down trying to make a grilled cheese sandwich while pulling an all-nighter. But she has made many such sandwiches in my kitchen, and our house still stands. And I am all for gifts that inspire young people to prepare their own food.
I started to think about other items that might help high school graduates satisfy midnight cravings, and help college graduates feed themselves without the help of a cafeteria staff. There's the crockpot. But beef stew probably isn't what a young person craves at midnight. Then there's the blender. But that would limit her to smoothies and margaritas. A coffee pot is a necessity, but does coffee qualify as food? I don't think so. A toaster oven might be useful, but it's not like you can bake a batch of cookies in one.
While I was brainstorming, "No Bake Makery: More Than 80 Two-Bite Treats Made with Lovin', Not an Oven" (Grand Central Life & Style) by Cristina Suarez Krumsick, landed on my desk. Paging through the upbeat and pretty book, I thought that instead of giving my favorite graduate a popcorn maker, I could give her a book filled with simple recipes that require little in the way of equipment or experience. Most college dorms and studio apartments have a microwave oven. Your student will be the toast of the hallway or break room when she uses it to make "truffles" from crushed oreos, cream cheese and melted chocolate.
This book is perfect for today's graduates, if they are anything like my daughter, who hasn't shown much interest in cooking but has 16-plus years of experience with arts and crafts. The recipes are more like instructions for making a holiday ornament or a wallet. Instead of glue, there is Marshmallow Fluff. Instead of glitter, sprinkles. Krumsick's take on tiramisu involves layering crushed cookies with mascarpone in little glasses, with a result that looks like sand art.
When health-conscious acquaintances demand to know why it is a good idea to encourage our youth to make sweets, I say that sweets are the gateway to meat and vegetables. Hook a kid on making a pan of chocolate bark with Cap'n Crunch and walnuts (you know you want to try this) and someday he or she will want to roast a chicken or grill some zucchini. I know this from my own experience. When I was 8 years old, the cook at my sleepaway camp spread leftover chocolate frosting from my birthday cake on saltine crackers and gave them to me as a snack. I thought my head would explode from the deliciousness. After that, I hung around her kitchen and campfire, learning how to make mess hall favorites like American chop suey.
"No Bake Makery" provides just this kind of culinary inspiration to today's graduates. In addition, Krumsick herself is a model of 20-something creativity and career ambition. While many of her peers are struggling to figure out what they want to do with their lives, the 27-year-old author is devoted to her full-time job as a cookbook publicist while running a sweets business out of her Brooklyn kitchen. Juggling all of this isn't easy.
"Some days I'll go to work, get home, get into my pajamas, make a pot of coffee, and then start all over again making desserts for my clients." But when she found herself "obsessed" with making no-bake, two-bite treats, there was no choice. "When you are taking a hobby so seriously, and enjoy it so much, that means you should take it to the next level." These are encouraging words, along with cute recipes, for a new generation of cooks and job seekers.
Adapted from "No Bake Makery," by Cristina Suarez Krumsick.
60 Saltine crackers
1 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate-flavored Wilton
Candy Melts (available at craft stores)
1 cup sprinkles or nonpareils
1. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Place 20 saltine crackers flat side up on prepared sheet. Spread some Nutella on each cracker and top with another cracker to make sandwiches. Repeat, adding another layer of Nutella and crackers. Each cookie will have 3 saltines and 2 layers of Nutella.
2. Place the Candy Melts in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium until almost but not quite melted. Whisk until smooth. Pour the sprinkles into a shallow bowl.
3. Dip the sides of a cookie into the melted candy, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Then dip the sides in the sprinkles. Place cookie, flat side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining sandwich cookies. Refrigerate until candy coating is set, about 30 minutes. Makes 20 cookies.