Moms

These recipes come with culinary training wheels

College graduates will soon be figuring out Life in the Real World.

Between finding jobs and deciding where to live, there will be the learning of how to feed oneself something other than fast food and takeout.

The ambitious among them may be ready to do some real cooking, if they haven't already. With any luck, they'll soon see that learning to prepare meals from scratch is as easy as reading a recipe and simply getting some practice.

One of the best books we've found to help grads on their way, along with new marrieds and anyone else setting up house for the first time, is The First Real Kitchen Cookbook by Megan and Jill Carle (Chronicle Books, $22.95). Packed with recipes and tips for the first-time cook, this colorful, smart guide written by two sisters who are recent college grads will put the novice at ease.

Written in conversational style, First Real Kitchen approaches the world of cooking in sensible categories, dividing the book into vegetables, pasta, seafood, chicken, beef, pork and desserts. More than 100 recipes -- many with enticing photos -- pack a useful tome.

These new cooks were likely exposed to good ethnic foods in college; with that in mind, we've selected a recipe with a hint of exotic Cajun flavor. Along with recipes, of particular interest are comments and help the authors offer from their own experience.

Congratulations to the grads, and bon appétit!

Cajun pasta

Megan writes, "This recipe is a delicious way to spice up your pasta repertoire. With a combination of the standard Cajun ingredients -- onions, celery and lots of andouille sausage -- your taste buds won't know what hit them. You could substitute shrimp/prawns for the chicken for a little fancier (but more expensive) version."

12 ounces dry penne pasta

12 ounces andouille sausage (see note)

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 or 2)

2 cloves garlic

1 small yellow onion

1 stalk celery

1 green bell pepper

3 green onions

1 tablespoon dry Cajun seasoning

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup chicken broth

1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

Note: Andouille sausage is a Cajun specialty that you can find at Whole Foods, Central Market, Market Street, Sprouts and other grocery stores. If you cannot find it, use a good-quality smoked sausage.

1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and keep warm.

2. Cut the sausage into slices 1/4 inch thick. Cut the chicken into pieces 1 inch wide. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Peel the yellow onion and chop it into pieces 1/4 inch long. Cut the celery into pieces 1/4 inch long. Halve, stem and seed the bell pepper and cut it into pieces 1/4 inch long. Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the green onions.

3. Put the sausage in a large frying pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until there is some fat from the sausage in the pan. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked on the outside. Add the garlic, bell pepper, celery and yellow onion and cook for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the Cajun seasoning and flour to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly add the broth, stirring until the sauce is smooth. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 10 minutes for the flavors to meld. Add the pasta and green onions to the pan and stir until combined. Serve immediately.

Megan's cooking tips: "Here are a couple of terms you may have heard: Mirepoix (meer-PWAH) and the Trinity. Mirepoix has its roots in French cooking, and the Trinity comes from Cajun cooking, but both have recently become more mainstream terms. Mirepoix is a combination of chopped onion, celery and carrot, usually made with 50 percent onion and 25 percent each celery and carrot. The Trinity consists of onion, celery and green bell pepper, usually in equal parts. They are used as the first layer of flavor for many sauces, soups and stews."

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