Congratulations! You’ve made it to university. You’re on your way to independent living and the adult world. You’ve had the Ikea trip of a lifetime and loaded up on saucepans, spatulas and woks. You know the basics – how not to burn toast, never try to cook pasta in a kettle, and the versatility of the humble egg. But now you’ve got to cook for yourself. For real. You’re let loose in the kitchen – time to go wild.
This gastronomic liberation reveals several stock characters:
The Serial Beaners – Culinary wizards of baked beans… I’m talking beans on toast, toast on beans, beans on toast. And the occasional bowl of cereal.
The Savvy Savers – Bulk buying, bulk cooking. Cooking one massive bolognese at the beginning of the week and having it every night until you never, ever want bolognese again. Until next week.
Our Hungry House Heroes – The ‘can’t cook/won’t cook’, extreme time savers and hoarders of takeaway leaflets!
The Keen Cook – Those who experiment and occasionally take it that step too far… Roast chicken in the microwave? Really?
And why do these characters arise? As students we have access to varying but often restricting kitchens. We’re ever such busy creatures living in close quarters where there’s often not enough space to all be cooking at once. We have limited gadgetry (I’m talking about those lovely campus microwave ovens). We live on fairly restricted budgets and many of us have never cooked a whole meal before. It’s no wonder the Beaners and Bolognesers are stereotypical university characters.
Cooking is a wonderful thing. It’s a skill that most of us will undoubtedly use and need for the rest of our lives. Food keeps us ticking and the likelihood is, we won’t all be able to afford ready meals and takeaways every night of the week – for both economic and health reasons. Ready meals are packed with salt, preservatives and additives and lots of other nasties, which won’t do us any good – especially if we eat them night after night. So learning to get nifty in the kitchen now isn’t a bad idea.
We need food that’s cheap, simple, quick, hopefully healthy, and preferably tasty. Get experimental. So I’ve come up with a couple of hints to get you started.
The sweet potato:
A deliciously adaptable being of many disguises and a ‘super food’ at a tiny price. Kept in the cupboard, the glorious sweet potato will keep for a good while, so there’s no rush if you buy a big bag. She does chips, mash, jacket and she roasts and stews fairly well too. Peel and chop a sweet potato into the vague shape of a chip, drizzle with some oil, salt and pepper on a baking tray, into the oven/microwave oven at 180 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes and Bob’s your uncle. Peel and cut one or two into chunks, heat some onion, carrots, and the sweet potato before adding chickpeas, stock and tomato juice (throwing in the odd herb), leave it to bubble and you’ve got a great stew to serve with rice, couscous or anything you fancy.
The midweek salad:
By which I don’t mean a couple of pieces of lettuce and some dressing. I mean the ‘anything you like’ kind of salad. Add some chicken, some tuna, cheese, roasted vegetables, warm chickpeas, some toast and humus? Whatever takes your fancy. No one will judge.
There’s no excuse to be avoiding the stir-fry. It’s quick, it’s easy, you can make it vegetarian or vegan and you can buy all the ingredients for pretty good value, ready to wok and go.
Trying to keep up with health fads can be difficult when you’re going for the most expensive and exotic ingredients. But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up and fall into the waiting arms of the nearest ready meal or Domino’s if you’re hungry. Try to keep some of the less extravagant, reasonably priced bits stocked up – couscous for example (Tesco: 500g for 70p), or chickpeas (Asda: 400g for 54p). Both of these are quick and simple to cook but relatively healthy sides – delicious warmed with roasted vegetables (cut up some courgette, peppers, squash, tomatoes into the oven drizzled with oil at 180 degrees until they look good and squishy), or as a side to a curry or casserole.
All in all, you’re a student. It’s for you to figure out. You’re here to learn, and not just for your degree. Of course there will be days, nights, and certain mornings, when you just want to binge out on pizza and it wouldn’t be the ‘student experience’ without those moments. But take the time to learn your whisk from your masher now so when you do feel like you want more than a bean sandwich, you can whip something up with a bit more pizazz. And with that, I wish you merry student cooking experience.