Let’s not sugar-coat the matter: leaving home for university is rollercoaster-ride scary. There will be ups and downs, twists and turns, and thrills and spills at every corner. Which is why you need to know how to cook. Because with a good meal in your belly, you can tackle everything that student life will fling at you – making mates, crushing an essay, plucking up the courage to join a society.
Trust us – we’ve been there, done that. So here, we’ve compiled our list of ten of the best tips for the student kitchen: some are the result of mistakes, others are tricks picked up along the way, and there are a few we just wish we knew about back then.
Compartmentalise your cooking
Chores are a fact of life and they will become your reality at college. For reasons educational and social, you need to be an expert in the game. One way to win – and free up time – is by grouping big-sigh tasks together: while your dinner ticks away in the oven, take the chance to head to the laundry room or Skype home, make a start on that assignment or tackle the dirty dishes.
Pasta will be a close friend over the next few years, so make sure you cook it right: in boiling, salted water (don’t start from cold or be shy with salt) and for a few minutes under the pack’s recommendation (because pasta is best finished off in the sauce). You should also save some – say a cup – of the cooking water and use it to help the sauce cling to and coat the pasta. Oh, and always mix pasta into sauce, not sauce into pasta.
It’s hip to have a flask
Most of your time will be spent on campus (wink, cough, shifty eyes) so it’s worth your while making food to take in with you – which also saves you paying the price for healthy-but-expensive or cheap-but-unhealthy canteen fare. A flask can be your portal to success: have a lecture-packed day with little chance to pause for lunch? Fill a flask with soup. Pulling an all-night with a deadline looming? Experience those highs and lows with fiery chilli con carne by your side. Got a friend who’s been pitched up in the library two days straight? A cup of stew will go a long way – and we mean a lot.
The quickest way to a student’s heart is through their stomach. A little somethin’ sweet is a great way to convince class colleagues or flatmates that you are, just like they thought, this nice of a person. So whether it’s dishing out an easy batch of freshly baked cookies, or taking a simple lemon drizzle cake to a study cram session, or even picking up a pack of doughnuts from the store, remember than a little sweet will always go down a treat.
Do not fidget with shiny new things
It can be tempting to think your lack of slow cooking is the reason you aren’t a thrifty star, or that a spiraliser will see your intake of courgettes increase tenfold. But studying, societies and life will get in the way of you ever using them more than once or twice, so it’s best to resist. And don’t forget – cupboard space will be at a premium, so stock yours with things you actually need, like pots and pans, a solid knife, a chopping board and a bottle opener.
Taste, taste, taste
Repeat these words as you fall asleep, sing them in the shower, write them on sticky labels dotted around the kitchen. They will save you from expensive letdowns (or worse still, inedible disasters). In practice, they mean you should: taste before you add salt; know that a squeeze of lime juice can transform a curry, or that just because a recipe says to cook the potatoes for 15 minutes, yours might need longer.
Never shop hungry
Lectures are over, revision is done for the day – time to go food shopping, right? Well, no. You couldn’t pick a worse time – you’ll likely be hungry, possibly peeved about a dud seminar, and in the frame of mind where you’ll buy impulsively, not sensibly. The best time to shop is on a full stomach, where there’s no space for junk food or appetite for much unhealthy fare. Or, in other words, Sunday morning.
But don’t shop if your schedule is unsure
College is a busy time and you’ll find yourself out of your new home plenty. So, if one week arrives and you know you won’t be around most evenings, don’t do your normal shop. Make smaller trips as and when, or reduce the amount of fresh produce you buy, or spend a couple of weekend hours cooking meals for the freezer.
Time in the kitchen will be precious, so when you do get around to cook, it’ll often be a case of cramming as lots of flavour into a short period. Here, marinades help – overnight ones quickly thrown together (chicken brushed with oil flavoured with garlic, citrus and dried herbs) or while you prepare other ingredients (fish coated in curry paste-flavoured yogurt, or prawns smothered in pesto or harissa) for a fast midweek dinner.
Take advantage of ready-prepared products
Scratch cooking is great – usually cheaper, often healthier, always rewarding. But that’s not to say you should try to do it all yourself all of the time. Ready-prepared products are there to be taken advantage of, and offer clever ways to lighten the load – think microwaveable rice, a jar of tomato sauce, a medley of prepared vegetables.
Ten-minute recipes that make use of a pack of couscous; an easy menu for a dinner party for four; a thrifty vegan dish. Whatever you need, we have the means to solve your problem, so get in touch on social media using the hashtag #AskSpinnneys.