My sister Amy and I (Sara) are entering our senior years in college. Growing up cooking in the kitchen with our mother Fran, we learned the basics very quickly. Upon leaving the dorms for an apartment, we were surprised by how little our fellow students knew about cooking and baking. Their idea of a meal was popping a package of easy-mac in the microwave and a “just add water” brownie mix. Being used to home-cooked meals (many of which you can find on this blog), my G.I. system didn’t quite get along with the stereotypical college cuisine. Fortunately, mom sent us off with our own “College Survival Cookbook” loaded with our favorite, college-cooking appropriate recipes. Now it’s time to share them with you!
In order to be successful, you will need to get a few kitchen essentials and gain experience with common cooking techniques. You will see that the recipes as written may be more cumbersome than you would like, so refer to my tips at the bottom of the recipes to discover ways to cut down on time, ingredients, and/or techniques needed.
Also, if you are cooking for yourself, cut the recipe in half and you should still have enough for leftovers. Since I mentioned leftovers, let me take this time to inform you that leftovers are KEY to survival as a cooking college student! Since you are already buying the ingredients and using the pots and pans, make enough for a second or third meal and save yourself from having to cook every night. I typically make 3 to 4 meals a week and survive on leftovers and quick fixes (e.g. plain pasta and sauce, a sandwich or a quesadilla) for the rest of the week, including lunches!
Keep checking the blog as we will be adding more college corner recipes periodically. You can’t survive on ramen noodles, easy-mac, and pizza forever, so start building your repertoire of quick, healthy, and tasty recipes now. Impress your friends (or a date!) with a great home-cooked meal!
Good knife: I know you can go to Target or Wal-Mart and get a set of knives for $25—but guess what, those knifes can’t cut through a piece of fruit without pinching a nerve in your hand (trust me, I know)! Even more importantly, did you know that it’s easier to cut yourself with a poor quality, dull knife than with a sharp knife? What happens is a person tends to apply pressure to a knife when it won’t cut through something. A dull knife quite often will then take the path of least resistance and slide off the object you are trying to cut and onto the hand/fingers holding the meat or vegetable. Unfortunately, that’s when you can get a very nasty cut. I highly recommend that you put the $25 or so toward one good knife. Some well-known brands that make superior knives are Cutco (made in the USA!), Henckels and Wusthof. Yes, they are expensive, but they are worth it and you need only one (although once you get one you will probably want the entire set, but that is not quite in the average college student’s budget range). Another way to look at the cost of one good knife is this way—how much would a visit to the Emergency Room for stitches after you’ve sliced your finger cost?
Cutting board: If you want your security deposit back, you should definitely use a cutting board rather than cutting directly on the counters with your new knife (no harm will be done to the knife, but serious harm may be done to the counter). Remember if you are cooking with meats, cut vegetables first OR use a different cutting board entirely for the meats so contamination is prevented. My mom has a meat-specific cutting board; and, even though it is cleaned thoroughly after each use, she will not use it for anything but meats.
Frying Pan: A 10” pan is great for anything from frying eggs, making pancakes, sautéing onions or other vegetables, making a grilled cheese or quesadilla, cooking a frittata, frying hamburger, chicken, etc.
Spatulas: You should have a cooking spatula for flipping food (in your fry pan) as well as a baking spatula for mixing batter.
Wooden Spoon: My mother made me add this to the list—but, really, it will come handy in for all your stirring needs.
Small (1- or 2-quart): use for individual soup, heating leftover liquids, etc.
Large (4- or 6-quart): use for making soup, chili, and cooking pasta, potatoes, corn, etc. If you were to have only one pan, I recommend a 4-quart if you primarily cook for yourself.
Colander: You’ll need this if you plan to cook pasta.
Storage Containers: Remember, leftovers are key so make sure you have something to put them in. I use Pyrex containers because they are microwavable so you can heat your leftovers directly from the fridge. They come in a variety of sizes. I also recommend having larger containers for soup and salads. My mom is a firm believer that plastic containers are for storage only. I never microwave any food unless it’s in a Pyrex container. No one wants to eat melted plastic.
Liquid measuring cup: For obvious reasons! It’s not as handy for dry measure, but it will work in a pinch.
Nice to Have / Nonessentials
Food Processor: This is handy for all your chopping jobs—e.g., onions, garlic, nuts, etc. They come in a variety of sizes, and you can get a small one for a reasonable price at Target or Wal-Mart. In the meantime, a cutting board and one good knife will work just fine.
Blender: If you’re into smoothies, this gets elevated to a kitchen essential! (Now, mom, if you’re reading this, notice I didn’t say anything about making alcoholic beverages.)
Hand Mixer: You’ll be happy to have an electric hand-held mixer if you plan to do a lot of baking; but, with a wooden spoon and a little elbow grease, you can get by without one.
Set of Measuring Cups and Spoons: If you’re a baker, you’ll want a set of each.
Baking Pans: If you plan to bake, you should have a 9×13 and a 9×9 pan as well as a 9″ or 10″ pie pan (try my recipe for quiche).