By Emily Briggs || Staff Writer
This past summer I was excited to finally be able to move off-campus into an apartment. My first two years at F&M, like everyone else, were spent living in on-campus dorms and having to rely on D-Hall, CC, or Blueline food. Moving off-campus provides upperclassmen with many freedoms they never had in the dorms, one of which the freedom to cook whatever you want! However, as nice of the thought of having home cooked meals seemed, I did not have much experience with cooking, and the experience I did have already wasn’t the best. I’m sure I’m not the only upperclassman who has had to figure out the wonders of cooking this year, and I hope to give some tips and recipes that I’ve picked up the last few weeks.
Quick and Simple:
One thing that’s important to keep in mind when beginning your cooking experience is that you need to take into account that you have a very busy schedule. Your life is not going to wait for your 3-hour long recipe to finish cooking, so you need to figure out recipes that are quick to prepare and cook. Frozen foods and ramen noodles often come in clutch when you need to make a quick meal. Will they be healthy? Probably not, but if you have absolutely no cooking experience or you only have 20 minutes to cook something they are a definite go-to. A step above that would be a simple pasta dish. Pasta tastes good and you can add simple variations to spice your dish up. One of my favorite pasta dishes that I’ve made is rigatoni with vodka sauce and sausage and peppers mixed in. I improvised this a little because I had sausage and peppers cooked already from another recipe, but as I said before, pasta is very flexible and you can add whatever you have in your kitchen to make it taste good.
When at the grocery store, you don’t want to be wasting all of your money on food when you can make things just as good and save some cash while doing so. While at the grocery store, make sure you are comparing prices to other brands on the shelf and not just getting the main brands. A lot of times they will taste almost identical, but the off-brand will be a few bucks cheaper. A cheap, typical college kid meal that you can cook is quesadillas. All you need for this meal are tortillas and cheese. If you want to make them taste a little more gourmet, you can follow this recipe that I use all the time: tortillas, mozzarella cheese, tomato, spinach. Boom, put the tortilla on your skillet (make sure to spray the skillet with cooking spray so it doesn’t stick!), add cheese, diced up tomatoes, and spinach and cover it with another tortilla, and you’re all set! Speaking of tortillas, Taco Tuesday! Tacos are cheap, especially if you have taco Tuesday with your roommates and share the cost of the meal. My roommates and I had tacos a few weeks ago and they turned out great! All you need is the tortillas, ground turkey/beef, onion, peppers, beans, taco seasoning, shredded cheese, and some extras like salsa and sour cream, and you’ll be all set to have a fun dinner with your roommates!
Sometimes it is hard to remember to include the food pyramid when trying to make easy quick dishes. I find myself making way to many carbs because they are easy and I forget all about veggies and protein. A super easy healthy meal that I’ve cooked a bunch is chicken with veggies! I was very hesitant about cooking meat at first, and still am a little, but I started out with the easiest meat to cook, chicken, and found it’s super easy and fast. My go-to chicken recipe is to use a boneless chicken breast, cut it in half horizontally to make thinner, coat it in egg and flour (add breadcrumbs for more flavor), season it as you wish, put it on the skillet with a little bit of oil, and BOOM, instant chicken (after a few minutes of cooking). For the veggies, you can cook whatever you like, whether that be fresh veggies or frozen, they’re all welcome here. If you want to add some carbs to the plate, rice is always a healthy choice, and you can even throw your veggies in that and make it a rice-veggie mix!
Meals That Will Last:
I don’t like to have to cook every single night because I know I’ll be busy, or I won’t feel like cooking, so I try to make meals that I know will last me a few days with LEFTOVERS! I have cooked a few good meals in the last few weeks that lasted me 3 days, and it was great not having to worry about what I was going to have to cook for dinner every night. A super easy recipe that will last you a few days if you have a big enough tray is a Bisquick Quiche. All you need is Bisquick, eggs, cheese, olive oil, and some veggies of your choice (I prefer onions and zucchini), and then you bake it in the oven. This tastes good and will last in the fridge without getting that gross leftover taste. Making a big pot of chile will also last you a long time, and getting enough ingredients to be a big serving is super cheap! All you need is ground beef or turkey, 1 can of kidney beans and black beans, a cut-up onion, and chile seasoning. And if you want you can make some pasta to put your chile on top of (I prefer mac and cheese).
Just because you are on a budget and trying to make food healthy doesn’t mean you can’t make meals that will taste good! I’ve been experimenting a lot with different recipes, and one that was really tasty was a pepperoni/veggie stromboli I made a few weeks ago. Not only did this taste really good, but it was super easy. All you need is pizza dough, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, peperoni, spinach, onion, and peppers. You can definitely throw in whatever else you want and improvise a little.
If you asked anyone a year ago, or even a few months ago about my cooking skills, they would have laughed, and I will admit, I always saw myself as someone who is hopeless in the kitchen. But after only a few weeks of having the freedom to do my own thing when it comes to making new recipes and improvising my cooking, I have learned to no longer doubt myself when it comes to making meals. For any upperclassmen who are still nervous to cook and have been on a frozen food only diet, don’t be nervous! It really doesn’t hurt to try new recipes out, and if you fail the first time, you’ll learn from your mistakes. And for any underclassmen who are thinking of moving off-campus but are currently as lousy at cooking as I used to be, don’t worry! If I figured it out so will you!
Junior Emily Briggs is a Staff Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.