I’ve been procrastinating responding to an email from our neighbor, and I decided it’d be a great project to open up to the hive mind. His son has just gone off to college and he’s asking for advice to help get him off to a good start in the kitchen:
“His living arrangement is a little different from most college freshman. He will be sharing a three bedroom/2 bath apartment with two others and they have a shared living room and kitchen. He will be responsible for all his own meals, planning, shopping, preparing and clean up. No food plan and no one to cook for him! This is going to be a learning experience for him and we want to make sure he has all the tools to be successful.
I thought it might be fun to ask family and friends to suggest ideas for nutritious and economical options for easy/quick meals. You could include a recipe or just a simple twist for a PB+J or ramen noodles. Nothing is too mundane and he is not a picky eater. Remember simple and easy are best.
Just reply to this email and I will compile them onto note cards for him to keep as a reference. Bon Appétit - and many thanks.”
First of all, is this a thoughtful dad, or what? Secondly, send me the advice you’d give this young man. You can use my advice as a template. After writing long epics of kitchen wisdom to this kid in my head (but never actually writing anything down), I’ve decided to break it down like this:
Five cooking implements you should have:
• A decent chef’s knife
• A 10” or 12” steel skillet (not cast iron and not aluminum)
• A 6 quart stock pot
• A 2 cup measuring cup
• A blender
Five kitchen rules:
• “Under” is almost always better than “over.” Underspiced food can be spiced up, undercooked food can be cooked more, but overspiced and overcooked food are ruined. Operate under the less is more principle until you know what you are doing.
• Simple meals of a protein, a starch and a vegetable are remarkably satisfying and easy. Chicken breast, rice and brocolli. Pork chop, two or three steamed new potatoes, spinach. Etc., etc.
• Clean stuff up as you cook whenever possible, so the cleanup afterwards is less of a hassle.
• Rely on prepared foods, whether fresh or frozen, as little as possible. The convenience is expensive, and once you learn how to make stuff yourself, it won’t take you that much longer than reheating something you bought at the store. The exception to this would be reasonably priced whole cooked chickens—you can eat off one of those bitches for several days and they usually only cost a dollar or two more than uncooked.
• Plan your meals a week at a time and create a shopping list from that plan. You don’t have to plan every meal, but the more you plan and shop for, the less you’ll wind up blowing $15 on takeout pizza.
Five easy things to make:
• Dump a large size can of crushed tomatoes, ⅓ of an onion, juice of 1 lime, 1 jalapeno, 1 cup cilantro leaves, salt and pepper in a blender and blend. Boom—salsa.
• Drain one can of garbanzo beans; dump it in the blender. Dump another can of garbanzo beans in undrained. Add 2-3 cloves of garlic, juice of 1-2 lemons, 2 tablespoons of tahini, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Boom—hummus. You may have to start and stop the blender and hand mix stuff a couple of times at first until all of the ingredients start blending.
• Drain a can of tuna, dump in a mixing bowl. Add 1-2 tablespoons mayo and 1-2 tablespoons pickle relish. Mix. Boom—tuna salad. Use a little chopped onion and/or celery if desired. Eat with crackers. Excellent quick meal.
• Popcorn. You can buy the microwave kind, but the kind you make with a little oil in your big stock pot is better and dirt cheap. But take it slow at first because if you burn it can scar your stockpot for life and be a hassle to clean up. But talk about cheap and filling. I ate a ton of it in college and I still love it.
• Coffee. If you are a coffee drinker (and if you aren’t now you probably will be come finals), buy a cheap drip coffee maker and a travel mug and make your own coffee. You will save a ton of money versus $tarbuck$.
OK, so there are my contributions. Add yours as a comment on Facebook, G+, or tweet or email them to me. You can follow my format, or just send along a single recipe or word of kitchen advice. I’ll compile everything and pass it along.
Now get cooking!
Here are the collected (lightly edited) hive mind contributions. Thank you, hive mind. Don’t necessarily agree with everything here, but that was the point. Find what works for you.
• NOT cast iron?!? Sir, you wound me and undermine your credibility. Kid will cook so much more successfully in cast iron than in steel - forgiving, even heat, no burning. Three rounds of bacon, and it’s seasoned! Mmmm. bacon.
• Easy bachelor food: box of mac ‘n cheese, made to direction. fry up some hamburger, crumbled. drain. add. See also easy tuna casserole - insert “can of tuna” for hamburger above.
• Ramen: crack an egg, toss in some veggies. Egg drop soup-ish.
• http://www.tastybite.com/ - great stuff for keeping in the pantry. (I’ve been teaching these skills to my high schoolers, btw)
• Yeah, cast iron all the way. Also measuring spoons and cutting boards. Have him go to Ace Kitchen Supply.
• Salmon burgers from Costco, seared kale, quinoa (7 minutes in a pressure cooker)
• Beans [stock pot w/ onions & garlic added late] and rice = complete protein
• Frozen dinners. You can find them nutritious and cheap, and they’re always on sale! There’s no real prep work—just tear off plastic, pop in microwave, and ready in 5-10 minutes depending. You can study while cooking. Best invention for the college freshman.
• Ready meals and a microwave. In the UK we have aisles full of 1 portion lasagne and pasta dishes etc. Cost a couple of $.
• But if he wants to cook, suggest big pot of cooked mince beef. + garlic, tomato. Over pasta = spaghetti. Over beans = chili.
• From my experience with a college-age daughter, I recommend a toaster oven. You can make tostadas and ‘pizza’ based on tortillas in no time without having to heat up the big oven, as well as toast and bagels for the morning. I also recommend a popcorn maker unless space is limited for too many appliances. He will destroy that stock pot in no time making popcorn on the stovetop. Potatoes and vegetables steam nicely in the microwave.
• I tend to agree with Donna. Don’t get super-douchey with the college cookware. Roommates will lend something to their stoner neighbor for fondue night, never to be seen again. Or at the end of the year, Roomate 2 swears the AllClad is his… fuck it.
• Decent nonstick skillet, basic spaghetti pot, basic saucepans, baking sheet, blender, colander, cheese grater, wooden spoons, spatula. Collect lots of 20% off coupons from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. You’re done.
• Ramen noodles + fresh onion, carrots, and cabbage make for a sorta nutritious soup. And it’s easy and cheap.
• My Favorite Linguine with Tomato-Cream Sauce
Prep Time: 5 Min
Cook Time: 15 Min
Ready In: 20 Min
Original Recipe Yield 5 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
3/4 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
In a saucepan, saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Make sure it doesn’t burn.
Add tomatoes, basil, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper.
Bring to boil and continue to boil 5 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates.
Remove from heat; stir in whipping cream and butter.
Reduce heat and simmer 5 more minutes.
Late entry from Kristen:
Easy Tortilla Soup
Rotisserie Chicken from grocery store.
Remove meat from chicken.
Add one carton chicken broth and bones from rotisserie chicken to stock pot. Add enough water to cover bones. Boil for an hour or so. Remove bones. Put chicken (cut in generous chunks) back in broth.
Add one can of Rotel and one jar of mild refrigerated salsa to stock. Anything you have like onion, celery, green onion, squash, frozen or canned corn. etc. you can add. Not necessary but good. Especially delicious is squash of any kind and canned hominy (posole). Also great to add a little cumin. Cook until boiling.
Add tortilla chips to the bottom of a soup bowl. Pour soup over chips. Served with cubed avocado, shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, and sour cream. Delicious.