Friday, 16 September 2011

You could have blown my socks off!

I had a nice surprise a couple of days ago. Totally out of the blue I received an email saying that I'd been nominated for a Top Foodie Blogs Award from eCollegefinder an online resource for students.

You could have blown my socks off!

Student cooking is something that I have a little fairly recent experience of. Whilst studying for a Fine Art Degree 2005-8 I got used to cooking for a family of four, whilst researching, essay writing, producing artwork, setting up exhibitions and fundraising for the Degree Show.

As soon as I graduated my daughter 'H' left for university and I made her a cookery/scrap book with all the recipes of her favorite comfort foods and cooking tips, as well as lots of embarrassing photo's of her baking as a little girl; family photo's and the odd speech balloon with funny comment...She was very grateful and appreciated the humour...well I think she did!

I know that most new students are cooking properly for themselves for the first time in their life and that they don't have a massive budget. So they want cheap, easy to make, nutritious food that's tasty too.

Fortunately according to this food triangle the things that are really good for you, like fruit and vegetables and grains, are usually amongst the cheapest. They are also the foods that our body needs the most of to function properly. So if you are a veggie you're onto a winner.

image via

Meat and fish and poultry are more expensive but we don't need to eat as much. So it's worth getting the best meat or fish that you can, organic if possible.

Here are some tips that I passed on to my daughter 'H'when she first started student life :-
  • Instead of chicken breast meat in a stir-fry why not try turkey breast. It's much cheaper, moister and I think has more flavour.
  • Or try chicken thigh meat which again is much cheaper and moister, and if you remove the bones and give it a good bashing with a rolling one will know the difference.
  • Some stores with a fresh fish or meat section, reduce the price at the end of the day. It's sometimes possible to pick up a really expensive piece of fish like tuna or sea bass or a sirloin steak at a fraction of the cost. So if you have a late lecture it's worth popping into the shops on the way home and having a look. You may find something special and if you make friends with the shopkeepers they might even keep things for you if they know you're coming. Then you can have an extra special supper by simply pan-frying your bargain find.
  • If you find more than one bargain you may be able to freeze it for another long as you do so straight away, and defrost it thoroughly before using.
  • I've seen a lot of student fridges over the last three years and I know that if you are in a halls of residence or in a shared house you're very lucky to get a whole freezer shelf to yourself. So cut down on boxed things, try to buy fresh and if you have to freeze, save little plastic bags and use those.

    image via
    • When it comes to stocking up your pantry, basics like rice, pasta and couscous or quinoa are great to have, especially the last two as they take minutes to make the base of a great meal. They really are the ultimate fast foods and may be a source of second class protein, or even complete protein in the case of quinoa. Then build your meal up around those.
    • Buying fresh fresh vegetables from a market or an organic vegetable box scheme is usually going to be much better because they are in season and should last longer and so may work out cheaper. Some box schemes have special offers...look out for on-line coupons.
    • Things like sea salt,fresh black pepper, garlic, spices and herbs, oils and Tamari soy sauce or fish sauce in your cupboard, can reduce the need for buying stock cubes or salad dressings. I never buy Honey, Mustard Dressing it is so easy to make. Whenever we have visitors they comment on how good it is and seem amazed that you can make your own...and it's so cheap and all you do is mix a couple of things up. You may be able to share some of these basics with a room mate to cut down on expenses.

    As for equipment. Most halls of residence or student houses have a basic set. If not you may need the following:
    • A medium sized saucepan
    • A small saucepan both preferably stainless steel or cast iron
    • A frying pan or wok.
    nb. If you can only afford one pan, remember that "what will hold a lot will hold a little" but not visa versa...A collander for draining pasta or washing vegetables
    • A colander for draining pasta or washing vegetables
    • A decent knife
    • Vegetable peeler
    • Can and bottle opener
    • Fish slice and metal tongues.
    • Wooden spoon
    • Chopping boards, one for vegetables and another for meat and fish if you eat them.
    • These are the items I find I use daily.
    If you want to bake you will also require:
    • Either cup measures or scales
    • A measuring jug
    • Baking bowl
    • A hand held electric whisk saves lots of time if you have one but isn't necessary
    • Baking pans and trays
    • Wooden spoon
    nb. wooden spoons are great to use in the kitchen because they don't conduct heat from the pan but they can burn if left near an open flame. They do absorb flavours though which seem impossible to wash out. If you use one to stir and curry and then bake a cake later using it, don't be surprised if the cake tastes of curry! It's best to have more than one for different uses.
      I wouldn't spend a lot of money on this equipment as things in student houses often go missing. I don't think people intentionally steal them. They may notice that you've got lots of nice clean pans and theirs are all dirty, so they just borrow one when you're at a lecture or in the library and not around to ask. Then they accidentally burn something in it. They start to clean it, or else leave water in it to soak and think they'll clean it later when they've written their essay. Suddenly they hear your key in the door so they quickly grab the burnt pan and hide it under their bed. They forget all about it until two weeks later when you ask if anyone has seen it. They don't say anything but go and look under their bed and discover the pan now covered in thick furry green mould and realise where the funny smell has been coming from...they think it's gross (which it is!) and much too yucky to clean and so throw it in the rubbish bin. The mystery of the missing pan...

      So if anyone you know is sorting out their kitchen equipment they may have some pans you can use...or to be very green look in thrift stores and charity shops, or you can stock a kitchen really cheaply from stores like Ikea.

      The first year at uni is so much fun...I never had the experience of the halls of residence or a student house for myself but meeting up with new people and cooking together, often from totally different backgrounds is a great way to have a laugh experimenting and trying out new foods. So have fun cooking.

      I've put some links in the comments below to some recipes that might suit a student life style.


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      2. Great advice for all of us Deb!