My sister Gráinne rang me one evening lately, opening with – “Hi, I thought I’d make use of having a sister who has a food blog.” I was intrigued at what might follow such a grand opening so I let her continue “What will I eat, I’ve to get to work in 40 minutes?”. I love these types of calls.
We went through what ingredients she had to hand and with my basic instructions she rustled herself up a very quick and tasty veggie curry with couscous. She was delighted with the results and asked me if I would do her up a shopping list and a blogpost for her return to college, which was six weeks ago. (I’ve been busy OK?)
My own student days weren’t as recent as I’d like to think, but I remember trying to rustle up meals from practically nothing so as to save my scarce cash for a night out, and stretching out meagre supplies to last til the weekend when I’d be going home and Mam would have bought me “a few bits”. I wasn’t alone in this struggle, I have a very good friend who is a bit of a foodie herself, but in college she had a very strict rule that no item of groceries would grace her shopping basket unless it had cost less than one pound, a rule that was only to be broken for cheese. Another housemate used to bring enough Shepherd’s Pie from home to last til she went home the following weekend. I got sent back on the bus with treats from home too, Mam would pack up quiche or apple tart which we’d devour as soon as I got through the door on a Sunday night.
My college cuisine was anything but haute, with my specialties including pasta with frozen vegetables and cheese. Living in a house with seven other girls in first year I got introduced to lots of different food that never crossed the door of my homeplace, things that were other people’s norm. This was the first time that I encountered pesto, breadsticks, pre-made Chicken Kievs and er, Malibu, but that is a whole other story, most of which I remember.
When I started to put this post together for Grá I realised that much of the cooking I do these days hits the mark for student life too – quick and tasty, made from storecupboard ingredients and nothing too expensive. Students have other things to consider too though, the lack of fridge and freezer space when you’re sharing with 5 others and everyone has their own tub of butter, buying small quantities of veggies that might wilt, very limited kitchen equipment and a hatred of washing up (that’s not just students).
So how can my youngest sister, the lovely Gráinne and her friends eat well, healthily and cheaply in college? Here’s the advice for her for everyone to read:
- Student houses never, ever come equipped with a sharp knife so buy your own if you intend cutting anything harder than butter.
- Check out Tesco or Heatons for other kitchen gadgetry that you might need- a plastic measuring jug or a baking tray to cook in the oven can often be found in a euroshop.
Basics: Sunflower or Olive Oil; salt; black pepper; honey- great for sore throats, for adding to your porridge or for making honey mustard chicken; Soy sauce – adds instant flavour to stirfries; chicken stock cubes- give flavour and depth to stews and sauces; sweet chili sauce- add to sandwiches, stir frys, quesadillas, dip crisps or veg in it – tasty and quick, buy a very big bottle, the asian brands like Mae Plom are best, pesto- green or red whichever you prefer- have it plain over pasta, on a chicken fillet or salmon, or in your sandwich, mix with cream cheese for a very quick pasta sauce.
Tins of : Tomatoes (chopped or plum)- for pasta sauces and a base for nearly everything, add a teaspoon of sugar per tin of tomatoes to lower the acidity, you won’t believe the difference in taste; chickpeas, baked beans, kidney beans, and any other beans -beans have long been a student staple, although often in their baked on toast variety- which is all very well and a good quick filler with toast or scrambled egg but there’s more to beans- kidney beans, butter beans and chickpeas are cheap but keep for ages and add some bulk to a quick dinner and absorb flavours well, sweetcorn- great sandwich filler or dinner vegetable; passata- sieved tomatoes, great for sauces; tuna- another student staple with pasta, pesto, corn, or in a wrap or sandwich, a word of caution though- don’t buy the absolute cheapest tuna, it tastes awful, and try to get one that’s in spring water for taste too.
Spices/condiments: Mustard, sugar, curry powder, cumin, coriander, basil, garlic powder or garlic paste ( Try “Very Lazy” brand or Goodalls, you’ll find in the supermarket, lasts up to three months in the fridge and give so much taste to a dinner) is a good basic list.
Fresh: Cheese, Eggs (apart from the obvious boiled, poached, fried or scrambled eggs there’s also omelettes or carbonara.)
Fruit and Vegetables: Only buy what you will eat soon, and buy what you like! Buy veggies ones that are multipurpose and will last- carrots, onions, potatoes, celery all tick this box. If you’re buying fresh buy small quantities. If you have freezer space then a bag of frozen peas is very handy to have. The only tinned veg that I would use is sweetcorn or tins of tomaties or beans.
Carbs: Pasta, Baby or salad potatoes (they boil quickly, leftovers can be reheated, used in a salad or for homefries, or cut them up small, drizzle with oil and season with chili powder/paprika or salt and pepper and put them in the oven for homemade wedges, couscous (cooks in minutes, no saucepans), rice.
Meat: Chicken breasts and mince were the my student staples, chicken thighs are cheaper and taste great but take slightly longer to cook, they work great in stews; Chorizo- It’s a spanish sausage- get it in the fridge in Aldi or Lidl- cheap and keeps in fridge, very, very flavoursome, a little goes a very long way, add to omelettes, pasta sauces, or in toasties or quesadillas; Pancetta/Lardons- these are little pre-chopped bits of streaky bacon, fantastic with pasta or in a salad- available in most supermarkets, very cheap and their best before date is usually three or four weeks out and they take up very little space in the fridge.
Quick tomato sauce: Finely chop an onion and fry with a clove of garlic (or teaspoon of garlic paste) until the onions are soft (you can add other veggies too), add passata or a tin of tomatoes, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of dried basil, salt and pepper and a chicken stock cube and simmer for about ten minutes. If you’d like a creamy sauce add a tablespoon of creme fraiche. You can serve this over pasta, use as a pizza sauce, eat with couscous, use in a quesadilla, loads of possibilities and much tastier and cheaper than a shop bought one.
Quick tuna pasta: Boil pasta, drain and when cooked stir in tuna, 2 tablespoons cream cheese, 1 teaspoon pesto and chopped red peppers and/or sweetcorn.
Quick veggie curry: Finely chop and onion and fry in oil with a clove of garlic and a teaspoon of curry paste until the onions are soft. Add your other veggies (eg carrots chopped very small, courgettes, mushrooms, peppers) and a tin of tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and let simmer over a low heat until all the veggies are soft.
Quick chili: Fry mince and a finely chopped onion in a pan with a clove of garlic until the mince is brown, add a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of coriander and a teaspoon of chili powder, salt and pepper to taste a tin of tomatoes and a teaspoon of sugar and leave to simmer over a low heat for about 20 minutes. Serve with rice or in a wrap.