Tips for the Freshman

Now that you have settled in and finally gotten the hang of living on your own for the first time (laundry, roommate, no parentals) the next big thing is – how do you feed yourself? Sure, eating out all the time is great if you want clogged arteries by the time you finish your bachelor’s or if you want a gaping hole in your college checking account. So, learn to feed yourself. It really isn’t difficult, and with a few hints and tips, you can make the most of your groceries (before they wilt, mold, decay, rot, etc) and cook instant delicious and nutritious meals often enough to keep you satisfied. I promise. Anh can do it, you can too! (Thanks Martin!)

On stocking the kitchen…
I have found that there are several key ingredients required for a functional kitchen. Rachel Ray’s suggested list is rather lengthy, even for a 30-minute kind of meal, but it is well worth it. However, I’ve filtered it considerably, considering the typical size of most college apartments and dormitories, and excluded the typical college staples (carbs, cereal, top ramen, cheap beer…).

The Pantry
dried pasta (fusilli, bowtie, penne…)
dried noodles (soba, cellophane, vermicelli…)
canned pasta sauce (marinara, tomato, alfredo, pesto…)
canned beans (kidney, black-eyed, lima…)
canned veggies (corn, tomatoes)
canned fruits (your choice!)
rice (jasmine, brown, your choice!)
flour (all-purpose)
canned chicken stock (or veggie)
baking powder & soda
peanut butter & jam
canned meats (Spam, tuna, chicken)
balsamic vinegar
olive & vegetable oil
soy sauce (and fish sauce, if you dare)

More Menu Ideas

The Greens
onion (red, white, green)
bell peppers
broccoli (frozen ok!)
mushrooms (button, shitake, oyster)
zucchini (green, yellow)
frozen spinach, peas, edamame
lettuce (for sandwiches)
The Raw
chicken thighs, breasts, wings
pork chops
fish fillets (tilapia, halibut), steaks (salmon)
filet mignon (yeah right)
lobster tail (ditto)
The Spices
sugar, granulated & brown
ground cinnamon
salt n pepper
garlic powder
steak seasoning (rec: McCormick’s Montreal)
paprika, cayenne, red pepper flakes (for heat!)

Most things you buy can probably be frozen or fridged to increase shelf life, e.g. bread. Just toast and reheat to bring back to life. Frozen veggies are a great alternative to fresh ones as they are picked at peak deliciousness and are just so versatile and convenient. They certainly do not replace fresh ingredients, but seeing as how we aren’t gourmands on Iron Chef, frozen is a-okay. I am a huge fan of canned veggies, especially beans and tomatoes. Beans are great for chili and homemade Tex-Mex, so be sure to stock up on different kinds. Speaking of which, my Vegetarian Chili is killer, you MUST try it. It is definitely a recipe you want in your college cooking repertoire. Canned tomatoes come in a huge variety – cubed, diced, stewed, sun-dried,… all with varying juice contents and sweetness, so of course stock up on a few different kinds.

You really don’t have to cook everyday to get a good meal. I end up cooking once or twice a week, freezing everything into smaller portions then slowly eating as the week progresses. It saves a lot of time and energy, and you still get to eat the tasty foods you prepare. Just an idea, that’s all. And here’s another idea, Spam Pasta – another to add to your repertoire.

Spam Pasta
The 2 ingredients college students ALWAYS have in their pantries? Dried pasta and Spam. If you don’t have it, get it! There is nothing EASIER and more SATISFYING and SIMPLE than Spam Pasta – quick to whip together, easy to impress, and it’s absolutely delicious. The colors are beautiful, and the parsley adds instant oomph and ‘gourmet’ into a Spam dish. My auntie Co Dung made it for a party once, and I’ve been making it for dinner, for parties, etc. ever since.

1 can Spam, bite-size cubes
1 lb fusilli or farfelle dried pasta
3/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, shredded
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
dash of salt

In a large pot, boil your pasta on the firmer side of al dente. They will be cooked later, so don’t over cook! Meanwhile…

In another large, heavy pot and on high heat, sear your cubed Spam meat until the outside is crispy. I like my Spam really browned – it gets rid of a lot of the fat, but also know that it makes the meat taste a lot saltier. Once cooked to your desire, remove from heat and throw onto a paper towel lined dish. This will help absorb more of the fat. In that same pot, throw in your strips of sun-dried tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and cooked pasta and toss in the residual fat (it’s all flavor).

Cook until pasta has softened (but not mushy!) and the tomatoes are well incorporated. Return Spam to pot and mix a few rounds. Taste-test, and add salt if needed.

Turn off heat, and remove from stove. Throw in a handful of coarsely chopped parlsey. Serve warm or at room temperature. Simple as that!

You don’t need a huge kitchen to make good food. You don’t even need that much time. A little planning coupled with a bit of kitchen savoir-faire, and you are on your way to some amazing meals fast. And though I am not a strong believer in following recipes, particularly with cooking, if you are (like the typical Berkeley student) slightly anal retentive, then let me introduce you to the kitchen god – or also known as, Everyday Food, a Martha Stewart publication and much loved magazine in our kitchen. If you have some extra dough (not the flour-y stuff), let me also recommend Everyday Food, the cookbook. Beautiful pictures, easy to follow recipes (categorized by season) complete with shopping lists and all. It’s a great resource. I hope you enjoyed this entry, dedicated to the college foodie. Until next time when we meet again in the kitchen!


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One Response to Tips for the Freshman

  1. nerdloser says:

    lol. spam pasta, even i havent thought of this..and im a huge fan of spam. i bought an 8 pack of spam the last time i went to costco and my friends thought i was crazy.

    also, i have been rigorously looking for a cookbook. ive gone to half price and costco, but im being extremely picky. i want a perrrfect cookbook, so i will look into the cookbooks u have recommended and tell you what i think about them. =)

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