You sigh as you glance over the cafeteria menu. Fish? Again? Halfway through the semester, we all grow a little sick of dining hall fare. But what other option do you have? You thought about buying groceries, but your cooking skills leave something to be desired. Besides, spending your work study money on kitchen supplies seems a little frivolous. Can you really justify spending the time and money necessary to become a better cook? Actually, you can. Don’t resign yourself to another month of bland caf meals. Instead, optimize your kitchen experience with these seven, student-approved cooking tips.
1. Invest in a Mixing Bowl
“Pshh, I don’t need another bowl,” you say. Cereal bowls might work well for your morning Cap’n Crunch fix, but their utility ends after the last few cereal bits hit the bottom of the bowl. Have you ever tried mixing the ingredients for brownies in a tiny bowl without getting batter and powder everywhere? Not so easy. Invest in a big, sturdy mixing bowl that can double as a place for popcorn or chips at your next party.
2. Up Your Ramen Game
Ramen remains a staple in every college student’s diet, but after a while those salty noodles start to lose their appeal. But, who says you need to limit yourself to the ingredients included in the packet? Add a few carrots, mushrooms and peas to freshen up your usually drab dinner. In the mood for Thai food? Substitute the salty flavoring for peanut butter, garnish with a hint of lime juice, and voila, you’ve got noodles with peanut sauce. You have a world of noodle-related possibilities at the end of your fork. “Ramen is a lifestyle, you gotta jazz it up,” explained University of North Dakota junior Emily Bachmeier. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
3. Watch Video Tutorials
Quick and easy food videos have taken the internet by storm, and your taste buds can benefit from this trend. “I think those videos have made cooking easier (even though they make it look less complicated than it actually is) because you actually get to see a demonstration and see what it should look like at every stage, rather than just following a written recipe and hoping for the best,” explained Luther College senior Kylie Hanschman. “[The videos] are also so hypnotizing and make cooking actually look like fun! Plus, with the videos popping up on my newsfeed, I see possibilities that I would have never even considered looking for, let alone make,” continued Hanschman. You don’t need Wolfgang Puck’s expertise to whip up one of these delicious dishes. Plus, when your friends want your incredible cookie recipe, you won’t have to call your mom for it; spread the love with the click of a share button.
4. Be Patient
Aspiring bakers must adhere to these two laws: Thou shalt not use the oven before it has finished preheating, and thou shalt always respect cooling time. Seriously. Not even the hungriest, drunkest frat guy wants to eat a soupy, gloopy cake because you couldn’t wait a few extra minutes for the oven to reach 350 degrees. Similarly, no one can compliment your culinary skills if your pastry crumbles before you move the flaky goodness onto the plate…which will happen if you don’t give the treat time to cool. “Good baking mandates respecting preheating and cooling time to get a flavorful taste through the entire baked good,” explained Notre Dame junior Dan Swanson. Whoever said “Patience is a virtue” knew a thing or two about baking.
5. Veggies are Your Friends
Your mom may not be here to remind you to eat your vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you can forget about them entirely. Eating carbs and sugar alone will leave you feeling sick and sluggish, so add a little green to your plate. You don’t have to embrace the kale craze, but it wouldn’t kill you to nosh on some carrots or toss a few spinach leaves onto your sandwich. Plus, veggies add texture and flavor to your meals, so their merit extends beyond nutritional value. Make your mom happy. Buy some vegetables.
6. Stock up on Spices
Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I say, “The unseasoned meal is not worth eating.” You can cook with the freshest, most organic ingredients money can buy, but if they lack flavor you’ll be saddled with a mediocre meal. “Spice does not automatically mean hot like many people assume,” explained UMN junior Senuri Rauf. “I like to think of it as flavor and adding a lot of flavor to your dish. The more flavor you’re able to add to a dish the better, so having spices on hand is crucial.” Don’t sentence yourself to a semester full of tasteless dinners; picking up a few cheap spices from the grocery store can take your meal from dull to delicious.
7. Understand the Importance of Tupperware
So you followed all of the above tips and prepared a feast fit for a king…and now you’re left with a table full of leftovers. What do you do with all of the extra food? Obviously, it’d be a shame to throw it all away, but if you find yourself without ample storage containers, well… Do yourself a favor: stock up on Tupperware. “Tupperware is a really handy tool,” explained Luther College junior Lizzie Garvin. “It’s really easy to load a container up with vegetables and meat and then take it to my dorm kitchen and make myself a stir fry.” You can tackle any culinary challenge with the knowledge that no part of your kitchen masterpiece needs to go to waste.