Tag: Student

Meatball Pasta Bake

Meatball Pasta Bake

The start of Uni is coming up and so it’s time to dig out those quick, comforting student-friendly recipes for term time! This one’s a really useful dish to have under your belt as it’s hearty, tasty and will also give you some really useful skills that you can use to make loads of other things. My mum always says that if you know how to cook a bit of meat, make a tomato sauce and make a white sauce you’re pretty much set. From the skills you learn from this you can also make a chilli con carne, bolognese, cauliflower cheese, fish pie and a number of other dishes!

This is also a really easy dish to play around with to suit whatever you need.  Want to make it vegetarian – use a meat substitute or vegetables (I like aubergine and sweet potato!). Want to feed a crowd? Just double your quantities! Don’t have the cash for/can’t find meatballs? Use some chopped up sausages instead! Don’t have the time to make this in one go? Make the tomato and white sauce in bulk and then all you need to do is re-heat them and add the meat and pasta! I’ve included some herbs and spices in this tomato sauce as it really does make it so much better than boring ones you get out of jars, however, if you’re a student and/or on a budget I wouldn’t expect you to have these so they’re not essential. That said I would really recommend taking some paprika to uni with you if you can – it might seem pretentious but it’ll add instant flavour and kick to any dish without making it blow-your-head-off spicy!

This year I’m living out of college so I’ll have my first taste of true student cooking which is gonna be interesting… That said, I did use our little kitchen in halls quite a bit last year and found out some things that are kinda useful to know:

3  Nuggets of knowledge to take with you to Uni…

  1.  Pasta is life! It’s so versatile, goes with everything, and is really quick/easy to cook. Make sure you take some pasta and maybe some pasta sauces with you when you go to uni. (If you don’t like pasta a staple carb like rice or noodles will also work!)
  2. In the hectic life of uni the fruit you buy can often end up being neglected and before you know it the beautiful morsels you bought are 4 weeks old, squishy and gross. You may be tempted to throw these in the bin (and if they’re mouldy then, yeah, do that!) but if they’re looking generally ok, they’re just too far gone to eat raw, use them in your cooking! I found topping some chopped up eating apples with a simple crumble topping and baking them for 20-30 minutes gave a really quick apple crumble. You can use pretty much any fruit you want to make a good crumble, but stone fruits (like plums, peaches and nectarines) work super well! You can also put old bananas in banana bread and citrus fruits in smoothies!
  3. ALWAYS TIDY UP AFTER YOURSELF! Ok, so maybe I’ve not had the best experience this year with dealing with other people’s mess in the kitchen – but trust me, people know who are the ones who leave their stuff in the kitchen and though they’ll never tell you it, they won’t like you for it. Just make sure you leave the kitchen as you found it (or better) – wash up your dishes, put them away, put food back in the fridge and wipe down the work tops. It’s common niceties for using a shared space and it’ll stop people forming judgements about you before they know you!

I also had no idea what kind of equipment I’d be needing in the kitchen last year, and no matter what you do take you always end up forgetting something. So if you’re wondering what to pack for your student kitchen I’d say make sure to pack the following…

  • A good non-stick sauce pan.
  • A large mixing bowl  – This’ll be useful for everything, from making a 3 tiered birthday cake to eating cereal when you can’t find your crockery!
  • A mug – If you don’t drink coffee or tea before you go to uni you will by the time you come home! (Also really good for mug cakes and for measuring!)
  • A spare fork – great as a whisk, pastry crimper, tub opener, cake prodder, pasta tester and pretty much anything you can think of. You will also always get to a point where the only piece of cutlery you can find is a broken table knife and a ladle, so spare forks are very valuable!
  • A spatula – As a student you don’t want to be wasting any food you’ve spent money and time on making just because you can’t scrape it out of the pan.
  • Tupperware boxes – If you’re as bad as portioning as I am you’ll often end up with a whole other portion of food you want to put in the fridge and keep for another day!
  • Glass dish with lid – Great for baking and cooking things in (like this pasta bake!) and for then storing leftovers in the fridge.
  • A bottle opener – everyone always needs one, no one ever has one!
  • A chef’s knife and a smaller prep knife.
  • A chopping board – self explanatory, but also great for carrying hot dishes back to your room to eat.
  • A tea towel – can double up as an oven glove and ensures you have no excuses to leave your pans out!

Of course there are lots of other useful bits of kit like a wooden spoon, extra pans, oven gloves, a tin opener, a sieve, and of course crockery, but these are the the main things I found I reached for when I was in the kitchen!

Recipe

Serves 2 – 4 (really depends on how hungry you are!)

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ mugs of Pasta
  • 1 tsp Sunflower oil
  • 12 Meatballs (or 4 sausages)
  • Fresh basil to serve (optional)

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 Small white onion
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp Sunflower oil
  • ½ tsp Smoked papirika
  • ¼ tsp Cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 400g Chopped tomatoes
  • 1 Beef (or vegetable) stock cube
  • 1 Bay leaf (optional)

For the white sauce

  • 50g Butter
  • 1 tbsp Plain flour
  • 450ml Milk
  • 75g Cheddar cheese, plus extra for the topping

Method

  1. Begin by making the tomato sauce. Peel and finely dice the onion and garlic. Put the oil into a large saucepan and fry the chopped onion until starting to caramelise and turn golden. Add the garlic, paprika and cayenne (if using). Stir and fry for another 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes and beef stock cube to the pan, stir and bring it up to a boil. Fill the empty tomato tin/carton with water and pour this into the pan (it’ll rinse the remaining tomatoes out into the pan and will give you the liquid you need!). Add the bay leaf, stir the mixture again and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Leave for 30-40 minutes until reduced and not too watery. Season to taste with salt and pepper and leave to cool until needed
  3. Meanwhile put a pan of water on to boil. Then cook the pasta to the packet’s instructions. When aldente take the pan off the heat and leave in the water until needed.
  4. Next prepare the meatballs. Put the oil into a frying pan and place over a medium heat. Add the meatballs and fry them for 1-2 minutes until browned on one side. Then turn them over and repeat the frying and turning until they’re brown all over. (If using sausages instead, pierce the skins 2-3 times with a sharp knife and pan-fry them in a similar way, before chopping them into chunks). Don’t worry if the meat isn’t cooked all the way through as it’ll continue to cook in the oven, you just want them browned all over on the surface. Leave to one side until needed.
  5. Meanwhile make the white sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and then add the flour. Mix the flour into the butter with a wooden spoon to make a paste. Beat it in the pan for around 1 minute to cook out the flour.
  6. Slowly add the milk to the pan, (around 3-4 tbsp at a time at first and then after 4-5 of these start to slowly pour it in), whisking constantly to slowly make a sauce. This is the most important step as if you add the milk all at once the mixture will become lumpy and won’t thicken. Once all the milk is added keep on whisking for 5-10 minutes until the mixture thickens and leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted out.
  7. Grate the cheddar into the sauce and whisk again until it’s melted and combined. Then taste the mixture and season with pepper and salt, if needed.
  8. When all the elements are ready start assembling. Drain the pasta and mix it into the tomato sauce. Then pour it out into a glass/oven-proof dish. Top with the meatballs and then spoon the white sauce in between the meatballs. Top with some extra grated cheese and then bake the dish in the oven for around 10-15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.
  9. Serve with a side salad and basil (if you want!). This will keep in a covered contained in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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How to Survive (and make the most of) Cooking at Uni

How to Survive (and make the most of) Cooking at Uni

Today is national uni mental health day – this year themed ‘use your voice’, so I thought I’d use mine to talk about mental health and cooking at uni. Whoever you are, where ever you are, you have a voice and story, and the best way to start making changes is to start speaking. I’m not the best writer out there, I wouldn’t even really consider myself a ‘writer’, just a person with something to say to the wide ether in the hope someone might find it interesting and/or useful, which I think is enough in this case.

In complete honesty the reason why I’m doing a how-to and not a recipe this week is because we’re hitting the end of term and the only recipes I have left from when I was cooking over the holidays are really bad. I also wasn’t sure how to link a recipe to mental health at uni, and therefore I’ve decided that a post on cooking at uni would be more insightful and useful than a plate of damp looking veg! That said, over the process of writing this I’ve realised how much cooking has helped me during my time at uni, and so I want to share some tips and thoughts on it for this mental health day.

Uni is never easy. It’s hard work for a reason and whilst it has great perks and can be really fun there will always be hard times to go with it. You can never get away from the essays and the deadlines, the late nights and the early mornings – but hey that’s part of the charm right? What we can do is find ways to get through the tough points. Work out what really matters and use that to power on through.

For me this term has been a bumpy ride. I’ve had higher highs and lower lows than ever before, so I’m coming out the other side feeling a little shaken and wide eyed. My mental health is not as stable as I’d like, but I’m starting to find ways to work with it, to not let it stop me from making the most of some of the best years of my life. For me cooking (or I guess more generally food) has been a really good stabiliser for me. I know it’s not always easy to cook when at uni, whether it be because of cost, time or facilities, but here’s some top tips and hacks from me on how to tackle cooking and how to use it to make your time at uni a little sunnier.

Top 10 ways to make the most out of cooking at Uni…

No.1 – Essential Ingredients

With a limited budget there’s no way you can make long elaborate recipes at uni without breaking the bank and wasting ingredients in some shape or form. This term though I’ve managed to get by with just the following staple ingredients….

  • 1 tub of butter (or dairy-free margarine) – maybe more if you spread it on toast every day, but one of these is perfect for general everyday baking.
  • 1 Bag white sugar
  • 1 Bag plain flour
  • Paprika (a little pretentious I know, but it adds a great kick to anything and everything)
  • 1 Pack of Rice/Pasta
  • 2 Packs of Tomato sauce/passata

It’s worth noting that I’m catered in college Monday-Friday, so those of you living out might need more than that, but I’ve found that those let me make everything I want to make in a term. I just buy perishables like yoghurt, eggs, fruit and veg as and when I needed them and voila. Of course there’s so much more you can add to that, but just having those staples in your cupboard lets you make pretty much anything you could want. I also find having the staples there to be used makes it so much easier to find the motivation to get in the kitchen and start baking!

No.2 – Essential equipment

On a similar note, you also probably don’t have the space for mountains of equipment at uni so here’s my essentials of what to take with you:

  • Chopping board
  • Kitchen knife
  • Mixing bowl
  • Small roasting tin
  • Rubber spatula
  • Range of crockery (spoons, plates etc for eating)
  • Tupperware pots
  • A tea towel
  • Medium-sized pan with a lid

Again, there’s so much more you can add to that, but I’ve found that’s all you need to get by in a term. Personally, I also use piping bags, cake tins, can openers etc, but those are just add ons you could take if you’re the kinda person who’d use them. If I were to highlight two essential essential things on that list they would be Tupperware and a tea towel as they’re really easy to forget when packing up for uni but they’re so so useful! Being able to pack up any leftovers is really important as when you’re tight for time and on a budget the last thing you want to be doing is throwing food away and then re-making it the next day!

No. 3 – Make it sociable

It’s the end of a long day. You’re tired. Stressed. You just want to go to bed. But I can say that having been forced to eat with people in college every day it’s actually one of the things I love most about being fed in college. Before arriving at uni I shuddered at the thought of forced socialising, but eating with people gives you a chance to relax, touch in with friends, and get out of your head for a few minutes. You can get into your own bubble so easy working day in and day out, but taking some time out of that with other people over a plate of food is a great way to realise there’s a bigger world out there than uni.

No. 4 – Get hands on

One of the things I love most about cooking is the practical side of it. Get your hands in. Get messy. Get playful. I’ve found myself making crumbles so much recently. Not only are they tasty and easy to put together, but they’re also really therapeutic to make as you have to get your hands into the mixture. Bread is another great one for this as you can get out your anger in the dough. If you don’t have time to do a full enriched dough that takes hours to rise try looking into sourdoughs or quick-breads you can make!

No. 5 – Explore no-scale recipes

Last term I forgot to take a pair of kitchen scales with me to uni so I did most of my baking scales-free. After the initial panic of having to measure things by eye I found that you can get away with not using scales in a surprising number of things – and it makes life so much easier! Once you get used to working without them you can literally just whack everything together in minutes, making cooking so stress-free. Mug-cakes, stir frys, and crumbles are 100% the way to go!

No.6 – Share what you make

On a similar note to no.3, sharing what you make can be a really good way of re-connecting with people and can give you that nice warm fuzzy feeling. I speak from experience when I say that it can feel just as nice to leave food out for people as it does to find some up for grabs on the table. Walking into a kitchen with something tasty on the counter and an invitation to eat it can be enough to put a smile on your face for the rest of the day, which can positively affect other people around you and so on. Just saying – have you ever seen a bunch of teens looking sad with a plate full or free brownies?

No.7 – Find some good ready-made meals for the long nights

When I first arrived at uni I was very pro-fresh food, anti-ready-made, yada yada yada – but lets be honest who has the time? I’m not saying abandon fresh fruit and veg, just that sometimes ready-mades can be the ticket you need. I’ve found that spicy rice pouches have saved my soul this term. They’re about 85p each, take 2 minutes to heat up, and can be bought ages in advance so you know you’ve always got a back up meal in your cupboard!

No. 8 – Get creative

Cooking is not only a great social and stomach-filling wonder, but also a great creative outlet. Maybe it’s just Oxford, but I found when I was studying psychology I really missed my chance to be creative, and I think a lot of academic degrees are like that. They’re so prescriptive and precise that we forget how creative we all are. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I strongly believe that our education system is sucking the creativity out of us until we’re just little robots who can regurgitate information – and I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound exactly healthy. So when you’re next in the kitchen let your creative juices flow. Whether it’s piping on a cake, experimenting with flavour combos, or even just trying a new recipe, see it as an opportunity to be a little less exact and more experimental. Cooking’s an art not a science after all.

No. 9 – Shopping late at night

I’m constantly aware of how much I’m spending on food as it’s something I have to do every day.  One thing that’s helped me out a bit though is shopping about an hour before the shops close. I’m not sure if everyone knows this or not, but in case you don’t know, note that most shops do massive price cuts towards the end of the day. I’m talking buying £3 sandwiches for 80p and the like. Where I live they often pile all these discounts in a certain place in the shop, so if you can work out where it is you can pop over there and bag some deals for the next day.

No. 10 – Don’t forget – food is comforting

And finally – don’t forget that food is a great comfort! I mean obviously be aware of comfort-eating and etc, but the odd comfort dish can be enough to perk up a day. I’ve found that whilst the food at my college is amazing it lacks the love of a homemade dish – as mamma used to make it so to say. So getting into the kitchen and rustling up a family favourite can be a great pick-me-up. Perhaps before you go ask for recipes of your family favourites, then when you hit a low point you’ve got a lil support there. I’m not saying food can solve all problems – but it’s done a good job of keeping me going through the roller-coaster of an Oxford term!

Of course there’s so much more I could have added to that list but I hope that’s vaguely useful and/or interesting. If you want some recipes relating to any of the specific points look at the ‘something that’s’ tab at the top of this page and you’ll find recipes under certain tags like ‘comforting’ or ‘quick’. So if you’re looking for a comfort-food fave, or a quick eat, or a therapeutic fun thing to make have a look there for something that could suit!

For more info on uni mental health day visit https://www.unimentalhealthday.co.uk/

Stay safe, stay strong and remember there’s always people wanting to listen. Have a great day!

Emma x

 

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Baked Potatoes with a Chickpea Curry

Baked Potatoes with a Chickpea Curry

ONE DAY MORE!! (You could say the musical bug has bitten me hard in the past few days) Just one more day until I can return to the blissful lands of cheese, chocolate and scrambled eggs. I’m so so set for a good mac and cheese right now! I’ve really enjoyed being vegan, and despite the awkward repeats of ‘I’m sorry, I’m a vegan’ at almost every offer of food, it’s been a fun challenge. However with the frenzy everyday life and the challenge of eating in college, come the 1st Feb I’ll be reverting back to vegetarianism.

With things past comes things learnt, so here’s the 3 most important things I’ve learnt from my vegan month:

  1. Chickpeas are life – I definitely couldn’t have lived without these this month! From hummus, to aquafaba to straight old chickpeas in something like this, they’re a real useful staple in a vegan diet – especially as they’re so versatile.
  2. Flavour is underrated – I’ve also found that it’s really important not to compromise on flavour just because you’re limited to plants. So often I was eating bland vegetables with hummus and pita bread, which whilst delicious does lack an oomph of flavour and it made meals really dull and limp. This does use a lot of spices, which I understand that if you’re on a budget you might not be able to get them all, but even some pre-made spice mixes and paprika can be a really good way of getting flavour punched into your meals.
  3. Food food and more food – Most importantly this month I had to remind myself just to keep eating and that there was a lot more out there that I could eat than I originally thought (Oreos and Jelly Tots are vegan – take note!). In the first few days I was either starving or living on carbs, but neither made me feel at all satisfied. But as soon as you’ve found your niche in the vegan food world you forget your restircted diet and just start getting on with life!

Recipe

Serves 2 (plus extra chickpea mix!)

Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 2 Large potatoes
  • 2 tbsp Oil
  • 1 Onion
  • 9 Garlic cloves
  • A thumb sized piece of root ginger
  • 1 tbsp Ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp Ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp Garam masala
  • 1 tsp Ground paprika
  • 2 tbsp Tomato puree
  • 800g Chickpeas
  • 400g Chopped tomatoes
  • 100g Creamed coconut
  • 100g Spinach to serve

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C. Microwave the potatoes for 15 minutes on a high heat and then put them into the oven for about 30 minutes until crispy on the outside.
  2. Now make the paste for the curry. Peel and finely chop the onion. Then put the oil and chopped onion into a pan and fry for about 8 minutes until softened.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a food processor and add the peeled garlic, peeled ginger, and ground spices. Then add the tomato puree, onions and a pinch of salt and blitz to a smooth paste.
  4. Transfer the paste back into the pan and cook for a couple of minutes over a medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the chickpeas and the chopped tomatoes. Stir to mix and then leave to simmer for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the coconut and 2 tbsp water and simmer the mixture for another couple of minutes.
  7. Serve with the baked potato and spinach!

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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Peanut Butter and Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies (Vegan)

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies (Vegan)

With term almost over it’s time to head back to the land of stocked fridge and rolling fields. Whilst I’m looking forward to having a (bit) of a break, this has been the most amazing 8 weeks. From the people I’ve met to the things I’ve learnt, it’s been a total blast and I can’t wait to come back and so it all over again (after a long rest that is!). Some of the best times I’ve had this term have been our group baking sessions in our college kitchen. Trying to fit more people than can physically fit into a lil’ kitchen, jumping over people to get from the sink to the oven and then everyone eating whatever’s made in minutes.

Of course the down side of cooking at uni is the lack of equipment, ingredients and space. For example these were made with only half the ingredients we probably needed and when freezing the pinwheel log before cutting it into slices I had to wedge it into the jam-packed freezer, hence the slightly squashed shape. However, even with the set backs these turned out super tasty and were so fun to make, so I guess the main thing I’ve learnt from student cooking so far is just to make use of what you’ve got to hand and it’ll most likely turn out fine!

You can also play around with the two flavours in these as much as you like which is fun. I went for chocolate and peanut butter as they’re relatively cheap and taste hella good together. But you could try other combos like chocolate and vanilla, lemon and strawberry, or orange and almond. The key to get these looking good is to make sure that the two doughs have different enough colours to stand out against each other and to make sure you get a tight roll when you roll the wheels up. After that all you’ve got to worry about is getting them to the tin before everyone eats them.

Ingredients

For peanut butter dough

  • 125g Caster sugar
  • 113g Smooth peanut butter
  • A large pinch of Salt
  • 1 tbsp Water
  • 215g Plain flour

For the chocolate dough

  • 125g Caster sugar
  • 113g Smooth peanut butter
  • A large pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp Water
  • 170g Plain flour
  • 45g Cocoa powder

Method

  1. First make the peanut dough. Put the peanut butter and sugar into a large bowl with the vanilla and a pinch of salt and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add the water to the mixture and beat in to loosen the mixture a little. Then add the flour and mix everything together until a smooth dough forms.
  3. Use your hands to make the dough into a ball and then wrap it in cling film and leave it in the fridge until needed.
  4. Now make the chocolate dough. Repeat step 1 with the butter, sugar and so on.
  5. Add the water to the mix and beat to loosen the mixture as you did before. Then add the flour and the cocoa powder to the bowl and mix everything together until a smooth dough forms.
  6. Again, form the dough into a ball and wrap in clingfilm. Leave the two doughs in the fridge for 1-2 hours to harden up slightly.
  7. When ready take the peanut dough out of the fridge. Lay down a sheet of cling film on the work top and then place the dough on top. Lay out another sheet of cling film over the dough. Then take a rolling pin and roll the dough out into a oblong about 20cm x 40cm.
  8. Repeat with the chocolate dough so you have two rectangles of a similar shape.
  9. Take the top layer of the clingfilm off the two doughs. Then turn the chocolate dough over onto the peanut dough and take off the clingfilm sheet which will now be on the top.
  10. Carefully roll the sheet up into a pinwheel, working from short edge to short edge. It can help here to roll over a 1cm bit at the start to begin your spiral and then work from there.
  11. Wrap the log in clingfilm and then freeze for 1-2 hours to make it easier to cut later.
  12. Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
  13. Take the pinwheel log out of the freezer and place it on a chopping board. Take a sharp knife and cut the log into 1cm discs. Place each cookie on the lined baking trays.
  14. Bake the biscuits for 15-20 minutes until slightly golden brown and crispy. Leave to cool before eating!

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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Easy Gnocchi

Easy Gnocchi

Four steps. Four ingredients. Four sentences. Boom!

No but seriously. I’ve been turning to pasta so much during my time at uni so far that the time has come to look beyond pasta. Admittedly gnocchi isn’t the most different thing I could have turned to, but it’s so quick and comforting that it’s perfect if you want to shake things up a little. Especially now that you can buy packs of semi-cooked ready-made gnocchi in most supermarkets you can rustle yourself up a bowl of this in minutes. As a tip I’d say that in order to get the best tasting dish you can buy a good a quality passata or tomato sauce. The one I used for the dish photographed here was a budget range one and it was so sour that it made the whole thing taste really meh, but if you get a good one (maybe even with herbs in if you want to be a little fancy) it’ll transform the whole dish!

Recipe

Serves 2

Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Packet of Gnocchi (around 500g)
  • 400g Tomato passata
  • Fresh bail to garnish (optional)
  • Cheddar cheese or Parmesan to finish

Method

  1. Put a pan of water on a high heat and leave to boil.
  2. Add the gnocchi and cook to the packet’s instructions.
  3. Drain the gnocchi and add the passata. Stir to combine and then leave with the lid on for a few minutes to warm the passata through.
  4. Pop the gnocchi into two bowls and top with the basil and a little grated cheese!

Thanks for reading!

Emma x

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