Macaroni in Tomato Sauce

Food Network: Student in need of guidance!

macaroni

I had recently responded to a request made by a student on “The Food Network” forum. My response ended up being rather rounded and it has since occurred to me to share it here. If this helps even one more student, I am gratified!

In the photo: Classic student food – pasta!


The Request

Hi fellow foodies-

I am a student who lives alone- I have noticed that it is much harder to shop and cook meals for one person, especially on a budget. My questions are:
1) What are some staple ingredients that I should always keep in my kitchen?
2) Are there any key simple recipes for 1 person meals?
3) Any tips on what to shop for? Which foods keep longer, or how to make foods keep longer? I hate buying food that ends up getting thrown away or spoiled since I don’t manage to eat it.
4) What are some tips for dishes I can make that I won’t get sick of?

Thanks for any advice or tips.

The Response

Shopping:

  • Shop at “No Frills” Supermarkets, or better yet, Asian ones, they’re much cheaper than mainstream grocery stores.
  • Check flyers and buy stuff when it’s on sale, especially stuff that keeps for a long time, like staples, canned goods, oil, foil paper, etc.
  • Learn prices so you can recognize a good deal when you see it.
  • Buy family pack meats on sale and separate into individual portions and freeze, then you can pull out ‘singles’.
  • Get someone to take you to Costco, but don’t go nuts there – not everything is good to get in bulk. Be practical about what you can actually use.
  • Remember: IT’S NOT A DEAL IF YOU DON’T NEED IT!
  • Get friends to bring food gifts, especially when they come over to eat. Ask for a chunk of blue cheese, smoked-salmon, nuts, almond-butter, stuff that’s generally not in the budget.
  • Keep on hand items such as grains, pasta and rice IF you eat that stuff. It lasts forEVER ( practically.. 🙂 ) You can cook enough for several days as a side with your meal.
  • Get a couple of different pasta sauces, figure out which is your fave and together with dried pasta and pre-grated Parmesan cheese (it’s easy and keeps for ages in the fridge), it’s food available on demand any time.
  • Get other canned stuff that you LIKE. Tuna, salmon and sardines are good. I also like corn (I heat up and melt cheese on it) or chickpeas ( I heat up and sprinkle with lots of black pepper), pineapple/peaches/pears/fruit-cocktail  in syrup (add a little yogurt and nuts and there’s dessert.)
  • Evaporated milk (it’s a canned product) is good for when you run out of milk (Use in a 1-to-1 ratio with water to “make milk.”) It also makes wicked ‘Chai’ which is a mini-meal in itself, or at least breakfast in a rush, just heat with tea bag, sugar and a pinch of chai spice mix (which you might get in an Indian grocery store, if available).
  • Don’t buy too much produce at a time. Potatos, onions, root veggies (like carrots etc), and apples last a long time when stored properly. Most other produce perishes rather quickly. Keep potatos isolated (they don’t like anyone next to them, including onions), they prefer dark cool places, but not as cold as the fridge – best in paper bag with ventilation holes. Keep apples in paper bag and then in plastic bag and in the fridge and they’ll last a long time. Store fruits and vegetables separately.Keep citrus away from other produce as it shorten the life of many fruits and vegetables. Keep tomatos in room temperature as they lose all flavour in the fridge. This is true for some fruits too. Berries and cherries, however, strictly in the fridge and use up quickly.

Freeze

  • The freezer is your friend – cook a lot of something and freeze individual portions in zip-lock sandwich bags.Put the zip-lock bags together in a bigger clear plastic bag and add a note that says the date and what it is (it’s surprising how unrecognizable stuff becomes once it’s frozen.) Don’t forget to eat the stuff you freeze – nothing lasts forever, not even in the freezer. Also, keep in mind that some things don’t freeze well, so if you’re thinking about freezing, find out if it’s a good item to freeze before you prepare it in a large quantity.

Light Meals

  • I often have eggs for dinner when it’s just me.
  • One of my egg meals: I buy a bag of “Spring Mix” (salad leaves chopped and washed and ready to use), add a couple of chopped hard boiled eggs, optionally some almonds and a few “crumbs” of blue cheese, salad dressing of choice, and voila – Dinner!
  • Sometimes a plate of cheese and fruit and I’m good to go. If I’m in the mood, crackers too.
  • I love open face sandwiches:

    • One of my faves – bread/toast, butter, cream cheese, green olives (pitted and sliced), tomato slices. Another, sub the olives with sardines.
    • And of course, there’s always peanut butter (or preferably almond butter) and jelly.
    • Grilled cheese sandwiches rock and you can make many different versions, adding some of mayo/capers/pickles/tomatoes/onion/garlic, or you could make even make “tuna-melts.”
  • French toast is one of my faves for breakfast or for dinner when I’m feeling seriously picky. I like it with cinnamon-sugar.
  • Finally, there’s always cereal as a meal ‘stand-in’. Try cooked cereals like oatmeal etc when you want something warm. Follow the instructions on the package, then add milk/cream/butter/honey/berries/bananas.
  • When you’re really low on cash, cook macaroni, add a can of tuna, salt, pepper, garlic powder and mayo. Mix. Surprisingly yummy and nutritionally sound!

“Proper” Dinners

  • Single chops (lamb, pork, etc) are easy to make. Quickly sautee in a pan with a tiny bit of oil and your favourite spices.
  • For a change, “schnitzel” your chops: coat in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs (flavoured with herbs and spices if you like) and fry.
  • Chicken: You can make enough for 2-3 meals and an extra couple of pieces on top of that which you can then chop up, add mayo, salt & pepper and call it chicken salad (you can add other stuff like celery, peppers etc, but that’s optional.) You can “schnitzel” chicken too, and rather that fry, bake it. It’s a very successful dish at our house.
  • Try to eat fish once a week, it’s good brain food.. 🙂 Make sure you buy it the day you’re cooking it. Don’t refrigerate for more than a day and don’t freeze for more than a week – fish just keeps getting older and fishier no matter what you do.
  • For slightly more elaborate pasta dishes, you can, for example, get a jar of “Classico” “Tomato and Basil” pasta sauce, a pound of ground beef, 2 jalapeno peppers, and 3 cloves of garlic. Sautee (that just means “fry”) the ground beef – keep breaking it up as it’s sauteeing. FINELY chop the jalapenos (if using) and the garlic, toss in and sautee for a couple more minutes. Add pasta sauce, COVER, simmer (really low) for a couple of hours (min 20 minutes, more is definitely yummier though). This will keep for several days (or freeze in single portions) and topped with cheese is yummers! Use some pre-grated Parmesan or use other cheeses when you have them – just cause you can. You can eat this with spaghetti or macaroni. Alternately, you can go nuts and make lasagna (it’s easy,  you cook the lasagna noodles and layer alternately with the sauce – later on you can learn to add other ingredients to it)). This freezes well as individual portions and can be used when you’re too busy to cook.
  • Eat your vegetables – mom was right about that one.. 🙂 Leafy stuff, like spinach or bok-choy, cooks quickly and easily. Steaming a bit of broccoli or green beans isn’t too hard either. Steam most green veggies for 7-10 minutes. If you’ve gone past the bright green stage and into a yellowish-green, you’ve let it go too long – go sit in the corner! Just kidding, at that point eating it is punishment enough. LOL. Once steamed, toss the veggies with a bit of butter and salt and you won’t hate them.
  • Buy some spices. I’d start with black-pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cumin and if you like a bit of heat, Cayenne pepper too. Get cinnamon: It’s nice in many savoury dishes too – I especially like it with chicken, but just a little bit.
  • Butter makes everything better. A little goes a long way, but definitely everything is yummier with a dot or two of butter. When I say butter, I don’t mean margarine. Yeah, it’s a bit more expensive, but it’s not going to break the bank and I did say a dot or two only. And.. Margarine is an evil product – you don’t want to put that crap in your body.
  • If you like the way your food tastes, you won’t get sick of it. When I eat stuff I like, I eat LESS too.

Snacks

  • Buy some nuts and snack on them when you’re so starved, you can’t wait for food. Then cook yourself a decent meal. Keep them in the fridge.
  • Dried fruits are nice for a small ‘pick-me-up’ snack. You can really ‘live-it-up’ and mix the nuts with the dried fruits.
  • Ever heard this one – “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” Turns out it’s true! Apples are very good for you and as mentioned above, keep well in the fridge, so make sure you have some.
  • Get a blender, they’re not too expensive. Buy frozen berries and rotten bananas (well, you know what I mean, the ones with some black spots, often on sale), any other soft fruits on sale, and yogurt and honey. blend the fruit until it’s smooth, estimate the quantity you have and add a quarter of that quantity of yogurt (so if you have 4 cups, add 1 cup of yogurt.) Add honey to taste. Put in a sealed pitcher or jar (preferably a dark one) – it’ll last for days. Have a cup every day – it’s great for breakfast or for when you just can’t stomach solid food.
  • Make rice pudding – it’s easy, yummy and lasts a few days. Good with cinnamon and you can cook it with raisins too if you like.
  • Keep some Jello/pudding around for ease of use. Nutella – even easier – instant gratification!

Final thoughts

Try not to eat too much junk – like..  Jello and pudding.. LOL

Try new stuff. If you hate it – well, now you know what not to buy.

Watch the “Food Network” – it’s damn inspiring!

Experiment – come back and tell us how it’s going.

Play with your food.. 🙂

Happy Studying and Bon Apetite!

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