16th September 2013 - Charlotte Pike
As a student, Charlotte Pike, author of the Hungry Student Cookbook series, spent four years learning to survive on a meagre £10 a week and still eat seriously well. The skills she picked up in her university kitchen led her to train as a qualified cook and set up her own company called GoFreeFoods for people with food intolerances. Charlotte blogs on student cookery for the Guardian, writes a regular food blog for Hello! magazine and gives frequent cooking demos at food fairs around the UK.
For many students, living away from home for the first time, eating well can be a challenge, with limited funds and a lack of experience in the kitchen meaning term-long diets of pasta in sauce and beans on toast, with scarcely a vegetable to be seen. But, as Charlotte explains, getting the basics right is great way to make sure you stay healthy and make yourself pretty popular on campus too.
Cooking for yourself for the first time at University need not be intimidating. Whether you've cooked for yourself before at home, or have practically never set foot in a kitchen in your life, do not worry, you'll be fine.
First things first: make sure your kitchen is clean. Poor hygiene is the first thing to make you unwell, so it's worth taking seriously. When you move into your place, do make sure it's clean before you fill the fridge and cupboards. Again, I know it's boring, but do try and keep on top of the basics when it comes to kitchen cleanliness. Make sure the dishes are washed (it is actually easier to wash them if you don't leave them for too long) and keep the sink and surfaces clean. Keep on top of emptying the bin and recycling. This will not only make the kitchen a nicer place to be, but will also help prevent any nasty bugs from lurking, and worse: pests.
Once your kitchen is clean, you'll need to stock it. I always advise if you possibly can, to go shopping with a parent at the start of the term and stock up on all the long-life things you need. With a cupboard full of basics, you'll be well equipped to get cooking. There are full lists of essentials in the Hungry Student Cookbooks. If you can't manage this, a great idea is to do an online shop and have it delivered. It saves lugging heavy shopping around and is also a great opportunity to stock up on other essentials, such as household items and laundry detergent.
Once that's all taken care of, it's time to get cooking. If you've never cooked before, don't worry, just start with something really simple. All the recipes in the Hungry Student Cookbooks have been thoroughly tried and tested by complete novices so are an ideal place to start. The best advice is not to try something too complicated at first - something like a pasta dish, a salad or a casserole is a great place to start. One of the best ways to ensure a successful cooking session is to check you have all the ingredients you need before you start. It sounds obvious, but it can be very frustrating if you find out you are missing a crucial ingredient once you've started cooking. Secondly, do take the time to read the method through before you start. It honestly will help you to cook more successfully and quickly.
If you love to cook at home, and plan to keep on cooking at University, then the best thing you can do is take the equipment you love to use. Decent quality, suitable cookware does make cooking so much more pleasurable, so don't be afraid to take any items you love along - nothing too precious, mind, as you can't always be sure your housemates will take as good care of things as you will. But a few well-chosen bits of kit will make life a lot easier for you, particularly if you are used to using them at home.
If you're cooking to impress, it need not be hard to wow your friends with your cooking, but you just need to remember a few secrets along the way. Firstly, if you are feeding friends and want to cook something nice, or feeding a crowd, don't forget that it is expensive. I say this because it is easy to loose track of costs and end up spending a fortune along the way. Think about what you would like to cook and how much it'll cost you and go from there. It really does help to plan what you're going to cook in advance.
Secondly, and this links to the first point, whatever you're going to cook, make it good and make enough of it. There is nothing worse, and I speak from experience, than being asked to someone's house for food and the food being rubbish, and there being too little of it. That's not fun for anyone. The food need not be fancy - a simple pasta dish such as carbonara cooked well is really cheap to make but utterly delicious. If you're feeding hungry people (this always includes sporty boys!) do cook an extra portion or two - it will most likely not go to waste. And if there's anything left over, well, that can be lunch for you tomorrow.
Whatever you cook, be it for yourself or friends, make sure it is well cooked through to avoid any upsets. This is particularly the case when cooking meat - there are full instructions on what to look for in the Hungry Student Cookbooks.
Keep yourself healthy by eating plenty of vegetables (frozen are absolutely fine) and fruit. One of the best ways to avoid scurvy as a student is to make sure your diet is varied - as tempting as it may be, it's not great to eat the same foods week in, week out. Be brave and try something new once in a while.
And finally, the best piece of advice I can give for cooking at Uni is to enjoy yourself, have fun, and don't be afraid to have a go.