Tips and Tricks: Essentials for the College Kitchen
So, guess what? I just completed my last term of undergrad! In a few weeks my diploma will come in the mail and my parents will throw my second graduation party. It’s exciting, but definitely kind of scary! In case you’re doing mental math about how long I’ve been at school, I finished quicker than many students- about three terms early. Now I get to be the Behavioral Testing Manager at a lab at the U of O, and it’s fantastic. I’m a part of a study that is working to do great things for the Head Start program, something I really believe in, and I couldn’t be happier.
In honor of leaving the title of “college student” behind (for now, at least), I thought it appropriate to make a list of kitchen items I found essential over the past two years.
Tomato sauce. Yep. I try to have at least three cans on hand at all times. It is great for soups (not as a replacement for tomato soup- I once reached for it instead of the Campbell’s can and it was a big mistake. My friend Ian can attest to this) and sauces. And if you’ve completely run out of money and all you can find is this and a box of pasta, you’re set!
Pasta. This is obvious, right? Try to branch out from Mac n Cheese though (unless you’re using my grown up recipe) and cook up some spaghetti and meatballs with that tomato sauce you’re keeping stocked in your pantry.
Italian seasoning. This stuff is freaking awesome. It manages to work its way into 99% of my dishes that are not dessert. It adds subtle, delicious fragrance and flavor to everything. I buy this at Costco, no joke.
Minced garlic. Again, this stuff makes its way into EVERYTHING. Also, this is a fridge item. Please don’t store it in your pantry. And get this at Costco, too. Those wimpy jars from the supermarket last me two weeks, tops. And I don’t like buying things often.
Root vegetables. My top two root vegetables are potatoes and onions. They are incredibly cheap and you can buy them in bulk without worrying about them going bad. I get bags of baby reds from the store. I must say, I love fall but I’m incredibly sad I’ll be losing Walla Walla onions. When you run out of cash and all you see is a bag of potatoes, you’ll be super excited you can boil them and slap on some butter for a meal.
Basic baking supplies. This includes flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Optional: brown sugar, powdered sugar, and various spices (cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, etc.). You could get these things at Costco- I get my flour there. I’m about to show my pathetic side, here. I have literally ran out of money and couldn’t afford to buy bread in the past, so I baked sandwich bread myself. I’m not sure if this means I totally suck or I’m really creative. Also, who doesn’t want to make cookies late at night when they’ve been working on a paper for hours? Maybe that’s just me.
A full freezer. This can’t be done for everyone. I’ve said it before, but this is where generous parents (or parents skilled with a shotgun and/or fishing pole) come in very handy. Whenever possible, my freezer is stocked with packs of ground beef, venison, and/or elk; salmon fillets; raw, peeled, deveined shrimp; boneless, skinless chicken breasts; chicken thighs; chicken drumsticks; roasts; steak, if I’m feelin’ fancy; and nasty things such as taquitos and pizzas for those nights when I just can’t handle it. My freezer is my best friend. I have even been known to buy Costco sized bags of shredded cheese, divide them into normal-person-sized portions, and freeze them. Oh, alcohol goes in there, too. Except beer and wine. Please don’t do that.
A crock pot. Some of you are looking at me like “Uuuh, hello? Did you forget the whole broke-college-student thing?” Well, guess what? You can get a small crock pot from Target or Amazon for about $15. I kid you not. And these ones come in super cute colors. So get yourself one, because you can use it for so many things. Like salsa chicken. Or fondue.
A Kitchen Aid. I recognize that this one isn’t exactly feasible. A KitchenAid is something you buy as an investment or inherit, generally. My mom had hers for 18 years, and then it was passed on to me. It is 21 years old now and still works perfectly. My grandma still has hers, which is around 30 years old, and it’s still kickin’. They run about $200, but if you can find a way to make it happen, do it. I use mine for everything from cookies to mashed potatoes to pancake batter. It works miracles.
A good blender. This is kind of either/or with a food processor. They do relatively the same thing. Just make sure you get a decent one. If it doesn’t chop, it’s doing you no good. And the cheap ones really suck, which I learned the hard way. I got this Ninja Master Prep blender food processor set for $40 and it’s been awesome for me.
A good set of knives. I just got my first set of awesome knives for my 21st birthday (thanks Mom and Debbie!). Before that, I traded off using two knives that had never been sharpened in 3 years. I had no idea what I was missing out on. Get a good set or get a good knife sharpener and keep that blade up to speed. My mom got me the Giada set from Target and they’ve been fantastic.
Alright, I hope this was useful! Good luck cooking in what is, for some of you, your first kitchen!
Side note: if your school offered a beginner’s basic cooking class, would you take it? A lot of fellow students I’ve talked to have told me how often they find themselves totally lost in the kitchen and wish they knew the basics. I really think U of O should have one.