Over my three years in college I’ve avoided the stereotypical experience of eating ramen and chicken nuggets. I was given a stove and oven, so I thought I should make the best of what I was given — especially since my tuition pays for it — and began experimenting with some college recipes.
When I tell my friends that I cook on the daily, they always ask me how I afford it. Simple answer: research. I knew, even while maintaining a job, I couldn’t afford the finest ingredients. Still, that didn’t mean I couldn’t make the finest recipes. I believe a recipe is only as good as you can make it to be. If that means buying some canned ingredients, then so be it. There are always spices out there to liven up a dish.
Additionally, I think everyone should learn how to cook, especially in college, since this is the first time where most students are living on their own, and let’s be honest, cooking is a survival skill. Plus, why put yourself through instant noodles when you can have easily made fresh food? Here are my five easy-to-master, budget-friendly college recipes that are perfect for cooking beginners.
1. Lemon Cupcakes Topped With Raspberry Buttercream Frosting
This beginner recipe is perfect for any sweet tooth out there. This was my first baking recipe, so one can imagine how intimidating it was to try. However, I was flabbergasted by how easy it was.
The key idea, and my favorite part of the dessert, is to create a moist cake. Not moist to the point where it falls apart, but moist to the point where your taste buds are salivating in their desire for more. The cake is then paired with a surprisingly light, but bold and tangy raspberry-flavored frosting. The result: cupcake and frosting coming together as one scrumptious treat.
When I made the cupcakes a second time, I felt more confident in adding my own personal twists, which I highly recommend. One of the frosting ingredients not mentioned in the recipe I used is lemon zest. The first time I made the frosting, I felt that the raspberry preserves could have had a bit more of an edge. I decided to add lemon zest to the frosting and discovered it created a whole new flavor. I recommend using two lemons for the frosting to reach maximum zestiness.
Secondly, instead of using the full 3-3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar for the frosting, I advise using 2-2 1/2. That way, the frosting maintains its bold flavor of raspberries and lemon. Also, the recipe mentions putting dry ingredients into wet ingredients, however I find it best to do the opposite — wet into dry. If you ever have too much of the wet ingredients in the dry, you can just add more of the dry ingredients.
Danielle, author of the recipe, adds a lot of insightful tips that I recommend reading before diving into baking these cupcakes, such as the best ways to effectively measure flour. This amazingly easy-to-make and delectable treat can be found on Danielle’s blog.
2. Shepherd’s Pie
Shepherd’s Pie was one of my absolute favorite dishes growing up. The meal originates in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and is comprised of meat and vegetables topped with a golden crust of mash potatoes. If that isn’t the perfect cure for a hangover, then what is?
I found the recipe on a website called SimplyRecipes, which as the name implies, has recipes that are easy to make. The website does not disappoint. Elise Baur is the founder of the site and author of this flavorful shepherd’s pie. The recipe is unbelievably easy, because all I did was cook meat and vegetables in a large sauté pan, make mash potatoes on the side and then toss it all together in a casserole dish and put it in the oven.
Though, like all shepherd’s pie, the tricky aspect of making it is creating a subtle but rich flavor with the simplest of ingredients. Baur’s recipe is quite simple, however, the amount of ingredients used to make that lasting flavor is its key.
Now, obviously fresh ingredients are always better to use when cooking, but I’m not cooking for a five-star critic. So for cost-cutting purposes, I used chicken broth instead of beef broth, vegetable oil instead of butter and frozen vegetables instead of fresh vegetables. With the combination of these substitutes and canned fried onions on top of the mashed potatoes, I experienced a flavor of buttery mashed potatoes with the heartiness of mildly sweet beef (secretly noted in the recipe as a result of Worcestershire Sauce) and the salty crunch of fried onions.
3. Thai Spicy Chili Chicken and Noodles
Warning: Do not be alarmed by the amount of ingredients. Half of this dish is made in, yes, a homemade marinade. Making my own marinades has saved me a tremendous amount of money, and they are incredibly easy to make and hard to mess up. If you add too much of one ingredient by accident, that’s okay; it will most likely make your protein more flavorful.
This dish packs a huge amount of flavor within just the marinade itself. You get a little bit of sweet, quite a bit of spicy and a whole lot of tang. Additionally, the ingredients are super easy to find (all located in the international aisle of your local grocery store).
Cheyanne, author of the blog, No Spoon Necessary, offers great advice on ingredient substitutions and thoughtful information on the listed ingredients in the recipe. My personal recommendation (based on my own experience of cooking with rice noodles) is to soak your noodles in cold water. The soaking helps with the elasticity of the noodles and makes them cook faster.
I usually soak the noodles the whole time I am prepping everything else and making the marinade. Then I drain the noodles, put them back in their bowl, pour boiling water until it just submerges the noodles and stir for 3-4 minutes. I find that this is the best way to cook rice noodles in stir-fry dishes. What is also great about this dish is that you can use pre-made or left-over chicken, which saves a tremendous amount of prep time for your protein.
4. Potato Soup
I’m not sure if it’s obvious yet, but I love potatoes. I will gorge on anything with potatoes. Potato soup is the perfect gorge meal, in my opinion. My favorite thing about this recipe (and all the other college recipes I’ve mentioned), aside from including a tremendous amount of potatoes, is how easy it is.
Essentially, you throw everything into a pot, add some rue, which is a thickening agent comprised of flour, milk and butter, and bam, you have potato soup. I would like to stress the notion that you should have all your ingredients prepared before getting started with the cooking process.
The first time I made this soup, it did not come out quite right because I had trouble getting the correct consistency for the rue (I did not prepare my ingredients, which hindered my stirring) and jeopardized the consistency of the rest of the soup.
I also recommend removing the celery from this recipe. Though celery is a great stock base, it makes the soup look green, and the soup tastes fine without it. I love the flavor profile of this potato soup because I get a taste of creamy, chunky potatoes with crisp, salty bacon bits and sharp cheddar. College recipes for potato soup are also good for hangovers, and even pairs well with chicken-flavored crackers. Believe me, the crackers are worth the buy.
5. Strawberry Pineapple Mojitos
I figure now is a good time to cool off with a drink after taking in everything I just said, and what better way to do that than spiking your fruit juice? Mojitos are one of many great college recipes for the summer, especially coconut mojitos, but being in an area where coconuts are incredibly expensive, we are sticking to a more mainstream fruit. This drink is light, refreshing, fruity and delectably sweet, making them perfect for cool downs, or watching the Golden Girls. If you don’t believe me, just try it.