By Katia Protsenko
Being in college and cooking don’t exactly mix.
In this weekly column, I hope to teach you a little something about the world of food. Having food — and cooking food — is a useful skill. We college students should have our cake, and know how to bake it too.
Welcome to my weekly cooking class. What is my formal training, you ask? Just a little bit of time — actually, a lot of time — spent watching cooking shows. So far I’ve done well for myself, especially in our college world of microwaveable macaroni and cheese (when the stuff out of a box just takes too much time).
This is where I come in.
To ease us all into the world of food, let’s start at the beginning — the grocery store. Before you can cook something delicious, you need some ingredients. Here are my tips for shopping smart:
1. Buy frozen vegetables.
Frozen vegetables are your best friends. They can nurse that bruise from last night, the origins of which you can’t seem to remember, and it takes a hell of a long time for them to spoil. I made a vow to not waste any more hard-earned money on fresh vegetables this year. I had two choices: stick to non-perishables, eliminate vegetables from my diet, and die of heart disease at the age of 30; or pay a visit to the frozen sections of my nearest grocery store. I chose option number two.
The great thing about frozen vegetables, beside the fact that it takes a freezer failure to spoil them, is that they can go in almost everything. It’s as easy as adding some frozen peas to your Easy Mac in the afternoon when you come back from lecture.
2. Prepared rice is amazing.
Want to know the best thing about prepared rice? It goes great with our earlier-mentioned frozen vegetables! Rice is great — it’s cheap, filling, and good for you. There are a few ways to approach the prepared-rice phenomenon, so try them out and see which fits your lifestyle (and income).
Buying huge sacks of rice is easy — they’re incredibly affordable and will probably last you the entire school year. You can probably get an even better deal on rice in the local Mexican and Asian markets. The downside is that making rice from scratch can take up to 20 minutes. Prepare a lot, buy some Saran Wrap, and wrap up a cup’s worth of prepared rice (make sure it’s airtight). Leave the packs on the counter for a few hours while you do something more fun than making rice, come back, and stick them into the freezer. These babies last in there for up to two months. To reheat, just cut into the saran wrap with a knife or poke it with your fork and microwave for two or three minutes. Instant rice!
For all you lazy but intrigued readers, our good friend Trader Joe makes and sells individual packs of prepared rice, frozen and ready for your microwave.
If making and freezing rice sounds like too much work, welcome to my world. I’m a personal fan of boil-in-a-bag rice. It’s slightly pricier, but Safeway loves to put the stuff on sale, so stock up when they do. This stuff lasts forever in your pantry, and it even comes with microwaveable instructions. Can life get any easier when it comes to making rice?
3. Make it saucy.
What’s the point of eating if your food has no flavor? If food won’t come out tasty, why am I going to waste my time cooking it? The guaranteed passport to flavor and spice comes in bottled sauces.
Trader Joe’s has a great variety of sauces to choose from. I’m a personal fan of the stir-fry and Thai red curry sauces, but TJ’s has something for everyone. They’re not that expensive, either — only two or three bucks per bottle. If you can’t pay a visit to the good Trader, Safeway has a good stock of packaged sauces and sauce mixes. Be careful with the packets of sauce mix, they’re full of things like sodium that we college students probably get enough of anyway.
The most important piece of advice I can give when it comes to buying sauces is to have an open mind. Don’t stock up on a certain sauce just because it looks tasty — buy a few different types and give each a chance. At the very least, it’ll make your meal more interesting.
If you’re feeling adventurous, have all of the above together. Microwave (or boil) your rice, add your favorite frozen vegetables (have fun with the colors and textures of vegetables, it will make your food look more appetizing), and top it off with a sauce of your choice. Dinner in less than four minutes.