In my case, it was pasta dressed with grated cheese, a lot of it. Or fried eggs with onions. Plus, obligatorily at random get-togethers where people had to be fed, baked hot dogs served with more ketchup you would think possible. A little like what they do on TikTok now.
For The Weather Man it was mostly beans on toast and all-day cereal. Straight out of the packet of course.
For Millennials – I know: I’m the mother of one - ‘student cooking’ was a classic oxymoron. Whatever were takeaways for? Didn’t God create Nando’s exclusively to provide for them? And 2 for 1 pizzas were obviously meant to cater for the night’s grub and the next morning’s breakfast.
But as I observe, Gen Z are very impressive. It doesn’t mean they don’t get takeaways, especially post-pub, but they are far more frugal than the profligate Millennials.
They have drawn a horribly short straw with the pandemic misery. They have been cheated out of the best years of their youth, sixth form and the first year at uni, having to spend them Zooming not just tutorials but friends as well. Instead of soaking their A-level certificates in beer at the pub, they got the vaccine booster. And then they were treated to a series of pre-recorded online lectures for their £10k a year, with the student union bar out of commission.
And in spite of all that, even though they’d have every right to sulk into their Subways (I know I would), they cook! They team up with mates and take turns cooking curries, pasta, soups, even polenta chips!
Well, it might be that just my favourite niece is a glowing example but somehow I'm convinced she must be representative to an extent.
So, specially for Kat and her ilk, here’s a handful of suggestions: what to cook in the halls’ kitchens.
First of all, get a cheap wok. It’s a magic utensil that allows you to make stir-fries but also cook pasta (both boil and sauce up), cook soups, deep fry and sauté vegetables.
Ideas start from stir fries then: any selection of vegetables – except the ready-sliced mixes as horribly expensive – plus a protein hit, and the latter can be tofu, beans out of a tin, a scrap of pork, frozen shrimp, and repeat. Sauces out of the packets might be lovely but again, expensive. If you get a large bottle each of soy sauce, chilli bean paste, sesame oil, oyster sauce and honey (from an Asian supermarket for best value), it will serve you for the whole term, if not year. Just alter the proportions and juggle the amounts of garlic and ginger.
Anything can be loaded into tortilla wraps (supermarket own are fine): beans again, ham and cheese, chicken or shrimp. Flatten them in a frying pan for quesadillas; roll up and bake in the oven for enchiladas (ketchup as red sauce is fine) or warm up in a microwave, stuff with shop bought fries and make a burrito. Plus, a veggie chilli can be made in about 10 minutes.
Have eggs, make frittata. Likewise, anything can be added to the pan and fried with egg mix.
Rice with things is definitely a thing: use this dirty rice recipe as a template and dirty up your rice with bits of bacon, ham, mashed up sausage, tomato paste or tuna out of the tin.
And couscous. All it needs is to soak for 15 minutes, and then you can add practically the contents of the fridge to it: chopped up tomatoes, peppers and lettuce, bits of sausage or ham, chicken, baked beans or cooked vegetables: broccoli, peas, cauliflower or all three at once.
And remember: the more from scratch a dish is cooked, the cheaper it is, ergo: more money left for beer. Happy freshers week!