Alex Cairns: Student Cooking – Guest Writer

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Please welcome Alex Cairns first article, ‘Student Cooking’ – some background, personal experience and tips into cooking when starting university.

When I first started University back in 2014, one of my biggest issues was with food; I struggled knowing what to cook, how to source my groceries and the big one – how to stay healthy on a budget! I have always been a ‘foodie’. In fact, there isn’t a lot I don’t like, other than baked beans, something I have been told I am missing out on and is a stereotypically well-known staple food source for most students. But even if I did like beans, I would probably get bored of eating them constantly. I mean, there is not much variation on how they can be cooked really. Put them on toast, put them inside a toastie, eat them raw… which is maybe a silly suggestion. Don’t do that.

The point I am trying to make is that cooking at University doesn’t have to be hard or boring. There is so much more you can do than heating up a pack of instant noodles or living on toast with a bit of butter. At the end of the day, it is not healthy to eat things like that all the time. You need foods from all the different food groups, even if a meal consisting entirely of carbohydrates is often cheaper and easier. We have all been there.

In my first year of University, I put on a LOT of weight. I’m not talking about a couple of pounds either – I gained a whopping three stone. I was very overweight, bordering on obesity. For me this was very worrying, but I brought it all on myself with the amount of alcohol I was consuming and overall a very poor diet. I lived off bread, crisps, cheese, milk, pasta and very frequently, takeaway. Even when I did start trying to eat healthily again, I struggled to shed the pounds because of the dietary pattern I was so used to. It sounds silly, but being addicted to cheese on toast is a thing. The problem arises when you get yourself into a habit of eating rubbish, fattening food – it becomes very hard to stop. But if you get yourself into a routine of eating good, tasty but most importantly, healthier food, from the start, you can avoid what happened to me. I eventually did lose all of the weight I had gained and even more afterwards bringing me down to a very healthy BMI. Eating your fruit and vegetables does pay off!

There can be an issue with this sort of diet however – money. Food can be expensive and the more healthy ingredients you buy, the cost tots up. But there are a few things you can do to stay full, healthy and happy at fractions of the cost. As I now live with three of my friends, we do share food and its price and I am very proud of my house titles of ‘Head Chef’ and ‘Mummy Alex’. However, I know it may not always be possible to eat together at University, especially if there are people with special dietary requirements or dislikes of particular foods. Because I have developed a gluten intolerance over the past couple of years, I know this struggle all too well. If you were to do a food shop together however, and everyone pays what they owe, this is a very handy money saving tip especially if it is all done online. My friends and I use a special site called – it is a very handy tool when saving money because it compares prices amongst all leading supermarkets, helping you to decrease the price as much as possible. It also gives you the option to view what items there are, swap things out for cheaper versions of different items, and it all gets delivered to your door. Bonus!

Cooking for the first time at University can also be very daunting especially with all your sharp and confusing equipment, but this is a time that you can pick up new methods, new ideas and share recipes. Cooking, no matter how basic, is a very important life skill to have. Without it, we would probably starve – so experiment and have fun with it. You will begin to develop your own style and I promise, it does get easier. By no means will you be able to pick up a fancy cookery book and cook a difficult dish straight away (you probably wouldn’t be able to afford it either), or become the next Jamie Oliver in the first couple of attempts, but at least you are having a go!

I personally have developed my own style and even come up with a few recipes of my own. I have picked two very simple dishes that I would like to share with you below. They all started as experimentations and it has taken a few attempts to get the recipes just right – and my house mates all love them! Below this article there is a chance to comment and share your recipes – you never know, you might be helping someone out that is reading this article right now.

So, to sum up:

  • Keep calm!
  • Be savvy with your shopping!
  • Experiment – not everything can be perfect first time!
  • And have fun!

Get cooking guys!

Recipe 1 – Spaghetti and Meatballs
Ingredients and Equipment
Beef mince
2x Tins of chopped tomatoes
2x Peppers chopped into small chunks
1 Onion
Mushrooms chopped (optional)
2tsp Mixed herbs
1 ½ tsp Chilli powder
2tsp salt
2 bowls
Casserole dish

1) Preheat your oven to 190dC
2) Place your mince, chilli powder and 1tsp of salt in a bowl and mince together with your hands until a giant patty is made.
3) Section the beef patty into small balls, mould and place them into your casserole dish. Put in the oven and keep flipping them until browned.
4) Whilst your meatballs are browning, to make the sauce, put your tinned tomatoes, chopped ingredients, mixed herbs and remaining salt into a bowl and stir.
5) When the meatballs have browned, pour over the sauce and place back in the oven for a further 30 minutes.
6) Cook your pasta and serve.

Recipe 2 – Turkey burgers, sweet potato fries and salsa
Ingredients and Equipment
Turkey mince
Lean unsmoked bacon, fat removed and chopped into chunks
Sweet potatoes (one per person)
A pack of sandwich thins or bread rolls
3x tomatoes, chopped into small chunks
4x spring onions, chopped
1 Lime, squeezed
1tsp mixed herbs
2tsp sunflower oil
1tsp salt
Roasting tray
Baking tray lined with foil
2x bowls

1) Preheat your oven to 190dC.
2) Wash, peel and chop your sweet potatoes into long, slightly chunky strips and place in your roasting tray. Coat in your oil and salt and place in the oven for 60 minutes, turning occasionally.
3) For the burgers, place your turkey mince and bacon into a bowl and mould into 4 patties. Place on a lined baking tray and cook for 30 minutes, turning half way through.
4) For the salsa, combine the tomatoes, spring onion, mixed herbs, and lime juice, and stir.
5) Remove your fries and burger patties from the oven and assemble your burgers with the buns and salsa!


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