By: Connor Kythas | Photography: Breena Beech and Casey Lemmings
How many college students do you know that really cook all of their food from scratch? Not enough is my answer. My sophomore year of college I weighed around 215 lbs. By the end of that year, I was down to 165 lbs. That was 4 pant sizes for me. What changed? I started cooking all of my meals, of course! The change from processed junk to fresh vegetables and meat helped me out.
An added bonus is that raw meat, vegetables and spices are super cheap. In conclusion, I think everyone should start cooking their own meals. An added bonus? Lose some weight and save some money in the process. Plus homemade food just tastes way better. That’s where I come in. I’ll admit, I have no formal training in any of this. However, three years of cooking all my meals (aside from the odd night out here and there) has given me a lot of experience. Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind.
1. You DO NOT need a bunch of expensive tools.
While having a salad spinner or an instant-read thermometer helps out, it is by no means necessary to go buy out Bed Bath & Beyond to cook for yourself. Basic utensils from Walmart can work just as well if used correctly. Example: I own a pair of insulated coveralls that I wear to grill in the winter because I’m stylish. Do you need grilling coveralls? No, a hoodie is just as good. Just way less stylish.
2. That being said, you need to know how to work with what you have.
For instance, don’t use metal forks or spatulas with a nonstick skillet. If you scratch off the Teflon from a pan, it ends up in your food, and that can give you cancer. Use a wooden spoon or fork or a silicon spatula instead.
3. Keep your kitchen stocked.
Some basic stuff you should always keep at hand: canned tomatoes, tomato paste, broth (chicken or vegetable), assorted dried spices, vinegar, pasta, rice, canned beans, butter, flour, eggs, milk, onion, garlic and frozen meat. With those things you can make almost anything. As for the meat, it doesn’t matter what kind. Check the sale ads, see what’s cheap, and buy it. Speaking of…
4. Know how to preserve raw meat.
When you buy meat, don’t just chuck it in the freezer while it’s still in the foam package. Why? Because foam is an insulator. Why else would people pack meat in it? Take it out of its packaging and store it in a gallon or quart-size freezer bag, then squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it up and freezing it.
5. You should grill everything you can.
Grilling is fun. It involves being outside, fire and smoky meat, and you can drink beer outside while doing it! If you have access to a grill, you can use it for just about any recipe that calls for pan-seared meat. It will taste great! Speaking of grilling…
6. Marinades are good sometimes.
Marinades are great for tough cuts of beef like skirt or flank steak (aka London Broil), but don’t go overboard. For these particular cuts, use a mix of oil, vinegar, honey or another sweet substance and some basic seasonings. A good one is olive oil, rice vinegar, honey, oregano and garlic. Sound familiar? Yes, that is basically salad dressing. No, DON”T marinade anything in Kraft dressing!. For more tender cuts, just add salt and pepper (if that) and grill away.
7. Brine all chicken though.
Marinating chicken is referred to as “brining.” You should do it to any cut of chicken you intend to cook, providing you have the time. To properly brine chicken (my way anyway), take 4 parts water, 2 parts salt, 1 part sugar and whatever spices you enjoy (I like allspice and thyme) and bring it all to a low simmer. Let it cool, then pour it into a watertight container with your raw chicken for a few hours before you cook it. This won’t make it too salty, but it will make it absolutely juicy.
8. Take care of your stuff.
You really shouldn’t wash non-stick pots and pans in the dishwasher – or big kitchen knives, for that matter. Speaking of knives, what is your cutting board made of? Wood? Great! Plastic? Also good! A ceramic plate? Horrible. Ceramic plates will dull non-serrated blades faster than almost anything else.
9. Learn by doing.
Got an idea for dinner that may be good but also may taste like an actual tire-fire in your mouth? Try it out! If it’s good, make it again. If it sucks, don’t tell anyone!
10. Bone up on it.
Read some recipes from time to time. Watch Chopped or Good Eats. I have a weekly column on UGAzine’s website that you may be interested in (wink) wherein I go over recipes step by step.
11. Above all else, make it fun.
Some people hate making dinner and see it only as a chore. They have bad attitudes. Turn on some Netflix, pour a drink and cook some stuff. It’s fun once you get accustomed to it. If it’s fun for you, you’ll do it more often. And then the next time you meet someone you can say, “I like to cook” and they’ll think, “Wow I wish I could do that, you’re so great! Can I have your number?!” It happens all the time.