A student’s guide to college cooking

Ellie Newell

I’m a pretty simple cook. If you absolutely need a recipe for something to turn out well, chances are I’m not going to attempt it. That said, I successfully feed myself and my housemates and can whip up a soup improvised from the contents of the fridge like nobody’s business. For me, one of the hardest parts of cooking comes before you even set foot in the kitchen. I’m talking about the grocery store.

So now you’re scoffing. “Grocery shopping? Seriously?” Here’s the secret: Grocery stores want you to spend money in them. They are designed so that you are attracted to the expensive foods with the pretty wrappers, not so that you can load up on bulk steel cut oats. So how do you navigate the thousands of options so that you come home with delicious healthy food and don’t break the bank in the process? Here are my tips:

Make a list and stick to it. Organize your list by section––produce, dry goods, dairy, etc.––so that it’s easy to move through the store efficiently. If you just walk all the aisles, scanning for items you might be out of, you’ll be more likely to load up on the four boxes of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs that happen to be on sale this week.

In that same vein, processed foods are not only often full of fats, sugars, enough salt to cure an elk, and names that would stump the sharpest chem major, but they are often very expensive. Essentially you are paying someone to make your oatmeal for you, when you could make oatmeal from scratch and add a normal amount of brown sugar, raisins and diced apples, which would be less pricey, healthier and more delicious.

One of the simplest ways to cook on a budget is to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. While we have better access in Walla Walla to fresh produce than I did growing up in Montana, it still can be fruitful to consider that the raspberry you eat in January probably had to travel hundreds of miles to make it to your plate. Someone has to pay for all that transportation, and that person is you. Not to mention, eating in season reduces your carbon footprint. Win-win!

One of the surest signs of the college diet is drowning everything in Sriracha. While Sriracha has been scientifically proven to cure most forms of cancer and imbue the consumer with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, you’ll be happier eating a variety of flavors and less inclined to eat out to avoid your own cooking. Daunted by the hundreds of expensive spices in the grocery store? Pick a few key spice groups and buy what you personally use in bulk from Super 1 or Andy’s––it’s so much cheaper than buying individual bottles.

You can also choose just a few foods to splurge on. It’s important to me that my milk doesn’t come from cows that were given bovine growth hormones, so I spend a little extra on milk. But I really don’t mind buying cheapo olive oil for pretty much all my cooking. Here’s a recipe for a really simple pasta sauce. You can always make a big batch and freeze it in small containers for last-minute suppers:

As with most of my recipes, start with sautéing a diced onion with some olive oil and pepper in a large saucepan. Add finely diced carrots and celery and cook well. If you find that your vegetables are sticking, a dash of red wine can help, while adding flavor. Purée a can of crushed tomatoes in a blender, and reserve a second can for texture. Add the tomatoes and rosemary, oregano, basil and fennel to taste. You can always throw in diced winter squash, zucchini or spinach for added deliciousness and vitamins. Simmer the sauce on low while you cook your pasta. Garnish with parmesan and share with a friend. ¡Buen provecho!