Life & General

Cooking on a Student Budget

The music video isn’t related to the topic, it’s just the soundtrack I used while writing this post. The concept of cooking from cheap ingredients seems a little less depressing when you’re bopping along to an upbeat track.

SO I’ll just right into it. A person’s gotta eat – so how do you do it on a scrimpy budget?
Not easy, I can attest – years working in a minimum wage job taught me many important lessons, and advice from other long-term students have given me even more to work with. Thanks to the enduring patience of my husband, I can now confidently cook pretty much any basic dish with reliable consistency – so now my food is cheap AND tasty! Hooray!

The Three Student Commandments of Cooking:

  1. It needs to be quick, and easy to cook.
  2. The ingredients must be affordable, and
  3. It needs to be satisfying. Food that leaves you hungry an hour later is not very helpful.

How do we fulfil the three student commandments of cooking?

  1. Line up recipes at the start of semester, and/or practice tricky techniques somewhere you’re safe to make mistakes (at grandma’s house, with a friend to step in when things get a little burnt, etc). This way you know in a pinch precisely what you can and cannot do with your utensils and ingredients. Watching cooking shows from Jamie Oliver is a handy idea because he tends to focus on simple, healthy food with less than 10 ingredients most of the time.
  2. Scope out the cheap deals for ingredients. I’m talking about finding The Grocery Store Special days, identifying competition in your local neighbourhood for bargain bin prices, and finding out which store buys in bulk and passes on the savings. Remember – you can haggle at a farmer’s market!
  3. Learn the basics of Satiation Index. Satiation Index is essentially how ‘full’ you will feel after consuming certain foods. As a basic rule of thumb, pasta and dairy have a high SI, while vegetables and fruit have a low SI. Try to have high-SI foods once a day to cut back on the cost of grazing and snacking throughout the day.

Cheap Recipes for the Average Student*

*Assuming you don’t have food intolerances to the ingredients. For example, I am personally allergic to Strawberries – so even though this fruit may be super cheap sometimes, I cannot use them. Use your own discretion and use alternatives when required; such as Gluten Free Pasta if you have Coeliac Disease, and follow the advice of your doctor if you have issues like Crohn’s, etc. 

Recipe 1 – Moroccan Pesto Pasta
Ingredients: Pasta, Tomato Pesto sauce, Mocorran Spice Mix
Cook Time: Approx. 15 minutes
How-To: Cook the pasta, stir in the pesto and spices to taste. Cheese is optional.

Recipe 2 – Onigiri
Ingredients: Sushi Rice, Soy sauce, Kewpie Mayonnaise, Rice Vinegar
Cook Time: Approx. 15 minutes (+ 10 minutes to let rice cool)
How-To: Cook the rice. Put rice in a bowl and stir in Rice Vinegar. Let Cool. Shape into balls with an Onigiri Mould or your hands. Dip in mayo & soy sauce.

Recipe 3 – Mushroom Risotto
Ingredients: Cooking oil or butter, Arborio Rice, Chicken or Beef stock, mushrooms. Optional: White wine and cheese. A variation is Cooking Sake, which may be cheaper than wine.
Cook Time: Approx. 20 minutes
How-To: Heat butter/oil in a pan. Coat Arborio Rice in the oil/butter. Fry until a little brown and/or it starts to smell like popcorn. Pour in a bit of the stock (enough to coat the rice). Stir continually. Add alcohol once the stock has absorbed. Continue incrementally adding stock until the risotto rice is soft.
Fry mushrooms separately, and add cheese to taste.

Recipe 4 – Cheap Beef
Ingredients: Any cut of beef
Optional: A sauce.
Cook Time: Approx. 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your meat.
How-To: Put oil in a pan. Heat the pan until it’s hot as hell. Hold your hand about 30cm away from the pan – you should be able to feel the heat.
Dump the meat in the pan. DO NOT TOUCH THE MEAT. Let it cook for 2-5 minutes, depending on thickness and how ‘rare’ you want it (a good guide is 5 minutes for a t-bone steak cooled medium-well, and 2 minutes for top-round steak because it’s so thin)
Once the 2-5 minutes is up, flip the meat ONCE and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. If you did it right, the ‘cooked side’ should be seared. Before taking meat off the pan, you can cut it using a knife and fork (only on pans NOT coated with teflon!) to check the middle if you don’t have a thermometer.
When finished, let the steak ‘rest’ on your plate for about 5 minutes before eating, because the inside will ‘finish off’ if you leave it for a bit.
(If you can find them, thick heavy-gauge saucepans are best for this sort of thing. Woks are not so great because they don’t retain heat even though they heat up quickly, making it hard to properly sear a steak – try to find an old cast-iron pan instead.)

Recipe 5 – Cheap Katsu Curry
Ingredients: Crumbed Chicken Breast, Golden Curry Sauce, Chicken Stock.
Optional: Rice, carrots, potato.
Cook Time: Approx. 15 minutes including the sauce.
How-To: Put your chicken in the oven. While the chicken is cooking, get a small saucepan and combine the Golden Curry cubes with chicken stock. Dissolve the curry cubes into the stock. If using them, cook the vegetables (I usually boil them).
Pour the sauce over the cooked chicken.

Recipe 6 – Gnocchi
Ingredients: Potatoes (Blue potatoes for a light and fluffy gnocchi, normal brown potatoes for a heavier batch), plain flour, salt, 1 egg, a pasta sauce of choice.
Optional: Cheese, and Pumpkin if you want those flavours.
Cook Time: Approx 20 minutes.
How-To: Boil and mash the potatoes. (NOT with butter, just mash them). Let cool. Beat an egg and add to the cooled potatoes. Mix until mixture is uniform. Add a handful of flour, and mix until uniform. Keep adding a bit of flour and mixing it until the mixture looks like pasta dough. Add a little bit of salt and roll into balls. Pop the balls into salted boiling water – when the gnocchi rises to the top of the water, they’re cooked. Heat and add your sauce.
NOTE: 4 potatoes and 1 egg makes enough gnocchi for 2, so freeze any excess and use within 3 months.
> Optional cheese and pumpkin mash are added at the ‘mash’ stage; for a pumpkin flavour you want a ratio of 2 parts pumpkin to 3 parts potato, as pumpkin doesn’t have enough starch to ‘hold’ together.

Recipe 6: Student Pizza
Ingredients: Tortilla or sliced bread, Tomato paste/tomato sauce, cheese, topping of choice (plain cheese works, too)
Time: 5 minutes
How-To: Put sauce on bread. Add cheese. Put on toppings. Toast under a grill or in an oven. Enjoy.

Recipe 7: Student Ramen
Ingredients: Instant Ramen, Frozen vegetables (or fresh, if you can afford it. Favourites are Lotus root and Daikon, if you can get them fresh), slices of bacon or hamsteaks, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts.
Optional: Egg, liquid stock
Time: 10 minutes
How-To: Fry up the vegetables, sprouts, shoots and meat. If having egg, you can fry or boil it – up to you. Make the instant ramen, and combine ingredients. If you want to be super-fancy you can add Soba noodle sauce, soy sauce, and/or extra spices to the provided spice mix.
If you’re wealthy enough for liquid stock, heat up the stock in a pan and cook your noodles that way. It will taste much better.

Recipe 8 – Student Stir Fry
Ingredients: Sesame oil, soy sauce, water, cooking sake, vegetables of choice (Suggestions are; mushrooms, bean shoots, bok choy, lotus root, carrot, and bell pepper)
Time: 10 minutes
How to: Heat of a frypan or a wok to ‘hot as hell’. Toss in vegetables. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, cooking sake, and water until it reaches the right consistency (you’ll be able to smell when it’s going right – it doesn’t smell like any one sauce, but like a new sauce!…It’s kind of hard for me to explain.)
Fry the ingredients until they’re soft and well-coloured by the sauce.

Recipe 9 – Home-Made Spicy Potato Chips
Ingredients: Sliced potato, Cajun spices, sesame oil, ground chilli, pepper
Time: 15-20 minutes
How-To: AFTER you’ve put baking paper down, coat the tray in a layer of the spices and oil. Lay the potato slices down, and flip to cover both sides in the spice mix. Pop into the oven at a high heat (usually 300C in a non-fan-forced oven). Cook until crispy.

Recipe 10 – Apple Pie Filling
Ingredients: Green Apples, Water, Brown sugar, Cinnamon sugar, Nutmeg, Cardamom, Sultanas, Ground Cloves
Optional: Red wine, pears, orange slices
Time: 15 minutes
How-To: Peel, dice and boil your apples in a mix of water, brown sugar, cinnamon sugar, sultanas and spices. When the apples are soft, transfer the mix into an oven tray to evaporate the excess moisture. When done, apples will be slightly browned at the edges. Use this treat with ice cream, or put on top of toast with an extra dusting of cinnamon/nutmeg! Also goes well with a caramel drizzle if you have the funds.

Other Recipes:

Pancakes (Serves at least 2 – alternately you can use the shake’n’bake stuff, which easily makes enough for 4 people).
Skordalia
10-minute Ratatouille
Cauliflower Ricotta Mac and Cheese

Any recipes you’ve collected over the years? Any tips you’d recommend? Comment here to let me know! Good luck!

 

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