A University Students Guide To Cooking

Table of Contents

  1. Motivation
  2. Basic Things to Remember
  3. Eating Well
  4. Stocking Your Pantry and Fridge
  5. Doing Your Groceries
  6. Basic Kitchen Skills
  7. Recipes
  8. Breakfast recipes

  9. Yogurt with Oats and Fruit
  10. Scrambled Eggs
  11. Spanish Omelette with herbs
  12. Shakshouka
  13. Lunch and dinner recipes

  14. Avacado toast with prosciutto
  15. Ratatouille
  16. Carbonerra
  17. Boccincini Salad
  18. Pasta Aglio e Oilo
  19. Pasta with Homemade Tomato Sauce
  20. White wine chicken breast with vegetables
  21. Greek salad
  22. Grilled Cheese With Roasted Cherry Tomatoes


For whatever reason, many people entering university at this time don’t seem to know much about cooking. They struggle to prepare a full meal for themselves, let alone one that they will actually enjoy. If they do make the attempt, regardless of whether it turns out well, they are often discouraged by the amount of time it takes to simply put together their lunch or supper - meals that must be prepared daily. They find themselves resorting to prepacked or delivery meals, options which, even if cost effective, no nutritionist would recommend. It isn’t entirely suprising that our picture of a stereotypical college student includes a box of KD Macaroni and Cheese. There are, historically speaking, more ways then ever to avoid cooking a meal, with services in heated competition to help us dogdge a time honored human tradition.

I’m sure there are a handful of people who just see cooking as a chore, or flatly dislike doing it. I’m not convinced, however, that many people actually prefer to settle for microwave dinners, nor is it the case that most students cannot learn to cook. I imagine that most students - if they budget at all - are annoyed by the amount of money they find themselves spending on food. All this is to say that I believe most people wish they were better at cooking, but aren’t really sure how to go about it.

There’s something extremely therapeutic about preparing a meal, for one’s self or for others. If you don’t like doing it, it may be because you haven’t yet tried recipes that can be made quick enough to satisfy your schedule and yummy enough to satisfy your hunger. I’m a student, and I’ve been taking cooking seriously for a year now. If you fall into the previous description, I’ve collected recipes and tips that can hopefully help you overcome your issues with cooking and (hopefully) come to love it as much as I do.

Basic Things to Remember

You really only need to remember a few things when cooking:

  1. Wash your hands and rinse off any produce you’ve just purchased.

    This should always be the first thing you do before starting a recipe.

  2. Don’t rush.

    Especially when you’re starting out, rushing will make your recipes much more difficult to deliver. Cooking should be relaxing. When you rush meals, they will turn out badly and your time will be wasted. If you keep calm and focussed, your meals will turn out well and your time won’t be in vain.

  3. Cooking doesn’t have to be a science*.

    When you follow a recipe, you should try to follow it as closely as possible. That being said, in most situations, you don’t need to be exactly as precise as the recipe may call for. So you made added a bit more of that spice than was necessary, or used less mozarella than was called for - who cares?

  4. Good recipes follow from good ingredients.

    This is quintessential. You should always do your best to buy the best ingredients you can afford; it will have a tremendous effect on the overall quality of your meals. You don’t need to buy entirely organic groceries from whole foods, but you should try to keep to simple, familiar ingredients that haven’t been obscured by a box or label. Many famous chefs and cookbooks will stress this fact from the get-go. If you can use fresh ingredients, do so. I’ve found, as I’ve learned to cook, that I’ve grown to love foods I once despised simply because fresh ingredients will make the process exciting. If you eat enough of something you’ll grow to like it eventually, and fresh ingredients will expedite this process.

  5. When seasoning or pouring sauce, add in little quantities until the dish is to your liking.

    This should hopefully be self explanatory, over seasoning can ruin all of your effort !

* The science behind cooking is really cool, I don’t mean to speak badly of it.

Eating Well

Eating well is not nearly as complicated as most people think. Cooking your own meals will help you eat much, much better. Not only will you control everything going into the food you consume, if you take to the recipes provided here, you will typically be consuming plenty of veggies, fruit and white meat. Here are a few basic things you can do to eat better:

  1. Cook your own meals.
  2. Follow a national diet that has existed for a long time (Italian, French, Japanese, etc).
  3. Eat as though you’re a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat (or be a vegetarian).
  4. Don’t eat food you can get at a drive-thru.
  5. Don’t eat meals that must be prepared in the microwave.
  6. Don’t treat your meals as fuel.
  7. Stay away from food containing ingredients you don’t understand.
  8. Eat less red meat.
  9. Eat foods and dishes that have existed for hundreds of years.
  10. Eat bread with lots of grains.
  11. Eat plenty of fruit.
  12. Eat meals with a diversity of colours.
  13. Eat several meals a day, in small portions.
  14. Be skeptical of health fads. Don’t do a juice cleanse, and don’t convince yourself that you are allergic to gluten unless a doctor can prove it.
  15. Eat your meals with other people.

I must admit, most of these are stolen blatantly from Micheal Pollan’s work. He’s an amazing journalist, and if you really care about this topic, you should read his fantastic article Unhappy Meals, and his books “The Omnivore’s Dilemna”, and “Food Rules”.

Stocking Your Pantry and Fridge

The first thing you should do before you start cooking is take a good look at your kitchen. Is it clean? Is it organized? Is there anything in your fridge? Your pantry?

You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on cooking equipment. Fancy tools aren’t necessary for someone just starting out, so it suffices to simply make sure that you have the things you need and get the best quality you can afford. It’s best to start out small, especially because it will demand less space in your home. To follow the recipes in this guide you will need:

You can learn a lot about the different materials and how they will effect your recipes, but for now, I encourage you to simply buy common non-stick varieties of these items. These (typically Teflon) coated surfaces will be more forgiving and easier to clean than other options.

Doing Your Groceries

I’ll always be an avocate for taking an interest in cooking, but I can understand if you never grow to like grocery shopping. For this reason, it’s important to put some thought into your pantry and fridge so that you can minimize the amount of time you need to spend doing it. If you live near a market, butcher, bakery, cheese shop, or what have you, take advantage of it ! The food is almost guaranteed to be better and the staff more helpful. I like to go get my ingredients fresh every day, but that’s because I walk through Toronto’s Kensington Market on my way home from work. Understandably, this is not a reality for most people. Just do the best with what you’ve got.

I’ve included a list of common ingredients you will need for the recipes in this guide. Despite this, providing a single grocery list won’t satisfy many people’s tastes and dietary preferences, so instead, this section will attempt to help you learn how to stock your pantry and fridge. This might be a pain for you to do but you should only need to do it once. Besides, it’ll help you find a collection of recipes you really like!

First and foremost, you should simplify your life and pick a particular type of cuisine to follow. You should pick one that suits your tastes and accomodates your geographical location. I tend to cook Italian, French and Japanese food. I picked those entirely because they’re my favourites - I grew up eating them. You shouldn’t be any different. (There are health benefits to doing this !)

The next step is to try and find resources that cater to these types of cuisines. You want to do this so that you can go through as many recipes as possible, even if you don’t think you’re going to make them. The goal is to help you recognize which ingredients show up most often throughout the cuisine. You can achieve this with time if you’re willing to be patient, but if you’d like to fast track the process, this is the way to go. Some websites will have a section on stocking your pantry and fridge; on the assumption that you don’t have such a site, however, I’ll walk you through my personal take.

Let’s say that you, like me, really like Italian food (this is a good starter because it encorporates a lot of really easy recipes). You might go ahead and find the following dishes, after visiting the Wikipedia entry on the matter :

and a whole list of variations of :

Ignoring the fact that we won’t remember many of these names unless we speak Italian, we have a sense that bread of many forms and meats like salami and prosciutto are fairly common, as are whole vegetables (tomatoes, onions, garlic, mushrooms) and mediteranean spices (basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley). For meat and fish, we mainly see beef in various forms, chicken and various fish like salmon and mackarel.

I don’t really like red meat, so I tend to skip those recipes, but that’s up to you. This really is all you need to do - more than that will start getting quite specific. If you watch enough of his videos, you’ll notice that one of my all time favourites chef’s dishes mainly rely on the same core ingredients.

So, with a bit of work, we can extrapolate a basic grocery list, that can be updated once or twice a week:

Remember, since these were the core ingredients in all the recipes you skimmed through, you should rarely find yourself falling into a situation where you lack the ingredients for most of those dishes, with the exception of a few anomolies. Anything you miss can easily be added along the way.

Now, to determine how much of this food you should buy at a time poses a bit more of a challenge. Unless you really plan on being mathematical about it, I would suggest you be a little patient. If you pick a few recipes you’re willing to try in a week, you can simply tally the ammount of ingredients called for and buy the required amount. Of course, the next step is to determine how long all these foods can last you. This site (http://www.stilltasty.com/) will be your best friend, as it will easily tell you what you need to know about keeping food around the house.

I suggest you start by going to the grocery store once or twice a week, cooking the recipes in this guide (or that you come up with) and adjusting accordingly over time. If you cook every day, or even just every other day to begin with, this will come to you in a matter of weeks.

Basic Kitchen Skills

If you want to speed up your meals, you should do your best to master the basic skills that cooking involves. If you are ever unsure of something, look it up on youtube. Believe me, it will make everything significantly easier. Here are some basics based on the grocery list we formed earlier:

Knife skills

How to cut a bell pepper

How to cut an onion

How to prepare garlic

How to dice a tomato

How to chop herbs

How to butterfly a chicken breast

Jamie Olive and Gordon Ramsay make heaps of videos like this, be sure to check them out.


With all of our prep (sorry, I had to) now complete, we’re ready to actually go over some recipes. These are some of the easiest, quickest recipes I know, they’re all delicious and mostly quite good for you. In any of them, if the number of servings isn’t listed next to the ingredient list, you can assume that it will make enough for one person.

I don’t believe that good recipes require complicated recipes. Conversely, the best meals are simple ones, that rely on their ingredients as well as the process and care of preparing them. I don’t like to be too specific with the ingredients either, so if you go a little over or under the steps described here, don’t sweat it. Taste the food as it comes about and decide if you need to adjust things.

Also, if you find these recipes go by a bit slowly at first, don’t panic. Any new recipe will always take you a little bit longer. The more you make the dish, the quicker you’ll get at fine tuning it, until the only thing you’re left doing is waiting the required amount of time, if it’s ever necessary.

Here are a few tips to help you through this:

  1. Always read the recipe before you start it.
  2. Always get your ingredients ready in one (clean) place before you start cooking.
  3. Always wash your ingredients and your hands. (I know I’m repeating myself, but it’s important !!)
  4. Once you get comfortable preparing a recipe, think about how you can make the process more efficient. If you can prepare ingredients as other ones cook, do so. If you can clean dishes (!) as you wait for ingredients to cook, do so.
  5. Don’t go any faster than you know you’re capable of. You should relax and enjoy the process.


Breakfast is a really important meal, but let’s face it, if you’re in university you probably don’t even wake up at the appropriate hour to make it. I tend to start my day with an extremely simple dish:

Yogurt with Oats and Fruit



  1. Get a bowl and add greek yogurt to your liking.
  2. Add fruits and oats.
  3. Mix together.

You can use any fruit you want here. I sometimes find the texture of yogurt a bit hard to digest in the morning, so it’s usually good to have this with a hot drink like coffee.

If you would like to get a bit more creative on the weekend, you can try this:

Scrambled Eggs

Disclaimer: There are a lot of ways to do this, and everyone argues that their method is better.



  1. Chop the herbs, if you’re using them.
  2. Crack the eggs into a bowl. Add the herbs and milk if you are using them.
  3. Turn a pan on low heat. Eggs come out fluffier if you cook them on a lower heat for a longer amount of time. Allow the pan to heat for a bit.
  4. Pour the egg mixture in, then add the salt and pepper. Begin stirring the mixture around, pulling the sides in towards the center. Continue doing this, moving the eggs around, until they cook to your liking.

Spanish Omelette with herbs :



  1. Peel the potatoes.
  2. Cut the potatoes into this slices.
  3. Cut the onion in thing slices, seperate the rings with your hands.
  4. Add olive oil to a pan (to taste, but at least enough to coat the pan).
  5. Set the heat to medium, and add the potatoes. When the potatoes begin to fry (they will be a bit crunchy), add the onion.
  6. While the onions and potatoes cook, crak your eggs into a bowl, and whisk them.
  7. After the potatoes start to look sufficiently fried and golden, add the egg mixture, salt, and pepper.
  8. Reduce the heat to a medium-low.
  9. There are two ways to finish the recipe, either cover the pan and let it sit until the eggs are cooked, or don’t and flip mid way through.

This is just a basic spanish omelette! You can add any other herbs or meat if you’d like, don’t be afraid to experiment.



* Ingredients marked with this star are optional, although I really recommend the chili flakes. The kick will wake you up !


  1. Heat a pan on medium-low heat, and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  2. Slice the onion.
  3. Julienne the bell pepper.
  4. Add the onion and pepper to the pan, cook until soft (about ten minutes).
  5. In the meantime, roughly chop the garlic.
  6. Chop the tomatoe in quarters or slices.
  7. Add the garlic and cook with onion and peppers for about a minute.
  8. Add the tomatoes, cumin and paprika and stir well.
  9. Cover the pan and let sit for ten minutes.
  10. After the time has elapsed, remove the lid from the and stir/crush everything together with a wooden spoon.
  11. Add the chili flakes and stir in.
  12. With the spoon, make little holes in the sauce for the eggs.
  13. Crack the eggs directly into these holes, then cover the pan again.
  14. Let cook (2-3 minutes) until you’re happy with the egg.
  15. If you are using it, chop parley (or just pick it apart).
  16. Serve the eggs and top with parsley.

Lunch and Dinner

You can really pick any of these recipes for either of lunch or dinner. If you, like me, don’t like doing meal prep all at once on Sunday, then go ahead and make twice as much for one meal so that you can have it again at the next.

Avacado toast with prosciutto


What’s that you say - this is essentially guacamole on toast ? Funny, I would say the same thing about the overpriced versions of this you can get in most restaurants and cafes …


  1. Get a bowl.
  2. Cut the avacadoes, remove the seed and flesh, add them to the bowl.
  3. Break the avacado down into a paste with a fork.
  4. Cut the tomatoe into little bits. Add to the bowl, and mash in with a fork.
  5. Add the lime (use the about a quarter per slice of bread) and salt (to your liking, remember, salt a little and taste it before adding more, and remember that the prosciutto is already salty), mix.
  6. Tear up the cilantro/parsley, add it to the bowl, mix.
  7. Toast the bread.
  8. Spread the avacadoe mixture over the bread.
  9. Add the proscuito on top.


To be clear, the dish prepared in the movie is not a traditional Ratatouille but something similar called Confit Byaldi. It’s really good too, but it’s more difficult to prepare.

Ingredients: (for two people)


  1. Slice the onion thinly.
  2. Julienne the bell peppers.
  3. Chop the garlic.
  4. Add about two tablespoons of olive oil to the pan.
  5. Turn the pan to medium high heat.
  6. Add the bell peppers, garlic and onion, move them around with a spoon.
  7. In the mean time, cut the tomatoes into quarters, remove the center if desired with a metal spoon (this will make the end result less liquidy).
  8. Once the onions and peppers are soft, add the tomatoes and herbs.
  9. Reduce the heat to a low, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes.
  10. In the meantime, cut the aubergine and zuchinni into slices.
  11. In a seperate pan, add a bit of olive oil (~1tbsp) along with the aubergine and vegetables.
  12. Set the pan to low and cook for fifteen minutes.
  13. Once the zuchinni and aubergine are soft, add them to the remaining vegetables.
  14. Add salt and pepper if necessary.




  1. Boil water.
  2. In the meatime, cut the meat into chunks.
  3. Add a generaous amount of olive oil (a few tablespoons) to a pan and turn it to a medium heat.
  4. Add the meat and cook until it is crispy.
  5. In the meatime, crack the eggs into a bowl. Add pepper, salt, and a generous amount of parmesan (this is up to you, depending on how creamy and cheese you like your sauce to be).
  6. Whisk the egg mixture together.
  7. When the meat becomes crispy, turn the heat to a simmer. Drain the pasta and and the noodles to the pan. Pour over the egg mixture and begin mixing everything around until the sauce is cookd to your liking.

Boccincini Salad



  1. Cut the tomatoes into slices and place them on a plate on in a bowl.
  2. Slice the cheese and place it on the tomatoes (if plated) or throw on and mix (if in a bowl).
  3. Chop or tear the basil and add in the same fashion as the cheese.
  4. Pour over balsamic vinegar, to taste.

Pasta Aglio e Oilo



  1. Pour a generous amount of olive oil (about 4-6 tablespoons if cooking for one) into a pan.
  2. Turn the pot to a medium-low heat.
  3. Begin boiling a pot of water. When water is boiling, add pasta.
  4. In meantime, thinly slice all the garlic.
  5. Add the garlic to the (now heated) oil and cook until it begins to turn golden brown (usually about 3-5 minutes).
  6. While the garlic is cooking, chop the parsley as finely as possible and set aside. Cut the lemon now into chunks small enough for you to squeeze and set aside.
  7. Add the chilli flakes the the garlic and lower the heat to a simmer.
  8. Strain the pasta, but do not shake too vigerously so that the pasta retains moisture.
  9. Add the pasta directing to the plan, begin mixing with the garlic and chili flakes.
  10. Add the parsley in bunches, mixing as you go so that it spreads more evenly.
  11. Squeeze the lemon and mix.
  12. Season to taste.

Pasta with Homemade Tomato Sauce

Ingredients: (Makes enough for two)


  1. Decide if you will blend the sauce if not. If so, use a pot and have a blender on hand. Otherwise, continue with a pan.
  2. Turn the pot to a medium-low keyheat, and add two tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Add water to a pot and begin boiling it.
  4. Slice the onion thinly and add it the the pan. Salt and stire the onion around, cook until it caramelizes.
  5. In the meantime, chop the garlic then add it the the pan.
  6. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the centers with a spoon.
  7. Once the onions have soften, add the tomatoes to the pan and cover.
  8. Chop the herbs.
  9. Add the herbs and butter to the sauce, stir until the butter melts, then cover the pot.
  10. Cook for ten minutes.
  11. During this time, according to the package instructions, cook the pasta.
  12. If opting to blend the sauce, do so now.
  13. Either serve the pasta and serve the pasta over or, especially if you did not blend the sauce, strain the pasta and cook in with the sauce for another minute then serve.
  14. Top with grated parmesan or gruyère cheese.

White wine chicken breast with vegetables



  1. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a medium pan.
  2. Turn the heat to medium.
  3. Chop the cherry tomatoes in halves.
  4. Slice the onion.
  5. Slice the courgette.
  6. Add all the vegetables you just cut to the pan and mix them around a bit.
  7. Slice the garlic and set aside.
  8. Wash the chicken breast in a bowl then pat dry it and place it in a bowl.
  9. Season both sides of it with olive oil (about ½ a tablespoon), salt and a generous amount of pepper.
  10. Add the garlic to the pan.
  11. Add the white wine to the pan.
  12. Move the vegetables to the sides of the pan making room for the chicken and place it in the center.
  13. Add the herbs directly (if they aren’t already chopped, don’t bother).
  14. Let the chicken cook for ten minutes.
  15. After ten minutes, reduce the heat to low, flip the chicken, cover the pan and cook for another ten minutes.
  16. Remove the lid, remove the herbs if they were not chopped an discard. Serve on a plate, but let the chicken rest for three minutes first so that it can retain its liquid.

Greek salad


This recipe should really just be to taste, the proportions are only here to be a guide, but really, you should add as much of each ingredient as you are willing to eat. It’s a salad, after all.


  1. Get a bowl.
  2. Chop the romain, add to the bowl.
  3. Slice or dice the onion (your preference), add to the bowl.
  4. Chop the olives, add to the bowl.
  5. Julienne the bell pepper, then dice it, add to the bowl.
  6. Add the raisins to the bowl.
  7. Chop the cucumber into thick slices then chunks, add to the bowl.
  8. Add the feta cheese to the bowl.
  9. Chop the tomatoes into pieces, add to the bowl.
  10. Add lemon juice, black pepper and oregano.
  11. Stir the salad until everything is spread out.

Grilled Cheese With Roasted Cherry Tomatoes



  1. Preheat the oven to 350f.
  2. In the meantime, cut the tomatoes and chop the garlc, spread evenly on a baking tray.
  3. Add salt and pepper if desired, to taste, over vegetables, and drizzle little bits of olive oil over as well.
  4. When the oven is heated, put the tray in for 25 minutes.
  5. Grate the cheese.
  6. Tear some basil.
  7. Place the basil and cheese on one face of the bread.
  8. Butter a pan on medium-ow heat (if you add a bit of olive oil to butter, it will prevent it from burning).
  9. When the tomato mixture is done, place the open faced sandwich in the pan when the pan, then add the mixture on top.
  10. Cover with the other side of bread.
  11. Cook for about five minutes, then flip and cook for the same length of time (butter the pan again midway through if needed).

Further reading

If anything, you should read "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual" by Michael Pollan. Its a short collection of easy-to-remember rules meant to guide you in eating better and in cooking. You'll find things like:

  1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
  2. If it came through your car window, you shouldn't be eating it.
  3. Eat whatever desert you'd like, as long as you make it yourself.
  4. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  5. Families traditionally eat together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love.

If you are looking for a cookbook, I can't recommend Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian cooking. It's a beautiful book full of delicious recipes that are extremely well explained. You absolutely have to try her pasta sauce.

Some of my favourite Youtube Channels

J. Kenji López-Alt

French Cooking Academy