Monday, October 5, 2020

Easy Recipes for College Kids


 I just took my daughter back down to Santa Barbara to resume college a couple days ago, and suddenly realized my wife and I forgot to teach her how to cook. So I’ve decided to put together a quick batch of really easy recipes for her, and why not share that with 3.4 billion others?

Bonus: I reached out to my bike team for recommendations. So you’ll get some time-honored recipes from a group of elite athletes (most of whom would agree with the motto, “eat to ride, ride to eat”).

Mashed potatoes

1 box instant mashed potato mix, any brand (though Idahoan was my favorite back in the ‘80s)



Follow instructions on instant mashed potato box. Serve and enjoy.

Tip: add salt and butter to taste (duh!). Bonus tip: pour some of these potato flakes into soups or sauces if they’re too thin and you’re too busy, stressed out, ignorant, etc. to fuss with corn starch.

Instant spuds ended up being my daughter’s first meal after we dropped her off last week. She sent the attached photo with the caption, “Eerily realistic.”

Mashed potatoes extraordinaire

Depending on your major and/or your time management skills, you might have the opportunity to make mashed potatoes properly.

A bunch of potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold but anything will do

Heavy whipping cream

Milk and/or buttermilk

Sour cream



Peel the potatoes. Do use only this Famos peeler, being careful to avoid harmful substitutes:

(Note: I’ve paraphrased the instructions that came with Campagnolo bicycle components, circa 1982, the full text being “do use only Campagnolo grease LB-100, being careful to avoid harmful substitutes.” Ironically, grease was the only thing Campagnolo sucked at manufacturing; almost any other bearing grease was superior. But I digress.)

Gouge the eyes out of the potatoes. Don’t skip this step because you could die! Then slice them into, like, eighths lengthwise. If the potatoes are very large, cut the slices in half.

Boil the potatoes, or better yet steam them if you have that kind of hardware, until they’re easy to pierce with a fork but aren’t yet starting to dissolve. Strain. Melt a bunch of butter in the pot. Add the potatoes and a splash or two of milk or buttermilk, just until they start to get creamy, and cook for a couple minutes over very low heat. Mash, using a potato masher, obviously. Add a nice glug of cream, and a serving-spoon-sized dollop of sour cream. Salt to taste. If you accidently let them get too waterlogged, cook over low heat for a while longer (if you have time), stirring continuously, until they’re thicker. If they’re kind of bland, add more cream, butter, salt, and/or sour cream.

Tip: Don’t skimp on the salt! If you don’t have high blood pressure, eating salt won’t cause it. Salt doesn’t just make food tastier—it makes it yummier. It’s really easy to fail to optimize your mashed potatoes by under-salting them.

Bonus tip: when eating, hollow out the middle of pile and fill this with butter. “Cap” it with potatoes until the butter is liquefied. Now you can dip each bite in the butter, so it’s right on the surface. This will give you more pure butter satisfaction than mixing it all in. Extra bonus tip: throw in stuff like carrots, onions, maybe some diced ham and call it Hutspot, explaining to your roommates that it’s Dutch. Won’t you look sophisticated!


I named this dish myself because my cycling teammate didn’t give it a name (though he did write, “I was a chef in college and am happy to pass on my culinary legacy”).

1 can chili con carne, with or without beans

1 pound good spaghetti

Grated cheddar

Onion, diced (optional)

1 egg


Crystal sauce

Boil the pasta. Heat the chili. While the pasta is boiling, fry the egg in butter (try to sync this so it’s done at the same moment as the pasta). Strain the pasta and smother it with the chili. Grate cheese over the top and add the diced onion (unless you’re hoping to get lucky later in the Language Lab). Lay the egg on top and douse the whole thing with Crystal sauce.

Tip: do use only Crystal sauce, being careful to avoid harmful substitutes, such as Tabasco. Why? Crystal is just better. I don’t know why. Maybe I got turned off because my college roommate had a framed print of a bottle of Tabasco with the caption “HOT STUFF” and I was embarrassed for him. Or maybe it’s because Tabasco has all these varieties now (e.g., “cayenne garlic”) which I somehow find distasteful.

Baked potatoes

Potatoes, perhaps something hunky from Idaho


Sour cream

Chives or scallion

Diced onions

Preheat the oven to like 400 degrees. (Would 350 work? Probably.) Gouge the potatoes’ eyes out to prevent fatality. With a fork, stab each potato multiple times across pretty much the whole surface. Stab deep. If you’re stressed out, pretend you’re a murderer. Don’t skip this step. If you do, one or more potatoes could explode, which will not endear you to your roommates.

Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for a really long time. The most common rookie move is taking them out too early. They should be super wrinkly when you remove them. Otherwise they’re too firm and will not absorb butter properly. I have almost never overcooked baked potatoes and even when I did (due to forgetting all about them), they were still edible (just super chewy).

After serving, and before cutting into your potato, use all your fingers and both thumbs to palpate the potato, making little yipping “ouch” sounds because it’s so damn hot. You’re kind of mashing the potato inside its own skin. Then cut into it lengthwise, unless the skin has burst on its own (which is ideal). Salt it, butter it, add sour cream and chives or whatever (diced onions? sure!) but do not shake little Bacon Bits on there from a jar. That is so disgusting. If you want to fry your own bacon to a crisp and crumble that over your potato, well, that’s fine. Grated cheddar? Yeah, okay. Tip: if you’re trying to diet, overcook your baked potatoes so your jaw will tire out before you’ve overeaten. Bonus tip: don’t diet. Just exercise more.


I received the following suggestion from a guy on my bike team who’s from France: “Escargots ? :) ez and yummy.” He didn’t elaborate. This really threw me for a loop. I mean, this dish might be easy if you used canned snails, but isn’t that antithetical to the entire idea of French cooking? I considered that perhaps my friend is getting ready to apply for citizenship and, just in case NSA operatives were eavesdropping on his email, he decided to say something that would establish how American he’d become … but then I realized this is just Covid-era madness on my part. More likely, he’s just so good at preparing escargot that he doesn’t consider it difficult. Assuming that with practice this dish can become easy, here is a good recipe:

50 live snails

Bay leaves

½ cup white wine

¼ cup vinegar

½ cup salt

½ cup light stock

2 cloves garlic

As noted in The Joy of Cooking, “The Romans, who were addicted to snails, grew them on ranches where they were fed special foods like bay, wine and spicy soups as preseasoning.” Think about this. What would a snail ranch look like? Did the Romans brand the snails? How did they keep the snails from escaping in the night? What did the fence look like? Joy goes on to say, “When snails feed in late spring and summer, they may indulge in some foliage inimical to humans and, if used during this period, must be placed in a covered basket in a cool place and starved for 48 hours. For the next ten days to two weeks, feed them on lettuce leaves, removing the old leaves and furnishing new ones every few days.” WTF?! Surely my bike team pal doesn’t take all this trouble. Even Martha Stewart would balk.

Fortunately, I talked to a chef once who described a faster methodology for cleaning out the snails: you feed them anise seed, which scours out their digestive tracts, shoving all the evil stuff right out their little snail anuses. The weird thing, as I recall this advice, is that I can remember highly specific things about the conversation, such as the venue, a tiny café in Aix-les-Bains, with giant windows, so smoke-filled you couldn’t see across it, so I sat outside with my family in the rain. But I don’t remember summoning the chef, nor how we possibly could have communicated effectively with my terrible French and his nonexistent English. It’s possible this conversation never actually happened, though the meal certainly did, and the escargot I ate at that little café were so drenched in butter I couldn’t taste anything else. (I hasten to point out that this was the only meal I ever had in France that wasn’t délicieux.)

So screw it. This isn’t an easy recipe at all. Trust me, you really don’t want to cook escargot in college. Tip: if you feel you must prepare escargot, perhaps because you take this post as some kind of challenge, and you want to look up recipes in Joy of Cooking, don’t bother looking for “escargot” in the index. They’re listed under “snails.”

Indoor “BBQ” chicken

What college kid has time to fire up the grill? And who among Gen Z even knows how? Are charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid even legal in your state, and don’t they cause cancer anyway? With this handy recipe, you don’t need to worry about any of that.

Chicken pieces

BBQ sauce



Buy a bunch of prepackaged chicken pieces (unless your campus community has a real butcher who’ll cut up a whole chicken for you, in which case have each breast cut in half while he’s at it). Butter a glass casserole dish. Place chicken in dish. Douse with KC Masterpiece Original barbecue sauce. Bake in the regular old oven at whatever temperature you feel like (when in doubt, just do 350 F, no matter what you’re baking). Bake until you know it’s done because you have a meat thermometer. Test early and often so you don’t overcook it. Serve with Minute Rice unless you have a rice cooker. Or serve with mashed or baked potatoes as above. Your meal should always have a protein, a starch, and a vegetable. Potatoes count as starch but not a vegetable. (“Vegetable” means that green thing you’d never actually buy or cook because college students never do, but I had to try.) Salt to taste. Tip: douse with Crystal sauce if you want a little kick, or if you get a self-satisfied feeling every time you use Crystal instead of Tabasco sauce.

Indoor “BBQ” chicken extraordinaire

Prepare Indoor “BBQ” chicken as above but use better barbecue sauce. I don’t have a specific recommendation but surely your friends and family have strong opinions on this, particularly if somebody buys it over the phone from his or her favorite BBQ joint in Texas or North Carolina.


1 can SpaghettiOs

Two slices soft wheat bread

Peanut butter

Jelly or jam

If you think SpaghettiOs are passé, think again. They are very current and come in all kinds of shapes which change regularly. Right now you can even find Star Wars SpaghettiOs:

Zoom in and check it out: it even comes with Rey-shaped pasta. How would you like to be Daisy Ridley, to know that there’s actually a pasta shaped like your head, keeping in mind that 150 million cans of SpaghettiOs are sold each year? That’s when you know you’ve truly arrived.

This recipe couldn’t be simpler: pour the SpaghettiOs from the can into a saucepan or bowl and heat on the stove or in the microwave. Then dump it straight into the toilet (“cut out the middleman,” to paraphrase James Bond) and make yourself a PBJ. Why do SpaghettiOs exist?

Spaghetti with “special family recipe” sauce

Once a year (at least, when there’s not a pandemic or a death in the family), I host a giant pasta party for all my bike pals (road teammates and fellow mountain bike coaches). I slave for a day over my special Bolognese sauce (here’s the recipe) and serve it on my homemade pasta. When there were more young children at the party (i.e., before everybody got so damn old), I’d try to fill the children up on mac ‘n’ cheese (recipe here) or a more basic sauce that a rhesus monkey could make. (Children cannot appreciate Bolognese so it shouldn’t be wasted on them.) Invariably, I’d get some uncultured grown-up ranting and raving about my “other” sauce and how it’s “even better than the Bolognese.” They’d ask for the recipe, but I’d demur and tell them it’s a closely guarded family secret, since I obviously wouldn’t want to embarrass them by saying how utterly banal and unsophisticated the recipe really is. It’s two freaking ingredients, neither of them even slightly chichi.

1-pound log of Safeway house-brand Italian sausage

3 jars of cheap spaghetti sauce such as Prego

1 pound of dry pasta, whatever shape you want

Wedge of parmesan

Get the pasta boiling. Extrude the filmy, greasy sausage from the tube into a cold pan. Over medium heat, cook it until it’s not raw (duh!). Drain the fat if you must. Add the cheap sauce. Stir while heating. Strain the pasta and, if you’re feeling really gourmet, toss it with olive oil. Serve the sauce over the pasta and top with grated parmesan (grate it with a zester to be dazzling). If you’re a poor student, sprinkle instead with that horrid powdered parmesan in the green can, but do it ironically to preserve your culinary mystique. Sheesh.

Crock pot extravagaaaanza

Two of my teammates recommended small crock pots for cooking enough rice & beans to last for several meals. Here is a synthesis of their rough recipes.

Dry beans (kidney, pinto, maybe a combo)

Rice (or whatever whole grain)

Random veggies

Sauce (Crystal, soy, Worcestershire)

Spice (your favorite EZ blend, e.g. Mrs. Dash)

Cheese (optional)

Egg (optional)

Get a small crock pot, or a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot. Put the stuff in it in the morning and turn it on. Leave it on. Eat the contents for dinner and for breakfast and for lunch the next day. Add cheese and egg as desired (frankly, I don’t know when … probably at the end?). If you get tired of it, sex it up with more fixin’s or feed it to your roommate.

To be continued…

I received more recipes than I’d expected from friends, and found some old family recipes as well, so I’ve got enough material for another entire post! Click here for more super-easy and tasty recipes, whether you’re a college student yourself or looking to grow your repertoire of go-to lazy-day meals.


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