4 Ways to Get Spudtanious with Potatoes

The humble potato, the food of famine. This vegetable was designed to provide: chips, waffles, crisps. Mashed, roasted, fried. The potato is so resourceful that it grows from itself. Plant potatoes for more potatoes. And so why do we insist on chucking them in the oven, covering them in baked beans, some cheddar if we’re feeling exotic, and then never wavering from these basic ingredients?

1- There are infinite ways to mix it up. Lets start with something easy.

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If you are going to insist on eating a more or less plain potato, then why not try and at least make it healthier than your average butter and cheese fest. Use olive oil instead of butter or margarine, for an easy intake of monounsaturated fatty acids. Then sprinkle with dried herbs instead of cheese, for a stronger, healthier, taste. I used dried chives as I think they have a cheesy flavour.

2- Or for something more unusual, try a Japanese take on the traditional jacket potato.

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Top your crispy jackets with pickled red cabbage, sesame seeds and spring onions. This combination of strong flavours will leave beans and cheese safely at the back of the kitchen cupboard, where they belong.

3- A revolutionary discovery I made recently, is that potatoes can be fried in minutes, and with barely any oil (if you have a decent pan). So I have started chopping them into thin discs, and frying with various sauces for quick, filling lunches.

Baked beans, and jars of tomato sauce are cheap, easy ways of making a quick dish out of fried potatoes. As always, season with different herbs and spices to create unique flavours. Try dried oregano and black pepper, for Italian style baked beans or paprika and chopped garlic, for a Mexican take on your jar of tomato sauce.

4- Probably the healthiest way of all to cook potatoes is to steam them, it also takes a matter of minutes. Combine this method of cooking with fresh food and you’re on your way to ‘fast food’, minus the heart attack.

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This tasty combo involved steaming new potatoes with some chopped leek, and serving on top of a mashed avocado. Topped with salt, pepper and olive oil. Avocados may be pricey, but potatoes and leeks are not, so this is a luxury you might be able to afford. A creamy hassle free lunch, with all the omega 3’s that come with green goodness, but the satisfying fullness of carby potatoes too.

LET THEM EAT PIE

Miniature Sweet Potato and Feta Cheese Pies

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There are two things I’ve found very handy in the kitchen at uni, pre-made pastry, and a cupcake tray. Now I’m not a huge fan of cakes, I am not a baker, but who says you have to put cake in a cupcake tray? In my fourth year of uni, my cupcake tray saw everything from mini pizza’s, sweet potato muffins, and banana bread, to name but a few. However, there was not a victoria sponge in sight.

My latest miniature cooking experiment involved the reliable pre-made pastry (not that making your own is that hard, but you have to be realistic when it comes to student cooking, and home made pastry is not one of life’s most realistic concepts) and mashed sweet potato. Being northern, I would call these sweet potato pies, but if you would like to call them tarts or pastries, suit yourself.

The method is simple, defrost your pastry, divide into as many balls as your tray has holes and role into a vaguely circular shape. Leave in the oven for 15ish minutes.

While this is happening boil or steam sweet potatoes, then mash them with feta cheese, black pepper and dried oregano or rosemary. Fill the pastry cases with mashed potato and top with finely chopped onion and pepper for some crunchy decoration.

Serve as individual snacks (hot or cold), with gravy and green vegetables, with salad, or with anything else you happen to have hanging around.

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Top Tip: If you don’t have vegetarian gravy powder you can always make your own.

1- Add 1-2 tbl spoons of Marmite or yeast extract to hot water.

2- Stir in 1 tbl spoon of vegetable stock and add black pepper, dried herbs and even a squirt of ketchup.

3- Mix around 1 tbl spoon of cornflour in cold water to make a paste, then add to the hot  Marmite water, stirring constantly.

4-Flavor to taste and add cornflour paste until desired thickness is achieved, without compromising the taste (cornflour can effect the taste if used in excess).

Instantly Noodled

A key way to eat cheaply as a student is to use cheap base ingredients, and then jazz them up with whatever stuff you have found on offer. What could be better for this, than the holy grail of all student essentials, the instant noodle? There aren’t many meals that you can cook in under two minutes and buy for the price of a re-list on ebay.

Here’s a quick who’s who of The Noodle Giants.

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1-Sainsburys Basics, cost 30p, they are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, and if you don’t want to use the flavour sachet you can just throw it away and flavour them yourself.

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2- Sainsburys Home Brand, cost 35p, also suitable for vegetarians and vegans, but don’t state it clearly on the packet.

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3- Tesco Everyday Value and Asda Smartprice, both cost 20p, however there is some confusion over whether or not they are vegetarian. On close inspection it appears that the noodles themselves are both vegetarian and vegan, but that the flavour sachet contains chicken powder, so this is really a judgement call. You can always just throw the sachet away and flavour them yourself, which would be much healthier anyway.

So here’s how to knock up an instantly healthy (enough) lunch or dinner in around ten minutes.

Using a frying pan makes for a more aesthetically pleasing results, but you can throw this together in anything (even the microwave if you have to). First of all, pour in hot water and whatever you are using as a flavouring- noodle sachet/vegetable stock/soy sauce/ketchup/mixed herbs/sesame oil/ sweet chilli sauce/ chilli flakes/lemon juice/sesame seeds/miso/seaweed/ginger/garlic/ garlic powder/chives/dried or fresh herbs/tomato paste/Marmite/ginger powder… The list is endless.

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Then add in your fresh vegetables of choice, I used a packet of tenderstem broccoli  and asparagus spears, as that was reduced in Asda at the time. Leave to simmer in the flavouring for around five minutes.

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Then add either your frozen vegetables or your fresh ingredients which will cook quickly, such as tomatoes/spring onions/thinly sliced carrots/peas/spinach/kale.

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Leave these for two minutes. Then add the noodles.

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Allow the noodles to untangle and soften, probably a further two to four minutes.

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Then serve! As if you needed a recipe to make that…

 

Pimp your egg.

As a rule, I don’t like eggs. (Disclaimer: they are rubbery, tasteless and their smell is about as appealing as an eight hour stint in the library). I’m also not really a supporter of the industry that produces them, and I don’t feel too crackers about the regulations which surround the term ‘free range’ as this is often still applied to chickens that never see the light of day. Not to mention that it only requires one square meter of space is provided per nine hens.

Its not cheery, but I do prefer to be informed. Because they are cheap and in keeping with my preferred style of mix and match (use whatever you have), I have been experimenting with eggs as a savory breakfast. Even when they look as dressed up as this they still only take five or ten minutes to throw together. I found that using them as a base for some of your favorite flavours can be really fun, resulting in me pouring everything from lemon juice to soy sauce in my frying pan.

First a lemon, coriander and garlic creation.

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Made by frying in olive oil and seasoning heavily on both sides as seen below.

Inspired by my  experiment I embarked on a second attempt. I chopped the tomatoes this time so that they could release their flavour and create a zesty juice with the lemon juice I splashed on them. I also found adding them a few minutes before serving was tastier than allowing them to become mushy.

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Two eggs molded together this time because of the smaller frying pan, creating a cute omelette shape. Three cloves of garlic sliced (not too thin or they’ll burn) and thrown on top of the egg which also helps to stop them burning, along with the spring onion, mixed herbs and paprika.

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After flipping to brown the toppings, I added the chopped cherry tomatoes (I good time marker).

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And topped with basil and lots of black pepper to finish.

Eggcellent.

A Degree of procrastination

Its a well known fact that students across the board are skilled in more areas than just their chosen degree subject. Indeed for most, their studies are accompanied by at least a thirty credit core module in the alternative topic of, procrastination.

You would assume this leaning towards chronic avoidance would be bravely cast aside when a student is faced with exams, imminent deadlines and dissertation chapters  to compose. Unfortunately this is rarely the case. If anything, this tendency to discover dusty collections of photographs to alphabetically organise, three year old blue tack marks to remove and a least favorite housemates washing up to do, increases dramatically when said student experiences the mounting pressure of deadlines.

For me, this habit extended easily to my love of food. It isn’t just my revision flash cards I painstakingly color coordinate, its my ‘salads’, a loose term to describe the arrangements of fresh food in a needlessly decorative way. 20160802_172355000_iOS

Who says you can’t eat peas with grapes, tomatoes and apples?

When you’re on a budget and you come across a 44p bag of fresh peas, they will going with your apples and you will like it, well, more than your essay on ‘Post-Civil War Lebanese Literature’ anyway.

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Those herbs you can buy in the supermarket for £1? If you can remember to water them, they will give you weeks and weeks of  fresh basil and parsley.

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A chopping board and delicate arrangement of pickled onions and cress-in-avocado is more than welcome when it’s 11pm and you’re still scouring the Thesaurus app for another synonym ‘necessarily’.

Keep procrastinating and don’t forget to julienne your cucumber when you’ve only got three and a quarter hours to your essay deadline.

Butternut Squash Lasagna: Cheaper than cheese

 

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The origins of this dish are in the origins of most of my actions, the trait that saves me time and effort, and births creativity in the most unusual forms. The trait that has evolved to help me find the quickest way to do anything. From eating my dinner straight from the pan, to recycling bits of old essays, rather writing a whole new one: Laziness.

So when I wanted a lasagna but I didn’t want to make the intrepid excursion of approximately three minutes there and three minutes back to the corner shop, I did what any resourceful, tightfisted, scrimping student would do. I grated a butternut squash. It just has to be yellow and sprinkalable, right?

I also didn’t have quorn mince, but I had brown lentils. Imagination, see?

So-

  1. Make your sauce as normal, substituting mince for lentils, and seasoning several tins of 24p chopped tomatoes with herbs, vegetable stock and pepper, the usual.
  2. Chop your butternut squash into reasonably thin slices to that they will cook at the same rate as the lasagne sheets. Save a chunk.
  3. Getting layering. Put it in the oven, and then grate your chunk of butternut into a pile of ‘cheese’.                                                          20160801_153020000_iOS.jpg
  4. Take it out of the oven when its almost done and sprinkle your ‘cheese’ on top.20160801_153324000_iOS
  5.  leave until the the topping turns golden and looks crunchy, sprinkle on some sunflower seeds for added crunch and Vitamin E and serve. I’m not saying it tastes like cheese but it’s crunchy, tasty and far healthier than cheese. You just need an open mind and a closed purse.                                                          20160801_152617000_iOS.jpg

Enjoy.

 

Pick and Mix Seaweed soup: Prepare to be ‘bowled over’

This is an easy one, once you establish a prep routine. Handy to make in bulk and customise day to day for a versatile lunch, especially in winter.

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It’s a case of-

  1. Cooking up a grain or carb- *rice/noodles/barley mix.
  2. Heating up a pan of water and adding a stock miso/bouillon/marmite.
  3. Cooking or soaking your seaweed according to package instructions arame/nori/wakame.
  4. Combining all together in the pan on a medium heat.
  5. Seasoning to taste- (got a cold? Add garlic powder, black pepper, chill flakes and sliced ginger).
  6. Adding your chopped vegetables a few minutes before serving so that they remain al dente- tomatoes/onions/spinach/garlic/kale/mushrooms/spring onions/carrots (Use a julienne/grater/vegetable peeler/spiralizer for delicate vegetables that will cook quickly and add to the aesthetics of your bowl).
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A variation made with wakame, broad beans and tofu.

*/= all or either

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chili Oil: Spice Up Your Rice

Sometimes you have a spark culinary inspiration, but not much else… Times like these you need a little ego boost, I reckon. Create something that requires only a handful of brain cells and minutes, but looks fit to adorn the shelving of an authentic Sicilian restaurant. And allows you to flippantly retort ‘yeah I made it myself’ to anyone cheeky enough to question your prowess in the kitchen.

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So here goes.

Chilies X 2                                                                                                                                                             Garlic cloves x 3                                                                                                                                                 Olive Oil (enough to fill whichever container you are using, or alternatively just put your chilies and garlic in the bottle you already have.)

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– I managed to grab these from the Tesco reduced section for 77p, and I’ve been using this bag for over a month without it seeming to go down (just keep it in the freezer).

Method

Chop your ingredients thinly enough that you’ll be able to get them back out of the neck of the bottle easily enough when it comes to washing it and starting again. Drop them in the bottle. Enjoy new decorative and functional infusion.

 

 

The stages of my summer

After a summer of a diet which can only be described as inconsisten, I am beginning to try and cook actual meals again. But before I begin to wow you with my spectatcualr failures at budget student ‘gourmet’ cooking, lets take a look back over some of the highs and lows of the cooking that has taken place in my months of freedom. My routine dissolved along with my income. There was a victory when I finally managed to vaguely replicate my sister’s famous omelette, after my first attempt went somewhat ‘egg shaped’ (get it?). The accomplishment was due to the omelettes ability to stay intact and not crumble into soggy brown egg mess. It still doesn’t look like a conventional omelette. But as a work in progress, it works for me.

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‘Omelette a la Kaya’

My most successful discovery has been a creation I began to make at the beginning of my long summer. I was in a sweet potato phase, initiated due to the discovery that they cost 80p for a bag from Sainsbury’s. You get three times as much as you would for standard potatoes at that price and sweet potatoes are one of the best sources of beta-carotene they are also known to raise the levels of vitamin A in our blood. Due to these economical and gastronomical benefits, I began to cook them in the simplest way. You don’t even need a vegetable peeler, (which is good because I don’t have one). Stick them on a baking tray and leave them in the oven for about fifteen to twenty minutes, then take them out and cut them down the middle and add smalls chunks of garlic and a smudge of margarine, leave for a further ten to fifteen minutes and remove when a knife comes out ‘potatoey’ (so the opposite to a cake).

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A sweet potato batch, fresh from the oven.

My friends made some highly unwelcome and I felt inaccurate comparisons between my baked sweet potatoes and areas of the human anatomy that I will leave to your imagination. Personally I thought they looked like pockets of sunshine. A description which was deemed ‘hilarious’.                                                                                                                                 Out of the oven and garnished with a few table spoons of Tesco Value salsa and cheese, they tasted delicious. I even found I didn’t need anything to go with them if I wasn’t starving so I was lazy enough to allow four or so to make up my entire meal on more than one occasion.

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Another phase I encountered was a lazy phase, in terms of preparation and clearing up effort. But less so in the health department. This was the couscous salad phase. You ca buy a bag of couscous from any supermarket for under £1, and it usually lasts me at least a month. You can flavour it with vegetable stock, herbs or spices and then chuck in whatever you have in the fridge. Get creative by roasting vegetables or frying onions to add in or using pulses such chick peas or kidney beans. When I make this I feel like present me is competing with past me to create a more colourful bowl than last time. Challenge yourself. All you have to do is chop and stir and its ready. Here an example of your typical bowl below.

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                                                              Couscous at its best

One stage of my summer involved the consumption of an intimidating amount of veggie burgers. My own personal version of a fun rainy day activity involved creating my own veggie burgers from scratch without even a hint of a recipe. I steamed and mashed root vegetables, and mixed in onions and raw spinich leaves which wilted naturaly, I added flour, herbs and spices to this mixture and patted vaguely burger shaped handfuls into flour before filling as many old plastic take-away tubs with them and proceeding to stash my fridge.

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All floured up

I then had a supply of ready-made burgers available for the next few days, which I grilled and used in sandwiches mainly. All though in no way meaty (I’m not quite at the stage of making my own quorn) they did taste good and had a slight kick to them. Definitely worth trying out as its not too much of a risk cost wise as my main ingrediant was reduced vegetables.

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 Finally a storage tip: Being a student I am constantly battling for fridge space, I recently picked up on the fact that I could use my egg packets as I used up the eggs. This might be blindingly obvious but I’ve found it really handy. 

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The Ingrediants for a dissertation

As the term comes to an end and a stretch of summer holiday almost as long as the academic year itself looms ahead it is time to think about dissertations. Already it feels like only yesterday I was throwing up into the toilet in my new flat and chanting about why people from my hall were better in bed. But apparently the completion of my second year leaves only one last daunting task and before I know it I’ll be ‘a graduate’ a whole new species of human.

I had recently made the somewhat reckless decision that I was going to write a cookbook for my dissertation project. This idea came from when I began writing a blog on the perils of cooking as a vegetarian student. I am not particularly good at cooking, or perhaps ‘unpredictable,’ is a more accurate description. However I have come to find that I love writing about food. It may be because I find cooking and writing fun creative outlets and combining them both is akin to combining my other two loves, watching ‘friends’ and drinking wine. But I also find that the process of cooking is therapeutic to write about because it provides its own narrative. A recipe is a plot. When I write about my mishaps in the kitchen I need no prompts, no snow flake method, no extensive planning or sticky note maps. All I need is a picture taken on my mobile of the completed meal and from that I can see all the ingredients and I remember how they became the meal that I see before me. So I can write “first I stripped the beans of their stringy pods and  chucked them into a bowl as they dropped in, hammering on the plastic like miniature tennis balls.” And this flows naturally, in the same way that every story must have a beginning middle and end, so must every recipe.

I found that the circumstances in which I cooked where as much a part of the experience as the ingredients, and in terms of blogging about student cooking the environment was crucial to the context. The mug used to improvise a rolling pin was detrimental to painting the picture of cooking as a student. I enjoyed writing these details. They made me laugh even if they didn’t make anybody else. These additions seemed to be too important to me, perhaps the writer in me is too intent on ‘painting the picture’ and ‘setting the scene,’ but because of this need to write more than just ‘add 5oz of flour and beat in two eggs,’ I began researching ‘food writing’ the exciting section I found beside ‘travel writing’ in Waterstones. Did I want to be a food writer? The first obvious problem is that I didn’t have any real experience other than an eye for bargains and the odd meal that works out better than expected. This is all part of the process of planning a dissertation surely? Luckily I have about eleven months to complete this project and hopefully when I hand in my manuscript and my essay I’ll have begun writing the recipe for my success.