My sophomore year of college I was forced to live in an apartment off campus. At my university, on-campus housing is not guaranteed after freshman year, so my roommate and I were straight out of luck. After a few stressful weeks of apartment hunting, we finally signed a lease for a studio apartment right on the border of campus.
When August rolled around and we moved into our new home for the school year, it hit me: I didn’t have a meal plan anymore. No meal plan meant I had to cook for myself. Luckily, I was no stranger to the kitchen, but cooking for myself nearly every night seemed like a daunting task for a 19-year-old.
However, I became resourceful and found recipes and kitchen tricks that worked for me and my schedule. From quick morning omelets to easy chicken dinners, I’m here to show you how I’ve survived without a meal plan for the past three years. And hopefully, you’ll be inspired to bring these recipes into your own cooking repertoire!
Cracked Egg Omelet
Eggs are my go-to breakfast. Scrambled, sunny-side up, an omelet – you name it, I’ll eat it. However, making the same old omelet can get boring after a while. I didn’t want to take the time to whisk my eggs before I poured them in the pan. After venting my frustration to my dad during a weekend visiting home, he showed me his strategy.
He heated up a small pan, sprayed the pan with Pam, and cracked an egg directly onto the sizzling surface. But he wasn’t done just yet. He took the egg shell and used it to crack the yolk a couple times. He repeated the same process with another egg. I watched as the yolks oozed over the egg whites and blended into a fluffy, circular egg patty. After a few minutes, my dad flipped the patty to let the other side cook. He sprinkled some shredded cheese on one half and then folded the eggs over.
It was genius. There were no dishes left over because I didn’t have to whisk the eggs beforehand. And, the whole process only took a whopping 5 minutes.
Ever since then, I’ve been cooking eggs like this. There is something about this technique that makes the omelet taste a little different and a little better. This technique is perfect for a college student on-the-go, or any person with a busy schedule for that matter.
Have some fun with your omelet and add all your favorite ingredients! I’ve added spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, bruschetta, and even corn salsa to this recipe. After you flip your eggs, add your favorite vegetables and omelet toppings for the perfect morning breakfast.
30-minute Marinade Chicken
When I started cooking on my own, I knew I wanted to eat as healthy as possible, without spending too much time in the kitchen. I went to the grocery store and grabbed the cheapest pack of skinned chicken tenderloins I could find. I wandered to the condiment section and scanned the shelves of marinades. A lemon garlic Wegmans brand marinade sounded delicious, so I threw the bottle in the cart and went on my merry way.
When I went home and emptied my grocery bags, I realized I wasn’t sure what to do with the ingredients I just bought. So, I threw the raw chicken in a Ziploc bag and poured some marinade inside. I sealed the bag shut and massaged the chicken tenderloins so that they were evenly coated with the marinade. The marinade bottle claimed that I had to let the meat marinate for 24 hours, but there was no way I had time for that. I figured 30 minutes would be enough time, so I set the bag in the fridge and returned 30 minutes later.
In the meantime, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and lined a pan with aluminum foil sprayed with Pam. I took the chicken out of the bag and spread the pieces out along the pan. Once the oven was preheated, I put the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes. When the timer finished, I took the pan out of the oven, let the chicken cool for the a few minutes, put a few pieces on a plate, and sat down for dinner.
Much to my surprise, the chicken was moist, flavorful, and all around tasty. A quick marinade, 350 degrees, and 15 minutes in the oven was the right equation to a perfectly cooked piece of chicken. I found myself with leftovers for a few days, too.
Ever since that simple experiment in the kitchen, this has been the way I cook my chicken. I’ve tried different marinades, too. Cilantro lime and barbeque marinades are some of my favorites, but the lemon garlic marinade is usually what I use.
There are few foods I love more than eggplant parmesan. One day sophomore year, I had a craving for this dish. I walked into every market within walking distance of my apartment to try to find an eggplant, but the vegetable couldn’t be found anywhere. After asking my friend to drive me to the grocery store, I grabbed the biggest eggplants I could find and start cooking.
This was the first time that I actually made this dish. I found a random recipe online and used it as a rough guide for my own recipe. Here’s what I did:
After preheating the oven to 350 degrees and cleaning the eggplants, I set up two bowls – one filled with whisked eggs and one filled with breadcrumbs. I thinly sliced the eggplants and dipped each circular slice into the eggs and then coated eat slice with breadcrumbs. From there, I layed the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping each slice half way.
In a 13×9 pan, I poured a thin layer of jarred red sauce. When the eggplant crisped up, I transferred the slices to a single layer on the pan, covering it with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese. After, I poured another layer of red sauce, followed by eggplant and cheese, repeating that process until I hit the top of the pan. To finish, I sprinkled the top layer with dried basil.
I simply baked the eggplant layers for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. The final creation? Delectable.
While this recipe is a little more taxing compared some of my other recipes, sometimes it’s nice to devote all of my energy into one meal. I treat this recipe as my escape, a way to satisfy a craving for a nice meal and time alone.
I hope you test out these recipes and tricks sometime this season. What are some of your favorite recipes or cooking tips? Share them with us!
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