Most college students don’t come home after a day of classes, homework, projects, meetings, etc. with the energy and resources to whip up a gourmet dinner. So here are some of my favorite affordable, everyday ways to have a something resembling a home cooked meal at the end of a long day.
1. Spanish Rice
I love Spanish rice, but it can be a bit time consuming to make from scratch. Out of a box though- easy. I use Rice-A-Roni mix and alter the ripe a bit for added freshness and flavor.
- 8 ounces canned diced tomatoes (note this is a different quantity than is provided on the box)
- 8 ounces chopped fresh tomato (about 1 tomato)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups water
- 2-3 minced garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: Cayenne pepper to taste
Brown the rice with butter in sauté pan (I add a little more butter than the box calls for). Add water, seasoning packet, tomatoes and garlic. Let come to a boil, then lower temperature and allow to simmer 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro.
2. Chicken nuggets
Chicken nuggets are one of my all-time guilty pleasures. I can’t get enough of them. I typically buy Foster Farms, but any kind will do. I dress this childhood classic with an aioli sauce and I have to say- it’s a match made in heaven. And of course you have to break out the ketchup. This is America after all.
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2½ tablespoons lemon juice
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Mix mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
3. Faux Pho
Pho is one of those salty, spicy dishes that is so perfect on a cold, rainy day. But frankly, it’s great any time of the year, and any time of day (personal theory: it’s a valuable component on hangover cure list). This is my inexpensive, college student take on the real thing, made with little more than ramen, and Sriracha sauce.
- 1 package of ramen noodles (I use chicken or oriental)
- 1 egg
- chopped cilantro to taste (about 2 tablespoons)
- Sriracha to taste
Bring water to a boil, then add noodles, and spice packet. Crack egg directly into pot and breakup with a fork. Once egg starts to turn white, turn heat down to medium low, allowing noodles to cook to desired consistency. Add Sriracha and cilantro.
4. Margherita Pizza
Who doesn’t like pizza? Ordering out can be expensive and it’s always annoying when there’s a long wait. I try to keep a frozen pizza on hand for an easy dinner option, but I like to zest it up with some fresh ingredients.
- 1 frozen pizza (I used a thin crust Margherita Pizza by California Pizza Kitchen)
- 1 Roma tomato
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
- ¼ cup shaved Parmesan Romano cheese
Cut tomato into thin slices, and julienne basil. When pizza is about two minutes from done, take out of oven. Place desired amount of tomatoes on pizza, then sprinkle basil and cheese on the top. Place back in oven and allow to finish cooking.
5. Jalapeño Quesadilla
I am a Tex-Mex fan. It’s flavorful, cheesy, and tastes as if it should be enjoyed in a hot, sunny climate with a pool or ocean nearby. This quick and easy dish is great for a light meal, or to share with a friend over lime-laden beers (… if you’re of age of course).
- 2 tortillas
- Shredded cheese (I used a prepackaged “Mexican Blend”)
- 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, deseeded and julienned
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- Fresh chopped cilantro
Heat butter in pan on medium to medium-high until foamy. Place first tortilla in pan with desired amount of cheese, then add desired amount of jalapeño slices and chopped cilantro (I also sprinkle a seasoning salt and cayenne pepper). Once cheese is almost completely melted, place other tortilla on top and flip (this typically corresponds with when the heated tortilla is crispy). Continue to cook for a few minutes, or until other side is golden and crisp.