Teaching College Kids to Cook
A bunch of guys I study want me to teach them how to cook. Right now they are experienced in making pancakes and something they call Adobo chicken. What should I start out with? Something yummy and impressive while cost effective.
interesting thread. i learned the sink or swim method since i lived in an affinity house sophomore year that required each resident to cook at least two dinners a month for the entire house, for group dinners. even tho my mother was / is a phenomenal cook, she wouldn't really let us into the kitchen, except to watch.
my first dishes were:
1. stirfries of different kinds. you can treat almost any veggie the same way: sautee / stirfry with garlic and serve over rice (from a rice cooker... i'm still awful at making rice on the stove). from there, you can add sauces, meats, spices, nuts.
2. pan sauteed chicken (sometimes with leftover beer from prior night's party) or oven baked "fried" chicken. (dress up the former with bacon for date night)
3. polenta squares. it can be dressed up when layered with goat cheese, grilled tomatoes and eggplants, etc... for dates. it can be dressed down and eaten with pretty much anything else for every day. one of my housemates loved my leftover polenta for making what he called "polenta pizza" the next morning.
4. soups, of course. good for cleaning out the fridge.
so this is clearly nothing fancy -- it's raw and rugged survival cooking, not chefing -- but these can take you a surprisingly long way in college!
Here's some skills I wish I knew better earlier:
1) Something that requires knife skills - chopping veggies - show them how to use a chef's knife
2) How to butcher a chicken
3) A basic sauce - I'd recommend a basic tomato sauce, frees them from having to use bottled stuff and and can add a lot of flavor.. or something like reducing cheap balsamic vinegar down
4) Some dessert they can re-use.. I've always liked a tarte tatin or chocolate pots de creme, which are easier than they look and just require keeping an eye on..
5) Surf and turf grilling - how to grill a steak, how to grill shrimp.. you can throw a nice marinade in, AND show them how to start charcoal if they don't already know..
6) How to make rice.. and add some flavor to it..
Since they already can cook pancakes and adobo chicken, they know SOMEthing about cooking. A few years ago, I got a 10 p.m. call from DS ~~ who was starting his 2nd year at Cal, the first having been in the dorm. Now he was in an apartment with 3 of his buds. The question to his mother at 10 p.m. was "how do you cook hot dogs". Really. This young man was valedictorian of his class, but never had one iota of quest for knowledge of the culinary arts until it became a matter of survival.
I went up a few days later and cooked for the young men. They were so grateful they begged me to teach them how to cook. Their expertise level at that point was instant ramen noodles. I realized that 3 of them were the youngest in their families and the 4th was the only child in his family.
It was survival style meals I taught them, cheap, easy and fast.
Chili dogs, mac an cheese, meatloaf and mashed, bbq baked chicken, tomato soup and grilled cheese, chicken ceaser salad pizza, pork chops, spaghetti casserole, baked fish, french dip sandwiches, meatballs. I wanted to teach them some salads and veggie dishes, but DS told me that "guys only want the main course"
I think recipes that are one-pot-wonders are the best college food items. They're easy, convenient, and hugely satisfying. Things like beef bourginon can have lots of vegetables and still be hearty, and cleanup is about as easy as it gets. Plus they make their own sauces, an impressive component often gets left out of home-cooking. Very practical.
The worst part of college cooking is cleanup. I'd rather not make a dish that requires many different components that leave you with a bunch of pots and pans to clean up afterward.
I forgot about clean up....another reason why I again champion the one pot meal! Particularly in college when chances are you don't have a dish washer.
This weekend, my mom went shopping to put together "gift bags" of sorts of families in an obesity study that would include measuring spoons, measuring cups, a liquid measuring cup, and a food scale. While she didn't get the bargain basement items, she was pretty close - and to get decent items all together it ended up costing $28. When you're talking about college students and cooking - the last thing they want to do (in addition to buying crazy expensive ingredients) is buying a large amount of cooking equipment cause that gets pricey quickly.
Beef short ribs! You can pretty much dump them in any combo of beef or chicken broth and tomato product, add some garlic and herbs if you like, and add some carrots, onions, potatoes, (perhaps mushrooms, parsnips, turnips, celery, whatever you like or is on sale) and then stew them up on top of the stove or slow cook in the oven. Its hard to mess up, and will come out hearty and delicious. And it will reheat well later in the week. Also show them tricks like using the baby carrots, pearl onions, and the small new potatoes if time or difficulty with food prep is an issue for them.
Chicken wings or hot wings are also fairly simple to bake and toss with sauce (can vary flavors of sauce). Then cut up some celery and make your own blue cheese dressing (mayo, sour cream, blue cheese - tastes 100 times better than bottled! Of course you can get more creative with a touch of vinegar, worcestshire sauce, dry mustrad, etc. But I would try to keep it simple for them at first)
Roasted whole chickens are very economical and simple. Stuff with stuffing (great practice for Thanksgiving!) or surround with some veggies to roast. Then you can show them how to use the leftover meat for enchiladas or sandwhiches or chicken salad, etc.
Show them how to use a meat thermometer to know when their steak or chicken is done.
Bread pudding is a great way to use up old bread and is tasty and easy.
The question is are they looking to cook for function (i.e. I want yummy cheap food to eat for dinner tonight) or for fun (i.e. I want to learn how to chop food really fast into fancy slices and do things that sound impressive like braise and saute because I want to be Bobby Flay).
Based on their current skill set, my guess is functional cooking, so I would start with a slow cooker. You can buy a cheap small one for $30 at home depot or target and you can use it in your dorm room without having to fight others for use of the kitchen. It's hard to cook things incorrectly in it and allows for cheap cuts of meat. It will get them focused on mixing flavors rather than worrying about burning / undercooking, etc. Beef stews, chillis, and mock tangines all are tasty and work easily in a slow cooker. It also allows for some fun ethnic cuisines if they are more adventurous (indian, middle eastern, and italian sauces with the appropriate chopped up meat and veg all work well in a crock pot.
Rachel Ray 30 minute meals are a great place to start teaching other basic cooking techniques (she relies a lot on sauteeing and pretty easy knife work), since the dishes tend to be quick and not require huge lists of obscure ingredients.
I will be teaching a beginner's cooking class in the fall. I had decided to do ethnic cooking - Italian, Greek, Morrocan, Spanish, Mexican - and introduce the universal methods such as braising, sauteing, sweating, etc. and also techniques like how to measure, basic knife skills. So it won't be as boring as some home ec classes (I am a former home ec teacher!) adapted to fit adults. We will use the less expensive cuts and also focus on value for your money.
Many years ago (back in the '70's?) I taught a cooking class for single men through the extension program of either San Diego State or UCSD. Can't remember which, but this long after it doesn't matter. I don't even have a copy of my syllabus any more and don't remember how many classes there were in the course. But off the top of my head, I vaguely remember...
First class was about equipment (basics, not electrics and such) and "culinary language", as well as measuring. Things like measuring cups and spoons, how many teaspoons in a TBS, how many TBS in an ounce, the difference between an ounce by weight and an ounce by volume. How to measure solid fats in water in a large measuring cup so you get all the recipe calls for. Egg sizes and that recipes are geared for "large" eggs. Covered all types of milks; skim, 2%, whole, half&half, whipping cream, buttermilk, dried/powdered, evaporated, condensed, and what they are used for. Fats, as in oils, vegetable shortening, lard, butter, suet, the advantages of each and shelf life as well as where to stor what.
Second class or two were always about eggs. Poach, boil, scramble, omlettes, quiches, shirred, huevos ranchero, eggs Benedict, custards. Today I'd cover organic, free range, pasturized, Egg Beaters, stuff like that.
Then came "convenience" foods such as mixes, frozen foods, dehydrated foods, freeze dried, noodles, pasta, long shelf life "survivalist" food, different kinds of rice as in long, medium, short grain, brown rice, wild rice, instant rice, bulgur, grains. With rices, we'd go into what they're used for and why.
If I were teaching today, I'd make one of the early classes about microwave ovens, and what materials are and aren't safe to cook in. What things heat well in a microwave and what is better heated conventiionally either in an over or stove top. How to make easy one-dish soups and stews in a microwave. And NOT to try to fry eggs in a microwave. And I'd also e4nd that class with the fun of making S'Mores in a microwave so you can watch the marshmallow "grow."
Then on to cooking methods, what pots and pans are good, what is worthy of investment, what is okay with make-do for now. Cooking tools such as hand whisks, mixers, blenders, food processors, food mills, mandolins, double boilders, improvising a bain marie (and when/how to use it), and cover the advantages and disadvantages of all.
Well, you don't need me to work out your lesson plans, but just tying things together that relate and integrate well. If there is a college or university near you with an active extension program, you might contact them for more info about teaching your class through them. It's always nice to be paid for sharing your knowledge, but in my opinion, even more important is the fact that when people pay tuition, they are serious about learning and not likely to show up "now and then" expecting you to catch them up while the rest of the class twiddles their thumbs. (Do people still "twiddle" today?)
This post, last month, had some of the same answers that you are getting here, recipes etc. I answered with a very specific list of techniques to be mastered. It is what I used when teaching some of my sons' fraternity brothers to cook.
There is a huge diference between simply making things to eat, i.e. feeding themselves and actually learning to cook. If you want to teach them to cook, they must learn the basics. If they just want to eat, those "5 Ingredient" ideas will get them past starvation - open one box of this, add a can of that, stir in a package of so-and-so, etc. But I repeat, this is NOT cooking.
Not the highest level, but it is cooking.
I agree with the suggestion below to find out what the goal is of the cooking lessons. If they need to learn how to feed themselves some basic meals, or if they are interested in learning knife skills, making stocks, the art of braising, etc.
I would still start with something thats not too hard to do correctly, so they are encouraged by some initial success.
The most important thing to keep in mind when teaching college students how to cook is that they probably don't have access to a wide variety of cooking supplies. So dishes that require many pots/pans are going to be more prohibitive in the long run because no one wants to have to buy half a dozen kitchen supplies prior to cooking dinner.
I'd start with one-pot dishes, and perhaps items that require a baking pan. Having these guys get a big pot and one baking dish is probably a good place to start. Dishes that are couscous based, stews, or chili are great stove top meals to teach because after they learn the basics they can play with it. In my first apartment in college, my cooking supplies included a strainer, a large pot, a smaller pot, a ladel, a cooking spoon, and I had a cooking knife along with my roommate. I think at one time we had a vegetable peeler. And I cooked all the time for myself (I'd cook once or twice a week and then live off of left overs). It helped that I learned at home in my parents substantial kitchen - but "equipment necessary" was my major concern in college for cooking.
Impressive probably isn't the best place to start with beginning cooks. I would start with simple, tasty, and relatively cheap dishes that they can eat every day like chili, pasta with marinara sauce, and shepard's pie. Picking produce and learning how to bargain shop is another important skill you could teach them. Good luck!
If they're serious about learning to "cook," as opposed to how to make quesadillas, spaghetti, and toast, I'd start with cooking techniques like how to sautee, fry, blanche, steam, poach, broil. Practical stuff like never ever fill a pan more than 1/3 full with oil for French frying. The difference between "folding' and "mixing." How to seperate an egg. The basics that most recipes take it for granted you already know how to do. If you teach them this sort of stuff, they'll be able to pick up any cook book and make whatever grabs their attention.
Wish you were around when I was that age! I think it'd be fun and informative to take a basic set of ingreds and show the different ways you can go. Like ground meat, the "trinity," tomato sauce, but then add chili-making ingreds OR pasta sauce enhancements.. With chicken parts - make it Italian OR Asian-flavored OR any other just by using diff spices, herbs and such.
Teach them how to cook inexpensive things, because they will be on a budget. A long cooking item needs to be serve at least two meals because of the trouble.
Here are my suggestions:
Roast chicken, or cut-up chicken with rosemary, lemon and garlic
Pork loin - roasted with different kinds of seasonings. I like a Terriyaki marinade as well as a garlic/cumin seasoning
Beef Brisket as a pot roast with potatoes and carrots and onions
Meatballs - sandwiches or pasta
Catfish or Tilapia -- paneed and finished in oven with different spices, like New Orleans style
Rices -- with Sazon for a saffron-like flavor, or Red Beans and Rice. This is a side dish
Different kinds of potatoes such as roasted with paprika, onion and olive oil
Cost effective would be
- pork tenderloin. There is a great grilled pork tenderoin with orange chipotle sauce at epicurious.com
-roasted chicken or, if you have a barbecue, beer can chicken
-making your own dried beans/lentils
-grilled fresh veggies
-fresh fruit crisp
-grilled fruits on the barbecue
Is adobo chicken the Filipino-style braise or chicken sprinkled with copious amounts of Sazón brand adobo? If it's the former, it might indicate that they're open to a wider array of flavors. But for starters my grad school buddies enjoy good:
lasagne - cheese or meat
roasts - the bigger the better
easy desserts - trifles, simple cakes, flan, puddings
chili - and really anything spicy