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Easy meals for a young guy on his own for the first time

I'm sure there have been similar threads before, but this might be a bit different.

My son has an internship in SF and is in his first apartment. He's been living on free meals from the tech company, frozen orange chicken and Mexican takeout. He's also made pasta with cheese from the green can. He eats lots of fruit and makes sandwiches. I'm not at all worried about his health. But suddenly out of the blue he emailed that he'd like his father and me to go grocery shopping with him (there's a huge Safeway a block away), show him how to cook dinner and then eat with him. I'm sort of touched but also not sure what to do. He also wants me to help him buy other stuff to cook on his own later in the week. His dad says, "Eh, get a rotisserie chicken, get tater tots," but our son actually seems to want to cook.

What are good ideas that don't need too much time (no marinating, not too much prep)? His kitchen is ok, but he has no spices, staples, nothing, though I could bring some from home. (We live across the bay.)

He likes spicy food -- Mexican, Indian, some Chinese and Thai. Maybe pizza, But very basic. He's 19 and not great at communicating exactly what he wants, but I would like to make this a good experience. I'd love to have ideas for three or four meals and a shopping list. Dinner is Sunday. Thanks!

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  1. Spaghetti, salad, garlic bread. Sto bought D-Zert

    1. Indian food is an easy way to go. Not too much cutting and fussing.
      Saute some onion, garlic and ginger, a tablespoons of Madras curry powder, throw in any combination of fish, meat and veggies of choice and perhaps half a can of coconut milk. It would be ready at the same time as the rice.
      When I was a student at college, I used canned tuna or mackerel with frozen peas - delicious!

      1 Reply
      1. re: winmeover

        I've never really not cooked, so it's hard to think back (my mother taught cookery before my parents married and she taught my sister and me very well). However:

        Yes, a very strong yes to Indian (particularly as he likes spice)! While I have much more complicated recipes, the default that I (still) use if I want a very quick no-brain curry is (for 4 - freezing the other three portions when cooking for myself): 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 1lb meat, 1 tin chopped tomatoes and/or 1 pot yoghurt - and that's it! Spice to taste as he cooks (e.g. curry powder, cumin, cardamom pods, coriander powder, paprika, but take your pick dependent on mood).

        Other quick and easy staples: Spaghetti Bolognese, Shepherd's Pie, Chilli Con Carne all follow the same basic pattern when you break them down - mince, onion, a few veg, some form of liquid, spice, carbs of some form.

        Get him into fresh fish, as well - it is hard to beat a simple salmon/trout/etc fillet with new potatoes and some veg.

        When you go shopping for him, setting him up with storecupboard ingredients and a moderate spice rack would be the most useful...

      2. Not for this particular meal, but for general ideas, he should check out Eric Ripert's "Get Toasted" blog. It contains good but not fussy recipes to be made in a toaster oven.

        There are many CH threads on cookbooks for beginners.

        I would start by teaching him to make soups. They are easy and economical but will enable him to learn what seasonings he likes, and how much to use. A bowl of soup accompanied by a sandwich or good bread/rolls (Panera or local bakery) is a healthy, filling meal. A pound bag of dry lentils, split peas, or beans will make 3 qts of soup. I keep Better than Bouillon base on hand at all times. They make reduced sodium versions of the beef, chicken, and vegetable.
        I prefer these, and they are still plenty salty. Their quality is good, and they are more practical than lugging home containers of supermarket broth, then having to use up or freeze a partially-used container. I usually start 3 qts of soup with 4-5 oz of diced kielbasa that I sear before adding onion, broth, legumes, and after cooking that for an hour, other veggies like carrot and celery until they are tender.

        1 Reply
        1. re: greygarious

          +1 on the Better than Bullion! Those are great!

        2. Are there are any meals that you make that are among his favorites, that are relatively simple and don't use a lot of ingredients? If so, I'd teach him to make one of those dishes, perhaps simplifying a bit.

          When our son (now 25) started out on his own, he used to email or call us for recipes -- sometimes directly from the store when he was shopping. Among the first things that he learned to make from the family repertoire were chili, fish tacos, and red sauce & pasta. For Christmas I bought him Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," which he really appreciated. He's now a fairly accomplished cook.

          2 Replies
          1. re: masha

            Funny you should say that, he's texted me twice from the store asking "what should I buy?" I think he's overwhelmed. And also short on time.

            I may take him to Trader Joe's instead of Safeway, even though it's farther away, because he's used to food from there. Whole wheat pizza dough with plain tomato sauce and cheese was a favorite. Just showing him how to spread the dough, grate the cheese...how long to cook it, at what temperature ...that would be a start.

            As others have suggested, tacos and quesadillas are good ideas, too. I'd like to buy ingredients like cheese or tortillas that he can use for more than one meal.

            1. re: Glencora

              If he's short on time, it seems that taking him to Safeway, which is super convenient to him, would be more helpful in the long run. They are usually open long hours and if he forgets something, he can always run back. And they are pretty affordable.

              Basic roast chicken
              Slow cooker pulled pork (or oven roasted if he doesn't have a slow cooker)
              Sauteed ground beef and onions
              Pot of beans
              Frittatas (for the above)

              That he could turn into (maybe show him a couple variations):

              BBQ sandwiches
              mu shu chicken/pork
              pizza (even pizza crust in a box would be fine)



          2. Fried rice is a good first dish. If he can steam rice, the rest almost makes itself. He can use frozen vegetables and eggs for the quickest results, or step it up a bit by prepping some meat and/or fresh vegetables.

            Chilaquiles are another good easy meal, with canned or fresh tomatoes and chiles, salsa from a jar or made quickly in a blender (if he has that), and a little crumbled cheese.

            1. Oh my! How exciting! I would love it if DS had an interest in cooking (outside of heating leftovers in the microwave)

              I'd want to know the basics of what's in his kitchen. If he's interning, which can be brutal hours (and broke) I'd steer him towards a "make a meal" and transform the leftovers.

              A Mexican starting point would be the obvious tacos with nachos later (easy leftovers). Show him the basics from grating your own cheese and move away from the pre-grated (I'm thinking of my own DS now - cuz' he would TOTALLY do that).

              I would show him some easy proteins (chicken, steak) that can be cooked and made into salad or enchiladas. I have a lot more knowledge of Mexican than the other cuisines.

              One word of advise, I know when I go shopping w/ DS, he's completely overwhelmed, so maybe some of it is about showing him where things ARE - I would direct him into the international aisle (that's what they call it at my local Safeway) and show him where the spices, etc. are. Oh! And make a list before you go! DS puts it in his phone but whatever, MAKE A LIST!

              Yea you! Enjoy the visit, have fun and congratulate him on his internship!

              2 Replies
              1. re: JerryMe

                You are absolutely right about going through the store with him. And I WILL take a cheese grater with me. Nachos is a good idea. Not horribly unhealthy. (At least not at his age.) If we go to Trader Joe's we could get a bag of the frozen chicken breast "tenderloins" which cook quickly and could be used in lots of dishes.

                1. re: Glencora

                  AND some of the frozen breasts that TJ's sells are already packaged individually in sealed plastic bags so that what he doesn't cook at first can just be thrown into the freezer and fished out one by one as needed.
                  the individual frozen breasts thaw really quickly if left in a bowl of warm water for a bit.

                  much less time spent breaking bulk and cleaning up after breaking bulk AND much less waste.
                  my kid found that she was better off economically if she avoided the waste that seemed to inevitably result from bulk purchases.

                  re: rice
                  TJ's sells rice that has been frozen. each grain is frozen separately and so the exact amount needed can be poured into a microwave-safe bowl and prepared PERFECTLYin 30 seconds. there is NO WASTE and you kid will not be faced with having quantities of refrigerated rice that loses quality as every hour goes by.
                  there is a reason that no decent restaurant serves rice that has been refrigerated unless they load it with oil and make it into fried rice.

              2. Quesadillas are easy. Tortillas, cheese and whatever he'd like to add. It's a great way to use leftovers.

                1. His interest is sweet. How long will he be there? (That has something to do with how deep into staples you might want to go.) And how limited is his cooking equipment?

                  A good Asian store will have best selection and prices on various curry pastes to be mixed with veggies, meats, and cooked in stirfry or wet with coconut milk. A cheap rice maker would be a good investment.

                  As SF is often cool, I think of it as a year-round good place for soups and stews. Some can even be made spicy if he likes--Southwest style, Indian. One of my favorite soups is a lentil-potato one with ginger and Indian spices. Lentils don't need pre-soaking, so that's handy.

                  Among the almost no-cooking options, I really like a pasta dish with bowtie or penne pasta, basil leaves, chunks of tomato, and chunks of fresh mozzarella (only fresh) with very good olive oil and S&P. It's essentially what people call Caprese salad but with hot pasta dumped over it to slightly heat the ingredients. Great hot summer day dish.

                  Finally, teaching him some seafood approaches would be great. For small quantities, in fact, there are approaches that use the microwave that are excellent if done correctly (the food is steamed in an enclosure rather than directly microwaved to doneness.) For several people, I favor stove-top to oven approaches.

                  1. Well if he's in SF, he has to add Joe's Specials to his list. As SF as it gets and as easy as it gets.

                    1. Roasting a chicken is very easy and makes 3 or 4 different meals like enchiladas, pizza, chicken salad, casserole, stir fry, etc

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        Agreed, knowing how to roast a chicken, use the meat a few different ways, make stock from the bones and soup from the stock is a very useful skill set.

                      2. tuna cakes..
                        they are like one of the first things I made

                        can of drained tuna
                        somesort of bread crumbs( i think I used cheez its once)
                        those fried onions ( if you have them)
                        cheese( any kind works good with those left over pizza packets of cheese- i dont recomend blue cheese )

                        break egg into the tuna and mix it all into a bowl and squish together... then make it into patties and fry them in a pan.

                        1. I taught my young cousin, in college in SF, how to sauté an onion and some garlic, add a box of Trader Joe's already-cooked lentils and some liquid (water, broth, tomato or V8 juice), slice in any kind of ready to eat sausage (chicken sausage, kielbasa, Portuguese chorizo, andouille, etc), heat, stir in a bag of baby spinach just to wilt, add a splash of any kind of vinegar and voila! He progressed to uncooked sausage, cooked in the lentils then removed and sliced and added back, and figured out on his own how to turn it into soup. I can't tell you how many times he made some variation of it and loved it.

                          1. Perhaps I'm reading between the lines a little bit, but perhaps the thing that's spurring your son's interest in cooking is either a girl he wants to impress, or wanting to cook for friends.

                            In which case, start easy. A few pasta dishes, stir fry, roast chicken and a few simple sides plus a purchased dessert (or one that's just assembly like banana pudding). Focus on things that can be prepared ahead of time in case he's needing to be social at dinner, and that have few pots and pans on clean up. A few veggie options are good (especially if there might be a young lady invovled!)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: bonefreakchef

                              You're halfway right. His girlfriend is visiting earlier that weekend. But she's fine with grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate. I think he pretty much wants to do this for himself.

                            2. Baked chicken, baked potatoes, roasted veggies, chili, cornbread, quiches/frittatas are all things that require little prep, are tough to screw up, and are easy to customize. Spices at an Asian grocery are super cheap and a low end rice maker can be had for $20. That's awesome that he wants to cook. Maybe a cooking class? It can be a fun way to spend an evening if you go with a friend.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Hobbert

                                YES...and the above listed are "guy foods" (not that I wouldn't happily eat them)...but they're satisfying.

                                HUGE thumbs up (if I had three, I'd raise them) for the spices at the Asian market suggestion...he should learn to even check the "Asian" aisle and "Hispanic" (I'm using quotes because depending on the market, they'll have decent subsections, like Mexican, Dominican, etc) sections because you can get spices and spice blends WAY cheaper there than in the "regular" spice aisle. Also stuff like Olive Oil, vinegars, other condiments too.

                                1. re: pinehurst

                                  Asian markets are amazing. I can't believe how cheap spices and fresh produce are at Lotte Plaza, the one I go to. Every time I go there, I'm the only white customer which surprises me.

                              2. Lora Brody has sons and a great book for their first time out the door -- THE KITCHEN SURVIVAL GUIDE. It is chock-full of common-sense advice and 130 you-can-do-it recipes.

                                A limited budget has a best friend in eggs -- omelets, fritatta, etc. Add some beans to the larder and he can eat well for pennies a day.

                                I used a fishing tackle set of stacked boxes (also called "bead boxes") for my sons' first stash of spices/herbs. I included a list of "If it grows together, it goes together" foods so they could learn to mix 'n match foods.

                                For your Sunday dinner, roasting two chickens will give him leftovers for the rest of the week to make pasta dishes, fried rice, enchiladas, sandwiches, salads, etc. Add a pan of roasted vegetables for the Sunday dinner and you will have leftovers for soups during the week. Add rice and his fried rice is halfway home.

                                Show him how to make Marcella Hazan's dead simple Tomato butter sauce!

                                Teach him that using the oven to full potential; i.e. while roasting the chickens add a pan w/ a couple of apples (w/ butter and cinnamon) for dessert and/or breakfast as well as one or two potatoes that he can eat 'as-is' or re-stuff or fry will make his life easier during a busy week.

                                My two boys are long out of the nest, but their first foray was made easier with a loose-leaf binder full of simple Mom recipes.

                                1. 2 of my "go tos" when I was in college, before I really knew how to cook, were pasta bakes and enchiladas. The pasta bakes are easy... boil up a box of pasta, brown some italian sausage (he can do the hot since he likes spice), or chicken, and then get a jarred sauce, and mix them all up. Top with cheese and bake til the cheese is bubbly. Enchiladas are easy too.... I still make those, they're one of my SO's favorites. I brown up ground beef and season with a taco seasoning packet (follow the instructions on the package). Then I roll the ground beef in flour tortillas. Dump a can of enchilada sauce (again he can do the medium or hot varieties), and then top with cheese and bake til bubbly. Both of these are simple, and while they use convenience foods, they still feel more like cooking than opening frozen meals or ordering out. They don't require too much fancy equipment (could even use disposable baking pans), and they both are great for leftovers.

                                  Fajitas are another great idea. Also this spicy noodle recipe is super easy: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2012/08/sp... I usually skip the egg and add pre-browned chicken instead, and use whatever noodles I have around, even linguine.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                    I just tried those Dragon Noodles this week. Loved them!

                                  2. Thanks. Lots of good ideas here. I'm working on a shopping list. I think at this point cookbooks aren't going to be of interest. I really need to show him how to do simple things. I have scrambled eggs on the list. (Yes, really basic, but not something one can necessarily do intuitively.)

                                    14 Replies
                                    1. re: Glencora

                                      he won't need cookbooks. he has the internet. :)

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        The internet is full of crappy, unreliable recipes. As well as some wonderful ones, too. And, an unexperienced cook won't always be able to tell the difference.

                                        The advantage of giving someone a cookbook, is that you can provided him with a collection of recipes that has already been vetted as being reliable and suitable for someone of his skill level.

                                        If you're going to leave an inexperienced cook to fend for himself on the internet for recipes, at least point him in the direction of what you think might be a good source of recipes.


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          i've seen numerous threads on here bemoaning crappy recipes in cookbooks. "what did i do wrong?" kinda thing and others have been in that same boat. not all are vetted that well.

                                          suggestions to a few websites, like epicurious for example, that use a star system for ratings, might be more palatable to a 19-year-old kid. very few kids are book-oriented these days, and i think the real life-skill for him to learn is to be able to cook the basics without needing a recipe.

                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                            I meant vetted by the gifter, in this case, the OP. There are a lot lousy cookbooks out there, too.


                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              He only needs to survive the next 6 weeks, then it's back to school. I will try to teach him some basic techniques. Then in the future I can teach him more, give him a cookbook, or point him towards an online site.

                                              I'm trying to come up with things I can take from home, rather than buying them in large quantities. Some oil, so I can show him how to saute an onion. Some flour to spread on the pan before spreading the pizza dough.

                                              I think showing him how to roast chicken pieces, rather than a whole chicken is a good idea, too.

                                              1. re: Glencora

                                                OH! The 6 weeks thing makes a HUGE difference. I didn't realize we were problem solving such a short-term situation. Now I kind of agree with your husband. LOL!

                                                I like these super-easy, super delicious (even to guys) recipes:

                                                Jamie Oliver's Blokes Pasta (we always add a pound of frozen peas to make it a one-pot meal)
                                                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... (make it as spicy as you want with the dried chilies/red pepper flakes)

                                                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... (we do this with Navy beans. You can skip the yogurt, too.) (you can tweak the paprika to make it a little more spicy)

                                                http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipe... (not really spicy, but really delicious and a great way to use up summer zucchini abundance)

                                                http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co... (spicy with red pepper flakes)


                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  I was also going to suggest, for the future as a gift to your son, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution--super straight forward, home-style recipes presented with step-by-step "how to" photos. Jamie said he could teach ANYONE to cook and this is the cookbook that resulted from that effort... Not fussy. Would definitely appeal to a young man, food-wise.



                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                    Jamie Oliver is one of the few chefs he's actually heard of -- we watched Naked Chef together ages ago and he gave me a Jamie Oliver gameboy game for mother's day once. So that's a good idea. Thanks!

                                                    1. re: Glencora

                                                      There's a Jamie Oliver gameboy game?

                                                      Anyway, re: Food Revolution, you'll want the U.S. edition so he doesn't have a problem with measurements or terminology. http://www.amazon.com/Jamies-Food-Rev...

                                                      Here's a link to the listing of recipes (just a listing of the recipe names and ingredients, no actual recipes) according to EYB so you can get a sense of what's in the book:

                                                      And here is EYB's listing of the recipes (with links) that are officially available online (there are probably many more "unofficial" recipes available online, too), if you want to get a sense of them:


                                                      Also, this might be random, but here's a link to my thread "100 recipes every mom/dad should know," where I asked people to list the dishes they thought their kids, once grown adults, would look back at fondly and think of home:

                                                      Anyway, have fun on Sunday. I think it's so fantastic he reached out to you!


                                                2. re: Glencora

                                                  Get a can of canned chicken or turkey. A can of cream of chicken soup or cream of mushroom soup. package of egg noodles. Cook noodles until almost done. Stir drained can of chicken or turkey, a can of cream soup and the noodles. Put in a 400 degree oven and heat through.

                                          2. re: Glencora

                                            If you're going to show him how to make scrambled eggs it isn't too far a leap to making a frittata. Any vegetables can be used. A tossed salad, crusty bread and there's dinner. Breakfast for dinner can be another meal to consider.

                                            1. re: Glencora

                                              couple of first "dinners" I cooked.

                                              Simple stir fry. You can buy the meat already cut into strips at most groceries. Just pick the beef strips for stir fry. A green pepper and a tomato, plus rice. And Minute rice is fine. All you do is marinate the beef in 1/4C soy sauce with about a Tablespoon (little handful) of sugar. for about 30 min. You get the minute rice started in another pan. Then in a pan put some oil, toss in some dry ginger if you have it, if you don't no problem. Heat pan with ginger a few min. Then squeeze out the juice from the meat and put it in the pan, cook meat about 2 min. then put in sliced green peppers, cook another 2 min. Then add diced tomato (one tomato cut roughly into small pieces). Mix remaining juice from meat with a Tablespoon of Corn starch, and add to mixture to thicken. Then serve over rice.

                                              1. re: Atochabsh

                                                +1 on this. Get him a wok and a rice cooker. Then just needs chicken, broccoli, garlic and ginger, and some staples around like soy sauce, black bean sauce and siracha to make a nice meal pretty quickly.

                                            2. Here are a few ways to go to build his skills. First, teach him to make a vinaigrette and toss a salad. A full size dinner salad with the fixin's can be great way to entertain and you can scale it back for a weeknight dinner. With the salad as the main vegetable here's a few options:

                                              Breakfast for dinner
                                              Fritatta - this will teach him to saute vegetables and baked something in the oven until cooked through.
                                              Breakfast potatoes with bacon - cook bacon until crisp and drain off most of the fat except for two tablespoons. Add chopped potatoes and onions and saute until cooked through. Good way to understand when things are done in the saute pan.

                                              Couscous with ratatouille - Great way to learn how to learn how to saute vegetables and couscous is an easy starch to make (just pour boiling water and add a bit of salt on the couscous and cover and let steam for 15 minutes).
                                              Sauteed garlic shrimp

                                              All American
                                              Mashed potatoes

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                i've never thought of categorizing ratatouille as an "easy" meal for a beginner to make.
                                                first of all it requires a certain amount of knife skill and a decent knife.
                                                secondly it requires many ingredients each of which should be chopped differently, and in some cases cooked separately (i.e. onions don't properly caramelize if they are thrown in the pan with eggplant and zucchini).
                                                some folks would insist that the eggplant be salted and rinsed before cooking starts, which if you're hungry and pressed for time is a PITA.
                                                fourthly, it is unforgiving if overcooked. a little too much cooking time turns the whole thing into a messy glop.
                                                fifthly, even if well-prepared, after a couple of days in the refrigerator it will turn into unappetizing glop.

                                                1. re: westsidegal

                                                  I'm going to have to agree with you on the ratatouille - I've effed it up so many times I refuse to make it anymore. I have decent cooking skills and was a vegetarian for many years but I've never accomplished a ratatouille that I wanted to keep in my repertoire.

                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                    I agree about ratatouille being a bit much--it's one of those things that could madden a first-timer (or after) because it requires so much attention to flavor balance, moisture levels in various ingredients, etc.

                                                    That said, seeing the so-named film is not a bad idea at all. I love the climactic ratatouille scene at the restaurant. Think I'll go find it on YouTube right now...

                                                    Edit p.s.: Done:


                                                    Anyone can cook!

                                                2. What i have found makes my insane work schedule and budget managable is the sunday afternoon prep-
                                                  I make:
                                                  a grain (quinoa, brown rice, etc)
                                                  Roasted veggies, chopped salad ingredients
                                                  Muffins or granola
                                                  Whatever proteins (i'm veg so hard boiled eggs, a lentil/bean mix etc)
                                                  Then during the week i can make quick meals

                                                  I would start with showing him hard boiled eggs and scrambled eggs, then basic burrito ingredients, roasted veggies, how to make rice.
                                                  And how to use a knife without chopping off a finger!

                                                  Simple meals that make a lot (aka lunch or dinner the next day) are great. A simple lasagna, a spicy bean and rice mix for tacos/burritos, a whatever his girlfriend's favorite meal is ;)

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                                                    a lasagna might be a lot to get through for one guy, but showing him how to portion and freeze stuff that can later be microwaved will be a big help. a pan of baked ziti is less fiddly to assemble, but can still be frozen in meal-sized portions.

                                                    if he cooks a bag of beans or lentils, some can be frozen for later too.

                                                    crustless quiche is a snap to make and also can be cut and frozen for instant breakfast or lazy dinner.

                                                    if he'll eat veggies, stock up on frozen so they won't spoil and go to waste. these can be quickly steamed and tossed with butter as a side, or served over pasta.

                                                    canned tuna/salmon/sardines are good pantry staples and can be turned into fish cakes, wrapped up in nori and eaten out-of-hand, or plopped on top of a salad or rice.

                                                    successfully roasting chicken is a skill that eludes many competent home cooks. he might be better served by a family pack of breasts or thighs, which will cook evenly and easily, and then turning those into other meals.

                                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                      I think the key to successfully roasting a chicken is 1) knowing the formula for how long to cook a chicken per pound, 2) having a good meat thermometer (or knowing when it's done, but the meat thermometer takes some guesswork out of it), and 3) knowing what your oven temp is, 4) knowing whether to put the bird breast side up or breast side down. This super simple recipe of Thomas Keller's has never failed me (and I am not a confident cook) and I never bother with trussing, the mustard or the herbs.


                                                      Here is a more complicated one, but one that yields you some delicious veggies:


                                                      I think if the OP got her son a meat thermometer and maybe even an oven thermometer (so he could figure out whether his oven runs hot or cold) and showed him how to roast a chicken, it would serve him well during his internship and throughout life. For Sunday, she can plan on two roast chickens: one they buy together at the store and that she shows him how to roast while they are together, and maybe one that she shows up with already roasted so while the first bird is roasting, she could teach him some basic things he could do with roast chicken leftovers. Those things he could do with roast chicken leftovers work work well with ground beef and roast pork leftovers, too.


                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        truly fool-proof, and without buying extra gadgets that have varying degrees of accuracy, is spatchcocking or butterflying the bird. however, not everybody likes both dark and white meat, so a whole bird may be a waste.

                                                  2. Since he is in a receptive frame of mind, I'd spend some time meal planning with him, focusing on "cook once, eat two or three times" stuff. I know several young adults who like to cook but are terrible about throwing away leftovers or repurposing ingredients they've prepared.

                                                    Roast a chicken on Sunday, chicken salad on Monday, soup on Tuesday, etc.

                                                    You might also point him in the direction of food blogs with videos that specialize in his favorite cuisines, indian, thai, Mexican, Italian, whatever. I've found this blog tremendously helpful in expanding my indian vegetarian recipe abilities: http://www.manjulaskitchen.com/

                                                    1. Maybe ask him if he has anything in mind that he would like to learn?

                                                      Otherwise, start very simple:
                                                      1. pasta with tomato sauce
                                                      2. salad
                                                      3. roast whole chicken or baked chicken parts
                                                      4. frittata (or a different egg dish)
                                                      5. roast vegetables

                                                      Help him stock some quality basics -- good olive oil, lemon, garlic, salt, freshly ground pepper, a good parmesan would be enough seasoning for the meals above.

                                                      When he masters these, he can learn variations. A different sauce for the pasta. Different way to season the chicken. Different filling for the frittata. Etc.

                                                      When he gets bored of variations, it's time to learn a new dish.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Westminstress

                                                        These were my thoughts - pasta with tomato sauce definitely, also tacos and other quick stir fry type dishes, eggs in any and all form are fun to learn and open up the world to a lot of different variation.

                                                      2. I've read the suggestions so far and there are lots of helpful posts. But my guess is that most of the posters have been female. I make the observation as a guy who really learned to cook in college because I thought the food in the cafeteria was awful and I learned to cook as a self defense mechanism. IME, college guys want simple but hearty. So one of the best things I learned was to develop dishes that relied on certain techniques that could then be later riffed on to create infinite variations.

                                                        For example, something that I even do today, is a chicken dish that is based on a classic french dish. You get chicken parts, leg, thighs, breasts what ever you prefer. Best if its with skin and bone in. You need onion and garlic and some wine (red, white or rose - whatever you have) or wine vinegar (since your son is only 19).

                                                        Get a large frying pan hot. Salt and pepper the chicken and place skin side down in the hot pan. It will sizzle and splatter. When the skin has developed a deep brown color (you can usually tell when this has happened as the chicken won't easily release from the pan until then), turn and let the other side brown. Add chopped onion and garlic. The onion can be as roughly or finely chopped as you want. You can mince it or cut half moon chunks. Its up to you. Add garlic which again can be smash, minced or sliced. If you have wine, add it now, about 1/2 cup. No wine, add a couple tablespoons of wine vinegar and some broth or water. Now comes the fun part. Add whatever aromatic vegetables you like. Two bunches of roughly cut scallions, sliced carrots, mushrooms, frozen artichoke hearts from TJ, sturdy chopped greens like escarole or chard. Sprinkle more salt and pepper on top and cover. Turn heat to low and let cook 15-20 minutes. You will have beautifully browned chicken with a sauce that can be eaten with noodles, rice, bread, mashed potatoes, etc. The beauty of this technique is the variations you can come up with. Add ginger and use soy sauce and sake instead of wine and you have an asian variation. Throw in a can of chopped tomatoes and basil and you have italian. Curry powder and coconut milk, pseudo indian. It goes on and on. Try it and experiment.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Bkeats

                                                          Right before my husband left for college, my mother in law took him into the kitchen and gave him a crash course on multiple ways of cooking eggs (cheap, readily accessible, versatile form of protein which is why I recommended a frittata above) and multiple things to do with ground beef (including spaghetti, tacos, and chili which I mentioned above, also meatloaf). These dishes sustained my husband throughout his college career and bachelorhood and are some are still in rotation in our kitchen today.


                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                            My first thought was breakfast- especially bacon and eggs. Cooking bacon is a skill that my first husband sorely lacked. It burned while he was alone with it in the kitchen. Enough said.

                                                            1. re: Berheenia

                                                              And learn how to make a proper pasta carbonara, the dinner version of bacon and eggs as a dish that can be made from pantry staples.

                                                        2. Does he have / can you/he get a crockpot?
                                                          Might be great for him to be able to throw stuff in and have dinner ready whenever he may land. Also a great device for making meals and re-meals (repurposed meals).

                                                          Maybe teach him a no knead bread dough that he can start one day, and have pizza any time in the future.

                                                          Maybe buy some wonton wrappers to make dumplings (can make a variety on the weekend and freeze/thaw throughout the week). Some simple fried rice (can use pre-chopped frozen veggies). Maybe a simple stir-fry.

                                                          Polenta takes no time at all. Top with some marinara doctored with some pepper flakes.

                                                          I pre-marinate ground turkey for chorizo for the OH (feel free to use beef). Then I keep it around to defrost if I freeze it, or just to pull and cook in a pan with some onions (sometimes I've been known to rehydrate dried sliced onions). I'll serve it with beans or veggies or whatever else he's wanting or I've got on hand.

                                                          It's so nice to hear that not only does he want to cook, but wants your help.

                                                          1. Buy him a good cookbook - and cook him something he's enjoyed at home (you know his tastes - and we don't). Where I am, there are always books available designed for the student market and I presume similar might be available where the OP is.

                                                            1. Spicy italian sausages with spinach florentine.
                                                              Add garlic bread and it's good to go for dinner and the bonus is that leftovers are good cold for breakfast the next day.

                                                              1. just a general observation, a lot of common chinese and thai dishes depend on SEARING high heat to be successful (fried rice, for example, needs a fairly powerful burner in order to be fried rice instead of a sort of mushy jambalaya).

                                                                rice/bean/cheese bakes, with meat added if he likes, make a cheap, healthy, filling item that is quick and has lots of nice leftovers.

                                                                i've really been grooving on my mom's spaghetti lately:
                                                                1 pot large enough for a lot of food, or 1 large mixing bowl
                                                                1lb farfalle pasta
                                                                approx. 1lb sweet, mild, or hot italian sausage (bulk is great, or you can slice up ones in casings)
                                                                1 jar storebought marinara (i like to get something like a roasted garlic, or a caramelized onion marinara)
                                                                1/2 cup cream

                                                                boil pasta according to box. brown off the sausage. reserve 1/3 cup pasta water. drain pasta in colander. pour sauce, pasta water and cream into pasta pot. heat to gentle simmer. add sausage. combine with pasta (in pot if large enough, in mixing bowl if not). top with shaved parmesan (not the powdered stuff).

                                                                i usually serve with a piece of cheesy garlic toast (spread butter+minced garlic on a piece of baguette or french bread, toast in oven for 5 minutes or so, sprinkle with shredded cheese of choice, broil until bubbly and just browned), and a simple caesar salad (hearts of romaine, torn up - as much as you want - and topped with a spoonful of jarred caesar dressing, shaved parm, and croutons. sometimes i'll add *untraditionally* quartered sweet cherry tomatoes when in season.

                                                                simple, but very yummy! lots of fabulous leftovers, actually tastes better after a day or two in the fridge.

                                                                1. Have you seen the book Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn? In it, she describes finding a group of adults with very limited cooking skills and systematically teaching them particular skills so they will be able to cook well by themselves. For example, making soups, eggs, roasting a chicken, and no knead bread, as well as knife skills. She covers basics with an eye to self-sufficiency. Part of the book contains her musings on why so many adults have limited skills. This is a book YOU could take a look at to get ideas about what basics to teach him, more than a book I am suggesting you hand him as a gift. The idea behind it is how to use up the food you have (eggs, leftovers, whatever) to make yourself healthier and better tasting, as well as cheaper, meals than can be bought, or quick things to throw together when hungry.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: willownt

                                                                    how about a simple salad with avocado and chickpeas
                                                                    you can also add a little piece of grilled chicken

                                                                  2. First off, congrats to all of you on his great academics! My son is also 19, and on a good path also. It amazes me that he makes it sound like the food in the dining hall is horrible. Oh how I would love this opportunity! Oh well.......

                                                                    It sounds like he just wants quick, simple dinners. If he has an oven safe skillet and a saucepan and a baking sheet, he has all he needs for six weeks. A bottle of cooking grade olive oil and salt and pepper and he is good to go. With these he can learn to prepare simple foods in minutes.

                                                                    He can chop up any kind of veggie and toss it in oo,s&p and throw it in the oven to roast. Then he can take his meat or fish and pan fry or oven roast. He can always do something like a box of rice pilaf or a baked potato as a go along.

                                                                    He has the whole rest of his life to discover exotic recipes and cookbooks. For now he should be focusing on his internship. If he sticks to these basics, he will probably be one of the few kids who can actually invite a faculty member or fellow worker over to his place with good success. Which is rare and impressive in those circles!

                                                                    1. So we ended up doing Tuesday instead of Sunday. I’m bit embarrassed to post, since we set the bar pretty low. Just think of it as a step up from hot pockets and bad Chinese takeout from the place down the street -- and try not to judge. Thanks for all the great ideas. I used a few and I’ll hold on to the rest for the future.

                                                                      We picked up our son when he got off from work and stopped by the South of Market TJs. We bought:

                                                                      - Whole wheat pizza dough, mozzarella & cheddar (I remembered to bring a cheese grater!), a jar of marinara sauce (I didn’t remember a can opener) and a bag of frozen chicken breasts.

                                                                      - Tortilla chips, corn tortillas, salsa, ground beef, lettuce. Using more of the cheese he can make nachos and tacos. I told him how to brown the beef (“How do you know it’s done?” “It’s brown.”) and heat the tortillas in a skillet.

                                                                      Dry pasta, Parmesan. Using more of the marinara sauce and the ground beef he can make...pasta.

                                                                      Two trays of raw chicken drumsticks. Jar of BBQ sauce, frozen French fries, catsup. Got talked into hotdogs and whole wheat buns, too.

                                                                      Rice, jars of “simmer sauce,” both Thai and Indian. With the frozen chicken breasts he can make curry. I brought a couple of onions and some oil from home, but who knows if he’ll use them.

                                                                      Corn on the cob a few other things like cookies, milk and a bottle of wine (for his dad and me!)

                                                                      At the apartment we first started the drumsticks sort of crammed together -- he’d said he had a pan, but it turned out to be much smaller than I’d imagined -- cooking as many as we could so he’d have leftovers. He actually seemed dubious that they would cook, so I guess that was a lesson: raw chicken + hot oven + time (important point) = cooked chicken.

                                                                      Then we went to two different corner stores looking for a disposable pan (nope), came back with foil, and showed him how to flour it, spread the pizza dough and sauce. We used both types of cheese and some quickly cooked chicken breast. Bit tricky on foil. While that was cooking, we shucked the corn and boiled water in a too-small pan. (Real food is messy: we got corn silk on new laptop, removed laptop from cooking area.) We baked frozen fries on more foil. Tried to see if cooked pizza would come off foil. (With some effort, it did. He plans to take some to work for lunch.)

                                                                      Showed him how to see if the chicken was pink inside or whether the juices were clear. When the chicken was close to being done, we brushed it with BBQ sauce. (For some reason the apartment had a brush and corkscrew, but no tongs. We really could have used tongs for turning the chicken and the semi-submerged corn.) Finally sat down to chicken, corn, fries and salad.

                                                                      Believe it or not, I think the simple act of cooking raw meat and raw corn on the cob was a good first step. However, he turned down the cookbook I brought. He doesn’t want “recipes.” At least, not yet.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Glencora

                                                                        Glencora, good for you! I think some of us had not realized how inexperienced your son was in the kitchen. You've got to start somewhere and given both his lack of cooking implements and skills, it sounds like you found the right mix of semi-prepared and fresh ingredients to get him started.