Ah, the college years. Did we even realize how good we had it? New friends, exciting (or not) courses, free time, parental units probably far away, little responsibility – at least compared to full adulthood/parenthood. College was where I learned to love coffee, where I found out I had a gift for making my roommates laugh…and also where I learned to cook!
After two years in the dorms, subsisting on cafeteria food (which, I must admit, was actually pretty good) and Ramen noodles cooked in hand-me-down hotpots, my girlfriends and I signed the lease on a townhouse close to campus, where we would live until graduation. It had a full kitchen, so one of the first routines we set up after we all moved in was the dinner schedule.
Breakfasts and lunches, we decided, were free-for-alls, but dinners would be sacred, in a way. We all came from good solid families where sitting down for nightly meals was the norm, and I’m sure we all (despite our burgeoning independence) longed for some of that stable “homey” feeling. So we each picked a night, and began to cook for each other.
Like most students, we were all living on a shoestring budget (I got paid $2 per typed page of notes I took for a Psych 101 class – imagine that!) so our meals were simple, hearty and shall we say, sometimes quite creative. And sure, during finals week we threw the cooking schedule out the window and ordered in pizza. But interestingly, some of the same recipes we each came to be known for, I use to this day. In fact, the following three are still some of my “go-to’s,” – 14 years, one husband, two jobs and three children later. Enjoy – and send some good thoughts to your college roomies as you cook them. I know I do!
Kate’s Pineapple Chicken and Rice – I’ve been making this for my husband since we were married, and our children like it, too. It’s also semi-healthy (that Kate’s always been the health-conscious one).
2 c. cooked long-grain rice
1-20 oz. can crushed pineapple in juice
1 c. pineapple juice, reserved
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and diced
2 T. butter
2 T. reduced-sodium soy sauce
Brown sugar to taste
Lemon pepper, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a deep 8×8 casserole dish and layer with rice, pineapple and chicken. Dot with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Repeat until rice, chicken and pineapple are used. In a small mixing bowl, combine pineapple juice with soy sauce. Pour over the casserole. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until heated through. Serves 4-6. Optional: Cook chicken breasts in lemon pepper for a bit of spice.
Mary’s Slow Cooker Meatballs with Marinara – It doesn’t get much easier than this one. Turn the slow cooker on in the morning and walk away! We all loved coming home after class to smell these meatballs cooking in our apartment.
1 lb ground beef (substitute ground turkey for lower fat)
1 c. seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 c. chopped onion, optional
1/2-3/4 c. milk
Italian seasoning to taste (I use about 1 tablespoon)
1 jar favorite spaghetti sauce (or 1 qt. homemade)
1 can diced tomatoes (or 1/2 qt. home-canned)
In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, onion, milk and Italian seasoning and mix with a heavy spoon or your hands. Form into meatballs and place in slow cooker. Pour canned tomatoes over top, then pour spaghetti sauce over all. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-7 hours. (I’ve left it as long as 8 hours due to a workday, and it’s turned out fine, but you may need to add a little water as needed.) Serve with cooked spaghetti or angel hair pasta.
My Grandma’s Ham Loaf – I was raised on this Amish-Country staple, but my roommates, coming from other parts of Ohio, had never had this delicious dish. Until they met me.
1 1/2 lb. hamloaf mix (available at most grocery stores)
2/3 c. cooking oats
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. brown sugar
3 crushed graham crackers
Mix ingredients and shape into balls or a loaf. Place in greased 9×13 dish. Top with glaze (see below) and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
1/3 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. pineapple juice
2 T. white vinegar
1/3 c. dark corn syrup
2 T. flour
Combine ingredients and cook over medium heat until thickened. Pour over ham balls or loaf before baking.