Graduation marks a rite of passage—so it's the perfect time to learn something new and become a little more self-sufficient. Learning to feed yourself is perhaps one of life's most important skills. Many don't start cooking until they head to college and leave home for the first time, yet everyone should have a repertoire of a few basic recipes in their arsenal. Although a dorm room and communal kitchen can be a bit limiting, many students move into their own apartments soon enough. These dishes can be made in even a poorly-stocked kitchen, and they're good enough to eat at home alone or even share with a few friends.
Spaghetti and meatballs
Warm pasta topped with zesty tomato sauce and tender meatballs is guaranteed to produce feelings of comfort and contentment every time. Plus, it's not fussy or difficult to make. Use a mixture of one-part ground beef and another part ground pork for the perfect texture. Carefully combine the meats with bread crumbs, egg, grated cheese and some chopped parsley. Next form meatballs the size of golf balls, but be careful not to over-mix or else they'll become tough.
Now heat some olive oil in a pot, brown the meatballs on all sides, and move them to a plate. In the same pot, saute some chopped onion and garlic and then pour in a 28-ounce can of tomatoes. Return the meatballs to the pot and simmer them in the tomato sauce for 30 minutes. Serve it over spaghetti (prepared following the directions on the package) topped with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (the canned stuff will do in a pinch).
With its crispy skin over a layer of tender meat, roast chicken is another comfort food favorite. Spread a layer of cubed root vegetables like beets, potatoes or fennel beneath the chicken for a full, one-dish dinner.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F before stuffing the cavity of a five-pound chicken with a halved lemon or onion. To ensure a perfectly crackly skin, dry the skin with paper towels (be sure to discard them right away) and then rub it with olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper liberally on the skin and then dot it with pieces of butter. Place the chicken in a baking dish large enough to accommodate it, tie the legs together with kitchen string, and then place it in the oven for about 90 minutes. After removing it from the oven, be sure to let the chicken rest for at least 20 minutes for carving. Any leftover meat can be used in other meals like chicken salad, sandwiches, tacos, or in a curry with rice.
This Chinese-style of cooking is quick and easy—and produces a balanced meal all in one pan. Plus, it's a great way to use up vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, greens or other leftovers languishing in the fridge.
It's an easy technique to master but there are a few key suggestions to keep in mind. Chop all of your ingredients like vegetables and meats beforehand, and then heat the pan (or ideally a wok) over high heat. After a few minutes, add oil and coat the entire surface of the pan. Toss the items in the pan and stir until fully cooked. Flavor with salt, pepper, soy sauce or hot sauce, and then serve with steamed rice or noodles. After cooking, chopped fresh herbs or a slice of citrus make for a nice garnish.
They say making a perfect omelette is the true test of any chef, but beginning home cooks should learn to make them as well. Add diced ham, mushrooms, bell pepper, onion and, of course, cheese, and this breakfast staple also makes an easy and delicious dinner.
To make a fool-proof omelette, use a nonstick skillet or cast-iron pan greased with plenty of melted butter. Crack three or four eggs into a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then whisk them with a fork. Heat the skillet over medium heat with a pad of butter. When the butter is no longer bubbling, carefully pour in the eggs so that they form an even layer in the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes, and then sprinkle any fillings down the center of the omelette. Now carefully lift one side of the omelette with a spatula and fold it over the other side. Turn off the heat and slide it onto a plate to serve.
Cake in a mug
Both dorm and apartment dwellers alike need a quick, homemade treat as fuel for late-night study sessions. A microwaveable cake in a mug can be made, literally, in a minute with minimal mess and just a few ingredients like flour, sugar, salt and cocoa powder. It's an easy convenient dessert that, when timed just right, produces a gooey, molten center. Make it even better with a topping of vanilla ice cream.