Easy dinners that college students can master

BY GRETCHEN MCKAY
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE/TNS

College is full of challenges, what with having only four years to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.

It also can be tough on parents, who often not only have to help pay for their kids’ higher education but also must feed and house them in the process.

It’s a bit of relief when college students finally move out of the dorms with their expensive meal plans, and into an apartment where they can make their own meals for much cheaper.

Or at least that’s the plan until reality sets in.

Cheaper, healthier
After going to classes, possibly working part time, doing homework, volunteering with student organizations and maintaining an active social life (it’s college, after all) there’s just not a lot of time for cooking.

So when your kid no longer can use a meal swipe for lunch or dinner, it’s tempting for her to fill up on fast food and fulfill late-night cravings with artery-clogging goodies from the local convenience store.

But there are easy ways for your child to incorporate cooking into his or her schedule — and it’s cheaper and healthier too.

They’re bound to have a box of noodles and a few stray packages of soy sauce from takeout Chinese. Why not add a few green vegetables and sliced chicken breast to create classic lo mein noodles? They don’t even need a wok — any decent saute pan will work, and the dish comes together in minutes.

Bread is another college apartment staple, and when the slices are buttered and then soaked in a mixture of eggs and milk, topped with shredded cheese and baked, it transforms into a satisfying casserole that can be cut into squares for a grab-and-go breakfast or late-night snack.

Convenience, speed
Skillet enchiladas are easier still, and after wolfing them down for dinner, the microwavable leftovers will be a welcome alternative to that MTO sandwich for lunch the next day.

In choosing recipes for college kids, convenience and speed is of the essence. A dish can’t require any hard-to-find ingredients, and it has to go from stove to table in short order.

For a generation that’s tuned into social media, it also helps if the food make for a great photo. Or as my daughter Olivia put it, is “Insta worthy.”

In that vein, we offer below some quick and easy recipes that even reluctant first-time cooks will easily master.

CLASSIC LO MEIN NOODLES
Why order takeout when this classic noodle dish is so easy to make at home? While the recipe calls for fresh lo mein noodles, you can easily substitute fettucine or linguini pasta; I used fat egg noodles.

3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon corn starch
3 tablespoons cooking oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
11/2 tablespoons thinly sliced ginger
1/2 pound chicken breast or thigh, thinly sliced
3 cups fresh lo mein noodles
1/4 pound baby bok choy, bottoms removed
3 scallions, cut into 11/2-inch pieces

To make sauce, stir together oyster sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, chicken stock and corn starch in a small bowl.

Heat the pan to high and add the cooking oil. Once you see wisps of smoke, add garlic and ginger and cook until light brown and fragrant, about 20 seconds. Stir in the chicken and cook until medium, about 1 minute.

Stir in the sauce; allow the sauce to coat all the ingredients and start to simmer, about 1 minute more. Add noodles and bok choy and toss to coat.

Cook until chicken is cooked through (about 1 minute more) and sauce starts to bubble into a glaze. Top with scallions and serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6.

From “101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die: by Jet Tila (Page Street Publishing, June 2017, $21.99)

NO-BAKE CHOCOLATE-FLUFFERNUTTER COOKIES
These no-bake cookies hit the sweet spot with an addictive mix of chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallow. They’re sticky, but no problem — you’ll want to lick your fingers.

6 cups cornflakes
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup creamy peanut butter

Place cornflakes, marshmallows and chocolate chips in a large bowl.

Combine sugar and corn syrup in a nonstick pot over medium-low heat. When sugar has dissolved, add peanut butter, stirring to combine.

Pour peanut butter mixture over cornflakes and stir to combine. Quickly drop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto waxed paper.

Let cookies cool and set for about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Adapted from “Halfway Homemade: Meals in a Jiffy” by Parrish Ritchie (The Countryman Press, $24.95)

CHICKEN ENCHILADA SKILLET
My daughter was so excited to eat this cheesy dish. And talk about easy. It took less than 10 minutes to prepare in a cast-iron skillet.

12 corn tortillas, cut into bite sized pieces
3 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
10-ounce can diced tomato with chili
10-ounce can red enchilada sauce
8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup grated cheddar, divided
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack, divided
1/2 avocado, sliced thin
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Spray a large skillet with non-stick cooking spray and heat the pan over medium heat.

Add the corn tortillas and cooked chicken to the pan and cook until heated through, stirring often.

Pour the undrained tomatoes, enchilada sauce, and tomato sauce into the pan with 1/4 cup of each cheese. Stir to combine well. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Sprinkle on the remaining cheese, top with the avocado and cilantro before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Courtesy of Countryliving.com

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