A Pre-departure Crash Course for a Very Clueless College Cook

Mallory Brander
January 25, 2022

In the midst of all the residence permits, course registrations, credit transfers, global insurance, and international phone plans, it can feel nearly impossible to check every box. But amidst all of the not-so-fun boxes, it's important to throw a few fun ones on the to-do list. For me, this meant learning how to cook. At UNC, I’ve been all too reliant on my cushy meal plan, resulting in me being not so culinary inclined… and with my cooking expertise amounting to a decently fried egg and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bowl of oatmeal…my culinary inclination amounts to zip.

In talking to a few friends who have studied abroad in the past, I found that this would quickly become a bit of a problem once I had my cushy meal plan pulled out from under me. So, the box. This blog post is something I devised to help me check it (and hopefully keep me from breaking the bank on takeout while I’m in Amsterdam—those conversions will really get ya). 

I’m going to teach myself how to cook two easy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that I can pull off on the fly…and in student housing. 

Breakfast number one I wanted to master something simple…the perfect scrambled eggs. I know, I know, this one isn’t particularly earth-shattering. But when talking to a friend that studied abroad in Oslo, Norway, she said the number one thing she could get her hands on at her local market was eggs. So I figured, I have to start somewhere. Her tips for the best eggs, low, slow, constant movement, and LOTS of butter. Throw in a little salt, pepper, freshly chopped chives, and a nice little fruit salad on the side and that’s easy breakfast #1 DONE. 

For lunch number one, I decided I should probably step it up a little. So, I decided to try a recipe from one of my favorite youtube personalities, Carla and her book That Sounds So Good.

After watching her video on this I thought to myself “well this looks super easy, right?” WRONG. I went to a few different health food stores looking for chickpea flour, to no avail. I landed on cauliflower flour and let me tell you, this might’ve been a fatal flaw. I also am crazy allergic to avocado so I swapped out her avo-spread for a greek yogurt chive spread. Nevertheless I pushed on and was pretty pleased with the end product here. It was super filling, refreshing, and bright. 

So, now onto dinner number one. To top off this semi-accidental meatless Monday, I did a bit of a riff on the New York Times recipe of the day “Crispy Tofu with Balsamic Tomatoes.” I started out by slicing and pressing some tofu for about 20 minutes. Then I heated up a cast iron skillet and tossed in my green beans, sliced shallot, and halved cherry tomatoes. Next I threw in my sriracha, soy sauce, and rice vinegar mixture as well as my hand crumpled tofu. Finally, I microwaved some jasmine rice (thank you Trader Joe’s), and served it up. I honestly have an EXTREME aversion to Tofu (and most things vegetarian), but this was a plate-licking-good meal that will satiate your vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore pals alike. This one definitely restored my faith in my cooking abilities after the chickpea pancake debacle. 

So, with this newfound confidence, I bring you breakfast number two. Sweet Potato Toast—Health food IG influencer craze? Or actually kind of delicious? Possibly a little wombo combo of the two…but one thing is for certain…I f***ing loved it. I know, I know, this is another fairly simple breakfast…and don’t get me wrong, I love french toast, belgium waffles, and eggs benedict as much as the next gal, but I’m not breaking out the griddle or the double boiler before 11 am. So, sweet potato toast it is. Slice your potato into ¼ inch slices, pop it in the oven at 400 F for 20 minutes, and top with whatever your heart desires. Voilà! Breakfast number two is served. 

Lunch number two had to be done on the go, but I’m not in the business of skipping meals, no sir, this is a 3 meals a day (with some snacks thrown in here or there) kind of blog. So, I opted for some spring rolls. It may sound complex, but once you have the right ingredients, (a.k.a. Once you’ve tracked down the ever-elusive spring roll wrappers) it’s really a breeze. Just pick your crunchy veg of choice, poach your shrimp in some heavily salted lemon-y water, dip your spring roll wrappers in some warm water and get to wrappin’. 

Finally, dinner number two. It…again…wasn’t all that complex, but I needed something to feed a crowd. Additionally, it is freezing in Tulsa, Oklahoma (where I’m from) and I know it’ll be frigid in Amsterdam, so I wanted some comfort-y food. And for all of these reasons, chili fits the bill. So, I sauteed a pound of ground turkey with a chopped onion and diced jalapeno. Then I tossed in a handful of chili powder plus some cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Then I added 2 big cans of fire-roasted tomatoes, a can of black beans, and a healthy dash of worcestershire sauce and about a tablespoon of cocoa powder (the secret ingredient) into a pot to let simmer for about 15 minutes. I then shredded some white cheddar, picked cilantro, and sliced avocado (for the rest of the fam) as toppings. Easiest dinner of all time and honestly one of my all time faves. If you want to get REALLY fancy you can bake some cornbread but I wasn’t shooting for those bonus points tonight. This also makes great leftovers...which is sort of the name of the game when it comes to this blog post. 

So thank you for joining me on this somewhat simple culinary journey and process of “checking off” a fun little box on my ever-impending to-do list. We’ll see if I keep up with the cooking once I get a feel for what we’re workin’ with in terms of produce/kitchen space post-departure.

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Mallory Brander

<p>Hey everyone! I'm Mallory, a 20 year old originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I'm currently a junior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Business and minoring in Social and Economic Justice as well as studio art. I'm a people person who loves all things travel so I'm beyond ecstatic to be studying abroad in Amsterdam this spring!</p>

Home University:
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Tulsa, OK
Business Administration
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