This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in September 2017.
Cooking at university is a minefield. Most of the time, you're dependent on trawling the supermarket reduced section because you blew your student loan on Sainsbury's Basics vodka. Then there's the drama of navigating a shared kitchen whose surfaces are perpetually coated in spag Bol crust and sink forever filled with someone else's washing-up. Is it any wonder most freshers end up surviving on cereal and frozen chicken nuggets?
But there is another way. To save students everywhere from mashed potato sandwiches and chicken tikka lasagne ready meals, MUNCHIES called on London food writer and University of Leeds student Izy Hossack. The 21-year-old started her award-winning baking blog, Top with Cinnamon, in the summer after her GCSEs and had published her first cookbook by the time she left school. Since then, she has photographed and styled dishes for Jamie Magazine and last year won the inaugural Food Sharing prize at the Young British Foodie Awards.
Hossack started her food science and nutrition degree in 2016 but continues to develop recipes for her blog and maintain an impeccable Instagram feed. Earlier this summer, she published her second cookbook, The Savvy Cook.
Clearly, Hossack is not your average student for whom three-day old Domino's is an acceptable breakfast. So, how does she create nourishing, appetising meals on a budget with limited cooking equipment and kitchen-shy housemates? We gave Hossack a ring to uncover her tried-and-tested uni cooking tips.
MUNCHIES: Hi Izy, so how do you stick to a food budget at uni without having to eat pesto and pasta every night?
Izy Hossack: Going to uni was when I first started properly cooking for myself. Before, I knew how to do basic stuff and I was interested in food but I'd mainly baked. At university, I had to cook everyday, keep things interesting, and deal with a budget.
Meal planning helped me a lot. It meant that I knew what recipes I was making and then I could make a shopping list, so I knew what and how much of everything I needed to buy. If I don't have a list, I'll just wander up and down the aisles and end up buying loads of random crap. It's not good for your budget and means you end up wasting loads of food because you have way too much of a certain ingredient.
Also, I don't buy meat or fish at uni which really affects how much money you have. For me, I don't want to buy the really basic meat so it's partially for budget and partially environmental reasons. I'll sometimes eat meat at restaurants or if I'm home and my parents buy it. But you can stretch your budget a lot further if you don't buy it.
What's your go-to cheap meal?
Frittata is a really good one. You can use up whatever vegetables you have—frozen peas, frozen vegetables, leafy greens, sweet potato. It goes quite far and is one of those recipes where you don't have to have anything specific apart from eggs.
You can roast, steam, or sauté any leftover vegetables you have, sauté some onions, and add any herbs you might have. Then, just beat some eggs, pour it into the saucepan [with the vegetables], let it cook, and put it under the grill.
Usually I'll do six eggs and have half the frittata for dinner with some bread and half the next day for lunch or dinner again.
Cooking utensils in a student house are usually limited to a can opener and a corkscrew, despite the fact that no one buys corked wine. What's worth investing in?
For me, one of the main things is having a good knife. It doesn't have to be a fancy one but if you spend £15 on a chef's knife, it makes everything so much easier. Get one that's quite big—not a really long one, but not a paring knife. At uni, everyone always has those small ones and it wastes so much time. Everyone thinks they don't need a big knife because they're just cutting up onions, but if you have one with a six-inch blade, that's enough.
Having a large chopping board is also helpful. Everyone always has those really tiny ones. If you go to IKEA, you can get large wooden chopping boards which last well and mean you're not constantly have to move things off your chopping board while you're cooking. It makes things more efficient and easier to clean up.
What's the best way to cope with limited fridge and cupboard space?
At uni, I had to keep things in my room because I didn't have enough space in the kitchen. I had a mini fridge in my room to keep vegetables. I had one shelf in the fridge and it wasn't enough. I think you have to do smaller shops or share things. Sometimes, my flatmate and I would cook together and she'd have a cauliflower and I'd have a courgette and we'd make something together. If you can coordinate with your flatmates (and you get on with them), you can sometimes make things like a big curry together.
If you have canned goods, like beans, chickpeas, or chopped tomatoes, you can keep those in your room if you need to. You can always make tomato soup or a curry if you have that and some curry paste in the fridge.
How do you deal with that one housemate who never does their washing up?
It's difficult because you don't want to be the one nagging everyone. In my flat, if someone hadn't washed up their stuff and left it in the sink, we would fill a plastic basin bowl with water and their stuff and leave it on the side or on the floor. So, it meant the sink was still free to use and you didn't have to go and tell someone that they needed to do their washing up.
What about housemates who steal your food or wreck your fancy utensils?
I just kept things in my own cupboard and people tended not to use things. One time, though, my flatmate was making pasta and I'd given him my nice knife to chop stuff. He then started using the knife to stir the pasta. I had to say, "Isaac, you do not use my Sabatier knife to stir your pasta." After that, I don't think he used the knife.
Luckily, people stealing my food hasn't happened but I think if it did, I'd probably message the house WhatsApp group as I'm not good at confronting people. If they owned up to it, that would be fine but just ask in the future. You have to be chilled about it. You can't get too stressed, it's just food at the end of the day!
I think if you're a keen cook, live with smaller groups of people. You don't have to deal with as much mess or kitchen politics.
What's a dish that's cheap and easy to make, but looks really impressive?
I would do something like tacos, especially if you make your own tortillas because everyone will be impressed. To make tortillas, you only need flour and water. Flour is really cheap and I always have it in the cupboard. You can grill whatever vegetables you have and sauté some canned chickpeas in spices like cumin, cinnamon, and coriander. Add a can of tomatoes and some cheese if you have it knocking around.
What are your store cupboard essentials?
I usually buy rapeseed oil or olive oil for cooking. Have one bottle of cooking oil that's multipurpose. I use oil in baking a lot as well because it's cheap.
If you can, at the start of uni, go and buy loads of spices. Go to the world food aisle in the supermarkets or a Middle Eastern supermarket as they'll have huge bags of spices for really cheap. If you stock up on those at the beginning and spend £20, you'll have them for the whole of uni. My staple spices would be cumin, smoked paprika, and cinnamon (because you can use it in savoury and sweet things).
I buy those blocks of creamed coconut because you can get them for around 50p and one block is the equivalent to two cans. They keep for ages so rather than open a can of coconut milk and only use half of it, you can just chop off part of the block.
With things like pesto and curry paste, I dollop it into ice cube trays and freeze them. The jars can go off really quickly so freezing it means it'll keep and you won't have to defrost the whole jar when you need it next.
Thanks for chatting with me, Izy.