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8 things to learn to cook before you head off to college Posted on 08-19-2011

Hawthorne, CA


Master this handy-dandy list and you'll be ready to take on the world

By Barbara Mahany, Tribune Newspapers
July 6, 2011

Before you or a kid you've fed, oh, since birth pack up all those earthly belongings, and head away from home at the end of summer (maybe to college, perhaps the Peace Corps or backpacking across the Sahara), take our Kitchen Survival Challenge.

We're convinced that if you can tick your way through this handy-dandy list, you'll be ready to take on the world or at least quell a growling tummy.

No less an expert weighs in here than Lucinda Scala Quinn, mother of three growing boys, author of "Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys" (Artisan, $27.95), and Martha Stewart's top food honcho (Did we mention she now hosts her own cooking show on Martha's network?). Having shipped one boy off to college and beyond, she knows from whence she writes.

Herewith, eight things you really ought to know how to do when it comes time to fill the trough for just you, or whoever else comes slinking into your cooking place.

Get equipped
Before heading off, make sure you acquire:
A sharp knife and one knife skill, preferably chopping (and a chopping board while you're at it).
One multipurpose skillet or pot with lid.

1. Rice:
Foolproof every time? Stick to this formula: Use a 1-to-11/2 ratio of rice to liquid; boil, cover, simmer 20 minutes.

2. Leftover rice:
Writes Quinn: "My teens eat egg on rice one of their roommates would eat it three meals a day if possible." Option B: Fried rice. Scour fridge for leftovers; toss 1 egg, leftovers and cooked rice into fry pan with just enough cooking oil; when cooked through, douse with soy sauce.

3. Eggs:
Perfect fried/scrambled/frittata with anything for dinner, too. That fried egg? Heat a small skillet over medium high heat. Add a 1/2-teaspoon unsalted butter and swirl to coat pan's bottom. Immediately crack 1 egg into skillet. Add 1 teaspoon of water, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook 1 minute. Remove immediately. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. One killer simple chicken dish:
In "Mad Hungry," Quinn offers baked chicken with a honey-mustard glaze: Marinate 8 chicken thighs in 1/2 cup olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, 1 hour. Rub baking pan with oil or butter; place thighs skin side down (discard marinade). Bake at 375 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes; turn over. Bake 10 minutes. For glaze, whisk 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard, 1-2 tablespoons honey and a little olive oil in a bowl. Add salt and pepper; whisk. Apply glaze with brush or spoon; broil 5 minutes.

5. Burger:
It's all about the bun, the meat, the thickness, the seasoning. Try lean ground sirloin mixed with 75 percent lean ground chuck. Consider the relationship of bun to meat. Bun must absorb juices and hold together enough to accommodate burger and toppings (choices: potato roll, English muffin, brioche, old-fashioned hamburger bun, Kaiser roll.) Thickness is up to you, but do make patty slightly wider than bun, as it'll shrink once it hits the heat. Salt and pepper aggressively just before cooking. (Never move the burger until it has released from cooking surface on its own.)

6. Veggies:
Properly cook at least one favorite, say steamed broccoli. (Boil a 1/2-inch of water in saucepan; with peeler, remove tough skin from broccoli stems, cut into 1/4-inch coins. Cut florets into bite-size pieces. Line bottom of pan with coins, top with florets and cover. Steam just until tender. Drain off liquid, toss with olive oil.) Or, if you must, master frozen peas.

7. Coffee:
Know how to make it. You'll need it. (Sidle up to any barista, should you need a private lesson.) Hand whisk warm milk for a DIY cappuccino, and you'll save $3 a day

8. Toss-up:
Bacon, salad greens and vinaigrette, properly cooked pasta, pancakes. You choose which one you'll knock out of the park. Any and all will carry you through life.

Wildcard: Know how and when to do the dishes.
Got that? Go get 'em, hungry traveler.
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