I started writing about food because as a student I was worried I would not be able to feed myself on a student budget the same fresh, bright, 100% homemade meals I was used to eating at home. I constantly update my 'Student Suppers' column, but this year I thought I would team up with the guys at Steamer Trading to bring you a handy guide to some kitchen essentials for when you go shopping to kit out your first student kitchen.
For a well equipped student kitchen, I think you need a mixture of things your parents would see as essentials (pots, pans, crockery etc.), and things that may seem like gadgets, but will probably save you a lot of money in the long run, like an infusion or filter water bottle, or a wok (bear with me on that one, I will explain!) I'll talk a little more about some of the essentials I've pictured here in a moment, but first here is a list of what I think you need as the bare bones, regardless of what sort of things you like to cook:
- 3 Kitchen Knifes (large, small and serrated)
- 2 Chopping Boards (so you can chop raw meat and veggies for the same meal without having to wash up in-between)
- 1 Large and 1 Small Saucepan
- 1 Large Non-Stick Frying Pan
- 1 Large Sieve
- 1 Non-Stick Baking Tray (you can also use it as a lid for your saucepans)
- 1 Oven-Proof Baking Dish
- 1 Set Measuring Spoons
- Marked Measuring Jug
- 1 Mixing Spoon
- 1 Large Heatproof Mixing Bowl
- 1 Heatproof or Wooden Spatula
- Box Grater
- Vegetable Peeler
- Cling Film, Tin Foil & Baking Parchment
You'll find that you will want to buy more of the plates you find you use more (and depending on how good you are at dealing with the washing up!) but a good starter set would be a big dinner plate, a smaller dining plate good for breakfast or lunch, and a large pasta/ soup bowl that is the right sort of size and shape for everything from cereal to soup or a stir fry. Get a mug to match, and at least two knifes, forks and spoons (again, so you don't have to wash up after every single meal), then you're good to go.
Now we're into the realms of things that you may not at first see as essentials, but will make your life a hell of a lot easier. The one fancy pan I always stock in every kitchen I have had is a wok. Yes a stir fry is a quick, delicious and also sometimes healthy meal, but the big, high sided pan is a lifesaver when it comes to so many other cuisines. You can use it for just about everything (one of my flatmates from Hong Kong in third year was used to making spaghetti bolognese in hers), and I always reach for mine when I'm frying anything in a bit of oil (homemade fish fingers etc.), when I'm making fajitas, or a big rice dish like kedgeree where I need to toss a lot of things together in one pan.
My three student kitchens were very different. In first year I had a shared kitchen in my East London halls where we could watch the Olympic park being built out of the window. The hob could not really sustain heat past an hour, and the oven was so bad you could only really cook things under the grill. In second year I had a big, beautiful kitchen in our shared apartment in West Los Angeles, with a separate dining area, and with a balcony which looked out over palm trees and L.A. rooftops. It was beautiful, but I did not want to buy myself too many pieces of kitchen equipment as I'd have to leave it all behind when it was time to move home. My third shared kitchen, again in East London with a view of the Gherkin was absolutely tiny, filled with way too much stuff between the five of us, so always completely cramped. No matter how many times I tried to clean it, the oven was never clean enough to bake anything more delicate than bread in.
What these three kitchens taught me, is that sometimes you can't rely on what you're given. I'm a massive fan of Cuisinart's counter top kitchen appliances (not student gear, but I love their gelato maker and waffle iron), and if you get to your first student digs and you find that it is a struggle to put together decent meal with the appliances you've been given, it may be worth asking for this for Christmas: the Cuisinart 2 in 1 Grill & Sandwich Maker. All you need is the space to plug it in, and you can grill meat, fish and veggies, or press paninis using one set of the interchangeable plates, and make toasted sandwiches on the other side. You'll always have a meal with the sandwich maker if you keep plastic bread in the freezer, and butter and either eggs or cheese in the fridge. My favourite combination is egg, ham and tomato, and when we had one in our shared 6th form kitchen my last year of school, I used to make chocolate and banana toasted sandwiches at break-time for a pick me up on a cold and rainy day.
Outside of meal times, I was never without my water bottle. I hated the taste of London tap water and bottled water was an unnecessary expense, so a bottle with an in-built filter was a must for me. I still always keep one in the fridge at home (I'm clumsy, so I want to avoid spills on my laptop when I'm working) and I've recently found an upgrade: an Infruition Sport bottle. It has a handy little screw in insert holds different fruits and herbs to infuse your water, great to use up leftover scraps and if you're not a fan of the tap water where you've just moved away to. My favourite by far is infusing my water with cucumber slices.
Outside of meal times, my favourite healthy snack was always microwave popcorn without butter or sugar (and again, it still is!) Something I wish I'd had as a student was a microwave popcorn maker. Less washing up than popping a serving of popcorn kernels from a big wholefoods bag (the cheapest way to buy it), and you can control your own seasoning. For a really skinny snack, recently I've been enjoying just plain corn with a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel sea salt, but as a student I was really into making parsley butter popcorn. There is also a recipe for popcorn with parmesan and chives in Naydia Hussain's new book I'm super excited to try.
Two other things that came in my student bundle from Steamer Trading I wish I had had as a student is a set of knifes with blade covers (you'll probably only have one drawer to yourself for cutlery and knives and the like, and everything will just be thrown in together - the covers will stop you from cutting yourself when you're looking for something), and a cheap hand held spiralizer. Yes. I'm recommending a spiralizer. I know I have always been so anti food substitutes (I still am, courgette will never be real pasta!), but I have come to accept a spiralizer, especially for a student is a really handy gadget when it comes to preparing veggies for a side dish, especially if you're short on clean knives, chopping board space or saucepans because your scant equipment is occupied with other elements of your meal. Spiralized courgette is a favourite side dish of mine (steamed lightly with salt and pepper in a kitchen wrap covered bowl in the microwave, or blanched in a pan of boiling water), and spiralizing carrots and cucumber is a really fast way to get an impressive salad.
For those of you heading off to university for the first time in the next few weeks, I hope you have found this post helpful, and good luck! For the rest of you, perhaps if you have any kitchen equipment tips or hacks you learnt in your time as a student you'd like to share, please do pop them in the comments.