Meet the Cook
Being a 21 year old college junior with a college meal plan, I am not food savvy. I am the type of person who messes up a simple grilled cheese, is terrified to cook raw meat, and can never figure out when the rice is done. Everything I try to conjure up in the kitchen turns out being either burnt, undercooked, or just plain awful (unless I’m baking). After multiple attempts at trying to master the kitchen, I eventually decided to put down the spatula, pull my hands away from the stove, and walk away. Until the other day when I decided it was time for me to grow a little and try to cook something I never tried before.
I suffer from chronic stomach pain and finding food on a college campus that is healthy and won’t negatively affect my stomach has become an almost impossible task. So, I thought learning how to make/cook my own food and getting rid of the meal plan would help me in more ways than one (including saving me lots of money and stomach pain). I think it’s important for people, especially young adults to learn how to cook because it’s a basic skill needed to survive (unless one plans on having a meal plan for the rest of their life). Cooking is also rewarding because at the end of it all, you are left with a product that you made and then you get to eat it. It can also bring people together.
My one roommate Laura (who is this fiery, Jersey Italian girl) is always cooking and baking up a storm in our old apartment kitchen. I usually sit in the kitchen doing homework and watch her as she makes herself meals for the week. She has offered to teach me how to cook many times and after declining for a while, I have finally decided to take her up on her offer.
Pasta it is
I spent the afternoon looking up easy to do recipes for the common college student demographic, with a lack of experience and a lack of food knowledge base. After scrolling past recipes that were beyond my years and my tiny budget, I found a recipe on “Budget Bytes” that was for an easy, quick, and cheap pasta meal, which was something I could appreciate. One thing I appreciated about the “Budget Bytes” website was the fact they gave their readers the ingredients, instructions, and pictures, which showed step by step how to make it. That, with the help from Laura, made me feel a lot more comfortable with myself and cooking in the kitchen.
The meal seemed like something I could tackle and hopefully accomplish, with a little help. The recipe was for “Creamy Tomato and Spinach Pasta”.
I ventured into Giant looking for the ingredients I needed. After scouring the store for the most organic versions of the ingredients as I could find, I was off to try and make myself some (hopefully edible) dinner.
Here We Go
Returning home from the grocery store, bags in tow, I began my journey of becoming a novice cook. Laura was home when I got there, eager and ready to help me navigate the kitchen and all its sharp objects. She is the mom of our house, so I think she was just glad to have someone to pass her culinary knowledge on to (which I was ready to absorb it all).
The recipe[i] called for:
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp dried basil
- Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
- Freshly cracked pepper to taste
- ½ tsp salt (which I did not add)
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 oz. cream cheese
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- ½ lb. penne pasta
- ½ (9oz.) bag fresh spinach
I started the process of cooking the pasta dish by boiling the water and dumping in the penne pasta into the pot with the water required (which I found out you’re supposed to add the pasta after the water is already boiling, but now I know that for next time).
While the bubbling water cooked the pasta, Laura handed me the largest knife I’ve ever seen and taught me how to properly it while I attempted to dice the onion, and mince the garlic. This was the scariest part for me, but also the most gratifying once I got the hang of it. After doing so, with the permissions of my supervisor, I put both ingredients in a separate pan and let them simmer in olive oil.
When the onion and garlic was simmered to the point where my roommate approved, I added the can of diced tomatoes and spices to the pan.
After this step, I added the tomato paste and the ½ cup of water to the pan and let it simmer some more. Then I added the cream cheese, stirred until it was creamy. Next I added the bag of spinach leaves. The leaves overflowed and made me feel as if I was doing something wrong, which Laura assured me this was normal and put a lid over the pan to help the leaves shrivel faster. When the leaves were done shriveling and mixed into the sauce, the sauce was ready to be mixed in with the noodles.
The End Result
(The pasta was then sprinkled with parmesan cheese)
When the pasta was mixed with the creamy, tomato, spinach sauce, it was time for my supervisor, friends, and I to taste test the product.
Pasta For All
I was very wary about cooking an actual dish “alone” for the first time. I am thankful to have had such a helpful and patient friend to give up a 1 hour and a half of her day to help and supervise me while I learned to cook. It was supposed to only take 25 minutes to cook the meal, but it ended up taking took so long because of the fact that I had to learn how to do everything.
We were all excited to taste what we had been working on. Everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy it, including myself. We were also all impressed that I actually did it and it ended up being so tasty. Laura has graciously offered to give me a crash course on all things cooking and the kitchen before we all leave for summer break, which I have taken her up on.
This meal of “Creamy Tomato and Spinach Pasta” is hopefully the beginning of a beautiful relationship between me, cooking, and the kitchen. So, hopefully next year I will be able to say goodbye to the meal plan and the stomach pain and be able to cook my own meals. This way I will be able to leave college not only with a writing degree, but also having learned many other skills as well, that will help me be the best adult I can be.
[i] Budget Bytes. 28 July 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2016. Path: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/07/creamy-tomato-spinach-pasta/.