My youngest nephew started university this fall. He’s not suffering much hardship, living with his parents and enjoying a well-appointed man cave in their basement, but he knows some day he will be on his own.
He started his kitchen education by asking me how to make my “special” popcorn. Well, it’s a start, anyway.
Whether the kids are leaving to go to school or moving to find work, those early days in their first apartments are equal parts terror and excitement. You can mitigate that fear by beefing up their kitchen toolkits, including some easy, go-to recipes they can count on — not too expensive and not too difficult.
It’s tough to get youngsters to eat breakfast at the best of times, and with a full day of classes ahead, a couple of minutes in the kitchen can be the basis for success — or at least for staying awake.
It’s terribly tempting to buy a bagel or breakfast sandwich every morning at the coffee shop on campus, but it can get costly. Besides, this makes as good a lunch or supper and just about everybody will enjoy it. As an added bonus, this is an easy take-to-the-office meal when you are short on time. This makes two small wraps, just enough for one.
1 tsp. butter or margarine
1 tbsp. milk
2 medium flour tortillas
2 slices sandwich ham
2 cheese slices or 1/4 cup grated cheese
4 thin slices tomato (optional)
1 pinch each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put butter in a microwave-safe bowl or mug and microwave for a few seconds, just until melted. Swirl around to coat the bowl. Add eggs and milk and beat lightly with a fork. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove and stir; return to microwave for 20 seconds. Stir again. If there’s a lot of runny egg white return for another 20 seconds. If it’s just a little streaky it will finish cooking while you assemble the wraps.
Top each tortilla with 1 slice of ham and 1 slice of cheese. Divide egg between them and top with tomato, salt and pepper. Roll and eat.
and pasta skillet dinner
Sooner or later they’ll decide it’s time to invite friends over to listen to music or watch a movie, and a bag of chips just won’t seem good enough for the occasion. Here’s a simple meal that everyone will enjoy. It waits happily until you’re ready to eat and is delicious leftover.
If the youngsters working on the supermarket cash lines are any indication, your kids won’t know what fresh cilantro is, but if they ask for the trick that elevates ordinary to special, that’s it in this recipe.
This will easily serve 4, but stretches to twice the number if you throw in some dinner rolls or a big bowl of tortilla chips.
1 lb. hot Italian sausages
1 medium jar (about 2 cups) chunky vegetable pasta sauce
1 jar (about 1 cup) chunky salsa (hot, medium or mild)
1 lb. frozen kernel corn (or 2 cans, drained)
8 oz. penne pasta
2 cups grated sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
Squeeze the sausages out of their casings (or buy bulk sausage if you can find it) and fry, stirring, until golden brown and no pink spots remain. Discard any fat in the pan. Add pasta sauce and salsa and simmer together about 5 minutes. Stir in corn.
Prepare penne according to package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Stir penne, cheese and cilantro into sausage mixture. If it seems too dry add a little of the cooking liquid — you want it saucy but not watery. Serve or put in a warm oven (250 F) for up to half an hour.
Banana chocolate chip cupcakes
Sometimes you want to impress someone with your baking skills when you haven’t really had a chance to develop them fully. Here’s the answer. These are rich and dense and taste completely homemade — because they are, sort of.
There’s a similar but even easier recipe for drop cookies. Stir together 2 eggs, 1/2 cup oil and a cake mix, spoon onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes. This version takes that old nugget to the next level.
Cake mixes, especially the slightly less popular flavours like butter pecan or spice, go on sale for as little as a dollar each when they get close to the best-before date, but they have an amazingly long shelf life. This recipe works with whatever box you like, although bananas and butter pecan seem to like each other a lot. Best of all, you don’t even need a mixer for these.
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 very ripe banana, mashed
1 2-layer cake mix, any flavour
1 cup chocolate chips
Beat eggs in a large bowl with a fork. Combine melted butter, oil and banana and stir into eggs. Add cake mix and stir until there are no dry lumps — a rubber scraper makes the job easier. Stir in chocolate chips. Bake in 12 muffin cups at 325 F for 35 minutes or until they are firm to the touch on top and a toothpick stuck in the centre comes out clean.
These are so rich you don’t need icing, even if you are serving them as a dessert, but a glass of milk or a cup of coffee would definitely be in order.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.