During my freshman year at NYU, I lived at Third North, one of the largest dorms on campus. Living there meant that I had a full kitchen in my dorm — something that I was looking forward to having since I somewhat knew how to cook. I only say somewhat because when I told people I was cooking, I really meant that I was buying the microwavable foods from Trader Joe’s and using the stovetop to heat them; I’d put the microwaveable orange chicken on the frying pan and move the pan around like the chefs you see in movies do. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with microwaveable foods (I’m still a regular orange chicken buyer), but I felt it was a bit of a stretch to call that cooking because everything was prepared and all I really had to do was heat it up. I was really just heating.
I wanted more out of the food I chose to buy, so I went to Trader Joe’s and decided to perform a complete overhaul of my grocery list. I bought four cuts of salmon, which you can pick up for around $12 — that’s almost a week’s worth of dinners which can help save on meal swipes. I also picked up some seasoning (my personal favorite is the famous 'Everything but the Bagel' sesame seasoning) and asparagus spears as a side. For my other meals, I also bought frozen seafood mix (a combination of shrimp, squid and scallops) and broccoli florets.
Because I was new at this, I decided to make every time that I cooked dinner an event for myself. I’d wear comfortable clothes, play some music and just relax while cooking. It was a new way for me to de-stress from any school work or other college-related issues. I had been warned that it might be a bit difficult to cook using the stoves in our dorm because they were old, but I still had faith in them. They were there for a reason so why not use them to their full capability? Once I started getting into the swing of things, everything became much easier than I had thought.
All I had to do was season the salmon, turn the stove to low heat, add a small amount of cooking oil and cook the salmon on each side until it was cooked thoroughly. I would grab a couple asparagus spears and let the juices from the salmon and seasoning flavor the asparagus. I became a big fan of this meal because it was easy to make and it was something you could have quite frequently because it was both nutritious and affordable.
*Tip: To add more to this dish, I would recommend quinoa, brown rice, or cauliflower rice.
At times when I didn’t have any salmon left or if I was in the mood for something different, I also experimented with a mini-stir-fry. For this, all I needed was the frozen seafood mix, the microwaveable TJ’s Orange Chicken and broccoli florets (asparagus works too). I just defrosted the seafood mix and drained the water, cooked the mix on the stove, and once cooked, mixed in the orange chicken. I would then add the sauce that comes with the orange chicken and once that was cooked, I would add any desired vegetables. This was a way to step up a basic (but good) meal with minimal effort.
Just by expanding my grocery list by opting into buying a few more fresh ingredients, I was able to turn those quick, mundane meals that were such a small portion of my day into something essential that I was looking forward to. Those simple steps are what made me learn more about cooking and be more enthusiastic about what I was eating.