Dude, cooking at home can become so simple

By Steve Contorno

Being a dude and cooking for the first time on my own was a notion that worried me. But it also was a bit exciting. No longer would I have to force-feed myself the cafeteria slop they call food or live extensively off of Easy Mac. I could create masterful dishes, brimming with flavor and originality that would rival that of Food Network hottie Rachael Ray.

Or so I thought.

Cooking on your own can get old very fast. It’s not actually making food that’s annoying, it’s the cleaning up following the meal that really blows. Dishes pile up quickly, especially if you use multiple pots, pans and cooking appliances. Plus, most of your kitchens won’t be as spacious as the one mommy cooks in back home.

So what to do about cooking? You know you have to eat and most people don’t have the budget to dine out every night. Cooking for yourself is relatively cheap, and if you chip in with roommates and share the cooking responsibilities a few nights a week, you’ll notice you’ve saved a lot of beer money. And you need to find a good balance between eating sandwiches and canned goods and cooking extensive dishes, because Beefaroni can get just as tiresome as cleaning dishes.

The first thing you want to do is find time in your schedule to make a good meal a few times a week. If your classes end around 4 p.m., put aside an hour afterward to cook something good for dinner. If you work at night and have big gaps during the day, muster up a tasty lunch.

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It’s also important to make your dishes pretty basic. You’ll probably get a cookbook from your mom as a going away present. Take it from me, those books are either disgusting ways to mix Spam with Chef Boyardee or are way too intricate – even the self-proclaimed easy ones. You don’t want dishes that require very specific ingredients because you’re wasting money on things you’ll only use once.

Instead, you want to stock up on ingredients that mix well with anything, are cheap and can be turned into something tasty. I always keep a pretty good supply of pasta sauce, tomato paste, noodles, tuna, bread crumbs, lemon juice, garlic salt and powder, diced garlic, packaged cheeses, potatoes and onions. Most of those items are pretty versatile and can be used in many of the courses you can prepare. And they’ll stay fresh for a while.

Make sure you know how much you consume in what periods of time and buy accordingly. Don’t purchase a dozen eggs if you won’t eat them by the expiration date. Buying in bulk is cheaper but not always practical. Stockpiling on chicken and ground beef is a good idea; just make sure to freeze whatever won’t be used immediately.

When it comes to actually cooking, be creative. You always have ramen if you mess up that badly. Start out by mixing a can of tuna with mac ‘n’ cheese and move on to crossing chicken and bacon. The more you try, the more you’ll find likeable and the bolder your creations will become.

There are also plenty of easy starter options available. Hamburger Helper has a wide variety of relatively quick, tasty meals that aren’t difficult (just know that the meat doesn’t come with it, I learned that the hard way). Crockpots can be useful. You can also buy marinades that are pretty delicious. Throw some Italian dressing in a bag with a chicken breast, shake it up and leave it in the fridge for as long as a day. Then just put it in the oven for a bit and bake a potato along with it, and voila, a restaurant quality dinner.

You’re not going to be cooking anything that will rival a five-star meal, but you can cook up some pretty good grub with a small budget and little culinary knowledge.

And believe me, you’re going to want to. If you don’t move away from SpaghettiOs after the first month, you’ll be wishing the residence halls would let you back in. You may vomit at the thought now, but it’s true.

Meaty Cheesy Manwich


1 lb ground beef

1 can sloppy Joe sauce

1 small can tomato paste

4-5 strips bacon

2 cup sliced mozzarella cheese

3 tbsp A1 steak sauce

3 tbsp barbeque sauce

1 tsp mesquite seasoning

salt and pepper to taste

6-8 large hamburger buns

Brown ground beef in a frying pan. Add mesquite seasoning, distributing evenly. Pour sloppy Joe sauce in a medium size pot. Heat on medium low. Add browned ground beef. Stir in tomato paste, barbeque sauce and A1 steak sauce. Add salt and pepper as desired. Microwave bacon on a plate and cover with paper towel. Let bacon cool. Cut bacon into small pieces. Stir bacon pieces into meat sauce. Toast hamburger buns lightly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place buns on a cooking sheet. Spoon meat sauce onto buns. Cover meat sauce with sliced mozzarella. Leaving buns open-faced, place in oven for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let sit for five minutes before eating.

Yields: 6-8 sandwiches.

Note from Chef Steve:

The Meaty Cheesy Manwich is easy to make and keeps for quite some time in your fridge if properly stored. If you only feel like having one, just make one and keep the rest of the sauce in a Tupperware for up to a month. Toasting the buns first helps to keep the sandwiches from falling apart. I like mozzarella on it, but other cheeses are good, too.

Tuna Lemon Pasta


1/3 lb pasta

1 large can (or two small cans) tuna

1/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp pepper

2 tbsp minced garlic

1 tsp garlic salt

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Boil pasta in a medium size pot. When pasta is soft, strain it and put in a large, greased frying pan. Place on stove and set temperature at medium. Add tuna. Let tuna and pasta cook for several minutes then add olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in pan. Add salt and pepper. Keep pasta moving in pan so it does not burn. Add garlic and garlic salt. Stir in about half of the parmesan cheese and add a splash more of lemon juice. Stir in pan until lemon juice is absorbed. Sprinkle remainder of cheese on top. Keep heated until cheese is slightly melted. Ready to serve.

Yields 1-2 servings.

Note from Chef Steve:

Mostacolli or penne works best, but string pasta works well, too. If you’re not a fan of tuna, plenty of other options can replace it. Tuna is by far the easiest and absorbs the flavors nicely, but diced chicken or fresh peppers are tasty as well. You will probably have to cook the chicken a little before you add it to the pasta. You can add less or more lemon juice depending on your taste.