Students Cooking For Themselves

Sep 22, 2023 | Catherine's Blog

Students Cooking for themselves, with back to college cooking.

Here at Ballyknocken Cookery School, we decided to ask our favourite chef Catherine Fulvio (ahem!) what tips and foolproof recipes she would have for students starting college for the first time or even returning to college.

It’s a daunting time if moving away from home and now fending for yourself, so Catherine is here to answer all the questions and share her knowledge on how to eat healthily, without blowing the budget

And if you are looking for additional inspiration, check out our on-line cooking course for students and TY

Catherines Tips for Students Cooking at college

It’s going to college time … what are the basic cooking skills teens should have by about the age of 18 so they can feed themselves a proper meal when they move away from home for the first time?


  • Firstly – how to shop wisely – to avoid food wastage but also to avoid buying more expensive ingredients in small quantities
  • Next – it might sound obvious but how to follow a recipe, how to measure
  • Then how to use a knife safely
  • After that, it’s how to cook key ingredients e.g.
  • how to boil / fry an egg
  • how to cook a piece of salmon, a piece of chicken (9how to know it’s safe to eat and not bone dry!)
  • How to cook rice
  • How to cook pasta
  • How to stir fry
  • How to make soup
  • Then its education regarding how to add healthy veg to the plate / dish to ensure a balanced diet
  • Finally how to store the leftovers


What should that 18-year-old always have in their cupboard?

Rice, pasta, egg noodles; olive oil, herbs and spices (e.g. garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, oregano; curry powder); tin tomatoes, tomato puree; good stock cubes; coconut milk, soy sauce, possibly oyster sauce

Tuna; seeds and nuts

And what meals do you suggest are easy to shop for, easy to prepare and will make the flatmates happy?

Italian: any pasta dish e.g. carbonara; or a pasta bake such as mac and cheese

Asian – any stir fry

Mexican – fajitas

Indian – curry with rice

Of course there are vegetarians and vegans to cater for as well ….

It’s easy to make a vegetarian curry or pasta side – chickpeas, mushrooms and/ or cauliflower are great for bulking up a vegetarian dish bringing good nutrients in too.

Ok, what recipes would you suggest?


RECIPE 1 – minced beef – very versatile

Beef and Cauliflower Mash Cottage Pie

Serves 4

For the mince

600g lean minced beef

1 onion, sliced

1 celery stalk, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

400g tinned diced tomatoes

200ml hot beef stock (low salt version)

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

100g sliced chestnut mushrooms

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the cauliflower mash

300g cauliflower, chopped

2 large egg yolks

1 tbsp butter

50g grated cheddar cheese

¼ tsp ground paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Oil for frying


Add 1 tbsp oil to a large frying pan and add the minced beef and brown, breaking up with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Remove from the pan and place in a clean bowl. Add 1 tbsp oil and add the onion, sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until cooked but not browned.

Stir in the celery, garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes. Add the beef stock and stir to deglaze the pan.

Add the tinned diced tomatoes, bay leaf and Worcestershire sauce.

Return the brown minced beef to the pan

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and leave to simmer slowly for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6.

To prepare the cauliflower mash, place the cauliflower into a steamer and cook for 15 to 18 minutes or until cooked.

Transfer the cauliflower into a food processor and puree or simply mash with a fork. Add the egg yolks, cheese and butter. Check the seasoning, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

To prepare the mushrooms, add ½ tbsp oil into a non-stick frying pan, add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté until brown. Then add the mushrooms to the beef.

Transfer the beef to an oven proof casserole dish. Spoon the cauliflower mash over the cooked beef, sprinkle the paprika over and place in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes to brown on top.



RECIPE 2 – a pasta? We think you can’t go wrong with a quick pasta dish …. 

Spicy Mac and Cheese

Serves 6

 350g macaroni pasta

For the sauce

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ tsp mustard powder

½ tsp Cajun blend seasoning

½ tbsp mix dried herbs, chives, oregano, thyme

100g grated parmesan

1 can sweetcorn, drained

75g butter

75g plain flour

600ml milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100g grated mature cheddar cheese

4 tbsp breadcrumbs


Cook the macaroni according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4.

For the sauce, heat a large saucepan with a little oil, add the garlic clove and sauté for 1 minute.

Add the mustard powder, Cajun blend seasoning and mixed herbs, stir well.

Lower the heat, stir in the butter and add the flour and cook while stirring for 2 minutes.

Pour in the milk and stir until a sauce forms – this will take about 6 to 7 minutes. (Whisk if necessary to ensure no lumps in the sauce). Add the grated parmesan and sweetcorn and stir well.

Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mix the cooked macaroni pasta into sauce. Transfer to a buttered gratin dish and add the grated cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs on top.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and heated through.



RECIPE 3 date night? What do you cook for the first time you’re having a new girlfriend or boyfriend over?

Pea & Pesto Risotto with Pesto

Serves 4 -6

Olive oil


75g diced pancetta

1 onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, diced

400g risotto rice

150 ml medium dry white wine

1.5 litres chicken stock, heated to simmering

200g peas

25g parmesan, freshly grated

3 tbsp cream

100ml pesto


Heat a large heavy saucepan and add 2 tbsp oil and a knob of butter. When the butter is foaming, add the pancetta and fry until crisp, remove and drain allow to on kitchen paper. Return the saucepan to the heat add the onion and cook on a low heat for 7-10 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the garlic and rice, and cook for a few minutes until the rice is shiny and opaque. Add the wine and simmer for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until each ladleful is absorbed, adding the peas with the last ladle. The rice should be creamy but firm to the bite. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, pesto and cream. Season well and serve immediately.


Fine foodCatherine FulvioGood living