Spicy Balsamic Butternut Squash

1501160938928A simple and delicious recipe for you all today. Butternut squash is a massively under-used veggie, considering its something so delicious. It feels like it’s somewhere between a sweet potato and a pumpkin flavour-wise.

This butternut squash recipe requires minimal prep, and you can then just leave it to look after itself in the oven. Even though butternut squash may seem a bit autumnal, its great added to big salads in summer- which is why I’m giving it to you now. You can also use this root veg as a side in any meal where you would usually use sweet potato, and so make it all year long. I personally love it with omelettes and greens, or veggie burgers and a side salad topped with feta…

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • 1 medium butternut squash, end removed, seeds scooped out, and flesh cut into small chunks
  • Balsamic vinegar (NOT “balsamic dressing”), approx. 2tbsp
  • Chilli flakes, to taste (I went with about 2tsp)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Italian herbs 1tsp
  • 2 garlic cloves, VERY finely sliced

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Egg, Asparagus, Broccoli & Pepper Couscous (fast, easy, and healthy!)

IMG_20170516_212211_450The past few weeks have been a bit busy for me, what with my final essays for third year being handed in tomorrow, and completing my poetry portfolio to hand in a couple of weeks ago- something I’ve spent nearly a year working on and had to be pried away from me. I know that this time of year us students tend to just pick up food as we go, and though I am always ready to indulge my love of food, it can become a little bit expensive. It can become a LOT expensive. And since I’ve been spending a lot of time in a local cake shop recently, and I would rather spend my money on cake (its really good cake), this was becoming a bit of a problem. This is the kind of lunch that provides a solution: its fast, its pretty no-brain-power-required, it tastes great, and it will make you feel good. You can also then spend more money on cake.

Swap in whatever veggies you want/have. Here I’ve used broccoli (I always have that in), pepper (I was finishing up a three pack), and asparagus (on offer in the market, and coincidentally one of my favourite vegetables, so I was using up a massive bunch of the stuff). The idea is to keep this cheap, so don’t go buy mega-expensive ingredients. Couscous is something I feel like every student should have in, as are eggs. Both are things you can make multiple meals out of, and so are invaluable.

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Pear & Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

Does anyone else prefer their pears crunchy and crisp? Instead of that awful, gritty, mushy mess they become when overly ripe? When pears are anything less than crunchy, there is only one thing for them: baked oatmeal. Pear and blueberry is a particularly lovely combination. Frozen blueberries are better value, keep longer, and also (for some strange reason) release more of their juice and flavour in baking, I find. The oats will keep you full throughout the morning, provide fibre, energy, and cook down to a texture somewhere between cookie dough and a muffin. In short, this is a perfect student breakfast. I tend to make my baked oatmeal on a Saturday morning, post lie in, when I have more time to enjoy it…



Ingredients

  • 1 medium pear, I used a Rocha pear (these were the crispest ones I could get hold of at the time)
  • 1 small handful frozen blueberries (trust me: these work the best)
  • 1/2 cup porridge oats
  • 1/2 cup milk (plant based, or cow’s milk)
  • 1/4tsp baking soda
  • 1/4tsp baking powder
  • Cinnamon and ginger, to taste
  • OPTIONAL: Nut butter of choice, 1 tbsp. (to top)


Method

  • Preheat the oven to 190*c, and grease a baking dish (a deep dish works best).
  • Chop the pear into chunks, reserving three thin slices to top.
  • In a bowl mix together all of the ingredients, and then pour into the baking dish, pushing the pear chunks below the surface of the mixture (as much as possible anyway). Top with the pear you sliced earlier and then put to one side, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a few more frozen blueberries.
  • Place into the oven for 25 minutes, until crisp on the top. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool slightly (give it 5 minutes-ish: we don’t want any burnt mouths).
  • Top with nut butter if you desire (almond is a good call), and dig in…

One Person Lentil & Sausage Pot (Student Lifesaver)

Need a healthy meal in under 15 minutes? One that wards off the freshman 15, but also feels comforting and tastes delicious? Then try this one out. You’ll get at least one of your 5 a day, and a warm, filling, and comforting meal for one- which means your flatmates can’t nab any of it…


Ingredients

  • 2 Quorn sausages
  • 1/4 cup red split lentils
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 50g broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 5 button mushrooms, each chopped in half
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 red chilli, finely sliced
  • 2tbsp tomato puree + 1tbsp water
  • 1/2 small green bell pepper, chopped into chunks
  • 1-2tsp dried Italian herbs
  • Black and white pepper, to taste


Method

  • Begin by cooking the lentils. Bring 1/2 cup water to the boil in a small pan, and then add your lentils. Reduce to a simmer, and cover. Cook for roughly 5 minutes.
  • In another pan sauté the onion, chilli, and garlic until lightly cooked. Throw the broccoli into the pan, along with a tiny bit of water to steam it. After 1-2 minutes, throw in the pepper and mushrooms. Take your lentils and toss into the pan with the veggies. Mix together the tomato puree and 1tbsp water, then add this along with the herbs and other seasoning. Stir it all together over a medium-low heat.
  •  Preheat the grill to high and cook the sausages according to packet instructions TIP! Want to cook those sausages faster? Microwave those sausages until warm to the touch, turning over occasionally and keeping a close eye on them. This means they’ll be hot in the middle. THEN place under the grill for 5 minutes until crisp on the outside.
  • Add the spinach to the veggie pan and allow to wilt, then plate up. Place your sausages on top (or even chop them into chunks and stir through) and dig in…

Fresher’s Food Stocks

The best way to save some money if you’re heading to uni may seem like drinking all night and sleeping all day, so that you then simultaneously don’t have to eat, or face what you did last night. But if you want to actually enjoy your first year during the daytime too, then you may want to think about what you’ll be eating.

 Before I left for Newcastle, over a few weeks, my mum and I stocked two boxes with food. Not biscuits and pot noodles, but simple healthy ingredients- which combined can make a meal in minutes, and allow you to avoid the dreaded Freshman 15. I ended up with enough food to see out a nuclear war under my bed, but by picking up canned and dried foods when they were on offer (and from cheaper stores that Newcastle doesn’t have) my food bills ended up being dramatically slashed when I got to uni. I didn’t manage to get through all of the food I took either, which means some of it has been used by my family this summer, and a lot of it can come to uni with me this next year. So what are the very basics you should try to get hold of? Well, below I have them all listed for you. Choose some from each section, and pack them up ready. I also have a post coming up to give you meal ideas to use them, and so check that out to make a shopping list from before you leave…


Before You Go…

Dried
Brown rice
Cous cous
Wholemeal pasta
Wholemeal noodle nests (due to noodles cooking faster and being lighter on the stomach I actually ended up abandoning pasta throughout the year in favour of them)
Lentils
Ricecakes
Crispbreads
Oatcakes
Dried fruit, such as….prunes, sultanas, dates
Nuts or seeds, such as…walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds
Porridge oats
Wholemeal flour
Cereal with no added sugar, such as Shredded Wheat
Stock cubes
Gravy granules

Cocoa powder
(If you’re feeling fancy…mixed quinoa and bulgur wheat cooks quickly, lasts forever, fills you up, is a nice change, and is an protein and energy powerhouse)

Jarred
Olives
Nut butters
Honey
Mustard/ketchup/salsa
Soy sauce
Garlic

Pesto

Canned
Baked beans
Chickpeas
Several cans beans of choice, such as red kidney beans
Canned chopped tomatoes
Pineapple
Peas
Sweetcorn
Fish, such as…mackerel, tuna, sardines, pilchards, mussels (look our for deals and multipacks)

Herbs & Spices
Italian seasoning
Chilli flakes or powder
Cinnamon
Ginger
Smoked paprika
Curry powder
Salt
Black and white pepper
Cumin
5 Spice
Turmeric

I love to cook, and so you may not want to bring all of these ingredients with you, but I strongly recommend at least bringing some from each section. With these basics, and a few frozen and fresh ingredients once you arrive at university, you are then ready to take on cooking as an adult. And even if you’re running low on fresh food, you can whip something up with whatever is lurking in the bottom of the fridge.

Once You’re Settled In…

Once you get to uni you’ll want to stock up the freezer, fridge, and the cupboards- but sit down first and make a meal plan. I made one the day before I left, so that I was prepared to stock up the fridge on arriving. Write out the ingredients you need for each meal, when you’ll eat the leftovers, and how many portions you can freeze for emergencies. I have a post on planning and shopping for meals right here: http://ecstaticallyem.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/7-simple-steps-to-meals-as-student.html

Fresh and frozen ingredients I bought regularly included:

Fresh:
Onions
Sweet potatoes
Carrots
Bell peppers
Mushrooms
Spinach or kale or lettuce
Tomatoes
Celery
Apples
Oranges
Bananas
Berries
Houmous
Greek or natural yoghurt
Quorn

Eggs
Pitta breads

Frozen:
Fish fillets (multipacks of salmon fillets were on offer)
McCains Jacket potatoes
Peas
Frozen berries

Frozen ingredients can be stored for a long, long time. Some fresh ingredients also last for weeks (if stored correctly), such as onions and potatoes. Be sure to freeze food you know you won’t be eating according to your own personal meal plan though. This includes the pitta bread, berries, and leftovers. If your bananas are becoming too ripe then slice them up and freeze them; they can then be used in smoothies, to make one ingredient banana ice cream, or eaten as a snack on their own. There are loads of ways to save money with food, you just have to get your head around pre-planning.

What Shouldn’t I Do?

Now, on the other hand, here are the foods and shopping habits to avoid being tempted by (I’ll give you great alternatives in the next post, I promise)….


AVOID:

  • Branded ice creams, on offer or not. (Maybe treat yourself occasionally, but this is one food that guzzled up some friend’s loans. Along with…)
  • Alcohol. (Bring a couple of bottles of your favourite, and some mixers, with you. Use them for pre-drinks, and you can avoid having to spend that much on this during fresher’s; free or cheap drinks may be around at some events. The shop conveniently placed underneath the accommodation may do good deals to begin with, but you’ll notice prices rising as you get further through the year. By limiting alcohol you also ensure you feel better for the majority of the year, and that you don’t live in your overdraft.)
  • Pre-prepared pizzas
  • Ready meals
  • Buying lunch out every single day
  • You may want to cut back on meat, simple but effective (I switched to only occasionally eating fresh fish at uni, and once my meals became predominantly veggie based my food bill fell again)
  • Shopping solely at the supermarket (checkout smaller bargin stores for canned goods, ethnic stores for items such as spices and rice in bulk, and the market if you’re lucky enough to have one locally- although keep an eye on what is cheaper in the big shops too! Get to know the shops around you and what they charge for ingredients you use a lot of)
  • Shopping on an empty stomach
  • Shopping without a rough budget (look at food stores online once you have your ingredients listed, and work out roughly how much it is)
  • Shopping mid-day (in the mornings the shops are quieter and less hectic, and in the evening foods are often reduced in price. ALWAYS check the offers and bargin bin)
  • Don’t be sucked in by “great deals” you don’t need. (Ask yourself: can I afford it? If so, do I need it? Will I use it? What will I use it for/in? Nine times out of ten you’ll walk away)

If you really can’t trust yourself to shop and ignore the things that you’re tempted to buy? Shop online. This can also be a time saver if you’re super busy, and delivery can be free. Warning: they sometimes bring the wrong things.