University: A Bunch of Essentials

I’ve written a few times about what to take to university, I’ve written about my tech essentials, and now it’s time to share what other students feel are essential.

 photo 2014-09-03 18.21.39_zps9rmvxmji.jpgWay back in the summer Currys PC World asked me to contribute to a mini-guide on tech essentials for students. It’s now finally available for me to share with you – here’s the free download.

I thought a little outside of the box for my contribution and went kitchen-based. I’m not a huge user of tech within the kitchen (I don’t even use an electric whisk – beating eggs is a tough job in my house!) but there are a couple of things I think of as essential for me.

The first is a slow cooker. For me this is essential in creating stews and so on – things I actually eat an awful lot of. It’s not exactly economical to have the oven on all day, but slow cookers are much more efficient. I find them far easier to clean too!

 photo Homemade Pesto Recipes 8_zpsxiez5qm0.jpg photo Homemade Pesto Recipes 7_zpsbswpjwom.jpgThe second is a mini food processor. Now I’m not claiming either of these things are essential for most students, but if you like to cook then they are pretty cheap items that I reckon you’ll get a lot of use from. I use my mini chopper at least a couple of times a week – more so now my new version also acts as a mini blender (it’s perfect for one-person smoothies). I’ve also discovered it makes turning biscuits into crumbs a ten second job, perfect for making a chocolate fridge cake… It also allows me to make my own pesto, whizz up a curry paste, even blend up nut butters. Not bad for such a tiny machine!

Of course there’s other techy essentials too.

I couldn’t live without my portable hardrive, especially now my free unlimited Dropbox has ended. And of course there’s the laptop issue – and getting one that’s the right combination of light-weight and heavy-performance. I also have a Chromebook as well (perfect for weekends at W’s as my four-year-old laptop is SO heavy), an ASUS tablet and the mobile.

 photo 2015-10-07 16.39.29_zpsrx2kogfr.jpg photo University Room Tour 1_zpsy3lofhfl.jpgThe less obvious, smaller bits of tech are just as important. I’ve found having at least two extension leads is crucial at university, as you can guarantee plugs are in the most difficult of places. A kettle is pretty much designed for students – how else would I survive on tea?! And a microwave means you can make mug cakes and scrambled eggs. Speakers are pretty important for those pre-drink evenings, and having a HDMI cable means you can attach your laptop to a larger screen before jumping onto BBC iPlayer.

I found when I first moved to university I concentrated on the more practical things I needed – the kitchen bits, the bedding, the study materials. I know I definitely overlooked needed an extension cable!

What do you think are essentials for students? What couldn’t you live without at university?

Student Summer: What to Take to University #4

I really hope these posts have been useful to you! I know I’d have loved blog posts like this when I started university, but for some reason I only really started reading blogs well after starting this one. Strange I know! Today I’m going to witter on about stationery to take to university. So grab a pen and paper (aha!) and we’ll begin…

 photo 2014-09-11174233_zpse91a20d3.jpgPaper and pens. I have to say this is quite important to me. I’m a leftie so a decent pen is a must or I will smudge everything to an illegible smear. It’s happened before, even with biro. Pilot Frixion erasable pens are my weapons of choice, being able to rub out makes my lecture notes so much neater too. I’m also not a huge fan of colour until I revise, so I stick to black. But it’s up to you. I also like doing rough work in pencil, so I always have a handful of those on the go. As for paper I go for Ryman’s giant refill pads, bought on 3 for 2 with student discount they are the best value I’ve found, and the quality is high enough so you don’t get that dreadful scratchy sound when you writ.

Now, I’d just go with the organisational basics until you get started and learn what the module layout etc is going to be like. Pick up a single folder and some plastic wallets; buy more as you go. I have a system now (as an actuarial student) of one folder per module, with that upgraded to a lever-arch it the module is a thirty-credit one. My original plan of one lever arch per year is far from achievable; sometimes I fill a lever arch with a module!

 photo 2014-09-11174312_zpsbf6cbb15.jpgNext up is a diary. This is so, so, so important – you will absolutely have deadlines to write down. By all means use your phone if it works for you, but most people I know have to write it down physically. Me? I couldn’t live without my Filofax. I was bought a Pink Personal Malden for my A-Level results (over two years ago!) and I’m virtually never without it. Not only does it look pretty (and matches my satchel) it’s also so, so functional. I’ll be doing a post specifically on how I use it for university soon, if you like, but I do highly recommend a Filofax if you’re a stationery geek like me. With only the inserts to buy (or make) after the initial purchase you have a full customisable diary for a relatively decent price. Mine is always by my side or in my bag, it genuinely keeps my life on track!

Stapler, hole punch, ruler, rubber, pencil sharpener, scissors. Basics that are just handy to have around – you’ll probably need to secure coursework together at some point so a stapler is a must.

Now, a printer is something I’m unsure about. I had one in my first year, then sold it in the carpark whilst packing up as it was that one thing that didn’t quite fit. In my second year we shared one. I *think* I’ll pick up a cheap one for my final year as it’s just so much easier to have one. Printing on campus is extortionate in my opinion, and I can rarely bring myself to do it. I’ll admit though, most of my printing is saved up til I’m at home and then someone else foots the ink bill!

 photo 2014-05-09174211_zpsc2453d48.jpgBooks. No doubt you’ll have a long list of ‘recommended’ books that you ‘have’ to purchase at the ‘reasonable’ price of 10 billion pounds…sarcasm is a strong point here. I’d leave off ordering any until you get there and work out what’s in the library, and whether you actually need them. In terms of recommended books, I’ve only bought one in two years (and it was worth it), and borrowed one from the library. My tip is to google your module name and find other books on Amazon (quite often just older editions of what you need) – you’ll find similar books, and quite often you’ll get used copies for a fraction of the price. I bought loads and loads of books for second year this way, I paid around £40 for 10 books including delivery. Great for when I was recovering from my operation that summer as it gave me something to do! Even though the books can be quite old, they are normally fine though I’d avoid if you’re doing a degree with changing information..I was quite amused when one book came not with a CD, but a floppy disk…

 photo 2014-09-11174422_zps284c6e51.jpgIn terms of revision gear, I’d recommend buying it when you need it. But I use erasable highlighters, erasable colour pens (sensing a theme here?), post-it notes, record cards and lots and lots of paper.

What stationery do you use at university/college/school/work?

Student Summer: What to Take to University #3

We’re in the kitchen today. That’s right, what kind of kitchen stuff should you be taking to university? I have to admit I actually really struggled to write this because as a keen cook there’s a lot of kitchen things that are necessities to me but luxuries to most students. So as always, take this “list” as a guide rather than definitive.

One thing I don’t agree with is waiting til you get there to see what your housemates bring, then team up. Fine in later years when you’re living with friends, but the majority of people I know would have rather gone hungry than share equipment with people they lived with in halls. Myself included…the provided white chopping board was black by Christmas.

 photo 2014-09-03182139_zpsa66d8208.jpgKnives

Knives were the things I was most worried about heading to university – I needed good ones, but didn’t want to buy the earth. Luckily the summer before university I was treated to the most lovely holiday in Switzerland, and whilst I was there bought four Victorinox knives for the equivalent of about £2. Bargain, though I was terribly nervous about them in my suitcase flying home! Turns out they are amazing quality, so so sharp (I sliced a chunk out of my finger in second year, wasn’t pretty), and they haven’t deteriorated at all. I know take them home every holiday as I can’t bear to be without them…As a minimum, get a sharp straight bladed knife, and one with a serrated edge.

Baking Trays/Dishes

You definitely don’t need to spend a fortune here. Get a cheap flat baking tray, and a dish (pyrex or ceramic) that is the right size for a single portion. As a guide – if its lasagne sheet size, it’s about right. I love, love, love my Le Cruset dish, but they don’t come cheap. That said it looks brand new still (was an 18th present), as a quick soak means any burnt things come straight off. And trust me, I’ve burnt things…

Crockery & Cutlery

I’m of the belief that whilst you don’t need that many plates etc, it’s probably easier and cheaper to go and buy the cheapest, most basic dinner set you can buy. The one is Wilkinson’s is about £7 and I don’t think you could buy the things separately for less than that. In addition, I’d grab a big mug (you’ll need it when you have deadlines!) and a large soup bowl. Cutlery-wise, go as cheap as possible. But buy a few of everything. And lots of teaspoons, I lose about four a term…

 photo 2014-09-03182241_zps60f86fd8.jpgSaucepans

At a minimum, get a frying pan (mine doubles up as a wok too), a large saucepan, and a small saucepan. The saucepans should ideally have lids, and all should reallyyyy be non-stick. You’ll thank me for it!

Electricals

I would advise against buying many electricals until you’re there, as many will be provided. My kitchen had a kettle and microwave (however dirty they may have been), and a decent grill setting on the oven. Electricals weren’t allowed in rooms, to the point we were ‘supposed’ to straighten hair in the kitchen… One thing I would suggest is some weighing scales – particularly if you are starting out cooking as you’ll need practise before guestimating ingredients such as rice and pasta.

 photo 2014-09-03182415_zps3a6ecf68.jpgUtensils

Oooh, a list!

  • Cheese grater
  • Wooden/silicone spoon
  • Spatula
  • “Fish slice” – sounds fancy, but in reality you probably have one at one. The wide flat thing used for scrapping off food that’s stuck to a tray?
  • Tin opener – I am actually really impressed with the quality of the £4 one from Wilkinsons
  • Pizza wheel – because cutting it with a knife just isn’t the same
  • Sieve/colander
  • Potato masher
  • Decent scissors

Baking

If you’re going to be doing a bit of baking at university, I’d suggest a few little extras. Measuring cups and spoons are a lifesaver for me, as they are great for speeding up recipes. A couple of different trays and tins will expand your baking repertoire, and I’d also consider stocking up on cupcake cases and ingredients such as vanilla extract. And chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Peanut butter too.

Other Stuff

Woo, another list!

  • Tea towels
  • Oven gloves – though I’m from a family who just uses tea towels. That said, oven gloves look pretty…
  • Pan stand – most worktops aren’t heatproof
  • Chopping board – plastic is cheapest, though I’m desperate for a wooden one!
  • Plastic boxes/sturdy freezer bags – great for freezing portions of food in.
  • Pyrex jug
  • Mixing bowl – also quite handy for times when you’re feeling a bit queasy apparently!
  • From the food shop – kitchen towel, cling film, plastic food bags, tin foil
  • Cleaning things – washing up liquid, clothes, disinfectant, scrubbing brush

Luxuries

Ah, luxuries. Go wild here. My luxury of choice from the kitchen would be a mini-food-chopper. Seriously, when you can’t be bothered to chop up onions, its the best. I’d also love a blender for making soups.

Have I forgotten anything important? What do you recommend for a student’s kitchen?

Student Summer: What to Take to University #2

Food. One of the greatest loves of my life, as you can probably tell from this blog, and it was something I really agonised over before starting university. What food should I take to university with me? What will I cook after lectures? So this post is dedicated to the food shop, what meals you’re likely to be cooking, and what you should try and keep in your cupboards.

I’m lucky enough that my parents do my first shop of the school year, so I really stock up on goods that last then. I’ll also stock up on meat and spend the first few days batch cooking. Doing this really helps to keep my costs down for the rest of the year – generally I spend under £15 a fortnight, but even including my big shop my food spending is actually quite low. Now, in this list I’ve really only listed basics…in terms of this is what I always try to have in. Obviously you’re going to want other bits – green vegetables, other fruit, ready meals if you’re that way inclined…but I find if I have the following I can always make a good meal.

So, what food to take to university? And how long do you cook it for…?

Dried
CheesyPastaBake photo CheesyPastaBake_zps5b08a68c.jpg

  • Pasta – in my big shop, I’ll always pick up a 5kg bag of pasta, usually penne. Then I’ll just grab some spaghetti. Value pasta is absolutely fine, I don’t see the point in spending more. Yes, fresh pasta is delicious, but having money is more important! Most pasta wants 9-10 minutes boiling in salted water, unless you are making One Pan Mac’n’ Cheese.
  • Rice – basmati is my go-to. Value rice is not fine, it is often far too starchy, to the point I’d rather have no rice. Again, 10 minute boiling in salted water is generally how I cook rice, just be careful to watch it as it can boil over.
  • Noodles – plain egg noodles are a must for me, as they are great in stir-fries and soups. I prefer thicker ones as they seem to fill me up more, and I also like to go for ones that just need soaking. I will usually soak mine for 5 minutes (just pour a boiling kettle over), and season with soy sauce.
  • Lentils – lentils seem to take very little time to cook, but they are great for bulking up meals and thickening sauces. A standard packet of red lentils lasts me just over a year – I will simmer a spoonful in with my bolognese or stew.

Tinned2014-01-04 18.02.51

  • Chopped tomatoes – if you’re a normal person and not allergic to them that is! They are obviously the cheapest way of making most sauces, so make the most of them if you can eat them!
  • Beans – whilst dried lentils are quick to cook, dried beans aren’t. I do prefer using dried beans, but for convenience’s sake its often easier to buy tinned as they only need heating up, though I tend to simmer with everything in chillis and stews.
  • Sweetcorn – I’m not a huge fan of sweetcorn, but I had a housemate who couldn’t live without it! Either buy tinned or frozen – I prefer tinned as I don’t eat it often enough to aware it freezer space. Again this only needs heating up.
  • Coconut Cream – cooking a lot of single-portion curries, it doesn’t make sense to buy coconut milk. Instead I buy coconut cream and stir a small piece into hot water before adding it to the dish. It’s not as rich, but it saves money and calories!
  • Sauces/pastes – if you have a favourite curry, stock up on the paste or ingredients to make it. I also always pick up soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, and a Wahaca chipotle sauce.
  • Gravy – I’m Northern, gravy is something I have to have. I always have both onion gravy and chicken gravy in my cupboard. For one person – two rough tablespoons in a mug, top with boiling water and stir well. This makes quite a thick gravy, so adjust as required.

Spices

 photo IMAG1089_zps0s7ngtng.jpgA whole paragraph for this one! I’m slowly building up my spice collection, having added to it bit by bit over the last two years. I’d start off with cumin, curry powder, italian seasoning, and cajun seasoning. And salt and pepper, obviously. Then add as and when you can afford – coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cinnamon (really only if you plan on baking), crushed chillies, thyme, ginger…anything else you fancy really. Over my placement year I’m planning on really expanding my spices in an attempt to ‘finish off’ and having something that will let me cook any kind of dishes. I’m heading towards Beef Rendang soon!

Fruit & Veg
 photo 2014-03-09114308_zpsf5cb9baf.jpg

  • Bananas – on days I have porridge for breakfast, I always eat it with a banana mashed in. I also use bananas quite a bit in baking (nutella muffins, anyone?) – they great thing is that if you take them out of the skins, they freeze really well. You wouldn’t be able to eat it whole, but mashed into things they are great.
  • Potatoes – the slight Irishness in me makes it impossible to live without potatoes. I generally stick to mash (I’m not huge on roasties); for the perfect mash peel and quarter potatoes (red ones are the best I find), and boil in salted water for 20 minutes. Drain, add butter, a grind of pepper and a splash of milk, and mash away. Tip: don’t buy a cheap potato masher. I’ve gone through several in university as they seem to bend. And pour boiling water into the pan and over the masher once you’ve served up. Believe me, it makes washing up 10 times easier.
  • Carrots – despite not being a fan of carrots, I virtually always have them. I hate them boiled and served up alongside a roast, but chopped up in sauces, meltingly soft in stews, spicy in stir-fries and raw in slaws – they are great. If you are cooking them as a side, peel, slice into rounds and boil for about 4 minutes.
  • Cabbage – I love cabbage, I buy savoy and red types. I tend to only eat red cabbage raw and in stir-fries, but savoy cabbage wants slicing, and boiling for around 4 minutes.
  • Broccoli – I’m a fan of crunchy broccoli, so boil for 2-3 minutes, but most people go for 3-5.
  • Onions and celery – the basis for most sauces. I love braised celery too – it feels so filling, but has hardly any calorific content.

Frozen

I don’t tend to buy many frozen things (apart from B&J’s when it’s on offer *shifty glance*) but I do go for frozen peas. Bird’s Eye Garden peas are the only ones I will buy though, again there are some things I would rather spend a little extra on or go without! Other than that I do try and have either fish fingers or fishcakes in the freezer, although that’s definitely not an essential for me!

Bread

1441238_10152069947758516_1130915187_nWhat can I say, I like my carbs! I’m a lover of wholemeal cobs (Leicestershire gal!) – I’ll make up my cobs with butter and ham and freeze for the entire week. Then I will also get a load of the part-baked rolls. These keep in the cupboard for ages, making them a great standby option. You can also make pretty awesome garlic bread with them too…

Meat

Ah meat, if only it wasn’t so expensive! At the start of term I stick to the basics; ham, bacon, sausages, chicken breast, mince. The chicken and mince gets batch-cooked into bolognese, cottage pie, and curry. Bacon and sausage get frozen into individual portions. Cobs are made up with the ham, and frozen.

Other

  • Crisps – I stock up on things like hula hoops (I’m a big child) and tortilla chips at the start of the year. Mainly because I hate buying them and walking home with them, they are so bulky!
  • Biscuits – can’t resist biscuits! To save money, buy a big value pack and keep in a tub to avoid them going stale.
  • Alcohol – obviously a must for most students, I admit I do rarely buy it. But when I do I either like some good vodka, or a nice wine. Yep, middle-aged before my time.
  • Squash – something else to stock up on at the beginning of term, I like to buy big bottles of double strength; one of these will last me a whole 12-week term.
  • Juice – to stop it going off, I buy individual cartons.
  • Tea/Coffee – again, stocking up at the beginning of term.
  • Milk – definitely not something to forget! I also try to keep a bottle of long-life milk in the cupboard too, just in case.
  • Cheese – I will always have a packet of parmesan, but occasionally I also buy mozzarella and cheddar too depending on what my meal plan is looking like.
  • Butter- generally I prefer to use real butter (not spread!) for sandwiches, but also for frying and obviously baking. Yes, not the healthiest, but I don’t care!
  • Cereal – I always go for porridge oats, I make it up with water so its a pretty frugal option!

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Cleaning  Stuff/Household Items

  • All Purpose Spray
  • Dish cloths/sponges
  • Washing-up Liquid
  • Laundry tablet
  • Kitchen Roll
  • Tin Foil
  • Sandwich Bags

So there you are – what food to buy at university. I obviously cook quite a lot – I’ve known people survive on ready meals though so its not anywhere near an essential list. But its what feels essential for me to have ! I also hope that I’ve helped with some of the cooking times!

What food did/do you eat at university?