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Cooking in College: The importance of making a list

Pasta with Homemade Meat Sauce

A bowl of pasta with homemade meat sauce. Credit: Robert Scarpintino / Copy Chief

Empty pantries, shelves and refrigerators suck the life out of a home. No matter how furnished the place is, there will always be a void that lingers in every room when a kitchen doesn’t have food.

Last week I talked about how easy it is to start cooking, but it’s worth backtracking to one more step before cooking can begin: gathering ingredients. Going to a local Kroger or Giant Eagle and bringing back a haul of any size is a feeling akin to Christmas morning.

However, before going to a grocery store, take the time to sit down and figure out a grocery list. I can’t stress the importance of writing out a grocery list — be it on your phone or a piece of paper — before stepping foot in a store that sells food.

Take inventory of what you have in the kitchen, then make a list of the basic necessities you need. Of course, what’s considered “necessary” differs depending on the person, especially for those with restricted diets, but that’s why I’m not making a list for you.

Be thorough in taking inventory of what you have at home so the list can include everything you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than coming back and realizing it was easier to carry everything because you didn’t buy any milk, so take the extra step to prevent the extra trip.

While writing or typing up a list, consider any recipes you may want to make in the next week; perhaps a simple pasta with homemade meat sauce might have piqued your interest? Whatever recipe or recipes that sparked your fancy, don’t forget to include those ingredients as well because getting those new ingredients will be the most exciting part of the shopping trip (or as exciting as going to the grocery store can be, at least).

I know making a list sounds like an extremely basic step, like telling someone that putting the keys in the ignition starts a car, but it’s a vital step nonetheless. A car can’t be controlled without the keys, and a grocery trip can’t be controlled without a list.

And that is perhaps what a grocery list is best at doing: controlling the shopping trip. It’s a constant reminder to only get what you need, not what you might want after seeing it in the store. Food purchases can be too easily justified compared to other purchases. It’s easy to justify getting a bag of chips because they’ll “eventually” be eaten, and that mentality can happen at every turn in a grocery store because they are breeding grounds for impulsive choices.

As long as you have the willpower to stick to your list, you can cook what you want while controlling your spending habits  — textbooks and tuition also cost money, after all.



Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 4

1 pound of campanelle pasta

1 pound of ground beef

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

32 ounces of tomatoes, chunked or diced (canned)

1 teaspoon basil

In a large pot, boil enough water for the pasta.

While the pasta cooks, take a large bowl and put the ground beef in it. Use your hand to mix in the oregano, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

A little before the water boils, add some salt.

In a large skillet, heat up some olive oil on medium-heat, and then brown the meat. When the meat is thoroughly browned, throw the tomatoes onto the skillet and mix it with the meat.

Once the water is boiling, add the pasta in and let it cook for about 10 minutes or until al dente.

Stir the basil into the tomatoes and meat mixture, and let it simmer for 10 minutes so it can cook down. Stir it occasionally.

Strain the pasta out of the hot water once it’s cooked. Put some of the meat sauce on top and serve.

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