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College cooking: Skills and tools every student should have

Karen Miner is the Food Associate Editor for SheKnows, ChefMom and FabulousFoods. She is a freelance writer, recipe developer and is also the cook, author and photographer behind the food blog, Tasty Trials, a collection of original reci...

Teach them the basics in the kitchen

Send your recent grad off to college with a little kitchen know-how. These basic skills and a few of the right tools will go a long way toward keeping your student from going hungry.
College boy with frying pan

As we get ready to send our college students off, it's nice to know that they won't starve if left to their own devices in the kitchen. By teaching them these cooking basics and arming them with some essential tools, you'll never have to worry about their ability to make themselves a meal, even if it is macaroni and cheese from a box. Hey, that's considered gourmet food in college!

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Must-have skills

Who can't boil water? You'd be surprised! This might sound a little too basic, but the fact is that boiling water is the start to many meals. Make sure your college student leaves home with these cooking skills mastered.

  • Boiling water and beyond: Once they know how to boil water, your college student can make pasta, rice, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and much more. It is the most simple technique, but varies from food to food. For instance, when cooking pasta, bring the water to a boil before adding it and return to a boil before starting the timer. For potatoes or hard-boiled eggs, bring cold water to a boil with the items in the pot.
  • Roasting: Roasting is an easy technique to learn that doesn't require a lot of time in the kitchen. To make roast chicken, simply coat the pieces in a little oil, salt and pepper, throw it in a 400 degree F oven and walk away. After about an hour, you've got enough to feed one person for several days. The same technique can be applied to fish and other meats by modifying the time based on what you're roasting.
  • Steaming: Steamed vegetables might not be at the top of their list, but it's an important technique to learn should your student ever decide to add a little green to their diet. To steam just about anything, fill a pot with a small amount of water at the bottom and bring to a boil. Place the vegetables in the pot (a steamer basket makes this even easier), cover and steam until tender. It's that easy!

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Must-have tools

Most college students won't have a fully stocked gourmet kitchen, but by supplying them with these essential tools, they should be able to handle almost any meal that they decide to cook.

  • A good knife: Your student doesn't need to have most expensive set of knives to display on the counter, but they do need one good, sharp knife. Go for an all-purpose knife, like an 8-inch chef's knife that can chop and slice almost anything. By keeping the knife very sharp, you shouldn't need an extra knife for things like tomatoes. (On that note, a sharpening steel makes a good accompaniment to the knife.)
  • A plastic cutting board: Fans of wooden cutting boards might disagree, but plastic cutting boards are easier to care for and can be tossed in the dishwasher or left in the sink for a few days without risking ruin. Look for a large cutting board with nonslip feet for ease of use.
  • Pots and pans: It's unlikely that your college student will be cooking a 10-course meal for 20 in the near future, so an entire set of pots and pans might be overkill. But they will need at least one good-sized pot for boiling water, making pasta, soup and heating sauces. A 3-quart pot with a lid will probably do the trick, but if they'll be whipping up extras for friends, a larger 5-quart pot is the way to go. Another must-have is a large frying pan or skillet for making pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches and (hopefully) sauteing vegetables. Opt for a 12-inch pan with nonstick coating that makes it easy to clean and cook with.
  • Spoons, spatulas and more: We all have a huge kitchen junk drawer full of unnecessary gadgets and tools that never get used. Don't send your student packing with all that extra clutter. Put together a small countertop canister with a wooden spoon, silicone spatula, pancake turner and whisk. These are the items that they'll reach for over and over again.
  • Measuring cups and spoons: Even if they are just making that box of macaroni and cheese, they'll still need measuring cups and spoons. A four-cup measuring cup set and a set of standard spoons should keep them cooking with precision.

Check out more essential kitchen tools every cook should have >>

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Today on the Daily Dish, our host shows you how to boil an egg the right way.

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