Adventures in Grad Student Cuisine

When I was a kid, I often rebelled against the TV dinners my parents and babysitters made me. By the time I was in high school, I took my mom up on her offer of being the one to make dinner (she didn't see that one coming). I worked my way through undergrad in both the front and back of house at various restaurants. Using the same avid learning I would eventually apply to policy science, I mastered all sorts of cool techniques and dishes from a variety of teachers--including one Michelin-starred, James Beard-nominated chef. Going back to grad school certainly put a strain on my budget, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from eating well. This page is a homage to some of my favorite budget-friendly dishes.

Ramen with Fried Egg

The most ubiquitous of student cuisine--instant ramen--gets a grad school makeover. I start with Buldak brand spicy chicken (or the x2 spicy if youre incredibly brave). This is a more "luxurious" instant ramen that costs a whopping $1.25 per package. The seasoning is a liquid concentrate and includes vegetable topping to be rehydrated. While the water is boiling (no reason not to follow package directions), I like to fry an egg (on high heat for 3 minutes using an egg mold on a cast iron skillet. Combine and top with sriracha and toasted black sesame seeds. It only costs about $2.50 per meal and you feel like you've come along way since freshman year. 

Salad and Sausages

This meal is both healthy (comparatively) and complex while still clocking in at about $4 per serving. The main ingredients are baby Arugula, extra virgin olive oil (EVO), balsamic glaze and chicken sausage. I like to take two sausages, slice them in two length-wise and sear them at medium heat for about 3 minutes. While Im doing that, I toss the baby arugula in EVO, then the balsamic glaze. After plating, I'll top it with sliced nuts (usually walnuts or almonds) and/or shaved parmesan or blue cheese crumbles and finish it with a little more balsamic glaze. My favorite sausage to use is a smoked chicken apple chardonnay from Trader Joe's. Being part French, I like to use a coarse-ground Dijon mustard. This pairs perfectly with the pale ale in the background. 

Fra Diavolo Ravioli

This is something I make when I want to treat myself but still not go over my weekly food budget. A good package of ravioli, I prefer seafood ravioli for this dish, will run about $8. The sauce is much cheaper to make despite its many ingredients. I keep it simple with crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, EVO, white wine, sherry vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes, sugar, smoked sea salt and smoked paprika. 

Poke Bowls

This is definitely a "treat yo self" dish to celebrate accomplishments or friends. I depart from the Hawaiian recipe by including a Mexican flare. Still, most of the ingredients cheap and easy to get. If you don't want to spend $20 on a fresh tuna steak, $6 vacuum-packed, seasoned smoked salmon filets are a great substitute. Also included in the base are avocados, champagne mangos and roasted shishito peppers. This is then topped with tissue-paper thin shaved fresh jalapenos, chipotle mayo, sriracha and toasted black sesame seeds.  Optional is a Japanese Shoyu-style soy sauce and squeezed blood orange essence. 

Cajun Pasta

This is both my favorite thing to make year-round and my ritual end of the semester celebration dish. I start with casarecce pasta (sometimes squid ink strozzapreti). I make a Cajun cream sauce of heavy cream, white roux, EVO and blackening spice. I also toss in red onions, kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes and andouille sausage. It is then topped with some combination of shaved Manchego, fresh parsley and capers. For wine pairings, I tend to lean towards a robust Spanish Rioja though occasionally a very jammy, forward California Zinfandel gets subbed in.