Student freshers get a helping hand with cooking

editorial image

Ask many people what they cooked for themselves when they were students and the answer is likely to involve some unwholesome fare.

Personally I can recall one flat-mate who spent a whole year, almost exclusively, eating rice with gravy... and yes he did look a little bit cadaverous at times.

But The University of Northampton has tried to get its freshers off to a bit more of a healthy start, by trying to steer them towards wholesome home cooking.

The vice chancellor, professor Nick Petford, and his chief operating officer, Terry Neville, even picked up their utensils in a wooden spoon challenge in a public cook-off to show students how it should be done.

The activities were planned as part of the annual Freshers Week, with the culinary masterclass taking place in the new Student Union bar on Park Campus.

“I probably don’t cook as much as I should nowadays, but I still like to when I can. I followed the recipe and it isn’t too bad,” said Professor Petford. “It’s an important skill to have and any way we can encourage our students to learn while they are with us has to be a good thing.”

Ben Wesson, aged 20, an English and journalism student at The University of Northampton, who is also Students Union vice president (engagement and participation), at the university, said: “I knew absolutely nothing about cooking when I arrived at university, only from watching my mum, and I was never any good at it at school when it came to food subjects.

“But in my first year I did start to learn how to cook simple recipes like spaghetti bolognaise and that kind of thing. I do think cooking can be quite challenging to a lot of students, and many don’t really know how to go about making a meal. Another thing we are trying to do to encourage healthy eating on campus is to have a market every Thursday at the university, which is all local, fresh produce.

“Part of coming to university is about learning about independence. Helping students to cook and eat healthily is a way to help create well-rounded citizens.”

Jane Bunce, director of student and academic services agreed. She said: “For many of our new students, cooking will be a challenge, but it is also an exciting new element to living away from home.

“We thought a few pointers from a couple of our culinary ‘experts might help. While baked beans or cheese toasties might be traditional student fare, we know that many young people want to eat much better than that and be a lot more creative so hopefully the demonstration will help them take those first steps in the kitchen.

“Our students leave Northampton with a great degree and through our commitment to involve all our students with social enterprises, they have great transferable skills that help them find fantastic jobs too. During their time with us they will hopefully also pick up some cooking and other life skills along the way too.”

Creamy Mushroom Pasta

Ingredients (serves 2)

250g Pasta

1 Large Garlic Glove Thinly Sliced

1 tablespoon Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil

1 teaspoon Mixed Herbs

200g Mushrooms Thinly Sliced

1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in 75ml hot water

400ml double cream or soya cream

125ml Grated Cheese (use mature cheddar or parmesan)


Put a pan of water onto boil

Add oil to another pan and heat

Add the sliced garlic

Stir to allow the garlic to brown but be careful not to burn

Turn down the heat

Once the garlic has browned add the mushrooms, vegetable stock and dried herbs

Stir gently for 2 minutes

Add the dried pasta to the water and cook until soft but firm to bite (al dente)

Add the cream to the mushrooms and gently bring to the boil

Turn the heat down again and gently simmer the sauce for 2-3 mins

The sauce will thicken slightly

Remove from the heat and stir in 2/3 of the grated cheese

Drain the Pasta and add to the sauce

Serve in bowls, sprinkling the remaining cheese over the top

Chilli Con Carne

Ingredients (serves 2)

250g lean minced beef

200g plain boiled long grain rice

1 large onion diced

1 red pepper deseeded & diced

1 garlic cloves thinly sliced

1 heaped teaspoon hot chilli powder (or 1 level tblsp if you only have mild)

1/2 can chopped tomatoes

1/2g can red kidney beans

1 beef stock cube dissolved in 300ml hot water

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon tomato purée

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

2 heaped tablespoons soured cream


Put a pan of water onto boil

Add oil to another pan and heat

Add the onions and stir frequently until brown

Add the garlic, chilli powder, paprika, chilli powder, cumin and stir

Add the minced beef and turn up the heat, stirring to brown the mince

Add the stock, chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, marjoram, puree and sugar and stir well

Bring mixture to the boil and stir well, then cover and reduce heat to simmer for 10mins

Add dried rice to water and bring to the boil

Stir the rice well, cover and turn down the heat and simmer for 5 mins

Stir again, re-cover and turn off the heat so the rice steams for another 5mins

The longer rice is left covered to steam the fluffier it will be

Remove chilli from the heat and serve over rice and top with sour cream


Can substitute Quorn mince or vegetables to make a vegetarian dish

Can serve with Nacho’s instead of rice and add guacamole and cheese to toppings