Not Fit For Student Consumption

31 Jan

I’ve always been a rubbish cook. My student days were a nightmare.

Those cheap, tasty meals that needed to be created from scratch and the out-of-date packets of lentils you had in the shared food cupboard were totally beyond me. I used to spend the meagre amount I allowed myself for food on the most disgusting items that meant I didn’t need to cook.

My student housemates and I used to regularly dine on things like:

  • Turkey On A Stick – a hot, moulded meat lollipop from the local takeaway and as disgusting as it sounds
  • Brim – some kind of coffee substitute, basically brown powder that was so hideous we called it ‘Grim’
  • Swede Surprise – mashed swede, the surprise was the time my housemate Richard could afford some carrot to bolster it up
  • Tiny bottles of Snowball – out of date by a year and would flop out of the bottle like an alcoholic omelette

There were some months I was so out of pocket I used to have to wait for my boyfriend to come and visit me on at the weekend so I could actually eat. He (also quite skint) would leave me on a Monday morning with a fiver and a packet of fags that would have to last me until he arrived again the next Friday.

I still managed to keep up my Chinese food love affair but by only ever ordering one portion of egg fried rice at a time, that would be picked up on the way home from the pub (yes pints of cheap lager came before eating obviously) and eaten reverently. If there was no money for Chinese then Richard used to microwave cheese sandwiches for us, mopping melted cheese off the kitchen surfaces with the wafer thin bread – which meant they were usually served up covered in rolling tobacco and mouse droppings.

Considering how poor and useless we were we could be rather cavalier with our approach to food sometimes. Our beloved housemate Daniel once treated himself to some real butter. The rest of us were perturbed and decided to dye it green to teach him a lesson. We dosed it with green food dye and carefully put it back. He gamefully continued to use it without saying a word, to teach us a lesson back. Looked amazing spread on toast!

And we once had a chicken pie in the broken freezer (some days it worked, some days it didn’t) for so long that when we took it out to cook it, it was entirely black. We were distraught, that pie had cost over TWO POUNDS and had been saved up as a treat!

We often tried to cook a ‘house meal’ that we’d all contribute to and share. This usually involved the vegetarians making tasteless casseroles using Quorn chunks in gravy granules or the meat-eaters grilling (yes grilling because the oven didn’t work quick enough) frozen turkey thighs from the budget freezer store that were SO massive they looked like a bodybuilder’s biceps and were never cooked properly. It’s a surprise none of us were ever ill.

Especially as we had a terrible rat infestation in one house. Our cooker didn’t have a back panel so they used to sleep in it at night – leaving their little ratty footprints in the inch thick grease – then we’d use it the next day. The rats would swarm up an exposed pipe and decamp into the shared bathroom, milling around under the bath so you could hear them scratching about as you crouched gingerly in the tub. (But this was marginally better than another house we lived in where the mouldy floorboards became so bad that the bathroom ceiling fell through to lounge below, meaning we had to wash in the room that opened on to our back alley and anyone who came in the door to visit)

I once tried to make a Chinese Soup for some visitors when I was staying in my boyfriend’s student house (exactly the same as my student house but with less girls and more beer), the recipe indicated that I needed some kind of vinegar, obviously an Oriental rice wine or white variety was called for but I had no idea such things existed and used the bottle of malt brown that was available. I heated this up with water, onions (we didn’t have any spring onions) some tofu (which disintegrated) and probably nothing else. I basically served up hot vinegar with onions in it. I remember the exquisitely sour face our visitor pulled as she gamely sipped on a spoonful before casting it aside.

Or there was the time we made a pudding. When I left home I took some items to put into my student food cupboard, most unusual of this was a coloured blancmange mix, it had come from a harvest festival I had attended at school so you can imagine how old it was? Anyway this came with me from halls to every student house I lived in. One night we decided to make it. The yellowing powder didn’t mix too well with the milk and settled into a gelatinous mass in the bowl, we left it out on the side to see what would happen to it. After a night drinking we returned to our ‘pudding’, the middle had puffed up into a fermented warm bubble! We watched with a horrid fascination as it slowly sagged down into an off-colour depression. We kept it for days as a kind of house pet, daring and betting each other to eat it. It was dubbed ‘The Tepid Paunch’ because it looked like a flabby tummy.

But the meal we reminisce about the most has to be ‘Milk & Peas’. I’d splashed out on some beef mince to try and make a proper meal for the house using a big casserole dish. I had no idea what ingredients went with what but I knew that onions and peas went with meat to make a stew? I wasn’t sure how to make a sauce but thought that by adding milk to the mixture it would thicken up and become creamy. Of course without flours or fats or anything resembling ingredients I could create nothing more than mince and peas boiled in milk. Which is what I made.

Bar some tentative mouthfuls the milky mince was never eaten but left in its big dish in the back garden until we moved out. It was still there when we left. It could still be there! I am sure it’s thickened up by now?

But we moved on, we moved out, we passed and failed our exams, more importantly none of us died.
Daniel became a restaurant manager and Richard has a successful East End pub. Neither has ever served A Tepid Paunch (much to my disappointment). But then neither has ever poisoned a customer.
And I am still a rubbish cook. All those years studying and I have learnt nothing….

(NOTE: Posted on Richard’s birthday, and the birth day of his first child! Congratulations honey. The three of us all still great friends…)

For more on what went on in our student house have a look at this ghostly post!


2 Responses to “Not Fit For Student Consumption”

  1. bubbablue 04/02/2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Love the uni reminiscing. I was mortified that my flatmate had obviously told her mum I couldn’t cook (I lived off stir fries, spag bol and spaghetti hoops on jacket potatoes) as she made a comment when she came and took us out for a pub lunch.

    Wanted to also say I nominated you for a blog award here

    • Alice Can't Cook 06/02/2012 at 9:26 am #

      Thank you so much for this, and for reading. I’ve left you a reply on your post.

      I have to say stir frys and spag bol sounds like a student banquet to me, how dare someone say you can’t cook! xx

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