University: a crisis for connoisseurs

University is not the time to be channelling your inner culinary goddess. Amid the daunting hubbub of your new, shared living-space, independent lifestyle, and friends with whom to socialise and act cool around, spending time cooking in a dismal, slightly greasy and stained student kitchen is low down on the priority list. Instead, you become distracted by essays, deadlines, hangovers, drinking too much which lead to said hangovers, and binge-watching TV series. Food, although never becoming a hindrance (I don’t think I ever met a student who wasn’t permanently hungry), is a luxury, especially good food.

Cooking became a challenge for me. I went to university already an eager cook and baker, especially after a year working in a cookware shop where I became obsessed with anything non-stick and silicone, but was immediately put off by the idea of cooking for one. The limit of one shelf in the fridge for all my ingredients reduced me to the same meal for a week, slightly altered by the various carbohydrate accompaniments, until I had space to buy more food. Furthermore, as a student you have no money. Or, so you think when it comes to food shopping. I lived for weeks as a vegetarian due to my crippling stinginess – occasionally I would splurge and buy a pack of mince, sausages or chicken pieces, but they would sit for weeks in the freezer until I dared reward myself. Never would I buy joints of meat or, the utmost extravagance, bacon. (FYI £2.50 a pack in most supermarkets. Outrageous!) I would eat endless vegetables, eggs, cheese, pasta and potatoes, in some muddled and regrettable concoction. Of course, I managed to find the extra money to have takeaways and lunch or dinner at local restaurants or the student’s union. This is selective poverty which allowed me the chicken BBQ pizza or the ‘gourmet’ burger loaded with blue cheese and chorizo. And I wondered why I put on weight.

Luckily, in my first-year, I lived with a fellow food-lover (who introduced me to baked Camembert stuffed with garlic and rosemary) so I was usually inspired by her enthusiastic dining ideas, even when it once came down to scrambled egg with avocado which she instantly regretted. She ate with gusto and enthusiasm which was incredible from such a tiny person.

In my second- and third-years, my housemates and I were all on the same wavelength which may not have been beneficial to any of us – we each cooked our own dinner which resulted in more pesto pasta with green beans for me, utterly uninspiring and made me lust after the crispy and salty battered fish from the chippy around the corner. We also all had a penchant for the sweet. Once, we even dashed out on a cake run at nine o’clock at night, returning with three whole sponges, quickly devoured in minutes. Furthermore, in my third-year, I was chairperson of the university Baking Society which, naturally, demanded I practice regularly. This resulted in me baking gooey and helplessly rich triple chocolate brownies nearly every week, or whipping up a bannoffee pie or some millionaire’s shortbread just because I felt the urge. Although daily food was a nuisance, my girls and I ate plenty of delicious shared meals, one in particular was an extravagant Christmas dinner, of which I ate an unnatural amount and had my first, and hopefully last, experience of genuinely waddling, panting and wiping away food sweats as I left the kitchen.

Exciting, engaging and affordable recipes are necessary accompaniments to cooking for one – something to enthuse you to leave the comfort of the sofa. So much about eating is about sharing with others, something that is sorely lacking when living independently. In the meantime, find comfort in something easy and tasty. These coconut cheesecakes in a glass were something I thought up in one of my desperate I-must-eat-something-sweet-right-now-or-I-will-cry moments. They are effortless and made with fridge and cupboard regulars – cream cheese, coconut milk, sugar and biscuits.

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The creamy coconut mixture is dolloped over scrunched up buttery biscuits; I made my own shortbread as I inconveniently didn’t have biscuits in, and then smothered in whatever toppings you prefer. The varieties I tried complement the delicate coconut flavour; Pina colada-style pineapple, classic raspberry, rich dark velvety chocolate, and also a comforting fruit-bowl-favourite, banana.

Whatever you have to hand just plop it straight on top! You can layer or ripple through the mixture to create a treasure trove of tasty surprises. Then sink your spoon through the layers and go to town on that glass.

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Coconut cheesecakes in a glass

Serves 2 (for you and a friend… or you and you)

4 biscuits of your choice – if you don’t have biscuits just whip up some shortbread
15g butter

  1. Crush biscuits with your hands or, if you have a lot of anger to release, a rolling pin. No need to make them into breadcrumbs, the chunkier the better.
  2. Melt butter in a pan or in the microwave. Pour over the biscuits and mix before spooning into two large glasses. Place in the fridge until ready to use.

120g cream cheese
120ml coconut milk
35g sugar
optional, 20g desiccated coconut

Varieties – try any one of these following ingredients, or use whatever you want!
1 banana/half a big banana
two tinned pineapple slices
25g dark chocolate, plus extra for decoration/plus three squares cut into chips
a handful of raspberries/raspberry jam

  1. Beat together the cream cheese and coconut milk until smooth and thick. Add the sugar and desiccated coconut and beat again.
  2. If using banana or pineapple, slice into chunks and layer on top of the biscuits.
  3. If using chocolate, melt until smooth and runny and then stir into the cheesecake mixture.
  4. If using raspberries stir through the mixture colouring it marbled pink. If using jam, lay on top of the finished dessert like a glaze.
  5. Divide the cheesecake between the glasses and the biscuit bases.
  6. Decorate with your chosen flavour – slices of fruit, raspberry jam, grated chocolate, a sprinkling of coconut.
  7. If you can wait, leave them in the fridge until firm. If not, get a spoon and eat the cheesecake.

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