As two recent graduates, the college/uni experience is a recent memory for us both and our three years each of university were formative in broadening both of our horizons in the kitchen and just cookery and food in general. Patrick has a few recipes to guide uni students along the culinary pathway while exercising their brain muscles.
*A little note – In Ireland, we tend to collectively call third level institutions ‘college’, whereas it seems in the UK it’s collectively known as ‘university’ or ‘uni’, we will use both but throughout the post, but bear in mind it all means the same thing and time of life.
I was never much use at getting up in the morning. Bad when I lived in the inner city and commuted out to my college in the suburbs, even worse when I lived in an on-campus apartment, mere seconds walk from halls where I had a 9 or 10am lecture. Breakfast was usually a snack sneakily munched during a lecture alongside a quick tea or coffee bought en route to class. Most students are diligent enough with attendance but that extra few minutes in bed is always so much more enticing than getting up and preparing yourself a meal with enough energy to see you through to lunch.
I was never good at reclaiming my mornings and doing the right thing even when I really aspired to. So how do you beat breakfast time? Overnight oats. They are a little trick to beat breakfast by saving crucial morning time and essentially preparing your meal the night before. Not taking but a few minutes before hitting the hay, overnight oats are the answer to the rush in the morning. Beating breakie doesn’t mean skipping it, it just means being over-prepared and a step ahead for when morning comes knocking far quicker than you want it to.
Simply soak a normal porridge portion of oats in some milk, yoghurt or a combo of the two in a container or lunchbox. I love using flavoured soy and nut milks, so feel free to use any of those too. Put in enough liquid to cover the oats by about 1-2cm, and add in any spices and flavourings you like.
Desiccated coconut and a teaspoon of peanut butter stirred in following the milk was always a favourite of mine, but you can add vanilla, cocoa powder, chocolate sauce, nuts and even dried berries if you wish. Leave the mix in the sealed container overnight in the fridge. The liquid soaks through and makes the oats edible, while any addition adds taste, texture and flavour.
During the morning rush, simply run to the fridge and take out your prepared breakfast (a nearby plastic spoon too, if needed). If you like crunch, save putting any nuts, dried berries, seeds or granola into the mixture until the morning (or else they will get mushy).Add in just before, or a few minutes before, tucking in to retain all their crunchy bite.
Blast it for 30-40 seconds in the microwave if you prefer it lukewarm, but eaten quite cold straight from the fridge is also a delight. With overnight oats it’s all about trial and error and trying as many combinations as you like to keep it interesting and exciting.
Snacking Through the Day
For simple snacking throughout the day, I find there is nothing better to see you through the day than another oat-tastic recipe – flapjacks. Snack time offers little pockets of indulgence throughout the day and we always dutifully observe that. While it’s only sometimes good to be bad, it’s even better to be healthy. I find a flapjack gives the sugar hit that is craved, provides slow-release energy from the oats, and can also pack a flavour punch, depending on the combination you put in. They almost bake themselves they’re that quick and are also long-lasting – a batch will always do you more than a couple of days.
Recipe: Sugar-free date and nut flapjacks
- 300g oats
- 100g pecans and 75g of either cashew nuts or almonds
- 75g dessicated coconut
- 200g dates
- 1 cup of water
- 2 large overripe banana
- a good pinch of sea salt
- 50g soft butter
- 1 tbsp vanilla paste (or 2-3 tsp extract)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
Serves six in one go, or lasts at least a week in an airtight container fuelling one person daily
- Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC and spread all the nuts out on a baking tray in a single layer. Roast and toast until lightly browned (keeping in mind these will be cooked again later on, so the aim is a light brown colouring). Leave aside to cool and then roughly chop.
- Keep the oven at the same temperature and turn your attention to combining the oats and coconut, placing them in a small bowl to the side.
- Stone the dates and put them in a pan on a medium heat, and pour over your cup of water. Allow the mixture to bubble up and break down the dates – becoming a thick consistency, like a wet, dark caramel. I like to keep visible chunks of softened date in it, but you can keep going, mashing as it cooks, to get it as thin as possible. When done, decant into a small awaiting bowl until cooler.
- In a big, main bowl, mash the overripe bananas and beat with the butter in your main bowl until thick and gloopy, like a pancake batter.
- While the date mixture is still cooling, stir your salt, vanilla and spices into it.
- Now back to your bananas in the main bowl, add in your almost cooled date mixture to form a sole wet mixture. Now stir in your oat mixture and your roasted (and cooled), chopped nuts.
- Pour the mixture into a baking tin lined with parchment paper. Bake at 170ºC for 20-25 minutes, until firm and lightly golden. Note: Use whatever tin you have, but keep in mind the deeper it is, the thicker the flap. The more broad and shallow the tin is, the skinnier the flapjacks will be – not always a bad thing, mind.
- Take out and allow to completely cool in the tray, before turning out and cutting. You can get 12 good sized squares from this.
Another simple homemade snack that I adore is parmesan shortbreads. I often make them with herbs like thyme or rosemary and they are the perfect thing to nibble on during the day. Little mini savoury or sweet shortbreads trump a cracker or crispbread any day for me.
The best thing about them is they are rich, yet crunchy and short, while delivering an instant hit of flavour. Two or three will see me right through an hour or two of classes, and a handful to top off some soup or quick scrambled eggs is the perfect easy-cook lunch. There are lots of recipes for shortbread online if you want to explore. Our shortbread recipe uses one base for three very different outcomes.