I’m talking real, actual cooking. This was way beyond boiling pasta and dumping some Ragu on it, or scrambling some eggs and microwaving some bacon. I was on the level of making meatballs from scratch and baking salmon with pesto and adding fresh parsley to a cold green bean salad. It wasn’t long before I moved on to baking, as well. Sure, there would be some times when I would just grab the boxed cake mix and frosting from a container and throw it together. But my go-to was homemade, freshly-baked cookies or peanut butter bars with a thick layer of chocolate on top.
It didn’t take me very long to figure that if you offered someone a home-cooked meal (especially a starving college student), they would do things for you. If I needed a ride somewhere, I would offer dinner as payment. I’m also pretty sure I exchanged dinner for a bottle of wine with my roommate.
_(Another perk of cooking: there’s a saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. There was definitely a time I flirted by offering freshly baked, made from scratch chocolate chip cookies. I’ll let you know if this theory actually works.)
Cooking is fun for me. I’ll spend hours watching the Food Network or scrolling through Pinterest, looking for new recipes to try. When I find something that sounds good, I’ll text a bunch of people and say, “Hey, I’m making this thing tonight. Want to come over?”
Not only could I bribe people to do things for me, I could also bring people together. First, I started off with cooking for my really close friends. When I got a little, I would just sit her down and say, “Hey, I’m cooking for you.” And then it extended to my whole Greek family in general - my big, grandbig, twins, their littles, and even extended parts of my Greek family that weren’t in my direct line. When I got a grandlittle, I started cooking for her and her friends from her pledge class. It eventually got to the point where I would just cook for people in general (this also might have something to do with the fact that I’m Italian and I feel the need to feed everyone I meet). We even had weekly dinners, where easily some of my best memories in college were made.
It was always fun to see how many sisters I could cram into my tiny apartment while I tried to guess just how much ground meat and how many bags of chips I would need for taco night. We would pick movies to watch and spend hours talking and laughing. Those were times when I truly bonded with my sisters, and I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything in the world.
More than that, my sisters and friends truly enjoyed my cooking. It could have been something as simple as pasta with meat sauce and they would gush over how delicious it was (because let’s face it: anything is better than dining hall food. And if you say that your dining hall has good food, you’re probably just lying to yourself). It would be an instant boost to my day to hear praise like that for something as small as a meal.
Cooking doesn’t have to be scary at all, and I’m a firm believer that anyone can cook. It’s pretty much as simple as following the directions in the recipe, or on the back of the box. If you want to cook for your friends, it doesn’t have to be a four course meal with palette cleansers in between. Here are a few easy ideas to get you started on your own dinner nights with your friends:
Everyone appreciates a good taco night, okay? It looks like it takes a lot of effort, but it’s nothing more than taking ten minutes to brown some ground meat. Take another five minutes to put out some shredded lettuce, salsa, guac, shredded cheese, and tortillas, and you have a full meal ready to go.
Put the jar of Ragu meat sauce down, please. I promise that making pasta is easy; just follow the directions on the box. Keep an eye on the pasta and make sure it doesn’t overcook. Kick it up a notch by making a meat sauce from scratch. Brown some meat, add a jar of really good sauce, and throw in some garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. A hunk of garlic bread and a salad will bring the whole meal together. Plus, it’s easy to make spaghetti and meat sauce in large quantities, so you can feed a lot of people!
There are eight million chilli recipes out there: meat chilli, veggie chilli, tofu chilli, sweet potato chilli. It’s incredibly easy to make, and it basically involves chopping up the vegetables (or opening up some cans), throwing everything into a big pot, and letting it cook for about an hour. There is nothing better than a big bowl of chilli on a cold winter night.
Your friends and sisters will be ridiculously impressed when you present them with a home-cooked meal. It will bring you all together and instantly make you feel more at home, no matter how far away you are.