Young Professional Cooking Tips

Coming back to school and need a bite to eat? Here are some cooking tips to help you get through your semester!

For those of us who don’t have culinary training, or Giada de Laurentiis’ manicurist, do we have hope of making ourselves healthy, tasty meals, in a timely eat-before-9pm way, using tools and ingredients we’ve actually heard of? Yes. Just takes a little planning and a few solid recipes!

  • Know the basics: The first place to start is learning basics. And by that I mean, literally the basics of how to cook things. Scramble eggs, cooking pasta correctly, how to sauté, how to store food properly, which tools you need (yes good pots, pans, and utensils are important and another good place to start with the basics. You don’t need an immersion blender right away, promise). Once you learn the fundamentals, you can build on them.  I got a free promotional copy of Jessica Seinfeld’s “Can’t Cook Book” and laughed at first. That seems too simple. And it was great! Even though I’ve been cooking for about 10 years now, I learned lots of great basics. That cookbook is a great place to start for the truly new chef.
  • Know what to have on hand: Certain ingredients should be kept on hand at all times. Salt, pepper, spices for seasoning, pasta, frozen veggies, marinades, frozen meats (ya Omaha Steaks), rice, bread crumbs, flour, sugar, nuts…all things that last for a while and can help you make a meal in a pinch. Things like those on hand can help you whip up chicken parm, stir fry, and marinated steak tips all with ingredients you have on hand. There are endless lists from a google search that can help you review what items to keep on hand.
  • Eat colorfully: If you are going to stay healthy, you need fruits and veggies. When I make a meal, I do a color check to make sure I have more than just brown all over my plate. It’s an easy way to make sure your meals are balanced.
  • Plan your grocery trips: I don’t rush my grocery planning or trips. This is a huge and underestimated key in healthy, easy cooking success. Unfortunately, to really plan and prepare, you have to sit down and spend some time thinking about what your week looks like (if you have plans every night, maybe just a quick trip for breakfast foods), and what you will need for food, and what you will need for those meals. Sit down with your laptop or cookbooks and write out your list while watching a favorite TV show – seems less like a chore that way. I keep my list (paper! I know! In a world of technology my list is on paper) on my refrigerator and add to it as I run low on items so I can restock next trip. I plan out my trips for two big trips a month, with two quick trips in-between to restock fresh items like fruit, meats, and milk. Find what works for you.
  • Prep as soon as you get home from the grocery store: When I go to the grocery store, I leave enough time in my schedule for that day to prep, chop, and wash all that I bought. It makes your weeknight meals and snacking faster and healthier when everything is prepared and ready to go.
  • Make enough to reuse: Make more than what you need in one seating and reheat for other meals. If you get bored with a meal after eating it for one night, find a twist on it to multipurpose. If you make meatballs and spaghetti Sunday. Meatball subs on Monday. Don’t put marinara on all the spaghetti noodles, and make Pad Thai on Tuesday.
  • Freeze! And Thaw!: As you learn to make all these tasty meals on your own personal culinary journey – make extras (like above) and freeze them. Instant microwave meals or thaw the day before.
  • Just TOO exhausted? There will be a day you are just too tired for any amount of cooking. This is when you dig out those frozen meals you’ve made. And don’t underestimate a yummy smoothie or shake (just watch the ingredients so they aren’t a calorie bomb). I keep a few microwave meals on hand in my fridge – while they heat I’ll make a salad or sauté veggies to beef up the health factor (and keep me fuller, some of those meals are tiny!) Make a crudités plate – hummus and pita bread, veggies, cheese. Here’s probably the simplest recipe I’ve ever found:

Cut each pita in half and then into 8 wedges. Arrange the pita wedges on a large baking sheet. Pour olive oil over the pitas. Toss and spread out the wedges evenly. Sprinkle with salt, and pepper. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until toasted and golden in color. – Giada

  • Slow Cooker. Nothing more on this one. Just, get a slow cooker. Find recipes. Happy winter meals.
  • Campbell’s & Pillsbury: These websites have simple recipes that incorporate a few of my favorites, soup and crescent rolls. Cheese, marinara, and a slide of pepperoni in a crescent roll wrap? Instant pizza bite to pair with veggies or a salad. My point here: there is NO shortage of recipe sites or cookbooks; you have to find which ones work for you. (Recommendation: crescent taco bake. Add: serve with Tostito chips)

So these are some tips I’ve picked up over time to help me prepare healthy meals when I get home from work that don’t take forever. What tips have you found that are helpful to quick weeknight meals?

Career Changer? Jump Into the Deep-End of the Pool!

I am a “career builder”, or “career changer”, if you prefer.  Over the last eight months I have had the privilege of being a career development intern here at Northeastern University.  It is my first practical experience in higher education student affairs after a long career in design and design education.  For those individuals who find themselves with a change of purpose well into their professional lives, I offer the following reflections.

  1. Be clear and concise about your goals. Articulating who you are and what you want takes thoughtfulness and practice.  Keep working to focus your message:  write it, speak it aloud, change it, and write it again.  Practice, practice, practice.
  2. Reach out and ask for help. Networking and informational interviews will enable you to connect with other professionals in order to gain insights into the new role you have chosen.  Ask lots of questions and demonstrate your enthusiasm in the process of learning about your new endeavor.
  3. Periodically take time to acknowledge yourself and your accomplishments. The process of career change can be daunting, confusing, possibly overwhelming at times.  Employ your favorite strategies for coping (walk on the beach, eat chocolate, call a friend) to give yourself recognition, stay positive, and acknowledge your progress thus far.
  4. Go ahead and jump into the deep end of the pool. The workplace is all about performance, so take opportunities to play large.   Join professional organizations, attend conferences, participate and contribute at every opportunity.  Target the firms you would most like to work for, develop your contacts there, and then hold your nose, and go ahead and jump.
  5. Consider an internship! An internship is an excellent way to test the field and demonstrate your commitment to your new pursuit.  Chances are, you’ll be really glad you did.

What is Informational Interviewing?

So you’re a Northeastern student, full of vim and vigor and enthusiasm for the future. You’ve got classes and co-ops under your belt, and you feel prepared for the working world. But if you’re like most students, you haven’t discovered one of the most potent secrets of career success. What is this magical secret, you wonder? It’s a little something called “informational interviewing.”

What is Informational Interviewing?

It’s only the most useful career-building tool you’ll encounter. The basic gist is that you will reach out to professionals in the industry and set up interviews with them. Instead of the interviews you’re used to, YOU will be the one asking the questions! It’s the best way to network and gain insider industry knowledge at the same time! And your mom thought you were useless at multitasking! Oh how wrong she was.

The Power of Asking

There are two secrets why informational interviews work:

  • People love to talk about themselves.
  • People love to help college students.

At first, I was skeptical. Who would take time out from their busy schedule to shoot the breeze with a bumbling college student who barely knows what to do with her life after graduation? I reached out to professionals at ten different companies, expecting to bug them a week later in an attempt to set up two or three meetings if I was lucky. Au contraire! To my surprise, almost everyone replied immediately! And they wanted to help me! And all I had to do was ask. Many have referred to this as the Ben Franklin effect (see here).

You’ve probably heard this statistic before: 80% of job openings are unlisted, and are filled through word of mouth. With those kinds of odds, how can you afford not to network? Informational interviewing is a great way to start!