Cooking in college a possibility for all


As the daughter of a five-star chef, I’ve grown up eating and making great food. I’ve been cooking since I was about five years old, and I wanted to be a chef for the better part of middle and high school. But as I started looking at culinary schools, my dad cautioned me against a career in food.

So now, instead of cooking for a career, I use my knowledge of all things food to improve the way I, and those close to me, eat. However, I don’t necessarily mean healthier food (although that’s always a plus), just tastier, less-processed and homemade food. I eat very well for a college student in that I have never eaten ramen, Hamburger Helper or Rice-A-Roni — and that’s not as hard as you might think. Through this column, I want to show you that eating better doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive or time intensive.

I’ll choose each week’s recipes based on a few different criteria fit for busy college students: the ease of preparation, the availability of the ingredients, the expense of the ingredients and the amount produced by one recipe. Then I’ll rate the recipes on ease of preparation, taste and leftover potential. With that, let’s get on to this week’s recipe.

This week’s recipe is chicken tortilla soup from the Pioneer Woman aka Ree Drummond. I’ll admit up front, I love Pioneer Woman. Her recipes are always easy to follow, the ingredients are basic and the food always tastes like grandma, or mom, or the best cook you know, made it. Her chicken tortilla soup is no different.

Ease of preparation: HHHH

There aren’t any technical or delicate steps to make the soup. Since everything is going in the soup pot the cuts and sizes don’t have to be perfect. Once you chop everything and get all the cans opened, you pour everything in the pot and let it simmer. To add one extra step, I pureed all the sautéed vegetables, spices, Rotel, tomato paste and chicken stock to make the stock a little more opaque and homogenous.

Taste: HHHHH

This is the best chicken tortilla soup I’ve ever had. It has a lot of vegetables and natural ingredients that give it a very healthy, homemade taste. Black beans, chicken and tomato go really well together. Along with thin strips of corn tortillas, I also broiled thick slices of tortilla and threw them on top, and that added a nice crunch.

One thing to watch for with the veggies is price. I didn’t get yellow or red bell peppers because everywhere I found them they were at least double the cost of the green bell peppers. With all the tomato, the lack of these peppers doesn’t make a huge difference in color. Because I’m not a huge fan of bell peppers, I actually subbed two diced jalapeños, seeds and rinds in because I like the taste and the heat.

Leftover potential: HHHHH

The recipe calls for a cornmeal and water thickener to be added near the end of cooking which is something I’d never heard of doing, and I was a little skeptical but I did it anyway. The result was a fuller, heartier soup that didn’t really leave any sort of corny flavor. I’ve also made it without the cornmeal, and though it was still very good, the absence of the cornmeal was definitely noted.

The reason I included this under leftovers is that the non-cornmeal version reheated 10 times better. The cornmeal mixture acts as a thickener and when it sets overnight it gets a little thicker, so when it’s reheated it’s kind of gloopy. But this is only a problem if you’re wanting leftovers (which I do). This recipe made enough for a full dinner plus several full lunches.


Lauren Gocken is a senior in secondary education. Please send comments to