I going into the way back machine here . When I first was living on my own I would make kielbasa boiled with potato and cabbage , baked baloney sandwiches , pasta , grilled meats . Broccoli was usually the veg . Not interested in take out . What did you cook to survive ?
Lots of MW “pizza” alla lingua: toasted slice of good bread, topped with a 3/4 inch of whatever cheese was in the fridge (young gouda, mostly), thin-sliced onion rings on top & a shower of cayenne or hot paprika. Nuked till cheese is melted. A couple of slices of tomato on top, a shake of oregano. Done.
More often than not, that was my late night meal after getting home from bartending till 3 or 4 AM. Works just fine without the tomato, too
Doctored up ramen - the staple of every single city dweller. I’d add cuke slices, fried garlic, chopped scallion, shiitake, a splash of vinegar, some hot stuff.
Kraft Mac n cheese to which I’d add ground beef or seared chicken breast, bell peppers, mushrooms, hot sauce.
Salads, because I love them - but it’s amazing how much longer it takes to put a nice one together compared to eating it.
But I’d also order the occasional pizza, and I had a favorite Cantonese place for take-out. They made the most amazing entree soup - I had to have it at least 3 times a month.
Let me exclude anythings like “ramen” or “cereal+milk” or “egg+bacon”
I believe stir fry beef and broccoli may have been one of my first and usual dishes. I am sure there were other things, but I cannot remember now.
Lots of pasta, though to be fair, I made my own sauces - I do love a good puttanesca.
Steamed rice cooked with some Chinese sausage, maybe a sauteed pork chop or chicken breast, and some (previously frozen) sauteed veggies.
I tried to poach a chicken breast once in my earlier years. I had no idea what I was doing, and it definitely tasted like it too. But of course, as a poor college kid, I finished every last bit of it. Mmm. Chickeny water.
Wow, that was a long time ago and I was a poor grad student in a marijuana-rich college town. What I remember was lots of bad, cheap pizza (Domino’s had really cheap 2-pizza deals, that could carry my roommate and me for 3 or 4 days), hot dogs with cheese, broccoli and cheese, grilled cheese, cheese fries. Yeah, roomie and I had the theory that everything tasted better if you just melted cheese over it. Every once in a while we would hit up the butcher’s and get steaks . . . probably after one of our parents took pity and sent a check
The university in question was on trimesters, not semesters, so I do remember not getting home for Thanksgiving. Roomie and I decided to host, with side dishes to be prepared and brought by the guests. They were all so amazed that I could cook a whole turkey! I didn’t let them know that the turkey is the easiest of all T’giving dishes to prepare.
Brown rice, stir-fried veggies, and lentils. It was the mid-'70s, after all.
Baloney bowls. A slice of baloney in the microwave for about 10 seconds, then a slice of cheese on top and another 10 seconds.
Toaster pizza. Toast bread, slather on tomato sauce (ketchup in a pinch) and a slice of American cheese.
When I left home it was in mid-Winter and because the commute was more than an hour from my parents home I rented a room in a house in the town in which I was working.
Antique house, antique owner, antique stuffed rooms. No common kitchen but the other renter and I were allowed to fix breakfast. In the antique kitchen. I settled for a cup of coffee and OJ with plain Knox gelatin. Evening meals were taken in the local pub/tavern. I was very thin in those days.
I think I made a lot of soup and pasta. Hungarian mushroom soup from the Moosewood cookbook was in regular rotation. Still love it! Potato leek soup, split pea and minestrone were also regulars. I would often make the Moosewood Italian tomato sauce and use it for stuffed peppers, lasagna or spaghetti. Couscous with roasted vegetables and chickpeas was also a fave.
I cooked a lot of Indian food. Sag aloo, chana masala, bengan bhartha. aloo gobi. Also made a lot of Thai coconut curries or noodles with a Thai style peanut sauce and lots of veg.
I was fortunate to have a full kitchen when I first moved out and being vegetarian and transitioning to vegan, I was forced to learn to cook unless I wanted to eat veggie burgers or French fries at every meal. I had to be really careful of my food costs as a student. Being vegan was not as cheap as one would think.
There were also plenty of days of ramen from a cheap packet.
Well, one of my first dishes must have been pasta puttanesca. I know this because I still remember my parents laughing at me when they read through first grocery receipt. I don’t think capers, olives and anchovies had ever featured in our fridge! Maybe they were expecting frozen fish fingers and spaghetti hoops with multi packs of crisps (chips).
I cooked here and there growing up as I had two working parents and every once in a while they had something to do and would look for us kids to take care of dinner for ourselves. My first real need to cook regularly was at college and I laugh at some of the things I made - chicken and celery stir fry, pasta with sauteed chicken using jarred sauce with added mushrooms and peppers. I did impress friends once with a stuffed eggplant dish I used to make with my parents while growing up. The one dish I still do every once in a while is bake chicken coated with seasoned panko. Most of the stuff I made then I wouldn’t eat now. They weren’t terrible but I relied on a lot of garlic/onion powder and limited seasonings, except for soy sauce, and generally looked to spend minimal time in cooking and prep. By the time I moved out on my own after college, it was like a switch flipped and I enjoyed spending the time to cook with fresher and better ingredients (after watching way too many cooking shows).
My college roommate and I steamed a lot of fish in the microwave, then doctored it up with oil, soy sauces and scallions Cantonese-style. We also managed stir-fried veggies and when I was more ambitious things like ratatouille atop pasta.
I had already been cooking quite a lot by the time i headed off to college. My first year in a tiny nyc apt with three roommates (more like four, the weird photography major’s boyfriend spent more time at our place than his) with a barely adequate kitchen where if you opened the fridge door no one could get from one side of the common space to the other.
As a broke vegetarian i would shop in chinatown and the nearby union square farmers market near closing when they had deals. Basics were chinese fresh noodles with stir fried i’m not sure what that is let’s try it veggies, miso soups with lots of tofu, and in rare moments of calm something as ambitious as veggie bean soups and stews.
Don’t get me wrong- the bagel shop a block away would just see me in line and have the pb&j on sesame ready by the time i was at the register :))
The first time I was on my own and without US supermarkets nearby was during my semester abroad in Hong Kong. I’d buy olive oil, loaves of bread (and screwed up a few times by getting the meat floss ones in a hurry) and Skippy peanut butter.
The other three places I stayed overseas (Tokyo, Jakarta and Shenzhen) were all rather cheap for food (yes, even Tokyo), so I didn’t do much if any cooking. However, when the craving arose, pancakes and stir-fries were the norm.
I had a large repertoire of 50s/60s cuisine under my belt because I had been cooking for a family of 7 for almost 12 years by the time I got into college. So, some not very appetizing or interesting dishes, such as (but not limited to):
Chili con carne, which consisted of 1 large can chili beans, 2 large cans regular kidney beans, 1 lb of ground beef, and some onion. Cook the hamburger and onions at the same time and drain off the grease before dumping in the beans. I will actually still eat this, though I’ve long ago stopped using the chili beans in favor of using some actual spices (such as cumin, chili powder, and a dash of turmeric).
“Spanish noodles” - cook ground beef with onions as for chili, drain off the grease, add 1 lb of boiled egg noodles, and then dump in (I forget how many) cans of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup. I will NOT eat this anymore and I’m not sure how I ever stood it - this is super super nasty, but I LOVED It, absolutely LOVED it. And it was certainly cheap!
Plain ol’ burgers, or meatloaf, or Kraft Dinner, or hot dogs were frequent flyers. I COULD cook much better and more sophisticated meals (I had a recipe for turkey-barley soup that was to die for, I am told, but that required roasting an actual turkey first, LOL!). But I was extremely poor and working 2 jobs (sometimes 3) and full time as a student, so … quick and cheap were the watchwords.
OH YEAH - fried bologna sandwiches! These days I microwave the bologna. To my great disappointment, Oscar Meyer bologna is not what it used to be. The cheap off-brand all-beef bologna available locally tastes better and gives off a lot less grease when you cook it.
But I soon learned to cook Indian food, and once that happened, everything changed. To this day at least 80% of what I cook is Indian. The rest is Thai, Sichuan or some other version of “Chinese”, Korean, or some other Asian style of cooking. I almost never cook “American” and haven’t for, gosh, almost 40 years!
Trashy beef stroganoff with egg noodles was a standard, but I vaguely remember a lot of bean dishes and soups too. A carryover from back in the day was “garbage bowls.” Ramen with spinach, bean sprouts, onion, egg and sautéed ground beef or leftover meat, seasoned with say and ginger. I still make it, the only difference being good ramen, homemade stock, and dashi.
Hong Kong has even cheaper food, and has good eateries almost on every street corner! Surprised you went for bread and peanut butter there.
When I first lived by myself in a situation where I needed to cook (i.e., on an internship during college), I was in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, living in a tiny apartment, trying to save money any way I could. What I ended up doing was buying bulk bags of TVP, bulgur wheat, and dried beans, and making a sort of gruel, seasoned with garlic and soy sauce. It cost about 20 cents per bowl for dinner, covered all of my nutrients, and tasted like hell.
When I actually started cooking for real, my go-to recipes were veggie Indian food and lots of Thai curries, which I got pretty good at after awhile.
My simple comfort food has always been “frog in a hole”: a piece of bread with a fried egg cooked in a hole cut in it.
My first ‘need to cook’ experiences were in college, when I finally gave up on the so-so meal plan and moved to the dorms with tiny kitchens. Lots of pasta with ‘enhanced’ sauces. I’d throw in veggies, mushrooms, chicken. I’d also make the occasional pork chop, baked chicken breast, and simple chicken stir-fry. I did the occasional ambitious stuff (I made stuffed eggplant for friends’ once at school).
I didn’t really start to play with more adventurous stuff until I moved home after college and preferred to make my own foods on the weekends. That’s when I started looking for more recipes, experimenting, and ultimately re-creating favorite dishes as best as I could.
Sophomore year moved OC and had my first apartment. Lots of experimenting with enhancing jarred pasta sauce. Also turned that alouette cheese stuff into “cream sauce” on more than one occasion!
Because I wen’t to school in TX the whole Tex Mex thing was new to me - we made enchiladas a lot and ingredients for salsa, guacamole and such were cheap and readily available. I consider myself a master of guacamole and pico de gallo to this day I made it so often.
many of my friends were vegetarian and I really had no idea what to do with meat except for hamburger anyway so we cooked vegetarian a lot - My best friend and neighbor had a copy of Moosewood it was sort of the bible when we wanted to make fancy meals - these were the day’s before the internet really existed in any form more than text based email so information was less easy to come by.
my first big effort I remember was making Risotto based on directions on the arborio box and a short long-distance conversation with mom but I really did not understand what a “sauce pan” was so I used this big non-stick ikea skillet it was sort of a mess but it worked out OK.