"You might find cooking a simple meal to be the perfect form of mindful relaxation"ILLUSTRATION BY EDEN KEILY-THURSTAIN INSTAGRAM - @EE.DEN

Only the looming threat of exams could explain why my friends and I spent the best part of an hour attempting to describe the exact texture of an Aldi carrot cake. It was a fairly standard cake. Tasty, but with a consistency bordering on the sublime. We racked our brains (and synonyms.com) to find the word that truly encapsulated the exact crumb texture: moist, gungy, viscous and mildewed were some of the more desperate suggestions, but the question remained unanswered.

“Fry onions, not brain cells.”

I suppose it taught me that procrastination knows no bounds, but I also suggest that we embrace the distraction that good food can give us in trying times, not only as much-needed fuel, but as a way to wind down. If, like me, you have long exams which inconveniently span the whole of the lunchtime period, you might find cooking a simple meal to be the perfect form of mindful relaxation: it gives your brain half an hour to slow down and recompose itself in preparation for the second leg of the test.

Fry onions, not brain cells.

So, put down that depressing, slightly stale Mainsbury’s meal deal and try some of these recipes instead, either as mid-exam lunches or easy dinners to re-energise a revision-numbed brain.

Peanut noodles

The return of indoor dining saw us knocking on the door of Sala Thong, desperate for some Pad Thai. But before that, there was a long, agonising wait... one which forced me to come up with a heavily bastardised version of the dish. I make no claims to authenticity, but I can guarantee that these noodles take comfort food to the next level: chewy, peanutty and underscored with ginger, ideal for when you’re tired, hungry and desperate to escape the library. I tend to buy peanut butter that is 100% nuts, as not only is it palm oil free, it’s (unsurprisingly) nuttier and not too sweet. Some brands are annoyingly pricey, but this is where Aldi comes into its own – take a trip up the hill, and while you’re there, go next door to the Chinese supermarket and look for noodles. I like something thick and textured, like ho fun or Japanese udon to really catch the sauce, but this is supposed to be an easy dinner, so use whatever you have going. Adding greenery is a (nutritious) optional extra although by no means a necessity — for me, the glossy peanut sauce is undoubtedly the centrepiece.

Mexican-ish roast veggies

Of all my possessions, it is the £4 roasting tin that sparks the most joy. I bought it when I was freezing cold and dripping wet after an optimistic trip to the lido, and it has served me well. Roasting tin dinners are my favourite; you just throw everything in with a little cheap olive oil and spices, then wait — the only further action is making sure the oven doesn’t switch off. The array of colourful veg provides vital brain-boosting nutrients to power you through the exam period. Here, I’ve suggested topping them with crumbly cheddar cheese, but make it your own: feta would work nicely, or you could bake halloumi chunks or even chicken in with the veg. Enjoy on its own or wrapped up in a tortilla with a drizzle of yoghurt.

“I also suggest that we embrace the distraction that good food can give us in trying times, not only as much-needed fuel, but as a way to wind down.”

Summer chicken salad

I felt rather smug making this lunch — it just looked so fresh and pretty. Spending 15 minutes cooking the chicken and prepping the salad really helped me relax in the middle of my exam, and it felt like a productive break (not least because I got to eat the fruits of my labour). Pan frying the chicken is quick and easy, but it really elevates the salad into something a bit more special; otherwise I often fall back on the reliable (albeit boring) dollop of hummus when seeking lunchtime protein. This salad is quite light, as I was slightly concerned about falling asleep in the exam, but by all means, use it (or the leftovers) to fill a wrap or pitta.

Eggs in pots

Ingredients (serves 2)

Ø 2 portions of noodles, dried or ready cooked

Ø Half an aubergine, or vegetable of your choice, cut into bite-size chunks

Ø An inch-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (Top Tip - use a tea spoon to peel ginger. Game changer.)

Ø 2-3 tablespoons peanut butter

Ø Soy sauce to taste

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Method

Ø Cook your noodles, if required

Ø In a frying pan, sizzle the aubergine pieces until crisp on the outside and meltingly soft in the middle

Ø Add the ginger and cook on a medium heat for a few minutes

Ø Spoon in the peanut butter. It should liquefy as it heats up, but pour in a splash of soy sauce to loosen it further

Ø Drain and add the noodles, coating them with the sauce. Turn down the heat and leave for a few minutes for the various element to meld together

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I remember my mum making these when I was younger: we called them baked eggs, but YouTube recently showed me a clip from TV cook Rachel Khoo, who used the French name, oeufs en cocotte —or, eggs in pots to you and me. I love Rachel Khoo’s videos: apart from the recipe inspiration, watching her cook slightly frantically from her tiny Paris kitchen is relatable to anyone who has struggled with the culinary constraints of a college gyp. Like most egg dishes, this is incredibly simple, and the 15-20 minute wait time is offset by the minimal washing up — just one ovenproof cereal bowl into which I crack both eggs, although for added cuteness, you may prefer to use an individual ramekin for each egg. My favourite part is the swirl of crème fraîche at the bottom, but I recommend making additions: anything you’d like in an omelette should work in these —ham, mozzarella and spinach spring to mind. I went for goat’s cheese, chilli and sundried tomatoes. The obvious accompaniment is crusty bread to dip in the runny yolks but sticks of pepper or cooked asparagus are delicious too.

Ingredients (serves 2)

Ø 2 medium – or one large – sweet potato

Ø A pepper

Ø An onion, preferably red

Ø A courgette

Ø 3 cloves of garlic

Ø Salt and black pepper

Ø 2-3 generous tablespoons of paprika

Ø 2 tablespoons whole cumin

Ø 2 dried chillies, or some fresh

Ø Generous glug of olive oil

Ø Strong cheddar cheese to top

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Method

Ø Chop all the veg into similar sized chunks, about 2-3 inches thick. Peel the garlic and crush it with a knife. Add all to the roasting tin

Ø Drizzle with olive oil, then shake in your spices. Stir well to coat all the vegetables

Ø Roast in the oven at 180 degrees for about half an hour, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to crisp on the outside

Ø Stir once more, then crumble the cheddar over the top. Return to the oven for another ten minutes

Ø Enjoy! The leftovers are delicious cold, with a squeeze of lime and some fresh rocket

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Ingredients (serves 2)

Ø 2 chicken breast/thigh fillets, diced into strips

Ø Half a head of little gem/romaine lettuce

Ø Tomatoes, halved or quartered

Ø Cucumber, cut into chunky half-moons

Ø Salt and pepper

Ø Half a lemon

Ø A clove of garlic, chopped small

Ø A sprig of thyme

Ø A few thin slices of red onion

Ø Olive oil

Ø Natural yoghurt

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Method

Ø Season the chicken, add thyme, and pan fry with the garlic in olive oil, until the largest piece is cooked through (cut it open to check)

Ø In the meantime, cut up your salad ingredients and place on a plate. Season generously

Ø In a small bowl, mix the juice of half a lemon with 2-3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt – this is your dressing

Ø Finally, lay the cooked chicken on top of the salad, dress it all and finish with an extra twist of lemon and some more pepper

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Mountain View

Come Dine with Me...At Last!

Ingredients (for two single or one ‘double’ pot)

Ø 2 eggs

Ø A tablespoon of crème fraiche OR natural yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon

Ø Salt and pepper

Ø 1 dried chilli

Ø Goats cheese

Ø 2-3 Sundried tomatoes from a jar

Ø Optional: parsley or dill

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Method

Ø Spoon the crème fraiche into the bottom of the bowl, add your cheese, crumbled chilli and sundried tomatoes and season

Ø Crack the eggs directly on top – don’t break the yolks. Finish with herbs if using and a little more salt and pepper

Ø Half fill a baking dish with warm water and put the bowl in the middle, before placing it all in the oven. The egg-bowl should be surrounded with water so that it cooks evenly

Ø Cook at 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes, depending on how runny you like your yolks

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