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Fox Valley Cooks: Eat like a college student

EmmTucek scoops up taste her pineapple salswhich she often made while living campus AugustanCollege.  |  Courtesy Judy Buchenot

Emma Tucek scoops up a taste of her pineapple salsa which she often made while living on the campus of Augustana College. | Courtesy of Judy Buchenot

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Emma’s Pineapple Salsa

4 small tomatoes

1 small onion

1 green pepper

3 jalapeno peppers

1 cup fresh pineapple chunks

1/2 teaspoon lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Dice tomatoes, onion, green pepper and jalapeno pepper, and place in a colander to drain. Cut pineapple into small bite-sized pieces and place in colander to drain. Pour drained ingredients into a bowl. Add lime juice, honey, salt pepper and cayenne pepper. Gently mix. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips.

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Updated: August 13, 2013 6:08AM

In a few weeks, college students will leave home for campus life. Many will move into dormitories, but others will start life on their own in an apartment, which means cooking their own meals.

“I lived two years in apartments at Augustana College,” Emma Tucek recalls.

The 22-year-old Aurora resident recently graduated with a degree in sociology-social welfare.

She will participate in the AmeriCorps City Year program in the fall. She offers some advice to students about to begin apartment living.

“I shared the apartment with two others, and we tried to do family meals at first, but it became hard with everyone’s different schedules,” she says.

The roommates tried to share the cost of basics like eggs and milk but soon realized that wasn’t an ideal arrangement.

“One of my friends could go through a gallon of milk in three days, while I didn’t even finish a half gallon of milk in a week,” she says. “It was easier for each of us to just buy our own food. We shared some things, but mainly, each person fixed her own meals.”

Tucek notes that it is important to have a cookie sheet, a mixing bowl, a pizza cutter and parchment paper for cooking. She usually kept bagels, cheese, tortilla chips and fresh fruit available most of the time to use for quick meals. She also kept what she called “an emergency meal” of a can of soup, spaghetti or other heat-and-eat option. She limited her banana purchases because “they ripen too fast” and preferred strawberries, blueberries and pineapples since they stayed fresh longer.

“Be creative and cook what you like,” Tucek says.

One of her most frequent meals was a bagel pizza. She started by lightly toasting a halved plain or onion bagel. She spread the bagel with prepared marinara sauce or pizza sauce and then topped it with cherry tomatoes, leftover meats or whatever else was available and appealing.

Then she added a topping of mozzarella cheese and popped the bagel halves into a 350-degree oven until the cheese melted.

Although she knew her mother would not approve, Tucek often bought cut-up fruit because “it is a smaller size. I could never finish a whole pineapple.” She also experimented with seasoning mixes occasionally.

“It is best to keep things simple,” she advises. “Don’t be afraid to call your mom to ask questions.”

She quickly learned that her mother was a quick path to cooking success.

During her cooking adventures, Tucek came up with her signature salsa that is great for sharing and keeps well in the refrigerator. She highly recommends that students have a good salsa recipe for a quick and delicious meal or snack.

“I vary the amounts depending on what I have,” she says. “If I am out of pineapple, I add more peppers or tomatoes. It is all about the color — it needs to have a nice mix of colors to be appealing.”

The hardest part of the recipe is chopping the tomatoes.

“If I am lazy, the pieces end up pretty big, but they really should be a small diced size,” Tucek says.

She shares her recipe but says to keep it loose when you try it.

Know someone who really likes
to cook and is good at it? Contact
columnist Judy Buchenot at

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