Making the grade in dorm cooking
Published 10:56 am, Monday, October 19, 2009
There's more to the college experience than fascinating lectures, frat parties and pricey textbooks. There's all that ramen, for one thing.
Mom and dad may have paid for a dorm meal plan, but dining hall hours don't always jibe with student schedules or tastes. Many students find themselves on the wrong side of campus, or still in class, when the cafeteria closes. Late-night study sessions require refueling. And a pizza-based diet gets old -- and fattening -- quickly.
So, here are some fresh cooking ideas that will be equally at home at the big U or in harried non-college households, too.
Start, says Belmont, Calif., chef Gigi Gaggero, by identifying what's available and developing a repertoire of easy to prepare dishes.
These days, that's easy to do. People's love affair with local, seasonal fare means farmers markets are popping up not just in urban centers, but on college campuses too. A well-stocked dorm closet allows students to turn their produce finds into Caprese salads, bruschetta and similar simple fare without so much as a microwave oven. (Tip: don't store the laundry detergent near the cooking supplies or your Caprese salad will taste like Tide.)
But basic cookware -- measuring spoons, mixing bowl and cutting board -- make gourmet pursuits easy, even in a dorm setting. The biggest challenges for would-be dorm chefs are aromas and appliance restrictions, says Gaggero, who teaches college cooking classes at her Kids Culinary Adventures school in Belmont.
Be kind to your roommates, she says. Don't cook fish, whip up homemade pickled kimchee or burn the popcorn in the microwave.
As for appliances, read the fine print on your housing contract first. Mini-fridges are allowed everywhere, but the rules on microwaves, crockpots, rice cookers and George Foreman grills vary from dorm to dorm.
"We had an open kitchen where we could cook for ourselves on weekends," says 2009 Stanford grad Molly Gerth, who lives in San Francisco now. "I learned how to make an omelet for the first time from more experienced friends when we cooked brunch for ourselves on Sundays. And some of my friends' favorite snacks were Annie's macaroni and cheese and deluxe quesadillas with all the fixings."
Those are good choices, says Gaggero, and many dorms have a communal kitchen. Or you can "borrow" a friend's apartment stove during a study session to cook a week's worth of baked potatoes or pasta.
"Cook a week's worth of spaghetti, penne or rigatoni," she says. "Drain it and toss it in a little bit of olive oil, then portion control it into baggies."
Reheat it in the microwave and add store-bought sauce; toss it with butter, garlic and fresh herbs; or top it with cooked, shredded chicken. That pasta can also be served cold, garnished with fresh veggies and tossed with an Asian peanut or sesame dressing.
Baked potatoes are also a reliable standby. Try splitting and stuffing them with cheese and broccoli, before zapping them in the microwave.
Of course, many vegetables can be cooked in their entirety in the microwave. Karen Rogers graduated from UC Berkeley last year, but the Berkeley resident still remembers slicing eggplant, drizzling it with olive oil, salt and a pinch of garlic powder.
"It was simple, healthy, and only required seven minutes in the microwave," she says. "Another favorite was sweet potatoes sweetened with brown sugar and dabbled with butter. All I had to do was poke the sweet potatoes with a fork and pop them in the oven for 10 minutes before they were soft."
At Marin's What's Cooking school, Michelle Stern teaches groups of off-to-college teens to make an entire Mediterranean meal of lemony, egg-laced Avgolemono soup, Greek salad, hummus and pita, using nothing more than a blender and a rice cooker.
"They love the soup," she says. "It's a combination of flavors they haven't necessarily had before. The egg adds a lot of protein and creaminess, and the orzo gives it some bulk. It feels really filling and nurturing."
Of course, there are caveats, too. Make sure your mini-fridge is cold enough to keep milk and meat safely chilled. Don't use a chicken-spattered cutting board to dice your vegetables. And avoid setting the building on fire.
One unfortunate Stanford student made headlines after his late night egg roll frying session set off his campus apartment's fire sprinklers in 2008. The resulting flood cascaded down three floors, according to the college newspaper, the Stanford Daily.
Use a microwave or rice cooker, says Stern. They're safer. And they turn themselves off.
Any final tips?
Every dorm room needs a little greenery, says Gaggero. Instead of a fern, put a pot of basil on the window sill. It's yummier.
COLLEGE KIDZ' HOMEMADE MICROWAVE BISCUITS
1?1��3 cup all-purpose flour
� cup plus 2 tablespoons cornmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
� teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
� cup melted butter
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, or your favorite herb or dried spice
1. In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. Stir in sour cream. Mix just until a soft dough forms, but don't overmix.
2. Pat dough into �-inch thickness. Cut into rounds. Place on a microwave baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with thyme. Microwave at high power for about 1� minutes or until done. Let rest for 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Split into halves and serve with sliced ham and cheese, sausage patties or eggs.
-- Gigi Gaggero, Kids Culinary Adventures
Per serving: 150 calories, 8 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein.
-- Staff analysis
GREEK LEMON SOUP (AVGOLEMONO)
8 cups chicken stock
Salt and white pepper
1��3 cup Italian pastina, orzo or other tiny pasta
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives
In a rice cooker, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the pastina and simmer until tender.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs together. Add the lemon juice, beating constantly.
Add a ladleful of the soup to the egg mixture and beat well. Then pour this back into the pan slowly, still beating constantly. Switch the rice cooker to the warm setting and cook the soup gently, stirring all the time, until it thickens. Serve with a sprinkling of parsley or chives. Serves eight.
-- Michelle Stern, www.whatscooking.info
Per serving: 70 calories, 1.5 g total fat,
0.5 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 810 mg sodium, 11 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 4 g protein.
ASIAN-INSPIRED CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE NOODLE SALAD
Chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
Thin egg noodles, fusilli or other pasta, cooked and drained
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
Assorted vegetables, such as red peppers, carrots and snow peas, thinly sliced
1 small bunch watercress or arugula, stemmed
Sesame seeds, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
Sesame or Bang Bang Dressing (recipes below)
Toss the chicken, cooked pasta, chives, vegetables and watercress with the dressing of your choice. Serve hot or cold, garnished with toasted sesame seeds and chives.
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Whisk the dressing ingredients together, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Bang Bang Dressing
5 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
3 tablespoons hot water
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cold water
Stir the peanut butter and hot water together until the mixture becomes smooth, or as smooth as crunchy peanut butter can become. Add the remaining ingredients and blend well. The mixture should be just thin enough to spoon over the chicken and pasta. If necessary, add another tablespoon of hot water.
--Adapted from "The Student Cookbook," Linda Collister and Ross Dobson, (Ryland, Peters and Small, 2009)
4 cups romaine lettuce, torn
� cup red onion, thinly sliced
� cup cucumber, thinly sliced
� cup cherry tomatoes, halved
� cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
� teaspoon dried oregano
� teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1. Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, oregano and salt. Gradually add the oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Drizzle oil mixture over salad; toss well.
-- Michelle Stern, www.whatscooking.info
Per serving: 100 calories, 8 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 360 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 4 g protein.