Breakaway cooking isn’t about following an exact recipe; it’s about seeing what you can come up with regardless of what “type” of cooking it is. And what better place for breakaway cooking than a dorm room?
Now, hear me out. When I first discovered that I had been placed in the one dorm that didn’t have a kitchen, I was pretty freaked out. I mean, the dining hall isn’t that bad, but it’s the motions of cooking, the idea of an actual meal rather than snippets of this-and-that from the salad bar that keep me sane. I knew I had to take drastic action. So here’s a list of things college students can do to radically increase the quality of the food we eat.
- Invest in an induction burner. Now, these amazing devices are completely fire safe. On the other hand, Fire Safety doesn’t know that. So I keep it under my bed.
- Get a rice cooker. I grew up eating rice, so a meal without rice is like a sandwich without bread, and rice cookers have steamer inserts that you can use to steam vegetables while the rice is cooking. One pot cooking indeed! You can use a rice cooker instead of a microwave, which I don’t even have/bother with.
- Convert your desk and bookshelves into a pantry. This requires a little planning, but an extra bookshelf can be used for things like vinegar, chili paste, and oil, while you can fill your drawers with spices, miscellaneous dried ingredients, plates, and utensils.
- Become a vegetable hoarder. I don’t eat much meat anyway, but I can’t cook it in my room for obvious reasons. On the other hand, buying lots of groceries when you’re on a meal plan gets expensive. Behold: yet another opportunity to break the rules! With a salad bar filled with things like raw broccoli and cubed tofu, it’s a cook’s paradise. Because you don’t have to do annoying things like parboil and chop, there is absolutely no excuse not to carry around a Tupperware so you can make stir-fry later. Just don’t get caught: on one occasion when I wasn’t subtle enough, some manager chastised me, “this isn’t a grocery store!” (It isn’t? I thought.)
- When prepared ingredients aren’t an option, the dining hall has whole vegetables on display. Yes, I sometimes take them. Yes, maybe I’m not supposed to—but why on earth is there an entire rack of raw onions next to the bagels?
- Finally, don’t be afraid to be a little crazy. Don’t have a sieve? A (clean) mesh laundry bag works just as well. Don’t have any Thai spices for curry? Turns out that sage and cloves in coconut milk make a savory dish taste almost like gingerbread.
- When you’re ready, have a dinner party. Sure, you might be eating off plastic plates and sitting on the floor, but is good company really about tablecloths and cutlery? No, it’s not. And when you can still make dishes like Moroccan tagine with dried apricots and Chai-spiced vanilla pudding, who is going to complain?
So that’s my bit on cooking in college. When I finally went home for winter break, I cooked a million things that would be impossible to make on an induction burner (hummus, whole wheat pita, grilled mackerel, etc.). And while I’d like to say it was 100% bliss — and, in many respects, it was — I did miss the challenge of cranking out great food in my room.
It’s good to be back.
Lida Wu is a freshman at Wesleyan, and blogs at the fabulously entertaining www.octopusgourmet.com.
(Editor’s note: guest posts are always welcome — send your breakaway-related ideas to Eric)