How to Cook in the Dorm Room | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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How to Cook in the Dorm Room

Lack of space and college rules don't have to put the kibosh on your first adventures in cooking as an independent young adult

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Bedroom + kitchen + bathroom. Image courtesy of Flickr user ryanscottdavis.

Some college students are fortunate enough to have access to a communal kitchen space in their dorm. Granted, you are contending with everyone else on the floor, having to wait until the space is free, but having access to to a bona fide sink and stove makes up for a few inconveniences. But what do you do if all you have is whatever you’re able to stuff in your dorm and the cafeteria is closed? While most colleges have restrictions on what one can and can’t have in a dorm, this doesn’t necessarily put the kibosh on your first adventures in cooking as an independent young adult. And you don’t have be stuck subsisting on three squares of ramen noodles a day.

So, you’re in a dorm. Not a lot of personal space at your disposal. Although you have plenty of nothing, nothing may be plenty for you—especially if you’re allowed to have a coffee pot in your dorm room. Just think about it: This device contains a heating element and a pot in a space-saving package that can do worlds more than brew a cup of joe. Yes you can do the basics like oatmeal and ramen. But you can also really up the ante and crank out some formidable meals, from rice and bean dishes and soups to pasta dinners as this blogger deftly illustrates. (However, what I think is more awesome is that he is using the coffee pot to get the kids to play in the kitchen. Kinda blows the Easy Bake Oven out of the water, doesn’t it?) Depending on what you want to make, this appliance doesn’t lend itself to speedy cooking—especially if you’re trying to work with meats—and your college may limit you to buying a machine with an automatic shutoff switch, so you’d have to work with the quicker-cooking recipes. But while we’re on the subject of multifunctional electrics, let’s not forget the lowly iron, which can also double as a makeshift griddle/grilling surface for cooking eggs and bacon, enchiladas, and yes, a grilled cheese sandwich. (This site geared to travelers aiming to cook in hotel rooms has recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and if you start searching the internet, you’ll find even more ideas.) The man who whipped up a tortellini with spinach and crème fraiche with a side of homemade biscuits in a hotel room has me in flat-out awe.

For colleges that are a little more open to letting you have heat-generating appliances in your room, you may be fortunate enough to incorporate tools like a hotplate, a single burner or even a George Forman grill into your closet kitchen. This opens up your opportunities considerably, and your cooking time will be cut down compared to using a coffee maker. Here, the biggest restriction is going to be your budget. If you can shell out the dough to cook a steak dinner for yourself, more power to you. For most college students, eating for ten bucks or less per meal is a little more realistic. And it can totally be done, as Dorm Room Kitchen illustrates. With a limit of $8, students challenged to whip up meals are able to make bruschetta appetizers, cheesesteak sandwiches and beer-battered fish.

And then there’s the microwave, the gold standard of collegiate cooking appliances. Like the aforementioned tools, this really opens your cooking options. (One intrepid blogger has already shown that one can craft a Thanksgiving meal in a dorm-sized microwave, another offers a microwavable take on cashew chicken.) There are lots of books out there on microwave cookery, so you should be able to find something that fits in with your budgetary and spatial limits. You might want to give The Healthy College Cookbook a flip through as it contains recipes for a variety of appliances, so there are recipes in here that should work with what few precious pieces you have to work with. And the recipes are also geared to helping new students avoid the dreaded “freshman 15.”

But the dorm room chef should also remember: like any other living space, your dorm is subject to pests, so be mindful about food prep and cleanup. You’re in a living space that is serving as a home away from home for a lot of people. You don’t want to be remembered by everybody on your floor as the person who brought about plagues of cockroaches, mice and ants on account of sloppy coffee pot cooking. And, whenever you are working with anything that produces heat, make sure you have your appliances situated in your room so that they do not create a fire hazard.

And also remember: have fun. And if there’s a significant someone-or-other that you’re aiming to woo, it’s hard to beat dining in. But please bear in mind, since open flames are probably a no-go in almost all dormitory spaces, you’ll have to forego the romantic glow of a candle-lit dinner. That is unless you go the LED route.

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