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Monday, May 31, 2010

Frugal College Cooking: How to Spoil Your Child and Add to the Pantry

Thinking about how my precious little one will cook in the dorm next year is interesting. It is a problem-solving activity, which I hope will delay the onset of memory-loss. So many limitations. Her suite contains a kitchen area with a decent sized fridge, a microwave, and a sink. Additional equipment so far includes a rice cooker, a stick blender, and a knife.

I asked Lucy M., who is home from her 3-week service project in the Black Belt of Alabama, if she would be inclined to mosey to the dorm kitchen, which does have a stove, to make something. She said, "You have no idea how lazy and tired I can be." That's my girl.

One can still read the ubiquitous articles about helicopter parents, who competitively oversee (or over-oversee) every aspect of their child's life, from school, to sports, to artistic activities, to the Holy Grail, "getting into a good college." No, that's wrong: getting into a TOP college.

I was a mediocre helicopter, partly because competition makes me retreat, partly because I am scornful of such activities, and partly because I am somewhat countercultural and will rebel at the drop of a conventional hat. To that mix of good and bad qualities, add some basic laziness.

But I love reading cookbooks and figuring out how to do things the frugal way. And here is where the helicopter parents can join the frugal parents. Now that the parent does not have to quiz junior on SAT words, or chauffeur junior to community service activities that look good on an application, he or she will have a lot of free time.

What can we do for our scholars to ease the arduous task of dorm cooking? Figure out the road blocks to health, economy, even EATING, and get around them.

For our dear scholar: When Lucy M comes home, she says "Where are the burritos?" These are black bean and cheese burritos, which we make assembly line fashion, wrap up and freeze. We all love them. So instead of telling Lucy how to make them (she already knows how, anyway), we will bring some to her--frozen--in a cooler. Think how little room 60 burritos take up. Think how that is at least 30 meals. Think how your scholar will not have to chop onions, deal with messy and smelly beans, or grate cheese. Think how much time your scholar will have to cram for that test. And, finally, think how popular your scholar will be with suite mates and friends, when said scholar magnanimously offers to share part of her cache?

Or how about helping out with the ingredients that are a pain? I hate chopping onions. Even if you like this task, it is messy and smelly. But how wonderful onions are and there is seldom a recipe that doesn't begin: chop an onion. One of my OLD Joys of Cooking has a gem of a comment, along the lines of "If onions were rare, they would be as expensive and treasured as truffles." So when you get to the college town, treat your little one to a bag or three of frozen chopped onions!

Wait! Even better would be to saute a bunch of onions for your scholar, put them in zip-lock freezer bags, and put them in the cooler next to the burritos. Then your scholar won't have to even use the stove--or wash a pot.

Two nights ago, I made Lucy's favorite shrimp and corn soup, the best version of which starts with a gumbo base of roux with onions, celery, and peppers. I had made a whole bunch of gumbo base when I had an overabundance of onions and company; it was stored in a ziplock in the freezer. With that base ready, the soup took 10 minutes to put together.

Tomorrow, my Frugal Son will be returning from France. To spoil him, I will make gumbo. It just so happens, I will use more of that gumbo base. Another almost instant soup.

One problem with cookbooks is that everyone likes different things. So you may have to modify my ideas to your own tastes and situation.

A freezer is a pantry too.

So in addition to the pantry list of canned and boxed foods I've begun, let's start the freezer pantry and spoil our children.

My list so far for Lucy M: burritos, sauteed onions, roux with vegetables. All in zip-freezer bags.


Someone said... what's your best solution for chopping onions? I'm thinking one of those small food processor thingies...I considered one of those faddish press-down choppers but I think they are too noisy.

Any recommendations? Normally I just use a chef's knife, but something faster would be better... Mandoline?

Frugal Scholar said...

@Someone--Sometimes I can get my husband to do it. My son is willing, but he's seldom home. My best solution would be to have a volunteer do a whole bunch at one time and then freeze them. If you really can't stand it, buy frozen chopped onions. The food processor can liquefy them. A mandoline seems like a lot of work and is suited to slicing more than chopping.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff said...

Wow...your kids are taken care of very well! That's so nice of you!

BG2.0 said...

Onions: Suck it up and chop them yourself. Have a fan blowing the teary by-product away from you. Mucho satisfaction.

Better word - or at least catchy:

That's all from the NE US.
How are the shrimp doing down there? Is getting fresh seafood a problem yet? Nightly news shows are so . . .nightly.

SarahB said...

I'm late getting to this, but here in Washington State we have Walla Walla onions. Every June I buy the big 20 lb. bag at Costco and just turn on music and chop them up and put them in quart freezer bags. These onions freeze well and are the best ever in cooked Italian foods. I freeze 22 bags. Enough for 11 months as we use fresh for a month or so. Have one bag left from last year, luckily they are due out. Course it hasn't stopped raining here so who know's!!

Duchesse said...

Shrimp and corn soup? Gumbo? Adopt me!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Budgeting--There are some things I do, but many I don't do, if that makes sense. So I'm nice within my talents, which are very limited.

@BG2--I'm sure you can hire yourself out as an onion chopper. I hate it. There are signs up at the stores saying seafood is ok--check out, for instance.

@sarahb--That is a great solution. One afternoon of misery a year.

@Duchesse--The shrimp and corn soup is very easy. Have I not posted a recipe? I'll do so soon. But I will adopt you--if you'll adopt me.

Shelley said...

Brilliant idea. When I first moved away from home my Mom worried I would starve (no chance, as I worked in a pizza joint). Anyhow, she always seem to spot the good deals for steaks (thin ones) and she would fill part of the freezer with a stack of those. Broiled steak -- especially rare ones -- are quick and easy. I soon got fed up with pizza and lived on salads and cokes...and steaks.