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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

College Dorm Cooking: The Good, The Bad, The Dangerous

Should I continue with this project? Should I--as blogbuddy Chance suggests--write an ecookbook? So far, I have started a pantry, including a freezer pantry, suggested some essential equipment, notably, a rice cooker, and test-driven a recipe-less concoction in the rice cooker. So far, so good.

I continue to look around for helpful sources. I was in Barnes and Noble last week and saw a slew of slow cooker cookbooks, with nary a rice cooker book. I check around the blogosphere. Let's go through my subtitle in reverse order.

THE DANGEROUS. There are many blog posts that suggest going against dorm rules so you can keep a toaster over, a Foreman grill, even a hotplate in your dorm room. Many of these have a jeering tone: "Hey, I'm an adult. Can't I be trusted with a hotplate?" Uh, no. I remember reading about a dorm that burned down because a student tried to dry her underwear with a blow dryer. And I remember being in college myself, trying to stay up all night, and falling asleep over my books.

Some of the posts advising hiding proscribed appliances in your closet are written by PARENTS. Please, parents, your child is just as likely to pass out as the next kid.

THE BAD. I've already described some of these: ramen stroganoff, velveeta nachos, and the like. One recent discovery (no link--find it yourself if you want it) gave directions for microwave meatloaf, which consisted of 1/4 lb of ground beef cooked in a mug with various meatloaf ingredients. To me, this is simply useless. Assuming you don't have 1/4 lb of hamburger in a defrosted state, you need to trudge to the grocery, purchase your quarter pound of meat, pay, return to the dorm, and concoct your meatloaf.

The GOOD. Well, it doesn't exist. There are decent college cookbooks out there, but they are not dorm cookbooks. One I flipped through at Barnes and Noble gave the useful (I'm being sarcastic) suggestion that if you don't have buttermilk to make your muffin batter, you can sub yogurt. Gee, that's helpful for the average dorm dweller.

So this is what I think would be good.
First, a PANTRY. I've already started this. With basic ingredients, you can make any number of things quickly. It's the haphazard shopping that is a time-waster.

Second, a FEW recipes. Many blog posts on the subject advise buying your scholar a basic cookbook. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is often mentioned. That's a fine suggestion for someone like me, who loves to peruse cookbooks, but that sucker is over 900 pages long. I can just see your scholar flipping though, trying to decide. Remember: PARADOX OF CHOICE. So let's limit the choices.

My cookbook is written for my darling daughter, so my recipes will be her favorites. I remember reading Peg Bracken's I Hate to Cookbook, a fun read, though I never did cook anything from it. Anyway, she said: no one needs more than 28 recipes (or was it 30?). Well, I think that the college student needs even fewer.

These will be mine, decided on in consultation with my dear Lucy M.
1. African peanut soup
2. Thai coconut curry (shrimp, chicken, or vegetable)
3. Shrimp and corn soup
4. Burritos
5. Chilaquiles
6. Chile (beef and vegetarian)
7. Red beans and rice (of course!)
8. A magic spinach/ricotta dish that can be Italian or Mexican, depending.

None of these needs the stove; some can be put together and then microwaved. These--along with the rice cooker basics--provide plenty of variety. They are mostly one-pot meals. I seem to remember Peg Bracken also saying that you don't need to get all your nutrients in each meal; you can spread them out over time! Good point.

Anyway, I would be appreciative of any other ideas. Be looking for further development through summer.

Newsflash: Peg Bracken's book is being republished in a 50th Anniversary edition. Bracken is a great writer.


Funny about Money said...

Well, it has to be said that some of these appliances are really dangerous. Especially a hot plate.

My roommate and I did have one, though -- and yes, we hid it in the closet, on the top shelf behind her luggage. And yes, we did have room inspections at least once a week, at all hours of the day and night. Once we almost got caught cooking our Sunday feast of canned chow mein!

We were allowed, though, to have those little metal coils you stick into a coffee cup to heat water. They always seemed to me no less dangerous than a plug-in soup pot or teakettle -- it was very easy to burn yourself on them.

SDXB, who refuses to eat in restaurants but likes to travel, carries a small propane camp stove with him wherever he goes. You can't carry propane on an airplane, of course; he buys the propane along with groceries as soon as he gets to his destination. One of those tippy little camp stoves, IMHO, out-dangers a nice stable hot plate any day.

Some dormitories have central kitchens where the kids can do some light cooking. So not all your readers will be restricted to a microwave.

LOL! A microwave is not without its hazards. My moron secretary darn near burned our building down when she stuck her lunch in our microwave, punched in 10 minutes instead of 1 minute, selected "high,"and then wandered off and forgot about it. It set fire to her food. She scraped the flaming debris out of the oven into her handbag, ran down the stairs, and threw the whole mess into the atrium fountain, creating a dramatic geyser for the entertainment of the 20 or 30 bystanders.

It took over a month to get the burnt stink out of our office suite.

Duchesse said...

Those recipes sound good even cooked more conventionally- worthwhile project. Cooking was forbidden in my dorm not only for safety but for vermin.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff said...

I'd be interested in simply buying the red beans and rice recipe. :-) I didn't know there was a way to make it where it would actually taste good without a stove...I'm excited and my rice cooker is ready to go!

Shelley said...

I've already forgotten what you can and can't have in a dorm (I lived at home and paid my way through night school, so never had the dorm experience). I gather appliances (microwave/rice cooker/blender) are allowed, but not hotplates and not small fridges? Is that right? (Bill's Mom had a tiny fridge to keep milk for her tea in her room). If you are taking frozen foods to her, does this mean she has a freezer in her room?

Your list of recipes sounds delicious, but it is very ...New Orleans, I think? I've never had African peanut soup nor stocked any coconut other than flakes in a bag. If you were going to do an e-book, like to sell, you might want to consider Bittman's approach to basic ingredients and how you can vary a recipe with spices or additions (Italian/Spanish/Mexican, etc).

Absolutely love Funny's secretary story! What a hoot!

Jade Wombat said...

Mark Bittman has published a number of "101" articles in his Minimalist column for the NY Times that could be a useful source of recipes. Here's a link to
Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less if my HTML skills are still effective. Otherwise, try copying this shortcut:

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--How I love SDXB. How is he doing? I had one of those immerser thingies--they WERE dangerous. There are instructions on the web on how to make grilled cheese with an iron. There are central kitchens, but they can be a pain to use.

@Duchesse--The dorm suites have little kitchen areas, so it is perfectly legal now. Yes-vermin-we will be sending lots of tupperware.

@Budgeting--I'll give it to you for free. Onions, sausage,shopped bell pepper, kidney beans. Some recipes don't even have you saute the onions

@Shelley--Thanks for the advice. I will make the foods more mainstream and perhaps provide some exotic/ethnic elsewhere.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Jade--Thanks so much for that link! I saw it last year and forgot all about it. Many wonderful ideas. Sorry for the belated thank you.