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Home Cooking in Your Dorm

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Oct. 06, 2014

Finding a home-cooked meal while living in a dorm can be like finding an oasis in a desert. After a few months away, school meals and chain restaurants get old, not to mention expensive, and eating in is usually healthier and budget-friendly. Let’s face it, there’s something comforting about eating food you make yourself. I’m not talking about salads, microwave desserts and popcorn. I’m talking about slow simmered sauces, perfectly cooked vegetables, and tender, juicy meats. Sounds amazing and a bit impossible, right? It can be done!

Here are a few tips gleaned from my college experience:

First: Choose a day to cook. Chances are, you have a few blocks of free time each week. Cook during those blocks so you have leftovers when things get crazy.

Second: Get your hands on a slow cooker. I would recommend a 4-quart programmable oval crock pot. You can find one between $25 and $50 on Amazon or in stores. (Hint: ask for gift cards!) 4 quarts makes 4 servings, so you can share with friends or save some for later. Programmable crock pots turn the heat down after your food is cooked so it stays warm without burning. If you’re gone a lot during the day, this is ideal. (For more crock-pot-finding tips, see this post)

Third: Round out your kitchen supplies. To begin, you will need access to a sink for rinsing food and a refrigerator. Most dorms have shared kitchens. (Make sure you clean the sink, first.) You will need a short paring knife and inexpensive chef’s knife for chopping meat, vegetables, and fruit. If you like bread with your meals, a serrated knife is good, too. You will need a plastic cutting board (not wood – it’s harder to clean), can opener, vegetable peeler, cheese grater, colander, slotted and regular serving spoons, plates and utensils, and storage containers for leftovers. Finally, dish soap, sponges, and towels. While many of these supplies can be found at thrift stores or borrowed from friends, the cutting boards, dish cloths and sponges should be new.

Fourth: Arm yourself with knowledge. Safety in the kitchen is important! If you haven’t cooked before, watch this knife skills tutorial. Always wash your work space with hot soap and water before and after food prep. And always, always be careful when handling dairy and meat. From thawing, to storage, to prep and clean up, both have the potential to cause illness if you’re not careful. A brief, but detailed explanation can be found here.

Fifth: Find recipes you like. Allrecipes.com has literally hundreds of slow cooker recipes. Search for highly rated dishes and change the serving size to 4 (for a 4-quart crockpot). Buy only as much food as you can store in your dorm fridge. To stay within budget, check ads for sales and look up recipes by ingredient. If you’re new to cooking, try one recipe per week to build your repertoire. Add variety by never making the same meal twice. Find entrees which include vegetables; they’re colorful, healthy, and more flavorful. To make the meal complete, toss up a salad, serve with rolls, and finish off with a tall glass of water. Delicious!

Although cooking takes time to learn, you’ll have the luxury of a home-cooked meal and, when the smell starts drifting down the hallway, you’ll make a lot of new friends.

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