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Chew on this! Tips on dorm cooking

Freshman, we suggest you take notes. A college student shares her take on the essential tools and foods as well as simple recipes that both you and your roommate will enjoy.
/ Source: Epicurious

At home I was known for baking desserts, especially Key lime pie, and I loved helping to make dinner for my family. When I left for college three years ago, I expected to continue to cook for myself and my friends. Cooking, however, required a piece of equipment that my university did not provide: an oven.

I was shocked and dismayed to find that my dorm room was equipped with only a microwave and a mini-fridge. To get to the communal kitchen that the university advertised, I had to go outside the building. The kitchen smelled vaguely of meat, was crusty, dirty, and in the study lounge. The one attempt I made to cook there practically led to a revolt by my fellow classmates, whose attempts to study were disturbed by the smell and the noise of my culinary adventure. I decided to learn how to use my microwave; after all, I couldn't eat in the dining hall for every meal.

I looked for microwave recipes in cookbooks written for students, but instead of providing ideas for students without an oven, the books I found gave extremely simplistic recipes that nonetheless required a fully stocked kitchen. After a little experimenting (I must have exploded about ten eggs trying to hard-boil them in the microwave — messy and extremely smelly), I soon became extremely proficient at microwave cooking. A few months into my freshman year, I hosted a dinner party in my dorm room and served baby pear tomatoes and Brie, chicken risotto, asparagus, and mocha truffles, all made in my microwave. Forgoing the oven actually taught me to be more adventurous and creative in my cooking.

Just about anything that can be made in a conventional oven can also be prepared in the microwave, with a few exceptions. Microwaves do not grill, broil, brown, or toast. While it is possible to warm your bagel or pizza in a microwave, you'll never get that brown, crunchy quality that makes it truly delicious.

The most important thing to remember when cooking in your dorm is to have fun — save extra stress for that biology exam.

You also have to be careful when using the microwave. Make sure to only use microwave-safe dishes and monitor what you're cooking to be sure it doesn't burn — most dorm fire alarms are set off by burnt popcorn. Hot dogs, like the aforementioned whole eggs, explode quickly in the microwave. Check to make sure that eggs and meats are cooked thoroughly before consuming them. Most pre-made meals have directions on the box. Follow the directions. They are there for a reason.There are a few other things that college freshmen should keep in mind when it comes to cooking in their dorm rooms. Dorms provide extremely limited space (my freshman room was an 8 X 10 cinderblock square that I shared with another girl), so while it may be tempting to bring all kinds of food gadgets and ingredients to school, keep in mind that only a few basics will actually physically fit in your room. My mother packed me an entire spice rack before I left for college. Upon arriving, I found out that I had room for either my shoes or my spices — the spice rack was quickly thrown away. Now the only spices I keep on hand are Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

I also generally rule out recipes that call for more than five ingredients — in general, the greater the number of ingredients, the more expensive groceries will be, and it is difficult to find space to store leftovers and unused ingredients. However, there are a few foods that I always keep on hand, including pasta, oatmeal, milk, sugar, eggs, olive oil, frozen fruits and vegetables, some sort of cheese, popcorn, and cans of soup. I also have a plate, bowl, mug, drinking cup, sharp knife, can opener, corkscrew, and utensils. Blenders and rice cookers, if allowed, can be fun additions to a student's cooking arsenal.

Do keep in mind that roommates can be sensitive to certain food smells. I love tuna sandwiches but my roommate could not stand to have our room stink of fish for days after I made one. When sharing a room, always ask permission before making anything with a strong odor.

The most important thing to remember when cooking in your dorm is to have fun — save extra stress for that biology exam. During late study nights, try this delicious recipe for nuked nachos.For more ideas on cooking for and with kids, recipes for portable lunches, and more, go to Epicurious' back-to-school package.