Becoming an adult entails many, many things: filing taxes; doing your own laundry — those things. But we’re going to take baby steps here and backtrack to something that we should know how to do in life: cook meals. Cooking meals when you’re an on-campus resident who actually doesn’t have a kitchen just outside their bedroom door can be pretty difficult. As someone who has taken to cooking often, but does so in the communal kitchen in the basement, trust me, I know the struggle. But I think I’ve gotten
pretty freaking amazing pretty good at cooking meals in college, so I’m going to give you some pointers that’ll put you on your way to cooking meals in college like a pro. You’ll completely forget that microwaveable meals even exist!
- Search for recipe inspo. Gathering utensils and ingredients and walking all the way to the kitchen can seem pretty annoying, so find amazing recipes for delicious looking food to motivate you to actually cook! I like finding recipes and how-tos from BuzzFeed’s Tasty on Facebook. Because of Tasty, I’ve made garlic bread meatball sliders, fajita stuffed chicken and more! They definitely put creative (and even tastier) spins on meals, so they’re fun to make. Plus, you don’t need to be a world class chef to create their recipes; everything is easy to follow.
- Assemble a ‘kitchen kit’. No, I don’t know if kitchen kits are actual things; that’s just the term I’m using to make myself sound more like a pro with tips. In any case, assembling your dorm room kitchen kit will help you keep all of your cooking supplies and most of your ingredients in one, tidy place, so your roommate won’t find bread bags on the floor, and you won’t have rice in your underwear drawer. The easier it is for you to gather your utensils and ingredients, the easier your cooking experiences will be.
- Be prepared to wake up early to make breakfast. Don’t expect to have homemade toast, scrambled eggs and potatoes for breakfast if you aren’t willing to get out of bed and get things started! Cooking really does take time when you don’t have a kitchen at your fingertips, so you need to allow yourself enough time to make it down to the kitchen with everything you need, cook, cleanup and go back up. Also, be cautious of cooking in between classes and/or events. This past weekend, I thought I’d be able to make five pieces of stuffed chicken breasts in between taking a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts (for cookie dough iced coffee) and meeting with a friend to see Deadpool. Let’s just say I only had enough time to fully cook just one piece of chicken…
- “All-in-ones” are typically a good purchase. You’re probably thinking, ‘what the hell do you mean ‘all-in-ones’?’ Quick story: This past weekend I wanted to make fajita-stuffed chicken (thank you BuzzFeed for making this my goal) and when I went home to do grocery shopping, I brought everything I needed back to my dorm, but realized when it was too late that I had forgotten all of my seasonings at home. Now, I’m not a fan of bland chicken, so I had to take a trip to grocery store to buy seasonings. I was looking to buy garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne, black pepper, and the like, which would’ve meant purchasing like four different bottles. We should all know by now that our daily goal is to make the best use of what little space we have in our dorms, and creating a collection of seasoning bottles on my desk just wasn’t happening. Lucky for me, I found a bottle of Trader Joe’s “21 Seasoning Salute” which includes, well, 21 different seasonings in one bottle! Purchases like these are a great way to save space and money while still getting exactly what you were looking for.
- Mix your dry ingredients at home. If you insist on never, ever buying boxed brownie mix and instead baking explicitly from scratch…you might run into a few walls. I adore baking from scratch, but in college it’s hard because you’ll have so many ingredients to find a place for in that (once again) small dorm room. If you go home every so often, you can buy your ingredients and mix all the dry ones together and seal them in one container that can be taken back to college with you. Ta-da! It saves space and will still satisfy your made-from-scratch ego (it’s ok, I know I have one too).
- Remember to defrost things (if they need to be defrosted). So the day I had planned to make the chicken, I went to Trader Joe’s in the morning and completely forgot to take the chicken out of my freezer to defrost. I returned to my dorm around two and had planned to start cooking in a couple of hours. Oops. Forgetting pre-preparation preparations like this can set you back big time. My fix was pretty quick (stick the chicken in a bowl of hot water) but it could’ve been worse if I didn’t remember in time!
- Know common substitutes for things you don’t have or can’t buy. No eggs? No problem; use oil instead. Don’t have cornstarch? You can substitute flour. Sometimes recipes call for items that, in college, you don’t have ready access to, or just don’t want to accommodate for in your mini fridge. Cooking a meal shouldn’t cost you a finger and an arm, so using ingredients that you already have is a money-saving option so that you can still cook your favorite meals without creating clutter.
- If it’s going to take a while, bring your work with you. I promise you will get bored standing in front of the stove, staring at your pot of pasta. There’s probably some type of homework or reading you can squeeze in while cooking, so use this time to be more productive. And if you’re cooking alone and need to run back up to your room to grab your books, TURN THE STOVE/OVEN OFF FIRST. Never leave a flame unattended because everyone will hate you for setting off the fire alarm in the middle of their nap or shower. Not to mention the fact that you could potentially start a fire in the kitchen. Better safe than sorry!
- Always have dishwashing soap. I was running dangerously low on dishwashing soap, but then I was able to purchase more to wash my dishes. I know that not everyone uses soap when cleaning dishes, but it does help you get out those tough grease stains better — more so than water. Science fact of the day: soap has both a polar end and a non-polar end, where as water is only polar. This is why soap can fight grease and oil stains better than water can. So you don’t have to struggle to clean your dishes, which leads me to my next tip…
- Always wash up after yourself. Okay, who else will eat food and then leave the dirty dishes on the table to basically rot for a week before they decide to wash them? Yeah, I’m majorly guilty of this. Try to break out of this habit by cleaning up after yourself as soon as you have dirty dishes. That’s because first off, when you need those dishes again, you’ll feel like washing them even less. Second, clean plates = clean conscience — yes, those dirty dishes can be rather haunting. And third, it’s common courtesy to whoever you live with; I doubt they want to see moldy plates on the table. Also, don’t leave dirty things in the kitchen because the people in your building will think that you have no home training.
- Always have utensils on hand. When you need something the most is when you never have it, so make sure you always have forks, spoons, knives — even plastic ones, because you never know when you’ll need to dice peppers *ahem, me this past weekend.*
- Be courteous to other cookers. The kitchen is for everyone to use, so don’t be rude and hog all the space! Always ask fellow cookers if they need you to make room, even if you don’t think they do because it’s common courtesy. Your cooking experience will be much better if you’re nice to people. Courtesy also includes not accidentally dropping pasta sauce on the counters and then leaving it there! You wouldn’t want to come down to the kitchen to find a mess when you’re about to cook, so down go down to the kitchen and leave a mess when you’re there.
- Stock up on resealable bags and/or tupperware. When I didn’t have enough time to cook all five pieces of chicken in one go, I had to pack it all up and refrigerate/freeze it all again. Thank goodness I had resealable bags (because I certainly didn’t have tupperware!) You never know when you might have to pack it all up and postpone cooking for another day, so be prepared with methods of re-storage!
Do you have any tips for cooking in college? Let me know in the comments!