So you’ve gotten your own place and now you need to cook for yourself. Weird concept, right?
Dorm styles do vary throughout Boston’s many many colleges, so I’ll cover the basic categories based on what you might have in your new place. Regardless of your cooking situation, there are a few basics that you will need.
1. Bowl – whether you want to eat cereal, melt chocolate, or store fruit, a small-medium sized bowl is a necessity. You can get them cheap from discount stores (Good Will and TJ Maxx are my personal favorites) or ask your parents for a single out of a large set. Not too hard.
2. Plate – paper towels can only get you so far in terms of eating materials. A single microwave-safe plate will save you a lot of grief if you’re regularly making meals.
3. Mug – you can use this for water, milk, coffee, tea, soda… the list goes on. Point is, make sure you have a cup of some sort (microwave safe and preferably insulated) so you can stay hydrated and not have to go out to the store for water bottles every week. That gets expensive. If you’re living somewhere with less-than-optimal water quality, a Brita Pitcher is also a good investment.
4. Saran Wrap – if you need to store ANYTHING, saran wrap or aluminum foil will be your best friend. Zipblock bags are also a good alternative, just make sure you can seal things for later! No one likes that roommate who leaves their yogurt open in the fridge [for weeks until it turns into mold and infects the water and gets everyone sick… ew that was not a good year] unsealed.
5. Utensils – chopsticks are my best friends, for anything from pita chips to spaghetti, but that’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. A single set of fork/knife/spoon will get you by with even two people (one gets fork, one gets spoon), and these tend to be relatively cheap at aforementioned discount stores. Also, keep in mind that plastic/disposable utensils are generally available in dining halls and take-out restaurants. Just don’t leave yourself in a lurch if you need to stir something and can’t make it outside!
6. Paper towels – versatile in that they can be used as dish cloths, napkins, food dryers, counter-cleaners, hand-towels, toilet paper… the list goes on. HAVE THEM THERE OR YOU WILL REGRET IT. If you buy them in bulk, split the cost with your roommates because those will be shared whether you like it or not.
7. Trash receptacle – you might not think of it, but the kitchen trash is actually a very important thing. Try to keep it separate from your desk or bathroom trash cans, because it’ll be taken out more often and should be kept somewhere close to your food-preparation environment. You also won’t want cracked eggs on that paper you accidentally threw away.
YOU GOT NUTHIN’
Maybe there’s a kitchen somewhere in the basement for your whole building to share, but nothing–absolutely nothing–is allowed in your room. You have a few options.
1. Hide stuff under your bed. As long as you don’t start a fire or flood, you’ll be fine (totally kidding guys… follow the rules.)
2. Keep dry snacks, like cereal and peanut butter/bread. Sandwich fixings (detailed below) can be dry and still delicious, so take advantage of that!
3. Use what you can – a coffee maker can boil water for pasta. Coolers full of ice packs can keep things cold for quite a while (freeze things in the shared freezer if you have to–labeled zipblocks for the win!
4. If you have limited time to cook in a shared kitchen, find microwave-in-a-mug recipes. The brownies are good, eggs with cheese and toppings work, and soup is always a valid option.
5. If you do have access to a cooler or fridge, salads take very little effort. Mixed greens or spinach combined with either fruits and nuts or tomatoes and eggs go well with balsamic vinaigrette or a good creamy ranch. Sandwich meat can be added to make an antipasto-ish salad, and a small grind of pepper makes everything taste quite fancy.
THE MICROWAVE-FRIDGE DORM
So your dorm room has minimal cooking abilities. You have a bathroom sink and a micro-fridge with probably no counter space and a high probability of spilling things on your bed. This was me freshman year, and I gained the freshman fifteen. To prevent that, here’s what to keep in your dorm:
1. Bread – sandwiches and wraps are so easy to make without much space; you can make some pretty fancy stuff that doesn’t require sauteing or baking!
2. Sandwich Fixings – peanut butter goes well with Nutella, berry jams, bananas, apples, brown sugar, raisins, berries, and honey. If you have any of those ingredients, you have a pretty kick-ass sandwich. Apples also go with sandwich meats and lettuce; lettuce goes with most salty things and tomatoes. Pesto makes those sandwiches 100 times better. I’d recommend having one set or the other; vary your materials based on how much space and funding you have, so that you can always make at least one complete sandwich, and aren’t trying to combine pesto and bananas or something weird like that (unless that’s the way you roll–no judgment)
3. Eggs – I know it seems weird, but eggs can be made in a microwave. Just crack them into a plastic bag and shake, adding whatever you want (tomatoes, spinach, cheese, mushrooms). Behold, a lovely omelet that will keep you full all morning and on top of those classes!
4. Fresh Fruit – makes for a good snack. Just do it. Keep in mind that Boston has farmer’s markets open all year that have quality materials for extremely good prices. I’ll talk more on that later.
5. Soup – canned soup doesn’t need to be refrigerated so you can save space AND time. You’ll thank me when it’s freezing outside and all you want is to recover from that snow storm you had to fight through to get to class.
6. Frozen Stuff – I’m not a huge fan of frozen meals, but I’ll admit that they’re fast and easy, and usually wallet-friendly. You can always add frozen veggies to your frozen mac-and-cheese, to make things a little fancier. Frozen fruits on your yogurt can also be good.
7. Chocolate Chips – they can be melted in a microwave and will make whatever you are eating more delicious. My favorite are chocolate-dipped oranges. Too good.
THE TINY FULL KITCHEN
You were promised a kitchen and now you realize that there is no counter space, no storage space, and no dishwasher. Darn those stingy… whoever’s responsible! Darn them! Here’s how to make the best of a dismal situation:
1. Optimize a small space by sealing everything in labeled zipblocks and stacking them. This way you don’t have to worry about things falling and opening/breaking, and contamination. Be sure to put a date on everything as well so you know what to throw out, or color-code by week (I do love my colored Sharpies).
2. Be realistic about your pan size. If you’re one to cook for tons of people, buy a large pan. You can always make smaller stuff in a larger pan, but it’s very hard to cook piles of spinach in a 5-inch pan. I can cook just about anything in a pan, from chicken to omelets to a great pasta sauce. Banana’s Foster also requires a flame and is delicious. Pancakes are also a must.
3. Have one baking sheet. If you have an oven, you will want to use one. You can make cookies, chicken, stuffed peppers… the works. If you wrap it in aluminum foil first, it’ll be easier to clean (because we all know that dishwasher’s either broken or absent, let’s be real).
4. Microwave your sponges. Five minutes in that handy bowl we talked about early full of water, and most of the bacteria should be killed and the smell will be gone. This way, you aren’t storing random sponges on the counter or in valuable cabinet space.
5. Mixing bowls that all fit inside one another help to save space. If you can fit these into a large pasta pot, more power to you. Also, some pasta pots come with lids that allow you to drain from the top–this saves space too! You can flip these inside the pots to use as colanders for when washing fruits and veggies as well.
THE AWESOME KITCHEN… FOR ONE SEMESTER
Yay study abroad next semester! Darn you only get to use this awesome kitchen you’re subletting for six months or less. Here’s how you prepare for inevitably packing things into storage.
1. See who’s living here after you and if they’d want to buy off your dishes. You can also sell on your school Facebook site (there’s tons of groups now for selling just about everything) or Craigslist. Friends will also tend to welcome new appliances for their kitchens if you want to store stuff with them for a semester.
2. Many colleges have storage programs like Storage Squad that will work with your school schedule for summers or semesters. They’re also relatively cheap. http://www.storagesquad.com/
3. The more containers you have, the better. Store your spoons and spatulas in large bowls and stack cookie sheets at the sides or bottoms of boxes. Try to buy Tupperware that stacks to minimize wasted space. Dish towels can be used for packaging as well, so you can stuff those between scratchable objects.
4. Invest in some good seasonings that you will use up by the end of the semester. Soy sauce and sesame oil make any Asian dish taste good; extra-virgin olive oil is great for sauteing, and pumpkin pie spice will relieve you of the challenge of buying cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and other things that you won’t use up by the time you move out.
Best of luck in all of your kitchen situations! Keep in mind that cooking for yourself is cheaper than eating out (for sure for sure for sure) and tends to be healthier too. And never say no to parental shipments! If mom agrees to send brownies through the mail, don’t question it. Just say thanks.
Also just letting everyone know, white chocolate chips will melt on contact with instant pumpkin oatmeal and it’s like the best thing ever.