OPINION: The do’s and don’ts of dorm-cooking

Photo credit: Han Tran

I love food. I love creating it and I love eating it, but mostly I love sharing it. Needless to say, having to adjust from a fully-stocked kitchen, both with ingredients and utensils, to a residence hall that only allowed a microwave and mini-fridge was no small task.

It did, however, teach me to become incredibly thrifty and creative with my recipes. Here are some do’s and don’ts I learned along the way:

DO purchase a microwave Our residence halls limit microwaves to 700 watts, but I swear you could still cook a turkey with that power. From cooking homemade “instant” mac and cheese, to melting chocolate for my truffles, I used my microwave daily both freshman and sophomore year.

DO NOT make microwave popcorn Our residence halls have a lot of restrictions on appliances allowed in the dorm rooms, but believe it or not popcorn makers are on your list of what to bring. One of the greatest and smartest purchases I made in preparation for college was my popcorn maker. I use it weekly, and sometimes daily. If you’ve never had air-popped popcorn before, prepare for your life to be changed.

Freshman year, I made the usual popcorn with butter and salt, but sophomore year I got creative. I started making rosemary olive oil popcorn. I was an resident assistant sophomore year, and my residents would literally flock to my room if they heard that I was making my special popcorn. It was always a huge hit, and a perfect way to bond as a floor. Not to mention that it was a great way to jazz up the typical popcorn, and dried rosemary and olive oil have months before they expire.

DO buy the basic baking ingredients It is amazing what you can whip up with flour, sugar, salt and vegetable oil. The beauty of these ingredients is that their expiration dates will far surpass their usage. Foods like eggs and butter can be harder to use up before they go bad, but if you’re confident that they won’t go to waste, then by all means, just go for it and buy them. If you aren’t that confident, then do what I did, and stick with the basics.

The coolest thing about these basic baking building blocks is that they are a blank canvas. One day freshman year, my neighbor was going to throw away some trail mix because she ate all the pieces she liked. I stopped her, though she thought I was crazy, and created No-Bake Rocky Road Bars. After I shared them with her, she understood why I stopped her from tossing the peanuts, chocolate and white chocolate chips. Best of all, that was all I needed because I already had a desk stocked full with my basics.

DO NOT restrict yourself to using utensils for their ‘intended purpose’ I made cinnamon bread last year, and I used my water bottle as a rolling pin. I’ve made cookies and homemade Reese’s Cups in a mini muffin tin. Your room and budget are too small to not be thrifty in college.

DO plan for meals outside of the dining hall At K-State, the dining halls are closed on Sunday nights. This is highly unfortunate, but turned out to be a blessing at times. Sunday nights became “family dinner” nights on my floor. Whether we went out to eat at a restaurant in Aggieville, walked to get a pizza from Pizza Shuttle, or simply cooked Kraft Easy Mac in the microwave, some of my favorite memories happened on Sunday nights. There’s nothing like filing a dorm room full of friends and food, popping in a movie, and seeing how long we can make the weekend last.

DO NOT go grocery shopping when you’re hungry This is advice given to any grocery shopper on a budget, but I would especially say it to college students. Make a list, make a budget and (most importantly) stick to them.

I went shopping when I was hungry once and made stupid purchases on too many snacks, and I spent more than I intended. To make it even worse, I ate practically all of my snacks the minute I got back to my room.

I don’t have a car with me at school, so I usually go to the store once a month. I give myself a budget for every visit, and I literally ration my food to make sure it lasts me four weeks.

I advise making a weekly or bi-monthly or even monthly budget, and make a list of foods you can’t get at the dining center. At K-State, you get to choose a set number of meals per week, and then you can also purchase “cat cash” that can be used at our campus convenience stores. Food is one of the biggest investments in college, so don’t be too frivolous my friends.

DO have late night meals with friends One of my favorite memories from sophomore year was when I went to a friend’s house, where three of my best guy-friends lived, and one of my girlfriends and I made pancakes for them. We stayed there until midnight just talking and eating pancakes.

Those are the kind of nights you are going to look back on and remember most fondly. If you don’t make any friends with houses to access, you can still make these nights happen. Our residence halls have kitchens in them! Just make sure you wash the pots and pans both before and after you use them. Otherwise you can always make what you can in your dorm room, as long as you have a microwave and a plucky spirit.

DO NOT burn popcorn Someone burned popcorn on my floor both freshman and sophomore year. The thing about burning popcorn in a residence hall is that every floor gets to bask in the smell.

So don’t make your floor reek of burnt popcorn, there are better ways to make friends.

DO build a repertoire of no-bake recipes The best way to get around the struggle of not having a kitchen in college is by making recipes that don’t require any actual baking. When I first starting baking, all I made was no-bake bites – mainly because my mom didn’t trust me in the kitchen by myself as a 10-year-old, and I was too stubborn to be supervised.

Another advantage of no-bake recipes is that you really can’t burn anything, especially if you’re using a microwave. One of the simplest recipes I’ve ever made uses 1 cup of peanut butter melted with a bag of butterscotch chips, stirred together with 6 cups of Rice Krispies or Special K. Scoop spoonfuls onto a plate, let them chill in the mini fridge for an hour, and you’ve got some delicious cookies.

DO NOT underestimate your culinary powers There are plenty of people who say they “can’t” cook, or they “aren’t” a baker. I’m here to tell you that you are, and you can rock it. There is no better time than college to learn the life skill of cooking. Don’t be afraid to fail, or to mess up a recipe or two. You will learn from the experience, and you will grow as a chef! Not to mention that you are only allowed six semesters, max, in the residence halls. You are going to have a real kitchen eventually, might as well use it to its full potential.

DO NOT forget When in doubt, no-bake-it-out. Sit down for a dorm-made family dinner, and remind yourself that you don’t need those mini cherry pies at the grocery store because the Derb has soft-serve ice cream waiting for you tomorrow.

Mallory Diekmann is a junior in agricultural communications and journalism.