Caleb P., New England Conservatory
As the second semester settles into a familiar groove, many college underclassmen find themselves facing the daunting task of deciding where they want to live next year. Most schools require at least one year of on-campus housing, and the dorms excel at fully immersing freshmen in the culture of the school. At New England Conservatory, undergraduates are only required to spend one year in the dorms, and after crunching some numbers last year, I realized I could save a lot of money living off campus. While dorm meal plans can be expensive, simply moving into an apartment and eating out every meal saves little to no money in comparison. I’m paying rent for the kitchen, so I might as well use it. Cooking while in college poses unique challenges to the novice chef, and hopefully the handful of strategies and recipes that I’ve picked up so far will shed some light for those considering cooking in an apartment or even in their dorm.
Stocking the kitchen with the correct cooking tools is very important. Don’t be afraid to go for a larger-sized pan; smaller ones don’t save that much space, and it’s much easier to cook dishes in bulk with a dinner-plate sized pan. Larger pots can become cumbersome, however, so have a smaller sized one for single-meal uses. (A single square package of ramen noodles serves as a good size measuring guide.) Various sizes of air-tight containers to store smaller portions of large batches are also extremely useful. A few sandwiched-sized containers are very handy for, well, packing sandwiches. When filled, they also hold about enough for a single meal. A couple of larger containers are great for storing big batches of pasta, sealing cereal or coffee grounds for freshness, or even to mix a salad in. Other kitchen essentials include a spatula and wooden spoon, but stay away from meltable plastic utensils and glassware, unless you plan on doing a fair amount of entertaining, in which case having a couple of glasses around never hurts.
While it’s possible to get by without a microwave, I would recommend investing in a low-powered one for the year. They usually run around $40-$50, and the lower wattage will also save on energy bills. Microwaves are reliable meal-savers when things aren’t cooked quite well enough, and who doesn’t like microwave popcorn? Rice cookers are priced even lower, and make for easy multitasking in the kitchen during dinner time; you simply throw in rice and water, turn it on, and it automatically shuts off when all of the water is boiled off. In future posts I hope to experiment with the extended capabilities of a rice cooker beyond steaming rice, but for the moment I’m perfectly content with a fresh batch of whole grain rice.
And as with all cooking, use common sense when dealing with open flames, glassware, hot surfaces, and steam. In short, don’t do anything your high school chemistry teacher wouldn’t approve of (I hope). In my next post, I’ll be exploring some of my favorite breakfast dishes, cooked within enough time to still make it to class on time, too.