Dorm Cooking 101: Kitchen Essentials

Say good bye to your meal plan. When I first came here, my mom took one look at the York University food court and made me withdraw my meal plan. There was no way her daughter, who was brought up eating healthy food for every meal of every day, was going to eat Wendy’s, Popeye’s or even Subway every day. I was disappointed because that meant my social interaction would be affected, not being able to meet and hang out with people at the Student Center. Three years later, I thank her because I know enough people who have not only been a victim of Freshman Fifteen but Sophomore Sixteen and more! She started me off with a few kitchen essentials, pots and pans and ingredients that are must haves to be able to feed myself twice a day at least.

I know not every body lives in a dorm with a kitchenette like mine, but most dorms are allowed mini fridges and microwaves and that’s all you really need. Microwaves are wonderful appliances, I remember my mother buying me a cookbook of only microwave recipes just for kids. You can make just about anything in them, from rice to eggs.

Non-Food items

Dorms with a kitchenette (So, assuming you have a oven, stove, microwave, fridge & freezer)

Dorms without a kitchenette (Assuming you’re allowed a microwave and a mini-fridge)

Food Items

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Bread
  • Sugar
  • Cheese (cheddar & parmesan)
  • Flour
  • Fresh or dry herbs
  • Long lasting vegetables– broccoli, onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, green peppers
  • Frozen meat or seafood
  • Spices– paprika, cumin
  • Salt & pepper
  • Condiments & sauces– ketchup, mustard, maple syrup
  • Cans of beans, corn and tomato paste
  • Rice
  • Garlic paste
  • Oils of your choice– butter, sunflower oil, olive oil (I keep all three)

For dorms with a kitchenette, feel free to combine the two lists if you have a microwave as well. A saucepan is great for soups, sauces, pasta and boiling eggs. A frying pan is great for eggs, shallow frying meats, stir-fries (who needs a wok!?) and fried rice. A baking tray is essential because you don’t want to keep frying your food! Baking is a healthy way of cooking and although it may take a while, it means that you can sit at your desk and study while something roasts or bakes in the oven. You don’t have to keep watching it! For dorms without a kitchenette that only have microwaves, invest in a couple of good, sturdy ceramic or glass microwavable bowls. I would suggest against plastic, I don’t trust the chemicals that are released when its heated. You can find great ones at Ikea or even your nearest Walmart or Superstore, with glass bowls and rubber or silicone covers. Those are ideal- they work as food savers for leftovers too. If you look around at your nearest supermarket, I’m sure you will also find amazing little items made especially for microwaves such as an omelet maker, an egg poacher, etc. Don’t ever put an entire egg in the microwave with the shell on, it will explode! Buy a good pair of oven mitts because you don’t want to burn yourself when getting your meals out of your microwave. Also be very careful when opening a microwaved bowl that has been covered. There will be very hot steam that has formed inside the cover.

Since my first year I have only had a paring knife and a small serrated knife and never needed anything more! A paring knife is great for cutting meats and vegetables like potatoes and carrots. A serrated knife is great for tomatoes (The combination of glossy skin and squishy flesh makes it hard for a paring knife to cut through. Serrated knives will pierce the skin first, making cutting easier.), breads and cakes. If you have a baking tray, an oven mitt goes hand in hand with it! Mixing bowls are a must have– you can make salad in them, mix batters, make dressing, just about anything. No, you don’t need a whisk, you can easily use a fork. It works just fine! A whisk is a great luxury, though. I love mine!

You can obviously add more food/grocery items to the basic list I’ve compiled above. With the list I’ve provided, you can make a breakfast, lunch and dinner. Milk + eggs + bread + sugar = french toast, cheese + butter + flour + milk + salt & pepper = cheese sauce, eggs + sugar + flour + butter = cake, mustard + maple syrup = salad dressing, potatoes + salt + oil = fries/wedges, potatoes + milk + salt & pepper + butter = mashed potatoes, meat + mustard + maple syrup = grill, Beans + water + salt & pepper + veggies + herbs = soup. See? It’s that easy and quick. Tomato paste is great for sauces, curries and obviously, pasta sauces. You can add a great tomato-ey flavour to anything with a can of tomato paste! Canned beans and corn last forever and are great little additions to soups, rice or salad. Frozen meat lasts long so you don’t have to hurry up and finish that bag of shrimp you bought on sale. Garlic paste or powder is a great thing to have handy, it gives meals a great flavour. Sprinkled on toast with a little butter makes instant garlic bread! You can use a combination of any of the items mentioned above and create your own quick and healthy meals. It really doesn’t take much.

You can find a lot of these items at Ikea (for the non-food items) or even your nearest Walmart for a great, low prices. Walmart always has very cheap appliances that don’t look like much, but can fit into a student budget and are long lasting. My favourite brand is Durabrand–I’ve had a toaster from them since first year and it has worked just fine all these years. I recently bought a hand held mixer, an immersion blender and a kettle for $12 altogether!


Dorm Cooking 101: Frittata

A frittata is a blessing to a dorm dweller. You can put anything you find into it and I usually make them with four to five eggs so I have some for brunch the next day. It’s a great meal for breakfast, lunch, brunch and even a light dinner. You can eat it with either rice or whole grain toast and it makes for a very healthy, protein rich meal. It’s super quick to make and you don’t really need any special kitchen skills to make it. If you can fry an egg, you can make a frittata.

Essentially, frittatas consist of quickly sauteed veggies and maybe bacon topped with a mixture of eggs and milk. You stick it in the oven so the top cooks and voila. You brunch/lunch/breakfast/dinner is ready! You can either get a pan with no plastic on it so you can stick the entire pan in the oven– a cast iron pan is ideal. I don’t own a cast iron pan cause I move my stuff around about three times a year and I don’t want to lug around a heavy pan. You can make it the way I made it, by starting it off in a pan and reassembling it in a baking tray.

Four to five eggs
1/3 cup of milk
Salt & pepper to taste
Any herbs you might have–I used basil & cilantro. Thyme doesn’t go very well with eggs but dill, sage is fine. You can do without herbs too.
Vegetables– I used potatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, onions and green onions.
Meat– I used turkey bacon because its leaner but you can use real bacon, shredded chicken/turkey/steak any meat you have in your fridge.

Chop the vegetables into bite sized pieces and quickly fry them in the pan. Add the meat and fry till well done. I like to put vegetables like green peppers and broccoli at the end so they have a slight bite to them. If you’re going to add fresh herbs, add them at the end, if you’re using dry herbs, add them in the beginning. Spread the veggie mixture over the pan. Beat the eggs with the milk and add salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the veggies. Let it cook for a few minutes. If you are using a cast iron pan, go ahead and stick the entire thing in the oven till the top of the frittata is cooked. Sprinkle with mozzarella or Parmesan cheese. If you’re not using a cast iron pan and your pan has some plastic on it, I suggest you do what I did. Let the frittata cook in the pan for a little bit until it is solid enough to handle. With the help of a spatula carefully transfer the frittata into a baking tray. I used a circular one, but you can use a flat cookie tray too. Don’t worry if it breaks, simply reassemble it in your baking tray. The uncooked egg with act as glue in the oven and your frittata will come out in one piece.

I ate it with two slices of whole grain bread with cream cheese on it, but you can pair it with rice or even mac and cheese!


Dorm Cooking 101: Parfaits

Parfaits are ideal dorm food. They have healthy yoghurt, fruit and some nice, fibre-rich granola. If you get the healthy kind, it can be one of the healthiest, yummiest snack or dessert. I’m not one of those people that reaches out for a parfait at Second Cup, I usually make a beeline for the chocolate cake. It’s probably because all the parfaits in stores & cafes look so dead and dull. They don’t look delicious. These ones, they have these amazing contrasting flavours that explode in your mouth– the cool yoghurt with the warm granola, the soft yoghurt and blueberries with the crunchy almonds and caramelized oats, the tangyness of the greek yoghurt and the sweet, smokey caramelized brown sugar on the granola, all make spending an extra ten minutes making your own granola worthwhile.

I was watching Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network and one of the chefs, I think it was Tyler Florence who said the best thing (crunchy or sweet, I can’t remember) he’d eaten was some sort of granola at a cafe. The chef at the cafe cooked it over a stove and then baked it, making it super crunchy and warm. I loved the idea of making your own granola. I also have a jar of oats and a bag of brown sugar both of which need to be used up soon so I decided to make my own granola. I’ve also taken a serious liking to Mediterranean probiotic yoghurt (which has a lot of health benefits, one of which is reducing chances of colon cancer) which is creamy and tangy. I figured the sweet granola would go amazingly with the tangy yoghurt.

Here’s a picture and a quick way to make your own granola!

What you need:
(Measurements are according to your taste, if you like more oats than yoghurt, add more oats, if you like lesser almonds, put lesser almonds)

Some rolled oats
Some roughly chopped almonds
Brown Sugar
Salt to taste

Toast the almonds on a pan without any oil or butter. They are done when they smell nutty. Add some oats and toast them a little bit too, add a tiny pad of butter, maybe around a teaspoon. Crumble about one and a half to two tablespoons of brown sugar and sprinkle some salt. Keep stirring and add about two tablespoons of water to let the sugar caramelize around your oats and nuts. You can add cinnamon if you like, but the brown sugar and almonds make it so flavourful, you really don’t need it.

Serve on top of yoghurt with fresh berries. I used blueberries because I recently learnt that they are very high in anti-oxidants and great for you.