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: Ugly Cheesecake

Cheesecake is one of my favorite cakes. I love the fact that two of my favorite foods, sugar and cheese can come together in this amazingly creamy combo. I always thought cheesecake is one of the hardest things to make– mostly because it resembles a souffle of some sort– but I assure you it’s the easiest. If I can make it in my ill equipped university dorm room, so can you. If you’re a university student you probably have lemons, eggs, sugar and even cheese lying around at home.
This recipe is improvised based on what I have, how much I am willing to use and what is available to me. Dorm food is all about being minimalistic, so you don’t need too much more than the basics.


– 1 package of cream cheese (The regular size, I believe it’s 250g)
– 1 egg
– 1 tablespoon of flour
– 1 teaspoon of baking powder
– 4-5 tablespoons of sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence
– 1 graham cracker crust (If you want to make it from scratch, it’s simply 1 cup of graham cracker crumbs & 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir it together until the texture looks like moist sand and press it against your pan. Stick it in the oven at 350 for about 15-20 mins) 

– 3 tablespoons of sugar
– Juice of half lemon
– Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries (as many as you want)

Beat an egg into the with the flour and sugar and add softened cream cheese. Add vanilla essence. Mix/fold/beat until it is smooth. Mine was lumpy because I’m lazy, so I didn’t bother. Works both ways.
Pour this mixture into the store brought graham cracker crust. I bought it from the store because it’s super easy and I’m lazy. You can also beat/crush biscuits like Digestive, Graham Crackers or Ginger Snaps in a blender or by hand and add some butter and line a baking tray with it for a crust.
Back to the mixture– bake it for about 20 minutes or until the top is firm. When the top is firm, pull it out and stick it in the fridge over night. You can make the topping the night before or the next day, I would suggest next day (as in the day you eat it) because old strawberries do not look as appetizing.
For the topping, heat some butter in a pan and toss the strawberries in. As they soften and a pink liquid forms, add the sugar and lemon juice. You should have a sticky red syrup with strawberries floating in it. It’s pretty easy, don’t go for perfection. Taste it.
Pour this on top of your set cheesecake and enjoy!


Dorm Cooking 101: No Measurements Pasta

Cooking in your dorm room means that you have to improvise and use what you have. Luckily, my dorm room for the summer is located within 10 minutes of three different 24 hour grocery stores. However, because this is Dorm Food 101, there are no measurements and all ingredients (except for the spaghetti) are optional.
If there are no measurements, how do you know the pasta turned out alright? Like all great chefs, taste it from time to time.

Ingredients (Makes two servings)
– Asparagus
– Broccoli
– Mushrooms
– Feta/Mozarella/Cheddar/Parmesan (you choose)
– Tomato sauce/tomato puree/tomato paste
– Onions
– Garlic
– Salt & pepper
– Cream/Milk/Yoghurt
– Pasta, cooked.

Chop the onions and garlic and fry them, add your alternative to chopped tomatoes. Add cream or alternatives. While you’re chopping/frying, steam the asparagus and broccoli. Plop the vegetables into the sauce and add your cooked pasta.

I used feta, tomato paste and cream.

You can add meat if you like, but I was too lazy to cut and clean the chicken I have in my freezer.

Preparation time: 10 minutes (excluding the time taken to steam vegetables and cook the pasta)


Dorm Cooking 101: Breakfast for Two

University dorm food is supposed to  be Mr. Noodles, eggs and cereal. I like to do things differently– especially because I have a tendency to get bored easily. I also detest fast food in North America (hence the need to cook rather than eat at readily available Wendy’s and Popeye’s). Having a mini-kitchen in my suite (a word used to refer to smaller dorms that include about 2-4 single rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom) definitely helps. It has allowed me to experiment with food and although I’m not quite sure whether I like cooking, I’ve come up with some pretty darn delicious dishes– a lot of which are not as visually appealing as this one.

Summer has begun and I now have more time for each of my meals than I did during the school year. No longer do I have to run out in the mornings with a toaster strudel dripping painfully hot filling on my fingers and no longer do I have to grab Jamaican patties on the go. I can actually cook. Too bad I’m moody with cooking. There are times when I abhor it and times when I adore it. I guess the morning I made french toast was an ‘adore’ day.

French toast as always been “slumber party breakfast”, a meal that us giggling girls would make, huddled around the stove, the morning after a night of make up, movies and boy-talk. The ‘many’ steps involved in making french toast, made it feel like a cooking adventure.

I’ve always made french toast with only milk and eggs. I don’t know where I got that recipe from, but that’s how I made it and I guess, that’s why I was never a fan. I read somewhere that making french toast involves vanilla and sugar. The last time I made it, about a week ago, this is what I did. One egg, about half a cup of milk, a tablespoon of sugar, a few drops of vanilla. Dip, fry, dip, fry and repeat. It’s so quick and easy, I think it should be considered “dorm food”. The only extra ingredient you would have to buy is vanilla essence. French toast made like this tastes almost like a cake or pancake. It’s soft, fluffy and has a slight crunch from the sugar caramelizing. I topped it with whipped cream and strawberries, but I’ve since discovered that whipped cream cheese, honey and almonds are an exotic, delicious topping.

You can even modify it to make it healthy– use skimmed milk, go easy on the sugar (or use Splenda), use whole grain or brown bread and top with honey or light whipped cream cheese.
Watch this space for more food– and my attempts at food photography.