Help me eat like a human being this summer!
June 11, 2010 5:01 PM   Subscribe

The problem: Cooking for myself this summer. Context and limitations: College dorm room

My internship is forcing me to live in a college dorm room for two months. In my room I have a microwave and a relatively big dorm fridge. The dorm doesn't have air conditioning, so the freezer in the fridge can't reliably keep things frozen, but the fridge part is pretty reliable for things like milk. I will have access to a freezer, stove, and oven, but the limitation is that they're communal. Very limited number of pots, pans, etc. although I may be able to remedy that.

On to my question: how can I maintain a decent-tasting, reasonably healthy, reasonably low maintenance diet this summer? One further restriction is that I don't have a car and won't be able to get to a grocery store especially often. What makes things difficult is that I'm reasonably adept at cooking for myself, so past summers when I had houses I could cook for myself and eat fairly well. Which means that things like boxed mac and cheese, ramen noodles, and the like just won't cut it.

What are some meal ideas that I can use this summer that will keep my stomach happy and that can be prepared with the above limitations? The more specific the better, of course, but even general descriptions of meals will give me something to go on.
posted by resiny to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you buy a few pans to keep in your own room, you could use the communal stove to make some Indian food. If you make several dishes on the weekend, you can reheat it all week. Indian food is pretty good reheated, and you can make fresh rice to go with it every day in the microwave in your room.
posted by ctmf at 5:07 PM on June 11, 2010

Don't laugh, but I swear by a George Forman Grill for tiny kitchens. You can grill veggies, make grilled cheese (and other) sandwiches, heat veggie (and meat) burgers, chicken breasts, etc. Good luck!
posted by TishSnave at 5:12 PM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

This is not gourmet, but it is reasonably healthy and a step up from ramen:

-cut firm or extra-firm tofu into cubes, place in bowl, douse in soy sauce
-add frozen broccoli florets (I don't think it would be too much of a problem if they don't stay firm-frozen in your freezer)
-microwave until broccoli is defrosted but not overcooked (still pretty bright green), stirring once
-sprinkle with roasted cashew pieces, stir
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:14 PM on June 11, 2010

I would not have survived college without my electric wok.
posted by gnutron at 5:47 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Many college dorms ban George Foreman Grills because of the fire hazard they pose. Same with toasters.
posted by Precision at 5:49 PM on June 11, 2010

What about a crock pot?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:55 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

That was my life for two years. I had no car, was too proud to ask for rides, and carrying groceries from the store (a 30 minute walk away) was annoying. I kept these trips to a minimum because of the hassle and SoCal heat, and there's only so much a 100 lb girl can carry. Here's a quick recollection of those days:

You can put a tiny rice cooker in your room, and have the steam blow out of an open window. Some old dorms (like mine...) don't allow appliances like these, but my dorm nevertheless had an abundance of microwaves, George Foreman grills (even the RA had one!), and kettles.

All I had was a cheap electric hotpot (something like this), one of those plates that can pass as either a bowl or a plate, a spoon, a pair of chopsticks (for eating and for swirling things around in the hotpot). Turns out, that was all I needed.

- Rice at every meal.
- Hotpot: chicken, vegetables, tofu, ramen, spaghetti, imitation crab meat (get some seaweed, make California rolls).
- Fruit for when I couldn't be bothered to "cook", aka drop some items into boiling water. Apples keep well.
- I kept garlic, ginger, and onions on hand, for mincing up and mixing into food.
- I always had bread, cereal, milk (powdered milk. Again, lazy. And it kept well), deli meat and Easy Cheese. Easy Cheese is not healthy, but I liked it at the time, and it keeps well.
- Heat tortillas at the communal stove, or in the microwave. Buy the occasional $0.70 clump of cilantro, make tacos with bottled sauce, boiled chicken, and whatever fixings you want.
- Everything else was eaten boiled and eaten just like that, and supplemented with Sriracha or soy sauce.
- Occasional treat: making chocolate chip cookies in the communal kitchen toaster oven.
- Overall, I think I ate healthily and didn't starve?

I would occasionally grill a chicken breast or tilapia fillet on my RA's $19 George Foreman grill. The dorm RA was known for baking cakes and preparing several-course meals in the communal kitchen. The communal kitchen isn't that bad, really. You just need to stay in the area and make sure someone doesn't walk off with your food. And it's the summer - you'll probably be one of ten people in the dorm, and the only one interested in using the kitchen.

If you run out of ideas over the summer, send me a mefi mail and I'll help you strategize. Seriously.
posted by Xere at 6:08 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chicken and Feta Tabbouleh


* 3/4 cup uncooked bulgur
* 1 cup boiling water
* 2 cups chopped skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
* 1 cup chopped plum tomato
* 1 cup chopped English cucumber
* 3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
* 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
* 1/3 cup finely chopped green onions
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
* 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


1. Place bulgur in a medium bowl; cover with 1 cup boiling water. Let stand 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

2. Combine chicken and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add bulgur to chicken mixture; toss gently to combine.
posted by Hop123 at 6:10 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't see the limited pots and pans as a problem - you can pick some up cheaply (even at a thrift store) and while yes, I think it is easier to cook with better quality items, they won't hinder you too much. I would make sure you have a good knife though and perhaps a microplane, because I find cooking completely frustrating otherwise. Don't let the communal kitchen deter you - maybe you'll find a kindred cook and be able to share sometimes?

In terms of buying groceries, it depends what 'especially often' means. But buy a range of things and eat them in terms of how quickly they will spoil e.g. make things with fresh herbs and greens first, then move to the vegetables, then to the vegetables that store well (carrots, potatoes, pumpkin/squash), then onto frozen, canned or even dried vegetables (dried peas are ok, tinned legumes make quite good salads). If you are a meat eater, do similar - buy some fresh meat (whatever you prefer) and eat that first, followed by more preserved meats like bacon, pancetta or chorizo (if you buy these vacuum packed, they will keep unopened for quite some time - maybe smoked salmon as well?). Eggs keep for quite a long time. At least here, you can buy tetra-packed (shelf-stable) cream. Make sure you have the extras that make food tasty - salt and pepper, lemons (for juice and zest), garlic, parmesan.

What you cook exactly will depend on what sort of food you like - here's ideas for each end of the spectrum, fill in the middle with whatever you like to eat.

Freshest stuff - salad and meat/seafood - I can endlessly eat an Asian style glass noodle salad with lots of herbs (coriander, or mint or other Asian herbs), cucumber, tomatos, coleslaw mix and whatever protein (or none), plus crushed roasted peanuts if you like. Noodles just have to be soaked in boiling water for 5 mins, then drained and rinsed in cold water. Dressing is 1 tbs lime juice, 1 tbs sweet chilli sauce (asian), 1 tbs fish sauce, 1 tsp oil (olive, peanut), 1 tsp sugar.

Cupboard scraps stuff - pasta with bacon, peas, garlic, parmesan and some cream. Dishes like fried rice are great when you just have lots of little bits left over (a few spring onions, an egg, a slice of bacon, a small handful of coleslaw mix).
posted by AnnaRat at 6:21 PM on June 11, 2010

I really don't mean to be insulting but I find the fact that you think this might be a challenge pretty ridiculous. You have a kitchen. Who cares if it's communal? I spent a summer using a communal kitchen in a dorm room. Cook anything you want. Clean up immediately after cooking, offer to share if you run into anyone. You'll be fine.

I lived with a simple nonstick skillet and a plastic spatula. I did everything from steak with onion and mushrooms and instant potatoes to miscellaneous soups.

You will be fine. Don't sweat it. Get a decent skillet and maybe a small pot for rice and/or soups.
posted by carlh at 6:44 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've got a couple gadgets for hardcooking eggs or making omelets in the microwave: In fact I had dinner with it tonight. Other then that...lets just say I'm taking notes from this thread...
posted by Canageek at 7:11 PM on June 11, 2010

Yes, a crock pot. You can make stews, beans, Korean grain porridge, all kinds of things, then keep leftovers in your fridge for 3 days or so. Also, tortillas. You can put almost anything in them.

You can do an amazing number of things in a rice cooker, too.

Both of these have the advantage of being low hassle and pretty safe.

Then there are things you don't need to cook - many salads, fruit, cheese, bread, stuff like that. Perfect for summer.
posted by QIbHom at 7:12 PM on June 11, 2010

How many other people share the communal cooking space?

If its really busy, is it worth your while to segue into an uncommon schedule, ie., start the day really early so you get home earlier to make supper, or stay late at work and come home later to make supper?

If the other share-ees are really sloppy, it shouldn't be too expensive to get your own cooking set and plates and stuff from a thrift shop - throw them in a milk crate or two and shuttle them between your dorm room and the kitchen.

I cook and clean at the same time, so it doesn't take long at all to wash up afterwards - if there is a limited amount of cookware/bowls, then its natural to wash while cooking.

Is there anyplace near campus or between work and the dorms to stop by and pick up fresh food on the way home? I stop after work and pick up fresh produce daily. I have a freezer and buy and aliquot meat when its cheap, but the same could apply.


Instead of cold breakfast or buying something, you can drop a pat of butter into a ceramic mug (the larger diameter the better) and crack an egg into that. Add some garlic powder, some lyophilzed sweet basil, dash of ground white pepper. Secret ingredient: "Vietnamese" "spring roll sauce." It's the sweet syrupy stuff with the lumps of chili peppers, slightly translucent, reddish.* Add a dollop of that.

Microwave (for me, the reheat setting, about a minute and a bit) that sucker and two halves of an english muffin. Butter the english muffin halves, add a slice of cheese (I can't believe I waited this long to acquire a cheese slicer!), and you have an egg muffin that doesn't cost $3+.


* If you do get a George Foreman grill, you can grill up thin steaks of pork <1>

Make Cake in a Mug
posted by porpoise at 7:44 PM on June 11, 2010

Non heat-cooked seafood - ceviche.

Most recipies have far too optimistic of "cook" times. Thickness, kind of fish, and temperature all changes how quickly the acid cooks through the fish. To be safe, I let it go at least overnight.

You can either have this as a mains, maybe serve with polenta (grilled in a Foreman?) or throw a bunch on top of a salad. The leftover juice is a pretty good salad dressing. Maybe add some olive oil. That is, if you like seafood and can get reasonable quality.


Caprese salad.

Go ahead and spend a little bit more for a better balsamic vinegar. Speaking of balsamic; it, a strong olive oil, Italian seasoning (it's mostly marjoram, thyme, rosemary), and two or three crystals (2 or 3 is about the size of a crystal of kosher salt) of pure MSG*. Dip focaccia bread into it.

*The MSG is better than Love or LSD
posted by porpoise at 7:54 PM on June 11, 2010

Ack. Vietnamese pork chops: Think (<1>
"Special sauce": 3 parts V.S.R.Sauce, about 2 part granulated white sugar, 1 part fish sauce, 1 part lime juice, 1 part Chinese cooking wine. Add water to adjust concentration and thickness. Add sugar to adjust taste. Good with rice as well as the porkchop.
posted by porpoise at 8:01 PM on June 11, 2010

Make lots of salads with beans and pulses like canned chickpeas to which you can add soy sauce and rice or bulgur wheat for carbs which you can boil in the microwave.
posted by jpcooper at 12:10 AM on June 12, 2010

I lived in this kind of environment for a year, with a kitchen shared by nearly 30 people. I cooked pretty much the same as I would anywhere else, just with more basic equipment. I had my own pots and pans. A crate might be useful to haul your gear to and from the kitchen.

The only big problem was that other people would fill the sinks to the brim with dirty dishes and leave them there. You can always get your own plastic washing up bowl if you need to.

Tasty things that keep well:

Tins of tuna, sardines or mock duck.
"Straight to wok" noodles
Curry paste (indian or thai)
Chorizo sausage and similar things
Tins of beans and chickpeas
Garlic paste in a squeezy tube
Nuts (good fried with spices)
Dried fruit
posted by emilyw at 1:59 AM on June 12, 2010

Not sure how what you described would be a limitation or why communal kitchen would cramp your style here - be intelligent about the range of food you buy and the order you cook it in. Get a couple of cheap pots and your own crockery so you don't have to worry about washing up standards or anything like that. And have your own dish cloths/sponge or whatever you like to use for that same reason. As for shopping during former dorm stints people managed to go up to about 3 weeks with one shopping trip so this shouldn't be a problem either.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:22 AM on June 12, 2010

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