Thursday, July 29, 2010

What is College Cooking Anyway?

College Cooking seems to be a somewhat amorphous term. So let me explain what OTHER PEOPLE mean by College Cooking and then what I mean by it.

If you search the term on Amazon, some cookbooks come up. Here are the first 3:

I randomly selected this recipe: Chicken Tetrazzini, which you can find via the Search Inside feature. This calls for poaching some chicken breasts--in a pot, on a stove. Cooking a pound of spaghetti, in another pot on the stove. Draining both. Cutting up the chicken. Adding some canned soup and mushrooms and other stuff. Then baking in a casserole.

Verdict: several pots, colander, draining, chopping, baking. Big mess.

Here's another:

Another random stroll yields Spinach Quiche-adilla. This involves chopping and sauteeing an onion, adding spinach, adding tomatoes, removing much of the concoction and saving for another use and then scrambling eggs in the remainder. And so on.

Verdict: 1 pot, messy chopping, leftovers, etc.

Our last sample is

This book has similar recipes, but also includes a glossary of college slang, including the "15 minute rule," which means that if your teacher doesn't show up, you can leave after 15 minutes. NOTE: This is apocryphal. There are variations, for instance: you only wait 10 minutes for an Instructor, but 20 minutes for a PhD. Anyway, I'll skip the recipe analysis because you get the idea.

The college-themed cookbooks on the market generally are BEGINNER cookbooks. In that, they are no different from other beginner cookbooks: they provide lengthy pantry and equipment lists, definitions of cooking terms, and other tips. What makes them COLLEGE, besides the title, is the tone.

Still, most of these books assume you have a KITCHEN. WITH A STOVE. Hence the title of a cookbook recommended in a comment:

This is a cute book, by a mother-son duo. It has some helpful "Mom Tips." The recipe for Onion Soup, predictably, calls for chopping and sauteeing onions, adding canned broth and other stuff, and topping with toasted bread and grated cheese.

Verdict again: chop, at least one pot, toaster, etc.

The operative word in all these is STOVE. And KITCHEN. Not all college students have stoves. My daughter, for instance, will be living in a suite with a kitchen area, which has NO STOVE. If she wants a stove, she has to venture down the hall or to another floor, where there is a communal stove. I asked if she would leave to get to the stove: she said "Not unless I have to."

So our ebook will take seriously the situation of the dorm-dweller, for whom a stove is a distant or a non-existent dream.

Why not buy a stove-substitute? Because such appliances are dangerous and often prohibited. Here is the blurb from one college:

No open flame instruments are permitted; this includes charcoal or gas grills, George Foreman-type grilling appliances, candles, toaster ovens and hotplates.

Also, it's hard enough for a so-called adult (like me) to get dinner on the table: shopping, prep, and clean-up are all a major pain. The recipes above are not hard, but they will leave you with multiple things to wash and hands that smell like onions. Oh, and your little kitchen area will smell like onions. And no, you can't use a candle (see above) as an air-freshener.

SO, our ebook will be a no-stove book, with little shopping, little prep, clean-up, or onion-chopping. NO KIDDING.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Our Guide to College Cooking Will Be Different

Frugal Son and I are racing to the finish line of our project. Still, even a very short e-tome turns out to take a lot more time and care than one would think.

Yesterday, I received a robocall from the public library telling me an item was being held. Yippee! It was the rice cooker cookbook I had requested from the accommodating bookbuyer.

There are many enticing recipes in the book, 300 of them! And therein lies the problem for the College Cook. How do you choose? Opening at random, I find Lemongrass Steamed Fish. In my well-stocked kitchen, I see I lack: fish, Chinese cooking wine, lemongrass.

Let's try again: Chilled Soba in Green Onion Dressing. I lack mirin, soba, and sesame seeds.

My point: shopping takes more time than cooking, or at least as much. Unlike me, the College Cook lacks a well-stocked pantry and a regularly scheduled grocery run. So if you shop for your chosen recipe, you waste not only time in going out for supplies, but the supplies--what do you do with the leftover mirin and lemongrass?

So based on my recommendation, you may have made the excellent decision to acquire a rice cooker for your College Cooking adventure. But traditional recipe-based cookbooks do not solve the problems you will be facing: getting and storing your ingredients and having recipes that use the ingredients you have.

Our College Cooking Crash Course tells you WHAT to buy (20 ingredients, most of which don't require refrigeration); WHAT to cook (only around 14 recipes, enough for 2 weeks); HOW to do it (none of the recipes requires much prep; most don't require chopping!); HOW LONG it takes (most around 20-30 minutes of no-work time during which you can talk to your roommates, read a magazine, or STUDY)...and, at the end, there is almost no clean-up.

We've been cooking like this for most of the summer and it is SO EASY.

Here's an example, which we ate last night: 5 ingredients are MACARONI, TOMATO SAUCE, RICOTTA, FROZEN SPINACH, and GRATED ITALIAN CHEESE.

I measured 2 cups of macaroni, added about a cup of the tomato sauce and enough water to cover, turned on the machine, checked for the mac to be done after about 15 minutes, switched the machine to warm, stirred in about 1/2 a cup of ricotta and 1 cup of frozen spinach, threw in some parmesan.

And it was GOOD. All we had to wash was the rice cooker insert. And our bowls. And the measuring cup.

Let me know if you try it!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Get Your Rice Cooker

As our e-tome is evolving, we are beginning to see that the immersion blender and even paring knife are optional. (You should have a paring knife, however.) The rice cooker is absolutely essential.

I, the mom of the team, have a well-stocked kitchen, replete with a few pieces of super-expensive All-clad cookware. But I am a convert to rice cooker cookery. So easy! No mess! Almost no clean-up!

We will be using the cheap cook-warm rice cooker, rather than the expensive fuzzy logic models. Once again, I will pimp for the model we have. Whatever you get, make sure it has a little hole on top to vent the steam and a nonstick finish inside the pot.

Here is the cheapie we have and love.

If someone owes you a graduation gift, ask for one of these. It is far more useful than Dr. Seuss's "Oh, the Places you'll Go!" One of my students received 17 copies of that book for graduation. The rice cooker is more useful. Make your parents get one too. They'll love saving time in the kitchen--perhaps more than you will.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What's on the Menu...College Cooking Crash Course

Well, the past few weeks certainly have been busy in the Frugal Household. As you may have guessed from our last post, our latest project is going to be an ebook made for those of Limited Cooking Capacity--be it for reasons of time, money, skill, equipment, whatever--and particularly those in the most pitiable position (at least from a cooking standpoint) of all: dorm dwellers. This project is more than a collection of recipes: it is the foundation for a framework, a system, of cooking that will make cooking in even the most limited situations cheap, tasty, and pleasurable, or at the very least painless. Stay tuned for a few little crumbs of what is to come!

Meanwhile, tell us what are your college cooking qualms, conundrums, concerns, and needs, or even a funny story! Remember, college cooking need not apply to only those (fortunate enough) to still be in college; the method we'll outline in the coming days applies to ANYONE who has limited time, skill, or desire when it comes to cooking. Let the adventure begin!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beginnings: College Cooking

This was supposed to be called College Cooking 101, but that name has been taken, even though no one has blogged on the topic for a while. Then my Frugal Son came up with the new title, which I like a lot.

This is--or will be--a blog for college students, especially of the dorm-dwelling variety. Dorm denizens often have no stove--or limited access to one.

Because this will be my daughter's situation, I began planning some no-stove meals. For my progress, see my early ruminations at Then I decided to share.

For now, let me say: think about a rice cooker, since these are allowed in many college dorms.