I am here to dispel one of the worst rumors about college life. Namely, that the food will always be terrible.
This extended culinary horror we’ve come to identify as the average college dining hall need not be a 4-year death sentence for inquisitive taste buds!
Here’s my story:
One semester of the mandatory meal plan at my college was both convenient and nauseating. After eating terrible microwave meals stored in my semi-chilled mini fridge, I decided enough was enough. I didn’t grow up in a gourmet family. I don’t know how to make fancy food. But I was certain that I could do better than reconstituted egg omelettes. The good news is, you can too.
While living in a dorm room, I started having “family dinner.” Everyone got an invite on Facebook, I cooked all day, and then everyone showed up, paid a dollar or two and ate. Over one semester, I held around five dinners for around twenty people each.
My kitchen was normal: four burners and an oven, and my supplies were minimal: one pot, one pan, and your standard plate/bowl combo. And I did it. Currently, as a study abroad student I have one pan, no oven and two burners. To date, I have made two involved chicken dishes and a pasta dish with sausage cranberry sauce.
How did I inherit this gift for Kamikaze Cooking? Sheer force of will. Here are a few rules to remember when attempting a culinary adventure of your own. (I say “rules” with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek as there truly are no defined rules in Kamikaze Cooking!)
The 3 Rules of Kamikaze Cooking:
1. Arm Yourself –
Arming yourself to begin eating real food is easy, and costs about ten dollars. The dollar store has surprisingly adequate cookware. It’s not great, but it certainly serves its purpose. Your best bet is to buy a pot—you can cook things in a pot, but it’s not easy to boil water in a pan (though it certainly can be done, trust me). The other thing I find extremely helpful is one of those giant tinfoil-baking pans—the disposable kind that the Thanksgiving turkey goes in. You can prep your food in it, wash it out while things are cooking, then store things in it, and even serve in it. Buy a giant mixing bowl, and while you’re at it, grab some spices, flour, dish soap and a few plastic plates.
2. Pick Your Battle –
The next step is picking a dish, and deciding to cook it; come hell or high water. Then, and this is the hard part, abandon cooking rules. The test is easy: if I do/don’t do this, is anyone going to get seriously ill or die? If the answer is no, do it your way. Cooking for a lot of people? Cook little bits at a time, store the extra in the tinfoil pan, then reheat it right when people get there. Make ugly food. People say presentation is everything…they lie. If you’re hungry, (or been forced to eat meal plan) you will not care. Put things on paper towels on counter tops, get friends to hold uncooked vegetables, do whatever you have to.
3. View Failure As An Unplanned Adventure
The most important rule of kamikaze cooking is this: screw up. Experiment. The reason I am now able to open my fridge and say “that goes well together” is because I have made an innumerable amount of really terrible meals. I sincerely thank everyone who choked it down, because it was rough. Start easy, choose simple flavors, and go with it.
No one can tell you what to do in your kitchen, and no one has to know what bizarre methods led you to the delicious end result. Tie up your aprons, start up your search engines, and get down to business.