Joseph Lorant

One of the many Communal Kitchens in the UMass dorms (Joseph Lorant/Amherst Wire)

Tips for Cooking in a Communal Kitchen

Take advantage of all your dorm has to offer – including the kitchen

March 11, 2019

When you’re away at school, having a home cooked meal can seem impossible, especially when your dorm room doesn’t have anything remotely resembling your mom’s kitchen. Cut to – the communal kitchen. It may seem like a scary concept; mystery food stuffs left on the counter from strangers, pots and pans with a thin layer of rust–and an inescapable aroma of yesterday’s microwaved instant noodles. Although you may find all of the above in a communal kitchen, you can still cook in it! And it doesn’t have to be difficult, gross, or budget breaking. Here are some tips and tricks on how to cook in college when you’re looking to change up your dining hall routine.

1. Have your own dishwashing soap and cleaning equipment handy

Chances are if you’re looking to cook anything that’s not in the toaster or microwave, you’re going to have to use pots and pans. Having your own dishwashing soap and sponge handy is a must for cooking in a dorm kitchen. Making sure the cooking equipment is clean before you cook is always a good idea; as much as you’d like to, you can’t always trust the person before you. Plus, when you’re finished, it shows good etiquette to put everything back cleaner than you found it.

2. If you plan on cooking in an oven, bring your own oven mitt

Oh how many times I have baked cookies in the oven of my communal kitchen, only to find out that after the timer goes off, I have nothing to protect my hands from the searing hot cookie sheet. If you do plan on baking something, bringing your own oven mitt, or something of the sort to protect your hands, is a necessity.

3. Limit your dish ware and utensils to only the necessities

Limiting clutter and unnecessary junk in your dorm room will not only make it neater, but will also cut your time on cleaning, or in this case, cleaning your dishes. If you are planning on cooking a meal, limit the amount of dishes, bowls, forks, spoons, etc. as much as possible. That way, you’ll have less to clean afterwards and less space needed for their storage.

4. Grocery shop with a list and a budget

When you’re a student, you already know that saving money whenever possible is your key to happiness. So when you go out to buy ingredients for whatever you’re cooking, make a list before hand of everything you need for your recipes. That way when you make it to Big Y, you have a set list and can stick to it. Also, set a budget before you hit the store, so you don’t blow your money on any impulse buys (looking at you, store bought frosted cookies). Another tip is to try to stick to frozen produce when you’re planning on cooking up veggies or using a recipe that calls for fruit. They’re cheaper and will last longer in the freezer for another meal.

Stick to meals that have few ingredients and require minimal effort

Chances are you don’t have an unlimited amount of time to whip something up like braised lamb with a port wine reduction, not to mention the budget for that either. It’s okay to stick to easy and simple meals, and just because they might make Gordon Ramsay flush red doesn’t mean they won’t be yummy. Some easy but tasty ideas could be stir fry (veggies and your choice of protein over rice), loaded quesadillas (tortillas, cheese, veggies, salsa and sour cream, and your choice of protein), avocado toast with an over-easy egg on top or even just pasta with some steamed veggies and your choice of sauce. The point is, finding meals that require few ingredients will save your wallet and save time that could be spent on more pressing matters like studying or even binging a Netflix show. There are also some great cooking websites and online blogs for fast and cheap recipes to lead you right to a delicious home cooked meal, many of them especially made for college students. Check them out for inspiration!

A wise man named Chef Gusteau once said, “Anyone can cook.” So if a lovable gray rat named Remy did it, so can a college student!

Email Emma at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @emma_sammuli

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