From the kitchen of Megan Senseney
Let’s get one thing straight — college cooking doesn’t have to mean instant noodles and flavorless, frozen meals with a day’s worth of sodium. As a fellow student, I know that time and money often make decisions for us in terms of the things we eat on a daily basis. And, for you dorm-dwellers with only a microwave and fridge at your disposal, the challenge of making something tasty, cheap and relatively healthy is even tougher.
However, I’m here to tell you that eating well on a dime doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. Using the microwave in your residence hall’s community kitchen – and a little creativity – you’ll be cooking and eating great food in no time.
You might be asking yourself who I am, and why I think I have the know-how to teach you how to cook for yourself. Well, don’t worry – you’re in the hands of a culinary school graduate. You can trust me.
If you’re ready to get into the kitchen, start with this recipe for potato skins. They make a great snack for a study session or dorm room game night. Try topping them with the recommended toppings, or experiment with new combinations like chili, cheese and sour cream – remember, be creative!
A Recipe for Potato Skins
1 large russet potato
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon bacon bits or 1 strip pre-cooked bacon, crumbled
1 tablespoon sliced green onion
Sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
1. Wash the potato, then cut lengthwise into 4 wedges. Place in microwave-safe dish. Fill the dish with enough water to cover the potatoes.
2. Cook on high for 7 minutes.
3. Remove and test for doneness by poking with a fork of knife. If you can’t scoop out the inside of the potato, return to microwave and heat on high for 1 minute at a time until finished.
4. Scoop out the inside of the potato so 1/4-inch thickness remains around the shell of the potato (save the scooped potato to make mashed potatoes.) Season potatoes with salt and pepper, if desired (remember, the bacon will add some salty flavor on its own).
5. Sprinkle cheese over the top and return to the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until cheese is melted.
6. Remove and sprinkle with bacon and green onions and top with sour cream if desired.
Variations of potato skins:
- Broccoli Cheese Potato Skins: Cook potatoes according to recipe, then, top with cooked broccoli and shredded cheddar cheese. Return to microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until cheese is melted.
- Tex-Mex Potato Skins: Cook potatoes according to recipe, top with cheese and return to the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until cheese is melted. Top with black beans and salsa.
- Chili Cheese Potato Skins: Cook potatoes according to recipe, top with chili and cheese, and return to the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until cheese is melted. Top with sour cream if desired.
Quick tips for Dorm Room Cooking:
For Webster University students, dorm room cooking really means residence hall cooking. This is because microwaves aren’t allowed in dorm rooms. In fact, any appliance with an open or exposed heating element (including toasters, toaster ovens, hot plates and electric grills) isn’t allowed. The few appliances that are allowed include a mini-fridge and coffee maker with an automatic shut-off feature.
“At this point, (students) can’t really bring many appliances,” Assistant Director of Housing and Residential Life Justin Frederick said. “Apartment safety code just doesn’t allow it.”
But on each floor of the three residence halls, there are communal mini-kitchens. Each contains one or two microwaves, a sink, full-sized refrigerator and cabinets.
“Some students like to keep bowls and other things in the cabinets,” Frederick said. “On the honor system, of course.”
There are no ovens in the communal kitchens, so microwaves are the only way to cook food. Here are some tips to make quick, tasty and low-cost meals in your microwave:
- Invest in some microwave-safe cookware. You’ll also need plates or bowls, silverware and Tupperware to store leftovers.
- Microwaves won’t grill, broil or fry your food, so don’t expect crisp chicken nuggets or a perfectly charred steak.
- Cook with caution. Things like hot dogs and whole eggs are prone to exploding when heated too long.
- Try to find recipes that have short ingredient lists – the more ingredients you need, the higher the cost and the more precious space you’ll need to store anything you didn’t use. —Keep in mind that recipes with more steps also mean more time and, typically, more clean up.
- To keep cost low, try shopping at stores like Trader Joe’s or at local farmers markets. The Webster Groves Farmers Market on Old Orchard Avenue is open 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays from May through October.
- Have fun. Microwave cooking can be a challenge, but it also allows you to let your creativity shine.