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Oct 31, 2006 12:14 AM

Creative college cooking - Advice needed

The facts: My eldest is a college freshman. Has access to a shared kitchen but prefers to cook with: microwave, toaster oven and rice steamer. Has been asking me what he can make. Since I risk losing my Good-cook-Mom badge by admitting that I can screw up most convenience-appliance cookery, I'd like to appeal to anyone with suggestions for actual "cooking" (i.e., not just heating up cold pizza!) in these common collage appliances. My son is especially interested in what you can do with a rice steamer other than the obvious. Any suggestions? I'd like the boy to keep eating well and I'm running out of Gladware freezer containers to take to him! Thanks!

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  1. Take a salmon filet, spread it with mustard, sprinkle with seafood seasoning, and a squeeze of lemon. Microwave for 5 min. Voila! Poached salmon.

    Also...not so much on the healthy side, but...combine a box of chocolate cake mix with a DIET coke/pepsi in a glass baking dish, and microwave for 9 min. It sounds weird, but it's a really nice, fluffy chocolate cake. The soda must be a diet soda.

    I'm now a college senior and I've tried both these things many times during my freshman/sophomore years.

    1. A rice cooker also doubles as a steamer. Just add vegetables or protein (tofu, chicken, fish) with a bit of water until cooked. If the cooker automatically shuts off, add a bit more until done.

      He may also want to invest in a small slow cooker. His options would be endless -- soups, stews, casseroles.

      1. Seafoods steam nicely in a rice steamer...shrimp, salmon, white fishes like grouper or snapper or tilapia, which pair easily with frozen bagged veggies (which can steam alongside the seafood). Add some bottled teriyaki sauce and rice and it's a complete meal.

        Baked potatoes (and sweet potatoes) are a good microwave standby, as is a box of pappadums. They puff up perfectly in the micro and make a good snack with chutney.

        Having a toaster oven opens up a world of possibility. If it is the kind of t.o. with a thermostat/temperature control, it is easy to bake in it. You can even purchase pans specially sized for the oven. With a box of biscuit mix, you can make an endless variety of stuff...muffins, biscuits, sausage-cheese balls, pot pies, etc. It is also a great tool to reheat frozen crunchy convenience foods like egg rolls, taquitos, naan, etc. that are rendered soggy or hard by the microwave (or to reheat leftover fried chicken, too).

        1. Toaster oven - Like Hungry Celeste said, if you have pans that fit and temp control you can do most things you can do in an oven, roast vegetables and meat/fish, food in foil packets. There are some safety issues though: for extended baking it should be tended, kept away from flammable things and turned off after use (at work people seem to regularly forget to turn it off if it is in the oven mode since ours doesn't have timer in oven mode). You can broil toppings on bagels, like cheese and tomatoes, or an open-faced ham and cheese sandwich. If it is big enough he could make flat bread pizzas or crisp cheese on a tortilla. A friend in college used his to bake cookies (from the refrigerator dough) and was very popular!

          Microwave - Eggs can be cooked in the microwave if you break them in a small bowl and rotate/check them often. Toppings for baked potatoes that can be microwaved include bacon, broccoli, canned chili. The bacon could also be used for BLTs on toasted bread. Other ideas: egg drop soup, cheese quesadillas or bean burritos. Bean burritos were a staple for me in college. I'd put cheese, beans, and salsa in a flour tortilla, microwave it, then top with lettuce, salsa, onions and cilantro and eat with a fork and knife.

          Rice Cooker - He can cook meat/fish and vegetables and seasonings right in with the rice for a one-dish pilaf/meal. I was given a rice cooker cookbook recently "The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook", but haven't looked at it much... so I can't recommend buying it, but you might get some specific ideas if you looked at that in the library or bookstore. I know they use it almost like a slow cooker and make oatmeal, risottos, dals, etc.

          1. Food fiend is right: Fish is the one thing that actually cooks up perfectly in a microwave.
            In a shared kitchen situation in my college days I would stop at a market on the way home, get random fresh vegetables, a can of sardines and a baguette or something. Chop vegetables into bowl, mix in sardines oil and all, vinegar or lemon juice if available. Mop up with the bread. No cooking, one bowl, one knife and one fork to wash. Cheese was a break from sardines.