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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.

            1. In college, I learned how to fry rice in a rice cooker. It was difficult to keep the pressure mechanism depressed while heating the oil, but once the rice was added it was fine. If you have access to a kitchen, I would suggest using that first though.

              1. How about investing in an electric skillet? (not the flat kind, the tall, square ones with a lid). I used one for most of my dorm room cooking... mine had a high lid, so you could brown and sort of "bake" many things in there.

                I used to brown onions & chicken, then throw in some uncooked rice, cook that for a little while add some stock and snap on the lid. in 30 mins with a little lemon pepper you've got chicken & rice. (sometimes I'd throw some veg around the edges for the last 10 mins or so). I made lasagna in one with the no-boil noodles, fried potatoes w/ eggs. a kind of meat-loaf, chili.. you name it.

                I also used to have a little electric kettle for boiling water. I used to cook noodles in it all the time.. for mac & cheese, top ramen, spaghetti, etc. you just have to be sure to clean it out carefully.. and quickly after use. since you can submerse it, clean up can be a pain. though not with the electric skillet if you get one that is non-stick.

                1. Wow! I am almost ready to put away my skillets and casseroles and get a rice steamer! This is great! Boy Wonder (the freshman eater-in-question) just stopped by this afternoon and I let him know about the post. Atypical of teens, he was thrilled and will hopefully be checking these tips out. He's VERY interested in Food Fiend's chocolate cake recipe - any amounts, FF? I will have to kid him about a girlfriend if he's making chocolate cake, but- oh well. Hi Ty; if you're reading this, thank the board for the cooking ideas and pass some along to your friends.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: cayjohan

                    Here you go! :)

                    Mix together the following and pour into a microwave safe dish:

                    1 box of chocolate cake mix (the regular size from the baking aisle)
                    1 12-oz. can of diet coke/pepsi

                    Microwave for 9-10 min. (depending on how strong your mircrowave is). Let it cool for a few minutes...(quite honestly, we were always too impatient)

                    This also works with other cake mixes and diet soda flavors. I've done yellow cake w/ diet Sprite before too, which was also really good.

                    Hope Wonder Boy enjoys!

                    1. re: Food_Fiend

                      Thanks Food Fiend - guess I'm getting the boy a Pyrex baking dish soon! Thank you!