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Aug 4, 2012 10:54 PM

What to pack for small-quarters cooking? (aka dorm cooking?) Suggestions are really helpful!

Hey guys! This is my first post :)
Anyways, I'm off to college soon, and I'm not particularly interested in the food offered at my school. I know that I'll be tight on time and I'll have to, but does anyone have any suggestions regarding equipment and any other must haves? Should I bring coconut oil, olive oil, or both? My entire spice cabinet, or only the ones I use most often? I should be able to get all perishables from the local grocer, and we live nearby a lot of good Asian grocery stores, anything I should grab from there? My dorm has a microwave, stove, and oven.

Already on my list:

Rice cooker
Water heater

I'll really appreciate it!

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  1. a chef's knife and a pairing knife.
    a pepper grinder and salt shaker
    a silicone spatula
    a crock pot and or a dutch oven
    1 quart and a 3 quart saucepan
    a 10 inch stainless steel skillet
    a 10 inch teflon skillet
    a few pieces of tupperware or rubbermaid storage containers
    a few plates, bowls, dishes, glasses and flatware
    ziplock bags

    1. Is space an issue in your dorm? If not, I'd suggest taking a toaster oven, good knives, a cutting board, and all the spices, sauces, favorite snacks and specialty items that you enjoy and may not be able to find near your school. Best wishes!

      1. I use tongs a lot esp to remove hot food from a baking pan.
        I storage container suitable for beverages. We drink a lot of iced tea. The container can also be used to store soup in the frig. I like a tall, narrow, almost rectangular container.
        A casserole dish that can also double as a serving bowl.
        A baking pan, perhaps your personal broiler pan, for roasting meats and vegetables.
        I don't cook with coconut oil but think you need a second oil for certain recipes where EVO is not appropriate.
        Colander for draining vegetables etc.
        Plastic steamer to use in the microwave. Tupperware makes one.
        1 Qt Glass measuring cup which can also be used in the microwave.
        Re-usable plastic cover for use in the microwave to re-heat or cook meals.
        Medium size metal bowl that can be used for mixing or serving bowl.

        1. Back when I was moving into my junior year apartment, one of my new roommates said he had something to show me. With no small amount of ceremony, he proceeds to pull out an old briefcase like a lawyer would carry. As he slowly and deliberately pops the latches, I'm thinking it's probably full of marijuana. He opens it up - three neat rows of spices. After two years of eating mostly cheap bland crap from the school's cafeteria and realizing that I finally had a stove, it was like someone had presented me with Marcellus Wallace's briefcase - my memory of it must be wrong, but I could swear it glowed. That was the year I really started learning to cook.

          That said, here is some more practical suggestions that should handle just about anything without being too hard on your budget:

          - A decent chefs knife, maybe a paring knife (forschners are both good and cheap)
          - An accusharp-type knife sharpener (a knife is no good unless it's sharp, and an Accusharp is cheap and easy to use, but feel free to substitute another method if you have it around or if learning to sharpen with, say, stones interests you)
          - A cutting board. Wood is my preference. But you'll be fine as long as it's not glass or ceramic.
          - A skillet (10 or 12 inches) that is oven-safe - that way you get double duty out of it. A stainless steel pan with an aluminum disc bottom gives you a good mix of performance and affordability.
          - A saucepan, roughly 3 quarts, with a lid, also oven-safe.
          - A couple cheap bowls
          - A pair of tongs, a spatula, and a stirring spoon
          - Cheap measuring cups and spoons
          - Cheap semi-disposable tupperware.
          - I'll second the suggestion for some kind of microwave safe vessel for steaming things
          - A few kitchen towels (double as potholders)
          - A small cheap grill (and knowing how to use it) is surprisingly good at making you more popular in college

          As ingredients go, bring ingredients you like to cook with that store well, and supplement with interesting (and more perishable) things you find while at school. Flour, sugar, salt, pepper, an oil for cooking (vegetable, canola, peanut, coconut, refined olive oil, etc), an oil for drizzling (extra virgin olive oil, nut oils, etc), baking powder, your favorite spices - all these things will get used. On one hand, you don't have to bring every spice in the cabinet and every oil you can think of - your cooking will often be made better by just keeping what you can use and going through it quickly enough that it stays fresh and vibrant. On the other hand, playing around with a few dozen different spices (some of which were surely stale) is how I grew familiar with them and how I learned to use them, even though I no longer keep every spice I've ever heard of on hand.

          1. Toaster ovens and grills aren't allowed, but these are all really great suggestions, especially regarding knives and tongs. I just need to find out how I can store all of this in a small space.

            1 Reply
            1. re: bfines

              I'd suggest getting a box (those cheap cardboard boxes for storing files that you can find at an office supply store) and only bringing what you can fit in one or two of those. (The box is just for sizing. I'd consider plastic for storage.) You're going to have to make some choices in terms of quality vs space. For example, a big wooden cutting board would be nice, but you may have to bring a smaller one or get one of those flexible cutting boards that you can roll up. Exactly one pot and exactly one frying pan/skillet.

              Also, you don't necessarily need to bring plates and silverware. Perhaps I shouldn't suggest this, but if your school has a cafeteria-style dining hall, it is not unusual for people to borrow what they need for the term (and sometimes to actually return it at the of the year).

              What you actually need to bring depends a lot on what you like to cook, but I suggest getting comfortable with cooking meals in the microwave. I also suggest not bringing anything that is so expensive that you will cry if it gets stolen.