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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.

            2. bf,

              There is a post very similar to your request. You may find it helpful:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/861679

              1. My kid's dorm kitchen was on a different floor from his room. He kept his cooking stuff in a big plastic tub that he hauled down to the communal kitchen.

                6 Replies
                1. re: sandylc

                  I live in very small dorm (about 36 people in there), with a kitchen on each level. A flexible cutting board is definitely a great idea. I did not think of that. I'll probably bring a santoku knife, should I bring a regular chef's knife as well?

                  1. re: bfines

                    I use my santoku for just about everything, and I live in my own big apartment. If you have a good santoku and a sharpening steel and/or other device, you do not need a chef's knife. I use my santoku for paring as well.

                    1. re: nosh

                      That's really helpful. We have a few santoku at home but I don't think my father is willing to let go of them... any suggestion as to the size?

                      1. re: bfines

                        Re-santoku knives, etc, I wouldn't bring really expensive gear along when you're in a communal setting, as things can get wrecked or disappear easily. Save that for when you get an apartment. But inexpensive chef's and boning knives could be useful in addition to a disposable paring knife and one with a serrated blade.

                        1. re: VitalForce

                          I actually just found some older santoku knives of ours that work very well. They were inexpensive, apparently. There's a large one and a small one. I think I might take both. Good advice though.
                          I'll definitely need a paring knife and serrated.

                    2. re: bfines

                      You don't really need both a chefs knife and a santoku, as long as the santoku is at least 6 inches long. If space or money is an issue, I'd just pick one or the other. 99% of the time, they're interchangeable.

                  2. Communal kitchen in dorm... back in 1492... was usually DISGUSTING. Didn't have mini-fridges and microwaves were "science fiction". We ate most meals in dining hall... smuggled back condiments... S&P, mustard, ketchup, mayo, butter... and always a pile of napkins stuffed into coat pockets. Only "permissable" item was a hot pot... so we hadda HIDE the "stingers"... metal coil that would boil water in a glass/ceramic container.

                    SOunds like you're already VERY confortable in the kitchen. I'd definitely think of things that can multi-task. AND would highly recommend doing a little years saling or thrift shopping. I'd wanna find a 1-2 burner unit. If ya find a coffee maker (even if just for heating water), rice cooker/veggie steamer, crock pot, etc. for $1-2, you can think about what ya wanna do with them when school is over and it's time to go home. COuld find a place to donate stuff ya don't wanna haul home... as long as it's working and clean!!

                    Like Hank Hanover's suggestions... ya could end up with at least half of the items on that list from Dollar Store. Find out what you're not SUPPOSED to have in dorm room ahead of time, so you won't get busted just taking things in!!

                    Explore cookbooks specifically geared toward dorm food. I was in prison for several years... AS A TEACHER... and inmate shared recipes for what to do with things like ramen noodles, canned tuna/sardines, etc.

                    When god-daughters were in college, I'd make sure they got a "care package" around their birthdays. Dollar stores have pretty much ended the need to send 'staples' to starving students... peanut butter, tea bags, instand coffee, ramen, crackers, etc.

                    Check out supermarket! Most will discount meat $1-2 to 50% off when withing 2-3 DAYS of sell-by date. A package of Italian sausage, an onion, a bell pepper and can of something tomato will have dorm mates DROOLING at your door! OH... I'd suggest a non-stick electric frying pan, too.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: kseiverd

                      Oh boy, 1492? Sorry couldn't help it. I should ask around and see if people ar willing to share recipes, I could compile my own cookbook! Thank you for the advice.

                    2. The others have some great suggestions for equipment. To store all the equipment, I would suggest getting a plastic drawer unit. Depending on how much room you have you could get the following:

                      http://www.amazon.com/Sterilite-Corp-... this can sit on top of your desk and hold your small utensils, spices stored on their sides, etc. I like these because you can still put stuff like books or a lamp or whatever on top of them so you're not using too much space.

                      One of these: http://www.amazon.com/Sterilite-29308... can store your pots and pans, cutting boards, dishes etc. They're surprisingly sturdy, I used to store tile and stone samples in one. They make them in a narrower size too, and taller, but obviously you'll be limited in what you can put in a narrower one. Again, you can still store things on top of these, or, if your dorms were like mine, you can slide under the desk (my dorm had large table type things as desks with no built-in drawers, then the beds were lofted on top of them.

                      These are cheapest to buy at Target.

                      Edit to add: Also you can get one of these over the door shoe holders to hold stuff too. Pretty much any of your utensils, spices, oils, etc. http://www.amazon.com/Over-Door-Clear... Good for storing cleaning supplies too.

                      1. I respectfully suggest you do nothing. Wait until you hit the dorm, get the lay of the land, size up your dorm mates, your access to tools and so on.
                        The cool thing about college is not anticipation. Rather, it's dealing with what is in front of you.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: steve h.

                          You know, this does make sense. Your first few weeks will be really busy and you will be able to seek out at least basic fresh fruits and veg without cooking it yourself.

                          1. re: sandylc

                            Apparently the first month is filled with cookouts and all sorts of opportunities for fresh, non-cafeteria food. Definitely a good suggestion, but I'd hate to go back home to drag whatever my parents are willing to donate. Anything that can be bought new should wait though, I didn't consider what my dorm mates might bring.

                            1. re: bfines

                              I wouldn't wait either but I'm also the type to haul my favorite personal kitchen gear to a rental cottage. A plastic container for your cutlery. You could put quite a few spices in a shoe box. Rather than a drawer storage, I like the stackable plastic boxes sold at fabric stores like Jo-Anne's. They come in different sizes, the lids clip on and they have carry handles. The size I use for crafts can probably hold small bottles of oil
                              http://www.joann.com/sterilite-medium...
                              I wouldn't count on what dorm mates might bring but you might get lucky.

                              1. re: bfines

                                Unless all of you in the dorm are there for the first year, the more experienced will be bringing what is necessary, especially since there is a kitchen on each floor and only 36 people total. I would think the cookouts will be part of a welcoming and even letting you know what you should have and what is part of the kitchen.

                          2. Welcome!

                            Steve H. has it right: wait until you get to college and settle in before deciding what you can do about cooking there and how much space you have for what it takes to do it your way.

                            Whatever that is. Depends on what you want to cook and how skilled (and picky) you are. Also how far your college is from home. If not too far, then you can start with the bare minimum of equipment and tableware. If you find you need something you don't have, *then* go home and pick it up.

                            If your dorm doesn't have a refrigerator, that sets a low ceiling on what you can conveniently do. You can only buy foods that will spoil until just before using them, and in quantities small enough for your use. That means frequent trips to the food store, maybe daily. Will you have time for that? Also how much dry storage space you have after hanging up your clothes, shelving the books, and so on. Probably best to keep the seasonings etc. down to salt, pepper, and one vegetable oil, and get other stuff when you actually need it.

                            Before any of this, try out the food in the dining hall. If it's good, or even if it's just edible, consider eating there regularly, and cook only for special occasions. The time you spend cooking is time lost to studying, getting to know your fellow students and teachers, and extracurricular and social activities, which after all is what most people go to college for. That's a high price to pay for eating better than your classmates.

                            1. Get a knife guard to protect your knives. You may want to keep them stored away from the rest of your kitchen gear so no one "borrows" them.

                              Think about what you will most likely be cooking. Don't need a roaster if quick stir-fries are your dinner of choice.

                              Consider double duty items. A metal mixing bowl which fits into your pot can be used as a double boiler, a serving bowl and a storage container.

                              There are collapsible colanders and measuring cups. A good immersion blender is handy and can do many of the functions of a blender and food processor. A good quality can opener and cork screw are indispensable! A couple of wash bins will be handy for transporting ingredients to the kitchen and washed dishes back to the room. Silicon spatulas which can withstand heat double for mixing and for cooking.

                              I wouldn't worry about storage containers much. You will probably generate them over time - reuse of takeout containers, emptied pasta sauce jars, etc.

                              Best of luck!

                              I found a brownie pan to be my most important kitchen aid in college! Ymmv...

                              1. Get a pressure cooker. They are a great time saver.

                                I used a crock pot a lot for things like pinto beans and ham which was cheap and nutritious.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Sid Post

                                  Those tend to be not allowed in dorms. I'm surprised a rice cooker and a water heater are permitted.

                                2. For the minimalist approach (if space is a real consideration) it works best to get multi-purpose stuff, and keep it to the minimum you need to cook. With a shared kitchen, you can't depend on getting the whole stove to yourself, so it's best to keep your cooking style compact and simple.

                                  - non stick frying pan
                                  - two medium sized pots, one with a decently thick bottom.
                                  - medium sized metal mixing bowl, the right size to fit into the top of one of the pots
                                  - sturdy metal strainer
                                  - paring knife, break knife, chef's knife. Get individual plastic knife guards for each, so you don't cut anything carrying them back and forth.
                                  - silicon spatula (suitable for non-stick pans), wooden spoon, tongs, flat spatula (for flipping stuff), vegetable peeler
                                  - thin plastic cutting board
                                  - a liquid measuring cup
                                  - a set of measuring spoons
                                  - rice cooker
                                  - eating dishes and utensils
                                  - one or two small dishes suitable for dipping sauces
                                  - rasp
                                  - box grater
                                  - oven mitts
                                  - a couple of lock-n-lock containers for leftovers.

                                  The mixing bowl can then double as a double boiler, and the metal strainer can also be used as a sifter and as an impromptu food mill as well as for draining stuff. You can use the liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients too (saving space). Your eating bowl can double as a small mixing bowl, and the small dipping dishes can be used while cooking, to hold spices, chopped garlic, etc. The rasp can be used to grate garlic and ginger and parmesan. The general grater works for cheese and for vegetables.

                                  Make a cloth wrap for the utensils, with pockets. Slide the clean utensils into each pocket, and then roll it up and tie it - you get compact storage and easy carrying.

                                  For ingredients, the biggest challenge will be lack fo space. If you're sharing the fridge and storage space, you're going to have a fairly small amount of space for fresh ingredients, so you simply can't cook the way you would in your own kitchen.

                                  Again, go minimalist and multi-purpose. One type of oil, one type of vinegar instead of multiple types of each, one pasta shape, only your most commonly used spices instead of a wide range. A bulk food store or section is your friend here - buy small amounts at a time.

                                  It depends on your cooking style, but for staple ingredients I'd go for

                                  - olive oil, white wine vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, ketchup
                                  - salt, pepper, chili flakes, oregano, thyme, dill, rosemary, cumin, garlic powder, Mexican chili powder
                                  - your favourite pasta shape, your favourite rice, a small amount of white flour, a small amount of white sugar
                                  - a few cans at a time of chicken stock, tuna, tomatoes, corn

                                  Other stuff, buy as you need it. With a limited amount of space to store fresh ingredients, you'll have to shop carefully, and if you cook every night, two or three times a week. Buy only what you are sure to use, and avoid recipes that use a small amount of a large number of ingredients, because you won't have room to store what you don't use immediately.

                                  And don't plan on getting the stove or kitchen to yourself. Plan on meals that don't use more than one or two burners to prepare, so you aren't thrown off by having to share space with someone else who is cooking.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                    In terms of keeping a cooking style compact and simple, I'd go with the assumption that you might not be able to cook anything that requires more space than your cutting board, one mixing bowl, and one or two burners. Also, that the cooking area may not be well-maintained, especially as the school year goes on, so anything that requires hitting a precise temperature is probably a bad idea.

                                    Of course, my favorite dorm cooking project involved commandeering the ping pong table so that a dozen of us could make wontons, potstickers, and similar Asian foods.

                                  2. Jut rememered this...sent my daughter with colored round dot stickers so that she could identify all of her food items in the fridge and cuppboard....if you are sharing a fridge or kitchen with others, you might want to bring another color for them as well....

                                    1. I thoroughly agree with Steve and John Francis. Both of their posts are spot on!

                                      When I was a freshman in college, my first care package from my mom contained a manual can opener. It was a godsend. Over the dorm years, I gradually acquired a saucepan with lid; a larger pot for pasta; a rubber spatula; some silverware; salt and pepper; a small cutting board; and a knife. And dishwashing liquid! Many things that you think are essential you can do without by being resourceful - for example, a colandar is nice but I could drain the pasta pot by blocking it with the saucepan lid.

                                      My dorm did not permit cooking in the rooms, but had a stove on our common area and we could check out cooking items from the front desk. Because they were so badly used, I acquired my own over time. We were only allowed a mini fridge in our rooms, but by my senior year I had a Hot Shot (like a hot pot but it only made hot water - amazing what you can do with hot water, a coffee mug and a big bath towel) and a toaster oven (and the thing about stuffing a towel under your door to prevent the cooking smells from escaping to the hallway is a myth. I had a very tolerant RA.). However, I really only cooked when I wanted a treat or came back to the dorms after the cafeteria closed. Time is short at college; what do you really need to spend it on?

                                      Lastly, there was a question about recipes for cooking in dorms. There are a number of cookbooks out on this subject. I can't remember the names of the ones I had, but I found a similar one at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Knack-College-C...