Friday, April 8, 2011

Tips for the College Student With a Tiny Kitchen

Article first published as Tips For a College Student Cook With a Small Kitchen on Blogcritics.

Now that I have an established readership (or at least I think I do) I thought I would share some of kitchen tips that I have after my first few months of cooking. For those of you following me since the beginning, its been almost three months!!

Anyways, it's hard to cook while you're in college. First of all, after you drag yourself back home from class and up the stairs, cooking might not be the first thing you want to do. For me it's a relaxation method, but I understand those who would rather not have to spend about an hour making dinner.

Then there's the issue of space. Figuring out how to cook several dishes at a time, or even just one elaborate one, is complicated when your counter space is the size of a desk's surface. Even after we bought our rolling kitchen island, I find myself struggling to find somewhere to balance the cooking sheet full of vegetables. Along with this problem comes the issue of appliances. Some are necessary, but others are expensive gadgets. Yes, I would love to have every single one I come across (such as KitchenAid, Cusinart, Martha Stewart tools, etc.), but I know I need to win the lottery in order for that to happen.

Another problem I have come across is what to buy when going shopping. Grocery lists are more complicated than you'd think. How do you know what to buy unless you plan days in advance? Because I don't want to have to go to the store every day, I have to plan a week's worth and buy it at once. But then comes the issue of storage: picture a fridge resembling a puzzle. If you have a small fridge/freezer just like I do, organizational skills are key (but even those won't always save you).

Ok, so how do you solve these problems? There really isn't a better solution than to build yourself a bigger kitchen, but for those of us who can't, here are my tips!

  • Freeze meats to save space and save yourself trips to the grocery store. You're freezer is probably smaller than your fridge, but unless you're stocking up on ice-cream and frozen pizza (which you shouldn't be since I am giving you delicious and easy recipes to make every night) you should have some extra space. Before unpacking anything else, separate the pieces of meat according to your cooking needs and place them in Ziploc bags in the freezer. You'll be set for months, but do remember to defrost in time! There's nothing more annoying than coming home to realize you have a frozen chicken breast waiting to be defrosted under cold running water.

  • Always be aware of what's in the produce drawer and make sure to use it in time. It sucks to have to through out a bunch of asparagus because they went bad by the time you decided to roast them. It also sucks to then have no vegetable side at dinner. It's pretty simple: keep track of your fruits and veggies. Otherwise make sure you dig into that drawer before making any meal to make sure there's nothing that needs to be cooked tonight.
  • Be flexible with your recipes. Like I stated above, there might be times when you have to unexpectedly add vegetables to a recipe. Because of this and because of the fact that sometimes you may not have time or the ingredients for a specific recipe, be flexible. Be ready to modify recipes and make them your own. Plus, you never know when you're going to create a masterpiece.
  • Use your imagination and be practical. There are many kitchen gadgets that I don't own (and you might not either). I'm not referring to the high-tech tools that I mentioned in the beginning; I mean things like a rolling pin. If thats the case, read on:
    • If you're missing a rolling pin, use an empty (and clean) wine bottle. It sounds crazy, but it works very well. I made a delicious pumpkin pie and gingerbread house using Chardonnay bottles to roll out the dough.

    • Use a rimmed baking sheet as "a floured surface." If the dough isn't so much and you can roll it out on a baking sheet, go for it. Its much easier to clean and saves your kitchen from being sprinkled in flour.
    • Use a regular ruler (preferably not the same one that is lying on your desk) to cut perfect scones or crackers. Get straight edges easy. 
  • Get to know your appliances. Yes, you read right: develop a relationship with your oven and fridge; get to know their secrets and cooking will be a lot easier. For instance, I know my fridge freezes near the back, so I know not to stuff it so much. I learned this the hard way after taking out a bag of shredded cheese that looked more like a yellow odd-shaped piece of ice. I also know my oven bakes unevenly. The bottom rack takes cooks quicker than the top; the right outside corner burns often. Again, if you know this in advance, you know when to rotate the baking sheets. 
  • Make a menu for the week. This is what  my mom always had me do at home and I loved it. It does take some time to go through recipes and plan out what to eat for the next few days, but it makes cooking a whole lot simpler. It makes it more fun too. Believe me, just open those cookbooks or magazines and you'll be inspired in no time!
So those are my tips for now, but don't worry, I'll be coming up with other ones soon. In the mean time, get in your kitchen and get cooking! (if you don't have a kitchen, make a request and I'll gladly whip it up for you!)

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