The Dorm Gourmet: 3 Quick and Easy Breakfasts for the College Student on the Go
You’ve heard it since you were a kid, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So why do you keep skipping it? If you crammed or just hung out with friends past a decent bedtime, you probably found yourself too tired to cope with the chaos of the cafeteria. Besides, do you really want to make another uncombed, unshowered appearance there? Nonetheless, a person needs to eat. Do yourself a favor, and take the time to set up a basic kitchen, here’s how:
How to Set Up a Basic Dorm Kitchen for about $100
You may have only been thinking about beer when you got your mini-fridge, but you can store food in it too. If you don’t have a dorm or mini refrigerator, your options will be severely restricted. It’s worth the $150 or so. A dozen or so stops at Perkins, Denny’s, Baker’s Square or the bagel shop will cost you nearly the same, not to mention, you still have to get dressed and go there.
The basic supplies you’ll need are:
- A rice cooker, roughly $25. You’ll need a rice cooker. Yes, I am still talking about breakfast. Twenty years ago, rice cookers were still novel in this country, now they’re almost as common as toasters, but a rice cooker is much more versatile. There are plenty of rice cookers under $30. There are plenty of rice cookers that cost more than $100. Why the discrepancy? Essentially, rice cookers come in two varieties. The inexpensive models have only two settings, cook and warm. Rice is cooked by water absorption. These simpler models use a basic thermostat to automatically heat the water until the water is completely absorbed. When the temperature starts going above the boiling point, it switches down to warm. The more expensive, more complex models use a system of fuzzy logic to achieve other goals, like cooking the rice to a porridge consistency, making sushi rice, brown rice or using your rice cooker for soups. With a little ingenuity you can accomplish all of this with an inexpensive rice cooker.
- A medium-sized cutting board, $10-20. When shopping for cutting boards consider the size of your knife and the things you expect to cut on it. Obviously, if you know you’ll be chopping carrots, celery or slicing watermelons, don’t buy a cutting board only big enough for mincing garlic. I strongly recommend cutting boards with a trench or channel around the edge to capture meat or fruit juices.
- An eight inch chef’s knife, $15-20. A cook’s or chef’s knife is the most useful tool in the kitchen. A decent quality knife doesn’t need to be expensive, but a cheap knife is no bargain. A good knife should have the metal of the blade extend into the handle without gaps or places for dirt or food particles to get trapped. The blade should be riveted into the handle. Don’t buy a knife that is serrated (scalloped is okay) or promises to be always sharp.
- A microwaveable, dishwasher-safe two or four cup measuring cup, $10-15. You’ll find this can double as microwave cookware or mixing bowl in a pinch.
- A box grater or a single-sided grated with more than one gauge of holes, $5-10
- A vegetable peeler, <$5
- A roll of plastic cling wrap, a roll of aluminum foil, and a box of zip-type plastic bags, <$10
- A set of nested, microwaveable bowls, <$10
Getting Started on Cooking
Now that you have a kitchen, you only need about $20 worth of pantry products. I recommend the following:
1. A few pounds of short-grain white rice
2. Chicken boullion cubes
3. Salt and pepper. You can probably think of some places to get this free.
4. Onions, carrots and celery
7. Brown sugar
8. Dried fruit
11. Fresh ginger
Turn Breakfast into a Treat not a Chore
A hot breakfast is a treat, and assembling it should be fun. Choose foods you really enjoy. I’ve fallen in love with Korean foods, especially the tastes of green onions, Asian chives, garlic, fresh ginger and red pepper flakes. I also love eggs. I was thrilled when I discovered a Korean cooking site with fun videos showing how to prepare some of my favorite dishes, especially a Korean vegetable pancake or yachaejeon. After a year or two of enjoying dozens of her recipes I finally got to meet Maangchi, my Korean cooking mentor in person.
Korean Vegetable Pancake (yachaejeon)
I’ve borrowed this delicious, crunchy, basic recipe from Maangchi, and modified it for rice cooker preparation. The pancake is not the sweet doughy type might find at a Perkins or Denny’s covered with syrup, fruit and powdered sugar. This is a lighter, crispy fried pancake. It is more like hash browns - green onions, carrots and zucchini held together with a thin batter. The original uses Asian chives, but these might be difficult to find for some, so I made this with more green onions and added shredded carrots. You may choose to add or replace according to your own tastes. I get three five-inch pancakes out of this recipe.
1/3 Cup Flour
½ Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Water
¾ Cup of Green Onions, chopped into 1-inch long sections
1/4 Cup of Shredded Zucchini
¼ Cup of Shredded Carrots
Red Pepper Flakes or Cayenne Pepper to taste
1-1/2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
2 Eggs, beaten
Rice Cooker Directions:
- Turn the rice cooker onto the “cook” or higher setting and add the oil.
- Combine the flour, salt and water in a medium-sized bowl.
- Combine the vegetables with the batter
- When the oil is hot enough to make the batter sizzle, pour a thin layer of the batter into the cooker. The batter should barely cover the bottom, if it is too thick it will be harder to make crispy. Use a spoon, spatula or rubber scrapper to evenly distribute it. Do not cover.
- Allow the batter to cook for 8-10 minutes, then pour some of the beaten egg over the top.
- When the pancake is firm, flip with a rubber scrapper and/or fork.
Note: Rice cookers are not designed for deep fat frying, your rice cooker may automatically switch to “warm” while cooking. You should be able to override this and return it to “cook”.
Oatmeal & Brown Sugar
When a box of cereal can cost nearly five dollars, oatmeal is a good, frugal choice. Made with milk and brown sugar (add raisins or fruit as you like), this meal isn’t only cheap, it’s simple. You can heat the milk in a microwave or in the rice cooker. Add a pinch of salt and a proportion of roughly twice the milk to oatmeal – less if you like it thicker.
Vegetables, Broth and Rice (congee)
If you like chicken noodle soup, you’ll like this. Set the rice cooker to “cook” and add a teaspoon of butter and some grated fresh ginger. When the butter is melted, sauté the ginger until it is fragrant. Combine chopped carrots, a green onion, and a quarter cube of chicken boullion with a third of a cup of short-grain rice (sticky rice works best) and a cup of water. Stir the mixture to help dissolve the boullion cube, and allow the rice to boil for several minutes. The rice will thicken, creating a comforting rice porridge (known as congee). Crack an egg over the top to make a heartier dish.
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