College might feel like a free-for-all some days (okay, some nights and weekends, too), but it comes with a whole set of rules of its own — especially if you're a budding cook who wants to escape the tyranny of cafeteria salad bars and dorm rules that forbid anything fun like a Hot Pot or toaster oven. (Although, as someone who regularly did the 2 a.m. fire alarm shuffle down four flights of stairs, I understand why that restriction is in place.)
And if you don't have a car, going off-campus to a real grocery store can be tougher than throwing together a final senior thesis on James Joyce's Ulysses in relation to Italian Futurism — or maybe that's just me.
I may have gone to college to get a well-rounded liberal arts education, but it's also where my illustrious cooking career began. I was probably the only student in my dorm with a combination stockpot/strainer for making steamed green beans and pasta on the tilted, ancient electric stove in our common area.
You might not be so lucky, but even if you're stuck with just a microwave and a few mugs, you can manage to pull together a surprisingly large array of "home-cooked" meals — as long as you can walk to a well-stocked drugstore.
The selection at your local CVS or Walgreens can be pretty fancy these days, and it will save your bacon when you don't want to drag yourself to the dining hall. (You can even buy bacon — and frozen shrimp! — there if you want, although I don't advocate stinking out your fellow dormmates by nuking those ingredients in close quarters.)
Here are five actually decent and filling meals you can make with a microwave and a drugstore at your disposal.
Pour 1 package Ready Rice or other microwaveable quick rice package into a large microwaveable container and stir together with 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, 1 large handful sliced green and/or black olives, 1 large handful chopped almonds, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Microwave until the tomato sauce is bubbling and the rice is cooked through.
Mexican Breakfast Burritos
Crack 2 eggs into a microwaveable mug and use a fork to whisk in a splash of milk, half-and-half, or creamer, and a pinch each of pepper and salt. Microwave in 30-second increments and stir between each until the eggs are scrambled.
Spread a few spoonfuls of refried beans — from 1 (15-ounce) can — onto a flour tortilla or wrap. Microwave until the beans and tortilla are warm, then top with the egg, a few pinches of shredded cheese, salsa, and sour cream if desired. Wrap your burrito and eat.
Microwave 1 Cup o' Noodles without the flavor packet according to package directions. (This is a good excuse to use up the gross shrimp flavor Cup o' Noodles that's been sitting on the back of the shelf.) Microwave a handful of frozen broccoli florets and/or a handful of frozen peas.
Stir 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar together in a bowl. Add the cooked noodles with a splash of the water they were microwaved in (toss the rest), and the cooked vegetables.
Stir well to coat with the sauce. Taste, add salt and pepper if desired, and top with chopped peanuts.
Stir 1 (15-ounce) can drained and rinsed kidney beans or pinto beans with 1 (14.5-ounce) can Ro-Tel (or diced tomatoes), 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (If you don't have chili pepper, substitute 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, and a pinch of black pepper. )
Microwave until the tomato sauce is bubbling and cooked through, stirring occasionally as needed.
Serve with Saltines, Ready Rice, or if you can get your hands on a real potato, you're in business! Stab that sucker a few times and microwave until tender.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Microwave a handful of frozen peas in a large bowl and set aside. Microwave 1 container of microwaveable mac and cheese according to package directions. Pour the cooked mac and cheese into the bowl with the peas, then stir in 1 can drained tuna, a few spoonfuls of sour cream or mayonnaise, and a small spoonful of relish if desired. Top with crumbled Saltines, Goldfish crackers, or Cheez-Its.