College Cooks Gone Wild!

Andy Washkowitz, college student, was enjoying a late night of infomercials and stale potato chips when five slowly roasting chickens appeared on-screen. Washkowitz dropped the chips and reached for the phone. Drunk dialing was never so fortuitous. “That rotisserie cooker,” he says, “is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Instead of pretzels and leftover pizza, Washkowitz now dines on chicken, and even the occasional duck.

Around two-fifths of college students regularly cook snacks or meals in their dorm rooms. They make pot roasts in slow cookers, grill salmon in toaster ovens, and wilt spinach with water heated in electric kettles.

Microwaveable popcorn, ramen soup, and instant mac ’n’ cheese are still staples, of course, but with interest in cooking, health, and nutrition on the rise, college students are finding more creative ways to feed themselves. Many colleges ban cooking devices as fire hazards and officially restrict students to college-approved microwaves. But undergrads tend to regard these rules as flexible. “I rely primarily on the hot pot in my room. Don’t tell on me,” begs an anonymous student at Clark University in Massachusetts.

The George Foreman Grill is the great multitasker of the dorm-room “kitchen” and the most popular student cooking device after the microwave. Half the students who cook in their dorm rooms either own a George Foreman or have easy access to one. Though banned on most campuses, the grill has become so ubiquitous that in 2005 Pepperdine University hosted “The Next Grilleration: George Foreman’s College Grill-Off,” featuring students from four schools. Dan Meyers of the University of Missouri won $2,000 and a trip to California for his three-course meal of crab cakes, quail, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, potatoes, and phyllo-wrapped chocolate cheesecake, all—you guessed it—grilled.

Less competitive students use the grill simply to avoid the cafeteria mystery meat. Andrea Carr of the University of Pennsylvania has used hers to sauté marinated filet mignon. Other students use theirs to cook up late-night snacks when the cafeteria is closed. One evening Ryan Berg of Iowa State found himself contemplating the Foreman, which is built with a slight slant to let the fat drip off. Berg propped up the low side of the grill with a textbook, and he and several friends started frying and flipping eggs on the newly level surface. “That was an awesome night,” Berg recalls.

Other students have found ingenious ways to work with what tools schools do allow. Anna Yesilevsky of Harvard came up with an inspired recipe for cheesecake that calls for a package of Jell-O mix and ingredients nabbed from the dining hall. For the crust, she and a few friends mashed some Golden Grahams cereal, mixed the crumbs with brown sugar and butter, microwaved the mixture until soft, and pushed it into a pie pan. “Then we mixed cream cheese with a bit of milk, sugar, and Jell-O powder, and heated up the resulting liquid in a rice cooker. All that was left to do was pour the mixture into the crust and let it cool in the mini fridge.” Though this may be the only recipe to ever specifically call for a mini fridge, Yesilevsky and her roommates swear by the results.

Some students don’t bother with traditional cooking devices at all. David Solomon of George Washington University says his most creative recipe to date is “grilled cheese made with an iron.” He describes the procedure: “Lay two slices of bread on a plate, cover with a paper towel, place the iron on medium heat, and hold it to the paper towel for about 20 seconds. Add cheese to one slice of the bread and add the other slice on top. Use the iron again and heat both sides until the cheese is melted.”

There’s one small catch, though: “Make sure that the ‘mist’ or ‘steam’ function is off,” Solomon cautions, “or you end up with soggy bread.”

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