Dorm Cooking

In Dorm Cooking on November 22, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I belive it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” While these words were first uttered in a purely political context, nothing else quite sums up the mindset that one must adopt when trying to cook in the usually cramped and under equipped kitchens of a college dorm. 

Often when discussing college food, one usually conjures images of Ramen noodles, nuclear orange mac-n-cheese from a box, and utilitarian cafeteria fare. While not to say that the food here at Cornell is all that bad, after eating in the same dining halls 2-3 meals a day, it gets a bit tiring. So, about once a month my friend and I, who is thankfully just as passionate (read: weird) about food as me, attempt to cook a full meal from scratch using whatever we have lying around.

Due to the rather limited resources for getting the necessary supplies for cooking — the closest thing on campus to a grocery store has the selection of a 7-Eleven — our meals often revolve around a hodgepodge of ingredients gathered from various horticulture labs, trips to farmers markets and other miscellany. Also, due to our usual lack of equipment, we normally have to revert to some rather MacGyver-esque methods of cooking (that’s the “with what you have” portion of the quote). In that vein, I thought I would share a meal that we were able to make last week: beet and potato latkes with greek yogurt, fennel and apple; and a warm kale salad with sauteed mushrooms and toasted pumpkin seeds.


To start the latkes, we used some Russet potatoes I had left over from a recent horticulture field trip to a potato breeding facility, and some beets my friend had got at the Ithaca Farmers’ Market along with most of the other ingredients. Due to the absence of a box grater or food processor, we cut the root vegetables into match-stick sized pieces by hand. We combined this with a finely diced red-onion and added an egg that we found in the communal dorm fridge (sorry to whoever’s egg that was; I owe you one), along with some flour to bind it all together. Then, after seasoning it with salt and pepper, we spooned out the pink mixture into a quarter of an inch of hot oil and cooked until brown on both sides.

Once the pancakes cooled and had been patted to remove any excess oil, we added a generous dollop of greek yogurt to each latke (in lieu of the traditional sour cream), and topped them with pieces of thinly sliced fennel and apple from the Cornell Orchards.

Kale Salad:

We began the warm kale salad by sweating crushed garlic along with some red onion in oil until translucent and fragrant. To this, we added shiitake mushrooms and chopped kale. When the mushrooms were tender and the kale turned a deep green, we took it off the heat and topped it with some toasted pumpkin seeds which were left over from carving Halloween jackolanterns. To give the dish some acidity, we added a tablespoon or so of what can best be described as “red wine vinegar” — the failed remnants from wine-making lab that had turned sour while fermenting under my bed. I’m not 100% sure it was safe to ingest, but it got the job done — what doesn’t kill you, right?

~  ~  ~

All in all, while most college students won’t have the time in their daily schedules to fit in the time-consuming process of cooking a full meal from scratch, when you do get the opportunity, take it. Not only will the food taste better, for better or worse, the aroma will waft out of the kitchen, bringing in scores of people who want a bite of whatever you’re making. It’s a bittersweet feeling when everyone has just heartily finished plate of food you just spent an hour making and you’re only left with the scraps. A guy’s gotta eat.


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