Everyone loves a home-cooked meal, especially college students deprived of Mom’s best dinners and family time spent together at the table. Customary in the Jewish culture, Shabbat dinner on Friday night is spent with the family and in many homes, it’s a time for everyone to prepare together and get ready for a big meal.
Even if you don’t live in an apartment, being confined to kitchen-less walls of a dorm setting doesn’t mean that a Shabbat-worthy meal cannot be attained. My friends and I have successfully pulled together 3 Shabbat dinners this semester, all prepared in our suite-style dorm living and for under $5 a person. So invite some friends over, spend some time together, and enjoy a home cooked meal while priding yourself with the talent of not having to cook at all and still rocking it.
Start by choosing a theme and appropriate menu
Having a theme not only allows for fun decorations and good vibes, but it makes for an easier time creating a menu. Themes keep the dishes more focused, and as long as the theme is broad enough, it will keep everyone happy and ensure that there’s something for even those friends who are the pickiest eaters.
With a breakfast for dinner theme, all the fan favorites of eggs, decadent French Toast, and smoothies paired with your guests coming in pajamas screams success. With taco night, everyone gets to choose what they want to eat and it makes it easy to divide and conquer what ingredients are needed when there aren’t set dishes to create.
This week’s theme: final tastes of fall.
Write out exactly where you’re going to get each ingredient from
If you’re living in a dorm room, that probably means that you have a meal plan. The first tip is to take full advantage of it. While you’re enjoying your meal swipe on Wednesday night, take a peek at all the dining hall staples that might save you time and shopping money, and just shop your dining hall. If you happen to have a handful of Tupperware in your bag, sneakily collect some of the basics:
- For the salad: spinach, feta, Craisins, apples
- For side dishes: broccoli, beets
- For the main dish: grilled chicken
Once back in your room, take inventory of the first shopping trip’s results and figure out what’s still missing. Once you’ve collected a few dollars from each of your friends, make your way to the supermarket on Friday afternoon to start the preparations.
One of the most fun parts of this dinner (besides the end result and eating – duh) is the Friday afternoon preparations. When you get to the supermarket, try sticking pretty strictly to your shopping list in order not to get carried away with how much food there will be and how much needed to spend. The goal is always to keep the meal $5 or less per person, which is totally doable. Grab a shopping cart, then go ahead and get:
- For the salad: pumpkin seeds
- For the dishes: sweet potatoes, pasta, sauce, Challah (would it be Shabbat without it?), and salad dressing
Another way to have a nice feel of home-cooked meals is to defrost frozen treats straight from home. The next time your parents come up to visit, request your favorite soup or dish brought up and freeze it (shoutout to my mom for surprising me with butternut squash soup and Filo dough logs last visit). Defrost the dish if necessary, or save time on Friday right before dinner to reheat it so that it’ll be ready for dinner.
Get creative and “cook” all the dishes
Now that it’s early Friday evening and all the shopping is done, it’s time to get creative and put together a banging dinner. Lay out everything you have and start combining:
Sweet Potato and Beet Side
If your beets aren’t already chopped up into small, centimeter-wide cubes, chop them up as so. Then chop up the sweet potatoes into the same shape and size and line the bottom of a microwave-safe bowl with a damp paper towel. Cover sweet potatoes with another damp paper towel and microwave for 3-7 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft and hot.
#SpoonTip: If you don’t have a chef’s knife on hand (which most college students without a kitchen would not), be creative and scavenge for one. Ask around to borrow one from a friend with a kitchen, or a friend who has a knife set for a cooking class (a more useful requirement than a textbook, at least). And if you don’t have a cutting board, try a makeshift cutting board – a cloth covered magnet board and a paper towel will do the trick.
In a big Ziplock bag, mix together all ingredients you choose to include: feta cheese, pumpkin seeds, apples (cut into small cubes), and Craisins. Be creative and repurpose a platter used for decoration in a friend’s bedroom as a serving platter.
Pasta with Sauce
In a microwave safe bowl (or two or three – depending on how much pasta you use), add pasta and then fill with water enough to cover the amount of pasta in the bowl. Avoid using spaghetti (learn from my mistakes) so that the pasta fits more easily in the bowl. Microwave for 7 minutes, or until sampled and done. If you don’t have a big bowl to serve the pasta in, be creative and use whatever you can find – in our case, a colander one of my friends has became a bowl for the night.
Keep broccoli in Ziplock bags and unzip the bag. Microwave for 2 minutes, or until broccoli is bright green and soft. Season with either salt and pepper or your choice of seasoning (I use Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning pretty much everyday).
The Finishing Touches
The rest of preparation is reheating all the dishes when your guests are about to come and doing as much of the cleanup as you can beforehand to avoid it after dinner. Try using paper plates for less of a clean up in the bathroom sink, and for added themed fun. Make sure all the food is on the table, and squeeze all your friends into your humble home.
And there you have it. Your very own dinner party prepared entirely without a kitchen. Enjoy your meal, your company, and your bragging rights once you #foodstagram and all your Insta followers comment in amazement as they remember you live a kitchen-less life at school.