I lived in the dorms my freshman year of college. I personally believe that it is something every college student should experience. It's like a rite of passage, learning how to live with something in (very) close proximity and navigating the horrors of the communal shower.

The thing that I appreciated the most, though, was the common room. The set up for my dorm was that each floor was separated in the middle by a common room, a large space with tables, a TV, and most importantly: a kitchen.

The Kitchen

Anna Arteaga

A humble kitchen, to be sure. An oven that would turn off if you did not stand next to it for so long. A stovetop that took a good ten minutes to heat up when you turned it on. My RAs even donated a toaster to spice up the appliance options.

My love for cooking helped me look past the deficiencies of the space, and all throughout the first semester I slowly started to add to my cookware collection. Picking up a pan when on sale at Wal-Mart, "borrowing" forks and knives from the dining hall, and finding a burnt cooking pan in the floor donation box were just a few of my kitchen accumulations. I scraped by, that is for sure. Like Drake, I started from the bottom. And when I came back to school after Winter Break, my collection was complete.

I dropped my meal plan and never looked back.

The Cooking Experience

It was rough at first, not going to lie. I had to tote my Trader Joes canvas bag full of pans, oil, and spatulas to and from my dorm to the common room, then make the second trip to get my ingredients. However, once I was in the common room, the place was mine. I would turn on the Food Network on TV and get into the zone. And when I made food, I was not about to boil water and throw in noodles and a mini MSG bomb. No, I have gone too far and too deep to do that.

I would cook chicken wings, slow-cook pulled pork and ribs, fry up onion rings and mac and cheese balls. Once I had pesto spaghetti squash and cauliflower fried rice.

If I gave up my meal plan, I was going to make it worth it. I slowly became known as the floor cook, and people knew when I was in the kitchen because they could smell the onions and garlic down the hall. People even PAID me to cook for them. I would even throw themed dinner parties for my floor. 

How did I do it?

tea, cake, beer, coffee
Samantha Ward

That's right, the Crock Pot. 

This gadget from the gods contributed to literally everything that I made, and it was so convenient. It fit right under my bed and took up no room. I would bring this to the kitchen in the morning before I started my day, throw everything in there, then come back once I was done with the day to a fully-cooked hot meal.

The beauty of this is that it is nearly impossible to burn anything in this, too. Because most meats and vegetables release the water in the cooking process, it keeps everything moist and juicy.

Emily Dwyer

Want pulled pork? Get some pork butt from your grocery store, rub some spices on it (do not be afraid to get down and dirty), then throw that baby in the crock pot and forget about it.

Want some ribs? Get your rack, cut it so that they can fit into the crock pot, pour in your sauce of choice, and by the end of the day get ready to go to flavor town (shout out to my own personal hero, Guy Fieri).

Craving homemade, creamy mac and cheese? Forget the microwave tubs, and just throw some noodles, butter, and cheese into the pot and prepare yourself for some mac that will throw you back.

Emily Dwyer

Some recipes require the food to finish in the oven, such as chicken wings. I prefer my wings to be a bit crispy, so I would start the wings in the crock pot to get them tender and flavorful then re-season them and finish them off in the oven.

The Mini Fridge

snack, Hungry, midnight snack, milk, orange juice, green tea, water, mini fridge, fridge, fruits, Fruit, strawberries, berry, berries, yogurt, strawberry, beer, coffee, tea
Denise Uy

This is essential. My mini fridge did double duty, because not only did it store the crazy amount of food I had but it was the perfect size to be my night stand. Working it was a challenge, and it often felt like a game of tetris when I tried to fit everything in there, but I made it work.

You need this to store all your fresh food so that you can cook it later, and not have to worry about anything going bad. Plus, you need this whenever you need to chill foods between cooking (like mac and cheese for fried mac and cheese balls).

Spatulas, Pots, and Pans (oh my!)

Burnt Pan, Dirty, dirty pan
Jocelyn Hsu

This is obvious. You need these to crisp your veggies, caramelize onions, brown your meat, cook up some eggs, and the list goes on. If your dorm cookware collection has to be limited to one thing, it should be a pan.

Fry, Fry Baby

Emily Dwyer

I actually never used my pots to boil water; I used them to channel my inner SpongeBob and fry up the goods.

Frying in the dorm was tricky. Heating up oil to cooking point takes a while, and prepping the food was messy —especially if you have limited space in the kitchen. Also make sure to watch out for the high smoking point of oil, because it may set off the fire alarm if you are not careful enough. 

Whenever you fry anything you want to make a nice assembly line. Start with the flour, some beaten eggs, and then finish it with another coating of flour (or if you are feeling fancy, panko). Once the dredge is done, carefully place the soon-to-be-crispy food into the hot oil.

You will know it is hot enough when it bubbles up as soon as anything goes into the vat. Wait until it is properly browned, then scoop it up with any metal utensil (please do not put plastic into the hot oil) and place it on a paper towel-lined plate.

Bam. You just made onion rings. Or fried mac and cheese balls. Or crispy fried wings. The results are endless. 

Basic Safety Tips

You can feed yourself healthy and nutritious meals made in your room or in the common kitchen, but be sure to follow some basic safety tips so that you do not accidentally set fire to the dorm:

- Always unplug an appliance when you're done using it, and let it cool completely before storing

- Keep flammable items, like paper and clothing, away from the cooking area

- Pay attention while you're cooking; don't leave the room while the grill is operating or when something is in the microwave

- Try taking this food safety quiz!

And remember, have fun!

Cooking is an amazing and delicious way to experiment and express yourself. Play around with different seasoning combinations or try different cooking techniques for the same dish to see which one you prefer. 

At the end of the day, remember to unplug your crock pot and enjoy the food that you were able to cook up all on your own. 

Go you, you little adult you.