College is a time about finding independence, and it is also about finding yourself. The first time I really felt independent was this year, junior year. During junior year most college students live off campus in an apartment, and for the first time, they get a real sense of freedom through experimenting in the kitchen. The last couple of months I have learned to love cooking independently.

chicken, broccoli
Melissa Gallanter

I have never really enjoyed cooking, or taken an interest in it, but this year I have been constantly experimenting in the kitchen to keep things interesting, and to stay within my budget. Since I grew up in New York City, our dinner was ordering in, and on a rare occasions, my dad would make burgers or grilled chicken. If there was any cooking in the Dennis household it was either very basic, very simple, or just gross. So, at first, cooking in my apartment was a challenge, but now it is a fun activity that I share with my roommates.

Victoria Murphy

Through the help of my friends, food inspiration online, and constantly calling my grandma who is a true chef, I have been able to have some fun in the kitchen over the last month. I didn't think I would be able to cook on my own, but now it has become a new form of relaxation for me.

One of my favorite dishes that I have experimented with is Chicken Parm Stuffed Peppers. My good friend, Olivia Rose, was able to help me turn this dream dish of mine into a reality, and it was truly amazing and very restaurant-like. The contrast between the crunchy peppers, the soft melted mozzarella, and fresh tomato sauce made for an unforgettable home-cooked meal. The cooking process was very simple and had four basic steps:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, in a large bowl, combine 2 cups mozzarella with some parmesan, garlic, marinara, parsley, and red pepper flakes, and some salt and pepper. Stir until combined, then gently fold in chicken.

2) Spoon mixture into halved bell peppers, and sprinkle remaining cup of mozzarella over top, and cover with foil.

3) Bake until peppers are tender, usually 55 minutes to 1 hour.

4) Garnish with parsley and more parmesan, and serve.

Madeline Dennis

Another popular and easy dinner dish is Cauliflower Pizza. At Wegman’s, you can purchase cauliflower crust and then make it your own. Load it up with your favorite sauces: pesto, tomato, vodka sauce, and go crazy with toppings. My personal favorite is to use pesto sauce, parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and add a splash of truffle oil.

In preparation for this article, I spoke to my friends to get their opinions on junior year, and on the importance of being creative in the kitchen. Most people agreed that it has been fun, and that the food and this new cooking experience is so much better than eating in the dining hall. Most students I have talked to enjoy cooking because they like the hands-on experience, and they are now more health-conscious.

My friend Emily Waldman’s go-to dinner-meal is to purchase the pre-seasoned Wegman’s Greek Turkey Burgers. They are made with baby spinach, bread crumbs, feta, oregano, and cracked pepper, and they are truly unbelievable. “I usually pair the turkey burgers with grilled veggies. It is an easy go-to meal that I never get sick of,” she claims. I have tried these burgers myself, and they are now an item I never leave Wegman’s without.

Katie Coviello

Although, there are only two months left of this semester, I am excited to continue to experiment in the kitchen, and to try more new dishes on my own. I have also inspired both of my parents to try some of the dishes that I have made at school, and let’s just say they too have had quite the new experience in the kitchen!