Cooking up some creativity

Illustration by Keryn Brenzel

The world was your oyster between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., the wondrous hours where you were granted the options of not only eating at Eickhoff, but three other dining locals, for “free.” Oh, how glorious meal equiv was … in theory. After moving off campus, you’ll learn that real options (non-Sodexo options) open with an oven, stove, cabinet space and (gasp) a full-sized refrigerator.

Initially, you may find that you have fallen too easily into routine. You buy the same groceries to make the same staple meals. Frozen foods have become your friend. As a vegetarian, I survived last semester on veggie burgers and omelets alone. With busy schedules and scarce spare time, feeding yourself with a varied and balanced diet may become secondary. Your sense of what constitutes a meal may become warped and disturbing. Peanut butter on crackers isn’t a meal. Goldfish (the cracker, not the animal, for you sick, literal minded people) don’t count as a side dish. As a general rule, Pop-Tarts and candy-hearts are not dinner material. Different colored sprinkles don’t qualify as “variety” in your diet. To avoid these misconceptions, try to incorporate the following methods and items into your kitchen.

Be a mad scientist

You don’t have to be an expert chef to try meals outside the Lean Cuisine box. I recommend investing in a cookbook of simple recipes. Several cookbooks cater specifically to the college crowd, a.ka. sleep-deprived, Ramen Noodle fiends and nocturnal creatures, providing simple, quick meals. One example is “The Starving Students’ Cookbook,” which?is really easy to use (I have the vegetarian version. Thanks, Mom).

Finding new recipes and then altering them according to your own tastes and supplies can yield awesome results. Recipes leave lots of room for experimentation. For instance, I make fakittos* (fake burritos), with fake ground beef (Bocca Meatless Ground Crumbles work well), peppers, onions, tofu, refried beans, taco seasoning, salsa and pepper jack cheese on a whole wheat tortilla. If I can do it, anyone can.

Hail, George Foreman

My George Foreman Grill saved my life. I’m not one to praise appliances (while I’m at it, toaster ovens are superior in every way to regular toasters. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), but George fulfills so many culinary needs. Grilled sandwiches, vegetables, quesadillas, hamburgers (veggie burgers), bacon (fakon), burritos*, chicken (ficken?) and anything you are too lazy to fry, bake or cook; it’s magical. The grill is easy to clean and significantly cuts down on cooking time.

Stock up!

Coming from a family that talks with their hands, I am a firm believer in pasta. Having a consistent stock of noodles and sauce allows for backup, simple meals to make. And if you are feeling adventurous, you can always concentrate your energy on making different sauces (pesto is so simple and delicious. Opting for the premade cans is just a crime). Also stock up on canned soups or vegetable/chicken broth as another possible default meal. If you make the soup yourself, make it in large quantities, so that you can freeze and store the soup for future meals. Leftovers are your friends. Your only friends.

One beautiful thing about living off campus is that junk food isn’t readily available unless you make it so. There isn’t a freezer full of Ben & Jerry’s waiting to be swapped for points, nor are there trays full of Eickhoff crack cookies. If you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it. If you purchase healthy snacks (baby carrots are my personal crack), then that is what you will eat. I’ve survived this year without buying butter. Cool, right? I forgot to mention, that another result of living off campus is you will begin congratulating yourself on marginally admirable achievements and spend an unhealthy amount of time discussing groceries.

Katie Brenzel can be reached at brenzel2@tcnj.edu.