College dorm life: Cooking ideas for small kitchens and first apartments

Paris' Small Kitchens

Small Kitchens (Photo credit: Thomas Faivre-Duboz)

Whether you religiously DVR the Cooking Channel or you’re simply sick and tired of so-so pizza from a box, you can turn the tiniest space into a meal-producing wonder room. Dorm life doesn’t have to mean bad takeout. Read on for how to make the most of your dorm or apartment kitchen, as well as a whole host of cooking ideas for small kitchens.

What you need

Don’t know a mandoline from a zester? Never fear. Even if you have never boiled water, you can learn to make a meal. Small kitchens are the bane of dorm life, but don’t let that deter you either. New York residents Phoebe Lapine and Cara Eisenpress, the folks at the Big Girls Small Kitchen blog and now of the book In the Small Kitchen, know about making the most of a small kitchen.
One place to start is finding the right tools. This important topic is covered in “How to: Choose Small Kitchen Appliances” posted by Cara Eisenpress on March 2, 2012. What are some of the items that make the cut as “essential” when space is at a premium?

  1. Slow cooker (aka the crock pot)
  2. Mini food processor
  3. Electric tea kettle
  4. Toaster (not a toaster oven, and one wide enough to hold a bagel)
  5. Handheld mixer
  6. Immersion blender

Small appliances

Big Girls Small Kitchen covers everything from prep basics, such as how to scramble an egg, to  more advanced offerings, like how to host a theme party. They also offer a contributor-fueled college section, Small Kitchen College, which focuses on the food needs and space restraints college students face. It’s written by the people in the know — college students.

Cooking smart

Deb Perelman, blogger at the Smitten Kitchen, makes the most of her 42-square-foot New York kitchen everyday. She offers tips on how owners of small kitchens can do the same in her November 3, 2008 post “How to max our your tiny kitchen.”

Her suggestions include:

  • Add a table or island for additional counter space in whatever room you have
  • Keep that extra counter space cleared off; store things on shelves instead
  • Clean out the appliances/gadgets that you don’t absolutely have to have
  • Cook neatly by doing your prep before you cook and cleaning as you go
  • Stay positive — as Perelman says, “People cook all over the world with less space — and fewer gadgets (though I think I will sob if my Microplane ever breaks up with me) than we do every day.”

Recipe ideas

Your kitchen space may be small, but your ambition is large. If this sums up your culinary reality, then it is time to focus on more challenging menus. Perelman’s blog is an ideal spot to scout out recipes from the easy to the gourmet. Her photos will make you wish you could teleport the food from your computer screen. But perhaps best of all, her recipes are organized so that no matter what you are searching for, you can find it quickly and easily.

Need an idea for the exchange student from Russia down the hall? She’s got it. Did you go crazy buying leeks at the farmer’s market? Perelman’s got you covered. Need to make a cake for a special occasion, want the perfect winter meal, not sure how to cook gluten-free? She’s got layer cake tips, foods fit for hibernation and recipes without a speck of gluten.

Small Kitchen College offers its own diverse recipe options centered under topics such as “Campus Cooking,” “Healthy Recipes” and “Cooking 101.” Dorm life may be a challenge, but don’t let small kitchens add to your stress. With a little creativity you can come up with all kinds of cooking ideas that are sure to beat the offerings at the dining hall or fast food joint on the corner.

3 replies
  1. Filiberto Shinney says:

    People often add too much salt in their recipes without realizing it until it’s too late, but do not worry. There is a way to fix this! Add two peeled and chopped raw potatoes to the dish, and then allow it to simmer for around 15 minutes. The potatoes help absorb the extra salt. For a dish that is tomato-based, just put a few more tomatoes in and let them cook until they’re tender. These will dilute the extra salt.

  2. Sika says:

    Cooking in a small space can be fun, it’s just about knowing what you want to cook and what kind of utensils you really need. So many kitchen tools are just kinda decoration, you only use them maybe once a year or so. A small kitchen makes you really aware of what you need.


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