Indeed, now that you have some convenient staples and snacks on-hand, you'll want to "kick it up a notch," to quote the great Emeril. One cannot live on oatmeal, granola bars, and whole-grain crackers alone.
From a foodie perspective, Trap Landry, executive chef at the Black Point Inn in Scarborough, advises students to stick to cooking basic dishes based on boiling water, and then put a spin on them. "It's almost like going on a vegetarian diet," he says. "You're going to ruin any piece of meat." But steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, and scrambled eggs ("if you're careful") work well in a microwave too.
Using a ratio of two cups couscous to two-and-a-half cups water, Landry recommends boiling the water in the microwave then pouring it over the grains; throw in anything you have on hand to add flavor — spinach, garlic, fresh herbs, butter — and let it sit with a cover over it until cooked through.
Stocking your pantry with canned beans, corn chips, nuts, peanut butter, and flavorful additions like roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, sauces, and spices will increase your options for a quick, easy meal. "Black beans from Goya with cheese and corn chips is a solid meal," says Landry, a Texas native who also favors homemade nachos. "You can buy so many things in cans now that are quality," he adds.
Cheese is also a must. "What I do with mac n' cheese to make it a little better, even with Kraft mac n' cheese, is put a little bit of bleu cheese into it. That makes a huge difference. Or ham — anything smoky with cheese is good," he says.
When it comes to cooking with microwaves, temperatures in each vary, so there aren't any across-the-board techniques to learn. There's a lot of trial and error involved. "When I was in college, one of the guys in the dorm room next to me decided we were going to have chicken noodle soup, and he put it in his coffee pot," Landry recalls. The result was a broken coffee pot and a barely edible soup.
If you don't have the time to play around, there are always cold foods to rely on. Students can make an upscale, hearty salad meal just by mixing tastes and textures. Landry likes to throw in nuts and cheese, and in the Inn's dining room, he uses combinations like pecans and Stilton, and walnuts and goat cheese. Hard cheeses like Parmesan and Pecorino Romano are expensive upfront, but a little goes a long way, and they can keep well in the refrigerator when tightly wrapped.
Landry's last words of advice? Drink plenty of water and take Emergen-C packets for energy and nutrition. You'll need to offset the beer.
Photo: Margo Roy
GO GOURMET Try Chef Steve Corry's recipe instead of a box.
Top Chef: College Edition
A foodie's easy mac n' cheese
Cooking, like sports or picking up an attractive mate at a kegger, has a lot to do with confidence. Yes, it's hard to be confident without a stove, but don't let yourself get intimidated. As you get going, you'll also need to try new things and push yourself, and in Portland, aspiring chefs and gourmands don't have to look far for inspiration.