Tuesday, August 6, 2013

College Cooking

By Blake Eaton

I’ll admit it: I had it easy during my freshman year of college. I had a meal plan. That meant two meals a day at a dining hall I rather liked, and I didn’t have to cook myself a single meal. As my parents said at the time, it was a sweet gig.

Many freshmen at UTD will find themselves in a similar position. This year, though, I’ll be living in an apartment. This time, I’ll have to cook my own meals. It’s a bit of a scary thought. As much as I excel at academics, and as much as I know about staying fit, I’m not what you would call a natural born chef.

Fortunately, I had the whole summer to dwell on the problem of staying fed during the school year, and I came up with a simple solution: Stock up on Ramen!

Not really. As someone with a family history of every chronic disease under the sun, I know that daily exercise alone won’t save me from illnesses like diabetes and cardiac disorders. Stuffing down a ton of easy-to-make junk food down my throat simply won’t do. Instead, I needed a real, serious solution.

It turns out that I can explain that solution in just one word: Practice. Practice, practice, practice. Since I returned home for the summer, I’ve been cooking all manner of dishes, from cream-filled cannolis to chicken fried rice. It started a bit rough, but now I know that even if I can’t quite match the versatility of an experienced cook, I’ll be eating much more than cereal and potato chips come the fall semester.

The summer is quickly fading away, but anyone who’s leaving home for the coming school year should do the same. Start cooking now. Have someone help you, if necessary. My mom stood by me as I cooked many a dinner this summer, but I wouldn’t have been able to start without that initial supervision. Maybe I would’ve ruined the recipe. Maybe I would’ve undercooked the food. With as many disaster scenarios as there are, I was glad to have a little help.

That brings me to yet another recommendation. It goes against every fiber of my being, as I love a good rare steak, but when you’re learning to cook, err on the side of overcooking. The reasoning is easy to follow. If you overcook your food, it might taste a bit bland or feel chewy. Worst-case scenario, it’ll be somewhat burnt. Either outcome is unpleasant, but it’s survivable.

Compare that to undercooking. The second time I tried cooking fried rice, I didn’t let the chicken cook for long enough. For the rest of the day, I was in agony. That was a good outcome compared to what could have happened. I could’ve gotten food poisoning.

Fortunately, both lessons found in this blog can be summed up in one tidy phrase: Don’t cook too little. Just keep cooking and you can’t go wrong.

Unless your food is on fire. Don’t let that happen.

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