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College cooking beyond ramen

To save money and time, many college students cook creatively in their dorms.

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For Slotkin, cooking nutritious meals is possible because her dorm features a kitchenette in each room. She and her roommate shop for groceries every week.

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Other schools offer shared kitchens. Saint Joseph College in West Hartford, Conn., has added new suite-style residence halls that provide eight to 10 students with their own kitchens. And at Sarah Lawrence College, all students have access to cooking facilities in common areas of residence halls. "In the interests of sustainability, we discourage small individual refrigerators as they are huge energy users," says Micheal Rengers, vice president of operations.

A few colleges even give cooking classes. A popular program sponsored by residence assistants at Delaware Valley College teaches students how to cook creatively and nutritiously with microwaves. Each room is equipped with a micro-fridge – a small fridge-freezer-microwave combination.

When schools allow appliances, Stern recommends those that turn themselves off. "Most rice cookers have a mechanism inside that detects when food is cooked enough," she says. "Then it switches to warming mode."

In the cooking classes she conducts for college-bound high school seniors, Stern points out the versatility of appliances. "We made an amazing Greek lemon soup called avgolemono in a rice cooker," she says. "You can even cook pasta in it." She likes blenders for making hummus, which she calls a high-protein, low-fat snack.

Even as students savor the pleasure of dorm cooking, some schools are revamping dining halls and menus to give them fresh appeal and greater sophistication. "The level of culinary literacy has definitely been elevated in the last 10 years as students have lived or traveled in other parts of the world," says Monica Zimmer of Sodexo, which handles food service for 600 campuses.

Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., renovated the dining hall this past summer to make it more convenient. Instead of traditional cafeteria lines and precooked foods, the dining room offers cooked-to-order items at food stations – a trend in the industry. It serves continuously from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. – no separate breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours – to accommodate both early risers and athletes eating dinner late in the evening after practice.

Yet dormitory dining retains an irresistible appeal for students such as Kristopher Zelesky, a sophomore at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. "For my family and me, dinner has always been intimate, social, and nourishing," he says. "Many of my friends come from similar families. We re-create the institution in our dorm room, cooking each other meals and sharing some of our favorite recipes on the weekends."

Although Slotkin sometimes eats in the dining hall, she prefers to prepare her own meals. "The dorm kitchens are only beneficial if you use them," she says. "Otherwise they're a waste of space."

The Greek name of this soup is avgolemono.

8 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup Italian pastina (tiny pasta)

2 large eggs

Juice of 1 to 2 lemons

Salt and white pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives for garnish (optional)

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a rice cooker. Add the pastina and simmer until tender.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until frothy and thoroughly mix in the lemon juice. Slowly add a ladleful of the soup to the egg mixture and mix thoroughly.

Pour this back into the rice cooker slowly, still stirring constantly. Taste and add salt and white pepper to taste.

Switch the rice cooker to "warm" and cook soup gently, stirring all the time, until it thickens. 8 servings.

– Recipe courtesy of Michelle Stern.