Darn good dorm cooking

all accounts, college dorm food has gotten much better in recent years.

But what about those times you sleep through brunch? Miss lunch because you were hanging out at the library scoping prospective dates? Or maybe you were even studying so hard you forgot to look at the clock and the cafeteria closed.

We can't speak to your school's rules on in-room cooking devices (or how strictly you wish to observe them) but we can offer some decent quickie dining ideas.

Though be warned, like wearing the same sweats to class that you slept in, or using the same plastic cup to drink beer or brush you teeth, some are ideas only a student could love.

"" Ramen Noodles

A college student's best friend, they're cheap, easy and you can spruce them up with just about anything, says Toni Patrick, author of "101 Things To Do With Ramen Noodles" (Gibbs Smith, 2005). Patrick came up with the idea for the book when she was a chemistry major at the University of North Colorado, in Greeley, Colo.

Patrick, now 36, has graduated and moved out of the dorm. But she still experiments with some of her classics, such as a variation of her tuna noodle casserole: cooked ramen topped with a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of peas and warmed in the microwave. Not in the mood for that? She's got 100 more.

One recipe she hasn't tried in a while is a former roommate's creation that became wildly popular among her college friends: ramen topped with Cheez Whiz and crumbled Doritos. Somehow, that didn't make it into the cookbook.

"" Mac Cheese

Patrick doesn't claim to be a chef, but she did have enough thoughts about frugal food fixings to come up with another book, "101 Things To Do With Mac Cheese" (Gibbs Smith, 2007). Her former roommate might be partial to the Frito Pie recipe: mac cheese topped with a can of beanless chili and crumbled Fritos. Nothing says college like chips on the dinner menu.

"" Fruit Smoothies

For healthier fare, all you need is a blender, some yogurt, a banana and whatever other fruit you have on hand, says Daphne Oz, author of "The Dorm Room Diet" (Newmarket Press, 2006) and this year's "The Dorm Room Diet Planner."

If she has it handy, Oz, 21, a senior at New Jersey's Princeton University (and the daughter of Oprah show contributor Dr. Mehmet Oz), likes to add strawberries, a packet of Splenda, two handfuls of ice and some protein powder.

"It's a nice thing to wake up to," she says.

"" Outside-in Panini Pizza

If a George Foreman Grill doesn't get you kicked out of the dorm, that just might be the way to go, says celebrity cook Rachael Ray, whose syndicated daytime show is often playing in the background in dorm rooms across America. For late-night study breaks, the George Foreman Grill doubles as a handy panini press, she says.

Load up both halves of a nice Italian loaf with sun-dried tomatoes, provolone or mozzarella, some basil pesto and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Close the halves and drizzle the outside with a little extra-virgin olive oil, she says, press, and "press-to," you'll have a panini party in your dorm room.

"" Hot Dogs

Neil Monday, a senior computer science major at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., who posted cheap college meal ideas on his blog in May, says simple hamburgers or hot dogs take almost no time to prepare on the Foreman grill. "Then I throw them on sandwich bread," says Monday, 21, because it's cheaper than buying buns.

Fellow penny-pincher Emily Sanders, 19, an education and psychology major at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., was so desperate to cook in her dorm room that she once used a friend's coffee maker to heat water for vegan macaroni-and-cheese made with soymilk. It may not have been her best culinary moment, but it was resourceful. She's since turned to the microwave to make tofu dogs topped with canned chili and melted cheese.

"" Barbecue Chicken Pita Pizza

The only appliances Megan Carle was allowed to have in her dorm room at Arizona State University in Tempe were a microwave and a mini fridge. That didn't stop her and her sister, Jill, from getting creative and coming up with recipes for their book "College Cooking: Feed Yourself and Your Friends" (Ten Speed Press, 2007).

"It's totally different cooking when you're not at home with mom and dad," Megan says. Even away from their parents' stocked fridge, friends from down the hall seem to gather every time they smell signs of the sisters at work.

One of their favorite recipes is Barbecue Chicken Pita Pizza. Megan, a 23-year-old graduate student, usually uses leftover chicken, puts some store-bought barbecue sauce on it, piles it on a pita with some shredded cheese and microwaves it until the cheese melts. If she's feeling fancy, she chops some cilantro and sprinkles it on top.

"" Tortillas

Lauren Sher, 21, a senior civil-engineering major at the University of Florida in Gainesville, always keeps tortillas on hand because they keep well and don't take up much space. One of her favorite lunches is a California Wrap made with tomatoes, avocado, cheese and turkey.

(Sher posts food videos on her Web site (ellemichelle.com) and gives her friends a taste of everything from baked ziti to balsamic shrimp.)

Cash-strapped college students can avoid packing on extra pounds by doing a little planning, like smuggling back ingredients from the campus cafeteria to make a healthy meal later, says Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian and author of "Fighting the Freshman Fifteen" (Three Rivers Press, 2002).

She also recommends students keep tortillas in their rooms. They can be filled with whatever can be brought back from the cafeteria: chopped raw or cooked vegetables, cubed chicken, flaked fish or even canned beans and shredded cheese. Or, she says, a sweet one can be made with peanut butter and jelly or even cream cheese, frozen yogurt or fruit.

"" Island Rice

A smart thing to do if you plan on cooking in your dorm room is to stock up on small items such as dried fruit and nuts that last a long time and can be used in a number of dishes, says Robin Miller, host of Food Network's "Quick Fix Meals."

She recommends making "Island Rice" with Uncle Ben's rice bags (the kind you can fix in the microwave in 90 seconds), topped with nuts, dried fruit and fresh or canned pineapple.

And don't look down on leftovers, she says.

"If you're going to the trouble to make things, one of my whole strategies is making double batches of things," she says. "It will really save you, especially during finals week."

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