Cooking Corner

    By the time spring quarter rolls around, or so the story goes, you do not get “used to” dorm food — you just get sick of it.

    Jennifer Downs
    Guardian

    Contrary to common misconceptions, you do not have to be a great cook to make a few of your own dishes once you’re sick of the dining halls. With with a crock pot, you can pretty much throw together anything, let it simmer for a few hours, and end up with a respectable dish.

    In stores, a three- or four-quart crock pot will cost you roughly $30. Olé, the online Earl’s Place store, sells a 7-quart pot for $65.99, which is not a bad price, and definitely worth buying if the cost is split between roommates.

    Smaller crock pots have only two temperatures, “on” and “off,” so making dishes with them is practically foolproof. The philosophy of crock pot cooking is that, due to the many hours of simmering, whatever you are cooking will absorb the individual tastes of each ingredient.

    Because of this attractive idea, soups are a particularly easy way to start experimenting with, and tend to turn out well. Of course, a recipe might take a while to perfect, so several students tested sample recipes and rated them on a scale of one to 10.

    When John Muir College freshman Jesse Rodriguez sampled a vegetable soup, which he ranked an 8.59, his suggestion was to “add meat.” However, his attempt to make a chicken and rice soup only earned a 6.39 (his suggestion included “lose the chicken”). But perfecting a recipe is half the fun. For the most part, it’s hard to go wrong with Revelle Plaza Cafe’s rotisserie chicken. Soup broth can be bought at grocery stores (Trader Joe’s makes excellent organic chicken and vegetable broths), made either from bouillon cubes or from scratch. Most vegetables taste delicious in soups, as well. For instance, you may never have had a turnip, but you would be surprised at the great flavor it adds to a soup.

    Dessert items can be slightly riskier. Muir freshman Zhi-Ren Liang wasn’t so impressed with a rice pudding attempt — after trying it and ranking it a 1.07, he was reconsidering investing in a crock pot. “The rice pudding was not encouraging,” he said. (Ouch.) However, the crock pots were redeemed with apples sauteed with butter, sugar and cinnamon, served with vanilla ice cream and crushed Nilla Wafers (graham cracks would be good too). Muir freshmen Scott Hogan and Johnny Tran — both of whom rated the dessert a nine and christened it the “Apple Cobbler Supreme X5 2004” (presumably, a compliment) — were surprised to find that the ingredients were available for purchase with UCSD dining dollars. Earlier, both had credited “anything from Summit” among their least favorite foods on campus.

    After first trying a crock-pot-made vegetable soup, Muir freshman Marlene Zacharia wasn’t so convinced that a crock pot would be a worthwhile investment — particularly from Online Earl’s. “I’ve spent enough on rip-off dining dollars already,” she said. After the chicken and rice soup, though, Zacharia was willing to consider shelling out the money. And the Apple Cobbler Supreme X5 2004 only pushed her over the edge.

    After a few taste-tests, Muir freshman Sarah Pollak was also a fan. “You can make healthier food [in the crock pot] than in the dining halls, and the food is better, also,” she said.

    Tried and tested crock pot recipes to try out at home or in your dorm:

    BASIC CHICKEN BROTH

    Ingredients: Whole cloves of garlic (to taste), a whole onion, carrots, celery, chicken bones.

    Instructions: Fill a crock pot with water and add all the ingredients. Let the mix simmer for six to eight hours. (It may sound like a long time, but it’s really only 10 minutes prep time; the crock pot does all the work for you.)

    CHICKEN AND RICE SOUP

    Ingredients: Chicken broth (see above), Revelle Plaza Cafe rotisserie chicken, onions, celery, carrots, rice and spices.

    Instructions: Simmer chicken with broth, onions and carrots for one to two hours. Add celery and simmer for a half hour more. Add rice. Spice to taste.

    Average score: 8.6

    Comments: “Add more spices.” — Morgan Sildorff, Muir sophomore

    APPLE COBBLER SUPREME X5 2004

    Ingredients: Apples, butter, sugar and cinnamon.

    Instructions: Sautee ingredients together in crock pot for an hour. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and crushed graham crackers or Nilla Wafers.

    Average score: 9.5

    Comments: “You know, there’s no way you could’ve gone wrong with this one.” — Jesse Rodriguez, Muir freshman

    RICE PUDDING

    Ingredients: Water, rice, butter, sugar, cinnamon, whole milk and raisins.

    Instructions: Combine roughly 1.5 cups of hot water with a dash each of milk, butter, sugar and salt. Heat, then add a little less than 1.5 cups of rice and cook until rice is soft. Add whole milk, butter, sugar and cinnamon to taste.

    Average score: 4.51

    Comments: “Try something else.” — Eric Min, Muir college freshman

    VEGETABLE SOUP

    Ingredients: Broth, tomato soup and any kind of vegetable you can find at Ralphs or on-campus eateries. Onions, carrots and celery are staples; experiment with garbanzo beans, turnips and broccoli or whatever else looks exciting. Parsley, rosemary and other spices add flavor as well.

    Instructions: Simmer ingredients together for two to three hours. If you want rice or noodles, add them, unprepared, 20 to 30 minutes before you’ve finished simmering the soup. This soup is excellent with cubes of melted jack cheese.

    Average score: 7.9

    Comments: “Use smaller potato chunks. Crushed rosemary sprinkled on would sharpen the taste.” — Zhi-Rhen Liang, John Muir College freshman

    SAUTEED VEGETABLES

    Ingredients: Vegetable broth, butter, parmesan cheese, garlic salt, and vegetables (available at on-campus salad bars). Chopped onions add a nice flavor. Spinach and mushrooms sautee well; experiment with whatever’s there.

    Instructions: Heat butter, broth and parmesan for 20 minutes, then add vegetables. As a general rule, larger/thicker vegetables such as carrots or potatoes should be added before something like spinach or thinly-sliced mushrooms. Spice to taste.

    Average score: 8.7

    Comments: “Less buttery would be good.” — Sarah Pollak, Muir freshman.

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