Coffeepot Cuisine 

A gourmet's guide to cooking in the privacy of your dorm room.

Cooking in your dorm room is practically illegal. Cal allows only refrigerators and microwaves. Ditto Saint Mary's. Mills College lets you have a coffeemaker, but no microwave. Is it safety guidelines or a fiendish plot to keep you eating at the cafeteria? I know which theory I believe.

Nevertheless, you don't have to order from Domino's just to eat in your room. Most dorm floors have some kind of kitchen, although you may not feel like trekking all the way out there at 3 a.m. -- or perhaps the kitchen has been colonized by the unwashed masses or, worse, pretentious gourmets.

My recommendation would be to sneak a four-cup coffeemaker into your room -- it may just save your life. Here are a few suggestions for meals you can cook in a small coffeemaker, all of which I tried out in the Express Test Kitchens.

Powdered and dried food

Instant oatmeal, miso soup, cup o' lentils, cocoa -- grocers are stocked with freeze-dried instant food, and most natural-foods stores sell bulk-bin instant soups and hummus mix even cheaper. If you're desperate for meat and don't mind sacrificing flavor, you can even go to one of the local camping stores and stock up on packets of $4 chili or stroganoff. If you're going to invest in dried noodles, forget Top Ramen. I know it's four for a buck, but for less than a buck apiece you can get Korean, Japanese, or Thai brands that are not just edible but decent (I survived on Korean ramen one semester, alternating kimchi and black-bean-sauce flavors). Head to one of the nearest Asian markets and stock up.

Eggs

Hard-boiling eggs in a four-cup coffeemaker is easy -- since the water doesn't fully boil, it just takes a little longer. Pour three cups of water into the machine, then put two or three eggs (room temperature if possible) in the pot. Switch it on. Eighteen to twenty minutes after the water fills the pot, run to the bathroom and pour off the hot water, replacing it with cold. When the eggs have cooled, you can peel and eat them -- in fact, the yolks will have stayed golden, instead of turning gray-green and sulphury. Paul Bocuse would approve. You can poach an egg in a coffeemaker, too, though it's a little more tricky. A slotted spoon helps. Pour three cups of water into the machine and switch it on. As soon as the pot fills with hot water, remove it, lift the lid, and with a spoon stir up a small whirlpool (it helps keep the whites together). Gently crack a room-temperature egg and delicately open up the shell as close to the water's surface as you can. Let the yolk sink to the bottom, then put the pot back on the heat element. After five to six minutes, check the eggs by lifting them gently with a slotted spoon and jiggling. As soon as the last bit of white around the yolk firms up and the surface of the yolk starts getting solid, you're ready to salt the eggs and eat them over English muffins. You can probably cook two eggs at once, but you'll have to start each new batch with freshly heated water.

Meat

Hot dogs or soy dogs are easy, if not particularly exciting -- pour three cups of water into the machine, then cut up a couple of room-temperature dogs and put them in the pot. Switch it on and let the pot fill up. Heat five or six minutes, then dig in. Now, the truly adventurous can poach chicken, though I'd recommend you use ultrafresh free-range chicken just to reduce your chances of getting sick. Again, use three cups of water. Cut a raw, defrosted chicken breast into quarter-inch slices (make sure to wash your knife and cutting board with soap and hot water). Put the raw chicken into the empty pot, and crumble a bouillon cube overtop for flavor. I added a garlic clove and a few slices of fresh ginger to my broth, too, but I'm a pretentious gourmet and I've got a real kitchen. Switch the machine on and cook six to eight minutes after the pot fills. The flesh should be completely opaque.

Poached chicken is quite tender, actually, and needs only a little salt or perhaps a little soy-chile dipping sauce to make a meal. Throw in a couple of green beans, broccoli florets, or baby bok choy leaves, and you have a dorm-style boiled dinner. Now, if you could only sneak in a rice cooker, you could steam fish, cook stews, and bake a cake. Honest.

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