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College Cooking

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A photo of UMass Dining workers with the text, College Cooking.

As much as I love food, especially the number one campus dining offered here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I am an awful cook. I do not even think that I am capable of cooking a simple dish at the moment, that is how awful I am. Given that I am moving away on my own this summer for work, I am scrambling to learn how to cook before I starve to death or run solely on carry out. Thankfully, my wonderful friends that live off-campus treat me to their phenomenal cooking whenever I come over. Over this semester, I have been shadowing each meal preparation so that I can to finally teach myself how to cook.

UMass Dining is undoubtedly an integral part of campus life, serving delicious food in four residential dining commons (DCs), 12 eateries at the Campus Center, 20+ cafes, The University Club, Concessions, two food trucks, and through the Catering Department. But there is still plenty of opportunity on campus to cook for yourself. Each dorm is equipped with a stocked kitchen, giving residents the ability to cook whenever they please. Let’s explore what college cooking is like here at UMass Amherst. 

How easy was it to find the ingredients you wanted in the Amherst area?

From what I have been told and experienced, it is rather easy to find the ingredients you desire in the Amherst area. With many local farms such as Simple GiftsRed FireAtkins, and Maple Farm Foods to name a few, there are plenty of fresh, organic, sustainable food options in the Amherst area to meet any of your cooking needs. 

While Amherst does have a strong local farming presence, there are also plenty of chain grocery stores in the area if you are looking for more generalized ingredients. The Amherst area is home to the Big Y, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and even Target and Walmart. With so many options, you are bound to find whatever you may be searching for to craft the perfect dish.

What do you do when the cooking goes all wrong?

Cooking can be frustrating at times, especially for someone like me who is terrible at it. Regardless, it is completely normal for cooking to go all wrong. One time, when one of my friends was preparing to cook some turkey burgers, she put the meat in the microwave to defrost it. As you may have expected, it was left in a little too long, thus ruining the meat completely. How did we deal with this problem? We simply packed into a car, bought new meat, and started the process all over again. This may have pushed back our mealtime and made us all incredibly hungry, but that was nothing a few snacks could not fix.

While it may have been annoying to have to go out and spend more money on a key ingredient, I learned that it is best not to stress out about it too much and just go with the flow. Cooking should be fun and stress-free. Trust me, when you are learning to cook you are going to make a lot of mistakes. Try not to get too frustrated and take each mistake as a learning experience, and a very funny memory. When all else fails, accept defeat and order take out!

Are there certain comfort foods that are your go-tos? 

Mac and Cheese: Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? The dish is so simple and easy that even someone with terrible cooking skills like myself cannot mess up. After a long day of classes, nothing beats a warm bowl of mac and cheese with some hot sauce to top it all off. 

Turkey Burgers: As someone who is not the biggest fan of red meat, I love turkey as an alternative. Turkey burgers are simple, delicious, and do not take that long to make. If you are a big burger fan, why not switch it up with a turkey burger instead?

Swedish Meat Balls: Who does not love a nice warm bowl of spaghetti and meatballs? One night for dinner a friend of mine decided to make Swedish meatballs instead, and they did not disappoint in the slightest. Not only were they easy to make, but they were also super delicious as well. I highly suggest trying them out!

Buffalo Chicken Dip:  Hands down my absolute favorite comfort food. Nothing beats a warm bowl of buffalo chicken dip and a great night with friends. Not only is the dish super easy to make, but it is also great at parties, and there are so many possibilities of other food to dip in it. I highly suggest trying celery and wheat thins with it the next time you try out this dish! 


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