Not Your Average Dinner from the Mess Hall

Recently, I found out that my blog had been nominated for an award!  The Top Foodie Blog Award, presented by eCollegeFinder, an online education source which represents over 120 accredited online institutions.  In 2010, eCollegeFinder began hosting a series of Top Blogger Awards and the winners are listed on their website to provide students with a pool of resources to help them get through their college years.

The Top Foodie Blogs Award was created to provide students with a collection of blogs that will give them all the cooking knowledge they need – whether they are moms returning to school who have a family to feed, or students who are freshly out on their own and missing home-cooked meals.  After being nominated for a Top Foodie Blog Award, I wanted to create a post dedicated to this!

With the start of the new school year, I thought I would implement a few recipes for a dinner that is sure to please your college roommates -- with little to no cash needed!  However, you will need a few tupperware containers, a meal-plan, and a place to house all of the kids on your floor who will sniff out your dorm room and want to eat!  I want to break it down to what you'll need from the school cafeteria, and what you'll need to pick up at the store.  My goal is create a meal that is made up of 75% of cafeteria food, and 25% store-bought food, saving you time and money at the grocery store.  I plan to create a menu that only requires $25 of store-bought items, but is still delicious!  (Oil & Vinegar and Dry Spices are freebies!)

*Disclaimer* - Don't expect these meals to be too figure-friendly.  When you are using items from the campus cafeteria, instead of preparing things from scratch on your own, it is difficult to know exactly what is in it, including the calorie count as well as the fat content.  But they don't call it the Freshman Fifteen for nothing...

Today's "Mess-Hall Meal":
Meat Lover's Pizza 
(Stock up on about 2-3 pieces)
Chicken Fingers 
(4-6 chicken fingers)
Broccoli Cheddar Soup 
(Small container)
Salad Bar 
(Tomatoes, Onions, Fresh Spinach, Bleu Cheese)
Vegetable Station 
(A few heaping tablespoons of corn)

Tonight's Party Menu:
Italian Stuffed Mushrooms
Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas
Macaroni & Cheese Casserole
Roasted Corn & Tomato Salsa

Things You'll Need from the Store:
Portobello Mushroom Caps, Large, Wiped and Stemmed ($2.99)
Flour Tortillas ($3.99)
Frank's Buffalo Sauce ($2.99)
1-lb. Ditalini Pasta or Orzo Noodles ($1.00)
Butter ($2.50)
Basil Leaves & Cilantro ($1.99)
Black Beans, small can ($1.99)
Spaghetti Sauce, small can ($.85)
Parmesan Cheese, grated ($3.50)
Mozzarella Cheese, shredded ($3.50)
Cheddar Cheese Block, cubed ($2.50)
Total: Approximately $27.80  (I'm a few dollars over the $25 mark)

These recipes are meant to be quick and easy.  A few steps and little use of pots, pans, and large serving dishes.  I will try my hardest to keep it simple! (No room for complicated in the dorm, right?)

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms:
Use the leftover pizza slices and dice them into small cubes.  Use only half of the crust, or less, since it's much thicker.  Coat the bottom of a frying pan with some EVOO, about 2 turns of the pan.  Toss in the fresh spinach and fresh tomatoes from the salad bar. When spinach is wilted, toss in the pieces of pizza cubes, and chiffonade the basil and wilt that in as well.  Whisk in about 4-ounces of spaghetti sauce, 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, and some parmesan cheese. Season to taste. After it all comes together, fill the mushroom caps. Top with a generous helping of mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle with parmesan, and drizzle the top with EVOO.  Put in the oven until cheese is melted, on 375-degrees, for about 15-20 minutes.

Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas:
Use the chicken fingers and toss in a bowl with Frank's buffalo sauce.  Put the coated chicken in a screaming-hot frying pan, to reheat, and to let the chicken breading really take on the buffalo sauce.  After 2 or 3 minutes in the pan, when it appears the hot sauce is starting to caramelize on the chicken, take fingers out of the pan, and slice into small strips or cubes.  Toss together with Bleu Cheese crumbles from the salad bar.  Put one flour tortilla in a pan with the heat on medium-high.  Cover the tortilla with mozzarella & cheddar cheeses, and arrange pieces of chicken on top.  Cover with a little more cheese (I'm a cheese lover) and then put a tortilla on top.  After 5 or so minutes, flip the quesadilla and brown the opposite side.  When the tortillas are crispy, remove from pan, and using a pizza cutter or large knife, cut into triangles and serve with Bleu Cheese crumbles on top.

Macaroni & Cheese Casserole:
Bring a pot of orzo or ditalini to a boil.  Meanwhile, put broccoli-cheese soup from lunch into a sauce pan.  Add 6-ounces of cubed cheddar cheese, a few cubes at a time, whisking vigorously until cheese is incorporated throughout and thickens the sauce.  Drain pasta and toss with butter, another 6-ounces of cubed cheddar, and stir for about 5 minutes, or until all cheese and butter is melted.  Add soup mixture to pasta, mix well, and transfer to large pyrex dish.  Top with shredded cheese (whichever you have left) and bake until bubbling.

Roasted Corn and Tomato Salsa:
Use corn from the vegetable section of the cafeteria.  Dice tomatoes and onions from the salad bar.  Spread corn, tomatoes, and onions on a baking sheet and coat with EVOO, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cumin.  (Fresh garlic works better, but I'm trying to save you money!)  Roast in the oven until the tomatoes are wilted and the corn has been charred.  Toss together with chopped cilantro, black beans (make sure they are rinsed thoroughly), and a touch of red wine vinegar.  Serve with tortilla chips!

Now, I know leaving with like, 5 or 6 tupperware containers from the cafeteria won't make you the most desirable college kid.  You can fix this problem by getting your friends to all carry one container in their bag, or, you can stock up over a few days.  Or, just make one meal per day.  It's entirely up to you and your friends.  If you make any of these and run into problems or suggestions, feel free to comment, and I will answer as soon as I see it!  Enjoy :)


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