Do-it-yourself three-course meal in a mug

I come from a family of cooks and eaters. We are always passing around new recipes and trying out new things in the kitchen, so food experiments are a bit of a hobby of mine. I have never lived on campus, but I wanted to see if, using the limitations of on-campus living, I could create food that is easy to make and tastes good—this is the result. Using simple ingredients and four mugs, I made a three-course Mexican-inspired meal, and I am going to show you how to do the same. I used a 700-watt microwave, so be aware that higher powered microwaves will probably require less cooking time. The latter two recipes were adapted from online sources, but this first one I created on my own. I’m a big fan of polenta, a coarsely ground dried corn grit that is surprisingly versatile and easy to make in the microwave. Polenta has a subtle nutty taste and can be made in different degrees of firmness. This recipe creates very firm polenta, but if you prefer something softer and creamier, that can easily be achieved by adding milk a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Normally I make polenta with Italian flavors to accompany it, but I thought that doing something with a different flavor profile could work, and I was pleased with the result. I added cumin, which I usually put in my enchilada sauce, directly to the polenta before cooking to make sure the flavor was noticeable. The black beans and corn help to add some mild flavor and texture to the recipe, while the cheese helps to increase the creaminess of the polenta once it has been cooked.

The mugs I used in this recipe (which I found at the dollar store!) are pretty big—they hold about 20 ounces, so this was quite a bit of food. Polenta is pretty heavy and filling, so next time I will cut the ingredients in half and make it in a smaller mug. It tasted great though, and is something that I am likely to make again.

Enchilada Polenta with Black Beans and Corn

Ingredients: ¼ cup coarsely ground polenta 1 cup water ¼ tsp. salt ¾ tsp. cumin pinch granulated garlic pinch fresh cracked pepper 1-3 tbs. shredded cheese 3/8 cup black beans, canned 1/4 cup sweet corn, canned

Combine ground polenta, water and spices in microwave-safe mug. Stir with a fork, then microwave for about five minutes, stopping half way to stir. Cooking times will change depending on the wattage of your microwave. It took me about six minutes to cook the polenta.

As soon as the polenta is done, stir in the cheese, beans and corn. The polenta will be very hot, so the beans and corn will heat up and help bring everything down to a temperature that won’t burn your tongue. If you want, add a little extra cheese and enjoy!

If you want it to look fancy, heat up a tablespoon of beans and a teaspoon of corn. Put the beans on top in a small pile and then layer the corn on top of the beans. Finish it off with a pinch of cheese.

While doing my research for this article, I had a really hard time finding savory microwave-in-a-mug recipes. There are endless recipes for cakes and muffins, but I wanted to find something savory that could be made in the same manner. I wasn’t sure, before trying this, what chilaquiles are, and I think it is likely that these aren’t especially authentic, but they tasted pretty good. Traditionally, chilaquiles are tortillas that have been lightly fried then cooked with salsa or mole sauce and served with eggs or refried beans. This recipe is egg-based and I was surprised how well the eggs cooked in the microwave, as I was very skeptical about it. They turned out light and fluffy, but could easily be overcooked if you aren’t paying attention.

This recipe would actually make a great breakfast. I’ve always been a big fan of breakfast burritos, and these chilaquiles are like a breakfast burrito in a mug, with the eggs, cheese, salsa and tortilla chips. I added more chips than the recipe called for at the end for a little extra crunch, which I enjoyed. It would be a great thing to grab on the way out the door on those mornings that are a little rushed.

Microwave Chilaquiles

Ingredients: 2 eggs 2 Tbs. milk 2 Tbs. shredded cheese 2 Tbs. salsa 8-10 tortilla chips, divided queso fresco sour cream salt and pepper to taste

Beat eggs and milk together in mug. Stir in cheese. Break up 6-8 tortilla chips into the mug and mix gently to keep from crushing them. Add the salsa and microwave until eggs are cooked. In my microwave, that took about 4 and a half minutes. Top with additional chips, queso fresco and additional salsa, if desired. [Recipe adapted from www.stltoday.com]

The chocolate cake is what I was most skeptical about. I have found, in my limited experience, that any sort of batter or dough-based food tends to get dried out and unpleasantly crunchy in the microwave. I watched this closely and took it out to check often, ending the cooking as soon as the ingredients no longer looked wet. Because of the large size of the mugs, I doubled this recipe and it overflowed the mug and got all over the inside of the microwave, but if you stick with the directions here you should be fine.

The addition of cayenne pepper was interesting, but I thought it complemented the dark chocolate flavor nicely. The chocolate chips also made for a soft contrast in texture and moistness to the cake that I think helped to counteract the issue of microwave dryness.

I made two of these—one for me and one for my roommate—and ran out of milk, so in one I substituted unsweetened coconut milk, but I couldn’t taste the difference and the texture was consistent.

Spicy Chocolate Mug Cake

Ingredients: 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour 3 Tbs. white sugar 2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder 2 Tbs. chocolate chips ¼ tsp. baking powder 1 pinch salt 1 pinch cayenne pepper 1 pinch ground cinnamon 3 Tbs. milk 1 Tbs. canola oil 1 egg, beaten ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Combine dry ingredients in mug. In a separate mug, beat egg, milk, canola oil and vanilla. Blend the egg mixture with the dry ingredients until thoroughly mixed, then microwave in one-minute intervals until cooked through. The cake will rise in the microwave, so if you don’t have a large mug like the ones pictured, place the mug on a plate to catch anything that might overflow. [Recipe adapted from www.Allrecipes.com]

These recipes are easy to follow and have ingredients that are easy to find and inexpensive. Out of the three, the chilaquiles were my favorite. The eggs and cheese are a decent source of protein, and they were so simple to make and very tasty. I’ve since added them to my breakfast rotation because they are portable and easy to make and take with me on the go.

Even though I was skeptical about cooking a full meal in the microwave, I am happy with the way everything turned out. Nothing had the overcooked microwave texture I was concerned about, and everything tasted like something I would make and eat at home by cooking on the stove.

Kelli Hennessey

Staff Writer

Spokane explores the magic of coffee and chocolate

According to some cultures, chocolate is a gift from the gods and coffee can give a person certain mental powers. Although these are different products produced from different crops, they are quite similar in their history and the addictive qualities they possess. Anne of Austria refused to marry Louis XIII of France unless she was able to bring along her chocolatier, and monks relied on coffee for longer and more focused prayer sessions. Karen Decristoforo from Chocolate Apothecary and Katie Blom, head barista at Revel 77 Coffee, spoke about the history, importance and some surprising facts about chocolate and coffee, even passing out some samples at the event, Sip and Savor. The event was hosted at Revel 77 Coffee in South Hill Spokane and organized by Aileen Luppert, librarian at the Moran Prairie library.

Luppert opened the event, welcoming about 30 audience members in the homey and artistic environment of Revel 77.

“We’re trying to think outside of the book,” Luppert said. She explained that Sip and Savor is the first of many events that will be working with local businesses to help them promote and network by creating a support system that will allow businesses to give each other tips and promote each other.

Blom began with an Arabian poem about coffee. Historical legends state that the coffee bean originated in Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula around 1000 A.D. According to the legends, Kaldi, a goat herder, noticed his goats became rambunctious after they had eaten a certain berry and would not sleep at night. Kaldi reported his findings to a local monastery, where monks made a drink with the berries. The energizing effects the berries contained were recognized and the brew became a religious drink, allowing the monks to stay awake and focus on prayer.

Decristoforo discussed some chocolate background and specifics on the South American chocolate samples offered to the audience.

“Chocolate is a full-body experience using all the senses,” Decristoforo said. “Chocolate has a distinct texture when it melts in your mouth, a crisp snap when you break it and a smooth, shiny look to it.”

Chocolate was first used as a currency and a bitter, spicy beverage. Theobroma cacao, meaning “gift of the gods,” was used during Mayan rituals of marriage and sacrifice. During times of war, warriors would feast on the chocolate drink to nourish their bodies with the blessing of the gods before battle. Over the years chocolate transformed from a bitter drink, to baked goods, and eventually to sweet solid chocolate.

Death by chocolate is not only a dessert, but holds truth to many cases, such as the death of the bishop of Chiapas. It is said that he and some women of the church had a falling out when the bishop banned chocolate from mass. The ladies then settled this by apologizing with a chocolate gift said to be poisoned, ending his life, Decristoforo said.

“The more I learn about chocolate, the more I love it.” Decristoforo said.

“Chocolate was designed to be consumed by humans. The perfect melting point for chocolate is about 94 degrees, the same temperature it melts at on the tip of your tongue,” Decristoforo said.

For other events like Sip and Savor, check out the Spokane County Library District website or a local library for details.

Alyssa Saari

Staff Writer

Cooking healthy in the dorm

DIY

College students are not well-known for being health-conscious chefs, often choosing french fries over carrot sticks, and fast food over home-cooked meals. However, some students do not fit this paradigm, transcending the difficulties of cooking in cramped dorm kitchens.

Lana Ferris, the president of the cooking club, is one of those students.

“My mom had us in the kitchen since we were toddlers. She’d have us make pies and we’d take pieces of dough and roll them out into miniature pies, or she’d have us crack eggs into cookie dough or help with stirring,” Ferris said.

Cooking has been important to Ferris since she was young. She did not let college impede on that portion of her life.

“I [wanted] to be part of a cooking club and there wasn’t one, so I started one,” Ferris said.

She started the club last spring. Originally, the club had five members who regularly attended, Ferris said.

“Cooking has become a big part of my social life,” Ferris said.

She regularly cooks for and with other people, and has taco nights with her roommate.

Students in the dorms will always love to eat home made food. However, dorm cooking also provides challenges. Cramped spaces, limited supplies, old appliances and low budgets can make cooking an inconvenience. Ferris found that with a bit of ingenuity and planning, dorm-cooked meals are a tasty possibility.

“I did a lot of garage sale-ing before I came, so I was pretty well-stocked [with utensils],” Ferris said. “I brought my own crockpot, so that’s helped a lot.”

In addition to bringing her own cooking equipment, Ferris has found ways to eat home-cooked meals every day without much hassle or time spent.

“On Sunday, I cook two huge dishes and alternate between leftovers every night, so that helps time-wise,” Ferris said.

For students who are too busy to cook every night but would like to spend some meals away from Sodexo, Ferris has some tips.

For those in dorms with a more limited kitchen there are some ways to easily cook favorite meals with very little equipment needed.

Many common kitchen items can be used for alternate purposes, and students can get creative to utilize them to their full potential.

“I’ve done the good old using a glass for a rolling pin,” Ferris said.

If time is an issue, many easy meals can be prepared quickly and easily at a low cost. Google “easy meals for college students” for inspiration.

Ferris recommends making miniature pizzas if you don’t have much time. English muffins work well for crust.

This year, the cooking club is gaining momentum and plans to host several events throughout the year.

“We’ve been interested in doing cooking classes, and maybe partnering with Sodexo,” Ferris said.

The club is planning a potluck in the spring where participants can share their recipes with others. Ferris said they will possibly have a cook-off or bake-off. They hope to educate students on cooking and hopefully promote interest in the activity.

The cooking club meets from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday afternoons in the East kitchen.

Courtney Murphy 

Staff Writer