The hot plate is grimy. Someone swiped your hard-boiled eggs from the mini-fridge. You love Outkast, but you can’t go to sleep to it. It’s time to move out of the dorm.
Oh, brave young homesteader. You are not a newlywed, and no one has yet showered you with Cuisinarts, cookbooks or china. You can make a sandwich or a salad, but that’s about it.
That’s the situation my son recently found himself in. He’s a sophomore at USC, living in an apartment off-campus with two roommates. They love to eat, and have palates more worldly than mine was when I was in college.
“Get a grill pan,” I told him. “It’s like grilling outside; you even get nice grill marks.”
He and his roommates loved the idea. But they needed recipes. And they needed me to walk them through it all.
Before you start cooking, I told them, it’s always a good idea to read a recipe all the way through. Then make your shopping list. You can buy everything you need at the supermarket or Trader Joe’s.
The flank steak salad is much easier than it looks. Start with the marinade, a kind of yummy, pre-grill bath, which will help ensure a juicy and fragrant outcome. The pungent flavors of chile, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and citrus permeate the meat as it sits in the marinade. Be careful when handling the jalapeno, though -- touch your eye after cutting one, and you’ll be sorry. Especially if you wear contacts. Best to either wear disposable thin latex gloves or use a paper towel to handle them. Next you’ll make your dressing, grill the asparagus and steak, and finally assemble the salad. The results will be elegant enough to impress a tenured professor.
On to the sandwich. Who needs a panini press when you have your trusty grill pan?
Cut focaccia rolls in half, lightly grill them, then layer the bottom half with goat cheese, roasted red pepper (you can find terrific pre-roasted ones in jars), fresh basil leaves and caper mayonnaise. Put the top on and weigh them down with your least favorite huge textbook. It’s a win/win situation; the sandwich is delicious, and if you’re cooking with calculus, you really can’t be studying it.
Finally, we have grilled fish tacos that are so much cooler than what you find at the stand in the minimall. Meaty halibut is simply brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper before it’s grilled. Into warm corn tortillas it goes, with lime-garlic salsa and lots of shredded cabbage. Try not to eat all of the tacos before company arrives.
Cooking with a grill pan is fast and straightforward. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be hooked. We recommend a cast iron grill pan (see sidebar). They’re cheap and they last forever. But any grill pan will work. Just remember to season cast iron pans before the first use.
To start, heat the pan on medium-high heat. Wait two or three minutes and flick a drop of water on it; if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough to begin grilling. Usually you’ll have some smoke. If you have no ventilation over your stove, you may want to set up a fan and open a window.
After cooking, you’ll want to clean your grill pan while still respecting the patina of oil it is acquiring. Wash in hot water with just a drop of soap, and scrub off any stubborn bits of meat with a stiff brush. Dry immediately with a towel. Store pan without anything on top of it; otherwise the oil may take on an unwelcome scent.
Master these recipes and you’ll soon have your own ideas. You’ll be grilling salmon or sausages, slicing up zucchini and eggplant and tossing them on. And you never know when you’ll get a craving for a kebab.
Before you know it, your friends will be lining up at your door.
Times staff writer Cindy Dorn contributed to this report.
The essential (but adventurous) college kitchen:
* 1 (10- to 12-inch) well-seasoned ridged iron grill pan
* 1 lid (to fit the grill pan)
* 1 knife (large enough for chopping)
* 1 cutting board
* 1 bowl
* 1 pair of tongs
* 1 big, heavy textbook (double-wrapped in foil)
* Resealable freezer bags, plastic wrap, foil