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Cookbook Review: ‘Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks’

Margaret Cowles Special to The Spokesman-Review

Quick Look: Recent Dartmouth College graduate Priya Krishna helps students enhance their college cafeteria experience by turning ordinary college dining hall ingredients into creative dishes.

What’s Inside: Whether it’s your first time going to college or you’ve been there a few years, inevitably, the food in the dining hall will become “limiting and unappealing.”

With varied meals, a Q&A and quick guide on how to use it, this book could be a great tool for surviving the college cafeteria experience.

“The aim of these recipes is to provide students like you with recipes that are easy to follow, easy to remember, and easy to customize on the fly,” Krishna writes in the preface to this small, soft-cover book which won’t take up too much space in a dorm room.

As a college student, Krishna wrote a weekly food column for the campus newspaper and became a connoisseur of cafeteria food, regularly assembling her meals from à la carte items in the dining hall.

In her book, maps and flow charts help lead students to the foods they’ll most likely enjoy with choices like sweet or savory, meat or veggie, “carby” or creamy.

Recipes are organized by meal type and dish: breakfast, salads, sandwiches, pastas, anytime meals, snacks, desserts and drinks. The latter, with 98 recipes, is the largest chapter. There are 82 suggestions for snacks as well as 62 anytime meals. Other chapters have 20 to 54 recipes each.

Recipes aim to offer a “balanced” but quick way of eating – because no one has time to actually cook in college. Each takes about three minutes to make and brings fruits and vegetables into the mix to make meals both tastier and healthier.

As a junior at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, I know that if you can avoid opening any books in college – beyond required reading, that is – you do. And that includes cookbooks.

But this really isn’t a cookbook; it’s a smart guide to creating more exciting things to eat with likely the same old dining hall options. It’s a way to get more variety from the foods you have access to, and it’s a great tool for reference.

When you get tired of dining hall food and eating out gets too expensive, you might want to try these ideas to help you enjoy your college food experience to the fullest – or, at least, a little more.

What’s Not: There are no photographs in this slim volume. And there are no measurements either. Krishna explains this omission in item No. 2 of “How to Use this Cookbook.”

“This is because, as you will see, this cookbook does not actually involve any ‘real’ cooking,” she writes. “Add as much or as little of an ingredient as your preferences dictate.”

Note that the audience for this book is limited; if you aren’t in your late teens or early 20s scrapping by to eat while in college, this book really isn’t for you.

Apple Cinnamon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

“Even the biggest grilled cheese purists like myself can get behind this sandwich. The cinnamon-sugar caramelizes in the panini press, and the apples ‘bake’ to golden perfection. Alongside nutty cheddar cheese, it is a match made in heaven,” Krishna writes in the intro to this recipe.

Sliced Apples


Brown sugar


Cheddar cheese

Toss apples slices in equal parts cinnamon and brown sugar.

Cover one slice of bread with cheddar cheese.

Stack the apples on the other slice of bread.

Close the sandwich and press it in a panini press until the cheese has melted.

Cheese and Mushroom ‘Polenta’

“I love cheesy mushroom polenta (polenta = the Italian version of grits). Unfortunately, polenta is not an ingredient you would commonly find in a dining hall, but you can substitute oatmeal for polenta and get the same hearty taste and texture. Now I am convinced that savory oatmeal is the next big thing – beyond mushrooms and cheese, there are almost endless possibilities for add-ins,” Krishna writes at the top of this recipe.

Sliced mushrooms

Salt and pepper

Grated cheese (cheddar or Parmesan)

Bowl of oatmeal

Olive oil

Cook the mushrooms by either microwaving them on a plate with salt and pepper, and a little water, or sautéing them if you have access to a sauté bar.

Mix a few heaping spoonfuls of grated cheese into the oatmeal; stir until the cheese is melted and fully incorporated.

Top the oatmeal with the cooked mushrooms and drizzle olive oil and a little extra cheese on top.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Krishna calls this recipe “a dessert miracle.”


Muesli or oats

Peanut butter

Chocolate chips



Mash half of a banana in a bowl with a fork.

Add a big handful of muesli or oats and a spoonful of peanut butter to the banana. Add chocolate chips and cinnamon to your taste.

Finish with a pinch of salt.

Mix the whole dish together and eat with a spoon or in bite-size chunks.