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Creative concoctions combat culinary conventions

Analise Lipari | Thursday, March 8, 2007

While some may argue that E-Z-Mac and Ramen noodles are the staples in a college kid’s diet, it’s inevitable that when it comes to campus food, dining halls are at the top of the list of easy and affordable (heck, to us it feels free) options. Notre Dame is no different, with South and North Dining Hall providing a plethora of delicacies.

Well, for the first month of school, anyway.

After a good five or six weeks, it’s almost impossible not to experience what I like to call “DH Overload” – that sinking feeling you have when, having just entered either South or North, you can only smell the far-too-familiar odor of cod nuggets and fajita pizza. You walk through each line in a state of malaise, and you’re just plain tired of what they’ve got to offer your now-unsatisfied palate. To you, disheartened diner, life seems a little bit dimmer as you resign yourself to sticky rice and Vegetarian Vegetable soup.

However, there is another solution to DH Overload – pursuing the challenging (but oh-so-gratifying) art of the concoction.

“Say what?” you ask, confused and possibly a bit disturbed. But to those of us initiated in the concoction club, the dining hall is a wonderful world of ever-renewing possibilities. You may have seen one of us strolling casually between the food lines before – we are such stuff as homemade pizzas, restaurant-looking wraps and never-before-seen pasta blends are made on. If you’d like to join, the Church of the Concoction is always accepting new converts, and you and your taste buds will definitely be the better for it. For those of you who may be newbies to this art of what is essentially cooking with pre-cooked food, let me enlighten you with a few of my favorites.

The fact that SDH supplies me with the means to feed my broccoli addiction daily is nothing short of a gift from the dining hall gods. While I too was first trapped in the rut of slapping a hunk of broccoli onto my plate each day, I soon began to expand those food horizons. Currently, my favorite use for broccoli is as a substitute for rice or pasta. Top your broccoli with your favorite sauces, Asian dishes and even the occasional taco salad. Adding extra color and vitamins to your diet never hurt anyone, and it also tastes pretty ridiculously excellent.

For future reference, though, I wouldn’t recommend adding broccoli to a sandwich. Too wet, too messy and too difficult to eat without looking like a 4-year-old who can’t handle holding a wrap together.

Salads are another opportunity to go, as Strong Bad would say, “crazy-go-nuts” with variety and concoction happiness. Sunflower seeds? Mandarin oranges? Tortellini stir-fry? Nothing is off limits if you pair it with the right greens and a complimentary dressing. No longer will you be trapped in the days of wilted-iceberg-and-overripe-tomato salads, my friends. Baby spinach leaves, feta cheese, peppers and balsamic vinaigrette create what is nothing short of a heavenly blend of loveliness.

Lastly, never underestimate the power of the panini presses and that Quiznos-style grilling thingy in aiding your new creations. Toasted wraps are always better than untoasted, and with the sandwich presses even you can achieve cross-hatching grill marks and pretend you’re Bobby Flay on “Boy Meets Grill.” If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can even use flatbread or pitas to create your own grilled pizzas.

So what’s the bottom line, kids? Getting trapped in a state of DH overload can happen to anyone, but the ingredients are there to find your freedom. You just have to get cooking.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Analise Lipari at alipari@nd.edu