Saturday, February 24, 2007

Adventures in Cooking

Usually I'm too tired when I get home from work to even think about wanting to cook something. However, the mood does occasionally strike me, and I'm forced to whip something up quickly.

Because I don't cook often, I don't have much food on hand to make exotic dishes, nor do I feel like spending hours mixing up large quantities of ingredients for a meal it's going to take me 10 minutes to eat. I want a large rate of return on the time I spend performing complex tasks, and cooking very rarely gives me that. So I want easy and quick recipes, the fewer the ingredients the better.

The meal that of late has had the highest ratio of taste to prep time consisted of three ingredients:

  1. Chicken breasts
  2. Red spaghetti sauce
  3. Mozzarella cheese

All that was required to make that dish was grating the cheese, thawing the breasts and putting them in a pan, dumping the sauce on them, sprinkling the cheese over the breasts and sauce, and throwing the mess in the oven for an hour. Simple, quick, good. It ties my peanut butter cookie recipe for easiest preparation and least number of ingredients:

  1. 1 cup peanut butter
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 1 egg

Mix, make into balls, put them on cookie sheet, bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Surprisingly simple, and hella good.

Every now and then I make something complicated. I made Pad Kee Mao enough two summers ago that I got pretty good at it. Although it's not hard to make by any stretch of the imagination, the prep work's somewhat involved, it's impossible to prepare spur-of-the-moment, it's got a multi-step cooking process, requires a fair number of different vegetables I don't often have on hand, and cleanup's kinda a pain due to my wok being too large to fit in the dishwasher. Needless to say, it's been about a year since I've made that particular dish. As much as I enjoy eating it, it's usually not worth the time I need to put into it.

As a good example of why complicated dishes often aren't worth it to me, let's look at the spectacular failure that was my attempt at making mozzarella sticks a few weeks ago. I didn't have bread crumbs, so I made my own by putting a couple pieces of bread in the oven and finely chopping the result. I don't think they were dry enough because they didn't do a very good job of sticking to the cheese. To top it all off, the oil must've been way too hot, because the damn things started to burn as soon as I put them in the pan. Never have I seen so much smoke in a room that wasn't on fire. It's a miracle the smoke alarm wasn't blaring and the sprinklers weren't turning on. Even with every door and window in the place open for a couple hours, my apartment still smelled like burnt mozzarella stick for a week. And to top it all off, I had to throw all the mozzarella sticks away because they tasted like char. Next time I want mozzarella sticks, I'll go to Applebees.

There was also the first time I tried making pizza from scratch. I hadn't kneaded the dough enough (read: at all) when I tried forming it into a circle. I wondered why it was so damn sticky and uncooperative, then I realized I needed to knead it. I was able to salvage the dough and come up with a decent but small and non-circular pizza, but it made a terrible mess in the process. I told my mom of this experience, so she gave me her bread maker on permanent loan (she reserves the right to take it back at any time, but she hasn't used it in 8 years, so for all intents and purposes it's mine). My second attempt, using the bread maker's pizza dough setting, resulted in a much tastier but still non-circular pizza.

And just last night I got the desire to make bagels. If you've never eaten a bagel fresh from the oven (as in, you've just taken it off the cooking stone and it's still hot) it's something you definitely need to do. I've always been a chive and onion junkie, so that's what I put in the dough. Kinda a time consuming process, though a lot of it is waiting for the bread maker to finish kneading the dough. It's a bit hard to form the dough into a bagel shape, especially when the dough's considerably stickier than regular bread dough, but it was easy enough and rewarding enough that I'll probably make more when I finish eating this current batch. If anyone else out there tries it, I highly recommend cooking them on a pizza stone, as they turn out nice and crunchy on the outside. I may try making bagel sticks instead of actual bagels next time. I've been trying to think of a functional advantage to the traditional torus-shaped bagel but so far haven't come up with anything. It would seem a bagel in the shape of a stick would be easier to carry, eat, and (most importantly) make. I made a couple bagel sticks by accident, so I'll have to test that hypothesis with them.

OK, enough talking about food. Time to get some lunch.



Blogger mcpusc said...

regardless of what you call them, they're not bagels unless you boil them first, then bake them - what you've described is bagel-shaped bread, which sounds pretty good.

But a real bagel --- mmmm.

2/24/2007 2:33 PM  
Blogger Aaron *@ said...

I did boil them first. The reason why I got some bagel sticks was due to one of the bagels falling apart while it was being boiled. Can't imagine trying to make them without boiling first; it'd be a huge mess.

2/24/2007 5:48 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

wanted to let you know the cheddar beer soup experiment was successful. We used a bit too much cheese though, and next time I think we will put in some more vegetables next time and maybe some potatoes. Oh and because you'll probably ask, we used a brown ale from the local Shell. I'm not sure which brand off the top of my head. It was about right for us as far as taste goes.

3/21/2007 6:43 PM  

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