Bachelor Chow ... Because I don't have a wittier title.
Lets admit it, most Nerds in my age Demographic can be easily described with two words: single and poor. We’re not in a money making market, we don’t have the luxury of a combined income, and sadly we are not what the opposite sex wants (despite the fact we really are).
But this isn’t a blog on nerds and relationships, so I’m not going to get into the social flaws of mate choosing. This is a blog about Food (and Nerds). And as such I am going to delve today into a style of cooking not touched upon in any high class cookery institutions, or even low class places, or really anywhere with accreditation. I’m going to talk about the high art of Bachelor(ette) cooking.
Some may argue that its not an art form. Obviously they have never had to make a nice dinner for themselves on a budget that puts food just below the Tuesday release schedule, games, comics, collectibles, and extra booster pack, the three-day pass for the convention coming up, and batteries.
So with all this competition how is cooking going to survive?
Get to know your spices. I’ve seen many a meal go from mediocre to fantastic with the addition of spices. I’ve seen many potentially great meals die because of a lack of spices. Most of the nerdy persuasion don’t like filling their spice rack because the spices are too expensive. But they fail to see the longevity of the investment. Yes, a bottle of spice can run you between 5-10 dollars, but its going to get used for the next 6 months. Its the same argument for dropping 60 bucks on the newest game. ”I’m gonna play it for a while.” You’re going to be eating for a while too.
Spices are an amazing thing to work with. In my younger bachelor days I went through what every single man refers to as the “Ramen Stage” This is that point where you spent everything you have, thought you covered all your bills and actually got gas in your car when you realize theres nothing to eat at home except half a jar of mayonnaise and some bread that may be growing. What does the Economist Cuisine have for us? Ramen.
Its cheap, like really really cheap. We’re talking like a dollar can feed you for three days if you don’t spice it up cheap. So how do we spice it up?
Ok, lets examine the tools most likely to be in any single nerds kitchen. (Fuck thats not much). Ok, so you have a fry pan, one or two pots, some basic silverware and a faucet. I can work with this (I’ve had to in the past). First lets assume that despite they’re misplaced skill points the Nerd can get the Ramen to the boiled stage on their own. One of the recipes that got me through the Ramen Stage was one passed down from a fellow Nerd from his pass at the Ramen Stage. Friends of mine know (and occasionally fear) the recipe known as bachelors spicy noodle.
For this dish there’s a few essential ingredients, and a lot of optional ones. I used to find that salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. The original recipe didn’t call for a set ingredient list, this just made its way into every batch I made. The concept, take some noodles, whatever you have laying around, put everything hot you own into it, and eat. The theory behind it is that you down the meal fast and quickly, and you brain recognizes a hot spicy meal rather than “I’m eating the same shit again”.
The supplemental list is where nerd creativity takes over. As a Foodie I have a few more ranks in this skill than most, but you will learn to experiment. just play by the rule of thumb that if it seems like it will go in, put it in. On the hot front, any hot sauces match well. Shiracha and Tobasco are great additions for flavor. But delve into it further. If you have some vegies that need used up, slice em up and drop them in. I found that a little honey and soy go along way.
Now preperation of the dish is just as simple, you take those noodles, you drop them into that fry pan that we saw under your Morrowind walk through and heat it up with the spices in it. Then eat.
But Spices isn’t just about hot. I cuisine we learn that a ‘spicy’ dish may just refer to something seasoned with a lot of balanced spices. The Savory aspect of the spice cabinet is even more powerful.
Lets take a dish I got from a cousin of mine. Another look at noodles, this time Bachelor Chow spaghetti.
What you need: A small can of crushed tomatoes, one of puree tomatoes, some oregano, some italian seasonings (for those less inclined there actually is a spice called italian seasoning), Garlic and onion powder, and the master twins salt and pepper. You add all of those things into a pot and heat, and you have a tasty, fresh made tomato sauce. But wait, like every meal in the bachelor world you can add stuff to it. Any meat you have laying around can be cut, chopped or ground into the sauce. extra spices you think will be nice, do it. Vegies, toss em in! I’ve seen sugar added, milk or flour for a creamy or thicker consistency. you name it you can do it, just don’t be afraid.
With all of this I need to pass on from the magic of spices to the creation of additions. Admittedly there are a lot of things out there that are cheap and bearable. Cheap frozen pizza, microwave dinners, those frozen burritos that always seem to be on sale for something crazy like a dozen a dollar. all of these things we can bear, but if we mess with it a little we can make them tasty.
This one is easy. Go spend a few extra dollars to grab a bag of shredded cheese. add a little to each pie and your starting good. tossing on your own toppings goes further. frozen chopped vegies last forever and it doesn’t take much to spice it up.
Easy again. just add some of your magic spice cabinet where needed, toss in some extras you have laying around that fit the meal. Honestly a little salt caries these things a long way.
Those magic cheap burritos.
This one is a favorite of mine. once you get the thing heated up, toss some cheese you have left over from the pizza on it. go and buy a jar of salsa, an avacado and a lime. That right there is like 3 dollars of food if your cheap enough. chop up that avacado into some of the salsa, juice some of the lime into it, and mix it up real good, and smother that burrito.. You just went from really cheap frozen food to something that you pay would have to pay a lot more for somewhere else.
So really its just a matter of being creative. Get some basic spices and just fool around. once you get good enough you can claim to be able to cook, and who knows, use that to woo a fellow Nerdess with your powers.
Like a beautiful Bromance, these things just go together
Just a heads up, this post isn’t all that nerdy, but it is a lot of food.
I’ve been thinking about food pairings a lot lately. I was thinking about a presentation I had the opportunity to see a while back up here at CIA and its been making me think that there really is a lot more to the profession I plan on going into.
Food pairings are often seen as just combining flavor profiles together to meet a common balance. Mixing spices to create dishes, pairing finished dishes to beverages, following one course after another.
But thats not all that there is to it. Food is, in my mind, the ultimate art form. No other art forces you to use all of your senses to fully appreciate it. No other art form seems incomplete if we have one of those senses missing. And no other art form forces us to take it all in and appreciate it as it is made, because it is in its very nature designed to disappear quickly.
So in that we need to examine all of the senses that go into the art of Food to understand what it is that food pairing really means.
The obvious start is taste. The most basic way of appreciating food is by examining the flavors that come together to for it. For instance, Trout Almandine is an amazing yet simple dish that holds many components in a balance of flavors. The soft light texture of the fish is paired to the crisp crust of the breading on the fish. The Almandine sauce takes the contrasting flavors of acid and fat with the use of lemon and butter and softens them both with the introduction of parsley and toasted almonds. Then the mild flavor of the fish is combined with the rich flavor of the sauce to create an amazing dish. That is the basic art of all culinary students. From dishes like that to the most basic vinegrettes to far more complex dishes like the mole sauces of latin america, its always about flavor and how it tastes. Balancing one thing with another.
The Second sense in the art of food is the one we use the most when dining: Sight. For the majority of us eating out in the world all of our judgments are based on the first impression we get on the food, and that impression is what we see before we taste it. A brightly colored dish with distinctly separate components jumps out to the eyes. It sparks a visual attraction to the dish that pulls us in. Although a Beef stew that simmers for hours with all of the potatoes and vegetables in it may taste just as good or even better than one that had the other components cooked separate and added later, the second dish is going to look more appealing because all of the items retain their original beauty and draw us in.
Next we move into smell. Scientifically speaking we cannot experience flavor without smell. But far more than that, after sight the next sense to activate is that of smell. This sense is so important to cooking that there is an entire category of ingredients to cooking dedicated to aromatics. Imagine a Tomato sauce being brought to your table on your pasta and not being able to smell it, or walking into your grandmothers kitchen on thanksgiving and not smelling the turkey. Ask yourself what a hot bowl of green chili would be like without that spicy aroma that makes your tongue drip and your eyes water. Clearly smell is just as important to food as any other.
Texture. This is a no brainer that people often don’t bother to think about while eating until something unpleasant comes along. But the subtle textures we take for granted seem to go unrewarded. A wall done breading on fried chicken. A perfectly cooked steak. Even things like eggs seem to be taken for granted. but if your chicken isnt crispy enough, your steak overdone or your eggs under cooked, then you raise hell about it. Texture plays a larger roll than we ever think about it, when if we do think about it we realize that the tongue is a muscle that we feel every bit of food going into our body with, and we should take the time to examine out meals with it.
Auditory. This last sense is one that doesn’t always get a chance to shine. not everyone things of food as something they get to hear. But for just a moment I want you to sit back and imagine a scenario. You are enjoying a casual meal with friends at a local mexican restaurant. You order your regular enchillada or whatever you have and your pal next to you orders a fajita plater. When the waiter comes out to your table with the food you get your meal, everything about it looks great and you cant wait to dig in. Then your pal gets his meal and on that hot plate it comes out on you hear the sizzle of the meats and vegies as they’ve just been brought out off the heat. Suddenly what you read on the menu that looked better than your friends choice seems a little pale in comparison. Its the added auditory sensation working its way in. It happens all the time and we dont even notice it. The Flames that fire up from a cook adding wine to a hot pan make a sound that is distinctive and turns heads. sizzles, cracks and pops of the food interacting with the heat is all part of dinning we want to enjoy, but can’t seem to place when it suddenly goes missing.
Of course, everything I’ve just ranted on so far is the normal experiance that everyone who has thought about it know. The next step is what we *don’t* think about when these senses interact with our food.
Jump back up to sight for a moment. When you pictured the meal did you where were you in your mind. If i saw i want you to imagine your having a nice veal Parmesan where does your mind go to have it? If your in a nice Italian resturaunt did you ever wonder why the walls are the color they are, why the lighting is the way it is? These things seem to pass us by but it all plays a terrific roll in our food.
What about Auditory? if your having a meal what are the non food smells that fill the air? Is there music in the background and what is playing if there is? Chances are you never really thought about pairing music with food but its just as important as paring a fine wine with food. One wouldn’t pair red wine with fish, why would you play French Classical in a Chinese place?
Texture. what kind of chair are you sitting in? what is the table cloth made of? Is your silverware real silver or some heavier metal? these things are always overlooked and taken for granted by the average individual but if taken out of place they notice in a heartbeat. It all goes back to pairing foods, and not just with other foods, but with all of the senses we use to receive the art of food that we wish to enjoy, because like I said before, food isn’t just an art that you enjoy with all of your senses, it is one you are forced to enjoy rapidly, as it is guaranteed to disappear on us. Food isn’t meant to last, the impression it leaves on us is.