Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cooking 101: Home Ack.

Late August is here, and despite my recent warnings to the contrary, many young idiots are heading off to college. Many of these youngsters will be away from home for the first time, or perhaps living in off-campus housing for the first time. For a lot of them they will find that they have to cook their own food. They may have thought they could order pizza whenever hunger struck, or buy a rotisserie chicken from the local supermarket, but that kind of thing gets pricey and cuts into the beer money. Also, how many Cup Noodles and store-brand frozen chicken pot pies can a person stand?

Fred is here to help, youngsters! I started cooking when I was in college, and it was a lifesaver. There's no need to panic: With the aid of a toaster oven and a microwave, you can cook actual food that doesn't suck and will not burn the dorms down. I hope to present some extremely simple recipes from time to time over the upcoming weeks that can be made by people with virtually no cooking skill at all. We have to crawl before we can run, and I don't mean the kind of crawling one sees late in the wee hours on Pledge Week.

Here is a starter recipe, a tuna casserole that was a staple of my recipe book for years until my wife got sick of it.

You Will Need:

  • 1 10.75-oz. can of Cream of Mushroom soup*
  • 1 5-oz. can of tuna (solid white is the best, but anything will do) (except cat food)
  • Half of a 16-oz. box of elbow macaroni
  • Milk**
  • Something to crumble for a thin coating on top -- corn flakes, potato chips, stale (non-moldy) bread, Italian bread crumbs, Doritos, tortilla chips, all good
  • Probably a can opener, although some cans have pull-tops now
  • Spoon
  • An ovenproof container big enough to hold 1.5 to 2 quarts -- you can get a foil one cheap***

2 pints = 1 quart
1 quart = .946 liters, or as close as makes no difference

Also: Something to eat it off and tools to eat it with.

Bring it all back to your toaster oven or, if you're in a house, an actual oven oven. Set the oven to 350 degrees.**** Most new ovens will have some means of alerting you when they reach the target temperature; if yours doesn't, let it heat up for 20 minutes. (You will hear a gas oven stop burning when the temperature is right, but that won't work for an electric oven.)

Take a spoon. Scoop the contents of the can of soup in the container. You will have to open the can to accomplish this. Fill the can up with milk and mix that in the container with the soup. Put the tuna into the container too. Yes, that can will also need to be opened. If you want to get crazy, drain the tuna before adding it, but you can skip that part. Add the macaroni. Put the unused macaroni somewhere safe, preferably in a sealed container or plastic bag to discourage vermin. When the macaroni is mixed in with the soup and milk and tuna, top it with whatever you like as a topper. Don't make it an inch thick; just enough to cover. Stick it in the oven for an hour. If your casserole dish (for that is what it is) has a lid, leave the lid off.

After an hour the tuna casserole should be warm and bubbly. If it instead looks like a charcoal briquette and there is a fireman busting down the door with an ax, then you probably set the oven too high.

One of the nice parts about this recipe is that you don't have to boil the macaroni before you add it to the other ingredients; it softens up as it bakes. If you undercook it the macaroni will be hard, but at least you won't kill anyone because the tuna comes out of the can already cooked.

Another nice thing is that you can fancy it up. Maybe you have a date coming over, or find yourself having to entertain the Queen of Finland due to a long series of comical events. You can substitute Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup for the cream of mushroom; you can add some peas and/or carrots, or a small onion, chopped.*****

This recipe will feed a couple of hungry guys, one guy with the munchies, three women, or five women who pretend they don't eat when they're around one another and then raid the candy machine later.


* I'm not going to tell you to buy Campbell's, but it's like what they do in magazines to avoid annoying advertisers---the size I specified is that of the Campbell's can. So buy Campbell's.

** Don't use chocolate milk, whey protein shake, leftover McDonald's McFlurry, or anything a month past its expiration date. Show some self-respect.

***Don't bring a bucket of water into the store and start filling all the containers to find the right size. They are usually marked. 

**** Fahrenheit, not Celsius. 350 Celsius is 660 degrees Fahrenheit, and you will burn down the dorm. If you are going to school in Canada or something and the oven uses Celsius, set it to 180. 

***** Oooh, Culinary Institute of America stuff! But remember to chop the onion. Don't just put a whole onion in it.

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