Monday, February 8, 2010

Intrepid Chefs

"Quick! While no one is looking, dump the cheese into the water bottle!"

Since we weren't technically doing anything illegal, the hushed tones and ninja-like movements were probably unnecessary, but the amped up anxiety is all part of the sport my roommates and I make of dinner sometimes. Besides, taking cupfulls of maple syrup is likely frowned upon.

The practice of bringing Tupperware for yogurt, water bottles for milk, or weighing your backpack down with apples from the dinning halls to get your "swipes worth" ($15 for dinners!) is not uncommon as college students learn to stretch their meal plans. But the occupants of 1511 Harnwell College House have taken this thriftiness one step further by having a night of Iron Chef where the secret indigent is Commons Dinning hall cuisine.

Our goal is simple: to create the best meal possible using (almost) entirely ingredients found at the dinning hall. We make it a "family" dinner night - all three of us chipping in to "gather" the ingredients, cook, clean and invite friends to sample to results. Is doesn't stretch the swipe like a bag full of apples will and sure, we could all eat together at the dinning hall and not have to worry about the clean up. But, if you're like me, and you the meal plan you purchased for convenience knowing how stressful your life would get hear makes you miss cooking (I almost went to culinary school) then knowing it's possible to whip up a meal without a trip to Frogro is comforting.

This week we made entree nachos and "bread pudding" for dessert.

The Nachos are almost self-explanatory once you've gotten the ingredients and figured out a few tricks. For example, the pita put out by the Mediterranean station makes great chips if you peel apart the pockets and toast them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes. Top them with cheese from the salad bar, suateed mushrooms and onions also from the salad bar and chopped tomatoes located in bowls around the room. For protein, we sauteed shredded chicken breast from the burger station and beans from the salad bar with an assortment of spices we keep in the room - paprika, chili powder, or any mixed meat seasonings will work. After everything was piled on the "chips" we put the tray back in the oven for about ten minutes and voila! delicious, dorm-made nachos that garnered rave reviews (if you've got a little money to spare buy some salsa from the store to make these even better).

The intended bread pudding started with a few slices of think bread with the crusts cut off and cut into cubes. The "pudding" part was a mixture of melted vanilla ice cream (to compensate for heavy cream), syrup from the waffle station, and eggs and cinnamon that I had in the room. Soak the bread, pour the whole mixture into a baking dish and bake for about an hour at 350 degrees. Since I realized last minute that we didn't keep a baking dish in the room, we poured the whole thing into a frying pan and made a cross between bread pudding and french toast. The mixture will have a lot more liquid than usual french toast but cook of medium heat for a few minutes and the bottom will get caramelized and crunchy and the top will stay soft and gooey. Spooned out onto plates, it was a lot like bread pudding - and a lot quicker to make!

At the end of the night, we all agreed it was the best meal we've had from the dinning halls in a while. And the chef in me was satiated - for now.

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