Saturday, July 10, 2010

Useful College Skills: Cooking

So, I made dinner tonight. And it was pretty damn delicious. And I have the recipe/commentary/all that good stuff! But first, a little more about me and my school.

I haven’t actually said which college I’ll be headed off to yet—perhaps due to the fact that, thanks to my mother, I’ve had more internet privacy lessons than your average CIA agent, or maybe because it just didn’t belong in the other posts—so here goes: come this fall I’ll be attending the postsecondary/inanimate love of my life, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Why yes, I did shamelessly rip this from the MIT website.

This is relevant because there is a 100% chance that I will be cooking for myself there. Not entirely, but a good bit, and because I want to, not out of any sense of need. However, because of the way MIT dining is structured (something I’ll go into in my next food post, because it’s late, and this post could quickly get very long if I try to tackle it now) there’ll be some students who will, in fact, need to cook, and need to learn to cook at that.

Which, if you ask me, is a great thing. Maybe not on the surface, but it seems like something that’d fall into the “blessing in disguise” category. On the list of Things That Are Probably, You Know, Pretty Good To Know In Life, “how to cook relatively tasty stuff that won’t send you to the hospital” is incredibly high up, or should be.

But! Because I promised, here’s the recipe, the commentary, and my initial thoughts on college cooking.

Chicken Cacciatore for the Culinarily Skittish


Canola/Vegetable Oil (just a bit)
Flour (2 handfuls, or 1 cup)
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2)
Green bell peppers (2)
Diced tomatoes (one 14.5oz can)
Chicken broth (one 14.5oz can)
Garlic (2 cloves)
Oregano (2 small pinches)
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Pasta (1 package)

Mix flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Using your knife, butterfly* the chicken breasts. Coat them lightly in flour and pan-fry in a pan with oil on high heat until golden-brown, and just slightly undercooked. Take them out and place them on a separate plate temporarily.

Chop both bell peppers (making sure to discard the seeds and center) into small pieces and mince (finely chop) the garlic cloves (making sure to take the thin skin covering the clove off first). Add the garlic and bell peppers to the pan the chicken was in and cook briefly, stirring occasionally, until the garlic softens a bit. Put the chicken back in the pan, on top of the garlic/peppers, and add the can of diced tomatoes, the oregano, and half of the can of chicken broth. Cover (with either a lid or foil), turn the heat down to low or medium-low and let cook for thirty minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add pasta, stir occasionally, and drain when done.

Once the chicken is ready, take the pan off the heat, uncover, add to pasta, and voilĂ ! † You have nomtastic chicken cacciatore in forty-five minutes. And without being too precise about how you go about it.


Chicken Cacciatore + Pasta + Italian Garlic/Herb/Cheese Breadsticks = Ultimate Happiness

Mmm…breadsticks…*Homer-Simpson-esque drool* I didn’t include the recipe because they took a good bit more work, but I could link to it if anyone wants.

Honestly, I think that’s one of the biggest problems when it comes to college students and cooking for themselves—that being the preciseness that tends to get associated with cooking. Unless you grew up in a family that heavily emphasized not only food, but also cooking and learning how to cook—and, honestly, even if you did—cooking for yourself beyond making a sandwich or achieving the perfect cereal/milk ratio can be on par with “trekking the Himalayas” and “safely landing a plane on the Hudson”. Sure, some people can do it, but that doesn’t mean you can.

I know. I come from a family like the one I described above, what with the food, and the cooking, and the teaching, and I still have to fight the urge to get bogged down by precise recipe details and Cooking, the capitalized, abstract, far-away concept only do-able by my mother, restaurant professionals, and Top Chef contestants situated comfortably in the magical world of television.

And that sucks! Because cooking is actually pretty fun, and way easier than people imagine. You could feed yourself lifetimes over with easy recipes before ever moving on to something more difficult, if that’s what you’d like, though I think the more likely scenario involves people gradually wanting to try their hands at harder recipes once they get a taste for the basics. (Hah! See what I did there?)

And cooking (unlike baking, which actually does take a certain level of precision) is very adaptable. For instance! That chicken cacciatore recipe used to have onions and mushrooms, but we didn’t have mushrooms (and I was too lazy to go out to the store), so out they went. As for onions, they’re one of the few vegetables that I really, really dislike, and so when I’m making dinner I’ll often leave them out. If you want to change recipes, it’s very easy to do so, and as you go.

So I guess this marks the beginning of “cooking is awesome, yo” campaign, and the near-beginning of my college culinary exploits. Stay tuned! ‘Cause yeah. More to come! At some point!

* For those not familiar with the term, “to butterfly” means “to split a piece of food down the center, cutting almost through…the halves are fanned open and laid flat to cook or fry…the fan resembles a butterfly.” Kudos to for that definition, because god knows I’d mangle it. I’m like Justice Stewart and porn—I may not know how to define butterfly-ing, but I know it when I see it.

†I know, voilĂ  is all inappropriate and French (l’horreur!), but my high school didn’t teach Italian. So there.

No comments:

Post a Comment