Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Guest Post: College Cooking For Two

Guess what? It's time for another guest post! As I wrote in my last post, one of the men in my life approached me, wondering if he could write a courageous kitchen adventure for the blog. Of course I said yes right away. So who is this mystery man? It's not the Best Husband Ever . . . it's not my dad, or my father-in-law, or any of my three manly dogs. It's my brother!

My three-years-younger brother is finishing up his last year (or so . . . I can never keep up!) of college, where he's studying computer science. This weekend he cooked an ambitious dinner for a date (now that takes courage, in my opinion, especially if it's a first date!), and wanted to write about it. We have different philosophies about food, nutrition, and alcohol, so this meal is a little different from something you might find on my table. However, I enjoyed how my brother was able to ventureinto unknown culinary territory in a thrifty and dorm-friendly way. Thank you for your post, little brother!

This is the Best Younger Brother Ever, giving the Best Older Sister Ever a day off to relax, and to fill everyone in with some pointers for cooking in a college dorm. I put together a little meal with a very pretty date this past Saturday, and filled three essential college points: cheap, easy, and doesn’t require a whole bunch of pots and pans.

The main course of the dinner was a London Broil I got from the local A&P supermarket the night before for approximately $7.00, with sides of green beans ($3.00) and sliced potatoes ($3.50). Since this was a nicer date, I opted for a bottle of Barefoot Merlot ($12.00) instead of iced tea or soft drinks. The total price was a reasonable $25.50, but since we only drank a third of the wine, I would put the actual price at $20.00.

Your browser may not support display of this image.The London broil was the toughest thing to cook. A thick cut of meat is always a challenge to properly marinate and cook properly, but with a little bit of help it wasn’t too much of an issue. I used a bottle of low-fat Italian salad dressing (left over from a previous dinner) to almost fill a plastic serving tray (from a different previous Chinese food take-out dinner). I put the meat into the tray at about 11:00 p.m. the night before and let it marinate for about 16 hours, taking it out at around 4:30 p.m. the next day. I covered the broil in a salt-and-pepper and oregano mix, which burned off nicely when it cooked. The actual cooking was done in a skillet lightly greased with butter. Cook time was longer than everything else, taking about 40 minutes to get a thoroughly done broil. It was necessary to flip the meat every few minutes to make sure it was evenly cooked, and after about a half hour I cut slices into the meat to make sure the middle was properly and evenly heated. The London broil came out a little tough for my taste, but was very tasty from the long marinade I had given it.

As a vegetable, I used a small packed of string beans I had come across while shopping for meat. Since I’m limited on pots and pans, being able to just throw the beans into the microwave was a huge help. The cooking direction for these is beyond simple: punch a hole in the plastic bag and cook on high for 3-4 minutes, or until the green beans are as soft as you’d like them; after, let cool for a few minutes before opening the bag.

The last major part of the meal was some tasty cheddar and bacon potatoes. I tried to stay away from anything boxed and dodgy as much as possible, but the potatoes were already around so I jumped at the opportunity to use them. Mixing the sliced potatoes and provided spice baggie with 1/3 of a cup of milk, 2 1/4 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of butter and letting it simmer for about 5 minutes on medium heat worked great. The potatoes came out extra-tasty and perfectly done -- the perfect texture and the perfect warmth.

The wine wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t miserable either. For a first experience and essentially flying blind, the meal came out great. I might cook the meat a bit more carefully, since a moment of inattention let the bottom burn just a little bit, and I would definitely wait longer to put the green beans in the microwave.

My date thought the meal was great.

Your browser may not support display of this image.By my goals for a good college meal, this went great. The total equipment used was a bowl and two plates (since I don’t have two large plates for this kind of meal), a skillet, a pot with lid, a microwave, measuring cups, a (leftover) plastic serving dish, and a refrigerator, which isn’t too far from what most students will at least have access to. Even with the somewhat expensive cut of meat, the total price for the meal came to about $20, far lower than eating out in Hoboken, NJ. Being “easy” is too relative, but there was a scare when cooking the meat that I might set off the fire alarm; thankfully, nothing happened.

Check by tomorrow for your usual Best Older Sister Ever post!

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