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by Mike Garowee
Cooking is an essential skill, whether you’re actually skilled or ... not so much. Either way, preparing food is crucial to maintaining good health -- “Ramen and Doritos” is a diet that only your college-aged body can survive. Beyond that, you should probably know how to do a few things in the kitchen that don’t involve following the directions on a box.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a pro. There are some pretty simple methods for preparing mouth-watering goodness that don’t require any special equipment. And even when it does, you can totally make those things yourself.
Turn Your Old Slow Cooker Into A Sous-Vide Rig
Let’s say your boss is coming over for dinner, and you really want to impress them with your culinary ability so you can get that big promotion. You decide to prepare a delectable steak, but at the last minute realize you have neither the beef tallow nor the skills to create anything that won’t look and taste like the sole of a shoe. Thankfully, you remember you can totally cook that cut of meat perfectly if you go the sous-vide route.
If you’re not familiar with sous-vide, it’s a way of cooking things to an exact temperature by putting your food in a sealed bag and submerging it in heated water. It’s a great way to ensure that whatever you’re preparing heats evenly all the way through, and that you don’t overcook or undercook it, since the process is a bit more reliable than throwing food in a hot pan and praying to the culinary gods that you get it right.
And if you still have that old slow cooker your mom gave you, it can easily be converted into a sous-vide cooker. Using nothing more than a digital temperature controller, a thermocouple, and an extension cord, you can rig up your own Perfect Food Preparer in no time.
If you don’t happen to have the spare parts lying around, you can get them on the cheap. Oh, and don’t forget the blowtorch, not only because you’ll want to give that steak a nice, seared finish, but because any excuse to use a blowtorch is awesome.
Make A Double Boiler Out Of A Sauce Pan And A Bowl
After your impressive steak is consumed, your boss says that your meal was so divine that they can’t wait to see what’s for dessert. “Crap,” you say, perhaps a bit too audibly, then race to the kitchen to see what you can throw together.
All you have are some chocolate bars, which probably won’t cut it all by themselves, no matter how good your plating and presentation skills are. Microwave S’mores probably won’t cut it, either. Fortunately you have some fruit, and nothing says “fancy dessert” like chocolate-covered strawberries. Except for maybe something you put some time and effort into.
Double boilers are great for adding steady, indirect heat for things like melting chocolate and creating a variety of sauces. Steam from the boiling water gets things very hot very quickly, while at the same time making sure nothing burns. But if you’re the type of person that eats cereal out of an old margarine tub, you probably don’t have one. Luckily, you can make your own very easily with nothing more than a sauce pan and a bowl:
If you don’t have a Pyrex bowl, a metal one works, too. And if you’re not the proud owner of a large bowl, just go buy one already; they’re pretty cheap. Plus, when you’re not using it to make yummy treats it can serve as your new cereal bowl, allowing you to enjoy breakfast with the pride and non-margarine-tub-using self-respect you deserve.
Use A Pan To Make A Cold Plate For Homemade Ice Cream
OK, so you nailed that promotion, and on the weekend you decide to celebrate with an activity you call “ninja air guitar” in your garage, which consists of blasting music and a fog machine, while wearing a sweet samurai outfit. Afterwards, a cold, refreshing treat sounds incredible, but now you’re way too tired and sweaty to go to the store, and you ignored the ice cream truck’s inviting song because ninja air guitar is intense and cannot be interrupted.
But hey, you still have some dry ice leftover from the fog machine. And with that, a pan and a towel, you can make your own damn ice cream. Unfortunately, it won’t be in the shape of a Looney Tunes character with bubble gum eyeballs. It will, however, be better, because while ice cream is awesome all by itself, the homemade kind kicks way more ass because you can add whatever you want to it.
Just cover some dry ice with a towel, soak it in booze, and put a pan on top of it. Then mix some condensed milk and heavy cream, add whatever ingredients you’re craving, and spread it around until it’s cold and ice cream-textured enough. That’s pretty much it.
Finally, an easy way to enjoy the most ninja-ish, rock star flavors the mind can imagine. Or even that mung bean and clam ice cream you remember as a kid -- the kind dear old Grandpa used to make.
Make A Steamer Out Of A Skillet And Aluminum Foil
As awesome as ninja air guitar is, it’s more of a solo celebratory experience, and perhaps not the ideal way for your significant other to share in the joy of your accomplishment. Maybe a nice dinner together is a better option — something fancy that doesn’t involve a microwave or a phone call to Doug’s Pet Ferrets and Pizza Emporium.
That’s when you remember, again, that you’re no chef. As awesome as your promotion to Sewer Pipe Analyst II is, none of your skilled technical training has prepared you to do a single damned thing in the kitchen. Which sucks, because your better half is thinking fish for tonight’s main course, and you have no idea what the hell you’re doing.
Luckily, steaming foods is a quick and easy way to cook. It adds no fat, doesn’t get food too soggy, and doesn’t take a long time. And even if you don’t own a steam basket or a steamer, you can totally make your own. Simply wad up some aluminum into balls and place them on the bottom of a relatively deep skillet. Then put your food on a heat-proof plate on top of the foil balls, pour in some water, crank the heat up until it boils, and cover.
And since you can eat off the plate you used to cook (Editor’s note: not recommended if you made chicken), that’s one less thing to wash, making this trick the equivalent of “microwaving for healthy people who don’t like dried out food.” Just remember that steam, much like the fire that made it, is hot. Always wait for it to dissipate before trying to pick anything up, and use a dry hand towel or oven mitt for an added layer of protection. No matter how badass you think you are, you really don’t want to end up like that guy from Raiders Of The Lost Ark who tried grabbing the headpiece to the Staff of Ra.
Use A Popcorn Popper To Roast Your Own Coffee Beans
After an awesome night of fine cuisine and binge-watching The Office, you wake up energized and excited about the latest milestone in your career. Or at least mostly energized -- you still need that morning cup of Joe to shake off the hazies and figure out which Dwight Schrute quote you want to use first.
Since you’re still in celebration mode, you’ll accept no less than a quality cup of coffee, but that seems like an all-too-far car ride away. Before you grab that can of Folger’s Instant, however, you remember that you thought ahead, and actually roasted your own coffee beans in advance for just such an occasion.
It’s pretty easy to do, in fact: All it takes is a hot air popcorn popper. Just pour the beans in, put the butter tray on top, then place a colander down to catch all the chaff. You’ll want to stir the beans a bit with something long enough and heat resistant, like a wooden spoon or something. Of course, each popcorn popper is different, so you’ll want to play around with how long you let the beans “pop” to get the flavor you want. But after that, it’s nothing but smooth, java goodness.
You’ll also need to let the beans sit in a plastic bag for a day or two to get rid of the excess CO2 before tossing them in your coffee grinder. Oh, and if you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can always just use a rolling pin or a blender.
Take that, Starbucks.
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