People would probably say taste isn’t exactly critical to living. Of course to that I would reply, “you call that living?” I enjoy food probably a little more than the next guy. Not to excess, mind… just what it offers as a total experience. Besides the obvious nourishment, a meal can be a break to savor and enjoy at one’s own pace. In addition, it’s a great venue to get to know new people and try new things. I don’t just mean restaurants, although I highly value anyone that can clue me into a good place to eat. No, I’m talking about cooking.
Cooking, I freely admit, is something I’m very into right now. It’s a great hobby for any creative soul; a recipe gives a framework that you can adapt in any way you see fit. There’s a lot of expression in cooking, and then you get to eat it afterwards. Good system. I believe that everyone has at least one thing they can cook really well. Often it’s a dish that you enjoyed eating as a kid, learned how to make for yourself, and then spent a decade getting exactly right. I would ingest any medicine or read any book that’s been developed for ten years. Why not a meal that’s gotten similar attention? For me it used to be Fried Eggs, but I’m working on improving my range.
Alton Brown’s Good Eats is the only cooking show I watch. This is a guy that’s a fine chef, as well as an extreme dork. The first I’m jealous of, but the second is what makes the show so accessible. He’s had some very good recipes, but for my reader friends, here’s one of his that’s applicable to any tourney-goer.
Homemade Granola Bars
8 ounces rolled oats
1 Â½ ounces raw sunflower seeds
3 ounces sliced almonds
1 Â½ ounces wheat germ*
6 ounces honey**
1 Â¾ ounces dark brown sugar
1 ounce unsalted butter (plus enough to grease a pan)
Â½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 Â½ ounces chopped dried fruit***
Spread the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ**** in a roasting pan and toast at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes. While that’s toasting, combine sugar, butter, honey, salt, and extract in medium saucepan and stir until sugar dissolves over medium heat.
When toasting is done, add the dry stuff to the sugar mixture and add dried fruit, stirring to combine. Set oven to 300 degrees and continue to stir mixture until integrated and difficult to work with. Put mixture into a greased baking pan and use another greased baking pan to press down on oats so they’re evenly distributed. Place the baking pan in the oven for 25 minutes. When baking time is up, allow them to cool completely*****. Tip the gigantic bar out and cut into squares. Bam! Instant granola bars******.
*Very healthy stuff that tastes fine, if it tastes like anything at all.
**The honey proportion is kind of tricky. Too little and the mass will crumble into plain granola (which is still tasty but harder to carry around). I exchanged Â¼ of the honey for corn syrup one time, but it’s hydroscopic as hell, and made the mass very, very sticky. The correct amount of liquid is probably the toughest part of the recipe.
***I like blueberries, dried banana, and dried papaya myself. Other options include dried apricots and maybe dried cherries.
****I throw in coconut shreds to toast along with the other baking stuff here. Completely unnecessary, but why not give the almonds some competition?
*****Very important! You may have to wait overnight, but things will literally fall apart if you’re not patient here.
******How awesome are these bars? They’re very healthy and about 10x cheaper than the same quantity would be at a grocery store. Cut them up and bring with you to a tournament to garner stamina along the day. They taste great and if you want to make friends, hand ‘em out to your opponents (before or after you smite them, it doesn’t much matter).
I read a study a little while ago that says the brain is actually more focused when your body is hungry. The writer of the article suggests not eating x hours before a big test to boost your mental capabilities. I think this idea may have some merit, but there are quite a number of risks. Some people get really distracted when hungry, and they may play extra fast just to end the round and get some chow. Seen it happen. In addition, the timing is pretty tough. You can pull it off for one round, maybe, but after that I think you lose cognitive function. A risky maneuver, but maybe it’s worth a shot in the finals of a PTQ.
Speaking of food and finals, about 6 years ago, I had made the finals of a particular PTQ. Unfortunately, the tournament had taken so long that everyone was being kicked out of the site. Where to go? Well it seemed that there was a 24-hour restaurant not three blocks away. So me, my finals opponents, some judging staff and the spectators all drove down to the local Perkins. Perkins is like Shari’s, or Denny’s, or Embers, or any other chained 24-hour joint of your particular locale. Me and the boys have done many a 2am draft at these kinds of places, but it was definitely the first time I had been to a Perkins event that was sanctioned.
It was an odd affair. Some of the spectators had gathered chairs and were watching the table, after moving the salt and creamers. The judge was watching the match very intensely when he wasn’t taking a bite out of his quesadilla. My opponent was a good friend of mine named Ryan Sturm, a very capable player out of Minnesota. Maybe it was the late hour, or maybe it was him almost dropping his hand into his pancakes, but Ryan made a rare error in the third game and I took home the blue envelope, and some leftovers. Not the most impressive win in the world, but perhaps the most nourishing.
Finally, five excellently tasty dishes, in no particular order:
*Homemade Lemon Curd
See you tomorrow.
*It’s not really about the taste. I just like an affirmation that I’m doing something right.
**This one isn’t exactly risquÃ©, but you just might feel that way after consuming. Because I love all y’all:
4 Pounds Vidalia onions, quartered
1 Â½ teaspoons Olive Oil
2/3 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup 1% milk
Â¼ cup shredded gruyere cheese
Â¾ teaspoon salt
Â¼ teaspoon black pepper
*Preheat oven to 400Â°
*Place onions in a baking dish covered in cooking spray. Toss onions in oil to coat and bake in oven for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through. After 40 minutes, add the sherry, stir to combine, and place onion in oven for another 40 minutes, again stirring after 20.
*Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Slowly add flour, whisking until integrated; bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, cook for one minute. Remove from heat and cheese, salt and pepper, stirring until smooth.
*Pour mixture over onions, stirring to combine. Bake at 400Â° for 20 more minutes, until top is golden brown and delicious. Let stand for 10 minutes, eat, die happy.
Courtesy of Cooking Light.