Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ode to the Oven

The classic "thermally insulated chamber", as Wikipedia puts it, is one of your best friends when it comes to cooking large quantities of food quickly. If you plan on providing large quantities of good home cooking when gaming, the oven is the way to go. Apparently, the oldest found to date are over 30,000 years old, though for actual cooking, a newer model may be very useful - but for serious cooking, avoid the microwave oven.
From Wikipedia: Oven
Roasting, grilling, baking, heating - all can be accomplished with your trusty regular oven. In my experience the microwave is capable of heating and turning salmon stakes into horrid, smelling, oozing lumps of quivering yuck. Yes, I tried - experiment is sometimes the mother of invention. Now, to make the oven work well, there is just one trick to remember: pre-heat your oven to the temperature you will be using. Beyond that, most dishes just require that proto-food is inserted, left alone and magically transmuted by the oven into delectable dining.

Cook Cantrip - The Frozen Pizza
Duration: 5 minute ritual prep + 10-15 minute baking at 180°C to 200°C
The simplest use of an oven in gaming, to my mind, is for heating and baking store-bought pizzas. Through trial-and-error we realized that the absolutely cheapest pizzas are often absolute garbage, while the most expensive ones just have more dubious-looking frozen goodies appended. A fine compromise is to take a good-quality margherita (just dough, tomatoes and cheese) then add herbs (e.g. oregano, peppers), more cheese (mozzarella, gorgonzola, brie), and more meat (smoked ham, cooked ham, thinly sliced salami), before popping the little taste-bud-tingler in the oven.

Cook lvl 2-4 - The Home-made Pizza
Duration: ~1 hour at least, potentially a multi-day ritual
A slightly more complex, potentially much tastier and definitely much messier dish is the home-made pizza. The dough is simple enough, just flour, water, salt and yeast. Or at least, it sounds easier - the fact is, to make good dough takes time, practice and a willingness to get your hands dirty. It can be fun, but it's definitely not the easiest thing to do. After that, some fresh pelati or tomato concentrate, cheeses, herbs and meats complete the pizza. If you really love pizza, you can delve deep into this lore: suffice to say, while I like making pizzas, this may be too long for most gamers.

Cook Familiar - The Pizza Slave
Something we used to regularly do at our D&D games was transform one player each session (usually a cross between the most reliable and latest player) into the pizza slave, responsible for looking at his watch and putting frozen pizza after frozen pizza into the oven and delivering baked, yummy goodness to the table at regular, 30 minute intervals. I think all gamers would agree that the pizza slave deserves at least a small xp bonus for his troubles. It's a good idea to equip the pizza slave with a large wooden platter & knife (not necessarily so large), so that serving and slicing the pizzas is easy enough.

Cook lvl 3 - Roast Duck Breast and Potatoes
Duration: 10 minute prep + 35-45 minutes of baking at 200°C
Not so typical and slightly harder to game around, since it is so delicious and requires plates. This is a dish that exemplifies why I love ovens. Take a good baking tray with moderately high sides and splash a bit of olive oil on the bottom. Then, wash and cut potatoes into small bits of around half an inch thick and cover the bottom of the tray with them. Sprinkle salt and herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, whateversie) on top. Then take the duck breast (aim for about 150-200g per hungry gamer), if you like, score the skin a bit, take some mustard and smear the whole thing with it, pop it on top of the potatoes, skin side up, and chuck the whole thing into the oven.
Seriously, just writing this cooking spell up is making me sad that I don't know where to find some duck. :S

Beyond the basics of the oven, it's an easy and fun game of tossing things in, ignoring them for a while and then seeing what happened. One thing to watch out for is, in my experience, potatoes, since they take a really long time to bake thoroughly. However, even this problem can be avoided, if you cut them up finely enough.

Right, time for breakfast.