One thing we’ve learned over the years is that hungry gamers are grumpy gamers. We’ve also learned that a good food experience makes for a better night than an utterly forgettable one.
Food for Thought is a series where we talk about food at the table.
So you’ve decided that at game this week you would like to try your hand at making something yourself rather than grabbing the handy phone. Sure, it’s easier to dial up food, but you’ve seen this new recipe and read about how food at the gaming table can be both fun and profitable.
Where do you start? What are the basic things you need to get started on this whole “cooking food for lots of people” thing?
Here we provide some basic tips on what kinds of supplies you’ll want to get started. And a few advanced suggestions for those who want them.
Finaira: The right tool is the one you’ve got
I own a lot of baking pans and cooking pots. Most of them are hand-me-downs from my mother as she replaced her old stuff with newer stuff. And that’s just fine. They work fine, but are a little…well loved. Sure, there are nicks, scratches and dents, but that’s not important. Not even remotely. So ignore all those people telling you that you need all the fancy this or that.
Some recipes require you to have specialized tools but I’ve found, by and large, that those things can be fudged. Want to make a layer cake but don’t have a leveller1? Use a piece of dental floss! Need to make pastry shells but lack pie weights? Go for a piece of tinfoil and some spare rice or dried beans. Sure, the fancy tools can make your life easier, but you don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars on them. Be creative, plan in advance and call your friends. You’ll never know when someone just happens to have mini-bundt pans they can lend you (long and hilarious story).
There are a few things that you should invest in though. If your group is only 4 people, you can probably get away with using the things you already own. But your gaming group is 6 people? 8? Are you cooking for a larp? Buy a bigger frying pan and a big soup pot. Desserts don’t really change in size, but do change in volume. So instead of making one pie, you may need two2. One-use tinfoil roasting pans, pie plates and the like are cost-efficient ways of getting around buying expensive equipment, but if you need to reuse them, they can fall short.
As for cooking skills, I strongly recommend picking up a copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It has great advice and a lot of basic recipes for dealing with common food items. There are also vegetarian versions of the book as well as one book designed to help out complete cooking newbies.
But still, my best advice is this. Don’t be afraid to try out new things. Don’t feel intimidated by complicated recipes and be willing to make mistakes. Practice makes perfect.
Kim: Rock soup!
One of the biggest hurdles to trying new recipes is that you might have to make a special trip to the store to pick up food you might not have on hand. It’s not just finding these foods – it’s trying to figure out what to do with the odds and ends, especially if the recipe you’re looking to use only uses a teaspoon of this or a pinch of that. How do you overcome that hurdle?
First, recognize that you’re cooking for a gaming group, not making a lifestyle change. That means that whatever you make should make use of what you already have around. You may need to pick up some things to round out the dish or take into account food aversions or allergies, but otherwise stick to what you’ve got.
Now, as it happens, what you have is much more versatile than what you think because cooking isn’t alchemy. It’s SCIENCE!3 A lot of recipes work because of the food chemistry involved and because foods can share chemical properties, it means that you can make food substitutions. Don’t have buttermilk on hand? Take a cup of milk and add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Let it sit for ten minutes and then use that. No one likes apples? Try using pears. A good resource to use to find substitutions is the website called the Cook’s Thesaurus, where you can search for a food and see what you can use as a substitute. Even a general search on the internet might be helpful.
If you do find yourself in need of something that isn’t already in your cupboards, check with your gaming group. As Finaira mentions above, you’d be surprised what might be lying around.4 It’s also possible that, should you find yourself buying too much of something you may never use again, someone in your group could have a use for it.
That being said, here’s where I think you should experiment and widen your horizons: spices. You can transform a dish just by changing up the spices that you use. Branching out from the spices that you already like can be tricky, however, since there’s so much variety. One thing you can do is to take a look at recipes of foods that you like and seeing what spices are being used. You can then try out that spice blend in another recipe and see how that works out. You can also raid the larders of your friends and try out some spice combinations with a fairly bland food to see if the combinations please you.
Spices can often be fairly expensive but thankfully you don’t need a lot. Don’t just shop for spices in your local megamart, though. Check out an ethnic grocery store and don’t be afraid to ask the proprietor questions on the spices they have on hand. Chances are they will have ideas and advice on how to properly bring out the flavour of dried or fresh spices. You can also check out health food or organic food stores for “rare” spices, though these may be more expensive.
Words from the peanut gallery
What supplies always grace your larder? What cooking tool couldn’t you live without?
- Basically a piece of cable suspended from a frame that can be adjusted to a set height to keep your cut perfectly even. ↩
- Or seven if you are me and baking for a larp. And yes, I did count how many pie plates I owned. ↩
- Except baking. I don’t understand baking so as far as I can tell, baking is alchemy. Possibly even magic…. ↩
- Need rosewater or a pile of instant vanilla pudding? I’m your woman. ↩