Written by IainB

Friday, 11 February 2011

There are plenty of "How To" articles for buying houses and the other big decisions. How To books for cooking, however, are rarely called "How to Cook", unless you look for books by Delia Smith. Instead, they have a bewildering array of names, such as "30 Minute Meals", "101 Recipes for Lentils", and the like. This makes selecting appropriate reference material more complicated.

Many of you will ask the obvious question: "Why bother cooking? The university canteen is adequate, and closer to the lab."

And this is true, for food is merely there to keep the brain working.

If one is to attain a tenured professorship, then one must, inevitably, have a dinner party. The university canteen is not a good place to hold dinner parties. The strip lighting and Formica tables tend to put people off constructive conversation that can be steered around to tenure applications. Whilst a parent's home can be used for a dinner party, parents can be disruptive and try and hook a dedicated physicist up with any remotely female-looking person in the room, even if they have had to be invited by parents especially.

Therefore, if gaining tenure is not on the agenda, the university canteen will suffice.

Otherwise, you will need to cook.

Before starting, it is worth examining the contents of kitchen cupboards. The kitchen is the room with the toaster in it. Generally, in a physicist's house, cupboards will contain three jars of liquid nitrogen, a dead spider and a jar of pickled onions that were left by the former occupants. These will still be edible, but should not be offered to guests. In some rare occasions, a loving relative will have also put tomato soup in one of the cupboards. Should there be anything food related in the cupboards, this does not need to be bought again, unless the packaging shows a housewife proudly mopping a floor. This will no longer be edible, and should be sent to a museum.

It is also worth removing the Petri dishes from the fridge.

The first step is in deciding what to cook.

Check the kitchen for the following items:
1. A cooker - this is a fairly large appliance with a door in the front and rings on the top, with some dials to make the inside and/or top hot. It is probably the appliance last used to melt some lead. If one of these is present, anything can be cooked. To distinguish the cooker from the washing machine, sniff it. If it smells nice, it's the washing machine, if it smells rank, it's the cooker.
2. A microwave - this is a small cuboid shaped appliance with a door and a dial. It is the appliance that was used to approximate the speed of light using bread and butter. If one of these is present, but there is no cooker (see 1), then vegetables and your mother's pre-prepared meals can be cooked. To distinguish the microwave from the portable TV: can the front be opened without a screwdriver? If so, it is the microwave.
3. A toaster - one of these is always present as the mainstay sustenance of most physicists is toast.

For those physicists with a cooker, roast chicken is fairly trivial. For those without a cooker, then go for soup. For the majority of physicists, it's cold beans on toast again. Soup comes in cans, if you have no cooker, add "Soup" to your shopping list (more later) and go shopping. For the lucky few, add "Chicken, carrots, baby potatoes, broccoli and gravy" to your shopping list (more later).

A shopping list will enable you to maximise your budget using game theory for the quantities. Game theory is outside of the scope of this article, if you need help with using Game Theory to construct a shopping list, speak to a psychologist or a biologist. In essence, the idea is to balance the number of people attending by how little they can eat and not starve. Although reference books indicate that men require two and a half thousand (2,500) calories, whilst women require two thousand (2,000) calories, this is for the entire day, and should not be consumed in one meal. [Please cross reference with the article on identifying men and women]. Men typically require about nine hundred (900) calories for an evening meal, whilst women require a meal containing minus five hundred (-500) calories. Do not worry about creating a meal containing negative calories, as it is unlikely that a physicist would be able to get a woman back for a meal.

Shopping can be ordered on-line. This avoids meeting people, and is strongly advised. When shopping for food, it is advised that any other items required for the home, such as toilet roll, cleaning products, as many plates as there are visitors coming and light-bulbs, be ordered at the same time.

To cook soup, open the can using the ring pull if present, otherwise a can opener will be required (see picture). If you do not have one of these, then use your jigsaw with a metal cutting blade. Or order one while shopping.

Cooking chicken, as mentioned above, is fairly trivial, as these days they come ready plucked and dead. However, there are a number of points to remember. Firstly remove all packaging; otherwise the chicken will taste of packaging. Do not discard the packaging immediately. Secondly, turn the oven on; otherwise the chicken will look the same after an hour as before being put into the oven. On the packaging will be instructions for cooking. To determine if you have a gas or electric oven, if the numbers on the dial with numbers on exceed nine (9) it is an electric oven. For British readers, these numbers will be in centigrade, for American readers, these will be in Fahrenheit. This is important: They are not in Kelvin. Set the temperature as noted on the packaging. If your parents did not bequeath you a tray for cooking, then use a metal plate that you will inevitably have left over from the construction of your Robot Wars robot. Look at the time, add the length of time required for cooking the chicken to the time, and set the alarm on your iPhone to go off, remembering to use the phrase "Take the Chicken Out of the Oven" in the alarm, so you know why it is going off.

Please remember, if you wish to eat at a particular time, to work backwards to calculate the point at which the chicken is to go in the oven.

That's it for the chicken.

Use any sharp knife to cut both ends off the carrot and discard these. Next cut the carrot into small chunks approximately one centimetre wide. Peeling carrots will be left for the more adventurous cook. Broccoli is a fractal plant, and beloved of physicists for this reason. Using fractal analysis use the sharp knife to turn the large broccoli into as many two and a half centimetre broccolis as you can. Discard the big stalk. Each person eating will require four potatoes, five broccoli pieces and ten carrots. This is an approximation, as individual amounts will vary. A PhD student has previously done the calculations for these approximations (workings available on request).

When the chicken alarm goes off, take the chicken out of the oven. There will have been a great deal of thermal transfer from the oven to the chicken and the metal plate. Therefore, use your welding gloves to remove the chicken on the tray from the oven. Place this to one side to cool. Meanwhile, put the prepared broccoli, carrots and potatoes into a pan (or the metal mixing bowl used for powdering aluminium - please ensure it is fully cleaned) and cover the vegetables with water (ordinary tap water will suffice). Turn on all the rings on top of the oven by turning the dials on the front as far as they will go. They should all get hot. Turn off three of them, leaving just one on. It is important to turn three of them off, as they will burn you otherwise. Three will cool down; put the pan on the other still hot one. Leave it for twenty minutes.

Whilst the water is boiling use your sharp knife to hack the meat off the chicken. Get as much off as you can. As this is the first time you have done this, it will take about twenty minutes. Hopefully, you remembered to order the plates when you were shopping, or have sufficient in the house that have been washed in the past week. Plates are allocated in a one-to-one ratio for guests. Guests do not like sharing a plate. Approximately apportion the chopped chicken onto the plates. Do not be tempted to get it exactly right, as this will take far too long. The veg will now be done. Drain the water from the vegetables into a jug (the sulphuric acid measuring jug will be ok) and apportion it across the plates. Mix the gravy into the water. Pour over the chicken on the plates and serve to the waiting guests.

If all your guests are violently ill the following day, stick to cold beans on toast in future. It's safer.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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