Everything is better With Ketchup

A Guide to Culinary Survival During the Lean years

Some people are just too cool to go away for spring break--that's what we said to each other as we watched our other friends scurry off to sunny beaches last week. Besides, we were broke, exhausted and swamped with over-extended papers. We would stay at Harvard and save our money.

Of course, we were too hip (and cheap) to pay for a week's worth of dining-hall food at Dudley House. So we decided to cook for ourselves. It seemed like a sassy idea: we would live sophisticated, frugal, independent. lives for a week, whipping up fast gourmet feasts on a shoestring budget.

Alas, pride goeth before the fall. Thinner and wiser, we present these moral lessons for you edification.

Lesson #1: Never put the oven on "BROIL."

We're not sure what "BROIL" is for. Maybe for drying out wet shoes. Certainly not for food preparation. If you do commit this culinary faux pas, however, use a butter knife to whittle away the black, carbonized surfaces of burned food. Brush off the black dust, and apply mustard liberally to disguise the ashy taste.

Lesson #2: Keep it simple.

A friend offers this spring breakinspired recipe. Clip `n' Save as a cautionary tale:

Allan's Creative Casserole

a) Boil a lot of rice until soft but still moist and boggy.

b) Mix in some hummus, a whole nutmeg(grated), a jar of chopped artichoke hearts in oil (including the oil), diced raw carrots and zucchini, some dried apricots, and a fresh mango (if you have one).

c) Fill all available oven-safe receptacles with this mixture. When you're hungry, take one out of the fridge and pop it in the oven. It's done when it smells like garbage on a hot day.

A pan of this stuff will last indefinitely, and it's nutritious, too: Allan wrote three papers over break, fortified by casserole-power alone.

Allan says he was aiming for "layers of flavor" when he invented this dish, sort of like literary "layers of meaning," or the "layered look" so popular on today's college campuses.

But the Flavor-layering thing didn't work. "It wasn't great," he confesses. ""I want you to know I've made much better casseroles."

Lesson #3: Bisquick is the greatest culinary innovation in the history of civilization. You'll use it a lot, so buy two boxes.

Lesson #4: Respect your vegetables.

On Sunday we bough a bag of tomatoes. On Wednesday e rediscovered them in a dark corner of the kitchen, dribbling weird liquids and seething with resentment like fat, red, neglected infants. We took them out of the bag to breathe, arranged them lovingly on the countertop, and immediately forgot them again. By Friday they were soft and bloated, and some had fuzzy black implosions in their yellowing skins.

They exuded a wonderful fruity smell as we mashed them down the garbage disposal.

Lesson #5: In the end going to a restaurant isn't such a bad idea.