The holidays mean parties, potlucks, office events, and family get-togethers requiring a dish of some sort. Rather than going to your local grocery and picking up a clamshell-packaged pie, why not inject some nerdy flavor into your winter spread? I’ve rounded up and bastardized recipes for a couple appetizers, a couple sides, and some desserts, the types of things you’d be likely to bring to a potluck. None of the following dishes are overtly geeky, so you won’t have to explain the unsettling significance of Fruity Oaty Bars to your relatives. You can simply bask in the knowledge that you brought some nerd to the table, and get your geek eats on.
“It always amazes me what your Swiss-cheesed brain chooses to remember.” Quantum Leap, “How the Tess Was Won”
Sam Beckett has a whole mess of problems. He’s literally dropped into someone else’s body, forced to correct some mistake or another in their life, and then wrenched out of the situation only to replay it again and again. Not only is he stuck in this endless loop of time-traveling do-goodery, but he’s suffering from a hefty dose of amnesia to boot. Al, Sam’s smarmy, holographic companion, loves referring to this as Sam’s “swiss-cheesed brain,” and Sam has to live with hearing that line over and over again, too.
Thankfully, I didn’t have any brains on hand, so here I substituted bacon. Try serving this dip with bagel chips or multigrain crackers, and be thankful that your next leap will very likely be the leap home.
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Preheat oven to 350° F.
Fry the bacon. Drain on paper towels, crumble it up to your liking.
Mix all seven ingredients in an oven-safe dish. Bake, uncovered, until golden on top and bubbly (about 15-20 minutes).
“See, the genius of it is, you soak it in ice water for an hour so it holds its shape. Then you deep-fry it root-side up for about 5 minutes.” Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Empty Places”
Spike was one of Buffy‘s most layered characters. His character arc, drawn very broadly, went very bad guy, mildly bad, sort of good, would-be rapist, bad again, but not entirely his fault, almost love interest, really very good. His likes and dislikes were pretty specific, and suited how we understood the character (black leather, The Sex Pistols, etc), but his love for The Bronze’s onion blossom was pretty incongruous with all we knew of Spike.
As a vampire, he gets no benefit from solid food, and really? It’s a flower. This made his affinity for it almost charming, because everyone loves deep-fried flowering onions, even William the Bloody.
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Peel the onion and cut off the top. Slice the onion in ¾ inch wedges, but do not cut all the way through, leave the thing attached on the bottom. As Spike says, soak it in cold water (but you don’t need to wait a whole hour; 20-30 minutes should be sufficient. You’ll know it’s ready when you see the wedges start to open up). Drain and pat the onion dry.
Preheat the vegetable oil in a large, deep saucepan (you want the oil deep enough to fit the whole onion).
Carefully place the onion, “root-side up,” in the hot oil, and fry until it’s golden, but still tender (should be about 15 minutes; keep an eye on it). Drain well on paper towels. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper and salt, and avoid sun and crucifixes for a bit.
“What sort of date are you? Come on then, tightwad, chips are on me… we’ve only got five billion years till the shops close!” Doctor Who, “The End of the World”
As far as companions go, Rose was the one you wanted to hang out with. Pretty unflappable, good sense of humor, and a deep-seated love of chips made her lovable, approachable, and just fun. The world could be crashing down around her, and Rose would have chips on the mind. Working in a school where children are being used as creepy alien computing tools? Have some chips. Discover that those chips weren’t cooked in your run-of-the-mill oil? Well, they were still good chips.
Making French fries, as we Yanks call them, for a fancy holiday spread may not be entirely feasible (homemade chips are only good right out of the oven and/or fryer), so here’s a gussied-up version of golden fried potatoes appropriate for company. Jackie would approve.
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Preheat oven to 425°F. Put 2 Tbs of the butter in an oven-proof nonstick skillet, and swirl the thing around to get the whole skillet nice and coated. Mix spices in a small bowl.
Layer 2 layers of potato slices in the skillet (this works best if you start on the outside and work your way in in concentric circles). Sprinkle with a quarter of the spice mixture, drizzle with 2 Tbs of melted butter, and then 2 Tbs of cheese, keeping the cheese away from the sides of the skillet. Repeat the whole potato-layering, spice-butter-cheese sprinkling process until you run out of ingredients.
Heat the skillet over medium heat until it’s screaming hot. Cook an additional 3 minutes, and give the skillet an occasional gentle shake to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and cover (foil will work if your skillet has no lid). Bake 25 minutes. Remove lid, bake an additional 25 minutes, or until golden and tender.
Let sit for 5 minutes before you attempt removal from skillet. Run a spatula along the sides of the skillet to loosen things up, cover the skillet with your selected serving plate, and carefully upend the whole thing.
“I tried to think of the most harmless thing — something that I loved from my childhood, something that would never ever possibly destroy us: Mr. Stay-Puft.” Ghostbusters
Marshmallows are symbolic of both childhood and Thanksgiving. They’re what you used to roast by the fire at Camp Waconda, and what you snuck off the top of the casserole when Mom wasn’t looking. These are marshmallows that, unlike others, won’t grow to monstrous size and roam your hometown, bent on destruction. These are innocuous marshmallows.
If, however, Gozer the Gozerian tells you to choose the form of the Destructor, do not think of this casserole. Getting exploded marshmallow out of your stuff is nothing compared to exploded marshmallow and sweet potato, brown sugar, and butter.
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Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a quart-size baking dish.
In a large bowl, mash the yams, then add the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, egg, and butter. Mix well, then spread half of this mixture into the baking dish.
Top with half the marshmallows, then add the rest of the yams. Bake for 30 minutes, remove, and add the rest of the marshmallows.
Bake another ten minutes, or until marshmallows are browned to your liking.
“Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Star Trek: The Next Generation, “All Good Things…”
Jean-Luc Picard may not be everyone’s choice of captain, but you have to love a man who turns to tea in stressful situations. I wouldn’t be surprised if tea were the only thing his ready room’s replicator was capable of making. Tea, however, is a pretty boring thing to bring to a potluck.
For a less liquidy contribution, bake Jean-Luc’s beverage of choice into a portable and crowd-pleasing dessert. I would, however, avoid serving them hot. Cupcakes are much simpler to frost when at room temperature, and what’s a holiday cupcake sans frosting?
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Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.
Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to boil; promptly remove it from heat. Add the tea bags to the milk. Cover this, and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. (After this, discard the teabags.)
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and smooth (should take about 3 to 5 minutes). Add almond extract, then add the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is mixed in before you add the next.
Sift the two flours together into a separate bowl. Add a third to the creamed mixture, then add a third of the infused milk to that. Repeat until all ingredients are combined.
Fill the cupcake cups about 2/3 full, then bake about 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes before removing. If frosting, wait until they’re room temperature to frost.
“Fruity Oaty Bars/ Make a man out of a mouse/ Fruity Oaty Bars/ Make you bust out of your blouse/ Eat them all the time/ Let them blow your mind/ Fruity Oaty Bars!” Serenity
I hope no-one realized they were a sleeper agent after reading that. If you did, my apologies. I hope the property destruction was not too great, and that you didn’t kill anyone. Fruity Oaty Bars play a surprisingly pivotal role in Serenity. These little taste sensations from Blue Sun serve as a catalyst for River Tam’s character development, and in doing so, propel the rest of the crew along the way.
A word to the wise: I can make no assurances as to the strength- and/or bosom-enhancing qualities of this dessert. They might blow your mind, though.
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Preheat oven to 375° F. Place sliced apples in a 9×9 baking dish.
Combine all other ingredients and spread over apples. Bake 35 minutes. Let cool before slicing.
“It’s not ‘Door to Heaven,’ it’s… ‘Stargate.'” Stargate
If, like me, you find yourself with no time to cook, bring a box of doughnuts. Everyone loves them, they’re easy to eat, and they look like little stargates. Done.
Bon geek appétit, all.