Friday, March 26, 2010

Dining Hall Dujour

One of the categories in the Princeton Review's list of best colleges in the quality of food. I don't know if I necessarily agree with the idea of picking a school solely on the quality of food. From personal experience, even the best dining hall dishes get repetitive. Sadly, even the decently edible items like chicken or rice often sit out to dry under colossal heating lamps.

Iron chefs take one ingredient and make five completely different dishes from it. Perhaps, this is the way to approach dining hall fare -- to find a basic ingredient that is reliable -- but recurring -- and bring it back to life. Take your typical salad bar, for example. In general, you have access to lettuce, onions, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and shredded cheese. Salads tend to be a safe dining hall choice, because the veggies get refreshed and resupplied often, but who wants to eat like a rabbit every day? Perhaps, I can offer a solution.

Re-refried beans on Mexican night getting you down? Head to the salad bar -- throw a dash of salt and pepper on cut-up tomatoes and cucumbers for a delicious Israeli salad, and dress up semi-edible corn chips from that miserable burrito bar with homemade hummus -- for a fresh Mediterranean meal.

Feeling ambitious? Try homemade salsa and nachos -- grab those same corn chips, add some cheese, and microwave. Meanwhile, whip up some fresh salsa with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and a dash of Tabasco.

Dessert's a breeze, too. Sure, the root beer from the soda fountain is questionable and off-color some days, but add some vanilla "ice cream" from the frozen yogurt machine, and you'll barely notice.

Happy cooking, fellow foodies!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A College Student's Caffeine Consumption

All I'd like in my dorm is a coffeemaker. I'm a student, juggling five classes (overloading this semester), an internship, homework, and a social life. With luck I sleep. Needless to say, I drink at least one cup a day during a normal week (sometimes 2-3 on a Monday or after an all-nighter). At two bucks a pop (I'm a no frills kinda girl -- none of that mochiata frappalatte nonsense for me) my coffee consumption adds up.

For argument's sake, let's say I drink nine cups of coffee during an average week. That's 18 dollars. Let's not forget about exam weeks -- between studying and stress let's figure an additional seven cups for that week -- which happens twice a semester.

($18 * 15 weeks of the semester) + ($14 * 2 weeks of exams) = $298.00 worth of coffee each semester

I live in what Boston University calls a dormitory-style residence. For $10,170 a year, plus an additional meal plan subsidy, I have a single in a suite. In this single, I am not allowed any other appliances besides a micro-fridge. No appliances means no coffeemaker. For $10,310 I could live in what BU calls apartment-style residences, where I could have said coffeemaker, and all the coffee I wanted, but I would need to worry about additional food costs.

What's the better option? Have I gleaned enough from Iron Chef to be trusted to feed myself without my safety net of a dining plan? Or is the $298.00 reasonable?

Or instead, should colleges rescind their anti-appliance decrees? After all, we grew up with technology. Surely, we can be trusted to turn off the coffeemaker when we leave the room?

Who knows? Until then, Starbucks will continue its death grip on my wallet and coffee-loving soul.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Life Lessons I've learned from Iron Chef America

People say I have an irrational obsession with the Food Network. But I'm not alone: almost everyone I know is addicted. Do students go away to college, only to be drawn back to the kitchen or its dorm room proxy?

Living with parents who didn't appreciate the merit of background noise when studying, I lack TV in my Boston University dorm. Fortunately, a kind soul with YouTube alias mchan2048, uploaded dozens of Iron Chef episodes, enabling me to present to you:

Life Lessons I've learned from Iron Chef America

1) Presentation matters -- Whether we like to admit it or not, human beings judge. In Iron Chef, each judge can award five points for presentation. Three judges, given five points each, makes 15 points (25%!) of a chef's 60 point total. Thus presentation matters, because people remember first impressions.

2) Nix the Trout ice cream -- Some flavors, like people, mesh badly. While Ben and Jerry never reached this foodie extreme, Battle Trout, pitting Iron Chef Bobby Flay against challenger Hiroyuki Sakai, featured an infamous trout ice cream dessert, which undid its maker, Sakai. On a larger scale, I may hope two friends get along as well together as I do with each individually, but better to separate them, rather than risk the two snarling at each other.

3) Five dishes, 60 minutes, eight seasons -- files 120 episodes spread over eight Iron Chef seasons. That's roughly 1200 dishes, an incredible amount of food bespeaking a passionate love of cooking. And that, dear readers, is Iron Chef's takeaway lesson - to find that one thing that both challenges and makes us happy - and do it until we are physically exhausted. Or until the buzzer summons us to face the judges - whichever comes first.