Foodie Blog

Dorm Room Cuisine: Illegal Equipment + Scavenged Ingredients = Best College Grub Ever

By Cathy Huyghe   |   Thursday, August 12, 2010
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"I have a hotpot stove thing."

“The breadmaker works well too.”

“The George Foreman grill is usable.”

Eventually, my friend confessed, “I basically have a kitchen in my dorm room.”

Spurred on by the cornucopia at Russo’s in Watertown – it’s like the civilized offspring of a Chinese and Parisian open-air market or a homier Whole Foods – we decided to cook in her room the next day.

Cranberry beans, which I’d only seen in pictures, looked even more beautiful in person, and although I had no idea what to do with them, I still scooped up half a pound. We also took home some sugar snap peas and Asian pears.

Later, standing in front of the meat section at Shaw’s and wondering how to slice the meat thin enough for Korean barbecue, my friend casually mentioned that her parents had bought a deli slicer precisely to solve this problem. A rather extreme yet admittedly admirable act, I thought to myself. We grabbed some ribs and marinade and teetered home on bikes with handlebars laden with produce.

The next day, we convened in my friend’s dorm room. A couple plates of rice, salt, pepper, sugar, and oil had already been foraged from the dining hall. My friend had warned me during the day, when we had been exchanging recipe ideas via email, that her Foreman grill was “tiiiny.”

“How tiny?”

“Like the size of one burger patty. Ideal for a dorm room. I guess.”

She also mentioned that her roommates were slightly skeezed out by the raw meat marinating in their fridge. The results, however, were impressive and absolutely worth any doubts that we, or her roommates, might have had.

The Foreman grill did its job, no oil, no smoke-sucking hood needed. The meat was smoky, juicy, lightly charred with tones of peanut and soy sauce.

We sautéed the sugar snap peas with garlic and slivers of rehydrated shiitake mushrooms and dropped in bits of prosciutto at the last minute.

As for the gorgeous cranberry beans, I decided to simply boil and sauté them. While waiting for them to crisp up, I spied a jar of chili-lime popcorn seasoning on the shelf. I dropped a pinch of it on the beans, tasted, and then dumped in more. In the end, I wished I’d bought more of these beans at Russo’s.

Halfway through eating the Asian pears for dessert, we realized that we’d created a major faux pas. In Chinese, fen-li (splitting pears) is a homonym for fen-li (separation). Did this bode ill for our friendship? We were determined to ignore cruel fate and meet again for another delicious meal of dormitory cooking.

Marilynn and Sheila Brass vs. Bobby Flay: Who Won?

By Cathy Huyghe   |   Tuesday, August 10, 2010
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"Let me start with full disclosure.

I have never watched an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

I hadn't ever, that is, until last night, when Marilynn and Sheila Brass were challenged to a Pineapple Upside Down Cake bake-off on Flay’s show. The Brass sisters, award-winning authors of Heirloom Baking and Heirloom Cooking, are Cambridge residents who have made a name for themselves as interpreters and perfecters of historical recipes. (See my article on them from a few years ago in the food section of The Boston Globe.) Sheila Brass is a long-time employee at WGBH, and Marilynn Brass is a two-time alumna of Northeastern University, in whose gorgeous new exhibition kitchen the episode was taped.

Let’s cut to the chase: the judges named the Brass sisters’ cake the winner!

That’s the bottom line, I suppose, but through the course of the episode I was more interested in what makes Throwdown with Bobby Flay good television.

Partly it’s the drama of the competition of course, which is inevitable given the format of the show. It pits “the pro,” Flay, against amateur but very well-regarded cooks and bakers across the country; the playing field is evened somewhat by the specific dish of the competition, which is a specialty of the amateurs while Flay and his co-cooks start their rendition from scratch.

What also makes Throwdown with Bobbly Flay good television is the personality, surprise, and reaction of the cooks who are challenged. Some react by trash-talking with Flay but the Brass sisters, true to their playful yet sincere and well-mannered form, were FUNNY and gracious from start to finish.

That not only makes for good television, it makes for good people, which made it impossible not to root for the Brass sisters’ Pineapple Upside Down Cake. When the judges’ decision was announced, naming the Brass cake the winner, the audience at the Northeastern exhibition kitchen cheered wildly.

So did I.

Cathy Huyghe is a contributor to WGBH Daily Dish blog. Read new WGBH Daily Dish posts every weekday, where you can explore recipes and tips for good food and wine.

Sister Noella and her cheese: “The Cheese Nun” in Cambridge

By Germaine Frechette   |   Thursday, August 12, 2010
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Cheese is one of the world’s most beloved foods whether you’re a celebrated French chef or a scruffy American kid on a picnic bench.

But even if you love cheese, you probably don’t detect which type of flowers a cow, sheep or goat consumes or the time of day the milk is produced when you eat it. To do so takes years of experience and focused attention.

Last week Food24fps (a film society dedicated to popularizing classic and arcane movies about food) hosted a screening of Pat Thompson’s 2001 documentary The Cheese Nun: Sister Noella’s Voyage of Discovery. The film was followed by a panel with guest speakers: Rachel Dutton, microbiologist from Harvard Medical School; Heather Paxson, food anthropologist from MIT; and Ihsan Gurdal, owner of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge — one of Julia Child’s regular shopping destinations.

Thompson’s film begins in Bethlehem, CT, at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, where we meet Sister Noella Marcellino. The Abbey is located on 400 acres and includes a non-commercial working farm. It is there that Sister Noella develops her skills as a cheese maker, and earns a Fulbright scholarship for a PhD in microbiology (the microbial ecology of cheese ripening) as she travels the French countryside.

We see Sister Noella go from collecting samples of microorganisms from ceilings of ancient cheese caves in the Auvergne to wearing a white lab coat over her habit while examining the tiny microbes in order to intimately understand how they work to flavor the cheese and preserve the milk solids.

Even though productivity and demand for artisanal cheeses have never been higher, the actual number of cheese farmers is greatly reduced. Traditional cheese making is done by hand with wooden paddles and barrels, but stainless steel is slowly replacing them. Temperature regulation has been traditionally done by setting the cheese caves in cellars or mountains, not through air conditioning.

Something more fundamental also is at stake: local food traditions and interest in where our food comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect our environment, health, and economy.

The film ends with Sister Noella assuming the role of guardian of traditional cheese making, a champion for biodiversity, and an inspiration for the growing number of artisanal cheesemakers here in the US. At the Benedictine Abbey in Connecticut, she and her sister alchemists create the raw-milk Bethlehem Cheese with, of course, a little help from their healthy, happy cows.

Most importantly, though, they do not make the cheese as a product to sell. Rather, they create it as sustenance for their own community — as a delicious, complex heritage and legacy.

Germaine Frechette is the guest author for today’s Foodie Blog and part of the WGBH Membership team. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, where we explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Beer and Artisanal Foods

Thursday, January 10, 2013
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Wine Loves Chocolate, Chocolate Loves Wine

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
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At a Boston Organic Hotspot, Shrugging Off New Concerns

By Adam Reilly   |   Thursday, September 6, 2012
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Organic tomatoes at a farmer's market in North America, September 2011. (Credit: public domain)

At City Feed in Jamaica Plain — one of Boston's go-to destinations for organic foods — customers didn't seem to concerned about a new study that questioned the health benefits of eating organic.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Stanford University, reviewed four decades of data on organic produce and meat and found that the benefits of eating organic are questionable.

The researchers found that organic foods do offer some benefits — including fewer traces of pesticides on produce and less bacterial contamination on meats. But they also found that, on balance, organic food is no more nutritious than conventional alternatives. 

But at City Feed on September 4, the organic die-hards who spoke with WGBH said they won't be changing their shopping habits any time soon.

"I like to avoid pesticides," said Peggy Lynch of Cambridge. "I like to see fewer chemicals in our soil. And I really feel for the farmworkers who have to apply pesticides."

Lynch added that her decision to buy organic is based on environmental concerns, too.

"We need insects," she said. "We need bees. We need those small creatures to be part of our ecosystem."

Nathan Bowen of Jamaica Plain was similarly unimpressed.

"It's just one study," he said.

Bowen said he tends to buy local food that's also organically raised — and that his motivations remain intact.

"The reduction in transportation costs and fossil-fuel use is important to me personally," Bowen explained. "I also think it’s nice to know my eggs come from Farmer Joe down the street."

Of course, since organic food items frequently costs more than conventional equivalents, that knowledge has a price. And Stanford's study may give some ambivalent customers an excuse not to pay it. 

Watch Adam's interview and see more video from Greater Boston.

About the Authors
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.

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