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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A savvy student’s guide to eating well: the battle between wallet and palate

Published: March 2, 2012
Section: Opinions

From the first primordial barbecues of our apish ancestors to the rustic grub of the early farmers, the Apicius to the “Joy of Cooking,” the mortar and pestle to the food processor, itʼs clear that cooking is one of the greatest and most progressive achievements of mankind. Keep this in mind, then consider the average college student, whose cooking prowess spans the two feet between the freezer and the microwave. Oh, how far we have fallen.

We all know that the above statement doesnʼt tell the full story. Too often the college student has been typecast into the role of the serial cereal eater, the cup oʼ noodles stacker and the late-night pizza glutton. For many of us, these stereotypes are ungenerous to say the least.

Brandeis students care about food. We have clubs devoted to it, activist groups campaigning about it and whole events centered around it. The student body spans from farmers market junkies to ethnic food enthusiasts, with a whole range of avid foodies in between.

Yet thereʼs something that we all have in common, or—more aptly—we all lack in common: time and money. No wonder we all flock to the midnight buffet and similar events: Free food is the best kind of food and second to that is cheap, easy food. And for those of us not on a meal plan, anything is better than succumbing to the misery of paying exorbitant sums for mildly nauseating Aramark food.

For the student foodie, there is a constant battle between palate and wallet, and the wallet always wins. And so Iʼve devised some ways to keep our gastronomical integrity even under the strain of frugality, business and, letʼs be honest, laziness. Here are some collegiate classics with a twist that is certain to jazz up any meal-on-the-go.

1. The Ramen Noodle
In my first year, my neighbor had a barricade of ramen reserves about two feet high. I myself am guilty of several noteworthy ramen binges, which led me on an exploration of ramen recipes.
First, ramen doesnʼt have to be just soup. It can be fried or boiled and turned into a stir-fry. You can add pretty much anything you want to it, like leftovers in need of a makeover. I admit to putting some pretty weird stuff in my ramen.
Hot sauce! Soy sauce! Any kind of sauce, really! You can make a Thai or Indian-themed stir-fry and add powdered curry, coriander, fennel or turmeric—really anything on your spice rack.
Adding veggies to ramen is lovely, but the peeling and cutting is time consuming. If youʼre in a rush, just add a frozen vegetable medley. My personal favorite is ramen soup with a poached egg. Itʼs a bit tricky, but if you get it right itʼs really tasty. When the water is boiling, stir it quickly until it makes a whirlpool, and then crack the egg into the middle. Keep stirring to make sure the egg forms a tidy ball (usually a not-so-tidy one) and then after a minute or two, add your noodles and bam! Dinner!

2. The Mac ’nʼ Cheese
I know some are loyal Easy Mac fans, but I myself am an Annieʼs Mac person hands-down. No matter what your preference, hereʼs some ways you can dress it up:
Add meat! Tuna, sausage, bacon, chicken, ground beef, etc. Also, if you have any kind of cheese, go ahead and add that. Goat cheese, sausage and baby spinach is lovely. If youʼre really pressed for time, once again, spices, spices, spices. Rosemary, cayenne, curry or go crazy.

3. The peanut butter and jelly
The holy trinity of bread, peanut butter and jelly is not one with which to be tampered, according to PB&J purists. If you are one of these people, the following will be deeply upsetting to you. For those of you nonconformist sandwich makers out there, read on.
We can all agree that anything tastes better fried. PB&Js are no exception. If you want to take it to the next level, thereʼs PB&J French toast. What I like to do is fill these babies with Nutella on one side and peanut butter on the other (and you can add bananas too, or any other fruit for that matter), and then de-crust the bread and pinch around the perimeter to form a sort of sealed sandwich pillow. Dip both sides in beaten egg, and fry it! Serve with powdered sugar, maple syrup or, as I do, with more chocolate.

Hopefully these tips will expand your mind out of the realm of the microwavable box and back onto the track of culinary innovation. We are not merely ramen-eating automatons but also insta-food pioneers.