I first discovered Boomers when one of the guys at my gym told me about this unholy wrap that was basically chicken caesar stuffed with french fries. For under $9, I got a bottle of coke and a wrap the size of my arm of such concentrated heart-stopping evil and deliciousness that I don't think it will be matched for a long time. On the back of that first experience, I vowed to go back for more. And I have. Wraps, burgers, subs, I've probably gotten so much off their menu that I must have that sumbitch memorized by now.
Now I could do my usual deal. Wax poetic about the food, atmosphere, whatever. But I feel like in this case all I have to say is that my survival in college is due solely to Boomer's, that they have awesome food in plentiful amounts for a good price, and that since they're a shady joint next to a laundromat in middle-of-nowhere Worcester, not nearly enough people ever get around to eating there. And that's a fucking shame.
Alright, here's another thing that anyone who does desserts is going to have to find out at some point or other: what whipping egg whites to "stiff peaks" is supposed to look like. The same applies to properly whipped cream. The ultimate test is to do this:
Invert the bowl, and the contents should not shift. At all. I have literally held a bowl upside-down with a properly made meringue for minutes at a time, with no negative consequences. Do it over someone's head as a neat party trick.
Some desserts do require semi-soft states, but those are far more rare, and people will have to contend with that as they go. But for now... Invert the bowl.
Of course, this doesn't help at all with OVERMIXING egg whites, but there's only so much you can do.
What kind of college-y column would I be writing if I didn't mention the perennial food of the impoverished university denizen, ramen? Yes, I can be a snob, even about the cheapest of cheap food. Here is a quick overview of the various types of ramen I have tried, in the form of one-sentence quips! (Explanations to follow)
- Shin Ramyun: King of the Cage
- Nissin: Two-faced
- Maruchan: For white people
- Mama: For anorexics
- Noodle King: Super douche
- Maggi: Currific
And now for the explanations for anyone who could possibly care... Shin Ramyun (made by Nong Shim) is by far the best across the board. The portions are decent, and the noodles are good. Also the mock-broth is excellent, though not for the spicy-intolerant. It does get old after about 10 days in a row, which is the record for the most instant noodles I've eaten anyway. Did I mention the packs are a decent size? On the opposite end is Mama ramen, whose packs are tiny. For me they're worth barely 3 seconds of slurping; major fail. However, the noodle and flavor quality are solid. Maggi is also good, around the same quality as Mama, though sold to a distinctly curry-based audience. The few packs of Maggi that I've tried have been good. The portion size was average.
On the ass end of the flavor spectrum is definitely Maruchan. I find it bland, generic, and easily soggy. Super super lame. I would only eat this as a last resort. The American Nissin cup noodles are only a bare step above this, though they have the decency to include some dried carrots and corn with the noodles. The Japanese division of Nissin is pretty much a separate brand because of the disparity in quality with the American Cup Noodle franchise, with Demae Itcho being the favorite. I grew up eating this stuff; the little cartoon mascot led to ramen in general being called "the cartoon noodles" in my house.
The "special" award goes to Noodle King. In terms of just flavor and noodles I'd probably give Noodle King the advantage over Nong Shim, but there are several things pulling it back. First is the douche factor: while chicken abalone instant noodles are ungodly delicious, the fact is that they're instant noodles... That are chicken abalone flavored. Second, the price: The cost on these babies is pretty high, probably because of aforementioned douche factor. I will concede that it's probably worth it, but that brings us to the third point... They're a pain in the ass to get; I can usually only find individual packs even in asian stores (I want my ramen in boxes, dammit! BIG BOXES.), and almost never in the flavor and type, between the different flavors and the thin/thick/flat noodle types. Shin Ramyun, on the other hand, is widely available, and is even on Amazon for a decent price, with Prime. You gotta respect them for that. Still, Noodle King will hold a special place in my heart--my last year of high school can basically be summarized by my daily after-school bowl of Noodle King with fish balls, followed by my daily nap.
Conclusion: Shin Ramyun is the staple ramen in the apartment, though I will choose Noodle King when I can get it. When I'm stuck at my parents' place or something, I am usually eating Mama, Maruchan only if I'm really desperate (read: never), and Maggi when I'm feeling whimsical at the local Indian grocer.
Here's something that's become quite popular in our apartment ever since our new roommate moved in: curries. I'm prone to the occasional curry myself, though mine tend to be very much Chinese-influenced--heavy in turmeric, yellow, closer to madras curry than anything. But more on that later. The curries I'm referencing here tend to be more red and tomato-based, and very heavy on various types of chili--chicken tikka, biryani, that sort of thing. Whatever the case, curries are awesome, especially for the hungry college student. They fall into the category of "one pot meals"--just spend a few minutes starting it and a few hours later (during which you can do homework or study, but I prefer to sit around and watch youtube) you have enough food to last a day or two. Or at least two meals, if you're me.
The curry above was made with Shan curry mix. Now, I know I'm fairly conservative and normally deride shortcuts like pre-made mixes and such, but in this case I can't really object, especially when the ingredients are taken into account (click to embiggen):
The ingredients are all good old-fashioned spices, so I don't really see any problems. Also notice there are about five million of them. Now I COULD have each and every spice ground up in my kitchen separately (I actually do, but only about half of what's in that list), but this is a perfectly acceptable economical alternative. Not to mention Shan products are high-quality; this isn't just some homogeneous gray powder. You can often find whole cloves, cardamom pods, etc, in packages. In fact, there were dried plums and pits in the biryani mix. Where the hell do I find me some of those separately?
That aside, what makes this brand of curry so interesting is the use of yogurt. In biryani, and this particular variation of tikka, the chicken is first marinated in a combination of spice and yogurt. The yogurt serves to tenderize the meat, but also somehow makes the spicy kick more bearable, given an equivalent amount of spice. In other words, the yogurt is there to dampen the effects of spice so we can add more spice. This sort of use reminds me of (roughly translated) "flower peppers", used primarily in Chinese sichuan cuisine, whose primary purpose is to numb the tongue to make it able to endure more spice. I guess we asians are just masochistic like that.
Gastronomical perversions aside, the marination in yogurt does have a very interesting effect on both the taste and the texture of chicken thighs--definitely something I will be playing around with later on. In the meantime, here is a picture of my dinner, the aforementioned chicken tikka with spiced up basmati rice:
The long and short of it is that I will most likely be unemployed for a few months while I make the transition from college student to full-time employee, and as such my budget to spend on awesome (read: expensive) restaurants and exotic foods has diminished greatly. My apologies to anyone who was living vicariously through me and my writing, but that's life. You people will be the first to know when I can spend frivolously on food again.
On the bright side, I've decided to fill the void with an admittedly completely asinine column consisting of basically a commentary on my daily eating habits. I promise I'll try to keep the narcissism at the lowest level I can; to be honest, I wasn't sure this was worth writing, but polling (with a sample size of three people, cough) indicates that SOMEBODY will be interested, so... You asked, you shall receive. For the most part though, these posts will include perfunctory photos and comments from myself on taste, nutrition, economy, resemblance to sexual organs; basically anything I can think of. Food will be the main feature, it just won't be nearly as exhaustively documented as posts may be in the Recipes section. Likewise, it won't be nearly as fancy in and of itself: humble foods like ramen and takeout will definitely be included. On the other hand, this series will also give me some wiggle room to occasionally go off-base in my topics, and let the figurative tie out a bit.
... Oh, and the acronym stands for Diet of a College Student. Just saying. If anyone has a better name/acronym, step forward.
Intro aside, the subject of today is falafel. To me, falafel exists in a rare category of foods that are asymptotically approaching perfect. Nutritionally, it has all the food groups I want: fat, protein, and fried crunchy bits. Chickpeas are a prodigious source of protein (still below animal sources, but as good as you can get off a bean), vegetables you choose to throw in contribute to general vitamin-y goodness, and the sauce provides plenty of fat and protein as well.
The falafel I make is ripped off from Oleana in Cambridge. The base recipe comes adapted from one in the author's cookbook, which I impulse-bought after one pseudo-orgasmic visit to the restaurant. Though my falafel experience extends only to three sources (Oleana, Falafel King up in Quincy, and the pre-packaged grocery variety), I would have to say that the Oleana version is by far the lightest. I attribute this to the cutting of the falafel dough with chickpea flour (and the usual allspice, cumin, onions, etc), rather than having the entire thing being made up of ground solid chickpeas. Though the book called for a spinach falafel (as served in the restaurant) I opted to take that out for my first few attempts. I get the feeling that any green leafy vegetable can be used though; I contemplated using bok choy for a few seconds while making these. Instead I compensated by pairing it with slices of cucumber. I also ended up putting extra cucumber slices on each falafel, and doubling the amount of sauce (yes it was that good; more on that later), from the ones in the photo above. The bread for falafel is generally either a pita or a lavash/lafa, but sadly I have no knowledge in the making of flatbreads, so I substituted fresh tortillas from the local mexican joint. At 50c apiece, I'm not complaining, and will probably opt for that in the future.
A particular point of pride in this falafel is the sauce. While having the dish in Oleana, I thought the sauce was made up of yogurt; on closer inspection, it was more of an off-white, and had an extra flavor that I couldn't pin down. I was hoping the book would detail the ingredients and process behind it, but it just provided a recipe for a sauce with a tahini (ground up sesame seeds) base. It ended up feeling very thick and left my tongue feeling sticky and clogged up, and the flavor was too strong. In short, it kinda sucked. However, in a STROKE OF INSPIRATION (notice the caps for dramatic effect?) I realized I had yogurt in the fridge, and the sauce from the restaurant was probably tahini thickened with yogurt. After a bit of experimenting, I ended up settling for something made of yogurt, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper. I will probably publish exact ratios and such later, but for now I'll leave its prodigious miraculousness up to the imagination.
The bottom line: An excellent dish for dirt cheap. Chickpeas? Cheap. Chickpea flour? Cheap. Salt, pepper, onions, garlic? All cheap. Hell, the most expensive thing in the entire preparation is probably the oil I fried the falafel balls in. The only downside is that it's a bit time-consuming: soaking the chickpeas overnight, as well as making, resting, and frying the dough. The active-effort time here is pretty short, but you can't really go "I want falafel for dinner" one day at 3 PM... Unless you visit Oleana, but you'll have to pay $12 for an order of 3. Completely worth it if you ask me, but definitely not an economical option, especially since you'll probably be tempted into spending half your day's pay there.