So for those of you guys who don’t know, one of the classes that I take at Hamilton is called “Food for Thought” and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a class about food.
Hey, now don’t go around assuming things – this class is more than just eating and cooking. There’s actually quite a lot of reading assigned for every class, although I don’t mind because I find the books really interesting. Some of the things we are and will read this semester include:
- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
- Manifestos on the Future of Food & Seed by Vandana Shiva
- Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
- Food: The History of Taste by Paul Freedman
- The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason
Pretty sweet, right? Now you know why this class is perfect for me :D
But yeah, so far we’ve learned about the history of recipes and the development of how we came to eat what we eat. We’re slowly moving onto the ethics food, reading and talking about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and how messed up the American food production system is. Fascinating stuff, really.
Intense as this class is, every week on Friday we have our “lab” day, dedicated to cooking, gardening, or movie-watching. I’ve been looking forward to this past Friday a lot because it was one of the few times in the semester where we were actually going to the McEwen cafeteria to cook food. The menu? Smoked barbecue and tofu.
When I got to the Green Cafe, I was greeted by the tofu “station,” a few tables pushed together to form a make-shift counter space. There were large pots, cartons and cartons of Silk soymilk, and a bunch of other soybean-ish… stuff.
I was getting all pumped up for tofu making, but alas I was split into the barbecue team :(. IT’S OK THOUGH, BECAUSE THAT WAS COOL TOO. And we were gonna switch half-way through anyways.
Once we were split up into our respective “barbecue” and “tofu” groups, the head chefs of McEwen and Commons introduced themselves. They were great people – they answered any questions we had about the dining halls and if we wanted anything special on the menus, they said they would serve it within the next week. Such.. nice.. people. ;_;
But yeah, anyways Bon Appétit is the campus food provider that serves all the food at Hamilton College. It’s a great company; their philosophy is on serving yummy and nutritious food made from scratch using fresh ingredients. They’re all about being environmentally-friendly and serving local ingredients; at every meal, they’ll have signs indicating from which farms they got their vegetables/meat – they’re usually all within a 150 miles of Clinton. Pretty awesome, yeah?
So as the barbecue team, we watched and learned as the chef went ahead and prepared 3 different cuts of meat: cow ribs, pork loin, and some other cut that I forgot the name of… -o-;
After all the seasonings had been applied and the meats got rubbed down with some tender, lovin’ care, we headed outside to put the meat into the smoker.
Now if you’ve had real, Southern-style barbecue (or watch Food Network all too often, like me) you’ll know that real barbecue is smoke for hours and hours until the meat is caramelized, fall-off-the-bone tender and imbued with a delicious, smoky flavor. Obviously that method of smoking isn’t realistic in a college dining hall setting. So instead of letting the ribs sit around for 3/4 of a day in a metal box, the chefs throw them in there for 20 minutes or so – just long enough so the meat gets a smoky flavor.
After the meat was all smoked up, we headed back inside where the chef promptly brushed the ribs with dollops of sweet, delicious barbecue sauce.
With real barbecue, the meat would be ready post-smoking. But because these were only in the smoker for a bit, they actually finish cooking in the oven and are then seared on the grill – worry not, the grilling caramelizes the meat, so these still have the yummy burnt ends (WHICH ARE OBVIOUSLY THE BEST PART OF THE RIBS) even without hours in the smoker.
So while the meat was finishing off in the oven, my group switched over… TO THE TOFU STATION.
I was a little disappointed to find out we weren’t making real tofu, made by grinding up reconstituted soybeans. Instead, we used vanilla Silk to for our jiggly cubes o’ protein.
Nevertheless, the process of making soymilk tofu and soybean tofu are pretty similar. The Silk was poured into a huge pot and mixed with this crystally-powder thing:
It looks kind of like coarse salt. I actually think it’s derived from seaweed? Not sure… Anyways, this stuff is a clumper; when it’s added to the soymilk, it helps separate the milk and clump it together to form the whey and the curds.
Because the powder helps bind the protein together, the more you add it to the soymilk, the firmer your final tofu product will be. I’m not sure how much we added, but once the milk started to separate, it was strained and placed in the tofu press.
Then the tofu sets, and when it’s ready, it looks like this:
This definitely isn’t the dooboo that I’m used to eating, but it was still really good. It tasted like vanilla soymilk, except in custardy form. It was just slightllyyy sweet, and it’s not firm at all – it’s almost mushy. That kind of threw me off a bit – after all, most of the tofu that I eat is served with soy sauce and scallions. But after the initial taste and texture difference, I started gobbling this stuff up like crazy – it was like vanilla pudding!
Once we had all had a little bit (or in my case, a lot) of the tofu, we sat around talking to the chefs and sampling some cheeses.
And then… THE MEAT WAS READY.
It was good. So, so good. You could definitely taste the maple syrup in the pork and the ribs really tasted like barbecue. Nomnomnomnomnomm sooo yummy. I ate up those burnt ends like none other. My class ended up inhaling the ribs, although we left some of the pork behind. I brought it to my floormate who put Old Bay and ramen seasoning on it, reheated it, then devoured it claiming it was the best thing he had ever eaten.
So yup, that was Friday’s Food for Thought class. Don’t you wish you weren’t in it? :P
Whew, with this post, I’ve made a pretty sizeable dent in the amount of blogging left to do. And I can only imagine the amount of stuff that’ll pile up this coming week… Well, the weekends almost over, so there might not be a post until next week, but be on the lookout for it. Until then, ta-ta all!