Slow cooked black bean and sweet potato soup. (Photography by Food Thinkers, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Slow cookin’ for scholars
Broke, hungry, tired of your dissertation? Crock-Pots to the rescue!
The brutally cold winter afternoon wasn’t fit for Maroon or beast. Even so, nearly 30 graduate students trudged across the frozen quads to Classics 110, peeled open their parkas, and huddled together for a January 27 workshop called “How to Feast without a Fortune: Slow-Cooker Special.” Sponsored by Graduate Student Affairs as part of its Frugal Grad program, the event was the latest in a series aimed at helping students manage their money. Covering topics from student loans to cheap romance, the sessions have struck a chord with PhD students trying to get by on the University’s roughly $22,000 living stipend—and with master’s and professional students who often have no stipend at all.
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"1136","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"360","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"460"}}]] Outside the event. (Photography by Elizabeth Station)
Slow-cooker hosts Cynthia Hillman and Bill Hutchison, AM’12,  doctoral students in Italian and English respectively, are on tight budgets themselves. Each owns a vintage avocado green Crock-Pot and had favorite recipes and time-tested tips to share. They began with advice about shopping (PDF) for ingredients: Build your grocery list around your protein. Always buy meat, veggies, or bulk items as close to 99 cents per pound as possible. Prices may vary wildly between Treasure Island and the 87th Street Target, but everything goes on sale eventually. Hillman scours the Chicago Tribune food section for recipes and coupons to create meals that strike a balance between cheap and easy. “I’m a dump-and-go guy,” said Hutchison, who uses canned beans and bagged, frozen onions in soups and stews. The night before he’d come to the seminar room and tossed a whole pork roast and bottled barbeque sauce into the Crock-Pot, switched it on, and came back to find tender, tangy, pulled pork waiting the next day. Every graduate student knows that you don’t get to eat until the talk is over. As a row of slow cookers on a nearby table released the tantalizing aromas of pulled pork, veggie chili, cassoulet, and spinach-artichoke dip, the audience listened patiently to more tips about cooking times and moisture levels.
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"1131","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"360","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"460"}}]] Steamy slow-cooker lid. (Photography by Mark Heard, CC BY-NC 2.0)
They had serious questions. “How much do we need to worry about starting a fire while we’re at school?” asked a nervous young woman. How does a slow cooker handle grains? And just to remind people that this was the University of Chicago, a man in the front row inquired, “What is the origin of the word ‘Crock-Pot’?” After the sun set over the frigid campus, students lined up for a hot, slow-cooked meal, filling stout paper cups with chili and cassoulet and piling on the trimmings. Two women from the Harris School chatted in Chinese as they heaped plates and cups with tortilla chips, bread, and a hearty sample of every dish. “I’m really hungry,” admitted one, laughing. Dinner wound down as Hutchison drew names from a bag to see which lucky students would leave with door prizes. One of the Harris students, Ling Ge, won a slow cooker and 365 recipes. Another pot and cookbook combo went to Divinity student Aniel Mundra, AB’04, AM’13, who already had a plan: “The first thing I’m going to make is Super Bowl chili.”