A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Graduate school gourmet


If you are working on a PhD, chances are you're too busy feeding your brain to plan your next meal. Particle physicists share how they managed when they needed cheap or fast meals during grad school.

Graduate school gourmet
by Siri Steiner

If you are working on a PhD, chances are you're too busy feeding your brain to plan your next meal. Particle physicists share how they managed when they needed cheap or fast meals during grad school.

Photos: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

Buffalo Wings
From Fermilab physicist Andreas Kronfeld

"I was a grad student at Cornell in upstate New York, and in 1984 my friends and I started making our own 'Buffalo' wings. Instead of beer, we washed them down with cheap Spanish 'champagne.'"

  • Heat grease in a frying pan, cut up wings.
  • In another pan, mix one part Frank's Original Red Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce with one part butter in a large skillet. (The resulting sauce should come about a quarter inch from the bottom of the pan.)
  • When the grease in the other pan sizzles, (about 375°F), add wings. As the wings fry, allow butter and hot sauce to simmer in the other pan until the consistency is slightly thicker (about 5 minutes).
  • When bubbling from the wings in grease pan slows, remove and drain wings thoroughly.
  • Place wings into margarine-hot sauce mixture. Turn wings to coat them in sauce.
  • Place wings in the oven or on the grill for a few minutes to "bake in" the sauce.
  • Serve with celery sticks and blue cheese.

Broiled Pigs' Feet
From Johns Hopkins University physicist Jonathan Bagger

"I lived with four housemates in Princeton. We had an ongoing competition to see who could make the cheapest meal. The winner, at 17 cents a serving, was pigs' feet. Not cooked the way pigs' feet normally are, but simply broiled."

Place pigs' feet in preheated broiler (or oven at 450°F) Broil until done. Place artistically on plate and serve. Yum!

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
From CERN physicist Francesco Knechtli

"Even if it gets late and you come back home very hungry, you might consider making spaghetti alla carbonara to celebrate a hard working day."

  • Break 1 or 2 fresh eggs into a dish.
  • Add a bit of salt, pepper, and milk (and maybe water) to make a sauce.
  • Cut bacon (to taste) into small pieces and fry while spaghetti cooks.
  • Grate Parmigiano cheese (to taste).
  • Pour the sauce over the spaghetti and add the bacon and cheese.

Warning: do not try this on a hot plate!

Spaghetti ai Funghi Porcini
Knechtli adds:
"Spaghetti ai funghi porcini is great if you have good legs for collecting wild mushrooms... or a nice relative, like my uncle, who collects them for me."

Take dried porcini and put them in water so they become soft. Fry them in olive oil and garlic. Add whipping cream and parsley at the last minute to make a sauce. Pour on the spaghetti and enjoy!


Noodles à la Kephart
From Fermilab physicist Bob Kephart

"Noodles à la Kephart got me through graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook."

  • Boil a large package of macaroni.
  • When cooked, add a brick of Velveeta cheese and a package of the cheapest hot dogs* you can find, cut up.
  • Stir.
  • Empty into dish.
  • Eat for lunch and dinner each day for one week.
  • When finished, return to Step 1.

May be garnished with canned peas, eaten cold from can.
*Caution: Do not read ingredients on hot dog package.

Sayur Bening Bayam (Spinach Soup)
From Suharyo (Haryo) Sumowidagdo,
a Florida State University graduate student

"In Indonesian, 'sayur' means vegetable dish, 'bening' means transparent, and 'bayam' means spinach. The broth should be clear and transparent, but this is not the case with this soup. Anyway, what's in a name..."

1 cup of cut corn (frozen preferred–if canned, drain first).
4-5 oz of spinach (roughly half of a big bag of spinach, trimmed and washed).
1 tomato
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1/4 onion (white or yellow)
1 tablespoon of butter
3 to 4 cups of water

Dice tomato and onion. At the same time, boil water in a medium pot (3 qt/4 qt). Wait until the water boils, and then add the corn. Re-boil, and add spinach. Reduce heat and simmer. Stir in chopped tomato. In a small frying pan, heat and melt butter separately. Stir-fry the diced onion for 3-4 minutes with the butter. Then put the diced onion into the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 3-4.

Tricky things: Spinach becomes very soft and tender once it is thrown into hot water, so do not keep the water boiling after you throw in the spinach. If you have to reheat the soup, do not bring to boil. Just put in on low, watch carefully, and stir occasionally.

Variation and suggestions: The corn gives a somewhat sweet and natural taste to the soup, which combines perfectly with spinach. You can also use corn on the cob, chopped into short blocks. I usually eat this dish with a small amount of steamed rice, but this soup should also be great with dinner rolls, toast, garlic bread, French fries, etc.

RECIPE: Hot and Sour Beef
(Click image for larger version)
Photo: Robin Staffin

Hot and Sour Beef
From Robin Staffin,
Associate Director of High Energy Physics,
US Department of Energy Office of Science

"I practiced and practiced at being a gourmet Hunan cook in grad school at Stanford. Here is my grease-stained recipe for hot and sour beef."
(See image on right for recipe)


Click here to download the pdf version of this article.