The Return of Jumbo’s Kitchen

by Theo Fitopoulos

Jumbo’s Kitchen is entering its ninth year as a program at the Friedman School. Now under new leadership, Tufts students are hoping to grow the program to better serve the needs of those in our community. Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers will have the opportunity to empower students at the nearby Josiah Quincy Elementary School through cooking and nutrition education. Learn more about what is in store this semester, and how you can get involved!

It is that time of year again! Students of the Tufts Health Sciences schools now have the chance to teach children in the local community about having fun, gaining confidence, and making healthy choices through cooking and nutrition education. Jumbo’s Kitchen returns this spring, giving students the opportunity to volunteer at the nearby Josiah Quincy Elementary School to teach the basics of cooking and nutrition. This year the Jumbo’s Kitchen team is also aiming to teach the students about gardening and growing their own food.

Student Simon Ye teaching at a Jumbo's Kitchen session in Spring 2017

Student Simon Ye teaching at a Jumbo’s Kitchen session in Spring 2017.

Jumbo’s Kitchen started at the Friedman School in 2009 and despite operating in different schools around Boston, the mission remains the same: to promote an understanding of nutrition and introduce basic cooking skills to empower kids to develop healthy eating habits. Simon Ye, a PhD candidate at the Friedman School, began volunteering with Jumbo’s Kitchen as a Curriculum Development Chair during the 2015-16 school year. When asked why he wanted to get involved initially, Ye said, “Personally speaking I love cooking and working with kids, so taking this role was ideal for me to serve the community in a way that I really enjoy.” Partnering with the Josiah Quincy Elementary School offers the Friedman the opportunity to build a sense of community with our neighbors and volunteer with young students at an age when it’s more important than ever to develop healthy eating habits.

As a first-year student at Tufts Medical School, Vanessa Yu was looking for different volunteering opportunities offered through the school. When she learned about the Jumbo’s Kitchen program, she was eager to get involved: “Going into Tufts Med, I knew I wanted to find a way to engage with the local community. Tufts is the only medical school to be located in a Chinatown, which is a really unique position to be in, in terms of understanding how to interact with a different community and culture. It’s important for students on the Boston campus to be cognizant of the lives that their patients lead, and programs like Jumbo’s Kitchen are a great way to gain that awareness. By spending a few hours each week with students of the Josiah Quincy School, we’ll get to learn about the littlest members of our community and discover what’s most important to them.”

Josiah Quincy students learn how to make smoothies.

Josiah Quincy students learn how to make smoothies.

Jumbo’s Kitchen also provides a valuable experience for volunteers. Not only are they able to help neighbors in our community develop healthy eating habits, but Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers also gain experience developing lessons and teaching nutrition in a classroom setting. Some of the sessions in this year’s Jumbo’s Kitchen curriculum include an introduction to food groups and the USDA MyPlate, basic cooking techniques, serving sizes, healthy snacking, and field trips to the Friedman School garden and a local Chinatown grocery store. Each week will feature a different food that fits the specific lesson, and students will keep track of what they learn in their own journals, so they can share lessons with their families at home.

The time commitment for Jumbo’s Kitchen volunteers includes lesson planning, food shopping for the week, and class time. Classes will take place on eight different Fridays this semester at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. This year’s curriculum has the Jumbo’s Kitchen board very excited, and we have a great group of volunteers ready to start the semester; however there is always room for more students to get involved. Simon Ye has seen the benefit of the program to the kids first-hand: “Jumbo’s Kitchen’s goal is to teach kids basic nutrition and food preparation skills. I believe that developing a positive and active relationship with what we eat is critical for leading a healthy lifestyle in the long run. I wish that when I was a kid someone could have helped me understand what food is in a way that Jumbo’s Kitchen is now doing. I can tell that many of the kids enjoy our classes and learned something that they will carry later on.”

To get involved with Jumbo’s Kitchen contact Vanessa Yu at vanessa.yu@tufts.edu. Be sure to keep up with Jumbo’s Kitchen this semester by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, using @jumboskitchen!

Theo Fitopoulos is a second-year student in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program, and current intern at the Tufts Health Science Public Relations Office. In his free time, he enjoys sampling the burgeoning Boston restaurant scene, experimenting with traditional Greek recipes in his own kitchen, and playing basketball and tennis when the weather permits.

For the Love of French Fries

by Erin Child

 As a nutrition student, my unabashed love of French fries may seem out of place. But for me, they are just one delicious part of an otherwise decently balanced diet. They’re my go-to when out at a bar with friends, and my favorite accompaniment to a bowl of steamed mussels. So, I decided to finally try my hand at making some real deep-fried French fries. However, I can’t in good conscience let this story be all be about deep-fried food. And so, I also made a batch of oven fries to compare to the deep-fried originals. I recruited a couple Friedman friends to taste test, and we had a delicious Fry-day night.

The first time I attempted deep frying I wound up with second-degree burns. My college roommate and I had decided to make fried chicken for our then-boyfriends in our closet-sized kitchen. The moment I bent down to check on the root vegetables roasting in the oven, my roommate chucked the last piece of chicken into the hot oil, splashing it all over the top of my head and hand. Boyfriends arrived an hour later to find me on the floor, forehead covered in aloe and my hand in a pot of cool water. Never again, I vowed, would I deep fry anything. Leave that to the professionals.

A decade later, I have mostly kept my promise. I can count on one hand the number of times I have fried something, and it has always been using a relatively safe, contained, counter-top fryer. I’ve made donuts, pakora (an Indian snack food), and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto®–crusted chicken. (You read that right.) But I still have never attempted one of my all-time favorite foods, French fries.

Before my deep-fried adventures began, I did some shopping. I ordered a thermometer and splatter screen from Amazon for $25.81 worth of safety precautions. I then did some research. I consulted Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and Serious Eats, and found that both recommend the double-fry method for crispy goodness. I had hoped to find a way to avoid deep-frying twice, but couldn’t find any source to persuade me that one fry was sufficient for the texture I desired. Smitten Kitchen had a recipe for single-fried fries, but I was not convinced; however, I did follow the recommendation of using Yukon Gold potatoes instead of regular Russets. They have similar starch content, and thus are both good for frying. And I liked the idea that because of their yellow color, Yukon Golds have more carotenoids, and thus were a smidge healthier. (But the potatoes were going to be fried, so who am I kidding.) For the oven fries I found a recipe on Eating Well that looked promising and instead used that as my reference for my “healthy” fries.

The day of my adventure, I purchased ten pounds (about five pounds too many) of Yukon Golds, as well as peanut oil and dried parsley—for a dash of green—at my local supermarket. The peanut oil was for frying, as everything I read kept pointing to peanut oil as the ideal oil due to its high smoke point. I already had salt, olive oil and ketchup at home. I was ready.

First, I rinsed and chopped five pounds of potatoes into relatively even batons. My knife skills are passable at best, so following the instructions found on Smitten Kitchen I was able to cut reasonably evenly sized fries. Recipes all recommended drying the potatoes first to ensure maximum contact with the oil—so I spread them out over paper towels. All told, almost an entire roll of paper towels was used in my frying adventure.

french fries evenly cut

My attempt at evenly cut fries (pretty good!) Photo: Erin Child

While the fries dried, I turned the oven on to 450˚F and then poured 4 1/3 cups of peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot before turning the burner to medium-high. I placed the thermometer into the pot and watched as the temperature slowly climbed to 325˚F. While I waited, I made the oven fries.

I dressed two and a half pounds of the potato batons with four tablespoons of olive oil, a heaping half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of ground thyme, and enough parsley flakes to fleck them all with green. The potatoes went on an unlined baking sheet and into the 450˚F oven. Per the Eating Well instructions, the fries would need to be flipped after ten minutes. When I went to flip the fries, they all stuck to the pan. Panicked, I left them in for another five minutes. When I checked them again, the starches in the potatoes must have shifted, because the fries were golden-brown on the bottom and easy to flip. I left them in for another eight minutes. At this point, most of the fries had two golden-brown sides, so I pulled them from the oven. Once they were cooled enough, my friends and I dug in.

They required more salt than was in the recipe, and they were not crisp, but the flavor was good. As one friend put it, “they taste like a bite-sized baked potato.” Savory and satisfying, but not really a French fry. Next time I try oven fries (and there will be a next time) I may try hand-rotating them to get a better, crispier sear on each side and make them taste closer to the real (fried) thing.

At this point, my peanut oil was ready to go. The double-fry recommendations were to fry once at 325˚F for about 8-10 minutes, let the fries rest, and then fry again at 375˚F for 3-4 minutes. So, I put the full 2.5 pounds of potatoes in the oil. That was my first mistake. The pot was too small for all those potatoes, and the temperature dropped to below 200˚F. For the next ten minutes I essentially gave all the potatoes a warm oil bath. After nothing was noticeably frying, I took all the potatoes out and tried again. This time, I fried them in two batches at 325˚F for 10 minutes. Then increased the temperature of the oil to 375˚F. To my surprise, I did not need the splatter screen. At all. If I was mindful of my movements there was minimal splash back, and the hot oil did not splatter out of the pan during frying.

french fries frying

Warming up for the second attempt. Photo: Erin Child

The second fry at 375˚F also occurred in two batches, and was three minutes per batch. After removing them from the pot, I immediately tossed the fries in a liberal dash of salt. Crispy, golden, salty and warm—they were the clear winner of the evening. Not too shabby for my first batch of French fries.

oven fries and french fries

Oven fries (left) vs French fries (right). Photo: Erin Child

During clean up, I decided to remeasure the peanut oil, and found that I had four cups left. This mean than a third-cup went into the French fries. This is only about one more tablespoon of oil than I used for the oven fries, which was a smaller difference than I expected.

Overall, nothing quite beats the taste and texture of a fried French fry, but for my health and wallet (all that peanut oil was expensive!), I’ll keep homemade French fries to a very occasional treat.

Erin Child is a second year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program. She is also the social media editor for the Sprout. At this point in the semester she is frequently procrasti-cooking and cleaning—her belly is full, her room is spotless, and she always has a paper to write.