Monday, January 30, 2006

Calvados Applesauce (Page 776)

  • Date: Monday, January 30, 2006 - 11pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Chris, and Soren
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This is an unusual situation. This recipe is actually a component recipe for a dessert that I am making on Wednesday. Thus it is a little hard to rate it on its own... Anyway, I gave it the low rating because I think it is too sweet for applesauce. Granted, it could be awesome in the dessert, but on it's own I wouldn't eat it. It is nice and boozy and has good flavor, but the sugar is a little overwhelming. I think the sweetness will be more balanced in the dessert that it fits into (Apple and Calvados Galette), as there will be a pastry crust, more apples, and calvados cream to contrast the sugar. We shall see...

Making applesauce always reminds me of my mom. There are certain foods that I think most families buy premade but that my mother always made from scratch when we were growing up. For one: applesauce. Another is macaroni and cheese. I was actually unaware of the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese phenomenon until I went to college. My mom makes amazing applesauce (and macaroni and cheese for that matter...). Her applesauce is chunky and tasty but not too sweet. And she always serves it warm, fresh off the stove. I was definitely spoiled by her cooking. I just can't get excited about store bought applesauce, or premade pie crust, or boxed mac and cheese. My mother's homemade versions are just so much better! She doesn't cook that much any more -- for reasons I will never understand she prefers restaurant food to homemade food -- but I am always excited when I can convince her to cook something for me! Her food is really good.

Chicken Piccata with Nicoise Olives (Page 356)

  • Date: Monday, January 30, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B

Andre emailed suggesting that I make something with olives, so I picked this one. It is a simple dish: chicken breast, butterflied and pounded, then sauteed in butter and finished with a sauce built from pan drippings and olives. I thought it was good but not amazing. Chris really liked it though. The flavor of the sauce was good: the white wine balanced the brininess well. It was also quite simple to make and elegant in appearance.

I think my unwillingness to give this recipe a higher rating might actually be just personal bias. I very rarely eat just a big chunk of meat for dinner. I was a vegetarian for 10 years, from when I was 11 until I was about 21. It was during those years that I started cooking and became interested in food. I baked a lot as a child, and prepared vegetarian dishes for myself, but I never cooked meat. Even once I began eating meat again, I wasn't really very interested in it. I never ate meat when there was a vegetarian option available, and I still never cooked it. When I went to culinary school, one aspect of the experience that I was excited about was learning how to really deal with meat. I remember the first time I pieced a chicken at school, Chef Stephan came up to me and said, "Let me guess: this is your first time." We had several weeks of seminars on butchering and Chef Tony would always be yelling at me for doing something wrong! One of my classmates (and a dear friend), Norma, went up to my mother at culinary school graduation and said, "Your daughter is an amazing pastry chef, but she can't cook a chicken to save her life!" In some sense, she was right: when I entered school I really didn't know what to do with a chicken. But by the time I left, I had learned some things. Part of the motivation for this project is to learn more, and just gain more raw experience cooking meat, and other things I am not so familiar with.

After I started learning about meat in school, it started to really appeal to me again, for the first time in almost 15 years. Once I understood the subtleties in preparation and the difference between properly cooked meat and poorly cooked meat, I began eating more of it, mainly as a learning tool. Along the way I really began to enjoy it. When I was a vegetarian, people always asked me, "Don't you feel like you're missing out?" I really didn't though. Now, looking back, I feel like I missed so much in those 10 years! It's true that meat-intensive dishes like this one still feel a little off to me, but I enjoy them, and I enjoy learning to prepare them! I am looking forward to many more meat adventures throughout this project.

Roasted Asparagus with Shallots and Sesame Seeds (Page 520)

  • Date: Monday, January 30, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Chris picked out this recipe. This asparagus made a very nice side dish to accompany the chicken (above). I always enjoy roasted asparagus. Usually I just season with lemon, pepper, and salt, but the addition of the shallots and sesame seeds in this recipe really worked well. They provided some textural and visual interest without overwhelming the flavor of the asparagus. I should have trimmed my asparagus a bit more than I did: the ends were a little tough. This is a very quick, satisying vegetable dish.

I was in Los Angeles over the weekend visiting friends. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I really hate LA. People always tell me I just need to give it more time, that eventually I will come around, but I have been there many, many times and it just doesn't grow on me. The weekend was full of striking contrasts. One night I ate dinner at midnight at IHOP and the next day had brunch at a country club with at least one movie star in the room. I had dinner one night at some very hip restaurant where everything in the room was white, and nearly everyone was wearing black. The most striking contrast by far though was between my memories of one of the friends I was visiting, and the actual experience of visiting him. It's always weird when people that you are close to change significantly. Even when the changes are ultimately for the better, it always feels unsettling to me. I felt a little lost all weekend, as if I were searching for a person that I used to know, but who doesn't exist any more.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Guacamole (Page 9)

  • Date: Friday, January 27, 2006 - 5pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Mike picked the page number for this one. I have to admit that when I make guacamole, usually I just mash up some avocado, add some kosher salt, and call it done. But I did still like this recipe, with onions, serrano chiles, and lime juice. Honestly though, it's hard to make guacamole that's not good! I made this as an after-work snack and it was perfectly satisfying. The serrano chiles added a surprising amount of kick (more on the chiles later), and the onion added a little crunch. All in all, a good recipe.

So about the chiles... In my post-work daze I forgot that one should be a little cautious when dealing with chiles. People always say to wear gloves, but usually I just wash my hands carefully with soap and water when I am done. Today I accidentally neglected that small step. Some time later my nose was itchy and I rubbed it with my not-very-carefully-washed chile hands. In summary, I got some capsaicin on the very sensitive skin just inside my nose. If you have never had a bad experience with capsaicin you'll have to trust me on this: the burning was unbelievable. Internet research suggested only one solution: milk. So I spent a number of minutes in the early evening with my face in a bowl full of milk. It wasn't glamorous, but it worked!

After recovering from my injury, I went to dinner. Ralph (a Stanford topology prof) and his wife invited us over to their house for dinner with a few assistant professors from the department. It was such a nice time. His wife made some great food (stuffed flank steak, homemade peppermint ice cream, etc...), and we stayed there until nearly midnight, just drinking wine and telling stories. It was a really nice evening.

I am driving down to LA tomorrow to see friends over the weekend, so I may not post for a few days!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Peanut Sesame Noodles (Page 243)

  • Date: Thursday, January 26, 2006 - 9:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Mike picked the page number for this one. This dish is very good. I have a different noodles in peanut sauce recipe that I like slightly better, but I still very much enjoyed this dish. The sauce is easy to make and has good flavor and spice. For a simple dinner dish, this is hard to beat.

One nice side effect of this project is that Chris' freezer is slowly becoming filled with many, many frozen meals. A lot of these dishes make enough to serve at least 6 or 8 people, so we have had tons of leftovers! I am a huge fan of leftovers... It seems like a small thing, but it's such a nice treat in the middle of the work day to have something yummy and homemade in my lunch. Now, Chris will have some food (besides Hamburger Helper!) to eat even after I go back to Boston! There is bread, chili, soup, casserole, and 3 kinds of cookies in his freezer.

After my run tonight I walked to the grocery store to get the makings of dinner. On my way back to Chris' place it started to rain. The rain was cold, but I was still hot and sweaty from my run. I love the way rain looks on pavement at night, with the street lights reflecting off of it. I had such a beautiful and refreshing walk.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Brown Sugar-Ginger Crisps (Page 665)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 -9pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Cotton picked the page number for this one (actually he picked page 666 but this recipe overflows onto that page). These cookies are very gingery -- the batter is flavored with ground ginger and then studded with chopped crystallized ginger. I made mine slightly larger than the recipe calls for, mainly because I didn't feel like baking them in the 7 batches indicated in the recipe. The net result of this was that my cookies came out crispy around the edges, but still a little chewy in the center, which is a nice textural contrast. I wouldn't make these cookies again, but they aren't bad. If you have a ginger-lover in your life, they might be perfect.

I spoke today in the Stanford Topology Progress Seminar. I have given many math talks, but this was the first time I was talking about my thesis research, so I was a little nervous. I think it went pretty well though. People seemed relatively interested and they asked a lot of questions. Emilee came -- only a really good non-mathematician friend would be willing to sit through such a talk! I don't know if she really learned much about RO(S^1)-graded TR, but I was glad she was there!

This evening I am just relaxing! Chris and I went to Compadres for some pork enchiladas, and now I am baking cookies and drinking a very small bottle of Corona (I sent Chris to buy beer yesterday -- he came back with Corona in 7 ounce bottles. Who knew they even made such a thing?!?).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Spaghettini with Garlic and Lemon (Page 204)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this one because I was in the mood for something light and simple today. This dish is fantastically easy (start to finish less than 20 minutes) and is really very good. Its appearance suggests that it might be a little bland, but in fact the lemon and red pepper flavors are quite strong and play off each other well. We ate it as a main course, but I think it would make quite a nice side dish.

I thought a lot today about fear. I have, for many years now, been terrified of flying. This is not to say that I don't fly -- I do. But I am scared, and on occasion have decided not to do things simply because they required flying. I tried everything I could think of to overcome my fear, from medications to piloting single engine aircraft myself. Nothing really helped. This summer, in a particularly spectacular moment at the airport, I actually refused to get on the plane for the first time. My current trip (to Wisconsin and then California) was the first time I was flying without a friend since my little airport meltdown. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I was worried, I admit, that I wouldn't get on the plane. Then I met someone, who, without trying, and without even knowing it, convinced me that I didn't want to be scared any more. So I decided not to be. And the strange thing was, I actually wasn't. I spent the two and a half hours between Boston and Ohare staring out the window, thinking about how beautiful the clouds were. When I got off the plane I realized that on some level I had always believed that as soon as I stopped being scared, the plane would crash -- as if it was my fear, not aerodynamics, keeping the plane in the air.

Today I got to wondering, is it really that easy? Can we really just decide to not be scared anymore? I don't know. I would like to thank that guy. But I don't know how I would explain what he did for me. He didn't even know I was scared of flying. We didn't even talk about it. He just inspired me somehow. I will likely never attempt to thank him for this, but I will always be grateful.

Tomorrow I have to face a different fear. In some ways, I am looking forward to it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Creamy Parmesan Polenta (Page 265)

  • Date: Monday, January 23, 2006 - 9:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris Douglas
  • Recipe Rating: B+
Emilee randomly picked the page number for this one. Em also made me dinner tonight (mmm... beef barley soup!) but I made this for Chris to eat (yes, he is spoiled). As advertised, it is both creamy and cheesy. The texture is extremely nice: very thick and creamy. The flavor is also quite good. Chris ate it by itself, but it would be a nice side dish alongside a variety of meat entrees.

Emilee, Alison, and I made valentines tonight. I got a little carried away with the glitter. Despite having taken a shower and a bath since then I still have glitter stuck to various parts of my body! I feel a little bad for the people who will receive my valentines, as they too will become covered with pink glitter! I think I ate a few too many of those Necco conversation hearts while I was cutting, gluing, glittering, and embossing my valentines -- I am feeling a little sugar-saturated now.

So this morning I discovered that when I counted the recipes in the book I skipped a whole section (yeah, I know, good job!). There are actually 17 more recipes bringing the grand total to 1293. It's a little daunting. It's more daunting still because some of those recipes are for things like a wedding cake. Seriously, who is going to let me make their wedding cake from a recipe I have never tried before?!?! On the other hand, this is the 25th recipe I have completed, which is not a bad start!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Baked Pasta with Tomatoes, Shitake Mushrooms, and Prosciutto (Page 225)

  • Date: Sunday, January 22, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this one because I wanted to make something Chris and I could bring in to the department for lunch for the next few days. It isn't bad. With large amounts of Fontina, Gorgonzola, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, it is pretty strongly flavored. It is the prosciutto though that really makes the dish worth eating. In the interest of full disclosure: I didn't make the recipe exactly as written. I have been trying, in this project, to be as true to the recipes as possible. But this fine dish called for one pound of shitake mushrooms, which sell at the local grocer for $16.99 a pound. Now, I am not cheap when it comes to food, but I don't particularly love mushrooms, and I certainly don't love them enough to pay that much! So, I made this with a mixture of shitake and crimini mushrooms, which was cheaper and likely did not affect the taste too significantly.

Every six months or so I have a day where all I really feel like doing is sleeping. Today was that day. I slept until 10:15am this morning, which is unheard of for me. Then, this afternoon I closed my eyes for a minute and woke up two hours later, crabby and disoriented. I am feeling slightly more alert now, but I think I would still fall asleep if I allowed myself to lay down.

So while I was staying with Emilee last week she solved one the great mysteries of my recent life. As many of you reading this know, I completely decaffeinated my life in July. The withdrawl period was brutal -- I had horrible headaches and I fell asleep on my desk every afternoon at 3pm for 3 weeks. After that though I had many happy, headache free months. Six weeks ago or so I became once again stricken with those withdrawl-type headaches. I could think of no explanation. One day last week, I was eating my Cliff Bar for breakfast, as I do almost every morning, when Emilee asked, "Why is it that all the best flavors of those are caffeinated?" Ok, I admit, I should have known -- the flavor I most recently added in to my Cliff Bar regime is called "Peanut Toffee Buzz." I'm not sure what I thought that "Buzz" meant, but it never occured to me that it meant "contains caffeine." It does though. That day I switched back to the non-buzzed flavors and have been headache-free for days now. Yay!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Pumpkin Apple Bread (Page 599)

  • Date: Saturday, January 21, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this one because I hadn't made anything out of the "Breads and Crackers" section of the book yet and it seemed like it was about time. This was quite good. I think I would prefer it without the apple chunks though. The topping was excellent -- sweet and crunchy. The loaves look nice. The bread has a good flavor and is very moist. I don't have any serious complaints. It made a good dessert and I expect it will also make a good breakfast tomorrow morning.

I spent a lot of time on the phone today. I think my friends and family are starting to realize that while I practically never answer my cell, I do usually answer it on Saturdays! People kept asking me on the phone if I miss Boston, and I kept thinking, "Not so much." Obviously there are people there that I do miss, and I miss the MIT math department, but I really love California! I love that it is warm enough to wear flip-flops. I love that there is a hot tub less than 100 feet from Chris' front door. I love that I can get in the car, roll down the windows, and drive through the foothills. Maybe I am just not a city girl at heart, but Cambridge is too crowded for me. I love that there is more space here, yet there are still things to do and good food, and many of the advantages of city life. And of course, I love my dear friends here that I see much too infrequently!

I will be back in Boston in two weeks though, and that will be good too. I do miss the fabulously fun MIT topology group. I miss throwing big dinner parties. I miss my own bed. I miss being at the homeless shelter, making lunch and hanging out with the people on my shift. I miss my well stocked pantry! But mostly I miss all the people in Boston that I care about (you know who you are!), and I am looking forward to seeing you soon.

Chickpea, Lentil, and Rice Soup (Page 112)

  • Date: Saturday, January 21, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: F

Brian randomly chose the page number for this one. It was truly terrible. I will eat most things, but I took my portion of this and put it down the garbage disposal and ate a bagel instead. It was that bad. It was sad too because it sounded so good: a version of Moroccan harira -- a soup with lamb, lentils, and chickpeas. But it was shockingly bland, and the broth had no body to it. Harira should be velvety, it should have good mouth-feel. This version was essentially equivalent to eating hot water with lentils and lamb chunks floating in it. On top of it all it was ugly and made the kitchen smell bad. The only blessing was that Chris and I were the only ones here to eat it (or not eat it as the case may be!).

I got accused earlier today of grade inflation in my rating system. My grading is fair, I would argue, it's just that most things in this cookbook aren't bad. But this recipe is proof that when it's bad, I give it the failing grade it deserves!

Today wasn't a total culinary loss though - dessert was good (see above). Also, I had a really good chicken taco for lunch, at the airport of all places. I was almost dysfunctionally hungry while I was waiting for Chris at the airport this afternoon so I braved the airport food. That airport taco was better than any taco I have ever had in Boston. Another reason to love California -- fantastic Mexican food!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bananas Foster Cheesecake (Page 755)

  • Date: Friday, January 20, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian, Bret, Stanford Mike, and Kai-Mei
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Emilee and I picked this one because it sounded good and seemed like a good use for our banana rum! In fact, it wasn't such a good choice. It wasn't terrible, but it just had so many problems. For one, while the ladyfingers on the outside were pretty, they just didn't taste good. I don't support sacrificing flavor just so the dish is cute. The cream cheese filling was quite good - very fluffy with good banana flavor, but the banana filling seemed out of place. Having big chunks in a cheesecake just doesn't seem like a good idea, even if they are yummy chunks of bananas cooked in rum. Finally, the praline topping was really grainy. We followed the recipe when it said to cool to room temperature, but I think it would have been better if we had not let it cool so much. I did like the crust. I wouldn't make this one again, but everyone did eat it without complaint so that's something.

We had a dinner party tonight. Brian did all the real cooking -- Emilee and I just contributed this dessert. Brian made beef vendaloo, beef in fragrant spinach sauce, red lentil pancakes, and rosewater lassis. It was all quite good. I was skeptical of the lentil pancakes after watching those pureed lentils ferment on the counter for two days, but they tasted great.

My friend Bret was one of the dinner guests. He was part of our college gang, so we used to spend tons of time together. I hadn't seen him in a couple of years though. He's the project manager of Google Maps now, so it was fun to catch up with him and hear all about life at Google.

This cookbook I am making my way through says only that it has more than 1000 recipes. I became quite curious what the actual number is, so over the last few days I counted. Now, there is some ambiguity about what one should count -- a few recipes have sub-recipes in them. I counted everything. Up to a possible small error (counting is not my specialty) the number is: 1276! That's really a lot. I could be at this for a while...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar (Page 803)

  • Date: Thursday, January 19, 2006 - 10pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Andrea, and Beau
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this recipe because it sounded good (yeah, yeah, I know, it's supposed to be random...). This dessert was fantastically easy and pretty good. I always love strawberries with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. The creme fraiche accompaniment was crucial to this dish -- I wouldn't recommend making it without. I served it in small ramekins and it was quite elegant.

Brian, Nathan, Anh, and I went to the Mediterranean Wrap place on California Ave for dinner tonight. Mmmmm.... falafel. I love that place -- the people that work there are just so friendly. And the food is both awesome and cheap! Anh told me all about smoking meat and making sausage (her hobbies) -- I may need to get a meat grinder!

One summer in college, Emilee and I lived with 5 other women in this little house in Palo Alto. Em was doing research at Stanford. I was doing research for NASA. Our house was small, and cute, with a sofa on the porch, and a swimming pool in the backyard. I remember so many moments in that house so clearly. I learned so much that summer. This fall, they tore the house down. I drove by this afternoon, and sat in the car, stopped in front of the now-empty lot, remembering. I am lucky, of course, to have so many good memories. But it's still hard, looking at the wreckage from a space that you loved, remembering the relationships that were housed there.

Seduced, I admit, by all the Oprah hype, I read "Night" by Elie Wiesel today. It was really powerful. I imagine that I will be haunted by it for quite some time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Red Wine Risotto (Page 256)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Kitchen
  • Dining Companion: Emilee
  • Recipe Rating: A

Mike chose the page number for this one (note: 256 is a power of a prime!). It was awesome! Seriously, it seems hard to go wrong with risotto that has pancetta, red wine, parmigiano-reggiano, etc... in it, but it was even better than I expected. Emilee, too, gave it an unequivocal two thumbs up! It was creamy and had amazing flavor. The color was a little questionable (think: purple), but that didn't bother me. I highly, highly recommend it!

Emilee and I also started making a cheesecake today (more on that when we eat it later this week!). Between the cheesecake ingredients and the risotto ingredients we ended up going to three different grocery stores this evening. The contrast was amusing: Safeway vs. Whole Foods vs. Ferrari Foods. We certainly saw both ends of the food-quality spectrum. The meat selection at Ferrari's was really impressive. Beautiful meats that I had never even heard of (e.g. porchetta). I love it there!

As I write this, we are all sitting around the dining table, drinking beer and two-buck Chuck. Emilee is making flashcards of skin diseases and Brian is surrounded by Indian cookbooks, looking for the perfect red lentil pancake recipe. The water bath for our cheesecake is overflowing into the oven, making amazing hissing noises. And I am just sitting here, overwhelmed by the feeling that everything is perfect!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Curried Rice (Page 254)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I chose this one because Em and Brian already had the ingredients in their pantry. It has very few ingredients, but quite a bit of flavor. I thought it was quite spicy - Brian claimed he couldn't even taste the spice though! It would make a good accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes. The method for cooking the rice was one that was unfamiliar to me: frying the rice, then boiling it uncovered, then steam-finishing it. The method seems good though -- the rice came out very nicely cooked.

I got to the office at a reasonable hour this morning and had a productive day at work. I went to tea this afternoon for the first time since I have been here. For those who are unfamiliar: it seems that every math department in the country has afternoon tea and snacks at 3:30pm. I have to say, the Stanford department tea has way better food than we do at MIT. At MIT we have Chips Ahoy cookies and Cheez-Its. At Stanford, each day a different grad student is in charge of tea. He or she gets some money from the department and can buy whatever his or her heart desires. Today there were brownies, cookies, carrots, bread with brie, strawberries, etc... It was really nice. Plus, I met some more of the graduate students and post-docs in the department! In defense of MIT: I haven't seen any Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate in the Stanford department yet. (Vigleik: what would we do without our daily hot chocolate?!?)

The downside of the day: the heat was broken in my office. This is not an unfamiliar problem -- at MIT our heat on the 4th floor is broken all the time. But usually Bridget figures out how to get it fixed for us (Bridget is more responsible than all the rest of us on the 4th floor combined!). Sadly, Bridget isn't here to fix the heat. So Izzet and I spent the day freezing in our 60 degree office!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Vinegar Pie (Page 767)

  • Date: Monday, January 16, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

Yup, that's right: vinegar pie. Emilee randomly selected this page, and happened to land on one of Brian's all time favorites! I had never actually eaten vinegar pie before, so I was really excited about it. It wasn't bad. Brian was very happy with it -- although he said he would have added even more vinegar! The pie has a semi-puff crust (see below) and a filling that is similar to lemon curd, but with cider vinegar rather than lemon. It wasn't the most photogenic dessert I have ever seen, but the flavor was quite interesting. I don't think I would make it again, but I enjoyed having a piece of it.

One thing I really like about staying with friends is seeing what kinds of food people have in their pantry. Emilee and Brian are both great cooks, so their apartment is really well stocked. They have a lot of things I don't stock: e.g. huge bags of dried pasilla and guajillo chiles. Brian is also really interested in Indian cooking so they have lots of interesting spices and varieties of lentils, etc... I love a well-stocked kitchen. It just feels like there are endless possibilities in front of me! We made our vinegar pie today without even going to the grocery store. It also gives me a chance to eat things I don't usually eat. I discovered today how fabulous sweet-hot mustard is.

Chris, on the other hand, has Hamburger Helper in his pantry! Hmmm... he's going to be mad that I shared that :). I like to tease him about the Hamburger Helper, but in all honesty, I have never tried it -- I am always interested in trying new things. Maybe when he gets back I will make it!

Emilee and I have been listening to country and bluegrass all day. I was on a date a few weeks ago with a guy who doesn't like country music (actually he gave me the most shocked and sad look when he realized that I listen to the Dixie Chicks - I felt like I had really disappointed him!). I just can't believe that anyone could listen to Alison Krauss singing "The Lucky One" or Lucinda Williams singing "Pineola" and claim they don't like country music! At least Emilee loves it just as much as me!

Quick Puff Pastry Dough (Page 790)

  • Date: Monday, January 16, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

We made this recipe since it was specified for the crust of our vinegar pie (above). It is a version of semi-puff pastry, but with fewer turns. Unlike most puff pastry, it wasn't horribly time consuming (start to finish less than an hour), and it still came out flaky with good layers. Emilee really did all the work on this one (she was trying to overcome a previous traumatic dough experience) so it was a piece of cake for me!

Today reminded me in a lot ways of being in college and living with Emilee. We spent a lot of the day sitting in the living room, eating Tootise Pops and working on our respective studies. I learned more than I ever would want to know about skin diseases (Em's in med school). Then we made a huge bowl of popcorn for dinner! Plus, we made pie together, which was really fun. It was a nice, relaxing day.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Baked Apples (Page 802)

  • Date: Sunday, January 15, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A

Em and I chose this dessert because last night Brian complained about us making a dessert with bananas rather than one with apples. Just for the record, tonight he complained that we used apples instead of berries -- some people are hard to please! Even he couldn't deny though that this dessert was amazing. As you can see, it has earned the first A in my ratings so far. The apples were tender and sweet, and perfectly complemented by the tang of the creme fraiche. And the brandy sauce was really really good. The vinegar in the pan juices added a lot of depth to the sauce. On top of it all, it was very easy to make!

Today was a nice day. I got some work done, did some cooking, went on a long walk with Em. I also got email today from a couple old friends that I haven't talked to in a while, which was really nice. One thing I don't love about being in academia is that everyone moves around so much. At least in the early stages, everyone moves every few years. So it seems at any point in time either some of your friends are moving away, or you are moving away from your friends. Elliot once told me that there were a handful of people in his life that he wished he could put in his pocket, and always have with him. It's such a nice idea, being able to have the people you love most near you always. On the up side, there are people I care about in so many places now - whenever I travel there are always friendly faces!

Chinese Beef Noodle Soup (Page 125)

  • Date: Sunday, January 15, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

Mike picked the number for this one (more on that later). Like many things, this soup had both good and bad qualities. We all agreed on its finest quality: the beef was so fantastically tender that it just melted in your mouth -- the result of 2 hours of braising. We didn't quite agree on its bad qualities though. I thought the anise flavor was too intense, Emilee thought the cinnamon flavor was too intense, and Brian thought the onion flavor was too intense. At least we all agreed it wasn't perfect.

So last week I was asking people to pick some numbers for me, as I was running out of fun page number-generating ideas to chose recipes. Mike was kind enough to send me an email full of numbers that he likes, or thought would be fun. One of his suggestions was using powers of prime numbers. The funny thing is, he then proceeded to list out a whole bunch of them: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, ..... 3, 9, 27, 81, ..... and on and on! (Yes, Mike, I am making fun of you!) I am a mathematician after all -- I _probably_ could have figured them out on my own! Anyway, as you will note, 125 is a power of a prime (if you want Mike's list to check, let me know!), and that's how I ended up on this page.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bananas Foster (Page 802)

  • Date: Saturday, January 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Emilee picked this one. Mmmm.... Banana's Foster! This is really good and really easy --a combination that is hard to beat! We didn't have a problem lighting in on fire, but we had a tough time keeping it lit for long enough -- that may have had something to do with our alcohol selection (more on that later). It was tasty though -- perfect with vanilla ice cream!

So Emilee and I went to Beverages, & More (that comma before the & really bugs me!) to get the alcohol for this dessert. We were supposed to get dark rum and banana liqueur, but Emilee was a little overwhelmed by the idea of owning a huge bottle of banana liqueur (we considered stashing it at Chris', but ultimately decided against it). So we decided to consolidate, and we bought banana rum. In summary: I wouldn't recommend it. For one thing, I think that is why we had our problem lighting it (lower alcohol content than regular dark rum). Also, banana rum just isn't good. It was fine in the dessert, but we drank some solo with dinner, and it was pretty bad. Emilee noted aptly that it smelled shockingly like a banana flavored Runt. There apparently is a drink called Latin Love that contains banana rum though and we didn't try that. Could be good!

Brian made us dinner tonight: Tacos al Pastor! They were excellent. I love it when people cook for me! I would almost always rather eat in than out, but that means I usually cook. And I love to cook -- but I appreciate it so much when someone else cooks for me! Emilee made dinner for me, Spencer, Chris, and Bri last weekend and that was fantastic too!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Quick Plum Preserves (Page 920)

  • Date: Friday, January 13, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this one because I wanted to make something that would keep for a while -- so preserves seemed like the way to go! This recipe is very easy and quite tasty. I appreciate the fact that these preserves are not too sweet -- often the fruit flavor in jams is masked by a tremendous amount of sugar. In this case the sugar is very minimal and it is really the flavors of plums and cinnamon that come through.

I have had a lot of dreams lately about food. In fact, I have had a lot of weird dreams in general. When I was 9 years old, I was sleeping over at my friend Heather's house and she told me that if you sleep on your back, you'll have nightmares. I wasn't sure whether to believe her. It seemed unlikely to be true, but she was so matter-of-fact about it. Apparently I believed it on some level -- in the months after she told me I would always go to sleep on my stomach and usually wake up on my stomach in the morning, but whenever I woke up from a nightmare, I was on my back. I believed her claim enough that I made it true for myself. Now, 16 years later, I still have nightmares when I sleep on my back. Understandably, I always go to sleep on my stomach, and when I'm at home I rarely turn over. But something about the air mattress I am sleeping on at Chris' makes me move around a lot -- I wake up nearly every night, in various stages of panic, on my back. When I was young, the nightmares bothered me, and I was sometimes scared to go to sleep at night. Now, I think it's interesting -- it forces me to see what scares me...

It's my friend Sam's birthday today: Happy Birthday Babe!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spicy Pork with Bean Thread Noodles (Page 248)

  • Date: Thursday, January 12, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris Douglas
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

This is the last recipe I picked with the online random number generator (now that you all have sent me some numbers!). I thought this dish was pretty good. The seasoning was quite good. Brian objected to the squishiness of the noodles, which didn't bother me, yet did seem like a legitimate concern. It was a quick dish -- very easy to make -- and would thus make a good last-minute dinner.

I spent a lot of time today thinking about promises. I have been in love with 3 men in my life. The first one never promised me anything. He knew his limitations. He could be a jerk sometimes, he lied, and he treated me badly (err: we treated each other badly), but in time all was forgiven and we are friends to this day. There are no broken promises in our past. The third guy made lots of promises. He is a nice guy -- the kind of guy it is easy to believe. He broke his most significant promise to me though, and while we are still good friends, I struggle daily with how to forgive him for that. The middle guy made only one promise: that we would always be friends. And for years we did that, and we were great at it. But we made some bad decisions, he and I. We made choices that have now made our friendship an impossibility. We, together, broke the promise he made to me. And I don't know who to be upset with: him or me. Today it really got to me, being in the same city as him, and not actually being able to see him. It just seems so ridiculous. I hope, in time, things will be different. I hope there will be a day when he and I will be in the kitchen together again, surrounded by our respective spouses and children, making a huge seared tuna and blood orange salad. Until then...

Avocado, Orange, and Jicama Salad (Page 146)

  • Date: Thursday, January 12, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I chose this recipe because I needed a salad that would go with the main dish (see above) and this seemed like the best bet. Emilee summarized it best: "Well... it's not inedible." True, but it also wasn't good. The curry dressing on the jicama alone wasn't bad, but it just wasn't convincing on the avocado. We all ate it, but we all shared the feeling that something much better could have been done with that produce.

Emilee and Brian came to dinner tonight. Poor Brian -- when I asked him how he thought the recipes should be rated he gave both this salad and the main course an F. His philosophy (which seems reasonable) was that if I didn't like them enough to make them again, I should just fail them! Despite the not-fantastic food choices, we still had a fun dinner. Chris leaves for Mexico on Saturday, at which point I am moving in with Em and Brian so they will be subjected to many more of my experimental dinners! Cooking at their place is great because they have beautiful cookware. I am not one of those women who has been dreaming about her wedding since she was a little girl -- but I have been dreaming about all the great kitchen equipment I will register for!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gingersnap Ice Cream Sandwiches (Page 867)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Emilee, and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

More online random number generation chose this one. These are really, really good. The cookies themselves are great -- easily the best gingersnaps I've made! And with vanilla ice cream sandwiched between them, they are simply divine. The cookies are soft (even when frozen) and the turbinado sugar gives a nice crunch. Plus, they are just beautiful.

Today I went and sat in my pew. In Memorial Church there is this pew toward the left side of the church that is only half length, divided by a pillar. And in the late afternoon the sun comes through the stained glass and shines right there. When I was in college I would go there all the time -- to sit, to think, to sleep, sometimes to cry. It's always quiet there, and the lights are dim, and I can't help but feel safe and comforted. I have only ever been to one religious service in that church, but I have spent so many hours sitting in that pew. I don't have any other spaces like that in my life -- spaces that make me feel so close to myself -- not in Boston, not in Wisconsin. Perhaps that is part of the reason that California still feels like home to me. Today there wasn't any sun to shine through the stained glass, but I sat in my pew and felt very blessed.

I also met with Gunnar today (the prof. I am here to talk to) and attended Ralph's String Topology class. It's nice to be back in the swing of things...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Beef and Sausage Lasagne (Page 234)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 10th, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris Douglas
  • Recipe Rating: B+

The online number generator chose this one. This lasagne is pretty good; Chris would argue it is quite good. It is really meaty -- it has beef, and veal, and sausage. The tomato and cheese are very secondary. And I agree that meat tastes good, but I expect lasagne to have a broad flavor profile, and this one just tastes like meat. I prefer a lasagne with deep flavors of slow cooked tomato sauce, and thick layers of cheese. I also really don't like no-boil lasagne noodles, but I used them since they were in the recipe. All that said, I did enjoy eating this lasagne, and despite my prejudices, I would recommend it for anyone who prefers his or her lasagne on the meaty side.

Question: why is it that so few grocery stores have good butchers? It seems that all the big supermarket chains have these tiny little butcher sections where you can pretty much only buy ground beef or chicken thighs. Whole Foods is the exception (I do love Whole Foods) -- if you want Cornish Game Hens, split, with the backbone removed, they don't bat an eye. My brother was making Osso Buco a while back, for which you need a particular cut of veal shank. He went to Little Italy in San Diego looking for it. When he asked around, everyone there told him the only place to buy it was Whole Foods! I thought that was funny. Around here Andronico's does seem to have a good selection of meat, and the guy there has been very patient with my requests, but Safeway was useless.

My office in the Stanford math department is turning into a little piece of Boston in California. My first officemate was Veronique, and then today, Izzet walked in! Apparently he had the same "IAP in California" idea that I did and we're going to be sharing an office for the rest of the month.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rosemary Walnuts (Page 5)

  • Date: Monday, January 9th, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: A-

The online number generator chose this, the first recipe-bearing page of the book. These walnuts are good. They are spicy, and toasty, and flavorful. And they are really, really simple to make. I would definitely serve them as a casual appetizer at a party.

I'm feeling slightly phased today. It would be my grandmother's birthday today, but she died this summer. For long and complicated reasons, I ended up not making it to her funeral. I feel both guilty and personally regretful about this. It's a weird thing, but it is hard for me to really recognize that someone is gone if I don't attend his or her funeral. Something about seeing a body, or at least a coffin, provides some closure for me. I really should have made cookies today. When I was small, Grandma and I used to always make cookies.

One nice thing about being in a bad mood is that I always get a lot of work done. I locked myself in Chris' apartment today and wrote a draft of a talk I've been stressing about. Tonight I am going to see Brokeback Mountain with Veronique and her boyfriend. Emilee told me that after she saw it she felt like she'd been kicked in the stomach, so maybe it's not the best choice for today... but oh well.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Turkey Chipotle Chili (Page 388)

  • Date: Sunday, January 8th, 2006 - 10pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

An online random number generator chose this recipe. I'm not a huge chili fan, but this I really liked. It is a green chili, lighter than the traditional beef chili. It's appropriately spicy, and goes quite well with a light Mexican beer! I always enjoy cooking with new ingredients, and I have to admit that I had never worked with tomatillos before. Overall a solid recipe, and a good alternative to the more common red, beefy chilis.

Spencer went back to San Diego this evening, and Chris was out while I was cooking, so I had the apartment to myself. After my run I broke out a beer, turned up the music, and started cooking. While I was cooking, I kept thinking about Match Point, which we saw this afternoon. It was quite good but movies like that, where all the romatic relationships are deeply based on lies and misconceptions, make me feel like never dating again! On the other hand, I did meet a great guy recently. A few weeks before leaving Boston I met someone who really got to me. He is remarkable in a whole myriad of ways -- I won't gush, but I'd like to (gushing is highly underrated I think). It's moot -- by the time I get back he will be away for several months. But nonetheless, I find it comforting to know that there are still guys out there who can shake me.

I share the following anecdote exclusively for Mike (who will get great pleasure from it!): Two nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and needed to use the bathroom. On my way back to bed, I turned where I shouldn't have and walked face first in to a wall. Unfortunately, I hit the wall with the electrical box on it so my face hit the metal. Sadly, no one was awake to witness this, but I now have a lovely cut across the bridge of my nose that everyone here can appreciate!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies (Page 674)

  • Date: Saturday, January 7th, 2006 - 5pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I chose this recipe because it was the only cookie in the book that Chris had all the ingredients for in his pantry! I was skeptical of cookies without flour, but these aren't bad. Mine came out a little dry, but they have a fabulous melt-in-you-mouth quality that you wouldn't expect from a peanut butter cookie. They are quite delicate -- I touched one while they were baking to see if they felt done and it collapsed under the weight of my finger!

When I took my Ph.D. qualifying exam, more than two years ago now, I made a deal with Chris. We lived together at the time and I had been begging for a pet. He told me that if I failed my exam, he would get me a dog to make me feel better. If I conditionally passed he would get me a cat. And if I actually passed, I didn't get anything (passing would be present enough!). I passed my exam, but despite the deal Chris surprised me with a beautiful KitchenAid stand mixer as a congratulatory gift. Since I no longer needed it, I turned over my trusty old hand mixer to Chris. Today, as I was making these cookies, I realized I was mixing with that old hand mixer. It was with me so long that I can't even remember when I bought it. Using it again was like seeing an old friend.

Spencer and I went to the new De Young Museum in San Francisco today. We went more for the architecture than the art, and the building is spectacular! The view of San Francisco from the tower, alone, was worth the trip there!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Grilled Gorgonzola, Pear, and Watercress Sandwiches (Page 185)

  • Date: Friday, January 6th, 2006 - 11pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' apartment
  • Onlookers/Hecklers: Chris and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Chris chose a number, which landed us on this page. I made just one open-faced sandwich rather than four, as my company for the evening wasn't interested! The recipe was incredibly easy (start to finish 10 minutes, tops!), and the sandwich was pretty tasty. It wasn't anything amazing, but it made a good late-night snack.

My brother Spencer flew up from San Diego this morning to visit for the weekend. Surprisingly, he supported Chris in his opposition to these sandwiches. I offered to make him one at least three times today. After three polite declines, when I finally made my sandwich tonight, he asked only if he could eat the pear I didn't use! Some people!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Plum and Almond Crisp (Page 816)

  • Date: Thursday, January 5th, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Emilee, and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

More coin flipping chose this dessert treat. Prune plums couldn't be found at the neighborhood Andronico's so I used Red Plums instead. They produced a rather tart, tasty dessert. The fruit filling had extremely good flavor, but I thought the topping was a little bland. I prefer crisp toppings that contain oatmeal (as my mother has always made!) because the oats contribute something nice both in flavor and in texture. Overall, not a bad dessert. Perfect for those who prefer their desserts a bit on the tart side.

My day today started with some upsetting news, and I spent much of this morning a little shaken. As I was eating dessert tonight, I got to thinking about how much food can affect my mood and outlook. This crisp was exactly what I needed today: warm and comforting, but not overwhelmingly sweet. And as I was eating it, surrounded by people I love, I remembered how difficult times pass, and there will always be good food and kitchen tables flanked with friends to look forward to.

Arrabbiata Sauce (Page 208)

  • Date: Thursday, January 5, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Christopher Lee Douglas
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

An extensive series of coin flips choice this recipe. Arrabbiata is one of my favorites, and something that I make often, so I was excited to try this version. The sauce was flavorful and properly spicy. For a nicer presentation, I topped the individual plates of pasta with basil chiffonade rather than stirring the basil in. This recipe was simple, fast, and extremely tasty!

My college roommate (and closest friend!) Emilee and her husband Brian came to dinner tonight, and I can't say enough about how wonderful it is to spend time with people I love so much and see so infrequently. Having lived with Emilee for so many years in college, it is quite possible that I have eaten more meals with her than with anyone else outside my family. It is a huge blessing for me, as I can't think of anyone I would rather eat with! Needless to say, it was fantastic seeing them, and enjoying a meal together. We drank Brian's homebrew with our pasta, which was far better suited for the occasion than any wine would have been!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Chicken Divan (Page 358)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 - 6:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

My random number generator (in this case: Chris) chose page 358 for my first recipe of the project. This casserole style chicken dish (essentially chicken and broccoli in a whipped cream and sherry enriched veloute) was easy to prepare and quite tasty. The dish is a little heavy for my taste, but that is strictly a matter of personal preference. The recipe as written produced an entree that had extremely good flavor and an appetizing appearance.

Being in the kitchen with Chris again reminded me of one of the things I miss most about my good friend who lives 3000 miles away: cooking together. When we lived together we cooked almost every day. And despite various fires and kitchen injuries, I have very fond memories of our times together in the kitchen. I am looking forward to this month in California, and having a chance to cook with Chris again (also a chance to stock his new kitchen: the man has no food!).