Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Minestrone (Page 106)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 28, 2006 - 5pm
  • Location: North Conway, NH
  • Kitchen: The "Talbot" House Kitchen
  • Sous Chefs: Maia, Jacob, Veronique, and Vigleik
  • Dining Companions: Chris, John, Vero, Andre, Mike, and 17 other Mathematicians
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I picked this soup because it was easy to make it vegetarian and it sounded like a good post-skiing dish. It wasn't really very good though. As mentioned above, I did adjust the recipe slightly: omitting the pancetta, and using vegetable broth rather than chicken stock to make it so that the vegetarians could eat it too. For the tremendous amount of peeling, shredding, and chopping that Maia, Jacob, and Vero did to make it, I'm not sure the end result was worth it. It didn't taste bad, it just wasn't anything special. I did like the addition of the pureed beans though -- they gave it a nice texture. I wouldn't make this one again. In fact, I didn't even finish the bowl of it that I served myself with dinner! On the other hand, everyone else ate it, so it wasn't too terrible.

This afternoon I was making blueberry pudding cake for dessert and I needed 5 melted sticks of butter. I put the butter in a bowl in the microwave and kept cooking. An hour or so later my cakes were done and looked really beautiful. Several more hours passed and then Andrew came in to the kitchen to make a snack. He opened up the microwave and asked "Teena, can I move this bowl?" Apparently, I had forgotten the butter in the microwave! In other words, my beautiful cakes were butterless! Veronique and I tasted them and concluded that they weren't so good. After some frantic brainstorming, we decided we could try to fix it. We ended up quickly making some raspberry pastry cream, layering it with chunks of the cake and serving it with vanilla pastry cream on the side. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad at all. I was very grateful for Veronique's help and adventurous spirit in helping to fix my mistake! Tomorrow I will be more careful...

Here's a picture of the dinner table...

Green Beans with Almonds (Page 522 )

  • Monday, February 27, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: North Conway, NH
  • Kitchen: The "Talbot" House Kitchen
  • Sous Chefs: Allegra, Vesta, Chris, Scott, and Vigleik
  • Dining Companions: Andre, Mike, Jacob, John, Vero, and 17 other Mathematicians!
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I am at the Talbot workshop now and cooking dinner for 23 people each night. Fortunately, I had some great helpers for this meal! My companions in the van on the drive up here Sunday helped me choose these green beans. These beans were really quite good. I especially liked the effect of grinding the almonds rather than adding slivered or whole almonds to the beans. We bought every green bean they had at the grocery store, and we ate them all, so everyone else must have liked the recipe as well! Other fine things about this recipe: the beans were perfectly crisp-tender, the almonds added great crunch, and it was easy to make in huge quantities (which is very important this week!).

Talbot has been fun so far. These green beans were part of last night's meal. The first night we had Pasta Arrabbiata, Emilee's mother-in-law's salad, and fig, prosciutto, and goat cheese sandwiches, with molten chocolate cake with raspberry sauce for dessert. Last night we had pork tenderloin, lentil stew, and these green beans with strawberry budini for dessert. Tonight we had macaroni and cheese, minestrone, and carrot slaw, with blueberry pudding cake with raspberry pastry cream for dessert.

I gave my talk this morning (just an introduction to Waldhausen's A-Theory). It's nice to be done with that! Now I can relax a bit more. Not that much relaxing is possible with this schedule. Between 5 or so talks per day, cooking for everyone, and sitting in the hottub, my days are pretty full! It's fun though - I have no complaints!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Raspberry Sauce (Page 876)

I have no idea why that top part is underlined, but I find myself unable to fix it. Anyway, this sauce is excellent! I made it to go with dessert tomorrow night at Talbot (this workshop in New Hampshire I am going to), but Chris, Andre, and I sampled it tonight. The raspberry flavor is intense and the sauce is not too sweet. Plus, it is fabulously easy to make. I highly, highly recommend it!!!

Today I was not in a good mood. Actually this morning I was fine, but at some point I discovered something really upsetting -- my recipe file is missing! I have this file that I have been slowly building over the last 4 years. It has all my favorite recipes in it: recipes torn from magazines, saved from culinary school, given to me by friends, inherited from my family. It is a collection of all my favorites. And many, many of the recipes in there I do not have another copy of, nor would I know how to get my hands on one. I have no idea how I lost it. I brought it with me to California, and there is a chance I accidentally left it at Chris' place (hopefully this is what happened -- then I can get it back!). Or it's possible that the airport inspection people took it out of my luggage and forgot to put it back in... Those recipes are so much a part of me -- losing them really hit me hard. Plus, I am supposed to be cooking dinner for 23 people all this week - there were many recipes in my file that I was planning to make. I'm just sad. If it's really gone for good I will just slowly start rebuilding it when I get back from New Hampshire. I hate the idea of losing all those great recipes though - it's like losing very special memories.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Paprika Chicken (Page 366)

  • Date: Thursday, February 23, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Andre
  • Dining Companion: Josh
  • Recipe Rating: B

Andre picked this one after an unbelievably long selection process that involved large numbers and residues! It wasn't bad, but also wasn't something I would be eager to make again. Andre pointed out that it didn't have a lot of flavor, which was true, but shocking given the amount of paprika it contained! On the other hand, while the flavor was mild, it did taste good. I also enjoyed the consistency of the sauce. I ended up cooking the dish longer than indicated in the recipe, as the chicken wasn't cooked through after the cooking time suggested. Overall, not bad. -- it made a nice, comforting, winter dish.

Josh and Andre are talking about Dungeons and Dragons right now. That's all I have to say about that.

Now Josh is asking me to spell various difficult words. Since I am ignoring him, Andre is trying to spell them. Andre's spelling is notoriously bad. For several years, he would write Chris' name as Chriss. Finally we corrected him. Another great Andre error: instead of "kicks to the head" he once wrote to me that he had received many "cicks to the head". In his defense, he does speak 6 languages. I suppose it is easy to get confused!

So, I was SO hungry before we ate and I asked Andre to take a picture of the chicken. He took FOREVER setting up the background and the lighting, and then, he finally attempted to take a picture and didn't actually push the button hard enough to take one. So, in the end, furious and hungry, I had to take it. Andre does want credit though, for the lovely green background he set up. Grrrrr.... :)

Foolproof Long-Grain Rice (Page 254)

  • Date: Thursday, February 23, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Andre and Josh
  • Recipe Rating: A-

The chicken recipe (above) suggested that it be served over rice, so I decided to make this. I felt a little silly making white rice from a recipe in a cookbook, but actually this rice did come out really well! I usually just add rice to boiling water, turn down the heat and cover for 20 minutes. Instead, this recipe had first a stage of boiling the rice uncovered, then a stage of steaming it, then a stage of resting. It came out really nice. If you like rice that it not at all sticky, this seems to be a really good method.

Last night, after I flew back from Chicago, I went back to the airport to pick up Andre! Andre was a graduate student at MIT but he graduated last spring and moved to Germany. We all miss him so much! He's in town now for the Talbot workshop, and he's staying with me until we leave for New Hampshire on Sunday. It's so fun to see him again! Add to that the fact that Vigleik got back from Sweden last night! My trip to California and V's trip to Sweden overlapped in such a way that I hadn't seen him in more than 2 months. Usually I see him every day for many hours (our offices are adjacent and we eat lunch together every day!), so it was quite an adjustment not seeing him for so long. I'm so excited that he's back! Chris is flying in Friday and then our whole gang will be here!

Lime Molasses Vinaigrette (Page 171)

  • Date: Thursday, February 23, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Andre and Josh
  • Recipe Rating: D+

I picked this one out, and it was bad! I tossed the dressing with mixed greens, as suggested in the recipe, but then found myself unwilling to eat the result. I like every ingredient in this dressing: lime juice, molasses, Tabasco, etc..., but mixing them all together just did not yield a good result. I think it was really the molasses that made this salad dressing bad. It was so overpowering and unpleasant on the salad. Definitely not a recipe I would make again!!!

So I am back in Boston, after my midwest adventure! My trip went as well as I could have hoped, but I am so glad to be home. Giving the topology seminars at these other universities was just really stressful for me. The nice thing though about doing something that scares you is the feeling afterwards of knowing that you really challenged yourself. Tuesday night, sitting in my hotel room after my last talk was over, I felt like I had accomplished something.

I only have a few days at home and then I am leaving for a workshop in New Hampshire. I may post from there, as I am actually cooking dinner for 23 people all week at the workshop! I don't know if we'll have internet though, so maybe not...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Chicken and Rice Soup (Page 122)

  • Date: Saturday, February 18, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Kitchen: My Mom's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Terry and Teri (My Parents!)
  • Recipe Rating: B

I don't have The Book with me on my trip, so I picked this recipe by going to Amazon.com and clicking on their "Surprise me" feature, which shows you a random page from the book. This was the page it showed me! This soup was pretty good -- very classic: a whole chicken boiled with rice, carrots, onions, and celery. Once it's all cooked, you remove the meat from the bird and stir it back in. That's it! It was extremely weather appropriate for today -- when I woke up this morning the temperature was 16 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. That's very very cold! The soup made a nice, warm dinner. I took a picture, which I will post when I get back to Boston.

I am really doing much better with airplanes. My flight yesterday was so bad that on the descent the woman next to me made the sign of the cross on her chest. But I was fine -- totally calm! Shocking for me!

I had lunch today with Ross, who was my first real boyfriend, 10 years ago. I love spending time with him. For one, he's just a great guy. But more than that, I feel that I am able to talk more openly with him about the nature of relationships than I am with most people. We had a great 2 hour conversation today over terrible Mexican food at a restaurant that I love purely for sentimental reasons. He's the kind of friend that lets me know when he thinks I am wrong or when I am being really unreasonable. We almost never agree about anything. I think that's fantastic. It was really nice to see him.

So, as many of you know, my parents are married but live most of the time in different states. Their house is in South Carolina, and my dad is there most of the year. My mom mostly stays in an apartment in Madison, which is where I am staying. My dad is also in town now, so it's the three of us in the apartment. My mom's apartment is tiny, but I like it. It is a perfect reflection of her in so many ways. My mother, in addition to being very serious about cleanliness, has an amazing sense of fashion and design. Her apartment is beautifully decorated (and clean!). She has a sense of style that I really admire -- it is such a true reflection of who she is!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Brown Sugar Fudge (Page 695)

  • Date: Various times in the past (November 2004, December 2005, etc...)
  • Location: Various locations: Cambridge, Somerville
  • Kitchen: Various kitchens
  • Eating Companions: Babytop attendees, Alex's partygoers, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Ok, I didn't really make this one today. There are a handful of things in The Book that I had already made before I started this project. I figure I don't need to make them again specifically for the project, but in the interest of completeness, I did want to add them to the blog. Anyway, this fudge is amazing. I have made it several times. It has a wonderful brown sugar flavor, a velvety texture, and melts in your mouth! I like to use tiny decorative cutters (e.g. those used to decorate pies) to cut my pieces of fudge. The recipe really makes a lot of fudge.

I am leaving in the morning for the midwest. I am speaking at Northwestern and the University of Chicago early next week, but I am flying out tomorrow and will spend the weekend with my parents in Madison. I would be excited about going home, but the high on Saturday in Madison is apparently going to be 5 degrees F. That's really cold! I'm not bringing The Book with me, so unless I can convince my mom to buy it, I may not be adding any entries for a few days!

Whenever I get really busy with work, I always think of some specific activity that I am really looking forward to doing when things settle down. Today, after 12 hours at the office, I was on my way home a bit before 9pm, dreaming about getting a pedicure. I hadn't had a pedicure in ages, but Em and I went recently in California. I somehow picked out a really hideous orange color. Now, the ugly orange polish is chipping off and I really want a new pedicure. I'm not sure what I like best about the pedicure experience: sitting in the massage chair, having my feet in the little bubble bath, getting my feet rubbed, or actually getting my toe nails painted. It's my favorite personal care indulgence though! I highly recommend it! Maybe I will have time to go with my mom this weekend...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Old-Fashioned Gingerbread (Page 703)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 14, 2006 - 10:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this one because I had all the ingredients for it in my pantry! I barely let this cool before I cut myself a piece, scooped some ice cream on top, and enjoyed a really very lovely dessert! The flavor of this gingerbread is so nice. And while the cake is tender with a nice crumb, there is a bit of a crust to it, which I really like. My only complaint is that it could be moister (I am really big on cake being moist!). Overall though: yum. I highly recommend it warm with vanilla ice cream!

Happy Valentines Day everyone! I had a long, but nice, day. I taught my section, went to class, gave my talk... I left for work this morning at 7:45am and I got home tonight after 8pm so I decided to take the rest of the night off and relax! I had popcorn for dinner (which I shamefully admit that I love to do), I talked to some friends on the phone, and I baked gingerbread. It was nice to take an evening off. Lately I have been working every night until the moment I go to bed. Tonight it was so refreshing to putter around the apartment in my slippers for a few hours instead of working!

I love Valentine's Day. I know, as someone who is single, that I am supposed to hate it. But I like the idea of there being a day when you are reminded to tell the people that you love that you care about them! I also love watching everyone head home from work, carrying flowers for their significant other or spouse. A friend sent beautiful roses to me at the department today. It was so surprising and nice to get flowers delivered to my office!

This is recipe number 50 in my project! 50 down, 1243 to go!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Buttermilk Cupcakes (Page 721)

  • Date: Monday, February 13, 2006 - 3:15pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Bridget, Haynes, Peter, Mark, Ricardo, Ana, Rekha, Francesca, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B-
Mike picked these cupcakes out for his birthday celebration at work today. They weren't terrible, but I wasn't excited about them. I liked the flavor of the cupcakes pretty well -- the buttermilk added a nice tang. But they were denser and dryer than I would have liked. I usually make layer cakes rather than cupcakes, which have the advantage that you can always use some flavored simple syrup to add moistness to a dry cake recipe. With cupcakes, you can't really do that...

I appreciated that Mike let me make something from The Book for his birthday. I was a little worried about making something experimental for Mike's special day, but he was really great about it! I sent him a list of all the cakes in the book that I could make for his birthday and he picked these cupcakes -- that really made me smile! I would have picked the Nectarine Mousse Cake, or the Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel Icing, or the Cranberry Cognac Trifle -- something ununsual! I liked that Mike picked the cupcakes though -- cupcakes suit him well!

Tomorrow I am speaking in one of the seminars at MIT on computations of Waldhausen's A-Theory of a point (Happy Valentines Day to me!) so I should go work some more on my talk now...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Chocolate and Lemon Cream Cheese Frostings (Page 722)

  • Date: Sunday, February 12, 2006 - 1pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Bridget, Haynes, Peter, Mark, Ricky, Ana, Rekha, and Francesca
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Mike picked out this one. These are the frostings for his birthday cupcakes. Both frostings start from a cream cheese base. The chocolate cream cheese frosting is very chocolatey, and not overwhelmingly sweet, which is quite nice. The lemon cream cheese frosting is a little sweeter, but the sweetness is offset well by the refeshing lemon flavor. Both frostings were very quick to make and piped quite well (although the lemon frosting needed to be chilled for a while first). I liked that this recipe produced two different flavors of frosting with very little added effort. It's nice, when making cupcakes, to have some variety. Mike hates lemon though (and these are his birthday cupcakes!) so I carefully contained the lemon ones in a seperate box from the chocolate ones!

Today is Mike's birthday: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MIKE! We are having cupcakes in the department tomorrow to celebrate. It's tradition to have cake at school for Mike's birthday. I support pretty much all traditions that involve cake!

Today we got a lot of snow. The picture is the view out the window of our guest room in the middle of the day. I couldn't make it to Rosie's this morning, as none of the streets in my neighborhood had been plowed. In fact, I didn't leave home all day. I can't remember the last time I did that! Actually, I think I have probably never spent an entire day in this apartment before. It was nice though. I showered this morning, put my pajamas back on, and made cupcakes! Then I worked at my desk the rest of the day in my frosting-covered pajamas!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Island Pork Tenderloin (Page 475)

  • Date: Saturday, February 11, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This was another page number from the random number generator. This pork was really good. It was rubbed with a spice rub, browned on the stove, then glazed and roasted. The net effect of this was a very flavorful, tender, and juicy tenderloin. I was worried that it was going to be too spicy for me (the recipe has considerable quantities of chili powder and Tabasco), but in fact it turned out that while it was full of spicy flavors, it wasn't fiery. I liked it much more than I thought I would from reading the recipe, which is always a nice surprise!

I know I keep saying this over and over again, but I am having so much fun with this project! You know, I had never made a pork tenderloin before tonight. It's such a simple thing, but for whatever reason, I had just never made one. It was fun to have a cut of meat in my hands that was new to me. I keep flipping through the book, looking at what's ahead of me, and it seems so exciting! I have always loved both math and food. I think the decision to pursue math as a career was the right one, but I think and hope that food and cooking will always be a huge part of my life. This project is a concrete way to keep myself cooking during what is a mathematically very busy period.

Carrots Vichy (Page 528)

  • Date: Saturday, February 11, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This one was also chosen with the random number generator. Before making this recipe I had a bad attitude about it for two reasons:

1. I love carrots, but I really only love them raw. Cooked carrots can be really squishy and gross.

2. This dish is a glazed carrots dish. I once lost a bet with Chris over glazed carrots. I no longer remember what the bet was about, or how the glazed carrots were involved. I do remember being wrong about something though, and I remember that glazed carrots were the example of why I was wrong.

These issues aside, this dish was really quite good. It was simple and comforting. The carrots were cooked through, but hadn't yet lost their integrity. The glaze was very light but added a nice touch. Overall, a good side dish.

I went to Whole Foods this morning to get things for dinner, and while I was there I was realizing how much I love going to the grocery store. It was really crowded with everyone stocking up before the snowstorm -- in fact the cashier told me that it was supposed to be her day off but she got called in because it was so busy. Apparently her manager claimed that it was busier there today than it was right before Christmas! Anyway, obviously just being surrounded by food appeals to me, but that's not my favorite thing about it. On weekend days, grocery stores are full of couples, spending time together and picking out food for the week. This morning Whole Foods was full of young couples that looked so happy. Watching them brought me so much joy! I love people-watching in the grocery store. I love seeing what people buy. I love speculating about what they are going make with the things in their cart! Really I just love the whole experience... which is good I guess because I think I end up at the grocery store way more often than most people -- especially with this new project!

Baby Greens with Warm Goat Cheese (Page 131)

  • Date: Saturday, February 11, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: A-

The random number generator picked this one. This salad was really tasty. The dressing was nice, but not overpowering. It was the goat cheese though that made it a great dish. The cheese was cut in rounds then dredged in panko bread crumbs and fried. The breadcrumbs became crisp and delicious, while the cheese was soft, warm, and perfect! Fantastic tip from The Book, that I have to share: the best way to cut a log of goat cheese into rounds is with dental floss. It is so much better than using a knife - you get a clean, beautiful cut, and the cheese doesn't crumble at all! That tip alone pushed this recipe into the A range! Seriously though, I would definitely make this salad again -- very tasty!

Alex came over for dinner tonight, which was a nice was to spend the late evening. Aside from grocery shopping this morning, I stayed in all day and worked. It was really nice. In general I prefer to work at the office during the day rather than at home. Sometimes on the weekends though, staying home and working at my desk here seems really appealing. Reading papers in bed is also a nice benefit of working at home! Supposedly there is going to be some huge snowstorm here tonight, so it sounds like I may be spending some time at home tomorrow too!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Caramel Sauce (Page 873)

  • Date: Friday, February 10, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: D

The random number generator picked this one. Ok, yes, I realize it seems absurd that I gave a caramel sauce a D rating. You would expect that when you put sugar, heavy cream, and butter together, that only good things can happen! I'm nearly failing this recipe not because it always makes a bad caramel sauce but rather because I think there is no possible justification for them having chosen the method that they ask you to use for this recipe. I have made caramel dozens and dozens of times, and before tonight I had burnt it exactly once (the first time -- when I didn't know what I was doing). Tonight I made this caramel sauce not once, but twice, and both batches were inedibly burnt. In fact, after taking the photograph I scraped all the sauce off my ice cream before I ate it! Now, look carefully at the picture. Does it look burnt to you? This is the problem. The way you tell when caramel is done is by color. The second batch of sauce looked perfect. It was smooth, and creamy, and golden. It tasted terrrible though -- completely burnt! The usual method for making caramel involves dissolving some sugar in water and boiling until it turns golden. Now, it's true that in order for this to happen, you end up needing to boil off all the water that you added. So, this recipe employed an alternate method: put sugar (with no water) in a pot and melt it carefully, hoping it dissolves in its own juices before it begins to burn. True, this method is faster. But it is also way more difficult, and significantly less consistent. I gave this recipe a D because I think it is unfair to advise non-professional chefs to make their caramel this way. Even in culinary school, we were taught to do it with water. Why set people up for failure!?!?

Despite my ranting above, I was quite happy when I burned the first batch of caramel. I think it's good that I ruin things ever once in a while -- it means I am stretching myself. I never learn as much in the kitchen as I do when things are a total disaster. When I made the second batch I learned that I needed to correct even more than I had anticipated in order to produce a non-burnt result! It was a learning experience. Unfortunately I ran out of cream before I could make a third batch. I would have though -- the best way to learn is to keep doing it.

After the caramel fiasco, Bridget came over for a girls night in, complete with a chick flick and an enormous bowl of popcorn! It was a very relaxing end to a busy, busy week.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lentil and Brown Rice Stew (Page 276)

  • Date: Thursday, February 9, 2006 - 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this one because I figured it would be a good use of the leftover vegetables from yesterday's not-so-good salad. And in fact, it was. This stew is pretty tasty. It's not beautiful, or fancy, but it is warm and hearty and comforting. It's perfect winter food. It doesn't hold a candle to the lentil stew recipe that I inherited from Emilee in college (if you like lentils you should get that recipe from me -- it's amazing!), but it is still good. One fantastic thing about lentils is that they freeze really well. This recipe made a huge batch, which I divided into many, many little tupperwares and put in the freezer for lunches.

Tonight I did a lot of prep work for tutoring tomorrow. I work with a very mathematically talented home-schooled girl. Tutoring may be the wrong word for what I do - I guess I am her math teacher. She was eleven when we started working together, studying calculus. She's twelve now and we have moved on to linear algebra. We just finished working through the linear algebra text actually and I am giving her the final exam tomorrow. I compiled a selection of questions from some old MIT linear algebra exams to give to her. I'm interested to see how she will do. I was at first quite skeptical of teaching someone so young this type of mathematics. In fact, she was ready for it. In addition to being remarkably capable, she is extremely motivated and curious, which makes her just a wonderful student. We work together for 2 hours each week, and in between she completes tremendous amounts of homework, without complaint. Actually, sometimes she complains that I haven't assigned her enough work! I haven't seen her in quite a few weeks, since I have been away in California, so it will be nice to meet with her tomorrow and do some math together!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Crunchy Vegetable and Brown Rice Salad (Page 150)

  • Date: Wednesday, February 8, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: C+

The random number generator picked this one too (Aside: those of you who sent me numbers sent me so many numbers that picking from your lists is almost as intimidating as picking from the whole book... hence I've reverted back to my random number generator. If you want to send me a number or two though (or an ingredient,, etc...) please do!). Anyway, I didn't like this one. It wasn't bad -- I'm sure I will eat it for lunch tomorrow -- but it wasn't good. It looks so nice and non-threatening, but in actuality the flavors are very aggresive. Between the arugula and the mustard and the acidity of the lemon juice, I felt mildly attacked by every bite. I had envisioned something different, with more brown rice and less arugula, that I think I would like better. This recipe is good in concept, but not so good in this particular manifestation.

I spent a lot of time today thinking about why it is that some things are so hard to say. For me, one of them is "I miss you." There are certain people that I can say this to easily (Emilee comes to mind -- I miss her every day and I tell her I miss her in every email!), but with most people, no matter how much I think about them and miss their presence in my every day life, I just can't articulate it to them. An old Wisconsin friend text messaged me the other day and all it said was "I miss you. Bunches." I was so touched. One of the things I have always liked about him is his ability to be unflinchingly honest about how he feels. I wish I could do that with more people in my life. I sometimes wonder if the people that I care about really understand that I care about them...

There's a beautiful Tracy Chapman song on this topic called "Baby Can I Hold You." The song is very much with me lately.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Pecan Pie Bars (Page 694)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 7, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Jessie and Everton
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This page number was chosen with the online random number generator. These bars are really good. They consist of a shortbread base with a pecan pie filling type topping. Yum! In addition to being very tasty they are also quite quick to make. The recipe makes quite a few -- which means I will be bringing some in to the department tomorrow!

Today was the first day of classes, and hence my first day of teaching my 18.03 (differential equations) recitation. It was really fun. As far as I could tell from the one hour I spent with them, it seems like I have a fun group of students in my class! Teaching is a lot of work of course, but it is something that I really like doing. In typical MIT fashion, when I asked my students what they each were majoring in, they answered by giving their course numbers. Now of course I have no idea what these numbers mean, so I would ask, "What's course 8?" They would respond, "Physics," for example. After asking at least 5 people to translate their course numbers for me, one of my students said he was course 18. Without even thinking, I asked him what that was. He gave me a really priceless look and then said very carefully, "Math." Whoops. That was the only truly embarassing moment from today's class. I'm sure there will be more to come!

I just got back from bluegrass at the Cantab with Mark, Paul, and Kim - a Tuesday night tradition! I wasn't sure I felt like going out tonight, but I am so glad I did. I do really love bluegrass, and hanging out with friends at the Cantab is always fun. In a lot of ways the band tonight was more jazz than bluegrass, but it still really appealed to me.

I'm sleepy. Time for bed...

Garlic Lime Chicken Breasts (Page 355)

  • Date: Monday, February 6, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked this one because I wanted to make some chicken. This recipe was really excellent. Looking at it, it seemed a little boring: just chicken breasts marinated in garlic and lime, then roasted and finished in the broiler. But actually it was great. The lime flavor was intense and refreshing. The meat was very juicy, and the skin was nice and crispy. It was very enjoyable. I should note that I marinated the meat for 8 hours rather than the 2 hours indicated in the recipe. I made some orzo dressed with some nice extra virgin olive oil and salt to go with the chicken and it made a great meal!

Today was registration day at MIT. Reg day is always a blur, but this time more than most as I didn't sleep at all last night. It was so strange -- I felt fine, but I just laid awake all night, unable to fall asleep. For me, this is highly unusual. An old roommate of mine once summarized my sleeping habits by noting, "Teena could sleep naked on a wet rock." It's true -- 99% of the time I am asleep within 5 minutes of laying down. I used to sleep with a kitchen timer next to my bed so that when my alarm went off I could set it for a few minutes and go back to sleep (my own version of the snooze button). Once I tried to set it for 6 minutes, but accidentally set it for 6 seconds. When it went off 6 seconds later, I had already fallen asleep! Last night gave me a new appreciation for what troubled sleepers must go through -- it was totally miserable not being able to sleep! Hopefully tonight I will return to my regular pattern...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tomato Sauce (Page 207)

  • Date: Sunday, February 5, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment!
  • Sous Chef: Mike Hill
  • Recipe Rating: C

I picked this one because I have been craving spaghetti! This sauce wasn't great. It was very chunky (or as Mike said: "big-boned"), but at the same time quite watery. Mike compared it to tomato soup, which seemed pretty accurate. Also, there wasn't a lot of depth of flavor - it just tasted like tomatoes. We cooked up some sausage and added it to the sauce which helped a lot. It made a decent meal, but I gave it a low rating because it's so easy to make a tomato sauce with more flavor and a better consistency...

Today I got back into the swing of life in Boston. I went to Rosie's (the homeless shelter, not the bakery!) as I do every Sunday to cook and serve lunch. I did some work, grocery shopped, went to the gym, made dinner with Mike, and went to Christina's for ice cream! It was a really nice, relaxing day.

I was cleaning a table at Rosie's when one of the homeless women shouted across the dining room, "Hey tall girl, how tall are you?" I told her I was 5 foot 11 inches tall. She told me I was lying, and that I must be at least 6 feet tall. I acknowledged that I was wearing heels (my fabulous cowboy boots no less!) and that with them on I was taller than 6 feet. She told me that I was so tall that men would be scared of me. Then she offered to make me a deal: if I took off my shoes, she would find me a husband. When I declined her offer, she said to me, "No man is ever going to marry you if you wear high heels!" For the rest of the meal, when she wanted my attention she would call out, "Hey, high heels!" As far as nicknames go, I really like it!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Deep-Dish Sausage and Tomato Pizza (Page 200)

  • Date: Friday, February 3, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris and Soren
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this dish for my last night in California because it was what I had a taste for! This pizza was really pretty good. Chris didn't have a cast-iron skillet, so we just made it in a glass dish, which seemed to work fine. I was skeptical of the lack of tomato sauce, but actually the sausage and chopped tomatoes (and a lot of cheese!) made nice pizza toppings. It was comfort food at its best -- A deep, chewy crust covered in meat and cheese! I always like pizza crusts with cornmeal in them, so I was pleased that there was cornmeal in this recipe. The crust was quite nice, although I have a similar recipe for a whole wheat pizza crust that I like slightly better. All in all, I really liked this pizza -- with some salad and beer it was the perfect meal for my last night in Palo Alto!

I flew back to Boston today, and I am writing this from the comfort of my own apartment! My flight was really nice -- it was so empty that I had three seats to myself. I was able to lay down, and although I can't sleep on airplanes, it still felt restful. I am happy to be home of course, but I am already missing California! With Emilee and Chris both living there now, it feels so strange to not be there with them... I am hoping to go back for some length of time this summer. I am so glad I spent this past month there -- I can't think of a better use of a January! In addition to getting work done, and spending time with some people that I love very much, I also met some great people on this trip! I have no complaints...

Oh no wait, I do have one complaint: I think I am getting sick. It seems that California gave me a cold!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Apple and Calvados Galette (Page 775)

  • Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Soren, and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This galette was quite tasty. The Calvados cream was very boozy, but
not too sweet, so it balanced the sweetness of the rest of the dessert
well. Brian is intellectually opposed to galettes (a galette is just a "half-ass pie," according to Brian) yet he still agreed that for a galette, this was pretty good. The only opposition to it came from Chris, who just couldn't get excited about it. Personally, I thought it was not bad. Brian pointed out that the crust to filling ratio (which is sometimes a problem with galettes) was good in this recipe. It was also nice to have both the Calvados applesauce filling and also sliced apples in the filling. When you were eating it, it was almost unnoticeable that there were two separate layers of filling, but the textural effect was really nice. The crust was quite good (see below). All in all, I was happy with how it came out.

Peter suggested I explain why I picked the book that I did for this project. Partly it was out of loyalty -- I love Gourmet Magazine, and I adore the editor, Ruth Reichl (she has written 3 really fun, really fantastic memoirs). But the real reason was two-fold. One, this book has a very diverse collection of recipes. There is no single ethnic cooking style represented, nor a single type of dish. I have essentially spent the last year or two specializing in desserts. In this project I wanted to get away from specialization, and really make a wide variety of things. The second reason, and maybe the bigger one, was that this book has recipes for a lot of things that I have never made, yet I think might taste good. That seems really simplistic, but it's a delicate balance. Many, many cookbooks are filled with things that are trivial to make. Even if you haven't already made them, you know how just from the title of the recipe. Such a cookbook would make a boring, boring project. But many cookbooks that require more actual technique and different methods are for genres of food that I don't want to eat every day for a few years. For instance, classic French cooking is very demanding, and very intricate, but is also very heavy and very, very cream-intense. It's great once and while but I couldn't eat it every day. This book is full of things that are interesting to make, many of which I have never made before and that's why I chose it.

All-Butter Pastry Dough (Page 776)

  • Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Soren, and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: A-

What can I say about this really? This crust has 2 sticks of butter in it: how could it be bad?!? This recipe is essentially a version of pate brisee, but with a very small amount of sugar added. It was easy to make, easy to work with, and came out very flaky and golden with good buttery flavor! It worked very well in the galette - even the bottom crust didn't really get soggy from the juices of the apples. It would make an excellent pie crust, and my guess is that it will be called for in many more of the tarts and pies in this book!

This month really flew by -- I can't believe I am going back to Boston in 2 days! MIT starts up this coming week. We have registration day on Monday and then classes start Tuesday. I don't have to teach for my funding, but I am TAing a section of Differential Equations anyway, which I am really looking forward to. I love teaching. Plus, Haynes (who is this fantastic prof at MIT) is lecturing for the class, so it should be really fun to work with him. I'm also traveling quite a bit in February: first to Chicago to give some talks and then to New Hampshire for a conference. Sadly, I am not going anywhere warm! I have to say, after being here for a month I am really not at all looking forward to returning to Boston weather!

Bacon-Wrapped Cornish Hens with Balsamic Glaze (Page 389)

  • Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Soren
  • Recipe Rating: A-
These hens were really good! I frequently make split, roasted, Cornish hens, but it had never occured to me to wrap them in bacon. The bacon is a good addition! The raspberry balsamic glaze is also extremely tasty. The only complaint anyone had about this dish was that it was hard to extract the meat from the hen, but that is always true with Cornish hens. I would definitely make this one again -- it was easy but elegant, and very tasty.

I am really liking this project so far. For one thing, it is great to be forced to constantly make and eat new foods. Old recipes are like old friends: comforting. But sometimes it is nice to branch out and meet some new foods! Plus, everyone has been so great about eating my experimental food. Tonight's dinner was all pretty good, but I know that even if it had been terrible, Emilee, Brian, Soren, and Chris would still have had fun and been understanding. It's also nice because in this setting people feel more comfortable giving their honest impressions of the food. After we ate tonight we went around the table and criticized the food. That is something that would never happen at a regular dinner party! It's great though -- this way I can really expand my understanding of the way other people think of food. I can also learn from their palates in addition to my own! I appreciate so much that everyone is willing to approach my project with the same openness that I have and be honest about their impressions. It would not be nearly as fun if I had to eat everything alone!

I'm tired. I think I will write about the dessert tomorrow...

Risotto with Peas and Prosciutto (Page 255)

  • Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Soren
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Well, this risotto wasn't as good at the red wine risotto from a few weeks ago, but it was pretty good! It was creamy and rich, but the lemon still brought a refreshing tone to it. The prosciutto and peas matched each other very well. It was an easy side dish to make, and everyone at the table agreed that it was enjoyable to eat.

Yesterday Soren took me out for a ride on his motorcycle! I had never been on one before. I was a little nervous -- motorcycles look like they could just tip right over! But in fact it wasn't nearly as scary as I had imagined. It felt very stable, and Soren is a really good driver. It was exhilirating! We drove up Foothill Expressway, where we could get up some speed. When we were going fast I was holding on to Soren pretty tightly. It occured to me that probably the only way we would get in an accident was if I accidentally squeezed Soren so tightly that he couldn't breathe -- that thought got me to loosen my grip a bit! :) Seriously, it was really, really fun. Now I want a motorcycle!

Panzanella (Page 144)

  • Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Sous Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Soren
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I chose the whole meal for tonight, rather than picking randomly. This bread and tomato salad was met with mixed reviews. The flavor was very good - tomatoes, onions, basil, and cucumbers are always a good combination. It had some textural issues though. The idea is for the bread to absorb some of the dressing and tomato juices, which it did. The net reults of this: slightly soggy chunks of bread in the salad. Our little dinner party seemed to have mixed opinions about whether or not soggy bread was a good thing. Emilee and Soren really liked the salad, while Brian, Chris and I felt like maybe soggy bread wasn't a good addition to it!

We had a nice, casual dinner party tonight. Emilee and Brian came over (as usual) and Soren (an assistant prof from the department here) joined us! When Chris and I invited him we didn't warn him about the experimental food, but he didn't seem particularly bothered!

I had my last meeting with Gunnar today before I go back to Boston on Saturday. I had a very mathematically productive month here, which was really nice. Sometimes a change of scenery is really beneficial work-wise. Also, having different mathematicians to talk to and spend time with is great! I am getting excited about returning to the MIT math department though, and seeing everyone there that I haven't seen in more than 6 weeks! I have worked a lot this month so I think I may take tomorrow off and do something fun... Unfortunately, everyone I know here is really busy, so I don't know who I will do something fun with!