Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pork Chops with Sour Cherry Sauce (Page 481)

  • Date: Monday, May 29, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Hartsville, SC
  • Kitchen: My Parents' House
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Dining Companions: My Parents
  • Recipe Rating: B

We picked this recipe because we thought we might be able to find all the ingredients in Hartsville. It turns out we couldn't: dried sour cherries were a problem. In addition to not being sour, all the dried cherries in the store had sugar added! We made the dish anyway (adjusting the amount of sugar that we added to the sauce) and it came out pretty well. The combination of balsamic vinegar, red wine, cinnamon, and cherries in the sauce was quite nice. It worked very well with the pork. Even with our sugar adjustments though, the sauce came out a bit too sweet. Still, my mom loved it -- once the pork was gone she started eating the cherry sauce plain! Overall, this was a nice, simple dish.

Until this trip, I had never really considered the culinary limitations of living in a small town. I knew of course that the choice of restaurants in Hartsville, and in many other small towns, is extremely limited. That never seemed like a huge problem to me though, because you could always cook your own food, right? But the problem in Hartsville is that there are a lot of things you can't cook, because you just can't find the ingredients. Yesterday I needed cilantro. The day before that I wanted wild rice. These things just can't be found in the grocery store here. Never mind pancetta, or ground veal, or all sorts of other things that I use all the time when I cook in Boston or Madison or California. And my mother's biggest complaint: the produce you can find is often rotten. Yesterday I bought the 2 least rotten avocados that they had at the store, and both were almost completely brown inside, and in one of them the pit had sprouted. It is very limiting. My parents go to Columbia or Charlotte (the 2 nearest cities of a reasonable size) nearly every weekend with a cooler in the trunk, and they come back with it packed full of meats, and produce, and cheeses. It's a solution, but I am not sure I could live somewhere where you have to drive 2 hours to get your groceries.

Wild Rice and Toasted Almond Pilaf (Page 262)

  • Date: Monday, May 29, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Hartsville, SC
  • Kitchen: My Parents' House
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Dining Companions: Terry and Teri (My Parents!)
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Paul and I made dinner on Memorial Day at my parents' house. It was a bit of a challenge to find recipes in The Book for which ingredients are available in Hartsville. We thought this wild rice and almonds dish wouldn't be a problem. It turns out that the only wild rice we could find was Uncle Ben's wild rice and long grain white rice combo with seasoning. Fortunately, the seasoning was all in a packet that we just didn't add, but we still had to adjust the cooking time in the recipe to account for the fact that what we had wasn't just wild rice. After our adjustments, I thought the rice came out tasting really good. My mom and Paul agreed but my dad wasn't a fan of it. It's an easy dish, and I thought it was a nice change from white rice.

I got my cavity filled today. Having never had a cavity before, I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought it would be really unpleasant, but actually it wasn't nearly as bad as I would have guessed. My mom came with me, although she waited in the waiting room. When I was 11 I had to have 10 teeth pulled, and they did it in 2 batches: 5 one week, and 5 the next. My mom came with me for the first 5. I was really upset and insisted that she come in and hold my hand while I was having them pulled. The dentist reluctantly agreed to this. As they were pulling out the second tooth, my mother passed out. She ended up having to be given her own nurse and dental chair in another room. She still turns pale when she talks about the crunching noise that the tooth-pulling made. My dad had to go with me the following week. So, today, my mom waited in the waiting room instead, which was probably for the best.

The thing that cracks me up about the dentist in Hartsville is that they write all sorts of personal information about your life in your chart. So whenever they pull my chart they have all this personal stuff about me from the last 3 years, and then some stuff from when I was 6 (the first time my family lived in Hartsville). So the dentists and hygenists are always trying to piece it together, and add new stuff to my chart. Last time I was there they were asking about my romantic life and recording it. Today they were asking me detailed questions about my father's job and writing it in my chart. Why this is important for my dental work, I'm not sure. But it never ceases to entertain me.

Grits and Cheddar Casserole (Page 656)

  • Date: Saturday, May 27, 2006 - 1pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matt, Peter, Ana, Vero, Jacob, Vigleik, Josh, Alex, Izzet
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I made these grits for my brunch on Saturday. I had been eyeing the recipe for a while because Paul is a big grits fan. He couldn't make it to brunch though, so he didn't even get to try these. They were ok. Opinions were quite mixed. Some people complained that there was too much cayenne in them. Others thought that the cayenne gave the grits a good flavor. When I asked people how they would rate this recipe, the suggestions ranged from C- to B+. Jacob said, "Teena, I'm sorry, but I can' t suport giving the grits a B+." He really disliked them, although he never really aritculated why. I didn't think they were bad. Maybe there was a bit too much cayenne. The cheese was nice though. I wouldn't make this dish again since it wasn't anything special, but I enjoyed eating it.

Whenever a relationship ends I like to think about what I learned from it, either from the person or from the experience itself. This morning I was thinking about what I learned from Paul. There are lots of things really, but one stands out. I learned how nice it is when the person you are with really takes an interest in the things that are important to you. Paul certainly liked to cook before we even met, but while we were dating he wanted to cook with me more than he ever would have on his own. He got so involved with my project - he would be looking through The Book some nights, thinking about recipes for the next day. It was really wonderful. I have certainly dated guys who happily cooked with me once and a while, but I have never been with someone who really seemed to get a lot pleasure from it on a daily basis. I really appreciated that he was so excited to work on something together with me. I want to remember how cared about that made me feel. I hope that I can do the same in my future relationships, and really try to find a way to share in the hobbies of my partner. I never realized before what a wonderful guesture of caring that can be.

Cranberry Coffee Cake (Page 643)

  • Date: Saturday, May 27, 2006 - 9am
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Matt, Peter, Vigleik, Alex, Vero, Josh, Jacob, Izzet
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This is another one that I made for my brunch on Saturday. It was a bit of a disaster, but it was completely my fault. So the recipe called for either fresh cranberries or thawed frozen cranberries. Now often when I substitute frozen fruit for fresh fruit I just throw it in still frozen. This isn't really a practice I would reccomend, but if you are making, say, blueberry muffins, it works fine. So, in my 8am daze, I decided I didn't really need to thaw my frozen cranberries. Now, in the recipes the cranberries are not just stirred in to the batter. They are chooped and they layered with the batter. This means that all the cranberries are concentrated in certain areas of the coffee cake. So what happened? Well, my chopped frozen berries lost a lot of water in the oven (water that I should have drained off before using them!) making the sections of cake near the cranberry concentrations too liquidy to set. So instead of a nice cake I ended up with a liquidy, unset center. It couldn't be sliced, more or less served, this way, and more cooking didn't help. So, I cut off the cooked parts, put them in a nice bowl and topped with whipped cream for a Cranberry Shortcake dish. It wasn't bad actually. The flavor of the coffee cake was really nice. I think if I hadn't screwed it up, it could have been quite good. The lesson here: I should never try to cook before my morning shower. It's a recipe for disaster!

I am still in small town South Carolina. Paul left this morning for Florida. For his last night here, we went bowling. My mom didn't even know there was a bowling alley in Hartsville, but the phone book led us to one! My dad insists that I had been to this bowling alley 20 years ago, when we first lived in Hartsville, but I have no recollection of that. This bowling alley was pretty special. Every lane was broken in its own unique way. Our lane had many issues, the funniest of which was when the ball return broke and the lady who owns the alley came over, opened up the floor, and used a big stick to fish out the ball. The computerized scoring was also clearly from decades ago, and the pin resetter couldn't figure out what to do whenever anyone got a strike. It was really fun though! I bowled a 160 on my first game, which is pretty good for me, but my dad bowled a 161 on his second game, so he was the overall winner. My mom hadn't bowled in 20 years, but she improved a lot as the night went one. In fact, she more than doubled her score from the first game to the second. My favorite part of the bowling in Hartsville experience was that right when you walked in to the alley there was a huge sign listing the penalties for armed robbery in the state of South Carolina. It really made me feel safe!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Scrambled Eggs with Cream Cheese and Chives (Page 627)

  • Date: Saturday, May 27, 2006 - 1pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Jacob, Vero, Josh, Ana, Matt, Peter, Vigleik, Izzet
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I made these eggs for my brunch gathering on Saturday. They were quite good. The cream cheese really added a great creaminess to the eggs, without being noticable as cream cheese. The chives contributed a nice flavor. This dish is incredibly simple, and the recipe is easy to expand for however many people you need to serve. This is a perfect casual brunch dish for a big crowd.

I have been in South Carolina for almost two days now, and I have exhausted every thing there is to do in Hartsville! We've been to the coffee shop (twice!), the shoe store, the video store, the grocery store, even the dentist! I think the people at the grocery store don't like me so much. I keep buying produce that the check-out people can't identify. Yesterday it was shallots, today apricots. The cashier just held up the bag and gave me a very confused look until I identified what was in it!

This morning I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. It turns out I have my first cavity! I thought only children get cavities! I'm very upset about this. Maybe I ate too much candy post-Easter. I am having it filled tomorrow (they were able to squeeze me in -- lucky me). I am not excited. I plan to cheer myself up by wearing the t-shirt I bought today to the dentist tomorrow. It says "Thank God for Country Boys." I love it!

Creme Brulee French Toast (Page 651)

  • Date: Saturday, May 27, 2006 - 1pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Ana, Jacob, Izzet, Matt, Peter, Josh, Vero, Vigleik
  • Recipe Rating: B

Before I left for South Carolina on Sunday I had a few friends over for brunch on Saturday afternoon. I made this French toast for the occasion. It wasn't bad, but was not nearly as good as the Challah French Toast from a few weeks back. This French toast is baked in the oven. The soaked bread sits on a layer of a butter and brown sugar mixture which turns in to a sort of syrup when it bakes. To serve, you invert the French toast so the syrup sits on top. My only serious complaint was that the syrup was extremely sweet and there was a lot of it. So the French toast itself was a little overpowered by the sweetness. All the flavors were good though. People certainly ate it happily, but it's not a French toast that I would make again.

After a nice brunch on Saturday afternoon I cleaned up and packed for a very early departure Sunday morning. Paul and I then drove to my parents' house in Hartsvile, SC on Sunday. Paul is on his way down to Florida, with all of his belongings (since he moved out of his apartment in Boston) and my parents' house happens to be on the way to his parents' place in Florida. I think he intended to just drop me off, stay here one night and get on his way Monday morning. He decided to hang out a few days in Hartsville though, since he realized how fun it is here! We had a fun drive down. He actually drove the whole way, because I wasn't there when he rented the van so he couldn't sign me up as a driver. He drove 13 and a half hours straight without complaining. I was pretty impressed! I realized we had made it to the South when we stopped at McDonald's for beverages and they had a big poster for "Mickey D's Sweet Tea!"

Friday, May 26, 2006

Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cheese (Page 777)

  • Date: Thursday, May 25, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: John, Cotton, Dimitri, Vero, Sophie, Tony, Omar, Jeana, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked this to bring to John's birthday gathering because it sounded good and I am trying to tackle some of the recipes with a slightly longer start-to-finish time. I haven't made a lot of the pies and tarts from The Book yet because of time constraints so now I am trying to make some progress in that section! This tart was quite good. The filling was a very simple, unbaked mascarpone cream. It was excellent though -- creamy, and tangy and it complemented the berries well. With mounds of fresh berries on top, the dessert couldn't help but be beautiful and a bit dramatic. My favorite thing about it though was that it felt indulgent without being extremely heavy. It made the perfect dessert for a warm evening. I think John liked it a lot, and he was the birthday boy so that made me happy.

Today has been a bit of a struggle. I wish I knew how to be more patient. I have known a few people in my life who have seemingly endless patience. They are people who everyone loves. They are great with small children. They bring joy in to the lives of the people that they encounter. I am not one of these people. I have, over the years, learned to force myself to be patient. It doesn't come naturally to me though. And when I am overtired, or hungry, sometimes I don't find the energy to make the effort. Although I recognize this as a flaw, and I have, each year for at least the last 10 years, resolved to try harder to be more patient, I worry that I'm not making any progress. Tonight, spending time with a friend, I was short-tempered, and generally sort of unpleasant, for no real reason other than lack of patience. This is something that I would like to work on.

Sweet Pastry Dough (Page 791)

  • Date: Thursday, May 25, 2006 - 8am
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: John, Dimitri, Cotton, Sophie, Vero, Tony, Omar, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Yesterday was jnkf's birthday and he had a few friends come over for dinner to celebrate. I made a tart to bring with me and this was the crust. It was quite good. I made the dough in the food processor, so it was very quick. This is a version of pate sucre, which is yummy but can be more of a pain to work with than a pate brisee tart crust. This rolled out pretty well though. The recipe suggested rolling it out between sheets of waxed paper, which I don't usually do. It was a good suggestion as it really kept the dough from sticking. Overall, it was a nice crust: it had a good flavor, and it remained crisp and flaky under the tart filling.

The semester is officially over now. I submitted the grades for my students a few days ago, and now I have no more commitments at MIT until the fall! Ok, that's not strictly true -- we have a summer seminar starting at the end of June, but that's only one hour per week. The department emptied out really quickly. A lot of people have already left to start their exciting summer plans. I decided just yesterday to go down to South Carolina on Sunday and spend a week at my parents' house. It should be fun! I haven't visited them there in a year and a half, since South Carolina isn't my favorite place. But, it is always very relaxing to go there since there is nothing to do! I usually get a lot of work done, and watch a lot of TV. They have a nice big kitchen, so hopefully I will also make good progress on my project while I am there. I am sure my parents will be happy to eat whatever I make from The Book.

This morning Elizabeth (the girl I tutor) and I started working on Multivariable Calculus. It's always exciting to start a new project with her! She also just got back from the National MathCounts competition, so I got to hear all about that.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sugar Cookies (Page 669)

  • Date: Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - 9am
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: 35 hungry graduate students, post-docs, and professors grading differential equations exams!
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose these cookies because I had all the ingredients in my pantry already. They were pretty good. They came out a bit dryer than I expected though. In fact, I had to add additional oil to the dough to even be able to form the cookies. As written, the dough was too crumbly to even hold together. They had an excellent flavor though, and the cookies were a bit chewy, which I liked. This recipe made quite a few cookies and they all got devoured pretty quickly by the grading crew, so I think everyone liked them well enough!

Yesterday the approximately 600 students in the differential equations class that I am a TA for took their final exam. The exam ended at 4:30pm, so the teaching assistants all gathered at 4:45 to start grading. We finished just after midnight! It was a long evening, especially since many of us also proctored the 3 hour exam starting at 1:30pm. I was very pleased though with how my students did -- I had many really impressive scores in my section!

Paul and I split up amicably about a week ago now, and Mike is already trying to set me up with random people he read articles about in the newspaper. Not just any newspaper, but The Metro! *sigh* Seriously though, our break-up has made me realize how rapidly I adjust to situations. Although were weren't together so long, I grew used to being in a relationship. I actually enjoy being single, so I am not upset about transitioning back to that lifestyle, but it surprises me how foreign it feels even after such a short relationship.

This will sound strange, but I realized yesterday that one thing I really like about dating is having someone to make dinner with. For whatever reason, I rarely make a big dinner just for myself. But even with just one other person around, I like to do that. Paul really likes to cook too, so we had a lot of fun working through the book together. I'm going to miss him when he moves off to Colorado in a couple weeks -- I don't think anyone else I know is willing to cook with me as much as he is!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Roast Beef Sandwiches with Roquefort and Caramelized Shallots (Page 191)

  • Date: Tuesday, May 16, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I picked these sandwiches for dinner one night last week because the recipe was quick and sounded appealing. These sandwiches weren't great though. I spent the whole meal trying to figure out why I didn't want to eat it. Paul is not a huge fan of blue cheese, so his hesitations about the dish were clear. I really love every ingredient though, so I'm not sure why I didn't really like this dish. It just didn't work for me somehow. We used Carles Artisanal Roquefort, which is one of the best cheeses in the world --but perhaps this was a mistake. That particular cheese is quite strong and thus the cheese really dominated the sandwich.

I got back from the conference at Cornell last night. Both on the drive there and the drive back we had 3 or 4 hours of good weather, followed by 2 hours of pouring rain. I don't love driving in the rain, especially on the highway, so that was a little stressful. It's hard to get too stressed out with Peter, Matt, and Ricky in your car though! Especially when Ricky is sitting in the back seat, singing along to Shania Twain! Whenever I hear "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," from now on, I will definitely think of Ricky! Just as we were driving in to Cambridge last night the rain let up and there was a beautiful rainbow over MIT.

The conference at Cornell was fun. Conferences can sometimes be discouraging in a way (more on that another time) and I certainly felt a little bit of that this weekend. Beyond that though, the conference was really nice. Overall, the talks were quite good -- very interesting and well presented. It was also to fun to see Jesper and Soren, and other old friends that I hadn't seen in a while. Plus, I got to watch whole lambs be roasted on a spit for the picninc on Saturday night! It was a good time!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Best Rice Pudding (Page 827)

  • Date: Sunday, May 14, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike and Alex
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I chose this one because I hadn't yet made anything from the "Puddings, Custards, Mousses, and Souffles," section of The Book. Now that I have, I have made at least one thing from each of the 21 sections! This rice pudding was pretty good. It had a nice texture and flavor. Alex pointed out that it was very creamy without being overly rich like some rice puddings are. I forgot to buy a vanilla bean when we were at the grocery store, so I used vanilla extract instead. The vanilla bean would have certainly been better, but the extract still provided a nice vanilla flavor. Overall it was a simple, warm dessert. Mike suggested it would also make a good hot cereal on a winter morning, which I think is true.

Tomorrow morning I am heading up to Cornell for a conference so I may not blog for a few days. I am excited about the conference, both because the mathematical program looks good and also because a couple of mathematicians that I am friends with but who I rarely see will be there. Young academics move around so much that these conferences are often like little reunions. I am driving there tomorrow with 3 other MIT graduate students. I like it when the MIT topologists go to these conferences together. Travelling with coworkers is a different way of getting to know the people that you work with every day. In the winter a bunch of us went to Union College for a weekend conference and we had a great time! I'm hoping Cornell is equally fun.

It will also be nice just to get out of Cambridge for a few days. In the winter I was traveling so much that I was happy to have a couple months at home this spring. Now I am ready to do a little traveling again!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Skirt Steak Fajitas with Lime and Black Pepper (Page 430)

  • Date: Sunday, May 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike and Alex
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this recipe because Alex volunteered the use of his grill and this is a grilled dish! These fajitas made a fun, easy meal! Sadly, Whole Foods was sold out of skirt steak! The butcher recommended that we substitute sirloin tips, which we did, and the dish still turned out well. Well all agreed though that it was really the grilled onions that made the dish. The onions were extremely flavorful, bringing both a sweetness and a charred flavor to the dish. Grilling the tortillas was also a good suggestion. If you have a big grill, this would make a fun, simple dish for a group of people on a summer evening.

Sunday was Mother's Day. I had originally planned to go home to Wisconsin, both to see my mom and because my cousin Anne graduated from college on Sunday. In the end I couldn't make the trip. I sent my mom The Book though as a Mother's Day gift (Paul also sent it to his mom!) and she was so excited when she got it. She already has her eyes on several things to make this week. She is planning to start with the puffed apple pancake, which I haven't made yet, so I am curious to know how it will turn out. My mother is an amazing cook and I think that my love of food came in no small part from her. In particular, she loves to bake. When I was young there were always homemade cookies or pies in the ktichen. That's probably how I developed my sweet tooth -- eating my mother's fantastic desserts! This may also be why my standards are so high for dessert items! One of the many reasons I love visiting home is that she will always make cookies before my arrival. No one's cookies can compare to my mom's!

Happy (slightly belated!) Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!

Fresh Tomato Salsa (Page 896)

  • Date: Sunday, May 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike and Alex
  • Recipe Rating: B
I picked this salsa to go with out fajitas last night. It was pretty good -- nothing amazing, but fresh salsa is always nice. It was a bit too spicy for my taste, but I'm a little more sensitive to spice than most people. We had a little miscommunication in the kitchen which resulted in our onions for the salsa getting grilled instead of being raw. It was an accident but I think the grilled onion contributed a nice flavor to it. It was a little unusual having the onions cooked and the other ingredients raw, but it wasn't bad!

I had several exciting triumphs today. First, I finally finished level 15 of Nibbles, this computer game I play once in a while from work when I need a break! The first 14 levels weren't bad, but I have been stuck on level 15 for more than a month! True, I only play about once a week, but still... it's been a long time. Today I passed it though -- finally! And then.... my computation that has been giving me grief finally worked out! I was so excited! After correcting the error that Tyler found, and spending many hours redoing everything, it all worked out beautifully! I'm so happy! I finished the computation around 5pm and then I went to the gym, ate some pasta, and relaxed with a DVD and a glass of wine. Perfect!

Grilled Treviso Radicchio with Scamorza (Page 573)

  • Date: Sunday, May 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike and Alex
  • Recipe Rating: C

Alex generously volunteered the use of his grill for dinner last night, so I picked this recipe because it is one of the few grilled side dishes I have left to do. I knew going in to it that I don't particularly enjoy radicchio (bitter vegetables are not my favorite!), but I tried to keep an open mind. I think Mike summarized it best when he said at dinner last night, "It's hard to enjoy eating something when nature screams at you with every bite: 'Don't eat me!'" The recipe claimed that the grilling was going to "tame"the bitterness of the radicchio, but it didn't really seem to happen. The dish came out very, very bitter. None of the three of us really wanted to eat it. Based on my reaction to it, I could have given it a lower rating. But, I wanted to take in to account the fact that I don't really like radicchio. If someone really liked radicchio, it's possible that they could like this dish...

So Alex, Mike, and I made dinner last night. It was really fun. We had a nice, big meal. The only component of it that was really amazing though, was the one thing we didn't make: some cheese. While we were at Whole Foods Mike picked up some La Tur cheese, and we ate it with blackberries and crackers before dinner. The cheese was really impressive. It's a soft Italian cheese made with sheep, goat, and cow milk. So good!

I took a lot of shit last night from the guys about my food photography style. Apparently they don't like the fact that I cut off the edges of everything. Alex wants to see the whole plate in every picture, for example. I firmly believe that as long as the food is reasonable attractive, it looks better when photographed very close-up. When I said this to Alex, he responded that that didn't explain why I cut off the tops of people's heads. Fair enough. Although, I have included the following picture of me that Mike took last night, to demonstrate that other people do this too... Anyway, if the rest of you out there hate my food photography too, let me know and I will reconsider my strategy.

Salmon Cooked on Salt (Page 289)

  • Date: Saturday, May 13, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I suggested this recipe because we were trying to pick something from the "Fish and Shellfish" section and this sounded good. Paul looked quite skeptical throughout the cooking process, but in the end he agreed that this dish came out very well. The fish was perfectly cooked - very flaky and juicy. And although there was no seasoning on or with the fish aside from salt and pepper, the dish came out very flavorful. Plus, the method couldn't be simpler. We ate this with the porcini risotto and it was just a fabulous meal!

The term is almost over at MIT -- this is the last week of classes! Once the term ends, and I have a more flexible schedule, I am going to try to attack some of the more demanding recipes in The Book. I've been making good progress lately on this project, but because I am always a little crunched for time, I have been picking mainly things that are quick to make. I fear that the last year or so of the project I will only have hugely ambitious things left (like the wedding cake, and the cure-your-own bacon recipe). Also, since lately I have been selecting mainly things I like, at the end I am going to have a lot of things I don't really like left to do. So, I think this summer I am going to attempt to return to my random number selection. That will force me to do both the more difficult things, and the things I don't like as much. Sounds fun, huh?!? Maybe I will start my random number selection while I am in California. My friends at Stanford were very willing to eat random food when I was there in January!

Risotto with Porcini (Page 256)

  • Date: Saturday, May 13, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: A

Paul picked out this recipe. It was amazing! I love risotto, but even for risotto this was exceptionally good. The texture was perfectly creamy and the rice was tender but still al dente. And while I don't usually get too excited about mushrooms, the porcini in this dish contributed a wonderful flavor. Simply put, it was a great dish!

It is Monday morning, and still raining! I have stopped counting how many days of rain it has been... I've also stopped looking at the weather forecast for the next week -- too depressing!

On a happier note, I think my math mystery may have been solved! I am still working it out, but Tyler found a mistake in what I had done previously (yay for Tyler!) and now that I have corrected it, I think everything is going to work out perfectly. I'm so excited! I am trying to contain my excitement until I get the last few details worked out, but I already feel hugely relieved. The one nice thing about the rain is that it makes it easy to stay inside and work a lot! I don't feel too tempted to venture outside.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Challah French Toast with Berry Sauce (Page 650)

  • Date: Saturday, May 13, 2006 - 1pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Paul's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: A-

We picked this recipe because I haven't yet made much progress on the Breakfast and Brunch section of the book, so we thought we should choose something from that section. This french toast was quite good. My usual french toast recipe is just cooked on a griddle, but this one is started on a griddle and finished in the oven, which worked really well. The berry sauce was excellent. We used fresh blackberries and frozen raspberries and it came out great. We already have plans for the leftover sauce (in crepes, and on ice cream!). Paul and I both independently had the thought that this dish would be slightly better if the french toast batter had some vanilla in it. The dish was good though, and very quick. It would be perfect for last minute brunch guests.

This afternoon we painted Paul's bathroom. His ex-girlfriend painted the bathroom in his apartment blood red, and he needed to repaint it to white before he moved out. The guy at Home Depot insisted that one coat of primer would cover blood red paint. Not quite! But after a couple coats the bathroom looks SO much better. As I am writing this I am still covered in paint that won't come off. Here's a picture of Paul painting. I meant to take before and after pictures so everyone could appreciate the improvement, but I forgot the before picture. Whoops!

It's still raining here... Actually today it was pouring rain in a way that it very rarely does in Boston. If I had not had to go outside it would have been quite enjoyable!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pasta with Bolognese Sauce (Page 221)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - 8:45pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Paul's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I suggested this one because I love Bolognese and I have been eagerly anticipating making this dish. It did not disappoint. This sauce was excellent -- flavorful, and hearty. Whole Foods was out of ground veal, so we substituted more ground beef and ground pork, and the sauce still came out wonderful. Various steps of the recipe took much longer than indicated (e.g. evaporating off the milk and then the wine) but this was probably in part because we multiplied the recipe by one and half so as to have leftovers. Still, I think it would probably take a little longer than written. It was worth it though! We froze the sauce we didn't eat last night or pack for lunch today. It's always such a good feeling to have something so delicious in the freezer ready to go!

My advisor was in town for a few days a couple months ago and while he was here we did a spectral sequence computation together. What we got doesn't make any sense though. So, when he left we agreed that we would each think about what we might have done wrong. Since then I have rechecked the computation many times, only to get the same, wrong answer. My advisor, now in Japan has also repeated the computation. I have also enlisted the help of my very smart friend Tyler to try to help me figure out what's going on. It's mysterious though. This afternoon Tyler and I sat and stared at a blackboard for quite a long time, occasionally writing things down, but mainly just looking puzzled. At this point I am just really curious what we are all doing wrong (or are we doing something wrong -- is it possible that the spectral sequence itself is wrong?)...

On a different, more encouraging note, this is the first time in probably a month that my blog has actually been up to date. I have now entered every recipe I have made so far! And tonight I am going out to dinner with Marco, so I can't possibly get behind again until at least tomorrow!

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Mint (Page 585)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 -8:45pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Paul's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: B
Paul and I picked this recipe because it looked like it would be pretty quick, and tasty. The recipe couldn't have been easier -- start to finish it took less than 15 minutes. And the tomatoes came out tasting good. They were juicy and tender and very flavorful. The mint and tomato combination was a good one - a nice change from the more canonical tomato and basil pairing.

It's raining today and 49 degrees outside. I am told that we are supposed to get 10 consecutive days of rain here! It's not exactly ideal weather for the middle of May... I grew up in Wisconsin (which I loved!) but admittedly the weather there is not so nice. So, when I decided to come to MIT I figured I would be prepared for the nasty Boston weather. It turns out that 4 years of college in sunny Northern California made me soft! My first couple of winters in Boston I was so cold all the time. Even now, when it rains, and rains for days, I think longingly of the California sun. Going to Stanford from Wisconsin was amusing. All the Stanford students from Southern California would complain constantly about how bad the weather was at Stanford. It never failed to make me laugh. I remember walking out the door of my freshman door with a friend and when she noticed it was drizzling she turned to me angrily and asked, "How do they expect us to learn in weather like this?" I laughed so hard I almost cried. Seriously though, I hope the weather forecasters are wrong. I don't want to go a week and a half without seeing the sun!

Devil's Food Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream (Page 742)

  • Date: Monday, May 8, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA (MIT!)
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Bridget
  • Dining Companions: Vigleik, Shihchi, Mike, John, Haynes, Big Mike, Mark, Charles R, Prof. McClure, Ricky, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Vigleik picked this cake for his post-thesis defense celebration. It was pretty good. The flavor of the devil's food cake was quite nice, and the cake was wasn't too dense. It was just a tad dryer than I would have preferred, but I like my cake really moist. This is why, left to my own devices, I usually make chiffon cakes, or well-soaked genoise. But, for a butter cake, this one was very good. A few changes that I made to the recipe: I put diplomat cream (vanilla pastry cream cut with whipped cream) between the layers rather than frosting, just for some variety. The decoration was also not part of the recipe. Overall though, it was a pretty good cake, and everyone seemed happy with it!

The semester is rapidly winding down at MIT. Next week is the last week of classes! I am going to miss my differential equations students, but not teaching and not having classes and seminars to attend will definitely give me more time to work on my research, which will be nice. Summer in the math department is always pretty mellow. A lot of people travel for much of the summer, and even those that stay around here don't often work from the office. So the department starts to feel a little abandonned. It's very different from the academic year. I am staying around here for commencement, since a lot of my close friends are graduating. Then I am going to California, probably for a month or so, to work and see friends at Stanford. I am looking forward to it!

But it's not summer yet -- in fact, I have to teach in 10 minutes! Anyone want to come learn about matrix exponentials and solutions to systems of inhomogeneous differential equations?!?

Brown Sugar Buttercream (Page 743)

  • Date: Monday, May 8, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA (MIT!)
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Bridget
  • Dining Companions: Vigleik, Shihchi, Mike, John, Haynes, Big Mike, Mark, Prof. McClure, Charles R, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B
Vigleik picked this frosting for his thesis defense cake. It was good but yet I was a little disappointed. This is a mousseline buttercream, which is one of my favorite types of frosting. Mousseline buttercreams are light and silky, and both easy to spread and easy to pipe. This version, however, didn't come out quite right. It was much denser than it should have been, and consequently the recipe didn't produce nearly enough frosting for the cake. Luckily, I had already planned to fill the cake with diplomat cream rather than the frosting, but had I wanted to frost between the layers I would not have been able to. I'm not sure what went wrong -- it may be a problem with the recipe, or it could have been user error, but I have made mousseline buttercreams many times and they never came out like this one. The flavor was good though, and the frosting was still extremely smooth. I forgot to take a picture of the frosting alone. Sorry!

Bridget came over on Sunday and we baked Vigleik's defense cake together. I love to cook with other people, but usually I don't like to bake with friends. I'm not totally sure why that is. I think it's because baking with my mother can be frustrating. She enjoys cleaning so much that she will inevitably put away ingredients I haven't yet used, and wash dishes that I am in the process of using, etc... Finally she and I came to an agreement that when I visit her and I bake she should not be in the kitchen. That works out pretty well! I think the other reason I like to bake alone is that a lot of my cakes go through an ugly phase before they are finished, and I prefer to be alone for that!

Despite all this, baking with Bridget was fun! It was good to have another set of hands in the kitchen. Paul stopped by too and helped out with the dishes, which was also appreciated! I think I haven't fully recovered though -- later in the evening, after Bridget had gone home and I was decorating the cake, Paul said to me very gently, "Maybe I shouldn't be here when you do this part." Apparently I was not so pleasant to be around! Whoops! But what would I have done without Paul to operate the blowdryer (long story!)!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Baked Orzo with Shrimp, Tomato Sauce, and Feta (Page 224)

  • Date: Saturday, May 6, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Paul's Apartment
  • Company in the Kitchen: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Paul and Brad S.
  • Recipe Rating: A-
At brunch on Saturday Paul ordered a Belgian waffle instead of the shrimp omelette and then spent the rest of the day craving shrimp. So, I decided to make this for him for dinner. It was really good. It's a very simple dish: just shrimp cooked in a simple tomato sauce and then tossed with cooked orzo, covered in feta, and baked. But the flavors really work well together and the dish is hearty without being too heavy. I'm not a huge shrimp fan, and I still really liked this. Brad and Paul thought it was great (to be fair they had had a few drinks, but still...).

Lately very few things seem clear to me. Paul is moving away soon and at least twice a week we sit down and try to formulate some plan that makes sense. But after endless rehashing of the same conversations (will he move or won't he, will we try to stay together or won't we, should we just break up now, etc...) we find ourselves incapacitated to make any decisions. While I think he's actually comfortable enough going along without a concrete plan, for me not having a plan is very difficult. I keep trying to propose plans that seem reasonable, or logical, or something. But the truth is, in a situation like this reason, or logic, has very little bearing on things. Every plan we discuss seems bad in its own way. Last night I really internalized for the first time that there is no good plan for us -- it's just a matter of picking the one that is the least bad. It's a little sad actually.

Chopped Salad (Page 136)

  • Date: Saturday, May 6, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Paul's Apartment
  • Company in the Kitchen: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Paul and Brad S.
  • Recipe Rating: B
I chose this one because I bought a new knife on Saturday, and if there is ever a time when you feel like making a chopped salad, it is right after purchasing a new knife! This salad was fine. It wasn't too exciting, but it was decent. The simple lemon dressing was very mild. The combination of vegetables was nice. Paul added avocado to it the next day and that was a definite improvement. It went well with the pasta dish I made and was very refreshing on a warm spring day.

Chris' dad and stepmom got me a gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma for Christmas, and shockingly I hadn't spent it yet. So this weekend I went and put it towards a 7 inch Wusthof Classic Santoku knife. I bought this same knife for my mother for Christmas and have been jealous ever since. Now I have one too! I love the Wusthof Classic knives. Four knives from that line were part of our required equipment for culinary school, and I just fell in love with them. I didn't yet have a santoku knife though -- I had been using my 10 inch chef's knife for all my chopping needs! The santoku is really fun though, and it's nice when you're cooking with friends to have 2 big knives instead of just one.

Wusthof knives are expensive, but totally worth it. There are certain classes of things that I refuse to feel guilty about spending my money on. High quality tools is one of them. These knives are a tool that I use every day, and will stay with me for many years. That makes them worth the price. Other things I spend money on without guilt: ingredients for food I make myself, presents for other people, and books.

Scrod with Tomatoes, Bacon, and Sherry (Page 285)

  • Date: Friday, May 5, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Dining Companion: Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: C+
I picked this one because scrod and bacon sounded good, plus I am trying to make more things from the seafood section. It was really pretty bad. The tomato, bacon, sherry topping was tasty, but the flavor didn't manage to penetrate the fish very much. So the dish was essentially just poached scrod with some stuff on top. It wasn't very cohesive. I didn't even eat my serving of it. Most things I will eat even when they aren't great, but fish is one thing that I like when it's good, but don't really feel like eating when it's not so good. Paul agreed that is was bad, but still ate both my serving and his!

Yesterday Vigleik defended his thesis! He gave a great talk and then we all had cake and champagne and went out to dinner. It was a combined topology dinner and defense dinner because there was also a topology seminar yesterday. Fifteen of us went to dinner at Cuchi Cuchi, where the food is quite good. Part way through dinner I realized that it was the last topology dinner where we would all be together. I think we're having dinner next week, but Haynes can't go, and after that the seminar will be over for the term. Next fall Mike and Vigleik won't be here any more! My sense of dread about them leaving continues to grow. It's just hard to think about what the topology group will be like without the two of them. There are so many great, fun people in the group, but Mike and V contribute so much! I just try to remind myself that I still see and talk to the people who left in previous years... Ok, I'm going to stop thinking about this now.

I talked to Emilee last night and I think we decided on a summer vacation destination. Em, Brian, and I have been planning a June vacation. We had considered Mexico, Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, Wyoming, etc... but finally Emilee and I decided that we would take a trip, just the two of us, to Vegas! I'm so excited. I've never been there. I know it's supposed to be horrible in a way, but the idea of being in Vegas with Emilee seems so fantastic to me. I can't wait!

Herbed Bulgur (Page 262)

  • Date: Friday, May 5, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Dining Companion: Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I picked this one because I wanted some grain dish to go with dinner, and bulgur seemed like a good idea. This recipe was quite good. I might have preferred it with not quite so many herbs, so that the flavor of the bulgur could come through more, but I still quite enjoyed it. I think this dish would be very good as a side dish to a nice fish entree. Since the main course for this meal on Friday was really bad (more on that later) I ate pretty much only this bulgur for dinner. And it wasn't a bad meal.

I had a nice weekend. I did a lot of cooking, and a lot of relaxing which pretty much guarantees a successful weekend for me! This afternoon, after The Walk for Hunger, Bridget and I made a cake for Vigleik's thesis defense tomorrow. Now I am just sitting on the sofa, eating popcorn and trying not to let my shirt touch the nasty sunburn on the back of my neck (apparently sunblock would have been a good idea at the walk checkpoint today). I spent much of this evening trying to figure out why my arms are so sunburned and my hands are still totally pale. Finally, Paul said, "it almost looks like you were wearing gloves." He was joking when he said it, but he was right -- I was wearing latex gloves the whole time I was working at the checkpoint! It was pretty embarassing that I hadn't thought of that. Apparently the sun must have burned a few of my brain cells today too! Whoops!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Crispy Oven-Fried Cod (Page 301)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Paul's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I picked this dish because I hadn't yet made a single recipe from the 69 page long "Fish and Shellfish" section of The Book. I figured it was about time to get started. I chose this one because it sounded good, and I figured I would have a better attitude about the fish section if I started out on a good note. In fact, it was true. This dish was excellent. It was simple, and flavorful. The fish was perfecly cooked -- nice and flaky and moist, and the coating was crispy and delicious without being too oily. The cornmeal added a wonderful crunch to the breading. This is a straightforward, wonderful dish.

Today I was asked to help out as a volunteer at The Walk For Hunger rather than going to my usual shift at Rosie's. Rosie's receives some of the money raised by the walk, so Rosie's Place volunteers staff one of the checkpoints along the walk. It was really great to be out there! I felt so inspired by all the people who came out to walk to raise money for fighting hunger in Boston. Our checkpoint was at mile 16.5 (out of 20!), so people were pretty tired but in surprisingly good spirits. I was shocked by the range of ages. There were lots of children walking with their parents. There was a girl who was probably only 5, walking along, carrying a balloon, looking adorable. I was impressed - twenty miles is a long way to walk for such a young kid! I also met a man who said this was the 31st annual Walk for Hunger that he has participated in! It was really fun to be at the chekpoint, helping out the walkers, and meeting a lot of people. I gave out water to the walkers and cheered them on. Next year I would really like to walk it. I was just so amazed by this incredible show of support for hunger issues. Apparently tens of thousands of people were walking for hunger today in Boston.

Mashed Potatoes with Six Variations (Page 563)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 3, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Paul's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: B-
Paul picked out these mashed potatoes. I don't know how to be fair in the way that I grade this one. So this recipe has 6 variations listed at the end (hence the name) and we made just one. Perhaps I should make all 6, but given that they are all contained in one recipe, I decided that picking one was the way to go. We made the horseradish mashed potatoes. They were really bad. The horseradish flavor was way too intense (even Paul thought this, and he loves horseradish), and the texture was just off. I actually did not eat the mashed potatoes on my plate. So normally I would have given this a much lower rating, but I think I am to blame for at least the textural issues. The basic mashed potato recipe calls for whole milk, but the horseradish variation replaces the whole milk with heavy cream.We made it with whole milk though, which I think was a bad idea. Anyway, these potatoes were bad, but it's possible that made properly they could have been ok, and the other variations may well be good.

Mashed potatoes remind me of my senior year in college. That was the first year of college that we had our own kitchen. Emilee and I lived with two other good friends: Rachel and Sara. Rachel loved to cook, and she was so funny in the kitchen. She never measured anything, and when she was deciding what to add to her food she wouldn't taste it, but rather she would smell it. So you would always walk in to the kitchen to find Rach, surrounded by ingredients, sniffing her food. It was quite entertaining. She's a really good cook though, and her food always came out yummy! Sara was a really picky eater, but Rachel knew how to cook food exactly the way Sara liked it. The four of us often ate individually, but when one of us cooked, we would eat together. I remember our style of cooking so fondly: someone would make one thing, and then we would all just eat that. The concept of courses, or side dishes was totally lost on us. Emilee would make huge batches of mashed potatoes, and we would all eat mashed potatoes for dinner. To this day, when I eat mashed potatoes I think of her. She would also make her amazing lentil stew. Rachel would make us all her special breakfast burritos. I made tuna casserole and oatmeal cookies. I loved eating with them! I have photographs of us sitting around the dinner table in our pajamas or gym clothes, eating Rachel's burritos and we all look so happy! In many ways, that was a really lovely year.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Nectarine Mousse Cake (Page 730)

  • Date: Monday, May 1, 2006 - 9:30am
  • Location: Cambridge, MA (MIT!)
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Tim, Pam, Bridget, Haynes, Mark, Big Mike, Vigleik, John, Charles R, Mike's Parents, Matt, Ricky, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B-
Mike chose this as the cake he wanted for his post-thesis defense celebration. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't too impressed by it. Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of mousse cakes in the first place, but even for a mousse cake I didn't really like it. I think it suffered from two big problems: one, the ratio of mousse to cake was way too high! The instruction to cut the cake in thirds and use one of the thirds for the cake crumbs masking the sides seems like a bad one. I had tons of leftover cake crumbs and couldn't help but wish those pieces of cake hadn't been wasted. If I did it again, I would cut off maybe the top sixth of the cake for the crumbs and then cut the remaining cake in half for the cake layers. Problem number two was that it was so one note: cake soaked with peach syrup, layered between nectarine mousse, and covered with peach glaze. It was too much! I think even having the syrup be made with an alcohol other than peach schnapps would have been enough to make it less overwhelming, but as it was it was just so intensely peachy that I found it unappealing. Another minor complaint: the mousse was a little too gelatinous. That's always a problem though when trying to make a mousse that has enough integrity to be a structural component -- maybe that's why I don't like mousse cakes. On the up side, it was pretty, and the cake soaked with the syrup was nice and moist. I should document my changes: nectarines are out of season, so I made the puree for the mousse with frozen peaches instead, which worked perfectly fine. The decoration on top of the cake was not part of the recipe. I just dyed a little bit of the glaze, and after the glaze on top had set a bit, I used the dyed glaze to decorate. In summary, I wouldn't make this one again, but it was pleasant enough...

I have gotten various comments lately on my recipe grading. Some people seem to think I am way too harsh. Others think I am too nice. Someone today commented that my grading seems to be getting easier. So, I figured now might be a good time to explain my grading criteria. A recipe earns a B+ or above if I would make it again. It earns an A- or above if I would also be willing to serve it to people other than myself. An A recipe is truly exceptional. I haven't given any A+'s yet, but I am open to the possibility of it. The grades B and B- are reserved for things which I wouldn't make again, but which I enjoyed eating. Recipes in the C range and below are things which I didn't particularly want to eat and D and below are things which I actually wouldn't eat.

Now, sometimes I alter my grading for one of two reasons: one, if other people eat with me, and their opinions disagree with mine, I will adjust my grading a bit to take their opinions in to account. Two, if I feel that the recipe came out particularly badly in part because of some error, or adjustment that I made, I will be more lenient in my grading. It's not fair to fault the recipe for my mistakes! Other than that, I try to be pretty consistent with the above guildines!

Fresh Tomato Sauce (Page 207)

  • Date: Sunday, April 30, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Tomatoes were really cheap at Russo's so Paul and I bought 5 pounds of them and made this fresh tomato sauce. It was really very good. I was a little skeptical that it might come out bland, since it was just tomatoes, garlic, and basil, but actually it had great, deep flavor. We ate it for days over some good pasta (also from Russo's) and never grew tired of it.

Tyler's wife is pregnant, so today we had a surprise baby shower for Tyler in the math department. I was a little worried that he was going to be upset with us for making a big deal out of it, but actually he seemed to have fun. We had some vegan snacks (Tyler is vegan) and some gifts. It was a good time. There's nothing like drinking wine before seminar to put you in a good mood for the talk! Here are a few pictures from the shower.

Huh, as I was writing this a plate just shattered in the microwave. Apparently you really shouldn't microwave dishes that don't say "Microwave Safe" on them.