Monday, July 31, 2006

Herbed Quinoa (Page 263)

  • Date: Friday, July 28, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike and Marco
  • Dining Companions: Vigleik and Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Mike and I picked this recipe because we both love quinoa and thought it would go well with the fish that we had as the main course. This recipe was excellent. The quinoa came out very fluffy and perfectly cooked. The herby flavor of the dish came through nicely without being overwhelming. Everyone agreed that it was an excellent alternative to rice. If any of you have never had quinoa, I highly recommend trying it. It is a very healthy, tasty grain that is easy to cook!

I had dinner tonight at Izzet's house. I had almost forgotten how relaxing dinner parties are when you aren't the one cooking! It was great!

Sometimes I will have a moment that isn't really spectacular in any way, but will really stick with me. A few weeks ago I was standing outside in the rain, under an overhang, watching a taxi pull away with someone inside that I didn't really want to be leaving. I felt a little bit heartbroken in that moment -- sad, but in a sweet way. It didn't seem, at the time, like a moment that would necessarily stick with me. But I keep thinking about it. I'm not really sure why, or what that means. That moment was simultaneously perfect and tragic. Maybe I keep playing it over and over to figure out which way to read it. Or maybe I just like that slightly heartbroken feeling -- the feeling that although things can't be the way I would like them to be, there is nothing I could have done about it. And at the same time, the feeling that possibilities, however unlikely, still exist.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Cucumber Soup with Wasabi Avocado Cream (Page 86)

  • Date: Friday, July 28, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Marco
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Vigleik, and Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: B

Mike and I picked this soup because it was really hot on Friday and we though a cold soup would be a nice addition to our dinner. This soup was unusual, but tasty. The soup itself was a little bland -- it really tasted only of pureed cucumbers. However, the wasabi avocado cream was a nice complement and contributed a lot of flavor. I thought that there could have been even more lime and wasabi in the cream though. I wasn't a huge fan of the texture of the soup. Even after extensive time in the blender it wasn't completely smooth. Overall though it was a nice, weather appropriate dish. I think Shihchi summarized it best by saying that the soup was "not as scary as it looks!"

I went out to Southboro this afternoon to swim and have dinner with Michael, Richard, and Anita. On my way home I was rear-ended while stopped at a red light. It wasn't a big deal - I'm fine and my car is pretty much fine, but it still shook me up a little bit. I don't know if it was the physical jolt of it that left me feeling a little bit off, or rather just the reminder that things you don't expect to happen can happen. Either way, I feel a little dazed.

On a totally different note, Alex updated his index of the blog so that if you are a frequent chef/eater in the project you can click on your name and see all the recipes that you have been a part of. It's really a cool feature! Click on the link labeled "Project Index" on the right of this page to check it out.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Quick Dilled Cucumber Pickles (Page 908)

  • Date: Friday, July 28, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Marco, Vigleik, and Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Mike picked this recipe because he was intruiged by the idea of pickles that can be made in 30 minutes. These pickles were really strange, although not necessarily in a bad way. Mike had a theory that this is what pickles were like before people knew how to pickle. He referred to them as the "proto-pickles." I'm not so sure about that, but they were definitely different. I expected to hate them, but actually thought they were pretty good. The horseradish and dry mustard contributed a nice kick (Mike was worried that this "kick" was actually poison, but that's another story). Opinions ranged: Vigleik really liked them, Shihchi really didn't. I think it's a pretty good, unique recipe, and a quick alternative to actually pickling the pickles. They would probably be good with some really good bread and sliced beef.

I went to the gym to run and lift a few weights today, and as I was about to leave, I ran in to Marco who was just arriving. Somehow he talked me in to doing his whole weight training regime with him. I can already tell that I am going to be horribly sore tomorrow. It was comforting though to lift weights with Marco. I have been worried that after Mike moves away there will be no one to kick my ass into shape in the gym. Marco was impressively forceful though! His tactics were slightly different than Mike's: Marco: "Come on, you can do one more!", Mike: "Come on Fatty, do a few more." Although Mike's favorite nickname for me is I think (I hope!) in jest, it does motivate me! Marco's less abrasive strategy seemed to work too though. Plus, Marco wouldn't even let me out of doing sit-ups, which Mike always allows me to exempt myself from! Apparently I am not going to get totallly out of shape this year after all!

Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio (Page 227)

  • Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Izzet, Marco, Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Craig, Ricky, Matt, Lauren, Jnkf, Patrick, and Peter
  • Recipe Rating: B

In all honesty, I picked this recipe for the pasta dinner on Tuesday because I thought I wouldn't like it too much, hence it would be better to make when there were a lot of other people around to eat it! As it turned out, I liked it more than most people. Almost everyone who tried this dish gave it a grade in the B-range. No one hated it, but no one really loved it either. Mike thought the flavor was a little bland. Alex thought the cinnamon and clove spicing made it almost cloying. I thought it was unusual, but enjoyable. I liked the cinnamon, but I do agree with Mike that the dish could have had even more flavor. For instance, the feta didn't really come through at all, which surprised me. I liked it though. I froze the leftovers and have been eating it for lunch all week!

Today is Emilee's birthday -- Happy Birthday Em! This is the the 4th year in a row that I am 3000 miles away on her birthday. It seems so sad to me that I can't throw her a birthday party, or made her a birthday cake... While I was in Germany I read the book "Prep." There was a passage describing when the narrator met her best friend, Martha. I thought it was quite nice and it reminded me of Em, so I will (possibly illegally!) reproduce it here:

"From then on, I would never be alone. Martha and I would get along, our friendship would last. I felt certainty and relief. Years later, I heard a minister at a wedding describe marriage as cutting sorrow in half and doubling joy, and what I thought of was not the guy I was seeing then, nor even of some perfect, imaginary husband I might meet later; I thought immediately of Martha."

I feel blessed, of course, to have a friend that I can unflinchingly tell everything to -- someone who knows me so well that nothing needs explanation and whose opinion I value so deeply. So much of who I am today grew out of the years of living with Emilee and learning from her. My first year at MIT I would come back to my apartment at the end of each day, and be surprised and sad that Emilee wasn't there to talk to. I remember thinking then that it would get easier, that in time I would get used to her not being here. Four years later, I can honestly say that that never happened. I built a life for myself here, with great friends, but I never stopped feeling her absence. Happy Birthday Em! I miss you!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Penne with Broccoli Rabe (Page 206)

  • Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Craig, Izzet, Jacob, Lauren, Ricky, Matt, Patrick, Peter, Marco, and Jnkf
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this pasta dish as a vegetarian option for the Pasta Dinner on Tuesday. It was ok. Opinions varied, but several people thought it was quite good. I am not a huge fan of bitter greens, so that was my main complaint, although that is really a personal bias. The dish did suffer from the flaw though that the greens clumped together in the pasta. The flavor of the pasta itself was quite nice. The red pepper was very subtle, but gave it a little kick, and the garlic and cheese flavors came through nicely. Overall it was a decent pasta dish that was quite easy and quick to make.

When Paul and I were dating we got in the habit of making big dinners on Friday nights. I really enjoy ending the week by spending time in the kitchen with people that I care about, cooking together. Even though Paul has moved away, I plan to continue the Friday night dinner tradition. To that end, tonight Mike, Marco, Vigleik, and Shihchi came over and we made a big, yummy dinner together.

After traveling so much at the beginning of the summer, it was nice to have a whole week back in Boston this week. It gave me a chance to really spend some time with the people that I care about here. Plus, there is always something so nice about being home after you've been away for a while. Being away helps me remember all the great day-to-day things that I don't normally think to appreciate: having a comfy bed to sleep in, my wonderful office at MIT, my well-stocked pantry, driving around in my own car, etc... Basically what I am saying is: it's good to be home!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Jicama and Cucumber Chile Spears (Page 27)

  • Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Alex, Craig, Izzet, Marco, Jnkf, Ricky, Matt, Lauren, Peter, Patrick, and Jacob
  • Recipe Rating: C

I picked this recipe for our potluck dinner Tuesday because it seemed weather appropriate. When it's very hot outside, jicama is always nice and refreshing. That proved to be the recipe's only redeeming quality though. This dish didn't taste bad necessarily, but it just didn't come together at all. I would have much rather eaten plain jicama than this chili-lime and cucumber version. The flavor combination felt very forced and wasn't particularly pleasing. Almost everyone commented that the jicama was "fine" but very few people wanted to eat more of it.

Alex made a cool index of the recipes in the blog. Check it out here: http://alexhealy.net/cgi-bin/gourmetProject/blog.py

Last night I had what may have been the most horrifying dream I have ever had. As it got worse and worse, it finally woke me up. But it was so incomprehensibly awful that I forced myself to go back to sleep and re-enter the dream in hopes that there would be some sort of explanation or resolution. Finally when I woke up the 3rd time I accepted that there wasn't going to be a satisfying ending and I got out of bed.

This afternoon, still haunted by the dream, I began to wonder why I kept going back to sleep. In retrospect it seemed unnecessary and unhelpful to put myself through that. It's a natural tendency for me though to keep trying to resolve a bad situation, even after multiple failed attempts. I do need to learn to just let go sometimes...

Roasted Garlic-Pea Puree on Sourdough Croutes (Page 35)

  • Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Craig, Matt, Ricky, Alex, Lauren, Patrick, Marco, Jnkf, Izzet, Jacob, and Peter
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I picked this recipe because it makes a lot of appetizers and I was having a lot of people over for dinner! These croutes weren't too good though. There were various complaints about them. Some people didn't really like the pea puree, others thought they were too oily. I thought all the components tasted ok, but it just didn't really come together to form something appealing. For the amount of time that these took, it would have been easy to put together something really wonderful. This recipe, however, wasn't too inspired.

Last night we had a big potluck dinner. Last summer we had "Tuesday Dinners" every Tuesday night. I would make a big thing of pasta and a bunch of us would gather at my place for dinner. Everyone would bring something and we would all eat a yummy, and eclectic, dinner together. This summer I have hardly been in town so the Tuesday dinner tradition has been difficult to carry out. I wanted to have at least one more of these big dinners before Mike, V, and Shihchi move away though, so 15 of us got together last night for dinner. My living room isn't quite big enough to seat 15, so we had to get a little cozy, but it was still a good time!

This morning I had my annual MRI. Mike came with me to the hospital for moral support. I think I was a little tired, because I somehow managed to fall asleep during the 45 minutes that I was in the MRI machine. Now, if any of you have had MRIs you will know that this is quite a feat. The machine is incredibly loud and vibrates quite violently. Afterwards the technician commented what I great job I did laying still. Apparently sleeping makes for a really good scan! Then they gave me my films, which they have never done before. I was too curious to see the pictures of my brain to tell them that usually they keep the films. Mike and I analyzed them for a while and determined that we know very little about the brain! I think I have to surrender the films to my doctor next week, which is a shame because they are really cool. At least he'll be able to interpret them for me though!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Raspberry Ice Cream (Page 854)

  • Date: Monday, July 24, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Craig, Matt, Ricky, Alex, Lauren, Patrick, Marco, John, Izzet, Jacob, and Peter
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this ice cream because I am having some people over for dinner tomorrow night and I thought this might make a nice, refreshing addition to the meal. The recipe is quite good. The texture of the ice cream is wonderful: very light and creamy. The raspberry flavor comes through nicely and the ice cream is neither too tart nor too sweet. I was skeptical of the method in this recipe (adding cornstarch to the custard and bringing it to a boil) because it is not what I would usually do. But apparently it works because this ice cream is very tasty!

I have been wondering lately whether or not being fun is an important quality in a partner. It seems like it should be, yet I have been in several great relationships with guys that I definitely would not have described as "fun." I don't mean that I didn't have fun with those people, but rather that they tended to be more serious. When I was in Germany I spent some time hanging out with a mathematician that I have had a school-girl type crush on since I met him at another conference two years ago. I got to thinking one day about what it is that I like about him. All the usual stuff: he's smart, and really cute, etc... but in addition to all that, he makes me laugh. He makes fun of me, and doesn't seem to mind being teased in return. And when I talk to him, even about serious things, his approach feels light-hearted without being dismissive. It's a nice set of qualities. It's moot: this is the sort of crush that is more hopeless than realistic. I'm sure it would never even occur to him to pursue anything with me. But it's still interesting for me to note how appealing I find his combination of intelligence and humor. Maybe having a partner that is fun is more important to me than I thought...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Banana Fritters (Page 817)

  • Date: Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, and Marco
  • Dining Companion: Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: C+
I picked this recipe for dessert when I had some friends over before I left for Germany. It was disappointing. It seemed to me that deep-fried bananas couldn't be bad, especially with rum-based dipping sauce. They just weren't good though. The corn flake coating really needed to be sweeter, and the dipping sauce could have been much thicker. As it was, it seemed very un-dessert-like. The corn flake coating got nice and crispy, but didn't contribute a lot of flavor. And the dipping sauce was so strongly flavored like rum that the sweetness of it didn't come through too well. Texturally I liked the dessert a lot (Mike did and excellent job with the deep-frying!) but flavorwise it was just really off. Definitely not a recipe I would make again without major adjustments.

After 25 hours of traveling, I arrived back in Boston late last night. Sometimes I wonder what we could accomplish if we didn't have set ideas about what we can and cannot do. If you had told me 2 years ago that today I would be sitting here, having just returned from traveling overseas alone, to a conference where I barely knew anyone, and gave a talk in front of many of the big shots in my field, I probably would have laughed. It would have seemed impossible partly because it would have seemed like an unlikely set of circumstances. But mainly I would have thought, "I could never do that." And the truth is, a few weeks ago I thought about not going. At the very least I thought about asking not to speak. I even wrote an email to the administrators with that content. And even though almost everyone I asked about it supported my decision not to give a talk there, I never sent the email. Part of me thought that they wouldn't choose me to speak, so it wouldn't matter if I sent it or not. But I think I was also curious whether I would be able to do it if they chose me.

The thing that surprises me the most is not that I did it: that I went there, and met people, and gave a talk, but rather that I had fun doing it. Of course I was nervous, and at moments quite stressed, but I really had a good time this past week. I never would have predicted that. From now on I am sure that giving conference talks will seem like much less of a big deal (probably some of you reading this, who are older, are wondering why it was a big deal to me at all!) because now I know I can do it. Who knew!?!?

Here's a picture I took standing outside the conference site in Germany...

Coriander and Mustard Seed Chicken (Page 367)

  • Date: Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Mike
  • Dining Companions: Vigleik, Shihchi, and Marco
  • Recipe Rating: B+
Mike picked out this chicken dish for dinner last Thursday. It was pretty good. I was a little wary about the sauce, with whole mustard and coriander seeds in it, but actually the sauce was quite good. It had a nice flavor, and a rich, full texture. The meat came out very juicy and perfectly cooked. My only complaint is that I don't like to eat chicken with the skin on when the preparation of the chicken is by simmering. Although the chicken was browned first, the skin lost that crisy texture after cooking in the sauce. The skin was thus an unpleasant addition to the dish. Overall, though, this was quite an enjoyable preparation of chicken legs.

Hello from Germany! After many hours of travel on Saturday/Sunday I made it safely to Oberwolfach. The conference has been quite interesting so far. I am a pretty conspicuous addition though. Apparently I am the youngest person here. Of the 45 participants, Grace and I are the only graduate students, and 2 of only 4 women! That makes it hard to blend in of course!

As I think I mentioned earlier, they pick the talks day by day here. Last night at 9:30pm the organizers chose me to speak at 9:15 this morning. Needless to say, I didn't really sleep well last night! I was quite nervous. I had never spoken at a conference before (aside from Talbot, which I think doesn't really count). Plus, the vast majority of the people here are algebraic geometers, and hence might not be interested in the work that I do. Before I went to bed last night a fellow conference participant, who has been in the field for many more years than me, came up to me and said, "Teena, it's really important that you do a good job tomorrow. It will really determine the way that people think about you." That didn't exactly help my nerves! But actually, my talk this morning went really well! I just tried to be clear and have a good time, and I think it worked. More than a dozen people came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they liked it. I was really, really happy with how it went! We have this afternoon off, and I am taking the time to relax a little bit. I took a nice nap and I think I will go for a walk in town.

Sesame Spinach with Ginger and Garlic (Page 578)

  • Date: Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Shihchi, Mike, and Vigleik
  • Dining Companion: Marco
  • Recipe Rating: C-

Mike picked out this recipe because he likes cooked spinach. Even he agreed though that this recipe was bad. The combination of ingredients seemed promising: garlic, ginger, sesame, and spinach. However, together they just had a really bad flavor. Everyone described the unpleasantness differently but Mike and Vigleik thought it tasted fishy. I didn't necessarily get a fishy taste from it but I do agree that it was not good. Mike was so disappointed!

I am leaving this afternoon for Oberwolfach. For those non-mathematicians out there: Oberwolfach is a little village in the Black Forest in Germany where there is a math institute that holds conferences. I have been there once before, and it was a fun experience. For a week you live at the institute with about 50 other mathematicians. It's a good way to meet people, especially because seating for lunch and dinner is assigned and changes at every meal. I do find meeting mathematicians I don't know to be a little stressful though. Plus, as we all know, I find flying a bit stressful too. So, I am a little stressed today! The one other strange thing about conferences at this place is that they don't select most of the speakers until you get there. Which means that I don't know right now whether or not I have to give a talk this week!

Well I clearly won't be cooking this week. I wish I could -- the food at Oberwolfach can be interesting sometimes... Veronique and Marco both have a lot to say on that issue! Mmmm.... carrots in milk! I do have a little blogging to catch up on though, so I will likely post a few times from Germany.

Happy Birthday to Alex, whose birthday is today, and my mom, whose birthday is tomorrow!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jasmine Rice with Cilantro and Peanuts (Page 254)

  • Date: Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike, Vigleik, and Shihchi
  • Dining Companion: Marco
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Mike and I picked this rice to go with our dinner tonight. It was quite good. I thought the flavor combination of the rice, cilantro, peanuts, and lime was very nice. There was a little too much rice vinegar for my taste though -- the vinegar flavor really dominated the other flavors. This made a very quick, satisfying side dish that would go well with a wide variety of entrees.

It was nice to cook in my own kitchen again for the first time in more than a month. I like knowing exactly what equipment is available and where it is. Someday when I own a home, I hope to have a really nice kitchen. Of course I want lots of storage and work space, but more than that I want the kind of kitchen that can hold a lot of people. Tonight when Mike, Vigleik, Shihchi, Marco, and I were all in the kitchen cooking together, I was reminded how much I really like cooking with big groups of friends. It's a totally different experience than cooking alone, or cooking with one other person. And while cooking alone is something I really enjoy, cooking with a big group is so energizing. I was realizing that one thing I really like about being in California is that I spend a lot of time just hanging out in the kitchen with Emilee and Brian, cooking. We sometimes have entire weekend afternoons where we just cook, talk, and eat fudge pops. I really like that. I wish there was more of that in my life here. I think not so many of my friends in Cambridge would think that an afternoon cooking sounds fun, but still I would like to make an attempt to cook more with everyone, even if it's just throwing together a quick meal. I think it's a nice thing to create something together with your friends. I always love sitting down to a meal that lots of people have contributed to.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Roasted RhubarbTarts with Strawberry Sauce (Page 785)

  • Date: Monday, July 10, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I chose this recipe for dessert my last night in California to try to redeem rhubarb after our rhubarb disaster the night before! This dessert was really good. How can you go wrong with puff pastry, filled with creme fraiche, then topped with roasted rhubarb and strawberry sauce?!? The recipe called for frozen puff pastry, which I have always heard good things about but had never used. The pastry was quite good though. I slightly prefer the homemade version (which may be just because I really enjoy making it!) but the frozen pastry is an excellent alternative. Since the pastry wasn't homemade, this dish was very quick to put together. Roasting the rhubarb really brought out its sweetness in a nice way, and the strawberry sauce was very tasty. Overall, this is a great quick dessert. I think Brian liked it -- I got a lovely photo of him licking his plate:

I didn't sleep well last night (jet lag I guess) but I still woke up excited to go in to the office today. I realized as I walked in to the math building that I missed MIT very much in the past month. While Stanford really feels like home in a lot of ways, I can't imagine any math department that could feel like more of a mathematical home to me than MIT. I had a really nice day: lunch with Mike, V, and Haynes at Anna's, and a long chat with Haynes in the afternoon.

One thing that is odd about being back is suddenly having so much time alone. In California I rarely spend much time by myself -- there are so many people I want to spend a lot of time with during my short visits there. I like spending time alone, but I just need to adjust to it again...

Time to go pick up Marco for dinner...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rhubarb Anise Upside-Down Cake (Page 717)

  • Date: Sunday, July 9, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: C-

I suggested this dessert for dinner with Emilee and Brian on Sunday because anise is one flavor that really makes my stomach turn, but Brian really likes it. So, I figured it would be best to make this recipe with him around so there would be someone to enjoy the leftovers. This cake was really terrible. Surprisingly though, it was not the anise that made it bad. The complaints about it were extensive, so I will just list some: it was really unattractive, the topping was too tart, the cake was too sweet, the texture of the topping was gross, and there was a layer of very unappealing wet, slimy cake between the topping and the rest of the cake. It just didn't taste good. I left more than half my slice on my plate, and I like cake a lot! Emilee, Chris, and I all hated it. Brian maintained that it was good (he gave it a B+) but I think he was just blinded in this case by his deep love of both rhubarb and anise. Do yourself a favor, and don't make this cake!

I'm back in Somerville now, sitting on my comfy bed as I write this. I am happy to be home, but yet when my plane took off this morning I just felt overwhelmed with heartache. I didn't grow up there, but Northern California feels more like home than anywhere else I have ever been. And Emilee, Brian, and Chris, are all like family to me. When I go back there for these long trips, it's really hard to leave. The other night Emilee, Brian, Chris, and I were all laying on the floor after dinner, too full to move, and we were flipping through The Book looking at recipes. As I was reading the names of recipes that sounded good Brian would say something to the effect of, "Oh, you can't make that one without us," each time. And I just kept thinking how I wish they could be there for every recipe. I don't mean to complain about being back in Boston. I missed everyone here a lot and it's good to be back! I just think that even after all these years, I haven't really adjusted to daily life without Em and Brian.

On another note, I was so calm on the plane today that I was able to both sleep and work during the flight, two things that I have never done before!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Summer Fruit Salad with Mint Sugar (Page 167)

  • Date: Sunday, July 9, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B
We picked this salad to go with dinner last night because Emilee and Brian still had many pounds of cherries left from their trip to Oregon, and this recipe uses a lot of cherries! The salad was ok. We ate it as a side dish with dinner, but everyone agreed that it was much too sweet for that purpose. It would have been much more appropriate as a dessert. This salad wasn't anything amazing, but the flavors were clean and the dish was quite attractive. Plus, I managed to cover myself (and much of the kitchen) with cherry juice when I was using the cherry pitter, which was entertaining! I wouldn't make this dish again, but I certainly didn't dislike it.

Today was my last day in California and I just felt sick. I laid in bed for most of the day, bundled under lots of comforters. I am feeling significantly better now, and it is my hope that I will feel fine before I have to get on the plane tomorrow. Chris suggested early in the day that perhaps my sunburn was making me sick. That immediately seemed completely ridiculous to me, but I did a little internet investigation and apparently it is true that when you get a sunburn over a large surface area, it can really make you sick (well, at least the internet thinks this is true). Who knew?!? I had planned to make dinner for Emilee and Brian tonight, but I was having trouble getting out of bed to go to the grocery store, so I just made dessert and we ordered pizza! The nice thing about hanging out with Emilee and Brian is that it's always fun no matter what we do, or what we eat.

I'm always sad to leave California, although there are certain advantages to going back to Boston (e.g. sleeping in a real bed for the first time in weeks!). Plus I miss MIT of course and I really miss my Boston friends! My summer of travel isn't over yet though. I am off to Germany on Saturday for a week. And in a month I will be back in California for Bret's wedding. All that traveling makes me a little tired just thinking about it! I should go to sleep...

Grilled Korean-Style Steak with Spicy Cilantro Sauce (Page 435)

  • Date: Tuesday, July 4th, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Emilee and Brian
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: A-

We chose this as our 4th of July steak. I am always so delighted to make the grilled recipes in the book when I find myself at someone's place who has a grill, so I wholeheartedly supported this choice. One goal for my next move (in a year) is to go someplace where I can have a grill. Anyway, this steak was excellent. The flavors of the marinade really permeated the steak and gave it a great flavor. Brian grilled it perfectly so it was a little carmelized on the outside, but wonderfully pink in the middle. The only complaint that we had was that the spicy cilantro sauce was too oily. Aside from that, the sauce really complemented the dish. Cutting the amount of oil in half though would have been a huge improvement.

So it sounds like Jessie isn't going to move out any more, which means I don't have to find a new roommate! I am so excited! I think it can be really hard to find people that you can live with comfortably, and Jessie and I do pretty well. When she told me I was just so relieved. The idea of living with a stranger, and moreover having to find a stranger to live with, was really stressing me out.

Yesterday Em and I hiked up to The Dish, and I have the sunburn to prove it! Then, after eating enough cheese and chocolate samples at Whole Foods to make ourselves sick, we made a really not-so-tasty dinner (more on that when I get to those recipes). We had a good time cooking though, even if the food wasn't stellar. I am flying back to Boston tomorrow (Tuesday), but I am coming back to California in a month for Bret and Karen's wedding. Emilee, Brian, and I are already picking recipes that we're going to make when I'm back in August! Emilee thinks we should brave the Poached Salmon in Aspic together, but I am not so convinced.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cheddar and Garlic-Stuffed Potatoes (Page 571)

  • Date: Tuesday, July 4, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

We picked these twice-baked potatoes to go with our 4th of July meal. They were really good. This is the sort of cooking that Emilee refers to as cheating: starting with some wonderful carbohydrate and adding really tasty fatty things. How could it be bad?!? This was ideal comfort food. If I made them again I would add more garlic and a little more cheese to the filling. I didn't think the cheese and garlic flavors came through quite as much as they could have. Some carmelized shallots on top would also be a nice addition. Overall though, while this recipe isn't fancy, the potatoes do taste really good! It was perfect food for the 4th of July!

I have been shocked on a number of occasions in the last few months by how beautiful it is when someone is able to calmly articulate what they want and gracefully accept if they aren't able to have it. I really want to bring that in to my own life. It's hard though - that kind of patience and grace really doesn't come so naturally to me. Plus, when I talked to Mike about this he told me he would feel like he didn't know me any more if I wasn't at least a little dramatic! I will have to keep that in mind!

Lunch time! Mmmm.... leftovers....

Friday, July 07, 2006

Coleslaw with Hot Caraway Vinaigrette (Page 141)

  • Date: Tuesday, July 4, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: D+

We picked this as a side dish for our 4th of July meal because coleslaw seemed like a very classic American choice. Since Chris doesn't like mayonaise, we chose this unusual coleslaw over the classic "Creamy Slaw." It was really terrible. The vegetables were fine, of course, but the dressing was really unpleasant. For one thing, the effect of putting warm dressing on a big bowl of vegetables was that some of the cabbage wilted and some didn't, leaving the dish with a very odd combination of textures. The caraway seeds totally overwhelmed the flavor of the entire dish. While all of us like caraway, it was just too much. More than that though, the flavor of the caraway and mustard seeds didn't distribute well through the dressing. So you would have bites with no flavor, and then bites that were so strongly flavored they were hard to eat. Plus, the crunchiness of the caraway and mustard seeds in the dressing just furthered the textural problems rather than providing a nice, subtle textural contrast. Emilee and I both left most of our portion of this dish on our plate. It was that bad. If you have The Book, don't make this one.

Ralph and his wife Susan, and Soren are coming to dinner tonight. Shockingly, I am not making any experimental food for this multi-course meal. Chris seemed to think that picking recipes I knew to be good would be a safer choice. He's right that the food will likely end up better this way, but what fun is that!?! When Chris and I were disagreeing about whether or not I could make food for my project for this dinner, Chris said "You wouldn't serve experimental food to the tenured faculty at MIT!" He's wrong about that! Between the thesis defense cakes, birthday cakes, and seminar treats I have made in the last 6 months, there are many faculty from MIT (and elsewhere) who have eaten food from my project. It really doesn't seem like a sign of disrespect to me. In some ways, quite the opposite. In any event, tonight we will be having a non-experimental meal, for better or for worse: Appetizer: fig, prosciutto, and goat cheese sandwiches. First course: red wine risotto, and baby greens with warm goat cheese. Second course: beef roasted in a salt crust, and green beans with almonds. Dessert: key lime pie.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dark Chocolate Sauce (Page 873)

  • Date: Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 10pm
  • Location; Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companion: Soren
  • Recipe Rating: B
I picked this chocolate sauce because I didn't really have time to make a full dessert for our dinner on Saturday, but I did have ice cream in the freezer! It was ok. It was a little dark (bitter) for my taste, but that is a matter of personal preference. The amaretto flavor was a nice addition, although it was a little limiting in terms of what flavors of ice cream the sauce went well with. My only real complaint is that when it was warm the sauce was too thin for putting on ice cream. It would usually just run down the side of the ice cream scoop. Given its consistency, this sauce would be better over cake, or a fruit dessert than as an ice cream topping.

Last night I went to Soren's place to help him pack up all his stuff. He is moving to San Francisco in the fall, but he is travelling so much this summer that he is moving out of his apartment in Palo Alto now. Fortunately I was only helping with the packing half of this move and not the moving half, because the boxes I packed were so heavy that there was no way I could lift them! It was not my fault though -- he has a lot of books! I distributed them evenly amongst the boxes but they were still impossibly heavy.

I don't know why this is, but I find packing other people's stuff way more fun than packing my own stuff. Whenever I move I have to start packing at least a week in advance because I can't pack for more than an hour in a row without needing to stop. Last night, though, Soren and I packed his whole apartment, and it was fun! Maybe having good company is important. That's usually true!

Sauteed Halibut Fillets with Pecan Shallot Topping (Page 287)

  • Date: Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companion: Soren
  • Recipe Rating: B
I only had about an hour to make dinner on Saturday, so I needed a really quick entree. I picked this one because in addition to being fast, it looked tasty and I knew I would be able to find halibut at the grocery store. It wasn't bad. I think I have said this before, but I just don't really understand this genre of dish: fish, cooked by itself, with a bunch of stuff put on top afterwards. Everything in this dish tasted good: the fish was fresh and the topping was excellent. But it just didn't feel cohesive. I definitely enjoyed eating this dish, but I would never make it again.

So I need to find a new roommate for next year. Any of you out there have good suggestions? Know anyone fun who is looking for a place to live? Jessie is moving in with her boyfriend, and I opted to stay in our apartment, but I need to find a new roommate. I have heard both positive and negative stories about using Craigs List for this purpose. I would much rather go with someone I know, or at least a friend of someone I know. The couple of times in my life that I have had strangers for roommates, it has worked out reasonably well. It just seems risky though! On the other hand, I made at least one really great friend that way. Rachel and I had only met once prior to moving in together and that worked out beautifully! In fact, I can't even imagine what my senior year in college would have looked like without her in the apartment. She has brought such joy in to my life! Well there's not too much I can do about finding a roommate right now, since I am 3000 miles away from my apartment. I guess I will just have to wait and see what happens...

Snow Peas with Lemon Herb Butter (Page 557)

  • Date: Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companion: Soren
  • Recipe Rating: B-
I picked these snow peas on Saturday because I thought they would go well with the main course. I really didn't like them too much though. Mainly it was the combination of peas and tarragon that I found unconvincing. In addition to not complementing the peas well, the tarragon really overpowered the other flavors in the dish. The lemon flavor, for instance, was completely lost. The dish certainly didn't taste bad, but there are so many better and more interesting things that you could do with snow peas.

I had a nice, mellow, 4th of July today. Emilee and I had a low-key afternoon of running errands, cooking, and eating popsicles and Velveeta Shells and Cheese (a new experience for me!). To celebrate the 4th, we made a fun, classic American dinner (from The Book of course!) : steak, potatoes, and coleslaw! Brian made some cherry ice cream for dessert to finish off our meal.

I woke up in a really bad mood today, for a variety of reasons. Spending time with Emilee and Brian though, I just had a great day. It really speaks to the power of strong friendships that even very difficult situations can be tempered by great friends. Part of what I loved so much about living with Emilee in college is that she has an amazing way of making bad circumstances seem less bad in a way that is neither dismissive, nor trite. It's a really lovely quality.

Apple Raisin Cake (Page 704)

  • Date: Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 3pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Nathan, and Anh
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I wanted to make a cake for Emilee and Brian to have when they returned from Oregon. I picked this one because it keeps well and I knew it would be a few days before it got eaten. Opinions were a little bit mixed on this recipe. I liked it quite a lot actually, but Emilee and Brian weren't so taken with it. I think I am so partial to cakes that are moist, that when a cake comes out beautifully moist like this one did, it's hard for me not to like it! I thought the flavor was quite good -- the spices came through without being overpowering. Emilee commented that walnuts would have been a good addition, and I think she's right about that. This cake is perfect for snacking or breakfast, in addition to being a nice dessert.

Brian's mom made a rhubarb pie and black-bottomed cupcakes for Emilee and Brian to bring back with them from Oregon, and I had made them an apple cake, so last night Em and Brian invited me, Nathan, and Anh over for multiple courses of dessert! They also picked 30 pounds of blueberries and 30 pounds of cherries while they were away, and brought them back in huge coolers. So, before we even started in on the desserts, we had pretty much made ourselves sick on berries! We still made room for dessert though. Brian's mom is a really good cook, and Brian has been telling me for years how perfect her pies are. I had some of her rhubarb pie last night, and he was right, it was really good!

After our feast of desserts we met up with Soren and watched the Stanford 4th of July fireworks, which for some reason are on the 3rd of July. Now it's true that fireworks are not really my favorite thing, but the Stanford fireworks are pretty fun and low-key. We laid out some blankets on the oval, ate even more cherries and blueberries, and watched the fireworks!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Quick Strawberry Jam (Page 922)

  • Date: Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 11am
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked this jam because I am trying to make some things from the sections that I haven't made much from yet. I had only made one recipe from the Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves section, so I wanted to make another one. This jam was quite good. The recipe is very quick, as the jam isn't canned. The downside of that is that it only stays good for about two weeks. Luckily, Chris eats a lot of jam, so that's not a problem! The flavor is very nice. I went towards the low end on the amount of sugar I added, and my jam came out pleasantly tart. For a simple homemade jam, this recipe is great!

This morning Soren took me for a ride on his motorcycle. When he took me out in January it was during rush hour, so he had promised that the next time I was in town he would take me for a drive when there was less traffic. So today we went up to Skyline and ate at Alice's Restaurant. It was really fun! I am definitely getting more comfortable on the motorcycle, but the road we took was really windy and I am still a little nervous on the curves. Soren told me not to lean against the turns, so I tried not to -- but it's hard! My intuition is definitely to lean towards being upright! It is a beautiful day today -- perfect for being on a motorcycle and eating lunch outside.

I was a little nervous about getting on the motorcycle today because lately I have been really accident-prone! I am slowly getting bruises all over me. Yesterday I ran in to a bed post and got a huge bruise on my thigh. It really hurts! A few days before that I slammed my arm in to a coffee table. And a few days before that I dropped a chair on my foot! Luckily the motorcycle ride was injury-free!

Pasta with Capers, Garlic, and Breadcrumbs (Page 204)

  • Date: Friday, June 30, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B

Chris and I had a little disagreement about whether to make Pork Pie for dinner on Friday or Macaroni and Cheese. Since we couldn't settle it, we picked something different from both of them, which was how we arrived at this one. It wasn't great, but its main problems stemmed from user error. The recipe calls for fresh breadcrumbs from a stale baguette. I didn't have a stale baguette on hand, so I figured I would use dried panko breadcrumbs instead. Now I'm not usually foolish enough to think it's a good idea to substitute dried breadcrumbs for fresh ones, but I figured since the recipe called for a baguette that was stale, the breadcrumbs were meant to be a little dry. Anyway, the obvious disaster happened: when I added the breadcrumbs to the sauce they immediately absorbed all the sauce, leaving us with oil soaked crumbs, and no sauce. It didn't taste bad per se, but the pasta was dry and the crumbs were oily, which wasn't really so pleasant. These user errors aside, I still wouldn't heartily recommend this dish. The flavor is good, if you like briny, but it's very one-note. And this is just personal bias of course, but pasta with breadcrumbs mixed in has always seemed a little odd to me. We don't usually take heavy carbs, and mix in some more heavy carbs. In the same way that a pasta sandwich would seem strange, pasta with pretty much only breadcrumbs mixed in feels strange to me.

So after a week of hardly cooking, yesterday I cooked for much of the day. I made 5 recipes from The Book! So while I am now really behind in my blogging, I feel like I am making progress on my project again. I was remembering yesterday that at some point, years ago, when Chris and I lived together, I made a resolution to make one recipe a week that I hadn't made before. I remember announcing to Chris that I had made this new resolution, and he commented that it was ambitious to try to make one new thing every week. I couldn't help laughing yesterday as I was thinking about this. Now, I can hardly remember the last time I made a recipe that wasn't new. Indeed, I think I promised Paul that I would cook "real food" (i.e. food that isn't a new recipe from The Book) before he moved away, but I never did. I just really love making the new recipes. Chris and I may be having the faculty member who sponsors Chris' grant at Stanford over for dinner next weekend. Chris is trying to force me to make "real food" for that dinner. I'll do it of course, because I think it's important to Chris, but I find it so fun and entertaining to cook and eat for the project that I would, of course, rather do that. Occasionally it concerns me that there are people who have only eaten my experimental food (e.g. Paul and Soren) and those people might secretly think I am a terrible cook, because sometimes, honestly, the food isn't great. I figure, if eventually people start refusing to come to meals at my place, I will reconsider my approach! Until then, every day is a new culinary experience!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Peas with Spinach and Shallots (Page 555)

  • Date: Friday, June 30, 2006 - 7:30pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Chris' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Recipe Rating :A-

I chose this one as a side dish for our dinner last night. It was quite good. If I was going to make a pea dish in the future, this is the one I would make. Although there was only a tablespoon of butter in the dish, it had a really good richness and mouthfeel. The peas, shallots, and spinach complemented one another perfectly. And while Chris thought it should have called for more spinach, I found the ratio of ingredients quite good. My only complaint: it was too salty. Were I to make it again, I would definitely season by tasting rather than using their indicated quantity of salt.

I worked such long hours this week that until last night I hadn't cooked a meal all week! I did learn a lot I didn't know about where to eat on or around campus though. Soren took me to the faculty club for dinner one night -- in all my time at Stanford I don't think I had ever been there. And I feel like I have now thoroughly sampled all the lunch options (yes, that's right -- I did eventually get sick of eating at the Thai Cafe every day!). Yesterday though, since it was Friday afternoon of a very long week, I decided to leave work around 4:30pm, rest for a couple hours, and make some dinner. It was so nice to be in the kitchen again.

I don't really know what to say about this week. It was bad, in a lot of different ways. But sitting here on a sunny Saturday morning, still in my pajamas at 9:30am, eating candy for breafast, I feel optimistic. I am sure that everything will be fine. That's a good feeling.

When Emilee and I were laying on the beach last Saturday I remember claiming that I don't eat emotionally. And it's true that I don't eat for emotional reasons when I am not hungry. I did realize this week though that while emotion may not affect my decision whether or not to eat, it certainly affects what I eat. At several particularly low moments this week, I found myself sitting at my desk, eating Doritos. Under normal circumstances, I don't particularly enjoy Doritos. But somehow, in those moments, they were the only thing that sounded good. Strange! I think I ate more junk food this week than in the previous month combined. There were a couple days when I suspect that half my calories came from candy and ice cream. Whoops...