Saturday, September 30, 2006

Warm German Potato Salad (Page 149)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Peter and Matt H
  • Dining Companions: Ana and Glen
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Ana and I picked this potato salad to go with dinner on Wednesday. It was quite good. The primary complaint people made was that it was a little dull. It was, indeed, quite simple. I liked that about it though. It reminded me of the German potato salad I often ate in Wisconsin when I was young. Several people were glad to have a potato salad without mayonaise, although Ana admitted that she would have preferred it with some mayo! I thought this was a nice simple recipe for a satisying potato salad that would go well with a variety of entrees.

Today a group of us went to the chocolate bar at the Langham hotel in Boston. It is a huge buffet, with 8 or 9 tables of chocolate desserts. I tried at least 15 different things, and that was a very small fraction of the chocolate desserts available! Mmmmm... am so full of chocolate now! Some of my favorites: a white chocolate lime panna cotta, a hazelnut and banana brioche panini, Opera cake, and of course the chocolate fountain! Everything is cut small so you can enjoy lots of desserts. Ana and I also shared everything we tried in order to maximize the number of different desserts we could eat! Here's a picture of Vero with a plateful of chocolate delicacies.

The trip to the chocolate bar was the beginning of my effort to do fun Boston things before I graduate! I am making a list, and I would love some suggestions...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tomato Chutney (Page 905)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matt H
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Peter, and Glen
  • Recipe Rating: B-

The crew came over to make dinner last night. I picked this recipe because the "Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves" section is now my slowest section. This chutney was odd. No one loved it, but no one really hated it either. The main complaint was about the spiciness. Ana thought it was too spicy and several other people thought it was spicy in a not-so-good kind of way. Matt pointed out that it didn't really match very well with the rest of our meal, and perhaps with better pairings we would have appreciated it more. It was better than I expected actually. I was skeptical when I read the ingredients list, and it certainly did have an unusual combination of flavors, but it wasn't bad. I wouldn't make it again, but eating it was an interesting experience.

Everyone has their own end-of-relationship rituals. A friend of mine recently described giving up on a crush as "setting yourself free." Another woman I know would take all the mementos from the guy she was splitting up with, put them in a box, and wrap it with wrapping paper and bows. Then she would put it under her bed, never to be opened. I buy music. When I know that a relationship or serious interest isn't going to work out, I buy whatever music reminds me most of the guy. It's a nice way to store memories.

I had a moment of clarity today and realized that really wanting something to work isn't enough to make it work. Then I bought his music. I don't feel particularly free. And I certainly don't feel like getting out the wrapping paper and bows. I just feel like sitting in the dark for a little while, listening to my new music...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chocolate Souffle (Page 840)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Craig and Peter
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Marco, and Matt H
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Ana and I picked out this dessert last Wednesday because she wanted something chocolate! It was extremely good. It had a rich chocolate flavor, and was pleasantly sweet without being cloying. The texture was perfect -- very light and a little gooey in the center. Someone had joked earlier that to get an A grade, the food had to be good enough to serve to your mother-in-law. When I gave this souffle an A- Matt's response was, "What would you serve to your mother-in-law that would be better than this?!?" He's right, it was good. My only (small) complaint is that it tasted very slightly eggy to me. Maybe a darker chocolate, or a touch of vanilla would solve that problem.

When I lived in California, I told Emilee everything... ok, clearly not everything. But I told her everything worth telling that wouldn't violate anyone else's confidence. In Boston I don't really do that. Maybe it's because most of the people I am close to here are also colleagues. Maybe I have just become more private. Maybe I am afraid of being judged... I don't know. I'm not particularly private about most aspects of my life -- I certainly tell a lot of people a lot of different things. And my friends here are fantastic, and wonderful listeners! But there isn't anyone that I tell everything to. Recently I made a new friend, and for the first time in a long time, I have felt compelled to spill everything. I don't know if it's because he is very non-judgemental, or because I believe that he would continue to respect and care about me no matter what I say, or because he thinks about things in such a similar way to me. I don't know what it is. Today he asked me something though, and I didn't answer. It makes me wonder if I am just not capable of having that kind of friendship any more. I still don't keep things from Emilee, but maybe it's harder to form that kind of friendship when you are older. I don't know. As soon as I didn't answer, he guessed the correct answer to his question. I suppose that is a testimony to the fact that he knows me pretty well. Or maybe it is a reminder that I could have just told him...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Saltimbocca (Page 456)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matt H, Ana, Craig, Peter, and Marco
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Ana picked this recipe for dinner on Wednesday. This dish was quite good. Some people gave it lower grades, but mainly that was due to the fact that the meat was not quite cooked enough for the dish to be just right. That isn't the fault of the recipe though. We started with veal cutlets that were thicker than indicated, and although we pounded them, I think they were still a bit too thick. We should have cooked the scaloppine another 30 seconds and they would have been perfect! The recipe was extremely good though. The classical veal-prosciutto-sage combination is always wonderful, and the sauce was great (Ana wanted to grade the sauce separately just so she could give it an A+).

Making this dish was also a good group activity! Matt and Ana beautifully layered and secured the veal, sage, and prosciutto. Then Peter helped by carefully timing the 45 seconds on one side and 15 seconds on the other side that the meat cooked. Matt and Ana were the brave ones to get close enough to the spitting oil to flip the meat. Here's a picture of Peter telling Matt it's time to flip! Meanwhile, Craig was trying to melt chocolate on the back burner for the chocolate souffle. We were a little worried that so much olive oil was spitting that the souffle would be slightly veal flavored. It came out well though, so Craig must have done a good job of protecting the chocolate!

I discovered tonight that the most peaceful way to do all the administrative type things that go along with job applications is to drink one mini-size Corona, turn off all overhead lighting, turn on some very comforting music (recommendation: Nickel Creek), and work by the glow of the desk lamp and the computer screen.

Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic (Page 530)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Ana, Peter, and Craig
  • Dining Companions: Marco and Matt H
  • Recipe Rating: A

Ana picked this recipe to go with dinner on Wednesday. This cauliflower was excellent! The recipe was fantastically simple, but yet none of us eating it could think of a better preparation of cauliflower. The roasting really brought out the best in the cauliflower -- it came out perfectly cooked, flavorful, and delicious! For a simple vegetable side dish, I highly recommend this one!

Today is a suicide prevention day (aka "Student Holiday") at MIT, which means that there are no classes or seminars. In the spirit of the holiday, I promised myself that I would wake up this morning and do whatever seemed like it would be the most beneficial to my mental health. I would have guessed that that would have involved a long run and a lot of relaxing. In fact, it turned out that I did all the things that I never have time to do: I went to the RMV, grocery shopped, cleaned the kitchen, did laundry, replied to emails, etc... And indeed, I do feel much better now! I hadn't done laundry in more than a month. This is not good. My underwear supply was running dangerously low, and I was running out of sport bras for the gym that weren't saturated with dried sweat. Mmmm.... Now I have lots of clean clothes -- very exciting!

As promised, here is a picture of the cake I decorated in my class last night. I like this cake. It's not really my style, but whenever I look at it, it makes me smile. After the day I had yesterday, that's worth something!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Broccoli, Red Pepper, and Cheddar Chowder (Page 115)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matt H and Marco
  • Dining Companions: Craig, Ana, and Peter
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Ana and I picked this soup to go with dinner on Wednesday because it was a relatively quick recipe that sounded tasty. It wasn't great though. The flavor was ok, but there was way too much cream in it, which really detracted from the good vegetable soup flavors. The cheese was also a little overpowering. Peter suggested it would have been better to have less cheese, but of a sharper variety. I think he's right that that would be an improvement. As it was, this soup was a little hard to eat, and although a couple people liked it fine, no one was eager to have seconds. I don't recommend it.

Last night Veronique and Philippe had a few people over for dinner, which was really fun. It was mostly people who have known one another quite a while, and we were all pretty hard on one another. I don't think I have been made fun of that much since Mike moved away! Even Soren (who is usually so nice!) launched in on me about national parks and Las Vegas (long story...). My favorite line of the night, from Philippe, about Jacob, "He may be good at math, but he's not so smart." Harsh! As I recall, Jacob deserved it though...

Mike is in town, so he and I are heading to Bluefin soon with Marco for dinner. Mmmmm..... Bluefin!

I am presently doing my homework for my cake decorating class tomorrow. Yay for more cake! I haven't made the 3 different consistencies of frosting yet. Maybe I will do that in the morning. I think last week I ate too much frosting. I had a little thing of leftover frosting in the fridge that I was dipping various foods in. I realized I had crossed the line one morning when I put some frosting on my breakfast!

Roquefort Butter (Page 895)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Peter
  • Dining Companions: Craig, Ana, Matt H, and Marco
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Ana and I picked this one to go with dinner on Wednesday because the "Sauces and Salsas" section is again the one I am most behind on. I think Peter said it best when he noted that this compound butter was worse than cheese and worse than butter! The general sentiment was, "Why would you do this to a good cheese?" We started with Carles Artisanal Roquefort, which is an extremely good cheese. Adding butter to it just didn't do good things for it. Ana pointed out that it was nice and spreadable! It didn't taste bad (how could it? The only ingredients were butter and cheese), but it just didn't really make much sense. It was slimy, and the cheese flavor was diluted, but still too strong for a compound butter. I would have preferred to have either just the butter, or just the cheese on my bread, which makes this compound butter a failure, in my opinion.

I think I may have to reasses my approach to the project... Originally I said I would cook almost exclusively from The Book, even for events with a lot of people, until people stopped wanting to come to my place for dinner! While that hasn't happened yet, maybe it's not exactly the right way to judge. People have started making fun of me a lot about my project. I get tons of comments about how I _used_ to be a good cook, and how pretty soon you will receive a spreadsheet at the door when you come to dinner at my place, etc... And whenever there is any food around, people make fun of me about always having to grade my food. All of this is in good fun, and it doesn't particularly hurt my feelings, but in my experience, when people tease there is usually some truth behind what they are saying. In other words, I think my project is starting to annoy my friends. The difficulty is, I don't really want to eat all this food alone. I guess I need to give it more thought. I have a handful of friends who seem to enjoy my project. I suppose I could serve the book food only to them... :( It makes me a little sad though -- I liked having almost everyone in my life be part of my project in some way. If I stop serving book food at parties that won't be true any more...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake (Page 747)

  • Date: Monday, September 18. 2006
  • Location: Newton, MA -- Haynes' House
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Soren
  • Dining Companions: Haynes, Juli, Vero, Philippe, John, Peter, Ricky, Matt, Lars, Ismar, Jenny, Nick, Jacob, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B+
Haynes had his annual topology group party on Monday and I made this cake to bring. There was a wide range of opinions on the cake, but I thought it was pretty good. Some of the positive comments: it was very attractive, with a good chocolate flavor and moist layers. Negative comments: It was too rich, too sweet, too full of coconut, etc... Most people gave it an A-range grade, but Jacob gave it a solid C and Philippe gave it a 5 out of 10 (apparently not a fan of the letter grade scale -- or my cake)! It's always risky to make something with coconut for a crowd, since a lot of people don't love coconut (which I will never understand!). My thoughts on the cake: It was really lovely looking, both inside and out, and the flavors were excellent. It was a tad too heavy for my taste, and the filling was extremely sweet. I think the filling would have been better had it been made with unsweetened coconut. The chocolate ganache was very nice and easy to work with. I thought the cake was very moist, although someone commented that it was borderline too dry, which I found confusing?!? Overall it was a nice cake, and would make a great special occasion cake to honor someone who really likes coconut!

Last night Ana, Craig, Peter, Marco, and Matt came over and we made a big project dinner together. It was a lot of fun. A couple days ago Matt very gently asked me how I was going to get through more than a thousand recipes when I eat macaroni and cheese for dinner every night! So, I was especially glad that he could come last night and both see that I do cook other things, and experience some of the food from The Book. (Just for the record: I don't eat macaroni and cheese _every_ night, but I do really like it!).

Someone (I think Peter) suggested last night that I should grade the people who help me cook in addition to grading the recipes. That may actually be the worst idea I have ever heard! It got me thinking though about how great everyone is when we are all working together in the kitchen. People have been so wonderful about trying new things and executing the recipes even when they seem unnecessarily complicated! I try very hard not to alter anyone's cooking technique unless they ask me for help, but it is so fun for me when people want to learn new stuff. In a way I feel guilty after we have these big dinners, that I didn't do my part. Last night for instance, I took care of the timing of the recipes, helped out where I could, and gave people instructions when they wanted/needed them, but everyone else did the hard work!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tomato, Garlic, and Potato Frittata (Page 632)

  • Date: Saturday, September 16, 2006 - 1pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Marco
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Marco picked this recipe for brunch/lunch on Saturday. It was quite good. The frittata was beautiful in addition to being tasty. It had a lovely fluffy texture, and the potatoes, tomatoes, and basil went very well together. My only complaint is that it coud have used more salt (and/or more cheese). Marco and I both enjoyed it though. For a simple brunch dish, this was a great recipe!

It's late, but for some reason I don't feel like going to bed. Usually I look forward to curling up under my covers and drifting off to sleep. Tonight though, I just feel peaceful and content where I am. It was a nice evening. I went for a walk in the rain, and stopped by my friend's house to have a cup of tea. I have this dream of having the sort of friendships where you can just stop by unannounced. In college we did that. I suppose it's not a fair comparison -- everyone lived closer together then for one thing. I think it is a sign of a very high comfort level though when you can just show up on someone's doorstep and trust that if he (or she) is busy he will send you away, and if not he will be happy to see you! I think I may have made a new friend, and he lives very close by, which makes the whole stopping-by-unannounced thing more practical. I'm still not sure it's totally practical -- the people I know are so busy, maybe they are never really happy to have uninvited guests. But the idea of it is so nice...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Katharine Hepburn's Brownies (Page 688)

  • Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companions: Jessie, Matt H
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Alex and I made these brownies last week because the grocery store was out of rhubarb. Yes, the logic is a little unclear. We had planned to make a dessert with rhubarb, but we couldn't so we made these because I had the ingredients in my pantry. These brownies were good. They were very fudgy, which is how I like them, and the chocolate flavor was quite nice. My only complaint is that the amount of optional walnuts that the recipe suggests is too much. There were so many walnuts that it affected the structural integrity of the brownies! Despite their structural problems, these brownies were very tasty though.

My senior year in college, when I was applying to graduate school, my friend and I agreed one weekend that we would each write a draft of our personal statement for the applications. On Monday morning we met in the math department at Stanford and he said, "I finished mine! Want to read it?" Of course I did. He handed me a piece of paper and all it said was "Personal Statement: Fuck this math shit." That was all he could think to write. He ended up not applying to graduate school that year. Today, as I was editing my Project Description for my NSF fellowship application, I kept thinking about that. It's strange how discouraging writing applications can be. Chris sent me email today pointing out that everything that really matters in terms of getting a job is already in the past, and we just obsess about the applications themselves to make ourselves feel like there is something we can do. He's right, but the applications can still be so damn discouraging...

On a lighter note, here's a picture of my cake from my decorating class last night. I'll continue to post them and y'all can judge if I make any progress!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Page 448)

  • Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Alex and I picked this recipe because meatballs sounded so tasty! This recipe was not so good though. The meatballs had very little flavor (they needed more salt for one thing) and their texture was not good. They were stringy in a way, which I think came from the grated onions. Texturally, finely chopped onions would have been a huge improvement. The tomato sauce was nice though. I definitely would not make these meatballs again. I still don't really understand why they were so bad, but they were not too enjoyable to eat.

I had my cake decorating class today. I meant to take a picture of my creation and post it here... maybe I will post it tomorrow. We were learning to make roses, so my cake is a semi-hideous sea of purple roses! This decorating class has been interesting so far, but it is the sort of cake decorating I don't usually do. If you look at my little cake gallery you will notice that there aren't any roses! It is fun though to do something different once in a while, and these are skills I should have.

Soren is in town for the week so after my class we had dinner. I ate so much frosting (again!) during class, that I wasn't really hungry, but we still had a nice meal. After dinner he helped me finish up a cake I made for the annual topology party at Haynes' house. It is not covered in purple roses!

Savory Pureed Limas (Page 547)

  • Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Alex and I picked this recipe because we wanted a quick side dish, and I love lima beans! This recipe wasn't so good though. Alex and I both had the same thought when we tasted it: lima bean baby food! I would have vastly preferred my lima beans not pureed. The flavor was ok -- it basically tasted like limas -- but the texture was distracting. It was hard to eat more than just a couple bites. The only advantage I can see to having pureed this dish is that you could probably pipe it decoratively, which would be quite elegant.

It seems to me that the key to being a good friend is figuring out the way that your friends each want to be loved and loving them in that way. Sometimes though I just don't know what to do. What do you do when you are trying really hard and still failing to care about a friend in the way that he or she wants to be cared about? What do you do when you try to be kind and you end up just angering your friend? For a while you can forgive yourself, and say that you just don't yet fully understand what that person wants from you. But after many months of friendship, shouldn't it get easier? I just hate feeling like I am a burden and I have a hard time dealing with people being angry at me, especially when I don't really understand what I did wrong. Today I tried to be nice and I offended a close friend. Now I feel terrible. The thing that makes me feel the worst is that it didn't even occur to me in the slightest that what I did was offensive. How am I supposed to not make the same sort of mistake again, if I had no idea I was making it this time?

Well, time for my cake decorating class. I will ponder these various issue while piping some lovely frosting roses. If anyone out there likes cake with really sugary frosting (think: grocery store cake) you should let me know. I think this class is going to result in lots of leftover cake that needs to be eaten!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Salt and Pepper Grissini (Page 604)

  • Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Alex and I picked this recipe because the "Breads and Crackers" section is now the one I am most behind on. I thought these grissini were quite good. They were crispy and tasty and very salty! I used fleur de sel as the surface salt, which was excellent. Alex didn't like them as well as I did. He wasn't a fan of the slight grittiness that came from the rye flour. I liked it though -- it gave the breadsticks a bit of interesting texture. These breadsticks are very quick and would go well with a soup or salad, as well as with a variety of entrees.

When we were all in college, some guy proposed to Emilee's friend Lissa. I guess Lissa and the guy weren't dating at the time, so he thought (correctly) that she might say no. So, he proposed with a fake diamond ring. Lissa said no, but kept the ring. A couple years later, she got engaged for real to someone else. When she did, she gave the fake ring to Emilee, and said "You can have this. I don't need it any more." Emilee and I laughed pretty hard about that. When Emilee and Brian got engaged, Emilee passed the fake ring on to me since clearly she didn't need it any more! I have had it for more than 4 years now, and sometimes it comes in handy! It always reminds me of being in college , hanging out with Emilee. One summer Emilee was living in Seattle and I went up there to visit her. She put on the fake ring and we went wedding dress shopping! She tried on horribly ugly wedding dresses and I tried on terrible bridesmaid dresses and we laughed in the dressing room until we cried. I put the ring on tonight and it was the perfect cure for my emotional hangover!

Basic Pastry Dough (Page 790)

  • Date: Saturday, September 9, 2006 - 6pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This was the crust for the pecan tart disaster last weekend. It's a bit hard to grade it since the pecan tart never really became a reality. But I did bake off the crust and try it. And it was quite good. It was fairly easy to work with and it came out flaky and tender with a good flavor. I didn't think it was significantly different from an all-butter crust in taste or texture, but I like all-butter crusts, so that's not a bad thing! Overall this is a good crust recipe which would be lovely with a nice pecan caramel filling ;)

I think I am a bad person. I just didn't do a good job of treating other people well this week. Especially the last two days. Really, I treated one person spectacularly badly. In general I try to filter my actions towards other people through the filter of "How would I feel if someone treated me this way?" I failed to filter yesterday though. And I have spent all day today trying not to think about how I would feel. Whoops. Here's the part that makes me think that I am a bad person though and not just someone who makes a few mistakes: the people I treat the worst are always the people I care about the most. Why do I do that??? I feel bad today. Guilty. Embarassed. Just bad. I think I am suffering from a severe emotional hangover. Emotional hangovers are worse than alcohol hangovers. I have tried a variety of thing to relieve my symptoms. One of them was frosting, which was a mistake. But I was doing my homework for my cake decorating class tomorrow and there was just so much frosting! The one thing that did help is this Garth Brooks song about 2 pina coladas. I developed a special pina colada dance one day when I was trying to make a friend of mine smile. Now I do the dance whenever the song comes on, even if I'm alone. It's hard to feel too bad while doing the pina colada dance.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Flourless Chocolate Cake (Page 739)

  • Date: Friday, September 8, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Izzet, Brett, Pierre, Kay, Elizabeth, Karl, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Pierre and Kay had a wine and cheese party last Friday and I made this chocolate cake to bring. It was quite good. The cake was simple to make, yet attractive. And it was wonderfully moist. The chocolate flavor was intense without being too bitter. If you are looking for an extremely rich and chocolatey dessert, this is an excellent choice! I recommend letting it cool slightly longer in the pan than the recipe indicates though. My cake crumbled a little around the edges when I flipped it out on to the cooling rack. It held together much better once it was cooler.

I had a lousy day today. I was feeling miserable all day, for a variety of reasons. I dragged my miserable self to the gym after work, since that usually helps snap me out of a bad mood. After the gym I was walking down Memorial Drive, looking out over the river and the perfect song started playing on my iPod. It was one of those moments that changes your whole outlook. I turned the volume all the way up on my iPod and noticed for the first time all day how beautiful the weather was. The sun was setting as I walked, and it was breezy and lovely outside. And now I feel better. It's funny how such small things can make such a big difference...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Creme Citron (Page 840)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 6, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companion: Gunther
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Alex and I picked this recipe because I have been slacking on the "Puddings, Custards, Mousses, and Souffles." This dessert was odd, and not in a good way. The white wine flavor was incredibly strong and a little off-putting in the mousse. Alex pointed out that the wine we chose was quite flavorful. With a milder wine perhaps this would have been more palatable. Gunther just thought the dessert was overkill. He would have equally enjoyed eating the raspberries with a simple vanilla cream. I thought the recipe had a lot of potential but didn't deliver. I would have vastly preferred if the mousse had been flavored with a small amount of some nice liqueur rather than the large quantity of wine.

I was at a wedding this summer and I was talking to a friend who is a physics PhD student at Stanford. She is an interesting character. She's really fun, and really... blunt. She tells things exactly the way that they are. She's married now but for some reason we were discussing her dating life from years ago. She has a theory that all guys want submissive women. So she did an experiment where whenever anyone asked her out she was just completely agreeable and very, very quiet. She says she ate dinner after dinner smiling and giggling softly, eyes cast down at her plate. And she got asked out over and over again. Eventually she grew tired of her experiment and she started dating again as herself. Now she's married, so clearly that worked out fine! But she still claims that submissive and quiet was a much more successful strategy.

I keep thinking about that conversation. I think she's not totally correct. Sure, some men look for submissive women, but some don't. It got me thinking though -- when I was younger I always worried about being a "good date" whenever I went out on dates. I tried very hard to act the way I thought women were supposed to act on dates (lots of giggling, very few opinions, etc...). And I hated dating. Now I am just myself, as much is possible in that situation. And more often than not, I have fun. It's still true though that the best first dates are always the ones that aren't really dates...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches with Lemon Aioli, Feta, and Mint (Page 182)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 6, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companion: Gunther
  • Recipe Rating: B

Alex and I chose this recipe both because Alex has a grill (!) and because I am a bit behind on the "Sandwiches and Pizzas" section. These sandwiches were pretty good. The flavor combination was nice -- I liked the lemon aioli together with the feta quite a lot. The mint was a great addition, but it was slightly overpowering. If I were to make these again, I would cut back on the mint a bit. Grilling really did wonders for the eggplant. I'm not usually a huge eggplant fan, but it had a really nice flavor. My biggest complaint is a textural one. Grilling the eggplant made it very custardy, as the recipe predicted. This made the sandwich a bit gooey in a way that wasn't terribly appealing. It especially did not work well with the crusty baguette that the sandwich was served on. The huge contrast in textures made the sandwich seem incoherent. I think it would have been better served on some nice ciabatta...

I think my love of country music is starting to warp my view of romance. Men in country music are so forthcoming with how they feel. It's rarely like that in real life. I keep thinking that I want that -- that I would appreciate that sort of honesty and clarity. But maybe it would really just scare me off... I'm not sure. Of course it sounds romantic and perfect for the doorbell to ring and a guy to be standing on the doorstep with a pint of ice cream. But it's only romantic if it's the guy you want to see on your doorstep... I should stop listening to these songs. I can't remember the last time a guy just showed up uninvited on my doorstep. Oh, actually I do remember -- it was a long time ago though.

Emilee used to say that everything should be labeled. She meant buildings and trees and things. That way if you wanted to learn about them, the information would be right there. I wish everything was labeled. For instance, I wish that whenever you spent time with another person there was a little sign that would say "Date" or "Not a date." I just really can't tell these things. Since so many of my friends are men, I made a policy. Unless the guy uses the word date, pays for me, or attempts to kiss me, I just assume it's not a date. Sometimes I worry that my policy may be imperfect though... I think the pretend people in the country music songs don't have these problems. The country music men are pretty straightforward. ;)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Pecan Tart (Page 786)

  • Date: Saturday, September 9, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: I (Incomplete)

So this entry is out of order, but I figured I would write it now, while the series of disastrous events are fresh in my mind. This recipe made me cry. Well, I think it was actually the intense physical pain that made me cry, but still. Let me back up. So, Lauren and Denis are having a party tonight and I chose this recipe to make and bring to the party. But the party is right now and instead of being there I am sitting at my desk, doped up on pain killers, typing this with one hand while my other hand sits in a bowl of ice water. Things are not exactly going as planned... And while in this space I would normally comment about why I gave the food the grade I did, this recipe has earned my first ever Incomplete. This is the recipe equivalent to the student who does all the homework but doesn't show up for the final exam. How do you grade that? In other words, this recipe never made it to a stage where it could be eaten.

All was going well until I started making the filling. It is caramel based, so step one was to make the caramel. I hate The Book's caramel method. I have ranted about this before, so I won't now. But it burns easily, and the sugar recrystalizes easily, and things just go badly. Still, that stage went ok. Then I was supposed to add corn syrup to my caramel. When something not hot hits boiling sugar the sugar solidifies. So the next step was to dissolve the caramel in the corn syrup. For some reason this caramel wouldn't dissolve. 35 minutes later, I was still waiting for the caramel to finish dissolving. Finally it dissolved, but it had been boiling so long that the corn syrup had started caramelizing too. And it appeared that the whole thing might be a bit burnt. So I wanted to taste it. I took a big forkful of the gooey stuff. I was holding the fork with my right hand, and I held my left hand under the fork, the way I always do when I am tasting, so I don't spill on the floor. Realizing that this caramel would be unbelievably hot, I blew on it to cool it off. Silly me. The 340 degree caramel blew through the gaps in the fork and landed all over my left hand, immediately solidifying to my hand, continuing to burn it. By the time I got the caramel off my hand and my hand under water, I already had multiple burn blisters. I collapsed on the floor, in tears. Then my stuborness kicked in and I realized that my caramel was continuing to darken. After all that I couldn't let it get ruined. So I went on with the recipe using one hand, the other one clenching ice cubes. One-handed cooking while crying is not my specialty, and so when I added the hot caramel to the eggs I was not sufficiently careful. I ended up with a big bowl of scrambled eggs with streaks of caramel in it. So gross.

In summary: this recipe was not a success. Nonetheless I am not making it again.

On a happier note, today is Andre's Birthday -- Happy Birthday Andre!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Brown Butter Sauce with Lemon (Page 883)

  • Date: Wednesday, September 7, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companion: Gunther
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Alex and I picked this recipe because it is from the "Sauces and Salsas" section which is still the section I am the most behind on! This sauce was pretty good. We served it on roasted asparagus. The lemon flavor in the sauce was nice but it wasn't strong enough to come through over the flavor of the asparagus. Next time I would probably increase the amount of lemon juice. On the asparagus the sauce tasted mainly like butter, although the browning of the butter gave it a nice, subtle depth. Overall this was a good, simple sauce that work would well on a variety of vegetables.

Last night Alex and I made dinner, and ate with his new roommate Gunther. Alex was the official bar man of the evening. We had leftover mint from our cooking, so Alex muddled us some mojitos. Here's a picture of Gunther rating his mojito -- it almost got a thumbs up! Then I forced the guys to watch Project Runway with me (since I don't have cable at my place!). They gave me a hard time, but I think they secretly liked it! I have a soft spot for reality TV shows where the contestants have actual talent. My favorite: Top Chef! But Project Runway is a close second. Maybe I just only like reality TV that's on Bravo...

I can tell that the academic year has started because the number of emails I get per day has increased about ten-fold since last week. Well that and I went to class this morning!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (Page 685)

  • Date: Saturday, September 2, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Ana
  • Dining Companion: Mike
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I chose this recipe because I love homemade biscotti and I hadn't made any in a while. These were pretty good. Ana and I found ourselves wishing that they were a little crunchier. I think it would have been better to do the second bake at a lower temperature (300) for a longer period of time. As it was, they were already quite browned when I took them out, but not quite dry enough. Mike's favorite thing about them was that they weren't too crunchy though, so I guess it is all a matter of preference. The pistachio-cranberry combination was nice. This recipe produces a very tasty cookie!

Yesterday was Registration Day at MIT. On reg day you meet with your advisor and he or she approves your schedule of courses. Then we have a big department meeting welcoming all the new people and a little party outside. This time of year, when there are lots of unfamiliar faces in the department, I am always curious which of these people I will get to know over the course of the year. I passed some guy in the hall on my way up to my office this morning and I wondered, will I know that guy's name in 9 months or will I still pass him in the hall and wonder what his name is? There are about 30 new graduate students and 20 new post-docs this year... that's a lot of new people! I am trying to make an effort to meet some new people in the next couple weeks. This is the easiest time of year to introduce yourself to people. In a few months you start to feel as though you really should know people's names, so it becomes embarassing to ask. But the first month of school you can ask with abandon!

After the reg day activities yesterday I went to the gym. By the time I got home around 8:30pm last night I was so exhausted that I ate dinner and went to bed at 10:15pm. I usually don't go to bed until at least midnight, so my body chose to interpret my 10:15pm sleep as a nap rather than an early bedtime. I woke up at 12:30am, nice and rested! So I didn't have the most peaceful night of sleep ever, but I feel rested today anyway, if only by virtue of having been in bed for 9 and half hours last night!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pesto (Page 889)

  • Date: Saturday, September 2, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Ana
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this recipe for dinner on Saturday because it came from the "Sauces and Salsas" section of The Book, which is the section I am the most behind on. This pesto was pretty good. It was slightly more oily than I would have liked, but the ratio of basil to pine nuts and cheese was good. We diluted it with some pasta water, as per the instructions, and served it on campagnelle. It made a very satisfying dinner.

Mike was in town yesterday so he came to the homeless shelter with me to make lunch. In celebration of the long weekend, we had a special meal with a DJ and everything. It was really fun! Ruthie dragged me out from the kitchen to dance the Cha-Cha Slide in front of everyone in the dining room. I, of course, dragged Mike with me! He wasn't pleased! He got a lot more audience encourgement than I did though -- I guess that's what happens when you are the only man dancing in front of an audience of 70 women! He was wearing a nametag, which made it easy for people to shout "Shake it Mike!" from the audience. Mike, Ruthie, and I also performed the Macarena! In between all the dancing, we did manage to make and serve lunch. Mike and participated in the production of some seriously questionable potato salad. It wasn't bad, it just desperately needed salt. Whenever I am at Rosie's I am so torn between my desire to make the food taste good (i.e. add salt to it) and my desire to follow the kitchen rules (i.e. not add any salt to anything). I understand that a lot of the ladies have high blood pressure, and too much salt is a bad thing, but food without any salt just tastes bad!

After the homeless shelter Mike and I went to Petco (don't ask me!) where we watched a woman in the parking lot ram in to a parked car, easily doing $500 of damage, and then start to just drive away. Mike and I stood in the parking lot and stared her down, ready to write down her license plate number, until she pulled over. She sat in the parking lot for almost 10 minutes waiting for us to leave, so she could leave. I was so mad. Finally Mike waltzed up to her and offered to look inside Petco for the person whose car she hit. While Mike was disagreeing with the horrible woman about whether or not that was a good idea, the owner of the damaged car appeared. I think the horrible woman was about ready to kill me and Mike when she realized she hadn't gotten away with it. We were pleased. What a bitch.

Today is Ana Rita's birthday. Happy Birthday!!!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Steamed Broccoli with Caper Brown Butter (Page 524)

  • Date: Saturday, September 2, 2006 - 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Ana
  • Recipe Rating: A

Ana Rita picked out this recipe to go with the dinner we made together last night. This recipe was excellent. The broccoli was perfectly cooked and the caper butter was lovely. The browning of the butter gave the dish a wonderful flavor. The capers went surprisingly well with the broccoli. Ana pointed out that the saltiness/brininess of the capers wasn't at all overpowering like you might expect it would be. This was a wonderful broccoli preparation. The dish claimed to serve 4 people and the 2 of us pretty much finished it! We liked it that much!

I have been feeling lately like I am in need of one day where I don't do any work. So yesterday I took the day off. I cleaned the bathroom, hung out with Marco for a while, made 4 trips to 3 different grocery stores, finished the novel I've been reading, made dinner with Ana, and just relaxed. It was really nice. When I am working a lot I need to take some space from it every once and a while. It helps me re-motivate.

My thesis advisor, Lars, is back from Japan, and we had a good chat on Friday. He was encouraging about job stuff, etc... It was good to talk to him. Having him away so much has really reminded me how nice it is to have your advisor around. I'm looking forward to him being here this semester!

Today is Bridget's birthday! Happy Birthday Bridge!

Mike is in town and he is coming to the homeless shelter with me. Time to go pick him up...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Macaroni and Cheese (Page 223)

  • Date: Thursday, August 31, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Daniel, Amanda, Matjaz, Ana, Matt, Travis, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Matjaz, Amanda, and Daniel had a potluck dinner at their place on Thursday, and I picked this to bring because I have been craving mac and cheese lately. It was quite good. I may be a little partial -- macaroni and cheese is definitely a favorite of mine. But other people seemed to like it too. It all got eaten. Ana even noted that it was "Better than the stuff from the box." I took that as a complement. The topping was excellent -- the panko gave it a lovely crunch. I also liked the addition of the mustard in to the sauce. It gave the dish an interesting new dimension. For a yummy comfort food dish, this would be hard to beat!

When I was 21 a friend of mine from high school came to visit me at Stanford for a week over New Year's. She has always been convinced that I am a romantic disaster. She decided on that January visit that I needed to start cataloging and learning from my mistakes. So, she opened a semi-used notebook, flipped to some clean pages, and started a list. It was titled "Boys Teena Has Kissed: An Analysis." Each entry had the name of the guy, how old I was, how many weeks or months I spent kissing this person, why it started, and why it ended. All of the entries from the first 21 years of my life are in her handwriting, with some of her commentary interspersed (under one guys name it reads "Reason for break-up: He's an ASS!"). I remember feeling mildly annoyed/patronized at the time and not quite sure that she was the best person to take romantic advice from. But, I kept the list. And every year or two, on a night that I am feeling a little nostalgic, or lonely, or something, I remember my list. So I break it out, read over the old entries, and update it. No one but me has read this list in years, but some of it is still strangely veiled. One entry is labelled Mystery Man where the name should be -- that makes me laugh every time I see it. I know his name. I'm not sure who I think I am hiding it from. Tonight I got out the list, looked it over and updated it for the first time in a long time. Now I will hide it again, before Mike comes to visit and starts digging through my drawers looking for it! He can be very curious...

Chocolate Bread Pudding (Page 828)

  • Date: Saturday, August 26, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Southborough, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Richard, Anita, and Michael
  • Recipe Rating: B

I have hardly made anything from the "Puddings, Custard, Mousses, and Souffles" section of the book, so I made this one to catch up a bit. This bread pudding was pretty good. Its only major flaw was that the bread didn't absorb quite enough of the custard. Richard pointed out that if the cubes of bread had been smaller, it likely would have worked better. That would certainly be one fix. The real problem was that I didn't have day-old bread. I followed the tip from The Book on how to dry out fresh bread to make it similar to day-old bread. I don't think it worked very well though. I ended up drying for twice as long as The Book suggested, and still it wasn't dry enough. So, the bread was too moist to absorb enough custard to make this dessert really good. The chocolate flavor was excellent though -- rich and intense, but not overwhelming.

This is the 216th recipe I have completed, out of 1293, so I am now more than one sixth done with my project! Yay! Completing one sixth of the project took slightly less than 8 months. At that pace I should finish in December 2009! Alex added a feature to the project index which computes what percentage of the recipes I have made from each of the 21 sections of The Book (to see it, click on Project Index to the right and then scroll all the way down). I think it will be very helpful in selecting recipes - it may even prevent me from having to make 7 kinds of mayonaise in the last month of the project! When I make a big meal I am going to try to select one recipe from the section with the lowest percentage. That should keep me on track a little bit!