Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chocolate Cream Pie (Page 772)

  • Date: Thursday, November 23, 2006 - 8pm - THANKSGIVING!
  • Location: Southboro, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Renato, Chris, Terry, Teri, Michael, Ephraim, Richard H, Richard, and Anita
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I picked this pie to go with Thanksgiving dinner because there were some real chocolate lovers in attendance (mom, Ana, Richard, Anita, Chris...). This pie was quite good. The filling was intensely chocolatey and very creamy. It was quite thick, but it didn't have the nasty gelatinous quality that thick fillings in cream pies sometimes do. It also wasn't too sweet, which I appreciated. I loved the chocolate cookie crust. I couldn't find chocolate wafers, so I made it with chocolate graham crackers and that seemed to work just fine. Chris thought the crust had some textural problem, but no one else agreed with him! Overall this pie was a crowd pleaser. A couple people weren't so sure about it, but the majority of the crowd gave it an A or an A+!

I had a nice visit to Wesleyan yesterday. My talk went fine and everyone there was really friendly! After seminar we all drank beer for an hour and then some of us went out to dinner. It was fun!

Tonight I have been in a mood where all I feel like doing is throwing things away. For me this is unusual. My mother loves to throw things away -- Emilee too. But I am a keeper. I keep everything. Em used to mock me in college for keeping receipts, and dried rose petals, and wrappers from things with sentimental value. She thought I was crazy for keeping that kind of thing and I thought she was crazy for throwing it away. I am not as sentimental as I was then, but I do still keep a lot of stuff. Once in a while though, I just want to throw things away. Tonight I filled three garbage bags full of stuff to throw away, plus several bags of stuff to give to the Salvation Army (or Rosie's). It was very therapeutic. Plus, digging through old papers and stuff is always very entertaining. I spent a long time reading old journal entries, and other papers that I had saved from college. It was very pleasant.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pecan Pumpkin Pie (Page 768)

  • Date: Thursday, November 23, 2006 - 8pm - THANKSGIVING!
  • Location: Southboro, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Ana, Renato, Richard, Anita, Terry, Teri, Michael, Ephraim, and Richard H
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I picked this pie for Thanksgiving dinner because it seemed like an interesting twist on traditional pumpkin pie. It was definitely a crowd favorite. Ephraim said, "It was bold, it was wonderful, and I would like to have its babies!" That's a strong endorsement! It was indeed quite good. The layer of pumpkin custard was smooth and flavorful, and the layer of pecan filling was crunchy and delicious without being overwhelmingly sweet. Several people who don't normally enjoy pecan pie commented that they really liked this one -- I think the lemon juice and zest in the pecan filling tempered some of the sweetness, so this filling wasn't as cloying as pecan pie can be. I enjoyed it very much. The thing that made it stand out in my mind was that it was very innovative. I had never seen a layered pumpkin pecan pie before, and it worked quite well. My only complaint was that once sliced it wasn't very attractive. The two layers separated a bit and the slices tended to fall apart. It tasted great though, and that's what is really important!

Last night Ana, Angelica, and Jenny had a joint quals dinner because they all took (and passed!) their qualifying exams last week. Congratulations to them! After dinner I headed over to the gym to lift weights (I am forever trying to accomplish my goal of doing a pull-up!). It was around 9:30pm by the time I got there, so the gym was pretty empty. Of the few people there, there were at least 3 other people from the math department. Mathematicians have a reputation of not caring about things like physical fitness. In some ways I see where that reputation comes from, but it's really wrong I think. At least at MIT there is a large percentage of graduate students and faculty who are very involved in some sort of athletic activity, whether it be running, rowing, lifting, swimming, squash, etc... It's very rare that I go to the gym and not see someone else from the department. Last year it was always the algebraic topologists that were at the gym (me, Mike, Vigleik, John, Peter, etc...). Last night's sample suggests that now it is the differential topologists/geometers who are taking over the MIT gym!

It's time for me to head out to Wesleyan to give my talk! Last night I had a dream that I had to give my talk on ice skates, at an ice arena that sat 53 million people. And all 53 million people were going to be there because my talk was the half-time show for some very important hockey game! Have I ever mentioned that I have crazy dreams?!?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots (Page 559)

  • Date: Thursday, November 23, 2006 - 6pm - THANKSGIVING!
  • Location: Southboro, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Fellow Chefs: Chris and Ana
  • Dining Companions: Michael, Ephraim, Terry, Teri, Richard H, Richard, Anita, and Renato
  • Recipe Rating: B-
I picked this recipe out for Thanksgiving dinner because you can't have Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes! The recipe wasn't great though. There were several different complaints. One, the potatoes came out a little dry. Some people also didn't like having the pieces of carmelized shallot mixed in. That didn't bother me so much. I thought the biggest problem was that there was just too much buttermilk. I love mashed potatoes, but the tanginess of the buttermilk in this recipe was overpowering. The dish also lacked the richness of traditional mashed potatoes. When I was seasoning it, I really wanted to add butter. I didn't (as that would not have been faithful to the recipe), but it would have been a huge improvement. These potatoes were fine, but I would have preferred just some russet potatoes mashed up with butter and whole milk!

Chris is in town, and he is working on maintaining his lead in the recipe rankings. He is 19 recipes ahead of Ana (who is in second), but since he doesn't live here and she does, he is not totally safe from being caught! Last night Chris and I made a rather large meal for the two of us. We knocked down 4 more recipes and now my fridge is overflowing with leftovers! We have cooked together so much in the last four years that we are rather efficient in the kitchen together.

I have decided that my current method of selecting recipes (whatever sounds good to me or the people I am eating with) is a bit dangerous. I don't want to be eating all the things that didn't sound appealing for the last year of the project! But random number selection is impractical for big meals because the food might not coordinate well both in terms of taste, and equipment (oven space, etc...). So, I used the random number generator to make a list of 12 recipes. Now each time I make a big meal I am going to try to select at least one component of the meal from the list. Then it will get replaced, so there will always be 12. Last night Chris and I chose "Lentils and Curried Rice with Fried Onions" off the list, and it was pretty good. Hopefully this will help me incorporate some of the recipes that I otherwise might not have chosen for another year or two!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Herbs (Page 529)

  • Date: Thursday, November 23, 2006 - 6pm - THANKSGIVING!
  • Location: Southboro, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Fellow Chefs: Chris, Michael, and Ana
  • Dining Companions: Richard, Anita, Ephraim, Richard H, Renato, Teri and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: B
Michael and I chose this dish to go with Thanksgiving dinner because my original menu was in need of another vegetable dish. Opinions of this recipe (as with most of the recipes for the meal) were mixed. The main objection was that several people didn't like parsnips. Renato had never had a parsnip before and he said he thought he needed more time to "get used to them." Other people just didn't enjoy them. The vegetables were nicely cooked though and the rosemary flavor was lovely. The dish wasn't anything too exciting (Ana: "Not as good as the Cauliflower"), but it was pretty good.

I am giving a talk at Wesleyan on Wednesday. I wrote my talk yesterday, and this morning I practiced it for Chris. At the end, I said, "So, how was it?" His response: "Well, I have a few suggestions..." Now that I have eaten lunch I am about to embark on the task of rewriting my talk. On the one hand, when you practice a talk you always want to hear that it is perfect the way it is! But on the other hand, Chris' comments, although harsh, were really helpful, and it will be a better talk once I adopt his suggestions. I firmly believe in practicing every talk in front of a trusted friend before giving it for a seminar -- it really helps identify which areas are unclear. Chris, Mike, and Vigleik have always been really fantastic about listening to practice talks, which I appreciate tremendously! At Wesleyan I am speaking about my research and I have several such talks written. This one is for a more general audience than I am used to speaking for though, so the tricky part is making it understandable without cutting all the real content.

Ok, time to get back to it!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sherry-Walnut Oil Vinaigrette (Page 171)

  • Date: Thursday, November 23, 2006 - 6pm - THANKSGIVING!
  • Location: Southboro, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Teri, Terry, Richard, Anita, Michael, Ephraim, Ana, Renato, and Richard H
  • Recipe Rating: C
I wanted to have a nice green salad at Thanksgiving dinner, and I picked this salad dressing to go on it because it sounded tasty. Instead, it really had no flavor. The dressing was so shockingly mild that although I adequately dressed the salad no one could taste the dressing enough to comment on it. Ana said, "Well it made the salad wet, and that was good." That was pretty much the only comment of any substance. Everyone unanimously gave it a C on the basis that indeed it coated the salad well, making it pretty and easier to eat, but it had no flavor. I have no real explanation for the flavorless dressing. Usually in dressing the ratio of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1 and here it was 4 to 1, so that probably accounted for some of its mildness (since most of the pungency in dressing comes from the vinegar). I sampled the dressing without the salad, and then I could at least taste the vinegar, but to put it on the salad in a large enough quantity to get flavor from it, I would have had to drown the poor lettuce.

A few of the many things I am thankful for this holiday weekend:
  • Pumpkin pie, macaroni and cheese, and an abundance of other wonderful foods in my life
  • Friends (new and old) who are generous and caring and wonderful
  • People to cook with
  • My health
  • The family I was born into and the other people who have become family (Emilee, Chris, etc...)
  • Good math days, and bad math days, and having a job I love
  • Gummy bacon
  • An apartment I love in a neighborhood I love with a roommate I look forward to seeing
  • Hot showers
  • The grinch sweatpants and the friend they belong to
  • The many, many things I have left to learn

Sausage Fennel Stuffing (Page 380)

  • Date: Thursday, November 23, 2006 - 6pm - THANKSGIVING!
  • Location: Southboro, MA
  • Kitchen: Richard and Anita's House
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Ana, Renato, Michael, Ephraim, Richard H, Terry, Teri, Richard, Anita, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
There aren't too many stuffing recipes in The Book, and this was the only one with sausage in it -- that's why I chose it for our Thanksgiving dinner! I do love sausage. This stuffing was met with mixed reviews. Some people LOVED it (my parents for instance) while others would have prefered a more traditional stuffing (Ephriam for instance). I was actually surprised by the number of people that said that they strongly prefer a stuffing made with regular bread rather than cornbread. Cornbread is so good though! My favorite comments were from Ana, who was so confused by the concept of stuffing. This stuffing was not baked in the bird (for several reasons) so Ana thought the use of the word "stuffing" was quite odd, since nothing was stuffed! I had to agree that she had a point. I thought this recipe was fine. The flavor of anise is one of my least favorite tastes, so I wasn't too excited about stuffing with several pounds of fennel in it, but it was pretty good. It was nice and moist, and the sausage was an excellent addition. The fennel was a little overpowering -- I would use less if I made it again. Overall though, it was a satisfying Thanksgiving side dish!

Including all the recipes from Thanksgiving dinner, I have now made 294 recipes from The Book, which means that I have only 999 left to go! It's exciting to be under a thousand for the first time!

The Christmas lights are starting to go up in my neighborhood! For those of you who live in the area, if you've never seen the Christmas lights in my neighborhood, you should take a walk over here some night. It's amazing! Somerville has a Christmas lights tour bus that goes past all the most decorated houses in the city, and it goes down my street! That's how many lights there are. Do any of you remember that house down the street when I lived on Speridakis? The house with all the lawn ornaments... (or hoopdefrantz if you ask Mark!). My neighborhood now has a half a dozen houses like that around Christmas time! It's amazing. I miss the year-round nature of that lawn ornament house though. It was beyond tacky, but at the same time, it brought me such joy! They came up with such amazing lawn ornaments for every imaginable holiday. Near the Fourth of July it was as if the American flag exploded in their front yard. You actually could not see the grass through all the red, white, and blue. And there was the American flag disco ball! Does anyone else remember that? Mike? Chris? I wish I had taken pictures. I wonder if they still live there...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Buttermilk Corn Bread (Page 380)

  • Date: Sunday, November 19, 2006 - 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ana, Terry, Teri, Richard, Anita, Richard H, Michael, Ephraim, Chris, and Renato
  • Recipe Rating: B-
This corn bread was a component of the stuffing I made for Thanksgiving dinner. It was fine in the stuffing, but it wasn't great as cornbread. I made an extra half a pan of it to eat (because I love cornbread!), and I was disappointed. It didn't have a rich cornbread flavor. In fact, it was rather bland. For one thing it needed more salt. Also a higher ratio of cornmeal to flour would have helped. Matt discovered a way to make it taste good: heat it up and then slather it with butter and honey. But honestly, that would make almost anything taste good! This cornbread served its purpose in the stuffing recipe, but I wouldn't choose this recipe to make cornbread again.

My parents are in town for the weekend, so today after spending the morning at the office, I went shopping in the afternoon with my mom. She loves to shop! They are staying at the Copley Marriot, which conveniently has two malls adjacent to it... we bought a few things. My father joined us later in the afternoon to go to the Bodyworlds exhibit at the Museum of Science. It was not exactly what I expected. I enjoyed it, although it was so crowded that it was difficult to really look at things as thoroughly as I might have liked to. My mother just thought it was gross. Her comment was, "Well I'm glad we didn't eat right before the exhibit."

I'm so sleepy. I'm hanging out with Chris and I can barely stay awake. I'm not trying to infer that he's boring. I'm just really sleepy. I think all that shopping wore me out. I probably took off and put back on my clothes more times today than I normally would in two weeks!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Citrus Chiffon Cake (Page 713)

  • Date: Friday, November 17, 2006 -- 10pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Gunther, Mary Beth, Lindsay, Clotilde, Carol, etc..
  • Recipe Rating: B-
Alex and Gunther had a Harvard-Yale party last weekend and I made this cake to bring there. As cakes go, it was pretty average. It was cake, so I liked it, but I wouldn't make it again. The texture was very chewy. Chiffon cakes usually have a more tender crumb than this cake did -- this one had the texture of an angel food cake. I also didn't particuarly understand the serving suggestion of serving the sliced cake with the citrus syrup. Usually cake is served with a frosting or a glaze, but a soaking syrup is an odd accompaniment. It absorbed immediately in to the sliced cake, so most people simply thought that their cake was extremely moist (or wet?). A thicker glaze drizzled on would have been both visually more appealing, and more of an interesting contrast to the cake. All that said, the citrus flavor in both the cake and the syrup was quite nice, and for that reason I enjoyed eating it.

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday! I had such a nice holiday. It was fun to spend it with both my parents, and Chris' family (who have become like family to me in the past 4 years). Ana also came out to Southboro for the holiday, which was great fun! It was her first American Thanksgiving. We made a 22.5 pound turkey (which is huge!). The cooking went off without a hitch and we had a really beautiful, special meal. Their kitchen is very centrally located, so people wandered in and out all day, helping or watching, or doing the crossword while I cooked (you know who you are!). And I even took a few breaks from the kitchen to nap in front of one of the fireplaces. After we ate all 11 of us graded the recipes that were from The Book, and there was plenty of fun disagreement! Here's a picture of my plate (minus the 3 kinds of pies I tried after dinner!).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Citrus Syrup (Page 714)

  • Date: Friday, November 17, 2006 -- 10pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Gunther, Mary Beth, Lindsay, Carol, Clotilde, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B
This syrup accompanied a cake I made for Alex and Gunther's Harvard-Yale party last weekend. It was essentially a simple syrup where the water was replaced by orange and lemon juices. The net result was an extremely strongly flavored syrup. It was difficult to eat by itself, but drizzled on the citrus chiffon cake it was pretty good. I thought it was a touch too sweet, so I would cut back the sugar by a bit if I were to make it again.

First off, congrat to Ana, who passed her quals this afternoon! Yay!!!

I'm excited about Thanksgiving tomorrow. Holidays that revolve around food are my favorite. This evening, after my first trip to the airport of the day (dropping Matt off) I made three pies. I had only one minor mishap when I realized I was out of light brown sugar. Mysteriously I had three boxes of dark brown sugar, but no light! I couldn't leave home since I had things in the oven and things on the stove but luckily Jacob bailed me out! He was stopping by to pick up a book so he brought me some sugar... And I successfully turned the sugar (and a few other things) in to pies! In a few minutes I am headed out for my second airport trip of the day (picking Chris up) and then out to Southboro for the night.

In case I don't blog tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Among the many things I am thankful for, I am thankful to everyone who keeps up with and helps out with my project. You all are awesome!

Curried Lentil Soup with Tomato and Spinach (Page 112)

  • Date: Friday, November 17, 2006 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
I made this soup for dinner on Friday because I wanted to make a batch of something that I could freeze and eat throughout the week. This recipe was pretty good. I have a hard time getting too enthusiastic about lentil soups because they all pale in comparison to the amazing lentil stew recipe that I have from Emilee and Brian! This one wasn't bad though -- the curry flavor was clear without being overpowering. The lentils were perfectly cooked and the spinach and tomatoes gave some nice textural contrast. It also froze extremely well, which is a lovely quality for soup. There was nothing particularly striking about this dish, but it was a solid recipe for a hearty winter soup.

I went to Whole Foods last night to finish up my Thanksgiving grocery shopping. It was crazy there! The whole parking lot was full, and the aisles were crowded with carts. When I arrived I was tired and hungry (after a trip to the gym with Mike) and not particularly in the mood to deal with the huge crowd. But after being there for 5 minutes, I was so happy! For one thing, the place was full of fun Thankgiving foods (prepared stuffing, various rolled and stuffed turkey breasts, piles and piles of pies, etc...). It was really fun to see what sorts of things people were buying. You could totally tell who was an experienced Thanksgiving shopper, and who was making their first big Thanksgiving meal. There were a lot of people wandering around with a look of wide-eyed terror. Then there were the people efficiently moving through their huge lists, checking off item after item. The woman in front of me at the check out looked terrified. She was about my age, and alone at the grocery store (most people were in pairs... it's an overwhelming task by yourself!). She stared intently at her groceries as they were being checked out -- I think trying to determine if she had forgotten anything. She looked only mildly startled when they totaled to $247.67. She looked so stressed out -- I wanted to give her a hug! Luckily, these big meals don't cause me any stress. I find cooking for family (and people who are practically family) to be wonderfully easy because they are such a forgiving crowd! I started my cooking last night, so now in my fridge there is stuffing ready to be baked off and filling for a chocolate cream pie!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Baked Flounder Fillets in Lemon Soy Vinaigrette (Page 301)

  • Date: Sunday, November 12, 2006 -- 8pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Shihchi
  • Dining Companion: Vigleik
  • Recipe Rating: B-
Vigleik, Shihchi and I picked this dish for dinner when I was visiting them because it was very quick. We were not particularly impressed though. We substituted cod for flounder (which was a recipe-suggested substitution and hence ok) because the seafood selection in Illinois is a bit limited! The dish was fine, but nothing spectacular. The vinaigrette was too oily and I didn't think the flavors complemented the fish that well. There was nothing terrible about the recipe, but it paled in comparison to some of the truly excellent fish recipes that I have tried from The Book so far.

You know how when you go shopping with friends there is always one friend who tells you that everything looks great and one friend that is brutally honest about what looks terrible?

I have some friends in my life who are unconditionally supportive. Independent of the circumstances they always tell me that I am making the right decisions. They trust me to find a good path for me. It's nice to have people in my life that have a lot of faith in me. That kind of support is very reassuring. I have other friends though who constantly question the things that I do. While I admit that it sometimes frustrates me, those friends are incredibly valuable. I think that having friends that really push you to explain yourself can be tremendously helpful. Today I was talking to one such friend. I don't think she was particularly trying to push me or question my judgement, but our conversation really got me thinking. I think it's harder to be that kind of friend -- the kind that is honest and pushes people. It's very difficult to do that without hurting people and I respect my friends tremendously who are able to play that role in my life.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Parsley-Leaf Potatoes (Page 568)

  • Date: Sunday, November 12, 2006 --8pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Shihchi
  • Dining Companion: Vigleik
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Viglek, Shihchi, and I picked this recipe to go with dinner last Sunday because we were looking for something quick and easy, and this dish fit the bill. These potatoes were simple, but very good. They crisped nicely along the exposed surface. The presentation was also quite nice -- much more elegant than a typical baked potato. One negative comment: since the potatoes were halved on the diagonal, the thick ends took longer to cook than the thin ends, and in particular they took longer to cook than indicated in the recipe. That said, this recipe was great. It was simple, elegant, and delicious!

When I was in college I was really good at forgiving people. In fact, my good friends from college would probably tell you that I forgave certain people much too easily. Sometimes that led to unpleasant situations, but nonetheless it was a quality that I really liked about myself. I was able to love and care about people almost independently of how they treated me. That's not as true any more. I have noticed lately that I am more likely to hold on to things, and to continue to feel hurt by them over time. I haven't yet gotten bitter, but still I don't really want to evolve in that direction. Learning forgiveness is a hard thing though. And the really problem is, it has never been something that I have had to work for before. So while I know that forgiveness is something that you can work towards, I don't know how to do it if it doesn't just come naturally to me. I guess that is something to try to figure out...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stir-Fried Pepper Beef (Page 443)

  • Date: Saturday, November 11, 2006 -- 7pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Vigleik, Shihchi, and Bridget
  • Dining Companion: Kari
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Vigleik , Shihchi, and I picked this dish for dinner last Saturday because I wanted to make something from the "Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb" section, and this recipe sounded good. Plus, V and Shihchi have a big wok (which is one piece of equipment I don't have) so I thought it would be good to take advantage of that while I was visiting them! This dish was quite tasty. The beef was perfectly cooked (thanks to Bridget, who did the stir-frying!). The flavors of the dish came through clearly without being overpowering. It was really tasty served over steamed rice. Bridget and I were a little skeptical about the fermented black beans in this dish, but they contributed a unique depth and flavor that went well with the garlic and ginger flavors. If I were to make this dish again, I would probably add more red pepper flakes for some more heat. The spiciness was almost undetectable. Overall though, this was an easy, tasty stir-fry dish that everyone enjoyed.

Today I began preparations for Thanksgiving dinner! Ok, really I only started grocery shopping, but that's something. I also finalized a menu. I am making dinner for 12 in the suburbs. It's going to be me, Chris, my parents, and Chris' whole family (his mom, his dad, his stepmom, his stepdad, his grandpa, etc...). I am looking forward to it. Dinner is at Richard and Anita's house, and their kitchen is an amazing place to cook! We are having mostly food from The Book -- except the turkey, for which none of The Book recipes would really work out given various constraints. I enjoy cooking these big family meals. Thanksgiving is particularly easy because the menu is practically preset by tradition, and everything on it is easy to make. Here's what we're having on Thursday: molasses-brined turkey with gingersnap gravy, sausage fennel stuffing with buttermilk cornbread, cranberry-cherry sauce, green salad with sherry-walnut oil vinaigrette, roasted carrots and parnips with herbs, buttermilk mashed potatoes with caramelized shallots, pecan pumpkin pie, and chocolate cream pie. Mmmm... I love Thanksgiving food!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Silken Tofu and Carrot with Soy Ginger Sauce (Page 279)

  • Date: Saturday, November 11, 2006 -- 7pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Vigleik and Shihchi
  • Dining Companions: Kari and Bridget
  • Recipe Rating: C+
I picked this one to go with our dinner on Saturday night. It wasn't a great choice though. I like tofu a lot, but I was not impressed by this preparation. The sauce had a good flavor, and the grated carrots were nice, but it didn't feel like a cohesive dish with the raw tofu. This dish would have been vastly improved by just browning the tofu in a pan for a few minutes. As it was it was bland, and mushy, and not terribly visually appealing. This was unanimously the least favorite dish of the meal.

Well I made it back to Boston, but my trip back here was more than a little traumatizing. I flew direct from Chicago to Boston. Thirty minutes in to the flight, the pilot announced that we would be encountering some turbulence and everyone needed to remain seated with their seatbelts fastened. It was odd though, because then there was no turbulence. Within a few minutes people started getting up again, and the flight attendant made an announcement: "Everyone really needs to stay in their seats with their seatbelts fastened. We will explain everything in a minute." And then there was 5 minutes of silence from the flight crew. The flight attendants rushed around a bit, not answering anyone's questions, and a whole plane-full of people started to get extremely nervous. Just as I was about to turn on my cell phone, and make a few phone calls in case something really bad was going to happen, the pilot made another announcement. The plane was experiencing some sort of mechanical problem and we were going back to Chicago. We flew back, circled Ohare for almost 20 minutes, and landed safely. The whole experience was probably one of the most unpleasant hours of my life. I don't know what I would have done without the guy across the aisle from me, who was really concerned about me and did an amazing job calming me down. They took us off the plane as soon as we landed. As soon as I stepped off the plane I started crying. Two hours later we took off for Boston on a different plane. I really didn't want to get on the second flight. I did it though. The guy across the aisle from me talked to me through the entire flight to keep me calm. Sometimes I am so touched by how kind strangers can be.

I am so happy to be home.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Steamed Pork and Jicama Dumplings (Page 60)

  • Date: Saturday, November 11, 2006 -- 7pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Shihchi and Vigleik
  • Dining Companions: Bridget and Kari
  • Recipe Rating: A-
Vigleik, Shihchi, and I picked these dumplings on Saturday because we thought they would go well with the beef stir fry we had for dinner. They were very tasty. The filling has a good flavor, and the ground pork gave it a nice moistness, while the jicama contributed some crunch. Everyone had the same complaint about these dumplings, which was not the fault of the recipe: the dumpling wrappers were too dry. Vigleik noticed this when he was cutting the wonton wrappers in to circles -- he was having problems separating them without tearing them. Right after they came out of the steamer, they were fine, but after sitting for just minute the wrapper was dried out. As I said, the recipe is not to blame for this, as the wonton wrappers were purchased, not homemade. That aside, this recipe was very good, and it made quite a few little dumplings!

I am now in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. Driving down here yesterday I felt extremely nostalgic -- the endless crop fields reminded me so much of driving through rural Wisconsin. The atmosphere here feels a little bit like Madison too -- lots and lots of coffee shops and students. Yesterday was Nora's 30th birthday, so I had dinner with her at the co-op where she lives. The food was really good, and the people were great. The co-op has been around for a number of years, and they seem to have figured out how to make it run very smoothly. It was interesting to talk to Nora about the set-up that they have --there are clearly a lot of benefits to cooperative living.

I gave my talk this morning, and I think it went pretty well, so that's a relief. I didn't get as nervous as I usually do. Probably this is in part because I am getting used to speaking about my research. Also, I think it helped that when I looked around the room I realized that I knew 6 or 7 people in the audience. It's always nice to have familiar faces in the room!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Dipping Sauce (Page 61)

  • Date: Saturday, November 11, 2006 -- 7pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Shihchi
  • Dining Companions: Vigleik, Bridget, and Kari
  • Recipe Rating: B+
This recipe accompanied some dumplings that we made with dinner last night. It was fine. We were all a little stumped when trying to grade it. It wasn't amazing, but there was nothing wrong with it -- the soy sauce dominated the other flavors so much that it was almost indistinguishable from just soy sauce itself. That said, it served as a perfectly good dipping sauce for the dumplings.

Vigleik and I are watching Star Trek again, and this episode is confusing me too. It's a little worrisome because I used to watch this show with my dad when I was little, and I think it made sense then. Maybe I will blame my mental fatigue on my day of doing math with Vigleik. Yup, that will be my excuse. Vigleik did just admit that this episode is "slightly mysterious," so maybe it's not just me.

Tomorrow morning I am headed down to Urbana-Champaign. I haven't been there since I was 17 years old and was visiting potential colleges with my dad. It was 102 degrees outside the day we were there -- I don't think I will be having that problem this week! I have never been to the math department there though, so I am looking forward to visiting. Ok, I think maybe I need to devote my full attention to Star Trek if I have any hope of understanding -- things are starting to get very weird.

Migas (Page 630)

  • Date: Saturday, November 4, 2006 -- 12pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

Matt picked this recipe for brunch last Saturday... Luckily, he doesn't read my blog, because if he knew that I gave this one a B he wouldn't be too happy. He really liked it a lot. I agree that it was good, but it had one significant problem.: the tomatoes contributed too much liquid to the dish. Had the tomatoes in the recipe been seeded this might not have been a problem, but as it was the liquid from the tomatoes made the eggs watery and the tortillas that Matt crisped so beautifully became soggy. The dish also could have supported more bacon and jalapenos. The flavors were good though, and the cumin was a nice touch. Overall it was a tasty brunch dish, and with a few minor adjustments it could be excellent!

I'm watching Star Trek with Vigleik and I am so confused. Hmmm... Vigleik just tried to explain it to me. I'm still confused. Captain Picard looks confused too so I don't feel so bad.

So I have a question for everyone. I really want answers to this question, so please, please comment! Here it is: If you were me, and you were going to buy a new laptop, what would you buy? Now, if your answer involves running Linux, then you are clearly not trying hard enough to pretend that you are me. I've always owned PCs but now I am considering buying a Mac. Thoughts? I would love some opinions. Honestly, I have never picked out a computer before. In the past I just gave my credit card to someone I trust with these sorts of things and said, "Buy me a computer please." That worked pretty well, but now I am faced with picking out my own and I don't know what to get.

Malaysian-Style Chicken Curry (Page 359)

  • Date: Friday, November 3, 2006 --9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
I made this one for dinner a couple Fridays ago because I wanted something that would freeze well and I suspected that this one would. I like to make big Friday dinners and freeze most of it for lunches throughout the coming week. This curry was not bad. The flavor of the sauce was nice -- the coconut milk contributed a nice richness, and the scallion paste complemented the flavor of the curry nicely. The dish would have been better though had it had something in the curry besides just the hunks of chicken. Matt and I agreed that this dish could have been great if there were vegetables added and the skin was removed from the chicken and the chicken was shredded and added back in to the sauce. As it was, the flavor penetrated very little to the middle of the pieces of meat, and the skin was soggy (as chicken skin always is when cooked in sauce). Before I froze it I removed all the chicken skin, cut up the chicken and stirred it in to the sauce, and that was a HUGE improvement.

I am finally feeling healthy again and I made it safely to Chicago! After a wonderfully uneventful flight yesterday, I managed to drive to Vigleik and Shihchi's place without getting lost (a minor miracle since i am pretty much chronically lost!). They have a beautiful apartment, with a really incredible kitchen. I brought The Book with me, so we picked some recipes and headed to the grocery store. We cooked a small feast, and Bridget and Kari joined us for dinner. It was really fun.

I realized on the flight out here that I don't think I have left the Boston areas since August! That's a long time for me. It's nice to get away and be somewhere different for a few days. I rented a car yesterday for the first time in my life. It's funny because they gave me this tiny little American car (that's what you get when you choose the cheapest one available). It's comforting in a way because it drives even worse than my not-so-tiny American car. I love my car, but it's not exactly a performance vehicle -- however, I learned yesterday that some cars are even worse!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Raspberry Jam Tart with Almond Crumble (Page 787)

  • Date: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Craig, Jessie, Matty, and Glen
  • Recipe Rating: C+
I picked this dessert to go with dinner last Wednesday because it was one of the few desserts left that can be made within a couple hours. I knew as I picked the recipe that I wouldn't like it, and indeed I didn't. I find this sort of thing (a rich cookie crust, topped with jam and some crumble) not very appealing. The jam is inevitably too sweet and the crust too thick relative to the amount of jam. No one liked it very much. Several people commented that it tasted like a raspberry-flavored energy bar. The shortbread-like crust was ok, but it made the dessert seem more like a huge cookie than a tart. If you are looking for a nice fruit tart, this is not the right recipe for it.

I'm sick. I have tonsillitis (and strep throat (?) according to the doctor). I get tonsillitis every year. I should just have my tonsils out. Not to worry, I have never passed my tonsil infections on to anyone else, and now I have started antibiotics, so I should be safe to be around. I went to class this morning, but after 2 hours at MIT Medical this afternoon, I came home. I don't particularly like to take drugs (I know it's ridiculous -- of all people, I should appreciate the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals). Last year when I had tonsillitis (bundled that time with bronchitis) I never took my prescribed antibiotics -- they are in my underwear drawer still. But I am flying to Chicago on Saturday, and I am so determined to feel better before then, that I am actually taking the drugs the doctor prescribed!

During the very long wait at the med center, some MIT student came up and started yelling at the receptionist. He was actually yelling at her about how he just couldn't receive "adequate care" at MIT Medical. Now, MIT Medical has always been really great to me, but even if it's true that the doctor he saw didn't listen to his concerns (this was his claim), why the hell was he yelling at the receptionist? It is clearly not her fault. It really makes me angry when people are rude to totally undeserving strangers. Why do that? She handled it very gracefully. I was extremely impressed by her. The MIT student I was not so impressed by.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pistachio-Crusted Arctic Char (Page 308)

  • Date: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Craig
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ana, Glen, and Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I chose this one for dinner last Wednesday because "Fish and Shellfish" was the section I was the most behind on, and Whole Foods had arctic char last week, which often they don't. This dish was very good. The char was beautifully cooked, and had a wonderful flavor. The topping was also very tasty. Everyone had the same two criticisms of the recipe though: one, it would have been nice if the topping had crusted a bit. The recipe claims to be pistachio-crusted, but really the topping stayed very soft on the fish. Some crustiness would have been nice. The other complaint was that there was just too much of the topping. It tasted great, but it was also extremely rich, and in the quantity indicated, it was a bit overpowering on the fish. All that said, it was still a great dish and everyone enjoyed it very much.

I just got back from book club. We were talking about "On Beauty" by Zadie Smith. I didn't start it until Monday, so I only read the first 70 pages or so, but I am enjoying it so far and I plan to finish it. Two of the main characters in the book are academics, so much of the discussion this evening focused on the life of an academic. One woman in my book club had some really slanderous things to say about academia. My personal favorite: "Everybody knows you should never listen to an academic." Huh. I didn't know that actually. She went on and on. I had to bite my tongue for two hours straight. It wasn't even worth it to argue with her. I did learn amazing things from her though. For instance, apparently male academics aren't capable of loving their families. Who knew? She also described one of the characters in the book as being "torn between her desire to be an academic and her desire to be sexually appealing." I thought that was pretty special. This woman knows I am in academia -- even if she really thinks academics are the inhuman bastards she portrayed them to be, why would she say that to me? Very mysterious...

Parsleyed Tomatoes with Pine Nuts (Page 587)

  • Date: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty and Glen
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Craig, and Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: C
I picked this recipe because it sounded like it might be good -- it wasn't really though. Everyone agreed that tomatoes cooked this way (on the stovetop, without browning) are just unappealing. I realize that if you roasted the tomatoes (which does taste good) then they wouldn't have enough structural integrity to be stuffed. But maybe that's a sign that stuffed tomatoes isn't a good idea. As it was, this recipe took extremely good tomatoes and made them worse. They got grainy when they were cooked, and didn't gain any additional flavor. The parsley stuffing was fine, although it was too intensely parsley-flavored for some people. The pine nuts were good! I offended Matt by commenting that the dish was even visually unappealing -- in his defense, he did the best possible job styling this inherently not-so-cute dish. This recipe is not a keeper.

I am starting to get excited about my trip to Chicago. I am giving a topology seminar at Urbana-Champaign on Tuesday, but I am going to fly out to Chicago on Saturday and stay with Vigleik and Shihchi for the weekend! It will be so good to see them, and I am bringing The Book, so hopefully we will get some cooking in. I'm also trying to schedule some time to see Bridget and Kari. Grace will be in town too (she is giving a seminar at UIUC 2 days after I am!), so we are going to try to meet up. It's always fun to see friends that you haven't seen in a while. Plus, I wrote my talk today, which definitely improved my attitude about the trip! It's always hard to get excited about giving a talk when you haven't prepared it yet. This afternoon I diligently sat in the fourth floor common space outside my office until my talk was written. I am more productive in that common space than I am in my office because there are no computers out there! Thus the internet, and my email, can't tempt me!

Time to go to book club...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Confit Garlic Cloves (Page 934)

  • Date: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Craig
  • Dining Companions: Glen, Jessie, Ana, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C-
I picked this recipe to go with dinner last Wednesday because it was from the Basics section, which is going very slowly. This recipe was terrible though. We were supposed to end up with garlic cloves that were "soft enough to fall apart when touched." Instead we ended up with chewy little garlic rocks. (I know, I know, most rocks aren't chewy, but these were!) I don't know what happened -- we followed the directions carefully, cooking the garlic over very low heat. The oil that the garlic was cooked in did taste quite good in the end, but the garlic cloves were a complete loss. Yick.

I bought my place tickets yesterday for Christmas (for anyone who may be interested, I will be in Madison from December 19 - January 6 and in California from January 6 - January 21). So many people that I care about are in so many different places these days that it was hard to figure out where to travel to and for how long. In the end I realized that by mid-January I will probably be panicking about job stuff, and Emilee seemed like the right person to be near when I am panicking! Lucky her! I am looking forward to spending a couple weeks in Madison too. I haven't been there for more than a few days in several years. It will be nice to have some time to visit with my extended family, see my old friends, etc... I may also try to fit in a couple mini-trips to visit some other friends scattered throughout the midwest! One of my favorite things about the holiday season is that it is such a wonderful time to see people that you don't see often enough!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Creamless Creamy Squash Soup (Page 99)

  • Date: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Ana and Glen
  • Dining Companions: Craig, Matty, and Jessie
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I picked this soup to go with dinner last Wednesday because it is starting to be the time of year when I crave butternut squash soup! This soup was very good. The flavor was hearty and rich, and the texture was beautifully smooth. Several people commented that it didn't have the sweetness that they normally associate with butternut squash soup, but that it was a nice change. Ana and Craig had slight hesitations about it because it wasn't as good as Ana's recipe for butternut squash soup (which I haven't tried!) but they still enjoyed it. The crumbled cookies on top were a nice touch. We couldn't find amaretti, so we just used some almond biscotti, which worked really nicely. Overall, a very nice recipe. I love pureed vegetable soups and this one did not disappoint!

I had such a nice weekend. On Friday I had cocktails at Vero and Philippe's, which was really fun. Veronique made probably 10 different drinks, and while I didn't try them all, the ones I had were excellent. My favorite: her frozen strawberry daiquiri (yeah, it's a girly drink, but so what? I'm a girl!). I also learned that evening that a guy I know is currently employed writing boob recognition software -- I kid you not! That must be quite a job.

On Saturday I did my usual Saturday stuff: made brunch, ran errands, worked on my thesis. It was a very relaxing day. My favorite thing about weekends in the fall is that you can curl up in bed in the middle of the day with a math paper or a good novel, and something warm to eat -- I love the feeling of being cozy and warm when it is chilly outside.

Speaking of warm things to eat, time for lunch...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Baked Sliced Apples (Page 802)

  • Date: Monday, October 30, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I am starting to run low on desserts that can be completed in a reasonable time frame... I chose this one on Monday night because it was pretty fast, and it required kinds of alcohol that I don't own (Alex has a huge selection of alcohol!). My main comment on this dessert is: Mmmmm, baked apples. Other comments: they were a touch too sweet and I had to take them out of the oven about 15 minutes early because they were falling apart. They were so yummy though. The boozy whipped cream is a must -- don't be tempted to leave it off! These baked apples were firmer than your usual baked apple (according to the recipe this is because they are sliced -- why that makes sense, I have no idea!). Alex didn't really like the firmness, but I actually did. Overall I thought this was a great, easy dessert. If you like this sort of thing (baked fruit with lots of alcohol in it) then I highly recommend this recipe!

It's Friday afternoon and people are slowly clearing out of the office. I am going to get out of here soon too and go for a run before dinner. I haven't run since Sunday, and I am starting to feel it!

I have been confused about something (math-related) for the last couple days, and today I made some sense of it, which is always a good feeling. It's funny, whenever I get discouraged about math, it always seems to me that no one else around me is ever discouraged. Of course, when I am able to step back (and have a smidgeon of perspective) I see that lots of people are discouraged a lot of the time. Math research goes in waves -- things will go really well for a length of time, and then really slowly for a while... Almost all the mathematicians I know love what they do, but have thought about quitting on multiple different occasions. It's just the nature of the game I guess...

Tuna and Artichoke Panini (Page 187)

  • Date: Monday, October 30, 2006 -- 8:30 pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: B
The last time Alex and I cooked together we started exploring the "Sandwiches and Pizzas" section of The Book, so we figured we would continue that trend on Monday. These sandwiches were pretty good. They were a little briny for me, but Alex didn't mind that. The mayonaise blend with olives and capers was tasty, but it came out thinner than I might have prefered. Consequently it absorbed in to the bread quite a bit, making the bread a little soggy. Overall though, the flavors in this sandwich were good, and I enjoyed eating it. It was also extremely easy to throw together.

The last few days have really been a reminder of how wonderful the people in my life are. On Wednesday I got home from work to find that Paul had sent me a package! It contained, of all things, gummy bacon! I had never seen gummy bacon before, but it made me so happy. He really likes bacon (we had planned festivities for our own "international bacon month" but he moved away before we could execute them) and both of us love all things gummy. It was just a really perfect gift.

Then last night I had dinner with Jonathan, who is a friend from college. He's a grad student at Brown, but we don't see each other nearly as often as we should. It was so nice to have dinner with him and catch up... The wonderful thing about old friends is that they already know the back-story to everything. Jonathan knows my family, and my friends from college, and all about my life before MIT. Since many of the people that I was really close to in Boston moved away recently, this fall I have spent a lot of time building new friendships -- which is totally fun, but it was nice to spend some time with someone who already knows everything about me... Yay for old friends!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Chicken Sate with Peanut Curry Sauce (Page 55)

  • Date: Monday, October 30, 2006 - 8:30pm
  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Kitchen: Alex's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Recipe Rating: B+
Alex has a grill and I do not, so when we cook at his place, we try to always make something grilled. We chose this one to go with dinner on Monday because it was both grilled and from a section that I am behind on. I liked it quite a bit -- Alex wasn't as excited about it. I thought the grilled chicken was good -- the marinade was subtle, but it caremelized nicely on the outside of the meat, giving the chicken some delicious crunchy spots. I liked the sauce a lot. It was a thicker sauce, and had a grainier texture than the typical peanut sauce that goes with this dish. Instead of being made with peanut butter, it was made with fresh ground peanuts. I liked the thicker texture though. It also had a wonderful coconut flavor. The curry was very mild -- it seems almost wrong to call it a peanut curry sauce. It was yummy though, and easy to throw together!

Just as I am nearing getting caught up with my blogging for the first time in months (I am only 2 recipes behind right now!), the Wednesday crew is coming over to make dinner tonight! So tomorrow I will be behind once again! Ana is excited -- she's been chasing Marco in the recipe count for weeks now, but tonight she is not only going to pass him, but she's going to pass 5 other people too, putting her in 2nd place after Chris! I wonder if Chris will visit to do some cooking once Ana starts threatening his top spot!

Alex added another cool feature for the people that cook/eat for the project a lot... if you go to the Project Index on the right, click on your name and scroll all the way down it shows which people you have cooked/eaten the most with. You can see how many recipes you have participated in, and of those how many you made/ate with the other people you cook/eat with frequently. It's pretty fun!

Moussaka (Page 514)

  • Date: Friday, October 27, 2006 - 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
I picked this one for dinner on Friday because I wanted to make something that would produce leftovers that would freeze well. This Moussaka was pretty good. The ground lamb sauce was very tasty, and the broiled eggplant was cooked perfectly for this sort of dish. The best component though was the feta cheese sauce, which was flavorful and complemented the rest of the dish well. The biggest problem with this dish, which Matt articulated and I agreed to, was that it didn't really taste like Moussaka. In other words, the Greek flavors didn't come through too clearly. There was quite a bit of cinnamon and allspice in the lamb mixture, but both were very hard to taste in the end product. It's possible, of course, that I just didn't add enough salt -- I don't know. That said, we both enjoyed eating it. It was a good dish, but perhaps not a good example of a Moussaka recipe.

First off, congrats to Ricky who passed his quals yesterday! Yay! A bunch of us went out to dinner last night to celebrate, as is the tradition after someone passes their qualifying exam. Quals in the MIT math department are a bit painful (maybe Ph.D. qualifying exams everywhere, in every department are painful!). It's pretty rare that someone fails, but nonetheless the whole exercise is a little excrutiating. You pick a major topic and two minor topics, and for each of your three topics, you select a professor to examine you. In general your major examiner is the person who will become your thesis advisor. Then, on the day of your quals, you stand at a chalkboard in front of the three professors and attempt to answer whatever they ask you. It's not really a pleasant experience. This goes on for usually about an hour or an hour and a half (although there have been 3 hour exams...). Then your committee confers and decides whether you have passed. I was terrified before (and during) my quals, and I had some of the nicest people in the world on my committee! It's just a scary, scary thing. But when it's over, it is such a wonderful relief!

Congrats again to Ricky!!!