Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ratatouille (Page 586)

  • Date: Saturday, October 27, 2007 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Cornelia, Kelly, Christina, Dan, Jiho, Mary Ann, Judah, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


Cornelia invited me to dinner on Saturday. I knew there was going to be lasagna present, so I thought I would make ratatouille to accompany it. It's hard for me to grade this. I don't particularly like soggy vegetables, and ratatouille is all about the over-cooked veggies. For ratatouille it was pretty good -- when I was able to get past the texture I could acknowledge that it had a great flavor. The basil really contributed a lot. The thing that bothered me about this recipe though was that The Book's preparation was so fussy. The vegetables all get cooked before they get thrown together in the tomato sauce and stewed. Although they all get cooked for the same amount of time, they all get cooked SEPARATELY in this recipe -- which is so annoying. You cook the onions for 10 minutes, then the peppers for 10 minutes, then the zucchini for 10 minutes, then the eggplant for 10 minutes... Why can't we just save ourselves some time and cook them all together? Honestly, is it really going to make a difference given that they then all get stewed together for an hour? They all end up terribly overcooked anyway! In that respect, this recipe was ridiculous. But it had a good flavor and people seemed to like it fine. If you like mushy veggies, you'll probably like this.

Here is the recipe.

Halloween is tomorrow! I am so excited. Holidays involving candy are my favorite... I even bought candy for my classes. I think I will force them to answer calculus questions tomorrow to earn their candy!

Chris arrives in the afternoon, and tomorrow night we are going to go over to Teresa's for dinner and to help hand out candy. I live right downtown, where there aren't any kids, so presumably there will be no trick-or-treaters at my apartment (further, the door of my apartment does not look at all residential, so even if there were kiddies looking for candy, they wouldn't look here). I am told that Teresa gets tons of trick-or-treaters though, and she is dressing up the dogs, so it should be fun! I love seeing little kids in Halloween costumes (dogs too!). Earlier today I saw a baby dressed as a skunk and I was tempted to steal him from his parents. SO cute! I even made a special Halloween dessert tonight, which will appear on the blog shortly. It's pretty funny...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Liptauer Cheese (Page 8)

  • Date: Saturday, October 28, 2007 -- 12pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This was the first recipe in The Book I hadn't made yet (now I have done the first 9 recipes in the first section). Admittedly I wasn't too excited about this recipe. Cream cheese with paprika, capers, anchovies, shallots, and caraway just did not sound good to me. Much to my surprise, it was delicious. I have been eating this stuff for days, smeared on bread. It spreads beautifully. The capers give it a lovely brininess, and the anchovies provide a lot of flavor without being overpowering. The shallots give a little crunch and onion goodness. It was very simple to make, has a nice color to it, and tastes great. If you are looking for a quick spread to serve with crackers or bread, I recommend this one!

Here is the recipe.

This week is going to be fun! Chris is coming to visit on Wednesday. I haven't seen him since the summer, and I am very much looking forward to spending time together. My guest room hasn't gotten much use lately, so it will be extra fun to have a visitor. Then on Friday we are going to drive together to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for the weekend where we are both speaking at a conference. It's going to be crazy fun because Mike and Vigleik will be there too, as well as a bunch of other friends we went to graduate school with! It will be a little MIT reunion.

In anticipation of Chris' arrival I have been trying to clean my apartment. It's not so messy, but I have been cooking so much lately that the kitchen is constantly a disaster. In the last 3 days I have made eight and half recipes from The Book -- which means many, many loads of dishes! Speaking of, I should be getting back to my cleaning!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pork Chops with Mustard Crumbs (Page 482)

  • Date: Friday, October 26, 2007 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Cooking for myself, it doesn't occur to me so often to cook meat dishes (let's be honest, cooking for myself I seem to make vegetables, soups, and cookies, and not much else!). But I found a great butcher shop in Bloomington, and that motivated me to try and make at least one meat dish from The Book per week. These pork chops filled last week's meat quota. They were quite good. I overcooked them a bit (my fault, not the fault of The Book), but they were still fairly moist and tender. The bread crumb topping was delicious (as bread crumbs inevitably are!) and the mustard glaze gave the whole thing a kick of flavor. This dish was start-to-finish about 25 minutes, and it really had a lot of flavor for such a quick dish. It was also very visually appealing. Perhaps it is hard to appreciate from my picture, but it looked almost fancy. I liked this dish. I don't eat a lot of pork chops, but if I were going to, I would definitely use this preparation again.

Here is the recipe.

Well fall was slow in coming, but it is here, and it is spectacular! The leaves are changing, the air is brisk, and today the sun was shining. About 2:30pm this afternoon I thought to myself, "Why am I sitting in my office on this fine fall Sunday afternoon?" So I left, I walked home, and got in my car. I didn't know really where I was going -- I just started driving. The leaves were incredible and it was just warm enough to drive with the windows down. I had some George Michael playing -- it was the perfect Sunday drive. Eventually I stumbled upon Nashville (Indiana, not Tennessee), a town I have heard much about, but hadn't yet visited. I can't do justice to Nashville, Indiana by merely explaining it. You would have to visit. You know the kind of stores that sell fudge and caramel apples? Or the kind that sell little trinkets that are totally useless? Or carved wood? Or silk-screened T-shirts? You know how in certain places you will find small clusters of that type of store? Well Nashville, Indiana is completely composed of those stores. There must be hundreds of them. They fill blocks and blocks. And apparently tourists swarm there, because there were tons of people in Nashville today. I couldn't resist. I parked my car and set out to visit every candy store in Nashville. I gave up after the first six I came across, but I did acquire some delicious caramels and salt water taffy. Little Nashville Indiana was truly unlike anything I have ever seen. I'll be going back there I'm sure. There are hot dog stands to be tried, fudge to be eaten, and probably some terribly tacky Christmas presents to be purchased!

In the evening I came home, put a brisket in the oven, and planned my class. I made six and a half recipes from The Book this weekend! Progress is being made.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mashed Potatoes and Rutabaga (Page 563)

  • Date: Friday, October 26, 2007 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: C+


This recipe for clapshot (or mashed potatoes and rutabaga) sounded appealing since I tend to like all recipes whose main ingredient is potatoes. The rutabaga ruined this one for me though, so I can't say that I would recommend it. For one thing, the rutabaga didn't incorporate well with the potatoes. The taters mashed beautifully, but the rutabaga stubbornly stayed in chunks. I even cooked it 5 minutes longer than recommended, to try to get it extremely tender, but it did not mash well. These chunks may have been the source of my second issue with the dish: the sharp turnipy bite of rutabaga overpowered the lovely potatoes. Perhaps if it had all blended better the potatoes would have mellowed out the rutabaga. But as it was, there were sharp tasting little chunks of rutabaga embedded in perfect clouds of mashed potatoes. Not good. On the up side, because the rutabaga didn't incorporate well, it wasn't too hard to eat around it. I definitely won't be making this one again though.

This recipe isn't online.

Tonight I went over to my friend Cornelia's for dinner. A bunch of her friends came over, and everyone brought something to eat, so we had a big feast (lasagna, ratatouille, broccoli salad, bread, etc...). There were even three kinds of dessert -- yum! I am definitely missing the frequent potluck or Book dinners at my place back in Boston. (Dear friends who always cooked with me: I miss you!!!) I haven't quite figured out yet how to start up that tradition here. Probably the answer is that I just need to start inviting people over. Part of the problem though is that the vast majority of the people I know here are professors in the department, all of them senior to me. It feels a little strange to invite them over for a potluck, or even better: an experimental meal where you have to help cook! I think I still need to meet more people. The gathering tonight definitely had the same feel as those dinners though, and I really enjoyed it!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bibb Lettuce with Butter Dressing (Page 130)

  • Date: Friday, October 26, 2007 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I have been avoiding this recipe from the start because it just doesn't sound good -- lettuce with butter on it? I made it tonight, and while I didn't love it, it was better than I expected. This salad is very simple: bibb lettuce dressed with browned butter with lemon added. I love browned butter. And browned butter with lemon juice added makes a very nice sauce to accompany fish, chicken, or a variety of cooked vegetables. It wasn't great on lettuce though. It just didn't make sense having a dressing so rich and heavy on something like lettuce. It was overpowering both in its richness and in its lemon-butter flavor. I ate it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Here is the recipe.

Tonight I decided to devote some time to my gourmet project. I was motivated not only by being behind in my cooking, but also by being cold in my apartment (see the post below)! I figured having the oven on and pots on the stovetop would warm things up a bit, which it did. So tonight I made myself a big dinner, with four new recipes from The Book! None of it was great, but I had fun cooking lots of things at once. I like having 2 pots boiling, and a saute pan going, and something roasting, and something in the mixer etc... Lately I have been mainly cooking one thing at a time -- also fun, but not the same! It was nice to sit down at the end of the week to a real meal. Perhaps I will make a tradition of big Friday night dinners (at least when I am not traveling!). I am always a bit braindead by the end of the week, and cooking is a lovely way for me to relax.

Black-and-White Cookies (Page 666)

  • Date: Thursday, October 25, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: The Maintenance Man, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Truth be told, I have never been too excited about black and white cookies. I like them fine, but I never understood why some people love them so much. Now, I understand. Apparently I just hadn't found the right cookie yet. These black and white cookies were awesome! The cookie base was moist, fluffy, tangy, and perfectly chewy with a very slightly crusty edge. Yum! The frostings were also perfect in texture: spreadable and glossy. I think the frostings had a bit too much lemon juice in them (lemon and chocolate isn't a combination that I totally love), but they were still delicious. The frostings even set perfectly. These cookies were huge, in true deli style, and they were certainly better than any other black and white cookie I have eaten. I have often been disappointed by cookie recipes from The Book, but this one was a winner!

The recipe is very similar to this one. The amounts of the ingredients differ slightly and the one in The Book makes big cookies, not mini ones.

Sometimes I feel like a caricature of myself. Today when I went to work I left a big plate of cookies out for the maintenance man that I knew would be coming to look at my heating system. I even wrote a little note: "Please help yourself to some cookies!" I don't know when I became that person, who leaves homemade cookies out for strangers. But apparently that's me.

I am beginning to think that I am going to spend the whole winter being cold. I finally understood something new about my heating today though. The vents never blow hot air, which concerned me a little. Today I learned that my heater is of the air pump variety, which means that the "hot" air that comes out the vents to heat my apartment is about 77 degrees F. Frankly, that's just not very hot. What concerns me is that my apartment currently will not get all the way to warm, and it's not even so cold outside. What is going to happen in the dead of the winter? I did some reading about these air pump heating systems, and the consensus seems to be that they are only a good idea in places with "moderate climates." I'm not sure Indiana fits the bill exactly. It may be a long, cold winter! I think I may invest in a space heater.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Maple Baked Beans (Page 269)

  • Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 --9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: N/A


Well, blame it on jet lag, or perhaps illiteracy, but I somehow completely ignored the last paragraph of this recipe. Here's what I didn't do: "Uncover pot and bake until most of liquid is absorbed and top is slightly crusty, 1 to 1 1/2 hours more." Since skipping an hour and a half of baking probably changes things a bit, I don't feel right about grading this one. (I do, however, feel stupid. Stupid, stupid, Teena.) If I had realized earlier (say, yesterday) I would have just thrown it back into the oven. But I noticed just now, after having eaten these beans for several meals. Whoops. Well, here's what I can say. Before realizing I screwed up, I was going to give this recipe a B+. It's very tasty, but I was a little bothered by the pieces of bacon fat floating about. I also thought the liquid was a little thin. Now, some more cooking may have rendered the bacon fat, and it certainly would have thickened up the liquid, so my guess is that I would have loved these beans in their completed state. (So now I feel stupid and disappointed.) Well, 533 recipes into this little project of mine I guess it was about time that I just totally read one wrong. Oops.

If you want to make it for yourself (since I didn't do such a good job making it on your behalf), here is the recipe.

It's chilly tonight. I am cuddled under a blanket, wearing wool socks, a sweatshirt and sweatpants, and contemplating turning on the heat for the first time of the season. The first cold night of the year is always a tough time to be alone. Tonight may actually be the first time I have really felt lonely since I moved here. Of course I miss my special friend all the time, but I don't usually feel lonely without him. Tonight though, I am cold, and sniffly, and wishing that my apartment housed two of us, rather than just me. Alternately, I wish I had some hot chocolate. I suspect that would also make me feel better.

Probably, in all honesty, I would feel a lot better if I just found a way to get warm. I guess that means it is time to turn on the heat. I am a little worried that I don't have heat (long story involving a very confusing phone call with the gas company). I suppose it is better to find that out sooner rather than later though... Ok, here goes. I am admitting that the cold has arrived, and turning on the heat!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mustard and Cheese Crackers (Page 604)

  • Date: Monday, October 22, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: C+


I made and froze the dough for these crackers last week, so baking them off was the perfect easy cooking project after I arrived home from Los Angeles last night. These crackers were just so-so. For one thing, I am not entirely sold in general on making your own crackers. On the scale of homemade to store-bought, my preferences veer (perhaps unreasonably) far towards homemade for most food items. I make my own pie crust, my own ice cream, even (lately) my own granola. But crackers? I just don't see the benefit. Perhaps I just haven't yet found the perfect cracker recipe. This certainly is not it. Conceptually, these crackers seemed good: a cheesy cracker spiced up with mustard. In practice, the mustard was so overpowering there was no way to identify the cheese flavor at all. This was a mustard and butter cracker. Those were the only two recognizable ingredients based on the taste. Granted I love both mustard and butter, but usually as accompaniments to other things. Not just by themselves, in a cracker. I may still have been won over by these crackers if they were at least crispy, but they indeed were not. So, I am still in search of a worthwhile cracker recipe, and this is not it.

Here is the recipe.

While in Los Angeles this weekend we stayed with my brother, who lives in Lincoln Heights, near downtown. It's always great when you have someone to show you around, especially when that person is Spencer. Matt and I got an eclectic and entertaining tour of Los Angeles. Many of our stops involved food, and none of them disappointed. On Saturday we started the day with Mexican pastries from King Taco. For lunch we had tacos al pastor from one of the many neighborhood taco stands. For dinner: French dip sandwiches at Phillipe's. After dinner we went to Clifton's cafeteria (a strange, strange place) more for the experience than the food, but we had some tapioca pudding while we were there.

I have to admit, I have never liked Los Angeles. But this trip was probably the most positive experiences I have had with it. I will likely always prefer northern California to the southern part of the state, but on this trip, for the first time, I was able to begin to understand why people like living in LA. On Sunday after the wedding, Matt and I went to the beach in Santa Monica. We bought an Icee on the pier and as I strolled down the beach in the 90 degree weather, drinking my delicious, frosty, artificially flavored frozen treat, I could see the appeal.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Turkey Meat Loaf (Page 387)

  • Thursday, October 18, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I like meat loaf quite a bit, so I was anxious to try out this turkey version. It was pretty good.t This recipe produced a moister and more flavorful meat loaf than the beefy old-fashioned meat loaf in The Book. I used more dark meat than light, which was good for both the flavor and texture of the dish. Although obviously the meat is the focus of a meat loaf, this recipe had a nice balance between the meat and the other components (onion, garlic, carrot, mushrooms, etc...). I would have appreciated more ketchup on top (that's the best part of any meat loaf!), but other than that, I wouldn't change it too much. My only serious complaint is with the suggested pairing of this meat loaf with the Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce (see below). Both recipes were good, producing things that tasted good, but they really didn't go together well. The meatloaf would have been better served by some ketchup on the side, and the sauce would have better served by some pasta or grilled chicken underneath it.

Here is the recipe.

Much to my surprise, traveling to and from Los Angeles for the weekend went off without a hitch. The wedding on the other hand... Elliot and Natalie's wedding was scheduled for noon on Sunday in Malibu. Perhaps if you have seen/read the news in the last couple days you have noticed that Malibu is on fire. Sometime Saturday night wildfires swept through the area, and by 7am Sunday morning, much of Malibu was evacuated, and the main roads into Malibu were closed. In other words, a wedding in Malibu on Sunday was not to be. Amazingly, between 7am and noon the families involved were able to completely relocate the wedding to Santa Monica. It was shocking what a great job they did and how calm everyone was. Instead of an outdoor wedding at a mansion in Malibu, they had a wedding in a charming Mexican restaurant a block off the ocean in Santa Monica. It was really lovely.

Because the wedding was in a restaurant, not really designed to accommodate ceremonies for 150, everyone stood during the ceremony part. Matt and I stood in the back of the room, near the entrance to the restaurant. About 5 minutes into the ceremony I started to feel not-so-great. At first I was really thirsty, then really sweaty, and within a minute or two went completely vasovagal and passed out. Matt managed to help me outside right as I was losing consciousness, and I ended up as a heap on the sidewalk of Main Street. When I once again became aware of my surroundings, I was encircled by strangers who had been walking along the street and had stopped to help. Apparently I looked pretty bad. Some of them discussed with Matt whether an ambulance would be a good idea, while another woman bought me some orange juice. Everyone was very kind. Within 10 minutes I felt totally fine and we went back inside. I still have no idea why I fainted. It has been quite a while since I have passed out for no reason. It's lucky that we were in the back. Only 3 or 4 people saw me faint, and to my knowledge the bride and groom were never aware that anything had happened. Unfortunately though, I missed the vast majority of the ceremony. We went back in just as it was ending, and got to enjoy the last few minutes of it though.

Always an adventure!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Roasted Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce (Page 388)

  • Date: Thursday, October 18, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


This sauce goes with a turkey meatloaf that I made last night for dinner. It was good, although I didn't think it complemented the meatloaf particularly well. This sauce is very simple: pureed roasted red peppers, garlic and tomatoes, seasoned with some lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. It could have used more vinegar I thought -- I could barely recognize that it was even there. The sauce has a great flavor, and was very light, but it didn't have much body to it. Perhaps that was part of the reason that it seemed like such an odd complement for meatloaf. It would make a nice pasta sauce though, particularly with some sausage cooked in it and cheese on top! The flavors of the red pepper and roasted garlic were very balanced, which made this sauce pretty successful, but I wasn't totally wowed by it.

Here is the recipe.

Hello from the St Louis airport! I am quite tired, and I haven't made too much progress yet on my trip to Los Angeles! Well, now I am in the central time zone, so that's a sign that I am getting closer.

Part of the reason that I am exhausted (aside from proctoring an exam all morning and frantically grading most of the afternoon) is that I was awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call. A friend was having a travel disaster, and he needed help from someone with internet access. I was that person. It was 2:30am. I sleep with my phone on for just this reason -- it is awful being in trouble in the middle of the night and not being able to reach anyone to help. I think more people should sleep with their phone on. Plus I am a good sleeper, so I can wake up, answer the phone, help out, and then fall back asleep in no time. So I was awake for a while in the middle of the night, calling rental car companies, etc... About 3am, when I was ready to go back to sleep I witnessed one of the most awful things I have seen lately. A couple of college students were standing in the street, below my bedroom window, and the guy was screaming at his girlfriend, continuously, for about 20 minutes. He was using words that I can't imagine ever saying out loud, more or less screaming them in the middle of the street as loudly as I can. After about 5 minutes I realized he wasn't actually using these words to describe his girlfriend (who he was yelling at) but rather to describe her roommate (who was nowhere to be seen). The girlfriend just stood there, shaking and whimpering. She tried to get him to calm down. She tried to get him to go inside. He told her that she could go f*** herself if she thought he was going to go back in there. He threatened to hit her. He threatened to put his fist through a window. It was unlike anything I have ever seen, and frankly, it was a little unsettling. I don't know how it ended. After 20 minutes they started walking away, him still yelling. Maybe I should have called the police. I was worried about the safety of that girl, and her roommate. However, I felt that it wasn't my place to intrude...

Enough about that. I should get back to my grading!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Truffle Cookies (Page 672)

  • Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Chuck, Chris H, Chris J, Spencer, Matty, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I felt like making some cookies last night, so I threw together these Truffle Cookies. When I realized this recipe made way more cookies that I could eat by myself, I brought them into the department and put them out during tea this afternoon. These cookies are an odd creation. They are shockingly brownie-like, both in flavor and texture. Yet they are a cookie! How do you do it, one might ask, since brownie batter is much too runny to hold a cookie shape when it is raw? Well, the secret in this recipe is that the liquidy batter is chilled for two hours, so that the chocolate in it solidifies and hardens up the dough. Then it can be formed into balls and baked as a cookie. Very clever... These cookies were quite tasty. They contained bar chocolate, cocoa powder, and chocolate chips, so they had a very intense chocolate flavor! The texture was perfect -- fudgey and soft, yet not gooey. They weren't the most attractive cookies ever, but the taste and texture didn't disappoint. I'm not sure I see the benefit of making these cookies over regular old brownies though. If they were extremely cute, that would be one reason, but they were no more attractive than your average brownie. Plus, the recipe took longer than brownies would have since the dough had to chill. However, they were tasty, and the people at tea rapidly ate them up!

This recipe isn't online.

Well tomorrow my students have their second midterm. After it is ends (at 12:15pm), I will hurry back to my office and grade midterms frantically with two of my teaching assistants until about 3pm. Then it is off to the airport! I am going to Los Angeles for the weekend. Normally I wouldn't make such a long trip for such a short period of time, but I made an exception for a special event. My college boyfriend is marrying the girl he left me for. How could I possibly miss that?!? In all seriousness, he and I are friends, and I am very happy for them. The wedding sounds lovely: a ceremony and champagne brunch outdoors in Malibu. I think it will be a good time. I am looking forward not only to celebrating with them, but also to seeing some friends from college that I haven't seen in way too long. Plus, my brother lives in LA, so my wedding date and I are going to stay with him for the weekend. It should be fun! The only not-so-fun part will be getting there and back. Traveling lately has been such a nightmare. I am already trying to mentally prepare myself for one of my flights getting canceled, or the first one getting so hopelessly delayed that I miss my connection. I am going to try to be calmer about it this time. The wedding isn't until Sunday, so at least I have two days to make it there!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Black Bean Chili (Page 268)

  • Date: Sunday, October 14, 2007 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I have been making many soups lately, and this was a continuation on that theme. This chili was pretty tasty. It had a nice black bean flavor and rich texture. The ancho chilis in chipotle gave the chili a lovely smoky flavor. I had only two complaints. One, it was too spicy for my taste. I found it hard to eat, but tempering it with some cheese or sour cream helped a bit. The second is that it took a lot longer to cook than it said it would. After the indicated time the beans were indeed soft, but the chili was watery and unappetizing. I cooked it an additional hour to get the nice thickness I wanted. Overall though, this is a good vegetarian dish, and would be lovely on a blustery winter weekend.

This recipe isn't online.

I didn't go grocery shopping on Saturday, as I usually do, since I was at UIUC for the day. When I got back, I was working on something and consequently never found the time to go. I managed to make it through half the week with minimal groceries, but by this morning I was out of all my staples: no Clif bars, no popcorn, no pudding, no bananas, no beer... It was time for a grocery trip. I stopped at Target on the way to the store. There I was, with a cart full of popcorn, a pair of cheap shoes, and some new underwear, and of course I run into one of my students. He didn't think I saw him, and he quickly ducked into an aisle. I understand this impulse. I hide from people I know in public all the time. But what came next surprised me. He followed me! He ducked in and out of aisles, watching me from a distance, observing what I was buying. Of course I could see him (peripheral vision is amazing that way!), but he seemed to think he was pretty sneaky. The whole thing made me laugh. Maybe I would have done the same thing when I was that age. Maybe I would have been curious about what my professors ate, and what kind of shampoo they used. Maybe, but I'm not so sure... So anyway, perhaps he will report back to my other students and on Friday they will all know what kind of underwear I wear. That will be interesting...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Oatmeal Brulee with Macerated Berries (Page 627)

  • Date: Sunday, October 7, 2007 -- 12pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Chuck, Lynn, Ayelet, Michael L, Daniel L, Ann, Paul K, Beth, Chris H, Tricia, Jim, Marcia, Mike M, and Teresa
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I made this dish for our big brunch last Sunday. It is a rather odd creation: cooked oatmeal, covered with custard and baked until the custard sets, then sprinkled with sugar which is torched to give it a crispy brulee top. At the end, some macerated berries are added. No one was really wild about this dish, but I think it has a lot of potential. It's not a good dish for a big buffet brunch like this one. It would be perfect for the first course of a fancy sit-down brunch, but in the buffet setting people were confused about what it was (Is it dessert? Is it oatmeal?). Also, even though I made them smaller than the recipe suggested, they were still too big to serve in a big brunch buffet. The other issue with this recipe was that I had to bake them much longer than indicated to get the custard to set. Overall though, I liked it. The contrast between the crispy burnt sugar topping and the smooth custard complemented the texture of the oatmeal well. Also, the custard, made with brown sugar, had a delicious flavor. It was an unusual dish, but I had positive feelings about it.

This recipe isn't online.

Yesterday Jim, Ayelet, Mike, JP and I all piled into Jim's van and went to Urbana-Champaign for the day for a gathering of Midwest topologists. It was a really fun time. The talks were good, and it was great to see people from all over the Midwest, some of whom I hadn't seen in a while. V was there, and Michael and Kari, so it definitely had a bit of a grad school reunion feel to it! It was interesting to talk to other people who are also just starting postdocs this year, and hear how their new jobs are going. I find it really nice to be in a place where there is such a huge community of topologists all within driving distance of one another. After the talks ended, we all went to the house of one of the UIUC professors and sat outside, drinking beer and eating pasta. It was a very pleasant day.

Today, I am back in Bloomington. This morning I did something I haven't done in a long time: I slept until I woke up on my own. No alarm clock. No phone call. I woke up at the tremendously leisurely hour of 9:15am! Now I feel very, very rested. Which is good because on the agenda for the day (aside from the usual stuff: research, planning my class) is: writing a midterm. Not my favorite activity. Speaking of, I should get to it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pecan Waffles (Page 653)

  • Date: Sunday, October 7, 2007 -- 12pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Chuck, Lynn, Paul K, Beth, Ayelet, Michael L, Daniel L, Ann, Tricia, Chris H, Jim, Marcia, Mike M, and Teresa
  • Recipe Rating: B

I made these waffles for the big brunch last Sunday. They were fine, although a bit odd. The slightly bitter flavor of pecans, plus the fermented flavor of the yeast and the tang of the buttermilk made them a little too sour for me. I think they would have been improved by removing the pecans. The finest quality of these waffles was their crispness, which was impressive. Probably taking out the pecans would produce less crispy waffles, but one can always add crispness by adding some cornmeal. I expected there waffles to be a bit more doughy, and have a nice rise in them from the yeast, but they turned out quite thin. There's nothing wrong with that, but it isn't what I would normally expect from a yeast waffle. The other odd thing about this recipe, is that it claims to serve 6, but it makes a ton of waffles! They must have tested this recipe with 6 seriously hungry people, because I can't even imagine 6 people eating this many waffles. It was easily enough waffles for 10 people, or more... Overall, these waffles were fine, but I certainly won't be replacing my standard waffles recipe with this one.

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one, except without the pineapple and with only 1 cup of pecans rather than 1 and a half cups.

One of my colleagues told me the other day that although his daughter likes to cook, he is hesitant about encouraging her to learn because he doesn't want her to end up being in a relationship someday where she has the role of doing all the cooking. I understand his point, I do, but it's so distant from the way that I feel about things that it was a bit hard for me to comprehend. I am the half of my relationship that does all of the cooking. My special friend cooked for me once (macaroni and cheese from a box, which I actually love!), and occasionally he helps me out in the kitchen, but essentially I do all the cooking. And honestly, it's not just that I don't mind doing the cooking, but I actually like it this way. For one thing, I love to cook. But even more than that, I love cooking for someone who will really enjoy eating it. I suppose it is a testimony to the fact that I really do get joy out of cooking for him that I am still making him food even though he lives a thousand miles away. Tonight I made a huge pot of black bean chili, some of which I put in the fridge for myself, and much of which I packed carefully in individual servings in the freezer. There are many, many frozen entrees to choose from these days. Periodically these frozen lunches/dinners get transported to Boston when one of us flies from here to there. We even have a little cooler than can be zipped up and checked.

It seems to me that it's only a bad thing to be that person who makes dinner if you don't like making dinner!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Spinach and Cheese Strata (Page 655)

  • Date: Sunday, October 7, 2007 -- 12pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Chuck, Lynn, Paul K, Beth, Mike M, Teresa, Chris H, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Jim, Marcia, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I made this strata for the big brunch on Sunday. Strata is a savory dish, similar in concept and texture to bread pudding, but with flavors of cheese and (in this case) spinach rather than the fruit and nuts of a typical bread pudding. This strata was very good. The gruyere and parmesan gave the dish a great cheesy flavor. The spinach and onion mix complemented the egg and cheese flavors well. Two minor complaints: one, there was maybe just a bit too much cheese. This is a complaint I rarely make, as I love cheese, but in this case it was just a bit much. Two, the texture was just a touch soggy. Perhaps the ratio of eggs to milk was just a bit too low so it never set as well as it could have. It was still delicious though, and it has provided excellent leftovers!

Here is the recipe.

I have to admit, I have become addicted to reruns of Beverly Hills 90210. I loved the show as a kid, and now seasons 1 and 2 have been released on DVD. Brad brought Season 1 on the Maine vacation and we watched the whole season that week. Now I am slowly going through Season 2 from Netflix. This show is amazing. Each episode has a (not at all veiled) moral to it. I have learned that racism is bad, sex can cause pregnancy, drugs are bad, guns should be kept away from children, etc... The interesting thing is that I can just barely remember what I thought about these episodes the first time, 15 years ago. It's funny how my perspective on these issues has evolved since then. I am pretty sure that I took this show quite seriously when I was in middle school and now I can't imagine how you possibly could. I also think that I looked up in some way to various characters when I was a kid, and now I see how cheesy/awful they all are.
(My visitor is watching an episode right now. Kelly is kissing Bobby, a guy in a wheelchair. Brenda is very displeased because she thinks Kelly is going to break poor Bobby's heart. Now Brenda is telling Brandon how upset she is. They are having a very deep conversation. Oh, now Bobby and Brandon are having the deep conversation.) If only they still made television this good!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pecan Currant Sticky Buns (Page 618)

  • Date: Sunday, October 7, 2007 -- 12pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Chuck, Lynn, Paul K, Beth, Ayelet, Michael L, Daniel L, Ann, Jim, Marcia, Mike M, Teresa, Tricia, and Chris H
  • Recipe Rating: B+


This afternoon was the big housewarming brunch, and what better way to warm a new home than with sticky buns! These sweet bread treats were pretty good. The currant-pecan filling was tasty, and the syrup topping was perfection! They were a bit too doughy for my taste though. I thought each bun needed both more filling and more topping. I had leftover topping, which seemed so sad to me, but the recipe specifically called for only 2 tablespoons of syrup per bun in the bottom of the pan. If I were to do it again, I would use all the syrup, which would have been a more appropriate quantity. The other thing that bothered me about this recipe was that since the buns were made in jumbo muffin cups and then inverted, the top was smaller than the bottom. In general that would be fine, but since the syrup was sitting on the bottom of the muffin cups, which became the top of the buns, the radius that was covered with syrup was smaller than the radius at the bottom of the bun. This made them seem dry to me, as it was easy to get a bite with no syrup at all. Normally when I make sticky buns I just set them near one another in a big rectangular pan, sitting in a bunch of syrup. This way they grow into cylinders rather than the truncated cone shape of these. Plus, the rectangular pan has the effect that there is plenty of syrup, since there is syrup both underneath and between all the buns. Then when you invert them it is messy but delicious. All that said, these sticky buns were good, they just weren't the best I have had, or made. But I definitely enjoyed eating them, and probably ate more sticky bun than I should have!

This recipe isn't online.

Well, only 21 hours behind schedule my special visitor finally made it here, and we have been having a very lovely weekend. This afternoon we hosted brunch for 16! I think it was quite successful. There was plenty of food -- it wasn't all perfect, but that's to be expected! It seemed that even the children found something that they liked to eat, so all was well. I had a lovely time eating food, drinking mimosas, and talking with people. I hope everyone else did too!

The people in the department here don't really know about my project yet. It came up briefly in conversation today as people were leaving, but until then the brunch guests didn't even know that they were being subjected to a largely experimental meal. I was careful to pick things that seemed likely to be pretty good, especially since I wasn't making people aware of the risk that they take when they come to eat at my place! Nothing was a complete disaster, so that was good. I didn't even make people grade. Somehow it is easier to force people to grade the food when the people in question are your fellow graduate students, or family. When it's a bunch of colleagues, every one of them more senior than me, and their families, it's a bit less comfortable. So Matty and I graded together, but no one else got any input this time! Maybe once people know me better...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Maple Apricot Granola (Page 626)

  • Date: Friday, October 5, 2007 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Chuck, Lynn, Paul K, Beth, Ayelet, Michael L, Daniel L, Ann, Jim, Marcia, Mike M, Teresa, Tricia, and Chris H
  • Recipe Rating: A-

We are hosting a big brunch on Sunday, and this granola is one dish for it. I suppose if I had thought about it, I would have concluded that one can make granola, but making my own granola had never occurred to me. So today was my first granola-making experience, and it was a positive one. This granola is excellent! The maple syrup baked into the oats gives them a slightly sugary crispness that is just wonderful. The toasted almonds also have a nice light sugar coating. The pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds add variety and contrast. If I were to make this again I would probably replace the apricots with dried cranberries, but the apricots weren't bad. Overall, it is a lovely granola. Initially the idea of making my own granola seemed a little silly, but this is significantly better than anything you could buy in the store.

Here is the recipe.

I hate airlines. My weekend visitor was supposed to be here at 4pm today. It's 9:53pm and he's not here. In fact, he won't be here until 1pm tomorrow. Plus, PLUS, the poor guy spent approximately 8 hours at the airport today, while they delayed his flight over and over again. The stupid airline claimed that his plane need 15 minutes of maintenance but they couldn't find a maintenance crew to do it. They refused to cancel the flight because then they would have to compensate the passengers in some way. So instead they delayed it -- until tomorrow. But, for some reason, no one can travel on that flight tomorrow. They had to rebook everyone on other flights. Sounds mysteriously like they CANCELED it, no?!?

*Deep breath*

Tomorrow morning is the math department tailgate. I am not going to the football game, but I will go to the tailgate party before I head to the airport to (hopefully!) pick up my visitor. I haven't been to a tailgate since college. I am looking forward to it. The one thing that I can't really get excited about though is drinking at 9am. Beer in the morning? It just doesn't appeal to me. Grilling in a parking lot in the morning though? That sounds good!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Oatmeal-Trail Mix Cookies (Page 664)

  • Date: Thursday, October 4, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I was craving some cookies, so I tried this recipe. These cookies are odd, but good. There is really a lot going on in these cookies. Practically everything in the pantry goes into them: oats, coconut, raisins, chocolate chips, roasted peanuts, etc... It's a bit much. I like the salty/sweet effect from the contrast of the salted peanuts with the sweetened coconut, but I don't particularly like having chocolate chips and raisins in the same cookie. That said, the texture is nice (chewy, with slightly crispy edges), and I appreciate the high proportion of oats to flour, which gives them a hint of wholesomeness.

The recipe is the same as this one, except the one in The Book also has 1/4 cup granulated sugar in it.

Ah, Thursday night: baking cookies, cleaning my apartment, planning my class for the morning, and of course: answering Webwork emails! Webwork is an online homework system. I choose problems from a database to go with each lecture. The students have to complete them before the following lecture to receive credit. They do the problems, enter their answers online, and the system tells them instantly whether it is right or wrong. If it's wrong, they can try as many times as they want before the deadline. They get full credit as long as they submit the right answer before the assignment is due -- it doesn't matter how many tries it took them. The computer even generates slightly different problems for each student (i.e. functions have different coefficients) to make it harder just to copy from a peer. I've never taught a class before that uses such a tool, but I firmly believe that it is a good idea. The students get a lot of practice, and they are forced to keep trying until they actually get it right. The downside of Webwork: the "Email Instructor" button. Starting at 9pm on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights, my Inbox is flooded with requests for help. At the beginning of the term they were always of the form, "I have the right answer but Webwork says it's wrong." Finally I had to tell them in lecture, "Webwork is never wrong." Now I get emails that say, "I know Webwork is never wrong, but I have the right answer and it won't accept it." Students are always hesitant to believe that their answer might be wrong! In any event, I think it's important to respond to these emails -- if students are asking for help that means they are at least trying to do the problems even though they aren't sure how. Trying hard should be encouraged. It's a bit painful though!

Next semester, I am told, the class I am teaching comes with a person who is paid just to answer Webwork emails! So that "Email Instructor" button won't point to me any more! How exciting!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Portuguese Kale Soup with Chorizo (Page 109)

  • Date: Wednesday, October 3, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


This is my week of freezer-stocking so I am making several soups. The Book is very insistent about pairing sausage with kale. I suppose it a very classic combination, but I find it so disappointing. Sausage is high on the list of foods I love, and kale is very, very low on the list. Tough, bitter greens are just not my thing. Surprisingly though, it wasn't really the kale that I didn't like about this dish. It just wasn't very flavorful. The broth lacked depth and body. It was essentially seasoned water. The chorizo was good (of course!) but not good enough to make the dish worthwhile. The potatoes helped the situation a bit, but there weren't enough of them. This soup didn't taste bad, it just didn't taste like much at all.

Here is the recipe.

I can't believe it is the middle of the 6th week of the semester... Wow, time flies! I still have that feeling that the term just started. Perhaps I will have the feeling the whole way through. I think actually that it has something to do with the weather. It is still so warm here! The high on Friday is predicted to be 86 degrees! In October! When the weather is so summery, I can't shake the feeling that it must be summer. Well, summer with calculus lectures, research meetings, office hours, and seminars, apparently.

This week has been really busy, and I am exhausted! I have a couple more busy days ahead of me, but then on Friday a certain special visitor is flying in, so I plan to have a fun, relaxing weekend! That will be such a treat!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Barley "Risotto" with Vegetables (Page 263)

  • Date: Monday, October 1, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I LOVE risotto, but I am out of risotto recipes in The Book, so this "risotto" was the closest I could come. The "risotto" in the title refers to the risotto-like technique with which it is prepared. The quotation marks indicate that this recipe is made with barley, rather than the arborio rice of a true risotto. I admit it, I was skeptical. In fact though, it was delicious. The "risotto" had the lovely creamy texture of a true risotto, yet the barley retained a bit of its own chewy texture for contrast. The flavor was lovely -- the wholesomeness of the barley was complemented beautifully by the parmesan cheese. I even liked the little chunks of carrots and zucchini. I had worried that they would be overcooked, but they still had some crunch to them. The Book suggests serving this as a first course or a side dish, but I ate it as a main course and I thought it was perfectly suitable for that purpose. It was a great vegetarian dish, with a lot of flavor and a creamy texture that you certainly wouldn't expect from barley.

Unfortunately, this recipe is not online.

Well it has been a few weeks since my mother left town, and I am now down to only 2 flavors of ice cream in the freezer! I am making progress... There are certain foods that I never buy at the grocery store for myself (ice cream, packaged cookies, etc...) but I find that if I have them already (say, hypothetically, that my mother bought them for herself and didn't eat them all...) I do enjoy eating them!

My grocery trips have become a bit odd since I have been living by myself. Here's what I buy: ingredients for whatever I am making from The Book that week, Clif bars, microwave popcorn, Smart Start, tapioca pudding cups, skim milk, and bananas. That's it. Despite that limited selection, my fridge and pantry are extremely well-stocked. The recipes from The Book call for a wide variety of ingredients, of which there are usually leftovers from which other food can be constructed. And, perhaps, my eating is a little bit quirky anyway when I am on my own. For instance today I packed myself a healthy lunch (leftover barley risotto and a banana), but for dinner I had Smart Start and microwave popcorn. I had plenty of other food choices, but sometimes I just feel like popcorn for dinner! It's a bad habit leftover from college I guess -- but the popcorn dinner has a lot of fond memories attached to it.

It's late and I haven't finished planning my class for the morning. I should do that...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Yellow Split Pea Soup (Page 111)

  • Date: Sunday, September 30, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I chose this soup because I thought it would freeze well, and I was looking for something to stock the freezer with. In general, I am not a huge fan of split pea soup, but this one I really loved. It was easily the best split pea soup I have ever had. It had a lovely depth of flavor with great meaty undertones without the ham flavor being overly aggressive. There were several choices for what type of ham product to boil in this soup. I used a ham hock, because it was easy to find at the grocery store. Since it turned out so well, I would definitely recommend the ham hock! The texture of the soup was also perfect -- it was hearty, but not too thick. If you are in the mood for a hearty pea soup, this is a winning recipe.

Here is the recipe.

I am glad that after such a long string of recipes that I wasn't too excited about, I finally came to one that I really liked. I was starting to worry that it wasn't the recipes, but rather I had just stopped enjoying food! But no, apparently it was the recipes, because I thought this split pea soup was excellent, and the recipe I made tonight (barley "risotto") was also delicious.

I am having my first big gathering at my apartment this coming weekend. A bunch of people from the department are coming over with their families for brunch on Sunday. Attempting to plan a menu made me realize that I have never really cooked from The Book for children before (except Enzo, but mainly he ate chocolate Lucky Charms for dinner regardless of what was served...). Luckily I have some waffles from The Book left to make -- everyone loves waffles! If I make some eggs, and a few slightly riskier Book creations, that should be enough! Regardless of the food, it will be fun just to have people over. I've been so busy that I haven't yet had anyone over for a meal. It's about time!