Monday, December 31, 2007

Prosciutto-and-Parmesan-Stuffed Mushrooms (Page 27)

  • Date: Thursday, December 27, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Karen H, Dave, Deniz, Brad, Jinx, Eddie, Michael S, Phil, and Kayla
  • Recipe Rating: A


I have realized that when cooking with Matty I should make fussy hors d'oeuvres because he doesn't mind repetitive kitchen work. Since he loves mushrooms, I chose this recipe to make for dinner with his family. It was excellent. The idea was very simple: mushroom caps stuffed with a mixture of parmesan, proscuitto, cooked mushrooms, onions, and bread crumbs. This recipe was much more than the sum of its parts though. The prosciutto and bread crumbs crisped a bit in the oven giving it wonderful textural contrast, and the flavors of the cheese and ham complemented each other beautifully. I was nervous that some people wouldn't like this, as mushrooms aren't a universally loved food -- but this hors d'oeuvre ended up being adored by everyone. Even Matty's cousin Kayla, who is picky and hates mushrooms, ate two of these! It was simple to throw together, and delicious! I highly recommend this appetizer.

Unfortunately this recipe isn't online.

For the first time in a while I am behind in my blogging! I have made another 7 recipes that I haven't blogged about yet. It has been great these last few weeks to cook for a bunch of different people. In Bloomington I end up mainly cooking for myself (or myself and Matty). I have been making an effort to cook for more people there, but because I am always so busy with teaching and research, I often end up just having time to throw something together for myself. These last couple weeks though I have been surrounded by friends and family, and to make the most of my family time I have been doing lots and lots of cooking! It has been great to make big meals for big groups of people. I enjoy that kind of cooking very much!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Herbed Buttermilk Dressing (Page 173)

  • Date: Thursday, December 27, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Karen H, Dave, Deniz, Brad, Jinx, Eddie, Michael S, Phil, and Kayla
  • Recipe Rating: B+


Matty and I made a big family dinner on Thursday. We served this salad dressing with a simple green salad (romaine, carrots, peppers, tomatoes...). It was quite good. It had a nice flavor -- the buttermilk gave it a tang, and the fresh chives gave it an herby freshness. It was a lovely complement to a simple salad. My only complaint is that the texture of the dressing was extremely thin. It just dripped off the lettuce. I prefer a thicker consistency in a dressing of this type. If I made it again, I would add a little sour cream to thicken it up.

This recipe isn't online.

We finally finished watching all of the Season 3 episodes of Beverly Hills 90210. That was the season where they graduated from high school, so the last few episodes were all more or less focused on graduation and college decisions. We also saw the prom episode. My high school experience was (thankfully!) completely different from that on 90210, but it still brought back memories.

We had a junior/senior prom at my high school. I was never really big on high school dances, but prom seemed like an important one. So, my junior year my then-boyfriend and I went. I don't remember much about it, except that I dropped mashed potatoes down my dress during dinner, and I got really upset with my date at the dance. So upset, in fact, that I dumped him during prom. I no longer remember why, but I do remember crying during the song Baby Got Back. My senior year, I decided not to go. And I had a brilliant excuse -- I was supposed to be out of state anyway for a math competition. My boyfriend though (a different one) would have none of that. So in protest, I skipped my math weekend and went to the dance. It was, as I recall, not fun at all. But afterwards a few of us went over to my friend Steve's house and we played Super Mario Kart all night. That was much more fun. I liked high school just fine, but I can definitely say that I do not miss high school dances...

If we are having a 10 year high school reunion it would be this coming year. To go, or not to go...

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Page 726)

  • Date: Monday, December 24, 2007 -- 4pm
  • Location: Fond Du Lac, WI
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Terry, Teri, Spencer, Marie, Jeff, Joe K, Sue K, Katie, Brian K, Amy, Ellie, Grandpa, Grandma, Julie, John, Anne, Joe, Alex A, June, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I figured I should make a cake for the holidays, and I love carrot cake, so carrot cake it was! This carrot cake was excellent. It was moist, and flavorful with an abundance of carrots in it. Many ingredients went into this cake: pineapple, walnuts, coconut, etc... but they all melded together beautifully. It had excellent flavor and texture. The frosting was also fantastic. It was a simple cream cheese frosting recipe, but the ratios were just right to produce a frosting that was tangy and delicious without being too sweet. My aunt Ellie summarized it best. She took one bite of this cake and said, "This is better than Mexico." (A comment that was mysterious even to me...) I was tempted to give this recipe an A grade, but I had one complaint. It was so moist and dense that the center of the cake never really rose, so the cake had an unappealing concavity to it. I could have repaired this with frosting of course (or by trimming the top around the edges I suppose) but it would have taken quite a bit of frosting. Overall though, this one was a winner!

This recipe isn't online.

Today is our last day in Ohio and then tomorrow it is back to Bloomington, and back to real life (work, etc...). Last night we went out with Brad and Deniz and some of Brad's friends from high school. We started the evening in our own private karaoke room at a sushi restaurant, and ended up at the bowling alley. I bowled pretty well for me (especially considering that it was 1:30 am) and beat Matty two games in a row (which never happens)!

Today we are again working hard at finishing Season 3 of Beverly Hills 90210. Brad and Deniz are leaving around 6am tomorrow, so we only have until then. We are on our last disc though, so it should be possible! I didn't get the full experience of watching some of the episodes this afternoon, as I was in the kitchen cooking. I could hear what was going on, but (unfortunately) I couldn't see the awesome acting! It was good to get some cooking done though. Matty and I made pizzas for dinner tonight from The Book. I got to use my new pizza stone and baker's peel, and the pizzas turned out well. Mmmm... pizza.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake (Page 757)

  • Date: Monday, December 24, 2007 -- 4pm
  • Location: Fond Du Lac, WI
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Terry, Teri, Spencer, Marie, Jeff, Joe K, Sue K, Katie, Brian K, Amy, Ellie, Grandpa, Grandma, Julie, John, Anne, Joe, Alex A, June, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B-


My cousin Anne threatened not to come to the Christmas Eve celebration unless I made something chocolate, so I made this chocolate caramel cheesecake. I found this recipe a bit disappointing. This recipe is a typical cheesecake base (cream cheese, sour cream, eggs...) with chocolate and caramel mixed in. The first step of this recipe is making the caramel. The caramel was delicious, but unfortunately the flavor was completely lost behind the flavors of the chocolate and cream cheese. There is no sense in going through the effort of making caramel if you can't even taste it. The other issue I had with it was that this cheesecake was extremely dense, even for a cheesecake. It was just too heavy. The flavor was fine though -- it could have used a bit more sugar, but the chocolate taste was good. I enjoyed eating it, however I wouldn't make it again. It would have been improved by having the caramel swirled in rather than mixed into the batter. Alternately, a caramel sauce to accompany it might have brought out the flavor of the caramel in the cheesecake. Then you would have at least been able to distinguish the caramel flavor.

Here is the recipe.

It is 3:11 pm on Saturday afternoon, and Matt, Brad, Deniz and I are still in our pajamas, sitting in front of the television watching episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 on DVD. We are on our fifth consecutive episode of the day (not to mention that we watched episodes until 2:30am last night). This show is so painful. We often end up with all of us (including Karen and Dave) screaming at the television in disgust/annoyance/disbelief. Brad got Season 3 on DVD for Christmas (we watched all of Season 1 on vacation in Maine in August, and all of Season 2 over Thanksgiving). There are a total of 29 episodes to watch in Season 3. We have 9 episodes left and about a day and half to finish them. At this rate, it will be no problem! I am starting to feel a little gross though -- it might be time to take a shower and start my day! Fortunately, once we finish these last 9 episodes, we are done for a while -- Season 4 is not yet out on DVD!

Time to pay attention now -- the ominous music indicates that something big is about to go down!

Cranberry Walnut Tart (Page 786)

  • Date: Monday, December 24, 2007 -- 4pm
  • Location: Fond Du Lac, WI
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Terry, Teri, Spencer, Marie, Jeff, Joe K, Sue K, Katie, Brian K, Amy, Ellie, Grandpa, Grandma, Julie, John, Anne, Joe, Alex A, June, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I made this cranberry walnut tart as one of the desserts for our Christmas Eve celebration. I made 7 recipes from The Book the day I made this tart, and this was the only one that gave me trouble. The crust for this tart was a pate sucree, which is tasty, but notoriously difficult to deal with. I rolled it out on a silicone baking sheet, yet it still stuck. I patched it into the tart pan, but it cracked in the oven. Further, in the time indicated for blind-baking, the crust got much darker than it should have. So before I poured my filling into the crust, the crust was already a little too brown with holes in it. I decided though that I would just plow ahead. So I poured in the cranberry walnut filling and put it in the oven. About ten minutes into the baking time I saw some smoke in the oven. The gooey filling had dripped through the holes in the crust, and then it dripped through the crack between the rim of the tart pan and its removable bottom. Then it dripped onto the bottom of the oven and started to burn. Not good. I tried to clean up the mess the best I could, and I put a baking sheet under the tart pan, hoping that the filling would start to set before it all dripped out. Eventually it did begin to set, but the tart had already lost a lot of filling.

All that said, the tart tasted good. It had the texture of a pecan pie (well, it would have been even more like pecan pie if less filling had leaked out), except with walnuts instead of pecans, and with some chopped cranberries mixed in. The cranberries were pretty, but I think I would have preferred just a plain walnut tart. For all the trouble that the crust gave me, it tasted very good. I liked this recipe, but it wasn't a huge hit with the crowd. I think everyone who tasted it liked it fine, but it wasn't terribly visually appealing, so few people tried it. Overall, it probably wasn't worth the trouble, but it certainly wasn't bad.

Here is the recipe.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Old Plymouth Indian Meal Pudding (Page 824)

  • Date: Sunday, December 23, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: B-


My dad is the only person I know who really appreciates Indian Pudding, so I figured I would make this while he was around to eat it. This is a dessert that you don't see around too much -- it's essentially just cornmeal cooked with milk, then drenched in molasses. Some eggs are stirred in and it is baked for a couple hours. The flavor (as Spencer pointed out) is eerily similar to pumpkin pie filling -- which is especially strange because it contains no pumpkin. Basically it tastes good. I have never been a fan of the texture of Indian pudding though. It is soft and pudding like, but grainy from the cornmeal, with a chewy exterior. No one else in my family was as bothered by this as I was (or if they were, they refused to acknowledge it), and Matty cited the texture as his favorite thing about this recipe -- mysterious. Having a big scoop of ice cream on top (see picture above!) greatly improved the experience of eating this. I would certainly never make this recipe again, but I ate most of my serving (I ate until my ice cream was gone!), so it wasn't too bad!

This recipe isn't online.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken Thighs (Page 363)

  • Date: Sunday, December 23, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I had been wanting to make this recipe for a while, but hadn't had the right occasion for it. So I made it for our immediate family Christmas dinner on Sunday. This chicken was excellent. It was simple, and aside from the 8 hours of marinating, it was extremely quick to make. The marinade really penetrated the meat, making it a flavorful Indian dish with an authentic tandoori chicken taste. The meat was broiled, which left it tender and moist. Overall, it was a delicious, easy chicken dish.

Unfortunately, this recipe isn't online.

Matty and I cooked up dinner for eleven tonight. Brad and Deniz arrived last night, and some other family members joined us this evening for a big feast. We made five recipes from The Book, which was exciting because it put me over the 600 recipe mark! It was a goal of mine to make it through 600 recipes by the end of the year, and I did it! These past couple weeks have really made me appreciative of how supportive everyone in my life is of my project. It's wonderful to be able to cook meals from The Book wherever I am, whether it be Bloomington, or Madison, or Columbus (or Boston, or Palo Alto, or Chicago...), and have friends who are willing to eat experimental food and be a part of my project! This whole adventure would be going much more slowly (and be not nearly as fun!) if I only cooked from The Book at home for myself.

I owe a special shout out to Matty, who has eaten a shocking 276 of these 602 recipes! I couldn't ask for a more wonderful dining companion.

602 recipes down and 691 to go! I am excited by how much progress I have made, and looking forward to continuing on for the next couple years!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Roasted Squash and Green Beans with Sherry Soy Butter (Page 581)

  • Date: Sunday, December 23, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Teri, Terry, and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I chose this dish to accompany our holiday dinner on Sunday because I figured squash and green beans would go well with chicken. This recipe was pretty good. It suffered a bit from trying too hard. Roasted butternut squash is delicious. There is very little you can do to make it more delicious (basting it with a mixture of butter and brown sugar is one thing that works...). In this recipe the squash was roasted, then green beans were added, and the whole thing was roasted some more then doused with a mixture of sherry vinegar, soy sauce, and butter. It tasted good, but it would have been better if we had just seasoned the roasted squash and served that. The dressing only detracted from the deliciousness of the squash, and the green beans were unessential. This is really two perfectly good recipes, accidentally mixed together. One, roasted butternut squash, and two, green beans with sherry soy butter. Separately they would be winners, but there is no reason to throw them together like this.

Here is the recipe.

It's the day after Christmas. I was exhausted after so many Christmas celebrations. Today I slept and slept and slept. I finally dragged myself out of bed around 10:30am. The only thing I ate between then and dinner was a big bowl of oatmeal. After eating so much these past few days it was nice to have a little less to eat. It is marvelously warm in Columbus (a high of 50 degrees today!), so after the oatmeal Matty and I went hiking. Since then I have been lounging around, resting, eating leftovers from a Christmas meal that I wasn't here for, and planning another holiday-type meal for tomorrow night.

It has been nice to relax today. The days I spent with my family were pretty jam-packed (as the few days before Christmas often are). I didn't have a lot of time to just rest. I think the Ohio portion of this Christmas vacation will be more restful. During the many years I was in school I learned that it is important to get nice and rested up during winter break. It is a good thing to start second semester refreshed. I am guessing that the same is true when you are teaching!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Naan (Page 608)

  • Date: Sunday, December 23, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Teri, Terry, and Spencer
  • Recipe Rating: A


Matty got me a pizza stone and a baker's peel for Christmas, so I figured I would put them to good use and make some naan for our immediate family Christmas dinner! I have heard many people say many times that it is impossible to make good naan at home. Turns out, it's not true! This naan was delicious. It was soft and chewy, with a slightly crispy underside. The dough was flavored with onions and poppy seeds, and topped with mixed seeds. The naan was cooked on a pizza stone, which I think is key to achieving the characteristic bubbles and proper texture. It was very entertaining to watch it bake. Matty sat in front of the oven with the oven light on, watching the dough bubble and bake. I made it a few hours before dinner, which was dangerous. It looked too delicious not to eat, so as soon as it came out of the oven my mom, Matty, and I decided we would each have one bite. It was so good that one bite rapidly turned into several bites, and before I knew it, an entire flatbread was gone. After that I had to keep an eye on the remaining naan to make sure there was some left for dinner! Overall making and eating this naan were both great experiences! If you have a pizza stone and a baker's peel, I highly recommend trying this recipe. If you don't, you might consider buying them!

Sadly, this recipe isn't online.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mocha Eclairs (Page 792)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I made these eclairs for our party last Saturday. I modified the recipe oh-so-slightly in that I made mini eclairs rather than full-sized ones. That seemed more appropriate for a dessert party with many dessert choices. These eclairs were tasty. The pastry shell was a typical pate a choux recipe, which came out just right. The filling was delicious (see below). The glaze was also tasty, but I'm not sure why they suggested that the glaze should be spread on the eclairs. Everyone knows eclairs should be dipped! So I dipped. But dipping requires more glaze, since you get a nice, thick, beautiful coat. So I probably made two to three times as much glaze as was indicated in the recipe. I'm not sure I preferred these eclairs to the ones I usually make (filled with pastry cream) but they were delicious!

This recipe isn't online.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mocha Mousse Filling (Page 793)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This was the filling for some eclairs that I made for our party last Saturday. It was tasty. (Matty is telling me that perhaps I am a little drunk. "Maybe you should blog tomorrow morning." But no, I am plowing ahead, despite the one and a half drinks I consumed this evening [that's fifty percent more than my usual limit of one drink]). Anyway, as I was saying, this filling was tasty. It was rich and chocolatey, with a nice touch of coffee flavor. The texture was just right -- light and airy, but still with a richness to it. It piped easily into the eclairs. Usually I fill my eclairs with vanilla pastry cream, and I was a bit hesitant to deviate from that always-successful standard. But this filling was also tasty, and worked quite well. It would make a perfectly good stand-alone dessert as well -- you could put it in fancy glasses, chop the "filling" off the title, and no one would be the wiser.

This recipe isn't online.

Today was our immediate family Christmas celebration, which meant that mom, dad, Spencer, Matty and I ate a big dinner together, and then opened presents and drank bourbon. Merry Christmas! It also meant that I cooked all day today. It was a perfect day for cooking, as the weather here was atrocious. It was cold, and everything (including the roads) was covered with a layer of ice and then a layer of snow. I ventured out only briefly [one of the gifts Matty got me for Christmas was a pizza stone. I took it out of the box today to make naan, and discovered that it was broken in half. We went to Williams-Sonoma this afternoon to exchange it for an unbroken one, and the mall was empty. That's how bad the weather was]. So most of the day I stayed in. I made dinner tonight from The Book (4 recipes!), desserts from The Book for tomorrow's extended family Christmas celebration (3 more recipes!), and then something for my parents and brother to eat for dinner on Christmas day after Matty and I have left for Columbus (on that one I cheated and made something from The Book that I have already made -- since I won't be here to eat it). So it was a busy day of cooking. I enjoy setting aside a whole day to spend in the kitchen though, and it was worth it when dinner turned out just perfect. The food was great, and it was nice to sit around the table all together and enjoy a Christmas meal (of Indian food!). After dinner we opened presents, and I got some great gifts, including an old copy of Larousse Gastronomique from my brother.

I am so much in the Christmas spirit this year and I am very much looking forward to celebrating again with my mom's family tomorrow.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lemon Meringue Pie (Page 764)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B-


You can't have a holiday party without a pie, and my pie options from The Book are becoming limited, so I chose this pie more or less by default. This pie was fine, but nothing extraordinary. I have no major complaints, but rather a list of minor ones. For one thing, the blind-baking directions were off. Of course it is always best to just ignore the timing and bake until golden brown, but it is worthwhile to note that after the indicated baking time the crust was terribly pasty-looking. The lemon filling tasted good, but didn't set up quite as much as I would have liked. The one really unappealing thing was that the meringue weeped quite a bit. This is a common problem with lemon meringue pie -- the egg whites release water as they cool, so the pie ends up with a pool of water between the lemon filling and the meringue top. It can be carefully drained off, but it still gives the whole pie a bit of sogginess which isn't great. All that said, the pie tasted fine. It wasn't the best lemon meringue pie I have had (or made) but it was certainly passable.

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this recipe.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Walnut Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze (Page 708)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I made this cake for our holiday party last Saturday. It wasn't bad, but I was still a bit disappointed by it. For one thing, it wasn't precisely what I was looking for. It was very dense, and not terribly sweet -- it was much more of an afternoon cake than a dessert cake. It wasn't dry, but it could have been a bit moister. I was expecting (and would have preferred) a moister cake with more spice to it and a lighter, more tender crumb. The glaze was also a mystery. If made with the indicated ingredients, it was as thick as paste. There was no way that it could be spread on a cake. I added more and more lemon juice until I got to a consistency that was at least spreadable. It was still pretty thick though, and as a consequence there was not nearly enough to cover the cake. So I made more. You can see in the picture that I still didn't cover the entire cake, but even that much glaze required at least double the recipe. Overall, this cake wasn't bad. I ate some leftovers as an afternoon snack a couple days later, and it hit the spot. But as an after dinner dessert, this cake was lacking.

Here is the recipe.

We just returned from a Sheepshead game in Oconomowoc. Sheepshead is a card game that seems to mostly be played in Wisconsin. In 1977, my dad and his college friends Rick, Spencer, and Don started a tradition of getting together every month for a Sheepshead game and they have been doing this for the past 30 years. A few years ago Spencer passed away, but my dad, Rick, and Don continue to play and sometimes my brother (also named Spencer -- not a coincidence) plays with them. These Sheepshead games started before I was born, and some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad's lap, watching him play cards. Rick and Don are like family, and it is always fun to see them. Today's Sheepshead game involved more eating and drinking than actual card playing (as these things often do) but it was great fun. This particular card game is also a tradition at family holidays on my mom's side of the family. On Christmas Eve half the family will sit in a side room all afternoon playing cards. I know how to play, although not terribly well. I didn't play at all today, but I'm sure I will play at least a few hands with the family on Monday. It's tradition...

New Orleans Praline Pieces (Page 697)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B+


Kate and Matt were hosting a holiday dessert party last Friday night, and I made these candies to bring to it. Unfortunately Matty's flight was so delayed that we never made it to the party, so I served these at our holiday party the next day instead. It's difficult to grade this candy. First the positive: they were delicious! They had a a rich buttery taste, studded with pecans, and a lovely melt-in-your mouth texture. Homemade candy is inevitably better than what you can buy in the store, and this was no exception. They tasted fresh, and flavorful!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"La Brea Tar Pit" Chicken Wings (Page 55)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Beth, Jeremy, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: A


I chose these chicken wings to serve at our holiday party on Saturday. I wasn't optimistic about this recipe. It didn't sound too good: chicken wings cooked in a combination of red wine, soy sauce, sugar, and ginger. Admit it, it sounds pretty bad. Much to my surprise though, these wings were delicious! The chicken was falling-off-the-bone tender, and the sauce was amazing. It thickened, and caramelized, and blackened into something delicious. As odd as it sounds. the flavors of the red wine and the soy sauce were fantastic together. No one at the party was quite as excited about these wings as Matty and I were, so there were plenty leftover to enjoy in the following days. And enjoy them we did! These were easily the best chicken wings I have ever had, and I can't recommend them enough.

Here is the recipe.

I am exhausted. Today was a Christmas shopping marathon. We started around 8:30am, and shopped until 3:30pm this afternoon. After a long break, we resumed briefly this evening. Usually I try to avoid shopping right before Christmas because the crowds make me crazy. Today it wasn't so bad though. We went to the busiest places first, and at 9am everything was pretty empty. It also helped that we managed to find everything we were looking for pretty easily -- that always improves my attitude about shopping. And now I am done with all my shopping for the season. Yay!

We don't have Christmas trees any more, partly because the apartment in Madison isn't too big and a tree would take up precious space. This year my mother got a Christmas branch instead of a tree. It's a big, fake, tree limb, and underneath it are piled all the presents. It's pretty funny. She even put ornaments on it. Ah, Christmas...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stilton Tart with Cranberry Chutney (Page 34)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I made this hors d'oeuvre for our holiday party on Saturday. It wasn't bad, but I also wasn't crazy about it. The crust was fine: a typical pate brisee recipe with some shortening added. The time suggested for blind-baking it wasn't long enough to get a nice golden brown. I was cautious and took it out when the recipe indicated, figuring that it would brown more during the second bake. It was a mistake to do so though. The crust came out pasty looking, and not tasting as deliciously cooked as it could have. The filling was decent. I like blue cheese a lot, and expected to be head over heels for this filling (Stilton, eggs, heavy cream...). However it came out much more quiche-like than I expected. I was hoping for more cheese and less eggs. I'm sure it is more crowd-friendly this way, as some people aren't big on blue cheese, but it would have been much more interesting had the cheese been more intense. The cranberry chutney was the highlight of the dish (see post below). The Book suggested that this is a time-saving type appetizer because it is made as one big tart and then cut into pieces. True, that is easier than making lots of little pieces, but it wasn't terribly visually appealing. If you are going to make an appetizer as fussy as this one, you might as well go all the way with the fuss. I don't see the point of cutting a few corners, but not others. Overall, this recipe was fine. However, I would have preferred a nice cracker, spread with blue cheese and topped with the chutney. That would have been a much bolder combination of flavors, and just as visually appealing.

Here is the recipe.

Apparently I have rapidly adjusted to my new small-town lifestyle. I am so used to Bloomington, that being in Chicago these past few days has been a shock to my system. Don't get me wrong, I love Chicago, but the traffic is driving me nuts! I have been driving back and forth each day between where I am staying and where V lives. Google maps tells me that this is 5.6 miles, and that it will take 18 minutes. Last night it took more than 45. I have never been one to get impatient in traffic. I drove in Boston, and city driving in Boston is probably comparable to city driving in Chicago. But, I have been away from all that now for 4 months, living in Bloomington, where the only time there is any traffic is if there is a football game. And now, apparently, I have lost whatever traffic tolerance I had built up! In a few minutes Matty and I are going to make our last battle with Chicago traffic for a while, and attempt to drive to Ohare, and then Madison. Maybe I will let him drive...

I have been thinking lately about where I would ultimately like to live. Of course there is no real geographic flexibility in my line of work, but it is still interesting to dream. The truth is, even after all my coastal living of the last few years, I think if I could choose I would live in the Midwest. I am loving being back in the Midwest. I am even loving living in a small town. It's hard to explain, but it really suits me.

Speaking of Midwestern small(ish) towns, we should head off to Madison now...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cranberry Chutney (Page 35)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This chutney was a component recipe for one of the appetizers I made for our holiday party on Saturday. The appetizer itself wasn't great, but the chutney was very nice. The balance of the tart cranberries with the sugar and cider vinegar was just right. The shallots, garlic, and ginger gave it some depth of flavor. The only ingredient that seemed unnecessary was the red pepper flakes. The quantity was so small that I couldn't taste the heat at all. This chutney would be very versatile. It would be delicious not only as a complement to cheese, but also on a piece of meat or in a turkey sandwich.

Here is the recipe.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Gougeres (Page 33)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I love gougeres, and they are the perfect party food (small, tasty, addictive) so I made them for our get-together on Saturday. I have only one complaint about this recipe. The recipe claims that the gougeres can be made a day or two ahead, refrigerated, and then rewarmed in the oven before serving. So this is what I did. But it was terribly sad because right out of the oven the first time they were fabulous, and after the reheating they were merely good. I had worried that this might happen. When fresh they were crispy on the outside, which was a lovely contrast to their hollow, airy center. After a day in the refrigerator, they were soft. I attempted to recrisp them in the oven of course, but they never quite got there. A chef in culinary school once told me that you can store pastries made from pate a choux dough on the counter, or in the freezer, but never in the fridge. I should have heeded that advice and frozen these gougeres, but I foolishly trusted The Book. All that said, right out of the oven (the first time) these gougeres were perfect. They are simple to make: start by making a pate a choux dough, mix in some cheese, pipe and bake. They puff up beautifully, and are delicate and delightful, with the taste of gruyere. I wholeheartedly recommend them, with the warning that they should NOT be refrigerated.

This recipe isn't online.

Pate a choux is the classic french pastry that forms the base for cream puffs and eclairs. It also makes appearances in gougeres (as here), profiteroles, French gnocchi, and some more elaborate desserts that you rarely see in the states (e.g. Paris-Brest and croquembouche). It's a fascinating pastry, characterized in part by a huge rise giving airy, almost hollow centers. The remarkable thing is that the only leavening agent is moisture. There is no baking soda or baking powder present. That huge rise comes entirely from steam.

Our first day of baking in culinary school was the pate a choux day. Everyone chose a different recipe, and made something with choux paste as an essential component. I made salambos (delicious, delicious little pastries: shorter, stubbier versions of an eclair pastry, filled with coffee pastry cream, and dipped in cooked sugar to give a hardened caramel top. If you want a second opinion on these, ask Mike). Other people made all sorts of crazy things (e.g. those cream puff swans that you see at hotel banquets). Each of us probably made 20 or 25 pastries. There were 16 people in my class. At the end of class, before critiquing, we displayed all of our pastries on a huge long table. I wish I had the picture with me so I could post it. It was quite a sight -- dozens and dozens of pastries! And then we moved down the table, and tasted/critiqued each dish one by one. That was the day I ate my first gougere, and my first salambo, and my first piece of Paris-Brest... I could go on! I have fond memories.

Parmesan Walnut Salad in Endive Leaves (Page 28)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This was one of the many hors d'oeuvres Matty and I served at our party on Saturday. These salad bites were extremely well received. They looked quite elegant and tasted great. The parmesan walnut salad was very well balanced. The flavor of the parmesan came through clearly, the walnuts provided a subtle nuttiness, and the celery gave it a bit of crunch. It was also well-dressed. The salad itself was a bit rich, so the clean, slightly bitter taste of the endive leaf was the perfect complement to it. Overall, this was a very nice appetizer. It was easy to throw together, and was a crowd-pleaser.

The recipe in The Book is essentially this one, but the one in The Book calls for 50 percent more parmesan.

My winter break travels have now officially begun! I am in Chicago, sitting on the sofa in Brad and Deniz's apartment, relaxing. Tomorrow I am meeting up with Vigleik to do some work, and then Wednesday it is off to Madison.

It has been a long time since I have lived close enough to Madison to drive home for the holidays. Ok, truth be told I went through a phase in graduate school when I really didn't want to fly, so I drove from Boston to Madison a few times. After a couple trips I learned that driving 18 hours alone is not really so fun. Fortunately, Bloomington to Madison is a mere 6 and a half hour drive (plus I have a driving companion!). It's great to be able to drive home for the holidays rather than flying. Plus, Chicago is conveniently on the way. On Wednesday we will pick my brother up at Ohare and head up to Wisconsin, where we will stay through Christmas Eve. Between 8pm on Christmas Eve and 1pm on Christmas Day Matty and I will drive the 8 and a half hours to Columbus Ohio (and hopefully also get some sleep). It's a bit of a crazy schedule, but it involves seeing lots of people that we care about, and having tons of holiday fun!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tzatziki (Page 12)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Matty, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I typically like this kind of cucumber yogurt sauce very much, so I chose it to make for our big holiday party last night. It was pretty good. Cucumber and yogurt make a very refreshing combination. The texture was just right -- the thick yogurt made it substantial while the finely chopped cucumbers gave it a bit of chunkiness and crunch. My main complaint was that it was quite under-seasoned. Cold food has to be seasoned heavily in order to not taste dull, and this dish was definitely lacking on the seasoning. It contained many flavorful ingredients (garlic, dill, mint, white wine vinegar...) but it still tasted rather bland. More salt would have helped, and/or more of the flavorful ingredients themselves. As it was, I enjoyed it, but it tasted mainly like yogurt with some cucumbers mixed in. With more careful seasoning it could have been exceptional. When Matty took a bite of it, he said "We need some lamb." He had a point. Although tzatziki makes a perfectly good appetizer, served with pita toasts, I prefer it as a sandwich topping in a gyro, or as a sauce for a piece of meat. All in all though, this recipe wasn't bad.

This recipe isn't online.

One thing that I appreciate very much about friendships (or any type of relationship) is when the positive qualities of the people I spend time with start to rub off on me. Take, for instance, Matty. He feels strongly that food shouldn't be wasted. I have to admit, until meeting him I never really thought twice about throwing food away. I believe in food safety, and I also believe that it is a good habit to only eat when you are hungry. The combination of these two often resulted in leftover food, which, after 4 days, got thrown away. Obviously I would rather that food didn't end up in the trash, but it didn't really bother me much when it did. Now, all that has changed. In time I have come around to Matty's opposition to wastefulness. I make a point of always eating my leftovers (or freezing them) before they rot. I try to be aware, when grocery shopping, of just how much I can realistically eat before it spoils, etc...

Last night, after our holiday party, we carefully packaged all the leftovers. There was a ton of good food left. We could easily eat for days off the leftovers alone. Sadly though, we are leaving for the holidays tomorrow. So we froze as much as we could, and now we are left with just those things that wouldn't freeze well. We ate nothing but leftovers today (Brunch: pita toasts, roasted red pepper dip, and walnut spice cake. Afternoon snack: chicken wings, pita toasts, and tzatziki. Dinner: more chicken wings, pita toasts, parmesan walnut salad, and pecan praline). The fridge is still full though, and we only have half of tomorrow to finish eating the leftovers. So, unfortunately, some things will get thrown away. This bothers me, but at least I know we did our best to eat as much of it as we could before we left!

Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Dip (Page 10)

  • Date: Saturday, December 15, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Matty, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose this dip to serve at our holiday party yesterday because it was the first recipe in The Book that I hadn't made yet (now I have made the first 14 consecutive recipes!). This dip was fine. The thing about serving dips is that if you serve anything else, the dips don't get eaten (unless it is guacamole -- that is the exception to this rule). It has very little to do with how good the dip is. So I am always hesitant to serve dip at parties. But, The Book has tons of them, so I do it anyway. If I hadn't made this dip, there is no way I would have guessed that it contained eggplant. Frankly, I doubt I could have picked out a single ingredient other than the roasted red peppers based on flavor alone. Maybe the garlic was recognizable, but everything else (eggplant, lemon, jalapeno...) was completely overshadowed. It tasted simply like pureed roasted red peppers, which doesn't taste bad, but also isn't terribly exciting. Further, whoever wrote this recipe was clearly a little off his or her rocker. You start by roasting the eggplant and peppers (ok, done). Then you peel the peppers, scoop out the eggplant flesh and puree them with the rest of the ingredients (still ok). Then you are supposed to simmer the puree for 20 minutes, or until thick. Hmmm. What I had after pureeing had a viscosity somewhere between that of thick applesauce and that of mashed potatoes. What happens if you attempt to simmer such a thing? You get volcanic bubbles that splatter your entire kitchen with roasted red pepper puree. So I didn't know what to do -- should I continue to "simmer" and let my kitchen pay the price? I was supposed to simmer until thickened, but it was already thickened, so maybe I didn't have to. I worried though that this simmering had another purpose (e.g. cooking the garlic and jalapeno to mellow them). In the end, I covered the pot (to save my kitchen) and let it bubble volcanic bubbles for 20 minutes. In summary: these directions are a bit mysterious. Overall, this dish was fine, but probably not worth the trouble.

Here is the recipe.

Matty eventually made it on Friday night, and yesterday we hosted a holiday party for the topology group! We served 12 recipe from The Book, which I dare say is a record for how many book recipes I have served at once. And, shockingly, there were no complete disasters. Some things were better than others of course, and there were a couple that I don't have such positive feelings about, but there was nothing terrible. Yay for that. The party was hors d'oeuvres and dessert, partly because I wasn't sure I felt up to doing dinner for 22 people this week, and partly because the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section in The Book is one that I am making very slow progress on.

Overall I think it was a success. I had fun anyway! Plus, now I have a bunch of recipes to blog about as we travel these next few days. Tomorrow we are off to Madison, with a stop for a few days in Chicago on our way there.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Parsnip and Apple Puree (Page 554)

  • Date: Wednesday, December 12, 2007 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C-



I try to make the pureed veggies from The Book when I am just cooking for myself, since no one tends to like them much. Often the problem is purely a textural one -- it seems that many people over the age of 2 (myself included) prefer their food not pureed. With this recipe the problem was not only the texture, but also the flavor. It tasted vaguely like what you would get if you stirred together one part mashed potatoes, and two parts applesauce. Except instead of mashed potatoes, it would really be mashed parsnips. Somehow though, I think that mashed potatoes stirred together with applesauce would actually taste better than this did. For one thing the flavor was completely dominated by the apples. I like apples as much as the next person, but it was very unnerving having this apple-flavor puree that had a texture completely unnatural to the apple. Because it was pureed with the parsnips, the texture was more like whipped potatoes than applesauce. Yet it tasted like applesauce. I had hoped to taste more of the parsnips, onions, and sour cream, but the strong apple flavor overshadowed all those. It's possible that if this were diluted with some chicken stock it would make a nice soup (or better, a small amuse bouche). But as it was, after a few bites, I just couldn't eat any more of this.

This recipe isn't online.

Matty and I are hosting a holiday party tomorrow night for topology faculty and their families. It will be about 20 people. For said get-together I am making 11 recipes from The Book! It's quite an endeavor. I just took some gougeres out of the oven, and they are so delicious! I made them ahead so I can just re-crisp them tomorrow, but it seems that there is a definite danger that I will eat them all before then!

There also seems to be a definite danger that Matty won't make it for our party. He is supposed to be flying in this evening. His flight wasn't scheduled to leave Boston for another 4 hours, yet they have already delayed it another hour and a half. This is not a good sign. If he doesn't make it tonight, it may be hopeless until Sunday, since the forecast here tomorrow includes some nasty winter mix. Have I mentioned lately how frustrating I find air travel? This time it probably isn't actually the fault of the airline though. For one thing, he's not flying Northwest. For another, Boston got some serious snow dumped on it yesterday, so I can understand why things would be running a bit behind. Only time will tell if he'll make it tonight...

In the meantime, I will keep eating (err, I mean, making) food for the party!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mexican Tea Cakes (Page 673)

  • Date: Monday, December 10, 2007 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Cornelia, Kelly, Michelle, and Becky
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Gingerbread may not be part of my childhood memories, but these cookies definitely are. My mother called them Russian tea cakes, but they tasted exactly like these. These cookies are tasty enough to deserve multiple names (I've also heard Mexican wedding cakes. Never Russian wedding cakes though...). It's hard to go too wrong with ingredients like these. The recipe is essentially: mix up some butter, a little sugar, some flour, vanilla, and chopped pecans. Bake. Roll in powdered sugar. Roll in powdered sugar again. It's simple. The cookies come out just a little crispy to the bite, with an amazing melt-in-your mouth texture. The cookie itself isn't too sweet, so the powdered sugar exterior gives it a charming kick of sugar. They are sugary and buttery and delicious. I associate these with Christmas (perhaps because they have a snowball look about them) but frankly, I would eat them anytime! If you have never had this very classic cookie, you should try it. If you have, this recipe is the same as all the others: delicious!

Here is the recipe.

Well I submitted my grades today, and also posted them to my students. Now I am, as I expected, dealing with the fall-out. I have received many emails today, all of the same variety: "Dear Professor, How many more points would I have needed to get an (insert grade the student wanted here)? Is there some additional work I could do to make up those points? (insert sad story here about the bad things that will happen if students doesn't get desired grade). Thanks, (student name)." In certain cases I can empathize -- I do feel bad for the student that has worked hard all term trying to get an A, and ends up with a B+ instead. But in many cases, the students barely tried all term, rarely turning in homework, and were surprised when they got a D. The F students haven't complained at all. I think they expected to fail. But the students who got D's are not happy. Here's the thing though: they are all so shocked that they got D's. I don't understand it. In October I posted midterm grades for everyone and explained that it was the grade that I would give them if I had to assign grades based on their work so far. These students who got D's all either had D's at the midterm, or else they had a C-. And then they continued to do worse throughout the rest of the term! What did they think was going to happen? *Deep breath* It only frustrates me because I feel as though they are blaming me, as if I am a mean person for being unwilling to change their grade. I am not mean. It would make me very happy to pass everyone. But if you rarely do the homework, and do failing work on all the exams, I think it is a disservice to give you a passing grade.

On the upside, aside from responding to grade complaints, I am done for the semester! My grades have even been submitted to the registrar! Whoo hoo!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Classic Creme Brulee (Page 835)

  • Date: Saturday, December 8, 2007 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Cornelia, Teresa, Mike M, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I was flipping through The Book to pick a dessert for Saturday and I discovered that (shockingly!) I hadn't yet made the creme brulee in The Book. I have made many creme brulee recipes in my life, and this one can certainly hold its own against the others. It was smooth, and rich, with a lovely burnt sugar top. It took longer to set in the oven than the recipe indicated. Also, it was very thick -- almost too thick. But it had a lovely vanilla flavor, and would certainly make a fine base custard for one of any number of creme brulee variations. There is nothing exciting or novel about this recipe, but if you are going for classic, this will certainly suit your needs.

This recipe isn't online.

I had a friend in graduate school who always made creme brulee as part of his "date meal," i.e. the meal he made to impress women. I helped him perfect his creme brulee, and in return I would often get a leftover creme brulee the day after his date. It wasn't a bad deal really. I have a lot of male friends, and through the years I have helped fine tune many a date meal. It always makes me laugh when my friends are trying to impress a date by cooking, but I understand why they do it. I, myself, have certainly been impressed by some date meals cooked for me. For one thing, it demonstrates that someone is excited about you if they cook a special meal just for you. And if they cook well, that's just the icing on the cake! The finest date meal every cooked for me: a blood orange and seared tuna salad with a side of meyer lemon orzo. It was good. Very good. He and I ultimately became friends and did a lot cooking together (until I moved away!). Since I went to culinary school, no one wants to cook for me anymore. Apparently it's intimidating. I don't know why, since I love to eat, and I will eat anything! I am always happy to help with other people's date meals though. Anyone want to learn to make creme brulee?

Clay Pot Pork (Page 485)

  • Date: Saturday, December 8, 2007 --7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Cornelia, Mike M, Teresa, Tricia, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Although I have eaten this Vietnamese braised pork dish many times, I had never made it before. So last Saturday I figured I would give it a try. This dish starts by melting sugar to make caramel. Once the sugar is a golden amber color, a huge amount of fish sauce is added. At that point the kitchen was flooded with a terrible smell. Fish sauce smells bad. Fish sauce + caramel smells even worse. My stomach turned. So I began to wonder, 'If this ends up tasting as bad as it smells, what will we eat for dinner?" I pondered this as I continued. Some shallots, garlic, and green onions are added to the boiling sauce, and finally the pork. The pork is braised for a couple hours in the barely simmering sauce. Fortunately at this point the lid also goes on the pot, so the smell subsided and I was able to breathe again. An hour or so later I lifted the lid to stir, and much to my surprise, the smell coming from the pot was just lovely. Cooking magic had happened (thank goodness!). In the end, the dish came out very nicely. Clay pot pork is a little sweet for my taste (I prefer my savory food more on the savory side), but nonetheless this was quite tasty. The pork was magnificently tender. You could barely touch it with your fork and it would begin to fall apart. The contrast of the sweet caramel and salty fish sauce ended up tasting good (despite the initial smell), and the flavorfulness of the sauce really penetrated the pieces of pork. If you like clay pot pork, you will like this recipe, and if you've never had it, it is worth a try.

This recipe isn't online.

Well yesterday was the final exam for my class. So all my calculus students piled into one big, poorly ventilated and climate controlled room, and sat for two hours, diligently trying to prove that they learned some calculus. I just stared at them, trying to looking intimidating so they wouldn't cheat. The exam was from 2:45-4:45 and at 5pm we started to grade. When did we finish? Midnight. Well, actually a little after midnight. It took 5 of us together more than 7 hours to grade those exams. And it wasn't 7 leisurely hours. We were working hard. We took a 5-10 minute break to eat pizza for dinner, but other than that we sat there, red pens in hand, and marked papers.

So today I am computing final course grades. I find this to be the most painful part of teaching. It is heartbreaking to give poor grades to students who tried hard. I have no problem failing people who didn't make an effort. But giving a C to someone who worked hard all semester trying to get a B is just not a good feeling. I have actually finished my grades, but I haven't submitted them yet. I am sitting on it for a few hours (or maybe even until tomorrow) just to make sure I think I put the various cut-offs in the right places.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Asian Cucumber Ribbon Salad (Page 142)

  • Date: Saturday, December 8, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Tricia, Mike M, Teresa, and Cornelia
  • Recipe Rating: B


I chose this cucumber salad to accompany dinner on Saturday because the dressing had some of the same flavors as the other courses of our meal. It was fine: neither outstanding nor objectionable. The dressing was a simple mix of rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil. Those ingredients work well together, but the balance was a tad off. The vinegar overpowered the flavors of both the soy sauce and the sesame oil, so there wasn't much depth or contrast to the dressing. It essentially tasted like cucumbers in vinegar, which, it turns out, doesn't taste so bad. It could have been better though, with a more balanced dressing. I also would have preferred to have some thinly sliced carrots (or one of a variety of other vegetables) to accompany the cucumber. Overall though, it was simple and refreshing, and tasted just fine. I probably won't make it again, but I enjoyed eating it well enough.

Here is the recipe.

This recipe called for the use of a mandoline, which always scares me a bit. My friend Norma lost the tip of her finger on a mandoline while in culinary school. She was rushed off to the hospital, and I am told there was a lot of blood. Fortunately I was not there to witness that accident. Surprisingly, the whole time I was in culinary school there were only two people taken away to the hospital while I was in the building. First, one of the teaching assistants cut off part of her finger with a chef's knife. She was cutting, of all things, butter. In the industry butter comes not in sticks that weigh a quarter of a pound, but rather in one pound sticks. So they are pretty big. The knife was dull and it slipped... you can imagine the rest.

The other "injury" was much more dramatic. It was on a "Fish and Shellfish" day. Many of us had been cooking lobster in one form or another, and someone had made lobster bisque. One of the students in my class had never eaten lobster before. The chef insisted that she taste and critique the bisque. She didn't like it, so she only had a bite or two. Twenty minutes later she was covered in hives and gasping for air. It turns out she has a very severe allergy to lobster. Lobster bisque is the worst thing to eat if you have a lobster allergy because the lobster meat is cooked with crushed up lobster shells, and I am told that is an extra-bad thing for those who are allergic. She was rushed to the emergency room, where they told her that if she had eaten the whole bowl she could have died before help would have arrived. Oh dear!

So I am careful near knives and mandolines and any shellfish I have never eaten before!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Chinese Egg Drop Soup with Noodles (Page 94)

  • Date: Saturday, December 8, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Tricia, Mike M, Teresa, Cornelia, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A


I chose this soup to go with dinner yesterday because it seemed appropriate for the pan-Asian theme. I wasn't expecting this to be bad or anything, but I also wasn't expecting to be wowed by it though. Nonetheless, I was wowed. I think this was the best egg drop soup I have ever had. It had an amazing flavor, and a lot of body for a quick soup. The key, perhaps, was that I used the homemade chicken stock I made last week. I don't think it would have been nearly as good with broth from a can. But as it was, I found it be lovely. The flavors were balanced beautifully, and the egg and noodles were in just the right quantity. If you are looking for a super-quick soup that satisfies, I highly recommend this recipe. It is a winner.

Here is the recipe.

I am done! I taught a 2 hour plus review session tonight, and now I am done teaching for the semester! On Tuesday we will have loads of finals to grade, so I am not completely done with my course, but basically it's over. Standing in front of them tonight, having both of my classes together for the first time, it occurred to me how much I like my students. Sure, they drove me nuts sometimes, but overall they are a really great group. I got to know quite a few of them pretty well, and they are very likable.

I feel quite triumphant to have made it through my first semester lecturing my own classes. Even more so to not only have survived it, but to have enjoyed it! I think I will miss my students (well, maybe not every single one...). But, next semester I will have new ones to get to know! I am told that the students in the class I am teaching next might not be quite as likable as the ones I have this semester, but I am going into it with an open mind! In the meantime, I think I will have a beer and celebrate the end of the semester!

Sesame Tempura Green Beans with Soy DIpping Sauce (Page 44)

  • Date: Saturday, December 8, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Cornelia, Tricia, Teresa, and Mike M
  • Recipe Rating: A-


We had a pan-Asian feast last night, and I chose these tempura green beans to go with it. They were quite good. Often I don't enjoy restaurant tempura because I find it so terribly greasy. These greens bean didn't have that problem though. Perhaps this batter absorbed less oil than some tempura batters, but for whatever reason they tasted delicious and fried without making me feel ill! They were nice and crispy right out of the fryer, but they got a little soft as they sat, so be sure to serve them immediately! The dipping sauce was awesome. In fact, I was more impressed with that than with the tempura itself. It was a very simple combination of soy sauce, lime juice, and superfine sugar, but it tasted amazing, and was a perfect complement for the tempura. Overall, I thought this was a nice appetizer, and I suspect that you could substitute a variety of other vegetables for the green beans with equal success.

Here is the recipe.

Last night I had my first dinner party in Bloomington. How is it possible that I had not yet had anyone over for dinner? Part of it, I think, is that I am always hesitant to serve new friends a dinner entirely from The Book. Sometimes the food isn't so good, and I don't want to make a bad first impression! Often when a new person is introduced to my project there are lots of other people around who have been eating book food for months (or years!), so there is at least a general enthusiasm in the group about eating the sometimes-suspect food from The Book. In Bloomington, though, I didn't really know anyone here before I arrived, so all my friends here are new friends! Finally I decided though that I was tired of cooking for just myself, so I invited some people I like over for dinner yesterday, and I made a dinner entirely from The Book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the food was a bit better than your average book dinner -- in fact, it was consistently pretty good. Perhaps I should take that as a sign that is is about time that I start inflicting my project on the kind-hearted people of Bloomington!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Gingerbread Snowflakes (Page 680)

  • Date: Thursday, December 6, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Cornelia, Kelly, Michelle, Becky, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Matty, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B


I am feeling the Christmas spirit lately, and nothing in The Book seemed more appropriate than these cookies. I don't have a snowflake cookie cutter, so I made gingerbread Christmas trees (and angels, and holly, and men, and stars, and candlesticks....) instead. I would grade the experience of making these as an A+. I had such fun! And they taste fine. The cookies themselves are yummy. They are chewy, with a good gingerbread flavor. The spices are a little mild. If I made this recipe again I would certainly increase the ginger, and probably also most of the other spices. My only complaint is that I don't think the icing goes that well with the cookies. It's pretty, and holds up well, and I understand why from a practical viewpoint you would want to decorate these with royal icing. But, honestly, it just doesn't taste that good with gingerbread. I am a die-hard frosting fan, and I think I actually prefer the unfrosted cookies to the frosted ones. It doesn't speak well for the pairing of cookies with frosting here. Overall, I would recommend the cookie base (especially if you up the spices) but I would go with a different frosting.

Here is the recipe.

True culinary confession: until I made these, I had never in my life made gingerbread cookies. I don't know how that is possible. I have made a lot of cookies. And gingerbread is so classic, so Christmas. But, indeed, this was my first experience. I think maybe my mother doesn't like gingerbread so much, so whenever we made cut-out cookies they were sugar cookies instead. The thing I realized while making these though, is that the taste isn't really what makes gingerbread so delightful. Yeah, they taste pretty good. But it is the experience of making them that is truly wonderful. Gingerbread dough is easy to make, and easy to roll, and easy to work with. It has a rich brown color and a spicy smell. Making these I was overwhelmed with the holiday spirit.

Normally I'm not a huge fan of decorating cookies. I can't explain it -- I am clearly willing to do completely ridiculous things to decorate a cake (see here), but I usually don't find cookies to be a very inspiring medium. I have to admit though, I had fun with these. I found myself humming Christmas carols while I piped little ornaments on the trees and halos on the angels. It was a positive experience.

When I have a family some day, I'm sure we'll make gingerbread cookies every year! Maybe we'll even make a gingerbread house. That's another thing I have never done!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Decorating Icing (Page 681)

  • Date: Thursday, December 6, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Cornelia, Kelly, Becky, Michelle, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Ann, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Marcia, Matty, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, and Tricia
  • Recipe Rating: B+


In a continued attempt to do some Christmas baking, I made the gingerbread cookies from The Book. This is the icing that goes with them. It's hard to review this. It is royal icing, which, on the one hand, is not particularly delicious. But on the other hand it is remarkably useful. It pipes easily and smoothly and then after a few hours, turn to rock. Want to glue something with edible glue? Royal icing is the way to go. What makes gingerbread houses structurally sound? Royal icing. How do they make those rock-hard frosting flowers that you see on cakes? Royal icing. What kind of frosting lasts so long that you can hang cookies on the Christmas tree and then eat them weeks later? Royal icing. So it has its advantages. The disadvantage: it's rock hard and tastes like nothing but sugar. (Actually I'm not sure the tasting like sugar part is really a disadvantage...). This royal icing recipe tasted like every other royal icing recipe (they are essentially all the same). Will I make it again? Probably. Sometimes you just need royal icing. It is completely delicious? Well, no. Does it make adorable cookies? Well, yes. What I'm trying to say is this: it all depends on what you want from your frosting.

Here is the recipe.

Once, years ago, I was busy in my kitchen making chocolate truffles when Mike called. He wanted me to go with him to a coffee shop to hang out and do some work. So I hurriedly finished my truffles, threw on some clean clothes, and was headed out the door when I thought, "It's possible I have some chocolate on me. Perhaps I should look in the mirror." So I did. And what I saw staring back at me was a face streaked with melted chocolate. I cleaned up before I left, but I regret it slightly -- it would have brought Mike so much joy to see me accidentally leave the house like that.

I was thinking of this tonight because a few hours after decorating 3 dozen gingerbread cookies, I happened to touch my face. It was sticky. Looking in the mirror I saw that I had somehow gotten a small amount of frosting mixed with a huge amount of red food coloring on my face. Without thinking, I began rubbing it off. This would work with chocolate. With food coloring, however, all I managed to succeed in doing was getting half my face dyed red. Now, this is not that watery food coloring you buy in the grocery store -- I use the serious stuff. The stuff used by cake makers. It is thick, and super concentrated. It doesn't wash off easier. So now half my face is red, is a phenomenally unflattering way. If only Mike could be here to laugh at me!

White Bean Gratin (Page 271)

  • Date: Wednesday, December 5, 2007 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I picked this recipe since I have been trying to restock my freezer, and bean dishes tend to freeze pretty well. The directions for this recipe were a little off, but the end result was still very tasty. The main problem was with the timing. Everything took longer than indicated. The beans took longer to become tender. The cooking liquid took longer to reduce. It was worth the extra time though because the beans came out flavorful and delicious, and the topping was truly inspired. The beans mixture was a combination of whole navy beans and navy beans pureed with oil and white wine vinegar. The vinegar gave the dish a great depth, and the puree and whole bean combo gave it a lovely texture. The topping was bread crumbs mixed with gruyere, parmesan, and garlic. It was delicious! Crispy, cheesy, and extremely tasty! Bean dishes are often a bit dull, but this one was quite good. I recommend it.

This recipe isn't online.

It is the last week of class and my students have become more demanding than usual! Many of them want individual meetings outside of my office hours. One of my students even tried to insist that I let him sit in my office and "work quietly" all afternoon. And the highlight of the day: one of my students had his mom email me today. Don't get me wrong -- my students are great. But I am about ready for the semester to be over! And I'm in luck because tomorrow morning is my last lecture!

Until this year I had been in school for as long as I could remember. It has been very interesting this semester to be on the other side of the desk. When I interact with my students I try to always be cognizant of the fact that I too was a college freshman once. I try to remember what it felt like, and how little I knew back then. My students do things I certainly wouldn't have done (for instance: I have never had my mother email one of my professors!), but it still helps me understand them if I try to remember what it was like to be 18 and new to college. Plus, even when they are being totally unreasonable, they bring me joy. They never cease to make me laugh!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Candied Grapefruit Peel (Page 699)

  • Date: Tuesday, December 4, 2007 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: D


I made this candied grapefruit peel with the intention of sending it to Chris as a little holiday gift. Given the outcome of this recipe, it will not be finding its way into Chris' mailbox (sorry Chris!), but rather into the garbage can. Let me just start by saying that I am a fairly patient cook. I have a high tolerance for recipes that have many steps, or procedures that border on ridiculous. Occasionally though, The Book challenges even my patience. This was one of those times. The directions for this recipe are essentially as follows: Peel grapefruit. Cut peel into slices. Put peel slices in cold water. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Drain. Cover peel with cold water. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Drain. Cover peel with cold water. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Drain. Cover peel with cold water. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Drain. Cover peel with cold water. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Drain. No, I did not just get confused with the cut and paste on my computer. This recipe actually calls for the peel to be blanched FIVE TIMES! And after all that, the recipe continues... Now, the logic here (supposedly!) is that this repeated blanching makes the peel less bitter. That is a noble goal, and I can respect it, but after tasting the end product I find it absolutely impossible to believe that the blanching reduced the bitterness in the slightest.

I will eat essentially anything. I have preferences of course, but I am not a picky eater. This evening, I bit into one of these candied grapefruit peels (which, to their credit, were absolutely beautiful!), and I immediately ran to the sink to spit it out. "Huh," I thought to myself, "maybe I got a bad one." So I picked a different one, and tried again. And again, I had to spit it out. I, stubbornly tried a third time, and then a fourth, figuring maybe I just needed to get used to it. But no, this recipe (at least to me) is actually inedible. I don't know if any of you out there have ever eaten candied orange peel. It is delicious, but it is deeply, intensely orange flavored. Well, grapefruit peel, it turns out, has the same intensity. But instead of being orange-flavored, it is grapefruit flavored, and EXTREMELY bitter. On attempt number 5 I realized that the the part of the candied peel that once was the pith actually tastes pretty good. It is only the very exterior of the peel that is truly awful. So I nibbled away at the pith of a piece or two, and decided it was reasonably tasty. Perhaps, that is what the entire piece of peel was supposed to taste like, and it just didn't work out that way. I don't know. One thing I do know: this recipe is bad. I would have given it an F, but it seems at least possible to me that with different grapefruit or a different person eating it (one with a strong affinity for bitterness) you might end up with an edible product.

If you're brave, here is the recipe.

The danger of cooking Christmas presents from The Book is that you can't always count on ending up with something that you want to pass along to someone you like.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Chicken Stock (Page 928)

  • Date: Tuesday, December 4, 2007 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Tricia, Cornelia, Mike M, Teresa, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


Nothing says winter to me like making chicken stock. I love having a pot on the stove, boiling away for hours when it's cold outside. I make chicken stock frequently, but not usually from a recipe. Whenever I roast a whole chicken (or turkey) I throw the leftover carcass in a big pot with some veggies and herbs and I boil it for a few hours. This recipe was very different than my usual method. It called for a whole chicken. This seemed extremely odd to me. There is something sad about using a whole chicken, and when the stock is done, just throwing away all the meat. The meat isn't fit for serving though, since it is way overcooked by the time the stock is finished. I still might have bought into this method if the net result was vastly superior to the usual stock I make (which utilizes leftovers rather than requiring its own chicken). But, this stock wasn't significantly better. It may have had a bit more chicken flavor, but because the chicken went in raw, it didn't have the depth of flavor that you get with the roasted chicken carcass. Although the stock tasted good, I won't be using this method again. It just seems too wasteful.

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one.

I tried to go to the doctor today. I made the appointment 3 months ago, and this morning was the first opening for a "new patient appointment." I made the appointment so long ago that sometime between then and now the medical center I was going to visit today had some sort of falling out with the insurance company that insures all IU employees so they are no longer an in-network provider for my insurance. I discovered all of this late last night. The whole point of this doctor's visit was to find a primary care physician in Bloomington. But there is no way I am going to pay the out-of-network price to see my primary care doctor. So, I canceled the appointment, and now I have no doctor.

It's not a huge problem. Before I left Boston, my tumor doctor prescribed me enough meds for most of the year, in case I couldn't find a suitable doctor right away. So I have plenty of medication. I should probably be having some blood tests, but I'm not too worried about it. It would be nice to have a primary care doctor here though. Plus, I need a referral to a tumor doctor too, which I haven't even attempted to deal with yet. Unfortunately, the medical center that is fighting with my insurance company houses a huge percentage of the doctors in Bloomington -- this little tiff that they are having supposedly affects 18,000 patients. So probably a lot of people are trying to find new doctor right about now...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tabbouleh (Page 152)

  • Date: Monday, December 3, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-


The Book says about this recipe: "This tabbouleh, gently seasoned and made refreshingly tart with lemon juice, highlights parsley..." And I ask you: does parsley really need to be highlighted? Don't get me wrong, parsley is fine, but it's not a center-stage kind of ingredient. I didn't realize just how much parsley this recipe called for (2 cups finely chopped!) so I actually only had in the fridge about half as much as I needed. And it was already too much! Eating this felt very much like eating forkfuls of chopped parsley. There was also much too much lemon juice. It crossed the line from being "refreshingly tart" to being just plain overpowering. My favorite part of tabbouleh is the bulgur, and that was the one ingredient that there wasn't much of. All that said, it was still good -- it's hard to go too wrong with these ingredients. But it would be vastly improved by doubling the bulgur, using less lemon juice and using way less parsley.

Here is the recipe.

Well, I am back in Bloomington after my weekend in Alabama! An embarrassing sign of how exhausted I was last week: I arrived at the Atlanta airport on Friday night, and went to the baggage claim to collect my luggage. There were many baggage claim carousels, and a big monitor showing which flight numbers were on which ones. I stood there for 15 minutes, waiting for my flight to come up on the monitor. Matty was picking me up at the airport, and he found me, standing underneath the monitor, just waiting. He said, "Teena, your bag is on carousel 5." I asked him, how he could possibly know that. "Look," I pointed out, "there is no flight from Boston on the monitor." He stared at me for a minute. "Teena, you don't live in Boston. You flew here from Indianapolis." Whoops.

I slept many, many hours on Friday night though, so I was slightly more alert for the wedding on Saturday. It was beautiful, and very fancy! There was Southern food (grits and chicken etouffee!), dancing, and general merriment. You know it's a fun wedding when it gets broken up by the police!

I flew back last night (again my flight was on time -- I think I am in love with Delta airlines) so I could teach my class morning. This is the last week of classes! Exciting!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Scalloped Onions, Leeks, and Shallots (Page 554)

  • Date: Thursday, November 29, 2007 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I picked this recipe because it seemed like it would freeze well. I am trying to restock my poor, empty, freezer now that all the food in it was transported to Boston. This dish was odd. I liked it, but while eating it I realized I haven't had many dishes truly centered around the onion before. In this dish onions, leeks, and shallots are cooked together. A bit of of cream is stirred in, then the whole thing is covered with bread crumbs and cheese and baked. What you end up with has an excellent flavor (not really a surprise: onions are delicious, cheese is delicious, bread crumbs are delicious AND crunchy). I would probably give in an even higher grade than I have, but the directions for the recipe are quite off. You cook the onion, leek, shallot mixture on the stovetop for a while, covered, and then you take the cover off and continue to cook until the excess liquid has evaporated. The Book says that this evaporation step will take about 3-5 minutes. I had to evaporate for at least 25 minutes. Even then, not all the liquid was gone. I decided that perhaps I just didn't understand what The Book meant by "excess" so I stopped evaporating after 20 or 30 minutes, and baked it like I was supposed to. But then, the dish came out very watery, which was gross. So apparently I should have evaporated longer. This is all to say that the timing on the recipe was very off. It didn't bother me so much since I was just cooking for myself at home on a Thursday night, but if you were going to make this as part of a dinner for company, I would be careful about the timing. It actually takes significantly longer than it claims to.

Here is the recipe.

Greetings from Auburn, Alabama! I made it here without incident. The timing was pretty tight to catch my flight yesterday after my classes, so I wore my running shoes to class, and after my second calculus class I (literally) ran home so I could head to the airport. I made my flight (which was ON TIME -- I am always so in awe when I fly an airline that isn't Northwest, about how smoothly they operate. Yesterday I flew Delta. I don't know in general if Delta is a good airline or not, but compared to Northwest they are amazing!). I landed in Atlanta, met up with my special gentleman, and had a beer with some mathematicians from Georgia Tech. Then it was off to Auburn!

So here I am, in a swanky hotel in Alabama. The wedding I am here to attend is tonight. I don't think I have ever been to a wedding of two people I have never met before, so this will be a unique experience. (The groom is a good friend of my special gentleman -- I am not just crashing, although that too would be a unique experience.) I love weddings though, so I am sure it will be fun. Plus it sounds fancy -- the reception is in an art museum! There are so few occasions for fanciness in a mathematician's life, that I always appreciate them.