Thursday, January 31, 2008

Anzac Biscuits (Page 666)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


Matty and I were in need of something sweet last week so I made a batch of these cookies. This recipe is based on a cookie that people made to support soldiers in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during World War I. After my first bite of cookie I thought to myself, "Poor soldiers, these are terrible." I probably wouldn't even have eaten a second cookie, but Matty loved them and his enthusiasm convinced me to give them another try. And indeed they grew on me. These cookies contained no egg, which affected the texture. They were a bit crispy and a bit chewy, but not at all cakey. The binder in this recipe was Lyle's Golden Syrup, which was a new ingredient for me. This British sugarcane syrup is approximately the consistency of honey, but with its own unique flavor. The cookies tasted a bit odd to me, and I think it was my unfamiliarity with Lyle's Golden Syrup that made them seem off. I got used to the flavor though and liked the cookies more and more as I ate a few of them. I didn't find them as amazing as Matty did, but I ended up enjoying them.

This recipe isn't online.

Last night I couldn't sleep. Sleeping is one thing that I have always been good at. My mother claims that I started sleeping through the night when I was only a couple weeks old. Even as a little kid I was always happy to go to bed and I fell asleep easily. These days it is extremely rare for me to still be awake five minutes after I lay down and close my eyes.

Last night, though, I couldn't sleep. I went to bed around 1am, but at 4am I was still awake. I just couldn't sleep. So I watched TV for a while (infomercials!). I thought about my lecture for today (on "end behavior," aka limits). I tried reading the dullest math book I could find on my shelf (no comment on which one that was!). Still, no luck. Eventually I drifted off and slept a few hours before waking up feeling groggy and grumpy. I don't know what has gotten into me. This has been a really stressful week. I was sick for most of it, which wasn't fun, and there has just been a lot of serious stuff going on (more on that another time). Apparently I am feeling the stress of it all. Tonight I am going to drink a beer before bed and hope that it knocks me out (yes, I am such a lightweight that one beer does the trick!). I could use some sleep...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Quick Hot Borscht (Page 93)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


Matty loves borscht so he requested we make this recipe from The Book. Borscht is one of those things that can be really good, or really bad, depending on the recipe. This wasn't a terrible borscht recipe, but it also wasn't a great one. One positive thing I can say about it is that it was extremely quick. I don't think you are going to find a borscht recipe faster and easier than this one. It was that quickness though that was responsible for some of the badness of this recipe. To save time this recipe called for canned pickled beets rather fresh beets. Beets are what makes borscht what it is, and using canned pickled beets defeats the purpose. For one thing canned beets aren't nearly as good as fresh ones. They lack the earthiness and vibrancy that make beets so great. For another thing, the strong pickled flavor of canned beets did not add positively to this dish. The pickled flavor overwhelmed the flavor of the beets themselves and of the other vegetables. I ended up eating around the beets and the broth -- the carrots and potatoes were tasty. As borscht recipes go though, this one was disappointing.

Here is the recipe.

After two and a half years on the wagon, I am considering doing the unthinkable: drinking caffeine again. I quit all caffeinated beverages the summer after my third year in graduate school. There were various arguments for doing so -- all of them health related. It was miserable for the first few weeks (headaches, falling asleep on my desk every afternoon, etc...) but eventually I adjusted and found that I could be fatigue-free all day even without caffeine. And I felt better. So why am I considering abandoning my caffeine-free lifestyle? A couple days ago I was at home, sick, laying in bed and doing some work. I was very focused on the computations I was doing. So focused that when I first looked up at the clock I realized that three and a half hours had gone by. Now, normally this would never happen. I can focus for an hour, or maybe two, but three and a half hours without moving? Without a snack? Without peeing? Not usually. Maybe it was because I was sick. Maybe I had so little energy that my attention couldn't wander. Or maybe it's because about an hour before I started working I had a slice of coffee-infused coffee cake with an espresso glaze. Normally I wouldn't eat such a thing (it's caffeinated!), but it was from The Book. I had to make it, and once I made it I had to eat it so I could grade it. So there I was: caffeinated. And focused. Coincidence? I don't know. I have gathered, from my caffeine-addicted friends, that even if this hyper-focusing phenomenon was due to the caffeine, it would probably wear off as my body adjusted to being caffeinated. I would become addicted again, and need more and more caffeine for the same effect. And probably, if I started drinking caffeine in the quantities that I was before, I would also start feeling bad again. So what do I do? I haven't decided. Perhaps it is possible to strictly limit myself to one caffeinated beverage per day. That's never worked for me in the past though... One becomes two, which rapidly becomes eight. It isn't pretty. So, no decisions have been made. Thoughts?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Moroccan Carrot and Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Green Olive Tapenade (Page 184)

  • Date: Monday, January 21, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. These sandwiches had a lot of different flavors all in one place! Layers of goat cheese, green olive tapenade and spiced, marinated carrots were sandwiched between pumpernickel bread. Each bite was an explosion of flavors -- it was a bit much. These sandwiches brought to mind the Coco Chanel rule: before leaving the house, remove one accessory. These sandwiches would have better with any one thing removed. Each component tasted very good. The tapenade was excellent -- we served the leftover olive spread with bread at a party a few days later, and everyone enjoyed it. The marinated carrots were also very tasty. My mandoline doesn't have a thin enough setting to get them quite as thin as necessary for the right effect, but they were very flavorful. Together though, with the strong flavors of both goat cheese and pumpernickel bread, it was just a bit much. I found it difficult to eat after the first half a sandwich. Toned down just a tad these sandwiches could have been great. As they were, I won't make them again.

Here is the recipe.

All of yesterday's rest seems to have paid off because today I have been feeling somewhat better. The day started a bit rough though. My special gentleman friend left this morning at 6:45am. He has been traveling a bit lately, but he has been based out of Bloomington for 7 weeks now. Today, though, he left to go on a work trip and then go back to his home in Boston. Sad. Very sad. Ok, it's not as bad as it sounds. We are going to see each other at least every other weekend this semester, but it's still never fun to see him leave.

I was sick though so after I saw him off I fell back into bed and slept for another 3 hours! I rolled out of bed in time to go to school and teach my class, give my seminar on Waldhausen's S. construction, and have office hours. Then I made my way back home for some cold medicine, a big cup of tea, and several hours of laying on the couch. I feel so much better tonight than I did last night that I am hoping tomorrow I will be feeling all healthy again!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Veal Chop "Schnitzel" with Arugula Salad (Page 454)

  • Date: Sunday, January 20, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. The butcher didn't have any veal rib chops available, so we used the only bone-in veal steak they had available. We made just one "chop" instead of the four that the recipe specified (at 17 dollars a steak, we decided we could share one). Expensive, yes, but this recipe turned out very well. The meat was juicy and deliciously tender. The method of using the "schnitzel" coating (aka paner a l'anglaise, aka breading) locked in the moisture while providing the veal with a delicious crispy breadcrumb exterior. Reading the recipe I expected the veal to be delicious, but I was not excited about the arugula salad. Given my not-so-positive feelings about bitter green vegetables, usually when I see the words arugula salad I run the other way. This project doesn't afford me that luxury though. It said arugula salad, so arugula salad it was. The surprising thing? It was good! Yes, the arugula was bitter, but the bitterness was tempered by the delicious dressing and the sweetness of the shredded carrots. It was very good! Maybe I am coming around about bitter green after all... Overall this was a tasty recipe.

This recipe isn't online.

Yesterday I was in denial about the fact that I wasn't feeling well but today there is no getting around it: I am sick. There's some cold/flu thing that has been circulating through Bloomington for months, and finally I contracted it. I don't teach on Mondays so I spent the entire day laying in bed and sitting on the sofa. It was relaxing, but I'm still feeling pretty shitty. My goal is to wake up feeling significantly better tomorrow. Either way it's not going to be another day in bed. I have to teach tomorrow and give a seminar talk. And Matty is leaving. I have a feeling it isn't going to be a great day.

Today though I am just focusing on resting, drinking fluids, and trying to feel better.

On an unrelated note: Happy Birthday Rachel!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lemon Broth with Green Pea Ravioli (Page 92)

  • Date: Sunday, January 20, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I chose this recipe because it's another one that utilizes my new food mill. This recipe was very simple. Wonton wrappers were used to make ravioli with a green pea filling, and they were served in a lemon-infused chick broth. This making-ravioli-with-wonton-wrappers thing is common practice, but it's not nearly as good as real homemade ravioli (made using fresh pasta). Granted, it is orders of magnitude less work to use wonton wrappers than to make your own pasta, but if you are going to the trouble of stuffing your own ravioli, why not go all the way with it? Making fresh pasta is fun, and delicious. It's worth the trouble. This recipe called for wonton wrappers though, so wonton wrappers it was. The ravioli turned out fine. Obviously I wasn't crazy about the "pasta" itself, but the filling was pretty tasty. I used some homemade chicken stock from the freezer rather than store-bought broth, which I would recommend doing for this recipe. There is not much to the broth, so homemade stock versus the stuff from a can makes a noticeable difference. The final verdict: this recipe was fine. I enjoyed my bowl of it well-enough, but I wasn't eager for seconds.

Here is the recipe.

This week is "The Week of Chocolate" in Bloomington. Throughout the week there are various chocolate-themed events and the whole thing is a fund-raiser for some local charities. Tonight was The Art of Chocolate. It was an evening of hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, and lots of chocolate held at the Indiana University art museum. Matty and I had a lovely time. Bloomington's best chefs each had a spread of delicacies to be enjoyed. A few highlights of the night: a chocolate-themed tour of the art collection, chocolate-dipped gingerbread topped with lingonberries from Limestone Grille, and some live chocolate art (think: naked people covered in chocolate). My favorite treat of the night: amazing pork ribs covered in a chocolate-based sauce from Daniel Orr at FARMbloomington. Delicious! I haven't seen so much chocolate in one place since the last time I went to the chocolate bar at the Langham in Boston. This coming Saturday the Week of Chocolate will close with Chocolate Fest which promises to be another all-you-can-eat chocolate extravaganza. I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chesapeake Bay Baked Lima Beans (Page 274)

  • Date: Sunday, January 20, 2008 -- 1pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I am magnetically drawn to any recipes with beans in them. I am particular infatuated with beans baked for hours in some sort of delicious sauce. This recipe was for lima beans baked in a barbequesque sauce and topped with onions and bacon -- it sounded like a dream come true! It didn't end up as awe-inspiring as I had hoped though. I maintain that this recipe has potential, but as written it was merely ok. The sauce that the beans were baked in was tasty, but the flavor needed to be intensified. Maybe it was as simple as needing more salt. I'm not sure. But the flavor needed to be ramped up. The beans, for whatever reason, didn't absorb much flavor from the sauce. Since lima beans are large, this fact was very noticeable in each bite. You would have a bit of tasty sauce and a lot of not-so-flavorful beans. I was counting on the bacon to provide a burst of flavor, which it did. But the cooking method for the bacon wasn't ideal. The bacon strips were placed on the bean raw and then the whole thing was baked. So the top of the bacon became crispy and delicious, but the underside was cooked against the sauce of the beans, and hence never crisped. So although it was cooked through, the bottom of the bacon had a raw texture to it which was unappetizing. It would have been a better idea to crisp the bacon a bit before putting it atop the saucy dish. The one fantastic aspect of the recipe was the onions. Between the beans in sauce and the bacon there was a layer of onion slices. Being slow cooked between barbecue beans and bacon did wonders for those onions. They were caramelized and flavorful and delicious -- definitely a highlight! Overall this recipe was fine. I definitely didn't hate it, but I also can't see myself making it again. Matty was similarly apathetic about it. To be excellent, it would really need some tweaking.

This recipe isn't online.

Matty and I threw a dinner party tonight for some friends/colleagues. The food turned out reasonably well (more on that when I get to it in the blog) and the company was excellent! A couple of the guests are vegetarian, which is always a challenge when cooking from The Book. Sure, The Book has plenty of recipes that don't center around meat, but most non-dessert recipes have some trace of meat in them (a bit of chicken stock, some bacon, etc...). For tonight's dinner though I was looking for the truly vegetarian dishes. I managed to scrounge up a few, and they actually worked pretty well together. They weren't particularly kid-friendly though, and as one of my dinner guests was six years old this meant that I also served Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at this dinner party (in Spiderman shapes no less)! That was a first! The Book is a lot of things, but kid-friendly isn't really one of them.

It was a fun night. I love having people over for dinner, and there is no explanation for why I haven't been doing it more often since my move... Now tonight's guests have all gone home, the dishwasher is running, and I am sitting on the sofa relaxing. Ahhh....

Friday, January 25, 2008

Corn Relish (Page 902)

  • Date: Thursday, January 17, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I picked this recipe because I haven't been making enough of an effort in the Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves section of The Book. This relish was potent but good. It looked so innocuous that I took a big bite to try it. Perhaps I should have thought for a minute before doing that -- any recipe with two and a half cups (!) of vinegar in it is bound to be bold. And indeed this was. Eaten plain it was a bit overwhelming, but it would be a lovely side for a piece of meat. Despite all the corn, the most predominant flavor was really that of celery (the recipe called for both chopped celery and celery seed). The strong flavor of that celery provided some much needed contrast to the intensity of the vinegar. I thought it was pretty well balanced, but if you are not a celery person you might want to steer clear. As relishes go, this one wasn't bad. There was nothing terribly inspiring about it, but it was a solid recipe.  

This recipe isn't online.

My freezer is overflowing with food -- literally. I opened it the other day and tupperware containers came pouring out. Perhaps many of you have not had the extensive dealings with frozen tupperware containers that I have. So I'll tell you: when a frozen tupperware hits the floor, it shatters. So there I was, standing in a wasteland of shattered tupperware containers and frozen food, trying to save what I could (of the food, not the tupperware). It wasn't pleasant. I used to have two freezers -- one attached to the fridge, and one that stood alone. When I left Boston though I left freezer number two behind with my special gentleman. I stocked it with goodies before I left so that he would have plenty to eat. And periodically the frozen food in my Bloomington freezer makes a trip to Boston, accompanied by one of us. Lately though, Matty has been here (yay!), so no such trips have been made, and hence the freezer is overflowing. So, the past couple days, we have been eating out of it. It's so fun to relive some of the winning recipes from the past (Yesterday: Clay Pot Pork. Today: Walnut Spice Cake, Egg Drop Soup, and White Bean Gratin -- Yum!) I would guess that there are at least 20 individual tupperware entrees in my freezer right now, with at least 8 different dishes from The Book. It's lovely. There are so many choices that opening the freezer is like going out to a restaurant. Well, not exactly -- the avalanche of tupperware containers is probably unique to my freezer!  

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oat Lace Cookies (Page 665)

  • Date: Thursday, January 17, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I have been eyeing the recipe for these cookies for quite some time, so last week I finally made them. These lacy desserts were tasty, but I object a bit to calling them cookies. There was nothing cookie-like about them. They contained no flour, and hence came out very thin and fragile. They were much more like candy than cookies. They had a very rich buttery flavor, tempered only slightly by the oats. I made the "cookies" exactly as directed: 2 teaspoon balls of batter spaced 3 inches apart. Nonetheless, they all spread together in the oven. The two "cookies" pictured are the only ones out of the entire batch that didn't end up fusing with the "cookies" around them. One entire cookie sheet of them ended up as a big blob of "cookie." They still tasted fine, and they broke apart easily into pieces, but they weren't terribly attractive once broken into fragments. These lacy treats weren't really meant to stand alone. They would make a lovely component of an intricate dessert. For example, they would be a lovely side to creme brulee or a pot de creme. But if you are looking for a typical, substantial cookie, this is not the recipe for you.

This recipe isn't online.

Today I had an unpleasant interaction with one of my students. My class took a quiz last week and the grader gave them back to me today. Historically, cheating has been a problem in this course, so it is recommended that you write at least 2 different versions of each quiz and hand them out so that students in adjacent seats have different versions of the quiz. So I did this, without mentioning to the students that they weren't all taking the exact same quiz. The second question on quiz version A was: Draw a graph of a function f(x) that is increasing everywhere and concave up for negative values of x and concave down for positive values of x. The analogous question on version B was the opposite: Draw a graph of a function f(x) that is decreasing everywhere and concave down for negative values of x and concave up for positive values of x. It turned out that both versions of this question were difficult for many students. Out of the 77 students who took the quiz though, there were two students who gave perfect answers to the question on the other version of the quiz than they took. Those of you out there who are mathematically inclined will understand how unlikely it is that this would happen by accident. Sure a student many confuse concave up and concave down, but confusing increasing and decreasing? Unlikely. And confusing it all so that you get exactly the wrong answer, which magically happens to be the right answer for the person in the seat next to you? Even more unlikely. So I wrote, "Please see me after class," on the two papers. Only one of the students came to class though. After class I had a little talk with him. It was very uncomfortable. I didn't accuse him of cheating. I just explained that I found it suspicious, and I wanted to warn him about the consequences of cheating. Interestingly, he didn't deny that he had cheated. He didn't confirm it either. Actually he didn't say much. I found the whole thing very difficult and unpleasant. I sincerely hope that I won't continue to have problems like these throughout the semester.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Roasted Celery Root (Page 533)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: D+


In retrospect it is hard to remember why I picked this recipe. I like celery root (aka celeriac) well enough, and I love other roasted root vegetables, so I suppose I figured this would have to be good. As it turns out, I was wrong. I had a whole variety of issues with this recipe. One, there was way too much oil. There was so much that it felt more like deep-frying than roasting. I love oil, but in this case the celery root pieces were sitting in pools of oil. Gross. The recipe also calls for the celery root to be roasted way too long. By the time I checked it, about a half an hour before it was supposed to be done, it was already extremely tender and a little bit shriveled (see picture). My biggest complaints though were about the flavor and texture (two small details!). This preparation of celery root had an incredibly dull flavor. A fine sea salt might have helped, or some extra virgin olive oil rather than the vegetable oil, or some other ingredients besides just oil and salt. It needed help though -- as it was, it was incredibly dull. It was also incredibly mushy. I like mushed up root vegetables (see yesterday's ode to mashed potatoes), but in this case they were extremely mushy little nuggets surrounded by a tough out shell where the surface was essentially fried for quite a long time. Not tasty. Not tasty at all. The thing that made me the most sad about this recipe is that many people out there have potentially never had celery root and could try this recipe as their first celery root experience. Then they would run screaming, and spend the rest of their lives convinced that it is a bad vegetable, and one to be avoided. So I am here to tell you it's not true. It's not a bad vegetable, it's a bad recipe.

Here is the recipe.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dried Apricot-Oatmeal Scones (Page 598)

  • Tuesday, January 15, 2008 -- 11pm
  • Location: Indianapolis, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This is another recipe off the list generated by the random number generator, and another one that I brought to Indianapolis to eat with Matty when he was in Indy for a night last week. That is where the similarities between this recipe and the Deviled Ham recipe end. You might think it odd that I wouldn't have made this recipe for scones until the random number generator forced me to. The various sections of baked goods in The Book are some of the sections where I have made the most progress. Yet I hadn't made these scones. The reason: I have eaten one too many dry, stale Starbucks scones in my life, and so I have it in my head that I don't like scones. The truth is that I don't like bad scones. But because of my anti-scone stance, this recipe hadn't been made. I'm happy that the random number gods forced it on me though because these scones were delicious! They suffered not-at-all from the dryness that usually drives a wedge in my relationship with scones. My other anti-scone campaign: Scones Are Boring, also wasn't relevant here. The oatmeal gave these scones more flavor than your typical scone, while also contributing a bit of chewiness and a heartiness unusual for this tea pastry. The finely chopped dried apricots were delightful. They gave the scones little bursts of flavor while the grated orange peel gave them a uniform citrus brightness. Add to that the tang of some buttermilk, and you have yourself a winning scone. I liked them very much. Matty did too. I usually turn the other way when I see a scone coming at me, and I very much enjoyed these. So if you campaign on the side of the scones, you are sure to love this recipe!

This recipe is almost identical except the one in The Book calls for finely chopped dried apricots instead of the currants.

Matty and I ate dinner from The Book tonight (as we do most every night when we are in the same place...) and after everything was assembled, served, and eaten, there were some potatoes left over. Just plain, peeled and boiled potatoes. So I threw in some butter, milk, and generous quantities of salt and pepper and I made myself some mashed potatoes. Then I carefully packaged them in a tupperware container. I took the labels out of the drawer (when you have an entire freezer jam-packed with leftovers from The Book, labels are a necessity) and carefully labeled my container of potatoes: "ALL FOR TEENA. NONE FOR MATT." Then I carefully put it in the fridge.

Normally I am better at sharing than this. In general Matty eats much more of the food that I cook than I do. But mashed potatoes? Mashed potatoes I cannot share. In a previous life -- one before this project and the constant presence of The Book in my daily cooking -- I ate mashed potatoes all the time. I ate them so much that I would perhaps even have shared them with someone I love. But now there is so much Book food in my life that I eat little else, and I find myself only eating mashed potatoes in restaurants (Or at the homeless shelter, back when I lived in Boston. There we made instant mashed potatoes. Not good. Yet I ate them. That's how much I miss mashed potatoes!) Mashed potatoes, in addition to being divinely delicious, remind me of some of the best things in life: family, friends, big holiday meals... Maybe I should try to make a little space in my cooking regime for some mashed potatoes now and then. All for me of course. None for Matt.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Deviled Ham (Page 496)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 -- 11pm
  • Location: Indianapolis, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C


Mmmmm... spreadable ham. This one came off the list generated by the random number generator. (Aside: this is exactly why I use said list. Would I ever have picked spreadable ham on my own? Probably not until the very last month of my project.) I made some deviled ham sandwiches and brought them when I went to meet Matty in Indianapolis for dinner last week. Well, what can I say. I love ham -- like most pork products, it tastes great. This deviled ham was made with the addition of butter, mustard, and chutney, all of which I also love. But then it all gets pureed together (directions: blend until smooth). This is where the recipe goes horribly awry. Pureed ham? Seriously? Deviled ham is always spreadable ham (the stuff you mix in varies depending on the recipe, but the spreadableness does not). So maybe the recipe didn't go awry but the whole concept of deviled ham is just flawed to begin with. I don't want my ham to be smushy and spreadable. If, instead of making this deviled ham, I had just taken some bread, put a little butter on it, a few slices of ham, some mustard and chutney and made myself a sandwich like that it would have been delightful. Yet, with the exact same ingredients, my deviled ham sandwich was just not very good (two pieces of bread with ham-flavored mush in between. I'm sure you can imagine). Why puree the innards of your sandwich? Why would you want to do that?

There are two perspectives on grading this. One is that my sandwich would have been vastly better had I not executed this recipe at all and rather just put the deviled ham ingredients between some bread. That suggests it should get an extremely low grade (D maybe, or F?). The other perspective (and this is offered up by Matty) is that as far as deviled hams go, this recipe is much better than most. Deviled ham is inherently gross, but if you were forced to make it, you would probably want to make this recipe. So he suggested a grade of B+ (although, notably, after eating a half a sandwich made with this he had no interest in eating any more...). So the compromise: C. It's not a compromise really. This is the grade it should get according to my usual scheme. To land in the B range it has to be something that I enjoyed eating, which wasn't particularly the case here. But to land in the D or F range it has to be something that I wouldn't eat past a bite or two. I did eat my deviled ham sandwich. Truth be told, I had more than one (there was a lot of deviled ham and it seemed sad to throw away all that once-yummy ham!). So I'll give it a C. But unless someone is forcing you at gunpoint to produce some deviled ham, I wouldn't recommend this recipe.

Lucky for you, this recipe isn't online.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Baked Polenta with Parmesan (Page 265)

  • Date: Monday, January 14, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Once I started making polenta recipes from The Book a couple weeks ago, I remembered how much I love polenta and I made all the polenta recipes from The Book (I have no self control!). This was the last one, and the best of the bunch. It was also fantastically simple. You make polenta on the stove, then cool it in a baking pan. Then you cover with parmesan, broil, and serve. Yum! The cheese got deliciously crusty on top and the polenta was warm and creamy underneath. The browned cheese also gave the dish a burst of flavor, but yet it was neutral enough that you could serve it with a variety of other dishes or sauces. The only negative to this recipe was that the layer of cheese tended to separate from the polenta when you tried to eat it. You could just peel the crusty cheese off. This was only a minor distraction from the tastiness of the dish. If you are looking for a very simple, very tasty preparation for polenta, I recommend this one.

This recipe isn't online.

Matty and I just finished eating a big dinner from The Book. I have done quite a bit of cooking already this month. This is my third January of the project, and each of the previous two years January has been one of the most productive months of the year in terms of recipes completed. I wonder why that is... Perhaps increased motivation at the start of a new year? Or the cold weather motivates me to stay inside and cook? Probably the explanation is just that until this year I was always on break in January. Of course I was still working on my research, but at MIT in January there are no classes or seminars, which frees up a lot of time. That explanation doesn't apply this year -- our term started January 7th. But I am teaching Tuesday-Thursday this term rather than Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so that makes for a more relaxed schedule. Also, I haven't been traveling this month, which is quite different from last semester! Whatever the reason, I have been doing a lot of cooking lately. More than that, I have found a renewed energy and enthusiasm for my project. I spent a lot of last semester cooking just for myself, and I grew a bit tired of it. In the last couple months though I have had the opportunity to cook for, and with, many different friends. Speaking of cooking with friends, I have already scheduled two trips to Boston this semester, and they are of a reasonable length (no more of the crazy 36 hour trips!)! So finally I will be able to cook again with some of my favorite cooking companions! That will certainly help me keep up the good pace I have developed in the last couple months.

Lemon Bars (Page 691)

  • Date: Friday, January 11, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Vigleik and Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: B

It's getting harder and harder to find desserts I haven't made yet that can be produced reasonably quickly with easy-to-find ingredients. I hadn't made the lemon bars though, so I picked them to make at V and Shihchi's place last weekend. These lemon bars were tasty, but not the best lemon bars I have had (or made). There were several strongly positive qualities about them: one, the shortbread style crust was very tasty. It was buttery and flaky with a bit of sweetness, and it held together nicely. The second thing I appreciated about these lemon bars was that they were nice and thick. Often lemon bars are these thin little things with just a tiny layer of lemon filling. I've never understood that. The lemon filling is the whole point of the bars, so there should be a lot of it. These bars were nice and thick, and that pleased me. The downside is that while there was plenty of filling, it wasn't quite right. V and Shihchi both felt it was too tart and could have used some more sugar. I didn't mind how tart it was, but I found it not very flavorful. You could taste the lemon (obviously) but it didn't shine out like it does in a good lemon curd. Perhaps the filling needed some more salt, or even a splash of vanilla to enhance the lemon flavor and not just the tartness. The other thing that was odd was the texture of the filling. Usually lemon bars have a nice, smooth filling. This filling didn't have that silky smooth texture though. It had a very slightly curdled feel to it. This may have been from over baking, although I actually baked them for less time than indicated, so I'm not sure. All that said, I liked them. However, I have made better lemon bars, so I likely won't make these again.

This recipe isn't online.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Chop Suey (Page 488)

  • Date: Friday, January 11, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Shihchi
  • Dining Companion: Vigleik
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I picked this recipe to make at Vigleik and Shihchi's place last weekend because it was another one that called for a wok (which they have and I don't!). This chop suey was good -- it evoked thoughts of Chinese take-out while being better than most take-out. There were two fine qualities that set this dish apart from the fast-food and take-out renditions. One, the vegetables weren't overcooked. Two: the meat was flavorful and tender. This recipe called for pork tenderloin, which was absolutely delicious in this preparation. Usually I am a person who will eat more of the vegetables than the meat in a dish like this, but in this case I found myself tempted to pick the pork out of the bowl and eat just that! It was good. The downside of this recipe was that the preparation was a bit ridiculous. Each of the nine vegetables in this chop suey were stir-fried separately. Shihchi did all this stir-frying, and you can easily imagine what a pain it was. Could a few of the vegetables have been cooked together at the same time? Sure. All of them at once? Probably not (too much to fit well in the wok and get cooked evenly). But it would have been sensible for The Book to suggest three batches of vegetables rather than nine. The end result was pretty tasty though. If you like chop suey, you will certainly appreciate this rendition.

Here is the recipe.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dry-Cooked String Beans (Page 523)

  • Date: Friday, January 11, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Vigleik
  • Dining Companion: Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I chose this recipe to make with dinner at V and Shihchi's place because it calls for a wok, which they have and I don't (yes, I do exploit my friends for their cooking equipment!). This recipe was truly strange in the following respect: the green beans were deep-fried and then stir-fried. Why? Well, I'm not really sure. The Book claims it locks in their bright-green color and intensifies the flavor. I can't dispute that it did do wonders for their color. But the flavor? I could detect no effect. The downside was that it made the green beans overcooked and mushy. I couldn't help but think that the recipe would be hugely improved by eliminating the deep-frying step. To be fair, we used very thin green beans. Maybe with thicker ones they would be able to withstand the deep-fry followed by the stir-fry. I don't know. It was sad that the beans were mushy, because other than that the dish was delicious! The sauce had a fantastic flavor and the pork was a great complement to the beans. I was so taken by the flavors in this dish that I was particularly frustrated by the poor texture. I may try this one again with some nice fat green beans sometime and see if it helps. Maybe I will also take out the deep-frying. I have hope that this recipe could be something truly excellent with a little tweaking.

This recipe isn't online.

Grilled Calamari with Arugula (Page 344)

  • Date: Friday, January 11, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Vigleik
  • Dining Companion: Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: B

Vigleik, Shihchi, and I made dinner last Friday at their place. Shihchi suggested squid, so we chose this recipe. There was neither anything terrible, nor anything amazing about this dish. It was conceptually very simple: grilled squid tossed with a lemon dressing and served on a bed of dressed arugula. The keen observer will note that the green stuff supporting the squid in the photo above is indeed not arugula. It is some mixed greens ensemble containing (a bit of) arugula. This was the closest thing Whole Foods had on that particular evening. If anything I think the mixed greens improved the dish, but that may be my bias against bitter greens speaking. The Book indicated that the squid could either be grilled on a real grill or cooked on a grill pan. We did the latter. The recipe called for the squid pieces to be skewered, a step that I figured was only meant to prevent the squid from falling through the grates in the grill. So, since we were using a grill pan, I figured it wasn't necessary and we skipped it. Turns out the skewering has another important functionality: to prevent the squid from curling up. Vigleik was in charge of the grilling of the squid, and he had the unenviable job of trying to uncurl many pieces of squid at once so they would be evenly cooked. He did a good job though and the squid was cooked through but still nice and tender. The lemon dressing was fine -- it wasn't terribly exciting, but it didn't taste bad. Overall the dish was solid, but nothing to write home about.

Here is the recipe.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Black Bean Soup with Rum (Page 110)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I chose this recipe because it used my new food mill that I got for Christmas. This was one of the better bean soups from The Book. The texture was just perfect (yay food mill!), and there was a great depth of flavor from simmering the beans for hours with a smoked ham hock. The rum gave it a bit of a boozy kick, which worked with the smoky flavor of the soup. The start to finish time on this recipe was 4 hours -- it wasn't a quick soup. But those hours of cooking really paid off. There were layers of flavor built up with onions, celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and beef stock, and the slow cook enhanced them in a fabulous way. This was a hearty and tasty bean soup -- perfect for cold weather!

This recipe isn't online.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Milk-Braised Pork (Page 477)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


In the winter I always feel compelled to braise, and this year is no exception. I have never used milk as a braising medium before, so I was curious if it would be delicious or repulsive (or something in between). Here's the thing about this dish: if you were visually impaired, or choosing to eat dinner with your eyes closed, I would highly recommend it. It was very, very tasty. The pork was deliciously tender -- it fell apart with the touch of a fork. And the sauce was rich and caramely. Yum! But if you had plans to look at your plate while eating, I'm not sure I can, in good conscience, recommend this to you. It was visually unappealing to an extreme. The milk sauce curdled (or something -- there were nasty chunks of white stuff floating in it). So I strained it, which helped, but not enough... It just had a truly disgusting appearance. It was partially separated, with a weird grainy look to it. Foolishly I chose the picture which hid this fact the best. I should have posted a picture more accurately representing the dish. This dish was ugly. It was ugly enough that it was hard to eat, despite its delicious flavor. So would I make it again? Maybe. But only for me -- I couldn't possibly serve this to someone else.

Here is the recipe.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Broiled Polenta with Tomato Sauce (Page 266)

  • Date: Monday, January 7, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


We made the Basic Polenta recipe a couple Saturdays ago and used half the recipe to make this broiled polenta the following Monday. This polenta was pretty tasty. I ate the leftovers of it for lunch all last week, and this week I have been missing it so much that I made another polenta recipe from The Book tonight. The idea behind this recipe is simple. You make polenta, then stir in some cheese and let it cool in the fridge. Once it sets you slice it, broil it, and top it with some tomato sauce. The recipe had only a couple small problems. One, the tomato sauce wasn't robust enough for this recipe. Polenta is delicious, but it doesn't have a tremendous amount of flavor. The tomato sauce was also a bit plain. The net result was delicious comfort food, but it was still a bit dull. I wouldn't serve it to company for that reason. It was sad really, because a delicious, flavorful tomato sauce would have made this recipe excellent! The other issue I had with this recipe was that the polenta slices were difficult to deal with after they had been under the broiler. When they were heated they became less structurally stable, which made them difficult to flip or move without breaking them. Despite those minor critiques, this dish was very tasty. I went rummaging through the freezer just last night to see if I had frozen any of it (sadly, no). It is too dull to serve as the vegetarian entree is aspires to be, but it makes excellent comfort food.

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kir Royale Sorbet (Page 861)

  • Date: Sunday, January 6, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: A


We had dinner at Paul and Beth's house last weekend and I was looking for something from The Book to bring. Beth had mentioned to me that some of her favorite drinks are those with creme de cassis in them, so I thought some nice Kir Royale sorbet would be appropriate. This sorbet was excellent. It contained all the makings of a Kir Royale: a healthy dose of champagne, and creme de cassis. The base flavor was that of raspberry though (I suppose on the basis that Kir Royales sometimes have raspberries dropped in them). The combination worked extremely well. It was an excellent raspberry sorbet (flavorful -- not too sweet) with a delicious boozy kick. The texture was also quite nice. In fact, I think this was one of the best sorbets I have had. Everyone seemed to enjoy it very much (especially Lauren, who had enough servings that I was worried I was getting her drunk!). I highly recommend this recipe.

Here is the recipe.

Chuck Blade Steak with Herb Wine Sauce (Page 427)

  • Date: Saturday, January 5, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. These steaks were very tasty. Unfortunately, chuck blade steaks were not to be found anywhere. I had the butcher cut me steaks from another part of the chuck but they were, as you would expect, a bit tough. I am sure having the blade steaks would have solved this problem. The sauce was delicious. It was rich and flavorful -- also well-balanced with the exception of just a touch too many chives. This sauce would work nicely with any pan-fried steak. Matty thought these steaks were exceptionally good. I agreed that they were very tasty, but wasn't quite as amazed by them as he was. I enjoyed eating them, but there are so many truly amazing preparations for a good steak that I am not sure this one can compete with the best. It was tasty, but not particularly interesting or special. That said, for a 25 minute dinner, it was good.

Here is the recipe.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Baked Belgian Endive with Pecorino and Walnuts (Page 539)

  • Date: Saturday, January 5, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


We had a delicious Belgian endive hors d'oeuvre a few weeks ago, so I was drawn to this endive recipe. This recipe wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Matty and I had different complaints. He was bothered by the texture. The endives were baked (covered) for quite a while, so they essentially got steamed. Hence their texture was limp and a bit slimy. I had expected this texture, and so wasn't particularly appalled by it, but Matty was horrified that something once so deliciously crispy had lost so much of its integrity. My complaint was more about the flavor. Endives are bitter, which often works in their favor. Many endive dishes effectively contrast the bitterness of the endive with the mellowness of other ingredients. In this case though, the bitterness was emphasized by the cooking technique, and the topping didn't do much to offset it. So my complaint about this recipe is one you have heard from me before: just too bitter.

Here is the recipe.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Basic Polenta (Page 264)

  • Date: Saturday, January 5, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


We made this polenta to accompany some steaks last Sunday. I love polenta, so I liked this dish just fine. There was nothing special about it -- it was indeed very plain. But it would be lovely with any one of a number of sauces on it (or mixed with cheese and broiled, as will appear on the blog in a few days). Polenta is traditionally made with a method that involves stirring constantly for 45 minutes. This recipe called for it to only be stirred for one minute out of every ten. This saves a lot of time (and arm fatigue), and it seemed to work just fine. There were a few lumps, but I think that had more to do with the fact that the cornmeal wasn't added in a steady enough stream when it was first mixed in. Overall this is a good basic polenta recipe, from which many variations could be made.

This recipe isn't online.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Turtle Brownies (Page 690)

  • Date: Friday, January 4, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Chuck, Donna, Mary Jane, and a bunch of other people at department tea...
  • Recipe Rating: B


Matty and I made these brownies last weekend because we had nothing sweet in the apartment. I had high hopes for these brownies, and they were pretty good, but nothing special. I love caramel, and I expect most things drenched in homemade caramel to be good. Indeed the caramel and pecan topping was delicious. But the brownies underneath were just so-so. They were extremely fudgey, to a fault. These brownies tasted very much like fudge with caramel on top. Of course that doesn't taste bad, but it also doesn't taste like a brownie. They were so rich, that even cut into very small pieces, they were too much. Matty and I couldn't nearly eat them all, so I brought them into the department on Monday. They got eaten (of course!), but I don't think anyone was particularly wowed by them. My recommendation: make you favorite brownie recipe, and then just use the caramel pecan topping from this recipe to make them into Turtle Brownies.

Here is the recipe.

I got a letter in the mail today from the people who administered my student loans from my undergrad years at Stanford, saying that I am now officially debt-free! These loans have been on deferral forever, because as long as you stay in school (which I have until recently) they don't accrue interest. In fact I managed to basically forget about them until the loan people magically learned that I graduated and started sending me letters this summer. I am so opposed to paying interest that I wanted to pay off every cent before the grace period expired in November. And I did! (Well actually they charged me 45 cents interest, but it was a mistake on their part. I figure 45 cents is worth fighting over!) This is all old news -- I finished paying them off in November. But the letter just came today and it made me feel very triumphant! I am debt-free!

Matty and I watched this horrifying documentary the other day about credit card debt (Maxed Out). Of course this has nothing to do with the kind of debt I had. It was certainly not about people paying back student loans. It was about people charging tens of thousands of dollars to their credit cards, and then declaring bankruptcy, etc... I hate using credit cards. I wouldn't even have them if you didn't need to have them to build a credit rating. So I do. And I charge things occasionally, but I always pay it off immediately. In fact, that 45 cents interest I paid on my student loans is the only interest I have ever paid. According to the documentary, this is not typical. They claimed the average American's credit card debt is around $9,000. Crazy. Makes me especially happy to be debt-free!

On an unrelated note, Happy Birthday Mel!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake (Page 643)

  • Date: Friday, January 4, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I was looking for something to make for brunch last weekend, so I made this coffee cake. It was ok. It was essentially just one big blueberry muffin, with sweetened almonds on top. Usually I am a huge fan of all sweet, crunchy toppings. In this case it just didn't work for me though. There were too many almonds. With half as many it would have been better. The other issue that I had with the topping was that it didn't go well with the cake itself. There were no almonds in the cake, and there was a choice of adding vanilla extract or almond. I chose vanilla, and hence there was no almond flavor in the cake either. Perhaps it would have been better had I chosen the almond extract. All that said, I did eat a lot of this coffee cake -- I just took off the topping. It worked out well because Matty really liked the topping, so I would take it off and he would eat it. I wouldn't make this again though. A nice batch of blueberry muffins with struesel topping has all of the good qualities of this recipe without the bad ones.

This recipe isn't online.

When I was in elementary school, the first day of school each year always made me really nervous. Would my friends be in my class? Would the mean girls be there too? Would the boy I had a crush on have the desk next to mine? It was stressful. I remember not sleeping well.

Embarrassingly enough, the first day teaching a new class also makes me nervous. The reasons are (obviously) different. In fact, I'm not even particularly sure what they are. It's just a strange situation, standing in front of 80 complete strangers, trying to figure out what they are like, and whether or not they are understanding what you are trying to teach them. It's stranger still, because although they are all strangers, you know that by the end of the term you will know who they all are and have had various interactions with them. Last semester there were a couple students who whispered to each other throughout the first few weeks of class. They drove me crazy, and I just figured they weren't serious students. Around week 4 they stopped whispering, and started really paying attention. It turned out that one of them was arguably the best student in the class, and the other was not far behind. It's just hard to tell at first. My first day teaching M119 was today. I think it went fine. Topics: Section 1.1: "What is a function?" and Section 1.2: "Linear Functions." Fun, fun...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ricotta Hotcakes with Honeycomb Butter (Page 648)

  • Date: Thursday, January 3, 2008 -- 11am
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A


We have had a couple huge brunches from The Book in the last 6 months, so the Breakfast and Brunch section is running low. So, you might ask, how is it that there was still a recipe I hadn't made for pancakes? I'll tell you how: this recipe looked so unbelievably fussy I couldn't motivate to make it. The pancakes themselves weren't so fussy, but they are topped with a compound butter with crushed candy in it, and making the candy to crush into the compound butter was part of this recipe. It seemed like an awful lot of fuss for pancakes. However, I am now completely willing to take back every negative thought I had about these pancakes because they were divine. They were fluffy, and moist, and flavorful. The ricotta cheese gave them a bit of gooey cheesiness which completely worked. The honeycomb butter was delicious, and it melted all over the pancakes, leaving little pieces of honey candy behind. These were the best pancakes I can remember having. Matty and I sat in complete silence for 5 minutes, just enjoying and marveling at our hotcakes. Yum! Yum, yum, yum...

Sadly, this recipe isn't online.

Well, day one of the semester has come and gone. However since I don't teach until tomorrow I don't think I have yet internalized that the term has begun. I took my special gentleman friend to the airport this morning. Since we work at universities with a thousand miles in between, we are often apart. I have adjusted pretty well to this fact. I still hate the leaving though. I hate that moment at the airport when he disappears through security (or I wander off through security alone). I hate walking back to my car in the airport parking ramp. I hate getting into my car alone. By the time I arrive back in Bloomington an hour later, I have usually adjusted again. But those moments at the airport are just awful for me. I would consider making him take the airport shuttle instead (!) but I'm sure then I would just have those awful moments at the bus stop instead of the airport. I always thought I would be terrible at being in a long distance relationship. It turns out, it's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Except for all the leaving -- the leaving is brutal.

All that said, I shouldn't complain. In about a week I will back at the airport, picking him up. That airport trip I love!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Red Bean and Bacon Soup (Page 110)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I got a food mill for Christmas, so I can finally make the recipes in The Book that require one. I let Matty pick which food-mill-required recipe he wanted first, and he selected this one. This soup was tasty, but quite fatty. If you let it sit for any amount of time, a layer of fat would rise to the top which was, needless to say, unappetizing. Usually I think of pureed bean soups as being a healthy dinner choice (think: wholesome black bean soup). This one was greasy though. The recipe started with cooking a half a pound of bacon, and then proceeding using that bacon fat to cook the other soup components in. Without thinking I paired this with the cabbage below (resulting theme of the meal: food with bacon on top), which only intensified the rich bacon-ness of this soup. All that said, it had a good flavor, and I liked the texture (fairly smooth, but still with some texture to it). It was a touch too spicy for me, but a reduction in the cayenne would easily solve that.

Here is the recipe.

Matty and I had a lovely dinner tonight at Paul and Beth's house. The food was excellent and there was lots of it: potato leek soup, vegetable terrine, nut loaf, tomatoes and mushrooms in vinaigrette, breadsticks, green salad, a cheese course, cheesecake, and a caramelized pear (apple?) tart. I am stuffed to the brim! Another colleague told me soon after I moved here that the best place to eat out in Bloomington is at Paul's house, and now I can see why! Yum! I did get teased a bit throughout dinner that I must have been secretly grading the food (the chef, the water pitcher...). Indeed I was not! I love eating in other people's homes, and I leave the scrutinizing that I apply to Book food at home. That said, the food tonight would have easily survived even my most critical viewing, as it was delicious!

Braised Red Cabbage (Page 528)

  • Date: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


It was cold last week, so braised cabbage seemed like an appropriate vegetable to have. This recipe is pretty good. It was simple: sweet onions were cooked in bacon fat and then red cabbage were added and braised with some white wine vinegar. At the end the dish was sprinkled with the bacon that produced the bacon fat. The dish had flavor and texture characteristic of braised red cabbage. Matt found it a little too "sour," but still agreed that it tasted good. The bacon sprinkled on top was odd, both visually (see picture) and in terms of flavor. Since the cabbage was cooked in bacon fat, there was a subtle meaty richness to it. The bacon on top though was just too much. I love bacon, but in this case I would have preferred the dish without the bacon topping. Overall, though, if you like braised cabbage you are bound to like this recipe. It would be nice served with a big roast and some mashed potatoes.

Here is the recipe. However the recipe online says the bacon should be reserved for another use, while the one in The Book has the bacon sprinkled on top of the cabbage.

With the semester rapidly descending upon me, I have begun to make travel plans. I have learned that one essential component of balancing teaching, a long distance relationship, conferences, and research trips, is careful planning of one's travels. A few weeks ago I made a tentative calendar, and now that I have all the relevant dates for my course this term (exam dates, etc...) I have begun buying plane tickets. Here's the miraculous thing: in the month of January, I am not flying anywhere. I will not go on a single airplane this month! In fact, I have no plans to venture any further from home than Chicago. This, for me, is tremendously exciting. I have made at least one trip involving the miracle of air travel every month since May. This month though, I am staying home! (And, of course, attempting to ignore the fact that between the middle of February and the middle of March I will make two trips to Boston and one to California!) So, my days without travel will be short-lived, but pleasant nonetheless!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Tourtiere (Page 493)

  • Date: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I have been wanting to make this pork pie for years now, but no one has been too excited about eating it with me. Apparently a pie filled with pork doesn't sound good to some people. Luckily, Matty agreed with me that it sounded intriguing, so we made this for our New Year's dinner. It was pretty tasty. There's not much to it -- the recipe is essentially a homemade pie crust filled with some ground pork which has been browned with onions and seasoned with savory and allspice. There was a bit too much allspice I thought, but other than that the flavor of the filling was good. The crust was excellent. It was slightly adapted from a typical pate brisee (it was made with milk instead of water, and kneaded a couple times), and it really worked well. It was very crispy, which was a nice textural contrast to the pork. The one downfall of this recipe was that it was just too much pork. Tourtiere is a French Canadian Christmas tradition, and as I understand it, it often has potatoes in the filling as well as the pork. That would have been a huge improvement to this recipe. As it was, it was tremendously rich (a buttery pastry crust filled entirely with pork!). Some potatoes would have provided a much needed buffer to the richness. It was still good though, and although it took us a couple days, we ate the whole pie! I feel confident, however, that there are better tourtiere recipes out there.

This recipe isn't online.

Well the inevitable finally happened: I went to the butcher today and they didn't have the cut of meat that I needed. No chuck blade steaks to be found. When I moved to Indiana, I wasn't at all nervous about the typical things that make people nervous when moving to a small town in the Midwest. I am not easily bored, so that wasn't a concern. I don't mind be surrounded by cornfields. I can cook for myself, so great restaurants aren't a priority. One thing made me deeply nervous though: I was worried I wouldn't be able to find ingredients for the food from The Book. I was especially nervous about two areas: spices and meat. Spices, I discovered week 1 of my life in Bloomington, IN, are not a problem. The local co-op, Bloomingfoods, has a tremendous selection. They have yet to let me down. Meat was a bigger problem. I went from grocer to grocer looking for a really good meat counter -- one that had not only good quality meat, but also a huge selection. I had no luck. After a few weeks it occurred to me that I should at least check if there is a butcher shop in town. Butcher shops are few and far between these days, and honestly it seemed unlikely I was going to find one here. But much to my surprise (and delight, and wonder) Bloomington has a fantastic butcher shop. I can't say enough positive things about Butcher's Block. I go there at least one a week, armed with a list of random cuts of meat that I need for my various Book recipes. They listen to my list, disappear into the back, and reappear with lovely white paper wrappers surrounding delicious meat. And until today, they have always had exactly what I needed. This is not your typical small town butcher either. They have tongue and offal and game birds, etc... It is a wonderland of meat. My understanding is that it was opened a few years ago by a couple of IU alumni, approximately my age. I am so enthralled by the butcher shop that Matty teases me that I have a crush on one of the butchers (there is possibly a tiny bit of truth to this!). I will indeed be sad when I have to eventually move away from Bloomington, and leave behind the excellent supply of meat! Who would have guessed?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Honey Cake (Page 705)

  • Date: Sunday, December 30, 2007 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Karen H, Dave, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: C-


I am running out of desserts in The Book that don't require either crazy ingredients (e.g. Lyle's Golden Syrup), crazy equipment (e.g. a kugelhopf pan, or coeur a la creme molds), or a crazy amount of time (e.g. 9 1/2 hours)! Basically the simple ones that are left are the ones that don't sound so good to me. For instance: honey cake. I know, I know, it doesn't sound bad from the name. I like honey. I love cake. It was the ingredient list that frightened me. It included a cup of honey, a half a cup of strong brewed coffee, and a shot of whiskey. Don't get me wrong, I like all those things. But together? My apprehensions were justified -- it didn't taste good. The texture was nice, and it was pleasantly moist. Basically all attributes were positive except the taste. Other people defended it (mainly out of politeness I am sure) but even Dave admitted that it had an unsettling "aftertaste." Everyone else ate it (again out of politeness most likely), Matty even had seconds (not out of politeness -- it just happens that he will eat anything), but I ate a few bites and then surrendered the rest to Matty. Some of you reading don't know me, but those that do can verify that I am not one to leave dessert on my plate. I usually enjoy just about anything sweet. This cake was bad though, so steer clear.

Here is the recipe.

Somebody asked me, over break, when I started cooking seriously. It got me thinking about graduate school. Doing research is simultaneously a very cushy and very frustrating job. On the one hand, you essentially set your own hours, going in to the department when you feel like it. You can work from your office, or home, or favorite coffee shop. You can work from 9-5 or in the middle of the night. You have a lot of flexibility. You can take vacations, travel to conferences, etc... Life is pretty relaxed. On the other hand, even with the best mathematicians, progress can be slow. You can work on a problem for weeks, or months, without making any progress. You can invest dozens of hours on a project only to realize you’ve made a mistake and it’s all wrong. I am the type of person who makes lists just so I can cross things off. I like being productive. I like endeavors where I can produce things. This is one of many appeals of cooking. As a college student I loved computer programming for the same reason: I could spend some number of hours writing code and then I had a program that could actually do something. It could play Boggle, or draw pictures, or compute fast Fourier transforms. I was so enamored by this production that it took me a whole summer of writing code for NASA to convince myself that I didn’t want to spend my life as a computer programmer.

In college, and early in graduate school, math too could feel productive in this way. It wasn’t the same as producing cakes, or computer games, but I could produce proofs. Each week I had problem sets and I could solve problems. It was satisfying. By my third year, the problem sets were gone. The constant onslaught of problems to solve had subsided. While I was essentially quite happy about this, it was the beginning of a whole new phase. Working on my own research the problems were harder. They took longer. The moments of satisfying productivity were fewer and further between. It was fascinating and rewarding in a whole different way, but it didn't feel productive. So, with increased drive and intensity, I began to cook in my spare moments. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eggplant Pizza (Page 197)

  • Date: Sunday, December 30, 2007 -- 6pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Brad, Deniz, Dave, and Karen H
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Since we were already making pizza on Sunday, we figured we should make a couple different kinds. This pizza was the only other one in The Book that we could find the proper ingredients and equipment for. I wasn't initially optimistic about this recipe. Eggplant isn't a favorite of mine, and neither is pizza without tomato sauce. I have to admit though, this pizza was excellent! The broiled eggplant was delicious, and the amount of cheese was just right. The crust, which was the same as that in the pizza below, was delicious baked on the pizza stone. What really made the recipe though was the oil infused with browned garlic and red pepper. That oil was delicious, and it gave the pizza a fantastic burst of flavor. We made three pizzas for dinner on Sunday: one of these, and two of the pizza margherita. In retrospect I wish I had made two of these and one of those. Surprisingly, this was the better pizza!

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one, except that it calls for the dough to be made by hand rather than with a food processor, and the ratios of ingredients are very slightly different.

This morning, making pancakes I somehow gashed my finger. I was alerted to this fact when blood started dripping into my workspace. Whoops. Even now, I have no idea how I happened to remove a chunk of my finger. There was no knife to be seen. No food processor. Not even a grater.

I will admit, I am not a careful cook. I have decent knife skills, and the idea of losing a finger to a knife makes me queasy, so I am careful around knives. I am not so careful though around hot things, which results in many, many burns. I wore a sleeveless dress for Christmas this year, and I don't think I have any more scars than I usually do, but perhaps they were extra pronounced against my super-pale winter skin. Many people commented. And as I inspected the many dark purple lines on my forearms I realized I couldn't even remember how I had gotten most of those burns. When I worked at Pizza Hut in the kitchen (long long ago) I used to always stick my arm in this little side door in the oven to add or remove things, resulting in many horizontal burns across my wrists. When I went off to Stanford, soon after, my Residential Assistants were treating me very strangely. It took me a while to realize that they thought my scars were remnant from a failed suicide attempt, or a bad cutting habit. Nope. These are just the battle wounds of a careless cook.

Pizza Margherita (Page 195)

  • Date: Sunday, December 30, 2007 -- 6pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Karen H, Dave, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B+


Matty got me a pizza stone and baker's peel for Christmas, and we were eagerly awaiting a chance to try them out with some pizza! So the first chance we got, we threw together a simple pizza dinner! This recipe is in The Book twice -- one recipe is for pizza margherita baked on the pizza stone and the other is for pizza mrgherita grilled. My impression of the baked version is very similar to that of the grilled version: tasty, but a little too oily. The sauce is nice -- it is a little duller in flavor than the pizza sauce I usually make, but it still tastes good. However, it doesn't need so much oil added to it. The crust is excellent, and it turned out lovely on the pizza stone -- crispy and charred on the bottom, but chewy inside. Yum! This pizza wasn't anything amazing, but it was tasty, and fun to make!

Here is the recipe, except the one in The Book is baked on a pizza stone, in a 500-550 degree oven for 8 minutes.

It is 5:02 pm and I am still in my pajamas. Yay for winter break! The semester doesn't start until Monday, so I took the opportunity today to work from home. I have a big stack of math papers I have been wanting to read (both a physical stack on my desk and a figurative stack on my laptop), and today I indulged myself by sitting in bed for much of the day, doing some reading. It was extremely enjoyable. The only other thing I have done so far today is make pancakes. Basically, I have no complaints! In a few minutes it will be necessary to put on some real clothes though, as I am having dinner at a friend's house.

Tomorrow morning there is a course meeting for the various people teaching M119 with me this semester. The title of the course is Brief Survey of Calculus I. I will get all prepared in the next few days, and I start lecturing on Tuesday. It will be nice to be back in the classroom, but in some ways I wish I was going back to the same students I had last semester -- I was quite fond of them. I'm sure I will grow fond of these students too though!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iceberg and Watercress Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing (Page 136)

  • Date: Sunday, December 30, 2007 -- 6pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Dave and Karen's House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Karen H, Dave, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B+


The salad options from The Book are starting to run low, so I picked this one more or less by default. I had a bad feeling about this recipe (hence I put it off so long) but actually, it was pretty good. It is a simple green salad: iceberg, watercress, and celery, with a blue cheese dressing. The dressing was much milder than I had anticipated it would be. I myself would have preferred a stronger blue cheese flavor (as I love blue cheese), but I am sure most people would be happy with the amount of blueness it had. The combination of iceberg with watercress was interesting. Iceberg provided a nice base for the salad and the watercress gave it a peppery bite. There was nothing amazing about this salad, but it was good, and went well with the simple meal we we having (pizza!).

Here is the recipe.

It's a few days into 2008, and it is about time that I made some resolutions for the new year. So here I go:
  • Respond to emails faster -- Poor Emilee and V and some other dear friends haven't yet given up on emailing me despite my ridiculously poor response times! I need to do better.
  • Run 5 consecutive 8 minute miles -- I love to run, but I run so slowly. I am going to try to pick up the pace a little bit this year.
  • Meet more people in Bloomington.
  • Be less mathematically shy -- This is an ongoing effort...
  • Eat less candy.
  • Get back in shape. I was in great shape when I was training to do my pull-up, but since then I haven't put so much effort into my physical fitness.
  • Write thank-you notes. Simple, yes, but I am phenomenally bad at it.
  • Cook 320 recipes from The Book this year.
That seems like enough! Wish me luck!

Angel Food Cake (Page 712)

  • 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-


Angel food cake is traditional holiday fare in Matty's family, so he requested this dessert for dinner last week. Usually I am not terribly excited about angel food cake (Seriously, cake without fat? Whose bad idea was that?) but this cake was excellent. Matty said that it was like "eating a cloud." It was fluffy and light, with a lovely flavor. This recipe called for the cake to be covered with a lemon glaze. I thought the glaze was an excellent addition. It wasn't heavy like frosting, so it didn't overpower the cake, but it added some flavor and sweetness to what could otherwise have been a bit of a boring dessert. Matty wasn't a fan of the glaze though, so we weren't all in agreement. We served this cake with sliced strawberries, which was a lovely accompaniment. Overall, I was quite happy with this recipe. It certainly exceeded my expectations, and the entire cake was gone before I knew it!

This recipe isn't online.

Happy New Year! Well, 2008 has officially begun. I am having a hard time coming up with New Year's resolutions this year, so I figured I would start by checking in on last year's resolutions and seeing how I did. Here they are:
  • Do a pull-up. -- Yay, this one I accomplished!
  • Clean my apartment more often. -- This one too. My apartment in Bloomington is much cleaner than my apartment in Somerville was.
  • Finish typing my dissertation. -- Well obviously this got done, by necessity!
  • Answer my phone when people call me. -- I am doing better at this than I used to. It could still use more work though.
  • Be less mathematically shy. -- Again, I am making progress...
  • Make good decisions. -- Well, I can't think of any terribly bad decisions I made in the last year, so I guess this one counts as completed.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. -- Vegetables, yes. Fruit, no. Apparently it still needs work.
  • Complete another 325 recipes from The Book. -- I didn't even come close! I only cooked and blogged 274 recipes in 2007!
Overall, I didn't do too badly. Next up: some new resolutions!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Beef Bourguignon (Page 440)

  • 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: B


Karen thought everyone would enjoy having Beef Bourguignon for dinner last week, so Matty and I made it on Thursday. This dish was tasty. Opinions varied on how tasty it was. Matty thought it was amazing -- he went on and on for days about the amazing flavor of the sauce, and the tenderness of the beef, etc... I thought it was good, but I wasn't in awe of it. In fact, I can safely say that I won't make it again. It is undeniable that the beef was very tender. It fell apart with the touch of your fork, as properly braised meat should. I didn't think the sauce it was that great though. Everything that went into it was good (a bottle and half of wine and 3/4 of a cup of brandy for instance!), but I thought the end product tasted mainly like meat in meat sauce. It was extremely rich. For accurate representation, I should note that Matty completely disagreed with my assessment that the sauce tasted only of meat -- he thought it had lovely depth and an amazing flavor. Perhaps the explanation is just that I am not a huge fan of beef bourguignon -- I haven't had it in a long time, so I can't remember ever loving it. But honestly, I would have preferred my mother's beef stew to this recipe. That said, I enjoyed eating it -- it was definitely not bad. But I wasn't terribly impressed by it either.

Here is the recipe.

It seems that people rarely braise any more. I don't understand it -- braising is amazing. You take the cheapest cuts of meat, and cook them for hours and hours in barely simmering liquid, and the meat turn out flavorful and unbelievably tender. Why has this gone out of fashion? People always say it's because braising isn't terribly healthy. True, the cuts of meat one uses to braise tend to be fattier than the cuts you would roast. But they aren't fattier than what you would use to make a good hamburger! Plus, so much of what we eat these days is prepared in a restaurant (where you would be appalled by how much butter and oil is used) that I don't buy this "people don't braise because it is unhealthy" reasoning. I think that as a culture we don't braise much because braising takes time. This beef, for instance, cooked for more than 4 hours. I can understand looking at a recipe, seeing that it takes 5 hours to prepare, and being overwhelmed. But the thing is, you don't have to do anything for the vast majority of that time. This beef didn't require attention for those 4 hours -- you don't even need to stir! Braised meats also keep well and often taste better the next day, so I usually braise late at night, after I am in for the evening. I take it out before I go to bed, and the next day I have something delicious waiting for me. In summary: yay braising! If you've never braised before, you should give it a try. This recipe is fussier than most, so I would start with something easier. If you have The Book, try the Brisket a la Carbonnade -- it is simple and delicious. Unfortunately that one isn't online though...

Parker House Rolls (Page 613)

  • 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: B+


Matty and I made these rolls to go with dinner last Thursday. In my opinion, homemade rolls are always amazing. Given a little time I am sure I would have eaten half the batch of these all by myself. But as homemade rolls go, these weren't the best I've had. They had a nice buttery flavor, but they were very dense -- too dense I thought. I know that Parker House Rolls aren't meant to be light and airy (like the ciabatta rolls I usually make), but I found these denser than they needed to be. They were very pretty though, and still quite tasty.

There is one other issue with this recipe that I should mention. Matty and I bought some active dry yeast at the grocery store to use in this recipe. Those of you who make bread will recall that yeast is often sold in 3 little attached packets, each containing 1/4 oz of yeast. Many bread recipes, like this one, start by proofing the yeast. To proof you mix the yeast with warm water and often a bit of sugar or flour. I was shocked when I saw that this recipe called for the yeast to be proofed with a tablespoon of sugar in only 3 tablespoons of water. Normally you use just a "pinch" of sugar, of maybe a half a teaspoon, but I have never proofed yeast with a tablespoon of sugar. But, I proceeded. The purpose behind proofing is to verify that the yeast are alive before you go on. If your yeast are dead your bread won't rise properly, so it is good to know that before you throw the yeast in there. In a bowl I mixed one packet of yeast with the water and sugar, and waited. Nothing happened. Live yeast produce bubbles, and a foamy top. This yeast just sat there, in the murky, yeasty water. This is not good. So I tried packet number 2 (granted it seemed unlikely that one of the attached packets of yeast would be dead and another alive, but it was better than going to the store again). Same result. At that point I started to wonder what could be wrong. In my experience it is pretty rare to buy dead yeast. In culinary school we learned that yeast don't like extreme environments -- they don't like too much salt, or too much sugar. So with packet number 3 (my last hope!) I proofed it with the same amount of water and just a pinch of sugar. Lo and behold, 5 minutes later the yeast from packet 3 were foaming and bubbling. I added the rest of the sugar into the dough when I added the flour, and everything worked out fine. So, a recommendation: don't proof your yeast with as much sugar as this recipe says to -- they don't like it!

Here is the recipe.