Friday, February 29, 2008

BL-Tomatoes (Page 26)

  • Date: Saturday, February 23, 2008 -- 2pm
  • Location: Menlo Park, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Rachel, Brian, Alison, Helen W, Anh, and many other baby shower attendees
  • Recipe Rating: B+



I was looking for a quick hors d'oeuvre to make for Emilee's shower, and these stuffed tomatoes jumped out at me. It is a very simple idea: cherry tomatoes hollowed out and then stuffed with a mixture of mayo, crumbled bacon, and very finely cut lettuce. The concept is BLT without the bread. They were pretty tasty. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato are a classic combo for a reason. They play off each other nicely, making a fresh, meaty, salty, yummy flavor profile. My one complaint is that the mayo mixed with the tomato juices to form something pretty runny. The result: the consistency of the filling wasn't terribly appealing. Plus, it made them messy to eat. If you made the mistake of eating these in two bites instead of one, you found yourself with tomato-mayo mix running down your arms. That said, they tasted quite nice. They were very simple, with classic flavors, while also being visually appealing and tasty.

This recipe isn't online.

I have long maintained that I don't believe in grease fires. I have deep-friend many times without any incident. Once a pot of hot oil overflowed onto an open flame in my kitchen. Still nothing. Today, though, it happened: my first grease fire! Mike is here. I say that by way of explanation. Just kidding! I was actually wholly responsible for our flirtation with danger. We made a big dinner tonight (yum!) which involved deep-frying some pork (again, yum!). I was pouring off the 400 degree oil after we were done when I accidentally dripped some onto a hot burner on my flat-top stove. Before I knew it: flames! I was (of course) completely useless. I didn't run around screaming or anything, but I still had a vat of extremely hot oil in my hands and nowhere to put it (the only vacant burner was on fire!). Fortunately, Mike was here to save the day. He did exactly what they always say to do, and covered it. And just like that, the fire went out.

So, lesson learned. Grease fires do exist. And when they do, it is best to have Mike around! The kitchen disaster was minor and the meal was delicious (well, parts of the meal were delicious... more on that when I get to it), so it was a successful evening.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches with Smoked Almonds (Page 179)

  • Date: Saturday, February 23, 2008 -- 2pm
  • Location: Menlo Park, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Rachel and Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian, Helen W, Alison, Anh, and many other baby shower guests!
  • Recipe Rating: A


I love chicken salad. Emilee loves chicken salad. Everyone loves chicken salad. So I figured these chicken salad tea sandwiches would be a delicious addition to our baby shower spread. And indeed they were! Man, these sandwiches were good. The chicken salad was simple (poached chicken, shredded and mixed with mayonnaise, fresh tarragon, minced shallots, and lemon juice) but fabulous! Tea sandwiches aside, I would definitely make this chicken salad again for any of my chicken salad needs. Yum! I can't even pinpoint what why so good about it, or why it was so hugely superior to most chicken salads, but it was awesome. Said deliciousness was then spread between two pieces of white bread. Using a biscuit cutter, I cut circular sandwiches (leaving plenty of leftover crusts and scraps to much on!). The outside edges of the sandwiches got a light coat of mayonnaise and were rolled in finely chopped smoked almonds. The smokiness of the nuts was a great addition to the recipe. It provided a burst of flavor and a nice contrast to the chicken salad. My only complaint about this recipe is that it didn't call for enough nuts. I bought extra but we still ran out. So we had some nut-less sandwiches. The nutty ones were better, but even without they were pretty damn good. Yum. Yum, yum, yum!

Here is the recipe.

I had four flights getting to and from California this past weekend, so I met four new people in the seats next to me. In summary: a woman who works in sales for a company that makes hair care products, a guy who builds 3-D models for military training exercises, a labor and delivery nurse at the Stanford hospital, and a guy who does something with military aircraft engines (he was vague -- I didn't pry). They were all extremely nice (4 out of 4 is unusual!). The 3-D model guy and I talked all the way from Chicago to San Jose (which is a long way!). The funny thing about talking to strangers is that I feel like I can say anything -- I'm almost certainly not going to see the person again, so why not!?! He asked me all sorts of odd questions about my family, and my dating history, and I just rambled on with embarrassing anecdotes and true confessions. I'm sure he thought I was nutty, but I don't care! I forcefully expressed opinions I am not even sure I agree with. I asked him unusual questions about himself. It was very entertaining.

I have always felt vaguely tempted to just make up an entirely different life in one of these airplane conversations. I could be a kindergarten teacher, or a surgeon, or a competitive surfer (ok, maybe not that -- I don't really have the surf look about me). I have never done it though. I am pretty sure some people think I am making it up when I tell them that I teach college math. One of the four aforementioned people asked me if I am currently an undergrad at IU. Imagine their surprise when I said I teach there! Someday I will fly the friendly skies with a whole new life. I'll have to think about this. What shall I name myself? And what shall I do for a living?

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches (Page 178)

  • Date: Saturday, February 23, 2008 -- 2pm
  • Location: Menlo Park, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Rachel
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Anh, Helen W, Alison, and many other baby shower guests...
  • Recipe Rating: B


There are a few tea sandwich recipes in The Book, and I don't have so many tea sandwich type occasions in my life, so I figured I would make some for Emilee's baby shower. These tea sandwiches were just ok. The recipe was very simple: make some chive butter, spread it on white bread, layer thinly sliced cucumbers on it, and top with some more white bread. They were simple to the point of being dull. It's hard to tell if I actually didn't like these tea sandwiches much, or if they just got shown up by the chicken salad tea sandwiches (which were amazing -- more on that when I blog about them). I think there was nothing particularly offensive about these tiny sandwiches. I ate a number of them and liked them fine. They were pretty dull though. They fell into that in-between category where I wasn't ashamed to be serving them to 40 guests, but I also would never make them again. They were neither delicate enough, nor flavorful enough to be ideal cucumber tea sandwiches.

This recipe isn't online.

Today felt impossibly like Monday. Traveling always throws me off schedule. The beginning of my week wasn't particularly relaxing -- I spent Monday and Tuesday in the Stanford math department, meeting with people and giving a seminar -- but it still doesn't feel like a weekday if I am not in my office at IU. Today I was back though, teaching my class and trying to prepare my students for their big midterm exam on Saturday (yes, Saturday -- weird, huh?).

I am secretly grateful that this exam is on a Saturday. It gives me a good excuse to be in town this weekend. In fact, this is the only weekend out of seven consecutive weekends that I will be in Bloomington. Another great excuse to stay in town this weekend is that Mike (aka Dr. Hill) is coming to visit! He is flying in later tonight and staying for a few days. I am looking forward to hanging out, catching up, and eating some book food! With him living in Virginia and me living in Indiana, I don't see as much of Mike as I like to. In fact, I don't think I have seen him since August (Can that be right? Wow, that's a long time...). Speaking of seeing Mike, I should head to the airport in a minute...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tapioca Pudding (Page 825)

  • Date: Sunday, February 17, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


Matty and I are both huge tapioca pudding fans. The only reason we didn't make this recipe ages ago is that it has raw egg whites in it and I am hesitant to serve raw eggs to guests (I know, I know, it's pretty safe, but I had salmonella as a kid and I would feel horrible if I inflicted that on unsuspecting guests...). Matty and I were willing to take the risk for some delicious tapioca pudding. Unfortunately, this pudding was not-so-delicious. It's hard to imagine tapioca pudding being bad, but this pudding was a bit bad. It was just so odd. Instead of being flavored and textured like a pudding, it tasted just like whipped cream with tapioca balls mixed in. I like whipped cream just fine and I love tapioca balls, but if you mix the two together, I wouldn't call the result "pudding." It didn't even taste good. There wasn't much flavor to it, and the texture didn't work at all. Plus, it was intensely rich in a way that was unappealing. I love, love, love pudding, and I only ate two bites of this. In summary: not a winner.

This recipe isn't online. Not a huge loss.

One of the many purposes of my trip to California was to throw a baby shower for Emilee and Brian and Sam (their soon-to-be-born baby!). I arrived the day before the shower, and preparations became a little bit stressful at the end. The shower was held at Em and Brian's church. She made the guest list ages ago, and Rachel and I sent out formal invitations to which people has RSVPed. So, we had planned for a particular number of guests. The day before the shower the church secretary (who had been invited) got a little carried away and emailed the entire congregation, inviting them all! So we had no idea how many people were coming... Rach and I were a bit worried (just a tiny bit, right Rachel?!?). In the end though, it came out beautifully. We had enough plates, food, and shower favors for everyone who came, and it seemed like everyone had a fun time. It's hard to go too wrong with tea sandwiches, finger food, cake, and games!

The best part of it though was seeing the outpouring of love for Emilee, Brian, and Sam. I am so excited for Em and Brian and it was great to see how excited the 40 other guests were as well! This was the first time I had seen Emilee since she's been pregnant, and I am so glad I made it out there to celebrate with her! Throughout my stay we drank several bottles of dealcoholized wine (I kid you not -- it is completely disgusting though!) in celebration!

Bacon-Wrapped Trout with Rosemary (Page 317)

  • Date: Sunday, February 17, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe was part of my ongoing eat-seafood-while-in-Boston plan. This trout was very simply prepared and very tasty. The inside of the trout was seasoned with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and then the trout was wrapped in bacon and broiled until it was cooked through. This simple preparation served the trout well. The bacon and rosemary contributed a nice amount of flavor without weighing down the fish. The fish came out moist, with a nice clean flavor. The bacon itself crisped nicely in the broiler. I appreciate simple preparations of fish, and this one didn't disappoint.

Here is the recipe.

My apologies for the lengthy blog silence. My trip to California was jam-packed and I just didn't have any time to blog! Now I am back in Bloomington. My trip home was fortunately less eventful than my trip there, which was a disaster.

It started last Thursday. I taught until 2:15pm and then headed right to the airport. It was snowing, so traffic was slow and I was running later than I would have liked. But I made it to the airport in time, parked in long term parking and got on the shuttle to the terminal. We were just leaving the parking lot when I realized I left my wallet in the car. So I convinced the driver to let me off of the bus and I ran through 17 rows of parking lot, with 4 pieces of luggage (not my fault -- tons of stuff for the baby shower!), in the snow. I got my wallet, and waited for another shuttle. Finally it came and I made it to the check-in desk 42 minutes before my flight was schedule to leave. The computer told me I was too late to check in and the woman behind the desk agreed with it. I begged. She still said no. Finally I started explaining about the wallet, and the snow, etc... She still said no. So I cried. She looked at me, crying, said, "Fine," and checked me in. I rushed through security only to find that my flight was delayed for some engine problem. I wasn't worried -- my layover in Ohare was 2 hours and 45 minutes long. The plane out of Indianapolis left the gate an hour and a half late, so I still had plenty of time. But then we waited to be de-iced for a half an hour, we taxied for 15 minutes, we circled Ohare for a while, and we taxied for another 10 minutes in Chicago. Add it all up and I got to the gate for my flight to San Jose just in time to see the plane pull away. It was the last Bay Area flight of the night. So I was stuck. Fortunately, the airline put me up in a super-swanky hotel. If you are going to get stranded you might as well get stranded in a king-sized bed with a fluffy down comforter. The downside: they wouldn't give me my luggage overnight. Luckily I had my tumor medication in my carry-on, but not much else. After a night of rest in Chicago, I ended up making it to California a bit more than 24 hours after I left. Ah, traveling...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jeweled Rice with Dried Fruits (Page 259)

  • Date: Sunday, February 17, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


After the overwhelming success of the Persian Rice with Pistachios and Dill on Saturday night, on Sunday I decided I would make the other Persian rice recipe in The Book. Mysteriously, this recipe didn't turn out as well. The method was exactly the same, except with dried fruit layered in the rice rather than pistachios and dill. Yet, although on Saturday night my tah-dig (delicious rice crust) came out perfectly crunchy and golden brown, on Sunday night it burned. I suppose I must have had the flame set just a touch higher on Sunday... It was sad because I was so looking forward to another delicious tah-dig! This was an execution error though, not the fault of the recipe. The recipe was pretty good. Issues with burning aside, I didn't like this rice as well as the one the night before though. In general I like sweet-savory combinations, but there wasn't enough savoriness here to offset all the sweetness of the dried fruit. The texture of the rice was nice though, and the pistachios (toasted in this recipe rather than cooked in the rice) were a nice complement both in flavor and texture. It was good, but if I were going to make one of these two very similar rice recipes again, it would be the dill and pistachio recipe, not this one.

Here is the recipe.

Well today I am headed back to the scene of the crime. This crazy project started just over two years ago in Palo Alto, CA. I was there for five weeks, visiting friends and working with some of the Stanford mathematicians. One lazy evening I was sitting around in Chris' apartment, flipping through The Book looking for a new recipe to try for dinner, and I decided that I was going to try them all! That first month of my project it was pretty much just Chris, Emilee, and Brian who cooked and ate with me. I remember it being very difficult to choose recipes at that time. For one thing, I was overwhelmed by options. With 1293 recipes to choose from it was hard to decide what to eat for dinner. The other problem was that I didn't have a sense for what all was in The Book. I am not claiming that now I could name all 600+ recipes that I haven't made yet, but I have looked at each recipe at least once by now. I have a sense for what is left to cook. In the first few months though, the content of The Book were a mystery. So at the beginning I used a random number generator to pick all the recipes. It was a bold strategy that I more or less abandonned long ago. I still have a list generated by a random number generator, and I try to cook off it as much as possible, but now I prioritize just getting things made over getting particular recipes made. I don't have tons of time, and sometimes the random number strategy slows things down.

I spent a lot of time around Stanford during the first 8 months of my project, but strangely I haven't been back since. I believe this is the longest I have been away from Stanford since I graduated from there five and a half years ago. In a few hours I will be on my way back to a place that I considered home even long after I moved away. I don't think there is going to be much time for cooking on this trip (although I have snuck a few recipes from The Book onto the baby shower menu!), but it will no doubt be a fun time!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

White Butter Sauce with Cream (Page 882)

  • Date: Sunday, February 17, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A


On Sunday night Matty and I recreated the menu from Saturday night (fish, rice, and broccoli with sauce) with a different set of recipes from The Book. This was the sauce to accompany the broccoli. I found it impossible to eat this sauce without making borderline-indecent groaning noises. It was that good. This version of beurre nantais was exactly as it should be: rich, flavorful, and delicious! The texture of the sauce was absolutely perfect -- smooth with an ideal consistency. Sometimes renditions of beurre blanc and beurre nantais suffer from tasting only like butter. In this recipe the shallot-vinegar-wine reduction gave the sauce a beautiful flavor and depth. This sauce was excellent on broccoli, as I am sure it would be on its more traditional partner, fish. Overall: yum! This recipe is disastrously bad for you, but worth it!

Here is the recipe.

Tomorrow after I teach my class it is off to California. On the agenda for my trip: throw Emilee a baby shower, meet with Mike (my post-doc supervisor), give a seminar at Stanford, and celebrate Chris' birthday with him.

Planning a baby shower has been a learning experience for me. Em is my first close friend to have a baby, so not only have I never thrown a baby shower before, but I haven't even been to one since I was a little kid and my mom took me to her friends' showers. Luckily, Rachel knows all about these things, so she has been leading me through it! Apparently baby showers have games. And apparently baby shower games are gross. There is a whole genre of games involving melted chocolate and diapers. Needless to say, this is not going to be that kind of shower. Rach and I picked some slightly classier shower games. The one I am looking forward to the most: a baby food tasting. Guests will taste and try to identify unlabeled baby food! Mmmm....

Aside from the games there will be food (real, adult food -- not just unlabeled Gerber's), tea, presents, and general merriment. It should be fun! Emilee is going to be an amazing mother, and it brings me so much joy to be able to celebrate with her. I haven't even seen her since she got pregnant, so I am so excited to be able to go out there this weekend!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Monkfish Medallions with Tomato Lemon Coulis (Page 292)

  • Date: Saturday, February 16, 2008 --8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


Now that I have moved to the middle of the country and my special gentleman friend will also be doing so quite soon, I am trying to cook as much seafood as possible when I make trips to Boston. Otherwise I fear that I will end up with many recipes left in the Fish and Shellfish section of The Book, and no way to acquire the appropriate seafood. I have informed Matty that when I go to visit him in these next 6 months, we will be eating seafood -- everyday (mercury poisoning, here we come!). He accepted this without any complaint, and I chose this monkfish recipe to start. Monkfish is an extremely meaty fish, to the point where it is often prepared using cooking methods more reminiscent of chicken or beef than of other fish. For example, in this recipe the monkfish was cut into medallions which were then sauteed on the stovetop. After the fish was cooked some tomatoes and lemon juice were added to the pan to form a tomato lemon coulis, and this was served atop the fish. There was nothing bad about this recipe, but neither Matty nor I felt terribly inspired by it. I found it to be an odd choice of sauce to accompany monkfish. It was so tomatoey and light -- it would have been perfect on a flaky white-fleshed fish. But monkfish is so meaty -- it demands a heartier, bolder sauce to stand up to it. Although I liked both the sauce and the fish, in my opinion they weren't terribly compatible...

This recipe isn't online.

The subject of women in math came up in the comments from yesterday's post. Lately this topic has come up a number of times -- even the guys over at the Secret Blogging Seminar were questioning their all-male blog presence today.

Magdalen's comment asks several questions, the first of which is whether my airplane companion and I spoke yesterday about how to encourage elementary-age girls to approach math with confidence. Indeed we did, and what I found terribly interesting was the following: according the to fifth-grade teacher in the seat next to me, after so many years of emphasis on encouraging young girls in math and science (making sure to call on girls in class, making sure that they are seated up front, etc...) the girls are now out-achieving the boys, and the emphasis has flipped to help the young boys catch up (making sure to call on boys in class, making sure they are seated up front, etc...). Her question to me was whether that flip in achievement is reflected in higher math education.

In short: I don't think so. There are women in math. And there are more now than there used to be. But as a field we are certainly not in a position where the women are even close to outnumbering the men. And, as has long been the case, the higher you climb up the academic ladder, the fewer women you will find around you (the percentage of tenured math faculty who are female is smaller than that of postdocs, which is smaller than that of graduate students, etc...).

The obvious question is: why? I don't believe it is an issue of ability. I lean more towards theories about confidence than anything else. There was some study (I am sure I will mess up all the details, since I heard about this long ago) where they gave male and female students the same, unsolvable math problem and asked them to solve it. After everyone failed to do so they interviewed them and asked why they couldn't do the problem. The male students tended to give answers of the type: "I couldn't do the problem because the problem was hard." The female students tended to give answers of the type: "I couldn't do the problem because I'm not smart enough." The truth is: math is hard. Barbie said so and she wasn't wrong. At a research academic level, math is hard. And if your persistence is damaged by self-doubt, that may encourage you to choose another career.

Supposedly girls are also more likely to have an entity theory about intelligence (you either have it or you don't) while boys are likely to have an incremental theory (if you work hard, you will learn it). Since math often has a high initial investment before complete understanding, the theory goes that the people with entity theories of intelligence will give up ("I am bad at math") while the people with incremental theories of intelligence will try harder ("If I work hard, I will eventually understand it."). Research suggests that this entity/incremental distinction is at least partly a gender distinction, which may explain gender differences in math.

I don't really know though. I do know one thing: anyone who thinks girls are inherently bad at math has never taught calculus. Calculus is not easy, and female students excel just as much, if not more, than their male counterparts. In all honesty, I don't think about this issue so much. I have, over the years, gone through various theories about why there are so few women in math. But in recent years I have come to think of myself as just a mathematician, rather than a female mathematician. I think the fact that it is easy to do that reflects something positive about the math community as a whole.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Persian Rice with Pistachios and Dill (Page 258)

  • Saturday, February 16, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen:Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I don't have so many rice recipes left to make from The Book, but there are a couple recipes for Persian rice that I hadn't made yet. This is one of them. This rice was a revelation. I am shamefully unfamiliar with Iranian food, so not only had I never prepared rice in this way, but I had never even eaten rice prepared in this way. The rice is cooked so that there is a thick, crunchy, golden crust (the tah-dig) on the bottom, which is then served atop the rest of the rice. All the rice was fairly tasty, but the tah-dig was absolutely amazing. It had a great buttery, nutty flavor to it, and a fantastic crunchy texture. I have only a couple minor critiques of this recipe. One, the pistachios got a bit soggy when cooked with the rice. It would had been better had the pistachios been toasted separately and then mixed into the rice at the end. Secondly, the dill contributed a nice flavor to the dish, but turned a very unappealing brown color when it was cooked, which made the dish much less visually appealing than it could have been. All that said, this rice was delicious, and I will definitely be using this method of preparation again in the future.

Here is the recipe.

In general I am not the kind of person who strikes up conversations with strangers. I like talking to strangers just fine, but I am not usually outgoing in that way. The one exception to this rule is on airplanes. Without exception I try to have a conversation with the person next to me. I don't particularly like to fly. I am better about it now than I used to be, but it's still no fun for me. I get nervous, and for whatever reason, knowing the person next to me in some small way makes me feel better about it. So I try to talk to him or her. The surprising thing is what a huge percentage of people are receptive to this. Only once every dozen flights or so does someone clearly not want to talk to me. Usually people will talk for a bit, and then read their book or listen to music for most of the flight. Occasionally you meet someone who is genuinely interested in having a conversation. Today, flying home from Boston, I spent two and a half hours talking to the woman next to me: a fifth grade teacher from Frankfort, Indiana. It was fun. We talked a lot about elementary education, and some of the problems with college-level math education. It was very calming. Even when the pilot announced that the flight attendant should be seated due to turbulence, I was calm!

Now I am home for a few days before I head off on my next trip. Ah, home...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Avgolemono (Page 885)

  • Date: Saturday, February 16, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


Matty and I share a love of broccoli. Since I made all the broccoli recipes in The Book long ago, I am now making all the sauces that can be served with broccoli! This one was not a winner. In general I am not a huge fan of avgolemono (as either a sauce or a soup) but this recipe I liked even less than most. It had two big problems. One, it was too thin for a sauce. The texture was so watery that it ran right off the broccoli. The other problem was that the balance of egg and lemon was off. Usually avgolemono has more lemon and less egg than this recipe. This sauce tasted very eggy, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but the strong egg flavor didn't go so well with the lemon. The sauce would have had a cleaner, more appealing flavor with more lemon and less egg. In summary, this one wasn't great. On my second (and third!) serving of broccoli I opted to eat it plain rather than put this sauce on it.

This recipe isn't online.

My weekend in Boston is rapidly coming to a close. It has been nice to be back! Last semester I taught Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so although I made several trips back they were so short that I couldn't do too much while I was here. Now that I am teaching Tuesday-Thursday, I can make much more leisurely trips, which affords me time to do many things I love. This morning I went back to the homeless shelter for my usual Sunday lunch shift. It was great to see everyone! I have also been doing some cooking (last night and tonight I made big dinners), running (back to the MIT gym!), and work. It has been a lovely weekend. Tomorrow it is back to Bloomington for a few days before I fly off to California on Thursday. Busy, busy...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lemon Pepper Seasoning (Page 931)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B


My week was pretty crazy, so I was looking for something extremely quick to make. This lemon pepper seasoning fit the bill. The Book says that this can be rubbed on chicken before roasting or sprinkled on cooked vegetables. I did the latter. I made myself a huge pot full of broccoli (four crowns worth -- have I ever mentioned that I LOVE broccoli) then I tossed it with some melted butter and lemon pepper seasoning. The verdict: not bad. This seasoning is exactly what it claims to be: lemon zest, black peppercorns, and good salt all ground together in a spice grinder. I used some pink Murray River salt from Australia (delicious!), which I think contributed to the unattractive brown color that my seasoning ended up. It was tasty though. My main complaint about this recipe was that the ratio of salt to other ingredients was too low. This may seem like a small complaint, but when there are only three ingredients, it makes a difference. I ended up adding some additional salt to my broccoli and that really brought out the flavors of the lemon and pepper. There was nothing particularly exciting or novel about this spice blend (then again, it was in the "Basics" section, so probably it wasn't meant to be earth-shattering), but it was a perfectly suitable lemon pepper seasoning.

This recipe isn't online.

I had an uneventful journey to Boston last night, and I made it just in time for the latest reservation possible for a Valentine's Day dinner at Ole. Yum! (Aside: my plane ticket for this trip was going to be so unreasonably expensive that I opted to use frequent flyer miles to get my first-ever free ticket. I was at peace with that until I got on the plane last night. The plane had 56 seats on it, and 21 passengers. I counted. So why, oh why, was it so expensive?!? If my flight back to Indy on Monday is more than half empty I am going to be completely confused...) Anyway, I am in Boston now, and this is the longest trip I have made back since I moved away. Today I went into the department at MIT, chatted with lots of people I hadn't seen in a while, and had a nice cup of tea with Haynes. This evening: dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant. I am always torn when I visit Boston because I want to eat at all the restaurants I grew attached to in my time here, but I also feel compelled to cook seafood from The Book, since fish of exotic varieties is not so easy to come by in Bloomington. So tomorrow: seafood!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cuban Black Beans (Page 267)

  • Date: Monday, February 11, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


The "Grains and Beans" section is my new favorite section in The Book. I can't help myself. That section contains the kind of food I crave: beans, rice, polenta, etc... This recipe was delicious. These beans were cooked for four and a half hours, and that slow-cook paid off. They had a great texture and a deep slow-cooked flavor. Very little went into this recipe: beans, bacon fat, onion, green pepper, cider vinegar, bay leaf and salt. That's it. But a long cook melded those flavors together into something wonderful. The dish was all about the beans, but the seasoning, vegetables, and bacon fat gave the dish some depth. Because the dish isn't strongly flavored, these beans would be a lovely accompaniment to all sort of things. They would be great served with rice, or barbequed ribs, or in a taco or burrito. I ate them all by themselves and they were delicious. I also spooned some on top of my macaroni and cheese, and that was delicious too! This is an excellent recipe to have around for some basic, tasty, slow-cooked beans.

Here is the recipe.

Happy Valentine's Day! I am not a person who is either terribly excited about Valentine's Day, or terribly opposed to it. I loved it as a little kid -- I adored those candy conversation hearts, and we were required to give a valentine to every person in our class, so it was a guarantee that I would get one from Rudi (the boy I had a crush on!). That elementary school charm soon wore off though. I have had a couple really good Valentine's Days as an adult, and a couple pretty crappy ones. Last year was the worst, although it had nothing to do with my special gentleman friend, or really the holiday at all. I spent most of Valentine's Day last year at the hospital with Chris and Michael. In the weeks prior she had many tests, and that day was the last in the battery. It was also the day that the oncologist told us that her tumor was inoperable. It wasn't a good day. What I remember about it most of all is that Chris and I went to the cafeteria to pick up some lunch while Michael was waiting for the oncologist to come back from some meeting. We bought Michael a turkey sandwich and we all sat in the waiting room eating together. A few hours later, when Michael called her husband to tell him that the doctor had said the tumor was inoperable, she started the conversation by saying what a pleasant day it had been, and how Chris and I had bought her the most delicious sandwich! I'll never forget that moment. I was crying but Michael was so calm, and so upbeat. She remaining that way throughout the duration of her illness. I think of her and miss her all the time, but especially today...

On a lighter note, tonight I am off to Boston for the weekend! I haven't been to Boston since November, and I am very much looking forward to it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Noodle Pudding (Page 241)

  • Date: Saturday, February 9, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I am a sucker for any dish that is mainly composed of noodles and cheese. I would have made this one even sooner had it not looked so absurdly unhealthy (noodles baked in butter, eggs, full-fat cottage cheese, and sour cream!). This type of dish was apparently popular in the days of yore (where yore here is approximately the 1950's). I had never eaten anything quite like it before. If, like me, you are new to noodle pudding, you can think: eggy, cheesy custard, with some noodles set in it. Matty commented that with so much bad-for-you stuff in it, he expected it to have more flavor and richness than it did. Indeed, it wasn't terribly exciting. It was good though. I liked the strange texture of custard made with cottage cheese. The noodles on top crisped up as the dish baked, giving it a nice crunchy layer. My only real complaint is that it was a bit dull. I did a little online research about noodle puddings to see if this one is a typical recipe, or if there are often other ingredients added for more flavor. What I learned is that people often add canned fruit to their noodle pudding (canned sliced peaches or fruit cocktail were common suggestions...). That doesn't sound delicious to me at all. So maybe I shouldn't complain about it the way it is!

Here is the recipe.

There was a request in the comments for an explanation of where my name came from. A lot of people ask me that actually. Teena is not such an uncommon name, but the spelling is quite unusual. Many of my friends reading this will already know the answer -- it is absurd enough that it has gotten around. So here goes: I am named after my dad's ex-girlfriend. Yeah, I know, it's weird. The woman he dated before my mom was named Teena, with the same crazy spelling and all. I asked my mother about this once, looking for some sort of explanation of how she let this happen. Her response: "Well, your father wanted to name you Teena and I wanted to name you Meredith, so we named you Teena Meredith." Huh. So there it is. I met the original Teena once -- we had dinner with her and her family when I was probably 10 years old. I remember nothing about it except that we ate pizza.

I dated this guy in high school, Jason, who promised at the time that if we ever broke up he was going to name his first daughter Teena to carry on the tradition. That idea charmed me actually. Years later (long after we had broken up) he joined the Peace Corps, and one day I got a letter in the mail from Africa saying that he had decided not to name a daughter after me. I'm not sure why he was thinking about that, or what made him change his mind so many years later, but it seemed perfectly reasonable.

I went through a brief phase as a kid where I hated my name and made people call me Meredith. I have since come around to Teena though. It's a great source of entertainment. People inevitably spell it wrong (Tina, Tenna, Tena, etc...). Actually even my official mailbox in the math department is labeled with "Tenna." What really makes me laugh though is when people ask me how to pronounce it. Could it be any more phonetic?

Well, there ya go, everything you ever wanted to know about my name (and more!).

Monday, February 11, 2008

Italian Chicken Soup with Egg Strands and Parmesan (Page 123)

  • Date: Saturday, February 9, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


Last week I picked recipes that were quick and easy, and this soup fit the bill. Soup doesn't get much simpler than this. Chicken stock is boiled and then a mixture of egg, cheese, scallions, and parsley is whisked in to form egg strands. It is cooked for 2 minutes, and then served, sprinkled with more cheese. Indeed, this recipe was easy. It was also pretty boring. I used some homemade chicken stock I had in the freezer, so the base for the soup had a nice chicken flavor. Unfortunately the egg didn't add much to it. I had hoped for a stronger parmesan flavor, but the cheese didn't come through clearly at all. The soup tasted like chicken broth with some cooked egg floating in it. There is nothing bad about that, but also nothing inspiring. Despite the nice flavor of the broth, halfway though my bowl I stopped eating it out of boredom. I appreciate simplicity, but this recipe took it too far. It needed more flavor!

This recipe isn't online.

I have to brag for a minute about my special gentleman friend. (This will embarrass him of course, but luckily he usually forgets to read my blog!) I think I mentioned earlier that he was on the job market this season, applying for real tenure-track jobs. For those of you out there who aren't math academics, trust me when I say that this is a big deal! It's very competitive and there are lots of really smart people applying for not-so-many jobs. Despite this, I had no doubt that he would do well. And indeed he did! After flying around to interviews for weeks and weeks he ended up with several great offers to choose from. Yesterday he officially accepted a job at Michigan State, a great math department that is really strong in his research area! Yay! I am very proud (and also excited, of course, that he will be living in the Midwest!). Becoming a professor at a major research university is a huge accomplishment, and I am just overwhelmed with happiness for him! Yay!

Last night to celebrate we went out for an extremely leisurely dinner. We drank crazy purple drinks in martini glasses, and ate way too much. And we relaxed! It was awesome.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Glazed Turnips with Scallions and Parsley (Page 587)

  • Date: Saturday, February 9, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C


I am trying to get through some of the vegetable recipes from The Book that feature veggies I am not terribly excited about. This was one of them. In general I am all about root vegetables, but turnips are at the bottom of my list, below parsnips. Turnips are one of those love it or hate it vegetables, which a lot of people dislike. I think turnips have their place in the culinary world. Often adding a bit of turnip to some soup, or a roasted root vegetable medley isn't a terrible idea. But turnips aren't meant to stand alone -- they are a back-up singer of a vegetable, not a headliner. That was the problem with this recipe: too many turnips, and too little else. I liked the glaze quite a bit. It had a good flavor, and the sweetness of it did all that it could to offset the bite of the turnips. Still though, it was hard to eat. Turnips have such a strong flavor (which many people find repulsive) and there wasn't much here to mellow it. Further, we followed the cooking times in The Book, which resulted in some very overcooked turnips. In summary, this recipe wasn't tasty. On the other hand, if you are going to build a recipe around turnips almost exclusively, this might be about as good as you are going to do. So if you are a turnip-lover you might try it. Otherwise, steer clear!

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one except the one in The Book calls for twice as much parsley.

There was a request in the comments for anecdotes about my parents' homophonous names. Indeed, my parents have the same name: Terry (and Teri). When I was young many of my friends had parents who were divorced. I firmly believed that my parents could never separate. Why? Because they have the same name, obviously! Ah, the logic of a six year-old! Perhaps it wasn't so inaccurate though because Terry and Teri have been married for more than 30 years now.

Them having the same name was no trouble for me until I became old enough to answer the phone. People would call and ask for Terry (Teri?) and I would be confused. "Boy Terry, or girl Teri?" I would ask. This was a very disorienting question for people who weren't aware that my parents shared the same name. Eventually I developed an algorithm and if it was a man calling, I gave the phone to my dad. If it was a woman calling I gave it to my mom. This wasn't terribly successful, and anyone who knew my parents well rapidly learned not to ask for Terry or Teri, but rather to ask "Is your mom/dad home?"

The most ridiculous mix-up was when I was in high school. I gave my dad a mutli-page permission slip to sign and he signed only the first page then left for work. So I gave it to my mother to sign the latter pages. I thought nothing of it until I got called to the gym teacher's office the next day. He started yelling at me about how forging your father's signature was a serious offense, and if I was going to do so the very least I could was make sure I spelled it the same on every page! When I tried to explain, he didn't believe me that my parents have the same name. Fortunately this was easy to verify, but that gym teacher never ceased to seem angry at me!

Ah, good times...

Pecan Sables (Page 679)

  • Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I like to always have some cookies around, so I made these last week to fill the cookie quota. I went through a long phase during my childhood when I thought Pecan Sandies were the be-all and end-all of cookies. I preferred those dry, packaged cookies to homemade chewy chocolate chip ones. In retrospect, I am not sure what I was thinking. This recipe is the homemade, I dare say: Gourmet, version of the Pecan Sandies from my childhood. They are pretty good -- obviously significantly better than their mass-produced counterpart. This cookie is essentially shortbread with pecans added. It is a very buttery, very floury cookie, with very little egg or leavener. This makes it thin, crispy, and crumbly -- I dare say sandy even. If you like super-buttery crumbly cookies, you are bound to like this one. The flavor is very nice, and the ground pecans in the cookie and the pecan half on top both contribute a nice nuttiness to the cookie. I didn't find them very visually appealing. Because they rose essentially not-at-all, they ended up looking like cardboard circles with pecans on top. However I hesitate to be too critical of them because I have certainly eaten quite a few!

Here is the recipe.

Yesterday was a big day for my project. Last night Matty and I made three recipes from The Book for dinner, which pushed me over the half-way mark! That's right, I have now cooked more than half the recipes in The Book! I still have 646 recipes to go, but nonetheless I feel like I am in the home stretch. It's hard for me to look at that huge book and internalize that I have now cooked one out of every two recipes in it. It's very exciting! The other exciting thing is that I am nowhere near running out of recipes that sound good to me. Flipping through The Book at the beginning, it was difficult to guess when I would run out of recipes that seemed reasonable. It seemed possible that at half-way the remaining recipes would either sound bad, or require a huge investment of time, or money. But here I am, at the half-way mark and things are still looking good. In fact, I think I can easily make it to the three-quarters mark before I start hitting serious difficulties. Perhaps even further...

There are a lot of people who have supported this project immensely, and it would be hard to thank them all here. But a few stand out and I would like to share my appreciation. Chris supported this crazy idea at the very beginning and told me, apparently correctly, that if I was determined to do this, I could do it. Alex has provided technical support along the way, coding and hosting the Project Index, which is a very helpful source of statistics for me. And of course I want to thank Matty, who has now eaten more than 300 of the 647 recipes that I have made. He has approached this project with a positive attitude and an open mind. Even on days when the project has necessitated trips to 4 different grocery stores, he has been patient and understanding. I wouldn't be nearly as far along as I am today without his support.

Thanks to everyone who has cooked and/or eaten with me throughout these first 647 recipes! I am looking forward to enjoying the next 646 with you as well!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Potato Pizza with Bacon and Rosemary (Page 198)

  • Date: Saturday, February 2, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Paul
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C


I am running out of pizzas that sound good in The Book, but I am still excited about using my new pizza stone and baker's peel, so I made this pizza with Paul last weekend. Perhaps you have noticed that potatoes aren't on the list of possible toppings at Pizza Hut. Or Little Ceasar's. Or Domino's. You know why? Potatoes on pizza aren't good. Don't get me wrong: I love potatoes. I feel like I am betraying a lover by saying that there are foods that they are ill-suited for. But I write here to speak the truth, and the truth is that potato pizza is bad. For one thing, topping a bread with a layer of another starch results in an end product that is terribly starchy with hardly anything to contrast that. Potatoes also have so much moisture that the dough under the potatoes becomes wet and slimy, rather than a nice, crusty pizza crust. It's gross. The flavor of this pizza was my main complaint though. The potatoes dominated the pizza in a way that really didn't work for me. Paul, struggling for something nice to say about it, offered, "Well, it's the best potato pizza I have ever had...," a comment which only reflects his good sense in never before having eaten one. I wasn't going to eat the leftovers and Paul wasn't excited about them either, so I threw the remaining half-pizza in the freezer for Matty (who eats anything!). He arrived last night and immediately started rummaging for food. He found the pizza slices, and before I could even warn him they were gross, had helped himself. The mysterious thing: he loved it! Apparently he fell in love with potato pizza once in Rome (yes, there are people out there who think potatoes on pizza is a good idea, but you have to go to Italy to find them), and he claimed that this potato pizza, "Tastes just like it should." So there you go. It found a supporter. His lobbying changed my opinion not-at-all though. This pizza was an example of two things I truly love (potatoes and pizza) coming together to form something very bad. Eating this pizza was like watching two close friends suffer through a tumultuous and painful romantic relationship with one another.

This recipe isn't online.

Life lesson of the day: When one is going out hiking, and one is given a beautiful trail map, it is best not to leave it in the car. Late this afternoon Matty and I went to Brown County State Park to go for a hike. As it was late in the day, and we were looking for something not-so-strenuous, we picked a nice, short trail (3.6 miles). We looked at the trail map before we left, and then we were on our way. All was going well for at least the first 2.5 miles or so. We were having an enjoyable hike. The weather was gorgeous. It's a nice state park. But then, somehow, we got lost. This is not the first time this has happened. In this particular case, there was almost no excuse. The trail was beautifully marked throughout the vast majority of our hike. Yet there we were, with the sun slowly setting, lost in the woods. As it is winter, there was no one else in the woods with us. The only people we ran into couldn't tell us how to find where we wanted to go. In fact all they could tell us was that we had somehow wandered onto private property, which was the one piece of information we knew. So we picked a direction and kept hiking. Every time we came to a juncture a long analysis was followed by many brief excursions in various directions until we picked a direction to go. Eventually this algorithm worked. Just as the sun had disappeared from the sky we found our way. It was good too, because although I was suitably dressed for a late day hike, as the sun was going down the air was getting colder, and I was none too happy about the idea of wandering through the woods in the dark.

So in the future: the trail map goes in my pocket, not on the front seat of the car.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (Page 852)

  • Date: Saturday, January 26, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Cornelia, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Chuck, and Lynn
  • Recipe Rating: B


I made this ice cream for our dinner party a couple weeks ago because I was worried that the pear tart we were having for dessert wasn't particularly kid-friendly. So I made this ice cream, on the principle that vanilla ice cream is pretty unobjectionable. Long, long ago, before I started this project, I made this recipe. But back then I made it with vanilla extract rather than vanilla beans, and threw in some Kahlua (I went through a phase where I added Kahlua to everything), so I needed to remake it in a way that was more true to the recipe. I have to say though, my Kahlua version was better. Obviously this ice cream wasn't bad. That much milk, cream, vanilla, and eggs in one place is bound to taste pretty good. However, it also wasn't great. The recipe called for three vanilla beans, which was completely over-the-top. Even ignoring the outrageous price of vanilla beans (those three beans cost $11), it was just too much. The vanilla flavor was overwhelming, and although I love fresh vanilla beans, in such an excessive quantity they gave the ice cream an off taste. The texture of the ice cream was lovely -- very creamy! It was a very rich ice cream (really, a frozen custard), so if you prefer lighter frozen desserts, this is not the recipe for you. Overall, it was good, but were I to make it again, I would use one and a half vanilla beans instead of three (or better yet, some vanilla extract and Kahlua!).

This recipe isn't online.

It's a good thing that I was so backlogged with recipes to blog about a few weeks ago, because in the past week and a half I have only made 2 recipes from The Book! Crazy! First I was sick, and I never feel much like cooking when I am sick. Then I was extra-busy making up for all the things I didn't do while I was sick. Now I am caught up again with my work, and I only have 2 recipes left to blog about, so it is time to start cooking again! I am going to Chicago this afternoon for a day and a half, but when I get back some serious cooking is going to happen!

Alex's magical website of statistics about my project (click on the Poject Index link on the right) computes my overall pace for the whole project, my pace for the last 90 days, and my projected completion dates based on each of these paces. As you can see, my 90 day pace is significantly better than my overall one. When I started this project I aimed to finish it within 4 years. It will have been exactly 4 years on January 4, 2010. So basically, I am behind. If I keep up my pace from the last 90 days I will easily finish in time, but my overall pace is still too low. I am diligently trying to shift that projected completion date from March 28th to January 4th. Keep an eye on it, and if it starts slipping even later, make sure to give me a hard time!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Red Wine-Poached Pear and Custard Tart (Page 781)

  • Date: Saturday, January 26, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Chuck, Lynn, Cornelia, Paul K, Beth, and Lauren K
  • Recipe Rating: B


This recipe was on the list generated by the random number generator. It's a bit difficult to grade. On the one hand, it came out beautiful and delicious. Easily an A- tasting recipe. On the other hand, it took some serious MacGyver-esque kitchen rescuing to get it to that point. So what happened? Well, tart crusts are thin, and when they are blind-baked they often get little cracks in them. This is not problem if you then fill it with fruit, or pastry cream, or basically anything that isn't completely liquidy. But, if you fill it will an uncooked custard, the liquid seeps out the cracks in the bottom of the crust. Then, it leaks out the bottom of the tart pan (because they have removable bottoms, and hence cracks in the bottom) and if you are really unlucky it fills up the sides of the tart pan, so the sides of your crust are surrounded by liquid and never get crispy. So I had tiny cracks and as I poured in the filling I saw this coming. But I threw it in the oven as fast as I could (as soon as the filling starts to set it stops leaking), but it didn't set fast enough. So there the filling was, dripping out of the tart and out of the pan onto the baking sheet I had place under it for just this purpose. I sat in front of the oven with the oven light off, watching the custard level drop lower and lower. Eventually it was just too low. Matty and I threw together a whole new custard filling in 45 seconds flat (picture it: me running around the kitchen yelling "Eggs! I need eggs!"), and I opened up the oven and poured it slowly on top of the other custard. Granted, this seemed like a bad, bad idea. Adding raw custard to half-baked custard seemed destined to cause a textural disaster. But what could I do? The other option was to have no filling. Luckily, the custards blended and set in such a way that this questionable save was undetectable. But it was stressful. Tart fillings with extremely liquidy crusts have this problem so frequently it seems a shame to keep writing recipes this way. That said, the final product was good. The outside crust was soggy, which was gross, but the flavors of the custard and the pears were excellent. The red wine syrup that accompanied the tart was also delicious. The recipe is good, but if you make it, make sure that you don't have any cracks in your crust after blind-baking, and if you do, make a new crust!

This recipe isn't online.

Tonight I am taking a deep breath and getting ready for a few crazy weeks ahead of me. After weeks and weeks of not traveling, the traveling is about to begin. Tomorrow after I teach my class I am driving to Chicago for a couple days to do some work with Vigleik. Next Thursday I am off to Boston for about 5 days. I come back to Bloomington for 3 days and then I am off to California for almost a week. Then I am back for a week and then off to Boston again for 11 days (spring break!). Basically, things are about to get crazy...

I am looking forward to my trips though -- especially California! I haven't been back to Stanford in more than a year and half, which is crazy for me. Usually I go there at least twice a year! It will be a busy trip -- one of my post-doc supervisors is on leave at Stanford this term, so I will be doing work with him while I am there. I am also co-hosting (with my dear friend Rachel) a baby shower for another dear friend, Emilee. And it will be Chris' birthday while I am there, so I am going to celebrate with him. Crazy, crazy... But that's a few weeks away still (which is good because we have a few baby shower details to still work out!).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pasta Primavera (Page 211)

  • Date: Saturday, January 26, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chuck, Lynn, Matty, Cornelia, Paul K, Beth, and Lauren K
  • Recipe Rating: A


This recipe was on the list generated by the random number generator, and I was saving it for an occasion when I had some vegetarians over for dinner! I have never in the past been too wowed by pasta primavera, but this recipe was excellent. Spaghettini is tossed with a variety of vegetables (green beans, asparagus, peas, mushrooms...), a slightly creamy, cheesy, mushroom-scented sauce, and some fresh herbs. The whole thing is topped with cooked tomatoes. Yum! This dish was simple in concept, but the recipe was just perfect in its execution. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, the creamy sauce on the pasta was rich with flavor, but not overly heavy, and the tomatoes were lovely -- flavorful on their own, with just a hint of balsamic vinegar. Based on my prior experience with pasta primavera (and the picture of this dish on the epicurious website) the intention of the recipe was for the tomatoes to be much less cooked than mine were. That said, I followed the directions exactly. Further, I vastly preferred them the way they came out to the way they usually are in pasta primavera. However, serving it this way, as if the tomatoes are a second sauce for the pasta, the ratio of tomatoes to the rest of the dish isn't quite right. To make every serving look as deliciously drenched with tomato sauce as my picture above, you would need to double the tomatoes called for in the recipe. In summary, this recipe was delicious. Not everyone seemed quite as taken with it as Matty and I were, and we had a big container of leftovers. I thought it would last for days and days, but it was gone within 24 hours. It was just so good!

Here is the recipe.

There was a request for the recipe for the chocolate peanut butter cake I made this weekend, so here it is (along with a picture of what it will look like when you're done). The recipe for the cake layers is a blend of some of my favorite recipes I have come across in cookbooks, and the frosting is based on a frosting my mom used to make when we were little.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Celebration Cake

For Cake Layers:

1 1/3 cups boiling water
1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs

For Frosting:

1.5 cups creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
5 1/3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 - 1 cup milk

For Garnish:

Chocolate rolled wafer cookies

Directions:

For the cake layers:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 9-inch cakes pans and line the bottoms with parchment. Butter parchment and flour pans. Set aside. Mix boiling water and cocoa, whisking until smooth. Add chopped chocolate, stir until smooth and let cool. Meanwhile, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt into another bowl. Once chocolate mixture has cooled, whisk sour cream and vanilla into it.

On high speed, beat together butter and both types of sugar for 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the chocolate mixture and flour mixture alternately in several additions, beating on low speed until just combined after each addition. Divide batter between pans. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or just until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few crumbs on it. Invert layers onto racks and cool completely before frosting.


For frosting:

With an electric mixer, cream together peanut butter and cocoa on medium speed until well combined. Beat in powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and enough milk to reach desired consistency.


For assembly:

Carefully cut each layer horizontally in half to form a total of four layers. Put one layer on cake circle or serving plate and top with chocolate peanut butter frosting. Put a second layer on top of the first, and repeat, layering cake and frosting until all layers are assembled. Cover entire cake with chocolate peanut butter frosting. Place rolled wafer cookies vertically around the perimeter of the cake. Once all wafer cookies are in place, wrap a wide ribbon around the cookies. Tie tightly and then form a bow. If desired, cover the top of the cake with frosting rosettes, using a pastry bag and a star tip.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tomato Tatins (Page 66)

  • Date: Saturday, January 26, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Cornelia, Chuck, Lynn, Paul K, Beth, and Lauren K
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe was also part of my using-all-my-ramekins plan last weekend. This baked tomato recipe was surprisingly good. Tomatoes were sliced and roasted, then layered in ramekins with pesto and topped with a circular crouton (made by brushing white bread with oil and toasting). The ramekins got baked just a bit and then turned out onto plates to be served. The end result was beautiful and flavorful. The croutons were essential for textural contrast, as the tomatoes were a bit mushy. Matty was worried about the mushy tomatoes as he was assembling this dish, but actually their soft texture wasn't a bad thing. My one negative comment about this recipe is that it called for way too much oil. We didn't brush on nearly the amount of oil that the recipe indicated would be used, and it was plenty. Aside from that, I was quite happy with this recipe. The tatins were very elegant, and extremely flavorful, even when made with mid-winter tomatoes. The recipe was also quite simple. Overall it was a winner.

This recipe is the same as the one in The Book except that the one from The Book doesn't specify what colors of tomatoes to use.

My fake calculus students have their first exam tomorrow (just for clarification: the students are real, it's the calculus that is fake. Ok, I shouldn't say that. Not fake, just applied). Anyway, they have an exam. I find writing exams to be quite difficult -- especially the first exam for a course I haven't taught before. It's very hard to gauge whether the exam is too short, too long, too hard, too easy... I spent a long time yesterday working on the exam for tomorrow. And I am confident that it is a reasonable test of knowledge of the material. No one will ace this exam without understanding the things we have learned, and no one who has made an effort to understand will fail. But I couldn't possibly even venture a guess for what the mean will be. Or how long it will take the students to finish it. And that is a little unsettling. If the mean ends up too low, students get very discouraged. If the mean is too high it is very difficult to distribute grades at the end of the course. Writing an exam that is an appropriate difficulty is a subtle thing. Last semester I didn't always manage to accomplish it. The first exam was about right (dumb luck!), the third one was much too hard, and the second one was somewhere in between. I haven't gotten my teaching evaluations back yet from last term, but I did get to look at them briefly a couple weeks ago. One comment really stuck with me: "The tests in this class are bullshit!" That made me laugh. But maybe whoever wrote that had a point -- perhaps they were too hard. So this term I am aiming for something different. It's a completely different class though, with an entirely different type of student, so who knows if I will manage to achieve that goal.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Goat Cheese and Walnut Souffles with Watercress and Frisee Salad (Page 65)

  • Date: Saturday, January 26, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Cornelia, Chuck, and Lynn
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I chose this recipe as the first course for our dinner gathering last weekend because I hadn't made souffles in a while. (Ok, secretly I chose it because when I moved Matty made fun of me incessantly about how many ramekins I have, so my goal was to throw a dinner party requiring more ramekins than I own -- just to prove him wrong! This dish requiring 8 ramekins was instrumental to my plan!) Anyway, this recipe was pretty good. The light salad was a wonderful complement to the cheese souffle, both in taste and texture. The dish came out visually very appealing, with a refined taste. My only complaint is that the flavors weren't as bold as they could have been. The salad greens had bite to them, but the dressing was very bland. The walnut oil was vaguely detectable, but the acid counterbalance didn't come through clearly at all. The souffle similarly could have used more flavor. It had a nice goat cheese taste to it, but it wasn't nearly as bold as it could have been. The recipe seemed like it was attempting to make a statement, but was too cautious in doing so. I liked this dish, but it would have been better had the ideas been taken a bit further. As it was, it was very visually appealing, and refined in appearance, but lacked the depth and boldness of flavor you would expect from the kind of first course that this strived to be.

Here is the recipe.

Yesterday I did something that I never do. For the first time in nearly a decade, I entered a cooking competition. As part of the Chocolate Fest in Bloomington, there was a contest where people could enter pretty much anything chocolate. I had heard about this soon after moving here, and had planned to make a cake for the contest. I schemed up various crazy cake ideas, but ultimately decided just to do something simple and easy. So I made the cake my friends probably associate with me the most: my chocolate peanut butter cake. I was happy with how it turned out, and it took second place in the competition, which was much better than I had expected for such a simple creation. I realized something though: I don't like cooking competitively. Even though I love baking, and I was perfectly happy with what I made, I didn't have fun making it. Normally when I bake/create/build a cake, I take a lot of joy in making it just right. My cakes are usually in honor of some occasion: a birthday, or thesis defense, or graduation, etc... I am happy as a pig in mud to spend a few hours making a beautiful cake for someone I love. It makes me happier still to watch people eat and enjoy what I have made. Maybe I just don't have the competitive spirit necessary, but it's hard for me to find that same level of motivation when the incentive is winning awards and prizes. In retrospect I would much rather have brought that cake to afternoon tea in the department than have entered it in a contest. I guess that's just me... I've never really had that competitive spirit burning inside me!

Fricos (Page 29)

  • Date: Saturday, January 26, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Cornelia, Chuck, Lynn, Beth, Paul K, Lauren K, and Jeremy
  • Recipe Rating: B


I was looking for something easy, crowd-friendly, and vegetarian from the "Hors d'Oeuvres and First Courses" section of The Book for our dinner party last weekend and this is what I came up with. Fricos are essentially just cooked parmesan cheese. You can make them in a frying pan or in the oven -- this recipe calls for the latter. The idea is that the cheese melts, forming crispy, cheesy deliciousness. In general I like fricos a lot, but I didn't find this recipe to be a particularly good instance. Often fricos are made without the addition of any flour. This makes them very fragile, but also very crispy. This recipe called for flour to be mixed with the cheese, and the outcome was not as good as the flour-less recipes. The flour made them more chewy than crispy, and much less delicate. Fricos normally seem very sophisticated -- they are often shaped into cups and used to hold delicate green salads for instance. In this case though, they seemed very unrefined. They were thicker and chewier than usual fricos, and altogether less appealing. That said, they weren't bad. It's baked cheese. Baked cheese tastes good. I ate them and I liked them, but I wouldn't use this recipe again if I needed some fricos.

Here is the recipe.

Cooking disaster of the week: Yesterday evening, after eating way too much chocolate (and drinking too much chocolate beer!) at the Chocolate Fest, Paul and I decided we would make some non-chocolate pizza from The Book. Back in the day Paul and I used to do a lot of cooking from The Book, but it has been I don't know how long (wait, I can check: more than a year and a half) since we have cooked together. So I was excited about this culinary reunion. Paul was less excited when I told him that what we were making was potato pizza. Anyway, we made some pizza dough and let it rise while we were preheating the pizza stone in a 500 degree oven. In the meantime we were hanging out on the sofa, looking through a book of word puzzles (yes, we are nerds!). We must have been concentrating pretty hard on those puzzles, because it wasn't until I started coughing that I looked up and noticed that my apartment had filled with smoke. We ran to the oven, and flung open the door to be met with billows of smoke. Strangely though, nothing inside was burning. In fact, there wasn't anything inside. Just the pizza stone. And stone isn't really known to burn. Nonetheless, there was smoke everywhere. We turned the oven down from 500 degrees to 350, and eventually off in order to get the smoke to stop. When we turned the oven back on later to actually cook the pizza, there was no more smoke. But the damage had already been done. The air in my apartment was thick with smoke. We opened a bunch of windows (brrr....) and turned on the ceiling fan, but still we had to spend more than an hour laying on the floor in order to breathe clear air. It was another two hours before my eyes stopped burning. Eventually we shut all the windows, but even now, more than 24 hours later, my apartment is saturated with the smell of smoke. So I am sitting here with the windows open, in the middle of the winter, trying to clear the air... At least tonight I can safely sit on the sofa, rather than lying on the floor!

Coffee Coffee Cake with Espresso Glaze (Page 644)

  • Friday, January 25, 2008 -- 10am
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Matty picked this one from the Breakfast and Brunch section of The Book during his last visit. I am completely decaffeinated, and hence don't usually eat this type of thing, so it seemed wise to make it while Matty was around (as he is very much not caffeine-free). I did eat some of this coffee cake (in order to grade it!) but Matty took care of most of it. This cake was quite good. The coffee cake batter was very typical (with lots of sour cream and butter!), and then some of it was mixed with instant espresso to give it a coffee kick. The plain batter was layered with the coffee batter in the pan (you can see this a bit in the picture -- there is a dark stripe through the middle), and then the whole thing was baked and glazed with a coffee glaze. The end result was intensely coffee flavored. Matty declared it the first coffee cake he had ever had that lived up to its name. The cake was moist, with a tender crumb. The exterior had a very slight buttery crust to it, which was delicious. The glaze was a perfect, sweet complement to a cake which wasn't itself very sweet. Overall it was a strong recipe. Matty declared it the best coffee cake he had ever had. I prefer my coffee cake to be not coffee flavored, but if you want a coffee coffee cake, this is about as good as it's going to get.

This recipe isn't online.

My apologies for the blog silence. I had a bad couple days and I didn't feel like writing anything. Things seem better now though. I was apparently so pathetic on Friday that yesterday Paul came all the way from Cincinatti to cheer me up. It was great to see him and we had such a fun day. We went out for brunch, went to visit the puppies at the mall, went to the Bloomington Chocolate Fest, made pizza... It was a good day. And it was apparently just what I needed because today I feel like myself again! This is especially good because my bad mood and problems sleeping at the end of last week made me remarkably unproductive. Now, I have a lot of work to catch up on! First up: I need to write an exam that I should have written days ago. I am giving it on Tuesday, so it absolutely has to be done today so it can get copied tomorrow! Speaking of, I should get to it...