Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chive Corn Pudding (Page 536)

  • Date: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I am a huge fan of corn, but it just isn't corn season these days. However, this recipe included the option of frozen corn, so I decided to go for it! Plus, how could corn pudding really be bad? Slightly sweet corn-based side dishes are a huge favorite of mine (case in point: that smushy sweet corn stuff that they serve at Don Pablo's and Chevy's... mmmm....). Strangely, I had never made corn pudding before, and I learned that I have been missing out! Yum. Yum, yum, yum. This corn pudding had chopped kernels of corn as well as whole kernels, suspended in a custardy base of eggs, milk, a little sugar, etc... Then some chives got stirred in, it was poured into a pie plate, and baked. That's all there was to it. Quick and easy. It came out with only one flaw: some water separated out while baking, so as soon as you spooned into it water began to pool at the bottom of the dish. That was gross, but almost surely my fault -- I didn't thaw the frozen corn as well as I could have, and it probably had some extra liquid in it when I put it in. So if (when!) I make this one again I will be sure my corn is completely thawed and drained before adding it. Other than that, it was delicious. It was a wonderful savory side dish, but the bit of sugar added brought out the sweetness of the corn in a fantastic way. The texture was quite good, and the browned crispy parts along the edge were divine! The chives didn't seem to contribute much -- it would have been equally good without them -- but they also didn't do any harm. I ate this by itself for dinner (and lunch the next day, and the day after that!), but someone more together than me might make this alongside a big roast, which would be delicious! Actually this would be delicious with quite a few things. Even reheated the next day in the microwave it was very tasty. This recipe is definitely a winner!

Here is the recipe.

My California adventure is drawing to a close and tomorrow morning it is back to Bloomington! I love being here, and of course I also love traveling to Boston, but I think it will be nice to be home. In fact, I am planning to be at home in Bloomington for the entire month of April! It is hard to fathom! With all this traveling as of late, I have missed a couple (actually, three) lectures for my course this semester. I have found substitutes, clearly, but my students still seem a bit bitter about me being gone. They write these funny emails to the Webwork help people, all of which are copied to me, which start, "My teacher is on vacation, and so I didn't understand..." I don't think they completely get that just because I am not standing in front of the room teaching them applied calculus does not mean I am on vacation! I think I explained to them that I was going to a conference, but maybe that sounded like vacation. To be fair, as an undergraduate I am pretty sure I didn't have a good grasp on the research portion of my professors' job. Anyway, it will be good to be back with my students for a solid few weeks before the end of the semester. I think me being away does not help their attitude about the course (or, probably, about me!).

Sugar Doughnuts (Page 622)

  • Date: Friday, March 14, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Grace, Tigran, Scott, Kim, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B-


Grace was hosting some people at her place a few weeks ago for a game of Mafia, and I wanted to bring a dessert. I hadn't made these doughnuts yet, only because they are in the Breads and Crackers section rather than one of the dessert sections, so I kept forgetting about them. I had high hopes for this cakey doughtnut recipe, and although they weren't bad, they were a disappointment. First, their good qualities: they were very cute, looking just like doughnuts should. They rose beautifully and browned nicely from the deep-frying. The sugar coating was also lovely, adding just the right amount of sweetness. So what was the problem? Well there were two. First of all, they were pretty dry. I expect cake doughnuts to have a nice moist crumb, but these really didn't. The bigger problem was that they tasted bad. In fact, they tasted bad enough that they probably merited a lower grade. But I didn't give them one because I'm not sure what was at fault for the off flavor. The bad flavor was concentrated around the exterior of the doughtnuts, and consequently must have had something to do with the interaction between the oil and the doughnuts. One possibility is that the oil had an off flavor to begin with. I smelled the oil before using it and it smelled fine. It didn't occur to me that this might have been the problem until I had already disposed of the oil so there was no way to test the theory that the oil itself was carrying a bad flavor. Alternatively, it could have been a bad interaction between the flavor of the oil and the tang of the buttermilk. Basically, I don't know. They certainly weren't inedible -- I had three myself -- but they weren't up to par for homemade doughnuts.

Here is the recipe.

I am learning all sorts of new things on this trip to California. This past week I learned a ton about String Topology, and this weekend I am learning all about having a baby. Em hasn't gone into labor yet (she is due Tuesday) but she knows way more about this kind of thing than I do (since the Dr. in front of my name is of a very different kind than the one Em is currently working toward). I have been asking her all sorts of questions, and apparently the look on my face is often one of horror when she answers. The more I hear about this whole childbirth thing, the more daunting it seems. Fortunately for me, I have a few years before I am going to be thinking about that. Emilee, on the other hand, has only a few days it seems. I am bummed that I am not going to meet the baby on this trip. Even if she goes into labor ten minutes from now, the baby probably won't be born before I leave early tomorrow morning. Luckily, I have plans to meet up with Em, Brian, and their new addition Sam at the end of May. That's not so long from now! It would have been really special to be around to meet him right after he was born, but it has also been very special being here and spending time with Emilee in this end stage of her pregnancy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lemon Curd (Page 876)

  • Wednesday, March 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

There's no denying it -- I love dessert! Consequently, the dessert situation from The Book is rapidly getting more and more dire. Most things that can be made in a reasonable amount of time with reasonable ingredients and reasonable equipment, I have already made. There are a few exceptions though. For instance: this lemon curd. So a couple weeks ago I bought some angel food cake from Whole Foods, and made the lemon curd from The Book to smother all over it. Matty declared this the best curd he had ever had. It was indeed good. The method was foolproof -- there was no concern about things separating or curdling -- it came together very easily. Lemon curd recipes often mess up the balance of lemon flavor and sweetness, but this curd got it exactly right: bright and lemony, without being too tart to eat. The one bad thing about this curd was that it wasn't quite thick enough. For smothering angel food cake with curd this made no difference at all, but if you wanted to layer a cake with this curd, you could have some serious problems (unless you made very, very careful frosting barriers to keep this curd between the layers). Without careful planning the weight of a cake layer on top of this curd would certainly send it running down the sides of the cake. So would I make this curd again? Definitely, unless I needed a curd to use as cake filling. In that case, I would make a thicker one.

Here is the recipe.

When I was at MIT a few weeks ago, I saw a guy who I briefly dated a few years ago. Dated isn't even the right word. We went on a few dates, whatever you call that. Anyway, I ran into him in the math department (especially odd since he isn't a mathematician). Truth be told, I hardly ran into him. I saw him from a distance, but he didn't even see me. I stood there and stared for a second, and all I could think was, "What was I thinking?" Don't get me wrong, he was a nice guy -- super smart, super cute... the kind of guy most girls would be interested in. But he was so obviously the wrong personality match for me.

Being back at Stanford this week carries with it a lot of memories of old relationships (both good and bad), crushes, etc... And more than once I have thought to myself again, "What was I thinking?" It's a weird to thing to think that I made decisions not-so-many years ago that I can't even get my head around now. And frankly, it's a little scary. I feel like the same person, yet things which seemed completely rational at the time now just seem totally mysterious.

I hope that in ten years when I look back at the life choices I am making now, it will all seem much more reasonable. I think it will. But then again, who knows? Maybe old decisions are like old outfits -- perhaps you are meant to look back a decade later and question, "What was I thinking?"

Pan-Roasted Mahimahi with Butter and Lime (Page 311)

  • Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe was part of the Make-Seafood-While-In-Boston plan. This fish was delicious. Mahimahi is one that I don't often eat (and quite possibly had never made before), but it was lovely. The fish was first pan-fried and then roasted in the oven in the pan (a method which produces beautiful food, and inevitably some very painful burn -- this time was no exception on either count. The pan was out of the oven less than two minutes before I grabbed the handle to move it onto a burner. Ow. Very, very painful. And very, very stupid.) It was worth the burn though because the fish came out perfectly cooked. The sauce was also tasty, although a bit intense. If you poured the sauce over the fish, and then didn't try to dip the fish in the remaining sauce, it was ok. But if you like sauce, and are used to covering every bite in sauce, this is not the recipe for you. The intensity of the lime in the sauce made it difficult to eat too much of it -- it was incredibly bitter. More than that though, the sauce was just very unbalanced. A milder, subtler lime sauce would have been preferable. This recipe could be improved simply by cutting the amount of lime juice in half. That said, it was very tasty -- this is the first dish we have had in a while where we wished we had more of it. It was tasty!


This recipe isn't online.

The big dinner at Chez Panisse was last night. In one word: yum! For those who want more than one word, last night's menu:

  • artichoke carpacio with parmesan and garden lettuces
  • smoked Atlantic cod chowder with celery and thyme
  • grilled duck breast with balsamic vinegar sauce, potato gnocchi with peas, fava beans, asparagus, and pancetta
  • tangerine and Meyer lemon sherbets a la norvegienne

Yum, yum, yum... It's hard to pick favorites, but the first and last courses, although simple, were really amazing. The shaved artichoke salad ("artichoke carpacio") was beautifully composed and deliciously seasoned. And the sherberts were divine. I was also wowed by the perfect little gnocchi, and the sauce for the duck... I could go on! Basically everything was great! The only not-perfect thing about the evening, was that Rach was sick and couldn't go with us! So Emilee and I went by ourselves, and although we had a great time we missed Rachel's presence! It was a very fun evening though, and Em managed to not go into labor during dinner, which was probably for the best!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fresh Mushroom Soup (Page 101)

  • Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


Matty loves both mushrooms and soups so I made him this soup a couple weeks ago. Let me just start by saying that whoever named this recipe is either fooling themselves or trying to fool us. Fresh Mushroom soup? Bullshit! This is Cream of Mushroom Soup. There is no way around it. This dish has a name and that's what it is. If you asked me "Teena, what's for dinner tonight?" and I answered "Fresh Mushroom Soup," what would you think? You would think of something light and brothy, with some mushroom slices floating in it. Maybe it would have a touch of sherry, or a bit of barley. It would be light, and healthy -- FRESH even. You would not imagine mushrooms cooked in half and half and butter. You know why? Because that is called Cream of Mushroom Soup. Ok, I am done ranting. This CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP (ok, maybe I wasn't quite done) was pretty tasty -- definitely better than the Campbell's version. I like my soups more on the FRESH side than the CREAM side, so I didn't actually eat much of this. But there was no denying that it had a good flavor. Matty liked it a lot, and ate about as much as it is possible to eat of this kind of thing in one sitting. It had the right texture of a Cream of (insert vegetable or fungus here) Soup. I can't say it was terribly visually appealing (you can see for yourself in the picture!), but it had a nice rich creamy mushroom flavor to it. If you are looking for a Cream of Mushroom Soup, this is a decent choice. If you are looking for a Fresh Mushroom Soup, look elsewhere.

This recipe isn't online.

Ah, Friday afternoon! The conference ended yesterday afternoon and today I met with Mike all day. Right now I am sitting under a tree on the gorgeous Stanford campus, just relaxing for a few minutes, enjoying the weather, and watching people walk by. Tonight: Chez Panisse! Then, a (hopefully) relaxing weekend and it is back to Bloomington on Monday. This is my last in a long series of trips (for a while!), but next weekend there is an American Mathematical Society (AMS) meeting in Bloomington, so things won't calm down quite yet.

I absolutely love the Midwest. I was born there, and I hope to settle there. But I have to admit, Northern California tugs at my heart. I don't know what it is -- the weather? Wonderfully fond memories of being an undergraduate at Stanford? The sheer beauty of the Stanford campus, and the foothills? The smell of spring here? Maybe all of the above. Or more likely: the people very near to my heart who live here... I grow much less attached to places than I do to people, and often when I miss a place, it is rather that I miss the people I spent time with there. My memories of Stanford are inextricably tied to my memories of spending time with my dear friends... It's hard to know sometimes if I miss California, or if I just miss them!

One downside of being a young academic is all the moving around. In some ways it is great -- you get to meet so many people and experience so many different places. But you also are constantly leaving (or being left by) your friends. My friends from high school, college, and especially graduate school are rapidly scattering around the country, and the rest of the world. I miss you all!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bearnaise Sauce (Page 884)

  • Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+



I have been working on the Sauces and Salsas section of The Book lately, making everything that can possibly be served on broccoli. I made this sauce a couple weeks ago. I wasn't too impressed with this rendition of bearnaise. In fact, I was so unimpressed with it that I ate my broccoli plain rather than topped with this sauce (about halfway through dinner I discovered that dipping the broccoli in the sauce from our main dish that night was really the way to go). So what was wrong with this sauce? Well for one thing, the texture. It was WAY too thick. I thinned it was a bit of water before serving, but still -- crazy thick. I wasn't wild about the flavor either. The tarragon made the sauce very intense, which seemed inappropriate for this kind of rich, creamy sauce. I have to acknowledge though that my dislike of this sauce may just reflect a general bad attitude about egg yolk enriched creamy sauces. I generally dislike hollandaise, which is close in concept to bearnaise (some would say that bearnaise is a derivative sauce of the mother sauce hollandaise -- others would call that nonsense). I usually avoid bearnaise, so it's hard to comment how this one compares to others. I will say that it was very stable. People often worry about hollandaise or bearnaise breaking, but that was no concern here. If you are looking for a nice buttery sauce though, the beurre blanc in The Book is much better than this sauce.

This recipe isn't online.

Ah, California! It has been such a nice trip out here so far. This week has been fun -- conference all day, relaxing with Em and Brian in the evening. We have had some delicious food, and I have drunk more beer this week than probably in the past month combined (Brian built a kegerator in their living room, which was filled with fantastic home-brewed IPA. I say "was" because we drained the keg last night. Very sad. There's another keg in the kegerator and it's full of oatmeal stout, so I guess we will be moving on to that). Last night we made filet mignon rubbed with ancho chile paste (by "we" in that sentence, I mean Brian). I threw together some corn bread from The Book, and Emilee roasted some cauliflower. It was delicious! There is nothing nicer than cooking, eating, and drinking beer with great friends! Usually I don't get to see so many math people, and so many non-math people in the same trip. This trip has been exceptional in that way, and the only complaint I have is that it is hard to spend time with everyone that I would like to!

The conference ended this afternoon, and soon a bunch of us will go out for dinner together. Tomorrow I am meeting with Mike (post-doc supervisor Mike) and then having dinner at Chez Panisse with Em! I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel Icing (Page 723)

  • Date: Sunday, March 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Matt, Ana, Craig, Ricky, Peter, Alex, and Grace
  • Recipe Rating: C+


I don't have so many cakes left, but I wanted to make one for our little get-together a few weeks ago. Matty doesn't have too much cake-making equipment in his apartment, so I was forced to make this one by equipment limitations. This cake was disappointing. The cake itself was tasty -- it was nice and spicy with a tender crumb. It was just very slightly too dry for my taste, but I am very sensitive to dry cake. The frosting though... The point of frosting is to take something fairly delicious and amp up the deliciousness factor. I love frosting! I have hardly met a frosting that I don't like. And it is almost unheard of that I would have preferred the cake without it's delicious, sugary, frosting topping. In this case though, the frosting was a big detractor. Looking at the picture alone you can tell that I had a bit of a frosting disaster. This frosting is very fudge-like in nature, and similar to a brown sugar fudge, it involved boiling sugar with some other stuff until a very particular temperature. This I did with no problems. Then the instructions said to beat it with an electric mixer until it was spreadable, about five minutes. So I started beating. I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for, so I used the 5 minutes as a guide. Big mistake! After 3 minutes it was so cool that it was starting rapidly to turn into a solid. So I began furiously spreading. The first half of the cake got covered before my frosting turned to a rock, but no such luck with the second half. So I tried reheating the frosting, which often works with this kind of thing. No luck with that either. So I patted the solid frosting all over my cake, hence the scary appearance above. After all that, the frosting didn't even taste so good. It was rather grainy (which is typical for a penuche frosting like this one, but still not something that I like), and it just didn't at all have the texture of a frosting. It was completely solid, so it didn't contribute any sense of moistness to the bite as frosting often does. In summary: this cake was not a winner.

Here is the recipe.

Sorry for the long silence. My trips to California are always jam-packed and this one has been no exception. I made it here without incident late Friday night. Saturday I hung out with Emilee, Brian, and Matty. It was so fun to have the four of us all together. On Sunday we celebrated Easter by going to Easter service and then going to a big Easter dinner at some friends of Emilee and Brian's. The weather was beautiful and we ate a huge dinner on picnic tables outside. It was really fun. I made a big Easter cake from The Book. It wasn't great (more on that when I get to it), but a huge cake covered in coconut definitely put me in the Easter spirit.

The conference that Matty and I are attending out here started Monday. The talks have been really excellent so far, and it is always great to see all the friends that come along with such a conference. V is here, and Vero (she's lecturing all week), and Ricky, etc... So we have been having a fun time!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cheese Fondue (Page 72)

  • Date: Sunday, March 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Alex
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Matt, Ana, Craig, Ricky, Peter, and Grace
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I've never been married. I say that by way of explanation for why I chose this recipe last Sunday. Never having been married, I do not own a fondue pot, the quintessential wedding gift. So despite my deep love of fondue, I have been saving this recipe for a time when I could borrow someone's fondue pot. Alex has never been married either, but mysteriously does own a fondue pot and was kind enough to lend it to the cause. So at our little get-together a couple weeks ago, we made fondue! This recipe is a bit difficult to grade. On the one hand, the flavor of the fondue was great (seriously, how can you go wrong with wine and melted cheese?!?!). On the other hand, the texture just wasn't right. It was much too thin for fondue. We tried cooking it a bit longer, hoping it would thicken up, but no such luck. I think it just needed more cornstarch, but we refrained from adding more in order to test the recipe as written. Alex suggested that it works better to toss the cheese with some cornstarch before melting it, rather than making a cornstarch slurry as indicated in this recipe -- it is then easier to adjust the cornstarch as you are adding cheese and seeing how thick it is. Would I make the recipe again exactly as written? No. But would I make it again with a bit more cornstarch added? Yes, indeed! In fact, I plan to, someday, after I'm married and own a fondue pot of my own!

Here is the recipe.

I am all packed and ready to go! Truth be told, I packed a suitcase on February 13th and I haven't totally unpacked it since. This is my fourth trip since then (two to the east coast and two to the west coast), and it just never seemed sensible to put my clothes away and the suitcase back in the closet just so I could repack it three days later. Yes, I have done laundry, but the suitcase has remained in the middle of the floor, holding some of the things I travel with, but rarely use at home. Last night I emptied the contents of the suitcase into the washing machine, and this morning I emptied the contents of the dryer into the suitcase. For this trip, I happily swapped out my heavy winter coat for a lighter version (yay March in California!), and I threw in a couple festive dresses (it being Easter weekend and all). And now I am packed, except for some food that I always throw into my carry-on at the last minute. It's a tradition that I pop myself a bag of microwave popcorn before I leave, and seal it up in a big ziploc bag so I have something to snack on during my flights. I also usually travel with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I used to never eat when I flew -- I was just too nervous. But eventually I realized that being starving when traveling on a long trip probably wasn't actually helping me be any less nervous. So now I force myself to eat! Comfort food (PB & J, and Smart Pop Kettle Corn) is the way to go!

Speaking of going, I should pack my snacks and head out!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Onion Parmesan Toasts (Page 34)

  • Date: Sunday, March 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Ricky
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Matt, Ana, Craig, Alex, Peter, and Grace
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This is another appetizer that I chose because I thought it would be not-so-good so I figured I would make it for close friends! This recipe surprised me though. Although it sounded totally unappetizing, these little toasts came out very tasty. There wasn't much too them: slightly toasted cocktail pumpernickel was topped with a mixture of raw onion and mayonnaise, sprinkled with parmesan and then broiled until bubbly. It doesn't sound so good, does it? Shockingly though, it totally worked. These little bites were the first thing to disappear at the gathering. And while no one was willing to really gush about them being fabulous, most people liked them. Ana wished she hadn't been told they were topped with mayonnaise -- she liked them, but it just sounded so bad! Alex didn't like the basically raw onions in the dish. Normally I also prefer cooked onions to raw, but the raw onions worked for me here. It's hard to really pinpoint what was good about this recipe, but it was indeed good. Strangely, I think this was actually my favorite thing I ate that night. They weren't particularly fancy, or exciting, but they tasted good! For a very quick appetizer, I was happy with them.

Here is the recipe.

Tomorrow I am off to California for ten days. I'll be attending the String Topology Workshop at Stanford next week, meeting with Mike, and seeing friends! I am very much looking forward to it. My special gentleman and I are actually attending the conference together (a first for us), so he and I are meeting up in the San Jose airport late tomorrow night. We've never traveled to California together before (well technically I guess we aren't traveling together this time either -- but we'll be there together... I cannot even express how much I am looking forward to someday actually being able to fly places together, rather than meeting up in some faraway airport). I am excited about the opportunity to go with him to a place that has so much significance to me.

Another exciting aspect of the trip: To thank Rach and I for throwing her a baby shower, Emilee made reservations for the three of us at Chez Panisse! I have never been to a restaurant so famous and I am totally excited! Our reservation is next Friday and Emilee's baby is due four days later. I am going to laugh so hard if she goes into labor during dinner. Seriously though, it will be amazing to see Emilee again, and I am secretly holding out hope that I will get meet baby Sam on this trip! My friendship with Emilee is such a huge source of joy in my life and I am so excited for her and Brian about this baby!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Baked Cheddar Olives (Page 28)

  • Date: Sunday, March 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Matt, Ana, Craig, Alex, Peter, Ricky, and Grace
  • Recipe Rating: C


Since the people coming over to our little get-together a couple weekends ago were all good friends, I picked a few appetizers to make that sounded bad. I have to make them all eventually, and it's hard to eat a whole batch of appetizers myself, so the best solution is to make the ones that sound gross for the people I like the most! They are the most likely to forgive me for it! These cheddar olives weren't terrible, but they were just very odd. Ana identified it as a conceptual problem more than anything else -- why wrap stuffed green olives in a cheddary biscuit dough? They weren't cute. They didn't taste particularly good. And they were fussy to make. I baked them longer than indicated, but still the dough tasted under-baked. If you had your mind set on combining green olives with cheddar biscuits it would have been much cuter (and easier) to just cut out a bunch of tiny biscuits and set an olive on top. But honestly, there was nothing magical about the olive and cheese biscuit combination. It's probably best to just avoid it altogether.

Here is the recipe.

My special gentleman friend and I recently celebrated a year and half together. That makes this easily the longest relationship I have ever been in. An old friend of mine used to tell me (in a way that I found mildly condescending) that my life was like a soap opera. Thinking about that now, I can only laugh. Things are certainly different these days. I wasn't wild or promiscuous when I was younger, but somehow there was always some sort of drama. For a while I picked guys who treated me badly. They weren't bad guys -- I just had bad relationships with them. So I would get upset, and I would leave. And then the guy would apologize and I would forgive. Repeat. Interspersed with the bad guys were some really good guys who I wasn't terribly interested in. Mix it all together and you get drama. Back in those days I wondered often if I just wasn't cut out for a long-term relationship.

Now I am older, and hopefully wiser, and I have realized something. It's not that I am bad at long-term relationships -- I just never found the right person before. With my special gentleman it is easy. I never feel tormented, or confused about what I want. I have no interest in causing or participating in any relationship drama. Things are good. The past year and a half with my special gentleman have just flown by and I feel very blessed by our relationship.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vodka-Spiked Cherry Tomatoes with Pepper Salt (Page 26)

  • Date: Saturday, March 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matt
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ana, Craig, Alex, Peter, and Grace
  • Recipe Rating: B


I had several helpers in the kitchen a couple weekends ago, so I picked a few fussy recipes to make! This recipe was basically very simple: whole cherry and grape tomatoes marinated briefly in a lemon zest-vinegar-sugar-vodka mixture. But, it called for the tomatoes to be peeled. Peeling tomatoes isn't as dreadful as it sounds, but when the tomatoes are so tiny it takes a few minutes. Matt did the majority of the peeling (without complaint!), so I can't really claim to have been overburdened by it. Often when The Book calls for tomato peeling I do it, but think to myself, "This is totally unnecessary!" In this case, though, it was clearly necessary. In order for the marinade to penetrate the tomatoes they really needed to be without their peels. The end result was very visually appealing and tasted pretty good. There was nothing amazing about this dish, but the vodka mixture had a nice flavor to it, and it went well with the tomatoes. The pepper salt was intense and it was difficult to dip the tomatoes in it without getting way more than you would want. I don't think I will bother to make this dish again, but it went over well enough at the party.

Here is the recipe.

I am not feeling well again today. It was one of those days where everything seemed foggy. I have just been out-of-it all day. I slept a ton last night, but I still woke up exhausted, so today I tried to move as little as possible. I dragged myself out of bed this morning, walked from home to my office, and sat in my desk chair all morning. Normally I pace around, get some water, go to the bathroom. I am restless by nature. But today I just sat there until the minute I went to teach. I taught my class, then I sat in my desk chair some more. I did manage to get some work done -- sometimes I am able to focus my energy well when I am sick. That more or less worked for most of the afternoon. At the end of the day, I trudged home through the rain, and have been laying on the sofa every since. It's just been that kind of day.

I took a bunch of decongestants and pain killers before I went to teach my class this afternoon. I haven't been eating much the last couple days, and I think the drugs plus the lack of food made me punchy. In the middle of class I started rambling about moose (it was peripherally related to the calculus being taught). I just got off on a tangent, and by the end of my rambling my students were laughing so hard a couple of them were crying. At least someone got some joy out of my illness!

Now it is off to bed for me. Hopefully tomorrow I wake up feeling better!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hot Crab and Artichoke Dip (Page 21)

  • Date: Sunday, March 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ricky, Matt, Ana, Craig, Alex, Peter, and Grace
  • Recipe Rating: B-


This recipe was another yet another in the Eat-Seafood-While-in-Boston plan. I made this crab and artichoke dish for our little get-together last weekend. This dip was neither particularly good, nor particularly bad. It wasn't the most visually appealing -- Peter commented that it looked like vomit, and it was difficult to get that out of my mind while eating it. The flavor was descent. The crab meat was definitely the most powerful flavor, but the jalapenos gave it a bit of heat, and the red pepper added some contrast. The flavor of the artichokes was essentially lost behind the other, bolder, flavors. Matty thought it would have been improved by some better crab meat (his exact explanation of how it could have been better involved all of us on a rocky coastline, picking the meat out of fresh-caught crabs with a little fork...). We used descent crab meat though -- or at least it was expensive anyway -- and I thought the crab flavor was fine. My main objection was that the dip was dry. I'm not well versed on hot crab dips, but when I think of hot artichoke dip I think of a gooey, cheesy dip. This dip wasn't really dip-able. It was more of a spread. There was no hot gooeyness to it, and I found that disappointing. Overall, this was just ok. Most of it got eaten, but I can't see myself ever making it again.

Here is the recipe.

I am back in Bloomington this evening after an utterly miserable day of travel. I know, I know, I complain a lot about airlines, but this time, it was not their fault! In fact, the airline part of the trip went smoothly: my first flight was delayed, but not by so much that I would miss my connection, and my second flight was perfectly on time. My luggage came. I have no airline-related complaints. Nonetheless my day was miserable. A couple days ago I acquired a bit of a head cold. Yesterday after returning from our mini-break I slept all evening, watched a movie, and then slept another 8 hours last night. I woke up feeling much better this morning, except for horrible congestion in my ears and sinuses. It really, really bothers me when my ears won't clear, and that alone is enough to drive me bonkers. But on the airplane, it was brutal. My ears drove me crazy. For one thing it was painful. But more than that, when my ears get like this, my balance is totally thrown off. Even just walking I feel a weird sense of vertigo. Both my flights were terribly turbulent, and my ears were not working nearly well enough to keep me oriented with all the jostling around. So I was dizzy, and in pain, and deeply unhappy.

The saving grace in all this was that the people next to me on both flights were great (a nurse working on his PhD and a Canadian economist). In fact, the people on the way out there were fun too (an IU undergrad in computer science and a Navy officer who works at the school where they train the chaplains for the Navy). Having good company helped to distract me from my misery. Needless to say, I am happy to be on solid ground now, and dearly, dearly hoping that my ears will clear before I have to fly again on Friday.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Brandade (Page 18)

  • Date: Sunday, March 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Ricky, Matt, Ana, Craig, Alex, Peter, and Grace
  • Recipe Rating: B+


This recipe was part of my Eat-Seafood-While-in-Boston plan, but in retrospect, that choice was rather illogical. The seafood in question here is salt cod, which is sufficiently preserved that I could easily transport it back to Bloomington from Boston (or, potentially, even buy it in Bloomington). This was my first ever experience cooking with salt cod though, so I just didn't realize quite how preserved it is. I have to admit, I was skeptical. Any recipe involving fish and an electric mixer scares me a bit. I had a bad fish mousse experience in culinary school (long story) and ever since I have veered away from whipped fish. In this case though, it really wasn't bad at all. The idea: salt cod that had been soaked for a couple days was beaten together with boiled potatoes, and a pureed garlic and cream mixture that was infused with some other spices. I am a huge mashed potato fan, so if this recipe had advertised itself a bit more as fishy mashed potatoes, I might have been more excited from the get-go. We spread this on some toasted baguette, and it was pretty good. There was a lot of flavor to it -- the garlic and salt cod balanced each other nicely, and the potatoes made a good base, both in terms of texture and flavor. I wavered on the grading of this one: do I give it an A-? Do I give it a B+? People at the party last Sunday generally liked it. The distinction between A- and B+ is my grading scale is whether I would make it for company. I'm not sure I ever would (aside from the 8 guinea pigs I made it for last weekend!), but perhaps that just reflects a personal bias against whipped fish -- I'm not sure. Overall, it was good. If whipped fish doesn't scare you, go for it!

Here is the recipe, except the one in The Book doesn't include the poppyseed crackers.

My special gentleman friend planned a surprise mini-break to New Hampshire this weekend. It was great fun! We stayed at a wonderful little bed and breakfast housed in a beautifully restored Victorian home. It was in a small little New Hampshire town, surrounded by mountains and it was just beautiful. They have gotten a ton of snow up there so everything was wonderfully white (which is not true right now in either Boston or Bloomington).

Today we went snow-shoeing for the first time. We both love to hike and love the snow, so it was no surprise really that snow-shoeing went over well with us. We wandered around a state forest in our snow shoes. At some point we went through a beautiful clearing, where the snow must have been at least three feet deep, and the only tracks besides ours were those of a rabbit. It was really nice. To add a little adventure we also went both up and down some inclines so steep there was no way we could have done it without the snow to dig into. At some points it wasn't clear to me that we could do it even with the snow, but I am happy to say that I didn't land on my butt or my face even once!

We're back in Boston now, and tomorrow it is off to Bloomington for me so I can teach on Tuesday. Spring break has officially come to an end!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sole Goujonettes with Paprika Salt (Page 294)

  • Date: Saturday, March 8, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe was part of the never ending Make-Seafood-While-in-Boston plan. I'll admit, I have a generally bad attitude about this plan. I like seafood just fine. But I prefer beef, or chicken, or pork, or tofu... Basically seafood isn't at the top of my list. So All Seafood All the Time wouldn't be my choice if it wasn't necessary for the ultimate completion of my project. Fish fry is pretty low on my seafood list. So I was none too excited about this dish. Add to that Whole Foods didn't have sole so we made this with one of the substitutes listed in the recipe: catfish (by far my least favorite fish) and I was preparing myself to eat a dinner of side dishes. I have learned something in my 27 years on this planet though -- sometimes people surprise you. Oh now wait, that's a lesson for a different day. I have learned that sometimes fish sticks surprise you. These fish sticks with a fancy name were excellent! The catfish came out deliciously cooked, and not-at-all grainy or meaty like bad catfish preparations can be. Matty declared this the best catfish he has ever had, which from him is very high praise. The fish was flaky, and flavorful, and just delicious. The coating was also fantastic. It was a very simple batter, but in perfect proportions to produce something really lovely. The seasoning in the batter was just right, and the surface seasoning with paprika salt added a nice punch to the whole thing. These were ideal fish sticks. A couple very minor critiques. The recipe is totally off its rocker about how much to make. It claimed to serve four, so I cut it in half. That enormous pile of fish sticks you see is actually less than the amount I made, which supposedly served two. Two what I ask you? There was no way we could finish, and deep-fried food does not keep well, so proceed with caution when determining how much to make. Also, this wouldn't be a great dish for a crowd (or in my opinion any more than two or three people) because the sticks are vastly superior right after they are fried. If they sit a little bit, they aren't nearly as good. So fry em up, and eat!

Here is the recipe.

My apologies for the long blog silence. Spring break has gotten the best of me. I would like to claim that I have been lounging on a beach in Cancun, drinking something in a terrifying color with a little umbrella sticking out of it (that would be a good excuse for not blogging, no?), but in reality I have just been really busy working, seeing my friends in Boston, and spending time with my special gentleman friend. (Note: said special gentleman friend claims that I'm not a Cancun kind of girl. He rejected my suggestion that I might be a girl-gone-wild deep down. Thoughts?). In any event, it has been so great to hang around Boston for a good chunk of time. I am going to live here in Boston for most of the summer, and this trip has really made me look forward to it.

Yesterday I got the extra-special treat of seeing one of my California friends in Boston! Rachel's husband was recently hired by Harvard, so the two of them are out here looking for a place to live, etc... He was busy with meetings and seminars yesterday so we spent the afternoon eating sandwiches at Darwin's, leisurely drinking hot chocolate at Burdick's and wandering around Cambridge. It was great fun!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wheat Berries with Pecans (Page 264)

  • Date: Saturday, March 8, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


The "Grains and Beans" section of The Book is running low, but I still can't resist it! This was one of the few recipes left. The last wheat berry recipe I made from The Book was insanely flavorful. It had many, many super-strong flavors thrown together in one dish, with results that weren't favorable. This recipe took it to the other extreme. There wasn't much to this dish: wheat berries, pecans, garlic, and onions. It was very simple, to the point where it was a touch dull. That said, both Matty and I enjoyed it well enough, and having been eating the leftovers for days. I wouldn't make it again though. It was a bit too "blah." The best way I can capture it is by saying that it tasted as though the recipe was developed to taste healthy. Matty and I stirred some leftover beurre blanc into the leftovers from this dish to give it some flavor (there goes any healthiness it had!), and that was a big improvement. By itself, though, I wasn't too captivated by this dish.

Here is the recipe.

I am having a lovely time in Boston! On Sunday night Matty and I had some friends over to cook from The Book and play Kill Dr. Lucky! We knocked out seven recipes, including six from the hors d'oeuvres section of The Book, which is one of my slowest. It's great cooking for people who have eaten lots and lots of recipes from my project because I worry not-at-all about the food potentially tasting bad. Everyone who showed up was prepared for the possibility that some things might be terrible. It's part of the experience. In Bloomington I still worry a bit about serving awful things to my new friends. Here though, it's more fun if at least one thing is terrible!

Yesterday and today I went into the department at MIT. It's nice to be back there, attending seminars and seeing friends. They aren't on spring break this week, so the department is bustling with activity, as it usually is. I have managed to get some work done, and enjoy the company of people that I don't see so often any more. Overall, thus far it has been one of my more productive spring breaks!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Beurre Blanc (Page 882)

  • Date: Saturday, March 8, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


Matty and I share a deep love of broccoli, so we have been making our way through all the sauces in The Book that can reasonably be served on broccoli (beurre blanc: yes, cocktail sauce: no). During my last trip to Boston we made the beurre nantais with great success, so beurre blanc seems like a natural next choice. Beurre blanc is a fussy sauce -- one that separates easily. The idea is that you make a reduction of wine, vinegar, and shallots, and then incorporate cold butter in such a way that it doesn't just melt, but rather gives the sauce body. This is tricky. If the sauce gets too hot the butter melts and everything separates. It is much easier to be successful if you add a bit of cream to it as a stabilizer, however this is cheating! Beurre blanc contains no cream! I was happy to see that the recipe in The Book was a true cream-less beurre blanc. On the other hand, that makes it trickier to make. I spent a bit of time in culinary school perfecting my beurre blanc technique, so I let Matty so the tricky part of this recipe: adding the butter. And he did a fine job! The sauce didn't separate at all. It tasted fabulous, but had one serious issue: it was much too thin in consistency. The ratios in this recipe were not good -- there was too much liquid for the amount of butter added. So even though Matty incorporated the butter perfectly it still came out too thin. That said, it tasted awesome, and we happily drenched not only our broccoli but also a wheat berry salad in this sauce (yes, we ate wheat berries drenched in butter sauce!). In summary: consistency bad, flavor good!

This recipe isn't online.

In culinary school we had a final practicum on the last day of class where we picked a card and we had to make whatever was on the card and serve it to a panel of judges. I was thinking about this today because I remember being very scared of pulling a card with beurre blanc as one of the components on it. Usually my beurre blanc turns out just fine, but it is easy to ruin, and the practicum rules were that you weren't allowed to redo anything. Fortunately the card I pulled was danish with three fillings, which was perfect for me since I am a pastry girl at heart!

My favorite final practicum horror story (this wasn't from my class, but the story is so amazing that it got passed down from another class): The student in question pulled the card for baked stuffed squid. She had never made a stuffed squid before, but she had cooked squid, and she had stuffed plenty of things, so how hard could it be? She carefully prepared and seasoned her stuffing, cleaned her squid, and stuffed it. She knew it had to bake for a while, so she set a timer and left it in the oven unattended as she went to prepare her sides and sauces to accompany it. The one thing that she failed to consider is that a squid, unlike the other things she had stuffed (e.g. a turkey) doesn't have any bones. Stuffing tends to expand in the oven, which if you are stuffing a turkey for instance, is no problem -- the stuffing just squirts out the end. So said culinary student hadn't thought to worry that she might be overstuffing the squid. But indeed she had, and by the time she went to check on her squid in the oven, it had exploded. The squid pieces had adhered themselves to the walls and floor of the oven and were burning away. As there are no redos in the final practicum, her only choice was to scrape the burning squid off the oven and patch it around her stuffing so that she would have something to serve the judges. As I said, I wasn't there, but apparently there were tears!   


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Spinach Gnocchi Gratin (Page 239)

  • Date: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I have been eying this recipe for a while -- gnocchi are a favorite of mine, and gnocchi covered with cream and cheese sounded pretty irresistible. However, it is really potato gnocchi that are close to my heart, and these gnocchi were French gnocchi, made from a pate a choux dough rather than a potato-based dumpling dough. Pate a choux is the pastry you use to make cream puffs, and I think of it as being a dough that you bake more than a dough that you boil, but I am open to new things. So I made my pate a choux, stirred in the cooked, chopped spinach, and dropped it in little chunks into the boiling water. As I should have anticipated, but didn't, the little pieces of dough grew tremendously. So what seemed appropriately gnocchi -sized when I dropped it in the water rapidly became the most gigantic gnocchi on earth. Oh well. The directions at this point were bad. They said to cook the gnocchi until they floated to the top, about 5 minutes. This is the test I always use for potato gnocchi -- you wait until they surface, and then you take them out. These giant gnocchi blobs, however, immediately floated to the surface. I left them in for about 5 minutes anyway, since I knew the centers were not instantly cooked, despite the floating. Then the gnocchi got drained, arranged in a baking dish, covered with some cream and parmesan, and baked and then broiled. The end result was pretty tasty. The gnocchi were heavily seasoned, which was good since they didn't have a lot of strong flavors in them. The parmesan cheese on top was essential to give the dish some power. I do prefer potato gnocchi to these French gnocchi, which didn't have the same earthy flavor or cloud-like texture of their potato counterparts. However, the dish was still good.

Here is the recipe.

Last night I made dinner from The Book, and Matty and I sat at the dining room table, leisurely eating and enjoying each other's company for a long time. We have been having a lot of dinners lately of the form: some fish dish, broccoli with some sauce, and something else. Last night was no exception. Even with those reasonably restrictive parameters, you can imagine that the quality of the dinner varies greatly. Last night's was more successful than most.

I am not going to lie and say that living apart from my special gentleman friend is easy. I have always been opposed to long distance relationships for myself, and have, in the past, flat-out refused any time such a relationship came up in my life. My special gentleman friend is extremely special though, and it made no sense to let such a silly thing as a thousand miles split us up. So that's how it came to be. In general, long distance isn't fun. There is one wonderful thing about it though. Last night, sitting at the table eating dinner together, I felt so enormously grateful. I was appreciative of that very simple time together in a way that I think I never was before I moved away. Before I moved to Bloomington a friend of mine who lived in a different country as her now-husband for several years before they got married said to me, "The distance will be enlightening." She was right about that. It certainly is.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Braised Belgian Endive Gratin (Page 539)

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



I don't know why I picked this recipe to make this past week. I vastly prefer Belgian endive raw and paired with cheese to any cooked Belgian endive preparations I have come across, so I wasn't terribly excited about this recipe. However it wasn't bad. The braising technique mellowed out the bitterness of the endive quite a bit, and the breadcrumbs and cheese were (at least in theory) a nice topping. However, following the recipe exactly the topping was black and burnt after only half the indicated time in the broiler. And the layer of breadcrumbs was so thick that while the top was completely burnt, the layers underneath weren't even toasty. My recommendation: more cheese, fewer breadcrumbs. Other than that, the recipe was fine. I find the texture of cooked endive not terribly appealing (it's more than a little slimy), but the flavors in this dish were pretty good. Overall: not bad.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book only calls for 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs.

It is still winter in Bloomington, but it seems to be spring in Boston. And early spring in Boston means one thing: cold, cold rain. It has been gloomy and raining all day today, which made the weather perfect for two things: sleeping and running. I didn't feel like I desperately needed spring break right now, or like I was particularly worn out. But as soon as I laid down for a little rest, it seemed that perhaps I should take a nap. Or two. Or three. I have slept more in the last 48 hours than I usually do in three or four days. It's been great.

I just got back from my other favorite rainy day activity: running in the rain. I don't really like running outside that much, mainly because if the air is dry I have a lot of trouble breathing. I had asthma as a kid, and maybe I still do -- who knows. But I wheeze when I run outdoors and afterwards my chest and throat always feel like shit. I don't have this problem on a treadmill. Or if I run in the rain (rain = higher humidity=moister air=easier breathing?)! I love water, and I love being wet, so I care not at all if I am soaked from head to toe. I went running with my special gentleman friend this afternoon, through fairly heavy rain. He ran around all the puddles, while I ran straight through them. I love that feeling of splashing through puddles. I came home soaked and happy. It was the best run I have had in a while.

Up next, excellent rainy day activity number three: cooking dinner!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Pecans, Dried Apricots, and Dried Sour Cherries (Page 662)

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


I am starting to try to work through some of the sections of The Book from the beginning of the section, picking up the recipes I haven't made yet. This was the first recipe in the Cookies, Bars, and Confections section that I hadn't made. When I read this recipe my first thought was, "What?!? No vanilla?!?" When I tasted the finished cookies my first thought was "What?!? No vanilla?!?" Vanilla extract is to baking what salt is to the rest of cooking (confusingly enough salt is to baking what salt is to the rest of cooking too, so this really wouldn't make a very good SAT question...). What I am trying to say is this: salt goes in everything. Vanilla goes in essentially every baked good, and also some other stuff. Vanilla, like salt, is a flavor enhancer. Its ultimate purpose is usually not to impart its own flavor, but rather to enhance the other flavors around it. So in the same way that I am deeply, deeply skeptical of recipes that don't call for any salt, I was skeptical of these cookies from the start. "What?!? No vanilla?!?" Aside from this vanilla craziness, this recipe isn't so different from the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the Toll House Chocolate Chips bag (a recipe which I love, by the way). The ratios are a touch different, and of course these cookies are studded with chocolate chunks, chopped pecan, dried sour cherries, and chopped apricots instead of good old Toll House Chocolate Chips. The verdict: the recipe is pretty good. The cookies desperately needed vanilla. Without vanilla the buttery flavor didn't shine through the way it should in a fine chocolate chip cookie. I also thought the chunks went a bit overboard. I am not a huge fan of dried fruit and chocolate in the same cookie (that's just me) so I would have preferred these either without the chocolate chunks or without the cherries and apricots. But as they were, I have certainly been eating them. Matty says, "They're good." Truth be told, he says that about almost everything, but hey, he's easy to please! If I were you, I'd stick with the Toll House recipe. Hell, if you like the fruit, just add it to that!

Here is the recipe.

My travels went smoothly yesterday and I made it into Providence right on time! My luggage, however, did not. My suitcase arrived with me (as luggage is supposed to), but the cooler full of frozen food I had made for my special gentleman friend got stuck in Chicago. How they managed to misplace only one of my pieces of luggage I am not sure. And of course it was the one with perishables in it! I pleaded with the luggage lady to have them send it last night. There were no more flights from Chicago to Providence, but there were flights to Boston taht they could have put it on, which would have made it easier for them to deliver anyway. No such luck. She said she would get it to me "As soon as possible." It arrived just now, more than 24 hours after I arrived. I have some difficulty believing that it takes 24 hours to get from Ohare to Somerville, MA. I had prepared my special gentleman for the worst -- that probably all of the food (except some cookies) would have to be thrown away. I am a stickler for food safety, and if that food was above 40 degrees, it was going in the trash. The shocking thing was, the food was still cold. I was concerned, of course, that it had warmed up into the temperature danger zone at some time in the last 24 hours and had then gotten colder again (which is a pretty unlikely series of events in an insulated cooler, but I am cautious!), but actually much of the food was still partially frozen! So either that Target cooler is way better than what I paid for it, or they stored it overnight someplace pretty cold. I am betting on the latter, but still, props to my cooler. I carefully inspected the containers one by one with my thermometer, and ultimately decided everything was safe to keep, except one soup with a lot of egg in it. This was a happy turn of events. My special gentleman friend hates to throw food away, especially homemade food! And there were some good things in there: brownies, cookies, pizza, black beans, white beans, gnocchi, smelly soup, lima beans, etc...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Slow-Cooked Tuscan Beans (Page 270)

  • Date: Monday, March 3, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I have felt very drawn to the "Grains and Beans" section of The Book lately, and consequently this was one of the few bean recipes I had left. These Tuscan beans were tasty. They were slow-cooked in such a way that the beans didn't need to be pre-soaked, which is convenient if you, like me, often don't plan ahead enough for soaking things overnight. The flavoring was very simple: garlic, sage, bay leaf, and sea salt. The garlic flavor was mild, but nice. I appreciated the simplicity of the dish -- white beans are lovely on their own, which just a touch of added flavor. My one complaint is that the sage gave the dish a slightly soapy flavor, which I found off-putting. Were I to make this one again I would halve the sage, and perhaps peel the garlic cloves before adding them to give it a more intense garlic flavor.

Here is the recipe.

Spring break is almost upon us! Really tomorrow is the last day of class before break, but since I don't teach on Fridays I will be done and on my way to the airport this afternoon! Teaching the weeks before and after spring break is always a challenge. It seems that students need a week to get ready for break, a week of break, and a week to recover from break. Already on Tuesday my students were antsy and not as attentive as usual, so I can only imagine what they will be like today. It's hard to blame them too much -- I am feeling antsy for spring break myself! I am off to Boston this evening. Hopefully I will make it. I am flying through Ohare, on the exact same flight that left me stranded overnight in Chicago two weeks ago. Normally I fly direct to Boston to avoid that problem, but it being spring break made all the tickets really expensive this trip. So I am flying through Chicago to Providence, where my special gentleman friend will retrieve me. I am looking forward to spending a shocking 11 days in Boston! I haven't yet planned any get-togethers or anything, but it will be plenty of time to see friends, do some cooking, and get some work done. Yay for spring break!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce (Page 830)

  • Date: Friday, February 29, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Mike kept suggesting that we make something that sounded gross to go with dinner on Friday -- something so unlikely to be good that I wouldn't make it for most people. To suit that suggestion, I picked this recipe. I'm not sure why this sounded so bad to me. Partly I think I am biased against English Christmas puddings. Admit it: plum pudding, figgy pudding, sticky toffee pudding... they are usually pretty scary, no? Add to it that the recipe just didn't read well (A pudding base made of pureed dates? Doesn't necessarily seem like a good idea...) and the result is that I have been putting off making this recipe. But Mike asked for something scary, so I busted it out! And you know what? I was wrong. This dessert turned out not-at-all scary. In fact, it was downright tasty. It wasn't terribly visually appealing, and Mike and I both sat there poking it with our forks for a few minutes before we took our first bites. But after one bite, I was sold. The toffee sauce was awesome (although I was doubtful about the pudding, I knew the sauce would be great -- it was essentially just butter, sugar, and cream!). The pudding itself was, well, also great! The pureed dates gave it a wonderful sweet flavor without tasting overwhelmingly like dates. The pudding was tremendously moist, but a bit cake-like. It had a lovely texture. My only complaint is that the puddings were HUGE. I am a dessert person but there is no way I could have finished mine. About half the size would have been perfect. Overall though, it was a winner. Perhaps I need to rethink my anti-English Christmas pudding bias. Lucky for me there is also a figgy pudding recipe in The Book, so I will have another data point to work with!

This recipe isn't online.

My special gentleman friend got me a very colorful ring (garnet, amethyst, and lots of things I don't know the name of...) for Christmas. I never take it off, except once in a great while to clean it. I cleaned it yesterday evening, getting under the stones with some sort of dental tool. As I was cleaning it I thought, "How does this thing get so dirty? I wear it in the shower, it should be clean?!?" Yet the underside was cloudy and mucky. Not even an hour later I was making cookies -- the kind of cookies with lots of chunky things in them -- and it was difficult to stir. So there I was, mixing it all up with my hands. It was an "Aha!" moment for me. So that is how my ring gets dirty! I constantly have my hands in what I am cooking (not to worry -- I also compulsively wash my hands while I cook -- food safety is very important to me!).

Even sitting here now, I have spinach gnocchi dough caked in my hair. Basically what I am saying is this: I am gross!

Spicy Stir-Fried Pork and Peppers (Page 487)

  • Date: Friday, February 29, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Mike
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Mike chose this main course for dinner on Friday. This is the second recipe I have made in recent history that calls for ingredients to be deep-fried before they are stir-fried. I have to admit, I don't particularly understand the purpose of this. Why not just skip the deep-frying and stir-fry it? Are there any experts on Chinese cooking out there who can comment on whether this deep-frying and then stir-frying technique is authentic, and if so, why? In any event, the pork in this recipe was deep-fried and then stir-fried with the peppers and delicious sauce. Mike and I started a small grease fire while deep-frying, but it was worth it, because the dish came out lovely. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the red bell peppers were a perfect complement. It was really the sauce that made the dish though. The spicy stir-fry sauce was composed of very simple ingredients, yet it really shined. It was indeed spicy, but the spiciness didn't overwhelm the actual flavor of the sauce. Overall this was a great dish -- Mike and I happily devoured it!

This recipe isn't online.

It's the middle of the semester, which means that it is time for midterm grades! We are required to submit official mid-semester grades for all freshman and some sophomores in our courses. I think it's a good idea to let everyone know how they are doing, so I posted midterm grades for my whole class. This happened on Monday, two days after their Saturday midterm exam. The exam didn't go so well. This was true overall, not just for my section, but in my section it was worse than most. The reason (I think!): So the grade cutoffs are set departmentally on the exam, since all students take the same one. We set the median to be a C-. A lot of people had the median score, so the end result of setting the C- there was that about 42% of the class got Ds and Fs on the exam. This percentage seemed a bit high to me, but ok. The problem though was that many sections had already had a huge number of people drop, so they had already lost their worst students. In my class that wasn't true. In general I don't encourage students to drop before the first midterm -- sometimes it takes time to see if they will get into the swing of things and be able to pass. In any event, with all my weakest students still in the class, the median in my section was lower than the median in the whole class. So, instead of 42% of my class getting Ds and Fs on the exam, more than 50% did. You can imagine how happy they were about that. Fortunately the mid-semester grades took into account things like homework and quizzes and the first exam, so they were higher. But still, students were shocked and worried. The drop deadline is today, and yesterday afternoon I had a line of students out my door who wanted advice, or to explain to me why they had done badly on the test, etc... I felt bad for them. It's hard watching students who are clearly upset, and not really being able to do much for them. I gave them the best advice I could and hopefully it will help them start to do better!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Shitake-Bok Choy Soup with Noodles (Page 95)

  • Date: Friday, February 29, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Mike and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C-


Mike and I picked an Asian-inspired main course for dinner on Friday, so pairing it with an Asian-inspired soup seemed only natural. Mike and I both had the same reaction to this soup: it looked beautiful and tempting. It kept calling to us, "Eat me!" So I would move closer to the bowl, and pick up the spoon before being hit by the smell -- The Smell! By the time the spoon was close enough to my face for the food to go into my mouth, my face had involuntarily turned away from the smell. I would put my spoon back in my soup, push the bowl away, and eat some delicious pork stir-fry. Five minutes later, it would again tempt me with its enticing look and the entire thing would be repeated. Mike had the same experience. What was the smell, you ask? Bonito (aka katsuobushi, aka dried fish shavings). Bonito is commonly found in Japanese cuisine, and I am not, in general, opposed to it. In this instance though, it was tremendously overpowering. The rest of the ingredients were mild (soba, mushrooms, bok choy) so the only strong flavor was that of the dried fish. It was just too much. I wanted to eat it, I really did. I love noodle soups! But past a few bites, I just couldn't. Mike did a bit better, but still left more than half his serving.

Here is the recipe.

Mike left early this afternoon to head onwards in his multi-stop journey. It was so fun having him visit! Friday night we made a big dinner and went to the movies (one of my favorite things about Bloomington: five dollar movies and free refills on the ICEEs). On Saturday I gave my midterm, but fortunately it was all graded and done with by the early afternoon. So mid-afternoon Mike and I went to one of the area wineries. There are a number of wineries around here, and not only had I not visited one of them yet, but in fact I had never in my life been to a winery! It was such fun! There was a huge tasting bar, and we each sampled 6 different wines. I also tasted Mike's choices of course. Those of you who know me well can probably imagine how stumbling drunk I was after 12 wine samples! After we were good and tipsy we went on a winery tour, which was fun and educational! To finish our winery experience we took a walk around the pond. Evidence that I was clearly not in my straight mind: I went out on a pier with Mike, bending over the water to look at the fish. It's a miracle that he didn't push me in! Saturday evening we met Tricia, Paul, Beth, Lauren, and Jeremy at a brew pub for dinner -- as if we hadn't already had enough alcohol! Actually Mike's allergic to beer, and I was past my alcohol limit for the day already, so we didn't drink, but we did have a fun dinner!

Now Mike is off, and I am doing some work, cleaning up my apartment, and relaxing before the week begins!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Richard Olney's Soupe au Pistou (Page 107)

  • Date: Sunday, February 24, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Brian and Nathan
  • Recipe Rating: B-


It was chilly and rainy when I was in California last weekend, and Em suggested soup for dinner on Sunday. I quickly chimed in with, "We could make soup from The Book!" and sold her and Brian on this vegetable soup. While we were eating it, their friend Nathan showed up and Brian greeted him with, "Hey, want some mediocre soup?" That pretty much summarizes it. There is a reason that most soup recipes start with some kind of broth or stock. Even if the stock is vegetarian, in contributes a slow cooked depth of flavor that water obviously does not. This recipe was a water-based recipe though, which was largely responsible for everyone's major complaint about it: bland. Bland, bland, bland. Everything that went into it was delicious, and nothing about it tasted bad, but even with handfuls of salt added it was still bland. The one saving grace was the pistou (a French version of pesto) which was garlicky and delicious. Even the recipe for the pistou was odd though. I only ended up adding half as much oil as they indicated and it was already way too much. The only way to give the soup any flavor at all was to stir in huge quantities of the flavorful pistou. Unfortunately, the pistou was so oily that then your soup was covered in a small oil slick. Not particularly appealing. This recipe could easily be altered to give something tasty. The soup could start from a chicken (or even vegetable) stock and the veggies could be browned before they are added. Finally, the pistou could be made with about a third as much oil as is called for. With those adaptations I think this soup could be quite good. As it is, it's inoffensive, but bland!

This recipe isn't online.

My students had their midterm exam this morning. I didn't write this exam -- it was departmental, meaning that all 1500 students in this class this semester (of which I have 80) took the same exam. It was 20 multiple choice questions, which made it fantastically easy to grade. In fact, I think grading took me less than 20 minutes! The students did less well than I expected them to... I take comfort in the fact though that no one in my section got less than a 20% (that would be discouraging -- on an exam which is all multiple choice with 5 choices each, you could earn a 20% just by guessing!). The lowest score I heard from other sections was a 10%. Sad. Very sad. Truth be told, although I had no one below 20%, I did have a 20%. I also had a student sleep through the exam. Actually two students, but one of them woke up in time to still make it to part of the exam. The other, though, apparently woke up after the exam was over (at 10:30am). Whoops. I haven't quite figured out what to do with her yet. On the one hand I think, "Damn irresponsible students!" but on the other hand, I slept through an exam once too... Yup, very embarrassing. It was at Stanford and I don't know what happened. It was the final exam for some Political Science class I was taking to meet general education requirements. I was done with all of the finals I was worried about, and apparently I was really tired. I shut off my alarm without waking up, and when I finally did wake up, the exam was halfway over. Luckily Stanford exams were 3 hours, and by the time I got there I had a little more than an hour to do it -- plenty of time! I think it affected my performance on the exam not-at-all, but I still remember the look that the professor and TAs gave me when I came running in more than an hour and a half late. Whoops. So maybe I should have some mercy on my student... As of yet undecided...