Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Prune and Walnut Turnovers (Page 794)

  • Date: Sunday, April 27, 2008 -- 3pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Paul K, Chuck, and many other mathematicians and their families
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Making pastry crust requires dirtying some very specific equipment (the food processor, the rolling pin, the silpat, etc...). I figured as long as I was going to get all that stuff dirty with pastry crust to make the tart below, I might as well make another pastry crust while I was at it! So on Sunday I made these turnovers as another dessert to bring to the math department picnic. On a recent trip to the grocery store with Emilee she noted that there is a new trend to label prunes as "Dried Plums" rather than the traditional "Prunes." We laughed about that change in marketing strategy. It makes sense though -- prunes have a bad reputation. They are thought of more as a remedy than a food, and despite their similarities to dried dates and figs, the word prune just doesn't have the same positive connotation. I have to admit, I became a part of this same marketing ploy -- when people asked me what these were, I said, "Dried fruit and walnut turnovers." That's honest. It just happens that the only dried fruit they contained was prunes! I would have said, "Dried plum and walnut turnovers," but this particular audience is smarter than that. They certainly would have responded, "You mean, prunes?" Anyway, none of this is particularly relevant. No matter what you call them, what is important is how they tasted.

So how did they taste? They were good! I don't cook so often with prunes. I don't dislike them, but people give you this weird unhappy look when you tell them you are serving prunes. So I generally avoid them (now that I know this new marketing strategy, I can make lots of prune dishes!). The prunes made a nice filling though, ground together with some almonds. The crust was a pain to deal with (not enough moisture!) but delicious to eat. It was flaky from the layers of butter and flour, and tangy from the cream cheese. Yum! Overall the turnovers were pretty tasty. I have only one serious complaint. Usually with turnovers you fill them with fruit -- blueberries or apples -- which tends to juice and spread out in the oven, oozing delicious filling into every corner of the turnover. These turnovers, however, were full of a thick prune paste. It didn't ooze. So the filling was all lumped towards the middle, and the corners were all crust. It wasn't a good distribution. Honestly, while the prune filling wasn't bad at all, I think these turnovers would have been overall tastier filled with some delicious blueberries. The prune filling would be more appropriate for some tiny little one-bite pastries, where a sticky sweet dried fruit filling is perfect.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except instead of making big turnovers, the one online makes many little crescent-shapes.

Frangipane Tart wih Strawberries and Raspberries (Page 778)

  • Date: Sunday, April 27, 2008 -- 3pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Many hungry mathematicians and their families...
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I made this tart to bring to the math department picnic on Sunday. This tart had a basic pate brisee crust, topped with a layer of frangipane (almond pastry filling) and then a layer of fruit. As pastry fillings go, frangipane is usually pretty low on my list. This one was tasty though. It had a nice almond flavor. The texture was less custardy than the frangipane I am used to, and a bit more firm and chewy. Now that I say it, that doesn't sound so appealing (mmm... chewy filling!), but it actually worked quite well. This was a simple tart, with clean flavors, perfect for the spring or summer. The tart crust recipe in The Book (which I have made many times already) is quite good, so this crust turned out well. The flaky texture of the crust was complemented nicely by the texture of the filling. Overall it was a tasty dessert --ideal for someone who prefers his or her desserts not terribly sweet, and not terribly heavy. It was the first dessert to disappear off the table at the picnic, and several people commented to me that they enjoyed it! Definitely a crowd pleaser.

The recipe in The Book is identical to this one, except the one in The Book calls for one-fourth as much almond extract.

In the entire month of April my special gentleman and I have spent only four days together. That is the worst we have ever done in terms of seeing one another, rivaled only by September, our very first month apart. It's made worse by the fact that both of our birthdays are this month, and neither of them contained in the aforementioned four days! Usually I have a pretty cheery attitude about my long-distance relationship (I love my special gentleman, I love our relationship, and the distance is worth it! Whoo-hoo! Go team!) but my positive outlook is wearing a little thin these past few days. I am starting to get a bit jealous of couples who actually live in the same state (which, it turns out, is most of them!).

But, relief is on the horizon. In 56 hours (not that I am counting...) the long-distance part of our long-distance relationship will be over! Yay! My special gentleman is flying in Thursday night, and on Friday we will get in the car and drive off to Boston (via Chicago for a couple days) for a whole summer of happy together time!

The truth is, the distance was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. It helps that I have a great partner, who is great on the phone and very willing to travel. It also helps that the people I have met in Indiana are friendly, and supportive, and warm! So I didn't feel nearly as lonely as I thought I would. That said, I put in my time, and I am ready to be done! Only two more days!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Gratin Dauphinois (Page 572)

  • Date: Sunday, April 27, 2008 -- 2pm
  • Location: Bloomington. IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: D


NOTE: This review has been updated. Please click here for the new review.

The annual math department picnic was yesterday afternoon. I am leaving for the summer in a few days so I am hesitant to make any big recipes this week because I don't want the leftovers to go to waste. The picnic seemed like a good opportunity to get some cooking done though, since things were sure to get eaten by hoards of hungry mathematicians! Gratin potatoes seemed like the perfect picnic side dish -- who doesn't love potatoes drowned in dairy?!? The one flaw in my plan was that I didn't account for the possibility that this recipe could be so gross that instead of ending up on a picnic table in the park it ended up in the garbage disposal! As soon as I started making this though, I became a little wary. The recipe was very simple. Sliced potatoes get poached in half-and-half, then the whole mixture gets baked with Gruyere on top. Sounds delicious, no? However, it was clear from the beginning that there was just way too much liquid for the amount of potatoes. There was no way that the liquid was going to absorb or bake off enough to form something reasonable. And indeed it didn't. Even worse, the half-and-half somewhat curdled in the oven. So the end result had pools of watery substance in it, and white curdled chunks of cream. It was foul. The texture of the potatoes themselves was nice, and the melted Gruyere was of course delicious, but neither was enough to save the dish. Even if you were able to get beyond the atrocious visual appearance, and the revolting texture, the flavor wasn't even very good. Aside from the cheese, it was pretty bland. Here's my kiss of death review of this recipe: for Easter Emilee, Brian, and I made some scary cheesy potato recipe involving canned cream of mushroom soup and that one was vastly, vastly superior to this recipe. My guess: there is a typo in this recipe. With half as much liquid it could have been good, but as it was it was borderline inedible, and certainly unservable to my colleagues.

This recipe isn't online.

One of my new year's resolutions was to eat less junk (candy, chips...). I learned at an early age that denying myself food of any variety doesn't particularly work for me. I am just not a dieter. But it would probably be better for me if I ate less sweets and processed food. My solution: I never buy junk food for my apartment. (The one exception: microwave popcorn. I can't live without it.) I like candy and chips and stuff, but if it's not in front of me, I don't miss it. I make cookies and other sweet stuff from The Book all the time, and I eat as many as I like, but I never buy packaged cookies or anything like that. It works out pretty well. Homemade baked goods are obviously fatty and bad for you, but I believe (whether it is true or not) that they are still better for you than their processed, packaged counterparts. Plus, it's good motivation to bake -- when there is nothing sweet in my apartment it's either bake something or go without!

When my mom visited in the fall she bought 5 different flavors of ice cream and 2 boxes of cookies. It took me months to eat all that junk food, but eventually it disappeared. Since then my apartment has been more or less junk-food free. That is, until yesterday. The math department picnic was yesterday, and I helped out with it a little bit (preparing some shrimp and salmon for the grill, etc...). I also helped clean up. I hate to see food go to waste and I do love the kind of trashy food I never buy, so somehow I ended up taking home with me several bags of chips, a box of cookies, some graham crackers... even a partial bag of marshmallows (we had smores at our picnic!). I feel like a kid in a candy store now! I have eaten so much junk already today that I feel a little sick...

Cocktail Sauce (Page 891)

  • Date: Saturday, April 26, 2008 -- 4:30pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I have to admit, when I think of cocktail sauce I think of some scary, neon red concoction that comes in a jar. If you had asked me how to make cocktail sauce, I would have said, "Well, you could probably start with ketchup..." and then hit a wall. I had never given cocktail sauce much thought, or respect, and it had certainly never occurred to me to make my own. I went into this recipe with a generally bad attitude, but I figured with an active time of 10 minutes, even if it was terrible it would be no major loss. Turns out, my bad attitude was entirely unjustified. This sauce was very good. It was completely unclear that this list of ingredients was going to mesh into something cohesive and tasty: ketchup, orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice, horseradish, and Tabasco. Surprisingly though, it really worked. The ketchup was a nice salty background for the sauce. The orange and lemon juices gave it some citrus tang, and the horseradish and Tabasco gave it a little kick of heat. It was very cohesive. It would be perfect, of course, as a dipping sauce for shrimp, but I found it much more versatile than that. It would be tasty paired with a variety of seafood, or even chicken. I dipped some soy Chik Nuggets in it, and it was quite tasty! This recipe is a winner -- definitely a huge step up from the cocktail sauce you are probably used to.

This sauce is the cocktail sauce from this recipe.

Whoo hoo! After a day of administering a final, grading, discussing departmental grade distributions, and assigning grades, I am done! I am doing a little jig in my office chair. You can't see me, but if you could, you would laugh. Today marks the end of all my official responsibilities for the academic year. This summer I can devote more time to my research, do some traveling in a less stressful manner than usual, and enjoy being with my special gentleman!

You know, I spent the whole semester thinking that my students hated me. Part of it was that they didn't really pay so much attention when I talked. Then, mid-semester someone pointed out to me that one of them had written a nasty review of me on ratemyprofessors.com. That led to my general belief that I was hated. Today, though, I realized that they don't hate me so much. They just hate the class. I have gotten a lot of nice emails from my students in the last few days, thanking me for teaching them. Some students even came to my defense on the professor-rating website! Watching them take the final today, I had positive feelings about them. Many of them really did work hard in the end. My bad attitude about them really came out of frustration with a few students who lied and cheated throughout the course, but it's not really fair to blame that on the group as a whole. Next fall, faced with business calculus again, I am going to try to maintain a better attitude throughout the semester. One of my students wrote on that silly rating website "[She] absolutely loves math. She made me love math." If I truly did make one student love calculus this term (business calculus even!) that was an accomplishment to be proud of!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

English Mint Sauce (Page 893)

  • Date: Saturday, April 26, 2008 -- 4pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I am leaving for the summer in less than a week and I have a ton to do so this week I am trying to make some quick and easy recipes that don't generate too much food! The Sauces and Salsas section is generally a good place to look for such recipes, so you'll be seeing a few sauces from me this week. First up: English mint sauce. In all my travels I have never been to England, and I've never eaten anywhere in the US claiming to serve authentic English food. So I can't say with any certainty how close this recipe is to a traditional English mint sauce. I can say that I didn't understand this sauce at all. One of my major problems with the sauce was textural. For one thing, it had no body to it. It had approximately the viscosity of water, which is atypical for a sauce. Then, floating in this watery substance were chopped up pieces of mint. The flavor didn't do much to redeem it. The background liquid here was water mixed with cider vinegar and a bit of sugar. What did the sauce taste like? Mint floating in cider vinegar. It wasn't bad exactly. I love both mint and cider vinegar, and they didn't do particularly bad things to each other once stirred together. But there was also just not much to it. There was zero depth of flavor, or mouth feel, or body. It didn't have any of the qualities that make a sauce really special. On top of it all, it was tremendously unappealing visually. Would I make this again? Certainly not. Would I be interested in trying a traditional mint sauce as served in England? Yes, indeed.

This recipe isn't online.

On Thursday afternoon I gave my last business calculus lecture of the semester, and yesterday afternoon I taught a review session for the final. Now I am done! (sure, sure, I have to administer and grade the final exam at 8am on Monday morning, but that should be painless enough since the exam is multiple choice) Last night, after my review session I went over to Paul and Beth's place for dinner and a movie. On the way there I rolled the windows down in my car and blasted George Michael's "Freedom." I was pretty happy to be done with business calculus!

Actually, as much as I complained about teaching fake calculus, I did learn quite a bit about teaching this semester. It was easily the most challenging class I have ever taught in that the students were less interested in being there than any students I have had before. In retrospect there are a lot of things that I would have done differently. I wasn't completely happy with the job I did teaching this term. Fortunately (?) I will get a chance to redeem myself in the fall, when I have a section of business calculus again! I also have a section of regular calculus that semester to balance things out a bit...

In the meantime: summer!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rhubarb Roulade (Page 720)

  • Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Like I said, I couldn't imagine having a birthday without a birthday cake, so I made myself this cake last night so that I could have a big slice of birthday cake today! I chose this one because I saw some rhubarb at the store the other day, and figured I better make this recipe while I could get my hands on that sometimes elusive vegetable. This cake was pretty good. It was a simple sponge cake, baked in a jelly roll pan, then covered in yummy rhubarb filling and rolled up. Once it was cool the whole thing got heavily sprinkled with some powdered sugar. The end result was beautiful when sliced and pretty tasty. The rhubarb filling didn't have quite as much flavor as I had expected. It may have benefited from a pinch of salt or two. The cake was light and spongy, as it should be, but also not terribly flavorful. More vanilla almost certainly would have improved it. All that said, it was a perfectly good birthday treat and I very much enjoyed the big slice I had with lunch!

Here is the recipe.

Making a roulade was one of the many techniques we were responsible for in culinary school. As I was making this I realized though that I had never made a dessert roulade. Roulades come in many varieties -- from this typical jelly-roll style roulade to Matambre (flank steak rolled around bacon and veggies) to Braciole (steak or pork wrapped around parmesan, etc...) to various types of sushi. So when in culinary school I needed to learn to make a roulade. It was clear to everyone involved (me, the chefs, my class...) that cake-baking was not my weakest area. Anything involving meat, however, was a big challenge for me at that time. So my roulade assignment was not a lovely rhubarb-filled jelly-roll, but rather one of the oddest and least appealing dishes I have ever made. Imagine this: instead of delicious cake, the outside of my roulade was sliced swordfish steaks. Instead of yummy rhubarb filling, the filling in my roulade was pureed white-fleshed fish, studded with chunks of shrimp. Sounds foul, no? Then the whole thing got rolled up and poached. Now, this was a terrible recipe. Even before I made it the chef admitted that it was not her favorite concoction. One problem was that it was very hard to get all the components to the right degree of doneness all together. Overcooked swordfish is gross, but so is raw shrimp! When the swordfish was perfectly poached we sliced it, only to find that the shrimp in the middle were still translucent. Ick. But we had already sliced it, so we did the only quick fix we could think of and broiled the slices under the salamander just until the shrimp cooked through. Doneness wasn't the only issue. It also just tasted bad! It sounds foul, and it was! I have had a certain skepticism about roulades ever since. When I took my first bite of this rhubarb roulade, I was shocked when it was actually quite tasty! Happy birthday to me!

Hamburger Buns (Page 614)

  • Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Many mathematicians and their families
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I am trying to make some practical food for the next few weeks so that when I leave Indiana for the summer my freezer isn't overflowing with leftovers. We are having a department picnic on Sunday, so I made these buns and froze them until then. I am always enchanted by homemade bread. Perhaps it is the smell that fills my apartment, but I invariably have a positive feeling about a bread recipe before I even taste it. I had never made hamburger buns before, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. The verdict: they are good. I'm not confident that these are the best hamburger buns that it would be possible to make, but they are certainly better than anything you would buy in a store. They had a nice flavor to them, and a good texture. I have two complaints though. One, they came out a little dry inside. And two, they are a bit small for hamburgers. If you are going to make a homemade bun and fill it with a delicious juicy burger, then you are probably going to want a pretty big one! I think a 3 1/2 or 4 inch cutter rather than a 3 inch one would have made more appropriately sized buns. Overall though, they are pretty good. I am looking forward to hearing what everyone else thinks of them on Sunday!

This recipe isn't online.

Happy birthday to me! I woke up this morning a little bit bummed about spending my birthday without my special gentleman, or any of the other friends I usually spend my special day with. But so far the day has gone just swimmingly, so I am having a much better attitude about it. I have gotten some lovely emails containing birthday wishes from friends near and far, and when I got to my office this morning there was a beautiful handmade birthday card from Cornelia! I also signed the sublease papers this morning with the very nice and responsible person who will be living in my apartment for much of the summer while I am away. I am relieved to be done with that. So basically, all is well. Next up on the agenda: teaching my last class of the semester! Happy birthday to me! I give my last lecture today and then I am holding a review session tomorrow. The final is Monday and then I am done! Whoo-hoo!

I decided not to have a birthday party this year. It's the first time in many years that I haven't had one. I had a lot of good reasons for deciding not to do one this year, but now I am regretting it a bit. I love birthdays, and I love parties! I did make myself a cake last night (A birthday without a party seemed manageable, but a birthday without a cake seemed like too much to deal with!). So I packed myself an extra-special lunch today with a big slice of cake in it. Yum!

Speaking of, I should finish planning my class so I have time to eat my delicious lunch before lecture!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ma-Po Tofu (Page 280)

  • Date: Monday, April 21, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Since I am soon moving out and handing over my apartment to some other people for the summer, I am trying not to stock the freezer too full of food. So instead, I am making recipes that sound like things I would actually like to eat (crazy, I know!?!). The only reason this recipe made it so long without getting made is because up until very recently I didn't own a wok. BUT, a few months ago Mike came for a visit and he bought me one as a present! Yay! So how was this Ma-Po Tofu? Well, I am typically not terribly impressed by my own cooking. But I took one bite of this last night and my first thought was, "Man, I'm good!" To be fair, I didn't do much -- it is just an excellent recipe. But Asian cooking is not my specialty, and yet this came out as tasty and delicious as any Ma-Po Tofu I have ever had. I think what made this recipe so good was that The Book didn't dumb it down. Often when The Book has recipes for Asian dishes they modify so that the ingredients are easy to find. It's not an unreasonable choice to do that, but the ease comes at a cost -- the end product is often not as good as a more authentic version. This recipe wasn't dumbed down in that way. So yes, I had to go to the Asian market to find the ingredients, but it was worth it! This dish was delish. It was flavorful and spicy, without being overpowering. I was skeptical about poaching the tofu before stir-frying it (I had never done that before) but indeed the tofu came out with a perfect texture and flavor. The sauce had a great consistency, and even though it only had a few ingredients it had a wonderful depth of flavor. Ground pork is always delicious and this dish was no exception. The remarkable thing though was how well everything worked together. This dish really sang. I was extremely happy with it.

Here is the recipe.

I spent part of my morning today filing academic misconduct reports against my two students who cheated on the quiz last week. I debated about whether or not to file official complaints against them, but after talking with some of my colleagues I decided that it was important to do so. Plus, the system here really has a second chance for the students built into it. On their first minor offense students usually receive only an internal mark on their record (and whatever penalty I inflict on their grade in my course). It is the later offenses that are a real problem for the student. So I decided to go ahead and file the reports. Part of the process is confronting the students and giving them a chance to respond. I spoke with both students separately this morning and had two very interesting, and different experiences.

The first student I spoke to denied having cheated. When I asked why he had written down the answer to a question that wasn't on his quiz (and happened to be on the other version of the quiz) he couldn't offer any explanation. He insisted over and over that he would never cheat, that he wasn't the kind of person who cheats, and that I could ask anyone who knows him to verify this. I told him that I believed that he had cheated and I was filing an academic misconduct report, but it shouldn't be a big problem if he doesn't have any past offenses. That's when he admitted that in fact he already had an academic misconduct on his record for cheating. So much for "I never cheat." Then he admitted that he may have glanced at the paper next to him, but pleaded with me not to file the report since it could have serious consequences for him. Seriously? He just lied to my face, and then wants empathy?!? I filed the report.

Student number two immediately confessed that he had copied off the person in front of him. I told him that I was filing an academic misconduct report. His response: "But I was honest about it." My response: "But you cheated." He, too, pleaded with me not to file the report. I explained that I take cheating seriously, and that I was going to file.

The thing that was difficult about it was that both students acted as though I was being unreasonable. I explained to them the first day of class (and over and over throughout the semester) that I take cheating seriously, and that there would be consequences. It was their choice to cheat, not mine.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Toasted Sichuan Peppercorn Powder or Salt (Page 395)

  • Date: Monday, April 21, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe is a component to a Ma-Po Tofu dish I made tonight for dinner. It's difficult to rate this kind of thing. It's hardly a "recipe" -- you simply take some Sichuan peppercorns, toast them and then grind them up. How do you grade that? It tasted like ultra-fragrant ground up Sichuan peppercorns. As it turns out, that tastes good (not so much all by itself, but as an ingredient in a larger dish). I am basing my rating exclusively on the fact that this seasoning went into a dish that turned out very, very well. So would I make this seasoning again? Yup, I sure would. And I will, the next time I am craving some Ma-Po Tofu.

Here is the recipe.

Things have been so crazy here lately that I breezed right by the 700 recipe mark without even noticing! I clicked on the Project Index (link on the right) earlier today just to see how I was doing, and was startled to see that I had already made 701 recipes!

Every hundred recipes or so I like to make a few shout-outs to some of the people who support me in my project. First of all, a huge thank-you to Matty, who will eat anything, which prevents a heck of a lot of food from getting thrown away! Seriously though, Matty has been a huge source of support and enthusiasm for this project, and even from a distance his presence in my life provides me great motivation to cook. His general enthusiasm for food, and the things that I make, is charming and I am grateful for it.

These last 100 recipes have largely taken place in Indiana, where a whole new crew of people has been extremely gracious about eating experimental food. I was nervous about serving Book food to my new colleagues, but everyone has been wonderfully positive and encouraging, and I so appreciate it! I miss my various cooking crews from other locations -- the California crew (Em, Brian, Chris...) and the huge Boston crew (Ana, Alex, Matt, Mike, Ricky, Vero, Marco, Peter, Craig, etc...). You all have been such a big part of the success of this project and I look forward to cooking with you all again soon!

As always, thanks to Alex for the technical support. The Project Index that he coded and maintains is an invaluable source of statistics and progress checks for me.

Finally, a shout-out to the many people who support my project through this blog. I feel like I have a group of project cheerleaders out there: Rach, Magdalen, Deniz, Vero, and various anonymous posters (just to name a few). Your comments and emails are wonderful and encouraging! It's great to have such support!

So where are we? 703 down, 590 to go!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chocolate Ganache Frosting (Page 724)

  • Date: Thursday, April 17th, 2008
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Terry, Teri, Chuck, Lynn, and Kate
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This was yet another in a slew of desserts I made for my parents' visit. I had a cake layer frozen from a previous baking adventure, so I made this quick ganache and thew it on top. How was it? Pretty good. Ganache is just chocolate and cream, so it is typically about as good as the chocolate you put into it. I bought some nice chocolate, so this ganache had a nice flavor. I prefer to fill a cake with ganache and frost with a nice buttercream or other frosting. The reason? Ganache this consistency sets up pretty firm, and tends to separate from the cake a bit, especially if you eat the cake straight out of the fridge (which I do -- who wants to wait for it to come to room temperature?!?). If you are an all chocolate all the time type person, you are bound to like this frosting though. If you are looking for something more unusual or layered, you might want to infuse the cream with some liqueur or other flavoring. Overall though, it was tasty and very easy to make and frost with.

This recipe isn't online, but it's easy. Melt together 12 oz of bittersweet chocolate and 1 cup of cream, then cool until it's the right consistency to spread on your cake.

My parents are in town this weekend, and we have been having a good time wandering around Bloomington, doing a lot of shopping and eating! Tonight we went to dinner at Restaurant Tallent, which is easily Bloomington's highest-end restaurant. I hadn't been there yet (it's a bit costly!), but I had heard many good things. To be honest, I was skeptical. Bloomington is a small town and one doesn't typically expect such a place to be able to support a truly excellent fine dining restaurant. I am happy to admit though that I was wrong. My parents and I had a WONDERFUL dinner at Restaurant Tallent tonight. I love eating, and I love eating out, but it is not often that I eat a restaurant meal that really impresses me. This meal, however, was impressive. The food was creative and delicious (a winning combination). More than once during the meal I thought to myself, "Wow, that's a great idea -- I never would have thought of that!" The service was excellent, the food was absolutely fantastic, and the whole feel of the place was inviting and lovely. We were seated right by the expediting window (which many people view as the worst table in any restaurant) but I love watching what goes on in the kitchen. The pastry chef was expediting (which is unusual, but whatever), and he saw me eying one truly fantastic looking dessert. After a lengthy discussion, my parents and I ended up ordering 2 other desserts instead. But when the waitress came with our desserts, she had 3. I looked quizzically over at the chef expediting and he said, "I saw you eying it!" So he had prepared me a special mini-version of that dessert. It was charming to be in a restaurant that both had exceptional food and a friendly, caring environment. I was extremely impressed. It was not a cheap meal, but in my opinion, it was well worth it. I highly, highly recommend. They have a new fan in me!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cappuccino Brownies (Page 689)

  • Date: Thursday, April 17, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Terry, Teri, Chuck, Lynn, Kate, and a bunch of people in the math department common room
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This is another dessert I made for my parents' visit this weekend. These brownies are very tasty (It's about time -- after a string of not-so-good recipes I was starting to worry there was nothing good left in The Book!). They are a little fussy to make, but definitely worth it. The espresso brownie base was delicious -- moist, chewy, and very chocolatey. The brownies were then covered with a cream cheese layer and then a chocolate glaze. The cream cheese layer was awesome! It was a mixture of cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon (how can you go wrong!). It was very creamy, rich, and delicious, and a wonderful complement to the rich chocolate of the base. The whole thing was topped with a glaze of chocolate, cream, and espresso. The glaze was a little bitter, which helped cut the richness of the dessert. Overall, a delicious brownie. You should cut them small because they are tremendously rich. Definitely a treat!

Here is the recipe.

Oh my gosh. It is before 6am, and I am awake. I was woken up out of a dead sleep a little after 5:30am by an EARTHQUAKE. I kid you not. Yes, I live in INDIANA, and yes, I was woken up by an earthquake. I lived in California for 4 years, and have never felt anything like this. My whole apartment was shaking. My first thought, "Damn undergraduates, what are they doing now?" My second thought, "Tornado?" My third thought, "Earthquake, seriously?" It seemed so impossible that the next thing I did was go to the window and look outside (standing near windows: not a recommended earthquake activity). After about 10 seconds the shaking stopped and I turned on the TV. The newscasters all looked confused, and kept on rambling about whatever they were talking about. Turns out each news station independently thought their building had been hit by a large truck. It seemed much more logical than an earthquake in central Indiana. Eventually one by one they started confirming that it was an earthquake. Crazy. Completely crazy. Now it is the only thing on the news. Like me, almost everyone thought it was a tornado before an earthquake... Or the wind. Or a big truck. No one else seems to have blamed the undergraduates, but they probably don't live in downtown Bloomington!

It just goes to show, you never know what is going to happen...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Grape-Nuts Ice Cream (Page 857)

  • Date: Thursday, April 17, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Terry, Teri, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


My parents are flying in tomorrow for a visit, so the next few recipes are all going to be of the dessert variety. My mother is a huge fan of dessert (even more so than me!), so I whipped up a few things with her in mind. Ice cream is at the top of her list, so I wanted to make at least one ice cream variety for her. I chose this one, but in retrospect I wish I had chosen something else. This ice cream isn't terrible, but it just isn't a great recipe. For starters, why would you want grape-nuts in your ice cream? I suppose it is novel -- I have certainly never eaten grape-nuts ice cream before -- but I don't think it works so well. Chopped pecans rather than grape-nuts would have provided the same crunch with a better flavor and texture. My other big issue with this ice cream was the richness. Normally homemade ice cream is made with egg yolks and a combination of heavy cream and whole milk. This recipe was all egg yolks and cream -- no milk. It was just too much. The end result was ultra-rich, to the point where I found it difficult to eat. Further it was so odd to have such a decadently rich ice cream studded with cereal. Honestly. Would you ever put heavy cream on a bowl of grape-nuts? I certainly wouldn't. Grape-nuts is a skim milk cereal if there ever was one. In summary, this recipe just didn't work for me. The flavor was fine, but the richness and the cereal really detracted. Hopefully my mother will like it more than I did!

Here is the recipe.

I am so frustrated with my students. Ok, that's unfair. I am not frustrated will all of them -- just a couple. I gave a quiz today, and for reasons I won't go into (that's another topic that will get me all riled and angry) I graded them myself rather than giving them to my grader. Most people did fine, so I was about as happy as one can be while grading, and then I came to a couple of papers that made me furious.

Infuriating paper number one: So this particular student forgot his calculator today. He asked if he could share with his neighbor and I said no. These are fancy calculators, and it is easy to retrieve the previous entries, so sharing calculators makes it easy to cheat. But I told him if he wrote down all his work and exactly what he would enter into the calculator to get the answer, I would give him full credit. He complained. I laid down the law. He went to work on the quiz. The second question was about the present value of a constant income stream. In case you have never taken (or taught!) business calculus: to solve it you needed to take the integral of 8000 e^{-.06 t} dt from 0 to 9. On this student's paper, he had NO WORK. Not the integral he needed to solve. NOTHING except for the number $55633.57 -- the correct answer. Now, I am pretty good at math, but I can't do powers of e in my head. Can you? You would need to do, for instance, e^{-.54}. IN YOUR HEAD. I dare you. Try it. What does this student think, I'm an idiot? He complained for 10 minutes about not having a calculator and then he pulls powers of e out of his ass? It makes me SO ANGRY. I make multiple versions of every quiz just to prevent this, but with 70 students it is hard to watch them every second. And so someone probably text messaged him the answer and he wrote it down. Grrrrr... Seriously, smoke is still coming out of my ears.

Infuriating paper number 2 (in case you still aren't mad): On a different problem, a student does all of the correct work, and arrives at the correct answer. Then, below the correct answer, he writes down, out of fucking nowhere, the correct answer to the same problem on the OTHER VERSION of the quiz. The whole point of having multiple versions is that the questions are all tweaked. The numbers are different. The ANSWERS are different. So why, oh why did he copy off the person next to him? Out of nowhere, appeared the answer to a question that was not on his paper. Incriminating, no? This couldn't have been accidental. We aren't talking about him writing down 2 when the answer was 4. The answer to his version was 332.30, and the other answer was 195.02. It just made it worse that he actually did the problem right before he cheated. He had the right answer. But there, underneath it, the answer he copied. Totally pisses me off.

So I gave both those students zeros. I suppose I could file some sort of cheating complaint against them, and probably I should, but I haven't decided yet if I will. Right now I am too angry to think straight. I trust my students. Apparently though some of them don't deserve it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hoppin' John (Page 274)

  • Date: Monday, April 14, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-


Typically I love any dish in the beans and rice genre. Hoppin' John -- black eyed peas and rice -- has never been one of my favorites though. I don't know if I just have a bad attitude about the dish because it reminds me of the deep South, or if I actually don't like it. It's hard to separate food from emotion for me. Luckily there aren't many geographic regions of the world that I have strongly negative feelings about, so there aren't too many cuisines that I shun like a mean school girl. In fact, I think the South is the only one. To be fair, there are perfectly nice parts of the South and many wonderful people who live there. There is also some great food that comes out of the South. But my experience living in the deep South has been in small town South Carolina, which I do not recommend. I lived there a couple years as a child and my parents live there now. All I can say is that it just doesn't agree with me... I am tempted to say more, but I'd rather not get all riled up right now (it's a little late at night for a serious discussion about serious issues...). So anyway, I am biased against Hoppin' John, which is especially silly because I don't think any of the times I have eaten it have actually been in the South. But it's a Southern dish -- really a South Carolina dish I think -- and it reminds me of my home sweet home below the Mason Dixon line.

I'm rambling. (Sometimes I wonder if an observant reader could sort my posts into "before a beer" and "after a beer" piles. This is definitely an "after a beer " post.) OK, I am going to try to maintain focus now.

So I made Hoppin' John on Monday, which is a dish composed of black-eyed peas cooked in a ham hock broth and served with rice. The dish came out fine. The predominant flavor was certainly the smokiness from the ham hocks. Aside from that strong flavor, the dish was a little flat. Since there was nothing going on to complement the smokiness, I found the ham-flavor a bit overpowering. Even visually this dish was pretty uninteresting (see photo above). All biases aside, if you are going to make beans and rice this certainly isn't the rendition I would recommend. It wasn't offensive in any way, but it also was far from inspiring. Much greater things can come from a bag of rice and a bag of beans.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sicilian-Style Pasta with Sardines (Page 216)

  • Date: Sunday, April 13, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: D

I bought all the ingredients for this quick and easy pasta dish weeks ago. But I just couldn't bring myself to make it. So the fennel bulb rotted in the fridge and I decided I would buy new fennel once Matty was here and we could brave this dish together. So that's what I did. The verdict: ick. Ick, ick, ick. It was no shocker that this didn't taste good. Spaghetti topped with a mixture of smushed up canned sardines, raisins, pine nuts, fennel bulb, fennel seed, onion, saffron, wine, and tons and tons of oil just doesn't even sound like it has the possibility to be good. What you get should be titled Oily Pasta with Smushed up Fish Bits, because the only recognizable ingredients in the final dish were the oil, the sardines, the raisins, and the pine nuts (and the pasta of course...). Now, I have nothing against any one of those ingredients (ok, ok, I admit -- canned sardines aren't my fave), but all together atop pasta it was just nasty. The flavors of the yummy ingredients (onion, wine, saffron, pine nuts, etc...) were totally drowned out by the smushed up fish bits. It was foul. Truly foul. Matty tried to stay positive. He offered that it had, "A very special flavor." Well, ok. I'm sure horseshit has a special flavor too but I don't want to eat that either.

Let me just say that I am not arguing that the Sicilians out there who created, and probably enjoy, this dish are insane. I am not claiming that a pasta dish with sardines and fennel couldn't be good. I am only claiming that this rendition is TERRIBLE. Even The Book admits that actually in Sicily they use fresh sardines, not canned, and a type of wild fennel we can't get in the US. So basically, they created and enjoy a dish that is completely different from this one.

I strongly believe that if you are going to bastardize another culture's food, and pass it off as authentic, it should at least taste good. I spent my entire childhood thinking that I hate Mexican food. I grew up in Wisconsin, so a child wiser than myself might have realized that I had never actually eaten Mexican food. But I was naive, and the "Mexican" restaurants we ate at claimed to serve Mexican food. I will never forget the look of shock and horror on Emilee's face when I announced, our freshman year in college, that I didn't like Mexican food. She had spent the last year living in Mexico and found my claim completely incomprehensible. She's a smart woman, so I considered the possibility that I was wrong. I went out to dinner with her -- we ate Northern California Mexican food, which may not be as good as the food in Mexico, but is miles better than the "Mexican" food in Wisconsin. It rapidly became my favorite cuisine.

I learned a lesson from that experience -- do not reject cuisine a based on bad knock-offs. If I ever find myself in Sicily, I will hunt down this dish and try it for real. But I will never, under any circumstances, make this recipe again.

Here is the recipe.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Poached Leeks with Warm Vinaigrette (Page 545)

  • Date: Sunday, April 13, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C-


The Vegetables section of The Book is getting a little dire -- most of the things left are either creamed or soggy. Between those two evils, Matty prefers soggy, so we picked these poached leeks to make with dinner last night. This dish was not good. I love leeks. I think they are amazing aromatics, and I am a huge fan. But in the same way that I usually don't just take a whole onion, boil it until it's cooked and eat it with a fork and knife, I don't particularly care for this preparation of leeks either. These leeks were soggy, with zero integrity left to them. The dish could have possibly been salvaged by a really amazing sauce, but that was not to be either. This vinaigrette was oily and just not very tasty. I pushed my leek around my plate for a while before abandoning it. The sign that it really wasn't good though was that Matty didn't eat it either. He actually allowed me to throw the leftover leeks away. This speaks very poorly for the recipe! Thumbs down for this one.

This recipe isn't online.

The semester is drawing to a close and I am starting to feel a tiny bit worn out. Luckily there are just two more weeks of classes left! I looked at my calendar today and realized that this entire semester there were only two weekends when I was home and no one was visiting me. No wonder I am tired! I had a relaxing few days this weekend with my special gentleman though. He left this morning to go back to Boston. It was hard, as always, saying goodbye, but also exciting because this is our last period apart before we have months and months of living together! A friend suggested that I make an advent-type calendar to count down the days, rewarding myself with a piece of chocolate each day. I'm a little too lazy to construct such a calendar, but I do have a countdown on the fridge. Days left: 17. It should fly by. I have a ton to do, both with research stuff and teaching stuff, and my parents are coming to visit on Friday for a few days. Plus, at some point I need to pack for my summer in Boston. Once you figure in clothes for an entire summer plus a ton of cooking equipment that Matty doesn't have, it might take a bit of time to get everything together. Luckily I am driving, so I don't have to think too hard about whether or not I really need each item -- I can just toss it in the car!

I'll worry about all that in the coming weeks. Now it is time for bed!

Jellied Borscht (Page 85)

  • Date: Friday, April 11, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Matty loves borscht, and there are a couple borscht recipes in The Book, both of which I promised not to make without him. When I made this promise he likely didn't realize that one of those recipes was actually for jellied borscht. Mmm.... beet jello. When I was little my mom used to make Jello Jigglers for me, and they were delicious. Mmmm.... jello! My problem with this recipe was that every time I looked at it I thought, mmmm.... jello! But then I would take a bite, and think, "&%$*#, beet jello." Even now I look at the picture and think it looks good. I have to remind myself that I ate sour cream and cucumber on bread that night instead of eating this beet jello. The gelatinous texture did not do good things for this dish. Actually this dish had a quality which really bothers me -- this dish was all about show. It was sort of cool to have a bowl full of gelatinized soup. It was very pretty, and obviously quite novel. But the gelatin did nothing good for the actual eating experience. Further, this recipe started from canned borscht. So, this was a recipe for borscht, where one of the ingredients was borscht. Silly, no? Plus, this "soup" can only possibly be as good as the canned borscht you start with. Canned soups in general are not so refined. So you are producing a dish which is a little silly, but arguably very fancy and refined, starting with canned soup. Seems a little wrong, no? In conclusion: A for novelty, C for edibility. Combined grade: C+.

This recipe isn't online.

Occasionally I toy with the idea of drinking caffeine again. After nearly three years of life without caffeine, it is easy to forget why I quit in the first place. Occasionally, though, I get a little reminder. The only exception I grant myself to the no-caffeine rule is when food from The Book happens to be caffeinated. This doesn't happen so often, and even when it does I make a practice of eating not-too-much of it. A few days ago, though, I made those Mocha Toffee Cashew Bars (see below) and even though they weren't great, they were tasty enough that I ate a lot of them. All was still well with the world until yesterday, when I happened to not have any delicious caffeinated cookies all day. About 4pm my head started to throb in a way that only happens to me when I am going through caffeine withdrawal. Yes, I know that normal people do not suffer withdrawal symptoms from a few cookies, but apparently I am not normal. My body gets very easily addicted. It seems miraculous to me actually that I smoked briefly in college and didn't end up with a pack a day habit for the rest of my life. I stopped smoking before it got bad, luckily. I did not have the same luck with caffeine. I quit caffeine only after it started making me feel terrible. And after this weekend I remember exactly how terrible it made me feel! On the up side, the gentle reminder squelched my desire to start drinking caffeine again, at least for another couple years...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Green Olive and Almond Tapenade (Page 891)

  • Date: Friday, April 11, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I am constantly trying not to forget about the Sauces and Salsas section of The Book so I am not left with dozens of sauces to make at the end of my project. I was flipping through that section the other day and I saw this quick and easy tapenade recipe. This green olive and almond tapendade was fine -- unobjectionable but also not terribly exciting. It was extremely simple to make: throw some olives, parsley, almonds, lemon juice, and oil in the food processor. Blend. That's it. The point of having the almonds in there isn't completely clear to me. Almonds are an unusual ingredient for tapenade and they didn't seem to contribute much. The green olive flavor was so strong that you couldn't taste the subtle flavor of the almonds. And there were sufficiently few of them that they didn't dramatically alter the texture. I'm not claiming that they did any harm, but almonds are expensive so it seems senseless to put them in there if they don't add anything positive to the dish. Other than that this tapenade was like most others -- very olivey. If you like green olives you are sure to like it. If you hate green olives you are sure to hate it. It's as simple as that.

Here is the recipe.

Tonight during dinner my special gentleman said to me, "I am starting to get a little worried about the last year or so of this project..." It was hard to argue that he was wrong to worry. As he said it he was diligently eating the dinner I made tonight from The Book. I was eating a bowl of Smart Start, having rapidly abandoned said dinner after a few bites. On the menu tonight: Soggy Leeks with Oily Sauce, and Greasy Pasta with Smushed up Fish Bits. OK, maybe those aren't actually the names of the recipes as stated in The Book, but they are more descriptive. Basically, dinner was gross. Worse than gross. I am happy to eat gross. But this dinner was repulsive. So I had cereal.

I do think though that it isn't time to worry yet. I saved this Greasy Pasta with Smushed up Fish Bits recipe especially for when my special gentleman was visiting because it sounded much too gross to suffer through alone. (I'm nice, huh?) The Soggy Leeks recipe sounded a bit more promising, but proved to be equally disgusting. However, there are plenty of much better sounding things left in The Book. I'm sure there will come a time though when I make a lot of Book food, but eat many cereal dinners. It's a good thing I like Smart Start!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mocha Toffee Cashew Bars (Page 694)

  • Date: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, Chuck, and Lynn
  • Recipe Rating: B


Matty is a huge fan of both cashews and coffee, so I figured I would make these bars in honor of his arrival later this evening. I try to stay away from caffeinated food, as I am still on the no-caffeine wagon (two years, nine months, and counting!), but these bars are actually more tempting than I expected them to be. I am a sucker for sweet-salty combinations (pretzels dipped in nutella... Mmmm...). The cashews atop these bars are of the roasted and salted variety, so there is definitely some sweet and salty mix going on here. The coffee flavor in the base is extremely strong -- a bit too strong even for me, and I love the flavor of coffee! I have no idea why the word toffee appears in the title. The recipe indicates that these bars have an "espresso-flavored toffee base." There is nothing toffee-esque about it though. In texture it is more like an espresso-flavored shortbread than anything else. The bars are very thin, and not terribly visually appealing, but they are satisfying, especially for coffee-lovers. I don't think it would be hard to come up with a significantly better bar based on the coffee and cashews idea, but there is nothing particularly bad about this recipe. I doubt I will ever make them again, but they certainly won't go to waste either!

Here is the recipe.

It's warm here this week. In fact, it is the first warm week of the season. I am so excited about spring. I had forgotten how wonderful it feels to wear dresses and flip-flops, but it is all coming back to me now! The other thing I had forgotten during the long winter is the drunken undergrads wandering around outside my window in the middle of the night. They seemed to stay in and drink at home during the long cold winter, but now they are back! This is one consequence of living right downtown in a college town. Last night at 4am there were definitely people staggering and screaming down the street. Yes, indeed, on a Wednesday night. This week is worst than most because it is Little 500 week. If you don't know what that means, then clearly you haven't spent much time in Bloomington, or seen the movie Breaking Away. For those who aren't in the know: it's a bike race. They go around and around a track (like the Indy 500, except without the cars...). It's a big deal around here and the race is on Saturday. But the festivities, it turns out, happen all week. There are lots and lots of fraternity and sorority parties going on apparently. So many in fact that one of my students objected to me giving an exam on Tuesday, four days before the race, because it is Little 500 week.

So I didn't sleep so well last night, but I didn't mind. The drunken college students reminded me that spring is coming, and the semester is almost over, and everyone is in good spirits!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Penne alla Vodka (Page 217)

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


After several dinners in a row of Smart Start and microwave popcorn, I figured tonight I would make myself some real food. There are very few simple pasta recipes left in The Book (I love pasta so much that I made them two years ago!), but this one calls for an awful lot of cream, so I hadn't been too tempted to make it. I am much less tempted by creamy things than by non-creamy things. I acknowledge -- it's weird. Anyway, I hadn't made this one yet, so I chose it for dinner tonight. This dish was excellent comfort food. There was nothing classy or refined about it. It actually came out with a mysteriously processed quality to it. If you had served it to me and told me that it came from some sort of boxed mix, I wouldn't have been at all surprised. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- I love mac and cheese from a box. And I enjoyed this dish too. I have never gotten aboard the penne alla vodka bandwagon before, but eating this I could understand why so many people like it. It is very comforting -- lots of alcohol, cream, butter, cheese and ham thrown together with a little tomato, onion, and some pasta -- it's obviously not going to be bad. I wouldn't serve this to company as there is nothing terribly exciting about it, but I might make it again for myself sometime. I served myself a small bowlful and then found myself eating more of it out of the pan ten minutes later. That's a good sign!

This recipe isn't online.

Until this semester, I never really understood why people always complain about teaching the low-level math classes. I enjoy teaching, and although most of my experience teaching has been with undergraduates at Stanford and MIT, it seemed to me that teaching more basic math classes would be equally rewarding. The thing I foolishly neglected to consider is that it is inherently less rewarding to teach students who don't want to learn whatever you are teaching them. I like my business calculus students -- the ones that I have gotten to know are very enjoyable. But they just do not want to learn calculus. They hate the class, and by extension they seem to hate me. That's a hard thing. I have never before been that teacher that the students really hate. And maybe I'm not right now -- it's hard to tell -- but it does seem clear that they aren't enthusiastic about listening to me talk about calculus.

Today I taught for someone who is out of town. He is teaching the class I taught last semester (second semester regular calculus, not the applied version). Last semester I loved teaching, and this semester I have been wondering if my lack of enthusiasm for my class really reflects it being a different experience, or rather just my own fatigue. Today, though, I realized that it really is a different experience. The regular calculus students paid attention. They wanted to understand what I was saying. They seemed perfectly happy to be in class.

It's a new teaching challenge for me -- how do you instill enthusiasm in students for a subject that they don't want to learn? I am, in general, a very enthusiastic teacher, but I just can't seem to force that to rub off on my class. Their performance on exams reflects this lack of enthusiasm... Maybe it just takes a few years of experience to figure out the right way to communicate to reluctant students! I'm sure I'll get better at it eventually...

Chocolate Mousse (Page 838)

  • Date: Friday, April 4, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Randy, Peter M, Bert, Bruce, Dan, Vigleik, Tony, Ayelet, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I chose this chocolate mousse as the second dessert for my math dinner party on Friday. Thank goodness I did since the other dessert was such a disaster! This chocolate mousse was by far the best Book contribution to Friday's meal. It was pretty good. It had a rich chocolate flavor, and a smooth mousse texture. Most chocolate mousse recipes contain raw eggs, which makes me a little nervous about serving them to company. This recipe calls for the eggs to be carefully cooked though, which makes it a nice and safe dessert to serve to whomever you please! My only real complaint about this mousse was that it was a bit over-dense. Perhaps this could have been easily fixed by just folding in about one and half times as much whipped cream. As it was, it was less of a light and fluffy mousse and more of a dense, intense dessert. That said, I enjoyed it and I think other people did too!

Here is the recipe.

I was cooking this evening (penne alla vodka, chocolate espresso cashew bars, and beet jello -- yes, beet jello -- more on that another day) and I found myself unable to get a jar open. I banged on it with a knife, I used all the force I could muster, but no luck. It was really frustrating -- I became irrationally upset. What I am saying is this: I am getting a wee bit sick of the long-distance part of my long-distance relationship. Opening jars is a kitchen task that my special gentleman excels at. However, he wasn't here. So I had a little meltdown, sitting on the kitchen floor clutching a jar of beets. Not one of my finer moments.

The good news, though, is that we are almost done with the long-distance part of the long-distance relationship! Indeed, we've got less than 3 weeks to go, and then we will be in the same place (more or less) for months and months! Yay! Yay, yay, yay! My semester ends April 28th and then I am off to Boston for most of the summer. In the fall my special gentleman will split time evenly between Bloomington and Boston, and next spring he will be living here. Yay! Just three more weeks to go. And really it's less than that because my special gentleman friend is flying in tomorrow night for a long weekend.

I should note that the whole long-distance thing hasn't been nearly as miserable as I expected. It helps that we see each other at least once every two and half weeks. I am also a little bit less of a wimp about it than I thought I would be. Even today, after my meltdown, I picked myself up off the kitchen floor, googled tips for opening jars, and finally managed to open it myself. Maybe I don't need him after all! :)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Three-Milk Cake with Coconut and Fresh Fruit (Page 714)

  • Date: Friday, April 4, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Randy, Peter M, Bert, Bruce, Dan, Vigleik, Tony, Ayelet, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: D+


You are probably looking at the picture above, seeing the billowy cloud of whipped cream covering delicious strawberries and yummy-looking cake and thinking to yourself, "D+? Really, Teena, maybe you are overreacting. That doesn't look like a D+." You may think that, but you weren't there. It has been a long time since a recipe has made me want to cry as much as this one did. Here's what happened:

It was Friday morning at 8am and I was trying to bust out the desserts for my big important dinner. I started by making the cake for this one. It is a genoise recipe, and genoise is a huge pain in the ass. It's usually worth it though, as it produces a lovely cake, that it perfect for soaking, which I think was the idea here. So I made my genoise, following the recipe in The Book exactly, even when I thought better of it (why was the second half of the flour not sifted over the batter as the first half was? Seemed like a poor choice, but I did what it said). The cakes didn't look terrible when they went into the oven. In fact, they didn't even look terrible when I took them out. But when I flipped them out of the pans, I was in for a surprise. Here's the picture:

Now I know what you are thinking -- this makes two cake disasters in a row! You're starting to think it's my fault, aren't you? And maybe it is, but hear me out on this one...

It might be hard to appreciate how disgusting this was. That layer that I have peeled back on the right cake was a thick layer of solidified butter, completely separated from the cake below it. The cakes were flat, and dense, and truly disgusting. Of course, I had also doubled the recipe, so I had two pans of nastiness rather than just one. I was horrified. They took forever to make and I had used too many eggs to make them again anyway without going to the store. Add to that I was on a very tight schedule to get everything done, and there was just no way to redo it. Just for the record, I would like to insert here that I have made many genoises, and this has NEVER happened. Genoise is notoriously fussy, and I think the recipe in The Book just didn't take enough precautions to make sure it turned out right. So, there I was, with no time to buy eggs and remake this disaster, and certainly having no intention of using what I had already made. So what did I do? I made a cake mix.

Now you are thinking to yourself, "Why do you have cake mix in your cupboard?" For that I have a good explanation. Last year, in Boston, I took a cake decorating class, to which you had to bring a cake every week. We decorated with nasty decorator's frosting, which tastes like shortening, so it seemed silly to ruin a perfectly good cake. So I always made cake from a mix. I had a couple mixes leftover, and since I never really make cake from a mix, I still had them. So I busted them out. It's shameful, I know. But what was I to do? I had no other option.

So I made a cake mix. Man, cake mix is easy! Five minutes later a cake was in the oven. So I proceeded. The three-milk part of this three-milk cake is that once the cake is out of the oven it gets soaked for hours in a combination of coconut milk, whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and some other stuff (i.e. rum). It sounded good. Indeed the soaking liquid even tasted good. But do you know what you end up with when you soak cake for hours and hours? Soggy cake. Mmmm... Gross. At some stage my cake fell apart, so rather than getting nicely sliced it got dumped in ramekins. The only saving grace of this recipe was that the whole mess got covered in whipped cream and strawberries.

Overall: ick. Ick, ick, ick. In retrospect I shouldn't even have served this. But I did. Luckily most people chose the other dessert option instead (chocolate mousse). This dessert, in addition to being a huge pain in my ass, was a soggy cake mess. My recommendation: avoid it at all costs. It sounds good, but it just isn't.

This recipe isn't online. Sad, huh?

Ginger-Hoisin Beef and Scallions on Crispy Noodle Cakes (Page 56)

  • Date: Friday, April 4, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Randy, Peter M, Bert, Bruce, Dan, Vigleik, Tony, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B


I wanted to make one reasonably fancy appetizer for my math party last Friday night, so I chose this recipe which sounded quite tasty. An odd thing happened though: nobody would eat them. I don't mean that people tried them, decided they didn't like them, and then didn't eat any more of them. Rather, people just wouldn't try them. Odd, no? They were pretty cute. They looked like a hunk of beef on top of some noodles, which looks appealing to me. But they hardly got touched aside from the few that I ate. It was weird. Too fussy-looking for a crowd of mathematicians? I'm not sure... Anyway, these little bites had both positive qualities and not-so-positive ones. First, the good stuff: the beef was delicious (as you would expect beef tenderloin to be -- otherwise why would you spend so much to buy it!). The sauce was also extremely tasty. It had a strong flavor which complemented the beef well. The bad news is that the crispy noodle cake was not so good, and that detracted from the dish. My main complaint about the noodle cake is that it had hardly any flavor to it. The texture was extremely crispy, which didn't complement the beef nicely. I would have much preferred the beef on little toasts, or even just by itself, with the sauce dabbed on top. It was extra-frustrating because in addition to contributing negatively to the dish, the noodle cakes were a pain to make. So I definitely wouldn't make this recipe again as written, but I may prepare this beef and sauce again sometime, as it was quite delicious.

Here is the recipe.

I am teaching double this week. (When I run off to California mid-semester, as I have a couple times this term, my class doesn't just run wild through the halls. Someone teaches them. In return, I teach that person's class while they are away. This is such a week, so I am teaching double.) My own students took an exam today, and so I am currently bleary-eyed after several hours of grading. I graded half the exam today and will worry about the other half tomorrow. I always read my exams carefully before administering them to make sure everything is clear, but I still got about a dozen questions during the exam today about one part of one problem. Apparently it was very confusing. Here was the setup. They were told that a differentiable function f(x) has exactly one critical point, which is at x=3. Then they were provided some additional information and asked to figure out if the critical point was a local maximum, a local minimum, or neither. Then they were supposed to sketch a possible graph of such a function. So, in the part of the problem where they had trouble, the addition information was: "f(x) goes to infinity as x goes to infinity, and f(x) goes to infinity as x goes to negative infinity." This created huge problems. Before I tell you, can you guess why?

(time to think about it)

Ok, so here's the thing. My students thought it was a contradiction. They interpreted that as, "whenever f(x) goes to infinity, x goes to infinity, and whenever f(x) goes to infinity, x goes to negative infinity." That would indeed be difficult to understand, but that isn't what it says. That interpretation also demonstrates a mysterious lack of understanding about dependence in function. The idea the f(x) depends on x is an important one. Anyway, I tried to clarify matters for the students who asked about it. I haven't graded that problem yet. It will be interesting to see what happens...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Salmon Rillettes (Page 18)

  • Date: Friday, April 4, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Randy, Peter M, Bert, Bruce, Dan, Vigleik, Tony, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I had this recipe in mind for a party a few weeks ago, but then I didn't make it, so I figured I would try it for the AMS special session dinner I hosted on Friday. I wasn't impressed by this recipe. It was by no means terrible, but I also didn't particularly like it. My main issue was that it had many ingredients, yet the flavors of those various tasty ingredients (shallots, capers, mustard, lemon, Cognac, etc...) were all overpowered by the flavor of the smoked salmon. This recipe, strangely, called for both smoked salmon and poached fresh salmon. The point of the un-smoked salmon wasn't clear to me as the flavor of the smoked salmon was so dominant you could hardly appreciate that there was fresh salmon in there. I think this recipe would have been hugely improved by cutting the amount of smoked salmon in half. Even if you love smoked salmon this recipe doesn't make sense. If you love smoked salmon so much that you only want to taste smoked salmon, then why bother with all those other ingredients? You could just put smoked salmon on your bread. All that said, this recipe didn't taste bad, and the texture was nice. However, I won't be making it again.

Here is the recipe.

I had imagined, when I originally thought about this dinner party for math hot-shots, that I would just cook food from The Book, as I always do for dinner parties. I had no intention of telling them about the project or making them grade, but I figured if I carefully selected recipes that seemed sure to be good, then I could get away with book-cooking for the evening. That was my plan. In then end, after my horribly delayed return from California earlier in the week, I found myself stressed out and tired, with not enough time to write my talk, or make dinner! When I still hadn't decided on a menu at 8pm the night before the big party, I decided a big book dinner was not the way to go -- too stressful and too time-consuming to make an entire dinner of new food. I couldn't abandon my project for the evening though, so I made a compromise with myself that I would make appetizers and desserts from The Book, and the main course, soup, salad, and vegetable from my normal repertoire. So that's what I did. And let me tell you, this was one time that I was really glad that I didn't try to pull off a huge book meal. For one thing, of the 5 recipes I made from The Book that night, only one was actually good, and one was truly a disaster. Also, even as it was, making an easy entree (soup, salad, etc...) that I had made many times before, I was cutting it pretty close on time. Probably I should have abandoned the book altogether for the evening -- it's a little embarrassing serving food that isn't spot-on to people that you respect (and who don't know about the project -- when people know they are eating project food I have no problem serving up a pile of who-knows-what). I hope they didn't walk away thinking, "Wow, she's a lousy cook..." But even if they did, it's not the end of the world. In that particular crowd it's a bit more important what they think of my math than my food!

Eggplant "Caviar" (Page 11)

  • Date: Friday, April 4, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Ayelet, Randy, Peter M, Bert, Bruce, Dan, Vigleik, Tony, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I picked this spread to make for a party I was hosting on Friday because it was the first recipe in The Book that I hadn't made yet (now I have made the first 19 consecutive recipes). I neither have anything terribly positive nor terribly negative to say about this eggplant "caviar." I will comment that it bore no resemblance to caviar. Was it meant to look like caviar, or taste like caviar? It achieved neither, so let's just drop the "caviar" from the name and refer to this here on out as eggplant spread. This eggplant spread was fine. It had a lot of flavor to it and was reasonably well-balanced. I didn't love the texture -- it didn't have any smoothness or creaminess to it. There was very little fat emulsified into this spread, and that was obvious from the texture. It had a rather watery quality to it. I wasn't at all enthusiastic about this dip, but I also wasn't ashamed to serve it (which can't be said for some of the other dishes that night...). There are better eggplant spreads out there.

This recipe isn't online.

Wow, am I ever tired! This past weekend there was a meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) in Bloomington. These meeting are huge and divided into special sessions on various topics. There was a special session on Applications of Ring Spectra that I participated in. It made for a very hectic weekend! On Saturday I was giving a talk in the special session, which was nerve-wracking, as most of the speakers were very well-established famous people in my field. No pressure. On Friday night I hosted a dinner for the participants of our special session, which meant that those same famous people came to my apartment to eat my food. Again, no pressure! Add to that attending talks all day Saturday and Sunday, and basically the weekend was exhausting! It was fun though -- I got to see various math friends that I hadn't seen in a while, and Vigleik and Jenny stayed with me, so I got a chance to hang out with them even more. And my talk went totally fine, which was a big relief (dinner also went fine, but I was significantly less concerned about that). Overall it was a really good meeting. People gave excellent talks, and I think everyone had fun. It was also nice not having to travel anywhere to attend!

Cheddar Jalapeno Corn Sticks (Page 601)

  • Date: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

What, no picture?!?! Sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I had my camera with me in California, but I was staying at a hotel during the conference, and when I went over to Em and Brian's for dinner that night I forgot to bring it with me. I took a picture on Em and Brian's camera, but the two of them have bigger fish to fry right now (i.e. a 7 day-old baby -- not that they are frying their baby... boy that came out wrong...) than worrying about my cheddar jalapeno corn sticks, so I don't want to bug them for the picture.

Anyhow, I chose this recipe to make at Emilee and Brian's because it calls for a corn stick mold, which is a piece of cooking equipment I just don't own. Emilee, however, does. In her defense, it was a gift, and she had never used it before. In fact, I only knew she had it because she mentioned it to me in a conversation you could title, "People send the craziest gifts." Anyway, she may not have been excited about the corn stick mold, but I was thrilled not to have to buy one. So I made these cheesy, jalapenoy corn sticks at Em's place.

The verdict on the corn sticks: delicious. The verdict on the cornbread stick pan: ridiculous. It's a shame that I don't have the picture actually because these cornbread sticks were really ugly. The cornbread stick molds had these little kernels of corn indented, and the idea was that your cornbread would come out looking like ears of corn. Well, let me tell you something: Cornmeal is not the finest of substances, so it really isn't the best medium with which to attempt intricate detail. The corn kernels that were supposed to show up were so tiny that there was just no way this was going to happen. Instead, the sticks came out a mangled mess, bearing exactly zero resemblance to an ear of corn. Further, why would you want your cornbread to look like an ear of corn? Seriously people... seriously. Cornbread should come in a big hunk. It's easier to make a big hunk. It tastes just as good. And it doesn't look ridiculous. The hunk is the way to go.

Ok, enough ranting. You probably want to know how it tasted. Well, it tasted delicious! Mmmmm... cornbread! The cheese was an excellent addition -- it could have even supported more cheesy deliciousness. The pickled jalapenos worked well too. Be careful to mix them in thoroughly. I didn't get such an even distribution in my batter, so some sticks were spicy hot while others weren't so spicy at all. We ate these corn sticks with chipotle-rubbed grilled filet mignon and man was it good! My recommendation: add a little extra cheese to the batter and bake it in a cake pan, or better, a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. None of this corn stick mold silliness!

Sorry for the long blog silence. I am going to try to do some serious blog catching-up in the next couple days and I will explain then where I disappeared to!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Coconut Cake with Lime Curd (Page 728)

  • Date: Sunday, March 23, 2008 -- 4pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Alison, Nick, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Emilee suggested coconut cake for Easter, so I offered to make this one from The Book. I love cake and I love coconut, but this endeavor was a huge disappointment. For the first time in my entire life of baking I had to remake the cake layers. Want to see attempt number one? Here they are:


They look delicious, no? That first attempt was a disaster! I have made many, many cakes, and I have never in my life seen anything like this. The batter looked off to me -- much too runny. But I poured it into the pans and put it in the oven anyway. Immediately one of them began lifting out of the pan. It was like some alien life form was in the oven. The one cracked all through the middle rose out of the pan from the center, like a cake volcano. Then it rose too much in the middle and split in half. All three layers collapsed into thin little cake layers that were dense and gummy. What happened? Hard to say. The recipe said to sift the flour before measuring, and I did. I sifted through a very fine sieve and perhaps I introduced too much air into it, because there just wasn't enough flour. The batter was extremely soupy. It was late at night when I made these layers and I was none too happy about having to make them again, but I had no choice!

On attempt number two I didn't sift. And I used half all-purpose flour rather than all cake flour. It was much better, but still not all the way to good. The layers at least looked like cake that time. This cake had a problem that I have had with cakes from The Book before: the layers were much more like pound cake than a nice fluffy, tender cake. They were extremely dense, which didn't go well at all with the curd filling and light frosting.

Speaking of the curd and frosting, they were the only things that saved this cake from the D range. The lime curd was delicious, although notably too thin in consistency. Consequently it kept oozing out from between the layers, and it required some careful frosting technique to not end up with curd squirting out the sides of the cake. The frosting was a simple seven-minute-type frosting. It was light, and tasty, and paired well with the coconut. If the layers had been replaced with fluffy yellow cake layers, this cake could have been quite good. As it was, it was borderline embarrassing to serve. Definitely a disappointment.

The recipe in The Book is almost exactly the same as this one.

I have already rambled long enough, but one quick anecdote: Apparently my students behaved so badly for the substitute last week that one of them actually emailed the person who filled in for me apologizing for the behavior of the class. Wow. That's pretty bad.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Date Walnut Rugelach (Page 682)

  • Date: Thursday, March 20, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I chose this recipe because these cookies could easily be transported to California. These rugelach tasted good, but they weren't very cute and they were a huge pain to make. The dough was extremely difficult to deal with -- it didn't hold together well at all. It was dry and crumbly and thus very difficult to roll out and roll up, which also contributed to the not-so-cute appearance of the final product. That said, they did taste good. The filling had a nice flavor and the pastry turned out delicious. It was almost like a pie pastry, but the cream cheese in the pastry added a tenderness and tang to it. The ratio of filling to pastry could have been a bit higher. I don't think I chopped the dates quite finely enough for the filling -- I should have chopped them in the food processor rather than by hand. As it was, my filling was a bit chunky, which made the rugelach difficult to roll. These rugelach were good, but I feel confident that there are better (and easier!) rugelach recipes out there...

Here is the recipe (actually it's a bit different -- the one in The Book calls for two cups of flour, measured without sifting).

Yesterday was a truly unforgettable day. My flight back home was scheduled very early in the morning. I woke up at 5am to two pieces of news: one, one of my flights had been canceled, and two, Emilee was in labor. She went into labor right after we all went to bed Sunday night. I called the airline and they rebooked me for a flight leaving about 6 hours after my previous one. So I spent the morning with Emilee and Brian -- Em wanted to stay at home as long as possible before heading to the hospital. It was amazing how well she did. I felt really privileged to be there with them, and was trying to stay out of the way as much as possible and help in any way that I could. Around 10am they headed to the doctor's office and eventually the hospital, and I was off to the airport. But, the airline canceled my flight again. After an hour on the phone with the airline, it was established that there was no way to get me from San Jose, San Francisco, or Oakland to Indianapolis in time to teach my class the next day. So I was stuck. It's bad to miss class, but it was definitely a blessing to have had this particular travel disaster. Because otherwise, I wouldn't have gotten to meet Sam! Sam was born yesterday a little after 5pm and I got to hang out at the hospital for a couple hours with the new parents and their adorable baby! It was an experience that I will never forget. The picture on the left is me bonding with Sam for the first time, and on the right is a better shot of his cute little face!

I'm not usually a cry-when-I'm-happy kind of person, but yesterday every time I was alone I kept tearing up. I love Em and Brian so much and it was just so amazing to be around for this huge milestone and to meet their baby!