Friday, May 30, 2008

Strawberry Sauce (Page 875)

RECIPE #742

  • Date: Thursday, May 22, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Shihchi
  • Dining Companion: Vigleik
  • Recipe Rating: B-

The quick-and-easy desserts in The Book are running quite low these days, but I have a couple dessert sauces left. I suggested this strawberry sauce to go with dinner last week at Vigleik and Shihchi's place. Reading the recipe, I thought, "How could this not be good?" It was disappointing though. It certainly wasn't bad, but it wasn't nearly as tasty as I had hoped. The first step in making this sauce was to make a simple syrup infused with orange zest. This, along with optional orange liqueur, was meant to give the sauce a nice orange undertone. The liqueur was listed as optional, and since we didn't have any around I left it out. This, I think, was a mistake. Essentially the sauce tasted exactly like pureed strawberries, with a slightly better texture. You might argue that is what a strawberry sauce should taste like, and maybe you'd be right! But it seemed very bland given that we went through the effort to make an orange-infused simple syrup. I tried and tried but I couldn't detect the orange flavor at all. The sauce also could have used more sugar, and a dash of salt. Those two additions would have given it a more vibrant strawberry flavor (and maybe even brought out the missing orange). This sauce might have also been hugely improved by adding the optional liqueur. If that is the case, then it shouldn't be listed as optional! As it was, it was just ok. The raspberry sauce in The Book is delicious, so if you are looking for a good berry sauce, go with that one instead.

This recipe isn't online.

Mike and Vero suggested that I add a list on the blog of equipment and hard-to-find ingredients which I need to finish the project. So, in the right sidebar, if you scroll down a bit you will find the Gourmet Project Wishlist. I am absolutely not trying to guilt anyone into buying me anything -- rather Vero and Mike said it would be helpful for people who want to contribute to the project but don't know what I need. The list will probably get longer, as I'm not sure I even fully realize all the things I need to finish the project (it will hopefully also get shorter as I find/borrow/receive some of the listed items!) If you want to send something and don't know the address to send it to, you can email me at TheGourmetProject@gmail.com. I know the things on the list are crazy specific -- sorry about that, but that is what is called for in The Book! Thanks to Vero and Mike for the awesome suggestion! It is so sweet of you to want to help!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Creamed Mushrooms with Chives (Page 551)

  • Date: Thursday, May 22, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Vigleik and Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: B+


A significant percentage of the recipes I have left in the Vegetables section of The Book have the word "creamed" in front of them. For some reason, creamed vegetables never sound good to me (I think this is a result of my first creamed vegetable experience when I was six years old: creamed corn from a can -- not delicious. Had it been at home I could have just left it on my plate, but I was at a friend's house and felt obligated. I still remember how much I didn't want to eat that creamed corn. It was traumatizing). The truth is though, now (as long as they don't come from a can) I generally like creamed vegetables. I like vegetables. I like cream. Cook them together and good things can happen. For instance, this recipe was pretty good. I asked Vigleik what he thought of it and he said, "Tastes like mushrooms." Yup, that pretty much summarizes it. It had a good mushroom flavor, brought out well by the seasoning, and just enough cream to give it a bit of richness. The mushrooms were a little on the raw side for me -- if they had been sliced rather than quartered they would have lost more liquid and been more tender. I would have preferred that texture. But the flavor here was good, and the dish was very easy to make. It was a lovely complement to our huge chunks of filet mignon.

This recipe isn't online.

Several people challenged me yesterday with "You won't really finish your project in just two more years, will you? Won't you have all the time-consuming, unappetizing stuff left at the end?" I will admit, I am starting to have a sense of fear about the last year or so of the project. I am not worried so much about the food at the end being bad. It really is an excellent cookbook, and often the things that sound worst to me end up being very tasty. I'm also not so much worried about ending up with a lot of time-consuming things at the end. I have paced myself pretty well on that count I think (e.g. I have already made both wedding cakes in The Book, lots of slow-cooked dishes, some of the preserves, etc...). What I am worried about is nearing the end and discovering that every recipe requires ingredients or equipment that I don't have and can't find (think: baharat, Maras pepper, Urfa pepper, coeur a la creme molds, etc...)! These issues are mostly surmountable, especially with the magic of the internet. The one thing I have to be very careful not to do though is to leave myself with recipes at the very end that require out of season produce. For instance, trying to find fresh figs in the winter would be a borderline insurmountable issue! But I will finish! And, yes, the end of the project will be an interesting experience -- from the looks of things now I won't have any desserts left but will have many, many meat recipes, and plenty of relishes, chutneys, pickles, and preserves to make! Good thing I have great friends who are very flexible about what I serve them!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pan-Seared Filet Mignon with Merlot Sauce (Page 428)

  • Date: Thursday, May 22, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Kitchen: Vigleik and Shihchi's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Vigleik
  • Dining Companion: Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Despite my deep love of beef, I still have several steak recipes left in The Book. Vigleik and Shihchi chose this one for dinner when I was staying with them last week, and it did not disappoint! The steaks themselves were prepared very simply: pan-seared then oven-finished. We started with excellent pieces of filet mignon, and this preparation served them well. The meat was juicy and delicious. The merlot sauce was also excellent. The first step in this sauce was making a red wine vinegar caramel. This was added to a reduction of red wine and veal stock. In summary: completely delicious! My one and only complaint about this dish is that the sauce was very thin. The recipe gave guidelines for how long the sauce would need to reduce. I planned the meal around that time line. The sauce didn't thicken as I had hoped though, so I continued to boil and reduce for much, much longer than indicated in The Book. Eventually I had to serve it (before the steaks had rested too long) but it was still much thinner than I would have liked. That said, the flavor was excellent. The thin sauce ran all over my plate, but I sopped it up with some crusty bread and was very, very happy! Vigleik and Shihchi agreed: Yum!

Here is the recipe for the sauce. The steaks are prepared as in this recipe, although the recipe in The Book doesn't have any of the vegetables with it.

Welcome Wall Street Journal readers! If you are new to my blog, coming at it from the Wall Street Journal article, I hope you enjoy it! If you have been reading along for a while and have no idea what I am talking about, check out the article here. That's right, The Gourmet Project was in today's Wall Street Journal! Exciting, no?

So for those of you who are new here, let me catch you up. So far I have cooked and blogged about 740 of the 1293 recipes in the Gourmet Cookbook. If you click on the Project Index link on the right sidebar you can get all sorts of statistics, see my projected completion date (currently March 17, 2010), and do fun things like sort all the recipes by the grade they received, etc... I try to average about one recipe per day, so I post here most days! I also tend to ramble about the various other aspects of my life -- I am 28 years old, a mathematician by profession, currently a post-doc at Indiana University, which means that aside from cooking I do research in mathematics and teach calculus to undergraduates! I am currently living in Boston for the summer, doing research, cooking, training for a half-marathon, and enjoying lovely summer weather!

Again, welcome! I always love comments, so post away.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Anise-Scented Fig and Date Swirls (Page 678)

  • Date: Monday, May 19, 2008 -- 11pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I put off making these tasty swirls because my spice grinder mysteriously stopped running sometime in the not-so-distant past. But I took it apart and showed it who was boss and now it does its magic once again. So I could grind anise seeds, which was step number one in putting together these cookies. The concept here is simple: an anise-scented cookie dough is rolled out into a rectangle, smeared with a pureed mixture of dates and figs, then rolled-up jelly roll style. The roll gets chilled, then the cookies are sliced off and baked. The cookies came out very professional looking. The filling had an excellent flavor and texture, and was in good proportion to the doughy part of the cookie. I liked the dough too, but I would leave out the anise in the future. There was little enough of it that the flavor didn't come through clearly, so it ended up giving the cookies a bit of an off taste. Either adding more and going for a real anise flavor or leaving it out entirely would make for a better cookie. Since I am not a huge fan of anise, I would vote for leaving it out. But as it was the cookies were still very tasty. One especially nice thing about this recipe is that the dough roll can be frozen, and then the cookies can be sliced off and baked as you need them. So if, unlike me and Matty, you don't want to eat an entire batch of cookies in a few days, you can keep some dough in the freezer and bake just a few cookies at a time!

Here is the recipe.

Since I will be in Boston for most of the summer the nice people at MIT gave me office space in the math department. Upon my return to MIT I was pleasantly surprised to discover a new women's bathroom right outside said office door. Historically, many math departments had very few women's bathrooms. I find this fact not particularly bothersome or offensive -- historically many math departments also had very few women. But as time went on more and more women chose to ignore the talking Barbie ("Math is hard!") and pursue a career in mathematics. But they had no place to pee. So began a long process of building women's bathrooms and/or converting men's bathrooms to women's. When I was an undergraduate at Stanford there was a bathroom in the math department that had been "converted" from men's to women's, by which I mean that they changed the little sign on the door so that the stick figure was wearing a skirt. In particular, the bathroom still had urinals in it. In response, a woman in the department filled the urinals with flowerpots. It was my favorite bathroom on campus -- very cheerful! For some reason (having to do with poisonous gases?!?) the flowerpots went away. Eventually the urinals did too. It's a regular old women's bathroom now. I miss the urinals actually. I found them to be a nice reminder of the way things change...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cherry Tortoni (Page 864)

  • Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Irene, Yano, Alp, Phil O, Ben W
  • Recipe Rating: B+



Last summer, after searching and searching for sour cherries in the stores, Matty and I finally found a place where we could pick sour cherries ourselves. We picked nearly ten pounds of cherries that day and I pitted them, measured them out for the various recipes in The Book that called for them, and put them in the freezer. I didn't manage to make all of said recipes before I moved to Bloomington in the fall though, and the cherries stayed with Matty in Boston. The cherries could have been transported to Indiana on one of our many trips this year. After the struggle to acquire them though, those cherries are like gold to me, so I couldn't risk a cherry/airline/TSA battle. (Who knows? Frozen cherries might be a security risk. Or, my luggage could get lost long enough for the cherries to thaw and rot...). So, here we are, a year later, with many sour cherries still in the freezer, and many sour cherry recipes not yet completed. Hence this dessert.

Tortoni is a frozen mousse cake, often with almonds and Marsala. This version was also studded with sour cherries and accompanied by a sour cherry sauce. This tortoni was pretty nice. The crust was delicious (ground almonds, vanilla wafers, and butter -- how could it not be!). The mousse filling was also very tasty. The highlight though was definitely the sour cherry sauce. Once everyone had eaten their piece of tortoni Matty and I finished off the accompanying sauce by the spoonful -- I never claimed to have good table manners! The sauce was beautiful (although somehow I didn't get it in either of the pictures above), with a perfect consistency, and a wonderful cherry-almond flavor. I liked this dessert a lot, but I had two minor complaints. One, the sour cherries got very icy in the freezer. The frozen mousse had a good, creamy texture, but the ice crystals in the cherries disrupted that. Consequently, if I made it again I would simply leave the cherries out of the filling, and still bring the cherry flavor into the dish with the sauce. My other complaint was that it was nearly impossible to extricate the crust from the pan. I buttered very generously, but still, in the battle between the pan and the cake, the bottom crust sided with the pan every time. It was a shame too because the crust was very delicious! We ended up scraping it out of the pan so we could enjoy it. (Like I was saying about my table manners...). Overall though this dish had good flavors, and was very tasty.

Here is the recipe.

Classic Baja-Style Fish Tacos (Page 296)

  • Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Yano, Irene, Phil O, Ben W, and Alp
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose these fish tacos as part of my all-seafood-all-the-time plan for the summer (Aside: Has anyone besides me noticed how badly I have been doing with that plan? It's pretty pathetic actually! I predict that a year from now, I will have 200 or so recipes left to do in The Book, half of which require seafood. I will be wandering through Bloomington, Indiana (nowhere near the sea!) trying to find someone who sells shad roe, or whole branzino, etc... I will be deeply regretting the fact that I didn't take my all-seafood-all-the-time plan more seriously during this summer in Boston. Nonetheless, even with that knowledge, I am struggling. It's not that I don't like seafood -- I do! But I like it once a week or so, not every day. But let me tell ya, a rate of one seafood recipe per week is not going to get me through the hundred or so seafood recipes I have left by the end of the summer! Ok, I am resolving to try harder. I might need a little external pressure. For those of you who see me sometimes, next time you do I might need a, "Hey Teena, have you made any good fish recipes lately?" That might get me in gear.)

Anyway, I did motivate enough to make fish tacos a couple Saturdays ago for our dinner party. I was generously rewarded for it too, because these tacos were delicious! This is a classic Baja-style fish taco: a corn tortilla wrapped around battered and fried cod, a mayo and yogurt sauce, cabbage, guacamole, and salsa. Yum! The Book recommended the Fresh Tomato Salsa to go on these tacos, but I had already made that one so I made the Papaya Pineapple Salsa (see below) instead, and did not regret it! It went wonderfully with the fried fish. One thing that made these tacos better than your average fish tacos was the batter. Typical fish batters aren't terribly flavorful or exciting, but this one was really nice. A classic beer batter was seasoned with garlic powder, dried mustard, and oregano, which together gave it a really good flavor. I actually liked the mayo and yogurt sauce quite a bit too (doesn't sound good, but it was!), and it complemented the other components of the taco nicely. My one complaint is that the fish didn't stay crispy very long. This recipe calls for the fish to be deep-fried twice, to create an extra-crispy exterior. Indeed the fish pieces were extra-crispy, but they lost that crispiness pretty quickly. This is canonical problem with deep-frying, and there is probably nothing that can be done about it in this case other than serving the tacos ASAP once you finish the second frying. Overall, this is a strong recipe. When the tacos came out, there were a lot of happy eating sounds around the table!

This recipe isn't online.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Papaya Pineapple Salsa (Page 897)

  • Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Yano, Irene, Phil O, Ben W, and Alp
  • Recipe Rating: A-

The main course of our meal last Saturday was fish tacos, and we needed some salsa to go on them. The salsa recipes in The Book are running a little low, but I hadn't yet made this one. This salsa came out delicious! The papaya made an excellent salsa base, both flavor-wise and texturally. Pineapple provided a refreshing and bold contrast to the papaya. The lime juice, scallions, and garlic balanced out the dish perfectly. Everyone seemed very satisfied with this salsa -- they piled it high on their fish tacos! (Cooking bonus: this is an excellent forum for practicing your knife skills. Matty chopped all the papaya, and by the end he had perfected his 1/4 inch dice!) There is no heat to this salsa, but if you are looking for something with a kick, I think this salsa could support a bit of minced serrano. As it is though, it would be delicious not only on tacos or chips, but also atop simply prepared fish, or chicken (or anything done with jerk seasoning). The fruit salsas in The Book have been very good so far, and this one was no exception.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except that the ratio of papaya to other ingredients is twice as high in The Book as it is online.

After several days of working hard with V in the University of Chicago math department (plus plenty of hanging out with V and Shihchi: eating, playing Wii, etc...), the work part of my Chicago trip has ended, and it is on to the party portion of the trip. Deniz's bridal shower and bachelorette party are both today, and I am excited!

The first bridal shower I ever went to was the summer after I graduated from Stanford. I was about to move across the country to start graduate school at MIT. The bridal shower was for my best friend, at her family's house in Oregon. I was living with them at the time, helping out with wedding stuff and hanging out with Emilee before she tied the knot. The shower was gorgeous: it was outdoors in lovely Oregon summer weather, with flowers everywhere and delicious food. The memory of that shower that is burned most deeply into my brain, though, was a conversation I had with one of the guests. I was chatting with a woman, probably in her late forties or early fifties, when she suddenly took my hand in hers and said to me very sympathetically, "Don't worry honey. You'll find someone eventually. You are very pretty." I was shocked. I was 22 years old. I didn't know that already landed me in the old spinster category. Intrigued, I continued talking to her. Eventually it came out in the discussion that I was about to start my PhD in math at MIT. She looked at me with wide eyes, and asked, very honestly, "Why?" I told her the truth: I love math, I love teaching, I want to be an academic, etc... but my explanation was met with the blankest of stares. Since the truth wasn't panning out, I tried an outrageous lie: "Well, actually I am going to MIT to find a husband." "Oh, ok," she said with a sigh of recognition, "That seems like a very good idea."

I am 28 now, with that PhD in hand but no ring on my finger. I wish I could chat with that woman again -- I am curious if she would think I have failed!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Poblano Strips with Onion and Cream (Page 559)

  • Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Yano, Irene, Phil O, Ben W, and Alp
  • Recipe Rating: B


Occasionally when planning a meal, I don't think too clearly about the possibility of ingredient overkill. A couple years ago, making dinner for my family, I made a meal that contained both risotto and rice pudding. So, after eating a heavy meal of risotto and braised beef, I brought out this big dish of rice pudding. My brother gave me a look that said, "Rice pudding after risotto? Really?" I suffered from that syndrome a bit when I planned this meal too. I chose this recipe as a side dish with dinner on Saturday because it was consistent with the Mexican food theme, but I ignored the fact that the soup was also based around rajas (i.e. roasted poblano peppers). All together there were three pounds of poblanos in this meal, which may have been overkill! Oh well -- at least I like rajas!

This dish was very simple. The poblano peppers were first roasted over gas burners and then peeled. (Note: the poblano peppers can be roasted and peeled a few days ahead and refrigerated until they are needed. This is very convenient. However, if you roast the peppers at 7:30am on a Saturday morning, with 4 burners going at once, and manage to set off the smoke alarm, waking your loved one who is still sleeping, he might consider finding a new loved one... The fact that your loved one responded to said smoke alarm by putting a pillow over his head rather than inquiring as to the well-being of you, the apartment, or the food, might make you consider finding a new loved one!) After peeling and slicing the roasted poblanos they are cooked with onions and finished with a bit of crema. It's as simple as that. The flavor of this dish was very nice -- the combination of the crema with the roasted peppers was appealing. My one complaint is that the poblanos weren't quite as cooked as I would have liked. They were still very crunchy. They would have been more delicious had they been slightly more tender. Overall though, it was a tasty side dish, and complemented the meal well.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book lists crema, creme fraiche, or heavy cream rather than just creme fraiche or heavy cream.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Rajas and Queso Fresco (Page 98)

  • Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Yano, Irene, Alp, Ben W, and Phil O
  • Recipe Rating: B

Our dinner last Saturday was vaguely Mexican-food themed, so I chose this soup as a second course. Conceptually this dish was very simple: the base was beef stock and pureed roasted and peeled tomatoes. Added to that were cooked onions, rajas (roasted poblano peppers), and queso fresco. The soup turned out nicely. It wasn't particularly awe-inspiring, but it had a nice roasted flavor. The rajas gave it some spiciness, which the queso fresco helped balance. The soup could have supported another ingredient or two (grilled chicken, for instance). As it was, it was very brothy, which I found made it difficult to eat too much of. I really enjoyed the first half of my bowl of this soup and then wasn't too excited about finishing it. If I made it again I would make the servings significantly smaller. Overall though it had a nice combination of flavors, and was a very simple, light soup for early in the meal.

This recipe isn't online.

Ah, Memorial Day weekend. Summer is unofficially upon us. Summer in my life is a time for conference travel, hiking, long lazy dinners, and plenty of research. Summer is typically also brain-tumor-time. It is in the summer each year that I go from lab to hospital to doctor's office having blood tests, an MRI, and appointments to discuss them. It is in the summer (if we're lucky!) that the hospital gives me the films to bring to my doctor and I can sit around in the common room with friends looking at my brain! So perhaps it is because of the season (or maybe because brain tumors have been in the news this week) but I have received an unprecedented number of inquiries lately about the status of my little friend growing in my brain. So I'll tell everyone the truth: I'm not having brain-tumor-time this year. Before you start lecturing (which some of you already have!) let me assure you that my doctor was consulted about this. I have been doing so well the last couple years that the fancy doctor with the office so big it contains a fish tank the size of most Manhattan apartments says that it is just fine to have brain-tumor-time every other summer. I would do it anyway (best to be cautious perhaps) but there are various compelling reasons not to (I haven't found a specialist in Bloomington yet, my new insurance makes brain-tumor-time much more expensive than before, etc...). But I am feeling great, all recent blood tests looked great, and honestly the only effect I am feeling these days from my tumor (or really, rather, the medication), is my usual inability to eat a real breakfast! I promised Mike (girl scout's honor!) that if I start to go blind I will go immediately to the hospital. Seriously though, I appreciate the concern of everyone who has asked lately, but my tumor isn't dangerous at this point, and I am fine!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Crabmeat, Apple, and Mango Salad on Cumin Apple Chips (Page 76)

  • Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Yano, Irene, Alp, Phil O, and Ben W
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Despite my good intentions I have veered off-course a bit from my all-seafood-all-the-time plan for the summer. So I picked this first course to go with dinner on Saturday in order to get back on the seafood track. This was a well composed dish. A simple salad of crab meat, green apple, mango, and cilantro was dressed with an apple-shallot dressing and layered napoleon-style between crispy cumin apple chips. I will shamefully admit that I don't love crab the way many people do. Yet despite this bias, I found this dish relatively enjoyable. The dressing/sauce was very tasty, and the fruitiness of the apple and mango provided a nice contrast to the sea flavor of the crab. Texturally, it was a great dish. The cumin apple chips were thin, crispy, and delicate, while the crab gave the dish a meatiness and the raw apple provided some crunch. It was a very refreshing first course, perfect for a summer dinner. It was a nice way to start a meal.

Here is the recipe.

I don't like bitter green vegetables. There aren't many foods I don't like, and I pride myself on being a flexible eater. But I don't like bitter green vegetables. And I am not ashamed. I DON'T LIKE BITTER GREEN VEGETABLES! See? I'll shout it from the rooftop. Collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, chicory... they just aren't my thing. I appreciate their culinary worthiness. I eat them. But I would never choose them amongst other options. I don't feel bad about it though.

However I also don't like crab. About this I feel a deep sense of shame. I never admit to it in public (so don't tell anyone!). Not liking crab is like not liking Bob Dylan, or Kieslowski movies -- it you don't like it you are wrong. It's shameful. It's embarrassing. I have nothing to say in my own defense. It is just too intensely fishy for me. I eat crab of course -- I am not so silly as to refuse to consume it just because it's not my fave. But I don't truly enjoy it. Worse, when I come across it I often wish it weren't there. We had one non-seafood eater at our meal on Saturday, so I made her a crab-free version of this dish. Then I stared across the table enviously at her as she ate it, wishing I had a crab-free version myself.

I will get over this eventually. The more I cook with something, the more I appreciate it -- years ago I didn't like red meat, and look at me now. I had a huge filet mignon for dinner tonight, drenched in a veal stock based sauce and it was delicious! So there's still hope for crab. In time I will even come around to bitter green vegetables. I have no doubt. In the meantime, I will shamefully wish the crab weren't there!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cumin Apple Chips (Page 76)

  • Date: Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Yano, Irene, Alp, Phil O, and Ben W
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I forgot to take a picture of the cumin apple chips alone, so what you are seeing above is them as a component in the dish that this recipe was paired with (which I will blog about tomorrow). These chips were simple and quite tasty. The recipe called for granny smith apples to be sliced thinly (1/16 of an inch) with a mandoline, and then dusted on both sides with a combination of powdered sugar and cumin. They were then placed on a baking sheet lined with a non-stick silicone baking liner (i.e. a silpat) and baked in a low oven for a long time. The result: crispy apple chips, scented with cumin and touched with a bit of sweetness.They were perfect as a component to the crab salad pictured above. Eaten alone I thought there was a bit too much cumin, although Matty disagreed with me on that point. This is a wonderful use for a mandoline... you would need pretty exceptional knife skills (and a damn sharp knife!) to get the slices thin enough without one. Emilee bought me a wonderful new mandoline for my birthday last month (thank you Em!), and this was my first time trying it out. Wow! I had a cheap, crappy mandoline but it is going in the trash now because my new one is amazing! Anyway, these apple chips are quite delicious. I am a huge fan of this genre of food (fruits and vegetables made into chips) and this recipe did not disappoint.

Here is the recipe.

When I was little, my good friend Melanie's family was way into dehydrating food. (In fact, maybe they still are... Mel?) Every year they would make bags and bags and bags full of dried apple wedges. It doesn't even really sound that good, but they were delicious! Mel and I spent a lot of time together as kids, and nearly every summer/fall memory I have of us together has a bag of those dehydrated apples in the corner of my mental picture. At the time it seemed completely mysterious to me how those dehydrated apples were made. They had a contraption -- a big white machine that appeared in the TV infomercials that I loved so much. You would put in apple wedges and out would come deliciousness. I didn't know at the time that the same thing could be achieved with a very low oven, or that the machine basically just blew warm air. It was magical, and mysterious, and I was jealous. I wanted a food dehydrator! My mother wouldn't buy me one though. I'm not sure why not. Perhaps she had an aversion to its AS SEEN ON TV package. Or maybe she thought I would never use it. Or worse, I would use it and I would make a big mess. I don't know. But there was resistance to my food dehydrating plan, and it never came to fruition (much like my desire for a ferret, or ear-piercing, my endless petitioning was to no avail). So I stared longingly at the food dehydrator in Melanie's kitchen, wondering why she was allowed to dehydrate and I wasn't!

I am older now, and wiser, but I still believe in the deliciousness of dehydrated food. I never did buy myself one of those big machines, but the magic of the mandoline-silpat-low oven combination has not been lost on me. Mmmmm.... dehydrated food!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

All-Occasion Yellow Cake (Page 724)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Ricky
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Matt, Mike, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This is the last of the 14 recipes that we made for the mayonnaise tasting last weekend! The Book promised that this cake would become a staple in my household. It promised to be the be all end all of yellow cake -- just as easy as a cake mix and much more delicious. In reality, it was just ok. The flavor was fine, although a touch bland. But the texture was too dry. It might have been good split into layers and filling with a moist filling (maybe also soaked with a flavored soaking syrup), but just plain, with frosting, it was not top notch. Everyone agreed that it pretty mediocre. It was certainly not a recipe that I will make again and again. There are better yellow cake recipes out there!

Here is the recipe for the cake (without the frosting).

Tomorrow I am off to Chicago, and despite my best intentions of getting everything done that I wanted to before my trip, I still have a huge to do list in front of me! None of the things left on the list are absolutely essential, so however much I get done will just have to do. My trip to Chicago has two fun purposes! The first few days I will be staying with Vigleik and Shihchi, which is always a good time. V and I have been working on a joint project for some time now, so we are getting together and work. Then, on Saturday I am going to Deniz's bridal shower and her bachelorette party! I am very much looking forward to it!

The only aspect of the weekend that I am not looking forward to is the traveling. I haven't flown in over a month now (can you believe it!), and I have been very much enjoying a leisurely, air-travel free lifestyle. Oh well. It had to end eventually!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Seven-Minute Frosting (Page 725)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Ricky
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Matt, Mike, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I made a yellow cake with seven-minute frosting as the dessert for our mayonnaise tasting last Saturday. Seven-minute frosting has raw egg whites in it, so I figured we might as well have raw egg whites on our cake on the same night we were having raw egg yolks in our mayonnaise in order to consolidate the salmonella risk! I don't know when exactly seven-minute frosting was in fashion, but it seems that it no longer is. I remember this fluffy white frosting from my childhood, but can't think of a single instance of someone serving it to me in the last decade. It's not necessarily a crowd-pleaser of a frosting. You have to like meringue in order to like this, and many people do not. This frosting got several C ratings, which is pretty bad for frosting! I personally like seven-minute frosting well enough, and this was a perfectly fine version of it. It was very pretty, but like all seven-minute frostings, it had no richness or depth of flavor. One of my friends tasted the frosting and immediately said, "There's no butter in this!" Another friend replied, "No, it's made from sugar and clouds." That is a pretty accurate description. So if sugar and clouds on cake sounds good to you, you will likely enjoy this frosting. If you are more of a rich, luscious buttercream person, this is not the frosting for you.

This recipe isn't online.

I just completed week 2 of my half-marathon training, and things are still moving along on schedule. I have a chart on the fridge telling me how much to run each day, and so far I have been sticking to it. I am traveling the second half of this week though, which complicates things a little. I will have to run a bit while I am gone, but I am also trying to frontload my week of running so that I can run less while I am away.

In the past I have battled with shin splints when I run a lot, but so far that hasn't been a problem. In fact, my body is holding up nicely. Granted, I'm not running very many miles yet, but I am running 4-5 days a week which isn't the easiest thing on one's body. So far I have a few blisters and that's it. So I'm not suffering, but I am also not feeling like I am in any better shape than I was two weeks ago. Perhaps progress is slower than that, but if I don't eventually see an improvement in endurance there is no way I am going to be able to run a half-marathon! Honestly, aside from the blisters the only way in which I feel different at all is that I am hungrier than I was before. I am sure in a few weeks the aches and pains will set in and I will start to see some progress!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eggless Aioli (Page 889)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Alex and Gunther
  • Dining Companions: Matt, Mike, Matty, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: D


This is the last mayonnaise-based sauce from the mayo tasting last weekend. (Since this ailoi was eggless it is a bit of a stretch to call it mayo-based, but we're just going to ignore that...) Sadly, this is not a case of saving the best for last. This ailoi was not delicious. It received almost exclusively C, D, and F ratings from the tasting crew. Perhaps Mike summarized it best -- alongside his grade of an F he wrote, "Honestly bad."

Looking at the ingredients it is challenging to guess that this would have turned out badly. There were only three ingredients in this dish: garlic, salt, and olive oil. Sounds good, no? But already one might become skeptical of this eggless version when one realizes that somehow those three ingredients are supposed to come together into a smooth, thick sauce. Hmmm... Why does aioli usually have a egg or egg yolk in it? Well, it's because otherwise it is very difficult to emulsify garlic into oil.

A big group of us were cooking on Saturday, and Alex and Gunther did battle with this recipe, attempting to emulsify the garlic in the oil for upwards of an hour. The Book says that this eggless version of aioli is "notoriously tricky to make," and after our experience with it, I don't think either Alex or Gunther would disagree. Despite much pulverization with a mortar and pestle, this sauce would simply not thicken. The Book says that 15 minutes of constant and vigorous stirring and mashing will do it, but it just didn't happen. Alex and Gunther put way more than 15 minutes into their attempt, and even after all that time it was barely thicker than the oil they started with. To end up with the nice thickness of sauce that you see in the picture above, they ended up adding more garlic and blending. So the end result was more garlicky than it should have been, but had about the right consistency. I didn't taste the "sauce" (aka garlicky oil) before the additional garlic was added, but after enough garlic was added to get the right consistency it was definitely too garlicky. I love garlic, but this sauce was a challenge to eat.

My real question is, why make an eggless aioli anyway? The egg makes it so much easier to produce a sauce that it smooth and delicious, and I just don't see what the downside it. The Book claims that the flavor of the garlic is "more robust" in this version, but I found the Quick Aioli plenty robust. In summary, save yourself a headache and skip this recipe.

That should be easy to do because this recipe isn't online.

Brazilian-Style Black Bean Stew (Page 269)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matt, Mike, Matty, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I was a little worried that some people would not want an all-mayonnaise meal at the mayo tasting last weekend, so I figured I would throw together a big pot of something else for people to eat. I have been eying this simplified version of Brazilian feijoada for quite some time, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to test it out. It was pretty good. I love black beans (and also bacon, beef, and chorizo) so it was hard to go to wrong with this recipe! The stew had a delicious slow-cooked flavor and the beef chunks were falling apart tender. I had two minor issues with the stew though. One, despite all the delicious ingredients, it still came out a touch bland. I heavily seasoned with salt, but that only did so much to remedy the problem. I think the addition of more jalapenos and more orange juice might have helped matters. My other critique is that the ratio of meat to beans was too low. It was possible to ladle yourself an entire bowl of this stuff without getting any chunks of beef or chorizo. The meat was extremely tasty, and the dish would have been better had there been more of it. All that said, people generally liked this stew. Matty and I ate the leftover stew for lunch all week, and it only got better after a couple days in the fridge.

This recipe isn't online.

For Christmas my special gentleman got me a lovely ring, with five big colored stones in the shape of a flower. The largest stone in it was an amethyst. Sometime between dinner last night and breakfast this morning, the amethyst came out of its setting, and now it's gone! We looked and looked for it, but I did a lot of dishes last night without the drain catch in, so the chances are good that it fell out and went down the drain. I took off my ring this morning (it looks so sad without one of the stones). I put that ring on at Christmas, and haven't taken it off since. So now it feels very odd to be without it.

I was engaged to be married once, several years ago, and I had a beautiful engagement ring that I was very attached to. When my fiance and I split, obviously the ring had to come off. It was such a strange sensation not wearing it any more. My thumb would naturally rub the back of my ring finger, something I guess I always did without noticing just to check that my ring was there. For weeks, when my thumb hit my bare finger I would have brief seconds of panic, thinking that my ring had fallen off before realizing that indeed I had removed it. I found that noticing it was gone over and over again was very painful. In retrospect I should have just bought myself some other ring and worn it on that finger for a while, but at the time I didn't have the presence of mind to do so.

I was reminded of that today, as I kept having those same little moments of panic that my ring was gone... Turns out that those moments are much more bearable when there is no emotional pain attached to them though.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quick Aioli (Page 889)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matt
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: C+


This ailoi was one of the many mayonnaise-based sauces at our mayo tasting last Saturday. There were two aioli recipes that night, and between the two this one was the clear winner, but it still wasn't great. The texture and consistency were nice, but the flavor was just too much. Aioli is meant to be very garlicky, but this recipe was extremely heavy handed with the garlic. Almost every person reacted with a "Whoa!" when they first tasted it. Mike summarized the problem with the recipe by noting that it was spicy, but "not good spicy." It was powerful stuff. I like garlic as much as the next person, but the overpowering garlic flavor of this sauce made it not terribly versatile. On the upside, I think the "quick" aspects of this "Quick Aioli" didn't damage the essence of the aioli much. In fact this recipe was much more successful than the Eggless Aioli that was also a part of our tasting. Personally though, I would look for a different ailoi recipe in the future.

This recipe isn't online.

Tonight my special gentleman and I are hosting a dinner party for some of his friends from graduate school. He did his Ph.D. at Columbia, and a couple of his classmates have also since moved to the Boston area. A couple more are in town this weekend from elsewhere, so a bunch of them decided to get together. Strangely, I haven't hosted a regular old dinner party (i.e. one for few enough people where you can actually sit around the table and eat a meal in courses) in several months, so I figured it was about time! One of my many goals for the summer is to have more dinner parties. I love cooking for big groups of people and I haven't done enough of that lately. I can already tell that in true Teena form I have planned way too much food for tonight. Good thing I love leftovers! On the menu tonight is my favorite cuisine: Mexican food (hence the poblano pepper accident -- see earlier post). There aren't too many more meals of Mexican food that can be constructed with the recipes left in The Book... but I managed to find 7 for tonight. (Ok, in the interest of full disclosure, without even thinking I picked an Italian dessert to go with my Mexican-themed meal. Whoops. Maybe no one will notice!) Doing seven recipes alone is a little ambitious, so I made two of them in advance. So, this evening I only need to concentrate on five things at once!

Fried Onion Rings (Page 552)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matt, Angelica, and Ricky
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: A

Fried food seemed like a good choice for dipping in mayonnaise, so we made these onion rings to accompany the mayonnaise tasting last weekend. In summary: yum. Yum, yum, yum. These onion rings were very tasty. They were crispy and delicious, without being too heavily breaded. The onion was cooked just the right amount, and the breading was perfectly seasoned for maximum deliciousness. They were good. Everybody gave them A or B range grades, which in a group this large is pretty unusual. I like onion rings a lot in concept, but am often disappointed by the rings you get in a restaurant. These rings did not disappoint. They were spot on in terms of flavor, crispiness, and amount of breading. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

This recipe isn't online.

There are very rigid guidelines distinguishing how the grades for the recipes are supposed to be given. Grades of B+ and above are things I would make again. Grades of A- and above are things I would make again and serve to company. The grades B and B- are for things that I enjoyed eating but wouldn't make again. And C+ and below are various degrees of not wanting to eat it. To get a D or below it has to be something that I threw away rather than eating. The one distinction that I have struggled with coming up with a good guideline for is what distinguishes and A- from an A. The rule we used for a long time was that A recipes are something you would serve to someone you are trying to impress (i.e. your mother-in-law). That's not really the right distinction though. To be an A recipe it doesn't need to be impressive per se, but rather it should be craveable. It should be awe-inspiring. It should be truly delicious. The A recipes should be the ones where I look at the picture days, weeks, or months later and wish that I had some of that food in front of me! The A recipes should be the ones that I think of again and again. As long as I am a few days behind in my blogging, those criteria work pretty well. For instance, at the time I wasn't sure whether these onion rings should get an A- or an A, but all week I have been thinking, "Man, I wish I had some more of those onion rings." That is the sign of an A recipe!

Green Mayonnaise (Page 887)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matt, Mike, Matty, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This was yet another mayonnaise from the mayo tasting last weekend. This was easily the best of the bunch. The concept: take mayonnaise and every non-woody fresh herb you can imagine and blend together in the blender. It's a little more subtle than that -- I am sure the designated ratios were chosen to give a balanced, flavorful mayonnaise. Not just any combination of herbs would net something so tasty. As it was though, this mayo was tasty on both onion rings and raw vegetables, and would certainly be a nice accompaniment for a piece of salmon. I had strongly positive feelings about it. Most people agreed, although notably Ricky, Grace, and Jenny all gave it C-range grades. None of them wrote specific complaints with their grades, although I did hear at least one person complain that they disliked the tarragon flavor of the mayo. In my opinion though, this was a tasty mayonnaise, and easily the most successful mayo variation in The Book.

Here is the recipe.

The cooking disaster of the day today involved 3 pounds of poblano peppers and my right eye! No, I wasn't foolish enough to rub the peppers in my eye, or even rub my eye with my peppery hands. But in the process of roasted, peeling, seeding, and slicing 3 pounds of peppers, there was some pepper juice and eye contact. I noticed the first time the pepper spat some of its juice in my eye, but it didn't actually hurt too much, so I thought it would be fine. Poblanos aren't that hot, so I just figured maybe I wouldn't get the typical burning reaction from them. Silly me -- of course I know that the burn from hot peppers only comes on a bit later. But it was early in the morning and I wasn't thinking straight. About ten minutes after I finished all my pepper handling, I began to experience truly horrible pain in my eye. I tried eye drops but that was not enough to do the trick. My eye was watering and watering so I figured the tears might flush it out, but that didn't work either. Usually if you have stinging from peppers on your hands or something, you would submerge them in milk, but I couldn't decide if flushing my eye with milk was a good idea or not. In the end it was a two-person job to stop the pain. I held my eye open while my special gentleman poured cup after cup of water into my eye. After about ten cups of water, I began to feel better. My eye is fine now, but next time I am dealing with so many peppers, I think I will be a little more careful!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blender Mayonnaise (Page 887)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Matt, Mike, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Ricky, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B+

OK, back to the mayonnaises. This was mayo number 6 (out of 9) that we made for the mayonnaise tasting on Saturday. No one was particularly excited about this one, but I actually liked it. Matty complained that it was too thick, but it was much more like the consistency of mayonnaise that you would buy than any of the other recipes. This mayo would certainly be spreadable (e.g. on a sandwich) whereas some of the other mayonnaise recipes we made would be too runny. I thought the flavor of this mayonnaise was also good. It tasted like mayonnaise -- pure, simple mayonnaise, without any distractions. Whereas the non-blender plain mayonnaise recipe tasted overpoweringly of mustard, this one did not. The ratio of ingredients was different in this recipe, as well as the emulsification method. It came together quickly in the blender, eliminating the need for constant whisking and drop-by-drop oil adding. Overall, I was pretty happy with this mayo, although, as I noted, no one was too head-over-heals about it and several people strongly disliked it.

This recipe isn't online.

Someone asked me recently if I have any idea how much this project is going to cost all together. Now there's a scary question if I have ever heard one! The answer: a lot! Ok, let's try to do a slightly more specific computation than that. So far, I maintain that a reasonable upper bound on the average amount of money spent per recipe would be $20. Some of them are certainly more expensive than that (e.g. the wedding cake), but some of them are also much less expensive than that (e.g. mayonnaise). So let's say that this first half of the project has been about $20 per recipe. The second half of the project I anticipate being more expensive. I have already made most of the recipes with only a few ingredients, and most of the recipes with ingredients that are unusually cheap (i.e. all the recipes for rice, or beans). The sections that I am doing the worst on are those with fish, shellfish, beef, veal, pork, and lamb. None of those things are cheap. So let's set an upper bound of $30 per recipe for the second half of the project. In other words, let's make our upper bound on average cost per recipe $25 for the whole project. So what do we get? Well, 1293 recipes at $25 a piece... Wow. that's a scary number. Keep in mind this is an upper bound. The project will cost at most: $32,325. Good thing I am raking in the big bucks in math academia. Hahaha...

I will rationalize it a little bit by noting that money spent on book food is the vast majority of the total money I spend on food for myself (and my special gentleman). So over four years, that isn't so bad. In addition to paying for most of my food, that $32,325 has also paid for a lot of meals that I have enjoyed sharing with people that I love! I think it is more than worth it!

Buffalo Chicken Wings (Page 54)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty and Ricky
  • Dining Companions: Matt, Mike, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B+

For the mayonnaise tasting last weekend, it was hard to find recipes in The Book for things that you could conceivably dip in mayonnaise and have it taste good. The sauce that comes with buffalo wings is often mayonnaise-based though, so I figured that these would be a reasonable thing to dip in the many mayos. These chicken wings were pretty good. All buffalo chicken wing recipes start the same way: deep-fry the chicken wings until cooked. The thing that distinguishes one buffalo chicken wing recipe from another is the sauce. In this case the sauce was pretty good. I thought it could have been a little spicier, and there could have been more of it. You can see in the picture above that the wings were indeed coated with sauce, but there wasn't delicious sauce dripping off of them. In and of itself that's ok, but since there was so little sauce, it could have had substantially more kick to it. This recipe also included a recipe for a blue cheese dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was fine -- nothing terribly special but also not bad. The chicken wings actually tasted better dipped in some of the mayonnaises at the tasting rather than their designated sauce. Overall, this is a solid recipe for chicken wings. I would certainly eat them again given the opportunity.

Here is the recipe.

When I was a kid, my understanding of food was based largely around what my parents ate. The things they ate seemed normal to me, and things we didn't have around the house or order in restaurants seemed exotic. My parents must not be buffalo wings people, because I am pretty sure I have never in my life seen either of them eat one. So as a little kid, I knew they existed, but hadn't ever actually seen a buffalo wing myself. When I was 11 I became a vegetarian... a phase of my life that lasted for the following decade. So certainly from age 11 to age 21 was a buffalo wing-free time for me. The upshot of all this is that I never ate a buffalo wing myself until I was in graduate school. This is all by way of justification for the following outrageous fact: for the longest time, I thought that the meat in buffalo wings came from buffalo. I know, it's embarrassing. I was aware that buffalo don't have wings, and as a kid this was definitely a point of confusion for me. What part of the buffalo were these buffalo wings from? By the time I had the realization that wings on buffalo made no sense I was too old to ask what was going on without it being a little embarrassing. By the time I got to college, I was pretty sure that the buffalo wing had something to do with a chicken. But then why was it called a buffalo wing? Mysterious. Turns out they are named after the city of Buffalo, where they originated. Aha! It makes a lot of sense, no? But as a little kid I probably didn't know of the existence of that fine city in New York, and by the time I did, the idea that the wings came from some big old buffalo in South Dakota was too ingrained in my mind for me to see the more plausible explanation. Basically what I am saying is this: I am an idiot. Buffalo wings come from chickens, who have wings, unlike buffalo. Case closed.

(No one ever believes me when I say that before culinary school I was COMPLETELY clueless about meat. Hopefully the above story will convince you.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mustard Mayonnaise (Page 886)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike, Matt, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B


This was yet another of the many mayonnaises that I made for the mayo tasting on Saturday (Clearly, despite my promise to not blog about all the mayonnaises in a row, that is what I have been doing... Sorry about that. There's a reason, having to do with The Book being heavy and the internet connection at Matty's place being crappy... Hopefully I will start mixing in some non-mayo recipes tomorrow.) This mayonnaise was fine. The consistency was about right -- it was neither offensively thick or thin. The flavor was exactly what you would expect from a mustard mayonnaise. Picture that mustard-mayo combo condiment that they sell at the store for people who are too lazy to put the mustard and mayo on their sandwiches separately (by the way, who are those people?!? Intrigued, I look for some sort of justification for that product. Here it is: "Hellmann's® Dijonnaise™ Creamy Dijon Mustard is authentic Dijon mustard blended with mayonnaise for a uniquely smooth taste you'd expect from Hellmann's®."). Anyway, this tasted like that stuff, except without the highly-processed taste you'd expect from Hellmann's®. It was fine -- completely unobjectionable in my opinion. It was certainly a step up from mixing some mustard into a jar of mayo (or buying Dijonnaise), so if you are looking for that kind of thing, this recipe is worth a try.

This recipe isn't online.

I am totally back in the swing of things this week. Last week was rough -- it took me a few days to regain focus and motivation after my grandmother's death. I never cope very well with people dying, and part of my process involves laying in bed for a couple days. This week, though, I am doing much better. I have been going into the department every day and getting work done. I have also been following my half-marathon training schedule to a tee. I haven't been cooking much since the weekend (since we did 14 recipes on Saturday, I am taking a little breather!), but I have been attempting to do some catch-up on my blogging. Happily, I am feeling like myself again! It helps that the weather is beautiful -- sunny and warm without being too hot. Nothing puts me in a good mood like gorgeous spring weather. Usually I eagerly anticipate the first hot sunshine of summer, but this year, with my crazy running schedule, I am more wary than usual about the heat. It is going to get hot, and I am going to be running, at it will be miserable I am sure. But we're not there yet! The weather is beautiful, and I am enjoying it while I can!

Curry Mayonnaise (Page 887)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Alex and Gunther
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike, Matt, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: C+


Yup, you guessed it: more mayonnaise! I appreciate that you all are probably getting a little sick of the mayo by now, but can you imagine how exciting it is for me to be done with all these recipes?!? There are only 47 recipes total in the Sauces and Salsas section of The Book, and in one night we knocked out 9 of them. Yay for the mayonnaise tasting! Plus, PLUS, no one got salmonella from it (at least to my knowledge). Ask anyone (especially Matty or Mike) and they will give you an earful about how I am unreasonably obsessed with food safety. It's true. I won't deny it. It is very VERY important to me not to make anyone sick. I am ServSafe trained and certified (it was part of culinary school) which essentially means that I have a working understanding of the various foodborne illnesses that it is possible to give to you poor unsuspecting eaters. So I am careful. Very, very careful. I am especially careful when it comes to salmonella, as I had the unfortunate luck of acquiring salmonella as a kid and it is an illness that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. So when I cook chicken, I take precautions! No one is going to get sick from a feathered friend prepared by me.

Mayonnaise, however, is a trickier issue. Homemade mayo contains raw eggs. Safe handling can minimize the risk, but if the egg is carrying salmonella, there's nothing you can do about it (other than cook it, which isn't an option for mayonnaise). If the egg is contaminated, your mayo will be contaminated. Now, I will acknowledge, the risk is small. It is generally accepted that in the Northeastern United States only about 1 in 10,000 eggs carry salmonella. So the chances of poisoning myself and all my friends on Saturday were pretty low. But still -- I worry. I am happy to say that everyone seemed to survive the tasting just fine!

Anyway, I got sidetracked. That happens sometimes when I go off on one of my food safety tirades. If you want to hear Mike go on about how crazy I am, ask him sometime about the time he and I discussed chicken salad. That should get a rise out of him! Right, so back to the mayonnaise. This one wasn't so good. Just look at the picture... it doesn't even look good. This was essentially just mayonnaise with some lime juice, curry powder and a bit of cayenne mixed in. It wasn't bad exactly, but it also just wasn't particularly appealing. There are so many good curry sauces out there, that this one just seemed silly -- curry powder mixed into mayonnaise is certainly a quick way to produce a curry-flavored sauce or spread, but it's not nearly the best way. I didn't mind eating this stuff, but I couldn't imagine a situation in which this would be the best possible choice of sauce/spread.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book starts with a homemade mayonnaise, not a bottled one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Horseradish Mayonnaise (Page 886)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike, Matt, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: C

This was another one of the many mayonnaises offered at the mayo tasting on Saturday. This was definitely one of my least favorites. There were two substantial problems with this mayonnaise: the flavor and the texture. First, let's discuss the flavor. I can see adding a bit of horseradish to some mayo to give it a little kick, but adding pimiento-stuffed green olives too? Why? Why would you do that? The olive flavor was no good with the horseradish mayo, and the horseradish flavor was a bit too strong. A more serious problem was the texture though. Bottled horseradish, even drained, is liquidy. This mayo had a nice texture to it before the horseradish was added, but after it was much too runny. In texture and flavor it seemed much more like a horseradish sauce than a horseradish-flavored mayo. It wasn't awful, but I certainly wasn't eager to eat more of it either. The general consensus on this one was that it was not-so-good. (NOTE: We had so many different sauces on Saturday that we had to label them all so that we knew what we were eating. Angelica made the little signs, like the one in the picture above. Cute, no?)

This recipe is not online.

It has been crazy around the MIT math department since I have been back. I expect, when I come back here, to see lots of MIT friends I haven't seen in a while, but this time I have been shocked by how many people are here that don't usually live in Boston. In the past week I have seen (with their usual residences): Mike (Virginia), Soren (California), Elke (Germany), Chris (California), Nora (Maine), Robert (New York), and the list goes on... it has been crazy around here! With both MIT and Harvard here, Boston is a hub for theoretical mathematics. So you can count on a lot of people coming through MIT at various times, but usually not all at once! I haven't even had a chance yet to catch-up with many of my friends who actually live here because I have been busy catching up with the people visiting! The semester ends soon at MIT though, so I would imagine after that things will settle down a bit. In the meantime: busy, busy. It has been so busy in fact that I am definitely under-quota on time spent hanging out with just my special gentleman friend. Fortunately, though, we have the whole summer to do that!

Mayonnaise (Page 886)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike, Matt, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B-


This was one of the many mayonnaise recipes that I made for the mayonnaise tasting on Saturday. This was the plain mayonnaise recipe that many of the other mayo versions were derivatives of. This mayo was ok, but not nearly as good as some other homemade mayos I have eaten/made. It had two problems. One, it was a bit too thin for a mayonnaise. The bigger problem though was the flavor. It had too much mustard, which made the mayo very strongly flavored. It didn't taste bad, but it wasn't neutral enough to really serve as a multi-purpose mayo. There is often mustard in homemade mayo, since mustard acts as a good emulsifying agent, but usually there is less than there was in this recipe. Less mustard would have been better.

Here is the recipe.

My friend Grace and my special gentleman friend happen to both be teaching recitations of the same huge Differential Equations course at MIT this semester. Grace's classes recently challenged my special gentleman friend's classes to a game of Capture the Flag. Tonight's the night -- the big match-up starts at 9pm. I have been recruited to play (on the side of my special gentleman, of course). We are playing across most of the MIT campus -- hopefully plenty of students will show up to play!

I haven't played Capture the Flag since college, when we would occasionally play with our dorms on the Stanford campus. I remember it as being quite fun, although I had an unfortunate run-in with a raccoon in the dark, which left me scared of raccoons in the years to come. I had chased some opponents off of our side, into a wooded area. I was looking around to make sure they had gone when I heard a rustling right near my head. I turned, and there was a raccoon, perched on top of a garbage can, with it's little head and beady eyes no more than a foot from my face. It makes chills run up my spine just thinking about it. Luckily the MIT campus in not infested with raccoons the way the Stanford Campus is, so I think I will be safe from such trauma tonight!

Wish our team luck!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Strawberry Jam (Page 923)

  • Date: Thursday, May 8, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

I was in a bad mood on Thursday, and decided that trying my hand at a new project would improve my demeanor. So I learned to can! Perhaps I am overly-enthusiastic about this jam because it was my very first canning experience, and I am so delighted with myself for having produced something edible and vacuum-sealed. However, I think it really is the case that this jam is delicious! The grocery-store strawberries were looking mutantly enormous and unflavorful, so I opted to make this instead with frozen organic strawberries (an acceptable substitute for fresh ones in this recipe, according to The Book). The jam came out a very nice consistency, with a lovely strawberry flavor. The amount of sugar was just perfect -- it brought out the sweetness of the berries without making the jam overly sweet. Yum! I followed the canning procedures in The Book exactly, and 3 out of my 4 jars sealed perfectly. The seal was a little loose on one of them, so I just threw that jar in the fridge for myself. I sent a couple jars to my mom for Mother's Day, but I haven't heard how she likes it yet. Matty and I both gave this jam two thumbs up though. Delicious!

Here is the recipe.

Tartar Sauce (Page 885)

  • Date: Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike, Matt, Ricky, Ana, Craig, Grace, Alex, Gunther, Angelica, Jenny, Vero, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This was one of the many mayonnaise-based sauces that were part of the mayonnaise tasting I held on Saturday night (see below). I thought this tartar sauce was quite good. A number of people pointed out that it didn't taste so much like a typical tartar sauce. But it had a good flavor to it. It was a bit fussy to make, as there was a huge long list of ingredients, each added in about one tablespoon quantity, finely chopped. But the flavors did meld well, producing a sauce with a nice relishy, herby taste to it, that certainly would have complemented seafood well, as tartar sauce ought to. We ate this on onion rings and vegetables, and it also worked well for that purpose.

This recipe isn't online.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Halibut with Grapefruit Beurre Blanc (Page 310)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


Years ago, when we were kids, my brother challenged me to come up with a non-liquid food item (a single ingredient) that couldn't be made better with butter. After much thought I came up with two suggestions. One, watermelon, and two, grapefruit. So I was surprised, to say the least, when I saw that this fish had a grapefruit beurre blanc with it (i.e. a grapefruit and butter sauce). We aren't talking about a small amount of grapefruit, or a small amount of butter either. The major ingredients in this sauce were a half a cup of grapefruit juice, a half a cup of grapefruit segments, and a stick and a quarter of butter. Doesn't sound great, does it? Indeed it was odd, but you know, it wasn't bad. It had the texture of a perfect beurre blanc, and it complemented the fish nicely. The richness of the butter was a little weird with the citrus of the grapefruit, but it grew on me. I would have been totally on board if the dish had just been the halibut steak with the grapefruit beurre blanc, but there was another component. The fish was sitting on a bed of shitake mushrooms, Belgian endive, and whole grapefruit segments. The mushrooms and endive were pretty tasty, but did they go with the grapefruit? Well, no. The combination tasted about like it sounds: odd. I should mention though that the fish was delicious. Halibut steak is very tasty and this was an excellent method of preparation. I had to cook it longer than indicated to get it cooked through, but my halibut steak was bigger than those suggested. It came out flaky and delicious with a yummy browned crust. Overall, this dish was unusual, but not bad. I think it would be improved my merely leaving the big grapefruit segments out of the vegetable mixture, or possibly even leaving off the vegetable mixture entirely.

Here is the recipe.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Swedish Rye Bread (Page 609)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


The Book claims that this bread is a staple in Wisconsin, so I figured I should make it, given my Wisconsin roots. It must be a staple in a different part of the state than where I grew up, however, because despite the 16 years I lived in Wisconsin, I have never had a bread quite like this one. This rye bread was studded not just with the usual caraway seeds, but also with anise seeds and orange zest. A touch of molasses gave it some sweetness and a combination of rye and all-purpose flours gave it an unmistakable rye flavor. The flavor of this bread was ok, but the texture left something to be desired. For whatever reason the dough just wouldn't rise as it should have. I proofed my yeast and they seemed fine, but the first rise was really slow. Finally I resorted to putting the bowl of bread dough in the bathroom and taking a hot shower to fill the room with steam. That helped and eventually the dough doubled in volume. The second rise was even slower, and the still-steamy bathroom wasn't enough. I gave it a lot of time, and eventually gave in and put the loaves in the oven. One usually expects a nice oven-rise from bread, but that didn't happen either. So the loaves I ended up with were smaller than they should have been (The Book says this makes 2 8-inch loaves. I ended up with 2 6 or 6.5-inch loaves.), and consequently too dense. Rye bread can get away with being a little on the heavy side, but this was just too much. It was terribly dense, to the point of being unappealing. I like pretty much all homemade bread items, but I was not a fan of this one.

This recipe isn't online.

I am having some trouble getting back into the swing of things since my grandmother's death. I am back in Boston now. When we left Wisconsin Matty and I drove straight through for 20 hours to get back to Boston. We left Wisconsin in the evening, which meant that we drove straight through the night. I had never done that before, and expected it to be miserable. In fact, it wasn't so bad. Perhaps I was too emotionally and physically exhausted at that point to get antsy being in the car so long, but I felt very comfortable for most of the 20 hour drive. Matty drove the miserable 10pm to 4am shift and I tried to get some sleep. Despite being tired from a weekend spent in the ICU, I just couldn't stay asleep for more than a few minutes. So at 4am when it was my turn to drive, I was pretty tired. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so I stopped and got myself a Big Gulp of Diet Coke. After nearly three years without caffeine, a little goes a long way. After drinking that thing I was pretty awake for the remainder of the trip. Now I am back in Boston, sleeping off the sleep debt I accumulated and trying to get back into the rhythm of working, cooking, and exercising.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Spicy Cranberry Relish (Page 903)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I am trying to make some headway on the "Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves" section of The Book, and this seemed like a good one to try. I wasn't terribly excited about this dish, although Matty thought it was excellent. My main complaint was that the flavor of the red onion overwhelmingly dominated the dish. There were only a few ingredients: lime juice and zest, cranberries, red onion, sugar, and serrano chile. The raw onion was so strong though that if I had tasted this with my eyes closed I'm not sure I would have been able to pick out anything other than the onion and the sugar. Even the spiciness of the serrano chile didn't come through. Matty didn't dispute that this was true, he just maintained that it still tasted good. As a side dish, this wasn't a winner. But it has potential to be good on a sandwich. Tomorrow I am going to give it a try on some turkey sandwiches and see if indeed that is a more appropriate use for this dish.

Here is the recipe.

It has been an emotional and exhausting few days. My grandma, always a fighter, held on through the weekend. She passed away on Monday afternoon. It was obviously a difficult weekend, but in some ways it was also quite beautiful. From the time my grandma went into a coma on Saturday morning until she passed away Monday afternoon, there wasn't a single minute when she was alone in her room in the ICU. Someone from my family was constantly with her, and more often or not there were five or ten of us (or more!) in the room. My mother's family is big, and close, and joyful. Everyone pulled together in a really amazing and inspiring way. On Saturday night I stayed up with my grandma through the night, sitting at her bedside, and just keeping her company. Everyone else was sleeping, or had gone home, and I got some very precious time alone with her. Even the ICU was quiet at 4am, and the only sound breaking the stillness was that of my grandma's labored breathing. I felt very close to her in that moment, even though she was deep asleep in a coma.

I managed to hold myself together pretty well until I left for Boston. I felt at peace with the passing of my grandma, but saying goodbye to my grandpa was really hard. He and my grandma recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. 60 years! I can't even imagine how difficult it must be to go on after losing someone that you have been with so long...

As I said, it has been an emotional few days.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Snowballs (Page 675)

  • Date: Thursday, May 1, 2008 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I put off making these cookies for a while because I couldn't find unsweetened flaked coconut. Finally I located some though, so I threw together these cookies before I left Bloomington for the summer. They were pretty good. They tasted like the typical yummy coconut snowballs that I love, with the slight twist that they had a nugget of chocolate in the middle. They were quick and easy to make and came out very pretty. I thought they had a very slightly strange flavor to them, but I couldn't identify what it was. I still enjoyed them quite a bit though. Matty described them as, "heavenly." Brad and Deniz also seemed to enjoy them -- we ate more of them than we probably should have last night. These cookies are a simple, yummy treat for a coconut lover.

Here is the recipe.

Matty and I were in Chicago this morning, making a little pit stop at the Midwest Topology Conference on our drive to Boston. We didn't make it to the conference though -- my mom called early in the morning to tell me that my grandmother had a bleed in her brain and had gone into a coma.

So we are in Wisconsin now, in my grandmother's room in the ICU. I have a big extended family, and almost everyone is here. She is hanging on -- her vitals are stable, but she isn't expected to come out of the coma. The doctor expected her to pass this morning, but now it seems like she might make it until tonight. I feel fortunate that I am able to be here, surrounded by family during this time. No one expected this to happen right now, but it may be for the best... her mental and physical health has been declining for the last couple years.

Probably there will be no posts from me for a couple days... I can't imagine I will be doing a lot of cooking.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Chocolate Anise Bark (Page 695)

  • Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B

I wanted to make some sort of birthday treat for my special gentleman, who is flying in tonight, but I didn't want to make him a big cake since we are leaving for Boston tomorrow. So I made him some chocolate anise bark instead. I didn't like this bark too much, but I am a little biased. When I was growing up, I had three food intolerances: popcorn (oh, the horror -- thankfully I grew out of that one), cream (also not so much a problem now), and licorice. Now, my only licorice experience to speak of was with Twizzlers, which I swear to you made me violently ill. I couldn't tell you whether or not I have outgrown that particular intolerance because frankly I just haven't tested it in a while. I know, I know, you would not be the first person to tell me that Twizzlers are made of flour and sugar (more precisely: Corn Syrup , Flour , Sugar , Cornstarch , Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Artificial Flavorings, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Artificial Coloring). What's to be allergic to? The first time I mentioned this particular intolerance to Emilee she laughed so hard she almost cried. Yes, it's ridiculous. But it's true! You can ask my mom.

Anyway, as a result of my licorice intolerance, I have a taste aversion to anything licoricey. And nothing is more licorice-flavored than anise (except, perhaps, licorice itself!). So although I understand that anise is a good and interesting flavor that I am supposed to like, it makes my stomach turn.

So did I like this Chocolate Anise Bark? Well, no. But I do believe that it is pretty good. Stomach-churning aside, it's a decent idea. It was so easy to make that it is almost silly to call this a recipe. Melt chocolate, stir in ground up anise seed, cashews, dried apricots, and dried cherries. Spread out, refrigerate, then break in pieces. It was easy. In my opinion it would have been a better recipe had they included tempering the chocolate. Then this bark could be kept at room temperature rather than in the fridge, and would have a much nicer snap to it. Overall, though, this was easy to make, and if you like that licorice flavor you are bound to like this.

Here is the recipe.

If anyone out there has any insight into my mysterious Twizzlers intolerance, I would love to hear it! If you want to ridicule me about how ridiculous it is, then not so much.

One totally unrelated note: I went with Kate and Prudence last night to see Barack Obama, and I like him so much! I had never been to a political rally before and this one was huge (it almost filled the IU basketball arena). The energy in there was wonderful and he really impressed me! Yay Obama!

Seeded Breadsticks (Page 605)

  • Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I bought the ingredients to make these a couple weeks ago and never did, so I figured I should get on that before I leave for the summer! These breadsticks were quite tasty. I am a sucker for homemade yeast breads and it's hard to go too wrong with breadsticks. When these were fresh out of the oven I stood over the baking sheet and ate more of them that I would care to admit! I would eat one, and then think, "OK, just one more." It went on like that for a bit. They were so tasty though! The outside was a little crunchy, and the interior was soft and chewy. The combination of white and whole wheat flours gave them a good whole grain flavor without compromising the texture. The Book lists a whole bunch of options for types of seeds to top them with. I have too many sesame seeds in my apartment (and sesame seeds go rancid pretty quickly) so I used this opportunity to use up some of those. I also sprinkled generously with kosher salt. Yum! The only negative comment I can make about these is that were perhaps a touch dry. But I loved them, and would happily serve them to anyone.

Here is the recipe.

I couldn't blog yesterday, so I didn't get a chance to make a little shout-out to my special gentleman, whose birthday was yesterday. Happy Birthday to him! I could go on and on about all the things I love about my special gentleman, how much he contributes to my life, etc... but that would probably embarrass him, and would be so sappy that you readers would be rolling your eyes anyway. So I'll skip that. But I do want to say one thing: this project would not be the same without my special gentleman. He is a constant source of enthusiasm for my cooking and this project (for example, read the lovely things he said about my project in the comments here). He doesn't get the same joy out of cooking that I do, but he loves to eat. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but I think he loves eating even more than I do. He has a strong palate, and a curiosity and reverence for food which is wonderful to see. A couple friends and I made dinner a few weeks back and after eating with my special gentleman, one of my friends turned to me and said, "No wonder you cook so much. If I had a partner who reacted like that to my cooking, I would cook every day too!" It's true. His enthusiasm is motivating.

Beyond that, he is one of the most flexible and accommodating people I have ever known. When I told him that I needed to make seafood for every meal this coming summer before he moved to the Midwest (far, far, from the sea), he said, without hesitation, "OK." Now that's flexible.

I'll stop gushing now. Happy Birthday to my special gentleman!!!