Monday, June 30, 2008

Okra with Tomatoes and Ginger (Page 551)

RECIPE #765

  • Thursday, June 12, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Matty and I are all about having a vegetable dish with dinner, and this okra seemed like a nice accompaniment to a meal we had a few weeks ago. This recipe was just ok. I have two complaints. One, the okra was slimy. The Book promised me that this okra would be free of oozing, but it wasn't true. There was oozy sliminess in abundance. Complaint number two is that the sauce was bland. There wasn't a lot of flavor to this quick tomato sauce. Okra is good with a really hearty sauce (think: curry), but this sauce was just too light and flavorless for it. The net result was that the dish was boring, and not terribly delicious. If you are an okra fan you will likely find this unobjectionable enough, but this recipe certainly isn't going to make any okra converts.

Here is the recipe.

With my jetlag more or less behind me I am settling back into life in Boston. Today I went to the office, got some work done, went for a run, and made dinner. (Can I just say how satisfying it was to have delicious food at home after eating bad food in restaurants in Germany for a week!)

One thing that this trip to Europe made me realize is how much of running is psychological. In Boston, I always run alone. Granted, Matty is usually there somewhere, but since he runs much, much faster than me, I only see him in passing as we both run around the same body of water. On this trip to Europe I tried (with partial success) to stay on my running schedule. Since there were a lot of people around I was able to recruit some company for some of my runs. I ended up running several times with Jacob and once with Vigleik. It was shocking to me how fast four miles seemed to fly by when running with a friend. Vigleik and I ran five and a half miles together, and I won't claim it was totally painless, but it was manageable. Today, though, running alone again, I struggled through four miles. I never would have guessed that my running would be so affected by something so simple as having some company. It makes me think that maybe I should try to recruit a friend to run my half marathon with me! Any takers? It's on November 1st, in Indianapolis. My goal is to run 10 minute miles, which is pretty slow, but I'm ok with that. If you're interested, let me know!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Baked Mussels with Parsley Garlic Butter (Page 333)

RECIPE #764

  • Tuesday, June 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Mike
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I hesitantly admit that before making this dish a couple weeks ago, I had never in my life eaten a mussel. In my own defense, I grew up in Wisconsin, where if people were eating mussels, I don't remember it! I didn't become much of a culinary adventurer until late college/early graduate school (and for a Midwestern girl, mussels count as an adventure). I got around to trying an oyster before I ever made it to a mussel, and after my first oyster I ended up a bit short of breath. Likely it was completely unrelated to the oyster -- I was in a foreign country, eating lots of crazy things, so this experiment was entirely uncontrolled. Regardless, I was mildly concerned that I was harboring an allergy to mollusks that I hadn't discovered yet. Shortly after, in culinary school, I watched one of my classmates nearly die from a lobster allergy she didn't know she had. It was a traumatizing experience, and at that point I became a little paranoid. So, fast forward about 5 years, and I still had never had a mussel. Frankly, this bothered me not-at-all and chances are I would have lived a whole mussel-free life if this project hadn't gotten in my way. But there are mussels in The Book, so I had no choice but to make them!

I figured it was best to be surrounded by several competent friends for this experiment, so I reminded Matty where the nearest hospital is (practically around the corner), and then also invited Mike over for dinner. I was fully prepared for any anaphylactic shock that might come my way. I carefully prepared these mussels (the recipe for which is super simple) and then the three of us sat down at the dining room table. With Mike on one side of me and Matty on the other, I started by dipping a little bread in the mussel liquid. I ate that. I waited. Nothing happened. So I carefully took the tiniest bite of a mussel. From that I learned that mussels should be eaten in one bite. Nothing will make you want to eat a mussel less than taking a little bite and looking inside of it. Gross. Just gross. So I started with a new mussel, and ate it in one bite. And what happened??? Nothing. I was totally fine. I had a mild panic attack from paranoia, but I was completely ok. The mussel experiment was a success.

And you know what else? Mussels are delicious! This recipe was extremely simple: the mussels were put in a baking pan and covered with a mixture of parsley, garlic, and butter. Then the whole thing was covered tightly with aluminum foil and baked to perfection. The mussels came out flavorful, buttery, and delicious! I'm told by Matty that mussel recipes can get even better than this one, but I found this recipe very satisfying! Now that I no longer have any reason to avoid them, I am actually looking forward to the remaining mussel recipes in The Book!

Here is the recipe.

Spicy Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic (Page 525)

RECIPE #763

  • Date: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Mike
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I gave Mike a choice of several not-very-delicious sounding vegetable dishes to have when he came over for dinner a few weeks ago. He chose this one. I am biased against bitter green vegetables (although working diligently to overcome that bias), so I wasn't terribly excited about this dish. Mike and Matt do not suffer from the same bias, but yet we all agreed about this recipe -- it was just ok. We had all been looking forward to something spicy and garlicky, but in fact it was a bit bland. There was a tiny kick to it, but broccoli rabe has a robust enough flavor that it could have supported more spiciness. I noticed only after making this that The Book suggests that broccoli could be substituted for the broccoli rabe. I have no doubt that would be better -- for one thing, the milder flavor of the broccoli would allow the spicy, garlicky flavors to come through more clearly. There was nothing offensive at all about this dish, but it also wasn't very exciting. I didn't mind eating it, but I won't be making this one again.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book calls for broccoli rabe rather than broccolini.

The fact that I am awake on this fine morning at 4am means one thing: Jetlag. It's my own fault that I woke up so early -- after making it back to Boston last night I went to bed at 8pm. I tried to stay up as late as I could, but I was just so exhausted. My special gentleman is out of town, so I came home to an empty apartment and the most appealing thing to do by a long shot was sleep. It's actually nice being awake at this early hour. Everything is very still outside, and unlike Denmark (where the sun started rising around 3am) in Boston 4am is still dark.

My trip home was pleasantly uneventful. My last night in Bonn I didn't go to bed until 5am (silly, silly me... but it's hard to not want to hang out with friends you won't see for a while), and I had to get up at 6:30am to catch a train to catch my flight. So I was tired. It was nice actually. Sleeping on cross-Atlantic flights is usually a complete impossibility for me, but with that kind of exhaustion in me, I got a couple hours of shut-eye. I arrived in Boston, still exhausted, only to find that they had decided to leave my luggage in Amsterdam (where our trip originated). It was especially odd because we had no connecting flight and we checked in 3 hours before our flight left. Mike and Jenny's bags each made it, but not mine! I didn't care so much -- it's much better to lose your bag on your way home than the other way around!

Europe was awesome, but it is great to be home! Maybe I will go back to bed...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Moroccan Chickpea Tomato Stew (Page 276)

RECIPE #762

  • Date: Monday, June 9, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location; Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

More than a year ago now I made the Moroccan Preserved Lemons from The Book. When I moved away I stored them in Matty's refrigerator where they have been sitting (READ: rotting) for months and months now. Matty is about ready to be rid of them, but there are several recipes in The Book that use them as an ingredient. This was one of them. So out of courtesy to my special gentleman I made this stew a couple weeks ago. We ate this cautiously, a little unsure if we were going to be poisoned by the aged lemons, but there seemed to be no serious negative consequences. This stew was fine -- if you imagined a typical Moroccan chickpea stew, this would likely be exactly what you would come up with. It had very typical seasoning. The addition of the preserved lemon peel did give it a little punch of flavor, but I still found it a bit dull. It certainly was not seasonally appropriate to a hot Boston summer evening -- I would recommend waiting until the chilly winter months to make this. If you love Moroccan stews you are likely to enjoy this recipe, but while Matty and I both found it inoffensive enough, I am unlikely to make it again.

Here is the recipe.

My European math adventure is winding down. The last afternoon of lectures is about to begin, and then tomorrow it is back to Boston! It has been a fun week in Bonn. In addition to four math lectures a day there has been a variety of fun, social activities. On Wednesday afternoon we took a two and a half hour boat ride up the Rhine to a small historic German town, where we had a banquet honoring Haynes (the mathematician whose 60th birthday this conference is honoring). It was really fun. Earlier in the week we made an outing to the zoo of Cologne, which was especially cool because we were there after hours and the zoo was closed. We got a private tour at dusk -- very nice. Aside from the math lectures, and the social activities, V and I also managed to get some work done on our joint project! Overall, it has been a great week! The food here -- not so great -- but other than that, I have no complaints. Plus, beer is cheap and plentiful, so it is easy to ignore the sketchy food!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pfeffernusse (Page 670)

RECIPE #761

  • Date: Sunday, June 8, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty and Mike
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I put off all the anise-scented cookies until now because I have a generally bad attitude about anise. But I am running low on cookie options, so I have started to bust out the batches of anisey cookies. Despite my skepticism, these cookies were quite good. Labor intensive? Yes. Delicious? Also yes. The cookies had many stages -- the dough was made then had to chill. Then the cookies were formed and baked. Then they got cooled, then dipped in a sugar syrup. Then they were dried, then rolled in powdered sugar. My special gentleman kept eating cookies after each stage, so by the time we got to the end there were many fewer than I started with. But they were good! They had a nice chewy texture, and a good spiciness to them. I would have preferred them sans anise, but it wasn't as offensive as it might have been. The sugar syrup coating and powdered sugar roll provided a bit of sweetness to these otherwise not-so-sweet cookies. Overall, these were tasty. The recipe made a ton of little cookies, but they had all disappeared after a day or two!

This recipe isn't online.

I made it to Bonn for week two of my European mathematics adventure. The trip from Copenhagen to Bonn was one of the strangest travel experiences of my life. We had a very tight schedule. We were supposed to fly out at 9:30pm, arriving in Dusseldorf at 11pm to catch a midnight train to Bonn. This whole adventure would land us at our hotel around 1:30am, just in time to catch a little sleep before a 9:30am talk. BUT, our flight was delayed and didn't leave until 11:30pm. Our only train option was to take a 3am train from Dusseldorf, arriving in Bonn at 5:30am. That would suck. We had resigned ourselves to this fate, and got on the airplane. About halfway through the flight the pilot gets on the intercom and starts talking in German. Clueless, we wait for the translation, but he is going on and on and on. Finally, he repeats in English. Turns out the Dusseldorf airport denied our plane the right to land (why is still unclear to me) so they had to divert us... to Bonn. Half the plane started cheering (there were a lot of mathematicians on the plane). It was definitely the most fortuitous airline mix-up I have ever been a part of. We landed in Bonn, took a cab, and were at the hotel before 2am! Whoo hoo!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Panfried Tofu with Chinese Black Bean Sauce (Page 280)

RECIPE #760

  • Date: Sunday, June 8, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Mmmm... tofu. I LOVE tofu! Everyone always thinks I am a vegetarian because I order tofu dishes at restaurants whenever possible. Why is it not acceptable to love both beef and tofu?!? The only reason I hadn't made this dish sooner is because I didn't have any fermented black beans around. But I bought some a couple weeks ago to make a fish dish, and that brought this recipe into the realm of possibility. It was very tasty (and very simple)! The tofu was panfried until it was nice and crispy on the exterior. It was served with white rice and broccoli and the whole thing got doused with black bean sauce. The flavor of the sauce was excellent. When working with tofu, sauces are especially important, since tofu doesn't have such a pronounced flavor itself. This sauce was great with the tofu, and also over the accompaniments. My only complaint is that the texture of the sauce was too thin. It didn't have any cling to it. So instead of coating the tofu, it ran off of the tofu blocks. The addition of more cornstarch would have easily solved this problem. A better consistency for the sauce would have made this dish perfect.

The recipe is here.

Just when I started to get oriented in Copenhagen, it is now time to head to Germany. I am trying to gear up for this next week of conference. This past week there were 120 or so participants in the workshop, and that already felt huge. In Germany there will be an additional 130 people, making it an absolutely enormous conference! Whoo-hoo!

All week we have been going everywhere in big packs. A lot of the young topologists know each other well, and enjoy spending time together. But no matter how much you like people, it gets frustrating after a while to try to go to dinner in a group of 15 people every day. By the end of the week I found myself trying to splinter off a bit more, going to meals with 5 or 6 people instead of half an army. I even started making the half an hour walk to the university in the morning ALONE. Shocking, I know. It helps my mental state tremendously to have a little bit of alone time each day, and at conferences that can be hard to come by! Don't get me wrong -- hanging out with the whole crew is great, great fun, but there is also tremendous value in some quieter interaction. Last night I had a quiet evening, wandering the streets of Copenhagen with a friend until the wee hours of the morning, having a lovely chat. It was a nice way to end a fun week in Denmark.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tangy Apricot Jam (Page 917)

RECIPE #759

  • Date: Saturday, June 7, 2008 -- 10am
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Terry and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I was looking for something to make for a Father's Day gift, so I headed to the produce market with a list of everything I had left to can in The Book. Of the various options, the apricots looked the best, so this was the official Father's Day selection. This jam was pretty good. It had a nice apricot flavor, and approximately the right amount of sweetness (it was maybe just a touch too sweet -- but only a tiny bit). The "tangy" in the title refers to the addition of a large quantity of lemon juice. It did give the jam a nice zing, and counterbalanced the sweetness well. There was also a touch of almond extract added, which was very subtle, but provided a nice background note to the flavor of the jam. My only complaint about this jam was that it had a very slightly grainy texture to it. I had the same issue with the nectarine jam. I don't know so much about canning, or pectin, so I am not sure what causes that. I can only assume it has something to do with the powdered pectin since my strawberry jam (which had no added pectin) didn't suffer from the same issue. Aside from that one issue, this jam was pretty tasty.

This recipe isn't online.

The Copenhagen workshop ended yesterday afternoon and now we have a weekend to enjoy the city of Copenhagen before the conference portion of the trip starts up in Germany on Monday. Today we started the day with a beautiful boat ride. Copenhagen has wonderful canals and it was great fun to see the city from a boat. After the boat ride, and a picnic lunch, we did a bit of sightseeing. We wandered through the King's Garden, and went to the botanical garden, which was very cool. We ended our afternoon by sitting on a curb, drinking beer and eating ice cream -- it's hard to complain about that! After many, many hours of walking around, I struggled through my run, and now I am relaxing before we head off for dinner!

Overall, it has been a lovely week in Denmark. The workshop was very productive -- I learned a lot this week, and met some great new people. It was only made better by the fact that Copenhagen is a great city! I have one more day to enjoy it, and then tomorrow night it is off to Bonn!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Roasted Monkfish with Chanterelles, Leeks, and Ginger (Page 310)

RECIPE #758

  • Date: Friday, June 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe was part of the all-seafood-all-the-time plan for the summer. It is 8:48am right now, and yet I am looking at this picture thinking "Mmm... I could go for some of that." It was indeed quite good. Monkfish is a cheap, ugly fish, but prepared just right it can be delicious! This monkfish was absolutely perfectly cooked. It had a meatiness characteristic of monkfish, but still had a bit of a flake to it. The fish was tasty, but the vegetables were really what made the dish for me! The potatoes were perfectly tender, and their flavor melded wonderfully with those of the mushrooms, leeks, and sauce. I used shiitakes rather than chanterelles -- a substitution I would normally never make, but I already had the fish in hand by the time I realized there were no chanterelles. The shiitakes worked just fine though. This dish was simple to throw together and was a whole meal in itself. If you are looking for a monkfish recipe, I would definitely recommend giving this one a try.

The recipe is here.

European math adventure -- Day 4: I am continuing to have a good time in Denmark. The math schedule is pretty crazy, so by the time the math stuff ends for the day and I go for a run I only have time to eat dinner and go to bed. Luckily I will be in Copenhagen through the weekend (when there won't be any math lectures) so I will get a chance to see a few sights.

Today I am pretty exhausted -- I didn't sleep so well last night. Despite being extremely tired, I just couldn't sleep. The hotel we are staying in is pretty special. The rooms are modeled after ship cabins I am told, so they are extremely small, with very narrow beds which are bunked. The room is about 6 -8 feet wide. Whatever you are visualizing, our room is smaller than that. Mike and I are sharing the room (as usual -- we have been conference roommates for years now), and I don't require too much personal space, so the tight quarters don't particularly bother me. The one aspect of it that I don't like though is the bathroom. Not surprisingly, it is also extremely tiny. In order to save space, the shower is actually the whole bathroom. If you haven't been in this type of bathroom before, it's a little hard to imagine, but here's the picture: take a very tiny bathroom (a toilet and a tiny sink), and now put a showerhead on the ceiling and a drain in the middle of the floor. Now you have it. Obviously it takes some care to not get everything in the bathroom wet (e.g. the toilet paper, and your towel) when you shower. Even if you succeed in keeping the things dry that are meant to be dry, the floor of the whole bathroom is necessarily covered with water. I know it's just shower water, but nonetheless, the flooded bathroom floor seems gross to me. In this particular bathroom, there is another challenge -- the shower and the sink are on the same control, but there is a separate dial which has two settings to determine where the water comes out. After Mike showered a couple nights ago, he forget to switch the setting back to the sink, and I forgot to check it before I turned on the sink. So I went to wash my hands, and I got a little shower instead, fully clothed. Ah, good times... I have high hopes for out hotel in Germany next week -- namely, I hope for a real shower! I will keep you posted...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Salsa Verde (Page 890)

RECIPE #757

  • Date: Friday, June 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
I was looking for a quick sauce that could be served with veggies, and this one fit the bill. This salsa verde claimed it would jazz up my steamed veggies, but it didn't have quite as much jazz to it as I had hoped. The recipe was largely parsley-based, and I like parsley just fine, but in huge quantities I find it to be not so appealing. The capers, shallots, and anchovy paste gave the salsa a nice flavor though. It had a bit of a briny kick to it, which I appreciated. I served it with some asparagus (as you can see!) but I think it would have better served a piece of meat. Overall, I had no serious complaints about this salsa but I wasn't terribly excited about it either. In an otherwise excellent meal this was the one dish that was just ok.

This sauce is the salsa verde part of this recipe.

I just took a shower and am now curled up in bed at the end of day two of the workshop in Denmark. I am exhausted! Walking home from dinner tonight, someone said, "I can't believe we have only been here two days!" It is difficult to believe. The days have been jam-packed with math (talks, study sessions, problem sessions...). Today I tried to meet some new people. There are about 110 participants at the workshop, and of those I probably know 20-30 of them pretty well and another 20 or so casually. But that leaves a lot of people that I haven't met! It is tempting to just hang out and work with the people you know, but that misses one of the big points of these conferences. Yes, you go to them to learn from the talks, but you also go to meet new people, hear what the are working on, and get to know your colleagues. So today I made a point of meeting some new people. I did pretty well. I spent some time talking to at least five or six people that I had never talked to before.

I am always a little wary of introducing myself to new people because occasionally I accidentally introduce myself to someone I have met several times before. Whoops! It's a little bit unfair -- these things are pretty gender imbalanced (for instance, of the 110 participants in this workshop I would estimate that there are 10-15 women), so I think the men tend to remember the few women present, whereas I couldn't possibly remember every man at every conference. Nonetheless, it is embarrassing to introduce yourself and have someone respond, "Yeah, we've met." In one spectacularly bad showing I introduced myself to someone I had not only already met, but someone whom I had spent a whole week hanging out with at a conference only a couple years earlier. I didn't recognize him, and I introduced myself. Whoops. That was a few years ago and he and I have since become friends, so I think all is forgiven! Anyway, I learned my lesson - now I always wait for people to ask me for my name first!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fava Bean, Asparagus, and Arugula Salad with Shaved Pecorino (Page 135)

  • Date: Friday, June 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

I saw some fava beans in the market a couple weeks ago, so I jumped at the chance to make this recipe. This salad was excellent. There was a lot of fussiness going on here: the fava beans had to be shelled, then blanched, then individually peeled. The artichokes were super thinly sliced, then the tips were blanched, etc... It was fussy enough that the whole time I was making it I was thinking, "This can't possibly be worth the fuss." But, I am happy to admit that I was wrong. It was delicious! The fava beans were perfect with the raw asparagus stems, and the peppery arugula was great with both of them. The salad was dressed very simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and that was just right. The shaved cheese was a rich, salty counterpoint to the simply prepared vegetables. Basically, it was great. On top of it all, it was nice looking. As far as salads go, this one was definitely a winner. Fava beans aren't easy to fine, and they are a pain in the ass to prepare, but it was worth it!

The recipe is here. The recipe online is the same as the one in The Book except that the one online also contains the following useful warning: "Be aware that fava beans can cause a potentially fatal food intolerance in some people of Mediterranean, African, and Pacific Rim descent." Good to know!

Hello from Denmark! Aside from having some serious jetlag, Copenhagen has been awesome so far. Mike, Jenny, and I had uneventful travels. The plane we took from Boston to Amsterdam was shockingly small for such a long flight. Usually on a trans-Atlantic flight each row is 2-4-2 seating, but this plane was 3-3. In fact, the plane we had for the one hour Amsterdam to Copenhagen flight was just as big as the one we took across the Atlantic. Very weird. One result is that it just felt like any other flight. Usually traveling to Europe has some weight to it -- it feels like an event -- but this time it didn't seem so momentous. We made it safely though, arriving last night just in time to grab some dinner and go to bed! Today we had many hours of workshop lectures and problem sessions. The talks so far have been great. This first week of my two-week European math adventure is aimed at the younger people (like myself!), and rather than having lots of disjoint talks it is composed of two lecturers giving mini-courses. Both lecturers are really good, and talking about interesting topics, so it seems guaranteed to be a great program all week!

So mathematically things are good, and from what I have seen so far Copenhagen is beautiful! I went running tonight along this series of lakes, and it was just gorgeous. The weather was cool (a welcome relief after running in hot, humid Boston weather), which made a 4 mile run just fly by. After my run I ate some good Thai food -- a perfect evening! Now, I am off to bed to try to sleep off some of this jetlag... I am hoping to be a little more awake tomorrow than I was today.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oven-Steamed Whole Snapper with Black Bean Sauce (Page 315)

RECIPE # 755

  • Date: Thursday, June 5, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This was another recipe from the all-seafood-all-the-time plan for the summer. This dish was excellent. The premise was very simple -- a whole fish covered with some vegetables and fermented black beans, and then oven-steamed in a 13 x 9 inch pan covered tightly with aluminum foil. Here's a picture of Mr. Fish, looking happy as a clam before he went into the oven:


After the fish came out of the oven the sauce was thickened with some cornstarch and poured over the fish. Delicious! The fish came out perfectly cooked and flavorful. The vegetables were also fantastic. The flavor of the black bean sauce complemented the carrots and mushrooms beautifully, and they were cooked to just the right tenderness. This was an excellent dish. I would have probably given it an A had the recipe not called for the fillets to be removed from the fish before serving. As I have commented before, filleting a fish after cooking it usually results in some not-so-pretty fillets. On the other hand, the whole fish was beautiful! So why not serve it that way? Look how delicious the whole fish looks, covered with all those tasty veggies. I can't imagine putting on the table any other way! Other than that very minor comment, this recipe was a winner! It was super fast, and served with some white rice it made for a whole meal. Yum!

Here is the recipe.

In just a few hours I am off to Europe! Mike, Jenny, and I are all traveling together (which is great -- it is so much more fun not to travel alone). Tonight we fly to Amsterdam and then Copenhagen, arriving tomorrow evening. Until then I am busy tying up loose ends around here. I am mostly packed, and I just got back from my weekend long run (I figured I was better off doing it today than trying to do it tomorrow, totally jet-lagged). I have one partially-completed recipe from The Book to finish making and then I will be ready to go!

I have to admit, although I am excited about this conference, I am not so much excited about the traveling itself. I find flying to Europe to be very stressful. For one thing, I don't like to fly. I especially don't like to fly over the ocean, or at night. So a long, overnight flight over the sea is not-so-good for me. Add to that a bunch of minor issues (e.g. I can never figure out the best time to take my tumor meds. At home I take them at night, and go right to sleep so I can sleep through the part where I feel sick. But I can't sleep on the plane, and feeling sick on the plane only makes my anxiety worse... So that's a problem.)

In other words, despite traveling so much, I am not such a great traveler... poor Mike and Jenny! A friend commented the other day that if I have a 60th birthday conference someday, everyone will get up at the banquet and tell their horror stories about traveling with me! That made me laugh. I'm not that bad, am I?!?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dandelion Salad with Warm Pecan Vinaigrette (Page 137)

RECIPE #754

  • Date: Thursday, June 5, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I saw dandelion at the store last week so I jumped at the chance to make this recipe! This recipe was very simple -- dandelion greens tossed with a warm vinaigrette with garlic and pecans. Dandelions are a fairly pungent green, and this dressing was the perfect thing to mellow them out a bit. The garlic brought a nice flavor to the salad, and the pecans contributed a bit of richness. Dandelions aren't a particularly popular green, probably because of their bitter flavor and their fibrous texture. In this recipe though the warm dressing helped soften the texture just a touch, and mellowed out some of the bitterness, making this a nice salad.

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one, but the one in The Book uses pecans rather than hazelnuts.

My special gentleman and I ran out of cookies yesterday so tonight I made some new cookies from The Book. I was thinking a lot today about how much of who we are, and what seems normal to us, is based upon the people we spend time with. For instance, I almost always have homemade cookies laying around. I'm sure to most people that seems odd -- or even confusingly very 1950's homemaker of me. But to me it seems like an obvious thing to do. This, I am sure, comes from my mother. There are pretty much always homemade cookies somewhere in my mom's kitchen. If there isn't a fresh batch on the counter, there will be some stored away in the freezer. (Unless, of course, my brother visits. He has always been a fan of frozen cookies. He eats them straight out of the freezer and before anyone notices, the cookie stash is gone!) My mother is an excellent baker. In fact, growing up with her cookies around has forever ruined store-bought cookies, or even bakery cookies, for me. No one's oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip cookies can rival my mom's!

My cooking style is quite different than my mom's. She has her beloved recipes that she cooks with often, and I (obviously) am constantly making new things. But even though I don't think she would ever call herself a foodie or a serious cook, a lot of my ideas about food and eating come from her. So when I run out of cookies, I make more! And that, to me, seems totally natural...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Raspberry Semifreddo Torte (Page 865)

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Angelica, Matty, Jenny, and Kenny
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I don't have too many quick desserts left, but it turns out I have a few in the Frozen Desserts and Sweet Sauces section of The Book. So, I chose this dessert to go with dinner a couple weekends ago.

I subscribe to Netflix, and I absolutely love their service, but they have one quirky thing about them. When a movie comes in the mail, it comes in a little sleeve, which has a synopsis of the movie on it. Sometimes said synopsis is just fine, but pretty frequently it is written by someone who has clearly never seen the movie! The names of the characters are right, but their relationships are off, and the things that it claims will happen never do. It doesn't bother me -- in fact it is a great source of entertainment to watch the movie, and then read what Netflix thought happened during the movie! Why do I bring this up? Well, this recipe in The Book had a case of the Netflixes.

Each Book recipe has before it a little blurb about the recipe, and also how much "Active Time" and "Start to Finish" time the recipe is meant to take. Let me excerpt from the blurb for this recipe: "The raspberries, folded into the custard, freeze into little nuggets of pure flavor." Well, ok... but look at the picture above. Do you see any frozen nuggets of pure flavor? Nope. You know why? All the raspberries in this recipe get pushed through a fine mesh sieve, and the solids discarded, to form a raspberry puree, which is then folded into the custard. So what did the person eat who wrote that blurb? I dunno, but not this! That same person must have also decided on the active time for this recipe. It claims to be 15 minutes. I was skeptical. Does that look like it took only 15 minutes? In fact the recipe calls for various things to be beaten with a handheld electric mixer for more than 15 minutes. So apparently I was supposed to prep all the ingredients, make the crust, puree the raspberries, and assemble the dessert all in negative 2 minutes. I'm good, but I'm not that good!

Ok, so the blurb was nutty and the timing was off, but how did it taste? It tasted great! The frozen raspberry custard was divine! It was light, creamy, full of flavor, and simply delicious! The crust was also good, but it was too dry which caused it to be insanely crumbly. Usually this type of cookie crumb crust is very standard: ground up cookies, butter, sometimes sugar and sometimes ground nuts. This one was odd in that it had no added butter. It was made with shortbread cookies, which are essentially all butter, but apparently that wasn't enough. A bit of butter would have held it together better, avoiding the dry, crumbly problem. With that adjustment this recipe would be perfect! As it is, the crust was disappointing. The filling though -- yum!!!!

The recipe is here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Watermelon Gazpacho (Page 89)

RECIPE #752

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Jenny and Kenny
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ana, and Angelica
  • Recipe Rating: B

Ok, let's play a game. I will tell you that the above soup has 9 ingredients, 3 of which are ice, salt, and pepper, and you try to guess the remaining 6. You have a few clues of course: the name of the recipe, and the picture! But somehow I am not worried that it will be too easy. Here's the grading scale based on the number of remaining ingredients guessed correctly:
0 -- disappointing
1 -- literate
2 -- pretty impressive
3 -- not bad at all
4 -- extremely impressive
5 -- suspicious
6 -- cheater! (or perhaps you have made it before...)
Ok, make your guesses before I give you the answers...

(insert Jeopardy song here)

Ready? Here goes!

Watermelon
Almonds
Garlic
White Sandwich Bread
Red Wine Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

How did you do? Probably not so well, because this list of ingredients is crazy!?! Who would have thought to make a soup with watermelon, 8 slices of bread, almonds, garlic, and vinegar? Apparently someone did, and here it is. But the real question is, how was it? You know what, it wasn't bad! It had a good (although unidentifiable) flavor to it. A couple people thought it was too vinegary. That didn't bother me so much. I found the texture a little off-putting. Even after extensive blending it was very slightly grainy, presumably from the almonds. But it was a refreshing chilled soup, and not at all repulsive. Everything was pureed except a a few watermelon chunks, and I appreciated the nice contrast the tiny chucks provided in the soup. I doubt I would make this recipe again, but it is worth making once just to see that list of ingredients come together into something pretty good!

Here is the recipe.

You will never guess what I did this morning! (Ok, ok, enough with the guessing...) Many of you know that there are two other people out there attempting this same crazy project that I am, Kevin and Melissa. Well it turns out that Melissa lives in nearby Rockport, Massachusetts, so she made the excellent suggestion that she and I get together and chat! So we met up for a cup of coffee today. I arrived at Panera before her, and thought, "I wonder if I will recognize her from the picture on her blog..." I was contemplating that, when in walks someone carrying The Book! That made her very easy to spot! It was such fun to talk to someone who has put a lot of time and heart into the same endeavor that I have! We flipped through a copy of The Book, discussing which recipes we liked, didn't like, had problems with, etc... That probably sounds totally boring to all of you, but it was really fun! It was so great to meet her and I am hoping that she and I have the occasion to do some cooking from The Book together! Here's a picture of us this morning, with, of course, The Book!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Roasted Striped Bass with Chive and Sour Cream Sauce (Page 305)

RECIPE #751

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Angelica, Ana, Jenny, and Kenny
  • Recipe Rating: B-


This recipe was another one in the all-fish-all-the-time plan for the summer. (I have been doing a bit better with my plan lately -- have you noticed? Oh, probably not since I haven't blogged about most of them yet!) Anyway, there was no striped bass to be found, but The Book listed salmon as an acceptable substitute, so I went with salmon instead. This one is hard to grade -- it wasn't good, but it was partly my own fault. The main reason this dish was disappointing was because the fish was over-cooked. The cooking preparation was this: the pieces of salmon got cooked in a skillet, skin side down, for 3 to 4 minutes to crispy up the skin. Then the fish got transfered to a baking pan and roasted in a hot oven until cooked through. The upside of this cooking method is that it does indeed produce crispy, golden brown skin. I am a huge fan of all sorts of crispy skin products, and this crispy skin was pretty good (at least for fish skin, which is inherently less exciting than crispy chicken or pig skin!). The downside is that since fish cooks so quickly, that 3 or 4 minutes does a good part towards cooking the fish, but only on one side. The fish is then roasted, which cooks all parts of the piece of fish, and the end result is that one side is more cooked than the other. This makes it difficult to avoid having some over-cooked fish. Why not just flip the fish over and finish it in the pan? Then you could cook it much more evenly. It's a mystery...

So, the fish was already going to be slightly overcooked in parts, but then I introduced some user error too. I was a bit careless in my preparation and didn't check the fish as it was roasting until it was too late. Whenever I am have anything in the oven, I always, ALWAYS check it after it has cooked for 2/3 to 3/4 of the indicated cooking time. Oven temperatures vary, pieces of meat vary, etc... The cooking times in recipes often don't mean much. Recipes should really say: Cook until desired doneness. But that is maybe a little vague for most people. Anyway, I am a stickler about checking things early. And I did check this fish early. The problem was that since I swapped salmon for the striped bass I should have considered that the cooking time could be dramatically different. By the time I checked it, the fish was overcooked, and I felt like an idiot. Obviously I should have checked it earlier! Whoops. So let's pretend that I had been more careful and the fish was as nicely cooked as is possible with this method. How was the dish as a whole? It was just ok. The sauce was fine -- sour cream and chives blended together with a little lemon juice. It didn't taste bad, but it also wasn't anything to write home about. The sauce didn't particularly enhance the flavor of the fish. If the fish had been cooked properly I would have been perfectly happy eating this dish, but it isn't one that I would make again.

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sauteed Kale with Bacon and Vinegar (Page 541)

RECIPE #750

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Jenny, Kenny, Ana, and Angelica
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Kale is not my favorite, so I chose this dish to go with dinner last Sunday so there would be a bunch of other people to eat it! Opinions about this dish varied tremendously. Jenny, a firm believer that kale is a wonderful vegetable, was not a fan of this preparation. She though that the bacon took away from the dish, adding an unnecessary fattiness to it. Matty, who is generally pretty kale-neutral, thought that this was a pretty good thing to do with kale. Of the various leafy-green-vegetables-cooked-with-bacon recipes in The Book, he cited this as his favorite so far. As for me, well, I didn't particularly like this dish, but I don't particularly like kale. It didn't seem like a bad preparation to me though. I liked the flavor from the bacon, and the vinegar contributed a nice acidity. There was nothing novel or exciting about this dish, but I found it inoffensive enough.

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one.

Today was the first true test of my dedication to this half-marathon training program of mine. On the agenda for today: a four mile run in 95 degree heat. The four miles seemed manageable enough, but with the heat, I was not so sure... I put off the run as long as possible, hoping that the heat would break. But I wanted to finish running before it got dark (as running around Fresh Pond in the dark is a little creepy), so eventually I had no choice but to start running. At the beginning of my run, the temperature was 91 and the heat index was 93. Ick. Lacing up my running shoes I wasn't so sure this was a good idea.

But then I got to Fresh Pond, and there was RedShortsGuy. RedShortsGuy is one of those people that I have silently befriended without his knowledge, and without ever having spoken to him. I would imagine that he is also in training, because I see him running at Fresh Pond at least 2 or 3 days a week. I see him so often, in fact, that I feel like I know him. But I have never actually spoken to him. The great thing about RedShortsGuy is that he runs at the same pace that I do. So for the first two and a half miles of my run today I ran about 100 feet behind RedShortsGuy, keeping pace with him. It's nice to have someone to run with. In theory my special gentleman friend and I run together. But by "run together" I really mean that we go to Fresh Pond together and start running at the same time. However, while I struggled though four 10-minute miles today, my special gentleman was running nine 6-minute and 45-second miles. So there wasn't really much togetherness in our running together. That's ok though -- I had RedShortsGuy to keep me company. And actually, the run wasn't nearly as miserable as I had anticipated. The heat eventually broke (by the end of my run it was a balmy 83 degrees!), and there was a nice breeze off the pond. I was still drenched in sweat at the end, of course, but it wasn't so unpleasant. Tomorrow is going to be another scorcher here, but luckily it is a rest day for me!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Corn Fritters (Page 616)

RECIPE #749

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Ana and Angelica
  • Dining Companions: Jenny, Kenny, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C


I do love to deep-fry, so I can hardly resist deep-frying at least one dish when I have people over for dinner! Lucky for me, The Book is big on deep-frying too, so I still have plenty of options! These corn fritters sounded promising, so we made them to go with dinner last Sunday. This recipe was disappointing. In concept it seemed good -- whole corn kernels suspended in batter and fried. In practice, the batter was incredibly bland and too liquidy for effective deep-frying. We had no choice but to add a little extra flour to the batter to get something that didn't completely fall apart when it hit the oil. The end result was texturally nice -- the fritters were crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside, studded with corn kernels. But the flavor was terribly bland. Usually a corn fritter would have some cornmeal in the batter to bring that corn flavor throughout the whole fritter, but this fritter was white flour-based and not seasoned nearly heavily enough. Everyone tried these fritters and no one really hated them, but people consistently offered up a C-range grade for this recipe. I love fried things, and I only ate one of these -- that's how un-compelling these fritters were!

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book calls for vegetable oil rather than olive oil, and 6 ears of corn rather than 8.

My first real boyfriend called me yesterday. (He wasn't actually my first boyfriend, but my first boyfriend got so mad after I broke up with him that he didn't really speak to me ever again. Worse, he tried to turn all of our friends against me. This was in high school, where there was no avoiding him and the whole situation made me feel bad. So I mentally block him out). So anyway, my first REAL boyfriend (aka boyfriend number two) called yesterday. He and I dated when I was 16 -- ages ago! -- and we still talk sometimes. Boyfriend number two is an all-around good guy. I broke up with him too (in retrospect, I can't even remember what the justification was -- I went through a long period in my life where I broke up with everyone I dated. Eventually, late in college, I got dumped by a boyfriend. I was so upset -- I cried and cried, and my male friends laughed at me. They said it was about time!) But he and I have remained friends over the years. I am one of those people that is still friends with almost everyone I have ever dated (boyfriend number one -- not so much -- but I probably would be if he hadn't stopped talking to me). For instance, I am still good friends with my ex-fiance. No one seems to understand that at all. My theory has always been that if you invest so much in someone, you shouldn't just cut him out of your life. Granted, I myself have questioned the validity of this theory at certain points, but in general I have lived by it. Talking to boyfriend number two yesterday I remembered why this seemed like a good idea in the first place. It's great to still have him in my life. He's a great guy, and now, more than 10 years after we dated, there is no old relationship weirdness between us and we can be good friends! It's proof that my crazy idea of being friends with my exes can actually work out...

Friday, June 06, 2008

Porcini Butter (Page 895)

RECIPE #748

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Angelica and Ana
  • Dining Companions: Jenny, Kenny, Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

The Book has six different compound butter recipes in it (i.e. butter with stuff smushed into it). I often forget about these recipes (Seriously, who thinks before they make dinner, "What is this meal missing? Aha! Fancy butter!"). But I have a list of recipes generated by a random number generator to force me to make some of the stuff that I forget or avoid. I try to make at least one random recipe whenever I make a big dinner, and this one was on the list. So on Sunday when a bunch of math people came over for dinner, porcini butter was on the menu! This butter was pretty good... I have now made four of the six compound butters in The Book. The first compound butter I made was very disappointing. From that experience, my special gentleman got it in his head that compound butters are all bad. When my special gentleman tasted this one he said, "Well, it's better than plain butter." Obviously he has set his bar pretty low for the compound butters in The Book! It was indeed better than plain butter though. The mushrooms and garlic complemented the butter quite nicely. Combining the mushroom soaking liquid with the butter in addition to the chopped dried mushrooms gave it a nice, uniform mushroom flavor throughout. The Book suggests serving it with grilled meat, but I just spread it on some crusty bread and it was quite enjoyable. Although most people agreed that it tasted pretty good, the fact that it wasn't so visually appealing turned some people off to it. So, I probably wouldn't serve this to friends again, but I would certainly eat it myself.

Here is the recipe.

I am trying to do more cooking that usual for the next week so I can backlog some recipes to blog about. A week from tomorrow I am leaving for two weeks in Europe (conference season!), and there will be no occasion to cook on my trip, nor am I willing to pack The Book! The Book is a lot of wonderful things, but light is not one of them!

I am very much looking forward to this trip. It is a conference in honor of the 60th birthday of one of my professors from MIT. He is an amazing guy -- a generous and giving person in addition to being an incredible mathematician. I looked to him for advice, mathematical and otherwise, all throughout graduate school -- in fact, I still do! It will be wonderful fun to celebrate him with a conference! Week one of the conference is taking place in Denmark, which will be a new experience for me. Week two is in Germany. I have traveled to Germany several times, but never to Bonn, where the conference is taking place. I am traveling with Mike -- we had such a good time traveling together to Norway last summer that we figured we would buy plane tickets together again -- so that will no doubt yield some good stories. Did I ever post about the time I accidentally left Mike half-naked and without any money to find his way, alone, across Oslo... I can't remember?!? Another time...

Anyway, Europe will no doubt be a blast, but at the moment I am focusing on getting some math and cooking done before I go!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Garlic-Roasted Whole Striped Bass (Page 313)

RECIPE #747

  • Date: Friday, May 30, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This recipe was part of the ongoing all-seafood-all-the-time plan for the summer. I like cooking with whole fish. There is something satisfying about seeing where your meat comes from. I also like serving whole fish, so I was surprised when this recipe called for the fish to be filleted before it was served. Filleting cooked fish often results in some not-so-pretty falling apart fish fillets (see, for example, the photo above). It's a shame too because this fish was really beautiful when it came out of the oven. My recommendation: just serve it whole! Flavor-wise this fish was fine. It was very simple -- a whole fish roasted with garlic and lemon. The recipe calls for striped bass or red snapper. We used snapper, as there was no striped bass to be found. Slits were made in the fish, and thin slices of garlic inserted into them before roasting. The garlic slices came out a bit raw, which wasn't a great thing, but they contributed a nice flavor to the dish. Overall this dish was fine, but a little bland. I prefer fish preparations that have some sauce to them and this one did not.

The recipe is here.

Since arriving in Boston a few weeks back, I have had several conversations of the form:

Friend: "You've lost weight. You look good."
Teena: "Thanks, but I haven't lost any weight."
Friend: "Yes you have."
Teena: "No, really, I haven't."
(repeat)

I am 5 feet and 11 inches tall (hence people often refer to me as that tall girl) and I typically weigh 151 pounds, which makes me neither stick thin, nor chubby. And my weight never really fluctuates. In the last 10 years I have never left a 3 pound radius around my current weight. And 3 pounds on someone who is nearly 6 feet tall is pretty hard to see. I view the fact that my weight is stable as my body giving its approval of this weight for me. This is the weight at which I can eat whatever I want, and exercise as much or as little as I want. It's my happy weight. I'm pretty sure there would be no practical way for me to drop below that range even if I wanted to -- but frankly I have never had any interest in trying! But lately, so many people have commented on my "weight loss" that I began to think maybe they were right and I just hadn't noticed. So, I set out to weigh myself. I don't own a scale, since I tend not to worry about these things. But I was staying with friends a few weeks back who had one, so I used theirs. BUT, silly foreigners that they are, their scale was in kilograms :). Before I had a chance to convert, I forgot all about it. Later, at the gym I found another scale, this one conveniently in pounds. The verdict: 152. So, no, I haven't lost any weight!

So why does everyone think that I have? Maybe as Americans get heavier I look skinnier in a relative sense? :) That's my only theory...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bell Pepper and Dried Apricot Chutney (Page 905)

  • Date: Thursday, May 29, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I am trying to make some progress on the Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves section of The Book, so I made this recipe last week. I have trouble getting too terribly excited about chutneys. Typically what happens is that I make some chutney, we have it with whatever we are eating for dinner, and then it sits untouched in the fridge. Under normal circumstances I would wait until I really needed a chutney before making one, and then perhaps it would get eaten. But book-cooking doesn't always go like that... So is this chutney currently rotting in the fridge? Well, yes. Was it tasty? Well, yes. If you are in the market for a chutney, this one is pretty good. Red peppers and dried apricots initially seemed like an odd combination to me, but it worked quite well. I found the balance of ingredients also to be nice. Often chutneys go a little overboard with the vinegar (yes, they should be vinegary, but there is a limit...). This one had a nice, pronounced, vinegar flavor, without it being too much. Further, this was quite simple to make. I don't feel too motivated to eat this straight out of the bowl, but if I needed a chutney, this is probably the one I would make.

The recipe is here.

Tonight I went to a conference banquet dinner. In and of itself this is pretty unremarkable. Most conferences in math include some sort of big dinner thing, and I have been to lots and lots of them. This one was different though. I wasn't there as a mathematician. I was there as a date! My special gentleman spoke at a conference at Brandeis this week, and tonight I joined him at the conference dinner. While he is also a mathematician, we are in different fields, so our mathematical crowds are somewhat disjoint. Often friends of mine will bring their significant others to these things and I always wonder what that must be like -- to be the one person who hardly knows anyone in a room full of mathematicians who have worked together for years. Mathematicians have this reputation for being strange and socially awkward. I won't claim that there is no truth to this, but whatever social awkwardness there is tends to be very good-natured. In particular, mathematicians are generally very accepting people. However, that is often paired with a shyness towards strangers that might come across as dismissal. So it has often occurred to me that it must be hard to be a stranger in a big crowd of mathematicians. I didn't really get the full experience tonight though -- I knew a reasonable percentage of the people there (and, of course, I am a mathematician myself...). My special gentleman would also argue that the low dimensional topology crowd is unusually friendly, and perhaps that is true. So although I had a nice time at the dinner, maybe my experience wasn't representative of the usual math banquet date!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Nectarine Preserves with Basil (Page 920)

  • Date: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 -- 10am
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ana, and Jenny
  • Recipe Rating: C-

Since I acquired my new boiling water canner I have been excited about making preserves! After my successful effort with the Strawberry Jam from The Book, I decided to move on to this recipe. These preserves were not so successful. I kept an open mind about the nectarine and basil combination (actually, I used peaches instead of nectarines because they were on sale -- this was listed in The Book as an acceptable substitution in this recipe), but the final verdict was that it didn't work for me. The flavors weren't terrible together, but I would have vastly preferred a plain nectarine (or peach) preserve. Also, the decorative basil leaf in the jar was very unattractive (see photo above) so at the very least I would have left that out. Aside from the questionable flavor of these preserves, the texture was also a bit weird. For some reason the preserves has a graininess to them which wasn't appealing. My final complaint is that the recipe claimed to make 8 jars, but I barely got 6 out of it. In fact, since I don't like it, and wouldn't dare give it to anyone, that's not so much a complaint as it is just a bit of information. I'm actually not sure what I am going to do with the 5 unopened jars of this that I have... any takers?

Here is the recipe.

A bit more than four weeks into my half-marathon training program, I am finally feeling the effects of running five days a week. I am starting to have a whole variety of aches and pains -- it's reassuring actually. I was feeling so normal through the first four weeks of training that I was worrying that I wasn't really making any progress. Now, though, I am achy, and my feet hurt, which gives me a better attitude about the whole thing. Also, a completely unbelievable thing has happened. I would have guessed that given that I am running five days a week, on those other two days I would be thrilled to sit on my ass all day, maybe put my feet up, and relax... But no, on the days I don't run I actually miss it?!?! How crazy is that? Yesterday was a rest day for me and all day I thought, "I feel like going for a run. No, I MUST REST." My training book is very big on the importance of having rest days, so I rest. But I would rather run. Is that not the craziest thing you have ever heard?

My favorite running moment so far: Last week my special gentleman and I were running at Fresh Pond when suddenly it started to pour. It wasn't raining, it was POURING. Sheets and sheets of rain. Within 30 seconds I was completely soaked through. It was like running in the shower (actually that downpour had better water pressure than most showers). It was raining so hard that I couldn't open my eyes. My special gentleman was way ahead of me, so there I was, running all alone with my eyes closed, completely drenched. The trails were flooded, but it didn't matter because I was flooded too. There was something unbelievably freeing about that experience. It was fantastic! Five minutes later the rain cleared, and the sun peaked out. Everyone walking/running was drenched and smiling. It was the best run I have had to date...

Monday, June 02, 2008

SPECIAL EDITION: Gratin Dauphinois (Page 572): REMAKE!

  • Date: Sunday, June 1, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Ana, Jenny, Kenny, and Angelica
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I know what you're thinking: a remake??? WHAT??? Almost 750 recipes into this project, I have never remade one and reposted about it. So what could have possibly possessed me to do such a thing? Well I'll tell ya:

So last week, the day my blog appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a number of people emailed me or posted comments, mainly with various forms of encouragement. So there I was, sitting in front of my computer when my new email dinging noise went off and in my Inbox there was a new comment from my blog. No big deal. Deep in thought about something else, it took me a minute of staring at it to process the following line of information: From: Ruth Reichl, Subject: [The Gourmet Project] New comment on Gratin Dauphinois (Page 572). This was not just a new comment, this was a comment from RUTH REICHL. Most of you will need no explanation for who that is, but for my non-foodie friends out there, let me offer you this -- on the spine of The Book, it reads: The Gourmet Cookbook - Ruth Reichl. Not only did she edit The Book, but she is also the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine, the author of three fabulous memoirs (which I highly recommend!), and an all around culinary goddess. I have admired her for years. I saw her speak my first year in graduate school, which only cemented my admiration. She commented on my blog! I was so excited. Except... she wasn't very happy with me.

Here's my original post about Gratin Dauphinois, where you can see her comment and my response. You can also read my not-so-charitable review of this recipe the first time I made it. The fact that I had such a miserable experience with a recipe that Ruth Reichl likes so much did seem a little suspect to me -- perhaps I had made a mistake!

So last night, in the company of friends, I remade this recipe. And I will happily admit: I was wrong. There is no way that these potatoes deserved the D I gave them the first time around. I don't know what went wrong that first time. My best guess is that the dish I used wasn't shallow enough. It had the right capacity, but perhaps the potatoes were stacked too deep, and covered with a thick layer of cheese, which didn't allow enough moisture to evaporate. I don't know. I think the only thing I did differently this time around was cooking them in a pan with a larger surface area. And they came out very nice! Perhaps it is more than that -- maybe I made a measuring error the first time. I have no idea. But in any event, I will officially retract my previous grade and review, and offer this instead:

These potatoes were quite tasty. The melted gruyere on top was (obviously!) delicious, and brought a nice crispy textural contrast to the tender potatoes. The one comment that several people made was that the creaminess around the potatoes was a little bland. The dish might have been improved by having a bit of cheese throughout rather than just the layer on top. Even a bit more salt would have helped. There are so many delicious things in the genre of potatoes + fat -- this one wasn't my absolute favorite, but I did have three helpings at dinner last night, and another two for lunch today! It was very tasty, and if you are looking for creamy, potatoey, comfort food, you are sure to like it!

This recipe isn't online.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Burnt Orange Ice Cream (Page 854)

RECIPE #744

  • Date: Monday, May 26, 2008 -- 11:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Russ P.
  • Recipe Rating: C+
I got a little tired of looking at all the pink, so The Gourmet Project now has a new, more serious, less pink template. I must be maturing! Anyway, I picked this ice cream to make for dessert the night Matty and Russ returned from Las Vegas. I wanted to like this ice cream, I really did, but I just didn't like it. In fact, since the night we first tried it, it has been sitting in the freezer untouched. Issue number one with this ice cream is that the "burnt orange" wasn't burnt at all. The recipe starts with making a caramel from orange juice and sugar, cooking it until "deep golden." Note: to get a burnt taste, you have to actually get a little burn on your caramel. That's just how it works. But that's not what the recipe directs you to do. So maybe this would have been more appropriately named: Caramelized Orange Ice Cream. Ok, so there was no burnt flavor. That wasn't my real issue with it though. I just don't think citrus flavors are suited very well for something so rich. This recipe had a cup and half of heavy cream, a cup and a half of whole milk, and 6 egg yolks in it. That is a very rich ice cream base. As a flavor, orange suggests something light, something refreshing. Orange is an excellent sherbet flavor. But with all that creamy heaviness, this ice cream was like an orange creamsicle gone mad. It just didn't work for me.

This recipe isn't online.

My best friend Emilee's younger brother graduated from the West Point Military Academy this week, so my special gentleman and I drove down there for a few days to celebrate with them. Em and Brian traveled there from California with baby Sam, who I hadn't seen since the day he was born. On Friday we went to the graduation parade. One picture is Emilee and Sam watching the parade (ok, ok, maybe Sam isn't exactly watching...). The other is a picture of the graduating class.



















We had a fun trip down there, but it was also very odd. We stayed at a Medieval-themed Resort and Spa (how that happened is a long story...). This place was weird -- more than weird, it was creepy. Apparently built in 1971, this "resort" clearly hadn't been upgraded or repaired in the last 35 years. The Medieval-theme translated to dark, dank rooms and hallways, and scary furniture and light fixtures everywhere. The other clientele seemed to be exclusively 250+ pound men in wife beaters, covered with tatoos -- a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. The "resort" was essentially empty though (imagine that!) which only added to the creepiness! I have traveled a lot, but this was hands-down the weirdest hotel I have ever been in. Despite being a "resort and spa" the rooms had no clocks in them, no irons, no hair dryers, no extra pillows or blankets, not even a Gideon Bible. The first couple hours we were there, as we wandered around the grounds of the place, I couldn't stop laughing. It was just so absurd. Everything was called a "palace" or a "kingdom," yet was completely in shambles. It was funny.

Despite the creepiness, our trip was fun, and certainly memorable.

Muffuletta (Page 190)

RECIPE #743

  • Date: Monday, May 26, 2008 -- 11:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Russ P.
  • Recipe Rating: A

Matty was off in Las Vegas last weekend for a bachelor party, and he and his friend Russ were flying back to Boston late Monday night. Inevitably Matty comes off of long flights starving, so I wanted to make something suitable for a late dinner. I had never had a muffuletta before (never having been to New Orleans...) but it sounded like good late-night food. Indeed it was! This sandwich was easy to prepare and extremely tasty. A loaf of bread is hollowed out and filled with layers of a chopped olive salad, Genoa salami, ham, and provolone. Then the whole thing gets wrapped up and chilled for 4 hours before it is cut into wedges and served. I admit, it doesn't really sound like anything special, but it was delicious! The garlicky olive salad complemented the meat beautifully, and gave the sandwich some nice textural contrast. Matty has eaten at Central Grocery in New Orleans, where this sandwich originated, and he testified that this version tastes just like the real thing! It was one of those eating experiences where we all sat around the table in silence, eating our sandwiching and making "Mmmm..." noises. It was good. The sandwich even held up well overnight. I ate it for lunch the next day and it was still great. This recipe was a winner -- absolutely crave-able.

This recipe isn't online.

Last night my special gentleman and I went to see the Boston Pops. It was great fun, except for one minor little detail...

The concert was at Symphony Hall, where they had cleared the floor of the normal seats and instead set up folding chairs and little tables. They were serving light fare: beverages, sandwiches, desserts... and there was a waitstaff to deliver these items to you. My special gentleman and I had our chairs set up near a little table where a mother was sitting with her two kids. They ordered some food, and in the middle of Verdi's Overture to La Forza del destino, their food arrived. The waitress stood behind me as she moved their food from the tray to the table. I don't know what happened really -- perhaps she tripped, or she simply lost the balance of the tray, but suddenly from over my right shoulder come crashing down an open bottle full of iced tea and an open bottle full of rootbeer. Both bottles, and all of their contents land on me -- the rootbeer conveniently pouring itself right down the V-neck in my dress, while the iced tea formed a huge pool in my lap. The glass bottles then bounced to the ground, with a huge crash, which, in the middle of Verdi, caused quite a few people to turn and stare. I was SOAKED. Matty summarized it best when he said, "It wasn't a spill, it was a waterpark ride. Except with root beer instead of water." I wasn't angry so much as stunned. It was an enormous amount of liquid. From my neck down I would have looked no different had I just stepped into a shower with my dress on. Even my underwear was soaked. Fortunately (unfortunately) my dress was silk which dries quickly (but get water-stains, has to be dry-cleaned, and clings like you wouldn't believe when wet). No such luck with my underwear, which lead to a lengthy dilemma about whether to wear soaking wet underwear all night or pull a Britney Spears. No comment on how that one resolved. It was really an experience. Once I was dry (which I more or less was by the end of the concert) I was tremendously sticky. My skin was glittering with dried sugar. Needless to say, when I got home I took a long shower! Always an adventure...