Thursday, July 31, 2008

Garlic-Roasted Potato Skins (Page 570)

RECIPE #796

  • Date: Saturday, July 19, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Hartsville, SC
  • Kitchen: My Parents' House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: B

My love of all thing potato doesn't come out of nowhere -- this is definitely a trait passed down from my mother. So when I was visiting my parents in South Carolina a few weeks ago, I made these potato skins, one of the few potato recipes in The Book that I hadn't made yet. The method of this recipe is quite simple. I baked several potatoes until tender and meanwhile roasted a head of garlic. Once the potatoes were baked I cut them into wedges and scooped out all but the outside 1/4 inch of potato. The insides of the potatoes are meant to be reserved for another use (I made mashed potatoes out of the rejected potato innards -- yum!). I then topped the potato skins with a mixture of butter, the roasted garlic, and salt. Finally, they went back into the oven to become brown, crispy, and delicious. My mom and Matty were both quite taken with this recipe. My dad and I were not as impressed. The potato skins were texturally just right -- they came out very crispy along the edges but still with some tender potato on them. I usually think cheddar cheese and bacon when I think potato skins, but the roasted garlic was a nice alternative. It let the potato flavor shine through yet gave the dish some boldness. My one complaint, which is a complaint I practically never have with Book recipes, is that it was too salty. These skins were extremely, extremely salty. I like salt. A lot. So for me to say they were too salty says something. I even went back and checked the recipe after tasting one to make sure I had added the amount of salt that the recipe indicated. I had. If I made these potato skins again I would definitely cut the salt in half.

Here is the recipe.

It is easy to forget, if you haven't done it in a while, how painful moving is. My special gentleman and I are moving out of his apartment on Monday though, so I have once again been reminded of the pain of packing. You would think, "You're not moving until Monday morning? You have TONS of time." I would even agree with you. BUT, he is leaving tomorrow morning for his brother's bachelor party in Montreal and not returning until Sunday night. I am staying here for the weekend, and I am happy to help out in a crisis -- so I would just pack whatever we don't get to today while he is gone. But unfortunately this is not a simple throw-everything-in-boxes type move. In fact, it is a rather complicated move. My special gentleman will spend the next year living partly in Indiana in my furnished apartment and partly in Boston in a friend's furnished apartment. So all of his furniture, dishes, etc... are going to go into storage in Michigan, where he will be living starting a year from now. But, everything he needs for the next year (some of his clothes, his math stuff, etc...), plus the pantry items we are taking with us, and the things here that are mine all need to go to Indiana. A few things can't be packed now because he needs them for the bachelor party this weekend. And some stuff, of course, should get thrown/given away. It would be impossible for me to make all these determinations by myself. So we need to pack while he is still here. The apartment is covered in separate "Indiana," "Michigan," and "Charity" piles (plus some others -- like the "Rachel" pile for food that we can't take with us but don't want to throw away), and carefully labeled boxes. I am taking a brief break, sitting in bed amongst four different piles of clothing waiting to be packed! I will be happy when this move is over...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Grilled Jerk Chicken (Page 365)

RECIPE #795

  • Date: Saturday, July 19, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Hartsville, SC
  • Kitchen: My Parents' House
  • Fellow Chef: Terry
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Teri
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this chicken recipe for dinner when I was visiting my parents because they have a big grill, and they like chicken! This chicken was delicious. The recipe called for bone-in, skin-on breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, but there were no thighs and drumsticks to be found at the butcher, so it was an all breast meal. The chicken breast halves were split in half again, and the pieces were marinated in Jerk Marinade (see below). I marinated for 24 hours and the results were wonderful. The flavors of the marinade not only coated the exterior of the chicken but also permeated the meat in a delicious way. It was the cooking method for this chicken that I found the most interesting though. We used a charcoal grill with all the charcoal piled on one side. The chicken pieces were seared over the charcoal and then moved to the other side of the grill where they were slow-cooked with no fire beneath them. The lid went on the grill and 25 minutes later we had perfectly cooked, moist, and flavorful chicken breasts. As you can see from the picture the marinade got a little blackened in spots, but it was delicious that way! I will definitely use this method of searing and then cooking off-heat the next time I grill chicken. It took a bit longer than just grilling the meat over the coals, but the chicken came out so perfectly cooked it was worth it! Overall this was a delicious preparation for chicken. The four of us were all quite impressed by it.

Here is the recipe.

I came to Boston from California to do my PhD and I spent five years living in the Boston area and studying at MIT. I graduated more than a year ago, packed up all my belongings and moved to Indiana. At that time I never had a sentimental, I-can't-believe-I-am-leaving-Boston feeling. In fact it was hard to feel like I was leaving at all. When I packed up and moved away I already had my first three trips back planned. I left Boston knowing that my better half was still there, and consequently I would be back. Frequently. So while I technically moved away from Boston a year ago, I spent so much of the last year in Boston that I never really had a chance to miss it. But here I am, packing boxes again (this time my special gentleman's stuff and not my own) and moving out of Boston. He isn't really leaving yet. During the fall semester he will still be at MIT. But he is moving out of his apartment and moving all his stuff to the Midwest, and in the winter he will move himself there too. And in his one remaining semester in Boston, I may not visit. I am teaching this coming semester and he is not so the bulk of the travel will fall on him.

And so, now, I am really leaving Boston. I will be back, I am sure, but I don't know when. And I am starting to feel the wistful, sentimental things I never felt when I left the first time. I want to eat at all my favorite restaurants and go to all my favorite Boston places. I want to run along the reservoir. I want to eat Christina's ice cream. I want to cherish my remaining time here.

I like Indiana. In a lot of ways I like living in Indiana better than I liked living in Boston. But still, this place has been a huge part of my life for the last six years, and it is a weird thing to prepare to say goodbye without knowing when I will return...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jerk Marinade (Page 933)

RECIPE #794

  • Date: Saturday, July 19, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Hartsville, SC
  • Kitchen: My parents' house
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Terry and Teri
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe was the marinade for some tasty grilled chicken I made at my parents' house a few weeks ago (I don't own a grill, so I use whatever opportunities arise to take advantage of those people I know who do!). This marinade was not so cute looking (see above) but it was tasty! I marinated the pieces of chicken for 24 hours before grilling and this marinade really permeated the meat with yummy jerk seasonings. The recipe had quite a few ingredients (scallions, garlic, onion, habanero chiles, lime juice, soy sauce, olive oil, salt, brown sugar, fresh thyme, allspice, pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon) but the directions were pretty simple: "Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth." The addition of soy sauce in a traditionally Jamaican marinade seemed a little suspect to me, but The Book informed me that there is a fair-sized Chinese community in Jamaica. Anyway, despite my skepticism it must have worked because this marinade had an excellent balance of flavors. It was spicy without being overwhelming, and the allspice gave it that wonderful flavor that made it "jerk" rather than just "spicy." While we used this marinade in a chicken dish (which will be my next post) I can imagine that it would also do some seriously delicious things for pork.

This marinade is the marinade from this recipe.

July is coming to a close and August is nearly upon us, which means that my travel craziness for the summer is about to begin! I have traveled only minimally this summer (Chicago in May, Denmark/Germany in June, South Carolina in July), but August is going to be a little nuts. This week my special gentleman and I are packing up his apartment. Next Monday morning we will load it all in a mini-van and drive it to East Lansing, Michigan. Tuesday morning we will unload the truck into a storage unit, where his stuff will stay until he moves to East Lansing in Fall 2009. Then we will drive my car (which we are towing from Boston to East Lansing behind the truck) down to Bloomington, where we will stay for one day so we can unload some of my special gentleman's stuff and I can move offices in the department. Then I will fly back to Boston, so I can drive to Montreal for Vero's wedding. My special gentleman, meanwhile, will drive from Indiana up to Northern Michigan for Russ' wedding. After the weddings (which are on the same day...) we will both fly to California, where he will go to Berkeley for a conference and I will go to Stanford to see Em, Brian, and Sam. We will spend a week and a half in California, and then fly back to Michigan. Hopefully we will find my car somewhere in Michigan (wherever Matty left it when he flew to California) and drive up to Northern Michigan for Brad and Deniz's wedding. After their wedding, we will drive down to Bloomington where I will settle in a bit before the semester starts. Crazy, no? It's a good thing both math research and cooking can be done many places because otherwise I don't know how I would make any progress on work or my project!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Madeleines (Page 686)

RECIPE #793

  • Date: Friday, July 18, 2008 -- 4pm
  • Location: Hartsville, SC
  • Kitchen: My parents' house
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Teri and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-

The pickings in the Cookies, Bars, and Confections section of The Book are getting a little slim. I love cookies, so I have made most of the things that sound good already. I hadn't made these though, because they require a madeleine pan, which I didn't have. I always intended to borrow Vero's but I kept forgetting, and then she moved away. However, when I went to visit my parents a couple weeks ago, my mom bought me the proper pan as a gift, and as soon as we got home from the store, I made these cookies in it!

These madeleines were good! Despite being in the cookie section of The Book, a madeleine is much more like a small cake than it is like a cookie. A very, very buttery small cake (1 1/2 sticks of butter for 1 1/4 cups of sifted flour -- that's a lot of butter!). This recipe had a touch of lemon zest added, which was a nice complement to the rich butter flavor of the cookies. The recipe was simple enough, but involved seemingly endless sifting and folding! Basically: sift the flour. Sift the flour again with the baking powder and salt. Beat eggs and sugar for a long, long time. Sift flour mixture over eggs in five batches, folding each time. Fold in zest. Fold in butter. Spoon into molds and bake. Dust with powdered sugar and eat. Simple, no? They were easy to make and warm out of the oven they were amazing! They had a tender crumb and a great butter flavor. Right around the edges the cookies had a slightly crispiness which was awesome. Be careful with the cooking time -- I baked the first batch using the times suggested in The Book and they were a bit over-baked, so they came out a touch dry. I pulled the other batches after just 8 minutes (rather than the 10 suggested in The Book) and they were perfect. Overall, this was a solid madeleine recipe!

Here is the recipe.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Roasted Apricot Sorbet (Page 861)

RECIPE #792

  • Date: Monday, July 14, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

If someday in the future I find myself in a reality TV cooking competition and the challenge is to make something that tastes more intensely like apricot than an apricot itself, I will be grateful that I made this sorbet. Until then, not so much. After the first bite of this sorbet Matty only said, "Wow." After bite number two he said, "It tastes like you pureed some apricots and froze them in the ice cream maker, except somehow with more apricot flavor..." Then he set down his spoon. Now I like apricots as much as the next person, but you have to REALLY like apricots to like this dish. The apricot intensity comes from two sources: fresh apricots which are roasted, peeled, and pureed, and dried apricots which are chopped, soaked, and pureed. The roasting made the fresh apricots very intense, and dried apricots, by their very nature, pack a big apricot punch. The net result: some wildly flavorful apricot sorbet. Neither Matty nor I particularly enjoyed it, and it is a bit difficult for me to imagine who would... Maybe someone who likes apricots so much that they have bowls full of those plastic apricots as decorations in their house, and an apricot-of-the-month calendar on the wall. Maybe that person. If you aren't that person, I would pass on this one. (On the upside, the texture of the sorbet was nice!)

Here is the recipe.

Today is my brother's birthday. Happy Birthday to Spencer! My brother is almost two years older than me. Growing up, we didn't get along so well. Ok, that's an understatement. My mother admits that she didn't dispel the wisdom, "You will be friends when you are older" to us because we fought so much it seemed possible we would continue to hate each other as adults. To this day when kids behave badly in my extended family my aunts and uncles say, "Stop it -- you are behaving like Spencer and Teena." I would defend the two of us, and say that the stories have been blown out of proportion, but they haven't. On many occasions my family would take two cars to go places because Spencer and I couldn't be in the same car without causing trouble.

People who know the two of us as adults never believe me about this. For one thing, Spencer and I get along beautifully now. We are great friends, we visit each other as much as possible, etc... Also, we just don't have the personalities to make the stories plausible. My brother is an extremely mellow guy. Very, very mellow. I am not as mellow as him, but also not prone to confrontation. So how was it that we were so awful to one another? It's a mystery. And a little sad. I don't have many memories of us having good times together between the ages of 8 and 18 (Well, that's not exactly true. We did have some pretty spectacular fights, some of which make me laugh to this day... And some of the stuff he did, while not particularly funny at the time, is pretty funny in retrospect.) . Fortunately, though, I have lots of fond memories of us hanging out since then!

Happy Birthday Spencer!

Spicy Thai Steamed Mussels (Page 333)

RECIPE #791

  • Date: Monday, July 14, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Matt
  • Recipe Rating: B

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in culinary school was on the second week of class with a man named Chef Stephan. Chef Stephan was very serious, and a little scary. He would often yell at me from across the kitchen, and as I soon as I heard, "Teena..." I would brace myself. But he was an amazing chef and an excellent teacher -- there is no one who has taught me more about cooking than Chef Stephan. So it was week two of culinary school and I was a little nervous. I was making a pureed vegetable soup (easy enough!) which involved only a few new techniques (using a food mill and tamis was new to me at the time). So I diligently made my soup, then some cute garnishes out of green beans, and I was done! With an hour left in the kitchen, then only thing I had left to do was season. The idea of seasoning was pretty new to me. Sure, I understood that one usually adds salt to food. But I had never really thought too carefully about it. So I walked over to Stephan and quietly asked, "Will you help me season?" He followed me back to my station, bringing with him 10 small glass prep bowls, and lined them up in front of my pot. He filled the first little bowl with some of the unseasoned soup. He handed me a box of kosher salt and instructed me to add some to the pot. I did. We tasted it. We put some of the slightly seasoned soup in the next little bowl. "More salt?" He asked. I nodded. We went on like this for 5 or 6 more bowls, until I wasn't sure any more. He helped me decide when to stop adding salt to the pot, and then filled the remaining little bowls with soup and carefully added increasingly more salt to them. We had a spectrum of 10 bowls, from over-seasoned to under-seasoned, and all he told me was to keep tasting until I understood how to season.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Corn on the Cob with Garlic Ancho Butter (Page 537)

RECIPE #790

  • Date: Monday, July 14, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matt and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+
One of the many magical things about summer (just below sno cones and late afternoon rain on my list) is corn on the cob. Yum! I love corn. Absolutely love it. Cornbread, popcorn, corn on the cob, grits, corn tortillas, corn chips... I love them all. This recipe was very simple. Corn on the cob was cooked in boiling water and served with a compound butter made with garlic, ancho chiles, cilantro, and lime juice. The corn: delicious! The butter: delicious! Together: pretty good. The butter tasted great (Matt, in particular, was very enthusiastic about it). It was delicious just spread on bread. It was smoky, garlicky, and very slightly spicy. The flavors were extremely well balanced. But pairing it with the corn didn't totally make sense to me. Corn on the cob is so delicious right now, so flavorful, that it doesn't need a bold butter to go on it. It just needs some plain old butter, and some plain old salt. While I was eating this, although the garlic ancho butter impressed me, I kept wishing my corn was just buttered and salted instead. I would make this butter again to serve on bread, or steak, or a whole variety of things... But if I were going to make some delicious summer corn, I would leave off the fancy butter.

Here is the recipe.

A friend recently said to me, "I don't know how you do it -- I don't know how you live alone." He's married and his wife was out of town, and he was lonely. Talking to him I felt a little bit proud, a little bit tough. I spent the majority of the last year living 1000 miles away from my special gentleman, in an apartment by myself, and I was totally fine. That makes me tough, right? Perhaps not. My special gentleman is out of town tonight and I have been in my pajamas since 8pm. I microwaved leftovers from date-night last night for dinner, worked until I couldn't any more, and watched TV on iTunes for the rest of the night. I freaked out for a while when a mouse trapped in our pantry started making all sorts of ruckus. I am now laying on the bed, on top of all the laundry I told my special gentleman that I would fold and put away. And I am lonely. I could have gone out tonight, but I wanted to stay in. I wanted to work and watch my trashy TV show. I wanted to lay in bed in my jammers. But I didn't expect to be lonely. It's funny how expectations change so quickly. I have been in Boston for most of three months now, and suddenly I am not used to being alone at night. Never mind that I lived by myself through the whole academic year. Apparently I have forgotten that!

Pretty soon the magic bubble of the summer will burst, and I will be back in Indiana, by myself. This year will be even easier than last -- my special gentleman is living in Indiana half time in the fall, and full time in the spring! But there will be nights, weeks even, when I am home alone. I guess I will have to toughen up again!

Soy Citrus Scallops with Soba Salad (Page 321)

RECIPE #789

  • Date: Sunday, July 13, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

My special gentleman loves scallops, and I have been promising to make some for quite a while. Personally, I have a take-em-or-leave-em attitude about scallops. I'm not going to argue that they are bad, but they also aren't my fave. This scallop preparation was quite good though. The scallops were perfectly cooked, with a nice sear on them. The richness of the scallops was complemented by a strongly acidic citrus sauce and a refreshing soba salad. I had two small issues with the dish. One, as discussed in the post below, the veggies didn't incorporate into the salad too well. And two, the sauce wasn't quite right. I reduced it much longer than indicated in The Book, yet by the time I stopped boiling it still hadn't reached a good viscosity for a sauce. It was too runny to really cling to the scallops. As I was plating, I thought, "I should have reduced this more." As soon as I took a bite though I was thankful I hadn't. It was incredibly intense. In fact, it was a little too intense. The citrus flavor from the lemon and lime juices was very powerful, and the soy sauce gave it a pungent fermented, salty flavor. It didn't taste bad, it just tasted like it needed to be diluted! But diluting it would have even worsened the problem with its thickness (or lack thereof). So the balance of ingredients in the sauce was off a bit, but the dish was still tasty, and my special gentleman was happy, which made me happy!

Here is the recipe.

My special gentleman left this afternoon for a weekend-long bachelor party. His friends are big on the destination bachelor parties, and this is apparently the season for them. He went to one earlier in the summer, and he has two more this weekend and next. Lucky for him both of the destinations are driveable this time -- this weekend is in Providence and then Boston (for his friend Russ), next weekend is in Montreal (for his brother Brad). Because the party this weekend is migrating to Boston on Sunday for the George Michael concert, I offered to host a pre-concert dinner at our place. That's right, I'm hosting my first bachelor party! Well, really it is just a bachelor party component in this case... let's call it a Bachelor Party party. So I flipped through The Book this evening thinking, "What do bachelor's eat?" Er, that's not the right question. Bachelors eat Cheetos and beef jerky. There are no Cheetos in The Book (and, surprisingly, no beef jerky). And actually most of these guys aren't bachelors. The right question is, "What do hungry, drunken guys eat?" Turns out there are lots of things in The Book that seem appropriate. We'll see how it goes over on Sunday! In any event, the day is guaranteed to be good because I am headed to the George Michael myself (not with the bachelor party -- my special gentleman and I already had tickets to the concert when this party got scheduled, so I got ditched in favor of floor seats with the guys. Luckily, my friend Ricky agreed to go with me! It should be a blast!)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Soba Salad (Page 322)

RECIPE #788

  • Date: Sunday, July 13, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This soba salad was a component of a scallop dish which will be my next post. I absolutely love this kind of thing: noodles, vegetables, and a light, vinegary dressing. Yum! This salad was a very good addition to the dish. It was refreshing, crunchy, and light, which complemented the richness of the scallops nicely. I couldn't find mizuna anywhere, so I used some chopped arugula in its place, and that worked just fine. My one major complaint about this salad is that the vegetables didn't incorporate with the noodles very well. I think the salad would had been better if the veggies had been chopped relatively small rather than cut in matchsticks -- that way they would have mixed better with the noodles, providing a more uniform salad. Also, while this soba salad was excellent as part of the scallop dish, it would be a touch bland on its own. The salad was dressed, but the dressing was very mild. It is the pan sauce from the scallop preparation that added a lot of flavor to this salad. So if you are looking for a soba salad that can stand alone, you might want to try a different dressing than the one in this recipe.

Here is the recipe.

I got a lot of responses to my complaints about the crazy "break-up" emails I have received from my fellow mathematicians. To go along with that post, a little story. The setting: it was the very beginning of my first year in graduate school. I was in the MIT math department common room with my good friend Mike, and another mathematician who we will just refer to as B. B and Mike had met years ago, but were catching up for the first time in a while. I had never met this guy. B had just finished his PhD at MIT, but hadn’t yet left for his new junior faculty position.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bacon, Arugula, Tomato, and Egg Sandwiches (Page 191)

RECIPE #787

  • Date: Saturday, July 12, 2008 -- 1pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I don't know how I overlooked this recipe for so long. Matty is very into breakfast sandwiches, so I would have made this sandwich long ago had it been in the Breakfast and Brunch section of The Book (where I would look for such things). But it was in the Sandwiches and Pizzas section and I didn't notice it until a couple of weeks ago. Once I found it though it immediately made my list, and Matty and I threw together these quick sandwiches to fuel ourselves for some sea kayaking. These sandwiches were simple but good: scrambled eggs, bacon, arugula, and tomato were sandwiched between two toasted slices of sourdough bread. Yum! The recipe called for tomato chutney rather than sliced tomato (although it lists sliced tomato as an acceptable alternative). Tomato chutney was, strangely, not to be found at either Star Market or Whole Foods (the latter had 8 kinds of chutney, but no tomato!), so we used plain old sliced tomato instead. It was no major loss -- the tomato went well in the sandwich. I can only imagine that it would have been even better with the chutney. The one weird thing about the recipe was that the scrambled eggs were made with cream in them. I have seen this technique before, and it's not bad, but it results in some super-rich scrambled eggs. I didn't particularly see the purpose of having super-rich eggs on such a sandwich. Between the cream-laden eggs and the bacon, the sandwich was a little heavy. The tomato and arugula cut the richness a bit, but it was still intense. Overall though it was a good sandwich that stuck with us through hours of kayaking!

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Italian Lemon Ice (Page 860)

RECIPE #786

  • Date: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I was looking for a cool summer treat last week, so I threw together this lemon ice. In a word: yum! I am very partial to anything composed entirely of sugar, flavored liquid, and ice (slushies, slurpees, sno cones, Italian ice, Hawaiian ice, Icees, frozen lemonade, etc...). When it comes to those items I also have high standards. But this lemon ice did not disappoint. Matty was completed enthralled with it. In the two days it lasted in our freezer he must have asked me a dozen times if I wanted some so he wouldn't feel guilty eating it all himself! The lemon flavor was delicious, and there was just the right amount of sugar to produce a frozen treat that was neither too sweet nor too tart. We squeezed the lemon juice fresh, which I believe is absolutely essential -- the flavor wouldn't be the same with bottled juice. The texture was just right, and it melted in the mouth just as Italian ice should. This was a delicious summer treat -- absolutely perfect for the dog days of summer.

This recipe isn't online.

In any relationship, no matter how good, there will inevitably be times when your loyalty and commitment are put to the test. The latter half of this week was that time in my relationship with running. Training in the summer in Boston is one thing -- running around a shady reservoir is generally a pleasant experience. Training in July in small town South Carolina is another thing entirely. Between the extreme heat and the packs of wild dogs (no I am not kidding), it is a difficult place to run. The heat also doesn't break down here the way it does in Boston. Up north if you hold out until 7 or 8pm eventually the temperature will drop. Down here, not so much. So today I faced a 6 mile run in 95 degree heat. The temperature didn't drop into the 80's until after it got dark, and then the wild dog thing is too much for me to handle. So it was sunny and hot when I set out to run 6 miles of .7 mile laps around my parents' neighborhood (no, the wild dogs do not spare residential neighborhoods, but I figured if you are going to be chased down by a pack of dogs you might as well be close to home!). My special gentleman sat in a lawn chair at the end of my parents' driveway throughout my run, reading a math paper. Every time I ran by he would drench me with the garden hose -- it was the only way to cope with the heat (yes, I am aware of how lucky I am to have such a wonderful partner!). A few laps in I convinced some kids at the other end of the loop to spray me with the hose as I ran by them too. In the end, the 6 miles were manageable. Hot, but manageable. Tomorrow we are driving back to Boston, and I am definitely looking forward to running in the Boston heat rather than the South Carolina variety.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Spritz Cookies (Page 684)

RECIPE #785

  • Date: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Jenny, John, Mike, Scott, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: B

Veronique recently bought me several items off my Gourmet Project Wishlist (thanks Vero!), and one of them was the cookie press required for this recipe. So I made these cookies to bring to the summer topology seminar last week. These spritz cookies were very typical butter cookies, with a hint of almond extract, pressed into cute shapes and baked until crispy and golden. These are a type of cookie that you would expect to find on any well-stocked tray of Christmas cookies. I had quite a good time making these, trying out my new cookie press! It looks like a big cookie gun -- you load it up with cookie dough and pull the trigger to shoot out cookies. You can change the plate through which the dough is extruded to form all sorts of different shapes. The press that Vero gave me must have at least 20 different plates, and it was great fun (and very humbling) to look at the plate and try to guess what a cookie extruded through it was going to look like. Sounds easy, no? Well I challenge you to come by my place sometime and try it. Very, very, tricky! Anyway, the cookie press produced very industrial looking cookies. In fact, with the look and taste of these cookies they somehow seemed store-bought. They tasted fine -- extremely buttery -- but there was nothing terribly exciting about them. I ate more of these than I will admit, so I won't say they were at all bad, but I probably won't make this particular recipe again.

This recipe isn't online.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tarragon-Shallot Egg Salad Sandwiches (Page 185)

RECIPE #784

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

I was looking for some lunch-fare last week, so I made this egg salad. It never made it into the lunches though because I ate this instead of the red snapper the night the red snapper disappointed me. This egg salad was pretty good. Matty, who declared before tasting it that he doesn't like egg salad, then named this the best egg salad he has ever had. I wouldn't go that far. It was pretty good. The tarragon flavor was strong (notably the recipe gives a choice between white wine vinegar and tarragon white wine vinegar. I used the latter so that probably intensified the tarragon flavor), so it is definitely for tarragon lovers only. But that herbiness cut the richness of the egg salad a bit, giving it a cleaner, lighter taste than typical egg salad. The flavor of the salad was nicely complemented by some Boston lettuce and rye bread. My main complaint was that the egg salad was a bit runny. I wasn't particularly hoping for a super-stiff egg salad, but this one was too oozy for my taste. It made for a perfectly respectable sandwich, but if I needed to make egg salad again, I'm not sure I would use this recipe.

Here is the recipe.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Whole Red Snapper Veracruz (Page 316)

RECIPE #783

  • Date: Monday, July 7, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-
This recipe was part of the all-seafood-all-the-time plan for the summer. In general I have had fairly positive feelings about the whole fish recipes in The Book, but this one I wasn't thrilled with. My fundamental complaint was that it was bland. The tomato sauce had lots of delicious, flavorful things in it: olives, capers, onions, garlic, pickled jalapenos, etc... Yet somehow, it just didn't come together to form something delicious and flavorful. What flavor the sauce had was also not-at-all absorbed by the fish. My other complaint is that The Book called for the fillets to be removed before serving. I have ranted before about how silly I think it is to cook the fish whole and then take the fillets off before serving. Whole fish are beautiful, and I trust my diners (in this case just Matty) to be able to figure out how to eat it. There was nothing in this dish that tasted bad, but I certainly won't be making it again. Better things can be done with a red snapper.

This recipe isn't online.

Well, I got a lot of responses concerning my friendly email invitation to Matty for what turned out to be our first date. My claim is still that I wasn't asking him out on a date -- I was just trying to be friendly since he was new in town. Matty claims I was after him. After reading the comments it seems that almost everyone agrees with him!

This actually explains a lot. In this particular case, I thought Matty seemed nice, smart, and cute, so I was not at all adverse to the romantic turn that things took. But, I have sent similar emails to men that I am not at all romantically interested in. And more than once, it seems, I have sent the wrong message. Case in point: earlier this summer I sent an email to someone who was sort of new in town inviting him to a party. A party I was holding at my special gentleman's place. I thought this was unambiguously a purely friendly invite. I just figured it might be good for him to get to know some of the people coming to the party. He couldn't make it though, and it wasn't until more than a month later that I realized that he had thought I was asking him out on a date. Whoops. I cleared that up for him as soon as I realized, but it makes me wonder how many people out there secretly think I am holding a torch for them when I thought I was just being friendly. I have actually been "dumped" four times by math guys that I wasn't pursuing. This usually happens by email, and all the emails have the same form:

Dear Teena,

I don’t want to date you.

I know you want to date me, but I don’t want to date you. I know this hurts you and I’m sorry. I am interested in you, but I don’t think we should date.

I think it’s probably not a good idea for us to date.

Best, Mathematician.

It's a weird phenomenon, these emails. On one occasion I got really angry. I wrote an email response that I later regretted. Since, I learned instead to be soft and apologetic, explaining clearly the friendly non-romantic feelings I have for the person.

After the overwhelming response to my email to Matty, I now understand that maybe my "friendly" is too "flirty" and is not to be used on the opposite sex unless I have romantic intentions. Ah, live and learn...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cherry Almond Pie (Page 761)

RECIPE #782

  • Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Rachel
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Eric
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Matty and I still had some precious sour cherries that we picked last summer in the freezer, and we needed to use them before Matty moves out of his apartment (which is happening soon!). So I decided to use up the last of them by making this pie. This pie was pretty good. One odd thing about it (not odd in a bad way -- just odd) is that the lattice top wasn't made of pie dough, as you might expect, but rather it was an almond-based dough which was piped directly onto the pie rather than being rolled out and cut into strips. The biggest problem I had with this pie was that the filling was much too liquidy. It was so runny in fact that it leaked out of the crust, and for most of the time that it was in the oven the crust was surrounded by cherry juice. Given that, the crust still had a surprisingly good texture, but it wasn't quite as firm and crispy as one might have hoped. The runny filling may have been my own fault though. The recipe called for tapioca to be ground in a spice grinder and then mixed in with the cherries. I tried to do this but my spice grinder has a mind of its own lately, and sometimes, for no particular reason, it just stops. It couldn't possibly be coaxed into grinding the tapioca, so I "ground" it with a knife. Obviously this isn't as efficient or effective. So perhaps the tapioca didn't absorb liquid as well as it would have had it been properly ground. I don't know. But in any event, the consistency of the filling was a problem. The taste of the filling, however, was not. Yum! Sour cherries are delicious, and they make a seriously divine pie filling. And though I was a little skeptical of the almond lattice top, that was good too. This wasn't the best cherry pie I have ever had, but it was pretty damn good. I am hesitant to admit that the four of us actually ate the entire pie that night (it wasn't all me, I swear!), which is a testimony to the fact that it wasn't bad at all!

This recipe isn't online.

Wild Mushroom Pierogi (Page 241)

RECIPE #781

  • Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty and Rachel
  • Dining Companion: Eric
  • Recipe Rating: A-

When Rachel and Eric came over for dinner last week I embraced the opportunity to make something non-seafood! Rachel is pregnant -- it would be irresponsible of me to serve mercury-laden seafood to a pregnant woman! (Never mind that I am utterly sick of seafood and deeply regretting this all-seafood-all-the-time plan for the summer!) The first time I read this recipe I had a feeling that it would be amazing -- but I was saving it. This is the kind of recipe that it simply seems wrong to make alone. Rolling out dough and filling little dumplings by hand is a group job. Sure, I make much crazier and more time-consuming things all alone in my kitchen, but there is something about dumplings that scream friend bonding time to me. I went to culinary school with a woman approximately my mother's age who was changing careers from being a dental hygienist to a chef. She is awesome and we had such a good time together in school. I would sometimes go out to her house, even after we graduated, and cook with her. I remember very fondly one afternoon when we made homemade ravioli for a big crowd of people. We made 3 kinds of pasta dough (plain, saffron, spinach), 3 fillings (cheese, lamb, butternut squash), and 3 sauces (marinara, bechamel, sage butter). It took most of an afternoon, but it was amazing to see all the sheets of homemade pasta we made turn into bowls of beautiful, delicious little ravioli. Various people wandered through the kitchen that afternoon (her daughter, family friends, random teenagers...) and we put them all to work, teaching them to make pasta dough, or filling, or how to fill the ravioli so they don't break open when you boil them. When I think of making dumplings, that is what I think of -- being gathered with friends, working together and having a good time. So while I have wanted to make this recipe for a long time, I have been saving it to make with a good friend, who wouldn't mind spending a decent chunk of time in the kitchen, laboring over dozens of little dumplings. But now Rachel is here in Boston, and I seized the opportunity. Matty helped out too, and we had a lovely time making these pierogi (well, I did at least -- I shouldn't speak for them!).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pierogi and Vareniki Dough (Page 242)

RECIPE #780

  • Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Rachel
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Eric
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I forgot to take a picture of the dough alone, but this recipe was a component of the pierogi you see above (which will be the next blog entry). This dough was awesome. It was easy to deal with, made beautiful little dumplings that didn't break open when boiled, and tasted great! As far as doughs go, it was a winner. It was also easy to throw together, and very quick to make! In addition to being the dough for pierogi (delicious savory Ukranian dumplings), this dough apparently also doubles as the dough for vareniki (sweet Ukranian dumplings which I have never made/eaten before). There is one vareniki recipe in The Book and I am looking forward to making it and seeing if this dough works equally beautifully in that context. It is very trendy these days for home cooks to substitute wonton wrappers for homemade dough when making dumplings. If you are going to make pierogi though, I highly recommend making this dough rather than doing that. The dough is easy to make, and much better than those store-bought wonton wrappers!

Here is the recipe.

I went to the homeless shelter today to work the lunch shift, as I did every Sunday for the last two and half years that I lived in Boston. I miss it there a lot when I am in Indiana. Not only do I think it is a fabulous place that is doing amazing work, but after years working the same shift there are several people that I volunteer with who I consider good friends. So when I am in Boston I go back to my Sunday lunch shift whenever I can!

The dining room at the shelter has undergone a major change since I moved away. The board of directors passed a five-year plan to make the food healthier. When I first heard about this I didn't realize how seriously they would take it. But the menus have been radically altered. It's a lot of work to cook two meals per day for 50 - 150 people, and consequently it used to be the case that a decent proportion of the food we served was pre-made frozen or canned food (think: Swanson's chicken pot pies, or Dinty Moore beef stew). That stuff is TERRIBLE for you though, and under the new plan it is completely gone. Almost everything is made fresh and almost every meal comes paired with a huge salad. Today we made whole wheat penne with a tomato-based meat sauce (ground turkey instead of ground beef!), garlic bread, fresh fruit, vegetable soup, and a lovely green salad. The food was great! There are certain meals that I will miss of course (Mmmm.... hot dogs and potato chips!), but overall I think this new change is fantastic! It is labor-intensive to chop up all those fresh fruits and vegetables, but that's what the volunteers are for!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Maitre d'Hotel Butter (Page 894)

RECIPE #779

  • Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Rachel, Eric, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This is one of 6 different compound butter recipes left in The Book (only one left to go!). I picked it to go with dinner last weekend because I was looking for a quick recipe that would work as a spread for bread. This lemony parsley butter was pretty tasty. As Matty said, it was "better than regular butter." That sounds like a low bar, but it definitely has not been the case for every compound butter we have made. This butter had a nice clean flavor to it, and was generally inoffensive. My one complaint is that lemon juice just doesn't incorporate very well into butter. Despite seemingly endless smushing of the butter and lemon juice with a fork, the lemon juice just kept separating out. I had this same problem with a previous compound butter recipe from The Book. I'd imagine an electric mixer would do the trick, so I would recommend beating in the lemon juice, and then smushing in the remaining ingredients with a fork before rolling it up into a log. I also am not such a fan of the butter-log presentation. If using this as a spread it would no doubt be much cuter if it were piped into a little ramekin using a big star tip, and then chilled like that before serving. Overall though, as far as compound butters go, this one was pretty good.

This recipe isn't online.

Whenever my special gentleman and I are living in the same place we try to make a point of taking most or all of the day off of work on Saturdays and doing something special together. Today for our special Saturday we headed up to the North Shore and went sea kayaking. One of the great sources of joy in my life is water. I love to be in water, near water, on water... I love to shower, to swim, to boat, to sit in hot tubs, to wade in kiddie pool, to go down the slip-and-slide. I love water parks more than almost anything else in the world. I love Niagara falls. I love the ocean. I love speedboats and tour boats, paddleboats and canoes. And of course, I love kayaks. I used to whitewater kayak a little bit way back in my Wisconsin days, and I have toured around various lakes in sea kayaks. But strangely, I had never been in a sea kayak in the actual sea. Until today! We had such a good time. We went out kayaking for a few hours right around sunset, and it was spectacularly beautiful. The sun setting over the ocean was amazing. We paddled out to this little island and sat on the water watching the waves break against the shore (and the surfers riding them). It was a lovely feeling to be in a little boat in a huge ocean, rocking with the waves. We have done a lot of cool special Saturday activities, but this was one of my favorites!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Creamy Corn with Sugar Snap Peas and Scallions (Page 534)

RECIPE #778

  • Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Rachel
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Eric
  • Recipe Rating: A-

In retrospect it is a mystery why I didn't make this recipe earlier. I suppose I was scared off by the title. I read "Creamy Corn" as "Creamed Corn" and every time I glanced at this recipe I had visions of some scary concoction from a can that I wouldn't wish upon anyone. It turns out this recipe is nothing like the creamed corn that scarred me as a child. In fact, this "Creamy Corn" is hardly creamy at all. In that whole big vat of veggies that you see before you there was only a quarter of a cup of cream. This recipe was very simple. We cooked scallions in the cream until the cream thickened a bit and then added blanched sugar snap peas and corn. Then we just seasoned and served. It was simple but delicious. This was a perfect summertime vegetable dish. The wonderful freshness of the corn was complemented beautifully by the sugar snap peas and scallions. The small amount of cream gave it just the right touch of richness. I love this kind of dish -- simply prepared vegetables in a little bit of fat. This was an excellent variation on that theme. Yum!

Here is the recipe.

My special gentleman and I went out to dinner tonight at the restaurant where we had our first date, nearly two years ago. It's a Korean barbecue place. Although we both like it a lot, we don't go there so often. In fact this may only be the second or third time we have been back since that first date. The details of that first "date" are a source of dispute. Matty claims that I asked him out, which is true in the sense that I did suggest we go to dinner, but false in that I hadn't intended for it to be a date. In fact, I was casually dating someone else. Matty had just moved to town and we met in the math department common room. We had a little chat and found out that we lived in the same neighborhood. So I suggested we hang out -- it was meant to be friendly, not romantic. The evening clearly evolved into a date though, and Matty claims that was my secret plan all along. Luckily, in this age of email, I have it all in my archives. So here is the "date" invite. Feel free to vote on whether my email suggests "date" (as Matty claims) or "hanging out as friends" (which was how I intended it!).

Hi Matt-

Hopefully this is the Matt who faints and falls down stairs in Paris, otherwise whoever I am writing to is probably horribly confused. This is the Teena who can't do a pull-up. :)

Since we're neighbors, I was wondering if you wanted to grab dinner in Inman some night this week. I still haven't tried most of the restaurants, so I thought we could do some joint exploring. Are you free at all?

Teena

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pommes Anna (Page 571)

RECIPE #777

  • Date: Sunday, July 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Rachel
  • Dining Companions: Eric and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I have been eying this recipe for years, but waiting until I had a proper mandoline with which to make it. Emilee bought me a beautiful mandoline for my birthday in April (thanks again Em!) so I am slowly going through the mandoline-required recipes. Pommes Anna is a dish that I have always loved, and this recipe did not disappoint. Honestly, there is no way this was going to be bad. It only had 4 ingredients: potatoes, butter, salt, and pepper. The potatoes were very thinly sliced, then layered in a nonstick skillet. Between each layer the potatoes were brushed with butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. The whole thing was then baked in the oven until the potatoes were brown and crispy around the edges and deliciously tender in the middle. Yum! Usually this dish gets inverted before it is served, to expose the beautifully browned bottom. The little blurb before the recipe in The Book says it will get inverted, but the recipe calls for it to be served right-side-up. Weird. So I didn't invert, but as you can see, it was still quite pretty. Rachel and I were very impressed by this dish. Matty thought it was just ok -- nothing terribly exciting or special. I would happily make this again though. It was quick to throw together, very pretty, and delicious!

Here is the recipe.

When choosing the recipes for dinner on Sunday, I was trying to keep everything pregnancy-friendly: no soft cheeses or deli meats, nothing with high levels of mercury or raw eggs, nothing likely to induce nausea or high-risk for food poisoning... It is a set of restrictions that until the last year or so have never really been a part of my life. Recently, though, things have changed. No, I am not pregnant, but Rachel is (congratulations Rach!), and many of my friends are either knocked up or have just recently given birth. I am super-excited about this. I love babies! I make a big fuss whenever I am around a baby -- I ooh and aahh with the best of them. So much so in fact that in the last few months at least three different people have made comments about how they can tell my "biological clock is ticking."

Actually, it's not.

Don't get me wrong, I love kids. I even hope to have some of my own someday. Emphasis on the SOMEDAY. But now? Not so much. I have a not-permanent job, I generally live alone, a thousand miles away from my better half, and I travel every other week. Just the sight of parents in airports trying to handle their kids makes me terrified of the idea of ever being a parent! I think it's funny that because I am 28 years old and ooh and aahhh over babies everyone assumes I have some kind of agenda. When I was 12 years old I ooh and aahhhed over babies and no one asked me about my biological clock! Maybe someday I will look back and wish that I had kids when I was younger, but right now I am happy to not even think about it for another few years! That said, I couldn't be more excited for my friends who are pregnant/new parents! It's so fun having babies in my life!

Sambuca-Poached Figs with Ricotta and Pine Nuts (Page 805)

RECIPE #776

  • Saturday, July 5, 2008 -- 11pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
I saw fresh figs at the grocery store last week and I jumped at the chance to make this recipe. When I see the word anise in the title of a recipe, or worse, the word sambuca, it is like a giant flashing neon red sign saying, "Don't do it! Don't eat it!" I generally dislike anise-flavored things, but I will hesitantly admit that in this recipe, it worked. That is not to say that I enjoyed the licorice flavor, or that I happily slurped down the anisey syrup, but rather just that this recipe would have been much less coherent with it. And it was already a little incoherent. Let me describe: Fresh figs were poached in a sugary sambuca syrup, then served with salted ricotta cheese and roasted, salted pine nuts, and drizzled with the poaching syrup. Sound a bit odd? Well, it was. I certainly wouldn't make this for a big crowd -- I can guarantee that more than a few people would not go for it. But it was interesting. Matty took a couple bites, then said tentatively, "I think I don't hate it." After a few more bites and some careful consideration he offered, "I may actually even like it." Reading the recipe I expected this one to be pretty bad, but actually I liked it much more than I expected to. Surprisingly the sambuca complemented the figs, ricotta and pine nuts nicely . The recipe also had a very appealing sweet-savory balance. I am a huge fan of salty and sweet together, and this recipe executed that very well. Would I make it again? No, probably not. But I was certainly glad to have tried it. I would never have guessed that the licorice flavor would work so well with figs and cheese -- live and learn!

Here is the recipe.

It is 5:21pm and I am still in my pajamas. That's right, I have yet to venture outside for the day. There are two possible interpretations of this fact. One: extreme laziness, or two: extreme diligence. Today, fortunately, it was the latter. Summer as an academic (at least in math) is often without a lot of structure. I am not teaching this summer, and aside from conferences and one seminar per week, I have no real scheduled work obligations. I am working on my research of course, but when and where this happens is completely up to me. Usually, when I want to have a productive day I make sure to go into the office. At home it is easy to laze about, cooking, or napping, when one really should be working. The office has less entertainment. But if I want to have a really, really productive day, I stay home. In the comfort of my pajamas, without the distractions of the internet (we have crappy wireless at home that hardly works), I can get a lot done if I set my mind to it. I have moved past my bad attitude about work from last week, and am now happily getting things done! After a long day deep in thought though, it is now time for a break. I am ready to change out of my PJs and into my running clothes! Ahh... the luxury of summer.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fettuccine with Butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Sage (Page 208)

RECIPE #775

  • Date: Saturday, July 5, 2008 -- 10:30pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

It was 10:00pm on Saturday night before Matty and I even started thinking about dinner. We weighed our options (something really fast from The Book or take-out Thai food) and decided on this dish. This is the kind of book recipe that is a little silly. I'll summarize: cook some fettuccine. Toss with outrageous quantities of butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and sage. Season and serve. Yup that's it. So how was this recipe? Well our rendition was inedible, but it was user error. The recipe calls for 2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 4 ounces). We had some pre-grated in the fridge, so out of laziness (and hunger) I suggested we use that. Matty was measuring the cheese and as he dumped it in he said, "This seems like a lot of cheese." And I said, "Just add whatever it says." Well, the cheese we were using was grated in such a way that 2 cups was more like 8 ounces of cheese, which meant we had added double the intended amount. Now I like cheese as much as the next girl (more, actually) but Parmigiano-Reggiano is really intense, and salty, so the result was barely edible. You can even see in the picture how much cheese is sitting on those noodles. There was also a stick and half of butter in there, so this was not a light dish. Matty had a fine suggestion that saved the meal: add another pound of pasta. So I boiled up some more pasta and added it (with some pasta water to help distribute the cheese), and the result was quite tasty (and a little weird -- the only pasta in the cupboard was whole wheat rotini, which was a little odd with the fettuccine). It tasted ok though, which was good because 2 pounds of pasta will last 2 people quite a long time. We are still eating leftovers for lunches. I probably would have preferred this dish with basil rather than sage, but the sage was also tasty. If you are looking for a simple, quick pasta dish, this one is perfectly fine. Just be careful with the cheese!

This recipe isn't online.

Today is my ex-boyfriend's birthday. Not just any old random ex, but my first love. Thinking about it makes me sentimental in some way. He and I were really bad together -- he treated me badly, I treated him badly -- it was a bad scene. But we had some crazy chemistry that compelled us to keep torturing one another rather than just writing each other off when we probably should have. Years have passed since then, and he and I are friends now. I even went to his wedding in the fall (that's proof that we really are friends, no?). Anyway, it's his birthday today so I wrote him a long Happy Birthday email this morning. He wrote back a little while ago, letting me know what is new with him and his wife, how his PhD is going, etc... At the end of the email it said, "I miss you." It was in the context of "I miss you -- I should really call you sometime," not "I miss you --run away with me, " but when I read it I had that heart-skipping-a-beat feeling. It's completely crazy. I have no romantic feelings for this person any more (and I haven't in years), and I have always viewed it as a great blessing that we split up. But yet, "I miss you" still gets to me. Maybe it is always like that with one's first love... I don't know.

Sour Cherry Crostata (Page 779)

RECIPE #774

  • Date: Friday, July 4, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Alex, Mary Beth, Shaili, and a bunch of other partygoers...
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman and I had originally planned to be in Ohio over the Fourth of July weekend, but we were both so exhausted of traveling that we chose to stay home instead. So it wasn't until early in the day on the Fourth that we decided to go to a party at Alex's that evening. We wanted to bring something with us, so I flipped through The Book for a dessert recipe that would not require a trip to the grocery store. This one fit the bill (we had sour cherries in the freezer that we picked last summer), and seemed very appropriate for a Fourth of July barbecue. I think it was an eye-opening moment for Matty when he realized that it was possible to construct such an item exclusively from ingredients found in his apartment. When he and I started dating, his pantry was practically empty. There was a big bag of rice, some cans of beans, and an assortment of really old spices. For the first six months of so of our relationship I was hesitant to change this situation. In the early stages of a relationship you never know where it is going to go, and it seemed a shame to stock his pantry with things he would never use if we broke up. So I waited. Eventually, though, I started cooking (and now living) at his place, so he slowly acquired an impressively stocked pantry. Flour? 5 different kinds -- all purpose, wheat, cake, rye, and bread. Sugar? 5 kinds -- light brown, dark brown, granulated, powdered, and turbinado. 3 selections of salt, every grain imaginable, wasabi paste, tamarind, fermented black beans, etc, etc.... He's got it all. He also added some new kitchen equipment to his collection, and now cooking at his place is almost as easy as cooking at mine.

So we rummaged through the cupboards and freezer on Friday and came up with the ingredients to throw together this crostata. How was it? Amazing! On taste alone I would probably have given it an A, but the recipe was a bit of a pain in the ass, so I bumped it down to an A-. I keep looking at the picture though and thinking, "Mmmm... I could go for a slice of that right about now." It was really good. The crust was delicious -- it was a pasta frolla, which is more cookie-like than a typical pie crust, and also more of a pain to deal with. It doesn't typically roll out very easily, and that was true in this case as well. But it is very forgiving in that you can just smush it into the pan wherever you have holes or cracks and it comes out just fine. The filling was absolutely divine. Matty and I are both partial to sour cherries (and I am especially emotionally attached to these particular sour cherries because I picked them myself). The filling had just the right consistency and sweetness to complement the cherries. Delicious! The one annoying thing about it was that the cornstarch clumped when I added it (even though I had carefully mixed it with water first -- it just wasn't enough water for that amount of cornstarch) which meant that I had to pick little white globs of cornstarch out of the filling before I used it. Not super fun. but it was worth it because the result was not only delicious, but beautiful (the picture doesn't do it justice -- it was very pretty). The finishing touches called for in this recipe were very professional -- the egg wash and sugar dusting gave the lattice top a lovely brown sheen and a perfect sweet crunch. I thought this crostata was a winner, and several people at the party commented to me that they really enjoyed it.

Here is the recipe.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Swiss Chard and Chickpeas (Page 542)

RECIPE #773

  • Date: Thursday, July 3, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This dish seemed like one my special gentleman would enjoy, so I chose it to go with some fish last week. I'll admit, I wasn't expecting to like this. Chard is not my favorite, so I tend to avoid the chard recipes in The Book. This dish was a pleasant surprise though. The flavor of the chard went very well with the onions and garlic in this dish. The chickpeas were also a nice complement to the chard, providing this dish with some substance. The sauce was tomato-based, and fairly tasty. My one complaint about this dish is that it was a little bland. Everything tasted good, but there was no kick to it, no excitement. It could have used more acidity -- there was a touch of lemon juice, but it wasn't enough. The Book claims this is an Armenian dish. I am unfamiliar with Armenian food, and I'm curious how this dish is traditionally spiced and seasoned. As it is, it was tasty, but I'm not eager to make it again.

Here is the recipe.

I used to think that it was impossible to appreciate being healthy if one never got sick. But I haven't been sick in a while and yet today I am really appreciating my health! I am starting week 10 of my half-marathon training, which means that I have completed 45 runs, and I haven't missed a single run because I wasn't feeling well. This, for me, is a big deal. At various points in my life I was that person who was always sick. I had chronic headaches in college, stomach problems throughout much of my life, issues with my tonsils, and a variety of really weird medical problems: cysts on my ovaries, a leaking spinal column, a brain tumor... I have spent more time in emergency rooms and hospitals than I care to admit. Now, though (knock on wood) I am healthy! Ok, true, I still have a brain tumor, but I feel great. And in some ways I am glad that I have had to deal with an assortment of minor medical issues, because now that I (hopefully!) have them all sorted out I feel so blessed by my health. Lately, with all the running I have been doing, I am feeling athletic and healthy, and it is great!

Hazelnut-Crusted Trout (Page 317)

RECIPE #772

  • Date: Thursday, July 3, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this recipe as part of the all-seafood-all-the-time plan. Note that this is the fourth fish recipe I have blogged about in a row! As my time left in Boston is getting shorter and shorter I am getting more and more serious about this plan (and more and more concerned about how I am ever going to finish the 70+ seafood recipes I have left!). Unfortunately I am also getting more and more tired of eating fish. Matty and I had another fish recipe for dinner tonight, and when we sat down at the table he said, "I'm predicting that this is going to be a Honey Bunches of Oats meal for my Teeny." It's true -- when I hit fish overload, I end up eating a small serving of fish and then a big bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats for dinner (I love that stuff!).

This hazelnut-crusted fish from last week was pretty good though. I bought the fish at Whole Foods (where I purchase all of my seafood), and there must have been some sort of miscommunication between me and the fishmonger. I asked for a whole trout and he happily picked out a fish and wrapped it up for me. The printed label on the wrapped up fish read European Sea Bass, but I figured it was just a mistake, especially since the fishmonger specifically asked me what I was going to do with my trout. When I got home and unwrapped that fish though, it was clear: not a trout. At that point I had already purchased the other ingredients for this dish, and the fish was about the right size, so I decided to go ahead and try it. In my opinion, this dish was fine with the sea bass. After Matty took his first bite, though, he offered, "This preparation would be really good with trout." Ha ha.

The concept of this dish was simple. Trout (or, apparently, sea bass) was dipped in egg and then ground hazelnuts and then pan fried until golden brown and cooked through. The dish was finished with a simple lemon butter sauce. The hazelnut coating was very tasty, and gave the fish a nice crunchy exterior. I had problems with over-browning, so the fish ended up with a mild burnt taste. So I would advise keeping the heat pretty low and checking often to see that the nuts aren't burning. The lemon butter sauce was essential to the dish. Without it the fish was a bit bland, but the lemon butter complemented the nut coating very well to give the dish some much needed acidity and contrast. Overall, it was a good preparation for a whole fish. I would like to try it with an actual trout someday, but even with a small sea bass, it was tasty.

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Grilled Mackerel with Spicy Tomato Jam (Page 300)

RECIPE #771

  • Tuesday, July 1, 2008 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: West Newton, MA
  • Kitchen: Mike and Tim's Mansion
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Mike, Tim, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Given an opportunity to use Mike and Tim for their grill (oops, I meant use Mike and Tim's grill...), I made this grilled fish at their place this past week. The recipe calls for mackerel or bluefish -- there was no mackerel to be found at Whole Foods, so bluefish it was. Bluefish is a rather fishy fish. Several people commented that the fish on its own was too intensely fishy, but that the jam balanced it out in a nice way. I found the tomato jam a bit odd. It was rather sweet (one of the ingredients was apple jelly), but also with strong flavors of vinegar and tomato. The general consensus seemed to be that like the fish, the jam was also not that good on its own, but the two paired together were pretty good. I certainly didn't dislike this dish, but looking at the picture I don't feel particularly interested in eating it again. One recipe note: I set the grill to the heat indicated in the recipe but the fish took quite a bit longer to cook through than the recipe indicated that it would.

Here is the recipe.

My dear friend Rachel and her husband Eric came over for dinner tonight and it was such fun. Rach and I met by chance our last year in college. I lived with Emilee all through college, and our senior year we chose housing that held four people rather than just two. There was an event where everyone living in that kind of housing met up and we were all supposed to sort out who would live together. I found this very stressful. This is not a minor thing -- we would be living with these people for an entire year. I am not terribly outgoing, and neither is Em, so we were hanging back a little bit when Rachel came up to us and introduced herself. She is one of the friendliest people I have ever met. We talked for a few minutes, and it was decided that Emilee and I would live with Rachel and her roommate Sara. I admit, I was nervous about this arrangement -- I knew the two of them not-at-all. But that day turned out to be a great blessing in my life, because Rachel is an amazing person, and a wonderful friend. I learned a tremendous amount from her in the year that we lived together at Stanford.

She stayed in California after college, and I moved to Boston. I saw her from time to time, but the year that I spent several months at Stanford she was living in Syria, so we haven't had a real chunk of time together since college. Lucky for me though, Rachel's husband just accepted a tenure-track job at Harvard, and on Thursday we helped them move into their new place, just a few blocks away from where I am living this summer! I couldn't be more delighted! So this afternoon Rach came over and we cooked up a big meal from The Book. It was so nice to hang out with her, cooking, reminiscing, and having a good time. I am so much looking forward to having her around the rest of the summer!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Grilled Tuna with Warm White Bean Salad (Page 299)

RECIPE #770

  • Date: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: West Newton, MA
  • Kitchen: Mike and Tim's Mansion
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Mike, Tim, and Pam
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Mike and Tim are living in a huge house this summer, which has a huge kitchen, and a huge grill. So they, knowing that I have no grill of my own, invited me over to grill at their place last week. Since I am in all-seafood-all-the-time mode, I made two grilled fish recipes. This grilled tuna was delicious. The tuna steaks were seasoned with lemon, oil, salt, pepper, and fennel seeds and then grilled until just barely cooked through. The seasonings complemented the smoky grill flavor perfectly, producing flavorful, tasty pieces of tuna. The fish was served atop a white bean salad. For the most part the salad was very tasty, but it had one strange and annoying feature. The salad contained red onion, which rather than being finely chopped, as you might expect, was thinly sliced. So there were these big rings of onion in the salad. As they got warm the rings got slimy and stringy. It was texturally very unappealing. The flavor of the onions was important, but why were they not just chopped instead of sliced? It's a mystery. The flavor of the salad was excellent though, and it complemented the fish very nicely. With some non-stringy onions, I likely would have given this recipe an A. It was tasty -- all five of us found it very satisfying!

Here is the recipe.

Today was just an all-around shitty day. I had a little meltdown about some work-related stuff, followed by a little meltdown about some personal stuff. So I was two for two today. Granted, once I had the first minor meltdown I was probably more prone to the second one, but still, it was not a good day.

There is some common wisdom that being a post-doc (as I am) is the most miserable three years in the academic life of a mathematician. Getting a post-doc is the last phase where hiring is done based partly on potential rather than entirely on accomplishment, so there is a lot of pressure to prove oneself (READ: to publish) as a post-doc before one applies for tenure-track jobs. So, people say, post-docs are miserable. Having just finished the first year of my three years as a post-doc I can honestly say that I wasn't miserable. But I know a lot of people who have experienced post-doc misery, and in a moment of great frustration earlier today, I really understood it. Being a math academic is a great job, especially once you have tenure. But it is hard, and competitive, and there is a lot of pressure. I cried at my desk this afternoon, which is something that I haven't done in years. It's hard to even articulate exactly why I was crying. I just had a moment of overwhelming frustration. I could have stopped crying (probably I could have never even started) but instead I embraced it. I sat there for 15 minutes, staring out the window at the Charles river, and cried. I just let it all go. Afterwards, I felt a bit better. Maybe it had been too long since I had done that...

Friday, July 04, 2008

Oven-Poached Halibut in Olive Oil (Page 312)

RECIPE #769

  • Date: Monday, June 30, 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. This recipe was hands-down the best fish I have had from The Book so far. In concept it seemed a little strange: halibut oven-poached in a whole lot of extra virgin olive oil infused with lemon, capers, and parsley. The oven was set very low and the fish cooked for more than an hour. Despite my skepticism, it came out delicious! The fish was moist, flaky, and flavorful without being oily (shockingly enough!). The infused oil made an excellent sauce. It was lemony and very slightly briny, which was a perfect complement to the halibut. We started with a beautiful piece of halibut, and this recipe did wonders to it. It's also not quite as wasteful as it seems because although it calls for 2 cups of extra virgin olive oil (which is expensive!) the oil mysteriously does not take on a fishy flavor. So the lemony caper oil can be strained and used for a variety of cooking purposes (I used it to dress some peas, and it was lovely). Basically, this dish is awesome! Start with a really good piece of fish and you will not be disappointed.

Here is the recipe.

A friend of mine once said, in extolling the many physical and psychological benefits of running, "If someone told me that running cured baldness, I would believe it." I agree with her sentiment entirely.

I have been feeling a little out or sorts lately -- as if my equilibrium is off in some way. I'm not unhappy -- I just feel unlike myself. Yesterday evening when I went for a run I was tired and not totally in the mood for running. But I hit the trail anyway. After about a mile the sky got black and the wind picked up out of nowhere. It was gusting so hard that there was mist coming off the reservoir. I looked up at the sky and longed for rain. As I hit mile two I got my wish. There was some impressive thunder and lightening and it was clear this was going to be a real storm. I was a half a mile from my car, but I turned around and ran back into the woods, the long way around the water. Not long after, the sky opened up in a way that only seems to happen in the dog days of summer. It was pouring. I was soaked, and so happy. I ran two miles through the pouring-down rain, feeling fantastically free. It was great. That storm was just what I needed. I sometimes wish that I could bottle that feeling of running in the rain and have it for another day. Luckily summers in Boston are blessed with many downpours. If you are looking for me when the rain is coming down, I will be out at the reservoir, lacing up my running shoes.

(This afternoon, running around the reservoir (sadly, no rain), the path was closed where a huge tree had come down in yesterday's storm. I couldn't help but wonder when that had happened... Had I just run by?)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pickled Black-Eyed Peas (Page 275)

RECIPE #768

  • Date: Saturday, June 14, 2008 -- 1pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I put off this recipe for a long time because Pickled Black-Eyed Peas didn't sound so good to me. If I had actually read the recipe (and not just the title) I might have realized that everything going into this dish was delicious. Lo and behold, stirred together the ingredients were still delicious. My special gentleman (yawning in bed beside me as I write this) notes, "Refreshing, and healthy." Indeed it was. This was a great recipe for a hot summer day. The acidity from the vinegar and heat from the jalapeno gave the black-eyed peas a nice kick. The yellow and red bell peppers provided a nice color, some textural contrast, and a touch of sweetness. All of the ingredients were well-balanced, creating a recipe that was light and addictive. I found myself standing with the refrigerator door open, eating these beans straight out of the bowl. This recipe was simple and tasty. This is the kind of recipe that makes me glad I am cooking every recipe in The Book. Based on the name, I never would have tried this recipe if I didn't have to, but I really liked it.

Here is the recipe.

This week I am paying for my sins from the two weeks I spent galavanting off in Europe. Week one, in Denmark, I was more or less on task with my running. I stuck to my half-marathon training schedule nearly the whole week. The second week of my trip, in Germany, I was not so good. On several occasions I opted to laze about drinking beer and eating apple strudel when I should have been running. So now, back in Boston, I started this week with 7 miles of running debt. Add to that the 16 miles of running I had scheduled for this week anyway, and it ends up being a 23 mile week for me. (No, I do not believe in forgiving myself the sins of last week and calling it even. If I am unaccountable for the missed miles, there is no incentive not to laze about whenever I feel like it!) Three days and 11 miles into the week, I am feeling the burn (more accurately: I am feeling the blisters). I am trying to make careful mental notes about how un-fun it is to have a bunch of extra miles to make up. That way when I galavant off to California for two weeks in August I will remember not to just laze about drinking beer and eating Mexican food, but also to run according to my schedule! On the up side, a week of eating apple strudel for every meal hasn't seemed to slow me down any. And no doubt next week will be a breeze when my mileage goes down to 18! Now I just have to get through this week...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Chocolate Sambuca Crinkle Cookies (Page 671)

RECIPE #767

  • Date: Thursday, June 12, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This was yet another recipe in the series of anise-flavored cookies in The Book. There are a few culinary techniques that The Book is pretty exited about. One: deep-frying. Two: Caramel. Three: Adding anise. Ok, maybe that last one isn't really a "technique" but nonetheless, The Book is seriously pro-anise. Now, I am seriously pro-deep-frying, and also pro-caramel, but anise? Not so much. So I see "1/2 cup sambuca or other anise-flavored liqueur" in the ingredients list for a batch of cookies and I put off making them for two and half years, even though "12 ounces good bittersweet chocolate" is also on the ingredients list. But the time has come when beggars can't be choosers -- the cookie choices are running low, and desperate times call for anise-flavored cookies.

So how were they? Well, imagine a piece of black licorice dipped in chocolate. It pretty much tasted like that. If that sounds good to you, more power to you. If it doesn't, I'm with you on that one. The thing that was deeply sad about these cookies is that aside from the licorice flavor, they were awesome. The texture was perfect: soft on the inside, with a thin, slightly crunchy exterior. They were moist and chewy -- absolute perfection texture-wise. I tried (with minimal success) to mentally block out the licorice flavor, and what was left was also deliciously flavored. The cookies were rich and chocolatey, and the not-terribly-sweet interior was complemented perfectly by the powdered sugar coated exterior. Plus, they were pretty. So pretty in fact that I kept eating them, only to be disappointed over and over again by the anise. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with these cookies, going back again and again only to be hurt again and again. (To be fair, the relationship probably seemed abusive from the perspective of the cookies too, since I was eating them...) So would I make these again? Well, no. But would it be easy to make a delicious cookie from this recipe? Yes! My inclination would be to replace all the sambuca with kahlua, which seems bound to produce an amazing treat. Or Grand Marnier... Basically, pick your favorite liqueur, ask yourself, "Would this be good with chocolate?" If yes, throw it in instead of the sambuca. And if your favorite liqueur is sambuca, and you think that sounds good with chocolate, no doubt you will love this recipe as written!

Here is the recipe.

"Paella" Fried Rice (Page 254)

RECIPE #766

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

I am almost done with the Grains and Beans section of The Book, so it is very tempting to finish off the last few recipes in the section. It would be my first completed section (The Book is divided into 21 sections, and my progress varies considerably section by section. To get an idea of how the various sections are coming along, click on the Project Index link on the right and scroll to the bottom)! With the intention of finishing off the Grains and Beans section this month, I made this recipe (and another from the same section) before I left for Europe. However, I realized upon my return that the only two recipes I have left in the section now are both for cassoulet. I'm no stickler for tradition, and I am pretty flexible about eating "winter" foods in the "summer" months, but there does seem to be something more than a little bit wrong about cassoulet in July. So I am going to hold off for some chilly days in the fall. I guess that means I won't have a fully completed section of The Book any time soon, but so be it.

This "paella" was basically just fried rice with a bunch of stuff added in. That "stuff" included cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, onion, red bell pepper, chorizo, peas, pumpkin seeds, and cilantro, so there was a lot going on. In fact, this dish was like a textural wonderland. The flavors came together pretty well. I used some delicious mango chorizo from Whole Foods (man that stuff is good!), and Matty made fun of me throughout the meal for picking all the sausage out of the dish (it's a bad habit, I admit, but I love chorizo!). I would have preferred a higher ratio of chorizo to the other ingredients. Generally I would have preferred more add-ins and less rice. The rice had a good flavor to it -- a bit of spiciness from the sausage and the red pepper flakes -- but I found it to be too oily. I often have this problem with fried rice, so perhaps it is just personal preference, but I would have preferred the dish with 1/2 to 2/3 as much oil as it had. Overall though the flavors were good, and this dish held up well in the microwave the next day (which is a testimony to how much oil was in that rice -- usually rice reheats poorly). As written I probably wouldn't make it again, but with half as much oil, twice as much chorizo, some egg, and maybe even some shrimp thrown in, I think it could be a winner.

Here is the recipe.