Friday, August 29, 2008

Braised Fennel with Olives (Page 539)

RECIPE #816

  • Date: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


The choices in the Vegetables section of The Book are getting more and more suspect. I will admit my biases up front: One, fennel isn't my favorite. I don't dislike it, but I would also never choose it. Two, when I see the word "braised" next a meat word (e.g. beef, pork, chicken, lamb...) I get terribly excited. Braised meat = deliciousness. When I see the word "braised" next to a vegetable work (e.g. fennel) I get all sad inside. Smushy vegetables are not my favorite. Braising makes vegetables smushy. In the case of fennel bulbs, braising actually makes it more limp than smushy, and that's a bit better I guess, but I still wasn't too excited to make this recipe. All that said, it was better than I expected it to be. First, the method: I browned onions and garlic and then added tomatoes, tomato juice, chicken stock, wedges of fennel bulb, chopped black olives, fennel seeds, orange zest, and salt, and cooked for a long, long time (on the order of an hour). My main objection to fennel is usually the strong anisey flavor of it. However, in this recipe, the tomatoes and olives balanced the anise in a nice way. The fennel was indeed limp, which wasn't terribly appealing, but the flavor of it was good. I can certainly imagine that if I liked fennel more I might enjoy this dish, paired with a big hunk of crusty bread. Matty is fennel-neutral, and he was pretty apathetic about this recipe. It was neither here nor there for him. He ate it, but without enthusiasm, which if you know him you will know is not a good sign. I certainly wouldn't make this one again, but as braised fennel dishes go, it wasn't bad.

This recipe isn't online.

The math department is bustling with activity this afternoon, it being Friday before the first week of classes! I had three hours of course meetings this morning, and I have spent much of my afternoon writing syllabi, setting up course web pages, communicating with my teaching assistants, and getting organized. This semester I am teaching two different classes, which is a first for me. Last fall I had two classes, but they were both sections of second semester calculus. This semester though I will be teaching one class of first semester calculus (officially: Calculus I) and one class of business calculus (officially: Brief Survey of Calculus I). The material covered by the two courses is, at least in theory, similar. But the focus and level of the two classes are actually very different. It's a total of about 150 students, which is manageable enough! Classes start Tuesday, although both my classes are Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so my first day is Wednesday. I have a big long to-do list of things I would like to accomplish before classes start, so I think it is going to be a busy few days! At least this year I don't have the added stress of doing all the administrative things associated with teaching for the first time. Now I know how all the online systems work and exactly what needs to be done; I know who in the department to go to for help with various things. It's nice. Today I was helping the two new post-docs get oriented and it brought back memories of how intimidating it was to start teaching at a new university. I tried to be as helpful to them as I could be! I am feeling pretty relaxed about my teaching this semester. I am optimistic that I will have good students, and I am hopeful to not have any problems with cheating this time around. That would make me happy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Watercress and Apple Salad with Peanut Dressing (Page 138)

RECIPE #815

  • Date: Monday, August 18, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Matty, and Tom
  • Recipe Rating: B

This was another side dish for a collaborative meal I made with Brian last week. (Side note: I can't believe that was last week -- it seems like at least three weeks ago. Ah, traveling...) Anyway, Brian made a delicious pasta dish and I was looking for a salad to go along with it. This salad was extremely simple. Watercress and matchsticks of apple were tossed with a dressing of yogurt, peanut butter, water, salt and lime juice. The result was better than I expected. The dressing was subtle (in fact it was borderline bland -- it could have used more salt). It had a mild peanut butter flavor which was obviously delicious with the apples and surprisingly inoffensive on the watercress. In fact the dressing mellowed out the peppery watercress very nicely. Brian commented that the watercress was less sharp than he was used to. So we did a little experiment where we licked the dressing off a few leaves and then ate them, and it turned out that the plain watercress had just as much bite as you would expect, but the dressing had balanced it out. I accidentally put too many apples into the salad (I halved everything in the recipe except the apples) which made the dish a little too sweet, but that was obviously user error. No one particularly disliked this salad, but no one was crazy about it either. It's the kind of recipe that I have reasonably positive feelings about, but I am unlikely to make again.

Here is the recipe.

Over the summer, some colleagues of Matty's invited us over to dinner. We were eating at their place and our host started teasing me about how he was frightened to make dinner for me. People often make this comment (although it is totally ridiculous -- I love it when people make me dinner!), but in this case it really made me laugh because his evidence that I was a good cook was based solely on having eaten lunch regularly with Matty. While we were apart last year I froze food in individual servings for Matty and brought them in a cooler on the airplane when I visited him in Boston. He would often eat these microwave meals for lunch. It never really occurred to me that these lunches were out of the ordinary until his colleague made that comment...

I think he was right though. Matty is in Indiana now, and I packed a lunch for us to eat at the department today. We were eating in my office, and when I had it all spread out on my desk it seemed to me that perhaps this wasn't a typical packed lunch. It included: braised fennel with olives, sliced pork with a pan sauce, a (semi-)homemade biscuit [the sublettors left behind half a box of Bisquick], wheat crackers with a wedge of soft cheese, and orange segments. My lunch packing philosophy is to throw in whatever leftovers are in the fridge and then add whatever it takes to make it into a reasonably balanced meal! Perhaps I do go a little overboard though...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sauteed Cabbage with Bacon and Cream (Page 528)

RECIPE #814

  • Date: Monday, August 18, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Matty, and Tom
  • Recipe Rating: C

This recipe was part of a meal where Brian made the main dish (which was delicious!) and I made some side dishes out of The Book to go with it (in this case, less delicious). The pickings are getting a little slim in the Vegetables section of The Book, but Brian loves cabbage, and I love bacon and cream, so I figured I would give this recipe a try. This side dish was bad though. Just look at the picture -- that about summarizes it. Soggy cabbage sitting in a pool of cream and bacon. It wasn't terribly tasty. The recipe was simple enough. I cooked the bacon until browned, then added the cabbage. I cooked that until wilted then added the cream. Then the whole thing cooked for another 15 minutes. The end result had several problems. One, the bacon flavor totally overwhelmed the flavor of the cabbage. I vastly prefer the flavor of bacon to that of cabbage so I wasn't too offended myself, but if you are going to go to the trouble of making a cabbage dish rather than just making some bacon, it might as well taste a bit like cabbage. The dish had textural issues too. The cabbage was limp and slimy, and even the bacon tasted a little soggy after simmering for 15 minutes in cream. Overall this one was not a winner. Matty ate his serving, but most of us just pushed it around our plates for a while. Not good.

This recipe isn't online.

Sometime during the wedding festivities of this past weekend a (presumably drunk) guy said to me, "You know, you are too attractive to be a math teacher." My response, "Thanks, I guess." It was an odd comment and it got me wondering, why is it that mathematicians have a reputation for being unattractive? I don't think this reputation is specific to math women, but there are certainly more jokes about the unattractiveness of math women than there are about math men. Generally these jokes aren't specific to math really -- they are more about women in science. A few really special ones:

1. I asked a friend once if there were a lot of women in his computer science department and he responded, "None identifiable as such."

2. There is this saying in Boston about the college women in the area: "BU to bed, Harvard to wed, MIT to pull a sled."

I have never found these things particularly offensive, mostly because I don't think they have too much foundation in reality. It is true that math women are less likely than the average woman to spend a lot of time on grooming. They are generally less likely to spend hours blow drying their hair and putting on make-up. They are less likely to wear the newest fashions and the highest heels. But they are also less likely to be overweight -- the vast majority of the math women I know are active and fit. I know lots of cute math girls. In fact I went out to dinner just last week with three beautiful math women. So where does this reputation come from? I think we are taught to believe that smart and unattractive go together (Think: Beauty and the Geek). And it seems to me that women tend to be judged more on appearance than men are, so smart women bear the brunt of this stereotype. As a kid I was aware of this stereotype, but I didn't particularly care -- I wonder though if it discourages some young women from pursuing their interest in math and science... Hopefully as the number of women in math and science increases, there will be a better chance that people will actually know a female mathematician/scientist personally, and will have some actual first-hand knowledge to refute these stereotypes! That's my hope anyway...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Passover Chocolate Nut Cake (Page 709)

RECIPE #813

  • Date: Friday, August 15, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

I was feeling very celebratory when staying with Em and Brian a few weeks ago, so I wanted to make a cake from The Book. Many of the cakes I have left are pretty fussy (e.g. Sauternes-Soaked Cake with Candied Kumquats and Toasted Almonds) and I was looking for something more on the simple side. This Passover cake fit the bill and sounded tasty. Because this cake is intended for Passover, it is flourless. The flour is replaced by ground nuts: pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts. The quantity and variety of nuts makes this cake not-too-cheap to make. The cake was simple enough to throw together. I beat 8 egg yolks in the stand mixture for a long time, then beat in chocolate, sugar, and some lemon and orange zests. (Note: one odd thing about this recipe is that rather than melting the chocolate before beating it in as you usually would, the recipe calls for the chocolate to be ground and then added. More on that later). In a separate bowl I beat the 8 egg whites to soft peaks. Then the ground nuts and the egg whites both got folded into the yolk mixture and the whole thing was baked in a springform pan. While this cake wasn't bad at all, it was a bit odd. For one thing, as you can almost see in the picture, the chocolate didn't melt into the batter, but rather appeared as specks in the cake. It was really more of a Nut Cake with Chocolate Specks than a Chocolate Nut Cake. If someone said, "Man I wish I had a piece of chocolate cake," this certainly wouldn't be what they had in mind. The other not-great thing was that despite the many nuts that went into the cake, the flavor was really dominated by the hazelnuts. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but really we should probably call this recipe Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Specks. On the up side, the cake was very moist, and if you like hazelnuts and chocolate specks, it had a good flavor. It rose well in the oven and had a very nice texture to it. The four of us couldn't finish this cake in one sitting so we ate it for the next couple days, and actually it seemed to improve a bit overnight. Emilee pointed out that this recipe would be more complete with something white and creamy to put on it, and I agree that some whipped cream, ice cream, or creme anglaise would have been an improvement. Overall, it wasn't a bad tasting cake, but it is also not one that I am likely to make again.

This recipe isn't online.

Home, sweet home! It took 14 hours of travel door-to-door to get home from Mackinac yesterday (Note: the horse taxi/ferry ride/drive isn't really that long, but we had to stop in Lansing to get some stuff out of storage and then we drove around East Lansing for a while looking for a house -- never mind that we aren't going to buy a house anytime soon, but it is SO fun to look!). We pulled up to my apartment (or, I guess I should say our apartment since my special gentleman is sort of living here now) around 2am, and I was pretty happy to be home! Today I went in to the office and it was a great feeling to be living my normal life again! I have had tons of fun traveling these last three weeks, and living in Boston all summer, but I was ready to come home.

It's funny the things you miss about a place when you leave. This evening I went to the grocery store, and when I walked in I let out a huge exhale. I missed my usual grocery store. I know exactly what the sell. I know exactly where everything is. It's a very comfortable place. Maybe that makes me boring, that I am attached to my grocery store, but that's ok with me. I am not ashamed to say that I live in a small town in the Midwest and I like it here! I missed Indiana while I was gone and I am glad to be back!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Grilled Rib-Eye with Bearnaise Butter (Page 434)

RECIPE #812

  • Date: Friday, August 15, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

When eating with Emilee and Brian I always feel compelled to make steak. And since they have a grill, grilled steak seemed like the natural choice. I believe that this is the last of the grilled steaks in The Book, so that made recipe selection easy. I had high hopes for this recipe -- Matty and I made some amazing rib-eye from The Book just a few weeks ago so I figured if this recipe was a fraction as good as that one we would be in luck. Unfortunately, though, this recipe was a bit disappointing. It was simple enough -- grilled steak topped with a compound butter that tasted predominantly of tarragon. Here's the thing though: steak is already so rich, and rib-eye is not a particularly lean steak. Does it really need BUTTER on top of it? I have certainly never eaten a steak and thought to myself, "Man, I wish I had some butter to spread on this steak!" I know it's classical, but it's a little absurd, no? I'm sure I would have come around to it if the compound butter had an amazing flavor, but it really didn't. None of us were particularly impressed with the pairing of steak and tarragon, and the strong tarragon flavor in the butter overwhelmed the tasty meat. Don't get me wrong, this dish wasn't bad. I ate it and enjoyed it. But there are so many much better things that could have been done with the piece of meat you see above that I can't in good faith recommend this particular recipe.

The recipe is here.

Hello from Mackinac Island! It has been a super-fun weekend up here on Mackinac (a small island in lake Huron). One of the unique things about Mackinac is that there are no motor vehicles allowed on the island. So after arriving by ferry on Friday afternoon we took a horse-drawn taxi up to the house where we have been staying. Matty has a friend whose parents live on the island in an AMAZING house (and I seriously mean amazing -- it's huge, and gorgeous, and practically every room has a fantastic view of the lake) and they graciously allowed us to stay with them this weekend.

Friday evening there was the wedding rehearsal and dinner, and then yesterday was the wedding! Brad and Deniz did and amazing job planning, and the wedding was lovely! The ceremony was outside, overlooking a huge lawn, the lake, and a beautiful bridge. The reception was on the same grounds, in a big tent where there was lots of food and dancing! Afterwards we all headed into town for after hours at a local bar. It was a good time!

Most people have been getting around on horse taxi, but Matty and I borrowed some bikes from the people we are staying with and have been biking everywhere. It is about two miles from the house to the downtown area, and the bike trail is not lighted. So at night it's dark. Very dark. I got used to it after a couple rides, but certainly the first time we rode through the woods in the pitch black I was thinking to myself, "Is this really a good idea?" At 2am last night, biking home from the bar, I realized that I could get a little light from my cell phone. But then I realized that with that little light I could see the bats flying in front of me, and then I decided that maybe it was better to be in the dark!

Despite the bats it was an awesome weekend -- it's always fun to hang out with Matty's family, and seeing his brother and Deniz get married was really special! Plus, Mackinac is just an awesome place. It is fantastically beautiful, and has a very unique atmosphere. Now, though, I am tired, and definitely ready to hit the road and head back to Indiana!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Corn on the Cob with Cheese and Lime (Page 536)

RECIPE #811

  • Date: Friday, August 15, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

When my special gentleman and I met, I was already well into this project. He and I have been together just short of two years now, and from the beginning of that time, he has always been an eager project participant. Less than a month after we started dating, he was flipping through the Vegetables section of The Book and he picked out two recipes that he wanted me to be sure not to make without him. The first: Potato Latkes. The second: this Corn on the Cob with Cheese and Lime. These, he informed me, are two of his favorite dishes.
"You won't make them without me, will you?"
"No, not if you want to try them."
"Promise?"
"I promise."
Fast forward a couple months to December of that year. We hadn't been dating long enough that it really made sense to spend Christmas as a couple, so we each went home individually to our respective families. He left Boston for his hometown before I did, and I was lonely without him. But a friend emailed me that he was hosting a party -- a latke party! And without a second thought I responded to the invitation: "There is a latke recipe in The Book! Can we make that?" In fact there is not just one, but actually two different latke recipes in The Book (one traditional potato and one sweet potato) and we made both of them that night. Without my special gentleman. It wasn't until I talked to him on the phone the next day, raving about the potato latkes that I realized my mistake. I had completely forgotten my promise!

Now, more than a year and a half later, I think I have been forgiven. But needless to say, if I had made this corn without my special gentleman, I would have been in the doghouse! He has been asking me to make this all summer, but it requires a special set of circumstances. One, it requires a grill, which I don't have. Two, it requires crema, which isn't easy to find (The Book allows the substitution of mayonnaise for delicious Mexican crema, but that just seems wrong). Three, it requires my special gentleman and I to both be in the same place, with the grill, and the crema. Luckily, this past week the stars aligned. We were both in California (where crema is possible to find), staying with Em and Brian, who have a grill. So I made this corn for my special gentleman!

This recipe is quite simple. We grilled the corn, then brushed it with a mixture of crema and cayenne. The cobs were then sprinkled with cotija or feta cheese (in our case, feta), and finished with a squeeze of lime. The result: yummy! Matty and I eat this dish often at our favorite high-end Mexican place, and this version was equally as good as theirs. It could have supported a bit more cayenne, but it did have some heat to it. The crema was excellent on the corn, and the feta gave it a delicious saltiness. I am deeply skeptical that this would be good with mayonnaise in place of crema, but The Book suggests it as a substitution. All four of us enjoyed this corn quite a bit. I am always partial to plain corn on the cob with butter and salt, but this corn dish was also delicious, and I will happily make it again.

The recipe is here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Heirloom Tomatoes with Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Basil (Page 144)

RECIPE #810

  • Date: Friday, August 15, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

Matty and I made dinner for Em and Brian last weekend and we chose this recipe as a first course because Brian has a whole garden full of delicious tomatoes. This recipe seemed bound to be tasty. I started by crisping some bacon (always a promising start!). Then most of the bacon fat was drained off and oil was added to the pan. In said oil I toasted rounds of white sandwich bread. After toasting and removing the bread, chopped shallots were cooked in some of the reserved bacon fat. Sherry vinegar was added to the cooked shallots to create a simple dressing. To assemble the tomato towers, a round of toasted bread was placed on the plate, then topped with a tomato slice, some basil, and crumbled bacon. This layering (minus the bread) was repeated several times, then the whole thing was topped with blue cheese, basil, bacon, and drizzled with dressing. Even looking at it on the plate it still seemed bound to taste fantastic. Actually, though, it was just ok. Texturally it was nice. The crispy bread and the crumbly bacon complemented the soft texture of the tomatoes and cheese nicely. The flavor, however, lacked depth. Everything in the dish was delicious, but altogether it tasted a bit messy, rather than being the well-balanced dish I had hoped it would be. This dish was trying to be part caprese, part BLT, but instead of tapping into the success of either of those dishes it just took it over the top. Also, the dressing was overwhelming vinegary, and paired with the acidity of the tomatoes there was just too much acid. The dish certainly didn't taste bad, but it's not a recipe that I would choose to make again.

Here is the recipe.

After ten lovely days in Northern California, tomorrow my special gentleman and I are hitting the road. We are flying to Detroit, where we will pick up my car (my special gentleman left it there nearly two weeks ago). Then on Friday morning we will drive up to Mackinac Island -- a little Northern Michigan island that is in Lake Huron. Despite having grown up in the Midwest, I have never been to Mackinac, but it sounds similar to my favorite Great Lakes islands: the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. We are headed up to Mackinac because there, on Saturday, my special gentleman's older brother Brad is marrying long-time girlfriend Deniz. Brad and Deniz are great people, and super-fun -- Matty and I have both been looking forward to their wedding all summer!

After our weekend in Mackinac we are headed, of crazy places, home!!! Yup, after nearly four month away, we are headed back to Indiana, and I am excited! I miss Bloomington. I miss my kitchen. I miss the department. It will be really nice to be home again! I had a lovely summer in Boston (and Chicago, Wisconsin, Denmark, Germany, Virginia, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Michigan, Montreal, California...) but I am ready to go home!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Crunchy Fried Green Tomatoes (Page 585)

RECIPE #809

  • Date: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I have wanted to try this recipe for quite some time, but have had trouble finding green tomatoes at the store. Brian has an enormous tomato garden though, so I jumped at the chance to swipe a few of his green tomatoes to make this recipe. I had actually never had fried green tomatoes before, and The Book promised me the tomatoes would have an acidic tang and a custardy texture, coated with a crispy fried exterior. To make them I sliced the tomatoes into 1/2 inch thick slices, then dredged them in a mixture of flour, salt, sugar, and cayenne, followed by a dip in egg and a coat in cornflakes. The tomatoes were then fried in batches in butter and oil. Once all the tomatoes were fried they were baked on a baking sheet until hot. The end result was just ok. The fried exterior was crunchy and tasty, although the amount of butter and oil called for was insufficient which resulted in some burnt cornflakes. The tomatoes were not particularly custardy as was promised. In fact, despite having fried them for the designated amount of time, and baking them until hot, many of the tomato slices tasted pretty raw. They did indeed have an acidic tang, which was interesting, but maybe not totally to my taste. Emilee and I both pushed our tomatoes to the side of our plate after a few bites. Brian ate more of them, but still didn't have strongly positive things to say. Em summarized it best when she noted that these tomatoes were fine, but we could have left them on the plant a while longer, picked them when they were ripe and eaten them with some salt and pepper. That side dish would have been fat free, no fuss, and better tasting.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book calls for slightly less butter and oil.

I was working this afternoon at Em and Brian's place, sitting at the dining table reading/editing a paper, and I started to get a little achy. So I decided to lay down on the floor and work. I put my laptop down on the floor, and the paper I was working on, and I sprawled out on the baby blanket (Sam was asleep upstairs, so I wasn't stealing his spot). It was very comfortable. Indeed, a little too comfortable. I woke up 45 minutes later with the side of my face plastered to the math paper. Sam woke up not too long after and when Brian brought him downstairs he observed, "Oh look, Teena and Sam are both awake from their afternoon naps!" Ha ha. I have apparently gotten in the habit of napping since I have been out here in California. It's not that I am particularly sleep deprived (although being in the same apartment as a small baby does mean that I get up pretty early). Rather I think I see Sam napping and it just seems so appealing. A couple days ago he was napping on top of Em and Brian's bed, and he woke up mid-nap and was making a fuss. I went up there to comfort him and I ended up falling asleep next to him on the bed. I got a nice nap in before he woke me up! Pretty soon it will be back to real life (i.e. working in my office) where the mid-day nap is slightly less practical. I guess my new office does have a sofa though...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Creamed Leeks (Page 545)

RECIPE #808

  • Date: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I often cook when I come to visit Emilee and Brian, and it is not uncommon for me and Brian to construct a meal together with the following breakdown: he makes a main course and I make some side dishes. Last week he grilled up some beef and I threw together these creamed leeks and some friend green tomatoes. This leek recipe was quick and very tasty. I chopped the leeks, then cooked them until tender in butter, cream, and chicken stock. I then seasoned with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and served. It was as simple as that! Despite its simplicity, it came out with a nice depth of flavor from the stock, and a lovely richness from the cream and butter. Sometimes cooked leeks can be a bit slimy, but in this recipe the creamy sauce prevented any sliminess. It wasn't the cutest side dish I have ever made (Emilee called it my plate full of worms) but it was refined enough in flavor to serve at a nice dinner. Em and Brian deemed it good enough to "add to the rotation" and I agree that it is a dish I will likely make again.

This recipe isn't online.

Brian asked me at dinner tonight, "Why exactly did you start this project in the first place?" I thought about it for a few minutes, and realized that honestly, I don't remember exactly. Here's what I do remember. I moved away from Northern California in the summer of 2002, but since then I have come back many, many times to visit. My first few years in graduate school I would come for week-long visits every once and a while and stay with Em and Brian. Later in graduate school my ex-fiance moved out here too (for clarity: he was my ex even at that time). My advisor at MIT was often in Japan during that time period, so I started coming out to Stanford not only for social reasons but also to talk math with people in the department. So there was a year or two when I came out for much longer visits -- 4 or 5 weeks at a time instead of 1. So I would split time, staying partly with Em and Brian and party with my ex-fiance.

So there I was, at my ex-fiance's place one night, thinking about cooking something. It was January 2006 and I was hungry. But I didn't know what I wanted. My ex had The Book (as did I, but my copy was in Boston) and I started to flip. I had already done a reasonable amount of cooking from The Book, but I had never really taken the time to examine it. That evening I did, and I thought to myself, casually, "Man, it would be nice to have tried all of these things." This is where I stop remembering. How exactly did it seem like a good idea to go ahead and make all 1293 recipes? And why did I start a blog about it? Not exactly sure. I do remember that when I pitched this harebrained scheme to my ex he encouraged me (which, in retrospect, was the right thing to do, but most people probably would have just laughed...).

So, this project was born in Palo Alto, and it has returned here many times. Emilee and Brian's kitchen has plenty of remnants from adventures in Book cooking (Emilee busted out the banana run tonight as evidence of some Book cooking gone awry years ago...). It has always been fun cooking from The Book with Emilee and Brian, and perhaps I wouldn't have latched on the project as I have if I had attempted to launch it anywhere but here... Who knows!?!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Salt-Fried Rib-Eye Steak (Page 427)

RECIPE #807

  • Date: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A
Matty and I were looking for a super-quick entree a couple weeks ago, and this steak fit the bill. This recipe had exactly two ingredients: rib-eye steak and kosher salt. The method was a new one for me. The salt was spread in the bottom of a cast-iron pan and then the pan was heated until just smoking. The steak was then placed on top of the salt and cooked to medium rare, turning once. This method generated an absolutely obscene quantity of smoke. My entire apartment was filled. Matty turned to me at some point and asked, "Do you think we should worry about smoke inhalation?" It was bad. Even with all the windows open, and the overhead fan on it took quite a long time for the smoke to clear. Was it worth it? Absolutely. This steak was awesome. The meat was perfectly cooked, and the salt formed a fantastically delicious crust on the beef. The crust complemented the juicy, tender meat wonderfully, both in texture and in flavor. It is important that the pan (and the salt in it) be really quite hot before you add the beef. Otherwise the juices from the meat will just dissolve the salt, giving you a steak that is salty rather than beautifully crusted. If you are looking for a no-frills, quick steak recipe, buy yourself a great piece of meat and give this one a try. It was delicious!

Here is the recipe.

Week one of my half-marathon training, more than 14 weeks ago now, my "long run" for the week was two miles. Two miles was manageable enough. But in those first few weeks even three miles was tough. I remember four miles sounding complete daunting. Today, my long run was eight miles, for a total of thirty miles of running this week! I have certainly never run eight miles before, nor have I ever run thirty miles in a week. And the truth is, it wasn't so bad. Today I ran from Em and Brian's place to the Stanford campus, and did a running tour of my alma matter before running back. It was pleasantly distracting to run around campus, recalling fond memories from various locations.

While I had eight miles on the schedule today, my special gentleman had seventeen. We both finished just in time for quick showers before we were meeting up with some math friends for dinner. The showering part was easy enough, but the bathroom at Em and Brian's is up a flight of stairs. We were quite a sight, using the arm rail to pull ourselves up, and ease ourselves down the stairs. It's amazing how you can feel ok while running, but then as soon as you stop everything starts to hurt. We made it to dinner though, and after a big dinner of Indian food, we split a malted milkshake at the area creamery. The best part about running is definitely the huge appetite! I can enjoy much more yummy food than I used to be able to!

Tomorrow is a much needed rest day, and then it will be onwards to another week of training!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chilled Buttermilk Soup with Beets, Cucumbers, Radishes, and Dill (Page 85)

RECIPE #806

  • Date: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Matty and I made a dinner last week where we selected recipes based only on how long they took. This chilled soup was super-fast so it made the list, despite my concern that it really sounded bad. How was it? Just look at the picture. How do you think it was? Seriously questionable. That lovely pink color comes from a mixture of buttermilk, sour cream, and pickled beet juice (Side Note: if you click on the link below, there is a picture of this recipe on Epicurious. Note that the soup there looks much more appealing, and WHITE. Now, I haven't been in kindergarten in a long time now, but I am pretty sure that white (buttermilk and sour cream) + red (pickled beet juice) doesn't make white. You know what color it makes? It makes the Pepto Bismol pink you see above). Anyway, floating in the scary pinkness were cucumber, dill, radish, and pickled beet. The whole thing was then briefly chilled before serving. In all fairness, it didn't taste nearly as bad at it looked. It wasn't particularly good, but I wouldn't really say it was bad either. It was refreshing in a way, with a tang from the buttermilk and a strong pickled flavor from the beets. The dill was too intense -- I would cut the amount in half if I were to make it again. Matty described this soup as the "runt of the meal," and indeed it was outshone by both the salad and the steak. I can't in good faith recommend this recipe, but it also wasn't as repulsive as the picture suggests.

Here is the recipe.

My special gentleman was in Berkeley last week while I have been in Palo Alto, but now he has joined me, Em, Brian, and Sam in the sunny South Bay. The picture below is of Sam having some tummy time with my special gentleman. Aren't they cute together?

Today the five of us headed up Santa Cruz to the beach. It was Sam's first beach trip, and he seemed to enjoy it! He is an amazingly well-mannered baby and was definitely a trooper on our little day trip.

I love being in math academia, but one serious downside of this career choice is the lack of geographic flexibility. Math jobs are extremely competitive and the further you get in your career the harder it is to get a job. I am currently a post-doc which is a temporary three year position. Once you finish your post-doc you try to get a tenure-track job. The market is tough though, so generally people don't have a lot of options. I have been lucky so far (I love Indiana!) but some people certainly end up living in places they don't like. I have lived all over the country (Wisconsin, South Carolina, California, Massachusetts, Indiana...) and I was pretty happy in all those places. But, for instance, I really wish I had the option of living near Em, Brian, and Sam. I sometimes wish I had the type of job where I could just make the decision that I wanted to move near them and then do it. In math academia (unless you are one of a very small number of superstars) it doesn't work that way. I love my job enough that it is worth it, but it is a significant sacrifice. I mean, just look at that baby -- would you want to live near him?!? Especially if he was parented by two of your best friends!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thousand Island Dressing (Page 173)

RECIPE #805

  • Date: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: MY APARTMENT!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Matty and I were in Bloomington for one day last week, and I needed to get some cooking done so I wouldn't get terribly behind in my project during all this travel. We were short on time though so I picked a menu based exclusively on the criterion of how long the recipes would take. This salad dressing was quick, quick, quick so it made the list. Let me just pause for a second and say how great it was to be cooking in my own kitchen again. I love my kitchen! We had one minor cooking disaster (more on that when we get to that recipe) but I didn't even care -- it was just so great to be cooking at home with all my own equipment, and complete knowledge of where everything is. After being away from home for three and a half months now, I am starting to get a little homesick! I will be back home in less than two weeks though, and then I am not traveling again until the middle of September!

Anyway, I was home for a day last week and I made this Thousand Island dressing. My dad liked Thousand Island a lot when I was a kid, and it always seemed disgusting to me. The pinkish-orange color in conjunction with the gloopy texture made it something I generally avoided. So I wasn't particularly excited about making this recipe. But actually, it was pretty good. The directions were super simple: blend mayo, chili sauce, shallots, white wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a blender, then add veggie oil in a steady stream and blend some more. Total preparation time: 10 minutes. The dressing had a well balanced flavor and a texture that was less gloopy than I remember. The Book suggested serving it on iceberg lettuce, so we threw together a quick salad of lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers, and it was the perfect base for this creamy dressing. When I asked Matty for his grade he commented, "Well I like it, but I wouldn't serve it to company. It's a little trashy don' t you think?" That made me laugh. He's right though -- I wouldn't serve this to company either. This dressing is mainly composed of mayonnaise, and there is something a little bit "trashy" about dressing your salad with mayo. That said, we both enjoyed it well enough, and if I needed Thousand Island dressing for some reason this is certainly the recipe I would use.

This recipe isn't online.

Yesterday we had a big day -- Sam ate his first solid food! Mmm.... rice cereal! Actually, saying that he ate it might be a stretch. I think some of it probably ended up in his mouth, but he
seemed generally a little confused about what to do with it. He kept spitting it out, and wiping it all over himself. It was hysterical. In fact, I laughed so hard I started crying. It has been a while since I have done that (well, not so long... there was a very funny incident at the conference dinner at Haynes' birthday conference and I certainly cried then, but that's another story...). Anyway, Sam is a riot. He's hysterical, and he was incredibly cute trying to eat his solid foods. The rice cereal didn't go over so well, but Brian mashed up some banana for him and he liked that much better. Apparently he has a good palate because that rice cereal smelled pretty foul!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Three-Berry Pie with Vanilla Cream (Page 763)

RECIPE #804

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Russ, Juice, Grant, Paps, Scarecrow, Mitch, Carrie, and Alex P
  • Recipe Rating: A

I can provide no explanation for why I hadn't made this pie yet, except to say that I was saving it for a special occasion. Now that I have made it though it seems unfathomable that I made more than 800 other recipes from The Book before choosing to make this one. This pie was AWESOME! The filling was a combination of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, sweetened with some sugar and thickened with both cornstarch and tapioca. Yum! Yum, yum, yum. The pie was accompanied by vanilla cream (see post below) which we dolloped heavily on each slice. The overall effect: complete deliciousness. The pie crust was flaky and buttery, and even though the filling was relatively liquidy the bottom crust wasn't soggy. The top crust was egg washed and then sprinkled with turbinado sugar (e.g. Sugar In The Raw) which gave it an awesome crunch and a touch of sweetness. But it was the filling that made this pie one of the best I have ever eaten. It's hard to make a really good berry pie. Berries are very juicy, so berry fillings tend not to thicken up too well. Also, berry pies are often either too tart, or much too sweet. This recipe hit the mark both on thickness and sweetness though. It was delicious. Served either with the vanilla cream or with vanilla ice cream (or, frankly, all by itself!), this pie is sure to be a hit!

Here is the recipe.

Hello from California! On my flight last night I was seated between a guy who smelled like beef jerky and a woman who started crying when the plane hit some turbulence and continued to sob for the remaining three hours of the flight. So it was an adventure, but I made it! Today I had a really fun day hanging out with Emilee, Brian, and Sam. Emilee and I met at Stanford and were roommates through college, and she has remained my closest friend ever since. The summer after we graduated she married her high school sweetheart, Brian, and just four months ago they had their first child, Sam. Sam is a super, super cute, and really well-mannered baby. He and I bonded today while Emilee was at work and Brian was busily typing away at his dissertation. It has been a while since I have had any babies in my life, and it was such a pleasure.

After Sam went to bed (at the late, late hour of 7pm), Em, Brian, and I whipped up a very delicious, very rich meal of grilled beef, creamed leaks, Gorgonzola mashed potatoes, and fried green tomatoes. We ate dinner, drank some home brew and had a great time.

On the day Emilee got married, just over six years ago, I wondered if things were going to be different -- if her marriage would create new distance in our friendship. I was tremendously happy for her that day but also scared. It was a great relief the first time I visited Em and Brian after they got married. It was very comforting to know that our friendship hadn't changed. I was never particularly cognizant that I had that same worry when Sam was born. But it occurred to me today that perhaps I did. I had a deep sense of relief today -- that same sense of comfort in knowing that through this major event in Emilee and Brian's life, our friendship remains constant. It was also just so wonderful hanging out with little Sam. Emilee and Brian are like family to me, and Sam feels like family too. What a blessing he is for everyone...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vanilla Cream (Page 764)

RECIPE #803

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 - 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Juice, Scarecrow, Paps, Grant, Russ, Mitch, Carrie, and Alex P
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This cream was a component recipe for a pie I made for the bachelor party a couple weeks ago. It would be pretty hard to go wrong with a recipe like this. The only ingredients were heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar. How could that be bad? The method: beat everything together -- very simple. The recipe gave the option of using either a vanilla bean or vanilla extract. To save a few bucks I used vanilla extract and that still produced a delicious result. This slightly sweetened, slightly vanilla-scented whipped cream was a perfect accompaniment to the berry pie it went with, but also would be great on a whole variety of other sweet things. Yum!

Here is the recipe.

Hello from Montreal! Last night I went to Vero and Philippe's wedding, which was so fun! The ceremony and reception were both held at a restaurant/club in downtown Montreal. The restaurant had a terrace on the third floor, and the ceremony was held out there -- it was very nice. Vero and Philippe both looked great and the ceremony was brief but really nice (although, admittedly, in French -- my French is not good enough to have understood everything!). Then we had an amazing meal. Wedding food is typically pretty bad, but they had some seriously good food at this wedding. The menu (as I recollect it): First course: a choice of cream of asparagus soup with shrimp or a citrus microgreens salad. Second course: a choice a lobster bolognese with caviar or foie gras with a strawberry compote and fig reduction. Third course: a choice of seared salmon or rack of lamb. Dessert: A choice of strawberries in melon cream or hazelnut mousse cake. Basically: yum! I had the salad, foie gras, lamb, and mousse, and everything was delicious! The big, tasty dinner was followed by several hours of dancing, which provided some much needed movement after how much I ate. It was a great time! Everything at the wedding was elegant and lovely -- just like the two of them!

We are soon off to a post-wedding brunch and then headed back to Boston. Tomorrow I fly to California. Busy, busy... At least this is a good kind of traveling -- the kind where you get to spend time with people that you care about a lot!

Chocolate Roll with Cappuccino Cream (Page 750)

RECIPE #802

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Juice, Mitch, Carrie, Alex P, Russ, Paps, Scarecrow, and Grant
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I have been eying this recipe for quite some time. Cake roulades (something cakey rolled around some kind of filling) are generally fun to make and delicious. Despite the fact that this one sounded completely tempting, I hadn't made it yet due to its caffeinated nature (and my status as an decaffeinated person!). But, I wanted to make a cake for the bachelor party and this one seemed perfect. Reading this recipe you would probably think, "How is that possibly going to work?" The chocolate "cake" was actually a chocolate souffle, cooked in a 10 by 15 inch jelly roll pan. The batter was flourless, and like a souffle it rose tremendously and then fell soon after coming out of the oven. This was all part of the plan. Once the fallen chocolate souffle cooled completely, I spread it with a delicious espresso cream filling, and then carefully rolled it up. This cake roll inevitably cracks, but that is part of the look of this dish. I made the cake a day ahead and chilled the roll overnight in the fridge. Just before serving I dusted with a mixture of cocoa and powdered sugar and garnished with espresso cream and chocolate covered espresso beans. The cake came out very tasty. The layer of souffle had a light texture, and a rich chocolate taste. The espresso cream was a perfect complement to it -- the flavor was slightly bitter from the coffee with the lovely richness of whipped cream. The slices were also quite pretty. The cake was well received by the bachelors, and I was generally pleased with it.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one, but the filling in The Book isn't set with gelatin.

I am willing to at least taste anything that I make from The Book. This type of recipe presents a unique challenge for me. I don't consume any caffeine. For years I drank more Diet Coke that I would care to admit, and also my share of coffee. But it did bad things to my body and three years ago, I quit. Part of the problem with caffeine consumption for me is even if I have just one caffeinated drink (or slice of caffeinated cake!) I ave horrible withdrawl headaches. It is not pretty. So if I were smarter, I would have had just one small taste of this cake. But it was delicious! So I ate not just one, but multiple slices, and the next day or two I was miserable with headaches. We were busy packing and moving Matt, and I couldn't cope, so I started drinking Diet Coke. I had every intention of quitting after a day or two, but then we were driving 1000 miles in a moving truck and I was tired. To stay alert, I kept up the caffeine consumption. Talk about a slippery slope... Basically what I am saying is that I am bitter towards this cake. In just the last couple days I am finally weening myself off the caffeine re-addiction that started innocently enough with a bite of chocolate espresso cake!

All that said, the cake was delicious, and if you are free from this affliction that I have, you should definitely give it a try!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Cioppino (Page 348)

RECIPE #801

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Mitch, Carrie, Juice, Russ, Grant, Paps, Scarecrow, and Alex P
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe makes a big pot of seafood stew, so I wanted to make it for an occasion with lots of guests. The bachelor party seemed perfect, so I made this Cioppino a couple weeks ago when the guys came over for dinner. I started by making the tomatoey soup base, which was flavorful and slightly spicy. It wasn't obvious to me that a soup base of tomato, red wine, and clam juice would be delicious, but indeed it was. I made the base a day ahead, refrigerated it, and reheated before finishing the soup. At the last minute, the various seafood components (clams, shrimp, scallops, king crab leg, and fish) were added and cooked until just cooked through. The fish called for here was halibut. There was no halibut to be found though, but the recipe said you could substitute whatever looked fresh. I substituted cod, which was a bit dumb because it's so flaky that it disintegrated in the soup, but it still tasted good! The best part of making this recipe, by far, was cutting up the crab legs. The recipe directs you to "hack" them into pieces, and hack I did. I was swinging that knife in a way that was making my special gentleman seriously nervous. His job was to catch the crab leg fragments as they flew off the cutting board. It was fun! The stew came out very tasty too! As loyal readers likely have gathered by now, I like seafood but I am not as excited about it as I could be. However, even I thought this stew was very tasty. The spicy tomato base complemented the seafood beautifully. And the variety of seafood really worked well together. It was flavorful, fresh, and perfect for a mid-summer dinner. Everyone seemed quite pleased with it!

Here is the recipe.

In any relationship, over time people naturally fall into various roles. In my relationship with my special gentleman, I am typically the responsible one. He has various minor crises (especially while traveling) and I often find myself using the magic of the internet and my cellular telephone to bail him out. Yesterday, though, the tables were turned...

Let me set the stage: we drove two 12 hour days on Monday and Tuesday, while also loading and unloading the moving truck, and sleeping about 5 hours a night. So by Wednesday I was exhausted. We had one day in Bloomington on Wednesday, during which time I frantically scurried about getting stuff done. Yesterday I woke up at 8am to pack before leaving for the airport to fly back to Boston. Packing was a challenge because this trip involves many stops before I return home. So there I was, packing, when I thought to myself, "Do I need my passport? (pause) Nope. I am flying to Boston for Vero's wedding, then to California, then to Northern Michigan for Brad and Deniz's wedding. No need for a passport."

It wasn't until hours later, standing just outside security at the Indianapolis airport, saying goodbye to my special gentleman and running through a mental checklist of everything I needed to have with me that it occurred to me that although I am indeed flying to Boston for Vero's wedding, I am then driving to Montreal, where the wedding is taking place. Montreal, as it turns out, is in CANADA. And as of recently you need a passport to get in and out of Canada. So there I was, standing in the airport with 10 minutes left before my flight boarded, frantically trying to figure out what to do. My special gentleman wasn't flying with me, but he couldn't make the hour drive back to Bloomington because he had 7 hours of driving ahead of him and was already cutting it very close in order to catch the last ferry to the island where he is attending a wedding this weekend. But my special gentleman told me, "Just get on the plane. I'll take care of it." I was skeptical. He's supposed to get himself in messes like this and I am supposed to take care of it -- not the other way around!

So what happened? Well it turns out that a birth certificate would work because we were driving (you need a passport to fly, but apparently not to drive) but of course my parents, who split time between two states, were both in the state without my birth certificate. In a moment of tremendous foresight though, before I left for the summer I gave Paul, one of my friends and colleagues, a key to my apartment in case of emergency. At the time, he asked me, "What sort of emergency?" And I had no idea. But here it was. We had no idea if Paul was even in town, but Matt was eventually able to reach him and like the wonderful, generous person that he is, he immediately went to my apartment, found my passport, and FedExed it to me in Boston. By the time my flight landed there was a message from Paul on my phone telling me that it was in the mail. And now I have it.

Last night I went to bed at 10pm. Now, after a long, good night of sleep, I feel more like myself again. I still can't believe I did that though! What would I have done without Matty and Paul?!?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cold Roast Beef Tenderloin with Jellied Horseradish Cream (Page 420)

RECIPE #800!

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Juice, Russ, Grant, Mitch, Carrie, Alex P, Scarecrow, and Paps
  • Recipe Rating: B

This recipe has been on the list made by the random number generator since April 2007, but I just hadn't found the right occasion to make it. I LOVE beef tenderloin. Usually I eat it warm, but I could probably get on board with slicing it and eating it cold. But topping it with horseradish jello? That just didn't sound good to me. I figured a gathering of drunk guys was sure to consue it though, so I made it for Russ' bachelor party a few weeks ago. This recipe was very easy to put together. First a mixture of sour cream and horseradish was set with some gelatin and chilled until it became nice and gelatinous. Meanwhile, I browned and then roasted a chunk of pepper-crusted beef tenderloin. After being cooked to medium rare the tenderloin was chilled and then sliced, and served with cubes of the horseradish jello. When I was at the store, buying the $27.oo per pound beef tenderloin for this recipe I kept thinking, "I can't believe I am going to top this with horseradish jello!" I was not optimistic. But actually, the horseradish jello wasn't half bad. It was not as gelatinous as I feared it would be. People seemed confused as to what it was, but no one identified it as jello. It had a decent flavor to it (if you like horseradish) and complemented the beef nicely. My real issue with this dish was the following: why would you serve beautiful sliced beef cold? This was an incredibly good beef tenderloin -- it was flavorful and tender. But served cold it was hard to appreciate either of those things. It just tasted like a cold hunk of beef (topped with horseradish jello of course). There was a slice leftover and I threw it in the microwave the next day (sans jello), and even after being microwaved it was vastly superior to the cold version. This recipe could have been awesome had the beef been sliced and served warm and served with a warm, non-gelatinous, horseradish sauce. As it was, it was better than I expected, but I won't be making it again.

The recipe claims to be here, but as of today the URL wasn't working...

This is recipe number 800 in my project! Wow. It is hard even for me to believe that I have gone through 800 recipes in The Book. Craziness!

A few thank-yous: first and foremost thanks to my special gentleman who has eaten more than 450 of those 800 recipes. His open mind and eager palate are huge assets to me in this project. Thanks also to Ana, Mike, Alex, Matt, and Chris, who have all eaten and or assisted with about 100 recipes! This project relies heavily on the willingness of my friends and family to humor me in this big experiment. I am constantly amazed by the number of people who have been a part of this project by eating and/or helping to prepare food from The Book. I am grateful to each and every one of you! As I traveled around the country in the past year a number of people generously shared the use of their kitchens: thanks to Matty, mom, dad, Mike, Tim, V, Shihchi, Dave, Karen, Emilee, and Brian for that. A huge thanks to Mike, Emilee, David, Matty, Vero, mom, Brad, and Deniz, who have all gotten me lovely gifts off the Gourmet Project Wishlist. Thanks to Alex, as always, for the wonderful Project Index that he maintains. And finally, thanks to all my online supporters, who give me lots of encouragement and support which I value greatly!

So how am I feeling about the next 100 recipes? Optimistic! One of the many things I did on the long car ride over the last couple days was to flip through The Book and peruse some of the recipes I haven't made yet. And you know what? There is a lot of good stuff still in there! I have 493 recipes left to go, and I am positive that there are at least 100 more delicious ones to be made!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Viennese Cucumber Salad (Page 142)

RECIPE #799

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Russ, Juice, Scarecrow, Alex P, Mitch, Carrie, Grant, and Paps
  • Recipe Rating: B+

The menu for the bachelor party was starting to get a little on the heavy side, so I made this simple cucumber salad to lighten things up a bit. This recipe was extremely simple. I sliced some seedless cucumber very thin on a mandoline, and then salted them and let them sit for an hour. After that time they were rinsed and drained thoroughly, then tossed with a vinegar and dill dressing. The cucumbers then marinated for a couple hours in the refrigerator before they were served. The result was a very simple, refreshing cucumber salad. The reactions to the salad were pretty neutral. For instance, from Matty: "It tasted ok." It's true that there was nothing terribly exciting about this dish. I liked it for its simplicity, but I probably wouldn't make it again for company.

Here is the recipe.

Hello from Ashtabula, Ohio! Matty and I are officially on the road. The move so far has gone very smoothly (knock on wood!). The truck was ready and waiting for us at Uhaul this morning, and with the excellent help of Ricky, Matt, Rachel, Eric, Ronen, Mike, and Yanki (thanks again guys!) we had that thing loaded and ready to go in under an hour. We got the car carrier hooked up, the car on the car carrier, and we were off (well, there was one minor setback which involved me climbing out a car window in a dress, but that was more entertaining than bothersome)! It's not all that fun driving a 14 foot truck, but it is significantly less fun with a car carrier attached to it. If you have never done this, I don't recommend it. We drove 1000 miles towing my car last year, and somehow decided foolishly to do it again this year. It definitely alters the maneuverability of and the control you have over the truck... But we made it 600 miles today with no major incidents, and now we are relaxing/sleeping in Ashtabula before driving the remaining 270 miles to Michigan.

Wish us luck with the remainder of our drive!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Swedish Meatballs (Page 58)

RECIPE #799

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Scarecrow, Russ, Grant, Mitch, Carrie, Alex, Paps, and Juice
  • Recipe Rating: B

Mmmmm... meatballs. When I tried to think of food appropriate for a bachelor party, meatballs were one of the first things that came to mind. Luckily, I still had this meatball recipe left to make. These meatballs are meant to be an hors d'oeuvre, but we had more of a buffet-style meal, so I just added them to the table. The recipe was very simple. I ground fresh breadcrumbs then let them sit in some heavy cream and club soda (why do meatballs so often have club soda in them?) for about 20 minutes. Then I mixed in some chopped onion, ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal. After forming them into little balls I baked them until they were browned and cooked through, then drizzled them with pan juices. Overall, these were pretty solid meatballs. They had a good flavor and were nice and juicy. They didn't have a lot of caramelized brownness to them though. I think they would have been better had they been browned on the stovetop before they were baked. That would have taken a while with so many tiny meatballs, but it would have been worth it. As it was, I felt that there could have been more meat flavor coming out of the little meatballs. They certainly weren't bad, but they were also not the best meatballs I can imagine.

This recipe isn't online.

Most relationships start with a period of infatuation. In my experience this period, which can last a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months, is full of blissful ignorance. Everything seems perfect and happy and it is easy to be optimistic. The true test of a relationship is how it looks after that period ends. Eventually you ask yourself, "Is this really the right partnership for me?"

I am reaching that point in my relationship with running. I just finished week 13 of my training, which means that I did my 65th run today. And I have to admit, my optimism is waning. Around week 6 or so I was loving it. I was eager to run every day. I had visions of myself as a life-long runner. But now I am running more than 20 miles a week, and I am tired. Don't get me wrong -- I am not quitting. This half-marathon I am training for is a non-negotiable. Barring some serious, serious injury, I will run it. But it is getting hard. This week was especially rough. I had a little rollover from last week, so in the past 7 days I ran 6, 2, 5, 3, 4, rest, 7. That's 27 miles with only one rest day.

I am still hopeful that I will emerge from this period of reflection with even more faith in my relationship with running. Right now, though, I am struggling...

Fresh Fig, Mascarpone, and Pesto Torte (Page 17)

RECIPE #798

  • Date: Sunday, July 27, 2008 -- 5pm
  • Location: Somerville, MA
  • Kitchen: Matty's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Scarecrow, Paps, Grant, Russ, Juice, Mitch, and Alex P.
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose to make this torte for the bachelor party last weekend because it is one that needs to be made for a big group of hungry people. In fact, it would have been more suitable to a larger party, but figs are in season now, and I wanted to get this recipe done while I had the chance. This layered torte is meant to be sliced thin and spread on bread. I toasted up some baguette slices spread with a bit of olive oil for the occasion and they were a great receptacle for this layered creation. To put this together I started by making the crust. It was a typical graham cracker-type crust, except with the graham crackers replaced by Wheat Thins and pine nuts. The crust was baked until just browned and then cooled. The first layer of filling was a combination of cream cheese, mascarpone or sour cream, and egg, beaten together well. That was topped with a layer of pesto and then a layer of sliced fresh figs. Over the figs went another layer of the cream cheese filling. The whole things was then baked for about an hour and then chilled for at least 3 hours, after which it was not-too-cute. Luckily, there were still more layers to go on! The next layer was fig preserves mixed with white wine vinegar. Finally, on top: fresh sliced figs. It was quite a creation. It was pretty in a way, but also a little intimidating-looking. I think everyone was a bit scared to try it. After people started eating it though, the reactions were fairly positive. The flavors were good together. Figs can be excellent with soft cheeses and the pesto gave the torte a nice savory, garlickyness to complement the sweetness from the figs. I liked it, but I wasn't crazy about it. It had a very cheesecake-like quality to it, and it seemed a bit weird to me to start a meal with a slice of fig-pesto cheesecake. That said, I enjoyed eating it. One thing that perhaps made me less awed by this recipe than I might have been is that I strongly prefer my usual sweet-savory fig and cheese appetizer to this one. For that I toast some baguette slices, spread them with a generous layer of good goat cheese followed by a dollop of fig preserves and topped with a thin slice of prosciutto. It is delicious, and very, very quick to put together. This recipe was not as delicious as that and fussier, but still tasty. And although I won't make it again, I had no serious problems with it.

Here is the recipe.

Wedding season has begun! Yesterday I attended the first of three weddings that I am going to this month. It was an unusual situation since I had never met the bride and had met the groom only once, probably about 5 years ago. You might guess that these are friends of my special gentleman then, but no, he doesn't know them either, and he wasn't even there! Curious, no?

The groom of this wedding, however, is good friends with a good friend of mine who was not feeling like going to this wedding alone. Since my special gentleman was off at another bachelor party this weekend, I volunteered to be my friend's fake date. What is it they say? When the cat's away, the mice will play! (Or in this case, the mice will attend the wedding of strangers!) Anyway, I love weddings, and this one was very unique. The ceremony was in a tiny little Quaker meeting house built in 1800. The building was really cool -- instead of all facing the front, there were wooden benches that faced towards the middle. The ceremony was non-religious with a lot of poetry read and music played. It was very nice. Afterwards, dinner at a winery. Wedding food is typically pretty awful, but this was an exception. The food was very good, which was exciting because I was starving! I had more than my share of mushroom risotto! My fake date found it completely incomprehensible that I was having such fun at a wedding where I didn't know anyone (including the people getting married), but I really do just love weddings. Obviously it is more personally meaningful if you actually know the bride and the groom, but even if you don't, weddings are a wonderful celebration of love, commitment, and bravery! Plus, people are typically in good spirits (in this case especially so because there was an open bar!) and having fun.

Next weekend is a wedding I am REALLY looking forward to: Vero and Philippe and typing the knot!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Apricot Raspberry Pie (Page 763)

RECIPE #797

  • Date: Saturday, July 19, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Hartsville, SC
  • Kitchen: My Parents' Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I have been seriously craving pie this summer, and lucky for me The Book is chock full of delicious pie recipes! I made this pie a few weeks ago while visiting my parents in rural South Carolina. My mom and dad drive nearly 2 hours most weekends to go grocery shopping (the shopping situation in Hartsville -- population 8,000 -- is a little dire). There is a market they like a lot in Columbia, which has lovely produce and a good butcher. So there I was, grocery list in hand, ready to shop at the market. I was looking for apricots. Peaches, nectarines, plums, kiwi, cherries... all there and all looking beautiful. But no apricots. Mysterious though, since the sign below the plums said "Apricots." Look down: "Apricots." Look up: plums. Look down: "Apricots." Look up: plums. Repeat. I stood there dumbfounded for a minute or two before I decided to inspect these plums labeled apricots more closely. I picked one up. Looked like a plum. Felt like a plum. Smelled more or less like a plum. But lo and behold, it had a teeny tiny label on it, which read "Black Velvet Apricot." They were the only apricots to be found, so I got them. As I was filling up a bag of them, Matty walked up behind me: "Mmmm... plums." I tried to explain that they were apparently apricots. He seemed unconvinced.

It wasn't until after the pie was assembled, baked, and eaten that I did a little research on these Black Velvet "Apricots" of mine. It turns out that they are actually a plum-apricot hybrid. I didn't know there were other common plum-apricot hybirds other than pluots. But while pluots are 1/4 apricot and 3/4 plum, the Black Velvet Apricot is a type of aprium (which are 3/4 apricot and 1/4 plum). You learn something new every day.

So perhaps I should really call my rendition of this recipe an "Apricot-Apricot-Apricot-Plum Raspberry Pie." All the apricot drama aside though, the real question is, "How did it taste?" Well, my mother declared this the best pie she has ever eaten. When I called her out on the hyperbole, she insisted that it really was the best pie she has ever eaten. So that pretty much sums it up. It was good. Very good. I wouldn't say it is the best pie I have ever eaten, but I enjoyed it a lot. The apricot and raspberry (and apparently plum) flavors blended extremely well together. The filling was indeed delicious. It has just the right tang -- flavorful and sweet without being cloying. My one complaint was that the filling was quite liquidy, which resulted in a pretty soggy bottom crust and some very messy pie servings. It wasn't a serious issue -- it was still delicious. But if the filling had been a touch thicker it would have been an improvement. I'm sure this recipe is good with 100% apricots as well, but if you can get your hands on some Black Velvet Apricots, I highly recommend them in this pie!

Here is the recipe.