Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chocolate Macaroons (Page 676)

RECIPE #839

  • Date: Sunday, September 28, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

When I first started this project I used to take a lot of requests. I would take specific requests, of course, from people I was cooking with or for. But I would also take general requests. I asked some friends for some numbers they liked and then I would make recipes from those pages in The Book. It was a good way to force myself to mix things up a bit. Plus, at the beginning the options seemed limitless, and it was nice to have a way to narrow down my choices. Lately, though, I haven't been fielding as many requests. So I was excited when my friend Philippe wrote a comment challenging me to make this recipe. Apparently he and his wife Vero tried to make these macaroons and something went awry. I was up for the challenge, so I went out and bought the ingredients, and on Sunday I put on my apron and made these cookies.

This recipe had several stages. First, I made the almond macaroons, which would later be sandwiched around some chocolate ganache to form the cookies you see above. I ground skinned almonds with powdered sugar and cocoa in the food processor. Not for the first time I wondered what size food processor they test these recipes in -- mine was practically overflowing. After the mixture was very finely ground I set it aside and separated some eggs. The recipe calls for 7/8 cup egg whites, claiming that it will take about 6 large eggs to get that quantity. I found that it took more like 8 and a half, but I had extra eggs in the fridge, so no worries. I beat the egg whites with salt and some sugar until they held stiff peaks. Then I folded the almond mixture into the egg whites in 3 additions. At that point I got a little worried. In the process of folding in the almond mixture I lost a lot of the air that I had beat into the egg whites, and my batter looked a little runny. But I plowed on. I put the batter in a pastry bag and piped out small mounds of onto a parchment covered baking sheet. The baking sheet went into the oven, and I was relieved to see that the cookies poofed up nicely (so there was still some air trapped in those egg whites!). Once they were done I took them out of the oven and transfered the sheet of parchment to a damp kitchen towel and cooled the cookies there for a few minutes before moving them to a rack to cool completely. While those cooled, I made the ganache. I mixed hot cream and milk with cocoa, chopped chocolate, and butter, then put it in the fridge to harden a bit. When it reached a good spreading consistency, I spread it on half the almond macaroons, placing the remaining macaroons on top to form little cookie sandwiches.

So after all that work, how were they? Mmmm.... Yum! The macaroons themselves were extremely light -- they practically melted in your mouth. Since they were mostly made of powdered sugar they were very sweet, which was a perfect complement to the not-at-all sweet chocolate ganache. In many respects the cookies and the ganache complemented each other beautifully. The ganache was rich and creamy, while the cookies were light and airy. Texturally these cookies were very interesting. The exteriors of the macaroons had a bit of crispness to them, while the interiors of the cookies were chewy. Paired with the smoothness of the ganache it was a textural wonderland! I have to admit, macaroons are not usually my favorite type of cookie, but these I liked quite a bit. They had a rich chocolate flavor that would make them go perfectly with a nice cup of coffee! The recipe was indeed a bit fussy and time-consuming, but it seems that it is possible to produce yummy macaroons from it!

This recipe isn't online.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Colombian Chicken, Corn, and Potato Stew (Page 370)

RECIPE #838

  • Date: Saturday, September 27, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe was part of the Poultry plan, whereby Matty and I are trying to eat a lot of birds to make up for the deficit in that section of The Book. This recipe is a version of ajiaco, a famous dish in Colombia. I have never been to Colombia, but if this dish is representative of the cuisine, perhaps it is about time I make a trip there. I started by browning a whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces. I then removed the chicken and cooked onion and oregano in the pot, adding shredded potatoes, stock, the chicken, and water once the onions were tender. Once the chicken was cooked through I removed it and shredded the meat. Meanwhile I cooked cubes of potatoes in the broth, then added chunks of corn on the cob, and finally the shredded chicken meat. Once everything was cooked through, I served the stew with small dishes of avocado, capers, cream, and cilantro. In summary: yum! The broth had an excellent flavor, and the shredded potatoes more or less dissolved, giving it a nice body. The shredded meat and cubes of potato gave it a good heartiness. The corn was delicious, but it was a bit unwieldy to eat. I definitely liked the look of having the big chunks of corn on the cob, but for practical reasons I would have preferred to just cut the kernels off the cob before adding them. The avocado, cilantro, and cream were excellent atop the stew. I didn't think the capers went so well (my special gentleman agreed) but it's not as though they were bad... This stew was hearty and delicious. We have been eating it reheated for lunches, and it is even better after a day in the fridge. If you are looking for simple, delicious, comfort food, this recipe is a good bet!

Here is the recipe.

There is some common wisdom that if you can run 20 miles, you can run a marathon. I am hoping that this logically extends to the wisdom that if you can run 10 miles you can run a half-marathon because on Sunday I ran 10 miles for the first time! It was actually a great run. I ran 10 miles and felt great! I think there were a few keys to my success:

1. I ate a LOT earlier in the day. Matty and I went apple picking in the morning with Mike and Teresa, so I ate lots of apples, followed by some apple cider, apple strudel, elephant ear, hot dog, baked beans, etc... at the apple orchard. When I got home I ate again so I was super-fueled for my run.

2. For the first time, I ate during my run. I had a Balance bar during mile 8. It probably wasn't the best choice because it made my stomach turn around mile 9.5, but it did give me the fuel I needed to keep going.

3. I have started running with my cell phone during my long runs, in case of emergency. I forgot to turn the ringer off on Sunday and Rachel called me around mile 2. I talked to her for a couple miles, which left me out of breath but it was an excellent distraction. The first 4 miles are always the hardest for me, so it was nice to be thinking about something else for a few of them.

4. I put some new music on my iPod. There's nothing like some Wham! to get your feet moving.

All those factors combined led to a great run yesterday, and a new-found confidence that this half-marathon is really possible. Believe it or not I am even considering training for a marathon in the spring...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Smoked Pork Chops with Pineapple Rosemary Sauce (Page 483)

RECIPE #837

  • Date: Friday, September 26, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

My special gentleman flew in late Friday night -- I made these pork chops Friday evening so that there would be something for him to eat when he got here. It's such a nice feeling after traveling to have some homemade food that I try to make sure there is always something for my special gentleman to eat when he arrives. My mother still does this for me -- whenever I visit her there is always some homemade macaroni and cheese, or some spinach and cheese filled pasta in the fridge waiting for me. Yum! Maybe I a more sensitive to this than most people, but after a few consecutive meals in restaurants, I am more than ready for something homemade. When traveling it is hard to avoid eating out for every meal, and that gets old very quickly!

Anyway, I threw together these pork chops after work on Friday. The preparation of the pork chops themselves was very simple. The dish called for smoked pork chops, which I had never used before but were easy to find at my local butcher (a huge shout-out to Butcher's Block!). Smoked pork chops are already fully cooked, so the recipe simply called for them to be seared on the stove top, and cooked just until warm in the middle. The sauce took a bit more effort. I started with a whole pineapple, cutting some of it into a 1/4-inch dice, and chunking the rest of it. The chunks got pureed in the blender, then the pineapple puree was drained through cheesecloth for about 30 minutes. I then discarded the solids and boiled the pineapple juice for 10 minutes to reduce it. In another pan I cooked some garlic and rosemary in olive oil, then discarded the garlic and rosemary. The infused oil was whisked into the reduced juice, along with the diced pineapple and the whole thing was used to deglaze the pan the pork was cooked in. To serve, I poured the sauce over the warm pork chops.

Overall this dish was pretty good, but it was extremely strongly flavored. The pork chops were very smokey, which gave them an almost ham-like flavor. They were definitely tasty, but I think I would have liked them more with a milder sauce. This sauce was incredibly flavorful. Pineapple juice is potent stuff to begin with, but when it gets reduced it becomes super flavorful, and extremely sweet. The pineapple was so intense that it overwhelmed both the rosemary and the garlic, which was a rather impressive feat. I like the flavor of pineapple, and I typically enjoy it paired with a ham-like smokiness (Mmmmm... Hawaiian pizza...) but in this case it was a little too intense even for me. My special gentleman agreed -- it could have been toned down a bit. That said, we both ate and enjoyed these chops, we just probably wouldn't make them again.

Here is the recipe.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Edna Lewis's Creamed Scallions (Page 575)

RECIPE #836

  • Date: Thursday, September 25, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I have been super-busy lately so I have been selecting a few recipes a week that are very, very quick to make. This recipe was chosen for that reason. Start to finish: 20 minutes. The procedure was extremely simple. Garlic was cooked in cream, which was reduced to form the sauce. Meanwhile, the sliced scallions were steamed until tender. The scallions were then stirred together with the cream sauce, some parsley, and salt and pepper. That's it! It was definitely an easy recipe. The result was good -- not great, but good. The dish had a nice flavor to it. I like the combination of onions and cream, so flavor-wise this dish worked for me. I wasn't so sold on the texture though. The scallions were tender, but they weren't as soft as I would have liked them. A few weeks back I made the creamed leeks from The Book, a dish that is very similar in spirit to this one. However, the leeks were cooked much longer that these scallions were, to get a much softer texture, and I definitely preferred that result. Texturally it wasn't ideal, but this certainly wasn't a bad dish. Neither Matty nor I are usually big fans of creamed vegetables, but we both liked this dish well enough.

Here is the recipe.

Although it still feels to me as though the semester just began, it is already exam time! This past week has been crazy. On top of various research demands, and the usual demands of teaching, I had to write two midterms. Writing exams always takes much longer than it seems like it should. My regular calculus students took their exam on Friday. My business calculus students will take their exam on Monday. When I wrote the regular calculus exam, I was a bit concerned that it was too hard. I thought the mean might be a little low, but that's not necessarily a bad thing for a first exam. If the mean is too high the students start slacking off, thinking the course will be easy, and that is not a good thing. So I wanted the exam to be a little bit on the tough side. Apparently, though, I overshot. After the exam on Friday I gathered with my three teaching assistants and we spent a couple hours grading the exams together. It was quite depressing. The mean was definitely lower than I expected. I put one problem on the exam that I knew would be difficult, and one other that I figured some students would have a problem with. The other five problems though were extremely straightforward. Nonetheless, my students did pretty poorly. It is hard when you are teaching a class for the first time to know what to expect. At least this exam gave me a better perspective on what the students know and understand. That's valuable even if the experience was more than a little depressing.

Here's hoping that my business calculus students do better on Monday! I think they will. Having taught that class before, I think I did a decent job of aiming for the difficulty I wanted.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Parmesan-Coated Turkey Cutlets (Page 387)

RECIPE #835

  • Date: Tuesday, September 23, 2008 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-

The Poultry section of The Book is the section I am moving slowest on (only 41.2% complete), so I am making an effort to eat more poultry. I love poultry. I also love beef, veal, pork, and lamb, yet that meaty section is my third slowest (at 46.8% complete). Why am I so far behind on all the meat? Basically it is because I am too busy to grocery shop more than once a week. I do all my shopping on Saturdays, and if I buy enough meat for one or two dishes (or even three) I can use it before it gets too old. But, as you may have noticed, I am more than a little concerned about food safety, so I don't want my raw meat to sit around too long before I use it. I should probably get in the habit of buying meat for four or five recipes, and freezing some of it for later in the week, but I haven't been doing that yet. So I stock up on meat on Saturday, and then try to cook it all at the beginning of the week. Usually that works out OK. This week I made the congee with a whole chicken on Saturday. Sunday I went to a department party so I didn't make dinner. Monday I went on my long run instead of cooking. And then it was Tuesday and I had turkey cutlets still rotting in the fridge. Making them Wednesday wasn't going to be an option, and by Thursday they would surely not pass my food safety standards! So I made them Tuesday. The thing that was a little ridiculous about it was that I already had dinner plans on Tuesday. So I made these cutlets, and then ate something else with a friend for dinner. I didn't throw them out -- I saved them for lunches. But it was still an odd thing to do, and it is this type of situation that discourages me from buying too much meat on my Saturday grocery run.

Anyway, I bought turkey cutlets on Saturday, so on Tuesday I cooked them. This recipe was very simple: I dipped the turkey cutlets in a batter of egg, cheese, and parsley, and then cooked them on the stove top in butter and oil. The main problem was that the batter didn't stick so well. A few clumps of it adhered to the cutlets, but those clumps ended up tasting like scrambled eggs. And much of the cutlet wasn't covered at all. So basically I ended up with a turkey cutlet fried in butter and oil (which tastes good!) with some patches of scrambled egg on it (not so good...). It wasn't as bad as that really, but it seemed odd to me that they didn't have a step where you dipped the cutlet in flour before dipping in the egg mixture. That is very typical, and helps an egg batter adhere evenly. If I made this recipe again, I would definitely add that step in. The flavor of the dish was still ok -- the cheese flavor was nice with the turkey, but it was so poorly distributed that there were many bites where it was hard to appreciate. This recipe was very quick, and produced something definitely edible, but I certainly wouldn't make it again as it is written.

Here is the recipe.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Viennese Vanilla Crescents (Page 674)

RECIPE #834

  • Date: Sunday, September 21, 2008 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


This was a two-part recipe, the first part of which was making Vanilla Confectioner's Sugar, and the second part was making these cookies. Embarrassingly enough, I made the first component more than a year ago, and I wrote in that post that I was going to make these cookies later that week. Apparently that didn't happen. Luckily The Book says that the vanilla-infused sugar will keep indefinitely, and indeed it did. A year later, it was just fine. So, you might ask, why did I wait a year to make these cookies? That's embarrassing too. It all has to do with skinned hazelnuts.

My senior year in college I decided that I was going to make a chocolate hazelnut cake. The details are blurry in my memory, but I think it was for something important -- I was trying to impress someone. The recipe seemed simple enough. Step one was to skin a bunch of hazelnuts. The procedure for doing this is to toast the nuts in the oven until their skins loosen and then rub them with kitchen towels to take the skins off. Sounds simple, no? Well it was an AWFUL experience. In fact, that sits in my memory as one of my worst culinary experiences ever. The skins just wouldn't come off. I don't know if I did something wrong, or if those hazelnuts had unusually adhered skins, but I was mad. And in the end I peeled the skins off one by one with my fingernails, which took forever. Very bad memories.

So I put off making this recipe because the first step was skinning a bunch of hazelnuts. But, this time around skinning the hazelnuts was painless. The hazelnuts then got ground up in the food processor with flour, and the other dough ingredients. Note: whoever wrote this recipe must have had an industrial size food processor because mine is big but nowhere big enough for this to be successful. Flour was everywhere and I ended up having to do it in batches. Once the dough was done, I refrigerated it overnight. The next day I formed the cookies, baked them, and dusted them with the vanilla sugar. There were two bothersome things about this recipe. One, the dough was too dry, which made it a huge pain in the ass to deal with. You were supposed to roll the dough into balls and then roll them to form crescents. My dough was way too crumbly for that. I molded the crumbly dough into crescent shapes, which took forever and wasn't too fun. My other complaint is that the dough itself was bland. The sugar coating helped with that, but the dough would have been hugely improved by the addition of more salt. More salt would have brought out the nut flavor from all those hazelnuts I carefully skinned! Overall though, these cookies were fine. I wouldn't make them again, but I have certainly been eating them!

This recipe isn't online.

As I have mentioned, it has been really busy around here lately. Last night I needed to do my long run. I knew I would be done running, back home, and showered by around 8:30pm so I had a whole list of things to do after my run. Apparently I have yet to internalize that although the concept of "after my run" works just fine if I run up to 7 miles, there is no chance of me getting any work done after a 9 mile run. In that case "after my run" pretty much looks like me lying on the sofa, sipping Gatorade and wondering why I feel so bad. I am hoping my body will learn to adjust to these long runs, because they are only getting longer! To be fair, it's hard to get too upset with my body for being angry with me. I run pretty slowly, so 9 miles takes me a little more than an hour and a half. That's a long time to run! It's a miracle that my body doesn't launch a full-fledged rebellion!

Anyway, because of the post-run situation my to-do list yesterday didn't get done. It didn't even nearly get done. In fact, it is almost 5pm and I still have two more things to do on yesterday's list. So I should get to it!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Congee (Page 122)

RECIPE #833

  • Date: Saturday, September 20, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A

That I waited more than two and a half years to make this recipe can only be explained by the fact that I didn't really understand what it was. This recipe was in the Soups section, so I had envisioned a typical chicken rice soup. Apparently I didn't notice the subtitle of the recipe, "Chinese Chicken and Rice Porridge." I love porridge! Hot, mushy carbohydrates is my favorite genre of food: oatmeal, risotto, cream of wheat, mashed potatoes... I love them all! Even within this competitive genre, this rice porridge was top notch. The recipe wasn't labor intensive, but it did take a long time (Active Time: 40 minutes, Start to Finish: 5 1/4 hours). I started by taking a whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, and boiling it in some water with rice wine, ginger, and scallions. After the chicken was cooked through I removed one of the chicken breast halves, and left the remaining chicken in the pot. The pot of chicken then got boiled for another 2 and a half hours, to make a very chicken-intensive broth. Meanwhile I shredded the reserved chicken breast and set it aside in the fridge. After the stock had boiled for several hours, I put it through a sieve and discarded the solids (including the now terribly overcooked chicken meat), then returned it to the pot. I added a cup of rice and boiled for another couple hours, until it reached a nice porridge consistency. After seasoning the porridge I served it with the shredded chicken, sesame oil, scallions, and minced ginger on top. Yum! Yum, yum, yum! If I had a personal chef, this would be on the menu several days a week. At first it seemed like a waste to use a whole chicken and discard all the meat except for one breast half. But that chicken gave the stock such a wonderful, intense flavor that it was worth it. The porridge was warm, delicious, and chicken-y. Normally when my special gentleman is away I freeze some of each dish for him, but not this one. I couldn't part with it! I have eaten this for lunch and dinner for the last two days, and my only regret is that now it is gone. Yum! If you like hot, mushy carbohydrates, I highly, highly recommend this recipe!

Here is the recipe.

I believe very strongly in intuitive eating. In other words I eat whatever I want, whenever I want, but I only eat when I am hungry. Eating what I crave leads to pretty well balanced diet, and eating only when I am hungry generally gives me plenty of fuel to go on. Part of this philosophy though is that I also stop eating when I am full. I remember a phase in life when I would eat until I was so full my stomach hurt, but I realized one day that I didn't like that feeling. So when I am full, I stop. For years this eating philosophy has left me happy and healthy. Now, though, I have a problem.

A couple weeks ago I ran 9 miles for the first time, only to discover that an hour into my run I was starving. I had eaten normally that day, but apparently my normal eating isn't enough to fuel that kind of exertion. Today, knowing I was going to run 9 miles after work, I forced myself to eat more than I wanted to. I actually ate to the point of feeling a bit ill. It wasn't really pleasant. My run did go a bit better though -- I didn't get really hungry until the last mile, and afterwards I didn't feel as sick as I did a few weeks ago. So maybe stuffing myself is the right solution. I know that there is an alternative -- runners often eat Gu while running. It's a little packet of flavored carbs that you can squirt into your mouth mid-run. It doesn't taste so good though, and I just can't motivate to consume calories I don't enjoy. Pretty soon I think I will have no choice. Something about my eating habits is going to have to change!

All that said, I survived a 9 mile run after work today, which, given how exhausted I was, seemed like a big accomplishment. It was a decent run though. Plus, Deniz sent me some Body Glide and that stuff is amazing -- no more chafing for me!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lemon Semolina Cake with Raspberries and Whipped Cream (Page 708)

RECIPE #832

  • Date: Thursday, September 11, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I had some friends over for dinner a few weeks ago and I intended to serve this cake as dessert. Several different people brought desserts with them, however, so I opted to freeze the layer of cake that I had prepared. I thawed it and filled it with whipped cream and raspberries later in the week for me and my special gentleman to enjoy. Although this recipe sounded delicious, I had been putting it off because it calls for 12 blanched whole almonds. It's hard to find blanched whole almonds -- I don't know anywhere in town to buy them -- and I have a bad attitude about skinning nuts myself (more on that another time). If they had indicated a measure of volume or weight, I could have used blanched slivered almonds, which are easy to find, but there was no such indication. Even Google couldn't seem to tell me the weight of one almond with any consistency. Probably the thing to do would have been to weigh 12 almonds with their skins on (which are obviously easy to find) and then use that weight of blanched slivered almonds, but frankly I didn't have that idea until just now. So I put off making this recipe for the last two and a half years. Several times people flipping through The Book have asked, "Oooo, can we make that one?" And I have replied with a simple, "No." Finally, I decided it was getting a little ridiculous. Eventually I have to make it, so it was time to either order some blanched almonds online, or come up with a work-around. I opted for the latter. So what did I do? It's embarrassing actually. Maybe I will lie. I weighed 12 whole almonds with their skins, and then... Oh wait, I already admitted that I didn't do that. Damn it. Ok, here goes. What I really did was I stood over my counter top with a bag of slivered almonds, trying to reconstruct whole almonds from the slivers. Ok, I'm not that stupid -- I wasn't trying to reconstruct the almonds that those slivers actually came from, but I was trying to piece them together in order to approximate how many slivers made up one almond. Eventually I came up with some quantity of almond slivers which I declared to be 12 almonds, and I moved on.

After the almond reconstruction project, I ground up the almonds in the food processor until finely ground. Then I separated some eggs and beat the yolks with sugar for a while, then beat in lemon zest and lemon juice. After all that was combined I folded in the ground almonds and some semolina. In a separate bowl I beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, then folded them into the yolk mixture. The batter got poured into a cake pan and baked until done. Once it was cool (and in my case, frozen and then thawed) I split the cake into two layers, and filled it with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. I dusted the top with powdered sugar and it was ready to serve. Aside from the almond fiasco, it was quite simple. I liked this cake a lot. The semolina and ground almonds gave the cake a slightly grainy texture. Although that doesn't necessarily sound appealing, it worked in this recipe -- the graininess of the cake layer was a nice textural contrast to the rich, smooth whipped cream filling. The flavors of the cake were clean and simple. Cake with fruit and cream is generally delicious, and this recipe was a nice execution of that concept. It wasn't a fancy dessert, and it wasn't particularly cute, but it was tasty. It was a lovely finish to a simple week-night dinner.

This recipe isn't online.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sauteed Mustard Greens with Garlic (Page 541)

RECIPE #831

  • Date: Thursday, September 11, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

As is no secret on this blog, I am not a huge fan of bitter greens. My special gentleman likes them OK though, so I figured I would make this recipe while he was in town last week to eat it. The procedure for this one was quite simple. I made a paste of garlic and salt and cooked it in olive oil. Once it was nice and fragrant I added the mustard greens, cooked until wilted, then added some water and cooked a couple minutes more. Then I seasoned and served. The result wasn't half bad. The greens were bitter, of course, but the garlic provided a nice contrasting flavor. This was a very basic recipe -- there is not a lot going on besides the flavor of the greens. If you like mustard greens, you will like it. If you don't, you probably won't. This recipe certainly isn't earth-shaking, but if you are looking for a super simple way to cook mustard greens, you could give this one a try.

Here is the recipe.

I have been swamped lately, so even though it's Saturday I started the day with a long to-do list of things I needed to accomplish. It's 11:23pm and I just checked the last thing off my list. That's a pretty wild Saturday night, huh?!? I will hesitantly admit that I worked until 11pm last night too... It never ceases to amaze me the power that check-lists have over me. If I didn't have this list in front of me I am sure I would have opened a beer at 9pm and watched a movie, or gone out somewhere. But I looked at my list, saw all the things I had left to do, and got to the business of finishing them instead. This is not a bad thing, but it is a little ridiculous. I made that checklist myself last night, so it shouldn't really have so much authority over me. In theory I could just excuse myself from some of the items on the list, or tack them on the list for tomorrow. But nonetheless, whenever it is within reason I attempt to finish my list before I head off to bed. Part of it is that I really like the sense of accomplishment I get from looking at a list with everything crossed off. I love crossing things off. In college sometimes I would add things I had already done to my to-do list just so I could cross them off. That really is ridiculous! It is so satisfying though!

Now that my list is done, maybe I will crack open that beer and watch a movie. Or maybe I will just go to bed, so that I can start tomorrow's list nice and early!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brined Pork Chops (Page 482)

RECIPE #830

  • Date: Monday, September 8, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

I am not doing so well on the meat sections in The Book so Matty and I are trying to eat more meat. This recipe was part of that effort. My only real experience with brining meat comes from making Thanksgiving turkeys. I am a firm believer in a brined turkey and would never make one any other way. My enthusiasm for brining didn't extend past poultry until I made this recipe though. But now it does -- Matty and I agreed that these may be the best pork chops we have ever eaten. Plus, they were extremely easy to make. The day before we cooked them, I prepared a brine of water, salt, mustard seeds, sugar, pickling spices, and garlic. I boiled and then cooled the brine mixture, then submerged the chops in it and let them sit in the refrigerator for a day. Twenty-four hours later I pulled them out of the brine, dried them off and browned them on the stove in olive oil. I then finished the chops in the oven, roasting them to 145 degrees. Once they reached that temperature, I pulled them out and let them rest while I deglazed the pan with some Rielsing and chicken broth. After the meat was rested, I poured some sauce over and served. It was delicious! Brining is amazing! The idea is simple enough. The liquid you brine in is extremely salty, so by osmosis the cells in the meat pull in some of that salt. This saltiness also denatures some of the proteins in the meat, which has the effect of trapping the liquid in as the meat cooks. It sounds a little far-fetched, I know, but eating is believing. Brined meat is incredibly flavorful, and fantastically juicy. This pork was no exception. The flavor of the brine permeated throughout the meat, and there wasn't even the slightest hint of dryness in a single bite of the chop. It was awesome. The pan sauce was also flavorful and complemented the meat well. The only criticism I can make is that the meat was very slightly salty. For Matty and I this was no problem -- we love salt! But this might not be the right choice for someone who prefers their food with very little salt.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except that the recipe in The Book indicates to roast the pork to 145 degrees rather than 155 degrees, and then let it rest for 10 minutes.

Emilee bought me a whole slew of wedding magazines while I was in California, and I was perusing them on the plane ride home yesterday. One of them contained a quiz, which promised to tell me what kind of bride I am: Romantic, Natural, Trendy, or Global. The article informed me that taking this quiz was the first step towards creating a "truly personal day." How can you argue with that? So I busted out my pen and started circling away! It wasn't totally clear to me what this quiz was capturing, but it was fun. Sample question:

9. The Madonna song you love most is:

A. "Crazy for You"
B. "Rain"
C. "La Isla Bonita"
D. "Vogue"

I answered 22 such questions, about what I watch on TV, what my favorite course in college was (strangely my actual favorite course was not one of the choices...), what color nail polish I get on my nails, etc... and then all I had left was to tally in order to get deep insight into who I am and what type of wedding I should have! The problem: my tally was as follows. I chose:

5 Romantic answers
6 Natural answers
6 Global answers
5 Trendy answers

So what kind of bride am I? Eclectic, I guess. Sadly I can't turn the page to find my "Ultimate dress, bouquet, invitation, cake, cocktail, and favor!" for the category I invented myself. That's probably OK. I am thinking that our wedding is going to bear little resemblance to most of them in the magazine!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Creamed Spinach (Page 578)

RECIPE #829

  • Date: Monday, September 8, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

The beginning of the semester is a crazy time, so I was looking for some super-quick recipes to make last week. This creamed spinach dish definitely fit the bill. I steamed the spinach and then mixed into a quick heavy cream sauce. I accidentally made this dish a little too simple though. The Book has this habit of embedding prep steps in the ingredients list. For instance, instead of listing "One 1 1/4 pound butternut squash," in the ingredients list and putting, "Peel, seed, and coarsely chop butternut squash" in the directions, it might just put "One, 1 1/4 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped" in the list of ingredients. I am aware of this aspect of Book recipes, and usually I am careful to read the ingredients list carefully. I made this dish right after a run though, and I was hungry and dazed. So when the directions said to steam the spinach, I just dumped the spinach out of the bag and into the steamer. I neglected to notice that the instructions to remove all the stems and chop the spinach were embedded in the ingredients list. Whoops. When I tasted the final dish, I thought to myself, "This would be better if the spinach was chopped." And then it occurred to me -- maybe I was supposed to chop it and neglected to do so. And indeed, that was the case. Because of the user error, it is a hard to grade this. It wasn't very good, but part of that was a textural problem caused by the big pieces of spinach, and their stems. The cream and spinach didn't incorporate too well, but had the spinach been chopped that would have no doubt been less of a problem. The flavor of the dish was not bad, but nothing too exciting -- it tasted like spinach floating in cream, which is exactly what it was. As I prepared it, this was a C+ recipe, but I am confident that it would have been significantly better had I actually followed the recipe. Perhaps I will try it again sometime...

Here is the recipe.

I had a lovely trip to California, and now I am sitting at the airport in Chicago, on my way back home. I had a great time seeing friends and spending time in the Berkeley math department. I was happy with how my talk went -- the people in the seminar there generally have mathematical interests that aren't too similar to my research, but they were still actively participating in my talk (asking questions, making comments...) which is a good sign. I also had a wonderful time staying with Emilee, Brian, and Sam, and spending time with Chris, Chuck, Lynn, and Cornelia.

On Tuesday night, Chris, Emilee, Brian, and I ordered take-out Thai food, and we sat around drinking beer and eating together. It was really nice. Emilee bought me ten pounds of wedding magazines, and we laid on the floor and flipped through them, arguing about what we liked and didn't. The more I read about big, elaborate weddings, the more I want a small one! My special gentleman and I are definitely leaning towards a smaller, less fussy wedding. Nevertheless, it is still fun to read those magazines, especially while hanging out with my best friends and drinking beer!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chicken Pie with Biscuit Crust (Page 374)

RECIPE #828

  • Date: Sunday, September 7, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Since the Poultry section of The Book is the one that I the most behind on, I am making an effort to cook more from it. This selection was part of that effort. My special gentleman and I often go running after work and then cook dinner once we get back from our run. A couple weekends ago I foolishly thought we could do our long run on Sunday evening, then come home and make this dish. Unfortunately, the 9 mile run that I did, and the 18 mile run that my special gentleman did that day took all of the life out of us. Afterwards we were both dehydrated, calorie-deprived, and ill. And yet I had chosen a dish that takes about an hour and a half to make. I started cooking, figuring I would feel better after a few glasses of Gatorade. But 15 minutes into the recipe, I was so dizzy that I set down my knife and retired to a very comfy spot on the floor. My special gentleman took over from there and made it about 15 minutes himself before feeling too ill to continue. We should have just given up, put what we had made so far in the refrigerator, and ordered take-out. But we are stubborn and determined people, and so we continued to cook dinner, moving slowly and taking frequent breaks. It was a truly miserable experience.

Luckily this recipe wasn't so difficult. A yummy mixture of vegetables was cooked in chicken stock, and then stirred together with some cubed cooked chicken. A roux thickened up the stock to form a nice base sauce for the dish. The chicken and vegetable mixture was poured in a baking dish and topped with some quick-to-make cheddar biscuit rounds. The whole thing got baked until the biscuits were browned and the sauce was bubbly. The result: deliciousness! This was comfort food at its best. The chicken and vegetable mixture was hearty and flavorful. The biscuits were flaky, cheesy, and absolutely delicious. The two components melded perfectly to form something down-home and comforting. It was even delicious reheated the next day (surprisingly -- I had expected the biscuits would be soggy and unappealing, but no, it was still great). Matty thought the dish had a little too much parsley, and I won't disagree with him there, but we both agreed that it was still awesome! This is quicker to make than a chicken pot pie (as the biscuits are easier to deal with than a pie crust), and in my opinion, also better. We had a shitty time making this recipe, but it was worth it!

Here is the recipe.

I am somewhere between Indianapolis and Phoenix, in an airplane, en route to California. I am headed out to Berkeley this week to give a seminar. This is my fourth California trip in the last seven months, and indeed it is one of my favorite places to visit. This trip is much too short though. I had to teach this afternoon, so I flew out in the evening. I will spend Tuesday and Wednesday at Berkeley and then fly back to Indianapolis on Thursday so that I can teach Friday. I considered staying longer, and having the people who are covering my classes on Wednesday cover them on Friday also, but it's hard on the students when the person that they are used to is away, so I scheduled my trip so that I could make it back.

This also marks the end of a blissful 4 and a half months of living in the same place as my special gentleman. When I flew out for California today, he flew out for Boston. And so we embark on another semester of long-distance relationship. Ick. Actually, it is not so bad. He is spending half-time in Bloomington this term so he will be back in no time. Nonetheless it is more fun having him around, and I was very sad to see him go.

On the upside, I will get to see baby Sam this week, who I have missed very much in the month since I was last in California (and Emilee, Brian, and Chris, who I have also missed, but who aren't quite as cute as Sam!).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Creme Vichyssoise (Page 82)

RECIPE #827

  • Date: Saturday, September 6, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Nathan, Pam, Irine, Mihai, and Andrea
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Matty and I invited some of the other post-docs in the department over for dinner last weekend. I had too much work to do to cook a big dinner, so we just ordered some pizza. I wanted to make something though, so I made this chilled soup to go with the pizza. This recipe was quite simple. I cooked leeks and onions in butter then added potatoes and water and cooked until tender. I then added whole milk and half-and-half. The mixture was pureed and strained through a fine mesh sieve. Finally I stirred in heavy cream and white pepper and chilled it for many hours until extremely cold. Before serving I season with salt. The soup had a good flavor to it, but it was completely bogged down by its richness. Potato-leek soup can be excellent even with very little dairy fat. A touch of cream can improve matters, but the amount of cream here was just obscene. The recipe calls for 2 cups of whole milk, 2 cups of half-and-half, and 1 cup of heavy cream. It was way too much. The flavors of the potatoes and leeks were lost behind the richness and taste of all the dairy fat. Don't get me wrong, I like milk and cream, but in this case I would have preferred less. The soup had an excellent texture though, and with more potatoes and less cream I think it could have been very tasty.

This recipe isn't online.

My special gentleman and I had a wonderful day today at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Northern Ohio that many people consider the best in the country, and one of the best in the world. Friday was out two-year anniversary and I planned this weekend trip for us to celebrate. Last year, on our one year anniversary we were apart. We both had to teach that day, me in Indiana and Matty in Boston. We sent each other presents, and talked on the phone (of course) but it was still a bummer not being together that day. So, I figured this year we should go all out. With our new engagement, it seemed all the more appropriate to celebrate!

Our trip almost got canceled three times though. First, earlier this week, I was worried I had too much work to do to go. Then, yesterday we were an hour and half into the five and a half hour drive when we almost turned back. I have some kind of virus, and yesterday I was feeling pretty terrible. But I still wanted to make the trip so we drove on. This morning, after a good night of sleep, I woke up feeling much better. Unfortunately, this morning it was pouring down rain and the forecast was for it to continue pouring down rain all day. I called the amusement park (twice) and they told me the roller coasters might well be closed all day because of the rain. After much debate, we decided to go anyway. We bundled up in sweatshirts and rain ponchos and faced the storm. Indeed the first hour or two we were there the rain did pour down. We rode a bunch of kiddie rides during the rain and had a great time! And eventually it started to clear. Because of the rain situation the park was practically empty, and slowly they started opening all the roller coasters. It was amazing. We went on nearly every ride there, and we only waited in a line longer than 10 minutes once all day! On many of the roller coasters where normally the wait would be more than an hour we just walked up and got on! It was awesome. My special gentleman and I both love amusement parks -- the rides, the food, the festive spirit -- and we had a great time!

It has been such a lovely weekend away -- I am so glad that we made the trip!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crispy Macadamia-Nut Fried Ice Cream Balls (Page 872)

RECIPE #826

  • Date: Sunday, August 31, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Lauren K, Beth, Mike M, and Teresa
  • Recipe Rating: B


I love ice cream and I love to deep fry, but strangely, I had never made fried ice cream before I made this recipe. The start to finish time on this recipe was quite long, but only because there were many stages at which the ice cream balls had to spend a few hours in the freezer. The method was simple enough. I used a 1-ounce ice cream scoop (that Vero got me off my Gourmet Project Wishlist -- thanks Vero!!!) to scoop out many little balls of vanilla ice cream. I put the balls on a cookie sheet and froze them until very hard (about 3 hours). Meanwhile, I toasted and ground up some macadamia nuts. When the ice cream balls were nice and hard, I took them out of the freezer, rolled them individually in the ground nuts, and put them back on the baking sheet and back in the freezer for a couple hours. Once they were nice and frozen again, I dipped them in beaten egg and rolled them in ground up corn flakes. Then they went back in the freezer for another couple hours. Finally, another layer of egg and cornflake, and another few hours in the freezer. After all that, they were ready to fry! I deep fried them immediately before serving, dusted them with powdered sugar, and served them with chocolate and caramel sauces. They turned out pretty well. I loved the contrast between the hot crispy outside and the cold, creamy inside of these little balls. It wasn't the best fried ice cream I have had though. For one thing, I thought the dish would have been better either without the nuts or with ground pecans in place of the macadamia nuts. Also, the ratio of coating to ice cream was too high. The balls of ice cream were so little to start with that they more than doubled in diameter when the coatings were added. It was too much. That said, these deep fried balls of ice cream certainly weren't bad. If I were going to make fried ice cream again though, I would look for a better recipe.

Here is the recipe.

So there I was, yesterday afternoon, teaching my business calculus class when my students started to act a little restless. The front few rows of students were staring out the door and whispering to one another. I didn't think much of it -- it was the last 5 minutes of class and I figured that there was just someone interesting standing in the hallway. That door has a window in it, so the goings-on in the hallway can be seen by most of my class. You can't see the window from the board though, so I wasn't sure what they were staring at. I just kept on talking, doing an example on the board about exponential growth.

With a couple minutes left in class, the door slowly opened. I figured it was an extra-eager student from the next class, but then I saw my special gentleman walk through the doorway. I was completely confused. My class was too. Apparently, he had been standing with his ear pressed against the door for 15 minutes and they were all worried he was some crazy person.

I gave him my why-are-you-here look, and then I said, slowly, "Hello."

He walked into the classroom, walked right up to the front of the room, looked quizzically at the mathematics on the board then turned to me and said, "I have a question."

I said, skeptically, "OK."

And then, in front of my 80 students he got down on one knee, held out a diamond ring, and asked, "Will you marry me?"

(*insert shocked look here*)

I said, "Yes!"

The whole class started cheering. It was quite a moment.

So there it is. After a seriously bold proposal, my special gentleman and I are engaged! Wow! We went out for an amazing dinner last night to celebrate. We are both extremely excited, and I will undoubtedly post more details as I have them. Yay!

Now, I just need to figure out how I am going to face my class tomorrow! :)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni (Page 228)

RECIPE #825

  • Date: Sunday, August 31, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Mike M, and Teresa
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I made this stuffed pasta as a vegetarian entree for a dinner party a couple weekends ago. I figured homemade stuffed pasta was bound to be good, but in fact this was a bit disappointing. Additionally it was pretty time consuming, so I had a fairly bad attitude about the final product. Matty and I started by making the homemade pasta rectangles (see post below) that got stuffed to form this dish. While the pasta dough was resting, I made the sauce. It was a typical mornay-style sauce. It started with a roux of butter and flour. I added milk and boiled until it thickened. The sauce was then seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and finished by melting in some finely grated pecorino Romano. After the sauce was finished I made the filling. I browned garlic and onion, then added spinach and cooked it briefly. This spinach mixture was cooled and then added to a mixture of ricotta, egg, parsley, salt, pepper, and pecorino Romano. At some point Matty and I rolled out the pasta dough, and once the filling was done we boiled the noodles briefly, then dried them off, filled them with filling, rolled them, and snuggly packed them into a baking dish with a bit of sauce in it. I then spread sauce over the top, sprinkled with cheese and baked until bubbly. To finish it, the dish went under the broiler just until the cheese was browned. Sounds good, no? Yeah, I thought it would be. The pasta was good, and so was the sauce, but the filling left much to be desired. It had two problems (that could have easily been fixed). One, it was too watery. When you cook spinach it always becomes quite watery, so typically a recipe like this would have a step where you squeeze the spinach dry before adding it to the filling. This recipe did not call for that. I was skeptical, and for good reason. That extra moisture destroyed the texture of the filling. The other issue was that the spinach wasn't chopped, and although it was baby spinach, the pieces were still too big for a pasta filling. The filling had big stringy pieces of spinach, which just didn't go well with the cheese at all. This dish could have been hugely improved by squeezing the spinach and then chopping it. That would have added an additional 5 minutes to a recipe that has a Start to Finish time of 4 hours, and an Active Time of 2 hours. It would have been a 5 minutes well spent. As it is though, I won't be making this one again, and I am a little bitter than I spent the time I did to make something that was only ok.

Here is the recipe.

Math departments, generally, are not so full of intrigue. This week, however, has been an exception. Apparently on Saturday, around 1pm, one of the professors in my department walked into his office to find a complete stranger sitting at his desk, with a laptop plugged into the office computer. The professor confronted him, but was unable to gather any real information. The mystery man fled the scene, leaving behind three blueberry muffins. We received department-wide email on Monday morning titled, "Do you know the muffin man?" No one was quite able to figure out what he had been doing with his laptop, and he had also taken some papers with him off the professor's desk. The Muffin Man did leave behind something with his name on it though, so his identity was revealed -- a former undergraduate. In the meantime, of all odd things, the Muffin Man returned to the office he had broken into to reclaim his muffins. The professor came in one morning, and they were gone! Presumably he was looking for the item he left behind with his name on it, but he picked up his muffins while he was there. This even more mysterious behavior led to a full-fledged search for the Muffin Man. Another faculty member had the key to breaking the case -- early one morning he had seen someone sleeping in a small room (I think containing audio-visual equipment) off a big classroom in the department. The room is usually locked so the professor had assumed this guy was someone with authority to be there. But after the muffin incident, he reported it. Several department members confirmed this Muffin Man hangout and he was apprehended this afternoon. Mysteriously, in his possession was a key to the office he had broken into. How he got it is completely unclear. In any event, case closed!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Fresh Pasta Rectangles or Squares (Page 230)

RECIPE #824

  • Sunday, August 31, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, Lauren K, and Beth
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I was looking for a vegetarian entree in The Book for our dinner party a couple weekends ago. The vegetarian options are limited, but there was a stuffed pasta dish that seemed promising. Matty had never made homemade pasta before, so I taught him how and he helped me out. This was a pretty standard fresh pasta dough: cake flour, all-purpose flour, salt, egg yolks, olive oil, and water. The ingredients got mixed together in a food processor and then kneaded by hand for 8 minutes. After letting the dough rest for an hour Matty and I sectioned it and put it through the pasta machine, using the typical technique of starting with the widest setting and slowly working down to the desired thickness. We then cut it into 6 by 4 inch rectangles that were ready to be filled. This recipe produced a nice pasta dough that was easy to work with, and tasted quite good. In the end, I wasn't terribly happy with the stuffed pasta we made, but it wasn't the fault of this component of the recipe. The one odd thing about this recipe was that it instructed you to keep making the pasta thinner until you reached the second-narrowest setting on the pasta machine. To make pasta I use the pasta maker attachment to the KitchenAid stand mixer, which I would dare say is a fairly standard thing to use. Yet the second-narrowest setting on that machine, was WAY too thin. And it was certainly not the thickness the recipe intended because it made pasta sheets much, much larger than The Book indicated it would. It was the 4th narrowest setting on my machine that worked best, and I am sure it varies a bit machine to machine. But I wouldn't recommend blindly following the recipe on that point. Other than that, this recipe was a solid one, and Matty and I had a fun time making pasta together.

Here is the recipe.

Ah, Monday. I was a little less refreshed than usual when I started my day this morning, since I spent the vast majority of the weekend in my office. The upside of that is that I did manage to start my week more caught up than I would have been had I had a more relaxing weekend. I was trying to be diligent over the weekend because the next couple weeks are going to be a little crazy. For one thing, on Friday my special gentleman and I are celebrating two years together. We planned various fun activities to mark this special day. On Wednesday he is taking me out for a fancy dinner at my favorite restaurant in town. Then on Friday after I teach my classes we are headed to Northern Ohio for the weekend. I planned a little getaway for us to Cedar Point, my special gentleman's most favorite amusement park. I have never been there, but he tells me the rides are amazing, and I am looking forward to it. We went to a much lesser amusement park together about a year ago, and had such a fun day, so this should be great! I am so swamped with work that we talked briefly about canceling out trip, but I think we should go. Two happy years together is a big thing, and I firmly believe that such occasions should be marked with celebration. Our relationship is healthy and strong, and that is worth honoring. So we are headed to Cedar Point this coming weekend. We will drive back Sunday afternoon, then I will teach my classes Monday and fly to California on Monday afternoon so I can give a seminar at Berkeley on Wednesday! Crazy, I know. Going out to California will exhausting but great because I will get to see Chris, Emilee, Brian, and of course: baby Sam! Then on Thursday, back home to Indiana so that I can teach my Friday classes!

In the meantime I am working hard to get as much done as possible before the craziness sets in!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Zucchini "Carpaccio" (Page 591)

RECIPE #823

  • Date: Sunday, August 31, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Mike M, and Teresa
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I'm not sure why I hadn't made this recipe yet. It is extremely simple, with easy-to-find ingredients, all of which I like. It's way at the end of the Vegetables section though, so perhaps I just don't usually get that far in my flipping before I pick something. I came across this recipe while planning the dinner party meal for last weekend, and I decided it was about time to give it a shot. This dish was extremely simple. I started by slicing zucchini into very thin pieces with a mandoline. These slices were then artfully arranged on a platter. They got topped with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, chopped arugula, and shaved parmesan. That's it -- very quick and very simple. It made for a rather nice dish. It wasn't obvious to me that thinly sliced raw zucchini would really be very appealing, but the other components of the dish enhanced its flavor nicely. I think the dish would have tasted better had all the ingredients been tossed together salad-style because it would have insured a more even distribution of the salt, oil, and vinegar. But then the artful arrangement would have been lost, and it was quite visually appealing as it was. I would probably leave it as is for company, and just throw everything together in a salad bowl if I was going to eat this at home by myself. Either way, the flavors in this dish really worked together. The pepperiness of the arugula was a nice contrast to the mellow zucchini, and some fine fleur de sel seasoned it nicely. The cheese was essential for providing some richness, and a bold contrasting flavor. This dish would likely work with any one of a variety of strong cheeses, but the parmesan was nice. Overall it was solid dish. I wasn't completely wowed by it, but I definitely enjoyed eating it.

The recipe in The Book has similar ingredients to this one, but is layered rather than mixed together, with the addition of balsamic vinegar.

My special gentleman's birthday was in April, and it was as a birthday present to him that I signed myself up for the half-marathon and him up for the real marathon that we are now training for. Now, to most people that might not seem like a nice gift, but my special gentleman is very athletic, and we have had a lot of fun in the past working towards various athletic goals together. So we were quite excited about this new venture of ours, and we have been encouraging each other through the ups and downs of training for more than 4 months now.

Today, though, I definitely had a "What was I thinking?!?" moment. And I think I wasn't the only one. My run today was 9 miles. My special gentleman's was 18. I ran 8 miles last weekend, no problem, so 9 didn't seem too daunting. And it was ok while I was running it. My feet hurt and I was experiencing some new, and extremely painful, chafing. But other than that I felt ok. It was after the run that the badness set in. I can't remember the last time I felt so bad as I did this evening. It was really bad. In retrospect, I hadn't eaten enough today to support a 9 mile run, and I didn't hydrate well enough while running. The extreme dizziness and nausea that ensued were definitely sufficient to keep me more aware of these things in the future.

Now I am feeling much better, sitting in bed in my jammers, with Neosporin slathered over various bleeding parts of my body, eating a huge piece of cake. And despite how bad I felt for more than 2 hours after my run, I am still proud of myself. Nine miles! That's the furthest I have ever run, and it gives me confidence that I will be ready to run 13 in a couple months!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Chilled Pea Soup with Lemon Cream (Page 83)

RECIPE #822

  • Date: Sunday, August 31, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Lauren K, Beth, Mike M, and Teresa
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Tis the season for chilled soups, and there are plenty of chilled soups in The Book. The rest of the meal last Sunday was pretty rich, so I wanted something on the light side. I chose this very unusual pea soup because it met that criterion. It was pretty bad though. We started by cooking some onions and then adding chopped sugar snap peas and cooking just until crisp-tender. A touch of sugar got added to that, and cooked very briefly. The mixture was then pureed with water and strained through a fine mesh sieve. After seasoning with salt it got chilled in the fridge for 8 hours. In the meantime, I whisked together sour cream, lemon zest and a bit of water, and then put that through a fine mesh sieve. To serve, the pea broth was topped with a dab of the lemon cream. On the upside, it looked nice. The soup had a vibrant green color, which was appealing. The taste, however, left something to be desired. The flavor wasn't bad -- it tasted exactly like sugar snap peas. But what makes sugar snap peas so wonderful is not only their taste, but also their fantastic texture. That was, obviously, completely lost here. It was disconcerting eating a broth flavored like sugar snap peas. When I think "pea soup," I am really thinking, "split pea soup," which tastes nothing like this. The lemon cream helped matters a bit, but the lemon flavor was much too mild. The only lemon flavor came from the lemon zest, which was then immediately strained out when the lemon cream was put through the fine mesh sieve. The rationale in The Book for sieving it was to get the air bubbles out. That seems less crucial to me than having a good lemon flavor, which was totally lost because of the sieving. Another option would have been to let the zest sit in the lemon cream mixture for a couple hours before straining, so it could infuse it with some flavor. As written, though, the recipe produces watered down sour cream, not lemon cream. So what did people think about this recipe? One comment from the table was, "Well, it's not bad exactly." This is not a good sign. My friends in Indiana (unlike some of my friends from Boston!) are very polite. "Not bad" from them is a kiss of death. Paul actually went so far as to defend it though, commenting that it was unusual, but not in a bad way. Matty's opinion was most in line with my own. He didn't hate it, but he noted that he would much rather have a bowl of raw sugar snap peas in front of him than a bowl of this soup, and that would have been much less fuss. I agree completely.

Here is the recipe.

Ah, the weekend. Ok, true, I am in my office. And yes, I have been working most of the day. But, it is the weekend nonetheless, and I am feeling less stressed out than I have been.

My cousin is an elementary school teacher, and she once told me that most teachers try to live in a different town than where they teach. At the time it seemed like a strange thing to me -- why live further away from work than you have to? I am starting to understand though... According to Wikipedia, the population of Bloomington (as of the year 2000) is 69,291. It's not totally clear to me how many of the students at IU that includes -- Wikipedia tells me that IU has approximately 40,000 students. I think most of the graduate students are included in the population count, and probably a significant chuck of the undergraduates too. So let's guesstimate the total number of people living in Bloomington this weekend to be 88,000. If we include this current semester, I have taught about 350 students. Since I have been teaching introductory stuff, let's assume only a handful of them were seniors last year and have graduated and left. So of the 88,000 people in Bloomington, about 345 of them were my students. That's one out of every 255 people. It's not such a huge percentage, yet I run into my students everywhere. Granted I live near campus and I generally hang out near where I live, so that increases the odds. But still, a huge percentage of the times that I leave my house, I run into one of my students. And right now I probably wouldn't even recognize most of the 150 students I just started teaching this week, so I am probably running into them without even knowing it! Last night at dinner one of my former students was working as a waiter. Later I went to the grocery store and ran into a different former student in the beer aisle. I like my students, and I don't mind seeing them, but it does give a weird lack of anonymity. I am typically a person who worries not-so-much about what people think. Prior to moving here I wouldn't have given a second thought to going to the grocery store in my pajamas. Sure, why not! I don't care what strangers think, and the people who know me already know that I would do that. But now I am some sort of authority figure. I am an adult. The thought of running into my students in my PJs gives me a little more pause. Last night, before I noticed my former student in the aisle, my special gentleman and I were laughing really, really hard. When I noticed the student I had a sense that I was being unprofessional by laughing so hard. In reality, it won't stop me from joking around with my special gentleman. It may not even stop me from parading around town in my PJs. But it does make me understand why teachers sometimes choose to live away from where they teach. Living near your students definitely has the potential to be limiting...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cilantro Lime Shrimp (Page 46)

RECIPE #821

  • Date: Sunday, August 31, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, Teresa, Paul K, and Beth
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman and I had a little dinner party on Sunday, and I wanted to do 6 or 7 recipes from The Book that night, which, without careful planning, can be a lot. But I was organized and did most of the prep on Saturday, so on Sunday there was hardly anything left to do. This is a dangerous situation. I have done this before (prepped most of the meal the day before), and in my idleness on the day of the dinner I almost always manage to convince myself that we don't have enough food. On this occasion it was a touch different -- I convinced myself not that we didn't have enough food, but instead that all the food was going to be gross. In my own defense, this belief was based on having sampled a bit of the soup for the dinner and having concluded that indeed it was gross. So there I was, concerned that there would be nothing edible to serve to a group of people that I like very much, so I wanted to add another recipe to the meal. But I had a lot of things to do on Sunday, completely unrelated to this dinner party. So I wanted something quick and likely to be tasty. Hence I selected these shrimp. It was a bad call on my part. Indeed the shrimp were quick to make, and indeed they were tasty. But although the shrimp were quick to make, they were not quick to find. It took four grocery stores before we could find raw shrimp. That's right: four. Ah, small town Midwest. I knew that grocery store number 4 would have them from the start, but it was the furthest away, and we were in a hurry and I figured everywhere else would have them too. Nope. My special gentleman and I went to grocery stores 1 and 2 after our long-run (still sweaty and in our running clothes). I went to grocery store 3 myself, and my special gentleman was the one who finally drove all the way to grocery store 4. So was it worth it?

Yes, it was. These shrimp were quite good. The preparation was incredibly simple. I started by making a mixture of garlic, salt, lime juice, orange marmalade, cilantro, olive oil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and pepper. Some of this mixture was set aside to be the dipping sauce for the shrimp and the rest was used as a marinade. After 15 minutes of marinading, the shrimp were cooked on the stove until just cooked through and served with the reserved dipping sauce. It was as simple as that. The result: yummy. The shrimp were very flavorful, and the dipping sauce was definitely a winner. It was very well balanced -- the lime and cilantro flavors came through clearly, the marmalade enhanced the citrus tones from the lime and added a note of sweetness, and the red pepper gave it a touch of heat. My one complaint is that it was a little too salty. I think the soy sauce was largely to blame for that. When I make this again I will use low-salt soy sauce instead, since I thought the soy flavor worked well, but the saltiness was too much. Overall though, it was a great recipe, and once I had the shrimp in hand it was super-quick to make!

This recipe isn't online.

White Bean Puree with Garlic Vinaigrette and Croutes (Page 14)

RECIPE #820

  • Date: Sunday, August 31, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Teresa, and Mike M
  • Recipe Rating: B+

My special gentleman and I threw a small dinner party on Sunday before the semester started up this week. I chose this recipe to make because it was the first recipe in The Book that I hadn't made yet -- now I have made the first 22 consecutive recipes! I liked this recipe a lot. I started by soaking and then cooking dried navy beans with thyme until they were very tender. I then put the beans through my food mill and combined them with crumbled slices of white bread, heavy cream, and olive oil. I finished the puree by seasoning it generously. Before serving, the puree was topped with a vinaigrette of blanched garlic, mustard, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. It was accompanied by toasted slices of baguette. This simple appetizer was surprisingly good. Typically bean spreads are tasty, but nothing special. This one, however, was very flavorful. The bean mixture might have been a bit bland if not seasoned properly, but with a generous bit of salt and pepper it was very tasty. The vinaigrette also gave the dish a great punch of flavor. The textural contrast between the toasted baguette and the ultra-smooth puree was also quite nice. There was nothing terribly impressive about this dish, so I might hesitate before serving it to company again, but I would certainly make it for my own enjoyment.

Here is the recipe.

Yesterday was my first day of teaching for the term and the day totally kicked my ass. A wise friend of mine says that the first week of a new regime feels like having the flu. That is totally on point this week. My classes went fine yesterday, but I was unbelievably exhausted at the end of the day. Beyond exhausted. When I got home from work I laid on the floor for more than an hour. I couldn't even motivate to eat dinner. My special gentleman encouraged me to eat something around 9pm, which, when paired with a grape sno cone from our neighborhood ice cream store, got me through the rest of the evening. When I finally finished everything on my to-do list for the day, around midnight, I crashed into bed. I think I fell asleep within 30 seconds of closing my eyes (rather than the usual minute or two). I slept like a rock, and I woke up this morning refreshed.

All that said, both of my classes seemed like good groups of students. It is definitely odd teaching two different version of first semester calculus back-to-back. A student came into my office hours this afternoon and we had the following interchange,
"Hi my name is (insert student name here) and I'm in your calculus class."
"Which one?"
"First semester calculus."
"Which one?"
"M211"
"Ah, ok, welcome."
Luckily the classes are sufficiently different that I probably won't get confused about what I have said in one class versus the other. Remembering which students are in which class may take a few weeks though...

In the meantime, I think I need some rest!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Philippine-Style Chicken Adobo (Page 362)

RECIPE #819

  • Date: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

After my summer of seafood the Fish and Shellfish section of The Book is no longer the one I am the most behind on. Now it is the Poultry section (especially strange because I like poultry a lot...). So, Matty and I are starting to make an effort to eat more birds, and this was the first step towards that goal. This recipe was very simple. I marinated chicken drumsticks and thighs in a mixture of cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and black pepper for several hours. I then baked the chicken with the marinade in a hot oven until cooked through and then finished it under the broiler. Finally, the pan juices were boiled to form a quick sauce. The result was decent, but not amazing. The highlight of this dish was definitely the crispy chicken skin. The Book is all about leaving the skin on your chicken, which is fine with me, but often The Book calls for the skin to be left on during a moist-heat cooking method. The result: soggy chicken skin. Not delicious. This recipe got it right though. The three minutes that the chicken spent under the broiler crisped up the skin into something very, very tasty. The meat itself, though, was nothing impressive. The marinade didn't penetrate the meat too much, so it just tasted like plain baked chicken. That certainly doesn't taste bad, but it defeats the point of marinading. The sauce made from the marinade was flavorful, but so thin that it didn't stick to anything. It ran right off the meat. It would have been much better had it been reduced, or thickened with cornstarch, to a good sauce consistency. This chicken was pretty unobjectionable, but it certainly isn't something I would make again. I am told that this recipe has little in common with most traditional Philippine recipes for chicken adobo (which are apparently made on the stove top rather than baked), so I would definitely be interested in giving a more traditional recipe a try.

Here is the recipe.

And just like that, summer is over. It's a funny thing that for the last 23 years my life has revolved around the academic calendar. When I say, "Next year," I inevitably mean next September, and I often have to remind myself that most people my age have jobs with responsibilities in the summer. That is not to say that academics don't do research in the summer -- we certainly do. But we generally have few actual commitments (we often do not teach for a four month stretch in the summer), and can wander about the country and the world as we see fit. One of the beauties of math research is that it is highly mobile. I can take my paper, pencil, and laptop with me anywhere I go. So the summer is a very different time than the academic year -- even if you spend the whole summer in your office in the math department where you are employed, the summer has a genuinely different feel to it.

That is one of the many things I love about my job. Being on an academic schedule is fantastic. Aside from the freedom of summer, every semester brings new and unique challenges. You start over with a new set of students and classes twice a year. And every fall is graced with that magical first-day-of-school feeling that most people remember from childhood, but rarely get a chance to relive. I love that excitement. Classes started today on campus, and as I walked to my office this morning I was surrounded by undergraduates, many of them looking nervous and/or lost. I helped one freshman find the math building (lucky for me that is what she was looking for, since it is about the only building on campus I can identify!). Seeing those excited students on the first day of school reminded me what a privilege my job is -- I really enjoy being part of the educational system, and although I get frustrated by things like cheating, I do really enjoy students. My courses start tomorrow and I am very much looking forward to meeting the students I will teach this term!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Frisee Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs (Page 139)

RECIPE #818

  • Date: Wednesday, August 27, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

I have been putting off making this salad for quite some time, mainly because my special gentleman is generally not a fan of runny egg yolks, and this salad is all about the egg yolks. The concept is incredibly simple. I chopped and cooked some thick-cut bacon. I then added some chopped shallots and red wine vinegar to the bacon and bacon fat to form the salad dressing. Meanwhile, I carefully poached an egg. To assemble the salad I poured the hot dressing on some frisee, plated the greens, and then topped them with the poached eggs. Eating this salad was a wonderful experience. As soon as my fork broke the yolk it oozed all over the salad, mixing with the super-vinegary dressing to form something completely delicious! Frisee isn't my favorite green -- in fact it is my least favorite green in those pre-packaged "mixed greens" you can buy at the store. It's generally too bitter for my taste. In this preparation, though, it was fantastic. The egg yolk mellowed out the bitterness perfectly. Everything about this recipe was perfectly balanced. The dressing was intensely vinegary, which was the perfect contrast to the yolk. The saltiness of the bacon was a welcome complement to the dish, and the richness of the bacon fat gave it a lovely heartiness. I was worried Matty wouldn't be too excited about an egg yolk running all over his salad, but he took only two bites before saying, "A. I give this salad an A." I couldn't disagree with him. It was an excellent example of how a few simple ingredients can come together in 20 minutes to form something marvelous. In fact, I could go for another one of these salads right now...

Here is the recipe.

At the beginning of August my special gentleman moved most of his belongings into storage in Michigan. The remainder of the contents of his apartment were brought to my place in Indiana, where he is staying for most of this academic year. We dropped off the many boxes, and then took off traveling for three weeks, so they sat, still packed, on the kitchen floor. We are back now though, and to motivate ourselves to unpack we threw a little dinner party last night (there's nothing like a party to force you to clean your apartment!). In theory we weren't going to bring too much of Matty's stuff here -- just his clothes, his books, and a few personal items. But it didn't make sense to either throw away the contents of his pantry or put them in storage for a year, so we brought that too. Probably if you took two normal people off the street and consolidated the contents of their kitchens into one it would be no big deal. But my kitchen (as you might imagine) is jam-packed, and I have been cooking at Matty's place often for two years now, so his pantry was pretty full two. And now everything is at my place! We have at least two of everything. Every spice you can imagine, we have at least two bottles (in some cases up to five!). We have seven boxes of hot cereal. We have 3 huge bottles of extra-virgin olive oil. And then there are the item where my special gentleman and I each have our own favorite brand. For example, peanut butter. I am all about Jif, but my special gentleman likes the all-natural kind. So we each had a jar at each apartment, not to mention a few back-ups, so there are 6 jars of peanut butter here now. I could go on... Basically the place is overflowing with food. On nights that we don't eat from The Book, we are trying to eat from the huge box of food in the guest bedroom. We have done pretty well with the cereal (we started with six boxes and we are down to four) and the microwave popcorn (we started with five boxes and we are down to three), but we still have five containers of cocoa, six of baking powder, etc... It's going to be a long time before we need to buy any pantry staples again!

Pork Chops with Onion Marmalade (Page 480)

RECIPE #817

  • Date: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


My special gentleman and I are making an effort to eat more meat these days. Strangely, the section of The Book that I am faring worst on as of now is the Poultry section, and not far behind is the Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb section. So this fall is going to be meat-intensive. Luckily (seafood aside) it is easy to get your hands on some good meat in Bloomington! To kick off our all-meat-all-the-time plan we made pork chops for dinner last week. In theory this recipe should have been both easy and delicious. The method was simple enough. Pork chops were rubbed with rosemary and browned and then set aside while onions were cooked with balsamic vinegar and red currant jelly. After the onions were tender the pork was returned to the pan with the onions, covered, and cooked on the stovetop until done. I was extremely hungry by the time we made dinner, and I was thinking longing thoughts towards those cooked onions. But instead of being delicious, as I had hoped, they looked like this:



What is that black sludge, you ask? That is the "onion marmalade." Here's what happened. The Book indicated that it would take about 12 minutes for the pork to cook through, and that "if liquid evaporates before pork is cooked through, add 1 tablespoon water to skillet to keep onions from sticking." Well there was plenty of liquid -- we had no problems with evaporation. So we didn't add any water. But we turned our back for a couple minutes (minutes 8 and 9 of the indicated 12 minutes) and instead of evaporating, the liquid caramelized. Now, any of you out there who have ever made caramel probably know that there is a fine line between caramel and nasty burntness. Since we were not expecting caramel, we were not on the lookout, and it wasn't until we smelled burnt caramel that we were clued in. We went running towards the stove, and rescued the pork out of the pan, but it was too late for the onions. Caramel (even burnt caramel) hardens like a rock, and harden it did indeed. So we had a sheet of burnt red currant caramel studded with onions. Sound delicious? It wasn't. The pork came out relatively unscathed. It had a thin sheet of burnt caramel firmly attached to the bottom, but if you cut that off, the pork had a decent flavor. There was too much rosemary for me (Matty agreed on that point), but the touch of currant and onion that it picked up from the sauce was nice. In my opinion this dish really had potential, so it was sad to see it end up as one plate of meat and one plate of black sludge. If I dared to make this again, I would definitely shorten the cooking time on the onions before putting the pork back in. That may have saved us from some serious culinary disappointment.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one online calls for much shorter cooking times, which may well have eliminated the problems described above!