Sunday, November 30, 2008

Meringue Kisses (Page 684)

RECIPE #875

  • Date: Saturday, November 22, 2008 -- 11pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Paul K, Jeremy, Kelly, Norm, Beth, Scott B, and Lauren K
  • Recipe Rating: A-

We desperately needed something sweet in our apartment last week (there was no dessert to be found -- even in the freezer. I had resorted to eating plain brown sugar to satisfy my sugar craving!), so these meringues, which are basically just sugar and egg whites, sounded very appealing! The recipe was simple enough. I beat egg whites, superfine sugar and a pinch of salt until I had stiff glossy peaks, and then I put it into a pastry bag (in many batches!) and piped out little kiss shapes onto baking sheets lined with parchment. The Book instructs you to cook them in a 175 degree oven until crisp, which is supposed to take about 2 hours, and then turn off the oven and let them sit in there another hour. After 2 hours in the 175 degree oven, my meringues were nowhere near crisp. After another 30 minutes they were still not crisp. So I turned up the oven to 215 and then after another 20 minutes they were crispy. I then turned the oven off and let them sit in there for another hour. So the recipe as written didn't quite work for me. However, most likely this was not the fault of The Book. Most ovens have a very hard time accurately holding low temperatures. So it is more than possible that my oven, set to 175 degrees, wasn't actually 175 (I don't have an oven thermometer, so I couldn't check). In any event, these meringues may take longer than indicated, so give yourself some extra time when making them, and only turn off the oven when the texture is right. They were worth the wait though. These meringues were very tasty. My special gentleman gave them an A+ and ate at least 6 dozen of the 9 dozen meringues that this recipe made. I wasn't quite that enthusiastic about them, but for meringues they were extremely good. The texture was just right: they were crispy, but melted in your mouth. They tasted basically like sugar, but that is what you are usually going for with meringues. Making good meringues is all about the texture, and this recipe hit that right on the nose (at least it did with the method I described above for baking them). These meringues were far and away better than those packaged meringues you can buy at the grocery store, so if that is your only experience with meringues, you should give this recipe a try!

The recipe in The Book is the same as the meringue kisses in this recipe, except the one in The Book only calls for 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

Someone inquired in the comments recently about what exactly the grading scale on my blog means. I have explained it before, but not for a long time, so I am going to give a brief overview again for any new readers!

F: I rarely give the grade of F, and only to things which are so bad that they end up immediately in the garbage disposal. To earn an F a recipe must not only taste bad, but really be repulsive.

D : A grade of D indicates that I (and whoever I was grading with) was unwilling to eat the recipe, past the bite or two necessary to grade it. A D recipe is truly bad.

C-, C, C+ : These grades indicated that I didn't particularly enjoy eating the recipe. A C+ recipe might be salvageable with significant changes, but a C- recipe is usually pretty hopeless.

B- and B: These are grades that I give to recipes which I enjoyed eating well enough, but probably wouldn't bother making again.

B+ : This is the grade I give to recipes that I enjoyed and would make again for myself, but probably wouldn't serve to company.

A- : This is the grade that I give to a recipe that really impressed me. These recipes I would happily make again, and would serve them to others.

A : To earn an A a recipe has to be out-of-this-world amazing. An A recipe is the kind of recipe I crave weeks after making it, and am anxious to make again for the people I care about most.

A+ : This grade exists only in theory. I haven't yet given an A+, and I am not sure I will. The A recipes are already totally amazing, so I'm not sure what would inspire me to give an A+.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Creamed Chayote with Chives (Page 533)

RECIPE #874

  • Date: Saturday, November 22, 2008 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

The Vegetables section of The Book is running a little low, so I am left mostly with things that either (a) don't sound good, or (b) involve vegetables I am not sure how to find. I thought this recipe would fall in the latter category, but lo and behold, my local grocery store carries chayote. Chayote (aka christophine, aka vegetable pear) is a member of the gourd family. It looks roughly like a pear, but tastes more like squash. This was my first experience with chayote, and it wasn't bad. The recipe, however, was a little odd. I sliced the chayote and then cooked it in oil. Once it was tender, I added cream to the skillet and cooked until the sauce was thickened. Then I topped it with chopped chives and served. The one aspect of this which made no sense was that the chayote was cooked in so much oil that there was excess oil in the pan when I added the cream. So the cream became mixed with vegetable oil, which was really not very tasty. You can't appreciate it in the picture, but the cream/oil combo also gave the sauce a not-very-attractive curdled look. Other than that, the dish was fine, so it could easily have been fixed by draining off the excess oil before adding the cream.

Here is the recipe.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! I am in Westerville, OH, with my special gentleman and his family. We had a yummy Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and have been partaking in various relaxing activities since then -- this morning we cut down a Christmas tree! I never manage to get much done work-wise over Thanksgiving weekend, so I usually try to pick a time-consuming but not too intellectually taxing task to do over the weekend. This year that task was planning our honeymoon for June. We have gone through many possible ideas of where to go: Hawaii, Alaska, the Smoky Mountains, etc... We do a lot of traveling internationally for work, so we both agreed that we wanted to stay in the US for our honeymoon and go somewhere really beautiful. In the end we decided on a trip through Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. We will start off with a few nights at a cute resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, near the Grand Tetons, then take a few days driving down to Moab, Utah, where we will camp near Arches National Park for a couple days. We will finish our trip at a fancy spa/resort in Colorado for a couple nights before we fly back to Indiana. The whole trip will be 12 days which will give us plenty of time to hike, whitewater raft, mountain bike, kayak, and just relax! I am very much looking forward to it. After much internet research, I made all the necessary reservations this morning, so now we are good to go!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shepherd's Pie (Page 508)

RECIPE #873

  • Date: Saturday, November 22, 2008 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


People often ask me, "Do you have any good recipes left in The Book at this point?" I always answer emphatically, "Yes!" In particular, the meat sections of The Book are still full of things that sound completely delicious which I haven't made yet. This was one such recipe. Mmmm... Shepherd's Pie. This is not a super-quick recipe, but it is a super-delicious one. I started by blanching and peeling some pearl onions (Cursed pearl onions -- not only are they a pain in my ass, but the recipe would have also tasted better with regular onions. My special gentleman declared that he would have given this recipe an A had it called for chopped onion, but the pearl onions dragged it down to an A-). Then I browned pieces of lamb shoulder with some garlic in a big cast iron pan. I deglazed the pan with white wine. Then I added tomato paste, beef stock, water, fresh thyme, the lamb, the pearl onions, chopped leeks, sliced carrots, chopped turnips, salt, and pepper, and brought it to a simmer. Note: I don't have a Dutch oven, so I tried to make this in a huge cast iron skillet. It was not big enough, and at this stage I had vegetables and lamb overflowing out of my skillet. I covered the skillet with foil and put it in a 350 degree oven to braise for about 2 hours. In the meantime, I cooked some potatoes, put them through a ricer and mixed them with cream, milk, butter, salt, and pepper, to form some awesome mashed potatoes. When the lamb was done, I made a buerre manie (flour smushed together with butter) to thicken the sauce the lamb had cooked in. Then I spread the mashed potatoes over the lamb and broiled until browned. The result: deliciousness! I can't say enough wonderful things about braising, and braised lamb is AWESOME. The sauce it was in was flavorful and delicious and the vegetables were very tasty (minus the pearl onions, which both my special gentleman and I weren't crazy about). The mashed potatoes on top were also fabulous, and when it got all mixed together after serving, the lamb sauce acted as a yummy gravy for the potatoes. This was wonderful cold weather comfort food. I have been eating it for days, and it only got better after a day or two in the fridge. Very, very tasty.

Here is the recipe.

I was an undergraduate at Stanford, where they are on quarters rather than semesters. Ten weeks isn't very long, so the quarter would always fly by before you knew what happened. The first day of class was rapidly followed by the first midterms, and before you knew it you were taking finals. It was a whirlwind. I went to graduate school at MIT, which is on semesters. It was a gentle introduction to semester life because MIT has more student holidays than any other school I have ever heard of. MIT students get off for anything that is even remotely a holiday. President's Day? A day off. Patriot's Day? A day off. Columbus Day? Two days off, etc, etc... Then, on top of all that there are many other random student holidays (unofficially referred to as "suicide prevention days" which are thrown into the mix). So as semesters go, the semesters at MIT are pretty easy to handle. You have at least one day a month where classes are canceled, and usually more. But now I teach at a big state school, where they seem to be very serious about how many class days should be in a semester. So our fall semester usually starts in August, and the day before Thanksgiving is our first day off of the term. That is a LONG stretch with no break. I teach two classes, which are both Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so this term I gave more than 70 lectures before we had a student holiday. Crazy! Basically what I am saying is this: I am excited to be on break! I taught yesterday, and now I have a break from teaching for the rest of the week! I do love to teach, but this is a rough time in the semester for the students too. They are tired, I am tired -- everyone needs and appreciates this break! And when we go back next week there are only a couple weeks left before finals. Yay for Thanksgiving break!

Swiss Chard Gratin (Page 543)

RECIPE #872

  • Date: Thursday, November 20, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


Gratin is a word that translates to Deliciousness in my head. So Potatoes au Gratin reads to me as Potatoes au Deliciousness. I thoroughly enjoy the breadcrumb (and often cheesy) topping that makes a dish au gratin. However, Swiss Chard is a phrase that translates in my head to Bad. I am not a fan of bitter greens and chard is pretty high on my list of foods that I don't love. I eat it, sure, but I never particularly enjoy it. When I saw this dish in The Book the title read to me as Bad Deliciousness, and I wasn't sure what to do with it. Would the swiss chard make it nasty? Would the gratin topping overpower the nastiness and make it delicious? In the battle between deliciousness and badness, who would win? This past week, I decided to finally find out.

The verdict: the deliciousness edged out the badness to produce a dish that was pretty darn good.

To make this dish I started by assembling what would be the delicious, delicious topping. I made some fresh bread crumbs, grated some Gruyere cheese and then tossed them together with melted butter, chopped garlic, chopped chives, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Does that not sound delicious? I set that aside and made a sauce from chicken stock and heavy cream that was thickened with a roux. I then cooked onion, chard, and spinach together until the greens were wilted, and seasoned it with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I drained the veggies thoroughly before tossing them with the cream sauce. They then went in a buttered dish, were covered with the topping mixture, and baked in the oven until the topping was brown and the whole thing bubbled. Since I was unsure about how the dish would be, I cut the recipe in half, and baked it in a pie plate (as you can see above), but the whole recipe makes enough for a 12-inch gratin dish. The end result here was very tasty. The topping could not have been better. It was cheesy, crispy, garlicky, and flavorful. Definitely a winning topping. I expected that, but what I didn't expect was that I liked the vegetable layer too. The bitterness of the chard was tempered by the milder spinach, forming a mixture of greens that was quite tasty. There were too many greens however for the amount of cream sauce. If I made this again, I would increase the amount of sauce a bit. Other than that, it was very tasty. This is certainly not a light dish, so if you are looking for your vegetables to be healthy, you might want to look elsewhere. But if your top priority is deliciousness, this is a pretty good preparation for greens.

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lemon-Marinated Turkey with Golden Raisins, Capers, and Pine Nuts (Page 383)

RECIPE #871

  • Date: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 -- 11pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I picked this recipe because I am trying to make some progress on my slowest section in The Book: Poultry. (Note: with this recipe and the previous one added in, Poultry will no longer be my slowest section of The Book. That honor now goes to Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb.) This is the time of year when it is easy to find whole turkey breasts at the store, so although I got this turkey breast from the local butcher, even the grocery store had them in stock. To make this, I started with the poached whole turkey breast from the previous post. I made a mixture of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, lemon zest, golden raisins (that had been soaked in boiling water), and capers, and marinated the poached turkey breast in the mixture for 4 hours. Then I let it stand at room temperature in the marinade for 20 minutes before slicing the turkey breast. I strained the marinade to separate out the zest, raisins, and capers. Then I sprinkled the zest, raisins, and capers on the turkey slices. I whisked some parsley, mint, salt and pepper into the marinade and spooned that over. Finally I sprinkled the whole thing with toasted pine nuts. The result was very tasty. All the flavors worked together quite well. In general cold, poached poultry is a little bland. But this preparation did not suffer from that problem. The strong acidic and briny flavors in the marinade complemented the turkey nicely. The fresh herbs and pine nuts mellowed it out a bit, providing nice contrast. This turkey meat was good served by itself, but would also make a lovely and refined sandwich filling.

This recipe isn't online.

This is the first weekend that I haven't been traveling in the last seven weeks! It has been so relaxing to be at home this weekend! My weekend has had two big themes: grading and cooking. The latter is obviously more fun than the former, but even grading is relatively relaxing. We are going to be traveling for Thanksgiving this coming week, so I wanted to get a lot of cooking done this weekend. That way I will have things to blog about even if I don't cook for a few days. I ambitiously chose 10 recipes from The Book to make this weekend and I made them all! There is so much food in our apartment right now it's scary! Most of the cooking happened yesterday in the late afternoon and evening. I was working on 6 or 7 dishes at once -- all of them in various stages of preparation. I had things macerating, things marinating, things cooling, things chilling, things braising, things poaching, etc... I was pretty much on top of it all, but I slowly began to run out of space in the refrigerator. Sure, there was space is I was willing to take everything out and reorganize. But I wasn't so I just kept trying to cram more in. I was doing ok, until I went to take out a bowl full of egg whites (leftover from eggs I had separated earlier in the evening for a recipe that called only for the yolks). I got the bowl of whites out just fine, but I altered the careful stacking in the fridge and a bowl full of mustard vinaigrette (to go atop some poached celery) came flying out of the fridge. Shockingly the bowl didn't shatter when it hit the ground, but there was mustard everywhere. The fridge? Covered in mustard. The floor? That too. My pants? Mustard. My fuzzy slippers? Mustard. My legs? My shirt? The cupboards? All covered in mustard. I even found some later in my hair. It was quite a sight. My special gentleman looked up from where he was working on the couch, commented astutely, "Looks like you spilled something," then went back to work.

I am happy to say that was the only (minor) disaster in making 10 recipes, which isn't bad at all! Now the question is: How will we eat all this food before we leave town for Thanksgiving??? Luckily we are headed over to Paul's house right now to eat dinner, and unload some of these desserts I made!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Poached Whole Turkey Breast (Page 386)

RECIPE #870

  • Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

(Here I go skipping numbers again! It turns out there were two recipe #799s also. For someone who claims to be a professional mathematician, I sure don't count very well! I think I am all squared away now though. Hopefully, no more mistakes!)

The Poultry section of The Book is still the section I am going the slowest on, so this week I decided to pick up the pace by doing two recipes from that section. This is the first of the two (and also a component of the second recipe). Calling this a recipe is almost a stretch. The "recipe" is basically: Put turkey in water. Simmer until turkey is cooked through. Ok, it is a touch more complicated than that -- it also asks you to put onion, carrot, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and white vinegar in the water with the turkey. But that's about it. So how was it? Well it was exactly what you would expect from poached turkey. It was fine. I like turkey. Poaching doesn't do anything bad to it. If you are looking for turkey meat with which to make turkey salad, or sandwiches, this is a perfectly suitable way to prepare it. It's pretty bland this way to eat it on its own though. I used it in a marinated chilled turkey dish (which will be my next post) and it was perfectly suitable for that purpose. Would I serve this to company? Well, not just plain. But I might make it again if I need some cooked turkey as an ingredient for a more intricate dish.

This recipe isn't online.

The end is in sight! After nearly a year and a half of living apart from my special gentleman, we are approaching the end of the long-distance part of our long-distance relationship! Yay! The reprieve is only temporary -- next fall he will move to Michigan and I will still be in Indiana, but that is a huge improvement over him being in Boston and me being in Indiana. I can drive to Michigan, whereas Boston usually requires air travel (or lot of spare time with which to drive!). And for the next 9 months or so we will living together in Indiana! Yay for that! My special gentleman packed up his car this morning and has been driving between Boston and Indiana all day. He will still go back to Boston one more time this semester (and almost certainly a few times next semester) but bringing his car here seems like an official move to me! I am excited! We both really love our jobs (obviously, or it wouldn't be worth it to live apart), but being academics presents a challenge in that trying to find two permanent jobs together is going to be difficult. Eventually we will figure it out and settle together somewhere, but in the meantime I am preparing myself for the possibility of a few more years apart. That makes it all the more exciting that we are going to have the next 9 months in the same place. It is going to be great! We both love being in Bloomington, too, and always have the sense that we never have enough time together here. So this will be a great opportunity to do all the things we have wanted to do since I moved here and haven't had the time. Yay!

Mint Chutney (Page 907)

RECIPE #868

  • Date: Monday, November 17, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-

(In case anyone is paying attention: No, I didn't accidentally skip recipe #867 -- I intentionally skipped a number because it turns out I had two recipes labeled #848. I'm too lazy to go back and relabel everything since then so I am skipping a number here to make up for using the same number twice earlier.)

Anyway, I would have made this recipe much sooner had I realized what it was. For some reason I mentally pictured a "mint chutney" to be something chunky and reminiscent of English mint sauce, rather than this lovely condiment which I know and love from Indian restaurants. I had always labeled that delicious green sauce that I smear on naan and everything else in sight as mint raita, but apparently it is mint chutney, and here it is in The Book! The recipe was super simple: I toasted some serrano chiles, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and unsweetened coconut in oil, then ground it all up in the blender along with fresh mint, fresh cilantro, yogurt, slivered almonds, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, and salt. The result: deliciousness! Beautiful, green deliciousness! I'll tell you the truth: because I had pictured something totally different (without every reading the ingredients list or the recipe...), I had planned to hate it. So I hadn't made any accommodations to actually eat this. I figured I would try it, and then probably let it sit in the fridge until my special gentleman gets back. But, it turns out I loved this stuff! So I dug some homemade pita out of the freezer and I had pita with mint chutney for lunch all week. Yum! This chutney was beautifully balanced, and very tasty. If I hadn't made it myself I am pretty sure I wouldn't be able to identify half the ingredients just from tasting it, but they worked together really well to create something quite delicious. This one was a winner.

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one, but with about half as much mint and about twice as much cilantro. The one in The Book also calls for only about half as much lemon juice as the one online.

When I was a college student I had very little sense of what life was like for a college professor. I had no grasp of the kind of academic achievement it takes to end up tenured at Stanford University. I certainly knew my professors were smarter than me, but I had no concept of just how insanely smart one has to be to get a permanent job at a school like Stanford. I couldn't have told you how many classes they taught per quarter. I wouldn't have guessed how much they travel. Basically, I knew very little about the job of math professor. In retrospect this seems odd, since clearly it was the job I was training for. In my own defense, I think if you had asked me when I was 19 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'm not sure what I would have said. I hadn't really thought far past graduate school. I knew I wanted to do a PhD (what can I say? I love being in school!) but it wasn't until graduate school that I was really sure I wanted to be a math academic. I didn't give it a lot of thought as an undergraduate, and consequently, I understood very little about the life of a math professor.

I do distinctly remember, however, sitting in a physics final and thinking to myself, "Wow, it must be really hard to write exams." I don't know what it was about that particular exam that prompted the thought, but it dawned on me at that moment that writing exams might actually be worse than taking them. So while I understood practically nothing about an academic life, I did have the right impression about one thing: writing exams is miserable! Both my classes are taking midterms tomorrow afternoon, so this week I had to write 2 exams. It sounds easy, but exam-writing is really a challenge. If the exam is too easy the scores are too high and it's hard to assign grades. If it's too hard, you can curve the grades up, but the students are still demoralized. Plus, writing exams requires prioritizing what you think is most important, which isn't an easy task. It always takes much longer than it seems like it should... I am told this gets much easier later in your career. After you have written 20 calculus exams you have a lot of problems to chose from to construct the 21st exam. I'm new at this though, and still learning! The exams are done now though, and only time will tell if they are of an appropriate difficulty!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Caponata (Page 537)

RECIPE #866

  • Date: Thursday, November 6, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: D
LinkI chose this recipe to make a couple weeks ago because I had made a component of it (Sicilian tomato sauce) a few weeks earlier, and I figured it was time to get the tomato sauce out of the freezer and finish this dish off. Wow, was this bad. Not only was it bad, but with an active time of an hour and a half, it was bad and slightly time consuming. Not a good combination. How bad was it? After my special gentleman tasted it he said, "Well, I'm not going to vomit. But I am also not going to take another bite." It wasn't good. I was skeptical just from the list of ingredients: eggplant, celery, olive oil, green olives, capers, oily tomato sauce, white wine vinegar, sugar, cocoa powder, pepper, salt, and almonds. I like each one of those items, but all together it just didn't sound good. And it wasn't. It was terribly odd: there were chunks of fried eggplant, and boiled celery sitting in a sauce that was vinegary, but also had cocoa in it. Additionally, the cup of green olives and 1/2 cup of capers that went into the dish contributed quite a lot of briny flavor. There was more acidity still from the tomato sauce. This whole crazy collection of things (minus the almonds) got cooked together and then chilled. The end product was meant to be served at room temperature, sprinkled with the almonds. To be fair, this didn't taste quite as bad as it looked (but that's not saying much -- it basically looked like vomit with almonds on top), but I took two bites and definitely wasn't willing to take a third. After my special gentleman and I each took our requisite bites, I put the whole thing down the garbage disposal, which was a shame, because there was a lot of it. My recommendation: don't make it. Actually if you have The Book, I suggest you put a big X through this recipe in magic marker. I think I will.

Lucky for you, this recipe isn't online.

Man it is good to be home. Don't get me wrong: to a certain extent I like to travel. But there is a point past which it becomes a little painful. One of the ways in which traveling is challenging for me, especially when I'm driving everywhere, is the food. I am happy to eat fast food every once in a while -- in fact I even crave a McDonald's french fry now and then. But the last few weeks I have been on the road so much that I have eaten way more fast food than I wanted to. My car became littered with McDonald's bags (My favorite order: 6 piece Chicken McNuggets, Small Fries, and Apple Dippers), Burger King bags (Gardenburger (no mayo), Small Fries, and Small Vanilla Milkshake), and Wendy's bags (Broccoli and Cheese Baked Potato, Side Salad, and Small Chocolate Frosty). Moreover, despite my caffeine-free lifestyle I found myself forced to go back on it (several times I was so tired behind the wheel that I was worried I would fall asleep. Drinking Diet Coke seemed worth it to avoid being in a fiery car crash). So add to the trash heap of fast food bags a bunch of empty cups that once held Diet Coke, and now you have a pretty good idea of my diet these last few weeks. Gross. Gross, gross, gross. But now I am home, and the last couple days I have been subsisting off of some old favorites: yogurt and granola, cottage cheese, carrots, etc... Basically I have been eating some of the simple foods I love which are hard to come by on the road. Man, it is good to be home!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Langues de Chat (Page 682)

RECIPE #865

  • Date: Thursday, November 6, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I chose these cookies to make last week because I was craving something sweet. This recipe is difficult to grade. On the one hand, I found them inedible -- so that would suggest a low grade. On the other hand, my special gentleman loved them, gave them an A, then ate the whole batch in less than 24 hours. So that would suggest a high grade. Why the discrepancy? I don't like food that tastes like flowers. I have a couple food preferences: I'm not a huge fan of bitter greens, and I prefer things that aren't anise flavored. But those are just preferences. I still certainly eat those things. Flower-flavored food, though, is a no-go for me. So when I saw that this recipe contained orange flower water, I suspected I might have an issue with it. It was a shame too because aside from the overpowering, old lady perfume flavor of the orange flower water, these cookies were great. They were buttery and delicate, with a slightly chewy texture in the middle and a nice crispiness around the edges. There was a bit of sugar sprinkled on top for a kiss of sweetness and a little crunch. If I had just left out the orange flower water I would have been fighting to get my share before my special gentleman ate them all. As it was, I happily stepped aside. The verdict: if you like flower-flavored food (as my special gentleman does) you are sure to love these cookies. If you don't, omit the orange flower water from the recipe, and you will have yourself a nice, buttery, delicious treat.

This recipe isn't online.

Tonight I did the unthinkable: I unpacked!!! I have been traveling so much that for the last 6 weeks or so there has been a suitcase sitting on the floor of my living room. I have rotated things in and out of the suitcase, thrown some stuff in the laundry and then back into the suitcase, and changed the contents as the weather at my destination changed. But, in those 6 weeks, I never once completely unpacked. It just seemed so inefficient to unpack, only to pack again a couple days later. When I got home from Boston yesterday though I realized that I will be home for 10 days in a row! So I unpacked. Whoo hoo!

My traveling may be done for a while but I don't think I have fully recovered yet. This morning I slept through 2 alarms, and when I finally woke up at 8:30am I was too disoriented to even realize that I had overslept by an hour and a half. Whoops. The whole day was like that. I often write things on my hand when I am scared that I am going to forget them and I don't have any way to email myself a reminder at that moment. This afternoon, walking from the first class I teach to the second, I thought of something I needed to remember, so I wrote myself a note on my hand: "AV." By the time my second class was over I looked at my hand and had no idea what it meant. Still now, I can't remember. AV? Or maybe it says AU? I am honestly not sure, and I can't think of anything it could possibly mean. That's what kind of day it was! I don't feel too bad about it though. After the crazy couple months I have had it is probably to be expected to experience a few days of exhaustion. Despite oversleeping, I still managed to get everything done that I absolutely needed to this morning, so it was no major loss! And hopefully this AV thing isn't too important! Perhaps after a good night of sleep tonight, I will remember what it means...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Whole Wheat Pita Bread (Page 607)

RECIPE #864

  • Date: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I have been craving some homemade bread and this pita recipe jumped out at me a couple weeks ago. The recipe was exactly what you would expect: throw together a whole wheat bread dough. Knead. Let rise. Divide into discs and roll out into pita shapes. Let rise. Bake. The only thing that was a little odd was the baking step. The Book called for the pita to be baked directly on the oven rack. It is certainly the case that you want to bake pita on a surface that is already hot, but the oven rack is not ideal for this purpose. Oven racks (at least the ones I have) have a lot of gaps in them, and the pita sank through. Eventually, as it rose, it came out of the cracks, but the pita still ended up with some oven rack indentations on them (as you can see in the picture). Plus, it was hard to flip them because they were sunken through the rack in weird ways. I think this would have worked better had the pita been placed on a baking sheet that was already in the oven, or better yet, a pizza stone. It wasn't a major issue, but it is something I would change if I made it again. My other complaint is that I wasn't a huge fan of the texture of this pita. I wish I could identify the way in which it seemed wrong to me, but I had a hard time pinpointing it. It certainly wasn't bad recipe, but I have made better pita.

Here is the recipe.

After a very busy and very challenging week, I had a lovely weekend in Boston with some of my very best friends. I flew into Boston Friday after I taught my classes, and there I met up with Emilee and Rachel, my roommates from my senior year in college and my dear, dear friends. Rach lives in Boston now (so we all stayed at her place all weekend!), and Emilee flew in from California with her absolutely adorable 7 and a half month old son Sam. This little reunion of ours was multi-purpose. On Saturday afternoon at 2pm, Em and I threw Rachel and her husband Eric a baby shower (Rachel is pregnant and due in January!). Then Saturday evening, at 7pm, Em and Rach threw me and Matt an engagement party! It was a busy day, but it was so full of celebration and love -- I had a great time (I think we all did!). Plus, since Matt and I are having a super-small wedding this summer, it really meant a lot to us to be able to celebrate with our friends in Boston. I spent 5 years there in graduate school, and Matt has been there about 2 and a half years now. We certainly care about a lot of people in the Boston area and it was great to see them, and celebrate!

It was a very special few days. Despite having lived quite far apart for more than six years now, Emilee, Rachel, and I are still very close, and that is a huge blessing. It was great to have a weekend together, all staying in the same apartment, chatting, cooking, and just having a good time. It reminded me very much of our time together in college! Plus, now we had Sam there with us, who is the sweetest, most well-behaved baby I have ever met. He was such a trooper all weekend, smiling and laughing through both parties. Here he is with my special gentleman this morning before Sam and Emilee headed back to California:


I'm back in Indiana now, ready for a (hopefully!) calmer week. I am feeling refreshed after my wonderful weekend!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spinach with Indian Fresh Cheese (Page 576)

RECIPE #863

  • Date: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I have many great supporters of this project out there, and some have even been so kind as to send me gifts of hard-to-find ingredients and tools. Last spring, blog reader David offered to send me some items off my Gourmet Project Wishlist all the way from England. So, he carefully packed up some juniper berries, black mustard seeds, asafetida powder, etc... and sent this wonderful package of ingredients to me. Well, customs was having none of that. They ripped open my package, apparently to inspect it, and decided, for whatever reason, that the asafetida powder was not going to make the trip all the way to my home. This stinky spice comes from the dried gum resin of giant fennel plants. It certainly isn't banned in the US, so my only guess is that either (a) customs was worried about me stinking up Indiana with my stinky spice, or (b) they thought David was trying to send me drugs, cleverly disguised as stinky asafetida powder. In any event, they stole my gift and I was not happy. Fast forward about four months, and I still hadn't located any asafetida powder in Bloomington. Sure, I could have ordered some online, but after my previous experience with asafetida powder in the mail, I was hesitant to do so. A few weeks ago though I was visiting Brad and Deniz in Chicago and we went to an Indian grocery store there. I happily found some asafetida powder and brought it back with me to Indiana. Finally, I had all of the ingredients to make some of the Indian dishes in The Book! So, last week, my special gentleman and I made this version of Palak Paneer, using my precious asafetida powder.

This recipe wasn't difficult, but it did involve many steps. I first made the two component recipes: Ghee, and Paneer. Then I started by blanching and peeling some pearl onions (pearl onions are a huge culinary pet peeve of mine: why not just use chopped onion, which is SO much less work?). I cubed my homemade paneer and my special gentleman marinated it in a mixture of turmeric and water. In the meantime we cooked and then pureed the spinach which would become the base for the dish. I then mashed together fresh ginger garlic until they formed a paste. Meanwhile, my special gentleman heated a truly frightening quantity of ghee and browned the marinated paneer cubes in it. After removing the paneer he added the pearl onions then the garlic paste, to the skillet. Eventually we stirred in a mixture of spices (including the asafetida!), some tomatoes that we had peeled and chopped, and the spinach puree. The whole thing got cooked for a bit, then the paneer was stirred back in. Season and serve.

This dish didn't really look all that appealing, but actually it was quite good! The flavors were excellent, and the browned paneer cubes were extremely tasty. I had a take-em-or-leave-em feeling about the pearl onions (and since they were a pain in the ass to peel, I vote for leave-em). Palak paneer isn't generally my favorite Indian dish, but I was surprised by how much I liked this version. My special gentleman was also very taken with it (the leftovers disappeared long before I had an opportunity to have any). It definitely wasn't a dinner that was super quick to make, but if you are interesting in making an Indian dish at home, I would recommend giving this recipe a try.

Here is the recipe.

My apologies for the blog silence this week. To say that this week has been busy would be an enormous understatement... Things should be calming down in the near future though (I hope!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Panna Cotta (Page 835)

RECIPE #862

  • Date: Monday, November 3, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teresa, and Mike M
  • Recipe Rating: B

This recipe is a remnant of my weeks of selecting recipes that took 15 minutes or less to prepare. I bought all the ingredients for this the week before last and then couldn't even find the 15 minutes (plus the requisite energy) to prepare it. So it was still on the list last week, and with a touch more time on my hands, I finally made it. I started by letting some gelatin soften in a small bowl of water. Meanwhile I brought cream, half-and-half, and sugar to a boil. I stirred some of the hot creamy mixture into the gelatin until it dissolved and then stirred the gelatin mixture into the cream. I then stirred in some vanilla extract and divided the mixture among 8 oiled ramekins. I refrigerated the ramekins until the panna cotta set. Then I ran a knife along the edge, dipped them in warm water, and inverted them onto dessert plates (truth be told, I only did that for the one you see above. The others we just ate out of the ramekins -- less hassle!). This panna cotta was pretty good. I have to admit, panna cotta isn't really my favorite. It's essentially just cream set with gelatin (usually with some flavoring -- here: vanilla). Cream is good, and gelatin isn't bad, so it's not as though it tastes bad. It's just not my favorite texture. I vastly prefer a baked custard made with egg. Mmmmm.... creamy and delicious. And not gelatinous. To be fair, if you didn't know this was set with gelatin, you might not guess. It was still relatively creamy. I wasn't too taken with it, but my special gentleman ate six of these in two or three days -- he liked them a lot!

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

I was scrolling down the Project Index recently and realized that my special gentleman was rapidly approaching the 500 recipe mark. In fact, this very recipe is the 501st recipe from The Book that he has eaten and/or helped prepare! I met me special gentleman about 8 months after starting this project, and he has been super-supportive from the first day I told him about it! Ok, actually that's not precisely true. In the first few weeks that he and I were dating, I was pretty busy and the project was going along a little slower than usual. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese from a box in those couple weeks. So much, in fact, that my special gentleman said to me, "I don't know how you are ever going to finish that project you told me about when all you ever eat is macaroni and cheese." That comment made me a little defensive -- I would too finish! I do eat things other than Mac and Cheese! A couple weeks (and some saltimbocca and chocolate souffle) later, having benefited from several book meals, my special gentleman came around to my project. Since then he has been a huge source of support! I am sure that I wouldn't be as far along as I am now if he were not in my life. Not only is he a very flexible and excited eater, but he is a great help in the kitchen (when I can convince him to cook with me!) and he is very patient with the silliness that sometimes entails from doing a project as ridiculous as this (on more than one occasion we have gone to 5 or 6 stores in a row searching for one ingredient, and he has been very, very patient!). This project wouldn't be nearly as fun without him, and I am tremendously grateful for all of his support!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Paneer (Page 577)

RECIPE #861

  • Date: Monday, November 3, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This past week I had a little more time than usual (amazing how much time it frees up to not be running 5 days a week!), so I decided to finish some of the recipes that I made component recipes of a few weeks ago. In particular, a couple weeks ago I made some ghee. That recipe took only a few minutes (which was why I selected it), but it was a component of a palak paneer recipe that has an Active Time of 2 hours. This paneer recipe is another component of that recipe (which I will blog about soon). My special gentleman loves paneer (and in particular palak paneer) so he was very excited about this venture. Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese. Making it was extremely simple: I brought a lot of whole milk to a boil, then dumped in a bunch of lemon juice. The milk began to curdle, and I let it sit for a few minutes to separate. Then I poured the milk and lemon mixture through cheesecloth, and rinsed off the curds that remained. I then gathered the cheesecloth and wrung out the extra liquid. I formed the cheese into a disk (still wrapped in cheesecloth), and weighted it down to get out any excess liquid. Once the liquid had been pressed out I put the disk of cheese in the fridge until I used it in the palak paneer. I forgot to take a picture of the whole disk -- I started cubing it to make the palak paneer and realized halfway through that I needed a picture. That's why it looks a bit odd in the photo above. This recipe produced nice paneer. It had a good texture, and a mild flavor. It held up well when fried (which was important for the palak paneer recipe). I was very happy with it. My special gentleman kept sneaking pieces of it off the cutting board while I was cubing it, so I think he liked it too!

Here is the recipe.

Yesterday morning I headed from South Bend, Indiana to Chicago to work with Vigleik. It should have been about a 90 minute drive, but I got lost leaving South Bend (surprise, surprise -- I am chronically lost!), and then encountered a bad roadside fire situation in Chicago which slowed things down. I made it eventually though, and Vigleik and I put in a very solid day of work. There is a paper that we have been working on for a while, and we were both anxious to get it done. So I insisted that I wouldn't leave his apartment yesterday until we finished! Obviously, in order for that to be realistic, it was already almost complete. But there is always a lot of editing/checking/fine tuning to be done at the end, and if you let it drag out, it will! We were determined yesterday, though, so we sat in his living room, working/editing/typing, until it was complete. We took a few little breaks to eat and play with Henrik (V and Shihchi's baby), but mainly we stayed focused on the task at hand. It was a Saturday well spent!

Today I am back in South Bend, working in the hotel room until my special gentleman's conference finishes up, and then it is back to Bloomington for a night!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Chicken with Cornmeal Dumplings (Page 373)

RECIPE #860

  • Date: Monday, November 3, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I wanted to do some real cooking this past week (rather than the 15 minutes or less cooking from the two weeks before), so I figured the Poultry section would be a good place to start, since I am quite behind on that section. I have been eying this down-home classic for quite a while. It wasn't a particularly quick recipe, but it was simple enough to make. I started with a whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces. I browned the pieces on the stovetop in butter and oil. Once they had a nice brown on them, I arranged the skin side up, sprinkled them with chopped shallots, added white wine, covered, and simmered until the chicken was cooked through. Once the chicken was cooked I removed it from the skillet and put it in a warm oven to hold until the gravy and dumplings were done. I then added stock, enriched with some cream, to the skillet where the chicken had been to make a gravy. I dropped tablespoons of the cornmeal dumpling dough into the gravy and simmered for 20 minutes until the dumplings were cooked. I then spooned the gravy and dumplings over the chicken and served. Overall this dish was excellent, but it had one major flaw -- soggy chicken skin. For some reason The Book is insistent that leaving the skin on the chicken and then cooking it with a moist heat cooking method is a good idea. It's just not. Even in a recipe like this, where the skin is first browned and crisped, it still gets soggy after being cooked in a covered pan with simmering liquid. Chicken skin is only delicious if it is crispy. Otherwise, it just shouldn't be there. Moreover, I couldn't help but wonder: Why leave the meat on the bones at all for a recipe like this? With the leftover chicken pieces, I discarded the skin, shredded the meat, and stirred it into the gravy and dumplings. The dish was vastly superior that way: easier to eat, no gross soggy skin, and delicious! If you added "Remove meat from bones, shred, and stir into gravy" at the end of this recipe, I would give it an A-. As it is, the soggy skin was a major turnoff. All that said, the gravy and dumplings were completely delicious. Yum, yum, yum! And with the shredded meat stirred in it made absolutely amazing leftovers. Get rid of that skin, stir in the meat, and you won't regret it!

Here is the recipe.

Hello from South Bend, Indiana. After a shocking 5 consecutive nights at home, I am on the road again. This weekend my special gentleman is speaking at a conference at Notre Dame. I came along for the ride, and tomorrow while he is conferencing I will drive to Chicago to work with Vigleik for the day. My special gentleman and I are headed back to Bloomington on Sunday so I can teach Monday. After my classes Monday I will drop my special gentleman off at the airport (he is headed to Boston) and continue on to the Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, where I am giving a seminar on Tuesday. Tuesday evening I will drive back to Bloomington so I can teach Wednesday. Then Wednesday afternoon I will drive back to Chicago to do some work there on Thursday. Thursday evening I will drive back to Bloomington so I can teach Friday. Then Friday after my classes I will head to the airport to fly to Boston to throw a baby shower for Rachel with Emilee on Saturday! Then Sunday I fly back to Boston to teach Monday. Whooo... I am going to be exhausted after all that! The mid-week trip to Chicago can get canceled if I am too worn out to do it, but my thesis advisor, who normally lives in Japan, will be in Chicago for a few days, and it would be good to see him if possible. Now I better get some sleep -- being well-rested is key for pulling off a week like the one I have ahead of me!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chinese-Style Steamed Shrimp with Garlic and Scallions (Page 323)

RECIPE #859

  • Date: Sunday, November 2, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


After eating restaurant food all weekend in Indianapolis, my special gentleman and I were looking for something light and simple to have for dinner on Sunday night when we got back. I picked this recipe so that I could also make some progress on the always lagging Fish and Shellfish section. Several years ago now, Chris bought me a bamboo steamer as part of a Christmas gift. The intention of the gift was not for me to steam things, but rather for me to stack and carry pies. Many years ago, when it was apparently more common for people to make multiple pies and then carry them around, there existed an object in which you could stack a bunch of pies safely on several tiers, and then carry the whole thing by a handle. Unfortunately this item no longer exists, and I can't find an old one anywhere. Chris heard my complaints and bought me the next best thing: a bamboo steamer. Indeed, pies can be stacked on the layers of the steamer, and then transported safely, protected by the hard bamboo exterior. So while I have used my bamboo steamer to cart around pies, I had never actually used it to steam anything. Strange, I know. This recipe was exciting because it gave me an opportunity to use not only the bamboo steamer from Chris, but also the wok that Mike got me last spring.

The method was very simple. The shrimp were marinated in a mixture of minced scallions, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, sugar, salt, and oil. Then they were placed in a heatproof dish nestled in the rack of the bamboo steamer, sitting in a wok of boiling water. I put the lid on the steamer and let the shrimp steam for about 8 minutes. To complete the dish, I sprinkled the shrimp with some scallion greens, drizzled with sesame oil, and served them over rice. This dish had just what we were looking for: nice clean flavors without a lot of oil or butter. I like butter-laden food just as much as the next person, but sometimes it is nice to have a dish that tastes light. This one is about as light as a shrimp preparation is going to get. The recipe accounts for this nicely -- the flavor you would normally get from browning the shrimp in fat is replaced by a very flavorful marinade. As the shrimp steamed, a bit of sauce (essentially the marinade and water) formed in the dish with the shrimp. The Book doesn't mention this at all -- but we saved that sauce and poured it over the rice. It was thin, but delicious! It added a lot to the dish to have that extra flavor in the rice. This was a quick, simple dish that my special gentleman and I both enjoyed.

This recipe isn't online.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cranberry and Pickled Beet Relish (Page 904)

RECIPE #858

  • Date: Sunday, November 2, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C-

I have been saving this recipe for sometime when my special gentleman was around since I accurately predicted that I wouldn't like it. However, I inaccurately predicted that he would. Instead, he rejected this relish too. The upside was that the recipe was extremely quick and easy. I took a bag of cranberries and cooked them in a mixture of water, sugar, and red wine vinegar. After the berries burst and the mixture was thick, I stirred in some sliced and quartered pickled beets. That's it. It was easy, and visually appealing with its deep red color but it tasted bad, bad, bad. There were too many intense flavors in one place, and they didn't mesh at all. The pickled flavor of the beets, the tart flavor of the cranberries, and the pungent acidity of 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar did not create a pleasant flavor when combined. I am generally not a fan of pickled beets, but my special gentleman is -- yet he agreed that this recipe just didn't work. It was the kind of intense, bad flavor that caused my entire face to pucker when I took my first bite. Even the second and third bites, when I knew what to expect, I found myself puckering. This one was not a winner.

Here is the recipe.

The last time I said anything political on this blog it prompted a whole series of very nasty comments, so I am hesitant to even mention last night's election. But I will say that yesterday was a very exciting day. My special gentleman and I volunteered to help get out the vote in the afternoon, which was fun. In the evening we went to Mike and Teresa's house, where we sat attentively in front of their TV for hours, finally heading home when McCain conceded. Mike made margaritas, Teresa made quesadillas, and I made brownies -- perfect election watching food. The polls closed here in Indiana at 6pm, which was the earliest of any poll closing. So we were carefully watching the Indiana results roll in both on the TV and online. Despite the early closing though, Indiana was one of the last states to be called. It was an extremely, extremely close race in this state I call home. When I went to bed last night, well after Obama's speech, it was still unclear which way Indiana would go. In the end, the state went for Obama -- the first time Indiana has gone for a Democrat in more than 40 years!

Despite all the polls suggesting that things would turn out more or less the way they did, I was very nervous about the election. I was hesitant to be too hopeful, for fear that something would go awry. But last night, when the networks called the state of Ohio for Obama, I started to feel very peaceful! Yay!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Asian Chicken and Water Chestnut Patties (Page 376)

RECIPE #857

  • Date: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Now that I have just a bit more time, I am trying to get back on track with my project, rather than only cooking the 15 minutes or less items (truth be told, I was also running out of such items!). The Poultry section is the one I am the most behind on, and this was the quickest recipe left in that section, so I figured it would be a good compromise between trying to save time and trying to make progress in the sections where I need to. This recipe didn't sound so good to me from the start. The first direction was to pulse raw chicken in the food processor until chopped. Mmmm.... food processed chicken. The chicken was then removed from the processor and in its place went water chestnuts, scallions, and jalapeno. These too got chopped up, and then mixed into the chicken along with cilantro and salt. The chopped chicken mixture was them formed into small patties, which I was supposed to thread onto wooden skewers and pan fry until cooked through. Mysteriously enough, my wooden skewers seem to be the one thing the sublettors used up this summer. Who knows what they did with them, but there were two whole packages in the drawer and now they are gone. I don't mind -- they were disposable ones. I can just buy a new package. But since I didn't know they were gone, I didn't buy new ones while I was at the store. Some rummaging through my drawers turned up two skewers, so I skewered some of these patties and not others. From that experience I can tell you: don't skewer. Having them on the skewers only made them more difficult to deal with, and caused them to fall apart. It was much, much easier without the skewers. And since they added no aesthetic value, I say you should just cross the skewers out of the recipe entirely. My real objection didn't have anything to do with the skewers though -- I just didn't like these patties. Part of it was textural. Ground up chicken breast just isn't that good. It took a long time to cook through, and by then the parts toward the exterior were a bit dry. I think the water chestnuts were supposed to add nice textural contrast, but instead they added unwelcome crunch in my ground up chicken. It reminded me of those urban legends people tell where someone bites into a Chicken McNugget and finds a huge tumor, or a human finger. Anyway, the texture freaked me out. The flavor wasn't terrible, but wasn't strong enough to cause me to forgive the texture. My special gentleman liked them a little more than I did -- but even he wasn't too positive.

Here is the recipe.

After a crazy month of travel and work, things feel eerily normal this week. We came back from Indianapolis yesterday morning, which meant that I had almost a whole Sunday in town. It has been more than a month since I have been in Bloomington on a weekend day, and it was great! I grocery shopped, I ran errands, I cooked. It's amazing how much I appreciate those simple things now that I haven't had a chance to do them in so long. This feeling of triumph will be short-lived though. Starting on Friday I will be out of town at least every other night for the next 10 days. I am making several consecutive trips, but returning between each so that I can teach my classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It is going to be a little crazy!

In the meantime, I am trying to be productive and get organized so that next week isn't super stressful with all the traveling. At the same time though, I am trying to cut myself some slack and relax as much as possible. It has been a crazy semester so far, and I am only a little more than halfway through. Now that I am not running 4 to 5 days a week, I have a bit of extra time on my hands. I am trying to put most of that time towards getting more work done, but a bit of it towards taking hot baths and sitting on the sofa reading magazines. I haven't done any of that in way too long! And, of course, I am making time to do some real cooking again! It feels good to be back in the kitchen, making things because they sound good rather than just because they are super-quick! Speaking, of, my timer is going off. Time to put my Panna Cotta in the fridge!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Robiola Pizza (Page 196)

RECIPE #856

  • Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

LinkOccasionally there are moments in this project when I think, "Why am I doing this?" Often those moments center around hard-to-find ingredients. I had one such moment last Christmas. As part of my Christmas present, my special gentleman gave me a pizza stone. He gave me this gift when we were celebrating with my family in Wisconsin, and so it was in the car when we went to celebrate with his family in Ohio. He was eager to try it out so we decided to have a Pizza Night with his family one evening. Matty and I picked out three pizza recipes from The Book (including this one) and set off to the grocery store. I knew Robiola cheese wouldn't be found at just any grocery store, so we started at Whole Foods. We were told that they sometimes carry it, but weren't carrying it at the moment, and they referred us elsewhere. The short summary of a very LONG grocery trip is that we ended up driving all around Columbus, Ohio, to visit many, many stores, most of which claimed to carry the cheese until we arrived to find that indeed they had "run out," or were confused about what we were looking for. After HOURS of this, we returned to his parents house, cheeseless, hungry, and crabby. That was almost a year ago now, and since then I have been in several places where doubtless it would be no problem to find Robiola. In Boston, for instance, I know several places to buy it. But the issue is that since its one Christmas trip, my pizza stone has been living with me in Bloomington, Indiana. As it is both heavy and fragile, I don't travel with it. So the problem was not only that I needed Robiola, but that I needed Robiola in Bloomington. This seemed nearly insurmountable, so I mentally filed it with, "Problems I will deal with later," and moved on to other recipes.

So there I was 4 weeks ago, in Chicago with Brad and Deniz at Whole Foods, when Deniz and I decided we would look for some Manchego to go with dinner. There I was, scanning the cheeses when it jumped out at me: Robiola! I was irrationally excited because I knew I could buy it there, pack it in ice, and drive it back to Bloomington with me. And indeed that is what I did. Then I patiently waited for my special gentleman to come back to Indiana after several weeks away so we could make this pizza together!

So, after all that, how was it? Disappointing. After having cooked my way through more than half of this book, I can honestly say that I am impressed by how few typos it has in it. But this recipe has a typo. In the ingredients list it calls for 1 and 1/4 pounds of portobello mushroom caps, gills scraped out and discarded, caps cut into 1/4 inch dice. That is exactly what it says. Then right after that, in parentheses, it says (1 cup). Now, I don't know what kind of leaden mushrooms they weighed, but there is NO WAY that 1 cup of mushroom caps weighs 1 and 1/4 pounds. I would bet that 5 cups of mushroom caps don't weigh 1 and 1/4 pounds. My guess is that the 1 and 1/4 was supposed to read just 1/4, and that the 1 cup was the right amount to use. But the recipe said 1 and 1/4 pounds, so that is what I did. It wasn't even possible to fit that many diced mushrooms on my pizza, so I didn't quite put them all on. But even looking at the pizza uncooked I knew exactly what was going to happen. The mushrooms, as they cooked, released their liquid. Since it was a lot of mushrooms, it was a lot of liquid. Much too much liquid. It made the pizza soggy and sad. it was a shame too because the flavors were awesome together. The Robiola was great, and its strong flavor complement the mild mushrooms and zucchini nicely. But the texture was a disaster. It is possible that without the typo this recipe could be great, but as written it it not-so-good.

The recipe in The Book is clearly based on this recipe, but the amounts are a bit different (namely, the online recipe has a much more sensible quantity of mushrooms!).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Mocha Fudge Sauce (Page 875)

RECIPE #855

  • Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I picked this sauce because the recipe was extremely quick to make. The method was simple -- essentially all the ingredients just got added to a saucepan at various points. While I was making it I was a little skeptical -- the sauce went through several strange textural phases, some of which looked pretty nasty. In the end though it all came together to make a very smooth, very tasty sauce. I ate this over ice cream, but it would also make a nice accompaniment to cake, or any chocolate or coffee flavored dessert. The chocolate and coffee flavors here were nicely balanced, and the Kahlua gave it a touch of booziness, without being too much. It wasn't too sweet, which I think is appropriate for a mocha sauce. Overall, it was a good recipe, and a nice alternative to a typical hot fudge sauce.

This recipe isn't online.

Today I ran my first half-marathon! When I started training I thought it was going to be an impossible feat for me. It was very hard for me to imagine running for more than 2 hours. But I did it! And actually, I felt great! I have never in my life run in a real race before, and it was amazing how the race dynamic and the crowd really inspired me to keep going. In fact, I found it hard not to smile while I ran along -- it was just so exciting. I had two goals: one, not to walk at all, and two, to finish in 2 hours and 24 minutes or less (which is 11 minutes a mile). I didn't walk once and I finished in 2 hours 14 minutes and 35 seconds (10 minutes 16 seconds a mile) so I was very, very happy. My special gentleman ran the full marathon today as part of the same race event, and he did an AMAZING job. He finished in 3 hours and 6 minutes, which is about 7 minutes and 6 seconds a mile. Crazy! He easily qualified for the Boston marathon, which was a goal of his. In fact, of the thousands of people running today, he finished 43rd. It was extremely impressive! I can't even run one mile at that pace, so for him to run 26.2 just blows me away!

Overall it was a really positive experience! We had a great time and it is so wonderful that we both made the goals we set for ourselves during training! I am looking forward to running another half marathon in the spring, and maybe even a full marathon next fall! In the meantime though, I am also looking forward to not running for a few weeks, and giving my body some time to rest after so many months of training.