Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Celery with Fennel and Bacon (Page 532)

LinkRECIPE #899

  • Date: Thursday, December 18, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose this recipe because I wanted to make a vegetable dish, and this was one of the few recipes I hadn't made from the Vegetables section of The Book. We started by prepping the vegetables, then blanching the celery, then the fennel in boiling water. We cooked some bacon in a large pot, then removed the pieces of bacon and cooked shallots, the celery, and the fennel in the bacon fat. We added chicken stock and simmered until the veggies were tender. Before serving we stirred in chopped fennel fronds, celery leaves, parsley, bacon, salt, and pepper. I didn't love this dish (you know how I feel about big pieces of cooked celery), but it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be. Fennel isn't my favorite of vegetables, but I thought it was pretty good in this preparation. The flavor from the bacon fat that it was cooked in complemented the fennel nicely. Texturally it was also decent -- tender but not too soft. If you forced me to make a dish centered around celery and fennel, this is probably what I would make. But given the choice of all possible vegetable dishes, this isn't one that I would make again.

Here is the recipe.

Happy New Year's Eve! It's that time of year -- time to look back on last year's resolutions and see how I did. Here they are:
  • Respond to emails faster -- It's hard to argue that I did too well on this one, since I have many an unanswered email in my Inbox right now, but I also didn't get any worse, so that's something!
  • Run 5 consecutive 8 minute miles -- This one I abandoned and replaced it with my goal of running a half marathon, which I did accomplish.
  • Meet more people in Bloomington -- Done.
  • Be less mathematically shy -- I did pretty well at this.
  • Eat less candy -- Done.
  • Get back in shape -- Well, I was in good shape when I ran my half marathon a couple months ago, but right now, not so much.
  • Write thank-you notes -- Nope, I didn't do well at this.
  • Cook 320 recipes from The Book this year -- I was close. I got through 314.
Overall, not a great showing, but not terrible either! Now it is time to start thinking about resolutions for 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shrimp in Adobo Sauce (Page 322)

RECIPE #898

  • Date: Thursday, December 18, 2008 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

The Fish and Shellfish section is one that I am chronically behind on, so I made this recipe a couple weeks ago to try to make some progress in that section. I started by toasting dried ancho chiles and then soaking them in warm water. I pureed the chiles with onion, garlic, and oregano, then cooked the puree, adding white wine, white vinegar, sugar, ad salt. I added the shrimp, cooking them until cooked through. I served the dish over rice with diced avocado. Neither my special gentleman nor I were too impressed with this dish. In concept it seemed great, but the sauce just didn't taste that good. It was very one-note, and that note was one that neither of us particularly liked. It mainly tasted of white vinegar, drowning out the smokiness of the chiles, and the flavors of the onion, garlic, and oregano. It wasn't terrible, but it certainly isn't a shrimp preparation that I would make again. My special gentleman's comment on this dish: "Well, the avocado on top was good." Not high praise.

This recipe isn't online.

Today I devoted myself to doing some wedding planning, something I have done very little of so far. I was inspired by watching some late-night trashy reality TV last night about wedding planning (very scary!). My special gentleman and I are getting married at the end of May, so I figure it might be about time to do some planning! Luckily I have my future sister-in-law Deniz here with me in Ohio this week. Since she just got married recently (in August!) she knows way more about this kind of thing than I do. She is also way more organized than me, so it has been good to run through things with her and get her advice and recommendations. Today I checked various things off my wedding to-do list. I even ordered invitations -- something I have been procrastinating for quite some time now! Now I can procrastinate thinking about the wedding again for at least another month!

Lemon Pound Cake (Page 703)

RECIPE #897

  • Date: Friday, December 19, 2008 -- 2pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Paul K, Bruce, Allan, Linda, Nathan, any many other people grading Calculus exams...
  • Recipe Rating: B


It took something like 25 people nearly 7 hours to grade the 550 or so final exams for Calculus II a couple weeks ago. I foresaw that this was going to be a long day, so I made this cake to bring to the grading session. I hadn't made this recipe yet because it calls for a kugelhopf pan to bake it in. I had no such pan in my cupboard (and had trouble finding one) but much to my surprise I got one in the mail from Rachel a few weeks ago. So I put it to use in making this cake! This was a typical lemon pound cake recipe: I creamed together butter, sugar, and lemon zest, then added the eggs and vanilla. I alternately added the wet ingredients (milk and lemon juice) and the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) then spooned it into the buttered and floured pan. I baked this until cooked through, then cooled it before glazing it with a mixture of powdered sugar and lemon juice. I served it with sliced strawberries. The cake was fine. Pound cake is never my favorite, but for pound cake it was pretty good. It had a good lemon flavor throughout. The glaze was excellent -- it had a nice balance of sweet and tart. But like all pound cakes, it was very dense, which I don't find terribly appealing. One odd thing about this recipe is that it took much longer to cook than it said it would. The recipe said it would take 45 -55 minutes, but after 65 minutes a toothpick inserted in it still didn't come out clean. I probably cooked it about 70 minutes before the cake was set. I personally wouldn't make this again, but if you are a fan of pound cake, you will probably like this one.

This recipe isn't online.

The way the calculus courses work at the university where I teach is that there are many sections of the same course, and each section has 70 or so students. For all exams except the final, each instructor writes their own exam. But the final is departmental -- all the students in the course take the same exam at the same time. Typically there is then a big grading session during which all of these exams get graded. The exam curve is set for the whole course, rather than by each instructor, so it would be unfair if each instructor just graded his or her own section. Then students would be rewarded for having an instructor that is a more lenient grader, which wouldn't be a good system. The fairest approach is to have one person grade one problem for all 550 exams, rather than grading all 20 problems just on the 70 or so exams from his or her section. In theory it is also time-saving to do it that way. After the first hour or so, you become extremely efficient at grading your one assigned problem. The downside of this approach is that it is mind-numbing. For me, the first two or three hundred papers go by pretty quickly, but those last few hundred are rather painful. The papers that are easiest to grade are those where the student did the problem completely right. Since I was grading a problem about related rates, that was remarkably few of them. Actually, the papers which are really the easiest to grade are those where the student leaves the problem completely blank, but that isn't something to be encouraged. In any event, it was a lengthy process grading all of the exams for my Calculus II students, and I was glad to have some cake to eat!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Almond and Brown Butter Financiers (Page 710)

RECIPE #896

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


I made these small cakes as part of my holiday baking this year. I started by grinding almonds and sugar in the food processor. I then added four, salt, more sugar, egg whites, and almond extract. In a saucepan I cooked butter until golden brown. I heated the almond mixture and whisked in the browned butter. I then poured the batter into buttered mini muffin tins, and baked them until golden. I was a bit disappointed by this recipe. The flavor the little cakes was ok -- very almondy. But the flavor of the browned butter didn't come through. My main complaint, though, was about the texture. These cakes were extremely heavy and dense. There was also a strange sponginess to the texture. On the up side, they were nice and moist. One thing that was odd about this recipe, was that although the recipe indicated it would make 4 dozen little cakes, it barely made 2 dozen. I filled the mini-muffin cups three-fourths full (as instructed in the recipe), and that made 24 little cakes. So I don't know where this 4 dozen number came from. These cakes weren't bad (I mean, it was still cake!), but I certainly wouldn't make them again.

This recipe isn't online.

My special gentleman and I are still in Ohio with his family, and it has been busy, busy around here! On Saturday evening 23 people came over for a belated Christmas dinner. Then on Sunday, a different 22 people came over for another belated Christmas meal! So all together that means that we had 5 different family Christmas celebrations (my immediate family, my extended family, my special gentleman's immediate family, his extended family on his dad's side, and his extended family on his mom's side!). So I have eaten a lot of turkey, pork, and ham in the last few days! (Mmmm.... and Christmas cookies!) It has been wonderful fun -- I love family gatherings, and particularly those for Christmas!

Today things were more low-key. My special gentleman and I offered to cook dinner for the 7 of us since my special gentleman's parents did so much cooking this weekend. So we had a meal from The Book, which was pretty good. Now I am having a nice relaxing evening!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Parisian Passover Coconut Macaroons (Page 676)

RECIPE #895

  • Date: Sunday, December 14, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

It's always nice to have some cookies in the house, especially around Christmas-time. I made these cookies with the idea that we might give some as gifts for the holiday, but they were so good that my special gentleman and I had eaten them all before I had a chance. To make these macaroons I started by boiling water and sugar until it reached 238 degrees. In the meantime, I beat egg whites until stiff peaks formed. Then, with the beaters running I very carefully poured the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites. I beat them until cool then added lots of unsweetened coconut. I then put spoonfuls on a baking sheet and baked them until firm. The recipe contained an additional step of forming them into pyramids with your fingertips before baking them. I did this on just enough of them to decide that it was: 1. A lot of work, and 2. Pointless since my pyramids weren't too cute. So I did the rest of them as the little balls you see above and that worked just fine. These cookies were delicious. These were not the usual dense, chewy macaroons that you probably think of (which I also find delicious!). These were light, and had a melt-in-your-mouth quality to them. The outside of the cookie was crispy, while the inside had a bit of that chewy coconut texture. These were really a cross between meringues and typical macaroons, and it totally worked. With no flour, these cookies are perfect for passover. But they are so good that it would be silly to only make them then! Yum! One note: grated unsweetened coconut isn't always easy to find, but that is what the recipe calls for. I think with sweetened coconut (which is what you typically find at grocery stores) these would be much too sweet, so it is worth searching out the unsweetened stuff. I found it at a local co-op, and I imagine a lot of natural food stores would have it.

Here is the recipe.

Yesterday I went running outside for the first time since I ran the half-marathon in November. My special gentleman's brother signed us up to run a 5K on New Year's Day, and I figured it might be a bad scene if I ran for the first time in 2 months during a race. So yesterday I went running. It was completely depressing how out of shape I am! I know, I know, it is always hard the first time you run after a long break, but still. As I was struggling through just a few miles it was hard to believe I had ever run 13 of them in a row! With New Year's approaching, I have been thinking a lot about setting a fitness goal for the new year. I think my goal for 2009 is going to be to run a full marathon. With all the training I did, the half marathon was a piece of cake. So hopefully, with proper training, I will also be able to do a marathon. My plan is to start training at the beginning of March to run a marathon sometime in the fall. That should give me lots of time to prepare! I think I can do it, but yesterday was certainly depressing. It may take me a couple months just to get back in as good a shape as I was in a couple months ago!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tandoori Shrimp and Mango Salad (Page 159)

LinkRECIPE #894

  • Date: Sunday, December 14, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This recipe has been on the list generated by the random number generator for months now. My special gentleman and I finally made this one together a couple weeks ago. We started by making a dressing of Major Grey chutney, lime juice, veggie oil, cayenne, and salt. I marinated the shrimp for 15 minutes in a tandoori-type mixture of paprika, cumin, coriander, garlic, ginger, serrano chiles, yogurt, lime zest, salt and pepper. I then cooked the shrimp in oil, then tossed them with watercress, cilantro, red bell peppers, mangoes, and the dressing. This salad was pretty good. The shrimp had a nice flavor from the marinade, and it went well with the mango and bell pepper. The dressing was also very tasty -- nicely acidic and a bit spicy. The real downfall of this recipe was the greens. The recipe called for watercress sprigs and cilantro sprigs. The flavors of the watercress and cilantro were nice in the salad, but having sprigs instead of just leaves meant that there were a lot of stems in the salad. The stems really detracted from the texture of the salad. My special gentleman was initially excited not to have to take all of the leaves off the greens, but admitted later that although it was time-saving, it didn't do good things for the dish having those whole springs in there. I would have liked this dish much better if the springs had been replaced by some mixed greens and a few cilantro leaves. With that modification I would be more than happy to make it again.

Here is the recipe.

As the year is coming to a close, I have been reflecting back on the many events of the year. Overall, 2008 has served me well. My special gentleman and I got engaged, work has gone well, teaching my classes has been fun, and I have spent a lot of quality time with friends and family. I have also done quite a bit of cooking. I had hoped to cook 325 recipes this year, and I didn't quite make it. I made just over 300, but at least that was an improvement from last year's count of 274. As I get further along in The Book I had expected that I would slow down a bit (since the recipes I have left are some of the longer/more complicated and the ones with harder to find ingredients) but that hasn't happened so much. I am quite happy about that. It is certainly true that many of the recipes now take more advance planning to acquire the right equipment or ingredients, but I am managing to stay organized and keep cooking!

I got some new equipment off the Gourmet Project Wish List for Christmas: couer a la creme molds from my brother Spencer and his girlfriend Ellen. I have had a lot of trouble finding those, so I am quite excited to use them! That will be another recipe down!

Chicken Tetrazzini (Page 226)

RECIPE #893

  • Date: Saturday, December 13, 2008 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Mmmm... pasta! I'm not sure how it possibly took me so long to make this recipe, since it sounded totally delicious. I finally made this a couple weeks ago though, and it did not disappoint. I started by cutting a whole chicken into 8 serving pieces and simmering them in salted water for 25 minutes. I let the chicken cool in the broth for an hour and a half. Once the chicken cooled I removed the skin and bones from the meat and shredded it. I put the meat in the fridge, and added the skin and bones back into the broth. I cooked the broth another couple hours to reduce it. Meanwhile, I cooked mushrooms in butter, and also cooked some spaghetti. Finally I made a cream sauce from the reduced broth, and added sherry, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. To assemble the dish I mixed the spaghetti and mushrooms with some sauce, and put it in a buttered baking dish. Then I mixed the shredded chicken with the remaining sauce and put it in the center of the pasta. I topped it with Parmesan and baked it in the oven until golden and bubbly. The result: Yum!! This was a bit on the rich side, but very, very tasty. Reducing the broth for hours and hours was a bit of a pain, but it gave the sauce a great chicken flavor. The sherry was a nice complement, giving the sauce a well-roundedness. Added to the pasta and mushrooms, it was delicious. Baking the dish with cheese on top only made it better. It was a winner -- a lovely example of winter comfort food!

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

Each recipe in The Book has an Active Time and a Start to Finish Time listed. In general these times are pretty accurate, and I rely on them. In particular, I do a lot of cooking late in the evening (because that is when I have time!) and I use the Start to Finish estimate to decide if I can finish a recipe before my bed time. So it is always an unpleasant surprise when the Start to Finish time isn't so accurate. For instance, in this recipe. This recipe claims to have a Start to Finish of 4 hours. But if you read through the recipe, adding up the cooking times for each step, you get a total of 4 hours and 48 minutes, and that doesn't include any of the prep steps. So this recipe takes at least 5 hours from start to finish. I didn't realize this until I was already halfway through making it. I had carefully timed it so I could just finish this recipe just in time to clean up and go to bed. That extra hour of cooking time was entirely unwelcome. So at some stage I threw everything in the fridge and finished the recipe a few days later, when I had time. It worked out fine that way, but if I ever find myself working as a recipe editor (who knows -- stranger things have happened!) I will definitely be sure to use my math skills to make sure the Start to Finish time is at least as long as the cooking times added together!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jansson's Temptation (Page 572)

RECIPE #892

  • Date: Sunday, December 14, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C


The Vegetables section of The Book is running a little low, so I am left mostly with things that don't sound so great. For instance: this potato and anchovy gratin dish. I love almost anything with the word gratin in it, but I was worried that an entire can of anchovies would make this dish not-so-tasty. The recipe was simple enough: I tossed chopped anchovies with strips of onion and put them in a buttered dish. I then arranged sticks of russet potatoes over the anchovies and onions and poured cream evenly on top. I baked for 30 minutes, then sprinkled with bread crumbs and butter and baked until the topping was crisp and the potatoes were tender. This dish was really not to my taste. Obviously the crispy topping was delicious, and the potatoes and cream had the potential to be lovely. But the strong flavor of canned fish totally dominated the dish. The whole thing reeked of anchovies. I like a touch of anchovy as much as the next person, but a whole can of them was just too much. The dish was incredibly fishy, and for me that was a big turn-off. I had hoped that the cream would temper the fishy flavor of the anchovies, but it didn't work out that way. If you are a huge anchovy fan, you might like this, but if not, steer clear.

This recipe isn't online.

We have been talking a lot today about family traditions and how they evolve over time. Basically, my special gentleman has been getting (jokingly) harassed about how he wasn't here with his family for Christmas Eve, and that was breaking tradition. It's a difficult issue, though, trying to balance out family holidays when you have a partner. We are very lucky in that my family has always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, so it is no problem for us to go to my special gentleman's family for Christmas Day. We are also blessed by the fact that our families only live about 9 hours apart (by car). It would be much harder if they were separated by thousands of miles and we had to fly. It works out well for us.

I have heard many stories though of very angry families because their child is missing Christmas because of a spouse. I have a good friend whose mother was brought to tears because he might miss Thanksgiving. Another friend has parents in the US, while her husband's parents are in Europe, and this causes problems almost every year. And worst of all, I have a friend whose parents dislike his wife, which only adds fuel to the conflict over who spends holidays where. Such issues are very real, and very common, so I am feeling particularly blessed this holiday that we got to spend time with both of our families and that everyone gets along wonderfully. Merry Christmas!

Posole (Page 486)

RECIPE #891

  • Date: Friday, December 12, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
I am trying to cook more from the Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb section of The Book, so I made this braised pork stew several weeks ago. I started by soaking dried New Mexico and guajillo chiles in simmering water. I then pureed the chiles with water, oregano, salt, cumin seeds, pepper, garlic, tomato, and onion to form the sauce for the pork. I simmered cubes of pork shoulder in the sauce for an hour, then added white hominy and cooked for another 30 minutes. I served it topped with chopped onion, cilantro, and radish. The dish was pretty good. The pork was wonderfully tender, although it was a little too fatty for my taste. I loved the hominy (I love essentially all corn products -- hominy is dried corn kernels soaked in alkali to remove the hulls). The sauce had a good flavor, but despite the variety of ingredients that went into it, it was a bit one-note. The flavor of the chiles dominated the rest of the dish. That flavor was so strong that although I enjoyed the first few bites very much, I grew tired of it before I finished my bowl. Overall, the dish was tasty, but I would have preferred a broth that was a bit milder in flavor.

This recipe isn't online.

Merry Christmas!!! I have had a lovely holiday so far. My immediate family celebrated Christmas in Madison on the 23rd with a big dinner (crown roast of pork with apple stuffing, asparagus soup with parmesan custards, pear and goat cheese salad, gnocchi amatriciana, and creme caramel) and present opening. On Christmas Eve we drove to Fond du Lac to celebrate with my extended family. We ate another big meal, opened more presents, and engaged in our traditional Christmas Eve activities (ping pong, Sheepshead, etc...). My special gentleman and I hit the road in the early evening and drove through the night to get to Westerville, Ohio for Christmas morning. Today we have been celebrating with my special gentleman's immediate family, and this weekend we will have two more Christmas celebrations with his extended family. It is a busy holiday season, full of good food and celebration!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Buckwheat Pepper Crisps (Page 603)

RECIPE #890

  • Date: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I have been eying this recipe for a while now, and I finally got around to making it a couple weeks ago. I combined butter, egg, and milk in a blender and added a mixture of all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper and blended until smooth. Then I dropped the batter into teaspoon-size mounds on baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray. Then using the back of the spoon I spread out each mound until it was as thin as I could possibly spread it. I baked them until crispy and slightly golden, then repeated with more batches. If you are throwing a party and looking for a, "How did you possibly make this yourself?" effect, this recipe is a good way to go. These crisps came out unbelievably thin. It's hard to appreciate from the picture but they were paper-thin. Or maybe thinner. Prior to making them myself, I would have deemed it very difficult to get anything so thin by hand (in fact, though, it wasn't difficult at all). So in that sense, these were impressive. But the real question is, why would you want them to be so thin? They were so thin that they were incredibly delicate. You could hardly pick them up without them breaking to pieces, and there is no way these crisps could have supported any sort of dip, or topping. They were just too fragile. So as a cracker they were pretty useless. They did taste pretty good on their own. They had a bit of butteriness to them, which was complemented nicely by the heartiness of the buckwheat. They had a lot of pepper in them to give them a little kick. They were yummy and I enjoyed eating them, but I would have preferred a slightly thicker version of these crisps, which could have supported all sorts of delicious accompaniments. One warning: these are baked in many, many, many batches, and in that sense this recipe is very time consuming. I have a lot of patience in general for cooking, but not so much patience for preparing the 8th batch of the same thing, so I found this recipe a little frustrating.

Here is the recipe.

Hello from Wisconsin! I am home for a few days with my family in Madison. My special gentleman and I drove up on Saturday. It is incredibly cold here. Insanely cold. Inhumanely cold. Yesterday afternoon at some point my mom said with enthusiasm, "Look, it's up to 1 degree!" And that's on the Fahrenheit scale. Brrr.... It is so cold here that the adhesive that sticks the rear view mirror to the windshield in my car froze and then failed. So when I went out to my car yesterday the rear view mirror had just fallen off. It was just sitting there, near the gear shift, and the only thing left of it on the windshield was a little bit of frozen adhesive. Crazy! It's that cold... So I have been spending a lot of time inside, curled up near the fireplace, trying to stay warm! Fortunately, my agenda isn't too busy while I am here. I need to do a little more Christmas shopping, and I am making a pre-Christmas dinner for my immediate family, so there is cooking to be done! We have Christmas in 3 shifts: my immediate family celebrates on the 23rd, then we celebrate with my extended family on Christmas Eve, then we drive to Ohio to celebrate with my special gentleman's family on Christmas Day! Of these three meals, I am only responsible for the first one: a pre-Christmas Christmas dinner for my immediate family. I am especially happy to cook when the weather outside is like this. It seems very appealing to be in the kitchen where it is warm!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pignoli (Page 683)

RECIPE #889

  • Date: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+



I was craving something sweet so I made these Italian cookies last week to have around the house. I started by combining almond paste, powdered sugar, and salt in the food processor. Then I transfered the mixture to a bowl, added egg whites and honey, and beat until smooth. Using a pastry bag, I piped this mixture into little rounds on baking sheets. Then I topped each round with as many pine nuts and I could stick on there. I baked the cookies until golden, about 15 minutes. It was as simple as that! The cookies came out chewy on the inside, and slightly crispy around the outside. They had a strong almond flavor to them, and a nice sweetness. The pine nuts on top seemed a little odd to me -- not bad, just odd. My special gentleman agreed that although the cookie itself was "absolutely perfect," having the pine nuts on top was "unlike anything I've ever had before." He picked the pine nuts off and ate them separately from the rest of the cookie. I love pine nuts, but I would have liked these cookies better had they just had one slice of almond on top rather than a whole bunch of pine nuts. That said, these didn't last long around our household. They were tasty and we made short work of them.

Here is the recipe.

I love my job: doing research and teaching college mathematics. But there are two not-so-great parts of the job, that often occur around the same period of time:

1. Grading exams.
2. Dealing with students who cheated on the exam.

I actually don't mind grading as much as most people do. Sure, it's not the most fun way to spend your time, but I don't find it too terribly painful (at least not for the first 4 hours or so). But dealing with students who cheated is indeed a very miserable pastime. I believe very strongly in academic integrity, which means that if I catch a student cheating, I report him or her. Not everyone does this, but I think it is important. The university process for reporting is actually very easy for the faculty member. It involves filling out a single form explaining the incident, and what penalty you gave the student on his or her grade. Then as long as the student doesn't appeal, it is out of the faculty member's hands. The dean has the authority to add additional penalty (e.g. expulsion) which they are more likely to do if it is a second or third offense. The painful part of the process is confronting the student. After a student cheats, the first step in the process is that the faculty member meets with the student, presents the evidence, and gives the student a chance to respond. In my experience, these meeting usually go about 15 minutes. The student in question will typically beg you not to file against them. Sometimes he or she will deny having cheated at first, but usually the student will come around and confess to what he or she has done.

On Monday I gave my business calculus final, and I had a student cheat during the exam. I saw him looking at the paper of the student next to him, and when I compared the multiple choice sections of their two papers it was evident he had copied. The fact that they had so many of the same answers was particularly incriminating because he had copied off of someone who had a different version of the exam (so he had mainly copied answers that were wrong for his version of the test). I met with the student yesterday, and he spent nearly 90 minutes insisting he would never cheat before finally admitting that he had looked at the paper of the student next to him in order to check his answers, and then changed a few of his answers if hers seemed better. He still denied this was cheating, but obviously, I disagree. The saddest part of this particular case was that the student was doing OK in the class. If he had taken the exam without cheating he would have most likely ended up with a C for the semester. But since he cheated on the exam, I gave him a zero on the final, which obviously affected his grade adversely. In the 90 minutes he spent in my office yesterday, pleading with me not to fail him on the exam, I heard a lot about his life story. I do feel bad that this poor grade will affect this student's life in a negative way. But at the same time, it is hard for me to empathize with the level of dishonesty it takes to cheat on an exam, and then once caught, to lie about having cheated. There have to be consequences for actions like those.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sauerbraten (Page 421)

RECIPE #888

  • Date: Sunday, December 7, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Sauerbraten is a food that I have long been scared of (more on that below) so I put off making this recipe. But the other day I ran across this recipe in The Book, read it, and decided I should give sauerbraten another try. So I gave myself a little pep talk that went something like this, "Teena, sauerbraten is braised beef. You love braised beef. So get over it and make the recipe!" And I did and I was greatly rewarded. This dish was awesome. I started by marinating 3 and a half pounds of beef chuck roast for 3 days in a mixture of red wine, water, red wine vinegar, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, salt, and onions. After 3 days I removed the beef from the marinade, browned it, then braised it atop some cooked onions, in the strained marinade, for almost 3 hours. After it was falling apart tender, I made a sauce with the strained braising liquid, red wine vinegar, sugar, and raisins, thickened with a roux of butter and flour, and some gingersnap cookies! Yum! The beef was perfectly braised, and it had a wonderful flavor through and through -- the days of marinating were certainly effective. The sauce was tasty with lots of depth of flavor to it. I wasn't totally sold on the raisins in it, but other than that it was lovely. I am a huge fan of thickening sauces with gingersnaps (my gravy recipe standby for Thanksgiving is a gingersnap gravy!), and the cookies in this recipe added a nice flavor to the sauce. Overall this was a fantastic way to turn some cheap beef into something truly delicious!

This recipe isn't online.

So why the fear of sauerbraten? Well, when I was young (around 10 years old) I spent a few weeks at a German language immersion camp for a couple summers in a row. Yes, at the time I spoke German. No, I do not any more. It was a cool idea though. It was like a typical summer camp: swimming, canoeing, campfires, etc..., except that the counselors and other adults would only speak to you in German, and the kids were supposed to speak to each other only in German too (which they did -- more or less). We also had language class a couple hours a day to improve our skills. It is so much easier to pick up a language at that age than it is as an adult, so even without much background you could get by pretty well after a week or so. [Side Note: I was working out in the gym at Stanford one day when I was an undergraduate, and Chelsea Clinton came up to me and said, "You went there to?" I was wearing a t-shirt from this immersion camp, and apparently she and I had been there the same summer. Small world!] Anyway, the whole place was German themed. We sang German songs. We read German books. And, of course, we ate German food. I am a pretty flexible eater, but I was pickier in those days. And my parents raised me with the rule that I could eat (or not eat) whatever I wanted. We didn't have any of this Clean Plate Club nonsense in our house, and we weren't required to eat things we didn't like. Not so at German camp. The rule enforced there was that you had to try everything. For me, now, that sounds like a fun rule, but for a 10-year-old version of me, it was bad. I didn't like being forced to eat things that didn't taste good. And although the food there was pretty decent, a lot of it just didn't appeal to me. For instance: sauerbraten. I ate it. But it has since been ingrained in my mind as one of the few foods that someone has forced me to eat when I didn't want to. And until I made this, I don't think I had eaten it since. Turns out, I love it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter Vegetables with Horseradish Dill Butter (Page 526)

RECIPE #887

  • Sunday, December 7, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

The weather is certainly wintery, so I figured now was as good a time as any to make this dish of winter vegetables. Aside from having to cut up many veggies, this dish was pretty quick. I cut red potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and turnips into pieces. In one steamer I steamed the carrots and potatoes, and in another steamer I steamed the Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and turnips. When all the veggies were tender I tossed them with a mixture of melted butter, horseradish, cider vinegar, fresh dill, salt, and pepper. The result was yummy! Typically when dill appears in a recipe I find myself commenting, "It would be better with less dill." I like dill, but it is such a strong flavor, I often think recipes have too much of it. Not so in this case. The dill went wonderfully with the horseradish and both were perfect complements to this assortment of winter vegetables. They added a kick of flavor to what otherwise might have been a bit dull. I generally prefer roasted root vegetables to steamed ones, but the sauce in this recipe was great on the steamed veggies. My one complaint about this recipe was that it said to steam the veggies, "until just tender, 18 to 24 minutes." I checked them for the first time after 17 minutes, and they were already over-cooked. Everything was pretty mushy, and when I tried to toss with the sauce, some of the veggies fell apart. It would have been much better cooked just a couple minutes less. So if you are making this, be aware that you should start checking the veggies around 14 minutes, rather than 18. Other than that, this was a nice dish and a good way to enjoy vegetables in the depths of the winter.

The recipe in The Book has the same ingredients as this recipe, but online the amount of the ingredients is multiplied by some number between 1.5 and 4, depending on the ingredient.

Ah, exam day. My business calculus students took their final exam this morning. It went mostly fine, but as is typical for an exam day, I have been bombarded by student requests. An hour before the final I had a student who wanted to withdraw from the course so I wouldn't fail him. Now, just a few hours after the final ended, my Inbox is already full of emails from students wanting to know their grades, and what the curve was, and whether I will compute their course grade correctly... *sigh* This is not the most fun part of teaching.

One bright spot of humor in my day was reading what my students wrote in the blank where they were supposed to fill in their instructor's name. Some of them left it blank (So they don't know my name? Or they were worried they would spell it wrong?), some of them got it right, and then lots of people provided interesting new variants. The incorrect versions of my first name were exactly what I would have expected: Tena and Tina. Fair enough -- Teena is an unusual spelling, and a lot of them still got it right. It was my last night that produced some gems. Incorrect versions of my last name included: Gerbert, Geerhardt, Gerdhart, Gehrhardt, Gerheardt, Gerhdart, Gearhardt, Garhardt, Gerdhart, and Garhart. I think Gerbert is my favorite. That b in the middle just came out of nowhere. I think I will ask to be called Tena Gerbert from now on.

Now I am waiting for the departmental curve to be set for the final exam. Then I can finish and submit my course grades. Then the onslaught of student emails will really begin...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Long-Cooked Lamb Shoulder (Page 503)

RECIPE #886

  • Date: Thursday, December 4, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


The Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb section of The Book is one of my slowest sections, so I am trying to make more meat! To that end, I made this braised lamb dish a couple weeks ago. I started with a huge lamb shoulder, which I roasted for 30 minutes on top of a bed of onions, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. I seasoned the lamb with salt and pepper and roasted for another 30 minutes. Then I poured two whole bottles of white wine over the lamb shoulder, covered the roasting pan tightly with foil, and put it in the oven to braise for 4 hours. Then I added some potatoes and chopped tomatoes to the pan and braised for another hour and half. Sounds amazing right? I had seriously high hopes for this dish. I love braised meat. Absolutely love it. Perfectly braised meat is falling apart tender, and delicious! And it is nearly impossible to screw it up. In fact, the only way to mess it up is for the liquid you are braising in to be too hot. You want it at a bare simmer (if even that). A rolling boil is not what you are going for. That is exactly why I was surprised to see that this lamb shoulder would be braised in a 425 degree oven. That is extremely hot for braising. The standard oven temperature for braising is 325. You often also see 350 in recipes. But 425? Way too hot. And the final product reflected that. The lamb wasn't nearly as tender as it could have been. It had a bit of toughness to it that braised meat shouldn't have. Disappointing. My other complaint about this dish is that the potatoes and tomatoes didn't add much. In concept it seemed like a great thing. But the potatoes tasted bland, and the tomatoes detracted from the dish in my opinion. This certainly wasn't a bad dish. I ate it. I enjoyed it. But I wouldn't make it again. There are much better braised lamb recipes out there!

This recipe isn't online.

The recipes in The Book are divided into 21 sections. If you go to the Project Index on the right and scroll all the way to the bottom, you can see my progress divided up by section. The section I have nearest to completion is Grains and Beans (95.7% complete) followed closely by Sauces and Salsas (91.5% complete) and Cookies, Bars, and Confections (89.8% complete). Some sections are going much slower. However, this recipe marks a special moment. When this recipe registers on the Project Index, I will have completed 50% or more of the recipes from every single section in The Book! Overall, I have made about 68.5% of the recipes in The Book, so the fact that I am over 50% in every section means that they have been reasonably well distributed. That's good because I don't want to spend the last year of this project eating only Soups, or only Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves! My slowest sections at the moment are Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb (50% complete), Poultry (50%) complete, and Fish and Shellfish (50.5%) complete. I have been trying lately to make an effort to cook more from those sections, but all three of them are pretty long, especially Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb, with 126 recipes in it! Oh well -- at the end of the project if I have to eat Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb three meals a day, that wouldn't be so bad!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cranberry, Shallot, and Dried Cherry Compote (Page 904)

RECIPE #885

  • Date: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Since Thanksgiving I have been in the mood for some cranberries, so I made this compote last week. I have done a lot of cooking in my life, so it is rare these days to think, "Well I have never done this before." I had one of those moments while making this recipe though. The recipe started simply enough: blanch and peel shallots or red pearl onions. I used pearl onions, despite the fact (as frequent readers will know) that I think pearl onions are a huge pain in the ass. Once they were peeled I cooked them in some butter, then added sugar and white wine vinegar. Here's the unusual part though. I then cooked the mixture until the sugar caramelized to a deep golden color. Now, The Book is way into caramel, so it didn't surprise me to see caramel pop up. But I have definitely never made onion caramel before. And if you had asked me before, "How do you think onion caramel would taste?" I am not sure I would have made positive comments. I love onions. I love caramel. I even love caramelized onions. But onions in caramel sauce? Turns out it works. Once my onion caramel reached a nice golden color I dumped in some white wine, more vinegar, and salt. Just a minute later, some dried sour cherries went in as well. I cooked it for forty-five minutes more, until it was nice and syrupy, then I dumped in the cranberries along with some water, and cooked it until the berries burst. After cooling it was ready to serve. So how was it? It was pretty good. Between the sour cherries, the caramel, the vinegar, the cranberries, and the onions, there were a lot of strong flavors here. So I can certainly imagine that it wouldn't appeal to everyone. But I liked it. I thought the flavors went well together. The sweetness of the caramel did a lot to balance the tartness of the cranberries and cherries and the acidity of the vinegar. And in addition to a lot of flavor contrast, there was also nice textural contrast between the various components. It was definitely not your typical cranberry sauce (so if that is what you are looking for, keep looking), but I would certainly eat this with some turkey. It was a bold take on a Thanksgiving classic, and I think it worked.

Here is the recipe.

And just like that, the semester is over! Well, not exactly -- finals start Monday. But I taught my last classes of the semester yesterday. Now I just have a whole bunch of office hours, two review sessions to teach, two exams to proctor, and 130 exam papers to grade and the semester will really be over! When I put it like that, actually, it sounds like I have a long ways to go...
My business calculus students will take their final on Monday, which means that tomorrow (Sunday) I will be helping them for much of the day. Office hours in the afternoon, and a review session in the evening. For the most part, I think they are fairly well-prepared. Many of the students in that class have been working really hard, and I think the class as a whole will do ok on the final. In a course like this, where I teach just a fraction of the 1500 - 2000 students in the university who are taking the course this semester, the final is written departmentally rather than by the individual instructors. In some ways I like that because the students know the exam will be hard, but they don't blame me for it. In that class, at least, the students see me as being on "their side" to help them prepare for the exam written by the evil math department. Of course it's not really like that -- I participated in some way in the creation of this exam. But it's a good way for the students to see it. If they think of me as an ally they are more willing to come to me to get the help they need.

Hopefully on this fine Saturday evening, they are all sitting in their dorm rooms or apartments, diligently preparing for the exam! Ha ha ha...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chilled Celery Root in Mustard Sauce (Page 141)

RECIPE #884

  • Date: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Since the last celery-in-mustard dish I made from The Book was such a dud, I figured I might as well get this one out of the way too while I was at it. This one was definitely better. And easier to make. So in any celery-in-mustard contest, this would certainly beat that other recipe. Well, technically I guess it's not clear we would be able to enter this recipe in such a contest because indeed this recipe is made from celery root, rather than celery. But anyway... The idea here was simple. I cut some celery root into matchsticks, tossed them with salt and lemon and let them sit in the fridge for an hour. Then I drained them and dressed them in a mixture of mustard, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, sugar, pepper, and olive oil. I let the celery root sticks marinate for an hour, then served them topped with chopped chives. Overall, it wasn't bad. The celery root had a nice crispy texture to it, and the flavor of the dressing complemented it well. I still am not big on celery-themed dishes, and the celery flavor was indeed too much for me. But I enjoyed the first few bites of this that I ate. I wouldn't make it again, but it was perfectly fine. If you love the flavor of celery, you are sure to love this. It has all the flavor of celery without the textural problems!

This recipe isn't online.

You can tell that I have reached a point of end-of-semester fatigue because today I wore jeans to teach my classes! (*gasp*) I usually make a point of wearing either nice pants or a skirt/dress when I teach undergraduates. I am definitely in the minority on this one. Most math profs wear jeans and an old t-shirt nine days out of ten. But I think since I am so young, and a woman, it helps my students see me as a mathematical authority if I at least dress differently than they do. It's a funny thing actually. When I go to visit another university and give an invited talk in their research seminar, I feel totally fine about wearing blue jeans. But lecturing to a room of 80 undergraduates, I wear dress pants. One day last fall it was raining and I was tired, so I wore tennis shoes instead of my usual high heels, or nice flats. Within five minutes of arriving in my classroom one of my students called me out on it: "Why are you wearing tennis shoes? You never wear tennis shoes." I was shocked that they notice that kind of thing.

In any event, today I was tired, and knew that I had a long day ahead of me. I couldn't resist the temptation to wear jeans. So I put on some nice boots and a nice sweater and figured I looked professional enough. I also think it is late enough in the semester that most of my students have decided to take me seriously. It's a sign though that my resolve is wearing down and I am ready for the semester to be over!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Shrimp de Jonghe (Page 326)

RECIPE #883

  • Date: Sunday, November 30, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C

My special gentleman is a big fan of shrimp, so I made this last week before he left town. This recipe was a disappointment. It sounded so promising. We blanched some shrimp, then put them in a single layer in a baking dish. We topped them with a mixture of butter, garlic, salt, sherry, bread crumbs, parsley, and pepper. Then we sprinkled the whole thing with almonds and baked it until the shrimp were just cooked through. You are probably thinking to yourself, "How could that possibly be bad?" You would especially wonder that if I told you there was a whole stick of butter in that topping. Yum, right? But, no. Obviously the flavor was good -- all those things taste good and they taste good together. So where did it go awry? The texture. Crazy, huh? Instead of being delicious and crispy as breadcrumbs should be, the topping was soggy. Very gross. We took it out of the oven when the shrimp were cooked through and the topping was incredibly mushy. It was so gross that we added an extra step at the end of the recipe: we threw it under the broiler for a couple minutes. Of course that meant the shrimp were a bit overcooked, but it would have been worth it for crispy topping. Sadly, although the broiler made the very top of it a little crisp, but right under that there was sogginess. I am sure this was not what the recipe intended. But I followed the directions exactly and that's what I ended up with. My special gentleman carefully scraped all the topping off of each shrimp before eating it. I just ate canned soup for dinner instead. This recipe: not a winner.

Here is the recipe.

My special gentleman and I dated for about a year before I moved away to Indiana. When we started dating (in Boston) we knew that I would finish my PhD and leave a year later, and he would be staying in Boston to finish his postdoc at MIT. At the beginning I don't think either of us really thought we would stay together when I left, but when the time came it was clear we had a good thing going. There was no way we were going to give it up just because of a 1000 measly miles between us. We made a rule when I left that we would never go more than 18 days in a row without seeing each other. The number wasn't totally arbitrary. We were doing a lot of weekend visits that semester, and that is the number of days between visits if you see each other every third weekend. When we came up with this 18 day rule, a lot of my friends laughed at me. I think the laughing was one part, "Oh my God, she's crazy," and one part, "They will never pull that off." Yes, I am crazy, but we also have pulled it off. Now, 16 months later, I can happily say that we haven't ever gone more than 18 days without seeing each other. So, yes, we have traveled a lot. And yes, the traveling sometimes got tiring. But it was totally worth it. Long distance isn't always easy, but it also hasn't been nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Part of that, I think, is knowing that it can never be more than 18 days. My special gentleman is away in Boston now, but I am happy (really, ecstatic!) to say that this is his last period of time living in Boston. He will be in Indiana in a few days, and he will officially live here for the next 8 months! Yay for that!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Celery Victor (Page 532)

RECIPE #882

  • Date: Tuesday, November 26, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

You know how there are some actors who never get cast as the leading man? You know, the guy who makes the perfect sidekick, or the serious colleague, or the dysfunctional brother. There are some great actors who are always cast in those supporting roles. And it works. They are able to complement the actors around them, to improve the performance of the leading man. But they themselves are never cast in that leading role. Perhaps it is frustrating to be that kind of actor -- I don't know. But those roles are important to a movie, and those actors are often equally or more talented than their leading man counterparts.

If a dish were a movie, celery should be such an actor. I like celery. I fully appreciate its uses: its place in a standard mirepoix is foundational for building sauces and stocks. It provides delicious crunch to many salads. And I wouldn't dare make my mother's tuna casserole without it. But celery, I think, is not meant to be the leading man. Why is it not enough for celery to play a supporting role, which it does brilliantly? Why must there be dishes like this one where celery is the star?

That's not to say that this dish was terrible -- it wasn't. But why would you ever do this? Celery ribs were boiled in chicken stock until tender and then chilled until cold. They were then topped with a dressing of mustard, sugar, chicken stock, canola oil, salt, pepper, and chives. Finally, the dish was sprinkled with celery leaves. My problem with this recipe wasn't one of execution of concept -- I had more of a conceptual problem with it. Why would you want to eat cold, cooked celery? If you were going to eat that, this is probably the best way to do it. The dressing was very tasty, and went just fine with the celery. But the texture of boiled celery is completely unappealing. My special gentleman suggested that the dish would have been better had the celery been raw, and I think he was right. And while celery is delicious as a complement to other flavors, a whole dish of celery was, well, a bit too much celery. The Book tells me that this dish was created in 1916 in San Francisco. It's a famous dish apparently. The fact that I have never eaten it before may reflect that it has gone out of fashion. Perhaps many modern palates agree with my assessment: Why would you do this?

I won't be making this one again. I am happy to leave celery in the supporting actor category, and look for leading men elsewhere.

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Swedish Ginger Thins (Page 679)

RECIPE #881

  • Date: Tuesday, November 26, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Spencer, Ellen, Brenda, Scarecrow, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: A-


Yes, this is the fourth dessert I am blogging about in a row, which means it was the fourth dessert I made in a row. Don't judge me! I wanted to make some cookies to bring to my special gentleman's parents' house when we went there for Thanksgiving. These sounded seasonally appropriate so I gave them a try. I didn't have a good mental picture of how these cookies would turn out while I was making them. But, they ended being a yummy version of thin, crispy, ginger cookies that I know and love (yes, I probably could have guessed that from the name of the recipe, but I didn't think about it too hard!). The recipe was a little bit atypical in that it started with making whipped cream, which got folded into the cookie dough at some point. I certainly have never added whipped cream to a dough for rolled cookies, but these cookies were great, so I'm not complaining. Other than that it was pretty typical: cream butter and sugar, beat in corn syrup and whipped cream. Sift in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, and beat until combined. I then chilled the dough. The recipe said to chill for at least 2 hours. I ended up chilling for 2 days. Then I divided the dough in fourths, rolled out one piece at a time, and cut out the shapes you see above. Then I baked them until they were delicious and crispy. I spent quite a while cutting out these cookies -- the recipe made a lot! Enough that I gave a tin full to Scarecrow and Brenda, sent a tin full to Spencer and Ellen, brought a tupperware full to Karen and Dave's and still had enough for my special gentleman to eat at least a dozen the night I made them. There were a lot (the recipe says 13 dozen and I had at least that many!). Mmmm... they were good. They were very thin and nice and crisp, with a lovely buttery-ness and a spiced flavor. They were the perfect cookie for dipping in tea. Yum! The only downside of this recipe is that it was a bit of a pain in the ass -- lots of rolling and cutting, and rolling again, etc... But in my opinion it was worth it for the oodles and oodles of yummy cookies that it produced!

Here is the recipe.

Sunday night. I am sitting on the sofa in my PJs and fuzzy slippers at 9pm on this Sunday evening. I had such a nice weekend. Friday night Teresa and I went to see the Nutcracker, which I hadn't seen in ages. I had almost forgotten what a strange, strange story it is. It was fun though, and some of the dancers were very impressive. Yesterday and today I spent most of the day in the office. I like being in my office on the weekend. It's very peaceful, and I get a lot more done that I would if I stayed at home. I also get a lot more done than I do on a weekday, because there are fewer distractions.

On Friday night I didn't set my alarm, so yesterday I slept until I woke up naturally -- a luxury I rarely enjoy. It was amazing how alert I felt all day yesterday. It's crazy what 9 hours of sleep will do for you! I was very productive at the office, and then I came home and got a bunch of cooking done. Then I got a long night of sleep last night and did the same today. Perhaps I should try to get more sleep regularly!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prune Armagnac Ice Cream (Page 858)

RECIPE #880

  • Date: Monday, November 25, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Mike M, and Teresa
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Admit it: this doesn't sound that good. The words "prune" and "ice cream" just don't go together the way "chocolate" and "ice cream" or "butter pecan" and "ice cream" do. But it's in The Book and I am in this project to make them all, so I made this ice cream. And actually, it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. In fact, it was pretty ok. I started by macerating prunes in Armagnac (a brandy from France) for a day. Then I heated some cream, half and half, and vanilla bean just to a boil. In a separate bowl I whisked together egg yolks and sugar. I tempered in the hot cream mixture and cooked the custard on the stove top to 170 degrees. I strained the custard and chilled it until cold. At that point, this was no different than the ice cream base for a typical vanilla ice cream. And like any good ice cream base for vanilla ice cream, it was delicious! Then I ground up my macerated prunes in the food processor and mixed it in to the custard base. I finished the ice cream by freezing it in my ice cream maker. The end result was pretty decent. To be completely honest, if I had just frozen the vanilla ice cream base before adding in the prunes, I certainly would have liked the end result better. So, why add the prune and Armagnac bit? (Especially since it turns out that Armagnac costs a pretty penny!) But if you are determined to make prune ice cream, this certainly wasn't bad. One thing I appreciated about the recipe was that the alcohol flavor from the Armagnac was present, but it didn't dominate the ice cream. Some of the alcoholic ice creams in The Book are incredibly boozy, and this one was more balanced. I only had a small bit of this myself before bringing it over to Mike and Teresa's house for them to enjoy (they appreciate ice cream much more than me and my special gentleman -- and it makes me happy to find a good home for the food I make!). I think they ate it, but Mike's comment after first tasting it stuck with me, "Have you ever considered making chocolate ice cream?" Ha ha ha... Someday I will make regular ice cream flavors again. When this project is done.... Someday...

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book calls for Armagnac instead of Tequila, and 1/2 cup sugar.

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I was once a vegetarian. For ten years. Right now, as I type this, I have a 7 pound piece of lamb braising in the oven. In case you don't have a sense of how big that is: it's big! I have another 4 pounds of beef marinating in the fridge. When I went to the butcher to buy all this meat, the guy looked at me and said, "You're not going to cook this all at once, are you?" I just laughed and said, "Probably not." He also tried to dissuade me from buying such a big piece of meat by telling me, "You would have to cook that for, like, 6 hours." To which I responded, "That is exactly what I am planning to do!" He just stared at me like I was a little off my rocker. And, frankly, maybe I am. Because that 7 pound piece of lamb in the oven: it's just for me! I'm not having a dinner party. I'm not preparing a big meal to share. I'm just doing my usual daily cooking. So after it finishes up its 6+ hours in the oven, I will package that braised lamb in various tupperware containers, some of which I will freeze, and the rest of which I will stick in the fridge for my own consumption. Mmmmm.... I love meat! The funny thing is, when I was a vegetarian meat didn't appeal to me at all. I didn't miss it. And even when I started eating meat again, I didn't actually ever eat it. My friends called me a "theoretical meat eater" because the only time I would ever eat meat was if I was at someone's house and they served it to me. I didn't want to be rude, but I really didn't find it appealing. It wasn't until I went to culinary school a few years ago that I started to discover the wonder of meat. And now, looking back, I think of those vegetarian years as dark ages! That's not to say that I don't love vegetarian food -- I do! But I love meat too! That reminds me, time to peak at my huge hunk of lamb...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Chocolate Espresso Pots de Creme (Page 832)

RECIPE #879

  • Date: Sunday, November 23, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Lauren K, Beth, Norm, Kelly, and Scott B
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this recipe because, well, it sounded amazing. What's not to love about little cups of creamy, chocolate-espresso goodness? Indeed, these pots de creme were very tasty -- and very fast to make! A winning combination. I started by melting chopped chocolate in a hot mixture of cream, milk, and instant espresso powder. In a separate bowl I whisked together egg yolks and sugar, then added the chocolate mixture to it. I poured this mixture into ramekins set in a water bath in a baking pan, then covered the pan tightly with foil. I baked the pots de creme in the oven until they were set around the edges, then refrigerated until cold. I garnished them with a bit of shaved chocolate before serving. The result: yum! The texture was divine and the flavor was rich and chocolatey with just a hint of espresso. I did make one serious mistake which negatively affected the outcome of the recipe. The recipe called for these to be made in pot de creme cups or 4-5 oz ramekins. I have a ton of ramekins (just ask my special gentleman sometime about me and my ramekins -- it's hilarious to watch him get all riled up about how long he spent packing ramekins the last time I moved!). Mysteriously though I don't have a lot of small ramekins. I have 4 4-oz ramekins that my brother gave me years ago (like the one you see above), and then a couple 6 oz ramekins which I had lent out when I made this recipe. After that I only have 8 oz or bigger ramekins. So I made 4 of these in the 4 oz ramekins, and baked the other 4 in creme brulee dishes (which are approximately 4 oz). This meant I had to do two separate pans (since the water baths needed to be different heights) and I foolishly didn't consider how much faster the ones in the creme brulee dishes would set (since they were so shallow). So I accidentally over baked that batch. The flavor was still awesome, but the texture was not smooth and creamy like the 4-oz ramekin batch. The lesson: watch these carefully and don't over bake! Mmmm.... I could go for one of these right now. Too bad they are long gone!

Here is the recipe.

The good thing about Thanksgiving break is that it provides a much needed rest late in the semester. The bad thing about Thanksgiving break is that it is so hard to get back in the swing of things after it. I love teaching, but this week has really been a struggle so far. Thirty minutes into my second class this afternoon I just completely lost my train of thought. Mid-sentence I just stopped, and stared at the board. Five second later I remembered what I was saying and went on, but in that interstitial few seconds I just stood there thinking, "I'm about ready for this semester to be over." To add to my confused state, my two classes (business calculus and regular calculus) which are usually doing very different material, are doing very, very similar material this week. But it is introduced differently in each class, and the two sets of classes are expected to have different sets of skills. For example, in business calculus we don't teach the derivatives (or the integrals) of any trigonometric functions (isn't that odd?) whereas in regular calculus we use trig functions in every other example. So I often pause before I say something and think, "Where am I and which terminology do I use in this class? Is it a 'right-hand sum' or a 'right-endpoint approximation?'" This confusion, I think, adds to my exhaustion! My students are also exhausted it seems, and anxious about their rapidly approaching final exams. I got a half dozen panicked emails today about grades, "What do I need on the final to pass the class?" or "Is it still possible for me to get an A in the course?" Finals are indeed lurking just around the corner (next week is the last week of classes) and I am glad that my students are thinking about it already. Hopefully in addition to emailing me their concerns they are also studying!!! I, for one, am looking forward to finals week. It is usually a relatively relaxing week of the semester. And then, Christmas break!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lemon Souffle Tarts (Page 784)

RECIPE #878

  • Date: Sunday, November 23, 2008 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Norm, Kelly, and Scott B
  • Recipe Rating: B


I have been wanting to make this recipe for quite some time, but didn't have the 2 8-inch fluted tart pans required to do so (The Book insists that to get the right ratio of crust to filling one must make two smaller tarts rather than one bigger one). Then a couple weeks ago I received a mystery package from Sur la Table in the mail. What could it be? I didn't order anything, and it seemed too early to be receiving wedding or Christmas presents. I tore it open (presents, especially of the culinary variety, are very exciting!) to find inside not only two beautiful 8 inch fluted tart pans, but also a kugelhopf pan which I need for another dessert from The Book. This lovely gift came from Rachel. It was a "Thank you for throwing me a baby shower" gift. Thank you Rach! I wanted to put my new equipment to use right away, so I made these lemon tarts to bring to dinner at Paul's house a few days later.

I have made many tarts in my life, but it had genuinely never occurred to me to fill a tart crust with a souffle filling. The end result wasn't bad. I started by making a sweet pastry crust. Pastry crust with sugar and egg in it (aka pate sucree) is notoriously a pain in the ass to deal with. This one was no exception, although the fact that I was making two smaller tarts rather than one bigger one helped out quite a bit. Usually with pate sucree, rolling it out is reasonably easy but getting it into the pan without having it fall apart is another matter. In this recipe, working with the smaller rounds of dough helped matters considerably. After I got them in the pans, I blind baked the crusts then let them cool. Meanwhile I made a souffle-like filling. I cooked a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice on the stovetop, then gently folded it into egg whites that had been beaten with sugar until stiff and glossy. This filling was spooned into the tart shells and baked until the filling was puffed and golden.

The crusts of these tarts were absolutely delicious and the filling had a great lemon flavor and a lovely light texture. I had only two hesitations about this recipe. One, after the recommended time in the oven the filling was indeed puffed and golden. But when we cut into the tarts later, the texture of the filling wasn't uniform. In particular, the center of the tart wasn't completely set. So while the texture away from the middle was quite nice, the middle was a bit runny, which wasn't appealing. This probably would have been fixed by another 3 minutes in the oven. My second complaint is that although I loved the crust and I liked the filling a lot, I didn't really love them together. Perhaps there is a reason we don't typically bake souffles in tart crusts -- it makes for an odd combination. The tart crust was rich and almost shortbread like in texture, while the filling was airy and light. Instead of complementing each other in a positive way, I found this combination unappealing. That's not to say that it tasted bad -- it certainly did not. I will happily admit that I went back for seconds. But if you are looking for the perfect lemon tart recipe, I don't think this is it.

This recipe isn't online.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Eggs and Spinach on Buckwheat Crepes (Page 640)

RECIPE #877

  • Date: Sunday, November 23, 2008 -- 10am
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I have been traveling so much on the weekends lately that I haven't been cooking much in the way of brunch food. My special gentleman loves brunch though, so I threw together this dish for us a couple weekends ago. This dish was simple enough: buckwheat crepes (see post below) were filled with a cooked spinach mixture, then folded up and topped with a fried egg, some sour cream, and chopped chives. The end result certainly tasted good, but I am unlikely to make it again. The main issue that both me and my special gentleman had with it was that the spinach filling was bland. I think some cheese could have improved matters considerably. I liked cooked spinach as much as the next person. But on its own the flavor isn't particularly strong and the texture isn't great. By itself it doesn't make a great crepe filling. It would certainly be possible to come up with a vegetable mixture that includes spinach and would have done this crepe proud (the addition of some chopped mushrooms, for instance, would have improved matters), but as it was it was only ok. Aside from the filling the rest of the dish was nice. The fried egg complemented the hearty crepe well and the sour cream and chives gave the dish some much-needed punches of flavor.

Here is the recipe.

Somehow I let Thanksgiving slip right by without really commenting on it. I didn't cook at all for Thanksgiving this year (we ate Thanksgiving dinner at my special gentleman's aunt and uncle's house) which gave the holiday a very different feel for me. The holiday did remind me, however, of the many things I am thankful for this holiday season. For instance:
  • My special gentleman, who makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.
  • My health and the health of my family and friends.
  • Microwave popcorn and cold beer.
  • A job that I love.
  • Down comforters.
  • Hot showers.
  • Our upcoming wedding.
  • The support of amazing friends.
  • All of the people who cook and eat with me from The Book.
  • Cooking on Saturday afternoons.
  • The graduate students who answer the Webwork emails my business calculus students send.
  • A wonderful groups of colleagues/friends in the math department.
  • Another year of delicious food!
  • Being very happy with my life.

Buckwheat Crepe Batter (Page 640)

RECIPE #876

  • Date: Sunday, November 23, 2008 -- 10am
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

These crepes were a component of a a brunch dish I made last weekend, which will be my next post. The picture you see above is of the entire dish -- I forgot to photograph the crepes alone. These crepes were quite good. The batter was very typical: butter, flour, salt, milk, and eggs. There were two things that made this crepe batter a bit different from a typical one. For one, the melted butter that went into the batter was browned on the stove before it was added. Browned butter has a lovely, nutty flavor to it. This flavor was very subtle in the finished crepes, but I think it did have a positive effect on their taste. The other interesting thing about this recipe was that instead of using all white flour, this recipe called for a combination of buckwheat flour and white flour (with much more of the former than the latter). The buckwheat flour gave the crepes a nice hearty flavor. I liked these crepes quite a bit. The batter was thicker than typical crepe batter, which meant that the crepes also ended up a bit thicker than usual ones. But that slight thickness worked nicely with the hearty flavor of the crepes. We used these crepes with a savory filling, and they were excellent that way. I'm not sure these crepes would be as good with a sweet filling (since they have such a hearty, nutty flavor) but my special gentleman used the extra batter to make himself some lemon sugar crepes and he said they were excellent, so maybe it does work fine. I liked this batter quite a lot and I will certainly use it again for making savory crepes.

Here is the recipe.

For me certain foods have very strong connections to particular memories. Crepes are one such food. It's a mysterious thing because I have eaten dozens and dozens of crepes in my life, and the memory I have attached to them is not of the first crepe I ever ate, nor is it of the best crepe of my life. The crepe itself was rather unremarkable. It was in the summer of 2006, and Emilee and I were spending a couple days in Las Vegas on a little girls-only vacation. We spent a lot of time wandering through the various casinos, marveling at their size, and the ridiculousness of it all. We were wandering through Paris, Paris one evening around dinner time and we saw a little crepe place. We stopped in front of it, trying to figure out if crepes sounded good. As we stood there, inspecting the menu, the man behind the counter started speaking to us in a completely fake French accent. That pushed the prospect of eating crepes inside a hotel in the shape of the Eiffel tower from absurd to completely ridiculous. I couldn't stop giggling. I don't even remember what kind of crepes we ate that evening. What I do remember is that we spoke in terrible French accents throughout the meal, and laughed and laughed. That whole trip was lovely (and completely absurd -- Vegas is so bizarre!), and I hope I always think of it when eating crepes, wherever I may be.