Thursday, February 26, 2009

Roast Pork Shoulder Cubano (Page 477)

RECIPE #949

  • Date: Friday, February 6, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: B


I made this pork for dinner when my parents and future in-laws came to visit a few weeks ago. This recipe was pretty simple. I started with a bone-in fresh pork arm picnic shoulder with skin. I made some small incisions in the skin and rubbed a mixture of lime juice, garlic, salt, oregano, and cumin into the incisions. I put the pork in a roasting pan, poured more lime juice around it and roasted for 30 minutes. Then I added some water and cider vinegar to the roasting pan, covered, and roasted some more, basting (everything but the skin) occasionally. Eventually I started basting under the skin as well, then I removed the cover, and roasted the pork uncovered until the skin was crispy, In total this spent about 4 hours in the oven. While the meat rested I reduced the pan juices to form a sauce. I served the sliced pork with pieces of skin and the pan sauce. This pork was pretty good. Slow-cooked pork is one of my favorites. (In fact, when I made a list of requests for the menu for our wedding, on my list was "Something delicious with braised pork.") This wasn't the best slow-cooked pork in The Book, but it was pretty good. The skin was delicious (of course!) -- very flavorful and crispy. The meat was a touch dry in parts, but overall it was cooked pretty nicely. The sauce was a let down. It was so incredibly acidic and tart that it was difficult to eat. I resorted to stirring in some sugar, which made it a little more palatable. But many of us put the sauce from the mushroom charlottes (see post below) on our pork instead of this sauce. This dish wasn't bad at all, but I doubt I will make it again.

Here is the recipe.

When I was young my grandparents had a huge chest freezer in the basement -- the kind someone has always has a dead body stored in on Law and Order. I remember being barely tall enough to see inside, peering over the edge, wondering how two people could possibly eat all the food that fit into that thing!

I have been thinking a lot lately about things that I would like to have in Real Life. My special gentleman is starting a tenure-track job in the fall, and hopefully I will have a tenure-track job sometime in the not-so-distant future myself. The two of us have each moved residences every 1 to 3 years since we left our respective childhood homes 11 or 12 years ago. With such transient lifestyles, one hesitates to acquire too many things. One also hesitates to buy a house. So we have each rented all this time, and never have I rented a place quite large enough for a chest freezer. But now that my special gentleman is starting a permanent job, we have starting talking about Real Life type things: buying a house, etc... And it has got me thinking: what do I want in Real Life? Somehow I have become fixated on the freezer. It's not so much the freezer itself, but more the things it represents: owning a home, settling down in one location... To have such a freezer one first has to have the space, which I have never had in my adult life. But even if I had room for a huge chest freezer right now, I would hesitate to buy one and fill it up. You have to stay in one place a long time to get through a whole huge freezer-full of food. And I haven't done that kind of staying in quite some time.

Real Life seems a bit scary to me -- having a mortgage, having kids... these things are still very intimidating. But I am excited about going forward. With our wedding on the horizon, the one major hurdle between us and Real Life is finding permanent jobs for me and my special gentleman in the same place. Hopefully that will turn out well, and then my freezer dreams may become a reality!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mushroom Charlottes with Port and Currant Sauce (Page 67)

RECIPE #948

  • Date: Friday, February 6, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Karen H, Dave, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I chose this first course as part of the meal for my parents and future-in-laws when they visited a few weeks ago. I wanted to serve at least one dish that was a little bit classy, and this was that dish. My special gentleman did a lot of the work on this one. He started by cooking butter, onions, garlic, mushrooms, salt, pepper, thyme. We then transferred this mixture to a kitchen towel and wrung out as much liquid as possible, reserving the liquid. He then stirred a mixture of egg, cream cheese, and cream into the mushroom mixture, and then added chopped parsley, grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper. To assemble, we cut rounds from white sandwich bread using a cookie cutter, then cut small squares from other slices of bread. We brushed all the bread slices with melted butter, then fit them into ramekins -- using the rounds to line the bottoms and slightly overlapping squares around the sides. My special gentleman then filled the bread-lined ramekins with mushroom filling, and topped each ramekin with another bread round. The charlottes were baked until the bread was golden, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, my special gentleman made a sauce of port, currants, beef stock, reserved mushroom liquid, currant jelly, red wine vinegar, arrowroot, salt and pepper. When the charlottes were done baking, we inverted them each onto a plate, and drizzled with sauce.

These charlottes were extremely good. The bread became wonderfully crispy, and the filling was very tasty. It had a lovely creaminess to it and a rich mushroom flavor. What really made the dish, though, was the sauce. The flavors from the port, beef stock, and mushroom liquid worked together beautifully. The currant jelly gave it a touch of sweetness and the red wine vinegar contributed a nice acidity. It was thickened just the right amount to have a perfect consistency. It was really an excellent sauce. The sauce we made for the meat left something to be desired, so I also ate this sauce with my pork later in the meal. It was great for that purpose as well. This dish was on the time-consuming side, but everyone enjoyed it very much. I would certainly make it again!

Unfortunately, this recipe is not online.

At the beginning of every semester I tell myself that it won't be as busy as the previous ones. Yet, somehow they seem to always end up pretty busy! This semester so far has been relatively calm, but the craziness is about to start. On Friday afternoon my special gentleman and I are flying down to my parents' house in South Carolina. They recently sold their house, and they are giving us a lot of their furniture. So we will fly down after I teach on Friday and start driving back up on Saturday, in a big moving truck. Hopefully we will arrive back in Bloomington by Sunday afternoon, and unload the furniture into storage (to sit until we eventually buy a house somewhere). Then on Monday, it's back to work. We are having a whole bunch of mathematical visitors in the department next week, including my thesis advisor from MIT. So it will be a busy, busy week! After that I have a week to relax/catch up/give my class a midterm before I head off for a week in Boston (spring break!) followed by a week at a conference in North Carolina. And then it will almost be April! Which means the semester will be wrapping up, and our May wedding will be just over the horizon! So maybe my semester isn't going to be as calm as I thought, but I am looking forward to all of these various trips and visits, so I can't complain!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Potato Croquettes (Page 569)

RECIPE #947

  • Date: Friday, February 6, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe was part of the meal I made when my parents and future in-laws came to visit a couple weeks ago. This recipe was essentially mashed potatoes mixed with cream puff dough, then piped out of a pastry bag and deep fried. Yes, it sounds like a strange thing to do, but what you end up with are the lightest, most delicious french fries you've ever had! To make these I started by roasting, then peeling and ricing some potatoes. Then I made a typical pate a choux (aka cream puff dough) from butter, salt, nutmeg, water, flour, and eggs. I added the potatoes to the finished dough and beat it all together. I made this mixture a day ahead, so that on the day of the dinner I simply had to pipe it directly into the hot oil. Once the croquettes had browned and cooked through I removed them from the oil and sprinkled them with salt. In summary: yum! these were really good. They had a nice potato flavor to them, but were wonderfully light at the same time. The exterior had a great crunch, which was an awesome contrast to the smooth and light interior. In my picture they don't look so cute because in my rush to get dinner on the table I photographed some of the less photogenic ones. But most of them were reasonably good looking, and had I been more careful while piping it would have been easy to make them consistently attractive. I was just too distracted by all the visitors to do that! This version of the classic French dish Pommes Dauphine is definitely worth a try!

Here is the recipe.

Generally speaking, I have been feeling pretty balanced about this whole wedding planning thing. One of the reasons my special gentleman and I decided to have a super small wedding was so that it wouldn't be a huge pain to plan (the other big reason was so that we can spend a lot of time with everyone who is coming!). Our wedding doesn't have a theme. Or a color scheme. There is not going to be a professional florist involved. Or a professional photographer. As weddings go, it will be pretty low key (except for the five-course meal part of it -- I guess that's not so low key!). I was feeling pretty good about all this, and pretty on top of things. Then, a few days ago, I got an email from one of my good friends. She is also engaged and also getting married this summer. The email contained a link to her wedding website, and it was BEAUTIFUL. It contained tons of information, lots of fun stories and pictures. It even had wedding related games on it that you could play. It had a guestbook where lots of people had posted their happy wishes for the couple. It was the nicest wedding website I have ever seen. After spending 15 minutes going through it, I turned to my special gentleman and said, "We don't even have a wedding website!" He gave me this look as though I had said something crazy. No, actually he gave me a look as if he didn't even understand the words I had said! He's right -- we don't need a wedding website. We are inviting so few people that we talk frequently to everyone who's coming. Any information they need they can just ask us for. But in that moment I certainly understood how easy it is to get wrapped up in the whole wedding planning thing. When I had that, "We need to have a wedding website -- everyone has a wedding website!" reaction, it suddenly became clear to me how it is that people end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on their wedding. A website though, of course, is free -- and if I were less lazy about my wedding planning, I might make one. But chances are, I won't. Instead I will enjoy my friend's lovely website, and try to stay calm planning a small, intimate wedding for me and my special gentleman!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Artichokes with Garlic Pimiento Vinaigrette (Page 519)

RECIPE #946

  • Date: Friday, February 6, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Terry, Teri, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: B


A few weekends ago my parents and my special gentleman's parents both came to visit. For this occasion I made a big dinner. I wanted some vegetable dish to go with the meal, but the Vegetables section of The Book is running quite low. For whatever reason, though, I hadn't yet touched the artichoke recipes in that section. The section starts with three artichoke recipes in a row: Artichoke Bottoms Braised in Olive Oil with Garlic and Mint, Artichokes with Garlic Pimiento Vinaigrette, and Fried Artichokes. I chose the middle one because it looked like the least work (which, when you are making a big meal, can be very important!). Artichokes are one of those foods where you have to wonder, who ever thought to eat this thing? The edible part of an artichoke is pretty small relative to the entire thing, and also pretty well hidden. It's encapsulated in leaves and topped with an inedibe fuzzy choke. It's as if the whole vegetable is screaming, "Don't eat me!" But if you can get past its various defenses, artichokes are tasty little guys. There seem to be two choices in preparing artichokes:
1. A lot of work for the person preparing the artichokes.
2. Slightly less work for the person preparing them, but a lot of work for the person eating them.
The first artichoke recipe I mentioned is a good example of type 1 (I will blog about that recipe soon). It involved extracting everything edible from the artichoke before cooking it, making it very simple to eat. This recipe, however, was more of a type 2.

I started by doing the following process, one artichoke at a time. I cut the top 1/2 inch off the artichoke, then used a scissors to cut off whatever leaf tips remained. I rubbed the cut surfaces with lemon. Then I carefully opened out the leaves until I got to the purple ones inside (cursing all the while -- some of those little leaves are pointy, and they kept stabbing me!). I pulled out the purple leaves and enough other leaves to expose the choke. Then I scooped out the fuzzy mess with a melon ball cutter and squeezed lemon juice into the artichoke. Repeat. Once they were all ready to go, I cooked the artichokes until the bottoms were tender in boiling salted water with lemon juice added. I dunked them in ice water to stop the cooking, then I drained them. I topped the artichokes with a vinaigrette of garlic, salt, white wine vinegar, olive oil, finely chopped pimientos, parsley, and pepper.

Then came the challenge of eating them. Ok, challenge is the wrong word. It wasn't hard to eat them, only time consuming. The delicious edible part of an artichoke is at the bottom of each leaf. Eating them, leaf by leaf, scraping off the tasty part with your teeth, takes quite some time. Half of the diners gave up on their artichokes before ever reaching the heart (which is the best part, but also the most hidden). Overall, the dish was fine. Often artichokes are served hot just with a dish of melted butter for dipping the leaves, and I think I prefer them that way. The vinaigrette in this recipe tasted good, but I would have prefered eating the artichoke warm. I liked the dish well enough but I am not sure it was worth the effort for either the person preparing it, or the person eating it!

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, but the one in The Book has the ingredients for the dressing doubled.

Braised Pheasant with Red Cabbage and Wild Rice (Page 405)

RECIPE #945

  • Date: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. The first step was cooking some wild rice briefly in oil, then baking it in chicken stock until tender. In the meantime, I cooked bacon until it was crispy, then cooked some sliced onions and red cabbage in the bacon fat. I added red wine vinegar and salt to the vegetables and set them aside. I then butchered the pheasant, putting its neck, wing tips, and backbone in a small saucepan, and cutting the remaining bird into four serving pieces. I simmered the backbone etc... in water to form a quick stock. While that was simmering, I rubbed the pheasant with salt, pepper, and allspice, then seared the pheasant pieces in oil. After I removed the bird from the pan, I cooked raisins and shallots in the fat remaining in the skillet. I added (in several steps) gin, white wine, tomato paste, a rosemary sprig, and salt and pepper. Then I put the pheasant back in, covered the dish and braised it in the oven (by this time the rice was out of the oven). The Book said to braise the dish until the breasts were cooked through 15-20 minutes, and then remove the breasts and continue to braise until the legs and thighs were cooked through, another 15- 20 minutes. I took the dish out the first time after 17 minutes in the oven, and not only were the breasts cooked through, they were overcooked! And the legs and thighs were also done. It would have been better had I not cooked it so long. I stirred minced rosemary and halves of grapes into the braising liquid to form a sauce. I stirred the bacon and cabbage into the rice, and served it alongside the pheasant, topped with the sauce.

Overall this dish was pretty tasty. The meat was a bit dry because it was slightly overcooked. But it had a good flavor to it. I always prefer crispy skin on my poultry to not-so-crispy skin, and because this dish was braised the skin was not crispy, so that wasn't ideal. The sauce was very interesting -- gin definitely isn't a typical cooking liqueur, but it gave the sauce a very unique flavor. The wild rice/cabbage/bacon side dish was quite good. I love wild rice, and serving it alongside a game bird seemed very appropriate. This dish wasn't as good as some of the poultry dishes we have had lately, but it was still satisfying and tasty.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as the recipe here, except the one in The Book has more liquid in the wild rice (1 1/2 cups chicken stock) than the one online, and the one online has a shorter cooking time for the bird than the recipe in The Book (which would have improved matters!).

A friend of mine from high school found me on Facebook recently and then sent me a message asking me what I have been up to lately. I told him how I had finished my PhD and am now a post-doc in math. He sent me back a message where he called me a "math nerd." I didn't respond to his message for a few days because I was swamped. In the meantime, I think he was worried he had offended me with the math nerd comment. He wrote to me again, apologizing for saying that. When I got his apology, it made me laugh -- I hadn't even registered that being called a math nerd could possibly be insulting. If anything, I think of that as a complement. I love math -- it's my job. If people see that I am excited about math and personally committed to it, that makes me happy! So, yes, I am a math nerd! For instance, consider this weekend. Yesterday, I spent the day at a math conference at Purdue, leaving home at 6:45am and arriving back after 9pm. It was great fun -- I heard some interesting talks, saw some friends I don't see too often... I was more than happy to spend my Saturday in that way. Today I spent the afternoon in my office, preparing my course and working on one of my research projects. It was a lovely weekend -- but I can certianly imagine that to someone outside math that might sound pretty miserable! So, yes, I am a math nerd -- and proud of it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Steak au Poivre (Page 426)

RECIPE #944

  • Date: Monday, February 2, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

A few weeks ago, my special gentleman said, "I could go for some steak." He doesn't often make specific requests, so I would have been happy to humor him, but we didn't have any steak in the house. In fact the only protein we had were shrimp. So instead of making him steak, I made him a not-great shrimp salad (which, really, is nothing like steak). Afterwards, I thought, "Well that wasn't nearly as good as steak," and went rummaging through The Book for a steak recipe. It turned out there was one (and only one!) left, and it was this one. So I bought the ingredients and made it a few days later. How I made it through 3 years of this project without making Steak au Poivre is a mystery to me. I love steak. In particular, I love Steak au Poivre. Yet, somehow, I hadn't made it. Very mysterious.

Actually I was noticing the other day that when I flip through The Book lately, much of what's left seems to fall into one of two categories: One, food that sounds really bad to me (e.g. Tongue with Mustard Horseradish Sauce or Creamed Turnips), or two, food that sounds really excellent (e.g. Steak au Poivre or Roasted Apple Strudels). I think, without realizing it, I left myself some gems to keep me motivated. I knew there was Steak au Poivre in The Book, but every time I considered making it, I decided to save it for later. Until now!

I started by coarsely crushing some black peppercorns, then I rubbed the pepper all over two New York strips steaks. I let them sit at room temperature for an hour, then I heated vegetable oil and butter in a skillet until hot. I cooked the steaks in the skillet until they were medium rare. Then while I let the steaks rest I poured off the fat from the skillet, added butter and shallots, cooked them for a couple minutes then added Cognac. After boiling for a few minutes, I added heavy cream and cooked until thick. I seasoned the sauce and served it over the steaks. In a word: yum! Wow, these steaks were good. This was a great example of how a simple dish can truly shine. We started with some nice steaks from the butcher shop, and with just some salt and crushed peppercorns they came out fantastically flavorful. The sauce was also delicious. It had a great consistency, and a rich flavor that was cut nicely by the booziness of the Cognac. This was a super-simple steak preparation that did not disappoint! Yum! Hopefully I will stumble accross more gems like this one that I have left in The Book!

This exact recipe isn't online, but it is quite similar to this one.

Mashed Jerusalem Artichokes (Page 544)

RECIPE #943

  • Date: Friday, January 30, 2009 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I noticed Jerusalem artichokes at the grocery store the other day, and it reminded me that I still needed to make this dish! I started by peeling a whole lot of Jerusalem artichokes, which, let me tell you, was not fun at all! Jerusalem artichokes are very knotty, sort of like ginger root, but with a thicker skin that ginger. Basically they are a peeling nightmare. The Book warned me that peeling this many Jerusalem artichokes is "not fun" and they weren't kidding. Ick. After cursing, err... I mean peeling, for a long while I cut the artichokes into pieces, added some peeled potatoes, salt, whole milk, and water, and boiled until everything was tender. Then I drained the vegetables and attempted to mash them with some butter. The Book said to mash "until smooth" -- I couldn't get it smooth by hand so I gave it a few whirs in the food processor. Then I seasoned with salt and pepper and served.

If I had never in my life eaten mashed potatoes, and you fed me this, I probably would have liked it. The flavor was perfectly fine. The texture wasn't terrible. Smushed up carbohydrates is one of my favorite food genres. I am sure I would have had a reasonably positive attitude about it. But here's the thing. This dish looked like mashed potatoes. It more or less smelled like mashed potatoes. But it didn't taste nearly as good as mashed potatoes. And it was way more work! To make matters worse, mashed potatoes are one of my all-time favorite foods. So this recipe didn't bastardize just any old food -- it bastardized one of my favorites! A question I like to ask people is the following: if you were forced to eliminate all major starches from your diet except wheat and one other, which other would you keep? Now my special gentleman, and many others I have talked to, firmly believe that rice is the one to keep. Maybe they are right, but I think there is also a strong case to be made for potatoes. Part of my attachment to the potato idea is that I simply can't imagine life without mashed potatoes. I have a very strong sentimental attachment to sumshed up potatoes laden with butter and milk. So when you start adding Jerusalem artichokes to the mix, making my favorite simple dish a huge pain in the ass to make, I get unhappy. Especially because said Jerusalem artichokes affected the texture of the dish (and also the flavor, but more mildly) in a not good way.

It's a shame really. This is the only (to my knowledge) Jerusalem artichoke recipe in The Book. I would like to see what these vegetables can do when they aren't pretending to be potatoes. Surely there are better uses for them. But as mock potatoes, actually pain-in-the-ass mock potatoes, I was not impressed.

Here is the recipe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thai-Style Tomato and Shrimp Salad (Page 160)

RECIPE #942

  • Date: Friday, January 30, 2009 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I have been trying to get through some of the shrimp recipes in The Book lately, and this one was part of that effort. I started by cooking some shrimp in boiling salted water and then letting them cool. My special gentleman stirred together chopped lime, minced lemongrass, lime juice, finely chopped red bell pepper, sliced scallions, minced serrano chiles, fish sauce, sugar, and salt to form the dressing for this salad. In this dressing we tossed the shrimp with wedges of tomato, and pieces of cucumber, and topped the salad with basil and cilantro. There was nothing really objectionable about this salad, but it was somehow very bland. Reading the list of ingredients it seemed like it had the potential to have big flavor, but once it was all tossed together it was rather boring. Tomatoes and cucmbers are both very watery, and they seemed to water down the flavors in the dressing. The dressing didn't have enough kick to liven them up. The recipe claimed to be Thai-inspired, but it was hard to pick up on that while eating it. It wasn't bad -- all the ingredients were tasty enough -- but it just didn't come together like I had hoped it would. Basically, it was boring.

Here is the recipe.

Mysteriously, I woke up this morning exhausted, despite having slept for more than seven hours. At work a few hours later one of my colleagues commented that I seemed very out of sorts. Indeed I was feeling out of sorts. And tired. Very, very, tired. When I got home from work this evening, the quail we were having for dinner needed to marinade for an hour before I could cook them. I prepared the marinade, stuck them in the fridge, then decided I couldn't even think about finishing dinner without a nap. I feel asleep on the living room floor. When I woke up it occured to me that maybe I was so tired because I was hungry. I take a lot of pleasure from eating, and my eating philosophy has long been that I eat whatever I want, but only when I am actually hungry. Under normal circumstances, this works great for me. But when I am nervous or stressed (as I have been a bit lately) I often don't feel very hungry. So I don't eat much. Today, for instance, I had an energy bar for breakfast, a bowl of cereal in my office for lunch, and a handful of pretzels in the afternoon. Then it was 7pm, my quail were marintating, and I was asleep on the floor, exhausted. When I woke up from my nap it occured to me that eating something substantial might help. I finished preparing the quail and made a salad and a big pot of rice. I ate a large dinner, and miraculously, I started to feel better! Now, a few hours later, I feel totally like myself again -- not tired at all. I also feel like an idiot -- of course I have been exhausted the last few days. I haven't been eating nearly enough! Whoops!

Stained Glass Teardrops (Page 681)

RECIPE #941

  • Date: Friday, January 30, 2009 -- 6pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Paul K, Beth, Jeremy, Lauren K, Chuck, and Lynn
  • Recipe Rating: C+


This is a very exciting post for me! It's not because these cookies were particularly delicious (they weren't!) but rather because this was the last recipe I had left to make from the Cookies, Bars, and Confections section of The Book. The Book is divided (unevenly) into 21 sections, and I have been cooking from all of them. But this is the first section that I have completed! It has 59 recipes in it, and I have made them all! It feels like a big moment to me to have finally completed a section. Now I only have 20 sections left to go (several of which are within 5 recipes of completion!)! I have been working on this project for more than 3 years now, and it is so exciting for me to be crossing a whole section off my list. Yay!

This recipe was not the best to end the section with, as it was pretty disappointing. I had put off making it because it seemed like it might be a lot of work. In fact, I was wrong about that. These cookies were pretty easy. I started by making a dough of flour, salt, butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla, and chilling said dough for a couple hours. Then I took some fruit flavored hard candies (in my case: LifeSavers) and divided them by color. My special gentleman put them in separate plastic bags and whacked them with a rolling pin until they were crushed. Meanwhile, I rolled out the dough and cut it into circles, then removed a smaller circle using a smaller diameter cutter. These were meant to be teardrop shaped, but I don't have any teardrop cutters. So I settled for circles, and to make them more interesting, I cut out many of the interior circles so that they were off-center. I put the rings on a cookie sheet covered with a silicone baking sheet liner, then spooned some crushed candy into the hole in the middle of each cookie. I baked them until golden, then repeated with more batches. On the up side, these cookies were beautiful! The picture doesn't capture how pretty they really were -- but the candy center was like a little stained glass window: shiny, translucent, and colorful. The Book suggests these would also make nice Christmas tree ornaments, and I agree that they would be lovely for that purpose. For eating, however... not so much. The dough was a nice sugar cookie dough, but sugar cookies and hard candy just don't go that well together. I am serious candy lover, and even I couldn't get on board with this combination. Plus, by the time the cookies were golden brown, the candy was beginning to burn. Eating a sugar cookie with a burnt Lifesaver in it was not-at-all appealing. Even the unburnt ones left something to be desired. We ended up eating around the candy center and then throwing it away. The cookies were perfectly tasty that way, but why spend all that time making the candy centers then. Beautiful Christmas tree ornament? Yes. Delicious cookie? No.

Here is the recipe.

Since the Cookies, Bars, and Confections section is now complete, I figured I would give you a list of my favorites. In no particular order:

1. Cranberry Caramel Bars -- Oh my gosh, Yum! These were good. Just ask Mike.
2. Black-and-White Cookies -- I had never been too excited about black-and-white cookies, but this recipe totally converted me. Delicious!
3. Parisian Passover Coconut Macaroons -- These were very unique, and absolutely lovely!
4. Madeleines -- I am adding this one to my list for my special gentleman who LOVED these madeleines. They were indeed quite tasty -- buttery and delicious!
5. Pecan Pie Bars -- I made these way back in the second month of my project and I still remember how delicious they were. If you like pecan pie you will love these.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Collard Greens with Red Onions and Bacon (Page 541)

RECIPE #940

  • Date: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B



It's no secret on this blog that I am not a huge fan of bitter greens. But the Vegetables section of The Book is running low, so I am becoming forced to make the recipes that don't sound too good to me. This was one such recipe. I started by cooking bacon until it was crisp, then pouring off most of the bacon fat. I cooked chopped red onions in the remaining fat, and then removed them from the pot. I added chicken stock, cider vinegar, dark brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and half of the bacon to the pot, then added the chopped collard greens. I simmered for 30 minutes, then added the onions back in and simmered for another 30 minutes. I served the dish topped with the remaining bacon. Well, I don't like bitter greens, so I didn't particularly like this. But, for a recipe based around collard greens, it wasn't bad. The bacon added a lot to the dish and the sauce the collard greens were cooked in came out very tasty. An hour seemed like a long time to cook greens, but actually they came out with a nice texture. My special gentleman initially picked at this dish, then ended up eating a whole plate of it. If you like collard greens, I think you will enjoy this recipe.

Here is the recipe.

Before the semester started I made a tentative week-by-week list of topics I wanted to cover in my graduate class this term. More than anything else, the list was just to give me some idea of a potential schedule that would get me through the material I want to cover by the time the term ends. Yesterday, I was looking at my list, trying to assess how on-pace I am. This involved figuring out what week in the semester this is. If you had asked me, without giving me any time to think about it, I probably would have said this week is week three. If you had given me a moment, I might have revised that estimate to week four. But I was absolutely SHOCKED to discover that this is actually week six of our semester. Week six? How did that happen? Semesters always fly by, but usually I am teaching big calculus classes, where the 3 midterms per semester give me some sense of where in the term I am. But with my graduate class this semester they are just having one exam in the middle, which we haven't gotten to yet, so all sense of time is lost. A third of the semester flew by and I didn't even notice! It is a frightening prospect not only because there are a lot of things I wanted to accomplish this semester in my research that I haven't gotten around to yet, but also because my special gentleman and I are getting married not long after the semester ends, and I have done very little planning! Oh dear!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hot-and-Sour Shrimp Soup with Noodles and Thai Herbs (Page 121)

RECIPE #939

  • Date: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


This sounded like a recipe my special gentleman and I would both enjoy so I made this for dinner a few weeks back. To start, I peeled some shrimp, reserving the shells, then tossed the shrimp in salt and sesame oil and refrigerated. I boiled chicken stock with thinly sliced fresh lemongrass, ginger, and garlic and boiled for a half an hour, then added the shrimp shells and boiled some more. Then I strained the broth, returned it to the pan and added 3 sliced serrano chiles and chopped shallots. I simmered for a while then added fish sauce, sugar, and salt. I cooked rice noodles separately in a pot of boiling water. I put noodles in the soup bowls and topped them with some sliced spinach. Then I added shrimp, cilantro, basil, and lemon juice to the broth and let it stand until the shrimp were cooked. I ladled the soup over the noodles and served.

I'm not really sure how to grade this recipe. One the one hand, it was very tasty. On the other hand it was completely inedible. I tried to eat it. I really did. Look at -- it looks delicious, no? And it smelled delicious. So I would take a small spoonful. Almost instantly my mouth would be burning and there would be tears in my eyes. It was INCREDIBLY spicy -- inedibly spicy. Now I admit, I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to spicy food. But my special gentleman is not, and even he couldn't eat this soup. It was a shame too, because the flavor (aside from the painful spiciness) was very good. So how did it end up so spicy? Well the recipe indicated to use "3-4 fresh green Thai chiles or small serrano chiles (to taste) cut lengthwise into strips." The grocery store I frequent doesn't sell Thai chiles, but does sell serranos, so I went with those. I interpreted that "to taste" comment to mean that I should use 3 if I wanted it not-as-spicy, or 4 if I wanted it more spicy. Since I knew I don't like my food super spicy, I went with 3. Now, if you seeded 3 serrano chiles before using them, that would be a totally manageable amount of spice. But I read the recipe 4 times looking for the direction to seed them and it was nowhere to be found. The Book is very clear about seeding chiles when you are meant to, so the only interpretation I could imagine was that the seeds were meant to be included. So I cut my chiles into strips, seeds and all, and tossed them in. Even at the time I worried that this was going to be a disaster, but the spiciness of the end product far exceeded the amount of spiciness I imagined.

With, say, 1 serrano chile, or 3 serrano chiles that had been seeded, I think I would have quite liked this dish. I love brothy Asian soups with noodles, and aside from the spiciness this was a good take on that concept. But I couldn't eat it. So I ate toast with jam on it for dinner instead, and stared longily at my bowl of soup. My special gentleman and I very rarely throw food away, but this one went down the garbage disposal. It was just too spicy! I can't give it a terrible grade because with such a minor adjustment it would have been delicious. But as it is written, I also can't recommend it!

This recipe isn't online.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Panfried Pressed Poussins (Page 402)

RECIPE #938

  • Date: Monday, January 26, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

This recipe was on the randomly generated list. I started by cutting the backbones out of 2 poussins. The directions then said to "Cut a 1/2 inch slit in each side of each bird in center of triangle of skin between thighs and breasts, then tuck bottom knob of drumstick through slit." I read that at least 4 times, then did what I thought it was telling me to do. Much later I realized that there was a picture in The Book (nine pages before this recipe!) indicating what I was supposed to do. And I did it totally wrong! It's hard to appreciate from the picture above, but my poor little birds were bent in ways that legs are not meant to bend. I don't think it much made a difference though -- the birds were still quite flat the way I did it. Once I had contorted the birds to tuck in the legs, I tucked the wing tips under the breasts and seasoned the birds with salt and papper. I heated butter in a big skillet, then put the birds in, skin side down. I covered them with parchment, then put a second skillet on top of them and topped that skillet with 6 pounds of weights (READ: canned goods). I cooked them for 15 minutes on the stovetop, then turned the birds over and replaced the parchment, second skillet, and weights, and cooked for another 15 minutes. Once the birds were cooked through I deglazed the skillet with chicken stock to form a quick sauce.

These poussins were excellent! My special gentleman declared this the best poultry he has ever had, which is certainly high praise. This recipe is definitely up there on my list too. The skin was wonderfully crisp and the meat was juicy and delicious. This was a wonderful example of just a few ingredients coming together to form something truly exceptional. I had never cooked poultry by flattening it in this way before, and I will definitely use this method again. Flattening the birds made them cook evenly, and also caused a lot of skin surface area to touch the skillet (and hence get crispy!). I highly recommend this recipe! Yum!

Here is the recipe.

Sunday evening is one of my favorite times of the week. On Saturday whenever possible I take a day off work. My special gentleman and I do something fun or I try to finish up errands... On Sunday I always go into work during the day to try to get ready for the week ahead. But on Sunday evening, I just relax and cook! Tonight I made some ten-grain bread, and a chicken dish with vegetables and lots of creme fraiche. And now, long after the dinner dishes were loaded into the dishwasher, I still have a big pot of veal stock simmering away on the stovetop. I like to start the week with plenty of leftovers in the fridge, and a good loaf of bread on the counter, so Sunday evening I make that happen. I, of course, also do a lot of cooking during the week. But Sunday cooking always feels the most relaxed to me. Now that the weekend is nearing its end, my lecture for tomorrow is all prepared, the fridge is stocked, and I am refreshed -- I am ready for the week ahead!

Roasted Poussins with Cumin and Lemon (Page 400)

RECIPE #937

  • Date: Sunday, January 25, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This recipe came off the list from the random number generator. We started by preparing a mixture of softened butter, cilantro, lemon zest, cumin, salt, and pepper. Then I carefully slid my fingers between the skin and flesh of each bird, loosening the skin. I used my fingers to spread the butter mixture under the skin as evenly as possible. Then I tied the legs together, secured the wings with skewers, and put the birds in a roasting pan. I brushed melted butter over the birds and seasoned with salt, then roasted them until cooked through. To form the sauce I deglazed the pan with white wine. These birds came out ok, but not great. Poussins (baby chickens) are significantly more expensive than regular chicken, so our expectations were high. To be fair, the problem with this recipe had not so much to do with the little birds. The main problem was that the butter rub they were seasoned with just didn't taste that good. Indeed, these would have been better had they just been brushed with butter, sprinkled with salt, and roasted. As it was, they had a flavor that didn't complement the meat so well. The skin came out pretty crispy, which was nice, and the meat was properly cooked. But the dish certainly didn't convince either of us that the poussins were worth the money. Luckily, we had another poussin adventure the next day, which was much more rewarding (stay tuned!).

Here is the recipe.

When I moved from Boston to Southern Indiana, I was sure this project would suffer. How would I find all the strange ingredients I need? Ordering ingredients online is easy enough, but for meats and fish that is a little less practical (although still possible I suppose). The poultry section alone calls for goose, guinea hen, poussin, pheasant, quasil, capon, cornish game hen, squab, and rabbit (yes, rabbit is in the poultry section) in addition to the more canonical chicken, turkey, and duck. I thought finding such meats in small town Indiana was going to be a disaster. But, in fact, it is wonderfully easy! Bloomington has an amazing butcher shop, called Butcher's Block, and what they don't have in the store, they are happy to order. It's awesome. I just march over there with my list once per week, and they help me find whatever I need. Yesterday I went there to get 4 semiboneless quail, a leg of lamb boned and butterflied, a couple pounds of various chicken parts, and 5 pounds of veal bones. It was a piece of cake. The week before: pheasant and a bone-in fresh pork arm picnic shoulder. Also no problem. In fact, of all the strange types/cuts of meat I have asked for, they have never said no! Before moving to Bloomington, I bought most of my meat through grocery stores. But Butcher's Block has made me a believer in the independent butcher shop! Now I just need to find out if they can get me that rabbit I am going to need...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chow Fun with Chinese Barbecued Pork and Snow Peas (Page 249)

RECIPE #936

  • Date: Saturday, January 24, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe called for the Char Siu recipe as one of its components. I had made the Char Siu weeks before and stashed it in the freezer, so I figured it was about time to dig it out and make this Chow Fun. I started by tossing some fresh rice noodles with a bit of peanut oil. Then I added more peanut oil to a very hot wok (thanks, Mike, for the wok -- I love it!) and stir-fried the noodles. I added snow peas and scallions and stir-fried a few more minutes. I then added the sliced pork along with chopped garlic and ginger, and stir-fried another minute. I added a mixture of chicken stock, oyster sauce, light soy sauce, sake, and sugar, and brought it to a boil. I then added cornstarch mixed with water and cooked for another half a minute. I removed it from the heat, stirred in some bean sprouts, drizzled on some sesame oil, and served. This Chow Fun was quite tasty. As I mentioned in my post about it, the Char Siu was delicious, and indeed it added a lot to this recipe. The snow peas were perfectly cooked and added a great crunch to the dish. I haven't often cooked with fresh rice noodles (usually I use the dried ones), but these noodles had a great texture. They were cooked just the right amount, and became perfectly coated with the sauce. The sauce had a distinct flavor, which I wasn't sure I liked at first. But it grew on me as I ate, and I ended up enjoying the meal very much. Overall, my special gentleman and I were quite pleased with this dish.

Here is the recipe.

Happy Valentines Day! I was running errands this afternoon (post office, car repair shop, grocery store, pharmacy, butcher, another grocery store...) and I stopped at the pharmacy to fill some prescriptions. On the way out I walked by an area of the pharmacy that has those Kodak computers where you can print copies of photos, or make cards from photos, etc... There were 3 or 4 such machines in a row, and sitting at each of them was a college-age guy, trying to create something from a picture of him with a girl (presumably his girlfriend). Behind each guy was a pack of 1 to 3 other guys, who were helping/heckling/waiting their turn. Many of them held various other types of Valentine's Day paraphernalia: balloons, chocolates, stuffed animals. The whole thing made me smile. They were trying so hard, in that 19-year-old-male sort of way.

My Valentine's Day has contained no such things -- at my request! My special gentleman makes me feel very loved every day, so flowers and chocolate to show me he loves me seems a little silly. Instead, this year we are exchanging nice cards, and going out for a very special dinner. My favorite restaurant (which happens to also be the restaurant where we are having our wedding) has a special Valentine's Day menu tonight, so we are going to have a late dinner there. An excellent meal sounds like the perfect Valentine's Day present to me!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spicy Lemon-Marinated Shrimp (Page 45)

RECIPE #935

  • Date: Thursday, January 22, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I prepared these shrimp for a party a few weeks back. Well, that was the plan anyway. Many of you who know me will know that I am vigilant about food safety. Extremely vigilant. I don't like to be sick. I don't want to make anyone else sick. I got salmonella once from home-cooked food (not cooked by me!) and ever since I have been deeply concerned with the safety of the food I serve. So my apartment is an extremely safe place to eat. A few weeks ago I bought these shrimp for a party we were throwing that week and when I opened the bag they smelled just slightly strange to me. Not rotten. It wasn't even a bad smell. There was just a whiff of something odd. I had my special gentleman smell them. He said, "They smell like shrimp." I decided he was right, I was being paranoid, and I proceeded.

I boiled the shrimp in salted water seasoned with pickling spices until the shrimp were just cooked through, then tossed the shrimp in a marinade of lemon zest, lemon juice, ground coriander, white wine vinegar, olive oil, water, sugar, red pepper flakes, and salt. These shrimp were supposed to marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours, and up to 3 days. I prepared these 2 days before the party and put them in the fridge. A day later I was curious how they were tasting. I was busy doing some other cooking, so I asked my special gentleman to try one. He did, and said they were OK, but nothing special. An hour or so later, he briefly had a stomach ache. He didn't vomit. In fact, he was totally fine. But for about 5 minutes, his stomach hurt. And of course, being paranoid about food safety as I am, I was convinced it was the shrimp.

I was so paranoid, in fact, that I decided not to serve them. One of the guests at our party was the speaker for our departmental colloquium the next day. In particular I couldn't bear the thought of poisoning him the night before his talk. Yeah, I knew the shrimp were almost certainly fine. And indeed they were, since after the party my special gentleman and I both ate some with no consequences whatsoever. But I figured it was better to err on the side of caution. And anyway, these shrimp weren't that great. So it's not like everyone missed out on something truly delicious. They were very salty and definitely had a strong pickled flavor. Pickled shrimp is a Southern classic, and if you like that dish, you will probably like this rendition. But I have never been big on pickled shrimp myself, and this version didn't change my mind. I did like the bit of heat from the red pepper. I thought that added a nice contrast to the pickled flavor. I wouldn't make these shrimp again, but they also weren't bad. And if I could go back to that party, would I serve them? Nah, better safe than sorry!

Here is the recipe.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta (Page 36)

RECIPE #934

  • Date: Thursday, January 22, 2009 -- 7:30pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Tom M, Chuck, Ayelet, Paul K, Beth, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Vladimir, Muriel, Chris C, Prudence, Kate, Marlies, and John B
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I made this hors d'oeuvre for a party we had a few weeks back. The idea was simple: roast some tomatoes in the oven, toast some baguette slices, put tomatoes on top of baguette. In slightly more detail: I cut plum tomatoes in half, put them on a baking sheet, and spooned a mixture of garlic and extra-virgin olive oil over them. I sprinkled them with salt and pepper and roasted them in a 200 degree oven for 6 hours. Yup, 6 hours. The Book said the tomatoes could be roasted a couple days ahead and refrigerated until serving, so I did just that. Now, I usually go to bed around midnight, so I was careful to come home from work a bit early the night I made these, and I put them in the oven at 5:30pm. I figured they would roast for 6 hours, they could cool for 30 minutes, and I could put them in the fridge and go to sleep. Well, at 11:30pm it was clear that they were hardly roasted. In fact, they looked shockingly similar to the way they looked when I put them in the oven. So I turned the oven up to 300 degrees and let them cook for another 45 minutes. At 12:15pm I checked them again -- still not particularly well roasted. But I was tired. My special gentleman stays up later than me so I asked him to watch them, cranked the oven up to 325 and told him I thought they would be done within a half an hour or so, given how much I had increased the temperature of the oven.

As I soundly slept, my special gentleman checked these tomatoes at 12:45am. Not done. He checked them again at 1:15am. And 1:45am. And 2:15am. Finally around 2:30am he got tired. He took them out, let them cool, then threw them in the fridge. The next day I was shocked to find that they had taken so long: 9 hours total! But they weren't overcooked at all. In fact, they were perfectly roasted. So is the recipe wrong about how long it takes to achieve a perfect oven-roasted tomato? Well, perhaps not. Ovens have a very hard time maintaining low temperatures. So my 200 degree oven may not have really been 200 degrees. Or maybe it was. I don't know and I don't have an oven thermometer with which to check. But my advice to you: plan in some extra time to roast these tomatoes.

The day of the party I sliced up some baguette, brushed it with oil, sprinkled with salt and toasted them until crisp and golden (which also took longer than The Book said it would). To serve, I topped each toast with one tomato half. These bruschetta were quite tasty. For so few ingredients they had an amazing amount of flavor. The slow-roasted tomatoes were delicious, and the toasted baguette provided a nice vehicle for them. I can only imagine that these would have been even better at a time of year when you can find really good tomatoes, but even with tomatoes from the grocery store in the winter this was tasty. I was quite happy with our end result, but if I had stopped roasting when The Book indicated, this dish would have been not nearly as good.

Here is the roasted tomato part of the bruschetta recipe.

My apologies for the long blog silence. I was away most of this week on a very important trip which required a lot of preparation (a.k.a. an interview). So blogging had to sit on the back burner for a few days while I focused on things that were a little more important! But I am back now and feeling way more relaxed than I have in the last few weeks! Aside from being stressful, my trip was quite fun. I met a whole bunch of new people, all of whom were tremendously friendly. And, in talking to said people, I really learned a lot. Overall I think it went pretty well, but it will probably be a few weeks before I will know if anything will come of it.

In the meantime, it is back to teaching, working, cooking, and blogging (and running, if it would warm up a little bit more!). I didn't really realize just how stressed out I have been feeling in the last few weeks until this afternoon, when I was suddenly not stressed at all. That no-stress feeling was so unfamiliar I almost couldn't place it. And then I thought: "Ah, I am relaxed!" And you know what, it felt good!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Tuna Empanaditas (Page 37)

RECIPE #933

  • Date: Thursday, January 22, 2009 -- 7:30pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Tom M, Chuck, Paul K, Beth, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Vladimir, Muriel, Chris C, Prudence, Kate, Marlies, and John B
  • Recipe Rating: C-


I wanted to make a few savory things for a party we had a few weeks ago. I chose this recipe because it sounded promising: little puff pastry crescents filled with tuna and olives. These appetizers were very disappointing though. To make them I started by preparing the filling. I cooked chopped onion in the oil that the tuna was canned in. Then I mixed it together with tuna, chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives, and chopped capers. I then seasoned with salt and pepper. To assemble the empanaditas, I rolled out sheets of frozen puff pastry, then used a cookie cutter to cut the sheets into circles. I put a small amount of filling in the center of each round, then moistened the edges and sealed the rounds into semicircles. I pressed the edges with the tines of a fork to reinforce the seal. Then I baked the empanaditas until golden. In theory these should have been delicious -- I like all the ingredients. I even like them together. But the filling of these really wasn't good. It was so intensely briny from the olives and capers that even the not-at-all subtle flavor of canned tuna was masked behind the brine. It was terribly overpowering. Even the pastry crust did little to temper the intense briny flavor. I love capers, but I wouldn't want to eat them by the spoonful, which was what these bites tasted like. This recipe was not a winner.

Here is the recipe.

My apologies for the long blog silence. This weekend my parents and my special gentleman's parents all came to visit. They were meeting for the first time! We had such fun. On Friday night my special gentleman and I made a big dinner, so we ate a nice meal, then sat around talking and playing some games. On Saturday my mom, Karen, and I went up to Indianapolis for my first wedding dress fitting. I am having my wedding dress made, and Saturday was the first time I got to see it. I was a little nervous that I wouldn't like it, but I loved it! It was exactly as I had envisioned it! So that was very exciting, and it was fun to have my mom and Karen there with me. We headed back to Bloomington in the early afternoon. Saturday evening we ate Indian food, then went to the opera. The Indiana University opera presentations are generally very impressive, and this one did not disappoint. It was Massenet's Cendrillon (aka Cinderalla). The sets were gorgeous, the voices were wonderful -- we had a great time! All the parents left this morning, and I immediately took a nap!

The rest of the day I spent working hard, getting ready for what is going to be a very busy week!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Coconut Cake with Raspberry Coulis (Page 729)

RECIPE #932

  • Date: Thursday, January 22, 2009 -- 7:30pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Tom M, Chuck, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Anne L, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, Chris C, Prudence, Kate, Jonathan, Marlies, and John B
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This dessert was part of our spread at a party we hosted a couple weeks ago. I started by making the cake, which was a very typical white cake baked in one layer in a springform pan. While the cake cooled, I made a vanilla pastry cream on the stovetop, then stirred in some sweetened, flaked coconut. I chilled the pastry cream and then folded in whipped cream. To assemble the cake I split the cake into 3 layers with a serrated knife, then layered the coconut pastry cream between the cake layers. I covered the whole thing with whipped cream and sweetened flaked coconut. The cake was served with a raspberry coulis, which I made by pureeing raspberries and sugar. This cake was relatively simple to make and quite tasty. I have made pastry cream dozens of times, and this was the first time I ever had textural issues. So that may have been the fault of the recipe, but it also might have been my fault -- I may not have tempered the hot milk into the egg carefully enough. In any event, it was not a major problem. I put the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve twice and it was fine. The cake layers themselves were excellent white cake. They had a nice crumb, and were very moist. The pastry cream was delicious (as it always is!), and the whipped cream was a nice way to frost the cake -- anything else would have made the dessert much too sweet. You would have to be a coconut lover (and a whipped cream lover!) to enjoy this cake, as it was very coconut-intense and packed with cream. The raspberry sauce seemed like an afterthought to me. It's just as odd thing to serve a big cake with a sauce on the side. I would have prefered to have a layer of raspberry filling inside the cake instead. But the raspberry flavor did go nicely with the cake, and provided some good contrast to all the coconut and sweetness.

This recipe isn't online.

When I was a graduate student at MIT, I was a TA for differential equations the same semester one of my friends was. On the first day of class he admitted to his students that he had never taught before, and encouraged them to send him any feedback they might have. I understand why he did this, but the outcome was pretty funny. A few weeks later he received an email from one of his students listing all the things he could improve about his teaching. That might even sound like it would be helpful, but this guy's email contained precious tidbits like, "You shouldn't wear black when you lecture. It doesn't look good covered in chalk." Can you imagine -- one of your students lecturing you about your attire?! I laughed and laughed and laughed.

I was reminded of that by an email I received yesterday from one of the graduate students in my course. He didn't comment on my attire, but he did list various criticisms of the course I am teaching. It was unsettling to receive such an email. I read it right before bed, and had trouble sleeping. I care a lot about doing a good job teaching my courses, so it makes me feel bad to have an unhappy student with a list of complaints about me. This morning, in the light of day, I was able to take what information was valuable from the email and then set it aside. Part of what seemed so odd about it to me is that I would never have written such an email to one of my professors, suggesting to them how to do their job better. It would have felt very disrespectful. It's good to have the information though, so I can try to better accommodate that student.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Burnt Orange Panna Cotta (Page 836)

RECIPE #931

  • Date: Thursday, January 22, 2009 -- 7:30pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Tom M, Chuck, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Anne L, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, Chris C, Prudence, Kate, Jonathan, Marlies, and John B
  • Recipe Rating: B


My special gentleman and I made 12 of these panna cotta as part of the dessert spread for our party a couple weeks ago. In retrospect, it wasn't a great choice for a party like that. The servings of this panna cotta were relatively large (at least given how rich it was) and many people wanted to try small portions of everything rather than just having one full-sized dessert. Oh well. To make these we started by cooking sugar until it was a golden caramel, then adding orange zest and cooking for another minute. Then we added a mixture of heavy cream, powdered sugar, and salt and cooked it until the hardened caramel dissolved. We then added gelatin which had been softening in some milk, more orange zest, and orange juice. Once the mixture had cooled to room temperature, my special gentleman strained it. He then beat some cream and folded the whipped cream into some sour cream, then folded both into the caramel mixture. We spooned this into oiled ramekins and refrigerated overnight for them to set. We served the panna cotta by inverting them onto small plates and spooning some chopped orange and fresh orange juice on the plate. This panna cotta was pretty good. The orange flavor was nice but it was overpowered a bit by the tang of the sour cream. Certainly there were hints of orange (and the chopped orange on the plate helped bring those out), but the dessert tasted mostly like sour cream and whipped cream. The texture was very smooth, but it wasn't quite firm enough for me. I certainly enjoyed the first few bites of this, but I didn't feel compelled to eat an entire serving. There wasn't enough that interested me about it. That said, it definitely didn't taste bad, and if I hadn't had six other desserts to choose from that evening, I may have appreciated it more!

Here is the recipe.

Whenever I throw a party the only thing I really think about is the food. Luckily my special gentleman also thinks to clean up our apartment. But there are certain party essentials that always seem to escape me. For instance: beverages. We typically have plenty of beer and wine around the house, and tons of hard alcohol (thanks Vero!), so it's not a huge problem that I always neglect to remember beverages. But if someone wants a nonalcoholic beverage they tend to be out-of-luck at our place. We both drink water all the time. We don't have juice around. We almost never have soda. These are details that I should think of before throwing a party. For instance, for this large dessert party we had a few weeks ago, I forgot to buy coffee. We had seven desserts but no coffee. How could I have forgotten that? With respect to the food though, I have a great capacity for attention to detail.

When it comes to planning my wedding, it appears I have the same priorities. The menu has been finalized so I have this feeling that I am done! Never mind that I haven't actually sent out the invitations. Or picked wine. Or been fitted for my dress. Never mind that I haven't arranged for chair rental. Or picked readings for the service. Now that the food decisions have been made, I feel that the planning is complete! Eventually it will probably sink in that the food isn't the ONLY thing, even if to me it is a very important thing. And then I will do a bit more planning. For now, though, I am perfectly content just having a menu I am super-excited about in the hands of a chef that I trust completely. Yay!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Carmelized Upside-Down Pear Tart (Page 782)

RECIPE #930

  • Date: Thursday, January 22, 2009 -- 7:30pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Tom M, Paul K, Beth, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Anne L, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, Chris C, Prudence, Kate, Jonathan, Marlies, and John B
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I made this pear tart as part of the dessert spread for a party we had a couple weeks ago. Of all the desserts I made that evening, this was certainly the easiest. I started by making pastry dough for a tart crust and chilling it. Then I melted butter in a nonstick skillet and stirred in some sugar. I arranged halves of peeled Bosc pears in the skillet, then sprinkled cinnamon over the pears. I cooked it on the stovetop for about 25 minutes, until the sugar was a deep golden caramel. Then I rolled out my pastry crust, laid it on top of the pears and baked the whole thing in the oven. Before serving I carefully inverted the tart onto a large plate. This tart was delicious! It was a huge return for a minimal investment of effort! The caramel surrounding the pears was scrumptious. The fruit was perfectly cooked, and very flavorful. And the pastry crust complemented both the fruit and caramel sauce beautifully. Although the picture doesn't capture it well, this dessert was also very pretty. This was the first dessert to disappear at the party, and several people complemented that it was a stand-out. This modern take on the French classic Tarte Tatin definitely exceeded my expectations!

Here is the recipe.

This weekend my parents and my special gentleman's parents will be meeting for the first time! We thought it would be nice to have them meet sometime before the wedding weekend, so on Friday my parents will fly here and my special gentleman's parents will drive over from Ohio. I am looking forward to it! I anticipate that everyone will get along quite well. My special gentleman enjoys spending time with my parents and I enjoy spending time with his. I think that is a good sign for this weekend! We're going to eat some good food, go to the opera, see the sights of Bloomington, and just hang out -- it should be fun. And my mom, Karen, and I are going to go to my first wedding dress fitting, which will be very exciting (at least for me!)!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Chocolate Truffles (Page 696)

RECIPE #929

  • Date: Thursday, January 22, 2009 -- 7:30pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Tom M, Paul K, Beth, Chuck, Lauren K, Jeremy, Ayelet, Michael L, Anne L, Daniel L, Kent, Sue, Allan, Ann E, Jim, Vladimir, Kitty, Muriel, Marc, Chris C, Prudence, Kate, Jonathan, Marlies, and John B
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I made these truffles as part of the dessert spread for a party we had a few weeks ago. I would have made these truffles earlier, except that The Book specifies both the brand and the percentage of the chocolate you are supposed to use to make them: Valrhona 56% cacao chocolate. The recipe also specifies that you need to use Valrhona brand cocoa powder. I did a small bit of looking and did not find these items around town. So I procrastinated making these for a while and then ordered the chocolate and cocoa online. As far as truffles go, these were very simple to make. I poured barely boiling heavy cream over some chopped chocolate and gently stirred until the chocolate had melted. I let it cool until thick then put the chcolate ganache in a pastry bag. I piped little mounds onto a parchment covered baking sheet and put the baking sheet in the freezer for 15 minutes. I melted a bit more chocolate in a makeshift double boiler. I put the special cocoa powder in a bowl and removed the truffles from the freezer. I then put a plasitc glove on one hand (the recipe said to use a glove!) and smeared it with the melted chocolate. One at a time, I rubbed each truffle in the smeared chocolate on the glove. After a truffle had been smeared I put it in the bowl of cocoa powder and tossed with a fork, then put it in a sieve to shake off the excess cocoa. I repeated until all the truffles were coated and then refrigerated them.

These truffles were quite good. The recipe only had 3 ingredients: chocolate, heavy cream, and cocoa powder. I can definitely understand why The Book specifies the excellent cocoa and chocolate. If I had made these with the Ghirardelli baking chocolate and Hershey's cocoa I have around the house they wouldn't have been NEARLY as delicious. So take the time to find/order the Valrhona. It was worth it. These truffles had an excellent flavor and the ganache had a wonderful creamy texture. My only complaint is that one of the things I love about truffles is the contrast between the crunch of the hard chocolate coating and the smoothness of the ganache filling. These truffles weren't dipped in chocolate in the end, so there was no such exterior layer. For that reason, I am unlikely to make these again. I strongly prefer the truffle recipe I usually use, which is here. I have made them both with and without the salt on top and I highly recommend them both ways. So while the truffles in The Book were indeed delicious I won't be adding them to my file of keepers.

Here is the recipe.

I have been quite out-of-sorts lately. I'm not sure exactly why. I have some stressful things coming up in the next couple weeks, and I suppose worrying about that is affecting my mood. I have tried my usual cheer-up tactics: long hot baths, trashy movies, naps, diet root beer... But they have had minimal success. Somehow until tonight I neglected to think of the one thing that always helps: exercise. I haven't been running lately because of the cold and the snow. (And also because a woman was recently raped in the middle of the day on the trail where I usually run. That really disturbed me, probably contributing to my bad mood of late.) Tonight though, I did some cardio and now I feel so much better than I have been. Amazing what a little exercise will do. I am certainly going to keep that in mind for the next couples weeks, and try to fit in some cardio every day. Hopefully that will help me get myself out of this funk.