Sunday, March 29, 2009

Empanada Dough (Page 78)

RECIPE #964

  • Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Andrew, and Lars
  • Recipe Rating: C

This recipe was a component of a pork empanada I made to go with dinner several weeks ago. I forgot to take a picture just of the dough, so what you are seeing above is the finished empanada. To prepare this dough I stirred together flour and salt then added a mixture of egg yolk, water, and red wine vinegar. I kneaded the dough very gently then let it sit for 30 minutes. I then rolled it out into a big rectangle, and spread it evenly with a third of a cup of vegetable shortening. I folded it into thirds, then refreigerated it for 15 minutes. Then I rolled it out again into a large rectangle, spread it with another third cup shortening, folded into thirds and refrigerated. I repeated this process again one more time, then refrigerated the dough until I was ready to prepare the empanada. This dough was very disappointing. For one thing, it was incredibly difficult to work with. It was so resistant to being rolled out that I hardly had strength enough to do it. My special gentleman had to help me with the rolling. It was also greasy, as the shortening kept oozing out the sides of the dough, making a huge greasy mess of me, the rolling pin, and the counter. Ick. I would have forgiven the dough all of these flaws had it been exceptionally flaky or delicious, but it was neither. There was nothing special about it. I have made empanadas before, and the dough recipes I have used have never given me problems like this one. The empanada itself was tasty (I will post on that next) but if I make it again, it will certainly be with a different dough recipe.

This recipe isn't online.

I went running along the beach on Friday. I was on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and while you might think that would be a warm and sunny place this time of year, it was not. It was barely 55 degrees while I was running, and when paired with the pouring down rain and the cold breeze off the ocean, it wasn't the warmest I have ever been. But as I ran along, trying to keep close enough to the water that the sand was packed down, but far enough away that the waves wouldn't fill my shoes with cold, cold water, I couldn't help but think that everything seemed perfect. Things have been going really well lately, and I couldn't help but feel especially blessed while running along the ocean. Day to day, I try to be aware of how lucky I am to have a wonderful fiance, fantastic people in my life, and a job that I love. But I never feel more aware of those things than I do when running in the pouring down rain. The ocean, it turns out, only magnifies the effect.

With some long months of training ahead of me for this marathon, I feel very encouraged by the idea that it will rain, and I will run in the rain.

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Horseradish Cream (Page 445)

RECIPE #963

  • Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Mike M, Teresa, Andrew, Lars, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. To make this recipe I started by searing the short ribs, then arranging them in a roasting pan. In the skillet where I had browned the ribs, I cooked chopped onions, carrots, celery and garlic in an entire bottle of red wine along with a bouquet garni of black peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaf. I boiled for 20 minutes, then added some of my precious homemade veal stock. I poured the mixture over the ribs, covered the roasting pan tightly, and braised for two and a half hours. I reduced the braising liquid to form one sauce. To make a second sauce I stirred together creme fraiche, horseradish, celery leaves, and salt and heated until just hot. I served the ribs with the two sauces, accompanied by some noodles. While I was making this dish, my special gentleman watched me pour in an entire bottle of wine and 4 cups of my precious veal stock, and he commented, "This better be good!" Indeed, the use of such fine ingredients was warranted. These short ribs were delicious! The meat was falling-0ff-the-bone tender, and the flavors of both sauces were very nice. The horseradish sauce was unnecessary really, as the reduced braising liquid made for a delicious sauce to accompany the meat. I didn't feel the need to have a second sauce! I do love braised beef and this was a lovely braised beef dish. The dish was simple to make, and came out lovely.

This recipe isn't online.

The workshop I attended this past week had 35 participants: 30 men and 5 women. That type of ratio is not at all uncommon for a math conference, and I am certainly quite accustomed to being one of only a few women in a large group of men. What was unusual about this situation, though, was that a large percentage of these people were people I had never met before. Typically I go to conferences in my own field, where I know most of the people and they know me. This workshop, however, was meant to introduce people from a variety of areas to a specific topic. So, there were a number of people I didn't know. It was the first time in several years that I have been to a conference and have felt like my gender was at all an issue. Certainly I didn't feel discriminated against, and no one was mean to me in any way, but somehow I was very aware of being one of small number of women present, whereas typically I wouldn't think at all about that.

It occurred to me, late in the week, that maybe the men at the conference hadn't been thinking about gender at all. Perhaps if I had asked they wouldn't have even been able to tell me how many women were at the workshop. Perhaps, I thought, it's just in my head. I lost confidence in that theory, though, when a friend who hadn't come to the workshop instant messaged me asking, "How's the workshop? Any hot babes there?"

It's hard to ignore gender when there is such a discrepancy I suppose. One women in a group with ten men is always going to stand out by virtue of being the only one. There is nothing wrong with standing out, of course, but in a room full of new people, occasionally I do have moments when I wish it was a little easier to blend in!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Golden Creamed Onions (Page 552)

RECIPE #962

  • Date: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 -- 11pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I have put off making this recipe for a long time now, not because creamed onions don't sound delicious, but rather because I hate dealing with those hateful pearl onions! Any reasonable person, if required to use pearl onions, would use those frozen, already peeled ones. But for some reason The Book always calls for fresh pearl onions (in their peels) and I am such a stickler for my own personal rules that I always do what The Book tells me to. To start this recipe I blanched about a bazillion pearl onions in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drained them. Once they cooled enough that I wouldn't burn my fingers, I peeled the onions, which took a long time. Then I combined the onions, butter, sugar, salt and water in a pot and boiled almost an hour until the liquid had evaporated and the onions were golden. I added cream and boiled for a minute, then seasoned with salt and pepper and stirred in some chopped parsley. Despite my hatred for pearl onions, this recipe was pretty good. How could it not be? Caramelized onions plus cream equals deliciousness! However, it seems to me that this recipe would have been equally good, if not better, had it been made with slices of full-sized onions. As it was, only the exterior layers of the pearl onions got a nice golden caramelization on them. With sliced regular onions, more onion surface area would have been in contact with the pan, hence more caramelized goodness. And that would have been much, much less of a pain to prepare. So, while I wouldn't make this recipe again as written, I might make it again with the pearl onions replaced by slices of regular-sized onions.

This recipe isn't online.

This week I am at a conference/workshop in North Carolina. This conference is quite unusual in its set-up. The conference occurs annually, but each year on a different topic. In recent years, the location has also moved around. This year the topic is Fukaya Categories and the location is Nags Head, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks. The organizers rented two huge vacation homes right on the ocean, and the 35 participants (mostly graduate students and post-docs) are living together for the week in these houses. All the lectures occur in the family room of one of the houses, with many sofas and chairs pulled up in front of a huge whiteboard. The whiteboard is flanked by two enormous windows that look out to the ocean. Definitely not the typical math conference set-up! Right now we are having our daily mid-afternoon break. People are surfing, playing frisbee, talking about math, preparing their talks, etc... I can hear the hot tub running in the background so apparently someone is realxing in there and enjoying the view of the ocean! I would be outside enjoying the beach breeze this afternoon but I am forcing myself to stay in and make some progress on grading the take-home midterms from my graduate class. I think take-home exams rather than in-class exams are appropriate for graduate courses, but man do they take a long time to grade! Speaking of, I should get back to it!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Whipped Horseradish Cream (Page 893)

RECIPE #961

  • Date: Monday, February 23, 2009 -- 11pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


This was one of the few recipes I had left to make in the Sauces and Salsas section of The Book. I was trying to finish off that section recently, so I selected this to make a few weeks ago. This recipe was super simple. I stirred together horseradish, cider vinegar, and honey. Then in a separate bowl I whipped heavy cream until it formed soft peaks. Then I whisked in the horseradish mixture and seasoned with salt and pepper. That was it! This recipe was certainly simple, and it didn't taste bad at all, but I can't imagine any situation in which I would actually serve this. The texture was that of whipped cream, but the flavor was that of horseradish, and the two things didn't go that well together. Flavor-wise, it would be very appropriate on beef. But the texture of that combination would be that of beef with whipped cream on top. Doesn't sound so good does it? Maybe it would be possible to construct some nice hors d'oeuvre with this topping -- I'm not sure. In any event, I wasn't a huge fan of it, as I couldn't find anything to eat it with that sounded at all appealing!

This recipe isn't online.

So I made this recipe late one evening and my special gentleman was sitting in his favorite chair at the time, working on his research. Our kitchen is open to the family room, which is where he was, and he knew I was making something. He was focused on his work though, and was hence paying very little attention to my culinary endeavor. To take a picture of the dish I brought it into the front room, walking right by him. He looked at my bowl full of whipped cream, and said, "That looks good, what is it?" I answered: "Flavored whipped cream." He asked what flavor and I told him I thought it would be best if he discovered that for himself. Now, a perfectly reasonable assumption one might make would be that this was some sweet dessert-like concoction. I would have warned him that this was not the case -- I really would have -- but it never occurred to me that he would be able to get close enough to it to take a bite without smelling the strong odor of the horseradish. Somehow he did though, which meant that when he ate a nice big spoonful of it he was expecting a sugary treat, and instead got a mouthful of horseradish whipped cream. Whoops! Needless to say, he was none too happy about that. He told me several times how mean I was! His rating for this recipe? Not good. Apparently the unusual presence of horseradish in the whipped cream was even worse if you weren't expecting it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chicken Kiev (Page 357)

RECIPE #960

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


This recipe was on the list from the random number generator. I started by making a compound butter flavored with garlic, salt, parsley, chives, lemon zest, and lemon juice. I shaped the butter into 4 sticks and refrigerated until firm. Then I took boneless, skinless chicken breast halves and flattened them by putting them between two sheets of plastic wrap and pounding them with a rolling pin. I wrapped each pounded breast half around one butter stick, folding the chicken breast to completely enclose the butter. I dipped the rolled up chicken pieces in flour, then beaten egg, then bread crumbs. I then refrigerated the chicken pieces for an hour before deep frying them in vegetable oil. This dish was pretty good. The coating on the chicken was nice and crispy. The butter sauce enclosed in the chicken had a good flavor to it. In some of my chicken pieces the butter leaked out a bit when they were deep frying. If I made this again I would be more careful to make sure that the butter was sealed in well. One small problem we had with this recipe was that the bread crumbs were almost burnt by the time the chicken was cooked through. It still didn't taste bad, but it would have been better had the exterior been a little less crispy! My special gentleman and I both enjoyed this dish. Although it wasn't the best version of Chicken Kiev that I have ever eaten, it was tasty.

This recipe isn't online.

Ah, Spring Break in Boston! I lived in Boston (well Cambridge/Somerville really) for five years in graduate school and I moved away a year and a half ago. For most of the time since then my special gentleman still lived in Boston (and we both lived there in the summer). So although I was mainly living in Indiana, I went back to Boston quite often. A few months ago, though, my special gentleman also moved. Now that neither of us live in Boston, we haven't been spending much time there. In fact, before this trip I had only been in Boston once since August and that was only for two days!

It wasn't until I arrived here a few days ago that I realized that there are things I miss a lot about living in Boston. I love Indiana, but eating at my favorite restaurant here and running on the trail where I trained for my half-marathon both made me very sentimental! Being at MIT this week has also made me strangely sentimental about graduate school. I suppose it's not so strange -- I was quite happy in graduate school and I met some of my best friends there. Still, I love my job now, and I never have the thought, "Wow, I miss graduate school," so I was surprised to find myself reminiscing about it. I suppose it is always like that. Being at Stanford puts me in a sentimental mood every time. Apparentely being at MIT does now too! It's fun to be here though. My only regret is that there are so many people I want to spend time with, and I am only here for one week!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mint Jelly (Page 914)

RECIPE #959

  • Date: Thursday, February 19, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


On Thursday, February 19, 2009, my special gentleman and I did indeed taste this Mint Jelly for the first time, hence that's the date that I listed above. But was this recipe prepared on Thursday, February 19, 2009? Well, no, not quite. In fact I made this mint jelly in early June, more than nine months ago now. I went through a canning phase soon after my grandmother died last summer. I think the two things were related, but I can't quite explain why my grief prompted me to start canning. In any event, I made several of the jams and jellies from The Book in May and June last year. Most of them I was extremely excited to taste. I was spreading the jams and jellies on bread just after making them, or in some cases, eating them by the spoonful! With this recipe, I felt no such desire. I like mint quite a bit, but mint jelly has never been my favorite. Plus, it is meant to be served with meat rather than spread on bread, which makes it less ideal for immediate consumption. The final straw was that it just looked so unappealing. Often mint jelly is dyed a very artificial green color, and The Book does indeed give the option of adding green food coloring. I decided I was going to rise above, and leave it the color that it came out naturally, but indeed that brownish color was not appetizing at all. Further, the jelly didn't set right away. Actually, it was incredibly liquidy in the jars for weeks! Finally it set up a bit (still not too firm), but at that point I had no desire to eat it.

So four little jars of mint jelly sat in our pantry in Boston all summer, unopened. Finally it came time to move out of that apartment and back to Indiana. My special gentleman asked, "What should we do with the mint jelly?" We couldn't throw it away -- we hadn't even tasted it yet. So I said, "Pack it," and that's what we did. So the mint jelly got moved in a moving truck from Boston to Michigan and then in my car to Indiana, and eventually it ended up in my kitchen cupboard, just sitting there. And so it sat for another seven months. Then one day a few weeks ago I was scrounging through my cupboards, looking for who-knows-what, and I accidentally left the items in a not so stable arrangement. The next time I opened the cupboard door, one of the jars of mint jelly came crashing down. I took it as a sign. So a few days later I made some lamb and my special gentleman and I sampled this jelly on it.

Before I comment on how it was I should back up to last June and try to remember what went into making this recipe. I started by sterilizing my jars and lids, as one always should when canning stuff. Then I steeped mint leaves in water, then strained the liquid and added an insane amount of sugar (3.5 cups of sugar for 1.75 cups of water), cider vinegar, and lemon juice and boiled it. I added liquid pectin and boiled for a minute. I ladled the jelly into my clean jars, then sealed, processed (boiling the jelly in the jars for 10 minutes), and cooled them according to typical canning procedures. I then let the jelly sit for nine months (although that wasn't in the recipe!) before enjoying.

It's hard to comment fairly on this recipe. I just don't particularly like mint jelly. As far as mint jellies go, this one seemed fine. We ate it with lamb, and that was an appropriate use for it. It had a strong flavor of mint and vinegar, and also a tremendous sweetness to it. I asked my special gentleman for his opinion and he said, "Well... it was minty. And sweet." That pretty much summarizes it. In retrospect I probably should have put a drop or two of food coloring in because the color was not nice, and it looked particularly unappealing in the jar. Would I make this again? Well, no. In fact I have no idea what I will even do with the three unopened jars (anyone out there like mint jelly and want some?) But that's mainly personal preference -- if you enjoy mint jelly, you will probably like this recipe.

This recipe isn't online.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Veloute Sauce (Page 880)

RECIPE #958

  • Date: Thursday, February 19, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I love veloute, but hadn't made this recipe yet because it calls for homemade stock (with a special warning not to use canned broth). I was out of stock for a while, but as soon as I made the veal stock from The Book I was ready to make this sauce. My special gentleman started by cooking chopped onion in butter then adding flour to form a roux. We then added warm veal stock, whisking. We also added chopped mushroom stems, parsley stems, thyme, bay leaf, and white peppercorns. We simmered it until thickened then strained through a fine mesh sieve and seasoned with salt. This sauce had a great flavor to it. Essentially it tasted like the veal stock, with a few added herby flavors. The texture wasn't perfect though. We simmered for more than the suggested time, but it still wasn't quite thick enough. In retrospect we should have kept simmering, but we had timed dinner according to the times given in The Book, and we didn't want to wait! It was a nice version of veloute, but I would suggest simmering it longer than the recommended amount of time.

This recipe isn't online.

Hello from Boston! This coming week is our Spring Break, so this afternoon, after I taught my class, I headed to the airport. (Apparently I was not the only one with that plan -- both the airport and the plane I was on were swamped with undergraduates headed off for break!) I am spending the next week in Boston, visiting friends and visiting MIT (and visiting friends at MIT!), then the following week at a conference in North Carolina. So my Spring Break is a little extended. Fortunately, one of my colleagues was willing to teach my class for me the week after next so that I can attend the conference. I have been running around like a crazy person the last couple days trying to get a bunch of things done before this trip, so now it is very nice to just sit and relax. Tonight I am staying with my dear friend Rachel and her husband Eric and their baby Justin. By the time I got here Rach and Justin were already asleep. So I am hanging out, typing very quietly so as not to wake the baby! Justin is almost two months old and I haven't met him yet, so I am very excited to meet him in the morning! For now though, I will enjoy a quiet and restful Friday night!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Artichoke Bottoms Braised in Olive Oil with Garlic and Mint (Page 518)

RECIPE #957

  • Date: Thursday, February 19, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

The Vegetables section of The Book is running low, but for whatever reason I seem to have put off the artichoke recipes. Now it's time to make them! There were several steps to preparing the artichokes for this recipe before cooking them. That much should be clear from the picture. The steps (summarized greatly) were to remove the outer leaves, remove the inner leaves, scoop out the choke, trim the exterior layer from the base and stem, and rub everything with lemon. After the artichokes were prepared the rest of the recipe was a piece of cake. I rubbed the artichokes in a paste of garlic, mint, and salt. Then I cooked them in a small amount of water and oil until tender. I removed the artichokes and boiled the cooking liquid until reduced, then poured it over the artichokes. I liked this recipe. Unlike some artichoke preparations, where it involves a lot of work to eat the artichoke you are served, here all the preparation fell on the cook. In this case, that person was still me, but I would prefer to put in the effort in the kitchen rather than at the dinner table! The artichokes were quite nicely cooked, and I enjoyed having the stems as part of the dish as well. The sauce was just ok -- it didn't taste bad, but there wasn't much depth to it. I expected the flavor of the mint to come through more than it did. It was a bit bland though. Overall, it was a nice preparation for artichokes. I think they would have been quite good chopped and mixed with some pasta.

Here is the recipe.

I was realizing today that it takes me quite a long time to settle into a new place. I have lived in Bloomington for more than a year and a half now. I consider it home, and I am certainly very comfortable here. But it was only this week that I finally programmed the radio buttons in my car to the Bloomington radio stations. All this time my presets were still set to the radio stations I used to listen to in Boston. It's not that I don't listen the radio in Bloomington -- I do! But every time I scan through for a station I like. Why did I not change my presets sooner? I have no explanation for this. So what changed recently? I'm not sure. I am feeling more settled here these last few months. I think more than anything it is because my special gentleman is living here now. This is the first semester when I haven't been going back and forth to Boston. It's hard to feel too settled when you leave every other weekend! Plus, when we lived apart I always approached it by thinking that we both lived in both places rather than him living in one place and me living in another. It's a silly distinction, but it made me feel better about the situation!

So now I am feeling nice and settled -- especially when I can change from one radio station I like to the next with just the click of a button! Within the next year and a half or so I will be moving out of Bloomington. Maybe I'll still leave those presets programmed to the Bloomington stations for a while after though...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Veal Stock (Page 929)

RECIPE #956

  • Date: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 -- 11pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I discovered the other day that my local butcher shop sells veal knuckle bones in the freezer section, so I grabbed a bunch of them with which to make this stock. The recipe has a Start to Finish time of 18 hours (including chilling). I figured that meant it would take 8 hours or so to make and then it would sit in the fridge for 10 hours or so to chill. No such luck. Instead, this stock involved about 11 hours of cooking. I still figured that would ok, I would just wait until I was going to be home and awake for 11 consecutive hours to make it. So I waited. And waited. And waited. (Good thing those bones were frozen!) It turns out, I'm not often home and awake for 11 straight hours. On work days there is no way. And on the weekends? Well, typically I go into work most of the day Sunday. And on Saturday I do all the errands and my special gentleman and I do something fun outdoors. My only option was going to be to stay up really, really late one night. But I don't do so well late at night, and it throws me off schedule for a couple days when I stay up past 2 or 3am (yes, I am getting old!). So I gave up on the idea of making this recipe in one eleven hour period. Instead, I made this over two days -- eight hours one day, three the next. My two step approach didn't seem to damage the stock any.

On day one I roasted the veal bones in the oven until browned. Then I put them in a big stockpot with water and the deglazed brown bits from the roasting pan I roasted the bones in. I put the stockpot on the stovetop and brought the liquid in it to a temperature of 190 degrees (a bare simmer). I (bare) simmered it for 7 hours then stuck it in the fridge. On day two, I brought my stock to a simmer again and simmered for another hour. Meanwhile I roasted leeks, carrots, onions, and celery until browned. I added the veggies and the deglazed bits from the roasting pan to the stock and simmered for another 2 hours. Then I strained the stock and chilled. Once the fat had congealed on top I removed it and then froze my stock until I was ready to use it. This stock was very tasty. Veal stock, more than beef or chicken stock, has incredible body to it. Veal bones are loaded with gelatin which gives stock a nice mouthfeel. So much gelatin leached into this stock that at refrigerator temperature it was no longer a liquid -- it was like veal jello! My special gentleman looked at it and said, "That's disgusting." But once it was heated (READ: liquified) he agreed that it was delicious! Veal stock has a less meaty flavor than beef stock (indeed, no meat went into it), which makes it very versatile. I liked this recipe quite a bit. We have used the stock in several dishes already (sadly, we are almost out!) and it added a lot to the dishes. Making homemade stock always pays off big time and this was no exception.

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Spice-Rubbed Quail (Page 402)

RECIPE #955

  • Date: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

This recipe came off the list from the random number generator. I had never actually cooked quail before, but I had no trouble finding semiboneless quail at my local butcher shop. This recipe was incredibly simple. I rubbed the quail in a mixture of salt, pepper, cayenne, and allspice, then left them sit for an hour in the refrigerator. Meanwhile I made a sauce of chicken stock, lime juice, molasses, scallions, and butter on the stovetop. I then brushed the quail with some olive oil and put them under the broiler, turning once, for about 10 minutes. I served the quail drizzled with the sauce. Broiling is always an adventure. Did the process fill our apartment with smoke? Yes. Did it start a fire in the oven? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely! These quail were AWESOME. My special gentleman declared these the best poultry he has ever eaten (he made a similar declaration not so long ago, but apparently this recipe even topped that one). The skin was crispy and flavorful. The meat was moist and delicious. The sauce complemented the dish well. Everything was perfectly seasoned. It was lovely. We ate these very tiny birds with our fingers, and in the end all that was left was a small pile of bones, completely cleaned of all meat and skin. We sat at the table, licking our fingers with delight! This was really an excellent dish, and extremely simple. Quail are not super-cheap, but in my opinion they were worth what we paid for them. Yum!

Here is the recipe.

One of my New Year's resolutions was to run a marathon this coming fall. Today, I started my training. Before I set out to run I was debating about where I should start in terms of mileage. Four months ago I ran a half marathon, so at that point I could run 13 miles. But I have hardly run in the last four months. The last time I even put on my running shoes was when I ran a 5K on New Year's Day. So I figured I would start easy, and only run 4 miles today. So that's what I did, and it kicked my butt. I ran a really hilly route, and apparently I thought I was in better shape than I am. I felt more or less fine during the run but afterwards I felt terrible. I laid on the floor for a while, not feeling well enough to move. Then I walked to get a sno cone, which helped a little. Then I laid on the floor some more. It took me longer to recover than it took me to do the run. I was feeling pretty bad -- just from a short little 4 mile run! Apparently, I am out of shape. So, I have a lot of work ahead of me! Luckily, I have quite a long time before the marathon. I am confident that after a few weeks of training I won't be feeling so bad! Otherwise it is going to be a long spring/summer of training!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Lemon, Herbs, and Garlic (Page 502)

RECIPE #954

  • Date: Monday, February 16, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. I hadn't made this recipe yet because we don't own a grill. However, I realized recently that the recipe in The Book gives the option of roasting the meat rather than grilling it. So that's what I did! I started by rubbing a boned and butterflied leg of lamb with a mixture of garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, pepper, salt, and olive oil. I had cut some small slits in the meat and I forced the herb rub into those slits as well. I let the meat sit at room temperature for an hour to marinate in the rub. Then I roasted the lamb in a hot oven until the internal temperature was 130 degrees. I put the lamb on a cutting board, squeezed the juice of one lemon on it, and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then I sliced and served. This dish was tasty, but I think it would have been much better grilled. In fact, I wish The Book hadn't mentioned the option of roasting, which would have then forced me to exploit one of my friends who has a grill, but it would have been worth it. As it was, the meat came out very nicely cooked, and the herb rub had a good flavor to it. But roasting the meat didn't give the exterior the kind of sear that grilling would have. On the grill the herb rub would have charred and become even more delicious. The lamb wasn't in the oven long enough for that to happen when I roasted it. As it was, this dish was good. But if I make it again I will certainly do it on the grill.

Here is the recipe.

Some of the female graduate students in the math department where I work organized a very special day today for high school girls interested in math. They put a lot of work into organizing this math day for girls, including securing several grants for funding. They asked me to help out with a couple of the activities, and it was such fun! The theme of the day was "Geometry versus Topology," and they had a morning session about geometry and an afternoon session about topology. Both sessions had lots of great hands-on activities to introduce basic concepts from the two fields. The organizers also did a great job focusing on group work, with each group of 4 girls working together to solve problems and make discoveries. It was really fun to talk to the students and guide them in understanding some basic concepts in higher mathematics. Also as part of the day there was a keynote talk by a well-known female mathematician, and a group competition, where the students solved problems in small groups for prizes. The day closed with a panel discussion, where the students could ask me and four other female mathematicians questions about studying math in college, and life as a professional mathematician. It was a great day! The graduate students who organized it did a fantastic job, and I think the high school girls enjoyed it a lot. I would have loved to attend such an activity when I was in high school! I was very happy to be able to help out a little bit today!

Creamy Vinaigrette (Page 168)

RECIPE #953

  • Date: Monday, February 16, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I hadn't made this recipe yet because it had raw egg yolk in it, and I am hesitant to serve raw egg to anyone but myself and my special gentleman. We were having a quiet dinner at home one night a few weeks ago though, and I decided to top some salad with this dressing. This was one of the (very) few recipes left in The Book with a Start to Finish time of 5 minutes. Indeed, it was quick! I combined egg yolk, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallot, salt, and white pepper together in the blender, then added olive oil in a slow stream, blending until combined. This dressing was fine. It was a little strange in that it almost had the coloring of a dairy based dressing, like ranch, but the flavor of a typical vinaigrette, and a consistency somewhere in between the two. It was a little disorienting. The flavor was perfectly fine. Like any dressing that is predominantly oil and vinegar, it tasted mostly like the vinegar that I used to make it. I didn't dislike this dressing at all, but I also don't feel compelled to make it again.

This recipe isn't online.

When I walked to work on Monday it was 15 degrees outside. When I walked to the office today it was 72. Crazy Midwest weather! I'm not complaining -- this warm-up is a welcome change! Spring is here (at least temporarily!) and I am enjoying it. I wore sandals today, and a sleeveless shirt and I couldn't have been happier! It being the first warm weather of the season also meant that the undergraduates were out in full force today. This evening when I walked home from work I saw two separate groups of students standing in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy street doing jello shots. It was mysterious in that they weren't even particularly near to a bar (although near campus in Bloomington you are never too far from a bar!). They looked quite happy in their spring clothes, with their jello shots in hand.

This weather warm-up also means it is about time I start training for this marathon I said I would run in the fall. I had planned to start training on March 1st, but the 15 degree weather dissuaded me. Now that it has warmed up I have no excuse! Tomorrow I am going to lace up my running shoes and start training!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Gratineed Chicken and Vegetables in Cream Sauce (Page 361)

RECIPE #952

  • Date: Sunday, February 15, 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. I hadn't made this recipe yet because it looked like it was going to be incredibly rich. Indeed, this was not a light dish. But it also wasn't quite as heavy as I had expected from reading the ingredients. I started by seasoning and browning 2 pounds of chicken thighs and drumsticks in butter. I removed the chicken from the pan and cooked carrots, onions, and a bouquet garni in the remaining fat. I added white wine, then chicken stock, then put the chicken back in, skin side up. I covered it and simmered until the chicken was cooked. Then I stirred creme fraiche and peas into the sauce, and sprikled the whole thing with grated Gruyere. I stuck it under the broiler until the cheese was browned and the sauce was bubbly. This dish was prety tasty. The sauce had a nice flavor -- the wine and Gruyere complemented each other well and the creme fraiche gave it some richness. The chicken was also tasty. Broiling at the end resolved my usual complaint about chicken from The Book, which is that the skin is often soggy. In this case the skin got reasonably crispy. My favorite part of the dish was actually the vegetables, which were tender and flavorful. Yum! My one complaint is that the sauce was very thin. It was surprisingly thin actually -- I had expected the creme fraiche and Gruyere to thicken it up a bit. Although the sauce could have had a better texture, the dish was still tasty and we enjoyed it very much.

Here is the recipe.

Wow, what a busy week this has been! My thesis advisor from graduate school is visiting our department for the week, which has meant there has been a lot of activity, both mathematical and social! There have been lunches, and dinners (including a dinner party at my place), and parties. Add to that many mathematical conversations, and every day has been jam-packed! I hadn't realized before how much stuff I usually get done in the evening after I come home from work. This week I haven't gotten home until around 10pm every night, and consequently I feel very behind. But it has been a lot of fun! Tonight I passed on the social activities and stayed home to try to catch up on a few things (preparing my class for tomorrow, for instance!). Speaking of, I should get back to that now!

Chocolate Orange Dobostorte (Page 734)

RECIPE #951

  • Date: Friday, February 6, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Karen H, Dave, Terry, and Teri
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Karen once mentioned to me that when she and Dave lived in New Orleans, they very much enjoyed eating Doberge Cake. Doberge cakes are similar in concept (and maybe arose as a variant of) the Hungarian Dobostorte, of which this recipe is an example. So when Karen and Dave (and my parents) came to visit last month I made this cake for dessert. This cake is not for the casual baker -- it's not that anything about the process is hard, but the process is very lengthy. This cake has nine (yes, nine!) layers. I started by making those layers. I beat egg yolks with sugar, and then beat in orange zest and vanilla. I folded in sifted flour and salt. In a separate bowl, I beat egg whites with cream of tartar and sugar until stiff, then folded them into the yolk mixture. To bake the layers, I inverted cake pans, and buttered and floured the bottoms of the pans. Then I spread some batter on the bottoms of the inverted pans and baked them until golden. I removed the layers from the pans, cooled the pans, and then repeated. Luckily, I have a lot of 8-inch cake pans, so doing 9 layers wasn't as painful as it would have been if I had to do them in 5 (or 9!) batches. After the cake layers had cooled, I prepared an orange glaze by melting diluted orange marmalade, straining it, and adding Grand Marnier. I also prepared the Chocolate Buttercream (see post below). To assemble the cake I put down a cake layer, brushed it with orange glaze, then refrigerated it for three minutes. Then I spread it with buttercream, and topped with another cake layer. I repeated this process (refrigerating for 3 minutes each time!) until 8 of the 9 layers were assembled. Then I covered the sides of the cake with buttercream. Here's where things started to get a little crazy. I then boiled sugar, water, and cream of tartar until it became a deep golden color. I removed it from the heat and poured this caramel over that ninth layer, which I had sitting on a cooling rack. I covered the layer thinly with caramel, then quickly used a buttered knife to score it, so that it would be possible to cut the cake without shattering the caramel once the caramel had hardened. To finish the torte I stuck the caramel-coated layer on top, then used the remaining buttercream to fill in the gap between the 8th and 9th layers. Finally, I masked the sides with hazelnuts which I had toasted, skinned, and chopped. Whew!

So was it worth all the work? Nope. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't nearly as good as many, many desserts which take much less time and effort. The layers were so thin that there was hardly any nice crumb to them. They were almost rubbery in texture. The orange glaze did have a good flavor, and contributed some necessary moistness. The buttercream was only ok (see post below), and the caramel top tasted fine, but seemed unnecessary. I am a huge cake lover, and I didn't finish my piece and never went back to eat any of the leftover cake in the fridge. It just wasn't inspiring. It certainly wasn't inedible, but if I am going to put that much work into a cake, I want the results to be spectacular, not just so-so. There is no way I will be making this one again.

Here is the recipe.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Chocolate Buttercream (Page 735)

RECIPE #950

  • Date: Friday, February 6, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Terry, Teri, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: B


This was the frosting for a cake I made a few weeks ago. I forgot to take a picture of the frosting alone, so what you see above is the finished cake. The picture is a little misleading because you can't actually see any of the chocolate frosting. It's there though -- between the layers and underneath the chopped nuts on the sides! This recipe was an example of a type of frosting called meringue buttercream. To make a meringue buttercream you start by boiling sugar water to a temperature of 248 degrees. Meanwhile, you beat egg whites in a stand mixer until they just hold stiff peaks. Then you carefully and slowly pour the boiling sugar syrup into the egg whites, beating constantly. You continue to beat the mixture until it cools, then beat in a whole lot of butter, one tablespoon at a time. In this case (since it was chocolate buttercream) the recipe called for cocoa powder and melted bittersweet chocolate to also be added. This frosting was fine. It wasn't as light as I usually expect from a meringue buttercream. The ratio of egg whites to the other ingredients was lower in this recipe than in the recipe I usually use, which probably accounted for the difference. It had a good flavor -- very chocolatey and rich. It wasn't the best chocolate frosting I have made, but it certainly didn't taste bad!

Here is the recipe.

What a crazy weekend! Friday afternoon, after I taught my class, my special gentleman and I flew down to North Carolina, where my parents picked us up at the airport, took us out to dinner, then drove us to their house in South Carolina. We arrived at their place late in the evening. We sat around and chatted for a while, then went to bed so we could get up early Saturday morning. We started the day on Saturday by driving to the nearest city (well, city might be a stretch...) about 25 miles away, to pick up a moving van. My parents recently sold their house and are moving out next week. They are moving into a smaller place, so they gave us a bunch of the their (really nice!) furniture! So we spent several hours Saturday morning loading a truck-full of stuff, then right after lunch we hit the road. We drove 9 hours yesterday, through rain the entire way. We had hoped to make it all the way home to Indiana, but freezing rain in Kentucky stopped us for the night. Today we finished the drive, unloaded most of the contents of the truck into our storage unit, the rest into our apartment, and returned the truck. Whew! It was a very busy 48 hours! Now I am ready for some sleep!