Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Morels in Cream on Brioche (Page 66)

RECIPE #981

  • Date: Monday, April 20, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I made this recipe because I had made homemade brioche the day before and I wanted to use it for this dish! Now normally I am a stickler for getting exactly the ingredients The Book indicates. If I can't find them, I don't make the recipe. In this case, though, I cheated. And not in a subtle, it-probably-doesn't-really-matter sort of way. I cheated big time. I didn't mean to. The grocery store where I shop usually has dried morels (which The Book lists as an acceptable substitute for fresh morels in this recipe), but when I got there, no morels to be found. I had already made the brioche though, and I knew this would be much, much better with yummy homemade brioche than with store-bought brioche. So I figured I would just substitute some other mushrooms. Big mistake. That's not to say that it was bad -- it certainly wasn't. But the whole time I was eating it I was thinking, "This would be so much better with morels." Oh well. Live and learn. This recipe was pretty simple. I cooked my fake morels in butter for a while, then added some flour, then some hot cream. I simmered until the mushrooms were tender then seasoned with salt and white pepper. I served the mushroom mixture over triangles of toasted brioche. The result: yum! I mean, how can you go wrong really? Yummy brioche topped with mushrooms cooked in a whole lot of cream. It certainly wasn't going to be bad. But it is the sort of thing where the better the mushrooms are, the better the dish will be! So I should have used better mushrooms. Even with my crappy mushrooms though, it was tasty. I'll try it again someday with morels.

The recipe is here.

It's that time of year -- the semester (and the whole academic year!) is drawing to a close. This is the last week of classes and I have just two lectures left. I am definitely experiencing a tiny bit of end-of-the-semester slump. Semesters are long. By week 13 or 14 I think most people feel the need for a little break. I went to a seminar talk this afternoon and attendance was about half of what it usually is -- I think everyone is just a little burnt out! Overall though, this year has just flown by for me. September feels like a couple weeks ago, and it's crazy to think that the summer is almost here. After this last week of classes I just have to grade my students' take-home finals and then I don't have any teaching obligations again until the end of August. Last year I spent the summer in Boston, leaving Indiana just a couple days after classes ended. So although I have lived in Bloomington for a couple years now, I have never been here over the summer. I am looking forward to spending some time here in the summer months! (Of course, since I seem to already have trips planned to Wyoming/Utah/Colorado, Germany, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Norway, maybe I won't be spending much time here after all! And if the house we are trying to buy in East Lansing works out, maybe we will be spending time there to...) In any event, I will be in Bloomington for most of May -- working on my research and getting ready for the wedding. It should be a nice month!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ginger Pound Cake (Page 704)

RECIPE #980

  • Date: Sunday, April 19, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Chuck, and Paul K
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I have flipped past this recipe dozens of times and each time thought, "Nah." I had envisioned this cake as being sort of dry, flavored with that powdered ginger taste, and just not all that appealing. But the Cakes section of The Book is running low, so my choices are more limited. I am trying to finish up the section in the near future, so I decided I would finally make this cake. I first sifted together flour (which I had already sifted once), baking powder, ground ginger, salt, and mace. Then I sifted everything again (this made for a lot of sifting!). I beat together butter and orange zest, then added sugar in additions. Then I added a half dozen eggs, one at a time, then fresh ginger which I had peeled and grated. I added the flour mixture alternately with milk, in several additions. Then I spread the batter in a buttered and floured pan. I baked it for almost 2 hours. This cake was a very pleasant surprise. I had low expectations, but I will happily admit I was wrong. It was nothing like I envisioned it. For one thing, the texture was awesome! It was moist and not-too-dense. The flavor was also great. Using fresh grated ginger is atypical in baking, but it was great in this recipe. It gave the cake a lovely ginger flavor and it was perfectly balanced with the other ingredients so as not to be overpowering. The other flavor that came through quite clearly was that of butter! Mmmm... butter. The cake was definitely rich (with a pound of butter in it) but it paid off big time in the flavor. My only tiny complaint is that the cake was maybe a touch too sweet for me. I might have been happier with just a tiny bit less sugar. That said, both my special gentleman and I enjoyed this cake a lot. Easily the best ginger cake I have had.

This recipe isn't online.

Ah, wedding planning. Our wedding is less than 5 weeks away now, which means that decisions need to be made. So, I did a little burst of wedding planning late last week. Stop number one: the restaurant where we are having our reception. That could not have been a better experience. The purpose of the trip was to select wines to go with our wedding dinner. My special gentleman and I sat at the bar and tasted wine after wine after wine. Then, when we concluded we had had too much to drink to really be useful decision makers, we ordered some food. The wine was great, the food was AWESOME, and we actually made some decisions! Overall, a success.

Stop number two took us to Indianapolis. It was an exciting day: I picked up my wedding dress and my special gentleman ordered a suit. He hadn't purchased a suit in the last decade, so it was about time he got a new one! Now I have my dress in the closet and the suit is on its way, so we should be all set (ok not quite -- we don't have shoes, a shirt for under his suit, etc...). But we're making progress.

Stop number three was to meet with the catering person for our rehearsal dinner. Now, we are having a super small wedding, the ceremony for which will require no rehearsing. So it's really just a dinner, rather than a rehearsal dinner. And since we are serving a fancy five course meal at the wedding reception, I wanted something totally low key for the rehearsal. In particular, I wanted cookout food: hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, corn on the cob, etc... So I felt totally prepared to meet with the caterer and tell her what I wanted. But then she started asking me all these questions about what color linens I wanted, what color napkins, which hors d'oeuvres, how many chairs per table, what kind of florals we are decorating with... AH! Oh my gosh. It was completely overwhelming. My mental vision of this event had been everyone sitting around, drinking beer, eating hamburgers, and then going bowling. There were no flowers in my vision. Or hors d'oeuvres. Just food off a grill, alcohol, and bowling balls. Simple, simple, simple. Depsite the pressure, I tried to remain true to my vision -- I ordered my cookout food, some white linens, a popcorn machine, and an open bar! I figure we can't go wrong with that!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brioche Loaf (Page 611)

RECIPE #979

  • Date: Sunday, April 19, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. I took the brioche dough (see post below), shaped it and put it into a buttered loaf pan. I let it rise for a couple hours, then brushed the top with a mixture of cream and egg yolk. I baked the loaf until it was golden brown. This brioche was delicious! It was rich with eggs and butter yet wonderfully light. The flavor and texture were both spot on for brioche. We ate almost half the loaf when it was fresh out of the oven. My special gentleman declared it the best brioche he has ever had. With a Start to Finish time of 21 hours the recipe looks intimidating. But the vast majority of that time is just for the dough to rise, and the actual work involved was quite minimal. Definitely a keeper of a recipe!

This recipe isn't online (although there's not much to it once you have made the dough recipe, which is online. See the post below.)

Occasionally in my kitchen there is some sort of culinary disaster. Mistakes are made. Things turn out badly. I expect this to happen once in a while. But typically disasters are spawned by intricate recipes that involve complicated steps, or lots of things happening at once. Last night was the exception. A culinary disaster definitely occurred while I was making.... frozen pizza. True confession: it's not all gourmet meals around our household. Sometimes we eat frozen pizza. Last night we were starving by the time dinner rolled around, and although I was working on some steamed shrimp custards (which turned out to be foul!) we decided we might need something to supplement the meal. So I threw a frozen pizza in the oven and went on with my shrimp custard making. When the timer went off I peered inside the oven. My pizza was not making much progress. It was pretty pasty looking for having been in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. I didn't think much of it, set the timer for another 6 minutes, and went back to work. When the timer buzzed again my pizza was still not looking too cooked. The pizza was warm, and the oven felt hot inside, but there wasn't much cooking action happening. I shrugged, set the timer for another 6 minutes and went back to work on my custards. When the timer went off again and my pizza was still pale and sad looking, I figured there was a serious problem. I don't have an oven thermometer, but I do have a new remote thermometer that we got as a wedding present (thanks Alp!). So I put that in the oven and waited. I hadn't used the thermometer yet, so I figured it was broken when it came back with a reading of 175 degrees. 175? The oven claimed to be at 400. At that point I stuck my arm all the way in the oven and started touching things to see if they were hot. After much analysis (and a few minor burns) I established that the lower heating element in our oven was broken. I don't know how that happened, but it wasn't heating at all. The top element was working, but it could only get the oven so hot (apparently, 175 degrees).

By that time my special gentleman and I were starving (heck, we were starving 45 minutes before that) and had discovered that the shrimp custards were inedibly gross. The pizza, however, was not cooked. The top heating element still worked so I had only one idea: I could broil it! And broil it I did. Within a few minutes the toppings of the pizza were burnt and smoking. The underside? Pale and soft. So I did the only thing I could. I inverted the pizza onto a baking sheet and broiled the bottom until it too was smoking. Then I attempted to reinvert the pizza so it would be right side up. Of course the toppings mostly stuck to the baking sheet, so I had to scrape them off and pile them on top of my now naked pizza. My special gentleman looked at it and said, "That has got to be the worst looking pizza I have ever seen." He's right. It wasn't cute. But you know what? It tasted fine. We ate the whole thing.

The real problem, of course, is now our oven is broken! Hopefully it doesn't take long for it to be fixed!!!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brioche Dough (Page 612)

RECIPE #978

  • Date: Sunday, April 19, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-



This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. The Book has the Brioche Dough as a subrecipe of the Brioche Loaf recipe (so the ingredients for the Brioche Loaf are the Brioche Dough and some egg wash). I forgot to take a picture of the dough before I baked it, so this post and the next one (about the Brioche Loaf) will have the same picture. To make this dough I started by making a starter. I proofed some yeast with sugar and milk, then stirred in some flour and let it sit for an hour. I beat some eggs in a mixer bowl, then added a mixture of hot milk, sugar and salt. In several additions I added some flour, another egg, and some butter. Then I put the dough hook in my mixer and added the starter to the mixture. I beat it with the dough hook until smooth, then added more butter and beat it some more. I let it rise for a couple hours then punched it down and put it in the refrigerator overnight. I didn't actually taste the dough when it was raw, but I will say that it made killer brioche (more on that in the next post). My one complaint about this recipe was that it wasn't quite as fun as some brioche doughs I have made. In particular, brioche dough recipes often involve some crashing (slamming of the dough against a counter). Crashing is fun (and noisy!) and I missed that in this recipe. However, it was much less messy without the crashing, and the brioche turned out great, so it was no major loss. Keep in mind if you make this that brioche dough is always very sticky -- don't be tempted to add extra flour!!

Here is the recipe.

The second half of this week has been busy, busy, busy. For one thing, my birthday was yesterday! I had a really nice day. To celebrate, my special gentleman and I went to the very small town of Story, Indiana last night. Story is an unincorporated town -- actually the whole town is now just an Inn which has been standing there since 1851. As part of the Indiana Wine Fair, the Story Inn hosted an evening of jazz, wine, and barbecue last night. It was really fun. We ate some delicious food, drank some Indiana wine, then curled up on a blanket under the stars and listened to some excellent live music. The surroundings were gorgeous -- wooded and beautiful. We were discussing on the hour or so drive to Story how before moving to Southern Indiana we had no idea how beautiful it would be! The roads to Story were very narrow and very, very windy. On the way there it was light out and quite fun for driving. On the way back it was extremely dark and a little nerve wracking! In one 5 mile stretch we encountered 3 different instances of deer standing in the road. I drove very slowly, with the windows down so we could hear the deer rustling in the bushes before they crossed onto the road. It was worth the tense driving though because it was such a great evening! Here's a birthday picture of us in Story.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Onion Soup Gratinee (Page 114)

RECIPE #977

  • Date: Wednesday, April 8, 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 sliced onions then cooked them slowly in butter and olive oil until they were nice and caramelized. Then I added some flour, cooked for a few minutes, then added some of my homemade beef stock, vermouth, a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf, and salt and pepper. I simmered for 30 minutes, then added some Cognac and Worcestershire sauce. Meanwhile I sliced a baguette, brushed the slices with butter then toasted them in the oven. When I took them out I immediately rubbed them with cut garlic. I topped the pot of soup with the toasted bread, then sprinkled with grated Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano and drizzled with melted butter. I baked the soup in the oven for 20 minutes, then broiled until the cheese was golden. I like French Onion Soup in theory, but it's a food that I almost never eat because it is practically always bad when you order it in a restaurant. This recipe was pretty good though. The homemade beef stock gave it a nice flavor, and the broth wasn't terribly greasy (which is a common French Onion Soup issue). I always have a hard time with soggy bread, and the undersides of the bread slices were indeed soggy. But the tops of the bread slices were so perfectly crispy and cheesy that it almost made up for it! The balance of onion flavor to cheese was appropriate in this recipe -- both came through clearly. And the vermouth, Cognac, and Worcestershire sauce added nice depth to the flavor. Overall it was a solid version of French Onion Soup. Certainly better that what you get in most restaurants!

This recipe isn't online.

I have made some pretty shockingly unhealthy food from The Book lately. Take this soup for instance. The recipe serves 4 people and calls for 3/4 of a stick of butter and a cup and a half of cheese! Considering that most people would eat this as just one component of a meal, that's a lot of fat! Such things don't particularly worry me. My special gentleman and I are both pretty thin, with healthy hearts and low blood pressure. I just find it funny. Last night, for instance, I made a pound cake from The Book and also a loaf of brioche. Both were very tasty, and late in the evening my special gentleman and I were snacking away. Over dinner tonight he was commenting again how tasty both items were. Somehow we ended up in a conversation about how much butter went into those two items. His guess for the amount of butter in the cake and the brioche together: two sticks! Hahahaha. Needless to say, he doesn't bake.
"No," I said, "Not two."
"More?" He asked, looking a little scared.
"Yup."
"Three?"
"Nope. More."
It went on like this. When he guessed "Five?" he looked truly horified.
The answer was five and a half. Yup, almost a pound and a half of butter. He looked so shocked at that point that I didn't have the heart to tell him about the 9 eggs and more than 3 cups of sugar that I had also used. I don't typically worry too much about these things, but even I was feeling a little guilty as I dumped a cup of heavy cream into our dinner for tonight. Left to my own devices, I tend to cook pretty healthy food. So the healthier stuff from The Book I made long ago. Many of the things that are left are, well... not so healthy. For instance, I still haven't made the French toast recipe in The Book that called for the bread to be soaked in heavy cream and then deep-fried!

I guess it's a good thing we run a lot!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cuban-Style Yuca with Garlic Lemon Oil (Page 590)

RECIPE #976

  • Date: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


The Vegetables section of The Book is running low, so I am mainly left with the recipes that call for more obscure ingredients. Luckily, my usual grocery store sells yuca (aka cassava, aka manioc) so it was no problem making this recipe. I started by peeling and cutting up the yuca. Then I boiled it until tender in salted water. Meanwhile I made a sauce of garlic cooked in oil, with lemon juice, salt, and pepper stirred in. Once the yuca was tender I cut it into smaller pieces, and topped with the garlic lemon sauce. Yuca is the source of tapioca and the smell of the vegetable was certainly remniscent of a big bowl of tapioca pudding. That made me very optimistic -- I do love tapioca! I found the flavor of the yuca to be not very tapioca-like though. In fact, it wasn't so flavorful. It was not clear to me that the yuca I had was very fresh though, so perhaps it could have had more flavor. It was very starchy, and I do love starchy things. The sauce was perfectly fine -- it's hard to go wrong with garlic and oil. But I probably wouldn't serve boiled potatoes topped only with garlic lemon oil because it would be pretty dull, and similarly I didn't find this dish too intruiging. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't one I will make again.

This recipe isn't online.

My birthday is coming up on Friday. Usually I get really excited about my birthday and look forward to it weeks in advance. I'm not sure what I like about it so much. I think partly it's the timing of it. It's so near to the end of the semester that I am typically getting a little burnt out by the time my birthday rolls around. Having cause for some celebration is nice. Plus, by the end of April the weather is often warming, which feels like a lovely birthday gift. The biggest thing, though, is that it is a time of reflection for me. I am reminded both of the many blessings in my life and also of the ways in which I can do better in the year to come.

This year, though, I don't feel nearly the birthday anticipation that I usually do. I am aware that it is headed my way, and my special gentleman and I have made fun plans. But I'm not as excited about it as I usually am. My analysis: so many good things have happened in the last year (getting engaged, getting a job in the same place as my special gentleman...) and I have so many things to look forward to (the wedding, buying a house...) that my birthday seems like not such a big deal. With so many big life changes on the horizon I have already spent a lot of time reflecting, and I certainly feel very appreciative of my blessings! Plus, lately it has been like Christmas around here. Many generous friends have sent us lovely wedding presents already. It is such a wonderful surprise to get home from work in the evening and find a package from Crate and Barrel, or Sur la Table or... Who needs a birthday?!?

On the birthday card she wrote to me last year, one of my dear friends wrote, "In my experience, 28 is a tough year with a glorious finish." She was certainly right about the finish! It is a very exciting time!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spicy Pickled Plums (Page 914)

RECIPE #975

  • Date: Thursday, March 12, 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 made these pickled plums quite some time ago, but we hadn't gotten around to actually tasting them until tonight. The Book says they keep, refrigerated, for up to a month. Hopefully a month plus a week is ok, or my special gentleman and I are in trouble! To make this recipe I first scoured the cupboards for star anise. I have a little problem with my spice organizational system. I have some lovely spice racks, but they are only so big. I have a good sense of what is in the 57 spice bottles on the racks and where to find each thing, but if it doesn't fit in the racks, that's another story. First, there is the spice cupboard. That is where I shove most things that don't fit in the rack. It's an abyss. I throw things in there, sometimes unlabeled, with no system whatsoever. I'm lucky if things don't fall out on me every time I open it. So there are two shelves in there overflowing with spice chaos. Add to that a spice drawer with another 44 spice bottles in it and basically if it's not on the spice rack, it's a big project trying to find it. I went through this a couple weeks ago, looking for ground mace. I unloaded everything from the spice cupboard and went through every bottle in the spice drawer. At the end, I concluded that I didn't have any and had to go buy it. But star anise I was positive that I had. I have used it for multiple recipes from The Book, and I would have bet a large sum of money that it was in a little baggy in the spice cupboard. But I unloaded that cupboard and found nothing. Then I went through the drawer. Again, no. I guess I must have used it all... In any event, it was a lengthy process, at the end of which I had to go to the store to buy it. One of my goals in my upcoming life as a homeowner is to truly organize my spices. Luckily the house we put an offer on has built-in spice shelves in the kitchen that can hold at least 84 bottles. That will be a start!

So eventually I acquired some star anise. Then I took a couple pounds of plums, cut slits in them and put them in a big jar. In a saucepan I combined water, sugar, a whole bunch of red wine vinegar, dried chiles de arbol, the star anise, and fresh ginger. I simmered for 15 minutes, then poured over the plums in the jar. I let it cool then put the jar in the refrigerator. These plums were ok, but the name of the recipe was misleading. They were hardly spicy at all. In fact, I could barely detect any heat. I had expected that the vinegar flavor would be pretty overwhelming, but really the predominant flavor was that of anise. Anise is one of the few flavors I don't like. I have tried over the years to have an attitude adjustment about it, with some mild success, but I still can't claim to enjoy it. So for me this wasn't a great recipe. But I can certainly see how pro-anise eaters would like it. My special gentleman, for instance, found these plums rather tasty. They had a nice texture, even after a month in the fridge, and the syrup they were in was also flavorful.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book calls for 1 1/4 cups red wine vinegar rather than 1 3/4 cups.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Beef Stock (Page 928)

RECIPE #974

  • Date: Sunday, April 5, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I made this recipe because I needed some beef stock to make French onion soup. This recipe called for two pounds of meaty beef shanks and two pounds of meaty veal shanks (amongst other things), which I figured would be no problem -- my local butcher shop would certainly have them. Indeed they did, but what I didn't expect was the following: the beef shanks were something like $5 a pound, which seemed perfectly reasonable, but the veal shanks were $23 a pound! Yes, $23 a pound for something that is largely bone. Now, I essentially never deviate from The Book's directions, but even I couldn't justify throwing $46 of veal alone into a pot of stock. So I cheated a little. I bought 3 pounds of beef shanks, 1 pound of veal shanks, and then I bought some veal soup bones to give the stock some of the gelatin that would have come out of the missing pound of veal shank. To start this recipe I roasted the beef shanks, veal shanks, and veal bones with onions and carrots until browned. Then I dumped it all in a big stockpot, along with water, celery, salt, and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. I simmered it for five hours, then strained it and skimmed off the fat. This stock was pretty good. Beef stock is my least favorite of the standard stocks (which is a little mysterious since I LOVE beef). It had a decent flavor to it though and a nice mouthfeel. The recipe was a perfectly good standard beef stock recipe.


Here is the recipe.

This week has been so hectic that I haven't even mentioned our big news: my special gentleman and I put an offer on a house on Sunday! We went up to East Lansing over the weekend. It was our second house-hunting trip. On our first trip, a few weeks ago, we saw 17 houses in one day (yes, seriously!). It was intense. There was one house we fell in love with, but after 17 houses in one day we were too exhausted to make any decisions. So we thought about it for a week or so and then went back and revisited it. That second trip was this past Saturday -- we went through our top 4 houses from the previous trip, plus a handful of other houses we hadn't seen yet. We discovered that we liked our favorite house even more the second time. We thought about it overnight and decided to write an offer the next morning! This was a big deal for us. We have both moved around so much in the last decade that we have always rented. So this will be our first house! That is, if we get it... Unfortunately the situation is very complicated (from the seller's end, not ours), and so we might not get the house due to things outside of both his and our control. And whether or not we get the house, it could be weeks or months before we find out. So we are waiting! I am hopeful though. I love, love, love the house and it is a great location for us (an easy walk to campus!). Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Korean Short Ribs (Page 445)

RECIPE #973

  • Date: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


We had some really excellent short ribs from The Book a few weeks ago, so I figured I would try another short rib recipe. I started by scoring the meaty side of each short rib. I then sprinkled them with sugar and refrigerated them for 8 hours. Following that, I marinated them in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger, and pepper for 2 hours. Once they had finished marinating, I cooked the ribs under the broiler for about 15 minutes, and then served. I was skeptical about this recipe from the beginning for the following reason: short ribs are a pretty fatty cut of meat. They are fantastic when braised because those big veins of fat melt into the braising liquid, and the meat becomes wonderfully tender. In this recipe, however, the short ribs were cooked very quickly, which meant that the fat did not melt away and the meat wasn't slow-cooked to tenderness. Indeed my major complaint about this dish was that it was difficult to avoid getting a big bite of fat (which is kind of gross) and the meat was a bit tough. The flavors were awesome though. The marinade was delicious, and the slightly burnt taste from the broiling made it superb. I will definitely use this marinade (and the dusting of sugar) again on a cut of beef more suitable to quick cooking methods.

This recipe isn't online.

Well, today didn't go exactly as planned. I had an appointment to pick up my wedding dress in Indianapolis today. I am really excited to see my finished dress, and I have been looking forward to going to get it. I woke up to my alarm this morning, feeling totally fine. I was still half awake when I wandered into the bathroom to get in the shower. I caught a glance of myself in the mirror and noticed I looked strange. It didn't really register though until I was standing in the shower and looked down at myself. The majority of my body was covered in bright red splotchy spots. It looked just like measles, although I was pretty sure that wasn't what it was. It turns out I have developed an allergy to penicillin. I'm not sick -- I have only been on the antibiotic because I was scheduled to have a root canal next week. But I had to immediately stop taking the drug, and they decided it would be better to do my root canal today. So, instead of my day of wedding dress fun, I had a root canal (and a filling in another tooth, and a temporary crown put on...)! I spent three hours at the dentist, and although it wasn't as bad as I expected, it also wasn't fun. Meanwhile, despite not having taken any of the antibiotic since last night, the rash continues to spread. Aside from my face (which has thus far been spared) my entire body is covered. My hands, my feet, even the inside of my belly button is speckled with bright red splotches. It is not pretty. On the upside, my tooth is feeling pretty good. I worry about any procedure where they prescribe vicodin for pain, but so far I haven't needed my vicodin at all!

I rescheduled my wedding dress appointment for next week. Hopefully I will actually make it there that time!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Coq au Vin (Page 368)

RECIPE #972

  • Date: Monday, April 6, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I had been putting off making this recipe because of the pearl onions. I just hate those things (as I have mentioned!). It's such a pain peeling the tiny onions, one by one. On this recipe I finally caved and used the frozen, already peeled pearl onions. And you know what? I don't think the recipe suffered for it! I started this dish by boiling some bacon for a few minutes and then draining it. I then cooked the bacon in a skillet until browned. I removed the bacon and browned chicken pieces in the bacon fat. I removed the chicken from the skillet and added my pearl onions, cooking until browned. Then I put the onions in a big pot along with the bacon, red wine, chicken stock, and a bouquet garni of celery, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf and simmered for 10 minutes. Then I added the chicken and simmered some more. Meanwhile, I cooked some mushrooms in bacon fat, then added Cognac. I added the mushrooms to the chicken and cooked some more. When the chicken was cooked, I thickened the sauce with a beurre manie (flour smushed with butter), seasoned and served. Well, that's what I was supposed to do anyway. It drives me nuts though when The Book calls for chicken to be cooked using a moist heat cooking method (like this one) with the skin on, and then served with the skin. Skin + moist heat cooking = soggy skin. Soggy skin is not delicious. So right after I took the picture I took all the meat off the bone, discarded the skin, shredded the meat, and added it back into the sauce. Served that way, it was delicious. This dish was great. The sauce was flavorful and just fantastically tasty. The mushrooms and bacon made a good combination and the red wine took it from tasty to awesome. I even enjoyed the pearl onions. If the recipe hadn't called for the chicken to be served with the skin on, I would have given it an A. As it was, the recipe needed to be modified. If you make it, take the time to remove the meat from the skin and bones. You won't be sorry!

This recipe isn't online.

My apologies for the lengthy blog silence. We have been traveling for the last five days, first to Michigan and then to New York. The Michigan trip was a house hunting mission (more on that later), which went really well. Unfortunately the trip to New York was not for such a happy occasion. One of my special gentleman's dearest friends lost his father, so we flew out to New York on Monday to attend the funeral. It was an extremely sad occasion. The service was beautiful and it was obvious that this was a man who was very loved. I can't even imagine the pain of losing a spouse or parent, and I am certainly keeping the family in my thoughts...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables (Page 506)

RECIPE #971

  • Date: Tuesday, March 10, 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. Making this lamb stew was quite an experience. It all started with my trip to the butcher shop. Now any reputable butcher shop (or grocery store meat counter) will sell something labeled Lamb Stew Meat. This meat is boneless. It's also cut in stew-sized pieces. It is ideal for making, say, a stew. Now, this recipe is a stew so I figured stew meat would be the way to go. But The Book specifically instructs not to use leg of lamb in this recipe. I had my fingers crossed that the stew meat at the butcher shop would be lamb shoulder, but I knew better. I figured it would be leg of lamb, and it was. So I asked,
"Do you have any boneless lamb shoulder?"
And the butcher-man said, "I've only got lamb shoulder with the bone in. What are you going to do with it?"
I responded, "I'm going to make a lamb stew."
"Ah. I would recommend you use the lamb stew meat. It's much cheaper, and works really well for stew."
"No," I insisted, "I really need lamb shoulder."
He gave me a look like I was insane and went to cut me some lamb shoulder. And frankly, it was crazy. At the end of the day I needed stew-sized chunks of lamb meat. The cheaper option was to buy such pieces of meat, already perfectly cut for me. The other option was to pay significantly more, and battle with boning and chunking the meat myself. Now, not only did this huge hunk of meat have bones in it, it was also frozen. "No problem," I thought. It's often easier to cut frozen meat so I figured it might make my butchering task easier.

Fast forward a bit and I am back home, standing in front of a cutting board, with a HUGE hunk of frozen meat in front of me, knife in hand. I wouldn't describe the next 30 minutes as the most miserable culinary experience of my life, but it was up there. For one thing, that thing had bones in places I didn't expect them. It's hard for me to orient myself in a piece of meat that big, and I lost all connection with the anatomy of the animal. So there I was hacking away, and my hands were cold. Very, very cold. My knives are dull so I had to push quite hard, which meant that not only were my hands frozen but they were getting blisters. It was miserable. And the whole time I thought, "I should have just listened to the butcher." I feel obligated not to disobey The Book though, or else my feedback doesn't accurately represent the recipe. But in this case... I might have made an exception had I known how miserable I would be with my frozen achy fingers and the ginormous cut of meat.

Eventually, I finished (not soon enough!), and went on with the recipe. I browned the lamb then removed it from the pot and cooked onion and garlic, then added beef stock, white wine, the lamb, and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and peppercorns, and braised for an hour and a half. While that was braising, I went on. Now imagine, with the mood I was in, how delighted I was to find that the next step was blanching and peeling a whole crapload of cursed pearl onions. I admit, pearl onions put me in a bad mood anyway -- they requre so much work and they just aren't that good. But I was already crabby at this recipe, and that just made me crabbier. I did it though, the blanching and peeling. I also cooked turnips, carrots, zucchini, and sugar snap peas, all in separate batches. When the lamb was done I thickened the sauce with a beurre manie (mixture of flour and butter) and then I added all the vegetables and seasoned.

After all that trauma I would be delighted to declare this stew was bad -- but it wasn't. The lamb was perfectly tender (so maybe using shoulder paid off after all...), and the vegetables were nicely cooked. Having all those blanched spring veggies in a stew seemed odd to me though. This stew had the property that it did not reheat well, which is very uncharacteristic for slow-cooked food. But it had to do with the fact that although the lamb was slow-cooked, the veggies weren't. The flavors were nice though and I certainly enjoyed eating it. Plus I learned a valuable lesson: it's a good idea to listen to the butcher!

Here is the recipe.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

White Bordelaise Sauce (Page 881)

RECIPE #970

  • Date: Monday, March 9, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I put off making this sauce because it calls for chicken stock, with a warning: do not use canned broth. I was out of homemade chicken stock for a long time, so I had to make that before I could make this sauce. So I started by making some chicken stock. Then I cooked onion and garlic in olive oil, and added white wine, white port, and bay leaf and reduced. Then I added the chicken stock and reduced again. Finally I added some veal demi-glace (a.k.a. super concentrated veal stock) and reduced again. Then I strained and served. This sauce had a pretty good flavor to it -- the chicken stock and veal demi-glace together was a bit weird to me, but I still liked it. The consistency of the sauce was a little thin (perhaps I should have reduced some more!). I was surprised by this sauce because it wasn't at all what I was expecting. Having only read the title I expected the sauce to be, well, white. Indeed it was not! Typical bordelaise is made with red wine and beef marrow, and so it is indeed darker than this. But that still didn't make this sauce white! Culinary naming schemes crack me up! In any event, it was pretty good. I didn't like it as much as a typical bordelaise, but it was still quite tasty.

The recipe is here.

This was the last recipe in the Sauces and Salsas section! Yay! This is the second section I have finished. That means it is time to list my top five (in no particular order):
  • Marchand de Vin Butter -- Usually I am not too excited about compound butters, but this butter with shallots cooked in red wine smushed into it was excellent!
  • Stilton Sauce -- This sauce was amazing. My special gentleman and I just sat there and marveled at its deliciousness. Yum!
  • White Butter Sauce with Cream -- You would expect beurre nantais to be delicious (butter and cream -- how can you go wrong?!?), and this recipe did not disappoint.
  • Papaya Pineapple Salsa -- The perfect topping for a fish taco!
  • Green Mayonnaise -- We ate all 9 mayo-based sauces on the same day (yay, mayonnaise tasting!), and this was by far the best. Very tasty!
I'm sad to be done with the Sauces and Salsas section. It was a fun section to cook through. I will certainly come back to many of the sauces from this section in the future. Two sections done, nineteen left to go!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Creamed Turnips (Page 588)

RECIPE #969

  • Date: Monday, March 9, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B

I'm not a huge turnip fan, and I think most people aren't, so I was hesitant to make this for company. Instead, I made this one evening when I was home alone a few weeks ago. I peeled and cut some turnips into 1-inch pieces. I then boiled them until tender. I cooked shallots in butter, then added thyme, salt, black peppercorns, whole cloves, and bay leaf and cooked for a minute. I added some flour to make a roux, then added hot milk and cream. I simmered the sauce until thick, then strained it and seasoned with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. I added the turnips to the sauce and heated through. Honestly, I expected to hate this recipe. But I didn't. Turnips can have a powerful bite to them, but the cream sauce did wonders in tempering that pungency. The sauce had an excellent flavor to it, and a nice creamy texture. Plus, the turnips were perfectly cooked. I probably wouldn't make this recipe again (there are so many delicious vegetables out there -- why serve turnips?) but if you like turnips you are sure to love this recipe. It was certainly the best turnip-centered dish I've eaten.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one, except the one online has twice as much cream sauce as the one in The Book.

In November my dear friends Emilee and Rachel threw me and my special gentleman an engagement party in Boston. As part of the festivities, they organized a game that was meant to test which of us knew the other person better. They asked us each a bunch of questions privately, and then during the party we had to guess what the other person had answered. Generally speaking, it was pretty tough (and I am ashamed to say that my special gentleman beat me -- apparently he knows more about me that I do about him!). There was one question that was easy though: "Name one thing the other person is really dreading." We had both said that we were dreading the exact same thing, which made it easy to guess. That answer was, "Getting jobs together."

Math academia is very competitive and tenure-track jobs are tough to get. Getting two tenure-track jobs in the same location is a problem that has led to many couples spending years living apart. The so-called two-body problem can be a real struggle.

So I am beyond delighted (READ: completely ecstatic!) to say that we have solved it! My special gentleman had accepted a tenure-track job at Michigan State University last spring, and I just accepted my own tenure-track job there! And now I am sitting here, basically in shock, marveling at how wonderful it is. I had emotionally prepared myself for the two of us going on the job market year after year until we got two jobs that we were excited about, in the same place. That is typically what people with two-body problems in math have to do. But instead, we worked it out without ever doing that!

We are both so excited about Michigan State, and just delighted that it worked out so beautifully. I am staying in Indiana one more year to finish my post-doc, but then we will be living together in East Lansing, Michigan!!! Go Spartans!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Tahini Dressing (Page 172)

RECIPE #968

  • Date: Sunday, March 8, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B


I made this recipe because I spotted some tahini in the store the other day and thought, "Ooo, I need tahini for something in The Book!" Since the recipes are starting to run a bit low, when I spot a harder-to-find ingredient, I buy it and make the recipe! This dressing was super simple. It had a Start to Finish time of 5 minutes. I don't have too many of those left! To make this I took tahini, water, lemon juice, garlic cloves, salt, and sugar, threw them in a blender, and blended until smooth. That's it! In fact, it may have taken less than 5 minutes! This dressing was fine. Not surprisingly, it had a strong flavor of tahini. I ate it on some carrots and it was appropriate for that purpose. It would also make a nice sauce on some falafel, or dressing on a leafy green salad.

The recipe is here.

Thoughout gradaute school I had many, many dinner parties, often on Sunday nights. On one such Sunday, a bunch of people had come over for a big meal. Around 10pm a friend of mine said she needed to go because she hadn't yet planned her classes for the next morning. She was a post-doc at the time, teaching two different undergraduate classes. I remember being shocked, absolutely shocked, that at 10pm on a Sunday night she hadn't planned her classes for the next day. "When I'm a post-doc," I thought, "I'm sure I will plan my classes weeks in advance."

I am, generally speaking, a planner. When I have an important seminar talk coming up I write it way in advance. I like having a draft and having some time to think on it. It also makes me more comfortable to have lived with the talk for a few weeks before presenting it. I always assumed that as a teacher, it would be the same. That dream, however, seems to be a little unrealistic. At the beginning of each semester I do manage to get ahead. There was certainly a point during this semester when I had my lecture notes written three weeks ahead. But inevitably things get busy, and I slowly have fewer and fewer lectures ready in advance. Which brings me to a moment like now. It's 9:32pm on Sunday night and I have not written lecture notes for tomorrow. I am in exactly the situation I couldn't possibly imagine ever being in. It's not a big deal at all. I have certainly thought through what I will talk about tomorrow, and in a few minutes I will sit down and write my notes. I try to never leave any lecture planning to do in the morning, before class. Certainly it has happened that I am still planning my course in the morning -- but only under extreme circumstances. But often I plan my class the day before, instead of weeks in advance, and it works out just fine. If I could go back and tell my younger self to not be so shocked, I would. Live and learn...

Time to go plan my class!

Lamb Tagine with Prunes, Apricots, and Vegetables (Page 510)

RECIPE #967

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

The Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb section of The Book is one of my slowest, so I made a couple lamb recipes in a row to try to make some progress in that section. For this recipe I started by taking some lamb shoulder chops and cutting the meat from the bones then cutting the meat into pieces. I browned the meat in oil and then browned the bones. I cooked some onions, then added the meat, the bones, water, saffron, salt, and pepper. I simmered it until the lamb was tender, then removed the meat and discarded the bones. I added pieces of carrot and sweet potato and cooked until tender, then added ground ginger, cinnamon, prunes, dried apricots, and yellow squash and cooked until the squash was tender. Then I added the meat and a bit of honey, then seasoned with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I served it with couscous. This recipe was fine. It was a perfectly respectable version of lamb tagine, but lamb tagine has never been my favorite. Lamb tagine is often very sweet, and this was no exception -- this recipe was too sweet for my taste. The honey was optional, and I only added about half of the optional quantity. I regretted adding it at all though, and if I made it again I would certainly leave it out. Even without the honey though, the fruits and vegetables appearing in this dish were very sweet. Aside from the extreme sweetness, it had a good flavor to it. The lamb was perfectly cooked, and most of the fruits/vegetables were as well. The one exception was the sweet potatoes, which overcooked so much that they completely disintegrated into the stew. I didn't love this dish, but that mainly reflects personal preference. If you like lamb tagine, you will probably like this version.

Here is the recipe.

One of my closest friends (and college roommates) used to get up early every morning when we were in college and run a few miles before starting the rest of her day. When I rolled out of bed she was inevitably back from her run, showered, and eating breakfast. The summer after we graduated she worked at the White House and I didn't see her for a few months. When I saw her again, she had clearly lost weight. She was a thin person to begin with, so I was concerned that something bad had happened to trigger the weight loss. I asked her, "You look really skinny -- are you ok?" Even now, almost seven years later, I remember her response very vividly, "Yeah, I'm fine. My job is just so busy that I haven't had any time to run."

At the time I was very confused. She had lost weight because she stopped running? It seemed to me very counterintuitive. But now, I completely understand. When I train, I eat constantly. I ran seven miles yesterday and I feel like I have been eating ever since -- and I'm still hungry! I only eat when I am hungry, and when I am hungry I eat whatever I am craving. When I run, though, I am hungry all the time!

When I trained for the half marathon this past fall, I definitely gained a couple pounds. I bought a pair of jeans that fit while I was training and after not running for a few months, they were practically falling off! Since I started training again a few weeks ago a couple people have asked me if I am running to get in shape for my wedding. That makes me laugh. Actually my one concern about training now is that I will gain weight and my wedding dress won't fit! Hopefully that won't happen!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Coffee Souffles with Chocolate Sauce (Page 841)

RECIPE #966

  • Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Mike M, Lars, Teresa, and Andrew
  • Recipe Rating: C

I was looking for a reasonably quick dessert to make with dinner a few weeks back, and chose this one. My special gentleman actually did most of the work on this recipe. We started by making the souffle base: cooking together milk, cornstarch, instant coffee, and sugar on the stovetop. Then we added vanilla and cooled. My special gentleman beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt, then added sugar, beating until they held stiff peaks. These egg whites were carefully folded into the souffle base and then we put the souffle mixture in oiled and sugared ramekins and baked them until puffed. We then dusted them with powdered sugar and served them with a chocolate sauce we made by melted together bittersweet chocolate, water, vanilla, and cinnamon. This dessert was very disappointing. Where to start? Well the souffles were beautiful and rose very nicely, but the flavor was not good. They were borderline bland -- apparently the ratio of base to whites was not high enough. And the flavor that was there... well... was the flavor of instant coffee. I love coffee as much as the next girl, but instant coffee granules are not known to be especially delicious. Most cooking with coffee recipes call for instant espresso, which isn't ideal, but does taste better than instant coffee. Here, though, it specifically noted to used instant coffee and not instant espresso. So the souffle had a mild, but bad, flavor. The chocolate sauce would have helped matters but it seized. So instead of a nice, smooth sauce we had a clumpy mess on our hands. Now, this was partly our fault as we let it get too hot. But it was also a bit of The Book's fault as one thing that is very likely to make chocolate seize is water. So a recipe that calls for melting chocolate in water is just asking for trouble. I love eating dessert (love it!) and I actually left three fourths of my souffle untouched. It wasn't good.

The recipe in The Book (minus the chocolate sauce) is very similar to this recipe.

After traveling for several weeks I am having a difficult time getting back into the swing of things. I was away for 2 weeks (a week in Boston followed by a week in North Carolina) and I flew back Saturday night. I was in town on Sunday, and part of Monday. After I taught my class Monday morning I left town again, returning late Tuesday night so I could teach my class Wednesday morning. I have spent the rest of the week completely disoriented about what day it is. I have been playing catch-up on everything in my life (for instance, my blogging pace has been pretty pathetic the last couple weeks!) so I haven't had any time to cook. In fact, I haven't had any time to go to the grocery store since I got back from being away for several weeks. So I have been eating either Cream of Wheat or Kraft macaroni and cheese for every meal. Not exactly ideal... (although I do love both of those things!). My goal for the weekend is to get back into the swing of things. Go to the grocery store. Get caught up at work. Run. Cook. I will probably have everything back on track just in time for me to leave town again next weekend! I knew the second half of this semester was going to be hectic, and indeed it has been. We only have four more weeks left in the term though, and then my schedule will be more flexible (although maybe no less busy!).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Pork and Bell Pepper Pie (Page 77)

RECIPE #965

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

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. I started by making the empanada dough (see post below). Then I worked on the filling. I marinated strips of pork loin in a mixture of thyme, oregano, paprika, saffron, parsley, garlic, salt, and olive oil for three hours. Then I cooked onions and green bell peppers in oil until tender. I removed the veggies from the skillet and added the marinated pork. I cooked it for a couple minutes, then threw in some white wine, the veggies, and some salt and pepper and removed it from the heat. I rolled out the dough into a big rectangle (with the help of my special gentleman -- the dough was extremely hard to roll out) then folded it in thirds and cut it in half. I rolled out each piece into a big circle then I put one of them onto a baking sheet brushed with water. I put the pork filling on it and topped with the second circle of dough. I sealed the edges, gave the pastry a little egg wash, then baked until golden. This recipe was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the filling was excellent. It was delicious before going into the empanada, and still delicious once it had been baked. The spices were perfectly balanced and complemented the meat and peppers wonderfully. There was a high ratio of green peppers to meat, but it worked! On the other hand, the dough was not so good. As I explained in the post below, it wasn't great to work with, and it didn't come out particularly flaky or tasty. It wasn't bad, but as pastry crusts go, it was not one of my favorites. This filling is definitely worth making again, but next time I will be putting it in a different pastry shell (or eating it with no pastry at all!).

This recipe isn't online.

Math is a very precise thing, and mathematicians tend to be very careful about what they say. Accuracy is important in math, and even in everyday conversation most mathematicians are very careful to only make claims that they are sure about. I realize this about math people, and as a consequence when a mathematician disagrees with me, I often assume that I am wrong, even if I am not. I know this about myself, but it struck me the other day that maybe this is a bad thing. Here's what happened:

I was at a conference and it was someone's birthday. The organizers went out and bought a bunch of cake. One of the cakes was Red Velvet and that's the one I headed toward when it was time to eat. Someone near me in line for cake asked what Red Velvet cake tastes like. I responded, "It's tastes a bit chocolatey because it has cocoa in it." Another person present "corrected" me, "No it doesn't," he said, "It's just white cake that they dye red with food coloring." He was right that Red Velvet cake often has red food coloring, but wrong about the cocoa. Any reasonably traditional Red Velvet Cake has cocoa in it -- in particular the one we ate that evening certainly did. A reaction between the cocoa and the acidity of either buttermilk or vinegar (two other common Red Velvet ingredients) causes a slightly reddish color that was thought to have inspired the addition of the food coloring. I know all this. I have made Red Velvet cake. But here's the thing that is bothering me. Not only did I not stand up to him, but I assumed I must be mistaken. He's a really smart guy, and he was making a claim with confidence. So I assumed I was wrong. Later, back in my room, I looked it up. The fact that I had been right only made me angry -- not at him, he's a perfectly nice guy -- but rather at myself. There was no need to correct him, but I should have at least believed that I was right! If it had been a conversation about anything else, it would have been excuseable, but this was a conversation about cake! I love cake. I know a lot about cake. There was no reason to doubt myself.

Something to work on...