Monday, November 30, 2009

Beef Consomme with Tiny Choux Puffs (Page 90)

RECIPE #1051

  • Date: Saturday, November 21, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Brad, Deniz, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I made this as a second course for dinner when my in-laws visited a couple weeks ago. The idea behind consomme is to start with stock and clarify it. They say you should be able to clearly see a dime at the bottom of a gallon of consomme. Indeed, it should be very clear. Before I went to culinary school if you had asked me how one clarifies stock to make consomme I would have guessed various straining techniques. But, in school I learned the actual method. I was startled (and a little disgusted), and I certainly didn't believe it would work. But it does! Even now, after having made consomme several times, it still amazes me. Here's how it goes: I started by heating some homemade Veal Stock. Then in a separate bowl I whisked together egg whites, crushed up egg shells, chopped up tomatoes and celery, ground beef, salt, and crushed peppercorns. That delicious mix of things looked like this:

Mmmm... egg shells and beef. What happens to this slop? It gets stirred into the beautiful homemade veal stock. Yup, I whisked that nastiness into my stock in order to clarify it. Mysterious, no? I whisked in the beef and egg shell mixture, stirring constantly until the stock simmered. Then I let it simmer without stirring for a half an hour. What happens is that all that nastiness hardens into a crust, called the raft, on top of the soup. What is left underneath is wonderfully clear. I ladled the soup into a sieve lined with damp paper towels and let the liquid drain through. Then I boiled and seasoned the liquid, then served it topped with the Tiny Choux Puffs, which I already blogged about.

The result: delicious consomme! It had an intense beef flavor and a wonderful mouth feel from the veal bones that went into the stock. It was very clear, just like it should be. And the tiny choux puffs were a tasty and elegant addition. My only complaint was that it was a bit salty. When I seasoned it I didn't even add any additional salt, but the salt that went into the raft mixture was already a bit too much. Were I to make it again I would cut back on the salt that I added at that stage so I would have more control over the saltiness at the end. Aside from that it was a very good rendition of beef comsomme and I would use this recipe again.

The recipe is here.

Driving back to Indiana first thing this morning from my in-laws' house in Ohio, I had this weird feeling. For a long time I couldn't pinpoint what it was, but I felt very different than I have lately. About an hour into my drive I identified the feeling: I felt refreshed! I felt invigorated! I felt awake! I don't know if it was all the holiday fun this weekend, or the good food I ate. Maybe it was sleeping 8 hours a night. Maybe it was spending a whole week with my husband, which I haven't done since August. Maybe it was taking a few days off of work, not thinking about my research or my classes. I don't know. But whatever it was, this long weekend left me feeling rejuvenated. It was just the push I needed for these last two weeks of the semester!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jumbo Ravioli (Page 235)

RECIPE #1050

  • Date: Saturday, November 21, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Brad, Deniz, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: B

This recipe was part of a dinner I made when my husband's family came to visit us last weekend. To make this recipe I started by making the Pasta Dough recipe. While the dough rested I made the filling. I stirred together ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I divided the dough into 6 pieces. With each piece I put it through the pasta roller on the widest setting 8 times. Then I put it through once on a slightly thinner setting, then on an even thinner setting, and so on until I put it through on the thinnest setting. I repeated this process with the other pieces of dough. Then I took one rectangle of dough and dropped mounds of filling on it. I brushed egg wash around the mounds and laid another pasta rectangle on top and pushed it around the mounds to enclose the filling, pressing the air out. Then with a pastry cutter I cut the ravioli into 3 inch squares. To cook the ravioli I put them in a pot of boiling salted water and gently boiled. I served them topped with tomato sauce. These ravioli tasted pretty good, but making them was a bit of a disaster. I rolled out the dough as instructed, but while rolling I kept thinking, "This dough is too thin for ravioli." Indeed it was. Typicaly the problem with ravioli is that they can come unsealed around the edges while cooking, and the filling will seep out into the water. That didn't happen here. But the pasta was so thin that it just couldn't contain the filling. The pasta tore open around the mounds of filling, which spilled the filling into the boiling water. Most of them were salvagable, but they weren't cute. This also made it impossible to serve them elegantly. Indeed you can see in the picture above that I used the tomato sauce to cover up the mess. Were I to make these again I would make the pasta thicker, or the ravioli smaller. The combination of very thin pasta and a huge amount of filling led to them tearing. The filling had a nice enough flavor. It wasn't terribly interesting, but for a simple cheese ravioli it was fine. In summary, I enjoyed eating these ravioli, but as written I won't be making this recipe again.

This recipe isn't online.

My husband and I travel a lot -- both to see each other, and for our work. I try to be at least a month ahead planning our travel: buying plane tickets, figuring out the dates for road trips, renting cars when needed, etc... Now that November is nearing a close, I am trying to tackle the December travel schedule. The beginning of December it's just the usual thing: traveling to Michigan on the weekends and back to Indiana during the week. The Christmas travel, though, is always a little confusing. We try to celebrate Christmas with both of our families in one way or another. So we schedule a trip to Wisconsin and a trip to Ohio back to back, in some order. We also try to coordinate with the schedules of our siblings (my brother and my husband's two brothers) if any subset of them are traveling to Wisconsin/Ohio for Christmas. Once we have all the info we try to do whatever allows us to see the most people for the longest period of time, while missing as few extended family events as possible. After consulting with all the relevant parties, we have developed a Christmas plan for this year! We are doing pre-Christmas and Christmas day with my family, and post-Christmas with my husband's. I haven't had Christmas day with my family in several years (as typically that is allocated to my husband's family) so I am excited about that -- especially because the Christmas celebration will take place at my grandpa's house, where we had it when I was a little kid. Christmas hasn't been at my grandpa's house in decades, so I am very excited for Christmas this year! Then we will have post-Christmas and New Year's fun in Ohio with my special gentleman's parents, his brother Brad, sister-in-law Deniz, and the puppies! It should be a good time. And shortly after New Year's we will hit the road for a long drive to California (where my special gentleman will be living in the winter/spring). But that's January travel, so I won't worry about that quite yet!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Boston Brown Bread (Page 602)

RECIPE #1049

  • Date: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Brad, Deniz, Karen H, Dave, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I had put off making this recipe for quite some time because I didn't have the coffee cans I needed to steam the bread in. Finally I decided just to buy some coffee in cans so I could make this recipe. I started by buttering my coffee cans and lining the bottoms with parchment. Then I sifted together flour, cornmeal, and salt. I heated molasses in a saucepan and added baking soda and buttermilk. I gently stirred that into the flour mixture. I tossed raisins in flour then added them to the batter. I poured the batter into the coffee cans, covered each tightly with foil, then set them on a steamer rack in a big pot. I poured boiling water around the cans until it reached halfway up the sides of the cans, then I covered the pot and steamed the bread at a simmer for about 1 hour. Then I removed the loaves from the cans. Here's what the bread looked like when it came out of the can:

This Boston Brown Bread was very tasty! It had a lovely moist texture and a great flavor. It had a bran muffin quality to it but without all the fat that is typically found in bran muffins. We ate this with baked beans (as shown above) and also just spread with cream cheese, and it was delicious both ways! I also enjoyed making this, as I don't typically make steamed breads. It was a new adventure! This recipe is a keeper.

This recipe isn't online.

I distinctly remember my first encounter with Boston Brown Bread. When I was in graduate school I volunteered ever Sunday on the lunch shift at a homeless women's shelter in Boston. When I walked in Sunday morning I would always ask, "What's for lunch today?" One morning the answer was, "Brown bread and baked beans." I remember thinking, "Most bread is brown... What kind of brown bread?" I assumed that the term Brown Bread referred to some dark wheat or pumpernickel bread. Little did I know that Brown Bread refers to a very specific traditional Boston food.

Later in the meal, the meal manager asked me, "Teena, could you grab the Brown Bread and get it ready." I responded, "Sure." Then started my search for this Brown Bread. I scoured the kitchen for dark bread, looking in the bread box, the walk-in, on the shelves, etc... The only bread I found was white, so baffled, I went back to the meal manager to admit I couldn't find it. She looked at me, confused, and said, "It's right on the counter." I looked at the counter, she looked at the counter, and when it was clear that I wasn't making the connection she pointed at a whole bunch of cans. I walked over, and indeed, half of the cans were labeled Baked Beans and the other half were labeled Brown Bread. This was my first experience with bread in a can.

Only later would I learn that Brown Bread is traditionally cooked in a can, and this canned version you can buy is not so different from what you would traditionally steam in the can at home. But at the time it mystified me, that bread in a can.

After we made the food and served the guests at the shelter, the volunteers ate lunch. I tentatively took a bite of the Brown Bread and Baked Beans that day, only to discover that I liked it. It's better, of course, when it is made fresh, but unfortunately it is hard to find in bakeries outside of New England. Fortunately, I now know how to make it at home!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mesclun Salad with Goat Cheese-Stuffed Figs Wrapped in Bacon (Page 64)

RECIPE #1048

  • Date: Saturday, November 21, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Brad, Deniz, Dave, and Karen H
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I have been wanting to make this recipe for quite some time, but every time I thought of it figs were out of season. The stars aligned last weekend and I finally got to make it! My special gentleman assisted on this one. He started by cooking some bacon on the stovetop until most of the fat had rendered but it was still pliable. Then we cut figs in half, used a melon baller to take out some of the flesh, and filled the holes with goat cheese. Then we pressed the halves together to form whole figs again. We rubbed one side of each bacon slice with a mixture of brown sugar, cumin, and salt, then we wrapped the bacon (sugary side out) around the figs, and secured it with toothpicks. Then we broiled the figs for a couple minutes until the bacon was browned. We couldn't find mesclun, so we substituted some other small greens. We tossed them with lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Then we served the greens topped with the figs. In a word: Yum! Goat cheese, figs, and bacon are always a killer combination, and this was an excellent variation on that theme. Rubbing the bacon with the sugar-cumin-salt mixture really helped play up the sweet-savory aspect of the dish. The textures were also awesome: crunchy bacon paired with a tender fig and slightly melty cheese. The greens were a nice complement to the fig, providing something to cut the richness of the dish a bit. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

The recipe is here.

It's the day before Thanksgiving and I spent the day in the kitchen! We are having Thanksgiving at my in-laws' house with my husband's extended family. I think we are expecting 19 people for dinner tomorrow. This morning my husband and I went to the grocery store to do the remaining Thanksgiving dinner shopping. Then this afternoon I cooked! I made a mushroom pate, two different kinds of stuffing, some crostini, two cheese balls (a Hedden family tradition!), a potato dish, some onion dip, etc... It was a productive afternoon! The first few times I celebrated holidays with my husband's family I didn't get to do any of the cooking. And I missed it. Now that I am more a part of the family, some of the cooking gets delegated to me, which is lovely! Tomorrow I have a few more culinary things to finish up and I am looking forward to a yummy Thanksgiving meal and a fun celebration!

I am also looking forward to the arrival of Brad, Deniz, and their puppies! Their puppies were so entertaining last weekend when they visited us in Michigan that I think everyone is looking forward to having them around again. Here's a picture from last weekend of my husband lying on the floor getting some puppy love from Wellington:


And a picture of Deniz with both Hanby and Wellie:

They are indeed adorable!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope everyone enjoys good food tomorrow with friends and family.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Classic Brioches (Page 612)

RECIPE #1047

  • Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Deniz, Brad, Dave, and Karen H
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I hadn't made these brioches yet because I didn't have the proper molds. We got them as a wedding present though (thanks Grant and Anna!), so I was finally equipped for this recipe. I made these brioches last week and froze them so we could have them with breakfast this weekend when my in-laws visited. The majority of the time that went into this recipe went into making the dough, which was a separate recipe that I had already made once before and blogged about here. Once the dough was ready I brushed the molds with melted butter. Then I kneaded the dough for a minute, then cut it into ten pieces. From each piece I tore off one-quarter of the dough and made it into a small ball. I formed the other three-quarters of each piece into a bigger ball. Then I put the bigger ball into a mold, used my finger to make an indentation, and put the smaller ball on top. I repeated with the remaining nine molds, then covered the molds with plastic wrap and let the brioches rise for an hour and a half. I brushed them with a mixture of egg yolk and heavy cream and baked them until golden brown. My brioches weren't the cutest -- several of my top knots were more than a little lopsided! But they were tasty! They had all the buttery flavor you would expect from brioches, and they were beautifully crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I froze them the night I baked them, and when I wanted to reheat them I put them in the oven directly from the freezer. They were just as good reheated that way, and everyone enjoyed them spread with jam as part of a breakfast spread.

This recipe isn't online.

What a fun weekend! My husband's parents, brother Brad, and sister-in-law Deniz came to visit us in Michigan this weekend. They hadn't seen our new house yet, so it was especially exciting to have them visit. Their visit was made even more exciting by the fact that Brad and Deniz just got puppies! Their miniature dachshund puppies Hanby and Wellington are about two months old and SUPER cute. They are incredibly small, and extremely energetic. They provided a lot of entertainment! When we weren't occupied by staring at the puppies we also spent some time walking around campus, eating big meals, and exploring downtown Lansing. It was a lovely weekend. When we were picking a house one of our priorities was to find a house that would be good for having company stay with us. We love it when our family and friends come visit us, so that was a big priority. I think we succeeded on that count -- everyone who has stayed with us so far has seemed comfortable with the accommodations!

Tomorrow morning my special gentleman and I are headed back to Indiana so I can teach on Tuesday. Then on Tuesday night we will drive to his parents house in Ohio for Thanksgiving weekend. I love this time of year -- full of holidays and family (and good food of course!)!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pasta Dough (Page 209)

RECIPE #1046

  • Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty, Karen H, Dave, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B+


There are two different fresh pasta doughs in The Book, and although I had made the other one, somehow I hadn't made this one yet. I figured it was about time to fix that! I made some ravioli from The Book and this recipe was a component of that dish. The Book gives two options in this recipe. One option is to mix and knead the dough by hand. The other is to use a food processor for the mixing and kneading. Typically I make my pasta by hand, so I figured I would give the food processor route a try. I combined flour, eggs, water, and salt in a food processor. I pulsed until the dough came together, then I processed it for 15 seconds more to knead it. Then I turned the dough out onto a floured surface and let it rest for an hour. That was it! Of course, the time consuming part of making homemade pasta is rolling out the dough, which was a part of the ravioli recipe, not this one. But this was indeed a super-quick way to throw together a pasta dough. I used this dough to make ravioli and they came out very nicely. This dough was not as easy to work with as my usual pasta dough recipe (which I got in culinary school). But after a few passes through the pasta machine, it was more workable. This recipe didn't have any olive oil in it. Olive oil is often (but not always) found in pasta dough. I like the effect that a little olive oil has on the flavor and texture of fresh pasta, so I missed that here. This dough held up well for making ravioli though and it cooked up nicely. I'll probably stick to my usual pasta dough recipe, but this is certainly a solid recipe.

The recipe is here.

I opened the freezer a few minutes ago and food fell out on me. This is a good thing. I have been cooking like a crazy woman the last 5 days or so, and for the first time in a long time I have a backlog of recipes to blog about, and the freezer is bursting with food!

This semester has been crazy busy. Even in busier times though, I have found the motivation to cook. This semester was different. I don't know if I was exhausted from marathon training, or from teaching 330 students, but I just couldn't motivate to cook. Actually, I couldn't motivate to go to the grocery store so that I could cook. But now we are entering into the holiday season, which means visitors, and parties, and all sorts of fun occasions that call for food. This season of celebration has given me a second wind! It has also given me people to cook for! Since I moved to my new apartment in Bloomington I haven't been able to have anyone over for dinner. There's not really anywhere for guests to eat. In particular, I moved my dining table to the house in Michigan. I would feel a little bad having guests eat on the floor, so I haven't been throwing any dinner parties. And our house in Michigan is perfectly suited for dinner guests, but until recently I hadn't been set up to do any serious cooking there. This weekend, though, I am headed to Michigan and my husband's parents, brother, and sister-in-law are coming to visit! So I am going to cook a big meal one night (which I have already started -- hence the overflowing freezer)!

It's nice to be cooking frequently again. I am remembering how much I love creating new things, and checking them off in The Book. I may finish this project in a timely manner after all! Less than 250 recipes to go!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tiny Choux Puffs (Page 91)

RECIPE #1045

  • Date: Monday, November 16, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty, Brad, Deniz, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This is a component recipe for a soup that I am making. To make these tiny choux puffs I started by boiling water, butter, and salt. Then I dumped in some flour and beat it vigorously on the stove for a couple minutes. I let it cool briefly, then added some eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. This was a very typical pate a choux recipe -- the dough that one makes cream puffs from, and profiteroles, and all sorts of other yummy things. I put the dough into a pastry bag and piped very tiny little mounds on some greased baking sheets. I baked these until they were puffed and golden. Yum! These are meant to be floating in beef consomme, and I haven't tried that particular application for them yet. But as an after dinner snack they were awesome! They were everything that a choux puff should be: light, delicate, crispy on the outside and airy on the inside. This recipe made way more than the 90 it claimed to make. But that's ok with me -- it made me feel fine about eating a dozen of them this evening! I look forward to seeing how these work with the soup, but they are delicious just as they are.

The recipe is here.

My husband and I have spent most of the last two and a half years living apart. There was a stretch of several months when we both lived in Indiana, but before that we commuted Indiana to Boston and now we commute Indiana to Michigan. For the most part I am used to it, and try to stay positive. I feel very lucky that the end is in sight -- starting in June we will both be living together in Michigan!

When my husband lived in Boston, we often went two and a half weeks or so without seeing one another. But then we lived together in Indiana for a while after that, and since he moved to Michigan we have been spending 4 nights together and 3 nights apart every week. That is very manageable, especially since we are both so busy that those 3 nights apart fly by. We are entering a period though where we we frequently be spending 10 (or more...) days apart at a time. And I just feel sad about it. I haven't seen him in more than a week now, and it's the first time we have spent that long apart since we got married in May.

I have been feeling down about this the last couple days, and now I am trying to have an attitude adjustment about the whole thing. It's obviously a good sign that I feel so uplifted by my marriage that I miss him very deeply if I don't see him every few days. And we are incredibly lucky to have secured tenure-track jobs at the same university, allowing us to live together permanently very soon. So for now I just need to suck it up!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Braided Challah (Page 610)

RECIPE #1044

  • Date: Saturday, November 14, 2009 -- 1pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I was in the mood to do some baking this weekend, so I made this challah yesterday. I first made a starter by mixing water, sugar, flour, and yeast in a warm jar. I let it sit until the mixture was very bubbly. Then I combined peanut oil, sugar, salt, honey, eggs, egg yolks, warm water, the starter, and some bread flour in my stand mixer. I beat it for 5 minutes then put the dough hook in and more flour and kneaded it for 10 minutes. At that point my dough was very, very soft. I put it in a bowl and let it rise for a couple hours, then I punched it down and let it rise some more. I then kneaded in more flour, then let the dough sit before shaping it. To shape I divided the dough in half, then each half into thirds. I made each piece into a long rope, and braided them into two loaves. I brushed the loaves with egg wash and let them rise again. Then I then baked them on greased baking sheets that were dusted with cornmeal. I covered the loaves with foil halfway through the baking so they didn't get too brown.

I love homemade bread, and I love challah, so I had high hopes for this recipe. Sadly, though, I was very disappointed. The texture of the bread was nice enough, and it did have the eggy flavor you would expect from challah. But the peanut oil was so trememndously overpowering that it ruined the bread for me. When I read the recipe and saw that it called for more than a half a cup of peanut oil, I was surprised. Peanut is a rather strongly flavored oil, and a half a cup is a lot! Indeed, the loaves came out smelling and tasting predominantly of peanut oil. It's not a bad flavor per se, it was just too much. I left my apartment shortly after baking this and when I returned to the building, I was shocked by how strong the peanut oil scent was from the front door. Indeed even a set of stairs and a long hallway away from my apartment, the unmistakable smell of peanut oil was in the air. This challah might have been tasty with the peanut oil replaced by a milder oil, but as written I certainly wouldn't make this recipe again.

This recipe isn't online.

What a day.

I went into the office this morning to finish writing the third exam for my business calculus class. Obviously delusional, I brought food for a very light lunch, but no dinner. I thought I would be done by 4pm or so, but this was not the case. Exam writing is difficult, and especially so in this course. For one thing, because of the rampant cheating I have to write four versions of the exam so that students don't have the same version as the people sitting near them. Further, half the questions on the exams in this class are multiple choice, which are easy to grade but hard to write. This exam in particular also included a lot of figures, which adds to the time it takes. Four o'clock came and went and I was still working on it. By six-thirty or so I was done. And starving. I had only eaten an energy bar and a bowl of cereal (my light lunch) all day and it wasn't enough. I just needed to run to the bathroom quickly and then I was ready to head home.

As soon as I shut the door to my office, en route to the bathroom, I realized that I had locked my keys inside. People say that when you spend enough time with someone you pick up pieces of their personality. My husband is awesome and I would be happy to pick up almost any aspect of his personality. I was hoping, however, not to pick up his tendency to lock himself out. I have never locked myself out of my office. But tonight, I did. Not only did I lock my keys inside (including, of course, the key to my apartment), but also my wallet. So there I was, starving and penniless. I called the university janitorial staff, and they could let me in, but not for 4 more hours. I don't mind chilling in the department for a few hours, but the idea of not eating until 10:30pm was not sitting well with me. I wandered the building floor by floor looking for help. Finally I found the one other faculty member in the office at dinner time on a Sunday. He couldn't help me with a key, but he did lend me money to eat!

Dinner helped, and now I am feeling much more balanced, although still locked out. Luckily we have Sunday night movies in our department, so after I ate I went to the movie. Then a colleague let me into his office to wait. So now I am at least fed and comfortable while I wait for the janitors. Ugh. Not smart. Not smart at all...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beef and Veal Loaf (Page 449)

RECIPE #1043

  • Date: Saturday, November 14, 2009 -- 1pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I am attempting to make some progress on the meatier sections of The Book, so I made this loaf of meat for lunch today. I started by soaking some cubes of bread in milk. Then I combined ground beef, ground veal, eggs, finely chopped pancetta, grated Parmesan, chopped parsley, grated lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a bowl. I squeezed the milk out of the bread, finely chopped it, and threw that in there too. Then I mixed it all up with my hands. I formed the meat into a big cylinder. The instructions then said to carefully transfer the cylinder to a skillet and brown it on all sides in oil, turning the meat cylinder with two spatulas. Yeah right! I can imagine a spatula size that would make that suggestion reasonable -- but it would be huge! Having no such spatula, I attempted to do this with two regular size spatulas and it was a disaster. Every time I turned it in the pan it lost more and more of its structural integrity, until eventually it just fell apart into 4 big chunks of meat. I then had to remove the detroyed cylinder from the skillet (which destroyed it even more!) and deglaze the pan with white wine. Then I had to put the cylinder back into the skillet (again, more destruction). At that point I tried to reform a loaf, but as you can imagine it wasn't so easy because the meat was hot, it was in a hot skillet, and sitting in hot pan juices. Plus, since the outside was browned, it was less willing to stick to itself. I did my best, then put it in the oven, basting occasionally with the pan juices. I cooked the loaf until it reached an internal temp of 150, took it out and covered it with foil to rest for 10 minutes. I sliced it and served it with the pan juices. My beef and veal loaf had been so frustrating to deal with that I was having angry thoughts by the time I was done making it. All that changed when I took a bite. Oh my gosh: Yum!! I would never have thought to put lemon zest into meatloaf, and even as I say it now, it sounds bad. But it was SO delicious. The lemon zest and white wine were amazing together and went beautifully with the meat, particularly with the pancetta. And although the browning was a huge pain in my a--, that exterior crust was incredibly tasty. Further, this meat loaf was deliciously moist. The texture was just perfect. I love a good American meat loaf, but this Italian version was awesome! If you don't have a couple huge spatulas it is probably going to fall apart and be unattractive (see photo above) but it will still taste great!

This recipe isn't online.

On Thursdays my office hours start at 1pm. My class ends at 12:30pm, so in theory I have 30 minutes to eat lunch before students arrive in my office. In practice I usually have half a dozen things I need to do in those 30 minutes, so more often than not I eat while helping my students. This past Thursday one of my students arrived in my office right at 1pm, as I was just about to start eating my lunch. We had the following conversation:

Student (looking at my lunch): "You always have ramen for lunch."
Me: "Yeah. I suppose that says something about my life as of late."
Student: "It's ok, I don't really know how to cook either."

I thought about defending myself, explaining that I really do know how to cook. But she was right -- this semester I have eaten ramen for lunch more days than not. Things have been busy and somewhere along the way I lost the time to cook, and the will to pack myself a halfway reasonable lunch. Ramen is even easier than peanut butter and jelly, and it costs 17 cents. But it's a sad thing to eat ramen every day, and I am going to starting trying a little harder.

Between now and the end of the calendar year I am going to attempt to blog at least 5 times per week -- which means I will have to cook at least 5 things per week! I started getting back into the swing of cooking by knocking off three and a half recipes this morning. I need to gain a little momentum for my project again!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Black Forest Cake (Page 746)

RECIPE #1042

  • Date: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Teri and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


My mom was in town this past week, and since she is a fan of all things dessert, I figured it was as good a time as any to make the Black Forest Cake in The Book. I started by melting chocolate with butter and water in a double boiler. I let it cool, then stirred in vanilla extract. I then ground almonds with sugar in the food processor. I added the almond mixture to egg yolks and beat it with a stand mixture until doubled in volume. I then beat in the chocolate mixture. In a separate bowl, I beat egg whites with sugar until stiff peaks formed, then I folded the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. I then folded in flour, crumbs from zwieback toasts, cocoa powder, and salt. I poured the batter into a springform pan, lined with parchment and buttered on the bottom. I baked it until a toothpick came out clean. Meanwhile I made a syrup by heating water and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolved. Then I added kirsch. Before assembling the cake I beat together heavy cream and sugar to form stiff peaks. To assemble, I sliced the cake horizontally into three layers. Then I put the bottom layer on a serving dish, brushed it with a third of the kirsch syrup, then spread it with a layer of sour cherry preserves, then a layer of whipped cream. I repeated this with the next layer. Finally, I put on the top layer, brushed it with the kirsch syrup, then spread the whole outside of the cake with whipped cream.

For some reason I didn't have high expectations for this cake. I am happy to say that I was wrong -- it was extremely tasty! The cake layers themselves were dry, but they absorbed the kirsch syrup beautifully, making the assembled cake lovely and moist. The almonds and zweiback crumbs gave the cake layers just a touch of texture without making them crunchy. It was really the flavors that made this cake though. The chocolate, cherry, and whipped cream flavors were perfect together. The cake was sweet without being cloying. The sour cherry preserves were delicious with the whipped cream. The whole thing just came together beautifully. Black Forest has never been one of my favorite types of cake, but this recipe changed my mind about it. Yum! My special gentleman even declared it one of his favorite cakes that I have made.

This recipe isn't online.

People always seem surprised to hear how much I travel for my job. Indeed, research mathematicians travel a lot! The funny thing about math travel though, is that although some of the locations seem exotic, you often end up returning to the same places over and over again. It has to do both with where there are math institutes, and where there are people in your field. For instance, in my field of study there are a lot of Scandinavians and Germans. So although I have been to Denmark, Norway (twice!), and Germany (many times), I have never been to Spain, or Italy, for instance. There just aren't as many people in my field in those countries. A frequent destination for mathematicians in all fields is a math institute in Germany, in the Black Forest. Although it has been explained to me on several occasions, I am still not completely clear on how a math research institute ended up in a tiny little town in the Black Forest, but it did, and there are many conferences hosted there. I have been there three times now, and it is a rather idyllic place. Conferences there share the property that they are held from Sunday to Saturday and on Wednesday the conference goes on an excursion. This excursion involves hiking in the Black Forest for 4, or 5, or 6 hours (depending on who is leading and whether that person gets lost!). The goal is to stumble upon another small town in the Black Forest, where everyone on the hike crowds into a restaurant and eats Black Forest Cake. This past summer I was on such a hike at such a conference, and indeed we ended up stopping for cake. I was sitting at a table full of German speakers, and they were have a boisterous conversation that I could understand none of. So I sat there peacefully eating my cake, savoring each bite. I remember it fondly.

When I ate this Black Forest cake last week, it brought back memories.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Roast Pork with Sweet-and-Sour Chile Cilantro Sauce (Page 468)

RECIPE #1041

  • Date: Sunday, October 25, 2009 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I am trying to make progress on some of the meatier sections in The Book so I chose this pork dish for dinner a couple weeks ago. I started by butterflying a pork loin, then spreading it with a mixture of crushed coriander seeds, bread crumbs, oil, salt, and pepper. I rolled and tied the pork loin, then coated it with the remaining bread crumb mixture. I then roasted it, first at 400 degrees, then at 325, for a total of about an hour and a half. Meanwhile, my special gentleman prepared the sauce. He combined chopped red bell pepper, crushed dried New Mexico chiles, honey, lime juice, and salt and simmered it for about 30 minutes. Just before serving he stirred in some chopped cilantro. This dish was quite good. The pork was perfectly cooked and had a nice flavor to it. The coriander bread crumbs made a flavorful stuffing. They were a bit disappointing as an exterior coating on the pork though as they didn't get as crispy as I had hoped that they would. My special gentleman was very proud of the sauce he made. It was indeed tasty -- both sweet and sour, with some kick to it. In fact there was a little too much kick -- we didn't have quite enough dried New Mexico chiles around the house, so we threw in some other chiles from the cupboard. Apparently they were spicy ones, because the sauce came out quite hot! It still had a great flavor to it though, and my special gentleman loved it. Overall this was a solid pork dish.

The recipe is here.

Yesterday was marathon day, and I did it! I ran my first marathon! A weekend summary:

The race was Saturday morning, so we headed up to Indianapolis on Friday night. My special gentleman and I carbo-loaded with a HUGE pasta dinner on Friday night. We went to bed early for a 6:30am wake-up on Saturday morning.

I was super excited on race day. Standing at the Start line, with more than 5000 other people (marathoners and half-marathoners together), I was dancing along to the blaring music. The weather seemed ideal (more on that later) -- cool, but not cold, sunny once the sun came up. When I crossed the Start line I was definitely raring to go!

The first half of the race felt great. My parents (who came for the marathon) were cheering us along at mile 3, and I was happy to have their encouragment. The first 13 miles or so I was going faster than my goal pace, and feeling strong. Around mile 13 my parents were standing on the sideline again, cheering for us. I remember thinking at that point, "This is no problem. I've got this!"

Then, reality set in. The weather, which looked ideal, actually turned out to be extremely windy. At the water stations, cups were flying everywhere. There were a few consecutive miles that were gently uphill, with a few not-so-gentle hills, and all of it facing into the wind. By the time I hit mile 18 I was exhausted. My special gentleman ran the whole race by my side to support me, being the amazing husband that he is! I was appreciating him throughout the whole race but it wasn't until that 18th mile that I really needed him there. During the 18th mile I started to cry. I was just exhausted. In my training runs I always felt exhausted around mile 18 or so, but then I only had another couple miles to go so I pushed through. In the marathon though, at mile 18 I had another 8.2 miles ahead of me and I just couldn't imagine being able to finish. It was a rough point. My special gentleman informed me that there was no way I was stopping. This kick in the pants kept me running through another couple miles. The 20th mile was another rough one, and I definitely needed another pep talk. By the time I hit the mile 21 marker, though, I was feeling much better. The last 5.2 miles were pretty ok. I had to stop for a few seconds during mile 25 so I wouldn't puke, but other than that, the end of the race went smoothly. I listened to a Beyonce song on repeat for miles 22-25, and some Van Morrison to finish of the race. That, plus the almost constant reassurances from my special gentleman: "You've got this!", "You're rocking this marathon!", "You're making it look easy!", kept me going. My parents were cheering me on at the finish. I crossed the line, collapsed on the ground with a space blanket, and ate a banana.

Between then and now I have done a lot of eating and a lot of sleeping. And now, more than 24 hours later, I am pretty much feeling like normal again. My knees hurt a tiny bit, but overall my body feels pretty good. Up until about a year ago, a marathon seemed like something I could never do. Training was long, and the race was a little rough, but I pushed through and I did it! I'm proud of myself.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Individual B'stillas (Page 374)

RECIPE #1040

  • Date: Saturday, October 24, 2009 -- 10pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


My special gentleman loves anything with phyllo, so I made these Moroccan chicken and almond pies for him when he visited a few weeks ago. This recipe was quite labor-intensive. I cooked onion and garlic in butter, then added ginger, ras el hanout (see post below), and pepper. I cooked it for several minutes, then added some chicken parts, chicken stock, and saffron soaked in boiling water. I covered and simmered until the chicken was tender. I then reserved the cooking liquid and my special gentleman took the meat off the bones and shredded it. He then boiled the cooking liquid and added some eggs in a slow stream, whisking. When the eggs were set he drained them in a sieve and discarded the liquid. We then mixed together the egg, chicken, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I then ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar in the food processor. The individual pies were assembled via a lengthy process of brushing sheets of phyllo with butter, stacking them, dusting them with almond sugar, filling them with chicken filling, dusting with more almond sugar, rolling them up, and brushing with more butter. I repeated these assembly steps 9 times, to make 10 b'stillas. Then I baked them on a buttered baking sheet, sprinkled them with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and served. These b'stillas were pretty good. The phyllo was lovely and flaky, and I liked the sweet-savory aspect of the dish a lot. However, I didn't love the filling. My big complaint was that there was just too much egg in it. The chicken had a great flavor and I liked it with the herbs. But I wasn't loving the cooked egg in the filling, and there was a lot of it. Also, it seemed silly to go through all the work to make individual pies. It would have been much simpler to just make one big pie and then slice it. Were I to make this again that is definitely what I would do! Overall though, it was a tasty dish, and my special gentleman enjoyed it.

The recipe is here.

Marathon week is here and I am mentally preparing for the race. Last night I did my last training run -- a very short 5 miles. I am tapering before the marathon on Saturday, so no more running for me! Regardless of how the marathon goes on Saturday, I am quite happy to be done training! It has certainly been a big undertaking.

In some ways I wish the marathon had been about a month ago. Five weeks ago or so I did a 20 mile training run that went really well and I felt very ready to run the marathon. But things have been ridiculously busy since then. About a week and a half ago I did my last long run before the race. It was meant to be 22 miles. The long run was on a Sunday morning. The day before (Saturday) I spent 12 hours in my office. By the time I left I was so exhausted that I just didn't have the energy to worry about carbo-loading. I ate broccoli and tofu for dinner. Although it was tasty, it was not good fuel for a long run. I went to bed late and woke up early. I ate very little, then headed out for a run. Around mile 15 I just lost it. I was starving, and exhausted. I started crying on the trail. It was not pretty. My special gentleman came out to meet me, and he pushed me to run another few miles. I found another 3 miles in me, and I ended up quitting after 18 miles. It was not a good experience. Despite that trauma, I do think I am ready for the marathon. I just need to be smart about it. On Friday I will be sure to eat a lot of pasta, and I will try to get as much sleep as possible. Then on Saturday, with my special gentleman running with me for support, I am pretty sure that I will finish the 26.2 miles!

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ras el Hanout (Page 933)

RECIPE #1039

  • Date: Friday, October 23, 2009 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This was a component for a chicken dish I made last weekend. I started by removing the seeds from some cardamom pods and grinding them in the spice grinder with fennel seeds, anise seeds, allspice, cloves, black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, sesame seeds, corainder seeds, cumin seeds, and red pepper flakes. Then I stirred in ground mace, ground ginger, and grated nutmeg. This recipe made me glad I have a well-stocked pantry. The only things I had to buy were the cardamom pods! This Moroccan spice blend was very well balanced. I used it to season some Morrocan chicken pies, and this blend gave them a lovely flavor. This recipe was super quick to make, and it tasted very authentic.

This is the ras el hanout component of this recipe.

My mom is in town visiting and this weekend we went up to Michigan. My mom helped with various home improvement projects, including painting our seminar room. We have more bedrooms than we need in our new house, so my special gentleman and I decided to turn one of them into a second study, with a big chalkboard and some cushy chairs -- a.k.a. a seminar room. The only problem was that the room we chose for the seminar room was painted bright turquoise when we moved in. My special gentleman found this not offensive at all, even with our rust colored wingback chairs, but I thought turquoise wasn't really the best color for a study. And the clashing furniture gave me some extra motivation to paint. You can be the judge. Here's the before-we-painted picture:


Unfortunately, I forgot to take an after picture. But we painted the walls a lovely light brown color and it looks great! The wall that the chairs are facing has a big chalkboard mounted on it. The room is now very cozy, and perfect for our in-home math seminar needs!

The weekend was also full of furniture shopping, estate sale rummaging, craigslist furniture hunting, cleaning, raking, etc... It was busy, but the house is looking better and better!

Now my mom and I are back in Indiana, and I am getting ready for a busy week. Besides the usual teaching and reasearching things, I am running my first marathon on Saturday. Ah!!! Marathon day is finally almost here! Crazy!