Friday, December 31, 2010

Grilled Turkey with Cranberry Gravy (Page 381)

RECIPE #1243

  • Date: Saturday, November 20, 2010 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Ben S., Kendra, Jubin, Watson, Linda, and Bob K.
  • Recipe Rating: A

Part of the reason we threw our pre-Thanksgiving dinner party last month was because I still have several turkey recipes left to make from The Book. We selected this one for our party. I started by prepping the turkey. I stuffed the cavities with some lemon halves and herb sprigs. Then I seasoned the bird with salt and pepper and rubbed it with butter. I put it on a rack in a roasting pan and put some water in the pan. My special gentleman was in charge of grilling the bird. He turned off the middle burner on our gas grill and balanced two disposable loaf pans on the burner tents of the middle burner, under the grill rack. One loaf pan had water in it. We punched holes in the bottom of the other loaf pan and filled it with some apple wood chips which had been soaked in water. My special gentleman put the rack back on the grill and put the roasting pan with the turkey over the turned-off burner. He grilled the turkey over indirect heat for about three and a half hours. Meanwhile, I cooked some cranberries and sugar in a saucepan, then pureed them in the blender. When the turkey was done we took it off the grill and let it rest while we made the gravy. We reserved some turkey fat and discarded the rest of the fat off the pan juices. Then we deglazed the roasting pan. We made a roux from the reserved turkey fat and some flour, then added the pan juices, some chicken stock, and the pureed cranberries. We cooked the gravy until it had reduced appropriately, then we strained it and served it with the turkey.

In a word: Yum! It was easily the best turkey I have ever eaten. The flavor from the grill was amazing, and the meat came out fantastically moist and delicious. On top of that, the cranberry gravy was incredible. I will be making cranberry gravy for years to come. It was so, so good. Everyone raved about this turkey. In fact my special gentleman raved about it so much to his parents on the phone after our party that they requested that we make it again for them -- which we did this week! It turned out great again! We did learn one thing from the repeat preparation though. The Book says to keep the grill between 350 and 375. At home we couldn't get it up to 375 with one burner off, so we cooked it right around 350. Here at Dave and Karen's their grill easily got up to 375, so we cooked it at that temperature. Both turkeys had the same great flavor, but the one at our house was moister, so I would aim for 350 degrees in the future. I don't know how well this method would work for a huge turkey, but if you are looking to cook a 12-14 pound bird I highly recommend this recipe. Yum!!!!

The recipe is here, although the recipe online only gives instructions for a charcoal grill, whereas the one in The Book gives instructions for a gas grill too.

Only 50 recipes left to go!

Well it is that time of year again -- time to reflect on the resolutions I made for 2010 and see how I did:
  • Be a good homeowner and neighbor -- This one has gone pretty well. The house hasn't fallen down and to our knowledge we haven't pissed off any neighbors. So I will call this one a success.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables -- I did pretty well with this one too. I have been stocking the fridge with fresh produce and we have definitely been consuming more fruits and vegetables than in the past!
  • Eat less processed food -- I would call this one a definite success. I stopped buying ramen, boxed mac and cheese, microwave popcorn, crackers, cookies, cereal, etc... more than six months ago now, and it has been great! We never ate a ton of processed food, but now we eat even less and I feel good about it. We make all our own bread, cereal, etc... and it has been great!
  • Finish the Gourmet Project! -- Well, clearly that didn't happen. But I have only got 50 recipes left to go (actually less as I am a little behind in my blogging), and I definitely WILL finish in 2011.
  • Run five 8-minute miles -- Ugh, this also didn't happen. I have no excuse.
  • Do 20 consecutive real push-ups -- Again, didn't happen. I've got no excuse other than laziness.
  • Get a lot of research done in my semester of not teaching -- I feel like I used my time pretty well last spring. I didn't accomplish as much as I would have hoped, but I never do.
  • Bring a lot of energy to my new job in the fall -- I think I did pretty well at this one. I am more or less happy with how my first semester went.
  • Be a good wife and friend -- I hope I did well at this!
  • Put effort into meeting people and making friends in East Lansing -- This went better than expected. I definitely put in a lot of effort trying to meet people, throw dinner parties, etc... and it paid off in a big way. Six months ago I barely knew anyone in East Lansing and now I feel like I have some friends there!
Overall, I feel pretty good about the last year. Certainly I didn't achieve my fitness goals, and that is something I would like to improve upon in 2011. But overall, I accomplished many of the things that I wanted to in 2010. Today I need to do a little reflection and think about what my resolutions should be for 2011!

Happy New Year's Eve!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fresh Corn Madeleines with Sour Cream and Caviar (Page 40)

RECIPE #1242

  • Date: Saturday, November 20, 2010 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Ben S., Marcie, Kendra, Jubin, Watson, Linda, and Bob K.
  • Recipe Rating: B

I made these tiny madeleines as an hors d'oeuvre for our pre-Thanksgiving dinner party last month. I started by making the madeleine batter. I whisked together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and pepper. I added egg, buttermilk, melted butter and chopped corn kernels. I brushed mini-madeleine molds with butter, then spooned some batter into the molds and baked them off. Once the madeleines had cooled I piped sour cream on top of them, and topped some of them with caviar. I left a few of them without caviar, as not everyone loves to eat fish eggs. These madeleines were pretty tasty. I liked the texture of the madeleines themselves -- the corn kernels in them added nice contrast. The caviar gave each bite-sized treat a burst of flavor, but even without the caviar they were good. While I liked this dish and had no serious objections to it, I didn't find myself wanting to eat a lot of these little madeleines. I apparently wasn't alone in this sentiment -- with many other tasty food options, this was one dish that didn't get completely eaten at our party.

The recipe is here.

Only 51 recipes left to go!

A few weeks ago we were driving down the highway and we saw a horrible accident happen. It was snowing and the road was slippery. One car spun 360 degrees and another car slammed into it at highway speed. We were so focused on not hitting anyone or getting hit ourselves by the spinning cars that it didn't occur to us that we should stop until we were well past the accident and couldn't get back to it. So I called 911. They asked for the location of the accident and I described which interstate we were on and the mile marker at which the accident had happened. The dispatcher asked me, "Near (insert some city name I can't remember here)?" I answered, "I don't know. I'm not from around here." He took my name, thanked me for calling, and that was the end of the call. As soon as I hung up I realized I hadn't said which state I was in. Presumably cell phone 911 calls are routed to a dispatcher somewhere close to your current location, but the accident was near the Indiana/Michigan border and the interstate in question goes through both states. I hadn't mentioned that the accident was in Indiana. I felt terrible. I am sure a half a dozen people called 911 and reported that accident, so no doubt the rescue personnel arrived quickly. My concern was that because of my call rescue personnel were also dispatched to that mile marker on the interstate in Michigan, to find nothing there. Who knows what happened, and even if my call had gotten dispatched to Michigan rather than Indiana it would have been an honest mistake on my part. I certainly wasn't trying to send anyone on a wild goose chase. Yet I felt terrible. I spent the remaining hours of the car trip obsessing about how badly I felt. I have been wondering lately if I beat myself up too much about that kind of thing: situations where I have good intentions but end up making a mistake.

More than a decade ago now I dated a really sweet guy. At the time I tried to treat him well, but in retrospect I don't think I was always the best girlfriend. I feel badly about the way things ended between us, and about my half of the relationship in general. And although he has never complained to me about anything that I did, I have long felt like it wasn't my best showing. He and I exchange emails on occasion, maybe once every year or two, but we aren't close any more. A few days ago, though, I got a very nice email from him. The message was a thank-you for the love and support I gave him back then, which he said made his life better. He mentioned some general things he appreciated, but also some specific little things (e.g. I made oyster soup for his grandfather after his grandmother died years ago) which of course I had forgotten. When I read his email my first thought was, "This is really sweet of him. If I were a better person I would send more emails to the people from my past who made my life better." My second thought was, "Maybe I am too hard on myself." And maybe I am. The reality is, I did try hard to be good to him in that relationship, and although I made a lot of mistakes, what he remembers is that I tried hard. Perhaps that is what I should remember too. One of my goals for the new year is to try to cut myself a little slack.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Twenty-First-Century Beef Wellington (Page 418)

RECIPE #1241

  • Date: Saturday, November 20, 2010 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Ben S., Kendra, Jubin, Watson, Linda, and Bob K.
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I made this Beef Wellington to serve at our Pre-Thanksgiving dinner last month. Calling this Beef Wellington (even with the Twenty-First-Century added on the front) feels like a bit of a misnomer. Traditional Beef Wellington involves coating beef tenderloin with pate de fois gras and mushroom duxelles, and then wrapping the whole thing in puff pastry and baking it. This recipe called for beef tenderloin to be coated with a cilantro walnut filling, and then wrapped in a sour cream dough that was closer to a pate brisee than a puff. Indeed while The Book calls this Twenty-First-Century Beef Wellington, online the recipe is called Beef en Croute with Coriander Walnut Filling, which seems like a much more appropriate name. The above might seem like a silly discussion, having little to do with the actual success of the recipe, but in this case it did influence my perspective on the dish. If you are expecting Beef Wellington, it's hard to eat this and not think, "This isn't Beef Wellington," and feel a little disappointed. If you were expecting Beef en Croute with Coriander Walnut Filling, this dish wouldn't have been at all disappointing.

To make the dish I started by preparing the filling and dough (see posts below). I seasoned and seared the beef tenderloin. I put some of the filling on the dough, then set the beef on top of the filling and spread the remaining filling on the beef. I carefully wrapped the dough around the beef and decorated with some dough cut-outs. I brushed everything with egg wash, then chilled it for an hour. I baked the beef wrapped in dough until the beef reached 115 degrees. After it rested it was ready to serve! The dish was pretty tasty. It's hard to go too wrong with beef tenderloin, and wrapping meat in pastry is almost always a good idea. I wasn't super-crazy about the cilantro walnut filling though. It was neither great nor terrible. It certainly wasn't mushroom duxelles and pate de fois gras -- Yum!! If I were going to make this type of beef en croute again, I would definitely replace the cilantro filling with duxelles. But even as it was, it was quite tasty. It made for an elegant addition to our Pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

The recipe is here.

Only 52 recipes left to go!

Merry Christmas! My special gentleman and I have had a lovely holiday, full of celebrations! On the 22nd my immediate family went out for a very nice dinner then the six of us opened presents at my parents' place in Madison. The next day we headed to Oshkosh, Wisconsin where my extended family lives. The whole family gathered at a local bar for hours of card playing and catching up. On Christmas Eve we went to my aunt's house, where the 24 people on my mom's side of the family gathered to eat turkey, open gifts, play cards, and take the annual family Christmas photo:


It is always fun celebrating with my mom's family, and this year was no exception. The highlight: my cousin Alex doing the Double Dream Hands dance along with the instructional video. Apparently he memorized it during finals week. Ah, to be an undergraduate!

Early in the evening on Christmas Eve we left Wisconsin and headed for my special gentleman's family in Ohio. The upside of driving through the night on Christmas was that there was no traffic. The downside was that the weather was really rotten for the first 4 or so hours of the drive, and nothing was open along the way, save for one McDonald's. In total it took about 9 hours, but we made it and got a few hours of sleep before it was time to open gifts on Christmas morning. After present-opening my mother-in-law's extended family came over for dinner. The 24 of us ate beef tenderloin and exchanged gifts. We ended the evening with a round of Kill Doctor Lucky, followed by a game of Risk that lasted until 2am. Today we are preparing for another celebration as my father-in-law's family is coming over to celebrate Christmas. We are expecting 26 people for dinner. Speaking of, I should go help with the preparations.

Merry Christmas! I hoping everyone is having a fantastic holiday season filled with loved ones!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sour Cream Pastry Dough (Page 419)

RECIPE #1240

  • Date: Saturday, November 20, 2010 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Ben S., Kendra, Jubin, Watson, Linda, and Bob K.
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This dough was a component of a beef wellington recipe that I made for our pre-Thanksgiving dinner last month. This was a standard pastry dough recipe, made with flour, butter, salt, sour cream, and water. The dough was lovely -- it rolled out beautifully and was generally easy to work with. And once baked it came out very flaky and delicious. It was the perfect dough for encasing a big piece of beef.

The recipe is here.

Only 53 recipes left to go!

Whew -- the last few days have been a mad rush to finish up the semester and get ready for Christmas! On Wednesday I administered my final exam, so the latter half of the week included a lot of grading! It also included some more enjoyable activities: lunches and dinners with friends, a Christmas cookie party, Happy Hour with colleagues, an MSU basketball game, and of course: Christmas shopping! It was a hectic few days. Now I am happy to say that most of the Christmas cards are written, the presents have been purchased and wrapped, and my course grades have been submitted. So I am ready for the holiday! This morning I drove from our house to my parents' place in Madison, WI. The six hour drive was very easy -- nice weather and no traffic (even in Chicago!). My special gentleman is dropping off the kittens at his parents' house and spending a couple days there before meeting me in Madison. We will stay in Wisconsin through Christmas Eve, then drive through the night to be in Ohio with my special gentleman's family on Christmas Day. All of our siblings are coming home for Christmas this year, and we are very excited to see everyone! This is one of my favorite times of year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cilantro Walnut Filling (Page 420)

RECIPE #1239

  • Date: Saturday, November 20, 2010 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Ben S., Kendra, Jubin, Watson, Linda, and Bob K.
  • Recipe Rating: B

This was a component of a beef dish that I made for our pre-Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks ago. I started by blanching some spinach, cilantro, and parsley. Then I drained the greens and squeezed out as much liquid as possible. I toasted some walnuts and ground them in a food processor. I added the greens, garlic, fresh bread crumbs, honey, egg whites, salt, cumin, coriander, and pepper and pulsed until smooth. I thought this filling was pretty good. It begged to be compared with pesto -- nuts, herbs, and garlic ground up together. But I think the basil-pine nut combination in pesto works better than the spinach-cilantro-parsley-walnut combination did here. That's not to say that it was bad. It wasn't. It just wasn't as good as an excellent pesto. And although I liked it pretty well in the beef dish, I couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't the best filling for the job. This recipe was perfectly satisfactory, but I wouldn't make it again.

Only 54 recipes left to go!

The recipe is here.

And just like that, the semester is ending. Tomorrow morning at 7:45am I give my final exam. Once the exams are graded and the course grades are computed and submitted, I will be done for the term! I am ready for the semester to be over, but nonetheless I feel like the end snuck up on me. On the one hand I feel as though the semester flew by. On the other hand, if I think about how much more comfortable I feel in my new job now than I did at the beginning of the semester, it makes September seem like ages ago. New situations make me nervous. And in starting this new job there were a lot of new situations, and hence a lot of anxiety. As the semester went on I could feel my stress level dropping each week though, as fewer and fewer things were new. I got into a routine. I learned the basics about how things work in both units in which I am appointed. I made friends. And slowly I became more and more comfortable. Indeed I think next semester will go much more smoothly than this one, if for no other reason than that I will be so much less anxious. In the meantime, I am in the midst of finals week. Hopefully my students do well tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Foolproof Grilled Chicken (Page 363)

RECIPE #1238

  • Date: Saturday, November 6, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Brad and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman and I made this recipe when his brother and sister-in-law came to visit last month. I started by brining the chicken overnight in a mixture of water, salt, and sugar. Then we made a vinaigrette of lime juice, fish sauce, minced garlic, cilantro, mint, red pepper flakes, salt, and vegetable oil. My special gentleman seared the chicken pieces on the grill, then moved them to a part of the grill where they got only indirect heat and continued to cook them. When the chicken pieces were cooked through he tossed them with the vinaigrette and served them with grilled limes. This grilled chicken was quite tasty. I am always a fan of brining and this recipe didn't disappoint. The meat came out moist and flavorful. The vinaigrette added nicely to the dish. The bold flavors in it stood up well against the char on the chicken from the grill. Everyone seemed to enjoy this dish quite a bit -- Deniz noted how much she liked it at least five times during the meal! It was definitely one of the better grilled chicken dishes I have had.

The recipe is here.

Only 55 recipes left to go!

My apologies for the blog silence. We had a bit of drama in our household this week. Over the weekend my special gentleman and I went down to Bloomington, Indiana. As we were only gone for two nights, we left the cats home alone and had our friends come and feed them on Saturday. We arrived home Sunday evening, excited to see our little kittens after a weekend without them! Little did we know the unpleasant surprise awaiting us. Apparently the kitties had gotten hungry between when they were fed on Saturday and when we got home on Sunday. So they went looking for something to eat. What did they find? Rat poison! We obviously had no idea it was there -- apparently it was left somewhere in the basement by the previous owners. We still don't know exactly where the cats found it. We had scoured the basement, removing hazards, before letting them down there. But the basement has crawlspaces, and vents, etc... and obviously we missed something. Somewhere they found a package of rat poison. They had chewed the package open and eaten the poison!

We went immediately to the veterinary hospital where the kitties were given activated charcoal. We were assured again and again that unlike dogs, cats don't actually eat rat poison. They may play around with it, but cats never eat it. The activated charcoal was a precaution, they said. An hour later the cats started pooping out pellets of poison. Apparently our cats aren't typical cats! They had indeed eaten it. Rat poison is scary stuff. It works by blocking production of Vitamin K, which causes the animal to internally bleed to death. There is a delay of 2-3 days before symptoms appear, so if you didn't know that your cat had eaten it, it would probably look fine for a few days and then just die. The treatment, after getting as much of the poison out of their system as possible, is Vitamin K therapy. After many terrifying hours at the veterinary hospital we were able to take the kittens back home. They were horribly sick all night on Sunday (from the charcoal and sorbitol that they got at the hospital) -- they cried and cried and we felt terrible for them. Each day since then they have gotten better though, and today they are acting like their usual selves. We need to give them Vitamin K twice a day for the next month, but it looks like they will be fine.

It was a horrible and scary few days. We love our little kitties so much and the idea of losing them was terrifying. And on top of the fear of course we both felt terrible that we had let them in the basement when there was rat poison down there. Now I feel hugely relieved and tremendously lucky that they are going to be OK. Poor little kitties.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Apricot Souffles with Vanilla Rum Creme Anglaise (Page 843)

RECIPE #1237

  • Date: Friday, October 15, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chefs: Clara and Helen
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Charles, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I would have made this dish earlier but it specified that it needed to be made with dried California apricots. Most dried apricots you find in stores are from Turkey, not California. Eventually I gave up finding California apricots in the store and ordered them online. To prepare this dish I started by boiling the apricots in water and sugar and then pureeing the mixture until it was smooth. I stirred in some lemon juice, rum, vanilla, and salt. I beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar. Little Clara helped me add sugar to the whites and I continued to beat them until they reached stiff peaks. I folded the whites into the apricots then ladled the mixture into buttered and sugared ramekins. I baked them until they were puffed and golden. Helen helped me pour some of the Vanilla Rum Creme Anglaise into each souffle and then they were ready to be served! These souffles were quite good. I could actually taste the difference in flavor between California apricots and Turkish apricots in this dish, and I think it was worth it to go out of my way to find the apricots from California. The texture of the souffles came out absolutely perfect. They rose well and were cooked nicely. The creme anglaise gave the dish some richness and contrast, which was lovely. Would I have preferred to have a chocolate souffle? Probably. But if you are going to make an apricot souffle, this is about as good as it is going to get.

Only 56 recipes left to go!

This was the last recipe in the Puddings, Custards, Mousses, and Souffles section of The Book! In no particular order, my five favorite recipes from this section:
  • Almond Flan with Summer Fruit -- I usually don't particularly like flan. It can be gelatinous and eggy. But this flan was awesome. It had a fabulous almond flavor and a wonderful smooth texture. We ate this in Charlottesville with Tom and Ashley after a lovely meal of fish tacos. Good memories!
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce -- I made this one with Mike and we were deeply, deeply skeptical. The dish was largely baked pureed dates, which we weren't so sure we would like. And it looked... well... not so appealing. But one bite and we changed our minds! Oh my gosh -- Yum!! Mike and I still reminisce about this dish frequently.
  • Warm Tapioca Pudding with Rhubarb -- I love, Love, LOVE pudding, and particularly tapioca pudding, so I was super-excited about this recipe. It was great with the rhubarb, but the pudding would be delicious even without the rhubarb topping! I made this back in graduate school for a Wednesday dinner -- a tradition where a bunch of friends would get together on Wednesday nights and cook from The Book. That night I got so wrapped up in the dinner conversation that I neglected this pudding and it burnt to the bottom of the pot. It was still tasty though!
  • Sticky Rice with Mango -- Although I love sticky rice, I had never made it myself before making this dish. The coconut sauce was out-of-this-world, and the rice came out appropriately sticky and moist. I made this for dinner with my special gentleman's family. My brother-in-law Brad made an awesome Indian dinner and I made this dessert. Teamwork!
  • Classic Creme Brulee -- It's hard to go wrong with a classic like creme brulee. This wasn't the best creme brulee I have ever had, but it was still super tasty. I made this for dinner with Mike, Teresa, Cornelia, and Tricia in Bloomington and we were all scraping every last bit out of our creme brulee dishes.
These dishes bring back such great memories -- not just of the food but also of the good friends that I ate them with! now I have 10 sections completed and 11 left to complete! Almost done!!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Vanilla Rum Creme Anglaise (Page 844)

RECIPE #1236

  • Date: Friday, October 15, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Dave, and Karen H
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe was a component of a souffle dish I made when my in-laws came to visit last month. I forgot to take a picture of the creme anglaise alone, but you can see a bit of it dripping out of the souffle above. I started by boiling half-and-half with a vanilla bean. Then I scraped the seeds of the vanilla bean into the half-and-half and discarded the pod. I whisked egg yolks, salt, and sugar, and added the hot half-and-half. I cooked the mixture on the stovetop, stirring, until it reached 170 degrees. Then I strained it and cooled. I stirred some rum into the sauce and refrigerated it until it was very cold. As expected, this sauce was delicious! It's hard to go wrong with creme anglaise. It is rich and flavorful and wonderful. The balance of vanilla and rum was great in this sauce and it complemented the souffles very well!

The recipe is here.

Only 57 recipes left to go!

When I was in culinary school I was instructed by several excellent chefs. Chef Stephan was the one who made the largest impact. I was mildly terrified of him. He had a way of shouting my name across the kitchen that could stop me in my tracks. His standards were extremely high and he wasn't particularly flexible about them. I remember more than one occasion when it was 1am and everyone was exhausted and ready to go home but Chef Stephan would make someone re-plate their dish because he or she had violated some rule for proper plating. We all had to wait for this re-plating to occur before the food could be critiqued and the kitchen cleaned. Not infrequently we were still in the kitchen at 2am and everyone was cursing Chef Stephan under their breath. Secretly, everyone loved him. I think often of the lessons I learned from him. He taught me a lesson one night about seasoning that honestly changed my life. It involved a vat of pureed vegetable soup, a dozen small dishes, and a box of salt. It was simple enough, but an absolutely brilliant example of what my colleagues would call "active learning."

Chef Stephan wasn't a particularly warm and fuzzy kind of guy. He was more scary than cuddly. But he had a soft spot for at least one thing: creme anglaise. Every time we were in the kitchen he would instruct the person making the dessert to make some creme anglaise to go with it. Chef Stephan thought everything went well with creme anglaise. Cheesecake and creme anglaise? Sure. Ice cream with creme anglaise? Why not. He would drink the leftover creme anglaise out of a mug at the end of class. Creme anglaise is incredibly rich (being mostly egg yolks with heavy cream or half-and-half)-- every time I saw him drink it by the cupful my stomach would turn a little. Chef Stephan lived near the culinary school and rumor had it that late at night he would raid the school walk-ins for leftover creme anglaise from other classes and drink that too.

While I was in school, Chef Stephan's partner died of cancer. Everyone felt terrible, and helpless. I did the only thing I could think to do: I made creme anglaise for him. I carefully labeled my container of creme anglaise, "For Chef Stephan." When I opened the walk-in to leave it inside, I was greeted by container after container of creme anglaise, each labeled "For Chef Stephan" with a different handwriting. It was really moving.

I think of Chef Stephan every time I make creme anglaise. Remembering his class always brings a smile to his face. Now that I am a teacher myself I think often about the examples of excellent instruction that I have experienced in my own life. Chef Stephan's course certainly stands out as an amazing learning experience.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grilled Lobster with Orange Chipotle Vinaigrette (Page 338)

RECIPE #1235

  • Date: Friday, October 15, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave, Karen H, Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B

My in-laws, Karen and Dave, like lobster, so we made this dish for them when they came to visit last month. I started by plunging live lobsters into boiling water and partially cooking them. I then took the tails and claws off the bodies, discarded the bodies, and halved the tails lengthwise. I prepared a vinaigrette of orange zest, orange juice, white wine vinegar, chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo, sea salt, brown sugar, olive oil, and basil. I reserved some of the vinaigrette in a pitcher and brushed the lobster tails with some of the remaining vinaigrette. My special gentleman grilled the claws and the tails, brushing the tails with more vinaigrette as necessary. We served the lobster with the pitcher of reserved vinaigrette. The tails are pictured above and the claws are pictured below:


I admit, I am not really a lobster person. I can understand why people enjoy it, but I just don't get too excited about lobster. That said, this preparation seemed perfectly fine. Preparing the dish was very easy, but the end result was plenty flavorful. Everyone seemed to like it well enough, but no one was wowed by it. Although I liked the flavor of the orange chipotle vinaigrette, I couldn't help but wonder if the dish would have been more successful had the grilled lobster just been served with melted butter. As it was the vinaigrette was tasty, but it didn't complement the lobster as well as one might have hoped. I would have preferred to dip my lobster in butter!

The recipe is here.

Only 58 recipes left to go!

What a lovely holiday weekend! On Wednesday after I taught my class (yes, I am the kind of professor who doesn't cancel class the day before Thanksgiving!) we drove down to Columbus, Ohio, where my in-laws live. This was our first road trip with our cats, and I was a little nervous about that aspect of it. The drive is only about 4 hours though, and they did really well. They whined in their crate for a long while, but they didn't have any accidents or get carsick so I will call it a success! On Thursday we had a big Thanksgiving dinner at my special gentleman's aunt and uncle's house. It was a bit dramatic: there was a fire in the kitchen. The house filled with smoke. Thankfully the food survived -- although everything had a slightly smoky flavor! Regardless, it was a lovely meal.

On Friday we cut down a Christmas tree then put it up in Dave and Karen's house -- a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition in their family! Yesterday we watched a lot of college football. With Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Stanford all good this year, there were a number of games yesterday that someone felt invested in. We spent the rest of the weekend eating wonderful meals, playing cards, catching up, playing with the kitties... it was extremely restful. Indeed it was just the break I needed before these last couple weeks of the semester! This morning we left Ohio early so we could make it back to East Lansing in time to go to the basketball game. We cheered the Spartans on to another victory! And now I am working, trying to catch up on some of the work I had planned to do over the holiday, but didn't. Whoops! I don't feel too guilty about it. I needed a break!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roasted Guinea Hens with Whole-Grain Mustard and Herbs (Page 404)

RECIPE #1234

  • Date: Friday, October 15, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Karen H, Dave, Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B+
I have a lot of recipes left in the Poultry section of The Book, so I ordered some guinea hens a few weeks ago and made this recipe. I started by boiling some heads of garlic and fingerling potatoes. Then I made a compound butter with mustard and chives. I pushed some of the butter between the skin and flesh of the birds, put some herb stems in the cavities, and then brushed the birds with melted butter. I put the hens in a hot roasting pan, along with the potatoes and some shallots. I basted the hens frequently, eventually adding the garlic and some fresh thyme. When the birds were cooked to 170 degrees, I removed them from the oven and made a pan sauce. I deglazed the pan with chicken stock, strained the liquid, and added some reserved mustard butter, salt, and pepper. I scattered chopped herbs over the birds and served them with the sauce. This dish was pretty good, but apparently rather forgettable. I asked my special gentleman about it just now and he said, "We had guinea hens?" Followed by, "Did we grill them?" And my favorite of all: "Did we have people over that night?" Ah, the middle of the semester is always a blur I suppose. Indeed we had guinea hens, we did not grill them, and yes, we had people over. With that prompting he finally remembered the dish and said, "Oh, those guinea hens. Yeah, those were tasty." They were pretty tasty. The skin was crispy and the meat was nicely cooked. My main issue with the dish was that the potatoes didn't come out very well. Something about their preparation made them rather gummy. I love potatoes and I didn't want to eat these. Indeed, without the potatoes it would have been a much more successful dish.

The recipe is here.

Only 59 recipes left to go!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I always jump at any chance I get to cook Thanksgiving food. A few times in my life I have had the opportunity to host Thanksgiving. My first year in graduate school my parents came to Boston for the holiday. My friend Bridget and I hosted Thanksgiving for my parents and 15 or so of our fellow graduate students in my tiny apartment. I don't remember much about the food. Mostly I remember that it was so crowded that once everyone sat down there was no longer space to open the refrigerator or the oven!

A couple years later my parents came to Boston again for the holiday, and my brother came too. I made Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us, plus Mike. The food came out really well that year, and we had a nice, quiet family holiday.

My last year in graduate school my parents came to Boston again for Thanksgiving. We ate Thanksgiving dinner at Richard and Anita's house, but Chris and I were in charge of the cooking! Ana and Michael cooked with us too, and the four of us put out a Thanksgiving dinner to be proud of! At that time Michael didn't know that she had cancer, and we certainly had no idea that it would be her last Thanksgiving. It was a beautiful holiday and I feel very lucky to have celebrated it with Michael and the rest of the Douglas/Hanau family.

That was the last year that I was in charge of Thanksgiving dinner. Since then we have celebrated with my special gentleman's family every year, and they have their own family traditions. I usually get assigned a few things to make (last year I was in charge of hors d'oeurvres and stuffings), but I am never in charge of, say, the turkey. It makes for a low-stress holiday, which is nice, but I have grown to miss cooking Thanksgiving dinner. So this year my special gentleman and I hosted a pre-Thanksgiving at our house on Saturday. It was a chance to cook one of the turkeys left in The Book (and a bunch of other book recipes), and to celebrate a wonderful holiday with some of our new East Lansing friends!

We had 15 people for dinner. Our dining room fits 10 or 12, but 15 would be a stretch. So we took the furniture out of the living room and set up some tables in there:


Near the dining tables we also set up some tables to put the food on:

We had quite a Thanksgiving spread. People kept offering to bring things, which was fantastic. In the end, I felt like I didn't do much at all! For hors d'oeuvres I made some shrimp balls and some corn madeleines topped with caviar. For the dinner spread my special gentleman and I made a grilled turkey, cranberry gravy, beef wellington, applesauce, cranberry-cherry sauce, and jello salad (!). Helen and Charles brought green beans. Kendra and Jubin brought mashed potatoes and stuffed pumpkin. Corbett and Mary brought salad, and Ben and Marcie brought wine. It was a feast! Here's one table of food:

And another table of food:

I forgot to take a picture of the dessert spread, which was beautiful! I made some cookies and a chocolate prune pave with candied orange zest and Armagnac creme anglaise. Helen and Charles brought an apple spice cake. And Bob and Linda brought an apple pie (and a bottle of Goldschlager!).

The food was all delicious, and we were in great company. When we moved here I didn't really know anyone, and I was nervous about starting over in a new place, trying to meet people. Now I feel tremendously thankful for the friends we have made. My one regret about the dinner was that I forgot (again!) to take a picture of everyone around the table. It was great to host a Thanksgiving meal in our new house for the first time. And tomorrow after I teach we will head to Ohio for another wonderful Thanksgiving meal with my special gentleman's extended family on Thursday! I love the holiday season!






Monday, November 22, 2010

Ecuadorean Lenten Chowder (Page 115)

RECIPE #1233

  • Date: Sunday, October 10, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: C+

Our friend Josh came to visit and I wanted to make him at least one dinner while he was staying with us. Josh is mostly vegetarian, but he does eat fish. I chose this salt cod chowder because salt cod is one kind of fish that it is easy to find in East Lansing. I started by soaking the salt cod in water for several days, changing the water a few times each day. Then I made this chowder, which basically involved assembling all the ingredients and cooking them for different amounts of time. I won't go through it in excruciating detail. Rather, I will just list for you all the many, many ingredients that went into this: salt cod, anchiote seeds, oil, garlic, scallions, cumin, water, queso fresco, lentils, carrots, ears of corn, zucchini, butternut squash, green cabbage, lima beans, baby peas, green beans, whole milk, butter, kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, hominy, hearts of palm, avocado, and hard-boiled eggs. Whew! Needless to say, this one took a while to prep. I found this recipe to be completely ridiculous. There were SO many ingredients, and so little of each one, that it was just a big incoherent mess. For instance, in this huge vat of chowder there was a quarter of a cup of lentils. Why even have the lentils in there then? I was convinced for a while that my serving didn't have a single lentil in it. Eventually I found one, but I couldn't get past how silly it was. I love every ingredient that went into this thing, but it was just such a mess that I didn't enjoy it. If you edited out at least half the ingredients there might be a tasty dish in there. My other issue was that the broth had a bad texture and a bland flavor. The queso fresco never quite melted all the way, so there were weird strands of cheese in the broth. And somehow despite the huge list of ingredients, the broth wasn't too flavorful. I had high hopes for this dish but I was disappointed by the result.

The recipe is here.

Only 60 recipes left to go!

When we moved to Michigan my husband felt strongly that we should fight the Midwestern tendency to drive everywhere. He's right, of course, that it would be better for the environment, our health, and our finances if we didn't drive all the time. So I agreed that I would try. We made efforts to increase our chance of success: We bought a house in a very walkable area. Our house is close to where we work. I bought a bike. I didn't promise to bike every day to work though. I just promised I would give it a try, and see how it went. Honestly, I thought I wouldn't like life as a bike commuter. I figured I would make it through September, and maybe October, but after a few cold rainy days I would call it quits and buy a campus parking permit. I am happy to say, I was wrong.

It was raining this morning when I biked to work, and unseasonably warm. I was so delighted to not be wearing my usual scarf, warm hat under my helmet, and mittens, that the rain bothered me not-at-all. This is week 13 of the semester, and I have biked to work every day so far [minus a week or so when I was sick from my new meds and my special gentleman had to drive me]. I have biked through pouring rain, cold temperatures, and falling snow. I am a little nervous to face the day when I wake up and there is substantial snow on the ground -- that hasn't happened yet this season! But I am optimistic that not only will I make it through the rest of this semester as a bike commuter, but that I will make it through many years to come. What I hadn't expected is that I love biking to work! And more and more the idea that I could drive to work seems completely ridiculous.

In the last week I have driven a total of 9 miles in the car -- and we did a lot of things in the past seven days! I am feeling really good about our efforts to bike and walk whenever we reasonably can. But the toughest weather of the year is ahead of us. My plan is to buy some serious cold-weather gear and strengthen my resolve to keep biking!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tiramisu (Page 837)

RECIPE #1232

  • Date: Friday, October 1, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, Helen, Charles, Clara, Kendra, Jubin, and Watson
  • Recipe Rating: B

I hadn't made this dessert yet because it makes me nervous serving raw eggs to company. I decided to make this though, and I found some pasteurized eggs in the shell. Unfortunately, my pasteurized eggs suffered a sad fate, but since I had already mentally committed to making the recipe, I did the unthinkable and adjusted the recipe just a tad to make it a little safer (adjustment to be explained later). I started by beating together egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. The recipe called for this mixture to be left raw. But I went ahead and put the bowl on a double boiler and carefully cooked the mixture, whisking vigorously, until it was past 165 degrees (to kill salmonella). Then I proceeded with the recipe as written. I beat mascarpone into the yolk mixture. The I reconstituted some dried pasteurized egg whites (which I always have around the house because they are great for baking!) and beat them to stiff peaks with some salt and sugar. In a different bowl I beat heavy cream to soft peaks and then folded the cream and the whites into the yolk mixture. I combined very strong coffee with Marsala, then dipped savoiardi (crisp ladyfingers) into the mixture. I layered the soaked cookies with the mascarpone mixture, then refrigerated the tiramisu for several hours. Before serving I dusted it with cocoa.

This tiramisu was pretty good. The flavor was great. My one complaint was that the texture was too liquidy. The recipe directed you to soak the ladyfingers for 4 seconds on each side, which was WAY too long. Indeed they absorbed so much liquid that I ran out and had to brew more coffee. This recipe could have been great had the ladyfingers just been soaked for less time. As it was, it was still good!

The recipe is here.

Only 61 recipes left to go!

There are two complaints about Lansing/East Lansing that you hear relatively frequently from people who either live, or have lived, in the area:
  1. There's no good food.
  2. There's nothing to do.
There is certainly some truth to criticism number 1. Was it easier to find amazing restaurant food when we lived in Boston? Well, sure. But the reality is, we mostly eat at home. And although I would cry out of happiness if a Whole Foods came to East Lansing, the ingredient selection here really isn't too bad. We eat restaurant food at most one or two meals a week. There are a handful of restaurants here that we genuinely like, and since we don't go out too often, a handful is enough! Plus, we have friends that can cook! The best food we have eaten "out" by far was at our friends Helen and Charles' house. Eating there suffers from the disadvantage that you can't just show up on a random night and demand dinner (although, truth be told, we have never tried!), but the food they serve way exceeds what you would get even in a good restaurant.

As for criticism number 2, I just don't see it. There is SO much to do here, and it is SO easy to do things because there's no traffic, everything is close, everything is cheap... We actually do much more here than we ever did in Boston, where things were expensive, or took a lot of energy to get to. This past week, for example, we did a lot of really fun things.
  • Monday: David Sedaris was doing a free reading/book signing at a local bookstore. We went there after work and listened to him talk. Hysterical.
  • Tuesday: We have season basketball tickets, and MSU played South Carolina on Tuesday night. We walked from our house to the basketball arena, I ate lots of yummy concession stand food, and we cheered our Spartans on to victory!
  • Wednesday: The theater department put on As You Like It. After work we biked from the office to our favorite Indian restaurant, then biked over the the theater. The dinner was good. The play was good. It was a fun evening!
  • Thursday: My special gentleman went to his master's swim team practice. I stayed home and worked.
  • Friday: After work a group of mathematicians met up at a bar near our house for beer. Later in the evening we went out to hear some live music.
  • Saturday: Yesterday we hosted a pre-Thanksgiving dinner from The Book for 15 of our friends here! It was so fun hosting a holiday dinner, and all the food turned out really well!
In summary: It was a busy week. Add to that the demands of our jobs, and I certainly never once had the thought, "Man, there is nothing to do here!" Honestly, there is way too much to do! Each week there are way more things that we want to do than we realistically can. What a wonderful problem to have!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rabbit Terrine with Green Olives and Pistachios (Page 23)

RECIPE #1231

  • Date: Friday, October 1, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Terry, Teri, Helen, Charles, Clara, Kendra, Jubin, and Watson
  • Recipe Rating: C-

I am running out of recipes that sound appealing in the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section of The Book. The situation is already pretty dire, but when you factor in that my mother is severely allergic to seafood, I didn't have a lot of hors d'oeuvres options for my parents' visit. In the end I settled on this recipe, for better or for worse. I started by cutting a rabbit into pieces and simmering it in water with shallots, carrots, parsley, thyme, leek, garlic, salt, and black peppercorns. Once the rabbit was tender I removed the meat from the bones and shredded it. The meat itself was very tasty, and I ate a few pieces as I worked. I then clarified the rabbit broth by first straining it and then whisking in a mixture of egg whites and crushed egg shells. I simmered the broth until the impurities rose to the top and formed a crust with the egg and shell bits. Then I carefully strained the broth again, resulting in a completely clear rabbit broth. I dissolved some gelatin into the broth and added Madeira and salt. I then prepared the rabbit mixture, with the help of my special gentleman. We ground fennel seeds and tossed them with the rabbit meat, along with chopped green olives, chopped pistachios, chives, thyme, salt, and pepper. Up until that point my special gentleman had been insisting that this dish would definitely be delicious. When he saw the green olives and pistachios he quickly changed his tune. When it was time to assemble the terrine, I lined my mold with plastic wrap, put the rabbit mixture in, then poured in the rabbit broth. I weighted the terrine and refrigerated it for several hours. Once the terrine set I filled the mold a bit more with the leftover broth, then chilled again. My special gentleman made some buttered toasts to serve with the terrine.

On the one hand, this labor-intensive dish was very impressive looking. I'm not sure it looked appetizing exactly, but the appearance definitely left an impression. On the other hand, it tasted bad. The rabbit meat was delicious, and I am sure that had I just served the shredded rabbit on the buttered toast it would have all been eaten. The tasty meat, however, became much less tasty when mixed with green olives and pistachios and suspended in rabbit jello. It wasn't just the gelatinous texture of the rabbit jello that made it unappealing -- it had a bad flavor. The combination of the Madeira with everything else just wasn't good. Indeed, the day after we served this Matt kept saying that he thought something in the fridge was rotting. After a thorough inspection it turned out that the "rotting" smell he noticed was just the smell of this terrine! Out of the ten people eating dinner the night I served this, there was only one fan of this dish: Clara, the 18 month old daughter of our friends Helen and Charles. It totally cracked me up that she was chowing down on it! Definitely not a fussy child! I certainly wouldn't make this terrine again. It took a long time, and ultimately ended up in the trash. Not a good use of tasty, tasty rabbit.

The recipe is here.

Only 62 recipes left to go!

Yesterday morning I was walking down the hallway outside my office. When I turned the corner I found one of my colleagues waiting for me. "I thought I heard you coming." he said. I had been walking alone, not talking to anyone or making any sort of verbal expression, so what he had heard that identified me was the sound of high-heeled shoes.

When I first started graduate school I got mistaken for a new administrative assistant several times. Others mistook me for the wife of a new graduate student. I was baffled. I certainly wasn't the only woman in the math department at MIT -- indeed the gender ration in math at MIT is about as good as it is anywhere. I was speculating one day about why it was that people assumed I wasn't a mathematician, when an older graduate student offered: "You are breaking the rules. The way people distinguish between the secretaries and the math women is that the secretaries wear heels." I laughed, but he wasn't actually joking. The idea that a female mathematician would wear heels was, apparently, crazy.

I often wore heels and dresses my first few years in graduate school. I was convinced that there was no reason not to. I certainly wasn't wearing anything trashy. Indeed it seemed to me that I looked more professional than most people, and hence should be taken just as seriously as anyone else on judgments made by attire alone. Only later did I realize that the idea of looking "professional" depends strongly on one's profession. My last year in graduate school, another female mathematician who had been at MIT when I arrived said to me, "Teena, you have done really well. When I first met you I noticed one day that you were wearing make-up and I had a hard time taking you seriously after that. But I was wrong about you." I didn't know how to respond to that. In retrospect it is obvious to me that other mathematicians will take me less seriously if I wear a tasteful dress and heels to work rather than torn jeans and t-shirt (which is my special gentleman's standard attire). But often I do it anyway. I suppose it is defiant. I believe I shouldn't have to try to blend in with a sea of men in order to be taken seriously, and so I don't attempt to do so.

So if you hear the click of high-heeled shoes coming at you down the hall of a math building somewhere, someday, don't assume it is an administrative assistant. It might be me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Buffalo Prime Rib with Orange Balsamic Glaze (Page 415)

RECIPE #1230

  • Date: Friday, October 1, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Terry, Teri, Helen, Charles, Clara, Kendra, Jubin, and Watson
  • Recipe Rating: B+

Buffalo standing rib roast isn't so easy to come by. I have watched for it in butcher shops for years, but have never seen it. So when I decided to make this for my parents' visit, I had to order it online. There is one online meat purveyor that I use for most of my hard-to-find meats. They are great in the sense that the selection is huge, the meat is high quality, and everything always arrives in perfect condition. However, their prices are a little high. Their website was the first place I looked for my 8-pound buffalo standing rib roast. And indeed they had it -- for the bargain price of $369. So I did a bit more searching! I found it for considerably less at a place out of Wyoming, but it still wasn't cheap!

To prepare the meat I roasted it, basting it occasionally with the Orange Balsamic Glaze (see post below). I roasted it to 125 degrees, then let it rest to 135. While it rested I made a pan sauce by deglazing the roasting pan with red wine and Madeira, then adding beef stock and reducing. I strained and seasoned the jus and served it with the carved meat:

This dish was good but not amazing. I like buffalo quite a lot, but in my opinion the additional benefit of using buffalo rather than beef in this recipe was not worth the additional cost. It was novel having a standing rib roast of buffalo, but I think it would have tasted just as good (although, of course, different) with beef, so if I made it again I would likely substitute a beef standing rib roast. The orange glaze was tasty, but I found myself wishing that the glaze could have been incorporated into a sauce somehow, or alternately that the pan sauce could have picked up those citrus and balsamic flavors more. The glaze was very tasty on the exterior of the roast, but each slice of meat only had a few bites really permeated by the flavors of the glaze. All that said, the meat was very tasty, and certainly I enjoyed eating it.

The recipe is here.

Only 63 recipes left to go!

After weeks of traveling, giving talks, changing medications, etc, I am delighted to say that my semester is calming down a bit. I am already starting to feel a lot better as my body adjusts to the medication changes. I made it through the entire day at work yesterday without any serious bouts of nausea or vertigo. I didn't even need a nap in the middle of the day! So I would say I am practically back to full strength! This weekend I am catching up on a few of the many things on my ever-growing To-Do list. These past few weeks have been out-of-the-ordinary in many ways, and now I am hoping to get back into my usual routine. Amazingly there are only four weeks of classes left this term (including Thanksgiving week, which is shorter!). It's crazy to think that in no time it will be winter break! In the meantime, my goal is to make the most of these next few weeks. Nothing motivates me quite like feeling better after a period of really feeling rotten! In the past few weeks I had to prioritize only the most important/necessary tasks in my life and focus on those, so many of the things I love (e.g. exercising and cooking) fell by the wayside. But if I feel well enough on Monday I am going to start up my routine of running daily again. And I am mulling over some cooking/party plans for next weekend! For the first time in a little while, I feel excited about what lies ahead.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Orange Balsamic Glaze (Page 416)

RECIPE #1229

  • Date: Friday, October 1, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, Helen, Charles, Clara, Kendra, Jubin, and Watson
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This recipe was a component of a bison dish that I made when my parents visited. Making this glaze was quite simple. I cooked some shallots in butter, then stirred in frozen orange juice concentrate, water, sweet orange preserves, balsamic vinegar, salt, black peppercorns, and orange zest. I then simmered the glaze until it was thick. I liked this glaze quite a bit, and I thought it worked well in the bison dish (which I will blog about next). However, I think I would have liked it even better had the ingredients been balanced a little differently. I found that the balsamic was a little strong, and almost overpowered the nice orange flavors. Were I to make this again I would cut back on the balsamic just a bit.

The recipe is here.

Only 64 recipes left to go!

Well, I had hoped that the transition to my new medication would be relatively painless. Unfortunately it hasn't gone as smoothly as I had hoped. The first few days were OK, but the last few have been pretty miserable, as I have been pretty sick from the meds. Luckily for me, my special gentleman has been amazing. I can't drive (due to the dizziness) and I can't bike (due to the nausea), so when I absolutely need to leave my perch on the couch at home (e.g. to get blood drawn, or to teach my class this morning) he has been driving me door to door. Counterintuitively, it is essential to my battle with the nausea that I keep eating, and my special gentleman has been lovingly preparing me small meals every four hours. And when my brother-in-law and his wife, Brad and Deniz came to visit this weekend, my special gentleman cooked beautiful meals for them all weekend while I laid on the sofa. He has made more than one grocery trip for emergency supplies (Sprite, saltines, etc...). He has taken care of the cats, cleaned the house, done the laundry, etc, etc... Basically he has been awesome. And I have been lying on the couch. So although I have been feeling shitty, I have also been feeling extremely fortunate. Thank goodness for my special gentleman!

And hopefully my body will start adjusting to the new medicine soon and I will start feeling better!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Grits with Tasso (Page 656)

RECIPE #1228

  • Date: Friday, October 1, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, Terry, Helen, Charles, Clara, Kendra, Jubin, and Watson
  • Recipe Rating: B

I love grits. Love them. So I have been wanting to make this recipe for years. I had trouble, however, finding tasso, a Cajun smoked pork product. My parents visited about a month ago, and as my mother is also a fan of grits I decided to put more effort into locating the tasso. I gave up finding it in a store and just ordered it online. Locating the tasso was by far the most difficult aspect of making this dish. To prepare it I cooked some stone-ground grits in salted water for quite a while, then added tasso, butter, salt, and pepper, and served. This dish wasn't bad, but I also wasn't super-excited about it. The texture of the grits was very nice, but I didn't enjoy having the chunks of tasso mixed in with them. I found that the tasso detracted from both the texture and the flavor of the dish. It overpowered the subtle flavor of the grits, and the very chewy little chunks didn't go well with the otherwise creamy texture. That said, the dish was still rather tasty. It just wasn't my favorite grits preparation.

The recipe is here.

Three weeks ago now one of my doctors determined that I should switch to a different tumor medication. I have been on the same drug for almost seven years now, so I admit I wasn't super-excited about the change. But the new drug is better -- more effective, fewer side effects. Overall, better. So I agreed to do it. These transitions can be rough though, and in order to start the new drug I wanted to find a window of at least 36 hours when I could lie in bed if I was too sick to do anything else. Turns out, finding that window wasn't so easy.

The last few weeks have been crazy. Last week I was in California to give a talk, and before that I was busy preparing to be gone for a week (and preparing my talk!). I started this week by having my annual teaching observation/evaluation, then today I gave a research seminar. I am giving another seminar on Tuesday. Add to that the usual research, teaching, and other obligations and things have been crazy. Plus, a couple weeks ago I started a second new drug and I couldn't bring myself to start two new medications in the same week. Add to the mix a scattering of house guests and there was just no good time to switch drugs.

But tomorrow I don't absolutely NEED to be at work. I don't have to teach, I don't have any meetings. I have a shitload to do, but nothing that I can't do from home, lying in bed if need be. So this evening, after I gave my seminar, I started my new meds. And tonight I am relaxing like it's my job. I've been watching trashy TV and reading trashy magazines. I took a bath. Right now I am lying on the sofa in front of the fire, snuggled up under two blankets, with a kitten at my feet. And so far, I feel pretty OK. Hopefully the transition will continue to go smoothly, and I will tolerate these meds better than my old one. And in a couple weeks I think my semester will calm down a bit. For now I am just doing the things that need to get done, both professionally and medically, and trying to stay as relaxed as possible. Busy, busy times.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Panfried Quail with Creamed Corn and Bacon (Page 403)

RECIPE #1227

  • Date: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I spotted some quail at our local Asian grocery store, so I grabbed them to make this recipe! It was these little quail which caused the Quail Versus Produce Refrigerator Disaster, so there is still a slightly bitter taste in my mouth about this recipe. But I will try to put that aside! When preparing this dish I first made the creamed corn. I cooked corn in boiling water, then cooked bacon in a skillet until browned. I combined heavy cream, water, lemon juice, the bacon, sliced scallions, and butter and simmered. Then I added the corn, plus some salt and pepper and cooked for a few more minutes. Then I attacked the quail. I cut each quail into four pieces. I dipped each piece in whole milk, then dredged them in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne. I deep-fried the quail until golden and cooked though, then I served the quail with the creamed corn. I had mixed feelings about this dish. On the one hand, the fried quail were delicious! Think fried chicken, but with a higher fried to chicken ratio. Yum! The coating was just the right thickness and crispiness and the meat came out tender and moist. On the other hand, the creamed corn was pretty disappointing. Corn and bacon are two of my favorite things so I figured it couldn't be bad. Somehow though, it was. Mostly it was a textural issue. Rather than being creamy, as creamed corn should be, it was quite watery. And because it was watery the bacon got soggy even though it had been browned. The flavor wasn't bad but the texture was unappealing enough that I didn't want to eat it. I would definitely make the fried quail again, but without the creamed corn.

The recipe is here.

Only 66 recipes left to go!

When I was still in graduate school I went to a workshop in Germany. It wasn't in my field exactly, but I had been invited because I knew one of the organizers. It was a good experience, and I enjoyed the workshop a lot. Now, years later, the thing I remember most vividly from that week is that there was an amazing talk given by a young female mathematician. The workshop was focused on the work of a couple people. So in her talk she was explaining someone else's work. She did so with amazing organization, clarity, and confidence. Her talk was well thought-out, well-delivered, and easy to learn from. Although I think she was younger than most of the other speakers, she blew everyone else away. In a week full of talks, she was one of only a couple female speakers. I don't know who she was -- it was a long time ago, and the people there weren't really in my field, so I didn't know who most of them were. I don't even know for sure that this woman is still in math. But when I think back now on the moments throughout my career when I felt most empowered and most confident that it is possible to succeed as a woman in math, watching that talk stands out in my mind.

I am older now, and giving a lot of talks of my own. This week I am at a workshop, not in Germany this time, but rather in Berkeley. This workshop, like the one I went to years ago, is based around some specific work of a few mathematicians. I was asked to speak at the workshop, giving a talk explaining the proof of one component of their main theorem. I give a lot of talks, and in general I don't worry so much about them any more. This time, though, I felt a great sense of pressure. In part it was because I wanted to do justice to the great work that I was talking about. When I talk about my own work, if I do a less than stellar job it only reflects badly on me. In this case, talking about other people's work, it was important to me to represent them well. But more than that, I found myself really wanting to be an example for younger people, in the way that the woman I saw in Germany years ago was an empowering example to me. There are 18 talks at the conference this week, 2 of which are being given by women. The way the gender break-down is in my field, having 2 women speak at a conference is the most you would expect to see. I have always thought of myself more as a mathematician than as a female mathematician, but as I get further along in my career it seems more important to me that I recognize that I am a woman in math, and as such, an example for other women.

My talk was yesterday, and I think it went pretty well. And maybe someone in the audience will remember it as a nice talk, and feel empowered by it the way that I did years ago. That's my hope anyway.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Grilled Octopus with Oregano (Page 345)

RECIPE #1226

  • Date: Sunday, September 26, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I found some octopus at our local Asian grocery store, so I took the opportunity to make this recipe. I simmered the octopus in water seasoned with sea salt and black peppercorns. Then I rubbed off the skin and marinated the octopus in a mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, sea salt, and pepper for 24 hours. My special gentleman then grilled the octopus until browned. We cut the octopus into pieces, tossed it with the marinade and served. This dish was pretty good. Indeed my special gentleman declared it the best octopus he has ever eaten. Texturally the dish was very nice. The octopus was tender from being simmered, but also slightly crispy from the heat of the grill. It wasn't at all tough, like octopus often can be. The vinaigrette had a subtle but nice flavor. It complemented the octopus without overpowering it. If I need to prepare octopus again someday, this is probably what I will do with it.

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I received a request from a friend for more pictures of our kittens! They are super cute (and more importantly, super sweet!) so we have lots of pictures of them! Michigan, the little kitty, will sleep pretty much anywhere you set him down. But he especially likes napping with my special gentleman:

The kittens also like to nap with one another. They have their daily routine. Around 5pm said routine involves curling up together on the sofa and sleeping in a big ball. If he's home from work my special gentleman likes to join them for a little rest:

Indiana, the big kitty, will eventually get up to wander around, but Michigan will lay there with you as long as you want:


The kittens are very interested in mathematics. For instance, tonight I was practicing a talk I am giving at a conference next week (yes, we have a chalkboard in our house!), and both the cats purred all the way through my talk. True, Indiana fell asleep for a bit of it, but I can't blame him -- it's not really his field of mathematics! The cats further demonstrate their love of math by laying on top of math papers:


One of our favorite attributes about our cats is that they love to be held. Surprisingly, they even like to be held together:


What sweet little kittens! I'm leaving town tomorrow for almost a week -- I am going to miss them!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clam, Potato, and Bacon Potpie (Page 328)

RECIPE #1225

  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

I made a trip to Ann Arbor for seafood a while back and this was one of the recipes I made with the shellfish I acquired on that trip. I started by making pastry dough for a pie crust. While my dough chilled I peeled, cubed, and boiled some potatoes. I cooked and crumbled some bacon, then cooked onion in the bacon fat plus some butter. I added flour to make a roux, then whisked in some heavy cream, whole milk, clam liquor, and Worcestershire sauce. I simmered for a few minutes, then stirred in the potatoes, chopped clams (which my special gentleman shucked for me!), parsley, thyme, lemon juice, the bacon, salt, and pepper. I rolled out the bottom crust and fit it into a pie plate. Then I poured the cooled filling in the crust and placed the top crust on. I brushed the crust with egg wash and slit it then baked the potpie until it was golden. I'm not particularly a fan of clams, but this was delicious! The filling was perfect -- rich and flavorful. The clams definitely had a presence, but without being overpowering. The flaky and golden crust was a wonderful complement to the creamy filling. Yum! I liked it a lot, but my special gentleman was totally blown away by this recipe. He ate this potpie for every meal (including breakfast!) until it was gone. This was serious stick-to-your-bones comfort food. The recipe could easily be modified to make a chicken potpie if you don't care for clams (and I imagine I will do that at some point!). Definitely a keeper!

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I haven't blogged much lately. Partly it is because I have been busy: lots of house guests, lots of work, etc... My To-Do list has reached a length where it is depressing rather than motivating. I've been busy. But more than that, I have just been too crabby to blog. I have been a bucket of bad mood the last couple weeks. I felt justified in my bad mood so instead of trying to snap out of it I embraced it, which is never a great plan. This evening, at the peak of my bad mood, I said to my special gentleman, "My life sucks." His response: "No it doesn't. Your life is awesome." I admit, it wasn't the response I was looking for. But I realized in that moment, he was right. My life is awesome. I have the world's greatest husband, a great job, a house I love in a place I enjoy living, two incredibly sweet kittens, wonderful friends -- really a multitude of blessings. So I decided to just snap out of it. And I did. And while nothing external changed, I feel a million times better. I am lying in bed now, under several layers of down comforter, drinking a glass of Chardonnay and listening to a recording of Amazing Grace. And everything seems great. Sometimes a little change in perspective goes a long way.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hundred-Corner Shrimp Balls (Page 44)

RECIPE #1224

  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
We had a seafood-intensive day a few weekends ago, so I figured while I was at it I might as well make these shrimp balls. I started by dicing white bread and letting the tiny cubes dry for several hours. Then I pureed some shrimp and stirred in blanched, chopped water chestnuts, egg white, lard, rice wine, minced ginger, minced scallion, salt, and cornstarch. I formed the pureed shrimp mixture into balls and rolled the balls in the bread cubes. I then deep-fried them until they were golden. I was supposed to twice-fry them, but somehow when I read the recipe I missed that. So I only fried them once. They were plenty fried though, so I can't imagine that the second fry would have made much difference. I served them with salt and crushed, toasted Sichuan peppercorns for dipping. These shrimp balls were pretty good. Personally, I am never going to get super excited about pureed shrimp. That's just me. But as far as pureed shrimp recipes go, this may be the best I have had. They came out very pretty, and the fried bread coating was quite tasty. I kept thinking that I would have liked them better with something different in the middle -- for instance: cheese! But as they were, they certainly weren't bad. The shrimp paste had some nice flavors in it and was well-seasoned. Overall these were pretty good.

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one, but the one in The Book has you make your own bread cubes, whereas the one online calls for panko. The ingredient ratios are also slightly different in the two recipes.

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I have fallen desperately behind in my blogging. Things lately have been busy, busy! Our friend Josh, who we lived with in Berkeley last spring, has been staying with us for the last week. He was visiting to give some talks in the math department and to work with my special gentleman. It was really fun to have him visit! Last weekend Josh and my special gentleman went camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes. I had too much to do to go camping, so I stayed in East Lansing and spent the weekend working, working, working! I was happy to see them come back unharmed -- we had a few freak accidents in the past week (one involving Josh flying over the handlebars of a bike, and another involving a shattered bottle of wine and me standing in a pool of my own blood at the grocery store!), so them going camping made me nervous! But they had a safe and uneventful trip.

Last night my special gentleman and I hosted a reception in Josh's honor at our house. About 20 of the people in our topology/geometry group came over and we served drinks and dessert. I went with the low-key approach instead of fancy desserts, in the interest of saving time. I made chocolate chip cookies, molasses cookies, brownies, apple crisp, and baklava. It was nice. I certainly enjoyed sitting in front of the fire with our colleagues, eating a bowl of apple crisp a la mode and drinking a cup of hot apple cider!

This morning Josh headed back to New York City, where he lives. And tonight my special gentleman's parents are arriving! They are visiting for a few days and we have fun things planned. Tomorrow night we are grilling some lobsters and Saturday night we are going to a musical theater version of Evil Dead. Should be interesting! I am looking forward to their visit!

Next week I am giving a midterm, which always makes for a crazy week! Vigleik is also visiting for a couple days to work. And a week from tomorrow I am headed to California for a conference. Between exam writing and grading, talk writing, usual work stuff, etc... I think things won't calm down any time soon! The middle of the semester is always crazy, and this term is no exception!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oyster Po'Boys (Page 187)

RECIPE #1223

  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 1pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman has been requesting these sandwiches for a while, but oysters aren't so easy to come by in East Lansing. A trip to Ann Arbor solved that problem, and I made these sandwiches as part of a Saturday lunch several weeks ago. My special gentleman shucked the oysters. I dipped them in a mixture of milk, egg, and salt, then dredged them in a mixture of cornmeal, salt, and pepper. I deep-fried them until just cooked through. Then I put the oysters on bread, along with shredded iceberg lettuce, and a chipotle mayonnaise that I made by whisking together mayo, minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo, and lemon juice. That was it! I am not a big oyster fan, but even I will admit that these sandwiches were tasty! The cornmeal coating on the oysters gave them a wonderful crunch and they were fried to perfection. It would have been more traditional to have Tabasco rather than chipotle chiles in a Po'Boy, but I liked how the smokiness of the chipotles complemented the oysters. I thought this recipe was quite nice and my special gentleman was more than thrilled with his sandwich!

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This was the last recipe from the Sandwiches and Pizzas section of The Book! That means it is time to reflect back on that section and name my top five recipes. In no particular order, they are:
  • Muffuletta -- I made this sandwich for my special gentleman and his friend Russ as a midnight snack after they returned home from a trip to Las Vegas. It was so good! Provolone, salami, ham, and olive salad, all on delicious bread. All of the ingredients were tasty but this sandwich was so much better than the sum of its parts!
  • Falafel Pitas -- Way back in 2006 we made the falafel pitas as part of one of our weekly Wednesday dinners. These were so good that we very carefully packaged the leftovers and all met up the next day at lunchtime in the MIT math department to have another round of sandwiches. I have made this recipe several times since then and it never disappoints!
  • Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches with Smoked Almonds -- If you asked me to name the 10 recipes in The Book that I will probably make the most often for the rest of my life, this recipe might well make the list. I made these tea sandwiches for the first time for Emilee's baby shower. I made them again for Melanie's pre-wedding bridal luncheon. I made them yet again for Teresa's baby shower. And I can imagine making them again and again for many celebrations in the years to come. These sandwiches are tastier than I ever imagined chicken salad could be!
  • Grilled Portobello Sandwiches with Sweet Peppers and Onion Relish -- My dominant memory of these sandwiches is my brother-in-law Wes's reaction. He just kept saying over and over, "This is amazing." Indeed, they were good.
  • Eggplant Pizza -- Of all the pizzas in The Book this was by far my favorite. Surprising, really, as I am generally not a huge fan of eggplant. In this case, though, the eggplant really added to the dish and the result was an awesome pizza!
One more section complete! That makes for 9 sections done, and 12 sections left to complete! I'm getting close!!