Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hot-and-Sour Pumpkin Soup (Page 100)

RECIPE #1112

  • Date: Thursday, February 18, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Brian
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Matty, and Sam
  • Recipe Rating: B-

Although I love pumpkin soup, I hadn't made this recipe yet because I couldn't find kaffir lime leaves. Last week I was showing Emilee and Brian a list of all the crazy ingredients I still needed to find, and Brian said, "I can pick some kaffir lime leaves for you." It turns out that one of their good friends has a kaffir lime tree in his yard. The next day Brian had the leaves in hand and I had everything I needed to make this soup!

I started by peeling, seeding, and chopping a sugar pumpkin. Then I cooked onion, ginger, and garlic. I added the pumpkin and some white wine and boiled for a few minutes. Then I added chicken stock and cooked until the pumpkin was tender. I chopped the lower parts of 6 stalks of lemongrass then cooked the lemongrass with galangal and jalapeno chiles until browned. I pureed the pumpkin mixture in a blender, then returned it to a pot and stirred in the lemongrass mixture, the kaffir lime leaves, some lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. I simmered for a while, then Brian and I forced the soup through a sieve. I seasoned with salt and pepper then we served the soup with shrimp toasts (see post below). I had high hopes for this soup and I was a little disappointed. I was expecting a hearty pumpkin soup with some hot and sour notes to it. But this soup was very thin, and not-at-all pumpkiny. Indeed, I feel fairly confident that if I didn't know that there was pumpkin in it, I wouldn't have guessed. The flavor was totally dominated by the lemongrass and the citrus notes from the lime juice and the lime leaves. All of us agreed that the first few bites were extremely tasty, but it was so strong and one-note that it was hard to eat more than a few spoonfuls. It would have made an excellent amuse-bouche, but as a soup course none of us could finish it. I think the recipe definitely had potential -- more pumpkin and less lemongrass would have been a huge improvement -- but as written I don't particularly recommend it.

The recipe is here.

After several weeks in California with my special gentleman, I am headed back to the Midwest on Monday. My first stop is Chicago, where I will do some work with my friend V for a few days. Then I am headed back to Bloomington for a while. I anticipate that it is going to be very odd going back to my empty apartment. In Berkeley my special gentleman and I share a house with his friend Josh. And for the last week or so their friend John has been staying here too. It's not a huge house, so having four adults living in it makes it feel very inhabited and cozy. Personally, I prefer having people around to living alone, particularly when it is a group of people whose company I enjoy! So while I am excited about going back to Bloomington, I am less excited about the prospect of my empty apartment. I just keep reminding myself: only a few more months until I live with my husband full-time! How exciting!!

Shrimp Toasts (Page 101)

RECIPE #1111

  • Date: Thursday, February 18, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty and Brian
  • Dining Companions: Emilee and Sam
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I chose this recipe because it was an accompaniment to a soup I wanted to make. I started by combining shrimp, fresh ginger, sesame oil, sherry, and egg white in a food processor to form a not-terribly-attractive raw shrimp paste. We then stirred in diced jicama, cilantro, scallions, salt, and pepper. My special gentleman spread the shrimp paste on slices of bread, then sprinkled them with sesame seeds. He and Brian then deep-fried the bread slices until the shrimp paste was browned. They cut the bread slices in half and we ate them with some soup. These shrimp toasts were not super tasty. My biggest complaint was that they were tremendously oily. We checked the temperature of the oil before each batch, and although the oil was hot enough, the slices of bread still absorbed more oil than I would have liked. They were crispy, as they should have been, but they also had a not-so-appealing greasiness to them. Beyond that, I just didn't think the flavor was all that special. They didn't taste strongly of shrimp. In fact, several people commented that the shrimp was virtually undetectable. The most dominant flavor was that of the sesame seeds. Generally speaking I love deep-fried foods, but this recipe was a let down.

The recipe is here.

This has been a week full of celebration! On Monday Brian defended his PhD thesis at Stanford. I went to his defense in the morning. His talk was great, although there were a few things I didn't understand -- experimental physics is not my specialty! In the evening Emilee threw him a party! It was a lot of fun -- his whole family was there, along with Emilee's family and many of their friends. We drank beer, ate Middle Eastern food, and had a good time.

Friday was my friend Chris' birthday, so my special gentleman and I had him over for a birthday dinner on Thursday evening. It was a birthday dinner from The Book (of course!) and I made seafood (of course!), but as such meals go it was very successful. Well... almost. The entree, salad, and side dish were all tasty, but the dessert... not so much. I am done with the Cakes section of The Book, so making a birthday cake wasn't an option. So instead I made a birthday Snow Eggs on Pistachio Custard. Not so traditional, and unfortunately, not so tasty. We still had a fun time though, cooking dinner, eating, and watching the Olympics.

This weekend I am taking it easy, enjoying a few more days in California before I head back to the Midwest on Monday!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cod Marinated in Sake Kasu (Page 302)

RECIPE #1110

  • Date: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I selected this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time Plan. I hadn't made this dish yet because I hadn't come across any sake kasu -- the solids that remain after sake is made from fermented rice mash -- but I found it at Berkeley Bowl last week so I took the opportunity to make this dish. (Can I just say that I LOVE how easy it is to find ingredients in the Bay Area!) I started by combining fresh ginger, mirin, sake kasu, soy sauce, white miso, rice vinegar, and brown sugar in a food processor. I used this mixture to marinate black cod, leaving the fish sitting in a dish full of marinade for 2 hours, refrigerated. I removed the fish from the marinade and browned it on one side in a skillet. I carefully flipped the fish, then put the skillet in the oven and roasted it until it was cooked through. This fish was very tasty. It was nicely cooked and the flavor of the marinade was excellent. I liked that it was browned before roasting, as the marinade took on a wonderful flavor when it was slightly caramelized. Of all the seafood we have eaten lately, this was one of the dishes that I have enjoyed the most.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book calls for black cod rather than sea bass, and the one in The Book does not have the curry sauce.

People often ask me what research mathematicians do all day. As someone who is deeply fascinated with the day-to-day details of other people's professions, I understand A) why it's interesting, and B) why it's confusing. I think the idea of a research chemist, for instance, is much easier to get your head around. We all have images of the crazy chemistry professor, in his/her lab, wearing a lab coat and goggles, doing experiments. I don't wear a lab coat. Or goggles. And I don't do "experiments" in any usual sense of the word. The only equipment involved in most pure math research is pencil, paper, chalk, chalkboard, and occasionally, computer. So what do I do all day? I sit at my desk and try to figure things out (and go to seminars, talk with other mathematicians, read papers, teach courses, etc...). The ultimate goal is to prove theorems, develop new mathematics. But it's not as though most mathematicians prove new theorems every day. A lot of time is spent on those proofs. A lot of time is spent trying out ideas that may or may not work. And sometimes things don't work. Math research, like most research, requires a lot of persistence and innovation. One great thing about math research is that it is very mobile. Some people prefer to work in their office, some at home, some at coffee shops. My special gentleman is ridiculously productive on airplanes. I like to work in my office, and also at my desk at home. Coffee shops are usually too distracting. And on airplanes I am too busy being scared half to death to work.

Today, for whatever reason, I was really cold. So after a morning of freezing while working in my usual places, I climbed into bed, under two down comforters, and read math papers all afternoon. I would like to claim that I don't often work in bed, but in reality I do. For whatever reason, I find it very easy to concentrate when laying in bed. By the time I looked at the clock it was past dinnertime and I realized that I was hungry! You know I am deep in thought when I forget to eat!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stir-Fried Pea Shoots (Page 556)

RECIPE #1109

  • Date: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I have been wanting to make this recipe for years, but I have been unable to find pea shoots. Their season is short and even when they are in season they aren't a grocery store staple. So when I saw pea shoots at Whole Foods last week I got very excited. My excitement waned a bit when I saw how much they cost! I needed one pound of pea shoots, and the pea shoots at Whole Foods cost $5 for a 2oz container. In other words: $40 a pound. My special gentleman was at the store with me, and when I glanced over at him I got a we-are-not-going-to-spend-forty-dollars-on-pea-shoots look (a highly specialized look which I will probably never get again). It's true that even though I an generally very frugal I am willing to pay ridiculous sums of money to make food for my project. But $40 for pea shoots was crossing the line even for me. In defense of Whole Foods (because I do love it there, despite the prices) they were some beautiful, organic pea shoots. I have no doubt they would have been delicious. But, I left them on the shelf and made something else for dinner. Two days later I headed to Berkeley Bowl, hoping that A) They would have pea shoots, and B) The pea shoots would cost less than $40 a pound. Berkeley Bowl came through for me. There were pea shoots, and the price was a bit more reasonable. Price per pound for pea shoots at Berkeley Bowl..... $1.29! Needless to say, we had pea shoots that night!

This recipe was super fast. I heated some oil in a skillet, then added smashed garlic cloves and some red pepper flakes. I cooked them briefly, then added the pea shoots, stir-frying until they were wilted and tender. I seasoned with salt and served! That was it! The pea shoots were very tasty. They had a prominent pea flavor with a touch of bitterness. I thought the garlic complemented them well. I wished I had added a touch more red pepper flakes for more kick. Since I rarely see them, pea shoots aren't part of my regular cooking, but this recipe definitely made me want to try them out in salads, add them to stir-fries, etc... They were easy to cook, and tasty!

The recipe is here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meyer Lemon Marmalade (Page 918)

RECIPE #1108

  • Date: Sunday, February 14, 2010 -- 9pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


Meyer lemons are in season now so I decided to make this marmalade despite the fact that my canning pot, jars, etc are all in Indiana. I made it and didn't can it, figuring we could just eat it right away. As it turned out, Brian liked it much better than either me or my special gentleman did, so we just gave most of it to him! To make this marmalade I started by halving the lemons, removing (and reserving) the seeds, then quartering and thinly slicing each half. I tied all the seeds in a bag of cheesecloth, then I let the lemon slices sit with the seed bag in water, covered, at room temperature for a day. Then I brought the mixture to a boil and cooked it for a while. I added some sugar and cooked it until it tested done. (To test: drop a mound on a chilled plate, put it in the refrigerator for 1 minute and if the mound doesn't run when the plate is tilted, it's done.) Then the recipe said to put it in sterilized jars, and then seal and process the jars. As I mentioned, I didn't do that but rather I just stuck it in some tupperware in the fridge. I served this with cream biscuits, strawberries, and whipped cream for dessert. This marmalade was tasty, but a little bit disappointing. It had a great Meyer lemon flavor and a perfect texture, but it has a very bitter aftertaste. Without that extreme bitterness it would have been absolutely delightful. I have a theory about why it came out so bitter. The recipe called for 1.5 pounds of Meyer lemons. The lemons I found were pretty small for Meyer lemons, which meant that my 1.5 pounds of Meyer lemon had a higher proportion of peel, and hence pith, than 1.5 pounds of larger Meyer lemons would have. Pith tends to be bitter, so my greater proportion of pith may have meant that my marmalade turned out more bitter than it should have. The version of the recipe online says to use 6 Meyer lemons (1.5 pounds). My 1.5 pounds was definitely more like 9 or 10 lemons. If I were to make this again, I would definitely opt for some bigger lemons, in hopes that it would take the bitterness down a notch.

The recipe is here.

I have only one sibling, an older brother. He is an excellent brother, but I always wished that I had a sister too. With sisters you can borrow their clothes, and get pedicures together... Having a sister just always sounded nice to me. My special gentleman is one of three boys. His older brother (Brad) is married (to Deniz). I am told that technically Deniz is not my sister-in-law, but rather my brother-in-law's wife. I refer to her as my sister-in-law anyway. She very much feels like family and somehow saying she's my brother-in-law's wife doesn't capture it. Deniz is very thoughtful and organized. When I ran my first half marathon she brought me clothes to wear after I finished so I wouldn't be cold while waiting for my special gentleman to finish his marathon. I loved the cropped yoga pants she lent me that day, and she helped me look for them after that. Unfortunately, the store had stopped making that style. A couple months ago, she gave me her pants that I had loved so much. When she gave me her used pants (and I very happily accepted them!) I felt like I had a sister!

And soon, I will have another one! My brother Spencer and his girlfriend Ellen got engaged just a couple weeks ago, and it sounds as though their wedding will be in June! I am excited for them, and excited about having another sister-in-law! My special gentleman and I visited Spencer and Ellen in Los Angeles a few weeks ago and had a great time with them. I am very much looking forward to us all spending time together in the years to come.

Mustard and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb (Page 498)

RECIPE #1107

  • Date: Sunday, February 14, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I made this lamb as part of our Valentine's Day dinner with Emilee and Brian. I started by seasoning two racks of lamb with salt and pepper, then browning them on the stovetop in olive oil (the recipe called for three racks but I cut it back a bit since there were only four of us). I transferred them to a baking pan, and spread the fatty side of each rack with some Dijon mustard. Then I put a topping of fresh bread crumbs, parsley, mint, rosemary, salt, and pepper over the mustard, pressing so that the crumbs adhered. I roasted the lamb to 130 degrees, then let it rest for 20 minutes. I cut the racks into chops and served! This lamb was tasty. The flavors were classic and well-balanced and the meat was cooked nicely. It was nice to have the substance of the bread crumb coating. Without it I might have wished the dish had a sauce, but with the herbed bread crumbs the dish felt complete. This was a super easy, tasty lamb dish that I would make again.

The recipe is here.

My mother would tell you that I started cooking when I was 9 or so. It's all hazy in my memory, but she claims that I used to invite my teachers over for dinner and cook big meals for them. There are pictures of me in fourth grade with my best friend and a plate of homemade egg rolls that we made for dinner with our teacher, so I suppose this must be true! Apparently my love for deep-frying started early... What I do remember is that I used to make a lot of pies. And cookies. And later in life, cakes. My love of cooking stemmed from a love for baking. Long before I even knew how to piece a chicken I could make you a chocolate genoise soaked with vanilla syrup, filled with pastry cream and strawberries, and covered in ganache. I had my priorities! Before I started this crazy project I fueled much of my cooking energy towards making cakes (there is a small collection of pictures here). When there was a special occasion, I was there, cake in hand! Since I started the project however, I have had less time and energy for coming up with cake recipes and trying new decorating techniques. In fact the only elaborate cake I have done in the last year was our wedding cake.

When I was in graduate school it was a very special occasion every time someone defended their thesis, and I made quite a few defense cakes. I hadn't made one in a while, but today I got the chance to do one again. My friend Brian is defending his thesis in the morning (PhD in Experimental Physics from Stanford!), and tomorrow night there will be a party to celebrate! I happily volunteered to make a cake. It was fun to be in the kitchen this morning, cooking something NOT from The Book, and trying out some new decorating techniques I have long wanted to learn. The cake is nothing too fancy but I am happy with how it looks. And I have confidence it will be tasty because it's Red Velvet -- Yum! People keep asking me what I will do when this project is over. I know one thing I will do: make more cakes!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shaved Raw Artichoke Salad (Page 140)

RECIPE #1106

  • Date: Sunday, February 14, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, and Brian
  • Recipe Rating: B

I made this recipe as part of our Valentine's Day dinner with Emilee and Brian last weekend. I started by taking two artichokes and going through the usual process of cutting, peeling, prying, and scooping until I had discarded everything but the artichoke hearts and then I rubbed the two hearts with lemon. I trimmed two cremini mushrooms and rubbed them with lemon also. I squeezed some lemon juice into a bowl, then using a mandoline I shaved very thin slices of artichoke heart and mushroom into the bowl and tossed them with the lemon juice. I added olive oil, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper. Then I plated the salad and put shaved pieces of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. I then drizzled with a bit more olive oil. This salad was unusual. The Book said that it would have a "bosky flavor." I had to look that one up. It turns out that it means: "Of or relating to woods." Brian phrased it differently: "It tastes like dirt." I would call it extra-earthy. Besides the earthiness the dish had a pronounced flavor of lemon, and a saltiness from the cheese. I had never eaten an artichoke raw before and texturally it was pretty interesting -- similar to celery root in its earthy crispiness. One thing that was shocking about this recipe was what a small quatity of salad it made. I suppose the body of the salad was only 2 mushrooms and 2 artichoke hearts, so I shouldn't have been surprised. What you see in the photo above is a full one-fourth of what the recipe makes. I don't know that I would make this dish again, but I enjoyed eating it well enough. If you like very earthy flavors, this is an interesting salad to try. If you don't like the taste of woods, this is not the dish for you.

The recipe is here.

Ah, Saturday! So far this winter most of our weekends have involved traveling, or being apart, or have just been crammed full of activity. It has been a while since my special gentleman and I have had a lazy, relaxing weekend day, just the two of us. Today, we had such a day and it was wonderful! We started the day with a four mile walk that included stops to deposit some checks, mail some things, get passport photos taken, get our H1N1 vaccines, etc... I don't particularly love running errands, but I enjoy them much more when I can walk to do them, and particularly when have the company of someone I love! After our morning constitutional, we came home and had a lunch of leftovers from our dinner last night from The Book. In the afternoon I ran some more errands, did some work, laid around. This evening I have some baking I want to do. It has just been a tremendously relaxing and refreshing day -- everything that I look for in a Saturday!

Clams Casino (Page 50)

RECIPE #1105

  • Date: Sunday, February 14, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty and Brian
  • Dining Companion: Emilee
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time Plan. These clams were a component of the Valentine's Day dinner my special gentleman and I had with Emilee and Brian. When one is dealing with shellfish like clams, mussels, or oysters, there is always a point at which the animal itself needs to be separated from its shell. There are two choices here. One, cook the shellfish so that the shell pops open, providing easy access to the meat inside. Or two, pry the shell open while the animal is still alive, and remove the raw meat. Not surprisingly, option one is much easier. Clams have a vested interest in staying shut when something is trying to pry them open, and consequently they will fight back, closing as tightly as they can. Before I started this project I never really cooked with clams, oysters, or mussels, so my experience shucking clams was limited to a day in culinary school when I was required to practice this skill. It's not a particularly pleasant process so I practiced only enough to demonstrate a limited proficiency to my chef and then I went back to whatever else I was doing in the kitchen.

Some of the clam recipes in The Book are of the cook-it-until-it-pops-open variety and some require shucking. Without really thinking about it, I have been avoiding the ones with shucking. I decided it was time to start attacking them though, and this was the first such recipe. My special gentleman was in the kitchen with me the night we were making this dish, and he offered to help. Delighted, I asked him to shuck the clams. The recipe calls for the use of a clam knife, which I didn't have, seeing as how I never shuck clams. We tried to do it without, but found it to be a frightening experience with a sharp chef's knife, and completely impossible with a butter knife. So my special gentleman made a quick run to the store and bought a clam knife. Even once we had the right equipment it still took some time, and my special gentleman, Brian, and I working together, to find a method that worked well. My special gentleman did succeed in shucking all the clams, although to say that he was a little frustrated by the end would be an understatement. My favorite quote of the evening -- my special gentleman said, dryly, "I can see why they say that shellfish are an aphrodisiac." I think he was none too pleased with his crazy wife for assigning him that particular job...

One he shucked the clams he put the meat in a bowl and scrubbed the bottoms of the shells clean. He then returned the clams to their shells, and nestled them in kosher salt on a baking sheet. Meanwhile, I cooked chopped bacon until the fat rendered, then removed the bacon and cooked shallots and green pepper in the bacon fat plus some butter. I added the bacon, some parsley, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, then my special gentleman topped each clam with some of the mixture. We baked them until golden, then served them nestled in kosher salt on a platter. These clams were pretty good. The topping had a great flavor to it, and it complemented the flavor and the texture of the clams nicely. The balance of the ingredients was mostly good, although I wondered if it wouldn't have been better with a touch less bacon (crazy suggestion, I know!). Typically I always vote for more bacon, but in this case the bacon was a bit overpowering. The presentation of the dish quite nice. The clams looked very appetizing back in their cleaned shells. Overall the recipe was solid and I might make it again, especially if I can talk my special gentleman into shucking the clams for me once more!

This recipe isn't online.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shrimp Smorrebrod (Page 180)

RECIPE #1104

  • Date: Saturday, February 13, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I made this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by cooking shrimp in boiling water, then peeling them. I whisked heavy cream to soft peaks, then whisked in sour cream, horseradish, salt, and pepper. My special gentleman sliced some avocado and drizzled the slices with lemon juice. I took some rye bread, spread one side of the slices with butter, then laid a lettuce leaf on each slice. I arranged the avocado slices, some red onion, and the shrimp on the lettuce. Then I spooned some of the horseradish cream on top and sprinkled with capers. These open-faced sandwiches were very quick and quite tasty. My special gentleman took one bite and said, "It tastes like breakfast in Norway!" Smorrebrod is Danish really, but this was reminiscent of meals I have had in Norway too. The combination of flavors and textures was very nice. The horseradish cream was delicious and it gave the dish some kick. The brininess of the capers also provided some bursts of flavor. This was an example of a lot of pretty strong flavors (rye, shrimp, horseradish, capers, red onions...) all working well together and complementing one another. I would make this again, but perhaps I would not use shrimp. I think this might have been even better with smoked fish instead.

The recipe is here.

I am determined to finish this project this year and I am certainly on pace to do it. If there is one thing that is going to stop me though, it will be shad roe. Shad roe has a very short season, and to make matters worse, even when it is in season not a lot of places sell it. So you never really know, is it not in the stores because it's not in season yet, or because they are never going to stock it? The shad roe season should be starting soon (apparently determined by when the shad decide to leave the ocean and swim up fresh water rivers). And the season can be short. I saw shad roe only once, in Whole Foods in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was at least 3 years ago, and I had barely made a dent in this crazy project of mine. I knew I needed shad roe eventually, but I didn't understand at the time how elusive it is. So I thought, "Eh, I'll make that later," and I just walked on by. Now I am kicking myself! If I don't find shad roe in the next few months it will have to wait until 2011, which is unacceptable!! So, if any of you regular readers out there happen to spot shad roe at your local seafood counter, please please please let me know. Even if you live nowhere near me, it will still be very helpful to know that it has been spotted in stores, so I can be extra vigilant about looking for it. If you live in the Bay Area and you spot some shad roe, I will be forever in your debt if you drop me a line telling me where I can get my hands on it!

Roasted Mussels with Almonds and Garlic (Page 334)

RECIPE #1103

  • Date: Friday, February 12, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I picked this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I combined mussels, garlic, parsley, white wine, butter, salt, and pepper in a big pot. I put it in a hot oven, uncovered, until the mussels opened wide. I added chopped, toasted almonds and tossed. That was it! This recipe was super easy. There are several mussel recipes in The Book that all start from the basic idea of: Cook mussels with garlic and butter. Then they each have their other main ingredient. One recipe just adds some white wine. One adds a whole lot of parsley. This preparation was all about the almonds. It was OK, but I preferred some of the other similar mussel recipes in The Book. Part of the problem was that this dish looked pretty unappealing. The parsley was mixed in before the mixture was roasted, which meant that it spent 20 minutes in a hot oven. Cooked parsley takes on a very unattractive color, and there was quite a lot of it in this recipe. The combination of mussels and almonds wasn't bad, but the dish didn't seem particularly cohesive. The recipe was perfectly fine, but I wouldn't make it again.

The recipe is here.

I still have this project I did in Elementary School where we had to answer a bunch of questions about ourselves. One of the questions was what we wanted to do when we grew up. In the blank I wrote: I want to get a PhD from MIT. I am sure the other kids wrote that they wanted to be ballerinas, or astronauts. And I am sure our teacher read all of our answers and giggled. Between when I wrote that at age 9 and when I did start my PhD at MIT at age 22, there were plenty of points when my dream was different, or just unclear. That 9 year-old version of me wanted to go to MIT to become an electrical engineer. An 18 year-old version of me realized that I hated to build things, so engineering might not be for me! It was around that time that I decided to study math. And it was only a few months before starting at MIT that I decided (again!) that I wanted to go there. Now, looking back, it is strangely satisfying to know that I did just what I said I wanted to do when I was little.

Earlier today I had to fill out a survey for some organization that I belong to. One of the questions asked for my long term goals, plans, aspirations, and dreams. I stared at it for a long time. There are a lot of things I would have said earlier in life: find a job that I love, find a wonderful husband, buy a house someplace that I want to live, etc... or more specifically: get my PhD, get a tenure-track job, find a work-life balance that makes me happy... Those were always my long term goals. But now, I have all those things. I am living my dream and I am happy. I stared at the question for a long time, wondering if being happy with where I am in life makes me unambitious. (An ex-boyfriend called me unambitious once and I have felt a little bit sensitive about it ever since.) I do have plans. I would like to have kids someday. I would like to excel at my job. I would like to be a good wife, parent, and friend. I aspire towards all of those things. But my biggest plan is just to continue as I have been, and hope that I continue to be as happy as I am now. Somehow that didn't seem like the answer they were looking for. I left the question blank.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Linguine with Clam Sauce (Page 215)

RECIPE #1102

  • Date: Friday, February 12, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C-

I am not a particularly picky eater, but I am pickier than my special gentleman, who will eat pretty much anything. Of the 729 recipe he has sampled from The Book, I can count on one hand the number that he has refused to eat (the Figgy Pudding comes to mind). He makes fun of me for being picky, which I accept from him, since it is true in comparison. Since I started the All Seafood All The Time plan he will often ask me what's for dinner, and when I tell him he will say, "I predict my Teeny will be making some Cream of Wheat!' Cream of Wheat is my standby on the rare occasions that I deem my Book dinner inedible. To be fair, although he says this nearly every day I hadn't actually made Cream of Wheat as a dinner replacement in months. That is, until last Friday! I chose two recipes from The Book for dinner -- both of them with shellfish. I flipped through The Book counting seafood recipes recently and I realized just how much shellfshish there is left! When it comes to fish that don't live in a shell I am doing pretty well. But there are LOTS of clam, oyster, and mussel recipes left (not to mention the lobster, crawfish, scallops, crab, etc... recipes). I am focusing first on making a dent in the mussel and clam recipes, so I am trying to fit a mussel and/or clam dish in almost every meal. On Friday I went all out and did one of each.

To make this clam pasta I started by cooking strips of pancetta in olive oil. Then I added garlic, and then clams, clam juice, white wine, and red pepper flakes. I brought the mixture to a boil and covered it, cooking until the clams opened wide. Meanwhile, I cooked some linguine in boiling salted water. I added the pasta to the sauce, simmered for 30 seconds, tossed with parsley and drizzled with olive oil. This dish sounded like it had potential. I love pasta. I love pancetta. I like clams well enough. But it was just not good. Pasta with clams can be awesome, but typically it is not as clammy as this recipe. This recipe called for a cup (which is an entire small bottle!) of clam juice. That was the base of the sauce. The strong clam flavor overpowered the wine. And the pancetta. Plus, the super-clammy sauce didn't have any body to it. The dish tasted like linguine, dipped in clam juice, topped with clams. I wasn't a fan. It was bad enough, actually, that my special gentleman didn't like it either. He ate it anyway. I, on the other hand, had Cream of Wheat for dinner, which was a huge improvement.

The recipe is here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hibiscus-Marinated Leg of Lamb (Page 500)

RECIPE #1101

  • Date: Thursday, February 11, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Chris, Emilee, Brian, Sam, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


There are a lot of recipes in The Book for big pieces of meat. I feel silly making such recipes for just me and my special gentleman so I tend to save them for larger gatherings. In particular, I often make them for big family dinners, either with my family or my special gentleman's. I have prepared many large pieces of beef and pork for our families, and everyone was delighted. Both my parents and his, however, have this idea that they don't like lamb. Perhaps it is true, perhaps they really don't like lamb. But my guess is that they have just never had good lamb. Lamb is one of those things that can be REALLY bad when it is bad, and REALLY good when it is good. I think a lot of people encounter several bad lamb preparations early in life and decide that they don't like it. But lamb can be so delicious! Since I have less of an audience for it, a disproportionate number of lamb recipes remain unmade. Luckily, Emilee, Brian, and Sam are on the same page as me and my special gentleman when it comes to lamb (and that page is: YUM!), so I am taking advantage of our dinners with them to knock out some of the lamb recipes. The lamb also gives a nice, and very welcome, break from the All Seafood All The Time Plan.

I made this lamb preparation last week for dinner at Em and Brian's. As I said above, I love lamb, but I was a little skeptical about this recipe. It had only a few ingredients: a whole leg of lamb, garlic, salt, pepper, oil, butter, jelly... all sounds delicious enough, right? Oh, I forgot one: an entire box of Red Zinger tea! Hahaha. I like Red Zinger, I really do. But the marinade for this lamb was 20 bags of tea steeped in just 4 cups of water. It smelled like the most potent Red Zinger you can possibly imagine. The marinade also had some garlic, peppercorns and sugar in it, and I marinated the lamb in the dark purple mixture for 24 hours. Then I took the lamb out of the marinade (reserving my super-strong Red Zinger mix), pat it dry, rubbed it with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I roasted the leg to 125 degrees then let it rest to 135. I deglazed the roasting pan with the super-strong Red Zinger, and boiled until the marinade reduced to a cup (Yes, I reduced the 20 tea bags steeped in 4 cups down to 1 cup!). I whisked in some red currant jelly, salt, pepper, and butter, then strained the sauce into a sauceboat and served it with the lamb. Despite my skepticism, this recipe fell soundly into the YUM category. The leg was nicely cooked and it looked gorgeous (the picture above doesn't even do it justice!). The marinade gave the meat a great flavor, which didn't reek of Red Zinger at all. And much to my surprise even my super-strong Red Zinger tea turned sauce was delicious! It was rich and flavorful and went beautifully with the lamb. It was definitely a crowd pleaser. Even our dining companion Sam (just shy of 2 years old) was a fan -- he devoured a shocking number of "meat bites."

I almost wish we had forced this recipe on one of our sets of parents. Perhaps we could have gotten them to come around about lamb...

The recipe is here.

New England Clam Chowder (Page 118)

RECIPE #1100

  • Date: Thursday, February 11, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Sam
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time Plan. I started by steaming some littleneck clams and reserving the cooking liquid. I removed the cooked clams from their shells and chopped them. I then strained the cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Chris peeled and diced several boiling potatoes. We melted butter and cooked chopped bacon in it (Yes, bacon cooked in butter!), then added onion and cooked longer. Chris added the potatoes and reserved clam cooking liquid and simmered until the potatoes were tender. He stirred in the chopped clams, half-and-half, and pepper, then heated it. To finish it we seasoned with salt and stirred in some parsley. This clam chowder was ok, but I thought it definitely could have been better. For one thing I found it to be too thin. I expect a chowder to be creamy and substantial, but this had a base of 1 cup of half-and-half and 1 1/2 cups of clam cooking water, which resulted in a pretty watery broth. I also wished that the potatoes weren't cut so small. The Book asked for a 1/4 inch dice, which is pretty tiny. I prefer to have more substantial chunks in my chowder. The flavor was good -- the bacon came through clearly, as did the clams. It was definitely not a bad soup, but it won't be my standby clam chowder recipe either.

The recipe is here.

This is recipe number 1100 that I have made from The Book! I have been steadily plodding along for more than 4 years now, cooking from The Book. These past few weeks it has really begun to seem like the end is in sight. I recently made myself a mini-Book. I photocopied every recipe that I have left to make so I could throw them in my purse when I go places. Before I had my mini-Book it was crazy trying to make grocery lists because it was hard to predict what kinds of seafood would be available on any given day. So I would write down ingredients for a recipe, and a back-up, and a back-up for the back-up. It was ridiculous! Plus, sometimes I would see a hard-to-find ingredient and want to buy it but I woudn't know what else I needed for the recipe. Lugging The Book with me everywhere was an option, but that thing is BIG! Now I have all the recipes with me all the time, in a covenient little packet. No more grocery lists! And when I finish everything on one of my photocopied pages, I just tear it out and my mini-Book gets smaller. It is a VERY satisfying feeling.

I am cooking like crazy lately, and enjoying it a lot! For the first time in a while, I have a nice backlog of recipes waiting to be blogged about. Yes, I am getting a little tired of all the seafood (particularly because I am tired of making so many grocery trips!), but I am feeling a renewed enthusiasm for this project. I think I WILL finish in 2010, and maybe even with a little time to spare! 1100 down, 193 to go!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Caesar Salad (Page 136)

RECIPE #1099

  • Date: Thursday, February 11, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Sam
  • Recipe Rating: B+


I chose this recipe as the salad component of our weekly dinner at Emilee and Brian's house. I started by mashing garlic and salt to a paste, then whisking in olive oil and forcing the mixture through a medium mesh sieve. Chris cut white sandwich bread into small squares and baked them for 10 minutes. Then he tossed the bread cubes with the garlic mixture and baked them some more. I whisked together olive oil, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and minced anchovy fillet. (Note: the recipe also called for raw egg yolk, but noted that it was OK to omit it. I chose to omit it, especially because my dining companions included a 2 year-old.) I tossed the dressing with romaine lettuce, then sprinkled with grated Parmesan, the croutons, salt, and pepper. This salad was tasty. The dressing didn't have the typical color or texture of Caesar dressing because I omitted the egg yolks, but it did have the characteristic flavor. The balance of the greens with the dressing, cheese, and croutons was nice. I liked the garlicky croutons, but if I were to make them again, I would do it a bit differently. In particular, instead of using small cubes of white sandwich bread I would use larger cubes of good crusty bread. Good bread produces tastier croutons, which also look nicer. This salad was tasty though and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

This recipe isn't online.

Early this morning I made a grocery list (more seafood of course!) and got all set to go to the grocery store to buy things for dinner tonight, and then I just couldn't do it. I couldn't motivate to go to the grocery store for the fifth time in the last seven days. The All Seafood All The Time plan requires a lot of grocery trips. But today I couldn't do it -- so we ate out! Berkeley has an abundance of good restaurants, but I haven't taken much advantage of them since I have been trying to cook as much as possible. My dining today, though, felt very true to the Berkeley experience. I had lunch at a smoothie place, and dinner at a vegan sushi restaurant. Yes, a whole restaurant dedicated to vegan sushi. It was quite tasty! And it was a nice break from all the seafood! Tomorrow I will rally and head back to the grocery store before I lose my seafood momentum. I have plans for some cod, and some crab, and some scallops....

Pho (Page 125)

RECIPE #1098

  • Date: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I needed a little break from the All Fish All The Time plan, so I made this Vietnamese beef soup last week. I started by cooking some rice stick noodles in boiling water. Then I added slices of snow pea and boiled for a minute. I drained the noodles and peas and rinsed them under cold water. In a saucepan I cooked shallots, ginger, and serrano chiles in vegetable oil. I added beef stock and water and simmered for 10 minutes. I stirred fish sauce, lime juice, and salt into the broth. I divided the noodles and snow peas up between several bowls. Then I added thinly sliced rare roast beef, bean sprouts, cilantro leaves, basil leaves, and mint leaves to the bowls. I ladled broth into the bowls and served! The Book acknowledges that this is not really pho, but rather faux pho, a quick and easy version with easy-to-find ingredients. Of course, there is a tradeoff. This version was tasty, but it paled in comparison to a true beef pho, for which making the broth is a long process of flavor building. That said, my special gentleman and I both enjoyed eating this soup well enough. It was flavorful with an interesting combination of textures. If you make this recipe with the idea that it will be a nice Asian-inspired beef soup, you will probably enjoy it. If you are looking for a pho recipe, you might want to look elsewhere.

The recipe is here.

There has been a lot of talk lately within our group of friends about communal living. In particular, the idea has been thrown around to have a certain group of people buy a house together in the Bay Area. It has been an interesting thought experimental to weigh the pros and cons of group living. The same concerns were raised over and over: mainly the logisitical nightmare of co-ownership, and the potential damage it could do to friendships. But it still does seem tremendously tempting in a way. A friend said that what she loved about the idea was the vision of summer evenings in the backyard, with the adults crowded around a table drinking wine, and a whole slew of kids running around in the lawn. It sounds lovely.

In real life of course my special gentleman and I live in Michigan, not the Bay Area, but it has got me thinking about the kind of environment we would like to have in our household. I do hope that over the years various members of our family and friends live with us for extended periods of time. That was something we had in mind when we selected a house -- having enough space to make a home for more than just our immediate family. My special gentleman and I both like having people around, and enjoy the benefits of having a generous notion of "family."

This semester, while my special gentleman is living in Berkeley, we are sharing a house with a friend and colleague of his. It's great! Everyone gets along, we all hang out and eat meals together regularly. And right now, for instance, my special gentleman and Josh are watching episodes of Wonder Showzen in the other room -- I am glad my special gentleman has someone else to enjoy them with so I don't have to watch them! Ah, the many benefits of living with friends!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mussels with Garlic and White Wine (Page 333)

RECIPE #1097

  • Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I made this recipe as part of the All Fish All The Time plan. I started by melting some butter in a pot, then adding chopped shallots and garlic and cooking until golden. Then I added mussels and white wine, covered, and cooked until the mussels opened wide. I stirred in some more butter, parsley, and salt and served with crusty bread. This recipe was super simple and pretty tasty. There are quite a few recipes like this in The Book: cooked mussels in sauce. As long as the mussels are cooked properly these recipes are only distinguished from one another by the sauce. In this case the sauce seemed very appropriate: butter, garlic, shallots, wine, and parsley -- hard to go wrong! My special gentleman thought a slightly different balance of ingredients would have been better: more butter, less parsley. It's hard to argue with that! But as it was it was fine. Plus this recipe was super fast with a Start to Finish time of 15 minutes. This was a very simple preparation that would make a nice dinner for anyone who likes mussels.

This recipe isn't online.

Happy Valentine's Day!! I will admit, my special gentleman and I don't really do the traditional Valentine's Day thing: we don't buy chocolates or flowers or anything heart-shaped. We do typically try to enjoy some good food together on Valentine's Day though! Yesterday over dinner we were trying to remember what we did on our past Valentine's Days together, and we failed pretty miserably. We had a decent memory of Valentine's Day number one, but numbers two and three we couldn't remember. So I dug through the archives of my blog and jogged our memory:

Year 1: We both trudged through an incredibly slushy day in Boston to get haircuts, then we picked up pizza and ate it in bed!

Year 2: I flew from Boston to Indiana to see my special gentleman on Valentine's Day, arriving just in time for a late dinner reservation at Ole (yum!).

Year 3: We were both in Indiana and we had an awesome dinner at Restaurant Tallent, the restaurant where we later had our wedding reception.

This year for Valentine's Day my special gentleman and I started our day by going for a long walk through the Berkeley hills. This evening we are having dinner with our good friends Emilee and Brian (and their son Sam!) at their place in Palo Alto. It is going to be our first Valentine's Day dinner from The Book -- so we'll see how that goes! I picked things that I am pretty sure will be delicious, so hopefully it won't be a disaster.

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ocean Perch Fillets with Fennel and Tomato (Page 303)

RECIPE #1096

  • Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I made this recipe as part of my All Fish All The Time plan. The Book said that sea bass could be substituted for ocean perch in this recipe and that is what I did. I cooked onion, fennel bulb, and garlic in olive oil until tender. Then I added crushed fennel seeds, basil, parsley, plum tomatoes, black olives, cayenne, salt, and white pepper and heated it through. Meanwhile, I heated more olive oil in a saucepan and cooked shallots and more garlic in the oil. I added white wine and lemon juice and reduced the mixture. I poured the shallot mixture into a baking pan, and set the fillets (seasoned with salt and white pepper) in the pan. I baked them in a hot oven until the fish was cooked through, then I served the fish on top of the vegetable mixture. This dish was pretty good. It had a very Mediterranean feel to it -- with the fennel, olives, and tomatoes. The flavors were clean and it felt healthy (despite the large quantity of olive oil that it contained). I wished that the shallot-oil-wine mixture could have been incorporated into the final dish in some way. The fish was cooked in it, but then it was just discarded. It would have been nice to drizzle a bit of that oil over the vegetables or fish for additional flavor. This dish was not terribly exciting, but for a quick, simple dinner it was tasty!

This recipe isn't online.

The last summer I lived in Boston, before I moved to the Midwest, I made an effort to cook a bunch of seafood from The Book. I knew that if there was a ton of seafood left at the end of the project it would not be pleasant. And I knew that it would be hard to find a wide variety of good seafood in small town Indiana. So I made an effort. Looking back, I can see that my effort was a bit half-assed. I did make more seafood than usual that summer, but it wasn't as though I made seafood every day, or even three days a week. And then I moved to Indiana, where I did manage to go through almost all the shrimp recipes in The Book, but few seafood recipes other than those. So now here I am, in the home stretch. I only have 196 recipes left to make, and more than 60 of them are seafood. I am living part time in California for the next few months, which makes it much easier, but it also means that those 60+ recipes need to be crammed into just a few months time. Hence, the All Fish All The Time plan.

My special gentleman has been supportive of my project since the day I met him, but even he is starting to tire of all the seafood we have been eating. After every trip I make to the grocery store he looks into the fridge and his face falls a little bit: "Oh, more shellfish..." Emilee also admitted that she is not a fan of the All Fish All The Time plan. I have been trying to keep a positive attitude about the whole thing, but last night I reached my breaking point. I made a clam and pasta dish which was bad and a mussel dish which was pretty bad. I took a few bites, pushed the food around my plate for a while, then made myself some Cream of Wheat for dinner! That said, I am not giving up on my plan. In fact, I made seafood for dinner again tonight. I will finish this project this year, and in order to do so I need to make these seafood recipes while I have the chance -- even it means going to the grocery store every other day (because seafood is so perishable!) and eating Cream of Wheat for dinner every once in a while. I will power through! My special gentleman jokes that we will probably have mercury poisoning by May, and perhaps we will! But at least the vast majority (if not all!) of the seafood recipes in The Book will be done! That will be a happy, happy day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pasta with Mussels and Chorizo (Page 216)

RECIPE #1095

  • Date: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, Brian, and Sam
  • Recipe Rating: B-


I made this recipe for dinner at Em and Brian's as part of my All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by cooking finely chopped chorizo with chopped shallots in olive oil. I added minced garlic then white wine, and simmered until the liquid had reduced by half. Meanwhile, Chris helped me scrub and debeard the mussels. I brought a mixture of wine and water to a boil, then I added the mussels, covered the pot, and steamed them, stirring occasionally, until the mussels opened wide. I cooked some pasta until al dente. I added the chorizo sauce and the mussels to the pasta, along with some cilantro, parsley, and water (which was meant to be pasta cooking water, but I forgot to reserve it... so it was just water). I cooked it all until heated through then added lemon juice, salt, and pepper. This dish was received with mixed reviews. My special gentleman and I both thought it was fine -- not wonderful but not terrible. Emilee, on the other hand, really hated it. She inquired, "What is the lowest grade I can give it if I didn't spit it out?" She finally settled on a grade of D (or maybe D-), complaining that it was a terrible waste of calories. I was surprised by her reaction as I found it generally inoffensive. I thought the combination of mussels and chorizo was interesting. The pasta was a bit unnecessary. I wondered if I wouldn't have liked it more if I had just served the mussels and chorizo sauce with crusty bread. I didn't think there was enough sauce and chorizo for the quantity of pasta, so the pasta itself was a touch bland and didn't seem cohesive with the rest of the dish. As it was, I wouldn't make this recipe again, but I did think that the shellfish and sausage combination had potential!

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except in The Book the mussels aren't shucked before adding them.

My college roommate used to say that sometimes she couldn't tell if I was working or daydreaming (and I would often wonder how much difference there really was between working on theoretical mathematics and daydreaming...). I would often lay on my bed and stare at the ceiling when I was thinking about a difficult problem. I spend so much time with mathematicians that such behaviors (staring off into the distance, tuning out the rest of the world) seem normal to me. As I write this, my special gentleman is standing in the middle of the room, staring at a blank wall. He hasn't moved in several minutes. I could ask him what's going on, whether or not he is ok, but I know what the answer will be. He'll just say, "I'm thinking." And that's enough explanation. I understand that feeling -- being so deep in thought, holding so many ideas in one's head, that you lose awareness of everything around you. In our relationship, the phrase, "I'm thinking," is code for, "Please don't interrupt me." We have the following phone conversation frequently:
"Hi, how's it going?"
"Good. I'm thinking."
"Ok, call me back later."
One of the nice things about being married to another mathematician is that he totally understands that deep-in-thought, please-don't-interrupt-me feeling.

My special gentleman seems to have stopped staring at the wall now, so perhaps I will put away my computer and hang out with him!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Crab Cakes (Page 335)

RECIPE #1094

  • Date: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Sam, Chris, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I made these crab cakes as part of dinner at Emilee and Brian's place last week. I whisked together some mayo, egg, and whole-grain mustard. I stirred in some jumbo lump crabmeat then formed the mixture into 1-inch cakes and put them on an oiled baking sheet. I baked the crab cakes until golden, then served them with lemon wedges. These crab cakes were a bit of a disappointment. Typically crab cakes have quite a few ingredients to complement the flavor of the crab and to bind the crab cakes together. These crab cakes were much more simple -- too simple in my opinion. They tasted only of crab and mustard, and because they had so little binding they were incredibly delicate. My special gentleman described them as, "Quite crabby." Although he is a big fan of crab, he also would have appreciated some other flavors to complement the crab meat. This recipe certainly wasn't terrible, but I won't be making it again.

This recipe isn't online.

I have recently been going for a 3 or 4 mile walk each morning. In theory I would like these walks to evolve into runs, but for now walking the Berkeley hills is exercise enough. We are living way up in the hills, and on my walks I tend to head even further up. Today I stumbled across an absolutely breathtaking view of the bay. Standing there, for a brief moment I wished that we were living in the Bay Area permanently. Later in the day, trying to get somewhere and dealing with absolutely ridiculous traffic, I retracted that thought!

It's interesting to think about where I would choose to live if I had a choice. In academia there is not a lot of geographic flexibility. Jobs are hard to come by, and people tend to go wherever they are able to get a good job. So I have never really thought much about where I most prefer to live. Yesterday I was talking to a friend who is originally from the Midwest but now owns a place in San Francisco. We were talking about life in the Midwest as compared to life in California, and he expressed some desire to someday move back to the middle of the country. It surprised me, even though I have always wanted to settle in the Midwest. Apparently I am not the only one drawn in by factors like affordability, no traffic, and being close to one's family. True, Midwestern weather leaves something to be desired, but there are always trade-offs!

For now, though, I am enjoying winter in Berkeley very much, and trying to take advantage of the many things it has to offer. I am also very much looking forward to returning to Michigan in June! The best of both worlds...

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Asparagus Salad with Celery Leaves, Quail Eggs, and Tarragon Vinaigrette (Page 64)

RECIPE #1093

  • Date: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Matty, and Sam
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I have had some trouble finding quail eggs, but the Whole Foods in Palo Alto had them, so I jumped at the chance to make this recipe! Chris and I started by boiling and peeling the quail eggs. Then I cut thin asparagus on a very sharp diagonal, and steamed it until just tender. I transferred the asparagus to ice water to stop the cooking, then I drained it. I whisked together white wine vinegar, whole grain mustard, dijon mustard, and safflower oil. Then I stirred in thin rings of shallot, chopped fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper to complete the dressing. We tossed the asparagus with pale green celery leaves, and half of the dressing. Chris arranged it on plates, then added the quail eggs, quartered. He drizzled some more vinaigrette on top, and sprinkled on some chopped tarragon. I liked this salad quite a lot. I had never used celery leaves as a salad green before, but paired with asparagus it really worked. There was a pronounced celery flavor, but it was balanced nicely by the mild flavor of the asparagus. The vinaigrette was also quite tasty. It had clear tarragon and mustard flavors -- it would be a versatile dressing for many types of salad. At first I thought the quail eggs were a little silly. They were relatively difficult to find, and it didn't seem worth it just for the novelty of having small eggs. I came around about the quail eggs though -- they did have a slightly different flavor to them than your typical chicken egg, and they were incredibly adorable on the salads! Overall I thought this salad was a success. No one disliked it although not everyone thought it was as impressive as I did. There was a comment that the salad was a little "girly." So maybe it's not the right salad for Superbowl Sunday, but it would be a lovely salad course for a fancy meal.

The recipe is here.

This is recipe number 1093 that I have made! That means (if I counted correctly that day more than 4 years ago when I went through the entire book and counted the number of recipes) that I have exactly 200 recipes left to make! It's an exciting milestone -- 200 seems like a very manageable number of recipe to make. I am now in a place where every time I make a big meal I feel like I am making a substantial dent in the recipes that I have left. And it's good, because I think if the end wasn't near, now would be the time that I would start to lose a little motivation. It is starting to get a lot harder to do everyday cooking from The Book. I would venture that of the 200 recipes left at least 100 of them are left because they contain something that is hard to find -- an ingredient, or a piece of equipment. This recipe, for instance, waited a long time to be made because I couldn't find quail eggs. Some recipes are left because I haven't found a way to get all the ingredients and equipment in one place. For instance, I need to make some Meyer lemon marmalade. I can find Meyer lemons in California, but my canning stuff is in Indiana. I have a similar problem involving a pizza stone, some clams, and a clam pizza recipe. At some point I will have to ship some equipment. Another fraction of the recipes are left because they are hugely time consuming. I have definitely gotten to a point where it is hard to flip through The Book at 3pm and pick out a couple recipes for dinner that night. Things require much more advance planning -- especially anything that is left that sounds tasty! But, now that the end is in sight I am motivated to get organized and make these last 200 recipes! I WILL finish this project in 2010!!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Turkey Wraps with Chipotle Mayonnaise (Page 189)

RECIPE #1092

  • Date: Sunday, January 31, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Recipe Rating: B

I was looking for something simple to make for dinner one night in Indiana, and this recipe fit the bill. I started by making the pickled onions. I blanched slices of red onion in boiling water, then I drained them and added cider vinegar, water, and salt. I brought it to a boil, then let the onions cool in the liquid and refrigerated them for a couple hours. Meanwhile, I blended together chipotle chiles in adobo and mayonnaise. I toasted some tortillas directly on the burner, then I spread them with the chipotle mayonnaise. I topped them with roast chicken, shredded lettuce, and drained pickled onion. I seasoned with salt and pepper. These sandwiches were very easy to put together, and were fairly tasty. The pickled onions were great. They had a crisp texture, and a mellower flavor than raw red onion. The wraps had a great combination of textures and I liked the chicken-lettuce-pickled onion flavor combination very much. My only hesitancy about the recipe was the chipotle mayo. I like chipotle chiles in adobo, but the chipotle flavor was too intense in these wraps. I would have preferred it if the chipotle mayo mixture had about half as much chipotle in it. It made me laugh actually because the little blurb in front of the recipe in The Book said that children might prefer a combination of mayo and ketchup rather than the mayo and chipotle. So apparently I have the palate of a child! Actually, I thought the chipotle did contribute nicely, and with a smaller quantity of it I think these wraps would be very successful.

This recipe isn't online.

My special gentleman and I are once again in Tahoe for the weekend. He was a swimmer in college, and he is still very close to the guys from his college swim team. They all get together at least twice a year, and at least one of those trips is a ski trip. Tahoe is a frequent destination because someone's family has a huge, awesome house on the lake that we all can stay in. And we do need a big house -- the swimmer group is expanding, as people are starting to have kids! So full attendance at a swimmer trip these days would be 16 people. Two people couldn't make it this weekend, so there are only(!) 14 of us here: 6 swimmer guys, 6 wives/girlfriends and 2 babies! It's such a nice tradition that they all get together a couple times a year, and I am impressed that they have been able to maintain it over these last 9 years since they graduated from college. It's always fun when these guys all get together, and Tahoe is beautiful this time of year, so it should be a nice weekend!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Pike Quenelles with White Wine-Mushroom Cream Sauce (Page 294)

RECIPE #1091

  • Date: Saturday, January 23, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: B

I made this recipe as part of my All Fish All The Time plan. I have to admit, I wasn't too excited about poached fish mousse dumplings (my experiences with fish mousse have never been too rewarding). The Book said that salmon could be substituted for pike in this recipe and that is what I did. I started by combining salmon, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a food processor and grinding it until it was smooth. Then I added an egg white and processed it some more. I forced the mixture through a sieve, then worked in some heavy cream. I refrigerated the salmon mousse for several hours. To make the sauce I cooked shallots in white wine, then added some fish stock (which I blogged about a few days ago). I boiled the mixture until it had reduced significantly, then my special gentleman poured it through a sieve and added cream, sliced mushroom caps, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. He then simmered it for several minutes and added arrowroot and Cognac. Once the sauce had thickened he stirred in chopped dill, salt, and white pepper. Meanwhile, I used two spoons to form the salmon mousse into oval quenelles. My quenelles we not-at-all cute, but I wasn't trying too hard to make them look perfect. With more effort I think they could have been cute. I poached the quenelles in simmering water until cooked through, then I transferred them to paper towels and let them sit for 10 minutes. Then I added the quenelles to the sauce, heated it, and served. This recipe was better than I expected. Fish mousse dumplings in cream sauce didn't sound too appealing, but it wasn't bad. The sauce had great depth of flavor. It was creamy and rich, and the fish stock gave it a lovely seafood undertone. I liked having the mushrooms in the sauce, but I would have preferred it if they had been sauteed first before adding them -- as it was their texture was a bit odd in the sauce. If they had lost a bit of their liquid before adding them it would have been better. The mousse dumplings themselves were quite interesting. The texture was incredible -- perfectly smooth. I'm not sure I loved the fish flavor with the incredibly smooth texture, but even if it didn't appeal to me I still found it remarkable. The texture of the dumplings seemed appropriate with the richness of the sauce. The whole dish felt very refined. I likely wouldn't go to the effort to make this dish again, but I was happy to eat it once. My special gentleman and Josh enjoyed it quite a bit.

This recipe isn't online.

After spending some time in Indiana, I am now back in California! I flew back on Tuesday and had an uneventful trip (the best kind!). I didn't do much cooking from The Book when I was in Indiana. I spent most of my time there either working or hanging out with Mike, Teresa, and baby Irene. I did a bit of cooking because I made a couple dinners for Mike and Teresa (it's hard to find time to cook for yourself when you have a newborn!), but I opted to make them food that I knew would be good rather than experimental food from The Book. That's how much I like them! So yesterday night I wanted to do some cooking from The Book. I spent the evening down in Palo Alto with some of my nearest and dearest: Emilee, Brian, Sam, Chris, and my special gentleman. I constructed a menu that took maximal advantage of my presence in California: two recipes with seafood and one with quail eggs (which I have had a hard time finding in the Midwest). I won't say that the meal was a huge success [Quote from Emilee: "What's the lowest grade I can give something if I didn't spit it out?" And Sam, who turns 2 in March, actually did spit a few things out!], but it was quite fun! I started this project in Palo Alto more than four years ago now, and Emilee, Brian, and Chris were the first people who ate from The Book with me! Now, years later, they are the ones who will be helping me get through some of the questionable recipes I have left. Lucky them! We are having dinner at their place again on Tuesday. I am already plotting what to make!