Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coquilles St. Jacques (Page 320)

RECIPE #1128

  • Date: Monday, March 15, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by making fresh breadcrumbs from a baguette, then toasting them in the oven. I tossed the breadcrumbs with cheese and set them aside. I combined white wine, water, sliced onion, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and simmered for a few minutes. Then I added sea scallops cut into 3/4 inch pieces and simmered until the scallops were just cooked through. I removed the scallops and reduced the liquid, then strained it. I cooked sliced mushrooms in butter, then seasoned them. I cooked a roux of butter and flour, then whisked in the reduced cooking liquid. I simmered it, then whisked it into a mixture of heavy cream and egg yolk. I simmered the sauce briefly, then seasoned with salt and pepper. I stirred the mushrooms and scallops into the sauce. I was then supposed to divide the mixture among ramekins or scallop shells, but the house we are renting has no ramekins (or scallop shells!), so I just did one big dish rather than 8 small ones. I topped the scallop mixture with the breadcrumbs, then dotted it with butter. I broiled until the breadcrumbs were golden. I was supposed to sprinkle the finished product with parsley, but I forgot (whoops!). This dish was very tasty! It was incredibly rich, but what else would you expect from a French classic? The sauce was creamy with a great depth of flavor to it. Typically I don't like seafood in heavy cream-based sauces, but in this case the scallops were beautifully complemented by the cream sauce and mushrooms. The cheesy breadcrumbs added a lovely textural contrast to the dish (plus, cheesy breadcrumbs are always delicious!). This dish was a winner!

The recipe is here.

I have a new master plan. After three months of traveling around, not teaching, and having essentially no obligations and no schedule, I have finally caved and added some structure to my day-to-day life. I made a daily schedule, which includes work, exercise, cooking, etc... I was hesitant to do it, as I was, in theory, enjoying the freedom of complete flexibility. But I realized today that actually the lack of structure was making me really unhappy. I haven't been particularly unproductive these last few months, but without any daily structure I somehow always feel like I never accomplish anything. I am hoping that the new daily schedule will keep me focused and help me feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. We shall see. The schedule is in effect starting tomorrow: 8am!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chilled Seafood Salad with Herbed Olive Oil (Page 155)

RECIPE #1127

  • Date: Monday, March 15, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by making the herbed olive oil. I blended together extra-virgin olive oil, parsley, chives, rosemary, and salt. Then I cooked the seafood. I boiled salted water and cooked some peeled and deveined shrimp until just cooked through. I then transferred the shrimp to a bowl of ice and cold water. I then added some scallops to the boiling water and cooked them until just cooked through. I transferred the scallops to the ice water, then added squid tentacles and squid rings to the boiling water. I cooked the squid for about 30 seconds, then added it to the ice water bath. I drained all the seafood, then chilled it for an hour. I then tossed the seafood with some lemon juice and lemon slices and refrigerated another hour. I sprinkled the seafood with sea salt, drizzled with the herbed oil, and served. I am having trouble judging this dish fairly. On the one hand, it wasn't bad. The seafood was perfectly cooked, and the lemon and sea salt complemented it nicely. The herbed oil was unobjectionable. On the other hand, this was pretty much the last thing my special gentleman and I felt like eating after months of eating pretty much nothing but seafood. This dish was in-your-face seafood. The seafood wasn't watered down with things like vegetables, or carbs. It was just a bowl full of seafood, with a little oil on top. The two of us stared at it for a while, then with a deep sigh, started eating it. It wasn't bad, but it also didn't taste good enough to overcome my strong desire not to eat it. At a different time, we might have liked this ok, but this was definitely not the thing to make three months into the All Seafood All The Time plan.

[Special note from my special gentleman: If leftover seafood salad is left in a tupperware in one's office for a week, unrefrigerated, then brought home and put down the garbage disposal without running it thoroughly afterwards, the resulting smell the next day will be very unpleasant. I missed it when it happened, but I believe him. His story is confirmed by our roommate Josh, who adds that the smell was so bad he had a nightmare about it days later.]

The recipe is here.

It's true, at this point I am tired of eating seafood. But my special gentleman is only living in California for another two months, so I need to keep my eye on the prize and continue cooking seafood recipes while I can! If I go back to the Midwest in June with dozens of seafood recipes left to make, I am going to have a problem! I am making progress though -- tonight I made two recipes from the Fish and Shellfish section for dinner, and now, for the first time in a long time, the Fish and Shellfish section is not my lowest percentage section in The Book. I have cooked 74.7% of the recipes in the Fish and Shellfish section, which puts it above both the Poulty section (72.1%) and the Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb section (74.6%). Yay!! I am not worried at all about finishing the non-seafood meat sections, as meat is abundant in Michigan, so I am thrilled that the Fish and Seafood section has passed them by! If only there weren't so many seafood recipes left in other sections (e.g. Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches and Pizzas, Pasta, etc...). Oh well! I will just continue cooking!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Poached Eggs on Artichoke Bottoms with Mushrooms and White Truffle Cream (Page 636)

RECIPE #1126

  • Date: Sunday, February 28, 2010 -- 11am
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Baldwin
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I was feeling like some brunch a few weeks back so I made this recipe. I started by trimming down the artichokes using the usual steps of cutting, trimming, bending, snapping, and rubbing with lemon juice. Then I put the artichoke bottoms in water acidulated with lemon juice. I then whisked some flour, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice into water and brought it to a simmer. I added the artichokes and cooked until tender. Once the artichokes had cooled a bit my special gentleman and I removed the inner leaves and fuzzy chokes from the artichoke bottoms. We also cut off the stems and thinly sliced them. I sliced some porcini mushrooms and combined them with heavy cream, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and salt. I brought the mixture to a simmer and cooked it for a while. Then I added white truffle oil, more salt, pepper, and the sliced artichoke stems. To poach the eggs I started by buttering the bottom of a saucepan, then filling the saucepan with water and a touch of white vinegar. I poached the eggs in the barely simmering water one at a time. I seasoned the poached eggs with salt and pepper, then placed each egg on an artichoke bottom and spooned sauce over it. This dish was pretty tasty, but extremely rich. Eggs already have a richness to them, and topping the eggs with a sauce of cream and cheese only made them richer! The flavors of the eggs and the mushroom sauce went nicely together though. The artichokes seemed a little unnecassary. They didn't contribute much to the dish, other than an elegant vessel to hold the eggs. The artichokes weren't bad with the eggs, but the eggs and sauce were complemented better by some toasted brioche. In my opinion the artichokes weren't worth the work it took to prepare them. This is definitely not the dish to make if you are looking for a light breakfast/brunch, but if you are looking for a fancy, heavy dish, this one isn't bad.

The recipe is here.

I am back in Berkeley with my special gentleman, and trying to get back into the swing of things with my project. My life has been so occupied with traveling and working lately that I have had little time for cooking or blogging. This is not-so-good because my time in California is limited and I have a lot of seafood left to make! Tonight I got back on track with some poached fish dumplings (Mmmm...). The house is pretty quiet this evening. Typically my special gentleman and I live with one other friend, Josh, but for the last five weeks another friend, John, was living with us too. And on and off there were other houseguests so this little house was often bustling. It was super fun, athough I was starting to feel like I was living in a frat house. It was when they installed the pull-up bar and started daily pull-up competitions that I really started to laugh. John left last night though, so it is just the three of us living here now and I am feeling not quite as outnumbered by men :) On the other hand, it was much easier to convince John to watch trashy TV with me than it is to convince my special gentleman, so in that sense perhaps I am more outnumbered in his abscence!

On the drive home after dropping John off at the airport last night, my special gentleman and I were discussing how much we enjoy having houseguests. I'm glad that we bought a house in Michigan with plenty of space for visitors. Hopefully when we finally get back there, lots of people will visit!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fried Oysters Remoulade (Page 329)

RECIPE #1125

  • Date: Saturday, February 27, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. For a long time I avoided the recipes in The Book that contained mussels, clams, and oysters. I just never ate any of those things growing up, and frankly, I didn't have much interest in eating them. Eventually I reached a point when I knew I needed to start making some of those recipes. Arbitrarily, I decided to start with mussels. Quite a while later I adventured into the clam recipes. For whatever reason I continued to avoid the oysters. I no longer have time for such nonsense though, so I decided to make some oysters. This was the first oyster recipe I made from The Book, and further, the first oyster I had ever eaten!

We started by making the remoulade. My special gentleman and I stirred together mayonnaise, coarse-grain mustard, tomato paste, minced shallot, minced dill pickle, minced scallion, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, minced parsley, sugar, red wine vinegar and cayenne. Then while my special gentleman shucked the oysters, I whisked together milk, egg, salt, and pepper. In a shallow baking pan I spread out a mixture of saltine crumbs, salt, and pepper. We heated vegetable oil to 375 degrees, then my special gentleman dipped each oyster in the egg mixture then dredged them in the cracker crumbs. We fried the oysters until golden. I cleaned out the bottoms of the oyster shells, and once the oysters were fried we returned them to their cleaned shells and topped with the remoulade. In a word: Yum! These oysters were super tasty! The breading was wonderfully crunchy and flavorful, and the oysters were perfectly cooked. It was the sauce, though, that really stood out to me. It was fantastically balanced, and incredibly flavorful. Lots on ingredients went into it, but the flavors all came together in a great way. We had leftover sauce and I ate it on bread for days. Yum! This recipe was a winner -- definitely a wonderful introduction to oysters.

This recipe isn't online.

Today was day two at the mini math workshop in Palo Alto. The four of us are having a great time working and hanging out. We have settled into a routine for the week. We head over to the institute nice and early and work together all morning in a corner room with whiteboards on three walls. It didn't take long for us to fill every board with project ideas, conjectures, computations, etc...! We leave the institute for lunch, walking to nearby restaurants. After lunch we go back to the institute, eat some candy (today: gummy Coke bottles and astronaut ice cream -- Mike's choices!), and continue to work. In the early evening, just as we are starting to feel a little braindead, there is happy hour! The institute provides beer and wine in the evening, as well as soda, juice, coffee, tea, bagels, cookies, nuts, fruit, etc... all day long. I have been eating so much since I arrived! Tonight we also had a special "banquet" dinner for our little group at an Italian restaurant. It has been a fun, productive couple of days, full of mathematics and food (two of my favorite things!). I am looking forward to the rest of the week!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fish Soup with Bread and Rouille (Page 116)

RECIPE #1124

  • Date: Saturday, February 27, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by making the broth. I cooked leek greens, onion, celery, and carrots in olive oil, then I added smashed garlic cloves. I added saffron, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes and cooked for a couple minutes. Then I added plum tomatoes and canned tomato puree. I added white wine and simmered until reduced by half. I added some homemade fish stock (which I made earlier and froze) and simmered some more. My special gentleman prepared the croutes, by removing the crust from a loaf of bread and brushing it with oil. The instructions said to grill the bread in a grill pan on the stove, but there's no grill pan in the house we are renting. So my special gentleman grilled it right on the gas burner grates, which worked perfectly well. Then he tore the loaf into pieces, spread them on a baking sheet, and baked until crisp on the outside. I then strained the broth. I cooked chopped leeks in butter, then added the broth, salt, and 1-inch cubes of halibut. When the fish was cooked through I stirred in some of the Rouille (See post below). We put the croutes in bowls, then poured the soup over them and sprinkled with chopped parsley and oregano. In some ways this soup was very satisfying. I love halibut, and the halibut was excellent in this soup. The broth was tremendously flavorful. And the croutes were very tasty if eaten separately, or lightly dipped in the broth. However, if prepared as instructed (put croutes in bowls then pour soup over), the croutes got tremendously soggy, losing their lovely texture. I am never a fan of soggy bread and this was no exception. It was a shame too, but the croutes were delicious before they became mush. My other complaint about this dish was that although so many delicious veggies went into its preparation (leeks, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, tomatoes...), all of the vegetables were strained out of the broth, and only some leeks were reintroduced. I would have liked some chunks of carrot and celery, for instance, in the final product. All that said, this soup was tasty -- the flavorful broth and perfectly cooked fish made for a nice meal.

The recipe is here.

This evening I am resting before what I am sure will be an intense week of mathematics. There are various math institutes around the world where research in pure mathematics takes place outside of a university. Several of these institutes host conferences or workshops. I am spending this week at one such institute, in Palo Alto, California. This institute has a program where a group of four mathematicians can apply to come to the institute for a week and work together on a difficult problem. The institute pays for the travel, housing, per diem... There are no scheduled talks or activities. It is a solid chunk of time to get together with colleagues and do mathematics. I am spending this week working with my friends/colleagues Mike, Vigleik, and Andrew at the institute. I am really excited about it! The four of us live in Indiana, Boston, Chicago, and Austin respectively, so it's not often that we are all in the same place at the same time. And when we are (for instance, at a conference in Norway this past summer) we are often so busy that we don't have so much time to work together. So this is a great opportunity, and I am looking forward to a fun and productive week!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rouille (Page 117)

RECIPE # 1123

  • Date: Saturday, February 27, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This recipe was a component for a fish soup that I selected as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan (I will blog about the soup next). I started by roasting red bell peppers on the grates of our gas burners until blackened. Then I put them in a bowl, covered it, and let them rest for 20 minutes. I then peeled the peppers and tore them into large pieces. I mashed together garlic and salt to form a paste, then in a food processor I pureed the garlic paste with the bell pepper chunks, a jalapeno chile, and fresh bread crumbs that I made from brioche. I added olive oil, then lemon juice and black pepper, and blended until smooth. This sauce was pretty good. The flavors of the roasted red peppers and garlic came through clearly. I expected it to be spicier than it was, but the jalapeno did give it a mild kick. I didn't love the texture. Despite a long time in the food processor, it had a little graininess to it. Overall, it was a pretty good sauce, which added a lot of flavor to the fish soup.

The recipe is here.

Yay for a fun trip to Las Vegas! I met my parents, my aunt Ellie, and my grandpa for a little family vacation in Vegas these past few days. It was extra-crazy in Vegas because of the start of March Madness -- sports betting was in full swing. We watched a lot of basketball games in various casinos, where there were multiple enormous screens side by side so you could watch many games at once. It was quite an experience. For betting it is less about who wins and loses and more about the point spread, so even in games where one team had a huge lead, if the score was close to the spread people were screaming and cheering like it was a one-point game. Of the four teams that I cheer for (Wisconsin, Stanford, Indiana, and Michigan State), only Wisconsin and MSU are in the tournament. They both managed to pull off first round victories yesterday though, and we watched them with the Vegas crowd! I didn't bet on any of the games myself, but my dad was way ahead with his basketball bets as of this morning. I saved my gambling energy for pai gow poker at the tables with my grandpa, bingo with my aunt, and video poker. I lost at video poker but won at both pai gow and bingo and ended up ahead overall. Add to that some lovely time spent shopping with my mom and it made for a very successful trip to Vegas!

Now I am back in Berkeley for one night before heading to Palo Alto for a week for a research workshop!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Snow Eggs with Pistachio Custard and Chocolate Drizzle (Page 845)

RECIPE #1122

  • Date: Thursday, February 25, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I made a birthday dinner for Chris the day before his birthday, and it seemed like the right thing to do to have a dessert. Typically, birthdays call for cake. However, I have already completed the Cakes section from The Book. True, I could have chosen to make him a cake, not from The Book (*gasp*), but I am trying to stay focused on finishing my project, so I select a non-cake dessert from The Book instead. Truth be told, the dessert choices that are left in The Book are getting a little sketchy. There are definitely some things left that sound delicious, but I didn't have the right equipment here to make them. So I tried to pick something that A) Sounded like there was a possibility that it could be tasty, B) I could find the ingredients for, and C) I had all the equipment to make in the house we are renting in California. The intersection of A, B, and C was quite small, and from the few options I chose this recipe. So instead of getting a birthday cake, Chris got Birthday Snow Eggs with Pistachio Custard and Chocolate Drizzle (such are the dangers of being my friend!).

When I started the lengthy project of making this recipe, I saw that The Book listed an Active Time of 2 hours and a Start To Finish time of 10.5 hours. The recipe only had 7 ingredients and the concept seemed pretty straightforward, so I thought to myself, "How is this possibly going to take 2 hours to make?" It wasn't until I started that I realized that this recipe was a huge pain in the ass. I started with the pistachios. I blanched the shelled pistachios in boiling water for a couple minutes, then I transferred them to an ice bath. I drained them, then one by one peeled the skins off the pistachios. I have certainly shelled plenty of pistachios over the years, but peeling them? I can honestly say that it never even occurred to me to remove the thin skin on pistachios. But I did it for this recipe, and had the thought several times, "This better be worth it!" Once I had peeled all my blanched, shelled pistachios, I toasted them in the oven. I chopped a couple tablespoons of the nuts and set them aside. I took the remaining nuts and ground them with sugar in a food processor. I added some whole milk and processed them more. I refrigerated this pistachio cream for 8 hours.

Next came the most bizarre part of this recipe: making the snow eggs. I whisked together milk and sugar and brought it to a bare simmer. I beat together egg whites, lemon juice, and salt to soft peaks, then added sugar and beat the meringue to stiff peaks. Using spoons, I formed the meringue into egg shapes and dropped them into the simmering milk. I cooked them for a couple minutes, then carefully flipped them over and cooked some more. Then I transferred them to a baking pan lined with plastic wrap, and continue in this manner until all the meringue was gone. I love meringue, and I have made it many times. But I have never made (or eaten!) meringue poached in milk. It was a little bit of a disaster. When I made my first batch the milk got a bit too hot and started to boil. This had a very negative affect on my little meringue eggs. Indeed they collapsed into rubbery little white disks, which were both unattractive and had a horrible texture. With batch number two I was very careful about the temperature of the milk. The eggs maintained their shape better, but they had a spongy texture I hadn't expected. Apparently that is the intended outcome, as another name for this dish is "little sponges," according to The Book.

Once all my meringue eggs were done, I strained the poaching liquid. I whisked together egg yolks, sugar, and salt, then added the poaching liquid and cooked the mixture to 175 degrees. I added the pistachio cream and some almond extract to the custard. I cooled it in an ice bath, then strained the custard. Chris melted some chocolate and then we assembled the dish. We put some of the pistachio custard in bowls, then added the meringue eggs, drizzled with chocolate, and topped with the reserved, chopped pistachios. That's it: Birthday Snow Eggs!

This recipe was a huge pain and the outcome was disappointing. As I mentioned, the texture of the snow eggs was very spongy and unappealing. The pistachio custard was ok, but even after all that effort preparing the pistachios, the pistachio flavor didn't come through as much as it could have. The custard was a bit bland, and too thin. We all picked at this dessert for a while, and then ended up pushing it aside, half-eaten. The only thing that got completely consumed was the bowl of melted chocolate!

The recipe is here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Halibut with Spicy Asian Vinaigrette and Wasabi Cream (Page 312)

RECIPE #1121

  • Date: Thursday, February 25, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by making the two sauces for the fish. To make the sambal vinaigrette I combined rice vinegar, sambal oelek (a Southeast Asian chile sauce), Dijon mustard, and vegetable oil in a blender. I blended until smooth then seasoned with salt. Next I prepared the wasabi cream by whisking together wasabi powder and water, then whisking in sour cream and salt. To prepare the fish I seasoned with salt and pepper, then sprinkled one side with chopped parsley. I browned the fish, parsley side up, in vegetable oil, then turned the fish over and put the skillet in the oven and roasted until the fish was cooked through. I served the fish with the two sauces and pickled ginger. I absolutely love halibut, so I liked this dish, but I still thought it could have been better. The idea of having two sauces was nice, but I thought both sauces could have been improved. The spicy vinaigrette wasn't actually so spicy. It could have used more kick to it. The wasabi cream was a bit too watery, and the wasabi flavor from the wasabi powder seemed a little off to me. That said, I still enjoyed the dish very much. The fish was nicely cooked and the Asian-inspired flavors of the sauces complemented the halibut nicely.

The recipe is here.

I pack my special gentleman's lunch most days. His lunches often contain leftover Book food, so they aren't typical packed lunches. Today, for instance, his lunch was the following: scallops in a mushroom cream sauce with some baguette, chilled seafood salad with herbed olive oil, an apple, and a banana. I also offered him a slice of pumpkin pie, which he declined. I pack him nice, balanced lunches. Yet, nine days out of ten, when it comes time to make myself some lunch, I make a bowl of cereal. It's not just laziness -- I love cereal. Mueslix, granola, oatmeal, cream of wheat... I love it all! I am a high-carb person. If I don't think too much about what I eat, I tend towards the All Carbs All The Time diet. I am not overweight, or particularly unhealthy, so I never had much motivation to change this. Then, a few weeks back I was eating lunch with my friend in Palo Alto. We were eating at one of those places where you can pick from a list of ingredients and they will construct a salad for you. It was such a fabulous lunch and it occured to me that I like salad even better than cereal, but I rarely stock the house with the things I need to make it. One trip to Berkeley Bowl later, all that changed! Every California lunch I have had since then has consisted of a huge, delicious salad. Making salad maybe takes 10 minutes, rather than the 30 seconds it takes to pour myself a bowl of Barbara's Shredded Oats, but it is more than worth it. I am loving the new salad-a-day plan. My salads are chock full of add-ins (because that's the best part!) and I am experimenting to figure out what works and what doesn't. My favorite salad so far: Mixed baby greens, matchsticks of apple, lots of shredded carrot, corn, strips of red bell pepper, sliced avocado, dried cranberries, feta, chopped candied walnuts, and a homemade mustard balsamic vinaigrette (heavy on the vinegar, light on the oil). Yum!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sushi-Roll Rice Salad (Page 151)

RECIPE #1120

  • Date: Thursday, February 25, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Chris
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I made this salad as part of Chris' birthday dinner a few weeks back. I started by rinsing sushi rice in several changes of cold water, then draining it. I toasted some sesame seeds in a skillet. Then I combined the rice with water and brought it to a boil. I simmered for 2 minutes, then let it stand, covered, for 10 minutes. I combined rice vinegar, sugar, and salt and brought it to a boil. I sprinkled the rice with the vinegar mixture. I used a vegetable peeler to shave some carrot strips. Then I whisked together wasabi paste, water, and vegetable oil. I added rice, carrot, chopped cucumber, scallions, pickled ginger, and sesame seeds and tossed. I put the salad in bowls and topped with sliced avocado and thin strips of toasted nori. This salad was very tasty. It was quicker than rolling vegetarian sushi, and had the same great flavor combinations. The rice was very flavorful and the balance of rice and vegetables was perfect. It was a simple, healthy rice salad that I wish I had made sooner!

The recipe is here.

It was quite a busy weekend! On Friday evening we went over to Mike and Teresa's for dinner and a movie (actually two movies). We ate Indian take-out and watched Up in The Air, followed immediately by Zombieland. After the double feature my special gentleman declared that the two movies "had the same message, delivered slightly differently." Hahaha. On Saturday morning we drove from Bloomington up to Chicago for Brad and Deniz' annual St. Patrick's Day pub crawl! We spent the day hanging out with friends, drinking beer at various pubs, and playing with Brad and Deniz's puppies. On Sunday we flew back to California. Now I am in Berkeley for a couple days before heading to Las Vegas on Wednesday to meet my parents for a little family vacation. My parents love Vegas -- probably because they got married there! I have only been there once, but I am looking forward to visiting again. In the meantime I am trying to get a lot of work and cooking done before I start traveling again!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Crispy Artichoke "Flowers" with Salsa Verde (Page 69)


RECIPE #1119

  • Date: Thursday, February 25, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B



Chris came over for a birthday dinner the night before his birthday, and I chose this dish to be a part of that meal. I started by making the salsa verde, which I had already made once before, not realizing I would need it for this recipe. Then I prepared the artichokes, using the usual steps of snapping off the outer leaves, removing the inner purple leaves and hairy choke, trimming what was left, and rubbing everything with lemon. Then I put them in a mixture of lemon juice and water. I drained them well, then Chris cooked them in 200 degree olive oil until they were tender. He then removed them, heated the oil to 365, and deep fried them for 30 seconds or so, until they were crisp and brown. The instructions said to deep-fry them one at a time, holding them each on the end of a fork. We quickly learned that a fork was not the right tool -- there was hot oil splattering everywhere and a fork put you way too close to the action. It worked much better with a long grill tool. We served the fried artichokes with the salsa verde. These artichokes were pretty good. I liked the contrast between the crispy texture of the leaves and the tender artichoke heart. The stronger flavor of the salsa verde was a nice complement to the mild artichokes. This recipe called for 4 cups of olive oil though, which seemed like a bit of a waste. Typically deep-frying is done in vegetable oil (much cheaper!). I think the olive oil did lend a good flavor to the artichokes, but in my opinion the artichokes weren't good enough to justify the use of all that oil!

The recipe is here.

I have promised, on several occasions, to post some more pictures of our wedding festivities. Here is another installment. The night before the wedding we had a "rehearsal dinner" for our out-of-town guests. We didn't really have much rehearsing, since our ceremony was super-simple and took place in our apartment, but we did have a fun party the night before.

Our rehearsal dinner was at the Indiana Memorial Union, in an outdoor courtyard. I didn't want to have our wedding outside because I thought it would be too stressful worrying about rain. But my special gentleman and I both love to be outdoors, so I wanted to have some part of the celebration outside. The rehearsal dinner seemed like a good compromise.

Decorations were minimal -- candy and confetti! I had some trouble getting the little confetti jars open though:

Brian, Chris, Emilee, and Deniz helped me with the decorations:


Matt was in charge of leading the guests over to the union from the bed and breakfast where everyone stayed:

Here's a picture of Vigleik with his son Henrik:

And an overhead shot of the sunken courtyard where we had our dinner:


















The weather turned out to be beautiful that evening, and we had a fun time sitting outside, eating and drinking.


We had fancy food the night of the wedding, so for the rehearsal we kept it simple: hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, baked beans, corn on the cob, cole slaw, etc...


















Sam bit into a lemon and discovered that they are sour:


Emilee and Rachel planned a game to test how well Matt and I know each other. We played a similar such game at our engagement party and I lost miserably! I redeemed myself at the rehearsal dinner though, easily beating him!



Here is a nice shot of Matt's grandma and mom, with my dad:

And here is a picture of my parents:

The union also has a bowling alley, which we rented out for the occasion. So after dinner we enjoyed a few rounds of bowling:


I am told for that many people the evening continued at one of the popular Bloomington bars, playing Sink The Bismark. I went home around midnight to get some pre-wedding rest instead!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stuffed Squid (Page 343)

RECIPE # 1118

  • Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by separating the squid tentacles from the bodies and chopping the tentacles. I sauteed the tentacles in olive oil until just cooked through, then I let them cool. I pureed some canned stewed tomatoes and added them to the oil, along with basil leaves, sea salt, and pepper. I simmered the sauce for 10 minutes. To make the squid stuffing I combined pecorino, fresh bread crumbs, minced garlic, parsley, eggs, the sauteed tentacles, and pepper. I stuffed each squid body (loosely), then used toothpicks to close the openings. I browned the stuffed squid in oil, then added the squid to the tomato sauce and cooked until the squid were tender. I removed the toothpicks and served the stuffed squid in the sauce.

When my special gentleman came home the evening I made this, he asked, "What's for dinner?" I answered, "Squid stuffed with squid." That was the best description I could come up with for this recipe. Squid bodies stuffed with squid tentacles. Mmmmm.... I wasn't looking forward to this one so much, but it was ok. My special gentleman described the dish by saying, "They taste like ravioli. Very chewy ravioli." It was true -- the squid had its characteristic chewy texture. The filling had a good flavor, although I think I would have preferred it without the squid tentacles. The tomato sauce was very standard, but had a nice flavor to it. I am pretty neutral on squid -- I neither love it nor hate it -- and this recipe didn't particularly push me in either direction. It was only OK.

The recipe is here.

When I was little I secretly wished that I would break my arm. I envied the girl who didn't have to run in gym class because running made her cough up blood. There was a girl in my school with cancer, and in a way I thought it was glamorous. In my young days I didn't understand that illness and injury come with pain and suffering. And I remembering wishing that I too could be injured, or seriously ill. In retrospect I feel terrible that I ever thought that way. It's crazy. Absolutely crazy. And I wish I could go back and explain to my young self how horrible those wishes were.

Years later, when I was diagnosed with my tumor, I was scared. I wondered if the tumor was payback for all those crazy childhood desires. But I quickly realized that my tumor was not so scary, or dangerous. Indeed it has hardly negatively affected my life so far at all. Earlier this week I was waiting for the results of some medical tests for something actually scary. The tests all came back normal -- thank goodness! -- but it was a frightening experience and it really shook me up. I just kept thinking about that 7 year-old version of myself, and how I didn't understand at all what it meant to be ill. And I kept wondering, if the tests came back with bad news, would I have brought it on myself with those wishes, years ago?

Luckily everything came back normal. And now, more than ever, I am feeling very blessed by my good health.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Clams Oreganata (Page 327)

RECIPE #1117

  • Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by making some fresh bread crumbs from a baguette, then toasting the bread crumbs in the oven until golden. I tossed the crumbs with olive oil, sea salt, lemon zest, and minced fresh oregano. I heated some olive oil in a pot, then added minced garlic and cooked it briefly before adding chopped, canned, plum tomatoes and some minced fresh oregano. I cooked the sauce for a few minutes, then seasoned it with pepper and added some small hard-shelled clams. My special gentleman covered the pot and cooked until the clams were open. We served the clams and sauce topped with the bread crumbs. This dish was pretty good. The bread crumbs were very tasty, although I would have preferred them without the lemon zest. The tomato sauce was fine, but it didn't have much depth of flavor. This was a simple clam preparation that could easily be modified by changing the seasoning of the bread crumbs and/or what the clams are cooked with.

The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except the one in The Book calls for more bread crumbs and olive oil.

It's amazing how much more I enjoy the airport when I am picking up someone I love rather than flying somewhere myself! I am at the Cincinnati airport, picking up my special gentleman. In a last minute change of plans, he is coming to Indiana for a few days! I am super-excited that he will be here for the rest of the week, and we are going to fly back to California together this coming weekend. I booked his ticket (yesterday!) and I got him a ticket from San Francisco to Indianapolis through Cincinnati (you can't fly direct from San Fran to Indy unfortunately!). The fact that I decided to come pick him up now in Cincinnati instead of a few hours from now in Indianapolis reflects A) How much I have missed him and B) How much I personally hate taking those little regional flights. He is a much, much calmer flier than me, but somehow I would hate to think of him having to take an extra flight when I could just come get him! So I drove the extra hour and change to pick him up in Cincinatti rather than Indy. His flight should be landing soon! Yay!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Strawberry Margarita Ice Pops (Page 863)

RECIPE #1116

  • Date: Friday, February 19, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Since popsicles with alcohol in them is nothing but sheer genius, I would have made this recipe sooner if I owned popsicle molds. However, I do not. Luckily for me, the house we are renting in Berkeley came equipped with popsicle molds! Whoo hoo! So I took the opportunity to make this recipe. I hulled and halved some strawberries, then put them in a blender with white tequila, superfine sugar, and lime juice. I blended until smooth, strained the mixture, poured it into the molds, and froze them. That was it! These popsicles were tasty and strong! After three-quarters of a popsicle I was feeling tipsy. My special gentleman had to finish mine (and make fun of me for it!). They had a great margarita flavor and a wonderful real-fruit texture. They would be a great addition to a party on a hot summer evening!

The recipe is here.

I finished our taxes this evening. I will admit (slightly embarassed) that this was the first time I had ever done my own taxes. My dad usually does them for me! But I am a real adult now, married and everything, and I figured it was about time I learned some real adult skills. Perhaps I should have thought of this sooner and I could have eased myself in with an easier tax year. This one was a doozy: we got married, we bought a house, we earned income in 3 states, one of which we didn't live in, we lived in separate states for much of the year, my special gentleman had some weird income for which it was necessary to pay self-employment tax, etc... But one federal and three state returns (two part-year and one non-resident) later, the taxes are done! And it wasn't so bad! I don't feel 100% confident that I didn't make any mistakes, but I do feel confident that any mistakes I made were A) small and B) accidental!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Portuguese Clams (Page 328)

RECIPE #1115

  • Date: Friday, February 19, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by roasting red peppers in the broiler, then letting them sit in a covered bowl for 20 minutes before peeling and slicing them. In a deep skillet I arranged some hard-shelled clams. I added sliced red onions, olive oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Then I layered more red onion slices, sliced tomatoes, and the roasted red pepper slices. I put more minced garlic and some parsley springs on top of those layers. Then I poured white wine over it, and put slices of boiling potato on top. I poured tomato sauce over the potatoes then topped with sliced chorizo. I seasoned with salt and pepper, then covered the skillet and cooked until the potatoes were tender. The Book said, "Cook until potatoes are just tender and clams are open, about 12 minutes." That made me laugh. For one thing, the clams were on the very bottom of many, many layers of ingredients. There was no way to look in there and tell if they were open or not! And two, 12 minutes to cook potatoes? Hahaha. It took more like 20, and actually I wish I had cooked it even a little longer.

Just when I was really starting to get frustrated with the All Seafood All The Time plan, I made three very tasty seafood dishes in a row (this one and the two posts below it). It was just what I needed to recover a little bit of enthusiasm for the seafood. Even my special gentleman was starting to get tired of the All Seafood All The Time plan by the time I made this dish, but this meal completely turned his attitude around. This dish was very tasty. The potatoes and chorizo gave the stew a wonderful heartiness. I used some pricey chorizo and I was glad I did -- having great chorizo really enhanced the dish. The tomato broth picked up a nice spiciness from the chorizo, some roasted flavor from the peppers, and a slight briny flavor from the clams. For a broth/sauce that only cooked very briefly it had nice depth of flavor. This was a great dish for a winter evening. My only complaint was that the cooking time was way off. I cooked it at least 50 percent longer than indicated and my potatoes were still a little crunchy. But cooked a bit longer it would have been great!

This recipe isn't online.

Today was a rotten day, improved only by a long drive in the sunshine and the discovery that there was homemade macaroni and cheese in my freezer. I was in such a bad mood that at some point I decided to indulge myself in anything that would possibly make me feel better -- I even did some cooking that was NOT from The Book! My mood never did improve, but I managed to trudge through the day. The one upside of having a genuinely bad day was that it made me realize how infrequently I have them. Here's hoping tomorrow is better...

Tatsoi and Warm Scallop Salad with Spicy Pecan Praline (Page 158)

RECIPE #1114

  • Date: Friday, February 19, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by making praline. I finely chopped pecans and stirred them together with some salt and cayenne. Then I cooked sugar in a small skillet until it was a deep golden caramel. I added the pecans and spooned the mixture onto a piece of foil to cool. When it was cool I finely chopped the praline. I dredged some sea scallops in a mixture of flour, salt, cumin, and cayenne, then I cooked them in a mixture of butter and olive oil. To make the dressing I whisked together lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper, then added olive oil, whisking. My special gentleman sliced an avocado. We tossed together the greens, avocado, dressing, praline, scallops, and the fat that the scallops had cooked in. Note: the recipe said that baby spinach could be used instead of tatsoi, and that is what I used, as it was much easier to find. In a word: Yum! All of the components of this salad were delicious. The praline was spicy and incredibly tasty. Next time I will chop it into larger pieces rather than finely chopping it though -- I would have liked some nice big chunks of praline in my salad! The dressing was simple with nice clean flavors. The breading on the ends of the scallops provided interesting textural contrast and had a nice, slightly spicy, flavor. The avocados completed the dish. My special gentleman and I both loved this dish. Indeed, he told me at least a half dozen times how great he thought it was. I would definitely make this one again -- and I probably will soon as my special gentleman keeps requesting it!

The recipe is here.

Back in Bloomington! I had a fun few days in Chicago, working with my friend V and hanging out with him, his wife, and his son. On Thursday I drove down to Bloomington. The night I got home I tried to motivate to unpack my suitcase, put my clothes into the drawers where they once lived. It seemed silly though to unpack just to repack so soon. The next few months contain a lot of traveling. The tentative plan between now and the end of June includes: Bloomington, Chicago, Berkeley, Las Vegas (family vacation), Berkeley, Palo Alto (conference), Berkeley, Bloomington, Banff Canada (conference), Berkeley, Connecticut (wedding), Berkeley, Japan (mathematical visit), Berkeley, Drive from California to Midwest possibly via the to-be-determined location of the Hedden family vacation, Wisconsin, Los Angeles (my brother's wedding), Bloomington, and finally... Michigan! Oh my gosh, it makes me tired just thinking about it! I may just wait until July to unpack my suitcase.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Salt-Baked Branzino (Page 315)

RECIPE #1113

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

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by mixing together kosher salt and egg whites to reach the texture of wet sand. Note: the recipe called for fine sea salt, but said that kosher salt could be used as an acceptable alternative. Since I needed six cups of salt, I opted to go with the kosher salt so as to not break the bank! I took some whole branzino, which had been cleaned, and placed parsley sprigs, rosemary sprigs, sliced garlic and lemon slices in the cavity of each fish. I put the fish on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and covered the fish completely in salt. I baked the fish in a hot oven until the salt crust was turning golden. I cracked the crust away from the fish. The recipe then said to fillet the fish and serve the fillets. It always seem so silly to me though to cook the fish whole but fillet it before serving. Whole fish is so beautiful. So I chose to serve the fish whole. This fish was very tasty. It was light, flavorful, and salty! Mmmm, salt. The texture was also nice: moist and flaky. This dish was super simple to make, and the very simple preparation served the fish well.

The recipe is here.

After a rather long day of travel yesterday, I made it to Chicago! My flight was scheduled for 9:45AM and actually took off at 4:45PM, which meant that I spent a long time at the San Francisco airport. I moved from gate to gate all day, flying standby on all earlier Chicago-bound flights. There was a large group of us doing this, and slowly the group grew smaller and smaller as people got rebooked. I never did make it onto an earlier flight though -- at one point I was second on the list, but that was as close as I got. On the upside, I made friends with some of the people in the same situation, which was fun. One guy described us as the "low-priority rejects." We were the group of people who A) Didn't have connections out of Chicago to make, and B) Didn't have any special priority status with American Airlines. We were the lowest priority on standby...

The whole source of the delay was that our aircraft needed a part and that part needed to be flown in from Texas. So it took a while for the part to even get to California, and then they had to install and test it. At some point we had all given up hope and were just waiting for them to cancel our flight and rebook us for the next day. But then, miracle of miracles, a plane appeared and they boarded the low-priority rejects. So many people had been rebooked that the reject group was small -- there was one person for every 5 seats or so, so we had plenty of room to spread out. Plus they gave us free alcoholic beverages! All in all it was a long but not entirely unpleasant day, and I made it safely to Chicago in the end!