Thursday, April 29, 2010

Parsley, Fennel, and Celery Root Salad (Page 147)

RECIPE #1152

  • Date: Saturday, April 24, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian, Sam, and Cornelia
  • Recipe Rating: D+


I chose this recipe as part of my birthday dinner at Emilee and Brian's! I put off this recipe for all these years because it really didn't sound good to me. But it was the last of the green salads remaining, and I love salad, so I thought I would finally give this recipe a shot. The result: it was worse than I expected. This salad was composed of flat leaf parsley sprigs, curly parsley sprigs, fennel, and celery root, with a lemon shallot dressing. The Book is really big on parsley. I end up cooking with it almost every day. But it would never in a million years have occurred to me to construct a salad where parsley is the main salad green. I have so many complaints about this recipe. One, the salad itself was so strongly flavored that I couldn't even taste the dressing. Two, those strong flavors were predominantly from parsley. And three (my major complaint), the texture was incredibly woody. I actually thought about spitting out the bite I had in my mouth because it was so unpleasant to chew. Between parsley stems and raw celery root, the texture was just awful. The one nice thing I can say about it was that it did look pretty. Not pretty enough for any of us to eat more than a couple bites though. Even Emilee, who loves parsley, rejected it. Not good. Not good at all.

The recipe is here.

I love being married. My special gentleman's birthday is tomorrow so I have been thinking lately about how to honor him on his special day. And I just keep coming back to that thought: I love being married. My special gentleman is amazing -- I definitely feel, every day, like I hit the husband jackpot. And I feel tremendously blessed. So I will cook him a big fancy dinner feast (because that's what I do...) and I will tell him that I love him, as I do every day. We will eat with friends and sing Happy Birthday. And it won't be enough. But I am not sure what I could possibly do that would be enough. I don't think there is anything I could say, or do, or buy, that would properly encapsulate how I feel about him and about us together. I love him. I love being married to him. I am so happy with him. And when I think about us, and our life together now and into the future, I feel overwhelmed with joy. *sigh* I love being married.

Grilled Lemon Herb Poussins (Page 401)

RECIPE #1151

  • Date: Thursday, April 22, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chefs: Brian, Chris, and Emilee
  • Dining Companion: Sam
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I had a feeling that the shad roe and steamers might not be big hits at dinner last week so I made a back-up entree that was sure to be good. So we had one meal with three entrees and, as predicted, this one was the clear winner. Poussin is a term for a chicken that was less then 4 weeks old when it was slaughtered. They are a little younger, a little smaller, and a little more delicious than Cornish game hens. Unfortunately, they are also a little harder to find. Whole Foods in Los Altos had them though so I jumped at the chance to make this recipe, which was sadly the last poussin recipe I had left to make from The Book. This recipe was very simple. I made a mixture of softened butter, lemon zest, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper and I used my fingers to shove it between the skin and the flesh of the little birds. I stuffed the cavity of each bird with thyme sprigs and lemon wedges and I brushed the birds with melted butter. Then I threw them on the grill! One of them caught fire (and all of them were pretty charred), but it didn't matter -- they were still delicious! The meat was tender and tasty, the skin was crispy and buttery, and the lemon herb flavors were lovely. Yum! One note: our birds cooked much faster than the indicated time in The Book. So watch them carefully!

The recipe in The Book is almost identical to this one.

Earlier in the semester I was feeling very out of shape. I don't belong to a gym right now and I haven't been able to motivate to run much since the marathon. So I basically wasn't getting any exercise. I am used to being relatively active, and the inactivity wasn't sitting too well with me. I tried for a long while to think of something that would work with my current lifestyle of moving from place to place. Anything that required large equipment was out. Anything requiring a gym: also out. In the end it seemed like walking or running were my best options. And running just didn't seem too appealing. So walking it was! I bought myself a pedometer and set a goal of 10,000 steps per day (which is about 5 miles). Three weeks or so into this new regime, I have to say, it's awesome! I wear my pedometer all the time. Every evening after dinner my husband and I go out for our evening constitutional. It is extremely hilly where we live in Berkeley, so walking is a little more exercise than it would usually be. We explore the neighborhood, or run errands, or walk on a nearby trail. It's really lovely. On occasion I end up finishing my last few steps by dancing around the house at 10pm (like tonight for instance!), and that is also entertaining. I am hoping to work up to 15,000 steps a day (about 7.5 miles). It seems that 10,000 steps a day is definitely a sustainable level for me. We'll see if 15,000 is too! When we get back to Michigan I will be walking to and from work, so that will definitely help me get some of my steps in!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steamers in Beer (Page 326)

RECIPE #1150

  • Date: Thursday, April 22, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, and Sam
  • Recipe Rating: C

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. Well, actually I chose this recipe because the store that sent me the shad roe also had steamers available. I have had trouble finding these on the West Coast, so I figured I might as well have some shipped from Massachusetts along with the shad roe. The woman warned me on the phone that steamers don't ship too well -- their shells are so thin that they will often get crushed during shipping. I accepted this risk, but she was indeed correct. About a third of the steamers arrived crushed and had to be discarded. Chris and I tested the remaining steamers to make sure that they were alive. From this experience I learned that steamer clams can spit at you. After we had discarded any dead clams, we cooked chopped shallots in butter, added some beer and the clams and steamed them until they were open. Chris then strained the steaming liquid, whisked in some more butter, stirred in parsley and salt and served it alongside the clams for dipping. In my mind this dish had two big issues: One, grittiness, and two, the flavor of the broth.

The internet will easy lead you to a half a dozen different recommendations for how to clean steamers: soak them in salt water, soak them in vinegar water, soak them in water mixed with cornstarch, soak them in water mixed with cornmeal, soak them in plain water, etc... The one thing most people seem to agree on is that they do indeed need to be soaked. The theory is that soaking steamers will cause them to spit out the sand and impurities that they have in them. The Book recipe, however, did not call for them to be soaked. So I didn't soak them. The result: very gritty clams. Poor Brian got two very sandy/gritty clams in a row, and then wasn't feeling well later in the evening. Who knows what kind of impurities were in there...

My second issue with this recipe was the flavor of the broth. Although I love butter and I love beer, I didn't find the combination of beer and butter to be at all appealing. The dipping sauce was essentially 2 cups of beer and a stick of melted butter. It just wasn't good. On the upside, the clams were nicely cooked. We were all so turned off by the grit and the flavor, though, that most of these didn't get eaten.

The recipe is here.

My special gentleman's birthday is on Friday. Last year when his birthday came around it was so close to our wedding that I couldn't rally to organize anything special for him. It was his thirtieth birthday, though, and I felt bad for having been so lame. This year, I am going to try harder! To celebrate we are going to Palo Alto to have dinner with friends, and I am planning a very nice meal. I have assembled a selection of items from The Book that sound very tasty, and I have already started cooking! This evening I assembled and froze an hors d'oeuvre -- tiny puff pastry crescents filled with mushrooms and serrano ham -- and I made the quince apple filling for his dessert. Over the next several days I will make a pate, braise beef for pot au feu, make the pastry crust for his dessert and assemble it, etc... The meal is not so complicated that it would have been impossible to do it all on Friday. Indeed if I started cooking early in the day I could easily have everything prepared by dinnertime. But for a special meal I like to draw it out a bit -- working on it in small chunks over several days. For one thing, I have a better attitude about cooking when I am not working on 6 recipes at the same time. But more than that, planning a meal ahead and working on the components feels very celebratory to me!

I hope the meal turns out well. My husband is awesome and he deserves the very best on his birthday (and every day!).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shad Roe with Lemon Butter (Page 299)

RECIPE #1149

  • Date: Thursday, April 22, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Sam, and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: C


Three springs ago, I was wandering through Whole Foods in Boston, and I spotted shad roe in the seafood case. I thought to myself, "There's a shad roe recipe in The Book. I should come back here and get that at some point." And I walked away. Little did I know back then that shad roe is one of the few truly seasonal foods we have left. The shad roe season is short -- only a few weeks in any given location. And shad roe does not freeze well. So outside of a few precious weeks in spring, no amount of time or money will buy you some shad roe. This is (hopefully!) my last spring of this project, so when shad roe season came it was crucial that I get my hands on some. Shad roe is more prevalent on the East Coast than here in California, so while I was frequenting many fine seafood establishments out here, I never did see it. I almost let the season pass me by, but I managed to get my act together last week, find some shad roe on the East Coast, and have it sent to me overnight. On Thursday, the box arrived via FedEx. Inside, the shad roe was packed with cold packs and seaweed:


When the roe arrived it was nice and cold, and mostly intact. Shad roe has a different look to it than most other fish roe we eat. It has several large sacs, each with thousands of very tiny eggs inside. From the inside the eggs look a bit like couscous. From the outside it looks like this:

After the long struggle to find the shad roe, the recipe was quite simple. I dredged the shad roe in flour, and cooked it in a skillet, in butter. Then I made a pan sauce by adding lemon juice and more butter to the pan once the roe had been removed. I then stirred in parsley and seasoned with salt and pepper. I served the shad roe with the lemon butter sauce.

Emilee looked at the result and noted, "That doesn't look like food." Indeed it wasn't pretty. We all wanted to like the shad roe -- and no one wanted to like it more than I did after all the effort to acquire it. But in truth, no one particularly cared for it. Emilee and Chris found the texture very disconcerting. Brian and I found the texture of eating thousands of tiny eggs to be nice enough, but we were both a little put off by the flavor. It wasn't fishy exactly, but it tasted very strongly of the sea. Brian commented that we would be exhaling the harbor all evening after eating it. That said, I'm not sure that there was anything wrong with the preparation. I definitely had the sense that the preparation served the shad roe pretty well, but we just hadn't acquired a taste for shad roe. It's hard to know, as this was my first shad roe experience. I would be very interested to hear an opinion on this recipe from someone who frequently eats shad roe.

So, for us it wasn't the awesome eating experience I had hoped that it might be. But I have to admit, I was delighted nonetheless at the end of the meal. This shad roe recipe has been hanging over my head for years now. To me it has been symbolic of all the recipes with hard-to-find ingredients in The Book. But I found the shad roe, I cooked it, and we all tried it! I conquered the recipe, which gives me the confidence to believe that I will conquer them all. Only 144 recipes to go!

This recipe isn't online.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Deviled Crab with Sherry Sauce (Page 335)

RECIPE #1148

  • Date: Monday, April 19, 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 removing the meat from cooked king crab legs. I then made a roux of flour and butter, added whole milk and garlic, and simmered, whisking. In a bowl I whisked together egg yolks, sherry, dry mustard, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt. Then I added the milk mixture, poured it into a saucepan, and cooked it to 160 degrees. I stirred in the crabmeat and some chopped parsley and transferred the mixture to ramekins. I stirred together melted butter, fine dry breadcrumbs, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and sprinkled it over the crab. I baked the ramekins in a hot oven until the breadcrumbs browned. This dish was only ok. I had two main issues with it. One, the sherry flavor was much too intense. In fact, it was hard to taste the flavor of the crab through all the sherry. I would definitely halve the amount of sherry if I made it again. My second issue was the texture of the breadcrumbs. The balance of butter and dried breadcrumbs wasn't right and the mixture was pretty soggy even after the dish was baked. Fresh breadcrumbs would have been way better. My special gentleman had a more conceptual complaint. He felt that the crabmeat didn't need a heavy dairy sauce to complement it. He would have rather just eaten the crabmeat dipped in a bit of melted butter (and of course, that would have been easier to prepare!). All that said, the dish didn't taste bad, and I think with some tweaking it could have been pretty good.

The recipe is here.

Last week's seemingly endless search for shad roe was frustrating at times, but in the end something very positive did come out of it. I had two realizations. One, it is pretty easy to have obscure seafood shipped across the country. And two, there is a seafood market with an extensive selection in Ann Arbor, Michigan (a mere hour from where we live). These two factors combined have made me feel much better about my ability to acquire the seafood I need when we go back to Michigan this summer. Consequently, I may relax the All Seafood All The Time plan a bit. My special gentleman and I have eaten a lot of seafood this term, as have our dear friends who often eat with us. And I think everyone is more than a little tired of it. So while I will continue to cook some seafood while we are here, and I am also going to branch out much more often into the other remaining recipes in The Book. I think we all need a little break from the constant seafood extravaganza!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Crabmeat-Stuffed Sole (Page 304)

RECIPE #1147

  • Date: Monday, April 19, 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. After several months of eating nothing but seafood, fish stuffed with fish didn't sound too appealing. It wasn't so bad though! My special gentleman made the stuffing: he stirred together crabmeat, mayonnaise, diced yellow bell pepper, and chopped parsley, then seasoned with salt and pepper. We mounded the stuffing on sole fillets, then folded the fillets to cover it. We then baked the fillets, covered. While the fillets baked we cooked some fresh breadcrumbs and garlic in olive oil until golden. We stirred in lemon zest, salt, and pepper. To serve, I topped each fillet with some breadcrumbs and drizzled with pan juices. This dish was pretty good. The sole was nicely cooked and the pan juices and breadcrumbs were very nice with it. The stuffing was only ok. My special gentleman thought there was too much parsley. I thought there was too much crab. The yellow bell peppers were nice in it, and I wished that there were more of them. I would have preferred my fish to have a non-fish stuffing, but as it was the dish was perfectly fine.

The recipe is here.

And just like that, I am 30! I had such a nice birthday today. Emilee and I took a long walk on what was an absolutely beautiful day. We got pedicures, went out for lunch at a lovely cafe, and wandered through several grocery stores buying an assortment of candy for her brother who is deployed in Iraq. In the afternoon we lounged around, playing with Sam, then prepared a birthday feast! Cornelia came down from San Francisco, and together the four of us made salmon in salmon jello, parsley salad, fresh fettuccine with peas, peppers, and prosciutto, and tiramisu ice cream cake. Back in 2006, when I started this project, Emilee flipped through The Book and noticed the Poached Salmon in Aspic. A whole fish covered in fish jello sounded so intriguing that she made me promise I would save that one for sometime when she was around. I have put it off all these years, but now it seemed like it was about time to buy a fish poacher and make it! So that was the centerpiece of our dinner! Some parts of the meal were more successful than others, but it was a very fun evening of cooking and eating with friends! Plus, watching Sam eat the aspic (aka salmon jello) by the spoonful totally cracked me up. That wasn't a part of the meal that I thought a two year old would particularly appreciate, but he sure did!

Obviously I wish my special gentleman hadn't been out of town so he could have celebrated with us too, but nonetheless it was a great day!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Calcutta Lobster in Spinach and Yogurt Sauce (Page 341)

RECIPE #1146

  • Date: Saturday, April 17, 2010 -- 2pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chefs: Emilee, Brian, Sam, Ricky, Eli, Alp, and Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-



I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. This was the first lobster recipe I made from The Book. I wasn't feeling super excited about buying live lobster at the store, bringing it home, and plunging it live into boiling water, so I recruited some friends for moral support. We ended up having quite a lobster-cooking party!

We had two lobsters. The first one seemed relatively resigned to being cooked. He was feisty in the tank, but by the time we got him home he didn't fight back too much. Here I am removing him from his box.


The look on my face in the picture below perfectly captures how I felt about dumping the lobster live into boiling water. It just didn't seem nice.

Nonetheless, in he went...

He fought back briefly -- clawing against the lid of the pot. But it wasn't as traumatizing as I had thought it would be. So I was in better spirits for lobster number two:


The second lobster was super-squirmy though, so I delegated the lobster-plunging to Ricky!


Once the lobsters were cooked they looked much more appealing:

At that point, Ricky and Eli broke down the lobsters, removing the meat, while I prepared the sauce. I cooked onion, garlic, serrano chile, ginger, and ground mustard seeds in vegetable oil. I added ground coriander, then chopped spinach and cooked until the spinach wilted. I added plain yogurt, then the lobster meat, and heated through. We served this lobster dish with some basmati rice.

The end result was only ok. The sauce had a good flavor. There were some complaints that it was too ginger-heavy, but I enjoyed the burst of ginger flavor. It definitely could have used more spinach though. The lobster wasn't bad in it, but we all agreed that we would have liked the dish better had the lobster been replaced with chicken, or beef, or lamb, or goat, or paneer... And all those things are cheaper than lobster. Somehow the lobster just didn't seem to go well in this curry spinach dish. So I definitely wouldn't make this one again, but I didn't mind eating it. And actually, I would make this again if it would cause such a gathering of friends as we had. It was such a nice afternoon, sitting outside, eating lunch!



The recipe in The Book is the same as this one, except that the one in The Book starts with live lobster rather than lobster tails.

Today was the last day of my twenties! It was a good day. I spent the day hanging out with my favorite two-year-old, Sam, who is extremely pleasant company. We went to the mini-zoo in the morning, which was a big hit until Sam got bitten by a goose. He didn't even have his hands through the fence! The goose leaned through the railing just to bite him! Sam recovered well and we headed over to Whole Foods to grocery shop for tomorrow night's birthday dinner from The Book. At some point Sam said to Emilee, "Mama, I want some fish jello!" You leave a little kid with me for a couple hours and I will have him asking for Poached Salmon in Aspic (aka fish jello). After Sam's nap we spent the rest of the afternoon at the park, which was great. The weather was perfect, Sam is super-fun to play with, and it was just very relaxing. Tonight the four of us went out for Mexican food, did some cooking for tomorrow, and relaxed with beers. It was a lovely day -- just the right way to end my twenties!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Oyster Pan Roast (Page 119)

RECIPE #1145

  • Date: Friday, April 16, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: D-

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. Wow, was this recipe bad. I was skeptical reading the ingredient list: oysters, clam juice, ketchup-style chili sauce, white wine, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, butter, heavy cream, bread, and paprika. I tried to remain optimistic, hoping that somehow that list of ingredients would come together to form something delicious. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. The recipe was essentially as follows: Shuck oysters. Mix together with the next 7 ingredients on the list. Heat it up, but don't really cook it. Toast some bread. Slather with an absolutely ridiculous quantity of butter. Pour soup over bread. The result was just foul. There was so much butter on the bread that you can see standing butter in the picture above, even after the hot soup was poured over it! The flavor of the soup was terrible -- fishy from the clam juice and oyster liquor, mixed with chili sauce, celery salt, etc... Bad soup with soggy, buttery bread in it. Just not tasty. The real testament to how bad this recipe was is that even my special gentleman wouldn't eat it. Of the almost 800 recipes from The Book that he has participated in, I can count on one hand the ones that he wouldn't eat. He took one bite of this, though, and put the rest down the garbage disposal. Not good. Not good at all.

The recipe is here.

This morning I took my special gentleman to the airport. He is in New Orleans for the weekend at the bachelor party of one of his best friends. I am a little bummed about it, mostly because Saturday is my 30th birthday and he won't be here to celebrate with me. I dropped him off at the airport early this morning, and when I got back to Berkeley I was feeling a little down. My mood was soon improved, however, by the arrival of the FedEx man. My shad roe came! I opened a huge box to find my shad roe and steamers packed with cold packs and seaweed. The shad roe was intact and very chilly -- it shipped wonderfully. Many thanks to Captain Marden's Seafoods in Wellesley, Massachusetts for coming through with the shad roe!

In the afternoon the shad roe and I headed to Palo Alto. I am staying with Emilee and Brian for a few days while my special gentleman is gone. It's great to be in Palo Alto and I am looking forward to a fun birthday weekend here! Tonight Chris came over for dinner and we made the shad roe recipe! (Also the steamer recipe, and some poussins.) The shad roe wasn't exactly a huge hit (Emilee: "That doesn't even look like food."), but I was so happy to have found the shad roe and made the recipe that I didn't care! I will finish this project in 2010. Nothing can stop me -- not even the shad roe! On the agenda for my birthday dinner Saturday: Poached Salmon in Aspic. Mmmmm.... salmon in salmon jello. Yum!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Salmon-Wrapped Poached Eggs (Page 635)

RECIPE #1144

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

I was in the mood for some brunch food for dinner last week, so I made this dish. I started by making the sauce. I whisked together sour cream, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh chives, fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper. Then I soaked slices of red onion in cold water. I poached some eggs, then assembled the dish. On the bottom I placed slices of toasted brioche. I sprinkled the brioche slices with salt and pepper, then topped them with arugula leaves, avocado slices sprinkled with lemon juice, the sliced red onion, and poached eggs wrapped in smoked salmon. I put a bit of sauce on top of each egg and served. This dish was super-tasty. The combination of flavors was fantastic and every ingredient contributed positively to the dish. Rather than seeming heavy, like many similar egg dishes, this dish felt rather light. I loved the salmon with the sauce and avocado, and the poached egg gave the dish some substance. Building this dish on a base of brioche really worked well -- I wouldn't recommend substituting any other bread. My special gentleman and I both enjoyed this dish. It made a nice dinner, and I look forward to making it again sometime for brunch!

The recipe is here.

And the shad roe drama continues... This morning I got an email response from a place in Virginia whose website claimed they ship shad roe. The content of the email:

Teena,
Thank you for your inquiry. Unfortunately shad roe season ended last week. We can notify you next year when shad roe will be available. The season is usually 3-4 weeks long

Discouraged, but not defeated, I called a fish market in Massachusetts that I discovered online yesterday. I talked to a very nice woman in the shipping department who told me that they could ship shad roe to California! I asked, "Do you have any today?" And she said, "I assume so, we have had some every day this week." So she took my order, promising delivery tomorrow. I was delighted when I hung up the phone. Finally, my shad roe problems had been solved! I was not delighted when my phone rang 5 minutes later -- the store, calling me back. I had ordered 3 pairs of shad roe, which was the quantity required for the recipe in The Book. The woman called me back to tell me that they had only gotten 2 pairs in today, and one had already sold. When she called her purveyor to find out if she could get me a couple more pairs, he told her that the one remaining pair of shad roe they had in the store was the last shad roe of the season!

"Do you still want it?" She asked me calmly.
I practically yelled into the phone, "Yes!! I really need it. Please send me that last pair!"
"Ok, as long as no one has purchased it while we have been on the phone, I will grab it and ship it to you."

I waited for a few minutes after she hung up to see if she would call back. It seemed inevitable at this point that it would be gone. But she never called. So I think tomorrow the FedEx man should come with a package of shad roe (and steamers, which I figured I would also order while I was at it -- I haven't been able to find those here either). And tomorrow night I will be making a third of a recipe of shad roe for dinner. I am eating tomorrow at Emilee and Brian's. So Em, Brian, Sam, and Chris will all be there to experience the shad roe with me. Now I just have my fingers crossed that there won't be some sort of shipping disaster!

Oyster Stuffing (Page 379)

RECIPE #1143

  • Date: Monday, April 12, 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 shucking the oysters. It was my first oyster-shucking experience. Clams I have shucked, but I only first cooked oysters a few weeks ago and I somehow talked my special gentleman into shucking that day. When I prepped this stuffing my special gentleman was still at work though, so it was just me, a clam knife, and the oysters. The instructions in The Book seemed simple enough: hold the oyster in a glove ("Why do I need a glove?" I wondered. The answer was evident as soon as I started shucking.), insert your oyster knife into the hinge and twist until the shell pops open. The Book did note that this require a certain amount of force. The oysters, of course, were still alive. So they fought back! The harder I tried to wedge my knife into the hinge, the tighter they closed their shell. And when I was able to get in a little bit, they would try very hard to shut again. The knife slipped many times, and if I had not had a glove on my left hand it would have been a bloody mess (thanks, Gourmet Cookbook, for the very helpful tip!). At some point I noticed that my white glove was turning red, and only at that point realized that my right hand (ungloved) was indeed bleeding. In a battle of my knuckle versus an oyster, the oyster had won. So I took a break to find a bandaid for my finger. I still hadn't successfully shucked a single oyster. Finger bandaged, I tried again. Eventually I gave up on the very stubborn oyster number one and set it aside. Oyster number two also defeated me. Oyster number three, however, I was able to shuck! I jumped up and down. I cheered. I went on to oyster number four. Eventually I got the hang of it. It just took more force than I had imagined it would. Once I invested in really shoving my knife in there with a lot of strength, it wasn't so hard. Scary? Yes. Hard? No. Putting a lot of force behind a knife that was essentially directed at my other hand didn't seem like a great plan, but I didn't have any major injuries. At one point a small piece of shell flew off and landed in my eye. That hurt. Next time I'm wearing my sunglasses while I shuck. By the end my right hand had more than a few scrapes and cuts, but it was worth it -- I had even managed to shuck those first two stubborn oysters. At that point I was exhausted and I had barely started the recipe. I sat down and had a little rest.

Once I gathered my strength I cubed some bread and toasted the cubes until they were golden. I cooked some bacon, then cooked onion, celery, garlic, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper in the bacon fat. I added the veggies to the toasted bread cubes and stirred in the bacon, some parsley, melted butter, and the oysters, chopped. I added chicken stock, salt, and pepper, and tossed. Then I put it in a buttered baking dish and baked it, first covered and then uncovered, until browned. This stuffing was ok. The recipe was a very standard stuffing with the additions of oysters and bacon. The base stuffing flavor and texture was very nice. I thought the oysters were ok in it, although it wasn't clear to me that they were worth the effort. I had never had bacon in stuffing before and that was shear brilliance -- yum! We liked it, but both my special gentleman and I preferred the Chestnut Stuffing in The Book.

The recipe is here.

This was the 1143rd recipe I made from The Book, which means that I have only 150 recipes to go!! Yay!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Clams Perce (Page 51)

RECIPE #1142

  • Date: Monday, April 12, 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 steaming the clams in water, then detaching them from their shells. My special gentleman cleaned the bottom shells and returned the clams to the shells. He then topped the clams with packaged dry poultry stuffing and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. He then laid a small piece of bacon on top and a drop of Worcestershire sauce. We then broiled the clams until the bacon was cooked. This recipe wasn't bad, but it was a tad odd. Clams topped with dry stuffing and bacon? Huh. The stuffing was dry, and a little bit burnt. The bacon was tasty but not cooked as much as I would have liked (i.e. not crispy). Cooking the bacon more meant burning the stuffing more, so it was a trade-off. We tried to find a reasonable balance. The end result was tastier than it seemed like it would be, but it was still odd. The recipe would have been better if the stuffing had been moistened a bit with something and the bacon had been cooked a little before it was put on top so that the broiler could have just finished/crisped it. As it was, these were only ok.

The recipe is here.

Ugh. Today was one of those days. It started on a bad note when I was woken up an hour pre-alarm by my ringing phone. The call: the credit card company telling me that our card had been compromised. This is the second of our cards that has been compromised this semester and we know at least another two dozen friends in Berkeley who have had their cards compromised too. Anyway, the credit card lady understandably thought that we would be in the eastern time zone, since our address is, so she was extremely apologetic when she realized that in the pacific time zone, where we were, it was quite early.

So then I was awake. My work went fine today. After work my one goal was to locate shad roe. I started by going to the local fish market (the one that was mysteriously closed yesterday). They didn't have shad roe and they informed me that the season for shad roe in California had passed. I almost cried. I do not want to drag this project out for another year because of the stupid shad roe. So I went home and hit the phones. I first called dozens of fish markets within a two hour radius of Berkeley. No one had shad roe. One guy told me, mysteriously enough, that the shad roe season in California wouldn't start for another few weeks. Other people told me it had passed. It was very confusing. Eventually I started searching the internet for some place that a) Had shad roe and b) Would ship it to me. I called many more places. The irony of it all was when I eventually did find a place that had shad roe... and that place was in.... Michigan! Seriously. So if we were home right now I would have no problem with this obscure seafood item. But here, in California, on the sea, no such luck. It didn't look like the Michigan store would ship (at that point it was too late in the eastern time zone to call and inquire -- the second time today the time change messed with me!), so I continued my search. I found someplace in Massachusetts that has it and maybe will ship it to me. I need to call tomorrow.

When I reached the peak of my frustration, Mike offered to help me. He found a place in Virginia that claims to ship shad roe. And if worst comes to worst he offered to get it in Massachusetts (where he lives) and freeze it for me. Then I can go there in the summer and cook it. Shad roe is never supposed to be frozen, but at this point, I am desperate! So at least I have a tentative, although not ideal, plan. Tomorrow morning I will get up and make some east coast phone calls to see if anyone can overnight me some shad roe. And if I can't get it shipped tomorrow I will have Mike get it for me. The season will end any day now, and I am really not wanting to wait until March 2011 to find my shad roe!

Ugh.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Glazed Duck with Clementine Sauce (Page 396)

RECIPE #1141

  • Date: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I needed a break from all the seafood so I chose this duck recipe for dinner a couple weeks ago. This recipe was a take on the French classic duck a l'orange, incorporating the Chinese method of cooking the duck twice: the first a slow cook for tender meat, and the second a high heat roast for crispy skin. I rubbed the duck with salt, then stuffed it with some celery and onion, and sprinkled sugar around the duck. I then poured boiling water over it and braised it in the oven, turning once. I then chilled the duck and the braising liquid separately overnight. The next day I blanched some clementine zest. I made a glaze of clementine juice, red wine vinegar, and sugar. I reserved some of the glaze, and used the rest to start a sauce. For the sauce I added the zest strips, and some of the braising liquid from the day before (defatted). I then roast the duck until the skin was crispy, and brushed it with the reserved clementine glaze. Once I had removed the duck from the roasting pan I cooked shallots in the pan, then deglazed with more braising liquid. I then added the deglazing liquid to the sauce I had started earlier. I added Cointreau and arrowroot to the sauce, seasoned it, and served it with the duck.

In theory this dish was awesome. In practice, it had one crucial flaw. As desired, the meat did come out fantastically tender, and the skin on the legs was quite crispy. The problem was, on the breast meat there was a very thick layer of fat that didn't render during the cooking. So the skin didn't get as crispy as I would have liked and it was separated from the meat by a huge fat layer. I'm not sure what the best strategy would be for solving this problem. On the one hand, braising longer would have helped that fat melt away. On the other hand, it was already braised so long that the meat was falling off the wing bones, so longer braising may have made my bird fall apart. Perhaps it could have been cooked in a skillet over low heat, breast side down, for a while before braising to render off some of that fat. Aside from that issue, this dish was very tasty. The meat was wonderfully tender with a great flavor, and the clementine sauce was delicious. This dish was not one that came together quickly, but it was worth the effort.

The recipe is here.

Mission: Find Exotic Seafood today was not terribly successful. The first fish market I stopped at was mysteriously closed. I was well within the hours that the sign on the door claimed they were open. And there were employees inside. But the door was locked and there was a Closed sign in the window. Stop number two was open, and did sell octopus (which was on my list). But I didn't have the time needed to cook the octopus today, so I noted where I could find it, and went on with my list. At stop number three I found king crab legs and sole, two of the easier-to-find items on my hard-to-find list. So I bought them both and made two seafood recipes for dinner: crab in sherry cream sauce, and sole stuffed with crab. Despite that small scale success with my list, the experience was discouraging. In particular, I am worried about the shad roe. I know shad roe season is over (or nearly over) on the east coast, and I have had no shad roe sightings out here. Tomorrow after work I am going to call and visit places until I either locate it, or figure out who is likely to have it and when. Time is running short -- the season will for sure be past within a few weeks. I want to finish my project this year -- I can't let the shad roe stop me! So tomorrow it is Mission: Shad Roe!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Crab Louis (Page 156)

RECIPE #1140

  • Date: Tuesday, April 6, 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 Seafood All The Time Plan. I started by making the dressing: I whisked together mayonnaise, chili sauce, scallions, green olives, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, salt, and pepper. My special gentleman then composed the salads by lining each salad plate with shredded iceberg lettuce, and topping with crab meat. He then sprinkled the crab meat with capers, and arranged tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and lemon wedges on the plate. We topped the salad with some of the dressing and served. This salad was pretty tasty. I loved the flavor of the dressing. It was tangy, and creamy, and flavorful. Yum! The combination of iceberg, crab, egg, and dressing worked very well, and the capers added a much appreciated burst of flavor. This dish was developed around 1915 in San Francisco, and indeed it did feel like it came from an era long past. There was nothing modern about it, and I am not sure how well-received it would be in general right now (e.g. perhaps it would go against some people's sensibilities to eat super-decadent, super-expensive crab meat on a bed of iceberg lettuce). My special gentleman and I both thought it was tasty though, and it was very quick to make.

The recipe is here.

Yesterday, with the moral support of good friends (Emilee, Brian, Sam, Ricky, my special gentleman, Eli, and Alp) I tackled my first lobster recipe from The Book. Sam summarized it best -- when he was prompted to touch the live lobster he said, "Mama, I'm too scared." He just turned two, but he knows what he is talking about. The experience was a little scary. But, lobster now conquered, I am feeling newly motivated not only to tackle the other 8 lobster recipes in The Book, but also to find some of the other more obscure seafood I still need. Today I made a list of all the seafood items that I need but have yet to locate in Berkeley (steamers, octopus, soft-shelled crab, king crab legs, crawfish, perch, shad roe, and gray sole). I also made a list of all the fish markets that I haven't been to yet. Tomorrow after work I am going to head out with both lists in hand and not return until I find at least one of the above items. I have about a month left in Berkeley, and if my calculations are correct I have 32 seafood recipes left to make (not counting all the salt cod recipes, which are easy to make even in the Midwest). If I leave Berkeley with only a dozen seafood recipes left to go I will be very pleased, so I aiming to get through 20 more seafood recipes in the next few weeks. All Seafood All The Time!!

Sea Bass Chermoula with Braised Fennel (Page 305)

RECIPE #1139

  • Date: Monday, April 5, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I made this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by grinding cumin, coriander, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and sea salt in a spice grinder. Then I stirred in paprika, parsley, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. I marinated the fish topped with this chermoula. While the fish was marinating I cooked some fennel on the stovetop. I baked the fish until cooked through and served it on a bed of fennel. This dish was perfectly fine. I like sea bass, and I enjoyed eating this preparation of it. However, I didn't think the North African blend of herbs and spices suited the fish that well. It would have seemed more appropriate on grilled beef or lamb. That said, the chermoula was quite flavorful and well-balanced. There are definitely better sea bass recipes in The Book, but this dish was pretty tasty and I enjoyed it.

This recipe isn't online.

What a lovely weekend! With all the traveling that we have done lately my special gentleman and I haven't had many weekends in Berkeley. This weekend we had no trips planned, though, and it was wonderful! Friday evening we made dinner from The Book, then went for a long evening walk. On Saturday Emilee, Brian, and Sam came up from Palo Alto. My friend Ricky was also in town from Boston, and the 5 of us got together to cook a special lobster lunch from The Book (more on that in another post!). We were joined by my special gentleman and our friends Alp and Eli and we had a leisurely afternoon eating on the deck, followed by a trip to the park and rose garden. We picked up pizza for dinner and hung out at the house, eating pizza, drinking beer, and playing games (Celebrity and then Taboo). It was a really fun, super relaxing day.

This morning my special gentleman and I met up with Alp, Eli, and Puneet, to visit Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard -- an organic garden and kitchen classroom at one of the middle schools in Berkeley. In the afternoon we played soccer. There is a weekly soccer game here with some of the mathematicians in my special gentleman's field of research. After an exhausting game, my special gentleman, Josh, and I went out for some super-yummy Thai food.

I would say that the weekend was pretty much perfect. I got to spend time with some of my favorite people. We did things that I love to do. The weather was fantastic. I can't complain!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mussel Chowder (Page 119)

RECIPE #1138

  • Date: Monday, April 5, 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 steaming mussels in a mixture of white wine and water. I then strained the mussel cooking liquid and reserved it. My special gentleman reserved a couple dozen mussels and shucked the rest, then cut them in half. I cooked leeks, carrots, bell peppers, shallot, salt, and pepper in butter, then added garlic and cooked some more. I added the mussel cooking liquid to the vegetables, along with some more white wine and simmered. I then stirred in the halved mussels and some heavy cream, then added the mussels in their shells. This recipe was pretty tasty, but not what I expected. This was in the Soups section of The Book, yet there was so little liquid in it that it could hardly be considered a soup. Rather it was a bowl of cooked vegetables with some mussels in it. That said, the flavor of the dish was nice -- the medley of veggies worked well together, and they complemented the mussels well. This dish wasn't amazing, but it was perfectly fine.

The recipe is here.

One thing I like about having a blog is that occasionally I think, "I wonder what I was doing last year at this time," and I can just click through the blog archives and see. Now that I am more than four years into this project, I can really get a sense of how my life has changed over the past few years.

April 2006: I was still in grad school -- my fourth year. I had long since fulfilled the course requirements and taken my qualifying exams so I was just working on my thesis. I had just started dating a guy named Paul (A really nice guy who moved away not long after we started dating. We parted very amicably and are still friends.). I was cooking a lot, and The Book was brimming with quick dishes to make that sounded delicious!

April 2007: Grad school -- year five. I defended my thesis at the beginning of the month, and afterward felt tremendously relieved (and proud!). I was enjoying my last few months in Boston and making plans to move to Bloomington to start my post-doc at Indiana. My special gentleman and I had been dating for about 8 months, and he was starting to really enjoy my cooking project.

April 2008: I was in my first year of my post-doc in Indiana. My special gentleman and I were living apart (me in Indiana, him in Boston). In the entire month I only saw him for four days. That semester I had a particularly difficult group of business calculus students -- lots of cheating and general bad behavior. Despite all that, I was very much enjoying being in Indiana. I was cooking whenever I could -- to avoid that "cooking for one" feeling I was freezing meals from The Book for my special gentleman and transporting them to Boston whenever I went to visit.

April 2009: An incredibly exciting month! My special gentleman and I were living together in Indiana. It became official that I had a tenure-track job at Michigan State. We started looking for a house in East Lansing. And we were planning our wedding! I was teaching a graduate course, loving my job, and loving living in Indiana. The pickings from The Book were starting to get slimmer, and I first started to worry that the last year or so of the project would be miserable!

April 2010: Well, we are married, and we bought a house! This month we are mostly in Berkeley although I am still a post-doc at Indiana (not teaching this semester). And I very much looking forward to starting my job at Michigan State this fall -- and moving into our house! My special gentleman and I are happy and healthy, loving our jobs and each other, and all is well! The project takes more planning and preparation now than it used to, and some of the dishes aren't so appealing, but I am still enjoying it! It is the home stretch...

Wow -- it is crazy to think that way back in 2006 I was already working on this crazy project of mine. At that time I was about 100 recipes into it. Now I only have about 150 to go! Hopefully I will be done before April 2011!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Osso Buco (Page 458)

RECIPE #1137

  • Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I needed a break from all the seafood so I decided to make some veal. I started by seasoning the veal shanks, dredging them in flour, then browning them in a mixture of butter and oil. I deglazed the pan with white wine, then removed the wine and cooked onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. I then added chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, the shanks, the wine, chicken stock, and a bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley, and thyme. I brought the mixture to a simmer then braised it in the oven for several hours. When the shanks were tender I made a sauce from the braising liquid, then baked the shanks some more, basting with the sauce. I sprinkled the shanks with a mixture of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and minced garlic and served the shanks with the sauce. I love osso buco so I was super excited about this dish. Unfortunately it was a bit disappointing. It had a great flavor, but I think the shanks should have been braised longer. As it was, not enough of the fat had melted away, so they came out pretty fatty. And they could have been more tender. This dish would have been improved by braising the shanks 30 minutes to an hour more.

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one.

I am turning 30 this month, which has got me thinking about what life changes I would like to make for this next decade. In particular I have been thinking a lot about food and eating. I have always thought that I have a good relationship with food. I eat when I am hungry. I don't eat when I am not hungry. I enjoy eating. And I like almost everything. I have long been aware that it would probably be better to eat more fruits and vegetables than I do -- it appears on my list of New Year's resolutions every year. But until recently, I never actually did it. It's odd because I love vegetables. Broccoli is one of my top five favorite foods for sure, and carrots, corn, and asparagus would be pretty high on this list too. Yet in the past year I am sure there have been dozens of days when I haven't eaten any vegetables at all. Or fruits. Now I am trying to enact change. I have been eating salads for lunch every day, which is a big step. And I love it. I have also been eating fruit for snacks and dessert. Also great. Which got me thinking, "Why didn't I do this earlier?" I realized something: the lack of fruits and veggies in my diet was less of a reflection on the way I chose what to eat and more of a reflection on the way I shop. I don't like to waste food or money, so when I go to the grocery store I try to only buy the things I am certain we need (i.e. the ingredients for the book recipes mostly...). And since we travel so much, often I will be grocery shopping with the knowledge that we are leaving town in a few days. So I buy things that will still be good when we get back in case we don't use them (soy milk, pasta, cereal, etc...). In other words, things that come in a box. The thing is, though, most of the healthiest foods spoil. I have decided to worry less, and go ahead and buy things that might rot. Our fridge right now is full of lettuce, carrots, peas, edamame, strawberries, tomatoes, avocados, cantaloupe, corn, apples, pears, etc... And my suspicion was correct: when the foods are in the fridge, I eat them! If only I had thought this through earlier...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Melon, Arugula, and Serrano Ham with Smoked Paprika Dressing (Page 153)

RECIPE #1136

  • Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B


I have had some trouble finding Serrano ham in the Midwest, but I saw some at Berkeley Bowl so I figured I would make this recipe. We started by making the dressing: whisking together lime juice, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Then we tossed some of the dressing with chunks of cantaloupe and honeydew. We tossed the rest of the dressing with arugula and thin strips of Serrano ham. We added the melon to the greens, seasoned, and served. I love melon with Serrano (or melon with prosciutto), and that combination did not disappoint in this dish. If this dish had just those components, I would have liked it better. The arugula was ok, but between the dressing and the liquid from the melon there was just too much moisture for it, so it wilted very quickly. And the dressing was really lacking in flavor. We ended up adding more lime juice and more paprika just to get some flavor out of it. Even after the modifications it was only ok. If I were to make a dish like this again I would ditch the dressing and the arugula and just toss some melon with Serrano slices and serve!

The recipe is here.

I travel a lot and it is definitely true that sometimes I feel burnt out by all the travel. Other times I realize how lucky I am that I get to go to some spectacular places through my job. This weekend I was at a topology conference, which was held inside a national park in the Canadian Rockies. I had never been in Western Canada at all before, and Banff was beautiful. My special gentleman and I flew into Calgary Thursday night and stayed with our good friends Vero and Philippe for the night. On Friday morning, Vero, Mike, my special gentleman, and I drove up to Banff. We rented some crampons (the trails were quite snowy/icy!) and went for a beautiful hike in a canyon with spectacular ice formations. On Saturday there were two talks in the morning and two talks in the late afternoon, with a nice break for a hike in between. We went for an easy hike up one of the mountains. The weather was great for hiking and the views were fantastic. Saturday night we had a banquet dinner at a nearby resort. Sunday morning I gave my talk. I was exhausted by the time we flew back last night, but the weekend was really fun. I always like it when a conference combines interesting mathematics with natural beauty. Plus, I didn't get attacked by any grizzly bears! (The bears are out in the park now, and apparently they are hungry!). It was a great trip -- I would have loved to stay a little longer! But I am happy to be home now, and excited about several weeks without travel!

Mussels Gratin (Page 334)

RECIPE #1135

  • Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+


I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I steamed mussels in water, then shucked them. I tossed the mussels with pieces of tomato, chopped basil, creme fraiche, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Then I spooned the mixture into an oiled baking dish. My special gentleman sliced some baguette and rubbed one side of each slice with garlic. He arranged the bread over the mussel mixture and brushed the bread with olive oil. Then we baked the dish until the bread was golden. This dish sounded very promising: crispy bread, tomatoes, cheese, creme fraiche. It seemed like it would be hard to go wrong. Unfortunately, though, this dish just didn't work. The crispy, garlicky baguette slices were obviously delicious. But the mixture underneath was just not tasty. The biggest problem was that when the bread was ready, the tomatoes were still essentially raw. So underneath the bread was a mixture of mussels and raw tomatoes in creme fraiche. It just wasn't good. It also wasn't very flavorful. I can see how mussels tossed with a tomato sauce, or slow-roasted tomatoes, could be delicious. But the mussels and raw tomatoes together with the richness of the creme fraiche just didn't form a cohesive dish. We ended up eating the baguette slices off the top and leaving most of the rest of this dish.

The recipe is here.

I spent this past weekend at a conference in the Canadian Rockies. Two of my good friends, Mike and Vero, were there. At some point we were discussing my project, and they started giving me a hard time about my grading. The complaint was that I am both too harsh at the top (i.e. I don't give enough A grades, and I have never given an A+), and too lenient at the bottom (i.e. I don't give enough C's, D's, and F's). I have heard these complaints from them before, but this time they claimed that I am getting worse as time goes on. That didn't seem necessarily true to me, so I decided to look at the data. Here is the breakdown of letter grades for the last 50 recipes I have made from The Book:

A: 1
A-: 14
B+: 10
B: 12
B-: 9
C+: 3
C: 0
C-: 1
D: 0
F: 0

For comparison, here is the analogous breakdown for the first 50 recipes I made from The Book (back in 2006!).

A: 2
A-: 13
B+: 14
B: 9
B-: 5
C+: 3
C: 1
D+: 1
D: 1
F: 1

So do I think they have a point? Yes and no. On the one hand, I don't think this data suggests that I have gotten any harsher at the top. I have never given many A's and I still don't! On the other hand, one can clearly see that I was giving more lower grades at the beginning. I haven't given any D/F grades in quite some time. So I am going to renew my commitment to upholding my grading scheme, which is explained in detail here. It's tricky though. For instance, to end up with a grade of C+ or below it has to be something that I didn't enjoy eating. This Mussels Gratin recipe, for instance, wasn't good. But I did enjoy eating the toasted baguette slices on top. So I wouldn't feel right giving it a C-, nor would I feel right giving it a B, since I didn't enjoy eating the other half of the dish. So a C+ seemed about right to me, although I am sure I could justify giving it a slightly lower grade too! It's not always clear to me what the appropriate grade should be.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tuna Burgers with Chimichurri (Page 298)

RECIPE #1134

  • Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-
I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by making the chimichurri, an Argentinian herb sauce. I toasted some cumin seeds, then ground them in a spice grinder. I added the ground cumin to a mixture of minced parsley, olive oil, sherry vinegar, minced garlic, crushed black peppercorns, cayenne, and salt. I refrigerated the mixture for 8 hours to allow the flavors to develop. I then chopped some sushi-grade tuna in the food processor. I stirred in some of the chimichurri and formed the mixture into patties. I refrigerated them for a couple hours, then cooked them in olive oil in a cast-iron skillet. I served the burgers topped with some sauteed onions on a sliced baguette. These burgers were really good. Indeed I could go for one right now! The burgers themselves were moist and flavorful, and the flavors from the chimichurri went very nicely with the onions. I had never served burgers on sliced baguette before, but it really worked in this case. The baguette made much more sense with these refined burgers than a hamburger bun would have. This was a great recipe which I would definitely make again. Definitely one of my favorite seafood dishes we have had lately!

This recipe isn't online.

Well I have been in the same city for three consecutive days now, which must mean it is about time to start traveling again! My special gentleman and I are headed up to Canada tomorrow. There is a conference over the weekend at a research institute in the Canadian Rockies. My special gentleman and I are in different, but related, fields of math (we both study topology, but he is a low-dimensional topologist, whereas I am an algebraic topologist), so we don't often attend conferences together, and it has never happened that we have spoken at the same conference. Until now. The conference this weekend is a topology conference, not specific to one particular area of topology, so it spans both of our areas of research. And we were both invited to speak. I am excited about the trip. The math research station is actually in the Banff National Park, so we will be surrounded by beauty. And I think we will have some time on Friday to do a little hiking. Plus, I haven't unpacked since we got back from Tahoe three days ago, so packing should be easy. I'll just throw my toiletries back in and I'll be ready to go! Ah, the advantages of nearly constant travel.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Gefilte Fish (Page 73)

RECIPE #1133

  • Date: Monday, March 29, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I chose this recipe as part of the All Seafood All The Time plan. I started by finely chopping some fish, then my special gentleman and Chris mixed it with finely chopped carrots, grated onion, parsley, egg, matzo meal, sugar, salt, and pepper. We then formed them into little torpedos and poached them in batches in a simmering mixture of fish stock and water. We served the gefilte fish with horseradish on the side. I wasn't crazy about this dish. In some ways it was certainly better than I expected. The texture of the fish dumplings was nice and they didn't have an overpowering fishy taste. But they had an incredibly strong onion flavor which I didn't care for. I love onions, but grating onions never seems like a good idea to me. Instead of getting little crunchy bursts of onion flavor as you do from chopping onions, there is onion mush distributed throughout. I realize that doesn't sound so bad, but somehow that uniform onion flavor in every bite was very overpowering in this dish. My special gentleman and Chris liked them well enough, but no one was expressing much enthusiasm for this dish. I think there are probably better gefilte fish recipes out there.

This recipe isn't online.

Michigan State played Butler in the semi-finals of the NCAA basketball tournament on Saturday and I was super-excited to watch the game. My special gentleman was skiing, along with all of the other friends we were in Tahoe with, so I went to a bar by myself to watch it. The bartender was very friendly and he was cheering pretty strongly for Butler. I obviously was cheering for Michigan State. He told me he liked Michigan State well enough but he went to Butler as an undergrad. I offered that I had nothing against Butler, but that I live in East Lansing and start working at Michigan State in the fall, so I have loyalty to them. He asked me what I will be doing at Michigan State. I said, "I'll be teaching there." He paused for a second and asked, "Teaching what?" I said, "Math." He gave me this look of confusion, then said, "Huh. Ok." Then he walked away. In that moment I wished I had said something else. "I teach water aerobics." Or, "I am a chef in the dining hall." There are a lot of things that sound more inviting than, "I am a math professor." He was good company to watch the game with and I was sorry that I had scared him off.

When strangers ask me what I do for a living and I answer, they are almost always surprised. I have been told, dozens of times, that I "don't look like a mathematician." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I don't think it is meant as an insult. I wish, though, that my profession wasn't alienating. Maybe everyone was scared of their own math professors in college, so they are scared of other mathematicians by association. I don't know. I do know that I am not the only person who has this problem. Many of my math friends have admitted that occasionally they lie and make up some completely different profession for just this reason. Tempted as I am, I can't start lying about my profession though. That seems like a step in the wrong direction.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans (Page 512)

RECIPE #1132

  • Date: Monday, March 29, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Chris
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

I had a craving for some lamb a few days ago, so I chose this recipe. I started by seasoning lamb shanks, then browning them in oil. I transferred the lamb shanks to a plate and added onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to the pot. I cooked the vegetables until the onion was soft, then added an entire bottle of red wine! I reduced the wine for a while, then added the lamb shanks back to the pot, along with chicken broth, tomato paste, and thyme sprigs. I braised the lamb on the stovetop, covered, for a long while. Then I simmered the lamb, uncovered, until it was very tender. Meanwhile I made the gremolata by stirring together chopped parsley, grated lemon zest, and minced garlic. To prepare the beans Chris cooked onions, carrots, celery, and garlic until softened. He added cooked white beans, chicken broth, butter, and bay leaf and cooked it for a while. When the lamb shanks were done I removed them from the braising liquid, strained the liquid, and stirred in some butter and tarragon. Then I reduced the sauce and seasoned it. I sprinkled the gremolata over the lamb shanks and served them with the white beans and the sauce. This dish was incredibly delicious! The lamb was perfectly tender -- it fell apart at the mere touch of a fork -- and tremendously flavorful. The braising liquid turned sauce was rich and delicious. That whole bottle of wine served that sauce well. The beans also were delicious. Even though the recipe started with canned beans, they came out tasting slow-cooked. The meal was satisfying, tasty, and made for excellent leftovers. This is a dish I will definitely return to again!

The recipe is here.

One thing I don't love about all the moving around I have done lately -- living for a few weeks in one place and then a few weeks in another -- is that it feels like a free pass to not do the things that I know I should be doing. For instance, I am out of shape. I am not happy about this fact, or proud of it, but it is undeniably true. After I ran the marathon in November I couldn't motivate to run. And I can count the number of times I have gone running since then on one hand. I also haven't set foot in a gym. I do walk a lot, but I feel out of shape. I tried to do a pull-up the other day, and even though I expected that I wouldn't be able to do it, I was still shocked by how pitiful my attempt was. Under normal circumstances, in this situation I would just make a plan to go to the gym regularly, or take some exercise class -- I would develop a routine. But when I am traveling so much it's hard to stick to a routine, or even come up with one that makes sense for my lifestyle. So I find myself thinking a lot, "When I get to Michigan I want to..." I think it is time for me to try a little harder in the meantime though. If anyone has suggestions for an exercise routine that is travel friendly (and isn't running -- I'm still not feeling ready yet for any serious running), I am all ears.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Braised Ham with Maple Raisin Sauce (Page 494)

RECIPE #1131

  • Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Phil O.
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe called for maple sugar, which I special ordered a while ago and hadn't gotten around to using yet. I found it when I was digging through the cupboards and I decided to go ahead and make this recipe. I started by putting a fully cooked ham in a big pot with water and maple syrup. I braised the ham for several hours, then cut off the rind and put the ham in a roasting pan. I whisked together the maple sugar, dry mustard, apple juice, and ground cloves and spooned the mixture over the ham. I put some raisins and reserved braising liquid around the ham and baked it, basting occasionally, until the ham was glazed. I sliced the meat and served it with the maple raisin sauce. I love braised meat but it had never occurred to me to braise fully cooked ham. I would have thought that it wouldn't end well, but luckily I was wrong. Braising had the same affect on the ham as it would have on a pork shoulder or a lamb shank: it made for fantastically tender meat. The flavor of the ham was also lovely -- the maple flavors complemented the ham nicely. In fact, I wished that there had been an even stronger maple flavor. The one thing I wasn't crazy about was the raisins. They were inoffensive enough, but there were just so many of them. Half as many raisins would have been plenty. That said, I would definitely prepare ham this way again. It was much tastier than a typical baked ham.

The recipe is here.

Well it was a long journey, but we made it to Tahoe. Snowfall and chain controls turned a three and a half hour drive into a six and a half hour drive, so we arrived around midnight! I drove the whole way (minus the last quarter of a mile) -- I had never driven with chains before so that was a fun new experience! The chains really do give you a lot of control in the snow, which was nice. I was having a perfectly pleasant time driving until the very end. We had to get up a hill to get to the house and the road hadn't been plowed. Our friends called us earlier to tell us that both of their cars had been unable to make it, and they were parked in someone's driveway at the bottom. By the time we got there we had been driving so long that we were determined to make it that last few blocks. I made the first attempt and it resulted in some very scary sliding down the hill. As soon as I gained control of the car, I jumped out and my special gentleman took over. He is fearless, and despite some skidding, he made it to the top! We shoveled ourselves a parking spot in the driveway, and parked right next to the house!

This morning my special gentleman is skiing at Squaw with our friends Chris, Emily, Peter, and Scott, and I am curled up in a comfy chair at the coffee shop in the Squaw Village with a good math book and a big cup of tea. I am relaxing and enjoying a lovely view of a snow-covered mountain! It's a nice way to spend a Saturday morning!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Fettuccine Alfredo (Page 211)

RECIPE #1130

  • Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Phil O.
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I can't explain the logic by which I hadn't already made a super-quick dish consisting of carbs drenched in butter, cream, and cheese, but I hadn't and I figured it was about time! I started by cooking egg fettuccine until al dente. I melted a bunch of butter in a pot, then added the cooked pasta. I added grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, some reserved pasta cooking water, heavy cream, more butter, salt, and pepper and tossed. I sprinkled it with some more cheese and served. That was it! This dish was incredibly decadent, but delicious! Mmmmm.... pasta with cheesy cream sauce! It could have used a touch more salt to bring out the flavors more, but other than that I thought it was well-balanced and tasty. Definitely a keeper!

The recipe in The Book is very similar to this one.

We are headed up to Tahoe in a few minutes for a weekend of skiing. Well, truth be told I haven't decided yet whether or not I am going to ski, but my special gentleman is, as are the rest of the friends we are going with. I am excited about the weekend, but not so much about the trip up there. It is cold and rainy today in Berkeley, which translates to cold and snowy in the pass. Indeed, the most recent report says that chain controls are in effect. This is our third trip to Tahoe this season and we have yet to make it there and back without having chain controls to deal with. Every time I am baffled by it -- I grew up in the upper Midwest where it is quite snowy. But I had never seen a tire chain in my life until I moved to California for college. True, the Midwest is flat, but I have never seen anyone use chains on the east coast either, where they do have more substantial inclines. In any event, it could be a long drive tonight. On the bright side, all the snow today will probably make for some good skiing tomorrow!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust (Page 768)

RECIPE #1129

  • Date: Monday, March 15, 2010 -- 9pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Phil O., Baldwin, and Josh G.
  • Recipe Rating: B

I chose this recipe because I was desperate to take a break from all the seafood and make some dessert! I started by making the crust. I ground gingersnaps into crumbs, mixed them with some butter, and pressed them onto the bottom of a springform pan. I then baked the crust until golden brown. To make the filling I started by softening gelatin in bourbon. I beat together egg yolks and brown sugar for a long while, then added canned pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. I cooked the mixture in a saucepan to 160 degrees, then stirred in the gelatin mixure. I trasferred the mixture to a bowl which was set in a bowl filled with ice water. The Book said to cool it until it reached the consistency of raw egg whites. That instruction was super mysterious to me because my mixture was already way thicker than that. So I just cooled it for a few minutes and then removed it from the ice bath. I beat egg whites (I used reconstituted dried pastuerized egg whites), adding sugar and beating until they reached stiff peaks. I folded the whites into the pumpkin mixture. I beat heavy cream to stiff peaks and folded that in as well. I poured the filling over the crust and chilled until it was set. This dessert was pretty good. The texture of the pumpkin mousse was nice: more creamy than gelatinous. I liked the flavor of it ok, but I thought it was a bit over-spiced. The flavor of the pumpkin was masked more than I would have liked by the flavor of the ginger. The gingersnap crust came out extemely hard (perhaps having something to do with the brand of cookies I used?). I would have preferred a graham cracker crumb crust. In my opinion this wasn't as delicious as a traditional pumpkin pie, which would have also been less work, so I won't be making this recipe again. That said, it wasn't bad and we all enjoyed eating it well enough.

The recipe is here.

Right now I should be gearing up to make a dinner full of seafood delights. Mussel Chowder and Sea Bass Chermoula with Braised Fennel were on the menu for tonight. But instead of heading to the grocery store to buy some seafood, I am sitting on the couch with my feet up, contemplating a new dinner plan: carnitas tostada salad, rice pudding, and a margarita! It's my go-to meal at my favorite Berkeley Mexican place. Normally I wouldn't abandon a Book dinner in favor of eating out, but today I am making a special exception, because I am celebrating! I got word today that a math grant I applied for in the fall was recommended for funding. So I am happy! And I am going to celebrate with some Mexican food!