Monday, May 31, 2010

Chunky Clam and Bacon Dip (Page 20)

RECIPE #1168

  • Date: Monday, May 10, 2010 --7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I am trying to make some progress on the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section in The Book, so I chose this recipe to make with dinner a few weeks back. It sounded a bit gross to me -- canned clams made into a dip -- but actually the dish turned out much better than I expected. I started by cooking some bacon. Then I whisked together cream cheese, sour cream, some of the juice that the clams were canned in, minced canned clams, bacon, red bell pepper, scallions, basil, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco. It sounds a little gross, no? Actually, though, it tasted pretty good! The many ingredients came together well, both in flavor and in texture, to form something that was certainly better than the sum of its parts. My one complaint was that the ratio of cream cheese and sour cream to other ingredients was a bit too high. There was just too much creamy base for the dip. Other than that it was good!

The recipe is here.

As promised, some pictures from our wedding ceremony, which took place one year ago this weekend. We had the ceremony in our apartment. It was cozy, but everyone fit, and it was so nice to get married at home! Here's a picture of my special gentleman's parents coming down the aisle:


And then my parents:

We had such a small wedding that we didn't have any bridesmaids or groomsmen. We did, however, have a flower boy/ring bearer. Emilee's son Sam had both duties, and he was only 14 months old at the time. Needless to say, he didn't exactly understand what he was supposed to do. We tied the rings to his back so he didn't lose/eat them. Rachel tried to convince him to carry the flowers down the aisle, but he seemed confused by the offer:


He walked right by the flowers, and then wandered down the aisle. So cute!



We had four readings in our ceremony, done by our friends Rachel, PJ, and Juice, and my brother Spencer. Below is a picture of Spencer:


Our friend Paul is a wonderful jazz guitarist, and he played a song during the ceremony:


My best friend Emilee officiated our wedding, and she did such a beautiful job! It made the ceremony very personal to have someone that we are so close to marry us. My special gentleman and I wrote our own vows, and here we are exchanging them:


Then it was time for the exchanging of the rings:

Married!



Walking down the street outside our apartment after the ceremony:

Enjoying a kiss in downtown Bloomington:



Rings!


The start of a wonderful marriage:


The ceremony was just as I had hoped it would be!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Grapefruit and Campari Granita (Page 862)

RECIPE #1167

  • Date: Monday, May 3, 2010 -- 9pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Ana, and Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: A-


The dessert options remaining in The Book are pretty limited, and this was one of the few that I could make with the equipment available in the house we were renting in Berkeley. I started by juicing four grapefruits. I then brought sugar and water to a boil, then removed the syrup from the heat and stirred in the grapefruit juice and some Campari. I then froze the mixture in a shallow pan, stirring with a fork every 30 minutes until the mixture was firm. This granita was really good. It had an intense grapefruit flavor without being too bitter. Campari and grapefruit is always a tasty combination, and in this case the Campari contributed just the right amount of booziness. This would be a great treat on a hot summer evening. It was easy to make, required no special equipment, and made for a light and tasty summer dessert.

The recipe is here.

Now that a year has passed since we got married, I figure I should rally and post some wedding pictures! First, some pictures of our wedding day preparations. The most nerve-wracking task of the day by far was transporting the wedding cake. Preparing the wedding cake had gone smoothly, but it wasn't at all clear to me how stable it was. It had to be transported from our apartment to the restaurant where the reception would be. Luckily that just amounted to going down a flight of stairs, and walking about a block. No one was willing to carry the cake but me though, as no one wanted to be responsible if it fell. So I very carefully picked up the cake and headed down the stairs:


A bunch of friends walked with me, alerting me to any bumps in the sidewalk, or other potential hazards. Brian kept his camera pointed at me the whole time, so that he could catch it on film if I dropped it! I was fine with taking responsibility for carrying the cake, but it was quite heavy and I have very little upper body strength. By the time I arrived at the restaurant, my arms were shaking.

The cake made it intact though, and after that the rest of the day seemed pretty stress-free! The next stop after the restaurant was the salon. Our wedding was do-it-yourself in many ways, but the one thing I did NOT want to do myself was my hair. I am not good with hair. So I relaxed in the chair and let someone else deal with it!



After the trip to the salon, it was about time to get dressed. We got married in our apartment, which meant that as soon as I put on my dress I was going to be shut into the guest bedroom until the ceremony started. So I waited until the last possible minute. In the meantime, I helped our flower boy/ring bearer Sam get dressed.


Meanwhile, my mother was working on the flowers. She ordered and arranged all the flowers for our wedding, with the help of my cousin Anne and my aunt Julie.


They even made my bouquet:

My mom did a beautiful job with the flowers. I was very non-specific about what I wanted ("Anything pretty is fine... Maybe a white bouquet, and some pink flowers in the apartment."). But she took my limited ideas and came up with something perfect! Here she is with my bouquet before she handed it off to me.

While my mom worked on the flowers, Vero and Philippe were also in the apartment, prepping some mixed drinks for guests to drink before the ceremony started. They mixed up several drink options (lychee martinis, pineapple rum punch, etc...), all of which were delicious!

I didn't have any pre-ceremony jitters, but little Sam looked like he was trying to find a way out of there:


After a pre-ceremony bottle, though, he was ready to go:

With the help of many members of our friends/family (Emilee, Brian, Sam, Deniz, Chris, my mom, Anne, Julie, Vero, Philippe, etc...) we got the apartment ready to go! Here it is a few moments before the guests started to arrive:



A lot of people thought we were crazy for getting married in our apartment. But if I had a chance to do it over, I would do the exact same thing. My special gentleman and I were so comfortable getting married where we lived, and it made for a very intimate ceremony.

Up next, some actual pictures of our wedding!

Spanish-Style Oxtails Braised with Chorizo (Page 444)

RECIPE #1166

  • Date: Monday, May 3, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Ana
  • Recipe Rating: B


I spotted oxtails at Berkeley Bowl and I immediately thought of this recipe! I started by browning the pieces of oxtail, then I removed them from the pot. I next cooked chorizo which had been ground in the food processor, onions, carrot, garlic, and bay leaf. I added paprika, then white wine, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. I added the oxtails and some chopped tomatoes and braised the mixture in the oven, covered, for several hours. I then stirred in some parsley, cilantro, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper. I had mixed feelings about this dish. On the upside, the sauce was delicious! The combination of the chorizo with the beefy flavor of the oxtails was wonderful. The sauce was hearty and super-tasty. On the downside, while the oxtails were tasty, it was really a lot of work to extricate the small bits of meat from all the cartilage and fat. The dish was very hard to eat. I wondered if the dish would have been just as good, and easier to eat, if I had made it with beef brisket.

The recipe is here.

Today is our one-year wedding anniversary! It has been a truly amazing year of marriage and I feel blessed every day by my special gentleman. He is everything I could want in a husband and a huge source of joy in my life.

We are still in Japan, staying in a mountain cabin with 30 other mathematicians, so our first anniversary wasn't super romantic! My special gentleman is teaching a mini-course here, so he started the day by lecturing. He also had to attend many other talks and plan his lecture for tomorrow, so there wasn't too much time to celebrate. We did, however, go for a hike with some friends in the afternoon, up the mountain that the cabin is on. A picture of us mid-hike:

It was an extremely beautiful hike. The scenery was enhanced by the mist in the air to make everything seem quite enchanted.

It had been raining most of the day though, and parts of the trail went through a marsh, so the trail was quite wet. In the marshy parts there were wooden planks to walk on, but in more than one place, the planks were submerged in water. So, there I was, crossing a marsh area on some wooden planks submerged in about an inch of water, when I decided to make a small leap to a dryer part of the plank. The "dry" part that I landed on was actually wet, and incredibly slippery, so the foot that I had hoped to land on slipped out from under me and I fell hard onto wooden planks and marsh water. I was less concerned with the fact that I was soaked in mud, and more concerned that I might have broken my left hand, which hit the wood quite hard when I fell. It did not feel good. Now, several hours later, it is still quite painful (I am typing this mostly one-handed...) but I am confident it isn't broken.

Luckily, we were near the end of our hike, so I didn't spend too long out in the cold, soaked in cold water. Unluckily, the communal bath is closed from 9am - 5pm, so 2:15pm is not a great time to fall into a marsh. I washed myself as best I could with the sink, changed into dry clothes, and headed for the bath right at 5pm!

The rest of the day has been uneventful. Below is a shot of our not-so-romantic anniversary dinner, before all the mathematicians descended on the dining hall:


Now I am sitting in bed, watching my special gentleman work on his lecture for tomorrow, and feeling lucky to have such an amazing husband. Yay for one blissful year of marriage, and many more to come!





Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pot Stickers (Page 61)

RECIPE #1165

  • Date: Monday, May 3, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Ana
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I put off making this recipe because it was a bit labor intensive. Ana coming to dinner was just the special occasion I needed to get motivated to make it though. I started by making the filling. I combined Napa cabbage, ground pork, chives, sesame oil, soy sauce, sake, cornstarch, fresh ginger, and minced garlic. I then filled gyoza skins with the pork mixture, following the carefully outlined folding instructions in The Book to shape them. The resulting pot stickers looked about right. The picture below was taken before I attempted to cook them (and disaster struck!).


The Book indicated that the pot stickers should be cooked in a nonstick pan. I have plenty of nonstick at home, but in the house where we were living in Berkeley, I was using whatever cookware the woman we were renting from owned. And she apparently was not a believer in nonstick. By the time I realized I needed a nonstick pan, and there wasn't one in the house, I had already put enough effort into the recipe that I decided to plow ahead. I first fried the pot stickers in oil, then added water to the skillet and steamed them until they were cooked through. I then drizzled some more oil into the pan and fried them again, until golden brown. It was all going quite well, and they were looking beautiful, until I got to the part where I needed to remove them from the pan. They were completely adhered to the bottom of the pan. One cooking utensil after another failed me as I tried to extricate them from the pan intact. Eventually my special gentleman used his upper body strength to scrape them from the pan with a knife. The result: the sad, mangled pot stickers in the picture above. I served them anyway, with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and Asian chili paste.

On the upside, these pot stickers were extremely tasty! The filling was flavorful and well seasoned. The gyoza skins were deliciously browned. And the dipping sauce complemented them perfectly. I can only imagine that if I had actually used a nonstick pan as instructed, they would have been awesome!

This recipe isn't online.

Hello from the mountains in Japan! It has been a fun few days. Yesterday morning I saw some sights with my friend Thomas, who lives in Tokyo. Then in the afternoon my special gentleman and I traveled with some other mathematicians from Tokyo to the mountains. To be entirely honest, I am not exactly sure where we are. We first rode the bullet train for a little over an hour. That was followed by a 45 minute taxi ride. Our final destination wasn't too accessible by car, so we traveled the last mile or so on foot. The place we are staying is essentially a huge mountain cabin. The building is beautiful, as is the scenery. There are maybe 30 or so of us here, and each day is scheduled with several talks. This workshop is in my special gentleman's field rather than mine, but the morning talks are meant to be introductory, so I have been going to those. The first floor of the building has a large classroom area as well as a dining room. At each meal we are served several entrees along with rice, soup, noodles, at least three types of salad/vegetables/fruit -- all of it traditional Japanese cuisine. Also traditional to Japanese culture, there are communal baths here. There is one bath for the women and one for the men.

Being in this remote place is quite a different glimpse of Japan than our time in Tokyo. During a break this afternoon we went for a leisurely walk through a marsh, which was quite nice. We will stay here for two more nights, then head back to Tokyo for a night before flying back the US. It has been such a nice trip!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quince, Apple, and Almond Jalousie (Page 794)

RECIPE #1164

  • Date: Friday, April 30, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, Brian, Sam, Scarecrow, Chris, and Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I have been watching for quince at the grocery store for a couple years now, so when I finally saw it at Berkeley Bowl last month I was more than a little excited! I decided to put it to good use to make this dessert for my special gentleman's birthday. I started by cooking slices of quince in a mixture of sugar and water for several hours. I then added slices of apple and cooked it some more. I then stirred in toasted sliced almonds and almond extract and let the filling cool. I drained the filling, reserving the syrup. I rolled out the dough (see post below for dough recipe), forming it into two rectangles. I put the filling between the two rectangles, using some egg wash to seal the layers of pastry together. I cut decorative slits, then chilled the jalousie for an hour. Then I brushed it with egg wash, sprinkled with sugar, and baked until golden brown. I served the jalousie with whipped cream and the reserved syrup. This dessert was pretty good. I had never cooked with quince before, and I was surprised by how long it took to cook. The resulting filling was fragrant and flavorful. Some people were not so convinced by the quince -- Emilee thought the dish would have been better with apples alone. My special gentleman liked the unique flavor that the quince brought to the dessert though. I thought the quince went very well with the almond flavor, which was also quite pronounced. My only complaint was that the pastry dough needed more salt, and hence came out a bit bland. It was almost saved by the generous amount of sugar sprinkled on top, which gave it some sweetness as well as a bit of crunch. With a better dough recipe, this dessert would have been quite nice.

The recipe is here.

Hello from Japan! We have been having an awesome trip so far. I was dreading the long flight to get here, but actually it wasn't bad at all. We had a direct flight from San Francisco to Tokyo which was about ten and a half hours. Then we took a bus from the airport to our hotel and that was it! In total travel time I have had much longer trips trying to get to certain places in Europe. We had a day to do some sightseeing and wander around Tokyo before my special gentleman's conference started. It rained all day, but it was still really fun. When his conference started I headed to Nagoya for several days to visit my thesis advisor, who is now a professor there. My advisor traveled with me from Tokyo to Nagoya, which was nice because I am not so sure I could have navigated it by myself. I did manage to make the return trip successfully on my own though! Nagoya is about an hour and a half from Tokyo on the Shinkansen (aka bullet train), and the train ride went through some beautiful areas. I had a good visit with my advisor in Nagoya and now I am back in Tokyo. Tomorrow we will travel from Tokyo to a math institute in the mountains somewhere, where my special gentleman's conference will continue for a few more days. I have really enjoyed being in Tokyo, but I am also looking forward to getting out of the city and seeing another area of Japan. After a weekend in the mountains we will head back to the US early next week!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Frozen Butter Pastry Dough (Page 795)

RECIPE #1163

  • Date: Friday, April 30, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, Brian, Sam, Scarecrow, Chris, and Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This recipe was a component for the dessert I made for my special gentleman's birthday. I forgot to take a picture of this dough alone, so the picture above is the finished product. To make the dough I started by freezing a couple sticks of butter. Once the butter was frozen, I sifted together cake flour and salt. I then grated the frozen butter into the flour mixture. It turns out that grating frozen butter is not fun. At some point my hand slipped (butter being slippery...) and I ended up grating off some skin. Ouch. I tossed the flour and butter together, then refrigerated for 20 minutes. I added ice water to the mixture until it held together properly, then I smeared the dough with the heel of my hand to incorporate the butter. I then chilled the dough for a couple hours. This recipe claimed that the combination of cake flour and super-cold butter would produce an extremely tender pastry. Indeed, this pastry was nice and tender. It was also flaky and not too hard to work with. But it had one major flaw: not enough salt! This recipe called for 2.25 cups of flour and 0.25 teaspoon of salt. By comparison, the Basic Pastry Dough recipe in The Book calls for 2.5 cups of flour and 0.5 teaspoon of salt. That's twice as much salt for a very similar quantity of flour. With more salt this Frozen Butter Pastry Dough might have been very tasty, but as it was I just kept thinking, "Man this dough is bland -- it really needs more salt!"

The recipe is here.

It has been a hectic few days in Northern California, but now we are packed up and ready to leave. Last night I went to see Wicked in San Francisco with Cornelia. It was an awesome show and a fun evening with which to end my time in the Bay Area. Today my special gentleman and I packed all of the stuff we brought with us to Berkeley into the car and drove it down to Palo Alto. We are sleeping at Emilee and Brian's place tonight, and in the morning Em will drive us to the airport for our flight to Japan.

For these last few months we have been renting places in Berkeley and in Indiana, as well as owning a home in Michigan. It has been a circus of rent/mortgage payments and utility bills. Plus, we had belongings in all three places, which meant that I was often looking for things with no idea if I was even in the right house/apartment to be able to find it! Today when we packed up our things in Berkeley I had a sense of relief. Now instead of living in three places, we are just living in two. And in another five weeks or so we will pack up and move out of the Indiana apartment as well. Then, my husband and I will live together in just one place, for the first time since we met!

But first, some more travel...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pot-au-Feu (Page 423)

RECIPE #1162

  • Date: Friday, April 30, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, Brian, Sam, Scarecrow, and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I had put off making this recipe for years because the ingredient list alone runs the full vertical length of a page. The dish included preparations for meat, vegetables, broth, toasts, marrow bones, and two sauces. When my special gentleman's birthday rolled around, I decided to tackle this recipe. He loves braised beef, so I figured he would like this dish quite a bit. Pot au feu is a French dish. The idea is to braise beef and vegetables in white wine and water. After several hours of cooking (less than that for the veggies), the beef and vegetables are removed from the broth. To serve the meal, one first serves the broth with marrow bones which have been simmered in water, and toasts made from a baguette (to spread the marrow on). Then as another course, the meat and vegetables are served. In this case they were served with two sauces: a horseradish sauce and a mustard sauce, and with cornichons on the side.

All in all this dish was pretty good. We started with marrow bones in broth, served with toasts. The toasts were very tasty, and the marrow was extremely flavorful. I wasn't too impressed by the broth, but Emilee and my special gentleman both thought it was delicious. After the soup course we went on to the meat and vegetables. The meat was nicely braised. The recipe called for both short ribs and chuck roast. The short ribs turned out better I thought, and were I to make it again I would just use all short ribs. The recipe said to slice the chuck roast and serve, but with braised meat I often like to serve it shredded. So I shredded the chuck roast and the meat off the short ribs after braising, and moistened the meat with the broth. I found this to be a very nice way to serve the beef. The vegetables were pretty tasty, although the cooking times didn't work out so well for all the vegetables. The carrots were nicely cooked, but the parsnips turned to mush. The turnips were somewhere in between. The meat went well with both sauces, and several people commented that the mustard sauce was particularly delicious. Indeed, the mustard sauce contained some of the broth that the beef and vegetables had cooked in, and that gave it a nice depth of flavor. The horseradish sauce (just horseradish, sour cream, and salt whisked together) was nothing special. Overall, I thought that this dish was pretty good, but not amazing.

This recipe isn't online.

This evening we are packing up the stuff we brought out to Berkeley and loading up the car. We are leaving Berkeley on Thursday -- staying with friends Thursday night and flying to Japan on Friday. When we fly back to California we will immediately hit the road for our drive to the Midwest. So these are our last couple days in Berkeley. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, after months of living essentially out of a suitcase, I am ready to go home. I feel almost desperate to return to our house in Michigan and settle in a bit. On the other hand, I have a lot of emotional ties to the Bay Area and I am sad to leave. I moved out of the Bay Area about eight years ago now. My best friend and college roommate Emilee stayed in the Bay Area after college. She went to medical school at Stanford and is now a resident there. I have been back to visit at least a couple times every year since I left. Now that Emilee and her husband have a son, though, I feel like I miss so much between visits -- children change a lot even in a few months! Being here this semester has made me wish more than ever that Emilee, Brian, and Sam lived down the street from us rather than across the country.

So while I am ready to leave, I am sad to be leaving. Back to packing...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Brandied Chicken Liver Pate (Page 22)

RECIPE #1161

  • Date: Friday, April 30, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Emilee, Brian, Sam, Scarecrow, and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I thought this sounded like something my special gentleman might enjoy, so I made it as part of his birthday dinner. I cooked onions and garlic in butter, then added chicken livers and cooked until just slightly pink inside. I added some Cognac and cooked for a couple more minutes. Then I blended the livers in a food processor with nutmeg, allspice, salt, and pepper. I stirred in some soaked, dried currants, then refrigerated the pate for 24 hours. Before serving I let the pate come to room temperature. I made some toasts from a baguette and served them with the pate. No one was really too excited about this dish. Brian commented that it tasted like something that was designed to remove toxins. Indeed, it had an intense liver flavor. The cognac flavor was lost behind the strength of the liver. I thought the major problem with this dish, however, was the texture. The pate was very dry. It didn't have a smooth, spreadable consistency. Instead it was almost crumbly. This pate wasn't terrible, but there are definitely better pate recipes out there.

The recipe is here.

It has been a busy few days, and we have a busy few weeks coming up! On Tuesday after work we went to a San Francisco Giants game with Cornelia. I hadn't been to a baseball game in years and it was really fun (although the Giants lost!). Yesterday evening we went down to Palo Alto to visit Emilee, Brian, Sam, and Chris. I made a tasty dinner from The Book and we had a good time eating and hanging out. Tomorrow after work we are headed to Aptos (on the beach) for the weekend with our friends Scarecrow and Brenda and their daughter Cate. We haven't spent much time near the ocean this semester, so I am looking forward to a fun beach weekend! On Monday I am giving a seminar at Stanford. And on Friday we are off to Japan! We will be in Japan for 10 days -- my special gentleman is speaking at a conference and I am meeting with my PhD advisor (who moved from Boston to Japan while I was in graduate school). Our return flight from Japan lands in San Francisco, and we will immediately start driving across the country. My special gentleman's younger brother, who lives in Cambodia, will be in Ohio at that time so we want to get back to the Midwest ASAP to spend time with him. We will cross the country as rapidly as we safely can, stopping in Wisconsin on the way to return my mother's car to her, then continuing to my special gentleman's parents' house in Ohio. We will be there for a little less than a week, then we will to fly back to California (Los Angeles this time) for my brother's wedding! After a weekend in Los Angeles we will head to Indiana for a couple weeks for some math stuff. (My special gentleman will also travel to New York to attend a conference during the time I am in Indiana, but I am going to have to skip that trip.) During our time in Indiana we will pack up the last few things in my apartment there, so at the very end of June we will load a small moving truck and drive home to Michigan!

Whew! Sounds exhausting, no? Luckily, I think it will all be fun, and productive in different ways. And on June 30th, we will be back in our house in Michigan, which will be awesome!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sherried Mushroom Empanaditas (Page 38)

RECIPE #1160

  • Date: Friday, April 30, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, Brian, Sam, Josh G, Scarecrow, and Chris
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I picked this recipe as an appetizer for my special gentleman's birthday celebration because he absolutely loves puff pastry! I started by making the filling. I cooked onions in butter, then added mushrooms and red bell pepper. I added serrano ham and sherry and cooked the mixture a bit more, then stirred in parsley, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. I then rolled out some puff pastry dough (the recipe called for purchased frozen puff pastry, so that's what I used), cut it into circles, and filled them with the mushroom mixture, forming little crescents. I baked them until golden and served them warm. These were pretty tasty. The flavor of the filling was excellent. The mushroom and ham flavors came through clearly, and the Sherry was present without being overpowering. My only complaint was that I thought the ratio of pastry to filling was a little too high. I would have preferred more of the delicious mushroom filling in each bite!

The recipe in The Book is essentially the same as this one, but the one in The Book makes small empanadita appetizers, while the one online makes big empanadas.


I don't like to fly. One of our flights this weekend was a whole new level of awful though...

A woman died on our flight.

She was seated two rows ahead of me and across the aisle, so I noticed a couple hours into the flight that the flight attendant was trying to wake her. The passenger was slumped in an unusual position in her seat and the flight attendant was concerned. The flight attendant tried speaking to her, and then shaking her arm a bit, but she wouldn't wake up. Within moments they were asking all medical professionals on board to identify themselves.

The next thirty minutes or so were awful. I cried through it all. They laid the woman in the aisle, with her head right at my feet. There were two doctors on board and three nurses. Also an excellent crew of flight attendants. And a defibrillator. I don't think they were ever able to recover a pulse though. As the doctors, nurses, and flight staff worked hard trying to save the woman, the rest of us passengers remained somberly in our seats as we made a very rapid descent and an emergency landing in Chicago. The paramedics were on board within minutes after we landed and they rushed her away. She had been traveling alone.

Perhaps she didn't die. Maybe they rushed her to a hospital and were able to save her. It didn't look promising though.

After a bit of time in Chicago, we took off again and headed for our original destination. I cried on and off through the rest of the flight, thinking about that woman lying in the aisle of an airplane for what might have been the last few moments of her life. I am praying for her and her family... whoever and wherever they are.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Grilled Summer Vegetables with Pesto (Page 591)

RECIPE #1159

  • Date: Friday, April 30, 2010 --7pm
  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Emilee, Brian, Sam, Matty, Josh G, Chris, and Scarecrow
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This was the last recipe I had left in the Vegetables section of The Book. I hadn't made it yet because we don't have a grill (yet... it is definitely on my "Things to buy when we get back to our house in Michigan" list). Emilee and Brian have one though, so I picked this recipe as part of the birthday dinner I made for my special gentleman at Emilee and Brian's place. This was a pretty simple recipe. I marinated some eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, and squash in a mixture of oil, vinegar, and herbs. Then I grilled the vegetables and served them with pesto. This recipe was only OK. Some of the vegetables turned out nicely -- the red peppers, for instance, were tasty. The eggplant, on the other hand, was not so nice. It was quite charred on the outside, but still had a lot of moisture on the inside, so the texture came out pretty undesirable. There was nothing terribly objectionable about this recipe, but also nothing special about it. In a meal full of tasty things, this dish wasn't one that got finished. No one had much enthusiasm for it.

This recipe isn't online.

Now I am done with the Vegetables section! I am sad to see this section go because A) I love vegetables, and B) It is getting harder and harder to construct a meal from The Book that has side dishes. The vast majority of the remaining recipes are entrees. Oh well! In no particular order, here are my top five recipes from the Vegetables sections:
  • Fried Onion Rings -- These were everything that a restaurant onion ring dreams to be (flavorful, crispy, delicious...) but often fails to achieve. We ate these onion rings at the mayonnaise tasting years ago -- when we made all the mayo recipes from The Book. They were tasty on their own and tasty dipped in a dozen different kinds of mayo. Yum!
  • Brown-Buttered Corn with Basil -- I love corn and I love brown butter, so I was bound to like this recipe. It wasn't just me though -- Emilee and Brian loved this one too (and they can be a tough audience!). This is a great example of just a few ingredients coming together to form something awesome!
  • Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic -- A fabulous cauliflower preparation: simple and delicious. This is still my favorite cauliflower preparation that I have eaten!
  • Steamed Broccoli with Caper Brown Butter -- People often ask if I repeat recipes from The Book that I really like. The answer is pretty much, "No, not yet," but this is the exception. I have made this dozens of times since I blogged about it in 2006, and now this is my special gentleman's signature broccoli preparation. This is our go-to side dish. It is incredibly delicious. If I were to make a list of the top ten recipes I have made from the entire book, I would strongly consider putting this one on there.
  • Beets with Lime Butter -- When I first made this dish I was surprised by how much I liked it. Beets and lime didn't seem like an obviously tasty combination to me, but it really worked. It was also relatively quick for a beet preparation. Definitely a keeper.
With 132 recipes in it, the Vegetables section is the longest section in The Book. There are definitely many other vegetable recipes that I remember fondly besides just these five, but these were all real stand-outs!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Coffee Granita (Page 863)

RECIPE #1158

  • Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 -- 10pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I felt like making dessert last week and this was one of the few I had left. My special gentleman made me some super strong coffee and dissolved some sugar in it. I then stirred in vanilla and poured it into a baking pan. I put the pan in the freezer, stirring every half hour until it was firm. I served the coffee granita topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream. This granita was pretty tasty. Since I am caffeine-free, I couldn't eat too much of it (especially because my special gentleman made the coffee incredibly strong), but my special gentleman happily cruised through several servings. He found it especially enjoyable after stirring the whipped cream into the granita to form what he called a "cappuccino granita." After a few bites he said, "I think Starbucks sells this item." If they don't, they should. This coffee slushy would be quite appealing to most coffee lovers. It was only lightly sweetened, and the vanilla added a nice touch of non-coffee flavor. If you are looking for a quick, refreshing frozen dessert that doesn't require an ice cream maker, this is a good recipe.

The recipe is here.

I think the following experience says something about my life:

When we were packing for our trip to New York my special gentleman laid out the clothes that he wanted to bring and I organized his clothes and mine into two bags. We never check luggage now that it costs money to do so, so we each have our own carry-on: mine a roller bag my mom bought me as a gift, and my special gentleman's a duffel bag that he carries on his shoulder (also, now that I think on it, a gift from my parents). I had borrowed his duffel bag a couple weekends ago to go to Emilee and Brian's in Palo Alto -- he had taken my roller bag with him to New Orleans that weekend. As I was packing for New York I realized I had never finished unpacking from Palo Alto. There was a dress, some dress shoes, and a couple pairs of clean underwear at the bottom of his duffel bag. Instead of unpacking and repacking those items, I just left them in and packed on top of them.

The next day, we are going through security at SFO with our bags and they pull Matt aside.
"Do you have something sharp in your luggage?" They ask Matt.
"Uh, I don't think so," he says, giving me a sideways glance. Of course, he has no idea what is in his luggage. I feel confident that I didn't packed anything sharp though, so I shake my head, "No."
The security person seems quite adamant to find whatever had showed up on the screen, and he carefully removes every item of the bag. Eventually he reaches the bottom corner of the bag -- the corner where I had found my dress, etc, from a few weeks bag. He takes out the dress, and then pulls out... a clam knife. He gives us a look that seems to say, "Really? Really you thought it was a good idea to bring a knife on the plane?"
"It's not sharp," I offer, as though that would make it seem more reasonable. Indeed, clam knives don't have much of a blade on them.
The TSA man just shakes his head and takes my knife away. My special gentleman turns to me, "You packed a clam knife?" He gives me the same look that the TSA man had.
I try to explain that no, of course I hadn't intentionally packed a clam knife for the airplane. But, when I had gone to Palo Alto a couple weeks before, via car, I had packed a clam knife -- in my life you never know when you might want to shuck some clams.
"Well, at least they didn't arrest me," my special gentleman says as we walk away from the security area.
Indeed.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Paprika-Glazed Baby Back Ribs (Page 491)

RECIPE #1157

  • Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-
After deciding to worry less about eating All Seafood All The Time, I really wanted to make some pork! I don't know why I hadn't already made this awesome-sounding recipe, but I hadn't. So I figured it was about time! This recipe was super easy. I cut a couple racks of baby back ribs into individual ribs, then marinated them for 24 hours in a mixture of garlic, red wine, water, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, sherry vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. I threw the ribs and the marinade in a roasting pan and roasted them, turning occasionally, until the ribs were tender. Then I served the ribs with the sauce that they cooked in. These ribs were incredibly tasty. The flavor was fantastic and the meat was wonderfully tender. They were easily some of the best ribs I have had, and they were super easy to make. My only complaint was that the texture of the sauce was a bit gross -- it came out sort of weird and chunky. It had a good flavor though. I would definitely make these ribs again. Yum.

The recipe is here.

People often ask me if I have learned a lot from this project. And I think I have. If nothing else I have learned cooking methods for many types of foods that I had never prepared before this. That, of course, is valuable. But when I think about the most valuable thing I have taken away from this project it is not a change in skill but rather a change in perspective. Earlier in my life I would often look at a restaurant menu and find one or two items that sounded good to me. I was never particularly picky and I was confident that I could find something I would enjoy eating off most any menu. But often there were only a couple things that I was drawn too -- things that felt familiar to me. Lately, when I look at a menu, I frequently think, "Well this all sounds good." More than 1100 recipes into this project, a lot of dishes feel very familiar. Either I have made them, or I have made something similar, or at the very least the ingredients are ones that I have worked with. And for the most part, I have liked the food that I have been making for the last four years. So more often than not, my feeling when looking at a menu is that it all sounds good to me. Often in social situations I just let someone else make all the food decisions because I can happily enjoy eating whatever is put in front of me. That new-found openness towards and appreciation for a huge variety of food is, in my opinion, more valuable that any particular skills I have learned. And it is something I will carry with me long after this project ends.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Sesame Rice Balls with Red Pepper Dipping Sauce (Page 36)

RECIPE #1156

  • Date: Monday, April 26, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I am trying to make some progress on the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section of The Book. This recipe seemed like it could serve as a nice main course too, so I made it for dinner one night last week. I started by cooking some sushi rice, then tossing it with seasoned rice vinegar. I let the rice cool, and meanwhile made a mixture of wasabi paste and minced pickled ginger. I then shelled some edamame from frozen pods which had been thawed. There was then some complicated process by which I formed little rice balls with an edamame bean on top and a bit of the ginger-wasabi mixture inside. I sprinkled these rice balls with some toasted black sesame seeds. I served them with a dipping sauce I made by pureeing red bell pepper with seasoned rice vinegar and sugar, then simmering the mixture with red pepper flakes and straining. These rice balls were quite tasty, but also quite time-consuming to form. As with many appetizers, the time was all spent in the assembly. The rice was very sticky, so the procedure for assembling was a bit involved, requiring the rice balls to be wrapped several times in plastic wrap. The flavors were great though. The sushi rice was very nice, and the edamame added a bit of crunch. The ginger-wasabi centers provided surprising and potent bursts of flavor. I also found the dipping sauce to be delicious and it had a beautiful bright red color. Overall I enjoyed eating these rice balls quite a bit, but I will probably never make this appetizer for a big group, as the assembly was just too time-consuming.

The recipe is here.

Hello from Brooklyn! My special gentleman and I are traveling this week, and our first stop is Brooklyn. We had a surprisingly easy trip today. We flew direct, the plane was almost on time and not even close to full, and we had our own little movie screens (which I really like). Now we are staying with our friends Phil and Alex at their place in Brooklyn, which is extremely nice. The main purpose of our trip is for the wedding of my special gentleman's friend JR. The wedding is somewhere outside the city and there are wedding-related activities Thursday-Saturday, so we will head out to the suburbs on Thursday afternoon for a few days. On Saturday after the wedding brunch we will fly to Denver so I can attend my brother's fiance's bridal shower near Denver on Sunday. It should be fun. My parents will be out there too (my mom is also going to the shower) and my special gentleman and I will get to see our friends James and Laura who live in Denver. On Sunday evening we will fly back to San Francisco. I think the next few days will be a whirlwind, but in a good way! Lots of friends and celebrations! Tomorrow my special gentleman has promised me a personalized tour of New York City. He lived here for 4 years in graduate school, and I have been here only once before, for just a few days. So he is going to show me around. I am looking forward to it!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake (Page 869)

RECIPE #1155

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


Emilee was insistent that for my 30th birthday dinner we at least have a dessert that sounded yummy. I was insistent that the dessert should come from The Book. There were very few recipes that fit both requirements, and this one was in that narrow intersection. Emilee really did the bulk of the work for this recipe [she was also insistent that I shouldn't make my own birthday cake!]. She started by making two kinds of homemade ice cream: mascarpone and espresso. Sam contributed by turning the ice cream maker on and off :)

Emilee then sliced a frozen pound cake, which had been thawed, toasted the slices, then brushed them with Kahlua and rum. We then assembled the cake in a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap, layering the ice creams with shaved chocolate and the pound cake slices. We then froze the cake for 8 hours. To serve we inverted the cake onto a platter and shaved some chocolate on top. We served it with fudge sauce. This recipe was a strange combination of gourmet and not-at-all gourmet. Calling for two different kinds of homemade ice cream: gourmet. Calling for a frozen Sara Lee pound cake: not gourmet. To be fair, it didn't say that it had to be Sara Lee brand, but isn't that the first thing you think of when you think frozen pound cake? It seemed tremendously odd to me that the recipe called for us to make our own ice creams but not make our own pound cake. Those frozen pound cakes just aren't that good and using one brought the deliciousness of our dessert down a bit. That said, the two ice creams both had excellent flavors. The texture of the mascarpone ice cream was a little gummy and weird. The espresso ice cream was just right. Overall the dessert was good but not great. And although it almost looks cute in the picture above, it was very not-cute in real life. We all enjoyed eating this, but there are better ice cream cakes out there.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one, except the one in The Book doesn't call for the extra egg white in the mascarpone ice cream.

It was a busy weekend, leading into a busy week! On Saturday my special gentleman and I went to Muir Woods with Brian and Sam. I had never been there and it was incredibly beautiful. We hiked all afternoon, stopping to eat lunch and play in a little creek. Hiking with Brian is awesome because he knows a lot about the flora and fauna of Northern California. Hiking with Sam is awesome because his two-year-old narration of events is really funny. Sam walked part of the way, but most of the hike he spent on Brian's back, just looking around and talking about what he saw. Saturday evening we ate take-out and watched a movie with Em and Brian in Palo Alto then headed back to Berkeley. On Sunday we went up to Point Reyes with my special gentleman's aunt, who lives in San Francisco. It was a beautiful drive, and the Point Reyes National Seashore was quite nice.

Tonight my friend Ana is coming to dinner. She and I overlapped in graduate school at MIT, and she used to cook with me very frequently. In fact, after my special gentleman she has assisted in cooking and/or eating the most recipes in this project of all of my friends. She still lives in the Boston area, but she is in Berkeley for a few days so tonight we are having dinner from The Book! After work today I picked up some oxtails (amongst other things) from the grocery store. It should be an interesting meal! Tomorrow morning my special gentleman and I are headed out for a trip that includes stops in New York, Connecticut, and Colorado. Busy times!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Poached Salmon in Aspic (Page 318)

RECIPE #1154

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

When I started this project, ages ago, Emilee flipped through The Book and saw this recipe. She made me promise that I wouldn't make it without her, and I happily agreed that I wouldn't. Not everyone would be excited about fish with fish jello, but she was! This seemed like the perfect dish to make when my 30th birthday dinner rolled around, and that's what we did! We would have made this recipe years ago, but for the fact that I didn't have a fish poacher. I tried to borrow one, but it turns out no one has a fish poacher. Finally I caved and purchased one. Luckily, fish poachers can be purchased for a mere $40 (Note: It turns out fish poachers can also be purchased for $1450. The selection on Amazon runs the gamut.)

Next up: acquiring a whole salmon. The Book called for a 6-pound whole salmon, head and tail still on. I thought that wouldn't be so difficult to find. I called many, many places and managed to locate the following items: 6-pound whole salmon with no head, and 8-pound whole salmon with a head. I would happily have purchased the 8-pound salmon, but the fishmonger assured me that there was no way an 8-pound salmon would fit in my fish poacher. So I called back one of the places with the 6-pound salmon and asked them to put one aside for me. When I arrived my fish was all wrapped up and ready to go. I paid for it, brought it home, and threw it in the fridge. It wasn't until later that evening, when I went to poach it, that I opened the package and found that they had taken the liberty to give me two 3-pound headless salmon instead of one 6-pound headless salmon. Grrrr... At that point I didn't have the energy to deal with it, so I plowed on.

Step one: poach the salmon. I wrapped the fish up in cheesecloth and put them in the fish poacher. I added water, lemon juice, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, and peppercorns, then poached the fish. Here is my fish, ready to be poached:

It's hard to appreciate in the picture, but the fish poacher was extremely full. In particular, the 3-pound headless salmon were almost as long as the poacher. There is no way a 6-pound salmon with a head would have fit. No way. So in the end it was probably best I didn't get exactly what I thought I wanted (READ: what The Book told me I wanted) because then I would have been up a creek.

Anyway, I poached the fish then refrigerated it in the broth overnight. I then took the fish out of the broth and strained and reduced the broth, adding white wine, Madeira, thyme, and salt. I let the mixture cool while I blanched some leek greens and decoratively cut them into strips. Then it was time to deal with the fish. The next step was to remove the bones and skin from my fishies. The skin was no problem -- it peeled/scraped off pretty easily. The bones were more of a pain, and at some point I surrendered. Once I had removed as many bones as I was going to, I put both fish on a platter.

Then it was time to deal with the broth again. That poaching liquid ultimately needed to become fish jello, but first it needed to be clarified. So, using the same principle one uses to make consomme, where you dump a bunch of gross stuff in broth in order to make it more clear, I added crushed egg shells, egg whites, celery, carrot, and leek to the broth and whisked it all together. I simmered this mixture for a while, allowing the raft to form on top and absorb all the impurities. Then I strained the broth, and indeed the strained broth was tremendously clear. I then dissolved some gelatin into the broth. I took some of the gelatinized broth and set it in a bowl set in ice water. The rest I poured into a baking dish and refrigerated. When the stuff in the bowl firmed up a bit, Emilee and I spooned it over the salmon to give it a nice salmon jello glaze. Once that layer set, we put the blanched leek greens on and spooned on another jello layer. When the baking dish of jello had set we cut it into squares, then arranged the jello squares around the fish. Meanwhile Cornelia made Green Mayonnaise to accompany the fish. We served the fish and fish jello with the green mayo.

The result was, well, better than I expected. The fish tasted good, although cold fish is never my favorite. The mayo complemented the salmon nicely, and mixing the fish and mayo together one could have made a very nice salad for a sandwich. The jello, err, aspic, was actually not gross. The flavor was very mild and not too fishy. I found it pretty unobjectionable, and two-year-old Sam ate it by the spoonful. No one was begging for seconds of this dish, but it certainly wasn't bad. And as Cornelia noted, it did look "impressive" in a way. This dish was a lot of work, and I didn't think it was worth all the fuss. All in all, it was the perfect dish to celebrate my birthday with, but I will never make it again!

The recipe is here.

Fresh Fettuccine (Page 210)

RECIPE #1153

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

I wanted to make some component of my birthday dinner that I was pretty sure would be tasty. Between the parsley salad (see post below) and the fish jello (which will be my next post) I was not feeling optimistic. So I decided to make this recipe to add some deliciousness. This "recipe" was actually a little silly. It was for fresh fettuccine, but it called for only one ingredient: Pasta Dough. So really the "recipe" was just instructions for how to roll pasta dough into fettuccine. If you don't have a pasta maker, such instructions are useless. And if you do, you already know how to roll fettuccine. So it's not at all clear who this "recipe" is aimed at. In any event, I won't rehash this "recipe" in detail, but it was a perfectly fine set of instructions for rolling fettuccine, which Cornelia and I executed. My only complaint was that it said to roll through all the settings until you get to the narrowest one. If you are using the pasta maker attachment for the KitchenAid mixer (as I was, and many people do to roll pasta), the narrowest setting makes the pasta to thin for nice fettuccine. Other than that these instructions were fine. It started with pasta dough and produced fresh fettuccine, like this:

To get the dish in the picture at the top of the post (fettuccine with red pepper, prosciutto, and peas) you would need a good friend like Brian who was willing to take the fresh fettuccine pictured above and turn it into a delicious dish (which in this case, was not from The Book). As expected, it was delicious! I don't love the pasta dough in The Book (because it isn't easy to work with and doesn't have any oil in it), but these noodles were still tasty!

This recipe isn't online.

Friday was my special gentleman's birthday. We celebrated with a big dinner from The Book. Emilee and Brian were kind enough to host us, and I cooked the food. I went a little overboard. There was so much food, in fact, that it didn't fit on the dining table, so we had to let it overflow onto Sam's little drawing table:


Chris, Scarecrow, and Josh joined us for dinner. Here's a pre-dessert table picture of everyone but me:


We had a nice meal: Sherried Mushroom Empanaditas, Brandied Chicken Liver Pate, Grilled Summer Vegetables with Pesto, Pot-Au-Feu, and a Quince, Apple, and Almond Jalousie. Oh, an some flaming rum-soaked gummy bears (those, surprisingly enough, were not from The Book). Some dish were more successful that others, but overall it was a nice meal, with wonderful company! We had a festive low-key evening, which was what my special gentleman requested! He is an amazing husband and it was wonderful to celebrate his birthday!