Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rhubarb Charlotte (Page 818)

RECIPE #1187

  • Date: Friday, July 9, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-


This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. This recipe called for soft ladyfingers, which I had trouble finding at the three grocery stores where I get most of my ingredients. So I started this recipe by making some homemade ladyfingers (of course, Of Course, I saw ladyfingers in the grocery store two days later!). Homemade ladyfingers in hand, I proceeded with the recipe. I made the filling by cooking rhubarb with sugar and lemon juice. Then I brushed the ladyfingers with kirsch and lined a charlotte mold with them. I then beat some heavy cream with powdered sugar. I layered the rhubarb filling, the whipped cream, and the remaining ladyfingers in the mold. I put a weight on top of the mold and chilled the charlotte for 24 hours. To serve, I inverted the charlotte onto a plate. This dessert was OK. It was a big step up from the Raspberry Summer Pudding, which was in the same genre. I still wasn't terribly excited about it though. The rhubarb filling had a good flavor, but it made the ladyfingers a bit soggy/slimy. Indeed I would have much preferred to eat a nice shortcake topped with the rhubarb filling and a dollop of whipped cream. I suppose I just don't understand the appeal of the charlotte. I don't think they are that pretty, and I don't see the point of surrounding a fruit filling with soggy bread/cake. As far as charlottes go this one was inoffensive enough, but I won't be making it again.

The recipe is here.

What a long few days! On Friday my special gentleman and I drove from Middletown, Connecticut (where his conference was) to Columbus, Ohio (where his parents live). What should have been a ten and a half hour drive was actually more than fourteen hours, due to lane closures in Pennsylvania and a horrible storm in Ohio. We arrived quite late, but at least we made it there safely! The next morning we chatted for a couple hours with my in-laws then hit the road again. We drove to Bloomington, where we spent many hours cleaning my old apartment. We had moved all of our stuff out a few weeks back, but we had to return to Bloomington to pick up my special gentleman's car anyway, so we figured we would clean then. It wasn't a fun job, and it took longer than we thought it would. Eventually we finished though and spent Saturday night at Mike and Teresa's house in Bloomington. Early Sunday morning we hit the road, driving the five and a half hours up to East Lansing. Unfortunately we had two cars, since we picked up one in Bloomington, so we both had to drive. We were in East Lansing just long enough to mow the lawn, unpack the cars, and do laundry, then I repacked our suitcase and we headed to Chicago Sunday evening.

We had planned to take the Amtrak to Chicago, but our train was running more than 2 hours late (new arrival time: 1am), so we had our tickets refunded and drove instead. We were so exhausted by the time that we reached Chicago that I was delighted to crash into bed. Unfortunately, for reasons that remain a mystery to me, I couldn't sleep. I spent the night staring at the wall of our luxury hotel room. We are in Chicago because I am attending a research workshop, which started Monday morning. Needless to say, exhaustion made Monday pretty rough, but I got some sleep last night and felt better today. The workshop goes through Friday, then this weekend we will head back home. We will be at home for most of August and I am very much looking forward to that!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tongue with Mustard Horseradish Sauce (Page 461)

RECIPE #1186

  • Date: Friday, July 9, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. I had put off making this recipe for so long not because I had never eaten tongue, nor because I thought it would be gross. Rather, it was because I have never prepared tongue myself, and the direction: "Peel off skin and trim any fat or gristle" was freaking me out. The idea of peeling the skin off a tongue was making me feel squeamish just thinking about it. That squeamishness was a theme throughout the preparation of this recipe.

I found a 4-pound beef tongue at my local grocer (yes, 4-pounds!). I started by rinsing it then putting it in a pot with cold water, onion, garlic, bay leaf, star anise, black peppercorns, and salt. I simmered the tongue for several hours. Then I removed the tongue from the cooking liquid and it looked like this:


Ugh. It looked just like... well... a tongue. And although you can't appreciate it in this picture it had little taste bud bumps all over it. Gross. Then came the part where I peeled off the skin, and trimmed the gristle. I would rate that task pretty high on my list of Kitchen Tasks That Made Me Feel Nauseated. Luckily at that point I got to take a break from dealing with the tongue to make the sauce. The sauce was an herbed mustard and horseradish sauce, thickened with a roux. When the sauce was ready I thinly sliced the tongue, topped it with some sauce, and served.

I really don't know how to rate this one. The problem is, if I went to a restaurant and had the plate pictured on top put in front of me, I might have happily eaten it without a second thought. But given the whole experience of making the dish, by the time I had that plate in front of me the last thing I wanted to do was put that in my mouth. I ate a few bites, but that was all I could manage. My special gentleman, who was slightly more removed from the tongue-preparation process, thought the tongue itself was pretty tasty but he didn't care for the sauce at all. He pointed out, and I think he was right, that tongue is really best in a sandwich or taco. My special gentleman made some tongue and egg sandwiches the next day with the leftovers and ate them with delight. The tongue seemed to be cooked pretty well in this preparation, but were I to make it again I would forgo the sauce and instead serve the tongue in a sandwich. Truth be told though, I probably won't be making tongue again. It might be a food that I only eat out.

The recipe is here.

I have this pattern that has repeated itself through the last decade or so of my life. I will decide to get in better shape and start exercising frequently. For 3 months, or 6, or 9, I will continue in my routine, feeling good and enjoying it. Then for some reason I will stop exercising for a week or two (reasons vary) and then I will find it nearly impossible to re-enter my routine. So I will give myself a break. What was intended as maybe a 3-week break turns into a 3 month break, or 6 month, or 9 month. At some point I will realize that I am feeling shitty, physically of course but also mentally. Often I will have lost a few pounds and a lot of energy from the lack of exercise. And I will just feel more down than usual. The feeling crappy kicks me back into shape and so starts another phase of exercising.

This past fall I was training for the marathon, so I was getting more than my fair share of exercise. The marathon was in early November and in the weeks following it I felt not-at-all guilty about not working out. I let my, "I don't need to exercise, I just ran a marathon," excuse carry me all the way from November through March or so. At that point I realized I needed to get off my butt. I couldn't motivate to run but I started walking five miles a day. I have continued that for the last few months, and although I think it is valuable, it isn't the type of drenched-in-sweat exercise that I am used to. And, I have discovered, a five mile walk doesn't come with the same mental health benefits that a five mile run does. In the last few weeks I started feeling down. It's true that a few things happened that triggered my sadness, but nothing that shouldn't have been outweighed by the joys of moving into our new house, starting my new job, and living with my special gentleman! And then it occurred to me: what I really needed was some real exercise.

For the last 5 days in a row I have started the day with a run. And even though I have only been running about 4 miles a day, it has done wonders. I just feel so much better, physically and mentally, than I have been. And so, I am recommitting myself to running. I don't see another marathon in my near future, or even another half, but I do see very regular running. It just makes me feel better.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Herbed Vidalia Onion Tea Sandwiches (Page 178)

RECIPE #1185

  • Date: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I put off making this recipe for all this time because I didn't want to serve raw onion tea sandwiches at a party, and I also didn't want to make a whole batch of tea sandwiches for just me and my special gentleman. In the end, I made the recipe for just the two of us and wished that I had made it for a party! These sandwiches were surprisingly tasty. To make them I started by stirring together mayonnaise, minced parsley, minced tarragon, lemon juice, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Using a cookie cutter I cut out little circles from some thinly sliced white bread. I spread one side of the bread slices with the mayonnaise. Then, using the same cookie cutter I cut rounds of onion from slices of Vidalia onions. I put an onion round on half of the bread circles, then topped the rounds with another bread circle to form a sandwich. I coated the edge of each sandwich with a light layer of mayonnaise, then rolled it in parsley. That was it! I was more than a little skeptical about raw onion tea sandwiches. Typically tea party food is quite delicate and raw onions just don't scream delicate to me. I will happily admit, though, that I was wrong. The Vidalia onions were sweet enough that the raw onion slice was not biting at all. And paired with the mayonnaise and bread it was very tasty. My only complaint was that with all the parsley on the outsides of the sandwiches there was a bit too much parsley. Other than that I liked these sandwiches and I would indeed serve them with some tea.

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one.

Hello from Connecticut! My special gentleman is speaking at a conference at Wesleyan University this week, so we are out east. We drove out here from Michigan rather than flying, which actually made the logistics of the trip much easier. On Saturday we drove 8 hours from East Lansing to State College, Pennsylvania, where our friends Melanie and Daniel live. Daniel is an Assistant Professor at Penn State. He just started last fall and we hadn't had a chance to visit them yet since they moved to Pennsylvania. We had a great time hanging out with them Saturday night. Mel and I have been friends since we were 11. She is in the process of starting a green sewing business. The first product she is launching is a collection of mittens made out of old wool sweaters headed for the landfill. She shrinks the sweaters by washing them, then cuts pieces from the sweaters and mixes and matches the different sweaters to create the fabric for some awesome mittens. She will soon be selling in stores and online, but in the meantime, she gave me a pair! It was really fun to hear about her business in the early stages and see her workspace and all the work she has been doing. It was super impressive! Starting a small business sounds daunting to me but she is totally on top of it, and I can't wait for her business to officially launch so I can buy things from her!

We stayed at Mel and Daniel's place Saturday night, then Sunday we drove the remaining six and a half hours from State College to Middletown, Connecticut. I have been working from the hotel and coffee shops the last couple days while my special gentleman attends his conference. Conveniently my good friend Cornelia is in my special gentleman's field of mathematics, so tonight I had dinner with her, which was lovely. Tomorrow I will head to Boston for a couple days to visit more friends.

It has been a fun trip so far!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Brandied Sour Cherry and Pear Tartlets (Page 780)

RECIPE #1184

  • Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010 -- 10pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I made this recipe to finish off the Pies, Tarts, and Pastries section of The Book. This recipe falls into a category that I like to call Delicious but Ridiculous. Instead of making one regular size pie, this recipe made 16 individual ones. This not only required special equipment, but also a lot of patience. I started by making a pretty typical pie dough and chilling it. Then I made the filling by dicing some pears and boiling them with dried sour cherries, brandy, water, sugar, and cornstarch. Then the fussiness began. The bottom and top pie crusts needed to be cut from the dough with two different sizes of cookie cutter. Then the bottoms were put into the little tart pans. I then used smaller decorative cookie cutters to cut little windows out of the top crusts. Then using some milk to help them adhere I put the cut-out decorations back on the top crusts. Then I filled the bottom crusts with filling and placed the top crusts on top, using milk and pinching to seal the edges. Then I dusted them with some sugar and baked the little pies until they were done. Reading it now, it doesn't sound too fussy. But in real life there was a lot of rerolling of dough and chilling after every step that made it seem completely ridiculous. The pies turned out pretty good though. My special gentleman loved them. I was slightly less enthusiastic (then again, I was the one who dealt with all the fussiness, so perhaps that's why). I never like pie fillings as much when they are made with dried fruit. A more flavorful, and texturally nicer, cherry filling certainly could have been made from some fresh sour cherries. And were I to make this recipe again, I would definitely make it as one or two large pies instead of 16 little ones. They were cute, but I don't think the cuteness was worth the effort!

The recipe is here.

This was the last recipe in the Pies, Tarts, and Pastries section! I am happy to be done with another section, but sad to see this one go, as I dearly, dearly love pie! When I finish a section I like to identify my top five favorite recipes from that section. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Three-Berry Pie with Vanilla Cream -- Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries... it's hard to go wrong! The filling was just the right thickness and just the right sweetness. Absolutely delicious!
  • Sweet Potato Pie with Bourbon Cream -- This pie way exceeded my expectations. The flavor from the roasted then pureed sweet potatoes was awesome and the texture of the filling was perfect. It looked like pumpkin pie, but was way better than any pumpkin pie I have ever had. Yum!
  • Carmelized Upside-Down Pear Tart -- Not only was this tart fantastic but it was incredibly easy. This is a recipe that I will come back to again and again in my post-Book cooking. A huge payout for a minimal effort -- definitely a keeper!
  • Baklava -- My special gentleman has this dream that when the project is over I will make fresh croissants and baklava every week. We'll see. Baklava is one of his favorites and he loved this recipe. I, too, was very impressed by it. It is one of the few recipes in The Book that I have already repeated!
  • Mocha Eclairs -- What's not to love? Pastry, filled with mocha cream, then dipped in chocolate -- delicious!
Well, those were my favorite five. Reminiscing has made me hungry for some pastries! I am in a hotel room in small town Connecticut though and it is almost midnight, so pastries might be hard to come by. Oh well!

7 sections down, 14 left to finish!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Roast Loin of Pork with Red Cabbage and Port Wine Sauce (Page 472)

RECIPE #1183

  • Date: Monday, July 5, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This recipe was on the list generated by the random number generator. I started by brining a pork loin roast in a mixture of water, allspice, black peppercorns, salt, sugar, thyme, cloves, and bay leaf for 2 days. Then I removed the pork from the brine and browned it. I placed the pork in a skillet on a bed of onions and roast it in the oven to 140 degrees. Then I let it rest. Meanwhile, I blanched some red cabbage, then cooked it with garlic, balsamic vinegar, and the onions that the pork roasted on top of. I added sage, capers, salt, and pepper and served the pork with the cabbage and port wine sauce (see post below). This dish was pretty good. The pork was fantastic. Brining meat is always a wonderful first step, and brining works particularly well with pork. The meat came out moist and super flavorful. The sauce that went with the pork complemented it beautifully. We were less excited, however, about the cabbage. It was fine I suppose. But it just didn't compare to the pork. It was a bit boring, and didn't seem cohesive. For instance, whole capers stirred into the cabbage after cooking it? Odd. The cabbage wasn't bad, but as vegetable accompaniments for pork go, it wasn't great either. I would certainly make this pork again and just skip the cabbage.

This recipe isn't online.

Well, we have been home in Michigan for two weeks and two days, and we are hitting the road again. We have a couple weeks of travel ahead of us. First we are driving from Michigan to Middletown, Connecticut, the home of Wesleyan University. There is a week-long conference there in my special gentleman's field and he is giving a couple talks. It's a reasonably long drive to Connecticut, but luckily we have good friends on the way. Tomorrow night we will stay with Melanie and Daniel near State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State. Sunday we will continue on to Connecticut. My special gentleman needs to be at Wesleyan all week, but since I am not a part of the conference I will drive into Boston mid-week to visit Rachel, one of my nearest and dearest, and her family. I will stay a few days with them, which I am super excited about, especially since I haven't seen Rachel's year and a half-old son in over a year. I am sure he has grown so much!

Next weekend we will leave the East Coast and drive back to Michigan, via Bloomington, where we have to return to stop to A) Clean my apartment, which we moved out of but didn't clean yet, and B) Pick up my special gentleman's car which is still in Bloomington. So next Friday night we will try to make it all the way from Connecticut to Columbus, Ohio (about 10 hours), crash for the night at my in-laws' house. Then Saturday morning we will drive to Bloomington, clean like crazy, then crash for the night at some friends' house there. Sunday morning we will drive to East Lansing, drop off both cars, maybe do laundry, etc... Then Sunday evening we will catch a train to Chicago, where I will be attending a workshop for a week. Then next Saturday we will take the train back home.

It's all fun stuff (except cleaning my old apartment) and I am looking forward to the trip. But I am also sad to go. I feel like we just got home, and indeed just tonight I finished unpacking the final box. So it is hard to pack a suitcase again and hit the road. But it will be fun! And I am only traveling for 5 days or so in August, so I can look forward to spending more time at home then!

On an unrelated note, today is my mom's birthday. Happy Birthday mom!!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Port Wine Sauce (Page 473)

RECIPE #1182

  • Date: Monday, July 5, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!!
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-


This recipe was a component for a pork dish which I will blog about next. My special gentleman likes to refer to himself as the saucier of our kitchen. It's true, when there is a sauce to be made he will often help with the sauce while I work on the rest of the dish. This was a quick sauce and he did most of the work. He started by cooking some chopped shallots in butter. Then we added balsamic vinegar and reduced. We then added ruby port and reduced again. Finally he added veal stock and reduced yet again, then strained the sauce and served. This sauce was very intense. The heavily reduced flavors of the balsamic, port, and veal stock each came through very clearly and pungently. The strong flavors paired extremely well with the pork, which was rather mild in flavor.

This recipe isn't online.

I wouldn't call myself a particularly messy person, but I am also not the neatest person I know. And while I am organized in terms of executing tasks, I have never had the beautifully organized closets that some of my friends do (I'm thinking of you, Deniz!). So I understand why my special gentleman has been giving me a quizzical look every time I say I am going to work some more on organizing my kitchen. It's true, my kitchens of the past have been a bit disorganized. I pretty much knew where everything was, but if a random person dug through the cupboards trying to find buckwheat flour or fine dried breadcrumbs I am sure they would have given up without success. There wasn't really a system. But now, faced with a kitchen that I own, one that I plan on cooking in for a long time, I am feeling motivated! Armed with dozens of tupperware containers and sheets of labels I have been filling, labeling, and stacking container after container of food. So if you were looking for buckwheat flour or breadcrumbs, or one of 5 different kinds of rice, you could easily find them in my cupboards! And I am not done yet!

I am feeling a lot of pride of ownership in our home, and in these early weeks that is manifesting itself in my desire to get everything cleaned up and organized. So the settling in has been a little slower than when I employ my usual moving strategy of just putting stuff wherever it will fit. But I think the house is really shaping up! And soon my kitchen will be just as I want it!! I can't wait.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Plum Tart (Page 783)

RECIPE #1181

  • Date: Sunday, July 4, 2010 -- 8pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I am trying to finish off the Pies, Tarts, and Pastries section of The Book (although I will be sad to see it go!) and this was one of the last couple recipes in that section. I started by making the crust. I combined flour, butter, sugar, salt, lemon zest, and egg yolks in a food processor, then pressed the mixture into a tart pan. Then I pitted and halved some plums and tossed them with sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. I let the plums macerate for a bit, then arranged them on top of the crust. I then baked the tart. Note: it took much longer than indicated in The Book for the juices to start bubbling. This tart was pretty good. The crust was more cookie-like than crust-like, which I enjoyed. The fruit was cooked just the right amount and the juices thickened nicely to give the filling some body. My only complaint was that it was very tart. I'm sure the tartness depended heavily on the plums I used. I used ripe plums though and it still turned out too tart for me. With sweeter plums it could have been excellent!

The recipe is here.

With around a hundred recipes left to go in this project, I am getting to the point where I have in my head a list of ingredients I still need to find, and recipes that I have left to make. I would venture that, if pressed, I could name off the top of my head at least 80 of the 112 recipes that remain. I have flipped through those remaining recipes many, many times! I used to go to the grocery store with specific recipes in mind, looking for specific ingredients. While I still do that, I have taken the attitude that if I see ingredients I know I am going to need eventually, I buy them. If they are perishable, I make the dish that day or the next. If they aren't, I throw them in the pantry. Sour cherries at the farmer's market on Saturday morning meant Sour Cherry Preserves on Sunday morning. Green tomatoes at the grocery store meant a batch of Green Tomato Pickles was in the works a few days later. I have photocopies of the remaining recipes in my purse at all times so when I stumble across a hard-to-find ingredient I can look up the recipe and buy the rest of the ingredients to go with it. My special gentleman just laughs at me. Yesterday evening we went to the grocery store on what was supposed to be a quick stop just to pick up some beef I needed for dinner tonight. Soon I was throwing all sorts of things into the cart: canning salt, pickling spices, white balsamic, etc... My special gentleman kept asking, "What is that for?" I would answer, "I'm not exactly sure, but I know I need it." When we got home I threw them in the pantry for the day I decide to make the Tricolor Pickled Peppers or Bread-and-Butter Pickles (turns out, that's what they were for).

I am starting to have real confidence that I WILL finish this project, and it WILL be in the year 2010!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Seafood Cannelloni (Page 229)

RECIPE #1180

  • Date: Sunday, July 4, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C


I picked this recipe because I was trying to finish off the Pasta, Noodles, and Dumplings section of The Book, which only had two recipes left. This recipe was a huge pain. There were so many steps that I don't even want to write them all out. So I will summarize. First I made a stock out of shrimp shells and some vegetables. Then I pureed the stock (shells and all!) and strained it. I made a sauce from the stock and some heavy cream. I then made a seafood mousse, which involved pureeing some shrimp and scallops with Cognac, some of the sauce I had just made, and heavy cream. Once the mousse was nice and smooth I stirred in chunks of shrimp and scallop. I then boiled lasagna noodles until they were partly cooked. I formed the cannelloni by spreading seafood mousse on each noodle and rolling the noodles up. I fit them into a dish with the sauce. I then baked the dish until it was done. I admit, I was supposed to broil it for 3 minutes after it was baked, and I had done so many steps at that point that I completely forgot. Whoops!

This dish was not so good. On the upside, the sauce was tasty. It had a pretty intense seafood flavor from the shrimp shells and a wonderful texture. The seafood filling, on the other hand, was not so tasty. I am never really a fan of seafood mousse, and this was no exception. Even my special gentleman was put off by the chunks of shellfish that were mixed in with the pureed shellfish. It didn't work well. We both felt that without the chunks in the filling the dish would have been much more appetizing from a textural perspective. From a flavor perspective it was just intensely flavored like shellfish. For me, it was too much. I can imagine someone else who might enjoy it though. Unfortunately that person was neither me nor my special gentleman, so after all that effort most of this dish ended up in the trash.

The recipe is here.

I didn't particularly enjoy making this dish and I certainly didn't enjoy eating it. But one positive thing did come out of the experience: a very funny interaction with my special gentleman which we are still laughing about. I made this on a Sunday and early in the day my special gentleman asked me,
"What are we having for dinner tonight?"
I replied, "Seafood Cannelloni."
(pause)
"Oh. OK."
[Several hours pass.]
"So we're having Seafood Cannelloni tonight?"
"Yup."
He said, "I don't usually like cannelloni."
"Well, this recipe is quite different from a typical cannelloni recipe. For instance, there's no cheese."
"Huh. So it's just a flaky pastry with seafood inside?"
(pause)
"Matt, we are having seafood cannelloni, not seafood cannoli!"

Apparently all day he had been trying to picture the Sicilian dessert cannoli, except filled with seafood. He doesn't particularly like cannoli (crazy, I know!), and was having trouble getting excited about a seafood-filled version. When I explained to him that cannelloni were different -- indeed we would be having a stuffed pasta dish for dinner, not a seafood and pastry dessert, he was much happier!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Raspberry Summer Pudding (Page 829)

RECIPE #1179

  • Date: Sunday, July 4, 2010 -- 1pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

This one was on the list generated by the random number generator. I had put off making this dessert for years because while I love pretty much everything called "pudding" in America, English puddings just aren't my thing. I no longer have the option of being so picky though, so I finally bit the bullet and made this recipe. I lined a charlotte mold (a gift from Vero and Philippe -- thank you!) with plastic wrap. Then I lined the bottom and sides of the mold with white bread, overlapping slightly. I cooked some raspberries, strawberries and sugar with some raspberry liqueur then used a sieve to separate the solids and the syrup. I layered the fruit solids and white bread in the mold, poured some of the syrup over the top layer of fruit solids, and topped with bread to cover. I then weighted the pudding down with 2 pounds of canned goods and refrigerated it for 12 hours. To serve I unwrapped and inverted it, then spooned the reserved syrup over it and garnished with fresh fruit.

This dish was, well, exactly what I expected. The fruit had a good flavor but it was surrounded by soggy white bread. Ick. And actually the texture of the fruit was a little gross too. It was cooked to a mush, which generally wouldn't bother me, but paired with the soggy bread it just didn't work for me. All that said, if you don't have an aversion to soggy bread like I do, you might well like this dish. My special gentleman wasn't crazy about it, but he did eat the entire thing over the span of a couple days.

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one, except that the one in The Book calls for strawberries and raspberries rather than just raspberries.

Well, a week and a half after we arrived I am still not feeling so settled in Michigan. It seems that my special gentleman and I have both been very busy over the last ten days, yet there is still so much to do. Indeed, at this point it feels a little insurmountable. We both have tons of work to do (as usual), and are trying to balance that with our efforts to get the house organized and get settled into it. My office at the university was being vacated and cleaned this week, so I was working from home. I enjoy working from home, but my home office is a disaster at the moment, and cleaning it up would require buying some filing cabinets at the very least. Which I haven't had time to do... So I sit at my desk, surrounded by huge stacks of paper and boxes and wonder when I will get to the item on the To Do list that says: Clean Office.

Indeed, I am in that phase where my To Do list gets longer instead of shorter every day. *sigh* Today I tried to learn about yard care. Luckily, our friends who were staying in our house while we were in California did an awesome job of taking care of our yard. So it was looking pretty good when we got back. But today we headed out there to do some lawn care ourselves: we needed to reseed some bare patches, prune the hedges, pull weeds, trim back the overgrown plants, etc... Before we could start we made a fun trip to Home Depot where a nice man kindly advised us on all sorts of things. I think he realized we were clueless/new homeowners when it came to his attention that we didn't even own a hose. And we were clueless. We have a lot of plants and some areas around the house are very densely occupied by plant life. Picking out which were weeds wasn't easy. Luckily we live in a neighborhood where a lot of neighbors stop by to chat whenever you are outside. I solicited a lot of advice throughout the afternoon and gained a little yard care confidence!

One thing I can say about home ownership: I am learning a lot!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Jellied Cranberry Sauce (Page 903)

RECIPE #1178

  • Date: Sunday, July 4, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I picked this recipe because the Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves section of The Book is one of the sections on which I am making slow progress. My special gentleman claimed adamantly that he had never eaten, or even seen, cranberry sauce before (a claim which I find nearly impossible to believe, especially because my aunt serves the kind in a can every year on Christmas Eve, and my special gentleman is there). But he stood by his claim and throughout the four days or so that this was in the fridge he kept asking, "Sauce for what?" He was unsatisfied with my answer that it could be eaten as a side dish on its own and instead ate it as a "sauce" on pork, Kraft mac and cheese, and even on pie (yes, plum pie topped with cranberry jello).

To make this sauce I combined cranberries, sugar, and water in a saucepan and cooked it. Then I strained out the solids, mixed some gelatin into the liquid and poured it into a mold. The recipe said to let it set for 2 hours in the fridge but in reality it took much longer. I then inverted it onto a plate and served. The resulting cranberry sauce was OK. It had a nice cranberry flavor but it was very gelatinous. The texture reminded me of the Jello Jigglers my mom used to make for me when I was a kid. I love jello, so that was fine with me, but it definitely wasn't a typical cranberry sauce texture. My other complaint about this recipe was that it was a little dull. If you are going to go through the work of making your own cranberry sauce it seems like it should be interesting in some way. Perhaps a kick of citrus or booze would have made this dish more interesting. All that said, over the course of a few days we finished off the whole dish, and I grew quite fond of my serving of cranberry jello with every meal.

The recipe is here.

I enjoy teaching and I try to do a good job. When teaching graduate courses, or upper level undergraduates, the students tend to be pretty focused. They are interested in learning the material or they wouldn't be there. With lower level undergraduate courses, however, that isn't always the case. For instance, the business calculus course that I have taught many times in the last few years was a requirement for many students. I would guess that at least 80 percent of my students wouldn't have taken the course if they hadn't been forced to. In that situation I try to bring even more enthusiasm to my teaching. I try to motivate everything thoroughly, and communicate my passion for math. I do what I can, and then I just hope that by the end of the semester they have developed an appreciation for the course and walked away with some mathematical foundations.

I think, though, that sometimes there are students who miss the point. An illustration: I recently got my teaching evaluations back from the fall semester, when I had over 300 business calculus students. Overall the evaluations were positive with some constructive comments -- I was happy with them. But in the mix was also probably the most ridiculous student response I have ever gotten.

Question: What did you like most about the course and/or the instructor?

Student response: I thought she was pretty cute with a nice little figure.

In fact, the student wrote six or seven sentences, mostly in that vein, including charmers like, "Last week she wore her hair down and was looking right."

Somehow I think that student missed the point of the question (and possibly the course)!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Baked Eggs with Cream, Parmesan, and White Truffle (Page 634)

RECIPE #1177

  • Date: Saturday, July 3, 2010 -- 11am
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our New House!!!
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I hadn't made this recipe yet because I couldn't find white truffle paste. Finally I just special-ordered some. This recipe was quick and easy, which was exactly what I was looking for last weekend, as the kitchen was still half full of boxes needing to be unpacked! To prepare this dish I stirred together some creme fraiche, grated Parmesan, white truffle paste, salt, and pepper. I divided the mixture between buttered ramekins. I broke an egg into each ramekin and set them in a baking dish. I filled the dish with boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, then I baked the dish until the egg whites were just set. I served the baked eggs with toast. This dish was tasty, but incredibly intense. The richness of eggs + creme fraiche + cheese was a little overwhelming. I was certainly glad the toast was there to cut the richness a bit. The recipe called for 1-2 teaspoons white truffle paste, or to taste. I put in 2 teaspoons, since my special gentleman loves truffles (plus since the truffle paste was hard to find, and expensive, I figured I would get my use out of it!). In retrospect, I wish I had used less. It had a great flavor, of course, but the mushroom flavor was so intense in the dish that it drowned out the cheese and overpowered even the egg. Half as much truffle paste might have been perfect. All that said, this dish tasted pretty good. One further warning: the dish was texturally a little weird: the creme fraiche melted and was quite runny, while the egg had firmed up nicely. But the egg white and the creme fraiche mixture were essentially the same color, so the different textures were a little off-putting.

This recipe isn't online.

When my special gentleman and I were house-hunting I would walk in the front door of each house and head straight for the kitchen. I was open-minded about many aspects of our house search, but the kitchen wasn't one of them. I was partial towards kitchens that wouldn't have to be gutted and remodeled, but I would have done that if we had absolutely loved a house where it was necessary. The real problem was the houses where there just wasn't enough kitchen space, and no way to expand. There was one house we liked quite a lot along the way that was great except for a super-tiny kitchen. The kitchen was beautiful: granite counters, top of the line appliances -- it was very nice, but very small. I think we went through that house three times, trying to decide if there was a way to push out a wall to make the kitchen bigger. But the way the house was laid out nothing could be done short of moving the kitchen entirely, which I didn't feel up for. At the time I wondered if I was being too picky, if it was unreasonable to reject a house based solely on the kitchen.

Now, less than a week into living (and cooking!) in our new house I am so glad that we waited for the right kitchen (err, I mean house) to come along. My special gentleman had a lot of things he wanted in our house (walkable to work, an older home, hardwood floors...). My top priority was an open, airy kitchen with plenty of room for cooking with friends and storage for loads of kitchen equipment. In the end we managed to accommodate all of our priorities! I am totally loving my new kitchen -- it is a delight to cook in. I dare say, it may well be my favorite of all the kitchens I have ever cooked in (except, of course, the culinary school kitchens, which were pretty much awesome).

I'm so happy to be home!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Green Chile Cheesecake with Papaya Salsa (Page 68)

RECIPE #1176

  • Date: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Brad, Deniz, Karen H, Dave, Phil H, Kayla, Wes, and Jinx
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I made this dish as an appetizer for a dinner with my special gentleman's family last month. The concept of this dish was a little unusual. It was a savory cheesecake on a blue corn chip crumb crust, studded with chopped roasted poblano chiles. Slices of the cheesecake were served with a papaya salsa. I first made the crust, in the usual fashion that you would make a graham cracker crumb crust, but using blue corn chips rather than graham crackers. I baked the crust for 10 minutes. I then roasted some poblano chiles in the broiler, then peeled, seeded, and chopped them. I made the filling for the cheesecake by blending together sour cream, eggs, cream cheese, and softened butter then stirring in the poblano chiles, grated Monterey Jack, grated sharp Chedder, minced fresh dill, chopped cilantro, and salt. I poured the filling over the crust and baked until the center was set. Then I let it cool for several hours. Meanwhile, I made the papaya salsa. I combined chopped papaya, minced garlic, finely chopped red onion, finely chopped red bell pepper, cilantro, rice vinegar, salt, and pepper. I served the cheesecake with the salsa.

On the upside, the papaya salsa was excellent. It was well-balanced and flavorful with nice textural contrast. It would have been tasty not only on this cheesecake but also with chips or in a taco. The cheesecake, however, left something to be desired. I had two major complaints. One, the filling was very bland. With so much cheese and so many roasted poblanos I expected the filling to be flavorful and spicy. Unfortunately this was not the case. I think it just desperately needed more salt to bring out the flavors. As it was it tasted quite dull. My other complaint was that the crust had a bad texture. The idea of a blue corn chip crust really appealed to me, but in practice the crust came out kind of chewy and stale tasting (although the chips had been neither stale nor chewy before they went into the crust). So although the salsa was very tasty the cheesecake was disappointing and the whole dish together was only OK.

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one, but the one online has a cornmeal crust rather than a corn chip crust.

Well, we are finally home in East Lansing! We arrived on Wednesday evening after a fairly smooth day of moving. The last few days have been a blur of unpacking, organizing, and administrative things for my new job. The weather has been incredibly perfect and it is wonderful to have windows open throughout the house as we unpack. We have been eating every meal out on our screened in porch. I had hoped/suspected that summer in Michigan would be lovely and I wasn't wrong!

There are still boxes to be unpacked, but they are no longer stacked high along the walls. And after much effort, I think I have gotten my kitchen supplies mostly organized. Luckily we have a fairly large kitchen, with a pantry. And my special gentleman made me a second pantry in the basement. He took the job very seriously. We have a little room at the bottom of the basement stairs which I suppose is meant to be for storage. It was dusty and a little gross in there, but he spent hours cleaning it out. He then declared that we should repaint it. So we did! We gave the walls and the floor in there a fresh new coat of paint. He then set up rows of shelving and a freezer. And so it came to be: kitchen pantry number 2! Between the many cupboards in the kitchen itself and the two pantries, I think everything has a home. There is still more organization to be done (at moment the cookware and dinnerware is mostly organized but the food is a mess!), but I am confident that I will feel very at home in my new kitchen. To celebrate, today I even did some cooking amidst the unpacking. I made three recipes from The Book!

Tomorrow I am hoping to finish off the unpacking, make a couple more recipes, and take care of some yard work! Sounds like a great way to spend a summer Sunday!