Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Panfried Quail with Creamed Corn and Bacon (Page 403)

RECIPE #1227

  • Date: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I spotted some quail at our local Asian grocery store, so I grabbed them to make this recipe! It was these little quail which caused the Quail Versus Produce Refrigerator Disaster, so there is still a slightly bitter taste in my mouth about this recipe. But I will try to put that aside! When preparing this dish I first made the creamed corn. I cooked corn in boiling water, then cooked bacon in a skillet until browned. I combined heavy cream, water, lemon juice, the bacon, sliced scallions, and butter and simmered. Then I added the corn, plus some salt and pepper and cooked for a few more minutes. Then I attacked the quail. I cut each quail into four pieces. I dipped each piece in whole milk, then dredged them in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne. I deep-fried the quail until golden and cooked though, then I served the quail with the creamed corn. I had mixed feelings about this dish. On the one hand, the fried quail were delicious! Think fried chicken, but with a higher fried to chicken ratio. Yum! The coating was just the right thickness and crispiness and the meat came out tender and moist. On the other hand, the creamed corn was pretty disappointing. Corn and bacon are two of my favorite things so I figured it couldn't be bad. Somehow though, it was. Mostly it was a textural issue. Rather than being creamy, as creamed corn should be, it was quite watery. And because it was watery the bacon got soggy even though it had been browned. The flavor wasn't bad but the texture was unappealing enough that I didn't want to eat it. I would definitely make the fried quail again, but without the creamed corn.

The recipe is here.

Only 66 recipes left to go!

When I was still in graduate school I went to a workshop in Germany. It wasn't in my field exactly, but I had been invited because I knew one of the organizers. It was a good experience, and I enjoyed the workshop a lot. Now, years later, the thing I remember most vividly from that week is that there was an amazing talk given by a young female mathematician. The workshop was focused on the work of a couple people. So in her talk she was explaining someone else's work. She did so with amazing organization, clarity, and confidence. Her talk was well thought-out, well-delivered, and easy to learn from. Although I think she was younger than most of the other speakers, she blew everyone else away. In a week full of talks, she was one of only a couple female speakers. I don't know who she was -- it was a long time ago, and the people there weren't really in my field, so I didn't know who most of them were. I don't even know for sure that this woman is still in math. But when I think back now on the moments throughout my career when I felt most empowered and most confident that it is possible to succeed as a woman in math, watching that talk stands out in my mind.

I am older now, and giving a lot of talks of my own. This week I am at a workshop, not in Germany this time, but rather in Berkeley. This workshop, like the one I went to years ago, is based around some specific work of a few mathematicians. I was asked to speak at the workshop, giving a talk explaining the proof of one component of their main theorem. I give a lot of talks, and in general I don't worry so much about them any more. This time, though, I felt a great sense of pressure. In part it was because I wanted to do justice to the great work that I was talking about. When I talk about my own work, if I do a less than stellar job it only reflects badly on me. In this case, talking about other people's work, it was important to me to represent them well. But more than that, I found myself really wanting to be an example for younger people, in the way that the woman I saw in Germany years ago was an empowering example to me. There are 18 talks at the conference this week, 2 of which are being given by women. The way the gender break-down is in my field, having 2 women speak at a conference is the most you would expect to see. I have always thought of myself more as a mathematician than as a female mathematician, but as I get further along in my career it seems more important to me that I recognize that I am a woman in math, and as such, an example for other women.

My talk was yesterday, and I think it went pretty well. And maybe someone in the audience will remember it as a nice talk, and feel empowered by it the way that I did years ago. That's my hope anyway.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Grilled Octopus with Oregano (Page 345)

RECIPE #1226

  • Date: Sunday, September 26, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I found some octopus at our local Asian grocery store, so I took the opportunity to make this recipe. I simmered the octopus in water seasoned with sea salt and black peppercorns. Then I rubbed off the skin and marinated the octopus in a mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, sea salt, and pepper for 24 hours. My special gentleman then grilled the octopus until browned. We cut the octopus into pieces, tossed it with the marinade and served. This dish was pretty good. Indeed my special gentleman declared it the best octopus he has ever eaten. Texturally the dish was very nice. The octopus was tender from being simmered, but also slightly crispy from the heat of the grill. It wasn't at all tough, like octopus often can be. The vinaigrette had a subtle but nice flavor. It complemented the octopus without overpowering it. If I need to prepare octopus again someday, this is probably what I will do with it.

This recipe isn't online.

Only 67 recipes left to go!

I received a request from a friend for more pictures of our kittens! They are super cute (and more importantly, super sweet!) so we have lots of pictures of them! Michigan, the little kitty, will sleep pretty much anywhere you set him down. But he especially likes napping with my special gentleman:

The kittens also like to nap with one another. They have their daily routine. Around 5pm said routine involves curling up together on the sofa and sleeping in a big ball. If he's home from work my special gentleman likes to join them for a little rest:

Indiana, the big kitty, will eventually get up to wander around, but Michigan will lay there with you as long as you want:


The kittens are very interested in mathematics. For instance, tonight I was practicing a talk I am giving at a conference next week (yes, we have a chalkboard in our house!), and both the cats purred all the way through my talk. True, Indiana fell asleep for a bit of it, but I can't blame him -- it's not really his field of mathematics! The cats further demonstrate their love of math by laying on top of math papers:


One of our favorite attributes about our cats is that they love to be held. Surprisingly, they even like to be held together:


What sweet little kittens! I'm leaving town tomorrow for almost a week -- I am going to miss them!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clam, Potato, and Bacon Potpie (Page 328)

RECIPE #1225

  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A

I made a trip to Ann Arbor for seafood a while back and this was one of the recipes I made with the shellfish I acquired on that trip. I started by making pastry dough for a pie crust. While my dough chilled I peeled, cubed, and boiled some potatoes. I cooked and crumbled some bacon, then cooked onion in the bacon fat plus some butter. I added flour to make a roux, then whisked in some heavy cream, whole milk, clam liquor, and Worcestershire sauce. I simmered for a few minutes, then stirred in the potatoes, chopped clams (which my special gentleman shucked for me!), parsley, thyme, lemon juice, the bacon, salt, and pepper. I rolled out the bottom crust and fit it into a pie plate. Then I poured the cooled filling in the crust and placed the top crust on. I brushed the crust with egg wash and slit it then baked the potpie until it was golden. I'm not particularly a fan of clams, but this was delicious! The filling was perfect -- rich and flavorful. The clams definitely had a presence, but without being overpowering. The flaky and golden crust was a wonderful complement to the creamy filling. Yum! I liked it a lot, but my special gentleman was totally blown away by this recipe. He ate this potpie for every meal (including breakfast!) until it was gone. This was serious stick-to-your-bones comfort food. The recipe could easily be modified to make a chicken potpie if you don't care for clams (and I imagine I will do that at some point!). Definitely a keeper!

The recipe is here.

Only 68 recipes left to go!

I haven't blogged much lately. Partly it is because I have been busy: lots of house guests, lots of work, etc... My To-Do list has reached a length where it is depressing rather than motivating. I've been busy. But more than that, I have just been too crabby to blog. I have been a bucket of bad mood the last couple weeks. I felt justified in my bad mood so instead of trying to snap out of it I embraced it, which is never a great plan. This evening, at the peak of my bad mood, I said to my special gentleman, "My life sucks." His response: "No it doesn't. Your life is awesome." I admit, it wasn't the response I was looking for. But I realized in that moment, he was right. My life is awesome. I have the world's greatest husband, a great job, a house I love in a place I enjoy living, two incredibly sweet kittens, wonderful friends -- really a multitude of blessings. So I decided to just snap out of it. And I did. And while nothing external changed, I feel a million times better. I am lying in bed now, under several layers of down comforter, drinking a glass of Chardonnay and listening to a recording of Amazing Grace. And everything seems great. Sometimes a little change in perspective goes a long way.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hundred-Corner Shrimp Balls (Page 44)

RECIPE #1224

  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B
We had a seafood-intensive day a few weekends ago, so I figured while I was at it I might as well make these shrimp balls. I started by dicing white bread and letting the tiny cubes dry for several hours. Then I pureed some shrimp and stirred in blanched, chopped water chestnuts, egg white, lard, rice wine, minced ginger, minced scallion, salt, and cornstarch. I formed the pureed shrimp mixture into balls and rolled the balls in the bread cubes. I then deep-fried them until they were golden. I was supposed to twice-fry them, but somehow when I read the recipe I missed that. So I only fried them once. They were plenty fried though, so I can't imagine that the second fry would have made much difference. I served them with salt and crushed, toasted Sichuan peppercorns for dipping. These shrimp balls were pretty good. Personally, I am never going to get super excited about pureed shrimp. That's just me. But as far as pureed shrimp recipes go, this may be the best I have had. They came out very pretty, and the fried bread coating was quite tasty. I kept thinking that I would have liked them better with something different in the middle -- for instance: cheese! But as they were, they certainly weren't bad. The shrimp paste had some nice flavors in it and was well-seasoned. Overall these were pretty good.

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one, but the one in The Book has you make your own bread cubes, whereas the one online calls for panko. The ingredient ratios are also slightly different in the two recipes.

Only 69 recipes left to go!

I have fallen desperately behind in my blogging. Things lately have been busy, busy! Our friend Josh, who we lived with in Berkeley last spring, has been staying with us for the last week. He was visiting to give some talks in the math department and to work with my special gentleman. It was really fun to have him visit! Last weekend Josh and my special gentleman went camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes. I had too much to do to go camping, so I stayed in East Lansing and spent the weekend working, working, working! I was happy to see them come back unharmed -- we had a few freak accidents in the past week (one involving Josh flying over the handlebars of a bike, and another involving a shattered bottle of wine and me standing in a pool of my own blood at the grocery store!), so them going camping made me nervous! But they had a safe and uneventful trip.

Last night my special gentleman and I hosted a reception in Josh's honor at our house. About 20 of the people in our topology/geometry group came over and we served drinks and dessert. I went with the low-key approach instead of fancy desserts, in the interest of saving time. I made chocolate chip cookies, molasses cookies, brownies, apple crisp, and baklava. It was nice. I certainly enjoyed sitting in front of the fire with our colleagues, eating a bowl of apple crisp a la mode and drinking a cup of hot apple cider!

This morning Josh headed back to New York City, where he lives. And tonight my special gentleman's parents are arriving! They are visiting for a few days and we have fun things planned. Tomorrow night we are grilling some lobsters and Saturday night we are going to a musical theater version of Evil Dead. Should be interesting! I am looking forward to their visit!

Next week I am giving a midterm, which always makes for a crazy week! Vigleik is also visiting for a couple days to work. And a week from tomorrow I am headed to California for a conference. Between exam writing and grading, talk writing, usual work stuff, etc... I think things won't calm down any time soon! The middle of the semester is always crazy, and this term is no exception!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oyster Po'Boys (Page 187)

RECIPE #1223

  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 1pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman has been requesting these sandwiches for a while, but oysters aren't so easy to come by in East Lansing. A trip to Ann Arbor solved that problem, and I made these sandwiches as part of a Saturday lunch several weeks ago. My special gentleman shucked the oysters. I dipped them in a mixture of milk, egg, and salt, then dredged them in a mixture of cornmeal, salt, and pepper. I deep-fried them until just cooked through. Then I put the oysters on bread, along with shredded iceberg lettuce, and a chipotle mayonnaise that I made by whisking together mayo, minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo, and lemon juice. That was it! I am not a big oyster fan, but even I will admit that these sandwiches were tasty! The cornmeal coating on the oysters gave them a wonderful crunch and they were fried to perfection. It would have been more traditional to have Tabasco rather than chipotle chiles in a Po'Boy, but I liked how the smokiness of the chipotles complemented the oysters. I thought this recipe was quite nice and my special gentleman was more than thrilled with his sandwich!

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Only 70 recipes left to go!

This was the last recipe from the Sandwiches and Pizzas section of The Book! That means it is time to reflect back on that section and name my top five recipes. In no particular order, they are:
  • Muffuletta -- I made this sandwich for my special gentleman and his friend Russ as a midnight snack after they returned home from a trip to Las Vegas. It was so good! Provolone, salami, ham, and olive salad, all on delicious bread. All of the ingredients were tasty but this sandwich was so much better than the sum of its parts!
  • Falafel Pitas -- Way back in 2006 we made the falafel pitas as part of one of our weekly Wednesday dinners. These were so good that we very carefully packaged the leftovers and all met up the next day at lunchtime in the MIT math department to have another round of sandwiches. I have made this recipe several times since then and it never disappoints!
  • Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches with Smoked Almonds -- If you asked me to name the 10 recipes in The Book that I will probably make the most often for the rest of my life, this recipe might well make the list. I made these tea sandwiches for the first time for Emilee's baby shower. I made them again for Melanie's pre-wedding bridal luncheon. I made them yet again for Teresa's baby shower. And I can imagine making them again and again for many celebrations in the years to come. These sandwiches are tastier than I ever imagined chicken salad could be!
  • Grilled Portobello Sandwiches with Sweet Peppers and Onion Relish -- My dominant memory of these sandwiches is my brother-in-law Wes's reaction. He just kept saying over and over, "This is amazing." Indeed, they were good.
  • Eggplant Pizza -- Of all the pizzas in The Book this was by far my favorite. Surprising, really, as I am generally not a huge fan of eggplant. In this case, though, the eggplant really added to the dish and the result was an awesome pizza!
One more section complete! That makes for 9 sections done, and 12 sections left to complete! I'm getting close!!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Bongo-Bongo (Page 104)

RECIPE # 1222

  • Date: Saturday, September 18, 2010 -- 1pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C

I started this project more than four years ago now. Early in the project I would flip through The Book and think, "Oh my gosh, that one sounds amazing! No, that one sounds amazing!" It was an exciting time. But occasionally I would come across a recipe and think instead, "I can't believe I have to actually make and eat that!" Some recipes sounded so foul that they became long-standing jokes (e.g. the fish jello). Those that sounded even worse became threats. To my friends who would complain about dinner: "Be nice, or next time I will make braised octopus." Or, "Watch out, or there will be some beef tongue coming your way." The standing joke/threat between me and my special gentleman became the Bongo-Bongo. What is Bongo-Bongo you might ask. It is pureed oyster and spinach soup. The ingredients: oysters, frozen creamed spinach, half-and-half, butter, garlic, A1 steak sauce, salt, pepper, cayenne, cornstarch, and heavy cream. Yummy! This recipe was tricky because most self-respecting grocery stores don't sell frozen creamed spinach these days. In Berkeley, where oysters were easy to find, frozen creamed spinach was nowhere to be found. And here in East Lansing, where I did find a store that carried frozen creamed spinach, oysters are not so easy to come by. But I picked up the creamed spinach at a somewhat questionable local supermarket, then got the oysters from Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, and I was ready to go!

My special gentleman graciously shucked the oysters. OK, truth be told he wasn't too excited about it -- especially because that day he shucked enough oysters for two recipes and enough clams for another one. But he sucked it up and shucked them, which I appreciated. I cooked the oysters with their liquor for a few minutes. Then I put them in a blender along with the creamed spinach and pureed. I simmered some half-and-half and added the oyster-spinach mixture, butter, garlic, steak sauce, salt, pepper, and cayenne. I stirred in some cornstarch to thicken, then distributed the soup into bowls. I beat heavy cream to soft peaks, then spread the cream over the soup. I put the bowls under the boiler until the cream was lightly browned.

Truth be told this wasn't quite as foul as I expected it to be. Given how low my expectations were, though, that wasn't saying much. If Starbucks created a new beverage called "Oyster-Spinach Latte" this would be it. It had the consistency of a coffee drink, and mostly tasted like cream, with an oyster kick. The layer of broiled whipped cream on top was very thick and a little odd. I wasn't particularly a fan of the soup and neither was my special gentleman. In the end we both pushed our servings of soup aside in favor of the other part of the meal: fried oyster sandwiches. In a way I am sad to check off this recipe. There goes a perfectly good threat: "Be nice or we're having pureed oyster and spinach soup for dinner!" It's OK though, I've got some decent threats left,"Complain about this meal and tomorrow I will prepare the stomach lining of a cow sprinkled with mint!" Yummy!

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Grilled Cornish Hens with Basil Butter (Page 392)

RECIPE #1221

  • Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Vigleik, Shihchi, and Henrik
  • Recipe Rating: B+


Now that we have a grill I can make some of the grilled dishes from The Book that I haven't had a chance to make! I started this recipe by making a compound butter -- I combined butter, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper. I then flattened some Cornish hens (by removing their backbones and sticking the drumsticks through a slit between the thigh and the breast). I spread the compound butter both under and over the skin. I sprinkled the birds with salt and pepper and my special gentleman grilled them to perfection. These were good. I offer as proof the fact that I forgot to take a picture of them before we started chowing down! It didn't occur to me that I had forgotten until the meal was almost over, so the picture above is of a partially eaten hen. Whoops! I got distracted by the food! I typically enjoy poultry on the grill and this recipe was no exception. The skin came out crispy and flavorful, and the basil butter complemented the meat nicely. The dish could have supported even more flavor though. Either more basil in the butter, or a separate sauce to serve the birds with would have been nice. That said, the meat was cooked nicely and the dish was quick and tasty! Yum!

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I dated a number of people in college but there is one guy who I think of as my "college boyfriend." He and I were involved on and off for a year or two (depending on how you count). Much more so than most people, he made me nervous. We came from hugely different backgrounds. I'm from Wisconsin, where I grew up attending public school and going to 4-H meetings. He grew up in a wealthy family in Los Angeles. He went to prestigious private schools his whole life and drove a BMW as a college student. We were from different worlds. And in many ways he was more worldly than me. He had been places I had never been, done things I had never done. He knew things I didn't know. In short, he intimidated me. And although we spent a lot of time together over the course of our relationship and friendship, I was never able to relax around him. I was never able to just be myself. He made me nervous. Looking back, I can see that he never even knew me. What he got was a silly, intimidated, careful version of who I am. It wasn't until years later that I realized the way to be happy in a relationship is to relax and be myself. Anything else is much too exhausting.

This all came flooding back to me last week. I was biking to work one morning and I just felt really odd. It took me a while to put my finger on what the feeling was, but eventually I pinpointed it -- I felt extremely anxious. But why? There was nothing particularly stressful on my agenda that day, nor was anything going particularly wrong. It was then that I realized that I hadn't relaxed into my new life here yet. It's hard being the new person, and it is easy to feel intimidated. I am new at work, new in the neighborhood, new at church... All the newness has made me really careful. It's hard not to worry about the impression that you make when you are new. But it is also tiring to worry all the time. So I decided that morning to relax and not feel intimidated. A couple days into this week I can already say that I feel better -- like a weight has been lifted. Nothing external has changed, only my perspective. But that's all it took. Everything here is great and it was only my anxiety that was keeping me from enjoying it. Sometimes all it takes is a little attitude adjustment!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Vitello Tonnato (Page 451)

RECIPE #1220

  • Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty, Vigleik, Henrik, and Shihchi
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I saw a veal loin roast at a nearby butcher shop and I grabbed it so I could make this recipe! I started by poaching the veal in chicken stock, white wine, carrot, celery, onion, parsley, bay leaf, and salt. Meanwhile I made the sauce for the dish by pureeing together canned tuna in oil, anchovy fillets, mayonnaise, olive oil, capers, and lemon juice. I carved the veal, sauced it, then refrigerated the dish for more than 8 hours to let the flavors mingle. My issue with this dish wasn't that it tasted bad -- the flavor actually wasn't terrible. My issue was that I just couldn't understand why you would do this with a perfectly lovely piece of veal. Serving veal cold (Cold!) with a sauce made of pureed tuna and anchovies just didn't seem like the right thing to do. I can imagine a version of this dish that would have been served warm, and although it might not have been my favorite, at least I would have understood it. As it was, pretty much anything I could have imagined making from that veal roast would have been better than this dish. My special gentleman called this dish a "travesty." I won't be making it again.

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One of the many nice things about owning a house with plenty of room is that lots of people come visit us! Last weekend our friend Grant came from Milwaukee for a night, this weekend my parents are here, on Thursday our friend Josh arrives for a week, the weekend after that my special gentleman's parents will visit, and a couple weeks after that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law Brad and Deniz are coming! My special gentleman and I both love having company, so it is exciting to have so many people coming to visit!

We have had a really fun weekend with my parents. They arrived Friday afternoon and on Friday evening we had a dinner party with food from The Book. There is a recipe for buffalo standing rib roast in The Book, which I decided to make for this occasion. It's a big cut of meat and not so easy to find, but I was able to order it from Wyoming. We made a huge meal -- even with 10 people eating we had plenty of leftovers! It was fun, and my parents got to meet a few of the people we know here in East Lansing. On Saturday we made a nice breakfast and lunch, and I showed my parents my two offices on campus. In the afternoon my special gentleman and my dad went to the MSU/Wisconsin football game. My mom and I went shopping instead! We all met up for some yummy Mexican food and margaritas after the game. Today we had a nice relaxing day: church, followed by a huge brunch in Lansing. In the afternoon my dad watched the Packers on TV while my mom and I did a bit more shopping. This evening we ate popcorn for dinner and watched the documentary "Babies," which was pretty cute.

It was a fun weekend! My parents are heading back to Wisconsin tomorrow morning. But in just a few days Josh will arrive! What fun (and busy!) times!