Thursday, December 29, 2011

Matzo-Stuffed Breast of Veal (Page 452)

RECIPE #1287

  • Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 -- 10pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I would have made this recipe much earlier, but I had a very hard time finding veal breast. Finally I found a website I could order it from. I started the dish by making the stuffing. I cooked onion, carrot, and celery in oil until brown. I then ran some matzos under hot water until they were softened. I combined half of the cooked vegetables with the matzos, some parsley, egg, salt, and pepper. I reserved the rest of the vegetables. The veal breast I ordered already had a pocket cut in it, so luckily I got to bypass that step. I pureed together onion, garlic, vegetable oil, paprika, salt, and pepper, then rubbed the veal with the puree, including inside the pocket. I filled the pocket loosely with the matzo stuffing, then sewed the pocket closed using kitchen string and a huge needle. Sewing has never been my specialty. I certainly got by in Home Economics class and I even sewed some clothing for the county fair way back when I was in 4-H. But I wouldn't say that I am talented with a needle and thread. For me the hardest part of this recipe by far was sewing the veal pocket closed. My hands were slippery with raw veal and stuffing, and it took some strength and grip to get that needle through the veal. It was a challenge. My good friend Helen wrote a New York Times Op-Ed recently about how we should bring back Home Economics in schools. This dish would be an efficient addition to a Home Economics curriculum: cooking and sewing in the same project! Once my veal was successfully sewed shut I put it in a pot with the remaining vegetables, some thyme, and water. I braised the veal until it was tender, then sliced and served it with the sauce it braised in.

This dish was OK. The meat was indeed tender, as a good braised piece of meat should be. The meat didn't seem to pick up much flavor from the braising liquid though, which wasn't too surprising as it was braised just in water with a few veggies in it. My real complaint about the dish, though, was the stuffing. It's true, I am biased: I am not a fan of soggy bread (or in this case, soggy matzo). But even my special gentleman, who is a soggy bread eater, was not wowed by this stuffing. The flavor of it was fine, but the texture just wasn't appealing. The stuffing didn't add anything positive to the dish and I found myself wishing that I had just braised the meat unstuffed. Stuffing the veal breast certainly wasn't worth all the extra work of preparing the stuffing and sewing it in there. All that said, the meat was pretty tasty and tender and we ate it all despite our hesitations about the stuffing.

The recipe is here.

Only 6 recipes left to go!

Happy Holidays! We have had a crazy holiday season, full of food, travel, family, and good friends! My special gentleman and I ate 5 holiday meals this season, which was a lot! It all started last Tuesday:

Christmas Dinner #1 -- December 20th -- East Lansing, MI. It might be a stretch to call this a Christmas dinner, but it definitely felt like a holiday meal and we drank out of our glasses with Christmas trees on them, so I'll call it a Christmas dinner! Our good friends Helen and Charles and their daughter Clara are moving to France for a year. It's exciting for them but sad for us, as we spend a lot of time with them, and in particular, we eat with them often! Helen and I share a deep love of food. She is a history professor and one of her specialties is the history of food and nutrition! Plus, she is an excellent cook. In honor of their upcoming travels, we had them over for dinner for a French feast. I made cassoulet, lentil soup with foie gras custards, carrots Vichy, bread, and salad, and Helen made a French chocolate mousse cake. It was a lovely evening with yummy food and an excellent way to start the holiday season.

Christmas Dinner #2 -- December 23rd -- Fond du Lac, WI. Late last week we headed up to Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas with my parents and my extended family. We had a big Christmas dinner at my aunt and uncle's house. My aunt and uncle made turkey and mashed potatoes, I made roast asparagus, glazed carrots, and salad, and my cousins Anne and Sarah made dessert (Better than Sex cake and Apple Dapple cake). It was a feast! There are about 20 people on my mom's side of the family, and we all had a lovely day playing cards, cooking, drinking, eating, and opening gifts! It was a sad day too, as it was our first Christmas without my grandpa. But it was wonderful to gather together and we talked about him often throughout the day and felt his presence.

Christmas Dinner #3 -- December 24th -- East Lansing, MI. On Christmas Eve we drove from Wisconsin back home to Michigan (about 7 hours). In the evening, Helen, Charles, and Clara came over to celebrate Christmas Eve with us. I had made dinner ahead and put it in the freezer so that all I would have to do when we got home was reheat the food and throw together a salad. We had braised veal shoulder, potato and caramelized onion soup, focaccia, salad, and some Christmas cookies. Then we exchanged a couple gifts and sang Christmas carols. My special gentleman and I bought ourselves a piano for Christmas so my special gentleman and Charles took turns playing Christmas carols on the piano and we all sang along. It was a lovely. Later in the evening my special gentleman and I went to church (with more carols!). It was a great Christmas Eve.

Christmas Dinner #4 -- December 25th -- Westerville, OH. On Christmas morning we drove from Michigan down to my special gentleman's parents' house in Ohio. The drive isn't too long -- only about 4 hours -- but we had the kitties with us, and they do not like the car! Indiana has a good attitude about bad situations. He just laid in his carrier and looked pissed. But poor Michigan howled the entire time. Eventually we made it though, in time for Christmas dinner with my father-in-law's extended family. Twenty or so people descended upon my in-laws' house for a big holiday meal! I ate a lot of beef brisket and Uncle Phil's famous no-bake cookies. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Dinner #5 -- December 26th -- Gahanna, OH. The next day we celebrated Christmas with my mother-in-law's family. We all descended upon her brother and his wife's place and had a big meal with twnety or so members of the family, including ham and all the fixings. Yum!

We have been in Ohio since Christmas Day. It has been fun spending the holiday with my special gentleman's family. The are 7 adults, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and a baby all staying at my in-laws' house. It's a little chaotic! Our cats seem both overwhelmed and intrigued by all the activity in the house. It has been a fun trip though. My brother-in-law Wes lives in Cambodia so we don't see him too often, but he is here for the holidays. And the newest addition to our family, our niece Hannah, is always entertaining!

We still have one more holiday meal ahead of us. I am cooking for New Year's Eve! I am taking the opportunity to make one of the few recipes I have left from The Book -- a fresh ham. Exciting!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shrimp, Crab, and Oyster Gumbo (Page 120)

RECIPE #1286

  • Date: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 -- 7pm
  • Location: Charlottesville, VA
  • Kitchen: Mike and Tim's House
  • Fellow Chefs: Mike and Matty
  • Dining Companion: Tim
  • Recipe Rating: C-

My special gentleman and I visited our friends Mike and Tim in November. Mike has been a part of this project since the very beginning, cooking and eating lots of recipes with me. Now that I am near the end, he wanted to cook something together again. It was fun to cook at Mike and Tim's house in Charlottesville. They just got married this summer so they had a bunch of never-been-used cookware that they got as wedding gifts. They took it out of the boxes, and we got cooking! To start, we peeled and deveined a bunch of shrimp. I cooked the shrimp shells with crab legs, onion, carrot, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaf, salt, and water. I removed the crab legs when they were cooked and continued to simmer the stock. I then strained the stock. Meanwhile, my special gentleman removed the crab meat from the crab legs. Mike, my special gentleman, and I then made the roux. We cooked a mixture of oil and flour for 45 minutes, stirring constantly (that's when it is useful to have a lot of people in the kitchen -- it's no fun to stir constantly for 45 minutes!), until a dark brown roux was formed. We added onions, bell pepper, and celery and cooked it for another 20 minutes. I then combined the roux with the stock and simmered. I added the shrimp, then the crabmeat from the legs, then some lump crabmeat, then oysters. I stirred in scallions, cayenne, and salt, and served the gumbo over white rice.

This recipe was very disappointing. There were lots of things wrong with it. For one thing, the roux barely thickened the stock, so the soup was runny with no body. The seafood flavor was intense, but the dish had no depth of flavor to it. It was somehow simultaneously pungent and bland, as the flavor of the dish was strong but incredibly one-note (and that note was: shellfish!). Tim and my special gentleman dutifully ate it (although neither enjoyed it), and Mike and I both gave up on it after a few bites. It was sad to see so much effort and nice seafood go into a dish that was so lackluster. Mike seemed particularly offended by this gumbo, as he is from Louisiana originally, and has consequently eaten a lot of gumbo in his life! The dish certainly disappointed, but we still had a fun evening, cooking and eating together!

The recipe is here.

Only 7 recipes left to go!

With my surgery and the end of the semester, the last couple weeks have been hectic, to say the least. But things are calmer now, so I have time for some blogging (and even some cooking!). The surgery went very smoothly. As I mentioned, I was quite nervous about it. Here is a picture of me in the hospital, a few hours before my surgery, clearly terrified:

I got up to pee one last time before they hooked me up to the IV and whatnot, and my special gentleman took a picture:

Those fancy legwarmers I am wearing are actually some device designed to prevent blood clots during surgery. They hooked up to a machine, and massaged my legs to get the blood moving. It was an odd sensation!

Shortly after this picture was taken then put my IV in and got me ready for surgery. I don't remember anything after I was wheeled into the operating room. Presumably they told me they were about to knock me out, but I have no memory of it. When I woke up in the post-anesthesia care unit apparently I said over and over again, "I don't remember anything." It's true -- I don't. The surgery went well though. The surgeon removed about 90% of the wall they were trying to get out. The last 10% was blocked by some blood vessels that he didn't want to cut through, for fear that it would cause excessive bleeding. So he left it, but it shouldn't be a problem. Here I am a while after the surgery:

My face says it all. I wasn't feeling too great! The pain was bad that first day, but rapidly got much more bearable. My recovery at home was very peaceful. Some friends made me chicken soup and goat cheese biscuits (thanks Helen!) and brownies (thanks Kendra!) and my special gentleman made me many batches of Jello and rice with cheese. I laid in bed and watched terrible movies and even worse reality TV shows. My kitties took their jobs as nurses very seriously. They kept close tabs on me during my recovery. Here they are, both lying on my legs in bed:

I spent several days in bed, and my littlest kitty, Michigan, spent most of that time in bed with me. He knew I couldn't move very well, so he would climb on top of me and settle in for a nice nap. He loved it:

A week after my surgery they removed a balloon which they had put in during the surgery. Since then, I have been feeling good! I gave my final exam the day after the balloon came out so last week was crazy with office hours, meetings, exam writing, proctoring, grading, assigning course grades, etc... It was a little rough because I still wasn't feeling great but now I am officially DONE with the semester! I submitted my grades late Sunday night. My students did really well, which was satisfying. They were a great group, and I am going to miss teaching them. But I am still happy the semester is over and I have a few weeks before I start teaching again. I am also very thankful to be feeling good again. I no longer have any pain, and the nausea from the medication they have me on is now minimal. I am up and around and the last few days I have even been doing some exercise!

And somehow, it is the nearly the end of December and Christmas is only a few days away. A few weeks ago I announced to my special gentleman, "I am going to do a shit job with Christmas this year." He said in response, "You don't need to do anything for Christmas this year if you don't feel up for it." It was exactly what I needed to hear. I gave myself a pass. I didn't do my usual Christmas baking (No biscotti this year! Only one batch of cranberry bars!), I barely Christmas shopped -- buying only a few things for a few people. I didn't really decorate the house. I didn't have the time or energy to invest in the season like I usually do. But I am definitely feeling the holiday spirit. I am loving this Christmas season, even if it has been unusual this year, and I am excited to spend the holidays with family and close friends! Happy holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Veal Stew with Lemon and Creme Fraiche (Page 460)

RECIPE #1285

  • Date: Friday, November 4, 2011 -- 5:30pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Baldwin, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B

I have wanted to make this recipe for a long time, but I had a lot of trouble finding the veal breast and veal shoulder it required. None of the butchers in town could get them for me, and even my usual internet meat seller didn't have them. Eventually I found an internet source for the meat I needed for this and the one other veal recipe I have left (which also requires veal breast). It was an expensive purchase, but the meat arrived via overnight shipping, and I was glad to have it! I made this dish when our friend John was visiting. John, like my special gentleman, is fun to cook for because he loves to eat (and he eats a lot!) and he appreciates food. Charles and Clara joined us for a small feast which included this stew, some goat cheese biscuits, broccoli with caper brown butter, puff pastry cheese twists, and a caramelized pear tart.

To make this stew I started by cutting the veal breast off the bone and cutting the meat into pieces. I also cut the veal shoulder into pieces and stewed the meat with the bones, onions, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns in water. When the meat was tender I removed it and strained the broth. I cooked carrots and leeks in the strained broth, then removed the vegetables and reduced the broth. Meanwhile, I cooked some mushrooms in butter. I made a roux of flour and butter and whisked in the reduced broth, then simmered it. I carefully added a mixture of egg yolks and creme fraiche to the sauce, as well as lemon juice, and I cooked the sauce to 160 degrees. I seasoned the veal, the vegetables, and the sauce, then combined them to form the stew. This stew was pretty tasty. The vegetables and veal were nicely cooked but I didn't love the sauce. It had a nice consistency, but I didn't think the lemon flavor complemented the veal as well as a meatier, or wine based sauce would have. My personal preference would have been for the stew to have a higher ratio of vegetables to meat. As it was, it was very meat-heavy. All that said, it tasted good and certainly everyone seemed to enjoy it.

The recipe is here.

Only 8 recipes left to go!

I hate to fly. It's not the cramped seats, bad food, or near-certainty of delays that makes me dread it. I can easily cope with a lack of comfort. But I am terrified of plane crashes. I fly anyway, of course, but I genuinely hate it. And every time I get on an airplane, I wonder if I will make it alive to my destination. I prefer to have my feet on the ground, in an environment where I feel safe. I realize that the chances of the plane crashing are incredibly small. As a mathematician, I truly do appreciate how small the numbers are. But it doesn't really make me feel better. I am still terrified. It's not just flying. I dislike any situation where I feel a real chance of death, even when the actual likelihood of death is incredibly small. And I especially dislike situations where I have no control, like on an airplane. It's not logical, and it's not something that I appreciate about myself. Indeed, if I had the power to change any one thing about myself, I think that is what I would change: I would be less afraid.

I am having surgery tomorrow. As surgeries go, it isn't a particularly dangerous one. There is a wall in one of my organs that shouldn't be there, as well as a mass in there. The wall, in particular, is causing some problems. So they are going to remove the mass and cut out the wall. The risks are minimal, and the surgery will completely correct the problem. I think that if I could be awake for it, I would hardly be worried at all. But local anesthesia is apparently not an option. So I will be under general anesthesia. And although I fully understand that people are put under for surgery all the time, it still has me freaked out. I haven't been able to sleep the last couple nights, which for me is incredibly unusual. Sleeping is the one thing I do extremely well. But I have laid awake for hours. I keep picturing myself laying on a table, unconscious, with a breathing tube down my throat, and the surgeon lasering things inside my body. I had my pre-op appointment a few days ago. The surgeon went over the risks with me (pain, infection, accidental puncture of the organ, etc...). And as he talked about the increasingly unpleasant (and increasingly unlikely) things that could happen, I kept thinking to myself that the only side effect that I am actually worried about is death. Which wasn't even on his list since it is so tremendously unlikely. But just like sitting on an airplane, tomorrow I will have no control over what is happening. Indeed, I will be unconscious on a ventilator. And that has me very nervous.

I am trying to remind myself, as I do when I fly, that this is not a big deal. People have surgery every day. Indeed, people have much more dangerous surgeries all the time. My fear is not rational. I just need to relax, and it will be over soon. Twenty-four hours from now I will be recovering: watching movies, napping, and reading magazines. After a very busy semester, spending some time in bed recovering from surgery sounds delightful!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Poached Salmon with Truffles and Shrimp in Cream Sauce (Page 290)

RECIPE #1284

  • Date: Saturday, October 15, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I have been having trouble finding black winter truffles, and so I put off making this recipe for quite a while. The recipe indicates that fresh, jarred, or canned black winter truffles can be used, so against my better judgment I finally just ordered some jarred truffles online. I started preparing this dish by deveining shrimp, then cooking the shrimp (in their shells) in butter. I then shelled the shrimp. I put the shells and butter in a food processor, along with Cognac and water, and pureed until smooth. I then strained the mixture through a sieve. I sliced salmon fillets and curled them into circles, tying them with string to hold their shape. I cut slits in the salmon and put a strip of truffle in each slit. I seasoned the salmon and poached it in water and white wine. Meanwhile I started the sauce. I simmered white wine and shallots, then added cream and simmered longer. I strained the sauce through a sieve, then added minced truffles and the truffle juice from the jar and simmered. I whisked in some arrowroot and Cognac, then seasoned with salt and pepper. I added the shrimp to the sauce, as well as the shrimp butter (made from the shrimp shells). I seasoned the sauce then served it with the salmon.

This dish was OK. The sauce was very rich and flavorful. While the shrimp shells definitely added flavor to the sauce, the shrimp themselves didn't add much to the dish. Indeed I would have preferred the dish without them. The biggest disappointment, though, was with the truffles. The recipe indicated that jarred truffles were acceptable, and I purchased exactly what the recipe called for. However, the truffles weren't very flavorful and didn't contribute much to the dish. Incorporating fresh porcini mushrooms would have contributed a lot more flavor. I am sure that fresh truffles would have added tremendously to the dish, but my experience with jarred truffles wasn't positive. Overall the sauce was tasty and the dish as a whole was fine, but neither of us thought it was anything spectacular.

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

Only 9 recipes left to go!

This was the last recipe I had left to make in the Fish and Shellfish section of The Book! Good seafood is one of the harder things to find in small towns in the Midwest (like those that I have lived in for the last four and a half years!), so there were many times when I thought I would never make it all the way through this section. But I did! I took every opportunity I could to buy and prepare seafood when we traveled to the coasts, and when we lived in Berkeley, California for four months in 2010 I instituted the All-Seafood-All-The-Time plan, which meant we basically ate nothing that didn't come from the sea! It all paid off because I made it through the 95 fish and shellfish recipes in this section. I didn't love them all, but there were definitely some wonderful stand-outs. In no particular order, my five favorite recipes from this section were:
  • Oven-Poached Halibut in Olive Oil -- I used to say, "I don't like seafood," but this recipe made me stop saying it. This halibut was amazing! It's true, seafood in general isn't my favorite, but there are few things in life I would rather eat than this dish. It was so good, in fact, that it motivated me to choose halibut as one of the two entree options at our wedding dinner. This recipe was easy, and extremely delicious!
  • Louisiana Crawfish Boil -- This recipe stands out in my mind both for being delicious and for being a wonderfully fun experience to make and serve. We ordered 20 pounds of live crawfish, boiled them up, and dumped them onto the porch table (along with potatoes, corn, etc...). We sat around the table with a dozen or so good friends and ate crawfish until the sun went down. The crawfish were tasty and the evening was absolutely lovely. My special gentleman has been asking ever since when our next crawfish boil will be!
  • Clam, Potato, and Bacon Potpie -- I am a sucker for any recipe with the word "potpie" in it! I do love pastry... Nonetheless I wasn't looking forward to this one, as I dread any recipe with the word "clam" in it. I have to admit, though, this was a tasty dish. The clams weren't overpowering. The filling was rich and flavorful and the pastry was perfect. My special gentleman ate this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until it was gone. Yum!
  • Coulibiac -- This salmon wrapped in pastry was so very, very delicious. It will forever stand out in my mind as the ultimate comfort food. On a difficult day this fall my special gentleman pulled the leftovers of this dish out of the freezer and it was exactly what I needed. Warm, delicious, and supremely comforting! It was a time-consuming recipe to make, but worth it!
  • Bluefish with Lemon Caper-Brown Butter Sauce -- I made this recipe way back in 2006 with the Wednesday dinner crew. I was in graduate school at the time and a group of us would get together on Wednesday nights and make a big meal from The Book. Bluefish isn't a particularly well-reputed type of seafood, but in this recipe it really shone. The brown butter sauce with capers was delicious and the fish was perfectly cooked. Yum!
I must admit, I grew frustrated at times with the seemingly endless seafood recipes -- there are really many more than just the 95 in this section as there are seafood recipes in the Soups section, the Salads section, the Hors D'Oeuvres and First Courses section, etc... But now that I am done with them all, I value the experience of having made them. I can now throw a live lobster into a pot of boiling water without flinching. I can shuck a clam no problem. And most importantly, I think I can now appreciate seafood more than I ever did before.

I have now finished 16 sections of The Book, with only 5 sections left to finish off! Crazy!!

It has been a sad time for our family these past few days. My grandfather died late last week. It's impossible to put into words what an amazing man he was. He was so much to so many people: a father, a teacher, a coach, a mentor... a grandpa. He accepted people for who they were, without judgment. He was truly an amazing grandparent and I am shocked and deeply, deeply saddened by his death. We went to Wisconsin over the weekend for his funeral, yet it still doesn't seem real to me. It makes me sad to post this blog update as he was a faithful follower of my blog, but he won't be sitting at his computer reading this tomorrow. He won't be at Christmas this year. He won't be at the Sheepshead table with family ever again. And I am overwhelmed by a sense of loss and a feeling that everything is going to be different. It is a sad time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Coulibiac (Page 308)

RECIPE #1283

  • Date: Saturday, September 24, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: A

The Book describes this recipe as perfect for "weekend hobbyists." The description scared me off a bit. Indeed, the recipe is a bit time consuming (the 3 and a half hour active time is no joke) but worth it! That golden brown pastry shell that you see above was filled with salmon and a delicious mixture of rice and mushrooms. It was a beautiful, delicious dish! But I am getting ahead of myself. I started preparing this dish by poaching salmon steaks in a mixture of water, white wine, and salt. I refrigerated the poached salmon and reserved the poaching liquid. I then made the dough. I proofed the yeast then added melted butter, warm milk, eggs, sour cream, flour, and salt. I kneaded the dough then let it rise until it doubled in size. I then cooked rice in the reserved fish poaching liquid. I cooked onions in vegetable oil and butter, then cooked finely chopped mushrooms in a similar manner. I mixed the mushrooms, onions, and rice along with dill, parsley, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I then divided the dough into two pieces and rolled out one of them. I sprinkled it with bread crumbs, then spread it with rice mixture and topped the rice with the salmon. I topped the salmon with chopped hard-boiled eggs, and topped the eggs with more of the rice mixture. I then rolled out the second piece of dough and draped it over the filling. I pressed the edges to seal, cut some steam vents, and decorated with some cut-outs. I brushed the whole thing with egg wash, and baked it until it was golden brown. I then served slices of the dish drizzled with melted butter.

This dish was fantastic! The bread exterior was flavorful and texturally perfect. The salmon was also nice. What made the dish for me though was the rice mixture, which simply tasted great. It was perfectly seasoned, and the ingredients came together in a wonderful way. The dill was pronounced without being too strong. The rice itself was flavorful from being cooked in the poaching liquid. It was a wonderful complement to the fish and hard-boiled eggs. This dish claimed to serve 6, but it would easily serve 8. We froze the leftovers, and when we ate the last slice I was terribly sad to see it go. This wasn't a quick and simple dish but the effort was worth it. Yum!

This recipe isn't online.

Only 10 recipes left to go!

And suddenly, it is the middle of November. The semester is winding down (Only three and a half weeks of classes left!), the winter weather is slowly settling in, and I am left wondering, as always, where the time went! The last couple weeks, in particular, have flown by. Two weeks ago our friend John was visiting. He's a mathematician in my special gentleman's field, and he came here to give a couple talks. He stayed with us for most of a week and it was great fun. I like having mathematical visitors stay with us, but occasionally people come who are bad guests: high-maintenance, or unpleasant. John, on the other hand, is the best kind of guest: fun, easy-going, appreciative, self-sufficient, and willing to go with the flow. The three of us had a fun week: scary movies, hard work-outs, a basketball game, a dinner from The Book, etc...

This past week my special gentleman and I headed down to Virginia. We were each invited to give talks at the University of Virginia (in two different seminars) so we opted to go the same week and travel together. Our friends Mike and Tim live there, so we stayed with them, gave our talks, and worked with people in the department. I also had the opportunity to do a little cooking! Mike has participated in this project since the very beginning. The first recipe from The Book that I cooked with Mike was back in February 2006. We made Tomato Sauce. It wasn't very good, but we had a fun time making it. It was only the 39th recipe I made. Since then, the Project Index tells me that Mike has cooked and/or eaten 113 recipes from The Book with me! He has been a great supporter of this project all along, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to cook and eat one of the last ten recipes from the project with him. As it turned out, the recipe wasn't so good. But that seemed only fitting. Mike is the only one of my friends who often says things like, "Let's cook something from The Book! Pick something that sounds gross!" It's true, he likes the culinary adventure of trying the questionable recipes. Some of them have turned out wonderfully and some of them have not (Fig Pudding comes to mind). We always have fun though! In this case, it was especially wonderful to be able to make the last seafood recipe while in a town where a variety of seafood is abundantly available (unlike here in East Lansing!). One trip to the Whole Foods a few miles from Mike's house and I found everything I needed! So my trip to Virginia was not only research productive but also productive for my project. Multi-tasking!

Now my special gentleman and I are back at home. No visitors this week. My special gentleman and I are each making short (separate) trips to Canada in the next week or so to give talks, but other than that we are in town until Thanksgiving! I'm not sure I am quite ready for the craziness of the holiday season yet, but I am starting to feel more prepared. One of my absolute favorite times of the year is the few days between when finals end and when we head to Wisconsin/Ohio for the holidays. I love going to see our families, of course, but in those few days we spend at home before we leave I work by the fireplace, bake cookies, write Christmas cards, drink hot chocolate. It is an absolutely lovely way to start the winter break. I look forward to that time every year. It's hard to believe it is only about a month away!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Scallop Mousse with Ginger-Infused Veloute (Page 74)

RECIPE #1282

  • Date: Saturday, September 24, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Helen
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B

I had a free Saturday in September and I decided to do some serious cooking. I picked two time-consuming recipes from The Book (this one and another) and invited Helen, Charles, and Clara over to share in the fruits of my labor. I started this recipe by cooking leeks, shallots, fennel bulb, carrot, celery, star anise, and ginger in butter. I added some white wine and reduced, then added fish stock and reduced again. I added heavy cream, salt, pepper, chives, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon, and let the herbs steep. I strained the sauce, then added ginger matchsticks and reduced it again. I seasoned the sauce with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. While all that was going on, I also made the scallop mousse. I pureed scallops, egg white, salt, and white pepper in the food processor, then added cream and processed it some more. I divided the mixture amongst ramekins, which had been buttered and lined with waxed paper. I put the ramekins in a baking pan with boiling water coming halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I baked them until a toothpick came out clean. I inverted each mousse onto paper towels, then a plate. Helen helped me sauce them, and sprinkle them with herbs before serving.

I put off making this recipe for a long time because pureed seafood products really don't appeal to me. So the word "scallop" next to the word "mousse" set off red flags for me. However, this dish wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The sauce had an excellent flavor. There was a lot of depth to it, which wasn't terribly surprising given all the additions and reductions that went into it. The flavor of the mousse was ok too -- a little bit too much like scallop-flavored whipped cream for my taste, but it wasn't bad. No one had any major complaints about this dish. My special gentleman said he would have rather just eaten a seared scallop with the yummy sauce rather than the scallop mousse, but there was not consensus at the table on that point. Although the dish exceeded expectations, I won't be making it again. No one was terribly wowed by it.

This recipe isn't online.

Only 11 recipes left to go!

This was the last recipe in the Hors D'oeuvres and First Courses section of The Book! This is one of the longest sections of The Book, with 110 recipes in it. There were definitely times when I felt like I would never make it through this section. But here I am! The section is complete. Below, in no particular order, are my favorite five recipes from this part of The Book:
  • Sweet Potato Chips with Lime Salt -- It's hard to go wrong with deep-fried potato products, but these chips were exceptionally delicious even within that genre. The lime salt was a wonderful complement to these ultra-thin chips. So very, very delicious!
  • Parmesan Walnut Salad in Endive Leaves -- Despite what my dear friend Mike says, I am happy to admit when my grading of a recipe was wrong. In this case, I clearly made a mistake by giving this recipe an A- when it truly deserved an A. This is a beautiful, delicious hors d'oeurve which I come back to again and again. I have made this dish for several baby showers, bridal luncheons, Easter dinners, department parties, etc. I passed this recipe on to my mother-in-law, and now she makes it for special events too. It is super simple to throw together and super delicious. Definitely worthy of an A!
  • Arepas with Yucatecan Pulled Pork and Pickled Onions - These little cheesy corn cakes topped with pulled pork and pickled onions were out of this world! I made these and another appetizer when we had our crawfish boil last year and these just flew off the plate. Absolutely delicious!
  • Coconut Shrimp with Tamarind Ginger Sauce -- Seafood is not my favorite, and shrimp is certainly not something I usually crave. But these coconut shrimp were amazing! The breading was awesome, they were perfectly fried, and the dipping sauce complemented them wonderfully. Easily the best coconut shrimp I have ever eaten. I made these for New Year's Eve at my in-laws house, and everyone loved them!
  • Candied Walnuts -- I made these walnuts for a Tuesday dinner back in graduate school. They were fantastic! I love the sweetness and crunch of good candied nuts. The combination of powdered sugar, cayenne, and salt really worked well with the walnuts. And deep-frying made them extra crispy. Yum!
There have been sections of The Book where it has been difficult to identify five truly outstanding recipes. In this section, however, I had the opposite problem. There are so many delicious recipes in this section that several things I make frequently (like Pita Toasts and Cheese Straws) didn't even make my top five list! It was tremendous fun to make the wide variety of hors d'oeuvres and first courses in this section. And although some didn't turn out so well (the Scallion, Mushroom, and Shrimp Custards come to mind), for the most part they were very tasty!

And now I am one step closer to finishing the project! I have now completed 15 sections of The Book, with only 6 left to finish! And truth be told, I am a little behind in my blogging but I have already finished another section. So really I only have 5 sections left to go! I can hardly believe it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lobster Newburg (Page 340)

RECIPE #1281

  • Date: Monday, September 5, 2011 -- 12pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Helen
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I put off making this recipe for a long time because it just didn't sound good to me. Lobster is already so rich that lobster plus heavy cream plus butter plus egg yolks just sounded excessive. But we figured that we would be decadent on Labor Day and eat super-rich lobster for lunch. As it turned out, I was wrong about this recipe. This was by FAR the best lobster recipe in The Book. And although I am not, in general, a huge lobster fan, even I agreed that it was tasty. I started by boiling some live lobsters. Then my special gentleman split them and removed the meat. I simmered some cream, then cooked sliced mushrooms in butter. I added the lobster meat, paprika, salt, pepper, sherry, and hot cream to the mushrooms. I then slowly cooked a mixture of egg yolks, more sherry, and more hot cream to 160 degrees. I added the custard sauce to the lobster mixture and spooned it into the cleaned lobster shells. I broiled the the dish until golden. In a word: Yum! Yes, it was rich, but it didn't feel as excessive as I had imagined it would. The mushrooms were excellent with the lobster, and the cream sauce had a lovely consistency and flavor. The sherry and paprika complemented one another nicely. My special gentleman always applies the Better-Than-Butter test to lobster recipes and generally they fail. Most preparations he finds to be inferior to just serving the lobster with melted butter. In the case of this recipe though, it passed his test with flying colors. He admitted that yes, this dish was Better-Than-Butter!

This recipe isn't online.

Only 12 recipes left to go!

Happy Halloween! Life has been so crazy lately that this holiday seriously snuck up on me. I did manage to get my shit together enough to buy candy, but that was about the extent of my Halloween effort this year. It's a shame because I love pumpkin carving and toasting pumpkin seeds, but alas, I didn't get around to it.

The busyness of late has mostly been fun stuff though. My mom was visiting last week, which was great. Then yesterday my special gentleman and I hosted what the university calls a Fireside Chat. It's a program where faculty host some college freshman from the honors college at their home for dinner. We hadn't hosted one before, and we weren't exactly sure how it would go, but it was fun. We had eight undergraduates for dinner, one of whom is in my Calc 3 class, but the other 7 I had never met before. My special gentleman and I made beef braised in red wine, mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized onions, green beans with almonds, goat cheese biscuits, salad, puff pastry cheese straws, and flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. The students seemed appreciative to have some home cooked food and an evening away from campus.

It was interesting to listen to them talk about college life. I talk to undergraduates all the time of course, but I don't often get to listen to them talk to one another for several hours. After they left my special gentleman turned to me and said, "That made me feel old." I understood the sentiment. They used a lot of vocabulary I had never heard before (blinky cup?). And at one point a student said in disbelief, "Who does homework on the weekend?" I thought to myself, "Your professors," as it is rare that a weekend day goes by when I don't work. But that was true in college too. I did tons of work on the weekends. Everyone did. Apparently that is not the case any more (at least not here anyway).

College seems different now than it used to be. As an undergrad, I rarely knew anything about the professor before the first day of class, unless I happened to have had a course with him or her before. Now students are extremely well-informed. They have easy access to not only student reviews of faculty members, but often also to past exams and grade distributions from previous semesters. Some consequently have very strong opinions about which professors they want for which courses, and who they are certain to avoid. In general access to information is a good thing, but it's amazing the sort of personal attacks students will make against professors on the internet. I have been fortunate enough to never have read anything particularly offensive about myself, but I have friends who have been really affected by nasty student comments. And once those comments are out there on the internet, they are there for anyone to read.

It seems more and more that university education is viewed as a service industry. Students pay a lot of money and they expect excellent teaching, which seems reasonable enough. Some also expect high grades in exchange for their tuition. That seems less reasonable. It's very different than the way I thought of college when I was in school.

All that said, the students we had over for dinner last night were lovely, and certainly none of them were trash talking their professors (at least in front of us!). Spending time with them just got me thinking about how the culture of college has changed in the 10 years or so since I graduated. I guess I am getting old!

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Boiled Lobster with Tarragon Vermouth Sauce (Page 337)

RECIPE #1280

  • Date: Friday, August 26, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave and Karen H.
  • Recipe Rating: B
My in-laws came to visit in August, and since they enjoy lobster I took the opportunity to make this recipe! This lobster preparation was pretty simple. I boiled some live lobsters in salted water. Meanwhile, I made the sauce. I whisked together vermouth, tarragon white wine vinegar, and egg yolks. Then I set the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and cooked the sauce, whisking. I added melted butter, salt, and pepper, and my special gentleman continued to cook and whisk the mixture until it reached 160 degrees. I stirred lemon juice and chopped fresh tarragon into the sauce. My special gentleman then halved the lobsters. We drizzled some sauce over the lobster halves and served the rest of the sauce on the side. This dish was pretty tasty. The sauce had a good flavor. The tarragon came through clearly and the vermouth added a nice note to it. My special gentleman always says that the problem with lobster dishes is that it is hard to create anything that is better than butter. Indeed, this dish failed his Better-Than-Butter test. It was good, but the lobster would have been even better just served with some melted butter. So would I make this again? Well, no. But I also don't really have any complaints about it. It tasted fine. It just wasn't better than butter.

The recipe is here.

Only 13 recipes left to go!

I haven't written in ages. This semester is absolutely flying by. I can hardly believe that this coming week is week 8 of classes. I am only teaching one course this term: Calculus 3. I like teaching. Occasionally I have had classes that were unpleasant, but for the most part teaching is very enjoyable. This semester, though, my students are an absolute delight. There are 41 of them, and I can honestly say that not one of them has been difficult to deal with, or unpleasant, or unreasonable. On the contrary, they are friendly, hard-working, and respectful. Hands down the best classroom of students I have ever had. Seven of them are also doing an honors option for the course, which means that in addition to the usual coursework, they also do projects outside of class on mathematical topics that may or may not be related to calculus. This semester I have students doing projects on Knot Theory, Game Theory, The Life and Work of Euler, Financial Mathematics, The Calculus of Tumors, and Proofs from Calculus. So I see those seven students frequently in my office, and we talk about a wide variety of mathematical topics. It's fun. There is also a group of 3 students who do their homework in my office during my office hours every week, so I have gotten to know them pretty well too. A lot of other students come by for occasional help as well, so I know quite a few of the students outside of class.

I really just enjoy this classroom of students. I am sure they have no sense of what it is like to be a professor, and what a big difference the attitude of the class can make in the professor's enjoyment of their job. So they likely have no idea how delightful they are. Yet I often feel like they are giving me a gift by being so diligent and easy to teach. I am very thankful for this class.

I have had a few health issues this term, and I need to have minor surgery in a couple months. None of it is dangerous or related to my brain tumor, and I feeling fine now, but for a while I was going in for a lot of early morning doctor's appointments and lab tests. And under those circumstances, I would have imagined that teaching my 9am class would have been stressful and unpleasant. But it has been quite the contrary. My interactions with my students have cheered me up on some personally challenging days. That is the sign of an excellent classroom of undergraduates.

Other aspects of this semester have been good too. I have been traveling to give talks, and will continue to do so in the upcoming months. Research is going smoothly. And now that I am feeling better my special gentleman and I recently started a serious exercise regime to kick our butts back into shape (Well, my butt really. He's always in shape.). We are doing intense 60-90 minute work-outs 6-7 days a week. It's insane. We are usually pretty busy, so on several occasions already this has resulted in us working out at midnight, drenched in sweat. It has been great though. I am feeling stronger and healthier than I have in a long time.

Fall is here in full force now and it is hard not to think that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. And before I know what happened, I will be back from Christmas break and it will be a new semester, with different classes and new students. I wish that this term would slow down a bit though. It's a nice semester.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Salmon with Horseradish Crust, Cucumbers, and Salmon Caviar (Page 307)

RECIPE #1279

  • Date: Thursday, August 25, 2011 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Karen H, and Dave
  • Recipe Rating: B+

My in-laws came to visit last month, and I took the opportunity to make a couple recipes from The Book. This was one of them! I started by making a horseradish paste. I pureed horseradish and smoked salmon in the food processor. I added butter, mustard, cayenne, and fresh bread crumbs and blended. I seasoned the mixture with sea salt, then refrigerated it for a couple hours to allow the flavors to develop. Meanwhile, I peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced some seedless cucumbers (why they are called seedless when they still have seeds is beyond me!). I tossed the cucumbers with sea salt and drained them in a sieve for a couple hours. I seasoned pieces of salmon fillet with sea salt and pepper, then seared them on one side. I transferred them, seared side down, to a baking pan, then spread the horseradish mixture over each fillet. I sprinkled toasted bread crumbs on top. I then broiled the salmon until just cooked through. I warmed the cucumbers in creme fraiche. I served the salmon on top of the cucumber mixture. To garnish I sprinkled the dish with parsley, dill, chives, and celery leaves and placed some salmon caviar around the plate. This dish was quite good. The salmon was nicely cooked, and the horseradish spread had a lot of flavor to it. It had the bite of the horseradish of course, but also a nice kick from the cayenne. And the smoked salmon that was pureed into it gave it a subtle smokiness that went well with the dish. I had two minor complaints about this dish. One was textural. I didn't care so much for the pasty texture of the horseradish topping. Also, the breadcrumbs on top didn't get as crispy and delicious as one might have hoped. The ratio of horseradish paste to crispy breadcrumbs was too high. My other complaint was that I didn't love the cucumbers. Heating a mixture of cucumbers and creme fraiche sounded like a bad idea to me. While it turned out to be more appealing than I had imagined, I still think the dish would have been better without warm, creamy cucumbers. All that said, the salmon was very tasty, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

This recipe isn't online.

Only 14 recipes left to go!

The last few weeks have been a blur. The semester is in full swing, which means life is hectic (in a good way!). Two weekends ago I flew out to Rhode Island for a couple days to give a talk at a conference at Brown University. It was a large conference (300+ registered participants) with 18 different special sessions, including one in Homotopy Theory (my field!). The unusual thing about this conference was that all of the many speakers were women! It was a celebration of women in math, marking the 40th anniversary of the Association for Women in Mathematics. There were a few men in the audience, but the vast majority of participants were women. It was an amazing sight. I had an absolutely wonderful time hanging out with the women in my field and also seeing women I know from graduate school, etc that are in other fields. There were 8 women speaking in the special session that I was a part of: 4 who are tenure-track Assistant Professors, and 4 post-docs. I really like all of them and it was wonderful to talk to the other tenure-track women about their experiences, and to pass on whatever wisdom we had gathered to the post-docs! We gave talks. We drank beer. We talked about math, and work, and other things. It was the most fun I have had at a conference in a long time. It was also the first time I have ever waited in line to use the ladies restroom at a math conference!

I heard a lot of beautiful talks over those two days, both in special sessions and plenary talks. But as I was listening to them, I noticed a disturbing pattern. A huge percentage of the speakers made a number of apologies or other self-deprecating comments throughout their talks. These negative comments (about their work, or their talk...) seemed crazy to me, as the people making the comments were accomplished women giving beautiful expositions of their work. For instance, one woman, in explaining her important research, said several times, "Sorry, these results might not be very interesting to anyone except me." It got me wondering, why do women tend to apologize for themselves? Someone advised me early on that I should never apologize. (Note: This was a piece of professional advice. It does not apply so well to say, one's marriage!) I wish I remember who said that to me, because it is a piece of advice that I carry with me every time I give a talk, or teach a class. I try not to ever say anything self-deprecating while giving a talk. I don't apologize for myself. This is not a gender-specific piece of advice. I think it is important for everyone to not put themselves down while making professional presentations. It seems, however, that women are more likely to do it. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I was delighted to find that I am not the only one, when I read this blog post this morning.

The conference was thought-provoking and inspiring in may ways. I certainly have never been in a room with so many female mathematicians! There was even singing (no, I am not in the video!). I hope that I get to participate in such a gathering again!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spiced Roast Goose with Dried Fruit (Page 398)

RECIPE #1278

  • Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 -- 2pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

One Tuesday this summer I stayed home to help my special gentleman with something, so I figured I would do a little multi-tasking and also make this goose as long as I was home all day! I started by simmering some dried figs, dried apricots, and pitted prunes in water. Then I threaded some of the fruit on skewers and reserved the rest. I pricked the skin of the goose all over, then seasoned the bird inside and out with salt. I stuffed the bird with onions and the reserved fruit, then rubbed the skin with a mixture of melted butter, cracked allspice berries, and mixed cracked peppercorns. I roasted the goose on a rack in a roasting pan. I started it in a hot oven, then later lowered the oven temperature and roasted it more, basting and removing excess fat with a bulb baster ever half hour. Part way through the cooking I added the skewered fruit to the rack. I cooked the bird until the thigh registered 170 degrees, then removed the bird from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes. I made a pan sauce using the bird drippings, shallots, Armagnac, veal demi-glace, and apricot jam. Then I carved the bird and served it with the fruit and the sauce. I was excited about this bird and it looked beautiful but it only tasted OK. The real problem was that it was overcooked. I monitored the temperature of the meat very closely, and took it out when the thigh reached 170, just as the recipe instructed. But by that point, the breast was pretty dry. I don't know what could really have been done about that. Perhaps it would have been better to take it out of the oven when the thigh read 165. The temperature would have risen to at least 170 as the bird rested, and that is a plenty safe temperature for poultry. As it was, the breast was overcooked. The skin, however, was perfectly crispy and delicious -- yum! The sauce was also pretty tasty. I liked the bit of sweetness that the jam and fruit contributed to the sauce, but I didn't find the cooked fruit terribly appetizing to eat. Overall, this goose was OK, but the next time I need to cook a goose, I will look for a different recipe.

The recipe is here.

Only 15 recipes left to go!

My special gentleman has been out of town the last few days. I don't particularly love it when he travels. When he is in town I love making dinner for the two of us, and I look forward to cooking and eating a variety of things. When he is away I lose all motivation to invest effort in what I eat. It's pathetic really. Knowing this about myself, the night before he left I made four pizzas, stocking the refrigerator and freezer with pizza slices. Last Friday on my walk home from work I stopped at a convenience store and bought a box of Cheerios. And in the six days he has been gone so far I have alternated meals of Cheerios with meals of pizza. Today, pizza for lunch, Cheerios for dinner. Besides a few meals eaten at friends' houses, that pretty much summarizes my diet for the last week. It's not so good.

Believe it or not I am actually not the most pathetic member of the household when my special gentleman is away. Michigan, our littlest kitty, takes it very hard. He wanders through the house every morning, looking for my special gentleman and crying. And at night he walks over and over across my special gentleman's side of the bed, furiously digging into the covers as though my special gentleman might be under there and he is going to dig down to find him. Indiana, our bigger kitty, doesn't mind his absence so much, but he did spend the first two days of this trip convinced that my special gentleman was in the bathroom. He would sit outside the bathroom door and cry to be let in, even though no one was inside. Crazy kitties.

Like my kitties, I miss my special gentleman a lot when he is away. He is excellent company, and nothing is as fun without him around. Plus, it seems like every time he leaves town, strange things happen. Case in point, last Thursday night. I went to bed early as I had to teach at 9am the next day. I was sound asleep at 3:30am (as I usually am!) when the doorbell rang. It was scary to wake up to the doorbell in the middle of the night, but scarier still when the next thing I heard was someone jostling the doorknob, trying to get in. My bedroom overlooks the side door to the house, so I jumped out of bed and ran to the window to see what was happening. I was quite surprised to find a drunken undergraduate on my doorstep. I opened the window and had what turned out to be quite a lengthy chat with her:

Me: Hello?
Her: Hi.
Me: What are you doing here?
Her: I just need a place to crash.
Me: Who are you?
Her: (says name)
Me: Who are you looking for?
Her: You.
Me: Whose house are you looking for?
Her: Yours. I just need a place to crash for the night. I'll take off first thing in the morning.
Me: I can't let you stay here.
Her: What? Why?
Me: I don't know you.
Her: Yeah, yeah I know the people who live here.
Me: I am the people who live here.
Her: No, I know, but I totally know people.
Me: I don't know you.
Her: Just open the door. I just need to crash.
Me: Who do you think lives here?
Her: You.
Me: You need to leave.
Her: No, just let me in. I'll leave first thing in the morning.

It went on and on like this. She told me at length about where she worked, which she somehow thought was relevant. She was very annoyed with me that I wouldn't let her in, and she wouldn't leave. Finally I found the magic words:

Me: The only people that live in this house are two professors.
Her: What? Professors? OK, I've got to go.

And just like that, she wandered off into the night. It's true that we live pretty close to campus, but we have never had a student show up at our house, and certainly not in the middle of the night. Our house is not between where the students live and anything of interest, so it's rare to even see students in our part of the neighborhood. But as soon as my special gentleman left town, I had a special middle of the night visitor! Fun times.

Thankfully no one else has showed up in the wee hours. And my special gentleman will be home soon. It's a good thing too, because today I ate the last of the pizza! Luckily, I still have some Cheerios left.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Tricolor Pickled Peppers (Page 911)

RECIPE #1277

  • Date: Saturday, July 23, 2011 -- 4pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

Since I already had all my canning supplies out to make Raspberry Jam a few weeks back, I decided to go ahead and make these pickled peppers as well. I started by roasting 9 pounds of red, yellow, and orange peppers in batches under the broiler. I let them steam in a covered bowl until they were cool, and then peeled the peppers. Note: peeling 9 pounds of roasted peppers is not that fun. I then sterilized canning jars in my boiling water canner. I boiled white balsamic vinegar, water, sugar, canning salt, garlic cloves, and black peppercorns. I layered peppers in the sterilized jars, then put in garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs. I filled the jars with the vinegar mixture, then sealed and processed the jars in the boiling water canner. I let the peppers stand for a week so the flavors could develop. These pickled peppers were pretty tasty. They had the texture and background flavor of typical canned roasted peppers, but the white balsamic vinegar added a unique flavor to them. We have lots of jars of these peppers -- they will make a fun sandwich topping for months to come!

The recipe in The Book is almost the same as this one, but the one in The Book calls for half as much canning salt.

Only 16 recipes left to go!

This was the last recipe in the Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles, and Preserves section of The Book! I had never really done any canning before I started this project, so this section was a great adventure for me. It turns out I love canning! And even more than that, I love having homemade jams, pickles, preserves, etc... I will definitely continue to put my canning supplies to good use after this project is over!

In no particular order, my five favorite recipes from this section were as follows:
  • Concord Grape Jam -- This recipe required peeling a lot of grapes, but it was worth it. Yum! This was by far the best grape jam I have ever eaten. We flew through the jars of jam that this recipe produced, and I have been missing the grape jam ever since.
  • Plum Butter -- These plum preserves were silky smooth and delicious! The addition of vanilla complemented the plum flavor wonderfully. One jar of this got pushed to the back of the cupboard and I didn't discover it until a year later. What a wonderful surprise, finding a jar of delicious preserves!
  • Strawberry Jam -- This was the very first thing I ever canned! It was a couple years after I started this project when I finally purchased a boiling water canner, and braved this recipe. I distinctly remember making this jam in my special gentleman's Boston apartment on a warm spring day. I couldn't have been more delighted with myself when I tasted the fruits of my labor. I had learned to can!
  • Apple Butter -- This recipe claimed it would make four jars of apple butter, but it only made one. It was a sad, sad thing since this apple butter was very tasty! A perfect fall recipe.
  • Bread-and-Butter Pickles -- I hadn't really realized before starting this project how easy it is to pickle things. The Book has lots of pickled recipes though, so now pickling has become second nature. Of all the pickled items in The Book, this recipe was my favorite. These pickles came out flavorful and crunchy, with just the right amount of sweetness.
And just like that, another section is finished! It's hard for me to believe how close I am to the end: 14 sections complete, 7 sections left to finish! It's crazy!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Raspberry Jam (Page 924)

RECIPE #1276

  • Date: Saturday, July 23, 2011 -- 3pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Karen H, Dave, Georgina, PJ, and Georgia
  • Recipe Rating: B+

There were raspberries in abundance at the Farmer's Market in late July, so it seemed like the right time to make this recipe. I tossed a lot of raspberries with a lot of sugar and some lemon juice and let the berry mixture sit for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, I sterilized canning jars in my boiling water canner. I chilled a couple small plates in the fridge, for testing the jam. I then brought the raspberry mixture to a boil, and boiled until it was done (i.e. until a spoonful of the jam placed on a chilled plate and refrigerated for 1 minute remained in a mound when the plate was tilted). I then whisked together some pectin and sugar, and added it to the jam. I boiled it for a minute longer, then ladled the hot jam into the sterilized jars. I sealed the jars, then processed them in the boiling water canner. This jam came out very nicely. The raspberry flavor came through well, and despite all the sugar, the jam didn't taste overly sweet. The consistency of the jam was also just right. We have already been through several jars of it -- it was definitely tastier than what you can buy at the store. My one complaint about this recipe was that the jam had too many seeds in it. I would prefer that the seeds (or at least some of the seeds) had been strained out. As it was, the jam was a little too crunchy for my taste! Aside from that, it is delicious, and I am quite happy that we still have a few jars of it left!

This recipe isn't online.

Only 17 recipes left to go!

Somehow it is that time of year again: classes start tomorrow. I lecture at 9am tomorrow morning and I am prepared. My lecture is written, my syllabi are photocopied. I even went to a faculty lunch seminar this week all about the first day of class. So I am prepared. Yet I don't feel ready. It's always a stressful time, the transition from summer back into the academic year. Honestly, summer is glorious. I worked hard this summer, but I also had time to eat some leisurely dinners on the porch. I swam in lakes, and pools, and seas. I ran along the river trail and canoed down the river. I traveled in Europe and the US, seeing friends and going to conferences. I ate corn on the cob and blue raspberry snow cones. It was awesome. And although in some ways I prefer the academic year to the summer months, I am always sad to see the summer go. Summer really ended more than a week ago, when faculty meetings began. But I held onto it as tightly as I could nonetheless, choosing to view the meetings, learning assistant training, etc, as blips in my summer, rather than the start of a new year. Tonight, though, my denial has ended. Ready or not, bright and early tomorrow morning the school year will be upon me. At 9am I will have 41 Calculus 3 students in front of me. We'll talk about multivariable calculus. I will struggle to draw 3-dimensional pictures on a 2-dimensional chalkboard. It will be fun. Indeed, it is silly to mourn the passing of the summer, as I have ahead of me what is bound to be a great semester. I only have the one class, and generally speaking Calculus 3 students are a good bunch: smart, motivated, reasonably interested in math. Plus, I have never taught Calc 3 before, which will make it an interesting new adventure. The math in Calc 3 is a piece of cake, but the drawing is a real challenge. Will I make a fool of myself trying to draw hyperbolic paraboloids? Only time will tell!

I am also starting various other new career adventures this term. I am on a faculty search committee for the first time, which will involve a lot of application-reading and candidate-interviewing. I am also serving for the first time as a faculty advisor to a Women in Science student group, which I am excited about. As always I'm traveling some fun places to give talks (Brown, University of Virginia, etc...). Add to that a long list of research goals and it will no doubt be a jam-packed and challenging semester. Before I know it there will be snow on the ground and I will be grading final exams and baking Christmas cookies. That's how it goes -- the semesters fly by. I love the fast-paced rhythm of the academic year almost as much as a I love the leisurely meander of the summer. I feel almost ready to trade in the hot summer months for a cool fall breeze. But I wish I could have just one more week of summer...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fragrant Crispy Duck (Page 394)

RECIPE #1275

  • Date: Saturday, July 23, 2011 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman and I both love duck, so I would have made this recipe sooner, but it had a pretty intimidating look about it. The Ingredients list was short, but the Special Equipment list was long, and the recipe took up two pages. This recipe involved first marinating the duck, then steaming the duck in a wok, then blow-drying the duck with a fan, then deep-frying the duck (twice!). Madness! One Saturday in July, though, I decided it was time for a cooking extravaganza. I cooked all day, making this duck and finishing off the canning I had left to do for the project. It was fun! To make this duck I started by making the Toasted Sichuan Peppercorn Salt, which I had already made once before as a component for a different dish. Then I broke the breastbone of the duck (Truth be told, my special gentleman broke the breastbone. I tried and failed. I don't have a lot of upper body strength.). I heated the Sichuan peppercorn salt with some Chinese five spice powder. I reserved some of the spice mixture, and rubbed the rest on the inside and outside of the duck. I marinated the duck in the spice rub, refrigerated, overnight. I then put the duck in a glass pie plate and rubbed it with rice wine. I put ginger and scallions in the cavity and on the duck, then steamed the duck for 2 hours in a covered wok by putting the pie plate on a metal rack in the wok with boiling water below it. While it was steaming, I siphoned off the fat with a turkey baster every 30 minutes, and replenished the water below the rack as necessary. I then slid the duck onto a wire rack to cool, setting it in front of a fan to blow dry for two hours:

Once the duck was very dry, I brushed it with mushroom soy sauce, then dusted it with flour. I very, very carefully deep-fried it, turning once, in a wok full of oil. I increased the temperature of the oil, then deep-fried it again. I served the duck with the reserved spiced salt.

This recipe was definitely fussy, but the result may have been worth it. This duck was DELICIOUS. The meat was tender, moist, and incredibly flavorful, while the skin was crispy and seasoned perfectly. My special gentleman declared it the best duck he had ever eaten, and I couldn't really argue. It was incredibly tasty. I would have liked it even better with a sauce to accompany it, but it was pretty fantastic as it was. However, I doubt I will be making this recipe again soon -- it was a lot of hassle for a recipe which serves only a few people and is basically impossible to double (without another wok at least). But it was very, very tasty, so if you have an afternoon set aside for cooking and are looking for something to try, I would recommend this one.

The recipe is here.

Only 18 recipes left to go!

What a crazy week! We returned from Denmark a little over a week ago now. After a long 22 hours of travel to get from Aarhus, Denmark back to East Lansing, Michigan, we were pretty happy to be home. We arrived home late Saturday night, and enjoyed a couple days at home, catching up on work and sleep. On Wednesday, it was time to leave for another trip! We started by driving to Chicago to meet our adorable niece Hannah. Unfortunately we got a flat tire somewhere outside of Michigan City, Indiana, and ended up spending a decent chunk of our day at Wal-Mart getting a new one. Eventually we made it though, and Hannah is super cute! We spent the afternoon with Brad, Deniz, and Hannah, and the evening with our friends PJ and Georgia who also live in Chicago. We stayed the night in Chicago, and after a swim in Lake Michigan Thursday morning we hit the road again. Next stop: Upstate New York! We drove the 14+ hours to New York over two days, stopping for the night in the middle of a crazy storm near Ashtabula, Ohio. We arrived in Lake George, New York on Friday afternoon. The trip to Lake George was to attend our friends Mike and Tim's wedding. On Friday evening we went to a pre-wedding cocktail party before the Saturday wedding.

The wedding wasn't until Saturday evening, so on Saturday morning we went to visit our friends Paps and Katie, who happen to own a vacation home about 20 minutes from where we were staying. They just had a baby, and it was great to get a chance to meet little Peter. Later in the day we met up with Vero and Philippe (also in town for the wedding) for some lunch and shuffleboard. It was a beautiful day, and definitely one of the most vacation-like days I have had all summer. The wedding was Saturday evening. It was held right on Lake George and the setting was unbelievably beautiful. I have known Mike for almost a decade now and Tim for only slightly less. They are such a fantastic couple, and it was a great privilege to celebrate with them on their special day. The wedding was black tie, which was fun, and they served barbeque, which was delicious! There was plenty of drinking and dancing. It was a good time!

We couldn't stick around long in Lake George because I had to be back at work for a retreat on Monday. So Sunday we drove straight back home. We went through Canada on the way back, and it ended up being about a 12 hour drive. It was long, but definitely worth it for such a special weekend. Now we are home! My special gentleman announced with excitement this morning that he isn't traveling again for another two and a half weeks. Two and a half weeks at home!! He was so excited. It is exciting to be home. The semester starts soon, and I have a lot to do before I will feel ready. I should get to it! I can't believe summer is over.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Squab Salmi (Page 406)

RECIPE #1274

  • Date: Thursday, June 30, 2011 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I put off making this recipe because it looked insanely fussy. Indeed, it was. I started by cutting off the necks and wing tips from four squabs. (Aside: Does that look wrong to you? The internet tells me that the plural of squab is squabs, but I always thought it was just squab. Four squabs? Four squab? I don't know.) I then cut out their backbones and cut the backbones into pieces. I cut one of the squabs up into 2-inch pieces. I put the remaining three whole squabs in the fridge, while I browned all the cut-up squab pieces and their giblets (minus the livers) in butter with some carrot, celery, and onion. I added water and boiled to form a stock. I strained the stock, then seasoned the whole squabs with salt, pepper, and thyme. I poured melted butter over them and roasted them. Meanwhile, I cooked some carrots, celery, onion, and thyme in butter. I sprinkled flour over the vegetables, then added the stock and simmered. In a different pan I cooked mushrooms in butter. I pureed the vegetable and stock mixture, then added the mushrooms. I halved the squabs and added them too. I set up a double boiler and cooked the squabs further in the sauce on the double boiler. Meanwhile, I cut some rounds from slices of brioche. I browned the livers in butter and mashed them with Cognac, butter, salt, and pepper. I toasted the brioche rounds in butter, then spread them with the liver puree. I served the toasts with the squabs and sauce.

I never appreciate when a recipe seems especially designed to use up as many dishes as possible, and this was that kind of recipe. It took a roasting pan, three pots, two skillets, four cooking bowls, two cutting boards, etc. I am more than willing to engage in that kind of culinary fussiness if the results are outstanding, but that was just not the case here. The squab meat was pretty nicely cooked but the skin wasn't crispy, due to the moist heat cooking after the roasting (Why, oh why, does The Book like to do that?). The sauce was reasonably flavorful but thin. The toast got soggy as soon as the bird went on top of it. Soggy toast is always a sad thing. Overall the dish was a lot of fuss without a lot of reward. It was ok, but certainly not something I would make again, and not even something I particularly enjoyed eating.

This recipe isn't online.

Only 19 recipes left to go!

We have two freezers at home: the one attached to our refrigerator, and a medium size standing freezer which we keep in the basement. On a typical day both of our freezers are bursting at the seams. I hate for food to go to waste, and I love the convenience of frozen food, so I freeze everything. We don't buy any frozen prepared foods, but given the variety of foods that we make, there is still a wide selection of frozen dinners at our house. Right now if you rummaged through our freezers you would find brisket a la carbonnade, beef wellington, salt cod chowder, lentil dal, miso soup, turkey chili, potato leek soup, several mystery soups (which somehow escaped my labeling system), tapioca pudding, three kinds of cake, four kinds of cookies, etc... It's a little out of control. I also stock the freezers with various cooking ingredients: chicken stock, veal stock, leftover white wine, leftover red wine, chopped onions, chopped green peppers, tomato paste, chipotle chiles in adobo, various homemade spice blends, frozen berries, frozen vegetables, homemade sauces, etc. And throughout this year when I found meat I needed for the project, I bought it and threw that in the freezers too! So up until recently I also had a turkey, tripe, a goose, and 10 squabs in my freezers. Needless to say, the freezers were getting a bit packed.

To top it all off, the top tier of our wedding cake was also in the freezer! We had planned to eat it on our one-year anniversary, but when the anniversary rolled around we were in Japan. On our two-year anniversary we were in France. So the cake remained in the freezer. One evening this summer my special gentleman commented, "I could go for some wedding cake." So we unwrapped it after 25 months of marriage, and cut ourselves some cake! It was still tasty! Now only one piece remains in the freezer, and it will surely get eaten as soon as we get back from this trip. Eating the cake inspired me to clear out the freezers a bit. So I prepared the turkey. And the tripe. This recipe took care of the last of the squab, and soon after I made this one I made the goose as well. Now, although the freezers are far from empty, there is a bit of space in them. It has inspired me! When we get home I plan to eat through some of the old frozen food, clearing out some space for a freezer reorganization. I would like to tame the freezer chaos once and for all with some sort of system. My usual system, throw things in wherever once can find space, is not ideal. Once the freezers are organized, I am going to cook, cook, cook to fill up the freezers with yummy prepared food before the chaos of the school year starts!

My non-Book cooking style often involves making things in enormous batches. I make enough chili to serve 25, for instance, then freeze it in many small containers. It makes for a very easy weeknight dinner: throw something from the freezer into the microwave or the toaster oven, make a green salad, and serve both with some homemade bread. Yum! It also makes it easy when we have house guests. I just thaw a variety of things from the freezer before their arrival and then there are plenty of options for eating! My special gentleman and I have cut way, way back on processed foods in the last year or so. Cooking in bulk and freezing the results has definitely been key in this cut back.

Thinking about the food in freezer is making me hungry. It might be about time to hunt down a snack.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Tripe Roman Style (Page 464)

RECIPE #1273

  • Date: Saturday, June 25, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Chris C., and Whitney
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I put off making this recipe for a long time because cow stomach just didn't sound super delicious to me. But I am nearing the end of this project, and there is no sense in putting off recipes any longer. So I invited some friends over and I made the tripe! I started by putting the tripe in cold water, bringing it to a boil, then draining and rinsing it. I put it in new cold water and brought it to a boil again. I simmered the tripe for four hours. The Book warned that the "tripe will have a pungent aroma while simmering." No kidding! Indeed the smell even drove away our kitties. Normally they love to be where the action is, but they were hiding in the basement while this was cooking. When the tripe had finished simmering it looked like this:

Mmm... delicious. I then cooked some onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, then added salt, pepper, white wine, tomato juice, chopped canned tomatoes, water, and mint. I simmered the sauce. I cut the tripe into strips and added the strips to the sauce and simmered until the tripe was tender but still slightly chewy. Then I seasoned the sauce and sprinkled the dish with some mint. I was supposed to also sprinkle with some pecorino Romano, but I forgot. Whoops!

This dish was just not that delicious. The tripe was actually inoffensive enough. After having seen it and dealt with it through the preparation I wasn't super eager to eat it, but I think if I had just been served the dish without witnessing all that I would have thought the tripe was neither here nor there. It didn't have a lot of flavor to it. I didn't love the chewy texture, but it didn't bother me too much. I was actually more disappointed with the sauce. I had hoped the tripe would be in a sauce so delicious that it would convince me to enjoy tripe. Rather, this sauce was just blah. It didn't taste bad, but it didn't have much flavor to it, and it was very thin. In the end no one hated this dish, but no one was gobbling it up either. This was not one that I will make again.

The recipe is here.

Only 20 recipes left to go!

Hello from Denmark! My special gentleman and I are back in Europe. Last weekend we flew from Detroit to Copenhagen, where the two of us parted ways and headed to two different conferences. My special gentleman made his way to Aarhus, Denmark, while I traveled to Hamburg, Germany. When I booked my train ticket to Hamburg I didn't give much thought to how the train was going to cross the Baltic Sea. Much to my surprise, my train boarded a ferry for the crossing. It was so strange -- the train just drove right on board of the ferry, we all got out of the train for the 45 minute crossing, then we piled back on and the train kept going. Crazy! It was wonderful though. I was exhausted after a super-long "day" of travel involving an overnight flight, and the sea breeze was a fantastic pick-me-up. Here's a photo from my "train" ride:

I traveled to Hamburg to attend and speak at a conference. There were 80 or so mathematicians there from around the world. My dear friend Mike was there, and he and I shared a room. We went to graduate school together and are in the same field in addition to being good friends, so we have a long history of traveling to conferences together. It is always fun to spend time with Mike! Here's a picture of Mike at dinner on one of our first nights in Hamburg. He ordered Wurstsalat (aka sausage salad):

Those things that look a bit like noodles in the picture are actually strips of sausage. It was a crazy dish, which Mike described as a deconstructed hot dog. The conference was busy, but we had a bit of time to see the sights of Hamburg. Math conferences are often Monday-Friday with a Wednesday afternoon excursion, and this was no exception. It was brought to my attention recently that many other academic fields do not have this tradition of excursions. In math we do, and more often than not, they involve a boat ride. The talks ended early on Wednesday afternoon and we all piled onto a boat for a tour of Hamburg:

Hamburg is a very pretty city. There is water everywhere, and lots of parks scattered throughout. This photo is from a very beautiful park a few blocks from our hotel:

What the picture fails to capture is that I almost fell into that little lagoon. There were some stepping stones you could walk on to cross it and somehow I tripped. I screamed and all the German onlookers gasped. It was pretty funny. Luckily I didn't end up in the water. I think Mike was disappointed!

Weeks before this trip Mike sent me an email with the one thing he really wanted to see in Hamburg: the Miniatur Wunderland. It is the world's biggest model railroad exhibition, but saying just that doesn't do it justice. There was room after room after room full of miniature version of various cities and regions of the world. There was an airport with planes that take off and land. The cars and trucks move as well as the trains, and if you stood in one place for a while you could watch miniature drama unfold: a small forest fire would start, then the police cars and fire engines would arrive. They would slowly put out the fire, and once it was extinguished the fire trucks would drive away. The place was crazy! Here is Mike in front of a miniature concert. There must have been thousands of miniature people in that one small piece of the exhibit alone, and each one with incredible detail.

Every 15 minutes or so it would become night inside the Miniatur Wunderland and the lights would go down. Here is a picture of miniature Las Vegas at night:

It was a crazy experience. If you ever find yourself in Hamburg, it is worth a stop.

Mathematically the conference was really good. It was great to hear the talks, and talk to people. Unfortunately my talk was late in the week, so I had lots of time to stress about it. It's always better to talk on the first or second day of a conference because then you can relax. I talked on Thursday. My talk went fine though and I was quite glad once it was over! I had a big beer and some yummy Vietnamese food to celebrate. The conference ended Friday and on Saturday I headed up to Denmark to meet my special gentleman. Unfortunately, the 4 and a half hour train ride to Aarhus didn't go on a ferry, but it was still very pleasant! On Saturday we took a long walk through a park. Here's my special gentleman:

We also walked along the beach, eating ice cream bars. It was great! Here we are on the beach:

Yesterday we did some work, and also walked around town. We visited the botanical garden:

My special gentleman's conference started back up today. I don't have any responsibilities this week so I am taking the opportunity to get a lot of work done. I have already made great progress on my ever-growing To-Do list and I hope to have a very productive week. On Saturday we are headed back home, where we will be for three days or so before heading off on our next trip. Summer craziness!

In totally unrelated news, I am an aunt! My special gentleman's brother Brad and his wife Deniz welcomed their daughter Hannah into the world this weekend! We are so happy for them, and super-excited to meet Hannah, so we will be heading to Chicago for a visit in the middle of next week. So exciting!!