Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lobster Bisque (Page 103)

RECIPE #1251

  • Date: Saturday, November 6, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Brad and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B+

This recipe is slightly out of order. I made this dish months ago, when Brad and Deniz came to visit us in Michigan. At the time I was really sick from my new medication, and when it came time for dinner I was so ill I barely ate. Indeed, I was so ill that I forgot to even take pictures of the food! Immediately after dinner we froze the leftovers of this dish, to be enjoyed later. But it was a while before my special gentleman stumbled across the leftovers in the freezer one evening and decided to have lobster bisque for dinner. When he did, I took a picture. So now I am able to blog about this dish!

I began by boiling two live lobsters in a mixture of water, white wine, tarragon, bay leaf, and salt. When the lobsters were cool my special gentleman removed all the meat from the claws, joints, and tails, reserving the shells but discarding the bodies. I cut the meat into pieces. We pounded the reserved shells with a mallet to break them up. I finely chopped carrots, celery, onions, and garlic, then cooked the vegetables in butter. I added the lobster shells then Cognac, tomato paste, cayenne, the lobster cooking liquid, and reserved lobster juices and tomalley. I simmered it all for an hour and a half, then discarded the bay leaf. I transferred the solids to a food processor and pureed them as much as possible, then forced them through a fine mesh sieve. I returned the pureed solids to the cooking liquid and brought it to a boil. I thickened with cornstarch, then added cream, lemon juice, the lobster meat, and salt and just heated it through.

This bisque was pretty good. As I said, I was pretty ill that day, so I didn't eat much. But the general reaction around the table was positive. It had a lovely lobster flavor, and the chunks of lobster meat were well-received. There were two complaints that kept this out of the A- category. One, it was a little bit thin for a bisque. The other complaint came from my special gentleman was just said that it, "wasn't amazing." His standards for lobster bisque are high, and this didn't quite meet them.

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My apologies for the long blog silence. We have had a lot of visitors lately so I have been trying to spend my free time being a decent hostess rather than writing in my blog. Last Thursday our friend Chuck drove up from Bloomington. He stayed with us for a couple nights and gave a seminar in the math department on Friday. It was really fun to hang out with him! He left Saturday morning and on Saturday evening Mike and Tim arrived from Virginia. They stayed with us for two nights and we jammed in lots of fun things during their weekend visit! On Saturday night Helen, Charles, Clara, and Mark joined us for a dinner from The Book. The eight of us ate veal sweetbreads (i.e. the thymus gland of baby cows) with parsnip and potato puree, snails, chicken livers wrapped in bacon, beef with marrow, mushroom risotto, beets, salad, and a white chocolate and grapefruit cake that Helen made... It was quite a meal! It was really two meals in one. Mike always enjoys eating nasty things from The Book, so I was aiming to have a full meal of dishes that would likely be gross (i.e. the veal thymus, snails, and chicken livers), but then also a meal of dishes that would be good so we would have something enjoyable to eat (i.e. everything else on the menu). As it turned out, nothing was as gross as expected so there was a ton of food!

The next day we walked around Lansing for a while, visited the fish ladder, and strolled along the river trail. In the afternoon we went to the rodeo! It seems that I work at a university which holds an annual rodeo on campus. Crazy! Mike was as enthusiastic about going to the rodeo as I was, so on Sunday afternoon we braved a blizzard to see some professional cowboys in action. Needless to say, it was pretty awesome. I hadn't been to a rodeo in years. As I remembered it was a little bit terrifying, and super fun. Mike and Tim left Monday morning, and on Monday evening another house guest arrived. This guest, Adam, is a mathematician in my special gentleman's field. He is giving several lectures in the math department and working with my special gentleman during his visit. He is staying with us for almost two weeks!

So, it has been a hectic time with people coming and going. All the chaos has left me way behind on my blogging, so one of my many goals for the upcoming week is to make a little progress on my backlog!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bouillabaisse (Page 346)

RECIPE #1250

  • Date: Friday, December 31, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave, Karen H, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B

My special gentleman's family likes seafood more than most people in my life, so I made this fish stew as part of New Year's Eve dinner at their house. I started by making some croutons by slicing a baguette, brushing the slices with oil, and toasting them in the oven. Once they were toasted I rubbed them with garlic cloves and set them aside. I then cooked a live lobster by plunging it into boiling water. My special gentleman cracked the boiled lobster into pieces. I cooked tomatoes, onion, and garlic in oil, then added peeled, cubed potatoes, fennel fronds, bay leaf, saffron, sea salt, and pepper. I added fish stock and brought it all to a boil. I reduced the heat and simmered until the potatoes were almost cooked, then added 2-inch pieces of halibut and cod. I stirred in the lobster and cooked the stew for a few minutes. I stirred some of the broth into the rouille (see post below). I then put croutons in each bowl and ladled some soup on top. I served the soup with the rouille on the side. I was a pretty indifferent about this soup. It did have halibut in it. I love halibut. There aren't too many types of seafood that I get seriously excited about, but halibut is one of them. We served halibut as one of the entree choices at our wedding. That's how much I love it. So the halibut was delicious. The rest of it? Eh. I could take it or leave it. I hate, hate, hate putting toasted bread on the bottom of a soup bowl and pouring soup on top of it. The bread instantly becomes soggy, and hence disgusting. The Book is very big on the soggy-bread-in-the-soup method and I just don't get it. Plus, this soup was already served with soggy bread sauce (aka rouille), so why did we need more soggy bread? We really didn't. The flavor of the soup was fishy (as one would expect). The fish flavor from the fish stock drowned out some of the other things I was hoping to taste, like the fennel. But it wasn't bad. Nobody had anything terrible to say about this dish, nor any particularly high praise for it. It was a decent fish soup, which I am unlikely to make again.

The recipe in The Book is similar to this one, but the one in The Book doesn't call for clams or mussels.

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Nothing makes you realize how much you work like having someone visit that you want to spend time with. My mom was here this week, and at the end of every day I thought, "I wish I had had more time to spend with my mom." That's not to say that we didn't do anything fun -- we did. We watched the Super Bowl, we had some of my friends over one night, we went to the MSU/Penn State basketball game, we went out to eat a couple times, we did some shopping, we watched a movie... But most days I left for work before my mom woke up and there were several nights when I was still working (although at least from home) at midnight. And I did a lot of multi-tasking -- when I was "watching" the Super Bowl, I was simultaneously writing midterm exams. It was a busy week. On top of the usual stuff, I was giving exams in both my classes. Between writing the exams, grading the exams, and helping nervous students prepare for the exams, it adds up. With just one class (or several sections of the same course) it is pretty manageable, but this term I am teaching two classes that are very different from one another so it was a significant amount of work. I also had research-related deadlines/meetings/goals for the week that contributed to the busyness.

This coming week, I think, is going to be significantly less busy. Looking at my calendar, it seems like it will be a piece of cake! I am hoping to have a productive week and not put off a long list of tasks for the weekend (like I usually do!) because Mike and Tim are coming to visit. They will be here next weekend and I am already scheming about what kind of crazy Book dinner we will make... Sweetbreads are definitely on the menu, and I have been thinking about making some snails too (plus some beef, so that we have something to eat if everything else is too unappetizing!). Fun! Speaking of Mike, it's his birthday today. Happy Birthday to Mike, who is always willing to cook and eat crazy shit from The Book with me! That's a sign of a good friend!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Rouille (Page 347)

RECIPE #1249

  • Date: Friday, December 31, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Karen H, Dave, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This recipe was a component of a fish stew I made for New Year's Eve at my special gentleman's parents' house. I am not a huge fan of soggy bread, so rouille is never my favorite. This soggy bread and garlic based sauce was simple to make. I poured water over some fresh bread crumbs that I made from a baguette. Then I mashed together garlic, sea salt, and cayenne. I mashed the wet bread crumbs into the garlic mixture, then added olive oil. That was it. The result was exactly how it sounds: soggy bread with garlic, cayenne, salt, and oil. To be fair, while it certainly wasn't something I would be interested in eating by the spoonful, it did add flavor to the stew that it was served with. In the past I have made rouille in the food processor and the texture came out better. My mashing by hand didn't incorporate the bread crumbs well enough to make this really feel like a sauce.

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My special gentleman is traveling a lot this semester. He has been away since Friday, and is arriving home late tonight (or very early tomorrow morning, depending on how you look at it). He will teach his class tomorrow afternoon, then fly out again tomorrow evening for another trip, which will last almost a week. I have to admit it, I don't like it when he is away. We basically have the same job, and I also travel a lot, so of course I understand why it is necessary and I never try to stop him from traveling. But that doesn't mean I enjoy it when he travels. You would think that after years of living in different states I would be accustomed to being apart. These short trips are nothing compared to the amount of time we spent apart when he lived in Boston and I lived in Indiana, for instance. But I think those years apart made me more sensitive to distance rather than less. When he calls me at night from some faraway state or country, I can't help but think of the hundreds of times we had similar good-night phone calls when we lived apart. At least for that second I feel as though we are living apart again, and it is a terrible feeling. Plus, for reasons I can't explain, I am less productive when he is away. I am less focused, less motivated... So when he is traveling I count down the days. And I look forward to the summer, when we can travel together rather than separately.

Luckily, this week my mom is visiting, so my attitude about my special gentleman being away isn't nearly as bad as it otherwise would be. We have been having a really fun time!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Crown Roast of Lamb (Page 499)

RECIPE #1248

  • Date: Friday, December 31, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Westerville, OH
  • Kitchen: Karen and Dave's House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Dave, Karen H, Brad, and Deniz
  • Recipe Rating: B+

My parents and my special gentleman's parents both do not like lamb. My special gentleman and I have long been puzzled by this fact, as lamb is delicious. It's true that lamb prepared badly can be really bad, much more so than with beef, for instance. But lamb prepared nicely is absolutely divine. This was the last lamb recipe I had left to make for my project, and I would have made it long ago, but crown roast of lamb isn't so easy to find. When I saw it at the Whole Foods near my in-laws' house, I was desperate to buy it. But first, we had to talk them into letting us make lamb for dinner! Luckily, they are very open-minded about trying things, and were willing to consider the possibility that the lamb they had in the past just hadn't been cooked well. Plus, we promised to make another dish to go with this one that they were certain to like: Bouillabaisse! So, a New Year's Eve feast was born. We had crown roast of lamb. We had fish stew with lobster in it. We had porcini risotto, and a big salad. We had a caramelized pear tart. It was a feast fit for New Year's Eve!

This recipe was super-simple to make. I rubbed the crown roast with a mixture of garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. I put a ball of foil in the center to help it hold its shape. I also covered the bone ends with foil. I roasted it in the oven until it reached an internal temperature of 135 degrees. While it rested I deglazed the pan with beef stock. I added thyme, rosemary, arrowroot, cream, and port, and boiled until it was thick. I seasoned with salt and pepper. I served the crown roast with the pan sauce. That was it! This lamb was tasty. It was cooked nicely and the herb rub contributed a good flavor to the meat. The pan sauce was delicious. I gave this one a B+ rather than an A- only because there are much better lamb recipes out there. In particular there are more than a few lamb recipes in The Book which are more interesting and delicious than this dish. I liked this dish a lot, but it wasn't spectacular, and I doubt I will make it again. That said, it did convince my in-laws that not all lamb is bad! They seemed to like it a lot actually. That's an outcome of the meal that I can feel good about: convincing a couple people that lamb can be tasty!

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I grew up in Wisconsin, and we occasionally had snow days when I was a kid (or sometimes, cold days). I definitely remember being excited when school would get canceled for snow. But I certainly don't remember ever being as excited as I was this evening when I found out that classes at MSU are canceled tomorrow! I did a dance. I sang a song about it. More than once. My special gentleman thought it was so funny that periodically throughout the evening he asked, "Hey, did you hear tomorrow is a snow day?" just so that he could see my song and dance again. Don't get me wrong, I love my job. But I have been very busy lately. And while I planned to take some time to relax this weekend, I ended up working a lot. Plus, Wednesdays are long days for me. I have two and half hours of office hours in the morning, which are usually quite populated with students as both my classes have homework assignments due Wednesday afternoons. I have 15-20 minutes scheduled to eat lunch between my office hours and when I teach, but often that amounts to eating granola at my desk while helping someone finish their assignment. Then I lecture an hour of calculus and an hour of "Foundations of Higher Mathematics," which is an introduction to proofs class, mostly populated by future elementary school teachers who are majoring in math. My two hours of lecture are followed almost immediately by two hours of seminars (first the algebra seminar, then the topology seminar), and often we go out to dinner with the speaker after the latter seminar. By the time I get home I am tired, and I haven't yet had any time in the day to work on my own research. So, if there is one day of the week when a snow day really helps me out, it's Wednesday. Tomorrow I am going to stay in my pajamas all day. I am going to drink hot chocolate while working in front of the fire. Thursday I don't have to teach and I don't have any appointments, so if it's still snowing I will stay home then too. That gives me two days to do some intensive work, without any distractions. Just thinking about it makes me want to do my snow day dance again! Supposedly they haven't called off classes at MSU because of snow in more than 20 years. But I am pretty delighted that they did now!