Monday, May 30, 2011

Hamburgers (Page 447)

RECIPE #1265

  • Date: Saturday, April 9, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Helen, Charles, Clara, Chris C., Whitney, and Tom
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I would have made this recipe long ago since hamburgers are super delicious, but the recipe calls for a meat grinder, which I didn't own. As it turns out, the meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid wasn't nearly as expensive as I thought it would be, so I bought myself one and made this recipe! I started by salting some boneless chuck steak and refrigerating it for 24 hours. I then rinsed the steak, cubed it, and put it through the meat grinder. Once it was all ground up, the beef looked like this:

It's very exciting to now have the equipment to transform steak into ground beef at home! I formed the beef into patties, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and my special gentleman grilled them. The result: delicious! I was skeptical about whether or not grinding your own meat would really make any difference, but indeed I would say that these burgers were juicier and more flavorful than what you end up with when you buy ground beef at the store. I would have given them a higher grade, but there was one little problem: my home-ground meat did not hold together as well as typical ground beef does, so it was hard to turn the burgers on the grill without them breaking apart. My special gentleman did the grilling and he got a little frustrated with them. We pieced together the broken ones though and they were still delicious. We set up a selection of burger toppings so everyone could customize their burger. I had pepper jack, caramelized onions, bacon, avocado, and barbecue sauce on my burger. It was good!

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Our European adventure continues to be absolutely lovely. The week-end before last we spent in Strasbourg, France. All of the other destinations on this trip were chosen for mathematical reasons -- destinations where conferences are taking place, or a collaborator lives. Strasbourg, however, we chose just for fun. We had a weekend between conferences -- the one in the Black Forest in Germany, and another one in Switzerland -- and we chose to spend the weekend in Strasbourg. The city was fantastically beautiful, and we had a wonderful time there. We wandered through the city, both by foot and by boat, and took in beautiful buildings such as this enormous cathedral:

We also did a lot of eating! One of the culinary stars of our trip so far has been the sandwich. It's hard to really explain why sandwiches are so much better in France than they are in the United States. I suppose the answer is simple enough: the bread in France is better. But I think there is more to it than that. In any event, we have eaten a lot of sandwiches -- many of them while sitting on the edge of a fountain, watching people wander by:

While we were in Strasbourg my special gentleman made it his personal mission to eat as many croissants as he could in two days. I have never met anyone who loves croissants as much as he does. They were especially good at our hotel. In the photo below, my special gentleman is enjoying his fourth croissant during one meal! (He also had eggs, bacon, yogurt, pastries, bread, prosciutto, and a variety of cheeses during that breakfast -- we aren't exactly dieting on this trip!).

After an awesome weekend in Strasbourg we headed back to Switzerland. During our first stint in Switzerland, at the beginning of the trip, we were in the French-speaking part of the country. This time we headed to a small town in German-speaking Swtizerland. My special gentleman had a conference there, at a resort hotel on a lake. Here's the view from just outside the building we stayed in. In the other direction the view was of the alps. It was pretty spectacular.

My special gentleman's conference lasted all week, but I only stayed there for a couple days. On Tuesday I headed to England! My good friend Chris, who I am working on a research project with, lives in Oxford. So I flew up there for 5 days to work and hang out with him. I had never been to Oxford before, and it is a beautiful city, with lots of views like this one:

A friend from high school, Anna, also lives in Oxford. She and I spent an afternoon together and she gave me a great tour of the city. We walked up to the top of a tower for some spectacular views. Here's Anna, looking out over Oxford:

As we were walking around, Anna and I also caught a brief glimpse of Michelle Obama, who happened to be in Oxford that day. That was pretty exciting!

My time in England was both fun and productive. I had a nice time hanging out with Chris and we got some work done, which is always a good thing! On Saturday I flew back to Switzerland, where my special gentleman and a different friend also named Chris picked me up at the airport. The three of us drove from Basel, Switzerland to Nantes, France, with an overnight stop in Dijon. It was about an 8-9 hour drive in total, and it was a very enjoyable European road trip experience. Chris had brought along a choose-your-own-adventure book where one attempts to survive a zombie apocalypse. He read it aloud in the car and we made choices together as a group. Our first 3 or 4 attempts ended in horrible, gruesome deaths, but eventually we managed to survive! I would recommend it for a long drive!

We arrived in Nantes yesterday afternoon. Last night my special gentleman and I went to a movie. We hadn't gone out to a movie since January (it was a busy semester!) so it felt like a great luxury. This week my special gentleman has a conference and I have no obligations! I have lots of work I need to do, but I don't have any conference activities or collaborators here in Nantes, so his week will be a little more relaxing for me. And at the end of the week I am headed back to the States. I'm not on my way home just yet though -- I am going to a workshop in California first. My special gentleman will stay in France for another week at his conference. It's hard to believe we have already been in Europe for three weeks. Time flies I guess!

Speaking of time flying, today is me and my special gentleman's two year wedding anniversary! I feel blessed every day by a fantastic marriage, and this trip has only made me appreciate my special gentleman even more. I am not a traveler by nature -- I like being at home! But travel is very fun with my special gentleman. On our one-year wedding anniversary we were in the mountains in Japan. For our two-year anniversary we are in the Loire Valley in France. I am beginning to wonder if we will ever be home on our anniversary to eat the top tier of our wedding cake, which is still in our freezer! It might be a little freezer burnt by the time we get to it. It's a small price to pay for some lovely travel adventures!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shellfish Watermelon Ceviche (Page 154)

RECIPE #1264

  • Date: Saturday, April 9, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Tom
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Chris C., and Whitney
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This was the last recipe I had left to make from the Salads section of The Book! We had this at a a dinner party when my special gentleman's friend Tom was staying with us, and in fact, Tom helped to prepare this dish (the best kind of houseguest -- one who helps in the kitchen!). I started by boiling a live lobster, then removing the meat and cutting it into pieces. I then cut some shrimp and scallops into pieces. I cooked the scallop pieces and then the shrimp pieces in simmering water. Tom combined chopped orange segments, fresh orange juice, fresh lime juice, diced watermelon, grated ginger, diced red onion, chopped jalapeno, and salt. We then added the seafood and some chopped mint and refrigerated it for an hour. This ceviche was OK. Given the title I was expecting a bit more watermelon, and I think the dish would have been better had there been more watermelon in it. The combination of flavors was pretty good though. Nobody had anything particularly negative to say about this dish, but nobody was very taken with it either. This recipe didn't make a very large quantity of ceviche, but at the end of the meal at least half of it was left. Compared to the other things we had to eat that night (e.g. hamburgers!) this just wasn't very compelling.

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This was the last recipe left in the Salads section of The Book! That means that it is time to revisit the section and pick my all-star team. In no particular order, my favorite five recipes from the section:
  1. Fava Bean, Asparagus, and Arugula Salad with Shaved Pecorino -- This was a very fussy dish that was absolutely delicious. In the years when my special gentleman worked in Boston and I worked in Indiana I would live with him in Boston during the summer. I have lovely memories of those summers in Boston at his apartment. We would work during the day, run in the evening, and eat late dinners of delicious food from The Book. This was one of the dishes we ate during that time.
  2. Frisee Salad with Lardons and Poached Eggs -- My special gentleman and I were both a little skeptical of this dish. I am not generally a fan of frisee and he doesn't like runny egg yolks. But somehow, with the addition of some bacon and a vinegary dressing, the combination was magical and we both loved it!
  3. Sushi-Roll Rice Salad -- I made this dish last year in Berkeley as part of a birthday dinner for Chris. In retrospect, I have no idea why I didn't make it sooner. This dish is SO DELICIOUS. My special gentleman and I added this dish to our rotation, and this past semester we made this dish almost every week. It is simple, delicious, and easy to modify depending on the contents of one's refrigerator. Also, it is the kind of food that you feel good after eating. Yum!
  4. Green Apple Salad with Grilled Beef -- My friend Alex and I made this dish not long after I started this crazy project. Alex had a roof deck attached to his apartment in Boston, and he had a grill on the deck! This was a rare thing in Boston, so whenever we cooked together at his place we would pick something grilled from The Book. This dish was refreshing, light, and delicious! In fact, I think I will make it again when I get back to the States after my travels. It is perfect summer food!
  5. Taco Salad with Salsa Vinaigrette -- In retrospect I have no idea why I gave this recipe a B+. It deserves a better grade. I made this towards the beginning of the project, so perhaps I didn't have the perspective on grading that I do now. I think perhaps it got a lower grade because it wasn't particularly fancy, or impressive in appearance. But it was delicious, and of course that is what should count! Paul and I both enjoyed this dish and I have made it several times since we first made it back in 2006.
I am of glad to be making progress, but this is a section that I am sad to see go. I love salad of all sorts, and this section really was a joy to cook through. There were very few truly bad recipes (the Parsley, Fennel, and Celery Root Salad comes to mind, as does the Coleslaw with Hot Caraway Vinaigrette... weird coincidence that I made both of those terrible salads at Emilee and Brian's place. They sometimes complain that I save the worst recipes for them. Perhaps it is true!) Most of the recipes in this section were very tasty though.

This makes 13 sections completed and only 8 left to finish! Almost there!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Smoked Salmon Mousse with Salmon Roe and Crudites (Page 19)

RECIPE #1263

  • Date: Saturday, April 9th, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Tom, Helen, Charles, Clara, Chris C., and Whitney
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I put off making this recipe for a long time because, well, pureed canned salmon set with gelatin just didn't sound good. But now that I am nearing the end of this project it is time to make even the less appetizing dishes! We had a little dinner party last month when my special gentleman's friend Tom was visiting. I made this dish for the party. I started by oiling a charlotte mold and lining the bottom with waxed paper. I then oiled the bottom again and decoratively arranged some cilantro leaves. I combined water, lemon juice, and gelatin, then added some boiling water. In a food processor I ground together smoked salmon, canned salmon, sour cream, and Tabasco. I added the gelatin mixture and some scallions, salt, and pepper. I beat some heavy cream in a mixer then added it to the salmon mixture. I poured the mousse into a mold and refrigerated. To serve, I inverted it onto a platter and spooned salmon roe around it. I served it with sliced cucumbers. To be fair, this wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It also wasn't good though. I had never in my life cooked with salmon from a can before. I don't know why canned tuna seems perfectly reasonable to me and canned salmon seems absurd, but it does. This dish tasted much like you would expect pureed preserved salmon mixed with whipped cream and set with gelatin to taste. The one thing that did surprise me about it was that the salmon flavor was quite mild. I think I would have liked the dish better if it had a stronger flavor. For instance, more smoked salmon and less canned salmon would have made the dish more to my liking. I also would add less heavy cream were I to make this again. As it was there was a ton of cream and a very mild salmon flavor, and I didn't love it. The salmon eggs did add bursts of salty flavor, which was nice. I can imagine a version of this dish that would be pretty tasty (or as tasty as a fish mousse is ever really going to get), but as written I wasn't loving this recipe.

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I was at a conference last week at a math institute in the Black Forest in Germany. At this particular institute, conferences are fairly small, and invitation-only. It is a fantastic place. The setting is beautiful and the food and lodging are completely paid for by the institute, which is amazing. This was my fourth trip there and I look forward to traveling there again in the future. The conference that I was a part of last week had 25-30 participants. Throughout the week people kept saying to me, "You are the only woman here," as though somehow that fact had escaped me. For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, different fields of mathematics have different proportions of women. Women are certainly the minority in every mathematical field, but some fields are worse than others. I think of myself as an algebraic topologist and an algebraic K-theorist. Algebraic topology is a field with few women. In writing a proposal recently I needed to list all female algebraic topologists in the United States who are on the tenure-track at a research university. After much brainstorming, I couldn't even come up with five, including myself. There are another handful that already have tenure, but that's it for senior women in my field in the Unites States. Algebraic K-theory is even worse. There are very few female K-theorists around the world. The conference I went to last week was a K-theory conference.

So it was not the fault of the organizers that I was the only woman. Indeed, one other woman had agreed to come and didn't show up. And at this point in my career I am quite accustomed to being the only woman, or one of a few women, in a large group of men, so it didn't particularly bother me. It did get me thinking, though, about why it is that there are so few women in math that being the only woman in a group of 25 mathematicians seems normal to me. This is, obviously, a very complicated question, and one that I have many thoughts about, and few concrete answers. The numbers get worse at every career stage. The percentage of math graduate students that are female is higher than the percentage of math post-docs that are female, which is again higher than the percentage of tenure-track professors that are female. And the percentage of tenured math faculty that are female is lowest of all.

At every stage, a lot of women leave. In algebraic topology at least three very talented women have left academic math in the last year. These are women with PhDs from places like Stanford or MIT. There are people of both genders who leave math every year -- many of them forced out because they can't get a job. But that was not the case with these three. They chose to leave. And while I would like to say that I can't understand why they left, I do understand it. In a lot of ways being an academic is a fantastic life. But it also has some significant downsides. It seems that many people who leave are happier for it. It makes me sad though -- not because I think they made the wrong choice, or they should have done something differently -- I definitely don't think that. It just makes me sad because I miss them.

I hope that during my career I will see more women in my field. Honestly, though, I don't know if it will happen or not...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Salt Cod Fritters (Page 49)

RECIPE #1262

  • Date: Thursday, March 3, 2011 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Adam, Chris C., Tom J., Ron, and a bunch of other mathematicians...
  • Recipe Rating: B

My special gentleman's friend and collaborator Adam stayed at our house for a couple weeks this winter. Normally when visitors come I try to make a nice meal from The Book. Adam has some dietary restrictions though that made that difficult. So instead we had an appetizers and desserts reception for him at our house, with a bunch of topologists/geometers from our department. I made a bunch of food (mostly not from The Book), but also this recipe from The Book, which Adam could eat. I started by soaking salt cod for 2 days, changing the water occasionally. I ground the cod in a food processor, then added flour, milk, egg, baking powder, allspice, and garlic, and blended it some more. I stirred in some green chiles, scallions, and cilantro, then deep fried the mixture by the spoonful. These little fritters had the potential to be amazing, but as it turned out they were just OK. Strangely, the problem was that the cod mixture desperately needed more salt. Salt cod is extremely salty, but the point of soaking it (and changing the water) is to draw out much of that salt. I soaked it as directed, but apparently it was too long. My Portuguese friend Ana told me afterward that salt cod in the US is not nearly as salty as the salt cod in Portugal, and that often if you soak it for the recommended time it ends up bland. Live and learn! So, the fritters were pretty bland, but what little flavor they had was appealing. I think that if the batter had been properly seasoned this recipe would have been a winner!

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Hello from Germany! We are having a wonderful time in Europe so far. Our first destination was Lausanne, Switzerland, where I attended a conference in my field. It had been years since I attended a conference where I was neither giving a talk, nor organizing the conference. It was gloriously relaxing to just be a conference participant again! Neither me nor my special gentleman had ever spent any significant time in Switzerland before, and we discovered that the country definitely lives up to its reputation for being gorgeous. Lausanne is a beautiful city. Here is one view:

One of the mathematicians in my field, Christian, is from that area originally and he was kind enough to give me and my special gentleman a tour of the city. Here is my special gentleman with Christian, enjoying the view:

Our friend (and my former post-doc advisor) Mike was also at the conference. Here's a picture of Mike and my special gentleman wandering back through the city after dinner one evening:

I didn't get as much time to see Lausanne as I would have liked. The conference schedule was busy and I was pretty jet-lagged. My special gentleman had a great time wandering around though, and he declared Lausanne possibly the nicest city he has ever been to (and he has been a lot of places!). I tried to take a picture of the two of us together, walking near Lake Geneva, but it didn't quite come out right...

On Sunday we drove from Switzerland to Germany. (Note: When I say that "we" drove, I really mean that my special gentleman drove, seeing as how I still haven't learned to drive our stick shift rental car.) We are at a conference center in the Black Forest now, where I am attending a workshop in my field. I gave a talk on Monday, which was a little stressful. I am the only woman at the conference, and one of only a handful of people under the age of 35. The audience contained quite a few very famous mathematicians, some of whom basically invented the field I do research in. Not exactly an easy audience to lecture in front of for an hour. My talk went fine though, and the nice thing about talking on the first day is that it makes the rest of the week a lot less stressful. Here is a picture of where we are staying. Those buildings are the conference center, where we eat, work, attend talks, and sleep.
This is my fourth trip to this particular conference center, and it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is. Here is my special gentleman on one of the trails leading into the forest:

In addition to the natural beauty of the surroundings, I have also been very much enjoying the mathematics this week. This workshop has been particularly interesting/inspiring. It ends on Friday and over the weekend we are headed back to Switzerland, this time for a conference in my special gentleman's field. I will only spend a few days there with him before flying to England to visit my friend Chris. Fun times!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Caribbean Spicy Dipping Sauce (Page 49)

RECIPE #1261

  • Date: Thursday, March 3, 2011 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Adam, Chris C., Tom J., Ron, and a bunch of other mathematicians...
  • Recipe Rating: B

This was, I think, the last very quick recipe that I had left in The Book. It was the dipping sauce for some hors d'oeuvres I made a couple months back. I stirred together minced onion, minced scallions, minced red bell pepper, minced garlic, minced habanero, salt, and dried thyme. I added some boiling water and white wine vinegar to the vegetables, then I let the mixture cool. Then I added lime juice, vegetable oil, and cilantro. That was it! This dipping sauce went with some fish fritters (which I will blog about next). The sauce was a perfectly fine accompaniment for the fritters. The one odd thing about it was that there was too much liquid for it to be like a salsa, yet too many chopped vegetables for it to really seem like a sauce. If you just dipped your fritter in the sauce the minced veggies didn't stick to it. And if you spooned the sauce over your fritter it mostly just ran onto the plate, as it was very thin. It was difficult to get any delicious minced bits on the fritter. The flavor was fine though. I didn't dislike the sauce but I also wasn't tremendously wowed by it.

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My apologies for the insanely long blog silence. Life has been crazy busy lately, and I have done little except work and sleep. Last week was finals week, which meant I had to write, administer, and grade two final exams. Foolishly, I also agreed to give two talks during the week. So after a weekend of doing nothing but writing exams and talks, I gave a calculus exam Monday afternoon, then immediately drove to Chicago to give a talk at the University of Chicago on Tuesday. I stayed in Chicago on Wednesday to work with one of my collaborators, V. I drove home Wednesday night so I could get up early Thursday morning, hold office hours, and then give a final exam (add in there a grant meeting and a disciplinary group meeting and it was a busy day!). Thursday evening I worked on preparing the second talk of the week, on a very different topic, for a very different audience. My Chicago talk was on some recent research results of mine, and was aimed at specialists in Algebraic Topology. The Saturday talk on the other hand was more of a fun, popular math talk. It was very introductory, given at a meeting of mathematicians from throughout the state of Michigan, including some undergraduate math majors. The conference that it was a part of took place in Kalamazoo, about an hour and a half from where we live. Friday I spent the day at the conference in Kalamazoo, and the evening working on my talk for Saturday. Saturday was another crazy day. I went to Kalamazoo to give my talk then rushed back to East Lansing in order to attend the university graduation. It was my first time on the faculty side of a graduation ceremony, and my first time wearing my official MIT doctoral regalia (which I didn't buy back when I got my PhD, but rather acquired recently). After the ceremony I went to a reception for the graduates followed by a retirement dinner for one of my colleagues. Busy! Sunday I frantically graded the final exams I had given during the week, and calculated course grades. My special gentleman and I also ran around like crazy people trying to prepare ourselves for a long time away from home. Monday I packed and tied up loose ends during the day and in the evening, we left for Europe. Phew! It makes me tired again just thinking about it.

We are away for five weeks now. It is a long time to be gone. We have someone living in our house to take care of our kitties though, so they won't be lonely! Monday/Tuesday we flew to Paris, then drove to Lausanne, Switzerland. We decided to rent a car for our time in Europe, as we have to go to many different places, and several of them are a bit remote. The downside is that one of the items we didn't get to on the to-do list before we left was for me to learn to drive with manual transmission. So I actually don't know how to drive our rental car. That meant that after coming off an 8-hour overnight flight, Matt had to drive the 6 hours between Paris and Lausanne without anyone to switch off with him. He managed amazingly well. This week I am attending a conference in Lausanne. Next week I am attending one in the Black Forest in Germany. The following week we are headed back to Switzerland where my special gentleman will attend a conference in his field. I will only spend a few days at his conference, then fly to England to visit Chris, a good friend who I am also working on a research project with. The following week my special gentleman and I are headed to Nantes, France, where my special gentleman will be attending a workshop. Then I am flying from Paris to San Francisco to spend a week out in Palo Alto working with some of my collaborators. Then I will return home! My special gentleman has a few extra stops on his trip (Italy, and Stony Brook, New York, for instance). It is a crazy agenda!

I am quite backlogged in my blogging, so I will continue to update throughout my time in Europe. My jet-lag is wearing off, and I think I will have a bit of relaxation time between conferences, so hopefully I will have time to post! I have to admit, I wasn't too excited about the idea of being away from home for so long, especially when I was already so tired from the end of the semester. But now that we are here, it's awesome (as one might expect). Yummy food, beautiful scenery, friends/colleagues from around the world who I don't often get to see... I can't complain! Yay for summer "vacation!"