Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Garlic and Rosemary Jelly (Page 915)

RECIPE #1269

  • Date: Sunday, April 24, 2011 -- 1pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Emilee, Brian, Sam, Georgina, Bob M, Teri, Terry, Corbett, Mary, Allison, Kendra, Jubin, Watson, and Mark W
  • Recipe Rating: C-
The Book suggests this jelly as an accompaniment for lamb, so when I made lamb as part of our Easter dinner, I figured I would take the opportunity to make this jelly as well. The ingredients for this jelly: 2 cups total of liquid (white wine plus white wine vinegar), 15 garlic cloves, 4 rosemary sprigs, a pouch of pectin, and 3 and a half cups of sugar. That's a lot of sugar. I started by sterilizing some jars. Then I chopped the garlic and combined all the ingredients except the pectin. I boiled the mixture, then stirred in the pectin and boiled some more. I strained the jelly to separate the rosemary and garlic from the rest. I divided the rosemary and garlic between jars, then poured in the jelly. I sealed and processed the jars in a boiling water canner. This jelly was not delicious. Generally speaking I am a huge fan of sweet and savory combinations, but in this case it just did not work for me. The jelly was extremely sweet, jet garlicky. It also had a very non-uniform consistency, with the chopped garlic sinking to the bottom. I tried the jelly on its own. I also tried it with lamb. And I concluded that I couldn't think of one possible use for it. We still have several jars of it sitting in the cupboard, but I think they are going to find their way into the trash soon. This recipe was not good.

The recipe is here.

Only 24 recipes left to go!

I don't think I have ever in my life been quite so enamored with summer as I am this year. It is 9pm on a Wednesday evening. I worked hard today, and now I am sitting at the dining room table eating a raspberry truffle chocolate bar that Georgina gave me for my birthday in April. I am drinking white wine left over from Monday evening when some of my girlfriends came over. I have squab stock simmering on the stove and Lori McKenna playing loudly in the kitchen. The little kitty is curled up on the chair next to me and the big kitty is looking out the screen door. And I feel completely relaxed. I. Love. Summer.

This past weekend I had what may have been the perfect summer weekend. On Friday evening, after I got home from work, I took a two hour bath. I lounged in the bath tub, reading magazines and luxuriating. After my bath my special gentleman and I watched a terrible movie. It was great. Saturday I spent the day cooking from The Book. I made four recipes (which at this point is a pretty decent percentage of what I have left to make!). I cooked all day in a leisurely, no-stress fashion. In the evening we had a bunch of friends over to eat the results. We sat on the porch, eating turkey and not-eating tripe. The weather was perfect. After dinner we ate the best strawberry shortcake I have ever had (made by Helen!) and played board games. It was a lovely summer day. On Sunday we spent most of the day in the yard, weeding, pruning, talking to the neighbors. In the evening we walked over to the stadium on campus to see U2 in concert. The concert was great and the atmosphere was great. I ate concession stand food and danced through the whole concert. It was awesome. I didn't work at all this weekend. And more importantly, I didn't feel guilty about it. I worked very hard all through the academic year. I worked seven days a week nearly every week. So this summer if I take some weekends off I am choosing to do so without guilt!

The fantastic thing about summer is that without teaching there is a little more time in the day. Time to cook. Time to exercise. Time to take care of administrative things. Yesterday we had someone come out to the house to give us an estimate on the cost of putting on a roof deck. This morning before work we went to the bank to start the paperwork for refinancing from a 30-year to a 15-year mortgage. I am checking things off my To-Do list that have been there for months and it feels good! We are spending nearly all of July at home in Michigan and I have high hopes for the month. I am going to plow through both my work To-Do list and my non-work To-Do list. I am going to cook from The Book like a crazy person. I am going to exercise every day. And most importantly, in the evening if I feel like sitting around, sipping white wine and eating chocolate, that is what I am going to do. I love summer!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Classic Foie Gras Terrine (Page 24)

RECIPE #1268

  • Date: Sunday, April 24, 2011 -- 1pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Emilee, Brian, Sam, Terry, Teri, Helen, Charles, Clara, Kendra, Jubin, Watson, Mary, Corbett, Allison, and Mark W
  • Recipe Rating: B

I considered saving this recipe to make as the very final recipe of my project since it is so very, very indulgent. But when Easter rolled around this year and we were not only celebrating Easter, my birthday, and my baptism, but Em and Brian were also in town to celebrate with us, it seemed like the appropriate occasion for a terrine of foie gras! I started by deveining the foie gras, which I did with the assistance of a youtube video, as I had never done it before, nor even seen it done. I wouldn't call myself a deveining expert now, but it went pretty well. I sprinkled the lobes of duck liver with salt and white pepper. I put some Armagnac in the bottom of a small terrine, then put the larger lobe of foie gras in. I sprinkled with some more Armagnac, then put the smaller lobe in. I sprinkled with more Armagnac, covered the surface of the terrine with plastic wrap, then put the lid on the terrine. I put the terrine on a towel in a roasting pan, then filled the roasting pan with hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the terrine. I baked the terrine (Plastic wrap and all! Definitely my first time putting plastic wrap in the oven.) in a very low oven: 120 degrees. When the terrine was done baking I took it out and weighted it. After a while I removed the weight and refrigerated the terrine for a day. To serve, I unmolded the terrine and served it with toasted slices of baguette.

As you can see above, this terrine looked very scary. That large yellow layer was just pure fat. The yellow fat layer is typical for foie gras terrines, but my fat layer seemed thicker than most. We all eyed this dish quite suspiciously. Truth be told, though, it tasted really good. That yellow fat layer was quite scrumptious, and although I am typically not really a liver person, I very much enjoyed this liver. Most people who dared to taste it seemed to like it, but I think its appearance drove a few people away from it! Plus, we had so many other food options that weren't so scary looking. I didn't want to fill up on the foie gras when I had a plate of other food waiting for me that looked like this:

Indeed it was quite a spread. Here's one table of food:

And another:

And a table just for the asparagus, which wouldn't fit anywhere else. (Note: if you think those potholders are cute that the asparagus is sitting on, you should visit my friend Mel's online store. She makes incredibly beautiful kitchen things.)

It was a big and tasty meal, and I am glad that this was the occasion for which I made the foie gras terrine. It did seem appropriately celebratory!

The recipe is here.

Only 25 recipes left to go!

This week was our Boot Camp summer retreat. It sounds military, or athletic, but this was a different kind of boot camp: Writing Boot Camp. I'm not sure where this idea came from, but in our group I think it was a colleague named Cheryl who started it. Our Boot Camp group typically meets on Fridays throughout the school year. On a typical Friday anywhere from 4-10 people might show up. We meet in a conference room somewhere on campus, and at the beginning of the day (typically around 8:45am) everyone announces what they hope to accomplish that day. There are several different departments represented in the group: Fisheries and Wildlife, History, Mathematics, etc, so people tend to be working on many different things (e.g. writing grants, writing books, writing papers, writing referee reports, writing talks, writing book reviews, writing manuscript reviews... there is a theme: writing!). Everyone in the group is both a researcher and a teacher, but Boot Camp is a time when we DO NOT work on teaching-related activities. We don't prep lectures, or grade. We work on research.

One of the lovely things about life in academia is its lack of structure. It is very freeing. On the other hand, especially during the semester, it can be difficult to get the research writing done that you would like to, simply because it is hard to carve out the time. Boot Camp, unlike most of academic life, is very structured. We work on a schedule. A typical Boot Camp day is something like:

8:45 - 9: Settle in, chat, eat snacks
9 - 10:45: Work cycle
10:45 - 11: Break -- read email, eat snacks, chat
11 - 12:30: Work cycle
12:30 - 1:15: Lunch
1:15 - 2:45: Work cycle
2:45 - 3: Break - read email, eat snacks, chat
3 - 4:30: Work cycle
4:30 - 5:30: Some continue working, while others leave.

If you have to leave to teach, you leave to teach. But otherwise, you follow the schedule. The work cycles are very focused and very quiet. We don't chat. We don't write social emails or play around on Facebook. We sit and we write. If you have to pee you are allowed to go pee. Maybe it sounds silly, and for those who are outside academia it might sound completely ridiculous. But it is amazing. It is a great work environment. When you reach that point in the day when normally you might say to yourself, "I have done enough of this difficult writing today, I am going to work on ______ instead," you look around the room and see everyone else working hard: Helen working on her book, Georgina writing a grant, Kendra analyzing data for a paper, Mark revising a paper, Cheryl writing a review, Matt writing a paper, etc, and you feel motivated to keep working on whatever mentally challenging work you were doing.

This week was our Boot Camp retreat. We had Boot Camp every day Monday through Friday from 9-5. Not every single person was there all day every day, but there was a nice size crowd the whole week. It was intense. We spent the week locked in a conference room, writing. It was productive for me and I think for many other people as well. And although this week was the official retreat, our Boot Camp is continuing throughout the summer. We have a sign-up sheet, and it seems that at least a couple people will be in that conference room each day throughout the next two months. I am sure I will be spending many days in there myself. It's a particularly great place to go on days when you are feeling unmotivated. There is nothing like a room full of hard-working assistant professors to inspire you to work! In fact, I think I am headed back to Boot Camp on Monday!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blini with Three Caviars (Page 39)

RECIPE #1267

  • Date: Sunday, April 24, 2011 -- 1pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Emilee
  • Dining Companions: Brian, Sam, Matty, Teri, Terry, Helen, Charles, Clara, Georgina, Bob M, Kendra, Jubin, Watson, Mary, Corbett, Allison, and Mark W
  • Recipe Rating: B-

I hadn't made this recipe yet because it calls for three kinds of caviar (which is a little extreme, no?), but we had a big party on Easter/my birthday, and it seemed like just the occasion for such extravagance! To make the buckwheat pancakes, I proofed some yeast, then added buckwheat flour, sugar, heated milk, and butter. I let the mixture rise overnight in the fridge. (Note: The Book gives the option of letting it rise on the counter for 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. For logistical reasons I chose the latter. The Book also notes that the overnight option will produce tangier batter, and I can confirm that the pancakes were extremely tangy. If I were to make them again, I would let the batter rise on the counter instead -- my pancakes had too much tang!) I then added more warm milk, flour, salt, and egg yolk to the batter. I let it rise for an hour. I beat heavy cream until soft peaks formed, then folded the whipped cream into the batter. I beat egg whites to stiff peaks and folded them in as well. I cooked the blinis in a heavy skillet brushed with melted butter. Emilee helped me top them with sour cream and three different types of caviar (golden caviar, black caviar, and salmon roe). We had several vegetarians and people with fish allergies in attendance, so we also topped some of them with sour cream and chopped black olives. These blinis were met with mixed reviews. I thought the pancakes alone didn't have a very good flavor (too tangy/yeasty, as previously mentioned, and they tasted a bit like dirt), but when topped with the sour cream and caviar (or olives) the flavors balanced well and I kind of liked them. Emilee, on the other hand, almost puked on our family room floor after tasting one of these. To be fair, she is pregnant, so perhaps her stomach is a little off, but she maintains that it wasn't pregnancy related. She says the blini was just so disgusting that it was a struggle to keep it down. So, they weren't an overwhelming hit. Indeed, although some of them did get eaten, many of them remained untouched. I doubt I will be making this recipe again.

The recipe in the book calls for twice as much yeast (in proportion to other ingredients) as the recipe online, which is here.

Only 26 recipes left to go!

I am home, and so very, very happy to be home! Our trip was really wonderful, but five weeks was a long time to be gone, and by the end I was definitely feeling ready to go home. Plus, summer in Michigan is spectacularly beautiful. I can't get over how lush, and green, and gorgeous everything is right now. And the weather the last few days has been spectacular. I have lived in California, Boston, South Carolina, Southern Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and I can honestly say that I think summer in the upper Midwest is the nicest summer in the country. Yes, we suffer in the winter, but the summer is so fantastic! While walking to work yesterday I was just overcome with joy. I love summer. During the semester I always feel behind. I work long hours and never feel caught up. This school year was insanely busy and as soon as the school year ended we left for our trip. And the trip was fabulous, but it was logistically complicated and involved a lot of work obligations. I wouldn't call it a vacation. But now, back at home, I feel as though I can exhale. I am still working hard, but I also have time. I have time to work out. Time to cook. Time to sit around with my kitties. Time to see friends. Today was my friend Helen's birthday, and we went together to get facials to celebrate. I have time for a facial! And it feels amazing. For the first time in a long time, I feel genuinely relaxed. I love summer. And the fantastic thing about our schedule this summer is that we consolidated a lot of the travel. So we were gone for a long time, but now I don't have to get on another airplane for seven weeks! I can't even put into words how delighted I am about seven weeks of Michigan summer, in the comfort of my own home. I can't remember the last time I felt as happy as I do today. Ah, Michigan summer.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Fried Perch Fillets with Fresh Cucumber Relish (Page 297)

RECIPE #1266

  • Date: Saturday, April 16, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A
I hadn't made this recipe yet, although it sounded delicious, because I hadn't seen lake perch at the store. So when I spotted some a few weeks back I was very excited, and I took the opportunity to make this dish. My special gentleman prepared the relish by whisking together lemon juice and vinegar, then adding olive oil, cucumber, red bell pepper, red onion, celery, and salt. Meanwhile, I skinned the fillets, then dipped them in a mixture of egg and milk followed by a dip in a mixture of fresh bread crumbs, flour, Parmesan cheese, dill, thyme, salt, and pepper. I then dipped each fillet in the egg mixture again, followed by the crumb mixture for a second time. Then I deep fried the breaded fish until the breading was golden brown. In a word: Yum! Oh my gosh was this dish good! I don't typically get too excited about fish, but this fried fish was delicious. The double dipping gave the fish a hearty layer of breading, which was flavorful and crispy. The cucumber relish was delicious, and the fresh, acidic flavors of the relish offset the heaviness of the fried fish very nicely. The dish was simple to prepare, and extremely tasty. This will definitely be my go-to recipe for fried fish in the future.

This recipe isn't online.

Only 27 recipes left to go!

Hello from California! After four weeks in Europe, last Friday I headed back to the States. My 11-hour flight from Paris to San Francisco was long, but otherwise uneventful. I spent last weekend hanging out with my dear friends Emilee, Brian, and Sam. On Monday my mini-workshop started. There is a math institute in Palo Alto which funds collaborative research. So they paid for me and three of my collaborators from around the country to fly out here for a week and work together on some projects. They provide lodging, workspace, and never-ending snacks and wine -- it's a very nice arrangement! It is an intense experience, but also quite fun as the three guys I am here working with (Mike, V, and Andrew) are also friends of mine. We have had a productive and exhausting week.

It's always strange coming back to the Bay Area. I went to college at Stanford, and the place where I am staying now is just a couple miles down the street from the campus where I lived for four years. So I do feel a bit nostalgic. I have been realizing though that many of the memories that I have of this place are from my post-college experiences here. I graduated 9 years ago, and in the time since I moved away I have made at least 20 trips back to the Bay Area, including some that lasted for more than a month. I have lots of mathematical reasons to visit here, and also personal reasons, so I come back often. I went for a long walk tonight. I wandered around for a couple hours, thinking about all the experiences I have had here, the people I have spent time with, the things I have learned... I thought about college, and also my visits since then. There are several areas of the country that hold special places in my heart: Madison, Boston, Bloomington, East Lansing... but the Bay Area remains especially dear to me. So I am happy to be here. At the same time, I am also anxious to go home. Our mini-workshop ends tomorrow, and on Saturday I am headed back to Michigan! After more than a month on the road, including travel to five different countries, nothing sounds nicer to me than going home. I can't wait to see the kitties, sleep in my own bed, eat homemade food, see my friends... It sounds insanely wonderful. Even better: I am not making another long trip until August! Once I get home on Saturday, I don't have to get on an airplane again for seven weeks! In August I am headed to Europe again, for a week in Germany. But between now and then my plan is to enjoy a beautiful Michigan summer at home. I can't wait!