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.

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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!!