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.