Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mortadella and Truffle-Stuffed Pork Loin with Rosemary Roast Potatoes (Page 470)

RECIPE #1256

  • Date: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: B

I had my eye on this recipe for quite a while. When a blizzard hit East Lansing last month, it seemed like the perfect time to make it. I managed to go to the grocery store on a Tuesday evening before the snow started. The university canceled classes that Wednesday, so it was the perfect day to stay home and stuff a pork loin! Our friends Helen and Charles live only a short walk away from us, so they braved the snow to join us for dinner. To prepare this pork I started by making a mixture of crushed black peppercorns, salt, garlic, and butter. I butterflied the pork loin, then my special gentleman helped me pound it to an even thickness. I spread some black truffle butter evenly over the pork, then topped the butter with thinly sliced mortadella. I repeated with another layer of truffle butter, a layer of mortadella, and a final layer of truffle butter. Then I carefully rolled up the loin, tied it, and rubbed it with the peppercorn butter mixture. I roasted the pork for a while, and simultaneously parboiled some peeled yellow potatoes. I tossed the potatoes with olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper, then added them to the roasting pan with the pork. I roasted it all until the pork reached 150 degrees. I made a pan sauce by deglazing with chicken stock, then adding cornstarch and truffle butter. I served the pork with the potatoes and sauce. This dish was pretty good. The potatoes had a lovely pork and rosemary flavor to them and the meat was nicely cooked. My only complaint was that the dish didn't have enough flavor. The truffle flavor was present in the pork, but not bold enough. And the mortadella didn't contribute much in terms of flavor. I think I would have liked the dish better had the pork been stuffed with something more strongly flavored, like prosciutto, rather than the mortadella. With prosciutto and more truffle butter, this dish could have been crazy delicious. As it was, it was just tasty. I liked it, but I doubt I will make it again. There are much better pork loin preparations out there.

The recipe is here.

Only 37 recipes left!

For the last three weeks or so I have given up eating anything between meals. This is the season of Lent, and I am choosing to fast for Lent by eating a small breakfast and lunch each day, a normal size dinner, and nothing between meals. The first couple weeks of Lent were a little rough. I think many people probably eat this way normally, but it is just not the way I eat. I am a grazer. I eat when I am hungry. I don't eat when I am not hungry. I don't like the feeling of being overfull, so I never eat so much at a meal that I won't be hungry before the next one. Consequently, I always carry food with me. At the first sign of hunger, I have a snack. It is rare that any 2 hour waking period goes by during which I don't eat. I eat so frequently that I rarely experience the feeling of being very hungry. All of this has changed.

The first few days of Lent I was astonished by how hungry I could feel. I got used to the hunger quite quickly though. Once I learned to expect the hunger, I grew much less frustrated by it. This morning I had a piece of toast for breakfast. By 11am or so I was hungry again, but luckily I was distracted by a half dozen students in my office hours. I had some yogurt with granola for lunch at noon. After I taught both my classes and ran around for a while trying to get things done, I got really hungry again around 3:30pm. Dinner time finally rolled around at 6:30pm. I had a bowl of chili, a salad, and some french fries. The food tasted incredibly good, probably in no small part because by then I was extremely hungry! Now it is almost 10pm and I am hungry again. But I'll go to bed soon, and actually wake up feeling less hungry in the morning.

I never diet, mostly because I feel fine about the way that I eat, but also because I just don't think I would have the willpower to do it. I would get hungry, and I am sure that I would rationalize having something to eat. This is very different. I don't consider it an option to cheat on my Lenten fast. I use the hunger as a reminder that this is a period of reflection and prayer. In past years I have given up various things for Lent: meat, candy, etc... This is definitely the most challenging Lenten fast I have done. It has also been the most rewarding. This is a special Lent season for me, as I am being baptized this year at the Easter Vigil. I have thought about baptism for many years. This year it finally feels like the right time. Easter is just over three weeks away and I am very excited!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Green Apple Sorbet (Page 860)

RECIPE #1255

  • Date: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty, Helen, and Charles
  • Recipe Rating: B-

This was the LAST DESSERT I had left in The Book. That's right. There are NO MORE DESSERTS! It is a moment both for celebration and mourning. I am delighted to have made them all, but I am sad to see them go. I would have made this recipe much sooner, as I love sorbet and it only had a 15 minute active time. But the recipe requires a juicer strong enough to juice an apple and I don't have one. Luckily, it recently came to my attention that my friend Helen does have such a juicer and she was willing to lend it to me! This recipe was super simple. I boiled sugar and water to form a syrup. Then I crushed a vitamin C tablet into powder. I juiced the apples (skins, seeds, and all!) and added both the vitamin C powder and the sugar syrup to the juice. I chilled the juice until it was very cold, then froze it in an ice cream maker. That was it! This sorbet was OK. It definitely had a strong green apple flavor, but it had a bit of a weird flavor too. I couldn't tell if it came from the vitamin C tablet, or if it was from the skins of the apples. I'm not sure. But there was an off flavor that I couldn't get past. Unfortunately, omitting the vitamin C isn't really an option, as it is there to preserve the color of the sorbet. I enjoyed trying this sorbet, but ultimately it sat in our freezer for a while and then got thrown away. Definitely not a recipe I would make again.

The recipe is here.

Only 38 recipes left!

This was the last recipe in the Frozen Desserts and Sweet Sauces section of The Book that I had left to make. So, it is time to reminisce about some of the delicious recipes in that section! In no particular order, my top five recipes from Frozen Desserts and Sweet Sauces:
  1. Cream Cheese Ice Cream -- I was suprised by how much I liked this cream cheese flavored ice cream. It was tangy and rich, and the texture was perfect. I made this for a bunch of friends in Boston not long after I started this project. Good times!
  2. Kir Royale Sorbet -- Raspberry sorbet with champagne and creme de cassis! How can you go wrong? As it turns out, you can't. This sorbet was awesome. We brought this to Paul and Beth's house, and I was a little worried that we were getting underage Lauren drunk on boozy sorbet. She had a few servings! It was irresistably good.
  3. Dark Chocolate-Caramel Ice Cream Sandwiches -- Emilee bought me animal shaped ice cream sandwich molds for my birthday one year, and this was the first recipe I made with them! Chris and I brought these very cute pig and cow shaped ice cream sandwiches to a Halloween dinner at Mike and Teresa's house. Both the chocolate cookies and the caramel ice cream were delicious on their own. They were even better together. Yum!
  4. Raspberry Sauce -- This very simple sauce had a fantastic raspberry flavor. I made it back in the days when I cooked for the Talbot math conference every year. We ate it with molten chocolate cake, but it would be delicious on ice cream, or with a variety of other desserts.
  5. Vanilla Creme Anglaise -- Creme Anglaise is always delicious and this was no exception. It had a great vanilla flavor. I made this one for the Talbot conference too, and it was enjoyed by all!
I can't believe I am not only done with this section, but also with all of the other dessert sections in The Book. Crazy!! The end of the project is in sight!

Now I have 12 sections completed and 9 sections left to finish. I am almost there!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Roasted Squab (Page 406)

RECIPE #1254

  • Date: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C

A while back I ordered all the squab I need for the rest of this project and they have been sitting in my basement freezer. I decided it was about time to pull some out and make another squab recipe. I prepared a mixture of butter, shallots, thyme, lemon zest, salt, and pepper, and worked it between the skin and the flesh of the squabs. I seasoned the birds, then browned them in butter. I roasted the squabs in a hot oven. As it turns out, I just don't like squab. This is the second squab recipe I have made from The Book and the second squab recipe from The Book that I have not liked. Fortunately there is only one more squab recipe left, and my plan is to put that one off for a while. It's odd because in general I very much enjoy eating poultry. But pigeon just isn't my thing. It is incredibly different in color, flavor, and texture than other poultry. The dark, livery meat doesn't appeal to me. My special gentleman is a bit more neutral about squab than I am, but even he couldn't get on board with this recipe. There was no sauce or other components to this dish, so it was the meat that was meant to shine. Unfortunately instead of shining it just tasted kind of bad. I certainly won't make this dish again.

This recipe isn't online.

Only 39 recipes left to go!

I ate dinner tonight at an establishment claiming to be the World's Largest Truckstop. I couldn't possibly verify the accuracy of their claim, but I will say that it was one of the largest truckstops I have been to. This particular stop was out of desperation -- about 6 hours into the 7 hour drive from East Lansing to Iowa City, I became extremely hungry. The World's Largest Truck Stop was the best option available.

I am in Iowa City now. This week was a whirlwind. We got home from our East Coast trip on Saturday night. Sunday I went to church and then spent the rest of the day desperately trying to prepare for the week ahead of me (grading, writing lectures, writing exams, working on my annual review documentation, etc...). I never did end up feeling prepared for the week. Indeed, I would say that this week kicked my butt. Being home for four days between trips is a little rough. It's long enough that you try to settle back into a routine. But it's not long enough that you can really buy groceries and unpack your suitcase. The contents of my suitcase were dumped in the washing machine, then folded and put right back into the suitcase. I am giving exams in both my classes tomorrow since I won't be there to teach. So this week included a lot of exam writing and meeting with students who were worried about said exams. That, on top of the usual stuff, plus some fun stuff (e.g. a Sarah McLachlan concert), and getting ready for another trip, made for a busy week. But I think that everything that needed to be done got done. I finished writing the second exam at about 1:30am last night. This morning I edited it, photocopied it, and handed it off to the friend who is administering it tomorrow. Then I did several related rates problems with a student before running home to get the house ready for the pet-sitter will be living there this weekend with our kitties. My special gentleman and I hit the road in the early afternoon. I dropped him off in Chicago, where he is staying overnight before catching a flight to Canada tomorrow. I continued on to Iowa City.

Now I am sitting in my hotel room, a little bit exhausted, but looking forward to what should be a fun weekend. There is a meeting of the American Mathematical Society happening here this weekend, and I am co-organizing a special session in the meeting. Some good friends of mine will be here, and we have a great line-up of speakers. It should be fun! And for the moment I am trying not to think about the fact that when I arrive home Sunday night I will have two sets of exams waiting to be graded, and a couple lectures to prepare for Monday! I have a feeling there might be another busy week ahead of me...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tarragon Lobster Salad (Page 157)

RECIPE #1253

  • Date: Sunday, January 9, 2011 -- 2pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

I put off making the lobster recipes in The Book because I wasn't too excited about the boiling of live lobsters. Now that I have done it a few times though it has become old hat and I am making rapid progress through the lobster dishes. For this dish I boiled some live lobsters then removed the meat and cut it into pieces. I stirred together chopped shallots, lemon juice, and salt and let the mixture sit for a bit. Then I whisked in mayonnaise, tarragon, and pepper. I added the lobster meat and tossed. I served the salad on toasted hot dog buns. It was as easy as that! My reaction to this dish wasn't terribly negative but my special gentleman had some pretty nasty things to say about it. He exclaimed more than once: "Why would you ever do this to a beautiful lobster?" He isn't a huge mayonnaise fan and the idea of adding mayo to lobster really bothered him. Apparently he had never experienced a lobster roll before and the existence of the dish made him very angry. In the end he scooped his salad off the bun, put the salad in a sieve and rinsed it under running water until all he had left was the lobster meat. Then he ate the lobster dipped in melted butter. No, I am not kidding. I, on the other hand, have eaten lobster rolls before, and do not find them to be particularly offensive. This, I thought, was a perfectly reasonable lobster roll recipe. The balance of ingredients was fine. The salad wasn't drowned in too much mayonnaise and the tarragon gave it flavor without being overpowering. Are there better ways to eat lobster? Yeah, sure. But if you are craving a lobster roll, this version is not bad at all.

The recipe is here.

Only 40 recipes left to go!

Our Spring Break adventures took us back to Boston this year (amongst other places) as my special gentleman and I were both invited to give talks at MIT. I lived in the Boston area for five years when I was doing my PhD. I have many fond memories of my years living in Boston, and also some not-so-fond memories. On the fond memories side, my special gentleman and I met in Boston. I was in my last year of graduate school at MIT and he was in his first year of a post-doc there. We have a lot of Boston memories so it was nice to make this trip back there together.

We arrived in Boston on Sunday. Our whole vacation was full of meals with friends, which was fantastic, but on Sunday night we took the opportunity to have a special dinner, just the two of us, at a restaurant we went to very frequently during the first year of our relationship. It was special being back there. After dinner we walked by his old apartment, and the apartment I lived in when we met. It was a very nostalgic and sweet evening.

On Monday my special gentleman and I both gave talks at MIT. I go back to Boston pretty frequently -- indeed I was there this summer -- but it had been a while since I had been back at MIT while school was in session. My good friend Mike was also back in town. He and I went to graduate school together and to say that we spent a lot of time together would be an enormous understatement. Mike was very much a part of my MIT experience. On Monday he and I met for lunch, at one of the places we frequented as students. Eating burritos together and walking the halls with him felt just like old times, but so many things had changed. It was tremendously unsettling. It was weird to be there but not be a member of the department any more. It was strange to speak in front of a seminar that I attended every week for many years. It was bizarre to be standing at the chalkboard, looking out at the audience and thinking about all the times I sat in those same seats, and listened to someone give a talk on those same sliding boards. It was in that room that I once fainted during seminar, at a time when I was having some medical problems. It was in that room that Mike dropped his notes for his talk behind the sliding boards and couldn't reach to get them because his pants were baggy enough that they would have fallen off. It was in that room that a particularly famous speaker threw a piece of chalk at a very famous faculty member's head. It was in that room that I taught linear algebra recitations. It was in that room that a screeching squirrel slid down the window pane, having been forced out the window of the room above it. I also have dozens of mathematical memories of that room: things I learned there, pictures people drew on the board, concepts that I understood for the first time while sitting in the audience in that room... All of those thoughts went through my head as I was giving my talk. I have been in that room so many times, but this time it was incredibly different. So many of the people I associate with my years at MIT have since moved on: Mike, V, Chris, Lars, Vero, Andre, Tyler, Ricky, John, Matt, Michael, Angelica, Jenny, Nora, Peter, Francesca, etc... And new people have moved in. And while a few audience members were the same: Mark, Jacob, Big Mike, etc... mostly it was different. Of course our field is small so the new faces weren't unfamiliar. I knew almost everyone in the audience. But Kyle or David or Clark or Kirsten, they weren't part of my MIT experience and it was just weird to see them there. The whole thing was very unsettling.

My talk went perfectly fine, but right afterward, and still now, I had a terrible feeling about it. I can't explain why. It just felt so weird.

Even now, a few days removed from the experience of being back there, I am having a hard time sorting out how I felt about the trip. Did it make me miss MIT and the community of topologists there, or did it make me glad to have moved on to somewhere else? I am genuinely not sure. Maybe the real answer is, both. The visit reminded me of all the fantastic things about being at MIT and also all of the not-so-fantastic things about it. It was a weird and emotional few days in Boston. I am glad to be back home now.

More on the rest of our trip another time...

Friday, March 04, 2011

Hunan-Style Tea-Smoked Chicken (Page 355)

RECIPE #1252

  • Date: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-
I put off making this recipe because I had heard from a couple other people that it resulted in a house full of smoke and a not-very-tasty chicken. The warnings about the smoke discouraged me from making this during the many years that I was living in an apartment. Now that we own a house, and excessive smoke and a sounding smoke alarm are inconveniences only for us and not for other people living in the same building, I decided to make this dish. I marinated the chicken in a mixture of rice wine, salt, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, and ginger. Then I put the chicken on a steamer rack in a wok and steamed it over boiling water until it was cooked through. I dried out the wok and lined it with foil. I put black tea leaves and dark brown sugar at the bottom of the wok and set the chicken on a rack above the mixture. I covered the wok and heated it over high heat until smoke started to pour out. I continued to smoke the chicken for 6 minutes, flipped it, then smoked it for 6 minutes more. I took the wok off the heat and let the chicken stand, covered, for a bit longer. I had never smoked poultry before and it was pretty amazing. Yes, the kitchen filled with smoke. Yes, our eyes burned and it smelled for days. But the smoking process was amazingly effective. Perhaps a little too effective. The chicken was incredibly smoky. It was one of those dishes where the first bite was fantastic. The second bite was a little overpowering. By the third bite it was barely edible. It was just too much smoke. It's a shame because the meat was beautifully cooked. It came out moist and tender. Although it was hard to eat, I am glad I made the dish -- it was a fascinating experience. I never would have guessed that I had the equipment at home to infuse that much smoky flavor into anything. There was a lot of chicken leftover, since we could really only eat a few bites. The next day I mixed the meat with lots of rice and some soy sauce, which diluted and balanced out the intense smokiness a bit. It still wasn't a mildly flavored meal, but it was pretty tasty that way, and in the end we ate it all.

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Only 41 recipes left to go!

I made the mistake of looking at my calendar today. As I flipped through the weeks I got more and more scared. I thought the last few months had been busy, but by the looks of it, it is only going to get worse! From now to the middle of June, between me and my special gentleman we are traveling to Boston, Princeton, Iowa, Banff, small-town Illinois, Las Vegas, Chicago, Switzerland, Germany, Switzerland (again), France, Italy, and California. Of those destinations, I myself am only going to 10 of them, but it still feels like a lot! Add to that 8+ more house guests spread out across the between-trips periods that we are home, and I think it is going to be hectic! That said, I am looking forward to seeing our visitors and I think all of the trips will be fun. In addition to containing work (in the form of giving talks, working with collaborators, and attending conferences) we will also see lots of good friends and visit some nice places during our travels.

First up: Boston. Today was the last day of classes before Spring Break and tomorrow morning we are hitting the road. My special gentleman and I are both giving talks at MIT on Monday, so we are headed first to Boston. We decided to drive and stop at Niagara Falls on the way, to make it feel a little more like a vacation. Later in the week we are headed down to Princeton where my special gentleman will give another talk. It won't be the warm weather Spring Break on the beach that I have always dreamed of, but it is sure to be fun! We have lots of great friends on the East Coast and I am excited to see some of them! We are leaving the cats at home, under the careful watch of some friends of ours. After the rat poison incident, I am a little nervous about leaving them. But they are in good hands!

I suppose it is about time for me to start packing for our trip!