Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Raspberry Jam (Page 924)

RECIPE #1276

  • Date: Saturday, July 23, 2011 -- 3pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Karen H, Dave, Georgina, PJ, and Georgia
  • Recipe Rating: B+

There were raspberries in abundance at the Farmer's Market in late July, so it seemed like the right time to make this recipe. I tossed a lot of raspberries with a lot of sugar and some lemon juice and let the berry mixture sit for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, I sterilized canning jars in my boiling water canner. I chilled a couple small plates in the fridge, for testing the jam. I then brought the raspberry mixture to a boil, and boiled until it was done (i.e. until a spoonful of the jam placed on a chilled plate and refrigerated for 1 minute remained in a mound when the plate was tilted). I then whisked together some pectin and sugar, and added it to the jam. I boiled it for a minute longer, then ladled the hot jam into the sterilized jars. I sealed the jars, then processed them in the boiling water canner. This jam came out very nicely. The raspberry flavor came through well, and despite all the sugar, the jam didn't taste overly sweet. The consistency of the jam was also just right. We have already been through several jars of it -- it was definitely tastier than what you can buy at the store. My one complaint about this recipe was that the jam had too many seeds in it. I would prefer that the seeds (or at least some of the seeds) had been strained out. As it was, the jam was a little too crunchy for my taste! Aside from that, it is delicious, and I am quite happy that we still have a few jars of it left!

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Somehow it is that time of year again: classes start tomorrow. I lecture at 9am tomorrow morning and I am prepared. My lecture is written, my syllabi are photocopied. I even went to a faculty lunch seminar this week all about the first day of class. So I am prepared. Yet I don't feel ready. It's always a stressful time, the transition from summer back into the academic year. Honestly, summer is glorious. I worked hard this summer, but I also had time to eat some leisurely dinners on the porch. I swam in lakes, and pools, and seas. I ran along the river trail and canoed down the river. I traveled in Europe and the US, seeing friends and going to conferences. I ate corn on the cob and blue raspberry snow cones. It was awesome. And although in some ways I prefer the academic year to the summer months, I am always sad to see the summer go. Summer really ended more than a week ago, when faculty meetings began. But I held onto it as tightly as I could nonetheless, choosing to view the meetings, learning assistant training, etc, as blips in my summer, rather than the start of a new year. Tonight, though, my denial has ended. Ready or not, bright and early tomorrow morning the school year will be upon me. At 9am I will have 41 Calculus 3 students in front of me. We'll talk about multivariable calculus. I will struggle to draw 3-dimensional pictures on a 2-dimensional chalkboard. It will be fun. Indeed, it is silly to mourn the passing of the summer, as I have ahead of me what is bound to be a great semester. I only have the one class, and generally speaking Calculus 3 students are a good bunch: smart, motivated, reasonably interested in math. Plus, I have never taught Calc 3 before, which will make it an interesting new adventure. The math in Calc 3 is a piece of cake, but the drawing is a real challenge. Will I make a fool of myself trying to draw hyperbolic paraboloids? Only time will tell!

I am also starting various other new career adventures this term. I am on a faculty search committee for the first time, which will involve a lot of application-reading and candidate-interviewing. I am also serving for the first time as a faculty advisor to a Women in Science student group, which I am excited about. As always I'm traveling some fun places to give talks (Brown, University of Virginia, etc...). Add to that a long list of research goals and it will no doubt be a jam-packed and challenging semester. Before I know it there will be snow on the ground and I will be grading final exams and baking Christmas cookies. That's how it goes -- the semesters fly by. I love the fast-paced rhythm of the academic year almost as much as a I love the leisurely meander of the summer. I feel almost ready to trade in the hot summer months for a cool fall breeze. But I wish I could have just one more week of summer...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fragrant Crispy Duck (Page 394)

RECIPE #1275

  • Date: Saturday, July 23, 2011 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman and I both love duck, so I would have made this recipe sooner, but it had a pretty intimidating look about it. The Ingredients list was short, but the Special Equipment list was long, and the recipe took up two pages. This recipe involved first marinating the duck, then steaming the duck in a wok, then blow-drying the duck with a fan, then deep-frying the duck (twice!). Madness! One Saturday in July, though, I decided it was time for a cooking extravaganza. I cooked all day, making this duck and finishing off the canning I had left to do for the project. It was fun! To make this duck I started by making the Toasted Sichuan Peppercorn Salt, which I had already made once before as a component for a different dish. Then I broke the breastbone of the duck (Truth be told, my special gentleman broke the breastbone. I tried and failed. I don't have a lot of upper body strength.). I heated the Sichuan peppercorn salt with some Chinese five spice powder. I reserved some of the spice mixture, and rubbed the rest on the inside and outside of the duck. I marinated the duck in the spice rub, refrigerated, overnight. I then put the duck in a glass pie plate and rubbed it with rice wine. I put ginger and scallions in the cavity and on the duck, then steamed the duck for 2 hours in a covered wok by putting the pie plate on a metal rack in the wok with boiling water below it. While it was steaming, I siphoned off the fat with a turkey baster every 30 minutes, and replenished the water below the rack as necessary. I then slid the duck onto a wire rack to cool, setting it in front of a fan to blow dry for two hours:

Once the duck was very dry, I brushed it with mushroom soy sauce, then dusted it with flour. I very, very carefully deep-fried it, turning once, in a wok full of oil. I increased the temperature of the oil, then deep-fried it again. I served the duck with the reserved spiced salt.

This recipe was definitely fussy, but the result may have been worth it. This duck was DELICIOUS. The meat was tender, moist, and incredibly flavorful, while the skin was crispy and seasoned perfectly. My special gentleman declared it the best duck he had ever eaten, and I couldn't really argue. It was incredibly tasty. I would have liked it even better with a sauce to accompany it, but it was pretty fantastic as it was. However, I doubt I will be making this recipe again soon -- it was a lot of hassle for a recipe which serves only a few people and is basically impossible to double (without another wok at least). But it was very, very tasty, so if you have an afternoon set aside for cooking and are looking for something to try, I would recommend this one.

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What a crazy week! We returned from Denmark a little over a week ago now. After a long 22 hours of travel to get from Aarhus, Denmark back to East Lansing, Michigan, we were pretty happy to be home. We arrived home late Saturday night, and enjoyed a couple days at home, catching up on work and sleep. On Wednesday, it was time to leave for another trip! We started by driving to Chicago to meet our adorable niece Hannah. Unfortunately we got a flat tire somewhere outside of Michigan City, Indiana, and ended up spending a decent chunk of our day at Wal-Mart getting a new one. Eventually we made it though, and Hannah is super cute! We spent the afternoon with Brad, Deniz, and Hannah, and the evening with our friends PJ and Georgia who also live in Chicago. We stayed the night in Chicago, and after a swim in Lake Michigan Thursday morning we hit the road again. Next stop: Upstate New York! We drove the 14+ hours to New York over two days, stopping for the night in the middle of a crazy storm near Ashtabula, Ohio. We arrived in Lake George, New York on Friday afternoon. The trip to Lake George was to attend our friends Mike and Tim's wedding. On Friday evening we went to a pre-wedding cocktail party before the Saturday wedding.

The wedding wasn't until Saturday evening, so on Saturday morning we went to visit our friends Paps and Katie, who happen to own a vacation home about 20 minutes from where we were staying. They just had a baby, and it was great to get a chance to meet little Peter. Later in the day we met up with Vero and Philippe (also in town for the wedding) for some lunch and shuffleboard. It was a beautiful day, and definitely one of the most vacation-like days I have had all summer. The wedding was Saturday evening. It was held right on Lake George and the setting was unbelievably beautiful. I have known Mike for almost a decade now and Tim for only slightly less. They are such a fantastic couple, and it was a great privilege to celebrate with them on their special day. The wedding was black tie, which was fun, and they served barbeque, which was delicious! There was plenty of drinking and dancing. It was a good time!

We couldn't stick around long in Lake George because I had to be back at work for a retreat on Monday. So Sunday we drove straight back home. We went through Canada on the way back, and it ended up being about a 12 hour drive. It was long, but definitely worth it for such a special weekend. Now we are home! My special gentleman announced with excitement this morning that he isn't traveling again for another two and a half weeks. Two and a half weeks at home!! He was so excited. It is exciting to be home. The semester starts soon, and I have a lot to do before I will feel ready. I should get to it! I can't believe summer is over.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Squab Salmi (Page 406)

RECIPE #1274

  • Date: Thursday, June 30, 2011 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I put off making this recipe because it looked insanely fussy. Indeed, it was. I started by cutting off the necks and wing tips from four squabs. (Aside: Does that look wrong to you? The internet tells me that the plural of squab is squabs, but I always thought it was just squab. Four squabs? Four squab? I don't know.) I then cut out their backbones and cut the backbones into pieces. I cut one of the squabs up into 2-inch pieces. I put the remaining three whole squabs in the fridge, while I browned all the cut-up squab pieces and their giblets (minus the livers) in butter with some carrot, celery, and onion. I added water and boiled to form a stock. I strained the stock, then seasoned the whole squabs with salt, pepper, and thyme. I poured melted butter over them and roasted them. Meanwhile, I cooked some carrots, celery, onion, and thyme in butter. I sprinkled flour over the vegetables, then added the stock and simmered. In a different pan I cooked mushrooms in butter. I pureed the vegetable and stock mixture, then added the mushrooms. I halved the squabs and added them too. I set up a double boiler and cooked the squabs further in the sauce on the double boiler. Meanwhile, I cut some rounds from slices of brioche. I browned the livers in butter and mashed them with Cognac, butter, salt, and pepper. I toasted the brioche rounds in butter, then spread them with the liver puree. I served the toasts with the squabs and sauce.

I never appreciate when a recipe seems especially designed to use up as many dishes as possible, and this was that kind of recipe. It took a roasting pan, three pots, two skillets, four cooking bowls, two cutting boards, etc. I am more than willing to engage in that kind of culinary fussiness if the results are outstanding, but that was just not the case here. The squab meat was pretty nicely cooked but the skin wasn't crispy, due to the moist heat cooking after the roasting (Why, oh why, does The Book like to do that?). The sauce was reasonably flavorful but thin. The toast got soggy as soon as the bird went on top of it. Soggy toast is always a sad thing. Overall the dish was a lot of fuss without a lot of reward. It was ok, but certainly not something I would make again, and not even something I particularly enjoyed eating.

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We have two freezers at home: the one attached to our refrigerator, and a medium size standing freezer which we keep in the basement. On a typical day both of our freezers are bursting at the seams. I hate for food to go to waste, and I love the convenience of frozen food, so I freeze everything. We don't buy any frozen prepared foods, but given the variety of foods that we make, there is still a wide selection of frozen dinners at our house. Right now if you rummaged through our freezers you would find brisket a la carbonnade, beef wellington, salt cod chowder, lentil dal, miso soup, turkey chili, potato leek soup, several mystery soups (which somehow escaped my labeling system), tapioca pudding, three kinds of cake, four kinds of cookies, etc... It's a little out of control. I also stock the freezers with various cooking ingredients: chicken stock, veal stock, leftover white wine, leftover red wine, chopped onions, chopped green peppers, tomato paste, chipotle chiles in adobo, various homemade spice blends, frozen berries, frozen vegetables, homemade sauces, etc. And throughout this year when I found meat I needed for the project, I bought it and threw that in the freezers too! So up until recently I also had a turkey, tripe, a goose, and 10 squabs in my freezers. Needless to say, the freezers were getting a bit packed.

To top it all off, the top tier of our wedding cake was also in the freezer! We had planned to eat it on our one-year anniversary, but when the anniversary rolled around we were in Japan. On our two-year anniversary we were in France. So the cake remained in the freezer. One evening this summer my special gentleman commented, "I could go for some wedding cake." So we unwrapped it after 25 months of marriage, and cut ourselves some cake! It was still tasty! Now only one piece remains in the freezer, and it will surely get eaten as soon as we get back from this trip. Eating the cake inspired me to clear out the freezers a bit. So I prepared the turkey. And the tripe. This recipe took care of the last of the squab, and soon after I made this one I made the goose as well. Now, although the freezers are far from empty, there is a bit of space in them. It has inspired me! When we get home I plan to eat through some of the old frozen food, clearing out some space for a freezer reorganization. I would like to tame the freezer chaos once and for all with some sort of system. My usual system, throw things in wherever once can find space, is not ideal. Once the freezers are organized, I am going to cook, cook, cook to fill up the freezers with yummy prepared food before the chaos of the school year starts!

My non-Book cooking style often involves making things in enormous batches. I make enough chili to serve 25, for instance, then freeze it in many small containers. It makes for a very easy weeknight dinner: throw something from the freezer into the microwave or the toaster oven, make a green salad, and serve both with some homemade bread. Yum! It also makes it easy when we have house guests. I just thaw a variety of things from the freezer before their arrival and then there are plenty of options for eating! My special gentleman and I have cut way, way back on processed foods in the last year or so. Cooking in bulk and freezing the results has definitely been key in this cut back.

Thinking about the food in freezer is making me hungry. It might be about time to hunt down a snack.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Tripe Roman Style (Page 464)

RECIPE #1273

  • Date: Saturday, June 25, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, Clara, Chris C., and Whitney
  • Recipe Rating: C+

I put off making this recipe for a long time because cow stomach just didn't sound super delicious to me. But I am nearing the end of this project, and there is no sense in putting off recipes any longer. So I invited some friends over and I made the tripe! I started by putting the tripe in cold water, bringing it to a boil, then draining and rinsing it. I put it in new cold water and brought it to a boil again. I simmered the tripe for four hours. The Book warned that the "tripe will have a pungent aroma while simmering." No kidding! Indeed the smell even drove away our kitties. Normally they love to be where the action is, but they were hiding in the basement while this was cooking. When the tripe had finished simmering it looked like this:

Mmm... delicious. I then cooked some onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, then added salt, pepper, white wine, tomato juice, chopped canned tomatoes, water, and mint. I simmered the sauce. I cut the tripe into strips and added the strips to the sauce and simmered until the tripe was tender but still slightly chewy. Then I seasoned the sauce and sprinkled the dish with some mint. I was supposed to also sprinkle with some pecorino Romano, but I forgot. Whoops!

This dish was just not that delicious. The tripe was actually inoffensive enough. After having seen it and dealt with it through the preparation I wasn't super eager to eat it, but I think if I had just been served the dish without witnessing all that I would have thought the tripe was neither here nor there. It didn't have a lot of flavor to it. I didn't love the chewy texture, but it didn't bother me too much. I was actually more disappointed with the sauce. I had hoped the tripe would be in a sauce so delicious that it would convince me to enjoy tripe. Rather, this sauce was just blah. It didn't taste bad, but it didn't have much flavor to it, and it was very thin. In the end no one hated this dish, but no one was gobbling it up either. This was not one that I will make again.

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Hello from Denmark! My special gentleman and I are back in Europe. Last weekend we flew from Detroit to Copenhagen, where the two of us parted ways and headed to two different conferences. My special gentleman made his way to Aarhus, Denmark, while I traveled to Hamburg, Germany. When I booked my train ticket to Hamburg I didn't give much thought to how the train was going to cross the Baltic Sea. Much to my surprise, my train boarded a ferry for the crossing. It was so strange -- the train just drove right on board of the ferry, we all got out of the train for the 45 minute crossing, then we piled back on and the train kept going. Crazy! It was wonderful though. I was exhausted after a super-long "day" of travel involving an overnight flight, and the sea breeze was a fantastic pick-me-up. Here's a photo from my "train" ride:

I traveled to Hamburg to attend and speak at a conference. There were 80 or so mathematicians there from around the world. My dear friend Mike was there, and he and I shared a room. We went to graduate school together and are in the same field in addition to being good friends, so we have a long history of traveling to conferences together. It is always fun to spend time with Mike! Here's a picture of Mike at dinner on one of our first nights in Hamburg. He ordered Wurstsalat (aka sausage salad):

Those things that look a bit like noodles in the picture are actually strips of sausage. It was a crazy dish, which Mike described as a deconstructed hot dog. The conference was busy, but we had a bit of time to see the sights of Hamburg. Math conferences are often Monday-Friday with a Wednesday afternoon excursion, and this was no exception. It was brought to my attention recently that many other academic fields do not have this tradition of excursions. In math we do, and more often than not, they involve a boat ride. The talks ended early on Wednesday afternoon and we all piled onto a boat for a tour of Hamburg:

Hamburg is a very pretty city. There is water everywhere, and lots of parks scattered throughout. This photo is from a very beautiful park a few blocks from our hotel:

What the picture fails to capture is that I almost fell into that little lagoon. There were some stepping stones you could walk on to cross it and somehow I tripped. I screamed and all the German onlookers gasped. It was pretty funny. Luckily I didn't end up in the water. I think Mike was disappointed!

Weeks before this trip Mike sent me an email with the one thing he really wanted to see in Hamburg: the Miniatur Wunderland. It is the world's biggest model railroad exhibition, but saying just that doesn't do it justice. There was room after room after room full of miniature version of various cities and regions of the world. There was an airport with planes that take off and land. The cars and trucks move as well as the trains, and if you stood in one place for a while you could watch miniature drama unfold: a small forest fire would start, then the police cars and fire engines would arrive. They would slowly put out the fire, and once it was extinguished the fire trucks would drive away. The place was crazy! Here is Mike in front of a miniature concert. There must have been thousands of miniature people in that one small piece of the exhibit alone, and each one with incredible detail.

Every 15 minutes or so it would become night inside the Miniatur Wunderland and the lights would go down. Here is a picture of miniature Las Vegas at night:

It was a crazy experience. If you ever find yourself in Hamburg, it is worth a stop.

Mathematically the conference was really good. It was great to hear the talks, and talk to people. Unfortunately my talk was late in the week, so I had lots of time to stress about it. It's always better to talk on the first or second day of a conference because then you can relax. I talked on Thursday. My talk went fine though and I was quite glad once it was over! I had a big beer and some yummy Vietnamese food to celebrate. The conference ended Friday and on Saturday I headed up to Denmark to meet my special gentleman. Unfortunately, the 4 and a half hour train ride to Aarhus didn't go on a ferry, but it was still very pleasant! On Saturday we took a long walk through a park. Here's my special gentleman:

We also walked along the beach, eating ice cream bars. It was great! Here we are on the beach:

Yesterday we did some work, and also walked around town. We visited the botanical garden:


My special gentleman's conference started back up today. I don't have any responsibilities this week so I am taking the opportunity to get a lot of work done. I have already made great progress on my ever-growing To-Do list and I hope to have a very productive week. On Saturday we are headed back home, where we will be for three days or so before heading off on our next trip. Summer craziness!

In totally unrelated news, I am an aunt! My special gentleman's brother Brad and his wife Deniz welcomed their daughter Hannah into the world this weekend! We are so happy for them, and super-excited to meet Hannah, so we will be heading to Chicago for a visit in the middle of next week. So exciting!!