Monday, October 31, 2011

Lobster Newburg (Page 340)

RECIPE #1281

  • Date: Monday, September 5, 2011 -- 12pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Helen
  • Recipe Rating: A-


I put off making this recipe for a long time because it just didn't sound good to me. Lobster is already so rich that lobster plus heavy cream plus butter plus egg yolks just sounded excessive. But we figured that we would be decadent on Labor Day and eat super-rich lobster for lunch. As it turned out, I was wrong about this recipe. This was by FAR the best lobster recipe in The Book. And although I am not, in general, a huge lobster fan, even I agreed that it was tasty. I started by boiling some live lobsters. Then my special gentleman split them and removed the meat. I simmered some cream, then cooked sliced mushrooms in butter. I added the lobster meat, paprika, salt, pepper, sherry, and hot cream to the mushrooms. I then slowly cooked a mixture of egg yolks, more sherry, and more hot cream to 160 degrees. I added the custard sauce to the lobster mixture and spooned it into the cleaned lobster shells. I broiled the the dish until golden. In a word: Yum! Yes, it was rich, but it didn't feel as excessive as I had imagined it would. The mushrooms were excellent with the lobster, and the cream sauce had a lovely consistency and flavor. The sherry and paprika complemented one another nicely. My special gentleman always applies the Better-Than-Butter test to lobster recipes and generally they fail. Most preparations he finds to be inferior to just serving the lobster with melted butter. In the case of this recipe though, it passed his test with flying colors. He admitted that yes, this dish was Better-Than-Butter!

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Happy Halloween! Life has been so crazy lately that this holiday seriously snuck up on me. I did manage to get my shit together enough to buy candy, but that was about the extent of my Halloween effort this year. It's a shame because I love pumpkin carving and toasting pumpkin seeds, but alas, I didn't get around to it.

The busyness of late has mostly been fun stuff though. My mom was visiting last week, which was great. Then yesterday my special gentleman and I hosted what the university calls a Fireside Chat. It's a program where faculty host some college freshman from the honors college at their home for dinner. We hadn't hosted one before, and we weren't exactly sure how it would go, but it was fun. We had eight undergraduates for dinner, one of whom is in my Calc 3 class, but the other 7 I had never met before. My special gentleman and I made beef braised in red wine, mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized onions, green beans with almonds, goat cheese biscuits, salad, puff pastry cheese straws, and flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. The students seemed appreciative to have some home cooked food and an evening away from campus.

It was interesting to listen to them talk about college life. I talk to undergraduates all the time of course, but I don't often get to listen to them talk to one another for several hours. After they left my special gentleman turned to me and said, "That made me feel old." I understood the sentiment. They used a lot of vocabulary I had never heard before (blinky cup?). And at one point a student said in disbelief, "Who does homework on the weekend?" I thought to myself, "Your professors," as it is rare that a weekend day goes by when I don't work. But that was true in college too. I did tons of work on the weekends. Everyone did. Apparently that is not the case any more (at least not here anyway).

College seems different now than it used to be. As an undergrad, I rarely knew anything about the professor before the first day of class, unless I happened to have had a course with him or her before. Now students are extremely well-informed. They have easy access to not only student reviews of faculty members, but often also to past exams and grade distributions from previous semesters. Some consequently have very strong opinions about which professors they want for which courses, and who they are certain to avoid. In general access to information is a good thing, but it's amazing the sort of personal attacks students will make against professors on the internet. I have been fortunate enough to never have read anything particularly offensive about myself, but I have friends who have been really affected by nasty student comments. And once those comments are out there on the internet, they are there for anyone to read.

It seems more and more that university education is viewed as a service industry. Students pay a lot of money and they expect excellent teaching, which seems reasonable enough. Some also expect high grades in exchange for their tuition. That seems less reasonable. It's very different than the way I thought of college when I was in school.

All that said, the students we had over for dinner last night were lovely, and certainly none of them were trash talking their professors (at least in front of us!). Spending time with them just got me thinking about how the culture of college has changed in the 10 years or so since I graduated. I guess I am getting old!

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Boiled Lobster with Tarragon Vermouth Sauce (Page 337)

RECIPE #1280

  • Date: Friday, August 26, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companions: Dave and Karen H.
  • Recipe Rating: B
My in-laws came to visit in August, and since they enjoy lobster I took the opportunity to make this recipe! This lobster preparation was pretty simple. I boiled some live lobsters in salted water. Meanwhile, I made the sauce. I whisked together vermouth, tarragon white wine vinegar, and egg yolks. Then I set the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and cooked the sauce, whisking. I added melted butter, salt, and pepper, and my special gentleman continued to cook and whisk the mixture until it reached 160 degrees. I stirred lemon juice and chopped fresh tarragon into the sauce. My special gentleman then halved the lobsters. We drizzled some sauce over the lobster halves and served the rest of the sauce on the side. This dish was pretty tasty. The sauce had a good flavor. The tarragon came through clearly and the vermouth added a nice note to it. My special gentleman always says that the problem with lobster dishes is that it is hard to create anything that is better than butter. Indeed, this dish failed his Better-Than-Butter test. It was good, but the lobster would have been even better just served with some melted butter. So would I make this again? Well, no. But I also don't really have any complaints about it. It tasted fine. It just wasn't better than butter.

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I haven't written in ages. This semester is absolutely flying by. I can hardly believe that this coming week is week 8 of classes. I am only teaching one course this term: Calculus 3. I like teaching. Occasionally I have had classes that were unpleasant, but for the most part teaching is very enjoyable. This semester, though, my students are an absolute delight. There are 41 of them, and I can honestly say that not one of them has been difficult to deal with, or unpleasant, or unreasonable. On the contrary, they are friendly, hard-working, and respectful. Hands down the best classroom of students I have ever had. Seven of them are also doing an honors option for the course, which means that in addition to the usual coursework, they also do projects outside of class on mathematical topics that may or may not be related to calculus. This semester I have students doing projects on Knot Theory, Game Theory, The Life and Work of Euler, Financial Mathematics, The Calculus of Tumors, and Proofs from Calculus. So I see those seven students frequently in my office, and we talk about a wide variety of mathematical topics. It's fun. There is also a group of 3 students who do their homework in my office during my office hours every week, so I have gotten to know them pretty well too. A lot of other students come by for occasional help as well, so I know quite a few of the students outside of class.

I really just enjoy this classroom of students. I am sure they have no sense of what it is like to be a professor, and what a big difference the attitude of the class can make in the professor's enjoyment of their job. So they likely have no idea how delightful they are. Yet I often feel like they are giving me a gift by being so diligent and easy to teach. I am very thankful for this class.

I have had a few health issues this term, and I need to have minor surgery in a couple months. None of it is dangerous or related to my brain tumor, and I feeling fine now, but for a while I was going in for a lot of early morning doctor's appointments and lab tests. And under those circumstances, I would have imagined that teaching my 9am class would have been stressful and unpleasant. But it has been quite the contrary. My interactions with my students have cheered me up on some personally challenging days. That is the sign of an excellent classroom of undergraduates.

Other aspects of this semester have been good too. I have been traveling to give talks, and will continue to do so in the upcoming months. Research is going smoothly. And now that I am feeling better my special gentleman and I recently started a serious exercise regime to kick our butts back into shape (Well, my butt really. He's always in shape.). We are doing intense 60-90 minute work-outs 6-7 days a week. It's insane. We are usually pretty busy, so on several occasions already this has resulted in us working out at midnight, drenched in sweat. It has been great though. I am feeling stronger and healthier than I have in a long time.

Fall is here in full force now and it is hard not to think that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. And before I know what happened, I will be back from Christmas break and it will be a new semester, with different classes and new students. I wish that this term would slow down a bit though. It's a nice semester.