Friday, June 29, 2012

Basic Pastry Dough (Page 781)


Gourmet Today

  • Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 -- 10am
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This was the crust recipe attached to the Cherry Pie I posted about yesterday. I forgot to take a picture of the pastry dough by itself, so you are getting a picture of the pie again. Sorry. This was actually the same pie crust recipe as in the Yellow Book (The Gourmet Cookbook) so I have already blogged about this crust recipe once. To make the crust I blended together flour, butter, shortening, and salt with my fingers. Then I tossed in icy cold water a little bit at a time until the dough had the right consistency. I smeared the dough a few times on my work surface to distribute the butter, then I chilled the dough. That was it! Homemade pie crust is easy! This is a great pie crust recipe. I first made it out of the Yellow Book back in 2006 and I have made it dozens and dozens of times since. More often that not I substitute butter for the shortening, making it an all-butter crust rather than a butter and shortening crust. It tastes good both ways. The only reason I typically make it all-butter is that butter seems like a much more natural ingredient to me than vegetable shortening. For this Cherry Pie preparation I made it exactly as written in The Book though, and it was very tasty! The crust was flaky and crisp, and it browned nicely. This is my go-to pie crust recipe and it never disappoints!

The recipe is here

8 recipes down, 1098 to go!

I spent the morning today hanging out with some undergraduates at a Math REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program. These were undergraduate students from around the country who have gathered for the summer to work on math research. There are about 18 of them, divided into 4 groups, each of which is supervised by a faculty member. I listened to the students give presentations about the results of their math summer research projects so far, and then I gave an undergraduate-friendly talk for them about Algebraic Topology. It brought back memories. The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college I participated in an REU program myself. I lived in Boston and spent the summer thinking about math and hanging out with the other REU students. And I got paid to do it! It was great! It was also tremendously encouraging. By that point in college I was pretty sure I wanted to major in math and go to math graduate school, but the REU program really gave me confidence that I could do it. Looking around the room this morning, I hoped that the students were finding the same confidence and enthusiasm from their summer that I did long ago. They seemed very excited about mathematics, which was a wonderful thing to see, and they were impressively articulate and poised presenting their research.  

I thought a lot this morning about why my REU experience was so affirming. Partly I think it was the realization that I enjoy doing math research. I had never had the opportunity to do math research before that, so I wasn't positive that I would like it. But beyond that, I left the program with increased confidence largely because my REU supervisor had so much confidence in me. He really believed that I was cut out for math graduate school. And while I believed that too (I think...) having someone else say that was very powerful for me. A couple of my professors at my home institution were also encouraging me to go to graduate school, and their collective encouragement gave me a lot of confidence. As an educator, I think about that a lot -- the difference that one teacher's opinion can make to a student. So I try to make sure that I actually say to strong students the things that seems obvious, e.g. "You did a great job in my course and you are clearly very talented in mathematics. You should consider becoming a math major!" I am certainly very thankful for all the people that encouraged me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cherry Pie (Page 771)

The Book: Gourmet Today

  • Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 -- 12pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman and I celebrated three years of marriage at the end of last month! My parents happened to be visiting on our wedding anniversary and I made this pie for the occasion, as my dad loves pie and my special gentleman loves cherries! I started by making the basic pie crust in The Book, which will be the subject of my next post. While the crust chilled I ground tapioca in a spice grinder, then mixed it with cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, sugar, and pitted sour cherries. I let the fruit mixture stand for a while to release some juices. Then I assembled the pie in the obvious way. After assembly I brushed the top crust with milk, cut some steam vents in it, and sprinkled the crust with sugar. I baked the pie on a hot baking sheet in a hot oven, covering the edges with foil after the first half an hour.

This pie was good. Very good. It seems surprisingly common for people to make cherry pie using canned cherry pie filling. It is odd to me to go through the trouble to make your own pie, but then use canned filling. On the other hand, cherry pie is made with sour cherries, with are rather difficult to find in many parts of the country, so perhaps that's why. Luckily, we do not have that problem here in Michigan, where frozen sour cherries are a supermarket staple. Which is good for me, because I would never use canned pie filling when it is SO easy and delicious when you make it yourself! This pie filling was spot on. The sweetness was just right, as was the consistency. The cherry flavor was lovely as well. The crust recipe is the same as the one in the Yellow Book (why mess with success!), so I have made it many times before. It turned out lovely this time, just as it always does. I liked the dusting of sugar on top, which gave the top crust a nice crunch. In summary: this pie was great and everyone loved it. The Yellow Book had three cherry pie options: a Cherry Almond Pie,  Brandied Sour Cherry and Pear Tartlets, and a Sour Cherry Crostata. This cherry pie recipe is definitively better than the first two listed above. It's a tight race though between this and the sour cherry crostata, which was also very tasty. I think both will find a place in my permanent repertoire!

Here's a picture of me with my special gentleman on our three year wedding anniversary last month -- happy even before we ate the cherry pie!

The recipe is here.

7 recipes down, 1099 to go! 

I grew up in the Midwest. In Madison, Wisconsin, which is a very fine place to live. My special gentleman grew up outside Columbus, Ohio -- also a nice place. And now we live in East Lansing, Michigan. Both of us have spent longs periods of time living on the coasts. I spent over 4 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area and 5 years living in Boston. My special gentleman spent a year in the Bay Area, 4 in New York City, 1 in Princeton, New Jersey, and 3 in Boston. So it's not that we have only lived in the Midwest. We have seen and lived in many parts of this country, and it just happens that we got jobs together, back in the Midwest, near our families. 

We have a lot of friends who grew up on either the East or West Coast, went to school on the coasts, and live on the coasts. Their ideas about the Midwest are based mostly on rumors, TV shows, and short visits to a small number of places. In general, their opinions of the Midwest are negative. It cracks me up actually. When I travel to conferences, or to gives talks in seminars at various places, people often ask about how my (relatively) new job is going. A surprisingly large subset of people get this vaguely concerned look on their face as they ask, hesitantly, "How's.... Michigan?" They use a tone I would reserve for someone who had been forced to move to Siberia and live in a frigid region of the wilderness therein, populated only by tigers: "How's.... Siberia?" It's this sad, questioning, tone, with an underlying, "You poor thing!" behind it.  

I have a standard response: "We love Michigan!" I don't just say that -- we really do love Michigan. I firmly believe that Michigan is under-appreciated. It is an extremely beautiful state with lots of outdoorsy wonderfulness to offer. In my experience winters aren't any worse here than they were in Boston, and the Michigan spring, summer, and fall weather is absolutely lovely. Particularly the summer! And life here is easy. People are friendly and relaxed. You don't have to ever worry about traffic or parking. We know our neighbors. Things are inexpensive. We have a house that we love. It's just a nice life. And I have never (never once!) had the thought that this place is boring. Rather, there are tons of things I would like to do in East Lansing, and in the rest of the state, that I just haven't had time to do yet (e.g. go to a Lansing Lugnuts game [minor league baseball!], hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes, visit Pictured Rocks, camp in the Upper Peninsula, eat Slows barbecue in Detroit, see the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, canoe down the Grand River for a day, etc, etc). 

Both my special gentleman and I travel a lot for work, but I always look forward to coming home to Michigan. This week I am at home all week for the first time in quite a while, and I am loving it! I feel tremendously blessed of course that my special gentleman and I found tenure-track jobs together. But I also feel LUCKY that those jobs are in Michigan. I think that is something that many of my east and west coast friends will never understand. I'm OK with that.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mixed Nut Shortbread (Page 700)


  • Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 -- 11am
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Teri, and Terry
  • Recipe Rating: B+

My parents came to visit last month and I made these for their visit. These cookies were a simple shortbread, topped with chopped mixed cocktail nuts and sugar. To make them I stirred together some butter and sugar, then added vanilla and flour. I pressed the dough into a square, then sprinkled it with coarsely chopped roasted salted mixed cocktail nuts and sugar. I baked the shortbread until it was golden (Note: the time listed in the recipe is a little too long). Then I cut the shortbread into bars. I liked this recipe. It never would have occurred to me to use mixed cocktail nuts in baking, but they worked well in this recipe. I liked very much the salty-sweet combination of dusting the nuts with a bit of sugar before baking. The shortbread itself was a bit too crumbly, but still very tasty. Overall these were pretty tasty, although not the best shortbread variation I have made. Unfortunately we didn't get to enjoy the whole batch pictured above, as these cookies suffered a sad fate. More on that below...

The recipe is here

6 recipes down, 1100 to go!

We have two cats, Michigan and Indiana. They are both wonderful kitties: sweet, affectionate, and gentle. They love to be held. They love to snuggle with us and each other. Basically, they are the perfect cats. Here's a picture of them napping (Michigan is the gray one on the left, Indiana is the long-haired one on the right):

And a picture of them in the springtime, sitting by the screen door watching the neighborhood:

Although they are both wonderful cats, they have very different personalities. We adopted them both from county animal control, about two years ago. Michigan was rescued from a drug bust on a meth lab, and we think that he may have been exposed to a bit too much meth as a little kitty. He is so, so sweet, but he is so, so stupid. Example: he leans over his food dish to eat his food and he will eat the food that is in front of his face and immediately start crying because he is stil hungry. He's too dumb to realize that there is another half a dish of food left behind his face that he just can't see without turning. Sometimes we sit there with him and rotate his bowl while he eats. He's not the smartest. He's also pretty lazy. Too lazy to jump very high, or go looking for any trouble. He would rather be carried up a flight a stairs than walk up them himself. He's pretty pathetic, but he is just absolutely adorably cute. He gets by on his looks. Indiana, on the other hand, is a very smart, curious cat, who is always looking for mischief. He wants to explore everything, climb everything, get in everything, and strangely enough: EAT everything. Cats are notoriously finicky, but not this cat. He loves to eat. We only feed him cat food, but he has managed to get his hands on a variety of other things. And oddly enough, the thing that intrigues him most is dessert. Blueberry pie, pear tart, cranberry bars... that cat loves dessert! So we have to be very careful in our house about what we leave on the counters. Plastic wrap used to be sufficient to keep him out of things, but in a desperate attempt to eat a cranberry bar one day, he learned to take off the plastic wrap covering a plate. 

So probably I should have known that leaving these mixed nut shortbread cookies on a plate covered with plastic wrap was a bad idea. But I was in a hurry one day, and I forgot to put them away in a cupboard before leaving the house. My special gentleman and I were gone for no more than a half an hour running an errand. When we got back, Indiana did not greet us at the door. This is very unusual. Indiana loves people and he is so excited whenever anyone comes home that he typically comes running. Indeed, the only times he does not is when he knows he has done something bad (e.g. broken something, knocked over a trash can, etc...). So when he didn't greet us I knew immediately: the cookies! When I got to the kitchen I was greeted by this on the kitchen floor:

I can only guess that Indiana, desperate for a cookie, had trouble with the plastic wrap and decided that it would be easier if he just flipped the whole plate of cookies onto the floor. And so he did. After taking some kitty nibbles from the cookies, he left the rest of them there. Apparently they weren't to his taste. It was sad, as I had been looking forward to eating those cookies. But I have to admit that I was impressed by Indiana's problem solving skills and his diligent pursuit of his goal. Who knows what that cat will figure out next...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mango Frozen Daiquiri (Page 13)

  • Date: Monday, May 28, 2012 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. To prepare these drinks I started by cutting mango into chunks and freezing the chunks for several hours. Then I put the mango in the blender, along with ice, gold rum, water, lime juice, and superfine sugar, and blended it until was smooth. I like mangoes pretty well but I am not crazy for mango drinks like some people I know. A strawberry daiquiri, for instance, sounds much more appealing to me than a mango one. So I didn't have terribly high expectations for this drink. But oh my gosh was this recipe good! The daiquiris had a wonderful mango flavor with an absolutely perfect amount of booziness and sweetness. My tumor medication makes me a total lightweight when it comes to drinking, so it is very rare that I have more than one drink in an evening. These daiquiris were hard to resist though... I may have had a couple ;). This is a wonderful recipe for a refreshing summer drink.  Here I am, post work-out, with a daiquiri in hand -- a very happy moment:

This recipe isn't online. 

5 recipes down, 1101 to go!

My special gentleman and I were on vacation this week with his family. The vacation crew was the two of us, my special gentleman's parents, my brother-in-law Brad, Brad's wife Deniz, their daughter Hannah, Deniz's three sisters Aylin, Tulin, and Suzan, two of their significant others (Dennis and Quigs), and two puppies. We all stayed together in a house on Lake Michigan in Saugatuck, Michigan. It was a nice house with private beach access and we had absolute perfect weather for a beach vacation.

I would like to believe that I am the kind of person who is able to take a week of vacation -- setting work aside entirely and just relaxing. As it turns out, apparently I am not. Or at least I wasn't this week. I had been traveling the two weeks before for work, which was both very productive, and left me way behind when I got back. I was only home for one night before we left for vacation so there was no way I could get everything done that I needed to before we left. The upshot: I did a lot of work on my "vacation." One of the wonderful things about academic jobs is that they are marvelously flexible. But when you have collaborators counting on you and organizational duties to take care of, some of that flexibility goes away. So my week was a mix of work and vacation activities. I feel OK about that. I did try to make sure to get lots of time in the sun, swimming in Lake Michigan and seeing the sights. I went on a dune ride, and a duck boat ride. I even managed to take a few pictures. Here's one of my special gentleman with his parents and his brother Brad, in the dunes:

And one of me with my special gentleman, also in the dunes:

The evenings were a beautiful time to be on the beach. We went for many long beach walks and saw some spectacular sunsets. We also enjoyed a couple beach bonfires (including one in the pouring rain!). Here's a beach bonfire on a beautiful summer evening. 

And me making smores on the beach with my mother-in-law: 

As the sun set that evening the fire got more and more beautiful. I felt like we should be in an advertisement for Michigan summer vacations. Here's my special gentleman enjoying the fire, and Lake Michigan in the background:

We are back home now, and although our vacation was great, I am glad to be home! Three weeks is a long time to be away (one week in Boston, one in Virginia, and one on Lake Michigan!). But now we have three weeks at home! This is the longest stretch that we will be home all summer and I am pretty excited about it!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rib-Eye Steak au Poivre with Balsamic Reduction (Page 442)

  • Date: Monday, May 28, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. This was a quick and easy steak preparation. I coarsely crushed some black peppercorns, then pressed them on both sides of rib-eye steaks. I seasoned the steaks with salt as well, then cooked them in butter and vegetable oil, flipping once. Once the steaks had reached the proper doneness I let them rest while I prepared a sauce. I poured the fat off from the skillet, then deglazed it with balsamic vinegar. I whisked butter and salt into the sauce, then served it drizzled over the meat.

This steak was good. Very good. Indeed my special gentleman declared it the best steak he has eaten in his life. Seriously. I agree that it was good, although not the best steak I have ever eaten! The meat was perfectly cooked and the crushed peppercorns were in just the right proportion to the meat. The sauce was flavorful and acidic. It was perhaps just a touch too acidic. The next time I make this I might add a bit more butter to the sauce at the end (or a tiny splash of cream) to cut the acidity a little more. But as it was, it was delicious!

The recipe is here.

4 recipes down, 1102 to go!

After two weeks away, I am finally back at home! I am leaving on another trip tomorrow, but for the moment I am just enjoying some blissful time in my own home.  I was in Boston two weeks ago and in Virginia this past week. Both trips were exhausting but fun. Sometimes I think my special gentleman and I travel too much. The week I was in Boston working with my collaborators, he was at a conference in Germany, in the Black Forest. He flew back to East Lansing last weekend. On Monday night when I called him from Virginia before I went to bed, he had already fallen asleep. He answered the phone out of a dead sleep and our conversation went like this:

Him:    Hello?
Me:      Hey. Did I wake you up?
Him:    It's late here. What time is it where you are?
Me:      Sweetheart, we're actually in the same time zone.
Him:    What? Where are you?
Me:      Virginia.
Him:     I'm in Germany.... Aren't I?.... Where am I?
Me:       You're in Michigan.
Him:     No, I'm in Germany.
Me:       Well, I called the home phone and you answered it, so I think you are at home in Michigan.
Him:      Oh.

He sounded so disoriented! I felt very bad for waking him up. This whole summer is crazy with travel, but we do have a lull coming up. We are going on a trip with my special gentleman's family this week, but the following three weeks we will be at home! I plan to do tons of work and tons of cooking during that time. I am looking forward to it. After that we will be traveling for 5 of the remaining 6 weeks of the summer. And then school starts again! Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about all the travel. On the one hand, it is pretty exhausting, and I do love just being at home. But on the other hand, we get to travel to wonderful places to learn and do math, which I love. Plus, these trips usually involve seeing friends from around the world, as conference bring lots of people together. In the last two weeks I got to see and hang out with friends that live in Boston, Virginia, Texas, Australia, Chicago, Kentucky, New York, etc, etc.  It was great! I always have a hard time motivating to travel right before I leave on a trip but once the trip is over, I am almost always glad I went. This trip was no exception! Now it's time to do laundry and repack my suitcase so I am ready to leave again tomorrow!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato Spears with Bacon Vinaigrette (Page 635)


  • Date: Monday, May 28, 2012 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. I started by frying some bacon. Meanwhile, I peeled sweet potatoes and cut them into spears. Once the bacon was fried I set it aside and tossed the sweet potatoes in the bacon fat. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and then roasted the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet. Once they were done I prepared the bacon vinaigrette. I combined the cooked bacon with olive oil and heated it, then added scallions, sherry vinegar, water, salt, and pepper. I poured the vinaigrette over the potatoes and sprinkled them with scallion greens. These sweet potatoes were good but not great. It's hard to go too wrong with the theme potatoes + bacon, and indeed the sweetness of the potatoes and the saltiness of the bacon complemented each other nicely. There was also good textural contrast in the dish. I wasn't wowed by the flavor of the vinaigrette, but it pretty good. Overall, this wasn't my favorite sweet potato preparation, but we certainly ate and enjoyed it. Here's my special gentleman with a plate of sweet potatoes:

3 recipes down, 1103 to go!

The recipe is here

I have been thinking a lot lately about friendships and relationships. I certainly feel like I won the jackpot in the husband category. My special gentleman is awesome and we have a wonderful life together. He has many, many fine qualities, which I would be more than happy to elaborate on at length. Simply put though: he's fantastic. One of the things that I love most about our marriage is the way that I am when I am with him. Our marriage is happy and easy and I think it is largely because we bring out the best in one another. We have very similar values, but very different personalities and it works in a rare and fantastic way. We are relaxed, gracious, and happy when we are together, which makes for a lovely relationship. I love him and I love who I am when I am with him.  

I have other friends like that as well -- where I feel proud of the person that I am when I am with them. But there are also people in my life who bring out the worst in me. If they were only people I didn't care about, or didn't like, this wouldn't particularly matter. Avoidance would certainly solve the problem. But it's not so simple. There are people that I am close to, that I care about very much, that bring out things in me that I just don't like. The easy thing would be to pin it on them -- to identify things they do that cause me to be a certain way. But when I take a step back it is clear to me that it isn't on them, it's on me. 

It's not about how much I care about the person. For instance, I fell in love with a guy in college. Our relationship was tumultuous and difficult, but I did love him very much. However, he brought out the absolute worst in me: an insecure, scared side of me that just isn't who I am. As hard as I tried, and I did try, I just didn't know how to be myself with him. And despite all the time that we spent together, I still don't feel like he ever really knew me. I hated who I was when I was with him, but I cared for him tremendously. 

I was talking to a friend a couple years ago who was saying that he is the worst version of himself when he is with his own family. He loves them so much, but he hates who he is when he is around them. I think about that conversation often. He was so deeply saddened by the situation, and at the same time he felt completely powerless to change it. I feel like that with some of the people in my life. What do you do when you care about someone but you don't like yourself when you are with them? 

Some number of months ago I was traveling and I got really upset about something. I was extremely angry, and I am not a particularly angry person. I was frustrated to the point of tears and I called my special gentleman for support. I was furious (not at him) and crying and frustrated. But five minutes into the conversation I was just laughing and laughing. In that moment I realized how tremendously lucky I am to have a partner who brings out that side of me: the side that has perspective, and can let things go and just laugh about them. Sometimes I wish I knew how to find that side of me in some of my other friendships. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Classic Martini (Page 10)


  • Date: Sunday, May 27, 2012 -- 9pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Terry, and Teri
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman picked this one. The recipe was extremely simple. I filled my cocktail shaker mostly full with ice, then added some gin and vermouth and stirred it well. I strained the martini into chilled martini glasses and garnished with lemon twists. This recipe was a winner! The recipe is mostly gin, so using good gin is important. We used my special gentleman's favorite gin (Hendrick's), and it did the trick. This was the best classic martini I have had. I think I am going to enjoy cooking through the Drinks section of The Book! I was very happy to be drinking a martini on a summer evening at home:

This recipe isn't online.

2 recipes down, 1104 to go!

I am in Boston this week, working with some of my collaborators. There is a group of 4 of us that gets together about twice a year to do research together for a week. We live quite far apart (Michigan, Virginia, Texas, and Australia), so the time we spend together working is very valuable, and these weeks tend to be pretty intense. Often we meet in California, but this summer we are having our meeting in Boston. We are working at MIT, which makes me pleasantly nostalgic as three of us were graduate students there together. And I am staying in Cambridge, in one of the neighborhoods I lived in when I was a graduate student.

I am traveling a lot this summer. Maybe too much. The semester ended a few weeks ago, and since then I spent a week in Albuquerque at a conference, and a few days in Chicago to give a talk. I was home for almost a week and a half before I left to come to Boston, and I couldn't have been more delighted to be at home. It felt like a great luxury! I will admit, I was not particularly excited to leave again. Actually, though, being in Boston is lovely. Hotel rooms were scarce so I ended up renting an apartment for the week instead. I am so glad that I did! Having an apartment in my old neighborhood and working at MIT each day makes this feel less like traveling and more like stepping into a different phase of my life. Boston is easy. I know where things are. I know how to get around. I know which restaurants I like. Those things make travel much less stressful. And having an apartment is absolutely wonderful. I have a kitchen, and a desk, and a family room, and an eating area. It feels like regular life. Except that my special gentleman is not with me. He is at a conference in Germany this week. The kitties are also not here. They don't care to travel! I think they are happier staying at home with our house-sitter.

I will be in Boston until Sunday, at which point I am headed to Virginia for a week for a conference. I am looking forward to that too. A conference will be a nice change of pace after the locking-ourselves-in-a-room-to-get-things-done type of work that we are doing this week.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Buttermilk Pancakes (Page 657)


  • Date: Sunday, May 27, 2012 -- 8:30pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Terry, and Teri
  • Recipe Rating: A-

The same day I decided to cook through the second book, I figured I better get started. I let my special gentleman pick the first two recipes. His choices: pancakes and martinis! A well-balanced dinner. Truth be told, we eat a lot of pancakes in our house. We make a triple batch of pancakes every few weeks and freeze the leftovers. It's convenient to have pancakes in the freezer for a quick breakfast treat, especially because we often have company staying with us. We have a pancake recipe that we love, so these pancakes had some stiff competition. To prepare them, I started by whisking together flour, baking soda, salt, egg, and buttermilk. Then I cooked the pancakes in an oiled skillet. That was it! These pancakes were very good. I actually thought they were better than our usual recipe. These pancakes were fluffy and moist and the buttermilk gave them a nice tang. This was a great basic pancake recipe which could easily support some add-ins (vanilla or blueberries or cinnamon or lemon zest or...). My special gentleman wasn't quite convinced though. He admitted that these pancakes were extremely tasty, but his loyalty lies with the recipe that he has made dozens of times (from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook). Nonetheless I imagine that we will be adding this recipe to the pancake rotation in our house. They even survived the freezer test. We ate the leftover pancakes later in the week when my parents came to visit and they were delicious even after being frozen!

One of my goals for the new book is to take more pictures of the people who eat the food I make. I do regret that although I have pictures of nearly every recipe in the yellow book, I have very few pictures of the many, many friends that cooked and ate with me. So I am going to try harder to remember to not only photograph the food, but also my loved ones who eat the food! As a start, here is my special gentleman, enjoying his pancakes:  

The recipe is here.

1 recipe down, 1105 to go! 

And so it begins again. I can't even put into words how exciting it is to have a whole big book full of recipe choices again. I am going to try to be careful not to just make all of my favorite things first. But it is hard to resist! I used a random number generator to generate a list of recipes, and my goal is to choose some of those each week along with whatever else I feel like making. Hopefully that will help keep things a little balanced. I should say a few words about the new book. It's called Gourmet Today, and it is again an offshoot of the now defunct Gourmet Magazine. This book claims to contain recipes for the contemporary kitchen -- meaning that on average the recipes are lighter (less butter!) and quicker (fewer recipes that take all day) than those in the first book. That is not to say that every recipe in this book is quick and healthy -- that certainly does not appear to be true! But, flipping through it, the recipes in this book do have a more contemporary feel to them. 

There are other important distinctions between this book and the last one that I am particularly excited about. Like the Gourmet Cookbook, this book is divided into sections (Soups, Salads, Grains and Beans, Poultry, etc...). The yellow book had 21 sections, this one only has 19. The following sections from the old book do not reappear in this one:
  • Sandwiches and Pizza
  • Sauces and Salsas 
  • Relishes, Chutneys, Pickles and Preserves
  • Basics 
Plus, the Breads and Crackers section and the Breakfast and Brunch section have been merged into one. I am sad to see the sandwiches and pizza go, and it is a shame to have fewer bread and breakfast recipes, but the other three sections I can live without. The good news is that there are some new sections in this book and they are AWESOME! The new sections are:
  • Drinks
  • Vegetarian Main Courses
  • Grilled Dishes
I am pretty thrilled about all three. We have already gotten quite a start on the Drinks section! I would be willing to bet a lot of money that I will be finishing that section off first. I am almost as excited about the Vegetarian Main Courses section. I was a vegetarian for 8 years (ages 13-21) and I love cooking vegetarian food. Plus, we have a lot of vegetarian friends. So it is great to have a selection of vegetarian recipes to choose from! And I love pretty much anything that comes off the grill, so that section has me excited too!

Overall, I am very excited to explore the contemporary food offerings of the new book. I have a feeling that there is some delicious food in my future! 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Molasses-Cured Pork Shoulder Bacon (Page 657)

RECIPE #1293!!!
  • Date: Sunday, April 8, 2012 -- 1:30pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chefs: Matty, Chris, and Mike
  • Dining Companions: Karen H, Dave, Brad, Deniz, Mike M, Teresa, Sami, Kendra, Watson, Terry, and Teri
  • Recipe Rating: A-

Over the years a lot of people asked me which recipe I would save for the very end. What would the LAST recipe from the project be? Well, this is it! Smoking my own bacon seemed like an appropriate way to end this crazy adventure. Friends and family came from near and far to smoke and eat bacon with me. I have been intrigued by this recipe since I first read it, largely because of one of the ingredients: Instacure No. 1. What is that? I managed to find it online, and when it arrived I was even more excited about this recipe. How can you not be thrilled to cook with something that looks like this:

I started working on this recipe on the Thursday before Easter. I first prepared the cure for the bacon by combining some Instacure with water, lots of kosher salt, brown sugar, molasses, and ice cubes. I then added boneless pork shoulder roast:  

I weighted the pork so it was submerged and then cured it in the refrigerator for a day and a half. In the meantime, Chris and Mike arrived from out of town and on Saturday morning we were ready to smoke some bacon! Chris and I were in charge of getting the meat ready. Mike and my special gentleman were assigned to assemble the kettle grill that we had purchased for just this purpose. Chris and I got the pork ready to be smoked by draining it, patting it dry, and sprinkling it with black pepper. You know a recipe is good when you are using a measuring cup to measure the pepper!

Here's a shot of the pork before it went on the grill. You know how some recipes go through phases where they don't look too appetizing before they finally reach the delicious end product? This was not one of those. At every stage this meat was beautiful and I wanted to eat it!

Prepping the pork was a piece of cake. Prepping the grill took a bit longer:

The biggest difficulty though was in using the chimney started. I don't think any of us had ever seen a chimney starter before, more or less used one, and the directions on the package were not super helpful. Mike looked for some tips on his phone:

The real problem was, we only needed to light 5 charcoal briquettes. As it turns out, the chimney starter was easier to use if it was a bit more full. We did manage to create fire, but it would burn out without really getting our briquettes started:

It was pretty funny. Between the 4 of us we have 4 PhDs and a culinary degree, and yet the chimney starter had us a little baffled. Eventually we employed a method which involved turning the chimney starter upside down, using a little more charcoal, and Mike blowing on it, and it all worked out. We got some hot briquettes out of it!

The briquettes did not just go in the bottom of the grill, as you might guess. Rather, they went in a pan of hickory sawdust. 

Those 5 briquettes, smoldering in the sawdust, were the only source of heat for this 8 hour smoking process. The pan with sawdust went on a rack below the rack with the meat on it. 

We then put the lid on the grill and carefully monitored the temperature. The temperature in the grill needed to stay between 80 and 120 degrees. I would have guessed that the issue would be keeping it warm enough, given that it certainly wasn't an 80 degree day outside and there were only those 5 briquettes in there. But as it turned out, it was easy to keep it above 80 and harder to keep it below 120. If the temperature got too hot we were supposed to remove a briquette (which we had to do on several occasions). We smoked the pork like that for 8 hours, adding more sawdust ever hour and a half, and checking on it frequently to make sure the temperature was in the proper range. When the pork came off the grill it looked like this: 

The next day it was finally time to fry and eat our bacon. My special gentleman patiently sliced all the bacon:

Then we fried it on the stove until it was nice and browned. The end result is pictured at the top of the post.

Needless to say, this bacon was tasty! This was pork shoulder bacon rather than pork belly bacon, so it didn't get quite as crispy as typical bacon. But it had an amazing smoky flavor. It was extremely peppery (possibly slightly too peppery even). Mostly I was just amazed by how much it tasted like bacon. After cooking nearly 1300 recipes for this project, I rarely find myself amazed by what I have created any more. But in this case, I really was. I had just never done anything like this. I had never cold smoked a piece of meat before making this.

We froze the leftover bacon and have been eating it slowly over the last couple months. Indeed, we had some this week when my parents came to visit so that they could try it! I'll be sad when it's gone -- the last leftovers from the last recipe of the Gourmet Cookbook!

The recipe is here.

This was the last recipe in The Book! Thank you so much to Mike, Chris, Mike M, Teresa, Sami, Dave, Karen, Brad, Deniz, and Hannah for coming all the way to East Lansing to celebrate with us!

This was also the last recipe I had to make in the Breakfast and Brunch section. For completeness I should give my top five favorite recipes from that section (in no particular order):

  • Fried Eggs over Warm Lentil Salad -- This recipe was incredibly delicious! Cooking vegetables in bacon fat is always a good start to any recipe. This lentil salad was truly tasty and the fried egg on top was the perfect addition. Yum!
  • Marion Cunningham's Raw-Apple Muffins -- These muffins were moist and delicious. I made these back when I lived in Boston, the summer before I moved to Indiana. That was a lovely summer and part of what made it so wonderful was a bunch of really great recipes!
  • Ricotta Hotcakes with Honeycomb Butter -- This recipe was pretty fussy. It required making candy, and then crushing the candy into compound butter. As I was making it I couldn't imagine that it would be worth it. But oh how I was wrong. These were easily the best pancakes that I have ever had. So very, very delicious!
  • Baked French Toast -- This has become the go-to recipe for French Toast in our house. It's super easy because it is baked rather than fried on the stovetop. And it is very delicious! 
  • Molasses-Cured Pork Shoulder Bacon!  Mmmmm.... bacon. 

It's hard to believe that I am at the end. I started this project back in 2006. Since I started this cooking adventure a lot of things have happened in my life. I met my husband. I got my PhD. I moved to Indiana for my post-doc. I married my husband. I got a tenure-track job. We moved to Michigan. We bought a house. But this project has been a backdrop in my life through it all. There are so many memories attached to this project for me. So many milestones and events have been marked in my mind with food from The Book. Cake from The Book for my MIT graduation. Dinner from The Book the weekend that my parents met my future in-laws. Dinner from The Book for my 30th birthday. Dinner from The Book to celebrate Mike and Vigleik's graduation. Dinner from The Book with family and friends two nights before my special gentleman and I got married. Cake from The Book for Michael's funeral. Dinner from The Book to celebrate my dad's 60th birthday. Dinner from The Book for many New Year's Eve celebrations. The list goes on and on. I have cooked from this book in good times and in bad, for more then 6 years. Dozens of people have eaten food from this project, and many of them have been in the kitchen cooking with me. In a very real way, this book feels like a part of me.

And so I have been dreading blogging about this last recipe. There is so much that I want to say here. There are so many people who need to be thanked. There are so many thoughts that I have about this time that I spent cooking these 1293 recipes. The more I thought about writing the last post, the sadder it made me feel.

Almost three years ago, Gourmet published a second cookbook. It's called Gourmet Today and it is big and green rather than big and yellow. It has 1106 recipes in it. A few months before it was published, I was contacted by someone at the publisher, asking if I (or someone I know) would be interested in blogging about the book. At the time, I just laughed and laughed. My special gentleman thought it was a great idea, but I just wanted to finish the yellow book and be done! So I told them that I wasn't interested. There was no way I was signing myself up for another 1000+ recipes. They generously sent me a couple signed copies of the new book anyway, and over the last few years I have flipped through it many times and cooked a few things from it. But my focus always remained on getting through the yellow book. But now I am done. And I miss it. I deliberated long and hard about this over the last several months, and finally this past Sunday I came to a decision. I am going to cook through the second book. Because you know what? I love it! I have loved cooking through The Book. I have LOVED trying all the new recipes, and cooking things that are new to me. And more than anything, I have LOVED sitting down with friends and family, trying new foods. I have loved the meals that were humorously bad just as much as the ones that were insanely good. It has been an amazing 6 years of cooking, and blogging, and friendship. And the idea of a whole new book, with amazing new recipes to choose from -- it was just too much to walk away from.

So the truth is, I have already started cooking. I started just 5 days ago and in those 5 days I have already made a dozen recipes from the new book. It has been a long time since I have been able to make quick recipes for the project. Or pies. Or pancakes. Or broccoli... I made all my favorite things from the yellow book long ago. But now I have 1106 new recipes in front of me, and I am tearing through them!

So, it looks like I will be here for a while longer. I will continue blogging on this site. And it is no longer going to be weeks (or months!) between posts. I'll be picking up the pace again. I am looking forward to a few more years of Gourmet adventures! So for now I will postpone all the thank-yous and reflections that really belong at the end of the project. Because as it turns out, I'm not done yet!

Phase I complete. On to Phase II...