“The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings” (David Weinbaum). There’s nothing quite like a new beginning, and this is one project I’d been hoping to pursue for quite some time. There are two great passions in my life: music and cooking. These two are a match made in heaven, one that I hope to explore through my own musical training and culinary experiences. And so my “breath of fresh air” begins with this blog – The Classical Kitchen. I hosted a dinner party for close friends this past weekend to celebrate the blog launch. The menu was, in theory, Italian – but unique flavors betrayed a cultural diversity:
◊ Arugula Salad with Oranges, Tomatoes & Goat Cheese tossed in a Red Wine Vinaigrette
◊ Roasted Rosemary Potatoes with Crispy Garlic and Lemon Zest
◊ Pan-Roasted Chicken with Shallots, Olives and Sage
◊ Vanilla Creme Fraiche Cheesecake with Blackberries
(It’s okay, you can take a moment to digest…)
This dinner was a FANTASTIC way to launch this new blog, and (as always) a great excuse to spend time with friends. Before diving into the chronicles of these recipes, I want to say how lucky I am to be surrounded by such wonderful friends – cooking has no purpose without good company.
The salad was the contribution of my dear friend Tim Wilfong. A veggie through-and-through, he wanted to bring a side that would complement our main dish as well as his (veggie burgers – nothing too fancy, but he claims it was the perfect match).
So about the potatoes – potatoes in general are an easy sell: mashed, roasted, baked, fried, scalloped, etc. You can almost always guarantee that any crowd will love a potato dish. These, though, exceeded everyone’s expectation! While these beautiful, golden potatoes can stand on their own, the added flavors are what bring this dish up a notch: crispy garlic slivers, freshly crushed rosemary, and zesty lemon. Oh.My.God! My advice? Let these guys cook longer a little than you’d expect (without burning them, of course!) The amount of olive oil used in the recipe will protect the potatoes to a longer heat exposure, so don’t fret.
Some modifications: The end of the recipe calls for tossing the potatoes in the leftover lemon/rosemary vinaigrette – I wouldn’t recommend more than a tablespoon (or two). Trust me, you want to maintain that crunchy goodness, and too much oil will just make a soggy mess. The original recipe also calls for dill, but I went with rosemary. You can view this recipe HERE.
Here’s where our regional fare gets an exotic twist. This method of roasting calls for the chicken to be separated into 8 pieces (a process you can do on your own, though I highly recommend asking your butcher to do this for you), then cooked in a large oven-safe pan. Lemon and sage stay true to our Italian taste, but we journey closer to the Mediterranean with a curveball – brined green olives: a fruit native to the Mediterranean region, appearing in Egyptian chronicles dating back to 17th century B.C. Green olives are unripe and much firmer than the black and brown varieties, so they have to be cured with a lye solution to soften the fruit’s flesh.* This dish packs a LOT of flavor, and is a definite keeper.
A few variations: I placed the chicken directly under the broiler for the final stage of cooking to deepen the flavor and color. I also thickened the sauce slightly at the end to make a quick gravy. To check out this fabulous recipe, click HERE.
Even though I created this blog to expand my cooking repertoire beyond sweets, dessert is still a must at all my dinner parties. This dessert was the PERFECT selection for a launch menu. With a gorgeous texture and depth of flavor, this WILL be my go-to cheesecake recipe from here on out. The original recipe called for a roasted pineapple topping…which probably would have been fantastic if I had the energy to make it, but fresh blackberries were the perfect touch. If there is anything you take away from this lengthy first post, it should be this recipe.
My recipe notes: do NOT overmix the batter, or an unseemly crack will be inevitable, and use real vanilla bean. While vanilla extract is obviously cheaper and easier to manage, this cake would lose half its charm. Finally, don’t substitute sour cream for the crème fraîche – the tangy, light flavor is what makes this recipe! You can get the recipe for this cheesecake HERE.
Given our “twist” in ingredients and method, I feel it only appropriate to take a detour in genre when considering a musical pairing for this menu. I needed a piece that appeared Italian, for all intents and purposes, but contained elements of diversity. My friend Nate Lofton gave the perfect suggestion: Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4, Op.90 “Italian“. A German-born composer of Jewish descent who studied briefly in France, Mendelssohn was inspired to write this work following his travels in Italy.** I have included a recording of the first movement below with The Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela – arguably one of the best up-and-coming professional orchestras today. Enjoy!
*According to homecooking.about.com.
**According to Wikipedia.com