Hash It Out

Egg+Hash2Brunch is awesome. I would eat breakfast at every meal if I could. I credit eggs being such a versatile and easy protein. I also love cooking breakfast for people I care about. So when one of my favorite humans made a trip to New York – my best friend Megan – we scoured Pinterest for some culinary inspiration. What we found was not only simple, but super tasty: Bacon & Mushroom Hash with a Fried Egg.

PurplePotatoesBrooklyn has some fantastic open-air markets – where everything in season is Insta-worthy, plentiful and downright delicious. My favorite produce stand had these dark purple potatoes and violet scallions, so we grabbed a handful of each. I spoke a bit about anthocyanins in my last post – so clearly I’m on a theme with ruby-tinged produce. In the event you can’t find these ingredients, or you are enjoying a lazy day indoors, you can use just about any vegetable in a hash: sweet potatoes, corn, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, kale. Go wild!

SmokedBaconThere was one stand I had never visited (until now) called Raven & Boar. They were sampling one of the most delicious bacon jams. We were hooked, so we bought a full pound and a half of their bacon…naturally. A good two-thirds of it is currently sitting in my freezer as our eyes were clearly bigger than our stomachs. We used this smoked variety that reaalllly put the dish over the top. Thicker bacon is key since you will be chopping it into the hash, but any variety will do. We also decided to cook the eggs over easy, because I could not resist the photo op that you saw at the opening of this post. We also drowned our plates in Frank’s hot sauce – highly recommended, if you’re a spicy fan. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty breakfast.

Egg+Hash1For the last few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on new beginnings. Starting a new chapter can be scary (really scary) and yet the future holds nothing but adventure for those brave enough to try something completely different. Megan’s trip to New York was to mark such an occasion. Opening yourself to new experiences can be breathtaking, but remembering who you are – and where you come from – is what gives you the strength and excitement to start anew. This is why I chose one of the first pieces I had ever prepared for an audition: Francis Poulenc’s Sonate pour flûte et pianowritten in 1957.

Poulenc was a French composer who studied with the renowned Erik Satie. His success, fueled by his talent and Satie’s musical connections, led to his inclusion in the acclaimed Les Six: a group of 6 young composers – all French – whose music openly countered the traditional styles of the time; most notably Wagner and Debussy. Speaking of new beginnings, this Sonata was the first Poulenc ever wrote for the flute – much to the delight of colleague and flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, who would perform the première (with Poulenc on piano). Like the dish, the piece is simple yet rich. The music traverses a spectrum of expressive colors: from a verdant allegretto to a lavender cantilena and finally closing with a red-hot presto. The following recording features my favorite flutist – Emmanuel Pahud. Enjoy!

Sources:
“Flute Sonata (Poulenc),” Wikipedia.com
“Francis Poulenc,” Wikipedia.com

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Summer Dreams and Pie

RhubarbPiesSummer is perhaps one of the best seasons for eating – weekends are for cookouts, piles of colorful produce flood farmers’ markets, and restaurants eager to open their patios and porches get creative with menus. Since I started this blog, there has always been one dish that best defines my summer repertoire: pie. I’ve made lots of pies, and have tried nearly every approach to pie dough (including a unique experiment with vodka); yet the all-butter crust that my grandma would be proud of is tough to beat. For this post, I made a bite-sized version with these Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies.
Rhubarb_1I found this rhubarb at the farmer’s market – big, ruby stalks of the stuff. Their pigment comes from varying levels of anthocyanins (the same compound that colors blueberries and black rice; ahhhh science). Even though it’s a vegetable, rhubarb is often prepared in dishes that are fruit-forward. The tart flavor and celery-like texture lend themselves well to compotes and jams and pie fillings. For this recipe, it’s simmered with nothing more than sugar; and you don’t even need to really stir it. You want the mixture to have as little liquid as possible when done, so it’s easy to work with when filling the pies.
PieDough_2The trick to handmade pie crusts is to keep the dough very cold; from start to finish. It can be frustrating…especially when you’re working on a hot summer day, but it’s worth the patience. If you have to refrigerate the dough halfway through making it, that’s OK. It’s also a little messy (with all the flour) but again, worth it. I could have chilled the dough a bit longer before starting the assembly process…but was watching Westworld and became too focused on keeping up with the plot twists. All the same, they tasted great! Click HERE to make this recipe a new summer tradition. 
RhubarbPies_2Summer and pie are a perfect pair, rousing memories of lazy, hot days with sweet iced tea and picnic blankets. Today was a perfect example of that kind of weather…although I spent a good deal of it beneath a fan with the A.C. blasting. In thinking about a musical pairing, one of my favorites came to mind – Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24, for soprano and orchestra (by Samuel Barber). This piece takes it inspiration and prose from the James Agee essay of the same name. Agee allegedly wrote the piece in an hour and a half. To date, it is one of his most famous works. The story is woven by the childhood memories of our protagonist, who paints a scene of her family lounging on quilts in the backyard while listening to the birds and streetcars passing by. While our protagonist relishes in this memory and the perfection of that summer evening, there is bittersweet inflection in her words: the now adult is all-too-aware of the passing of time and the journey to find one’s identity. In empathy, it’s difficult to not feel a yearning for the simplicities of childhood. The following recording features soprano Leontyne Price with the New Philharmonia Orchestra – I hope you enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Rhubarb,” Wikipedia
Myers, Chris. “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” Redlands Symphony. 2015.

A Flavorful Metamorphosis

CookbooksEvery now and then I get the question “who is your favorite chef?” As of today, I would have to say one of my favorites is Yotam Ottolenghi. His insatiable curiosity for reinventing the traditional brings new vibrancy to seemingly banal ingredients. So while the internet has attenuated the need for physical cookbooks, three of the handful I own physical copies for are his. His recipes are also elaborate, and thus relegated to “special occasion” projects. The result is almost always the same: colorful, packed with flavor and a truly unique experience. The two recipes in this post – Pistachio and Pine Nut-Crusted Sea Bass with Wild Arugula and Parsley Vichyssoise and Caramelized Fennel Bulbs With Goat Cheese – are from the cookbooks Nopi and Plenty, respectively.

FennelGoatCheeseSome fun fennel facts (say that 5 times fast): fennel is a part of the carrot family, can grow up to 8-feet tall (2.5-meters) and has the same flavor compound as licorice – though the two are unrelated. This affinity means it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but this recipe may sway even the staunchest of naysayers. I’d been eager to try another dish from Ottolenghi’s Plenty, and came across this one. The goat cheese, caramelization and fresh dill bring a wholly new character to the vegetable; and make for a delectable side to any meal. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful dish. 

Vichyssoise1The origins of vichyssoise are unknown, though the French claim seems to have more weight than the American one (albeit perpetuated by another culinary icon of mine, Julia Child). Regardless, the recipe is a summer icon: as it’s traditionally served cold. This particular vichyssoise was a nice upgrade – where traditional vichyssoise is a creamy ivory that is served cold, this was a vibrant emerald and served warm. The medley of greens also lent a nutritional punch to the dish. The trick to getting this recipe right is to buy really fresh greens, and to cook them just long enough so they retain their color.

NutCrust1The nut crust is the “crown jewel” of the dish – and fairly easy to make. You can use almost any medley of nuts, but the pine nut / pistachio combination is quite delicious. What’s even better is you can make the nut crust the day before (in fact, you can prepare this whole recipe in advance, with the exception of the fish). The original recipe calls for halibut, but our local market had a good sale for Chilean sea bass. In case neither is available, any flaky white fish will do the trick. You can bake or broil the fish, whichever works best based on your oven. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful main course.

Fish1As I mentioned at the start of this post, Ottolenghi is a chef who brings new life to traditional foods. So for the musical pairing, I wanted to find a composer who followed a similar style. In the art world, one movement that captures this is Neoclassicism: effectively a wave of works that drew inspiration from the arts of classical antiquity. In classical music, there are a slew of composers who fall within this category. One of my favorites is Paul Hindemith. Born at the turn of the 20th century, Hindemith viewed his writing as “utility music” (or Gebrauchsmusik). This style was considered to be a reaction against the complexity and difficulty of 19th- to 20th-century music, and Hindemith took pride in composing works for the “everyday” amateur. Perhaps his most famous composition is Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, which premiered in 1944. Seven years prior, Hindemith and his wife had fled Berlin with the rise of the Third Reich, first taking refuge in Switzerland and then moving to the United States. It was here that he was approached by the choreographer Leonid Massine. Massine wanted to collaborate with Hindemith on a ballet that leveraged themes by Weber. The partnership ultimately fell through, but the music endured and was premiered on its own as Metamorphosis. The below recording (Movt I – Allegro) features the New York Philharmonic with Alan Gilbert. Enjoy!

To hear the whole piece, here are the links for Movements II, III and IV respectively.

Sources Cited:

 

Simple Gifts for Snowy Drifts

AsparagusProsciutto_1A bomb cyclone just passed through New York…for the third time this year. And it was just as unpleasant as the last two. When the weather gets this bad, I go for simple recipes – because #ComfortFood makes everything better. It also helps if you don’t have to leave your house/apartment/comfy Ikea couch…so fortunately for me I had a pantry that could produce Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus as well as a Classic Grilled Cheese; both of which are a perfect match for a day when dense, heavy sheets of what appear to be wet flour are cascading from the sky. Gross. 
Asparagus_1Because I’m a nut for history, I thought, “If this dish is so easy, how easy is it to make Prosciutto?” Turns out…it’s not easy at all. BUT (good news!) it is easy to find prosciutto at almost any grocer. Italian in origin, Prosciutto – like Champagne and Gorgonzola – is a “protected designation of origin” product, in that its name can only be assigned to meats created under specific conditions and within certain territories. I had purple asparagus for this dish as well, which was also first produced in Italy (called Violetto d’ Albenga…great name for an opera character, FYI).
Asparagus Prosciutto 2The recipe for this dish is quite simple: you wrap each spear with a slice of prosciutto, arrange them on a roasting pan, drizzle some olive oil, pepper and salt over the spears, and roast. You want to cook the dish at a high heat, so that the asparagus and prosciutto crisp but don’t overcook. Since there are only two ingredients, you should aim for quality asparagus and prosciutto. For those of you wondering if bacon is a substitute, it will definitely work – albeit with a very different flavor profile (though still delicious). Click HERE to see how to make this delectably simple side. 
GrilledCheese_1This next recipe is a great way to use up any leftover cheeses you have in your fridge – I had some sharp cheddar, and shredded about a cup for this recipe. While most recipes swear by American cheese – given its melt factor – I personally think any cheese will do the trick. I also love to use a good quality butter for grilled cheese. My mantra: if you have to use fatty ingredients, go for the best. I actually used Kerrygold butter and cheddar…mere coincidence. For the bread, I highly recommend using a good sourdough. Pictured is a whole wheat variety from Trader Joe’s that is my latest obsession.
DSC_0793A cast iron is the quintessential tool for a grilled cheese, but a nonstick pan will do in a pinch (what I used). To ensure the cheese melts fully, I put the lid on after I flip the sandwich – but allowed it cook for a few seconds after flipping sans lid to prevent steam being captured underneath (no one likes a soggy sandwich). Of course, there is no right or wrong way to make this classic: at the end of the day it’s toasted bread and melted cheese. Though I recommend skipping the Benny & Joon method…where Johnny Depp used a clothes iron. Click HERE to see my method for this American classic. 
GrilledCheese_2
I actually thought of the musical pairing before the food – as I’d been considering the piece for some time. It’s the “Variation on a Shaker Melody: ‘Simple Gifts'” from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Originally a ballet, today the larger work is performed as an orchestral suite. The ballet premiered in 1944, and the Suite just one year later with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Serge Koussevitsky. The work embodies the spirit of the American pioneer, against the backdrop of early 19th century Appalachia. The shaker melody is one of the more famous moments of the piece, and perhaps the most recognizable. The tune “Simple Gifts”, 170 years old this year, was in relative obscurity until Copland’s Appalachian Spring – and as you will hear in the clip below, it was a great addition to the classical canon. The recording features the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Enjoy!

Sources:
“Prosciutto,” Wikipedia.org
“Asparagus,” Wikipedia.org
“Appalachian Spring,” Wikipedia.org

When Art Meets Science

SalmonVide_1

It’s February!! Which means the “I don’t feel like cooking” attitudes following a miserable commute of bitter wind and slushy sidewalks are here for 6 more weeks (thanks for that, Punxsutawney Phil!) So I’ve turned to a cooking method that – albeit fancy – is quite fun: sous vide. I’ve prepared salmon a number of ways: baked, grilled, slow-cooked, raw for sushi – but cooking it inside of a Ziploc bag was a new one for me. As strange as it sounds, trust me when I say this was one of the most delicious salmon dishes I’ve ever had. Packed with flavor and extremely tender, this Salmon Sous Side has become a quick favorite in my weekly repertoire.

SalmonVideSous vide is French for “under vacuum” – and it’s a technique where art meets science. In a nutshell, sous vide involves cooking foods in a water bath, ranging from 120°-160°F, where the food is sealed inside of a vacuum pack…or Ziploc bag for “sous vide sur un budget” (how I roll). The process was developed separately by a gourmet chef, Georges Pralus, and a scientist, Bruno Goussault. Each claims to be the original “architect” behind the method: although they ultimately worked together to popularize and ensure safety standards for the technique. Fun fact! The term “cryovacking” is also used to describe sous vide – which I personally think is super cool / fun to say five times fast.

Joule1    Joule2
The sous vide equipment I own is called Joule: you can control the timing and the temperature all from your PHONE. Just download the app, select a recipe, grab the ingredients and hit “go”. I plan on using this thing a lot, and imagine my next venture will be steak (stay tuned!) In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the process as a whole: it’s fun, yields an extremely tender meal that can be seasoned and seared to your heart’s delight, and is absolutely worth it if you are looking for a method to spice up your daily routine. Click HERE to see the recipe for this delicious dish. 

SalmonVide_2One of the first things that came to mind when considering a musical pairing for this dish was the “golden ratio”: 1.618. The concept is embraced across multiple genres, and is believed to be the calculation that captures the aesthetically beautiful. The graphic on 270px-Golden_ratio_line.svg.pngthe left best illustrates how this ratio works. Both the Parthenon in Greece and Leonardo da Vinci’s De divina proportione (“On the Divine Proportion”) are living examples of the proportion. In classical music, the composer Béla Bartók had an appreciation for such proportionality: so much so that he aspired to recreate it in his own compositions.

A great example is Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. In its entirety, (movements I through IV) the work is roughly 30 minutes in length. While the second and fourth movements are fast-paced and lively, it is the first and third movements that embrace the golden ratio. The first movement centralizes on the note “A”, where the strings build from a muted introduction into a climactic center, and slowly diminish back into a hushed, arpeggiated texture. This climax occurs at measure 55, out of the 89-measure movement, effectively making it the “golden mean” of the movement. (89 ÷ 55 = 1.618). The third movement opens with a xylophone solo built on a Fibonacci sequence: 1:1:2:3:5:8:5:3:2:1:1 – a sequence that is intimately connected to the golden ratio. The piece is both haunting and lively, which makes for a great listen. The following recording is with the London Symphony Orchestra and Georg Solti – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Hesser, Amanda. “Under Pressure,” New York Times
“Golden ratio”, Wikipedia
Frey, Angelica. “Five Classical Pieces with the Golden Ratio”, CMUSE

Rise and Shine, Part VI

AvocadoAvocado – the unofficial mascot of millennial culture. It’s a pretty awesome food, with a versatility that makes it the kind of friend you always want to have around. From pasta sauces to creamy desserts to savory appetizers, this fruit has it all. So when thinking of how to feature avocado, I turned to my all-time favorite meal: breakfast. This is part six of my mini series “Rise and Shine”. So far the series has featured my adventures with brunch, and I thought it high time I chronicled the dishes that I enjoy every morning before work: Rich Fruit Smoothie and (the Instagram-famous) Avocado Toast.

AvoToastLet’s start with the toast – this is a dish that has taken the internet by storm. It’s simple, delicious and never gets old. As a spread, it’s also a healthy substitute where butter or jam are the traditional go-to’s. What’s perhaps more interesting is the many ways people interpret the increasing popularity of the dish: from it’s alleged necessity as an everyday staple in the “bourgeoisie’s diet” to being a symptom of our continued “fetishization of food.” I’m a millennial, so I’m not helping to disperse any of these myths…but it’s a great and filling breakfast. I for one think making it at home is a fantastic option, versus paying $30 at a Brooklyn brunch enclave for a few slices. Click HERE to see the recipe for this internet celebrity. 

Shake_3Smoothies are a great way to start the day – you can pack in a ton of nutrients, and mix it up based on what’s in season (or on sale). When I reflect on the ingredients that are must-have’s, I’d say they are a banana, some yogurt, nuts, and of course avocado. The yogurt and nuts are the protein: which make this a really filling meal, and give you the energy to kick off your day. I always use bananas since they are delicious, but the avocado is what gives the smoothie a thick and creamy consistency. You can even add a little honey, but I find the fruits to add enough sweetness.

There is a bit of an art to packing a blender – the trick is to go from the softest ingredients to the toughest. As the above photo shows, I placed the avocado and the bananas at the bottom of the jar, followed by the kiwis, berries, almonds, and finally the ice; pouring in the milk at the very end. Organizing the jar this way facilitates the blending process, and creates a super smooth and creamy result. That being said, if you have one of those crazy-cool blenders that can crush concrete…then feel free to just dump everything in. If the mixture is too thick, just add a splash of milk and pulse until combined. I make these almost every morning, and can guarantee it becomes second nature. Click HERE to see the recipe for this healthy morning treat. 

Shake_4The promise of these dishes is enough to inspire even the sleepiest to rouse on a weekday. So in considering a piece that worked well with these dishes, I came across Gustav Mahler’s “Frühlingsmorgen” (Spring Morning) from his collection of Lieder und Gesänge. Mahler was known to devote his mornings to composing: pouring himself into his scores and harmonic textures, then indulging himself in the afternoon with mountainous vistas and lakeside excursions. This makes the “Frühlingsmorgen” all the more apt – both of the dishes in this blog post are colorful, flavor-forward and bright: reminiscent of spring, if you will. This particular song falls within Volume 1 of the collection: written between 1880 and 1881. The song is labeled “Gemächlich, leicht bewegt”, which roughly translates to “with leisurely movement”. The following video features the German lyric baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the musical icon Leonard Bernstein on piano (though there are plenty of fantastic recordings with sopranos on YouTube as well). Enjoy!!

Sources Cited:
Oyler, L. “My Fruitful Search for the Origins of Avocado Toast,” Broadly. Sep 13. 2016.
Goldfield, H. “The Trend is Toast,” The New Yorker. May 2, 2014.
“Lieder und Gesänge (Mahler)”, Wikipedia.com

It’s Gravy, Baby

DSC_0449I have to say, the Pacific NW won me over this summer. Surrounded by mountainous vistas and cerulean waters, it’s a paradise for those who love the outdoors. Now that I’m back on the East Coast, I’ve been reminiscing about my travels over the last three months. Tom and I visited a lot of really cool places, and one of those getaways included a weekend stay on Hat Island. The above was the view just outside the house we stayed in – sipping hot coffee in hoodies and slippers while watching the sun rise – courtesy of some wonderful friends. It was a quick but memorable weekend, and we indulged in some fantastic dinners while there. Tom and I treated the group to a big Italian meal: a basic arugula salad and heaping plates of Sunday Gravy (basically extreme spaghetti and meatballs).

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Hat Island is a very unique place. Housing more than 200 families (permanently or as a vacation stay), it is a private island that’s just over 1-mile in length and overrun with bunnies. Tom’s good high school friends’ have a property there, and they generously invited us for a two-day getaway from Seattle. One of the great things about cooking at a summer house is consistent access to natural light. As Serious Eats points out, “a shady spot on a sunny day is the holy grail of natural lighting conditions” (when it comes to food photography). I’m no professional, but photos with natural light versus those without are like night and day…pun intended! The below photo, of a basic arugula salad with fruits and goat cheese and walnuts, shows just that.

ArugulaSaladSo, about that gravy: one of our favorite TV shows is The Sopranos. Many believe this series launched the genre of quality storytelling outside of the movie theater (read: paved the way for GoT). Whether you’ve seen the show or not, its cultural impact still resonates today. Those who watched it finally understand that spaghetti sauce should actually be called gravy…when done the Italian way. This recipe takes hours to make, and is sourced from The Sopranos Family Cookbook: “written” by Artie Bucco (the chef of the show’s Vesuvio restaurant). The book stays in character, voicing the opinions and anecdotes of our favorite cast members. Despite the tongue-in-cheek writing, the recipes are genuine, having been written by actual chef Michele Scicolone. The easy-to-follow instructions result in some fantastic dinners.

SundayGravy_1The recipe can be adjusted up or down to yield your desired serving size. I’d say my two key pieces of advice for this recipe are 1) don’t sacrifice on time – be prepared to invest an afternoon in making this – and 2) don’t go crazy with side dishes, since this is a filling main course. If you do make way too much food, however, the leftovers are still pretty great. We served ours with whole wheat spaghetti, but you can choose any noodle. Take some inspiration from The Sopranos’ Paulie: “Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?!” Click HERE to see the recipe for this mouthwatering classic. 

SundayGravy_2Like I said, a small serving of this goes a long way – thanks to the rich and filling gravy. For the musical pairing, I was looking for two key qualities. The first being a piece that exudes depth in a “serving size” length, and the second being a musical excerpt that was featured on the show The Sopranos: in homage to the cookbook. Fortunately, there was an aria that fit the bill: “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Rondine. The aria is short, but – like any great Puccini aria – takes your breath away with a few stanzas. Yet the work is a deviation from Puccini’s canon, as it is essentially an “operetta”: a compositional style more akin to musicals than classical opera. Puccini initially eschewed the form, claiming “An operetta is something I will never do.” Yet geopolitical circumstances (WWI) led to a loyalty contract which ultimately resulted in the premiere of La Rondine: which by the way is Italian for “the swallow.” As for The Sopranos, the aria appears twice in the series: once in the pilot episode, and then again in the finale of Season 5. In both instances, Tony Soprano (our protagonist) comes to understand his own mortality – and how trivial daily annoyances can be. My opera geek friends may see the irony in a (real life) soprano narrating a (fictional) Soprano’s brush with death…the following recording is the same that was used in the show, featuring the singer Luba Orgonasova. Enjoy!

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South of the Orient: Part IX

Noodles_2August was HOT. The temps in Seattle were much higher, on average, than usual. As a consequence of these norms, the city doesn’t believe in air conditioning…so Tom and I were on the lookout for any solution to cool down. In many parts of the world, heat is met with more heat. Whether it is an Indian drinking hot chai or a Jamaican enjoying jerk chicken (seasoned with must-have Scotch bonnets), a variety of cultures turn to hot and spicy foods in the sweltering heat. The reason? It makes you sweat, and sweat cools you down. I’m no scientist, but we were desperate and willing to try anything. So we decided to indulge in our own spicy experiment with Pad Kee Mao.

ThailandThis recipe did not come out of a cookbook. Tom learned how to make the dish while living in Southeast Asia; in Laos, Thailand and Malaysia, primarily. He spent about a year in the region, split between a pre-college getaway and a post-college return.  The above photo was taken by Tom in Tham Kong Lo: a cave that extends for 7 miles. He shares more about the adventure:

Our small gang of backpackers had convened at a grass hut guest house the night before, the entire village having lost power at 7PM (daily occurrence) we’d bonded over candlelit noodles and communist beer (Beerlao), and planned the following day’s excursion. Tham Kong Lo is a stalactite-riddled mega cave that stretches deep underneath miles of limestone karst, home to a singular, somewhat terrifying ecosystem and traversable only by canoe. There’s darkness in familiar settings and then there’s pics, oily darkness pregnant with bats, giant spiders and dripping with humidity. Everyone should experience the latter at some point, if only for the experience of emerging renewed and soaking wet into a lush jungle valley at the other side, sunshine streaming through the banyan trees.

Noodles_3When Tom shared this story with me, I was inspired to recreate an image of those “stalactites” using our noodles…it was one of those things that sounded way cooler in my head. But the photo also illustrates perfectly al dente rice noodles, so I kept it. Moving on, many of us know Pad Kee Mao by it’s English title: Drunken Noodles. Khi mao is Thai for “drunkard”…yet the source of this appellation is a bit of a mystery. Some believe the first-ever recipe included rice wine, while others attribute the recipe to a drunken chef who concocted the dish with whatever was available in his home after a long night out. Regardless, it is now one of the cuisine’s most famous celebrities, and for good reason.

DSC_0171The dish is spicy, but can be moderated to your taste by de-seeding the peppers or omitting them entirely. It brings together a variety of rich flavors in a fairly quick preparation: oyster sauce, chili paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, and loads of veggies. Tom cooks the dish so that there is very little liquid left in the pan before serving – so there is some patience involved. But the end result is absolutely worth the wait. You can include one or a medley of proteins (we used both chicken and tofu in our recipe). One key ingredient, flavor-wise and aesthetically, is basil: you can use Thai or regular, just be sure to have a whole heap of it. Click HERE to see the recipe for this spicy dish.  

NoodlesWhen you eat something spicy, not only do you sweat – your heart rate also increases…much like my own whenever I think of playing the opening lines of Jacques Ibert’s Flute Concerto. Written in the doldrums of the Great Depression, the work was commissioned by the renowned flutist and pedagogue Marcel Moyse. It is surprisingly lighthearted for the era yet far from frivolous. Even with a reduced orchestra, the work is both both elegant and rich with thematic color…and, for the soloist, very difficult to perform. The opening stanza is an audition ace, as flutists across the world harness the dramatic statement to impress panels. The piece as a whole sustains an exhilarating pace, with two poignant respites that allow our soloist to catch her breath…just before hurling the audience into an electric finale. The following recording features Emmanuel Pahud (my flute hero) and the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich performing the first movement of the concerto. Enjoy!

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Sources Cited:
“Drunken Noodles,” Wikipedia.com
“Flute Concerto: Jacques Ibert,” LA Phil

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This Beef is Lit

DSC_0172It’s insane to think that Fall is nearly here. Looking back on the last 3 months, this summer has been both adventurously beautiful and extraordinarily hot. I got a taste of the West Coast for the first time in my life in Seattle, which involved a lot of time in the outdoors, and was able to enjoy a much-needed break following my time at NYU Stern. The picture above was taken at lake in the middle of Snoqualmie Pass: not pictured is me, out of breath and sunburned, very much looking forward to a big meal. Fortunately, we had a great dinner waiting for us back home of Steak au Poivre and Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic. 

Blue_PotatoesMashed potatoes are great on their own – but add some blue cheese and roasted garlic, and you may ask yourself “How have I made it this far without these potatoes?” Ok, maybe that was just me…but trust me when I say this is a solid companion to steak. I like to use red-skinned potatoes and keep the peels, to add some character to the dish. If you want a creamier mash, opt for Yukon Gold, since you will risk overworking the mash if you try to achieve the smoother consistency with red potatoes. Can’t find blue cheese? Gorgonzola is a fantastic substitute (as I shared in my latest blog post). Click HERE to see the recipe for this irresistible side.

Steaks_PanSteak au Poivre is French for “pepper steak”…which seems to leave a lot of room for interpretation. However, the traditional preparation involves peppercorns (naturally), heavy cream, and brandy. Any number of adjustments can be made from here. Some chefs insist on the traditional sauce trio, while others (including my favorite, Julia Childs) call for a more unique take with cognac, stock, and multicolor peppercorns. So as you can imagine, the various interpretations on this dish are indeed appreciable. Our recipe here will use only the basic, with a “lighter” sauce than some of the top hits on Google. But the key is to get a solid cut of meat. We found two reasonable cuts of filet mignon, but sirloin or strip will also get the job done.

FlameTom learned how to make this recipe from his mom, Virgina. As to the interpretations I referenced, there are two key differences when it comes to the sauce: where the alcohol is used either to deglaze the pan or for a flambe. Virginia’s recipe calls for the latter, which makes for a very cool photo op. An important note on cooking with open flames: things can go from cool to bad very quickly if you don’t take the right precautions, so always off the heat (especially if you’re working with a gas stove) and move the pan away from any overhead materials that may be flammable. But it’s definitely a fun party trick if you’re hosting. Click HERE for this classic take on a beloved dish.

Steak_4In considering a pairing for this piece, I was tempted to go with Stravinsky’ “Firebird” or a Debussy for the all-too-obvious reason. But I wanted to give more attention to the depth of the dish’s richness and flavor, and thus felt like Dmitri Shostakovich would be a great companion. I’ve never paired anything on this site with Shostakovich, so I’ll first talk about the man himself before elucidating the musical pairing. Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was born in Saint Petersburg in 1906, and many classical musicians have 800px-Dmitri_Shostakovich_credit_Deutsche_Fotothek_adjustedcome to recognize his musical voice as an expression of the creative struggles beneath the Stalin regime. His compositions aggregate a variety of styles, from strong Russian tones to dissonant protest to haunting melodies. To illustrate this variety: perhaps his most famous work is his fifth symphony, which was received phenomenally well by the conservative tastes of the Soviet public. Yet this followed on the heels a highly divisive fourth symphony, which premiered more than two decades after its completion due to its unorthodox nature. Today, historians debate the inspirations for and meaning behind many of Shostakovich’s works. So naturally, there are many interpretations. However, one set of German “ingredients” institute some consistency – the signature “DSCH” motif: which alludes to the German spelling of his name, Dmitri SCHostakovich, as well as the German locution for D (De), E-flat (Es), C (Ce), and Ha (B natural). This parallel to the blog’s dish leads to our musical pairing, where the DSCH motif is perhaps the most discernible: String Quartet No. 8 in C minor. The quartet, composed in the summer of 1960, was an homage to the Dresden casualties of 1945; where close to half a million were killed in an Allied air raid. He wrote “In memory of victims of fascism and war.” And the first four notes you hear are the DSCH motif. I first heard the piece my freshman year at the New England Conservatory, and it had a profound effect.

The following recording is with the Borodin Quartet: an ensemble which traces it history back to the Soviet Union and had a close working relationship with Shostakovich himself.  Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Steak au Poivre,” Cook’s Info
“Dmitri Shostakovich,” Wikipedia
“About the Piece: String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op.110,” LA Phil
“Borodin Quartet,” Wikipedia.com