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

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An Extravagant Feast

Thanksgiving 1Tis the season to spend time with loved ones while eating lots of food! It’s also the time of year that I find it extremely difficult to keep up with my blog, between holiday parties and travel. Thanksgiving is always a big project…but it’s also one of my favorites to blog since the memories and recipes are worth cherishing. I flew down to Atlanta for the second year in a row to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mother’s side of the family, my sister Sarah and her boyfriend, and my boyfriend Tom.
DSC_0294  DSC_0377
Aside from being way warmer than Boston, the trip was filled with lots of family moments and holiday cheer. While I spearheaded most of the cooking, my sister made a ton of food (two of her recipes are featured below) and the rest of the family helped out with odds and ends: peeling potatoes, lifting heavy pans, etc. When planning something for a party of 12, there is often the fear that there won’t be enough food. In my world, this translates into overcompensating and creating way more food than is actually necessary. See the below photo…
Thanksgiving 2The main meal turned out really well, and there was plenty of food to spare. Since it was such a sizable spread, I decided to highlight a few of my personal favorites for this post:

Sweet Potato Rounds with Pecans and Goat Cheese
Cool, Creamy, Cheesy Corn Dip
– Roasted Turkey, prepared with a Citrus and Peppercorn Dry Brine
Baked Ham with Brown Sugar-Whiskey Glaze
Arugula Salad with Roasted Squash and Pomegranate Ginger Vinaigrette
Pumpkin Pie with Buttermilk Crust and Candied Pecans

Sweet Potato RoundsTo start, we had several great appetizers to keep people occupied while the turkey and ham were finishing up. The above appetizer was courtesy of Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs) – it is healthy, picturesque, and delicious. Tom made the topping, and changed the recipe by doubling the pecans and parsley and omitting the celery altogether. It was a hit. Those who know me know that I’m a bit of a sweet potato addict…so I polished off quite a few of these in between my cooking bouts.
Cheese Dip 2The next starter was my sister’s contribution, a cheesy corn dip. It’s one of those appetizers that you have no idea what it’s going to taste like until you try it. Sarah insisted on making it, and I’m happy she did – that bowl of tortilla chips had to be refilled at least twice, which is why this is a recipe worth sharing. It will probably be something I add to my hosting repertoire, and would be perfect for a Superbowl spread.
Citrus Turkey Brine 1Now let’s talk about the turkey: this is the second time I’ve prepared the bird using a dry brine, and I’ve come to believe that it yields a better result than a wet brine. While both produce a tender meat, a dry brine guarantees a deeper flavor, and the meat’s texture will be juicy instead of “watery”. Every family has a different method, and it really comes down to preferred tastes and comfort with preparation. It’s a tough bird to cook, especially considering most people get one shot at making it per year.
Citrus Turkey 2Thankfully my family is an easy crowd, and they all loved it. The preparation and roasting was fairly similar to what I’ve done in past years (Check out my first, second, and third turkey attempts), and I can always rely on my trusty All-Clad roaster. There are two things things I did differently that are worth mentioning: first, I tented the bird for most of the cooking process, and second I flipped it with the backbone facing up so the juices would keep the breast meat from drying out. It’s not as elegant a presentation as the traditional, but it did the trick!
Honey-Baked HamBack to the overcompensation bit, we decided to throw in a ham for some extra protein – it was my sister’s recipe, and she’s got this down to a science. Ham, similar to turkey, is a meat that’s typically served only during the holidays. Granted, people enjoy ham sandwiches or breakfast slices any time…but an entire ham is a rare thing to see. The glaze was fantastic, and kept the meat perfectly moist. Overall, it’s a wonderful complement to a Thanksgiving spread (and made for amazing leftovers!)
Pomegranate SaladThe salad was the “wild card” on the menu. The original recipe has you whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette…but I decided to emulsify the dressing with a hand blender instead. The result looked somewhat like Pepto Bismol but the flavor profile was (of course) far from it: it was fruity and bright with a bit of an edge (thanks to the ginger). Tossed with the roasted squash, peppery arugula, sparkling pomegranates, crunchy almonds, this salad and vinaigrette make for one hell of a side dish.
Pumpkin Pie 1The pie was a bit of an experiment. While the filling was fairly straightforward, the crust itself used buttermilk. The result was a flaky crust with a slight tang, but also a profound buttery taste. The filling was creamy and filled with spices. In an effort to add a decorative flair, I made some candied pecans for garnish – I couldn’t help but notice my relatives picking the pecans off of the uneaten pie…which means it was worth the extra effort. Overall, it was a truly memorable Thanksgiving, and I feel both thankful and fortunate to have such an awesome family.
Pumpkin Pie 2Given my love for cooking (and fear of having too little to eat!) every Thanksgiving feels like a banquet – the food is plentiful, the wine is flowing, and the laughter is endless. In describing the meal to my coworker Emilio, he suggested I turn to the 15th century for my musical inspiration, and to look at the Feast of Pheasant: a banquet hosted by Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy in 1454, renowned for its excessive luxury. It’s sole purpose was both to celebrate and officiate an anticipated crusade against the Turks to regain sovereignty of Constantinople.
1280px-'Le_voeu_du_faisan'_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-4212The extravagant feast included a tradition practiced across Medieval France called the voeux du faisan, where nobles would take oaths upon a living bird – in this case, it was a pheasant. Aside from these formalities, the guests was lavished with food, wine, minstrels, theater, and live music…Guillaume Dufay, a highly renowned composer of the French Renaissance, was one of many invited to write original works for the celebration. While chronicles of the actual musical program are vague, there are three works commonly believed to have been included: Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae (“Lament of the Holy Mother Church of Constantinople“), Alma redemptoris Mater (“Loving Mother of the Redeemer”), and Je ne vis oncques la pareille (“I Have Never Seen the Equal”)…though some ascribe this last work to Dufay’s contemporary, Gilles Binchois. While discrepancies are present, for the sake of this post I will stand by the assertion that these are all connected to Dufay. To give a sense of what the music was like for such a feast, I thought I would showcase all three of the pieces. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!!!


Sources Cited:
“Feast of the Pheasant,” Wikipedia.org
Douglass, David. “The Newberry Consort’s performance of ‘The Feast of the Oath of the Pheasant'”, The Newberry. February 2, 2014

Flavorful Interpretations

Pesto and Chicken 2One thing I love about Italian food is the bang you get for your buck. It’s one of the more versatile cuisines, and fits beautifully within any budget or schedule. This past weekend, my boyfriend Tom and I traveled to Boston’s North End (for lunch at Saus, my new favorite restaurants in town) and visited the Open Market shortly after. Aside from the standard deluge of veggies and fruits, we came across these huge bouquets of BASIL. Without thinking twice we bought two bundles, along with some tomatoes, asparagus, and red bell peppers. Our basil overload led to a platter of Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta and a to-die for Basil-Walnut Pesto that we tossed with pan-roasted chicken thighs and asparagus…it was so freakin good that I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Pesto 2Pesto is originally from Genoa (a region located in Northern Italy), and comes from the Genoese term pestâ – “to crush or pound.” A traditional pesto contains pine nuts, garlic, basil, Parmesan, and olive oil that is “crushed” to a paste in a mortar and pestle (a word whose derivative is the Latin equivalent of pestâ). We opted for walnuts in ours, along with shaved Parmesan Reggiano. It honestly doesn’t really matter what ingredients you choose for a pesto, so long as they are complementary of one another and not totally wacky (but hey, no one’s gonna judge if you decide to make a pesto out of chocolate chips and parsley…but they probably won’t eat it). This pesto, on the other hand, will definitely be a winner at your next dinner party – click HERE to see the recipe!
PestoBruschetta is one of my favorite appetizers – it’s simple, elegant, and (like pesto) fairly customizable. We roasted a bell pepper over an open flame (do this with caution, of course) and topped each slice of bread with a healthy dollop of basil, veggies, and mozzarella. The metal pan gave each piece a toasty finish, and every bite was packed with flavor. This can be a hit for vegans (great with pine nuts) or carnivores (chicken would be killer!) Whatever your speed, this is a great appetizer or side, and basil is hands-down the herb to go with: click HERE to see the recipe!
BruschettaBoth of these dishes, as aforementioned, can easily be tailored to the preferences and vision of the chef. Room for creativity is a beautiful thing in cooking – as you gain experience, a recipe becomes more of a suggestive tool that can applied to your own ideas. There is definite symmetry between this concept and performance. When a musician first encounters a piece, they go through the motions of learning the notes and becoming comfortable with the overall work. Once it’s “under their fingers”, interpretation steps in – the moment for the musician’s voice to really shine. Perhaps one of the greatest voices in the history of classical music is that of Fritz Kreisler. Fritz_Kreisler_1Both a violinist and a composer, he was an extension of an era where virtuosic musicians were putting their voice into performance AND writing. The art of musical interpretation is thus beautifully ensured through each of his compositions’ intimate understanding of the instrument. Today, violinists are able to quite literally pour their soul into writing that fits the violin “like a glove”. I find Kreisler’s Recitative and Scherzo for solo violin to be especially apropos – written in 1910, Kreisler dedicated this short work to his colleague violinist Eugene Ysaÿe (yet another performer who also composed). The below recording is with Jascha Heifetz – at the age of 11, Heifetz performed before Kreisler for the first time. Kreisler turned to the others in the room and exclaimed “We might as well take our fid­dles and smash them across our knees.” After listening to the video below, you’ll understand what he meant – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Maltese, John Anthony. “Jascha Heifetz: Violinist Nonpareil,” Jascha Heifetz: The Official Website
Strauss, Axel. “Violin Music: Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo, Op. 6,” All Things Strings
“PHOTO: Fritz Kreisler,” Wikipedia.com

“Unsophisticated” Perfection

To answer the question you are all thinking, YES – these are as dangerous/delicious/diet-killing as they appear. Their inspiration was born out of frugality – it goes without saying that hosting parties can be a pricey investment, much more so when (like me) your idea of hosting involves the “wining and dining” appeal. While I crave the day that I can wow a crowd with canapes of steak tartar and grilled ahi tuna, I have to be realistic. The key to a great party is providing a memorable experience that doesn’t break the bank – a successful host is remembered for his/her creativity, and I feel that I happened upon a moment of creative genius with these Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog Bites.
At the store, I was looking for fairly priced meat when I saw the price markdowns on Hebrew National’s “Family Packs”. I could hardly imagine using hot dogs in an “hors’doevure” setting, and kept walking down the aisle…but I kept thinking of creative ways I could use them, and the final clincher was bacon. Who doesn’t love bacon?.
Funny thing is that this recipe led to the discovery of my oven’s broiler…leave it to me to take three YEARS to realize that the broiler is underneath the main oven space. I wanted to do something as a sauce, and decided to give barbecue a try – herein lies the genius of this recipe. Everyone at the party raved over these, which just goes to show that it doesn’t take a fancy hors’doevure to please a crowd – click HERE to see the recipe for these irresistible bites!
These appetizers were phenomenal, and yet ridiculously easy – my concerns with serving these “unsophisticated” snacks were put to rest by my friends’ endless praises. There are times that simplicity can truly be beautiful. Take Erik Satie: a composer whose music, while ostensibly simple, led to a whole new era of composition, with composers such as Debussy and Poulenc among his greatest enthusiasts. Critics labeled his style as “unsophisticated” and “amateur,” yet its expressive insight was far more thought-provoking than that of his contemporaries. I chose his Gymnopédies for this pairing – though they may sound rudimentary, their harmonic and melodic framework was seen as an “eccentric” departure from the classical model. Dissonant chords set the underlying tone while the themes float carelessly above, imbuing the work with a melancholic ambiance. These pieces are the perfect pairing for a recipe that is so simple yet beautifully delicious – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Erik Satie,” Music Files

A Soulful Indulgence

My friends tease me for being a “social butterfly,” and it’s no secret that I love to meet new faces and host events. That being said, there will always be a set of friends who are nearest and dearest to my heart; those who have been with me through the good and the bad. Brian McCarthy is hands-down one of those friends. Getting ready to join the 25th regiment in Hawaii, he decided to visit Boston to hang with friends before deployment. The other day for dinner, we were both exhausted after a long day of work, and needed something quick yet therapeutic. Given the healing powers of bacon, Brian had the perfect idea: Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Feta and Almonds.
Dates – an ancient fruit whose historical and nutritional clout have pushed them to the upper echelon of dried fruits. They are one of mankind’s oldest cultivations, having traces in the Persian Gulf as far back as 6000 B.C. As such, it holds significant religious and cultural importance for the region. It is said that the Prophet Muhammed survived for months eating only dates and water. Such is why Muslims break the daily fast of Ramadan with limited quantities of each after sunset. Dates are also seen as being part of a healthy diet – they are loaded with fiber, potassium (more than bananas!), iron, and are fat free and cholesterol free (well, minus the bacon…)
Filled with feta and almonds, these snacks are the perfect combination of sweet and salty. The warmed feta and dates blend to a creamy consistency, while the crisped bacon and almonds provide a satisfying crunch. You have to allow them to rest for a few minutes after baking, which I can guarantee will be a true test of your willpower and patience…The result is a poppable treat that practically melts in your mouth. Care to indulge? As Brian would say, “40 rounds!” Click HERE to try these irresistible treats!
Indulgence, luxury…both dates and bacon can provide delicious refuge from the chaos of everyday life. When combined, they create an experience that defies the limits of our senses. Such an experience called for a musical pairing that could indulge the soul with beautiful refuge. Brian had the perfect suggestion: the Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s opera Rusticana Cavalleria. An instrumental respite, the implicit intensity leaves listeners breathless in its wake. A tale of tragedy, betrayal and lost love, this opera is rich with soulful melodies. Even though the Intermezzo lasts no more than 4 minutes, it fully captures the emotional clout of the tragic tale.  A similar experience can be said for these dates, whose taste and complexity is nearly impossible to forget for days on end. Enjoy this beautiful piece!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvdig4N0bpk

Brian hard at work 🙂

Sources Cited:
“Dates: The Holy Fruit of Arabia” Oregon State University
“Cavalleria Rusticana – Synopsis” Music with Ease

Love It or Hate It

When it comes to my department at work, food is a very important point for discussion. We are all big foodies, and often swap recipes and stories just before the start of our weekly meetings. This past week, we had our annual team retreat to brainstorm strategy, content, and the next steps in everything we do as a department. The retreat was held in my apartment, and I took this opportunity to showcase two delicious vegan dishes I’d been wanting to try: Kale Salad with Avocado and Sweet Potato and Tuscan Stuffed Mushrooms with Pine Nuts.
Kale is a power food that is often left behind – it’s more bitter than your average green, and has a tougher texture as well. That being said, it is loaded with vitamins and nutrients to the max! My solution to bitter greens is finding the right balance of a) sweetness or b) salty goodness (like bacon, which makes most things taste amazing). I vied for sweetness with this salad and chose my southern favorite: the sweet potato. Creamy chunks of avocado and a sprinkle of dried cranberries made this dish a true winner – click HERE to see the recipe for this healthy, nutrient-rich salad.
Mushrooms are also a food with its fair share of both fans and critics – some people swear by their earthy taste, while others can’t stand it. I grew to love mushrooms during my veggie days, and (thankfully) never lost that appreciation. You can make any stuffing for mushrooms, from a nutty quinoa salad to a spicy sausage filling. Based on what I had on hand, I took a little inspiration from Tuscany for these and stuffed them with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper and fresh basil – click HERE to see just how simple and delicious these can be! 
There are a number of composers whose critics are just as vocal as their fans, but the one who especially comes to mind (for me) is Paul Hindemith. The reason for this choice is his musical departure from diatonic tonality, resulting in harmonies based on free-form scales and notational structures. In fact, there are currently music teachers who refuse to even teach Hindemith given their own aversions. For this pairing, I chose the Viola Sonata, Op. 11 No. 4 – it is the fourth of his sonata series, and perhaps one of my personal favorites (though others, as expected, would disagree). The sonata has three “movements” that are performed without pause. The first is “Fantaisie”, and takes harmonic experimentation to a whole new level – it navigates through nearly ten different keys over just 41 bars! This is perhaps my favorite of the three movements, being extremely beautiful and almost haunting in character. The second, “Thema mit Variationen,” is  much more playful and energized. It changes the established downbeat throughout, allowing the melodies to flow without rhythmic constraint. The final movement, “Finale (mit Variationen)”, unleashes a series of classical forms that bring the piece to an uncertain yet glorious conclusion. Overall, it’s a very cool piece that some people love, and some people hate.

My friend Erin Nolan (violist) said one of her instructors recommended to approach Hindemith as one would approach Bach: in a methodical manner…so perhaps I can recommend to try cooking kale as you would spinach, and mushrooms as you would meat – just a thought 😉 The recording below is by a violist Erin recommended for his beautiful tone, and I definitely agree: Lawrence Powers. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9VuCybiTvk

Sources Cited:
“Paul Hindemith,” Wikipedia.com
“Viola Sonata, Op. 11 No. 4 (Hindemith)” Wikipedia.com

A Star-Worthy Spread

The Academy Awards: an evening of glamor where the “who’s who” of Hollywood gather to honor the year’s most celebrated films. For a hostess, it is the perfect excuse to throw a party – but this couldn’t be just any part, it had to be in true Hollywood form: red carpet entrance, formal attire, and of course classy hors d’oeuvres.  For this post, I though I would share three of the dishes featured in the extensive spread: Coconut-Crusted Chicken Tenders, “Eggstremely Good” Deviled Eggs, and Fiery Jalapeño-Bacon Bites.
It’s worth mentioning that I created appetizers to pair with each of the various film nominees. These chicken tenders, for example, were grouped with The Descendants: a film starring George Clooney that takes place in Hawaii. Though simple in concept, the flavor of these was extraordinary (and a wonderful twist on the standard breaded variety). They can be served with any dipping sauce, though sweet chili sauce works quite beautifully – click HERE to see how to make these tasty chicken tenders! 
I think deviled eggs have received a bad rep as the appetizers found at any and every gathering, devoid of flavor and character. In reality, they provide the perfect canvas for creativity: wasabi, curry, even smoked salmon are all flavors to try! On top of that, they are great for large parties (budget-friendly!) and such an elegant addition to any affair. I paired these with the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (as their title suggests).
While deviled eggs are a classic, a solid foundation is vital to their success which, of course, starts with boiling. Too often are we plagued by hard-boiled eggs with gray, chalky yolks. Yet there is a trick to guarantee a perfectly cooked center every time – removing the eggs from the heat once the water reaches a boil. I was apprehensive of this method at first glance, though it is utterly foolproof. Click HERE to see the recipe for these “eggstremely good” bites!
These aren’t just spicy…they are downright addictive. Who would have thought the simple trio of jalapeño, cream cheese and bacon could have so much moxie? Warning: you will NOT want to stop eating these once you’ve started…a fate many of my guests fell victim to. I paired these with the film Girl with a Dragon Tattoo given their dangerous, “fiery” appeal. I guarantee these WILL be the star at your next event – click HERE to see how to make these addictive bites.
Movies are an addictive diversion: the excitement, the passion, the humor – it compels us to buy tickets or press play time and time again. With that in mind, I wanted a piece that truly captured the energy of the “movie magic”; a piece that pulls you in, and has a palpable, compelling story. Funnily enough, I was only recently introduced to this work, yet it is the ideal match: Poulenc’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. Composed during the German occupation of Paris, the piece is replete with passionate energy. It is dedicated to Federico García Lorca – a Spanish poet assassinated during the Spanish Civil War. The first and third movements are driven by a dark, potent energy that bring listeners to the edge of their seats, while the second evokes a deeper emotion for which we have no words (though Lorca does, with Poulenc attaching the following quote by the poet to said movement: “The guitar makes dreams weep”). The following recording is with violinist Josef Suk – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o41e7qcSwSw

Sources Cited:
Program Notes – WPAS: Itzhak Perlman, violin and Rohan DeSilva, piano,” Strathmore.org

A Dish That Will Make You Melt

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but my cold weather tolerance is not built for the Northeast. Alas, here I am – a southerner with a surplus of scarves and mittens – prepping my mental sanity for the cold, dark months to come. Thank God for the onslaught of rich, warm recipes of the season – meaty stews, creamy soups, rich casseroles, etc. Tis the season for eating (no regrets!) and spending time with friends and family enjoying it! Thus my good friend Sev (a clarinetist) unearthed his cast-iron caquelon to melt a ridiculous amount of cheese for a Swiss Fondue that is to die for!
As a native Swiss, Sev’s approach to fondue is far more serious than what most American households have become accustomed to (i.e. prepackaged fondues and queso look-alikes). He only uses quality ingredients, has specific standards on cookware and utensils, and prepares the dish by sight and feel. Gruyère (NOT Swiss Cheese) is the key to this dish. To demonstrate how much the Swiss value their Gruyère, it was recently given the certification Appellation d’origine contrôlée (French for “controlled designation of origin”). As a result, Gruyère from Switzerland (and France, to some degree) must meet certain standards of production and “affinage” (French for “maturation”). Locations for this aging must be cellars with climates similar to natural caves (obviously caves being the ideal) – this ensures control over the levels of temperature and humidity. The affinage can take anywhere from 2 to 10 months, with the flavor and color achieving greater depths the longer it ages.
Derived from the French term “fonder” (meaning “to melt,” in French), the earliest recipe for fondue dates back to 1875 as a national dish of Switzerland. It was a classic peasant dish as a way to use up leftover cheese during the cold, winter months. Fondue was a way for friends and family to come together and enjoy a single dish, and it has since come to serve as a symbol of unity to the Swiss. Bread is the traditional accompaniment, but I love to include fruits and vegetables. At the end of the day, the art of fondue is not by precision but by feel – knowing the right consistency, temperature, and adjustments to make are all part of the technique. That being said, this recipe is a great place to start (and will be ten times better than those prepackaged varieties, trust me) – click HERE for Sev’s authentic approach to making a great fondue.
Fondue, as an export of Switzerland, is adequately associated with the rustic mountain life of its native consumers. This led Sev to recommend the following: Richard Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Op. 64. This work illustrates an eleven-hour journey, from dusk till dawn, spent trekking an Alpine mountain. It is the largest and last of Strauss’ tone poems; it is also considered to be his most popular. The composer had a great passion for nature, and took inspiration for the work from his own experiences as a boy. This past summer, Sev and I drove to New Hampshire with our good friend Danny to hike Mount Washington – out of necessity, we listened to this piece on the drive home. The recording I’ve included below is with Andrè Previn & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (the movements of the “journey” are listed in the video’s description) – I hope you enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnvuMc_4pvg

Sources Cited:
“Gruyère,” Wikipedia.com
“Fondue” Wikipedia.com
“An Alpine Symphony” Wikipedia.com

Just Can’t Get Enough

Beets – a true “gem” of a vegetable. As beautiful as they are nutritious, these ruby-red root vegetables have made a comeback in the culinary world. From impressive garnishes to hearty soups, beets have the ability to liven up any dish. There are a number of ways to enjoy them, from boiled to raw. When trying to find a recipe for a dinner with my close friend Maya Jacobs, I chose to make a Roasted Beet Salad.
Those who have cooked beets are all too familiar of their notorious staining quality. Beets get their color from betalain pigments, producing hues that range from sunny golds to dark crimsons. The cells containing these pigments are very unstable, causing their color to bleed when handled (cut, scrubbed, basically anything). They leave a nasty stain, so I recommend NOT wearing your favorite white shirt while preparing them.
These beets are cooked skins-on, which allows them to retain the majority of their juices during the cooking process. Be sure to allow them to cool to a reasonable temperature before removing the skins – trying to handle scalding beets will inevitably leave you covered in beet juice. While this is a very simple salad, it is packed with flavor – the vinaigrette helps balance the sweetness of the beets, with the whole-grain mustard providing a nice visual contrast. This is superb recipe, and remarkably easy to make – click HERE to see how to make this colorful dish!
I mentioned this was a dinner with my friend Maya…and I am FINALLY getting to blog about her famous hummus! The trick here is really basing things on sight and taste, rather than precise measurements – Maya knows what makes a solid hummus, so it definitely takes practice. The ingredients are simple, and I encourage all my readers to give this a shot – click HERE to see Maya’s acclaimed recipe!
Both hummus and beets have a rich history in Middle Eastern cultures, which led me to the arabesque – an Islamic art form known for its vegetal, flowing design. The term found its way into Western classical music as a way for composers to evoke an Arabic ambiance. One of the more famous examples is Claude Debussy’s Deux Arabesques. One of Debussy’s earlier works, this work (for solo piano) was composed when he was still in his 20’s. Both movements are filled with embellishments, the first more serene and the second more lively. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28Qi4jLtigc

Sources Cited:
“Arabesques (Debussy),” Wikipedia.com