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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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

The Virtue of Patience

IMG_4779It’s been quite some time since I last blogged…blaming Boston’s snowpocalypse is an option, but it doesn’t fully excuse my 2-month hiatus. It’s not for lack of cooking, since this kind of weather is the perfect excuse to whip up copious amounts of chili, stew, and stir fries to keep warm. As we near March, I plan to shake off these winter blues and jump back into blogging. For those enduring the snowy onslaught in the Northeast, here are two hearty slow-cook dishes to enjoy: a Classic Beef Stew and a Lentil and Chicken Sausage Soup.
Beef Stew 1Let’s start with the beef: my boyfriend Tom challenged me to make an old-fashioned stew, and I came up with this recipe: it’s extremely simple to make, yet packed with complexity and flavor. These tri-colored potatoes added character the stew, but you can use any root vegetable of your choosing. The starchier the better, since it will help thicken the stew as it cooks. The blue potatoes have become one of my favorite add-ins for stews and roasts alike.
Beef Stew 2What I love most about chuck is how tender it becomes when cooked slowly. While you may be tempted to opt for another cut, there really is no replacement when it comes to stews – chuck will give you the best results. I cooked this in my trusty slow cooker, on low for about 6 hours. As is always the case with stews, it was even better the next day. With record low temperatures and snowfall, this recipe is a surefire way to warm up at the end of the day. Click HERE for the recipe.
Lentil Chicken Stew 2I’ve always wanted to try a “lentil and sausage” stew, but am honestly not a huge fan of sausage. My solution is to substitute chicken sausage wherever possible, and I have somehow convinced Tom to opt for it as well. To match higher demands for healthier products, stores have been stocking a remarkable array of flavors. My personal favorite is Chicken & Apple, which is perfectly suited for the purposes of this recipe.
Lentils and Kale 2The lentils and kale are the real powerhouses in this soup, respectively providing a healthy dose of potassium, folate, Vitamin C, fiber, copper…to name a few. You can use any leafy green or legume, and (if you’re a pork fan) feel free to use regular sausage as well. I cooked this soup in the slow cooker for about 4 hours on “high,” and the result was a flavor-packed meal to warm a cold, snowy night. Click HERE to see the recipe for this savory soup!
Lentil Chicken StewThis winter has not been an easy one for Boston: trains have taken a turn for the worse, sidewalks are nearly impassable, cars are buried beneath feet of snow, and the city’s patience is as thin as ice (pun intended). Yet winter is, at it’s most basic level, quite beautiful. Watching snow fall can be an experience that is both magical and nostalgic. Even as we pile on layers of clothing and trek through slush, our eyes drink in the sights of blanketed fields and frosted trees. For my musical pairing, I wanted a piece that would mirror both winter’s serenity and Boston’s constancy. I ultimately chose Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat major Op. 90 No.3. The piece is remarkably gentle, with triads cascading like snow and a melody that floats above a peaceful landscape. The emotions in the music speak to what I am certain many a Bostonian has endured this winter: moments of triumph, silence, frustration, melancholy, and acceptance. The recording below features the piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz. What I love most about his interpretation is its patience, allowing the music to breathe and grow with each phrase. In this type of weather, patience can be difficult to muster – but spring is just around the corner, and soon we’ll be looking back on the “blizzard of 2015” with a sense of understanding and resolve, because we’ll have made it through this.

“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 Dish of Epic Proportions

Despite my endless rhetoric on the difficulties with cold weather, winter does allow me to indulge in some of my favorites: hot tea, fuzzy socks, curling up by a fireplace, and of course, rich and hearty stews. When I decided to invite some friends over for dinner, it just so happened to be one of those bone-chilling evenings that begged for a rich meal. I had been dying to make a seriously good chili for a while, and this was the golden opportunity. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the godfather of all chilies: Slow Braised Chili con Carne.
Chili con carne (chili pepper with meat) is a stew meant to be thick and hearty. Most standard chilies use ground beef, but this one calls for whole chuck. The difference is undeniable, and the payoff is unbeatable. For the “chili” part, there were no less than THREE different varieties, all pureed into a sinfully spicy mix that is added to the pot at one’s own discretion (my personal taste used practically all of it).
While the standard ingredients were phenomenal, it was the two “B’s” and “C’s” of the recipe that set this chili apart: Bacon and Beer, Coffee and Chocolate. For those of you thinking that I’m utterly insane, I cannot emphasize how much you will fall in love with the chili. The bacon is an obvious plus (everything’s better with it), while the beer helps to tenderize the chuck. The coffee intensifies the meat’s flavor (yet is indiscernible itself), while the chocolate (added at the very end) provides a beautiful depth. The result is one of the richest, most delicious chilies you will ever try (there were no leftovers, not even a bite) – click HERE to see how to make this epic stew.
As I mentioned earlier, this is an epic chili. It embodies a number of flavors, yet manages to transform them into an intoxicating whole. This immediately called to mind the term Gesamtkunstwerk, German for “total work of art.” This was an aesthetic pioneered in opera by the German composer Richard Wagner. Wagner embraced the rich textures and harmonies of  large-scale works, coupling visual and dramatic elements with his music to augment the overall experience. For this particular dish, I chose the Ouverture from Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer – an opera based on the legend of a man doomed to sail the oceans for all eternity until he finds true love. Like the legend, this dish requires a great deal of patience and time – its richness also perfectly complements the complexities of Wagner’s scoring for the work. The recording I’ve included is with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under direction of Sir Georg Solti – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nc69Pp2MgM

Developing Depth with Time

Boston and I have a love-hate relationship. There are times when I can’t get enough of this place, wanting to breathe in every ounce of its thriving energy and warmth. Then there are times like this weekend, when the temperature drops to 8 degrees F without warning.  Needless to say, I am not built for this. My beloved Le Creuset becomes a regular in my kitchen during these unbearable conditions. I had a group of friends over the other night as a belated birthday dinner for my friend Sev (featured previously on this blog for his renowned fondue), and it was yet another bone-chilling evening. With my Le Creuset fired up and ready, I made a hearty batch of Ragù alla Bolognese that fought off the chilly weather quite beautifully.
Whether using a dutch oven or a slow cooker, the key to a good bolognese is low and slow. Like a stew, the flavor deepens beautifully the longer it simmers. Authentic bolognese calls for chunks of meat, so the longer it stews the more tender the meat can become. This bolognese, on the other hand, calls for ground chuck, giving you the option to cook it as short as 30 minutes or as long as 4 hours. Thanks to the Pioneer Woman, this recipe had gone viral in the blogosphere. I made a few changes (like the addition of hot sausage) and wanted to give it an authentic edge by cooking it for hours. I also served it over spaghetti (what I had), though the traditional pairing is tagliatelle. The result was fabulous – click HERE to see how to make this beautiful, soul-warming sauce.
I thought a lighter side would be appropriate for this dish, yet wasn’t keen on the “salad” idea. With that, I made Lemon-Garlic Broccoli that, to my surprise, almost outshone the main course! It’s quite simple, with no more than a handle of pantry staples and ready to go in under 30 minutes. Trust me, TRY this side dish – you won’t regret it. Click HERE to see the recipe.
For the pairing, I wanted to emphasize the developed flavor this dish receives from cooking for a long period of time. That depth of flavor led me to Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No. 12 “The  Ocean”. The entire work is structured on falling and rising arpeggios, hence the oceanic appellation, with modulations developing the theme throughout. The work climaxes in C Major, and ends in a massive arpeggio covering five octaves . The richness of these piece is perfect for this bolognese sauce. The recording below is with Vladimir Horowitz – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o6v_myVAhQ

Sources Cited:
“Étude Op. 25, No. 12 (Chopin)” Wikipedia.com 

A Festive Feast

Christmas dinner – a meal nearly as stressful as its Thanksgiving precedent. The setting: a cozy apartment in sleepy Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Cast of characters: my mom and stepdad, my sister Sarah, and her boyfriend Grant (the latter three possessing a strong appetite for southern-style food). With all of its familial expectations, a great amount of pressure is placed on the designated chef for Christmas dinner. Being the crazy person I am, I (naturally) volunteered to be said chef. Though I was only cooking for four other people, I knew this meal had to be an outstanding occasion for all parties involved. Avoiding the hackneyed honey-baked ham or roast turkey, I decided to go with a more humble, hearty feature: Spice-Rubbed Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Gravy.
History doesn’t delegate a specific type of game or meat for the holidays – goose, turkey, oysters, ham, pot roast, pheasant, suckling pig, fish, and more have graced Christmas tables around the globe. These dinners tend to reflect more extravagant renditions of traditional cuisine, celebrating family and faith with a bountiful feast. American traditions most closely reflect those of the UK: a roasted entree paired with ample side dishes, including mashed potatoes, roasted squash, braised greens, cookies and pies, etc.
While I relish experimental menus, I went with a  traditional one for this dinner. I managed to sneak in a few unconventional touches to the tenderloin. For the gravy, it relies on a red wine reduction that is brimming with flavor. You can opt to keep the aromatics (shallots and mushrooms respectively), though I followed the recipe and discarded them for a smoother sauce.
The meat itself is spiced with fennel, caraway and thyme – the latter is arguably a beautiful pairing for any rich meat, yet the fennel and caraway gave the meat an aromatic depth unlike any I’ve experienced. As you can tell, we went for a rarer cut, yet roasting times will vary depending on your personal preference. Regardless, I can guarantee this recipe will create a beautiful centerpiece to your Christmas dinner – click HERE to see how to make this flavorful roast.
Kale is endorsed as one of the healthiest greens available to consumers today…this recipe is perhaps not the healthiest realization of the green’s potential, yet it is pretty darn amazing. I mentioned my Georgian sister was present – the bitter edge of kale was a far-fetched bet with this one. So I chose a recipe that would appeal to her “Southern roots” with Southern-Style Braised Kale.
What makes is Southern? Bacon. The remarkable thing about this seemingly simple ingredient is it can truly be a chef’s secret weapon – a dish can go from sophomoric to superb. This recipe is a standard for collard greens, but proved to be remarkably successful with kale. To see how to give kale a “southern touch,” click HERE. We also served basic mashed potatoes and a personal favorite of mine, Orange & Fennel Salad with Citrus-Shallot Vinaigrette (recipe can be found HERE).
The musical pairing for this meal may seem cliché, yet it was too perfect: Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (especially considering I had just seen it at the Boston Ballet). While its original premiere in 1892 wasn’t markedly successful, it has since become one of the most celebrated works by the composer. Its themes are recognizable by nearly anyone (particularly The March and Sugar Plum Fairy), and no Christmas would be the same without it. Its variety of characters and themes pairs all too well with the colorful, unique traditions of Christmas dinners across the globe. I hope all of you had a beautiful holiday season, and wish you the happiest New Year – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP5oVMvYHBs

Sources Cited:
“Christmas Dinner,” Wikipedia.com
“The Nutcracker,” Wikipedia.com

Redefining the Limits of Brilliance

This dish was my first time cooking with flank steak – given it is a much leaner steak than your standard T-bone, I was extremely nervous about how to make the most out of this cut. I had two options – simply cooked then covered it with a sauce, or a marinade. I went with the latter, and thank God I did! If you remember from my previous post, I’m not a big meat eater, but this steak was amazing! Not only that, it fit beautifully into my “get-rid-of-all-that-leftover-OJ” efforts (like this orange cake had from a previous post). If you like steak, but don’t want to shell out big bucks for it, I highly recommend giving this Broiled Flank Steak with Citrus-Honey Mustard Marinade a shot!
Flank steak comes from the abdominal section of a cow, making it much leaner and tougher than your more expensive cuts (i.e short loin, chuck, etc). For quite some time, it was seen as a “cheap, unreliable cut.” Yet that opinion has drastically changed given flank steak is easy too cook, arguably healthier than your fattier cuts, and extremely versatile in cooking method and flavor options. Cutting the steak across the grain is key to help break down the fibrous muscle of the meat, giving you the most tender result. Marinades really bring out the potential of this cut, and the longer it sits the greater the taste. I learned the above method of placing a ziploc bag in a bowl from SimplyRecipes – it ensures even coating with little to no mess.
This marinade…wow was it good! It was on a complete whim, actually – I was cleaning out some old magazines and saw a SouthernLiving grilling edition. There were two pages devoted to marinades, and seeing as how I have so much OJ to spare this one was perfect! The coarse-grained mustard is essential – you can use Dijon, but it won’t have the same intensity. This marinade would probably be great with chicken or fish as well (something I am definitely planning on trying); I didn’t change a thing with the recipe.
Given the lack of grill, the broiler was the way to go (as you can remember from my previous post). If you don’t have a broiler pan, I wouldn’t recommend using your cookie sheets; they will warp/darken considerably. A broiler pan ss a worthwhile investment if you like grilled food and have apartment limitations. Cast iron works great too, of course 🙂 The key to serving flank steak is cutting it into thin slices – it capitalizes on the meats tenderness, and makes for a beautiful presentation. This has definitely become my new go-to cut of steak for a large crowd – it’s fast, tastes great, and has less than 10 ingredients! We had pasta and steamed vegetables as sides for the steak. Click HERE to learn how to make this dish a staple in your own cooking repertoire.
In keeping with my OJ theme, I also made a Orange & Fennel Salad with Citrus-Shallot Vinaigrette. The reduced orange juice gives the vinaigrette a potent richness, needing only a touch of honey to even out the taste. It’s such a simple recipe, yet makes a fantastic salad – click HERE to find out how to make it.
For the pairing of this dish, I wanted to piece that would complement the depth of flavor these two dishes possess: colorful, yet potent. It drew my to Strauss’s renowned tone poem Don Juan, Op. 20. The work launched a 25-year-old Strauss to international success. Regarded as Strauss’s “coming-of-age” masterpiece, Don Juan displays an orchestral valor that far transcends the conservative writing of his youth. This shift of style was a direct result of Strauss’s aquaintance with fellow composer Alexander von Ritter.* Ritter’s influence led to Strauss’s pursuit of the “tone poem,” or an orchestral work that evokes a story, landscape, or other non-musical art form, and is one continuous movement.** For a work that is not even 20 minutes in length, this tone poem is replete with emotional depth and poetic grandeur, thus my pairing. I’ve included here a recording with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – it is in two parts, and I strongly recommend listening to the entire thing. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
* Rodda, Dr. Richard E. “Don Juan,” The Kennedy Center website 
** “Tone Poem,” Wikipedia.com 

Boeuf, It’s What’s for Dinner!

The famous 90’s ad campaign, voiced by Hollywood icon Robert Mitchum, was an endeavor put forth by the Beef Checkoff Program to revive the name of meat. The result: Copland’s Rodeo has become a widely-recognized classical work, and beef has regained its status amongst a health-conscious America. While I’m not your standard “meat and potatoes” kind of gal, beef has certainly made a comeback in my own culinary repertoire. My initial apprehension was by no means exclusive: multiple health trends have eschewed the food group entirely, citing high levels of saturated fats and links to obesity. Yet new research encourages (moderate) incorporation of beef into a healthy diet, commending its high levels of protein and iron.  I, on the other hand, can personally attest to its high level of friend-enticement: the phrase “dinner with steak tonight?” is a temptation very few friends of mine can resist. This meal was one that Mitchum would have been proud to endorse: Pan-Seared Steaks with a Port-Mushroom Sauce, and Roasted Asparagus with a Lemon Vinaigrette.
Can I mention how intimidating it is to pan-fry a steak? Achieving that perfect balance of sear and tenderness is almost as difficult as flying in or out Hartsfield without a delay. You know the old adage “third time’s a charm?” Well, it took me three times to reach my charming steak (hence the hiatus in my blogging duties, but I can also credit that to my busy work/travel schedule). Steak is a fickle thing, and there a number of variables to consider before attempting to prepare it. My (recently created) principles for cooking steak (indoors) are as follows:

  • Cast iron: if you want to achieve a taste comparable to the grill, this is your best bet.
  • Resting period: allowing steak to rest at room temperature for 40 to 60 minutes is imperative to the cooking process (cold steaks will immediately smoke-up if added to a scorching hot pan); additionally, allowing steaks to rest after cooking (10 to 15 minutes, depending on the cut) is crucial to both the flavor and texture of the meat.
  • Size accountability: recipes that only call for pan-seared should use thinner cuts (or be made thinner using a meat mallet) – thicker cuts should be seared on stovetop, then transferred to an oven until desired doneness is reached.
  • Pan sauce: grilling is one thing, but preparing steaks indoors (pan-searing, broiling, etc) will take you much farther if a sauce is added to the pan after the steaks are done (this can be as simple as onions and butter, with salt and pepper to taste).
  • Pacing yourself: don’t overcrowd a pan – if you can’t comfortably fit all the steaks at once with at least an inch of space between them, sear in 2 to 3 batches.

The pan sauce was an amalgam of several recipes (for the sake of citation, I’ll give the most credit to CookingLight magazine). The earthy taste of mushrooms paired with the sweeter notes of Port make for one amazing steak sauce! Though originally calling for rosemary, I have always found thyme to be a more intriguing herb. The lemony intrigue of rosemary is a great pairing with root vegetables and lighter fare (chicken especially), but thyme achieves a whole new level of flavor for dishes that are heartier and more complex. For this wonderful recipe, click HERE.

As I mentioned, I am not your typical meat eater, so the asparagus was the toast of the evening in my eyes. Roasted asparagus on its own is a great presentation, but this (extremely) simple vinaigrette made for one outstanding dish! The trick to roasting asparagus is evenly spacing the spears on one to two baking sheets, with none overlapping – this will ensure uniform roasting, making for crispy tips and tender stalks. Thyme once again finds its true colors in this dish – fresh is best, but dried can easily be substituted (I’d say 1 or 2 tsp dried, depending on how much asparagus you prepare). Check out how to make this awesome side by clicking HERE.

In pairing these two dishes, I had several considerations: the first (and most obvious) selection was Copland’s Rodeo – a work made famous by the original “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” ad campaign. Yet while waiting in Dulles for what evolved into a 3-hour delay, my coworker David recommended An American in Paris, by George Gershwin. Upon further consideration, I realized this was the a truly accurate context for the meal. Steak is certainly a dish that many American households enjoy, yet the preparation (pan-seared instead of grilled) and sauce (shallots and port wine) find stronger relevance within the French traditions. Additionally, the roasted asparagus is dressed in vinaigrette – a dressing derived from the French term vinaigre that is often interpreted as “French dressing.”* Voilà! But let’s talk about the music: this piece, composed in 1928, hopes to captures the spirit of Paris, replete with colorful personalities and breathtaking sights. Gershwin was inspired to write An American in Paris after having spent a short period of time there himself. The work gained its greatest renown nearly 25 years later through the 1951 film adaptation starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.** The video I’ve included here is from the film – it is an excerpt from the dancing duet of Kelly and Caron, dancing through a fountain in Paris to a sultry trumpet solo (by the MGM legend Uan Ransey). For those wanting more than this musical apéritif, feel free to watch the second selection: the New York Philharmonic’s historic performance in North Korea (An American in Pyongyang?) This video is in three parts, and actually transitions into the next piece of the concert in Part 3. This is a must hear work, making the film a must-see as well. Hope you enjoy, and bon appétit!

1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlvzGT1Ta2w
2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUfI6v6SwL4&feature=related

Sources Cited:
*“Vinaigrette.” Wikipedia.com 
**“An American in Paris” Wikipedia.com