Rise and Shine: Part III

Sweet Potato Hash 4Labor Day Weekend (for me) is often equated with being in the outdoors, shopping sales, splurging on movies, and eating a great brunch. We scored on all fronts, particularly in the brunch category…though the movie splurge was a close second: Guardians of the Galaxy, Predator, and The Princess Bride (EPIC). Anyways, the brunch we made was fantastic – we often go for scrambled eggs with kale, but wanted something extra special for the holiday weekend. The result was a Spicy Chorizo & Sweet Potato Hash with Avocado that was unbelievably unhealthy delicious!
Sweet Potato Hash 1Labor Day was a holiday established in the late 19th century, having been championed by the Central Labor Union of New York and fought for by the countless supporters of the labor movement. It takes place annually on the first Monday of September, paying homage to “the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.” While the celebration itself has become less grandiose and parade-driven in recent years, it still serves as a reminder of the many accomplishments and victories of the American working force…and no one loves brunch more than a 9-to-5’er on Labor Day!
Sweet Potato Hash 5Of course, most restaurants don’t serve lunch on Mondays (assuming that everyone will be at cookouts or drinking) so we took brunch into our hands. And my what a success it was. This is Tom’s genius, taking some of my favorites (sweet potatoes and kale) combined with some of his (chorizo and eggs) to create a dish so potent that each bite elicited a groan of indulgence.One of the secrets to the flavor’s depth was thanks to my newest cooking tool, which is basically a ceramic “grater” within a small plate – the tool allows you to break down aromatics while capturing the oils and juices. It’s pretty and awesome (and was an impulse buy thanks to Labor Day sales).
Sweet Potato Hash 3Much to Tom’s chagrin, we used chorizo-flavored chicken sausage in lieu of actual chorizo – some may harken the substitute as a sacrilege, but the result was surprisingly full of flavor. The flavors all married beautifully, with the sweet potatoes adding a touch a sweetness and the kale adding fullness. We could have stuck with the healthier end of things…but then Tom stirred in some crumbled blue cheese OH MY GOD I LOVE CHEESE. The result was creamy and fantastic, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Topped off with some hot sauce and parsley, this was all-in-one win for a Labor Day brunch. Click HERE to get the recipe!
Sweet Potato Hash 2My original intention had been to select a musical piece that pays homage to the labor movement…but you can only imagine the top search results for my query “classical music and unions” (heh…) Well I imagine there may exist such a piece (suggestions are Carl_Nielsenalways welcome!) I opted for an alternative approach and chose a piece that was composed in 1894 – the year Labor Day was officially established. The findings were impressive, with Massenet’s Thaïs and Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, to say the least. However, it was Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor that caught my attention. He is generally an underrated composer, and I thought it suitable to showcase him here for the first time. Premiered in March of 1894, the 4-movement symphony lasts just over half an hour. Though the title indicates a minor setting, the work actually begins and ends in the joyful key of C Major…which is more than appropriate within the celebratory context of this post. The symphony is quite unique, given the aforementioned progressive tonality and Nielsen’s early mastery of orchestral form. Composer and Nielsen scholar Robert Simpson says the piece is “probably the most highly organized first symphony ever written by a young man of twenty-seven” (you read that correctly – Nielsen was 27). The below recording is with the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Herbert Blomstedt – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“History of Labor Day,” United States Department of Labor 
“Symphony No. 1 (Nielsen),” Wikipedia.com
PHOTO of “Carl Nielsen” Wikipedia.com

Introducing a Tasty Tradition

Chicken Parm 1I love hosting dinner parties – whether I’m cooking for a party of 2 or 20, I get such a thrill out of it. That being said, it’s waaay less stressful to cook for only a handful of people. Earlier this month, I was planning a dinner for my good friends Neal and Beth, and in hopes of catering the menu to their tastes I asked if they had any “requests”. Neal (naturally) took the opportunity to unload his bucket list of cravings: BBQ ribs, pulled pork sandwiches with mac & cheese, ice cream sandwiches, quesadillas…yet the one request I took seriously was Chicken Parmigianina: a classic that should be a staple for any American cook. That’s at least what I thought…before realizing I had never made the dish myself. That compelled me to give this recipe a try, for the sole merit of claiming I can cook this “made-famous-by-Maggiano’s” classic.
ParmesanParmigiana is a dish with a variety of renditions, but essentially consists of a filling that has been deep- or lightly-fried topped with tomato sauce and cheese (usually Parmesan…as you’d expect). It’s a fairly simple recipe that comes together quickly, making it perfect for a weeknight meal (and impressive enough for mid-week guests). The most well-known version is with eggplant, and is considered an authentic Italian creation. Chicken Parmigiana, on the other hand, is attributed to Italian Americans – regardless of its origin, the components are undeniably Italian.
Chicken Parm 2I used Pioneer Woman’s recipe for this, with a few tweaks (including a can of fire roasted tomatoes – a secret ingredient for any great sauce!) I also increased the wine in the recipe, for both the sauce and the chef, and used whole wheat spaghetti. The resulting dish was stunning, and the flavor was absolutely divine. It baffles me that it’s taken up to now to make such an amazing dish – and did I mention it’s budget-friendly as well?? This a winner, my friends. So to all college students, busy parents, and stressed-out professionals – click HERE to find your culinary therapy.
Chicken Parm 5It felt only appropriate that the musical pairing for this dish be Italian – the depth and variety of Parmigiana led me to Antonio Vivaldi: an Italian composer who is considered to be one of the most influential of the Baroque genre. His style is often typified as being “lively” and “bright”, as he sought to refashion the formal structures of rhythm and harmony. Vivaldi is seen as both an innovator and forebearer of Italy’s musical vivaldi-01legacy – even Bach found inspiration from his writings (which is saying a LOT, folks). Considering the “legacy” that Parmigiana holds in the culinary sense, I wanted the musical pairing to be a part of something greater – for Vivaldi, that is L’Estro armonico (“Harmonic Inspiration”). Comprising of twelve separate concerti, this collection aggrandized Vivaldi’s international renown. British musicologist Michael Talbot said the work is “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the eighteenth century”. Of the twelve concerti, I settled on Concerto No. 8 in A minor for two violins and strings, RV 522 for this post’s actual pairing. The piece is both vibrant and poignant, and true to Vivaldi’s inventive style. The two soloists establish a dialogue that challenges in one phrase and supports in the next, and requires talented “conversationalists” in performance. There are number of musical elements that illustrate this piece as an antecedent to Vivaldi’s acclaimed Four Seasons (written 10 years after the fact); it holds an especially close affinity to “Winter,” given the minor setting. The  work is filled with “flavorful” colors,  making it an ideal pairing for this dish. (Fun fact: Vivaldi was a redhead, and called il Prete Rosso – or “The Red Priest”. I hazard a guess of the potential affection he held for a good marinara of deep “red”). The below recording is with The English Concert, directed by Trevor Pinnock. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Parmigiana,” Wikipedia.com
“L’estro Armonico,” Wikipedia.com
“REBEL at the Library of Congress,” Ionarts (PHOTO)

Some Cheesy Pleasure

ChickenRoulade3You know the old adage “tastes just like chicken?” Well, if you’ve been eating as much chicken as I have, the taste of chicken becomes just that: a flavor as unique as grass. Your daily cognizance of its presence reaches the point of tedium. Chicken is wonderful, don’t get me wrong – yet the “lean protein” and “cross-cultural” accolades lose their luster after the 10th meal you’ve had with chicken…similar to hearing Vivaldi’s Spring for the umpteenth time. So here I was again, facing the inevitable task of creating a chicken dinner that didn’t taste like chicken. I went for the easy win, and chose the one thing that makes any meal beautiful – a pungent, fatty hunk of cheese. And I daresay these Blue Cheese Chicken Roulades were to DIE for!
Blue CheeseNot to gross you out, but blue cheese is quite literally a “molded” cheese – it has been infused with Penicillum (yup, it’s the same genus that produces the antibiotic) to create those distinctive blue “spots”. It’s this addition that gives the cheese such fabulous depth – a salty, sharp taste that pairs well with honey and fruit (apples or pears especially). Like many a wonderful invention, blue cheese was a total accident – cheeses being stored in caves started to develop mold under the humid circumstances, and yet the flavor was a surprisingly welcome deviation from the original….WHY they ate the moldy cheese in the first place beats me, but I’m thankful they did.
ChickenRoulade2This is one of those recipes that looks more difficult than it actually is…well, you might accidentally prick yourself with a toothpick, but it’s a minor threat for such an irresistible result. The trick is to soak the toothpicks for 30 minutes at least, so they are “heatproof” and won’t splinter easily. We decided to include spinach as an afterthought, but it was more for color than anything else. Basil would have been too overpowering, and any other green would defeat the purpose.
ChickenRoulade6These roulades are the paragon of “comfort food” – no frilly sauces or special seasonings, just cheese doing what it does best: MELT. A castiron pan is best for this recipe, but any ovenproof skillet will do (or you can simply transfer the chicken to a baking pan post-searing…but then you lose all of those glorious pan juices!) Warning – you might attack your friend so that you can have his/her share…don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉 Click HERE to read more about this sinful recipe.
ChickenRoulade5“Nutritional” and “daring” rarely define comfort food – this is a genre whose sole intention is to portray the joy of eating, a pleasure that is by no means a triviality. The goal is analogous to the philosophy of many a French composer during the 20th century. Conveying pleasure through art was a priority, as Debussy famously describes:

“There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. I love music passionately. And because l love it, I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it.” – Claude Debussy

While the music of Debussy is among my favorites, I chose another French composer as the subject of this pairing: Jean Françaix (a fan of Debussy himself!) Françaix was a musical prodigy from the start, telling his family that he would become the next “great French composer” following the death of Camille Saint-Saëns. 1240471_504518966291893_466927587_nWhile this may seem overly ambitious (if not arrogant), his musical abilities by and large merited such confidence. His Wind Quintet No. 1 (written in 1948) is a remarkable example of the virtuosic, joyous style that guided most of his writing. The opening is a slow dance, with a horn melody soaring above a texturally rich harmony. In an instant, the winds take off on a series of running scales – yet the horn is still singing, reflecting on the calm from moments before. The second movement is playful, alternating between a fast-paced presto to a lilting, honeyed waltz. We encounter a theme and variations in the third movement, where each instrument takes a turn. The fourth is pure fun – the winds are flying through runs and articulated passages, while the horn and oboe recall the opening’s joyful respite. It ends on a humorous note, as though Françaix is reminding us to smile – for after all, isn’t that what music (and food) are all about? The below recording is with the Berliner Bläserquintett – enjoy 🙂

Sources Cited:
“Blue Cheese,” Wikipedia.com
“Claude Debussy,” Wikipedia.com
“Programme: Zephyr Wind Quintet,” Chamber Music New Zealand
PHOTO: Interlude.hk

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!


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

Going Beyond Potential

After a long day at work, going to the grocery store to try and brainstorm recipe ideas is the last thing I want to do. It’s moments like these where I rely wholly on what’s currently stocked in my pantry, hoping there will be just the right mixture of fresh and canned to create somethin. Such was the case when I decided to whip up a few snacks to take over to a friend’s the other night. I wanted dishes that would be quick to prepare (since it would be after said long day at work) and easy to transport. After surveying what I had on hand, I chose to make a Pumpkin Bean Dip as well as a batch of Parmesan & Thyme Crackers.
The thing I love most about dips is their simplicity, where dumping the ingredients into a food processor is often the only step required. This extremely simple appetizer is a different spin on your average bean dip, and perfect for the fall! The pumpkin adds a creamy finish that pairs beautifully with the earthiness of the beans. I doubled the recipe, a decision justified once everyone was reaching for seconds after the first bite – click HERE to make this beautifully simple appetizer!
I’ve spoken about my love for Ina Garten before – this woman is fabulous! She lives in the Hamptons in a gorgeous home, with (of course) a HUGE kitchen that has everything you would ever need/want. She basically spends the majority of her time cooking and socializing – a dream life. Her approach to cooking is relaxed and down-to-earth, creating recipes that are both simple and elegant. These savory crackers were addicting, yet required minimal effort – another Ina success!
For the “pantry” part of this recipe, I just happened to have a very good Romano cheese in my refrigerator. While the recipe calls for Parmesan, the Romano was a beautiful substitute. There are only 6 ingredients total, making these a perfect last-minute snack for gatherings. The thyme adds an earthy tone that really brings these up a notch. Constructing the dough into a log was the only tricky part of this, but the result was certainly worth the effort. These crackers, though seemingly basic, achieve far more than what might be expected – click HERE to see how to make these savory treats!
I’ve always been a sucker for Chopin, and it just so happens that the friend I made these lovely appetizers for was Brian McCarthy – a pianist who plays Chopin beautifully! Knowing that the piece I chose should also reflect the timeliness of these recipes, I chose a work that was short yet filled with color: Chopin’s Étude Op.10 No.1 in C Major. Much the way these dishes reinvented the potential of everyday pantry staples, Chopin took the étude form and created it into something far greater. His etudes exhibit an eloquence and emotional depth that place them on par with performance repertoire. This specific work captures the best of Chopin’s style with the genre. The recording below is with Valentina Lisitsa – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Frédéric Chopin,” Wikipedia.com

The Irresistibility of Cheese

While I’m not the biggest fan of a “European” dinner (basically eating later than 8 or 9pm), I find they are becoming more common in my social circles. As a hostess, you can guarantee that at least half of your guests will be craving some type of comestible before then, especially if you are serving wine or beer ahead of time. Enter the saving grace of the hors d’oeuvre: a time-honored tradition that has relieved many a host from rushing to finish a meal. I attended a dinner this weekend and offered to provide the appetizer course. Knowing that there are few who can resist a good cheese dish, I made adorable Caprese Salad Skewers with Saba Dressing and a creamy Brie en Croute.
Let’s start with the skewers (the more innocent of two): caprese salad is a wonderful dish on its own, but what really made this shine was the Saba dressing. My initial intention had been to make a reduced balsamic, yet our host introduced to this gourmet item. Made from the same grape (Must) as balsamic vinegar, Saba is reduced over an open flame in copper kettles to a thick, sweet syrup and is then aged for FOUR years! Reduced balsamic vinegar can easily be substituted, but this stuff is UH-mazing!
These skewers are SO simple, and pack a lot of flavor in one bite! You can get creative with this combination and add other flavors, such as olives for a Mediterranean flair or cheese tortellini for a more filling dish. The dressing can also be modified, from a more subtle red wine vinaigrette to a spicier  lime-pepper glaze. Assemble them as close to serving as possible so the ingredients maintain a fresh, colorful look – click HERE to see how I made these bite-sized delicacies!
Baked brie is undeniably a seductive dish, and I use that word very rarely when it comes to food. The jeweled fillings of jams and dried fruits, combined with a toasted crunch from the almonds, make for a beautiful aesthetic. But it’s when you take that first slice after removing the oven that your guests will “melt” at the sight of the creamy, rich brie. This is also a very easy dish to make, and the flavors (once again) can be changed to your liking (sweet or savory!) – click HERE to learn how to make this irresistible appetizer.
Both of these appetizers are classics, and I wanted to pair them with a classic piece: Mozart’s Clarinet concerto in A major, K. 622. Written in 1791, this work is renowned for showcasing the delicate yet lively character of the clarinet. The interplay between the clarinetist and the orchestra is quite remarkable, acting as more of a conversation rather than just a soloist with accompaniment. This reciprocity beautifully mirrors the above dishes, where every element and part counts in the ultimate taste. The recording I’ve included below is with clarinetist Martin Fröst, and essentially cuts the opening orchestral tutti (which is nearly 60 measures long) to just before the soloist’s entrance – this is personally one of my favorite Mozart concertos, and I hope you enjoy it just as much!


Sources Cited:
“Clarinet Concerto (Mozart),” Wikipedia.com