Cheers to Independence

July 4th 1 Independence Day – a holiday that, for many Americans, is primarily associated with fireworks, cookouts, and beer. While it may seem blasphemous to commemorate such a day with revelry, it was one of our country’s most celebrated victories – making it an excellent reason to throw a party! This date marks the official adoption of our country’s Declaration of Independence, portending the end of a struggle between our foundling nation and England’s imperial stronghold. For those of you who know me, any excuse to host is a good one – this one just happens to be renowned for food, meaning it’s just my kind of party 🙂
Spicy Bourbon Chicken 1Grilling is THE method of choice for any respectable Independence Day cookout. While we certainly had our share of standards – burgers and hotdogs – I always try to include a recipe that stands apart from the crowd; these Spicy Bourbon Chicken Thighs were just that. The original recipe calls for tequila…but in an effort to save money and time, I used a liquor I had on hand: Bourbon. Though let’s be honest – Bourbon is almost always a better choice (especially over Tequila…)
Spicy Bourbon Chicken 2Another notable difference was to use the sauce as a marinade, rather than an ending glaze. The only setback to this is the potential for more flare-ups (since the sugary sauce will be on the direct heat earlier on), but the flavor payoff is worth it. I made this sauce one day in advance, and then set the chicken thighs into the marinade the morning-of the cookout. The end result was flavorful, juicy, with a bit of a kick. I can guarantee you’ll knock your guests socks off with this one – click HERE to see this unique recipe!
Mixed Berry Tart 1The national ostentation of all things red, white, and blue helps to inspire the rhetoric of Independence Day. While I refuse to stick little American flags into every burger that comes off the grill, I do give in to subtle patriotic presentations – this year it was the desserts: Mini Cheesecakes with Summer Berries and a Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone-Ginger Cream. Not terribly imaginative on my part, but thankfully red and blue do a fantastic job of delineating any patriotic intent. They were both quite delicious which (in my experience) is what really counts.
Mixed Berry Tart 2The tart’s original recipe was a little too involved, and seemed to be more work than it was worth. So rather than take on an ambitious project, I made a single tart that could fit entirely within a 9×13 baking sheet. The pastry is the most complicated element – a paring knife and the freezer will be your best friend here. Just stick to basic dough knowledge – keep it cold, but not beyond a workable chill (because you won’t have any use for a frozen brick). Mascarpone in lieu of cream cheese was my idea, and seals the deal on this winning dessert – click HERE to see the recipe for this mouthwatering dessert!
Mini CheesecakesThese cheesecakes were adorable, and made for a great end-of-party indulgence. They can be topped with pretty much anything – berries, chocolate, jam, etc. They are far simpler than your standard cheesecake (no need for a water bath, for starters) and much easier to serve to a large crowd. I made my own mini crusts for these, but you can use a vanilla wafer or oreo cookies for a quick fix. I decided to go fancy and use a real vanilla bean as well, but extract will do in a pinch. The best part about these bite-sized treats? You won’t feel quite as guilty when you reach for a second…or fourth: click HERE to see the recipe for these adorable cheesecakes!
July 4th 2Aside from the food, fireworks, and friends, July 4th is also known for its parades. Whether it’s in the middle of small-town Iowa or the National Independence Day Parade in D.C., our country loves its parades. A notable part of any good parade is the brass band, which leads to my discussion on Charles Ives and this blog’s musical pairing. Ives was a different breed of composer – an innovator, artist, and businessman all packed into one; some go so far as to say that he was the prototypical American. It is believed that one of his strongest influences was his father, who had been a U.S. Army bandleader during the Civil War. The day-to-day band rehearsals left an impression on the young Ives, and his father’s encouragement on musical studies helped foster the composer’s vivid imagination:

“In ‘thinking up’ music I usually have some kind of a brass band with wings on it in back of my mind.” – Charles Ives.

One thing that Ives is known for is the incorporation of musical “quotes” – more often than not, they are allusions to popular American folk songs and hymns. These quotations are both intentional and witty, giving insight to Ives’ thought process as a composer. It’s worth noting that Ives was also a very talented organist, and was composing hymns from a very young age. With an upbringing immersed in folk songs, hymns, and marching music, Ives is perfect for this patriotic blog, and his Variations on ‘America’ for Organ Solo showcases all of these elements quite beautifully. Less than 8-minutes in length, it’s a brilliant little work – he wrote it when he was just 17 years-old, and his prodigious organ talent is apparent in the work’s complexity. In fact, it is one of the earliest surviving examples of contextual polytonality – a well-known feature of Ives’ style. The work is both humorous and edgy, with moments where the theme is fighting to be heard followed by moments where it is exulted – nonetheless, “America” rings true throughout. Enjoy!

Sources Cited
“Charles Ives,” Wikipedia.com

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South of the Orient: Part I

KashmiriCurry1You have probably read about my various trysts with international cuisine before – to be fair, I can’t necessarily deem any of them as being truly “authentic” dishes, seeing as how I’ve only been to a handful of countries outside the U.S. Then there’s my boyfriend: a guy who has traveled across the globe, seeing and experiencing a number of cultures and cuisine. When it came to food, India left an especially strong culinary impression – he says of the place:

“You can be sitting in restaurants perched on the sides of cliffs, while eating Northern curries and enjoying vistas that extend all the way from the Himalayan foothills to the smog of Delhi.”

KashmiriCurry5Tom cooks Indian curries unlike any I’ve ever tried…and I have been dying to showcase his food on my blog for quite some time. His recipes from regions southeast Asia are especially intriguing, so I’m introducing a miniseries called “South of the Orient” (and to finally get his recipes online!) This Kashmiri Chicken Curry seemed like an apt introduction to what is arguably an authentic take on Indian cuisine.

KashmiriCurry6Tom spent a total of 6 months in India during his travels, one of which was spent in Dharamsala: a small city in Northern India that is home to the exiled Tibetan government (and the Dalai Lama). It was here that he first experienced a Kashmiri curry. Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, and has been called “Heaven on Earth” given its incredible natural beauty. Kashmiri traders venture south from Kashmir by way of treacherous mountain paths into Northern India to sell the flavorful spices and colorful clothing from their homeland. The need for discretion is due to the volatile relations between Pakistan and India over the Kashmiri region. As a historically disputed territory, its resources are all the more precious.

KashmiriCurry4This recipe calls for ingredients that Kashmir grows in abundance, including saffron and pistachios. After being introduced to this curry in Dharamsala, Tom has apparently made this curry upwards of 30 times – the trick is to not dump everything in all at once. The key to getting the depth of flavor is to allow each ingredient to “bloom” – Tom will toast the spices individually, before grinding them for the curry paste. The added patience yields remarkable flavors. Click HERE to learn how to make this irresistible dish!

KashmiriCurry2The appeal of India is understandably intoxicating, and many a musician have fallen under its spell. A prime example was classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who was constantly seeking new life experiences and cultures to inform his art. India left an indelible mark on Menuhin, and he became fascinated with its cultural practices. He was one of the first advocates for yoga, having befriended world-renowned yoga instructor Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (B.K.S.) Iyengar long before he had reached international prominence. The following quote gives some insight to Menuhin’s view of India:

“Delhi was an absolutely incredible place, teeming with life. There were hardly any cars, so women in beautiful saris spilled out on to streets filled with monkeys and oxen. Exotic birds flew among the trees. It felt so different from what we experience today, when most of us seem to live in a submarine where there is barely enough oxygen for everyone. In Delhi, years ago, we were enchanted. Both of us wanted to learn more about the culture, the way of life, and, of course, I was interested in the music.” – Menuhin

Menuhin and Shankar

It was this interest in music that led to a collaboration with the celebrated teacher Ravi Shankar. The duo helped bring Indian music to an wider audience, and has become one of THE albums of cross-cultural music. Menuhin wrote an article about their collaboration which you can check out HERE. As for the music, the link below include the entire album – enjoy!

Sources Cited
“Kashmir,” Wikipedia.com
“Yehudi_Menuhin” Wikipedia.com
The photo of Menuhin and Shankar is courtesy David Ferrell/Getty images

Delicious Food in No Time

ChickenSausagePasta1After a LOT of experience in cooking dinners at the various kitchens of my friends, I have learned the value of prep work. Pre-slicing veggies, allowing sauces to chill overnight, dividing ingredients into ziploc baggies – these make the night-of preparation MUCH easier. This was especially the case for a meal I made with two close friends, TJ and Elise – I had prepared the tomato sauce, washed the vegetables, mixed the vinaigrette, and even pre-measured the pasta! As a result, this beautiful Chicken Sausage Marinara with Zucchini came together in less than 20 minutes.
ChickenSausagePasta3Now when I was a little girl, my idea of a quality chicken dish was a mound of breaded, fried tenders with oodles of ketchup. It never occurred to me that this simple meat could be SO adventuresome – you can imagine that when I tried my first link of sweet apple chicken sausage, I discovered a whole new take on poultry. It’s not AS healthy as the breast, but is still way healthier than beef or pork sausage (and fried chicken tenders, for that matter). You can choose whatever type sausage you prefer, though I recommend sticking to either a spicy or sweet variety.
ChickenSausagePasta2The sausage paired beautifully with marinara – I added some zucchini slices and fresh basil to give it more of a “springtime” effect.  Even though this recipe might seem fancy, it is seriously a piece of cake (but healthier than cake?) I guarantee it will please even the pickiest of eaters – click HERE to see the recipe! The side was a Cranberry-Kale Salad with Seeds. This was a little experiment of mine in terms of process, and worked out quite well. You can pretty much add anything you want in terms of fruit and/or nuts, but I went with cranberries, pepitas, and sunflower seeds – click HERE to see how to this colorful salad is made.
CranberryKaleThe beauty of prep work is the efficiency that follows – time seems to “fly by” as an hour-long recipe comes together in a matter of minutes. As a result, you have more time to be social, and have fun with you guests – this led to my musical choice: Short Ride in a Fast Machine, by John Adams. Now this is definitely a FUN piece, but it also works well with the parallel concept of prep work. Short Ride relies on the basis of repetition, and throws in the occasional curve of rhythm and tone. It’s very short, just under 5 minutes, and yet grows in complexity and character as the piece builds – a ton of “flavor” in a short amount of time 🙂 The below recording is with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” Wikipedia.com

A Casual Affair

CoconutPepitaChicken1I love cooking for friends, and FINALLY had the chance to make a meal for one of my favorite power couples: Adam and Jason 🙂 They have a gorgeous apartment, and it was such a pleasure to cook there. When I had first arrived at their place, I had a whole recipe game plan…which I ended up ditching entirely (it had been a looong day). So I improvised with the few items I had brought and made a lick-your-plate good dish: Nutty Chicken Tenders with Orange-Ginger Sauce. It was an evening of wine, jazz, and lots of laughs – needless to say, it was a great evening!
Coconut&PepitasThe coating for the chicken was a canny touch. Adam is gluten-free, and since most chicken crusts involve some variety of gluten (all-purpose flour, panko, bread crumbs, etc.) I had to get creative. He had a whole bag of pepitas, and some unsweetened coconut flakes. The coconut was a definite, but how to use those pepitas? I decided to try creating a nut “flour” by quickly processing them, and for just enough time to avoid making a nut butter. The result was perfect, and made for a beautiful presentation.
CoconutPepitaChicken2The sauce, though basic, was what made the dish – the main players are ginger, garlic, and orange juice. I personally love citrus-based sauces, so I thought it would add a bright contrast to the nuttier chicken (and quinoa that we served it with). Enter the “lick-your-plate” clean moment – this sauce was ridiculous. So simple, but it really tied all of the flavors together – click HERE for this (surprisingly) elegant dish!
DinnerPartyI had a really great time at this dinner – there were only 5 of us, and it was totally relaxed; I wanted to capture that social “flavor” in a musical pairing. I found myself with Schubert: he had a wonderful support system, both professionally and socially. In fact, Schubert’s friends and colleagues were such admirers that the tradition of a “Schubertiade” was born. These were gatherings dedicated to the celebration of Schubert and his music, and the composer (in the beginning days) was often himself present. They were hosted in private homes, and were informal affairs compared to the concert hall. Aside from music, there were other fun games and activities to complement the evening. What’s more is they gave musicians a chance to perform with and for friends. The below sketch by Moritz von Schwind (a friend of Schubert’s) shows a Schubertiade with Schubert himself at the piano:
Moritz_von_Schwind_SchubertiadeI chose his Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D. 821. I had never heard of an arpeggione, and had to do a quick search: it was basically a guitar (had frets) played like a cello. Since the arpeggione is no longer extant, this sonata is often performed on the cello or viola. I am a sucker for all things cello, so of course I went with a cello recording for the listening sample…that and it’s YoYo Ma with Emmanuel Ax!

Sources Cited:
“Schubertiade,” Wikipedia.com
“Arpeggione Sonata,” Wikipedia.com

Getting Your Fix

RoastedChicken1Cooking for “one” can be a challenge – how to make a satisfying, creative meal that won’t break the bank? I had heard about the genius of roasting an entire bird to provide a week of meals, and thought I’d give it a shot. I bought an organic bird, brought it home, and was ready to roast…having totally forgotten that onions, carrots, and celery…bummer. I did have some scallions, an orange, and ginger, so that fact that this Szechuan Roast Chicken used all three was too good to be true.
PeppercornsThe key ingredient to this dish was also a total stroke of pantry luck: about a year ago, I had spotted these small peppercorns at a farmer’s market and bought them on a whim. They have since been sitting in my pantry, forgotten and tucked away in a dark corner behind the countless spices. This was a great way to finally put them to use, and I guarantee they will never sit unused again – while the hulls of these seeds are often used in Sichuan cuisine, it grounded seeds are most commonly for use in Five Spice Powder mix. Unlike it’s black counterpart, Sichuan peppercorns have a lemony taste that actually induces a tingling, numbing sensation when eaten…don’t let that deter you! They are totally delicious.RoastedChicken2So I roasted this chicken and WOW was it good! So moist, and the flavor of those peppercorns really shined…this can easily be an impressive dish for any dinner, or simply an indulgent undertaking for one 🙂 Click HERE to see the recipe! Of course, I’m what you might call a typically “small” person, and wasn’t about to wolf down this whole bird. I ended up creating two soups (time of year!) that were outrageously delicious – first up was the Southwestern Chicken Soup. It had sweet potatoes, black beans, and a whole lotta character!
SweetPotatoChickenSoup1 I used the chicken’s dark meat in this soup, and added canned chipotle peppers with adobo sauce to make this soup a real winner. The amount of liquid needed may vary based on your pan or stove, so keep watch. The Chicken and Corn Chili was next – it was full of spice, and everything you could want in a chicken chili. It’s not your typical “white” chili considering it uses tomatoes, but I thought it made for a beautiful (and delicious) alternative.
Chicken & Corn Chili 1Both of these soups freeze beautifully, and can be storied for a later date. They are also totally modifiable – you can sub in white or dark meat, make them vegetarian-friendly (adding more beans or a grain, like rice), and can be as mild or spicy as your little heart desires. What’s wonderful about soups, in general, is that you can top them with basically anything – avocado, croutons, cheese, roasted chickpeas (ok, that might be too fancy for chili!) Whatever you decide, you can’t go wrong with these two recipes – enjoy!
Southwestern Chicken Soup
Chicken and Corn Chili
Chicken & Corn Chili 2As I mentioned, I love chicken – you can argue that it has become somewhat of a fixation of mine. So when thinking of ways to pair these three dishes, which were all inspired by said fixation, the choice was obvious: Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts, Op. 14. Berlioz composed this work with a very specific program in mind: the story focuses an Artist who has fallen hopelessly in love for a beautiful woman. This powerful obsession is realized through a recurring motif called the “idée fixe”, or “object of fixation.” Berlioz explains:

By a strange anomaly, the beloved image never presents itself to the artist’s mind without being associated with a musical idea, in which he recognises a certain quality of passion, but endowed with the nobility and shyness which he credits to the object of his love. This melodic image and its model keep haunting him ceaselessly like a double idée fixe.

It is also noted that our protagonist is “gifted with a lively imagination”, which only fuels his delirium after he “poison(s) himself with opium in the depths of despair” The idée fixe becomes a recurring torment, changing and shifting in character as the Artist continues his maniac descent; yet the passion remains of his love remains. The concept of a motif that changes and adapts based on the “Artist’s” influences (in my case, my recipe choices) was all too perfect. The below recording is with Leonard Bernstein, and (given the length of the work) is in several parts on the site – I hope you enjoy it!

Sources Cited:
“Sichuan pepper,” Wikipedia.com
“Symphonie fantastique,” Wikipedia.com

Taking a Breather

As you probably assumed given my month-long blogging hiatus, the month of October was an excessively busy one. But even through all the chaos, music and cooking were still very much a part of my world. The only problem? I had neither the time nor the energy to photograph any of my creations (and when I actually did, the lighting was atrocious). It’s worth noting that the “top hits” of the month will eventually make it to the blog…as soon as I get my act together and remember to bring a camera. In the meantime, here is a fun, delicious meal to brighten up any stressful day: Spicy Soba Noodles with Chicken in Peanut Sauce.
Poaching is a highly unappreciated method for cooking chicken. Sure, it won’t give you the beautiful crust that searing achieves or the depth of flavor that roasting manages – but it is a quick and healthy way to cook chicken, and the result is almost always perfectly tender. In this method, you actually allow the chicken to sit for an additional 20 minutes after it’s done cooking. Poached chicken works beautifully in a number of dishes, and especially shines in noodles salads…which leads to my favorite part of this dish…
Soba Noodles rock – there’s little else to say. The variety that I use (and love) is inaka soba – they are made from buckwheat that has been milled with the hulls, giving the noodles a darker hue than the more popular gozen soba. Both varieties can be served hot or cold, in salads or soups, etc. For this beautiful recipe, they are served in a peanut-ginger dressing that is to DIE for! You can find the recipe for this beautiful dish HERE. I couldn’t just have this dish with no side, could I? So I threw together a quick Miso Cabbage Slaw that practically stole the show (miso = a chef’s best friend). Click HERE to see that recipe!
For this pairing, I wanted a piece that could touch the soul – October was a crazy month, and I was drawn to relaxing and gentle music in the days following. Guitar has always been reminiscent of my childhood (my dad listened to classical guitar ALL the time), and I find myself tuning into this classical niche whenever I am stressed. That led me to the master of classical guitar, Christopher Parkening – his performance of Capricho Árabe, by Francisco Tárrega, was perfect. Tárrega was more intrigued by intimate performances than concert hall settings, giving his music a soulful edge. It pairs nicely with this dish in that its beauty lies in its subtlety – the perfect musical conclusion to a month of craziness. Enjoy the piece, and feel free to relax with a glass of wine and some lovely soba 😉

Sources Cited:
“Soba: Traditional Japanese Noodles,” Kikkoman Food Forum
“Francisco Tárrega,” Wikipedia.com

Rhapsody in Ribs

Barbecue and Fourth of July are the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of culinary traditions – it’s hard to picture  one without the other. This was my fourth year celebrating Independence Day in Boston, and this city just comes to life. The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is one of THE largest celebrations in the United States, and is a tradition viewed by Americans across the nation. While the live show is truly spectacular (and one every Bostonian should experience at least once), the 500,000+ spectators makes it somewhat of a stressful endeavor…so after having trekked out to the Charles for the past 3 years, my friends and I vied for an at-home Barbecue Cookout and viewing of the Boston Pops show.
Ribs – they are an iconic Fourth of July tradition, and resonate with appetites across the nation. For this dish, I chose baby back ribs. A cut from the top of a hog, they are (unfortunately) much tougher than the more tender pork loin. Because of this, grilling baby back ribs can quickly go from perfect to beyond repair. The trick is to start the cooking process before the ribs hit the grill – the low and slow roast method. What’s even better about this method is that the meat doesn’t need more than 10 to 15 minutes on the grill (as opposed to hours), leaving you more time to relax with your guests.
A great rib needs a great sauce, and this was a great sauce – I like to think that whenever bourbon and brown sugar are combined, a rainbow appears; that is how perfect they are together. It is sweet with a hint of spice (earthy or floral, depending on your bourbon). Making it the day ahead will a) save you time and b) make the sauce 10x better…so basically it’s a win-win situation 😉 Whether grilling for a few or a crowd, these Bourbon and Brown Sugar Ribs are sure to please (thanks Teej for the above photo!) Click HERE to get the recipe for this barbecue classic.
In addition to the ribs, I made some Honey-Sesame Chicken Skewers that were to die for! Tender, packed with flavor, and SO simple to make, they were an ultimate hit. The marinade is what gives these skewers their unique edge, with ingredients including sake, sesame oil, and even puréed pears! The original recipe called for chicken breasts, but the cheaper, more tender thighs were my pick; a solid choice when hosting for a crowd. Trust me, you HAVE to try these – they are absolutely magnificent. Click HERE to see the recipe for these uh-mazing skewers!
As a nod to the Boston Pops Fireworks show, I made my vegan entree a New England classic – Vegetarian Maple Baked Beans (only without bacon, of course). The combination of soaking the beans and cooking in a slow cooker spans over several hours, but most of this has no need for supervision (in other words, you can leave for work and have a meal ready to go by the time you get home!) These beans are (as the title suggests) inherently sweet, and made the perfect side dish vegetarian dish to complement the spread – click HERE to view this recipe!
The traditions of Independence Day bring to life a narrative of victory and celebration that has a universally contagious spirit. With this in mind, I wanted to showcase an American composer whose music can enrapture any audience (using pizzazz that is all-too-familiar of any Fourth of July celebration). That led me to George Gershwin and one of his most iconic works: Rhapsody in Blue. Composed in 1924, it has easily become one of the most popular American compositions. The amalgamation of jazz and classical is a beautiful display of our nation’s diversity and vivacity, which Gershwin shared as his inspiration:

No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness…

What’s even more wonderful about this story is that he was on a train to BOSTON when he came up with the idea for this piece – how perfect is that?? The piece is concerto-esque as it features solo piano, originally written for jazz band and later scored for full orchestra. The piece opens with a “famous opening clarinet glissando…that has become as familiar as the start of Beethoven’s Fifth” (according to one columnist with the American Heritage). The full gamut of Gershwin’s style is shown, from graceful melodies of to large-scale harmonies. Such can be said of the gamut of my own culinary talents for this barbecue 😉 I’ve included a recording with another iconic American composer conducting and soloing on piano: Leonard Bernstein – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmUHI2yTtVY

Sources Cited:
“Rhapsody in Blue” Wikipedia.com

“Grillomania”

Have you ever walked into a store and seen that one item that you can’t take your off of? You glance at the price, and quickly walk over to another display in hopes of avoiding it at all costs…but then you find yourself wandering back (against your own will) just to get a second look. Next thing you know, you’re smitten…long story short: I bought a new grill this past weekend for Memorial Day. I originally set out to buy one of those small charcoal models, but walked out of the store with a massive gas grill and a grin the size of Texas. My summer cooking has just been taken to a whole new level of potential. I christened the grill this past weekend with quite the spread, and so for this post I thought I’d share one of the evening’s masterpieces: Grilled Drumsticks with Peach Barbecue Sauce.
This sauce literally lives up to the name “finger-lickin’ good!” Once the chicken ran out, people became creative and turned it into a chip dip…or just ate with spoons. What’s great about this recipe is that it can be made any time of year, especially given the use of preserves (in lieu of fresh fruit). While peach is what’s called for in the recipe, I’d love to try it with blackberry, or even rhubarb. Add some bacon and maple syrup and smoked paprika…now that’s barbecue! I made the sauce a day ahead of time, which I highly recommend – this will give all those beautiful flavors enough time to really get to know each other, making for a fantastic sauce!
Did I mention that I made 5 POUNDS of chicken legs for this party? These take a long time to cook, so it may not have been the best game plan for a large party (lesson learned!) That being said, the meat was perfectly tender thanks to a quick and easy brine. Topped with that beautiful sauce, these were devoured in no time! My good friend Bonnie snapped several classic shots of friends – they were just too good to not include in this post 🙂 Click HERE to see the recipe for perfectly grilled barbecue chicken!
Irresistible: I couldn’t stop thinking of how irresistible this sauce was, and how I (personally) could not resist that beautiful new grill…Franz Liszt, while being seen as a true virtuouso, had the ability to bring an audience to near hysteria during his performances, causing women to faint, weep, and fight over his discarded kerchiefs and even cigar stubs! This magnetic quality helped coin the term “Lisztomania” – musicologist Alan Walker shares more on this phenomenon:

Liszt was a natural phenomenon, and people were swayed by him…. With his mesmeric personality and long mane of flowing hair, he created a striking stage presence. And there were many witnesses to testify that his playing did indeed raise the mood of an audience to a level of mystical ecstasy.

I chose Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor for the pairing. It’s wealth of components, emotional depth, and thematic metamorphosis perfectly speak to the richness of these drumsticks – a dish that relies on ingredients, flavor, and time. This piece comes across as a single movement, though many agree it can be applied to the sonata form (with no formal breaks, naturally). This seamless quality makes every component dependent on one another; an irresistible “blend,” if you will 😉 The work ends on a peaceful coda, quite similar to our food “coma” following this massive feast. While this sonata wasn’t among the works that induced mass “hysteria,” its present-day popularity has certainly placed it within the upper echelon of our modern “Lisztomania.” Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCHE-UPwBJA

Sources Cited:
“Lisztomania,” Wikipedia.com
“Symphonic Poems,” Wikipedia.com
“Piano Sonata (Liszt),” Wikipedia.com

Challenge Accepted

Iron Chef has transformed the way we perceive culinary challenges – the “blood, sweat, and tears” of cooking finally has a stage, and food’s competitive qualities have been taken to a whole new level. The show certainly left an impression on my mom: a business-savvy, energetic woman who loves the prospect of a challenge. So naturally, my visits home are often paired with an Iron Chef-like arrangement. My most recent challenge: Cornish Game Hens…well, that took me through a loop considering a) I had never prepared these before, and b) couldn’t even begin to imagine how they were suited for spring fare. After stumbling through several menu options, I finally landed on one that suited my standards: Roasted Cornish Hens with White Wine-Scallion Sauce.
Cornish hens are a peculiar kind of bird: they aren’t actually a game bird, but in fact a hybrid of Cornish Game and the Plymouth Chicken. Though identified as “hens,” these birds can be either male or female, and often weigh no more than 3 pounds. I was pretty floored when my mom asked me to prepare these hens for the dinner party she was hosting, especially since I’d always thought of them as that “other” holiday bird (i.e. the simpler alternative to roast turkey).
My trick in making these hens “Spring-friendly” was a combination of REALLY fresh herbs and seasonal ingredients, like scallions and shallots. Complementing these birds with strong flavors is vital considering the meat has a rather dull taste on its own. Rather than stuffing them with actual stuffing (a holiday trend), I threw in a few aromatics to help infuse the meat with more flavor. The result was an elegant, flavorful dish that had all the right notes of Spring. Our guests enjoyed nearly every last bite of their individual helpings (yet in all honesty, I’ll probably reserve future attempts with Cornish hens for the colder months) – click HERE to see the recipe for this unique dish.
For dessert, I wanted to make a cake that packed a punch but was a lighter afterthought to the entree. I’ve got a crush on vanilla beans, so shelled out $14 for TWO beans (that’s not a typo) and made a Golden Vanilla Bean Pound Cake that was out-of-this-world good. The trick with this cake is having your butter and eggs at ROOM temperature. Yes, this means shelving your fears of leaving them unrefrigerated and just letting them sit out – if I can leave you with any piece of advice when it comes to baking, this is it.
In line with the menu’s seasonal trend, I topped each slice with sherry-macerated strawberries that paired beautifully with the cake’s buttery, golden texture. Feel free to pair it with whatever strikes your fancy – ice cream, caramel, etc. Though simple to make, this cake is definitely not simple in taste, and makes for the perfect weeknight indulgence – click HERE for this heavenly treat.
For this pairing, I thought it appropriate to pair a piece of music that took on a classic, venerable topic and gave it an avant garde spin. That led me to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. In folklore, the firebird is (more often than not) a coveted prize that induces a challenging quest by the story’s hero. Stravinsky acknowledged his own reservations on the “challenge” of composing the music for this ballet (similar to my reservations on preparing this dish):

The Firebird did not attract me as a subject. Like all story ballets it demanded descriptive music of a kind I did not want to write..However…I know that, in truth, my reservations about the subject were also an advance defense for my not being sure I could.”

The music is an entirely different matter – even though it was his first, it is perhaps the most widely recognized and acclaimed of Stravinsky’s ballets (even more so thanks to Disney’s Fantasia 2000). The opening passage (alternating between thirds and seconds of a tritone in the cello, bass and viola lines) set the “supernatural” setting of the hero’s quest, which ultimately ends in a truly majestic Finale (an ending that is admittedly uncharacteristic of Stravinsky). Yet the piece still demonstrates what will become the composer’s greatest qualities in later works. The primitive style that would take on a whole new level in Rite of Spring finds a starting point in this work, with metric dynamism that keeps demands a keen concentration from performers and listeners alike. Two examples being the offset downbeat of the Danse Infernale, and the 7/4 time signature of the Finale. Additionally, the orchestration of the work was substantial for the time, with Stravinsky even claiming it to be “wastefully large.” Despite this claim, the orchestral force brings a rich quality to the piece that has truly come to define the music. For the recording, I found a fabulous video of Claudio Abbado with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra‬ – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI-MG_CXYiY

Sources Cited:
– “Cornish game hen,” Wikipedia.com
– “Firebird (Slavic Folklore),” Wikipedia.com
– Huscher, Phillip. “Program Notes: Igor Stravinsky – The Firebird” Chicago Symphony Orchestra
– “About the Piece: The Firebird (complete),” LA Phil