A New Year of Cookies!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! At some point, remind me to share with all of you how crazy/wonderful/beautiful 2013 was – but for now, I’d like to kick off 2014 with something we all know and love: NUTELLA.
NutellaThe chocolatey hazelnut spread has become a worldwide phenomenon, and this is not an exaggeration. Every 2.5 seconds, a jar of Nutella is sold to a chocoholic in the world. To put this into context: the total number of jars sold in a single year can cover the Great Wall of China 8 times, and can be spread over more than 1,000 football fields! If that’s not enough to convince you, there is an annual World Nutella Day – on February 5th, fans across the globe post drool-worthy foodie pics and share what they love most about the sweet spread. Needless to say, Nutella is pretty amazing and (for some) worth more than its weight in gold. With that in mind, let me introduce you to these two “drool-worthy” cookie recipes: Vanilla Bean Macarons with Nutella Buttercream and Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. (Word of warning – these do NOT adhere to any New Year’s Resolution efforts).
Nutella Macarons 6French macarons are a project I’ve been meaning to try for quite some time – each cookie consists of two almond-meringue shells with a filling of choice (ex: buttercream, jam, ganache). It’s often confused with “macaroon” –  a similar cookie that lacks a filling and is popularly made with coconut (scroll to the end of this post!) The French macaron has a more distinct shape: its top is smooth and round, with a ruffled edge (called the pied) and a flat base. Flavors and colors are easy to customize, hence my choice of vanilla bean and nutella. Every baker has his or her own opinion about how to make the perfect macaron, but it really comes down to preference and experience – if the “macaron” shoe fits, stick with it.
Nutella Macarons 5While some people have the ability to pipe perfectly-sized macarons, I don’t trust my own skills just yet. To make a visual guide, I traced small circles on to a piece of parchment paper and then flipped the paper ink-side down. Aside from this, there are two other tricks for getting the right shape and look. The first is rapping the pan against the counter – not so hard that the cookies goes flying, but with enough force to loosen any air bubbles trapped inside. The second is to allow the batter to sit for 15 to 30 minutes: this creates a shell (the batter should not be “tacky” before going into the oven) and allows the coveted pied to form while baking.
DSC_0288The filling is perhaps the easiest part – you can go plain Jane by choosing your favorite jam, or you can whip up a flavored buttercream or chocolate ganache. As you already know, I made a Nutella buttercream for my macarons…which I proceeded to lick out of the bowl once the cookies were done (no shame). It took me a while to give macarons at try, but they are really quite simple once you get the feel for it – click HERE to see the recipe, which also includes some helpful tips.
Nutella Chip Cookies 2These.Were.Ridiculous – browned butter, Nutella, chocolate chips, GAH! These cookies are so intense that the recipe takes two days – you will be chomping at the bit by the time they’re ready to eat, but the wait is worth it. Browned butter sets these apart from your typical chocolate chip cookies. It’s similar to creating a caramel or dry-toasting nuts and spices – you’re basically “toasting” the butter, which in turn gives the cookies a nutty, buttery finish. I plan to give this chocolate chip cookie recipe a try on its own, but the Nutella filling is what makes this an A+ cookie…
Browned ButterOne thing I absolutely recommend is freezing the Nutella, and then eating it directly out of the freezer. The original recipe calls for chilling the spread in your fridge, then using a teaspoon measure to scoop it out. Our building’s heat is kept at tropical highs during the winter (thanks to a disengaged management company) so I needed a better solution. I froze teaspoon-sized dollops of Nutella the night before baking, which resulted in a much friendlier process. The Nutella “coins” could easily be wrapped with the cookie dough, mess-free.
Nutella Chip Cookies 1These cookies with bursting with a nutty, chocolatey aroma when pulled out of the oven. Once cooled, I wrapped as many as possible into candy bags for gifting…because I would have eaten all of them, and needed to save myself from a “Garfield sees lasagna” moment. Carrying them into work was comical, considering people on the train were visibly intrigued by the smell of chocolatey goodness. This is not your average chocolate chip cookie, but it will quickly become one of your favorites – click HERE to learn how to make these devilish treats!
Coconut Macaroons 2New Year’s bonus cookie! I also made some Coconut Macaroons drizzled with Nutella.  I had several parties to attend on New Year’s Eve so…the more the merrier! This is one of my favorite cookie recipes – they are a cinch to make, with only 5 ingredients (minus the chocolate). What better way to treat your friends than with a platter of macarons AND macaroons?? Click HERE to see the recipe for these delightful cookies! 
Coconut Macaroons 1January 1st brings with it a fresh start – unknown adventures and new opportunities await. It is a cause for celebration that’s echoed across the globe. New Year’s Eve is filled with excited anticipation, and the day itself seems somewhat brighter and clearer (even if it’s painfully cold…like it is today in Boston). The festive ambiance is contagious, as cities and entire nations join together to welcome a new start. One neujahrskonzert_wien_new_years_concert_Vienna_wiener_philharmoniker_musikverein_golden_hallcelebration that’s worth noting is the New Year’s Concert with the Vienna Philharmonic – a tradition that dates all the way back to 1939. Today, the performance is broadcast to an audience of nearly 50 million people! On the morning of New Year’s day, the Vienna Phil gives a concert that showcases a number of classics by Austrian composers. Most of the program includes pieces by the Strauss family. In fact, the 1939 performance contained works by only Johann Strauss. This brings me to my musical pairing: Johann Strauss’ Overture to the operetta Die Fledermaus. This piece – which was on the original 1939 New Year’s program – is the perfect example of “light music.” It contains some wonderful gems, and gives you a taste what’s in store for the operetta itself. That being said, the technical aspects and musicality of the overture are quite demanding on the musicians – what better orchestra to meet the challenge than the Vienna Phil! The below recording is from the New Year’s Concert with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2010. Both exciting and cheerful, this overture is a lovely way to ring in the New Year!

Sources Cited:
“8 Things You May Not Know About Nutella,” MentalFloss.com
“Vienna New Year’s Concert,” Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of the Vienna Philharmonic

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The Treats of Travel

After what has felt like nonstop traveling, I am BACK in Boston 😀 It was an awesome three months do doubt, though it’s nice to finally have a moment to relax and enjoy my own apartment. I feel like I haven’t blogged in forever! Of course, the traveling has meant little to no chance for foodie adventures and photography…thankfully, I had photographed some sugary treats a while back that had yet to be featured on this blog!
Truffles1Chocolate Truffles are perhaps one of the most luxurious sweets, and yet they are so easy to make! My recommendation: use THE best chocolate that money can buy – Ghirardelli, Godiva, Scharffen Berger, Green & Black’s, etc. It’s the main ingredient, and will make all the difference in the world (especially if you don’t plan on using any added flavors). Adding a flavor is where the fun really begins – peppermint, pecans, bourbon, cinnamon, Grand Marnier, espresso (I could go on…). Just be sure to stick with ingredients that won’t entirely overwhelm the taste of the chocolate (after all, these are chocolate truffles).
Truffles2From there, you can roll them in any coating (that’s edible) – we went for a combination of sprinkles, chopped nuts, powdered sugar, and even coconut! Some other ideas might be crushed cereal, decorative sugar, pretzels (but don’t get crazy!) The result was is quite stunning, and so rich! They can be a little messy, but I was recently given a trick: coat your hands in cocoa powder, then roll them into balls – so simple! Have several bowls set out with your desired coatings, and I would quickly washing your hands in between coatings, unless you want a truffle that is covered in every one…which is OK! Click HERE to read more about these bite-sized treats.
CinnamonRollCookiedThese Cinnamon Bun Cookies were such beautiful cookies! At first I was skeptical, and not really convinced that they would work. It can be a little tricky slicing the rounds, so be sure to use a good, sharp knife. I rolled the dough as tightly as I could, then placed it in the freezer overnight. The next morning, I carefully sliced the logs using a chef’s knife. I also would recommend making a touch more of filling than you need (just in case!)
CinnamonRollCookies2The original recipe calls for icing, yet I felt these already have the perfect balance of sugar and spice. For fans of a sweeter cookie, then you would love the icing – and it would also bring these even closer to their pastry inspiration. If you are bringing these to a party and want to box them up, I would recommend icing the cookies once you arrive. Just make sure your guests don’t steal any while you’re working – I can guarantee they will be tempted to try. Click HERE to read more about these beautiful cookies.
PBThumbprintsAll I can say about these Peanut Butter & Fudge Oatmeal Cookies is that they are dangerous – once you’ve had one, you’ll want at least 3 (or 12) more. They are actually gluten-free, which is a great option if you or a friend is sensitive to gluten products. Everything else about them is pure indulgence: peanut butter, chocolate fudge…they are just really good. I could talk more about them, but wouldn’t want you to accidentally drool on your keyboard – click HERE to read more about these chocolatey bites.
PBThumbprints2Since this large chunk of  tours that was practically taking me across the country, I felt like a bit of storyteller with friends and colleagues by sharing “tales of distant places” (heck, even the middle of nowhere Ohio can feel like a fairy tale…) Needless to say, this thought inspired my musical pairing for this blog – Aleksandr Glazunov’s Chant du ménestrel, Op. 71 pour Violoncelle et Orchestre. This is a piece I only recently heard performed, and have ultimately fallen in love with. A minstrel was a medieval bard whose songs of faraway lands and heroic feats were highly sought by Europe’s high society. The minstrel tradition was eventually replaced by court composers and musicians, which led many of these bards to travel for work – hence the “wandering minstrels”. The picture of a traveling performer is a romantic ideal (and, in a small way, define my own work in the arts world!) A number of artists have drawn inspiration from this ideal, including poets…

O for the gentleness of old Romance, the simple planning of a minstrel’s song! (John Keats) 

playwrights…

Consort! what, dost thou make us minstrels? an
thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but
discords: here’s my fiddlestick; here’s that shall
make you dance. ‘Zounds, consort!
(Romeo and Juliet: Act 3, Scene 1 – Shakespeare)

And painters…(to name a few!)

Supper-With-The-Minstrel-And-His-Lute-large

So where is the connection to these cookies? Cookies in and of themselves are edible stories – each has its own history, whether it be your mother’s beloved chocolate chip recipe or from a holiday cookie swap at your office that was a lot fun. The original below recording is with cellist Yuli Turovsky and the chamber orchestra I Musici de Montréal – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Minstrel,” Wikipedia.com
“John Keats quotes”, Thinkexist.com
“Romeo and Juliet” Shakespeare.mit.edu
“Supper With The Minstrel And His Lute,” Gerrit Van Honthorst: The Complete Works

Enjoying Holiday Comforts

Season‘Tis the season to be baking…and I can safely say that flour and butter accounted for at least 50% of my holiday expenses. I love the traditions of holiday cookies – they’re simple, elegant, and nostalgic all at once. As a kid, December was time of homemade cookies and treats, courtesy of Mom…today, I am admittedly a bit crazier than my Mom when it comes to baking. So for this season, I thought would put my obsession towards a good cause. I baked over 300 cookies for a Bake-A-Thon Benefit, and donated all proceeds towards Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – I managed to raise $350 for the cause 🙂 I wanted to give all of you a “taste” of this season’s treats…
BerryThumbprints1Here is the first – classic Thumbprint Cookies. I LOVE this cookie…in fact, I can safely say it’s one of my favorites. The cookie itself is not too sweet, and the filling can be basically whatever flavor you choose: strawberry, peach, raspberry, or even boysenberry! They are a cinch to make, and come together in no time – you can choose to either fill them before or after baking (though I prefer the cookies baked with jam, personally). Click HERE to see the recipe for this holiday classic!
PeppermintThese next cookies were quite the surprise – I was dying to give this recipe a try. Yet when I realized they weren’t quite as “holiday-like” as the others, I gave them a minty twice and made Peppermint Brownie Sandwiches. I had some chocolate ganache leftover from a previous cookies recipe, and couldn’t bare to throw it away. So I made these little sandwiches, and sprinkled crushed peppermint candies on top.
ChocolatePeppermint1The result was a perfect little sandwich of chocolatey goodness with a minty finish. The cookies themselves are quite sturdy, making them perfect for sandwiches. You can basically use whatever fillings you like: Nutella, peanut butter, ice cream…basically let your creativity (or appetite) take flight! Click HERE to see the recipe for these chocolatey little sandwiches!
PistachioCranberryIceboxThis third cookie is lovely – they are not too sweet, and totally adaptable based on your own tastes. The original recipe for these Icebox Cookies calls for cranberries and pistachios, but you can pretty much use whatever add-ins your heart desires: pecans, chocolate chips, even rum-soaked raisins! Just be sure to have extra dough prepared, because these little bites go fast – click HERE to see the recipe for these delectable holiday treats!
StepdadEvery household has its own “soundtrack” for the holiday season – at my own home, you can expect carols and lots of brass music (courtesy of a stepfather, pictured above, who has a true love for all things brass). One of his favorites? German Brass  – arguably one of the strongest brass groups out there. Because it was and still is one of his favorites, listening to this ensemble is just as nostalgic for me as holiday cookies. To similarly give you a “taste” of my visit home this holiday season, here is the German Brass performing Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D major, RV 230 (featuring the unstoppable Matthias Höfs). It’s worth saying that it’s in a different key than the original…silly brass players 😉 Whatever your holiday traditions may be, I hope all of you had a beautiful holiday – enjoy the music!

An Unexpected Masterpiece

You might recall my insane task of baking 120 cupcakes for a wedding a few weeks back, but the result was awesome and totally worth it…yet it’s worth mentioning that I had also volunteered to bake cakes for the office’s birthday celebration three days later! Oops…I of course forgot about it, and had to resort to a crazy brainstorm session: ‘how about cookies? No, those won’t work…I can bring in cookies any old time…but wait, why not cookies…in cake form!” Following a mad dash of altering cookie recipes and finding a ridiculous amount of butter I was able to create two last-minute beauties: Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate Brownie Cake with Coconut-Almond Frosting.
This cake is proof that freezers are necessary to our survival. You completely forget you are having friends over (or in my case, bringing in treats to the office)…yet suddenly remember that cookie batter you froze a few weeks back! It will need to thaw, but luckily I placed the dough into my fridge (to make space for ALL of those cupcakes). It’s one of the BEST chocolate chip cookie doughs I have found to date, and the peanut butter frosting was a no-brainer. Anyone who doesn’t love a chocolate and peanut butter pairing should not be trusted (unless they are allergic to peanuts…they can still be trusted) Click HERE to see the secret behind this amazing cake!
This next recipe was inspired by an “I-need-to-use-very-soon” bag of shredded coconut sitting in my pantry. I wanted something similar to an Almond Joy, mostly because I was secretly craving the actually candy…and somehow I decided on a brownie cake. I modified the recipe that I just featured on this blog, trusting the result would be delicious. The topping is what makes this a winner, hands-down – it’s a spin on the frosting for German Chocolate Cake, only with almonds in place of pecans. The finished cake definitely reached my candy-craving standards. Get your Almond Joy fix by clicking HERE.
I loved the idea of pairing these cakes with a work that was similarly “last-minute” in origin. As a flutist, I immediately thought of the perfect piece – Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major. A bit of history: flutist Ferdinand De Jean had commissioned Mozart to compose four flute quartets and three concerti…yet Mozart was the living representation of procrastination. So it was no surprise that only three quartets and two concerti were presented to De Jean for the commission. Yet like these cakes, Mozart pulled a work from his own “stock” of repertoire to complete it: the Oboe Concerto in C Major. He reworked the piece to fit the flute more appropriately, but basically transcribed the whole thing to D Major and handed it over to De Jean as a “flute concerto.” De Jean wasn’t fooled, and never paid for it. That being said, it has become vital to the flute repertoire and is undeniably beautiful. Sometimes, last-minute creations can be far greater than anything you could have planned (yet while this often worked for Mozart, I wouldn’t recommend it as a life practice…) The recording below is of the first movement with flutist James Galway – enjoy!

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

A Stress-Free Indulgence

Make-ahead: a term that ANY host loves to see in a recipe. No stress, no mess – just the simple task of cutting or baking, and you’re done. Desserts, thankfully, often fall within this category (an exception would include bananas foster, but those are sooo worth the added effort). Avoiding the use of an oven at a party is alway a great idea – you don’t want a bunch of sweaty, hungry guests…trust me, it’s not a pretty picture. So when I discovered these Lime Meltaways and Supernatural Brownies, I all but jumped at the opportunity to make them…and trust me when I say that my friends all but jumped onto the plates these were served upon.
Let’s talk chocolate for a moment – there are few things more beautiful than a 9×11 block of dense, fudgy brownies. This recipe is a true winner – two types of sugar create a moist texture, while melted bittersweet chocolate permeates the batter with a rich and palpable taste. The recipe for these had gone “blog viral” – in other words, a number of baking blogs and recipe platforms had showcased these, with endless praises; I decided to take the hint and give these a shot.
The baked result has a delicate crust, beneath which is the gorgeously tender brownie. Surprisingly, they don’t have the typical dark hue common to brownies – they are somewhat lighter, but trust me when I say the flavor has just as much depth. While these do take a while to bake, it is absolutely crucial to NOT overbake these – nothing is worst than a chalky brownie :-/ Click HERE to see the recipe for these showstopping treats!
If I had to list my favorite type of cookie, it would have to be shortbread: not too sweet, with a buttery crunch that never fails to make you “melt.” These cookies were just that – lime + sugar = awesome. The best thing about this cookie is that once you roll the dough into a “log,” it can refrigerated up to a week or frozen for up to three months! This gives a major boost to the convenience and flavor of these cookies. You can find the recipe for these zesty treat HERE.
For the musical pairing, I thought it would be nice to showcase a minimalist work (given the simplicity of prep work). Yet their flavors and overall complexities demanded something more, and that led me to John Adams. He is defined as a minimalist composer, yet he is constantly exploring the limits to which he can take the genre, leading some to go so far as calling his music “maximalist”. The piece I chose is his work for piano called Phyrigan Gates – the title refers to the fact that the piece is composed in the Phyrigan mode, with the “gates” alluding to the constant shifts from Lydian to Phrygian (while moving in line with the circle of fifths). The below image illustrates the Phyrgian mode on C:

At the same time, I felt the music to be aesthetically appropriate – the modal shifts present a wealth of flavors, yet it’s complexity is never overbearing. It is one of those pieces you can imagine listening to on rainy day with your eyes closed, savoring each moment as though it were a delicious treat. The following video is with Gloria Cheng-Cochran (it has been separated into three separate videos by YouTube, so this is only part of the work – I have included links for the second and third installments below the embedded video.) Enjoy!

Part II
Part III

Sources Cited:
“Phrygian Gates,” Wikipedia.com

An Unusual Duet of Flavor

We all know and love those ubiquitous summer classics – from grilled ribs slathered in an unbeatable barbecue sauce to a golden apple pie filled with cinnamon-sugary goodness. For me personally, one item on my season’s “checklist” is the Key lime. Just the name is evocative of summertime, and the intense flavor lends itself beautifully to the famous pie of the same name. Whenever I’ve hosted for a crowd though, I’ve found that pies can become a bit messy. Martha Stewart (of course) had the “key” to sharing this treat at larger affairs – Key Lime Bars.
There are a number of attributes that set the Key lime apart from its Persian cousin: it has a higher acidity, turns yellow when ripe, has a thinner rind, is much more tart in taste, and has a stronger aroma. The cultivar takes its name from its harvest in the Florida Keys, though California, Mexico, Texas and Central America supply the majority of the national market’s crop. While regular limes can always be substituted, the success of Key Lime Pie relies on these unique attributes…so even though I couldn’t find actual Key limes, the bottled variety worked beautifully!
What’s so unique about this dessert is the perfect balance of sweet and sour – every bite has a bright, citrusy taste with a cool and creamy texture. While most might shrink from the thought of a sour dessert, it works SO well in this context. It’s a cinch to make, and will have your guests begging for seconds…in fact, you should probably go ahead and double the recipe (which I did!) Click HERE to see how to make these creamy, summer treats! I also made a batch of Chocolate Chip & Pretzel Cookies – that’s not a typo. I love all things salty, so took a leap with these – “devoured” doesn’t quite describe what happened when these were cool enough to eat. Click HERE to see feed your sweet and salty craving!
Both of these desserts bring a unique pairing to sweet, from the tartness of Key limes to the salty crunch of pretzels. Neither are what you would consider an immediate pairing for dessert, but they both work oh so well! With that in mind, I was drawn to a work I had heard in a friend’s recital several years back: Eric Ewazen’s Trio for Trumpet, Violin and Piano. Written in 1992, the work consists of 4 movements that demonstrate how these two instruments both complement and contrast one another. The piano acts helps with this coalescence. Ewazen’s music is unlike that of his contemporaries given its use of triadic harmony and emphasis on melody. The result is a nostalgic, accessible style that really brings it home (much like these Key Lime Bars and Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies!) The recording below is from a recital, and is a decent one considering it is on YouTube – enjoy!

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

Sources Cited:
“Key Lime,” Wikipedia.com
The Music of Eric Ewazen

For All the Moms

So I am definitely behind on this post, but I place the blame on my incessant touring as an excuse for not having the chance to devote a post to moms for Mother’s Day. Many of us cherish those memories (complete with blurry edges a la Hollywood) where we ran inside from a day of play or school to the smell of freshly baked cookies. They say smell is the strongest catalyst of memory, with the majority of those connections being formed in our childhood. This is due to the connection of the olfactory bulb (the part of our brain that processes odor) to the ever-powerful amygdala…I should probably stop while I’m ahead and talk about this irresistible pair of cookie recipes: Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Chocolate Mocha Cookies with Nutella.
I’m often asked why I don’t eat all the desserts I make. For starters, I would basically be eating cookies and cakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I actually ate everything I made. But my secret indulgence? Once whatever it is I’m making is done and in the oven, guess who gets to clean the beaters 😉 And cookie dough is probably one of the most addictive things on the planet…and this dough was uhhhhhh-mazing! If you are one of the proclaimed few who can’t resist eating cookie dough, enlist help from a friend to make sure these cookies actually make it to the oven.
That being said, the finished cookies were fabulous! Loaded with melty chunks and chips of dark chocolate, they are pure heaven. The cookie itself has a buttery crunch, with a tender crumb that makes your heart melt. It goes without saying, but chocolate chunk cookies are best straight out of the oven (as they always have been) – click HERE to see the recipe for these golden, chewy delights!
So now that I have you thinking about chocolate, how about taking it a step further with melted chocolate, cocoa powder, AND nutella…how can anyone resist? These cookies are more brownie than cookie, with a rich center and a crumbly edge. They also have a touch of espresso, which is only “topped” by the the nutella swirl to finish – the ultimate cookie. It may not be quite like the cookies (or brownies) we enjoyed as kids, but a cookie always has a way to make us reminisce over our childhood days – click HERE to see the recipe for this glorious sweet.
I looked at my own childhood as inspiration for this musical pairing. Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to have not one, but two moms – one was a pro with baking amazing chocolate chip cookies (the foolproof Toll House version!) and the other a master of baking brownies (Betty Crocker double fudge…). Seeing how both of my cookies took inspiration from those two classics, I wanted to honor that legacy with Dvorák’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” Part of his cycle Gypsy Songs, the truly nostalgic work has notes of grief and hopefulness. The lyrics, by German poet Adolf Heyduk, translate as follows:

Songs my mother taught me,
In the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids
Were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children,
Each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing,
Oft they flow from my memory’s treasure.

Though short, the music is filled with color and life that other songs don’t quite achieve – a perfect way to describe two cookies whose size don’t quite speak to their ultimate potential. I’ve included a recording with soprano Anna Netrebko – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAOy1waBdpI&feature=related

Sources Cited:
“Songs My Mother Taught Me Lyrics and Text Translation,” About.com

Easter’s Cutest Traditions

When you travel as much as I do, you tend to lose track of the various holidays. Fortunately, we’re often bombarded with constant reminders whenever making the weekly CVS/supermarket run (whose shelves are lined with seasonal frippery months in advance). When Easter rolled around, I had a different reminder: my roommate Jenn had decided to give her Artist Diploma recital on Good Friday. She asked me to bring some form of dessert, and it was all too easy to give in to Easter’s colorful traditions with these Mint-Chocolate Birds’ Nests.
I never imagined I would be placing a package of crunchy chow mein noodles into the same camera shot as a bag of Cadbury chocolate eggs…yet here they were – two food products whose chance pairing make an adorable, crunchy delight. The only time I’d ever used chow mein noodles had been as topping for a chicken stir-fry…a far fetch from chocolate. Though labeled as “noodles”, they are actually cracker-like in both taste and consistency. This otherwise bland flavor makes them an easy complement for a variety of dishes.
These are extremely simple to make, and can be assembled in a matter of minutes. The first time I made them was with butterscotch and peanut butter. Looking for a new flavor profile, I added a dash of peppermint extract…and oh my God they were good! The perfect combination of crunch and sweet, these are a quick and easy way to entertain and delight your friends – click HERE to see how to make these adorable treats.
Considering I made these for my roommate’s recital (which was a phenomenal concert!) it was only fitting that the musical pairing be a piece she performed. Her program began with two Good Friday arias, and I chose the first of these for my pairing: “Endlich wird mein Joch” from Cantata BWV 56.  Bach composed this cantata in October of 1726 during his time as Cantor at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. “Endlich” is one of the more uplifting arias from this otherwise somber cantata, celebrating the “end of suffering”. The translation is as follows:

Finally, finally my yoke
Must again be lifted from me.
Then I shall battle in the Lord’s power,
Then I shall be like an eagle,
Then I shall ascend from this earth,
And soar inexhaustible.
Oh, may it happen yet today!

The joyous tone of the piece perfectly complements these delicious treats, with the lyric “like an eagle” serving as the obligatory literal piece 🙂 She performed the piece with my very dear friend Tim Wilfong singing the baritone line (who did a fabulous job!) The recording below is with oboist Marc Lifschey (one of THE American oboists, according to Jenn) and baritone Mack Harrell. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_589br3HP8

Sources Cited:
“Cantata #56 ‘Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen'”, Bellingham Festival of Music
“Helmut Rilling interprets Bach Cantatas,” www.drmm.net

Short and Sweet

There is no lack of desserts when I host an event – tell me 20 people will show, and I’ll make enough for 50. My Oscars Party was no exception. It also gave my creative edge a challenge – as you read in my last post, each dish was paired with a nominated film. Some of the  pairings were a bit of a stretch (cocktail wieners with Hugo?), though it was fun to do nonetheless! These were definitely two of the stars from the evening’s spread (as were the films with which they were paired): Mini Chocolate Pies and Black & White Cookies.
For those of you who read the book/saw the movie, it’s no mystery that I paired these Mini Chocolate Pies with The Help (definitely worth seeing if only to understand why this is the case, though it is a great movie). They’re quite simple to make – I purchased several packages of phyllo mini tarts, made a simple chocolate pudding to fill them with and topped each with a dollop of meringue. Your guests will think you put in WAY more effort. Click HERE to see how to make these adorable bite-sized treats.
Black & White cookies are classic, and I had always been curious to give them a try. They were paired with The Artist (a literal pairing, granted) which was hands downs my FAVORITE movie of the year – I practically leapt from my seat every time it won an Oscar. These are more cake-like than your average cookies (thanks to the use of cake flour), and are topped with a thick, glossy icing that takes seconds to make. They were a huge hit at the party, and I imagine they’ll be adored at your next event as well – click HERE to see how to make these sweet classics.
I wanted the musical pairing for these two desserts to acknowledge their “bite-sized” enjoyability – both also compelled my more creative edge. That led me to consider fulfilling works that can also be defined as “short and sweet”; musical novellas if you will. With this in mind what better pairing than Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 12! Inspired by a collection of novellas by E.T.A Hoffman, the eight pieces within the work capture different the moods and thoughts of Schumann’s dual identities, known as the characters “Florestan” and “Eusebius.” Seeing how both of these desserts brought out my more creative edge, I felt the dreamer in Eusebius would be the best fit and thus chose the first of the eight pieces: “Des Abends” in D-flat major. It’s gentle melody lulls the listener into an ephemeral state of serenity; refuge from the noise and chaos of reality (a similar experience to be had after trying one of the delicious treats in this post). Enjoy! 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNcavAwICR8

Sources Cited:
“Fantasiestücke,” Wikipedia.com