What’s In A Name?

CarbonaraDinner2Ah the beauty of Carbonara – a dish that both my boyfriend Phillip and I felt would make for a great weeknight meal. This  iconic recipe is all about timing. The spaghetti needs to be cooked just before “al dente”, so you can add it back to the pot without fear of overcooking – and the heat subtle enough so as not to curdle the eggs. While an incredibly patient Phil was fishing the spaghetti out of the pot, I was whisking the eggs and grabbing a small cup of the leftover pasta water. It can be a tough egg to crack, they might say (couldn’t resist). The result should be a silky sauce, laden with cheese and pepper, that covers the pasta and pulls from the pan and my mouth is watering while typing this out.

TruffleCarbonara is a Roman dish, with 6 very simple ingredients: pasta, Parmesan, egg, guanciale, salt and pepper. But we decided to add truffle, mostly because I had never bought fresh truffle and it was there and Phil was all for it. It was also a great learning opportunity…in that I should only buy fresh truffle if I want to eat it in multiple consecutive dishes. For this at least, it was the actual icing on the cake. Fun truffle fact! Harvesters once relied on pigs to discover these pricey fungi but (given the pigs’ voracious appetite for truffles) the responsibility shifted to man’s best friend, as all a dog desires is a loving pat and a delicious (non-truffle) treat. 

Phil Hands2The name Carbonara is an interesting one – it’s derived from carbonaro, which means “charcoal burner”. NOT what I expected, but there you have it. Why it was awarded such a name has several theories: it was once a hearty meal for miners, it found its fame in a Roman restaurant of the same name, or even that it served as tribute to the secret society “Carbonari” (personally my favorite theory, albeit the least likely). All this being said, what the dish had been called prior to the mid-1900s remains a mystery. Fortunately for us, the recipe itself is known far and wide – and is much tastier than a name. Click HERE for the recipe to this classic Italian dish. 

Carbonara2For the musical pairing, an Italian piece was an obvious fit – and (to help narrow it down) my favorite element of the “carbonara” narrative is the mystery behind its name…which inspired my choice for the pairing: Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. This is one of the most famous arias ever – many know it, yet few know its meaning (sort of like Carbonara, eh?) So for those who have neither seen nor heard of the opera Turandot, a VERY quick summary – Princess Turandot has many suitors, yet will only marry the man who can accurately answer 3 riddles. None succeed until Prince Calaf wins her game…she begs her father to release her from this oath, yet he insists she marries the prince. So Calaf (being a good dude) gives her an “out”: if she can guess his true name, she can execute him; yet if she cannot, she must marry him (yes, this is a bizarre contract). She recruits the entire kingdom screaming “Let no one sleep!” (i.e Nessun Dorma) until his name is uncovered – the aria we know and love is when Calaf takes on the refrain and claims Victory (Vincero!) believing that none truly know his name. It ends on a somewhat happy note, they marry and she doesn’t murder her entire kingdom for lack of finding his name (yay). Random aside: I was today years old when I discovered the famous “B” held at the end (second to last note) is a sixteenth note – yet Pavarotti (along with most tenors) holds for nearly 5 whole seconds, but oh the panache! You can hear his performance in the clip below – a true legend.

Sources Cited: 
“Carbonara,” Wikipedia.com
“Truffle,” Wikipedia.com
“Nessun Dorma” Wikipedia.com

Hash It Out

Egg+Hash2Brunch is awesome. I would eat breakfast at every meal if I could. I credit eggs being such a versatile and easy protein. I also love cooking breakfast for people I care about. So when one of my favorite humans made a trip to New York – my best friend Megan – we scoured Pinterest for some culinary inspiration. What we found was not only simple, but super tasty: Bacon & Mushroom Hash with a Fried Egg.

PurplePotatoesBrooklyn has some fantastic open-air markets – where everything in season is Insta-worthy, plentiful and downright delicious. My favorite produce stand had these dark purple potatoes and violet scallions, so we grabbed a handful of each. I spoke a bit about anthocyanins in my last post – so clearly I’m on a theme with ruby-tinged produce. In the event you can’t find these ingredients, or you are enjoying a lazy day indoors, you can use just about any vegetable in a hash: sweet potatoes, corn, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, kale. Go wild!

SmokedBaconThere was one stand I had never visited (until now) called Raven & Boar. They were sampling one of the most delicious bacon jams. We were hooked, so we bought a full pound and a half of their bacon…naturally. A good two-thirds of it is currently sitting in my freezer as our eyes were clearly bigger than our stomachs. We used this smoked variety that reaalllly put the dish over the top. Thicker bacon is key since you will be chopping it into the hash, but any variety will do. We also decided to cook the eggs over easy, because I could not resist the photo op that you saw at the opening of this post. We also drowned our plates in Frank’s hot sauce – highly recommended, if you’re a spicy fan. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty breakfast.

Egg+Hash1For the last few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on new beginnings. Starting a new chapter can be scary (really scary) and yet the future holds nothing but adventure for those brave enough to try something completely different. Megan’s trip to New York was to mark such an occasion. Opening yourself to new experiences can be breathtaking, but remembering who you are – and where you come from – is what gives you the strength and excitement to start anew. This is why I chose one of the first pieces I had ever prepared for an audition: Francis Poulenc’s Sonate pour flûte et pianowritten in 1957.

Poulenc was a French composer who studied with the renowned Erik Satie. His success, fueled by his talent and Satie’s musical connections, led to his inclusion in the acclaimed Les Six: a group of 6 young composers – all French – whose music openly countered the traditional styles of the time; most notably Wagner and Debussy. Speaking of new beginnings, this Sonata was the first Poulenc ever wrote for the flute – much to the delight of colleague and flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, who would perform the première (with Poulenc on piano). Like the dish, the piece is simple yet rich. The music traverses a spectrum of expressive colors: from a verdant allegretto to a lavender cantilena and finally closing with a red-hot presto. The following recording features my favorite flutist – Emmanuel Pahud. Enjoy!

“Flute Sonata (Poulenc),” Wikipedia.com
“Francis Poulenc,” Wikipedia.com

Rise and Shine: Part V

Quinoa_Pancakes2My blogging enterprise has been woefully absent…so let me try to explain: I moved to Manhattan in July to start a master’s program in business at NYU. It has been an amazing (albeit intense) journey, and the pace has redefined what I once considered “productive”. In the thick of this academic hurricane, I had to hit the pause button on a few beloved distractions…and my blog was an unfortunate casualty. This isn’t to suggest that I’ve tossed my favorite pastime of cooking altogether – trust me, I would be rendered insane if the refuge of a great homemade meal were taken away from me. After seeing countless ads on the MTA for culinary resolutions and eating more indulgent food than I care to admit, I felt the New Year was the perfect time to revive Classical Kitchen. Though this blog will always call Boston home, I plan to take advantage of every opportunity this city has to offer…with the understanding that tiny apartments sabotage most lighting opportunities for photography. So I’ll stop rambling; instead, let’s get cooking and talk about these Quinoa Pancakes with Honey and Strawberries.
Quinoa1My boyfriend Tom and I happened upon this recipe in early 2015 – we had a lot of leftover quinoa (I thought the measured amount would make half of what it did…long story) and wanted a unique recipe that called for pre-cooked quinoa. Quinoa is pretty great, in my book. Here’s a fun fact – thanks to the explosion of ancient grains and gluten free options, The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organizatiom (FAO) claimed that 2013 was the “International Year of the Quinoa.” The grain has been a staple of the Andean diet since as early 1200 AD. It is both an adaptable and durable grain, making it an ideal mainstay for centuries. As far as production goes, Peru is the world’s largest producer, reporting a harvest of over 250 billion pounds in 2014.
Berries_HoneyToppings are what make pancakes one of America’s favorite breakfast foods. Tom and I like honey, since it’s useful in much of what we eat and drink. I bought a local honey for this (the pretty jar was the hook) and fresh strawberries. While these were our toppings, you can try out a variety of things – blueberries and yogurt, pecans and agave, bananas and nutella, or even a savory spin with avocados and sour cream. The pancakes themselves have no sugar, making them the perfect palate for any creative garnish.
Quinoa_Pancakes1These pancakes are, admittedly, very different from the buttermilk variety at your local diner. Not only are they full of protein and fiber, but the texture and size share a closer affinity with patties than with their namesake. The trick to getting these pancakes “perfect” is to ensure that the mixture has enough moisture to bind everything together, while also keeping the cakes small enough (while cooking) so they maintain their shape. The recipe will explain this more thoroughly, but be prepared to have one or two crumble mid-flip (but trust me, they will still be tasty!) Click HERE to see the recipe for this unique spin on a breakfast icon.  
Quinoa_Pancakes3While considering a musical pairing for this recipe, I knew an homage to New York was in order – which led me to one of my favorite American composers, Charles Ives, and his orchestral work Central Park in the Dark. Written in 1906, this turn-of-the-century piece beautifully illustrates a rare perspective of New York: a walk through Central Park at night. Ives himself wrote about the piece:

“This piece purports to be a picture-in-sounds of the sounds of nature and of happenings that men would hear some thirty or so years ago (before the combustion engine and radio monopolized the earth and air), when sitting on a bench in Central Park on a hot summer night.”

The strings represent the night, their ethereal darkness constant and gliding amidst the walk of our protagonist. The clarinet ushers in a scene of evening revelry, followed by the winds, brass and eventually full orchestra, as our protagonist passes a late-night casino. The moment is a passing one, as the omnipresent darkness returns and our protagonist tugs his cloak tighter about his shoulders as he continues home. Despite this work being written over a century ago, one can easily imagine its setting in present day: with similar vignettes of quiet and chaos enveloping our daily walks within this massive, beautiful city. I’ve learned a lot since moving to New York, but perhaps the most pressing lesson has been that this city is not lush with work insanity or impersonality – it is a living, breathing thing filled with opportunity and amazing people who want to make a difference. I’m beyond excited to now be a part of that story. Check out Ives’ work in the video below:

Sources Cited:
“Quinoa.” The World’s Healthiest Foods
“Quinoa.” Wikipedia.com
“Central Park in the Dark.” Wikipedia.com

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

Rise and Shine: Part II

Huevos Rancheros 1A tradition that has become a recent obsession of mine is Sunday brunch – I am a fairly routine person in most cases, but sleeping in and indulging in a hearty “late breakfast” is about the best thing you can ask for at the end of a long week. Going out for brunch is a great, but cooking your own is even better. There is no need to wait for seating or to flag down the waiter every time you want coffee (which is every 8-10 minutes with me), and you can take as much time as your little heart desires. Tom took the reigns with a recent brunch, and made these heavenly Huevos Rancheros.
Huevos Rancheros 4This dish started out as basic late-morning fare for farmhands and staff (hence “rancheros”) – because it’s seriously delicious, the dish grew in popularity and quickly became a national (and eventually international) favorite. Eggs (“huevos”) play a central role to the dish. Tom and I are pretty picky when it comes to buying eggs, and always opt for the “free-range” or “organic” varieties. Regardless of your preference, I’d recommend getting high-quality eggs for this. The other key elements are the toppings: you’ve got salsa, tomatoes, beans, jalapenos – tasty goodness that results in every mouthful bursting with flavor. Tom loves that it’s high on protein, and I love pretty much anything smothered in salsa and avocado (except for cookies…that might be strange).
Huevos Rancheros 5The process for making huevos rancheros is quite simple. You basically pan fry a variety of ingredients and make a quick avocado salsa…and voila! Breakfast crack – you can top it with cheese, cilantro, hot sauce, or even more cheese. Paired with a large mug of stovetop espresso and an episode Breaking Bad, this dish is the making of a beautiful brunch. If you’re a fan of Mexican food and not typically a morning person, consider this your new alarm clock: it is absolutely a reason to get out of bed, even on the coldest of days. Click HERE to see the recipe!
Huevos Rancheros 2Brunch is intended to be a deliberate indulgence (or marginally tipsy one if you go for the Bloody Mary/Mimosas). It’s the most casual meal you can have, and is often shared with someone you truly appreciate. Weekdays are made for being productive, active, and engaged – your weekend serves as a temporal “end” to the week’s craziness (unless you have to work on weekends…which is actually more common than you’d think in the non-profit realm). Regardless, brunch is your time to relax. When I was a little kid, my dad would always be playing recordings of classical or Spanish guitarists – music that’s often both beautiful and relaxing. Though this dish hails from Mexico, I was drawn to Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo for this post’s musical pairing. Perhaps his most famous work is Concierto de Aranjuez for classical guitar and orchestra.
AranjuezINT03Written in three movements, the music takes inspiration from the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez. Rodrigo himself said that every movement captures “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains” of Aranjuez. The orchestra assumes a more temperate strength and gentle air in appreciating the guitar’s elegant voice. The second movement is perhaps the most well-known of the three, and speaks to the works more subtle beauty – jazz legend Miles Davis said about the Adagio: “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.” Other famous admirers of the piece include Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, clarinetist Jean-Christian Michel, jazz pianist Chick Corea, American figure skater Michelle Kwan, jazz bassist Buster Williams (to name a few). The below recording features guitarist John Williams (NOT the film guy, but I’m sure he gets that a lot) at the BBC Proms – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Huevos Rancheros,” Wikipedia.com
“Concierto de Aranjuez”, Wikipedia.com

Rise and Shine: Part I

French Toast 5The majority of the recipes on this blog have a dinner and/or dessert connotation – sadly, there is little to no representation of my favorite meal: breakfast. It is the only time of day that encourages both creative ingredients and caloric liberties. Breakfast can make or break your day, depending on how “scrambled” you feel once you walk out the door. As such, I’ve decided to introduce a new series on this blog called “Rise and Shine” – these posts will showcase morning favorites, and natural light is the BEST lighting for foodie photos…so this series is a total win-win. Last weekend I was in NYC for Valentine’s Day, and rather than risk the crowds/drama at local restaurants, Tom and I spent the weekend cooking at home. We ended up making some great meals, including this Whole Wheat French Toast with Bananas Foster.
French Toast 4French Toast is a breakfast icon, and thankfully it’s a cinch to make. The history of this dish is somewhat nebulous, though it finds an affinity with recipes dating all the way back to the 4th century (only the most delicious recipes stand the test of time). It was and still is a great solution for using up stale bread. You basically soak individual slices of day-old bread in an egg & cream mixture, then frying the bread until browned and cooked through. It creates the perfect canvas for any number of toppings, from maple syrup to fresh fruit. We sadly had grabbed a bad batch of raspberries (hate when that happens!) and had to ditch almost the entire crate. The weather outside was discouraging, but we needed a new plan…
French Toast 3Tom decided to brave the wintery slush to grab a few bananas from the corner store. He had some rum in the apartment, which led to my suggesting bananas foster…and Jamaican coffees, which were stellar. Bananas foster is fairly simple, and though I personally believe that the flambé makes all the difference it is optional: you can safely add the rum and allow it to cook down for a few minutes with a simmer alone (and avoid the concern of setting fire to your kitchen). Right towards the end, Tom suggested adding the few raspberries we had salvaged, and it gave the dish a nice Valentine’s Day touch 🙂 I drizzled some clover honey over the plated slices of toast and foster, and the result was…well, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Click HERE for a sweet recipe to start your day!
French Toast 1Have you ever eaten a meal with others in total silence? Granted…there are times when this implies an extremely tense situation (as I imagine celebrity family dinners in the wake of a PR scandal must be), but silence is more often than not an indication of a delicious meal. Once we started eating the French toast, very few words were exchanged. The ability to appreciate without disruption – whether it be food or music – allows you to more fully experience that which you are enjoying. There honestly should be no need for words. This led to my choosing Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words (Lieder ohne Worte): a collection of short solo piano pieces, written between 1829 and 1845. Much the way that the foodie photos above speak for themselves, Mendelssohn was adamant that these works needed no written clarification – he felt the musical messages were far clearer than any program notes could express. The following statement captures his thoughts exactly:

People often complain that music is too ambiguous, that what they should think when they hear it is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. With me, it is exactly the opposite, and not only with regard to an entire speech but also with individual words. These, too, seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.

While some might believe this is a matter-of-course statement for classical composers, his music fully supports the sentiment. The pieces in this collection aren’t overly complicated – in fact, many find them lacking in technical dexterity and difficult to interpret as a consequence. Their subtle melodies come across as spoken dialogue, with gentle harmonies that neither overpower the music nor overwhelm the listener. The music’s message is clear and quite literally needs no words. The below recording is the full collection with pianist Daniel Barenboim (this recording is over 2 hours in length…so feel free to listen in shifts). Enjoy!

Sources Cited: 
“French toast,” Wikipedia.com
“Songs without Words”, Wikipedia.com

Happiness through Small Indulgences

Sesame Soba 2There are days when I have the time and energy to make a meal that’s so gosh darn pretty it could be a model for Bon Appetìt. Last week was an especially long one, so I was pining for an extra-special treat (translation: “gourmet meal”) to take off the edge. Yet it was also a very cold week, so the prospect of venturing beyond the confines of my warm apartment was out of the question. Looking through my fridge, I saw a crate of organic eggs and a bunch of curly kale. Pinterest was once again there to save the day, as it led me straight to a recipe for Sesame Soba Noodles with Fried Egg & Kale.
Sesame Soba 5Sesame is one of those ingredients that’s consistently awesome. While many associate it as being an oil, sesame comes in a variety of contexts: whole seeds, sesame paste (better known as Tahini), sesame flours, etc. The seeds come from a flowering plant that thrives in tropical climates across the globe. It’s been a cultivated food source for over 3,000 years, and for good reason: its oil is loaded with antioxidants, Omega 6 fatty acids, and protein. It’s a staple in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. This recipe uses the oil AND seeds, so it a packs an extra-healthy punch. Sesame Soba 4Soba is the other quintessential ingredient in this dish – a thin noodle made from buckwheat, it’s is a staple of Japanese cooking. The noodles are traditionally served cold with sides and toppings, or hot in a noodle soup with some variety of protein. It’s quite hearty, and can be prepared a day or two in advance (to save on cooking time). This particular recipe is an atypical setting for soba – its closest affiliation is perhaps to the dish Tsukimi soba (“moon-viewing soba”): a noodle soup topped with a raw egg, which cooks in broth upon serving.
Sesame Soba 1The variety of textures give this dish remarkable character: hearty soba noodles, crunchy sesame seeds, curly kale leaves, all topped with a creamy yolk. You can double or triple this recipe if you’re hosting for friends, but it’s a perfect meal for two (or even one). I made this meal two nights in a row. It’s perfect for a winter night with a glass of chardonnay. For those of you who are anxious about runny yolks, feel free to cook the egg all the way through – the dish will still be great. Click HERE to see the recipe for this quick weeknight meal!
Sesame Soba 3For those of us with busy lifestyles, every moment counts – so there is a lot to be said for the small indulgences we take. While I’d love to see myself in Ina Garten’s shoes (the woman’s kitchen is so big that it has its own house), my practical side understands the limits imposed by my current lifestyle. This recipe was perfect, as it allowed me to prep a killer meal in under 30 minutes! It is the simple pleasures that fuel happiness, from cultural previews to culinary tastes. Listening to a piece of music can set the mood for your entire day, and a piece that has been consistently rewarding for me is Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture. Written in 1956, the work is part of the operetta Candide. While the operetta had a modest run (closing after only 73 performances), the overture itself was an instant success. The 5-minute opening is filled with an excitement and passion that can bring any audience to its feet in applause. Typical of Bernstein’s music, the  orchestration is phenomenal and the the themes are unforgettable. Given it’s short duration, it’s one of those pieces you can listen to just about any time of day – in fact, I think I’ll hit repeat once I’m done typing this blog. The below recording is with Bernstein himself and the London Symphony Orchestra – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Sesame,” Wikipedia.com
“Soba”, Wikipedia.com
“Program Notes – Overture to Candide: Leonard Bernstein,” Baltimore Symphony

A Charming and Brilliant Dessert

OliveOilCake4Exploring what dishes to cook for a meal is always a creative adventure – things can change in the moment, and flavors can complement or even contradict. Yet dessert must be the perfect closing statement – an epilogue of taste and substance that won’t overwhelm…in other words, it can be a challenge. I was invited to make dessert for a dinner party that would have an Indian curry as the main dish, promising spicy and robust flavors. It was mentioned that the hostess has an affection for Mediterranean, so I went with an Olive-Oil Orange Cake with Candied Orange Slices.
OliveOilFor those of you cringing at the thought of baking with olive oil, consider this: olive oil has been used in baking for centuries, serving as the main culinary oil for nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It does have a very pronounced taste, which is often why we stick with canola or vegetable oils. Its flavor is also compromised when exposed to higher heat (like deep frying – bad idea). Yet when it comes to baked goods, not only does olive oil impart a lighter texture than other oils, but its possession of Vitamin E helps to maintain a cake’s moist texture and freshness – it’s a win-win situation! This website has substitution suggestions in case you’re dying to try it in one of your favorite cakes…
OliveOilCake1BUT before you go on an olive oil baking frenzy, take note: olive oil is best used in batters that can complement its fruity taste – citrus is a perfect example. Almond can also work, being a lighter and sweeter nut. While it may seem like it is, this cake is not too sweet. Its heavenly texture and subtle taste will have even the staunchest of dessert-a-phobes cleaning their plates. Click HERE to see the recipe for this showstopper!
OliveOilCake2As I mentioned, this is not an overwhelming cake – it’s quite charming, and can win over just about anyone. This “lightness” of character was reminiscent of opera buffa (comic opera). One of the most famous and beloved examples is Rossini’s The Barber of Seville – a two act opera buffa that has stood the test of time, and is arguably one of the most popular opera works of all time. Our protagonist is Figaro – a renaissance man who is both charming and ingenious. His “bright” personality is the perfect companion to this lovely dessert – the recording below is the Overture with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Baking With Olive Oil Instead of Butter,” The Passionate Olive
“The Barber of Seville,” Wikipedia.com

Pie, Oh My…

What better way to end a hot summer’s day than with a cool slice of pie? Some reasons why pie is the all-time seasonal dessert:

  1. It can be made ahead of time, allowing your kitchen to stay at a reasonable (and tolerable) temperature during gatherings (CRUCIAL for hosting!)
  2. It is portable – always a welcome treat at cookouts and potlucks!
  3. It is remarkably versatile, and can be the perfect palate for the season’s colorful harvest.
  4. Let’s face it – who doesn’t like pie?

When I hosted a BBQ the other weekend, I thought I’d throw my efforts into not one but TWO pies…as expected, there wasn’t so much as a crumb left by the end of the party. What made them disappear so soon, you ask? Brace yourself – Lime and Blackberry Meringue Pie and Banana Cream Pie with Homemade Caramel and Chocolate Crust.
I have tried countless pie dough recipes, resulting in everything from lifeless crusts and burnt edges. This recipe is my new go-to: perfectly flaky, yet still full of that sinfully buttery taste! The secret ingredient? Vodka! Probably one of the few times that vodka is a good choice. Once the dough starts baking, the (flavorless) alcohol evaporates, and leaves behind a golden crust just begging to be filled! It’s a Cook’s Illustrated experiment (gotta love those nerdy cooks!) and will guarantee a perfect slice of pie 🙂
I’m a sucker for blackberries – there is something too irresistible about berries so fresh that they look ready to burst. Glazed with red wine and sugar…I was sold! As for the lime curd, there (apparently) is a step that involves powdered gelatin and whipped cream…I think my subconscious decided to omit this in favor of a straight-up curd. The result was (in my opinion) fabulous! A simple, creamy lime curd atop a beautiful bed of glazed blackberries – does life get any sweeter? Click HERE to see the recipe for this gorgeous pie!
For many of us, banana cream pie evokes memories of Nilla wafers and Jello pudding mix. Yet this recipe is a cut above those “out-of-a-box” creations – layers of homemade caramel and dark chocolate ganache topped with a creamy vanilla bean custard and fresh bananas. The caramel and custard require a bit of patience (and careful monitoring). Both are prepared over low heat, and immediately removed the second they are finished…failure to do this will put you right back at square one. That being said, the result is one of the BEST banana cream pies you will have ever tasted! I’m not one to pressure others, but I really encourage you to give this pie a try – click HERE to see the recipe for this homemade classic!
I wanted a musical pairing that captured the “joy” of summer in addition to acknowledging the unique flavor of these two pies. That led me to Debussy: a composer whose style is both beautiful and exotic. His work L’Isle joyeuse (Isle of Joy) for solor piano made a perfect fit. Debussy was inspired by Jean-Antoine Watteau’s painting L’Embarquement pour Cythère (Voyage to Cythera). The scene, filled with color and sensuality, portrays a group at the onset of their journey to the Island of Aphrodite (pictured below):
Debussy captures this colorful revelry by combining standard diatonic scales with whole tone scales; the result is almost otherworldly. These pies, each of classic origin, bring a new concept of flavor combinations that allow one to experience an almost “otherworldly joy” at first bite. Not to mention the technical difficulty this piece requires can certainly be met by the amount of time and patience needed to make these delicacies. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I do!


Sources Cited:
“Debussy: L’Isle joyeuse,” Minnesota Orchestra Program Notes
“L’Embarquement pour Cythere, by Antoine Watteau,” Wikipedia.com