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 ūüėČ And cookie dough is probably one of the most addictive things on the planet‚Ķand 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‚Ķhow 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 Dvor√°k’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!

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

An Indulgence of Laughter and Sugar

Donuts‚Ķbaked in a bread pudding‚Ķforgive me arteries, for I have sinned. My sister talked me into this one, how I’m still not certain. I honestly thought she was joking…but then I had a bite, and wished I had never discovered this irresistible thing. I tried to push my plate away, but found myself going back for more against my own will. Sugary, golden goodness…save yourself while you can from this Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding.
There’s something truly American about the doughnut (or “donut” as we like to spell it here). Evocative of classic diners and incomplete without a cup of coffee, they are seen as a cultural staple of the American breakfast. Though believed to be of Dutch origin, Hanson Gregory (an American) takes the credit for the ring shape we’ve all come to know and love. It is said he disliked the doughy, uncooked center of the pastries, and started using a tin can to cut the holes. Despite their integral connection to our culture, doughnuts are enjoyed across the globe, from the German Berliner to the Moroccan Sfenji.
The custard for this dish is pretty dense, no lie – three types of cream and a dozen eggs – but crucial to turning this dessert from “just another pudding” to “you-can’t-put-the-fork-down” amazing! The trick is to toast the doughnut pieces completely, then allow them to sit at room temperature for a good 30 minutes or so before adding the custard. This helps give the pudding a sugary crunch. Regardless of the occasion, this dish will win over even the staunchest of critics (myself included): click HERE to see the recipe.
This dish is so rich and eccentric, I couldn’t help but laugh when Sarah first told me about it. That led me to consider a musical pairing with such a sense of humor: Britten’s A Simple Symphony, for string orchestra. With movements titled “Boisterous Bourr√©e,” “Playful Pizzicato,” “Sentimental Saraband,” and “Frolicsome Finale”, he’s made known the humorous intent. That being said, each movement does ring true to it’s name. The work opens on a lively note, giving us hints of¬† classical norms which are then offset with not-so-subtle antics. It then glides into a dazzling second movement simmering with a restrained energy, played entirely without bows. The third movement is the longest, taking a reflective turn into a more emotive realm. The fourth movement then¬† “snaps us back to reality,” giving a festive closure to this delightful “morsel” of a work that runs just under 20 minutes. The recording below is with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“About the Piece: Simple Symphony,” LA Phil

A Cake that Wears Many Hats

Have you ever wanted a cake that could be a round-the-clock enjoyment? An elegant dessert, a midday snack, or even a late night nosh? There’s no “rule” that cakes can only be enjoyed at certain times of day, yet there are few that can satiate those random cravings. Enter this beauty – ¬† a Chocolate Souffl√© Brownie Cake. You can enjoy it chilled with a berry coulis, microwaved and served with ice cream, or even just as is with your hands! What more can you ask of a cake…or brownie…or whatever it is.The reason you can say I’m slightly confused about this cake’s “category” is because it has all the components of a souffl√©, and yet still manages to taste just like a brownie. The brownie element comes from the melted chocolate, to which the egg yolks and flour are stirred in by hand. This creates a smooth, rich texture of chocolatey goodness. Most “authentic” brownie recipes are made this way, and often use a really good chocolate (and I used Ghiradelli for this cake).The souffl√© element comes from the separation of the eggs. The yolks, as mentioned above, are added per usual, yet the white are whipped to a frothy perfection on the side. By whipping the whites separately from the rest of the batter, the cake’s texture is leavened substantially. This cake, in a way, gets the best of both worlds thanks to these separate but wonderful elements. Click HERE to make this versatile dessert today!¬†In thinking about a composer that could also “wear many hats,” there was one name that I was shocked to discover has yet to be on my blog: Mozart. He was an extremely prolific composer whose list of repertoire is nearly endless: operas, sonatas, symphonies, vocal works, concertos, numerous chamber settings (the list goes on). ¬†Though his life was tragically cut short, he managed to produce a wealth of musical genius that influenced countless generations. Le Nozze di Figarois arguably one of his most renowned operas, and I have chosen the beautiful aria “Porgi, amor” for this pairing. In this scene, the Countess laments her husband’s alleged duplicity with her maid Susanna (even though such is not the case). This recording, from the 1980¬†Paris¬†Op√©ra¬†production (thanks Tim Wilfong for helping me find this!) features the extremely talented¬†Gundula Janowitz as the Countess – enjoy!¬†

Sources Cited:
“The Marriage of Figaro,”

An Angelic Affair

Last weekend, a group of friends decided to devote a Sunday afternoon to watching Angels in America: an HBO mini-series adapted from Tony Kushner’s play of the same name that focuses on the social and political consequences from the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s. Running at a total of 6 hours, we managed to watch only four the of the six chapters (watching the remaining 2 the next night). Seeing as how this 4 hours of material, we thought it could be fun to pair a meal with our viewing. Trying to be clever yet not too campy, we went for the following menu:

◊ Caprese Salad with Balsamic Vinegar
◊ Roasted Cauliflower
◊ Deviled Eggs with Curry and Paprika
◊ Angel Hair Pasta with Leek-Squash Purée
◊ Angel Food Cake with Lemon-Lime Curd and Fresh Fruit Assortment

While I would love to share all of these with you, I am only going to focus on three of the menu items, starting with the cauliflower – I love this recipe! The beauty of Roasted Cauliflower is that while it is utterly simple to do, the result is so addictive you’ll be going back for thirds. We paired it with this event given its “cloud-like” resemblance. Give this heavenly recipe a try by clicking HERE.
This next dish,¬†Angel Hair Pasta with Leek-Squash Pur√©e,¬†will take a little more explanation than the cauliflower – let me start by saying, aside from being “Angel Hair Pasta”, this dish was an attempt to create a vegan pasta that even meatlovers could enjoy. I didn’t want the basic tomato sauce, and tossing the pasta with roasted vegetables also felt uninspiring. Walking through the aisle at my local co-op, I noticed all of the beautiful summer produce. It was then I happened on a thought: pureed vegetables…plus pasta…can it work? The answer is undeniably YES!
I chose a vegetarian warhorse: the leek. When sauteed, these onion-like vegetables take on a sweet, subtle taste with a butter-like texture; making them perfect for a “butter-less” sauce to go with pasta! Sort of sticking to the “angelic” theme, I wanted the second vegetable to also be light, making the summer squash that were buy 1 get 1 free an awesome coincidence! The rest of the recipe was pure improv – it basically was a soup that I added wine to for an extra edge of taste. I used my handy-dandy food processor, but feel free to an immersion or standing blender. Learn how to make this unique vegan pasta dish by clicking HERE.
You knew this last one had to be on the menu – it was too easy. A cake so beautifully white in color, with a texture equally light and fluffy, that is “must be fit for angels.” Angel Food Cake was thus the first pairing I came up with for this dinner. The cake is made with no butter or oil, only sugar, flour, and a TON of egg whites. The history of Angel Food Cake is relatively obscure, but most agree the cake’s origin was a frugal means of using up leftover whites (the yolks having been used for noodles, custards, etc).
Funny thing is, my predicament was the exact opposite. How was I going to use up 12 whole egg yolks?! The other half of this pairing was going to acknowledge the story’s prominent theme of same-sex relationships. Per the suggestion of my friend and CK regular Tim Wilfong, we selected a potpourri of colorful fruit to top the cake. Originally intending to just use whipped cream, I couldn’t shake the idea of wasting 12 whole yolks. The perfect solution was using the logic of its origins: custard. Having just bought a ton of limes and lemons from the store, a lemon-lime curd sounded all too perfect, and it was…almost too perfect…like we couldn’t stop eating the stuff kind of perfect. Click HERE to check out how to make this beautiful cake and custard duo (or to make use of an entire carton of eggs, in case you’re curious).
At first I thought I might pair an external work with these recipes, but then researched the actual soundtrack for the movie. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The soundtrack was both composed and conducted by Thomas Newman. Newman’s film repertoire is quite impressive, with titles such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Finding Nemo to his name. When I also saw that Steve Kujala (a jazz/contemporary flutist who I’ve long admired) is one of the performers, I knew I had to use this soundtrack for the musical pairing. Below is the opening title from the miniseries. Again, definitely check out this HBO series when you have the time – it is a beautiful story. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:

A Delicious Departure from Tradition

There is a common belief that egg dishes are meant for breakfast only – this couldn’t be farther from the truth. They are an excellent source of protein, cook in a matter of minutes, and pair beautifully with any possibly meal you can imagine. Perfect example: the ever-versatile frittata. Essentially a giant omelet, the add-in opportunities for this dish can be endless: vegetables, meats, cheeses, herbs, etc. I wanted a dish full of color, so I decided to make a Spinach and Bell Pepper Frittata.
Frittata is derived from the Italian term “fritto,” which means anything that is fried. Originally used to describe any type of egg dish that is cooked in a skillet (like omelettes), the term frittata has evolved over the past five decades to represent the dish we are familiar with today.* Unlike an omelette, it is served in individual pieces or slices, and is “open-faced” rather than folded over. Fun fact: there is a very similar dish to the frittata in Persian cuisine called the Kookoo (which is a cool name, so I had to share it).
So frittatas are meant to be fried in a skillet…you can clearly tell from the photo that I didn’t fry this, much less even use a skillet (except for saut√©ing the vegetables). The “traditional” way is to cook the eggs in a large skillet, then invert the frittata onto a plate and slide it back into the pan to cook on the other side (or flipped entirely, if it isn’t too large). I DO own a cast iron skillet, so this could’ve been an option. A simpler but still somewhat traditional way is to put the eggs in the oven for the last 3 to 4 minutes of cooking underneath the broiler. My scenario: I was going to a cookout, and didn’t want to worry about slicing and storing and carrying this dish all the way across town. The solution was to bake the entire custard in a Pyrex 9×11 baking dish. I imagine the Italian recipe gods deplore this, but blame my need for an easy, last-minute dish that still could pack a TON of flavor. Regardless of method, this is an awesome dish and super easy to prepare – I modified it from a Gourmet recipe I found a while black. Click HERE to see my detour from the traditional frittata.¬†¬†
Since I took a culinary detour, why not a musical one? That thought led me instantly to my piece of choice: Julie-O, by Mark Summer. I was introduced to it this past April at a school event, and it’s a cool little piece! Julie-O has become quite popular amongst cellists, and is ideal as an encore or within educational contexts. The work incorporates “non-traditional” techniques, like slapping the string board and left hand pizzicatos, to give it that “jazzy” feel. It also is quite short (under 3 minutes) yet still extremely colorful – “a lot of flavor in a short amount of time.” I’ve included a recording by the composer himself from the Perth international Arts Festival (sorry for the image quality, but such is my beef with YouTube). Though the original version is great, I had to include this second recording to push the “traditional” envelope¬†one step further – this is by Kevin Olusola, who incorporates beatboxing into the piece (and just also happens to be a FANTASTIC cellist).


Sources Cited: