A Flavorful Metamorphosis

CookbooksEvery now and then I get the question “who is your favorite chef?” As of today, I would have to say one of my favorites is Yotam Ottolenghi. His insatiable curiosity for reinventing the traditional brings new vibrancy to seemingly banal ingredients. So while the internet has attenuated the need for physical cookbooks, three of the handful I own physical copies for are his. His recipes are also elaborate, and thus relegated to “special occasion” projects. The result is almost always the same: colorful, packed with flavor and a truly unique experience. The two recipes in this post – Pistachio and Pine Nut-Crusted Sea Bass with Wild Arugula and Parsley Vichyssoise and Caramelized Fennel Bulbs With Goat Cheese – are from the cookbooks Nopi and Plenty, respectively.

FennelGoatCheeseSome fun fennel facts (say that 5 times fast): fennel is a part of the carrot family, can grow up to 8-feet tall (2.5-meters) and has the same flavor compound as licorice – though the two are unrelated. This affinity means it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but this recipe may sway even the staunchest of naysayers. I’d been eager to try another dish from Ottolenghi’s Plenty, and came across this one. The goat cheese, caramelization and fresh dill bring a wholly new character to the vegetable; and make for a delectable side to any meal. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful dish. 

Vichyssoise1The origins of vichyssoise are unknown, though the French claim seems to have more weight than the American one (albeit perpetuated by another culinary icon of mine, Julia Child). Regardless, the recipe is a summer icon: as it’s traditionally served cold. This particular vichyssoise was a nice upgrade – where traditional vichyssoise is a creamy ivory that is served cold, this was a vibrant emerald and served warm. The medley of greens also lent a nutritional punch to the dish. The trick to getting this recipe right is to buy really fresh greens, and to cook them just long enough so they retain their color.

NutCrust1The nut crust is the “crown jewel” of the dish – and fairly easy to make. You can use almost any medley of nuts, but the pine nut / pistachio combination is quite delicious. What’s even better is you can make the nut crust the day before (in fact, you can prepare this whole recipe in advance, with the exception of the fish). The original recipe calls for halibut, but our local market had a good sale for Chilean sea bass. In case neither is available, any flaky white fish will do the trick. You can bake or broil the fish, whichever works best based on your oven. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful main course.

Fish1As I mentioned at the start of this post, Ottolenghi is a chef who brings new life to traditional foods. So for the musical pairing, I wanted to find a composer who followed a similar style. In the art world, one movement that captures this is Neoclassicism: effectively a wave of works that drew inspiration from the arts of classical antiquity. In classical music, there are a slew of composers who fall within this category. One of my favorites is Paul Hindemith. Born at the turn of the 20th century, Hindemith viewed his writing as “utility music” (or Gebrauchsmusik). This style was considered to be a reaction against the complexity and difficulty of 19th- to 20th-century music, and Hindemith took pride in composing works for the “everyday” amateur. Perhaps his most famous composition is Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, which premiered in 1944. Seven years prior, Hindemith and his wife had fled Berlin with the rise of the Third Reich, first taking refuge in Switzerland and then moving to the United States. It was here that he was approached by the choreographer Leonid Massine. Massine wanted to collaborate with Hindemith on a ballet that leveraged themes by Weber. The partnership ultimately fell through, but the music endured and was premiered on its own as Metamorphosis. The below recording (Movt I – Allegro) features the New York Philharmonic with Alan Gilbert. Enjoy!

To hear the whole piece, here are the links for Movements II, III and IV respectively.

Sources Cited:

 

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Simple Gifts for Snowy Drifts

AsparagusProsciutto_1A bomb cyclone just passed through New York…for the third time this year. And it was just as unpleasant as the last two. When the weather gets this bad, I go for simple recipes – because #ComfortFood makes everything better. It also helps if you don’t have to leave your house/apartment/comfy Ikea couch…so fortunately for me I had a pantry that could produce Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus as well as a Classic Grilled Cheese; both of which are a perfect match for a day when dense, heavy sheets of what appear to be wet flour are cascading from the sky. Gross. 
Asparagus_1Because I’m a nut for history, I thought, “If this dish is so easy, how easy is it to make Prosciutto?” Turns out…it’s not easy at all. BUT (good news!) it is easy to find prosciutto at almost any grocer. Italian in origin, Prosciutto – like Champagne and Gorgonzola – is a “protected designation of origin” product, in that its name can only be assigned to meats created under specific conditions and within certain territories. I had purple asparagus for this dish as well, which was also first produced in Italy (called Violetto d’ Albenga…great name for an opera character, FYI).
Asparagus Prosciutto 2The recipe for this dish is quite simple: you wrap each spear with a slice of prosciutto, arrange them on a roasting pan, drizzle some olive oil, pepper and salt over the spears, and roast. You want to cook the dish at a high heat, so that the asparagus and prosciutto crisp but don’t overcook. Since there are only two ingredients, you should aim for quality asparagus and prosciutto. For those of you wondering if bacon is a substitute, it will definitely work – albeit with a very different flavor profile (though still delicious). Click HERE to see how to make this delectably simple side. 
GrilledCheese_1This next recipe is a great way to use up any leftover cheeses you have in your fridge – I had some sharp cheddar, and shredded about a cup for this recipe. While most recipes swear by American cheese – given its melt factor – I personally think any cheese will do the trick. I also love to use a good quality butter for grilled cheese. My mantra: if you have to use fatty ingredients, go for the best. I actually used Kerrygold butter and cheddar…mere coincidence. For the bread, I highly recommend using a good sourdough. Pictured is a whole wheat variety from Trader Joe’s that is my latest obsession.
DSC_0793A cast iron is the quintessential tool for a grilled cheese, but a nonstick pan will do in a pinch (what I used). To ensure the cheese melts fully, I put the lid on after I flip the sandwich – but allowed it cook for a few seconds after flipping sans lid to prevent steam being captured underneath (no one likes a soggy sandwich). Of course, there is no right or wrong way to make this classic: at the end of the day it’s toasted bread and melted cheese. Though I recommend skipping the Benny & Joon method…where Johnny Depp used a clothes iron. Click HERE to see my method for this American classic. 
GrilledCheese_2
I actually thought of the musical pairing before the food – as I’d been considering the piece for some time. It’s the “Variation on a Shaker Melody: ‘Simple Gifts'” from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Originally a ballet, today the larger work is performed as an orchestral suite. The ballet premiered in 1944, and the Suite just one year later with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Serge Koussevitsky. The work embodies the spirit of the American pioneer, against the backdrop of early 19th century Appalachia. The shaker melody is one of the more famous moments of the piece, and perhaps the most recognizable. The tune “Simple Gifts”, 170 years old this year, was in relative obscurity until Copland’s Appalachian Spring – and as you will hear in the clip below, it was a great addition to the classical canon. The recording features the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Enjoy!

Sources:
“Prosciutto,” Wikipedia.org
“Asparagus,” Wikipedia.org
“Appalachian Spring,” Wikipedia.org

Opus M.B.A

18527267_625593649807_4939594507671330445_oAfter 2 roller coaster years, I now have an M.B.A. from the NYU Stern School of Business. It feels a bit like a 180, since I assumed a flute performance degree would be my first and final tryst with higher education. Sitting here today, however, the transition from music to marketing feels perfectly organic. My two alma-maters, NEC and NYU, have given me more opportunities than I can count: and they complemented one another in surprising ways. The “return on investment” (we M.B.A’s can’t get enough of this phrase) from NYU includes a better understanding of strategic planning, five trips around the globe, ample space to exercise leadership skills, and a wealth of talented and generous friends. What comes next will be a combination of the exciting and the unknown, and I’m looking forward to the challenge. Not surprisingly, this 2-year degree pushed me to neglect this blog  – so now that I have some room to breathe, I am finally back to sharing some of my favorite recipes and music. And to show my renewed commitment, I’ll be sharing four delicious features:

Apple-Raspberry Crisp with Pecan Crunch Topping
Cole Slaw with Gorgonzola
Smoky Oven-Roasted Spareribs
Sour Cream Cornbread

Cornbread_1Let’s start with the cornbread: any Southern chef will insist that cast iron and cornbread and inseparable concepts…except when you don’t have one, in which case glass pans are an OK substitute. It worked for us, and was still enjoyed by all our guests (most of whom were Southern). The original recipe calls for a spice that is impossible to find in your local Kroger or Safeway, known as Aleppo. And while nutmeg is a suggested replacement, we just went ahead without – and served the bread warm with lots of butter. Click HERE for the recipe of this baked golden delight.
Cole Slaw_1This coleslaw was awesome; like “we ate this for days after” kind of awesome. The original recipe called for Blue cheese, but we bought a tub of Gorgonzola that was on sale. (Thank you grocery gods for introducing us to this better option). We made the coleslaw the day prior, and it’s fairly simple to throw together. Feel free to adjust the dressing to your taste. Click HERE to see the recipe of this easy-to-make side.
SpicesAnd now, les ribs. The spice rub is a medley of things that all look great on paper: paprika, different peppers, cumin, salt, and…mace. (It claims that nutmeg can replace this, but we were super curious to discover what mace would taste like). The recipe makes about 2 cups worth, which is plenty for this recipe and then some. The taste is oddly similar to Old Bay Seasoning: so if you’re not a fan, I’d recommend sticking with good ol’ fashioned BBQ sauce. Fun fact about Old Bay: it is nearly 80 years old, and is believed to have been a clever way crab restauranteurs would push patrons to purchase more beverages (due to its extra “salty” factor).
Ribs_2The ribs themselves were roasted in an oven, for 6 wonderful hours at the lowest possible heat. While cooking these on a grill is an option, the oven provides a lower maintenance one that still yields fantastic results. We coated the three racks with the rub, wrapped them tightly in aluminum foil, and then didn’t open the oven door once during the 6-hour haul. The result was fall-off-the-bone ribs with a smoky aroma. How tender, you ask? My stepdad carved these with a butter knife. Click HERE to see the recipe for these irresistible ribs. 
BerryAnd finally, the dessert: a simple crumble that had all of the things we love about summer: fruit, butter and ice cream. The recipe is simple, and can be assembled the night before – we plopped the crumble into the oven before the guests arrived, and warmed it back up for ~15 minutes at the end of dinner for serving. You can use any combination of fruits in this crumble, just know that some may take a bit longer to cook than others (great example: rhubarb). Click HERE to see the recipe for this colorful treat.
Berry_1It has been so long since I have paired a piece of classical music with a meal, that I had to invest considerable energy into this final section. So much so that I started drafting this blog over 1 month ago. And then the piece that came to mind was so simple and perfect: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor. It is arguably one of the world’s most famous symphonies, and thus feels like the perfect inflection from my musical roots to a marketing future.

Beethoven began working on the 5th symphony at the age of 33. It would take him 4 years to finish, in the midst of what many consider Beethoven-Mähler_1804_hiresto be the most fruitful period of his career. However, Beethoven was also battling the deterioration of his hearing faculties – a development for which he proclaimed “[I must] seize Fate by the throat; it shall not bend or crush me completely.” One of the main characters of this symphony is Fate herself, persistently “knocking” at the door with the ever-recognizable motif (“Da-da-da-dom”), as the symphony opens in an ominous C-minor. Yet Fate is held at bay, with the symphony closing in a triumphant C-Major. This structure, of man versus fate, lent itself to many a narrative, bringing the work and Beethoven to great celebrity over the years. As an example: the piece was used to dramatic effect at the end of World War II to symbolize victory for the allies. And Disney further commemorated the work in the feature film Fantasia 2000.

This is perhaps a bit of a cheesy pairing, but the symphony’s resonance beyond classical circles suggests it is an apt one as I start this new chapter in business. The following performance is with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, led by Leonard Bernstein. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Old Bay Seasoning.” Wikipedia.
“Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67”. NPR.

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A Tale of Turkey, Butter and Memories

thanksgivingdinner16Thanksgiving – a term that connotes joy and family to most, yet strikes fear into the hearts of every turkey in this country. And for good reason, considering Thanksgiving is the one holiday where we are willing to eat more of this particular meat than deemed humanly possible. Take my Thanksgiving, for instance. It was just Tom and me this year, and we still baked a monster of a bird (weighing in at 14 lbs) plus an absurdity of sides as though two people could conquer such a thing. One lost turkey, a neighborhood-wide power outage, 2 sticks of butter, and loads of Ziploc bags/Tupperware later – we did. I imagine that last sentence really confused (or intrigued) you, so here are the details of our Thanksgiving Feast: 2016 Edition. I will be featuring three recipes in this post:

(Also pictured: classic stuffing with pecans, corn muffins, and chocolate truffles). 

glazedturkey2Let’s start with the bird – I normally go nuts with brining, but this year we had a little hiccup known as Safeway. Our bird was accidentally sold to another client (or it ran off to Disney World to join its pardoned brethren) so our original plan to cook a 9-pound turkey was replaced with a plan to hastily find another one. Our search yielded a heavier bird, and, given its size, I simply salted the meat and refrigerated the bird in an uncovered roasting pan. The success of this simply trick guaranteed that I will never undertake a complicated brine again (I can almost hear my mom breathing a sigh of relief).
glazedturkey3I also glazed this bird, but since we had limited in tools (aka no brush) our turkey took on a bit of a tiger appearance – and Tom will tell you I had a 10-minute stress session as to whether I should even blog about it. But it was love at first bite. The skin was perfectly crispy, the meat itself was ridiculously flavorful, and the glaze’s remnant made one of the most delicious gravies I had have ever created. So our tiger bird just happened to be one of the best turkeys I have ever made. I kind of credit the power outage and runaway Safeway turkey for this one, but also know to give the recipe credit where it is due. You can find my modified version at THIS LINK.
mimosasAbout that power outage: which is why our corn muffins were so delayed. The turkey was sitting out, coming to “room temperature”, and the power cut out. We were also watching Episode 8 of West World – my newest obsession – and it cut out on a terrible cliffhanger (I can hardly describe the angst that followed). So anyways, it is in moments like these that Twitter becomes extremely useful. After a few hours and a tweet to the nice fella manning the SEA City Light account, the power came back on and we were good to go. It was during this brief respite that Tom and I also enjoyed some mimosas (Instagram post above…I don’t have any other photos from the outage since it was super dark inside of the apartment).
baconsproutsSo let’s talk about those brussels sprouts – they are fairly self-explanatory as the photo suggests. I said to Tom, “Let’s make these with bacon” and he heartily added “with blue cheese too!!” It was a healthy day. One of our secrets to great sprouts is roasting at high heat until crispy and cooked through. I can guarantee this will cure any aversion you have to the veggie, as roasting gives them a slightly nutty and almost sweet taste. But if you really want to kick it up a notch, follow our lead and toss them with blue cheese and bacon. You can find our recipe for these delicious veggies at THIS LINK.
roastedgarlicAnd finally – the Vegetable Mash. This might sound basic (not to be confused with #basic) but it is far from it – thanks to the addition of roasted garlic: the holy grail of mashed anything. The recipe itself is quite simple: the sweet potatoes and carrots are roasted, then puréed with salt, pepper, butter, thyme and roasted garlic. You can find the recipe for this lovely side at THIS LINK
rootsmashSo I wrote this blog with a taste of humor quite intentionally, considering current events – the past two months have been…rough, to put it lightly. And so we turn to the things we know and love: food, family, and humor. But perhaps what we should be discussing more is history, and looking to the wisdom of its lessons. After all, Thanksgiving itself is a bit of a history lesson: and, while it is not the most civil one, it reminds us of a time that we came together. What makes America great is not its ships or our flag or financial prosperity – it is the people who color the threads of this country’s rich, cultural tapestry.

So for my musical pairing, I chose a piece that commemorates the beauty of America: Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95: “From the New World.” While this was written by an Austrian, the piece itself celebrates the history and roots of the American culture, with spirituals and themes peppered throughout. Dvořák wrote the symphony during his brief sojourn in New York, and it has since become one of the hallmarks of the orchestral repertoire. The piece was premiered in December of 1893 at Carnegie Hall. The below video features the New York Philharmonic performing the piece – enjoy!

 

Welcoming a New Day

Lamb Stuffed Peppers 6It is officially SPRING! After the winter we’ve endured (looking at you, Boston) it’s about time we were able to see the sidewalks again. While this miserable weather was partially to blame for my extended hiatus from blogging, I’ve been mostly getting ready for a “new chapter” in my life: New York City! I started this blog back in 2011 to share my music and food with friends and loved ones, and my love of Boston can be read between every line. Now I’m taking ClassicalKitchen to a new town. Though I will likely be posting less frequently, know that I’ll still be cooking up a storm (in what is likely to be a closet-sized kitchen). To celebrate the onset of warmer days and this exciting/crazy news, I want to share these delicious Lamb Stuffed Peppers.
Lamb Stuffed Peppers 4Bell peppers are nature’s edible bowls. Fun fact: the fruit was named “pepper” by none other than Christopher Columbus, who brought the plant back to Europe following his expedition to “the new world”. Though this variety is sweet and mild, it is related to the spicier chilies we know and love (such as jalapeños and habañeros) as a member of the Capsicum genus. In fact, the bell pepper is the ONLY one of this genus that does not produce capsaicin, which is the chemical that creates a “burning” sensation in the spicier varieties. SO long story short, Columbus named these fruits “peppers” because they were spicy like peppercorns, which was a popular (and expensive) spice at the time in Europe. God I love history…
Mediterranean Filling 2This is one of Tom’s specialties. We’ve made these peppers on several occasions, and often switch up the fillings. However, we often vie for a Mediterranean mix of olives, anchovies, basil, capers, sundried tomatoes, roasted garlic, and artichokes. We quite literally “pack” these peppers with as much flavor as possible. You can also use any meat, or even make it vegetarian…though I don’t think I could ever convince Tom to go for the latter. Click HERE to learn how to make these beautiful peppers.
Lamb Stuffed Peppers 2Spring is a very coy season – you’re never really sure if it’s here to stay, until the forecast shows nothing but sun for more than a week (at least). It certainly took its sweet time this season, but it seems as though it is finally here – in thinking of a work that could illustrate the onset of springtime, I came across Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B-flat No. 9, G 842. The opening Boston Springmovement resounds with majesty, and each subsequent movement seems to drift between the joy of what’s to come and a wistfulness over what had been. I may be stretching this to fit my “spring is ahead, winter is behind us” outlook, but the spirit of the concerto still fits quite well with a “springtime” spirit. Written around the year 1770, the work as it appear today is known to have been dramatically altered by Friedrich Grützmacher – a virtuosic cellist who lived nearly a century later than Boccherini. Grützmacher made extensive cuts, incorporated passages from previous Boccherini concertos, and even ventured to write his own cadenzas. The work thus presents only vestiges of the original manuscript, and yet stands as one of Boccherini’s most popular works. The recording below features the magnificent Jacqueline du Pré – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Chili Pepper,” Wikipedia.com
“Cello Concerto No. 9 (Boccherini),” Wikipedia.com

South of the Orient: Part VII

Fish Molee 2Before I met Tom, I was fairly certain that Indian food was one cuisine that could never be genuinely replicated at home. I have since enjoyed countless dinners of remarkable Indian dishes packed with flavor, hailing from a variety of regions. This compelled me to launch the South of the Orient series on my blog, with the hope of sharing the diverse and colorful recipes we have been enjoying. One that has become a standard is Fish Molee: a dish that is as unique as it is delicious, and is quite simple to make.
192152_1895014824581_2415938_oThe above photo comes from Tom’s travels to Southwest India – it captures a unique contraption of fishing nets located along the shore of Kerala. It is an ancient mechanism from which square nets are suspended over the water by large wooden beams, balanced and controlled by stone counterweights on the shore side. It can take up to 6 fishermen to operate a single net. These nets are just one example of the regional beauty found in Kerala.
Fish Molee 3Tom’s introduction to Fish Molee was through Kerala, and he shares more about his experience below:

“After two months frozen in the Himalayas, I headed far south to a balmy cosmopolitan port town called Fort Cochin, in Kerala. The aromas from neighboring spice and tea plantations drift into Kochi when the countervailing coastal breeze lets up at sunset, and when they do they mingle with a uniquely pungent combination of curry leaves and coconut oil. To this day that smell is my South Indian madeleine. Diji, an Indian homemaker with a kitchen full of mosquitos and an incredible talent as a chef, took the time to show me the basics for making her state’s flagship recipe, the Fish Molee.”

Fish Molee 4My favorite part of this dish is the cashews – they provide a unique texture to the dish, lending a hearty crunch with every bite. This dish also calls for curry leaves – a popular “curry” seasoning – which are similar to bay leaves in that they are purely intended to add flavor (in other words, don’t eat them). The consistency of the sauce comes from the coconut milk, ground almonds, and onion puree. Overall it is packed with nutrients and flavor, and has become the go-to Indian curry for both of us. Click HERE to see the recipe for this unique dish!
Fish Molee 5The textures and flavors of this recipe make it wholly irresistible, all of which are heightened by it respected history. Colorful and traditional are a rare yet beautiful combination, which led me to choose Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite as the SAND_Maurice_Masques_et_bouffons_12musical pairing. This piece is neoclassicism at its finest. The work was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, who was the founder of the Ballet Russes and one of the primary influences behind Stravinsky’s ballet repertoire. Diaghilev wanted a ballet inspired by commedia dell’arte, and Stravinsky was naturally tasked with creating the musical score…while the costumes and set were designed by none other than Pablo Picasso! The ballet is based around Pulcinella (pictured right), who was a classic character of the commedia dell’arte genre. Stravinsky revised the original music (believed to have been written by 18th-century composer Giovanni Pergolesi) by incorporating contemporary harmonies and rhythms and by scoring it for a sizable chamber orchestra. He says the following of the piece:

“Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too.”

The ballet was premiered for a Parisian audience in May 1920. 2 years later, Stravinsky abridged the ballet into a “Suite” for chamber orchestra, which uses 11 of the original 18 movements – the work has since become a standard of the orchestral canon. Like the above dish, Pulcinella is by far one of my favorites – the colors and characters are truly unparalleled, and I hope you enjoy it!

Sources Cited:
“Chinese fishing nets,” Wikipedia.com
“Pulcinella (ballet),” Wikipedia.com

Love at First Bite

Peanut Butter Tart 3Let me introduce you to one of my new favorite desserts: Peanut Butter Mousse Tart with Chocolate Ganache. When I first made this, I didn’t take a single photo assuming it wouldn’t be a blog-worthy recipe. I’d originally hoped to make this heavenly cheesecake…but my springform pan had just broken and I didn’t feel like shelling out $40 to get a new one. So I improvised, and created a tart that was loosely inspired by said cheesecake. It was love at first bite – my colleagues were begging for seconds, and I used the second opportunity to capture photos of this devilish dessert. It’s a dessert that is difficult to turn down – my coworker Emilio put it best: “I pity the fool who tries this, it’s more addictive than crack cocaine.”
Peanut Butter Tart 2While it is an extremely rich tart, it is is incredibly easy to make – the ganache is created from a simple mixture of peanut butter and chocolate chips (a combination that rarely disappoints). My go-to method for making ganache is to pour heated cream over the chocolate in a glass bowl. It avoids the risk of burning the ganache over a stovetop or in a microwave, and guarantees a glossy finish. You are certainly welcome to use one of the other two methods, but just be mindful of the heat level (keep it low) and the timing. The ganache is by far what sends this recipe over the top (this is ABSOLUTELY a licking-the-bowl-clean moment once you’re done).
Peanut Butter Tart 1The tart’s “shell” is a simple graham cracker crust, topped with the silky layer of ganache and then followed by a light and creamy mouse. It is one of those “best-the-next-day” desserts, since its flavor will deepen with time. I highly recommend giving this tart a try, whether it be for a potluck or for self-enjoyment. It’s a dessert that practically anyone will love (those with allergies or an aversion to peanuts being the obvious exception). Though I still am hoping to make the aforementioned cheesecake, this simple beauty has thankfully become a go-to in my cooking repertoire. Click HERE to see the recipe for this delicious dessert!  
Peanut Butter Tart 4The appeal of this tart casts a wide net, making a fan out of almost anyone who gives it a taste. A parallel in classical music can be drawn to “showstoppers” – pieces that are performed time and time again, and yet never “grow old” in enjoyment or intrigue. Their admiration is often universal, and can appeal to a diversity of listeners (regardless of age or background). A prime example of such a piece is, without question, Johann Halvorsen’s Passacaglia in G minor for violin and viola. Similar to this dessert, Halvorsen found inspiration in a former masterpiece: the final movement of Handel’s Harpsichord Suite in G minor, HWV 432. The work is thus constructed as a “theme and variations”, transforming a single motif within a medley of ideas and styles. The piece itself is quite challenging for the performers involved, and is often played as an encore given the exigent mastery of technique and virtuosity. Though originally written for violin and viola, Passacaglia was eventually transcribed for violin and cello, and has become the more popular performance setting. To honor both, I’ve shared two editions of the piece below: the first showcasing the original instrumentation – featuring Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Pinchas Zukerman (viola) – and the second with the more popular duo setting – featuring Julia Fischer (violin) and Daniel Müller-Schott (cello). Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Bromberger, Eric. “Interpreti Veneziani – Passacaglia for Violin, Cello, and Strings,” La Jolla Music Society

Sweet Kentucky Bourbon

458430_640x360May’s flowers are finally here, and they were heralded by one of our country’s most beloved (and slightly ridiculous) traditions: the Kentucky Derby. Every year, the first Saturday in May brings a slew of over-sized hats and equestrian fanatics together for a nearly 140-year-old sporting event. This year’s race was won by a horse named California Chrome (pictured above*). For those of us who celebrate the race with food and drinks, there’s one vital ingredient: bourbon. We’re not talking just any old whiskey – Derby parties call for the barrel-aged, Kentucky-bred, high-proof real deal.
DSC_0089One thing I’ve learned about bourbon is that dessert recipes (especially chocolate) are made WAY better when you add the stuff. Bourbon adds a smoky and almost vanilla flavor that’s unlike any other sweets you’ve tried before. So for this year’s Derby, I made THREE treats with a bourbon kick: Kentucky Bourbon Balls, Browned Butter Bourbon Blondies, and (wait for it…) Bourbon Chocolate Cupcakes with Bourbon Ganache and Cinnamon Buttercream (!!!!)
Bourbon BallsLet’s start with the smallest of the three – these treats are both simple and addictive. You know you’ve got a winner when the main ingredients are cookies, nuts, and chocolate. I’ve made a similar recipe using spiced rum (see HERE) but the bourbon variety is by far my favorite. There are actually two ways to make bourbon balls: the first is the method I used, while the second omits the cookies entirely and relies on a powdered sugar and bourbon filling. It’s fairly sweet, with a more pronounced bourbon taste (the cookies help round it out, for obvious reasons).
DSC_0161You’ll need a few hours to pull these together, and a bit of patience – the filling prep and rolling aren’t an issue, but dipping the pieces into chocolate can be a bit messy.  Melted chocolate is an ingredient that manages to get onto everything, so I have the setup ready to go before even melting the chocolate. The key is to keep the the bourbon balls cold for as long as possible. I froze all the pieces, and then dipped 1/3 into the chocolate while the others remained chilled.
Bourbon Balls 2Since it’s a no-bake recipe, use a bourbon that you would actually want to drink – these treats will only be as good as the alcohol you use. I used Jim Beam for all three recipes. That being said, I’m admittedly a bit of a bourbon snob and would never drink the stuff unless absolutely necessary – I can thank my friend Beth for that! The resulting bites were perfectly delicious, and there were hardly leftovers by the end of the party. Click HERE to see the recipe for these chocolate-covered treats!
Bourbon Blondies 2The second recipe was a twist on a classic dessert that I’ve been making for years. Blondies are basically brownies, but with brown sugar replacing the chocolate. Like brownies, you can fill ’em with nuts, chocolate chips, candies, and more. These blondies take it to a whole new level with browned butter AND bourbon. The first ingredient is a recent discovery of mine (see here), and is honestly a game-changer in the world of baking.
Bourbon Blondies 1The resulting bar was nutty and moist, with a hint of bourbon that rounded out the sweetness. They store beautifully, making them the perfect treat for picnics and parties. You can use dark or white chocolate, or even crushed walnuts. That’s the best thing about bars – you can make them your own, and they’ll still be just as delicious no matter what. One bite of this blondie and you’ll never go back – browned butter and bourbon will be your kitchen standbys. Click HERE to see the recipe for these golden beauties.
DSC_0212This last dessert was an experiment – I had found a GREAT recipe for bourbon chocolate cupcakes, but didn’t have nearly enough time to prepare the remaining components. I was left with a base recipe and no idea on what to do for frosting or filling. I ended up making a bourbon ganache, and it was a winner. This was a fairly basic ganache, with a splash of bourbon and touch of vanilla. Any extra ganache will keep in the refrigerator for a week (boozy ice cream sundaes, anyone?) For those who aren’t as keen on the bourbon taste, coffee or even milk make wonderful substitutes. As is, these are definitely cupcakes for adults.
Bourbon Choc Cupcakes 3I wanted a frosting to complement the bourbon spice, and whipped up a cinnamon buttercream. Again, a fairly basic recipe with a small twist – it was the perfect complement to an already stunning set of flavors. I was hoping to find a decorative Derby garnish (like this), but ended up crushing cinnamon sticks and arranging the pieces atop the frosting. The result was an intensely flavorful cupcake, all of which were demolished before the night’s end. Click HERE to see the recipe for these devilish cakes.
Bourbon Choc Cupcakes 1I grew up loving horses – they are magnificent animals, and have been a vital part of our culture for centuries. The Kentucky Derby showcases the best of the best: thoroughbreds whose pedigree and training have made them amongst the most valuable animals in the world. The average speed of a thoroughbred is about 36 mph, and can go up to nearly 40 mph. Like I said, they are truly remarkable creatures. For the musical pairing, I chose a classic “horse-themed” work: Franz von Suppé’s Overture to the Operetta Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry). Premiered in 1866, the operetta itself is fairly esoteric and is rarely (if ever) performed. The overture, however, has stood the test of time and has become to most well-known composition of Suppé’s legacy. The operatta’s story doesn’t contain any actual horses or riders – it concerns the love affair of a Baron and a Hungarian countess. Nevertheless, the overture’s thematic material has come to be closely associated with horse-racing and actual cavalries. It’s a classic, and a perfect pairing for an event as time-honored and exciting as the Kentucky Derby. The below recording comes from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Years Concert, with conductor Franz Welser-Möst – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Leichte Kavallerie,” Wikipedia.com
*California Chrome Photo – courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Playfully Sweet

Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 1I’ve gained somewhat of a reputation for my cupcakes, with weddings, recitals, parties, and more all part of my catering repertoire. Friends and colleagues will almost always request cupcakes when it comes to my making a contribution, with the expectation for something sweet and delicious. This past week was my friend Elise Krob’s birthday party, and she asked me to bring dessert (preferably in the form of cupcakes). I could have easily gone with straight-up chocolate or vanilla, but am admittedly insane when it comes to baking. So I decided to vet some new recipes, and sent my ideas to Elise. We both agreed that these Cookies & Cream Cupcakes would be perfect for the occasion.
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 4For the OREO® fanatics out there, this is absolutely the cupcake for you! That being said…I used the 365 Everyday Value® chocolate sandwich cookies (there’s a Whole Foods right across the street from my office, what’s a girl to do?!) It doesn’t really matter what brand you choose so long as it has the same loving components of the original. What’s truly excellent about these cupcakes is the surprise on the bottom: a whole half of a cookie! Don’t expect to have any sandwich cookies leftover because you will be using an ENTIRE package for this recipe…
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 3Chunks of cookie are folded into the actual batter, giving these cupcakes a texture unlike any I’ve ever experienced. On the one hand you have a vanilla cake that’s moist and flavorful, and on the other you have chocolatey chunks that add a toothsome crunch to every bite. The cream cheese frosting pairs perfectly with these cookie-dense cakes. Cream cheese is the easiest frosting type to work with since it won’t melt or deflate (case in point: the adorable dollops pictured below). It’s also the yummiest, but that is clearly a subjective opinion. These cupcakes can be frosted and decorated a full day in advance, just be sure to refrigerate them (covered) if you do so. They were an absolute hit at the party, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my friend Elise – click HERE to see the recipe for these lovable treats! 
Cookies & Cream Cupcakes 2For many of us, OREO® cookies are strongly reminiscent of childhood. They’re a dessert that nearly anyone can enjoy considering they are incredibly fun to eat: swirled into milkshakes, crumbled atop ice cream, paired with a tall glass of milk, and more. The playful nature of these cookies (and cupcakes, for that matter) has made them one of America’s most beloved treats. When it comes to classical music, one might draw a parallel to the polka: a genre that’s difficult to listen to without a smile. It is a Central European dance form that is both lively and fast-paced (and is often written in 2/4 meter). For this pairing, I decided to go with Johann Strauss, considering he wrote over 40 polkas in his lifetime!! Perhaps the most famous is his Pizzicata Polka – written with his brother Josef Strauss, the strings play only pizzicato (plucking versus bowing the strings). The result is a playfully sweet piece that runs just over 2 minutes in length. At its Russian premiere in 1869, the piece was so well-received that it was performed a total of 9 times for the enthusiastic crowd. Cupcakes and polkas are a surefire way to liven up any day – enjoy!