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!

Achieving Rustic Elegance

Stuffed Bell Peppers 1Whenever I cook for friends, I see it as the perfect excuse for making a meal that is both creative and gourmand. Good food, hearty wine, and breezy conversation are all that’s needed for a perfect evening. Just the other day I invited my dear friends Paige and Mel over for a much-needed girl’s night-in. Considering it was a weeknight, I sought out a recipe that was both healthy and convenient. These rustic Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers were the result of my queries, and they were absolutely delicious.
DSC_0187Bell peppers are a vegetable that almost anyone can love – they are colorful, naturally sweet, and remarkably versatile as a food item. Essentially any cooking method applies: roasting, sliced, sauteed, grilled, broiled, baked, smothered, used as dippers, pureed. Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers are typically the “riper” varietals of the bell pepper cultivar. They are (of course) more expensive than the not-as-tasty green bell peppers. Though this may tempt you to opt for cheaper variety, the extra $ has its benefits: colorful bell peppers have nearly twice as many nutrients and vitamins as their green cousins.
Stuffed Bell Peppers 2I mentioned the need for this meal to be convenient – the night before, I prepped the chicken & quinoa filling, and made the tomato sauce. This cut my time in half for day-of prep, allowing the three of us to sit down and enjoy each other’s company (rather than being tied to the kitchen the entire time). You can go so far as to stuff the bell peppers a day in advance – just make sure to cover the pan before refrigerating! I’m fairly busy most days, and this kind of meal is perfect for anyone who prefers the social aspect of dinner parties over the operative side.
Stuffed Bell Peppers 4My calling these “Italian” is a nod to the filling’s iconic staples – tomato sauce, fresh basil, and Parmesan Reggiano. Each brings a unique layer to the dish: the sauce a creamy depth to an otherwise unconventional protein/grain filling (chicken and quinoa), the basil a burst of freshness that veils the make-ahead component, and the cheese…well, cheese is just about the best thing ever. The resulting dish was colorful, flavorful, and made for a beautiful presentation at serving. Click HERE to see the recipe for this nutritiously vibrant meal!
Stuffed Bell Peppers 5Though it might seem appropriate to have chosen an Italian composer for the musical pairing, I wanted to capture this dish’s rustic depth. Granted…this is a fairly common characteristic of many classical compositions. So I decided to start out with a composer, and chose none other than Antonín Dvorák – a composer who mastered the art of translating folk ideals into elegant masterpieces. He was very much inspired by traditional songs and melodies from a variety of cultures (Bohemian, Austrian, Native American, German – to name a few). Influenced by these styles, Dvorák seamlessly wove the themes into his own compositions. His chamber music was especially illustrative of this attribute – worth noting he composed over 40 works for string ensembles alone. Among his most famous is the Trio in E minor for piano, violin, and cello, Op. 90, “Dumky”. This piece was written shortly before his three-year residence in America. The word “Dumka” is Ukranian, and roughly translates to “melancholic composition.” Daniel Felsenfeld (a music critic and composer himself) provides an apt description of the piece:

“The form of the piece is structurally simple but emotionally complicated, being an uninhibited Bohemian lament. Considered essentially formless, at least by classical standards, it is more like a six movement dark fantasia—completely original and successful, a benchmark piece for the composer. Being completely free of the rigors of sonata form gave Dvořák license to take the movements to some dizzying, heavy, places, able to be both brooding and yet somehow, through it all, a little lighthearted.”

As aforementioned, Dvořák had a unique talent for fusing ideas and emotions into beautiful creations that performers and audiences similarly adore – this piece beautifully demonstrates said talent. The recording below is with the Beaux Arts Trio, performing the first movement Lento Maestoso. The entire piece is on YouTube, segmented by movement (numbered in the right sidebar). I highly encourage you to listen to all 6, if you have the time – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Antonín Dvořák,”
“Piano Trio No. 4 (Dvořák),”

A Natural Charm

(I would like to dedicate this post to my friend, Sarah Knapp Kidd – Sarah passed away earlier today, having lost a hard-fought battle with cancer. She was loved by many, and will be truly missed. We will forever keep her joy and smile in our hearts.)
Rosemary Tart 1I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, which is ironic given my love of baking! While many see desserts as a godsend, I am often more inclined to choose natural sweets: fresh fruits, floral honeys, maple syrup – all possess a great deal more character than Mary Poppins’ beloved “spoonful of sugar.” We often forget the simple beauty of organics ingredients, and opt for convenient and distilled substitutes. Though I’ve yet to forgo the joys of making cookies and cakes, I’ve been steadily moving more towards rustic alternatives…like this Almond & Mascarpone Tart with Honeyed Fruits.
Rosemary Tart 3This crust is by far one of the best I’ve had – the almond flour adds a crumbly lightness to the texture, while the rosemary lends a savory hint. The two pair quite beautifully with fruits, making it the ideal crust in this setting. This was the first time I had made an actual tart crust, and it was breeze! I just purchased this pan, to which I owe most of the credit – the crust came right out, and the ruffled edges were perfect.
Rosemary Tart 2This tart does little to hide its agrarian beginnings – fruit, rosemary, and honey are discernible in every bite. The beauty of this dessert comes in the preservation of these ingredients, which are easily interchangeable – figs in lieu of apricots, thyme instead of rosemary, maple syrup rather than honey (to name a few!) The trick here is to give yourself enough time since the fillings need to chill prior to serving. It’s even better the next day – in fact, I had a slice for breakfast the next morning (which is when I snapped the below photo). Click HERE to see the recipe for the beautiful tart!
Rosemary Tart 4Given the organic qualities of this dessert, I was compelled to consider a piece of music that had been inspired by nature. Of course…there are TONS of options in the classical repertoire – how can there not be? Music has an ideal voice for capturing nature’s most breathtaking elements. I wanted a piece with a pastoral character, and thus chose Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Premiered in 1920, the music is highly evocative of an English countryside, with a violin solo portraying the flight of a lark. While Vaughn Williams certainly drew inspiration from his surroundings, English folk tunes and works by the English poet George Meredith played key roles. In fact, he included the following poem by Meredith in the final publication of the work:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Vaughn Williams never forces the orchestration, giving this poem an ideal musical setting – the strings and winds play beneath the aerial violin, which renders the image of a balletic lark soaring above the rolling hills and valleys of the countryside. It ends on serene note, where the orchestra is silent as the violin line drifts into the distance and becomes “lost on his aerial rings.” The following recording is with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and David Nolan on the violin – I hope you enjoy it!

Sources Cited:
Heninger, Barbara. “Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending”

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,”
“Vienna New Year’s Concert,” Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of the Vienna Philharmonic

It’s Lobstah Time!

Lobster 2Have you ever just cooked a certain food for the sake of saying you actually went through with it? This summer I did just that with some of my girlfriends by cooking lobster. I think this might be a rite of passage for any good Bostonian, considering they are in abundant supply on this coast. That being said, it’s something that most people don’t want to “shell” out for on a regular basis – that’s what makes it special. Rachel Roberts ran the whole operation, from creating the awesome boil to helping us break those darned shells…and let me tell you, this was a messy occasion. No cutesy silverware or dainty garnishes – this is food as it was meant to be eaten: with your hands. Lots of napkins and laughter are key to any good Lobster Broil.
Lobster1Many classify lobster dinner as a “high society” meal, when in fact this wasn’t always the case. Before the 19th-century, lobster was relegated to use as fertilizer, fish bait, and prison food (and the inmates hated it). It wasn’t until the twentieth century that restaurants began to seek out this delicacy. While it can be incorporated to any number of dishes (like Lobster Mac and Cheese!) boiling is the most popular method. To get the most out of your lobster, you can’t just toss them into a pot of plain water – the flavor comes from that boil! Rachel went above and beyond expectations with this recipe. She divided the stock between two large stock pots (since she doesn’t own a massive lobster pot), and each was brimming with potatoes, corn, and kielbasa – not to mention beer! The best part about is that you can eat all of those gorgeous add-ins at the end – making it literally a “one-pot meal”.
Lobster Party 2The most difficult part of cooking lobster is…well, cooking the actual lobster. A word of caution: this is not a recipe for the faint of heart, as you will be placing a live lobster into a pot of boiling hot water. That being said, you will definitely find yourself more willing to go for it with friends around – Rachel attributes this to a friendly “group peer pressure.” There’s no doubt that strength comes in numbers, and we were all laughing and rooting each other on throughout the process. Still seem a little overwhelmed? This How-To Post by Simply Recipes outlines the process beautifully. My advice is to keep on smiling, and remember just how delicious it will be after the fact…
Lobster Party 1Ah, we’ve finally reached the food! Lobster meat is some of the most expensive seafood you can buy, and the process of actually getting to the meat makes the cost all the more understandable. It is delicious, whether on its own with a pat of butter or folded into a rich risotto. We went for the former, with butter and seasoning to spare. I am more of a hot sauce girl myself (a credit to my Southern roots!) As crazy as this meal may seem, I’ve found that the most enjoyable food is the kind that gives everyone a chance to “be involved” – considering we were all covered in shell pieces by the end, this was a perfect example. Click HERE to see the secrets behind New England lobstah!
Lobster 3As Rachel and I were discussing the musical pairing, the one word I kept coming back to was chaotic. It is certainly worth it by the end, but can be a bit of an involved process leading up to the actual meat. With that concept in mind, Rachel suggested the perfect piece: Peter Maxwell Davies’ Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise. It’s roughly 14 minutes in length, and depicts the “chaotic” atmosphere often connected to wedding ceremonies. The composer explains it himself:

“It is a picture-postcard record of an actual wedding I attended on Hoy in Orkney. Each event in the music, then, describes something that happened. At various points the flute, the clarinet, the oboe, the bassoon, and, most especially, the violin call the tune; various harmonic and orchestrational adventures depict the consequences of the consumption of whiskey. Finally the bagpipes are heard at the back of the hall representing the steadying, sobering dawn.” – Peter Maxwell Davies

These mini episodes can be likened to the various stages of cooking a lobster – avoiding the claws, getting the lobster into and out of the pot, and the laborious process of cracking the shell. Just when you feel like throwing out the lobster cracker, you reach the meat and a bagpipe heralds your victory! (Not really, but wouldn’t that just be the coolest thing?) You can finally sit back, relax, and reflect on the whole occasion as you dip claw meat into a fresh bowl of melted butter. Just like a wedding, there will always be another time – yet you will feel all the more prepared for this enjoyable meal, “chaos” and all 🙂

Sources Cited:
“Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise,”
“Program Note: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise” Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Cheers to Independence

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

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

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

Sources Cited
“Charles Ives,”

Morsels of Entertainment

BourbonEvery May, there is a sporting event that has a reputation for lots of food and good bourbon: the Kentucky Derby. My close friend Beth hosts an annual party that is true to tradition, and for a 90-second race it is always a total blast. Friends pack into the apartment with crazy hats and summer attire for an evening of southern-style cuisine and Kentucky-style drinking. Every year I make a TON of food for this, and it’s a chance for my Georgian roots to shine 🙂
BourbonSausagesFor large parties I always make Bourbon Smoked Sausages – they are easy, filling, and amazing! You can use any type of meat you would like, though I highly recommend smoked sausage. I used sliced sausages in this instance, but the cocktail sausages are even better. The sauce is pretty easy, and acts as a great foundation for a sweeter, spicier, or smokier dish. For parties like this one, I keep it simple, and it still is the star of the night – click HERE to see the recipe for this must-have party app!
DeviledEggsYou can’t have a southern-style spread without Deviled Eggs, Paula Deen would be furious! Since the Queen of Butter has a love for these little bites, I always make a “lighter” version for my guests. The traditional method requires a LOT of mayonnaise, while  I prefer to highlight the eggs’ natural flavor (in other words, using only a touch of mayo for substance). Shallots and hot sauce are my staples in this dish, though this also a very customizable recipe – click HERE for this “devilishly” good appetizer!
HummingbirdCake1I also made a Hummingbird Bundt Cake – a southern gem I have always been curious to try. While the combination of pineapples and bananas is what you would only expect for Daiquiris (or similar boozy concoction), they work wonders in this cake. It is basically a glorified banana bread, with a moist crumb and a nutty topping. Are you drooling yet? The result was quite lovely, and guests were practically “humming” after every bite – click HERE for the recipe to this southern classic.
HummingbirdCake2A rule of thumb for any southern chef – you can never have too much dessert. Why this is the case…I have no idea, but I listen to it. So among the many desserts that evening, these adorable Oreo Truffles were one of my favorites. Like almost everything else for the party, they were simple to make – a mere three ingredients, and yet each was bite-sized piece of heaven. I make these the night before serving them so they are ready to go (especially since the chocolate coating can take a little while). Click HERE to see the recipe for these adorable treats! 
OreoTrufflesFor the musical pairing, I wanted something that was celebratory…and there’s rarely anything more joyous than good ol’ Mozart. While many of his compositions were written for staged performances, he also wrote a number of works for the entertainment of nobility (which were often premiered at parties). It was a much-needed form of income, and served as backdrops for a number of social occasions. These works often included divertimenti – a genre known for being lighthearted and entertaining. Written for smaller ensembles, this genre often served as “background music” for social settings and occasions. Because of this, Mozart didn’t extend too many complexities or profundity to these compositions, and they were for the most part quite simple and playful. For this particular pairing, I chose his Divertimento in D major, K.251 – written for oboe, 2 horns, and strings, the piece has six movements in total. There is only one slow movement, while the other 5 movements each have their own character. The more notable movements are the first, which is a flirtation with the sonata-style, and the last, which is based on the French style of a traditional march. Though it’s no Requiem or Symphony, this “morsel” of Mozart’s is the perfect pairing for such an entertaining spread – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Morrison, Chris. “Divertimento No. 11 in D major, K. 251” Reno Chamber Orchestra Program Notes
Samson, Charley. “Mozart Divertimento K. 251,” Colorado Public Radio

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) 


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!)


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:
“John Keats quotes”,
“Romeo and Juliet”
“Supper With The Minstrel And His Lute,” Gerrit Van Honthorst: The Complete Works

A Casual Affair

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

Sources Cited:
“Arpeggione Sonata,”