A Global Delicacy

When you host social gatherings as often as I do, you are left with a bunch of odds and ends in your kitchen: half-eaten bags of chips, nearly depleted salsas, cheeses of every variety, etc. These leftovers often find their way into my culinary creations. More recently, I found myself with a collection of untouched baguettes that were too stale to enjoy, yet too young to toss. My upstairs neighbors also had an untouched leftover: dark rum. The solution was just too easy: Rum Raisin Bread Pudding.Like many food histories, that of bread pudding isn’t necessarily traceable to a specific region. This simple way to use up stale bread finds footing in a number of cuisines, such as European stuffings, Indian Shahi Tukra, and the Spanish Capirotada. With liquid and sweeteners as a starting point, it’s no wonder that this dessert is such an international delight. With such a simple base, the add-in options are endless: sliced fruits, chocolates, dried fruits, nuts, syrups, the list goes on!
I’ve personally always felt that dried fruits work wonders in bread pudding, and the thought of rum raisins was a hard one to shake. I can’t tell you how easy this is for being SOOO good! My only confession on this dish: the sauce was a near-disaster (rum bubbling over saucepan = unexpected flambé!). PLEASE remove the pan from the heat before adding the rum. That being said, the sauce made this pudding Oh.So.Good – Click HERE to make this simple, delectable treat today!
Though he’s been paired several times on this blog already, Debussy is yet again a composer whose music most suitably fits this dish. Though rather than the qualities of his style, my pairing refers more to his actual influences. As this dish is arguably “a worldly staple,” I wanted a composer who drew from international influences. Debussy is a wonderful example, with a wide range of cultural inspirations: Russian music by prominent composers of his time, the works of English painter Joseph Turner and Japanese artist Hokusai, gamelan music of Java (which he experienced at Paris’s Exposition Universelle in 1889), the German composer Richard Wagner, an extensive selection of literature, etc. The work I chose exhibits a number of “exotic” influences: Estampes. This work, for solo piano, consists of three movements that reflect a variety of cultures. The first movement (which I’ve included here) is structured on pentatonic scales and hints at melodies redolent of East Asia. The second draws inspiration from Spanish styles, while the third reflects on his native France – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbXZPGm2YIs

Sources Cited:
– “Puddings, custards, & creams,” FoodTimeline.org
– “Capirotada,” Wikipedia.com
– “Claude Debussy,” Wikipedia.com 

A Colorful Plate with a Fiery Bite

As some of you may know, I am a MAJOR fan of spicy food! I’m that crazy one who stacks a spoon wasabi onto each piece of sushi, and uses crushed red pepper flakes in nearly everything! My new favorite spice: chipotles en adobo. I regularly have a can of these stocked in my pantry or fridge. When I invited several friends over this past week for dinner, I found the perfect way to showcase these smoky favorites of mine: Ancho Chicken Thighs with Chipotle Peach Salsa. (Note: this photo was taken with my new lighting set! SO happy to not have to worry about taking late-night photos anymore!!!)
Being from Georgia, you can see why I LOVE this salsa! But really, this is a fantastic topping for any grilled food. It’s the perfect balance of sweet with heat. I used a combination of white and yellow peaches (to add color). The chipotle peppers pair perfectly with the fruit, and a touch of ginger gives it the finishing touch! Coating the chicken in chili powder was optional, but it made for one fantastic meal! Be sure to have plenty of chips on hand for the leftover salsa – it’s truly addictive, and you’ll be licking the bowl clean (not that we did…ahem). Click HERE to learn how to make this fun, spicy entrée!
I wanted my musical pairing to the reflect the firey, colorful aspects of this dish. That led me to one of my favorites YouTube recordings: Danzón No.2, by Arturo Márquez. The personalities of this work, as well as the overall spirit pair beautifully with the fresh, bright flavors of this dish. The particular recording I am referring to is by the world-renowned Venezuela Youth Orchestra. While this work is a definite showstopper, it’s this ensemble that sends this piece over the top. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vwZAkfLKK8

A Rendezvous with the Coast

Last weekend was my first time taking an actual summer vacation – visiting the Hamptons with family and friends. Even though it was only for three nights, the trip rewarded me with a sense of relaxation (aka time away from Boston) I desperately needed. Nonetheless, I never surrender my desire for cooking even when on vacation (if I have access to a kitchen, that is). My aunt allowed me to take the reigns on dinner for one of the nights, and you can only imagine my excitement when she brought home 2 pounds of frozen lobster. With fresh herbs and aromatics from the local farmer’s market, I decided to make Lobster Risotto.
Now you might be thinking: frozen lobster, what makes that exciting? This was flash frozen lobster, with no preservatives, and wild caught – three winning categories in my book! Flash freezing is a process that brings food to a temperature far beneath water’s freezing point (32°F or 0°C). This prevents the formation of ice crystals, which can otherwise damage the food  by make its texture mealy/watery. Fish that have been flash frozen are often done so directly after being caught, sealing in its freshness and quality.*
The other wonderful thing about this risotto was the pan I got to cook it in: an All-Clad paella pan. Risotto is a dish that take patience, making sure the timing is just right. But this pan made that process a much simpler one, no doubt. If there is a Santa, this is on my wishlist! The recipe (aside from the lobster) is pretty basic, yet makes a LOT of risotto – bear in mind I was preparing a meal for 9 people. It can easily be halved to serve 4 or 5. Click HERE to learn how to make this delicious, creamy risotto!
While visiting that local farmer’s market, I was drawn to the ruby cherries on sale.  Cherries are an innately beautiful fruit, boasting great color and shape. These characteristics helped to inspire my dessert course – Fresh Cherry Cake. I wanted a simple context to amplify the aesthetic look of the fruit, yet a complimentary flavor to augment their fresh taste. An almond cake (adapted from my favorite Joy of Baking), was the perfect answer! Click HERE to see how to make this simple yet stunning dessert!
I have always found the cello to be my favorite for times of relaxation (perhaps because it is the closest to the timbre of the human voice), and I wanted my musical selection to reflect my vacationing mindset . So I chose Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B-flat No. 9. Being a cellist himself, Boccherini truly captures the instrument’s voice through this piece.** The ornate, fluid style of this work also helped lead to my pairing, and its almost playful charm as well. The recording I’ve included is by cellist extraordinaire Jacqueline Mary du Pré performing the first movement. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbBb3M7L8-M

Sources Cited:
* “Flash Freezing.” Wikipedia.com 
** “Luigi Boccherini,” Wikipedia.com

Strawberries and Cozy Saturdays

As my previous post implied, this hasn’t been the easiest month for me – that being said, I’ve been dying to start blogging again. Considering I’m still on “the mend,” I haven’t been quite as active a culinarian…for those of you who know me, you can see why I had to do something during this “hurry up and wait” period. So I thought I could share a few recipes from my archives – aka photos of dishes that I never had the chance to post. So what better way to make a comeback than with Strawberry Chocolate Shortcakes with Whipped Cream?!
So why are we so addicted to shortcakes? Whether it be the crumbly, buttery biscuits or the bright, juicy berries, they have become one of the idyllic desserts in our culture. I used an interested method with these biscuits – rather than cubing cold butter and using a pastry cutter, I shredded the frozen butter with a cheese grater. The end result was a light, flaky biscuit. As you noticed, these are a little different than your “classic”  shortcakes – they have finely chopped chocolate bits – this is an optional add-in, but I loved the visual aesthetic. Click HERE to learn how to make these beautiful treats.
I’m blogging about these shortcakes on a Saturday, and quite frankly (since I’m relegated to limited activity) I’ve come to enjoy the refuge of these lazy days. Whether curling up on the sofa with a good book or enjoying one of the several TV shows on my queue (TNG and Justified are the current frontrunners), the weekends have proven ideal for summer rest. Though I don’t often listen to the works of Edvard Grieg, I felt that the Sarabande from his Holberg Suite, Op. 40 was the ideal pairing for such peaceful refuge. The suite is neoclassical (drawing from the Baroque style), though Grieg’s signature can be discerned throughout. This quality helped draw my connection to the idea that these shortcakes are also a thing “from the past.” Though the Sarabande is beautiful, the piece is relatively short – if you have the time, I recommend listening to all 5 movements. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjoBxMR095g&feature=related

Sources Cited:
“Holberg Suite.” Wikipedia.com 

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 Purée, 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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_in_America_(TV_miniseries)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Newman#Film_compositions

As American as Apple Pie

Fourth of July: a definitive holiday that celebrates American Independence and our national spirit. While I’ve seen many firework displays, none have quite topped the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. This comes as little surprise considering over 500,000 people flood the banks of the Charles River to see the thrilling event, with an additional 7 MILLION tuning in to the CBS special from across the nation.* I’ve braved the crowds three times now, and must say that it still is quite “spectacular.” For this July 4th, a group of us gathered at my friend Brian’s in the North End for food and drinks (Awesome spread! See below), then travelled to a nearby bridge on the Charles for the fireworks show. My contributions to the cookout were two classics that this holiday would be incomplete without: Deep Dish Apple Pie and Blueberry Crumble Pie.
“As American as Apple Pie” – we’ve all heard it, yet any may be surprised to learn it is quite far from the truth. The tradition of pie can be traced back to the Greeks, who used pastries to keep savory dishes fresh for storage and transport. This practice was passed on to the Romans, who subsequently introduced the method to Europe. When pilgrims first arrived to the Americas, there were no indigenous apple trees. The fruit had become quite the popular ingredient by that time, compelling settlers to introduce apple seeds to the continent in the 1620s. America quickly became one of the world’s largest producers of the fruit.**
Here is my greatest piece of advice for both making both of these pies’ crusts – make sure ALL the wet ingredients (including the fats) are VERY cold! Otherwise you will end up with a pie crust that is neither flaky nor attractive. I used my food processor (a great gift from my stepmother!) for the first time on these recipes, and I am absolutely in LOVE with it! It made the process much less tedious, and the crust came together in no time!
This apple pie was fantastic! It is a hybrid of two different recipes, considering I wanted a sturdy crust with a filling that was both flavorful and not too soggy. The filling is cooked beforehand, ensuring that the apples will be just cooked (rather than “just barely,” a consequence of deep dish pie dishes). The filling doesn’t suffer from being too mushy, either, thanks to the apples’ natural pectin (which is also used as a stabilizer in jams and jellies). To learn how to make this “American” classic, click HERE.
The second pie was just as stunning – a colorful, juicy filling topped with a cinnamon crumble puts this one over the top. This again is a hybrid of two different recipes, in my search for paring a flaky crust with a luscious filling. The crumble topping gives the pie a whole new dimension of flavor and texture, almost serving as a second “pie crust.” This pie was fairly simple to make (relative to the apple pie), and will certainly be making another appearance soon. Click HERE to learn how to make this delicious pie!
For this pairing, I chose the crowning glory of the Boston Pops show – 1812 Overture, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Like the apple pie, this piece also has a deceptive history. Many falsely affiliate the work with the War of 1812, while in fact it refers to Russia’s victory over the advance of Napoleon’s Grande Armée into Moscow. So why the cultural misinterpretation? The Boston Pops themselves can be blamed, when former director Arthur Fiedler decided to feature the work (for the 1974 show). He had been asked to program a work that would appeal to a larger audience, and so he chose the overture due to its patriotic zeal and “explosive” finale (complete with real canons and church bells!) The reaction by spectators and critics alike secured the work a permanent place in the annual show’s program, as well as in July 4th celebrations across the country.^ Many of the recordings on YouTube only include the Finale, which, though wonderful, wholly omit the beautiful opening and more subtle moments. Here is a recording of the piece in full by the Hallé Orchestra of England, with Mark Elder conducting. Enjoy!

All photos thanks to my good friend Danny Rios 

Sources Cited:
* “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular – Our Story.” July4th.org. 
** Olver, Lynn. “Pies & Pastry.” FoodTimeline.org. 19 Jun. 2011. 
^ Peters, Glen. “The Fourth of July and the 1812 Overture: A History.” AssociatedContent from Yahoo! 19 Jul. 2007. 

Summer Lovin’

Whether it be a picnic or a movie night, no summertime hang is complete without chips and dips. I’m not talking about those prepackaged salsas you can buy year round at the local corner store – I’m talking about dips that feature the fresh, colorful harvest of this season. Though the former is more convenient, the flavor and depth o the latter is far more enjoyable. I had a group of friends over the other day to watch one of my favorite Pixar films, Toy Story 3, and I decided to make two seasonal favorite of mine: Guacamole Auténtico and Mango Salsa.
The taste, health benefits, and overall aesthetic of the vibrant avocado has made it one of summer’s most beloved fruits. The word avocado comes from the Spanish term aguacate, which had been a simplification by Spanish explorers of the original Aztec name “ahuacatl.” Ancient cultures believed the fruit to be a symbol of fertility and passion (given its suggestive shape). Today, it is still seen as a natural aphrodisiac due to its nutritional benefits and rich taste. Though there are signs of cultivation dating back to 500 B.C., the avocado wasn’t introduced to the states until 1871 in Santa Barbara. California still stands as the number one producer of the nation’s avocados, accounting for 90% of the total crop. Fun Fact: an avocado tree in California can produce as many 500 fruits per year – that’s 200 pounds of avocado!*
This guacamole is a knockout, and I recommend using only the freshest of ingredients for it. The only thing I omit is the hot sauce given that it feels like a slightly less “authentic” ingredient. I also use jalapenos in place of the serranos to tone down the heat for those less predilection towards spicy fare. Although many purists would be furious at the inclusion of cumin, the slightly earthy flavor it provides with a touch of spice is a perfect complement to the avocado (as an added bonus, many Arabic cultures see cumin as a symbol of love**). This is a delicious guacamole, and comes together in no time – click HERE to learn how to make this summer standard.
When most hear the term salsa, they think tomatoes – I imagine very few picture mangoes as part of the equation. The mango, like the avocado, is another pitted fruit. Originating in Southeast Asia, mango comes from the Tamil term “mangkay.” The mango is featured prominently in this region, serving as the national fruit of India, Pakistan and the Philippines. The mango, like the avocado is seen as a symbol of love and fertility.* Hindu culture uses mango leaves as decorations in doorways for weddings and religious ceremonies.^ This salsa is almost a simplified version of another variety I’ve featured on this blog. Like guacamole, the mango is the main ingredient, with a few other flavors and textures to provide body. This was surprisingly addictive, and not terribly spicy due to the mango’s sweetness. Click HERE to learn how to make this twist on salsa!
Given that these are both fruits symbolic of love, I thought it would be appropriate to choose a musical selection to match. I decided to go literal with this one, and chose Franz Liszt’s Liebesträume, or “Dreams of Love.” These three solo piano works are based on love poems Ludwig Uhland and Ferdinand Freiligrath: “Hohe Liebe“, “Gestorben war ich,” and “O Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst.”Liszt simultaneously composed song equivalents for these three poems, though these (unlike the piano solos) are rarely performed.^ Each piece represents a different type of love: exalted love, erotic love, and unconditional love. The most famous is No.3, which many simply refer to as “Liebesträum” (despite it being the title for the entire set). I have included a recording of this work, performed by Evgeny Kissin. Enjoy!


Sources Cited:
* “California Avocado History” Avocado.org http://www.avocado.org/california-avocado-history/
**”Cumin Seeds.” The World’s Healthiest Foods http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=91
^http://www.allaboutmangoes.com/about_mangoes/about_mangoes.html
^^http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebesträume

Two Cupcakes, Both Alike in Delectability

One guaranteed way to brighten up a roomful of people is to present them with a platter of cupcakes. While other desserts can be equally as enchanting, there is something more special about the personal enjoyment cupcakes can provide. Each one is its own little present, waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed. My office loves it when I make cupcakes, so for the monthly birthday celebration (when we acknowledge all of our coworkers with birthdays that month), I brought two very distinct varieties: Sour Cream-Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella and Vanilla Bean-Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting.
Ever since visiting Germany with my youth orchestra when I was 16, I have had a true appreciation for the genius of Nutella: a sweet, spreadable delight that has no parallel in either flavor or form. Nutella is truly a baker’s best friend, given it is sure to please any who try it. In fact, it’s so amazing I decided to just use it AS the frosting alone – perhaps one of the tastiest shortcuts I’ve ever taken.
The cupcakes themselves are a little tricky – the sour cream gives them an inherent lightness in texture, to which the melted chocolate lends a beautiful silkiness. This makes the batter a little capricious (I had to toss 3 or 4 that sort of collapsed within the cups – they were that delicate). I cut holes out of the top to fill with the nutella, and I suggest using a serrated knife so you don’t “drag” the cake. The flavor of this cake made the effort all worthwhile – click HERE to check out these chocolatey delights.
This next recipe has been in my repertoire for quite some time now, and it has never failed to please. It is quite time consuming, given all the prep work and steps involved. The reduced coconut milk isn’t too scary to make, just be sure to keep an eye on the pot to prevent scorching. Vanilla bean is absolutely necessary here – it is what gives these cupcakes their profound taste. Trust me, you won’t regret taking the time to create these – click HERE to learn how to make these fantastic cupcakes.
Now I mentioned I made these for an office birthday party – someone had purchased a gallon of vanilla ice cream, and I started noticing that a few of my coworkers were halving one of each cupcake and placing the two types in a bowl together with a scoop of ice cream. I thought I had seen it all, but this was definitely a novel concept: pairing together two entirely different flavors with a “loving” scoop of ice cream. Funny thing is, they were a match made in heaven!
This inevitably led me to choose my musical pairing for this piece: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. I had initially intended to post these two recipes separately, but this was the perfect way to combine the two:  This piece is styled in sonata form (fast-slow-fast), with the middle section containing the work extremely well-known “love theme.” This work, which runs at just under 20 minutes, hopes to capture the passion and color of the story, rather than narrate the tale itself. Below I’ve included a recording of the London Symphony Orchestra with Valery Gergiev – Enjoy!

Oranges Take the Cake!

I am not an orange juice drinker – I love oranges, and love cooking with them, but the straight-up juice isn’t my specialty. So the question of how to make use of a TON of orange juice leftover from a hang at my place became priority number one. I poured through cookbooks, running off ingredients and trying to see what pantry staples I could rely on. My Bon Appetit Desserts cookbook (an awesome gift from my friend Maya) provided the perfect solution (which I modified slightly): Orange-Scented Loaf Cakes with Glaze.
Oranges are the world’s most commonly grown tree fruit, with over 65 million tons produced annually around the world*. As any baker knows, fresh is best…but as you already know, I used juice from a carton. Here’s my defense: it was Tropicana, which according to the box (see above) is NEVER made from concentrate – there is nothing other than 100% pure orange juice. Though it’s not straight from the fruit, it’s pretty darn close. Since this cake was my way of using up leftover juice, I used vanilla extract rather than vanilla bean (for the sake of convenience). What makes this cake is the glaze – pouring the glaze on while the cake is hot is a MUST (both the texture and flavor depend on it). The original recipe makes a bundt, but I vied for two loaves (for serving purposes): click HERE to see my version of these flavorful cakes!
When considering what piece to pair with this recipe, it almost automatically began playing in my head – the Preludio from Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin. I hadn’t really developed a solid reason on why, but it just felt perfect. It’s a nice way to introduce the “father of music” to my blog (still trying to fathom what possible recipe can justify his legendary Chaconne). Perhaps one of the most recognized names in classical music, the works of J.S. Bach have influenced generation upon generation of performers and listeners alike. His music is defined by its beauty and creative depth, while it also places a substantail amount of technical and artistic demands on those who perform it – such is certainly the case with the Preludio. In retrospect, I wanted a “bright” work to pair with cake, and the Partita’s setting of E Major provides the ideal character – bright, lively, and filled with “flavor.” The recording I’ve included here is by violinst Nathan Milstein, whose interpretations of Bach’s music helped define his soloing career. Enjoy!

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

Sources Cited:
*”Orange,” Wikipedia.com