A Simple Beauty

Mediterranean Salmon 4“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” What I love most about this quote (Einstein) is it encourages the belief that beauty can be born from simplicity. We often pressure ourselves to go to extremes to write the perfect narrative, create a superb presentation, or cook an amazing meal. If there is one thing that life has taught me, it’s the joy you get from achieving something wonderful without stress or hardship. Cooking is the perfect example – we often forget that food is food, and mother nature knows what she’s doing when it comes to flavoring natural ingredients. So you can imagine how I excited I was to share this Mediterranean Baked Salmon: it is the definition of simple, but is far from being “simple” in taste.
Mediterranean Salmon 1This is one of my favorite methods for preparing fish – the culinary term is en papillote, but it’s basically a foil or parchment “pocket” into which you can pack any number of vegetables or aromatics. It’s a popular method for cooking fish since the pocket locks in moisture along with all of those great flavors. As a result, the process is more akin to steaming than baking. I wanted a dish with Mediterranean flair, and so I included kalamata olives, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and lemon with the salmon.
Mediterranean Salmon 2The result was a to-die-for combination of flavors, and yet it came together in less than 30 minutes! Right towards the end, I opened the foil packet to allow some of the liquids to cook down. This also gave the toppings a crisper finish, while still maintaining the beautiful texture of the overall dish. You can cook individual packets for each guest, but we ended up cooking the entire portion of salmon in a single pan. It was fantastic, and is the perfect recipe for a weekday meal or fancier occasion – click HERE to see the recipe!
Sweet Potato Quinoa 2As a side dish, I roasted some sweet potatoes with thyme and garlic, and then tossed them with quinoa, arugula and blue cheese. Tom has called me out on this…I think I might have a minor addiction to sweet potatoes. He’ll ask me about a vegetable or carb, and I always say sweet potatoes. I know they don’t qualify as a vegetable…but why not?? They are orange and versatile and highly addictive and OH MY GOD you see what I mean?? Anyways, this was a quick side that could easily make for an amazing lunch or vegetarian main. I will be making it again, mostly for the sweet potatoes. Click HERE to see the recipe!
Sweet Potato Quinoa 1Beauty is by and large defined by its evocative and provocative outcomes – whether it be a person, an item, a piece of music…we see beauty as something that has the ability to move us. Sometimes, it is the simple things that are truly beautiful, where the weight of added embellishment would seem folly. In music, a great example of a simple masterpiece is Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante dèfunte (“Pavane for a dead princess”). Written in 1899, the solo piano work is based on the pavane: a slow traditional dance that was popular during the European Renaissance. Though the title alludes to such, the work is not an homage to any one person or “princess”, but rather “an evocation of a pavane that a little princess might, in former times, have danced at the Spanish court” (Ravel’s own description). Its beauty lies in the juxtaposition of pure innocence and emotional depth. It is quite unlike the Ravel many of us know and love, as confirmed by concert critic Samuel Langford

“The piece is hardly representative of the composer, with whom elusive harmonies woven in rapid figuration are the usual medium of expression. In the Pavane we get normal, almost archaic harmonies, subdued expression, and a somewhat remote beauty of melody.”

Of course, this piece has since become ridiculously famous and overplayed. I scoured YouTube for a recording of solo piano (you can only imagine how many interpretations there are…) I finally found the below video, with Laura Mikkola. Her interpretation is one of patience, giving full attention to the delicate melody and unique coloration of each harmony.

In 1910, Ravel published an orchestrated edition of the piece – the opening melody is played by solo horn, which I believe is one of the most beautiful artistic choices in a piano-to-orchestra transcription. The piece’s gentle charm is by no means overwhelmed in the reproduction – rather, its subtle harmonies are given a richer and more vibrant coloring.

Sources Cited:
“Pavane pour une infante défunte,” Wikipedia.com

Having Fun with Farro

Vegetable Farro Salad 6Having regaled you with desserts for my past two posts, I felt the need for some nutritive balance. As much as I enjoy baking, I’m actually a fairly healthy eater – I often enjoy no more than a sample of the treats I make. My friends think I’m crazy, but I get far more enjoyment in making desserts for others than enjoying for myself. This discipline is also necessary considering I bake a LOT of desserts…I save my appetite for the treats I know I can’t refuse (one of which will be posted in the coming weeks…stay tuned!) In the meantime, I thought I’d share a lighter dish that has become my go-to as of late – it’s fairly basic, and I often prep enough to last me the week. The recipe has gone through multiple iterations in my cooking, but this particular Roasted Vegetable and Farro Salad is worth sharing.
Vegetable Farro Salad 5Farro is a grain that has only recently been introduced to my cooking repertoire. Farro is the Italian derivation of the Latin  term farrum, which roughly translates to “a kind of wheat.” Like quinoa and spelt, farro is identified as an “ancient grain”. It was first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent, with evidence tracing initial harvests to Ancient Egypt and the Roman dynasties. Farro has subsequently been an Italian staple for centuries, and has only recently gained popularity in the United States. Its texture is more chewy than soft, making it ideal for soups and salads.
Vegetable Farro Salad 3One thing I’ve learned about vegetables is that boiling and steaming do them a great injustice – roasting, on the other hand, pulls out a remarkable depth that can turn even the most veggie-averse eaters into true appreciators. Roasted vegetables are one of my favorite make ahead staples. All it takes is tossing a few handfuls of fresh, chopped veggies with some oil and seasoning, and then scattering the pieces onto a sturdy baking pan for roasting (30 minutes or less, depending on the veggie). The result is a stunning spread of caramelized goodness.
Vegetable Farro Salad 2Once the farro and veggies are ready, the rest of the dish pulls together in no time. What I love most about this recipe is that all elements of this dish are extremely customizable – the vinaigrette, choice of protein, seasonings, and more can all be adapted to suit your tastes. The options are endless, so have fun with it! It’s a great dish for lunch or weeknight meals, and will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. If you’ve never tried farro, this is great way to introduce the grain to your diet – click HERE to see the recipe for this unique salad!
Vegetable Farro Salad 5For the musical pairing I wanted a piece that would complement the fun and colorful aspects of the dish. Taking the recipe’s Italian roots into consideration, I found myself turning to Gioachino Rossini: a composer who perfected the art of “opera buffa” (comic operas). His writing has come to be appreciated by both the classically and non-classically inclined. Rossini’s Centerentola (“Cinderella”) is an especially suitable pairing for this dish. Both charming and bright, the opera is written in two 00189b11_mediumacts…completed by Rossini at the ripe old age of 25. The story is slightly different from the classic fairy tale in that the villain is a stepfather named Don Magnifico, and the Prince disguises himself as a valet in hopes of seeing the “true colors” of his potential brides – of course, this is how he finds the one woman with a true heart. The opera has a happy ending (per usual with Rossini), and the work as a whole is quite jovial. The 1981 production with Teatro alla Scala is on YouTube in its entirety, and is magnificent – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Farro,” Wikipedia.com
Weiss, Laura B. “Farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out,” NPR – October 2, 2013
“La Cenerentola,” Wikipedia.com

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,” Wikipedia.com
“Piano Trio No. 4 (Dvořák),” Wikipedia.com

Finding a Silver Lining

Vegan Chili 1Temperatures are slowly rising, the days are becoming longer, and the welcome comforts of spring are nearer with every passing day. And yet…we’re still steeped in what has proven to be one of the more brutal winters of recent experience. Ever the optimist, I look at winter with the lens of a “silver lining” perspective. It has a number of perks: an excuse to bundle up with a great movie, a reminder for our constantly changing world, and (most importantly) an excellent reason for cooking up a hearty meal. My dearest friend (and former roommate!) Jennifer Berg is visiting Boston right now. She currently lives in good ol’ Texas, playing English horn with the San Antonio Symphony. Since Boston and Texas are total opposites weather-wise, I wanted to give her a “warm” welcome back with a filling meal. My pantry just happened to have all of the essentials for making this delicious Vegetarian Sweet Potato ChiliVegan Chili 3There are multiple “camps” when it comes to making chili – some swear by the use of tomatoes, other claim that authentic chilis should be nothing more than meat and beans. Jenn is a die-hard Texan when it comes to chili, and lovingly called this gem “Northeastern chili”. I used two different types of beans – black beans and kidney beans – and a whole mess of veggies (see below). I’m an avid reader of ingredient labels, and always opt for canned items with as few added ingredients as possible. This often leads me to the “organic” options. Even though it’s a little pricier, I’d rather avoid the cheaper varieties with added “calcium chloride” and/or “maltodextrin”.
Vegan Chili 4What I love most about this chili is that it’s chock-full of vegetables. You could throw in some kale to up the nutritional scale, but these add-ins were perfect for our needs. The original recipe called for canned tomatoes…but seeing as how I only had canned tomato sauce, I had to improvise. I’d just purchased some fresh cherry tomatoes, which ended up working much better than I’d imagined. The key to this chili is allowing ample time to simmer and settle (basically refrigerating the chili for a night or two). This allows the flavors to develop, lending a savory depth to this chili that is simply to die for – meat lovers won’t miss the beef for a second. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty dish!
Vegan Chili 2 This winter has been a great example of why it’s not always easy to find the “silver lining” in situations – our clothing and shoes have been defeated by salted walkways and knee-deep slush, and our sleeping rituals disturbed by the creeping chill that’s impossible to ignore. But then something occurs to remind us that spring is SO CLOSE, and soon we’ll be rid of all this silly winter gear. Music can have a similar effect – one moment you feel anxious or weary, and the next you feel refreshed and inspired. What better way to seek a JohannesBrahms“silver lining” in a less-than-admirable context than through music? This inspired my musical pairing for this post: Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77. Brahms wrote piece in 1878 for his dear friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. The piece itself can be viewed as a journey, with a protagonist (the violinist) and a setting (orchestra). The Allegro non troppo opens with a fervent exposition, and the violin introduces itself with a fearless resolve. From there, the soloist takes an extemporary lead – the orchestra willingly follows, alternating between the opening’s intensity and ethereal reveries. It finally ends on a literal “happy note” following an ardent cadenza. The piece then transitions into an Adagio that is both passionate and gentle in character. (Since this dinner was cooked for my former roomie oboist, Jennifer Berg, it’s worth acknowledging the beautiful oboe solo that starts the movement). The Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace is a celebration, as the “silver lining” is finally realized. When spring arrives, I’ll probably listen to this finale over and over again. The below recording (of the first movement) is with my favorite “protagonist,” Itzhak Perlman – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Violin Concerto (Brahms),” Wikipedia.com
“Johannes Brahms – photo”, Wikipedia.com

South of the Orient: Part V

Tikka and SaagI have been enjoying a LOT of South Asian cuisine as of late. My boyfriend Tom has converted me into a curry-loving/spice-craving gal…granted, he’s got some great recipes up his sleeve (hence the series). In fact, it’s a cuisine that’s perfect for this time of year – winter is not my forte, and Wednesday’s temp was a balmy 7 degrees. The promise of a piping hot meal loaded with spices and protein has been a saving grace during the season. Piling on layers of clothing can do the trick, but this Saag Tofu and Chicken Tikka Masala works wonders on a chilly winter day.
183819_1811611419548_5295728_nBoth of these dishes are common to the Punjabi region, where Tom spent close to two months exploring (North India primarily) – the photo above was taken in a village called Auli. Located in northeast Uttarakhand, Auli is about 13,000 feet above sea level and lies deep within the majestic Himalayas. The Himalayas,  which is Sanskrit for “abode of the snow”, make this a perfect anecdote for winter:

“After a ten hour ride in a van hugging cliff sides all the way up into the mountains we arrived at Joshimath, before another hour straight up a mountain toward Auli. The driver could only make it so far and we had to hike the last couple of miles in deep snow to the village, which resides quietly in the shadow of Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak at 26,000 feet, just a hair shy of Everest. From the plateau, a heady panorama of mountain peaks and micro-ranges in every direction laying strewn with Hindu icons. Auli is the embarkation point for some of the world’s most intense pilgrimages.”

Saag Paneer 1Saag is prominent in Northern India, and is prepared in a variety of ways. The basic recipe is spinach leaves (or similar leafy greens, such as mustard and kale) are finely chopped, then sautéed with a variety of spices. The most well-known rendition calls for pan-seared paneer: a fresh cheese used in a variety of South Asian recipes. Tom opts for tofu, which is both healthier and easier to find in local grocery stores than paneer. The sautéing takes a bit, but that golden hue gives this dish a texture and taste that’s extraordinary!
Saag Paneer 2I have made Saag before, but this is by far my favorite recipe – the flavors are complex, and the textural aesthetic is stunning. Some varieties use cream, yet this recipe is vegan and chock-full of spices: cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and garam masala. The key (per usual with Tom’s recipes) is to dry-roast the spices one at a time, then grind them to a fine powder. It comes together in no time once all of the ingredients have been prepped. Don’t fret if you have leftovers, as it’s even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful side!
Chicken Tikka 2Tikka Masala is one of those dishes that nearly everyone loves – comprised of roasted chicken simmered in a creamy sauce, it is one of Tom’s signatures. Similar to Saag, cooking the protein separately aids with the texture and flavor of the final dish. The marinade yields a beautifully tender meat that is hard to beat – yogurt is the secret weapon here. Acidic marinades have been known to “denature” (or toughen) the meat, whereas milk-based marinades won’t. It is alleged that the calcium helps to activate certain enzymes that break down the proteins, creating a more tender and flavorful meat. South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures have been using dairy-based marinades for a looong time, for good reason!
Chicken TIkka 1The masala, unlike the marinade, is fairly complex – a medley of spices, healthy fats, and vegetables come together to create a creamy sauce that is both spicy and rich. The original calls for a lot of cream, but Tom lessens the cream needed by upping the almonds. The result gives the sauce more character without inhibiting the spices and aromatics. This dish is both filling and loaded with protein, making it a perfect meal for those colder days. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beloved classic!
Chicken Tikka 3Winter often gets a bad rap – slushy sidewalks, dry skin, chilly and biting winds – and it’s frozen beauty is often disregarded. Some of the most gorgeous landscapes I’ve witnessed were in the coldest climates (Tom would readily agree). Case in point – the below photo is from a hike we took together in MontanaIMG_1037 about a year ago. It is one of my favorite pictures to date, and yet I was freezing my tail off the entire time! Spring, summer and fall are often flooded with activity – it is winter that gives us a moment of stillness, in which we may breathe and experience our world. This led me to choose Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor, “Winter Dreams.” This symphony is arguably the cheeriest (and least tortured) of his six symphonies. It has a youthful air, which can be attributed to the fact that he was only 26 when he wrote it. In this symphony (just over 40-minutes in length), Tchaikovsky paints the isolated beauty of a Russian “winter journey” using rich orchestration balanced by gossamer melodies. The piece captures the dynamics of this posting’s two dishes, while also alluding to the tranquil enticements of winter. The below recording features Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Himalayas,” Wikipedia.com
“Marinades Add Flavor but Don’t Always Tenderize,” FineCooking.com
“Symphony No. 1 (Tchaikovsky),” Wikipedia.com

Three Winter Delights

Squash is such an underrated food – you can basically prepare it however you want, and know that the outcome will be (more or less) outrageously delicious. This is the time of year I eat winter squash with practically everything, and wanted to share three fun recipes I’ve enjoyed thus far: Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash, Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto, and Butternut Squash & Apple Soup.
Winter SquashWinter squash is somewhat of an anomalous title – they are actually grown during the summer months, alongside the well-known “summer” squash varieties. The main difference is that winter squash is harvested only after it reaches full maturity, which traditionally falls in September or October (depending on the region). At this stage, the fruit has developed a tough, shell-like rind that ensures preservation into the winter months (hence the title!) The flesh and seeds are the edible components, making them a coveted source of food across the western hemisphere. Because I’m a total nerd: winter squash are of the genus Cucurbita, which was originally cultivated within the Andes and Mesoamerican regions. But enough with the “science”, let’s get to the good stuff 🙂
Acorn SquashWhen I was a kid, acorn squash was one of those “side dish staples” in my mother’s cooking repertoire. Her recipe was simple, but terribly addictive: a large pat of butter, a spoonful of brown sugar, and a dash of salt. 40 minutes later a candied bowl of goodness would be ready to eat. While my adult self would love to believe this is good enough for a meal, I knew that something heartier (and a little healthier) would be a safer path to follow. So with that in mind…
Stuffed Acorn Squash 1Voilà! Quinoa Stuffed Acorn SquashMy grown-up take on an acorn squash. Though they aren’t as tough/sturdy as “practical gourds” (inedible fruit whose rinds are used as food vessels, musical instruments, etc) the shape and size of acorn squash make them ideal serving “bowls”. Many a soup, risotto, and casserole has found its way into this charming cup, so basically anything that be used for stuffing. My recipe consisted of quinoa, red lentils, raisins, and spinach – the result was fantastic, and were even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty and nutritious meal!
Spaghetti Squash 1Spaghetti squash – the “paleo pasta” that Pinterest can’t seem to get enough of. I’ve actually been curious to try this for quite some time, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious it turned out. You can cook it any number of ways: boil, roast, microwave (though the thought of exploding squash comes to mind on the latter…) Once done, you simply rake a fork through the strands to yield a fiber-packed “spaghetti” with half the carbs.
Kale PestoMy sister sent me an edible arrangement for my birthday, which was jam-packed with chocolate-covered everything. Surprisingly enough, the basket’s “filler” was a massive heap of curly kale! My initial excitement wore off once I discovered there were nearly 6 cups of the stuff hidden in the basket. I toyed around with a few ideas, recalling how I still have way too many pepitas in my house (but can you ever have too many pepitas? We’ll shelve this discussion for later). That’s when it dawned on me: Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto!
Spaghetti Squash 2It is definitely not your typical pesto, but my god was it good!  The kale creates an even deeper green than the traditional herb varieties, and the pepitas are a lovely alternative to the pine nut and walnut norms. A word of caution – I am known to enjoy atypical fare, and this certainly falls into that category. Sticking with a traditional pesto might be a safer bet for those who know their limits. While the resulting dish looked a little bit like something Nemo might eat, it was really delicious – click HERE to see the recipe!
Butternut Squash Soup 2In considering the innumerable ways of preparing squash, hands-down my favorite preparation is a warm soup with fall spices.  There have been time I’ve sprinted to the subway post-work knowing that a warm bowl of pumpkin soup could be mine as soon as I got home. This thought alone has abated even though most oppressing winters in Boston. I may be unique in my obsession, but this Butternut Squash & Apple Soup has the potential to make anyone a believer. Butternut squash has a naturally sweet taste, but is more subtle than sweet potato or acorn squash. It pairs well with a number of spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger (to name a few!).
Butternut SquashThere is one thing worth mentioning about this fabulous food group…certain squash can be a real pain in the butt when it comes to prep work. Trying to halve one of these takes the skill of a samurai, and peeling the rind is something I try to avoid at all costs. Luckily, this butternut squash recipe is fairly straightforward and you can make it days in advance (but if you’re like me, it won’t last long). The result is a soup that can bring warmth to even the coldest of winter days – click HERE to see the recipe for this cozy dish!
Butternut Apple Soup 1The contextual possibilities of squash make it an eclectic food source – soups, pies, pastas, muffins, you name it! What’s remarkable about this fruit is the ease and suitability it lends to each of its applied settings: whether it is a savory casserole or a candied treat. An appropriate analogy for classical music can be applied to the many hats that composers are often encouraged to wear throughout their career. One unique example is Jacques Ibert: a French composer whose style (both musically and professionally speaking) never adhered to a specific theme. Musically, Ibert’s compositions never adhered to a single style – he claimed that “all systems are valid provided that one derives music from them”. From operas to incidental music to chamber settings, Ibert’s music run the gamut of genres and styles. Professionally, Ibert had multiple careers – he was the director of the Académie de France à Rome for over 20 years, served on professional committees for the arts, and was an active conductor. In homage to the three recipes of this post, I chose Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves for the musical pairing. Written in 1930, this charming work for woodwind quintet is less than 10 minutes in length. The unique sound and texture of this ensemble is captured quite beautifully, with Ibert previewing the strengths and nuances of each instrument. The opening is lively and exuberant, which then transitions to a pensive duet between the flute and clarinet, and ends with a somewhat serious yet joyous finale. The below recording is by the Wind Quintet from the Danish National Symphony circa 2010 – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Winter Squash,” Wikipedia.com
“Jacques Ibert,” Wikipedia.com
“Stanford Woodwind Quintet: April 6, 2008 – Program Notes,” Friends of Chamber Music

South of the Orient: Part IV

Salmon Curry & ParippuA major benefit to dating a fellow foodie is that home-cooked meals are rarely boring – Tom and I often create something unique and delicious. Just the other week, we were at a coffee shop and (naturally) began to discuss what we could make for dinner that evening. The hope was to make something healthy and packed with protein – that idea led to salmon, and lentils slowly found their way into the discussion. Not surprisingly we decided to give this pairing an Indian twist, and the result was perfect: Salmon Curry over Parippu (Red Lentil Dal) and Spinach.
Parippu 3As per usual with Tom’s cooking, these recipes are permeated with a variety of spices…which reminds me to briefly discuss the term “curry”. Many assume that “curry” is a specific type of Indian spice, when in reality it is a generic term for a mixture of spices (flavors). The word is of English origin, with its creation dating back to the British Colonial government – during their colonial administration of India, British officials had come to know and love the flavors of the local cuisine. It is alleged that the mixture was created by an Indian chef for a single colonial magistrate: while preparing for his return to England, the magistrate announced that he couldn’t bear to live without the flavorful fare. The result was a spice powder that has become wildly popular throughout the British Isles, as well as across the globe in “fusion” settings.
Parippu 1 Indian cooking is often inspired by Ayurveda: a holistic practice of Indian origin that encourages well-being through physical and emotional awcareness. This practice relies on the understanding of the three doshas (or elemental energies that constitute each individual): Vata (motion), Pitta (metabolic), and Kapha (growth). Pitta espouses the life-giving properties of certain spices and foods, and legumes are seen as especially potent. This particular recipe uses red lentils (also known as Parippu or Masoor dal) – they cook more quickly than your standard brown lentils, with the difference being that these have been stripped of their outer hulls and split in half. The result is a protein that serves as an excellent thickener for stews and curries, making them a popular choice for Dal. Learn how to make this flavorful Dal by clicking HERE!
Curry SalmonSalmon with Indian spices was definitely a new one for me. Swordfish is Tom’s preferred choice for curries (more on that later), but we both agreed it might be interesting to try the oilier fish for a change of pace. I was in charge of making this dish, and it was actually fun to cook. Connecting to the previous dish, Ayurveda certainly applies here as well: salmon provides whopping dose of Omega-3’s, vitamins, protein, and amino acids. I decided to cook the salmon skin-on, but you can certainly go with your preference. For plating, we placed the Dal onto a mound of baby spinach, and topped it off with the salmon and extra sauce. The resulting dish was stunning, and needless to say our “dosha” were fully satisfied – click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful salmon!
Curry Salmon & Parippu 2The life-giving properties of food are absolute – nutritional choices are a requisite for any healthy lifestyle. That being said, a person’s well-being is incidentally influenced by countless elements, and music certainly has a place in the formula. Think back on all of the times that you’ve turned to music: special occasions with family and friends, moments you were sad or nervous, times of laughter and joy, an instance of inspiration. These are experiences you’ll never forget, as they were integral to your personal wellness and psyche. Composer Marc Neikrug thoroughly believes in the power of music, and his work Healing Ceremony reflects this philosophy. He says of the piece:

“I thought about the power music has over people; I wanted to write something that would change how your body feels — helping you calm down, handle stress, get in touch with inner feelings and inner thoughts…This [composition] is not a treatment, but it surely can put you in the right place.” – Marc Neikrug

Neikrug has been living on a Pueblo reservation in Sante Fe for over twenty years, and has been greatly inspired by their cultural perspectives on healing and connectivity. From the three dosha of Ayurveda described above, music is perhaps most connected to Vata: a dosha that involves your breath, heart rate, and blood circulation. Exposure to music can influence all of these elements, and Neikrug’s intention with Healing Ceremony is to invoke calmness and  through the music:

“People should be much more conscious of the power that music has upon all of them — meaning your body and everything that’s going on inside of you…It’s not just, ‘Oh this is cool — it makes me want to dance,’ it’s much more complicted than that.” – Marc Neikrug

Nearly 40 minutes in length, the piece consists of 8 movements: North – Air – West – Earth – South – Water – East – Fire/Love. The following recording is with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra performing “Earth”. Enjoy 🙂

Sources Cited
“Curry,” Wikipedia.com
“Ayurveda,” Wikipedia.com
“Ayurveda & Dosha Types for Beginners” MindBodyGreen
“Marc Neikrug, ‘Healing Ceremony’ Composer, Talks The Power Of Music” Huffington Post: Lifestyle

Unhurried Finesse

TurkeyBolognese1One thing that Boston can guarantee is drastic seasonal transitions – two weeks ago we were drenched in 90-degree weather with unfathomable levels of humidity. Tonight’s weather? A balmy 48 degrees, and dropping. We’ve taken the inevitable step into Fall – sweaters, scarves, and soups are making their way into our daily routine. Food becomes richer, as we dive into the depths of a hearty stew or warm ourselves with a bowl of steaming noodles. The other day I made dinner for two very close friends of mine, and decided to make a dish that would hint at the turn of the season: Turkey Bolognese.
TurkeyBolognese3Ragù alla bolognese, a meat-based sauce, is a fairly basic recipe. You have a distinctive “soffrito” – onion, celery, and carrot sauté – as well as wine, tomato and meat. What happens next is totally up to you – my recipe is a little more idiosyncratic than your traditional bolognese. For starters, I used ground turkey in lieu of red meat – this wasn’t actually a healthy incentive, but more of a personal flavor preference. I also forgot to buy celery…so my soffrito was a little “less so”. Since I clearly had thrown tradition out the window, I decided to throw in some cumin seeds…and WOW did that make a difference! Both flavor and texture were enhanced, and I can’t even begin to tell you how it warmed my house with the most beautiful aroma.
SanMarzanoI am not a “very” picky chef, but there are certain brands that I trust implicitly – San Marzano canned tomatoes are my go-to for tomato-based sauces. The result is consistent, and the flavor always spot on. San Marzanos are heralded as “Italy’s finest plum tomatoes” – they are grown at the base of Mount Vesuvius, which is of course surrounded by fertile volcanic soil. Upon ripening, the tomatoes turn a deep red and are handpicked with the utmost attention. It’s quite the process, as you can imagine…so perhaps I am a little pickier than I thought 😉
TurkeyBolognese4The real power in this sauce comes with time – not just the cooking time (which should be close to an hour) but the willingness to put this “smells-so-wonderful-I-could-eat-a-horse” sauce into glass tupperware…and allow it to chill overnight. What this does is allow the sauce’s flavors to further develop, creating a rich outcome without the hassle of sitting in front of a stove for endless amounts of time. This doesn’t mean you can’t devour the whole bowl right then and there…but trust me when I say that this dish turns into something else entirely the next day. Click HERE to the see the recipe!
TurkeyBolognese2Patience has become an attenuated virtue in a world where immediate access is daily expectation. The thought of allowing a sauce to chill overnight (much less for 4 hours!) is difficult to imagine, especially when frozen dinners have gone organic and salads are the new “chic”. The musical world was and often is guilty of this hurried spirit – rushing through a practice session, taking an allegro at a presto pace, etc. And then there was Brahms – a man whose self-scrutiny created a remarkably meticulous, thorough style of composition. In fact, said meticulousness reached the point of absurdity at times. Take his Piano Concerto No. 1 – a work which evolved from double piano sonata to orchestral symphony to piano concerto, and is this blog’s musical pairing as a result. Brahms’ ambitions as a young composer led him to pour his energies into creating a symphonic masterpiece, yet the need to “live up” to the genius of Beethoven (and predecessors as a whole) instilled a powerful sense of patience url-1by which Brahms’ composing would forever be governed. Having started the work in 1854, he would finally introduce the completed work to the public in January of 1859. His friendship with the piano “power duo” Robert and Clara Schumann, pictured left, inspired the work (and ultimately became an homage to Robert following his death in 1856). What I thought made this piece the perfect musical pairing is the maturity it boasts, both in the emotional and intellectual sense, under the auspices of a concerto. The work’s maturity can in part be attributed to patience – had Brahms chosen to unleash his symphonic ambitions, his ultimate venture into that genre may have been diminished. While it may be no symphony, this concerto achieves orchestral feats far beyond the average concerto. In a similar sense, this turkey bolognese (though not quite the original) is a dish with unexpected depth and character. The recording below is by the renowned Emmanuel “Manny” Ax, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“What’s the Deal With San Marzano Tomatoes?” The Kitchen
Huscher, Phillip. “Program Notes: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15.” Chicago symphony Orchestra
PHOTO – DeepRootsMag.org (Roots Music & Meaningful Matters)

South of the Orient: Part II

Gaeng Panang1Advancements in travel and communications have made our world far more accessible, and culinary experimentation has become easier as a consequence. Even so, it’s amazing how many flavorful foods have yet to be included in the conventions of American cooking. This mini series is meant to catalog the travels of my boyfriend Tom, and his unique understanding of Asian cuisine – one thing that certainly holds true to this style of cooking is the use of colorful ingredients. While it may seem laborious to prepare and process so many ingredients, the food is always packed with flavor – this Gaeng Panang Gai was a fantastic example of just that.
Gaeng Panang3This dish is native to Thailand, where Tom lived for almost a year (the below photo is from his travels). Similar as with India (which you can read about in my last post from this series), he was captivated by Thailand’s wealth of resources:

“…the ingredients come from what is readily available, and the south of Thailand is blessed with year round access to unique, evocative plants, roots and vegetables that they pound together in a pestle and mortar, a process that takes hours, not to mention iron wrists, until it forms a smooth, blisteringly strong paste, which is mellowed out in the wok with the addition of coconut milk.”

16440_1266104022204_6628122_nAn interesting fact about Thailand, there are only three seasons: hot, cool, and rainy. Local Buddhist monks measure their regional tenure by rainy seasons as opposed to years spent in said area. On the other hand, there are FIVE basic attributes to Thai cuisine: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. A pretty remarkable shift from Western traditions. And did I mention how much they love rice? Thailand currently stands as the world’s largest exporter – no wonder they make so many curries!
Gaeng Panang4The one thing I love about Asian cuisine is the color – bright reds, rich golds, luscious greens – when plated on white dish, the contrast is stunning. Watching Tom prepare this, I learned that it’s worth taking your time to get everything in place before running with it – that way you can act quickly once the “heat is on”. The paste is quite simple, and is the central element of this recipe. A food processor or blender is necessary, but you can mash it to a paste with a pestle and mortar if all else fails (and it would be an excellent forearm workout!) You can serve with or without rice, but you’ll definitely want something to sop up all of that delicious sauce – click HERE to see the recipe.
Gaeng Panang2The amount of flavor you experience in a single bite sets this dish apart – it’s practically a “treatise” on the qualities of Thai cuisine. You have your fundamental ingredients, to which a variety of components are added in support. This led me to consider Samuel Barber’s First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12. The work is built upon a musical “thesis”, where the proceeding ideas and harmonies are all played out accordingly – similar to the structure of a written essay. The work was composed in 1938 for conductor Arturo Toscanini. Barber met the renowned Toscanini in the late 1930’s, who was quite taken with the composer’s music. The work was commissioned and premiered by Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra – Barber’s Adagio for Strings (arguably his most well-known composition) was performed for the first time on this very concert. The other thing that led me to consider this work was the chef himself – Tom is a very strong writer, and takes a good deal of pride on an “essay” well done (okay, so this connection may be a little kooky, but I’m fully aware of my writing eccentricities!) Anyways, this pairing both compliments and supports this delicious meal, and is a beautiful work – it may be only 8 minutes in length, but it is filled with musical color and passion. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Thailand”, Wikipedia.com
“Essay for Orchestra (Barber)”, Wikipedia.com