A Tale of Turkey, Butter and Memories

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

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

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

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


An Extravagant Feast

Thanksgiving 1Tis the season to spend time with loved ones while eating lots of food! It’s also the time of year that I find it extremely difficult to keep up with my blog, between holiday parties and travel. Thanksgiving is always a big project…but it’s also one of my favorites to blog since the memories and recipes are worth cherishing. I flew down to Atlanta for the second year in a row to celebrate Thanksgiving with my mother’s side of the family, my sister Sarah and her boyfriend, and my boyfriend Tom.
DSC_0294  DSC_0377
Aside from being way warmer than Boston, the trip was filled with lots of family moments and holiday cheer. While I spearheaded most of the cooking, my sister made a ton of food (two of her recipes are featured below) and the rest of the family helped out with odds and ends: peeling potatoes, lifting heavy pans, etc. When planning something for a party of 12, there is often the fear that there won’t be enough food. In my world, this translates into overcompensating and creating way more food than is actually necessary. See the below photo…
Thanksgiving 2The main meal turned out really well, and there was plenty of food to spare. Since it was such a sizable spread, I decided to highlight a few of my personal favorites for this post:

Sweet Potato Rounds with Pecans and Goat Cheese
Cool, Creamy, Cheesy Corn Dip
– Roasted Turkey, prepared with a Citrus and Peppercorn Dry Brine
Baked Ham with Brown Sugar-Whiskey Glaze
Arugula Salad with Roasted Squash and Pomegranate Ginger Vinaigrette
Pumpkin Pie with Buttermilk Crust and Candied Pecans

Sweet Potato RoundsTo start, we had several great appetizers to keep people occupied while the turkey and ham were finishing up. The above appetizer was courtesy of Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs) – it is healthy, picturesque, and delicious. Tom made the topping, and changed the recipe by doubling the pecans and parsley and omitting the celery altogether. It was a hit. Those who know me know that I’m a bit of a sweet potato addict…so I polished off quite a few of these in between my cooking bouts.
Cheese Dip 2The next starter was my sister’s contribution, a cheesy corn dip. It’s one of those appetizers that you have no idea what it’s going to taste like until you try it. Sarah insisted on making it, and I’m happy she did – that bowl of tortilla chips had to be refilled at least twice, which is why this is a recipe worth sharing. It will probably be something I add to my hosting repertoire, and would be perfect for a Superbowl spread.
Citrus Turkey Brine 1Now let’s talk about the turkey: this is the second time I’ve prepared the bird using a dry brine, and I’ve come to believe that it yields a better result than a wet brine. While both produce a tender meat, a dry brine guarantees a deeper flavor, and the meat’s texture will be juicy instead of “watery”. Every family has a different method, and it really comes down to preferred tastes and comfort with preparation. It’s a tough bird to cook, especially considering most people get one shot at making it per year.
Citrus Turkey 2Thankfully my family is an easy crowd, and they all loved it. The preparation and roasting was fairly similar to what I’ve done in past years (Check out my first, second, and third turkey attempts), and I can always rely on my trusty All-Clad roaster. There are two things things I did differently that are worth mentioning: first, I tented the bird for most of the cooking process, and second I flipped it with the backbone facing up so the juices would keep the breast meat from drying out. It’s not as elegant a presentation as the traditional, but it did the trick!
Honey-Baked HamBack to the overcompensation bit, we decided to throw in a ham for some extra protein – it was my sister’s recipe, and she’s got this down to a science. Ham, similar to turkey, is a meat that’s typically served only during the holidays. Granted, people enjoy ham sandwiches or breakfast slices any time…but an entire ham is a rare thing to see. The glaze was fantastic, and kept the meat perfectly moist. Overall, it’s a wonderful complement to a Thanksgiving spread (and made for amazing leftovers!)
Pomegranate SaladThe salad was the “wild card” on the menu. The original recipe has you whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette…but I decided to emulsify the dressing with a hand blender instead. The result looked somewhat like Pepto Bismol but the flavor profile was (of course) far from it: it was fruity and bright with a bit of an edge (thanks to the ginger). Tossed with the roasted squash, peppery arugula, sparkling pomegranates, crunchy almonds, this salad and vinaigrette make for one hell of a side dish.
Pumpkin Pie 1The pie was a bit of an experiment. While the filling was fairly straightforward, the crust itself used buttermilk. The result was a flaky crust with a slight tang, but also a profound buttery taste. The filling was creamy and filled with spices. In an effort to add a decorative flair, I made some candied pecans for garnish – I couldn’t help but notice my relatives picking the pecans off of the uneaten pie…which means it was worth the extra effort. Overall, it was a truly memorable Thanksgiving, and I feel both thankful and fortunate to have such an awesome family.
Pumpkin Pie 2Given my love for cooking (and fear of having too little to eat!) every Thanksgiving feels like a banquet – the food is plentiful, the wine is flowing, and the laughter is endless. In describing the meal to my coworker Emilio, he suggested I turn to the 15th century for my musical inspiration, and to look at the Feast of Pheasant: a banquet hosted by Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy in 1454, renowned for its excessive luxury. It’s sole purpose was both to celebrate and officiate an anticipated crusade against the Turks to regain sovereignty of Constantinople.
1280px-'Le_voeu_du_faisan'_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-4212The extravagant feast included a tradition practiced across Medieval France called the voeux du faisan, where nobles would take oaths upon a living bird – in this case, it was a pheasant. Aside from these formalities, the guests was lavished with food, wine, minstrels, theater, and live music…Guillaume Dufay, a highly renowned composer of the French Renaissance, was one of many invited to write original works for the celebration. While chronicles of the actual musical program are vague, there are three works commonly believed to have been included: Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae (“Lament of the Holy Mother Church of Constantinople“), Alma redemptoris Mater (“Loving Mother of the Redeemer”), and Je ne vis oncques la pareille (“I Have Never Seen the Equal”)…though some ascribe this last work to Dufay’s contemporary, Gilles Binchois. While discrepancies are present, for the sake of this post I will stand by the assertion that these are all connected to Dufay. To give a sense of what the music was like for such a feast, I thought I would showcase all three of the pieces. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!!!

Sources Cited:
“Feast of the Pheasant,” Wikipedia.org
Douglass, David. “The Newberry Consort’s performance of ‘The Feast of the Oath of the Pheasant'”, The Newberry. February 2, 2014

Rise and Shine: Part III

Sweet Potato Hash 4Labor Day Weekend (for me) is often equated with being in the outdoors, shopping sales, splurging on movies, and eating a great brunch. We scored on all fronts, particularly in the brunch category…though the movie splurge was a close second: Guardians of the Galaxy, Predator, and The Princess Bride (EPIC). Anyways, the brunch we made was fantastic – we often go for scrambled eggs with kale, but wanted something extra special for the holiday weekend. The result was a Spicy Chorizo & Sweet Potato Hash with Avocado that was unbelievably unhealthy delicious!
Sweet Potato Hash 1Labor Day was a holiday established in the late 19th century, having been championed by the Central Labor Union of New York and fought for by the countless supporters of the labor movement. It takes place annually on the first Monday of September, paying homage to “the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.” While the celebration itself has become less grandiose and parade-driven in recent years, it still serves as a reminder of the many accomplishments and victories of the American working force…and no one loves brunch more than a 9-to-5’er on Labor Day!
Sweet Potato Hash 5Of course, most restaurants don’t serve lunch on Mondays (assuming that everyone will be at cookouts or drinking) so we took brunch into our hands. And my what a success it was. This is Tom’s genius, taking some of my favorites (sweet potatoes and kale) combined with some of his (chorizo and eggs) to create a dish so potent that each bite elicited a groan of indulgence.One of the secrets to the flavor’s depth was thanks to my newest cooking tool, which is basically a ceramic “grater” within a small plate – the tool allows you to break down aromatics while capturing the oils and juices. It’s pretty and awesome (and was an impulse buy thanks to Labor Day sales).
Sweet Potato Hash 3Much to Tom’s chagrin, we used chorizo-flavored chicken sausage in lieu of actual chorizo – some may harken the substitute as a sacrilege, but the result was surprisingly full of flavor. The flavors all married beautifully, with the sweet potatoes adding a touch a sweetness and the kale adding fullness. We could have stuck with the healthier end of things…but then Tom stirred in some crumbled blue cheese OH MY GOD I LOVE CHEESE. The result was creamy and fantastic, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Topped off with some hot sauce and parsley, this was all-in-one win for a Labor Day brunch. Click HERE to get the recipe!
Sweet Potato Hash 2My original intention had been to select a musical piece that pays homage to the labor movement…but you can only imagine the top search results for my query “classical music and unions” (heh…) Well I imagine there may exist such a piece (suggestions are Carl_Nielsenalways welcome!) I opted for an alternative approach and chose a piece that was composed in 1894 – the year Labor Day was officially established. The findings were impressive, with Massenet’s Thaïs and Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, to say the least. However, it was Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor that caught my attention. He is generally an underrated composer, and I thought it suitable to showcase him here for the first time. Premiered in March of 1894, the 4-movement symphony lasts just over half an hour. Though the title indicates a minor setting, the work actually begins and ends in the joyful key of C Major…which is more than appropriate within the celebratory context of this post. The symphony is quite unique, given the aforementioned progressive tonality and Nielsen’s early mastery of orchestral form. Composer and Nielsen scholar Robert Simpson says the piece is “probably the most highly organized first symphony ever written by a young man of twenty-seven” (you read that correctly – Nielsen was 27). The below recording is with the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Herbert Blomstedt – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“History of Labor Day,” United States Department of Labor 
“Symphony No. 1 (Nielsen),” Wikipedia.com
PHOTO of “Carl Nielsen” Wikipedia.com

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

Giving Thanks for Family

DSC_0331For the first time in 6 years, I decided to travel home for the holidays – following a series of unfortunate events (including a missed flight and nearly dropping my suitcase from onto a passenger’s head from the overhead compartment) I landed in the world’s busiest airport: Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International. I navigated my way through swarms of travelers and frustrated families – stepping outside into the passenger pickup area was a welcome relief. I spotted my mother’s taupe Toyota, and watched as it inched its way towards baggage claim. Despite the vehicular chaos all around us, I could see her small face beaming through the front windshield. That brief moment reminded me what this holiday is all about – Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with loved ones and reflect on all that we are truly thankful for. I hoisted my luggage into the trunk knowing that there would likely be drama and frustration, but at least I would be with family.
DSC_0082Every household has its own traditions for Thanksgiving – fortunately for ours, the requirements were fairly minimal: turkey, potatoes and gravy, and pie. The rest of the menu was left to my crazy scheming, which of course resulted in a family with distended bellies. Our plates were filled with a colorful array of both traditional and unconventional dishes. Given the following menu, you can understand why we experienced food comas shortly after the meal:

  • Cider Brined and Glazed Turkey with Sage Gravy
  • Honey-Glazed Ham
  • Brie Bites
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Indian-Spiced Roasted Vegetables over Lentils
  • Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce
  • Cornbread Stuffing
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Chocolate Chip Blondies
  • Bourbon Pumpkin Tart
  • Apple Pie with Spiced Pastry

Turkey 1I’ll be sharing the recipes in bold for this post (even though I’d love to share them all with you!) A lot of these have make-ahead components, which (for a Thanksgiving chef) is vital to one’s sanity. So to start, let’s go right for the gold: the turkey. This was my fourth time making a turkey, and it weighed in at a whopping 20 POUNDS; just lifting this thing was a workout. Brining has become my go-to method, so I decided to try a different recipe this year using apple cider to make a Cider-Brined and Glazed Turkey with Sage Gravy.
Turkey 2The turkey brines for a full 24 hours, and then sits uncovered in the fridge for an additional 24 hours (to help the skin “dry out” post-brining). The broth, glaze, and even the fillings can all be prepared the night before. Cooking times will vary (depending on size and your oven) but ours took close to 4 ½ hours. Turkey is stressful, considering it’s not necessarily a “weekly staple”. Many of us have one shot to make this dish perfect – I tend to supervise for the first 3 hours, standing in the kitchen with oven mitts and a glass of wine at the ready. This recipe was a great twist on the classic, and I’m curious to try it again next year (especially since I didn’t manage to catch a photo of the finished bird – we were starving by the time it was ready!) Click HERE to see the recipe for this epic turkey.
Cranberry Sauce 1Cranberries are sold everywhere during the holiday season. These small berries find their way into a variety of dishes, from fruit cocktails to meat condiments. Grown in acidic bogs, the berries turn from white to deep red when ripe and ready for harvest. They are too tart/bitter to be eaten raw, and thus are sweetened with sugar or other fruits. Spices (like cinnamon or nutmeg) can also be a welcome addition.
Cranberry Sauce 2Cranberry sauce is a holiday staple in England, Canada, and the United States – it is a tradition that I personally love. That being said, I can’t stand the canned variety as it does no justice to this seasonal fruit. Making your own is so simple that it makes little to no sense to buy a tine of flavored jello. Granted this Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce is a little “fancier” than others: the citrus and spices give the sauce a warmer depth, and your kitchen will smell like heaven. While there is a good deal of sugar in this recipe, you can use more or less depending on your preference. Click HERE to see the recipe for this gorgeous side dish!
Indian-Spiced Vegetables 2When initially considering a vegetable side, the majority of the recipes I had were in-line with traditional menus: pan-seared brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, roasted carrots. After rummaging through countless Pinterest boards, I came across a unique alternative: Indian-Spiced Roasted Vegetables over Lentils. I sent the recipe to my mom, and was surprised to get an approval (and from the Stepdad, no less!) I tripled this recipe (heh…) but the original makes the perfect amount for a “meatless Monday” option any old time. The presentation was breathtaking – the colors combined with rustic veggies made for a lovely wild card at our holiday spread. Click HERE to see the recipe for this colorful veggie side!
Apple Spice Pie 1Dessert is nearly as important as the turkey (but not as stressful, thank GOD). While we’re not a family with a sweet tooth, we certainly had our fair share of options. To start, let’s talk about this Apple Pie with Spice Pastry – pie is the unwritten requisite for the holidays. A Thanksgiving dinner without pie is like Bach without figured bass…This is the type of dessert that can be enjoyed year after year, and it never gets old. I ended up choosing a recipe that includes spices in the actual pastry.
DSC_0364The result was a beautiful presentation of chopped apples nestled in a browned crust speckled with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The kitchen smelled heavenly, and the crust held up beautifully for serving. I might use this crust for future pies, and give a few other spices or herbs a try. Rosemary crust with pear filling, fennel pastry with spiced plums – the options are endless! Click HERE to see the recipe for this lovely pie.
Bourbon Pumpkin Tart 2This Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart had been on my list for a LONG time – it was on the cover of an issue of FineCooking magazine, and I knew I had to give it a try. Bourbon caramel sauce?? Sold. We served smaller slices…because our food comas would have been incurable had they been any larger. The bourbon helped to balance out the sweetness, while also giving giving the spices a smoky complement. I highly recommend this recipe – it’s a great alternative to pumpkin pie, and (though inordinately rich) will have your guests begging for seconds: click HERE to see the recipe for this decadent dessert!
Bourbon Pumpkin TartThis was not the first time I’d prepared a Thanksgiving dinner (see the 2011 and 2012 feasts, respectively) yet it was the first time preparing one for my family. Unlike hosting a party for friends, there is a certain level of expectation involved with one’s family during the holidays – you’ve already spent the better part of a week together, and a great meal becomes the thread that keeps everything in tact. My thoughts were awash with doubt: ‘They’ve been doing this without me for years – who am I to impose my cooking on their age-old DSC_0142traditions?’ Thankfully, my family is far more loving and supportive than my apprehensive thoughts may lead you to think. Remarkably, the fear of letting others down in the face of legacy is a timeworn theme. In the world of classical music, it is especially notable: the drive to innovate interpretations while also respecting that which came before is expected of any musician. Take Brahms: a German composer whose music had reached acclaim at the ripe age of 20 (having received written praise from his to-be mentor and friend Robert Schumann). Yet despite this success, Brahms felt his writing was constantly shadowed by the German “greats” whose works had redefined the standards of music. Beethoven’s precedent was especially harrowing, having said himself: “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.”

The symphony was a feat that Brahms had yet to undertake. He feared a venture into the symphonic idiom would have no value in the face of Beethoven’s symphonic masterpieces: how could his symphony have any commensurate measure? After nearly 15 years of compositional sketches and second-guessing, Brahms finally completed his first symphony: Symphony No. 1 in C minor – today it is one of the most celebrated in the orchestral repertoire.
DSC_0222Overcoming the pressure of precedents may be a difficult task, yet will lead to new traditions and values. Our Thanksgiving meal was an overwhelming success – while I could have dwelt on the setbacks or imperfect outcomes, they were ultimately of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. Laughter, joy, and family – that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, after all. The following recording of Brahms’ first symphony is with Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Phil: enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68.” The Kennedy Center

Like Night and Day

I would like to dedicate this post to Drew Thompson – bassoonist, swing dancer, beer connoisseur, and devoted friend. We’ll always remember you (1986-2013)MaplePumpkinBread2 VERSUS

Pumpkin Bread with Bacon Jam 3When writing this post, I couldn’t help but picture a figurative angel and devil on either shoulder: the angel being an advocate for all-things healthy, and the devil espousing those dangerous temptations we’re taught to avoid (read “fatty goodness”). Here we have two quick breads: both were baked in my favorite Pyrex loaf pan, contain pumpkin, and finished cooking in just under an hour. The affinity ends there – while I pride myself on being a healthy and active individual, breaking the rules for a decadent treat can be such a release. My shoulder angel would approve of the Maple-Spice Pumpkin Bread with Pepita Crunch, but the Pumpkin-Beer Bread with BACON JAM is most certainly a devilish indulgence.
PumpkinSeedsLet’s start light (even though you’re all here for the bacon jam) – most pumpkin breads call for sugar or butter, bumping the health quotient down a notch or two. Olive oil and maple syrup are the featured ingredients in this recipe, yielding a bread with a moist crumb and a subtle sweetness. The pepita topping is adorable…and I just happen to have WAY TOO MANY PEPITAS right now, so this was perfect 🙂 In case you’re wondering, a pepita is the edible portion of a pumpkin seed (having been removed from the more recognizable ivory-colored hull). They are fun to snack on, but (if you’re like me) it’s way easier to buy pre-packaged trail mix for your midday nosh…I’ll throw a handful of these into those mix packs every now and then as well.
MaplePumpkinBread1Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger make for a potent spice mix – I guarantee that your kitchen is going to smell like heaven. The resulting loaf is both stunning and aromatic, invoking thoughts of New England Falls and warm nights by the fire. As the literary figure Anne of Green Gables once said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (So I quoted a character who shares my name…biased, but I LOVE October!) This bread is perfect on its own, but a touch of honey or even butter would be a beautiful finishing touch. Click HERE to add this recipe to your seasonal repertory!
Bacon Jam[CUE about-face, and change into stretchy pants] – so let’s talk bacon: arguably THE fat of  choice in our nation. According to a survey published earlier this year, 69% of American households buy bacon…making it the second highest red meat of the country’s overall purchases. It appears in everything from breakfast casseroles to ice creams, so no surprises there. There are those who would go so far as to say that bacon is the “olive oil” of North America. I don’t know if I fully agree, but this jam gave me a new perspective on its potential – it’s akin to flavored butter, and doe not have an overwhelming “bacon-y” taste. It’s a really simple process, and the jam will last for a month in the refrigerator…if you manage to not eat it all in one sitting. Click HERE to see the recipe for this sinfully delicious spread!
Pumpkin-Beer BreadWhile the jam is ridiculous, the bread is just as drool-worthy. It’s loaded with pumpkin, thanks to a healthy dose of pumpkin purée AND pumpkin ale. Like the former recipe, you’ll be adding a handful of the fall’s best spices (my hand is much smaller than others’…so make that an “Anne handful” of spices). There is some whole wheat flour in this recipe, but once you’ve melted the butter, poured in the ale, and spread on the bacon jam…well, let’s just say now is not the time to focus on the “nutritional” elements. Indulgence is the reward, and this combo will certainly meet your expectations – click HERE to see the recipe for this richly flavored fall bread!
Pumpkin Bread with Bacon Jam 2Quick breads can go one of two ways – a healthy alternative for breakfast, or a decadent treat for dessert. At the end of the day, they all have a shared seasonal aesthetic and ease of preparation. These were both pumpkin breads, but the results were as different as night and day. While many composers valued the concept of opposing forces, one who particularly stands out was Robert Robert_Schumann_1839Schumann. His music was often guided by the impressions and emotions of various personae. In fact, he even drew inspiration from his own “multiple” personalities, most famously depicted through the characters Florestan and Eusebius. On the one hand you have Florestan – the outgoing adventurist driven by impulsive desires – and on the other Eusebius – the careful wallflower whose interests are more scholarly than enterprising. These two personalities are prominently featured in Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the Tribe of David): a group of 18 pieces for solo piano. Each is inspired by one or both characters, alternating between impulsive fervor and melodic contemplation. It is a truly marvelous collection – the pieces are described as “dances”, but act more as a back-and-forth dialogue between these two antithetical voices of Schumann’s nature. The following recording features pianist András Schiff – enjoy!

Sources Cited
“Pepita” Wikipedia.com
“Davidsbündlertänze” Wikipedia.com
“The Life and Music of Robert Schumann,” NPR Music

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,” Wikipedia.com

Enjoying Holiday Comforts

Season‘Tis the season to be baking…and I can safely say that flour and butter accounted for at least 50% of my holiday expenses. I love the traditions of holiday cookies – they’re simple, elegant, and nostalgic all at once. As a kid, December was time of homemade cookies and treats, courtesy of Mom…today, I am admittedly a bit crazier than my Mom when it comes to baking. So for this season, I thought would put my obsession towards a good cause. I baked over 300 cookies for a Bake-A-Thon Benefit, and donated all proceeds towards Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – I managed to raise $350 for the cause 🙂 I wanted to give all of you a “taste” of this season’s treats…
BerryThumbprints1Here is the first – classic Thumbprint Cookies. I LOVE this cookie…in fact, I can safely say it’s one of my favorites. The cookie itself is not too sweet, and the filling can be basically whatever flavor you choose: strawberry, peach, raspberry, or even boysenberry! They are a cinch to make, and come together in no time – you can choose to either fill them before or after baking (though I prefer the cookies baked with jam, personally). Click HERE to see the recipe for this holiday classic!
PeppermintThese next cookies were quite the surprise – I was dying to give this recipe a try. Yet when I realized they weren’t quite as “holiday-like” as the others, I gave them a minty twice and made Peppermint Brownie Sandwiches. I had some chocolate ganache leftover from a previous cookies recipe, and couldn’t bare to throw it away. So I made these little sandwiches, and sprinkled crushed peppermint candies on top.
ChocolatePeppermint1The result was a perfect little sandwich of chocolatey goodness with a minty finish. The cookies themselves are quite sturdy, making them perfect for sandwiches. You can basically use whatever fillings you like: Nutella, peanut butter, ice cream…basically let your creativity (or appetite) take flight! Click HERE to see the recipe for these chocolatey little sandwiches!
PistachioCranberryIceboxThis third cookie is lovely – they are not too sweet, and totally adaptable based on your own tastes. The original recipe for these Icebox Cookies calls for cranberries and pistachios, but you can pretty much use whatever add-ins your heart desires: pecans, chocolate chips, even rum-soaked raisins! Just be sure to have extra dough prepared, because these little bites go fast – click HERE to see the recipe for these delectable holiday treats!
StepdadEvery household has its own “soundtrack” for the holiday season – at my own home, you can expect carols and lots of brass music (courtesy of a stepfather, pictured above, who has a true love for all things brass). One of his favorites? German Brass  – arguably one of the strongest brass groups out there. Because it was and still is one of his favorites, listening to this ensemble is just as nostalgic for me as holiday cookies. To similarly give you a “taste” of my visit home this holiday season, here is the German Brass performing Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D major, RV 230 (featuring the unstoppable Matthias Höfs). It’s worth saying that it’s in a different key than the original…silly brass players 😉 Whatever your holiday traditions may be, I hope all of you had a beautiful holiday – enjoy the music!

A Colorful and Beautiful Occasion

turkeyday4When people are falling asleep on your sofa from the dreaded food coma, you know that you’ve hosted a successful Thanksgiving meal. Last year I had 16 people crammed into my apartment…this year there were only 9 of us, and it is was the PERFECT size. The dinner was potluck-style, which resulted in a stunning spread: Parmesan Pumpkin Biscuits, White Bean Gratin, Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Beef Bourguignon, Salad with Roasted Squash, Truffle Mashed Potatoes, Onion Pancetta Stuffing…swoon. I relinquished the need to make the 20+ dishes I hoped to, and instead invested all of my energy into the main event: the Salted Roast Turkey with Herb and Shallot Gravy.
turkeyday1This was a big bird…which made for some comical “behind-the-scenes” drama (picture a 5-foot person woman to lift this thing…you get the picture). The recipe was quite different from last year’s turkey – rather than soaking the bird in a brine, I used a “dry brine”. In other words, the bird was seasoned with a salt mixture and left overnight – I read multiple criticism on wet brining for its lack of flavor and odd texture (considering the meat has, essentially, been waterlogged). A dry brine is intended to produce a similarly succulent bird while also imparting a more flavorful seasoning in the meat (herbs and zest, in this case).
turkeyday2The turkey was, needless to say, divine – it was full of flavor, quite tender, and (if I do say so myself) really beautiful. You can find the recipe for this gorgeous bird HERE. So now the question on whether or not I stick with this technique or return to the full brine…I’d have to say this newer method has won me for the following reasons:

  1. Ease of preparation: rather than having to manage a bag filled with COLD, salty water, I was able to season the bird and let it rest on a baking sheet in the fridge (no kitchen sink catastrophe this year, ha!)
  2. Flavor: while most people opt for smothering their turkey with gravy and/or cranberry sauce, the meat was actually quite good on its own. The multitude of leftover salads, sandwiches, etc. that I’ve been enjoying since Thanksgiving can speak to that.
  3. Make-ahead items: the stock, herbed salt, and mise-en-place were things I could do WAY before the actual day. This, my friends, is a key strategy to being a successful (and sane) host.

turkeyday3Okay…so I didn’t JUST make the turkey (it’s no secret that I am a little crazy when it comes to hosting…) but I also didn’t make anywhere near as much as I did last year. A stress-free host = the perfect party. One of my 2012 solutions? Appetizers. These don’t have to be fancy – your guests (most likely) won’t have eaten anything all day, so anything edible will do, haha! In all seriousness, give your guests food that will appease their ferocious hunger, while still leaving enough room for the big event. My personal favorite were the Orange Chipotle-Spiced Pecans, which you can find the recipe for HERE! I also had cheeses, sausages, sweet potato bites…to name a few.
CandiedPecansIf there is one thing I insist on making (other than the turkey), it’s pie. This is where I can really let my creative juices flow, trying new flavor combination and what not. I went for a classic here: Bourbon Pumpkin Pie. I used an actual sugar pumpkin (instead of canned) – the result was a pie with more depth of flavor, and less of that off-putting texture that canned varieties can impart. The crust is one of my favorite recipe – it’s not elegant, but it is SO good. If there is one thing you can rely on in my kitchen, it is always taste over appearance. Click HERE to learn more about this irresistible pie!
PumpkinPieMoral of the story? It was a great night – there was more food than 9 people could ever hope to eat, great conversations, and wonderful company (clean-up was another story, but this is a cooking blog…not a Clorox ad). Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I do it again as soon as next weekend? Absolutely not, haha! What’s truly great about Thanksgiving is its distinction from all other meals – it’s the one time of year that a bountiful feast is merited, and we can celebrate everything that we have to be thankful for.
turkeyday5As I continue to grow and make Boston my home, I realize just how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends and family – their continued love and support make every moment worthwhile. It was this very realization that inspired my musical pairing: Variations on an Original Theme ‘”Enigma”, Op.36, by Edward Elgar – he dedicated the work to his “friends pictured within”. What’s perfect about this pairing is the implication of an actual “variety” – this meal was a colorful assortment of personalities and tastes. From a simple melody emerged this beautiful, fully developed composition consisting of 14 variations. The most renowned is arguably “Nimrod,” which is of course a tearjerker to the “nth” degree. I chose this work not only for its familial genesis (both his wife and friends served as an impetus for its creation) but for its overall multiformity. No Thanksgiving meal should ever feel “dull” or “uninspired”, for it is a meal that brings people together – it embraces diversity. I’ve included two recordings below: the first is with Leonard Bernstein at the podium conducting the first 7 variations, and the second with Daniel Barenboim conducting “Nimrod” (grab those tissues folks…) I hope that all of you had a beautiful Thanksgiving, and were surrounded by loving friends and/or family – enjoy this beautiful work 🙂

Sources Cited:
“Enigma Variations,” Wikipedia.com