A Staple Indulgence

Potatoes1I have this funny habit of cooking a ton when it gets cold outside, and then neglecting to post here. Let’s call it my blogging hibernation…for lack of anything else creative coming to mind. And this is a frivolous excuse considering we have had a very mild winter. SO to compensate for my truancy, I’ll share two dishes in this post involving one of my favorite food groups: potatoes! Potatoes make for an exceptional comfort food in the cold weather…when it’s properly winter. Read on to learn more about these two lovely dishes: Rosemary Smashed Potatoes with Dill & Yogurt Sauce and a Coconut & Peanut Red Lentil Stew.

Potatoes2From a historical perspective, the potato carries a lot of weight. It was first cultivated in modern-day Peru between 8000 and 5000 BC. The name as we know it today was a result of the Spain conquering the region, at which time the “conquistadores” named it patata. After introducing the crop to Europe through the Columbian exchange, the potato would grow to become a (if not the) worldwide staple. Yet the Spanish introduced only a handful of varieties from the Americas, which – when blight struck in the late 19th century – led to the Great Irish Famine….oof. Another fun fact is that the potato and sweet potato, albeit similar in appearance, are distant relatives. The former belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) while the latter to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). You don’t actually need to know any of this to cook these two dishes – I just think it’s super cool.

Potatoes4SO let’s come back up for air after that little tangent. These smashed potatoes are actually quite simple to make. The keys to success are to find potatoes that are small enough and to be patient with the smashing process. Why? Because a few will shatter or break cleanly in half (not pictured…though there were plenty). One thing I can guarantee is that the broken ones will be just as tasty, so go crazy and embrace the imperfect. You can go with or without the yogurt sauce – but the dill and yogurt combo is irresistible in its own right. Click HERE for the recipe to these salty pillows of joy.

LentilStew1Winter and stew are like mornings and coffee – it’s impossible to make it through the first without the second (I’m aware I just confessed to loving coffee a little bit too much…moving on). What I love about this stew is you can prep most of the ingredients in advance – from the mirepoix to measuring out the spices. I prepped most the ingredients the morning of the dinner party, storing them in the fridge until half an hour before I started to cook. It made the preparation so so easy (and hassle-free).

LentilStew3Another thing I like about this stew is its “heartiness” as a vegan dish. You purée half of the ingredients at the end, to create a thicker consistency. There is an optional spicy quotient – I used two dried chilies, with the seeds, reconstituted and minced. You can use less (or more if you are a little crazy). This stew also keeps very well, and is more flavorful on day #2 – thanks to sitting with those lovely spices overnight. Whether this is for a dinner party or a week of lunch prep, this one is a keeper. Click HERE for the recipe to this hearty and healthy winter comfort. 

LentilStew2Given the centrality of the potato’s “staple” status for this post, I wanted to pair these dishes with a work that could convey their colorful depth while staying true to this concept. That brought me to the iconic lied (or lieder, for plural): which is German for “song”, and came to represent a musical style that embraced poetry and voice.


The man, the legend -Robert Schumann

The lied was (and still is) a staple for many composers. The style dates back to the 12th century, where the majority of the writing was monophonic. Yet as the the art form evolved, polyphony prevailed as voice plus piano (or orchestra) became the prevalent structure. The lied truly flourished in the 18th and early-19th centuries with the advent of Romanticism. Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms and other great composers produced some of their most epochal works as lieder; specifically as song cycles (where a theme or story ties together all the lieder within a set). Perhaps my favorite example of a song cycle is Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love). Schumann wrote the work in 1840, impressively within the span of a week. The music is set to a series poems by Heinrich Heine: painting the tale of a man enraptured by love, only to hopelessly discover it is an unrequited passion. The below recording features the tenor Fritz Wunderlich, whose performance of Dichterliebe is still held as the gold standard. The songs arequite  short, and perhaps the two most famous in the series are the opening, “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” and “Ich grolle nicht” at 7:17. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Potato,” Wikipedia.com
“Sweet Potato,” Wikipedia.com
“Lied: GERMAN SONG,” Encyclopaedia Britannica
“Schumann’s Dichterliebe,” Hampstead Arts Festival
“The Schumann Chamber Series: Year Four,” Emmanuel Music Program Notes

Better than Take-Out

Kung Pao 2For many, take-out Chinese is a beloved ritual: the sauce-laden dishes packed into decorative food buckets have become a movie night staple (in fact, I’m about to enjoy such an evening with my new roomie Megan!) Yet let’s be honest…it’s not the healthiest of cuisines. In fact, the nutritional detriments outweigh nearly all of the benefits. By no means does this mean you should forfeit your occasional Friday night movie and Chinese take-out tradition. But there’s a much healthier way to enjoy the cuisine for the rest of the week – give homemade a go! My boyfriend Tom loves to cook Chinese food, and his Kung Pao Chicken is possibly the best I’ve ever had (take-out included).
Kung Pao 6Most of Tom’s recipes on this blog have highlighted the cuisines of Southeast Asia (under the aegis of South of the Orient series [hyperlink]), yet this is the first recipe of his that comes from the Orient proper. The dish – also known as Gong Bao or Kung Po – originated in the Sichuan Province of southwest China. It is named after Ding Baozhen: a governor of Sichuan during the Qing Dynasty. It is claimed to have been one of his favorite dishes, and was thus named in his legacy.
Kung Pao 5However, its connection to an imperial official was later repudiated by radicals of the Cultural Revolution: a pro-communist movement from 1966 to 1976 that sought to eradicate cultural and capitalist traditions in China. The dish was therefore referred to as hong bao ji ding (“fast-fried chicken cubes”) or hu la ji ding (“chicken cubes with seared chiles”). The name Kung Pao was reinstated during China’s political reformation in the 1980’s.
Kung Pao 4It’s a classic stir fry of chicken, peanuts, and vegetables, and is famously known for having a spicy kick. The traditional recipe contains Sichuan peppercorns (which I’ve blogged about before), but isn’t a necessary ingredient. Tom’s version relies on Chinese chili paste, which is gently sauteed with a variety of minced aromatics. This step is where the magic happens – the rest will come from the sauces and ingredients, but these aromatics set up the base of this dish’s awesomeness.
Kung Pao 3The best part about Tom’s take on this recipe is the copious incorporation of vegetables: we used a mixture of kale, bell peppers, and mushrooms. You can use whatever variety of vegetable you prefer, increasing or decreasing the amounts as needed. That being said, the two “add-ins” that should remain are the chicken and the peanuts (which really make the dish). The result is a meal that is both healthier, more colorful, and much tastier than take-out: click HERE to turn this classic into a homemade tradition!
Kung Pao 1At the end of China’s cultural revolution mentioned above, the nation was longing to reawaken its artistic ambitions. The Central Conservatory in China reopened its doors in 1977, with the intention to accept no more than 100 students. 18 THOUSAND applications arrived, all of whom were desperate to pursue an art form they had been forced to abnegate for the past decade. The Conservatory accepted 200 students that year, with a number eventually joining the ranks of 95534-004-D7249C13the internationally renowned musicians. One of the most notable graduates of that class was composer Tan Dun – his style is a unique fusion of Western, traditional Chinese, and experimental styles. In 1997, Tan Dun was commissioned to write a piece celebrating a truly historic moment for China: the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty from British rule. The work was premiered at the reunion ceremony (pictured right), titled “Heaven, Earth, Mankind – Symphony 1997”. The symphony is a large-scale work for solo cello, Bianzhong bells, a full orchestra, and children’s chorus. It is a celebration of the old, the present, and the future, paying tribute to the values of ancient China while looking forward to a new global community. The below videos are two excerpts from the work, titled “Jubilation,” and the “Song of Peace” (the videos are a little bizarre, but are the only two I could find on YouTube) – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Kung Pao Chicken,” Wikipedia.com
Melvin, Sheila and Jinding Cai. “Composers Emerging From China’s Grim Revolution,” New York Times. April 1, 2001.
“Heaven, Earth, Mankind (Symphony 1997),” TanDunONLINE. 2012

Sweet Kentucky Bourbon

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

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

Flavorful Interpretations

Pesto and Chicken 2One thing I love about Italian food is the bang you get for your buck. It’s one of the more versatile cuisines, and fits beautifully within any budget or schedule. This past weekend, my boyfriend Tom and I traveled to Boston’s North End (for lunch at Saus, my new favorite restaurants in town) and visited the Open Market shortly after. Aside from the standard deluge of veggies and fruits, we came across these huge bouquets of BASIL. Without thinking twice we bought two bundles, along with some tomatoes, asparagus, and red bell peppers. Our basil overload led to a platter of Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta and a to-die for Basil-Walnut Pesto that we tossed with pan-roasted chicken thighs and asparagus…it was so freakin good that I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Pesto 2Pesto is originally from Genoa (a region located in Northern Italy), and comes from the Genoese term pestâ – “to crush or pound.” A traditional pesto contains pine nuts, garlic, basil, Parmesan, and olive oil that is “crushed” to a paste in a mortar and pestle (a word whose derivative is the Latin equivalent of pestâ). We opted for walnuts in ours, along with shaved Parmesan Reggiano. It honestly doesn’t really matter what ingredients you choose for a pesto, so long as they are complementary of one another and not totally wacky (but hey, no one’s gonna judge if you decide to make a pesto out of chocolate chips and parsley…but they probably won’t eat it). This pesto, on the other hand, will definitely be a winner at your next dinner party – click HERE to see the recipe!
PestoBruschetta is one of my favorite appetizers – it’s simple, elegant, and (like pesto) fairly customizable. We roasted a bell pepper over an open flame (do this with caution, of course) and topped each slice of bread with a healthy dollop of basil, veggies, and mozzarella. The metal pan gave each piece a toasty finish, and every bite was packed with flavor. This can be a hit for vegans (great with pine nuts) or carnivores (chicken would be killer!) Whatever your speed, this is a great appetizer or side, and basil is hands-down the herb to go with: click HERE to see the recipe!
BruschettaBoth of these dishes, as aforementioned, can easily be tailored to the preferences and vision of the chef. Room for creativity is a beautiful thing in cooking – as you gain experience, a recipe becomes more of a suggestive tool that can applied to your own ideas. There is definite symmetry between this concept and performance. When a musician first encounters a piece, they go through the motions of learning the notes and becoming comfortable with the overall work. Once it’s “under their fingers”, interpretation steps in – the moment for the musician’s voice to really shine. Perhaps one of the greatest voices in the history of classical music is that of Fritz Kreisler. Fritz_Kreisler_1Both a violinist and a composer, he was an extension of an era where virtuosic musicians were putting their voice into performance AND writing. The art of musical interpretation is thus beautifully ensured through each of his compositions’ intimate understanding of the instrument. Today, violinists are able to quite literally pour their soul into writing that fits the violin “like a glove”. I find Kreisler’s Recitative and Scherzo for solo violin to be especially apropos – written in 1910, Kreisler dedicated this short work to his colleague violinist Eugene Ysaÿe (yet another performer who also composed). The below recording is with Jascha Heifetz – at the age of 11, Heifetz performed before Kreisler for the first time. Kreisler turned to the others in the room and exclaimed “We might as well take our fid­dles and smash them across our knees.” After listening to the video below, you’ll understand what he meant – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Maltese, John Anthony. “Jascha Heifetz: Violinist Nonpareil,” Jascha Heifetz: The Official Website
Strauss, Axel. “Violin Music: Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo, Op. 6,” All Things Strings
“PHOTO: Fritz Kreisler,” 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!

Crooning for Christmas Cookies

I should start this post by saying Merry Christmas!!! There really is no such thing as too many cookies, especially during the holiday season. Everyone from children to Santa Claus relish these seasonal treats, and Christmas morning just wouldn’t be the same without the smell of freshly baked goods lingering in the air. As you can glean from my previous posts, my baking skills have been amped to the max for the past several weeks. While cutouts are a staple of the season, Thus, the cookie chronicles continue with a pair of recipes that are out-of-this-world amazing – boozy Rum Balls and irresistible Peanut Butter Balls (or Buckeyes).
Considering these are no-bake cookies, many assume that rum balls will knock you off your feet after just a few bites. Though it’s true that the rum isn’t “baked out”, it’s highly unlikely that you will feel the effects of the alcohol. That being said, I do add a “touch” more to mine (including a splash of Kahlua for added depth). The two must-have ingredients for rum balls are chocolate and rum (naturally), while the remaining add-ins can vary. Most recipes call for crushed biscuits, ground nuts, and a binding ingredient of some kind (jam, corn syrup, etc). Though many imagine these cookies as an American tradition, they are enjoyed across the globe: from Australia to Canada to Denmark! I can guarantee that you’ll love these boozy treats – click HERE to make these treats a holiday tradition in your home!
The combination of peanut butter and chocolate will rarely disappoint – you will be disappointed, though, to discover that these will be the first cookies to disappear from your holiday spread. These mouthwateringly delicious treats are, according to my coworker David, practically gourmet versions of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They are SO easy to make, yet the chilling time does require a labored patience while waiting to eat one. The state of Ohio calls these “Buckeyes,” leaving the tops without chocolate to resemble the nut of the Buckeye tree (Ohio’s state tree). They have naturally become a football tradition for the Ohio State Buckeyes. If you love Reese’s, then I promise these are for you – click HERE to discover the easiest, most delicious holiday cookie you’ll ever find!
As you have read, both of these recipes create cookies that are irresistibly delicious – despite their bite-sized form, they are both rich, decadent cookies. Last night I attended a Christmas Eve service and discovered the perfect pairing – Poulenc’s O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery), from his Quatre Motets pour le Temps de Noël. The text is a responsorial chant from the nocturnal Matins of Christmas – the prayer service that is celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve. The work is sung a cappella, yet is filled with rich, touching harmonies that reach right into your soul. I’ve included a recording of the Robert Shaw Festival Singers – I hope you enjoy it, and Happy Holidays everyone!!!


Sources Cited:
“Rum Ball,” Wikipedia.com
“Peanut Butter Balls,” Joy of Baking

A New Take on Holiday Traditions

For my family, the menu for Christmas dinner practically mirrors the cover of a “Good Housekeeping” holiday issue: creamy mashed potatoes, garlicky spinach, a juicy beef tenderloin, freshly baked cookies – the works. So when my roommate Jenn Berg offered to cook a meal with her take on tradition, you can imagine my surprise when she brought home a giant stack of tortillas and several pounds of ground beef. My Texan roomie was making her famous enchiladas, and I quickly understood why this could become a beloved tradition. She asked me to cover the desserts, and I made two that would make any Texan proud: Mexican Wedding Cakes and Sopapilla Cheesecake.
What’s interesting about Mexican Wedding Cakes is while the recipe is old, the name is fairly new. They are closely related to jumbles, a recipe dating back to the Middle Ages. They appeared in Russian culture around the 18th century as sweet confection in tea-sharing ceremonies. This tradition gave them the name Russian Tea Cakes – the shift to its current name has no evident impetus (though rumor has it the Cold War may have played a key role in the change).
These are easily my favorite cookie – they are basically bite-sized pillows of nutty, sugary goodness that are all-too-easy to make. Their lightness comes from using confectioners’ sugar in lieu of regular, and the addition of ground nuts give them a contrasting texture that is irresistibly perfect. While still warm, they are then tossed in confectioners’ sugar – genius! I can guarantee you will make these a Christmas tradition for it will be love at first bite – click HERE to see the recipe for these addictive cookies.
Sopapillas are another Berg Family tradition. They are essentially fried pastry squares that are served warm with honey and/or confectioners’ sugar. I wasn’t fully certain I’d be able concentrate on deep frying after a long day’s work, so I sought an alternative; that’s when I happened upon this recipe. Cheesecake is a Christmas tradition for my family, so this twist felt all too appropriate. I’ll admit, I was initially apprehensive about this recipe: crescent dough, cream cheese and melted butter? Sounds like a gooey mess out of context. The verdict: this cake is ridiculous. I guess you can credit the butter, but the dough does achieve a flaky texture emulating its sopapilla intention. It’s extremely easy to make, and yet still can bring anyone to their knees with its cinnamon-sugary goodness – click HERE to see how to make this unique twist on cheesecake.
I wanted a pairing the embraced the fun, unique take on tradition, so I chose Danzón No. 2, by Arturo Márquez. A celebrated Mexican composer, his works draw significant inspiration from the traditional styles and rhythms of his culture. In terms of Mexican contemporary music, this piece is one of the more venerated among orchestral repertoire (much like these two desserts will be in your baking repertoire!). I’ve included one of the more famous recordings  of this work – Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. Enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Russian Tea Cake,” Wikipedia.com
“Food Timeline: Cookies, Crackers, & Biscuits,” FoodTimeline.org

A Heavenly Slice of Tradition

A Thanksgiving dinner is never complete without pie; they are practically as revered as the main turkey itself! The promise of these desserts at the end of the big meal compels guests to find their second (or fourth) wind before satiety kicks in. I chose to take full advantage of this tradition, and made not one, not two, but three pies! If you recall from my previous post, I had 15 friends over for dinner, so my ambition to bake this many wasn’t too far-fetched. So for this post, It is only all too appropriate to start with a classic: Maple Pumpkin Pie.
Pumpkins, native to North America, were central to the lifestyles of the Native Americans, providing both nutritional sustenance as well as raw materials for everyday items (hollowed vessels, floor mats, etc). When the colonists first arrived, they quickly adopted this readily available squash to their own diets. Over time, they began to add milk and honey in an effort to enhance its flavor (a precedent to the beloved classic). Yet it was French chef Francoise Pierre la Varrene (once pumpkin began to be exported abroad) who created the first pumpkin custard with a pastry crust. The recipe was then sent to England, and subsequently back to the Americas.
This pie uses a fresh pumpkin rather than the canned variety. Though the latter is easily substituted, I highly recommend sticking with fresh – it gives the custard a pure taste that adds a new depth to this classic. It also uses maple syrup as a sweetener, giving this pie a more authentic sweet (rather than using an absurd amount of processed sugar). The funny thing with this pie (and the pie below) was that I accidentally purchased whole wheat pastry flour (a lighter alternative to whole wheat flour) for the crusts. It gave these pies more of a “harvest” appeal, yet still managed to create a beautifully flaky crust. That being said, I’d probably go for the plain ol’ pastry flour next time – click HERE to see the recipe for this Thanksgiving classic!
This second pie we all know and love – the beloved Pecan Pie. Though rumor holds this pie as a creation of French settlers introduced to the pecan by Native Americans while in New Orleans, the earliest record of this pie only dates back to the (very) late 19th century.  Karo® Syrup, founded in 1902, popularized the recipe in an effort to promote its product. Almost all recipes in practice today rely on the syrup (preferably Karo), with some establishments in the South even naming this dish the “Karo Pie.”
This recipe definitely makes one heck of a pie – it is from the Pioneer Woman, and she claims it is a “Pie that Will Make You Cry.” Fortunately, none of my guests were in tears while eating this, but there was a wave of silence during the dessert course (a good sign, I take it). Most pies use halved pecans, but this recipe calls for chopped nuts. I now prefer this method as it creates a beautifully even topping that still looks stunning, without all the hassle. Click HERE to see how to make this fabulous holiday pie!
I’ve saved the best for last (yet pictured it first as a teaser) – Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie. Granted, this is not a “Thanksgiving tradition,” but this is an extraordinary pie! A buttery graham cracker crust filled with a creamy, peanut butter mousse atop a rich layer of dark chocolate ganache – just typing that makes my mouth water. The combination of the dark chocolate with the whipped peanut butter results in a decadent yet refreshing taste that is all-too irresistible (my friend TJ swears it tasted like mint, hence the inclusion of “refreshing” – even though there is NO mint in this recipe, I’ll let you be the judge on this).  I can guarantee this pie will quickly become a Thanksgiving tradition for you and your family – click HERE to see how to make this mouth-watering pie!
For the musical pairing, I thought it only appropriate to go with an American composer: Charles Ives. As I’ve shared before on this blog, his music was the first of American composers to achieve international renown. Wanting a work that was ambitious yet not overly so, I chose his Symphony No. 2. Though his music is filled with experimental techniques, such as polytonality and tone clusters, he weaves recognizable themes throughout his works as musical quotations. His most discernible quotations are famous American folk songs, taking inspiration from his father’s work as an Army bandleader. I thought this work would especially be appropriate given its diversity of cultural quotations: Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms are all cited along with folk melodies. These pies, though arguably an American tradition, find origins in a number of cultures, from Native American staples to French pâtisseries. It’s also worth mentioning I performed this work with my roomie sitting next to me as first oboe! – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“This History of Thanksgiving and Pumpkin Pie.” Gourmet.com
“Pie & Pastry,” FoodTimeline.com
“Symphony No. 2: Notes,” A Charles Ives Website

A Treat for a Texan

Planning a surprise party is like organizing an elaborate meal – there’s prep work to ensure that everything goes smoothly, you have to know when and where the moving parts will be throughout, and you have to be prepared for anything that might happen. Ultimately, the true purpose of both is to bring  family and friends together. The other night I threw a surprise party for my roommate Jenn Berg – the turnout was great, the spread was epic, the champagne was flowing, and the look of sheer happiness on her face made it all worthwhile. Since she loves nutella, I decided to make this gorgeous Nutella Cake with Chocolate Ganache.
Nutella is a work of art, and there are very few who would say otherwise. In fact it’s so popular that they created a World Nutella Day to showcase the potential of this decadent spread! The original recipe was created by an Italian pastry maker named Pietro Ferrero. In the 1940s, his patisserie was limited on chocolate due to WWII rationing. Northern Italy has an abundant supply of hazelnuts, so Ferrero decided to create a mixture with cocoa to help extend his chocolate supply. The result was so successful that Ferrero created the company Ferrero SpA to market and sell the spread.
This isn’t your average flourless cake – the egg whites are whipped separately from the batter, while the ground hazelnuts act as a “flour” substitute. The result is a soufflé-like cake with a rich flavor contrast (from the nutella and hazelnuts). I wouldn’t say serve bigger slices as a result, though – you will still find it to be plenty rich. The recipe originally calls for Frangelico, but rum works just as well. It also originally calls for a garnish of hazelnuts, but I ended up using Ferrero Rocher balls instead (another favorite of Ferrero SpA). Click HERE to see the recipe for this gorgeous cake!
In homage to Jenn, an oboist, I chose a musical piece that I’ve heard her practicing many, many times: Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. Originally a suite composed for piano, Ravel later orchestrated four of the seven movements for orchestra. Each movement of the work is dedicated to friends Ravel lost in WWI. Filled with dance-like melodies and pastoral reflections, the work is more a celebration of life rather than a lamentation (making it a wonderful complement to our evening!) This piece places a number of demands on the oboe, making it a staple of their excerpt repertoire (especially for auditions!) I hope that one day I’ll have the chance to hear my extremely talented roomie to perform this with an orchestra – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Nutella,” Wikipedia.com
“Le tombeau de Couperin,” Wikipedia.com