I Can’t Believe it’s not Cheese!

We all love the familiarity of a creamy bowl of macaroni and cheese. There really is nothing quite like it. I’m not talking about those blue boxes of Kraft – I mean the real deal. So you can imagine my curiosity when I came across a vegan recipe for Macaroni and “Cheese” that claimed to be practically indistinguishable from the original.
I’m not a big fan of soy cheeses, but not neither is this recipe. It relies on two “secret” ingredients – ground cashews and nutritional yeast. The second one may have you running in terror, but consider the following: it is a pure, inactive strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae; the same used to brew beer and make wine. This ingredient is primarily used for its flavor, yet is also a great source of vitamin B12 for vegans. It is crucial to achieving the right taste in this dish, and it comes pretty darn close to mac and “cheese”
While this dish may sound complicated, it’s incredibly simple. The sauce is combined in a processor, then heated briefly before being added to the pasta. I’ll admit – I was apprehensive about the potential of this, but once again had surprised carnivores reaching for seconds. I can’t vouch for those who are enamored with the Kraft variety, but recommend this highly to anyone looking for a new twist on an American classic – click HERE to make this “cheesy” dish! I also made my favorite roasted cauliflower recipe (primarily to utilize my new lighting set!) which you can find the recipe for HERE.     
The “minimal” effort of this dish, and it subsequently rich flavor, led me to a lesser known category of classical music: the minimalists. Minimal music was a style that emerged in Western music around the mid-1900s. Terms to describe this style are conceptual, limited, continual, patterned, etc. I decided this dish’s pairing would be best with a composer who could appreciate its vegan qualities, so I went with self-ascribed vegetarian Philip Glass. To emphasize the depth of this simple dish, I went with his Song V from Songs and Poems for Solo Cello. Written between 2005 and 2007, this series was composed for acclaimed soloist Wendy Sutter (whose recording I’ve included below). While it’s a very “minimal” work, it is quite beautiful. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cowfr10p-no

Sources Cited:
“Nutritional Yeast.” BestNaturalFoods.com 
“Minimal Music,” Wikipedia.com 

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A Match Made in Heaven

Peanut Butter…Chocolate…has their ever been a more perfect pair? The brilliance of combining the two borders on genius, and has captivated dessert lovers for generations. I’ve made these particular cookies several times, and they are always foolproof (and disappear in a matter of minutes). I can’t say enough about these mouthwatering cookies, and can guarantee that almost everyone will love these Peanut Butter Cookie Cups.
It’s thanks to Harry Burnett Reese for making “two great tastes that taste great together” a reality. Reese, a dairyman and shipping foreman for Milton S. Hershey (yup, this guy) invented the Reese’s® Peanut Butter Cup in 1928. He went on to create his own company as the addicting candy became more and more successful; Hershey®’s purchased rights to the brand years later.* Fun Fact: For those of you who can’t get enough of this perfect pairing, Reese’s® apparently creates enough peanut butter cups to provide every person living in the United States, Japan, Europe, Australia, China, Africa, and India with one cup per year!**  It should be noted that while Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are ideal, other brands can be used (I, for one, used the Trader Joe’s brand – shown in the photo above).
These cookies are fairly simple to make, though timing is everything – it’s absolutely crucial to have the candies unwrapped and chilled in the freezer for at least 30 minutes prior to baking the cookies. Otherwise you will have nothing more than a melted mess of Reese’s (despite how delicious melted Reese’s may seem, you don’t want to be cleaning that off your kitchen counters – this is from experience). Though you will hate the wait, allowing the cookies to cool for the appropriate amount of time is very important as well. So stop debating about whether or not to bake these – click HERE to get started on these awesome cookies!
The idea that peanut butter and chocolate are a “match made in heaven” evoked, for me, the romance of Robert and Clara Schumann. Schumann was a 19th century German composer, best known for his piano works and lieder, or songs for voice and piano. Clara inspired much of Robert’s writing, who said the following on his inspirations: “You write to become immortal, or because the piano happens to be open, or you’ve looked into a pair of beautiful eyes.”^ Robert fell in love with the piano virtuoso when she was only 15, and they were married 6 years later. Their love still stands as one of the greats in classical music history. For this pairing (thanks to Tim Wilfong!), I chose the song Widmung from Myrthen – a collection of songs dedicated to Clara. This recording is by coloratura soprano Diana Damrau, and is a beautiful interpretation – enjoy!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QpChVbsPm8&NR=1

Sources Cited:
* “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups” Wikipedia.com 
** Reese’s Website 
^ “Robert Schumann: A Romantic Hero.” NPR.org 
# “Robert Schumann” Wikipedia.com 

Two Cupcakes, Both Alike in Delectability

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

Harnessing a Taste for Derby

Derby Day Celebrations are perhaps some of most ironic of all sporting affairs. In Kentucky there is a two-week long festival celebrating the race, which is all of 90 seconds. That’s right – the Kentucky Derby lasts no more than 2 minutes, yet is the state’s most prominent annual event. Nonetheless, one can’t help but be enchanted with Derby enthusiasm and its beloved traditions: mint juleps, ridiculous attire (especially hats), endless parades, garlands of roses, and every pie imaginable.* My friend Beth McDonald (having completed her Bachelor’s at the University of Kentucky) is a genuine Derby enthusiast. She hosted her second annual Derby Day Party this past weekend, and enlisted my pie expertise. So I arrived at the party donning an enormous hat with the following two pies: Kentucky Bourbon-Walnut Pie with Chocolate Ganache and Peanut Butter Silk Pie with Pretzel Crust.
I have never been, and never intend to be, one who relies on a box – “from scratch” shall forever be my baking mantra. Pillsbury frozen pie crusts make it seem so simple to, when, in fact, pie crusts are an inherent art form to a number of culinary traditions. The creation of the perfect pie crust takes place over the course of two to three days, ideally. This includes chilling, resting, and baking. I always cube my butter and freeze it the night before I make pie dough (tip from SimplyRecipes). I then wake up early enough the next day to make the dough, and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. Patience is what makes the perfect pie crust – so if you are craving a pie last-minute, then and only then is Pillsbury your best friend.
No Derby is complete without a “Derby Pie”. A Kentucky tradition dating back to 1950, the original Derby Pie was a chocolate-walnut tart created by Walter and Leaudra Kern, owners of the Melrose Inn. A popular addition to this pie is a quarter cup of Kentucky Bourbon, as well as substituting pecans for the walnuts. I opted for the traditional walnuts, but added some of Kentucky’s finest: Woodford Reserve. The title “Derby Pie” is  a trademark strongly defended by the Kerns’ Kitchen, so any publication of the recipe, from this blog to the Bon Appétit cooking magazine, must use an alternate title.** For some reason the top of my pie was less seemly than normal (half the walnuts migrated over to one side of the pie, and the chocolate was more prominent on the other), so I covered mine in a silky layer of ganache. And besides, who doesn’t love melted chocolate? Check out my version of this classic by clicking HERE
If there is such a thing as a pretzel addiction, then I am guilty as charged. I LOVE pretzels (as all my friends know). The duplicity of this pie is what makes it truly remarkable: sweet and salty, silky and crunchy, peanut and pretzel. This pretzel addict was sold.
This recipe was a combination of two recipes. It makes a very soft pie (fair warning) but with a fantastic flavor! That being said, keep this pie chilled until ready to serve.  Both the filling and crust are fairly simple (compared to the previous pie in this post), and can be made either the day of or the night before. For the sake of convenience, I almost always try to make things the day before, if possible. I made this pie with crunch peanut butter, to add some more texture to the filling. Click HERE to learn how to make this sweet and salty delight.
The musical pairing for these pies was a no-brainer: William Tell Overture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, think of every TV Show/cartoon with racing horses…remember that theme? Yes, this is a cliché choice for Derby Day pies, but the selection is far too fitting to ignore. This overture is (in actuality) the opening to Gioachino Rossini’s Guillame Tell – an opera that tells the story of the Swiss legend and hero William Tell. Yet the popular radio/television series The Lone Rangerhas forever displaced the context of this overture for millions of Americans. The overture is divided into four continuous sections. The known and loved excerpt comes from the Finale – the “cavalry charge” (contextually part of the battle scene in Guillame Tell) that served as the opening sequence for the classic television series.*** The video I have included here include the final two sections: the Ranz des Vaches, or “Call to the Cows”, and the Finale. The Ranz des Vaches has a pastorale quality, and features the English Horn; this section is yet another highly recognized theme. The recording features conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic – I highly recommend taking the time to listen to the video “Part 1” as well to get a sense for the whole piece. Enjoy!

Sources cited:
* “Kentucky Derby.” Wikipedia.com
** “Derby pie.” Wikipedia.com
*** “William Tell Overture.” Wikipedia.com

A Sweet Reflection on Simpler Days

Cookies, regardless of flavor or shape, are always reminiscent of simpler days; days when you would wait by the kitchen, counting down the seconds until a tray of golden baked treats would be taken out of the oven. While this memory has numerous variations, no one can deny the nostalgic tug we get from cookies. A baker’s best friend, cookies are fairly simple to make: the majority are one-bowl recipes needing little more than flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. They are quick to assemble, and will bake in less than 15 minutes. Once cooled, cookies can easily be stacked in tupperware and, at 24 a batch, a number of these bite-sized treats can be made in less than an hour! In fact, the convenience of cookies came to my rescue this past weekend – I needed something to bring to my dear friend Brian McCarthy’s piano recital (which, as a side note, was fantastic!!!). With the little time but plenty of flour, I knew cookies had to be it, and so I chose the following: Oatmeal Cinnamon-Raisin Cookies and Dark & Fudgy White Chocolate Chip Cookies.
There are two viable conclusions for the above ingredients – some would say “breakfast,” while Cookie Monster would yell “Cookies!!!” Talk about a trip down memory lane. Yet while many consider these an American classic, they can actually be traced back several centuries to British Isles. Oats, as a prominent grain of the region, were often formed into oatcakes: a pancake-like dish that is today still considered to be a specialty in Scotland. European Explorers brought the cereal grain and their recipes to Colonial America by in the 17th century. Rolled oats as we know them today were introduced towards the end of the 19th century with the establishment of the much-beloved Quaker Oats Company.* 
This particular recipe is from a cookbook gifted to me by my sister’s boyfriend, Grant. Here’s why I approve of this guy: he bought me this book as a Christmas gift before he knew that I had a cooking blog! Major brownie points there (no pun intended).  The book is Cookies! Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes, and has all the classics, from chocolate chip to gingerbread men. I added walnuts and a little cinnamon to the mix, but those were the only changes. Click HERE to view this classic recipe.
These next cookies are deceptive in appearance. To the common observer, they appear to be dark chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips; an “inside out” chocolate chip cookie, if you will.  But a bite of the rich treats will reveal their true identity: brownies!
For the purists who believe a bar-shaped brownie is the only acceptable way to enjoy this classic, I dare you to try these – they are fantastic! The white chocolate chips are optional, and can be replaced by any other add-in: pecans, M&Ms, etc. I found these on one of my favorite step-by-step food blogs: The Hungry Mouse (fabulous photos!) I made no changes, and they turn out perfect every time (melted chocolate + cookie batter rarely fails to please). You can find this mouthwatering recipe HERE.
Sticking to the theme of nostalgia, I wanted to choose a piece that had been near and dear to my own childhood. Knowing that very few kids are exposed to the piece I’m dying to showcase on this blog (Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – coming soon!), I had to be realistic and reflect on my own musical memories. As always, Disney came to my rescue – their 1946 production of Peter and the Wolf was undoubtedly a classical moment inherent to my childhood. The orchestral music is originally by Sergei Prokofiev: “one of those pure-hearted artists who…had a vivid, uncanny remembrance of childhood.”** Optimism and integrity are prominent qualities in Prokofiev’s writing (and yes flutists – the Prokofiev Sonata in D Major will be showcased here eventually). In the meantime, I’ve included two YouTube links. The first, in my opinion, is the better recording of the two: it’s a more theatrical production performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Claudio Abbado (amazing combination), with none other than Sting as the narrator (though the Patrick Stewart rendition is priceless: trekkie-in-training with TNG). The second video I had to include: it’s the original 1946 Disney production with the amazing Sterling Holloway as narrator (voice of Winnie the Pooh). Enjoy!

1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzjIlni8_qg
2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILI3s7Wonvg&feature=related

Sources Cited:
* Olver, Lynne. “Cookies, Crackers, & Biscuits.” TheFoodTimeline.com
**Nestyev, Israel V. Prokofiev. Stanford University Press, 1961.