What’s In A Name?

CarbonaraDinner2Ah the beauty of Carbonara – a dish that both my boyfriend Phillip and I felt would make for a great weeknight meal. This  iconic recipe is all about timing. The spaghetti needs to be cooked just before “al dente”, so you can add it back to the pot without fear of overcooking – and the heat subtle enough so as not to curdle the eggs. While an incredibly patient Phil was fishing the spaghetti out of the pot, I was whisking the eggs and grabbing a small cup of the leftover pasta water. It can be a tough egg to crack, they might say (couldn’t resist). The result should be a silky sauce, laden with cheese and pepper, that covers the pasta and pulls from the pan and my mouth is watering while typing this out.

TruffleCarbonara is a Roman dish, with 6 very simple ingredients: pasta, Parmesan, egg, guanciale, salt and pepper. But we decided to add truffle, mostly because I had never bought fresh truffle and it was there and Phil was all for it. It was also a great learning opportunity…in that I should only buy fresh truffle if I want to eat it in multiple consecutive dishes. For this at least, it was the actual icing on the cake. Fun truffle fact! Harvesters once relied on pigs to discover these pricey fungi but (given the pigs’ voracious appetite for truffles) the responsibility shifted to man’s best friend, as all a dog desires is a loving pat and a delicious (non-truffle) treat. 

Phil Hands2The name Carbonara is an interesting one – it’s derived from carbonaro, which means “charcoal burner”. NOT what I expected, but there you have it. Why it was awarded such a name has several theories: it was once a hearty meal for miners, it found its fame in a Roman restaurant of the same name, or even that it served as tribute to the secret society “Carbonari” (personally my favorite theory, albeit the least likely). All this being said, what the dish had been called prior to the mid-1900s remains a mystery. Fortunately for us, the recipe itself is known far and wide – and is much tastier than a name. Click HERE for the recipe to this classic Italian dish. 

Carbonara2For the musical pairing, an Italian piece was an obvious fit – and (to help narrow it down) my favorite element of the “carbonara” narrative is the mystery behind its name…which inspired my choice for the pairing: Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. This is one of the most famous arias ever – many know it, yet few know its meaning (sort of like Carbonara, eh?) So for those who have neither seen nor heard of the opera Turandot, a VERY quick summary – Princess Turandot has many suitors, yet will only marry the man who can accurately answer 3 riddles. None succeed until Prince Calaf wins her game…she begs her father to release her from this oath, yet he insists she marries the prince. So Calaf (being a good dude) gives her an “out”: if she can guess his true name, she can execute him; yet if she cannot, she must marry him (yes, this is a bizarre contract). She recruits the entire kingdom screaming “Let no one sleep!” (i.e Nessun Dorma) until his name is uncovered – the aria we know and love is when Calaf takes on the refrain and claims Victory (Vincero!) believing that none truly know his name. It ends on a somewhat happy note, they marry and she doesn’t murder her entire kingdom for lack of finding his name (yay). Random aside: I was today years old when I discovered the famous “B” held at the end (second to last note) is a sixteenth note – yet Pavarotti (along with most tenors) holds for nearly 5 whole seconds, but oh the panache! You can hear his performance in the clip below – a true legend.

Sources Cited: 
“Carbonara,” Wikipedia.com
“Truffle,” Wikipedia.com
“Nessun Dorma” Wikipedia.com

It’s Gravy, Baby

DSC_0449I have to say, the Pacific NW won me over this summer. Surrounded by mountainous vistas and cerulean waters, it’s a paradise for those who love the outdoors. Now that I’m back on the East Coast, I’ve been reminiscing about my travels over the last three months. Tom and I visited a lot of really cool places, and one of those getaways included a weekend stay on Hat Island. The above was the view just outside the house we stayed in – sipping hot coffee in hoodies and slippers while watching the sun rise – courtesy of some wonderful friends. It was a quick but memorable weekend, and we indulged in some fantastic dinners while there. Tom and I treated the group to a big Italian meal: a basic arugula salad and heaping plates of Sunday Gravy (basically extreme spaghetti and meatballs).

Hat Island is a very unique place. Housing more than 200 families (permanently or as a vacation stay), it is a private island that’s just over 1-mile in length and overrun with bunnies. Tom’s good high school friends’ have a property there, and they generously invited us for a two-day getaway from Seattle. One of the great things about cooking at a summer house is consistent access to natural light. As Serious Eats points out, “a shady spot on a sunny day is the holy grail of natural lighting conditions” (when it comes to food photography). I’m no professional, but photos with natural light versus those without are like night and day…pun intended! The below photo, of a basic arugula salad with fruits and goat cheese and walnuts, shows just that.

ArugulaSaladSo, about that gravy: one of our favorite TV shows is The Sopranos. Many believe this series launched the genre of quality storytelling outside of the movie theater (read: paved the way for GoT). Whether you’ve seen the show or not, its cultural impact still resonates today. Those who watched it finally understand that spaghetti sauce should actually be called gravy…when done the Italian way. This recipe takes hours to make, and is sourced from The Sopranos Family Cookbook: “written” by Artie Bucco (the chef of the show’s Vesuvio restaurant). The book stays in character, voicing the opinions and anecdotes of our favorite cast members. Despite the tongue-in-cheek writing, the recipes are genuine, having been written by actual chef Michele Scicolone. The easy-to-follow instructions result in some fantastic dinners.

SundayGravy_1The recipe can be adjusted up or down to yield your desired serving size. I’d say my two key pieces of advice for this recipe are 1) don’t sacrifice on time – be prepared to invest an afternoon in making this – and 2) don’t go crazy with side dishes, since this is a filling main course. If you do make way too much food, however, the leftovers are still pretty great. We served ours with whole wheat spaghetti, but you can choose any noodle. Take some inspiration from The Sopranos’ Paulie: “Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?!” Click HERE to see the recipe for this mouthwatering classic. 

SundayGravy_2Like I said, a small serving of this goes a long way – thanks to the rich and filling gravy. For the musical pairing, I was looking for two key qualities. The first being a piece that exudes depth in a “serving size” length, and the second being a musical excerpt that was featured on the show The Sopranos: in homage to the cookbook. Fortunately, there was an aria that fit the bill: “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Rondine. The aria is short, but – like any great Puccini aria – takes your breath away with a few stanzas. Yet the work is a deviation from Puccini’s canon, as it is essentially an “operetta”: a compositional style more akin to musicals than classical opera. Puccini initially eschewed the form, claiming “An operetta is something I will never do.” Yet geopolitical circumstances (WWI) led to a loyalty contract which ultimately resulted in the premiere of La Rondine: which by the way is Italian for “the swallow.” As for The Sopranos, the aria appears twice in the series: once in the pilot episode, and then again in the finale of Season 5. In both instances, Tony Soprano (our protagonist) comes to understand his own mortality – and how trivial daily annoyances can be. My opera geek friends may see the irony in a (real life) soprano narrating a (fictional) Soprano’s brush with death…the following recording is the same that was used in the show, featuring the singer Luba Orgonasova. Enjoy!


South of the Orient: Part III

Lamb Kofta 2It’s getting to be that time of season where I hate leaving the warmth of my apartment…which is a bummer because I love being outdoors. Then again, one significant pro to colder weather is the seasonal food – a necessary comfort to the portending cold that is New England winters. Meals are heartier and even more flavorful to help us put some “meat on our bones”. Not surprisingly, a number of Indian dishes fit beautifully in this context; a cuisine with which my boyfriend has developed quite the expertise. To recap this series: Tom is a veteran traveler, whose culinary tastes have been greatly inspired by his experiences abroad. He made this Lamb Kofta with Tomato & Yoghurt Sauce a while back, which I’m craving now more than ever as the cold slowly creeps through my apartment’s lousy window units.
63470_1714380868845_310848_n This dish holds a special affinity with Tom’s travels in Rajasthan: India’s largest state, located along the Pakistani border in the Northwest. He shares his experiences below:

“As you progress west, away from the Indian heartland toward the Pakistani border with Rajasthan, availability of food changes drastically. The landscape of Rajasthan is a rugged marriage of mountain foothill and high desert, dotted with magnificent palaces and fortresses built many centuries ago by the Rajput empire. Leaving Jodhpur, the “Blue City” on the road west (pictured above), I knew I’d had my last chicken for a while. As the terrain flattens and gives way to brush and sand dunes the only available meat becomes goat, mutton and lamb, and the latter will cost you. Past a thousand year old desert fortress made out of sandstone called Jaisalmer, I spent a few days out in the desert with Indian guides and a small pack of camels. A German, an Australian and myself had had our fill of vegetarian food, and persuaded the guides to barter with a nearby village for a goat. The Indians insisted that it wouldn’t be right for any of the westerners to kill the animal, and took it to a quiet corner. That night we barbequed on the sand and had more ropey meat than we knew what to do with.”

Lamb Kofta 4Like most of Tom’s recipes, this dish is redolent with Indian spices. One thing I learned from Tom is that most cookbooks underestimate the amount of spice you should use, in hopes of creating a recipe that isn’t “too intense” for the average Joe. The result is often dishes that are a little bland…Tom and I want a meal to punch us in the taste buds, so we go a little crazy (he asked me to put a warning here: dishes like this can result in a spice addiction, leading to an inclusion of spices in everything from your breakfast cereal to chocolate cake…) Another thing I should point out is Tom’s choice to purée all of the onion in this recipe (as opposed to simply chopping or mincing) – half of this is out of personal preference, but the other half is to help enrich the texture. The purée acts as a thickening agent, creating a smoother and more aesthetic sauce.
Lamb Kofta 5The name of this dish is derived from the Turkish term küftə – which translates to “small ball.” Kofta is a fairly popular item on most Indian and Pakistani menus, having been introduced to South Asia following the Muslim ascendancy in the region. It is commonly cooked in a spiced gravy or curry sauce. Call me naive…but I picture it as a more exotic rendition of spaghetti and meatballs – both are simmered in a tomato-based sauce, loaded with regional herbs/spices, and served atop a carb of choice. Kofta is the more interesting of the two in my opinion, and possibly more nutritional as well.
Lamb Kofta 6This was love at first bite! I’m not a big fan of lamb, but the character it lends to this dish is undeniably perfect. You can serve the Kofta with basically anything you want: brown rice, white rice, quinoa, naan…or you can eat it directly out of the pan if that’s your style. Dishes like this can be your greatest ally on colder nights…like tonight. It tastes even better the next day, so go ahead and cook yourself a batch for the week – you can enjoy leftovers inside your warm home, while watching another episode of Breaking Bad and not thinking twice about the dropping temperatures outside: click HERE to see Tom’s recipe for this delicious Kofta!
Lamb Kofta 3Tom’s experiences in India give him a unique advantage regarding its cuisine – he is no longer a slave to Indian cookbooks, and can easily modify and/or create meals based on his own practiced understandings. In the classical music world, an analogous parallel would be Béla Bartók’s compositional process. Born bartoktowards the end of the 19th century, Bartók (pictured left) was well-known for incorporating folk music into his own works. Over time, he became increasingly familiar with the harmonic and melodic tendencies of this music that he eventually was writing his own folk melodies. Bartók’s entire style took a whole new direction from then onward, and has placed his works among the more innovative to come out of the 20th century. One great example is his Dance Suite (Táncszvit) – the work was premiered in November of 1923, just five years after the end of WWI. While the piece has melodies of Hungarian, Romanian, and Arabic influence, the themes are all Bartók’s own. The work consists of six dances, but is audibly perceived as two movements. It opens with bassoon (which reminds me of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – 1913), and the orchestra pulses between moments of kinetic intensity and gentle reflection over the next three dances. At the end of the third dance, we reach a climax that feels decisively conclusive. Yet the fourth movement slowly emerges, immersing listeners into a dreamlike realm. We then transition into the brief yet energetic fifth dance, which finally cascades into the sixth dance where the work’s many themes are resurfaced for an exciting finish. The below recording is with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin – I hope you enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Kofta,” Wikipedia.com
“Dance Suite,” The Kennedy Center

Delicious Food in No Time

ChickenSausagePasta1After a LOT of experience in cooking dinners at the various kitchens of my friends, I have learned the value of prep work. Pre-slicing veggies, allowing sauces to chill overnight, dividing ingredients into ziploc baggies – these make the night-of preparation MUCH easier. This was especially the case for a meal I made with two close friends, TJ and Elise – I had prepared the tomato sauce, washed the vegetables, mixed the vinaigrette, and even pre-measured the pasta! As a result, this beautiful Chicken Sausage Marinara with Zucchini came together in less than 20 minutes.
ChickenSausagePasta3Now when I was a little girl, my idea of a quality chicken dish was a mound of breaded, fried tenders with oodles of ketchup. It never occurred to me that this simple meat could be SO adventuresome – you can imagine that when I tried my first link of sweet apple chicken sausage, I discovered a whole new take on poultry. It’s not AS healthy as the breast, but is still way healthier than beef or pork sausage (and fried chicken tenders, for that matter). You can choose whatever type sausage you prefer, though I recommend sticking to either a spicy or sweet variety.
ChickenSausagePasta2The sausage paired beautifully with marinara – I added some zucchini slices and fresh basil to give it more of a “springtime” effect.  Even though this recipe might seem fancy, it is seriously a piece of cake (but healthier than cake?) I guarantee it will please even the pickiest of eaters – click HERE to see the recipe! The side was a Cranberry-Kale Salad with Seeds. This was a little experiment of mine in terms of process, and worked out quite well. You can pretty much add anything you want in terms of fruit and/or nuts, but I went with cranberries, pepitas, and sunflower seeds – click HERE to see how to this colorful salad is made.
CranberryKaleThe beauty of prep work is the efficiency that follows – time seems to “fly by” as an hour-long recipe comes together in a matter of minutes. As a result, you have more time to be social, and have fun with you guests – this led to my musical choice: Short Ride in a Fast Machine, by John Adams. Now this is definitely a FUN piece, but it also works well with the parallel concept of prep work. Short Ride relies on the basis of repetition, and throws in the occasional curve of rhythm and tone. It’s very short, just under 5 minutes, and yet grows in complexity and character as the piece builds – a ton of “flavor” in a short amount of time 🙂 The below recording is with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” Wikipedia.com

Taking a Breather

As you probably assumed given my month-long blogging hiatus, the month of October was an excessively busy one. But even through all the chaos, music and cooking were still very much a part of my world. The only problem? I had neither the time nor the energy to photograph any of my creations (and when I actually did, the lighting was atrocious). It’s worth noting that the “top hits” of the month will eventually make it to the blog…as soon as I get my act together and remember to bring a camera. In the meantime, here is a fun, delicious meal to brighten up any stressful day: Spicy Soba Noodles with Chicken in Peanut Sauce.
Poaching is a highly unappreciated method for cooking chicken. Sure, it won’t give you the beautiful crust that searing achieves or the depth of flavor that roasting manages – but it is a quick and healthy way to cook chicken, and the result is almost always perfectly tender. In this method, you actually allow the chicken to sit for an additional 20 minutes after it’s done cooking. Poached chicken works beautifully in a number of dishes, and especially shines in noodles salads…which leads to my favorite part of this dish…
Soba Noodles rock – there’s little else to say. The variety that I use (and love) is inaka soba – they are made from buckwheat that has been milled with the hulls, giving the noodles a darker hue than the more popular gozen soba. Both varieties can be served hot or cold, in salads or soups, etc. For this beautiful recipe, they are served in a peanut-ginger dressing that is to DIE for! You can find the recipe for this beautiful dish HERE. I couldn’t just have this dish with no side, could I? So I threw together a quick Miso Cabbage Slaw that practically stole the show (miso = a chef’s best friend). Click HERE to see that recipe!
For this pairing, I wanted a piece that could touch the soul – October was a crazy month, and I was drawn to relaxing and gentle music in the days following. Guitar has always been reminiscent of my childhood (my dad listened to classical guitar ALL the time), and I find myself tuning into this classical niche whenever I am stressed. That led me to the master of classical guitar, Christopher Parkening – his performance of Capricho Árabe, by Francisco Tárrega, was perfect. Tárrega was more intrigued by intimate performances than concert hall settings, giving his music a soulful edge. It pairs nicely with this dish in that its beauty lies in its subtlety – the perfect musical conclusion to a month of craziness. Enjoy the piece, and feel free to relax with a glass of wine and some lovely soba 😉

Sources Cited:
“Soba: Traditional Japanese Noodles,” Kikkoman Food Forum
“Francisco Tárrega,” Wikipedia.com

Developing Depth with Time

Boston and I have a love-hate relationship. There are times when I can’t get enough of this place, wanting to breathe in every ounce of its thriving energy and warmth. Then there are times like this weekend, when the temperature drops to 8 degrees F without warning.  Needless to say, I am not built for this. My beloved Le Creuset becomes a regular in my kitchen during these unbearable conditions. I had a group of friends over the other night as a belated birthday dinner for my friend Sev (featured previously on this blog for his renowned fondue), and it was yet another bone-chilling evening. With my Le Creuset fired up and ready, I made a hearty batch of Ragù alla Bolognese that fought off the chilly weather quite beautifully.
Whether using a dutch oven or a slow cooker, the key to a good bolognese is low and slow. Like a stew, the flavor deepens beautifully the longer it simmers. Authentic bolognese calls for chunks of meat, so the longer it stews the more tender the meat can become. This bolognese, on the other hand, calls for ground chuck, giving you the option to cook it as short as 30 minutes or as long as 4 hours. Thanks to the Pioneer Woman, this recipe had gone viral in the blogosphere. I made a few changes (like the addition of hot sausage) and wanted to give it an authentic edge by cooking it for hours. I also served it over spaghetti (what I had), though the traditional pairing is tagliatelle. The result was fabulous – click HERE to see how to make this beautiful, soul-warming sauce.
I thought a lighter side would be appropriate for this dish, yet wasn’t keen on the “salad” idea. With that, I made Lemon-Garlic Broccoli that, to my surprise, almost outshone the main course! It’s quite simple, with no more than a handle of pantry staples and ready to go in under 30 minutes. Trust me, TRY this side dish – you won’t regret it. Click HERE to see the recipe.
For the pairing, I wanted to emphasize the developed flavor this dish receives from cooking for a long period of time. That depth of flavor led me to Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No. 12 “The  Ocean”. The entire work is structured on falling and rising arpeggios, hence the oceanic appellation, with modulations developing the theme throughout. The work climaxes in C Major, and ends in a massive arpeggio covering five octaves . The richness of these piece is perfect for this bolognese sauce. The recording below is with Vladimir Horowitz – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Étude Op. 25, No. 12 (Chopin)” Wikipedia.com 

A Master of Disguise

On first glance, you might actually be fooled into thinking these are just your average meatballs. But this dinner was made for a vegetarian: my buddy Tim (Albert was there too!) Before my carnivorous readers navigate away from this post, let me tell how how AMAZING these were! Both light and rich, these Eggplant “Meatballs” with Homemade Tomato Sauce were definitely a worthy substitute.
These are definitely a little time consuming, but the product is completely worth it. Having made vegan macaroni and cheese before, I knew that nutritional yeast was a great option for mimicking the flavor of cheese – it served as the “parmesan” in these meatballs. Panko along with Ener-G Egg Replacer were the binding agents. All in all, it was a surprisingly delicious outcome! This healthy alternative for meatballs is sure to please even the staunchest of carnivores – click HERE to check out this awesome recipe!
I also made a side of Lemon-Dill Zucchini that was extremely simple (you can also get a glimpse of my NEW All-Clad skillet – SO excited!) The zucchini at the market looked beautiful, so I couldn’t resist. Basically you just heat some oil in a large skillet, then add the zucchini slices with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add some garlic, lemon, and dill and you’re set to go! Whatever you decide to pair with these meatballs, I’d suggest a simple green – you’re already going to be putting a lot of energy into the main course, so go easy on the side dish.
I wanted to pair these “meatballs” with a piece that also pulled off an ingenious disguise – the vegetarian of the evening, Tim Wilfong, naturally came up with the perfect piece: A Chloris, by Reynaldo Hahn. While this song may sound French, it was in fact written by a Venezuelan composer. Known for writing in the tradition of mélodie, Hahn was often confused for being a French composer. Another disguise to this pairing is the recording itself: the song is written for a woman, yet this recording is by a man – the countertenor Phillipe Jaroussky. While it can be argued that Hahn is a “worthy substitute” for a French composer, the latter comparison can best be addressed in Tim’s own words: “A man singing in a woman’s range…no one could ever say he’s a “substitute” for a woman, though!!!” Anyways, this is a beautiful piece, and I hope you enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Reynaldo Hahn,” Wikipedia.com

A Wealth of Delicious Variety

While practically anything that you eat at a restaurant can be made in your home, there will always be a few that you prefer to leave in the hands of professionals. For the longest time, I had always assumed sushi was one such meal – until I met Maya Jacobs. She never lived in Japan and doesn’t necessarily cook Asian dishes on a regular basis; she just knows that quality ingredients, homemade rice, and a skilled hand at rolling seaweed are all it takes to make great Maki Sushi.
When Maya and I make sushi, we never just stop at a few rolls – we always go for 20 or 30 and invite as many people as we can. The key to a great sushi spread is having a ton of options: fresh tuna (Maguro) or salmon (Sake), julienned vegetables, fried egg (Tamago), avocado (a must for any sushi party!), etc. For this occasion, we used smoked salmon and cream cheese as well. Lots of color is key, and makes it much more exciting! The filling varieties are endless – it’s basically whatever you feel inspired to try.
The rice is the trickiest part of making sushi – getting the right balance can be tough, but Maya’s recipe comes out perfect every time! You can use any type of rice (including brown) though it’s recommended to use sushi rice. It is a short-grain variety with a higher starch level than other rices, yielding a sticky, “glutinous” result that is perfect for rolling. Click HERE to see Maya’s practically perfect way to create homemade sushi.   
For pairing this meal, I wanted to focus on the variations and endless colors this meal can provide. My friend Alexis recommended a work that is considered to be on of the standards of variation form: Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Originally composed for harpsichord, the work consists of 30 variations on the opening aria. The variations are based on the bass line, or foundation of the piece (much like the sushi variations all rely on the same basic ingredients). It’s a beautiful piece, and a truly iconic work in the classical repertoire. This recording is by (once again) Glenn Gould, an artist who just gets Bach – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Goldberg Variations,” Wikipedia.com

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!


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