Opus M.B.A

18527267_625593649807_4939594507671330445_oAfter 2 roller coaster years, I now have an M.B.A. from the NYU Stern School of Business. It feels a bit like a 180, since I assumed a flute performance degree would be my first and final tryst with higher education. Sitting here today, however, the transition from music to marketing feels perfectly organic. My two alma-maters, NEC and NYU, have given me more opportunities than I can count: and they complemented one another in surprising ways. The “return on investment” (we M.B.A’s can’t get enough of this phrase) from NYU includes a better understanding of strategic planning, five trips around the globe, ample space to exercise leadership skills, and a wealth of talented and generous friends. What comes next will be a combination of the exciting and the unknown, and I’m looking forward to the challenge. Not surprisingly, this 2-year degree pushed me to neglect this blog  – so now that I have some room to breathe, I am finally back to sharing some of my favorite recipes and music. And to show my renewed commitment, I’ll be sharing four delicious features:

Apple-Raspberry Crisp with Pecan Crunch Topping
Cole Slaw with Gorgonzola
Smoky Oven-Roasted Spareribs
Sour Cream Cornbread

Cornbread_1Let’s start with the cornbread: any Southern chef will insist that cast iron and cornbread and inseparable concepts…except when you don’t have one, in which case glass pans are an OK substitute. It worked for us, and was still enjoyed by all our guests (most of whom were Southern). The original recipe calls for a spice that is impossible to find in your local Kroger or Safeway, known as Aleppo. And while nutmeg is a suggested replacement, we just went ahead without – and served the bread warm with lots of butter. Click HERE for the recipe of this baked golden delight.
Cole Slaw_1This coleslaw was awesome; like “we ate this for days after” kind of awesome. The original recipe called for Blue cheese, but we bought a tub of Gorgonzola that was on sale. (Thank you grocery gods for introducing us to this better option). We made the coleslaw the day prior, and it’s fairly simple to throw together. Feel free to adjust the dressing to your taste. Click HERE to see the recipe of this easy-to-make side.
SpicesAnd now, les ribs. The spice rub is a medley of things that all look great on paper: paprika, different peppers, cumin, salt, and…mace. (It claims that nutmeg can replace this, but we were super curious to discover what mace would taste like). The recipe makes about 2 cups worth, which is plenty for this recipe and then some. The taste is oddly similar to Old Bay Seasoning: so if you’re not a fan, I’d recommend sticking with good ol’ fashioned BBQ sauce. Fun fact about Old Bay: it is nearly 80 years old, and is believed to have been a clever way crab restauranteurs would push patrons to purchase more beverages (due to its extra “salty” factor).
Ribs_2The ribs themselves were roasted in an oven, for 6 wonderful hours at the lowest possible heat. While cooking these on a grill is an option, the oven provides a lower maintenance one that still yields fantastic results. We coated the three racks with the rub, wrapped them tightly in aluminum foil, and then didn’t open the oven door once during the 6-hour haul. The result was fall-off-the-bone ribs with a smoky aroma. How tender, you ask? My stepdad carved these with a butter knife. Click HERE to see the recipe for these irresistible ribs. 
BerryAnd finally, the dessert: a simple crumble that had all of the things we love about summer: fruit, butter and ice cream. The recipe is simple, and can be assembled the night before – we plopped the crumble into the oven before the guests arrived, and warmed it back up for ~15 minutes at the end of dinner for serving. You can use any combination of fruits in this crumble, just know that some may take a bit longer to cook than others (great example: rhubarb). Click HERE to see the recipe for this colorful treat.
Berry_1It has been so long since I have paired a piece of classical music with a meal, that I had to invest considerable energy into this final section. So much so that I started drafting this blog over 1 month ago. And then the piece that came to mind was so simple and perfect: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor. It is arguably one of the world’s most famous symphonies, and thus feels like the perfect inflection from my musical roots to a marketing future.

Beethoven began working on the 5th symphony at the age of 33. It would take him 4 years to finish, in the midst of what many consider Beethoven-Mähler_1804_hiresto be the most fruitful period of his career. However, Beethoven was also battling the deterioration of his hearing faculties – a development for which he proclaimed “[I must] seize Fate by the throat; it shall not bend or crush me completely.” One of the main characters of this symphony is Fate herself, persistently “knocking” at the door with the ever-recognizable motif (“Da-da-da-dom”), as the symphony opens in an ominous C-minor. Yet Fate is held at bay, with the symphony closing in a triumphant C-Major. This structure, of man versus fate, lent itself to many a narrative, bringing the work and Beethoven to great celebrity over the years. As an example: the piece was used to dramatic effect at the end of World War II to symbolize victory for the allies. And Disney further commemorated the work in the feature film Fantasia 2000.

This is perhaps a bit of a cheesy pairing, but the symphony’s resonance beyond classical circles suggests it is an apt one as I start this new chapter in business. The following performance is with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, led by Leonard Bernstein. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Old Bay Seasoning.” Wikipedia.
“Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67”. NPR.

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Having Fun with Farro

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

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

Three Winter Delights

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

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

Victory Never Tasted So Sweet

Superbowl Cupcakes 1Superbowl – a word that, for sports fans, is synonymous with “event of the year”. It’s the one time that you can actually get away with having nothing more than nachos and beer for dinner…with a side of buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks and guacamole and…well, you get the picture. I always take advantage of these occasions to make something fun and delicious – so for Super Bowl, I made adorable Touchdown Cupcakes!
SuperbowlCupcakes4I have always wondered what the “grass” piping tip would produce – I personally am reminded of silly string…but maybe that’s just me. It’s actual “spout” resembles a shower head. I would recommend using a standard buttercream recipe, but you might be able to try it with cream cheese. The piping tip has very small holes, so a stiffer frosting will be difficult – adding some milk or cream can help loosen the consistency. You start to get the hang of the piping pattern after a while, though it is time-consuming.
SuperbowlCupcakes3At first I thought the piped frosting would look silly, but it actually made a very convincing “grass.” As for the cupcakes, I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe – it’s a quick recipe, and makes a cake that is all things you love about chocolate 🙂 What’s even better about these cupcakes is that they freeze beautifully – I always have a few in my freezer for unexpected guests (or chocolate cravings…). You can easily sub out the buttermilk for plain milk, and use plain boiled water if you prefer to not have coffee (my good friend Tim, for example, is allergic – I use this alternative whenever making this cake for him!)
SuperbowlCupcakes5For the footballs, I had some leftover dough in my freezer for rollout chocolate cookies (remember these beauties!?) These were arguably the most difficult part – I don’t have a football-shaped cutter…so I buckled down and used a paring knife to carefully carve out 2 dozen small football shapes. They baked in less than 8 minutes, and made perfect little toppers! Overall, these cupcakes are quite simple – the assembly and decorating are (obviously) the best part 🙂 Here are the basic components you will need:
Chocolate Cupcakes
Basic Buttercream Frosting (like this one) + green dye (enough to get your preferred hue) and a touch of lemon (to help cloak the dye’s flavor)
Cookie Toppers (omit the peppermint filling)
Frosting Tools: Grass piping tip, Round piping tip, disposable pastry bags OR ziploc bags (with corner snipped), paring knife
SuperbowlCupcakes2The promise of victory and ecstatic crowds are cogent factors to what defines the Superbowl. Thousands upon thousands cram into a stadium in hopes of experiencing the ultimate sport fan’s dream, and each and every player on that field is dedicated to triumph. The energy is both electric (no pun intended…considering the power went out at this year’s Superbowl!) and contagious. This helped lead to my musical pairing : Bizet’s “Toreador Song,” from the opera Carmen. Much as this event is the highlight of the football season, this aria is perhaps one of the most famous in all of the opera repertoire. It describes the “gory glory” of the bullfight, citing the rush of excitement and ultimate triumph. To give you an idea, here is a translated excerpt from the aria:

The crowd goes mad, edgy from waiting,
Breaking into noisy arguments all around!
People shout, people yell and holler
With a din that tears the place apart!
They’re celebrating men of valor!
Celebrating the brave of heart!
Let’s go! On guard! Let’s go! Ah!

Why this aria for cupcakes? A toreador (also known as a “torero” or “matador”) is a theatrical profession, and the act of bullfighting is considered to be more of a performance art than a sport. The fighter wears elaborate garb decorated with gold or silver embellishments, and enters the bullring in hopes of achieving a higher status in society; much as I hoped these cupcakes (a mixture of recipes that are essentially “back-of-the-box” basics) could be more appreciated once decorated. I should probably add that I arrived (late) at a Superbowl party, just following the power outage – I was surrounded by Ravens fans (with one die-hard 49ers fan), and we were all on the edge of our seats up to the final minute. As the Ravens’ win became imminent, we all felt that “victory had never tasted so sweet.”

My roommate Synthia Pullum (a ridiculously talented soprano…and Anime enthusiast!) recommended the following recording with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Toreador Song,”Wikipedia.com
“Torero,” Wikipedia.com

Getting Your Fix

RoastedChicken1Cooking for “one” can be a challenge – how to make a satisfying, creative meal that won’t break the bank? I had heard about the genius of roasting an entire bird to provide a week of meals, and thought I’d give it a shot. I bought an organic bird, brought it home, and was ready to roast…having totally forgotten that onions, carrots, and celery…bummer. I did have some scallions, an orange, and ginger, so that fact that this Szechuan Roast Chicken used all three was too good to be true.
PeppercornsThe key ingredient to this dish was also a total stroke of pantry luck: about a year ago, I had spotted these small peppercorns at a farmer’s market and bought them on a whim. They have since been sitting in my pantry, forgotten and tucked away in a dark corner behind the countless spices. This was a great way to finally put them to use, and I guarantee they will never sit unused again – while the hulls of these seeds are often used in Sichuan cuisine, it grounded seeds are most commonly for use in Five Spice Powder mix. Unlike it’s black counterpart, Sichuan peppercorns have a lemony taste that actually induces a tingling, numbing sensation when eaten…don’t let that deter you! They are totally delicious.RoastedChicken2So I roasted this chicken and WOW was it good! So moist, and the flavor of those peppercorns really shined…this can easily be an impressive dish for any dinner, or simply an indulgent undertaking for one 🙂 Click HERE to see the recipe! Of course, I’m what you might call a typically “small” person, and wasn’t about to wolf down this whole bird. I ended up creating two soups (time of year!) that were outrageously delicious – first up was the Southwestern Chicken Soup. It had sweet potatoes, black beans, and a whole lotta character!
SweetPotatoChickenSoup1 I used the chicken’s dark meat in this soup, and added canned chipotle peppers with adobo sauce to make this soup a real winner. The amount of liquid needed may vary based on your pan or stove, so keep watch. The Chicken and Corn Chili was next – it was full of spice, and everything you could want in a chicken chili. It’s not your typical “white” chili considering it uses tomatoes, but I thought it made for a beautiful (and delicious) alternative.
Chicken & Corn Chili 1Both of these soups freeze beautifully, and can be storied for a later date. They are also totally modifiable – you can sub in white or dark meat, make them vegetarian-friendly (adding more beans or a grain, like rice), and can be as mild or spicy as your little heart desires. What’s wonderful about soups, in general, is that you can top them with basically anything – avocado, croutons, cheese, roasted chickpeas (ok, that might be too fancy for chili!) Whatever you decide, you can’t go wrong with these two recipes – enjoy!
Southwestern Chicken Soup
Chicken and Corn Chili
Chicken & Corn Chili 2As I mentioned, I love chicken – you can argue that it has become somewhat of a fixation of mine. So when thinking of ways to pair these three dishes, which were all inspired by said fixation, the choice was obvious: Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts, Op. 14. Berlioz composed this work with a very specific program in mind: the story focuses an Artist who has fallen hopelessly in love for a beautiful woman. This powerful obsession is realized through a recurring motif called the “idée fixe”, or “object of fixation.” Berlioz explains:

By a strange anomaly, the beloved image never presents itself to the artist’s mind without being associated with a musical idea, in which he recognises a certain quality of passion, but endowed with the nobility and shyness which he credits to the object of his love. This melodic image and its model keep haunting him ceaselessly like a double idée fixe.

It is also noted that our protagonist is “gifted with a lively imagination”, which only fuels his delirium after he “poison(s) himself with opium in the depths of despair” The idée fixe becomes a recurring torment, changing and shifting in character as the Artist continues his maniac descent; yet the passion remains of his love remains. The concept of a motif that changes and adapts based on the “Artist’s” influences (in my case, my recipe choices) was all too perfect. The below recording is with Leonard Bernstein, and (given the length of the work) is in several parts on the site – I hope you enjoy it!

Sources Cited:
“Sichuan pepper,” Wikipedia.com
“Symphonie fantastique,” Wikipedia.com

Challenge Accepted

Iron Chef has transformed the way we perceive culinary challenges – the “blood, sweat, and tears” of cooking finally has a stage, and food’s competitive qualities have been taken to a whole new level. The show certainly left an impression on my mom: a business-savvy, energetic woman who loves the prospect of a challenge. So naturally, my visits home are often paired with an Iron Chef-like arrangement. My most recent challenge: Cornish Game Hens…well, that took me through a loop considering a) I had never prepared these before, and b) couldn’t even begin to imagine how they were suited for spring fare. After stumbling through several menu options, I finally landed on one that suited my standards: Roasted Cornish Hens with White Wine-Scallion Sauce.
Cornish hens are a peculiar kind of bird: they aren’t actually a game bird, but in fact a hybrid of Cornish Game and the Plymouth Chicken. Though identified as “hens,” these birds can be either male or female, and often weigh no more than 3 pounds. I was pretty floored when my mom asked me to prepare these hens for the dinner party she was hosting, especially since I’d always thought of them as that “other” holiday bird (i.e. the simpler alternative to roast turkey).
My trick in making these hens “Spring-friendly” was a combination of REALLY fresh herbs and seasonal ingredients, like scallions and shallots. Complementing these birds with strong flavors is vital considering the meat has a rather dull taste on its own. Rather than stuffing them with actual stuffing (a holiday trend), I threw in a few aromatics to help infuse the meat with more flavor. The result was an elegant, flavorful dish that had all the right notes of Spring. Our guests enjoyed nearly every last bite of their individual helpings (yet in all honesty, I’ll probably reserve future attempts with Cornish hens for the colder months) – click HERE to see the recipe for this unique dish.
For dessert, I wanted to make a cake that packed a punch but was a lighter afterthought to the entree. I’ve got a crush on vanilla beans, so shelled out $14 for TWO beans (that’s not a typo) and made a Golden Vanilla Bean Pound Cake that was out-of-this-world good. The trick with this cake is having your butter and eggs at ROOM temperature. Yes, this means shelving your fears of leaving them unrefrigerated and just letting them sit out – if I can leave you with any piece of advice when it comes to baking, this is it.
In line with the menu’s seasonal trend, I topped each slice with sherry-macerated strawberries that paired beautifully with the cake’s buttery, golden texture. Feel free to pair it with whatever strikes your fancy – ice cream, caramel, etc. Though simple to make, this cake is definitely not simple in taste, and makes for the perfect weeknight indulgence – click HERE for this heavenly treat.
For this pairing, I thought it appropriate to pair a piece of music that took on a classic, venerable topic and gave it an avant garde spin. That led me to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. In folklore, the firebird is (more often than not) a coveted prize that induces a challenging quest by the story’s hero. Stravinsky acknowledged his own reservations on the “challenge” of composing the music for this ballet (similar to my reservations on preparing this dish):

The Firebird did not attract me as a subject. Like all story ballets it demanded descriptive music of a kind I did not want to write..However…I know that, in truth, my reservations about the subject were also an advance defense for my not being sure I could.”

The music is an entirely different matter – even though it was his first, it is perhaps the most widely recognized and acclaimed of Stravinsky’s ballets (even more so thanks to Disney’s Fantasia 2000). The opening passage (alternating between thirds and seconds of a tritone in the cello, bass and viola lines) set the “supernatural” setting of the hero’s quest, which ultimately ends in a truly majestic Finale (an ending that is admittedly uncharacteristic of Stravinsky). Yet the piece still demonstrates what will become the composer’s greatest qualities in later works. The primitive style that would take on a whole new level in Rite of Spring finds a starting point in this work, with metric dynamism that keeps demands a keen concentration from performers and listeners alike. Two examples being the offset downbeat of the Danse Infernale, and the 7/4 time signature of the Finale. Additionally, the orchestration of the work was substantial for the time, with Stravinsky even claiming it to be “wastefully large.” Despite this claim, the orchestral force brings a rich quality to the piece that has truly come to define the music. For the recording, I found a fabulous video of Claudio Abbado with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra‬ – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI-MG_CXYiY

Sources Cited:
– “Cornish game hen,” Wikipedia.com
– “Firebird (Slavic Folklore),” Wikipedia.com
– Huscher, Phillip. “Program Notes: Igor Stravinsky – The Firebird” Chicago Symphony Orchestra
– “About the Piece: The Firebird (complete),” LA Phil

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!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o6v_myVAhQ

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

Spicing Things Up

Cauliflower and squash – these seasonal crops can be rather uninspiring when taken at face value. Yet it is this very insipidity that provides a perfect blank canvas for some truly amazing dishes. The other night I hosted a “girl’s night in” with two very close friends of mine – these evenings are often characterized by simple eats, bubbly drinks and thoughtful conversations (with the occasional touch of meaningless gossip, of course). While the latter two require minimal effort, I focus the majority of my planning energy on the first. Simple doesn’t meaning flavorless, in my world, so I tried to showcase dishes that give the most bang for the buck. With the right amount of spice, these two did not fail to please – Curried Butternut Squash Soup and Cumin Seed Roasted Cauliflower with Salted Yogurt and Pomegranate Seeds.
I should give butternut squash more credit, perhaps – it is one of my favorite winter squashes. it achieves a taste that’s somewhere between a sweet potato and pumpkin. Roasting is the most common preparation, which helps deepen its natural sweetness.  The term “winter squash” pertains not to its growing season, but to its ability to withstand storage (post-harvest) during colder climates. This is thanks to a tough outer skin (as opposed to the thinner skin of summer squash), allowing us to enjoy this hearty squash year-round.
This soup gets a boost from a potpourri of spices – a potent mix of curry, cumin and mustard seeds. What I like about this recipe is that its creaminess relies on the squash (rather than cream). Using a blender or processor works great, but I am a personal fan of immersion blenders (less mess = happy Anne). Any who, this soup is wonderfully simple yet beautifully flavorful. If you are looking for a quick dish that packs a LOT of flavor, this is it – click HERE to learn how to make this flavorful dish.
The pomegranate – as beautiful as it is sweet, this fruit has held symbolic relevance in a number of cultures. Whether signifying authority, death, or fertility, this fruit has a number of connotations. Aside from its aesthetic (and suggestive) references, the pomegranate is also endorsed for its health benefits. That being said, it’s no picnic to peel – I suggest opening the fruit in a bowl filled with cold water (prevents stains AND assists with peel removal).
This dish was beyond amazing – it was fantastic! Roasted cauliflower on its own is one thing, but paired with cumin, pomegranates, and yogurt?? Well, let’s just say you’ve found your new side dish “candy.” With a spicy edge and sweet touch, this dish has it all. The yogurt is a creamy (yet healthy) garnish, and the pomegranate seeds add a beautiful finish. Don’t hesitate on making this fabulous recipe – click HERE to learn how. 
In researching the ingredients of these two dishes, I discovered a shared trait between them – both have ingredients that are commended “aphrodisiacs,” being the curry and pomegranate. This led me to a very obvious selection: Danse Bacchanale, a fiery dance from the opera Samson et Dalila, by Camille Saint-Saëns. While I’m not necessarily affiliating love with the blatancy of the bacchanalian character, the passion of this work certainly lives up to the spices and flavor of these dishes – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4TrxDKsMHI&feature=related 

A Heroic Feat

When I first received my October issue of Bon Appétit, I stared at the cover photo for a solid 5 minutes – somehow, I needed to make this dish. Fast forward 3 week: I’m visiting with my parents and that same issue sits on their coffee table, further enticing my culinary drive. I walked into the kitchen and was nearly floored when I saw that they had almost every ingredient needed for this dish on hand! While it was by no means a walk in the park, this Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Loin with Roasted Apples was a huge hit!
This was the first time I tackled a whole pork loin, much more stuffing one! Butterflying the pork is arguably the most challenging step in this recipe – the magazine likens the process to unrolling a carpet, which actually helped me visualize what to do pretty well. After butterflying the pork, you then get to go to town with a meat mallet to get the pork to an even thickness – for those of you harboring frustration and/or anxiety, here’s a step for you!
I took some poetic license on the filling. I knew I wanted to used dried mushrooms, but the store only had dried portobello mushrooms (instead of porcini). We also had SO many fresh apples at the house that I nixed the dried apple request and went for fresh Fuji apples. While I love kale and the earthy quality it brings, we had beautiful fresh spinach – yet another easy substitute for what I had on hand. I did include the brandy, at least 😉 Regardless of time or effort, the result is absolutely fabulous: juicy pork with a sweet & savory stuffing, all “gift-wrapped” in crispy prosciutto. Hungry yet? I served this dish with a simple salad and mashed sweet potatoes – click HERE to see how to make this elegant dish!
I originally had no idea how I would be able to pull off such an elaborate recipe – such a “courageous” risk drew my pairing to (the somewhat obvious) tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), by Richard Strauss. Typical of a tone poem, the movements are played without pause (much like this recipe made me nervous to take one). It is considered to be one of Strauss’s finest works in utilizing the full potential of the modern orchestra, giving “flavor and depth” to every moment and part. Additionally, much the way that I am giving myself a “pat on the back” for accomplishing this meal, it is rumored that Strauss may have been referring to himself as the “hero” portrayed in the work (if only somewhat). The recording below is with Seji Ozawa conducting – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHoRPnrG-44

Sources Cited:
“Ein Heldenleben, Op.40,” The Kennedy Center