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

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Love It or Hate It

When it comes to my department at work, food is a very important point for discussion. We are all big foodies, and often swap recipes and stories just before the start of our weekly meetings. This past week, we had our annual team retreat to brainstorm strategy, content, and the next steps in everything we do as a department. The retreat was held in my apartment, and I took this opportunity to showcase two delicious vegan dishes I’d been wanting to try: Kale Salad with Avocado and Sweet Potato and Tuscan Stuffed Mushrooms with Pine Nuts.
Kale is a power food that is often left behind – it’s more bitter than your average green, and has a tougher texture as well. That being said, it is loaded with vitamins and nutrients to the max! My solution to bitter greens is finding the right balance of a) sweetness or b) salty goodness (like bacon, which makes most things taste amazing). I vied for sweetness with this salad and chose my southern favorite: the sweet potato. Creamy chunks of avocado and a sprinkle of dried cranberries made this dish a true winner – click HERE to see the recipe for this healthy, nutrient-rich salad.
Mushrooms are also a food with its fair share of both fans and critics – some people swear by their earthy taste, while others can’t stand it. I grew to love mushrooms during my veggie days, and (thankfully) never lost that appreciation. You can make any stuffing for mushrooms, from a nutty quinoa salad to a spicy sausage filling. Based on what I had on hand, I took a little inspiration from Tuscany for these and stuffed them with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper and fresh basil – click HERE to see just how simple and delicious these can be! 
There are a number of composers whose critics are just as vocal as their fans, but the one who especially comes to mind (for me) is Paul Hindemith. The reason for this choice is his musical departure from diatonic tonality, resulting in harmonies based on free-form scales and notational structures. In fact, there are currently music teachers who refuse to even teach Hindemith given their own aversions. For this pairing, I chose the Viola Sonata, Op. 11 No. 4 – it is the fourth of his sonata series, and perhaps one of my personal favorites (though others, as expected, would disagree). The sonata has three “movements” that are performed without pause. The first is “Fantaisie”, and takes harmonic experimentation to a whole new level – it navigates through nearly ten different keys over just 41 bars! This is perhaps my favorite of the three movements, being extremely beautiful and almost haunting in character. The second, “Thema mit Variationen,” is  much more playful and energized. It changes the established downbeat throughout, allowing the melodies to flow without rhythmic constraint. The final movement, “Finale (mit Variationen)”, unleashes a series of classical forms that bring the piece to an uncertain yet glorious conclusion. Overall, it’s a very cool piece that some people love, and some people hate.

My friend Erin Nolan (violist) said one of her instructors recommended to approach Hindemith as one would approach Bach: in a methodical manner…so perhaps I can recommend to try cooking kale as you would spinach, and mushrooms as you would meat – just a thought 😉 The recording below is by a violist Erin recommended for his beautiful tone, and I definitely agree: Lawrence Powers. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9VuCybiTvk

Sources Cited:
“Paul Hindemith,” Wikipedia.com
“Viola Sonata, Op. 11 No. 4 (Hindemith)” Wikipedia.com

Georgia On My Mind

Every now and then, my “southern” side finds its way into my culinary ventures (the kale recipe I just posted, for example). Yet more often than not it takes the passenger’s seat in my posts, so I thought I would finally give it the spotlight it deserves. Southern food is often labelled as “comfort food,” and that was just the type of food we needed to fend off the terribly cold weather (I believe it reached the high “teens” that night…not the type of temperatures my Georgia self is built for). Wanting a hearty meal that was would break the cold (but not the bank), I decided to make Pulled Chicken Sandwiches with Bourbon Orange Coriander Barbecue Sauce.
This sauce is amazing! I was somewhat wary of the orange, but Joy’s insistence (at Joy the Baker) had me convinced that this was a must-try sauce. Oh.My.God was she right! A beautiful union of citrus and spice, with just the right amount of sweetness, has easily made this a favorite in my book. You can serve it with any recipe that calls for barbecue sauce. I decided to shred chicken (what I had) and serve it on hamburger buns – even the sight of these wonderful sandwiches brought back warm memories of backyard, summer picnics back in the South. Click HERE to see how make these amazing sandwiches!
In addition to  the sandwiches, I thought a side salad would add a nice touch (as well as a healthy alternative). Broccoli salad is a classic in Southern dish, but its major flavor components are mayonnaise and bacon. Now I have no objection to bacon (as my next post will demonstrate), but the thought of a salad relying wholly on mayonnaise wasn’t the most appetizing affect. So I used a lighter version combined with the goddess of healthy cooking: Greek yogurt. With grapes, almonds and raisins, this Lighter Broccoli Salad was the perfect complement to a Barbecue dinner – click HERE to lighten up this Southern classic.
For pairing this meal, I wanted to showcase a composer whose nostalgia for home is equally as prominent in his music – that led me Béla Bartók. A Hungarian-born composer and pianist, his music is well-known for its incorporation of traditional folk melodies. He traveled all across Central Europe to track down folk musicians, collecting numerous songs through field recordings and/or transcriptions. His thorough analyses and collections of folk music helped institute the field of ethnomusicology. It wasn’t until World War II that Bartok left his beloved country and came to the U.S – though he never truly became acclimated to the culture (much like I will never become accustomed the grueling Northeastern winters), he managed to compose several masterpieces while in the States. The Concerto for Orchestra is one that is well-known and loved, but I was too extravagant for this meal, so I chose his Sonata for Solo Violin – the extent Hungarian influences make it the perfect pairing for a dinner that feels like home. Though I’ve paired the entire piece, I thought the nostalgic taste of the Melodia movement was appropriate to include – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UKOKN8VL0w

Sources Cited:
“Béla Bartók,” Wikipedia.com

A Refreshing Trip

I spent this past weekend visiting with my mom in Philadelphia – she just moved there from Atlanta, and is still getting acclimated to a whole new city. We did all of the tourist-y things, from Reading Terminal Market (a foodie’s paradise) to Independence Hall. Having never spent much time in Philadelphia, I can officially say I’m enamored with that city – it’s similar to Boston (both epicenters of American history/tons of cultural opportunities), and has a great energy. Before leaving for the airport, we had a quick, healthy lunch of Curried Chicken Salad.
Rather than being the bland, mayonnaise-laden salad that you encountered at every family picnic, this salad has way more to offer with half the guilt. The recipe is courtesy of Food Network’s health guru, Ellie Krieger. With degrees in nutrition and public health, she creates dishes that are both flavorful and wholesome. For this salad, she replaces  mayonnaise with Greek yogurt.
She adds grapes for a touch of sweetness and color, cilantro to liven it up, and almonds for the added texture. That’s it! After one bite, my mom was hooked. It can be served atop a bed of greens, in a sandwich, or on crackers. So if you’ve got a rough week ahead, whip up a batch of this to give you a boost – click HERE to see how.
For the musical pairing, I wanted to choose a composer my mother truly adores – Mozart. His style beautifully complements the lightness of this dish. As there were only four major components in this salad (aside from the dressing), I thought a quartet would be suitable for this. So I chose his String Quartet No.4 in C major KV 157. This was one of the six quartets Mozart composed while in Milan (called the Milanese Quartets) – he was only sixteen at the time. The recording I’ve included is by the Jerusalem String Quartet. Thanks for a wonderful weekend in Philly, Mom – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKzc4LMe8oU&feature=related

Sources Cited:
“Milanese Quartets (Mozart),” Wikipedia.com