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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A Flavorful Journey

Turkey Chili 2I’ve been loving this unseasonably warm weather, but the temperatures are finally starting to dip…meaning thick snow boots, over-active radiators, and slushy snow puddles are just around the corner for those of us in the North. It also means that my slow cooker, having gathered dust all summer, is finally being put to use for making a variety of soups and stews! I quite like winter, mostly because I am given the opportunity to create inventive meals that are both hearty and filling. In an effort to give the colder season its due, Tom and I made an amazing Chipotle Pumpkin and Turkey Chili.
Turkey Chili 3Spice and heat is what makes a great chili – you can use any number of ingredients, so long as the flavorful depth and fiery kick are the defining characteristics. In our case, Tom whipped up a “chili paste” using onions, chilies in adobo, and garlic. The result was a thick base from which we built our chili. Ground turkey, black beans, kidney beans, tomato paste and diced tomatoes were the standards. The secret ingredient was puréed pumpkin, which was more of a “let’s see what happens” add-in. The pumpkin ended up being a game-changer, tying together the chili’s various flavors and overall texture.
Turkey Chili 1We let the chili cook for a total of 5 hours in a slow cooker, and only had to add a few splashes of stock throughout the process. The consistency was thick, which can be credited to the pumpkin and chili paste, and the level of spice was absolutely perfect. We topped each of our bowls with chopped avocado and a dollop of Greek yogurt. You can sub out any number of ingredients (beef for the turkey, or puréed sweet potatoes for the pumpkin), so feel free to experiment! It is honestly the best (healthy) chili I’ve ever had – click HERE to see the recipe for this cold-weather staple.
Turkey Chili 4Chili is one of those dishes that is redolent of the warmth and comfort to which we are drawn on a cold night. It’s the “goal”, the end of the journey as you tug your gloves and hat tight against the wintery winds. This recipe can certainly be likened to such a journey, and yet the objective is far from being your “standard fare”. I was thus inspired to choose a unique and ambitious work for my musical pairing, and came across Barber’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 22. Though quite challenging for the soloist, the piece is remarkably evocative and has become an admired standard of cello repertoire. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein says of the piece”

“[Barber] really stretches the technical limits of the cello, which is a great challenge for the performer, but it’s only to serve the most musical ends. It’s a really fantastic piece…not a dull moment.”

The concerto seamlessly combines elements of the Romantic era with those of the 20th century, and its overall narrative paints a colorful journey: from a militant introduction (the “Allegro moderato”) into an impassioned “Andante sostenuto”, closing with a frantic yet ultimately triumphant “Molto allegro e appassionato.” The piece was commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky, former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for cellist Raya Garbousova. The below recording features Garbousova and the Music Aeterna Orchestra, conducted by Frederic Waldman. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Schiavo, Paul. “Program Notes – SAMUEL BARBER, Cello Concerto, Op. 22”. Seattle Symphony, 2007.

Finding a Silver Lining

Vegan Chili 1Temperatures are slowly rising, the days are becoming longer, and the welcome comforts of spring are nearer with every passing day. And yet…we’re still steeped in what has proven to be one of the more brutal winters of recent experience. Ever the optimist, I look at winter with the lens of a “silver lining” perspective. It has a number of perks: an excuse to bundle up with a great movie, a reminder for our constantly changing world, and (most importantly) an excellent reason for cooking up a hearty meal. My dearest friend (and former roommate!) Jennifer Berg is visiting Boston right now. She currently lives in good ol’ Texas, playing English horn with the San Antonio Symphony. Since Boston and Texas are total opposites weather-wise, I wanted to give her a “warm” welcome back with a filling meal. My pantry just happened to have all of the essentials for making this delicious Vegetarian Sweet Potato ChiliVegan Chili 3There are multiple “camps” when it comes to making chili – some swear by the use of tomatoes, other claim that authentic chilis should be nothing more than meat and beans. Jenn is a die-hard Texan when it comes to chili, and lovingly called this gem “Northeastern chili”. I used two different types of beans – black beans and kidney beans – and a whole mess of veggies (see below). I’m an avid reader of ingredient labels, and always opt for canned items with as few added ingredients as possible. This often leads me to the “organic” options. Even though it’s a little pricier, I’d rather avoid the cheaper varieties with added “calcium chloride” and/or “maltodextrin”.
Vegan Chili 4What I love most about this chili is that it’s chock-full of vegetables. You could throw in some kale to up the nutritional scale, but these add-ins were perfect for our needs. The original recipe called for canned tomatoes…but seeing as how I only had canned tomato sauce, I had to improvise. I’d just purchased some fresh cherry tomatoes, which ended up working much better than I’d imagined. The key to this chili is allowing ample time to simmer and settle (basically refrigerating the chili for a night or two). This allows the flavors to develop, lending a savory depth to this chili that is simply to die for – meat lovers won’t miss the beef for a second. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty dish!
Vegan Chili 2 This winter has been a great example of why it’s not always easy to find the “silver lining” in situations – our clothing and shoes have been defeated by salted walkways and knee-deep slush, and our sleeping rituals disturbed by the creeping chill that’s impossible to ignore. But then something occurs to remind us that spring is SO CLOSE, and soon we’ll be rid of all this silly winter gear. Music can have a similar effect – one moment you feel anxious or weary, and the next you feel refreshed and inspired. What better way to seek a JohannesBrahms“silver lining” in a less-than-admirable context than through music? This inspired my musical pairing for this post: Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77. Brahms wrote piece in 1878 for his dear friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. The piece itself can be viewed as a journey, with a protagonist (the violinist) and a setting (orchestra). The Allegro non troppo opens with a fervent exposition, and the violin introduces itself with a fearless resolve. From there, the soloist takes an extemporary lead – the orchestra willingly follows, alternating between the opening’s intensity and ethereal reveries. It finally ends on a literal “happy note” following an ardent cadenza. The piece then transitions into an Adagio that is both passionate and gentle in character. (Since this dinner was cooked for my former roomie oboist, Jennifer Berg, it’s worth acknowledging the beautiful oboe solo that starts the movement). The Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace is a celebration, as the “silver lining” is finally realized. When spring arrives, I’ll probably listen to this finale over and over again. The below recording (of the first movement) is with my favorite “protagonist,” Itzhak Perlman – enjoy!

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Sources Cited:
“Violin Concerto (Brahms),” Wikipedia.com
“Johannes Brahms – photo”, Wikipedia.com

South of the Orient: Part V

Tikka and SaagI have been enjoying a LOT of South Asian cuisine as of late. My boyfriend Tom has converted me into a curry-loving/spice-craving gal…granted, he’s got some great recipes up his sleeve (hence the series). In fact, it’s a cuisine that’s perfect for this time of year – winter is not my forte, and Wednesday’s temp was a balmy 7 degrees. The promise of a piping hot meal loaded with spices and protein has been a saving grace during the season. Piling on layers of clothing can do the trick, but this Saag Tofu and Chicken Tikka Masala works wonders on a chilly winter day.
183819_1811611419548_5295728_nBoth of these dishes are common to the Punjabi region, where Tom spent close to two months exploring (North India primarily) – the photo above was taken in a village called Auli. Located in northeast Uttarakhand, Auli is about 13,000 feet above sea level and lies deep within the majestic Himalayas. The Himalayas,  which is Sanskrit for “abode of the snow”, make this a perfect anecdote for winter:

“After a ten hour ride in a van hugging cliff sides all the way up into the mountains we arrived at Joshimath, before another hour straight up a mountain toward Auli. The driver could only make it so far and we had to hike the last couple of miles in deep snow to the village, which resides quietly in the shadow of Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak at 26,000 feet, just a hair shy of Everest. From the plateau, a heady panorama of mountain peaks and micro-ranges in every direction laying strewn with Hindu icons. Auli is the embarkation point for some of the world’s most intense pilgrimages.”

Saag Paneer 1Saag is prominent in Northern India, and is prepared in a variety of ways. The basic recipe is spinach leaves (or similar leafy greens, such as mustard and kale) are finely chopped, then sautéed with a variety of spices. The most well-known rendition calls for pan-seared paneer: a fresh cheese used in a variety of South Asian recipes. Tom opts for tofu, which is both healthier and easier to find in local grocery stores than paneer. The sautéing takes a bit, but that golden hue gives this dish a texture and taste that’s extraordinary!
Saag Paneer 2I have made Saag before, but this is by far my favorite recipe – the flavors are complex, and the textural aesthetic is stunning. Some varieties use cream, yet this recipe is vegan and chock-full of spices: cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and garam masala. The key (per usual with Tom’s recipes) is to dry-roast the spices one at a time, then grind them to a fine powder. It comes together in no time once all of the ingredients have been prepped. Don’t fret if you have leftovers, as it’s even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful side!
Chicken Tikka 2Tikka Masala is one of those dishes that nearly everyone loves – comprised of roasted chicken simmered in a creamy sauce, it is one of Tom’s signatures. Similar to Saag, cooking the protein separately aids with the texture and flavor of the final dish. The marinade yields a beautifully tender meat that is hard to beat – yogurt is the secret weapon here. Acidic marinades have been known to “denature” (or toughen) the meat, whereas milk-based marinades won’t. It is alleged that the calcium helps to activate certain enzymes that break down the proteins, creating a more tender and flavorful meat. South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures have been using dairy-based marinades for a looong time, for good reason!
Chicken TIkka 1The masala, unlike the marinade, is fairly complex – a medley of spices, healthy fats, and vegetables come together to create a creamy sauce that is both spicy and rich. The original calls for a lot of cream, but Tom lessens the cream needed by upping the almonds. The result gives the sauce more character without inhibiting the spices and aromatics. This dish is both filling and loaded with protein, making it a perfect meal for those colder days. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beloved classic!
Chicken Tikka 3Winter often gets a bad rap – slushy sidewalks, dry skin, chilly and biting winds – and it’s frozen beauty is often disregarded. Some of the most gorgeous landscapes I’ve witnessed were in the coldest climates (Tom would readily agree). Case in point – the below photo is from a hike we took together in MontanaIMG_1037 about a year ago. It is one of my favorite pictures to date, and yet I was freezing my tail off the entire time! Spring, summer and fall are often flooded with activity – it is winter that gives us a moment of stillness, in which we may breathe and experience our world. This led me to choose Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor, “Winter Dreams.” This symphony is arguably the cheeriest (and least tortured) of his six symphonies. It has a youthful air, which can be attributed to the fact that he was only 26 when he wrote it. In this symphony (just over 40-minutes in length), Tchaikovsky paints the isolated beauty of a Russian “winter journey” using rich orchestration balanced by gossamer melodies. The piece captures the dynamics of this posting’s two dishes, while also alluding to the tranquil enticements of winter. The below recording features Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Himalayas,” Wikipedia.com
“Marinades Add Flavor but Don’t Always Tenderize,” FineCooking.com
“Symphony No. 1 (Tchaikovsky),” 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

Giving Thanks for Family

DSC_0331For the first time in 6 years, I decided to travel home for the holidays – following a series of unfortunate events (including a missed flight and nearly dropping my suitcase from onto a passenger’s head from the overhead compartment) I landed in the world’s busiest airport: Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International. I navigated my way through swarms of travelers and frustrated families – stepping outside into the passenger pickup area was a welcome relief. I spotted my mother’s taupe Toyota, and watched as it inched its way towards baggage claim. Despite the vehicular chaos all around us, I could see her small face beaming through the front windshield. That brief moment reminded me what this holiday is all about – Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with loved ones and reflect on all that we are truly thankful for. I hoisted my luggage into the trunk knowing that there would likely be drama and frustration, but at least I would be with family.
DSC_0082Every household has its own traditions for Thanksgiving – fortunately for ours, the requirements were fairly minimal: turkey, potatoes and gravy, and pie. The rest of the menu was left to my crazy scheming, which of course resulted in a family with distended bellies. Our plates were filled with a colorful array of both traditional and unconventional dishes. Given the following menu, you can understand why we experienced food comas shortly after the meal:

  • Cider Brined and Glazed Turkey with Sage Gravy
  • Honey-Glazed Ham
  • Brie Bites
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Indian-Spiced Roasted Vegetables over Lentils
  • Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce
  • Cornbread Stuffing
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Chocolate Chip Blondies
  • Bourbon Pumpkin Tart
  • Apple Pie with Spiced Pastry

Turkey 1I’ll be sharing the recipes in bold for this post (even though I’d love to share them all with you!) A lot of these have make-ahead components, which (for a Thanksgiving chef) is vital to one’s sanity. So to start, let’s go right for the gold: the turkey. This was my fourth time making a turkey, and it weighed in at a whopping 20 POUNDS; just lifting this thing was a workout. Brining has become my go-to method, so I decided to try a different recipe this year using apple cider to make a Cider-Brined and Glazed Turkey with Sage Gravy.
Turkey 2The turkey brines for a full 24 hours, and then sits uncovered in the fridge for an additional 24 hours (to help the skin “dry out” post-brining). The broth, glaze, and even the fillings can all be prepared the night before. Cooking times will vary (depending on size and your oven) but ours took close to 4 ½ hours. Turkey is stressful, considering it’s not necessarily a “weekly staple”. Many of us have one shot to make this dish perfect – I tend to supervise for the first 3 hours, standing in the kitchen with oven mitts and a glass of wine at the ready. This recipe was a great twist on the classic, and I’m curious to try it again next year (especially since I didn’t manage to catch a photo of the finished bird – we were starving by the time it was ready!) Click HERE to see the recipe for this epic turkey.
Cranberry Sauce 1Cranberries are sold everywhere during the holiday season. These small berries find their way into a variety of dishes, from fruit cocktails to meat condiments. Grown in acidic bogs, the berries turn from white to deep red when ripe and ready for harvest. They are too tart/bitter to be eaten raw, and thus are sweetened with sugar or other fruits. Spices (like cinnamon or nutmeg) can also be a welcome addition.
Cranberry Sauce 2Cranberry sauce is a holiday staple in England, Canada, and the United States – it is a tradition that I personally love. That being said, I can’t stand the canned variety as it does no justice to this seasonal fruit. Making your own is so simple that it makes little to no sense to buy a tine of flavored jello. Granted this Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce is a little “fancier” than others: the citrus and spices give the sauce a warmer depth, and your kitchen will smell like heaven. While there is a good deal of sugar in this recipe, you can use more or less depending on your preference. Click HERE to see the recipe for this gorgeous side dish!
Indian-Spiced Vegetables 2When initially considering a vegetable side, the majority of the recipes I had were in-line with traditional menus: pan-seared brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, roasted carrots. After rummaging through countless Pinterest boards, I came across a unique alternative: Indian-Spiced Roasted Vegetables over Lentils. I sent the recipe to my mom, and was surprised to get an approval (and from the Stepdad, no less!) I tripled this recipe (heh…) but the original makes the perfect amount for a “meatless Monday” option any old time. The presentation was breathtaking – the colors combined with rustic veggies made for a lovely wild card at our holiday spread. Click HERE to see the recipe for this colorful veggie side!
Apple Spice Pie 1Dessert is nearly as important as the turkey (but not as stressful, thank GOD). While we’re not a family with a sweet tooth, we certainly had our fair share of options. To start, let’s talk about this Apple Pie with Spice Pastry – pie is the unwritten requisite for the holidays. A Thanksgiving dinner without pie is like Bach without figured bass…This is the type of dessert that can be enjoyed year after year, and it never gets old. I ended up choosing a recipe that includes spices in the actual pastry.
DSC_0364The result was a beautiful presentation of chopped apples nestled in a browned crust speckled with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The kitchen smelled heavenly, and the crust held up beautifully for serving. I might use this crust for future pies, and give a few other spices or herbs a try. Rosemary crust with pear filling, fennel pastry with spiced plums – the options are endless! Click HERE to see the recipe for this lovely pie.
Bourbon Pumpkin Tart 2This Bourbon-Caramel Pumpkin Tart had been on my list for a LONG time – it was on the cover of an issue of FineCooking magazine, and I knew I had to give it a try. Bourbon caramel sauce?? Sold. We served smaller slices…because our food comas would have been incurable had they been any larger. The bourbon helped to balance out the sweetness, while also giving giving the spices a smoky complement. I highly recommend this recipe – it’s a great alternative to pumpkin pie, and (though inordinately rich) will have your guests begging for seconds: click HERE to see the recipe for this decadent dessert!
Bourbon Pumpkin TartThis was not the first time I’d prepared a Thanksgiving dinner (see the 2011 and 2012 feasts, respectively) yet it was the first time preparing one for my family. Unlike hosting a party for friends, there is a certain level of expectation involved with one’s family during the holidays – you’ve already spent the better part of a week together, and a great meal becomes the thread that keeps everything in tact. My thoughts were awash with doubt: ‘They’ve been doing this without me for years – who am I to impose my cooking on their age-old DSC_0142traditions?’ Thankfully, my family is far more loving and supportive than my apprehensive thoughts may lead you to think. Remarkably, the fear of letting others down in the face of legacy is a timeworn theme. In the world of classical music, it is especially notable: the drive to innovate interpretations while also respecting that which came before is expected of any musician. Take Brahms: a German composer whose music had reached acclaim at the ripe age of 20 (having received written praise from his to-be mentor and friend Robert Schumann). Yet despite this success, Brahms felt his writing was constantly shadowed by the German “greats” whose works had redefined the standards of music. Beethoven’s precedent was especially harrowing, having said himself: “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.”

The symphony was a feat that Brahms had yet to undertake. He feared a venture into the symphonic idiom would have no value in the face of Beethoven’s symphonic masterpieces: how could his symphony have any commensurate measure? After nearly 15 years of compositional sketches and second-guessing, Brahms finally completed his first symphony: Symphony No. 1 in C minor – today it is one of the most celebrated in the orchestral repertoire.
DSC_0222Overcoming the pressure of precedents may be a difficult task, yet will lead to new traditions and values. Our Thanksgiving meal was an overwhelming success – while I could have dwelt on the setbacks or imperfect outcomes, they were ultimately of no consequence in the grand scheme of things. Laughter, joy, and family – that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, after all. The following recording of Brahms’ first symphony is with Claudio Abbado and the Vienna Phil: enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68.” The Kennedy Center

Like Night and Day

I would like to dedicate this post to Drew Thompson – bassoonist, swing dancer, beer connoisseur, and devoted friend. We’ll always remember you (1986-2013)MaplePumpkinBread2 VERSUS

Pumpkin Bread with Bacon Jam 3When writing this post, I couldn’t help but picture a figurative angel and devil on either shoulder: the angel being an advocate for all-things healthy, and the devil espousing those dangerous temptations we’re taught to avoid (read “fatty goodness”). Here we have two quick breads: both were baked in my favorite Pyrex loaf pan, contain pumpkin, and finished cooking in just under an hour. The affinity ends there – while I pride myself on being a healthy and active individual, breaking the rules for a decadent treat can be such a release. My shoulder angel would approve of the Maple-Spice Pumpkin Bread with Pepita Crunch, but the Pumpkin-Beer Bread with BACON JAM is most certainly a devilish indulgence.
PumpkinSeedsLet’s start light (even though you’re all here for the bacon jam) – most pumpkin breads call for sugar or butter, bumping the health quotient down a notch or two. Olive oil and maple syrup are the featured ingredients in this recipe, yielding a bread with a moist crumb and a subtle sweetness. The pepita topping is adorable…and I just happen to have WAY TOO MANY PEPITAS right now, so this was perfect 🙂 In case you’re wondering, a pepita is the edible portion of a pumpkin seed (having been removed from the more recognizable ivory-colored hull). They are fun to snack on, but (if you’re like me) it’s way easier to buy pre-packaged trail mix for your midday nosh…I’ll throw a handful of these into those mix packs every now and then as well.
MaplePumpkinBread1Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger make for a potent spice mix – I guarantee that your kitchen is going to smell like heaven. The resulting loaf is both stunning and aromatic, invoking thoughts of New England Falls and warm nights by the fire. As the literary figure Anne of Green Gables once said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (So I quoted a character who shares my name…biased, but I LOVE October!) This bread is perfect on its own, but a touch of honey or even butter would be a beautiful finishing touch. Click HERE to add this recipe to your seasonal repertory!
Bacon Jam[CUE about-face, and change into stretchy pants] – so let’s talk bacon: arguably THE fat of  choice in our nation. According to a survey published earlier this year, 69% of American households buy bacon…making it the second highest red meat of the country’s overall purchases. It appears in everything from breakfast casseroles to ice creams, so no surprises there. There are those who would go so far as to say that bacon is the “olive oil” of North America. I don’t know if I fully agree, but this jam gave me a new perspective on its potential – it’s akin to flavored butter, and doe not have an overwhelming “bacon-y” taste. It’s a really simple process, and the jam will last for a month in the refrigerator…if you manage to not eat it all in one sitting. Click HERE to see the recipe for this sinfully delicious spread!
Pumpkin-Beer BreadWhile the jam is ridiculous, the bread is just as drool-worthy. It’s loaded with pumpkin, thanks to a healthy dose of pumpkin purée AND pumpkin ale. Like the former recipe, you’ll be adding a handful of the fall’s best spices (my hand is much smaller than others’…so make that an “Anne handful” of spices). There is some whole wheat flour in this recipe, but once you’ve melted the butter, poured in the ale, and spread on the bacon jam…well, let’s just say now is not the time to focus on the “nutritional” elements. Indulgence is the reward, and this combo will certainly meet your expectations – click HERE to see the recipe for this richly flavored fall bread!
Pumpkin Bread with Bacon Jam 2Quick breads can go one of two ways – a healthy alternative for breakfast, or a decadent treat for dessert. At the end of the day, they all have a shared seasonal aesthetic and ease of preparation. These were both pumpkin breads, but the results were as different as night and day. While many composers valued the concept of opposing forces, one who particularly stands out was Robert Robert_Schumann_1839Schumann. His music was often guided by the impressions and emotions of various personae. In fact, he even drew inspiration from his own “multiple” personalities, most famously depicted through the characters Florestan and Eusebius. On the one hand you have Florestan – the outgoing adventurist driven by impulsive desires – and on the other Eusebius – the careful wallflower whose interests are more scholarly than enterprising. These two personalities are prominently featured in Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze (Dances of the Tribe of David): a group of 18 pieces for solo piano. Each is inspired by one or both characters, alternating between impulsive fervor and melodic contemplation. It is a truly marvelous collection – the pieces are described as “dances”, but act more as a back-and-forth dialogue between these two antithetical voices of Schumann’s nature. The following recording features pianist András Schiff – enjoy!

Sources Cited
“Pepita” Wikipedia.com
“Davidsbündlertänze” Wikipedia.com
“The Life and Music of Robert Schumann,” NPR Music

Unhurried Finesse

TurkeyBolognese1One thing that Boston can guarantee is drastic seasonal transitions – two weeks ago we were drenched in 90-degree weather with unfathomable levels of humidity. Tonight’s weather? A balmy 48 degrees, and dropping. We’ve taken the inevitable step into Fall – sweaters, scarves, and soups are making their way into our daily routine. Food becomes richer, as we dive into the depths of a hearty stew or warm ourselves with a bowl of steaming noodles. The other day I made dinner for two very close friends of mine, and decided to make a dish that would hint at the turn of the season: Turkey Bolognese.
TurkeyBolognese3Ragù alla bolognese, a meat-based sauce, is a fairly basic recipe. You have a distinctive “soffrito” – onion, celery, and carrot sauté – as well as wine, tomato and meat. What happens next is totally up to you – my recipe is a little more idiosyncratic than your traditional bolognese. For starters, I used ground turkey in lieu of red meat – this wasn’t actually a healthy incentive, but more of a personal flavor preference. I also forgot to buy celery…so my soffrito was a little “less so”. Since I clearly had thrown tradition out the window, I decided to throw in some cumin seeds…and WOW did that make a difference! Both flavor and texture were enhanced, and I can’t even begin to tell you how it warmed my house with the most beautiful aroma.
SanMarzanoI am not a “very” picky chef, but there are certain brands that I trust implicitly – San Marzano canned tomatoes are my go-to for tomato-based sauces. The result is consistent, and the flavor always spot on. San Marzanos are heralded as “Italy’s finest plum tomatoes” – they are grown at the base of Mount Vesuvius, which is of course surrounded by fertile volcanic soil. Upon ripening, the tomatoes turn a deep red and are handpicked with the utmost attention. It’s quite the process, as you can imagine…so perhaps I am a little pickier than I thought 😉
TurkeyBolognese4The real power in this sauce comes with time – not just the cooking time (which should be close to an hour) but the willingness to put this “smells-so-wonderful-I-could-eat-a-horse” sauce into glass tupperware…and allow it to chill overnight. What this does is allow the sauce’s flavors to further develop, creating a rich outcome without the hassle of sitting in front of a stove for endless amounts of time. This doesn’t mean you can’t devour the whole bowl right then and there…but trust me when I say that this dish turns into something else entirely the next day. Click HERE to the see the recipe!
TurkeyBolognese2Patience has become an attenuated virtue in a world where immediate access is daily expectation. The thought of allowing a sauce to chill overnight (much less for 4 hours!) is difficult to imagine, especially when frozen dinners have gone organic and salads are the new “chic”. The musical world was and often is guilty of this hurried spirit – rushing through a practice session, taking an allegro at a presto pace, etc. And then there was Brahms – a man whose self-scrutiny created a remarkably meticulous, thorough style of composition. In fact, said meticulousness reached the point of absurdity at times. Take his Piano Concerto No. 1 – a work which evolved from double piano sonata to orchestral symphony to piano concerto, and is this blog’s musical pairing as a result. Brahms’ ambitions as a young composer led him to pour his energies into creating a symphonic masterpiece, yet the need to “live up” to the genius of Beethoven (and predecessors as a whole) instilled a powerful sense of patience url-1by which Brahms’ composing would forever be governed. Having started the work in 1854, he would finally introduce the completed work to the public in January of 1859. His friendship with the piano “power duo” Robert and Clara Schumann, pictured left, inspired the work (and ultimately became an homage to Robert following his death in 1856). What I thought made this piece the perfect musical pairing is the maturity it boasts, both in the emotional and intellectual sense, under the auspices of a concerto. The work’s maturity can in part be attributed to patience – had Brahms chosen to unleash his symphonic ambitions, his ultimate venture into that genre may have been diminished. While it may be no symphony, this concerto achieves orchestral feats far beyond the average concerto. In a similar sense, this turkey bolognese (though not quite the original) is a dish with unexpected depth and character. The recording below is by the renowned Emmanuel “Manny” Ax, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“What’s the Deal With San Marzano Tomatoes?” The Kitchen
Huscher, Phillip. “Program Notes: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15.” Chicago symphony Orchestra
PHOTO – DeepRootsMag.org (Roots Music & Meaningful Matters)

Achieving Flavorful Depth

Salmon DinnerYou know how some meals are just too beautiful to eat? I’m not gonna lie…we were pretty darn proud of this meal, and just how amazing it turned out. At the same time, it’s actually a fairly simple one that doesn’t necessitate the skill set of a sous chef. Avocado was the clincher: we saw some great looking ones on sale at the market, and it’s always hard to resist an avocado temptation. Creamy, rich, AND it’s actually kind of good for you? Done. My boyfriend and I needed a quick weeknight meal that didn’t taste like a last-minute option. So we ended up making a gorgeous Pan-Seared Salmon with Avocado Remoulade, with a side of Warm Quinoa Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette. Hungry yet? I thought you might be 🙂
Quinoa Salad 2Let’s start with the quinoa – awesome, quick, and healthy?? I daresay this salad was out to seduce me (my boyfriend did make it, to be fair, and he knows my food weaknesses). This ancient grain works in an infinite number of contexts, and one of my recent favorites has been serving warm quinoa tossed with vinaigrette. While you can use any vinegar or mustard on hand, it’s always a treat to have “foodie” indulgences – in this case, a Green Peppercorn Mustard and a Tarragon Wine Vinegar. Meanwhile, kale gives this dish a nutritional kick while the raisins provide a subtle sweetness. The result is a dish full of complexity and healthy goodness – click HERE for this spectacular recipe!
Quinoa Salad 1As I’ve said time and time again, salmon is one of my favorite fish types. Omega-3’s and protein aside, it is just outright delicious. For this dinner I was also able to use one of my favorite kitchen tools: the grill pan. Don’t get me wrong – nothing replaces the smoky, flame-roasted aesthetic of an actual grill, but this pan works wonders in a pinch. I seasoned the salmon with a simple spice rub (paprika, some chili powder, salt and pepper) and “grilled” them over medium heat for about 5 minutes before popping them into the oven to finish. Worth noting that I used a cast iron pan – do NOT put just any ol’ pan into your oven…unless you have a weird fascination with melted plastic.
Salmon Avocado 1Avocado and salmon are an unexpectedly perfect couple  – in addition to their congenital contrasts, they are a stunning duo in presentation. The remoulade is nothing too fancy…it’s basically guacamole with some olive oil. The oil gives the purée a glossy texture, which in essence justifies the “remoulade” appellation. While I opted to plate the dish as seen below, you can top the fish with the avocado or even set them side-by-side: at the end of the day it’s all a matter of what you want to eat (without mourning the destruction of a beautifully assembled meal). We were starving by the time this was ready, so we had no qualms whatsoever to dig in – trust me when I say we had no regrets after the first bite. Click HERE to check out the recipe for this impressive dish!
Salmon Avocado 2The wealth of this meal is bound to sweep anyone off of their feet – not to imply that this is heavy fare, rather that the complexity of flavor and texture is inspiring. So for my musical pairing, I opted for a light work with striking depth: Johannes Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53. Written in 1869, the work is scored for contralto (the composer’s favorite), male chorus, and orchestra – it runs just under 15 minutes, and yet is lush with “Brahmsian” texture and chordal progressions. He wrote the work as a wedding gift for Clara and Robert Schumann’s daughter, Julie – a girl for who it is certain Brahms had romantic feelings. Naturally, you can imagine this marriage was a source of sorrow for the composer, so he poured his anguish into his work. After reading the score for this piece, Clara wrote in her diary:

“It is long since I remember being so moved by the profound pain of words and music. It is the expression of his own heart’s anguish. If only he could speak so candidly in his own words!”

The lyrics are taken from Goethe’s poem Harzreise im Winter, which reflects on the despair and agony of young love lost. Brahms opens in the sorrowful key of C minor,  shifting to the happier Major equivalent at the promise of redemption and a revived spirit. He personally felt it was one of his best works, which for Brahms (whose self-critique was as harsh as it gets) is a big deal. I think Brahms, my boyfriend and I share a similar pride for our respective creations in this instance, which further justifies this musical pairing. The below recording is with the remarkable Marilyn Horne – a voice practically made for this piece. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Alto Rhapsody,” Wikipedia.com
“Philpedia: Alto Rhapsody,” LA Phil