It’s Lobstah Time!

Lobster 2Have you ever just cooked a certain food for the sake of saying you actually went through with it? This summer I did just that with some of my girlfriends by cooking lobster. I think this might be a rite of passage for any good Bostonian, considering they are in abundant supply on this coast. That being said, it’s something that most people don’t want to “shell” out for on a regular basis – that’s what makes it special. Rachel Roberts ran the whole operation, from creating the awesome boil to helping us break those darned shells…and let me tell you, this was a messy occasion. No cutesy silverware or dainty garnishes – this is food as it was meant to be eaten: with your hands. Lots of napkins and laughter are key to any good Lobster Broil.
Lobster1Many classify lobster dinner as a “high society” meal, when in fact this wasn’t always the case. Before the 19th-century, lobster was relegated to use as fertilizer, fish bait, and prison food (and the inmates hated it). It wasn’t until the twentieth century that restaurants began to seek out this delicacy. While it can be incorporated to any number of dishes (like Lobster Mac and Cheese!) boiling is the most popular method. To get the most out of your lobster, you can’t just toss them into a pot of plain water – the flavor comes from that boil! Rachel went above and beyond expectations with this recipe. She divided the stock between two large stock pots (since she doesn’t own a massive lobster pot), and each was brimming with potatoes, corn, and kielbasa – not to mention beer! The best part about is that you can eat all of those gorgeous add-ins at the end – making it literally a “one-pot meal”.
Lobster Party 2The most difficult part of cooking lobster is…well, cooking the actual lobster. A word of caution: this is not a recipe for the faint of heart, as you will be placing a live lobster into a pot of boiling hot water. That being said, you will definitely find yourself more willing to go for it with friends around – Rachel attributes this to a friendly “group peer pressure.” There’s no doubt that strength comes in numbers, and we were all laughing and rooting each other on throughout the process. Still seem a little overwhelmed? This How-To Post by Simply Recipes outlines the process beautifully. My advice is to keep on smiling, and remember just how delicious it will be after the fact…
Lobster Party 1Ah, we’ve finally reached the food! Lobster meat is some of the most expensive seafood you can buy, and the process of actually getting to the meat makes the cost all the more understandable. It is delicious, whether on its own with a pat of butter or folded into a rich risotto. We went for the former, with butter and seasoning to spare. I am more of a hot sauce girl myself (a credit to my Southern roots!) As crazy as this meal may seem, I’ve found that the most enjoyable food is the kind that gives everyone a chance to “be involved” – considering we were all covered in shell pieces by the end, this was a perfect example. Click HERE to see the secrets behind New England lobstah!
Lobster 3As Rachel and I were discussing the musical pairing, the one word I kept coming back to was chaotic. It is certainly worth it by the end, but can be a bit of an involved process leading up to the actual meat. With that concept in mind, Rachel suggested the perfect piece: Peter Maxwell Davies’ Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise. It’s roughly 14 minutes in length, and depicts the “chaotic” atmosphere often connected to wedding ceremonies. The composer explains it himself:

“It is a picture-postcard record of an actual wedding I attended on Hoy in Orkney. Each event in the music, then, describes something that happened. At various points the flute, the clarinet, the oboe, the bassoon, and, most especially, the violin call the tune; various harmonic and orchestrational adventures depict the consequences of the consumption of whiskey. Finally the bagpipes are heard at the back of the hall representing the steadying, sobering dawn.” – Peter Maxwell Davies

These mini episodes can be likened to the various stages of cooking a lobster – avoiding the claws, getting the lobster into and out of the pot, and the laborious process of cracking the shell. Just when you feel like throwing out the lobster cracker, you reach the meat and a bagpipe heralds your victory! (Not really, but wouldn’t that just be the coolest thing?) You can finally sit back, relax, and reflect on the whole occasion as you dip claw meat into a fresh bowl of melted butter. Just like a wedding, there will always be another time – yet you will feel all the more prepared for this enjoyable meal, “chaos” and all 🙂

Sources Cited:
“Lobster,” Wikipedia.com
“Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise,” Wikipedia.com
“Program Note: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise” Toronto Symphony Orchestra

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

Dinner, Without the Rush

While I relish the work of assembling ingredients and preparing a meal, there are some days that I just don’t want to think about it. It’s days like this that the term “make-ahead” becomes one of my favorites. This week, my roomie Jenn and I hosted a “girls’ night.” Weeknight dinners for friends are always tough, since all I normally want to do is veg-out and watch a movie after work. Knowing this would be the case, I planned ahead and made two delicious, healthy dishes that could be prepared ahead of time: Roasted Shrimp Cocktail and Roasted Edamame-Corn Salad.
Truth be told, shrimp cocktail isn’t the most exciting of hors d’oeuvres. The sauce relies on pantry staples (my make-ahead feature), and the shrimp are traditionally boiled with little to no seasoning then served cold. This recipe, on the other hand, takes a new edge by roasting the shrimp. I added a few extra touches to the shrimp itself to really put this one over the top – click HERE to but the flavor back in this hackneyed dish!
I love fresh corn, practically as much as I love edamame – so basically this salad was a match made in heaven for me. It’s simple, packed with flavor and can be made the night before. Its the perfect complement to any summer meal, and is healthy to boot! Flavors are easily adjustable, and it can be made with any variety of fresh vegetables. Click HERE to learn how to make this delicious salad!
For the musical work, I wanted to focus on the relaxing quality afforded by not having to worry about cooking the day-of the occasion. I started referencing dance forms, and came upon the Sarabande. Originally the zarabande, the dance originated in Central America where it was subsequently discovered by Spanish explorers. Though its original context in 16th-century Spain was quite lively (and perceived as obscene), its arrival to the French court in the early 17th century resulted in a form that was much more slow and solemn (countering the overt passion of the original). This triple-metre dance is found throughout the Baroque repertoire, yet several composers of the early-twentieth century were inspired by it as well. Among those was Francis Poulenc (a composer I hope to feature many times on this blog), whose Sarabande for Guitar I chose for this meal – the recording I’ve included is by guitarist Matthew McAllister. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3aI6ACJNecE

Sources Cited:
“Sarabande: Description.” ClassicalCat.net

A Rendezvous with the Coast

Last weekend was my first time taking an actual summer vacation – visiting the Hamptons with family and friends. Even though it was only for three nights, the trip rewarded me with a sense of relaxation (aka time away from Boston) I desperately needed. Nonetheless, I never surrender my desire for cooking even when on vacation (if I have access to a kitchen, that is). My aunt allowed me to take the reigns on dinner for one of the nights, and you can only imagine my excitement when she brought home 2 pounds of frozen lobster. With fresh herbs and aromatics from the local farmer’s market, I decided to make Lobster Risotto.
Now you might be thinking: frozen lobster, what makes that exciting? This was flash frozen lobster, with no preservatives, and wild caught – three winning categories in my book! Flash freezing is a process that brings food to a temperature far beneath water’s freezing point (32°F or 0°C). This prevents the formation of ice crystals, which can otherwise damage the food  by make its texture mealy/watery. Fish that have been flash frozen are often done so directly after being caught, sealing in its freshness and quality.*
The other wonderful thing about this risotto was the pan I got to cook it in: an All-Clad paella pan. Risotto is a dish that take patience, making sure the timing is just right. But this pan made that process a much simpler one, no doubt. If there is a Santa, this is on my wishlist! The recipe (aside from the lobster) is pretty basic, yet makes a LOT of risotto – bear in mind I was preparing a meal for 9 people. It can easily be halved to serve 4 or 5. Click HERE to learn how to make this delicious, creamy risotto!
While visiting that local farmer’s market, I was drawn to the ruby cherries on sale.  Cherries are an innately beautiful fruit, boasting great color and shape. These characteristics helped to inspire my dessert course – Fresh Cherry Cake. I wanted a simple context to amplify the aesthetic look of the fruit, yet a complimentary flavor to augment their fresh taste. An almond cake (adapted from my favorite Joy of Baking), was the perfect answer! Click HERE to see how to make this simple yet stunning dessert!
I have always found the cello to be my favorite for times of relaxation (perhaps because it is the closest to the timbre of the human voice), and I wanted my musical selection to reflect my vacationing mindset . So I chose Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B-flat No. 9. Being a cellist himself, Boccherini truly captures the instrument’s voice through this piece.** The ornate, fluid style of this work also helped lead to my pairing, and its almost playful charm as well. The recording I’ve included is by cellist extraordinaire Jacqueline Mary du Pré performing the first movement. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbBb3M7L8-M

Sources Cited:
* “Flash Freezing.” Wikipedia.com 
** “Luigi Boccherini,” Wikipedia.com

Summer’s Finest: a Rich Delicacy

Summer: a season filled with the joys of nature and a fresh alacrity. Heavy coats and snow boots are replaced with classy shades and breezy shirts. Summer also sees rise to some of the year’s freshest, most lively tastes. The culinary possibilities are endless, though beating the heat can make them limited – dishes that take hours to cook (such as stews and braises) are the last thing anyone wants in 100-degree weather. This is especially true when hosting for a number of people. Such was the case a week ago while I was throwing a dinner party for a group of guys. I needed a dish that could be both light and filling. Such a anomaly led me to the ever-reliable classic, Shrimp Scampi.
Shrimp and summer are as compatible as Fred and Ginger. The lightness of shrimp pairs beautifully with the seasonal timbre, and scampi is one of the simplest ways to fulfill this potential. The flavors are simple: garlic, parsley, lemon, and wine. This dish takes a matter of minutes to make, yet packs a LOT of taste! It is a complexity that is difficult to describe, as this dish achieves both a richness and subtlety of taste. The recipe I used for this had no pasta, just shrimp. This meal had to feed a group of guys, so I needed substance, and pasta can always take a meal that extra mile. In order to make enough sauce, I quadrupled the sauce with amazing results! I also added a pinch of red pepper flakes to give this dish an extra kick. Check out how to make this perfect summer entree by clicking HERE
For the musical pairing, I wanted to feature this dish’s seasonal charm, but also acknowledge its greater depth in flavor. The unusual blend of ethereality and substance fits beautifully within the style of Claude Debussy. The music of Debussy is characterized by harmonic freedom and tonal ambiguity, a “vagueness” that has often aligned his musical style with that of the Impressionists (though Debussy himself detested this term). One of his most renowned works is perhaps La Mer: “Three Symphonic Sketches for Orchestra,” composed in 1905. This work explores the lush, powerful nature of the sea, yet also captures its more delicate qualities. I have included a video recording of the first movement: “De l’aube à midi sur la mer” (From dawn to noon on the sea”).* The performance is by the Chicago Symphony, with Daniel Barenboim conducting (ps. 0ne of my favorite moments takes place at 5:15) – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_mer_(Debussy)