South of the Orient: Part IX

Noodles_2August was HOT. The temps in Seattle were much higher, on average, than usual. As a consequence of these norms, the city doesn’t believe in air conditioning…so Tom and I were on the lookout for any solution to cool down. In many parts of the world, heat is met with more heat. Whether it is an Indian drinking hot chai or a Jamaican enjoying jerk chicken (seasoned with must-have Scotch bonnets), a variety of cultures turn to hot and spicy foods in the sweltering heat. The reason? It makes you sweat, and sweat cools you down. I’m no scientist, but we were desperate and willing to try anything. So we decided to indulge in our own spicy experiment with Pad Kee Mao.

ThailandThis recipe did not come out of a cookbook. Tom learned how to make the dish while living in Southeast Asia; in Laos, Thailand and Malaysia, primarily. He spent about a year in the region, split between a pre-college getaway and a post-college return.  The above photo was taken by Tom in Tham Kong Lo: a cave that extends for 7 miles. He shares more about the adventure:

Our small gang of backpackers had convened at a grass hut guest house the night before, the entire village having lost power at 7PM (daily occurrence) we’d bonded over candlelit noodles and communist beer (Beerlao), and planned the following day’s excursion. Tham Kong Lo is a stalactite-riddled mega cave that stretches deep underneath miles of limestone karst, home to a singular, somewhat terrifying ecosystem and traversable only by canoe. There’s darkness in familiar settings and then there’s pics, oily darkness pregnant with bats, giant spiders and dripping with humidity. Everyone should experience the latter at some point, if only for the experience of emerging renewed and soaking wet into a lush jungle valley at the other side, sunshine streaming through the banyan trees.

Noodles_3When Tom shared this story with me, I was inspired to recreate an image of those “stalactites” using our noodles…it was one of those things that sounded way cooler in my head. But the photo also illustrates perfectly al dente rice noodles, so I kept it. Moving on, many of us know Pad Kee Mao by it’s English title: Drunken Noodles. Khi mao is Thai for “drunkard”…yet the source of this appellation is a bit of a mystery. Some believe the first-ever recipe included rice wine, while others attribute the recipe to a drunken chef who concocted the dish with whatever was available in his home after a long night out. Regardless, it is now one of the cuisine’s most famous celebrities, and for good reason.

DSC_0171The dish is spicy, but can be moderated to your taste by de-seeding the peppers or omitting them entirely. It brings together a variety of rich flavors in a fairly quick preparation: oyster sauce, chili paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, and loads of veggies. Tom cooks the dish so that there is very little liquid left in the pan before serving – so there is some patience involved. But the end result is absolutely worth the wait. You can include one or a medley of proteins (we used both chicken and tofu in our recipe). One key ingredient, flavor-wise and aesthetically, is basil: you can use Thai or regular, just be sure to have a whole heap of it. Click HERE to see the recipe for this spicy dish.  

NoodlesWhen you eat something spicy, not only do you sweat – your heart rate also increases…much like my own whenever I think of playing the opening lines of Jacques Ibert’s Flute Concerto. Written in the doldrums of the Great Depression, the work was commissioned by the renowned flutist and pedagogue Marcel Moyse. It is surprisingly lighthearted for the era yet far from frivolous. Even with a reduced orchestra, the work is both both elegant and rich with thematic color…and, for the soloist, very difficult to perform. The opening stanza is an audition ace, as flutists across the world harness the dramatic statement to impress panels. The piece as a whole sustains an exhilarating pace, with two poignant respites that allow our soloist to catch her breath…just before hurling the audience into an electric finale. The following recording features Emmanuel Pahud (my flute hero) and the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich performing the first movement of the concerto. Enjoy!

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Sources Cited:
“Drunken Noodles,” Wikipedia.com
“Flute Concerto: Jacques Ibert,” LA Phil

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South of the Orient: Part VI

Dhansak 4What a crazy, wonderful, insane summer it’s been! I visited Canada for the first time, went backpacking through the White Mountains, cycled who knows how many miles, and cooked a ridiculous amount of food…which I’ve been terribly remiss in sharing on this blog. Blame the summer weather, but I’ve hardly had a moment to compose (much less edit) photos and text. I’ve documented a TON of creations over the summer, filing them away with a goal of having them posted at some point in the future…so I’m finally back at it with Lamb Dhansak in continuation of the South of the Orient Series, featuring my boyfriend’s amazing recipes (influenced by his travels in Southeast Asia).
Dhansak 2Dhansak is of Parsi origin, with influences from both Persian and Gujarati cuisine. The name itself is from the state of Gujarat (in west India), where dhan stands for “grain” and sak for “stewed vegetables”. The dish has a place in Parsi tradition, often served in honor of a loved one’s passing. Parsi households will abstain from eating meat for three whole days following the death of a family member. On the fourth day, this “fast” is commonly ended with a meal of dhansak. Traditionally made with goat or mutton, Parsi households will often modify the ingredients to merit the dish’s enjoyment year-round.
Dhansak 3This dish was intense – lots of flavor, tons of ingredients, and hearty to boot. You can omit the lamb if you’re seeking a vegan-friendly option, just be sure to use another filler in its stead. My favorite part of the recipe is the use of roasted vegetables. It’s a first (for me) in Indian cuisine, and works extremely well in the setting. Spinach adds a shock of color, while the spices and lentils imbue the entire dish with a golden hue. Aside from being absolutely delicious, it is chock-full of nutrients and makes for great leftovers. Click HERE to see the recipe!
Dhansak 1While Dhansak is far from having ominous implications in the Parsi culture, it is rarely served around or during felicitous occasions. It thus seems appropriate to draw a connection to its tradition for the musical pairing. Death can be a powerful force in any context, to which classical music can lend a responsive and passionate voice. From Mozart’s Requiem to Barber’s Adagio for Strings, music often expresses that which words cannot. The emotional intensity provides an unspoken solace and understanding to the bereaved, whether or not the work was written with said intention. Such music is a reminder of life’s wonders and inexhaustible beauty.

An example is the nine suites of the Bachianas Brasileiras, by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Written between 1930 and 1945, the suites are a beautiful fusion of Brazilian folk music with the contrapuntal and harmonic structures of the Baroque style. Villa-Lobos had a profound respect for Bach, and sought to pay homage to the composer through these suites. Two movements from the collection (in my opinion) present a remarkable degree of emotional depth, coalescent in their beautiful yet tragic milieu. The first is the “Prelùdio” of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1. The below rendition, from the 2008 Verbier Festival, was performed in memoriam of the renowned cellist Mstislav Rostroprovich. The suite is scored for an orchestra of cellos, which is absolutely stunning:

The second is the “Aria (Cantilena)” from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 – the first time I heard this piece, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Similar to the first, this suite is scored for an orchestra of cellos, with the addition of soprano solo. The below recording features Kiri te Kanawa, Lynn Harrel, and Cello Ensemble:

Both pieces are absolutely breathtaking – I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Sources Cited:
“Dhansak,” Wikipedia.com
“Dhansak,” My Indian Food
“Bachianas Brasileiras,” 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

South of the Orient: Part IV

Salmon Curry & ParippuA major benefit to dating a fellow foodie is that home-cooked meals are rarely boring – Tom and I often create something unique and delicious. Just the other week, we were at a coffee shop and (naturally) began to discuss what we could make for dinner that evening. The hope was to make something healthy and packed with protein – that idea led to salmon, and lentils slowly found their way into the discussion. Not surprisingly we decided to give this pairing an Indian twist, and the result was perfect: Salmon Curry over Parippu (Red Lentil Dal) and Spinach.
Parippu 3As per usual with Tom’s cooking, these recipes are permeated with a variety of spices…which reminds me to briefly discuss the term “curry”. Many assume that “curry” is a specific type of Indian spice, when in reality it is a generic term for a mixture of spices (flavors). The word is of English origin, with its creation dating back to the British Colonial government – during their colonial administration of India, British officials had come to know and love the flavors of the local cuisine. It is alleged that the mixture was created by an Indian chef for a single colonial magistrate: while preparing for his return to England, the magistrate announced that he couldn’t bear to live without the flavorful fare. The result was a spice powder that has become wildly popular throughout the British Isles, as well as across the globe in “fusion” settings.
Parippu 1 Indian cooking is often inspired by Ayurveda: a holistic practice of Indian origin that encourages well-being through physical and emotional awcareness. This practice relies on the understanding of the three doshas (or elemental energies that constitute each individual): Vata (motion), Pitta (metabolic), and Kapha (growth). Pitta espouses the life-giving properties of certain spices and foods, and legumes are seen as especially potent. This particular recipe uses red lentils (also known as Parippu or Masoor dal) – they cook more quickly than your standard brown lentils, with the difference being that these have been stripped of their outer hulls and split in half. The result is a protein that serves as an excellent thickener for stews and curries, making them a popular choice for Dal. Learn how to make this flavorful Dal by clicking HERE!
Curry SalmonSalmon with Indian spices was definitely a new one for me. Swordfish is Tom’s preferred choice for curries (more on that later), but we both agreed it might be interesting to try the oilier fish for a change of pace. I was in charge of making this dish, and it was actually fun to cook. Connecting to the previous dish, Ayurveda certainly applies here as well: salmon provides whopping dose of Omega-3’s, vitamins, protein, and amino acids. I decided to cook the salmon skin-on, but you can certainly go with your preference. For plating, we placed the Dal onto a mound of baby spinach, and topped it off with the salmon and extra sauce. The resulting dish was stunning, and needless to say our “dosha” were fully satisfied – click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful salmon!
Curry Salmon & Parippu 2The life-giving properties of food are absolute – nutritional choices are a requisite for any healthy lifestyle. That being said, a person’s well-being is incidentally influenced by countless elements, and music certainly has a place in the formula. Think back on all of the times that you’ve turned to music: special occasions with family and friends, moments you were sad or nervous, times of laughter and joy, an instance of inspiration. These are experiences you’ll never forget, as they were integral to your personal wellness and psyche. Composer Marc Neikrug thoroughly believes in the power of music, and his work Healing Ceremony reflects this philosophy. He says of the piece:

“I thought about the power music has over people; I wanted to write something that would change how your body feels — helping you calm down, handle stress, get in touch with inner feelings and inner thoughts…This [composition] is not a treatment, but it surely can put you in the right place.” – Marc Neikrug

Neikrug has been living on a Pueblo reservation in Sante Fe for over twenty years, and has been greatly inspired by their cultural perspectives on healing and connectivity. From the three dosha of Ayurveda described above, music is perhaps most connected to Vata: a dosha that involves your breath, heart rate, and blood circulation. Exposure to music can influence all of these elements, and Neikrug’s intention with Healing Ceremony is to invoke calmness and  through the music:

“People should be much more conscious of the power that music has upon all of them — meaning your body and everything that’s going on inside of you…It’s not just, ‘Oh this is cool — it makes me want to dance,’ it’s much more complicted than that.” – Marc Neikrug

Nearly 40 minutes in length, the piece consists of 8 movements: North – Air – West – Earth – South – Water – East – Fire/Love. The following recording is with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra performing “Earth”. Enjoy 🙂

Sources Cited
“Curry,” Wikipedia.com
“Ayurveda,” Wikipedia.com
“Ayurveda & Dosha Types for Beginners” MindBodyGreen
“Marc Neikrug, ‘Healing Ceremony’ Composer, Talks The Power Of Music” Huffington Post: Lifestyle

South of the Orient: Part III

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

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

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

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

South of the Orient: Part II

Gaeng Panang1Advancements in travel and communications have made our world far more accessible, and culinary experimentation has become easier as a consequence. Even so, it’s amazing how many flavorful foods have yet to be included in the conventions of American cooking. This mini series is meant to catalog the travels of my boyfriend Tom, and his unique understanding of Asian cuisine – one thing that certainly holds true to this style of cooking is the use of colorful ingredients. While it may seem laborious to prepare and process so many ingredients, the food is always packed with flavor – this Gaeng Panang Gai was a fantastic example of just that.
Gaeng Panang3This dish is native to Thailand, where Tom lived for almost a year (the below photo is from his travels). Similar as with India (which you can read about in my last post from this series), he was captivated by Thailand’s wealth of resources:

“…the ingredients come from what is readily available, and the south of Thailand is blessed with year round access to unique, evocative plants, roots and vegetables that they pound together in a pestle and mortar, a process that takes hours, not to mention iron wrists, until it forms a smooth, blisteringly strong paste, which is mellowed out in the wok with the addition of coconut milk.”

16440_1266104022204_6628122_nAn interesting fact about Thailand, there are only three seasons: hot, cool, and rainy. Local Buddhist monks measure their regional tenure by rainy seasons as opposed to years spent in said area. On the other hand, there are FIVE basic attributes to Thai cuisine: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. A pretty remarkable shift from Western traditions. And did I mention how much they love rice? Thailand currently stands as the world’s largest exporter – no wonder they make so many curries!
Gaeng Panang4The one thing I love about Asian cuisine is the color – bright reds, rich golds, luscious greens – when plated on white dish, the contrast is stunning. Watching Tom prepare this, I learned that it’s worth taking your time to get everything in place before running with it – that way you can act quickly once the “heat is on”. The paste is quite simple, and is the central element of this recipe. A food processor or blender is necessary, but you can mash it to a paste with a pestle and mortar if all else fails (and it would be an excellent forearm workout!) You can serve with or without rice, but you’ll definitely want something to sop up all of that delicious sauce – click HERE to see the recipe.
Gaeng Panang2The amount of flavor you experience in a single bite sets this dish apart – it’s practically a “treatise” on the qualities of Thai cuisine. You have your fundamental ingredients, to which a variety of components are added in support. This led me to consider Samuel Barber’s First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12. The work is built upon a musical “thesis”, where the proceeding ideas and harmonies are all played out accordingly – similar to the structure of a written essay. The work was composed in 1938 for conductor Arturo Toscanini. Barber met the renowned Toscanini in the late 1930’s, who was quite taken with the composer’s music. The work was commissioned and premiered by Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra – Barber’s Adagio for Strings (arguably his most well-known composition) was performed for the first time on this very concert. The other thing that led me to consider this work was the chef himself – Tom is a very strong writer, and takes a good deal of pride on an “essay” well done (okay, so this connection may be a little kooky, but I’m fully aware of my writing eccentricities!) Anyways, this pairing both compliments and supports this delicious meal, and is a beautiful work – it may be only 8 minutes in length, but it is filled with musical color and passion. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Thailand”, Wikipedia.com
“Essay for Orchestra (Barber)”, 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

Taking a Breather

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

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

Filled with Delicacy

There are times when my cooking reputation becomes too popular . Case in point: I was having a few friends over for dinner, then word got out and a few quickly blossomed into a full party of 8. Moments like these require a creative combination of filling, affordable, and likable foods. For this instance, I had to add “vegan” to the list (to accommodate two of the eight guests in attendance). Slightly panicked with last-minute planning, my inspiration came en route to the store: I was halfway there when a car passed with a kayak strapped to its roof. That image stayed with me as I came across a pile of bright green zucchini at the store…like little green kayaks. Okay, so the connection is farfetched, but it goes to show just how unusual my thought processes are 😉 The result: Spicy Quinoa Zucchini Boats.
I love zucchini. I mean, you can pretty much use them for any number of dishes – from a simple sauté of half-moon slices to baked zucchini bread. The name comes from the Italian term zucchina, which translates to “small pumpkin.” What’s unique about the squash is its delicate flavor and fibrous meat – it can yield a beautiful result with minimal cooking. Look for average-sized zucchini with shiny, unblemished flesh; their fragility means even the smallest of bruises can ruin the squash’s flesh.
The filling for this was a “what’s-in-my-pantry” creation – I managed to unearth a can of tomato sauce, chipotles in adobo, a box of quinoa, and a container of black lentils. I then looked back at my “list” of requisites: the quinoa and lentils would be filling, and the pantry aspect inherently made it affordable. How to make it likeable…I grabbed a few spices to make this a Latin-inspired filling. The result? The guests were fully sated, my wallet wasn’t hurting, and it was unbelievably delicious! The icing to the cake – it was all vegan: click HERE to check out this beautiful, filling dish.
For the pairing, I thought focusing on the delicacy of zucchini would be an appropriate. That led me to Chopin and his Étude Op. 10, No. 3. Unlike his other etudes, this one has a poetic beauty that even Chopin couldn’t overcome: “In all my life I have never again been able to find such a beautiful melody.” Many refer to the work by its misnomer ” Tristesse”, even though Chopin never intended the use of that title. While the work can be said to have a tranquil “delicacy”, it is also rich with a colorful intricacy inherent to Chopin’s style (much like these zucchini boats had a far much greater depth than what meets the eye). I was also drawn to Chopin when considering delicate due to his own unending battle with illness and fatigue; a struggle that eventually took his life at the young age 39. This delicacy gave his artistry a much greater poignancy, which is undoubtedly why his music still touches our souls to this day. The recording below is with none other than the virtuoso Lang Lang – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz_BlYlBi40

Sources Cited:
“Frédéric Chopin,” Wikipedia.com
“Étude Op. 10, No. 3 (Chopin),” Wikipedia.com
“Musical Analysis: Etudes Op.10” OurChopin.com