The Virtue of Patience

IMG_4779It’s been quite some time since I last blogged…blaming Boston’s snowpocalypse is an option, but it doesn’t fully excuse my 2-month hiatus. It’s not for lack of cooking, since this kind of weather is the perfect excuse to whip up copious amounts of chili, stew, and stir fries to keep warm. As we near March, I plan to shake off these winter blues and jump back into blogging. For those enduring the snowy onslaught in the Northeast, here are two hearty slow-cook dishes to enjoy: a Classic Beef Stew and a Lentil and Chicken Sausage Soup.
Beef Stew 1Let’s start with the beef: my boyfriend Tom challenged me to make an old-fashioned stew, and I came up with this recipe: it’s extremely simple to make, yet packed with complexity and flavor. These tri-colored potatoes added character the stew, but you can use any root vegetable of your choosing. The starchier the better, since it will help thicken the stew as it cooks. The blue potatoes have become one of my favorite add-ins for stews and roasts alike.
Beef Stew 2What I love most about chuck is how tender it becomes when cooked slowly. While you may be tempted to opt for another cut, there really is no replacement when it comes to stews – chuck will give you the best results. I cooked this in my trusty slow cooker, on low for about 6 hours. As is always the case with stews, it was even better the next day. With record low temperatures and snowfall, this recipe is a surefire way to warm up at the end of the day. Click HERE for the recipe.
Lentil Chicken Stew 2I’ve always wanted to try a “lentil and sausage” stew, but am honestly not a huge fan of sausage. My solution is to substitute chicken sausage wherever possible, and I have somehow convinced Tom to opt for it as well. To match higher demands for healthier products, stores have been stocking a remarkable array of flavors. My personal favorite is Chicken & Apple, which is perfectly suited for the purposes of this recipe.
Lentils and Kale 2The lentils and kale are the real powerhouses in this soup, respectively providing a healthy dose of potassium, folate, Vitamin C, fiber, copper…to name a few. You can use any leafy green or legume, and (if you’re a pork fan) feel free to use regular sausage as well. I cooked this soup in the slow cooker for about 4 hours on “high,” and the result was a flavor-packed meal to warm a cold, snowy night. Click HERE to see the recipe for this savory soup!
Lentil Chicken StewThis winter has not been an easy one for Boston: trains have taken a turn for the worse, sidewalks are nearly impassable, cars are buried beneath feet of snow, and the city’s patience is as thin as ice (pun intended). Yet winter is, at it’s most basic level, quite beautiful. Watching snow fall can be an experience that is both magical and nostalgic. Even as we pile on layers of clothing and trek through slush, our eyes drink in the sights of blanketed fields and frosted trees. For my musical pairing, I wanted a piece that would mirror both winter’s serenity and Boston’s constancy. I ultimately chose Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat major Op. 90 No.3. The piece is remarkably gentle, with triads cascading like snow and a melody that floats above a peaceful landscape. The emotions in the music speak to what I am certain many a Bostonian has endured this winter: moments of triumph, silence, frustration, melancholy, and acceptance. The recording below features the piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz. What I love most about his interpretation is its patience, allowing the music to breathe and grow with each phrase. In this type of weather, patience can be difficult to muster – but spring is just around the corner, and soon we’ll be looking back on the “blizzard of 2015” with a sense of understanding and resolve, because we’ll have made it through this.

Advertisements

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!

)

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

Revival of a Prodigy

Leftovers, for many, are some of the most treasured meals post-Thanksgiving. My refrigerator was stocked to the fullest for several days with tupperware, extra ingredients, etc. In normal circumstances, this would be a very welcome scenario. Unfortunately, my energy was entirely drained after hosting Thanksgiving for a sizable crowd. That being said, there was no way I wasn’t about to indulge in a leftover party with friends. Remarkably, there was hardly a shred of leftover turkey meat; yet I still had a huge turkey carcass to deal with…which of course led me to making a delicious, filling stock for leftover Turkey Soup.
As I mentioned, we had NO turkey meat left – you can certainly make turkey soup with nothing more than vegetables and noodles, but the thought of a meatless turkey soup seemed silly. If you also happen to find yourself in this predicament, there are a few options. The first is to go with the obvious substitute, chicken – though it won’t have (quite) the same taste as turkey, the broth will still be plenty flavorful. You can also buy cheap turkey parts – the day after Thanksgiving, stores are desperate to shed all those extra “turkey pounds,” and will have pretty good sales on wings, legs, etc. (just talk to your butcher). I went with the latter and bought turkey wings that I roasted for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees.
Turkey soup has the same basic principles as chicken soup – the only difference being that, while chicken soup can be prepared with a fresh or leftover chicken carcass, turkey soup is far more practical as a post-turkey meal option. You can certainly go purchase individual turkey parts to create your own stock, but it makes much more sense (and yields way more flavor) if you use an entire carcass. It’s also a lighter follow-up to all the indulgent Thanksgiving dishes you had two (or three) servings of the day before. To see how I made this delicious, heartwarming soup, click HERE.
For this musical pairing, I wanted to bring the attention back to my Mahler pairing from the Roast Turkey post. Mahler’s music was relatively obscure until the 20th century, and part of this revival was thanks to the conductor Leonard Bernstein. He recorded the first full cycle of Mahler’s nine symphonies, placing the music of Mahler back in the limelight. So with that, I thought it would be nice to showcase a piece by the conductor (also a composer) who helped “bring back” Mahler, and went with Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from “On the Waterfront.” Composed in 1955, this suite is based on the film score for the Marlon Brando classic. Bernstein would commence a Mahler Festival with the New York Philharmonic 5 years later – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_AYzvs3rYI

Sources Cited:
“Leonard Bernstein,” Wikipedia.com

A Flavorful Duality

With the onset of Fall, we find ourselves turning towards heartier fare in anticipation of the colder weather: filling stews, creamy soups, baked pastas, etc. Many assume that winter meals translate into fatty, less-healthy options than the summer’s alternatives. Thanksgiving (just around the corner) does very little to diminish these concerns. Nonetheless, there are plenty of healthy options that provide a cozy complement to the colder nights. This dish is certainly one of them, and is surprisingly flavorful! I doubled the recipe knowing that I would be serving a crowd, and there still ended up being tons of leftovers! For a healthier way to warm up and still feel sated, look no farther than this amazing French Lentil Salad.
The internet is addicting – we all know this. Yet the more inundated we become with information and options, I find the old-fashioned method for recipe searches to be far more satisfying – good old cookbooks. I have WAY too many (a point I’ve made countless times on this blog) and should use them more than I actually do. Thank God I decided to for this recipe – Dorie Greenspan, once again, proves her genius in this dish. Lentils are a tough ingredient, given they can easily become too mushy or lack complexity. These lentils were perfectly tender and extraordinarily complex. It was the first time I’ve cooked with black lentils (she calls for French green lentils, but these are an apt substitute) and I have officially fallen in love with their earthy taste.
I credit the complexity in this dish to the cognac. You can use any brand, but I wanted the novelty of actually owning a bottle of Courvoisier – a drink that had become an outdated luxury until P.  Diddy released that hit single to bring it back into the limelight (this doesn’t necessarily mean I like the song, but it was the first time I heard about the drink). Adding the cognac is optional, but brings a bit of edge to the dish that is difficult to achieve in meatless entrees. Whether or not you choose to go with a pricier brandy is irrelevant, the result should be the same.
This is the first stew I’ve made where the vegetables are boiled whole, then chopped after the dish is done. I was apprehensive about not having the “caramelized” taste, but ended up being extremely pleased with the result. Including the vegetables (after chopping them) is optional, which I chose to do for added color and texture. That being said, those onions were NOT easy to cut – the outside skin becomes very slippery, so please be careful if you choose to include them. I also chose to include the vinaigrette Dorie recommends. The lentils are excellent on their own, but this dressing paired beautifully. This salad will probably become a go-to of mine for those colder nights, and perhaps paired with a short glass of Courvoisier. Click HERE to learn more about this filling yet healthy entree.
This dish was somewhat dichotomous, exhibiting both robust and subtle flavors – this brought to mind the music of Robert Schumann. His style was driven by dualities, ranging from intense passion to thoughtful tenderness. I chose his Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 to reflect on this eclectic style. Originally intended to be a Phantasie for piano and orchestra, Schumann’s wife Clara encouraged him to expand the work into an entire concerto. She was deeply moved (as were most listeners) by the integration of the solo line within the orchestral context. It is one of his more famous works, and the only piano concerto he ever completed. The following recording is with pianist Arthur Rubinstein – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAEGdGu5200&feature=related

Sources Cited:
“SCHUMANN: Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 54,” San Francisco Symphony

Making Meatless Count

I have a theory when it comes to cooking vegan: make it count. Vegan fare should fully outshine the fact that it is without meat, so I take explore a number of ways to do this: flavor, aesthetic, novelty, heartiness, etc. I’ve mentioned my neighbors who are vegetarian by choice, and I love having the chance to cook wholesome dinners with them. But my self-challenge in vegan cooking is to hook the non-veggies who swear by bacon, and this Moroccan Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine did just the trick.
You may feel overwhelmed by the ingredients and step involved in this stew, but it’s a lot easier than it looks. The harissa, which you can buy from a store, is extremely simple to make and really gives this dish that extra umph! The other cool ingredient in this dish is the preserved lemon – that may sound a little eery, but it did give this stew a fantastic edge. I’ve included a quicker version for preparing these in the recipe itself.  Canned chickpeas are also always an option, but there really is a special added value to taking the time to cook dried chickpeas. They take a while to soak (overnight), so put that into your prep work if planning on using dried.
Seeing as how I nearly tripled the original recipe, this made a LOT of food. I wanted to accommodate a sizable dinner party (9 people), and ended up with delicious leftovers for a few days after. I served this dish with a whole wheat couscous, but I imagine it would be equally delicious served with pita bread or over rice. Click HERE to make this vegan showstopper today!
For the musical pairing, I wanted to reflect on the complexity of flavors and components. That brought me to a work I had seen performed live a few years back: Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D minor “Souvenir de Florence”. The four movements are quite diverse in quality: the first movement, in D minor, opens the piece on an impassioned, almost violent note. The second movement settles into the relative F major, bringing the timbre back to a calmer state. The latter two movements assume a Russian feel, with a third movement that’s almost playful transitioning into a driven, frantic fourth. This divergence of style made it the perfect match for the complexity of this dish – included is the actual performance of the work I experienced by Boston’s very own A Far Cry ensemble (arranged for chamber orchestra). I’ve included the fourth movement below – enjoy!

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

Sources Cited:
“Souvenir de Florence,” Wikipedia.com

One Base, Endless Possibilities

When some of your best friends are vegetarian, knowing the ropes of meatless cooking is vital. There are certainly dishes I refuse to try (Tofurkey will never be on this blog), but for the most part I have a profound respect for the versatility of vegetarian meals. Main courses often rely on the flavor of the meat, so when that’s taken out of the equation you have to become quite creative. Indian and Mediterranean cuisines are wonderful examples, and I often turn to these flavor profiles when preparing meatless entrees. I encountered such an occasion when my friend Tim and I hung out the other night. I went Indian and chose to make Indian Mattar Tofu.
In Japanese, tōfu literally means “fermented bean.” It is essentially coagulated soy milk that has been pressed into white blocks.* Despite how unnappetizing that might sound, understanding how to work with tofu can open up a whole new realm of possibilities. It is most often used in Asian cooking (which can be inferred from its etymology), where it is used in soups, stir frys, fillings, etc. Considering it has very little flavor on its own, tofu is mostly used as a vessel for other flavors used in the dish. Marinades and sauces are quite useful for flavoring this “meat”.
I myself was a veggie for 2 years (crazy, right!?), so I am well aware of tofu’s unpredictability in cooking. Thus I use it more as a substitute in recipes with flavors and techniques that I already understand so as to avoid total frustration (case in point: tofu baked in a peanut sauce = worst idea I’ve ever had). Indian cuisine is one of my favorite ways to cook veggie, particulary because of the amazing flavors and colors its traditional spices lend. I had made Indian Mattar Paneer several times before, and tofu is the perfect substitute for paneer! The appearance of this dish was practically identical, and the taste spot on. Frying the tofu gave it the same crispy edge, and the deep spices of the dish were remarkable. To learn how to make this veggie delight, click HERE.
Tofu is essentially a baseline for flavors and ingredients – musically, this reminds me of basso continuo, or a figured bass. This is a notational style that was especially prominent in the Baroque period for the harpsichord. A basso continuo part consists of a dictated bass line in the staff, with accidentals and numbers beneath the staff indicating the chord structures that should be played above – a “recipe” for a melody, if you will. These chords and melodies are either prepared ahead of time, or improvised during the performance. It is these interpretations that bring out an innate richness in the composition, even though at first glance it may appear “bland.” The works of Arcangelo Corelli are a wonderful example of this inherent beauty, particularly his violin sonatas. I’ve included below a recording of his Violin Sonata Op.5, No.12 in D minor “Follia” by violinist Andrew Manze and harpsichordist Richard Egarr, with a performance is anything but bland – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tofu

Curry and Spice in a Western Guise

It seems that winter has yet to go out of style in Boston, and so the wooly scarves and snow boots must remain by the front door. Nonetheless, this provides perfect incentive for sticking with hearty meals that can warm a “wintered-out” soul; dishes that I have begun to perfect with my newest love: my Le Creuset 5-1/2 Quart Round Dutch Oven.
I had always joked with friends that the man who bought me a Le Creuset would be the man I marry. Yet prince charming was taking his sweet time, so I bit the bullet and bought my own – probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. This is THE pan for those who love to cook: it is extremely durable, and has a lifelong guarantee. Added bonus – the shape and size of my Le Creuset is the exact same as Julia Child’s favorite! If that’s not fate, then I don’t know what is. While this pan is great for cooking a variety of dishes, it makes fantastic stews! So, I thought I would share one of my favorite vegan-friendly recipes – Vegetable Curry Stew with Chickpeas.
While curry is the central flavor, this is not a traditional “Indian” stew…which leads to a broader discussion on curry: widely assumed to be inherent to South Asian cuisine, curry is in fact a Western creation that has no designation in Indian cooking whatsoever. The Raj (the British colonial rule of South Asia between 1858 and 1947) saw Western adaptations for a number of Indian dishes, with curry powder being a primary result. Many believe curry is a poor derivation of Kari – a Tamil term meaning “sauce”. Indian “curries” are any variety of vegetable/meat dishes cooked with spices and (maybe) a type of sauce or gravy. British curries, on the other hand, are typically made with curry powder. Most store-bought varieties contain cumin, turmeric, and coriander, though there is no one ingredient required to call a spice mixture a “curry.” *
My stepmom and I created this recipe while I was still a vegetarian (a worthwhile effort, but I inevitably returned to the “dark side”). We wanted a stew that was chockfull of vegetables and packed with flavor. After ransacking the fridge and scouring the pantry, we developed a hearty, vegan stew that even meat-lovers can enjoy! We modified a more basic vegetable curry from Annie Somerville’s Field of Greens cookbook – a fantastic resource for great vegetarian dishes. The directions accommodate the different timings for each vegetable variety (no one likes a soggy stew!) Dried chickpeas can be used in place of canned, but they would need to be soaked overnight, and cooked for a longer period of time than the canned variety. You can see find the recipe for this stew HERE. My friend Tim made a GREAT Saag Paneer (Spinach with Cheese), which you can find the recipe for HERE.
Initially I had thought to pair this dish with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, yet realized I should acknowledge the Anglicized context of curry. As such, I chose to pair this piece with British composer Benjamin Britten, and his work Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. Not only is this an iconic work of Britten, but also so happens to have been composed during the British Raj (it was composed in 1943).* I first heard this piece performed by a dear and talented friend at the New England Conservatory, and was instantly smitten. I hope you enjoy it as well! Note about the recording: the horn player (Danilo Stagni) is playing a natural french horn on the opening prologue, and his intonation is a HUGE achievement for that instrument! This particular set of recordings is broken up into three parts on YouTube, but the piece is actually divided into 8 separate movements. I’ve included a link to Part 1 below, but I highly recommend listening to the entire work. It’s a fantastic piece, and this a solid recording! (The Dirge is my favorite movement – see 6:11 of Part 2).

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

*according to Wikipedia