Summer Dreams and Pie

RhubarbPiesSummer is perhaps one of the best seasons for eating – weekends are for cookouts, piles of colorful produce flood farmers’ markets, and restaurants eager to open their patios and porches get creative with menus. Since I started this blog, there has always been one dish that best defines my summer repertoire: pie. I’ve made lots of pies, and have tried nearly every approach to pie dough (including a unique experiment with vodka); yet the all-butter crust that my grandma would be proud of is tough to beat. For this post, I made a bite-sized version with these Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies.
Rhubarb_1I found this rhubarb at the farmer’s market – big, ruby stalks of the stuff. Their pigment comes from varying levels of anthocyanins (the same compound that colors blueberries and black rice; ahhhh science). Even though it’s a vegetable, rhubarb is often prepared in dishes that are fruit-forward. The tart flavor and celery-like texture lend themselves well to compotes and jams and pie fillings. For this recipe, it’s simmered with nothing more than sugar; and you don’t even need to really stir it. You want the mixture to have as little liquid as possible when done, so it’s easy to work with when filling the pies.
PieDough_2The trick to handmade pie crusts is to keep the dough very cold; from start to finish. It can be frustrating…especially when you’re working on a hot summer day, but it’s worth the patience. If you have to refrigerate the dough halfway through making it, that’s OK. It’s also a little messy (with all the flour) but again, worth it. I could have chilled the dough a bit longer before starting the assembly process…but was watching Westworld and became too focused on keeping up with the plot twists. All the same, they tasted great! Click HERE to make this recipe a new summer tradition. 
RhubarbPies_2Summer and pie are a perfect pair, rousing memories of lazy, hot days with sweet iced tea and picnic blankets. Today was a perfect example of that kind of weather…although I spent a good deal of it beneath a fan with the A.C. blasting. In thinking about a musical pairing, one of my favorites came to mind – Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24, for soprano and orchestra (by Samuel Barber). This piece takes it inspiration and prose from the James Agee essay of the same name. Agee allegedly wrote the piece in an hour and a half. To date, it is one of his most famous works. The story is woven by the childhood memories of our protagonist, who paints a scene of her family lounging on quilts in the backyard while listening to the birds and streetcars passing by. While our protagonist relishes in this memory and the perfection of that summer evening, there is bittersweet inflection in her words: the now adult is all-too-aware of the passing of time and the journey to find one’s identity. In empathy, it’s difficult to not feel a yearning for the simplicities of childhood. The following recording features soprano Leontyne Price with the New Philharmonia Orchestra – I hope you enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Rhubarb,” Wikipedia
Myers, Chris. “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” Redlands Symphony. 2015.

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A Flavorful Metamorphosis

CookbooksEvery now and then I get the question “who is your favorite chef?” As of today, I would have to say one of my favorites is Yotam Ottolenghi. His insatiable curiosity for reinventing the traditional brings new vibrancy to seemingly banal ingredients. So while the internet has attenuated the need for physical cookbooks, three of the handful I own physical copies for are his. His recipes are also elaborate, and thus relegated to “special occasion” projects. The result is almost always the same: colorful, packed with flavor and a truly unique experience. The two recipes in this post – Pistachio and Pine Nut-Crusted Sea Bass with Wild Arugula and Parsley Vichyssoise and Caramelized Fennel Bulbs With Goat Cheese – are from the cookbooks Nopi and Plenty, respectively.

FennelGoatCheeseSome fun fennel facts (say that 5 times fast): fennel is a part of the carrot family, can grow up to 8-feet tall (2.5-meters) and has the same flavor compound as licorice – though the two are unrelated. This affinity means it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but this recipe may sway even the staunchest of naysayers. I’d been eager to try another dish from Ottolenghi’s Plenty, and came across this one. The goat cheese, caramelization and fresh dill bring a wholly new character to the vegetable; and make for a delectable side to any meal. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful dish. 

Vichyssoise1The origins of vichyssoise are unknown, though the French claim seems to have more weight than the American one (albeit perpetuated by another culinary icon of mine, Julia Child). Regardless, the recipe is a summer icon: as it’s traditionally served cold. This particular vichyssoise was a nice upgrade – where traditional vichyssoise is a creamy ivory that is served cold, this was a vibrant emerald and served warm. The medley of greens also lent a nutritional punch to the dish. The trick to getting this recipe right is to buy really fresh greens, and to cook them just long enough so they retain their color.

NutCrust1The nut crust is the “crown jewel” of the dish – and fairly easy to make. You can use almost any medley of nuts, but the pine nut / pistachio combination is quite delicious. What’s even better is you can make the nut crust the day before (in fact, you can prepare this whole recipe in advance, with the exception of the fish). The original recipe calls for halibut, but our local market had a good sale for Chilean sea bass. In case neither is available, any flaky white fish will do the trick. You can bake or broil the fish, whichever works best based on your oven. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful main course.

Fish1As I mentioned at the start of this post, Ottolenghi is a chef who brings new life to traditional foods. So for the musical pairing, I wanted to find a composer who followed a similar style. In the art world, one movement that captures this is Neoclassicism: effectively a wave of works that drew inspiration from the arts of classical antiquity. In classical music, there are a slew of composers who fall within this category. One of my favorites is Paul Hindemith. Born at the turn of the 20th century, Hindemith viewed his writing as “utility music” (or Gebrauchsmusik). This style was considered to be a reaction against the complexity and difficulty of 19th- to 20th-century music, and Hindemith took pride in composing works for the “everyday” amateur. Perhaps his most famous composition is Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, which premiered in 1944. Seven years prior, Hindemith and his wife had fled Berlin with the rise of the Third Reich, first taking refuge in Switzerland and then moving to the United States. It was here that he was approached by the choreographer Leonid Massine. Massine wanted to collaborate with Hindemith on a ballet that leveraged themes by Weber. The partnership ultimately fell through, but the music endured and was premiered on its own as Metamorphosis. The below recording (Movt I – Allegro) features the New York Philharmonic with Alan Gilbert. Enjoy!

To hear the whole piece, here are the links for Movements II, III and IV respectively.

Sources Cited:

 

It’s Gravy, Baby

DSC_0449I have to say, the Pacific NW won me over this summer. Surrounded by mountainous vistas and cerulean waters, it’s a paradise for those who love the outdoors. Now that I’m back on the East Coast, I’ve been reminiscing about my travels over the last three months. Tom and I visited a lot of really cool places, and one of those getaways included a weekend stay on Hat Island. The above was the view just outside the house we stayed in – sipping hot coffee in hoodies and slippers while watching the sun rise – courtesy of some wonderful friends. It was a quick but memorable weekend, and we indulged in some fantastic dinners while there. Tom and I treated the group to a big Italian meal: a basic arugula salad and heaping plates of Sunday Gravy (basically extreme spaghetti and meatballs).

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Hat Island is a very unique place. Housing more than 200 families (permanently or as a vacation stay), it is a private island that’s just over 1-mile in length and overrun with bunnies. Tom’s good high school friends’ have a property there, and they generously invited us for a two-day getaway from Seattle. One of the great things about cooking at a summer house is consistent access to natural light. As Serious Eats points out, “a shady spot on a sunny day is the holy grail of natural lighting conditions” (when it comes to food photography). I’m no professional, but photos with natural light versus those without are like night and day…pun intended! The below photo, of a basic arugula salad with fruits and goat cheese and walnuts, shows just that.

ArugulaSaladSo, about that gravy: one of our favorite TV shows is The Sopranos. Many believe this series launched the genre of quality storytelling outside of the movie theater (read: paved the way for GoT). Whether you’ve seen the show or not, its cultural impact still resonates today. Those who watched it finally understand that spaghetti sauce should actually be called gravy…when done the Italian way. This recipe takes hours to make, and is sourced from The Sopranos Family Cookbook: “written” by Artie Bucco (the chef of the show’s Vesuvio restaurant). The book stays in character, voicing the opinions and anecdotes of our favorite cast members. Despite the tongue-in-cheek writing, the recipes are genuine, having been written by actual chef Michele Scicolone. The easy-to-follow instructions result in some fantastic dinners.

SundayGravy_1The recipe can be adjusted up or down to yield your desired serving size. I’d say my two key pieces of advice for this recipe are 1) don’t sacrifice on time – be prepared to invest an afternoon in making this – and 2) don’t go crazy with side dishes, since this is a filling main course. If you do make way too much food, however, the leftovers are still pretty great. We served ours with whole wheat spaghetti, but you can choose any noodle. Take some inspiration from The Sopranos’ Paulie: “Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?!” Click HERE to see the recipe for this mouthwatering classic. 

SundayGravy_2Like I said, a small serving of this goes a long way – thanks to the rich and filling gravy. For the musical pairing, I was looking for two key qualities. The first being a piece that exudes depth in a “serving size” length, and the second being a musical excerpt that was featured on the show The Sopranos: in homage to the cookbook. Fortunately, there was an aria that fit the bill: “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Rondine. The aria is short, but – like any great Puccini aria – takes your breath away with a few stanzas. Yet the work is a deviation from Puccini’s canon, as it is essentially an “operetta”: a compositional style more akin to musicals than classical opera. Puccini initially eschewed the form, claiming “An operetta is something I will never do.” Yet geopolitical circumstances (WWI) led to a loyalty contract which ultimately resulted in the premiere of La Rondine: which by the way is Italian for “the swallow.” As for The Sopranos, the aria appears twice in the series: once in the pilot episode, and then again in the finale of Season 5. In both instances, Tony Soprano (our protagonist) comes to understand his own mortality – and how trivial daily annoyances can be. My opera geek friends may see the irony in a (real life) soprano narrating a (fictional) Soprano’s brush with death…the following recording is the same that was used in the show, featuring the singer Luba Orgonasova. Enjoy!

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This Beef is Lit

DSC_0172It’s insane to think that Fall is nearly here. Looking back on the last 3 months, this summer has been both adventurously beautiful and extraordinarily hot. I got a taste of the West Coast for the first time in my life in Seattle, which involved a lot of time in the outdoors, and was able to enjoy a much-needed break following my time at NYU Stern. The picture above was taken at lake in the middle of Snoqualmie Pass: not pictured is me, out of breath and sunburned, very much looking forward to a big meal. Fortunately, we had a great dinner waiting for us back home of Steak au Poivre and Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic. 

Blue_PotatoesMashed potatoes are great on their own – but add some blue cheese and roasted garlic, and you may ask yourself “How have I made it this far without these potatoes?” Ok, maybe that was just me…but trust me when I say this is a solid companion to steak. I like to use red-skinned potatoes and keep the peels, to add some character to the dish. If you want a creamier mash, opt for Yukon Gold, since you will risk overworking the mash if you try to achieve the smoother consistency with red potatoes. Can’t find blue cheese? Gorgonzola is a fantastic substitute (as I shared in my latest blog post). Click HERE to see the recipe for this irresistible side.

Steaks_PanSteak au Poivre is French for “pepper steak”…which seems to leave a lot of room for interpretation. However, the traditional preparation involves peppercorns (naturally), heavy cream, and brandy. Any number of adjustments can be made from here. Some chefs insist on the traditional sauce trio, while others (including my favorite, Julia Childs) call for a more unique take with cognac, stock, and multicolor peppercorns. So as you can imagine, the various interpretations on this dish are indeed appreciable. Our recipe here will use only the basic, with a “lighter” sauce than some of the top hits on Google. But the key is to get a solid cut of meat. We found two reasonable cuts of filet mignon, but sirloin or strip will also get the job done.

FlameTom learned how to make this recipe from his mom, Virgina. As to the interpretations I referenced, there are two key differences when it comes to the sauce: where the alcohol is used either to deglaze the pan or for a flambe. Virginia’s recipe calls for the latter, which makes for a very cool photo op. An important note on cooking with open flames: things can go from cool to bad very quickly if you don’t take the right precautions, so always off the heat (especially if you’re working with a gas stove) and move the pan away from any overhead materials that may be flammable. But it’s definitely a fun party trick if you’re hosting. Click HERE for this classic take on a beloved dish.

Steak_4In considering a pairing for this piece, I was tempted to go with Stravinsky’ “Firebird” or a Debussy for the all-too-obvious reason. But I wanted to give more attention to the depth of the dish’s richness and flavor, and thus felt like Dmitri Shostakovich would be a great companion. I’ve never paired anything on this site with Shostakovich, so I’ll first talk about the man himself before elucidating the musical pairing. Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was born in Saint Petersburg in 1906, and many classical musicians have 800px-Dmitri_Shostakovich_credit_Deutsche_Fotothek_adjustedcome to recognize his musical voice as an expression of the creative struggles beneath the Stalin regime. His compositions aggregate a variety of styles, from strong Russian tones to dissonant protest to haunting melodies. To illustrate this variety: perhaps his most famous work is his fifth symphony, which was received phenomenally well by the conservative tastes of the Soviet public. Yet this followed on the heels a highly divisive fourth symphony, which premiered more than two decades after its completion due to its unorthodox nature. Today, historians debate the inspirations for and meaning behind many of Shostakovich’s works. So naturally, there are many interpretations. However, one set of German “ingredients” institute some consistency – the signature “DSCH” motif: which alludes to the German spelling of his name, Dmitri SCHostakovich, as well as the German locution for D (De), E-flat (Es), C (Ce), and Ha (B natural). This parallel to the blog’s dish leads to our musical pairing, where the DSCH motif is perhaps the most discernible: String Quartet No. 8 in C minor. The quartet, composed in the summer of 1960, was an homage to the Dresden casualties of 1945; where close to half a million were killed in an Allied air raid. He wrote “In memory of victims of fascism and war.” And the first four notes you hear are the DSCH motif. I first heard the piece my freshman year at the New England Conservatory, and it had a profound effect.

The following recording is with the Borodin Quartet: an ensemble which traces it history back to the Soviet Union and had a close working relationship with Shostakovich himself.  Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Steak au Poivre,” Cook’s Info
“Dmitri Shostakovich,” Wikipedia
“About the Piece: String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op.110,” LA Phil
“Borodin Quartet,” Wikipedia.com

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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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

Cheers to Independence

July 4th 1 Independence Day – a holiday that, for many Americans, is primarily associated with fireworks, cookouts, and beer. While it may seem blasphemous to commemorate such a day with revelry, it was one of our country’s most celebrated victories – making it an excellent reason to throw a party! This date marks the official adoption of our country’s Declaration of Independence, portending the end of a struggle between our foundling nation and England’s imperial stronghold. For those of you who know me, any excuse to host is a good one – this one just happens to be renowned for food, meaning it’s just my kind of party 🙂
Spicy Bourbon Chicken 1Grilling is THE method of choice for any respectable Independence Day cookout. While we certainly had our share of standards – burgers and hotdogs – I always try to include a recipe that stands apart from the crowd; these Spicy Bourbon Chicken Thighs were just that. The original recipe calls for tequila…but in an effort to save money and time, I used a liquor I had on hand: Bourbon. Though let’s be honest – Bourbon is almost always a better choice (especially over Tequila…)
Spicy Bourbon Chicken 2Another notable difference was to use the sauce as a marinade, rather than an ending glaze. The only setback to this is the potential for more flare-ups (since the sugary sauce will be on the direct heat earlier on), but the flavor payoff is worth it. I made this sauce one day in advance, and then set the chicken thighs into the marinade the morning-of the cookout. The end result was flavorful, juicy, with a bit of a kick. I can guarantee you’ll knock your guests socks off with this one – click HERE to see this unique recipe!
Mixed Berry Tart 1The national ostentation of all things red, white, and blue helps to inspire the rhetoric of Independence Day. While I refuse to stick little American flags into every burger that comes off the grill, I do give in to subtle patriotic presentations – this year it was the desserts: Mini Cheesecakes with Summer Berries and a Mixed Berry Tart with Mascarpone-Ginger Cream. Not terribly imaginative on my part, but thankfully red and blue do a fantastic job of delineating any patriotic intent. They were both quite delicious which (in my experience) is what really counts.
Mixed Berry Tart 2The tart’s original recipe was a little too involved, and seemed to be more work than it was worth. So rather than take on an ambitious project, I made a single tart that could fit entirely within a 9×13 baking sheet. The pastry is the most complicated element – a paring knife and the freezer will be your best friend here. Just stick to basic dough knowledge – keep it cold, but not beyond a workable chill (because you won’t have any use for a frozen brick). Mascarpone in lieu of cream cheese was my idea, and seals the deal on this winning dessert – click HERE to see the recipe for this mouthwatering dessert!
Mini CheesecakesThese cheesecakes were adorable, and made for a great end-of-party indulgence. They can be topped with pretty much anything – berries, chocolate, jam, etc. They are far simpler than your standard cheesecake (no need for a water bath, for starters) and much easier to serve to a large crowd. I made my own mini crusts for these, but you can use a vanilla wafer or oreo cookies for a quick fix. I decided to go fancy and use a real vanilla bean as well, but extract will do in a pinch. The best part about these bite-sized treats? You won’t feel quite as guilty when you reach for a second…or fourth: click HERE to see the recipe for these adorable cheesecakes!
July 4th 2Aside from the food, fireworks, and friends, July 4th is also known for its parades. Whether it’s in the middle of small-town Iowa or the National Independence Day Parade in D.C., our country loves its parades. A notable part of any good parade is the brass band, which leads to my discussion on Charles Ives and this blog’s musical pairing. Ives was a different breed of composer – an innovator, artist, and businessman all packed into one; some go so far as to say that he was the prototypical American. It is believed that one of his strongest influences was his father, who had been a U.S. Army bandleader during the Civil War. The day-to-day band rehearsals left an impression on the young Ives, and his father’s encouragement on musical studies helped foster the composer’s vivid imagination:

“In ‘thinking up’ music I usually have some kind of a brass band with wings on it in back of my mind.” – Charles Ives.

One thing that Ives is known for is the incorporation of musical “quotes” – more often than not, they are allusions to popular American folk songs and hymns. These quotations are both intentional and witty, giving insight to Ives’ thought process as a composer. It’s worth noting that Ives was also a very talented organist, and was composing hymns from a very young age. With an upbringing immersed in folk songs, hymns, and marching music, Ives is perfect for this patriotic blog, and his Variations on ‘America’ for Organ Solo showcases all of these elements quite beautifully. Less than 8-minutes in length, it’s a brilliant little work – he wrote it when he was just 17 years-old, and his prodigious organ talent is apparent in the work’s complexity. In fact, it is one of the earliest surviving examples of contextual polytonality – a well-known feature of Ives’ style. The work is both humorous and edgy, with moments where the theme is fighting to be heard followed by moments where it is exulted – nonetheless, “America” rings true throughout. Enjoy!

Sources Cited
“Charles Ives,” Wikipedia.com

Salmon Perfected

For those of you who have spent time in a sauna, you known and understand the beauty of cedar wood. I told you once that I had found the perfect way too cook salmon…but then I discovered the brilliance of cedar plank grilling. Not only do you get a beautifully tender meat, but also a smoky hint of cedar. I wanted a recipe that was easy, but also impressive – this was just the ticket. Who would have thought that a few simple ingredients could make one of the MOST delicious fish dishes I’ve ever had. You’ve got to give this Cedar-Plank Salmon a try!
Cedar wood’s durability and aromatic qualities have made it a popular resource for cultures across the globe. Historically, its oil was used as part of the embalming process in Ancient Egypt, while the Phoenicians utilized cedar’s strength to build ships and houses. Modern-day uses include linen storage, shingles and furniture, musical instruments, aromatherapy, saunas, etc. Most grocery and specialty stores will carry cedar planks during the summer…as you can tell from the photo, I went to Whole Foods 🙂
These attributes make it the perfect companion in cooking: it’s durable enough to withstand an open flame while also infusing a smoky flavor that is to-die-for amazing! The plank acts like a “pan” on the grill, meaning you can cook a whole salmon steak (rather than individual filets), and not have to worry about the meat sticking to the grate. This gives you more time to socialize with friends and family, rather than worry about what’s happening beneath the lid. A word of caution: this process cooks a very tender salmon,  meaning the meat won’t necessarily appear fully cooked (even though it is). The way to test for doneness is by checking resistance – a fork should slide into the meat like butter. That is what makes this recipe so perfect – click HERE to see how to make this amazing salmon!
For the musical pairing, I wanted to complement the intensity of flavor, with all its subtle nuances. When taking the richness of taste into account, I found myself leaning towards Béla Bartók. Though this fish was by and large superior to other salmon dishes, it wasn’t quite on the orchestral scale; so I chose his String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 7. The opening movement (Lento) primarily captures the thematic feel I intended – it’s a slow lento with contrapuntal dialogue throughout that ebbs and flows between the four voices. Though built like a fugue, Bartók throws in unexpected shifts that take both performer and the listener by surprise. The work in its entirety was inspired by the composer’s unrequited love for Stefi Geyer, which is reflected in the melancholic state of the first movement. The second movement (Allegretto) has a hesitant start, but begins to unfold with a playful and spirited motif as it gains speed. There is still some sign of the first movement’s anguish, but the music has developed into something braver and more adventuresome. The third movement (Introduzione. Allegro — Allegro vivace) serves as the culmination of this musical journey – from the depths of despair to the towers of triumph, our “protagonist” has found new life. For this recipe, which develops into a truly beautiful meal in spite of the standard grilling methods, this quartet was a perfect match. The recording below is with the Novák Quartet – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KcsUAp8EDo

Sources Cited:
Rutherford, Brett. “Program notes for April 15, 2009: Tákacs String Quartet with Marc‐André Hamelin,” Rhode Island Chamber Music Concerts
Bruno, Gwen. “History of the Cedar Tree,” eHOW

An Unusual Duet of Flavor

We all know and love those ubiquitous summer classics – from grilled ribs slathered in an unbeatable barbecue sauce to a golden apple pie filled with cinnamon-sugary goodness. For me personally, one item on my season’s “checklist” is the Key lime. Just the name is evocative of summertime, and the intense flavor lends itself beautifully to the famous pie of the same name. Whenever I’ve hosted for a crowd though, I’ve found that pies can become a bit messy. Martha Stewart (of course) had the “key” to sharing this treat at larger affairs – Key Lime Bars.
There are a number of attributes that set the Key lime apart from its Persian cousin: it has a higher acidity, turns yellow when ripe, has a thinner rind, is much more tart in taste, and has a stronger aroma. The cultivar takes its name from its harvest in the Florida Keys, though California, Mexico, Texas and Central America supply the majority of the national market’s crop. While regular limes can always be substituted, the success of Key Lime Pie relies on these unique attributes…so even though I couldn’t find actual Key limes, the bottled variety worked beautifully!
What’s so unique about this dessert is the perfect balance of sweet and sour – every bite has a bright, citrusy taste with a cool and creamy texture. While most might shrink from the thought of a sour dessert, it works SO well in this context. It’s a cinch to make, and will have your guests begging for seconds…in fact, you should probably go ahead and double the recipe (which I did!) Click HERE to see how to make these creamy, summer treats! I also made a batch of Chocolate Chip & Pretzel Cookies – that’s not a typo. I love all things salty, so took a leap with these – “devoured” doesn’t quite describe what happened when these were cool enough to eat. Click HERE to see feed your sweet and salty craving!
Both of these desserts bring a unique pairing to sweet, from the tartness of Key limes to the salty crunch of pretzels. Neither are what you would consider an immediate pairing for dessert, but they both work oh so well! With that in mind, I was drawn to a work I had heard in a friend’s recital several years back: Eric Ewazen’s Trio for Trumpet, Violin and Piano. Written in 1992, the work consists of 4 movements that demonstrate how these two instruments both complement and contrast one another. The piano acts helps with this coalescence. Ewazen’s music is unlike that of his contemporaries given its use of triadic harmony and emphasis on melody. The result is a nostalgic, accessible style that really brings it home (much like these Key Lime Bars and Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies!) The recording below is from a recital, and is a decent one considering it is on YouTube – enjoy!

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

Sources Cited:
“Key Lime,” Wikipedia.com
The Music of Eric Ewazen