Rhapsody in Ribs

Barbecue and Fourth of July are the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of culinary traditions – it’s hard to picture  one without the other. This was my fourth year celebrating Independence Day in Boston, and this city just comes to life. The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is one of THE largest celebrations in the United States, and is a tradition viewed by Americans across the nation. While the live show is truly spectacular (and one every Bostonian should experience at least once), the 500,000+ spectators makes it somewhat of a stressful endeavor…so after having trekked out to the Charles for the past 3 years, my friends and I vied for an at-home Barbecue Cookout and viewing of the Boston Pops show.
Ribs – they are an iconic Fourth of July tradition, and resonate with appetites across the nation. For this dish, I chose baby back ribs. A cut from the top of a hog, they are (unfortunately) much tougher than the more tender pork loin. Because of this, grilling baby back ribs can quickly go from perfect to beyond repair. The trick is to start the cooking process before the ribs hit the grill – the low and slow roast method. What’s even better about this method is that the meat doesn’t need more than 10 to 15 minutes on the grill (as opposed to hours), leaving you more time to relax with your guests.
A great rib needs a great sauce, and this was a great sauce – I like to think that whenever bourbon and brown sugar are combined, a rainbow appears; that is how perfect they are together. It is sweet with a hint of spice (earthy or floral, depending on your bourbon). Making it the day ahead will a) save you time and b) make the sauce 10x better…so basically it’s a win-win situation 😉 Whether grilling for a few or a crowd, these Bourbon and Brown Sugar Ribs are sure to please (thanks Teej for the above photo!) Click HERE to get the recipe for this barbecue classic.
In addition to the ribs, I made some Honey-Sesame Chicken Skewers that were to die for! Tender, packed with flavor, and SO simple to make, they were an ultimate hit. The marinade is what gives these skewers their unique edge, with ingredients including sake, sesame oil, and even puréed pears! The original recipe called for chicken breasts, but the cheaper, more tender thighs were my pick; a solid choice when hosting for a crowd. Trust me, you HAVE to try these – they are absolutely magnificent. Click HERE to see the recipe for these uh-mazing skewers!
As a nod to the Boston Pops Fireworks show, I made my vegan entree a New England classic – Vegetarian Maple Baked Beans (only without bacon, of course). The combination of soaking the beans and cooking in a slow cooker spans over several hours, but most of this has no need for supervision (in other words, you can leave for work and have a meal ready to go by the time you get home!) These beans are (as the title suggests) inherently sweet, and made the perfect side dish vegetarian dish to complement the spread – click HERE to view this recipe!
The traditions of Independence Day bring to life a narrative of victory and celebration that has a universally contagious spirit. With this in mind, I wanted to showcase an American composer whose music can enrapture any audience (using pizzazz that is all-too-familiar of any Fourth of July celebration). That led me to George Gershwin and one of his most iconic works: Rhapsody in Blue. Composed in 1924, it has easily become one of the most popular American compositions. The amalgamation of jazz and classical is a beautiful display of our nation’s diversity and vivacity, which Gershwin shared as his inspiration:

No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness…

What’s even more wonderful about this story is that he was on a train to BOSTON when he came up with the idea for this piece – how perfect is that?? The piece is concerto-esque as it features solo piano, originally written for jazz band and later scored for full orchestra. The piece opens with a “famous opening clarinet glissando…that has become as familiar as the start of Beethoven’s Fifth” (according to one columnist with the American Heritage). The full gamut of Gershwin’s style is shown, from graceful melodies of to large-scale harmonies. Such can be said of the gamut of my own culinary talents for this barbecue 😉 I’ve included a recording with another iconic American composer conducting and soloing on piano: Leonard Bernstein – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Rhapsody in Blue” Wikipedia.com

Pie, Oh My…

What better way to end a hot summer’s day than with a cool slice of pie? Some reasons why pie is the all-time seasonal dessert:

  1. It can be made ahead of time, allowing your kitchen to stay at a reasonable (and tolerable) temperature during gatherings (CRUCIAL for hosting!)
  2. It is portable – always a welcome treat at cookouts and potlucks!
  3. It is remarkably versatile, and can be the perfect palate for the season’s colorful harvest.
  4. Let’s face it – who doesn’t like pie?

When I hosted a BBQ the other weekend, I thought I’d throw my efforts into not one but TWO pies…as expected, there wasn’t so much as a crumb left by the end of the party. What made them disappear so soon, you ask? Brace yourself – Lime and Blackberry Meringue Pie and Banana Cream Pie with Homemade Caramel and Chocolate Crust.
I have tried countless pie dough recipes, resulting in everything from lifeless crusts and burnt edges. This recipe is my new go-to: perfectly flaky, yet still full of that sinfully buttery taste! The secret ingredient? Vodka! Probably one of the few times that vodka is a good choice. Once the dough starts baking, the (flavorless) alcohol evaporates, and leaves behind a golden crust just begging to be filled! It’s a Cook’s Illustrated experiment (gotta love those nerdy cooks!) and will guarantee a perfect slice of pie 🙂
I’m a sucker for blackberries – there is something too irresistible about berries so fresh that they look ready to burst. Glazed with red wine and sugar…I was sold! As for the lime curd, there (apparently) is a step that involves powdered gelatin and whipped cream…I think my subconscious decided to omit this in favor of a straight-up curd. The result was (in my opinion) fabulous! A simple, creamy lime curd atop a beautiful bed of glazed blackberries – does life get any sweeter? Click HERE to see the recipe for this gorgeous pie!
For many of us, banana cream pie evokes memories of Nilla wafers and Jello pudding mix. Yet this recipe is a cut above those “out-of-a-box” creations – layers of homemade caramel and dark chocolate ganache topped with a creamy vanilla bean custard and fresh bananas. The caramel and custard require a bit of patience (and careful monitoring). Both are prepared over low heat, and immediately removed the second they are finished…failure to do this will put you right back at square one. That being said, the result is one of the BEST banana cream pies you will have ever tasted! I’m not one to pressure others, but I really encourage you to give this pie a try – click HERE to see the recipe for this homemade classic!
I wanted a musical pairing that captured the “joy” of summer in addition to acknowledging the unique flavor of these two pies. That led me to Debussy: a composer whose style is both beautiful and exotic. His work L’Isle joyeuse (Isle of Joy) for solor piano made a perfect fit. Debussy was inspired by Jean-Antoine Watteau’s painting L’Embarquement pour Cythère (Voyage to Cythera). The scene, filled with color and sensuality, portrays a group at the onset of their journey to the Island of Aphrodite (pictured below):
Debussy captures this colorful revelry by combining standard diatonic scales with whole tone scales; the result is almost otherworldly. These pies, each of classic origin, bring a new concept of flavor combinations that allow one to experience an almost “otherworldly joy” at first bite. Not to mention the technical difficulty this piece requires can certainly be met by the amount of time and patience needed to make these delicacies. I hope you enjoy this work as much as I do!


Sources Cited:
“Debussy: L’Isle joyeuse,” Minnesota Orchestra Program Notes
“L’Embarquement pour Cythere, by Antoine Watteau,” Wikipedia.com


Have you ever walked into a store and seen that one item that you can’t take your off of? You glance at the price, and quickly walk over to another display in hopes of avoiding it at all costs…but then you find yourself wandering back (against your own will) just to get a second look. Next thing you know, you’re smitten…long story short: I bought a new grill this past weekend for Memorial Day. I originally set out to buy one of those small charcoal models, but walked out of the store with a massive gas grill and a grin the size of Texas. My summer cooking has just been taken to a whole new level of potential. I christened the grill this past weekend with quite the spread, and so for this post I thought I’d share one of the evening’s masterpieces: Grilled Drumsticks with Peach Barbecue Sauce.
This sauce literally lives up to the name “finger-lickin’ good!” Once the chicken ran out, people became creative and turned it into a chip dip…or just ate with spoons. What’s great about this recipe is that it can be made any time of year, especially given the use of preserves (in lieu of fresh fruit). While peach is what’s called for in the recipe, I’d love to try it with blackberry, or even rhubarb. Add some bacon and maple syrup and smoked paprika…now that’s barbecue! I made the sauce a day ahead of time, which I highly recommend – this will give all those beautiful flavors enough time to really get to know each other, making for a fantastic sauce!
Did I mention that I made 5 POUNDS of chicken legs for this party? These take a long time to cook, so it may not have been the best game plan for a large party (lesson learned!) That being said, the meat was perfectly tender thanks to a quick and easy brine. Topped with that beautiful sauce, these were devoured in no time! My good friend Bonnie snapped several classic shots of friends – they were just too good to not include in this post 🙂 Click HERE to see the recipe for perfectly grilled barbecue chicken!
Irresistible: I couldn’t stop thinking of how irresistible this sauce was, and how I (personally) could not resist that beautiful new grill…Franz Liszt, while being seen as a true virtuouso, had the ability to bring an audience to near hysteria during his performances, causing women to faint, weep, and fight over his discarded kerchiefs and even cigar stubs! This magnetic quality helped coin the term “Lisztomania” – musicologist Alan Walker shares more on this phenomenon:

Liszt was a natural phenomenon, and people were swayed by him…. With his mesmeric personality and long mane of flowing hair, he created a striking stage presence. And there were many witnesses to testify that his playing did indeed raise the mood of an audience to a level of mystical ecstasy.

I chose Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor for the pairing. It’s wealth of components, emotional depth, and thematic metamorphosis perfectly speak to the richness of these drumsticks – a dish that relies on ingredients, flavor, and time. This piece comes across as a single movement, though many agree it can be applied to the sonata form (with no formal breaks, naturally). This seamless quality makes every component dependent on one another; an irresistible “blend,” if you will 😉 The work ends on a peaceful coda, quite similar to our food “coma” following this massive feast. While this sonata wasn’t among the works that induced mass “hysteria,” its present-day popularity has certainly placed it within the upper echelon of our modern “Lisztomania.” Enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Lisztomania,” Wikipedia.com
“Symphonic Poems,” Wikipedia.com
“Piano Sonata (Liszt),” Wikipedia.com

An Inspired Trend

What makes the perfect cupcake? A creation that is both adorable and irresistibly delicious. Cupcakes have become the food industry’s new craze, taking the nation by storm with their portion-sized perfection. Countless bakeries have opened dedicated solely to creating these little cakes, taking their flavor and decorative potential to new heights. When I have to bake for a sizable crowd, I vie for cupcakes; a decision my coworkers wholly support. So when baking for the office’s monthly birthday party, I made a batch that I knew no one would resist: Churro Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche and Cinnamon Whipped Cream.
The term “cupcake” began to appear in publications during the early 19th century, referring to cakes baked in pottery cups and ceramic molds (muffin tins were not widely available). They were often treats enjoyed during tea parties and informal gatherings, with lavish decorations as more of an afterthought of luxury. Today, they have reached a celebrity status in the food world that is impossible to ignore. Sweet, savory, baked, fried – there is no limit to what these little cakes can achieve.
These cupcakes mimic the taste and character of churros – cinnamon fried-dough pastries popular in Spain and Latin America. Churros are often enjoyed with hot chocolate or café con leche, so I decided to fill these cakes with dulce de leche (a personal favorite). Since it was practically 70 degrees outside, I avoided a heavy frosting by topping each with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. The result was  an extremely delicious, utterly adorable cupcake – click HERE to see my recipe for these perfect little treats.
I sought out a fellow musician’s advice for the pairing, and asked my colleague Tom Vignieri – his immediate response: “Well, they weren’t heavy and romantic, but also not too light – I’d say they remind me of Schubert.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Ernst Krenek, a twentieth-century composer, gives the perfect description on Schubert: “a thinking artist with a keen appetite for experimentation.” To say Schubert was a prolific composer is almost an understatement: he composed over 600 songs, 9 symphonies (one unfinished), and  a number of operas, sacred works, chamber music, and solo piano works. Such an outpour of music for a man who died at the young age of 31 truly speaks to his remarkable artistry. What better pairing for a dessert that embraces truly inspired styles! I chose the song “Heidenroslein,” or “Rose on the Heath.” The lyrics are from Goethe’s poem of the same name, which tells the tale of a young man whose love has been rejected. Its light character and technical finesse perfectly complement these cupcakes – the recording below is with lyric soprana Barbara Bonney. Enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Cupcake,” Wikipedia.com
“Franz Schubert,” Wikipedia.com

Well Worth the Wait

There is a truly beautiful (almost unexplainable) synergy between warm weather and barbecue. As we pack away the last of our wool sweaters, it’s time to unearth all the summertime classics. I personally feel a nostalgic tug when reminiscing on summer cookouts, where everyone had to balance styrofoam plates overflowing with corn on the cob, barbecued chicken and vegetables. I made this particular dish quite some time ago, though better late than never to feature this delicious Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Sweet-and-Smokey Barbecue Sauce.
The genius of this recipe lies in its simplicity. Granted, the sauce has its own tricks, though the pork’s flavor defies logic. The secret is root beer. You probably don’t believe me, and I don’t blame you – I had my own reservations, yet the result was a beautifully tender pork infused with a touch of sweetness from the root beer. I personally splurged on Stewart’s (a personal favorite) for this recipe.
The original recipe only calls for pork, root beer and barbecue sauce, but I threw in a few extra ingredients for the added depth. After nearly 9 hours of cooking, the pork all but melted, it was that tender! It definitely takes a while, but it is definitely worth the wait! You can use any barbecue sauce, though the included recipe is a guaranteed winner – click HERE to make this amazing barbecue pulled pork! I served these with potato rolls and Classic Buttermilk Coleslaw, which most of my friends chose to pile on top of their pork sandwiches – you can find the recipe for this crunchy slaw HERE.
The patience required to make this mouthwatering meal inspired my musical pairing – Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61. Composed towards the end of 1806, the concerto has become a truly iconic work in the violin repertoire. Patience is the name of the game for this concerto. The first movement opens with an orchestral introduction that carries on for nearly 100 bars before the violin entrance – you nearly forget you’re listening to a concerto! The soloist finally emerges, spinning a series of ornamental motifs before settling into the main theme. The second movement captures the listener’s attention through its lyrical essence, suspending time into a realm free of worry or violence. As though waking from a dream, the transition into the Rondo goes without pause. This final movement rewards said patience with its merriment, weaving lively themes within a rich orchestral context. The recording below is with none other than the ingenious Jascha Heifetz and the Boston Symphony – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
“Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra,” The Kennedy Center
“BEETHOVEN: Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 61,” San Francisco Symphony

Jamaican Me Hungry!

There’s something almost to good to be true about grilled meat with fruit – chicken, pork, fish, anything. Not only is it incredibly easy to prepare, but it always delivers amazing results! All it takes is a little creativity – for this occasion, I had leftover bananas from a bananas foster evening (will be blogged about one day if I can beat the melting ice cream in time!). Swordfish steaks were on sale at Whole Foods, so naturally I bought two and made Jamaican-Spiced Swordfish with Banana and Pineapple Salsa.Swordfish are very popular sporting fish, yet these agile predators are no easy catch: measuring up to 14 feet in length and weighing as much as 1,500 pounds, swordfish are quite powerful and highly elusive. As a food, its tough meat is a comparable trade for steak. While considered to be a delicacy, the FSA advises consuming swordfish (shark and marlin as well) no more than once a week; pregnant women and children should avoid it entirely. When choosing swordfish at the store, look for steaks with for healthy pink meat and dark red strips.
This salsa was DELICIOUS! I mean, who thought bananas could take the leap from sweet to savory so effortlessly? As I learned with a previous fruit salsa, ginger does wonders in these settings, so I added a touch to this recipe. Feel free to substitute another fruit for the pineapple, like mango or peach. This salsa was ridiculously good with swordfish, though any fish will do (heck, try it with steak even!) – click HERE to give this fantastic entrée a shot!
This was quite unique recipe, and almost “daring” in theory – thus I wanted a musical piece that was edgy and provocative. I tend to think of Piazzolla when I think of “edgy”, and his Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) captures a raw energy that pairs perfectly with this dish. The original composition was written for his own quintet, with bandoneón, violin, piano, electric guitar, and double bass. It has since been transcribed for a number of ensembles, from piano trio to solo violin with string orchestra. I have included a recording of the transcription for piano trio below of the third movement: Primavera Porteña (Buenos Aires Spring). Definitely take the time to listen to the to other three as well, it’s worth it – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
– “Swordfish,” Wikipedia.com
– “Mercury in fish: your questions answered,” Food Standards Agency website.
– “Estaciones Porteñas,” Wikipedia.com 

A Palette of Colorful Fare

I need to use my actual cookbooks more often. The internet is addicting given it provides access to millions of recipes (with photos, a big plus for me!), but I have SO many real cookbooks that it’s a shame I don’t use them more often. I was hosting a dinner for my new neighbors Albert Oppenheimer and Mike Dahlberg, and wanted to finally start utilizing these wonderful resources. So I started to peruse the beautiful book by David Tanis, A Platter of Figs (great title), and flipped to the “summer” menus. That’s when I saw it: a gorgeous dish that uses everything I love about cooking, and so I made this beautiful rendition: Grilled Cod with Indian Spices and Yellow Tomatoes.
The ONLY thing I changed here was using cod instead of hailbut. I prefer the latter, but the cod at the market looked so much fresher that I couldn’t resist. I followed the rest of the recipe to a T. What’s fantastic about this dish is how everything on the plate works perfectly together. The serranos and spices give it just the right kick, making you instantly reach for a second bite rather than your glass of water (a spiciness which Albert enjoyed immensely). The cool raita provides an amazing depth of flavor, and all of it is framed by gorgeous yellow tomatoes.  There’s not much else to say about this dish other than MAKE IT! Click HERE to learn how. 
Have you ever bought something from the market just becaus it looked cool? That was the case with these Chinese eggplants. These amethyst beauties looked liked something from outer space, so naturally I wanted to know how to cook them (that is natural, right?) Anywho, this cultivar, when compared to the familiar American eggplant, is far more delicate in flavor, has thinner skin, and less seeds (the cause of the bitter taste many affiliate with eggplant). I sort of “made-up” this recipe for Indian Spiced Eggplant, using the knowledge I know from previous attempts combined with my preferences for preferring eggplant (see my previous post to learn more about preparing eggplant). Click HERE to learn how to make this spicy, flavorful dish today! 
The pairing for this dinner was inspired by a live performance I saw the other night which just so happened to include one of my dinner guests, Mike Dahlberg (cellist). His string quartet was playing for a function, and it was a piece I had never heard: Brahms’ String Quartet No. 3 in B flat Major. They performed the third movement: Agitato (Allegretto non troppo). This movement features a killer viola part (played beautifully by their violist, Jason Amos) and so I have included a recording of that movement (by the Jerusalem Quartet). The overall depth and flavor of this movement helped to inspire my pairing. The viola, in my opinion, is a very “colorful” instrument that I felt paired beautifully with these two dishes. Please listen to the entire work if you have the time, it’s worth it – I hope you enjoy!


A Rendezvous with the Coast

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


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

To Mom, with Love

My mom visited me this past weekend during “Phase 2” of my mending process. She helped me with daily chores and running errands, things I was extremely grateful for. Considering I was in a much better place than I was last weekend, I had the energy to make a “thank you” dinner. Wanting to make a meal that was simple yet meaningful, I decided to make a menu based on fresh ingredients and bright flavors. The result was delicious: Baked Haddock with Lemon-Caper Sauce and Sautéed Rainbow Chard.
Haddock isn’t a fish I’m too familiar with. Often tilapia or halibut are my white fish of choice. Yet this haddock was not only on sale, it was wild-caught. Though there are endless labels assigned to seafood, there is one that is extremely important to note: wild-caught will always have the upper hand to farm-raised (for now, at least). Farm-raised fish are exposed to a number of anitibiotics/pesticides, have lower levels of healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and are raised under conditions that can be detrimental to their surrounding ecosystem.* Hence my choice to stick with haddock. I made a simple lemon-caper sauce that I roughly adapted from about.com – learn how to make this healthy, refreshing dish by clicking HERE.
While my mom was visiting, we discovered a hidden gem in my neighborhood – a local farmer’s market! Heirloom tomatoes bursting with color, fresh peppers with glossy skins, and more were on display. That’s where I discovered my side: rainbow chard. With jewel-toned stalks and vibrant leaves, this vegetable adds character to any meal. Simply sautéed, it’s delicious. Click HERE to learn how to make this simple yet gorgeous side dish!
For the musical pairing, I wanted a piece that showcased the depth and color of these two dishes. Somehow I was led back to a composer who is readily becoming a foodie’s best friend: Debussy. His gentle nuances and contrasting rich harmonies are the perfect pairing for a number of dishes. For this meal, I chose his orchestral piece Nocturnes. It consists of three movements: Nuages, Fêtes, and Sirènes. The first is a solemn homage to the sky, the second celebrates the dance-like quality of the cosmos, while the third heralds the endless rhythm of the sea.** While the three movements employ contrasting themes, their beauty and natural ambiance made for the perfect pairing. It’s also the perfect thank you to my mom 🙂 I’ve included a recording of the first movement (sadly, this video did not include the orchestra performing in the description). All three are uploaded through this author, so be sure to click through to the next two – enjoy!


Sources Cited:
* “Wild-caught vs. Farm-raised: Overview” World’s Healthiest Foods
** “Nocturnes (Debussy).” Wikipedia.com