Easy Food for a Freezing Day

Falafel1 (1)New Yorkers are having an insanely cold weekend…which is a great excuse to stay inside, wear thick socks, and have Netflix/Hulu to keep you company. But this forced captivity means limited access to food – and considering I would feel like a terrible human in ordering Seamless (thus forcing a poor delivery guy to brave the cold himself) I had to get creative. I somehow convinced my carnivorous boyfriend Tom to go vegetarian for a day (cold weather does funny things to people) and pantry staples came to our rescue for this Easy Baked Falafel with Tahini Dressing recipe!
Falafel4There are a ton of falafel recipes floating around on the internet (shameless plug for a recipe on this blog: Sweet Potato Falafel) each with it’s own “secret ingredient” that makes it THE falafel for your recipe repertoire. Given our complete lack of desire to venture outdoors, our falafel was flavored with the classics: lemon, garlic, parsley and tahini (not pictured). We use a LOT of lemon for this, which you are welcome to scale up or down depending on your relationship with citrus.
Falafel8What’s great about this recipe is that it comes together fairly quickly. The “batter” rests in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, making it easier to roll the falafel balls…but you can skip this step if you have a cookie scooper or like the idea of “rustic” falafel. And if you’re really hungry and can’t bear the thought of going another second without food, the batter is basically hummus! No matter how you enjoy it, it’s a great quick meal – click HERE to see the recipe for this vegetarian fix! 
Falafel9 (3)In considering a musical pairing for this recipe, I looked for a piece that could complement both the simplicity of the recipe and its wintry context. My choice of Faure’s Pavane was almost immediate – you can say I’m biased (it features the flute quite prominently), but it’s a classic. The melody is both pure and haunting: painting a scene like the chilled, solitary streets of New York. And yet beauty lies within this solitude, as it is not a fearful scene but a rather peaceful one. The title of the work pays homage to the 16th-century European dance of the same name, which is both slow and processional in character. Ultimately, the piece evokes in its listener a desire to calm and be calmed – something every New Yorker can truly appreciate.  The following video is an excerpt of the full piece, which I chose because A) it’s the Berlin Philharmonic and B) the flute solo is played by my idol, Emmanuel Pahud 🙂 Enjoy!!

Sources Cited:
“Pavane,” Wikipedia.com

Advertisements

Having Fun with Farro

Vegetable Farro Salad 6Having regaled you with desserts for my past two posts, I felt the need for some nutritive balance. As much as I enjoy baking, I’m actually a fairly healthy eater – I often enjoy no more than a sample of the treats I make. My friends think I’m crazy, but I get far more enjoyment in making desserts for others than enjoying for myself. This discipline is also necessary considering I bake a LOT of desserts…I save my appetite for the treats I know I can’t refuse (one of which will be posted in the coming weeks…stay tuned!) In the meantime, I thought I’d share a lighter dish that has become my go-to as of late – it’s fairly basic, and I often prep enough to last me the week. The recipe has gone through multiple iterations in my cooking, but this particular Roasted Vegetable and Farro Salad is worth sharing.
Vegetable Farro Salad 5Farro is a grain that has only recently been introduced to my cooking repertoire. Farro is the Italian derivation of the Latin  term farrum, which roughly translates to “a kind of wheat.” Like quinoa and spelt, farro is identified as an “ancient grain”. It was first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent, with evidence tracing initial harvests to Ancient Egypt and the Roman dynasties. Farro has subsequently been an Italian staple for centuries, and has only recently gained popularity in the United States. Its texture is more chewy than soft, making it ideal for soups and salads.
Vegetable Farro Salad 3One thing I’ve learned about vegetables is that boiling and steaming do them a great injustice – roasting, on the other hand, pulls out a remarkable depth that can turn even the most veggie-averse eaters into true appreciators. Roasted vegetables are one of my favorite make ahead staples. All it takes is tossing a few handfuls of fresh, chopped veggies with some oil and seasoning, and then scattering the pieces onto a sturdy baking pan for roasting (30 minutes or less, depending on the veggie). The result is a stunning spread of caramelized goodness.
Vegetable Farro Salad 2Once the farro and veggies are ready, the rest of the dish pulls together in no time. What I love most about this recipe is that all elements of this dish are extremely customizable – the vinaigrette, choice of protein, seasonings, and more can all be adapted to suit your tastes. The options are endless, so have fun with it! It’s a great dish for lunch or weeknight meals, and will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. If you’ve never tried farro, this is great way to introduce the grain to your diet – click HERE to see the recipe for this unique salad!
Vegetable Farro Salad 5For the musical pairing I wanted a piece that would complement the fun and colorful aspects of the dish. Taking the recipe’s Italian roots into consideration, I found myself turning to Gioachino Rossini: a composer who perfected the art of “opera buffa” (comic operas). His writing has come to be appreciated by both the classically and non-classically inclined. Rossini’s Centerentola (“Cinderella”) is an especially suitable pairing for this dish. Both charming and bright, the opera is written in two 00189b11_mediumacts…completed by Rossini at the ripe old age of 25. The story is slightly different from the classic fairy tale in that the villain is a stepfather named Don Magnifico, and the Prince disguises himself as a valet in hopes of seeing the “true colors” of his potential brides – of course, this is how he finds the one woman with a true heart. The opera has a happy ending (per usual with Rossini), and the work as a whole is quite jovial. The 1981 production with Teatro alla Scala is on YouTube in its entirety, and is magnificent – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Farro,” Wikipedia.com
Weiss, Laura B. “Farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out,” NPR – October 2, 2013
“La Cenerentola,” Wikipedia.com

South of the Orient: Part V

Tikka and SaagI have been enjoying a LOT of South Asian cuisine as of late. My boyfriend Tom has converted me into a curry-loving/spice-craving gal…granted, he’s got some great recipes up his sleeve (hence the series). In fact, it’s a cuisine that’s perfect for this time of year – winter is not my forte, and Wednesday’s temp was a balmy 7 degrees. The promise of a piping hot meal loaded with spices and protein has been a saving grace during the season. Piling on layers of clothing can do the trick, but this Saag Tofu and Chicken Tikka Masala works wonders on a chilly winter day.
183819_1811611419548_5295728_nBoth of these dishes are common to the Punjabi region, where Tom spent close to two months exploring (North India primarily) – the photo above was taken in a village called Auli. Located in northeast Uttarakhand, Auli is about 13,000 feet above sea level and lies deep within the majestic Himalayas. The Himalayas,  which is Sanskrit for “abode of the snow”, make this a perfect anecdote for winter:

“After a ten hour ride in a van hugging cliff sides all the way up into the mountains we arrived at Joshimath, before another hour straight up a mountain toward Auli. The driver could only make it so far and we had to hike the last couple of miles in deep snow to the village, which resides quietly in the shadow of Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak at 26,000 feet, just a hair shy of Everest. From the plateau, a heady panorama of mountain peaks and micro-ranges in every direction laying strewn with Hindu icons. Auli is the embarkation point for some of the world’s most intense pilgrimages.”

Saag Paneer 1Saag is prominent in Northern India, and is prepared in a variety of ways. The basic recipe is spinach leaves (or similar leafy greens, such as mustard and kale) are finely chopped, then sautéed with a variety of spices. The most well-known rendition calls for pan-seared paneer: a fresh cheese used in a variety of South Asian recipes. Tom opts for tofu, which is both healthier and easier to find in local grocery stores than paneer. The sautéing takes a bit, but that golden hue gives this dish a texture and taste that’s extraordinary!
Saag Paneer 2I have made Saag before, but this is by far my favorite recipe – the flavors are complex, and the textural aesthetic is stunning. Some varieties use cream, yet this recipe is vegan and chock-full of spices: cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and garam masala. The key (per usual with Tom’s recipes) is to dry-roast the spices one at a time, then grind them to a fine powder. It comes together in no time once all of the ingredients have been prepped. Don’t fret if you have leftovers, as it’s even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful side!
Chicken Tikka 2Tikka Masala is one of those dishes that nearly everyone loves – comprised of roasted chicken simmered in a creamy sauce, it is one of Tom’s signatures. Similar to Saag, cooking the protein separately aids with the texture and flavor of the final dish. The marinade yields a beautifully tender meat that is hard to beat – yogurt is the secret weapon here. Acidic marinades have been known to “denature” (or toughen) the meat, whereas milk-based marinades won’t. It is alleged that the calcium helps to activate certain enzymes that break down the proteins, creating a more tender and flavorful meat. South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures have been using dairy-based marinades for a looong time, for good reason!
Chicken TIkka 1The masala, unlike the marinade, is fairly complex – a medley of spices, healthy fats, and vegetables come together to create a creamy sauce that is both spicy and rich. The original calls for a lot of cream, but Tom lessens the cream needed by upping the almonds. The result gives the sauce more character without inhibiting the spices and aromatics. This dish is both filling and loaded with protein, making it a perfect meal for those colder days. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beloved classic!
Chicken Tikka 3Winter often gets a bad rap – slushy sidewalks, dry skin, chilly and biting winds – and it’s frozen beauty is often disregarded. Some of the most gorgeous landscapes I’ve witnessed were in the coldest climates (Tom would readily agree). Case in point – the below photo is from a hike we took together in MontanaIMG_1037 about a year ago. It is one of my favorite pictures to date, and yet I was freezing my tail off the entire time! Spring, summer and fall are often flooded with activity – it is winter that gives us a moment of stillness, in which we may breathe and experience our world. This led me to choose Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor, “Winter Dreams.” This symphony is arguably the cheeriest (and least tortured) of his six symphonies. It has a youthful air, which can be attributed to the fact that he was only 26 when he wrote it. In this symphony (just over 40-minutes in length), Tchaikovsky paints the isolated beauty of a Russian “winter journey” using rich orchestration balanced by gossamer melodies. The piece captures the dynamics of this posting’s two dishes, while also alluding to the tranquil enticements of winter. The below recording features Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Himalayas,” Wikipedia.com
“Marinades Add Flavor but Don’t Always Tenderize,” FineCooking.com
“Symphony No. 1 (Tchaikovsky),” Wikipedia.com

Three Winter Delights

Squash is such an underrated food – you can basically prepare it however you want, and know that the outcome will be (more or less) outrageously delicious. This is the time of year I eat winter squash with practically everything, and wanted to share three fun recipes I’ve enjoyed thus far: Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash, Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto, and Butternut Squash & Apple Soup.
Winter SquashWinter squash is somewhat of an anomalous title – they are actually grown during the summer months, alongside the well-known “summer” squash varieties. The main difference is that winter squash is harvested only after it reaches full maturity, which traditionally falls in September or October (depending on the region). At this stage, the fruit has developed a tough, shell-like rind that ensures preservation into the winter months (hence the title!) The flesh and seeds are the edible components, making them a coveted source of food across the western hemisphere. Because I’m a total nerd: winter squash are of the genus Cucurbita, which was originally cultivated within the Andes and Mesoamerican regions. But enough with the “science”, let’s get to the good stuff 🙂
Acorn SquashWhen I was a kid, acorn squash was one of those “side dish staples” in my mother’s cooking repertoire. Her recipe was simple, but terribly addictive: a large pat of butter, a spoonful of brown sugar, and a dash of salt. 40 minutes later a candied bowl of goodness would be ready to eat. While my adult self would love to believe this is good enough for a meal, I knew that something heartier (and a little healthier) would be a safer path to follow. So with that in mind…
Stuffed Acorn Squash 1Voilà! Quinoa Stuffed Acorn SquashMy grown-up take on an acorn squash. Though they aren’t as tough/sturdy as “practical gourds” (inedible fruit whose rinds are used as food vessels, musical instruments, etc) the shape and size of acorn squash make them ideal serving “bowls”. Many a soup, risotto, and casserole has found its way into this charming cup, so basically anything that be used for stuffing. My recipe consisted of quinoa, red lentils, raisins, and spinach – the result was fantastic, and were even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty and nutritious meal!
Spaghetti Squash 1Spaghetti squash – the “paleo pasta” that Pinterest can’t seem to get enough of. I’ve actually been curious to try this for quite some time, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious it turned out. You can cook it any number of ways: boil, roast, microwave (though the thought of exploding squash comes to mind on the latter…) Once done, you simply rake a fork through the strands to yield a fiber-packed “spaghetti” with half the carbs.
Kale PestoMy sister sent me an edible arrangement for my birthday, which was jam-packed with chocolate-covered everything. Surprisingly enough, the basket’s “filler” was a massive heap of curly kale! My initial excitement wore off once I discovered there were nearly 6 cups of the stuff hidden in the basket. I toyed around with a few ideas, recalling how I still have way too many pepitas in my house (but can you ever have too many pepitas? We’ll shelve this discussion for later). That’s when it dawned on me: Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto!
Spaghetti Squash 2It is definitely not your typical pesto, but my god was it good!  The kale creates an even deeper green than the traditional herb varieties, and the pepitas are a lovely alternative to the pine nut and walnut norms. A word of caution – I am known to enjoy atypical fare, and this certainly falls into that category. Sticking with a traditional pesto might be a safer bet for those who know their limits. While the resulting dish looked a little bit like something Nemo might eat, it was really delicious – click HERE to see the recipe!
Butternut Squash Soup 2In considering the innumerable ways of preparing squash, hands-down my favorite preparation is a warm soup with fall spices.  There have been time I’ve sprinted to the subway post-work knowing that a warm bowl of pumpkin soup could be mine as soon as I got home. This thought alone has abated even though most oppressing winters in Boston. I may be unique in my obsession, but this Butternut Squash & Apple Soup has the potential to make anyone a believer. Butternut squash has a naturally sweet taste, but is more subtle than sweet potato or acorn squash. It pairs well with a number of spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger (to name a few!).
Butternut SquashThere is one thing worth mentioning about this fabulous food group…certain squash can be a real pain in the butt when it comes to prep work. Trying to halve one of these takes the skill of a samurai, and peeling the rind is something I try to avoid at all costs. Luckily, this butternut squash recipe is fairly straightforward and you can make it days in advance (but if you’re like me, it won’t last long). The result is a soup that can bring warmth to even the coldest of winter days – click HERE to see the recipe for this cozy dish!
Butternut Apple Soup 1The contextual possibilities of squash make it an eclectic food source – soups, pies, pastas, muffins, you name it! What’s remarkable about this fruit is the ease and suitability it lends to each of its applied settings: whether it is a savory casserole or a candied treat. An appropriate analogy for classical music can be applied to the many hats that composers are often encouraged to wear throughout their career. One unique example is Jacques Ibert: a French composer whose style (both musically and professionally speaking) never adhered to a specific theme. Musically, Ibert’s compositions never adhered to a single style – he claimed that “all systems are valid provided that one derives music from them”. From operas to incidental music to chamber settings, Ibert’s music run the gamut of genres and styles. Professionally, Ibert had multiple careers – he was the director of the Académie de France à Rome for over 20 years, served on professional committees for the arts, and was an active conductor. In homage to the three recipes of this post, I chose Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves for the musical pairing. Written in 1930, this charming work for woodwind quintet is less than 10 minutes in length. The unique sound and texture of this ensemble is captured quite beautifully, with Ibert previewing the strengths and nuances of each instrument. The opening is lively and exuberant, which then transitions to a pensive duet between the flute and clarinet, and ends with a somewhat serious yet joyous finale. The below recording is by the Wind Quintet from the Danish National Symphony circa 2010 – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Winter Squash,” Wikipedia.com
“Jacques Ibert,” Wikipedia.com
“Stanford Woodwind Quintet: April 6, 2008 – Program Notes,” Friends of Chamber Music

An Inspired Creation

Cooking vegan has a requisite for creativity – it’s never been as easy as throwing a steak on the grill with some salt and pepper. Quality ingredients used in an imaginative way are what makes a vegan dish…so you can imagine the amount of research and prep I devote to meatless cooking. The other day I had two dear friends, Tim Wilfong and Rachel Roberts, over for dinner. After deferring to countless Pinterest inspirations, I found the perfect fit: Black Bean Quinoa Meatballs with Avocado “Alfredo”
I had run seen a number of actual meatball recipes that get a healthy boost from nutritious, fiber-packed ingredients, such as resistant starches and whole grains. When considering what to include in a vegan meatball, I thought I’d give them the whole package with nothing BUT these fillers: black beans, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, quinoa…a health nut’s dream.
The result was a nutritional, affordable, and ridiculously good meal. Forming the meatballs can be a little tricky, but I found that running my hands under water every several minutes helped prevent them from sticking too much. You can get really creative with these, using legumes like lentils or navy beans, or vegetables like eggplants and spinach. Regardless of what you choose, these will surprise your taste buds and are sure to be a hit – click HERE for the recipe.
I  knew I wanted to pair these “meatballs” with pasta, but couldn’t picture pairing black beans with marinara. The solution was pure genius: an avocado “alfredo” sauce. I was extremely skeptical at first – it’s basically pureed avocado with some salt, lime, and seasoning. Yet when tossed with hot pasta, it makes a beautifully creamy sauce that is much MUCH healthier “alfredo” than anything you could have imagined. Surprised? I certainly was – click HERE for this unique pasta sauce.
For the musical pairing, I wanted a piece that could highlight the creative edge of this meal. That led me to Gaspar Cassadó and his Suite for Cello Solo. As a cellist who studied with the revered Pablo Casals, Cassadó knew how to write for the instrument. This piece is an ingenious fusion of the conventional Baroque style (taking inspiration from Bach’s own Cello Suites) with his own native Spanish. The three-movement piece is under 15 minutes in length, with a colorful variety of animated dances and lyrical refrains. The inspired weaving of genres and generations into an aesthetic whole make this piece the perfect complement to this creative meal – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
Parloff, Michael. “Gaspar Cassadó – Suite for Solo Cello.” Parlance Chamber Concerts.

Filled with Delicacy

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

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

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

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!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmUHI2yTtVY

Sources Cited:
“Rhapsody in Blue” Wikipedia.com

Love It or Hate It

When it comes to my department at work, food is a very important point for discussion. We are all big foodies, and often swap recipes and stories just before the start of our weekly meetings. This past week, we had our annual team retreat to brainstorm strategy, content, and the next steps in everything we do as a department. The retreat was held in my apartment, and I took this opportunity to showcase two delicious vegan dishes I’d been wanting to try: Kale Salad with Avocado and Sweet Potato and Tuscan Stuffed Mushrooms with Pine Nuts.
Kale is a power food that is often left behind – it’s more bitter than your average green, and has a tougher texture as well. That being said, it is loaded with vitamins and nutrients to the max! My solution to bitter greens is finding the right balance of a) sweetness or b) salty goodness (like bacon, which makes most things taste amazing). I vied for sweetness with this salad and chose my southern favorite: the sweet potato. Creamy chunks of avocado and a sprinkle of dried cranberries made this dish a true winner – click HERE to see the recipe for this healthy, nutrient-rich salad.
Mushrooms are also a food with its fair share of both fans and critics – some people swear by their earthy taste, while others can’t stand it. I grew to love mushrooms during my veggie days, and (thankfully) never lost that appreciation. You can make any stuffing for mushrooms, from a nutty quinoa salad to a spicy sausage filling. Based on what I had on hand, I took a little inspiration from Tuscany for these and stuffed them with sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper and fresh basil – click HERE to see just how simple and delicious these can be! 
There are a number of composers whose critics are just as vocal as their fans, but the one who especially comes to mind (for me) is Paul Hindemith. The reason for this choice is his musical departure from diatonic tonality, resulting in harmonies based on free-form scales and notational structures. In fact, there are currently music teachers who refuse to even teach Hindemith given their own aversions. For this pairing, I chose the Viola Sonata, Op. 11 No. 4 – it is the fourth of his sonata series, and perhaps one of my personal favorites (though others, as expected, would disagree). The sonata has three “movements” that are performed without pause. The first is “Fantaisie”, and takes harmonic experimentation to a whole new level – it navigates through nearly ten different keys over just 41 bars! This is perhaps my favorite of the three movements, being extremely beautiful and almost haunting in character. The second, “Thema mit Variationen,” is  much more playful and energized. It changes the established downbeat throughout, allowing the melodies to flow without rhythmic constraint. The final movement, “Finale (mit Variationen)”, unleashes a series of classical forms that bring the piece to an uncertain yet glorious conclusion. Overall, it’s a very cool piece that some people love, and some people hate.

My friend Erin Nolan (violist) said one of her instructors recommended to approach Hindemith as one would approach Bach: in a methodical manner…so perhaps I can recommend to try cooking kale as you would spinach, and mushrooms as you would meat – just a thought 😉 The recording below is by a violist Erin recommended for his beautiful tone, and I definitely agree: Lawrence Powers. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9VuCybiTvk

Sources Cited:
“Paul Hindemith,” Wikipedia.com
“Viola Sonata, Op. 11 No. 4 (Hindemith)” Wikipedia.com

One Spread, Many Tastes

We’ve all been to those restaurants where every menu item has us on the edge of our seats with excitement…but then you have to choose only one. Even if you get the perfectly braised chicken or creamy gnocchi, you can’t stop thinking about that cedar grilled salmon, or the chimichurri steak that a waiter just brought to the table next to you! Moments like these make us wish we could get a taste of those other gorgeous entrées. This (on top of my love for all things cute) is the reason I LOVE tapas! You can choose up to four or five, and keep ’em coming as long as you’re hungry! What better way to explore the culinary signatures of a place than through perfectly portioned samples? Well, so I enjoy making them as much as I enjoy eating them…and summer is THE season for tapas. So trust me when I say this Tapas Spread will be the first of many you’ll see this summer 🙂
Okay, so Prosciutto-Wrapped Canteloupe (top photo) isn’t really a recipe, but it’s awesome! Besides, no authentic tapas spread is complete without melon or cured meat, and deciding to put the two together was one of history’s finer moments. I love all things olive – olive oil, olive tapenades, and marinated olives…melt (especially with chili peppers!) I thought I would give marinating olives a try myself, so I grabbed three varieties, tossed them with a few simple ingredients, and ended up with a heavenly bowl of Spicy Spanish Olives (above). Make these – don’t think twice about, just trust me on this. You’ll thank me later 😉 Click HERE to get started!
Most of us can attest to having tried and loved candied pecans and/or honey roasted peanuts. I thought a variety of this favorite would be the perfect complement to my spread, but I wanted something with a twist. Enter fennel seed – this added touch put these Sweet and Spicy Almonds through the roof. Both subtly sweet with an edge of savory, these almonds are the perfect “munchies” for any party – click HERE to get this delicious snack!
I saved the best for last: Romesco Sauce. A pureé of roasted red peppers, toasted almonds, fiery chili peppers…I (along with everyone else who tried this) was willing to sell my soul to the genius of this sauce. How is it so good? I honestly don’t know…the marriage of flavors in this sauce was pure destiny. It’s a fairly simple recipe whose flavor become exponentially better the next day (and the next day, and the next day…) You can serve it with basically anything, and I chose to toss mine with beautifully tender chicken tenders . Click HERE to see the secret behind an amazing sauce!
I wanted to choose a musical piece that could give us a taste of a composer’s style. Looking for a composer who truly embraced their national heritage, I went with the Brazilian music of Heitor Villa-Lobos. The following quote by Villa-Lobos perfectly captures this quality:

“Yes, I’m Brazilian – very Brazilian. In my music, I let the rivers and seas of this great Brazil sing. I don’t put a gag on the tropical exuberance of our forests and our skies, which I intuitively transpose to everything I write.”

Gaining international fame and recognition for his Brazil, he is seen as a cultural icon. Some of his most well-known works are his fourteen Choros, composed between 1920 and 1930. Choros literally means “weeping” or “crying,” and was used to describe the music of the Brazilian street ensembles from the latter half of the nineteenth century. Villa-Lobos’ intention with these pieces was to bring the music of Brazil to life within a variety of performing contexts. Each Choros is written for a different instrument or ensemble, ranging from solo to full orchestra. I thought it would be fun to include several from the series, and to pair each one with a different tapa. For the olives, I chose Choros No. 5 for solo piano, “Alma Brasileira” (Soul of Brazil) – it expresses a depth of character and nostalgia that speak to the dish’s own complexity and flavor development with time. This is perhaps y favorite of the four included, which also speak to my love of olives 🙂 I included Choros No. 1 for solo guitar (which in fact inspired the series altogether) to pair with the almonds – it’s casual flair and energy are perfect for these spicy bites. The Choros No. 2 for flute and clarinet  perfectly describes the prosciutto and melon, as it itself is a conversation between the flutist and clarinetist – though it’s a duet, the dialogue is really more individual than melded. And last (but definitely not least) I chose Choros No. 10 for chorus & orchestra, “Rasga o coraçao” (Tear My Heart) to pair with the Chicken and Romesco – this “tour de force” of a piece was perfect for the quality and perfection of this sauce. You can check out each one below – enjoy!

Choros No. 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZuETVzODME
Choros No. 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVGBl42aKfQ
Choros No. 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24w7fMiJZr8
Choros No. 10: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UnVmG-DDhY

Sources Cited:
“Villa-Lobos and the Choro,” Guitarra Magazine