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

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A Colorful Start to Spring

Even though we never had an authentic New England winter, no human being ever wants to endure 20 degree-weather. So now that we’re seeing the hopeful edges of spring, I wanted to whip out the grill and give it a go….yet I wasn’t really sure what it was I should actually grill. Since no inspiration was coming to mind, I made the random choice to choose a meat that was deserving more attention in my recipe archive – pork. After ruling out whole tenderloins and deciding bone-in wasn’t worth the added hassle, I made some amazing Grilled Pork chops with Blackberry-Onion Compote.
I might have lost a few of you with the compote, but bear with me – even though it looks like something out of a Muppets movie, it is an awesome complement to the dish. Fruit and pork have always been a good match, and the blackberries at the market were practically bursting – needless to say, I couldn’t resist. The result was amazing, with leftovers being scooped onto slices of bread and cheese. It can be paired with any grilled meat, and makes for a really unique spread regardless. Click HERE to learn how to make this beautiful combination.
Whenever I think of pork, I always think brussels sprouts – perhaps it’s due to the extreme aversion I held for both as a kid. Thank God I grew out of that, especially brussels sprouts. While these turned out to be quite spectacular, the recipe can be a little tricky – you are going to think that you’re burning the sprouts, when in fact the most beautifully browned crust is created. Timing is key, or else they will, well, burn. These Pan-Browned Brussels Sprouts will sink any doubts you’ve ever had about the vegetable, trust me – click HERE to see the recipe.
As my first “spring” posting, I wanted the musical pairing to be a piece acknowledging the season. I have yet to pair Vivaldi’s “Spring” on this blog, yet it wasn’t quite on par with the complexities of this particular dish. No, this was a pairing for Beethoven, and what luck that he his Violin Sonata No. 5 is also known as the “Spring” sonata! The four movements paint a vibrant illustration of the season, vacillating between moments of festive joy to gentle empathy. With such a colorful array of character and music, it was practically the perfect pairing (aside from the literal connection) for this dish. The recording below is with Igor Gubberman on violin – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxL8tAByp2U

Simple yet Stunning

I’ve been on a hearty stews kick, a reasonable trend given the bitter cold of late. Yet every now and then I lose the patience needed for preparing these dishes, wanting a dish that can pack just as much flavor for a fraction of the time. Though there is really no substitute for time, there are quality shortcuts that mirror the tastes of the more time-consuming varieties. Enter this beauty – ready in under 30 minutes, even you may be fooled into thinking this Cajun 15-Bean Soup took hours to cook.
This recipe was probably one of the first dishes I ever made on my own – little history fact, my culinary interests weren’t realized until my second year of college. Prior to then, pre-prepared dinners and the microwave were my specialty (commence moment of shock). When I went vegetarian, I realized that cheese sandwiches just weren’t going to cut it, so cooking became a means of survival. My mom introduced me to this bean mix, and the recipe included here is the product of multiple trials. This variegated collection is packed with nutrients, and is SO easy to prepare. You can essentially add anything, from sausage to saffron.
The recipe on the back of the package calls for a ham hock (and normally includes a spice packet, which I don’t use) – while I am all about that flavor, I wanted something that could be equally as flavorful for half the price. Enter this recipe’s trilogy of secret weapons – chipotle chile pepper, stewed tomatoes, and liquid smoke. Chipotle is in and of itself a unique flavor – it adds a smoky, peppery element to the soup that traditional chili powder would lack. The stewed tomatoes are key – they give off the impression of a stew that’s been simmering away for hours, a depth normally achieved by the ham hock. Most important of all three is the liquid smoke – as real smoke that has been bottled in a liquified form, it adds a great finish that perfectly masks the lack of meat. Trust me, you won’t miss the ham one bit – click HERE to see how to make this delicious soup.
For the musical pairing, I wanted to showcase this soup’s ability to achieve such a flavorful result with so few ingredients. That led me to consider piano arrangements of orchestral works – a route often taken by composers hoping to reach a wider audience without the need to organize an entire orchestra. I felt that Igor Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka (Three Movements from Petrushka) pairs well with this recipe. Even though this piece draws on material from Stravinsky’s ballet of the same name, he was adamant that it is not a direct transcription (like the way this soup is not a direct translation of the original recipe). Stravinsky wrote this piece to give pianists the opportunity to perform his music, as well as demonstrate their technical aptitude. Given the simplicity and affordability of this recipe, I hope it too will be reached by a wider audience. I’ve included a recording of the piece by pianist

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v4vonP1XAQ&feature=related

Sources Cited:
“Trois mouvements de Petrouchka,” Wikipedia.com

A Jazzed Up Favorite

I love to experiment – when you hand me a vegetable, I try to find a recipe that has a unique approach yet still relies on the natural flavor of that particular vegetable. From purees to roulades, I’ve always been drawn to finding interesting contexts for otherwise plain ingredients (though there really is nothing more beautiful than plain ol’ roasted cauliflower, a personal favorite). You’ve heard me rant about my admiration of Middle Eastern dishes (hummus!), but I’ve always shied away from the infamous deep-fried dish: falafel. Yet then I found a fall-inspired version that takes a healthier route (baked), and knew I had to give these Sweet Potato Falafel a try.
I am seriously obsessed with sweet potatoes…more than your average person probably should be. There is something about their slightly nutty and sweet taste that renders me helpless. I can eat these basically any day…all day. Anyways, sweet potatoes (often mislabeled “yams,” an African crop to which they have no relation) receive their beautiful orange flesh from beta cerotene. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin A, B6, and C, packs a healthy serving of dietary fiber, and is believed to help stabilize blood sugar (and yes, this list is my personal justification for being obsessed with sweet potatoes).
Falafel is conventionally made with chickpea flour, aromatics, and spices – the flour is just basically finely ground chickpeas, which can easily be accommodated using a food processor. Yet I thought it could be nice to have this stuff on hand, so I went on ahead an purchased a package. These are essentially a piece of cake once you have all the add-ins assembled – no mincing required! And for such minimal effort, they are unbelievably delicious (and nutritious)! If you like sweet potatoes as much as I do, I highly recommend trying this delicious twist on the Middle Eastern standard – click HERE for the recipe.
For the musical pairing, I wanted to showcase a piece that reflected my love for sweet potatoes as well as the unique approach of these falafel – that led me to Ian Clarke’s Zoom Tube (for solo flute). This piece is inspired by rhythmic blues and relies on a number of extended flute techniques, from semi-tones to percussive vocalizations. Though these techniques can take a while to perfect, it’s ridiculously fun to play. This jazzy piece felt all too perfect for these jazzed up falafel – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA3Ri2maYpo

Spicing Things Up

Cauliflower and squash – these seasonal crops can be rather uninspiring when taken at face value. Yet it is this very insipidity that provides a perfect blank canvas for some truly amazing dishes. The other night I hosted a “girl’s night in” with two very close friends of mine – these evenings are often characterized by simple eats, bubbly drinks and thoughtful conversations (with the occasional touch of meaningless gossip, of course). While the latter two require minimal effort, I focus the majority of my planning energy on the first. Simple doesn’t meaning flavorless, in my world, so I tried to showcase dishes that give the most bang for the buck. With the right amount of spice, these two did not fail to please – Curried Butternut Squash Soup and Cumin Seed Roasted Cauliflower with Salted Yogurt and Pomegranate Seeds.
I should give butternut squash more credit, perhaps – it is one of my favorite winter squashes. it achieves a taste that’s somewhere between a sweet potato and pumpkin. Roasting is the most common preparation, which helps deepen its natural sweetness.  The term “winter squash” pertains not to its growing season, but to its ability to withstand storage (post-harvest) during colder climates. This is thanks to a tough outer skin (as opposed to the thinner skin of summer squash), allowing us to enjoy this hearty squash year-round.
This soup gets a boost from a potpourri of spices – a potent mix of curry, cumin and mustard seeds. What I like about this recipe is that its creaminess relies on the squash (rather than cream). Using a blender or processor works great, but I am a personal fan of immersion blenders (less mess = happy Anne). Any who, this soup is wonderfully simple yet beautifully flavorful. If you are looking for a quick dish that packs a LOT of flavor, this is it – click HERE to learn how to make this flavorful dish.
The pomegranate – as beautiful as it is sweet, this fruit has held symbolic relevance in a number of cultures. Whether signifying authority, death, or fertility, this fruit has a number of connotations. Aside from its aesthetic (and suggestive) references, the pomegranate is also endorsed for its health benefits. That being said, it’s no picnic to peel – I suggest opening the fruit in a bowl filled with cold water (prevents stains AND assists with peel removal).
This dish was beyond amazing – it was fantastic! Roasted cauliflower on its own is one thing, but paired with cumin, pomegranates, and yogurt?? Well, let’s just say you’ve found your new side dish “candy.” With a spicy edge and sweet touch, this dish has it all. The yogurt is a creamy (yet healthy) garnish, and the pomegranate seeds add a beautiful finish. Don’t hesitate on making this fabulous recipe – click HERE to learn how. 
In researching the ingredients of these two dishes, I discovered a shared trait between them – both have ingredients that are commended “aphrodisiacs,” being the curry and pomegranate. This led me to a very obvious selection: Danse Bacchanale, a fiery dance from the opera Samson et Dalila, by Camille Saint-Saëns. While I’m not necessarily affiliating love with the blatancy of the bacchanalian character, the passion of this work certainly lives up to the spices and flavor of these dishes – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4TrxDKsMHI&feature=related 

Eagerly Welcoming the Day

I have a confession to make: I am obsessed with winter squash. Pumpkin, sweet potatoes, acorn, butternut – there are just SO many wonderful varieties to choose from! Fall and squash are synonymous in my book, and I love finding new ways to cook them. Wanting to bake a simple gesture for the office that everyone could enjoy (including my vegan friend Rosena!), I decided to make Vegan Pumpkin Chocolate Chip  Muffins.
When buying the ingredients for last week’s Pumpkin Cake, I accidentally purchased a can of pumpkin pie mix rather than pure canned pumpkin. I was able to buy the pure variety in time for the cake, but was still stuck with the mix (I’d lost the receipt, and trying to convince the cashier at Whole Foods that pre-seasoned mixes are against my beliefs would be way too complicated). This muffin recipe, though, had just the right context for (hiding) the added flavors in the canned mix. I adjusted the sugars and spices accordingly to mask it.
Vegan baking may seem like an anomaly, but the results can be surprisingly similar to their non-vegan counterparts. The eggs in this recipe are replaced by ground flaxseed – when combined with water, flax acts as a binding agent. It also imparts a nutty taste to the final product, making it ideals for muffins and breads. These muffins had a wonderful texture, with a nice balance of flavors. So the next time waking up feels like an impossible task, consider having a batch of these on call – click HERE to see how to make these delicious fall treats!
To pair with these breakfast beauties, I wanted a piece that evoked images of dawn and sunrise. That led me to Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite no 1, Op. 46: No 1, Prelude “Morning.” The work was written as incidental music to the play by Henrik Ibsen of the same na,e. While it may be a literal pairing, the muffins are remarkably akin to the style of this beautiful movement. Grieg paints a colorful daybreak using rich harmonies and gentle melodies. These muffins are filled with flavor while still having a light, airy crumb. Enjoy!

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

Sources Cited:
“Peer Gynt (Grieg),” Wikipedia.com

Just Can’t Get Enough

Beets – a true “gem” of a vegetable. As beautiful as they are nutritious, these ruby-red root vegetables have made a comeback in the culinary world. From impressive garnishes to hearty soups, beets have the ability to liven up any dish. There are a number of ways to enjoy them, from boiled to raw. When trying to find a recipe for a dinner with my close friend Maya Jacobs, I chose to make a Roasted Beet Salad.
Those who have cooked beets are all too familiar of their notorious staining quality. Beets get their color from betalain pigments, producing hues that range from sunny golds to dark crimsons. The cells containing these pigments are very unstable, causing their color to bleed when handled (cut, scrubbed, basically anything). They leave a nasty stain, so I recommend NOT wearing your favorite white shirt while preparing them.
These beets are cooked skins-on, which allows them to retain the majority of their juices during the cooking process. Be sure to allow them to cool to a reasonable temperature before removing the skins – trying to handle scalding beets will inevitably leave you covered in beet juice. While this is a very simple salad, it is packed with flavor – the vinaigrette helps balance the sweetness of the beets, with the whole-grain mustard providing a nice visual contrast. This is superb recipe, and remarkably easy to make – click HERE to see how to make this colorful dish!
I mentioned this was a dinner with my friend Maya…and I am FINALLY getting to blog about her famous hummus! The trick here is really basing things on sight and taste, rather than precise measurements – Maya knows what makes a solid hummus, so it definitely takes practice. The ingredients are simple, and I encourage all my readers to give this a shot – click HERE to see Maya’s acclaimed recipe!
Both hummus and beets have a rich history in Middle Eastern cultures, which led me to the arabesque – an Islamic art form known for its vegetal, flowing design. The term found its way into Western classical music as a way for composers to evoke an Arabic ambiance. One of the more famous examples is Claude Debussy’s Deux Arabesques. One of Debussy’s earlier works, this work (for solo piano) was composed when he was still in his 20’s. Both movements are filled with embellishments, the first more serene and the second more lively. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28Qi4jLtigc

Sources Cited:
“Arabesques (Debussy),” Wikipedia.com

A Frightfully Delicious Cake

The pumpkin: a beloved tradition of Fall, appearing in everything from homemade pies to front doorsteps as Jack-O-Lanterns. Nothing quite speaks to the “flavor” of the season like this beloved squash. Both its aesthetic appearance and familiar taste have defined a number of traditions. So when I discovered that I would be baking a cake for my office on Halloween itself, I couldn’t resist finding a way to combine these two qualities. I ended up creating this (Literal) Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
While it may seem inauthentic to use canned pumpkin, it is actually the next best thing. The majority of canned produce is canned at its peak, guaranteeing fresh flavors that are available year-round. With the number of canned pumpkin options out there, it might seem difficult to find just one. LIBBY’S® is always a safe bet, but a glance at the label can help you narrow down your choices – avoid choices with additives (sugar, preservatives, etc), and organic is always a good option.
While the assembly of this cake is impressive on its own, the cake itself is out of this world! It has the perfect level of spice, and an extremely tender crumb. You will end up using a lot of your pantry staples, but the result is entirely worth it. The baking time for this will vary based on your oven and pans, but be prepared to allow it more time than expected. This entire cake was gone after a single day in the office (with only half of my coworkers actually present) – a true “treat” for Halloween. Click HERE to make this cake a part of your Halloween traditions!
I chose musical pairing for this before the cake was even baked – Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre. Composed in 1874, this tone poem draw inspiration from a poem by Henri Cazalis about an old French legend – at the stroke of midnight on Halloween, “Death” appears and calls forth the dead to partake in a dance of death while he plays along on the fiddle. The work is programmed quite regularly by orchestras to celebrate the holiday, particularly for family concerts. Though I would’t say this cake is necessarily “macabre,” it certainly has the seasonal spirit – enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG8QCjaw4yk

Sources Cited:
“Danse macabre (Saint-Saëns),” Wikipedia.com

Going Beyond Potential

After a long day at work, going to the grocery store to try and brainstorm recipe ideas is the last thing I want to do. It’s moments like these where I rely wholly on what’s currently stocked in my pantry, hoping there will be just the right mixture of fresh and canned to create somethin. Such was the case when I decided to whip up a few snacks to take over to a friend’s the other night. I wanted dishes that would be quick to prepare (since it would be after said long day at work) and easy to transport. After surveying what I had on hand, I chose to make a Pumpkin Bean Dip as well as a batch of Parmesan & Thyme Crackers.
The thing I love most about dips is their simplicity, where dumping the ingredients into a food processor is often the only step required. This extremely simple appetizer is a different spin on your average bean dip, and perfect for the fall! The pumpkin adds a creamy finish that pairs beautifully with the earthiness of the beans. I doubled the recipe, a decision justified once everyone was reaching for seconds after the first bite – click HERE to make this beautifully simple appetizer!
I’ve spoken about my love for Ina Garten before – this woman is fabulous! She lives in the Hamptons in a gorgeous home, with (of course) a HUGE kitchen that has everything you would ever need/want. She basically spends the majority of her time cooking and socializing – a dream life. Her approach to cooking is relaxed and down-to-earth, creating recipes that are both simple and elegant. These savory crackers were addicting, yet required minimal effort – another Ina success!
For the “pantry” part of this recipe, I just happened to have a very good Romano cheese in my refrigerator. While the recipe calls for Parmesan, the Romano was a beautiful substitute. There are only 6 ingredients total, making these a perfect last-minute snack for gatherings. The thyme adds an earthy tone that really brings these up a notch. Constructing the dough into a log was the only tricky part of this, but the result was certainly worth the effort. These crackers, though seemingly basic, achieve far more than what might be expected – click HERE to see how to make these savory treats!
I’ve always been a sucker for Chopin, and it just so happens that the friend I made these lovely appetizers for was Brian McCarthy – a pianist who plays Chopin beautifully! Knowing that the piece I chose should also reflect the timeliness of these recipes, I chose a work that was short yet filled with color: Chopin’s Étude Op.10 No.1 in C Major. Much the way these dishes reinvented the potential of everyday pantry staples, Chopin took the étude form and created it into something far greater. His etudes exhibit an eloquence and emotional depth that place them on par with performance repertoire. This specific work captures the best of Chopin’s style with the genre. The recording below is with Valentina Lisitsa – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROVy9PC8_8A

Sources Cited:
“Frédéric Chopin,” Wikipedia.com