Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Day Feast: Choucroute Garnie

There's an old Southern tradition of eating black eyed peas and cabbage on New Year's Day to ensure health and prosperity in the coming year.  Some say it dates back to the times of the Pharaohs while others claim it was a meal created out of necessity when Southern towns were under siege during the Civil War.  I must confess that I never was a huge fan of this meal finding it bland and boring, but as I've become an adult, I've learned to appreciate beans and especially cabbage for their potential for inexpensive and delicious meals.  My mother always served it up with cornbread, which was usually the best part it for me.  Something must have worked though, because I've always been blessed with good health, and I've always had a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in!

ColoRouge from MouCo Cheese

Monastery style cheeses are among my favorites.  When I buy cheese for myself, I inevitably gravitate toward one of them. Even if I'm just snacking on something at work, there really isn't another type of cheese that I find more satisfying.  This family of cheese includes those that have been washed or smeared with brine, wine, beer, or spirits while they are maturing.  You might hear them referred to casually as the "stinky" cheeses although not all of them are stinky.  It's just that there are a few which can get pretty funky like Burgundy's Epoisses and new-comer, Grayson, from Meadow Creek made ironically by the Feete Family of Galax, Va.  If you like this style of funky, earthy cheese, you're bound to enjoy MouCo's ColoRouge for its subtlety in the grand scheme of Monastery cheeses, and even if you don't like stinky cheese, it offers enough delicious creaminess to please even the pickiest eater.

Eastern Standard and Biere de Miel

A few nights ago, I treated myself to a lovely dinner at Eastern Standard here in Boston after a day at the movies.  I haven't been there in some time, and I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I figured I would stop in a have a bite to eat. As usual, the bar area was packed, so I chose a quieter table away from the crowd off to the side in a booth.  I'm glad to see that they are doing a fantastic bar business even on a Monday night!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Scrambled Eggs with Truffle

Eggs are one of the most underestimated foods in the entire lexicon of culinary delights.  The great Madeleine Kamman used the first hundred or so pages of her famous book, Making of a Cook, to give instruction on the many ways an egg can be used, and it's also said that the number of folds in a chef's toque is determined by the number of ways he/she can cook an egg.  When they're prepared correctly, they can be fantastic, but if they're cooked poorly, they often have a rubbery texture and a sulfur taste and smell.

Three Holiday Movies Reviewed

I did it!  I took myself to the movies... three times in fact. I almost never go because I hate waiting in lines, I hate crowded theaters, and I really hate discourteous movie-goers.  Why is it that someone always has the need to run a commentary on everything going on in the movie while everyone in the theater is trying to watch? In any case, for the most part, my movie experiences were good ones this time around. The movies I saw created enough incentive for me to get out and see them in the theater.  The three blockbuster titles were: The Princess and the Frog, Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Julia Child: The Way to Cook DVD Set

For Christmas, I received enough cooking DVD's to keep me busy for a very long time.  Among them was a re-release from Knopf called The Way to Cook by Julia Child.  I'm already a pretty huge fan of Julia Child but watching these has solidified my admiration for her as a teacher. They were first published on VHS in 1985 and are a collection of short 5 to 15 minutes segments on the basics of French cooking.  I find Mastering the Art of French Cooking a little overwhelming because the instructions are so specific and the recipes take pages of text and hours to interpret.  Even though Julia's original publication is a milestone achievement for American cooking, I use it more as a reference than a practical manual in the kitchen.

Samuel Barber's Cave of the Heart

When I did my masters degree at the New England Conservatory, I took a class called "Writing About Music" taught by one of my favorite teachers of all time, Helen Greenwald.  I discovered with her help that I really enjoyed writing and perhaps to some degree that's what spurred this blog.  The point of the class was to learn how to write about music in a scholarly style and to learn how to use a library and the Internet for research.  For my "big" paper, I chose the life and works of Samuel Barber, in particular Vanessa, a much neglected opera written towards the end of his life.

Mulled Wine

My quest for mulled wine began a week or so ago when one of my Facebook friends posted a status update searching for a recipe for it. I'd never made it before, and I didn't want to be left out on what I felt was a challenge, so I went to the Internet and started doing some reading on the subject.  It's enjoyed the world over, but particularly in cold mountainous climate.  I have a feeling that traditionally, after the harvest, a certain percentage of wine usually went bad because folks didn't have a good understanding of fermentation science.  It's not unusual even today for a fermentation to stop for no good reason, but because we have a better understanding of how this process works, there are methods for aiding a "stuck" fermentation.  It seems that the industrious winemakers would take their lemons and simply turn them into lemonade or mulled wine in this case.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Confit Turkey Legs

This is an idea that I got from a friend at work.  Turkey is inexpensive this time of year since grocery stores are trying to get rid of it.  You can usually pick up the drumsticks for less than $2 a pound.  I like to roast the meat and then you can use the bones for stock to turn into soup or to enrich sauces for other dishes.  Serve with a mustard mayonnaise. I like to spike mine with a little pesto and thin it out with a touch of apple cider vinegar for extra zip.  It's delicious and a fabulous way to feed a hungry crowd at a party.  You can set the meat out on a platter and listen to everyone ooh and aah over how fantastic it is!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Red Beans and Rice Majastueux

Christmas at the Majestic was a fantastic affair.  Since I had to work at the restaurant on Christmas Eve, I wasn't able to spend Christmas Day with family in Louisiana, so I decided to bring Louisiana to Boston for myself and my friends.  Company started arriving around 4:30 and the party continued through the evening and into the wee hours of the morning.  It was wonderful to be around so many people that I love.  I was especially delighted to see some friends that I hadn't seen in about seven years.  What a fantastic holiday treat!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Memories of Christmas Eve

I was very lucky to have a childhood filled with love and privilege.  I never wanted for anything, had the best education that money could buy, and the full attention of both of my parents who supported me in everything I did.  I was spoiled by my grandparents and had plenty of wonderful extended family too.  In retrospect, I can say with all confidence that it was about as ideal as a childhood could be.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mastering Cheese by Max McCalman

A cursory read through Max McCalman's new book Mastering Cheese makes me say WOW! I'm so glad that someone has finally taken the time to write an updated reference to take over where Steve Jenkins's Cheese Primer left off.  This book tells you just about everything you need to know about cheese and more for the cheese dork, like me.  It will take me years to digest all of the information contained in this wonderful tome.

Holiday Entertaining at The Majestic

I like to do things around Christmas that remind me of home like cooking Cajun classics such as Gumbo and Crawfish Creole.  These familiar flavors bring me closer to my family who is so far away and also bring back some fond memories of lavish Christmas Eve gatherings filled with food, music, and lots and lots of presents.  Because I work in the hospitality industry, I will be unable to spend time with my family, so this Christmas I will be cooking for friends in the same boat as me.  I'm hosting a small gathering at The Majestic and I couldn't be happier to entertain my "work family" on my favorite holiday of the year. Today, I'm preparing a menu of roasted turkey with Dot's Cranberry Sauce and Mustard/Pesto Mayo as well as the Cajun classic, Shrimp Étoufée.

DeuS at The Publick House

If you read my post on Cava a while back, you know how crazy I am for bubbly. Last night, after the fabulous Arneis Ensemble Concert, we headed over to Brookline's famous Publick House to raise a celebratory glass together. Our friends visiting from Chicago, Kristin and Grant, as it turns out are huge Belgian beer fans, so I wanted to take them to a place that specializes in none other, and hopefully have something that might be new to them.

Arneis Ensemble Does It Again!

Another Winter Solstice has come and gone. It's a day that, for me, begs introspection and also one that I look for comfort and warmth in, bracing for the coming winter. I was happy to spend my evening attending a concert given by Dan Doña and friends, Kristin Elgersma and Will Cicola - the second performance in the Arneis Ensemble Concert Series. The program featured Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio, Eight Pieces by Max Bruch, and Robert Schumann's Märchenerzählungen, all works for clarinet, viola, and piano played superbly by the three musicians. Overall, the group produced a warm and inviting sound and navigated the treacherous program with ease and grace. Kristin seemed to meld with piano and provided a solid foundation of sound for the group. Will's tone and intonation were unwavering, and Dan played with an elegance and confidence that I have not heard so consistently from him before tonight's performance.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tatte is the Place for Brioche

If you have a hankering for a breakfast of brioche and homemade jam, I recommend you check out Tatte Bakery in Brookline on Beacon Street in St. Mary's Square. The daily special is two warm brioche, homemade jam, and cup of coffee for $10. It's one of the fabulous things you can treat yourself to there that will warm you up on these nasty winter days ahead. I might even suggest that you close your eyes for a minute or two as you eat and pretend you are in Paris - it won't be too much of a stretch with the sensory experience that this breakfast provides.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Legendary 1967 Pomerol

It's been about seven years since my dinner at March in New York City. Mistress Botrytis (name changed to protect the innocent) and I dined there on a comp and had the meal of our lives. There are bites of food that I will always remember like the amazing two-bite lobster purses or the seared foie gras accompanied by a Sherry that was specifically made to go with the dish. The Swiss white wine was another first, understated, delicate, and perfect with our first courses. The word "excess" comes to mind, but I suppose that's really what made the meal special for me. There will never be another meal at March since the restaurant closed it doors a couple of years back, but I'd like to recount my experience for you here. I hope we didn't personally put them out of business! j/k

Friday, December 18, 2009

A New (to me) Cheese, Hoja Santa from the Mozzarella Co.

I'm not usually a huge fan of fresh goat's milk cheeses. They are enjoyable, certainly, but I prefer the subtle complexities of a firm textured aged cheese or a runny ripe washed-rind stinker nine out of ten times in my state of cheese snobbery. For the most part, I just don't get from chevre much besides a mix of pleasant herbal tangy notes. They just don't make me think and I've never been wowed by one. I blame the laws regarding cheese-making and import in this country for this primarily. The fact that all raw milk cheeses must be aged for at least sixty days have for the most part ruins any chance of a goat's milk cheese from being anything more than just good because ninety percent of them happen to be aged under sixty days and must therefor be made from pasteurized milk.

Tamdhu 10 Year Speyside is a Delicious and Affordable Single Malt Scotch

The weather outside has indeed been frightful. Icy cold temperatures and chilly gusts of wind have been making it tough to warm up over these past few days. When I got home after work last night, I felt chilled to the bone despite the four layers of clothing I was wearing. I first made a pot of rice and heated up some gumbo that I had made earlier in the week. Then I cracked open a new bottle of Scotch to chase away the chill. It was a good decision!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Broadening My Culinary Horizons with Chicory

Plants in the chicory family include Belgian endive, frisee, radicchio, chicory, and escarole. All have a relatively bitter flavor and can be eaten year round because their growth does not depend on photosynthesis to a point. In fact, the only green one in the bunch is escarole. The others are grown deliberately without exposure to sunlight to avoid etiolation, the process by which they turn green, so that they maintain a milder and delicate flavor. In Belgium, endive is commonly sold wrapped in blue paper, even after the leaves have been harvested, to avoid exposure to light until the very last moment.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Great Cookbook Sale

Today was the day. People began lining up early this morning for the annual cookbook sale at the Schlesinger Library, part of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. I found out about it through my friend and co-worker, Annie. She's been doing research at the Schlesinger Library for her culinary degree poring over and translating ancient French cookery tomes for the past several months. She somehow managed to tempt me to get out of bed at 7:30 this morning to head out into the cold for an hour long commute out to Harvard Square. This unique and rare occurrence may have had something to do with the siren song of a bargain, and of course there's always my lustful passion for cooking and all things related to food and wine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Week at The Majestic: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

This week I had soups, stews, and sauces on the brain, so there was lots of simmering and back burner action going on. Dan and I also have friends coming in town to stay with us for a few days, so instead of cooking for two, I was cooking for four. The more the merrier, I say. Groceries were twice as much as a result, but I still managed to get in just under $100 which isn't too bad considering that I bought twice as much food as I normally do. Here's what I ended up cooking: Cauliflower and Parsnip Soup, Roasted Pork Roullade, Gregoire's Christmas Gumbo, Braised Endive, Vermouth Poached Shrimp with Homemade Tarragon Lime Mayonnaise, Ricotta and Pesto Stuffed Shells, Fennel Salad, and Ragu Bolognese.

Pub Theater at the Brendan Behan

It's back! Last night I attended the return of Pub Theater at the Brendan Behan Pub in Jamaica Plain. It was actually my first time there, and I have to say that it was pretty much as I imagined from descriptions I'd heard. No frills, no fuss, no kitchen, no attitude, no TV, no video games... just a bar, a couple of tables, beer, whiskey, friends, and conversation. What more do you need from a neighborhood bar, really? I'd go again in a heartbeat!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Those Funny-Looking Vegetables Called Eggplants

The cookbook that I just received as a gift got me thinking about eggplant since there seem to be more recipes in it using that particular ingredient than any other. I really like cooking eggplants because they are inexpensive and have a mild flavor that goes well with lots of other foods. They are an interesting and delicious ingredient that a lot of folks don't really know what to do with aside from the usual eggplant Parmesan, so I'm going to include a couple of my own recipes that will hopefully give you some new inspiration.

Do You Know About O and Co.?

O and Co., short for Oliviers and Company, is a fabulous little gourmet shop that specializes in olive oil and other Mediterranean foods. Our local store here in Boston is located on Newbury Street where most of the best shopping in town can be found. I make a trip there two or three times a year to stock up on a couple of different high end olive oils to finish my cooking with. I'm always surprised at what other items I find to play around with. On my last trip, I picked up some white truffle oil and they always have delicious wildflower honeys that I like to use in vinaigrettes and stir into my hot tea. You'll also find an assortment of tapenades, relishes, and other prepared foods, along with soaps and lotions.

Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux? Book 2

When it rains, it pours! Another fabulous cookbook arrived in the mail a couple of days ago with some Christmas gifts from my aunt Donna! This one is also signed and personalized by the author - NEATO! It's the sequel to a cookbook that I received last year called "Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux?" This one has the same title, but is subtitled part 2. It's written by St. Martinville native, Marcelle Bienvenu. Along with a myriad of fantastic recipes, she also chronicles some rather sweet personal stories regarding her friends, family, and childhood growing up on Bayou Teche.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beaujolais is NOT Bougey!

If you haven't guessed from reading my other posts about wine, I'm pretty into stuff that is usually off the radar for most folks. Beaujolais is another one of those types of wines that I feel has received a bad reputation over the years from the lake of insipid Beaujolais "Nouveau" that is released every fall. In my opinion, Beaujolais "Nouveau" is really only good for making sangria, cooking with, or getting drunk cheaply. It's a wine that has sadly made its way into our culture due to its appearance around Thanksgiving every year. It often shows up at our holiday table, or God forbid someone put a bottle down to age - I've seen it happen! Maybe I'm being a bit harsh; I suppose it does have it's pleasures. I, for one, would rather spend my $10 on something else that I know I would enjoy far more.

The Humble and Delicious Lentil

As the official date of the first day of winter rapidly approaches, my thoughts and appetite turn to hearty, homey slow foods. Things like braised beef short ribs, vegetable soup, and stewed lentils are all on the top of my list during the colder months. I especially love lentils because they are so easy to prepare, can be saved in dried form for a long time, are cheap, and are full of protein and nutrients. Perhaps, best of all is the fact that they are so versatile and go great on their own, or can also be served as a side dish or cold in a salad as a first course. You can add them to soups to stretch it, or mix them in with cooked rice. I could go on and on with ways to use lentils, but I digress...

What's a Cake Ball, You Ask?

Let me introduce you to the cake ball! I've recently discovered these delicious little globes of ecstasy that my friend, Rick Ryan, of Doris and Dixie makes. Rick and I have known each other for a few years now. We first met back when I was working in a retail wine and cheese shop and Rick was managing the restaurant next door. He would stop in and buy red bulls and we would chat a bit before he returned to work. He always had a kind word, a friendly remark, and fun shoes.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bach in Marsh Chapel

Yesterday, I attended a really interesting lecture recital in Marsh Chapel at Boston University. It was given by Emily Rideout and it covered various movements from JS Bach's cantatas and focused on the use of the viola as an obbligato instrument in those cantatas. It was a really fascinating project that I think deserves some attention amongst violists and Bach scholars.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hot Pillows of Love topped with Powdered Sugar

If you know what I'm talking about in the title of this entry, chances are you're from Louisiana or you've at least heard of Cafe du Monde in Jackson Square, New Orleans. But for anyone who doesn't know, I'm talking about BEIGNETS! There isn't much better when they are hot out of the fryer and served with a steamy mug of hot chocolate or cafe au lait, if you're doing it Louisiana style. I was inspired to write about them when I read Shannon Lane's post on her travel blog about her recent trip there. Nothing better than the bittersweet feeling of a wave of nostalgia!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Artisan Cheeses of Washington State

I've already written a rather lengthy post about my trip to Seattle to visit friends this past summer, but I also wanted to take some time to write in detail about the cheeses that I ate while I was there. My job exposes me to a lot of different artisanal and farmstead cheeses on a daily basis. It's one of the greatest luxuries and most serious dangers at the same time. Getting paid to learn about cheese, wine, and food is pretty great except for the damage it does to my waistline. I've had many of the best from New England and examples from California are not all that uncommon on our cart. We've even had cheeses from my home state of Louisiana and right now there is one from Texas on the cart called Hoya Santa that I'm pretty excited about. However, I've never seen anything from Washington, so I was very pleasantly surprised at how good the cheese was and how friendly the folks who make it and sell it are.

My Escapades with Thai Curry

I never thought I would be making a foray into the Asian cooking department, but I've recently discovered from my weekly menu planning how easy and delicious Thai curry is, not to mention how well it keeps in the fridge. It even seems to get better as it simmers. I suppose this should be no surprise since it is essentially a stew.

Fixin' Up a Supper with New Inspiration

Yesterday, a package arrived in the mail from my mom. She's always sending me such lovely and thoughtful gifts. I opened it up to find a cookbook inside to add to my growing collection. A Streetcar Named Delicious by Todd-Michael St. Pierre focuses on the food of New Orleans from the Cajun and Creole cooking traditions.

Program Notes for The Arneis Ensemble Concert on 12/10/2009

Arnold Bax wrote the Quintet for Oboe and Strings in 1923 for renowned oboist, Leon Goossens. It was the first piece ever dedicated to the emerging soloist. The piece, no doubt, was meant to showcase his incredible facility on the oboe from a technical and expressive standpoint. In fact, the piece is a significant challenge for the entire ensemble. The string writing is virtuosic, atmospheric, and at times downright awkward.

The first movement begins with a few chords played by the strings in a grand swell of tonality followed by the statement of the theme in the oboe that becomes a ritornello through repetition over the course of the movement. Bax uses plenty of augmented seconds and “snap” rhythms to evoke the wailing sonority of Celtic keening. The movement follows a typical form of a slow rhapsodic introduction, followed by a fast section, and then a return to the opening material at the end.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This Week at the Majestic: Playing with Fire

The usual Tuesday ritual of cooking commenced this afternoon with a trip to the market. I put a couple layers of warm clothing, my winter coat, and gloves and headed out into the chilly afternoon up the block to the grocery. I had Christmas music playing on my iPhone and I couldn't help but be in a good mood. There were lovely clear skies and despite the cold, it was a nice day. With what I bought at the grocery, I made: Thai chicken curry, Indian cauliflower curry, pork roast, candied turnip soup, garlic and rosemary chicken legs, and meatballs with caramelized onions in Cognac cream.

A Triumphant Return to Music with Bach's "Wedding" Cantata

Seven or so years ago, Teri Newville and I attended graduate school together at the New England Conservatory. It wasn't the easiest of times for either of us. We both wanted to hone our skills as performers and heading to Boston for grad school was our way of doing that. What we found at NEC was a fiercely competitive and high pressure environment that made us both eventually need a break from a life of music-ing.

Delicious Sunchokes for the Winter

Sunchokes are a rather uncommon but delicious root vegetable that I was introduced to a few years ago around this time of year. I was reminded of them when they popped up on the menu at the restaurant that I work at a few days ago. They are also more commonly known as Jerusalem Artichokes, but they are neither from Jerusalem, nor are they an artichoke. It's theorized that the Jerusalem part is a corruption of the word girasole, as they were called by Europeans who discovered the plant which is indigenous to North America. An early French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, in particular sent the roots back to Europe and compared their flavor to the European artichoke after being introduced to them by Native Americans, hence the artichoke part of the name. To avoid confusion, many have begun to refer to them by the name Sunchoke, a combination of sunflower and artichoke.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Duck Fat is More Than Worth the Drive

Hop in the car, drive about two hours north, and follow your nose to the smell of potatoes frying in a bubbling cauldron of rendered duck fat. You wind up having the best lunch of you life at the café named for the signature ingredient, Duck Fat, in Portland, Maine. Whenever Dan and I happen to be in Portland, we are always sure to stop by once or sometimes twice just to get our fix on everything that we love to eat from their menu.

A Bit of Sunny Spain Right Here in Brookline

Taberna de Haro is a great little place in Brookline that you might drive by everyday and hardly think about. It's situated on Beacon Street on the inbound side across from the St. Mary's Stop on the Green Line. I can't imagine it seats more than about 40 guests at capacity, and in the summer, it boasts a lovely patio in front that might double it's guest potential to about 80 crammed to the gills!

Joan Tower's "Island Prelude" for Oboe and Strings

Joan Tower is one of America's preeminent composers writing music today. She has received many of Classical Music's top honors and has been commissioned to write works for many of our nation's leading ensembles and performers. She has been called, "one of the most successful woman composers of all time" by the New Yorker, and in my personal opinion, has written one of the most exciting pieces for the oboe in the past 50 years.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An Homage to Sherry

Sherry is a terribly underestimated, misunderstood, and overlooked wine. Sadly, a lot of folks seem to associate it with something sweet that is to be enjoyed after dinner, or something that only old ladies drink when it's too early to knock back a vodka martini or a scotch on the rocks. However, I would like to convince you that Sherry is a world-class wine that deserves a little more recognition and appreciation than it currently receives.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oboe + Bass = Great Chamber Music

What do you get when you pair an oboe with a sting bass? Not much usually, unless you are Carrie Vecchione and Rolf Erdahl. I was lucky enough to attend one of their concerts a couple of months ago on a short weekend trip to Cincinnati, Ohio. Dan and I were headed to a friend's wedding that was happening a few hours away in central Indiana. We planned to stay with Dan's brother in Cincinnati, so I contacted my teacher at Cincinnati Conservatory, Dr. Mark Ostoich, to let him know that I would be in town. I was hoping to see him and get caught up.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ten Bagatelles by Donald Wheelock

Donald Wheelock is celebrating his final semester of teaching at Smith College in a few weeks. He has held the position since 1974. As a composer, he has been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and his output includes music for string quartet, voice, mixed instrumental ensemble, and solo sonatas. He has an impressive list of premiere performances with some of New England's top chamber ensembles and his music has been recorded on several labels. In fact, one recording was just released by the Walden Chamber Players offering a retrospective of his works.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

John Folse and Bittersweet Plantation Dairy

About a year ago, on a trip home to see my folks in Louisiana, I had the great privilege to visit John Folse's headquarters in Gonzales, Louisiana. For those of you who don't know, John Folse is the head of a sort of a culinary empire based in Southern Louisiana. He gives a lot back to the community and is responsible for some pretty "big deal" things in the land of national chain restaurants. On top of that, he's a genuinely nice guy who made me and my family feel really special on our visit to his commissary and dairy.

Our Trip to Seattle, or CQ's Big Foodie Vacation

Last June, Dan and I took a little trip to visit some friends of ours in Seattle. Jill and André, now married, had just become engaged. It was a great time to escape a very busy time at work for a week and I also wanted to meet this new man that had swept my dear friend, Jill, off of her feet. After some chat on Facebook, Jill and I had set the whole thing up about eight months ahead. She agreed to let us stay with them, so how could I refuse. I bought plane tickets with my tax refund in late January and anxiously awaited our departure day.

The Challenge: Share Your Top Three Travel Secrets

Boy, this blogging thing is really addictive! Even my mom is in on the act. You can check out her blog called "Weekday Rambler" by following this link there. I have been challenged by mom to share my top three travel secrets online. I'm not as well-traveled as mom, but in the past few years, I've managed to learn how to make travel a little easier. So without much further ado, here they are:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Week at The Majestic: Fall is here!

What a fun day of cooking I've had today! The iPhone was playing a particularly fabulous mix of Jason Mraz, Kings of Leon, Rufus Wainright, Radio Head, and The Killers while I roasted, pureed, seared, chopped, shredded, and stirred. My shopping trip to the grocery was a complete success. I was able to take advantage of the after Thanksgiving specials on things like turkey, prepared organic stocks, fall vegetables, and fresh herbs. All in, I spent around $40 and I was able to create the following menu: rosemary and garlic roasted turkey legs, fall-spiced butternut squash soup, baba ghanouj, chicken and dumplings, pesto with angel hair pasta and Dubliner cheese, roasted red pepper and garlic chicken sausages, curried cauliflower, and meatballs in tomato sauce. Total preparation and cooking time was a new record low: a little under 3 hours!

In an attempt to broaden my culinary horizons a bit, I worked on a couple of firsts today . Sadly, my immersion blender has been broken for a long time, so I have been shying away from pureed soups, but recently I was leafing through some old cookbooks and I came across what I'll call the "strainer" method. Essentially, you simmer everything until it's really tender in a broth and then press it through a colander. The results are just as silky as what I used to get with the immersion blender with a little more man power, so the result is delicious soup and I get to bulk up my already huge python-like arms. J/K!

Chicken and Dumplings... Quest for the Holy Grail

Growing up in the South has its benefits. The most important and formative one for me was being raised in a family of great cooks. One of the highlights of my childhood was the comfort food classic, chicken and dumplings. We always assumed that making this dish was an all day affair for my grandmother because of the way she disappeared for hours and the way the finished product was doled out over steamed white rice to stretch it further. It's probably more that she enjoyed time away from everyone in the haven of her kitchen, where she was undisputed master of her domain, because you'll notice quite a few shortcuts in the recipe below. If you were lucky you got a second helping. If she really liked you, she would even make chicken and dumplings especially for you on the occasion of a visit. I was very often a lucky recipient of this cherished and coveted special dish, and I'm happy to gloat about it now!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Making of a Restaurant Playlist

I am so lucky to have the charge of choosing the music for my workplace. The music sets the mood for the diners in a restaurant and plays a huge part in the making of ambiance. The process of finding just the right tracks has been an exciting chance for me to use the knowledge that I gained in my formal education, but the most fun part about it has been discovering all sorts of new pieces and composers that I didn't know much if anything about before. I, of course, have included some expected things like Chopin's Nocturnes, Schubert's Impromptus, and Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words," but the following is a list of some of the more unusual and interesting albums that I think deserve a listen outside of the "behind the potted palm" setting.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weekly Menus at The Majestic

We're in lean times... or so they keep saying. Being a bit more budget conscious in the past several months and learning to stretch a dollar has been a real learning experience and has resulted in a lot of fun for me when it comes to eating well. I've figured out that it doesn't really take $40 to buy groceries to make dinner for two, even at Whole Foods, and that creating weekly menus for Dan and myself is a fun and interesting challenge. I give myself a budget of $80 to do my weekly shopping. For that I try to get six meals for two, and surprisingly enough I usually come out under budget and with leftover food.

Lunch at Blunch

Blunch is the kind of little neighborhood gem that I'm always so excited to find amongst the many eateries in Boston. The thing that I like most about it is that everything is made from scratch and with lots of love and care. This is evident from walking through the door when you'll most likely be greeted with a big smile by the proprietor, Nikki. She is one of those rare people who is truly concerned about the well-being of every customer that walks through her door and on the off chance that something goes wrong, she takes every step that she can to make it right.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva: House Wine of the Majestic

I've been asked many times by friends and acquaintances alike about my house wine of choice. Since I have three certificates in wine studies, and I've worked in some pretty fancy restaurants, I think people are sometimes disappointed and/or shocked by my answer. Undoubtedly, it's a bottle that retails for around $6.99: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva. It's kind of a little secret and I always am excited to tell folks that the bottle costs as little as it does after they have told me how much they are enjoying it. I think I've paid an awful lot money to unabashedly be able to enjoy cheap wine and to let everyone around me know that I think it's ok to drink cheap wine too. To a great extent, all of those educational expenses have made me feel entitled to my opinion! Sadly, it seems that cultural bias and wine snobbery dictate that the quality of a wine (and it's drinker) be judged by the price that one pays for what's in the glass. In the case of the bubbly category this is grossly exaggerated. That's why it's so refreshing to find something like this humble Cava that really delivers for the price.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Those French people will eat just about anything..."

I was recently reminded of a luncheon that my mother served years ago with my maternal and paternal grandmothers in attendance. A little background... My dad's mother is of Cajun descent, and my mother's mother is German/Irish. Food is a true way of life in Southern Louisiana. Each household has its own recipes and closely guarded family secrets of how to make the best Gumbo or Pecan Pie. I think my overwhelming obsession of food these days has a lot to do with this fact of life in the Deep South. To say that there was a rivalry for the affections of the family when it came to cooking between the two grandmothers is a bit of an understatement, which makes the ensuing events even more funny.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

After twenty-four hours of travel including two subway-rides, two flights with a long layover in between, three train-rides winding through wine country, and a midnight shuttle, we had finally arrived in Vianden, Luxembourg. It’s a town of about 1700 people and dates back to medieval times. Change has been minimal in the past several centuries and there is a real castle situated atop a large hill at the center of the town where some of our concerts were held. Surrounded by history and breath-taking scenery, I would live with Carter’s Woodwind Quintet, Tower’s Island Prelude, Mozart’s Piano Quintet, an aria from Bach’s Cantata 204, and Cimarosa’s Gloria Patri Initially, I felt like I was in a sink or swim scenario but managed to fall in love with Vianden and all of this music along the way.

Getting to know the oboe again was challenging and exciting all at the same time. At one time, I had been a bigger oboe-dork than most. I had slept, ate, and breathed cane shavings and Ferling etudes, but I’d fully abandoned it only to be thrown back in to the mix full-time now with six (plus!) hours of performance, practice, and rehearsal daily. It was, to say the least, an upset to my daily routine. I was lucky to be with my supportive and patient partner, but meeting Bert Lucarelli in Luxembourg was a true and timely blessing.

Thanksgiving Chicken

In honor of Thanksgiving, I've been thinking about roasting birds. I've read a million Facebook status updates today about cooking turkeys, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, and it's made me a little homesick. I'll combat that with thoughts of one of my favorite things to cook, chicken.