Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Favorite Holiday / Beethoven's "Song of Thanksgiving"

{A centerpiece made of leaves collected on our block - yes, we have fall in Los Angeles!}

Thanksgiving is by far and away my favorite holiday of the year. I suppose that preference befits a gluttonous agnostic like myself. But besides the annual comforts and traditions, I love how our country slows down for several days to reflect on the things we are grateful for.

{Place cards}
Thanksgiving 2010 was the first we'd ever hosted. We had a blast -- and my parents were more than ready to pass the torch to us after decades of hosting themselves. This year, we enjoyed the company of both of our families, plus a few friends.

{Thanksgiving Family Photo 2010}
My husband made two of his signature pumpkin pies yesterday. (Doubling the cloves is his secret; adding orange blossom water to the whipped cream is mine). I prepared my usual tangerine cranberry sauce on Tuesday, and couldn't have been more proud to have scratched even one item off of my T-Day to-do list ahead of time. Pre-turkey, we munched on this delicious goat cheese tart -- smothered liberally with the fig-rosemary jam I made earlier this fall:

For as long as I can remember, my family has prepared the Silver Palate Cookbook's Thanksgiving Turkey with hazelnut, green apple, dried cherry, and sausage stuffing; I can't imagine a turkey any other way. To accompany the bird, we made these pretzel rolls (which were added to the annual recipe canon as of last year), these brussels sprouts with bacon, and a salad with persimmons, pomegranate seeds, candied pecans, and goat cheese. My mom brought over a buttermilk cake with mascarpone whipped cream and fresh berries soaked in sherry; even Poochini was intrigued!

Everything was delicious; but as usual, I found that the best way to savor the holiday was in the company of my family. For a musical pairing, enjoy the third movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in A minor, Opus 132. Written after Beethoven had recovered from a nearly fatal illness, the piece is titled "A Convalescent's Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity." It's about profound, humble gratitude for life. I am hard pressed to think of a more appropriate piece of music to encapsulate the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Hope you all enjoyed yours!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Turkey Chili with Cocoa and Cinnamon / "La Cumparsita"

There are three ways that I know fall is upon us:

1) I have an insatiable craving for warm stews and chili,

2) I get insanely busy as the concert season enters full force,

3) The kinds of dishes that make sense for me to prepare are the kind that are made in one pot. (Thankfully, the stews and chilis mentioned in 1) above fall into this category.) Concert season means that I am rarely home nights (both weekend and weekday), and cooking time generally is in short supply. Meals that I can leave on the stove while I practice, teach, or attend to emails -- that will also keep well (or improve) over the course of a few days in the fridge -- are what I inevitably turn to this time of year.

This chili is a favorite in our house. Made with turkey and whatever kinds of beans you have on hand, its flavor benefits from liberal additions of cocoa and cinnamon. Only one tablespoon of oil in the whole dish makes it quite waistline-friendly as well. I like to serve this with cornbread in addition to the toppings mentioned below.

Turkey Bean Chili with Cocoa and Cinnamon
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1/4 cup chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 heaping tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
heaping 1/4 tsp groud cinnamon
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
3 cups beef stock
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
3 15-oz cans beans of your choice (such as white, black, pinto, kidney; I like to mix what I have on hand), rinsed and drained

Heat oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Saute the onions until they turn golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Add in the oregano and cumin and stir for 1 minute. 

Increase heat to medium-high. Add turkey; stir until no longer pink, breaking up with back of spoon. 

Stir in chili powder, bay leaves, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon. Add tomatoes with their juices, breaking up with back of spoon. Mix in stock and tomato sauce. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the consistency is less soupy.

Add beans to chili and simmer until flavors blend, about 10 minutes longer. Discard bay leaves. Serve with accompaniments like fresh cilantro, nonfat greek yogurt (or sour cream), shredded cheese, avocado, and/or chopped purple onion.

For a musical pairing, enjoy what is possibly the most famous tango of all time: Matos Rodriguez's "La Cumparsita."  Preparing this chili - specifically, adding several very different ingredients to the same pot in order to create one dish - made me think of all the work I have put into a big concert coming up (where we will be playing a new arrangement of La Cumparsita). I make my living as an orchestral performer. But as the co-artistic director of the Salastina Music Society, my responsibilities go far beyond practicing and performing. My partner Kevin and I share the entire load, from coming up with what we'll be playing to who we'll be playing with (and where) to printing the programs, handling the ticketing, dealing with the venue, advertising the event, and general event planning. It's a labor of love, to be sure. (And by that I mean, we collect not one penny of our revenue in the interest of helping our baby non-profit grow.)  Our concert is coming up this Sunday, and as the countdown begins, I always look forward to the day of -- when I can, for the most part, enjoy everything coming together in the actual performance.

Different elements coming together to create a satisfying whole... what could be more fulfilling (or just plain filling) than that?