Monday, February 23, 2009

February 20-23 - PHILADELPHIA - Intermission with Ravioli

Ok, I'm gonna go a bit out of order here - but I'm just too excited not to post about my awesome weekend back in Philly.

FRIDAY

On Friday, I had the pleasure of witnessing two of my most favorite acts (Cheers Elephant and Saul Zonana) share the stage of John and Peter's in New Hope. We had just followed Saul up from Nashville - he has been the one engineering our new album, "e."

Here's Cheers:

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And some Saul:

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As the pictures show, a fun time was had by all, though Eric and I really need to stop unintentionally wearing the same outfits...

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SATURDAY

On Saturday, I finished my painting of a young Igor Stravinsky. I'm pretty happy with it, but I can't wait to start another - like any skill, practice is always the best way to make improvements.

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SUNDAY

On Sunday night, I was greeted by Cheers Elephant upon my return home from work. They came over to practice/record some rough demos of new songs. Man, are they good - I can't wait to start tracking for their next CD!

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And yes, Kingston is playing the drums with his cell phone...
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After rehearsing, they came downstairs for a game of Wii. I must admit, I think I'm pretty good at making Mii characters...
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MONDAY

Encouraged by my success in Adrian's kitchen, I invited some friends over for dinner last night:

I put out spiced, fried almonds and truffled honey pretzel sticks for nibbling on while I prepped the dessert.

Next came the first course:

Arugula Salad with Apples and Walnuts topped with Warm Panko Encrusted Goat Cheese Rounds in a Mustard-Port-Raisin Vinaigrette
serves 6
1 8 oz log goat cheese, sliced into 3/4" thick rounds
2 eggs, beaten
1/2-3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp fresh parsely, chopped
1/2 cup port
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp Sherry Vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 tbsp mustard
1-2 tbsp honey
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tbsp butter
7-8oz Arugula
1 apple (I used Honey Crisp)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted

First, make the goat cheese patties. Prepapring them ahead of time ensures that they won't fall upon when you fry them, plus it makes for less work once the guests arrive.
Arrange a breading station: first the goat cheese slices, then the eggs, then a bowl full of panko and parsley. Sprinkle each station with salt and pepper to guarantee even seasoning.

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Dip each round of goat cheese into eggs and then into breadcrumbs.
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Cover with plastic wrap, and put in fridge until you're ready to fry up and serve.
Meanwhile, you can make the dressing:
Bring port wine to a boil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add raisins, and cook until there's about 1/4 cup of liquid left and the raisins are plump. In the mean time, place vinegar, shallot and garlic in a large bowl (I put it right in my salad serving piece). This allows the shallot and garlic to bloom (release their flavors) in the vinegar. Add the reduced port/raisin mixture to the bowl, along with the mustard and honey. Slowly drizzle in 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and whisk constantly with your other hand (make sure your vessel isn't going to slip away from you first - put a damp towel underneath of it). Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly. Cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge until ready to use.

When ready to serve, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large (preferably nonstick) frying pan over medium high heat.
Dice the apple. and toss it into the dressing with the arugula and walnuts.
Add goat cheese rounds to the pan and fry 2-4 minutes per side, or until uniformly golden brown.
Divide salad among six plates, and top each with a goat cheese patty and some fresh cracked pepper.
Serve immediately.

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For the main course I decided to prepare a dish that I knew would please everyone (and again, I knew I could make it all in advance with enough for leftovers).

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Edamame, Mascarpone, Porcini, and Walnut Ravioli in Truffled Piave Broth
serves 8
1/2 lb frozen shelled edamame
Water
Handful of Dried Porcini Mushrooms (about 2/3 cup)
Sweet, grassy white wine, such as Muscat or Gew├╝rztraminer
Olive Oil
8 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic
Salt
1 tsp oregano
3 cups vegetable broth
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 oz piece Piave Vecchio (or other hard cow's milk cheese, like Parmegiano Reggiano or Grana Padano), rind cut away but reserved
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I made my own by toasting a slice of bread and grinding them in the food processor)
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
small bunch fresh parsley, leaves chopped and stems reserved
2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
Truffle Oil
48 Wonton Wrappers (I used Nasoya brand)
2-4 tbsp cold butter, cubed


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Remove about one cup of water and place in a bowl with a splash of wine.
Add mushrooms and let them sit for 30 minutes, covered with a plate or some plastic wrap.
Meanwhile, cook the edamame and shallots.
For the edamame: add to pot of boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. Turn the heat off, remove beans from the pot with a slotted spoon and add to your food processor. Don't dump the water! Why waste a big pot of it when you have to blanch ravioli anyway?
For the shallots: heat the oil over in a large skillet over medium heat and add the sliced shallots, a pinch of salt, and oregano. (*Rub the herb between your fingers as you add it to the pan to release all of its essential oils). 
Cook for 10-15 mintues, or until shallots are translucent. Add a few splashes of wine, turn the heat to high, and cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.
Rinse reconstituted Porcinis in a sieve and pat dry. Add to food processor.
Place half of shallot-mixture to a saucepan and add the reconstituted mushroom broth, vegetable broth, cheese rind, red pepper flakes, and parsley stems. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and reduce by half.
Meanwhile, prepare the raviolis: take the remaining shallot-mixture from the skillet and add it to the food processor, along with 1/4 cup grated Piave Vecchio, mascarpone, breadcrumbs, walnuts, 4 tbsp parsley, tarragon, and a drizzle of truffle oil.
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Blend it up until smooth. To the right you can see my broth reducing.
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Assemble ravioli: Set up a cup of water, the filling, and the wonton wrappers.
Dollop a teaspoon of filling into the center of each wrapper.
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Dip hands into water, and fold each one into a triangle, leaving a 1/2' border around the filling.
Bring up two ends and pinch together. Repeat with remaining wrappers, and place finished raviolis on a large baking sheet.
Refrigerate until ready to cook.
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When ready to serve, bring the big pot of water to a boil (aren't you glad you didn't waste it?). When it's almost there, bring the broth to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add ravioli to the water and cook about 3-5 minutes (I put in 6 ravioli per person). Meanwhile, whisk cold butter, one cube at a time, into broth. Stop adding the butter when it reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly - remember that if it's ever too salty, you can always add milk or cream to dull it down.

To serve: with a spider or slotted spoon, divide ravioli among plates. Pour sauce over each dish, and top with grated piave vecchio, chopped parsley leaves, and a drizzle of truffle oil.

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Of course we had dessert too: a sampler from Termini's (Tiramisu, Chocolate Cheesecake, Chocolate Covered Banana, and Vanilla Poundcake). Low light and alcohol make it difficult to snap photos...

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I also whipped up a Pumpkin Souffle:
Combine: 1 15oz can pumpkin pie filling+1/3 cup milk+1 egg yolk
Beat 3 egg whites until soft peaks form, fold into above mixture.
Butter 5-6 small coffee cups or ramekins. Pour filling into each, leaving at least 1/2" for the souffle to rise.
Refrigerate until ready to bake.

While eating dinner, I preheated the oven to 380°. After we finished licking our plates, I threw the souffles on a rimmed baking sheet (you could also use a 9x13 baking dish), and poured some hot water around (please, not in) the cups. Place in the oven, and wait patiently for 30-45 minutes. Don't even think about opening the oven until you get that sixth sense, deep down feeling that they're ready. Top it with some cookies and cream ice cream, a little real maple syrup... and you have an awesome ending to an awesome weekend... and yes, I consider Monday part of my weekend.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 9-12 – NASHVILLE – e sessions part 1

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Wow - Eric and I just got back from having the best time in Nashville and at Sweetwater in Ft Wayne (more on that later). The exciting news is that while at Chateau Belew, we recorded our first studio album with Adrian. I must admit it’s pretty amazing what we accomplished in six days, although that’s not to imply that’s it was an easy process. It all began in the fall of 2007, when we flew down to Nashville to learn the title track, “e”, which we have played live all over the world for the past year. I'll never forget being sick with the flu, coughing under bundled blankets as Eric and Adrian sat at the piano, figuring out contrapuntal melodies and rhythms. We returned in the spring (before another tour) to learn a few more parts, and finished our education of the sections before our European travels in October.

Consistent with every other time we stay at Ade's (and even when I had the flu), I kept myself engaged upstairs from the studio, preparing meals for everybody. My main job (other than playing bass) is to prepare lunch, so we don't want to interupt our workflow too much by going out in the middle of the day. I cook dinner some nights, but some days we're just too busy with music and we have to go out to Cinco de Mayo (the best restaurant near Casa Belew):

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But let's get back to Adrian's kitchen: somewhere along the way in the last 3 or so years, we've come to making a ritual out of lunch. What makes it ritual? Not just the fact that we all sit down together to discuss our day's work, but I also make a variation on the same menu items every day: hummus, warm pita chips, and salad:

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Perhaps that sounds mundane, but I always make the dressing from scratch, and mix up the ingredients that I serve. Some days the chips are spiced with cumin and oregano; others its curry and paprika. Adrian loves when I roast whole sweet peppers and marinate them with garlic and thyme, which I chop and toss on top of tender baby greens. But sometimes a ripe avocado sprinkled with salt and fresh lime juice is too good on its own and should be combined only with some scallion, cheddar and cilantro over torn romaine.

On the first day we didn't even have any of usual accompaniment, Sabra Roasted Pepper hummus, so I made grilled cheese triangles to serve with the salad:

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On the second day, I was feeling settled in and confident with my tracks, so I woke up early and rode with Martha down to Publix to do some grocery shopping so that I could make some dinners. I was also excited this time around because I decided to make the hummus too, rather than continue to go through tubs and tubs of Sabra.

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I wanted to keep things simple on the first night, so I made Potato Leek soup with Cheesy Garlic Bread:

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We were stuffed but that didn;t keep us from going back down to the studio to finish up the tracking of "b":
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The next day, I wanted to make Adrian a really special meal. At the grocery store I was drawn to a display of fresh asparagus and cremini mushrooms: two of the boss's favorite foods. In the produce section I randomly came across a package of wonton wrappers - I grabbed them, knowing exactly what to make: leek, asparagus and mushroom ragu over "fresh pasta squares." A little thyme encrusted pan seared chicken on the side (I had cooked nothing but vegetarian fare so I figured the family might want some animal protein), and the meal was a smashing success:

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