Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"The How-Not-To-Miss-The-Cocktail-Hour-Cookbook" & "Cooking with Music (Boston Symphony Ochestra" - Shrimp and Artichoke Casserole & New Orleans Rice

Date I made these recipes: December 19, 2011

The How-Not-to-Miss-the-Cocktail Hour Cookbook by Edward W. Lowman with Robert O’Donnell
Published by: David McKay Company, Inc.
© 1964, 1971
Recipe: Shrimp and Artichoke Casserole – p. 194-195

Cooking with Music – Celebrating the tastes and traditions of the Boston Symphony Orchestra by The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Inc.
Published by: The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Inc.; printed by Wimmer
© 1999
Recipe: New Orleans Sunday Brunch Rice – p. 106

People, as an attorney, I cannot help but examine the title of The How-Not-to-Miss-the-Cocktail-Hour Cookbook and want to poke holes in it. The issue in this case is not “how not to miss the cocktail hour,” the issue in this case is WHY would you miss the cocktail hour? Stupid title, stupid question!

That being said, I do have my own “rules” about cocktails—during the week, 5 (p.m.) is pushing it, 6:00 is about right. On weekends, I still hesitate to do brunch cocktails because then I’m shot for the rest of the day. And that takes all the fun out of evening cocktails.

But the reason I selected this book is not because I didn’t want to miss a cocktail hour but because I didn’t want to miss some holiday musical performances that I was scheduled to participate in. It doesn’t do me much good to be cooking at the time I’m supposed to be performing, now does it? (Although I do joke about imbibing a martini during some of the pieces I play as it sure couldn’t hurt my playing and might in fact help!)

So I was all set to make this shrimp casserole but then in between things, I bought the Cooking with Music book by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and since all my events were musical in nature, thought I should use both cookbooks for the blog.

But herein was the problem: I didn’t want to make two entrees and the soups didn’t really float my boat and lord knows, I do NOT need one more bite of sugar during this holiday season or I will go into a diabetic coma. So at the last minute, I decided to make the New Orleans Sunday Brunch rice to accompany the shrimp even though the two taste flavors did not necessarily blend together. I had a craving for rice and this recipe called for rice and (sage) sausage and so there it is! Problem solved.

And so that settled that. But still, the problem of finding time not to miss the cocktail hour and finding the time to attend my musical events and finding time to actually cook this stuff became a problem. And so I decided to wait until all events were over so I could cocktail and cook while singing along to the radio. I’m nothing if not a multi-tasker!

So my first musical event of the season was a joint holiday concert with my concert band, The Calhoun-Isles Community Band, and the Plymouth Community Band. That event took place on a Sunday but luckily, I prepared for dinner in advance by plopping a roast in the crock pot. (And I tell you what, that roast was good until the last drop! Check out last week’s blog posting for the recipe.)

Then on Tuesday, the 13th, my community band, The Calhoun-Isles Community Band (CICB), celebrated its 30th anniversary by playing selections from the very first concert as well as some holiday pieces. We invited the band’s original conductor to lead us in Stars and Stripes Forever and we also honored one of our former band members (and our group’s announcer) who passed away this year. And in between all that (with a couple of bad band jokes thrown in by various band members), we played what I think was a spectacular concert. We have 84 active members (several are on leave until after New Year’s making us a 100-member band in total), a 26 member clarinet section (of which I am the section leader) and 4 tubas. How could we go wrong?! (In fact, at times like these, I can’t help but quote Bill Murray from the movie, Ghostbusters – “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”)

And then on Sunday, the 18th, a friend invited me to her church in St. Paul as her church was performing Handel’s Messiah as a sing-along. And who doesn’t like a sing-along? So my friend and her daughter and a friend and I went and warbled with about 200 other people and had a blast.

Now this was not my first rodeo as a sing-along artist (Just so we’re clear, under no circumstances is a sing-along the same as karaoke!). In the early 90’s, the SPCO (Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra) used to invite the public to a sing-along performance. I will never forget the first couple of years as we (my friend, Carol, who goes to these with me) were clearly the newcomers to the “chorus.” Charging up the aisle, proudly clutching their musical scores to their bosoms and extremely dangerous in their “We Sang The Messiah with the SPCO” green sweatshirts, were the ladies who had been there, done that. They even had stripes on their sweatshirts, like cheerleaders and high school sports athletes, indicating the numbers of years they participated in the event. They didn’t scare us: we came, we sang, we eventually got our own damned sweatshirt!

Through the years, the SPCO performed The Messiah as a sing-along and then didn’t and then the Minnesota Orchestra did and then didn’t and various other community orchestras did and then didn’t. Word on the street (and even in print) is that most professional orchestras loathe having all of us rank amateurs singing along to this piece. Well sue me! I may be rank but I’m no amateur! The other beef, this time from management, is that if the performance goes over two hours, the musicians (all union members) get paid time and a half.

And so time was of the essence for most performances with conductors under the gun to get everyone the hell off the stage in 1 hour 59 “don’t think I’m kidding” minutes. Sadly, much is often lost in the translation, such that a beautifully slow piece like “Surely, He Hath Borne Our Griefs” became “Shirley, Shirely, Shirely!! Other pieces started sounding like Carol Burnett’s “Tarzan yell” because we are too rushed to enunciate the words. Tick tock people, we have a stage to vacate.

So lucky for us, for Sunday’s performance, the church’s musical director slowed everything down so that we didn’t die an early death from hyperventilation. (And may I just note he graduated from the Eastman School of Music? In musical circles, that is quite the pedigree.) He cued us when appropriate and gave us kudos for hanging in there. The pianist helped out by playing the soprano’s top note on the Hallelujah Chorus (“Give me a ‘C,’ a bouncing ‘C!’”) so that they wouldn’t train wreck. (The sopranos have to hit a high G and that is no easy task. That is way out of the comfort range for this mezzo soprano!) All in all, it was a total team effort.

So we sang together and ended together (always a good thing) and patted ourselves on the back and then we left. As of Sunday’s performance, I am now officially done with playing/participating in holiday concerts and can now concentrate on unearthing my Christmas CD with Alvin and the Chipmunks on it (singing “The Chipmunks Song” a/k/a “Christmas Don’t Be Late”) and get into the real spirit of things! (“Me? I want a hula hoop…”).

Actually, in addition to Alvin (a classic, I assure you), I have several Boston Pops CDs, most of them under the baton of the late, great Arthur Fiedler. And one of my absolute favorite holiday pieces is A Christmas Festival Overture by another late, great, individual, composer Leroy Anderson. My band has played that piece several times over the course of my tenure with them and it never disappoints. It’s a medley of several Christmas tunes, ending with a rousing mix of Jingle Bells and Oh Come, All Ye Faithful. Every time I get done playing that “barn-burner,” I always say to myself “I can’t believe I just played that.” It’s an awesome piece – listen to it on YouTube some time and be amazed.

So anyway, I was really happy that I found the Boston Symphony Orchestra cookbook when I did. The book is fun and it breaks up into sections: the symphony, the pops orchestra, small chamber groups, the chorus and so on, and tells you a little about each. (Little known fact to some of you may be that John Williams, famous for his movie scores, conducted the Boston Pops prior to Keith Lockhart taking over. Oh yeah, I’m up on this stuff!)

So on to the food, batting first is the shrimp artichoke casserole and batting second is the New Orleans rice. The “cocktail” book warned us that this was a rich recipe and indeed it was. So why then, did the author then go on to suggest serving this over a biscuit? Wow. My stomach is full just thinking about that! Not that the rice wasn’t rich but it seemed like a better choice than a biscuit.

I thought the casserole recipe was tasty but the sherry taste was almost overpowering…not that this is a bad thing…but I think a little bit less than the quarter cup it called for might have been good. Besides, you can just imbibe the sherry you didn’t use while you’re making the casserole and all your problems will be solved (including not missing the cocktail hour).

The rice also called for a quarter cup of white wine but that amount was fine. And although I am a red wine drinker, I had plenty of white wine on hand – four bottles to be exact. Every time I have a party and serve white wine, I have leftovers and I guess I lost track of how many bottles I was storing in my refrigerator. Must rectify that problem ASAP! I would combine them into one, full bottle but they are all different varietals and I’m not sure how that would go over. On the other hand, it’s for cooking and so who cares?

The rice recipe also called for ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper but since we are not big fans and I didn’t want a taste sensation that really didn’t work with the shrimp casserole, I left it out. I also did not put the shrimp casserole on top of the rice since I didn’t know if I’d have an ingredient fight on my hands or not. I thought each recipe was good and stood on its own but you can decide if you want to marry the two together on the same plate or not.

And so that concludes our cocktail hour (which was not missed) and my holiday concert music lineup and all kinds of fun and favorite things. Happy Holidays!

Shrimp and Artichoke Casserole – serves 4
1 15-ounce can artichoke bottoms (I used artichoke hearts)
1 pound cooked, cleaned shrimp
½ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
¼ pound butter
½ cup flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon MSG (Note: since MSG is now the evil ingredient, you can leave it out or substitute other seasoning mixes for flavoring. The author uses Accent and I did as well.)
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup dry sherry
Salt and pepper t taste
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Arrange artichoke bottoms and shrimp in a greased casserole. Saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter until brown (about 5 minutes) and add to casserole. Melt ¼ pound butter in double boiler, stirring in flour, salt, and MSG. Gradually add milk while serving constantly. When sauce is thick and smooth, add Worcestershire and sherry. Pour into casserole and sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake for 20 minutes in preheated 375 oven. (I went a little longer to make sure the casserole was heated through.)

Ann’s Notes: every single recipe in this book uses MSG but the author notes that you can use Accent (seasoning); if you have problems with MSG, leave it out. Also, the author developed a set of abbreviations used throughout the book to let you know what you should be doing: SA means Set Aside; R means refrigerate; RO means refrigerate overnight and F means to freeze. He also uses (and I love this) “TAG” – Time Away From Guests. For this recipe, after you sprinkle the cheese on top, you can “SA” (Set Aside) the casserole before baking it. And just so you know, your TAG time is 2 minutes – not bad!

New Orleans Sunday Brunch Rice – Yields 4 servings (recipe submitted by Wendy Putnam, BSO violinist)
1 ½ cups jasmine rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14 ½-ounce) can chicken broth, with water added to equal 2 ½ cups
1 pound bulk sage sausage
6 minced scallions or green onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cayenne
Salt and pepper
¼ cup dry white wine

Saute the jasmine rice in olive oil over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes while constantly stirring, until the rice is golden in color. Add chicken broth and water, and reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook the rice for 15 minutes. (Note: I had my heat on too low and so had to cook it for another 15 minutes to ensure that it was done. I’d recommend medium heat versus low to maintain a good simmer.).

Saute the sausage until browned, then add the scallions. Mix well, remove from the heat and let rest until the rice is cooked. Combine the rice and sausage mixture in the pan over medium-high heat until the ingredients are heated through.

Add the garlic, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste shortly before serving. At that point, add the white wine, mix thoroughly, and let entire mixture sit over low heat for a few minutes before serving.

And then (and this is Ann’s note) take a fork and proceed to eat this scrumptious mixture from the pan. And then abandon the fork and just use your fingers. If you’re alone in the kitchen at this time, you can do these things without anyone being the wiser.

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