Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Sharon O'Connor's Menus and Music Dining and the Opera In Manhattan" - Carrot Soup - Minnesota Opera's opening night!

Date I made this recipe:  September 26, 2015 – Opening Night at the Minnesota Opera

Sharon O'Connor's Menus and Music:  Dining and the Opera In Manhattan – Recipes from Manhattan Restaurants; Opera Arias Selected by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
Published by:  Menus and Music Productions
ISBN:  1-883914-03-5
Purchased at Bloomington Crime Prevention Association (BCPA) annual sale
Recipe:  Carrot Soup from Cafe des Artistes – p. 33

This past Saturday, September 26th, a friend invited me to attend the opening night of the Minnesota Opera, an event of high elegance to be sure.  Opera buffs take an opera opening very seriously and although the crowd was not as decked out as the Met Opera would be in NYC, we are no slouches when it comes to fashion.

And so, what to wear, what to wear?  I have a couple of evening gowns in my closet but alas, they were last worn circa 2008 and I'm pretty sure that one of them, if not both, would not fit.  So that left me with a "party dress/no party dress" conundrum because while the weather outside was spectacular, the inside temperature with air conditioning was sure to be freezing (it always is) and so hmm...did I want to sit through a 2 hour, 36 minute production freezing or did I want to be warm?

Warm won out.  My compromise was a sequined top over black pants and a jacket with sparkly earrings and a divine little evening bag.  And I was feeling just fine about that until I spotted the veritable fashion week parade going on in front of me:  evening gown, more evening gowns, tuxes, more tuxes, rinse and repeat.  Well if that wasn't discouraging, I don't know what was.

But no matter because besides gawking, we were there to enjoy the opera and I have to say that despite misgivings, the production was fabulous and who would have thunk it?  Ariadne auf Naxos (Ariadne on Naxos) was written by Richard Strauss and his stuff can be kind of odd.  Plus it's in German and I am sorry, but German is not a pretty language.  One could say something like "Your mother is a toad and your dad is a goat" in Italian or French and it would sound pretty but in German?  Not so much.  But we overlooked all that because the story of an opera within an opera was told so well and sung so beautifully and was so funny that we were surprisingly entertained. 

Now this was not my first rodeo at the opera, a musical form I do enjoy although I go sporadically.  The most memorable opera experience I ever had was in Vienna when my husband and I thought we had tickets to the famous and beautiful Vienna State Opera only to find out at the very last minute that our tickets to the Marriage of Figaro were at the Volksoper Wein (Folk Opera House) all the way across town.  Hilarity ensued, such that we could have written a comedic opera about our dash to a different theater, but we didn't.   Anyway, we made it to the opera and were seated after the first act was underway, doing the whole "excuse us, pardon us" drill as we had to climb over several people to take our seats.  And that was just the start of the evening!

Locally, for many, many years, a friend of mine (now deceased) and I used to sit in the audience of the Metropolitan Opera's regional and district auditions in St. Paul where opera hopefuls vied for the chance to go to NYC to compete further to try to win a spot in the Met.  This competition is both intense and incredibly fun to watch and listen to as each year, my friend and I tried to figure out who would win the local series.  We often ran into friends who also liked opera and would compare notes.  Although my notes were often musically-related, I also created my own version of "What NOT to Wear to the Opera," as several hopefuls came out in just disastrous outfits that made us cringe.  Happily, the winners each year seemed to have figured out that to be a diva, one must dress like one. These are words to live by.

Once all the district winners get to NYC, they compete in the semi-finals and then as my dad would say, "Many are called, few are chosen," as the pack is reduced to about 20 of which up to 10 will become grand prize winners.  This process was documented in The Audition (which I have on DVD) and wouldn't you know that one of the 10 winners from that documentary, Amber Wagner, was our star diva in Ariadne auf Naxos.  So now I have to re-watch that DVD to see her go through the process.  I'll tell you this much, if you are one of the winners of that competition, you have survived the equivalent of Marine book camp meaning you can sing and I mean SING and that you are Met-worthy to take your place on the big stage.  Carol and I always said that we'd love to go to NYC to see the final competition but alas, she passed away before we could make plans.

Now I have never been to the Met in NYC but I have visited their gift store several times over because believe it or not, in addition to every type of opera CD you could ever want, they used to carry a series of show-tune CDs that I think they produced and I have almost the entire set starting from the 1920's and ending in 60's; the series also includes the 70's and possibly the 80's but I didn't buy those.  These CDs are no longer produced and it's a darned shame because they contained many great numbers, previously unknown to me and I imagine, to many others.  At any rate, a trip to the actual Met is on my to-do list (for which I will need to lay down some serious jing, but in the meantime, the Minnesota Opera is top-notch and so they will continue to feed my opera-fix for the time being.  (By the way, in NYC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also referred to as "The Met" but somehow the natives know of what you speak when you refer to one or the other.  I have been to that "Met" several times and was even a member for a while but have yet to get to the "opera" Met.)

And so speaking of feed, this book – Dining and the Opera in Manhattan – is a hoot because people, almost every recipe either contained expensive ingredients (lots of lobster and caviar to be sure) or was cumbersome to make.  And I was almost ready to throw in the towel on this book and relegate to the "Never going to cook from it list," when I went through it for a fourth time and decided on the very easy, very yummy and very inexpensive carrot soup from the restaurant, Cafe des Artistes which operated in NYC from 1917 until 2011 when a new restaurant took its place.  Like almost all the restaurants listed in this book, Cafe des Artistes catered to what my parents called the "hoi polli" i.e. wealthy folks.  Other restaurants of interest (from 1994, the year this was published) are Felidia Ristorante, The Four Seasons, Le Bernardin and Le Cirque.  All four of these restaurants are currently in operation.  All the restaurants provided a menu but I decided to just make the soup and in fact, put it on the stove Saturday night so I had time to eat it before leaving for the opera's 8:00 performance.  Also included in the book are "Music Notes," suggestions on what to listen to along with a brief description of the opera so you can follow along at home.  Suggestions included here range from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute, a production I've seen several times over); another Richard Strauss production, Der Rosenkavalier; Charles Gounod's Faust; Handel's Giulio Caesar (Julius Caesar) and Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, a Minnesota Opera production that I went to a few years ago with another friend.   If I had more time, I would have listened to more of the music recommendations but alas, there are more cookbooks to be cooked from and very few available hours to do so and so we march on (just like the opera, Aida – I reference the Triumphal March - complete with elephants!).

Carrot Soup (Potage Crecy) – Makes 6 servings
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
2 large boiling potatoes, peeled and diced
2 shallots, or 1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar, or to taste
4 cups veal stock, chicken stock, or canned low-salt chicken broth
Minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley for garnish
Fresh chervil leaves for garnish

In a heavy 6-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the carrots, potatoes, and shallots or onion and season with salt, pepper, and sugar.  Reduce the heat to very low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, or until the carrots are very soft, almost a puree.  Stir in the stock or broth and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pot from the heat.  Force the soup, in batches, through the finest blade of a food mill set over a large bowl, until pureed and smooth.  Alternatively, puree in batches in a blender or food processor.

Return the soup to the saucepan and place over low heat until warmed through.  Adjust the seasoning and garnish with the parsley and chervil.  Ladle the warm soup into bowls and serve.

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