Monday, February 20, 2017

"What Aria Cooking" by the San Francisco Opera & "Defensive Eating with Morrissey (an English singer/songwriter) - Grammy Night 2017!

Date I made these recipes:  Sunday, February 12, 2017 – Grammy Awards!

What Aria Cooking? – The San Francisco Opera Cookbook, edited by Donna M. Casey for The San Francisco Opera Guild Auxiliary
Published by The San Francisco Opera Guild Auxiliary
© 1974
Purchased at Kona Bay Books, Kona, Hawaii
Recipe:  Egg Noodles Alla Bolognese from opera singer Ezio Flagello – p. 59

Defensive Eating with Morrissey – Vegan Recipes from the One You Left Behind – Recipes by Joshua Ploeg, illustrations by Automne Zingg
Published by Microcosm Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-62106-203-5; © 2016
Purchased at Common Good Books, St. Paul
Recipe:  Asparagus [with tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, onion, garlic and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar] – p. 13

Ah, the Grammy Awards!  This was the 59th time these awards for achievement in music have been handed out and as always, the music and the "What are you wearing" moments achieved new levels.  Not necessarily great levels in terms of fashion (or what I hesitantly call "fashion") but new levels, nonetheless.

So of course, with the award program looming, I set out to see if I had an appropriate cookbook to mark the occasion and folks, I found two – two – music-related cookbooks and I am just so chuffed with myself, I cannot tell you!

And so let's discuss our two disparate music cookbooks.  "In this corner, representing classical music..." we have What Aria Cooking by the San Francisco Opera Guild Auxiliary.  This cookbook is filled with recipes submitted by opera singers who have performed with the San Francisco Opera.

"And in this corner, representing alternative rock..." we have the British rocker, Morrissey.  Morrissey (Steven Patrick Morrissey) was lead singer for The Smiths before striking out on his own.  My local and favorite radio station, 89.3 - The Current, plays a great mix of music that hits just about every genre, and every once in a while, I hear a Morrissey song. I have to say that my favorite is probably "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful," because let's face it, that is a pretty accurate statement, musical or otherwise! Fair warning:  his cookbook, Defensive Eating with Morrissey, contains vegan recipes but several are workable for omnivores like me.

Those, then, are our two musical genres and so as Seth Meyers (formerly of Saturday Night Live, now host of his own late night talk show) says "For more on this, it's time for a Closer Look."

What Aria Cooking (an aria is song for solo voice, usually sung by a female) gives us a snapshot of artists involved with the San Francisco Opera in the way back i.e. 1974.  I like opera and have attended several over the years.  I must admit to being somewhat of a purist though, in that I am not necessarily fond of more modern operas as they strike me as precocious.  I mean really:  "The Manchurian Candidate opera?"  "The Shining opera?"  (Yes, these are actual operas, adapted from films.  Sigh.) Mozart and company are rolling around in their graves!  This is not to say that every "older" opera is great, but many are and besides, it is so much more fun to hear someone say "I shall smite thee and take off thy head" in Italian.  As a friend and I used to joke "It sounds so pretty!"

The recipe I used for tonight's dinner was from Italian-American bass Ezio Flagello.  Ezio sang primarily with the Metropolitan Opera from 1957-1984 and favored Italian opera productions such as Tosca, The Barber of Seville, and Don Giovanni.  And then I found this tidbit and it is most cool:  Ezio made a brief appearance as an opera impresario (opera company manager) in the movie, The Godfather II.  Nice!  I have no memory of that, but who needs an excuse to re-watch a Godfather movie?  Not me!  Poor Ezio had a shortened career as he passed away in 2009 at age 78.  (These days, that is on the "young" side of old.)  By the way, men's voices ranges are tenor (high), baritone (middle range) and bass (Low.  Sometimes very low.  "Basement" low.)  Ezio was a "basement" bass.

Now I have to share that I think my dad would have not only enjoyed this meal, but liked the fact that it came from an opera cookbook.  I come from a long line of opera lovers:  my grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant, used to listen to Met (Metropolitan Opera) radio broadcasts way before the dawn of the TV age, and my father listened with him as well.  My dad had a great baritone voice and although he never sang opera (at least to my knowledge), he played Captain Corcoran in his high school production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H. M. S. Pinafore, an operetta which is basically "opera, light."  He was also a member of a mixed chorus while attending Michigan State University. And although my singing voice is a mezzo-soprano and although I have performed more classical pieces (not opera though), I really enjoy singing what we would call "pop standards" songs by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and the like rather than more serious, classical music.

Still and all, a friend of mine (who has since passed away) and I attended for many years regional tryouts sponsored by the Met, the winner of which went on to NYC to compete for a coveted spot on the Met stage. We joked that sometimes we went more for the fashion critique (or what I called "What Not to Wear to an Opera Audition") than we did for the singing, but we mostly wanted to be able to say "We saw him/her 'when'" and you know what, sometimes we did!

Speaking of "I knew him when," although I didn't recognize a lot of names on the "Artist Index" (and you probably won't as well), I hope most people are familiar with the name Luciano Pavarotti, whose dish for "Maltaliati con Fagioli" (pasta and beans) was high on my list of "for your consideration" until I switched it at the last minute.  Pavarotti is probably best know for singing Nessun Dorma from the opera Turandot, a production I saw a few years ago at the Minnesota Opera, and it requires the singer to hit ridiculously high notes which Pavarotti did on a regular basis until one day, he didn't.  He cracked the upper notes of whatever he was singing and I am not kidding when I say the opera world was just beside itself.  Jeez, the man has one bad day and he's vilified for life!  If you didn't know, the Italians love their operas and you had better have your A game when you perform at places like La Scalla (famous opera company) or else!

I also recognized the name Anna Moffo as she appeared on the Firestone and Goodyear (Tires) Christmas albums my parents bought every year.  These albums were popular during the 60's and 70's and I remember that Anna Moffo sang Ave Maria on one of them.  I must say that these albums were a great way to learn the names and style of many popular artists (classical, opera, jazz, pop) of the time and I miss listening to them.  Sadly, they do not seem to be available in CD form, only vinyl and we got rid of our turntable a long time ago.  Drats.

Beverly Sills and Frederica Van Stade (spelled "Van Staade" in the book) were also included in this cookbook.  Beverly Sills was an extremely well-known operatic soprano who appeared on various variety show specials in the 70's, and Frederica is a mezzo-soprano who has appeared in countless opera productions and countless recordings.  And on a "who knew" side note, Frederica and her ex-husband were involved in a law suit over marital property, the likes of which appeared in one of my law school text books and I'm willing to bet that I am one of a handful of law school students anywhere who knew who she was. And for those of you who just have to know the dirt, here's the citation:  Elkus v. Elkus, 572 N.Y.S.2d 901 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991).  (PS—I was also stunned to see another familiar name in a case found in my Wills and Trust case law book.  Not only was the name familiar, but I had met her previously – yikes! And I tell you what, in order to get a case in a law school textbook, you had to have a doozy of a situation going on and hers so qualified it was ridiculous!)

Now, one of the reasons I selected the dish I did, Ezio's very tasty pasta Bolognese, is because I needed something to match the recipe I selected from Morrissey's cookbook and boy, that was not easy.

As the title says, Morrissey's cookbook is a vegan cookbook and vegan cooking can be challenging which is why I took the easy way out and made a vegetable dish!  And it's not that some of the other vegan dishes didn't appeal, it's just that I did not feel like going out and buying ingredients I knew damned well I would never use again such as "nutritional yeast," or "miso," or "tempeh," a soy meat substitute.  Also, some of the recipes were rather involved, like his recipe for [vegan] "Lasagna" – p. 56 or "Spaghetti for Two – p. 73-75 and when it comes to cooking, the shorter the ingredient list and cooking times, the better.

And let me be clear that I don't care what Morrissey says, these two words do not go together:  "Vegan" and "Bologna."  Ew.  Ew, ew, ew and furthermore, why?  Why, why, why? (See p. 95).

In the end, I think I came up with the perfect food combination and that was Egg Noodles Alla Bolognese from the opera book, with a side of Asparagus from the Morrissey book.  I am a genius!

As between the two, Morrissey's recipe title, Asparagus, is a tad misleading because here's what it really is:  asparagus yes, but asparagus sprinkled with a mix of chopped onion, tomato, garlic, and oregano, then tossed with olive oil, roasted, and then completed with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  It was fantastic!  Plus, this dish took only 20 minutes to make and that worked out well.  The other thing I loved was that I was able to score some fresh and hearty asparagus from a local grocery store, something that used to be near-impossible during the winter months.  All in all, I am tucking this recipe away for future use!

The Bolognese recipe was also very easy although I had to siphon off the grease from the ground beef several times to avoid having a greasy mess on my hands.  This then left the sauce a little on the dry side, but no worries, just add more wine or, if wine is not your thing, some water or broth.

I also "cheated" a bit with the recipe and added a handful of chopped tomatoes that were left over from the asparagus.  Waste not, want not, don't you know.  All in all, this dish was very good and was light to eat despite the pasta and the ground beef.  I think the use of white wine made it so.

And so these dishes were winners (I am on a roll as so were my Super Bowl selections) but alas, just like the Super Bowl, some Grammy nominees did not walk away with their golden gramophone and that's a darn shame but there's always next year.

Congratulations then to all 2017 Emmy winners and to those who didn't win, perhaps a nice plate of pasta and some asparagus will help ease your pain?  (It did mine!)

Egg Noodles Alla Bolognese – serves 5
1 pound egg noodles
1 large onion
1 small can mushrooms
1 bell pepper, cut in 1" strips
3 slices ham (Ann's Note:  although the recipe didn't say, I chopped my ham into smaller pieces)
1 tablespoon diced celery
1 ¼ cups water
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound chopped meat (Ann's Note:  I'm pretty sure he meant ground beef as the recipe instructs you to "brown the meat."  That said, I bet you could substitute ground chicken or turkey if you wanted.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon carrot shirrings (Ann's Note:  I have no idea what this means and neither did Google so I decided it meant "carrot peels" and that is what I used.)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon marjoram
1/8 teaspoon basil leaf (dried)
1 cup white wine
Grated cheese

Brown meat, onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper in two tablespoons of oil.  (Ann's Note:  I made a half a recipe and thought that even one tablespoon of oil was too much.  When coupled with the grease from browning the "chopped meat," it made for quite a bit of grease that I had to remove or risk "ruining" the sauce.)

Add water, ham, garlic powder, parsley, marjoram, and basil.  Cook slowly, until water evaporates.  (Ann's Note:  yes, but trust me, after you let the water evaporate, you are going to want to add more liquid back in or the sauce will dry out.  You can either add more wine (the recipe calls for 1 cup), or more water or broth and that should do the trick.  Even then though, I had to keep taking out some of the grease...sigh).

Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper, mushrooms, and wine.  Cook for one hour.  Pour Bolognese sauce over 1 pound cooked egg noodles and serve.  Add grated cheese if desired.

This recipe is from his forthcoming book "There's a Basso in the Kitchen."  Ann's Note:  It doesn't appear that this book was ever published as I cannot find it anywhere online and that is a damn shame because I would so add it to my collection!

Asparagus – Serving size not listed but 2 pounds should feed about 4-6
2 pounds asparagus
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, pureed (Ann's Note:  he doesn't say whether or not to use oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes or not but I'm guessing you should.  I have dried, but not oiled, sun-dried tomatoes at home and they don't puree well—not that this stopped me from trying!)
Salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, to taste
Balsamic vinegar to drizzle

Mix all ingredients together except balsamic vinegar, and then place in a casserole.  Roast at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and then mix again.

You can cook it for less time, if desired.

But with a bit more time and a few more gentler words and looking back we will forgive.

Broil for 3 to 5 minutes to finish.  Ann's Note:  I didn't broil but I did drizzle and then bake for another 3 minutes.

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