Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tahini Noodles with Cucumbers and Chicken

This has easily become one of our favorite dishes, and it changes and evolves each time we make it.  It's one of those recipes where you use what you have on hand.  Well, ok, not everyone has tahini paste on hand, but we do.  Of course we've tweaked it to become a little healthier with the substitution of whole grain noodles.  And yes, that is some of our home-grown basil on top!  He will be featured much more further down the page, as well as our newly acquired penny royal.

The recipe is an adaptation from chef Ming Tsai:


1/2 cup chinese sesame paste or tahini (can also substitute creamy peanut butter)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 serrano chiles, de-stemmed
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup basil leaves
1 bunch chopped scallions
1/3 cup mint leaves
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound angel hair pasta, blanched and refreshed
2 english cucumbers julienned
2 cups shredded chicken from whole roasted chicken
Garnish: 1 red bell pepper finely diced

Instead of serrano chiles, we used two seeded jalapenos that we had on hand.
We also threw in an extra garlic clove to ward off the vampires.
We substituted the mint leaves for penny royal which made it less sweet and more spearmint-y (if that made any sense).  We've made it with both kinds of mint, and I prefer the sweet mint, but I wasn't about to go out and buy some.

I find this sauce doesn't need any salt, but feel free to add it in later.

Obviously we had more than 1/3 cup of basil...

We used one cucumber for this version, which made the sauce kind of watery.  Zucchinis were used in the past and make an excellent substitution.

We fried two
chicken breast paillard style for our dish.  John tenderized them and flattened them before searing them well in our cast iron on both sides.

They were beautifully golden, picture worthy just in themselves.

And of course, the whole grain linguine instead of wimpy angel hair pasta.


In a food processor, mix sesame paste, oils, and vinegar. Add chile, garlic, and herbs and puree until smooth.
Season with salt and pepper. In a large mixing bowl toss pasta, cucumbers and chicken with dressing.
Check for seasoning and garnish with red bell peppers and basil/mint leaves.

The dish is great warm and even better chilled the next day.  Something about all those refreshing herbs and general brightness of flavor goes so well when it's chilled.  Plus, the sauce clings to the noodles better.

John likes his with sriracha sauce.  Lots of it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Opera Auditions and Ensuing Callbacks

It's hard to make time for singing when you have overtime two weeks in a row.  This week and the last have been opera auditions at the University of South Carolina.  Although I've been working 9-12 hour days, I've had to cram in singing on days off where I really just want to sleep.  Life could be worse, I guess.

These auditions have been different from any others that I've participated in.  Because this is a new school and territory, I don't know anyone, save the opera director which I had met once before.  This is daunting, yet awesome.  I can walk in, sing my arias, and no one knows who I am or where I came from.  All the other sopranos lean in at the door to listen to this new character.  I'm like the dark horse.  It actually does wonders for the confidence level because I can't compare myself to anyone.

What is even more wonderful about these auditions is that I was called back!  For those non-opera peoples out there, it means they are considering me for a role, not just ensemble.

My first audition aria was "Elle la fui, la tourterelle" from Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach.  Such a great opera!  It probably has several tunes that anyone would recognize, not having seen the opera.  The plot goes a little something like this:  Hoffmann is drinking in a tavern and gets persuaded to tell the stories of his three great loves, by his nemesis, Lindorf.  Olympia is the first he falls in love with, who turns out to be an automaton, or mechanical doll.  She has a fabulous coloratura aria in which she runs out of steam twice and has to be re-cranked.  Fabulous.  The next act Antonia, who is a dying character, awaits Hoffmann's return.  She suffers from a mysterious illness in which singing brings death.  "Elle la fui" is her aria where she laments the fleeting love of Hoffmann until he returns.  She is tricked into singing to death by the act's nemesis.  The third act is Giulietta, who is a courtesan that Hoffmann falls in love with.  However, he discovers her singing the lover's "Barcarolle" with his friend, Nicklausse.  It turns out that each of these women are all facets of his actual love, Stella, who has been waiting for him while he has been drinking.  She leaves with his nemesis, Lindorf.

For a video of the aria, watch here.

My second aria was "Kommt ein schlanker bursch gegangen" from Weber's Der Freischutz.  It is a rather under-done opera these days but is wonderfully fun.  For a full synopsis, go here.  This aria is Ă„nnchen's, who is trying to cheer up her cousin.  It is sprightly, full of coloratura, trills, and a high B natural- what more is there?

For a wonderful video of it, go here.

We shall see what comes of all of this.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vacation and Grapes

Finally!  A chance to catch up on life.
John and I spent the last week in Florida visiting family, friends, former teachers, and former employers-- a rather busy ordeal.  Although we had to divide our time carefully it was nice to see everyone and feel how much we are already missed.  Nice indeed.

Now back in Columbia I have caught up on work and finally have a day off tomorrow.  Well, not really.  As part of my promotion I am overnight baking for the bakery- cafe.  I'm looking forward to creating so many beautiful pastries, but not to the 9pm- 5am graveyard shift. Oh well.

Before we left, and even when I got back home, I bonded with these grapes.  I would pluck them off and pop them in my mouth, add a pinch of Parmesan cheese, maybe swig some Chardonnay-- Heaven!  One night I even substituted it for dinner.  Now that's living.