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David Vernier

“If music be the food of love, then why not combine them?”

Everyone accepts the fact that music makes an excellent accompaniment to cooking and dining, but here at we look at this phenomenon from a slightly different perspective. Over the years it transpires that just about all of us, editors and writers alike, enjoy cooking (and eating), but rather than let the music take a back seat, we’ve decided to place the music front and center and let the food accompany the music. After all, what can be more pleasant than listening to great music (meaning really paying attention to it) while enjoying an excellent meal? Is there any reason why you can’t do both? We often do, and we think you might like to also.

Time, particularly leisure time, is at a premium in our busy lives. And although some regard classical music as a solemn ritual to be experienced in what amounts to virtual sensory depravation (aside from hearing, of course), we don’t see why two pleasurable activities can’t be combined to excellent effect. So this column gives us a chance to have a little fun, maybe even be a bit silly from time to time, but more importantly to show how naturally and enjoyably the classics can be integrated into today’s frantic lifestyles.

Over the past year, your friendly editors and writers have been researching, cooking, exchanging recipes and ideas, testing cookware and baking equipment, and in general thinking about what music we like to hear when making and enjoying our favorite recipes (and how best to prepare them). This new feature, which will be updated regularly, is the result of our efforts, and we hope you will try some of the combinations that we suggest. At the very least we trust you will find these articles amusing, perhaps thought provoking, and without taking the premise too seriously consider cooking some tasty food to accompany your listening sessions, and in this way find room to let a little more music into your life.

Happy Listening, and Bon Appetit!

Although we can’t be absolutely sure, it’s likely that during his three-year stay in the United States (1892-95) — and especially during the summer months he spent in the rural community of Spillville, Iowa — Czech composer Antonín Dvorák experienced the irresistible smells and flavors of a real American barbeque. And as you listen, for instance, to his “American” quartet, sketched out on one of those visits to the American heartland, can’t you just imagine that some of those pungent/sweet/spicy/rich-flavored musical sounds may have been inspired by the multi-layered, sensuous experience of perfectly seasoned beef grilled over hot, smoky coals? Well, whether you can or not, this recipe is a natural complement to Dvorák’s universally appealing music — and the inclusion of Czech beer is no accident! — inspired by the desire for a quick, uniquely-flavored but not overpowering sauce for grilled beef (although it will happily serve to enhance other kinds of meat as well). — David Vernier, July 2004

Recommended recordings:

“American” Quartet
Talich Quartet (Calliope)

Serenade for Strings; Czech Suite
Prague Chamber Orchestra (Supraphon)

Slavonic Dances; Symphonic Poems
Bavarian Radio Symphony/Kubelik (Deutsche Grammophon)

Stabat Mater
Atlanta Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Shaw (Telarc)

Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”
New York Philharmonic/Bernstein (Sony Classical)

About the beef: Many supermarkets now package “sirloin strips” or “tips”–usually four to six per package–which are well-marbled cuts approximately 2” wide and 8”-10” long. They are perfect for skewering (in a kind of loose ribbon pattern) and grilling, the many pockets and edges ideal for hanging on to the barbecue sauce as the meat is cooked and turned.

1/4 cup tamari
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
2 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 cup (8 oz.) Czech beer (or equivalent, if there is one!)

2-3 large cloves garlic, crushed & chopped
1 1/2-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
Makes approx. 2 1/3 cups sauce

Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl; mix together well. Add beer. When foam subsides, add garlic and crushed red pepper. Use immediately or refrigerate overnight. You will note that this is not a thick, glop-all-over-the-meat sauce. Its flavor, before grilling, is notably bitter, tangy, and sour (the beer, the tamari, the tomato paste)–but when cooked over the fire, caramelization of the sugars brings a pleasing, perfectly balanced sweetness to the taste without overwhelming the basic flavor of the meat. For the best results, follow the simple cooking procedure below:

Sirloin strips work best, but this also will work very well with any kind of grilling steak (or pork or chicken). For the strips, thread them on bamboo skewers–but not too tightly. Get the grill nice and hot and brown the meat on all sides. Then, begin basting with the sauce (don’t marinate the meat in advance!). It’s important to stay with the grill and continue to baste as the meat cooks, turning every couple of minutes so the sauce forms a nice well-carmelized coating without burning (unless you like that wonderful blackened flavor!).

Note: All of the above ingredients can be increased or decreased as your taste dictates. However, if you add more beer, it won’t improve the flavor and you’ll run the risk of diluting the sauce too much–and thus, you’ll have to accordingly increase the portions of the thickening ingredients. However, feel free to change, add, or delete as you wish. It’s a great sauce–you’ll think twice before picking up that store-bought stuff ever again

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