Dinner at home: Six comfort foods with a jazz mood
Music and food go hand in hand. They are two of the simplest and finest pleasures in life. For many, they are both necessities; just as we can’t live without food, some of feel like we couldn’t live without music, either.
Even at times when you’re stuck at home, you can still enjoy the luxury of fine dining. Cook a fine meal, dim the lights, put on the perfect music, and in no time you’ll be making the best of your time inside and having yourself an evening to remember. What better way to get in a good mood than with comfort food and great jazz?
Here are several of our favourite dishes that are relatively easy to make at home. Plus, for each one we’ve recommended a record or two to pair with it. Brought to you with love from the kitchens of your hosts at JAZZ.FM91.
New York-style pizza
John Devenish’s pick
Pizza is one of the ultimate comfort foods. The big deal about New York-style pizza is the layering and the spicing in the sauce. It is traditionally topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, with any extra toppings placed on top of the cheese. The crust is thick and crisp only along its edge, yet soft, thin, and pliable enough beneath its toppings to be folded in half to eat. If you can’t fold it and trap the oil and drippings, it’s just not New York style.
If you want the full ambience of the Big Apple, perhaps you can play the sounds of honking horns and people yelling. Alternatively, let the music of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Impressions of New York gently guide you through the preparations. Each track captures the moods of New York. It’s music for strutting and for swaggering — and for making pizza.
Spanish potato omelette
Laura Fernandez’s pick
This delicious traditional meal is a signature dish and one of the most revered comfort foods in Spanish cuisine. Although you can find references to potato-and-egg dishes as far as 1665, it seems that the Spanish omelette we know today traces its origins to Villanueva de la Serena in the southern Badajoz of Spain. I have been enjoying this dish since childhood, and I have fond memories of my grandma, my aunts and my mother peeling potatoes and beating the eggs by hand in large bowls while talking and laughing in the kitchen. I have early memories from San Martin del Camino, the little cobblestone village where my grandmother was born and also from their flat in central Madrid. Making the Spanish omelette was a social occasion, and I loved watching the activity and looking forward to eating the results. We often enjoyed red wine with fizzy, lemony gaseosa. Any full-bodied Spanish wine such as a Montecillo would be great to pair with this dish. Serve it with country bread and a simple salad with tomatoes, onions and olives dressed with olive oil and vinegar, and you are good to go.
These records will take you on a mental vacation to Spain. It will set the mood and make this even more delicious to eat. You will feel the sunshine through the music — and we need that right now. You’ll never tire of this dish or the music.
Fish and chips
Brad Barker’s pick
I have always had bad luck with deep-frying, so I look for ways to get essentially the same texture in the oven. Here’s a way to make fish and chips without a giant pot of boiling oil.
Slice some potatoes in any bite-size way: chunks, chips, shoestring… whatever works. Splash some olive oil on them and sprinkle some salt and paprika, throw them on a baking sheet and into a 370-degree oven. For the fish, cod is best, but you can use whatever white fish you have on hand. Dip them in flour, egg-wash them and cover them in Panko, in that order. Place them on a cooking rack so the heat can surround the entire piece of fish. Turn your potatoes at the 15-minute mark and then add the fish to the oven. Let both cook for about another 30 minutes, until the Panko on the fish is golden brown.
While you wait, take a quarter cup of mayo, add a tablespoon of relish, a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, and boom — you’ve got yourself some homemade tartar sauce.
A classic dish deserves a classic recording. Released in 1955 with drummer and co-leader Max Roach, this is the high-water mark of Clifford Brown’s career. His trumpet playing is clean and agile, and he wrote three tunes that became jazz standards: Swingin’, George’s Dilemma and Sandu. Between bites, don’t forget to listen to Clifford’s solo on Cherokee; it has become one of the most famous solos in jazz history.
Traditional Italian comfort
Ronnie Littlejohn’s pick
These recipes are some of the simplest yet most comforting pasta dishes that my wife and I make. She’s Italian and has taught me so much about good food, fresh ingredients and the love that goes into cooking. I have learned to make cooking an enjoyable and calming experience. I like to have a glass of wine while preparing meals and put on some music to inspire the dish.
The first dish is called Cacio e pepe, which simply means “cheese and pepper.” Adding the pasta water while making the sauce is key because it helps to make it very creamy. You would never know this recipe has no butter in it. Try using a thicker pasta, such as bucatini, to soak up the sauce.
The second dish is pasta with bread crumbs. A popular recipe made in the south of Italy, it’s perfect for damp, cloudy days. It’s like a giant hug. Made traditionally in the days of war when fresh ingredients such as cheese were scarce, the toasted breadcrumbs — known as “the poor man’s cheese” — bring a nice crunch and flavour to the dish as a substitute for Parmesan.
The Italian-American singer Louis Prima was rooted in New Orleans jazz and was known as the “King of Swing.” Prima showcased Italian music and language in his songs at a time when “ethnic” musicians were often discouraged from doing so. Prima’s embrace of his Sicilian heritage helped open the doors for other Italian-American musicians to show their roots.
Groovy goat curry
Danny Marks’s pick
Delicious food and marvellous music go hand in hand. While traditional blues delicacies are usually items like pig’s trotters, barbecue and collard greens, I’d like to offer up Jamaican-style goat curry. Like the best blues, this dish is simple and strong. You’ll need goat meat, onions, garlic, fresh ginger, curry powder and optional other spices. If you’re adventurous, add Scotch bonnet peppers — like great blues and jazz, we improvise to taste. Start this one early, because you’re looking at four hours or so for the full flavour to mature and the meat to become tender and succulent. Garnish with raw green onions and serve with brown rice and a veggie of your choice.
Al Caiola’s tasteful instrumental sounds will fill your home with a sense of well-being. In the blues realm, T-Bone Blues is a must for the kitchen — his name even sounds like food.
Gourmet mac and cheese with a healthy side salad
Jaymz Bee’s pick
These suggestions come from two remarkable young women who are both renowned in the kitchen. I met Sara Lynn Cauchon more than 20 years ago — her father Jim and I worked in radio together back in the day — and I became one of more than a million people following her web series The Domestic Geek. Mary Berg was a volunteer at JAZZ.FM91 and has been on International Jazz Safaris as well as local safaris. Her CTV show Mary’s Kitchen Crush is a big hit.
Since I’ve been a pescatarian for more than 30 years, I choose to barbecue hard tofu instead of chicken. It works great! The salad is good for you, then bring on the comfort food. After the mac and cheese, you really should think about skipping dessert.
During preparation, the Barry Elmes Quintet’s instrumental album is the perfect soundtrack to keep you swinging but still focused. Elmes is joined by Mike Murley, Kevin Turcotte, Reg Schwager and Steve Wallace, with guest appearances from Kelly Jefferson and Vanessa Rodrigues. By the time you get to the The Brush-off, you’re likely ready to set the table.
The main course is heavy, so let’s keep the music light. Personally, I would just make my own playlist of Barbra Lica songs, but if you’re looking for the best album for dining, I recommend her latest You’re Fine. By the fourth track Jolie Oiseau, you’ll probably be setting out the main course. Enjoy.