Apple pull-apart bread

Savory Apple Pull-Apart Bread and Horseradish Butter (Inspired by Fiona Apple)

Apple pull-apart bread

THE DISH
Apple, Camembert and chive pull-apart bread with horseradish butter

THE INSPIRATION
When I started brainstorming recipes for this site two years ago, one of the first half-ideas I had was a Fiona Apple-inspired dish involving with tart apples — naturally, because of her reputation for having a sometimes-bitter personality that’s come across as much in her public appearances as in her music. I’m glad I held off on that, though, because her latest record changed my perception a bit. The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do (whew!) still has songs about loneliness, heartbreak and defeat, with lines like “I ran out of white doves’ feathers/ to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me.” But overall it’s not quite as intense as her first two releases, and there are a few more moments of sweetness than I’d expected, and when I saw her at a small show in Brooklyn months before the album came out, she was funny and chatty and just not as angry as she’s been the other times I’ve seen her. Idler Wheel is Apple’s first album since Extraordinary Machine in 2005; it was worth waiting for and every bit as great as I’d hoped it would be.

I’ve only made yeasted bread a few times — partially because if it was a regular thing I’d eat way too much of it, and also because of the time commitment. But it’s becoming tradition when my best friend Jenni comes to visit from Michigan, and the couple times we’ve done it it’s been worth the effort and, like Apple’s records, more than worth the wait for the end result. Last year we made Smitten Kitchen’s apple and honey challah (part of an entire apple-themed dinner) and it was incredible, quickly devoured by my friends at an apple-themed dinner party. This year’s project — a pull-apart bread filled with apples (becoming another part of the tradition, I guess), Camembert cheese, and chives — also took a while; something like three hours if you count the time waiting for it to rise. We had the BF and his mom over for dinner, and this baby was nearly gone by the end of the evening, with just enough for Jenni and me to share for breakfast the next morning.

The bread is baked in stacks of square pieces of dough covered in the apple filling, so when it’s done you don’t need a knife because you can just break it off into big, flaky pieces. The childlike, eating-with-your-hands element makes me think of the Idler Wheel song “Anything We Want,” where Apple sings about pretending to be 8 years old, and also “Jonathan,” a song about her ex, author Jonathan Ames, who supposedly has taken many a date to Coney Island. As for the filling itself, we did use tart apples like my original idea, as well as chives, balanced out by sweet, creamy Camembert cheese.

The album ends with the jazzy vocal acrobatics of “Hot Knife,” driven by the line, “If I’m butter, if I’m butter/ If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife.” Some have written the track off as silly, but it’s actually one of my favorites here. Like other parts of Idler Wheel, it’s uncharacteristically sweet, about a guy who makes her melt (and vice versa later in the song, when it changes to “I’m a hot knife, I’m a hot knife/ I’m a hot knife, he’s a pat of butter”). I also love the story behind the recording: Apple sung it with her sister, an experience that was one of their most intimate. So to complement the bread, we made a horseradish-infused butter; the kick from the horseradish represents the song’s bold claim that she’s going to win the guy over for good: “If I get a chance I’m gonna show him that he’s never gonna need another, never need another,” and the butter is self-explanatory. (In case you were wondering, we didn’t spread it with a hot knife — whoops!) The album’s most quoted line comes from the first track, “Every Single Night”: “I just want to feel everything,” and with the different flavors in this, I think it works here, too.

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French toast

Citrus French Toast with Brandied Peaches (Inspired by Kathleen Edwards)

French toast

THE DISH
French toast inspired by the flavors in a sidecar cocktail

THE INSPIRATION
Kathleen Edwards’s album Voyageur has held up as one of my favorites this year — I was introduced to and fell in love with her music last fall, and this particular collection of songs came at just the right time. She wrote it while going through a divorce with a former bandmate and then falling in love again not long after (with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who co-produced the record with her). I first heard Voyageur near the end of one relationship, and the songs continued to sink in as I got over that one and found myself in a new one that took off faster than I could have ever anticipated (there’s nothing wrong with that, but it definitely took me by surprise).

The song “Sidecar” is about the excitement of starting a journey with a new partner — going on adventures, learning about their favorite places, and taking on new challenges. Apologies for being a total mush, but now it’s more than half a year into this journey and I am filled with more love than I ever knew was possible. There’s a line in the song that goes, “Sit up, sit up, sit up, I went and made you/ Breakfast in bed, coffee and juice” — so I made breakfast for my “sidecar” on his birthday last Friday, inspired by the flavors in a sidecar cocktail. (I would have made him a cake, but 1) we were traveling and it would’ve been tough to transport and 2) how would I have been able to compete with this?)

The drink uses brandy (traditionally cognac), orange liquer and lemon juice, so there’s lemon in the French toast filling, orange in the batter, and brandy and more orange in the topping. (It wasn’t actually served in bed.)

P.S. Listen to Kathleen Edwards. Her first album Failer is a good place to start.

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Digestive Biscuits (Inspired by Félix)

THE DISH
British digestive biscuits

THE INSPIRATION
Holy Molar, the newest record from British chamber-pop group Félix, has been in regular rotation since my editor recommended them to me a few weeks ago. Frontwoman Lucinda Chua reminds me of a mix of early Cat Power, a mellowed-out Regina Spektor, and the 2006 solo album from Casey Dienel (of White Hinterland). The piano-backed songs are sad, pretty and simple (“Friday night is the worst night to be alive,” Chua sings on “Oh Thee 73”). The last track is called “Little Biscuit,” so I made digestive biscuits, a type of not-too-sweet British cookie that I admittedly am not particularly familiar with, but I went with those instead of American-style biscuits because of the band’s roots. However, digestives actually ended up being more fitting for other reasons: Of course there’s the album’s name, which is a line from a couple of its songs, and digestives require a little more work from one’s teeth than buttermilk biscuits. But digestive biscuits — which, not surprisingly, were first created as a digestive aid, also reminded me of “Hate Song,” which starts with the line “Why is there so much bad stuff inside of you?” This might be stretching it a bit, but songwriting can also be a way to cleanse yourself of the “bad stuff” built up inside. Anyway, I’m not sure how authentic these are, but they were tasty — a bit like oatmeal cookies with a smoother texture.

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Raspberry brownies

Raspberry Brownies (Inspired by The Afghan Whigs)

Raspberry brownies

Earlier this year, my friend Daphne Carr launched a Kickstarter project to publish the Best Music Writing book series independently, through her new music-focused press Feedback Press. (BMW is an anthology of the year’s best conversation about music, in the form of features, essays, reviews, blog posts, etc.) One of the pledge options toward the project’s $15,000 goal was for me to bake treats inspired by the artist or song of the backer’s choice, and this was the second of the two purchased, inspired by Afghan Whigs, baked for one of my favorite pop-culture thinkers/writers (also just one of my favorite people), Village Voice Music Editor Maura Johnston!

THE DISH
Raspberry brownies

THE INSPIRATION
This assignment was a bit daunting, as I hadn’t previously listened to much of the Afghan Whigs (and hey, now this is super relevant because of their recent reunion shows!) — but what I’d gathered in my couple previous run-throughs of their 1993 album Gentlemen was that I love the music — a little rough, dark and soulful — but the lyrics can be quite crass and at times pretty brutal (“Debonair” has the line “This time the anger’s better than the kiss” and later “Tonight I go to hell for what I’ve done to you”).

In the song “Be Sweet,” Greg Dulli growls, “Ladies, let me tell you about myself/ I’ve got a dick for a brain/ and my brain is gonna sell my ass to you/ Now I’m OK, but in time I find out stuff/ ‘Cause she wants love/ And I still wanna fuck.” It’s incredibly sleazy, so my first thought was to find a recipe from a blog that’s also quite sleazy, Cook to Bang, where I found a recipe for “Pinch Your Ass-Berry Brownies.” Chocolate for the darkness, Cook to Bang for the sleaze, raspberries for the blood.

However, part of why Maura decided to back the Best Music Writing Kickstarter with this particular prize was because she’s gluten- and dairy-intolerant, and wanted some kind of treat that she could eat (obviously) and make, and the original “ass-berry brownies” wouldn’t quite work. So over at the all-vegan goldmine Post-Punk Kitchen I found a similar raspberry-brownie recipe that I easily adapted to be gluten-free.

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Kale Salad with Orange-Honey Poppyseed Dressing (Inspired by Sea of Bees)

THE DISH
Kale salad with oranges, radishes, avocados and honey-orange poppyseed dressing

THE INSPIRATION
Sea of BeesSea of Bees is Julie Ann Bee (pictured right), a disarming singer-songwriter from Sacramento, California, who completely blew my mind when I saw her in New York playing with The Loom last week (I was legitimately almost in tears). Sometime after she released her excellent first album Songs for the Ravens in 2009, she came out as a lesbian and began her first relationship with a woman. Thanks to that album’s success, constant touring and presumably just normal relationship things, that particular journey ended, and it makes up a lot of her new record Orangefarben, which was released on Team Love a few weeks ago. “Orangefarben” really just means orange-colored in German, and it’s the nickname Julie called her girlfriend, so the salad I made obviously has oranges in it (and carrots for more orange color); as well as honey in the dressing because of Sea of “Bees.” The kale and radishes are bitter, like the end of many relationships, and the dressing and oranges are quite sweet, to represent the sweetness in the beginning, and the satisfaction from how much we can learn from any relationship, especially a first one. And the avocados are there for Julie’s California roots. Unrelated (but not really because it also has to do with fully expressing yourself!), but, shoutout to my buddy Caroline, whose birthday shindig I took this to — she runs an awesome and inspiring personal style blog called Broadist, and if you’re a body-positive lady, you should probably check it out.

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Sweet & salty bourbon blondies

Sweet & Salty Bourbon Blondies + a few songs by supergroups

Sweet & salty bourbon blondies

THE DISH
Blondies loaded with Momofuku chocolate “crumbs,” caramel, and bourbon

THE INSPIRATION
I recently participated in my first Tumblr Eat Up, in which a ton of Tumblr-ers are assigned a person somewhere in the country to bake and send treats to. My Eat Up buddy Alexis also lives in New York, and happens to be one of the ladies who started the Eat Up, so I couldn’t bake just any treats and throw in a couple of compost cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar to impress her — I had to do something just a little bit over the top. So I combined three elements from New York foodie staples: Momofuku Milk Bar (chocolate crumbs, which are used in several of their desserts), Baked (caramel and the method used in the Red Hook, Brooklyn, bakery’s famous sweet-and-salty brownies), and a recipe for blondies from the great Smitten Kitchen. I’m pairing them with a few songs from supergroups, since the best ones take great pieces from other projects and combine them into something that’s different, but can sometimes be just as special. These blondies are rich and gooey and possibly one of the most amazing treats to come out of this kitchen.

THE SONGS

Wild Flag, “Romance” (from Wild Flag): Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney, with Mary Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders). Their self-titled debut was my favorite album of 2011 and this is my favorite song from it. Also, this video rules.

Traveling Wilburys, “Handle With Care” (from Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1): Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty. Can you fit more songwriting legends into one album? This is one of those songs that I’d heard all my life but for the longest time didn’t know who wrote it. Glad I got that figured out.

The Dead Weather, “Treat Me Like Your Mother” (from Horehound): Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, solo), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age, The Raconteurs), Jack Lawrence (The Greenhornes, The Raconteurs). As far as Jack White projects go, The Dead Weather added some fierceness that I think was missing from The Raconteurs, mostly thanks to Alison Mosshart.

The New Pornographers, “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” (from Together): Most notably Carl “A.C.” Newman (Zumpano, solo), Neko Case (solo) and Dan Bejar (Destroyer). Seeing this band live (especially when Case and Bejar are on tour with them, which isn’t all the time) makes me so, so happy.

The Living Sisters, “How Are You Doing?” (from Love to Live): Inara George (the bird and the bee, solo), Eleni Mandell (solo) and Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond). A couple years ago, these three ladies put out out a collection of sweet, harmony-heavy folk songs.

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Portobello nests

Portobello Nests with Pear-Onion Jam (Inspired by Shearwater)

Portobello nests

THE DISH
Roasted portobello mushrooms with greens, goat cheese and pear-onion jam

THE INSPIRATION
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Shearwater lately, which might have a little something to do with the fact that my boyfriend has a huge crush on Jonathan Meiburg, but also because I finally spent a little more time with their album that came out earlier this year, Animal Joy. While Animal Joy got my attention pretty quickly, their overall catalog might take a little more time — a lot of the songs build slowly, like the opener on 2008’s Rook, “On The Death Of The Waters”: It begins with Meiburg’s voice and a piano, then halfway through explodes with heavy guitars, drums, horns and woodwinds.

That album is perhaps their best known, and it combines the dramatic, majestic music with haunting lyrics about life, death and nature — “Rooks” is essentially about a bird apocalypse (side note: Meiburg is an ornithologist), and probably the most relevant to this dish. We made “nests” using portobello mushrooms and cooked kale and arugula, but they don’t have anything in them that resembles eggs because all the birds are gone from their nests (and dead). The pear-onion jam on top takes a long time to cook as the flavors blend together and it gets better with time, and the onions go from spicy to sweet as they soften and caramelize on the stove — not too far off from how it can take a while for Shearwater’s music to sink in, there are so many layers that go into each song, and as a whole, the music has gone from grim to an album that even has “joy” in its title. That’s not to say Animal Joy is a uniformly happy record, but it doesn’t feel so heavy and there are more moments of driving rock. Also, you need to listen to the song “Animal Life,” as it makes my head explode in a way that very few songs have done; kind of like what I felt the first time I listened to Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy.

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