#47 Haken – Visions (2011)

Haken_Visions_HD_350

Number 47 on the list of Prog Report Top 50 Prog Albums, 1990-2015, is Visions, by Haken.  I found it on Apple Music.

This London based band, Haken, pronounced /heɪˈkən/, will delight your musical sensibilities with their array of sounds.  Relatively new to the scene, this band received a great response when they first broke in London in 2007, and today are enjoying much deserved success in the Prog world.

Visions, is a great addition to any listening repertoire, and I am happy to add it to my growing list of favorites.  I stuck to my tradition of listening at least three times, especially since this one was new to me, and did not regret one minute of it.  I completely enjoyed this album from beginning to end, with no dull moment.  The first track, an instrumental, opens the album with the energy that carries throughout and leaves you wanting more.

The second track, Nocturnal Conspiracy, might just be my favorite, but picking a favorite track was not an easy task in this case.  Nocturnal Conspiracy, develops beautifully, builds energy, and has a great vocal line that is almost nostalgic.  This track incorporates some retro sounds that work seamlessly well with the more contemporary heavy style.  I enjoyed the rich vocal harmony, as it adds a lot of depth to this track.

Track number 4, The Mind’s Eye, is very lyrical, and I loved it.  The vocal quality is wonderful, and this track also builds to an amazingly energetic and sweeping instrumental section.  Love the sounds in this track!

The next track, titled Portals, is a lot of fun to listen to, with its symphonic feel.

Then comes, Shapeshifter, a very mysterious sounding track, with a supernatural feel.  I absolutely love the guitar riff at 2:52!  This track has great drum fills/sounds, great forward motion and it’s deep and dark.  It ends with a soft whispering tone that adds to the mysterious vibe of the track.

Visions, the last piece of the album, is an epic track, longer than 22 minutes.  The drums have incredible feel and sound amazing.  I loved the vocal work, the middle section is amazing, with really cool fun rhythm.

I totally recommend you take a listen to Vision, by Haken.  Check out their band website at www.hakenmusic.com where you can listen to some of their tracks, and get familiar with this rising UK prog band.

#48 Mastodon – Crack the Skye, 2009

Mastodon_Crack the Skye

Number 48 on the list of Prog Report Top 50 Prog Albums, 1990-2015, is Crack the Skye, by Mastodon.  I found it on Apple Music.

Crack the Skye is powerful, and from the first note I knew I wanted more.  The drumming is busy with great energy, and with so many vocalists on board, my ears were satisfied with harmonies, and a range of vocal colors.  The rock/metal/progressive blend, combined with the full heavy sound of the band, is consistent throughout the album.  The more I listened, the more I loved it.  I would very much recommend that you take a listen to Crack the Skye.  I am confident it will take you on an emotional and intense musical journey.

The title of the album, with its unusual spelling of the word “Skye”, was very curious to me.  I learned that Skye was the sister of drummer Brann Dailor, who committed suicide at age fourteen.  The song, Crack the Skye, as is the title of the album, is a tribute to Skye, and features vocalist Scott Kelly of Neurosis.  This powerful song examines the emotional complexity associated with loss, and I found it particularly compelling.  Of course, the title, could have so many meaning.

Crack the Skye is one of my favorite tracks.  Other favorites from this album include:

***Quintessence – the instrumental section is heavy and cool, reminds me a little of Porcupine Tree.

***Ghost of Karelia – reminds me of Tool.  Amazing depth and energy.

***The Last Baron – the last track is long and builds intensity in an amazingly effective way.  Great vocals.  I love the frantic feeling the song creates as it builds up.

Crack the Skye was new to me.  I would definitely recommend some focused listening so you can grasp the depth of this band.  Also, check out the lyrics for this album.  Super cool.

#49 The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose, 2013

Desolation Rose

Desolation Rose by The Flower Kings is number 49 on the list of Prog Report Top 50 Prog Albums, 1990-2015.

All eighteen tracks can be found on Apple Music for streaming/purchase, and on Amazon Music Store for purchase.  By the time I listened to this album three times, I developed some definite favorites.  I particularly enjoyed listening to it with headphones, which is when I could appreciate the vocal harmonies and the sound of the band.

The harmonies are present throughout the album, and soon enough I started to hear influences like Yes, King Crimson, and even Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra.  If you like any of these, you are sure to like this album.  If you are a Jon Anderson fan, you are sure to love Roine Stolt, with his raspy and, at time, dramatic voice.

If, like myself, you haven’t heard Desolation Rose before, listen a couple of times.  This music really grew on me and I enjoyed it more on the second and third listen, and again… don’t forget your headphones.

Some of my favorite tracks:

***Sleeping Bones – very cool sounding song, fun groove, great dark guitar

***Desolation Road – dramatic intro, melodic, great tension in the instrumental section, a variety of sounds

***White Tuxedos – just a fun song to listen to

***The Resurrected Judas – beautiful ballad, I like the instrumental build up

***Silent Masses – I just like it

***The Wailing Wall – instrumental, deeply beautiful and filled with longing

I took the time to find them on Facebook.  If you like their music, just click Like.  I did.

https://www.facebook.com/TheFlowerKings

On to number 48 on the list!

#50 Enchant – Wounded, 1996

Unknown

Album number 50 on the list of  “Top 50 Prog Albums for 1990-2015” is Wounded by Enchant, which was released in 1996.  As it was new to me, I listened to it for three consecutive times.  In general, I enjoyed listening to this album, as the songs are melodic and the vocals are amazing.

While listening to it, I felt that there was some simplicity to the music, and I was starting to want more heaviness, and more harmonic complexity.  I would have liked it to be a little darker, since I felt that too much brightness was coming through the songs.  I couldn’t really relate to that aspect of the album, that seemed consistent throughout.

Things I really liked about some of the songs:

Fade to Grey – a great instrumental section.

Pure – beautiful acoustic guitar intro, and the song is mellow.

Hostile World – I loved the cool bass riff, and fusion feel.  The song has great energy.

Distractions – I thought the melody line was interesting, and it was a lot of fun to follow along with the lyrics.

Missing – is cool and heavier in nature.

I found the album on Amazon Music, as it is available to stream for free to Prime members, with the exception of the songs Armour and Man of Our Times (Bonus Tracks).  Check it out on Amazon Music and let me know what you think:

http://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Enchant/dp/B000003ZBJ/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1452024806&sr=1-1&keywords=enchant+wounded

*Looking forward to sharing my experience listening to album number 49!

Baked Sole Fillet

Who hasn’t wondered around the food store hunting for good dinner ideas?  A few days ago I was doing just that and my feet stopped at the fish counter at the new Whole Foods store in my neighborhood.  A feast to the eyes, the selection of fish and seafood, combined with the expertise of the store employee was sure to make this a fruitful trip for me.

I have never made Sole before.  The store employee confirmed the challenge of cooking sole, saying that it flakes and breaks easy.  He told me about a woman that came back to the store complaining about how fragile the fish was when she attempted to prepared it.  Nothing like a little cooking challenge to inspire me to make something new.

A few hours later, with eight pieces of fillet (I am known to make giant portions of food for my family, and often there is enough for lunch the next day), I was contemplating how to make this delicate yet stubborn fish.

Here is what I did:

Started the over at 350 degrees.

Lined up a cookie sheet with foil paper.

Brushed olive oil on the foil paper.

Placed the fillet pieces on the cookie sheet, flat.

Seasoned with olive oil, Italian style bread crumbs, and a couple of roasted garlic cloves (can be found at Whole Foods).

Just like this….

Sole Ready for Oven

Then…

Bake in the oven, and remember that every oven is different.  So… I baked it for about 20 minutes.  But if you like it a little less dry, then you will need a little less time in the oven.  The quote I got at the store was 7-10 minutes, which did not work for me.  Just don’t leave your kitchen to for for a 5K run, and keep checking on the fish to make sure you don’t overcook it.

When you take it our of the oven, cool if off.  Here is the tricky part:  with a stainless steel spatula, carefully remove the fish portions and place in a serving dish of your choice, to look like this:

Baked Sole

I served it to my beloved family with some lightly buttered pasta (not real butter, but don’t tell them), and some sautéed fresh broccoli.  They loved it!!!!

Thanksgiving

Sara Josepha Hale is the Godmother of Thanksgiving.  After reading a diary of a pilgrim’s life, she was inspired to start a one woman letter writing campaign to make Thanksgiving a holiday. Her campaign lasted for many years and in a letter to president Lincoln in 1863, she asked the president to use his power to make Thanksgiving a national holiday “for all those classes of people who are under the National Government.”  The President was in the midst of the Civil War and agreed that Thanksgiving would be a unifying holiday, and announced that the nation will be celebrating the holiday every year on the final Thursday of the month.  She also published recipes for turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, and truly influenced the Thanksgiving menu as we know it today.

Last month, my family and many others, gathered around the table, and we had the honor of hosting friends for their very first Thanksgiving.  As everyone passed the filled to the brim platters of our Thanksgiving favorites, my heart filled with so much gratitude for this special time.  My son used a Martha Stewart recipe to make an amazing stuffing from scratch.  It was SO good!  He used real bread, which he toasted and let sit for a couple of days, along with fresh thyme, sage and parsley.

Stuffing Bread Ben's Stuffing

We of course had the turkey and all other delicious side dishes, and my personal favorite, candied yams with marshmallows.

Candied Yams Green Beans

As it does every year, Thanksgiving passed so fast, I miss it already.  I cherish the time we spent with each other and taking a moment to think about how fortunate we all are.  And not once did I wish that I were standing in line in a retail store to get the best deal on the latest flat screen.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I always envied people who could successfully grow their own vegetables, fruits or anything at all.  My friend, Rene, is incredibly talented in that department, and was kind to stop by my house this week to bring a  basket full of beautiful home grown tomatoes and peppers.  Thank you, Rene!  These tomatoes were put to delicious use.

Whole Tomatoes

With a basket full of fresh tomatoes, and Fall upon us, making a homemade spaghetti dish was inevitable, and we were in for a culinary treat when this meal was ready.

The first thing you want to do it chop the tomatoes as seen in this photo:

Chopped Tomatoes

It is very much up to you to add what you like to your sauce.  For this one I chose to add some sweet red peppers, mushroom, and chicken sausage.

Sliced Peppers

Sauté chopped garlic in a little olive oil and add the sliced peppers.  Once the peppers are a little soft, add the chopped tomatoes, cover and cook, stirring occasionally.

At this point you may add the spices you like.  I added salt, pepper, paprika, chicken bullion,  and oregano.

Note that you may use more than one kind of tomato, to make the sauce richer.  Also, I did not need to add any water to this sauce since the tomatoes provided all the fluids necessary.

You will need to cook the sauce for a while, until the tomatoes are soft.  Add the mushrooms and sliced chicken sausage, and cook approximately 30 minutes, stirring once in a while.

You can then pour this aromatic sauce over your cooked spaghetti.  It will make a delicious and memorable meal that is comforting and relaxing after a long day.

Spaghetti

Enjoy with a glass of red wine and good music!

Whole Chicken Stuffed with Couscous, in Turmeric Mushroom Sauce with Cauliflower Side Dish

I have to start by saying that these recipes are not for a casual night and take a little time to prepare and cook.  This is a great meal for a special occasion or a holiday, and you are sure to impress your loved ones and your guests with this combination of foods.  From the responses I received, it is worth the effort!

Cooking a whole chicken can be very flavorful and different from cut-up chicken pieces.  It can also be a lot cheaper.

To make this chicken you will need a dish you can use in the oven, like a rectangular glass baking dish.

Here’s what you need:

One whole chicken

One sweet onion – chopped

A small carton of whole white fresh mushrooms, washed (you can use any other type that you like)

Olive Oil

Cooking spray (olive or canola)

Salt

Pepper

Chicken Bullion powder

Turmeric

Parsley Flakes

A box of couscous

Chicken or Vegetable broth (I prefer organic)

Don’t forget:

Heat the oven on 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

 Here is what you do:

Spray the baking dish with cooking oil.  Clean the chicken and place it inside the dish.

In a small skillet, sauté the onion in a little olive oil until golden, and spread over the chicken.

Make the couscous according to the instructions on the box, then stuff the chicken with the couscous (you can use what’s left around the chicken, just like in the photo).  Spread the mushroom around the sides.

In a small bowl, mix about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, some chicken bullion, turmeric, parsley flakes and one cup of broth (chicken or vegetables).  Stir well until all the spices are well mixed, and then pour evenly over the stuffed chicken.

Cover with foil paper and bake in the heated oven for two hours.

Here is what you will have:

Whole chicken stuffed with couscous

You will need a vegetable side dish for this meal, and if you like cauliflower, you will love this recipe.

Here’s what you need:

A cauliflower head (or two, depending on how many people you are feeding)

One sweet onion – chopped

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Chicken Bullion

Paprika

Vegetable broth

You will cook this one on the stove so you will need a pot that is deep enough and a little wide.

Here’s what you do:

Cut up the cauliflower to florets and wash them well.  In a little bowl, mix vegetable broth (enough to cover a third of the pot) and all the spices.

Sauté onion in a little olive oil.  Once the onion is golden, add the florets and pour your wonderful spice mix over the cauliflower.  Cover and bring to boil.  Lower the flame and cook about 20 minutes or until desired consistency is achieved.

Here is what you will have:

Cauliflower

This is what the complete meal looks like once it’s served:

Plate with chicken and cauliflower

This meal is delicious and perfect for a relaxing special evening at home.  It is also healthy since it’s made from fresh organic ingredients and it is low on carbs.  Cooked cauliflower has excellent nutritional value as it is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol.  It is a good source of protein, Vitamin C, and Fiber.

Enjoy!!!

Traditional Moroccan Couscous Dinner

Dinner is one of those things that gives you an opportunity to turn an ordinary night into an extraordinary evening. You don’t have to wait for Friday night to do that. Why not have a relaxing evening in the beginning of the week?

In my desire to take another break from cookbooks, and still stay healthy, I gave in to my Mediterranean roots. After a trip to one of my local organic produce shops, where I was inspired to prepare a hearty dinner, I knew what to do.

At this point, you ask: so, what is it that you made?

The answer? Couscous with Moroccan style vegetable and garbanzo bean soup, served with baked turmeric chicken. Sounds like a lot of work, right?  Not really!

Moroccan food is slow to cook, and for that I enlisted the help of my beloved slow cooker, which I used to make this delicious soup.

Here is what you need:

1/2 Butternut squash, cut to 2″ cubes

4 Carrots, cut to three pieces each

4 White zucchini squash, sliced in the middle and cut up to 1″ pieces

One big onion, peeled and cut to 8 pieces

1 can of garbanzo beans

Extra virgin olive oil

Chicken bullion

Salt

Pepper

Turmeric

Chicken broth

Here is what you do:

Drizzled one tablespoon olive oil on the bottom of the slow cooker. I like to use a plastic slow cooker liner, which makes it easy to clean later, but it’s up to you.

Place butternut squash, carrots, white zucchini squash, and onions (in this order) and top with garbanzo beans.

To season, drizzle just a touch of olive oil and sprinkle chicken bullion, salt, pepper, and turmeric according to your taste. Fill up slow cooker about 3/4 with chicken broth and… Cook for 6 hours on high.

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This soup is served over couscous.  Making couscous from scratch is a laborious and time consuming process. The next best thing, which I find to be an acceptable culinary substitute, is the out-of-the-box version.  Just pick up your favorite kind (plain works best with this soup) and follow the cooking instructions. You can make this part right before you serve the meal, since it takes no longer than 10 minutes.

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The traditional way is to serve these two dishes together, with couscous first and the soup poured over it.

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Some people add chicken to the pot and cook it as part of the soup. I occasionally do that to make things easier, but wanted to have an abundance of vegetables, so I cooked the chicken separately.

Just spray an oven friendly dish with a non-stick spray (I like olive oil spray) and place the chicken on the dish. Season with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, chicken bullion, turmeric and parsley flakes, and a 1/4 cup water, cover with foil paper, and bake on 350 degrees for two hours. This is a delicious addition to the couscous and soup combo and makes for a satisfying dinner.

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Dinner was fabulous and colorful. It looked like I slaved in the kitchen all afternoon, when in reality it was super easy to make. My family was excited to have one of their favorite meals served in the beginning of the week, to cure the occasional case of the Monday Blues.

Pork Chops with Squash and Mushroom Salad

Friday night dinner was magnificent!

I made the Pork Chops with Squash and Mushroom Salad, on page 147 of the Weight Watcher’s PointsPlus Cookbook.  The result?  A delicious, healthy and enjoyable dinner.

The recipe calls for bone-in center-cut pork loin chops, but I made the thin cut pork chops instead, and they turned out really nice and moist.

Pork Chops

This recipe includes the Squash and Mushroom salad to be served with the pork chops.  It is a lively and wonderful grilled vegetables salad, which I made almost exactly according to the recipe, but added white zucchini squash, which I find to be slightly more delicate in flavor.

Squash an Mushroom Salad

If you are tracking your points for Weight Watchers, this delectable combo is only 6 PointsPlus per serving (1 pork chop and 3/4 cup salad).

An additional side dish (not part of this recipe) decorated our table.  Garlic couscous, is an out of the box dish, and may satisfy a craving you may have for the occasional carbs.  And… it is so very tasty!

Garlic Couscous

And of course… let’s not forget the wine.  I paired these dishes with the full body and “sophisticated” Argentinian Malbec.  Another favorite which I recommend you try if you haven’t yet.

Puramum Malbec 2011