I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lavender Champagne Cocktail

I hope everyone has been having a wonderful holiday season! Unlike last year, this year I have been really feeling the holiday spirit, despite not going home for Christmas. We have been having dinners and drinks with friends, making candy, checking out the holiday decorations, and in general just taking advantage of the season. Especially by eating and drinking far too much.

Take for instance Christmas Eve and Christmas Day which Joe and I spent alone for the first time ever. Christmas Eve we had a mound of reserve prosciutto, a New Jersey English-style cheddar and a perfectly ripe and lovely epoisses from Bklyn Larder (where we happened to have lunch/do some last minute shopping with a certain brother/sister acting duo). Christmas day I pulled out the leftover cheese to eat along with roasted bone marrow while I cooked up a big, beautiful aged rib eye steak, fried potatoes and sauteed mushrooms. Decadent.

Along with the bone marrow appetizer we also enjoyed champagne cocktails made with a lavender simple syrup I had made for Thanksgiving. It is a very simple cocktail and its floral flavor is a nice way to begin a meal. It would also make the perfect addition to your New Year's Eve party this year!

Lavender Simple Syrup
1 c. water
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. baking/tea lavender

In a small saucepan heat the water and sugar over high heat. Once it begins to boil stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the lavender. Allow to sit for 15 minutes and then strain to remove the lavender. Store in the refrigerator.

Lavender Champagne Cocktail
lavender simple syrup
sparkling white wine
angostura bitters

Place 1 TB of lavender simple syrup into a champagne flute. Fill the glass with sparkling wine. Add 2-3 drops of bitters. Stir gently and serve.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cream of Celery Soup

When I was studying abroad in Spain I lived with an amazing host family. My lovely host "mom" had a couple of other women staying there for a couple of weeks each during my semester who were also studying Spanish at the language school I was attending. One of these women was an older Englishwoman. She had recently purchased a home in the Spanish countryside and was working very hard to learn the language. Although my Spanish wasn't fluent at the time, it was definitely better than hers and I think she appreciated having someone around who could help translate back and forth during family time.

After her few weeks at the school were up, she invited us to come see her new place. We took a winding road through the mountains to the secluded paradise that was her home. It was small, but very open with a large kitchen and dining room table, plus a huge rambling garden overlooking the surrounding mountains. 

She had prepared a very simple lunch for us that we ate on the patio next to the garden. I don't remember much about that meal except for the soup. I took one bite and it was a revelation. I asked what it was and she seemed surprised by my enthusiasm as she replied that it was just a simple celery soup.

At that point in my life I had never made my own soup and the idea of eating a celery soup straight instead of just adding it as an ingredient in casseroles never occurred to me. That enchanting, simple flavor has stayed with me for all of these years.

Last week as the temperatures dropped and the cravings for comforting food rose, I dug through the fridge in search of something to eat. I came across a bunch of celery that was in need of use before it went bad and the memory of that celery soup came to me. I decided to try my hand at it.

This may not be exactly like the version I had on that Spanish fall day so many years ago, but it is delicious and tastes complex despite the few ingredients. And now with this recipe I can relive that perfectly lovely day over and over again.

Celery Soup

4-5 servings
1 bunch/bag of celery
3-4 cloves garlic
1 large shallot (about 3 TB chopped)
2 TB cooking oil
1 box chicken stock (32 oz)
salt and pepper
2 t. cumin
2 t. coriander powder
1/2 c. heavy cream
3 TB flour 
3 TB water

Coarsely chop the celery, garlic and shallots. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and then add the vegetables. Saute until the celery has softened (turning down heat if the shallots or garlic begin to brown), about 10 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, a bit of salt and pepper (you will add more later to taste), the cumin and coriander powder. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 12-15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and then puree the soup using an immersion blender. Then press the soup through a fine sieve to remove the tough bits of the celery.
Put the strained soup back into a medium saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. 
Mix together the flour and water in small bowl and then whisk this into the soup. Stir until the soup has thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cooking Together

I'm a bit of a control freak in all areas of my life. As class president in high school I had a very difficult time allowing anyone else to help in planning prom or any other events. I just felt like it wouldn't get done correctly if I didn't do it myself. This is not a healthy way of thinking.

I've tried to be better. Really. But in the kitchen I have a very hard time letting go of that control. Often times it's because I'm trying something new so I don't really know what needs to happen next or how much of something to add until it is time to do so. There is also that peace and rhythm that I fall into while cooking and since my kitchen is so small having someone else there breaks that up a little. However! There is something so great about cooking with other people. Bouncing ideas off of one another, getting advice or another opinion when something isn't going well, having extra hands to be able to do many things at once. Plus the conversation and the bonding that is inevitable while working side by side. It is something that, despite my controlling ways, I have come to love.

My friend Alicja and I go through bottles of wine and (what seems to be) barrels of hummus and rice crackers while preparing food. A college friend, Mary, and I are preparing to get together for a day of Christmas candy making to make up for being away from our families for the holidays. And cooking side by side with my husband always makes it feel like an extra special evening.

The other night we didn't exactly cook together, but after dinner we did take the time to sit around on our couch and decorate some sugar cookies. (I'm going to be perfectly honest and admit that I got the store-bought cookie dough and frosting. To my defense I've had a cold and was having a super lazy day) We are not particularly gifted in the art of cookie decorating (although I'm particularly proud of Joe's line drawing tribute to John Lennon). However, it was a lovely evening spent doing something other that just watching TV.

I urge you to keep dinner from being a chore by getting in the kitchen with someone you love. Catch up while chopping, searing, or prepping side-by-side and then sit down to enjoy your efforts and keep the conversation going. I guarantee the meal (and the company) will be extra delicious.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Coming Back?

Over and over again I seem to leave huge gaps between posts and then rush back promising to be better. This time I had my longest lag yet. I spent a lot of time thinking about if I even wanted to keep this thing going. But I started to miss it. So, we will plow forward, hoping to post more often, but making no promises this time around.

What have I been up to in my absence?
Catering a fundraiser for The Trinity Project with my friend, Alicja:

Taking a lovely trip upstate to hang with my friend Kelly, and visit the "Parliament of Reality" plus Woodstock:

Planning and attending my 10 year high school reunion and heading back to Kansas for it and again for a wedding. Plus, eating at the best snow-cone stand ever, Fresher than Fresh Snow Cones in Kansas City:

Training for and running my second NYC Marathon:

Preparing Thanksgiving for some friends (look how pretty that bird is! but ignore the messy kitchen.):

 Enjoyed one of my favorite places in the city, Tom's Diner:

Seeing some amazing theatre (The Red Shoes. One of the greatest things I've seen in a long, long time).

And last night I made some fondue and decorated the tree with Joe: