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:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Cook's Reflections

As I step into the kitchen a sense of calm overcomes me. I am in my element--where I feel like I belong. Why is it something I love instead of just being a mundane, necessary task or something that feels like work?

First, I think there is something immensely gratifying about presenting others with something you have created with your own hands--whether that be art or food. Putting in the time and love into a dish that has your touch on it that will nourish (hopefully both the stomach and the soul). It's a gift that you can experience together sharing a sensory experience in tandem as you eat. Friendships are stronger when allowed to grow through communal cooking and/or dining.

There is also the joy of constantly learning something new, growing in culinary knowledge and ability. From knowing a recipe by heart and preparing the dish by feel and memory to the awareness that you can try a new recipe without fear. The thrill that comes from trying something exceptionally difficult or uncharted and the true pride when it turns out perfectly. The understanding and growth that comes when a dish turns out wrong.

Finally there is the comfort of feeding myself. Having a craving for something and being able to conjure that whole finished dish out of individual elements. Knowing I do not have to rely on prepared foods or chefs to feed me what I want or to feed me well. The gratification that comes when sitting down to a meal for one prepared just for me by me, for no special occasion.

Whatever the meal is, and whoever I am enjoying it with, as I sit down along with the smells of the food wafting around me and the first bite passing my lips I begin to look forward to my next journey to the kitchen and what it will bring.

What keeps you going back to the kitchen?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Apple Smoked Scallops

Sometimes not having a clue what to make for dinner can turn in happy results. Yesterday I went by the grocery store after my run to pick up something to make for supper but had no clue what I would be making. I decided the seafood was looking pretty good and so picked up some scallops. As I was waiting for the fishmonger, I noticed that they had different types of wood chips for sale in front of the fish counter. Hmm. Smoked scallops? Could I pull it off inside my kitchen? Why not try it out?

I decided to take advantage of the broiler pan that I have (that hasn't ever actually left the broiler of my oven). I pulled it out and washed it off, then laid the scallops in a single layer on the top slotted piece. I placed soaked applewood chips in the bottom, topped it off with aluminum foil to keep the smoke inside without getting out and placed it on the burners on my stove top. I have to say it worked pretty darn well. The scallops ended up with a lovely smoky flavor and were still wonderfully tender.And my house still smells like smoky scallops today (although is this a good thing or a bad thing? Everytime I walk in the door I am craving more...). I think I'll be using this method for a few different types of fish (oysters?, shrimp?, fish fillets?), but I doubt it would work too well for anything that needs hours of slow-smoking time like beef or pork.

I made a simple sauce of apple cider and oregano to drizzle over and add to the slightly sweet notes already present in the scallops and served them alongside bacon-sauteed ramps and teeny-tiny roasted patty pan squash. A pretty nice homage to spring if you ask me.

Apple Smoked Scallops with Cider Glaze
serves 2
1 lb. diver scallops, cleaned
2 c. applewood chips
salt and pepper
1 c. apple cider
1 t. dried oregano
1 TB butter

Place the applewood chips in a large bowl and cover with water. Allow to sit for at least one hour.
Bring the scallops out of the fridge about 15 minutes before cooking.

Drain the wood chips and place them into the base of a broiler pan. Grease the top piece of a broiler pan and lay out the scallops on the top. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place the top back onto the bottom of the broiler pan and then cover tightly with aluminum foil, leaving some space above the top of the scallops and the aluminum foil (try to make sure the smoke will stay inside the foil and not escape through any holes). Place the broiler pan over two burners on a gas stove and turn them both on to medium high heat. Cook the scallops until cooked through but not too tough, about 20 minutes (probably closer to 25 minutes for large scallops and 15 minutes for small ones).

While the scallops are smoking prepare the cider sauce. Heat the apple cider in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until it has reduced by half. Stir in the oregano and some salt and pepper, then stir in the butter until it is melted. Serve the sauce drizzled over top of the smoked scallops.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fennel Pollen Rubbed Pork Chops

When I first began to create my own recipes I was so overwhelmed. I really didn't know what I was doing 90% of the time, hadn't had enough practice in the kitchen and I felt the need to really mix, match and add seasonings and flavors to whatever I was cooking. It took a while to learn that usually the best meals are those that are the most straight-forward, simple, and feature ingredients that are of high quality (which doesn't mean the most expensive--just those that are grown/raised/prepared with care). These lovely pork chops are just the thing.

I purchased the pork chops at the greenmarket from Flying Pigs Farm, which I've mentioned before. Seriously, their pork chops are one of the greatest things I've ever eaten. Melt-in-your-mouth tender, full of porky flavor, there is no need for fuss with these babies. They are just sprinkled with fennel pollen, salt and pepper and seared. That's it. They were served alongside Diner's Potatoes, recipe found on The Wednesday Chef blog (isn't her blog just lovely?).

The fennel pollen came from my new favorite store on the planet: Bklyn Larder. I could spend my monthly salary here without blinking and not feel bad about it. Along with the fennel pollen this trip I also bought some of their fruity extra virgin olive oil (which they dole out in refillable bottles that you can bring back with you when you are ready for more), some crusty bread and rabbit rillettes (I'm melting in my chair just remembering how good these were). They sell cheeses, imported and house cured meats, homemade gelato and pickles, and a few different dry goods. It's the kind of place I'd love to open myself one day...

Fennel Pollen Rubbed Pork Chops
2 servings
2 thick cut pork chops (mine were around 1.4 lbs. for both, bone-in)
2 t. fennel pollen
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
olive oil

Remove the pork chops from the fridge about an hour before cooking to bring to around room temperature.
Heat a large, thick skillet over medium-high heat. Grease lightly with olive oil.
Sprinkle the pork chops all over with fennel pollen, salt and pepper. Once the pan is almost smoking, sear the pork chops, about 3 minutes on each side, until they are cooked between medium rare and medium. Remove from the pan and allow to sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Broccoli Rabe Pizza

I love this time of year. Those beautiful, sunny, warm days that seem to wash away the gloom of the winter. And the promise of lovely fruits and vegetables that will soon be making an appearance at the markets. Joe and I love to spend nice days just walking--exploring different parts of the city. Last week we had one of those gorgeous days where we spent hours and hours wandering around the park and our neighborhood. Afterwards we were hungry, but craving something healthy and not too heavy.
Broccoli rabe pizzas with lemon-y ricotta and mushrooms were the answer. Refreshing, delicious, and oh, so simple, they are a perfect transition to the warmer weather as we are still waiting for spring veggies.

Broccoli Rabe Pizza
3 servings
8 oz. ricotta cheese
zest of 1 lemon
1-1 1/2 t. fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 large bundle broccoli rabe, tough stems trimmed, roughly chopped
3 TB butter
2 TB olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 lb. of mushrooms, sliced
3-7" flatbread pitas
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees for 30 minutes.
In a small bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli rabe and saute until almost tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.
Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture on each of the flatbreads. Top each with 1/3 of the broccoli rabe, 1/3 of the mushrooms and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Place the flatbread pizzas onto the preheated pizza stone and bake until the cheese is gooey and the crust is crispy and browned, about 5-8 minutes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ceviche on the Beach

Last month Joe and I took a trip to Yelapa, Mexico for my best friend's wedding. Yelapa is at the southern end of Banderas Bay, a boatride away from Puerto Vallarta. And it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Yelapa is a small town. There are no regular roads because there are no cars (you have to take a boat to get there). There are, however, mules, horses and a few four-wheelers. There's also incredibly friendly people and seriously some of the best food I've had in a long time. I'm especially fond of Tacos y Mas (even though the Mas is pretty darn good, eat the tacos. Never had any better. Oh, and the margaritas are huge and fabulous.) and El Manguito, which is a bit of a trek from the center of town but completely worth it. At one meal here we had venison that was hunted that morning out in the surrounding jungle. The local "moonshine" called racilla is strong, but smoky and great when sipped alongside some uber-fresh guacamole and seafood. And for dessert (or breakfast...) find The Pie Lady walking up and down the beach selling slices of pie from tuperware on top of her head. I'm especially partial to the coconut.

If you want to go to Mexico and lay on the beach but also experience some true culture and Mexican life, stay away from Puerto Vallarta and its all-inclusive resorts and head instead to Yelapa. My friend even has some beautiful rooms you can rent :) : MiraMar Condos.  I know I can't wait to go back.

One of the highlights of the trip was our trip out to Marietta Islands. These islands are not inhabited by humans and are a wildlife sanctuary where you can see the Blue Footed Booby, crabs, eels (ew.) and more. After the hour long boat ride there (along with whale sightings) we pulled up onto the beach and swam, relaxed and played in the sand as our guides prepared an incredibly fresh ceviche. It was crisp with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, peppers and tuna. One of the guides had gone out that morning and caught the fish they were using. It was delicious, and you can't really get a better setting for eating ceviche and guac than a gorgeous beach filled with only your friends.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Whole Roasted Branzino

I always have had a fear of cooking seafood. I don't really know why. Maybe growing up so far from the ocean and never having it fresh made it seem difficult and scary. But it is seriously one of the easiest things to do, it looks impressive when you do it, and it is hard to make it taste bad unless you overcook it.
I had it in my head that I was ready to cook a whole fish. I got out of bed early one morning after a late night at work and walked to the greenmarket in temps that felt around 0 degrees to pick something up from the regular fishmonger. Who wasn't there. I was sad (and freezing) but still determined to cook a whole fish so decided this time around I'd go to a local market that carries really fresh, nice looking seafood and give it a go. They had a beautiful branzino (sea bass) that was just over 1 pound, perfect for a nice entree for Joe and I. I took it home and within half an hour had the dish ready to go. Simple and fast. And yummy. I can't wait for the fishmonger to come back to the market so I can try this again, maybe with some different stuffings and different fish.

Whole Roasted Branzino
2 servings
3 TB olive oil, divided
1 1-1 1/2 lb. whole branzino, cleaned and scaled
fresh ground pepper
3-4 thin slices of lemon
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
3 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat a large skillet over high heat with 1 TB of the olive oil. Prepare a sheet pan by topping with a sheet of parchment paper. Rub the branzino all over, inside and out, with the remaining olive oil. Then sprinkle generously inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the inside of the branzino with the lemon, rosemary, thyme and garlic cloves.
Once the skillet is hot but the oil is not quite smoking, sear the branzino on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Carefully transfer the fish to the prepared sheet pan and place in the preheated oven. Roast until the fish is cooked through and the flesh is flaky, about 10 minutes. Fillet the fish and serve half to each person, or serve the fish whole at the table and pick it apart together.

Optional: Serve lemon wedges alongside to squeeze over top of the finished fish. Or drizzle the fish fillets with high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tomato Soup and Gruyere Grilled Cheese

It is a-snowin' out there. Even though it is coming down fairly hard we have been pretty lucky here in Brooklyn and haven't been hit as bad as many other places along the East Coast lately. Regardless, I still just want to curl up inside the apartment with comforting, warming food. Of which I believe the ultimate is creamy tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The great thing about this tomato soup recipe is that it uses many things that you probably keep on hand in your pantry/fridge. Which means no unnecessary trips out int the blustery weather for extra ingredients. It is also very easy to substitute or change around the ingredients depending on what you have. As for the grilled cheese, it isn't anything complicated but it is made special with cave aged gruyere (which has a wonderful deep flavor that holds up well to the tomato soup) and crusty, but soft, Pugliese bread. The loaf I bought (from Bklyn Larder, my new favorite specialty food store in my neighborhood) was baked at Grandaisy Bakery. They make damn fine bread, maybe some of my favorite I've had in the city. And this particular loaf becomes perfectly crunchy and flavorful when cooked in a good quantity of butter in a skillet.

As the snow continues to fall whip up a batch of this soup and sandwiches, curl up on the couch with some good wine and good company, and stay warm!

Tomato Soup
5 servings
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 t. fresh thyme
3 TB olive oil
1 can (28oz.) San Marzano tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz) vegetable stock
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
3 TB butter
1/4 c. cream

Finely chop the carrots, celery, onion and garlic into uniform pieces. Coarsely chop the thyme. In a dutch oven or soup pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic and thyme to the pan. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the can of tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for another 10-15 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth, cook for another 5 minutes, and then remove the pot from heat. Use an immersion blender to puree all of the tomatoes and vegetables. Once the soup is smooth, return to the stovetop over medium-low heat. Stir in salt and pepper, butter and cream. Taste to check seasoning and adjust as necessary. Serve once soup is heated through.

Gruyere Grilled Cheese
4 sandwiches
1/3 lb. cave-aged gruyere cheese
8 slices (3/4" thick) of Pugliese Bread or country bread
4 TB butter

Grate the gruyere cheese. Divide the cheese onto 4 slices of the bread and top with remaining 4 slices. Heat a large skillet over medium heat with 2 TB of butter. Once the butter has melted place the sandwiches on the skillet and cook until toasted on one side, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the sandwiches to a plate. Add the remaining 2 TB butter to the skillet and allow to melt. Return the sandwiches to the skillet, non-toasted sides down. Toast this side of the sandwich, again about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the skillet and serve immediately.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tried and True

As much as I enjoy creating my own recipes or only using others' recipes as jumping-off points when I cook sometimes there is nothing so nice as having a recipe that is already there in front of you to use. Especially one you know works. It takes away any guesswork and any stress that may come from off-the-cuff cooking. I want to share a few recipes that I have found around the web lately that I love and will be returning to again and again.

From Serious Eats: Quick Poached Asian Pears

From Baked Perfection: S'more Cookie Bars

From Vanilla Sugar (and maybe one of my favorite things I've eaten this winter): Mushroom Bisque with Crispy Shallots

From Saveur: Sauteed Ramps and Bacon

From Jaime Oliver via The Kitchn: Milk Braised Chicken

From Furey and the Feast (seriously, wow): Gorgonzola and Leek Creme Brulee

From Giada de Laurentiis: Chicken Piccata

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fiery Hot Chocolate Mix

Code Blue! Code Blue! Someone bring the crash cart! I need some help resuscitating this blog--Good lord it's been a while since I've posted!

And I do realize that the season of giving has passed so those readers still around may not have need for hostess gifts or homemade treats anymore at this time of year, but it is still cold out there. A perfect reason to keep some darn fine hot chocolate mix around if there ever was one. I especially love this mix because it mixes in real (Valrhona) chocolate and has nice heat thanks to the cayenne, but if you don't like it hot, cut it out or cut it down. Then mix up a couple of mugs, hand one to your honey and curl up on the couch because winter shows no signs of letting up just yet. And it couldn't hurt to tip in a little peppermint schnapps to the mix--I'm generally anti-schnapps, but let go of my beliefs in the case of a minty-chocolatey winter drink.

Fiery Hot Chocolate

1 c. quality cocoa
1/2 lb 70% Valrhona Chocolate
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4-1/2 t. cayenne powder
1/2 t. salt

Chop the chocolate into chunks and then place in a food processor and pulse until it becomes small, chip size pieces. Mix together the chocolate chunks, cocoa, sugar, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Store in an airtight container.

To serve: Bring 1 c. milk to a simmer. Mix in 1/4 c. mix and whisk until well comined and chocolate is melted. Serve immediately.