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Monday, January 6, 2014

Undoing the Holiday

IT'S 2014 and alas, last year's holiday season has come and gone (including my birthday). But it didn't pass without more than a few hurrahs...

it takes more than bells and whistles to impress this New Yorker;
a recreated Scottish railway station c. 1940 will do

Three weeks after my birthday, on a Monday night, David (who was still in Ithaca on my birthday) took me out for an evening of birthday surprises which both started and ended at The McKittrick Hotel.

Our first stop was at The Heath, a recently opened restaurant spinoff [of Sleep No More]. As David and I loaded ourselves into an elevator, we had our first encounter with what would be an evening spent with actors; Are you checking into the hotel? When we stepped off the lift, we'd been transported to a 1939 Scottish railway station complete with a newsstand displaying vintage periodicals. After checking my coat in (with another actor), we were directed to the restaurant "across from platform 1." A few steps forward through a narrow corridor led us to the main entrance of the restaurant. The first thing I'd noticed upon peering in (aside from the 1930's garb that the entire staff was in firm accordance with), was the faux, recreated smoke of a smoky restaurant, which wafted slowly beneath low-hung lampshades.

Following the red-lipped hostess to a corner banquette at the front of the restaurant, David recommended the prix-fixe menu, "for those about to experience Sleep No More" (it was, then, clear what the rest of our evening would entail). We decided on sharing our selections: mini pork pies and bitter greens; roast chicken and benne crusted cod; and Nutella icebox tart and bread and butter pudding. After starting our meal with a half-dozen oysters, which we'd added into the mix, our main appetizers arrived promptly thereafter. The pork pies, with their decidedly-spicy picalilli relish, were pleasing enough; but it was the salad of bitter greens with meyer lemon, red onion, pistachio and crumbled cheddar that was unbelievably good!

Following the salad (that I could eat everyday) was the succulent roast chicken with charred broccoli, apples, hazelnuts and boiled cider. Its presentation was lovely, and the tender, savory chicken was thoughtfully offset by slivers of sweet, cooked apple and whole, toasted hazelnuts. And the benne cod followed suit after the pork pies. While David and I were still sipping sparkling rosé, our final course had arrived. Again, my plate was garnished with whole, toasted hazelnuts--an ingredient that chef R. L. King (previously of Hundred Acres) seems to be fond of--and my dish was as pleasing as its predecessor. In the end, I'd decided that this prix-fixe menu (and prix-fixe menus are something that I never opt for) is one that I could definitely revisit!

I always put my best foot forward at Christmas

THREE nights later, David and I were celebrating again; this time it was a pre-Christmas celebration, as he would be heading south the following morning to spend Christmas at his sister's house in San Antonio. As I headed home with a bottle of Bollinger champagne, picked up at PJ Wine earlier that day, David was preparing a(nother) surprise dinner. At home, he'd laid out a beautiful spread of several of my favorite foods, from black truffles to caviar; and the Bollinger champagne was excellent with deep, mature flavors and incredibly fine bubbles. It was certainly the best champagne I've had to date--I even prefer it to Dom Pérignon (2003) which is simply too "clean" for my taste...

Yet, with week after week of unbridled indulgence: come January 1st, I was yearning for something light and green. The solution: celery soup!

doing more cooking wouldn't be a bad resolution, either

I'd nearly forgotten just how much I love to cook, and that a vegetable soup is one of the easiest things that I know how to make--I don't even need a recipe! Thinking about the soup for several days, I knew that I wanted to keep it light, using primarily celerychicken stock and not much more than that. But after picking up what I'd thought was all the ingredients I'd need for the soup, I decided on adding some heavy cream (if only just a touch) as well.

chopped, seasoned and ready to boil

After chopping the celery (for even and quicker boiling), I threw it into a stock pot along with a quart of chicken stock and a healthy dose of salt, pepper and garlic powder (plus a dash of truffle salt as well). Covered, I brought the soup to a full boil; then reduced the heat for a low boil, keeping it covered and stirring occasionally. Once the celery became tender (about 20 minutes), I poured the whole lot into a blender (in two batches) over a low purée. Transferring the puréed broth to a smaller pot, I added a quick pour of heavy cream and adjusted the seasonings to taste, adding a bit of allspice and nutmeg (I'd wanted to mimic a wintry butternut squash soup).

holiday weight, consider yourself served!

That afternoon, David and I enjoyed the slightly creamy soup for lunch along with olive oil tortas and rye crispbread, paired with a French sauvignon blanc leftover from our wedding in August (yes, we still have wine leftover from the wedding).

I'm rarely one to reach for sauvignon blanc,
but it worked quite well with our soup

The vegetal notes in the Coteaux du Giennois were brought out quite strongly by the soup. And for once (we'd been trying to finish these bottles for months now!), the wine made perfect sense at one of our meals.

Just a few more days of this soup and my waistline will be prepped and ready for (my famous) pommes Maxim's!
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