The camphorous delicate buds of the lavender flower are intoxicating. I have been lusting after lavender lately. The soothing scent is familiar yet foreign especially when used culinarily. The restaurant where I work made a lavender panna cotta last season that awakened my taste buds and turned me on to this aromatic herb of love.
Steeped in simple syrup, the sweet-smelling buds perfumed my entire apartment. The refreshing fragrance calmed and cleansed the air. Lavender reminds me of summertime in Europe. I learned to sit still amidst fat fuzzy bumble bees floundering about my head in Heidelberg. Their whirring wings intimidated me, but I relaxed knowing they were just foraging for sweet pollen.
At the Union Square Farmers Market, I saw bunches of lavender with the same busy bumble bees bouncing from bud to bud. I bought fresh lavender bunches for décor, and dried lavender online for baking and boozing. I don’t want to inundate you with lavender recipes, but I’m thinking French 75s, lavender mojitos, and gin lavender lemonade- don’t get me started on the baked goods. All I know is in this cold city winter, gin lavender lemonade will make you wish for warmer weather and the buzzing of bumble bees around your head.
Gin Lavender Lemonade
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (5 large lemons)
- 8 oz Hendricks (or gin/ vodka of your choice)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbsp lavender simple syrup (see below)
- Soda water
- Lemon twist or Lavender sprig (or both) to garnish
Lavender Simple Syrup
- 2 tbsp dried lavender buds
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
Bring the 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and steep the dried lavender buds for 5 minutes. Strain and press the liquid out of the lavender buds (I’m saving the candied lavender buds in an airtight container to use as a garnish for baked goods; bake them at 225F for 15 minutes to dry them out). Allow the lavender simple syrup to cool.
Juice the lemons (I like to peel the lemons and save the peel to make candied lemon zest or just lemon simple syrup to have on hand!). Mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice with the Hendricks, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 cups water, and 2 tbsp lavender simple syrup. Pour about 4 ounces of the gin lavender lemonade over ice. Top the gin lavender lemonade with soda water (or champagne if you’re feeling boozy) and garnish with a lavender sprig and lemon twist.
Winter just began 3 weeks ago and after all the holidays are over I’m still celebrating winter veggies and their leafy, hardy deliciousness– starting with Brussels sprouts. Roasted, steamed, seared, and fried- Brussels sprouts can be sharp and savory or caramelized and sweet. I prefer my Brussels sprouts to be crisp and seared on the outside or roasted to perfection.
There are so many combinations possible for these tiny cruciferous cabbage heads. I’ve braised them in balsamic and topped with creamy goat cheese, roasted them and added crispy bacon, or shaved them for a winter slaw. Ever since I had Trader Joe’s Blue Cheese and Pecan Spread (don’t worry Publix you’re still #1 in my book), I have wanted to replicate some of those flavors with roasted Brussels sprouts.
Oven-roasted Brussels sprouts with red onions are tossed in lemon and maple syrup and topped with blue cheese and toasted pecans. You can add guanciale or pancetta as great alternatives to bacon (or just use bacon) if you like or dried cranberries for a sweeter approach. I served the roasted Brussels sprouts with Blue Cheese and Pecans with maple rosemary pork tenderloin.
Winter Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
- ½ large red onion sliced
- ½ cup toasted pecan halves and pieces
- ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Add crisp pancetta, guanciale, bacon, dried cranberries, or orange segments (optional
Salt a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Once boiling blanch the Brussels sprouts for 3 minutes or so. Rinse under cool water or place in an ice bath to stop them from cooking. Preheat the oven to 400F. Trim and halve the Brussels sprouts. Slice the onion and toss with the olive oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the sprouts and onions to sit marinating for 15-30 minutes. Drain the excess marinade and save for drizzling later.
Roast the Brussels sprouts and red onions until golden and caramelized about 25-30 minutes. Serve the roasted Brussels sprouts warm topped with the toasted pecans and crumbled blue cheese (or any other additions you choose). Squeeze a little fresh lemon on top to garnish the roasted brussels sprouts and add some of the marinade on top.
Coquito is coconut sweetened and cinnamon rich Puerto Rican eggnog. One drinks coquito in small little glasses, a teeny tiny bit at a time- as to not overwhelm the palate. The rich coconut milk, sweet rum, and warm aromatic cinnamon become familiar holiday traditions. And when rum and coconut are involved- we always honor tradition.
Once there is a Puerto Rican in the family, coquito is bound to be present at every Noche Buena, and it becomes something everyone looks forward to each year. My tio Raul always makes the BEST classic Puerto Rican coquito for noche buena. This coquito would make my abuela giggle and my tias tipsy. Everyone always wants seconds, and the coquito is bound to quickly run out. This year I can’t go home for Christmas, so I called up my uncle to get his famous recipe. Noche Buena wouldn’t be the same without a few sips of the sweet coconut elixir. My uncle’s Puerto Rican coquito recipe is the very best and oh-so simple. It is perfect for Christmas celebrations- and will instantly become a family tradition.
Puerto Rican Coquito
- 1 bottle white rum (or more to taste, Tio Raul says Don Q White is preferred)
- 2 cans of Goya Leche de Coco (or more to your taste)
- 1 can of Dulce de Coco (or more to your taste)
- 1 can condensed milk
- 1 egg yolk (theoretically optional)
- Cinnamon (to your taste)
- Pinch salt
Whisk the coquito ingredients together to taste. Get the small dulce de coco cans and add one at a time while tasting. Rum has a lot of natural sugars and can get sweet quickly so err on the side of caution. Don Q silver rum is preferred for coquito, but if you must Bacardi will do. I couldn’t find Don Q here in my neighborhood so I used Bacardi white rum. The rum was quite strong so I used only 3/4 bottle for the recipe. I prefer to add an egg yolk because I think it adds richness to flavor and balances the sweet coconut in the coquito.
Coquito is perfect for holiday parties because it is best when made in advance. Allow the coquito to sit overnight in the fridge to really blend well together. I swear sitting overnight makes all the difference! Stir or shake the coquito before serving. Remember you can always add a little more of this and that to get your coquito just right for you. Coquito is best served in tiny little shot glasses on noche buena, when surrounded by family around the Christmas tree.