Most New Yorkers will agree that finding a home with a kitchen that allows you to cook comfortably is a rare find. I’m not even sure if spacious kitchens exist in this city, which is why going home is always a special event. I find myself envying the seemingly endless space that my family has in which to cook, especially since my childhood home has a kitchen that is practically the size of half of our Brooklyn apartment. This year, my husband and I decided to truly take advantage of not only warm fires and wintery mixes of weather, but also the opportunity for us both to cook in the same kitchen without bumping asses every time we chop a vegetable or pull something from the oven.

We chose to cook in a kitchen just outside of Longville, MN where my entire family shares a cabin on Woman Lake. It is also where, six months ago, we stood in front of the closest of our friends and family and vowed to put up with each other (no matter how small the kitchen) for the rest of our lives. The weather couldn’t have been more different from our July wedding day, since now our altar site was blanketed in snow and almost unreachable without snowshoes. Christmas brought us through a blizzard to the snow covered grounds of our lake home where, immediately upon arrival, we had no choice but to each grab a shovel to create a path to the house.

The beauty of going “up north” in the winter is that once you arrive, there really is no turning back. You throw your bags in whichever room you claim as yours, strike up a fire, and proceed to do nothing but eat and drink wine until it’s time to go home.

We chose our weekend at the cabin to spread out and cook up a storm for my side of the family. It was a delicious success, especially considering my family’s carnivorous preferences when it comes to food. I am a firm believer that anybody can be a vegetarian and still enjoy all of the glory of food and wine. My sister-in-law said it best when summing up her feelings on our dinner (in her sweet Minnesotan accent) “Oh, I could totally be a vegetarian.”

Risotto can turn anyone to the dark side.

Our menu is as follows. These are all things we have made in the past and absolutely loved, although we might have rethought the richness of the combining these into one meal, but we shook it off by simply saying “’tis the season!” If you’re interested in creating something ambitious in your own kitchen, I highly recommend making the Potato Leek Focaccia. It is truly worth the effort!

Rustic Dinner Menu:

Dried Cranberries, Pecans & Rosemary Baked Brie

Tomato Leek Soup with Crispy Leek Garnish

Potato and Leek Focaccia

Scallion and Leek Risotto

Dried Cranberries, Pecans and Rosemary Baked Brie

Serves: 8-12, depending on how hungry everyone is =)

1 sheet puff pastry

1 egg

1 tbsp. water

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans

1/4 cup honey

1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 (13.2 ounces) Brie cheese  round

Crackers or crusty bread for serving

Thaw the pastry sheet at room temperature for 40 minutes or until it’s easy to handle. Heat the oven to 400°F. Beat the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork or small whisk.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 14-inch square. Stir the cranberries, pecans, honey and rosemary in a small bowl. Spread the cranberry mixture into the center of the pastry square. Top with the cheese round. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg mixture. Fold two opposite sides of the pastry over the cheese. Trim the remaining two sides of the pastry square to 2-inches from the edge of the cheese. Fold the sides up onto the cheese and press the edges to seal. Place the pastry-wrapped cheese seam-side down onto a baking sheet.  Brush the pastry with the egg mixture

Decorate the top with pastry scraps or additional rosemary, if desired. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is deep golden brown. Let stand for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It is REALLY important to let it stand or the whole thing will ooze out when you cut into it.

Serve with the crackers.

Tomato Leek Soup with Crispy Leek Garnish

adapted from a food and wine recipe found on The Kitchen Sink Recipes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)

3 leeks, divided (2 thinly sliced in half moons and 1 thinly sliced lengthwise)

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 14-ounce cans whole tomatoes (we accidentally bought two cans of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes and one regular can of whole tomatoes. Don’t ask how we got so ditsy, but it ended up being a happy mistake with spicy results. We have made this soup BOTH ways and if you’re a spice lover, replace one or two cans of the whole tomatoes with fire roasted. Delicious!)

1 cup water

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 teaspoon celery seed

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

salt & pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the sliced half moons of leeks and smashed garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the water, heavy cream, sugar, crushed red pepper, celery seed and oregano and season with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, breaking up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer for 10 minutes.

Working in batches, transfer the tomato soup to a blender and puree until smooth.* Return the soup to a clean pot and rewarm the soup if necessary. Season the soup with salt and pepper.

In a small saucepan, heat the remaining two teaspoons of oil over moderate heat. Add the remaining sliced the leeks (the lengthwise ones) and cook, stirring every so often, until browned and crispy.

Divide the soup among six bowls and garnish with the crispy leeks.

Yield: 6 bowls

* We highly highly HIGHLY recommend investing in an immersion blender if you don’t already own one. We received one after we made this soup and it really makes life so much better! If you happen to have one already, use it in this recipe instead of the blender.

Potato Leek Foccacia

recipe by Marco Flavio Marinucci of Cook Here and Now, featured in Food and Wine Magazine


2 large baking potatoes, peeled


2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 cup warm water

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing


6 large leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/8 inch thick

1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 pound Emmental cheese, diced

Coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons white truffle oil

Make the Dough:

In a saucepan, boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain. Mash the potatoes. Measure out 1 & 1/3 cups of potatoes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water and ½ cup of the flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for about 25 minutes, until the mixture is frothy.

In the bowl of a standing mixture fitted with the paddle, beat the yeast mixture with the mashed potatoes, 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, 2 tsp of salt and the remaining 3 cups of flour at medium speed for 2 minutes. Switch to a dough hook and knead until soft, slightly sticky dough forms, 5 minutes (Or do this by hand on a lightly floured surface). Transfer dough ball to a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Let stand, covered, in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about one hour.

Meanwhile, make the topping:

In a skillet, cook the leeks with the thyme, salt, and sugar in the olive oil over moderate heat, stirring, until caramelized, 15 minutes.

Lightly oil and 11×17 inch baking sheet. Transfer dough to the baking sheet and press to form an 11 x 17 inch rectangle. Lightly brush with olive oil. Let stand, loosely covered, in a warm, draft-free spot until puffy, about 35 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Using your fingers, make indentations all over the dough surface. Top with the leeks, cheese, sea salt and 1 Tbsp of the truffle oil.

Bake the focaccia on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. Transfer the focaccia to a rack and brush with the remaining 1 tablespoon of truffle oil. Let stand for 30 minutes to cool slightly. Slice into squares and serve.

Lidia Bastianich’s Basic Risotto Recipe

4 1/2 cups hot vegetable stock

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, minced (about 3/4 cup)

1 medium leek, white parts only, trimmed,
cleaned, and chopped (about 1 cup)

4 to 6 scallions, trimmed, white and green
parts chopped separately

2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice

1/3 cup dry white wine


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

Pour the stock into a 2-quart saucepan and keep it hot over low heat.

Heat the olive oil in a wide 3- to 4-quart braising pan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the leek and the white parts of the scallions and cook, stirring, until the onion is golden, about 6 minutes. Stir in the rice and continue stirring until the grains are coated with oil and “toasted” – the edges become translucent – 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour in the wine and let it boil, stirring the rice, until evaporated.
Season the rice lightly with salt and ladle enough of the hot stock into the pan to barely cover the rice. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the stock is at a lively simmer. Cook, stirring constantly, until all the stock has been absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir. Continue cooking, pouring in the remaining hot stock in small batches – each addition should be just enough to completely moisten the rice – and cook until each batch of stock has been absorbed. Stir constantly until the rice mixture is creamy but al dente; this will take 16 to 20 minutes from the time the wine was added. When in doubt, undercook – risotto continues to cook, even after it is removed from the heat.

Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the butter and green parts of the scallion until the butter is completely melted. Stir in half the grated cheese, taste the risotto, and add salt, if necessary, and pepper. Always ladle risotto into warm, shallow bowls and serve immediately after finishing. Either top each serving with some of the remaining grated cheese or pass the cheese separately.

Paired with:

Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2008