Last year, I hosted a New Year’s Tea party for my friends, A., N., and S. Collectively, we are the 4 Musketeers, among other things … Our first New Year’s Tea was such a success that we decided to make it an annual tradition.
Tuscan white bean soup with kale
(from the kitchen of N.)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 ribs celery, finely diced (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 quart chicken broth
2 (15-ounce) cans white beans (cannellini or great northern), with their liquid
4 6-inch sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped and stems reserved
1 (3-4 inch) chunk parmesan rind (optional)
2 bay leaves
3 to 4 cups roughly chopped kale or Swiss chard leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and dried red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth, beans and their liquid, rosemary stems, Parmesan rind, and bay leaves. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a bare simmer, add kale, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves and rosemary stems. Use a hand blender to roughly puree part of the beans until desired consistency is reached. Alternatively, transfer 2 cups of soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth (start on low speed and increase to high to prevent blender blow-out). Return to the soup and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with reserved chopped rosemary leaves, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve with crusty toasted bread.
To usher in a sweet and uplifting year …
Even though it’s an integral part of afternoon tea, I decided to forgo the fruit course to make things easier for myself. As a compromise, I combined the fruit and scones courses by making blueberry scones. Sometimes it’s better to go with simple rather than perfection.
I have always liked lemon bars … the idea of them, the taste, and presentation … but I have never truly liked any of the lemon bars I’ve ever tasted, including my own. I don’t even have a standard for what a good lemon bar should be. But, stop the presses! I have finally encountered the perfect lemon bar! I officially proclaim S. to be the Queen of Lemon Bars! Her lemon bars were out-of-this-world delicious! Not too tart, not too sweet, and the texture was, in a word, sublime! First of all, you can see that these are even shaped like lemon bars. Not lemon squares, but lemon BARS. These were bars of gold as far as I’m concerned! 🙂 I’m not sure how it was possible for that soft creamy lemony custard to sit atop a thick crisp crumbly shortbread crust (which was a work of art in itself) without falling apart. The powdered sugar was the perfect amount of sweet to counterbalance the tart. I shamelessly ate 2 bars in one sitting and still dream about them … 🙂 Long live S., Queen of the Lemon Bars!
We ended our tea party on a sweet note, sharing our aspirations, hopes, and goals for the new year (see list below). We learned a lot from each other and as a result, we are now ready to tackle the new year. 🙂
What a year it’s been! Highlights from 2013
Favorite new food: ____________________________________
Favorite activity: ______________________________________
Favorite book: ________________________________________
Favorite movie: _______________________________________
Greatest lesson learned: _______________________________
Hardest thing I had to do: _______________________________
Favorite memory: _____________________________________
What I love most about 2013: ___________________________
Looking forward to 2014
What I want to learn: __________________________________
What I want to get better at: ____________________________
Biggest goal: ________________________________________
Happy new year!