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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas Eve, Italian Style

Christmas Eve is traditionally our designated holiday to host, but with the end of this year being so busy for us, we were on the fence. As it is my favorite holiday meal of all time, I found that I was quite saddened by the idea of not being in the kitchen making a big fish feast, in keeping with the custom of so many (mainly southern) Italian and Italian American households. While I resolved that it would be too hectic to make seven fishes as normal, I was still very excited to choose two basic dishes that could be served to our small group of guests. Both dishes featured below can be made in less than 20 minutes once prep is done. 


First, the appetizer: Calamari alla Luciana (Squid Neapolitan Style) 


Calamari alla Luciana, Photo: NK - Recipe HERE 
and then the main, Monkfish Piccata


Monkfish Piccata, Photo: NK - Recipe HERE
 (Note: we omitted the artichokes and kale and served spinach instead) 



Do click through some of our more involved (but never difficult or unduly time consuming) Feast of the Seven Fishes menus below, but I hope today's post gives you some great ideas for your next fish-driven dinner party or family meal. 


For Dessert: Using the selection of Christmas Cookies we'd already baked and serving them alongside high quality store bought Gelato was a fas solution. 

I've featured all the recipe to links to this year's Christmas Cookie Assortment below. Five varieties to choose from may sound daunting, but the baking was made easy and achievable by spreading it out over a few days (freezing some of those made in advance helped us immeasurably). The key is also to choose easy, foolproof cookie recipes, sticking to those that require minimal prep, ideally less than 15 minutes.


Christmas Cookie Assortment, Photo: NK

Cookie Assortment, clockwise from the top:

Ina Garten's Shortbread Jam Thumbprints
Christmas Morning Biscotti
Arrowroot Cookies with Cinnamon
Pignoli Cookies 
Spiced Italian Pecan Meringues 

~~
I hope you enjoy and that the holiday season brought happiness and peace to your home. 
We look forward to returning to our usual menu program next Christmas Eve! 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Carols, Cookies and Christmas Cheer

The holiday season is in full swing, and though this is the most busy time for some, it's actually a bit slower in our household, believe it or not. The preceding months were absolutely action packed, and try as I might, I did not get to do nearly enough blog-worthy kitchen experimentation. 

Every holiday season, I attempt to add another cookie to my highly selective baking repertoire (find two of our other favorites HERE and HERE). As a prerequisite, the recipes I repeat must be both very easy to master and predictable in outcome. Nothing bothers me more than doing everything exactly the same and getting a less than stellar result, but such is life with baking, and that's why to this day, I will always prefer to cook. 

This year I have had a bit of an inexplicable thing for shortbread (all my life I had no idea it was so easy to make, often with only 3 ingredients in the dough! ) so Ina Garten's Shortbread Jam Thumbprints drew me in almost immediately. After one test run for half this large-batch recipe, I was convinced that it was totally foolproof. A baker I am not, but I know a good cookie when I taste one. 

You'll find the link to the recipe in the photo below
. You can make them ahead and freeze them too! I used unsweetened Coconut Flake whereas the Contessa calls for sweetened. I think ours came out delicious. Pull them just when the coconut stars to get slightly golden. You can't miss! 

Ina's Jam Thumbprint Cookies - Click HERE for Recipe! 
Next up, with all sugar and holiday treats around, I set out to bake an ever so slightly more virtuous treat for my family, one a little less sweet, maybe a little more biscuit like, but still satisfying over a cup of tea or, for the little one, a sippy cup of Milk. 

Arrowroot Flour always catches my eye in the health food store, and I've always been curious about it.  Given this, it only made sense that I should try and recreate a childhood favorite, Arrowroot Cookies. Turns out Arrowroot itself is pretty interesting. A starch derived from tropical plants, Arrowroot Flour is known for being easily digestible and the plant itself was prized in ancient Central American cultures. 

Once I got my hands on a super simple recipe from another blogger, I was pleased both by how fast the easy dough came together, the equally quick bake time and of course the results. The original recipe from Someone's In The Kitchen Blog appears below with my only change, the addition of a 1/2 teaspoon of Cinnamon, a favorite spice in our house, and the fact that I used light brown sugar instead of dark. Either would work. 

Kids and adults of all ages will enjoy these simple, homey treats, and you will love the cost savings as compared to other kid's crackers. You could get creative and cut the dough into letter shapes, stamp it, decorate with a fork as I did, or even engage your kids in the effort. 

Enjoy and I hope the holiday season is as stress free and fun as possible! 


Simple Arrowroot Cookies 
Lightly Adapted from Someone's In The Kitchen
Yields 25-30 Cookies 


Simple Arrowroot Cookies - So many possibilities! Photo: NK 



Ingredients: 

1/4 cup butter brought to room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1/2 cup arrowroot flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon (optional) 

Method
Preheat oven to 350. 

In a KitchenAid or using a hand blender, combine butter and brown sugar together until creamy

Add vanilla and egg and beat well.

Sift together flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon if using.

Combing dry ingredients with egg mixture and mix until incorporated. 

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into about ¼ inch thickness.  

Cut into desired shapes and put
 cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet, not too far apart as they will not spread out when baking. 


Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cool on rack.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Comfort Cooking - Perfect Chicken Stock

Rainy, gloomy, and damp, today is just a Chicken Soup kind of fall day. 

Of course, the first step to any great soup is a well developed stock, and if you've got some leftover Chicken and nothing better going on for a few hours, making it is from scratch is both wonderfully easy and very worthwhile. 

Now, keep in mind, you can certainly put your own stamp on Stock (it's very hard to mess up and the longer you simmer it, the more the flavors will intensify), but it you're looking for a good basic method, the below recipe works very well and always seems to deliver a tasty result. 

Here's how we do it:


Perfect Chicken Stock 
Makes 5 Quarts 
Slightly adapted from Ina Garten 


Ingredients: 

The seasoned, cooked carcass of a 4.5-5 lb Roaster Chicken, with some meat still on it (we like make Chicken Salad with the meat of the Roaster Chicken, and reserve about 2 Cups of chopped, cooked Chicken to add back whenever we make the Chicken Soup from this stock)
3-4 large Carrots, rinsed, cut lengthwise and broken half
1 very large Yellow Onion cut into quarters, skin on
4 Celery Stalks, leaves on, broken in half
2 Parsnips, halved crosswise
1 head of Garlic, top slice off
1 large Leek, (hard green tops discarded then cut lengthwise and in half, then and soaked to remove dirt)
1 large handful of fresh Dill
1.25 Tablespoons Kosher Salt (a bit less if you are sodium sensitive, you can always add more later if needed)
2 Tablespoons Whole Peppercorns 
5 Quarts (1 Gallon + 1 Quart) Spring Water 
Squeeze of Lemon Juice (optional) 

Method:Add all the ingredients into a very large pasta or cast iron pot (ideally with a strainer basket inside to easily remove the large solids). 

Cover with Water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 4 hours (skim foam from the top periodically if you can). When finished, let it cool and strain it all using a colander until all solids are removed. I like to finish it with a squeeze of Lemon Juice. Use the Stock to make your favorite Chicken or Chicken Noodle Soup! (Cook's Note: for a very simple, improvised Chicken Soup, I just saute some chopped yellow Onion, Carrot and Celery and add chopped cooked Chicken, Stock, and some cooked Barley or small Pasta. Greens like Parsley, Dill or Thyme would be a welcome addition -- add Salt and Pepper only as needed, serve and enjoy!). 

Tip - Use extra Carrots, Onions and Leeks you may have bought to make our favorite Turkey Mushroom Meatloaf!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Summer - Fig & Brioche Tartines

There are few things that make me happy about the end of summer, but the beauty of the fall season to come is one of them. With that comes great produce - Pumpkins and Pumpkin flavored foods get all the attention (or should I say, overexposure?), but for me, the humble Fig is the most worthy harbinger of the changing season. Earthy green or purply brown on the outside and bright and beautiful on the inside, it's as if they carry the last of the sweet summer memories into the autumn the chill.

Fig & Brioche Tartines, Photo: NK

If you you look back through Neurotic Kitchen's late summer posts, you'll almost always find a Fig recipe to try. This year's is the simplest, and was inspired by a decadent Grilled Cheese Sandwich I enjoyed from one of the food trucks at the lovely Hallockville Museum Farm Country Fair. Hallockville is a not-for-profit and working farm featuring landmark historic buildings. The organization seeks to "preserve and interpret the history of farming on the North Fork of Long Island." The Country Fair had lots of great food, farm-themed amusements for the kids, and lots of really interesting old-time tractors and farm equipment. This city girl was shocked by how much she enjoyed the antiques! If you have the chance, make sure to visit next summer. 


Anyways, on the drive home, we stopped by our favorite farm stand where they were selling some really good looking, ripe black figs. Seeing as I can almost never resist them, I just knew they'd need to be worked into our dinner somehow. The next stop was to the supermarket where I grabbed a log of Brie and, when additional inspiration struck, some sliced Brioche. What followed was one of the easiest and yummiest pre-dinner bites I've had in a while. I hope you enjoy as much as we did!

Fig & Brioche Tartines
Serves Six

Ingredients:
About 8 Ripe Black Figs, cut into 1/4 inch slices
8 Ounce Log or Wheel of Brie (doesn't need to be a fancy Brie)
6 slices Brioche
Fig Preserves (Optional)
Salted Butter
Coarse Sea Salt 
Fresh Thyme Sprigs (Optional)

Method: 

Hollow out the Brie Log or wheel and reserve the soft inside in a bowl or on a surface until it reaches room temperature. 

Just as you would a grilled cheese, butter both sides of each slice of Brioche and lightly toast until one side is deeply golden and close to fully toasted. Lower the flame all the way. 

Remove Brioche to heatproof surface, toasted side up. Lightly spread each slice with optional Fig Preserve (a thin layer) and a healthy amount of Brie. Butter the griddle again and return the toast, Brie Side up to the griddle where you'll heat until the Brie Fully Melts. 

Remove toasts and top with slices of Fig. Now give them a light sprinkle of Sea Salt and a garnish of fresh Thyme Sprigs (with a few of the leaves removed and scattered on top. Enjoy! 

Neurotic Kitchen Tip: This would make for a great brunch dish too!