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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!


Monday, July 24, 2017

House Special - My Rules of Seafood Pasta

Seafood pasta is the signature dish of our household, with Linguine and White Clam Sauce inarguably holding the top spot. Still I am at heart, a lover of variety. That's why especially in summer when fresh fish most appeals to me, I like to change things up a bit and create different variations of shellfish over pasta, whether in white (oil/broth based) or red "tomato-based" sauces. 

One thing is for sure, once you master the very forgiving technique of most basic seafood pastas, you are almost guaranteed a quick cooking meal that tastes and feels special. Just be sure you are choosing the absolute freshest fish you can find - it will make all the difference.


My latest Seafood Improvisation -Linguine Frutti di Mare in fresh Tomato Sauce 
with Clams, Calamari, Shrimp & Mussels, Photo: NK 

Below you'll find some of my rules and techniques for successful Seafood Pastas plus a few of our favorite recipes that you can try. Once you get the hang of them you owe it to yourself to improvise one on your own. You'll be surprised at how easy it is. 

TIPS

1. Always clean, prep and chop non-fish ingredients ahead.  Seafood pastas are quick cooking so if you aren't prepared, your timing can be really thrown off. Chop all vegetable or herb ingredients in advance (usually garlic, shallot or onion, and a green like Italian Parsley). 

2. With shellfish, smaller is always better. Particularly with bivalves, the smallest Littleneck Clams or Mussels are the way to go. I always find them to be sweeter, fresher, and more flavorful. If you cannot personally select them just ask your fishmonger to select the smallest they can find. Shrimp is probably an exception to this rule, as the various sizes can all be delicious as long as they are fresh (and preferably, Wild & American). Consider your recipe in choosing the most ideal Shrimp size. 

3. Scrub and prepare all shellfish as directed - this is crucial because no one likes a sandy dish of food. Additionally, the process of cleaning is your opportunity to to do some additional quality control. I personally sniff every Clam, Shrimp or Mussel that I serve. If anything has a cracked shell, or smells a bit off, definitely toss it. Your nose will almost always steer you in the right direction. The internet has a wealth of information on cleaning your shellfish, and you'll find tricks for all varieties (for instance, Ina Garten submerges Mussels in cold water with flour to get them to unleash any sand or impurities). Your fishmonger may also be able to execute timesaving measures such as peeling and deveining Shrimp. Even if you have to pay a little extra, it's nearly aways worth it. 

4. Salt the pasta water. This is the rule almost always, but I find it particularly important with Seafood Pasta which is usually delicately flavored and layered.

5. Don't overcook the pasta. Please. Al dente is crucial, and to get it perfect ever time, I time it!  Also, always reserve some pasta water to loosen the pasta if necessary or add to the sauce. 

6. Don't overcook the Shellfish. Noticing a theme? Whether clams, mussels, here is my secret to success -- the second they open, take them out and set them aside in a bowl to catch the juices. To achieve this, you'll need to stand by your pot with tongs and work quickly, checking under the lid of the pot frequently. This is no big deal - Shellfish cooks so quickly and there's nothing worse than rubbery seafood (I'm talking to you, Calamari). 

7. This one is more a suggestion but I can't resist -- skip the Cheese! There's an unwritten rule that Italians don't put grated cheese on Seafood. I abide by this rule and it has never failed me. If you follow these steps, the flavor will be there - or there is not much a sprinkle of Salt can't fix. 

BASIC METHOD

1. Start your salted Pasta Water boiling. 

2. Add either Olive Oil or Salted Butter to a large, deep pan. (I actually like a mix of both - depending on how many you are serving, either one or two Tablespoons of each will do. Warm it over a medium flame taking care not to let it smoke). 

3. Add minced fresh Garlic or finely chopped Onion or Shallots. These are always good aromatic base ingredients. Cook gently taking care not to burn, especially if we're talking Garlic. If you burn the Garlic, dump it and start over. 

4. Time for Liquid. For Clam Sauce I use Clam Juice and White Wine. White Wine, even in a red-based sauce, is preferably. It won't turn your Calamari or Onions purple. That's a plus. As an aside, if you are cooking Calamari, always cook the Tubes before the Tentacles, removing the Tubes before cooking the Tentacles, the reason being that the Tentacles have the purple pigment which will turn the whole dish purple - it'll taste fine but won't look as good.

5. Once your liquid is bubbling, add the shellfish -- Clams, Mussels, a mix, etc. If you are working with Calamari, Shrimp, or finned Fish, I usually choose to cook them in a separate pan and toss it all together towards the end b. If you are adding "red" or Tomato Ingredients (fresh chopped Tomatoes, Sauce, Paste, now would also be a good time to add it). Cover to steam, checking frequently. As Shellfish begin to open, pull them out one by one right away and place them in a bowl to catch the juices. Continue until all Shellfish has opened and discard any that take much longer than the rest. 

6. Want it more brothy? You can always add more wine! Also add Salt, Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper as needed at any point in the process, just be gentle with Salt as Seafood has natural salinity. My rule of thumb: you can always add but never subtrace salt. If you over-salt, Lemon can some times counteract it. Speaking of Lemon, Lemon Juice and Zest are natural partners to "white" style Seafood Pasta preparations. 

7. When are you done? Your fish and Shellfish is all cooked, you have some sort of brothy sauce or tomato based sauce, and your Pasta is done and drained (with some pasta water reserved). Either plate the Pasta and top with Shellfish and Broth, or toss it all together in a large, high-sided pan. You can add a few drizzles of Oil and/or some Pasta Water to create more of a sauce (stirring consistently). Taste for Salt, Pepper and add fresh Herbs to finish-- my favorite is finely chopped Italian Parsley for versatility. Serve and enjoy! 

Some Recipes to Get You Started

Scallops With Sungold Tomato Pasta
Linguine With White Clam Sauce
Spaghetti Rigati With Lemony Calamari

Monday, June 26, 2017

Tried & True - Summer Menu Inspiration

I say it every year. Summer is my favorite time to cook. From simple yet elegant meals driven by the best seasonal ingredients (basically my goal all year), to desserts that practically make themselves, no time of year inspires me more. 


Neurotic Kitchen Summer Favorites 


As you think about your own cooking goals this summer, whether they include big parties or intimate entertaining, I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of just some of my tried and true summer dishes. You can rest assured that all of them have been made multiple times and, better yet, you can prep or make almost all in advance. This means you'll have more time to enjoy your parties, which is as it should be. I hope you enjoy and I wish you a season you can savor in more ways than one.  

Neurotic Kitchen's Summer Menu Ideas

"Surf" Mains/Starters/Sides
Turn any dish into a Surf & Turf with one of these

Grilled Marinated Calamari Salad - serve alongside Steak for an easy Surf & Turf, salad included, or as a great starter
Tuna Crudo with Peach & Jalapeno
Skewered Shrimp - Season the marinate large shrimp in flavors to your liking. Stack one serving (3-4 shrimp) and skewer them in two places for easy flipping. Grill on a piastra, pizza stone or grill basket
Clams in Cartoccio - these grillable hobo packs makes any main a Surf & Turf
Cooked Shrimp Ceviche
Fluke Ceviche
Rose Mignonette for Oysters
Margarita Oysters Verde (Salsa Verde, Lime & a splash of Tequila) 
Grilled Scallop Salsa Cruda


Pastas/Pizzas - App, First Course or Main

Lemon Pizza in Grill or Oven 
Scallop & Sungold Tomato Pasta

Menus:
Latin Inspired Menu

Mojo Marinated Skirt Steak
Yellow Rice
Watermelon Arugula Salad 
Or
Grilled Pineapple, Basil & Cucumber Salad
Corn with Jalapeno Lime Butter 

Florentine Inspired Menu

Prosciutto & Melon
Bistecca Florentina - T-bone Steak Marinated in Herbs on the Grill, 
Italian Corn
Summer Stone Fruit Panzanella Salad (use any seasonal stone fruit)
Assorted Gelati  

Classy American BBQ Menu
Israeli Couscous with Seasonal Additions  (ideas here, here or here
Tomato and White Onion Salad, Red Wine/Olive Oil/Oregano Dressing 
Corn on the Grill - just remove the silk, soak the corn a long while and grill in the husks
Ribeyes Marinated in Caper Vinaigrette then grilled 
Strawberry Pretzel & Gelato Sundae

Greek Inspired Menu

Shepherd's Salad (Any variation like Cucumber, Tomato, Scallion etc)
New Potatoes & Green Bean Salad with Vinaigrette
Leg of Lamb Marinated in Mint and Yogurt - Grilled
Assorted Sorbets (Mint, Lemon, etc) 

Other Easy Sides/Starters:

Sweet & Savory Watermelon Wedges 
Tomato Carpaccio
Grilled Peaches with Goat Cheese
Crab Salad served on or with Cucumber Chips
Grilled Asparagus on a Grill Basket or in Foil Packets 

Ready to Serve - Products We Love
Xotchitl Tortilla Chips 
Xotchitl Salsa
Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Il Laboratorio del Gelato - all flavors (especially the mascarpone used in our Pretzel Strawberry Sundae)
Talenti Gelato - Particularly Sicilian Pistachio
Spoonable Salted Caramel - Makes any Ice Cream special 
Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers - add to Ice Cream, serve with coffee, etc

Your favorite Pie a la Mode -- we like Briermere Farms Peach Cherry