Monday, April 21, 2014

A Family Affair - Potluck Easter

They say that many hands make light work. "They" would be right. With the weather steadily warming and the first buds appearing on the trees, the mood seemed right for a more casual and stress-free Easter holiday - a celebration requiring less fuss in the kitchen, and leaving more time for enjoying the outdoors. When you're looking to keep it simple, a potluck holiday is a great solution. I hope you enjoy our Easter 2014 recap. A good time (and a great mealwas had by all!

To start, a light and springy appetizer platter that we enjoyed al fresco:

Crostini with Fresh Ricotta, Sautéed & Fresh Ramps, and Pistachios
Photo: NK

Now for the How To:

Spring Crostini, Photo NK
Spring Crostini Platter
Serves 6 as a light appetizer

1 good quality crusty Baguette:
Slice it into 1/3 inch thick slices, brush with Olive Oil and a sprinkle of Coarse Salt and grill until some char marks appear. 

1 bunch of Ramps: 
Half of them chopped into 1/2 in pieces and sautéed in a little bit of olive oil before being finished with a sprinkle of salt. Slice some of the remainder of the uncooked ramps into 1/4 inch pieces, and set aside several whole ramps for a beautiful, edible garnish.

8 Oz fine quality homemade or store-bought Ricotta Cheese 
(we chose the amazing whole milk Ricotta Salvatore BKLYN via Freshdirect. (It's Martha Stewart's favorite!) Drizzle the Ricotta with Olive Oil and sprinkle with Coarse Salt and some Black Pepper.

Finely Chopped Pistachios 
Fresh Grated Parmigiana Cheese Curls
Fine Quality Fig Balsamic Vinegar or Balsamic Reduction
Honey or Truffle Honey 

To Serve: simply put it all together and let your guests assemble their own crostini! It's helpful to show a few example toasts to get them started. Voila!

Let's move on to the big Easter Feast:

All hands on deck for a delicious Easter feast, Photo: NK

Potluck Easter "Credits" & Recipes 

Ina Garten's Roasted Fennel with Parmesan, center front - by yours truly.  Recipe HERE
Minted Peas, middle (cooked with a bit of mint jelly & a dollop of salted butter),by mom.
Mashed Turnips, center left, heated with butter & some cinnamon, from Southland
Cranberry, bottom right - straight from the can, baby. 
Waldorf Salad, top left, delicious, crunchy & refreshing - by my mom-in-law. Recipe HERE
Stuffed Pork Loin with Cheese & Herbs, top right, from La Torre Pork Store of Brooklyn,cooked by mom.
Apple Sauce, top right, from the jar. 
Stuffing with Sausage, Pecans, and Green Apples, middle top, by mom. 
Creamy Horseradish Potato Salad, top left, by my sis-in-law. Recipe HERE

Bunny Cake & Easter Bread, Photo: NK
Potluck Easter may have been comparatively easy, but there was one of us who did do some majorly involved baking and prep work, and boy did it pay off. 

My sister-in-law Marjie's long awaited and UBER adorable "Bunny Butt Cake" made for the the most wonderfully whimsical and tasty dessert. Because sometimes, you're just in the mood for an adorable rabbit tush on your table. How cute is this cake?? Click HERE for the Betty Crocker Recipe. A clever and perfect execution resulted in a cake that went along great with the Italian Easter Bread that my mom-in-law brought us.

Thanks again to everyone for a great meal.

Until next year!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Eat The Season - Ramps, Three Ways

Thus begins Neurotic Kitchen's Third Annual Ramp post. Be sure to relive our other ramp adventures HEREHERE, and HEREThanks in part to their short season once per year, these deliciously garlicky wild leeks enjoy some major hype. This also means you've got to grab up your ramps as soon as they hit the green markets (often in the middle of April). They're around for just four to six weeks so we made sure to get cooking right away. The result? Three meals using ramps and one very happy week.

Lemony Ramp Pasta With Rock Shrimp & Fried Capers, Photo: NK 

To start, we whipped up some Ramp Pizza. To make it, simply prep your homemade pizza and chop a few ramps (white and green parts) into half inch pieces. Sprinkle on top of your sauce and cheese and bake. Easy enough, right? If you'd like to get a bit more daring (but still prep dinner in under a half hour) we're sharing two easy ramp recipes for you to enjoy! As a rule, use versatile ramps wherever you might choose scallions or leeks, and you'll be a ramp believer before you know it. Enjoy!

Lemony Ramp Pasta With Rock Shrimp & Fried Capers
Inspired by Giada de Laurentiis
Serves 2-3 as an entree 

1/2 Pound Spaghetti
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus an additional Tablespoon)
2 Tablespoons Capers, well rinsed and patted very dry
A bunch of about 12 Ramps, cleaned and sliced into 1/2 inch slices (white & green parts) +1 to 2 Ramp Greens cut into ribbons for an optional garnish (chiffonade)
1/2 Pound cleaned Wild Rock Shrimp (or regular Shrimp sliced into 1.2 inch pieces)
3 Heaping Tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiana Cheese
Zest of 1 Large Lemon (organic if possible)
2 Tablespoons fresh Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

1. For the Spaghetti, set a large pot of salted water to boil. 

2. In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, warm the Olive Oil a minute or so until it is shimmering. Add the Capers (be careful because they may spit) and fry for about 2-3 minutes until browned (but not burnt) and crisp. Remove Capers with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towel. 

3. Allow remaining oil to cool a minute before pouring into a heat-proof metal or ceramic bowl. Add the Lemon Zest and Lemon Juice to the bowl and stir. Set aside. 

4. Once water is boiling, prepare Spaghetti according to package instructions (al dente please :)).

5. Add another Tablespoon or so of Olive Oil to the skillet you used for the capers. Heat oil over medium-low heat. Add the Whites of the Ramps and cook, stirring for one minute. Now add the green parts of the Ramps and cook, stirring another 2-3 minutes. Move the ramps to one of the skillet and add the Rock Shrimp. Allow to cook untouched for 2 minutes, then flip them and let them cook another minute or so until opaque and cooked through. 

6. Once Spaghetti is finished, drain and return it to the pot. Add the Ramps and Shrimp Mixture to the Spaghetti, and then toss in the Lemon and Oil Mixture. Toss for a full minute. Add the Parmigiana Cheese and toss again. Taste for seasoning and add a tiny bit of Salt if needed (the Capers will provide salt as well) and Black Pepper. Plate the Pasta and top with equal portions of Fried Capers. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Next up - our rampy answer to fried rice - also starring Mr. NK's favorite - bacon. Thanks to my religious use of instant rice (I have limited patience, as you know), this meal comes together in fifteen minutes! I'd also call this a pretty casual recipe so I'll be presenting it as such. Use your imagination and add or subtract as you see fit.

Fried Brown Rice Bowl With Cucumber, Ramps & Bacon, Photo: NK 

Fried Brown Rice Bowl With Cucumber, Ramps & Bacon
Inspired by Food & Wine Magazine
Serves 2  

1 Medium Unwaxed Cucumber, well scrubbed and cut into thin slices (peeling optional)
16 ounces pre-cooked Brown Rice (we use Uncle Ben's Microwaveable Ready Rice - fast!)
6 Slices Organic Bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
About 8 Ramps, White and Green Parts sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 Dried Red Chili, sliced
Black Sesame Seeds

1. In a large, heavy skillet (we used cast iron), cook the Bacon slices until crispy but not burnt - about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove Bacon to drain, reserving the fat in the pan. 

2. Pour off all but about 3 Tablespoons of the Bacon Fat. Add the Ramps and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sliced Chile and Cucumber Slices. Toss until Cucumber softens a bit, about another 1 minute. Add the Brown Rice to the skillet and continue to toss over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add some Sriracha to taste and toss again. You may need a bit of extra Salt and Pepper but you can decide that once you incorporate the already salty Bacon.

3. To Serve - plate the Rice, Ramp and Cucumber Mixture.  Top with portions of crispy Bacon and a good sprinkle of Black Sesame Seeds. If you have fresh Ramps left over use one or two for a nice green garnish. Serve with extra Sriracha and enjoy! Note: If you'd like to make this more of a true fried rice crack an egg into it before adding the bacon and stir until it has incorporated and fully cooked.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Restaurant Inspiration - Flatiron Room Mac & Cheese

The Flatiron Room, NYC. Photo Courtesy of The Flatiron Room 
It's often that I'm reminded of how lucky I am to have wonderful friends. 

The latest example of this comes courtesy of my good buddy Sonia. Not only did she recently treat me to a birthday night out at a majorly swanky and very cool whiskey lounge called The Flatiron Roombut she made sure we ordered the best thing on the menu - a unique and positively sinful Mac and Cheese with Brussels Sprouts, Dates, Hot Chilies and a Gouda Cream Sauce

If this combo sounds suspect to mac and cheese purists out there, I'm with you! But believe me, this dish is so inexplicably good that I knew by the second bite that I'd just have to make it myself. Rather than trying to explain the wonders of Flatiron's mac, check out what Haute Living had to say about it. They even voted it one of their top 5 mac and cheeses in NYC:

"We never thought we'd highlight any semblance of vegetable mac in our top picks, nor did we think we'd include a whiskey-slinging jazzy newcomer to the 26th street strip, but this positively scrumptious take on this fan favorite has us eating our words. Chef Susan Burdain combines brussel sprouts with radiatore pasta and tops it with a Calabrian chile cream sauce; panko breadcrumbs hit the final high note. 37 W 26th St, between Broadway and Sixth Ave."
Sautéing your base ingredients, Photo: NK
When finding Radiatorethe cool corkscrew pasta that Flatiron Room uses, proved oddly challenging, my super-sweet friend made sure to keep an eye out for it herself. Next thing I knew, the goods were in my hands and I had a big smile on my face. Sonia, did I mention that you rock? :) 

I was ready to go once a bit of research yielded the recipe we'll slightly adapt today. 

First, a few notes:

To point out the obvious, this recipe is not diet. Soooooo not diet. But Mac and Cheese is the best, so come along with me as we live it up! 

Expect more of a creamy cheese sauce than a typical cheesy, gooey Mac. You'll find the change intriguing. Something about the way the cream works with the spicy chilies to create a pleasant orangey-pink sauce (punctuated by sweet dates and smokey brussels sprouts) is pretty darn amazing. 

Don't skip the Panko if you can help it. There's nothing better than adding some golden brown crunch-factor atop this mac masterpiece. 

Finally, this dish is rich as all get out and is best served in small appetizer portions. You could be like me and have seconds but you may or may not spend the rest of the evening super full, reclined on your couch doing your best Homer Simpson. Not the worst thing in the world but I figured I'd warn you. 

Now that that's all outta the way...let's get to the kitchen. I hope you enjoy this splurge-worthy dish as much as we did. And if you're ever in NYC, be sure to stop by the Flatiron Room for finger or two of fine scotch and a skillet of this cheesy goodness: 

Flatiron Room Mac & Cheese - Gouda and Calabrian Chili Cream,
Brussels Sprouts & Dates, Photo: NK 

Flatiron Room Mac & Cheese
Recipe slightly adapted from + Flatiron's Chef Susan Burdain
Serves 5-6 as an appetizer

4 Cups (al dente) cooked Spiral Pasta (we used Radiatore) *just shy of a pound of pasta  
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
8 Brussels Sprouts, sliced in half and roasted in advance. See Note*
4 Ounces grated Aged Gouda Cheese 
1.5 - 2 Tablespoons pitted Medjool Dates, finely minced
2 Cups Heavy Cream
2 teaspoons Garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Calabrian Chili Relish/Paste (or finely chopped hot chili peppers)
2 Tablespoons minced Shallots
2 Tablespoons Hot Sauce (we recommend Cholula or similar - Tabasco would be too hot)
2 Tablespoons grated Parmigiana Cheese
Panko Breadcrumbs, for topping 
Equipment: a large, deep, ovenproof skillet - ideally a 10 inch cast iron skillet

*Note: to quickly pre-roast the Brussels Sprouts preheat the oven to 450 and simply slice them in half lengthwise, toss in a Tablespoon or Two of Olive Oil, sprinkle with Salt and roast for 15-20 minutes, turning once or twice. You can make these in advance and store in the fridge until ready to use. 

1. Prepare the roasted Brussels Sprouts if you've not done so already. Recipe above. 

2. Precook the Radiatore pasta if you have not done so already. It should be just firmer than al dente. Drain and set aside. Ideal cook time for Radiatore will be 6 minutes. 

Add Panko and it's ready to finish in the broiler, Photo: NK
3. Preheat the broiler. 

4. On your stove top, put the Olive Oil in your ovenproof skillet and heat until shimmering over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels Sprouts, Shallots, Garlic, Chiles or Chili Relish, & Dates. Sauté for a minute or so. 

5. Pour in the Cream, grated Gouda, and Parmigiana. Stir gently until cheese has melted, about 3 minutes.  Cook another minute or two so cream begins to bubble and thicken. 

6. Add the Hot Sauce and stir. Gently add in Pasta and toss until it is fully coated. 

7. Top the skillet with a few tablespoons of Panko Breadcrumbs and move it to the broiler to cook for 2-3 minutes until the Panko becomes golden brown and the cheese is bubbling. Serve hot and enjoy! 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Roundup: Mid Century Munchies - Mad Men Season 7!!!

Dust off your martini glasses and get out your finest mod attire because...
Image Courtesy of

The long awaited premier of Mad Men Season 7. 

It's hurts me to even utter these words but as you probably know, this is going to be Mad Men's final season. Over the past few years I've celebrated these momentous premier nights by cooking up some easy yet elegant Sixties-inspired dishes and hors d'oeuvres. Whether you're hosting a premier party or just want to amp up your own viewing pleasure with some tasty morsels, we've got two totally doable multi-course menus (plus drinks!) to choose from:

Mad Men Menu 1 - Retro Food Redux

Mad Men Menu 2 - Sixties-Inspired Party Bites

At the very least, please mix yourself a nice stiff drink while you watch the drama unfold. This season is sure to surprise, and it's only right that we send off our favorite angsty ad execs with a toast! Enjoy and thanks for the memories, Don. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Soup's On! - Quick & Healthy Tomato Bisque

Quite a few of my fondest childhood memories were formed during the summers I spent with my best friend at camp. Pre-teens at the time,  it was one of the few chances we had to escape big city life to see how the country mice lived. With fun-filled days spent swimming in the lake, doing woodshop, playing tether ball, and enjoying the splendor of nature, what do you think I remember most vividly? Grilled cheese and tomato soup day at the cafeteria! Typical, huh? But this was no run of the mill lunch. The tomato soup was surprisingly good and came to our communal table piping hot in big silver kettles.  Grilled cheeses were stacked on their side and served in baskets ten at a time. What 12 year-old could resist?

Fast & Healthy Cream of Tomato Soup, Photo: NK

Today, we'll tackle the tomato soup portion of this fond food memory, with some minor adjustments for health. If you've got ten minutes, you can try it too! 

Cooking from scratch is the best way to know just what you are putting into your body. While most canned soups come packed with sodium and preservatives, it takes almost no time at all to prepare a simple, blended soup with much less of the naughty stuff but still plenty of taste. Just to be a bit decadent, we'll make today's tomato soup into a bisque using a touch of almond milk. You could certainly use dairy milk or even cream (if you like it more rich), but I figured this version may as well be vegan (unless you'd like to garnish it with a bit of grated parm as pictured below).


Healthier Cream of Tomato Soup/Vegan Optional
2-3 Servings, or approximately 24 Ounces

14.5 Ounce Can Organic Diced Tomatoes (we prefer Muir Glen brand)
8 large Basil Leaves plus more for garnish
1/2 a Sweet Yellow Onion, roughly chopped
3 Large Garlic Cloves 
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/8 teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sugar 
3/4 Organic Vegetable Broth 
1/4 Cup Almond Milk or Dairy Milk if you prefer 
Grated Parmigiana Cheese (optional) 

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. 
Pour soup into sauce pan and heat gently until fully warmed through. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Optionally garnish with grated Parmigiana Cheese.  
NOTE: I do not recommend freezing this soup as the consistency changes upon defrosting.   It's best served fresh!