Sunday, November 30, 2014

Turkey Day Roundup - Thanksgiving Nibbles + Mac and Cheese

Ricotta & Roasted Grapes Crostini, Photo: NK
Hopefully you too are coming down from the glorious food hangover that is Thanksgiving. While we all know that the Turkey is supposed the main event, there are many of us that look forward just as much to the apps, sides and other accoutrements that make the meal so memorable. 

This year, I decided to chronicle our household's contribution to an already smashing family feast. 

You'll find one Neurotic Kitchen hors d'oeuvre favorite, two new and different small bites that we tried making for the first time, and last but not least, my husband's traditional contribution to Turkey Day, and the ONLY Mac and Cheese recipe you'll ever need, Martha Stewart's Perfect Mac and Cheese.

Make Your Own Hors D'oeuvre, Photo: NK
First thing's first: when your don't have time to assemble each hors d'oeuvre, why not create an equally lovely "make your own" platter.
Be sure to include a little card with the "how to" for guests so they know how to assemble. Pictured above is our quickie, deconstructed version of NK's very popular Soppressata, Truffle Goat Cheese and Pepper Jelly Crostini. It was tasty as ever. 

Next up, I was really delighted with the results of my first time trying Ina Garten's Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers. So savory and easy, these are made using good quality Blue Cheese, in this case, Stilton. I was able to mix up the very simple cracker dough several days before Thanksgiving. You simply roll it in a log and freeze it. When ready to serve just slice and bake! I chose to bake them a day ahead to minimize my Turkey Day morning workload. These crackers need no accompaniment as they are really flavor-packed and hearty just as they are. Check them out below and click HERE for the recipe. 

Ina Garten's Blue Cheese Crackers (middle) Photo: NK

Beautiful Roasted Grapes, Photo: NK
It was our third small bite (pictured at the top of the page) that got the biggest raves from the hors d'oeuvres table - my adaptation of Athena Calderone's Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini. Roasting deepens and concentrates the flavor of Grapes, and fine quality fresh-made Ricotta (we just love the artisan Ricotta from Salvatore BKLYN) is the perfect creamy foil. My changes to the original recipe included using finely chopped Pecans instead of pricey Pignoli (Pine Nuts), and Fig Balsamic Vinegar rather than regular Balsamic for a little extra flavor dimension. I roasted the grapes Thanksgiving morning and put the crostini together at our host's house, just before guests arrived. I also opted to use French Grey Salt over regular Sea Salt. I would absolutely make this wonderful recipe again. It tasted as beautiful as it looked!

Finally, the main event: turkey and lots and lots of sides. Our addition to the impressive spread my Mom-in-Law made was Martha Stewart's incredibly decadent classic, Perfect Mac and Cheese. This stuff should come with a warning label. It is that good. So addicting, in fact, that we affectionately refer to it as "Crack and Cheese." The secret? An ungodly amount of Cheddar and Gruyere plus a crunchy topping of toasted breadcrumbs (chunks of fluffy white bread soaked in butter creates the decadent crispiness). Do not miss this dish or attempt to alter the recipe. It is perfect, just like its name. Do note that you will end up with a ton of cheesy goodness (a plus, in my book), so if you aren't serving a crowd and do not want tempting leftovers (why??) you may opt to cut the recipe in half. 

Prepping the most delicious Mac and Cheese, Photo: NK
One more Thanksgiving in the books! I hope you've enjoyed our recipe roundup and that your holiday was filled with happiness, family, and wonderful food!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Welcome Weekend - Cocktail: The Gin Hound

      Weekend Update: 

You need a drink. And if you don't, we do. We recommend it be The Gin Hound. 

The Gin Hound, Photo: NK 
Gin has been the alpha and the omega in the cocktail evolution of my life thus far. The first "real" cocktail I ever consistently enjoyed was the Gin and Tonic. They were my go-to whenever I was out on the town for quite a while. I'd sweeten them with a splash of grenadine, ending up with a more drinkable yet still seemingly adult version of a Gin Rickey. 

The next spirit to spark my fancy was also in the clear family - Vodka. Thus, my drink of choice became the Screwdriver. Goes down easy, right?  When a maturer palette allowed me to actually appreciate the taste of certain liquors, I moved to the browns, Whiskey, Bourbon and Scotch, specifically. This also also coincided with the popularity of Mad Men and a major return to classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan. Good times! 

These days, I've come full circle. I still like all the others but I've come to appreciate the clean, herbal qualities of Gin all over again. Though it may be at its best with only light embellishment - give me a Gin and Cucumber-based cocktail any day - Gin also does great when paired with big flavors like Grapefruit. There's no need to dispense with fruit-driven libations when the winter months roll around. Grapefruit just happens to be great right now. You may even want to cook with it. Enjoy and thanks to the Food52 contributor who came up with this easy and delicious cocktail

The Gin Hound
Recipe from Food52/JRDSquared
Yields 2 Cocktails
3/4 Cups fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Juice
1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice
4 Ounces of Gin *we like Bombay Sapphire
1 Ounce Sweet Vermouth

Combine the Lemon and Grapefruit juices. Fill a shaker with Ice and add the Gin, Vermouth and Juice. Shake well and serve on the rocks. We like to garnish ours with a wedge of Grapefruit. Cheers!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ancient Grains - Discovering Farro

Though Quinoa has dominated the national food conversation for quite some time, there's an upstart grain that's gaining steady popularity, and though it may seem newly on the scene, Farro is as old as they come. Ancient, in fact. Much of my education on Farro comes from this wonderful article I found on NPR. It was here that I learned that there are really three varieties of Farro, and that their differences are determined by whether or not the bran has been removed. We'll be using the Emmer Variety, which is the most common and best if you're looking for a shorter cook time. Aren't we always? 

Farro Salad With Arugula & Purple Carrots, Photo: NK
Emmer is also known by its Latin name, triticum dicoccum.  

Farro has an especially rich history - it is the grain from which many others sprung, and it served as the primary food of the Roman Legion. You might imagine it to be a pretty special grain if it could nourish an army. Indeed, the health benefits of Farro are many. Preparation-wise, it's just as versatile as rice, and it cooks -and looks- a lot like barley. Your can serve it on its own, add it to soups or toss into salads, as we are about to do today. Especially adept cooks might like to transform it into risotto. 
Purple Carrots, Photo: NK

Our hearty Farro Salad will get a little extra flair from the addition of Purple Carrots, a colorful variety of the more common veggie that I've recently discovered. Like Farro, Purple Carrots go back in time quite a ways themselves. In fact, all carrots were originally purple before being bred to be the orange roots that we recognize today. Why would they ever want to change these beauties? Gorgeous though they may be, this carrot variety is incredibly healthful as well.Their deep purple color is thanks to anthocyanins, the antioxidant compounds responsible for the deep hue of Blueberries and their super nutritious status. 

Peppery Arugula, another nutrient powerhouse, anchors our salad while a bright Orange Vinaigrette offers a subtle punch. Salty Pecorino Romano lends the round note to complete this satisfying melange of flavors. An ideal potluck, picnic dish, or make-ahead lunch, this Farro Salad tastes even better left over once seasonings truly marry. Farro is a sturdy grain, too. Make it ahead and it will keep its texture and pleasant chewiness until you're down to the last bite. Enjoy! 

Farro & Arugula Salad With Purple Carrots 
Serves 4 

2 Cups of Water
3/4 Cup Farro, the triticum dicoccum variety, optionally soaked a few hours and then rinsed 
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 large Purple or traditional Orange Carrots, peeled and diced 
1 small bunch of Arugula cut into thin ribbons and roughly chopped
1-2 ounces Pecorino Romano Cheese cut into thin shards and crumbled 
For the dressing:
1.5 teaspoons Olive Oil
2 teaspoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Orange Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste 

1. Combine the Farro and Water in a medium saucepan and add the Kosher Salt. Bring to a boil over a high flame. Reduce heat to a medium flame and simmer, covered, for about thirty minutes. Set Farro aside and allow to cool a bit.

2. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. 

3. Toss the Farro with the Arugula, diced Carrots, and Pecorino Cheese. Slowly pour the dressing over, tossing gently until well incorporated. Ideally, allow this to sit at least a half hour. If you need to serve it right away that's ok too. Taste for Salt and add a few turns of freshly ground Pepper. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sweet Treat - Pumpkin Coffee Cake With Pecan Streusel

A recipe success - Williams Sonoma Pumpkin Coffee Cake
Photo: NK
We're doing it! More pumpkin-infused treats. This week, we tested out a scrumptious looking Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel recipe from Williams Sonoma. 

I was recently reminded of the joys of coffee cake when my Mom-in-Law brought us an Entenmann's from the supermarket. I hadn't had one in at least ten years, and though we all agreed that the cake, like many packaged foods, looked much smaller than we remembered, the taste was still pretty great. It was probably on my third trip to the kitchen to surreptitiously siphon off another sliver that I realized that I was obsessed. Why? The salty, buttery, crumbly streusel topping. 

Could I recreate this sort of goodness at home and would pumpkin have a place in the mix? Turns out, yes! Not only was the Williams Sonoma recipe easy, even considering that baking is not my strong suit, but the addition of canned Pumpkin worked very well. 

If you are looking for a quick baked good to bring to Thanksgiving, or even something for your post-turkey coma brunch, this cake would be a great choice. I didn't alter the recipe at all except that for the streusel, I subbed in Salted Butter because for me, the salty-sweet quality of Coffee Cake's crumb topping is what makes it sublime. Enjoy with or without your next cup of joe! 

Pumpkin Coffee Cake With Brown Sugar-Pecan Sugar by Williams Sonoma 
Click HERE for the Recipe 

Prepping the Pumpkin batter in a springform pan
The delectable Pecan Streusel Topping, Photo: NK