Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

One of the things I love about cooking is the way in which it connects us to our memories. I always offer a little prayer to my mother in law when making her stuffing and I can't help but think of Gram Pam when I'm mashing turnips or making gravy. I know they're both looking down on me and smiling as I cook and think of them. While preparing for Thanksgiving, my thoughts turn to all the wonderful holidays that have gone before and the good times shared with my family.

Since today is a travel day, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a few of those memories with you. I could talk about how we'd always forget the cranberry sauce and someone would have to run to the store. Or how my mom would usually leave the rolls in the oven, forgotten until the aroma of singed roll filled the air. Or even the year my aunt's boyfriend decided to help Gram Pam out - and roasted the turkey in a paper bag ... upside down! So many meals, so many laughs - each one delicious in its own way.

Yet, today, I'm thinking of one particular Thanksgiving, decades ago. I was somewhere around college-aged and working as a waitress in the restaurant of a retirement community. The restaurant was open 365 days a year, which often meant we were called to work on the holidays. I drew the Thanksgiving lunch shift that year and was absolutely devastated that I would miss our traditional holiday meal at Grandma's. I was also dating the husband at the time, and he graciously offered to include me in his family's meal. See, my family always ate promptly at 1 p.m. - and his chose to dine at 6. There was a method to the madness of that early afternoon meal - I was blessed to have two Grandma's cooking Thanksgiving. We'd dine with one in the afternoon, then spend the evening talking and laughing around the table of the other. It was the best of both worlds, but I digress.

So off to the husband's grandparent's house I went that year. Worried, of course, about the grim prospect of that meat stuffing and already missing my treasured family favorites. Stuffing, as it turned out, was the least of my problems. You can imagine my shock when it was announced that his family was serving ... wait for it ... lamb that year! I kid you not. Its a wonder I survived. Here I was, young and in love, anxious about making my holiday debut with his family ... and I was somehow supposed to remain gracious and choke down a portion of my least favorite food on earth? Its all kind of a blur. I think I nearly fainted and I know I was beside myself with horror - but manage, I did.

Fear not, this story has a happy ending. It was at that strange Thanksgiving meal that I had my first bite of the cherished pork stuffing and I've been a fan ever since. Frankly, the stuffing may be the only thing I ate and I can remember little else - save for the warm welcome I received ... and the huge laugh I had about it with my parents when I got home later that night. Its been a good 24 or 25 years since that peculiar holiday - and both families have been laughing about the lamb ever since. We used to tease my mother in law about it mercilessly - and she found it as funny as we did!

I suppose I should explain a bit - the husband's grandfather was no great fan of turkey. He was the chef that year and he simply didn't feel like eating turkey. Go figure! It makes for a great story and an even better memory. We tell it all the time.

So, what's your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Curious Diva wants to know!

Needless to say, I'll be gone for the rest of the week. Regular posting will resume on Monday, so stay tuned for a holiday round up and new recipes to come.

I wish you all a wonderful, blessed, happy Thanksgiving. Bon appetite!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gearing up for the Holiday

Knives are chopping, pots are boiling and my kitchen is heating up. Its a mad dash to complete the pre-holiday prep before I leave for CT sometime tomorrow. Normally, I'd be even more crazed on this day, preparing to host 14 to 16 people ... but this year's a bit different. Mama Diva is doing well but not yet ready for travel - so I'm packing up my show and taking it on the road. My bro, my sister in law and I will prepare the feast in Mama Diva's kitchen this year and we're cooking for just the six of us. I can hardly wait!

We'll have a slightly reduced menu, to include:

A Fresh, Herb-Roasted Turkey with Gram Pam's Gravy
Pork Stuffing
Traditional Bread Stuffing/Dressing
Mashed Potatoes with carrots, onion and garlic
Some kind of green veg
Mashed Turnips
Baked Butternut Squash
Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
Cranberry Port Conserve
Assorted Pies for dessert, including my sister in law's famous Sweet Potato Pie
Various Delicious Wines

I'll be spending the afternoon creating much culinary greatness in the form of a couple of loaves of Pumpkin Bread, the mashed turnips, and that magical Cranberry Port Conserve. The recipe is an oldie but a goodie which first appeared in Bon Appetite back in 1996. I've been making it ever since and we adore it. I reduce the amount of sugar, add some warm spices - such as cinnamon, nutmeg, a bit of cardamom and a pinch of salt, but follow the rest of the recipe exactly. Its become a family favorite and I recommend it, highly.

Back to work for me - I have pots to tend! Meanwhile, what's your favorite cranberry sauce? Are you in favor of the canned variety or do you make your own? Hungry Diva wants to know!

Bon appetite!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Knife Sharpening: 101

Sure, it may seem like its all fun and games when I'm back home in CT, what with the cheesteaks, pizza and all ... but not so! While Mama Diva was recuperating in the hospital, Papa Diva and I were hard at work on the blog. We do have our priorities! ~ kidding~

With all the slicing and dicing involved in holiday prep, it helps to have your tools at the ready. A sharp knife is a safe knife and lucky for us, Papa Diva has provided this wonderful primer. Read on as Papa share's his expertise and a joke or two! (Where do you suppose I got my sense of humor?!)



Being able to sharpen a knife is vital to the proper field dressing of a moose. And American voters know that being able to properly field dress a moose qualifies one to be the Vice President of the United States. ~Ahem~

Sharp knives are also useful in the kitchen.


A popular knife sharpening system is the Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker (as seen above). If you Google that name you will find many reviews and many sources. The complete system costs approximately $50. Shop around as prices vary. Naturally, Amazon is a source.

This system can also be used to sharpen scissors.

However the Diva Dad uses regular sharpening stones available from Woodcraft. If you have a significant other who uses chisels and planes these stones will sharpen those tools as well.

Two (2) stones of different grits are sufficient to produce a better edge than any draw through sharpener available. The Dad is proud of the fact that he can routinely produce wood shavings of only 1/1000 of an inch with his wood planes.

The first stone to use is; Item #11H21 from Woodcraft. It is the King brand 1000 grit water stone. $24.50 This stone is the courser of the two and is always used first.

The second stone is: Item #144951 Natural Water Stone - $19.99. This stone is finer and is used to produce the final edge.


Remember - a knife has two sides to be sharpened.

To use the Spyderco, set the two course stones in the holder. Hold the knife perpendicular to the table and draw down one stone and up the other.

Be sure to maintain the same angle - 45 degrees - and involve the entire edge as you move up and down the stones. Seven passes per side should be enough. Always use the same number of strokes on each side. The Spyderco kit will include directions. After seven passes for each side on the course stone, install the fine stones in the holder. Same drill; seven passes per side up and down the fine stones. That's really all there is to it.


Only later did it occur to me that I should have shot these instructions in video. Stay tuned for Knife Sharpening: 102 ... as soon as I can figure out how to make that happen! Papa Diva has graciously made himself available for any questions you may have. Simply leave a comment and I'll put you in touch with him. He's a wonderful resource and if he keeps this up, I may just have to hire him as a guest blogger! Thanks for sharing these tips with us, Papa Diva, I appreciate it and I know my readers will too.

Bon appetite!

Friday, November 21, 2008

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

... that is the question. And frankly, I think the answer's an obvious ... yes! Stuff your turkey!

Seems like the chorus of stuffing nay-sayers grows louder every year. "Stuffed turkeys cook unevenly. A stuffed turkey is a dry turkey because it takes too long to cook! Stuffing breeds bacteria!" Doom! ... Gloom! ... Disaster! ... Peril! ... whatever. I come from a long and proud line of turkey-stuffers and no one's died yet. I'm not at all belittling the real and serious health concerns here - but I'm not about to forgo the stuffing either. You can have both a properly cooked turkey and stuffing. Like many things, all it takes is a bit of care and common sense. I can give no better words of wisdom than those contained in this page from Epicurious. Its a wonderful primer on the safe way to stuff. Check it out!

In Divaworld, the larger question by far is the contents of that stuffing. Alas, we are a family divided! Having grown up delighting in Gram Pam's traditional bread stuffing, you can imagine my shock - neigh horror - when I learned that the husband's family stuffs its turkey with meat ... and only meat. What the ...?! (Seriously, these people are the most dedicated carnivores on the planet.)

But here's the thing - many years ago, in a stunning display of courage, I took a bite of that stuffing ... and ~swoon~ I've been hooked ever since! Not so much so that I abandoned our traditional bread stuffing, but enough that I now honestly crave both. When the husband and I began hosting both sides of the family for Thanksgiving, sometime back in the late 90's, the major stumbling block was the stuffing. Would we use his family's pork stuffing, or my family's bread? Knowing that neither side could live without their preference, we went with both. His mom made the pork stuffing and my mom made the bread. I put the pork stuffing in the bird and baked my mom's stuffing off on the side. Win/win. (And an even bigger win for me, because I didn't have to make either.)

Thus it was for a few years, two families united around the table - each content with the stuffing of their choice, yet blessed with the option of adding a scoop of the unfamiliar to liven up the plate. And thus it remains today - only now I'm the one making the pork stuffing. My mother in law passed away in November of 2001, just a few days before Thanksgiving. Needless to say, it was an awful time for all of us. Betty, was an *amazing* cook and that pork stuffing was one of her signature dishes. Though we were grief-struck and dazed that year, I was bound and determined to honor her memory - and comfort my family - by making her stuffing. We cobbled together a Thanksgiving dinner, because she would have wanted us to, and I somehow managed to recreate her stuffing without a recipe.

I made an exhaustive search of her extensive recipe collection and her kitchen, and the stuffing recipe was nowhere to be found. It never did turn up. I did my best to remember all the wonderful flavors contained in that stuffing, went with my gut and my formidable palate, and just started cooking. I don't think it was exactly right back then, but I've been honing the recipe ever since and by now I know I've got it. To this day I wonder where she kept that recipe? Perhaps it was in her head; I know it was in her heart. Betty was never happier than when her family was at her table - and our table is incomplete without her.

This is my version of her pork stuffing - written with no amounts, because there is no recipe. It is the epitome of my "pinch and dash" style of cooking. As such, it may be of little use to you - yet I offer it in tribute to Betty and because I hope you'll find it interesting.
Pork Stuffing:

Get the biggest skillet you can find, and in it, saute 4 pounds of very lean ground pork in a bit of butter and olive oil, along with one large minced onion and two large ribs of minced celery over medium-high heat. Once the meat has cooked, pour off most of the fat and add: lots of Bell's Poultry Seasoning, some ground sage, a few shakes of fennel seeds, a healthy dose of pumpkin pie spice, some fresh thyme, a tiny bit of ground cloves, a shake or two of celery salt, a grating of fresh nutmeg, and some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. To the pan, add two Yukon Gold potatoes that have been peeled, par-boiled and cut into small dice. The potatoes will cook down and give the stuffing a nice texture. Add some chicken broth to the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the the mixture, covered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of broth as needed to keep it moist. After an hour, taste and re-season with any and all of the above spices - adding more until it tastes like "mom's." Once the proper taste has been achieved, add a tablespoon or two of seasoned breadcrumbs to bring it all together. Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate.

As it turns out, today is the anniversary of her passing. Though I hadn't intended it that way, it seems fitting that our discussion of stuffing should take place on this day. I wish I knew the real recipe. And more than that, I wish I had taken the opportunity to watch her make the stuffing when I had the chance. How many treasured family recipes have been lost to the ages for lack of them being written down? The husband is thrilled with my recreation efforts - and so am I. I can't imagine Thanksgiving without both stuffings and, happily, I don't have to. Though let this be a warning to you - write down those secret family recipes! Future generations will thank you and present ones will not have to spend seven years recreating them.

So, what's inside your turkey? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Glorious Gravy

I know what you're thinking, so go ahead and ask ... "Why is there a picture of a turnip attached to a post about gravy?" Curious, isn't it? Patience. All will be revealed.

But not before I offer a few more turkey tips. I came across another link which may prove useful for our novice roasters. The USDA has a page entitled "Lets Talk Turkey" and it contains a wealth of information on thawing, roasting, storing and reheating turkey. Well worth a pass of the eye, even for you experts out there. While perusing the page, it occurred to me that I neglected to mention one very important thing ... be sure to remove any giblets, etc., from the cavity of your turkey prior to stuffing and or roasting it! I have no idea why they stuff all those gross things into the bellies of our birds - but failure to remove it will result in one foul fowl. Trust me, I know whereof I speak. (And I'm speaking of the first chicken I ever roasted ... then promptly pitched because it was inedible. Blech.) This is a mistake one only makes once - best to avoid it altogether. Perform a cavity search - or better yet, if you got a husband lying around, make him do it - then proceed accordingly.

Now, about that turnip ... or perhaps you call it a rutabaga? In Divaland, its a yellow turnip and it is the key to making a rich, savory gravy. Before you call me crazy, let me explain. This is an old family tradition, a secret if you will, passed down to me from my beloved Grandma Pam. Gram Pam, as we used to call her, made the very best gravy in the world and she always used the turnip cooking water as a base. Her gravy had a flavor unlike any other I'd ever had and it was the highlight of every Thanksgiving.

Like most families, we never really wrote her recipe down - but we all knew about the turnip water and we continue that tradition today. Happily for us, I've been able to replicate the taste of her outstanding gravy ... unhappily, for you, there is no recipe. And that's the case with much of the food I prepare for Thanksgiving. The gravy, the stuffing, and all of the sides are the result of me cooking on the fly - and thus difficult to capture in an exact configuration. I'll do my best, but really, we're just talking technique here.

To prepare the gravy, I use the following:
  • the water saved from boiling 2 gigantic yellow turnips
  • some of the reserved herb butter used in roasting the turkey
  • the pan juices resulting from the roast turkey and aromatic vegetables
  • some Vin Santo or brandy
  • some chicken broth, if necessary
  • salt, pepper, a dash of poultry seasoning and some minced fresh sage
  • some all-purpose flour
  • some of the rendered turkey fat
Once your turkey is done, remove it from the roasting pan, set it on a platter and tent with foil. Carefully drain all of the fat and accumulated juices from the roasting pan into a de-fatting cup, while leaving the roasted veggies in the bottom of the pan. Allow the juices to sit in the de-fatting cup - the fat will rise to the top and the juices will be on the bottom.

Place your roasting pan* on the burners of your stove over medium-high heat and deglaze the bottom of the pan with some Vin Santo or brandy and a bit of the turnip water. Bring the mixture to the boil and scrape up all of the browned bits with a wooden spatula. Add a bit of the left-over herb butter and the rest of the turnip water, stirring constantly to be sure to disolve all of the roasted goodness. Carefully add the separated juices from the de-fatting cup, being careful not to allow the fat into the pan. Reserve the fat for later use.

If you need more liquid, you can add some chicken broth. Use your judgement. Once the pan has deglazed, taste the gravy base for seasoning, adding some salt, pepper or some herbs if desired. When you are happy with the flavor, strain the sauce through a sieve and discard the roasted vegetables. Place the sauce back in the roasting pan and bring it to the boil.

In a small bowl combine 2 tbsp. of all-purpose flour with about 1 1/2 tbsp. of the reserved turkey fat. Stir well to combine. Add this mixture to the sauce and whisk constantly over high heat until the gravy begins to thicken. You can continue making and adding more flour/fat until your desired consistency is achieved. I prefer that the gravy be of medium density, but your mileage may vary, of course. Once it has thickened, turn the heat to low and keep warm until use. That's really all there is too it. The finished gravy does *not* taste like turnips, but that liquid gives the final product that certain je ne sais quoi. Really. Its delicious!

*Because you will be heating the roasting pan over high heat to deglaze and form the gravy, you need to be sure that your roaster is of quality material and able to withstand high heat. This is why I forbid you to use a foil roasting pan. A dark, heavy-bottomed roaster is the way to go. Do not attempt to heat and deglaze a glass roasting pan, it will shatter. This technique applies only to heavy, metal roasters.

If you've not made gravy before, this may seem rather complex. I assure, its not. Good gravy is simply the result of good ingredients, a good pan, and a bit of care and tending at the end. For a better explanation, I now direct you to an article which appeared in yesterday's New York Times. While I disagree with some of what's written, its an excellent overview of the process and includes actual recipes. The article mentions that you can make gravy in advance and freeze it - which is something I typically do as well ... but you'll have to wait until next year for that recipe!

Meanwhile, tell me about your gravy. Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Turkey Tips: Part Two

I'll give you a minute to turn your monitor 90 degrees to the left ... and use that time to assure you that I have done everything in my power to right this photo. It appears normally in my pictures file - yet magically (or should I say nefariously?) it flips as soon as its uploaded here. Whatever. Either way you look at it, that's a picture of my beautiful bird from Thanksgiving 2007. It was every bit as good as it looks. So good, in fact, that the pack of vultures I lovingly call my family nearly picked it clean!

I'll do a better job with the turkey photography this year - but my recipe will not change. Here it is:

Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter:
  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp. of chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Place the softened butter in a bowl and to it add the chopped herbs, salt and pepper, stir well to combine. Cover tightly with some plastic wrap and reserve in the fridge. I prepare the butter the day before Thanksgiving and remove it from the fridge early in the morning so it can soften a bit before use.

For the turkey:
  • one batch of herb butter
  • one whole turkey (determine size by using the calculator)
  • Stuffing of your choice, if desired*
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 8 to 10 shallots, peeled and halved
  • Some good quality Vin Santo
  • Some chicken broth
Bring herb butter to room temperature before using. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and position the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.

Place your turkey in a large roasting pan and scatter the parsnips, carrots, onions and shallots around the turkey in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle main cavity of turkey with salt and pepper and fill with your desired stuffing, if using. Starting at neck end, carefully slide your hand between skin and breast meat to loosen skin. Spread 3 tablespoons of the herb butter over breast meat (under the skin). Then rub 4 tablespoons herb butter over turkey skin on the outside of the breast and drizzle about a 1/2 cup of Vin Santo over the turkey.

Throw the whole shebang into the oven and roast for the necessary amount of time - as determined by the turkey calculator and your trusty instant read thermometer. Keep an eye on your bird, and when the breast has browned to your satisfaction, cover it with foil. About half-way through your roasting time, add some chicken broth to the bottom of the roasting pan - about a cup or so and continue roasting until the turkey is done.

Once it has cooked, remove it from the oven, tent the whole thing with foil and allow the bird to rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. You can use this time to make the gravy ... which we will discuss tomorrow! By the time the turkey has cooked, all of those delicious aromatic veggies will have caramelized and they will lend outstanding flavor to your gravy ... so don't throw them away.

*We'll get to the stuffing later in the week as well. Stuffing is a sensitive subject. Bread? Meat? Both? Neither? Its enough to make your head spin - and far too complicated to begin discussing now. We'll cover the topic on Friday. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, what size bird will you be roasting this year? Hungry Diva wants to know!

Bon appetite!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Turkey Tips: Part One

Much as I'd like to deny it, we're getting closer to the BIG day; the most important eating holiday of the year. While I'm nothing if not a gracious hostess, I must admit that there's a small part of me that approaches Thanksgiving with a mixed sense of joyous anticipation and ... abject terror. Ok, so maybe terror is too strong a word - but you try fitting 16 people around a table that seats eight and see how Zen you feel! But, I digress. And, really, I exaggerate. I've been hosting the Diva Family Thanksgiving for years now. My holiday runs like clockwork and your's can too ... as long as you've got a plan of attack.

A little bird told me that a loyal reader ... who has yet to speak out in the comments ... is hosting her first Thanksgiving and in need of some tips. (Yes, Lauren, I'm looking at you!) Thus, without further ado, I now present my most cherished Thanksgiving secrets.

  • Follow this link to the Food Network's website and scroll down the page to their miraculous Turkey Calculators. The first one will tell you what size turkey you'll need to feed your crowd and the second calculator will tell you all you need to know about cooking it. Simply input the size of your bird, indicate whether or not it will be stuffed, and choose your desired dining time. That's it! Like magic, this spectacular tool will do the rest of the work for you and even tell you when to begin roasting your turkey. This is the most valuable link I will ever post. Learn it, know it, use it, love it!
  • The above magic notwithstanding, ovens vary greatly in terms of cooking speed - so get yourself an instant read meat thermometer and use it properly. Your turkey is done when an instant read thermometer - inserted into the thickest part of the breast or thigh - reads 165 degrees. DO NOT - and I can't stress this enough - rely on your turkey's pop-up timer. This is the most useless gimmick ever invented. Without fail it will pop too soon or, in some cases, may not pop at all. Forget the pop-up deal and take the turkey's temp yourself. If you know your oven runs fast, begin checking an hour before the indicated time and proceed accordingly.
  • Basting is over-rated and largely unnecessary. Season your turkey well with a lovely compound butter, throw some savory, aromatic veggies in the bottom of the pan, place the turkey in the oven and forget about it. Half-way through your roasting time, add some chicken broth to the bottom of the roasting pan, close the oven and forget about it again until its time to start checking the bird's temp. I have never in my life served a dry turkey and I don't baste.
  • Let your turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving it. The turkey will continue to cook a bit as it rests, so be sure to account for that by removing it from the oven when the temperature reaches 165 degrees. Cover the bird with foil, tell your guests to back off and remember that patience is a virtue ... the juices will redistribute themselves as the turkey rests and your patience will be rewarded with moist, delicious tenderness.
  • Some recipes will tell you to cover your bird's breast with foil during the initial phase of roasting and remove the foil later to let it brown. I discount such notions as poppycock and insist on roasting my turkey uncovered until it has achieved a rich, mahogany color. Like I said, I've never served a dry turkey and this method has always worked for me. Keep an eye on the bird, once it has browned to your satisfaction, cover the breast with foil and proceed. Use your judgment and don't drive yourself crazy over it.
  • Lastly, make sure your roasting pan is large enough to accomodate both your turkey and the aromatic vegetables used in roasting. Do not cram a giant bird into a tiny pan - you'll be sorry if you do and you'll have a huge mess on your hands. Be sure that the whole bird, legs and all, fit within the confines of your pan. If you're going to be hosting and roasting a fair bit, you'd do well to invest in a quality pan. I adore my Calphalon roaster! A good, dark roasting pan is the key to a rich, savory gravy and a well-browned bird. I wouldn't dream of roasting a turkey without it - its well worth the investment.
  • DO NOT, under any circumstances, use a foil roasting pan. Don't even THINK about using one. Period. I will say no more.
Thus begins our Thanksgiving mini-series. Follow these tips, and those to come, and you'll be well on your way to a Divalicious holiday. Stay tuned for Turkey Tips: Part Two ... wherein I will divulge the recipe for that delectable compound butter I mentioned. Trust me, this one is a keeper and guaranteed to yield a moist, picture-perfect bird every time. Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about it.

Meanwhile, what's your favorite turkey tip? Curious Diva wants to know!

Bon appetite!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Bowl of Repentance

Bless me, Dr. Agatston, for I have sinned. It's been several days since I've been on your South Beach Diet ... and I'm not the least bit sorry about it. Desperate times call for desperate measures - and those desperate measures included (but are not limited to) the following: a slice of Mama Diva's birthday cake, some really excellent New Haven pizza, the afore mentioned cheesesteak ... and two really stiff scotches last night.

In the spirit of full disclosure I will add that the above listed sins gained me a grand total of one pound. Not bad for a week's worth of indulgence. And, frankly, that pound concerns me not at all. A good work-out today will take care of it and one "off" week does not negate the other 29 pounds I've lost.

Confession is good for the soul, or so they tell me, and so is soup ... this much I know is true. For my penance I prepared a healthy, Beachy, lentil soup on Wednesday night and it was spectacular. Given the multitude of white carb sins over the past few days, I opted to use some pearl barley in place of pasta and I'm delighted with the results. Barley is rich in Manganese, Selenium, Phosphorus, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Vitamin B6, Thiamin, Niacin, Riboflavin, Folate and Potassium. Its also a good source of both fiber and protein. And, you can't beat the texture - barley's chewy bite is the perfect compliment to the soup-softened lentils. What a lovely combination!

Now, on to the recipe. This one is of the "pinch and dash" variety; meaning I don't measure any of the seasonings. I open my massive spice cabinet and start adding anything and everything that sounds good to me. Sometimes its a pinch of cinnamon to give the soup some Middle Eastern flair; other times I'll add a dash of curry powder or a pinch of celery salt and some cayenne pepper. Sometimes all of the above. I'll post the recipe and note for the record that you should feel free to season the soup as you like. Pinch and dash to your heart's content and you'll be rewarded with a savory, flavorful bowl of repentance!

Lentil and Barley Soup:

  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 large ribs of celery, diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • one 14.5 oz. can of Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups of small, green French Lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 5 cups of reduced sodium vegetable broth
  • 5 cups of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • the leaves from 5 or 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • a pinch of ground cinnamon
  • a healthy dash of good quality curry powder
  • a shake of celery salt
  • a handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup of pearl barley, cooked according to package directions, drained and reserved
  • some chopped fresh parsley and some grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Heat the oil in a large, heavy stock pot over medium high heat and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and saute the vegetable until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the can of tomatoes, with their juices, and allow them to cook down for a bit, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes or so. Add the lentils, and saute, stirring to coat for about a minute. Add the vegetable and chicken broths and stir well to combine. Add the thyme leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, dash of curry powder, a shake of celery salt and a handful of chopped parsley. Stir to combine, raise the heat to high and bring the soup to the boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat immediately, cover, and allow the soup to simmer until the lentils are tender - about 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, cook the barley according to package directions, drain and reserve.

Test the soup after 20 minutes of simmering to be sure that the lentils have cooked. Add in the red wine vinegar and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning - adding more salt and pepper, or any of the above listed spices, as desired.

To serve: place some cooked barley in the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle the finished soup onto the barley. Garnish with some chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve an army - or several generations of your family at a minimum. Make the soup, eat some, save some for lunch the next day, then freeze the rest for later use. You can add the remaining cooked barley to the cooled soup as desired before you freeze. Lastly, feel free make this soup vegetarian by using 10 cups of vegetable broth and omitting the chicken. I happen to like the combination of the two, but your mileage may vary, of course.

My repentance is now complete and I'm looking forward to my lunch of left-over soup today. I'm back in business and back on The Beach! Stay tuned for a post on knife-sharpening tips, courtesy of Papa Diva, next week - as well as some holiday tips for Thanksgiving. We've got a lot of catching up to do here!

Bon appetite!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


A quick update: Mama Diva is out of the bad hotel - a.k.a. the hospital - and has been moved to a rehab center for some additional physical therapy. Her knee is healing well and she could have gone home, but has chosen to err on the side of caution. I don't think I can fully relax until she's home safe and sound, but this is a good start.

I plan to be back to regular posting/responding tomorrow. This week has been stressful - and, frankly, food has been the last thing on my mind.

Thanks again for all the support and good wishes. I've been MIA for sometime now and will catch up with all of your delicious blogs ASAP. I've missed my daily reads!

Have a great night and stay tuned for a return to deliciousness tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

North Haven Cheesesteak?!

I know what you're thinking - and, no, that title is not a mistake. I haven't gotten my geography confused. I really did have a North Haven Cheesesteak ... in the home of the parental units on Monday night ... and it was delicious!

Never one to be outdone, Papa Diva decided to flex his culinary muscles and prepare this sumptuous sandwich for our dining pleasure after our long and stressful surgical day on Monday. It was not at all Beach friendly and just what the doctor ordered! I insisted on having something green to go with - so I made my famous braised brussel sprouts. A strange pairing to be sure, but I adore brussel sprouts and will eat them every chance I get. We'll discuss those sprouts some other time - for now, let's explore the cheesesteak.

The formula is really very simple: good meat, a hot skillet, some cheese and some really good bread. Fortunately, the greater New Haven area is an embarrassment of Italian food riches - and its easy to find good Italian bread almost anywhere ... even Shaw's supermarket! And, much to my surprise, the yummy sliced steak came from Stop and Shop! I kid you not. Who knew that such deliciousness was so readily available?

North Haven Cheesesteak:

  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pkg. of thinly shaved sirloin steak
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • some sliced Provolone or American cheese
  • a loaf of good quality Italian bread
Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat and when the pan is hot but not smoking, add the olive oil. Add the sliced steak and cook until well-browned on one side, adding some salt and pepper before turning to cook on the other side. Continue browning the steak and when it is nearly finished add some cheese. Papa Diva likes to top the steak and cheese with the top half of the bread while its still in the pan and transfer the whole thing to the bottom of the roll. Its a nice touch, because it allows the bread to warm a bit while the cheese melts. (See above photo of one Diva-sized steak and one Papa sized steak!)

Prepare as written, throw your diet to the wind, serve and enjoy ... I sure did!

This recipe presents the cheesesteak in its most basic form - and that's just the way we like it. We're both purists and prefer to savor the steak and cheese unadorned. That being said, I'm nothing if not accommodating - so feel free to fry up some onions, peppers and or mushrooms to enhance your sandwich if you so desire. If the spirit moves, you might also choose to top your steak with the traditional Cheez Whiz . I'll save that for future Philly forays, where Whiz is the norm, but do as you see fit.

Its all good ... and all bad. The comfort eating stops today! I'm back on the beam and off the white bread. It was a delicious ride while it lasted and I'm ever so grateful to Papa Diva for sharing one of his specialties with us. Be warned Papa, next time the bread will be wheat! ~wink~

Finally, I'd like to express my thanks to all of you once again for your continued good wishes for my mom. I'm truly touched by the outpouring of support. One of my intentions in creating this blog was the formation of a community. Your well wishes assure me that I've done just that. I appreciate your presence here and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Bon appetite!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Family Update ...

Greetings all! I want to thank each and every one of your for your kind expressions of good luck and best wishes for our dear Pixelgal ... she did great! The surgery went very well and she was 100% awake and looking fantastic when we saw her afterwards. Frankly, she looked better than me! I'll be keeping a close eye on Mama Diva tomorrow and if things continue as I expect them to, I should be back in the city on Wednesday ... and back to the diet on Thursday. Suffice it to say that surgical stress has taken its toll on us all . Just wait for Wednesday's post ... you'll see what I mean. Oy!

I'm hitting the hay early tonight, hoping to improve on those 3 hours of sleep I had last night. Yawn!

Thanks again, dear readers, you guys rock!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Housekeeping: Extended Version

Its been awhile since we've seen the virtual housekeeper - and, unfortunately, she'll be here for a few days. While I'd normally be getting a jump start on the Thanksgiving prep this weekend, instead I'm packing up my bags and heading off to the parental units for a bit.

Mama Diva - a.k.a. "pixelgal" - is having knee replacement surgery on Monday and, worrywart that I am, I need to be there to monitor her progress. If all goes as expected, I should be back in the city and ready to cook again on Wednesday.

I'll check in from the road with an update on Mama Diva sometime on Monday. In the meanwhile, tell me what you've got planned for Thanksgiving. Hungry Diva want to know!

Have a great weekend and make it ... Divalicious!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Mother of Invention

Dead tired and slightly crisp - read hungover - I dragged myself out to shop late yesterday afternoon. Knowing I could not be trusted to navigate the perils of Fairway without a list in such condition, I made one. Carefully. Here's the thing about lists though - you have to actually read them. And perhaps its best to *not* write key items way up in the right hand corner where your tired eyes will fail to look ... lest you forget a critical ingredient for your much desired sauce ... like red wine for instance. Oops!

Only after I'd minced and chopped and begun to saute did I realize that I had no red wine for the sauce. Or at least none that I could rationalize opening for a simple 1/2 cup. Fortunately, I remembered the open bottle of white burgundy in the fridge and further remembered a Bolognese recipe I ran across on Dana McCauley's blog a few months ago in which she used white wine rather than red. Sweet! The sauce and I were back in business and my craving would be satisfied!

The results? Delicious! While I still prefer the use of red wine, the white gave the sauce a somewhat lighter flavor that was not unwelcome. I will post the recipe in its original form, and add that you should feel free to use whatever wine you like - so long as its of good quality.

Bolognese Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 lb. of extra lean ground beef
  • 1/3 lb. of ground pork
  • 1/3 lb. of ground veal
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
  • 1 large rib of celery cut into small dice
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup of good quality red wine
  • one 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 - 3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 - 3 tbsp. fat-free half and half
Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat and add the meats, onion, carrot, celery, garlic and a dash of crushed red pepper flakes. Saute, stirring often to break up the meat, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the meat begins to brown. Drain the excess fat from the pan then return the mixture to the stove and add the wine. Continue to cook over medium high heat until most of the wine has evaporated, stirring often, about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, dried basil, parsley, Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Allow the mixture to come to a full simmer, then reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer on low for 20 to 25 minutes or until it has thickened slightly.

Add in the half and half, stirring well to combine, and season to taste adding some salt and pepper if desired. Allow the sauce to simmer for 5 to 10 more minutes while you cook your pasta. Serve over the pasta of your choice - whole wheat please, if you're on the Beach - with some additional Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley for garnishing. This recipe will serve 6. Enjoy!


Traditional Bolognese recipes generally call for real cream in some form. In fact, the version I used to make back in the 80s called for the meat to be simmered in cream prior to adding the tomatoes. Luscious to be sure, but I'm far too fat-phobic for that now, hence the half and half.

This is a quick and easy recipe for my all time favorite sauce. While the red wine does yield a heartier result, you can't go wrong either way. Necessity really is the mother of invention and this sauce was just what I needed to cure my aching head. Bon appetite!

While we're on the subject of mothers, I might add that today is Mama Diva's birthday. This recipe is dedicated to you, Mama Diva, the greatest mom a girl could have! If I'm funny, its because you gave me your joyful spirit; if I'm witty, its because you gave me my smarts; and, if I'm a Diva, its because you made sure I knew the sun rose and set upon me - like it should any child. Happy birthday, Mom - I love you THIS much!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


This is a picture of my pillow. I'm going to have a date with it very soon. The champagne was flowing here in Divaland last night and needless to say we were up very late indeed. I know I've been neglecting the blog these past few days - but some things are bigger than even my love of food and mascara.

I'm not going to wax poetic on that thought, or even expand on it. I'm tired, I'm happy, I'm enormously proud of our country, and I am in need of a bowl of pasta. Fear not, it will be whole wheat, and it will be cloaked in the warm embrace of a rich Bolognese sauce. I can't wait.

So charmed by the idea of that sauce am I, that I'm willing to actually get out of my pajamas and secure the necessary ingredients ... in the rain. The recipe will be posted tomorrow. I'm off to hunt, forage, cook and finally sleep.

Good morning, America, its a brand new day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get Out and Vote!

Voting isn't just our duty, its our privilege. In recognition of that, Starbucks is offering a free cup of coffee to those who vote today. Click the link, watch the video, get out and vote - then pop in for a free cup of joe.

Voting is Divalicious. Do it!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Notes and Notions ...

I'm late to the game in thanking Miss Caught Up for passing her lovely Kreative Blogger Award to me last week ... thank you, Amanda! I'm honored to be among those you've mentioned and return the compliment to you in equal measure!

I'd like to pass my award to the following creative and wonderful bloggers:

The Vintage Kitten - love that name and her blog is really beautiful, a feast for the eyes.

Vickie at Uncommon Artistic Endeavors - for her crafty and delicious blog!

Astra Libris at Food for Laughter - for her wonderful spirit and her yummy posts and photos.

And, Michele at Life, Lightly Salted - because she just rocks and I want to make everything she posts!

There are certainly others I'd like to highlight, if time would allow ... but this Diva is on a tight schedule today, and likely tomorrow too. I will be back with a new recipe late tomorrow but wanted to take the time to thank Amanda today and pass on my award.

In other news, I've decided that those cookie muffins from last week aren't so bad after all. We somehow managed to finish off the batch ... and in the end I'm not sorry I made them. I would make them again, only next time I'll add some nuts, skip the chocolate and allow them to be the muffins that they really are. I think they'd be a wonderful addition to any breakfast or brunch.

Lastly, here are the results of this year's pumpkin carving adventure:

I deviated from the norm this year and did a different kind of eye ... and the husband carved his into the mask from "Scream" ... he had a little help though ... I drew the face for him. Sssshhh, don't tell!

The roasted seeds are delicious and we have so many of them we might be eating them until next year!

I'm off to have lunch with a friend, then its on to hunting and foraging for dinner provisions. So, what's for dinner in your world tonight? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!