Monday, June 30, 2008

Bison: Its what's for dinner?

Well, not for me, mind you - but the husband loves it. As discussed he's a meat freak, albeit one who needs to watch his cholesterol. He made the transition from regular burgers to bison burgers a couple of summers ago and has never stopped singing its praises. Much like a missionary, he's on a quest to get everyone on board and here's why: its low in calories, has far less fat than even skinless-boneless chicken breasts and is nutrient rich. He's gone so completely crazy for it that he's now demanding Buffalo Dogs as well. Will the madness never stop?

I'm content to stick with my turkey burgers, thankyouverymuch. But, he swears its even better and more flavorful than a regular hamburger - and given his passion for burgers, that's saying something. I'm offering the nutritional stats and the recipe here at his suggestion. I figure by letting you in on his secret I'll be doing us both a favor. You'll benefit health-wise, and I'll be preventing him from donning a white robe and preaching about it in the subways. Win/win.

Bison Burger:

  • 1 lb. ground bison
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 tbsp. ketchup
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • a couple of shakes of hot red pepper flakes
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine all of the above in a medium sized bowl and mix to ensure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Shape into patties and grill.

When cooking bison, its important to use indirect heat. Because the fat content is so low there will be very little shrinkage, and you don't want your burger to turn into a hockey puck. If we're in the burbs, the husband pre-heats the gas grill on high, then turns it down to medium when cooking the burgers. If we are at home, he'll heat the grill pan, and then cook it low and slow over medium-low heat. Bison will cook more quickly than ground beef, so adjust your cooking time accordingly.

Here's a useful link on bison cooking tips, do read it if you're going to try the burgers. If you're on the South Beach, substitute 2 tbsp. of high quality tomato paste (such as Luigi Vitelli) for the ketchup and results will be the same. Give 'em a go and let me know what you think. If you're a convert to the Church of Bison, shout it out in the comments so the husband can update his database.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Housekeeping: Sporting Edition

I'll be roasting in the heat at the Yanks v. Mets game this afternoon so you're on your own in the kitchen today ... make something fabulous! The balance of the weekend will be spent grillin' and chillin' chez Mama & Papa Diva and I'm hoping to bring back some fresh produce from my bro's garden. Sweet!

As regards the blog, I've added a widget for my Shelfari "favorites" at the bottom right, below the sitemeter. Hover your cursor over the book jackets and you'll see my review, etc. If you're a reader and haven't heard of Shelfari, check it out. Its a virtual bookshelf - perfect for apartment dwellers and no need for dusting.

Enjoy the weekend and see you on Monday. Ciao!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vote Early and Often

If you're here reading, hit up my poll on the top right of the blog. Contrary to the title, its one vote per customer. You can choose more than one answer ... but don't choose them all ... this is highly scientific stuff, no hanging chads allowed.

Product Review Times Two

Oddly enough, I don't paint my nails. I spend roughly two and a half hours a week in a pool, and between that and doing dishes, its just not worth it ... too much chipping and I can't be bothered with the upkeep. I do, however, like to keep my toes looking pretty - particularly in the summer. I prefer hot pink for the Diva toes and here's a shock ... I do them myself. Horrors! I'm kind of a germophobe and nail salons squick me. Fungus anyone? ~brrrr~ I learned the perils of paronychia back in cosmetology school and I've never gotten over it.

I'm always on the lookout for a new nail color or polish product - so I was pretty excited when I read about Sally Hansen's new Color Quick - Fast Dry Nail Color Pen. While I'm happy to be my own best pedicurist, doing so takes time and I hate waiting around for the polish to dry. I like the quick dry stuff and its increasingly hard to find. Both L'Oreal and Maybelline seem to have discontinued their quick dry lines and I'm bitter about it.

Earlier this week I happily snatched up a tube of Hot Pink Color Quick and gave it whirl. Since my toes were freshly polished and I couldn't wait to try it, I painted my fingernails. Here's my review: horrid! The brush is stubby, oddly shaped, and overly wide. (Not unlike myself.) The polish itself is kind of dry, kind of sticky, and very streaky. Controlling the amount of polish on the brush is damn near impossible. One is supposed to "click" the pen to dispense "the perfect amount" ... that's a nice theory but in practice there was either too much or not enough. Feh.

Given the quality of the enamel, I was dubious about it's durability - and this morning's swim proved me right. Most of the polish had left my fingertips by the time I exited the pool. Sorry fellow swimmers! I've never seen polish disappear so fast. Absurd. Save your money and skip this product. Its lame.

On a related note, a friend of mine hipped me to sally Hansen's Dries Instantly 30-Second Top Coat - and this one's a keeper. It does exactly what it says. I'm giving it two sparkly Diva Crowns.

So, what color are your toes today? Got a favorite nail product that rocks your world? Shout it out in the comments.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Breakfast - Its What's for Dinner

Farm fresh eggs are one of life's great pleasures. If you've never had them, you are really missing out. Obviously I don't live on or near a farm ... and likely never will. Its my understanding that farmers often arise before noon and engage in some form of manual labor. I don't think I like the sound of that. I'm all for local and organic eating, but I don't need to form a relationship with the chicken bearing my eggs. The carton will do just fine, thank you, and I'm happy to procure the fresh eggs from some wonderful farmer's markets - both here in the city and away.

We were fortunate enough to spend this past weekend in Rhinebeck, New York. I had a delicious - and South Beach friendly - lunch at Calico Restaurant & Patisserie on Saturday afternoon. Much to my surprise, I was strong-willed enough to forgo their marvelous assortment of pastries ~swoon~ but it took some effort. We shopped along East Market Street afterwards and the husband and I were delighted to find a new specialty meat market there. Fleisher's sells locally grown, grass-fed, organic meats and their selection was amazing. They also had a variety of fresh, local dairy products, including: butter, eggs and artisanal cheese. Oh how I wish this store was in my neighborhood! We were both very sorry that we hadn't brought a cooler along and will definitely do so on our next trip.

We did pick up a carton of fresh eggs from Fleisher's and they are as beautiful as they are delicious. Each one a different hue, much like the above picture, and their yolks are so bright they're nearly orange. I also stopped at the Rhinebeck Farmer's Market and picked up some organic zucchini and summer squash - and thus were the makings of last night's dinner.

The husband is in charge of egg-cookery, chez Diva. He's a breakfast master and I defer to his expertise. Omelets were on the menu last night and in terms of recipe - I really can't do better than Alton Brown's. Its as perfect an omelet recipe as I've ever seen and the results have been flawless every time. I will repost it here, but want to give credit where its due.

Alton Brown's Omelet:

  • 3 eggs, warmed in hot water for 5 minutes
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon room temperature butter, plus 1/2 teaspoon for finishing omelet
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped chives

Crack warm eggs into bowl, add salt, and blend with fork. Heat a 10-inch non-stick aluminum pan over medium-high heat. Once pan is hot add butter and brush around surface of pan. Pour eggs into center of pan and stir vigorously with rubber spatula for 5 seconds. As soon as a semi-solid mass begins to form lift pan and move around until the excess liquid pours off into pan. Using your spatula move around the edge of the egg mixture to help shape into round and loosen edge. Let omelet sit in pan for 10 seconds without touching.

Shake pan to loosen omelet from the bottom. Lift up the far edge of the pan and snap it back toward you. Using your spatula, fold over 1/3 of the omelet. Slide omelet onto plate and fold over so that omelet is a tri-fold. Coat with remaining butter and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes: As written, this recipe is for one, unfilled, omelet. I like mine filled. Last night we added some diced red peppers, shredded Emmental cheese and Crimini mushrooms, which I had sauteed in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and some fresh thyme. Fresh chives are a must, but we do not finish the omelet with the additional butter - for my purposes, it just isn't necessary. And lastly, because I never make a recipe without changing it - I prefer two eggs per omelet, not three, and we use olive oil for cooking - not butter. YMMV, of course.

Serve with a beautiful side salad, some steamed zucchini and breakfast makes a fine dinner. So, thanks, all you hard working farmer's out there!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Breaking News

Deprivation can be a marvelous thing. In fact, it often leads to appreciation. Such is the case regarding my breaking news ... Alert the media! ... Film at 11 ! ... I'm going to eat some brown rice. Can you at all sense the excitement here?

Maybe my news flash doesn't sound like a big deal to you, but I've thought about, planned for and dreamt of this day for nearly a month. Why its been looming like a holiday ... I may even declare it such, chez Diva, and wear an extra sparkly crown. Having gone without most starches for so long, it is possible that I am, perhaps, over estimating the news-worthy-ness of such an event. So sue me, I'm excited! I've missed my carbs and I am prepared to celebrate and appreciate them, in moderation, of course.

In honor of such an august and glorious occasion I will now divulge my most cherished recipe for brown rice, so that you may join in the merriment.

Steamed Brown Rice:

  • Locate the nearest Chinese Restaurant
  • Place an order for steamed brown rice
  • Serve when ready
  • Repeat as needed

Oh, were you expecting something more? ~blink~

No, you're right, this magnificent rice holiday demands a bit more enhancement, shall we say. In that case, I suggest you top the miraculous Chinese take-out rice with the following ...

Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-fry:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 1/4 lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 cup of thin French green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 cup of sugar snap peas, trimmed
  • 2/3 cup sliced Crimini or Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. ginger root, peeled and minced or grated
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • hot red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 cup non-fat chicken broth (reduced sodium)
  • 4 tbsp. reduced sodium Soy Sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Asian sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp. corn starch mixed with 2 tsp. chicken broth
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet, add the shrimp and cook, stirring frequently, until pink and just cooked throughout. Remove shrimp from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add the red peppers, green beans, sugar snap peas and mushrooms to the skillet and cook on medium-high heat, stirring often, until vegetables are crisp/tender - @ 4 minutes. You may need to add some broth to the pan if it is too dry. Add the ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes (if desired) and sautée for 1 minute.

Return the shrimp to the pan. Add one cup of the chicken broth and the soy sauce and stir to combine. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it has boiled, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring the skillet to the boil again and add the cornstarch/broth mixture, stir to combine until the sauce has thickened slightly. Add the sesame oil and the sesame seeds. Stir to combine.

Serve over the brown rice and enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve four, but the portions are not huge. As is the case with most stir-fry recipes (and all of my recipes) feel free to tinker with it. Add more shrimp, change the veggies, add more soy sauce, whatever, its all good. This is a quick and very satisfying meal, the perfect dish to celebrate my reunion with rice. And, no, I'm not kidding about ordering the take-out rice ... that's my secret recipe and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Profit and Loss Statement

Given all the frivolous talk of beauty products and Brillo head here, it may come as a surprise that I've spent a fair amount of time around balance sheets. I've had an absurd number of jobs over the course of my life - two of them in the financial service industry and one ongoing stint related to accounting. I know my way around a P & L statement almost as well as I do the Lancôme counter. As I draw near to the end of my fourth week on South Beach, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at my "balance sheet" as it were. And, being the kind of Diva who's prone to an over-share, you know I'm going to write about it here. I beg your indulgence.


  • A fear of carbs and sugar. That's partially a joke, but not entirely. I know I feel different, physically and mentally, without it. I feel better and have more energy than I've had in years. Perhaps "fear" is too strong a word, but I have a new-found sense of sugar's affect on my body ... and its not positive.
  • A culinary sense of adventure. Hello - I actually ate some fish!
  • Renewed interest in cooking. I'm out of my "What should I make for dinner?" rut. I'd say that meal-wise the world is my oyster ... but I'm not gonna go that far. Tilapia is one thing but I'm steering clear of the bivalves ... pearls not withstanding, of course.
  • A much larger grocery bill ... they're not giving the organic produce away at Fairway.
  • A much larger wardrobe. I'm wearing my "skinny" jeans again ... the ones I couldn't fit into at the beginning of the summer. Sweet!
  • The affection of millions ... uh, make that dozens ... um, I mean a handful of you, my loyal readers. ~wink~


  • 12 pounds and several inches. I wasn't smart enough to take my measurements before I began this adventure, so no hard data to back it up. The evidence lies in the above referenced skinny jeans ... and all my other clothes.
  • My tape measure. I don't know where it is. Seriously.
  • My taste for sugar. I've become hyper-sensitive to it and its fairly off-putting. I was out to dinner last night and took one bite of the salad dressing I'd ordered (on the side), and immediately rejected it because it was too sweet. I knew at once that it was loaded with sugar and I just didn't want it.
  • My cravings for junk food ... yes, even the Doritos. Sad, but true.
  • My fear of fish ... maybe.
  • My need for Tums/Zantac/Pepcid AC. I can't remember the last time I had heartburn. Awesome.
  • And this one breaks my heart ... pasta. Sigh. I may never get over my love of pasta, the real stuff, not that whole wheat crap. Prior to South Beach, we probably ate some form of pasta at least 3 times a week. I've only had it twice in the last month. I've reluctantly made the transition to whole wheat pasta and its the only real difficulty I've had with the diet. The results have been worth it, so I'm just gonna have to get over it and save the real pasta for special occasions only.

So that's the quarterly report - and it looks like I'm not only in balance, but 100% in the black. I'm not trying to shill for the South Beach Diet here, its not for everyone. I'm merely offering a progress report ... and mostly for myself. The reality is I've gained far more on the South Beach than I've lost, more than I ever imagined.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Frugal Diva

I may spend freely on jewelry and cosmetics ... gazes fondly at Lagos ring ... but I can be frugal too. Especially when it comes to the food I've cooked. Most nights I'm cooking for two and that often results in leftovers - which are like money in the bank to me. Knowing I've got a delicious and easy meal at the ready somehow makes the day seem brighter ... not unlike a new piece of Lagos.

Now I know you're looking at that chicken head and saying: "Chicken?! Again?!" Yes, chicken. Again. Don't say I didn't warn you. And because life's just one big fiesta here in Diva Land, its Mexican food again too. Ole.

If you're playing along at home you'll have some leftover Pico de Gallo hanging around your fridge. I sincerely hope you do because, if so, you're halfway to your next meal. Read on and discover the joys of frugality ... Diva Style, of course.


  • one large, or two small, ripe avocados
  • juice of 1/2 of lemon
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 - 3 tbsp. of Pico de Gallo
  • dash or two of hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
  • some fresh cilantro, chopped
Cut avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop the fruit from its shell into a medium sized bowl. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper, and mash with a fork until creamy. Add 2 or 3 tbsps. of the Pico de Gallo, the hot sauce, and some chopped fresh cilantro. Stir well to combine. Cover and set aside in the fridge.

Chicken and Black Bean Tostadas

  • 3 tbsp. guacamole
  • 1/2 cup of canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Tabasco Sauce, to taste
  • 1 cup of cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
  • 8 grape tomatoes, chopped
  • juice of one whole lime
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. red onion, minced
  • corn tortillas*
  • olive oil
  • shredded lettuce (I like to use red leaf)
  • 2 - 3 tbsp. crumbled mild goat cheese** (I like the herbed variety)
  • Pico de Gallo
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the corn tortillas lightly with the oil and bake them on the rack in the oven until crisp and just slightly golden. Watch them carefully to see that they do not burn. (Alternately, you can do this in the toaster over, which is what I normally do. Or even on an outdoor grill if you have one.) Remove from oven and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the black beans, the guacamole and a dash of Tabasco sauce. Stir to combine and reserve.

In another bowl, combine the chicken, tomatoes, onions, lime juice, cumin and cilantro. Stir and season with salt and pepper.

Spread a layer of the bean / guacamole mixture on each tortilla. Top with shredded lettuce, the chicken mixture and some crumbled goat cheese. Spoon some Pico de Gallo over the top, serve and enjoy!

Recipe notes:

I have adapted this recipe from Bon Appetite Magazine, but its so old I'm not even sure when it was originally published. I changed the original, and I like my version better. As written, it will make @ 3 tostadas.

* For those on the South Beach Diet, substitute the corn tortilla for a whole wheat or whole grain tortilla. I used Ezekiel brand's Sprouted Wheat Tortilla and it was delicious.

** If you don't have goat cheese, or don't like it, no worries - in the past I've substituted sharp cheddar or aged gruyere and both were equally good.

Lastly, if you don't have any Pico de Gallo on hand, just substitute some jarred salsa where indicated and the results will be just as good. These tostadas are the perfect summer dish - light yet packed full of flavor - and if you use the toaster oven or grill both you and your kitchen will stay cool.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Applause, Applause

Occasionally I like to throw my audience a bone. The audience in this case being the husband; and the bone, a fish bone. I believe I've stated my position on the sea creatures, but I'm also certain that its good idea to keep the audience happy and leave 'em wanting more. The husband loves fish and often do I hear the plaintive wail: "you never make fish for dinner!" To which I generally respond: "When you're the chef you can make what you like. Now get to work carving that chicken."

Maybe my taste buds have changed, or maybe being on a diet has paradoxically made me more adventurous, but lately I find I'm more willing to try new things - especially new recipes. Its as if the minor restrictions of the South Beach Diet have lead to a wealth spring of culinary creativity and our menus these last four weeks have been more varied then ever. Frankly, cooking has been a complete joy lately. I've fallen in love with my kitchen all over again and the results have been spectacular.

Given my new-found sense of adventure, I decided to try some fish last night. This is truly a shocking development. I once went an entire year without eating fish, due to a somewhat playful New Year's resolution on my part. We have a long standing tradition of throwing an open house party on New Year's Day. I have the guests write out their resolutions on a slip of paper and place them in a decorative bowl. Eventually, we pass the resolution bowl around, draw out a slip of paper each, and read the resolution aloud. My theory being that no one ever keeps their own resolutions, so perhaps its a better idea to try someone else's.

Much laughter ensues as the resolutions are read out and its become my favorite part of the New Year festivities. A few years ago, one of my sister in laws resolved to "eat more fish." I was so utterly terrified that I would pull that out of the bowl, that I put in: "eat less fish." As luck would have it, I picked my own resolution out that year. Its the only one I've ever kept.

But that was then and this is now. Recently, my dear friend Debbie was talking about her Mexican Tilapia recipe and it sounded really delicious. She explained that she seasons the fish with some Cajun spice, grills or bakes it, and then tops it with her version of Pico de Gallo. She listed the ingredients, but not specific amounts, and being the kind of cook who never follows a recipe exactly - this was perfect for me. Plenty of room for interpretation.

It was also a little intimidating. I've baked, constructed and decorated four tier wedding cakes, but I know less than nothing about cooking fish, much less how to bake it. I winged it and, despite my fears, the results were scrumptious. Applause all around ... the audience was happy and I learned that maybe the sea creatures aren't so bad after all.

Mexican Tilapia

  • 2 nice Tilapia fillets
  • olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Cajun Spice mixture or Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle blend*
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly oil a low-rimmed baking dish and set aside. Brush the tilapia fillets lightly with the olive oil on both sides, season them with the salt and pepper and place them in the baking dish. Mix the mayonnaise and Dijon together in a small bowl and spread a thin layer of the mixture over the top of each fillet. Season to taste with the Cajun spice or Mrs. Dash. Bake fish in the middle of the oven for @ 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets. If they're thin, they will require less time ... more if they're thicker.

While the fish is baking, prepare the sauce.

Pico de Gallo

  • one 14.5 oz. can of Petite Diced Tomatoes with Jalapeño**
  • juice of 1/2 of a lime
  • 2 tbsp. minced red onion
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 small fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to blend. Reserve in the fridge until the fish is cooked.

Remove the fish from the oven when its done, top with the Pico de Gallo, serve and enjoy!

* I could not find Cajun spice blend in my market, so I defaulted to the Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle Blend and it was fine.

**I also could not find the unseasoned petite diced tomatoes, so I chose the jalapeño blend. Its fairly well seasoned and spicy on its own, so taste it before you decide to add the fresh jalapeno peppers. We like spicy food, so I chose to add the fresh peppers anyway. I like the texture they give, but YMMV, of course so I'll leave the choice up to you. If you've got the unseasoned tomatoes, then by all means do add the fresh jalapeños. Either way, you'll have some of the delicious Pico de Gallo left over ... and I'll give you some ideas for using it up ... tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blazing heat and aching feet.

I've got a confession to make - I don't do well in the heat. My gray matter melts and I become a major space cadet. Come summer, I'm prone to bad food wear decisions and bouts of some serious forgetfulness. Such was the case last Tuesday.

I thought I was going to a soft-ware conference in mid-town, on the far East side. First Avenue in the 50's to be exact. This is nowhere near my home. In fact, it would probably be quicker for me to drive to Connecticut than to get to this conference, much less by 9 a.m. during the height of rush-hour.

But go, I did. Woke early, threw on a sun dress and some pretty ballet flats and off I went. Three jam-packed subway trains and 400 staircases later, and I emerge on 5th Avenue and 53rd Street - a half-mile from where I need to be. (I know, I screwed up!) I hoof it. Ordinarily this would be no problem, I'm used to walking and generally enjoy it. Have I mentioned that its 102 degrees here? The sun is blazing, the side walks are molten and I'm beginning to turn bitter.

Twenty minutes later I arrive at my destination. I feel like a wet mop and no doubt look worse. I head towards the compulsory security desk to sign-in. The guards are looking at me funny. Uh oh, how big is my hair? They stop to question me ... damn, I should have worn a hat. They want to know where I'm going and who I'm seeing? I pull out the conference invitation, pass it over, and the guards start to laugh. Is there some kind of joke? Am I the but of it? Why, yes. Yes I am. The conference is scheduled for next Tuesday - the 17th. Oh my God!

I smile politely as I rip the invite out of their hands and wish them well. Back out in to the sun and another 1/2 mile back to the trains. Low and behold as I approach Lexington Avenue, I spy a previously unknown, to me, subway entrance. Beauty! I'm rapidly regretting my choice of shoe and this will save me a few precious blocks. Down I go. Down more stairs than I ever imagined possible. Is this train in hell? My thighs are sweating, my hair is expanding and my knees are exploding. I think I feel dizzy and I know I'm a bit confused.

At long last the platform is in sight and a train's pulling in. Its blissfully cool and magically empty. Seats abound! I take one and offer a small prayer of thanks. Out of the station we go. I'll reverse my route and be home in no time. Right? Wrong. It dawns on me that this train is taking way too long between stops. I know its not this far from Lexington to 5th, and yet the train rattles on. We're picking up speed ... shouldn't we be slowing down?

Miles later we pull into a station ... "23rd Street and Ely Avenue" ... what the ... ?!? I get off. Where the hell am I? I've never heard of such a place. Mysteriously, a "V" train courses through the station. Have I entered an alternate universe? Since when are there "V" trains?! I glance around and take note of the crowd: they're young, pierced, and multiply tattooed. Oh my God, I think I'm in a borough. I think I'm in Queens - land of under-funded twenty-somethings who have yet to upgrade to Red Hook. Help me!!!

I head for the stairs, oh joy, and cross the station to what I hope is the Manhattan bound platform. Eventually I make it home. Hot, tired and laughing out loud at myself. I've lived here for 23 years - long enough to know my way around. I should and do know better. Oh well, I'm blaming the heat and the ballet flats. There'll be no cooking for me this day. Its looking a lot like a big salad, topped with rotisserie chicken and some Green Goddess dressing. Perfect choice for the wicked weather. The recipe is courtesy of "The South Beach Diet - Supercharged" - though I've changed it a bit and improved it - and the chicken courtesy of the supermarket.

Hopefully you'll skip the subway-surfing Odyssey, but do try the salad with this dressing. Its outstanding.

Green Goddess Dressing

  • 1/2 medium avocado, peeled
  • 3 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise
  • 3 tbsp. nonfat, plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Add to the blender:
  • 2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
Blend until well combined. Add in some additional water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dressing reaches your desired consistency. Serve and enjoy!

Promptly refrigerate any unused portion of the dressing. It will keep, in a sealed container, for up to a week. Its also delicious as a dip for chips and veggies - similar to guacamole. I like to add a dash or two of hot sauce, so feel free to do the same. This dressing is insanely good, I highly recommend it!

P.S. - Feel free to mock , but don't write me to whine about my harshing on Queens or the boroughs. I kid! I kid!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Housekeeping: Extended Version

Boy do I love that apron. I don't really wear one but if I did, you know it would look like this.

Just a few details about the blog. I've moved the "labels" feature so its shown beneath the blog archive. You can use the labels to find recipes or certain posts. If you're looking for chicken, click on chicken, etc. Its just another way to navigate the blog.

Similarly, you may notice that some of the older posts are no longer visible on the front page. There's a link beneath the last entry, "Older Posts" which will take you to them, should you wish to re-read, etc. You can also navigate via the "blog archive", where the entries are listed by date and title.

Some words about the comments: keep making 'em and keep checking 'em. I'd hate to think I'm talking to myself here ... as I'm already privy to my inner monologue. I may have responded to you or a new reader may have left a valuable tip. People are coming to the blog at different times. They may read an older post and respond to it, so when you get a chance breeze through them from time to time. Don't be shy, feel free to join in, particularly if you're a new reader or someone unknown to me. I promise I'll be gentle.

Finally, this is the extended version as I'll be away for a few days. Family calls and the Diva must make a command appearance.

See you on Monday. Ciao!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hunting and Foraging: Diva Style

I don't know if you've ever grocery shopped in Manhattan, but it can be a challenge. And, I use that term loosely - by challenge I mean nightmare ... of epic proportions. Have you ever been to Fairway? Their slogan is: "Like No Other Market" ... and if by that they mean your shopping experience there will be more akin to The Running of the Bulls than a trip to your average Stop & Shop, then yeah, that's about right. In a word, it sucks.

Anyone who's been on a diet has heard of "shopping the perimeter" - sticking to the outside aisles where the healthier foods can be found. Well, at Fairway there is no perimeter. Its a crazy rabbit-warren of 2 foot wide aisles, with products stacked to the rafters and danger lurking around every corner. You may think the choice of link to the Bull Running was a whimsical one, but I assure you it is deadly serious. The tips for running with the bulls on that page are much the same as I'd offer you for shopping at Fairway.

Arrive early. Never, ever go there after 4 p.m., and don't even think about the weekends. Wear comfortable and safe clothing: no open toes or exposed heels. I mean it. Look for the experts and follow them. Get in and get out of the flow quickly: if you see a stock boy or anyone who looks like a tourist - move ahead of them at all costs. Otherwise, you'll be crushed in the fray. The vegetable aisle is the most dangerous place of all. Proceed with caution. If peppers aren't on your list then for the love of God don't stop to admire them - you'll be mowed down by a double wide stroller or a geezer with a shopping cart if you do. This is a full-contact sport and there's nothin' pretty about it. This is hunting and foraging: Diva Style. Strap on your armor, leave the tiara at home.

I never go there without a list and I never go without mapping out my route ... especially my exit route. Shoppers are weary and tempers are running high by the time you reach the check-out lines. Here, its best to stick to the perimeter. Express line if you got less than 12 items, far left check-out if you've got a boat-load.

The best tip of all is to shop upstairs in the organic section. Still chaotic, but far less so, and the register lines move quickly. On a hot day like today, I'm likely to skip the "shopping" altogether and make something from what I've got on hand. Hence our friend the crazy chicken head. He's baaaack!

I know I got this recipe from my mom, but I've been making it for so long I can no longer remember its origins. Its quick, easy and delicious. Add a beautiful side salad and or a veg of your choice and its perfect for a hot night. With a little luck all the ingredients will already be in your pantry too and there'll be no need for combat-shopping.

Dijon Chicken

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded to @ 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • juice of one whole lemon
  • 1/4 cup. water
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp. chopped, fresh rosemary (or to taste)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup high-quality Dijon mustard - (I like Maille brand)
Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a glass or Pyrex pie dish. Add the lemon juice and water and whisk to combine. Add the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper - and or whatever herbs and seasonings you like. Whisk again. Add the chicken to the marinade and turn the chicken to coat. Cover and set aside in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.

Pre-heat your grill, or grill pan. Grill the chicken. When it is well-browned and done on one side, turn it over. Brush the cooked side with some of the Dijon mustard and continue cooking. When the second side is browned and the chicken cooked through - turn it mustard side down, and coat the other side of the breast with the mustard. Continue cooking and turning the chicken, letting the mustard crust both sides. This only takes a minute or two. Serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brillo Head

The summer's heat and humidity are upon us, and that can only mean one thing: Brillo Head. I've got it. I've got it bad. When I'm not policing the city for violations of my mascara edict, I'm busy scrutinizing every woman I pass and wondering why her hair looks so nice and neat while mine resembles Don King. I don't think I have to tell you how upsetting this is. I may never leave the house.

I've got shelves and shelves of "frizz-free" this and "anti-humidity" that in my closet and none of it works. The best I can do is wash it, throw it in a pony tail, and hope that I'll get points for cleanliness. I kiss my glossy, shiny-straight tresses good-bye in May and long for their return in October. I've just written the summer off, hair-wise.

You can imagine my joy when I recently read about Frederic Fekkai's new line: Summer Hair. Why, I was nearly breathless in anticipation of trying it and I think my hands actually trembled a bit as I forked over the cash for the purchase. Well, here's my review: horrid!

The text on the bottle promises: "Zero-Humidity Frizz Control. All day frizz and fly-away protection." Um, no. After using it my hair felt crisp, nearly brittle, and it expanded to heretofore unprecedented width. We're talking Dora the Explorer here. (Warning, that link has sound.) I mean it was big. BIG.

Needless to say I'm returning it. Its too expensive and for me, at least, ineffective. Thus, I appeal to you my style-savy readers and ask: what's your secret for taming the summer beast? Do you have a recommendation for an anti-frizz product that actually works? If so, please do share. This Diva is desperate and needs your help.

Monday, June 9, 2008

On Carnivores and Cattle Herds ...

I'm tired today. You can thank my upstairs neighbors and the heard of cattle they lovingly refer to as their "children". I haven't met them but I'm pretty sure their shoes are welded to their feet and I suspect they each have an extra set of legs. How else to account for the thundering din that rolls from one end of the apartment to the other long about 6:30 a.m. every day? If you've ever spent a night in my guest-room, you know exactly what I mean.

Being tired and dieting is not always a fortuitous combination. I find that the more tired I am, the more likely I am to think about popping open a box of mac and cheese and calling it dinner. It helps to have a strategy for such times and a couple of quick and easy recipes that require little thought and even less preparation.

The Diva is married to a major carnivore. Left to his own devices, he'd happily exist on a diet of raw beef and a side of lamb chops. I don't particularly share his zest for the red stuff and I'm not a great fan of steak. Oddly enough I prefer the more pedestrian varieties of beef: meatballs, burgers and cheesesteaks. ~swoon~

That being said, I have on occasion really enjoyed a meal of Bistecca a la Fiorentina - or steak in the style of the Florentines. Not surprisingly, one of the most memorable versions I've had was in a charming restaurant in Florence. We dined outside on the piazza, under a canopy of umbrellas in the pouring rain, and both the food and the experience were nothing short of magical.

Fortunately for us the dish is easily replicated at home and goes a long way toward satisfying both a carnivorous husband and a weary Diva.

Bistecca a la Fiorentina

  • two sirloin strip steaks, or New York Strips
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and halved
  • 2 thick wedges of fresh lemon
  • a dusting of chopped fresh parsley
Rub the steaks with a bit of olive oil on each side, not much, probably a teaspoon each or so. Doesn't really matter. Season the steaks on both sides with the salt and pepper - to taste, but you can be generous here if you like.

Pre-heat your grill, or in my case a grill pan, to blazing hot and grill the steaks. You'll want a nice char on the outside, and length of cooking is up to you. The husband likes his still moo-ing, I prefer mine crisp and done. All the way done. (Sorry, I'm Irish!)

* Cooking tip from the husband - if your strips are 1 1/2 thick, grill them for 4 minutes per side for a perfect rare. I like my steak to be about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick, and if he cooks mine for the same time it works out perfectly - one rare, one well-done.*

As soon as you pull the steaks from the grill, rub them with the cut halves of garlic on both sides, give them a liberal squeeze of the fresh lemon, hit it with the chopped parsley, serve and enjoy. You may add a slice of lemon to the plates to refresh the acid balance as desired.

In Italy, there are varying schools of thought on adding the olive oil, or whether or not one should salt the meat prior to cooking or just at the end. This is my version of the dish and I like it just the way I've written it. Feel free to experiment and let me know the results. I like to serve it with one of my all time favorite summer sides:

Broiled Summer Squash

  • one medium zucchini
  • one medium yellow summer squash
  • one half of a Vidalia onion, sliced thin
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • dried or fresh basil, to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded fresh Parmesan cheese

Wash and trim the squash. Cut them in half, lengthwise, and then into 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick slices. Bring a medium size pot of water to the boil and season it with a bit of Kosher salt. Add the squash and onions, let the water return to the boil and blanch the vegetables for one to two minutes. Drain into a strainer and refresh under cold, running water for 30 seconds or so. You want the squash to retain its color, so don't over-cook it and don't skip this step.

Pre-heat your broiler.

Arrange the squash and onions in an even layer in a heat-safe glass or Pyrex pie dish. Sprinkle on a grating of fresh nutmeg and season with a bit of the dried basil, or fresh if you have it, or whatever herbs you favor. Top the mixture with the shredded Parmesan cheese to taste. I don't use much, just enough to coat the dish. Be sure to use fresh Parm., not the powdered stuff - otherwise it will not broil properly.

Place the dish under the broiler and cook until the cheese is bubbling hot and slightly browned. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, June 6, 2008


Scared ya with that one, didn't I? Fear not, no actual housework required here. If you want to live in a hovel that's entirely your choice. In this case it refers to blog logistics.

The Diva is away from her computer on weekends - and you should be too. Put on your tiara, get out there, and be fabulous! You can tell me all about it on Monday.


Cheating: Diva Style

Frankly, I don't like the term "cheating." Its far too negative and conjures images of smarmy, back-room characters trying to weasel me out of my money ... like say George Bush and Dick Cheney come April 15th. And yet, I can find no appropriate substitute for it. I've thought about "enhancement" or "enhancing" ... as in: "Waiter, I'd like to enhance this meal with a large order of fries and 6 gallons of vodka."

While that's got a certain ring to it- yay, vodka! - its not exactly what I'm looking for here. I'm wary of "reward" as well. That's a trap most dieters, the Diva included, have fallen into. And we all know where it leads: "I've been so good, I'll just have a teensy little bit of this 9 lb. chocolate cake" ... and BOOM, next thing you know you're on the fast train to fatville with an empty plate in front of you and the top button of your jeans across the room on the floor. Not a pretty picture.

Its a slippery slope when you start thinking of food in these terms. A far better tack, I think, is to remove thoughts of "good" and "bad", "cheating" and "rewarding" from both our minds and our culinary lexicon. What works best for me is to think about eating sensibly, mindfully; to be fully present in my actions and in my choices. If I choose to have a square of chocolate, it is not a reward. Its a conscious decision I've made to allow for that indulgence and I account for it in my view of the day's meals. In fact, I actually plan for it and have a piece of chocolate every day.

By now you're saying: "Hey, Diva, I thought you were on the South Beach? What gives?" To which I reply: "piss-off!" No, kidding again. While its true that chocolate is not on the list of approved foods for Phase 1 of South Beach, it is equally true that it is essential for my health and well-being. I simply cannot and will not live without my dark mistress. What I can do is modify the extent to which I indulge.

Which brings me to the point of all this rambling. Yes, I'm working the South Beach thang, but I'm really not into their idea of suggested "sweet treats", many of which contain artificial sugars and such. I really don't like the idea of putting so many chemically altered additives into my body, but I do recognize that I need a little chocolate in my life. Let me introduce you to my new hero: Scharffen Berger's tasting squares. I buy a package of the Bittersweet tasting squares and, voila, instant portion control.

The squares are 1/4 ounce each ... I know, I actually weighed them ... and come in all of the Scharffen Berger varieties I know and love. For those of you unfamiliar with this brand - where have you been? It is my absolute favorite and fortunately, or unfortunately, they have a store in my neighborhood. The company was recently bought out by Hershey's, which makes me sad, but not sad enough that I care to do without it. Happily, they haven't changed the chocolate at all. I'm partial to the Bittersweet, and really that's the heart healthy option - but I must say that I've never had a milk chocolate as rich and as satisfying as Scharffen Berger's.

My strategy of switching out the South Beach's suggested "sweet treat" for one or two squares has been successful. I've still lost weight, 9 lbs. and counting, and I don't feel deprived. This is "cheating" - Diva Style ... mindful indulgence in a luxurious product.

I'd ask you to tell me about your "enhancements", but you need to keep that shit to yourselves. I'm not running that kind of blog here - and my mother is reading! Instead, tell me how you navigate the waters of indulgence and your favorite brand of chocolate.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Vera Cruz when you can have no booze ...

I admit it, that title is pretty lame. Cut me some slack here, I've had no sugar, no bread, no pasta, no booze for 11 days and it may be taking its toll. Sadly, this post has nothing to do with booze - but it is the first of many appearances of that crazy chicken head. You've been warned.

The truth is I'm not missing much of the above mentioned no-no's. I'm not starving and have had no cravings for any of the verboten foods. In fact, I took my niece and nephew out for pizza the other night and had no problem passing it by. It helps that what passes for pizza in New York pales in comparison to my much beloved New Haven pizza. Were we tucking ourselves into a cozy little booth at Modern Apizza ... I might be here confessing my sins. Who are we kidding? If we were at Modern those kids would have been lucky to get their hands on a slice!

But let's get back to the chicken head. One of the reasons I'm not feeling deprived is that I'm so beaten down I'd be happy with a fillet of dry wall and the proverbial side of mashed yeast. No, I'm kidding. Its because I'm eating delicious food. Well, in Diva-land we always eat delicious food - this girl can cook! Only now I'm tweaking the usual meals just a bit: removing some starches here, adding some vegetables there.

One recent success is my version of Chicken Vera Cruz. I don't know if this a true Vera Cruz recipe or not. I do know that its tasty! The husband lavished much praise upon the dish (and moi) so this is one I know you'll want to keep. You can certainly substitute a fish fillet of your choice for the chicken and, in fact, fish is the more common venue for this kind of sauce ... but the Diva is not fond of the sea creatures and prefers to leave them in the ocean where they belong. As always, *YMMV, so I'll leave the choice up to you.

I served it with a side of sauteed sugar snap peas and some roasted artichoke hearts. This recipe is for two, but it can easily be doubled or tripled, etc., I'll let you do the math. Bon Appetite!

* YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary.

Chicken Vera Cruz

  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, butterflied or pounded to 1/2 thick
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 of a medium sized white onion, sliced thin
  • 1 tbsp. high-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. high-quality balsamic vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp. of jarred Marinara sauce - any brand without sugar
  • 8 - 10 green olives, pitted and halved
  • minced fresh parsley
  • minced fresh tarragon
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl combine the cherry tomatoes, onions, olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.

Place each chicken breast on a large piece of aluminum foil. You'll be forming a packet, so position the chicken about 2 inches from one side of the foil. Spread 1 tbsp. of Marinara sauce over each chicken breast. Spoon the tomato/onion mixture over both breasts (the chicken's not yours) in equal measure. Top with olives, parsley and tarragon - to taste, so the amount is up to you. Fold foil up and over the chicken, sealing edges and sides to form a packet.

Place the packets on a large, rimmed baking sheet and bake on the middle rack of the oven for @ 25 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Larger pieces may need more time, thinner ones less - you're smart, you'll figure it out. Just make sure they're cooked through. Remove from oven, serve and Enjoy!

Be careful opening the packets, as the steam will be HOT. I've yet to figure out how to do this without burning myself ... hopefully you'll do a better job. This recipe takes maybe 5 minutes of prep and the results are truly outstanding! I hope you'll try it.

Sauteed Sugar Snap Peas

  • fresh sugar snap peas
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • a few drops of dark Asian sesame oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • black sesame seeds
Wash the snap peas and trim off any ugly looking ends with a knife. Heat olive oil in the pan until hot but not smoking. Add the snap peas and saute on high heat, stirring frequently so as not to let them burn. They will brown a bit and caramelize though, and that's a good thing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cooking time will vary as its really a matter of preference. I like mine crisp, so I cook them for perhaps three minutes or so. Test them as you go along and pull them off when you approve of the texture. Just before turning off the heat, drizzle in a few drops of the sesame oil, sprinkle on a liberal dose of the black sesame seeds, stir - and there's your side dish. Enjoy!

Plum 'em, don't clump 'em (tm Covergirl) ...

So what's all this about mascara you say? For one thing, I love it and can't live without it. If I'm not wearing it there's a problem: I'm either very sick or very dead. Either way, call 911. For another thing, you should be wearing it too. I mean all of you, all the time. You know who you are. If you look in the mirror and can't find your eyes, then get thee to Sephora post haste! If you're a man and you're reading this - then, ok, you get a buy. If you're a gay man reading this - then call me, we'll go for drinks and dish about all things Bravo.
I'm not kidding, I need someone to share my Bravo-love ... but I digress.

The Diva is talking mascara because she's a former make-up artist who's never lost her cosmetics jones - and because she won't always have a new recipe to post. Sure, the cooking/healthy eating/dieting stuff is the main focus of the blog, but can't a diva have a little fun?! They've taken my Doritos but they'll have to wrestle the mascara wand from my cold, dead hands.

Currently I'm wearing a combination of two mascaras. I need both length and volume so for the first two coats I use: Lancome's L'Extreme. Its magical! It picks up every little lash you've got and gives great definition. For the last coat I'm currently liking Clinique's Naturally Glossy. Its on the dry side, which helps prevent clumps, and does a good job with building volume.

I'll be posting make-up tips and product reviews from time to time and I hope you'll enjoy them as much as the recipes. I want to look good and feel good ... and I want you to look good too ... because if you don't the Diva will know and she *will* mock you. ~wink~

More recipes later. For now, what's your favorite mascara and why?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Welcome to the Beach!

Greetings friends and family ... and strangers. Will there be strangers?!? If so, I hope they'll be exceedingly wealthy and bearing exotic gifts.

Let's get the disclaimer out the way up front: I am not an expert, a doctor or a dietitian. I'm a pretty serious foodie, who loves to cook and likes to look good while doing it. I'm a diva on a diet. Maybe you are too. If so, read on.

Last week I decided to try the South Beach Diet and have had such a great time preparing so many delicious and healthy foods that I thought I'd start a blog to share the recipes. Some of them will be from the South Beach plan, some from other places on the web, and - hopefully - most will be my own creations.

It is my hope that this will be a place to share some recipes, cooking and shopping tips, and a make-up tip or two. Half of what I write will be a joke, the rest will be serious ... hopefully you'll know the difference. Ok, so the blog's a little bit selfish too ... I'm looking to keep my favorite recipes all in one place, but no reason you can't benefit from that, right? If you read something you like, give it a try and let me know how it goes! Leave comments, ask questions, send me your favorite healthy recipes, its all good.

As for frequency of updates here ... I'm not sure. Let's test the waters and see how it goes. It all depends on what I'm cooking I guess, but I'll try for weekly updates at a minimum.

I'll start us off with my new favorite breakfast:

Wake-up Energy Shake
(adapted from The South Beach Diet Plan)

  • 1/2 cup low-fat, no-sugar soy milk, unflavored
  • 1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
  • 3 oz. firm silken tofu
  • 1/4 cup dry roasted almonds
  • 3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract, or to taste
  • sprinkle of Splenda or other artificial sweetener
Combine all the above in a blender and mix on high till frothy and well combined. If you like you may add an ice cube or two while blending.

The amount of Splenda is really up to you. I use very little or sometimes none at all. The shake is delicious, nutritious and slightly cruchy! LOL (That's a good thing for me, but as always YMMV. ) The main thing is that its a high quality meal and it will keep you satisfied for the whole morning.

Last and most importantly - never, ever use artificial vanilla flavoring. That stuff is just gross. I mean it! Get the pure stuff. Really. You'll thank me later.

So, what's your favorite breakfast?