Thursday, July 31, 2008

Interesting Vegetables: Part Three ...

... featuring the lovely and talented red cabbage. Ok, so I know I'm not winning any prizes with this photo - its the best I could do given my lack of experience in culinary photography and the limited tools at my disposal here. I understand that a light box is essential for photographing food ... but I have yet to take the plunge and buy one.

When I first began the blog, I wasn't really thinking about doing the "foodie" thing here. I hadn't really planned on taking elaborate photos of my ingredients and their resulting dishes. I figured whatever was lacking in visual appeal would be made up for in quirkiness ... hello chicken head! And, besides, I rather like the aesthetic of the pictures I've chosen so far. But then I got to surfing around and, honestly? The food blogs with personal pictures are more compelling. There's no denying it, they just look cooler. They make you want to make their recipes. Diva that I am, I not only want to look good, I want my blog to look good too ... I mean, I'd hate to have to mock myself.

Then again, does the world really need another foodie blog? Aren't the 450 million currently operating ones enough? I dunno. The more I think about it, the more my answer might be: no, they're not enough ... because who but me has my Divalicious perspective? I'm not reinventing the wheel here at Beach Eats, but what I have to offer is my sense of humor and the perspective of a natural born Diva ... on a diet. Are there other foodie Divas writing out there? No doubt ... but can they also wax poetic on the perils of Brillo Head? Or give advice on how to handle Combat Shopping? I think not. I hope not.

Bottom line: I'm both a foodie and a Diva ... and maybe its time I embraced that. So, the more I think about it the more I'm inclined to try my hand at this food photography deal and see how it goes. Bear with me, this could be an adventure! (At least until I spring for the light box.)

All of which brings us to the recipe of the day, Asian Slaw. You may think I'm crazy when you see this list of ingredients ... but don't blame me ... I adapted this one from Alton Brown. I know, he's kind of an irritant too. I think that's a prerequisite for having a show on Food Network. Don't get me wrong, I dig his recipes and I suspect he's great fun in person ... I just wish he'd stick to cooking and give those silly bits a rest.

Anyhoo, my search for the perfect Asian slaw recipe began and ended with his take on it. For my money it seemed to have the perfect combination of sweet and savory flavors that I was seeking ... though, of course, I've made a few changes. Do not freak out when you see that there is mint in this recipe. Mint? In slaw? Yes and yes. It is essential and the end result will be lacking without it. Feel free to do as I did and forget to purchase the scallions ... oops! ... but I forbid you to leave out the mint. I mean it ... don't make me come up there!

Props to AB for the original recipe - its amazing! I loved this slaw and I know you will too. It was the perfect way to highlight the beauty and flavor of bro's cabbage and I wish he were here to partake of it. Given all the jalapeño hoo-ha of late, I substituted some Sriracha sauce and that was a fine solution. AB's recipe called for Napa cabbage, but I prefer Savoy, and I decided to include a bit of that along with the red. My inner fat-cop made me reduce the amount of peanut butter, but feel free to increase it if you're is off duty. And lastly, I've added some toasted black sesame seeds and a bit of celery salt just because. I served the slaw with some cold roast chicken and a side salad. A more perfect summer meal I could not imagine. Thanks again bro, I hope you like what I've done with your wares!

Asian Slaw with Red Cabbage:

  • 1 small head of red cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 head of Savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger root
  • 1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp. dark, toasted sesame oil
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. peanut butter (sugar free if your on SB)
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Sriracha sauce*
  • 1/4 tsp. celery salt
  • 1 small red bell pepper, cut into fine julienne
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into fine julienne
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated into shreds
  • 3 scallions, chopped (both white and tender green parts)
  • 2 tbsp. fresh mint, cut into fine chiffonade
  • 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, cut into fine chiffonade
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. of toasted black sesame seeds
In the bowl of a food processor, or blender, combine the ginger, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, peanut butter, red wine vinegar, Sriracha sauce and celery salt. Pulse and process until well combined and the dressing has emulsified. Reserve.

In a large bowl, combine all the shredded cabbage, both peppers and the carrots and stir. Pour the mixed dressing over the vegetables and toss / stir well to combine so that they are well coated. Add the scallions, mint, cilantro, black pepper and sesame seeds and stir / toss again to combine.

Serve and enjoy! As written this recipe will serve 4 to 6 people.

* Sriracha sauce can be very spicy, depending on the brand. The original slaw recipe called for some minced serrano chiles and they are on the salmonella list now as well, so I opted to leave them out. I love Sriracha sauce, but if you are heat-averse, leave it out or substitute a dash of Tobasco Sauce, which is more mild. I really did forget the scallions and, frankly, I don't think they're necessary. YMMV, so the choice is up to you. This recipe is perfect for Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet, but if you are on phase one, you may leave out the carrot. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cats and Cabbage

Today I am scouring the web and my cookbook collection - in search of an appropriate venue for my bro's amazing red cabbage. This cabbage is so beautifully formed that I'm almost sorry I have to use it. It should be commemorated in paint or, at a minimum, photographed ... and perhaps I will do so. Meanwhile, I'm thinking some kind of Asian slaw ... some combination of the cabbage, thinly sliced red peppers, shredded carrots, rice wine vinegar, some dark sesame oil and black sesame seeds, etc. If I don't find anything I like, I'll wing it and hope to avoid a culinary mishap! One thing I know for sure, there will be no mayo. ~shudder~ I can't stand the stuff. I don't even like people who like it. No, that's not really true - if it were I couldn't be married to the husband. He practically bathes in it ... or at least he used to before the cholesterol wake-up. He's over it now and is content with a tiny schmere of the reduced-fat stuff. I call that progress.

So, while I'm out and about creating more interesting vegetable dishes to post, please enjoy this picture of my darling Lucy. She's a Diva too and has her paws in *everything*. For the record this picture was taken well before the advent of the South Beach Diet and I was baking brownies ... peanut butter cup filled brownies ... and they were spectacular!

And, so her sister won't feel left out, here's one of Zelda ... asleep on a carving platter. Oy. Put down the phone ... there's no need to call the Board of Health ... I don't allow this to go on when other's are dining in my home and all cat-befouled items were throughly scrubbed before use!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Tale of Two Dinners

I had to force myself to eat dinner last night. Honestly, after all that restaurant food, I was pretty sure I never wanted to eat again and I was 100% sure I didn't want any chicken. Skipping dinner may seem like a good idea when one is dieting, but in reality its not. I had swum my usual mile yesterday afternoon and I knew my body needed some kind of quality fuel - whether or not I wanted it. I also knew that the husband would be home for dinner and would be expecting great things. Problem was, I wasn't interested creating or eating said great things. And, I was even less interested in hunting and foraging for them.

Fortunately, Mama and Papa Diva brought more than the wall unit when they came to visit this weekend. Along with the wood and glass, there was a surfeit of produce from my bro's garden. Yay! This week's harvest consisted of: Bright Lights Swiss Chard, red cabbage, some gigantic zucchini and yellow summer squash, cucumbers and a whole bunch of yellow string and flat green beans. Sweet! Thanks to my bro I'll be spared the trials and tribulations of Fairway's produce aisle this week. Bonus!

I knew that I had some turkey sausage in the freezer and I set about defrosting it and cleaning the gorgeous Swiss chard. I also knew that I had no intention of eating what I was about to prepare. No, turkey sausage is not chicken, but its damn close. Close enough that I wanted no part of it ... at least not last night. Hence, the tale of two dinners - one for me and one for the husband. Mine consisted of a large salad with all manner of fresh veggies, the steamed flat and yellow beans, and a hard-boiled egg. Not the most interesting menu, I admit, but it was perfect and just what I needed at the time.The husband shared in the pleasures of the fresh steamed beans, and the expected greatness was provided by my Swiss Chard and Sausage Sautée.

As I write this, it occurs to me that this not a meal for which I have a recipe. Its something I made up as I went along when faced with an enormous bunch of the chard for the first time last summer. As such, the amounts given are flexible. I'm really presenting a technique here, more than a precise recipe. I have also used this technique, with a slight variation, for broccoli rabe. Feel free to substitute the rabe if that is your preference, but in doing so I would blanch the rabe in some salted, boiling water prior to sautéeing it. Doing so will reduce the bitterness of the broccoli rabe. Kale would also work nicely in this recipe and, like the chard, will not require the blanching.

Swiss Chard and Turkey Sausage Sautée:

  • one VERY large bunch of Bright Lights Swiss Chard
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • one package of Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage links
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of low-sodium chicken broth (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • grating of fresh nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • sprinkle of red wine vinegar
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • some cooked egg noodles or some variety of whole wheat pasta
Clean and prepare the chard as follows: break off the large, tough ends of the stems and either reserve for later use (they can be steamed and served as you would asparagus) or discard them. Fill the sink, or a very large bowl, with fresh cold water and add the whole leaves of chard. Swish the leaves around in the water to dislodge any dirt and let them sit, undisturbed, for several minutes. This will allow the dirt or sand to sink to the bottom. Gently lift the leaves from the water and place them in a strainer to drain. Rinse with cold water and reserve.

In a large skillet or sautée pan heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the sausages. Cook the sausage until well-browned and cooked throughout. While the sausage is cooking, cut the chard leaves into a rough chop and reserve. When the sausages are done, remove them from the pan and set aside.

If necessary, add an additional teaspoon of olive oil to the skillet and sautee the garlic over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Begin adding the chopped chard, a few handfuls at a time, and sautee the chard and garlic together, adding more chard as it cooks down, until all of the chard fits into the pan and it begins to wilt. Add the chicken broth, raise the heat slightly and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently. Add the crushed red pepper flakes, the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste and stir. Cut each turkey sausage link into pennies and return to the pan with with the card, stirring well to combine. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld. You may add additional chicken broth as needed or desired. Just prior to serving, sprinkle in a dash or two of red wine vinegar and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more of any of the suggested spices as desired.

Serve the chard and sausage over the cooked egg noodles or pasta, topped with the Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 4 very happy people, but can easily be doubled. Its nutricious and delicious. I hope you'll try it.

I must say that this is one of my most favorite recipes. I may not have wanted it last night, but the circumstances were unusual. Normally, I'd be happy to scarf down a bowl of this and go back for seconds. Its an easy and satisfying meal. As for the rest of the harvest? Stay tuned. There will be more veggie based greatness later in the week!

Monday, July 28, 2008

How Much Chicken Can One Diva Eat?

As it turned out, we dined at La Mirabelle on Saturday night, a lovely local place and a favorite of the Diva family. Papa Diva chose the restaurant and a fine choice it was. La Mirabelle is a traditional French bistro and both the food and the dining experience there are throughly satisfying. The menu is not overly ambitious, its full of the classics one would expect, and the food is simply prepared and beautifully executed. We've been dining there for 13 years and have never had a bad meal. The wait staff is so gracious and charming, it almost feels like you are dining in someone's home ... and, in a sense, I guess you are. The Le Douaron family has owned and operated La Mirabelle for years and its clear they love what they do.

Needless to say, I had the chicken. It was glazed with a savory wild mushroom sauce and served with some steamed veggies and a decadent, garlicy potato galette. No, that's not one of the South Beach Diet approved foods - and, yes, I ate it. It was magnificent! I further enhanced the meal with some rich chocolate gelatto for dessert ... but I shared it with pixelgal ... and neither of us were sorry about that!

La Mirabelle is one of the treasures of the Upper West Side of Manhattan - and I recommend it, highly. Be sure to have dessert if you dine there - the fresh fruit tarts are spectacular and not to be missed.

As previously mentioned, we dined at Perry Street last night. Its restaurant week here in New York, and we were happy to take advantage of the summer slow-down and book an early table there. Perry Street is part of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's ever expanding empire and it is altogether delightful. As a destination restaurant, it has everything to recommend it: sleek, modern decor, beautiful views of the Hudson River, simple and elegantly prepared food ... and, perhaps, the skinniest mirrors in all of New York City!

I'm not kidding. I took one look at myself in that restroom mirror and thought: "Damn, I look good!" I'm seriously considering taking up residence in that bathroom and giving up this diet thing altogether. It was all I could do *not* to strip down to my undies and spend the rest of the evening in there admiring myself. These mirrors are *that* flattering! The last time I looked this good in a mirror I was shopping Macy's in Herald Square and ended up purchasing an ill-advised, empire-waist, white eyelet top. Ugh. The top is a disaster and will soon be heading to Good Will - but I digress.

We began our meal at Perry Street with a selection of their wonderful cocktails. I had the passion fruit - chili cocktail, made with bourbon and a hint of spicy chili pepper syrup. Outstanding! The husband (and his sister) had the cucumber martini - which tastes like summer in a glass, M had the spicy and delicious ginger margarita and K chose the thyme infused vodka lemonade. Although said cocktails were woefully late in their arrival, there were no complaints upon tasting them. I've been to Perry Street for the drinks alone and would happily go back just for that passion-chili cocktail. Its a marvelous combination!

No surprise, I had the chicken! For the record, I am capable of ordering and eating other things, but I had opted to go with the restaurant week menu and the choice of entree was limited ... chicken or red snapper. Anyone surprised I didn't choose the fish? No? I didn't think so. In this case the pan-roasted chicken breast was served atop a buttery mound of fresh, sweet corn and drizzled with a rich, smoky jus. The combination of the savory jus, crisp sweet corn and succulent chicken was heavenly. I hear the red snapper was delicious as well, but you'll have to take my dining companions' word for it. ~wink~

Much to my surprise, delight and chagrin ... the afore mentioned chocolate pudding with candied violets was offered as a dessert option and you'd be crazy if you think I passed it up. All three women at the table chose the chocolate pudding while my brother in law opted for the cherries jubilee - further proof of my theory that men will always choose a fruit based dessert, and women will always go for the chocolate. Its a biological certainty. My second rendezvous with this unusual pudding did not disappoint. It was every bit as luscious, interesting and indulgent as I remembered and this time it came with a sparkly, silver candle for me to wish on. M's pudding came with one as well. Nice!

Both the meal and the company were divine and it was a delightful way to cap off my month of never-ending birthday celebrations. Special thanks to M who made it all possible. So happy to have shared our July birthdays in this way and looking forward to doing it again next year!

All of which brings us to the question of the day: how much chicken can one Diva eat? A lot. And, at this point, I think I've had my fill of it. What's for dinner tonight you ask? Who knows ... stay tuned and I'll answer tomorrow!

Shout Out: Papa Diva Edition

Mama (a.k.a. pixelgal) and Papa Diva were in town this weekend to help install the final piece of the *wonderful* wall unit that Papa Diva built for me. He is a Master Cabinetmaker extraordinaire and the following pictures simply won't do it justice. Papa Diva designed and built this extraordinary piece of furniture for us and it is magnificent! I am besides myself with happiness and wanted to share the end result with you. I'll have a wrap-up of our dining adventures to post later this afternoon, but for now, please enjoy the photos of my spectacular new media center / wall-unit.

The first is of Papa Diva and the husband installing the top portion. The next shows the final product - TV and all!

Isn't it spectacular? It changes the living room completely and adds some much needed architectural detail and interest. I could not love it more! I am truly blessed to have such a talented and creative dad, and I love looking around our home and seeing all of the special pieces he's created for us over the years. This wall unit is certainly his Pièce de résistance and I can't thank him enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Papa Diva! Mwah!

Friday, July 25, 2008

House Keeping: Weekend Update

You already know that I'll be dining out and about for the next three nights. Tonight we'll be at Landmarc, prior to taking in Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed at the Rose Theater. I already know what I'll be having: chicken burger, no bun, extra greens on the side, hold the fries. I love Landmarc's menu, and I especially love the chicken burger. Its so savory and delicious ... really!

Saturday night's venue has yet to be determined, but on Sunday we're dining at Perry Street, with a friend who shares a July birthday. Its a belated celebration of sorts and I can't think of a better place to have it. We dined at Perry Street last year and I'm still thinking about the insanely good dessert I had - a luscious chocolate pudding with a hint of violet flavor. Interesting combination to be sure - but boy does it work! I'm kind of hoping it won't be on the menu this summer ... because I'd be hard pressed to resist its siren's song.

Look for my restaurant wrap-up on Monday - I'll have details from the weekend's dining indulgences and will be back to cooking at home on Monday night for sure.

Meanwhile, if you're surfing about this weekend, be sure to check out my updated blogroll on the right hand side under "The Diva's Favorites ..." I've added some new bloggers to the list, many of whom have been kind enough to stop in here and leave a comment. I'd like to return the favor, so hit them up when you're ready to leave.

Have a great weekend and, as always, make it Divalicious!

Great Food, Poor Service

Given all the restaurant eating of late, I was initially excited about our plans to dine at home last night ... until 6:30 p.m. rolled around and I realized that there was no one here to take my order. I searched high and low for the waitress, but she was no where to be found. What kind of restaurant is this? Oh, that's right, *I'm* the waitress tonight ... and the chef. You know what that means ... chicken!

I knew I needed to make something easy and hearty so I turned to The South Beach Quick & Easy Cookbook and decided to adapt one of its chili recipes. The original called for turkey cutlets, but I opted to substitute some ground chicken breast. I upped the amount of chili powder, added some tomato paste for richness and also added some cocoa powder. This last addition may sound strange to you - but I never make chili without the addition of some form of chocolate. It adds depth and balance to the chili / tomato flavors and is a complete necessity in my book. I use whatever I've got on hand - sometimes its cocoa powder, other times I may add a small square of bittersweet chocolate and let that melt into the chili. Sooooo luscious. Try it, you'll like it!

I served it over some brown rice pilaf, with a side of steamed summer squash, and it was an altogether delicious meal. The husband loved it too. As you may have guessed ... there was no busboy here to clear the table and the dishwasher seemed to have taken the night off as well. Leading me to conclude that while the food at this particular "restaurant" was magnificent, the service leaves something to be desired!

Chicken and White Bean Chili:

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground chicken breast
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes*
  • 1 heaping tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder*
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • one 14.5 oz. can of Petite Diced Tomatoes with Jalapeño
  • 2 tsp. roasted garlic tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • one 15 oz. can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • minced fresh parsley or cilantro
  • shredded, reduced fat cheddar cheese
  • minced red onion
  • non-fat sour cream
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sautée until the onion is just translucent, but not browned, @ 4 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and the ground chicken breast. Stir the mixture to combine, breaking up the ground chicken into bite-sized bits. Continue sautéeing and breaking apart the chicken until it is cooked throughout and no longer pink, @ 5 or 6 minutes. Add the chili powders and the cumin and stir to combine. Add the can of tomatoes, with their juice, the tomato paste, cocoa powder and the chicken broth and stir to combine well. Rub the oregano between the palms of your hands to crush it and add to the chili. Stir. Raise the heat and let the chili come to the boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer the chili, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Add the rinsed and drained beans, and let the chili simmer for an additional 15 minutes or so, until the beans are warmed and the mixture has thickened slightly. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding salt, pepper and whatever else you like. If the chili becomes too thick at any point, you may add additional broth to your liking.

Serve topped with any and all of the suggested garnishes and enjoy!

* Notes - As written, this combination of spices will yield a very spicy chili. If you're heat-averse you can omit both the crushed red pepper flakes and the chipotle chili powder. If you opt to leave out the chipotle, you may need to add some additional chili powder - let your taste buds be your guide. I like it spicy, but YMMV. Lastly, feel free to use whatever sort of beans you like in this chili, any kind will do.

According to the book, this recipe will yield 4 one and a quarter cup servings, but it can certainly be doubled if you like to batch-cook.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bare Feet and Spectacular Eats

Last night began my odyssey of four restaurant meals over the next five days. It was an experience to say the least! We were dining with two of the husband's clients and they had chosen the venue: Hangawi, a Korean Vegetarian restaurant located in "Korea Town" on 32nd Street. Diva that I am, I never miss an opportunity to voice my displeasure - kind of goes hand and hand with the territory - and last night was no exception. The complaining started early when I read in the Zagat Guide that shoes were "not allowed" in the restaurant. What?!? Its 4,000 degrees out and I had planned to wear some strappy sandals, sans socks, of course. I don't think I like the sound of this.

Knowing full well that I can't seem to go 5 minutes without visiting the loo, I tucked some dainty socklets into my purse ... knowing also that, germophoe that I am, I have NO intention of visiting ANY ladies' room in bare feet. Not gonna happen. (Clean and pretty as the facilities were, I was well-pleased with my advance preparation!)

Upon arrival I was further displeased to find that a.) the air conditioning was less than optimal, and b.) the tables were of the traditional Korean variety ... meaning that they are about an inch off the ground, with a deep well underneath for your legs. Are you kidding me? In order to dine I must contort myself, crawl into a hole, and sit on a backless bench ... with bare feet? My knees and I are not amused. Even if I can manage to "sit down", who knows how and if I'll get back up. Oh, and just for laughs, I need to somehow negotiate this maneuver without mooning the joint ... I was wearing a short summery dress. Great. Not. Fortunately I was able to preserve my dignity. Small wonder, that.

At this point I'm hot, starved, confused, and woefully anticipating a meal of hemp bark and lotus root ... and let's just say that the husband was less than thrilled with my company. Sounds like the makings of a great night, right? Here's the shock ... it was! Hangawi is heading straight to the top of my list of new favorites. Once I was able to relax and cool off, I realized that this was a supremely tranquil space and entirely conducive to intimate conversation and pleasurable dining. The restaurant is quiet and beautiful, the staff is gracious, attentive and helpful, and the menu - odd as it may be - is delightful. Its full of exquisitely prepared vegan dishes - and if that sounds like some sort of oxymoron, trust me, it isn't.

The food at Hangawi is beautifully presented and lovingly crafted with an eye towards health and wellness. Perfect for a Diva on a diet! I began with an appetizer of cabbage rolls - they're somewhat akin to a spring roll - but soooo much better! The filling was composed of sliced pears, raw red bell pepper strips, fresh tofu and something else I can't recall ... all wrapped neatly in some crunchy, raw cabbage leaves and topped with a delicate drizzle of spicy/savory sauce. Outstanding! I followed that with the "Organic Brown Rice Stone Bowl" - which I gather is one of their specialties. Served in a heavy stone bowl, the savory rice was mixed with all manner of delicious vegetables, a bit of tofu, and again topped with a spicy/savory sauce. The waiter adds the sauce at table, to your specifications, and this is a nice touch. Can I just tell you that this rice dish is to-die-for?! I wish I could have some tonight and I'm going to want some tomorrow too. It was *that* good.

I suppose I should note, for the record, that all of my whining was done prior to the arrival of our dinner companions. I may be a Diva, but I'm certainly not uncivilized. We had a lovely evening and everyone seemed to enjoy both the food and the company. I'm thrilled that we were introduced to a new and exotic restaurant and I was pleased to tell the clients so. Like so many other occasions in my life - what began with displeasure, ended in jubilation. You'd think I'd have learned that lesson by now and skip the Diva moments at the beginning ... but you'd be wrong. I yam what I yam ... and I am eagerly anticipating my next visit to Hangawi.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You Make the Call

Is this a useful beauty tool ... or an implement destined to replace the waterboard? You make the call.

I'll give you some time to decide what it is and whether or not you'd use it. The clock is ticking - if you're a fan of such things, hit up the poll on the top right of the blog or let me know in the comments!


Useful Beauty Toll or Torture Device?

I have one and use it often! 0%
I have one, but mine doesn't look like that! 22%
I don't know what it is. 33%
I'm afraid of it! 44%

Yes, this is an eyelash curler ... but of a different sort. Its an *individual* eyelash curler, made by Japonesque. I have yet to try it, but it might be a useful beauty tool. If you've got one, let me know what you think of it!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pain, Suffering and Marinara Sauce

So, this morning, my friend and I decided to attend a "Cardio Dance" class in lieu of our usual swim ... and, no, I wasn't dressed like an extra from the "Let's Get Physical" video. I left the leg warmers and headband back in the 80's where they belong. And, fortunately, no one else was dressed like that either - otherwise I'd have been laughing too hard to keep up. I could barely keep up as it was. It all looked so simple when we were watching a few minutes of the class last week - but doing it is another story. There was much pain and suffering, and that was just during the warm up! I hurt in places I didn't even know I had. It remains to be seen whether or not this was a good idea, given the state of my knees. If I don't end up crippled, we might try it again next week.

Suffering aside, I'm glad we went. Its just as easy to fall into an exercise rut as it is a dinner rut. I've been swimming for so long now, its not really much of a challenge. It seemed like a good idea to shake things up a bit and try something new. I'll swim normally for the rest of the week and if my knees can take it, I'll give the dance class another shot next Monday. If not, then hopefully I'll be no worse for trying. Stay tuned - and let's hope tomorrow won't find me surfing for a picture of some crutches to post on here!

The heat is still oppressive here and its likely that I'll be shopping my freezer for dinner options - and I don't mean TV dinners. I like to keep a well stocked freezer for nights such as this and I almost always have some version of a homemade pasta sauce on hand and ready to thaw.

Marinara Sauce:

  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • one 28 to 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry, red wine
  • 1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
  • 6 to 8 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 pound of whole wheat linguini
  • freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • chopped fresh parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large, non-reactive, pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sautée until the onions are just translucent and not browned, @ 5 minutes or so. Add the celery, carrots, salt and crushed red pepper flakes, stir to combine, and continue sautéeing until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and the red wine and stir to combine. Add the fresh oregano and simmer the sauce, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until it has thickened slightly. When the sauce is done, add the fresh basil, and taste to adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and some freshly ground black pepper if necessary.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, toss with the sauce to coat and serve topped with the fresh Parmesan or Romano cheese and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

*Notes: This sauce will freeze beautifully, so if you like to batch-cook feel free to double it and freeze the extra. Since I'm cooking for two we always have plenty left-over. I've discovered a new, and really acceptable, whole wheat pasta: "Gia Russa 100% Whole Wheat Pasta" - its delicious and I do recommend it. You can certainly round out the meal with some chicken or turkey sausage if need to feed your inner carnivore - but typically I just serve the pasta Marinara with a big, healthy salad and call it a night. Enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Heat is On

I'm not sure about the weather where you are ... but here in NYC it is HOT. We're having a bit of a heat wave and its getting pretty steamy. The room in which I write is the only un-air conditioned one in my apartment ... so needless to say, I'm not spending much time in here today. Why, oh why have I failed to go wireless?!? I'll have to remedy that because, blog-wise, its a problem.

Diet-wise, things are just peachy. I'm down 17.5 pounds, and last night I fit into a zippy little denim skirt I bought years ago and have never worn. Sweet! I'm still loving the South Beach thang and still getting results. I'm working this diet like the girls on Chapel and Howe! (Yo, 1980's New Haven reference ... holla!)

Fresh veggies and little to no-cook meals are in the plans for the weekend, so look for some new recipes come Monday ... and hope for a break in the weather (and entertaining) so I can get back to posting as usual.

Have a great weekend all and make it Divalicious!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pics from the 2008 All-Star Game

In lieu of a recipe today, I will post some pics from last night's game. I must say that it was magnificent and I feel so lucky to have been there. The stadium atmosphere was electric and seeing all of the Hall of Fame players assembled on one field was touching to say the least.

Those of you who watched know that the game went on forever ... 15 innings, yikes! Normally we would have stayed, but the husband had to be at work very early today so we left at midnight, after the bottom of the 10th inning. I couldn't believe it was still going on when we got home. I was asleep before it finished, but I hear the AL won.

The above pic was taken prior to the game and is of the AL players assembling for a group photo. Our seats were diagonally behind 3rd base and they were wonderful!

This is a shot of the giant flag that was unfurled prior to the National Anthem:

Mariano Rivera on the diamond-vision after he was introduced:

The Hall of Fame players entering the field to thundering applause:

Weird pic of the streamers released after the National Anthem:

Enter Sandman: Mo taking the field in the bottom of the 9th ... accompanied by a truly deafening roar of the crowd:

I have more, but that will do for now. Suffice it to say that it was an amazing night and I'm so glad I was able to be a part of it.

Cooking-wise, there's not much going on in Divaworld this week. Some friends of mine are in town and I'll be dining out and about with them the next few days. Will hope to post normally tomorrow or Friday and until then enjoy my pics and have a great day!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Mid-Summer Classic

There'll be no cooking for me tonight ... because ... I'm going to the All-Star Game! And I am ridiculously excited about it! Its a gorgeous day here and supposed to be a beautiful night, a perfect night for a perfect storm of baseball. My first All-Star Game, the last All-Star Game to be played in Yankee Stadium ... and the first time I'll be able to watch the game in peace without the relentlessly inane chatter of the Fox announcers. I'd be excited about going regardless but the fact that its my beloved home stadium makes it that much better. Couple that with the fact that my evening will be delightfully McCarver and Buck free and you can color me ecstatic!

If there's a more pompous ass in sports announcing than Tim McCarver, I'm sure I don't know who it is. (Though surely Joe Morgan might give him a run for the money at times.) I'll never forget the 2003 All-Star Game and McCarver and Buck's absurd, over-the-top praise of American League manager Mike Scioscia. They actually credited him with "reinventing the All-Star Game" that year and the husband and I have never stopped laughing about it. Whenever any announcer veers off into the overly effusive, one of us will turn to the other and say: "hey, remember when Mike Scioscia reinvented the All-Star Game?!" Ah, good times, good times. Five years running and we still think its funny.

I'm sure the lauding of Terry Francona will begin with minute one of the broadcast and the good news is I won't hear a word of it. I will, however, gladly cheer Francona on ... if only for today. He's excited about managing this year's game in Yankee Stadium and I like that. Good for him - and Go, American League!

So tonight I'm donning my Yankee cap, instead of a tiara or apron, and cheering on the boys of summer. Look for me somewhere behind 3rd base - I'll be the one wearing a Jeter shirt ... and booing Manny Ramirez! ~wink~

Monday, July 14, 2008

Curiouser and Curiouser ...

... its been a while since we've seen our friend the chicken head. Shocking! I've missed him ... and, admit it, you have too. He returned to Diva-land on Friday night at my soirée and he was glorious and crunchy.

I threw a little dinner party for a friend who was in town and what with the summer heat and all, it seemed like a good night for chicken. The menu was as follows:
  • Red Bell Pepper Gazpacho
  • Pecan Chicken Breasts over mixed greens with Shallot Vinaigrette
  • Barley Risotto
  • Peach, Nectarine & Blueberry Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream
Obviously, that dessert was not South Beach friendly ... but that was all part of my devious plan. I have no interest in any dessert which does not contain chocolate ... so it was easy for me to pass it by! I did change up the recipe a bit and switched out some of the white flour for whole wheat in making the crumbly topping. No one was any the wiser.

Aside from that crisp, the rest of the menu was 100% South Beach "legal" and 100% delicious. Naturally, I fiddled with the recipes a bit to achieve legal status. I removed the sugar called for in the gazpacho recipe and substituted a whole grain cereal for the Special K that was suggested for the chicken coating. Again, no one was any the wiser and no flavors were compromised in the making of this dinner. A good time (and a very good meal) was had by all.

Pecan Chicken Breasts:

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • low-fat buttermilk
  • 4 cups whole grain cereal (I used Flax Plus)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • chopped fresh parsley
  • 6 wedges of lemon
Place the chicken breasts in a non-metal container, such as a large glass baking dish, and cover with the buttermilk. Use enough buttermilk to cover all of the chicken by about a 1/4 inch. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours - or up to 24 hours.

Pre-heat the over to 375 degrees.

Using a food processor, crush the cereal to form coarse crumbs. (Or you can use a resealable plastic bag, and crush them with a rolling pin, etc.) Add the pecans, lemon pepper, poultry seasoning, paprika and salt to the food processor and pulse briefly to combine.

Pour the cereal mixture into a large, shallow dish and removed the chicken from the fridge. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, one piece at a time, and dredge in the cereal mixture to coat on both sides. Press the crumbs onto the chicken so they will adhere - and place the coated chicken on a large, lightly oiled, baking sheet. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Bake in the oven for @ 45 minutes or until an instant-read meat thermometer (inserted into the thickest part of the breast) registers 165 degrees. Dust the cooked chicken with the chopped parsley and serve with a garish of fresh lemon to be sprinkled over the chicken at table.

* Notes: My version of this recipe was adapted from one that appeared in Prevention Magazine several years ago. You can use whatever kind of cereal flakes you enjoy, but watch the sugar content if you're carb conscious. I like to serve the chicken over a bed of mixed baby lettuces, or mixed greens, dressed with my version of a classic vinaigrette.

Mixed Greens with Shallot Vinaigrette:

  • 1 large Shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. good quality Sherry wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. good quality red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Basil
  • 8 cups organic mixed salad greens, or mixed baby lettuces
Pour 1/3 cup of olive oil into a glass measuring cup, add the minced shallots, both vinegars, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and whisk vigorously, using a small wire whisk, to combine. Whisk until the dressing has emulsified, then add the lemon juice and dried basil, whisk again and taste for seasoning. You may add more pepper, etc., if you wish. If the dressing is a little sharp for your taste, add 1 tsp. of water and taste again to see if its to your liking.

Pour the finished vinaigrette lightly over your greens and toss to coat evenly. Do not drown the greens, just coat them lightly and pass the reserved dressing at the table if you wish.

As written, both of these recipes will serve six very happy people. Send out some invitations of your own and make your next dinner party ... Divalicious!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Housekeeping: Entertaining Edition

Looks like its going to be a slow week here in Diva World, recipe-wise. I'm having a little soirée tonight and am consumed with cleaning, shopping and cooking up a storm. (You should see the kitchen! I need a maid, and not a virtual one.) Not to mention that the husband is working from home today and when he's home guess who's the IT Department? Oh, the suffering, the suffering.

I'll have some recipes to post on Monday for sure, but probably won't have anything new to add until then.

Have a fabulous weekend and make it Divalicious!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Blogging for Mutes

Last Wednesday marked the one month anniversary of this blog. I'm not expecting a parade or anything ... though sparkly gifts are always graciously accepted. My address is: ... kidding. I am, however, a bit surprised. I'm a great one for starting new projects and let's just say that my will to sustain them is something less than remarkable. Some of you may remember my 5 minute stint in pastry school, or the 3 months I decided to have a wedding cake business, or the one month I considered getting an M.P.A. ... and the list goes on and on. What can I say, everything interests me - but not for long. I've never been the sort of person who keeps a journal, so the fact that I've written consistently for a month is sort of a wonder to me. Dieting aside, its been a great exercise in technology learning and the regular practice of putting thoughts into words has been an unexpected pleasure. I see no reason to stop.

Apart from the personal milestone, the one month mark is also significant in that I can now begin to apply for inclusion in various search engines and blogrolls and that's pretty neat. I'm about to hit the big time! Or not. Stay tuned.

And yet, the big time was never really the point. I began this with a will to share some recipes and my (hopefully) humorous look at dieting and my life in general. Based on the positive response I've received from so many of you, I think I'm achieving my goals here. I have only one question ... am I blogging for mutes?

Um, ... the thing is ... I kinda, sorta hoped the comments section would be a little more lively. Have you all lost your fingers in some tragic Slinky accident? Are you too busy playing Cat's Cradle? Or have aliens abducted your keyboard? Got your thumbs stuck in one of those ghastly Chinese finger traps? Are you wearing mittens? (If so, may I suggest fingerless gloves?) Do I need to do another poll?

Obviously I'm kidding in the above paragraph. This is my way of asking you to be less shy. One of the things that makes the blog medium so great is the possibility for give and take. A lively comment section is part of what makes a good blog ... well, good for lack of a snappier term. Take a look at Project Rungay, one of my favorite blogs ever, for example. Click on the "comments" button after any of the posts and you will find content as funny and interesting as the blog itself. Its a hoot! Now, Rungay fans are devoted to be sure, and I'm not expecting that level of commitment from anyone here ... but throw me a bone people. Let me know you're out there!

I've mentioned this to some friends recently, when asked about Beach Eats, and a few of them have offered that they don't know how to post a comment. Shocked as I was by this suggestion, it dawned on me that now might be a good time to give some instructions.

At the bottom of each posts there is a line of text that says: "Posted by The Diva on a Diet at ___PM 0 comments", or something to that effect. Click the word "comments" and you will be taken to a new screen. On the right of this screen there will be a box under the heading: "Leave Your Comment." Type your comment into the box, type the verification word, and then hit "Publish Your Comment." I've adjusted the setting so that you do not have to be a Blogger member to post, you can post anonymously and, if you wish, leave your name at the bottom of your comment. That's all there is to it.

In closing, I want to thank all of you who've reached out to me via email, or phone, or in person to compliment me on the blog. I genuinely appreciate it. I'm thrilled to see the traffic increasing and even more thrilled when I see that there are repeat visitors. Your support is truly gratifying. Thanks to those who have commented and to all who are reading. If I can keep it going for another month I really might call for a parade!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Adapting Recipes: Diva Style

My upstairs neighbors decided open "the race track" at 6:50 AM today. That fact is in no way germane to this post ... but I'm leading with it anyway, I just thought you should know. :)

Today's post is about last night's dinner. For one thing, it was awesome, and for another I thought it would serve as a fine vehicle for describing how and why I tinker with so many recipes. I almost never make a recipe exactly as its written - and its not simply because I'm a Diva, or on a diet. My penchant for altering recipes is also an inherited trait. My mom does it too. Our need to do so borders on the pathological and the results can sometimes be amusing. Cotswold Savory anyone? (Sorry that's an inside family joke ... maybe pixelgal will tell us about it!)

Cooking has long been a passion of mine and I've honed my skills through years of trial and error. Fortunately, almost all of my changes have been for the better and I can remember only one real catastrophe ... an unfortunate potato/chili pepper soup back in the 1980's. The husband and I lived in a very marginal neighborhood back then, with a sad excuse for a grocery store, and though the recipe called for fresh chili peppers, there were none to be had that day. I substituted a small can of pickled jalapeños and ... disaster! Totally inedible. Sad too, because we were pretty poor at the time and there wasn't a heck of a lot to eat in place of that disgusting soup. Ah, good times, good times.

Happily, I've been batting a thousand since then and today I thought I'd take you through a recipe's list of ingredients and comment on why and how I've changed it ... for the better. The original recipe is courtesy of "The South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook" and I will include my adapted version in its entirety at the end of the post.

Pork Cutlets with Orange, Red Onion and Rosemary:

  • 8 pork cutlets, @ 3/4 inch thick each - "What am I cooking for an army? I can't eat 2 pork chops. I'll make one for me and two for the husband."
  • 3/4 tsp. dried rosemary, to be rubbed on the pork cutlets - "Um, no. Dried rosemary is practically useless unless its ground or to be simmered in something for a long time. Rubbing it on a pork chop? Lame. I'll use a full teaspoon and grind it, along with some Kosher salt and black pepper, then spread it on the cutlets. I'll also add some fresh rosemary to the sauce to bump up the flavor."
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil - "Cool, no problems there."
  • 1 tbsp. minced red onion - "Huh? One teaspoon?! Why so parsimonious with the onion? I think I'll substitute some thinly sliced red onion."
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth - "Again, no problem, but I will use non-fat, low-sodium broth."
  • Grated zest and juice from one small orange - "I'll use a navel orange and I'm going to want to mince that zest. Fresh oranges are pretty sweet - where's the acid balance? A splash of red wine vinegar will do nicely and give the sauce the balance it needs."
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper - "A-ok, see above under dried rosemary. Lastly, the plate will need something green - let's add some minced fresh parsley to finish it off."
And that leads us to:

Diva's Rosemary Pork Cutlets with Red Onions and Orange Sauce:

  • 4 pork cutlets, @ 3/4 inch thick
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/3 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/2 cup non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • Grated zest and juice of one medium navel orange
  • splash of red wine vinegar, to taste
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
Using a mortar and pestle, or spice grinder, grind the rosemary, salt and pepper together until it is finely ground. Sprinkle both sides of the pork cutlets with the mixture, and set them aside in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the zest from the orange and mice it. Slice the orange in half and juice it, reserving the liquid for later use.

Heat 1 tbsp. of the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pork until golden brown on both sides, approximately 3 minutes per side or so, depending on their thickness. Remove pork from pan, transfer to a plate, cover with foil and reserve.

Using the same skillet, add the reserved tbsp. of olive oil and sautee the onions over medium-high heat until they are just slightly wilted and beginning to caramelize. Raise the heat to high and add the chicken broth, orange zest and orange juice. Add the sprig of fresh rosemary and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce is reduced by half and has thickened slightly. Add the splash of red wine vinegar and stir to combine. Return the pork cutlets to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for one more minute, turning the pork to coat it with the sauce.

Discard the rosemary sprig and plate the cutlets so they are topped with the onions and orange sauce. Sprinkle with the fresh parsley, serve and enjoy!

Notes: As written the recipe will serve two - 2 cutlets each - double it if you need to serve 4 or more. Even though I've changed their recipe, I do recommend this cookbook. Its excellent. This is an outstanding dish and I do believe my changes have improved it. I served it with a brown rice pilaf ... which I made myself, thank you very much, and some sauteed Swiss chard. What a great meal!

I hope you'll try it and likewise hope you'll be encouraged to experiment in the kitchen. Just because a recipe is published in a book or magazine, doesn't mean it can't be improved upon. Let your palate be your guide and cook fearlessly ... just take it easy on those pickled jalapeños!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Desserts: The Wack and Dope Edition

So I went to the movies yesterday. This is something of a rare occurrence for me. I go maybe two or three times a year and I'm usually disappointed. But one of my best friends is a real movie hound. She sees *everything* and yesterday I joined her and we took in The Wackness. Sigh. As usual, I wasn't impressed. I'm not going to write an entire review here, but I can sum up my feelings about it by offering you this sterling example of The Wackness' riveting dialog. This film actually contains the improbable line: "See I just think about the dopeness, whereas you can only see the wackness." Really? Really. And it goes downhill from there. I'll tell you what's wack and dope: A.) Wack - I actually paid to see this film. And, B.) someone at the Sundance Film Festival thought this movie was dope enough to give it an award. Really? Really.

Of course, as lame as that line is, I'm now fighting the urge to divide everything into the categories of wack and dope. As in: "My hair is totally wack today, but these shoes are really dope." Or, "John McCain is wack, but Barack Obama? He's dope!" Its fun, you should try it too! I'm now convinced that everything can and should be categorized thusly. In that spirit, I'm going to offer you two dessert recipes that are, shockingly, both wack and dope. Word.

Dope Chocolate Yogurt - or what passes for ice cream in Diva World:

  • 6 oz. container of non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. Reddi-whip, whipped topping
  • dash of Splenda or your choice of non-sugar sweetener
  • handful of sliced strawberries
  • some fresh blueberries
Using a small wire whisk, mix the cocoa powder and vanilla into the yogurt and whisk until well combined. Add the whipped topping and continue to blend. Add in your choice of sweetener - Splenda, Agave nectar, or even some honey if you're not on the South Beach, and blend to combine. Taste and adjust the sweetness according to your liking. Mix in the berries, or your choice of fruit, serve and enjoy!

I know the Reddi-whip is something of an enhancement - but I don't use much and it helps lessen the amount of Splenda needed, so I'm ok with that. Use whatever works for you. This concoction is creamy and delicious - and it goes a long way towards satisfying my need for ice cream. Its dope!

And now for the wack. I cribbed this one from any number of South Beach diet recipe sites - but, naturally, I've changed it and made it my own.

Wack Chocolate Peanut butter "Ice Cream":

  • one sugar-free Fudgsicle
  • 1 tsp. natural peanut butter - no sugar added
Remove the Fudgsicle from the wrapper and place it in a small, microwave safe, bowl. Add the peanut butter to the bowl. Microwave on high for @ 30 seconds, or until the Fudgsicle has melted and the peanut butter is soft. Remove the wooden stick from the bowl, and using a small whisk, stir vigorously to combine the two ingredients. When the chocolate and peanut butter are well combined, place the bowl in the freezer and let it set up until it has frozen again.

Remove from freezer, inhale, and pretend you are eating ice cream. (Hint - you may actually need some dope to make yourself believe this.) Now that is some serious wackness. Its also really dope, especially if you're a chocolate/pb fan like me. Trust me, its good ... or at least good enough.

My advice for the day? Skip the movie and go create some dopeness of your own in the kitchen!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

House Keeping: Independence Day Edition

The maid's here, just in time to spiff the place up for our great national holiday. I will be contemplating the wisdom of our founding fathers from Yankee Stadium tomorrow. Its another day game - oh joy, not - and its Yanks v. Red Sox. I hope it won't get ugly, but you know it will ... in this weather there's no doubt that I'll have Brillo Head. Let's just hope my hair will fit in the seat. On the other hand, the last time I was in Yankee Stadium on July 4th Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter, so anything's possible.

Whatever you're doing this weekend, I wish you barrels of fun and bright shiny fireworks ... professional of course, you may need your limbs after the weekend.

Stay safe, eat well, and have a wonderful holiday. See you on Monday.

p.s. - Here are last week's poll results:

I'm here for the recipes. 30%

I'm on a weight-loss program and misery loves company. 30%

I'm a Diva and I prefer to be among my own kind. 30%

I have Brillo Head and can't leave the house. 20%

I'm related to this Diva so its required reading. 1 vote

I don't know how I got here. 30%

Thank you, voters!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shout Out: Rhinebeck Edition

As previously mentioned, the husband and I were in Rhinebeck, New York recently and we had occasion to dine at Gigi Trattoria while there. I must say it was one of the more spectacular meals I've had in recent months. So much so that I was moved to write the restaurant, compliment them, and ask for the recipe of the pasta dish I had that night. I've eaten more restaurant meals - many of them "top tier" - than should ever be counted, but I've never once written to a chef/owner. I was *that* impressed.

I had the whole wheat fettuccine with fresh sugar snap peas, mushrooms and a sauce that included ground almonds. To. Die. For. Just an amazing dish - and that's saying something because you already know how I feel about whole wheat pasta. I'm delighted to report that I received a lovely note from the owner in response and that they have since sent me the recipe. I won't post it here, because that wouldn't be right, but I did want to give them a plug.

Gigi is owned by chef Laura Pensiero, who's background is impressive to say the least. She has a strong commitment to using local, sustainable foods and it is my pleasure to support those efforts. Laura was the culinary coordinator of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Prevention and Wellness Center for a period of time, and that experience is reflected in the myriad of healthy and delicious offerings on Gigi's menu. To say that I wanted to order everything would not be an exaggeration.

The wait staff at Gigi could not have been nicer and the whole experience was quite simply a pleasure. My only regret is that this place is not in my neighborhood! If you're ever in or around Rhinebeck, do yourself (and your body) a favor and have a meal there.

Interesting Vegetables: Part Two

Fasten your seat belts, this is going to be an on-going series. Today's ode to interesting vegetables is a shout-out to my bro, gardener extraordinaire. Dude's got some serious skills. He's at one with the earth and the quality and variety of things he coaxes from the ground are nothing short of astounding. Earlier this season we were treated to some marvelous lettuces and radish. This past weekend we feasted on swiss chard, beets and broccoli. Later there will be corn, tomatoes, potatoes and various summer squash - among other things. I can't wait. I meant to take some pics when I was back at the ranch last weekend but forgot my camera. Look for garden photos later in summer.

I was able to snag one of the last heads of broccoli to bring home with me and it was amazing ... so sweet and tender. Even the husband loved it and he's generally not a fan. We had some with dinner on Monday and the head was so gigantic that I had plenty left over to morph into another dish last night.

Now, if I'm going to get the husband to eat broccoli two nights in a row - I'd better bring it. I'd better make it interesting. Bacon and cheese improve *everything*. This is a universal truth. I decided to whip up a quiche, and since I'm Beaching it - I opted to try a crustless one. I used my standard quiche recipe and baked it off as per usual, only - sans crust. Much to my surprise it worked. I served it with a side of steamed zucchini and yellow squash and a delicious dinner was had by all.

Crustless Broccoli Quiche:

  • 2 cups steamed fresh broccoli, chopped
  • 1/3 cup Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 3 slices of Canadian Bacon
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup shredded Emmental cheese
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
  • generous grating of freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • minced fresh chives
  • sprinkle of paprika
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil a deep-dish glass or Pyrex pie dish. Do not use a metal pan for this as the quiche will stick.

In a medium sized non-stick sautée pan, heat the Canadian bacon over medium-high heat until golden brown. Remove from the pan and reserve. Add olive oil to the pan and sautée the onions until they begin to caramelize and are just slightly golden. Add the chopped broccoli to the pan and stir to combine. Warm the mixture over medium heat for 1 minute. Remove from heat and spread the mixture into the prepared pie dish. Reserve.

Dice the Canadian bacon and scatter it over the broccoli mixture along with the shredded cheese.

In a small sauce pan, combine the skim milk and soy milk and heat until just before it scalds. Reserve.

Crack the eggs into a medium sized bowl and whisk to scramble. Slowly add the reserved milk/soy milk mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, chives and cayenne pepper and whisk to combine. Pour the egg mixture over the broccoli and sprinkle the top with a bit of paprika. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 - 40 minutes, or until the center has just set. Cooking time will vary according to your oven, so begin checking it after 3o minutes. The quiche is done when the edges have browned slightly and the center is set. Serve and enjoy.

Notes: This technique will work well for any cooked vegetables so feel free to experiment. I opted to use the half cup of soy milk rather than 1 1/2 cups of skim milk so that there would be some additional fat in the batter. This helps to reduce the odds of the quiche sticking to the pan. You could certainly use whole milk, or some other combination of milk and cream if you're not fat-averse and are frightened of soy products. The choice is up to you.

So, big ups to you, my brother, on the righteous produce ... and keep it coming!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Interesting Vegetables: Part One

There's a pan-Asian restaurant in my neighborhood that offers a dish called "Interesting Vegetables." I find the title both amusing and something of a misnomer. I mean, these aren't the sort of vegetables one would find at a cocktail benefit for The Dia Center. They haven't written for the Harvard Lampoon or spent their summers volunteering for the Peace Corps or anything. What they are is a collection of largely unidentifiable brown and green things in an oily sauce. Color me uninterested. I think we can do better.

Anyone who's South Beaching it has heard of or seen a recipe for "Cauliflower Popcorn." I'm amused by this one as well. Sure, the little white florets may resemble popcorn, but don't let any of us carb-deprived lunatics delude you into thinking this dish is in anyway akin to actual popcorn. Its delicious to be sure, but my local movie theater wasn't peddling hot, buttery tubs of it last time I checked. I'm not sure why we can't just call the dish what it is ... roasted cauliflower. I may be on a diet, but I haven't lost my powers of mentation. I know the difference between a snack food and a vegetable ... or do I?

Roasted Cauliflower Florets:

  • 1 large head of cauliflower (choice of color is up to you)
  • 1 or 2 tbsps. of extra-virgin olive oil
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • a couple of shakes of Mrs. Dash Steak Grilling Blend
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. (I know, its hot, but turn up the AC, this is worth it.)

Remove the leaves and core from the head of cauliflower. Remove the remaining stalks and trim the vegetable such that you are left with small florets approximately the size of popped popcorn kernals. There will be a lot of them, but they will cook down in the oven.

Place the trimmed florets into a large bowl, add the olive oil, salt, pepper and Mrs. Dash and stir to combine.

Spread the seasoned cauliflower on a large, rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, turning the florets every 15 minutes or so, until they are nicely browned and well caramelized. The darker they are, the sweeter they will be. Serve immediately.

Notes: If your oven runs high, you may need to turn the heat down to 425 degrees after the first half hour. Keep your eye on them and adjust accordingly. There are several recipes for this all over the internet and in some of the South Beach cook books - this is my version. I like the grilling blend for seasoning and I've reduced the oil. Feel free to experiment with whatever seasonings you like here. Curry would be a nice option, or something spicy if that's your pref. Live it up!

Roasted cauliflower is best served right out of the oven. It will wilt slightly if left to cool, so get 'em while they're hot and crisp!

Warning, one bite of this and you'll be hooked. It doesn't taste like popcorn but it sure eats like it. I could easily down a whole bowl of this myself, so make several heads if you're cooking for a crowd. Kidding aside this is my new favorite snack ... but I still won't call it popcorn.