Friday, August 29, 2008

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Is everyone ready for the last blast of summer? I know I am. This past week's cooler temps have me ready for Fall ... and I'm eagerly awaiting the close of Brillo Head Season. It won't be long now!

We'll be heading off to Momma and Papa Diva's today and I look forward to reaping the late harvest bounty of bro's garden. I'm told the tomatoes are plentiful and delicious. Sweet! Weather permitting, we'll be grillin' and chillin' with la famila grande and I'm excited about it.

In addition to the internet woes, I've been separated from my stove again this week and will need to remedy that next week. New recipes coming soon! I should mention that I decided to bake Ellie Krieger's triple chocolate cookies on Wednesday and they were *spectacular*. I won't repost the recipe here, because I didn't alter it at all. If you have the book and have not tried these cookies - do so. They were certainly a hit at the party last night - my nephew gave them a big "thumbs up." This bodes well for "The Food You Crave" and I'm looking forward to further exploration of the book.

Along with the new recipes, I'll have some news to share with you next week. Stay tuned! And, in the meantime, tell me how you're planning to spend the holiday weekend? If you're doing the BBQ thing - what will you be cooking and what's your favorite late-summer dish? Hungry Divas want to know!

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, dear readers, and make it Divalicious!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back in Business ... I Think ...

Looks like I'm back in business here. The connectivity gods have favored me today ... though for how long, who knows? I'll try and make the best of it while it lasts.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about my brownie experience over the weekend. Last Friday I linked you to Altered Plates' recipe for Moore Beany Brownies and set off on my search for carob powder and Teeccino. Happily, I found both at Whole Foods - a.k.a. "Whole Paycheck." Yes, I paid dearly for them, but the results were worth it. I made Deb's version of the brownies on Friday night and they are spectacular!

Now, I know some of you will read the recipe and think I'm crazy for making brownies with beans ... and you might be right ... but I'm telling you that they are truly delicious. I substituted Ghirardelli's Bittersweet Chips for the carob chips, but other than that I followed her recipe exactly. Let me tell you, these brownies will not last long here in Divaworld. They are moist, dense and so rich in chocolate-y goodness! Even the husband can't get enough of them. If he hadn't seen me making them, I would not have let on about the beans ... and he'd have been none the wiser. This recipe is a keeper and I recommend it to all.

The other nice thing about the brownies is that they are SB friendly: there's no flour or sugar needed, I used agave nectar, and they can be counted as a "sweet treat" ... just don't over indulge.

I'll be putting on my baker's apron again today. Last night I finally picked up a copy of the much recommended Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave" and I can't wait to start exploring it. I'm attending a little soirée tomorrow night and need to bring a dessert. I'm torn between Ellie's triple chocolate cookies or the carrot cake cupcakes ... both with whole wheat flour. Stay tuned.

Whatever I bake today will likely not be 100% SB approved, but I'm bringing the dish to a party and I'll only have a little bite. Who knows, I may not even let on that my dessert offering is a healthy one. It will just be our little secret. ~wink~

So, what's your favorite thing to bake?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ohm ...

The husband and I were supposed to be away on vacation this past week /weekend, but the vicissitudes of his job being what they are, it recently became clear that going away would not be possible. Though we may not be able to have a proper get-away until October, I recognized that we were both in need of a mental holiday. Last week, a friend and I spent a fair amount of time surfing the web for spas and we were both intrigued by The Chopra Center at the Dream Hotel. After quelling my inital gag reflex over the Chopra-ness of it all, I decided to book some time there for the husband and I on Saturday afternoon.

What with being a Diva and all, you'd think that I soak up the pampering experiences like a sponge, right? Um, not exactly. I'm not a great fan of massage and, if I'm being honest, I'm not a great fan of any experience which requires individuals to be in a state of public undress. Let's face it, there's good naked and bad naked. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Good naked happens in the privacy of your own home and bad naked ... well, that covers just about everything else.

Case in point: Jerry Stiller swims at my pool. Several mornings a week, I am treated to the sight of him in his droopy jams. This is bad naked. Trust me. Ok, so really he's half-clothed, but in my book it still qualifies. You get the picture.

I'll give you a minute to scrub that mental imagine from your brain - and use the time to offer my deepest apologies to Mr. Stiller. He's actually a very nice, gracious and friendly man. He's lovely to everyone at the pool. Both he and his bating suit are fine - I kid, I kid! My point is simply that, gym locker rooms not with standing, I prefer humanity to remain clothed. Period. I prefer myself to remain clothed. Period. So, the spa environment is something of a challenge for me. Period.

I cast my reservations aside and booked the husband and I for The Udi Room - a treatment which involves mud, steam, sea salt and 4,000 gallons of sweat. Initially I read the description as: "Relax in a delightful stream while the natural principals of the muds extract toxins from the skin." Relaxing in a stream? Awesome! Loving water as much as I do, it sounded like heaven. However, my reading prescription must be in need of updating ... because the word was steam, not stream. Uh oh.

You can imagine my surprise upon entering the 125 degree room. Yikes! HOT! So hot I though I might die of it ... but I didn't. Once I relaxed it was actually pretty neat. The room had some overhead rainfall showers, which were extremely cold, and that icy water saved me from death. We emerged relaxed, peaceful and throughly exfoliated. My skin has never been so soft. It was altogether delightful and I can't wait to do it again.

I followed the Udi with an herbal bath and the husband had a massage. Suffice it to say that we have been pampered into a state of detoxified bliss and our visit to the Chopra spa was indeed like a mini-vacation. I can't say enough good things about it. The spa is spectacularly clean, the technicians talented and discreet, and the overall atmosphere is calm and inviting. I recommend it highly. Namaste!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Its Friday ... you know the drill by now ...

As it turns out, the husband is working at home today and we're fighting for the laptop. I guess I need to let him win since he's actually earning money while he writes!

Its another glorious day here in NYC, August has been just lovely, so I'm heading down to the Union Square farmer's market to score some more native corn. Its not SB approved, but I don't care - native corn season is short and sweet and I like to take full advantage of it.

Which brings me to my question of the day. This one was actually posed by Tracy of Pinot & Pineapple yesterday ... it concerns local v.s. organic produce. Which is the "greener" option? If you could only choose one, either a locally raised product, or an organic product which was raised elsewhere, which would you choose and why? Hit the link and read Tracy's post - and share your thoughts on the matter.

I try to buy produce that is both local and organic ... but its not always possible. In the summer, I tend to buy local - almost by default - because there's so much available and I love to shop the farmer's markets and local farm stands when I'm out and about. In other seasons, I will generally opt for organic where possible.

Meanwhile, I'm also on another quest today. I'm in search of roasted carob powder. Deb, from Altered Plates, posted a wonderful brownie recipe yesterday that is both flour and sugar free. Hit the link and take a look. I'm dying to try this recipe and my heart will be broken if I can't find the carob powder. Wish me luck!

So that's my plan for the day. I've given you your homework assignments, and plenty of time to complete them ... surf on, hungry readers, and I'll see you on Monday!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Nearly No-Cook Meal

As usual, I've got some chicken hanging around my fridge this week, left-over roast chicken to be exact. And, frankly, nothing makes me happier than a surplus of roast chicken. It can be turned into so many other wonderful meals. The obvious choice, of course, is chicken soup ... but without the noodles, I just don't see the point. Until I find an acceptable whole wheat noodle, my standard soup is off the menu for awhile. And, though the weather has cooled some, August really doesn't feel like chicken soup time to me, so that can wait.

Tacos, chili or fajitas would make a fine venue for the chix as well, but I'm not feeling very Mexican today. And, to be honest, my stove and kitchen are spotless right now and the idea of having to re-clean everything does not appeal. I think its time for a no-cook meal.

I don't know about you, but here in Divaland we love sandwiches. The husband is especially crazy for them - any and all kinds - and, at this point, I suppose I should admit my addiction to the humble grilled cheese. My love for grilled cheese is profound. It knows no limits or depths. Its been my favorite sandwich for as long as I can remember. In fact, I loved gc so much as a child that I insisted on taking it to school for lunch every day ... for a year. (Or at least it seemed that way.) My mom would make one in the morning, wrap it in foil, and I would eat it cold at lunch. It sounds crazy - and, ok, kind of gross - when I think about it now, but it was the only sandwich I ever wanted.

I still love them today, and though I made the transition to whole wheat bread decades ago, I'm not above savoring a gc on plain old white bread when dining at The Glenwood Drive-In. Their grilled cheese is sublime! If you're ever in this area of Connecticut, do yourself a favor and pop into Glenwood for lunch. Go with a friend, order a foot-long hot dog, a grilled cheese and an oder of onion rings and split them. You won't be disappointed! The husband is a big fan of Glenwood's fried clams - and ,if you're not averse to the sea creatures, by all means oder up. They are spectacular.

But I digress ... and at this point you're wondering what kind of grilled cheese I'm going to make with that left-over chicken, right? Right. I'm going to make an open-faced sandwich that will be South Beach friendly, throughly delicious, and ... no pans or stoves will be soiled in the process.

Open-faced Chicken, Provolone and Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich:

  • 4 slices of sugar-free multi-grain bread
  • some sliced, cooked chicken breasts (roasted or grilled, whatever you have)
  • 1 large garlic clove, halved lengthwise
  • 4 tsp. pesto sauce (standard basil pesto, you can use jarred)
  • 2 or 3 jarred whole roasted Piquillo peppers, drained*
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices of reduced-fat provolone or Monterey Jack cheese
Pre-heat your broiler.

Toast the multi-grain bread until lightly golden and rub both sides with the cut garlic. Spoon a bit of the pesto sauce onto one side of each slice of bread, and top each slice with some of the roasted peppers. Arrange the sliced chicken on top of the peppers, hit it with a grinding of fresh black pepper, top with with cheese and place all of the sandwiches on a foil-lined, heat-safe baking sheet. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. (Alternately, you can use the broiler of your toaster oven if you don't want to heat up the house.) Serve and enjoy!

*You can use regular roasted red peppers in place of the piquillos if you wish - I happen to prefer the flavor of the piquillos, but the choice is up to you.

I've adapted this recipe from The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook and as written it will serve four - one slice person. I'm fine with the one slice myself, but the husband always eats two. Adjust the recipe accordingly for your needs.

I like to serve the sandwiches with a big, fresh salad and some lightly steamed summer squash. This is a healthy, delicious and satisfying summer meal. I know, its not *exactly* a grilled cheese ... but, hey, there's cheese and its melted! I like to think of it as a more grown-up, enhanced version of a classic. I hope you'll try it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Lazy Wednesday

Kittens, the weather is just too lovely for me to be chained to my keyboard today. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, perfect weather for ... some retail recreation! It counts as an outdoor activity since I'll be bi-pedulating. Is that even a word? Well, it is now. I'm off to hit the stores and I don't mean Fairway.

There'll be some cooking later on, but nothing you haven't seen before ... if you've been playing along at home, that is. The menu for tonight includes: stuffed spaghetti squash and some steamed broccoli. With all the heavy lifting I hope to do - shopping bags - I'll certainly be in need of fortification afterwards.

Hope the day is bright and shiny where you are and stay tuned for new recipes later in the week!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Supermarket Sadists and an Emerging Theme ...

I believe I've made myself clear on the subject of grocery shopping in Manhattan. Its a nightmare on a good day and on a bad one it more closely resembles the third ring of hell. No Divine Comedy here, its tragic ... and getting worse by the minute.

Eyelashes adorned and lipstick applied - off, set I, for Fairway yesterday afternoon. Apart from the fresh veggies, my cupboards were pretty bare and in serious need of restocking. List in hand, I felt ready for the challenge ahead. I mean, I'm an expert at this combat shopping deal, right? Wrong.

Unbeknownst to me, the supermarket sadists had unleashed their particular brand of malevolence on my already irritating little market ... they changed the location of everything. Everything. What the?! Why is the toilet paper section full of bottled water? Who moved the juice? Where on earth are my beloved Morningstar Farms breakfast patties?

Bitterness ensues as I stand dumbfounded before an aisle of Kosher products that replaces what used to be ... something ... I can't even remember what, because at this point I'm close to hyperventilating. Is this some kind of joke? Because its *not* funny. Not even a little bit. I wonder if this is how the supermarket managers amuse themselves? Are they watching on hidden cameras and laughing at my distress? Evil minions!

I finally found the toilet paper - relegated to a tiny little scrap of space by the elevator ... because nobody needs tp, right? Good thing, because you'd be hard pressed to fit two people in the space now allotted for paper goods. And, by hard pressed I mean that some freak will likely be rubbing up against you as you search in vain for the elusive Bounty Select-a-Size paper towels. Oh joy.

Call me crazy, you wouldn't be the first, but stuff like this throws me for a loop. I don't like change and I lothe retracing my steps in the supermarket. I write my list in order of the aisles and shop accordingly. Its the only way to survive the Fairway maze ... start at one end and progress to the finish, no left turns, no going back. Period. Yeah, I know, its not *really* tragic ... but I'm going to have to relearn the maze and that means a midnight rendezvous with my shopping cart and a compass. I kid you not. There's a late night trip to Fairway in my future and I'll be taking my GPS.

Phew, now that I've gotten that out of my system - let's talk chicken. Barbecued chicken has always been a summer staple, chez Diva, and I've been craving it for months now. But let's face it, BBQ sauce is typically full of sugar. Yummy delicious brown sugar to be exact. Sigh. Normally, I use Zabar's spicy bbq sauce and I've been pretty happy with it - but its definitely not SB approved, so its off the table so to speak. I opted to try the barbecue sauce recipe from The South Beach Quick and Easy Cookbook and I attempted to improve it with a few changes here and there.

The results? I'm sorry to say that for the first time here on Beach Eats, I won't be ending this post with: "I hope you'll try it!" Quite the opposite in fact. I've saved you the trouble on this one because I'm giving it a bad review. Its not a disaster, mind you, but its misses the mark by a mile. I didn't even bother serving it to the husband when he came home. I made him some tasty chicken instead. Sad.

I will post my adapted version of the recipe ... along with a challenge ...

SB Friendly BBQ sauce:

  • one 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. vinegar (I used red wine)
  • 1 tbsp. grated onion
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. prepared mustard (I used Spicy Brown)
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard (such as Coleman's)
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. agave nectar for sweetness
  • dash of Chipotle Chili powder for smokiness
Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan, whisk to incorporate the spices and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until flavors have combined.

The italicized ingredients are my additions and, flavor-wise, I think they're fine - except for maybe the tomato paste. The problem is that the sauce feels incomplete and tastes too strongly of tomato sauce. I baked the chicken, as per the recipe instructions, and even the caramelization from the oven didn't improve it. Sad.

The Emerging Theme: I'm searching ... for products in my now unfamiliar market ... for a new look for the blog ... and now, rather desperately, for an acceptable sugar-free BBQ sauce. Help!

The Challenge: Can you do better? Have you made a satisfactory SB friendly BBQ sauce? If so, please do share. I can only handle so many quests at a time!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Monday!

What to say about the new background? Eh, I dunno ... we have 8 votes in favor of the pink w/polka dots and one against. What I'd like to do is keep the pink and the black bows and leave off the polka dots, but that was a "pre-fab" template and its all or nothing. I suppose I could figure out how to write my own HTML and get exactly what I want ... but I need to get in the kitchen and get cooking so that will have to wait for another day.

The plain white background is so not me, and I'm still looking to make a change. I love the pink and black combo, but agree that it was a bit busy. I think I'll go with the pale pink for now and work on figuring out the coding some other time. I do thank you for your opinions, dear readers. I want my site to look as good as I feel, and the plain 'ole white just doesn't cut it. The search continues.

Meanwhile, I'm putting on my mascara, trying to tame the frizz beast, and heading for the grocery store this afternoon. Look for the chicken head tomorrow, because he's certainly on the menu for tonight. We stopped at another farm stand this weekend and I've got fresh produce at the ready and a craving for barbecued chicken. I'll have to rework the recipe and make it SB acceptable, so there's going to be some adapting going on today.

We spent the weekend up in the Berkshires with mama and papa Diva, the husband's father and two friends of the family. And what a treat it was! There was a hint of fall in the air and all manner of fresh veggies available at the local stands. I'm really looking forward to the native corn and beautiful yellow bell peppers from the farm in Williamstown, MA. Mama Diva also brought me some tomatoes, potatoes and another giant zucchini from bro's garden. Yum!

This weird little picture was taken at the farm in Williamstown. Though I had my camera in my purse the whole time, I only took two pictures and neither of them are all that exciting. I do like the way the sky looks here and you can see that we were blessed with some spectacular weather. Nothing like a weekend in the country to renew your senses!

Now its time to reintroduce myself to the stove and get to work. More recipes tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Love It or Hate It?

So, you may have noticed the new background here on Beach Eats. I'm still trying to decide if I love it or hate it. What say you? Shall I keep the twee little bow and polka dots or revert to the plain white background??? Hit up the poll below, inquiring Diva wants to know.

Meanwhile, its going to be another kitchen-free weekend for me. I'll be at the Yankee game tonight and out and about the rest of time. I don't know about you but I'm kind of missing the chicken head ... so chicken will def. be on the menu next week, and I'm still hoping to free up some time to reinvent pixelgal's zucchini bread and make it more South Beach friendly. Stay tuned.

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

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shopping Green: Product Review

I wonder how many plastic grocery bags there are in the world? I wonder if I could even count the number in my ever bulging "bag cabinet"? I swear they're like Tribbles in there - proliferating exponentially - until they one day burst forth from their dark prison and drown me alive. Yikes. Scary.

Happily, I think I've found a way to prevent such a coup.

I started to feel badly about the excess of plastic in my life while watching the Live Earth concert last summer and decided to do something about it. I immediately went online and did a search for reusable shopping bags ... and wouldn't you know there's a site with just that name? I'm sure there are plenty of other such vendors out there in cyberland, but Reusable Bags was the first one I found and my search began and ended there.

I purchased a set of the Acme Workhorse compact bags, and they really are a wonder to behold. They fold up into nice, neat, compact squares and can easily fit in your purse or pockets. Once opened they can hold a stunning amount of groceries - even the heavy stuff like milk and juice. I can't say enough good things about them. Sure, at first it felt a little funny to have to stop the bagger and tell them I've brought my own bag. But, fortunately, this is becoming more of a common occurrence and the baggers no longer look at me like I'm a kook. The only downside is that I have to remember to refold them and put them back in my purse.

I'd like to say I've converted 100%, but the truth is I'm running fifty - fifty at best. I am trying though and that's the important thing! Even 50% is better than no percent and I feel that I have tamed the bag beast to some degree. (At least I no longer fear their eventual take-over.)

My Acme bags also came with a package of Evert-Fresh Green Bags which I promptly threw in a drawer and forgot about for year. Big Mistake. I saw a commercial the other day for another brand of green bags and suddenly realized that I had a package of these things lying around somewhere and went off to unearth them. Surprisingly, I knew just where they were and decided to give them a whirl. Wow, what an amazing product!

The green bags work exactly as advertised: they extend the life of fresh produce by miles! Since I'm cooking for two here, it is often the case that we have trouble using all of the fresh produce before it goes bad. Radishes are especially prone to refrigerator-death here in Divaland. I love them, but I only eat one a day in my salad and they come in great bunches. Its so sad to see their shriveled little carcases wasting away in the vegetable bin. Well, no more! I put them in a green bag last week and they are as crisp as the day they were picked ... 7 days later. Color me green with happiness!

Now, I don't know if its counter-productive for me to be endorsing one kind of plastic, while urging a move away from another ... but a quick browse of the Evert-Fresh details on that link seems to suggest that they *are* a green product; not simply in color but in effect as well.

Here's what I do know: last week I paid $8.00 for two organic bell peppers - if the Evert-Fresh Green Bags are able to preserve my investment (and they are), then viva la green plastic! This is one plastic product that's welcome in my kitchen.

Which brings us to the question of the day: how have you gone green? Shout it out in the comments.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Forgotten Recipes: Part Two

With deepest apologies to those who take a dim view of the eggplant ... be forewarned, its on the menu again today. I knew I wanted to make Marcella's sauce this week and I wasn't quite sure what I'd do with it ... until my remaining two eggplant cried out for sauce and cheese ... and so did the husband! That dude loves him some eggplant parm. And, really, what's not to love? Its a wonderful meatless meal. Soooo luscious and satisfying. The only unlovable aspects are the seemingly endless frying of the slices and the resulting abundance of oil. I'm happy to report that I've resolved both issues in one go. I've baked the eggplant instead of frying it and I've tweaked the dish to make it more acceptable from a South Beach point of view. I'm glad, because I've missed it.

Though we both grew up on the dish, eggplant parm was also in danger of becoming one of the forgotten here in Divaland. My beloved grandma Pam made the world's best eggplant and, oddly enough, the husband's dad makes an amazing version that's pretty darn close to her's. Frankly, its been years since I've made it. It just seemed too heavy and fat-laden and I'd just kind of written it off. Then, on the way home from Jersey the other night, the husband asked for it and suggested I could find a way to make it healthier. I'm happy to report that I have. I think grandma Pam would approve of my new and improved version and I know the husband loved it. He practically licked the plate last night. This dish is comfort food at its absolute best: healthy, delicious and altogether satisfying. I hope you'll try it.

South Beach Friendly Eggplant Parm:

  • 2 large eggplants
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • one 16 oz. container of Eggbeaters or other egg substitute
  • 1 cup of whole wheat bread crumbs*
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 or more cups of Basic Tomato Sauce (or jarred if you must)
  • some shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese for topping the dish
  • additional grated Parmesan cheese for topping
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and generously oil two large, rimmed baking sheets with the olive oil.

Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/4 thick slices - no need to peel. Pour some of the egg substitute into a large, shallow bowl and set aside. Combine the bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan cheese in a large, shallow dish and place next to the egg substitute. One slice at a time, dip the eggplant into the egg substitute, then dredge in the breadcrumb/parm mixture to coat lightly. Place the coated rounds on the baking sheets in a single layer and repeat until all of the eggplant has been breaded, adding additional egg wash a/o breadcrumbs to the bowls as needed.

Bake the coated eggplant for 15 minutes, turn the slices over, return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes longer, or until the slices are crisp and golden.

Ladle some of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 7 (or whatever size you've got) glass or Pyrex baking dish to coat the bottom. Arrange some slices of the eggplant over the sauce to fill the bottom of the dish. Cover with more tomato sauce and dust lightly with the shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese. Repeat, layering all of the eggplant slices and additional sauce and cheese as needed. Coat the top layer of eggplant with sauce, add a final dusting of the cheeses and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden brown.

As written, this recipe will serve 4 to 6 depending upon your portion sizes. It can easily be doubled or tripled ... I'll let you do the math.

*If you're not on the South Beach, feel free to use prepared flavored bread crumbs in place of the whole wheat. I made my own by toasting 4 slices of sugar-free whole grain bread and grinding them up into crumbs. That would be my suggestion if you're trying to avoid white flour. It worked very well. If anyone knows of a brand of prepared whole wheat bread crumbs, shout it out ... I'd be grateful for the tip.

Meanwhile, here's a very lame picture of the finished product ... again with apologies ... we were too hungry to set-up the shot and make it pretty!

Welcome back, eggplant parm, I love you even more than I did before. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Family, Friends and Forgotten Recipes: Part One

I've got another confession to make ... my cookbook collection is out of control. I'm a voracious reader in any case and that includes cookbooks. I read 'em like novels and collect them like they're going out of style. Though I know I may not have a chance to make all of the scrumptious delights therein, I throughly enjoy thinking about the various dishes and how I'd modify them to suit my tastes. Its a marvelous, and calorie-free, pass-time. Of course the consequence of having so many cookbooks is that I often forget what I do have and treasured recipes can go neglected.

When the husband and I were married one million years ago ... ok, more like 16 but who's counting? ... we invited some of my bro's friends to the wedding. (And, yes, I was married at age 10 if you're wondering. ~wink~) Happily, they came and a good time was had by all. One of them, a dear friend of the family - we'll call her T - gave me a copy of Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" and I have cherished it ever since. I'm not sure if T knew just how much I'd love this gift, or if it was a happy accident but the book has provided many a delightful hour for me - either in the kitchen or on the couch while traipsing through its culinary treasures. This book is an absolute classic and no cookbook library is complete without it.

This book was also burried under the surfeit of some dozens of other cookbooks on one of the groaning shelves in my kitchen. It was in serious danger of becoming one of the lost and forgotten. That is until another friend - I'm waving at you, VeeJay - reminded me of Marcella's simple and simply outstanding basic tomato sauce recipe last week. I very nearly ran to my kitchen, just to remind myself that "Essentials" was still there, and promptly made a mental note to revisit the recipe this week.

Though I ended up using this sauce to make a more complicated dish, eggplant parmesan, I urge you to try this stunning sauce and serve it however you like. It might be the easiest recipe I will ever post here ... except for that brown rice ... and you will not believe the taste!

Basic Tomato Sauce:

  • two 28 oz. cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes*
  • 1 whole onion, peeled and sliced in half, lengthwise, leaving the root end intact
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • a sprig of fresh basil
  • salt, to taste
Place all of the ingredients in a large, non-reactive sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cook, uncovered, at a very low simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the onion, serve and enjoy! Its that easy. Really!

Or, at least my version is that easy. Go and buy the book and read how to make the same sauce with multiple variations, including using fresh tomatoes. I hope Marcella will forgive me for adapting the recipe by reducing the amount of butter, adding the olive oil and basil, and choosing to use the crushed rather than whole tomatoes. This is my way of making an easy sauce even easier. *The one caveat being that I insist you use the San Marzano tomatoes - the end result just won't taste the same if you use another brand.

As I said, I used this sauce to complete my new and improved South Beach Friendly Eggplant Parmesan ... and I will be posting that recipe tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Interesting Vegetables: Part Five

As I mentioned on Thursday, there's been precious little going on in my kitchen these last few days. We did manage to eat at home on Friday night, but as I can't recall what we had, it couldn't have been too exciting. I've been out and about again this weekend: visiting a friend's beach house one day and another spent out in the wilds of New Jersey at the home of one of the husband's colleagues. We were blessed with a magnificent day weather-wise and the party was altogether lovely. Many of the guests hadn't seen me since last November and I was thrilled to be complimented on my weight-loss. I even donned my bathing suit -in public! - and partook of the glorious hot tub and swimming pool ... which is totally out of character for me and something I would not have felt comfortable doing were it not for my recent success on this diet. I've lost 20.5 pounds and I couldn't be happier about it!

That being said, I wasn't particularly faithful to the South Beach this weekend and, as it turns out, it doesn't much matter. I've learned not to stress the social occasions and by giving myself permission to *not* worry about it, I think I've been better off. Yes, I had a hot dog, some bread products and even a dessert or two along the way, but I still lost weight last week and I'm down another 1/2 pound today after the weekend. When "dieting" ... and boy do I dislike that term ... I think its important to view the week as a whole and not get too wrapped up in being perfect every single day. I tend to "eat clean" 95 to 99% of the time and not sweat the other small percent. If I have to eat out, or attend a party, I eat what I want when I'm there and I return to the South Beach the following day - 100%. I'm also pretty religious about my exercise program and will tend to ramp it up both prior to and following a social function. This works for me and my sense is that it works this way for others too.

Keeping up with my vegetable intake has been a key component of my weight-loss strategy ... and doing so can be a challenge when eating out or attending parties. I like to ramp up the veggies following any enhanced dining occasions and this weekend was certainly no exception. Our trip to New Jersey included a stop at a farm stand and we stocked up on the spectacular Jersey tomatoes, cukes, native corn (not SB approved, but I don't care!) and some really beautiful eggplant. My counter tops runneth over with the bounty of the earth this week and that makes me happy!

Last night I put two of the eggplants to good use by making a delicious Baba Ghanouj. I have no idea how authentic this recipe is ... I just kept adding things until it tasted good to me. By now you know that that's the way I cook - and that's the way I encourage you to cook as well. Feel free to experiment here and make it your own.

Baba Ghanouj:

  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium sized eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 3 tbsp. tahini paste
  • juice of one large lemon
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced*
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • dash of sriracha or Tobasco sauce, optional
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the eggplants, cut side down, on a generously oiled rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for @ 45 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft and the cut sides are well caramelized. Allow the eggplant to cool enough so that you can handle them and, using a soup spoon, scoop out all of the flesh from the skins. No need to be perfect here, if you get a little skin mixed in with the pulp, no biggie. Discard the empty skins and place the cooked pulp in the bowl of a food processor.

Process on high until nearly smooth. To the eggplant, add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, mint, parsley, cumin and the hot sauce if desired. Process on high until all ingredients are combined and a thick puree is formed. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding the salt and pepper as desired. Pulse again to combine. Transfer the baba ghanouj to a small bowl and serve immediately or cover and chill if you prefer. Enjoy!

I like to serve the baba ghanouj as a dip for raw red and yellow bell peppers or with some whole grain pita chips that I've made myself. I use Ezekiel brand pita pockets - simply split them in half, cut into wedges and toast in the toaster oven until crisp and pale golden brown. Delicious!

* In retrospect, I wish I had chosen to roast the garlic prior to adding it to the eggplant. If you're wary of the flavor of raw garlic, I do suggest using the roasted or reducing the raw garlic to one clove. As written this will yield a very garlic-y dip. S'ok for me, but your mileage may vary, of course.

Happily, this leaves me two eggplants just begging to be fashioned into a South Beach Friendly eggplant parm. Guess what's on the menu for tonight? Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Housekeeping: Another Extended Edition

I'm afraid the virtual maid is here early this week ... I'll be AFK ... away from keyboard for a few days. Much like my lack of preparedness for emergency, I haven't managed to squirrel away a ready supply of posts to be published while I'm gone either. Will have to remedy that in the future.

I'll be back to posting normally on Monday - though there'll be precious little going on in my own kitchen until then. Fear not though, I'm sure I'll have a tasty morsel for you come Monday afternoon.

In the meanwhile, have a great weekend - and make it Divalicious!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Snacking: Diva Style

I think my profile description says it all ... or at least it says what used to be. Prior to becoming a Diva on a Diet - I was a Diva with orange encrusted fingers. Doritos, Cheetos, Jax, even the inferior brands - if it was crisp and covered with day-glow orange cheese powder then we were going to get it on. Snacking is the one area of my food life where I am not a snob. I've been shopping the organic produce, seeking out grass-fed beef, and eating whole grains for years now ... but when it came to getting my snack on, I was all about the processed foods. Weird. And, truth be told, even now I'd probably sell a limb for a calorie-free rendezvous with a bag of Cheetos. But no one's made me such an offer - and its probably not forthcoming either.

Bottom line, I'm a girl who likes to get her snack on. No diet is going to change that. But, sad as it may seem, I've broken up with the Cheetos and I'm not returning their calls. I'm still all about the cheese, but these days its in the form of low-fat string cheese. While they're lacking in crunch, they definitely satisfy my salt-tooth. Awhile back there was a question about snacking in the comments and I thought it would be a good idea to give you all a window into my snacking habits. Most of these come straight from the South Beach Diet recommendations, and all of them have been delicious.

My New Favorite Snacks -

  • 1 low-fat string cheese stick with a cup of raw red and yellow bell pepper strips for crunch
  • Any kind of nuts, as long as they're salted. Pistachios, cashews, almonds and pecans are particular favorites. I don't worry about the fat content because they're high in protein and heart-healthy fats ... just be careful not to over indulge.
  • 1/2 cup of low-fat, as in 1%, cottage cheese, mixed with some lemon juice, minced chives, and as much freshly ground black pepper as you can handle. I like to use it as a dip for either raw veggies or Multigrain Finn Crisp crackers.
  • 1/4 cup of good quality hummus, again, served with raw veggies - usually the bell peppers.
  • And this last one is a South Beach classic ... dole out your serving of turkey pepperoni, place it on a micro-wave safe plate and wave it up, on high, until its crisp and chip-like. In my wave it takes about 2 to 2.5 minutes. Use the pepperoni chips as a dipper for hummus and OMG you've got an amazing snack! I want this every day ... but, sadly, none of my supermarkets carry the turkey pepperoni. Waaah!
*There is a theme here: the pairing of a protein with some kind of vegetable. This is the very best way to snack. You're munching on high-quality fuel and the combination of protein and veg helps to keep you satisfied far longer than any snack chip would. Its a winning combination and its definitely working for me.

These tasty little bites have been my version of a 12 step program for my Cheeto/Dorito addiction. There are certainly other healthy snack combinations ... this is just a little taste to get you started. An amuse bouche of sorts.

So, how do you get your snack on?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Feet on the Beach, Head in the Sand

The Home and Garden section of last Thursday's New York Times had an interesting, if somewhat frightening, article that's got me thinking. It was about a woman in Massachusetts, Kathy Harrison, who has been stockpiling all manner of provisions in case of disaster - natural or otherwise. Its a pretty sobering read. Especially for someone like me who tends not to dwell on such things. Consider, for example, my Y2K preparations - which consisted of laying in a case of champagne and two gallons of bottled water, purchased in haste at the last minute. (I'm not kidding here ... the party was fantastic and the water collected dust under my kitchen table for some time.) Living in New York, you'd think I would give some attention to such things, but disaster preparedness is so not on my radar screen.

Its on Kathy Harrison's. She's written a book: “Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens.” It focuses not only on the stockpiling of non-perishable food stuffs, but also on self-sufficiency in times of crisis ... things like cooking without electricity and canning your own foods, etc. Sounds interesting ... and terrifying. I mean look at that title ... its not "How to be Self-Sufficient If ..." its when. Yikes. That said, this is not a doomsday book. Apparently its rather down-to-earth and the tone is cheerful and positive. Given my total lack preparedness, I suppose I should consider giving it a look.

I do not have a "go bag", or a ready supply of canned goods ... there might be some wretched form of canned chili fermenting in the back of my pantry cabinet, but other than that there ain't much. I wonder if I should remedy that? I wonder if I could remedy that? Though I'm blessed with a large kitchen and many cabinets, I can't imagine where I'd put all this readiness stuff. Its surely a problem for disaster-minded city dwellers, as the article points out. I know our last blackout certainly caught me off guard. I was able to purchase the last pack of batteries at a local bodega, so we could run the radio and a flashlight - but that was just luck. Fortunately, I'm a big fan of candlelight, so we had the most brightly lit apartment on the street that hot, summer night ... but again, that's luck not foresight. I haven't learned my lesson either ... I doubt any of my flashlights are in working condition at present. Sigh.

Like the title says ... I've got my feet on the beach and my head in the sand. Which has me wondering about you, gentle readers. Do you have a "go bag"? Or are you laying in provisions in case of emergency? (Do they consist of something other than champagne?) If you're not now, will you be after reading the article? Click the link and read the article ... then come back and let me know what you think.

Monday, August 4, 2008

May I Have the Envelope, Please ....

This post is a big Shout Out to darling Scarlet of Jamjarsuperstar who's passed on her Arte y Pico Award to me. I'm thrilled!

I'd like to thank the Academy, my hair-stylist Patrique, my love guru Armand, my baby Dachshund Fifi, my macrobiotic chef Claude, and all you little people up there in the gallery who made my film ... ooops, where am I?

~Looks around room and notes that it is *not* The Shrine Auditorium~ ~blink~

For a moment I forgot where I was and launched into my pre-prepared Oscar speech. Sorry! But that's because I'm every bit as thrilled with this award as I would be with an Oscar - more so even. Thank you, thank you dear Scarlet! And now its my turn to pass it on. Wheee!

The “Arte y Pico” award comes with a few rules. These rules are listed below:

1. You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.

2. Each awardee has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4. Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of the Arte y Pico� blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award:

5. Display these rules.

I'm pleased to pass on my award to these 5 winning food related blogs in no specific order:

1. NYC Donut Report by Duane Reade - this dude doesn't know me but I am loving his blog. Its tasty, funny and you gotta give some props for creativity to anyone calling himself Duane Reade. Love it.

2. Cake Wrecks by Jen - this chick doesn't know me either, but I know her blog. A friend hipped me to it recently and now I check it daily. Also funny and tasty. Love it.

3. Altered Plates by Deb Schiff - a recent addition to my blogroll and I'm quite happy about it. Anyone creative enough to bake without sugar and make it all delicious certainly deserves an award. Love it.

4. Pinot & Pineapple by Tracy - another recent addition to the blogroll and fellow New Yorker. Great recipes, great photos and great (well written) restaurant reviews. This site makes me hungry! Love it.

5. Taking Over the World One Bite at a Time by Jo Boston - one more recent addition to the blogroll - astoundingly delicious photography, great expressive style, fun and free-wheeling food blog that makes me want to move to San Francisco. Love it.

Congrats to all the winners and pass it on!

Interesting Vegetables: Part Four

Let's face it, zucchini can be pretty scary this time of year. If you're a gardener, its likely taking over your yard right about now. And, if you've got a friend or family member who's a gardener, they're likely trying to pawn great bushels of it off on you. Fortunately, I love the stuff and am always happy when my bro has some to share. In this case, said zucchini was about the size of my forearm. It was big. BIG. That picture doesn't do it justice! When faced with a squash of such threatening magnitude, the best way to tame it is to stuff it.

I'm sure it would have been delicious if simply steamed as a side dish - but this baby was more meal-sized and seemed to demand the spotlight. I have a magnificent stuffed zucchini recipe that I've been making for 15 years. The original is from the Weight Watcher's Favorite Homestyle Recipes cookbook - which may well be out of print by now. It was published in 1993, and I've been cooking with it ever since. Its excellent - though typically I find the dishes need more seasoning than the recipes suggest. I modify them as I see fit. Its a great source for ideas and the recipes are simple and mostly of the quick-cook variety. Amazon does have copies of the book, new and used, and I do recommend it.

Hollowed out and filled with a melange of savory vegetables, the stuffed zucchini makes a lovely, vegetarian main course and would be well served by a side of brown rice pilaf to complete the meal. If your zucchini is of lesser proportions, by all means serve it as a delightful and hearty side dish. Either way, its all good ... and far less threatening when pulled from the oven, bubbling hot and oozing with melted Parmesan.

Stuffed Zucchini:

  • 1 very large, or 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup of Crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small stalk of celery, diced
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Summer Savory
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. curry powder
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • 4 tbsp. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
  • @ 4 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cut zucchini in half, lengthwise, and using a teaspoon - hollow out the zucchini, removing the pulp from both halves while leaving @ 1/4 inch of the shells intact. (See above photo.) Dice the removed pulp and set aside.

Using a vegetable steamer large enough to hold the squash, steam the zucchini over high heat for @ 3 to 4 minutes or until the shells are just tender when pierced with a fork. Do not over cook! Remove the shells from the pan when tender and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium high heat and sautée the onions, carrots, mushrooms and celery until the onion is translucent and the carrots are crisp/tender - @ 3 to 4 minutes. Add the reserved zucchini pulp and the salt, summer savory, cayenne pepper, curry powder, black pepper and chicken broth and continue sautéeing the vegetables until the squash is tender and most of the chicken broth has cooked away. Add the chopped parsley, stir well to combine and remove from heat.

Pre-heat your broiler. Spoon the cooked vegetable mixture into the reserved zucchini boats in equal measure and top with the grated Parmesan cheese - @ 1 or 2 tbsp. per zucchini - but that's up to you. (More cheese is never a bad thing, just be sure its freshly grated and not the powdered stuff.) Place the stuffed zucchini in a heat safe, low-rimmed dish or on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese has melted and is beginning to brown - @ 3 or 4 minutes, depending on your broiler. Serve and enjoy!

Here's the finished product:

If you're vegetarian, feel free to substitute some vegetable broth for the chicken stock. If you're on Phase 1 of South Beach, leave out the carrots and substitute some diced yellow bell peppers. As a main course, this recipe will serve two. As a side dish ... its up to you ... larger squash can be halved again to serve four, or not, depending on your appetite. Bon Appetite!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sugar Plums and Xanthan Gums

If you're wondering whether or not I have fun making up these titles ... I do! Again, this one is slightly misleading as I won't be discussing Xanthan Gums ... I just wanted to rhyme something sugary with a food additive! Xanthan Gum is a complex polymer used as a thickening agent to increase viscosity in foods (such as salad dressings) and is not the subject of this post. I am, however, going to delve into the realm of artificial sugars or sugar substitutes.

While I'm loving The South Beach Diet so far, I have been concerned about the diets' recommendation of using Splenda as a sugar substitute. With the exception of all things chocolate and the occasional dessert, I'm really not much of a sugar fiend. I don't use it in my tea and don't add it to cereals or anything else. I only keep it in the house for baking and for guests, so eliminating it hasn't been much of a problem for me.

That being said, the advent of summer has presented me a challenge perhaps even greater than Brillo Head: ice cream. I want some. I want some now. And I'm going to want some after dinner too. Lately, I've been having a sugar free popsicle instead and for the most part I've been happy with them. They're icy cold and fun to eat ... and they're also made with Splenda. Sigh. What's a chemical-fearing-dessert-craving Diva to do?

Rather than donning my tiara, I put on my reading glasses and decided to do an exhaustive -well to me anyway - internet search on all the artificial sugars so as to make a better informed decision about whether or not I need to have a Splenda freak-out. And, as it turns out, I don't think I do.

Splenda is the brand name for sucralose - a chemically engineered artificial sweetener which is roughly 600 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar (sucrose). Basically, sucralose is made by replacing three of sucrose's hydroxyl groups with three chlorine atoms ... which is chemist speak for: they take sucrose, remove some stuff, add some chlorides and a new chemical compound "sugar" is formed. Tasty, right? Um, I dunno. Should we be concerned about eating chlorine? Well, it seems that the good news is you're not actually eating chlorine when you ingest sucralose. There's a bunch of complex chemical reasons why - but suffice it to say we're not talking about sweetening your pudding with the stuff you use to clean your pool. Its not the same thing.

Splenda-related internet theories abound. I think I've read them all, including one very amusing website called The Truth About Splenda - which was actually produced by the sugar industry! Does that tell you anything about possible bias? Think they've got an axe to grind? Rather than getting mixed up in the conspiracies I turned to The Center for Science in the Public Interest's website. They're the people that harshed our mellow with that "movie theatre popcorn is death in a carton" revelation. Now I don't know if they have their own axe to grind, but as watchdog groups go, I kind of trust them. They have a really good page on their site about food additives and it gives clear recommendations for what to avoid and what appears to be safe for consumption. They have concluded that sucralose is safe for consumption.

Now, I'm not saying that its ok to eat Splenda, or any artificial sweetener, just because a watch-dog group has deemed it safe. I think its a personal choice. In my case, I eat so little of it that I've decided not to freak-out. I don't think having a sugar-free popsicle a couple of times a week will be the thing that kills me. I might think differently if I was using Splenda several times a day, but I'm not. I don't eat any other sugar-free products or snacks, I don't drink diet soda and don't sweeten any of my beverages period. What I am saying is beware of internet conspiracy theories and be conscious of possible bias when you're surfing about.

There are certainly other, more natural, means of sweetening up your life. Agave nectar and Stevia come to mind. Given the choice, I'd opt for the agave nectar. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has deemed Stevia unsafe for consumption. There is some controversy there as well ... something to do with sugar and artificial sweetener lobbyists. But the more salient point, I think, is that while Stevia is approved for use in other countries, these countries don't use sugar in the excessive amounts that we in the US do - and there have been no long term studies on the effects of increased Stevia consumption. There is some concern about possible mutagens as well. I don't think I like the sound of it. Much like the Splenda though, you can take all of this with a grain of salt because there's clearly some bias at work and very little hard data on long-term use.

As for the agave, though natural, it is not considered a "whole" food. It is processed and there appears to be some concern that some manufacturers have been adding high fructose corn syrup to the nectar to lower production costs. If you buy agave products, be sure to check the label and stay away from those that have added HFCs.

The bottom line here, I think, is moderation in all things. Too much of anything can kill you ... and too much conflicting information can be confusing! (Though I do encourage you to check out the link on food additives, its excellent.) By and large I try to avoid processed foods, and I think its probably a good idea not to over indulge in any of the "natural" sweeteners either. I am certainly not trying to encourage the use of Splenda, or any other substance here, I'm merely offer this post as a spring-board to discussion. I'd like to hear your thoughts on artificial sweeteners and what you've decided with respect to them. Sound off in the comments and let me know how you get your sweet on!