Friday, October 31, 2008

Even More Pumpkin ...

... are you sick of it yet? I might be. After the humiliating defeat of those cookie-muffins, I was just about ready to throw in the towel on this demented journey and pitch the remaining goo into the trash.

Fortunately, this Diva is nothing if not persistent and I resolved to give the waffles a try. The results? I think we have a winner!

Pumpkin Pecan Waffles:

  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground ginger*
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup of milk (I used non-fat)
  • 4 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup of solid pack canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecan
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, salt, sugar and spices and whisk to combine well using a wire whisk. Reserve.

In another bowl, combine the melted butter, egg yolks and milk and beat well to combine. (This will work better if your yolks and milk are at room temperature.) Add the pumpkin to the mixture and stir well to combine. Add the pecans, stirring to incorporate and reserve.

Using either your standing mixer, or a wire whisk and a cold metal bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks have begun to form. If beating by hand, add a tiny pinch of cream of tart to facilitate the process.

Gently fold the beaten whites into the pumpkin batter, by thirds, folding them in until the white parts of the batter have just disappeared. Use the standard folding procedure.

Spoon the batter into a pre-heated waffle iron and cook until light golden brown and cooked through out. See manufacturer's instructions for use of the waffle iron, as cooking times/needs may vary. Serve immediately, topped with butter and warm maple syrup. Enjoy!

~~~

A couple of notes on the recipe: I do not like a sweet waffle, so I've used very little sugar here. Feel free to up the amount if that is your preference. I find its best to have the egg yolks at room temperature and the whites cold ... so do what you need to do to make that happen. I crack the eggs and let the yolks come to room temperature, and store the whites in the fridge until its time to beat them.

I'm going to up the amount of spice next time. The 3/4 tsp. of cinnamon should be fine, but I'll use more ginger in the next batch. Again, its entirely up to you. I wasn't looking to create a spice waffle, so there's just a hint of warmth in the batter as written.

Lastly, and maybe this is why I like them so well, this is not a pumpkin-heavy waffle. The flavor is just subtle enough to be present, without dominating. If you're looking for more intensity, try using 3/4 of a cup of pumpkin mash. Play around with it and let me know what you think.

I'm delighted with these waffles and happy to end my pumpkin themed week on a high note. They're perfectly crisp on the outside, deliciously tender on the inside, and you can't beat the beautiful color. I'm marking this one down as a keeper - and the perfect recipe for using up that dreaded left-over pumpkin.

There's only one problem ... these waffles are so good I'm afraid I'll eat them all. I'm popping them into the freezer to save myself from myself! They'll make a perfect quick and easy breakfast for a husband on the go. I hope you'll try 'em!

This recipe will serve 4. Bon appetite!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Great Pumpkin

I'm getting ready to carve this great beast - along with his brother who's currently adorning my dining room table - and I expect to be elbow deep in icky pumpkin stuff any minute now. While I don't love the prep work, I do love carving, so the ends justify the means. Our windows face the street and I like to take advantage of that this time of year and offer my creations to the masses.

Needless to say, I'll be roasting the seeds ... but you can't possibly need a recipe for that, can you? What's to say? Separate the seeds from the pulp, toss the seeds with some olive oil, dust with some Kosher salt and your favorite spices and dump them onto a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake them in the middle of a pre-heated 300 degree oven for 45 minutes or so, stirring once in a while, until they're crisp and light golden brown, serve and enjoy.

There's varying schools of thought on oven temp, baking time and whether or not one should wash the seeds prior to roasting ... I don't. I think they have more flavor when they are unwashed, but your mileage may vary, of course. And really, the baking times vary. Some years they're done in 45 minutes, sometimes its an hour. Use your best judgment.

Here's what I do know: they're delicious and the husband can't get enough of them!

As for the carving ... I've been doing the same design since I was a kid. I like big spooky eyes, some evil eyebrows and a giant fanged mouth! My pumpkins always look the same, its the husband who experiments. One year, after the Yanks had won the World Series, he carved his into the famous interlocking NY design on the Yankee caps. As soon as it went into the window we started to hear beeps and cheers from cars and passers by. What fun!

Obviously there'll be no Yankee themed pumpkin this year ... I wonder what he'll do??? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, what are you doing to celebrate this magical holiday? Scary Diva wants to know!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When Good Cookies Turn Bad ...

Its a cold and rainy day, the husband has taken ill, and I've got a huge can of pumpkin mocking me every time I open the fridge. So what's a Diva to do when such miseries ensue? Why bake cookies of course! Pumpkin cookies to be exact.

Bound and determined to complete my wonderful and terrifying journey toward pumpkin-acceptance, I've been busy devising ways to use up the open can. Intrigued as I am by that scotch laced pie I mentioned on Monday, I'm still not ready to take the pie plunge. I'm just not there ... yet. Cookies seem like a far friendlier, more gentle even, introduction to this fearsome ingredient ... especially if they're topped with chocolate.

Sadly, said cookies broke my heart. The flavor combination is a winner to be sure, but the texture ... ugh ... not at all what I had anticipated. The inspiration for this failed cookie came from a spice cookie featured in this month's issue of Woman's Day. While I did not use their recipe, I was completely charmed by their use of "Snowcaps" to top the cookies. I constructed a fairly standard dough, baked them off and topped each with a nonpareil. They looked great and tasted great, but I just can't get past the texture ... this is a cookie that thinks its a muffin. What the ...?

I'll post the recipe here, but not because I think you should try it. Rather, I'm asking you pumpkin using people, what went wrong? The finished cookie is entirely too soft and cake-like. Was it the whole wheat flour? Should I have used more butter? Help!

Rejected Pumpkin Cookie Muffins:

  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. Chinese Five Spice Powder
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup of butter, softened
  • scant 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup of canned solid pack pumpkin, room temperature
  • Snowcaps for topping
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugars together in the bowl of your standing electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and pumpkin and beat until well combined. Reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices until well combined. Add the flour to the pumpkin mixture, by thirds, beating on medium speed until just combined.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a cookie sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked throughout. Immediately press a Snowcap into the top of the cookie. Transfer to a wire rack and cool.

I was so confused by the resulting cookies, that I decided to bake the second batch in a mini-muffin tin. The husband liked those better and I think I agree. We'll eat them, of course, but suffice it to say this was not my vision of the perfect pumpkin cookie. Sad.

For only the second time I will not end this post with the phrase: "I hope you'll try it!" I hope you won't. What I do hope is that you'll send me a better recipe for pumpkin cookies. If you've got one, let me know in the comments or email me. I'm heartbroken.

Meanwhile, I've still got left-over pumpkin in the fridge. Is this a bottomless can? Next up: pumpkin waffles. Stay tuned and lets hope they won't disappoint!

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Other White Meat

This may well be the least appetizing picture I've ever posted. Apologies ... I was starved when I took it and in no mood to mess around with the styling. Having just completed a streak of somewhat accidental vegetarianism, I was in the mood for something heartier last night. Generally speaking, I'd say I'm a "flexitarian" - meaning I will actively choose to go meatless several meals a week. I've never been a huge meat-eater, so its not much of a stretch, but four days of veg only meals left me feeling quite carnivorous indeed.

That being said, I knew I wanted use the meat as an accent rather than the focus of the meal. Pork fajitas seemed like the perfect option. The meat I used was uber lean and I loaded them up with a rainbow of brightly colored peppers - including some from bro's wonder garden. They hit the spot!

I've adapted this recipe from "The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook" - and its not so much the recipe that I've changed, but the technique. The original calls for one to season the pork, cook it, then slice into thin strips. This just seemed rather silly to me, so I decided to slice the pork first, marinate it, then cook it. I like my version better and I think it saves time. Of course I added a few extras to the recipe as well. Having recently gotten my hands on the elusive Mexican oregano, I seized the opportunity to put it to good use here. The husband and I happily devoured our fajitas and I think you'll like them too!

Quick and Tasty Pork Fajitas:

  • 1 large lime
  • 2 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. of chili powder
  • 2 large, boneless, center-cut pork loin chops
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large yellow or orange pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 small green pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into thin slices
  • 1 tsp. Mexican oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. jarred salsa (any brand will do)
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
  • some whole wheat or whole grain tortillas
Cut the lime in half and juice one half of it into a medium sized mixing bowl. To the lime juice, add 1 tbsp. of olive oil, the garlic and the chili powder. Whisk well to combine and reserve.

Remove any visible fat from the edges of the pork chops and slice the meat into thin strips - about 1/2 will do. No need to be precise. Add the pork to the lime and chili powder mixture and toss to coat. Cover and let it marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Add the peppers and the onion and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened and are just beginning to brown - approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Add the oregano, a dash of salt and pepper and deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of chicken broth. Add a tbsp. of salsa and the juice of 1/2 lime, stir well to combine, then remove the pan from the heat and transfer the peppers to large bowl or dish. Cover with foil and reserve.

Return the same skillet to the stove and to it add the marinated pork strips. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently until all of the pork is cooked throughout. Return the reserved peppers to the skillet and stir to blend, adding in some additional chicken broth if necessary. Add the chopped cilantro, reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes so the flavors will combine.

Spoon the pork and pepper mixture into the tortillas and top with any and all of the following garnishes:

  • Salsa
  • your chosen brand of hot sauce
  • non-fat sour cream, or non-fat Greek yogurt
  • some chunky avocado salsa*
* Combine the flesh of two ripe, peeled avocados, the juice of 1/2 a lime, some salt and pepper and a few tbsps. of jarred salsa in a bowl. Mash together with a fork until desired consitancy is achieved. Use as a topping for the fajitas or as a dip with chips and veggies.

I'm a big fan of the Ezekial brand "Sprouted Grain Tortillas," so that's what I use, and I do opt for the non-fat Greek yogurt as a garnish in place of the sour cream. The taste is virtually the same and you can't beat the protein power. The avocado salsa is especially nice ... and frankly that's the husband's recipe. He's famous for it!

As written, this recipe will serve 3 or 4 very happy people, depends on your appetite, but it can be doubled or even tripled easily. I hope you'll try it!

So, where to fall on the carnivore/flexitarian/vegetarian spectrum? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Let Them Eat Pumpkin!

Ever since reading the comments on Friday's apple cake recipe, I've been trying to envision a scenario in which I'd ever utter the phrase: "what I'm really craving is pumpkin-oriented things." I can't. I have an 0n-again-off-again relationship with pumpkin at best. And, in fact, avoided it altogether up until a few years ago. Frankly, pumpkin anything just plain freaked me out.

Then, in November of 2005, my friend V passed on her recipe for pumpkin cranberry bread to me ... with the perplexing preface that: "its a great way to use up left-over pumpkin!" Immediately I thought: "who the hell has left-over pumpkin?!" Swayed by the inclusion of all my favorite warm spices and my deep affection for all things cranberry - I cast my fears aside and went out and bought my first can of pumpkin. I've been making this bread ever since.

V's Pumpkin Cranberry Bread:

  • 1 cup of canned solid-pack pumpkin
  • scant 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup of whole wheat and 1 cup regular.)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup of washed, drained and picked-over fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup of chopped toasted pecans, optional
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8 inch loaf pan.

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and to it add the baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Whisk well with a wire whisk to combine. Reserve.

In the bowl of your standing electric mixer combine the pumpkin, sugars, water, eggs and oil, using the flat beater attachment. (Alternately, you can use a hand held electric mixer.) Add in the flour and spice mixture, 1/3 at a time, and beat until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the cranberries and pecans, stirring by hand to incorporate.

Smooth the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean. (Baking time will vary by oven so don't let the bread go unattended! My loaf was finished in an hour.) Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn bread out onto the rack and continue cooling. Bread may be made 4 days ahead and kept covered and chilled. I hope you'll try it!

Apart from the inclusion of the whole wheat flour, and reducing the white sugar just a bit, I really didn't alter this recipe. The original calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour and you could certainly go with that if you like. I could have chosen to swap out the sugars for agave nectar, but decided against it in this instance. If you're up for a total recipe make-over, by all means have at it.

The resulting loaf has a deliciously light crumb, and the combination of the warm spices and tart cranberries is delightful. Not to mention that, as the loaf bakes, your house will be filled with the aroma of every wonderful holiday you've ever had. Its intoxicating. Personally, I like this bread straight up with no adornment. Its great for breakfast, or as a snack with a cup of tea ... or ... you could do as the husband did and fancy it up for dessert.

While I have yet to become a total convert, I do adore this bread. Thank you, V! Who knows, I might even be moved to try the Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie featured in this month's issue of Bon Appetite. The recipe calls for the addition of some scotch ... and sure, if you dump a bunch of scotch into it ... I might be able to choke down a piece. Stranger things have happened. Pass the scotch!

Ironically, after making this bread, I'm now in possession of some left-over pumpkin. In a fit of lunacy I seem to have purchased the largest can of pumpkin imaginable. Oh well, I'm nothing if not a gracious hostess - so stay tuned for more pumpkin-oriented deliciousness. The people will have their pumpkin! I think I smell a series in the making ...

Bon appetite!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tag, I'm It ... Twice ...

Two of my favorite virtual peeps, Sassy and Miss Caught Up, tagged me with a meme on the same day last week. So in a rare weekend appearance of The Diva, I now present to you - six random habits/things/quirks about me. I'll give you a minute to recover from the thrill of anticipation while I list the rules. ~wink~

1. Link to the person that tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
5. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.
6. Let your tagged peeps know once your entry is UP.

  • Although I love to bake and am well-known for my creations, the feel of raw flour on my hands really freaks me out. Touching flour provokes in me the same reaction as nails on a chalk board. ~shiver~
  • I put my mascara on *before* my eyeshadow. This is contrary to every rule in the make-up book and I don't care! It works for me.
  • I'm a little freaked out about this one ... but ... I may be developing a fondness for "Coldplay." Believe me, I'm every bit as shocked and dismayed by this as you - but I've downloaded an alarming number of Coldplay tunes in the last few months ... ok, two. But that's two more than I ever imagined I would. Stay tuned for future developments.
  • I may need a tweleve step program for my coat fetish. My love of coats knows no bounds and borders on addiction. The husband may actually disown me if I buy another ... and yet there was this cute little red number in the Gap last week ... help me!
  • I drink tea in the morning, not coffee, and I'm picky about the brand. I prefer Barry's Irish Tea - Gold Blend. I like it very dark and very strong, with just a touch of non-fat milk, and it must be served in a HUGE mug ... no pansy-ass dainty teacups in Divaland. I cannot and will not leave the house until I've had my morning tea.
  • I bat left and throw right ... all the great hitters do. ~wink~
Although that's six, I'm going to add a seventh ... I believe rules are made to be broken - and I'm breaking the rules a bit here on this meme. I'm not going to associate a tag on this - because half the people I would have hit have done it already. If you're reading this and want to use it yourself - consider yourself tagged and go for it - but do let me know if you do. I really enjoy reading the responses to these things. Its a fun way to get to know each other. If you don't want to use the meme, by all means leave a few of your quirks in the comments ... curious Diva wants to know!

I've also received this lovely award from the always charming Miss Caught Up - and I must say the feeling is mutual. Amanda, you make me smile everyday. Thank You! On a similar note, I'm passing on this award to everyone who's reading or has ever read my blog. I'm immensely grateful to all of you and want to let you know how much you make me smile. Consider this a great BIG thank you for all of your encouragement and I say that with the utmost sincerity.

That's a broad interpretation of the rules to be sure ... but then again, the Diva has always been something of a rule-breaker ... and I'm guessing you knew that already.

Cheers!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Almost Virtuous Apple Cake ...

I can hear the cries of shock and horror now ... yes, that is vanilla ice cream next to the cake ... but before you send the sugar squad out to cite me for SB violations, do know that this is not a picture of *my* plate. The husband and I entertained a dear friend for dinner last night and said friend has a deep personal commitment to ice cream enhanced desserts. She's almost unable to eat a piece of pie or cake without icy accompaniment. I don't share her commitment. I really never have understood the appeal of soggy cake, not even when I was a child. Ice cream and cake do not share space on my plate. Period. And that has nothing to do with any diet, South Beach or otherwise.

The cake, however, does have something to do with my chosen style of eating. Its my updated version of a Mama Diva classic. Blessed with a bag of crisp Empire apples, I decided to give her Easy Apple Cake a semi-beachy make-over. I'm well pleased with the results. I replaced the white flour with whole wheat, added a bit of extra spice, and opted to replace half the sugar with agave nectar. Having only recently begun to explore the wonders of agave, I was a bit gun-shy and decided not to replace all of the sugar. I'm still a bit unsure when it comes to using this product and need to spend more time baking with it. I'm working my way up to it - but if you're confident in this area, by all means give it a go and use just the agave - about a scant 1/2 cup should do it. The nectar is pretty sweet.

Mama Diva had already reduced the amount of sugar in her version - she uses a half cup while the original calls for a full cup. Frankly, I can't imagine that. I think it would be entirely too sweet. Though, I suppose it depends on the apples you've got. If they're tart, or if you like a really sweet cake, you can certainly up the amount. Trust your judgment!

Almost Virtuous Easy Apple Cake:

  • 4 Empire Apples (or any other firm variety), peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup of agave nectar*
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. of ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. of ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, optional
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place the diced apples in a mixing bowl and to them add the sugar and agave nectar, stirring well to combine. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes. Then add in the beaten egg and the oil. Stir to blend. Reserve.

Place the whole wheat flour in a small mixing bowl and to it add the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda and salt. Stir well to combine, using a wire whisk. Add the flour and spice mixture to the apples and stir to blend. Add the vanilla and walnuts, if using, and stir to blend. Turn the batter out into a well-greased and floured 8 inch square glass or Pyrex baking pan, and smooth to fit the pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for approximately 40 to 45 minutes*, or until cooked throughout. Serve warm from the oven or allow the cake to cool in the pan on a wire rack.

*There are conflicting theories about oven temperature as regards the use of agave nectar in baking. Some websites insist you reduce the oven temp to 325 degrees, others assure that doing so is unneccesary ... I have no idea which is correct. I can tell you that this cake baked up really fast in my 350 degree oven, so don't let it go unattended. Begin checking for doneness after 35 or 40 minutes, if using agave, and proceed from there. Or go ahead and try it at 325 degrees ... and by all means report back.

I'm delighted with whole wheat substitution - it lends a nice, almost nutty flavor to the cake that pairs really well with the apples and walnuts. I like to serve this cake un-frosted, but you could certainly opt for a light glaze of some sort or a dusting of powdered sugar if you're of the non-Beachy mind set. The finished cake has a moist, tender crumb and is densely populated with apples. Frankly this one's more about the apples than it is the cake and that's as it should be. Its apple season and they are to be featured, not buried!

Lastly, feel free to play around with the spice combination here as well. The original calls for just the cinnamon, but I happen to love nutmeg and ginger. Do as you see fit. Either way you'll be rewarded with a yummy, apple-y dessert that's just this shy of being virtuous. Why its practically a health food! I hope you'll try it.

So, what's your favorite fall dessert? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Salad Daze ...

I don't know about you but, here in Divaland, when the weather turns cold my zest for salad goes right out the window along with the air conditioner. I love salads, I truly do ... just not in the winter, and that's a problem. They're a relatively easy way to up your veggie quotient for the day and, really, they're delicious. But, come the first few nips of frosty air and I start composing a litany entitled: "The 47 Things I'd Rather Do Than Make or Eat Another Salad." It goes a little something like this:

  1. Shave My Head
  2. Leave the House without Mascara
  3. Give the Cats a Bath
  4. Watch Paint Dry
  5. Have a Root Canal
  6. Eat Fish
  7. Vote Republican
... ahem ... you get the idea. And, trust me, I could go on and actually list the other 40. I won't. The point is that I'm almost biologically predisposed to seasonal eating. I want raw, crisp, fresh from the garden food in the warm weather; and rich, hearty baked things when its cold. I also know I can't slack off in the veg-heavy eating. Its good for me, and good for my waistline.

Happily, I was able to combine both the savory, baked veggie goodness and a crisp, raw salad in my meal Monday night. Along with the Chicken and Chard Gratin, I served a yummy salad that was inspired by my sister in law, K ... and no doubt improved by bro's garden-fresh radicchio and escarole.

Escarole and Radicchio Salad with an Orange Vinaigrette:

  • 1 small head of radicchio
  • 1 medium sized head of escarole
  • some very thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 naval oranges or tangerines
  • 1/4 cup of good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. of red wine vinegar
  • juice of one naval orange or tangerine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wash and dry the escarole and radicchio thoroughly. Separate the leaves of both and shred into thin-ish strips. Toss to combine and place into a salad bowl. Reserve.

Place the thinly sliced red onion into a small bowl of ice water and allow the onion to sit for 10 to 15 minutes. This will remove any sharp, bitter flavors. Then drain and place a few slices atop the combined escarole and radicchio.

Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil into a glass measuring cup and to it add the red wine vinegar and the juice of one of the oranges or tangerines. Whisk very well, using a small wire whisk, to emulsify the dressing. Add some salt and pepper to taste and reserve.

Peel the remaining orange or tangerine and using a pairing knife, cut it carefully into sections. Place some orange sections atop each salad, drizzle with some of the vinaigrette, serve and enjoy!

Fair waring, these greens are somewhat bitter ... not unlike myself at times ... so if bitter greens aren't your thing, go ahead and substitute another type of lettuce for the escarole. I happen to like the contrast of the sharp, spicy greens and the sweet, citrus-y dressing - but your mileage may vary, of course. This salad was the perfect dish to put an end to my 47 Things Litany. Sometimes it just takes a little creativity and inspiration to get back on the beam. Thanks, again, K!

So, am I alone in my cool weather salad-shunning ways, or are you a seasonal eater too? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Buzz!

We now interrupt our regularly schedule recipe of the day so I can give you the latest buzz on one adorable chef, one perfectly roasted turkey and one luxurious kitchen. The Diva was honored to attend a truly wonderful soiree last night, courtesy of Foodbuzz.com and Electrolux appliances. My heartfelt thanks go out to both, I had a marvelous time!

The event was held in Electrolux's magnificent demo-kitchen at Relais & Chateaux in midtown Manhattan and what a night it was! Our guest chef for the evening was Chef Brad Steelman of The River Cafe and we were treated to some astoundingly good eats courtesy of Brad and his lovely staff.

I'll give you a minute to drink in Chef Steelman's boyish good looks ... ahem ... while I assure you that he is every bit as charming, warm and friendly as his shy little smile suggests. What a treat it was to watch this master at work. And the food was nothing short of outstanding. We began with some passed hors d'oeuvres ... a piquant goat cheese and black olive tapenade crostini, topped with a delicate round of piquillo pepper. Scrumptious! A light and crisp puff pastry, topped with a truffled chicken salad. Yummy! And a truly divine ragu of pork, topped with some butternut squash and a tiny roasted marshmallow (pictured below). Let me tell you, this was to-die-for. I could have happily eaten the whole plate of spoons myself! I didn't.

Chef Steelman then demonstrated the wonders of Electrolux's Induction Hybrid Cooktop while crafting a light and perfectly balanced wild mushroom risotto.

Each grain of rice was cooked to perfection and the resulting dish was light, creamy and savory ... and not at all like the gray glutenous mass that so often results from an improperly cooked risotto. Heavenly!

We then moved on to the highlight of the evening ... a beautifully roasted Vermont Tom Turkey, which had been brined and roasted in the spectacular Electrolux Wall Oven with the "The Perfect Turkey Button." Perfect, indeed! This feature yields a perfectly roasted, perfectly moist turkey every time with the help of a sensored probe.

Chef Steelman put this tasty bird to magnificent use in his whimsical "turkey sliders" ... an astoundingly good concoction of the moist sliced turkey, savory, sage-y pork stuffing, gravy and some just-tart-enough cranberry compote on cute little brioche buns. My stars, these were delicious! A bit messy to be sure, but well worth the effort. I loved this slider and plan to make it myself after Thanksgiving.

As if that weren't enough, we concluded the tasting with a decadent, classic creme brulee - baked in perfectly seasoned "Jack Little" pumpkins and topped with a crisp-sweet square of pecan shortbread.

Needless to say, I'll be hitting the gym extra hard today. Phew, what a meal! Every course was exquisite and I was impressed by both Chef Steelman and the Electrolux kitchen. I'm sorry to say that I replaced my own oven about a year ago ... if only I had known the wonders of Electrolux ... and I'm not personally in the market for a new one. If you are, however, I do recommend checking out their wares. Their luxury line is impressive to say the least. I also recommend checking out The River Cafe. Chef Steelman is a cutie and dude can cook! What a great combination.

In addition to the tasty eats and spectacular setting, I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet some of my fellow Foodbuzz Featured Publishers. I've got a whole new crop of blogs to check out and recommend; and that's exciting. I've also got some of some of Chef Steelman's recipes and will be sharing those with you in future posts. Thank you, Foodbuzz!

So, there you have it - the latest buzz and way too many photographs. I beg your indulgence. I had such a great time that I wanted to share it all with you ... and believe me, I've edited!

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Late Harvest ...

... and, no, I'm not talking about Riesling. Rather I'm speaking of a late harvest from bro's magnificent garden. Having recently had occasion to perform one last garden raid - I have been blessed with an abundance of produce: escarole, radicchio, green peppers, beets, ground cherries and the ubiquitous Swiss chard. Bro's ground is still producing much greatness ... and the chard supply is seemingly endless. Why Mama Diva practically begged on bended knee for me to relieve her of some of it. I was happy to comply, and happy to put it to good use in today's recipe.

This is my new and improved riff on an old Diva favorite. I used to make a similar dish back in the 80's and I believe it may have come from Gourmet magazine. The end result was a rich gratin of chicken and spinach bathed in a Parmesan cream sauce ... made with heavy cream. Yikes! Its probably a good thing for my waistline that I've long since lost the recipe ... but I remember its flavors well. I've added some sauteed crimini mushrooms to the new dish, and they are optional. I like earthy tone they lend to the mix, but if mushrooms aren't your bag, by all means leave them out. Naturally, I've substituted some fat-free half and half for the heavy cream, and reduced the amount of cheese - but, again, the choice is up to you. If you're not dieting, you could certainly opt for the real cream and up the amount of cheese. Either way you'll be rewarded with a luscious, savory gratin that's just perfect for a cool Autumn night.

Chicken and Chard Gratin:

  • 1 or 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 1/2 of a medium white onion, diced
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup of non-fat, reduced sodium chicken broth
  • one large bunch of Swiss Chard, washed, chopped and tough stems removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. Wondra Flour*
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 cup of fat-free Half and Half
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large, cooked chicken breasts (I used grilled chicken.)
  • cooked brown rice or wide egg noodles
Serves 4

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add the mushrooms. Saute until the mushrooms are golden brown. Add the onions, shallot and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring often until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, adding some additional oil if necessary to facilitate the browning.

Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth to the pan and begin adding the chard, a handful at a time, stirring constantly. Allow the chard to wilt and cook down before adding another handful. Continue to add the chard and let it wilt until all of it has been added to the pan. Season the chard with Kosher salt, ground black pepper, grated nutmeg to taste and 1/4 tsp. of crushed red pepper flakes. Stir well to combine.

When all of the chard has cooked, push it to one side of the pan - the liquid will begin to collect on the opposite side. To this liquid, add the Wondra Flour and stir well to combine. The Wondra Flour will thicken slightly, when it does, mix with the rest of the chard and add the white wine and fat-free Half and Half and stir well to combine. Add 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, stirring well to combine. Taste and re-season, adding more salt, pepper and nutmeg if desired. Add the chopped chicken, stir to combine, and allow the mixture to simmer on low for 5 minutes until the chicken has been warmed. (You may add a bit of chicken broth if the sauce becomes to thick - but go easy on it.) Remove from heat.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and coat a large casserole dish with a thin layer of olive oil. Pour the chicken and chard mixture into the prepared casserole dish and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, or until the gratin is bubbling hot and the top is beginning to brown. Serve immediately over some cooked brown rice or wide egg noodles. Enjoy!

*The Wondra Flour isn't strictly Beachy, but its an easy way to give the sauce a bit of body. Its optional, so if you're strict you may leave it out. Either way, this will not be a thick sauce. If you're not on the Beach you may also choose to thicken the sauce with a beurre manie, made of 1 tbsp. of soften butter mixed well with 1 tbsp. of all-purpose flour. If so, add the beurre manie after you have added the cream, stir well to let it melt and allow it to thicken, then proceed with the instructions as written.

You'd do well to serve this dish over some cooked brown rice or lovely egg noodles. I paired mine with a crisp escarole and radicchio salad ... and I'll tell you all about that ... tomorrow.

So, have you given a favorite recipe a reduced-fat make-over? Tell me about it in the comments. Fat-phobic Diva wants to know!

Bon appetite!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Surprise ...

Nappa Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chianti - these are the places that come to mind when one thinks "winery." When I say "winery", odds are your first thought will *not* be ... Wallingford, Connecticut. And I can't say I blame you ... Connecticut wines aren't exactly well known. And yet, there's actually such a thing as the Connecticut Wine Trail, which includes nineteen different vineyards. Who knew?!

When my sister in law suggested a Diva family field trip to Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford recently, I was skeptical to say the least. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly an oenophile. When it comes to wine my tastes are my own - I like what I like and its a fairly narrow range. Italian wines are generally my favorite, I enjoy some French and, honestly, very few Americans. Much like Papa Diva, I find American Chardonnay to be overly-oaked and entirely intolerable. I have yet to find an American Chardonnay, California or otherwise, that is acceptable. To say that I approached our trip to Gouveia with some apprehension would not be an understatement. While I was looking forward to the experience, I was pretty sure the wine would be forgettable.

Happily, I was wrong! Both the wine and the vineyard are worth remembering ... and recommending! Located on 140 acres of picturesque farmland in Southern, Connecticut, Gouveia Vineyard is owned and operated by Joe and Lucy Gouveia who bought the property in 1999, seeking to bring a touch of old world Portugal to this lovely little corner of New England. Joe's grandfather was a vintner in Portugal and his dream of carrying on his family's tradition has been realized in this lovely operation. They completed their first harvest in 2003 and opened the winery to the public in 2004.

Due to their increasing popularity, they have recently expanded their tasting facilities and I must say they are magnificent. You enter the space through the beautiful stone building pictured above, and are immediately charmed by the warm and cozy atmosphere. The space is anchored by a gorgeous, double-sided stone fireplace and the anterior room is truly spectacular. With its high ceilings and wall to wall windows - that afford astounding views of the surrounding farms and hills - this is the perfect setting in which to enjoy the company of one's friends and family and some really good wine.

We quickly commanded a large table by one of the windows and then bellied up to the tasting bar to see what this Connecticut wine was all about. For a mere five dollars, you can taste five wines and take home a souvenir glass. On offer for tasting that day were the following:

Seyval Blanc - "A crisp white with a hint of fruit." ~ We detected notes of apple and pear, with a slight oily finish. A pleasant drinking wine, excellent for pairing with fruit and cheese.

Chardonnay Oak - "A traditional varietal, aged 8 months in American oak barrels." ~ My least favorite by far. While I appreciated its flinty notes, this Chardonnay tasted too strongly of oak for me ... and for most of the Diva family as well. My bro said it had "an old drawer finish." Ick.

Whirlwind Rose - "A semi-sweet, crisp blend of both vinifera and hybrid grapes. A blend of Cabernet Franc, Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay." ~ I enjoyed this Rose. It has a light body and, contrary to the vineyard's description, I found it to be more dry than sweet ... which is a good thing. Its not as bold as the French and Spanish Rose that I prefer, but it was very drinkable. My second favorite of the day.

Stone House Red - "A careful blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon." ~ This was by far my favorite of Gouveia's wines. It was a bit chewy and pleasantly dry, with notes of black cherry on the finish and a bit of leather in the nose. In short, I loved this wine. I'm not sure its bold enough to serve with a strongly flavored dish, but it was a perfect match for the fruit and cheese we'd brought along for the tasting. We liked it enough that we bought a bottle to drink while at the winery and another to take home with us. Delicious!

Merlot - "A deep purple colored wine with complex aromas and a touch of spiciness and blackberry." ~ Hmm, I'm not sure about that description. I didn't find it to be as complex as their description suggests, but then again I'm not a huge fan of Merlot. I will say this wine was dry ... very dry, like drinking suede ... if you can imagine that. I did appreciate its peppery notes, but in general I found it a bit underwhelming.

Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed three out of the five wines and would happily drink all three of them again. More than that, I would gleefully visit the vineyard again and plan to do so often. The entire experience was delightful. Clearly, it is a popular destination because both of the large rooms were completely full by the time we left. They have no kitchen at the winery, so patrons are encouraged to bring their own food and most of the visitors brought quite a spread. One of the tables near us had literally everything from soup to nuts ... seriously, they'd brought a terrine of soup! What fun!

My advice for the day: if you're anywhere near Wallingford, CT, round up your nearest and dearest, pack-up a wonderful picnic, and spend an afternoon at Gouveia Vineyards. The wine is delicious, and reasonably priced, and the location is so magical and stunning you won't ever want to leave. What a terrific find this was - and who knew it was right in our own backyard?! Thanks for tipping us off, K, I loved it!

Cheers!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Recovering ...

This is a picture of my favorite cemetery in Wilmington, VT ... I thought I was going to end up there yesterday. Seems like the husband and I had a bit of food poisoning, or something, and I was down for the count and awaiting grim death for most of the day ... hence the lack of post. Not from my food mind you, it was delivery. Ugh. I couldn't even begin to think about food, much less write about it. Happily, I'm 100% recovered today and prepared to share the recipe I promised on Wednesday.

It looks like the fall weather has finally arrived for good in the city and this savory pork chop recipe is perfect for a crisp, cool evening. Pair it with the acorn squash and a green veg and you've got a lovely harvest meal. This recipe is adapted from the now out of print "Weight Watchers Favorite Homestyle Recipes" cookbook, and its a long standing favorite in our house.

Mustard Baked Pork Cutlets:

  • 2 tbsp. spicy brown mustard (I like Kosciusko brand, but any will do.)
  • 1 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • 4 boneless pork loin chops, 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick
  • seasoned dried bread crumbs*, optional
  • 1/2 of a large Vidalia onion, sliced thin
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and black pepper in a small bowl. Place the pork chops on a rack in a roasting pan and spread each side of them with some of the mustard sauce. Sprinkle a bit of bread crumbs on the top of each cutlet - you can omit this step if you're being 100% Beachy - and then top each cutlet with some of the sliced onion in equal amounts. Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until cooked throughout. Serve and enjoy!

*The bread crumbs aren't absolutely necessary, so do as you see fit. I use about a teaspoon for each chop and really, I think that's fine. Either way they will be delicious, moist and tender. The mustard/soy mixture pairs well with the pork and the whole process is quick and easy. Perfect for a weeknight meal. I hope you'll try it.

Have you got a quick and easy weeknight favorite meal? Shout it out in the comments. Hungry Diva wants to know!

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


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Big Thank You ...


I'm finally getting around to posting this and regretting that it took so long. Michele from Life, Lightly Salted passed on her E! Award to me last week and I am supremely grateful. It means a lot coming from her because I respect her work so much. Michele's blog is an absolute treasure and its probably the coolest looking blog around to boot. I really, really dig both her vibe and her recipes. If you have yet to check her out, do so immediately - you'll love it. She's a wonderful writer and her photos are outstanding too. Michele, I'm so pleased we've found each others' blogs and I look forward to meeting you in person someday soon. Thank you so much!

In the spirit of the award I'm going to pass it to the follow people who, like Michele, are on my must read list:

1. Vickie at Uncommon Artistic Endeavors - I love Vickie's spirit and enthusiasm and her recipes are both charming and creative. I've marked many of them as "must make" and need to get around to doing so! Her blog is entirely delightful!

2. Scarlet at Jamjarsuperstar - because this blog is most excellent indeed and I'm thrilled to finally repay Scarlet's many kindnesses. You rock, Scarlet, and so does your blog - you're definitely teaching me a thing or two about new music.

3. Jo Boston at Taking Over the World One Bite at a Time - I love Jo's spirit too and her zest for a good meal and a good time is completely infections. Every time I read her, I wish I was having dinner with her. She makes me hungry for both good food and good fun.

4. Amanda at Miss Caught Up - Again, because of her wonderful spirit. Much like her posts, Amanda is unique and interesting and one does get "caught up" in reading about her life. She's always got something interesting going on and if she weren't on the other side of the country I know I'd be joining her for happy hour some time!

Obviously my must read list is much longer than this, but many of you already have this badge ... though I'd give it to you all over again. One of my greatest joys in having started this blog has been finding a whole new community out here in cyberland and getting to know you wonderful bloggers. Its all been delicious fun and that's what this Diva is all about!

Interesting Vegetables: Part Infinity

Today, my friends, we must devote our attention to a very serious, and often painful, subject. You've made the decision to take one home; you're sure its going to change your life. You promise to care for it, learn the ins and outs of its personality and feed it, regularly. It seems fine initially, but you're not 100% in love. Sure, there's a period of adjustment, that's natural - you're certain that, in time, your love for it will grow. And, yet ... it doesn't. Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong. You've failed to bond. Your much desired new addition now lies fallow and resentment begins to build. Next comes neglect - its almost as if it doesn't exist. We've all been there. Its ok, you're safe here and you can admit it.

Here, I'll go first and ease the way: "My name is Diva and I have neglected my microwave."

More specifically, I should say, I have neglected my much desired combination microwave/convection oven. I was absolutely certain this device was going to change my life! Revolutionize my holidays! Leap tall building in a single bound! Ahem. At a minimum, I was certain I'd use it for more than popping popcorn ... I really haven't. My shiny, happy micro/convec does indeed lie fallow - relegated to only the most meager chores ... warming soup and zapping veggie patties. How very sad indeed.

Then again, let's be honest - most food cooked in a microwave sucks. Period. Granted, the microwave has cornered the market on reheating left-overs - and for that its indispensable. As for actual cooking I can think of only one area where the wave really shines ... squash. Its perfect for taming the squash beast ... be it spaghetti, butternut, acorn or what have you. Roasted squash is divine, to be sure, but when people are hungry and need to be fed, you simply can't beat the wave for a quick, easy squash dish.

Savory Steamed Acorn Squash:

  • 1 large acorn squash, washed, seeds removed and quartered
  • 1 medium shallot, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • an assortment of spices, including: nutmeg, paprika, curry powder, Chinese Five Spice powder, whatever you like
  • Pure Maple Syrup
Place the quartered squash in a microwave safe pie dish and fill each of the hollows with some of the minced shallot. Season the squash with salt and pepper and dust them with a combination of any of the spices listed - last night I used curry powder, paprika and nutmeg - and place a few small drops of maple syrup in each of the hollows. Cover the dish tightly with waxed paper and microwave on high for approximated 6 minutes, or until the squash has steamed and is tender. (Alternately, you could cover the dish with plastic wrap, but I don't like cooking with plastic. Your choice.) Cooking time may vary depending on the strength of your wave. Test it with a fork to be sure its cooked throughout. Serve and enjoy!

Now, I know the maple syrup isn't very Beachy ... but its delicious, and I only use a few drops. The sweet/savory combination of the shallots, spices and syrup really brings the flavor of the acorn squash to life. I vary the spices, depending on my mood and you really can't go wrong here so feel free to experiment! Microwave steaming yields a very moist and tender squash and the texture is just lovely. If wish to go the more traditional route, you can pepare the squash as above and roast it, uncovered, in your oven at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes or so.

Last night, I served the squash with some really yummy baked pork chops ... and I'll tell you all about them ... tomorrow. Stay tuned!

So, have you been neglecting your microwave? Or have you bonded with it in a way I have yet to master? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Newest Addiction ...

Here they are in all their glory, my latest addiction - poblano peppers. Its not like they're a new food for me, I've had them before - but suddenly I'm in love. Madly, passionately in love with poblanos. It helps that Clearbrook Farm's peppers are so fragrant and fresh - I want to put them in everything. I want to roast them and eat them warm from the oven with a drizzle of fruity olive oil and some smoked salt, I want to make ropa vieja and eat it for three days running, and mostly I want to do something I've never done before ... make chiles rellenos. I took one look at these peppers at the farm stand last week and instantly became obsessed with the idea of making chiles rellenos.

I had to defer my chiles project until we returned to my own kitchen. Its a complicated, though not difficult, dish and I wanted to be on familiar territory. I did use the peppers to make a wonderfully rich pot roast while up in Vermont and I brought the left-overs back home with me. On Sunday I put them to astoundingly good use by contriving a sort of hybrid chiles rellenos out of the savory meat and super fresh peppers. Hybrid, because I chose to fill the peppers with a flavorful picadillo of my own creation that was closer to Cuba than Mexico in its origins. As for the chile sauce and peppers, I turned to "Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta" by Deborah Szekely and Deborah M. Schneider for inspiration. This is a beautiful cookbook and a wonderful resource for seasonal, healthy recipes.

Out of necessity and dietary preferences, I made a few small changes to their recipes. I used whole wheat flour to coat the peppers and ... because neither of my three grocery stores stocked the right kind of dried chiles ... I used a different variety than those called for in the chile sauce - no matter, the results were outstanding! I also added a few other ingredients to the sauce ... because, well, I can't help myself. Its a given that I'm going to make any recipe my own by changing it up a bit - and you know that by now.

Be forewarned, this is a three part process but I assure you it is well worth the effort. While I made my filling out of the left over pot roast, I'm going to assume that not all of you have half a roast hanging around in your fridge, so I'll give you the option of using either ground beef or ground turkey instead. Ole.

Chile Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup diced Vidalia onion
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 small dried green chiles, seeded and torn into pieces*
  • 1 large Chile Negro, seeded and torn into pieces*
  • 2 large plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 3 or 4 large tomatillos, husked and chopped
  • 2 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano*
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro*
Heat the oil in a large, non-reactive skillet over medium high heat and add the onions, garlic and dried chiles. Saute for approximately 5 minutes or until the onion has softened and is translucent, but not brown. Stir the mixture often to prevent sticking. Add the tomatoes and tomatillos and let the mixture cook for 10 minutes, stirring as necessary to prevent sticking.

Add the vegetable broth, tomato paste, cocoa powder, salt and black pepper, stir to combine and raise the heat, brining the sauce to the boil. Lower heat and allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring as needed. Rub the oregano between the palms of your hands and add to the sauce, stir to combine and remove the pan from the heat. Allow the sauce to cool and then puree it in a blender until smooth. Add the cilantro and reserve for later use.

* The cookbook calls for a combination of dried Guajillo and Ancho chiles - and that would certainly be delicious - but use whatever you've got or whatever your store sees fit to carry. The green and Negro chiles worked just fine. The ratio is 3 guajillo to 2 ancho if you're going to go that route. In addition, the recipe also calls for fresh Mexican Oregano - which is wonderful ... if you've got it, go for it and double the amount if its fresh. If not, no need worry just go with the regular stuff in the amount I've listed.

Fair warning, this sauce is spicy. Delicious, but spicy. I wouldn't change a thing, but if you're heat-averse, you may want to reduce the amount of dried chiles or be sure to use a mild variety.

Pot Roast Picadillo:

  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound of left over pot roast, cut into slices and then shredded in a food processor*
  • 1/2 of a 14.5 oz. can of Petite Diced Tomatoes with Zesty Jalapeno
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 tbsp. dried currants
  • 1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add the onions, garlic and bay leaf. Saute until the onion has softened and is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded pot roast and stir well to combine. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, chili powder, cayenne pepper, currants and olives and stir well to combine. Allow the mixture to simmer over medium heat for approximately 10 to 15 minutes or until the flavors have combined and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove and discard the bay leaf and reserve the picadillo for later use in stuffing the peppers.

*Option 2 - use 1 pound of lean ground beef or ground turkey breast, or a combination of both, in place of the left-over pot roast. Add the ground meat to the pan after the onions and garlic have softened, allow the meat to brown and proceed accordingly. I would simmer the mixture for at least a half an hour if using this option to allow the flavors to build - adding some chicken or vegetable broth as necessary to prevent sticking.

Chile Rellenos:

  • Chile Sauce (see above)
  • Picadillo (see above)
  • 6 poblano chiles
  • 6 oz. of Monteray Jack cheese, cut into one ounce strips
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 2 large egg whites, beaten until light and very frothy
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. Canola or vegetable oil
Char the chiles on all sides until the skins have blacked and blistered all over, by either placing them over the open flame of a gas range or under the broiler, turning as necessary to ensure a proper char. (See below ... you can't see the flame, but you get the idea ...)

Place the charred chiles in a bowl and seal tightly with plastic wrap so the chiles will steam. Let them rest for 30 to 60 minutes before peeling. After the time has passed, gently peel off the blacked skin from all the peppers, it should come away easily using your fingers or a paper towel if desired. Leave the stems intact. Make a small, lenghthwise slit in each pepper and gently remove the seeds.

Filling the peppers: reheat the picadillo so that it is warm. Place one slice of cheese in the hollow of the pepper and fill with the warm picadillo mixture, using a teaspoon. Fold the chile together so that the seam is closed. Reserve and repeat the process with the remaining peppers.

Combine the whole wheat flour, the dried oregano and a pinch of Kosher salt on a large plate, mix well. One at a time, dip each chile into the seasoned flour to coat, shaking off the excess. Repeat until all peppers are coated. Reserve. Reheat the chile sauce at this point so it will be ready.

Place the egg whites in a medium sized bowl and whisk until they are very frothy. Reserve.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Dip each chile into the egg white and set them into the skillet carefully. Cook the chiles, turning often, until they are golden brown on all sides and the filling is hot. Serve immediately, on a bed of the warm chile sauce, garnish with additional cilantro and some non-fat sour cream if desired.

As written, this recipe will serve 3 - two chiles per person ... however, they are filling so I could only manage one! While this is a time consuming meal to be sure, these were far and away the best chiles rellenos I've ever had. They were probably the best Mexican food I've ever had. Period. I couldn't be more pleased with the results of my project ... the photo, however, leaves something to be desired ...

So, what's your latest food addiction? Spicy Diva wants to know!

Bon appetite!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Foodbuzz Publisher Community Launches

I'd like to offer my congratulation to the good folks at Foodbuzz.com on the official public launch of their site which happened this morning. Foodbuzz is the only online community with content created for foodies by foodies and I'm proud to be a part of this delicious, talented and rapidly expanding community.

Here's a snippet from their official press release:

"It’s here, it’s here! Foodbuzz, Inc. is unbelievably excited to announce the official launch of the Foodbuzz Publisher Community, which is comprised of more than 1,000 global food bloggers, our “Featured Publishers.”

At launch, the Foodbuzz community successfully broke into the top ten rankings of internet destinations for food and dining, according to Quantcast, a global internet rating service.

In addition, the inaugural 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs event—which aims to showcase 24 Featured Publisher blog posts around the globe in a 24-hour period—kicked off on Sept. 20 and successfully displayed to online food enthusiasts an international, virtual street festival of food and diversity.

"Food bloggers are at the forefront of reality publishing and the dramatic growth of new media has redefined how food enthusiasts access tasty content,” said Ryan Stern, Director of the Foodbuzz Publisher Community. 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs captured the quality and unique local perspective of our food bloggers and shared them with the world. The event illustrates exactly what the future of food publishing is all about—real food, experienced by real people, shared real-time.”

Foodbuzz is proud to be the only online community with content created by food bloggers and rated by foodies, offering over 20,000 pieces of new food and dining content weekly. Members can vote for their favorite pieces of content (recipes, photos, blog posts, videos, restaurant reviews) by “buzzing” them up to the top of the daily menu of submissions.

While the site is logging over 14 million monthly page views and over three million unique monthly visits, the Foodbuzz blogger community is concurrently growing at a rate of 40 percent per month, driven by strong growth in existing partner blogs.

"Our goal is to be the number-one online source of quality food and dining content by promoting the talent, enthusiasm, and knowledge of food bloggers around the globe,” said Ben Dehan, founder and CEO of Foodbuzz, Inc. “Foodbuzz is like the stock of a great soup, allowing bloggers to contribute content and subsequently interact in a rapidly growing, online niche-specific community.”
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If you've been enjoying my blog and have yet to take a spin around Foodbuzz.com, I suggest you do so. Its a wonderful resource, full of all kinds of tasty blogs, yummy recipes and excellent restaurant reviews. If you're a food blogger and have yet to join ... what are you waiting for? Hop aboard and join the fun ... tell 'em Diva sent you! They might even send you a lovely apron and spatula like those I received in the mail last week. Thanks, Foodbuzz, and here's to your continued success!

An Autumn Vacation ...

The leaves are turning and there's a hint of fall in the air ... ok, maybe not here in New York City, where it still feels like summer ... but its definitely fall in Vermont. The husband and I have just returned from a week spent in Southern Vermont and it was glorious. The weather was just about perfect and the change in temperature was nothing short of dramatic. It was 32 degrees on Monday night! Fortunately, I'm no stranger to the vicissitudes of New England weather - and Vermont's in particular - and I was well prepared with a light down jacket and my cashmere turtle necks. I think the full time Vermonters were mocking me, in fact, I'm sure of it ... they were out and about in t-shirts and shorts while I was practically frozen.

It was a good kind of frozen though, the kind that begs for long nights spent in front of the fireplace and hearty meals fresh from the oven. And that's exactly what we did. We had a fire every night and I even managed to produce some culinary greatness thanks to the bountiful harvest from our favorite farm, The Clearbrook Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont.


Clearbrook offers a truly stunning array of organic produce, most of it raised right there on the property and the balance from other local growers. We were lucky to have chosen last week for our vacation as today is their last day before they close down for the winter season. Highlights of the week included some spectacular golden cauliflower, crisp Macoun apples, probably the best acorn squash I've ever tasted and some truly outrageous poblano peppers. I put the peppers to good use in making a really savory pot roast and promptly returned for more to bring back to the city with me. I should have bought a crate of them - they were that good! Everything at the Clearbrook is that good. We also brought home some delicious pears, more acorn squash and golden cauliflower and, of course, more apples. I wish I could have brought the whole farm home with me.

Naturally, we did our fair share of dining out as well. Highlights include two wonderful lunches at The Blue Benn Diner - I had some magnificent turkey and black bean enchiladas there on Friday, a lovely lunch with a VT friend at The Madison Brewery in Bennington, and dinner at Alldays & Onions, also in Bennington. Alldays & Onions provided me with my soup fix for the week - a luscious and hearty split pea soup that was altogether perfect. While its easy to eat well in Southern Vermont, perhaps the biggest surprise was to be found in Wilmington. Specifically pizza in Wilmington, Vermont. I kid you not.

Those of you who know me in real life are shaking your heads right now and wondering if I've lost mine. Its time to admit that I am a pizza snob of the highest order. Having grown up in the New Haven area, I can be no less. New Haven, Connecticut is home to what has been called the best pizza in the world - and rightly so. The whole area is an embarrassment of pizza riches - Pepe's, Sally's, Modern, even Eli's in Hamden - are among the top tier and even the bottom tier pies are better than anything you can get here in the city. I don't eat New York pizza, I just can't. Its not even the same food. So why, you ask, would I venture to try Wilmington pizza? Because Zuppardi's ad in a local dining guide said they offer "New Haven style pizza" and, lo and behold, its because Zuppardi's in Wilmington is owned and operated by a well known West Haven, CT pizza maker. Sweet!

We took a chance on Zupardi's on Friday night and were delighted to find a pizza that comes as close to our beloved New Haven pie as possible. Sure, this Zuppardi's doesn't have a coal fired oven, but all the other necessary elements were there: zesty tomato sauce, a savory blend of mozzarella and provolone cheese, the absolutely essential blackened bubbles which result from a properly heated oven, and a crust that actually has some flavor. It was delicious! See for yourself:
Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs that night ... we ordered the large pie and could only finish half - but not because it wasn't it good - it was excellent. But filling. I'm very sorry to say that I left the balance of it in our freezer in Vermont. Oh, woe is me. Now, to be honest I have to offer one slight criticism - the crust was a bit too thick. True New Haven pizza has an impossibly thin crust and Zuppardi's crust was a bit more generous. Fortunately, it was flavorful and did not detract from our enjoyment of the pie. Suffice it say that we've added a new "must-do" to our Vermont list. Color me happy!

All in all it was a great, tasty and much needed vacation. Now, about those magnificent poblano peppers ... I really went to town with them yesterday and out-did myself in the culinary greatness ... and I'll tell you all about it ... tomorrow. Stay tuned for a new recipe!

Bon appetite!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cocktail Hour ...

Doesn't this look refreshing? I admit the photo is no prize winner, but I think it accurately conveys both the spirit of cocktail hour and simple pleasures of a well-made drink. I'm getting thirsty just looking at it ... and that's a problem. While alcohol is not strictly forbidden on The South Beach, its not exactly encouraged either ... empty calories and all that sort of thing. As always, I council moderation in all things.

I do enjoy a cocktail from time to time, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night. Generally, I prefer Scotch. Though when we sat down to cocktail hour a few weeks ago, we were sadly lacking in my drink of choice and it was incumbent upon the husband to whip up a tasty alternative. He's the bartender, chez Diva.

While the scotch was in short supply - we were decidedly long, very long, on Southern Comfort. Odd too, because neither of us is a fan of So.Co. per se. My favorite neighbor moved out a while ago and gifted me with the contents of her liquor cabinet ... which included several bottles of both So.Co. and Segram's 7 ... she had done some work for Segram's and they must have paid her in booze! I don't like gin and wasn't in the mood for vodka - so Southern Comfort it was. But what to mix with it?

We don't drink soda and I'm not fond of juice ... but my fridge is always full of freshly brewed, iced green tea. A light bulb went off! The husband mixed the So.Co. with the cold green tea, added a splash of lemon and served it over lots of ice. Delicious! The tea really tempered the sweetness of the Southern Comfort and the flavors worked well together. An unexpected pairing to be sure, but it works. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you ...

The September 26th:

  • freshly brewed green tea, chilled
  • Souther Comfort
  • large wedge of lemon
  • 5 ice cubes
Place the ice in a short, 8 oz. glass and add a shot of Southern Comfort. Fill the rest of the glass with the cold green tea, squeeze in the lemon and add it to the drink. Stir well, serve and enjoy!

... named for the day on which it was created. You may note the garnish of sage leaves ... we were out of mint as well!

You'd do well to serve The September 26th with something salty - like nuts or olives - to balance the caramel notes of the drink. Really, its surprisingly good. Try it and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, what's your drink of choice? Thirsty Diva wants to know!

Have a great weekend and I'll see you on Monday. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Out and About in the Boroughs ...

Since I'm obviously not in my kitchen today, I thought I'd share some recent photos. As mentioned last week, I recently paid a visit to the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens. I'm ashamed to admit it was my first visit - but I will most certainly return. It was a cloudy, rainy Saturday, just perfect for a museum outing. No photography was allowed inside the Center, but I did take a few shots of the Public Farm installation - pictured above and below.

The paper tubes contain all manner of plants and the view from below was decidedly more interesting that day. At this point in the season, much of the green has gone brown, but I'm sure it was spectacular mid-summer. Still, I really enjoyed it and you can visit this part of the museum for free. Bonus!

The neighborhood in which P.S.1 is located is also home to some of the finest aerosol art in the city - as evidenced by the 5 Pointz Project. 5 Pointz is a free, public, out-door art exhibit which showcases some of the city's most talented aerosol artists. One needs to submit a design proposal and be accepted in order to obtain a permit to work here - so the quality is exceptional, and the exhibit is ever changing.


I don't know for certain, but my sense is that the buildings in the surrounding area support the 5 Pointz Project and the artists who work there ... as many of them had been beautifully painted as well. I can't help but think this work has been commisioned. See below ...

It pleases me that aerosol art, more commonly known as graffiti, has been legitimated of late. There was a graffiti exhibit at the Whitney last year - but it pales in comparison to whats going on at 5 Pointz. I don't advocate the kind of graffiti associated with tagging and destruction of private (or even public) property - but I do respect the medium and the talented artists who choose to work in it ... legally. Long story short, I love 5 Pointz.

I'll close with what I'm sure was a commissioned piece as it appears on the security gate of a local business ...

... the angry light bulbs. Like them, I do!

And thus concludes our urban art class for the day. Have a good one and make it creative!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Confessions ...

I admit it, I have a deep personal commitment to black pepper ... well, all pepper really, but especially black. I put it on and in everything - I even like it in sweet things sometimes. I cannot and will not eat any soup without black pepper and I prefer it freshly ground. Needless to say, pepper mills are important to me. And, sadly, I have yet to find one I truly love.

Above you can see my (over-exposed) current pepper mills. Neither is exactly right. The small one is part of a salt and pepper set - and really, its kind of useless. It needs to be refilled every five minutes. I bought it because I was enticed by the brushed stainless steel exterior. I like shiny things! Its cute, but very high maintenance. (Not unlike myself.) On the plus side, it does a great job offering a variety of textures. It can grind the pepper very fine and also works well for course grinding. That's essential. If only it were larger, I might have found my ideal ... but, no.

On the right is my sexy Peugeot mill. I bought it when I finally got tired of filling the little guy. I adore the color and its nicely sized - it has yet to need refilling - but the grind is somewhat disappointing. For finely ground pepper its outstanding; perfect for use at table. As for course grinds, well its largely ineffective. Between the two, I'm covered, but the search continues.

The little guy is filled with standard black pepper and the Peugeot is currently full of an interesting mix: Swissmar's Connoisseur Peppercorn Blend which contains black, white, green and pink peppercorns from India, Brazil and Madagascar. I like it! Typically, I'm not a fan of pink peppercorns, but there are very few in this mix and their flavor doesn't stand out. The mixture is warm and spicy and perfect for at table finishing.

I'm happy with the peppercorn mix, but still on the hunt for my ideal pepper mill. Do you have a favorite that does it all? Shout it out in the comments and help a spicy Diva out!

Lastly, have you guessed my second confession? Perhaps you've been tipped off by my lack of response in the comments or on your own blog? Indeed, I am away from keyboard. I will respond to everything when I return and will be back to regular cooking and posting next Monday. Meanwhile, I've got some posts in the queue that are sure to keep you entertained. They will appear throughout the rest of this week, so stay tuned.

Have a great week and make it Divalicious!