Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

The snow is snowing, the wind is blowing and its supposed to be a very chilly night. Seems like we might actually be in for a real winter this year ... hmm, not sure how I feel about that. On the other hand, its nice excuse to don some cozy lounge wear and spend the day indoors. And I will be doing just that ... tomorrow.

Tonight we're off to a party and tomorrow I'll host one of my own. I had hoped to have more time to post this week, but that's not been the case. This is the last mad rush of the season and I'm up to my elbows in puff pastry dough ... purchased, not homemade ... shhs, don't tell! Got to take the shortcuts where you can sometimes. ~wink~

As promised, there will be a return to normalcy here next week. There's much to come in the way of new recipes, healthy tips and product reviews in the new year - so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I'd like to take the opportunity to wish each and every one of you a delicious, healthy and Happy New Year! Here's hoping 2009 will be filled with scrumptious delights and an abundance of good things.

Whatever you're doing to celebrate tonight - have fun, be safe and remember to keep it ... Divalicious!

See you next year ... Cheers!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chez Guillaume ...

Now, about those contradictions ... fairly typical in Divaland ... so naturally a lengthy list of diet tips will be followed by a post about crepes. Mais ouis, bien sur ... pass the butter!

Fresh on the heels of his wildly successful post on knife sharpening, Papa Diva has once again favored us with his wit and winsome ways. Crepes have long been a part of the Diva family Christmas celebrations and Papa's are spectacular. Read on as he shares his secrets with us ...

If you are afraid of traveling to France because of Euroshock, do not despair. You can have a taste of Paris right here at home. Nothing says Paris like a crepe.

We find crepes to be an extremely versatile menu item - ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or even a light dinner. The Diva Dad, he of knife sharpening and cabinetmaking fame, makes crepes for a Christmas morning brunch every year. Diva Dad is a serious Francophile - and Chez Guillaume is one of his alter egos.

We start with a pitcher of mimosas, about 1/2 Champagne and 1/2 real orange juice. Two kinds of crepes are served at Chez Guillaume. Savory crepes, served with fillings listed below are the first course.

Savory Crepes:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • two eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups of milk (it is best if the eggs and mile are at room temperature)
  • Butter for frying the crepes (no oil, remember we are being French here)

Mix the dry ingredients separately. Beat the eggs separately. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs and a little of the milk. Mix with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the remaining milk. Mix until all the flour is incorporated into the batter.

To cook:

Use one ladle per crepe, pour into a hot, well buttered crepe pan and tilt the pan quickly to spread the batter thinly and evenly over the entire surface. When the surface is no longer glossy - approximately one minute - turn the crepe over. 30 seconds should be sufficient to lightly brown the second side. Repeat steps for the next crepe. Keep the crepe pan hot and well buttered as you cook the remaining crepes. This recipe will yield approximately 8 to 10 crepes.
Serve the savory crepes with any of these listed items, or even a combination that appeals to you or your fellow diners: ham, bacon, sausage, cheese, scrambled or fried eggs. Crepes with smoked salmon, sour cream and caviar make an elegant brunch as well.

We use a dedicated steel crepe pan (as seen in the photos) that was purchased from Williams-Sonoma. Its relatively thin and heats quickly. The Diva will tell you how to season a new crepe pan at a later date. A 10" skillet will work as well if you do not have a crepe pan.

A typical meal in a Parisian creperie will have a savory crepe, with some filling(s) as a first course, and a sweet crepe as a second course. It is also customary to serve the crepes with some hard cider ... though we do enjoy our mimosas!

Sweet Crepes:

(Approved by the carbo cops and transfat cops.) ~though this Diva says approved for holiday use only~ wink

For the "low death" - as in lower fat - crepes, prepare as follows:
  • 1 cup all-purpose white flour
  • 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. of baking powder (optional)
  • one egg
  • 1 1/4 cups of milk
Mixing and cooking directions are the same as for the savory crepes above. Filling options are: jams, preserves, lemon curd, Nutella, bananas or any kind of fruit ... and the Diva would add butter and sugar to the list, as well as maple syrup. Again, this recipe will yield 8 to 10 crepes.

The baking powder is optional, using it will allow the crepes to rise, but just slightly.

Lastly, here is a recipe for what we like to call "high death" sweet crepes. This is supposed to be Joel Robouchon's crepe recipe. He is the chef that specifies one half pound of butter to every one pound of potatoes for mashed potatoes. Yikes! You can see why we've named them so.

High Death Crepes:
  • 1 cup of all-purpose white flour
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups of milk
Recipe is the same as above, though allow the melted butter to cool a bit, then beat with the eggs before combining with the flour.
A couple of things occurred to me as I was reading over the recipes - a.) the whole wheat crepes are entirely Beach friendly ... so long as one chooses an appropriate filling. Yay! The second is that the "high death" are not nearly as deadly as I'd remembered. I still prefer to leave the sugar out of the batter, but a couple of tablespoons of butter aren't such a bad thing after all.

You can't go wrong with any of the recipes, though my personal favorite is the whole wheat. Try one, try them all - they are magnificent!

I hope you've enjoyed today's visit to Chez Guillaume as much as I have. What a treat to have some "help around the blog" as it were. Thanks, Papa Diva for another great post!

Bon appetite!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Reality Check ...

I don't mean to scare you with this picture, but I thought it might be time for a reality check here. What with all the cookies, and baking, and holiday feasting - you may be wondering if I'm still "The Diva on a Diet?" I assure you I am.

After returning from a wonderful - and delicious - Christmas spent with my family, I braved the scale yesterday morning to find that I lost 2 pounds last week. This is not unexpected. I almost always lose weight over Christmas, despite all the indulgences, due to all the running around and the fact that after baking 4,000 cookies I couldn't care less about eating them. Which is not to say that I've denied myself anything, I really haven't. I've eaten mindfully, which is something I advocate year round.

With that in mind, and as my post-holiday gift to you, I'd like to offer some tips for regaining control - if you need to - or staying in control while you enjoy the remainder of the holiday festivities. I like to call this list ....

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Losers:
  • Eat a Healthy Breakfast Every Day - Do not skip breakfast, doing so is counter productive. Irregular eating habits disrupt your body's metabolism and saving a few calories by skipping breakfast will leave you hungrier later in the day - and therefore prone to making bad choices. Some combination of a lean protein, whole grains and a fruit seems to work best for me ... half a grapefruit, a boiled egg and a slice of sugar-free 9 grain bread is one of my favorite ways to start the day. Choose wisely and you'll be setting yourself up for a good day!
  • Snack between Meals - And I don't mean on Doritos! I prefer to eat 4 or 5 small meals throughout the day, rather than fewer, larger meals. I keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand and eat something roughly every 3 or 4 hours. Nuts, hummus, raw veggies, low-fat cheese, sliced turkey breast, non-fat yogurt and popcorn are my "go to " snacks. I make sure to include some protein in every snack and I don't over indulge. Some red bell pepper strips dipped into a few tablespoons of hummus is more than enough to keep me going.
  • Stay Hydrated - I drink 8 to 10 glasses of water and or iced green tea every day. I do this without fail. I know there have been some conflicting reports of late on the water/weight loss issue - and I also know what works for me. I believe that adequate hydration is essential - both for weight loss and for good health in general.
  • Keep Moving - This one should really go without saying ... yet I'm saying it anyway ... stick with your exercise plan, even if its the holidays. Stick with it because its the holidays! If you've over indulged a bit, then ramp up the exercise as well. Its one thing to make some dubious choices food-wise, don't compound the error by skipping your work-out too.
  • Make a Date with Your Scale - and keep it! Ignorance may well be bliss ... and its also rather foolish. I like to know where I stand and for me that means weighing myself nearly every day. I'm not at all suggesting you do the same, once a week may be sufficient for you. I prefer the every day method because it eliminates the stress of "the big weigh-in." I don't live by the scale and it does not dictate my mood. Daily check-in's allow me to see the normal fluctuations that exist and account for them. Doing so also allows me the opportunity to reel it a bit if necessary - or discount a small gain if I know its cyclical. Bottom line here: information is power. Don't skip the scale because you're afraid of it. Let's face it, one of two things will happen when you step on ... you'll either be pleasantly surprised and therefore affirmed, or you'll be afforded the opportunity to nip a major gain in the bud. Its a win either way.
  • Dump the "Diet" Mentality - This may sound funny coming from a self-titled Diva on a Diet ... but I don't think of myself as being "on a diet." Anyone who eats food is on a diet. I prefer to think of the changes I've made as life-style changes and these changes are permanent. "Diet" implies that this is some short-term, results-driven proposition and that's not what I'm about. I prefer to eat mindfully; to eat well - with an eye towards health. I don't deny myself anything that I really want - I eat everything ... in moderation. My goal is to eat well or "eat clean" 98% of the time and that means taking the long view of my food intake. A cookie here or there will not derail this train - though I'm careful not to string a bunch of less than optimal choices together. Honestly, this may be my most important tip. I believe that this shift in thinking has been the key to my success. I've lost a total of 34 pounds ... kept it off, am still losing, and have not deprived myself in the least. Rather, I've nourished myself - abundantly!
So, there you have it. A bit of a post-holiday wake-up call, or pep talk, if you will. I certainly didn't intend this post to be a buzz-kill and, obviously, I'm no expert here. These tips are simply a collection of my thoughts on the matter of weight-loss and I offer them as much for myself as anything else. Its useful to see my plan in print and periodic self-evaluation can be a good thing. I beg your indulgence and hope you will find something of use here for yourself.

Meanwhile, I'm nothing if not a walking contradiction ... so with that I'm off to begin prepping for my New Year's Day party ... the menu of which will contain foods so verboten they'd make your hair curl. Really! More on that later in the week. Stay tuned.

For now, what's your best weight-loss tip? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

A Poem for Christmas Eve:

The shopping is finished, the gifts have been wrapped,
the cookies are frosted, why I've even napped!
Its been quiet hectic, my nerves have been frazzled,
the gifts I am giving - I hope they will dazzle!

Its off to the country, this Diva must flee,
to cheer and make merry her dear family.
While I am gone I assure you I'll think -
of all my dear readers and toast you with drink.

This one is quite festive, its pink as can be,
I hope you'll enjoy it ... and have one for me!

Pomegranate Martini:
  • one shot of good quality vodka
  • one shot of pure, natural pomegranate juice
  • tiny splash of orange juice
  • wedge of fresh lime
  • some fresh pomegranate seeds.
  • ice
Chill your martini glass by filling it with some ice cubes and water. While the glass chills, place some ice in a martini shaker and pour the vodka, pomegranate and orange juice into the ice filled shaker and shake well to combine. Remove the ice and water from the glass and place some pomegranate seeds in the bottom of the glass. Pour the shaken martini over the seeds, squeeze the lime into the drink, serve and enjoy ... repeat as necessary!

Don't forget to eat the seeds once you've finished the drink, they are delicious. Cheers!

I hope to return to posting on Monday ... just in time to resume the madness in preparing for my annual New Year's Day Bash. More on that to come, stay tuned.

In the meantime, Diva-cats Zelda and Lucy join me in wishing you a blessed, joyous and wonderful Christmas! May all the gifts of the season - warmth, cheer, peace and goodwill - be yours this holiday and always.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cookies Galore ...

Suffice it to say that my kitchen counters over-floweth ... with cookies. Here are just a few this year's offerings ...

... along with these butter cookie cut-outs, my cookie baskets will contain the Meyer Lemon Sparkles, Chocolate Peppermint cookies, the (now famous) Hungarian Horns and Peanut Butter Blossoms ... known in our house as "nipple cookies" ... ahem.

I'll post the butter cookie cut-out recipe next year, its a three day process - what with the dough chilling, the rolling and frosting - and it seems a bit late for that now. Instead, I'll pass on the recipe for the blossoms. This one comes from my dear Aunt Linda and they've been a part of every Christmas celebration for as long as I can remember. They've become a huge favorite of the husband ... and also one of our doormen.

Peanut Butter Blossoms:
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of light brown sugar
  • 1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup of creamy peanut butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • 2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 2 tsp. of baking soda
  • one 20 oz. bag of Hershey's Chocolate Kisses
  • 1/2 cup or more of granulated sugar for rolling the cookies
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

In the bowl of your standing electric mixer, cream together the butter, 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of light brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter and mix until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until they are incorporated. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until combined.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt, then add by thirds to the butter/sugar/peanut butter mixture and mix until well combined.

Shape the dough into 1" round balls by rolling between your palms, spread the reserved 1/2 cup of sugar onto a plate and roll each ball in the sugar to coat. Place the balls of dough on an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately press an unwrapped chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie - pressing down a bit to secure. Remove the adorned cookies to a wire baking rack and cool completely, until the kisses have firmed up. Then serve and enjoy!

As written this recipe will make approximately 80 to 85 cookies.

So, what's your favorite holiday cookie? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lemon Sparkle Cookies ...

... or, alternately titled: "When Cheryl Sends You Lemons ... Make Cookies!"

My gorgeous Meyer Lemons arrived on Saturday morning and I put a few of them to good use by making some yummy and interesting cookies. This recipe comes from my friend V. - of pumpkin bread fame. The original was made with lime rather than lemon, so feel free to substitute if lime is your preference. You may also use regular lemons, if you don't have any Meyer's on hand.

Meyer Lemon Sparkle Cookies:
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. grated Meyer Lemon zest
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup of fresh Meyer Lemon juice
  • some green decorating sugar
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and white sugar together in the bowl of your standing electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and mix well to incorporate.

In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and whisk gently to combine. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/zest and half of the lemon juice. Mix well to incorporate, then add the remaining flour and lemon juice, again mixing well until the dough comes together.

Shape the dough into 1" round balls and place them on a cookie sheet. Flatten the balls with a fork and dust them with a bit of green sanding sugar, then - using the bottom of a perfectly flat glass, press the sugar into the cookie rounds. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 10 - 11 minutes. Remove cookies from the sheet to a cooling rack and cool completely.

As written, this recipe will make approximately 56 cookies.

These cookies are light, crisp at the edges yet slightly soft in the center, and brimming with lemon flavor. They will make a very a delicious and unexpected addition to my traditional cookie offerings.

Again, many thanks to Cheryl at 5 second rule for hosting such a fun holiday event! Your lemons are delightful and I have big plans for the rest of them. Stay tuned.

Lastly, I'm one day late - yet hopefully not a dollar short - in wishing everyone a Happy Hannukah! If you're celebrating the Festival of Lights tonight, have an extra latke for me ... with sour cream and applesauce, please ... and remind me to post a recipe for that ... next year!

And with that, I'm back to the kitchen to finish off the rest of the baking. The madness continues. So, how's your holiday prep going? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Virtual Cookie Swap: Part Two

I'm thrilled, and really rather shocked, to announce that my humble Hungarian Horns have won 5 second rule's Virtual Cookie swap! I just received the news this afternoon and, if I'm being honest, I must admit that I'm ridiculously excited about it! I was out and about for the better part of the day - but hopped on to Cheryl's blog as soon as I got home to find out the results. I couldn't be happier - I called Mama Diva to share my joy the minute I read the news. Whee!

The prize? A box of Meyer Lemons from Cheryl's tree and a package of her adorable 5 second rule note cards. I'm chomping at the bit to get my hands on those delicious lemons and I know I'll put the note cards to good use as well. Thank you so much, Cheryl, you've made my day ... really, my week ... ok, my month!

The other cookie finalists were as follows:

Pistachio, Dark Chocolate and Cranberry Biscotti

Lemon Sunshine Cookies

Orange-Sables Ginger Cookies

... and really you couldn't go wrong with any one of those recipes. They all look spectacular and I'm excited about trying them as soon as time will allow. I was so pleased to even be included in the contest that, for me, winning wasn't really the point. I was mostly excited about adding a bunch of new recipes to my cookie repertoire. If you're looking for last minute ideas for your own cookie tray, do take a look. Cheryl's photography is truly remarkable and I know you'll enjoy her posts as much as I do.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank those of you who voted for my Horns in the early stages of the contest. I couldn't have done it without you! I'd like to dedicate this victory to my dear Grandma Pam and the amazing Mama Diva. My love of baking comes from you both and I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to share this treasured family recipe with others.

And with that, I'm donning my apron and heading back into the kitchen. Its time to begin the long process of making my favorite cookie of all: butter cookie cut-outs. The mixer awaits!

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shepherd's Pie ... Sort of ...

I might just as well have titled this post "Secrets." Apparently this is not only The Season of No Sitting, its also the month in which I air my dirty little short-cut secrets. Fast on the heels of disclosing the recipe for fudge made with Fluff, it looks like I'm at it again. I hope the foodie police won't put a bounty on my head ... think what that would do to my tiara!

Long-term readers will know that I'm not big on the use of packaged ingredients. I much prefer the use of fresh things and meals made from scratch. That being said, desperate times call for desperate measures, and this recipe was born out of a need to put dinner on the table in a hurry. Despite the 10,000 other things on my to-do list, it seems that the husband has a continual desire to be fed. Husband are like that ... and I like to keep him happy.

The snow was falling on New York city last night, I was elbow-deep in chocolate peppermint cookie dough, and the husband was fast approaching. What's a busy Diva to do? Why turn to a decades old recipe and get cooking!

Shepherd's Pie with Turkey:
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • non-fat milk
  • 1 tbsp. of butter
  • salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. of ground turkey breast
  • 1 large rib of celery, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 1 can of Campbell's Condensed Vegetable Beef soup
  • one 12 oz. jar of Heinz Savory Beef Gravy
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 cup of frozen cut green beans
  • 1 tsp. of dried Summer Savory
  • 1/4 tsp. of poultry seasoning
  • freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Boil and prepare the potatoes as you would normally for mashed potatoes. Season them with a bit of salt and pepper. I don't use much butter and I like to add a grating of fresh nutmeg to mine. You will use the mashed potatoes to top the shepherd's pie - and they will bake in the oven. As such, keep them a bit stiff, mixing in the milk a little at a time until they are smooth and creamy, but not wet.

While the potatoes are boiling, heat a large saute pan over medium high heat and drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the celery, carrots and onion and saute for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ground turkey breast and saute until the turkey has cooked throughout, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon and stirring frequently. Once the turkey has cooked, add the can of vegetable beef soup, undiluted, and the jar of beef gravy, stirring well to combine. Add a 1/4 cup of water to thin the mixture a bit. Add the frozen green beans, the dried savory and the poultry seasoning, stir to combine, allow the mixture to come to a boil then reduce the heat and let it simmer on low until you've finished the mashed potatoes.

To assemble the casserole:

Pour the turkey mixture into a large casserole dish and dollop the mashed potatoes on top, spreading them out with a fork to cover the turkey. Do this gently, as you want to cover the turkey with the potatoes and not mix the two together. I like to sprinkle the top of the potatoes with a bit of paprika and some dried chives. Bake the shepherd's pie in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is hot and bubbling and the potatoes begin to brown at the edges. Serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 4 to 6, depending on portion size.

As a good Irish girl, I can tell you that this is not a true Shepherd's Pie. Real Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb ... and I think lamb tastes like dirt, hence the ground turkey! Your mileage may vary, of course, so do as you see fit. If you're a fan of red meat, you could certainly use ground beef. Feel free to vary the veggies as well. Peas would make a fine addition, but the husband cannot abide them, so they're not included in my recipe.

Now I realize that this is both a non-Beachy recipe and a major departure from my usual fare. This is one of the few times I will post a recipe using canned or jarred ingredients and I'm not a bit sorry. The casserole is savory, delicious, hearty and comes together quickly. Total prep time, including the baking, is about an hour. I make this maybe once a year, and we enjoy the hell out of it. Its low in fat, super tasty and the only major issue with the canned soup is the sodium content. I happen to have low blood pressure, so I don't worry about such things - but if you have sodium concerns you may want to take a pass on this one.

And there you have it - another dirty secret from your normally gourmet Diva. So, what's your secret? Do you have a favorite short-cup recipe to which you'll sheepishly admit? (I hope so ... I hate to cheat alone!) Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sinful ...

I must admit, I'm not a huge fan of caramel. If given a box of chocolates, I will avoid the square and rectangular ones until the bitter end ... when, of course, I will eat them ... because chocolate is chocolate. But caramel anything would not be my first choice ... unless it comes from Normandy, France.

I had my first taste of real Normandy caramel when visiting there last Spring and, oh my, it was heavenly! The Normans are well-know for both their outstanding butter and the salted caramels made with that butter. They are a far cry from our hyper-sweet American version and altogether delicious. My one regret of the trip was that I bought only a tiny package of these decadent treats - owing to my caramel indifference. Big mistake. They were so rich and luscious, with just enough salt to keep my interest, that I've longed for them ever since.

While flipping through this year's Christmas issue of Martha Stewart Living, I came across a recipe for Fleur de Sel Toffee and was immediately reminded of those caramels. Frankly, I'll eat almost anything if its sprinkled with Fleur de Sel - and so much the better if its also crisp and crunchy! Needless to say, my interest was peaked.

I made a batch of this toffee on Sunday and it is spectacular! Now, granted, I nearly went into cardiac arrest upon reading the ingredients ... the recipe calls for a pound of butter and more sugar than I've ever put into anything ... yikes! But its worth the sin. This recipe is 100% non-Beachy and thoroughly delicious. Its also perfect for gift-giving and that's exactly what I'm going to do with it. I've packaged it in some festive little tins and its going out in the mail today to some lucky out-of-town friends.

Since I haven't altered the recipe, I will simply provide you with a link: Fleur de Sel Toffee. Its easy and fun to make, and may well become part of my holiday traditions. I'm off to continue the shopping and baking madness today ... and likely for the rest of the week. As such, my blog posts may be few and far between this week. Hang in there with me ... I promise there will be a return to normalcy ... in January. ~wink~

Bon appetite!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Traditions ...

What would the holidays be without traditions? Shopping, wrapping, baking, visiting - 'tis the season for all of that, and more. And, in Divaland, that more includes some peculiar, and often amusing, traditions.

Diva cat Lucy has been obsessed with the Advent Wreath since she was a kitten. When she was small enough, she used to sleep in the middle of it. Having grown out of that, here's her favorite holiday activity ...

... picking the wreath apart! I snapped these pics some years ago ... but I'm pretty sure that's what she'll be up to while I'm out and about today.

I'm off to hunt and forage for gifts and the like. We'll do our tree tonight and likely I'll be baking up a storm over the weekend ... when I'm not busy defending the Advent Wreath, that is! Stay tuned for a full baking report next week and some new recipes.

Meanwhile, what's your favorite holiday tradition? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank you!

I am truly honored to have received the Uber Amazing Blog Award from Vickie at Uncommon Artistic Endeavors. Do check out Vickie's blog for some wonderful recipes, along with her remarkable craft ideas. I know you'll be as touched by her warm spirit and creativity as I am. Thank you, Vickie!

This award is a blog award given to sites that:
~ inspire you
~ make you smile and laugh
~ or maybe give amazing information
~ are a great read
~ have an amazing design
~ give you any other reason that make make you think they are uber amazing!

The rules of this award are:

~ Put the logo on your blog or post.
~ Nominate at least 5 blogs (can be more) that for you are Uber Amazing!
~ Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog.
~ Share the love and link to this post and to the person you received your award from.

I could literally give this award to each of the 25 or so blogs I read daily - every one of them makes me smile, laugh, or inspires me. My choice are simply those which came immediately to mind today. I'm passing my award on to the follow fabulous blogs:

Food for Laughter - Astra Libris has such a warm heart and generous spirit. I smile every time I read her posts and the recipes look great too.

Veriance - I've been friends with Veri for something like 10 years now and only recently discovered her blog. I love her in person and in writing too. There's something for everyone on her blog ... parenting, green living, recipes. Its all good.

Life, Lightly Salted - Michele has the coolest looking blog around and her recipes are magnificent. I should know, I've actually made some of them and ... delicious! I know you'll love this blog as much as I do.

The Vintage Kitten - This blog is so charming and unique it deserves many awards. Love the visuals and her photos are a real treat too. The whole blog is entirely lovely.

The Duo Dishes - This blog is a recent find through Foodbuzz and I'm so glad we've connected. The writing is great and the recipes look really wonderful too. So glad I found The Duo Dishes.

Those are the five I have chosen today and, as I said, I could really give this to everyone - you all add something special and wonderful to my day when I read your posts. :)

Meanwhile, enjoy the afternoon. I'm knee deep in writing holiday cards today and will not resurface until they are done! (This warning is for *me*, not you. LOL)

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Horns a Plenty!

'Tis the season of no sitting, fa la la la la, la la la la. For a straight jacket I will be fitting, fa la la la la, la la la la!

No, not really, but the madness has begun. The baking madness that is. Long ago, Mama Diva named this the season of no sitting ... and she's right! For me, it generally begins around Thanksgiving and lasts until January 2nd. I have a back ache for much of it and the sound of my kitchen timer haunts me in my dreams.

That being said, I really do love to bake and I especially love making Hungarian Horns. They're the first cookie I make each season and they are simply magnificent. They're tender and flaky, not overly sweet, and altogether adorable. The dough is similar to a pie crust, though not at all as persnickety. Its the most forgiving, easy-to-roll dough imaginable.

Hungarian Horns:


  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • 2/3 cup sour cream (do not use low or non-fat)
  • 1 egg yolk
Whisk the sour cream and egg yolk together in a small bowl until well-combined. Reserve.

Combine the flour and chilled butter cubes in the bowl of your food processor and pulse to combine, as if making a pie crust, until the butter cubes have reduced to the size of peas and a sandy texture has formed. (Alternately, you may cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two forks - but I prefer the food processor.)

Place the butter and flour mixture in a large mixing bowl and to it add the sour cream and egg yolk mixture. Mix well, first with a spoon and then your hands, until the dough begins to come together. It will be soft and a bit sticky, but continue packing it together with your hands to form a ball of dough, working quickly to ensure the ingredients are well-combined. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and chill in the fridge overnight.

  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • one egg white, lightly beaten
Combine the sugar, nuts and cinnamon in a small bowl, cover and reserve until its time to bake. (The egg white will be used to brush the cookies prior to baking, so reserve it as well.)

To bake the Horns:

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and remove @ 3 tbsp. of the sugar/nut/cinnamon mixture to a smaller bowl and reserve.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. One at a time, roll each piece of dough out, on a floured surface, into a 12 inch round circle. Spread the dough with 1/3 of the remaining sugar/nut mixture and press the filling lightly into the dough. Using a sharp knife, cut the circle of dough into four equal quarters, then cut each quarter into four equal triangles. (See photo below.) Roll each triangle from the wide end to the point to form the horn and bend it slightly to form a crescent shape. Repeat with the remaining triangles until all the cookies have been formed.

Place the rolled cookies on a large, un-greased cookie sheet, brush each horn with the beaten egg white and top with a sprinkle of the reserved cinnamon sugar and bake at 375 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes or until light golden brown. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

The horns will puff a bit as they bake, so leave a bit of room between them as you place them on the sheet. This recipe will yield 48 cookies. I hope you'll try them!

As I mentioned, this recipe has been in my family for three generations and it wouldn't be Christmas without them. The finished cookies freeze and defrost beautifully, and they're delightful with a cup of coffee ... or even for breakfast! To freeze, place them between sheets of waxed paper in a tightly sealed plastic container. They will keep for several weeks. Mine are going in the freezer today ... but not before I've sampled the wares.

Here they are! I apologize for the dark pictures ... it was late ... I was tired ... and covered with flour. The madness continues, more on that later in the week. For now, what, if anything, are you baking this week? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dinner in a Flash ...

As a long-time reader of Prevention Magazine, I've often enjoyed their simple and healthy recipes. When Prevention began touting their new "Flat Belly Diet" some months ago, I was intrigued - enough so that I ordered the cookbook.

While I'm all in favor of having a flatter belly - I'm not necessarily leaving the Beach for this diet. SB works for me and if it ain't broke, I won't fix it. That being said, "The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook" is full of some great, healthy recipes that will fit beautifully into my own style of eating ... with a little tweaking, of course.

I finally had a chance to page through the book the other night and one recipe grabbed my attention immediately: Mediterranean Chicken. Though, I'm thinking of changing the name to Holiday Chicken ... its not simply the beautiful red and green color of the dish, more so its the fact that it took less than 25 minutes to prepare! Who couldn't use another quick and easy, one-pot meal for these busy December nights?

I increased the amount of spinach, reduced the amount of olives and, because of the season, I swapped some canned tomatoes for the fresh. I've also chosen to add the tomatoes earlier on in the process to allow them to simmer and break down a bit. This is my adapted version of the recipe.

Chicken with Spinach and Orzo:
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to @ 1/2 inch thickness
  • 2 cups of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2/3 cup of whole wheat orzo
  • 1 whole lemon, peeled, roughly chopped, seeds removed
  • 1/2 of a 14.5 oz can of Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. of dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. of dried basil
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup of chopped roasted red peppers
  • one 5 oz. package of baby spinach
  • some crumbled Feta cheese for garnish
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy bottomed skillet. Dust the chicken breasts with a bit of ground black pepper and add to the pan. Brown the chicken on both sides, turning as needed, for about 6 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.

To the same skillet, add the broth, lemon, tomatoes, oregano and basil and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Add the orzo, stir well to combine, return the chicken breasts to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes or until the orzo is tender and the chicken has cooked throughout.

Add the olives, roasted red peppers and spinach to the pan, stirring well to allow the spinach to wilt - about 2 minutes, adding a bit more broth to the pan as needed to keep the dish moist.

To serve, place one breast of chicken atop some of the orzo and vegetable mixture, sprinkle with a bit of Feta cheese and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 4.
This dish was absolutely magnificent and received rave reviews from the husband. Its going straight into our regular rotation. We loved it! What a great introduction to what I'm sure will be a fine compliment to my Beachy ways. I hope you'll try it!

So, do you have a quick and easy go-to meal for this busy season? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, December 8, 2008

She lives!

Believe me, I'm every bit as surprised as you that I survived my hangover on Friday. And, because life's just one big party here in Divaland, I attended yet another holiday event on Saturday night. I even managed to revive enough to bring my famous mocha fudge ... which is probably responsible for my yearly invitation to this particular party!

Be forewarned, not only is this recipe thoroughly UN-Beachy, its decidedly low-rent and utterly delicious. I'm almost embarrassed to offer the recipe because ... hangs head in shame ... it requires the use of marshmallow Fluff. Yeah, you read that right - and I'm sorry. Its horribly unhealthy, loaded with sugar, and the absolute key to making no-fail fudge.

Easy No-Fail Fudge:
  • 1 jar (7.5 oz.) marshmallow creme (like Marshmallow Fluff)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. instant coffee crystals or granules
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • one 12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
Combine marshmallow creme, sugar, evaporated milk, butter, instant coffee and salt in a heavy medium sauce pan. Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat and continue to boil mixture for a full 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Mixture will change color and become thin while boiling.

Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate chips. Stir until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour into an 8 inch square glass baking dish that has been lined with foil and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. Lift the foil from the pan and peel it away from the fudge and slice into squares. Cover tightly and store fudge in the refrigerator.

Scary as that fluff may sound, you're going to have to trust me on this one. The resulting fudge will be decadent, rich and not a bit too sweet. This is a deep, chocolate-y, grown-up fudge so velvety in texture that its worth braking every rule in the book and using a charming cheat. I hope you'll try it!

Meanwhile, I don't know how many of you have wandered over to 5 second rule and scoped out Cheryl's cookie contest ... but the voting begins today. If you've got a second to spare while surfing about, why not pop into her comments section and Vote! for my Hungarian Horns. I'd be ever so grateful! (You may vote for other choices, of course, but I couldn't resist the shameless plug!)

I'm making the batter for the Horns this afternoon and will bake them off tomorrow evening. Stay tuned for a full report on Wednesday!

So, have you got a special candy of fudge recipe that you only make this time of year? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Recipe for Disaster ...

  • Skip dinner, because you spent one million hours on your hair and make-up.
  • Proceed to husband's ultra-festive holiday party and have some scotch.
  • Have a small plate of luscious bread and cheese and pretend its dinner.
  • Partake of the myriad dessert offerings with reckless abandon. (Not really - I just like the way it sounds!)

  • Wash down the tempting treats with a curious mix of grape juice and seltzer. Why? No one knows.
  • Shake hands, meet new people, catch up with known people, engage in shameless self-promotion by handing out Diva cards, receive numerous compliments on your weight loss and generally feel festive.
  • Have more scotch.
  • Forget you even own a watch, forget that you're a light-weight, forget to drink water and stay out until 2am.
As written, this recipe will yield ... death.

Or, at least the eager anticipation of it - and one massive, sugar-induced headache. Don't try this at home. This is one recipe I simply cannot recommend ... except once a year ... then enjoy the hell out of it. ;)

Bon appetite!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tag, I'm it ... again ...

I'm busy pretty-ing up for the husband's holiday party tonight ... which, of course, means no cooking ... whee! The party will be held at Craft. I'm hoping to sneak in a few photos from the event as the folks at Craft really do know how to put on a party. If its anything like last year's spread, we're in for a treat. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Argentum Vulgaris has tagged me with this "One Word" meme. You can read his answers here. The rules state that you must answer each question with only one word. Here goes:

1. Where is your cell phone? Purse

2. Where is your significant other? Work

3. Your hair color? Professional

4. Your mother? Amazing

5. Your father? Awesome

6. Your favorite thing? Family

7. Your dream last night? Forgotten

8. Your dream/goal? Fame

9. The room you’re in? Guest

11. Your fear? Death

12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Here

13. Where were you last night? Bookclub

14. What you’re not? Conservative

15. One of your wish-list items? Chocolate

16. Where you grew up? Connecticut

17. The last thing you did? Breakfast

18. What are you wearing? Velvet

19. Your TV? New

20. Your pet? Cats

21. Your computer? Laptop

22. Your mood? Festive

23. Missing someone? Yes

24. Your car? Black

25. Something you’re not wearing? Antlers

26. Favorite store? Sephora

27. Your summer? Humid

28. Love someone? Many

29. Your favorite color? Silver

30. When is the last time you laughed? Today

31. Last time you cried? November

The other part of the rules states that you are to nominate up to five people to take the challenge. Remember, no tag-backs and if you've been stung from another quarter - you're free to decline the invitation.

I'm tagging the following fellow bloggers: Miss Caught Up, Sassy, Scarlet, HektikLyfe from The Silent Podium, and Astra Libris from Food for Laughter. And, as per Diva Rules, you are under *no* obligation to complete the meme. Have fun if you do!

For the record, that's Diva cat Lucy above ... tagging a cute little vicuna I picked up at Ten Thousand Villages last weekend. I think she was about to bite off his head - but I stepped in and broke them up. Back off, Luce, the vicuna's mine!

Have a great afternoon!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Interesting Vegetables: Part One Million

Am I to understand that we have *no* bakers here?! 38 unique visitors yesterday and not a single entry into the contest ... what gives? Well, let this be a lesson for you ... rather than offering the scrumptious Horns recipe today ... you're going to get brussels sprouts! And you're going to like them too ... I promise.

Now, I'm not simply offering this recipe as a scold, I'm here to lobby for this oft forgotten, mistakenly maligned, nutritional power-house. Brussels sprouts are rich in dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese - to name but a few. Beyond the myriad of health benefits, they're absolutely delicious ... if properly cooked.

Sadly, many of us have had to endure some pretty woeful sprout experiences. I'm thinking of the boiled sprout ... pale, mushy, lacking in both texture and flavor ... this method of cooking really doesn't do these little gems justice. Fear not, there are other far more enticing ways to spin the sprout! I like them roasted, or shredded and sauteed, but my favorite method by far is pan-braising. With the addition of some broth, Balsamic vinegar and a bit of spice, sprouts really shine.

In typical Diva fashion - I don't really have a recipe and don't measure anything. Again, we're talking technique here ...

Braised Brussels Sprouts:
  • a bunch of brussel sprouts
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • a pinch of sugar*
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • some low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • about a teaspoon of aged Balsamic Vinegar
Wash the sprouts and trim them by cutting off about a quarter inch of the stem end. Remove any blemished or funky looking outer leaves and cut them in half, lengthwise.

Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the halved sprouts, cut side down, and raise the heat a bit. Add a pinch of Kosher salt, a shake of crushed red pepper flakes, and - if you're not on the Beach - a tiny bit of granulated sugar, just a pinch. (This will help the sprouts caramelize, but its not really necessary.) Allow the sprouts to cook undisturbed until they are well-browned - but not burnt, then add about a half cup of broth to the pan, along with a teaspoon or so of balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine, cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium and allow the sprouts to braise for approximately 5 minutes or so, checking every so often to be sure the pan doesn't dry out completely. The broth will reduce and the vinegar will ensure a nice glaze.

Now, I like my veggies crisp-tender, not soggy. About 5 minutes, is enough for me but your mileage may vary, of course. Check the sprouts for desired tenderness along the way, and serve when you approve!

Your sprouts should look something like this when you add the broth and vinegar:

The finished sprouts will be savory, well-glazed, a bit spicy and altogether delicious! I could eat an entire pan by myself and will often forgo other sides in favor of more sprouts. They're *that* good.

I suppose at this point I should confess that this post is not just a warning / endorsement ... I simply haven't had time to make the Horns this week. Our December social schedule is as crazy as its ever been and time is flying. I hope to get to the Horns soon, but it may be next week. Meanwhile, there's still time to enter the Virtual Cookie Swap ... you have until December 7th.

So, where do you stand on sprouts? Are you a fan or deathly afraid of them? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Virtual Cookie Swap

Just in time for my holiday baking madness to begin, my friend Cheryl at 5 second rule has launched a virtual cookie swap. What a spectacular idea! Cheryl has asked her readers to post a comment endorsing the cookie of their choice. We will vote on the winning recipes at a later date, then Cheryl will bake them off and choose the ultimate victor. There are prizes too! Click the link, read her rules, and by all means enter the contest by offering a quick description of your favorite homemade cookie. You can post the description over in her comments or here on Beach Eats ... or better yet, both!

5 second rule is one of my most favorite blogs and you'd do well to click and bookmark that link in any case. Cheryl is a professional food writer. Her posts are witty and funny, and her recipes are magnificent. I'm still dreaming about her Acorn Squash Soup with Thai Red Curry Paste that I made in October ... and looking forward to making it again!

As for the contest, the tough part for me was deciding which of my favored cookies to enter. Now is as good a time as any to warn you ... December is all about baking for me and exactly none of it will be South Beach oriented. I have a long standing tradition of baking dozens and dozens and dozens of holiday cookies to distribute to friends and family. Some 13 years ago or so, I began gifting the staff of our building (doormen, Super, porter, etc.) with a selection of homemade treats and by now I'm known far and wide ... or at least on this corner of my block ... for my cookies. Of course I give them the customary monetary tip as well, but a check alone just seems so cold - whereas the addition of some beautifully crafted cookies really says: "Thank you!"

I will generally bake four or five kinds of cookies to distribute throughout December. I like to try at least one new cookie each year - but there are some classics that simply demand to be baked year in and year out. Pictured above are my traditional butter cookie cut-outs. It wouldn't be Christmas without them. I love this recipe and have such fond memories of baking them with Mama Diva when I was a child. I think the recipe came from my grandma Pam, but I'm not entirely sure. I bake a double batch - then channel my inner Martha and really go to town in the decorating. They are my absolute favorite Christmas cookie - yet I did not enter them in Cheryl's contest. The reason? They are a three day commitment and what sane person would vote for that?! I want to win!

I chose to enter another family favorite, Hungarian Horns. Again, this recipe has been passed down through the generations of my family and I adore these little gems. They are the first cookie I bake each December, thus ushering in the madness, and they freeze beautifully. Stay tuned for the recipe later in the week!

Meanwhile, read Cheryl's post, enter the contest and let's get baking! So, what's your favorite holiday cookie? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Round-up ...

I know I said I'd do a better job with the turkey photography this year. The reality? It wasn't even on my radar screen! In the mad rush to get everything on the table any ideas I'd had about taking the perfect turkey picture flew right out the window. What you see here is *half* of our turkey ... the half we didn't devour. It was a fresh, organic, 18 pounder and it was spectacular! The smell of it roasting turned us all into ravenous animals. So eager to dig in was I, that I didn't even stop to take a picture of my groaning plate. Yikes. Sad too, because it was a thing of beauty. And really sad because I'm running a food blog here. Duh! Oh well, I'm in this blog thing for the long haul, so there's always next year. ~sigh~

You'll have to take my word for it, but our feast was magnificent. The turkey was tender and moist, the pork stuffing was the best its ever been, and my gravy was so good I decided it should be bottled. Really. The rest of the sides were perfect as well and the whole meal came off without a hitch. Mad props go out to Papa Diva for procuring the excellent bird and for all of his help this year, and to bro for the last minute inclusion of brussel sprouts, fresh from the garden. Additional mad props go out to my amazing sister-in-law, Kath, for that magical crock-pot stuffing, the delicious butternut squash, the crisp and savory green beans with bacon and, of course, for her always-in-demand sweet potato pie. Last but not least, further props to the husband for his carvery skills, and especially for dealing with the raw bird - a task I am happy to delegate! I couldn't have done it without you guys.

Naturally, we indulged in a holiday classic on Friday afternoon ... the "Day After Thanksgiving Sandwich." Similar to the turkey slider that was offered at the October Foodbuzz event, this yummy treat is a Diva favorite. I was making this sandwich long before I knew what it was called and its the perfect way to enjoy the meal all over again, albeit in a much smaller dose.

The Day after Thanksgiving Sandwich:
  • some sliced turkey
  • some warm gravy
  • a bit of bread stuffing
  • a bit of meat stuffing
  • a bit of cranberry sauce
The instructions are simple, the choice of bread is complex. Papa Diva prefers white bread - and frankly, he truly prefers a sandwich of sliced turkey on buttered bread - but that's a subject for another post entirely! Personally, I like to use a left-over whole wheat roll for my sandwich - its tasty and the petite size of the roll serves as much needed damage control after a day of indulgence! But, I digress. Simply heat your gravy until hot. Choose your bread and top it with some sliced turkey, the stuffing (or multiple stuffings if you're so blessed), spoon on some gravy and top it all with a dollop of cranberry sauce. Gingerly place the top of the roll on the sandwich and do your best to take a bite without covering yourself in Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

This year Papa opted to go with a left-over Snowflake roll:

... and this picture doesn't do it justice at all. I'll do better next time, and maybe we'll have him write the "Minority Sandwich Report" next year so he can explain that mysterious turkey/butter combination in detail!

Suffice it to say the Diva Family enjoyed a wonderful holiday and we hope that you did too. You may have noticed that no formal props went out to Mama Diva here. This is not an oversight. She's milking this surgery thing for all its worth (I kid, I kid!) and was happy to play Queen for a Day as we hovered around her. And that's as it should be! She gets all the props in the world just because and we were all happy to dote on her as she's doted on us over the years.

So, how did your holiday go? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!