Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I hope I'm actually done shopping, wrapping, baking and cooking by the time this posts today. Its been a whirlwind week of preparations and I hope by the time you read this, I'll be somewhere nice and cozy with my feet up, waiting for Santa to arrive ... much like Lucy, who's pictured under my tree. I think she chose this spot on purpose!

I'll likely take some time off next week so I'm not sure when I'll return. Stay tuned. And, meanwhile, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Holiday! May all the joys of the season, warmth, cheer, peace and goodwill be yours this holiday and beyond!

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Green White Elephant Exchange!

Two posts in one day is pretty unusual for me, but its a big day! Laura, of Hey What's for Dinner Mom?, decided to host a blogger's gift exchange this year ... only this one has a little twist. Instead of purchasing a gift for another blogger, we were charged with re-gifting our assigned recipient! Hence the name: Green White Elephant Exchange ... its green because we are recycling unused items of our own and giving them a new home. How cool is that?

Laura asked us each a few personal questions, so the gift-givers could learn a little bit more about their intended recipients, then she paired us up. Fittingly, my recipient is Mo Diva of Food Snob. I sent her my never-used copy of Cooking at De Gustibus - a wonderful cookbook from my collection that is brand new. I also passed on to her a necklace, given to me as a gift and never worn, that needed a good home. I hope you enjoy them, Mo Diva!

As for me, I was delighted to find out that my secret gift-giver was Heather, of Heather in SF, whom I met this September at BlogHer Food! Such a special treat to be given a gift from a new friend ... and what a lovely gift too! You can see my treats pictured above: two beautiful, plush Christmas hand towels with adorable appliques, and a sweet little stocking ornament that Heather knit herself!

I don't know if you know this about me, Heather, but I truly cherish all things Christmas and that goes double for ornaments. In fact, when we decorate our tree, we don't just hang the ornaments all willy-nilly - no sir! Instead, I tell the story of each ornament before it gets hung. They are stories we've heard again and again, but that doesn't matter - its the telling that matters, the remembering that counts. From now on, you will be part of that tradition. I will think of you each year when I decorate, with the towels and the ornament, and our story will be told. Thank you, Heather, you couldn't have chosen a better gift for me!

You can read about the rest of the Green White Elephant Exchange via the links on Laura's post today. I can't wait to see the rest of the big reveal!

And a big thank you to my friend Laura as well. What a lovely experience this has been and I hope we'll make it a tradition. :)

Love, Hugs and Happy Holidays to you both!


Kitchen Disasters: Flying Pot Pie Edition

Have you ever wondered how far flying pot pie goo can travel? Me neither. Yet, sadly, I found out last night. The answer is 5 or 6 feet.

Its on the walls. Its on my pictures ...

its on the kitchen door ...

and on the refrigerator. Its on my jeans and in my hair. Don't even ask about my socks.

Why it even traveled a not insubstantial distance into the dining room. I get the feeling I'll be finding spots of this pie well into the New Year.

~insert string of the most vile profanity imaginable here~

Indeed, I dropped the gd pie while transferring it to the fridge. It hit the deck and hit it hard! This is what happens when I'm trying to do too many things at once. Above (top picture) you can see my lovingly crafted pie ... that's the "before" shot. This ...

is the "after". I am not amused.

For the record, its a turkey pot pie and it was spectacular. I had a slice before the disaster occurred ... the husband was not so fortunate. He had take-out. Ole.

So there you have it, proof positive I'm completely human. I'll post the recipe sometime next week. Really, I'm just looking for sympathy here. ;)

Tip of the Day: a bench scraper is indispensable for cleaning up pot pie goo. You heard it here first.

Bon appetite!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Recipe for Butter Cookie Cut-Outs

You've been looking at this picture of my decorated cut-outs for the past two years now ... perhaps its about time I gave you the recipe.

These addictive little darlings are a Christmas tradition and a Diva family favorite. I've been baking them for as long as I can remember; first with Mama Diva, and now on my own for more years than I'd care to tally.

In our world, they're know quite simply as: Christmas Cookies, for it wouldn't be Christmas without them.

Mama Diva's Christmas Cookies:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups additional flour for beating, plus extra for rolling cookies
Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Add vanilla and milk, and continue beating until light and fluffy. (Don't worry if the mixture looks a bit funny at this point - remain calm, all will be well!)

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder and whisk well to combine. Add this mixture, by thirds, to the butter/sugar mixture and beat until just incorporated. Dough will be somewhat wet at this point, so add up to another 1/2 to 3/4 cup of flour, a little at a time, until the dough stiffens slightly and comes together to form a ball.

Remove from mixer, shape into a ball, wrap well in plastic wrap a/0 foil and chill the dough in the fridge overnight. (Or for at least 2 hours if you're in a hurry.)

To Bake:

Cut the dough into 4 equal sections and, working with one section at a time, roll out on a floured surface (with a well-floured rolling pin) until roughly 1/4 inch thick. (Keep remaining quarters of dough chilled while you work.) Cut into various holiday shapes with cookie cutters, place on baking sheets and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375F degree oven for 8 minutes, or until just beginning to turn light golden brown. Do not over bake. Remove to wire racks and cool cookies completely.

Gather up remaining bits of dough, re-roll, re-cut, continue to bake, ad infinitum, until your sanity has been compromised and or all of the dough has been baked ... whichever comes first.

Once the cookies have cooled, frost and decorate to your heart's desire, then go to town and scarf down the fruits of your labors. Remember to save one or two for Santa.

As written this recipe will make more cookies than you can possibly imagine. How many? I have no idea. So many that I had to call in reinforcements, in the form of my darling 9 year old niece, while I was frosting them yesterday!

Kidding aside, this recipe is for a double batch. You can easily halve the recipe and make a normal, sensible amount of cookies if you'd like to preserve your sanity.

Cooks Notes: I'm not going to lie, achieving right consistency of dough can be a bit tricky. It depends on the weather, the properties of the flour, the alignment of the planets, the vagaries of cross-continental drift, and who the hell knows what else! Use your best judgement. Typically, I end up adding slightly more than 1/2 cup of additional flour to the dough before chilling. Keep in mind that as you roll and re-roll the cookies, the dough will pick-up additional flour, so don't over-do it in the first instance.

Those of you who bake will know when its right; those of you who don't ... eh, what's the worst that could happen?

As for the frosting, I use a mixture of powdered sugar, milk and vanilla - then tint some of it green and some of it reddish-pink. Do as you see fit.

If you're snowed in and looking for an activity to keep the kids busy, I can't think of anything better. While these cookies take a bit of effort to be sure, the results are well worth it. There's nothing like a cheerful and delicious cut-out to put you in a festive mood!

Happy Baking!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Out and About with Christo

I wasn't necessarily planning to post today, but my day got off to such a wonderful start I just had to share it with you.

As you know, doggyblogg of Chez What? won my lavender syrup give-away and we arranged to meet-up so I could hand it over to him. We met at Chelsea Market this morning and had a blast shopping and dishing the morning away!

I know he's going to out me later on by posting a picture ... so I'll give in and post one too. There we are by the fountain, the picture taken courtesy of one of the dogg's friends - who just happened to be there today too. Nice!

Meeting up with someone you've known online can be strange; in someways you feel as if you already know the other person - though, really, you don't. I've met scores of online friends in person over the past 10 years; sometimes its awkward, mostly its great, and every once in a while you meet someone who already feels like a friend. I'm happy, though not surprised, to say that doggybloggy fits squarely in that lovely latter category. As he said to me this afternoon on the phone: "it felt like we picked up on a conversation we were already having." Darling, the feeling is mutual!

In typical Diva fashion, I didn't snap nearly as many pictures as I'd planned. Though we all stopped to admire this adorable little girl eyeing some amazing gingerbread houses ... an image that just had to be captured.

And now its off to the kitchen I must fly ... there are cookie cutters and a giant lump of dough calling my name.

Posting may be somewhat erratic next week as I'm woefully behind in the Christmas prep. I'll do my best. Who knows, I might even get back to my roots and post something that contains neither sugar nor flour. ~wink~

Doggybloggy, I had a blast and I'm looking forward to our next adventure!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Jagermeister Redux Edition

Sometimes inspiration can arrive in the strangest of places ... say on my doorstep in the form of a gigantic box!

While I am expecting all manner of deliveries this week, one thing I wasn't expecting was the host of Jager-ific treats that showed up chez Diva yesterday afternoon. Nor was I expecting to answer my door, which is why I greeted the FedEx guy while clad in my pjs. (Bright blue snowflakes, by the way. Don't judge, its flippin' cold here this week and these jays are toasty warm.) Oops! But, I digress.

Seems the good folks at Jagermeister and Sidney Frank Importing took notice of my Jagermeister post this past October and saw fit to send me a little thank you gift. Color me surprised and delighted!

Fresh out of ideas and way behind in my holiday shopping, I hadn't really planned on a Thirsty Thursdays post for this week - Jagermeister to the rescue. Consider this my thank you for your thank you!

I've taken this recipe from the newly redesigned Jagermeister site and its just perfect for the holiday season.

Three Wise Men Cocktail:
  • 1 part Jagermeister
  • 1 part vodka
  • 1 part peppermint schnapps
Fill a martini shaker with ice and over it pour all of the above. Shake well, until the shaker frosts, and strain into a chilled martini glass. If feeling festive, garnish with a small candy cane. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

A couple of these and you'll be feeling quite merry indeed ... even if you haven't wrapped a single thing.

I'm sorry there's no cocktail photo at present - its a long story. I hope to edit at some point and add one. In the meantime, take a look at the contents of my surprise package: a bottle of Jagermeister, a set of six very nice Jager sipping glasses, a women's sleeveless tee and a men's tee. Wow, what a haul! (And yes, if you look closely, you'll see Diva cat Zelda grooming herself there in the back of the picture ... on my dining room table. Sigh. Is it any wonder I need a drink?!)

Thank you SO much, Lauren, the next round of shots is on me! ~wink~


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mocha Butter Ball Cookies

Today I'm featuring part two of the Basic Butter Cookie Dough from Gourmet, December 1995 . Let's get right to it, shall we?

Mocha Butter Balls:
  • 1/2 prepared basic butter cookie dough, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, not Dutch process
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 cup of finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat together the cookie dough, cocoa powder, espresso powder and nuts until just combined well. Form dough into balls by scooping out one level teaspoon and rolling between your palms until smooth. Arrange dough balls about 3/4 inch apart on baking sheets and bake cookies in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven until just firm, about 17 to 18 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes.

Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. After the cookies have cooled for 5 minutes, toss them, a few at a time, in the confectioners sugar to coat well, shaking off the excess, and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Store cooled cookies between sheets of wax paper in air tight containers. If desired, cookies can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 weeks. If needed, the defrosted cookies can be rolled in confectioners sugar again to refresh before serving.

As written, this recipe will yield about 6 dozen cookies.

Cooks Notes: Again, this dough really puffs as it bakes, so keep the cookies small. I used a level teaspoon to scoop out the dough to make sure they were all uniform. Do not over bake. The finished cookies should be firm to the touch but not dried out. Mine were cooked at the 17 minute mark. Turn the cookie sheets halfway through baking to ensure an even bake.

I used Scharffen Berger cocoa powder and the flavor was magnificent. The finished cookie is just sweet enough, without being cloying, and the coffee and walnuts really enhance the chocolate flavor. As this is a butter cookie, the crumb is wonderfully light and crumbly. I hope you'll try them!

If mocha's not your thing, fear not, you can make several other cookies with this dough:

Each of those links will take you to the original recipes on Epicurious. In previous years, I've made the Raspberry Hazelnut Triangles, the Orange Cranberry Oatmeal cookies and the Spiced Icebox Cookies - each more delicious than the next!

Including the Chocolate Coconut Sticks and the Mocha Butter Balls, I've given you 9 different cookie options from one single batch of dough ... or, rather, Gourmet has. I'd say my work is done here.

Bon appetit!

p.s. - If you haven't already done so, please visit my Cans for Comments post and leave a comment. A can of food will be donated in your honor for doing so. :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cans for Comments ...

... or, alternately titled: You Speak, I Give!

I was so touched by Laura's post on Hey What's for Dinner Mom? today that I've decided to join the Cans for Comments fray. Many of us are looking for ways to give-back, reach out, "do good" this holiday season and Cans for Comments is a simple and easy way to make a difference.

It seems that the project was begun by Vancouver photographers Chris+Lynn. From there the word spread throughout the blogosphere ... I heard about it from Laura, who heard about it from Christina from Dinner at Christina's.

Quite simply, Cans for Comments works like this: you leave a comment on this post and for every comment posted I will donate one can of food to Holy Trinity Church's Food Pantry. One comment equals one can of food. Its that simple.

We food bloggers are a lucky lot, we spend our days describing and discovering all things delicious - others are not so lucky. While we agonize over what to cook and what to post, others are wondering how to put a meal, any meal at all, on the table. And the number of those in need continues to grow.

Holy Trinity's Food Pantry serves those in need on the upper west side of Manhattan. On the third Saturday of every month, those in need, regardless of location or religious orientation, are welcome to arrive at the church and pick up a bag of grocery staples - free of charge and with no questions asked. During the last year alone, the number of clients served by the Food Pantry has risen over 20%. The Food Pantry is stocked entirely by free-will donations and, happily, the supply has been enough to meet the demand ... so far.

This week, I'm happy to add my contributions in honor of your comments. You have until midnight on Friday, December 18th to leave a comment on this post.

Make your voice heard and make a difference! It just that easy and just that wonderful. Oh, and don't forget to pop over to Laura and Christina's blogs and spend some of their money too! ~wink~

Bon appetit!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gourmet's Basic Butter Cookie Dough

Like many of you, I continue to mourn the death of Gourmet magazine. I was a subscriber for more than 20 years and their December issue was always my favorite. When I finally divested myself of the hard copies last year, it was the December issues I kept. They sit proudly on one of my bookshelves and I return to them again and again.

Happily, for us fans, there is a wonderful new blog project dedicated to highlighting and preserving the best of Gourmet Magazine. Its called Gourmet, Unbound - and you'll want to add it to your subscriptions and links. Each month, readers are invited to choose one recipe from Gourmet that was published during the same month and submit it to Gourmet, Unbound. The recipe can be from any year, but it must be from the current month. Bloggers and non-bloggers are invited to join the fun. Entries must be received by the 1st of the month. You can read the rules of entry here.

Even more happily, for me, they've extended the deadline for this month only. Good thing too! I had every intention of submitting this cookie by December 1st ... but that didn't happen. With thanks to Gourmet, Unbound for extending the deadline for us slackers ... this is my submission:

I happened upon this astounding cookie dough recipe back in 1995. It was in the December issue of Gourmet and I've been making it ever since. One big batch of luscious buttery dough that can be turned into any number of magnificent cookies, this double-duty dough is a real time saver.

This recipe provides enough dough to make two cookie variations.
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
In the large bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth and creamy. Beat in flour gradually, beating dough until just combined well.

Remove dough from bowl and divide into equal halves. Wrap each half in waxed paper and aluminum foil and chill in the fridge until needed. This recipe will yield approximately 3 pounds of dough, or enough to make 2 different cookie variations.

I used half of mine to make the cookies seen above ...

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Sticks:
  • 2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted and cooled
  • 1/2 prepared basic butter cookie dough at room temperature (recipe above)
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the basic cookie dough and the cooled toasted coconut and beat until just combined well. Halve the dough and place each half between long sheets of waxed paper. Roll and pat each half of dough, shaping with your hands, into 11' by 2 1/2' rectangles. Chill shaped dough, wrapped in waxed paper, until firm - about 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Work with one rectangle of dough at a time. Place the chilled rectangle on a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange slices 1 inch apart on a large cookie sheet. With a sharp knife, cut each slice in half lengthwise to create two "sticks", separating them slightly with knife.

Bake cookies in batches in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven until pale golden, about 12 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer carefully to a wire rack to cool completely.

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or a double boiler and gently dip one end of each stick into chocolate, dragging underside against the rim of the bowl to remove excess. Transfer coated sticks to sheets of wax paper to harden. When chocolate has hardened, cookies may be stored between layers of wax paper in airtight containers up to 6 weeks in the freezer. As written, this recipe will yield approximately 10 - 15 dozen cookies.

Cook's Notes: Now, what the recipe doesn't tell you - but I will - is that these suckers really puff when you cook them. Despite my own large notation in the margin, I fu ... er, screw this up every time I make them! Make thin slices when you are cutting the dough into strips. I usually get it right by the time I hit the 3rd batch, i.e., the end of the dough. Grrr. Do as I say, not as I do and cut them into 1/4 slices for the first cut. Really, I mean it!

Also, I recommend turning the cookie sheet half-way through the 12 minutes to ensure an even bake.

These cookies really are magnificent, especially if you love toasted coconut. They freeze and defrost beautifully, and what's better than a two-for-one?! Nothing. Stay tuned for the second iteration ... Mocha Butter Balls ... on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Photo courtesy of

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! There were a total of 23 comments on the post, though two of them came after the midnight deadline, therefore the final tally was 21. I plugged that figure into the generator at and the winner is ....

Congratulations Lucky Number 7!

Comment from doggybloggy of Chez What? who wrote:
"lovin' the photo - make mine a double!"

Well doggy, my friend, now you can make your own double! I can't wait to see what you do with the syrup - I know it will be amazing!

And, in some sense, I'm a winner too ... doggybloggy is local so I hope to hand over the syrup in person and save myself another trip to the post office this season. Bonus! I will email you, dogg, and make arrangements for the hand-off.

I had hoped to include a screen shot of the random number generator, but I just couldn't get my camera to focus on it. Grrr.

Many thanks to all of you for playing along and especially to for sponsoring the give-away. I wish you all could have won, but fear not ... Cube and I will team up again for another give-away this coming Spring. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I'm off to the husband's annual holiday party tonight ... let's hope there won't be a repeat of last year's Recipe for Disaster! ~wink~

I'll be back on Monday with that marvelous cookie recipe I mentioned yesterday.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cookies, Cookies and More Cookies

'Tis the season to be baking! Or, at least it is for many of us. I don't know about you, but I'll be up to my elbows in flour today, this weekend, and for the better part of next week too. Perhaps I'll even find some time to Christmas shop in between batches!

Fear not, new recipes will be forthcoming - including the recipe for the butter cookie cut-outs you see above - but today is a work day and I will be chained to the stove.

Meanwhile, there are some wonderful cookie events going on around the web and I thought it might be nice to link you to them here ...

Lottie + Doof's 12 Days of Cookies - Today is day 9, but you can revisit the previous entries from any of the cookie posts. The entries are spectacular: Dorie Greenspan's Linzer Sables, Marlow & Son's Shortbread, 101 Cookbooks' Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies - to name but a few!

5 Second Rule's Virtual Cookie Swap - You may recall that my Hungarian Horns won Cheryl's Virtual Swap last year. I didn't enter this year, but I'm dying to see the finalists. There are some wonderful entries in the mix. You can vote for 3 of your favorites here - and be sure to tune back in and follow Cheryl as she bakes her way through the swap to the eventual winner. Its bound to be a tasty ride!

Steph Chow's Post-Holiday Cookie Exchange - Steph is organizing an actual cookie exchange! Participants have until January 16th to mail a dozen or two cookies to their recipient, which is nice for those of us without the time to make an extra batch this month. If you'd like to participate, rules of entry are listed here.

And, if you're looking for a fun and festive way to package your homemade treats this year, check out Dana McCauley's Food Blog today for a wonderful suggestion!

Are you hosting a cookie even this season? If so, shout it out in the comments so I can add you to the links here.

This Friday I'll be featuring a classic butter cookie recipe from Gourmet Magazine that is sure to please ... one giant batch of dough that can be spiced and mixed several different ways. Its a double duty cookie you won't want to miss. Stay tuned!

Finally, today is the last day to enter my Lavender Syrup Give-Away, you have until midnight tonight. The winner will be announced tomorrow afternoon. Until then ...

Happy Baking!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

C'mon in, I've made you some soup. And not just any soup either - a luscious and healthy root vegetable soup. Doesn't it look delicious? Aw, thanks. Wait, what's that you say? No, no, of course I'm not trying to pawn off more leftovers on you. This soup is entirely fresh! Honest. I mean it.


Ok, you caught me crossing my fingers behind my back. This soup is made of leftovers ... but not in the way that you think. In addition to the bounteous remains of the holiday meal, I found myself long, very long, on a variety of raw veggies after Thanksgiving. Parsnips and baby carrots were the chief offenders. I'm not entirely sure why I bought a whole bag of parsnips when I needed just one or two for my turkey. And I had all good intentions of setting out bowls of hummus and dip with baby carrots and assorted crudite late into the evening on Thanksgiving, when we were playing poker. But alas, our bellies were too full and the game was too intense.

Hoping to clear some room in the fridge after Thanksgiving, I whipped up a batch of this comforting soup.

Carrot and Parsnip Soup:
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large leek, white and pale green part only, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 1 stalk of celery, leaves included
  • pinch of Kosher salt and a generous grating of fresh black pepper
  • 1 full pound of baby carrots, washed and trimmed of any ugly ends
  • 4 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • two 14.5 ounce cans of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • one 14.5 ounce can of non-fat, low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon good quality curry powder, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
  • grating of fresh nutmeg
  • pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
  • pinch of ground white pepper, optional
  • a couple of teaspoons of chopped fresh dill
  • optional - 1 teaspoon of honey to finish the soup if desired
For garnish:
  • some non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • chopped fresh parsley
  • chopped fresh dill
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup or stock pot over medium-high heat and add the leeks, shallots, onions and celery. Add a pinch of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper, stir and saute until the onions are translucent and the vegetable are tender but not yet brown - about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ground coriander, curry powder, celery salt and cayenne pepper, if using. Stir to combine and saute for 1 minute. Add the carrots, parsnips, chicken broth, vegetable broth and lemon juice. Add a pinch of white pepper, if desired, and a grating of fresh nutmeg. Stir to combine. Raise the heat and bring the soup to the boil. Then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until both the carrots and parsnips are fork tender.

Remove from heat and puree using an immersion blender. (Alternately, the soup can be pureed, in batches, using a food processor or blender. Be careful, its hot!) Return the soup to the heat and re-warm if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more of whatever you like. If you prefer a sweeter soup, you may add a teaspoon of honey now. If you'd like a bit more acid, another squeeze of lemon should do the trick. Stir to combine.

To serve: ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt and a dusting of fresh parsley and dill.

As written, this recipe will yield 6 servings.

Why, yes, it does bear a striking resemblance to my Cream-Free Creamy Carrot Soup ... they're cousins.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Lavender Syrup Give-Away Edition

I'm very excited about today's give-away. You see, it gives me the opportunity to introduce you to both a wonderful product and an amazing resource. Not only that, I get to shout-out a blog friend in the process. Let's get to it, shall we?!

Last month, Jessica from Cube Marketplace reached out to me on the advice of blog friend, Erika, from In Erika's Kitchen. Seems that Cube Marketplace was organizing some pre-holiday give-aways and Erika was kind enough to suggest my blog to Jessica. Thanks, Erika!

Cube Marketplace is an online gourmet emporium, specializing in unique artisanal products from around the globe. Jessica offered me two of any product I should choose; one to feature in a recipe and one to give away. Color me delighted! I immediately clicked over to their site and began searching through the staggering array of delights. Soon enough, I fell completely in love with Cube. Quite honestly, it was a bit like turning a kid lose in a candy store. I was torn between the truffle salt, the pine syrup, the cheeses, the vinegars, the mushrooms ... just go ahead and click, you'll see what I mean.

Eventually, I settled on a bottle of Le Pere Pelletier Lavender Syrup. Why, you ask? So I could turn it into an elegant and intriguing cocktail, of course!

Lavender Lemon Martini:
  • 3 ounces of premium vodka
  • 3/4 ounce of Le Pere Pelletier Lavender Syrup
  • 3 to 4 drops lemon bitters
Fill a martin shaker with ice and over it pour the vodka, lavender syrup and lemon bitters. Shake well, until the outside of the shaker frosts, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or slice. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written this recipe will yield one incredibly delicious and enchanting martini. The lavender flavor is present, but not over powering, and the lemon bitters lends just enough of an edge to compliment the sweet notes.

If martini's aren't your thing, fear not, the lavender syrup can be used in a myriad of ways. You can add it to coffee, tea, ice cream or milkshakes. You can swizzle it into some fresh lemonade for an unexpected twist. You can even bake with it. Can you imagine a chocolate-lavender cheesecake for instance? I can. Heck, I already have and am working it out in my mind as we speak.
Photo courtesy of

And here's the really good news: you all have a chance to win a bottle of this magical elixir for yourself! To enter: simply leave a comment on this post telling me what you'd like to make with the lavender syrup. You have until midnight on Wednesday, December 9th to enter. One winner will be selected via use of a random number generator. I will announce the winner on the afternoon of Thursday, December 10th. Contest is open to U.S. residents only. Winner must be willing to provide me with his/her name and mailing address so I can send off the syrup. Good luck!

Many, many thanks to Jessica and Cube Marketplace for sponsoring this fun and festive give-away! I can't wait to continue my experiments with the lavender syrup.

Lastly, if your holiday shopping list includes anyone who likes to cook (or eat!), you're sure to find all manner of good things for stuffing those stockings at Cube Marketplace.


p.s. - In order to keep things simple for the give-away drawing, I will not be responding to comments on this post. If you have any questions about the syrup, or anything else, leave me your email address or contact me at: .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving Re-Mix: Stuffed Peppers Edition

At first glance, this post is going to look like it won't be of much use to you - especially if you don't have any leftover pork stuffing hanging around. And though I'll include a recipe, its not really about the recipe. Its about using what you've got. Its about recycling and remixing. And, most of all, its about playing with your food.

If you've got a fridge full of holiday leftovers mocking you every time you open the door, this post is for you. And, honestly, it doesn't much matter what kind of leftovers you've got - anything will do. Mainly we're talking about a technique here; recombining and recreating a little magic from the scraps of the holiday. If you have some meat stuffing, great! If not, feel free to use bread stuffing. No stuffing at all? I'm sure you could use mashed potatoes.

The same goes double for the vegetables and spices I've used. Go right ahead and play around with them. You could use almost anything in both the sauce and the stuffing. Do as you see fit and cook with what you've got!

Stuffed Peppers:
For the Sauce
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 rib of celery, leave included, diced
  • 1/2 cup of diced onion
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout
  • 1/4 cup of dry red wine
  • one 15 ounce can of plain tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and to it add the carrots, celery and onions. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and saute until the onions are translucent and the vegetables have softened a bit, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the paprika and the ras el hanout, stir to combine and saute for one minute. Add the red wine, stir and saute until reduced by half. Add the tomato sauce, the vinegar, the broth, the dill and the parsley, stir well, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from heat and reserve.

For the Peppers
  • 2 large bell peppers, any color
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, peeled and diced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup of leftover pork or meat stuffing or dressing
  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa (or bulgar, brown rice or couscous)
  • 1/2 cup of cooked, chopped tukey
  • 1/4 cup of leftover gravy
  • some chopped fresh dill
  • some chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, for topping
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned dried whole wheat bread crumbs, for topping
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, for topping
Slice the peppers in half length-wise and remove the stems, cores and seeds. Reserve.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and to it add the shallots and carrots. Saute until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the pork stuffing and the quinoa, stirring well to combine. Add the turkey and the gravy, stir and allow it to melt into the meat mixture. Add the parsley and dill, stir well to combine, then remove from heat and reserve.

In a small bowl, mix the Parmesan cheese, dried bread crumbs and chopped parsley together. Reserve.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

To stuff the peppers: Place the reserved sauce in the bottom of an oven safe baking dish, and nestle the peppers, skin side down, into the sauce. Fill the inside of the peppers with the reserved meat and quinoa mixture. Top each of the stuffed peppers with some of the Parmesan and bread crumb mixture and dot with a little bit of butter. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil and allow the peppers to bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the tops are lightly golden and the peppers are just beginning to soften. Serve drizzled with some sauce from the bottom of the pan and a dusting of fresh herbs. Enjoy!

My objective in adding all of that dill, and the ras el hanout and vinegar, to the sauce was to make something that did not taste like Thanksgiving! ... And, it didn't. The resulting sauce was well balanced; a bit spicy, slightly tangy and the perfect foil for the rich pork stuffing. If you're not a fan of dill, by all means feel free to substitute. Ditto for the quinoa - any cooked rice, grain or pasta would work as well.

I'll be submitting both this dish and the Baked Eggs in Stuffing Cups to 5 Star Foodie's Thanksgiving Leftovers Make-Over Challenge. Be sure to check out 5 Star Foodie on Monday, December 7th for a full round-up of all the leftover creations!

Stay tuned for my Thirsty Thursdays give-away tomorrow ... it will be most unusual and refreshing!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Initially, I thought I'd be doing a full recap of our Thanksgiving meal yesterday ... but as it turns out, I went and got my hair done instead! A Diva's got to do what a Diva's got to do. Besides, I don't know about you, but I think I might be a little over Thanksgiving at this point.

At a minimum, I'm over the foods. We had a wonderful holiday, it all went off without a hitch, and the meal was as delicious as can be. I'm just tired of eating it. And, I bet you are too. Sure there was turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and turnips, two kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans with mushrooms and onions, dinner rolls and an abundance of wine. The company was excellent and the desserts were plentiful. Really, we were well and truly blessed this holiday.

And now I'm blessed with a fridge full-to-bursting with the remains of the feast. Rather than recapping, suffice it to say that much of this week will instead be devoted to turning those leftovers into other meals. Let's start with breakfast, shall we?

Last week, Papa Diva told me about an idea he heard on his local radio station. Seems that a woman called in to describe her unusual use for leftover bread stuffing. She uses the stuffing to line a muffin tin and bakes an egg inside each little cup of stuffing. Color me intrigued!

On Sunday, I gave the suggestion a whirl ...

Baked Eggs in Stuffing Cups:
  • butter for greasing the muffin tin
  • some leftover bread dressing or stuffing
  • large eggs
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F and butter your muffin tins.

Spoon some bread dressing or stuffing into each muffin cup, enough to cover the bottom and sides of the cup completely. Using your (clean) fingers, press the stuffing down to flatten the bottom and shape it to fit the cup, pressing it up the sides and slightly above the rim, making sure to leave a depression in the center that is large enough to accommodate an egg. When finished, you should have roughly 1/2 inch of stuffing lining each cup.

Crack a large egg into the center of each stuffing cup and bake in the middle of a 350 degree oven for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the speed of your oven and your desired egg consistency. I baked mine for about 22 minutes and that was perfect for my oven - the whites were completely set and the yolks were slightly runny. Use your best judgement and begin checking the eggs at the 15 minute mark, then every 5 minutes after until they are done to your liking.

Remove the stuffing/egg muffins from the tin, garnish with some fresh herbs, serve and enjoy!

What an outstanding use for leftover stuffing! The savory herbed bread mixture was exquisite when paired with the silky baked egg. If I had thought of it, I would have been wise to mix a bit of leftover pork stuffing in with the bread for an even better stuffing McMuffin! Next time for sure.

I could also see adding a bit of cheese to the mixture, or perhaps dusting the top of the egg with a bit of shredded Parmesan or even some cream. We're mainly talking about a technique here and you should feel free to get creative with it. Heck, you might even decide to top the whole thing off with gravy or add a bit of mashed potatoes to the mix. The bottom line here is that this is a fun and festive way to start the day ... and a great way to make a dent in some of those holiday leftovers. Thanks, Papa Diva ... and thanks to the mystery caller, whomever she is!

Stay tuned for more of my Thanksgiving remix this week as I make my way through the fridge. And be sure to come back on Thursday for a very special edition of Thirsty Thursdays ... I've got a fabulous give-away to go along with a most unusual cocktail.

So, are you getting creative with your leftovers this week? Got any tips for something a little off-beat and unexpected? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Edited to add: I'll be submitting this dish to 5 Star Foodie's Thanksgiving Leftovers Make-Over Challenge. Be sure to check out 5 Star Foodie - Culinary Adventures on Monday, December 7th for a full round-up of all the leftovers!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're coming down to the wire now, things are simmering, stuffing is defrosting, silver is being polished and wines being chilled. Its all coming together and I'm really excited about the big feast tomorrow! I've been cooking for weeks now and I'm ready to eat!

I'm not anticipating any disasters tomorrow, nor should you. But just in case, Woman's Day has graciously provided me with a few more links ...

Solutions for 11 Thanksgiving Disasters - Quick fixes for everything from gluey mashed potatoes to "help, the dog ate my turkey" ... let's hope no one needs that particular tip!

10 Ways with Leftover Turkey - Ten quick and easy way to re-purpose your leftover bird

Personally, I will be in a vegetative state on Friday ... my feet will be up and I'll be firmly glued to the couch having a much needed rest after the madness. If you're planning to brave the crowds and begin your holiday shopping, this link is for you ...

Whether you're cooking or dining elsewhere tomorrow, I wish you all a wonderful, blessed and very Happy Thanksgiving! May your plates be full and your belt be loose! ~wink~

I'll be back with a full recap on Monday.

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recipe for Herbed Bread Stuffing

There it is - a whole tray of the evil white stuff ... bread! It may be evil and it may be ordinarily off-limits, but there's no denying that plain 'ole white bread makes for some delicious stuffing!

Normally, the bread stuffing is left to the ministrations of Mama Diva, while I focus on the pork stuffing. This year, things are a little bit different. Mama and Papa Diva will be dining in CT with bro and his wife ... so it looks like the bread stuffing is up to me. And, I'm going to be honest, I cheated a little bit too. I mixed the bread, veggies and seasonings with some pre-packaged stuffing cubes. You can see the package in the background of that photo. So sue me, a Diva's got to take a little help where she can get it now and then.

Herbed Bread Stuffing / Dressing:
  • two 16 ounce loaves of plain white bread, or stuffing bread, unsliced
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 large onions, peeled and diced
  • 3 large shallots, peeled and diced
  • 6 large stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed well and sliced thin
  • some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • poultry seasoning
  • celery salt
  • 4 cups of packaged, seasoned stuffing cubes, such as Pepperidge Farm
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (or 1 tablespoon dried)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon dried)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • additional chicken broth for baking dressing
Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Slice the bread into thick slices, then tear the slices into roughly 1 inch pieces. Scatter the torn bread on a large, walled cookie sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, turning once or twice, until the bread begins to dry. Do not brown or toast the bread, you just want to dry it out a bit. Remove from oven and reserve.

Melt the butter in a very large stock pot and to it add the onions, shallots, celery and leeks. Season with a bit of Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, a generous sprinkle of poultry seasoning and celery salt, stirring well to combine. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring as needed, until translucent and tender but not yet browned, about 8 to 10 minutes or so. Add the seasoned bread cubes to the pan and stir well. Add the white bread and stir to combine, adding a cup of chicken broth to the pan to moisten. Continue stirring and adding a bit more chicken broth until the stuffing holds together and your desired consistency is achieved.

Remove from heat and add the chopped sage, thyme and parsley, stirring well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper, or whatever you wish, if necessary. (At this point, the stuffing can be cooled, placed in a suitable container or zip lock bag, and frozen until needed. )

To Serve as Dressing: butter a 9 x 13 inch oven safe baking dish and transfer the stuffing mixture to the prepared baking dish, smoothing it out to form an even layer. Pour some additional chicken broth over the mixture to keep it moist, cover with foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 t0 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and heated throughout. Serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 12 to 15.

Notes: While I do know that stuffing cooked outside the bird is called dressing, in my family its called stuffing regardless! If desired, you can certainly use this mixture to actually stuff your bird, and the excess can be baked off on the side as directed above.

I do not measure the salt, pepper, poultry seasoning or celery salt, nor do I measure the fresh herbs. I just keep adding stuff until it tastes right to me. Do as you see fit. If you're a big fan of thyme or sage, by all means add more. Generally, I prefer to use the fresh herbs, though there's no reason you can't use dried if that's your preference. Hey, its your holiday, live it up!

As for that packaged stuffing mix ... what can I tell you? Tough times call for tough measures! Besides, its not all that bad ... the mix did contain both whole wheat and white bread cubes, so its practically a health food. ~wink~

I'll be firmly ensconced in my kitchen for the next few days and likely out of action here on the blog. I'll be back with a full Thanksgiving round up next week and, hopefully, we can return to normal here for a short while - or at least until the Christmas madness kicks in.

So, are you taking any culinary short-cuts this week? 'Fess up in the comments ... I hate to cheat alone!

Bon appetit!

Friday, November 20, 2009

More Thanksgiving Recipes from Woman's Day

We're heading into the home stretch - Thanksgiving is only six days away! If you're anything like me, and judging from the comments this week - you are, that means there's still a ton of work to be done. There's silver to polish, little used wine glasses to wash, extra chairs to be found, and, oh yeah, I suppose people will want to eat something when they show up next Thursday too.

Fortunately, I'm prepared to help. If you're still cobbling together your menu and writing out your shopping lists for the weekend, this post is for you. Seems that someone from Woman's Day took notice of my post on the Make-Ahead Gravy yesterday and the magazine has been kind enough to pass on some links for me to share with you. And not just any old links either, this list is a veritable cornucopia of tasty ideas and tempting recipes that are sure to please! Just take a look ...

5 Great Gravy Recipes - including another version of the Make-Ahead Gravy

8 Unconventional Thanksgiving Side Dishes - including a to-die-for Corn and Leek Pudding recipe

9 Turkey Stuffing Recipes - including a quick and easy crock-pot stuffing that sounds like a keeper

4 Decadent Thanksgiving Desserts - including Mile High Pumpkin Meringue Tart. My sister in law has been making her own version of a pumpkin meringue pie for years now and it is amazing. If you've never had pumpkin meringue, you don't know what you're missing!

10 To-Die-For Thanksgiving Pies - including a rich and delicious Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

15 Holiday Cranberry Recipes - everything from salads to main courses and desserts, including a simply gorgeous Cranberry Sorbet

5 Pumpkin Puree Recipe Ideas - some unusual ideas for using pumpkin puree, including adding some to hummus, chili, and corn muffins

If you're a visual person, take a look a the whole shebang here: Woman's Day 2009 Thanksgiving Recipes and Ideas ... the pictures are sure to tempt you and that link includes ideas for appetizers, wines, easy clean-up tips and more!

I want to extend my thanks and gratitude to the people at Woman's Day for offering these links. Clearly, there's something here for everyone and you're bound to find a new family favorite tucked away in there somewhere. Thank you, Woman's Day and Happy Cooking, dear readers!

Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recipe for Make-Ahead Gravy

Come closer and pay strict attention, I'm about to divulge my greatest Thanksgiving Tip of all. Its the tip that preserves my sanity, the balm that soothes my soul. Its called Make-Ahead Gravy and its discovery was a revelation for me.

Now, I'll allow for the possibility that this is not a revelation for you. Perhaps you're more savvy or more brave than I - but up until 5 years ago or so, I had no idea that you could actually freeze gravy. It all started the year I was hosting an unprecedented 16 for Thanksgiving. I was terrified that I wouldn't have enough gravy to go around the table, much less any for leftovers. Panic stricken and desperate, I was flipping through a November issue of Woman's Day and low and behold there was an entire article on cooking in advance for Thanksgiving ... including the gravy. Color me hopeful ... and slightly dubious!

Turns out there was no need to worry; frozen gravy defrosts just fine - and though the texture may seem a bit strange at first, it all comes together in the reheat with the help of a wire whisk. I've long since lost the actual recipe, and I've adapted and refined the method as the years have gone on. This is my version and it is a God-send!

Make-ahead Gravy:
  • 4 large turkey wings
  • 1 large turkey leg
  • 1 large (or 2 medium) onion(s), peeled and quartered
  • 3 large shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup of Vin Santo, Sherry or Port Wine
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5 large whole sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 6 cups of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup Vin Santo, Sherry or Port Wine (this is in addition to the above)
  • 1 additional cup of vegetable broth
  • some water
  • 6 tablespoons of softened butter, or 2 tbsp. of fat from the pan drippings
  • 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the turkey wings and the leg in a large, heavy roasting pan, skin side up, and around them scatter the onions, shallots, carrots and parsnips. Pour 1/3 cup of Vin Santo, Sherry or Port Wine over the turkey and dust the entire pan with a bit of poultry seasoning, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dot the turkey parts with a bit of butter and place some sprigs of whole fresh thyme in and around the pan. Roast in the middle of a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and place the wings, leg and all of the vegetables into a large stock pot. To the stock pot, add 6 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of vegetable broth. Cover, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, deglaze the roasting pan: add 1/4 cup of Vin Santo, Sherry or Port and 1 cup of vegetable broth to the pan and heat over high heat, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. Stir frequently and allow the mixture to boil, reduce heat and continue simmering and scraping for 2 or 3 minutes, adding some water to the pan, if necessary, to keep things liquid. Remove from heat and pour the contents of the pan into a defatting cup. Allow the fat to separate, then strain the liquid only into a large sauce pan. Reserve until the turkey/broth mixture has finished cooking.

Once the turkey parts have finished simmering, remove them from the cooking liquid. Discard the bones and save the meat for another use if desired. Strain the broth into a container large enough to hold it and to it add the reserved pan juices. Stir to combine and reserve.

Make a beurre manie by combining 6 tablespoons of softened butter with 6 tablespoons of flour, mixing them together to achieve a thick paste. (Alternately, you could use the fat from the roasting pan, mixed with the flour, which is what I do.) Heat a large, heavy bottomed stock pot over medium high heat and to it add the beurre manie, stirring well with a wooden spoon to heat. Slowly add some of the reserved stock mixture, about a cup, raise the heat to high and whisk vigorously with a wire whisk until the mixture begins to thicken. Allow the mixture to come to the boil. Continue adding the stock slowly, whisking all the while, until all the stock has been added. Reduce heat slightly and boil gently, while stirring and whisking, for 4 to 5 minutes until the gravy begins to thicken and any lumps have been dissolved. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding some salt, pepper, a bit of sherry, or whatever you like, if desired.

Should you desire a thicker gravy, you can make an additional batch of beurre manie and add it little by little until your preferred consistency has been achieved. Once finished, strain the gravy through a mesh strainer into a covered, freezer-safe container and chill in the fridge until completely cool. Once cooled, transfer the container to your freeze and store until needed.

The frozen gravy will keep, in the freezer, for up to a month. To use, remove from freezer the night before needed and thaw in the fridge over night. Transfer to a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium to medium-high heat, whisking well to smooth the mixture, until hot. Serve and enjoy!

As written this recipe will yield approximately 5 to 6 cups of finished gravy.

I'll admit that there's a fair bit of work involved here, but I think its worthwhile. Spending an afternoon making a rich and wonderful gravy take some of the pressure off of the actual day of the holiday. I will still make a fresh gravy on the day of Thanksgiving and will combine it with my defrosted mixture. The result is one happy Diva and enough gravy to satisfy an army. Color me delighted!

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Odds and Ends-Thanksgiving Prep Edition

As you may have noticed, I've been MIA for a few days. My DSL modem conked out on Thursday - seems the Connectivity Gods have not been smiling on me of late. Its frustrating to say the least.

I'm behind in posting and way, way behind on my Thanksgiving prep. How can it be that the holiday is next week? Is that a joke? Did I miss the punch line?! Well, the joke's going to be on me ... or rather my guests ... if I don't get to work. So work, I will. Today will be dedicated to making my mother in laws's famous pork stuffing and Wednesday will be devoted to make-ahead gravy. Both items will take up residence in my freezer, once completed, and perhaps then I'll finally feel like I've got the holiday prep under control ... or at least begun!

Making a batch of flavorful gravy ahead of time is just one of my tricks for a less-stressed holiday. Let's be honest, people really like gravy - and I'm always worried that there won't be enough for everyone, so I make a LOT. Of course, I'll still make gravy on Thanksgiving day itself; I'll add it to my defrosted version and before you know it we'll all be swimming in gravy. More importantly, there will be plenty leftover for reheats.

I'll be posting the make-ahead recipe later in the week, perhaps on Thursday, after I've had a chance to snap a few pics. In the meantime, I thought I might direct you to some my other holiday offerings from last year:

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread - A simple and delicious quick bread that's just perfect for Thanksgiving morning

Pumpkin Pecan Waffles - The miraculous result of some leftover pumpkin puree

Glorious Gravy - A discussion of my Grandma's unusual method for making gravy

Its off to the kitchen for me ... what about you? Are you knee-deep in holiday prep? Do you like to cook in advance and get a jump start on the festivities? Tell me about what you'll be cooking this week for Thanksgiving ... curious Diva wants to know!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Left-over Magic, Sandwich Cubano Style

As you can see, we're experiencing some technical difficulties here in Divaland of late. The focus on my camera refuses to focus, even on the ISO setting, and its frustrating the hell out of me. I had grand visions and plans of a beautiful Cuban Sandwich photo, yet you're looking at ... that. Ugh, I'm sorry. It may be time for a new camera. In the meantime, let's eat!

I took the left-over pork roast, sliced it thin, warmed it in the remainder of the pan sauce and set about creating my version of one of the world's most delicious sandwiches. The Sandwich Cubano is a brilliant combination of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles, piled together on Cuban bread and grilled until crisp and toasted. Traditionally, the sandwich is made on a sandwich press, called a plancha - which is similar to a panini press. The key to a really good Cuban Sandwich lies in the pressing; it allows the ingredients to fuse together while creating the much desired crisp exterior.

Needless to say, I don't own a plancha. Nor do I own a panini press for that matter ... but I made it work. I used my trusty grill pan, then weighted the toasting beauties down with a cast iron skillet and my tea kettle filled with water! As you can see, the results were magnificent.

There are probably as many recipes for tasty toasted treats as there are people to eat them. This is my version ...

Diva's Sandwich Cubano:
  • some thinly sliced roast pork, warm
  • some thinly sliced ham
  • some aged Gruyere cheese, shredded or sliced
  • some Vlasic Stackers Zesty Garlic sliced pickles
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Emeril's Horseradish Mustard
  • olive oil for brushing the pan
  • butter for brushing the sandwiches
  • some Cuban, Italian or French bread, or long sandwich rolls
Heat your grill pan over high heat until hot but not smoking.

Slice your bread or rolls lengthwise and spread a bit of Dijon mustard on one side and a bit of Horseradish mustard on the other side. Layer some thinly sliced ham on the bottom half of the bread or roll and top with some pickle slices. Layer some thinly sliced roast pork over the pickles and top with some shredded or sliced Gruyere cheese and the remaining half of the bread or roll, pressing down on the bread to flatten the sandwich. Coat the top of the sandwich with a thin layer of butter.

Brush the grill pan with a bit of olive oil to form a thin coat and place the sandwiches, buttered side down, into the grill pan. Weight the sandwiches down with a cast iron skillet, or what have you, as seen above, and grill over medium-high to high heat until crisp and golden on one side. Butter the other side of the bread or roll, then flip the sandwich and continue to grill as directed above until both sides are crisp and golden brown and the cheese has melted. Serve immediately!

The mustard is by no means traditional, that's my spin and I'm sticking to it. You certainly don't need to use two kinds of mustard ... but I happen to like the combination. Do as you see fit. As for the ham, any variety you like will do. Just make sure its thinly sliced. In this case, I used some roasted ham.

You may also have noticed a disparity in the breads. The round roll is whole wheat and, again, by no means traditional. That's my personal choice, I made the husband's on a small, sandwich sized, loaf of Italian bread. As always, the choice is up to you.

I'm well pleased with the results of both my left-over magic and my improvised sandwich press. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. The sandwiches were wonderfully crisp and thoroughly delicious. I can't believe I didn't try this sooner ... though you can bet we won't wait long before having them again.

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Recipe for Basic Pork Roast

As the country's largest and most important eating holiday begins to loom, its likely that my posts here will become somewhat irregular. I'm trying to get both my guest list and my menu in order. Making lists, laying in supplies, digging out cherished family recipes and the like, its enough to make one's head spin.

And all the while, the husband continues to come home hungry and hoping to eat. What's a weary Diva to do? Why, cook once and eat twice ... this time, its pork roast!

Basic Pork Roast Recipe:
  • one 3 to 4 pound boneless loin of pork roast, center cut
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup Vin Santo
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning, or ground sage
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, if desired
  • pinch of ras el hanout spice blend
  • 1/2 of a large onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 large shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle the mined garlic with 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and using the flat of your knife, laid flat against the cutting board, mash the garlic to a paste. Continue scraping your knife over the garlic and salt mixture until the garlic has broken down to the consistency of a thick paste. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and over it pour 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.

To this mixture, add: the black pepper, poultry seasoning (or ground sage), chopped rosemary, chopped thyme, chopped parsley and a pinch of both crushed red pepper flakes and ras el hanout, if desired. Whisk well with small wire whisk to combine. Your mixture will look something like this:

Place the pork roast in the middle of a large roasting pan and, using a sharp knife, make several small slits in the top of the roast, pressing the point of your knife in to the depth of about an inch or so. Pour the Vin Santo (or dark rum) over the pork roast and allow it to sit for two minutes, then slather the entire roast with the reserved oil and herb mixture to coat.

Scatter some chopped onions, shallots and carrots in the bottom of the pan around the roast and place a few slices of onion on top to decorate, as seen above. Roast in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the size of your roast and the speed of your oven, or until the internal temperature of the roast reaches 165 to 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

One half hour before your roast is finished, add 1 cup of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth to the bottom of the pan and continue roasting until finished. Remove the roast from the oven, place on a cutting board and tent with foil, allowing the roast to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, scrape up the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the roasting pan, adding more broth, if desired, to deglaze the pan and achieve a thin sauce. Slice the roast and serve immediately, along with the roasted carrots and shallots, and topped with a drizzle of the pan sauce.

As written, this recipe will serve approximately 4.

Notes: the exact mixture of herbs and spices here is entirely up to you. I never measure and I always use whatever I've got on hand. This time it was rosemary, parsley and thyme ... next time, who knows? I tend to throw in a pinch of this and a dash of that and anyway you mix it, it all turns out well. Feel free to experiment here and create your own special blend. By all means, use the garlic and oil ... then play around with the rest of the mix. You can use this technique for any kind of poultry as well.

Stay tuned for the second iteration, wherein I'll create some left-over magic ... Sandwich Cubano style!

Bon appetite!