Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BlogHer Food '09: Part One

I have to admit, I felt a little bit like an adulterer attending BlogHer Food '09. I mean, ya know, I'm a FoodBuzzer and BlogHer might well be seen as a competing entity. So, yes, I cheated last weekend ... big time ... and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

BlogHer Food '09 was such an overwhelmingly positive experience for me, that I've had trouble trying to synthesize it all these last two days. Honestly, I can't say enough good things about it. How often do you have the opportunity to meet hundreds of other people with whom you have so much in common? How often do you have the opportunity to set aside an entire day and devote it to your life's great passion ... while learning and making invaluable connections along the way?

The morning began with a networking breakfast in the ballroom at the St. Regis. Happily, this kind of event is right up my alley. I'm the kind of person who actually enjoys walking into a room of 300 people I don't know and introducing myself to them. And so I did. I happened upon a table of festive looking women and asked to join them for the meal. We quickly began the introductions and soon the fun began!

Last week, doggybloggy of Chez What?, left me a comment suggesting I should look out for Laura of Hey what's for dinner Mom? ... and wouldn't you just know I was at her table! Without even looking for her, I found her ... and I'm so glad I did. She introduced me to Janet of Pretty Green Girl, and Heather of Heather in SF. We became fast friends indeed! So much so that we spent the majority of the after-parties hanging out and having a blast. (I miss you guys already!) I also greatly enjoyed my morning conversations with Tiffany of The Cookie Blog and Kelsey of The Naptime Chef and my lunch-time laughs with Shirley of Gluten Free Easily and Diane of The W.H.O.L.E. Gang.

After breakfast, we headed to our first panel discussions of the day. I chose to attend the Visual Track: "Developing Your Visual Voice", presented by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks and Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites. Together, these two amazing photographers lead us through the "seven things to think about before even picking up a camera", while showing examples of some of the best food photography on the net - both their work and that of others. For me, this session was invaluable. I have no illusions about becoming the kind of photographers they are ... but heaven knows I can improve. The information I took away from this session will no doubt serve me well ... though it would help if I lived in something other than a bat cave. Le sigh.

For the second session, I chose the Vocation Track: "Your Blog is Great ... now what? Letting your blog lead the way to new opportunity", a panel discussion presented by Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen and Helen Dujardin of Tartlette, moderated by Amy Sherman of Cooking With Amy. Here again, I have nothing but praise. The discussion was lively and fun, due in no small part to the sparkling personalities of these three women, and the information offered was of tremendous use. My major take-away from this session was, as Jaden said, to "go to everything". In other words, miss no opportunity to connect and network, because you never know who you might meet. I don't know about you, but I have an email box full of invitations about which I was sitting on the fence ... well, no more. From now on this Diva *is* going to everything.

The other really nice part of session two was that I had a chance to sit next to ... on the floor! ... one of my all-time favorite bloggers, Cheryl Sternman Rule of 5 second rule. Meeting Cheryl, after following her blog for the better part of a year, was a real treat. She's someone I've long admired and finally putting a real-live face to the name was great fun, indeed. I can't say the same about having to sit on the floor. My one real criticism here is that the rooms were in no way large enough to handle the crowds. I realize the limitations of space, but sitting on the floor, or standing in the back, is decidedly less than optimal.

Which leads me to session three ... wherein I found myself crushed up against the uber blogger, David Lebovitz, at the back of the room ... with dozens of others who could not get in the door. By this point, the entire conference was running behind schedule, and though I'd left session two early, hoping to get a seat, I found session three already underway and overcrowded. I was not amused. For session three, I chose the Values Track: "The Meaning of Identity and the Value of Voice in a Crowded Foodblogging World"; a panel discussion presented by Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman, Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic, Dianne Jacob of Will Write for Food, and Susan Russo of Food Blogga. I'm sure it, too, was invaluable ... though I wouldn't know. I was already aching from my time on the floor, and exhausted from the day in general, suffice it to say I skipped out right behind David Lebovitz after about 10 minutes. Feh.

I figured I could put my time to better use in stopping by the hotel's business lounge to print out my boarding pass for the return home; and so I did. I also popped up to my room for a quick make-up check and brief lie down. A Diva's got to do what a Diva's got to do! Useful as that was, I'm sincerely sorry I missed the third panel. Though the room was huge, clearly it wasn't big enough ... and that's a shame. Perhaps a bigger facility is needed, should there be a BlogHer Food '10? One can hope.

Naturally, there were breaks, and demos, and food offered between the sessions ... though little of that inspired me enough to want to write about it. The one exception being the phenomenal chocolate demo offered by Chef Elizabeth Faulkner. I will write about that ... tomorrow. Here's a little clue: it has something to do with that mysterious photo above. Stay tuned!

Much has been said, and written, and tweeted about the epic lunch fail at the conference. On that front, I have nothing new to add. If you're interested, I'd suggest this article by Natanya Anderson. It offers, to my mind, the most balanced and useful critique of the experience. In truth, I didn't go to BlogHer Food to eat. I went there to listen, to learn, to network and to socialize; those were my goals. I achieved them in spades. In the last few days, many of you have asked me if the experience was worth it? My answer is a resounding: YES!

Monday, September 28, 2009


Is there anything better than the caress of one's own deliciously comfortable mattress after a long day of travel? I think not. I certainly enjoyed the hell out of that caress last night ... and, truth to tell, am still attired in a fashion that attests to such delights. ~wink~

The Diva has returned from a whirlwind weekend of bloggy goodness in San Francisco and it was spectacular. So much so that its going to take days for me to synthesize it all and come up with anything useful by way of re-capping the wonder that was BlogHer Food '09.

Simply put, the conference was an amazing experience. I met dozens of wonderful people, many of whom seem destined to become friends for life, and others of whom I've admired for so long it was almost like meeting a rock star. The panels were educational and informative; the networking, supreme; the chocolate, plentiful ... and, oh, there was wine ... and scotch ... and margaritas. Oh, my!

As for the food, well, let us speak of other things. Suffice it to say I'm craving something, anything, that isn't a white carb. With all due respect to my veggie friends - dinner tonight will involve meat and plenty of it! I'm thinking pot roast. Its time for this Diva to return to the kitchen and get cooking. Stay tuned.

I will recap the event later in the week and look forward to shouting out my new blog friends. I miss you already!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Holding Pattern

I'm having one of those weeks where I've been out of the house every night and the cooking, Chez Diva, has been a slap-dash affair. Sure, I've cooked and we've eaten; but mostly its been things like soup and quiche, about which I've already posted.

In addition, I'm preparing for a trip to San Francisco, to attend the BlogHer Food '09 Conference ... my first official food blogging conference. I'm so excited! There's laundry and packing to be done ... in addition to my typical "I hate to fly", pre-trip freak-outs. Ole.

Suffice it to say that we're in a holding pattern here and I expect to be back in action and back in the kitchen on Monday ... jet-lag notwithstanding. Hang tight and stay tuned.

If you're attending BlogHer Food this weekend, drop me a line in the comments so I'll know to lookout for you.

Have a beautiful weekend, dear readers, and I'll see you on Monday!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chocolate Guinness Torte

Lest any of you are operating under the mistaken impression that things always go as planned, Chez Diva, let this post serve as proof that's not the case.

The husband had a birthday last week and I took a notion to bake him a cake ... from scratch. Months ago, I fell in love with the Chocolate Beer Cake posted on The Backseat Gourmet. Originally, I'd planned to make it for St. Patrick's Day, but that never happened. Knowing the husband's deep personal commitment to Guinness, I figured this was the cake for him.

I followed Cheryl A.'s recipe exactly as posted with two exceptions. I used Guinness instead of ale - no problem there. Chocolate and Guinness is a stunning combination. I also used 9 inch cake pans, instead of the 8 inch indicated in the recipe ... hello, problem! Yes, the size of the pan matters. And, yes, I know that. I used the larger pans anyway, because it was too late in the day to go out and buy another set. The cake? Was so flat you could slide it under a door. Ole.

Here's the thing, though, its all about the spin. It looked and smelled delicious - and Cheryl's frosting is truly divine. I frosted that bad boy up and called it a torte. The presentation went a little something like this:

Diva: Look, I've made you a torte for your birthday! A chocolate Guinness torte!

The Husband: Yay! Sounds delicious! Sort of looks like a flat cake.

Diva: Perhaps, but its a torte.

The Husband: Hmm, what's the difference?

Diva: About two inches.

Fortunately, the BIG flavors here more than made up for the diminutive stature. The flavor of stout is not really present at all, though there is a subtle, underlying malty-ness that serves to intensify the chocolate flavor. The addition of Guinness makes a chocolate cake taste even more chocolaty. Its delicious! And that frosting is so incredibly good I know I'll be making it again and again. Its the chocolate frosting I'm going to make for the rest of my life. Really.

While I certainly wouldn't put this one in the category of "failure", its far too scrumptious for that, I'd call it a minor screw-up. I mean, take a look a that picture ... the cake doesn't even come halfway up the coffee cup!?! Lesson learned: I need some 8 inch pans.

So, have you learned any baking lessons recently? Do tell, curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: POM-Tea-Ni Edition

When the good folks at POM Wonderful reached out to me a few weeks ago and offered to send along some samples of their yummy POMx Antioxident Super Teas, I hope they knew that at least one of them was going to be turned into a cocktail. Let's face it, any beverage around here is liable to find its way into the martini shaker. Right? Right.

What I didn't know when they offered to send me the POMx teas was how utterly delicious they would be. How delicious you ask? So delicious that we actually drank all four bottles before I even had a chance to photograph them! Really. They're just that good ... good enough that I went out and bought another round so I could show them to you here:

My little POMx care package contained one bottle each of the Pomegranate Hibiscus Light Green Tea, Pomegranate Wildberry Light White Tea, Pomegranate Blackberry Tea and Pomegranate Peach Passion White Tea ... each more delicious than the next! The husband made short work of the Peach tea, downing it in a matter of seconds. After sampling the Wildberry Light Tea (35 calories for the light varieties), I pronounced it scrumptious and asked him to mix me a drink. And so he did ...

The Wildberry POM-Tea-Ni:
Fill a martin shaker with ice and over it pour the gin, POMx Wildberry Tea, white vermouth and orange bitters. Shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Twist the lemon peel over a chilled martini glass and run the inside of the peel along the rim of the glass. Strain the POM-Tea-Ni into the prepared martini glass at once. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

Certainly, any one of the POMx teas would work well in this drink and you may also choose to substitute some vodka for the gin in this recipe. I wouldn't ... but, hey, the world's your oyster! Do as you see fit.

Even without the booze, the POMx is magically delicious. I don't much care for fruit drinks, or soft drinks, but I do love this tea. It has become a regular feature in our fridge. Personally, I prefer the Light varities, not so much for the reduced calories, although that's a bonus, its mostly because I don't enjoy sweet drinks. The Light teas manage to be just sweet enough without crossing the line for me; and the flavors are both interesting and addictive.

Thanks, POMx! You've made me a fan for sure.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spicy Chicken and Roast Potato Hash

This savory and delicious hash is the final stop for our roast chicken this week. Its not substantially different from the turkey/sweet potato hash about which I wrote last year ... but its good enough to warrant a second look. So good, in fact, that we nearly finished it all last night.

As usual, the amounts and ingredients are flexible here. You can make hash with any number of vegetables so, really, the choice is up to you. We're mainly talking about a technique here, so feel free to vary the protein as well; substituting cooked turkey, beef or even some leftover roast pork if you like.

Spicy Chicken and Roast Potato Hash:
  • 2 or 3 cups herb roasted potatoes, chopped
  • 2 or 3 cups of cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 of a large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium to large poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • pinch of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. Chipotle chile powder, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • a grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of non-fat, low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 large eggs, fried or poached, for topping the hash
  • some Green Tobasco Sauce
Chop the roasted potatoes into small chunks and shred or chop the leftover chicken. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions, red peppers and poblano peppers to the skillet, along with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, and saute until the vegetables begin to soften, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the thyme leaves from the stems and add to the pan, stirring to combine. Add the Chipotle powder, the poultry seasoning and some freshly grated nutmeg to the pan and stir to combine.

Add the potatoes, the chicken, 1 tsp. of butter and 1/4 of chicken broth to the pan, stirring well to combine. Cook the hash over medium-high heat until it begins to brown - about 5 to 6 minutes. Using a flat spatula, flip the hash over and press down, as needed, to facilitate the browning process, adding in a bit more chicken broth as needed if it begins to dry out. Continue browning and flipping the hash until well-browned and hot throughout. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more of anything you wish. When the has is well-browned, turn the pan to low and keep warm while you poach or fry the eggs.

To serve: plate the hash and top each portion with a poached or fried egg, then drizzle with a bit of Green Tobasco. Serve and enjoy!

Round out the meal with a nice big salad and you can have a quick, healthy, and economical meal on the table in no time flat. A more satisfying meal I cannot imagine ... cooking once and eating twice is the way to go!

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Herb Roasted Potatoes

How about some spuds to go along with our roast chicken? These crisp-tender morsels feature a similar combination of herbs that will pair well with the bird. The bonus? You can roast them right along with chicken, on a lower rack in the oven.

Amounts here are approximate and flexible. Just be sure to make enough so that you'll have some leftover for tomorrow's chicken hash, two cups or so should do it.

Herb Roasted Potatoes:
  • 6 small to medium red skinned potatoes
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small poblano pepper, seeded and cut into chunks, optional
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Wash the red potatoes well and cut into 1 inch chunks. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1 inch chunks as well. Place the cut potatoes and poblano peppers into a large bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to coat. Sprinkle on some Kosher salt, some ground black pepper and toss to combine. Add the rosemary and thyme and toss again to coat.

Spread the potatoes in onto a large, rimmed, cookie sheet in a single layer - leaving some space between them. Roast in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about an hour or until well-browned, crisp on the outside, and tender inside - turning the potatoes every now and then with a metal spatula and redistributing to ensure even cooking.

Serve immediately with the roast chicken and enjoy!

The inclusion of they poblano pepper, while not strictly necessary, is a nice option. I happen to like them so much I want to eat them with everything ... and this year my bro grew some in his garden. I took a few back to the city with me when I was in CT last week - so they're popping up in all my dishes this week.

Tomorrow - the piece de la resistance, the raison d’ĂȘtre for roasting that chicken in the first place ... a savory-spicy chicken hash. Y'all come back now, hear?!

Bon appetite!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cook Once, Eat Twice: Chicken Edition

I'm a big fan of cooking once and eating twice ... which, of course, is just another way of saying I like leftovers. They're like money in the bank. I mean, really, if you're going to go to the trouble of cooking, you might as well cook BIG and set yourself up for a week of tasty meals.

While I can't imagine that any of you actually need a recipe for roast chicken, I'm going to offer you one anyway. Why? Because a simple roasted chicken is perhaps the easiest, most economical and versatile way to cook once and eat twice ... or thrice!

In this case, I roasted a bunch of new and sweet potatoes along with the bird and later in the week we'll be using the leftover potatoes, along with some chicken, to form a delicious and savory chicken hash.

Herb Roasted Chicken:
  • 1 whole roasting chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. Emeril's Chicken Rub
  • 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • generous grating of fresh black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • one medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium poblano pepper, cored, seeded and sliced, if desired
  • 2 large shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup chicken broth or stock
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Mince the garlic and sprinkle it with a pinch of Kosher salt. Mash the garlic and salt into a paste by pressing the flat of a large chef's knife against the garlic and dragging the flat of the blade across the garlic and salt. Continue mashing and pressing until the garlic has softened and is the consistency of a thick paste. Scrape up the paste and place it into a small dish. Add the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, Emeril's Chicken rub, poultry seasoning and some freshly ground black pepper. Whisk well to combine. Reserve.

Place the chicken into a large roasting pan, breast side up, and drizzle inside and out with the white wine. Slather the outside of the entire chicken with the reserved oil and herb mixture to coat. Place a few slices of onion into the cavity of the chicken and sprinkle the rest atop and around the chicken. Add the carrots, pepper strips and shallots to the bottom of the pan, nestling them around the bird.

Roast in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for approximately 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or until done.

After the bird has roasted for one hour, pour 1 cup of chicken broth over the chicken and into the pan, then continue roasting for 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour.

Depending on the size of your bird and the quality of your oven, the chicken may take some additional time to cook. The safest way to determine if a chicken is cooked is to use an instant read thermometer. The FDA recommends cooking chicken until a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees has been reached. To check the temperature, insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or between the inner most thigh and wing. You may also refer to this FDA Chicken Fact Sheet for approximate cooking times and further instructions. Personally, I like to roast mine until it reaches 170 degrees ... better safe than sorry! I also prefer to roast at 375F rather than 350F - and, again, that's just me.

The finished bird should be well browned and the juices will run clear when poked with a knife. Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and tent with foil, allowing it to rest for at least 5 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, strain the juices from the pan, reserve, and remove the cooked carrots and peppers, etc. for serving alongside the chicken. To serve, carve the chicken and drizzle with the reserved cooking liquid and some of the pan vegetables. Enjoy!

Now, obviously, if you're cooking for a larger crowd you should roast a larger chicken. A 3 1/2 pound bird is enough to serve the two of us for most of the week. Cook according to your needs, but do cook enough to have some leftovers if you want to play along with me this week.

Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about those yummy roast potatoes and we'll get to that chicken hash on Wednesday.

Bon appetite!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Spiced Chocolate Pudding with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Today is a difficult day. I had trouble deciding what to write last year - and trouble deciding what to write this year. While I try to keep things light around here, its impossible for me to let this day pass without acknowledgment. Ultimately, I will echo my words of last year ... I'd like to offer this post as my public prayer for peace in our world and peace in the hearts of those personally affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

I'd also like to offer you all a dish of pudding. Ellie Krieger's Dark Chocolate Mousse, to be exact. Not to be flip and not because it will change anything - I'm serving you pudding because, quite simply, its comforting.

You can find her recipe here, and while she refers to it as mousse, I find its texture to be more similar to pudding. I followed the recipe as written, with the exception of the chocolate. I used a dark chocolate bar that had been spiked with red chiles and the results were magnificent. Chocolate and chiles pair beautifully together and we really enjoyed the subtle hint of heat the chiles lent to the mix. Feel free to experiment with this one, using whichever flavor or special variety of chocolate you like. There are some wonderful lavender flecked chocolate bars on the market now, and they would be outstanding in this capacity as well. Ditto for any combination of chocolate and orange.

In keeping with the sort of Mexican feel of the spiced pudding, I opted to top it with some cinnamon whipped cream ... a match made in heaven.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream:
  • 1/2 pint of heavy cream
  • two or three dashes of ground cinnamon, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. agave nectar, or to taste
Whip the cream in bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the wire whisk attachment, on high until it just begins to hold soft peaks. Add two or three dashes of ground cinnamon and beat for 30 seconds or so. Add in some agave nectar, to taste, until the cream has been sweetened to your liking. Continue to whip until it just holds stiff peaks. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more cinnamon or agave if desired and mixing gently. Go slowly and do not over-mix.

Serve the chilled pudding with a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream and enjoy.

Any excess whipped cream can be kept, covered tightly, the fridge for a day or two. It would be excellent when used as a garnish for any pie, crumble or crisp.

Oh, one more thing: that pudding ... its made with silken tofu. Don't let that scare you. The texture is divine and the flavor rich and satisfying. Use a dark chocolate of good quality and I promise you won't even know its tofu. Really.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Snark Handbook

Got snark? I do! Right here in my hot little hands ... thanks to my dear friend Lawrence Dorfman, author of the definitive "reference guide to verbal sparring": The Snark Handbook.

Larry and I go way back. He's been making me laugh for 34 years and counting. I'll be away for part of this week, helping to celebrate the book's publication. The launch party will take place at The Owl Shop in New Haven, CT tonight. I can't wait! While I'm gone, I thought it might be fun to introduce you to both Larry and his hilarious new book.

I sent Larry a list of interview questions last week, then we sat down to chat about them over the phone on Saturday morning. By the end of call, I was laughing so hard I could barely type as he offered his views on the latest food trends. Today, I present my interview with Larry for your reading pleasure. Consider it an appetizer, if you will, something to whet your whistle and leave you craving more ... and you will crave more. Happily, there's a cure for that: its called The Snark Handbook and I recommend it, highly!

Why Snark? Why now? Are we living in a particularly snarky age?

We are. I think we've become a much more jaded society after the bubble of the 80's and 90's burst. People started to get nastier while at the same time formed little survivor cliques to shield them from life's onslaught (jeez, feels biblical, no?) ... anyway, snark has always been a way of including those around you who are smart in a private joke at the expense of others. Yes, it's a little mean but so what? It's stunning the amount of ridiculous stuff that comes out of people's mouths these days. Snark calls them on it.

I love that The Snark Handbook discusses the etymology of the word; I had no idea it was used prior to, say, 1999! Is there a difference between being sarcastic and being snarky?

Snark is more a tone that's taken when you combine sarcasm and a snide remark. I like that definition, the combination of "snide" and "remark". Sarcasm can be gentle - snark is usually not so kind. But it's definitely funnier ... usually. Sarcasm can also be more obvious, while snark takes some thought - you have to be smart enough to "get it", you have to be quick to the punch line. I've tried using snark in a bar and gotten dead silence ... then 5 minutes later the light bulb will go off and someone will say: "oh, now I get it!"

As I've said, you and I go way back ... and you were snarky before I'd ever even heard the term. Is the talent for snark innate? Were you born snarky?

I was born smart. Snark came right after. In my family, it was all about making my father laugh, who could make my father laugh? So, in some sense, my skills were honed in the family, around the table. I've always loved the well-turned phrase, the bon mot, the clever remark, the put-down ... plus, I watched a lot of movies. My grandmother loved movies, she used to play piano for silent movies. When we would go to visit her, she always took us to the movies - sometimes as many as three in a weekend. My favorites were always ones where there was clever banter, like the Marx Brothers comedies or those Cary Grant films. Or television shows like Get Smart, that was written by Mel Brooks. I loved the witty banter.

I'm only half-way through the book and, so far, one of my favorite pieces of snark is the lifeguard line from the "Work" chapter: "I used to be a lifeguard, but some blue kid got me fired." Do you have a favorite piece of snark? Do you collect them ... like flair?

I tend to like the political snark best, followed closely by what I call the "complicated snark". One of my favorites is a Maugham quote that goes: "She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breaststroke of a channel swimmer, made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious".

The cut-to-the-quick snarks are also favorites, like "if you're looking for sympathy you'll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary", a David Sedaris quote.

As for collecting, I hear it all the time and think I should write it down for a second Snark book ... but then I remember JAWS2 and change my mind.

I'm a visual geek, so I have to comment on the book's design: its extraordinary! Can you tell me a little bit about the design? Clearly you were going for a particular kind of look - which you achieved in spades, by the way - was there a reason for that?

The deal I made with my publisher, astute business man that I am, is that, as they weren't going to pay me much money, I get to say what I want regarding the specs. And they went for it.

I wanted something that looked like a hardcover but was affordable, an impulse item for a low price. I also wanted it to be "cool" and well-designed - I wanted it to look like something I would buy. It was sort of done on the cheap but it's all in knowing where to look. The illustrations are from Shutterstock and cost very little. I found these great pen and ink drawings from the mid-1800's (no royalties - the artist is dead) that really worked as chapter headers. It was eerie, almost like kismet, how it all came together.

My brilliant editor, Ann Treistman, came up with the idea of the "ticker tape" at the bottom of the pages and pushed for textured paper in a slightly off-white color. She had this vision that the book should be almost like a bible, or an old-fashioned reference guide, something that readers could refer to again and again. That was the look she envisioned. Ann also pushed for the two-color aspect and I think printing the jokes in red is a great touch. The main thing was, I didn't want to put crap out there and I think we succeeded. Thank you, tho.

Let's talk a little about "The Masters of Snark"; certainly, Groucho Marx would have to be near the top of the list. Fran Lebowitz qualifies as well ... who would you add to the list?

Well, I love the literary folk (go figure) ... Dorothy Parker, Gore Vidal, Ambrose Bierce, many others, they're all in the book. Today, people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are way at the top. The TV shows of Aaron Sorkin were always loaded with snark and I would say one of the reigning queens has to be Tina Fey. 30 Rock is just chock full of snark. At the core, it's all smart, not just mean. I was never a Don Rickles fan and those celebrity roasts did nothing for me (although I like Sarah Silverman for many reasons besides her brilliant wit). Oscar Wilde has got to be there, too.

What's next for you? (As an author.)

I have a cigar book I'm working on. Cigars and snark are a match made in heaven (besides Churchill, Groucho, George Burns, W.C. Fields and countless others), cigars really allow you a great prop for accentuating the occasional snark. I also love 'em. And so many people hate them with the heat of a supernova so it makes the setting for some great snark banter. It was originally going to be called the SNARKY CIGAR LOVER but there's a lot of "real" info in it, so it'll probably be called something else. I hope to keep the package design though.

The only problem with having written The Snark Handbook is that now I'm under pressure to snark. I've set a high bar for myself. If I say something and it's not snarky enough - people call me out on it ... like your husband. We had an email exchange and he got snarky with me for not being snarky enough! The bar has been set high.

Since I'm running a food blog here, care to share your latest food obsessions? Are you snarky about food?

I'm really down on HELL'S KITCHEN. I like Ramsey, but I think the producers have chosen the most idiotic, untalented chefs in America to be on that show. It's like watching a train-wreck ... you can't take your eyes off it. Who do I hate more this week? The Whoopi Goldberg wannabe or the stoner with the broken arm? I get that it's television, but come on ... these people would have trouble serving a prison sentence, never mind serving dinner.

I'm glad we've gotten away from foam.

I'm a little over the term "field to table". It's gotten ridiculous, like it's a license to charge absurd amounts simply because its "field to table". What I'm really into now is "field to floor" ... they just haul the food in from the farm and dump it directly onto the floor, then I get down on all-fours and eat it. No table, no fork, nothing ... its very holistic.

At a certain point, burgers are either good or terrible ... I could care less who's got "the best".

I thought the farmer's market meant better prices? I was at the Union Square Market last week and the everything was so expensive. The prices were crazy. I keep having this vision of an old-time farmer on his porch, ya know, overalls, flannel shirt, a piece of straw dangling from his mouth ... and he's waiting for his limo to arrive. Farmers have become the new rock stars ... somebody's got to pay for all the limos.

Pork rocks. RP and I shared an amazing maple glazed, slow-roasted pork at Caseus recently, served with cornbread and collard greens ... it was brilliant.

The End.

HUGE thanks to you, Larry, for taking the time to do the interview. I laughed, I cried from laughing, it was a blast!

As for my readers, what more can I say except: go out and buy the book. The Snark Handbook is more than just a collection of the world's greatest snark, its a manifesto, a call-to-action, if you will. Plus, its a damn good read. As Larry says: "if you don't laugh at least 50 times, I haven't done my job." Trust me, he's done his job.

I'll be back on Friday. Cheers!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chips and Dip

Left to my own devices, I'd probably choose to snack the day away, rather than eat full meals. I often find a series of tasty little nibbles just as satisfying, perhaps even more so, than an entire dinner. Of course the trick is to nibble on things that aren't going to spend a lifetime on my hips.

For the last couple of years, I've been making all of my dips with non-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream ... and they're every bit as tasty. In this case, I paired the yogurt with caramelized shallots and some Old Bay Seasoning to create a wonderful twist on the classic onion dip.

Zesty Old Bay Dip:
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
  • one 6 oz. container of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 2 tsp. snipped fresh chives
  • 2 -3 drops of Tobasco sauce, optional
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When it is hot, but not smoking, add the shallots and saute, stirring often until the shallots are golden brown. Remove from heat to a small saucer or dish and allow the shallots to cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, combine the Greet yogurt, caramelized shallots, Old Bay Seasoning and fresh chives, stirring well with a small whisk to incorporate. If desired, add two or three drops of Tobasco sauce, whisking well to combine. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve or serve immediately. Enjoy!

Now, if you want to snack healthy, you'd do well to replace the chips with some crudite. And so I did. I like to enjoy it with a bright rainbow of bell peppers, with red and yellow being my favorites. That said, the photo was just begging for a potato chip ... and so was the husband. He's a chip-o-haulic of the highest order. We were both well-pleased with the selection!

Old Bay Seasoning has a bit of a kick all on its own, so if you're heat averse - go easy on the Tobasco or skip it altogether. The Old Bay combines beautifully with the shallots and chives, while the Greek yogurt offers all of the texture of sour cream without the fat. Plus, its packed with protein. Win/win!

With the end of summer holiday this weekend, I figure there will be some serious snacking going on across the country. Everyone loves chips and dip - why not shake things up a bit and offer your guests this unexpected little treat?

So how will you be spending the last blast of summer? Curious Diva wants to know.

Have a wonderful holiday and I'll "see" you on Tuesday. Cheers!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Berry Edition

A bit later than usual ... but, hey, its Thursday all day today!

This week, I'm featuring an updated version of a classic cocktail: The Bloodhound, which was popular in the 1920's and 1930's. Its largely another form of gin martini, with a bit of fresh fruit added for interest.

I've taken the recipe from Dale DeGroff's The Craft of the Cocktail ... and added my own little twist. While the original calls for only raspberries, I threw in a handful of blueberries as well. Why? Because they were in my fridge.

The Blue Bloodhound:
  • 2 oz. good quality gin
  • 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 8 fresh raspberries
  • 8 fresh blueberries
Place the berries in the bottom of a martini shaker and muddle until all of the berries have been crushed. Add some ice to the shaker, and over it pour the gin, dry vermouth and sweet vermouth. Cover and shake well, until the outside of the shaker has frosted. Strain though a fine sieve (to remove the seeds, etc.) into a chilled martini glass. Add a few berries to the drink and garnish with a large raspberry and or a wheel of lemon. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

What a delicious late summer cocktail this is! Oddly enough it tastes like a popsicle ... a very grown-up, gin infused popsicle, to be sure. Color me delighted! Its fruity, yet not overly so, and there's just enough flavor of gin to let you know the drink means business.

If you're not a gin drinker, by all means go ahead and use vodka ... I promise I won't tell.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Sincerest form of Flattery ...

Guy Fieri is a dangerous man. Watch just five minutes of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" and you'll see what I mean. He's like the Pied Piper of oh-so-good yet oh-so-bad-for-you foods. He makes you crave. He makes you crave all the wrong things.

Take, for instance, the Pine State Fried Club he featured this week. The invention of the "Biscuit Brothers" at Pine State Biscuits in Portland, OR, this decadent twist on the club sandwich features a trio of fried grit cakes topped with all manner of savory delights. One third of the trio, the fried chicken topped with honey and Green Tobasco, positively caused the husband to swoon. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as he begged me to recreate the dish for him.

To be fair, it wasn't exactly wailing - more like pleading ... "please, please, please make this for dinner tomorrow night?!" And so I did. But I did it my way ... with a little help from a friend.

Last month, Vickie from Uncommon Artistic Endeavors posted a recipe for baked oatmeal and Parmesan crusted chicken that looked so good I filed it away for future use. I adapted the recipe to suit my needs and used it to recreate Pine State's dish. The results? Spectacular!

Diva's Diner Un-Fried Chicken and Grit Cakes:

For the Chicken:
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. of Emeril's Chicken Rub
  • 1 cup of rolled oats, not quick cook
  • 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup of light buttermilk
  • some olive oil
Combine the whole wheat flour and Emeril's Chicken Rub in a large flat dish. Reserve.

Pour the oats into another large flat dish and rub them between the palms of your hands to break them apart until roughly half the oats are crumbled. Add the shredded Parmesan, cayenne pepper, poultry seasoning, dried thyme and a bit of salt and pepper - stir well to incorporate. Reserve.

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F and pour the buttermilk into a bowl.

Dredge the chicken in the seasoned whole wheat flour, shaking off the excess, then dip the chicken into the buttermilk to coat. Immediately dip the chicken into the oatmeal mixture, coating both sides of the breast evenly. Place the coated chicken onto an oiled rack placed inside of a large baking pan and drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil. Continue until all of the chicken has been coated. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the breasts, or until cooked through out.

For the Grit Cakes:
  • some cooked grits
  • butter
  • shredded Parmesan cheese
  • some minced fresh chives
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook the grits according to package directions. Once cooked, add a bit of butter, some Parmesan cheese, some fresh chives and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the seasoned grits into a small, square baking dish and allow the grits to cool until firm enough to slice. Slice the grits into rectangles and heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high to high heat until hot but not smoking. Add a bit of olive oil to the pan and add the grit cakes. Brown the grit cakes on both sides, adjusting the heat as necessary, until golden brown and hot throughout. Keep warm until ready to serve.

To assemble the dish:
  • Un-fried Chicken
  • browned grit cakes
  • some wildflower honey
  • Green Tobasco sauce
Place a grit cake on a plate and top it with a breast of chicken. Drizzle the chicken with honey and sprinkle on as much Green Tobasco as you can handle. Serve and enjoy - try not to lick the plate!

As written, this recipe will serve 4 very happy people.

In the photo above, you can just see the edge of the grit cake peeking out from under that beautifully crunchy chicken. This meal was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. Or, should I say less? It had all the flavor of a fried dish, without the resulting fat. It was outstanding! So much so that we nearly licked the plate. My stars it was good!

The combination of honey and Green Tobasco is truly inspired. It is a pairing that I know I'll return to again and again. As for the grits, what can I say? From now on, everything at Diva's Diner comes with a side of grits!

Bon appetite!