Friday, February 27, 2009

Mushrooms and Vegans and Burgers, oh my!

Apologies to almost all of you, as this post is going to be rather local. I had the pleasure of trying a new restaurant last night with my friend D., who's a vegan. Yes, they actually exist! And, yes, its possible for them to eat well too! Very well, in fact, particularly if they're dining at Blossom Cafe.

Located on the upper west side of Manhattan, Blossom Cafe specializes in "gourmet, organic, vegan cuisine." Those quotes are not meant to imply a sneer, I lifted that phrase from their site. Gourmet vegan cuisine is not an oxymoron - its a delicious reality. Or at least it is here at Blossom. I'd been looking forward to dining here and, happily, our culinary adventure did not disappoint.

I was craving a salad so I began with the Blossom Greens; a mix of spring greens tossed with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and a maple balsamic vinaigrette and topped with marinated chickpeas. It was crisp, fresh and delicious with a hint of sweetness in the dressing, but not so much as to overwhelm, and the piquant chickpeas really spiced up the dish. They had a subtle barbecue flavor that was both surprising and welcome. (Note, the plate did not arrive with the cukes pushed off to one side ... I did that ... one second after it arrived. Brrrr.)

D. opted for the Cornmeal Crusted Oyster Mushrooms and I must say they were heavenly. The mushrooms had been bathed in a sesame soy marinade prior to being dusted with cornmeal and, I'm guessing, fried. The combination makes for quite an addictive little treat. Both the flavor and the texture were outstanding. They were served over an herbed coleslaw and accompanied by some kind of dipping sauce, the nature of which I cannot recall. All I know is that they were scrumptious and I would definitely recommend this dish.

I chose the Risotto Croquettes as my entree and while the above photo may lack in visual appeal, the dish itself was spectacular. A creamy English pea risotto is used as the base for the croquettes and they are given a light sear on the outside lending a really nice, slightly crunchy, texture to the dish. The cakes were served amid a sea of savory wild mushroom broth and topped with a variety of seasonal, wild mushrooms, some snow pea pods and some kind of yummy greens. The menu described them as pea vines ... and maybe they were indeed, but they didn't look like pea vines to me ... then again, I'm no farmer. Who knows what they were and, frankly, I don't care. They were earthy and delicious. The entire dish was earthy and delicious. Something so luscious about the combination of the crisp/creamy risotto, the deeply flavored broth and the velvety mushrooms. Absolutely divine - and I nearly finished it all!

In a bold, and somewhat whimsical move, D. ordered the Soy Bacon Cheeseburger - on the premise that as a vegan, cheeseburgers are not exactly her typical fare! Hard to see the soy burger, but its there - under a blanket of melty soy cheese and two crisp strips of soy "bacon". Who knew such things existed? Certainly not I. And while the strips will certainly not be mistaken for actual bacon, they had a nice crunch and a salty, bacon-ish flavor. The burger was accompanied by some sweet potato fries and D. was delighted with the whole package indeed. She nearly finished her dish as well, just a few lonely fries left on the plate at the end.

Because there was no reason not to do so ... we ordered dessert. Our waiter suggested the vegan chocolate chip cookies - insisting they were the best in the city. No one loves a good cookie more than I, so ... game on! We ordered one plain and one drizzled with chocolate fudge. Both were exquisite! The texture was wonderful, quite amazing really considering the lack of butter and eggs, and the taste was rich with all the comforting flavors once desires in a chocolate chip cookie. It was everything a cookie should be and more. Or should I say less? I don't know - I think I'm confused ... it must be the lack of meat.

Really, I'm kidding. Blossom Cafe is worth a trip whether you're vegan or not. The bottom line is the food and the food here is wonderful. The menu is so varied, I'm sure there's something for everyone and many more items I hope to try. The atmosphere is serene and quiet, the staff helpful and friendly - I have nothing but praises to sing. Blossom Cafe has everything to recommend it and I'm looking forward to my next meal there. I may even rope the carnivorous husband into joining me. Stranger things have happened.

Don't forget to enter my Great Granola Give-Away if you've not already done so. Have a great weekend and remember to make it ... Divalicious!

Bon appetit!

On edit: the photo above is of the lovely and welcoming bar area. The restaurant has two large bar/dining areas and a wealth of actual tables. Plenty of seating for everyone!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Great Granola Give-Away ...

Fasten your seat belts, delicious ones, you're in for a treat ... and I mean that literally. Or at least one of you is. ~wink~ More on that later ... you'll have to read through to the end.

So, last week a new dude popped into the comments section of my Loaded Oatmeal Cookie post. His name is Matty P. (or Matthew Pawlik in real life) and he's one of the founders of a great, relatively new, online business: Seems that Matt and his friends were chowing down on some ready-made granola one day and wishing they could have all of their favorite ingredients in one bowl. Seeking to create the granola of their dreams, they hit upon an idea for a custom made granola company and thus was born Mix My Granola The Way I Like It!

Genius idea! They've created a slick, user-friendly site that's as delicious as it is fun. In his comment, Matty offered me a sample of their product and I happily accepted. Off I went to their site and in no time I'd mixed up my own Divalicious Blend. Like magic, it arrived at my door two days later ... and one minute after tasting it, I was in love.

Pictured above is my special mix: organic granola base, flax seed, sunflower seeds, roasted almonds, dried blueberries and dried goji berries for kicks. It's outstanding! And you can create your own unique blend as well. This clever company allows users to create an almost infinite number of combinations. Simply choose from one of four base granolas - Organic, French Vanilla, 100% Organic Muesli, or Low-Fat ... and then the fun begins! In subsequent steps, you can add all manner of mix-in's, ranging from a wide variety of nuts, seeds and berries ... to everything under the sun, including wasabi peas, yogurt covered pretzels and even organic gummy bears! Oh my! I passed on the gummy bears, but was sorely tempted to add the fruity loops.

With such a stunning array of choices, your personal blend can be as healthy or as decadent as you like. The taste? In a word - its spectacular! I've been crunching on it straight from the tube, but its equally good when mixed into yogurt or served as a cereal with icy cold milk. I recommend it, highly.

I like it so much in fact that I've decided to host my first official Beach Eats Give-Away, in honor of my new found treat. Simply leave a comment on this post and you will be entered to win a $20.00 gift certificate to All comments will be entered into a random number generator and a winner will be selected on Friday, March 6th.

Now's the time for all of you lurkers to come out of the closet, post a comment and enter to win! No purchase is required and the contest will remain open until midnight on Thursday, March 5th. There will be one winner and said winner must be willing to provide me with an email address to which I will send the gift certificate.

So, what will you add to your granola? Curious Diva wants to know!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Inspiration ...

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite blogs - The Duo Dishes - set off an interesting discussion with their post on adapting recipes. You can read part one of it here ... and take a look at that yummy shrimp and noodle dish while you're at it. ~swoon~ In part two, they not only offered what looks to be an amazing recipe, they gave a wonderful, link-y, description of how that dish came to be. It was a pleasure to read and I couldn't agree more with their declaration that "recipes are meant to be adopted and then adapted!"

In that same vein, my inspiration for today's recipe comes from one of my dearest friends, the lovely and talented Becky. In true Divalicious fashion, Becky rarely follows a recipe to a "T". Just this morning we were discussing how we'll often simply glance at a recipe, to get a sense of it, then once we start cooking ... all bets are off and creativity takes over. By and large, I think this is a good thing and, for me, making a dish my own is part of the joy of cooking.

Recently, Becky hipped me to Giada De Laurentiis' recipe for Roasted Fish with Lima Beans, and suggested I might like to give it a try. While discussing it, she offered the idea of replacing the lima beans with shelled edamame and I was all over it! Naturally, I made some other changes ... the inspiration for which came from a wonderful Thai meal I had last week ... so now I've got my own chain of adaptation to present ... and a new recipe.

Baked Tilapia with Herbed Edamame:
  • 2/3 cup of frozen, shelled edamame
  • 3 tbsp. of minced shallots
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • pinch of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tilapia fillets
  • 6 tbsp. good quality white wine
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • pinch of Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper
  • zest of one lime, minced
Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the cumin, cayenne pepper and a bit of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Reserve.

In another bowl, combine the shelled edamame (its ok if they are still frozen), 2 tbsp. of the minced shallot, the olive oil, vinegar, parsley, mint, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well. Place two long sheets of aluminum foil on a large, rimmed, baking sheet. You will be forming packets in which to bake the fish. Place half of the herbed edamame on each sheet of foil and top each with a fillet of tilapia. Pour 3 tbsp. of the white wine over each fillet and dust with a bit of the reserved cumin mixture, to taste. Top each fillet with the reserved tablespoon of minced shallot and the lime zest in equal measure (as seen above). Fold the remaining foil up and over the fish to form a packet and seal tightly.

Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 20 -25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, carefully open the packets and remove the contents to a plate. Serve immediately with additional wedges of lime for sprinkling over the fish at table and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve two but can easily be doubled as necessary. I hope you'll try it!

By now you're probably wondering if - a.) I only eat tilapia, and - b.) if my sole method of cooking fish is in foil packets? The answer is no, on both counts. I tend to prefer tilapia, because its mild, though I will eat some other varieties. As for the foil, its virtually fool-proof and you can't beat the clean-up! Fish baked in this way is remarkably moist, tender and delicious ... every time.

Feel free to adopt this recipe and apply it to the fish of your choice. Ditto for the sesonings. The ball's in your court now, take this recipe and make it your own!

So, where do you find culinary inspiration? Do you follow most recipes exactly, or are you a free-wheeler like Becky and me? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Frugal Diva: Pancake Edition

Before we get to the recipe of the day, I suppose I should update you on Goose Quest 2009 ... it was a bust. No geese were to be had at any of my local markets, and, perhaps more surprisingly, none were to be had at D'Artagnan - famous purveyor of all things meat. Only after scouring the stores did I think to check Fresh Direct, my local online grocer, and low and behold they did have a goose. But it was too late for this weekend. Now that I finally found a source, and right under my nose, Goose Quest 2009 will happen ... date TBD. Stay tuned.

And now, its breakfast time! Another bitterly cold day has dawned and La Diva was in need of a hot breakfast today. A quick shop of the fridge offered the usual eggs and a bit of ricotta cheese, left over from my gnudoni experiment last week. In the mood for something a bit more special today, I decided to whip up a batch of ricotta pancakes. They hit the spot!

Ricotta Pancakes:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. agave nectar
  • dash of ground cinnamon
  • dash of freshly grated nutmeg, optional
  • 2 tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour
  • a pat of butter or some canola oil for greasing the pan
Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk to scramble. Add the ricotta and continue to whisk well to incorporate. Add the vanilla, agave nectar, cinnamon and a bit of fresh nutmeg, if desired, and mix well to combine. Add the whole wheat pastry flour and whisk again to fully incorporate. Allow the batter to rest in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over high heat and add a bit of butter or canola oil, just enough to slick the pan. When the pan is hot, add the batter by tablespoonfuls to the pan so as to create small, "silver dollar" style pancakes. The batter will be thin, so smaller cakes will be easier to turn. Four small cakes at a time should be about right. Allow them to cook on one side until golden brown and the batter begins to form small bubbles, then flip - very gently - and continue to cook on the other side until done. Remove from the pan and serve with the topping of your choice.

As written, this recipe will yield 8 small pancakes, which is one serving. The recipe can easily be double or tripled as necessary.

These pancakes are not just delicious, they're 100% South Beach approved! They're incredibly light, with a texture somewhere between a pancake and a crepe. I happen to love nutmeg, but if the flavor does not appeal to you, by all means leave it out. I topped mine with a bit of butter and some sugar-free maple syrup, but honey, real maple syrup, or some kind of fruit topping would be delightful as well. A perfect, and guilt-free, way to celebrate tomorrow's International Pancake Day. I hope you'll try 'em!

Lastly, I want to thank both Words Words Words and Dana McCauley for offering their recipes for roast goose. I just knew my readers would come through for me. Thank you both so much! I'm hopeful for a March date for Goose Fest and will indeed be taking you up on your kind offers.

So, what did you have for breakfast this morning? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wild Goose Chase ...

This post has nothing to do with chicken ... I just miss that crazy chicken head.

Today, I'm on a wild goose chase ... literally. The Diva family had a bit of go-round last December about what to serve for Christmas dinner. I wanted our traditional roast turkey, Mama Diva wanted to serve lasagna, my bro was all over the place and at one point suggested lobster - and Papa Diva? He's the one that started it all. He wanted roast goose. Feh.

Needless to say, my feathers were ruffled. You know how I feel about chicken, but I don't know how I feel about goose. Ultimately, Mama Diva won. Fresh off the heels of her knee replacement, she was still a gimp and gimps trump culinary-wanderlust every time. We had lasagna.

Ever the diplomat, and still a daddy's girl even at my advanced age, I promised Papa Diva a roast goose for his birthday. If we were smart, we would have picked one up at Christmas time and stuck it in the freezer. We didn't. More's the pity - we've been searching far and wide for one ever since. And Papa Diva's birthday has long since passed.

Not one to welsh on a promise, I'm out hunting and foraging today for the elusive goose. Frankly, I'm not even sure what I'll do with it once I find it. I've never cooked a goose. Here's what I do know ... should a goose present itself to me, it will not be the only thing on the menu. I'm covering my bases and will be doing a roast pork as well for good measure ... and for those of us who fear a foul fowl. Failing all of the above, we'll dine out!

Since I'm hedging my bets - have you ever roasted a goose? How did it turn out? Got any tips for me or a recipe to recommend? Frightened Diva wants to know!

Who knows how this little scavenger hunt will turn out? Not I, said that cat. Stay tuned and find out on Monday.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bringing Back the Meme ...

Hektik Lyfe from The Silent Podium tagged me with this little meme earlier in the week. The task is to post ten things I love that begin with the letter B. We're free forming the rules on this one, so rather than tagging people - if you'd like to play, leave a comment and I'll assign you a letter. You can link back to me in your answer post. This one has been making the rounds on the web in recent weeks and its fun to see such a wide variety of answers. Try to contain your excitement while I list mine ...

Ten Things I Love That Begin with the Letter "B":

1. Breakfast - in all is glorious forms ... even pumpkin waffles.

2. Bacon - need I say more? Of course not.

3. Blondie - The group ... what can I say, I'm generationally predisposed.

4. Baked Potatoes - and they don't even have to be laden with bbq and cheese, but it doesn't hurt.

5. Brown Bread - of the Irish variety, I'll post a recipe for it next month.

6. Butter - Real Butter. Salted, unsalted, its all good.

7. Brightblack Morning Light - didn't see that one coming, did you? (Some audio here if you're interested.)

8. Baking - obviously.

9. Being a Diva - I know you saw *that* coming.

10. Blogging!

Not to mention blue cheese, bubble baths, boxty and, no doubt, someday ... Botox. If you've got a blog and want to play, shout out in the comments.

So, what's your favorite thing that begins with the letter B? Bodacious Diva wants to know!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Question ...

... is always the same. Its asked in every household, every night of the week, all over the country and probably the world. If we had a penny for every time it was asked, we'd be able to buy and sell Oprah a thousand times over. The question is: "What's for dinner?"

Sometimes, the answer is vodka.

~dramatic pause~

Vodka as in vodka sauce ... c'mon, I'm not that debauched. And sometimes the answer is whatever is hanging around my fridge. Sometimes its both.

Divalicious Vodka Sauce:
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. butter
  • 1 large shallot (or 2 medium) minced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 4 slices of very lean prosciutto, diced
  • 3/4 cup vodka*
  • one 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 or 2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tbsp. fat-free Half-and-Half
  • Cooked penne or other tubular pasta
  • some chopped fresh parsley and additional grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and butter and once the butter has melted, add the shallots, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes, to soften, stirring often - do not let them brown. Add prosciutto and saute until it just begins to crisp. Remove pan from the flame and add vodka to the pan. Return to the burner. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Bring sauce to the boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt, pepper and the grated Parmesan cheese to taste.

Add the oregano and simmer sauce, uncovered for 15 minutes on very low heat stirring frequently. You may add a bit more broth if sauce becomes too thick. This is one of those recipes that can cook for as little or as long as you need it to. 15 minutes is fine, but I've made it in advance and kept it on low for up to an hour. The important thing is to add the half-and-half at the last minute. When you are ready to eat, raise the heat so that the sauce is gently bubbling - add the half-and-half, to taste, stir to incorporate and serve immediately!

As written, this recipe will serve 6. Enjoy!

Careful viewers will have noted the absence of pasta beneath that beautiful sauce in the above photo. I served the sauce over some homemade gnudi and I'll spare you the recipe because I'm absolutely certain no one will even consider making them. Gnudi, or gnudoni, are probably best described as gnocchi's delightfully whimsical cousins. I made mine with a minimum of whole wheat pastry flour and some fresh spinach ... but it was a major undertaking and probably not worth the effort of description.

The sauce, however, is remarkably luscious. So good you'll want to drink it. Really. I'm not a huge fan of pink sauces, so I keep the half-and-half to a minimum, but do as you see fit and feel free to add more if that is your preference. Were we in the midst of summer, I might opt for fresh basil in lieu of the oregano, so that's another option as well. You can't go wrong either way and the end result will surely delight no matter your choice. I hope you'll try it!

*One final note about the vodka - do not use an ultra premium variety. Middle of the road vodka is the way to go here. The premium brands don't have enough flavor. Though the alcohol will burn off during the simmer, without the background spike of vodka there's really no point in making the sauce!

So, what's for dinner in your house tonight? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Truly Delightful Contest ...

The good folks at Quaker have recently launched a line of premium granola bars called True Delights®. In honor of the launch, Quaker and Foodbuzz have teamed up to sponsor the 2009 True Delights Be Delighted Recipe Contest. Contestants must submit a recipe that contains at least one of the 9 ingredients found in Quaker® True Delights bars. With such luscious ingredients as: cashews, chocolate, raspberry, almonds, bananas, coconut, macadamia nuts, cherries or cranberries - entrants are limited only by their imaginations. The contest is open to all, limit one entry per person/per email address.

It should come as no surprise that this weekend found me donning my apron, dusting off the mixer and getting down to some serious baking. I love a challenge and more than that I love the list of suggested ingredients. To be perfectly honest, I can live without granola bars - premium or not - but throw those same ingredients into some dough and I'm all over it. Sure, I might have dreamed up a more inventive concoction ... could have submitted a sous-vied breast of twice plucked guinea hen, glazed with a cashew infused raspberry-almond demi-glace ... but who the hell wants that when you can have a cookie?

And if those cookies are made molten with dark rich chocolate and bursting with luscious dried berries then color me delighted indeed.

Loaded Oatmeal Cookies:
  • 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup mixed, unsweetened, dried cranberries and cherries
  • 3 cups of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, uncooked
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
  • one 11.5 ounce bag of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the white flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and whisk well to combine. Reserve.

Place the softened butter in the bowl of your electric mixer and to it add the granulated sugar, cream together on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add both brown sugars and continue to mix until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla and mix well until thoroughly incorporated. Add the reserved flour mixture, one third at a time, beating well after each addition to in corporate. Add the dried cranberries and cherries, the macadamia nuts and the oats and mix well to combine. Add the chocolate chocolate chip and mix carefully to combine well but gently so as not to break up the chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto an un-greased cookie sheet and bake in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool. As written, this recipe will yield 48 to 55 cookies. Serve and enjoy!

You'll note the mix of dried cherries and cranberries - my market sells them packaged this way, but feel free to mix your own or use either fruit alone.

I've been making these cookies for quite some time now and had only to add a bit of macadamia to enhance them for the contest. This is the recipe I've submitted and I think its a winner. Make no mistake, this is not your average oatmeal cookie - that description is far too tame. These beauties are heavy hitters; loaded with flavor and just silly with texture. A cookie this good should be illegal. A cookie this good should win me a trip to Chicago ... and if they don't that's ok too ... maybe *you'll* be the lucky winner instead?

Why not hit that link and enter the contest yourself? The link up top will take you to the rules and the rest is self-explanatory. If contests aren't your thang but granola is ... click here to score a free sample of the new True Delights®.

So what's your favorite cookie? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sweets for your Sweetie ...

I'm probably dating myself here, but long ago there was a perfume commercial that began with a seductive voice repeating the phrase: "If you want to capture someone's attention ... whisper." If you want to capture my attention, give me chocolate. Deep, dark, velvety chocolate. Give me truffles.

Dark Cherry Truffles:
  • 8 ounces of good quality bittersweet chocolate, 70% cocoa or higher, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fat-free half and half
  • 1 cup of dark cherries, pitted (I used frozen, unsweetened cherries)
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of ground cinnamon, optional
  • 1 tsp. pure almond extract
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder for rolling the truffles.
Finely chop the cherries and reserve. Place the chopped chocolate in a heat-safe bowl and reserve. Heat the half and half in a small saucepan over medium heat and when it begins to simmer, add the chopped cherries. Stir and allow the mixture to return to the simmer then remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Add the pinch of salt, a dash of cinnamon and the almond extract. Stir well until all of the chocolate has melted and the ingredients well combined.

Place the bowl in the freezer to chill, removing the bowl every 3 or 4 minutes and stirring until the chocolate is set. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. When the chocolate is opaque and has begun to harden, remove from the freezer, cover and chill in the fridge overnight.

Once the chocolate has chilled, place the cocoa powder in a small shallow dish or plate. Remove the chocolate from the fridge and, using a teaspoon, scoop out some chocolate and press and roll between moistened palms, compacting the mixture to form a small ball. Work quickly so the chocolate will not melt. Roll each ball in cocoa powder to coat, tapping off the excess, and repeat. If the room is warm, or the chocolate becomes too soft, return the bowl to the fridge for a few minutes to re-chill then proceed.

Serve immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container.

I've adapted this recipe from The South Beach Diet Taste of Summer Cookbook and I've made a few changes in both the ingredients and the process. I've added some cinnamon, because I love it, and included the almond extract to bump up the cherry flavor. Having tasted the mixture as the chocolate was melting, I felt the truffles needed some oomph. Almond extract tastes like cherries to me ... it worked beautifully.

The original instructions called for rolling the truffles immediately after taking the mixture from the freezer, but in my experience they really roll better after spending the night in the fridge. If you're pressed for time, you can certainly roll them right after freezing but doing so will be more difficult and time consuming. They're much easier to form after resting overnight.

The flavor? Exquisite! I used Scharffen Berger Bittersweet chocolate bars and I recommend them, highly. Their velvety texture is perfect for making truffles and their flavor really complements the cherries.

These truffles are rich, decadent and oh-so-smooth. They're everything a truffle should be and the perfect little treat for Valentine's Day. Why not whip up a batch for your sweetie and kick off the holiday with a luscious homemade treat? As for the yield - I'm not sure - I haven't finished rolling them yet and I'm not certain how many of them will survive long enough to count!

So, are you making a special Valentine's Day dessert this weekend? Are there truffles or some other chocolaty concoction in your future? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pain de Viande, Encore ...

I warned you. I told you there would be six more weeks of meatloaf - and you're going to like it too. I promise. You're also going to call it Pain de Viande ... or at least *I* am. You see, I never liked meatloaf as a child - refused to eat it, in fact. Frankly, I think its because of the name. The words "meat" and "loaf" don't seem to belong together and they hardly do justice to the warm, comforting nature of the dish. Meatloaf need a marketing make-over. It needs to be spun; needs some Madison Avenue whiz-kid to take it under her wing and glizt it up a bit ... make us want it.

I'm no marketing maven, but I'll do my part ... I'll present another version of this classic today and leave the spinning to the experts. I've adapted this Pain de Viande from The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook and I'm well pleased with the results. I've added mushrooms for intrigue, upped the seasonings a bit and included some shallots and onions as well. C'est magnifique!

Savory Turkey Meatloaf:
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup of chopped crimini mushrooms
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup of walnuts
  • 2 slices of whole-grain or whole wheat bread
  • 1/4 cup of fat-free milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • dash of Poultry Seasoning
  • grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 lb. of ground turkey breast
  • 1/2 tsp. of Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of beef broth or stock
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet and to it add the mushrooms, shallots and the leaves from the thyme sprigs. Saute over medium high heat until the mushrooms have softened and begin to brown. Add the shredded carrot and the garlic and continue sauteing, stirring often, until the carrot is tender - about 3 minutes or so. Remove the pan from heat and let the mixture cool a bit.

Place the walnuts in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Tear the whole grain bread into pieces and add to the walnuts, continue processing and pulsing until the mixture is finely ground. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, and to it add the milk, egg, onions, parsley, Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire Sauce, sage, poultry seasoning, a grating of fresh nutmeg and the reserved carrot and mushroom mixture. Stir well to combine. Add the ground turkey and the salt and pepper and mix well to thoroughly incorporate using your hands or a large wooden spoon.

Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish and shape into a loaf. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes - then pour the cup of beef broth over the loaf, return it to the oven and continue baking for 15 more minutes, until the loaf is browned and cooked throughout. Total baking time should be 1 hour. Remove from the oven, slice and serve glazed with a bit of broth from the pan. Enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve approximately 5, depending on portion size and it can easily be doubled. While the inclusion of nuts may seem odd, I assure you the taste is not. The nuts add a welcome textural element, and though their flavor is present, its more of an undertone. A subtle hint that pairs beautifully with the mushrooms and cheese. I hope you'll try it!

So ... all you marketing mavens out there ... how would you spin the loaf? What catchy name would you devise to market meatloaf? Can you do better than Pain de Viande??? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Diva: Out and About

An afternoon with the husband ... our Friday in words and pictures:

Oddly enough, we began our adventure at the HBO Store. Last week the husband surprised me with a t-shirt in honor of my devotion to "Flight of the Conchords." Height-challenged Diva that I am, that shirt was rather more of a dress on me. I exchanged it for the one below and ended up with a bonus cd to boot. Sweet!

After a brief stop at Macy's, we made our way to Columbus Circle for lunch at Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center ... one of my favorite places in the city. I somehow managed to resist the siren's song of their famous tomato soup and grilled cheese combo, about which I wrote last October. Small wonder that ... its divine. I had a lovely salad, topped with grilled chicken and garnished with pickled red onions. It was delicious!

The husband chose the tuna Nicoise plate and it was a feast indeed. We briefly considered the idea of dessert ... I mean, its a bakery after all ... though our better natures won out and we decided to save the sweet treats for another day. Sigh.

Following lunch, we walked across the street to the newly opened Museum of Arts and Design. Very interesting place! Though the permanent collection is nice, we were particularly enamored of the current exhibition - Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary.

The exhibition features a host of international artists who create objects and installations using ordinary, everyday, manufactured items as their medium. Visually stunning, these works invite us to consider such lofty topics as consumerism, the nature of disposability, and a variety of other cultural concepts and assumptions. Pictured above is a garment fashioned out of disposable rubber dish-washing gloves that have been turned inside out. Its just one of the many varied and unusual works featured in this provocative exhibit. Much of the work was sculptural in nature and all of it was impressive. I recommend it, highly!

Needing to fortify ourselves after our visual exploits, we skipped back across the street and settled in for a chat at a lovely and unusual wine bar.

Located on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, Clo is a sleek, edgy, high-tech wine bar which features over 100 wines for your sipping pleasure. The wine is served in 4 ounce pours from their bank of automated dispensers.

After surrendering your credit card, you will be given a key card which you simply insert in the slot ... press a button ... and, like magic, your wine will spring forth from the wall. No waitress necessary, though one is on hand to facilitate if needed. Pretty cool, huh? Make no mistake, this place can be spendy. The wines range in price from $9 to $94 per glass, with the average coming in around $12 per glass. And though the selection is impressive, I can see where it would be easy to get carried away and drop a bundle here ... in a hurry. I had a lovely French rose, followed by a nice crisp Italian white from the Friuli region ... then called it quits.

The staff was friendly and helpful, the wine selection interesting and varied, and the atmosphere quiet serene. It was the perfect way to cap off our day on the town.

Our last stop was a trip down the escalator to the Whole Foods located in the basement of the Center. Grass-fed steak for the husband and an organic pork cutlet for me. We cooked at home and neither of us remembered to take pictures!

Every now and then we like to pretend we're vacationing in our own city. It doesn't happen often, but when it does its a blast! So there you have it, a day in the life of a Diva at play - and a host of recommendations to boot. Enjoy!

Bon appetit!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Versatility ...

Romesco sauce. If there's a more versatile dish on the planet, I'm not sure what it would be. A Catalonia classic, romesco sauce is a luscious combination of ground nuts, piquant peppers, a bit of toasted bread and some seasonings ... and it can be used in a myriad of ways. Its a dip, a sauce, a condiment - all rolled into one. Its uses are limited only by your imagination and, happily, it can be prepared in a matter of minutes.

There are as many versions of romesco sauce as there are applications for its use. I'll present one of them here today, but feel free to experiment. In Spain, the sauce is often made with Cascabel peppers but fear not, I won't be sending you on a wild pepper chase. We can achieve a perfectly delightful bowl of romesco with a jar of ordinary roasted red peppers. Marcona almonds are traditional as well but the end result will not suffer a bit if you use regular almonds.

Romesco Sauce:
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 large slice of firm, sugar-free, whole grain bread, crusts removed
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds (or blanched sliced almonds)
  • one 7.5 ounce jar of roasted red peppers, drained
  • 3/4 cup of fresh grape tomatoes*
  • 1 tbsp. of sherry wine or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 or 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • dash of Tobasco sauce, optional
Tear the slice of bread into pieces and heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the bread and garlic to the skillet and toast over medium high heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally for approximately 5 minutes. Add the almonds to the pan and continue toasting until the almonds are golden brown, stirring as needed, for about 3 minutes or so. Do not burn.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse until ground. Add the rest of the ingredients, pulse and puree until finely ground. The mixture will form a thick paste, similar to pesto in consistency. Serve immediately, or reserve and chill for later use.

*I've chosen to use grape tomatoes because its winter. If it were tomato season, I would opt for one large ripe tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped.

The finished sauce is delicious all on its own and can be used to top any grilled fish, chicken or meat. It would be outstanding as a sandwich condiment and is equally good when used as a dip for fresh veggies or spread on crackers as seen above.

Taking my cue from The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook, I put the sauce to good use last night and adapted the following recipe:

Chicken with Romesco Sauce:
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, smashed to a paste with a pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • Romesco Sauce
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic paste, lemon juice, pepper and oregano, whisking well to incorporate. Brush the chicken breasts with the seasoned oil and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the chicken and cook, turning once until browned on both sides, approximately 5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and reserve. Add the romesco sauce and vegetable broth to the same skillet and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Return the chicken to the skillet, cover and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked throughout. Serve, garnished with a slice of lemon, and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve four and there will be plenty of sauce left over for later use. Keep the left-over sauce covered in the fridge and use it as a dip for some lovely grilled shrimp, or what have you. I like to serve it with some crisp flat bread and hummus, though it would be equally good when paired with a nice, sharp cheese.

Really, its the most versatile recipe in my cannon. It tastes of summer in a bowl ... and that's a welcome quality indeed. I hope you'll try it!

Bon appetit!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Housekeeping: Weekend Edition

My stove is missing me again. With the hockey game on Tuesday and Book Club on Wednesday, I haven't had a chance to create much in the way of culinary greatness. I had intended to write about our Book Club meal today ... but as it turns out, there wasn't much to recommend. The discussion was great, but the food unremarkable. Also, the husband has surprised me by taking the afternoon off - a much needed break for him.

We're going to pump some dollars into the economy, check out the recently opened Museum of Arts & Design at Columbus Circle and possibly a new wine bar. I'll be toting my camera along and if there's anything to report or recommend, I'll post it next week.

I expect to be reunited with the stove over the weekend, so stay tuned for a new recipe on Monday.

So, what's on the agenda for your weekend? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Recommendation: Biricchino Restaurant

This, my friends, is a picture of Lord Stanley's Cup. It was one of the special guests in attendance at last night's Rangers' game for the retirement ceremony of Adam Graves' jersey. I hope my fellow Ranger fans took a good long look at it. The way the current team is playing, the Stanley Cup is not likely to grace the Garden again in the foreseeable future. In a word, this team sucks.

When faced with this kind of suckitude, its especially necessary to fortify one's self prior to the game. Luckily, one of my favorite Italian restaurants is right around the corner. Located on the corner of 29th Street and 8th Avenue, Biricchino has been serving up outstanding Northern Italian comfort food to those in the know for 22 years. Biricchino is one of New York's great hidden gems. While somewhat off the beaten path, and in a neighborhood not known for quality dining, its well worth the trip whether you're attending an event at Madison Square Garden or not.

The husband and I like to begin our meal by sharing a plate of Biricchino's homemade sausages. The assortment varies, but usually includes: a cognac infused chicken apple sausage, a savory sagey pork link, one hot and one sweet Italian, and a spicy chicken with jalapeno link - all of which are grilled to perfection and served piping hot. These handcrafted beauties really benefit from the char of the grill and they are surprisingly lean. Pair the sausage plate with a crisp, lightly dressed, insalata mista and - trust me - you'll be in heaven.

Better yet, go with a group and order the Antipasto Biricchino as well. This assortment of homemade charcuterie is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Its stunning. The groaning plate arrives bedecked with salami, prosciutto, bresaola, fresh mozzarella and more! All of it fresh, all of it delicious. Biricchino's store-front deli does a bristling lunch business - mostly devoted to this variety of Italian charcuterie - so the quality is high and the meats are ultra fresh. Paired with the brimming basket of bread that will appear shortly after you arrive, the antipasto is sure to satisfy.

The husband opted to follow our sausage and salad with a plate of Malfatti Piemontesi, pictured above; tender, ravioli-like, pasta pillows encasing a filling of ground veal, prosciutto and fresh Parmesan cheese. The malfatti arrive bathed in a light, yet full-bodied, tomato sauce and they are spectacular! Be forewarned, this dish is rich and the portion is huge - perfect for a bitter, snowy evening such as it was last night. This is Italian comfort food at its best ... and there's plenty of it!

For those seeking lighter fare, the menu has a myriad of options. You can't go wrong with any pasta dish here and the Fusilli con pollo e funghi is a particular favorite of mine. Biricchino has a way with chicken and fish as well. Their fish of the day is always fresh and interesting - and their Pollo alla Milanese is one of the best in the city. Since we were dining at the terribly uncivilized hour of 5 pm last night, I chose to skip the entree and had a small bowl of pasta e fagioli, the soup of the day, instead. It was delicious!

Biricchio has much to recommend it, though perhaps most charming is the fact that your check will arrive with a delicate little plate of homemade truffles ... we're talking chocolate truffles here. Deep, dark, velvety and rich, they are a delightful way to end a perfectly delightful meal. Really, I can't say enough good things about this place. We've been dining here for years and the quality of the food never fails to impress me. The staff is warm and friendly, the menu interesting and varied, and though the decor is not particularly special, its as cozy as can be. Because of its proximity to Madison Square Garden, Biricchino tends to fill up before big events, so call ahead and be sure to reserve a table.

A meal at Biricchino is the perfect way to begin any event at the Garden, but make no mistake, its worth a visit even if you're not in the area. I recommend it, highly!

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Organic Diva ...

If you've been reading Beach Eats for a while, you'll know that I've done my fair share of whining about the exasperating event that is grocery shopping in Manhattan. Last summer I likened it to the running of the bulls and I wasn't exaggerating. In that same piece I offered a tip to Fairway shoppers: shop the organic section upstairs ... the check-out lines are smaller and more efficient. Well, that was then and this is now - the upstairs check-out lines have exploded. Just last Friday I waited 15 minutes in line behind 12 other shoppers, all for some organic broccoli, silken tofu and a Kashi frozen pizza. Sigh.

To make matters worse, 8 out of 12 of those shoppers were wearing the most alarming hats imaginable. What is it about organic shoppers that engenders a fondness for the most absurd forms of head gear? Have you noticed this ... or is it just me? ~cue crickets~ Just me? Ok, we'll move on. But not before I note for the record that my own head was bare. The silly hat parade did not include yours truly.

Either it was a slow news day on Saturday, or Fairway frustrations are coming to a head ... because the front page of the New York Times featured an article about the quirky and terrifying Fairway elevator. I might have written it myself - if Glen Collins hadn't beaten me to the punch ... or if the New York Times cared to employ me in any fashion! ~wink~ The husband passed me the article Saturday afternoon, saying: "you're going to love this, its about you!" And in a way, he's right. I'm part of the "elevator cognoscenti" Collins mentions. I know the protocol, I know where the elusive call-button is hidden and, more importantly, I know how to hold the door open for others, lest they get caught in its swift iron jaws.

Click the link and take a spin through Mr. Collins' amusing article. You'll be rewarded with another brief glimpse into the glamorous life of La Diva, such as it is, and a few chuckles to boot. Look carefully next time you're trapped in that elevator ... I might just be there beside you.

So, tell me about your shopping experience. Do you bask in the luxury of wide aisles and a stunning array of products? Or are you navigating as tiny and treacherous a space as us Fairway combatants? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Six More Weeks of Meatloaf?

I guess it depends on which rodent you ask. Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators did indeed see his shadow today: thus predicting six more weeks of winter. Competing rodent, Staten Island Chuck, however, did not see his shadow. Punxsutawney Phil may be the more well known groundhog, but S.I. Chuck's record is pretty impressive. According to local sources, he's been right 21 out of the last 28 years ... though I think this year he may have been under some pressure from our illustrious Mayor.

While my heart wants to go with Chuck, my gut tells me we're in for more winter ... and indeed more meatloaf. I could live without additional snow and ice, but if the chilly temps indicate more comfort food - I'm all over it. Is there anything more comforting, more nostalgic, than a delicious and savory meatloaf? I think not.

In honor of our annual winter rodent fest (or folly depending on your perspective), I'd like to offer my favorite meatloaf recipe. Its as basic and satisfying as can be; perfect for a winter evening ... and outstanding when made into a sandwich for lunch the next day.

Savory Meatloaf:
  • 1 lb. ground turkey breast
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground beef (sirloin)
  • 1 cup of minced onion
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (I like Luigi Vitelli brand.)
  • 1/4 cup ketchup*
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano, crushed between the palms of your hands
  • 2 tsp. dried basil, crushed between the palms of your hands
  • 1 tsp. dried granulated garlic, or garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup of seasoned dried breadcrumbs
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands - or, if your squeamish like me, a large wooden spoon. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 inch oven-safe glass baking dish and shape into a loaf, packing the meat together to attain the proper shape. (Alternately, you can bake the loaf in the traditional 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan, but I like the fat to drain away from the meat, hence the larger pan. Do as you see fit.) Cover the top of the loaf with a thin layer of ketchup a/o tomato paste and sprinkle with some dried basil or parsley for decoration.

Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven until well-browned and firm to the touch - approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes or so. Serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 6 to 8, depending on portion size. I know the ketchup isn't exactly Beach-y as it does contain sugar ... but its practically un-American to make meatloaf without some ketchup. I've halved the amount of ketchup in my standard recipe and included the quarter cup of tomato paste to make up for it. I think its a good compromise, but if you're a traditionalist, feel free to use just the ketchup and in that case make it a 1/2 cup. You can't go wrong either way - though, frankly, I think the tomato paste brings a welcome zest to the mix.

I like to round out the meal with a succulent baked sweet potato and whatever green veg is hanging around my fridge. This meatloaf is divine when served hot from the oven and positively sublime when served cold as the filling for a sandwich. It doesn't last long in our house and I assure you it won't in yours. I hope you'll try it.

So, with six more weeks of winter on the way, what will you be baking up to stave off the cold? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!