Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Elderflower Edition

For weeks now, I've been begging the husband to make me an elderflower inspired drink. It goes a little something like this:

The Diva: I want a drink made with elderflower liqueur.

The Husband: So buy some and I'll make it.

That's the entire exchange, word for word. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Often. Through the magic of "Marital Hearing" - a condition which develops after, oh, say the better part of 3 decades spent together - that exchange morphs into something like this:

The Diva says: I want a drink made with elderflower liqueur.

The Husband Hears: waah waah waah elderflower waah waah.

Result: while away on business in New Haven, the husband proceeds to order himself a drink made with ... you guessed it ... elderflower liqueur. And the Diva? Well, she gets an email about it on Monday night!

The Gin Blossom - recipe courtesy of Zinc Restaurant:
  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1 1/2 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1 1/2 oz. strawberry puree*
  • a bit of soda water for topping up
Pour the gin, St. Germain and strawberry puree into an ice filled shaker. Shake well and strain into an ice filled glass, top up with a bit of soda water (plain seltzer) to taste. Stir, garnish with a sprig of mint, serve and enjoy. Repeat as necessary.

*To make the strawberry puree, I used a 10 oz. bag of organic frozen strawberries. I thawed the berries and pureed them in a blender, with about a tablespoon of water, until smooth and liquefied.

My word for this drink is: enchanting! Normally, I'm not a fan of gin based cocktails, but the subtle yet complex flavor of St. Germain pairs beautifully with both the gin and strawberries. The elderflower liqueur is unique in flavor; a bit sweet but not overly so, laced with notes of pear and soft lemon with a slight floral finish. Its difficult to describe ... almost like a whisper ... there in the background, haunting your palate, just begging for another sip. It is the magical ingredient that turns this drink from the ordinary into something quite extraordinary. The Gin Blossom is light, refreshing and altogether perfect for Spring. I hope you'll try it!

To learn more about this unusual, hand-crafted liqueur, you may visit the St. Germain site. It contains a wealth of information and some delicious looking cocktail recipes.

All kidding aside, I am immensely grateful to the husband for his intrepid investigations on behalf of Thirty Thursdays. He happened to find himself in New Haven earlier this week and popped into Zinc for a meal. Located on Chapel Street, Zinc specializes in "market inspired, globally infused" modern American cuisine. By all accounts, his meal was spectacular and I'm looking forward to trying Zinc on my next trip to CT. He had the Berkshire pork sausage as an entree and began the meal with some really delicious pork and ginger dumplings. ~drool~

They did indeed serve him a Gin Blossom and his waitress, Sara, was kind enough to offer him the recipe when he mentioned my Thirsty Thursdays feature to her. Thank you so much, Sara! Clearly, the husband was impressed with this place and I am delighted to offer them props for our cocktail offering this week. Thanks to Zinc, my wish has finally been fulfilled. Hooray!

So, are you a fan of elderflower liqueur? If so, how do you take yours? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Hungry Diva: Link Love Edition

When I posted The Five Hidden Truths of Life as a Food Blogger earlier this month, I forgot to mention one thing. Living life as a food blogger generally means one is reading a whole host of other food blogs and the like throughout the day - and such perusing often leads to lust. While I try my best to offer you my own food here, or recipes which I've adapted and made-over, the fact remains that there is a veritable cornucopia of inviting dishes, created by others, that I'm just dying to try.

I've been lusting after two specific dishes for the better part of a week now. The first is the curried cauliflower flatbread featured in Mark Bittman's column (The Minimalist) last Wednesday. This bread has my name written all over it and despite the unseasonably warm weather I baked the bread on Monday. In a word, its spectacular!

The batter is a simple mix of whole wheat flour and light coconut milk, to which one adds a healthy dose of curry-dusted roast cauliflower. Do I have your attention yet? I should. This is a quick, easy, healthy and delicious recipe that is destined to become part of many a Diva meal. Similar to nan in texture, I'm already envisioning a host of other options. I can see replacing the cauliflower with some roasted potatoes and onion, creating something akin to Kulcha (another traditional Indian bread). Or adding any number of other veggies and spices depending on my mood and the contents of my fridge. I've already decided to include a bit of chickpea flour in my next batch, which should pair well with the curried cauliflower. Yum.

Save for flipping the bread over during the last 15 minutes of baking, which I do recommend, I changed the recipe not at all. You can find it here and it is well worth the click. This bread was so good, so aromatic - crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside - that it was absolutely worth the insanity of a 400 degree oven on an 85 degree day. Its downright addictive - I had to leave the kitchen and shut the door behind me, lest I finish the whole thing myself. I hope you'll try it!

Last night I paired the remains of the bread with another recipe that's been haunting my dreams. Cheryl, from 5 second rule, featured a simple yet seductive recipe for oven-roasted chicken last week and I've been lusting after it ever since. Prior to roasting, the chicken marinated in a luscious combination of fruity vinegar (I used a raspberry vinegar), Worcestershire sauce and olive oil. The results? Stunning!

As Cheryl points out in her post, the fruity vinegar really helps the chicken caramelize and the results are insanely good. The chicken was moist, tender and remarkably flavorful - so much so the husband nearly devoured half the bird himself. The only change I made was to double the marinade and cook an entire chicken which had been sectioned by my wonderful butcher, Tommy. You can find Cheryl's recipe here and if her picture doesn't send you straight to your oven, I don't know what will. Simple, satisfying and altogether delicious, I urge you to try it. Thanks, Cheryl!

So, there you have a snapshot of my culinary wanderings this week. Be sure to stop by for Thirsty Thursday tomorrow ... I'll have a special, springtime cocktail on the menu ... courtesy of the husband.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

City Grilling ...

Mother Nature is playing tricks on us again. We've gone from sweaters and gloves to shorts and flip-flops in a matter of days. While I'm happy to put my winter coat away, the need for air conditioning in April is a bit disconcerting.

I don't know about you, but when the weather turns warm the first thing I want to do is head straight for the deck, drink in hand, and throw some burgers on the grill. A careful search has confirmed that I seem to be lacking the requisite backyard, deck, and or grill ... sigh. I have no choice but to fire up the grill pan, turn on the a/c, and get cooking.

Spicy, Savory Chicken Burgers:
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, chopped
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the peppers and leeks, a dash of Kosher salt and some freshly ground pepper, saute, stirring for one minute. Reduce heat to medium and sweat the leeks, stirring as needed, until they are soft and pale golden but not yet fully browned. Remove from heat. Cool and reserve.
  • 1 pound of ground chicken breast
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and cut into small dice
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. good quality tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • pinch of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • the (cooled) cooked leek and red pepper mixture (above)
  • some sliced Gruyere cheese
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients - except the cheese - and mix well until fully incorporated. Heat a grill pan over high heat and brush it with a bit of oil. When the pan is good and hot, but not yet smoking, form the chicken mixture into patties and grill over medium-high heat, turning once, about 5 minutes per side, or until done. Chicken burgers should be firm to the touch when done and fully cooked throughout. Top the burgers with some sliced Gruyere, cover the pan and allow the cheese to melt. Serve and enjoy.

As written this recipe will yield 4 to 6 patties, depending upon how big you like your burgers.

Personally, I prefer to skip the bun and serve the burger atop some crisp lettuce and garnish it with a quick little tomato and red onion relish ...

... to make the relish I simply combine some chopped grape tomatoes, chopped red onion, some red wine vinegar, a bit of olive oil, a drop of balsamic vinegar and some chopped fresh parsley. Stir well and add a dash of salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture over the finished cheese burgers and I assure you - you won't miss the ketchup.

It may not be summer just yet, but mix up a batch of these juicy, savory burgers and it will most certainly taste like it!

Careful viewers will note the crusty bit of flatbread next to my burger ... come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about it.

Bon appetit!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Musings ...

It was another whirl-wind weekend in Diva land ... and none of it was spent in my kitchen.

On Friday night we took in a magnificent performance of Terry Riley's "In C" at Carnegie Hall. Written in 1964, "In C" is one of the most influential and interesting pieces of modern classical music ever written. I lack the expertise to properly offer tribute to it here, but I can tell you it was one of the greatest musical performances I've ever seen.

Saturday night, we once again had the pleasure of dining at eighty one, a local modern American restaurant who's kitchen is commanded by Chef Ed Brown. Eighty One was recently awarded a Michelin Star and it is well deserved. The seasonal menu celebrates the best of both locally grown and global ingredients, from small, artisinal farms and fisheries, etc.

Sadly, the Diva was dining sans camera that night ... we were hosting one of the husband's clients and while I was dying to blog the meal ... well, it might have seemed odd. So ... no pictures. Boo. Next time - and there will be a next time. Unlike last weekend's dining disappointments, this meal was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

While eighty one is known for their attention to seafood ... I am not. I began the meal with the most luscious early pea and ramp risotto. It was spectacular. Seductive, creamy, redolent with the subtle oniony flavor of fresh ramps and bursting with crisp-tender peas, it was so good I had to stop myself from licking the plate. Needless to say, I chose the slow-roasted chicken as my second course and, happily, it came a top a bed of perfectly cooked chickpeas and wilted greens that had been cleverly spiked with a hint of harissa. Wow. The spicy harissa was a brilliant and altogether welcome addition - turning what could have been an ordinary dish into something quite extraordinary.

My dining companions did indeed sample the seafood wares and I'm told the dishes were magnificent. The husband began the meal with tuna carpacchio , garnished with a delicate little nicoise salad that included a gorgeous quail egg. The plate was a thing of beauty. He followed with the golden snapper, garnished with morels, gnocchi and ice spinach ... whatever that is?! He, too, almost licked the plate.

Desserts at eighty one are not to be missed. I still remember the sweet corn ice cream I had there at the end of last summer - and my bittersweet chocolate mousse on Saturday night was equally memorable. It arrived paired with a caramel cashew pot de creme that was topped with dark chocolate sorbet. A more stunning combination I cannot imagine. The flavors were so delicate, so perfectly balanced, and the texture so light and creamy, it was like nothing I've ever tasted. I would order this again and again, were it not for the fact that eighty one's menu changes often. I should probably book another table now before this amazing dessert disappears.

If you find yourself on the upper west side of Manhattan and desirous of an exquisite meal in a beautifully appointed setting, I highly recommend a visit to eighty one. It is an extraordinary restaurant.

So there you have a brief, sadly picture-less, re-cap of my weekend. Lovely indeed, yet utterly devoid of my own culinary creations. Happily, I'm about to remedy that this very minute. Away to the kitchen I must flee ... so I'll have something to post tomorrow! ;)

On the menu this week: savory chicken burgers and an exploration of Mark Bittman's curried cauliflower flat bread. Stay tuned!

So, what did you eat this weekend? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Beachy Breakfast

I've got breakfast on the brain this week. Timely too, because on Tuesday night, the New York City Foodbuzz Featured Publishers were treated to "Breakfast for Dinner" by the good folks at Eggland's Best. The event was held at Beacon restaurant in midtown and it was both fun and informative. I learned more about the care and feeding of chickens than I ever dreamed possible.

I also learned a thing or two about Eggland's Best eggs. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical, thinking that the increased Omega 3s and such were the by product of some chemical process ... yet, not at all! I was delighted to learn that the abundance of good things in Eggland's Best eggs are due to the high-quality, 100% vegetarian chicken feed. As a result of this nutrient rich feed, their eggs have 25% less saturated fat, 10 times more Vitamin E, 3 times more Omega 3, and 25% more lutein than regular eggs. They are locally produced across the country, incredibly fresh, and have less cholesterol to boot. Color me impressed!

Given my eggy state of mind, I thought I'd offer you something to go with your Breakfast Martini this weekend. A classic recipe that will be familiar to anyone who's ever been on the South Beach Diet - or any high protein diet for that matter.

Egg Muffins:
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, peeled and minced
  • 2/3 cup diced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups of chopped fresh spinach
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, add the shallots and saute for one minute. Add the diced mushrooms, red bell pepper, a pinch of salt and some fresh black pepper, and saute until tender, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the spinach, by handfuls, stirring well to combine and saute until all of the spinach has been added and is wilted. The spinach will give off some liquid, saute until the pan is mostly dry, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool.

  • 1 dozen large Eggland's Best Eggs
  • 2/3 cup shredded Gruyere or sharp Cheddar cheese
  • a handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • a grating of fresh nutmeg
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Crack all 12 eggs into a blender. Add the cheese, parsley, a bit of salt, pepper and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. Blend on high until well combined.

Spoon a bit of the sauteed vegetable mixture into the bottom of each cup of a non-stick 12 cup muffin tin, distributing the mixture evenly among the cups. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the vegetables in each cup in equal measure. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until set and beginning to turn pale golden brown. Do not over bake. Remove from pan, serve and enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve 6, two egg muffins per person.

This is my version of a classic dish and I encourage you to create your own. Not a fan of mushrooms? Leave them out. Big fan of cheese? Go right ahead and add more. Mostly we're talking about technique here, so the actual ingredients are up to you. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination ... and the results will be delicious, I promise.

One especially nice feature of this recipe is that it freezes well. Simply freeze the individual muffins and thaw/heat in the microwave for a quick and easy breakfast on the run.

So, are you a fan of the egg muffin? If so, what's in yours? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Breakfast Edition

Everyone knows the best way to get of out slump is to start drinking, preferably early in the day. ~wink~ Fortunately I know just the drink!

Travel with me, friends, if you will, to a time not long ago. A simpler time, a time when the word "chef-testant" was not part of our collective lexicon. Of course I'm speaking of the time when the Food Network was actually worth watching - back when they featured actual recipes, not scads of inane challenges and contests. A time when they featured real chefs doing what they do best.

Some years ago, as I was watching my then favorite Food Network program, Cooking Live, Sara Moulton made a breakfast martini ... and immediately I fell in love. I quickly jotted down the recipe, by hand, and promptly mixed up a batch at the first opportunity. Heaven. The drink is a simple mix of Lillet, orange juice and champagne ... like a Mimosa but so much better. The sweet, floral notes of Lillet pair beautifully with the fresh juice and champagne, creating an enticing mix that's sure to have you begging for a refill.

The Breakfast Martini:
  • 2 oz. of Lillet (Blanc)
  • 2 oz. of orange juice (preferably fresh)
  • some champagne for topping up the drink
Pour the Lillet and orange juice into and ice filled martini shaker and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and top with a bit of champagne to fill the glass. Garnish with a slice of orange, lemon or lime, serve and enjoy. Repeat as necessary.

Hint - those seeking a less potent potable should feel free to replace the champagne with either some unflavored seltzer or ginger ale ... though I can't imagine why one would do such a thing!

Lillet is a French aperitif, made in the village of Podensac which is near Bordeaux. Its made with a variety of wines, blended with herbs and fruit, and the exact recipe is a proprietary secret. It can be enjoyed - chilled - as is, and it also pairs well with any number of spirits. You can find a host of other cocktail recipes on their site.

As written this recipe will serve one and I guarantee you'll want another. Its light, refreshing, and entirely lovely. Perfect for a weekend brunch or, really, any time at all. I hope you'll try it.

So, what's your favorite breakfast cocktail? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More Adventures in the Land of Meh ...

It appears that I am in something of a culinary slump ... though not necessarily of my own doing. In evidence: the failed tahini cookies (which were so totally not my fault because it was not my recipe) and one ordinary meal at a previously thought extraordinary restaurant.

On Saturday night the husband and I had the pleasure of dining with a couple of long-time foodie friends. While the company was magnificent - the food, sadly, failed to astound. Odd too, because we dined at Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns. This was our third trip to the restaurant and, of the three meals, I'm sorry to say that Saturday night's was the least memorable.

Its not that the food was bad, more that it was unremarkable. I toted my camera along, took copious notes for a full review ... though now, as I sit down to write, I realize that I just wasn't that enthused about the meal ... not even enough to do a proper review. Frankly, that saddens me.

I remember with great pleasure the meal the four of us shared at Blue Hill last September. We happened to catch the very end of native tomato season and the tomato-based menu that evening was just silly with fresh flavor. I still long for the shot of cilantro spiked "tomato water" served that night - which in lesser hands could be seen as a throw-away frill, but under Barber's expert attention was nothing short of transcendent.

Sure, there was a shot of fresh juice on Saturday night as well - this time an apple/celery combo. Delightful to be sure, but not transcendent. And nothing I hadn't already tasted from my own brief affair with a juicer back in 1992. Seriously.

As the nine course meal was winding down - with a lamb chop that had been barely acquainted with a heat source, I might add - the four of us got to wondering if we'd just been there and done that one too many times. Have our palates become jaded by the wildly over-the-top meals we've shared? Or was Blue Hill at Stone Barns simply having an off night? I don't know.

Here's what I do know ... that potato chip pictured above was one of the highlights of the meal. Dusted with spice and slit through with a lively sprig of sage, it was a thing of beauty - gorgeous in both flavor and presentation ... yet still, a potato chip. Second to that was a lovely, violet bedecked salad of mixed greens, served atop a melange of savory sauteed mushrooms and just a hint of creamy dressing. Not quite transcendent, but almost. It was heavenly.

I wish I could say as much for the rest of the courses. I can't. Its especially disappointing given the two month wait for a reservation and our very long wait to be seated that night. The restaurant's setting and mission are magnificent, to be sure, but on this night the service was erratic and the dishes uninspired. I'm not at all slamming Blue Hills at Stone Barns, merely expressing some disappointment. Even the best of restaurants can have an off night. I still believe its well worth a visit, especially if you've not yet had the opportunity to dine there.

In all honesty, the most delicious thing I ate this weekend was a cheesesteak at Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon. No reservations required ... just a heap full of napkins. Seriously. In retrospect, I should have taken my camera to the Yankee game and planned to review the food there instead. Next time for sure ... stay tuned.

So, have you had a disappointing meal at a famous restaurant? Or have you, too, become jaded by one too many OTT meals? Curious Diva wants to know.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for Thirsty Thursdays and get your drink on!

Bon appetit!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Great Tahini Experiment: Or, A Trip to the Land of Meh

People, there's a reason we use butter when baking ... it makes things taste good. While I'm all for eating well, meaning with an eye towards health, I do require my healthy foods to be delicious. If I wanted to snack on biscuits of wheat and hay, I'd have been born a cow. Moo.

I had such high hopes for these tahini based cookies ... yet the finished product was decidedly UN-spectacular. One bite and I was instantly transported to the 1970's; a time before we realized that health food could be and should be delicious.

Such a shame, because the ingredients were promising: a bunch of rolled oats, a bit of whole wheat pastry flour, some dark brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, a couple of egg whites, etc. I added pecans, because I like nutty cookies. They should have been yummy. They were not. This fact was confirmed when the husband tasted them and stopped after only two cookies. Normally, he's eating as fast as I'm baking. He did not return for another round. Feh.

The recipe came straight out of The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook, and I will not offer it here. They simply aren't worth baking. The texture is odd, and the after-taste is revolting. So much so that they're destined to become food for the birds that visit my kitchen window each morning. I wonder if they'll turn their collective beaks up at them?

So, have you ever baked with tahini? Have your efforts been successful? If so, please share. I'm not ready to give up on tahini based baked goods ... the search continues!

Bon appetit!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Snack Well

Long ago there was an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood that would serve a lovely basket of bread and crisps, accompanied by a luscious white bean spread. Normally, I'd be none too pleased about the lack of butter, but this spread was so creamy and flavorful I almost didn't miss it. Almost.

The restaurant has long since closed and while I've had every intention of recreating that dip, lo these many years, I somehow never got around to it. Our Friday snack programs seems like a good time to revisit the white bean.

While I set out to create something a bit more Italian in flavor, I soon realized that I had a rather large and forlorn can of tahini waiting patiently in my fridge ... so in it went. I suppose the result is something rather akin to hummus - and I know its really delicious.

Herbed White Bean Spread:

  • one 15.5 can small white beans, rinsed and drained (I used low-sodium)
  • 1 large clove or garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tbsp. tahini
  • juice of 1/2 fresh lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
  • zest of one lemon, minced
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 cup, tightly packed, fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • pinch of good quality cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • some paprika and good quality olive oil for garnish
Combine the beans, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, lemon zest and 2 tbsp. of water in the bowl of your food processor. Process and pulse on high until well combined. Add the parsley, chives, salt, pepper, cayenne and cumin. Process on high, streaming in a bit of olive oil, about a tablespoon, until well combined and creamy.

Remove to a serving bowl, garnish with a dusting of paprika and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Serve with a variety of crudite, whole grain crackers and or whole wheat pita chips. Enjoy!

Use your judgment with respect to the water and olive oil additions. They are included to thin the dip a bit and your need for them will largely depend on your own preference.

Big fan of roasted garlic? Then feel free to use it in place of the raw clove. Fending off a pack of vampires? Go right ahead and add another clove of raw garlic. The choice is up to you. Ditto for the cumin and cayenne. Flavor this dip according to your desires and I assure you it will be magnificent either way.

I can think of a myriad of applications for the finished spread. It would be outstanding as part of a healthy, veggie sandwich, or equally good when used in place of butter on some crusty bread. I hope you'll try it.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Tax Man Edition

I don't know how you feel about April 15th - personally, I'm not a fan. Fraught with stress, filled with bitterness and, usually, a midnight run to the all night Post Office on 34th Street - its a day I'm happy to see end. I don't even do my own taxes, but I'm still a Last Minute Lucy.

Generally, we cap off the evening's festivities with a good stiff drink. Last night was no exception.

The Tax Collector:

  • 1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 oz. dry vermouth
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 2 oz. premium vodka
  • 2 - 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • some ginger ale for topping up
Garnishes:
  • a slice of orange, lime or lemon
  • optional - knife for opening veins so that IRS can bleed you dry
Place the first 5 ingredients (grapefruit juice through vodka) in an ice filled martini shaker. Shake and pour over ice into a rocks glass. Top up the drink with some ginger ale to taste. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

Knowing full well the depths of my bitterness, this drink required a bitter base - hence grapefruit juice. You could certainly opt for oj if that is your preference. I'm not going to lie, as written this is an astringent little beverage. It would be lovely served as a summer refresher, on a nice warm day - though it was equally good for taking edge off last night ... when both the mood and the temperature were bitter.

Let's face it, vodka makes everything better - even April 15th!

Cheers!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday Wackness:Take Two ...

... only this time I've got the formatting right. Apologies to those who commented on my first attempt today!

So, as you may have already sensed, this week is turning out to be a bit crazed. I haven't been near my stove since I made the mashed potatoes and cake for Easter. That's about to change ... but not until tonight.

In lieu of a recipe today, I will provide you with some quality entertainment of the moving variety. A teaser of sorts for tomorrow's Thirsty Thursdays post ... see first video below.

You see, I am a Diva of many talents, and I've just added film-making to the list! Big thanks to Cookie Brochette of Lightbulb Cuisine, who introduced me to the fine art of making movies. You can view her talents here. Frankly, I can't get enough of it! If you want to make your own movies, click on over to Xtranormal and roll 'em!

As a special treat for H. and M., of bunny ears fame, I now present a classic from the Diva Archives entitled: Sad Fish. This one featuring The Husband and La Diva at home ... see second video below.

Rest assured that I will be spending the balance of the day creating a very special cocktail to honor the national misery that is April 15th. Be sure to check in tomorrow for Thirsty Thursdays and get your drink on!

Bon appetit!

video video

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Diva Family Easter ...

Can a holiday still be Divalicious even if The Diva does not host? Absolutely! Take a look ...

The extend Diva Family and a number of our nearest and dearest friends gathered in the terribly chic neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn for an enormous Easter Feast. Our hostess with the mostest was Diva sister-in-law, H. - and she outdid herself this year!

The husband kicked off our celebration with a pitcher of his famous Bloody Bulls ... recipe will soon be featured on Thirsty Thursdays, I promise.

Noshes and nibbles were provided by W., aka The Snack Bee. True to her name, W. presented a marvelous assortment of luscious cheeses, bread, crackers and pate.






The Bloodies continued to flow as H. prepared the feast and the bunny ears came courtesy of The Snack Bee.






Our Easter Menu:
  • 7 Hour Lamb w/Roasted Carrots and Garlic
  • Glazed Ham
  • Mashed Potatos
  • Steamed Asparagus
  • Cauliflower au Gratin
  • Herbed Baby Peas w/Gruyere
  • Leek, Onion and Cheese Quiche
  • A Garden Fresh Salad
  • A Lovely basked of baked goods ...


... banana bread, mini blueberry muffins and, my personal favorite, a scrumptious spinach and cheese corn bread. Outstanding! These treats were baked by M., seen pictured above with H., our hostess.














The husband carved the lamb and ham, and in no time our plates were full to over flowing! The lamb was provided by Marlow & Daughters Butcher Shop, a new comer to the ever-expanding Williamsburg food scene. It was magnificent! The lamb was raised in Aberdeen, New York, and if this is any indication of Marlow & Daughter's wares ... I will soon be making a special trip there so I can blog about their spectacular offerings. Stay tuned.






























Suffice it to say that we were stuffed to the gills. We amused ourselves between courses by playing a wonderful game ... sent to us all the way from Italy courtesy of W.'s parents. The Snack Bee herself played the part of the Easter Bunny, offering us a variety of prize filled Easter eggs from which to choose. There must have been hundreds of them! Prizes included candy, gift cards, an assortment of wonderful wrapped gifts and cash! What a treat! Huge thanks to W. and her parents for adding to our Easter joy in this special way. We owe you ... BIG!




















Eventually, we got around to dessert ... though the traditional lambie cake failed to make an appearance. I'm sorry to say that the better half of my lamb cake pan has gone missing so this year's cake was rather pedestrian, though just as delicious.



A rice pie, wheat pie, brownies and an assortment of Easter candies rounded out the dessert buffet ... though how any of us had room for it, I'll never know!

We worked off all those calories by playing several vigorous rounds of jelly bean bingo - during which I'm sorry to say I lost a grand total of $6. Personally, I think the game was rigged.

HUGE thanks to the divalicious Ms. H., for hosting such a merry holiday and to the rest of the Diva crew for their tasty contributions. I think it was our best and most delicious Easter ever. We are truly blessed to have such great family and friends.

There's a Diva in here somewhere ... bragging rights to the first one who finds her.

We will return to our regularly scheduled posting and dieting soon. Stay tuned and Bon Appetit!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Spring!

Just a quick post to wish everyone a very Happy Spring holiday ... whichever one you are celebrating ... or even if you're not celebrating! The Diva family is preparing to celebrate and one of my tasks today is to recreate the demented little lambie cake I made last year. He may look fluffy and white ... but he's a black sheep on the inside ... dark chocolate to be exact. Yum!

Will post a round-up of our Easter dining festivities on Monday. Until then, I wish you a joyous and wonderful weekend.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Mock-tales Edition

Dearest readers, you have my permission to mock me ... for I have failed to design a new and wonderful beverage for your enjoyment this week. Sigh. The simple fact is that this is one of my busiest weeks of the year. So much so that I'm also dubious about my ability to provide content tomorrow too. Though, in the immortal words of Miss Scarlet, I'll think about that ... tomorrow.

My workday yesterday was followed by two late, long meetings and while there was indeed a cocktail ... the recipe is rather pedestrian ...

The Perfect Scotch and Soda:
  • Proceed to your nearest and dearest drinking establishment.
  • Approach the bartender (who used to be on Project Runway) and order a Dewar's and soda.
  • Claim your beverage and head for the nearest available seat.
  • Relax and enjoy, repeat as necessary.
On the other hand, this might just be the easiest recipe I'll ever post. Hang in there with me and I assure you that *next* Thursday's offering will be sure to dazzle!

Let the mocking begin ...

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Special Report: Diva Tells All ...

Earlier this month, I agreed to take part in ProBlogger's 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge. Why? I want this blog to be fierce! I'm dedicated to bringing *you* the freshest, most scintillating content on the web ... and dedicated to making *me* a household name. ~wink~

Sounds good, right? And it is good, or was good, until I realized there would be homework. I'm not a fan. If you ask Mama Diva, she'll tell you I went the entire four years of high school without ever bringing home a book. While that's not entirely true, it is true that I have an aversion to being told what to do. It brings out the irreverent in me ... you'll see.

Yesterday's task was to write a "list post." It should come as no surprise that I'm going to do this Diva-style: tongue in cheek and strictly off the cuff. With out further ado, I now present ...

The Five Hidden Truths of Life as a Foodblogger:

Fact One: Once you become a foodblogger you will never again enjoy a hot meal. You'll be lucky to down a few lukewarm sips of your soup after spending more time photographing it than you did creating it.

Fact Two: You can call yourself whatever you like, but your ass will expand in direct proportion to the deliciousness of your cooking. 'Nuff said.

Fact Three: As a foodblogger, you will be invited to a number of yummy food-related events. This can be a good thing ... or a bad thing. See above ass-expansion.

Fact Four: In your quest for content you will be encouraged to sail heretofore uncharted culinary waters. This can be a good thing: hello halloumi cheese! Or, a bad thing: pumpkin cookies, anyone?

Fact Five: Develop an audience, be Divalicious - and, eventually, marketers will offer you free stuff. This, is a very good thing!


Divalicious Chocolate Yogurt:

  • one 5.3 oz. container of Oikos Organic Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 heaping tsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder, or more to taste
  • some agave nectar, to taste
  • some crushed walnuts, crushed pecans and toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish
Using a small wire whisk, whisk the vanilla, cocoa powder and agave nectar into yogurt until smooth and well combined. Taste for seasoning, adding more agave if you like a sweeter yogurt. (Alternately, you could use Splenda or some other sugar substitute, if desired.) Spoon the chocolate yogurt into a serving vessel - martini glass, optional - top with your favorite nuts and or fruit. Serve and enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve one.

All kidding aside, I'm am immensely grateful to Darren of ProBlogger for hosting such an informative event and I encourage you all to check out his site. He rocks!

I'm also not kidding about the Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt. Its made by Stonyfield Farm and it is excellent. Kristina from Stonyfield reached out to me and offered me some coupons for their new Oikos line and I was happy to accept. I'm already a big fan of Stonyfield Farm and was thrilled to discover that they are now making an organic Greek yogurt. Its non-fat, high in protein and so thoroughly rich and creamy you'll swear you're eating full-fat sour cream. Flavor the plain Oikos as I've done here and I'll go you one better - you'll swear you're eating ice cream. Its spectacular!

This is my go-to breakfast. Its light, yet nutritious, and 100% satisfying. I recommend it, highly. For the record, I don't and haven't accepted every offer. I've turned down a fair number for a variety of reasons. I'm happy to highlight the yogurt here because its a product I use and enjoy. I hope you'll enjoy it too. Click the Oikos link above for a coupon of your own!

I have a feeling I broke the task rules by not simply posting a list. So sue me, that's how I roll. This is my list and I'm sticking to it. If you're a foodblogger, what would you add to the list? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

PEEP!

Remember this little guy? You can find him and the rest of his friends over at Savor the Thyme. Jen has posted a round-up of our Peep Extravaganza and you can vote too! Take a spin through the host of peep-tacular posts, then hit up the poll on her sidebar and vote for your favorite. Hurry, the contest voting closes at midnight on Thursday, April 9th. The winner will be announced on Friday.

Vote early ... and often!

Liquid Gold

Let's be clear: I like carrots - and - I like carats. The more the better. That's as true for diamonds as it is for soup. This luscious, spicy carrot soup uses more than a pound. It would make a wonderful starter for your Passover or Easter meal - and, frankly, it makes a mighty fine weeknight meal all on it own. Round it out with a nice, crisp salad and you can have dinner on the table in under an hour.

The finished soup will be pureed, so no need to fuss with the slicing and dicing here - a rough chop will do for everything.

Cream-free Creamy Carrot Soup:
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups of leeks, coarsely chopped, white and pale green parts only
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup of coarsely chopped onion
  • pinch of Kosher salt and a generous grating of fresh black pepper
  • 1 full pound of carrots, plus two additional carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small yukon gold potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • two 14.5 oz. cans of low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
  • one 14.5 oz. can of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. good quality curry powder
  • pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
  • dash of ground white pepper, optional
  • grating of fresh nutmeg, optional
  • optional - a tsp. of honey to finish the soup, if desired
For garnish:
  • some non-fat plain Greek yogurt, or fat-free sour cream
  • some chopped fresh parsley and or chopped fresh dill
  • a wedge of fresh lemon
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium high heat and add the leeks, shallot, onions, a pinch of salt and a grating of fresh black pepper. Saute, stirring, until wilted and tender, but not brown - about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ground coriander, curry powder and a dash of cayenne pepper, if desired. Saute one minute, stirring. Add the chicken and vegetable broths, the carrots, potatoes and a pinch of white pepper and some fresh nutmeg, if desired. Stir to combine. Raise the heat and bring the soup to the boil. Then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the carrots are fork-tender.

Remove from heat and puree using an immersion blender. (Alternately, the soup can be pureed, in batches, using a food processor or traditional blender. Be careful, its hot!) Return the soup to the heat and re-warm, if necessary. Taste the soup for seasoning, adding more of whatever you like. If you prefer a sweeter soup, you may add the teaspoon of honey now. If you'd like a bit of acid, squirt in a dash of fresh lemon. Stir to combine. When ready to serve, ladle the soup into a serving vessel and garnish with a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt and a dusting of chopped fresh parsley and dill. Serve the soup with a wedge of lemon and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will yield 6 servings.

Some words of wisdom about the spices ... just because I've called for ground coriander here, doesn't mean you have to use it. If you don't have ground coriander, and won't use it otherwise, do not go out and buy a jar of it. This is a tremendously forgiving soup and will adapt well to any spices you have or enjoy. I happen to like the combination of curry and coriander, and my spice collection is extensive enough to warrant its own cabinet ... but that's just me. If you prefer a soup of the milder variety, feel free to skip the cayenne as well. Ditto for the honey at the end. The need for it will largely depend on how sweet your carrots are and your own personal preference. Sometimes I add the honey, sometimes I leave it out.

Experiment, use this recipe as a guide, and do as you see fit. However you choose to spice your soup, I assure you the results will be magnificent. Whatever you do, be sure to include the Greek yogurt, fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon for garnish. The yogurt will add a marvelous richness to the dish and the herbs/lemon will keep everything bright and happy.

Bon appetit!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The New Grilled Cheese

You've all heard me wax prosaic about my deep personal commitment to grilled cheese. I'd eat it every day if I could. And, I did, one year way back in grade school. There's only one problem; I'm trying to stay away from bread ... all recent bread recipes to the contrary. Solution? Grilled halloumi cheese!

Halloumi cheese is by no means new ... just new to this Diva. Hailing from the isle of Cyprus, halloumi is a sheep's milk cheese that has a texture similar to mozzarella and a very high melting point. Consequently it can be grilled, or even fried, directly in the pan. Hold the bread, sear the cheese, and somebody bring me a fork!

While somewhat dubious about this little cheese adventure, I threw caution to the wind, bought some halloumi and whipped up this endearing little salad. I used the last of my POM Wonderful to make a spiced pomegranate molasses ... which turned out to be more akin to a syrup than actual molasses. The texture was a bit thin, owing to either my impatience - I simmered it for 50 minutes - or to the fact that I used agave nectar in place of granulated sugar. That said, the flavor was deep, rich and altogether magnificent - the perfect foil for the salty grilled cheese.

Composed Salad with Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Spiced Pomegranate Syrup:

For the Syrup:
  • 3 cups of 100% pure pomegranate juice, such as POM Wonderful
  • 1/4 cup of agave nectar (or 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 whole star anise seed
  • 5 whole black peppercorns
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
Place all of the ingredients into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to ensure that they are well combined and that, if using, the sugar has dissolved. When the mixture boils, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 45 to 55 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a syrupy consistency is formed and the liquid has reduced to about 1 cup. Remove from heat and strain into a container, cover and keep chilled in the fridge until needed. (If you're looking for a thicker consistency, I would suggest trying the granulated sugar. I have a feeling the thinner texture is due to my agave substitution.)

For the Salad:
  • 2 one ounce slices of halloumi cheese
  • some mixed greens and whatever chopped veggies you desire
  • wedge of fresh lemon
  • dried or fresh oregano
  • some spiced pomegranate syrup
Prepare your salad by combining the mixed greens and whatever chopped veggies you desire on a plate. Reserve.

Heat a large, heavy bottomed grill pan over high heat and brush it with just a bit of olive oil. Add the sliced halloumi and grill one one side until golden brown, turn and grill the other side accordingly. When grilled to your liking, remove from pan and place atop your salad. Drizzle the cheese with a bit of fresh lemon juice, dust with a bit of oregano and drizzle the entire salad with the spiced pomegranate syrup to taste. Serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve one very happy individual, though there will be plenty of spiced pomegranate syrup left-over for other uses. This salad makes a wonderful, relatively light lunch. Naturally, there's some fat in the cheese, about 8 grams per serving, but I don't have a problem with that. Its low in carbs, has a nice amount of protein, and using halloumi makes for a refreshing change from my typical turkey or chicken topped salad. I loved it, and I hope you will too.

So, are you familiar with halloumi cheese? What have you cooked up with this intriguing ingredient? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The First Deadly Sin ...

In lieu of our (now) traditional Friday snack program, today I'm going to confess a little ... and you'll have to do your snacking vicariously. The last Friday of Lent seems like a good time for a confession - and this one's all about lust. My lust for the shiny, happy, ultra cool Electrolux ICON Professional appliances pictured above.

Tuesday evening, the good folks at Electrolux treated a number of the NYC Foodbuzz bloggers to an evening of fun, facts, and some seriously good eats featuring the food of Chef Brad Steelman from The River Cafe. The event was held at the Desiron Gallery and a more delicious way of spending an evening I cannot imagine.

Chef Steelman kicked things off with a few passed hors d'oeuvres - my favorite among them was this delightful curried lobster salad on a crisp, savory lentil wafer. What an amazing combination of flavors! The salad contained some golden raisins that had been plumped in Sauterne and was garnished with micro cilantro. ~swoon~ I could have devoured a plate of these on my own ... and I don't even like lobster!


Some seared tuna on a bed of seaweed and wasabi mayo, and a beautifully seared breast of duck with a rhubarb reduction followed. Will anyone be surprised if I tell you that I passed on the tuna? No? Right. I did try the duck and it was delicious. Moist, tender and the piquant rhubarb reduction was the perfect foil for the rich duck.

The Electrolux ICON series really shined in the two demonstrations that followed. Chef Steelman prepared an exquisite spring risotto while highlighting some of the unique features of the ICON Induction Cooktop. The asparagus bedecked risotto was so good I failed to take a picture of it ... because I was too busy scarfing it down! I did take some notes on the cooktop though and I must say - its impressive. Induction cooking is fast, accurate and thoroughly eco-friendly. The pans heat as a result of an electromagnetic connection between the burner and the pan - meaning the pans heat rapidly, evenly, and both the surrounding air and the chef stay cool. How sweet is that?!

He then prepared a luscious loin of lamb that was dusted with some dried porcini prior to being rolled inside a mixture of ground lamb, rosemary and mushrooms. Chef Steelman pan seared the roulade on the cooktop and finished it in the super sexy ICON Wall Oven. He used the convection setting and the whole dish was finished in about 12 minutes. And to think ... I usually spend 7 hours crafting my Easter leg of lamb!

A braised spring onion accompanied the finished lamb, and a happy combination it was indeed. Magnificent! The wall oven features smooth-glide racks, a stay cool door, and a stunning wave-touch control panel. I want it. I want it now.

Again, it should come as no surprise that the molten chocolate cake was the star of the show for me. Chef Steelman used this classic dessert to highlight the features of the ICON High Speed 3 in 1 Oven. Its a convection oven, microwave and high speed oven all wrapped up in one sleek little package. These stunning little, gold dust-topped treats were ready in about 4 minutes. Will wonders never cease?

Suffice it to say that I am in lust. Deep, deep lust with the ICON series. I want it all. And I would have it all ... if only the husband would let me renovate the kitchen ... again!

HUGE thanks to both Electrolux and Chef Brad Steelman for treating us to such a spectacular feast!

Have a beautiful weekend and bon appetit!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: An Introduction ...

Readers, I'd like you to meet Rosemary Pomarita. I think you're going to be very good friends.

Rosemary POM-a-rita:
  • 2 inch sprig of fresh rosemary
  • some cubes of ice
  • 2 1/2 oz. of good quality tequila
  • 1/2 oz. of Cointreau or Triple Sec
  • 1 oz. of fresh blood orange juice (or navel orange, lime, meyer lemon)
  • 4 oz. POM Wonderful 100% Pure Pomegranate Juice
  • some meyer lemon, or lime rounds for garnish
  • a sprig of fresh rosemary for garnish
Muddle the fresh rosemary in the bottom of a martini shaker - use a wooden spoon if you do not have a muddling tool. Add some cubes of ice, and over the ice pour the tequila, cointreau, fresh orange juice and pomegranate juice. Cover and shake briskly. Strain into a short tumbler or rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with lemon and rosemary. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

People, I'm going to be honest, this is a stunning combination. It came straight out of my pretty little head last night, though with the enduring popularity of trendy cocktail programs - I can't possibly be the first to have invented it. My strong desire was to mix the drink with some fresh blood orange juice, alas, there were none to be had at my market yesterday. I used an heirloom navel orange and it worked beautifully. Meyer lemon, regular lemon or good old limes would work equally well here too.

I used the meyer lemon for garnish and sprinkled a bit in at the end for good measure. With the anti-oxidant rich pomegranate juice, its practically a health drink! Why not invite Rosemary Pomarita into your home and spend the evening with her? You'll be glad I've made the introduction.

Cheers!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Ethnic Diva: Soda Bread Redux

Come closer, I want to tell you a secret ... I like bread. I don't just like it, I love it. It is a love that knows no bounds ... well, with the exception of Wonderbread and the like. I have standards. Not much of a secret, huh? Well, then here's another ... I baked this loaf solely as an excuse to slather it with Kerrygold butter.

Hearty Brown Bread:
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup of steel cut oats, such as McCann's Irish Oatmeal*
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. of honey
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F and lightly butter a 9 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour and steel cut oats. Stir with a wire whisk to mix thoroughly. Add the salt and baking soda and whisk again to combine well. Add the buttermilk and honey, then stir with a wooden spoon until the buttermilk is fully incorporated and the dough has formed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed gently, approximately 12 to 15 turns.

Place the dough into the prepared loaf pan and press slightly so as to fit the dough to the pan and into the corners. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until light golden brown. The finished bread will sound hollow when the bottom is tapped. (Mine was finished at exactly 30 minutes.) Do not over-bake. Remove the finished loaf from the pan immediately and wrap it in a clean tea towel (dish cloth) - this will ensure that the loaf will not harden as it cools.

As written this recipe will yeild one loaf.

*You must use the steel cut oats in this recipe, not rolled oats. And, yes, you use them raw. Don't ask me why, just know that its OK. The oats will not be hard, but they will add a marvelous, chewy texture to the bread.

This is another variation of Irish soda bread and its perfect for those who wish to eschew the more traditional, butter laden variety. I encountered this bread several times on my last trip to Ireland and for the life of me I couldn't figure out what gave it that nutty, chewy texture. Somewhere on that trip I bought a copy of the Irish Baking Book by Ruth Isabel Ross, and finally I had my answer. This recipe is adapted from that book.

The bread is so simple, so hearty and delicious, its become one of my all time favorites. It takes all of five minutes to prepare, yet tastes like you've spent the day crafting it. As a vehicle for the spectacular Kerrygold, it excels ... but don't just take my word for it, get in the kitchen and get baking!

Bon appetit!