Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Summer in a Glass

So, about that blueberry lemonade ... as promised, I'm featuring it today. And, again, I'm flying blind on this one. While the version I had at The Lodge was delicious, I never quite got around to speaking to the bartender about the recipe. I do know it was made with homemade lemonade and blueberry vodka - so not exactly blind - but I'm doing this my way ... naturally, it turned out pink!

Let's start off with some fresh, real lemonade, shall we? This one's especially for Kimizzy, who asked about making a vodka-free version. I was so inspired by her question, I scrapped my original plans and decided to make a blueberry syrup in place of plain simple syrup to sweeten the drink.

Note: please don't be put off by making a simple syrup, flavored or not - all it takes is sugar, water and five minutes of your time. Really.

Blueberry Lemonade:

For the syrup:
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (or 1/3 cup agave nectar)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 strip of fresh lemon peel
  • 3/4 of a cup of fresh blueberries
Combine all of the above in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Once the liquid boils, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occaisionally. Remove from heat and strain into a small bowl, pressing on the solids to extract the juice. Cool completely before using.

For the Lemonade:
  • 6 large, fresh lemons
  • 5 1/2 cups of cold water
  • some blueberry syrup or simple syrup
Juice the lemons into a large pitcher, no seeds please - so use a strainer. Add the water and stir well to combine. Sweeten the lemonade by adding the cooled blueberry syrup to taste. I'm not going to specify and amount, because the choice is up to you. In most cases, you may use all the syrup - it all depends on how sweet you like your lemonade. Bonus - it will turn your lemonade the most beautiful shade of magenta. Chill and serve over lots of ice. Garnish with a slice of fresh lemon and some blueberries if desired.

Divalicious Spiked Blueberry Lemonade:
  • 2 oz. of blueberry Vodka (I used Smirnoff)
  • some fresh Blueberry Lemonade
  • ice
Fill a tumbler with ice and over the ice pour the vodka, fill the remainder of the glass with blueberry lemonade and stir. Garish with a slice of fresh lemon and some additional blueberries. You may even want to float a few berries in your drink - its quite festive. Serve immediately, repeat as necessary!

I'm well pleased with how this drink turned out - both the spiked and the alcohol-free version. They're both delicious, refreshing, packed with Vitamin C and the anti-oxidant goodness of those blueberries ... why its practically a health drink!

And, kidding aside, if you make it with agave nectar - it might as well be a health drink - and a mighty tasty one at that. If you've got some regular homemade lemonade on hand, go right ahead and use that in place of the blueberry lemonade - the flavored vodka will more than make up for it. Or, conversely, you could use the blueberry lemonade with plain, unflavored vodka. Confused yet? Here, have a drink!

My point ... there's room for experimentation here.

I can see a host of possibilities for infusing that blueberry syrup as well. I'm certain I'll add a nice chuck of fresh ginger to it next time, or maybe even a handful of thyme. Basil, lemon balm, lemon verbena or even some mint would work well here too. Simply add the ginger, or any one of those herbs, to the rest of the mixture in the pan and simmer away accordingly.

I'm completely charmed by my take on The Lodge's lemonade and I'm grateful to Kimizzy for prompting my syrup experiment. I hope you'll try it!

Bon appetit!

Lemonade on Foodista

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Diva Dines in Brooklyn

And dine well, she did, too. We spent Sunday in Williamsburg, otherwise known as: hipster central. And let me tell you, these hipsters know how to eat! There is some serious chow going on in Brooklyn right now. Sit back and let me tell you all about it ...

We began with brunch at Dressler. I just love everything about this place. The setting is gorgeous, the atmosphere relaxed, and the food? In a word: spectacular. I had the Huevos Rancheros. They were served atop a velvety bed of black beans with roasted poblano peppers and garnished with a luscious avocado tomatillo salsa. Some delicious guacamole and an amazing, homemade, tortilla rounded out the plate.

The husband chose the grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, served on crisp sour dough and garnished with some homemade pickles. He thoroughly enjoyed it. Two of our companions went with the burger and I understand it was a winner ... though my photo of it was not.

After brunch, we popped into Marlow & Daughters butcher shop, source of our Easter lamb, to inspect their wares. Wow, what a shop! They specialize in local, grass-fed meats and their selection is truly amazing. We were lucky enough to be invited into their meat locker and, while not for the faint of heart, it was literally awesome. Marlow & Daughters deserves a post of its own ... and I'm planning one for the near future. Stay tuned.

The Snack Bee and I took the opportunity to purchase some amazing Nunu Chocolates salted caramels while browsing through Marlow. They were to-die-for. Really. I can't show them to you because they're gone ... as in way gone. Handmade in Brooklyn, these chocolate covered caramels were deep, rich, luscious and absolutely astounding.

When the rain began to fall, we ducked into The Lodge on Grand Street at the corner of Havemeyer. Built with wood from the Adirondacks, The Lodge is an ultra-cool restaurant and lounge specializing in locally produced organic foods ... and the drinks are nothing to sneeze at either. We happily ensconced ourselves in the rustic and funky lounge area and sipped on their wonderful Blueberry Lemonade. Made with blueberry flavored vodka and fresh lemonade, they tasted of summer in a glass. Neither too tart nor too sweet, this drink is worth a trip to The Lodge all on its own - so much so that I intend to recreate for Thirsty Thursdays tomorrow. Stay tuned. I understand the food is mighty good too and I hope to confirm that fact soon!

We closed the evening with a trip to La Superior and what may well be some of the best and most authentic Mexican food in the city. Located at 295 Berry Street, La Superior features authentic Mexican street food and we had plenty of it! Guacamole and housemade chips ...

chorizo topped Queso Fundido ...

and Jalepenos Rellenos, to name but a few of the shared appetizers - each one more delicious than the next. But, for me, the real stars of the show were the tacos. They were absolutely brilliant!

Clock-wise from the bottom right: Carnitas (pork confit), 2 Cochinita Pibil (slow-cooked pork in banana leaves) and the almost insanely spicy Tinga de Pollo (shredded chicken in chipotle sauce) ... holy cow that pollo was hot. But the good kind of hot, the kind that sneaks up on you and brings a joyful tear to your eye. Absolutely spectacular - and at a price of $2.50 per taco, you can afford to keep them coming. I cannot recommend this place more. The atmosphere is fun, funky and lively and the food is simply amazing.

So there you have a look at this weekend's festivities. Are you full yet? I sure was. This Diva may be an uptown girl at heart but, at present, her palate belongs to Brooklyn.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Ritual

Ladies and gentlemen, Papa Diva has turned off the No Potato Salad Sign; you are now free to make potato salad again.

I'll bet you're thinking this is some kind of joke, but I assure you he's deadly serious. We're all aware of certain necessary rules and regulations that we, as a society, abide by for the greater good. You know ... "do unto others as you would do to yourself", "if you don't eat your meat you can't have any pudding", "don't wear white after Labor Day", etc. You get the drift.

And the most important of all: "thou shalt not serve potato salad prior to Memorial Day." Potato Salad has a season; a distinct window of serve-able legality. It begins on Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day. So sayeth Papa Diva, so knoweth all.

Divalicious Potato Salad:
  • 2 pounds unpeeled red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seeds
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. sweet pickle relish (or to taste)
  • pinch of salt
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 3 tbsp. plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 3 to 4 tbsp. reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 large hard boiled egg, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large scallions, chopped
Place potatoes into a large stock pot, cover with water, salt the water generously, bring to a boil, and cook until just tender - approximated 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and allow them to cool for 10 minutes.

In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the white vinegar, red wine vinegar, celery salt, celery seed, relish, salt and pepper. Whisk well to combine, then add the potatoes to the bowl and toss well with a large spoon or spatula to combine, making sure the potatoes are coated evenly. Allow the potatoes to cool while you prepare the rest of the dressing.

In a medium bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and dill, stirring well to incorporate. Once the potatoes have cooled to room temperature, add this mixture to the potatoes and toss well with a rubber spatula to coat evenly. Cover and chill the mixture in the refrigerator for one hour or more. Just before you are ready to serve, add the chopped fresh parsley, chopped hard boiled egg and the scallions, stirring well to incorporate. Garnish the finished salad with a dusting of paprika and some additional chopped fresh parsley. Serve immediately and promptly chill any unserved portion.

As written this recipe will serve 6 to 8.

And, frankly, its not really potato salad unless you serve it in one of these classic 1970's Pyrex bowls.

Now, I'm certain that most of you do not need a recipe for potato salad. I offer it here today so that, A.) you may now feel free to serve it with out repercussion and, B.) in case I have some small variation in my method which would interest you.

You should certainly feel free to skip the Greek yogurt and use only mayonnaise. I did that to reduce the fat and because I'm really not a mayo lover. And, hey, don't use the reduced fat stuff on my account either. If you're comfortable going whole hog, by all means have at it.

You will note the use of both celery salt and celery seed in the recipe. I happen to have both on hand and like the combination. Don't go out and buy a bottle of either just for this recipe. If you have only celery seed, just go ahead and use that - double the amount. Ditto for the celery salt.

This is a simple, classic version of potato salad. Perfect for any BBQ or grilling event. I hope you'll try it.

Happy Belated Memorial Day! And Happy Potato Salad Season, Papa Diva!

Bon appetit!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Black Currant Edition

You've heard of cleaning out your refrigerator ... how about cleaning out your liquor cabinet?

A quick survey of my ever burgeoning booze cupboard revealed a bottle of rather lonely looking Cassis - last used ... I don't know when. Sad.

Well, no longer. I put that bottle to good use and have dreamed up a lovely, refreshing spring time cocktail. Redolent with the perfume of ginger and bright with the astringent tang of lime, this little beauty is sure to please.

The Blushing Mule:
  • 2 parts vodka
  • 1/2 part Cassis (I like the Matilde brand.)
  • juice of 1/2 small lime
  • 2 tsp. ginger syrup
  • 2 - 3 drops of orange bitters
  • some plain seltzer or soda water for topping up
Pour the vodka, Cassis, lime juice and ginger syrup into an ice filled martini shaker. Shake well and strain into an ice filled tumbler. Add a couple drops of orange bitters and top up with the seltzer. Garnish with a slice of lime. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary.

The idea for this cocktail was hatched in my grocery store. I spied a bottle of ginger syrup on the shelf and immediately thought: I need to make a drink with that! I had a feeling it would pair well with the tart, luscious black currant liqueur ... and I was right! A squeeze of lime never hurt anybody, so in that went, and I'm really diggin' the orange bitters at present, so that served as a nice, bright, finishing touch. The results? Scrumptious! A completely harmonious mix.

Given the similarities to the Moscow Mule, I've named it the Blushing Mule, in honor of the Cassis. I hope you'll try it!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Ethnic Diva: Pan-Asian Edition

Its a wrap! A Pan-Asian chicken lettuce wrap to be exact ... and it was spectacular! Savory, spicy, crunchy - this one's got it all.

I was flying blind here, working without a recipe, yet with a firm concept of how I wanted it to taste in mind. Vaguely Chinese in origin - what with the sherry, soy and ginger - I have no idea how traditional it is, but I can tell you the results were magnificent! I garnished the wraps with a bit of chopped roasted peanuts and some cilantro, giving them a Thai inspired twist and an extra dimension of flavor. Yum!

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients here - this is essentially a stir-fry and as such it come together in flash. A bit of prep, a nice hot skillet, and in just about 30 minutes you can have a fun and festive meal on the table. Now that's what I call Divalicious!

Pan-Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps:

Stir Fry Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sherry (I used Vin Santo)
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tsp. minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. bottled chili garlic sauce (I like Huy Fong Foods brand)
Combine all of the above in a small bowl and whisk well to incorporate. Reserve.

For the Chicken:
  • 1/4 cup bottled Hoisin Sauce
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsp. dark Asian sesame oil, divided
  • 1 lb. of ground chicken breast
  • dash of crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 of a medium red onion, peeled and diced
  • one 5 oz. can of sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  • 2 large scallions, chopped
  • Some fresh red leaf or Boston lettuce leaves for wrapping (12 - 15 leaves)
  • some chopped fresh cilantro
  • some chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  • bottled Sriracha sauce, optional
In a small bowl, combine the Hoisin sauce, water, soy and rice wine vinegar. Whisk well to incorporate and reserve.

Heat 1 tsp. of olive oil and 1 tsp. of dark sesame oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground chicken and a bit of crushed red pepper flakes, if desired. Saute the chicken, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Saute until the chicken is light golden brown and cooked throughout. Remove from skillet and reserve.

To the same skillet, add 1 tsp. of olive oil and 1 tsp. of dark sesame oil. Heat over medium-high heat and add the red bell pepper, carrots and red onion, and saute until the onion begins to wilt and the veggies are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add the water chestnuts and stir well to combine. Return the cooked chicken to the pan and add the stir fry sauce, stirring well to combine. Add the reserved Hoisin mixture and, again, stir well to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to very low, cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Just before you are ready to serve, add the chopped scallions and stir to combine.

To serve: place some of the chicken and vegetable mixture into the middle of a lettuce leaf, do not over-fill. Garnish with a bit of cilantro and chopped peanuts, top with a bit of Srircha sauce (if desired), roll up the wrap and enjoy!

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

A couple of quick notes - I chose to use the ground chicken because I just can't be bothered to slice and dice boneless chicken breasts. You could certainly substitute if that is your preference, or even use some cooked chicken instead. But, for my money, you can beat the ground chicken breast for ease of use - and its healthy to boot!

I like to keep things spicy here in Divaland, hence the use of Srircha at the end. If you're heat-averse, you can certainly leave out the crushed red pepper flakes when stir-frying, and replace the Sriracha garnish with some additional Hoisin sauce.

Lastly, feel free to play around with the vegetables as well. I used what I had on hand, but no reason you couldn't include whatever veg you like in the stir-fry. Some chopped Chinese long beans would be outstanding, a bit of mushrooms couldn't hurt - really, you're limited only by your imagination here. Hell, you could even replace that chicken with some tofu if you're so inclined ... but, if so, don't invite me to dinner! ~wink~

This is a quick, easy, relatively healthy meal that's sure to get you out of your what's-for-dinner rut. I hope you'll try it!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Muffin Mania

Steph, of ::steph chows::, has been on a major muffin kick of late and she's starting to rub off on me. I'm a regular reader so she's got me in a muffin kind of mood. I also happen to be in a cake kind of mood. Combine the two and what do you get?

Spiced Carrot Cake Muffins with Coconut Cream Cheese:

For the muffins:
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. orange juice (fresh if possible)
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest, minced
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 2 tbsp. honey or agave nectar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup of grated carrots
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degree F.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, spices, salt and baking powder and whisk well to combine. Add the chopped walnuts and stir to coat. Reserve.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the orange juice, zest, oil, milk, honey and egg whites. Whisk very well to combine, making sure the egg whites are thoroughly incorporated. Pour over the reserved dry ingredients and stir/fold in with a rubber spatula until just combined. Add the shredded carrots and stir gently to incorporate.

Spoon the batter into a greased, 12 cup, non-stick muffin tin in equal measure and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked throughout. (The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.) Do not over bake. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool.

As written this recipe will yield 12 muffins. If you're in the mood, you can guild the lily ...

Coconut Cream Cheese Spread:
  • 1/2 cup of reduced fat cream cheese, softened (1/3 less fat)
  • 1/2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 or 2 tsp. agave nectar (or to taste)*
  • 3 tbsp. toasted coconut flakes
Combine the cream cheese, vanilla and agave nectar in a small bowl and stir well to incorporate. Add the toasted coconut flakes and, again, stir well to combine. Serve as topping for the carrot cake muffins. Enjoy!

*If desired, you may substitute some powdered sugar for the agave nectar.

These muffins are not your typical sugar-laden fat-bombs to be sure. They're a leaner, meaner muffin; full of whole grain flour and absolutely cholesterol free. And that's just the way I like 'em. They're a muffin you can feel good about eating.

As such, the texture may not be what you expect. If you're looking for a more traditional cakey muffin, feel free to replace the whole wheat pastry flour with all-purpose flour and use one whole egg in place of the egg whites. They're not terribly sweet either and, again, that's my preference. I used honey this time - I love the soft sweetness it lends to the spicy, citrusy muffin.

I'll leave you with one more tip before I go ... try not to grate off the better part of your thumb nail while shredding those carrots - because that would kind of suck. Not that I would know from personal experience or anything. I'm just sayin' ...

Bon appetit!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Preakness Party!

I'll be honest, I never met a vice I didn't like ... and betting on the ponies is no exception. Of course, it helps that I've always been lucky. And, I started at the top too - my first trip to the track was Churchill Downs.

The year was 1987 and I'd just lost my job. I had been working on a trading desk at a brokerage firm that ultimately went out of business as a result of the crash. So what's a Diva to do? Why set off in a rented RV with 8 or 9 of her closest friends and spend the weekend at the Kentucky Derby! I won every race I bet that day and made enough money to tide me over until the next job rolled around two weeks later.

On my first visit to Belmont Park, I won the first six races in a row and walked away with more than $600 ... all made on $2 bets. Sweet. At the time, we joked that I should quit my job and just set up shop at Belmont.

So naturally, I woke up on Saturday morning and decided we needed to throw and impromptu Preakness Party. I called a few friends, made a trip to Fairway and got busy in the kitchen. I turned the remains of those Pork Burritos with Escabeche Slaw into some fantastic quesadillas, whipped up a batch of my now famous Creamy Spinach and Feta Dip, and sent the husband to the liquor store.

We sipped on Gin Blossoms and Breakfast Martinis while watching the race and munched our way through the delicious artichoke dip, homemade guacamole and 4-layer Mexican dip brought by our guests. And a fine feast it was!

I'm sorry to say that I did not win the Preakness pool - a grand total of $12 - but at least we kept it in the family ... the husband won! I made up for it, however, by winning a grand total of $15 during a vigorous round of "Buck-a-Cup" while watching the Rockies v. Pirates game later on. Nice!

Sometimes the best parties are the ones that come together at the last minute ... of course it helps to have a blog full of recipes and a fridge full of left-overs to make them happen!

And that's the extent of my kitchen activities this weekend. I'm off to hunt and forage this afternoon and will be back with a new recipe tomorrow. Stay tuned.

So, how did you spend the weekend? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Friday, May 15, 2009


Behold my dinner last night ... my jerry-rigged version of the Posole Burritos with Escabeche Slaw from the Almost Meatless cookbook. Jerry-rigged because I was too tired to fight the masses at Fairway and defaulted to my lame supermarket which offered me neither the tomatillos, hominy, nor pork tenderloin listed in the recipe. Sigh.

Since I was hell-bent on making these burritos, I opted for some boneless pork loin chops, a bit of spicy green enchilada sauce in place of the tomatillos, and black beans in lieu of the hominy. The results? Stunning! The final dish suffered not at all for my substitutions and I loved everything about it.

Naturally, I "beached-up" the recipe a bit as well - replacing the sugar in the slaw with some agave nectar, and swapping out the corn tortillas in favor of whole wheat. And while I had my heart set on that hominy, the black beans are certainly South Beach friendly, so more's the better. The bottom line - the combination of the crisp, crunchy slaw atop the spicy simmered pork is sheer brilliance. I added a squeeze of fresh lime to the simmering sauce and garnished the burritos with some chopped fresh cilantro and plain non-fat Greek yogurt before rolling them up. Yum! The husband absolutely raved about this dish and its one I know I'll make again and again.

After a long week, and an even longer day yesterday, I was in serious need of nourishment. Tempting as it may have been to pick-up the phone and order in ... that's just not how I roll. My idea of relaxation after a difficult day is to throw myself into culinary creation. The simple pleasures of slicing, dicing, simmering and seasoning, nourish me - body and soul. That the end result is a delicious, healthy and satisfying meal is really just the cherry on the cake. I enjoy both the process and the fruits of my labors.

Which, of course, is not to say that I never order take-out. I do on occasion, but I much prefer to cook for myself. What about you? Do you cook to relax? Or are you more likely to order in at the end of a difficult week? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Lillet Encore!

For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume that you've taken my Breakfast Martini advice and bought yourself a lovely bottle of Lillet. I will further assume that you are a person of moderate habits and are therefore still in possession of some Lillet. I hope so, because we'll be using it today. Oh, and prepare to extend your pinkie ... we're going Royal this afternoon.

The Baronial:
  • 2 oz. Lillet (blanc)
  • 1 oz. good quality gin
  • 2 - 3 dashes of bitters (either Orange bitters or Angostura)
  • dash of Cointreau (about 1/4 tsp. or so, more if you like it)
  • slice of lemon or orange for garnish
Fill a martini shaker with ice and over the ice pour the Lillet, gin, bitters and Cointreau. Shake well, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with slice of lemon or orange. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary.

Today's recipe is adapted from the Bartender's Guide by John K. Waters. As written it will yield one delicious and thoroughly refreshing cocktail. You may note the inclusion of bitters again - this time I used orange bitters, though Angostura would work as well. I happen to enjoy the added burst of citrus - though if you opt for Angostura, the slight astringent tang would be equally welcome.

Now, a word about that gin. Typically, its not my drink of choice. That said, if I'm going to drink it, it has to be the good stuff. I'm talking Hendricks here and I won't lie, its pricey. Worth every penny though, the flavor is without equal.

I don't insist that you spring for the Hendricks, but I do insist that you not use rot-gut. Beefeater, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, something of that ilk is recommended. The Baronial is essentially a martini variant and as such, you'll want a clean, well-rounded gin flavor - so choose wisely.

This drink is light, crisp and just perfect for a summer evening ... whether you're serving royalty or not. I hope you'll try it!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hot Topic: Vegging Out!

To veg or not to veg, that is the question. Or at least that was the question that Dan from Casual Kitchen posed to a few of us fellow food bloggers last month. And a timely question it is indeed. After reviewing the wonderful new cookbook, Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond, Dan hit upon the idea for a blogging round table discussion on the topic of vegetarianism.

Dan emailed five bloggers, myself included, and asked a simple question:

Have you been a vegetarian or ever seriously considered going veggie? What to you were the key pros and cons, and what made you choose against it?

I was honored to be included in such a discussion and you can read my response, along with the others, here on Casual Kitchen today.

The other featured bloggers are: Pam - author of For the Love of Cooking, Kris - author of Cheap Healthy Good, Joy - author of the "Almost Meatless" cookbook and the blog What I Weigh Today, and Jules - author of stonesoup. I found the answers fascinating, well-considered and provocative. I hope you'll join our discussion by visiting Casual Kitchen and offering your own thoughts on the topic as well.

I picked up a copy of "Almost Meatless" on Dan's recommendation and its amazing. The recipes look scrumptious and the text is a wealth of information. I can't wait to start cooking from it. Stay tuned.

In keeping with our veggie theme for the day, I'd like to offer a quick and easy recipe for sauteed green beans. This is a 5 minute side-dish that pairs beautifully with any meal.

Green Beans with Shallots:
  • some haricot vert, or regular green beans
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
  • butter or olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Trim off the stem ends of the beans and bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a pinch of Kosher salt to the water and add the green beans. Boil for approximately 3 to 4 minutes - or until done to your desired liking - I prefer mine crisp, but your mileage may vary. Test after 3 minutes and continue as necessary. Once cooked, drain the beans into a strainer and shock them under some cold running water to retain their color.

To the now empty pot, add a small pat of butter or a drizzle of olive oil and the shallots, saute over medium high heat for one minute, then return the drained beans to the pan, stir well to coat and saute until hot throughout. Add a bit of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Serve and enjoy!

So, have you ever considered going vegetarian? Why or why not? And don't forget to stop by Casual Kitchen and lend your voice to our round table discussion. Curious Diva wants to know!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dinner in a Flash ...

I suppose I could continue whining about being sick and how much I dislike having to work real hours like a normal person ... but perhaps there's a more productive way to use this space -like talking about getting dinner on the table in a hurry.

Happily, my weekend included a trip to an egg farm so omelets were on the menu last night. While left-overs are my number one "go to" when I'm in need of a quick and easy meal, omelets run a very close second. They're healthy, satisfying, easy to prepare and fun to make. Perfect for a work-weary Diva and her hungry husband!

Though, truth be told, its the husband who makes the omelets in this house - as you may recall. I wrote about omelets last summer and the recipe remains the same. We use Alton Brown's formula and you can find it at the bottom of this post from June of 2008. Today, I'll tell you about the filling ...

Divalicious Omelet Filling:
  • olive oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped crimini (baby bello) mushrooms
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1 small red pepper, seeded and diced
  • a pinch of dried Summer Savory or fresh Thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • some grated Gruyere cheese
  • some diced ham
Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add the mushrooms. Saute, stirring as needed, for 2 or 3 minutes until they begin to wilt. Add the shallots and red peppers, a pinch of dried summer savory (or fresh thyme), salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir well to combine. Saute until the peppers begin to soften and the mushrooms are light golden brown - about 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and reserve.

Use reserved vegetable mixture to fill omelets, along with some shredded Gruyere cheese and a bit of diced ham if desired. As written, this mixture will fill two omelets.

I like to serve them with a side of sauteed haricot vert ... and I'll tell you all about that ... tomorrow. Stay tuned!

So, what's your recipe for dinner in a flash? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Update ...

Hello poor neglected bloglet! I am still trying to shake this wretched cold/flu/whatever it is - and as if that's not bad enough, I'm caught in the web of full-time work hell this week. Yuck. How decidedly un-divalicious! Will do my best to post some stuff this week and will certainly honor our Thirsty Thursday tradition ... because by then I'm going to need a stiff drink for sure!

Hang in there with me and I'll post just as soon as I can. In the meanwhile, please know that I miss you terribly ... and working sucks! ;)


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Impending Death Edition

Perhaps you've guessed by my absence - both on my blog and yours - that all is not well in Divaland. True enough ... the Diva is, indeed, unwell. I don't get sick often, but when I do - I get really sick. I don't do things half-way. Like I always say, anything worth doing is worth doing right.

I started getting sick on Monday night and, naturally, by Tuesday I'd convinced myself I was dying of Swine Flu. I'm nothing if not a world class hypochondriac. Fortunately, that's not the case and reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated ... by me. I will recover indeed, but suffice it to say there's been precious little going on in my kitchen this week. I haven't had the energy to cook and I'm not hungry either. Feh.

And, obviously, I haven't had any scrumptious new cocktails. Its been nothing but water, tea and ginger ale for me ... all sipped between countless hours of inane reality television. Is it just me or is "The Real Housewives of New York City" the most offensive show on the planet? Ugh. I got your "real housewife" right here. She's on my living room couch; decked out in her leopard skin pajamas, box of tissues and a bowl of Tylenol by her side. She's me. *I* am a real housewife of New York City! But I digress ...

Because I'm committed to ensuring that Thirsty Thursdays will go on in some fashion or other, I did revive long enough to mix myself up something tasty. Sans, booze this time, but no reason you can't dump some into your own brew when making this for yourself. I'll include the boozy option for those so inclined.

Magical Healing Tea:
  • 4 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 1 or 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 12 whole black pepper corns
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 4 good quality black tea bags - I use Barry's Irish Tea
  • some honey to taste
  • milk, optional
  • booze - such as brandy, Irish whiskey, B&B, or even scotch, optional
  • lemon, if desired
Place the water, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg in a sauce pan, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the cover, add the tea bags and allow to simmer, very gently, for 5 more minutes. Strain the liquid into four mugs, or tea cups, add some honey and milk to taste and serve. If desired, you may replace the milk with any of the above boozy options and serve the spiced tea as a hot toddy. Personally, I'm partial to the brandy or Irish whiskey, but do as you see fit.

If you're going the boozy route, omit the milk and opt for a lovely slice of lemon to go with. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written, this recipe will serve four and it is more or less my homemade version of chai. Its good with or without the booze and with the added punch of fresh ginger - guaranteed to cure what ever ails you. I hope you'll try it!

I also hope to be back to business as usual next week ... meaning we'll be getting our drink on for real come Thursday.

So, what's your go to beverage when you're under the weather? Sickly Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Spice ...

I could certainly write another post, and perhaps several, limning my love of Monica Bhide's Modern Spice ... but let's be honest, what you really want is a recipe ... right? Right.

All kidding aside, my affection for this book prompted me to do something I've never done - contact an author. I wrote to Monica yesterday and asked her permission to reprint a recipe from Modern Spice. I'm just pleased as punch that she has graciously granted that permission, and I'm happy to offer her delectable shrimp recipe for you today.

Hot, Hotter, Hottest Shrimp:

Recipe reprinted from Modern Spice (Simon & Schuster, 2009) with permission.
  • 1/2 cup vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. red chile powder or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 small, green serrano chiles, slit lengthwise
  • 2 whole dried red chiles, broken (I used dried chile d'arbol)
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  • some chopped fresh cilantro for garnish (my addition)
In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon zest, chile powder (or crushed red pepper flakes), turmeric and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Whisk to combine. Add the shrimp and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion, serrano chiles and dried red chiles and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onion begins to change color. Add the sugar and cook for another minute. Add the peanuts.

Drain the marinade from the shrimp and add the shrimp to the onion mixture. Cook over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the shrimp are completely cooked through. Add salt, if necessary - I found it wasn't - and serve immediately, garnished with some chopped fresh cilantro. Enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve four *very* happy people.

A couple of notes on the recipe - be sure to have all of your ingredients chopped and ready before you begin cooking as this recipe is more or less a stir-fry ... once you begin cooking, it will progress quickly.

While the list of ingredients calls for red chile powder, we're not talking about the stuff one uses to make chili here. As Monica explains in her wonderful chapter on "The Modern Spice Pantry" - Indian red chile powder is not the same thing as American chili powder, which is a salted mixture of different spices. If you cannot find pure red chile powder, you may substitute crushed red pepper flakes or even some cayenne pepper.

For the heat-averse, you can certainly cut down on both the dried red chiles and the fresh serrano peppers. And, by all means, remove the seeds, stem and ribs from the serranos if you are looking to cut down on the fire factor. Though, personally, I wouldn't dream of it. The dish is perfectly balanced as is and the addition of the roasted peanuts is brilliant ... its that special little touch that really makes it sing. I hope you'll try it!

I simply can't say enough good things about this book. For those out there who fear the exploration of this cuisine, let Modern Spice be your guide. The pantry chapter alone will allay your fear of mysterious spices and by the time you've gotten to the first recipe you'll be chomping at the bit to get to your stove.

Modern Spice is more than a cookbook; its a deeply personal exploration of food, family, culture and more. Monice Bhide's passion for life and food is infectious - it will draw you in, keep you reading, and encourage you to explore. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this treasure - your heart and your palate will thank you.

Bon appetit!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Ethnic Diva: Modern Spice Edition

Last night I dreamt of Chaat Masala. Really. And yet, its not quite as odd as it seems. You see, I've spent the better part of this weekend devouring Monica Bhide's wonderful new cookbook - Modern Spice. I'm reading it cover to cover and enjoying every blessed word. Modern Spice has been making its way around more than a few blogs this past week and the attention is well-deserved. Its charming, informative and altogether delicious.

I must extend a huge measure of thanks to Charmian Christie of Christie's Corner for making the introductions. She wrote about Modern Spice last week and I ordered a copy as soon as I finished reading her post. I couldn't be happier with the purchase. Thanks, Charmian!

While I'm nothing if not intrepid in the kitchen, I must admit that I've always been a bit intimidated by Indian cuisine. I adore Indian food, but have never attempted to make it at home. Its not as if I'm unfamiliar with the spices, so I'm not sure what was holding me back. Fortunately, that's about to change - with the help of Modern Spice, I'm happily embracing these heretofore uncharted waters!

After reading Ms. Bhide's glorious description of "The Modern Spice Pantry" I set off on a field trip to my favorite local spice market, Kalustyan's, and am now happily in possession of great quantities of Chaat Masala, turmeric, Paanch Phoron and cumin seeds. Whee ... let the cooking begin!

And begin it did, with this gorgeous and spicy shrimp stir-fry. Actually, I made this insanely good dish prior to my trip to Kalustyan's, and had to substitute some tandoori masala for the turmeric. No matter really, the finished dish was gloriously seasoned, multi-layered in flavor and, honestly, one of the best meals I've ever cooked.

The recipe is called: "Hot, Hotter, Hottest Shrimp" ... and with good reason! The combination of fresh serrano chiles, dried red chiles (I used chile d'arbol) and crushed red pepper flakes really packs a punch! But make no mistake, this spicy concoction offers more than simple heat. The flavors are so deep and intriguing they nearly defy description. Suffice it to say the husband and I finished every last bit of it and I cannot wait to make it again.

While I'd like to offer the recipe here, I don't yet have permission from the author. You can find the recipe on page 183 of Modern Spice and with an introduction like this, I'm certain this book is destined to become a Diva favorite. I recommend it, highly!

So, where do you stand on Indian cuisine ... are you comfortable cooking it at home? Curious Diva wants to know.

Whether you're comfortable or not, I urge you to take a spin though this book. Its a wonderful resource and a mighty good read.

Bon appetit!