Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dinner in a Flash: Perfect Pasta Edition

This is an old recipe. I stole it from Sara Moulton years ago, when she was the host of Cooking Live. Its so easy I never even wrote it down ... and you won't need to either.

Bro's garden is beginning to bear fruit - or, rather, vegetables - and I am more than happy to pilfer my share. This weekend's haul included some of his glorious broccoli. Tender, sweet and freshly picked, its the highlight of this quick and easy meal.

Written amounts are flexible here, as we're mainly talking about a technique more than a recipe. The veggies are variable too. I've made this recipe dozens of times in dozens of ways. You can use almost any veg you like: cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus and carrots work well; and any combination of the above would be outstanding. If you've got some left over chicken, chickpeas, or some cooked white beans, feel free to throw them in at the end as well. Its all good and its all delicious, I promise.

Linguine with Caramelized Broccoli:
  • some extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large head of broccoli, stems removed, florets trimmed into small pieces
  • 2 or 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced (or more to taste)
  • some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • some crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 to 3 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth*
  • grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1/2 pound of hot, cooked, whole wheat linguine
  • some freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • some chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Cook the past according to package directions - while the water is coming to the boil, you can throw together this lovely sauce.

Heat some olive oil in a large stainless steel skillet, enough to coat the bottom, over high heat until it shimmers. Add the broccoli and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and allow the broccoli to cook, undisturbed, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp, well-browned and caramelized. Remove the cover, stir, reduce heat to medium high and add a bit of crushed red pepper flakes, to taste. Continue cooking for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, stirring as needed, until the broccoli is just tender. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and add the chicken or vegetable stock, stirring well to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Grate in some fresh nutmeg and allow the sauce to simmer over low heat for 1 minute.

Meanwhile, drain the cooked pasta, then add it to the skillet, along with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese, and toss to coat. Serve at once with additional Parmesan cheese and a bit of chopped parsley for garnish. Enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 3 or 4 depending on portion size.

*The amount of broth used is really up to you. This is a very thin sauce as it is and I like to serve it in a large bowl with both a fork and a soup spoon. I never measure the broth, I just keep adding it until it looks good. 2 to 3 cups for 1/2 pound of pasta should do it. Use your judgment and all will be well.

And let's have a word about that high heat crisping, shall we? Fear not and forge ahead, dear readers. With the heat that high and the oil sizzling, you're going to worry that you're burning the hell out of your veggies ... and ... you are! You must! Its all part of the plan. Take a look above and you'll see the kind of dark, very very dark, char that is our aim. You'll have to trust me on this, or, more specifically, trust Sara Moulton. The broccoli will not taste burnt, nor will the finished sauce. Caramelizing the tender green florets brings out a wonderful, nutty flavor that pairs perfectly with the hint of garlic and whisper of cheese. In a word, its spectacular!

This is a quick, versatile, inexpensive and healthy meatless meal that comes together in about 10 minutes flat.

So, what are you waiting for? ... Get cookin'!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wurst Fest '09

Papa Diva is the best, so, naturally, I treated him to the worst ... er, I mean wurst! There was a belated Father's Day cookout, chez Mama and Papa Diva, this weekend and a selection of German meats were the stars of the show.

The succulent sausages were procured at Noack's in Meriden, Connecticut and they were spectacular. If you're anywhere near that part of the state, I highly recommend a trip to Noack's. Their products are as fresh and delicious as can be and, trust me, once you're inside you're going to want to by *everything* ... which we very nearly did.

We walked away with an obscene amount of meat: knockwurst, bratwurst, frankfurters and "half and halfs", a special kind of weisswurst made with finely ground veal and pork. Each sausage was more delicious than the next. Noack's products are handmade, home-smoked and nitrate-free. This is an old-school German butcher shop that specializes in a wide, wide variety of quality meats ... and the shop itself is charming to boot.

Pictured above left is their amazing "half and half" and two of their stellar knockwursts. Prior to grilling, I like to give the sausage a quick simmer in a spicy bath of beer. Here's how to do it:

Beer Bath:
  • 2 bottles of beer, either lager or brown beer*
  • 1 small to medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tsp. pickling spices (I use McCormick's)
  • 1 tsp. of mustard seeds
Pour the beer into a large sauce pan, add the onion, pickling spices and mustard seeds. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, but do not let the mixture boil over. Once it boils, add the sausages, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the sausages and cook them on the grill over high heat until thoroughly cooked, and well browned. Serve immediately with a selection of German mustards and enjoy!

A brief word about the beer ... on Saturday I used two bottles of Rolling Rock, because that's what was in Papa Diva's fridge. Here at home, I've used Brooklyn Brown Ale with equally great success. I'm not sure that the style of the beer matters, but the taste most certainly does. Use something you'd want to drink, something delicious, and the results will surely satisfy.

I ask you, is that sausage not a thing of beauty? The quick beer braise lends a bit of flavor and helps to ensure that the meats will be thoroughly cooked and ridiculously juicy. We like to round out the meal with some cooked red cabbage, baked beans, some really nice rye bread and, for purists, some quality sauerkraut. I'm not a purist, so I opted for the red cabbage and some steamed fresh broccoli from bro's garden. It was magnificent!

The cabbage and the kraut came from Noack's as well. Even if you're not in CT, you can sample Noack's delights ... they ship anywhere in the US. Hit up that link to place an order or find directions to their market.

For those in NYC, you can obtain some spectacular sausages of your own from any one of these fine purveyors: Schaller & Weber on Second Avenue @ 86th Street, Koglin German Hams in Grand Central Terminal Market @ Grand Central Station, and Marlow and Daughters Butcher Shop @ 95 Broadway in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I've given you the know-how and the sources ... now go on and have a Wurst Fest of your own. You can thank me later.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Passion Edition

Couldn't we all use a little more passion in our lives? A little more spice?

Lucky for you I'm prepared to offer both ...

Habanero Passion Margarita:
  • 4 shots of good quality tequila (for this, I like Herradura)
  • 4 shots of passion fruit juice (I like Ceres brand)
  • juice of 1 whole lime
  • 8 to 10 drops of Tabasco Brand Habanero Sauce
  • a slice of lime or small pepper for garnish
Fill a martini shaker with ice and over it pour the tequila, passion fruit juice and lime juice. Gently shake 8 to 10 drops of habanero sauce into the mix (or as much as you can stand) close and shake well until the shaker frosts. Strain into two ice filled tumblers or rocks glasses and garnish with a slice of lime or a small, decorative pepper. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written this recipe will yield 2 amazing cocktails. The passion fruit and tequila are a match made in heaven and the habanero kick is present, but not overwhelming. By all means go easy on the hot sauce if you're shy but, trust me, its a necessary addition. It will awaken your palate ... and make you hunger for the next sip.

If you use the Ceres brand the drink will not be sweet, there's no sugar added. The finish on this little beauty is intoxicating ... not in the boozy sense, but in the enchanting sense. It tastes like a real margarita with the volume turned UP.

This is a drink that's meant to be shared. Its a sexy, spicy, smack-your-lips-and-call-me-Divalicous concoction that's sure to light your fire. Over the top? Perhaps, but mix yourself up one of these and don't say I didn't warn you.

Bottoms up!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Indulgence ...

So, this infernal construction is proceeding at a snail's pace. We're two weeks into the sidewalk replacement hell and not a lick of concrete has been poured. The noise is a nightmare, the dust is endless and, worse than that, the crew has set up shop right outside my office window. They eat there, they change there, they listen to crazy music there. Is there no end to my suffering?

Clearly I need an infusion of chocolate ... stat! And not just any chocolate either - a funky, fun, new chocolate that I've just discovered. Its dark, rich, and slightly crisp; a deliciously decadent, grown-up version of a crunch bar - and its my new favorite indulgence.

The sweetriot unBAR is all-natural, gluten-free, dairy-free and made from responsibly sourced fair-trade cacao. The bar itself contains a host of yummy, delicious cacao nibs that add wonderful texture, crunch and flavor - and the chocolate itself is magnificent. It comes in two "strengths" - 70% dark chocolate or 65% dark chocolate ... and, oddly enough, I prefer the 65%. I tasted both and find the 65 less sweet.

Were you to possess the kind of self-control necessary to eat only one square ... the calorie count is fairly low: 48 calories per square. You can do the rest of the math, but this much I'll tell you - one square is perfectly satisfying and two are enough. The bar is so rich, you simply do not need to eat the whole thing to enjoy it.

I came across the unBAR while shopping in Zabar's one day and happily for me, they were giving free samples. Trust me, it was love at first bite! In addition to the bars, sweetriot also offers both raw and chocolate covered cacao beans for your snacking pleasure. I can't wait to try them, cacao nibs are one of my most favorite things. Let the antioxidant-rich snacking begin!

As for price, well, the bars aren't cheap - $2.79 per bar, though keep in mind that's a Zabar's price. That said, the indulgence is well worth the splurge. This is a quality product and I'm happy to pay for responsibly sourced ingredients. The company is committed to fair-trade, uses recycled materials for packaging and is dedicated to making the world a better place. Take a spin around their site and you'll see what I mean.

Be sure to tune in for Thirsty Thursdays tomorrow ... heaven knows I'll be needing a drink! Till then, don't mind me ... I'll be over here in the corner, wearing my earplugs and crunching on an unBAR.

Bon appetite!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Friday!

Just a quick update as I need to bail again. The jackhammers are right outside my window today and the noise is deafening. Let's hope this is the last of the direct hits so that I can get back to writing and cooking next week!

Meanwhile, thanks so much for sticking with me ... I promise a return to deliciousness come Monday. Have a beautiful weekend!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quick and Dirty

An update from construction central ... there was brunch on Sunday, we already had it. Mama and Papa Diva were in town and we dined on this blueberry focaccia and this ...

... outstanding veggie quiche, among other things. My quiche, as always, was spectacular ... the blueberry focaccia? Not so much. I followed the recipe exactly, save for replacing some of the white flour with whole wheat, and the finished bread was very dry. Tasty to be sure, but the texture was all wrong. I plan on reworking the recipe and improving it over the next few weeks and will post my finished rendition once its perfected.

For now, let's talk quiche! Right off the bat I'm going to admit that I used a frozen pie crust. The horror, the horror! Can I make crust? Yes. Do I? Never. I just don't see the point. I've found a brand I like and, let's be honest, making crust is a pain in the ass. So much quicker to simply reach into the freezer and get on with it. That's how I roll.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I don't really use a recipe or measure anything when I make quiche. I will do my best to offer specific amounts for you here, but feel free to play around it. In this incarnation, I used a mix of orange bell peppers, asparagus, onions and chives. Use any veggies you prefer. Onions are a must, mushrooms would be most welcome, and you can never go wrong with any kind of cheese. Mix and match to your heart's content!

Basic Veggie Quiche:
  • one frozen, deep-dish pie crust
  • 1/2 of a small to medium onion, minced
  • 1 small orange, yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 8 large asparagus stalks, stems peeled, cut into small rounds
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk*
  • salt and pepper
  • grated fresh nutmeg
  • paprika
  • 1 tbsp. (or more) chopped fresh chives
  • some grated Gruyere, Cheddar or Swiss cheese
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Once the oven has heated, bake your crust blind (using pie weights or similar) for approximately 6 to 7 minutes, until it just firms up and becomes opaque. Remove from oven and reserve.

Heat 2 tsp. of olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet until it shimmers. Add the onions, peppers, asparagus, a bit of salt and pepper and saute until just beginning to brown and the veggies are crisp-tender. Remove from heat and pour the veggies into the bottom of the pie crust, smoothing out to form an even layer. Top the veggies with some grated Gruyere, Cheddar or Swiss as desired. Place the filled pie crust on a large baking sheet and reserve.

Heat 1 1/4 cups of milk in a small sauce pan over medium-high to high heat. Scald the milk, but do not boil. Watch it carefully. You want it to be hot, not burnt, so as to hasten the cooking process. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

As the milk cools, whisk 4 large eggs in large mixing bowl and to the beaten eggs add a pinch of salt, a generous grating of fresh black pepper, a pinch of paprika and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. Whisk to combine. Temper the egg mixture by adding a bit of the scalded milk, while whisking. Continue to whisk while slowly adding the milk until the mixture is light and frothy. Add the chopped chives, stir to combine and pour into the pie crust.

Carefully transfer the quiche, baking sheet and all, to the oven. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes ... depending on the speed of your oven. The quiche is done when lightly browned and the middle has just set and is just firm to the touch. Do not over bake. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 or 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve and enjoy! As written, this recipe will serve 6.

*About that milk ... if I'm being super fancy, I'll opt for the whole milk. If I'm feeling fat-phobic, I will use skim or reduced fat. Both work, though undoubtedly, the whole milk yields a richer, creamier version. Do as you see fit. In either case, I often will not use the full 1 1/2 cups. I just use my eye and stop adding the milk when I think the custard looks right. I have no way to tell you what "right" is, you just have to know. The custard needs at least a full cup of milk, and a bit more. If this is your first time making a quiche, opt for the full 1 1/2 cups and see how you like the results. You can always scale it back the next time if you find you'd prefer an "eggy-er" version.

Making quiche is fun! Its a quick, easy and versatile meal. Add whatever combination of veggies, meats and cheese you like, spice them up to your heart's content and bake away. Add a big, fresh salad and call it dinner. I do ... often.

So, what's in your quiche? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Warning, Hard Hat Area ...

No, my blog is not under construction ... but the sidewalk in front of my building is. Jackhammers are involved and its not pretty. Its also noisy as hell. I can't even think straight, much less think creatively enough to write. Not even a little bit. As a result, I'm bailing, abandoning ship, in other words getting the hell out of here for the day - or days. Hopefully it won't last longer than the week and I'll have time to write a few posts in the evening. We'll see.

So, happy Monday ... I guess. Have a beautiful, quiet day!

Friday, June 12, 2009


[n. kom-pluh-muhnt; v. kom-pluh-ment]

1. something that completes or makes perfect

Everyone loves a compliment and cheese is no exception ... except that what cheese *really* loves is a complement.

Sweet and Savory Blueberry Conserve:
  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. fruit vinegar (such as raspberry or fig)
  • 1 tbsp. pure honey
  • 1 tbsp. agave nectar
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh orange or lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh orange or lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp. minced red onion or shallot
  • 1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • generous grating of fresh black pepper
  • 8 to 10 large basil leaves, crushed a bit between your palms
In a small sauce pan, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring on occasion, until the blueberries have broken down and thickened slightly, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or a dash more fresh orange juice if desired. Cool. Carefully remove the cinnamon stick and any large pieces of basil from the jam. Pour into a container and store, covered, in fridge until needed.

As written this recipe will yield about 1 cup of conserve, give or take.

Strange combination? Indeed. But yummy to be sure. Its the result of a trip through my fridge and the need to use up some blueberries and basil. The finished jam will not taste strongly of basil, but its there like a soft whisper in the background. Blueberries and citrus have a natural affinity, so feel free to use either orange or lemon here - and the red onion or shallots will offer just enough bite to keep things interesting.

Think of this conserve as you would a cranberry sauce. It would be marvelous when paired with some grilled pork or chicken; and equally good as a topper for a turkey sandwich. When paired with a luscious, creamy Camembert (as seen above) or a tart goat's milk cheese it is outstanding!

A quality Camembert is delicious on its own to be sure, but why not guild the lily? Cheese and fruit is a classic combo - and cheese paired with a fruit conserve is classic writ large. Like really, really LARGE.

So, do you like to complement your cheese? Or do you prefer to just tell it its' pretty and leave it at that? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: West Side Edition

Today, I'm a Diva on a mission; determined to prove, if only to myself, that I can make a luscious, refreshing cocktail and not have it turn out ... pink.

Not that there's anything wrong with pretty pink potables, mind you, but variety is the spice of life and I aim to please.

I've also got a ton of fresh mint and an absurd amount of lemons in my fridge. Naturally, that combination puts me in mind of the South Side, a classic cocktail of Chicago-themed lore. I made a batch of mint infused lemonade and used that as the base.

Minted Lemonade:
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 strips of fresh lemon peel
  • 7 large springs of mint
  • 6 large lemons
  • 5 cups of water
Combine the sugar, water, lemon peel and mint in a small sauce pan. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring well until the sugar dissolves. Once it boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool.

Juice the lemons into a large pitcher - no seeds please, so use a strainer. Add the water and stir to combine. Strain the syrup mixture and add it to the pitcher, stirring well to combine. Serve as is, or use it to form ...

The West Side Cocktail:
  • 1/2 cup of minted lemonade
  • 6 large mint leaves
  • 2 oz. of good quality gin
  • 3 drops of orange bitters
  • some plain selzter for topping up, if desired
  • a sprig of mint and a slice of orange or lemon for garnish
Combine the lemonade and mint leaves in the bottom of a martini shaker and muddle with a muddling tool (seen in photos) or a wooden spoon until the mint is crushed and fragrant. Place some ice into the shaker and add 2 oz. of gin and 3 drops of orange bitters. Shake well, until the outside of the shaker has frosted, and strain into an ice filled tumbler. If desired, you may top up the drink with a bit of plain seltzer - or serve as is, garnished with a sprig of mint and a slice of orange or lemon. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written this recipe will make one cocktail ... and its a beauty! Light, refreshing, slightly astringent - but not overly so - and altogether delicious. If you want to kick it hard-core, you could certainly skip the ice and seltzer and serve it straight up as a martini. Either way it goes down smooth and look ...

... its not the least bit pink!

This is my version of the classic, named for my 'hood, and I'm well-pleased with it. If you're feeling lazy, by all means go ahead and use some prepared lemonade. If you're feeling abstemious, go right ahead and serve the lemonade without the booze. Its all good and all delicious, I promise.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pretty is as Pretty Does ...

I'm in a chicken state of mind. This is not unusual. I mean look at my bio ... I warned you about my chicken obsession long ago. But rarely, if ever, have I posted back-to-back chicken recipes. Well, there's a first time for everything!

While browsing through the July issue of Bon Appetit on Sunday, I came across a wonderful, quick and easy chicken recipe that had my name written all over it. I made it that night; then last night, I turned the left-overs into some exceptional fajitas. Both dishes were outstanding and neither took more than a half hour to prepare. Bonus!

This recipe is adapted from the Spicy Chicken Peperonata with Lime and Mint Dressing in the July 2009 issue of Bon Appetit.

Chicken Peperonata:
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of one whole fresh lime
  • 1 1/2 tsp. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper
  • ground coriander
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1 large fresh poblano pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • some chopped fresh mint and wedges of lime for garnish
In a small bowl, combine 3 tbsp. olive oil, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, cayenne pepper, ground coriander and the chopped mint. Whisk well to emulsify adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Reserve.

Heat 2 tsp. of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Dust the chicken breasts with a bit of salt, pepper and ground coriander and add to skillet. Sear until browned on one side, about 5 minutes, then turn. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and allow the chicken to cook until done - approximately 5 more minutes, depending on the thickness. When just cooked throughout, remove to an oven-safe plate, cover with foil, reserve and keep warm in the oven (set to "warm" setting").

To the same skillet, add all of the peppers and the onion, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary, and saute over medium-high heat stirring often. Saute the peppers until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes, cover and cook for an additional 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved lime dressing to the pan and toss to coat. Remove the chicken from the oven and plate it, topping each breast with a generous serving of the sauted peppers and onions and drizzle each with a bit of the remaining dressing in equal amounts.

As written, this recipe will serve four, though it can easily be doubled. I served the dish with some additional chopped fresh mint and wedges of lime for garnish. It was magnificent!

Do yourself a favor and make extra ... then turn them into fajitas. To do so, slice the chicken breast into strips and heat them, along with the peppers and onions, in a large non-stick skillet with a bit of vegetable or chicken stock. I added some crushed red pepper flakes and a bit of ground cumin to mine. Serve with some warm whole wheat tortillas, chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, non-fat sour cream and guacamole for garnish. Outstanding!

Why no picture of the finished dish? Because ... you guessed it ... the pics were ugly! Hit up that recipe link if you want to see a pretty picture of the finished dish. I was too busy chowing down to mess around with the food styling!

Bon appetit!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ugly Food: Chicken Edition

Ugly is the new pretty. You heard it here first ... or maybe you didn't.

I was all set to do a post about my ugly, yet completely scrumptious, chicken today - and after browsing my reader I see I'm not alone. In fact, I'm in fine company ... doggybloggy, of Chez What, beat me to it! And, frankly, he's far more inventive than I am. I just made some ugly chicken, but the dogg made onion rings parmesan! Check it out. I won't call it ugly, but I'd like to call it dinner.

I'm not sure my chicken is really ugly either ... though that photo's not about to win any prizes. The chicken, however, is as yummy as can be - and easy too. I've adapted this recipe from The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook and the results were magnificent.

Pesto Pepper Chicken:
  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • hot Hungarian paprika
  • some skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup of pesto (either jarred or homemade)
  • some jarred roasted piquillo peppers, sliced into strips
  • some shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • some lemon wedges
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Dust the chicken breasts with some salt, pepper and a bit of Hungarian paprika on both sides. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat and brown the chicken quickly on both sides, turning it once. You just want a little color here, no need to cook them through out. Remove from skillet when browned and reserve.

Place 1/2 of the pesto in the bottom of an oven-safe baking dish and lay the chicken breasts over the pesto. Top the chicken with the remaining pesto in an even layer, cover the dish with foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken. Uncover the dish and top the chicken with some pepper strips and a bit of mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and browned - about 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and serve with a wedge of lemon for sprinkling over at table. Enjoy!

I took a little short cut on this one and used some pre-made basil pesto. If you've got your own stuff, more's the better. This is a quick, healthy and delicious recipe that's just perfect for a weeknight meal. Round it out with a nice big salad or a lovely steamed veg and you'll have dinner on the table with time to spare. Bonus ... you can use the extra time to contemplate doggybloggy's mysterious give-away today. He's posted a picture and if you can guess what it is, you'll be given a chance to win ... whatever it is! Good luck!

I'm off to stare at that picture some more. In the meantime, what's your favorite kind of pesto? Are you a basil traditionalist? Or do you like to get a little crazy with your herbage? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Friday Edition

Blueberries. I've still got them on the brain ... and in my fridge. My solution? Blueberry Margaritas!

Divalicious Blueberry Margarita:
  • 2 oz. fresh blueberry puree
  • 2 oz. good quality tequila
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • juice of 1/2 lime
For the blueberry puree:

Pour one pint of rinsed fresh blueberries into a blender. Puree on high until liquefied and smooth. Taste for sweetness, adding 1 tsp. of agave nectar or some sugar if desired, puree again until combined. (Since its not quite blueberry season, I did add a tsp. of agave nectar to my puree.)

For the Margarita:

Fill a martini shaker with ice and to it add the blueberry puree, tequila, Cointreau and lime juice. Shake well and strain into an ice filled tumbler. Garnish with a slice of lime or salt the rim of the glass, if desired.

To salt the rim, run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass and dip the rim into a dish of Kosher salt.

As written this recipe will make one delicious cocktail! Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

I somehow doubt I've invented this lovely little cocktail, its just too good to be new. The blueberry/tequila combination is fabulous! If you're a stickler for detail, I suppose you could strain that blueberry puree to rid it of the darker bits of peel ... but why bother? I prefer to leave the puree as is, so it obvious the drink has been made with fresh fruit. Do as you see fit.

Either way, you'll be rewarded with a stunning, purple-hued beverage that goes down smooth. It tastes every bit as good as it looks and, in my book at least, counts as a serving of fruit for the day!

In other blueberry news, my friend The Wino - of Spot O Wine - has put my blueberry syrup to brilliant use in creating a scrumptious summer salad. She used the syrup as the base for a delicious Blueberry Clementine Vinaigrette that I cannot wait to try. Surf on over and take a look ... she'll make you hungry, I promise!

So, what's your favorite Margarita flavor? Are you an on the rocks purist, or a frozen strawberry quaff-er? Thirsty Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Oops ...

... I jumped the gun on that Thirsty Thursday promise! Gratification is going to have to be delayed, I'm afraid. I forgot that I was going to be out all day today with no real chance to write. So, for this week only, Thursday will happen ... on Friday! Hey, better late than never, right?!

Have a spectacular day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Best of Diva: Mascara Edition

Today's dip into the archives isn't so much a recipe as it is an edict. You'll see what I mean. One year later and its every bit as true and still makes me laugh. Hopefully it'll bring a smile to your day too. Be sure to stay tuned for Thirsty Thursdays tomorrow - I'll suspend my retrospective and will offer a new and wonderful beverage for your consumption!

Bon appetit!

Plump 'em, don't clump 'em! (tm Covergirl): June 4, 2009

So what's all this about mascara you say? For one thing, I love it and can't live without it. If I'm not wearing it there's a problem: I'm either very sick or very dead. Either way, call 911. For another thing, you should be wearing it too. I mean all of you, all the time. You know who you are. If you look in the mirror and can't find your eyes, then get thee to Sephora post haste! If you're a man and you're reading this - then, ok, you get a buy. If you're a gay man reading this - then call me, we'll go for drinks and dish about all things Bravo. I'm not kidding, I need someone to share my Bravo-love ... but I digress.

The Diva is talking mascara because she's a former make-up artist who's never lost her cosmetics jones - and because she won't always have a new recipe to post. Sure, the cooking/healthy eating/dieting stuff is the main focus of the blog, but can't a Diva have a little fun?! They've taken my Doritos but they'll have to wrestle the mascara wand from my cold, dead hands.

Currently I'm wearing a combination of two mascaras. I need both length and volume so for the first two coats I use: Lancome's L'Extreme. Its magical! It picks up every little lash you've got and gives great definition. For the last coat I'm currently liking Clinique's Naturally Glossy. Its on the dry side, which helps prevent clumps, and does a good job of building volume.

I'll be posting make-up tips and product reviews from time to time and I hope you'll enjoy them as much as the recipes. I want to look good and feel good ... and I want you to look good too ... because if you don't the Diva will know and she *will* mock you. ~wink~

More recipes later. For now, what's your favorite mascara and why?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Best of Diva: Steak Edition

Happy Beach Eats Anniversary ... I'm one year old today!

Even after a full year of cooking and writing, this post is one of my favorites. Who doesn't enjoy a good steak now and then? The recipe continues to be a Diva favorite as well, my preferred method for serving steak. Sadly, the "cattle herd" mentioned here remains in full effect. Some things never change - especially not in this real estate market!

Bon Appetit!

On Carnivores and Cattle Herds: June 9, 2008

I'm tired today. You can thank my upstairs neighbors and the herd of cattle they lovingly refer to as their "children". I haven't met them but I'm pretty sure their shoes are welded to their feet and I suspect they each have an extra set of legs. How else to account for the thundering din that rolls from one end of the apartment to the other long about 6:30 a.m. every day? If you've ever spent a night in my guest-room, you know exactly what I mean.

Being tired and dieting is not always a fortuitous combination. I find that the more tired I am, the more likely I am to think about popping open a box of mac and cheese and calling it dinner. It helps to have a strategy for such times and a couple of quick and easy recipes that require little thought and even less preparation.

The Diva is married to a major carnivore. Left to his own devices, he'd happily exist on a diet of raw beef and a side of lamb chops. I don't particularly share his zest for the red stuff and I'm not a great fan of steak. Oddly enough I prefer the more pedestrian varieties of beef: meatballs, burgers and cheesesteaks. ~swoon~

That being said, I have on occasion really enjoyed a meal of Bistecca a la Fiorentina - or steak in the style of the Florentines. Not surprisingly, one of the most memorable versions I've had was in a charming restaurant in Florence. We dined outside on the piazza, under a canopy of umbrellas in the pouring rain, and both the food and the experience were nothing short of magical.

Fortunately for us the dish is easily replicated at home and goes a long way toward satisfying both a carnivorous husband and a weary Diva.

Bistecca a la Fiorentina:
  • two sirloin strip steaks, or New York Strips
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and halved
  • 2 thick wedges of fresh lemon
  • a dusting of chopped fresh parsley
Rub the steaks with a bit of olive oil on each side, not much, probably a teaspoon each or so. Doesn't really matter. Season the steaks on both sides with the salt and pepper - to taste, but you can be generous here if you like.

Pre-heat your grill, or in my case a grill pan, to blazing hot and grill the steaks. You'll want a nice char on the outside, and length of cooking is up to you. The husband likes his still moo-ing, I prefer mine crisp and done. All the way done. (Sorry, I'm Irish!)

* Cooking tip from the husband - if your strips are 1 1/2 thick, grill them for 4 minutes per side for a perfect rare. I like my steak to be about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick, and if he cooks mine for the same time it works out perfectly - one rare, one well-done.*

As soon as you pull the steaks from the grill, rub them with the cut halves of garlic on both sides, give them a liberal squeeze of the fresh lemon, hit it with the chopped parsley, serve and enjoy. You may add a slice of lemon to the plates to refresh the acid balance as desired.

In Italy, there are varying schools of thought on adding the olive oil, or whether or not one should salt the meat prior to cooking or just at the end. This is my version of the dish and I like it just the way I've written it. Feel free to experiment and let me know the results. I like to serve it with one of my all time favorite summer sides:

Broiled Summer Squash:
  • one medium zucchini
  • one medium yellow summer squash
  • one half of a Vidalia onion, sliced thin
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • dried or fresh basil, to taste
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded fresh Parmesan cheese

Wash and trim the squash. Cut them in half, lengthwise, and then into 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick slices. Bring a medium size pot of water to the boil and season it with a bit of Kosher salt. Add the squash and onions, let the water return to the boil and blanch the vegetables for one to two minutes. Drain into a strainer and refresh under cold, running water for 30 seconds or so. You want the squash to retain its color, so don't over-cook it and don't skip this step.

Pre-heat your broiler.

Arrange the squash and onions in an even layer in a heat-safe glass or Pyrex pie dish. Sprinkle on a grating of fresh nutmeg and season with a bit of the dried basil, or fresh if you have it, or whatever herbs you favor. Top the mixture with the shredded Parmesan cheese to taste. I don't use much, just enough to coat the dish. Be sure to use fresh Parm., not the powdered stuff - otherwise it will not broil properly.

Place the dish under the broiler and cook until the cheese is bubbling hot and slightly browned. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Best of Diva: Noodles Edition

So, how's about a little navel-gazing today? What do I mean, you ask? Well, as it happens, my blog will turn one year old tomorrow. Its my blog-o-versary! Birthdays, anniversaries and the like, naturally put me in a reflective state of mind. Such occasions prompt me to look back on where I've been and contemplate where I'm going; and my blog-o-versary is no exception.

I began Beach Eats on a whim, with no clear idea what I was doing or who might actually read me. With much trepidation, I sent a blanket email to everyone I've ever met after my second post and, happily, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Encouraged, I continued, and eventually my little corner of the web morphed into a legitimate food blog - one with pictures and everything!

But it wasn't always that way. In fact, as silly as it seems, it didn't occur to me to add pictures of my food until sometime in August or September. Duh! What was I thinking?!

In honor of my anniversary, I'd like to take the opportunity to revisit a few of my all time favorite posts this week. If you've been with me from the beginning, I apologize and beg your indulgence ... if you're a new reader, welcome to my past! Even without the pictures, the recipes are every bit as as delicious and I hope you'll enjoy reading these oldies but goodies as much I have.

Bon appetit!
I Dream of Noodles in a Big White Bowl: June 3, 2008

No, that's not a joke, I really did dream about noodles on Friday night. And this after only four days on South Beach. Yikes! Go ahead and mock me, its fine, I mocked myself - the important thing is that I didn't eat them. Dream calories are not real ... and rarely are they satisfying either. So, what's a pasta deprived Diva to to do? Why put on her thinking cap - er, tiara - and head for kitchen.

After some thought I realized that it wasn't necessarily the pasta I was missing, but more the taste of Italian food. Drum-roll please ... enter ... spaghetti squash ... conquering hero of the starch deprived. Sort of.

Now let's be clear - spaghetti squash, miraculous as it may be, is in no way a true replacement for pasta. But, its a fine substitute and a great vehicle for sauces. It may look like spaghetti, but the texture is different. Duh, its a vegetable. You won't be fooled into thinking you're scarffing down a toothsome bowl of Italy's finest, but read on and I can assure you it will be delicious.

Do not faint at the long list of ingredients or instructions here - most of this stuff will already be in your pantry - and if its not, you need to go shopping! This really is a quick meal. It took me less than half an hour to prepare and then a simple 20 minutes of baking time. Honestly, it was the most satisfying meal I've had in ages. The husband loved it too. Its South Beach and Weight Watcher friendly and all around healthy period. As for serving size, well, that's up to you. Our squash was fairly large so we split one half and were totally satisfied ... and that leaves us a half for left-overs. Guess what we're having tomorrow night?

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, choppped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lb. very lean ground beef, preferably grass-fed (gr. turkey breast would also work well)
  • dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
  • dried basil (or fresh if you have it)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • 24 oz. jar of Marinara Sauce - any brand that contains NO sugar or HFCS, I like "Rao's"
  • 1 tbsp. high quality tomato paste - I like Luigi Vitelli brand
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • minced fresh parsley (Fresh, not dried ... that stuff sucks)
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Pierce squash in several places with a sharp knife. Make sure the knife goes through to the middle. Place squash in microwave and cook on high for 2 minutes. Remove and cut squash in half, lengthwise. Remove seeds and stringy pulp from squash and place both halves in a dish, cut side down, filled with about a 1/2 inch of water. Microwave on high for @ 7 minutes, or until just tender. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the squash. Start with 7 minutes and continue in one minute increments if needed. Remove squash from microwave and let cool.

Make the sauce: heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onions, red peppers and garlic, stir to combine and saute until the onion is just translucent but not browned. Add the ground beef, stirring to break up the meat, and cook until done and starting to brown. Add in the oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. I've given no amounts here because its really a matter of choice. I like my sauce well seasoned, but any amount you like is fine and any other seasonings you wish to add are fine too. Stir to combine.

To the meat and vegetable mixture, add 1/2 of the jar of sauce and the tomato paste. Stir well to combine. Throw in a few tbsps. of the grated parm - and there's your sauce. Turn the heat to low and let the sauce simmer while you attend to the squash.

Using a fork, scrape the squash into long, pasta-like strands by running your fork lengthwise down the inside of it. Repeat until you have shredded the majority of the pulp, leaving a thin layer behind so that the veg. will keep its structural integrity. Place the squash shells on a large, rimmed baking sheet and reserve.

Add the squash strands to the sauce, stir well and heat the mixture through over medium-high heat. When well combined, remove from the heat and stuff the sauce/squash mixture back into the empty squash shells in equal amounts. Top with a bit more of the sauce from the jar, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with fresh parsley and enjoy!