Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Trendy Sips Edition

After spending far too long in the shadows, relegated to keeping company with far too many diet Cokes, rum is enjoying a moment in the sun. Premium rum, that is. The good stuff. And its not so much a moment in the sun, as it is a return to glory. Rum is trending up, my friends, and that's delicious news, indeed!

Why just this month alone, both The New York Times and Time Out New York have written about this oh-so-colonial spirit and hailed its return to glory. While rum may have been our founding fathers' drink of choice, its popularity has been eclipsed of late by small batch bourbons and aged single malts. More's the pity. As it turns out, quality aged rum has more to offer than meets the eye.

And, trust me, my both my eyes and my palate were skeptical. Rum has never been a Diva favorite. Sure, I'll sip on the occasional daiquiri or pina colada, given the proper mood and location - think vacation in Barbados - though generally speaking, most rums are far too sweet for my taste. But all this publicity piqued my interest and opportunity knocked in the form of the exceptional brown spirits menu at Gus & Gabriel. (I know, I know, again with the G & G?! Even I'm embarrassed by how often I've eaten there this month.) Long story short - we dined, we ordered a glass of Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 as an after dinner drink, and now I'm a convert.

Aged rum, such as the Ron Zacapa, is similar in character to a fine sherry or tawny port, with a finish that tends toward molasses a/o caramel notes. Make no mistake, the hint of sugar is there ... but its a better, more interesting hint than one typically finds in standard commercial rums. Depending on the brand and finishing, notes of spice, citrus or even leather can be present as well. Suffice it to say that flavor-wise, there's a lot more going here than I'd ever imagined.

Aged rum is delightful as a solo sipper. Enjoy it with a cube or two of ice if you like and, certainly, a water back if desired. Think of it as you would a fine scotch or bourbon and you're on the right track. Hit up that Time Out New York link for a list of reasonably priced aged rums suitable for such sipping. It can also be used in any number of cocktails.

If a festive, summery tipple is your heart's desire, you can't do much better than a classic Dark and Stormy. Does anyone actually need a recipe for this?! Honestly, this one's as old as the hills. I put the husband in charge of bar tending this week - he and the martini shaker have been suffering a bout of separating anxiety of late - and this is the formula he prefers ... taken from John K. Waters' Bar Tender's Guide.

The Dark and Stormy:
  • 2 oz. Gosling's Black Seal Rum
  • 3 oz. of ginger beer
  • wedge of lime
Place some ice into a highball glass or tumbler and over it pour the rum and the ginger beer. Squeeze in a wedge of lime and stir to combine. Garnish with a slice of lime, serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

In this case, you must use dark, not white, rum. Really. Its called a "Dark and Stormy", not a "Pale and Somewhat Over-cast." Gosling's is the preferred brand, in fact, I think they invented the drink; though if you have a favorite brand, by all means use it.

A brief word about the ginger beer ... while I failed to procure some in time for my Moscow Mule post, it turns out I was looking in the wrong aisle of the market. It was right there waiting for me all along, tucked in among the regular beer of all things. Will wonders never cease? If you can get your hands on some Jamaican ginger beer, snap it up. If not, Saranac ales makes a fine version.

So, where do you stand on the rum issue? Are you a fan of the aged stuff or more likely to order strawberry daiquiri? Thirsty Diva wants to know.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Its An Almost Meatless Virtual Potluck ...

... and I'm bringing the chili ... an unusual and outrageously delicious chili to be exact!

Fasten your apron strings and dust off the good china, dear readers, because today you are in for a treat. Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond are throwing a virtual potluck in celebration of their marvelous new cookbook, Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and The Planet, and you're invited!

Today, more than 30 food writers, chefs, bloggers and food lovers from all across the web, will join together and present a dish they've cooked from Almost Meatless. I am thrilled and honored to be in their company.

When Joy Manning first reached out and asked me to "bring a dish", I knew exactly what I wanted to make: Beefed-Up Bean Chili. The reason? Peanut butter. I've been making chili for more years than I care to count ... yet never once has it included peanut butter. This one does. I was so intrigued by this unusual addition, I couldn't wait to try it. The results? Magnificent!

And, really, its not as odd as it seems. Peanuts are a legume, after all, and they pair beautifully with heat and spice. I'm here to tell you it works. It more than works. This chili is so richly spiced, its flavor so multi-layered, you'll be hooked from the first bite. We loved it! The husband went back for a second bowl immediately - and this from a dedicated carnivore. High praise, indeed.

Recipe preprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors.

Beefed-Up Bean Chili:
  • 1 dried ancho or guajillo chlii (I used ancho)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 4 oz. lean ground beef
  • 1 small white onion cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 1 cup)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. smooth natural peanut butter
  • one 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • one 15 oz. can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • one 15 oz. can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • some chopped scallions, shredded cheddar, chopped red onion, chopped fresh parsley and or sour cream for garnish
Heat a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add the dried pepper and toast for 5 minutes, turning once or twice. Move the pepper to a bowl and cover it with hot water. Soak for about 15 minutes, to rehydrate and soften. Remove from the water, cut off the stem, scrape out the seeds and chop.

Add the oil to the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the beef for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally to break it up into small pieces. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, and rehydrated chile and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter and continue mixing until it melts. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, cocoa powder, cumin, chili powder, vinegar, 1/2 cup of water and beans. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the chili into bowls and serve with your choice of toppings; we like scallions, cheddar and sour cream.

Serves 4 to 6.

I served mine over some brown rice and topped it with shredded cheddar, diced red onions and chopped parsley. Its a hearty, healthy meal that I know I'll make again and again. Despite the small amount of meat in the chili, it has an incredibly beefy flavor that is sure to satisfy. And, if you are fully meatless, feel free to omit the beef and make a vegetarian version. The flavor will suffer not at all. I hope you'll try it!

And I hope you'll stop by the party and check out the other dishes as well. You can read the rest of the entries, once they're up, on Tara's site, Crumbs on my Keyboard, or on Joy's, What I Weigh Today. No doubt the feast will be spectacular.

The list of guests includes some of my favorite daily reads: Dan from Casual Kitchen, Charmian Christie from Christie's Corner, and Cheryl Sterman Rule from 5 second rule, as well as a host of others. Come hungry and stay late!

Many, many thanks to Joy and Tara for including me in this web-tacular event. I'm delighted to participate and very happy to recommend this book to you once again. Its a wonderful, healthy cookbook and so much more. Do yourself, and the planet, a favor and pick up a copy of Almost Meatless ... and a jar of peanut butter. You'll be happy you did.

Bon appetite!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Happy Monday!

Greetings, kittens! I'm here, but not here ... in fact, I'm at the beach. Having a little bit of a girls get-away. I'll be back with a special post on Wednesday, so stay tuned ... and have a terrific Monday!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Rose Sangria

Now doesn't that look refreshing? Indeed, it was. Summer is the perfect time of year to serve sangria, and sangria is the perfect thing to serve a crowd.

Typically, sangria involves mixing wine with a bit of brandy, some fruit, a splash of plain soda water and some sugar. While red sangria may be more traditional, you can make it with any variety of wine. White sangria is delicious ... and rose is even better!

Divalicious Rose Sangria:
  • 1 small orange
  • 1/2 small lime, sliced into rounds
  • some fresh blackberries (aka black raspberries)
  • 1 small Empire apple, chopped
  • 1 fresh nectarine, pitted and sliced
  • 1 bottle of good quality Rose wine
  • 1/4 cup Cassis
  • 1 tsp. agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup of plain seltzer or soda water
Juice the orange into a large pitcher - no seeds, please, so use a strainer. To the oj, add the sliced lime and a handful of fresh blackberries. Crush the berries a bit to release their juices, using a long wooden spoon. Add the apples and nectarine, and pour the bottle of rose over the fruit. Stir to combine.

Measure out 1/4 cup of Cassis into a glass measuring cup and to it add 1 tsp. of agave nectar, whisk well to combine then add it to the wine and fruit mixture, stir and add 1/2 cup of plain seltzer. Stir again to combine. Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

To serve, place some ice into a large wine glass, fill with sangria, allowing some fruit to spill into the glass. Garnish with a few whole blackberries, serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

If you are serving a crowd, go right ahead and double, or even triple, the recipe. Feel free to play around with the combination of fruits as well. Peaches would be lovely, red raspberries divine. Personally, I don't enjoy a really sweet sangria, so I've opted for using just a bit of agave nectar here. You could certainly substitute some sugar, if you like, or even a bit of simple syrup.

If you're desirous of something even lighter, and less caloric, fill 2/3 of the glass with sangria and top off with some additional plain seltzer. And, voila, you've made a sangria spritzer! Either way, this is a light, refreshing summer sipper that's as festive as it is delicious. I hope you'll try it!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Big Bowl of Sin

Tom Jones stood me up last night. Well, me and 2,828 other middle aged women who were supposed to see him in concert at the Beacon Theatre. I'll be honest, seeing Tom Jones wasn't exactly on my bucket list. Hell, it wasn't even on my radar screen. But last week, my dear friend M., asked me to join her for the show and I happily agreed. I'll see almost anyone in concert and seeing TJ live is on M.'s bucket list, so why not? At a minimum, I was certain it would make for a fun, campy post for today.

Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. M. and I met for a yummy dinner at Gus & Gabriel, then walked down to the Beacon only to find a throng of bitterly disappointed women and the word "Postponed" flashing on the marquis. Seems that Mr. Jones has fallen victim to that age old menace - "vocal chord strain" - after a bout of bronchitis. I wish him a speedy recovery!

The concert will be rescheduled, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, that leaves me rather post-less for the day. Post-less unless I decide to fess up to that big bowl of sin pictured above. Yes, its Fettuccine Alfredo; and, yes, that pasta is white. The horror, the horror! Its also incredibly delicious and not nearly as bad as it seems.

Here in Divaland, we call this dish Fake Fettuccine and its a once-in-a-while treat. What with the South Beaching and all, I haven't made this dish in over a year. Oh how I've missed it! Now, before you call in the fat police, lets get a few things straight. This is a slimmed down, lower fat, lower cholesterol version and its as delicious as can be. I don't actually have a recipe and I don't measure anything ... I'll do my best to offer amounts here, but mainly we're talking about a make-as-you-go kind of dish.

Divalicious Fake Fettuccine:
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • a small carton of fat-free Half and Half
  • 5 oz. Dannon All Natural Fat-Free Plain Yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or more to taste
  • pinch of salt
  • gererous grind of fresh black pepper
  • some freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh chives
  • 1/2 pound of cooked fettuccine pasta
  • 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water
  • additional grated Parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Cook the fettuccine in a large pot according to package directions. You want the pasta to be al dente, so don't over cook it. Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. While the pasta is draining, melt the butter over medium-high heat in the same pot in which you've cooked the pasta. Add the shallots and saute for 2 minutes. Add about 2/3 of a cup of fat-free Half and Half to the pot and raise the heat to high. Allow the mixture to come to the boil and reduce for 1 to 2 minutes. Return the cooked pasta to the pot and add @ 5 oz. of fat-free plain yogurt, stirring well to combine. Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt, some fresly ground black pepper and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg, stirring well to combine. Add the fresh chives and continue stirring until the cheese has melted and the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding more Half and Half, Parmesan, a/o salt and pepper as desired.

Serve immediately, garnished with some additional Parmesan, grated nutmeg and chopped fresh parsley. Enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 2 to 3 depending on portion size. (In our house it serves 3, but appetites do vary!) Obviously you can increase the quantities as necessary to serve more. The reserved cooking liquid can be used to thin the sauce, as needed, particularly for second helpings.

This is a fast, fresh and altogether delicious dish and its completely worth the sin. Feel free to play around with any of the amounts listed - as I said, its a make-as-you-go kind of deal. If you're not a Diva on a Diet, by all means feel free to use some light cream in place of the Half and Half ... your secret will be safe with me.

I invented my Fake Fettuccine more than 10 years ago, in an effort to satisfy my Alfredo loving husband *and* my inner fat cop ... both of whom are well-pleased with the results.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Today's the day for my Divalicious birthday give-away. The lucky winner will receive his/her choice of one of two amazing books: Dale DeGroff's "The Craft of the Cocktail" or Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond's "Almost Meatless" cookbook.

Our methods here at Beach Eats are highly sophisticated.

I wrote the names of all the entrants on slips of paper and placed them into a bowl. There were 25 slips in all, after accounting for the extra slip for all followers. Then I closed my eyes and picked out a slip ... and the winner is ...

Congratulations, Tangled Noodle! Please email me and let me know your choice of book and your address so I can send along your prize! You may reach me at: divaonadiet (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks so much to all of you for the kind birthday wishes and comments. You really made my day! :)

Meanwhile, it turns out that *I'm* a winner too! The hilarious and always witty Mom at Life ... EXAGGERATED has chosen me as the winner of this week's Terrific T-shirt Tuesday. Yippee! What a happy surprise!
Thanks, Mom! I'm honored to be included in such fine company and I'll be wearing my tee with pride. Be sure to click on over to Life ... EXAGGERATED and check out some of the other winners of this weekly web-tacular event. They're sure to put a smile on your face and a laugh in your throat. And if you've got a t-shirt worthy headline of your own, pass it on ... Mom's always on the lookout for the best of the web!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Food for Thought

Some weeks back, my friend Dan of Casual Kitchen invited me to participate in another edition of his wonderful Blogging Roundtable ... and this time the topic threw me for a loop. Dan posed this provocative question to five of his fellow bloggers:

"America's poor have an obesity problem because healthy food costs more than unhealthy food. Do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?"

Honestly, I was stumped ... on a number of levels. I had a really hard time trying to codify my thoughts on the topic. I'm no expert on poverty, obesity or economics; these are not subjects about which I have any factual knowledge. And, to be really, really honest ... I'm not very good about looking at price tags either. Just ask Mama Diva, I was born this way. And then it hit me: blogger, read thyself! I'm "The Diva on a Diet" ... duh! I do know a little something about weight issues, after all.

And what I know is that I'm fat on a diet of healthy, high-quality food. So my initial response was to disagree with the statement, based purely on my own experience and circumstances. Before answering, though, I decided to do a little math. I know ... terrifying, huh?!

Having recently paid a staggering $4.99 for one single, organic, red bell pepper at my market, I do agree that the cost of quality food is out of control. Certainly, the rising cost of such food has to be a factor in our growing obesity problem, but is cost the only factor? Does an apple cost more than a Twinkie? The answer may surprise you.

A quick search revealed the following: I priced out a box of Twinkies on, Stop and Shop's online store. They were on special that week, $3.00 for a box of 10, for a final cost of $0.30 per Twinkie. Empire apples were also on special that week, a 3 lb. bag for $2.50. There are roughly 3 apples per pound, so I'm figuring a total of 9 apples in that $2.50 bag, for a final cost of slightly less than $0.28 per apple. Who knew that apples and Twinkies were nearly the same price? I sure didn't. (Perhaps because I don't buy Twinkies! But, I digress.)

My point? Yes, I can do some basic math! ~ahem~ No, that's not really my point. My point is that although we absolutely must address the rising cost of food in this country, we also need to hold ourselves accountable for our choices ... and maybe even do a little math from time to time. Obesity is a complex issue; genetics, life-style choices, income and economics all factor into it. Its a provocative subject to say the least and I congratulate Dan and the rest of the Blogging Roundtable for taking it on.

You can read the rest of my response, as well as those of the other participants on Casual Kitchen today. As expected, the answers are candid, well-considered and very impressive. Once again, I'm honored to find myself in such esteemed company and I'm immensely grateful to Dan for giving us the opportunity to sound off on the topic. Please click over to Casual Kitchen and add your own thoughts to the discussion.

So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the statement? Inquiring bloggers want to know!

Bon appetite!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A New Day, A New Burger

Seems like everybody and their brother has a recipe for buffalo chicken burgers ... and now, so do I.

This one was inspired by a locker room conversation between my swim partner, Becky, and I. We were doing what we do best ... chatting ... while drying our hair and, naturally, the conversation turned to food. It always does. Becky was telling me about some amazing chicken burgers she'd created the other night, and mentioned that she included a fair amount of hot sauce in the mix. It got me thinking about chicken wings, which I really don't enjoy, and how I might easily combine all the ingredients and flavors of classic wings into a yummy new burger. And so I did.

Spicy Buffalo Chicken Burgers:
  • 1 pound of ground chicken breast
  • 3 tbsp. minced red onion
  • 1 small stalk of celery, from the heart, leaves included, minced
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup shredded granny smith apple*
  • 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • generous grind of fresh black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. wing sauce, Texas Pete, or whatever hot sauce you like*
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh chives
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 to 3 tbsp. plain, instant oatmeal
  • some crumbled blue cheese, use something of good quality, I used Cabrales here
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients - except the cheese - and mix well until fully incorporated. Use your judgment with respect to the oat meal, adding at least 2 tablespoons, and up to 3, if needed, depending on how wet the mixture is. (You will neither taste nor see the oatmeal in the finished burger, but it will help to keep things moist.)

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 to 6 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 crumbled blue cheese, cover the pan and allow the cheese to melt. Serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will yield 4 to 6 devilishly spicy burgers, depending on how large you make the patties.

*Yes, there's apple in my recipe. Why? No one really knows, except that apple pairs well with with chicken, is divine with blue cheese and, more importantly, will make the finished burger incredibly moist. You won't even really taste it but, trust me, its there doing its thang and lending interest to the mix.

**As for the hot sauce, the choice is up to you. I happened to have some Jim Beam hot sauce on hand, so that's what I used here, though any brand would work. For those who would prefer a more pronounced wing flavor, I'd suggest brushing the finished burgers with additional wing sauce prior to adding the cheese.

One again, I've skipped the bun and the ketchup. You don't need either. In stead, I've topped them with a fresh tomato relish that you can read about at the end of this post here.

These burgers are so incredibly flavorful, so moist and juicy, you'll have a hard time believing they're made from skinless ground chicken breast. They have all of trappings of a platter of wings ... minus the grease and fat. Bonus! I loved them so much I want to eat them every night. Really. They're just that good.

I hope you'll try them!

Bon appetite!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Speakeasy Edition

The best, in fact the only, cocktail I've had this week was not made Chez Diva - and I won't even attempt to recreate it. Doing so would require a kind of mixological magic I am not yet prepared to undertake ... like mixing up my own batch of orgeat, for instance. Perhaps I'll do so someday, but not quite yet ... at least not while Dutch Kills is around to do it for me.

The latest in the string of premier mixologist Sasha Petraske's ultra cool cocktail salons, Dutch Kills has everything I want in a bar ... and slightly less*. We hopped the 7 train to Long Island City, Queens on Tuesday night to do some celebrating and my birthday adventure did not disappoint. When asked where I wanted to go that night, my answer was immediate and firm: Dutch Kills. I've been reading about it for weeks and was dying to try any one of their signature offerings.

Their list of specialty drinks changes monthly, and if I'd had any sense at all, I would have brought a pad and pen so I could take notes. I didn't and more's the pity. What I can tell you is that all five drinks on offer this month appealed and you'd be hard pressed to find a more interesting mix. I chose the Wild Orchid, pictured above, and it was spectacular. A blend of gin, elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice and house made orgeat, topped off with a finish of red wine. There may well have been something else in there for all I know ... and I don't ... I was too captivated by the hand-cubed ice and stunning bloom atop my drink to notice. I loved it! I loved everything about it.

The husband sampled the fresh Grapefruit Collins and my dear friend O sipped on The Separatist, a stunning blend of bourbon, amaro, and who the hell knows what else. All I know is that it was one potent potable and mighty tasty to boot. We were very happy with our selections.

All of the offerings are made with fresh, hand juiced fruit, top shelf liquor and, as is the custom in any serious cocktail salon, the ice is hand carved and shaped according to glass and spirit-ual needs. Our conversation with one of the mixologists revealed that they arrive two hours prior to opening in order to cut the ice and ready the fresh ingredients. These people are serious about their drinks.

The space is rather quirky, but appropriately dark and atmospheric. My one criticism in this regard is the bar itself; though gorgeous, its far too small*. (This is the "less" to which I refer above.) A large part of the appeal here is in watching the experts craft the cocktails ... and there simply isn't enough room at that bar for everyone to do so. If you're lucky enough to grab seats the bar, and we were, great ... if not, you'll be relegated to either the dark and sawdust-y "piano room" in the back, or the lovely (yet far from the bar) wooden booths up front. Square footage wise, Dutch Kills is a dream. There's plenty of room for everyone ... just not at the beautiful bar.

That said, a visit to Dutch Kills is an absolute treat! Its exactly the kind of place I'd love to own ... and, you can't beat the prices. $9 for most cocktails which is quite the value when compared to Manhattan pricing. I recommend it, highly ... and I can't wait to return!

Directions and hours of operation can be found on their website, links above.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Frugal Diva: Death by Basil Edition

For me, at least, a little basil goes a long way. A very long way. So far in fact that when I need to use it, what I really want is about 4 or 5 leaves. Unfortunately, my supermarket only sells the stuff in great heaping bushels. These bunches of basil are so large as to be frightening. Why they're nearly size of my hair on a 90 degree day. Scary.

Invariably, I end up tossing it after too much time has gone by and those once vivid leaves have gone ugly and brown.

Now, I know what you're thinking and you're thinking pesto, right? Well, um, here's the thing: I don't love it and neither does the husband. Pesto is fine, sometimes even delicious, but, frankly, after a bite or two it bores me. I much prefer pesto as a condiment; a delicate dollop atop a lovely soup or in place of mustard on a sandwich ... that kind of thing. I don't typically enjoy it as the center piece of a dish.

So, what to do with that bushel of basil in my fridge? I made a dip out of it ... a dip that tastes like ... pesto!

Fast and Fresh Basil Dip:
  • 1 cup of packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and rough chopped
  • 8 oz. of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. of minced fresh lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (as in the real stuff, not packaged or processed)
  • pinch of salt
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • 2 to 3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • pinch of hot Hungarian paprika, optional
Place the basil into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until chopped. Add the garlic and process again, until the garlic is minced and the basil finely chopped. Add the rest of the ingredients, pulse and process until the mixture is smooth and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt, pepper and or lemon juice if desired. Serve immediately or chill, covered in the fridge until needed.

This dip is the perfect match for a lovely platter of crudites or some multi-grain crisps or pita chips. It comes together in a flash and the taste is fresh and lovely ... even if it does resemble pesto. Next time I will likely add a handful of fresh parsley, arugula or even some spinach - any of which would be a nice addition indeed.

What's your favorite way to use left-over basil? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Diva Day Give-Away!

Because I know that sooner or later someone's going to out me, I might as well come clean ... today is my birthday. Later, there will be cake ...

... a slight departure from my traditional chocolate with chocolate frosting. This one has dark chocolate cake, a rich chocolate filling and vanilla frosting. I baked it myself ... with a little help from Duncan Hines. Really? Really. Can I bake a cake from scratch? But of course! I have many times. When its my birthday, however, what I want is a box cake. Really. It tastes like a birthday to me.

In honor of this festive occasion, I thought I'd host a little give-away to celebrate. That's right, I'm giving you a present for my birthday ... or at least one of you, that is! The lucky winner will have his/her choice of one of these fabulous cookbooks:

Pictured left, is a copy of Dale Degroff's ultra fabulous The Craft of the Cocktail. Its an absolute essential for any budding mixologist and is literally the be all and end all of drinks books. Rich with history, lore, tales from behind the bar and more scrumptious recipes than you can imagine, it's a classic pure and simple.

Equally fabulous and delicious is the Almost Meatless cookbook by fellow bloggers, Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond. In short, I love this book. Its a wonderfully written work, featuring recipes that are not only good for you, they're good for the planet. Bonus! I've been cooking from it for month's now and every dish is a winner. You'll be hearing more about Almost Meatless in the weeks to come as Joy and Tara will be hosting a vitual potluck and I've been asked to bring a dish. Color me delighted!

Rules of Entry are as follows:
  • One winner will be chosen and said winner will have his/her choice of either book.
  • The winner must be willing to send me his/her name and address, as I will be shipping the book directly from Amazon.
  • The contest will remain open until midnight on Monday, July 20th. A winner will be drawn on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 21st and subsequently posted.
  • To Enter the Contest:
1. Simply leave a comment on this post. One comment per person, please, your comment will count as one entry. Comments will remain open until midnight, July 20th.

2. If you'd like a second chance to win, you may subscribe to my blog using the "Followers Button" at left, and please let me know that you have done so ... either in your comment or via email: divaonadiet (at) gmail (dot) com. For those that already follow me, let me know so I can allow for your second entry.

The winner will be chosen the good old fashioned way. I will draw names from a hat!

Initially, I flirted with the idea of having you guess my age ... though there were some obvious flaws in my logic. For one thing, some of you know me in "real life" and I didn't want to exclude you from the fun. And, more importantly, doing so would mean I'd have to fess up to my age ... Not. Gonna. Happen!

Good luck to all and have a fabulous, Divalicious day!

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Little Help from My Friends ...

... my friends at G.L. Mezzetta fine foods that is! A few weeks ago, a representative of Mezzetta reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in sampling some of their wares. I did a little research on the company and found out that they have been in business since 1935 and offer an impressive array of jarred peppers, olives, wine infused pasta sauces and more. Naturally, I said yes.

They were kind enough to send me a jar of their lovely Napa Valley Bistro Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce and some delicious Deli Sliced Hot Pepper Rings. Yum! The Napa Valley Bistro sauce is made with ripe California tomatoes, fresh garlic and Pinot Noir. As delicious as it is on its own, I decided to turn that jar into an absolutely stunning Chicken Cacciatore.

Quick and Easy Chicken Cacciatore:
  • 2 large bone-in, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 large bone-in, skinless whole chicken legs
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (or white flour)
  • pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 of a large Vidalia onion, sliced
  • 1 dry pint of Crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup of dry red or white wine (you could also use Rose)
  • 1/2 cup of non-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • one 27.5 oz. jar of Napa Valley Bistro Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 or 5 larges leaves of Basil, torn into pieces
  • some cooked whole wheat noodles
  • some chopped fresh parsley for garnish
  • some freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Place the flour on a large flat plate or baking dish and to it add a pinch of salt, some freshly ground black pepper, the poultry seasoning and paprika, stir well with a fork to blend. Dredge the chicken breasts and legs in the seasoned flour to coat, shaking off the excess.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a very large, heavy bottomed, deep skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the chicken and brown well on both sides, about 5 minutes per side should do it. Remove chicken and reserve.

If necessary, add 2 tsp. of olive oil to the pan, along with the peppers, onions, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, and saute over medium high heat, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, until the onions are translucent and the peppers are just beginning to brown - about 4 or 5 minutes. Add the oregano and stir to combine. Add the wine, stirring well and scraping the bottom of the pan, bring to a simmer and allow the wine to reduce by half, then add the chicken broth, the jar of sauce and a teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Stir well to combine and add the parsley and basil. Return the chicken, skin side (or what would be skin side) down, to the pan. Nestle the chicken pieces into the sauce so that they are covered, bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, test one of the larger piece of chicken with an instant read thermometer to ensure they are cooked throughout. Serve the chicken, along with the sauce, over some cooked whole wheat noodles or pasta, along with some chopped fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese for garnish. Enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve 4 and there will be some amazing sauce leftover as well.

Honestly, this cacciatore was so good I'd like to eat it every night. It came together in a flash and the Napa Valley Bistro Sauce made for a wonderfully rich and well seasoned base. Mezzetta products are widely available in grocery stores across the country, though if you cannot find them, you could certainly substitute a large (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes.

In the spirit of full disclosure, and for any of you hard-core South Beachers out there, there is some sugar in the jarred sauce. It is not among the first 5 ingredients, so that's good, but it is there nonetheless. And, frankly, I'm not sure why. Ripe tomatoes are sweet enough all on their own and the sauce is beautifully seasoned. I wish manufacturers would not feel the need to add sugar to their products, but until our collective, national taste buds change, or until we rise up and demand they leave it out - I suppose its a fact of life. That said, I'm impressed with this product and really, really impressed with my chicken cacciatore! So much so that I can't wait for the leftovers tonight. I hope you'll try it!

We'll address those sliced hot pepper rings in a future post. Stay tuned.

Bon appetit!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Twist on Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a Lebanese salad more traditionally made with bulgur (cracked wheat), some herbs, lemon and veggies. Its delicious as side dish, or even as a dip with pita, and it comes together in a flash. While I really enjoy the standard variety, I will just as often choose to make tabbouleh with quinoa.

Quinoa is often mistaken for a grain, because it looks and behaves like a grain, but the darling little kernels are actually the seeds of a native Peruvian plant called chenopodium quinoa. Quinoa comes in a variety of colors, ranging from light brown to black and is widely recognized as a "superfood" due to its high protein content. Quinoa is a high in fiber, packed with nutrients and is a complete protein. It can be used in place of any grain and its absolutely delicious!

In this recipe, I've used some petite red quinoa, because that's what I had on hand, but feel free to use whichever color you like. The red quinoa has a mild, almost fruity flavor, which pairs well with the olive oil based dressing.

Quinoa Tabbouleh:
  • 1/2 cup of quinoa, rinsed well and drained
  • 2 tbsp. good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 3/4 tsp. of Kosher salt
  • generous grating of fresh black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 cup of tightly packed fresh parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup of tightly packed fresh mint, minced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped (or, alternately, you could use 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, quartered)
Cook the rinsed quinoa according to package directions, drain well and reserve.

Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cumin together in the bottom of a large bowl until combined. Add the drained quinoa to the dressing and toss to coat. Add the parsley, mint and tomatoes and stir well to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding more lemon, salt or pepper as needed. Serve immediately or chill, covered, in the fridge until use, if desired.

As written, this recipe will serve 4 to 6 as a side dish, and the amounts listed are approximate and entirely flexible. I don't really measure the herbs or the tomatoes, I just keep adding until it looks good to me. Feel free to play around with the combination and create a Divalicious mix of your own, adding more tomatoes, parsley or cumin, etc. Some minced fresh lemon zest would make a wonderful addition and you could certainly choose to add all manner of fresh veggies to the salad if you like. Have fun with it!

Tabbouleh purists will note the distinct lack of cucumber here ... it is the one vegetable I cannot abide. If desired, please go right ahead and add some cukes to your version ... just don't invite me to dinner if you do. ~wink~

Bon appetit!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Tomato Edition

Hello, my name is Diva and I'm a book whore. I can't get enough. Set me down to browse in a bookstore and I'll be content for hours ... and, doubtless, I'll emerge with several new titles to add to the bottomless pile by my bed. Cookbooks are no exception.

Mixology book are no exception either. A recent rendezvous resulted in another little gem for my collection: Market-Fresh Mixology - Cocktails for Every Season, by Bridget Albert with Mary Barranco. This is not your average drinks book. Its as much a cookbook as anything else; Ms. Albert's focus is on the integration of fresh ingredients as the basis for some spectacular sips.

The book opens with a nice, concise overview of bar essentials, tools, glassware and ingredients (both alcoholic and non), then sets off on a seasonal market tour - matching all manner of fruits and veggies with some serious spirits. The recipes require a bit of work, we're not talking about throwing a lime into a rum and coke here. You'll need to simmer a few syrups, mash and muddle some stuff before you're able to get your drink on ... and that's just the way I like it.

This recipe is adapted from Market Fresh Mixology by Bridget Albert and Mary Barranco.

The Frisky Mary:
  • 5 oz. ripe cherry tomatoes, any color
  • one 2 inch piece of celery, quartered
  • one fresh radish, trimmed and sliced into rounds
  • 2 or 3 fresh basil leaves
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 to 3 drops of Tabasco sauce
  • dash of celery salt
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • a bit of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 ounces of vodka, or citrus vodka
You will need approximately 4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, depending on size. I've not specified an amount, as sizes vary greatly. The book calls for 5, but the cherries I had were huge, so I used four. Measure out enough cherry tomatoes to equal 4 to 5 ounces, then slice the tomatoes into quarters.

Place the sliced tomatoes, celery, radish, basil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, celery salt, Kosher salt and black pepper into the bottom of a martini shaker. Using a muddling tool, muddle and mash all of the ingredients well. Basically, just grind and press the hell out of it until a wet, pulpy consistency is achieved, the texture will be similar to a thin gazpacho.

Add some ice to the shaker and the vodka, cover and shake well until the shaker frosts. To serve the drink, remove the top of shaker and pour the drink through a sieve into a chilled and salted martini glass, pressing on the solids to extract all of the liquid.

Garnish with a small, decorative tomato and a slice of lime. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

I created the following seasoned salt to pair with this unique drink:

Frisky Mary Salt:
  • 2 tbsp. fine sea salt
  • 2 tsp. smoked salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • dash of Hot Hungarian Paprika
Mix all of the ingredients together on a small, flat dish until well combined. To salt the rim of a glass, run the cut edge of a lemon or lime around the rim of a martini glass, then immediately dip into the seasoned salt to coat.

I've changed the name of the drink, as well as adding a few veggies and spices of my own. The results? Extraordinary! Like a bloody mary, but so much better. Its more lively, more interesting and positively brimming with the flavor of fresh summer tomatoes.

I used unflavored vodka in mine and added an extra drizzle of lemon before serving. Amazing as it was, I think it would be even better when made with a citrus vodka. I can't wait to try it. Does this drink take a bit of work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! I think Ms. Albert and I are destined to be very good friends.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fast and Fresh Tortilla Soup

One Sunday, back in 2002, Amanda Hesser waxed eloquent about the pleasures of tortilla soup in the pages of the New York Times Magazine. She had my full attention. I made her recipe the very next day, it was quite the production. It took half the day, made my kitchen reek of oil, and the results - while truly magnificent - were hardly suitable for anyone on a diet ... Diva or otherwise. I never made it again. More's the pity, its damn delicious stuff.

Last night, I set out to create my own version ... its a charming cheat. I didn't toast or rehydrate any chilies, didn't make my own stock, and I most certainly didn't fry any tortillas. I used what I had on hand - some leftover cooked chicken, a few cans of broth, some fresh veggies, etc., - in less than an hour I had dinner. An exquisite, healthy dinner to be exact.

45 Minute Tortilla Soup:
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large stalk of celery, leaves included, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 of a Vidalia onion, diced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
  • a pinch of Kosher salt
  • a generous grating of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin (or more to taste)
  • 1 tsp. Mexican oregano, crushed between the palms of your hands
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika (or to taste)
  • two 14.5 oz. cans of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • two 14.5 oz. cans of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • one 14.5 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • dash of Chinese Five Spice powder
  • dash of ground cinnamon
  • a few drops of Tabasco or Habanero sauce, to taste
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 to 2 cups of cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
  • 1 large ear of corn, kernels removed
Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat, when it is hot, but not smoking, add the celery, carrots, onions, garlic, jalapeno a pinch of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Saute until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are tender, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cumin, Mexican oregano and Hungarian paprika, stirring well to combine, and saute for one minute. Add the chicken broth, vegetable broth and the tomatoes (along with their juices), stir to combine, add the rice wine vinegar along with a dash of Chinese Five Spice powder and a dash of ground cinnamon if desired. Add a drop or two of Tabasco sauce, to taste, and the chopped parsley, stirring well to combine. Raise the heat and allow the soup to just come to the boil. As soon as it does, turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer the soup for 15 to 20 minutes.

While it simmers, slice the kernels from the ear of corn. Just before serving, add the cooked chicken and corn kernels to the soup, stir and continue simmering until both the chicken and corn are hot. Ladle the finished soup into bowls and garnish with any and all of the following:

  • some crushed corn tortilla chips (I like the blue corn variety)
  • some chopped red onion
  • some chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
  • some cubed fresh avocado
  • some wedges of lime for drizzling over soup at table
  • shredded cheddar, manchego, or crumbled cotija cheese, if desired
Serve immediately and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 6 and it is anything but traditional. Most tortilla soup recipes do not call for Chinese Five Spice powder or unseasoned rice wine vinegar ... but that's just how I roll. I like a multi-layered soup and once it starts simmering, I'll throw just about anything in there until it tastes good to me.

My version is lower in fat than the traditional variety as well, because I do not add the fried tortilla strips to the broth. I find that the crushed tortilla chips added as a garnish offer just enough crunch and interest for me and, frankly, I prefer the soup this way. It also allows for the option of using a baked tortilla chip, which would further reduce the fat content. I don't bother with the cheese addition, but the avocado, lime, onions and parsley are non-negotiable for me.

This is a luscious, flavorful and healthy meal in a bowl. Its quick, easy and ridiculously delicious. Believe me, I mean no disrespect to Amanda Hesser. If you have the time, the inclination, and can spare the extra calories, you certainly can't go wrong with her version. Its truly scrumptious. You can find the recipe here. But if you're looking for a weeknight meal that's both light and satisfying, my 45 minute version can't be beat.

I know I said we'd be talking tabbouleh today ... but this post was ready and the tabbouleh has yet to be photographed! Stayed tuned for Thirsty Thursdays tomorrow ... and we'll get to that tabbouleh on Friday.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Simple Summer Meal

Kebabs, they're what's for dinner! Spicy Asian pork kebabs to be exact and they were outstanding!

In my quest to deliver a simple, healthy, summer meal to the table last night, I settled on kebabs. They're easy, delicious and oh so festive.

Spicy Asian Pork Kebabs:
  • 2 large, lean, boneless center cut pork chops
  • 4 tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. dark Asian sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. Sriracha sauce
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1 inch squares
  • some fresh pineapple, cut into 1 inch chunks
Trim any visible fat from the outside of the pork chops, then cut the pork into one and a half inch cubes. Reserve.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha sauce, lime juice, lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, garlic and a generous grating of fresh black pepper. Whisk well to combine. Remove 2 tablespoons of the marinade to a small bowl and reserve. Add the pork cubes to the rest of the marinade and toss well to coat, pressing down to ensure that all of meat is submerged. Cover and chill in the fridge for one hour.

Meanwhile, if you're using bamboo skewers, place them in a large pan filled with water and allow them to soak for 1/2 hour.

Just before you're ready to grill, assemble the skewers. Thread the red bell peppers and pineapple chunks, alternating each, onto the skewers, place them on a plate and drizzle with the reserved 2 tablespoons of marinade to coat. Remove the pork from the fridge, and thread the cubes onto separate skewers in equal measure.

Heat a grill pan over high heat and brush it with a bit of oil, allow the pan to become very hot. Add the pork and veggie skewers to the pan and grill, turning as necessary until the meat is well browned and cooked throughout and the fruit/peppers are nicely browned and tender. Total cooking time will be approximately 8 minutes, but cooking times may vary, so be attentive.

To serve, remove the pork and fruit/veg from skewers to plate and combine.

As written, this recipe will serve two and it can easily be doubled as needed. I served mine with steamed zucchini and some amazing quinoa tabbouleh ... and I'll tell you all about that ... tomorrow!

The marinade would work well with beef or chicken, so feel free to substitute if that is your heart's desire. This is a quick, easy and satisfying meal - just perfect for a warm summer evening. I hope you'll try it.

Bon appetit!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Weekend Update

This photo has nothing to do with food and nothing to do with my weekend ... but it does contain a chipmunk. Mrs. Chipmunk, I believe, she and her husband live here in the drain pipe at the back of Mama and Papa Diva's house. Isn't she sweet? Papa Diva takes very good care of them too, he feeds them cracked corn. Life is good in the burbs.

And life was very good here in the city this weekend too ... though, oddly enough, that life didn't include any cooking on my part. We hit the beach on Friday - Lido Beach on Long Island, to be exact. It was spectacular, though I did burn the hell out of my shins. Don't ask me why or how. I guess I was too busy frolicking to carefully apply sunscreen. Ouch!

After a day of fun in the sun, we hit The Buoy Bar in Point Lookout and sipped on some delicious margaritas while watching the sun set from their deck. It was so lovely I never wanted to leave ... and we may, in fact, return this weekend if the weather looks good.

On Saturday night, we popped into the recently opened Gus & Gabriel, for a truly delicious meal. Owned and operated by Chef Michale Psilakis of Kefi fame, Gus & Gabriel is an American-style gastropub featuring foods designed to appeal to the kid in all of us. What does that mean? It means you're going to want to order every single thing on the menu. I'll be writing a full review at some point, but suffice it to say the meal was extraordinary. You can view most of the menu here, though, sadly, that link does not include the dessert offerings ... and they were spectacular.

The husband chose the peanut butter and jelly cupcake, which was a very grown-up cupcake indeed. A rich, peanut butter cake, filled with homemade strawberry jam and topped with the most outrageously decadent peanut butter frosting. Wow! As if that weren't enough, my friend and I split the "Chipwhich and Shake" combo ... and, honestly, it left me breathless. The "chipwich" in question boasted a deeply flavored caramel ice cream pressed between two decadently rich, dark chocolate cookies. ~swoon~ Its partner in crime was a luscious vanilla shake that had been spiked with a shot of Jim Beam. Are you kidding me?! Why didn't *I* think of that first?! Honestly, it was amazing.

I have a lot more to say about Gus & Gabriel, but it will have to wait for another visit ... a visit wherein I remember to tote along my camera, for instance. :)

After that lovely feast, we repaired to Chez Diva, mixed up a batch of spiked blueberry lemonade, then hit the roof of my building to watch the fireworks. They were wonderful as always, and made so much better this time for the lack of crowds and the private party.

We capped off the weekend on Sunday with a trip to the stadium to watch the Yankees beat the Jays. Needless to say, its time to get back on track. I hit the pool this morning ... hard ... and now I'm off to the kitchen to create some culinary magic of the dietetic sort. Expect a healthy recipe tomorrow ... heaven knows I need it, I've got to fit back into that bathing suit come Saturday!

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

Bon appetit!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Pinstripe Edition

Perhaps you were expecting some sort of red, white and blue beverage this week in honor of the holiday weekend? If so, I'm sorry to disappoint ... I don't do blue drinks. Blueberries notwithstanding, of course.

Since I'll be spending at least one day of the weekend in Yankee Stadium, this classic cocktail came to mind.

The Bronx Cocktail:
  • 2 shots of gin
  • 1 shot of freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 shot of sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 shot of dry vermouth
Fill a martini shaker with ice and over it pour the gin, oj, and vermouth. Cover and shake well until the shaker frosts. Strain into an ice filled tumbler and garnish with an orange slice, peel or twist. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

Alternately, you can omit the ice and serve the drink straight up as a martini. The choice is yours. Now that we're finally being treated to some summery weather, I find I prefer the iced version rather than the martini. Nothing says summer refresher like the clink of ice against glass.

This is a classic cocktail and there are as many recipes for it, with varying ratios of gin/oj/vermouth, as you can count. The drink I've posted here is based on a version from Holiday Cocktails: A Connoisseur's Guide to Seasonal Drinks by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen. Its a charming little book, chock full of potent potables that are sure to please.

The Bronx Cocktail is basically another "gin and juice" variation. I must insist that you use fresh squeezed oj ... at least if you're making one for me. Not a fan of the stuff in a carton. The fresh juice lends the right kind of sweetness and will offset the astringent edge of the gin and vermouth.

Whatever you're up to this weekend, stay safe, have a wonderful time and throw an extra burger on the grill for me.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Garden Raid: Beet Edition

In addition to that wonderful broccoli, I also scored some Swiss chard and a bunch of beets from bro's garden this weekend. The chard was sauteed and consumed on Sunday; and last night the beets adorned this scrumptious composed salad.

Beets have long been a Diva favorite, though of late I've been a bit wary due to their sugar content. Turns out there's more than just the sweet stuff inside these ruby red beauties. Beets are rich in Potassium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese Phosphorus and Copper. They are also high in Vitamin C, Folate and fiber, and contain smaller amounts of Calcium, Zinc, Selenium, Vitamin A, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Riboflavin to name but a few.

While they have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, there are enough mitigating nutrients for me to feel good about eating them regardless. And, hey, they're delicious - especially when roasted.

This is another no recipe - recipe ... meaning the measurements are loose and you shouldn't feel constrained by the list of ingredients. While beet topped salads are more traditionally paired with a soft goat cheese - cheddar was what I had on hand last night. I believe in using what you've got so use whatever cheese you like here. Ditto for the nuts. My intention was to top the salad with some salty smoked almonds ... as it happened I didn't have any and neither did Fairway. I opted for sesame coated almonds instead and no one cried.

Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad with Sharp Cheddar and Sesame Almonds:

Basic Lemon Vinaigrette:
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. Champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • generous grating of fresh black pepper
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley, chives or dill
Pour the olive oil into a small glass measuring cup to equal 1/4 cup. To the oil add the lemon juice, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper, directly into the measuring cup and whisk well using a small wire whisk until the dressing has emulsified. Add some chopped fresh herbs of your choice, any would work well. Whisk again and reserve.

For the Beets:
  • 4 large beets, washed, peeled and cut into cubes (about 1 inch or so)
  • 2 tsp. Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and while it heats, place the cubed beets in a small bowl and toss with a splash of Champagne vinegar and some olive oil. Add a pinch of salt, a grinding of fresh black pepper and toss to coat. Pour the beets onto a cookie sheet or into the bottom of an oven-safe pie dish in an even layer, spread them out and cover the sheet or dish with some foil. Roast in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove the foil, return the pan to the oven and continue roasting for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the beets have begun to brown and are tender. Test, and if they're not done to your liking, continue roasting until desired texture is achieved. When tender, remove from oven, place in a bowl and reserve.

Composing the Salad:
  • some baby arugula, romaine or any kind of greens you like
  • Basic Lemon Vinaigrette
  • Roasted Beets
  • some shaved sharp cheddar cheese (or whatever kind you like)
  • some chopped sesame coated almonds (or whatever kind of nut you prefer)
Place some arugula or lettuce in a small bowl and toss with some of the lemon vinaigrette to coat. Place the dressed greens on a serving plate, top with the beets, cheese and nuts to taste. Serve and enjoy with additional dressing on the side to be passed at table.

As written this recipe will yield 2 - 4 salads, depending on size. Smaller salads make a lovely side dish or starter course, while larger ones can be the focus of the meal. I served mine with some excellent roast chicken and a more perfect summer meal I cannot imagine.

Big ups to my bro for all the delicious produce this week. The season's only just begun and we're off to a tasty start!

Bon appetit!