Monday, August 31, 2009


Sunday nights have their own sort of ethos; a kind of "back-to-school" feeling, even if you're not a student. The weekend is over, most people need to show up for work on Monday, and, often, a kind malaise sets in ... unless you are in Divaland. I don't do malaise.

In fact, I'm just as likely to celebrate a Sunday evening. Last night was no exception. Armed with a pint of grape tomatoes and some gorgeous onions from bro's garden, I turned the end of the weekend into quite an appetizing little event. Below, my recipe for a Divalicious Sunday evening ...

Goat Cheese Crostini with Caramelized Onion and Tomato Compote:
  • 1 large onion, peeled, halved and cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 pint of fresh grape tomatoes, milled*
  • one 14.5 oz. can of Petite Diced Tomatoes
  • zest of one large fresh lemon, minced
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin, optional
  • 1/4 tsp. Chinese Five Spice powder, optional
  • the leaves from 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • some soft herbed goat cheese
  • a large whole grain or whole wheat baguette, sliced thin, brushed with a bit of olive and then toasted until golden brown
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and stir well to coat with the oil. Allow the onions to saute, stirring frequently for 1 to 2 minutes, add 1/2 tsp. of granulated sugar, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking the onions, stirring frequently to redistribute, until golden brown and caramelized - approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low, if they begin to brown to quickly. The onions are done when they are evenly golden, not dark, brown. They will be soft but will still maintain their shape.

*While the onions caramelize, run the grape tomatoes through a food mill (placed over a large bowl) to separate the juice and pulp from the skins. This will take a bit of time, be patient. Once all of the tomatoes have been crushed, discard the skins and strain the juice and pulp through a sieve, pressing on the solids to extract. Save the resulting juice and discard the seeds.

Once the onions are cooked, add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and stir to combine. To the skillet, add the reserved grape tomato juice, a 14.5 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes (along with their juice), and stir well. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, honey, cumin, Chinese Five Spice powder, and the leaves from 2 or 3 large sprigs of fresh thyme. Stir well, allow the mixture to come to the boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes - or until the mixture has thickened and most of the liquid has evaporated - stirring as needed.

Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more of anything you like. Remove the finished compote to a covered container and chill in the fridge until completely cooled.

To Assemble the Crostini:

Slather the whole grain toasts with some herbed goat cheese and top with a generous spoonful of the chilled onion and tomato compote. Top with a bit of fresh thyme, serve and enjoy!

Alternately, if you don't have a food mill - or don't want to be bothered - you can certainly choose to just chop the grape tomatoes and add them as is. The finished compote would have some seeds, but that's no great hardship. You might also choose to omit the grape tomatoes and add an additional can of diced tomatoes instead.

As for the seasonings, its all up to you. I happen to like a little extra punch, so I've added the cumin and Five Spice powder. A splash of Sriracha wouldn't hurt either, though if you prefer - you can leave the spices out altogether and simply flavor the compote with the thyme alone. The choice is yours!

The finished crostini are so incredibly savory and delicious, I promise you'll forget all about going to work on Monday ... almost.

So, what's your recipe for a festive Sunday evening? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Friday, August 28, 2009


Greetings, Kittens! As it turns out, I've been Away From Blog for the latter part of this week. And, sadly, I left you all very thirsty this Thursday. So sorry about that!

We'll return to our regularly scheduled Thirsty Thursdays next week and I'll be back with a new post on Monday. Have a wonderful weekend!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lasagna Sans Pasta

I told you it was BIG; the mother of all zucchini! Good thing its one of my most favorite vegetables. While several possibilities sprang to mind: zucchini bread, zucchini parmesan, Charmian Christie's delicious looking zucchini soup, I settled on turning this baby into lasagna ... a pasta-free lasagna and it was spectacular!

The recipe is fairly standard and there's hardly any need to measure. The important thing here is to use a sauce of good quality. I prefer to make my own and, honestly, the sauce I recommend is almost as easy as opening a jar. I used my adapted version of Marcella Hazan's basic tomato sauce. Its so simple you can make it while the zucchini drains and the flavor is remarkably delicious. I can't imagine why anyone would buy sauce when you can make something so incredible in so little time?!

Zucchini Lasagna:

  • one enormous zucchini (or several medium to large)
  • salt
  • two 15 oz. containers of part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • generous grinding of fresh black pepper
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • some shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • additional grated Parmesan cheese
  • basic tomato sauce
Slice the zucchini into roughly 1/4 inch rounds. To draw out some of the water, layer the slices in a large colander, dusting each layer with a bit of ordinary table salt before adding the next layer. Allow the zucchini to drain for 30 to 45 minutes. Briefly rinse away the salt, without soaking the zucchini, and place the slices in a single layer between clean tea towels to dry, pressing lightly to remove as much water as possible. Allow the slices to sit between the towels for 15 minutes or so to continue draining.

Heat a large non-stick pan over high heat and brush it with a very thin layer of oil. Add as many slices as the pan will accommodate and gently brown the zucchini on both side. Do not cook it through, you want just a bit of golden color on each slice. Once lightly browned, remove from pan and reserve. Continue until all of the slices have been browned.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, 1/4 of grated Parmesan cheese, the parsley, basil, granulated garlic, salt, nutmeg, black pepper and cayenne. Stir well to combine, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the beaten egg and stir well to combine. Reserve.

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Place some tomato sauce the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass or oven-safe baking dish, and add a layer of the sliced zucchini, over-lapping slightly to cover the bottom of the pan. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over the slices, top with some shredded mozzarella and another layer of tomato sauce, then sprinkle with a bit of grated Parmesan. Repeat until all of the ricotta has been used and end with a layer of sliced zucchini. Top the final layer of slices with an even layer of tomato sauce, mozz and Parm. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until hot, bubbling and well-browned on top. Remove from oven and allow the lasagna to cool for at least 5 minutes and up to 10 before serving. Serve and enjoy with additional sauce and grated Parmesan, if desired.

As written, the recipe will serve approximately 8 to 10, depending on portion size.

Certainly, if you want to be fancy, you could slice the zucchini lengthwise to achieve flat strips more similar to lasagna noodles - but, frankly, this one was so big I simply couldn't manage it. And, really, it seems unnecessary. The finished product was every bit as tasty and I didn't have to risk injury to achieve it! Have I mentioned I'm dangerous in the kitchen?!

While there is a bit of work involved here, the dish is well worth the effort. The husband ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the dish and we both cleaned our plates. Unlike traditional lasagna, this is meal is not heavy at all - in fact, its remarkably light. The bonus here is that it truly is South Beach friendly; a lovely way to have your lasagna and eat it too. I loved it!

So, what's your favorite way to use up this ubiquitous end-of-summer veggie? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hybrid Curry

I raided my brother's garden this weekend and the results were magnificent. I came home laden with fresh poblano chiles, garlic, several enormous onions, fingerling potatoes, cucumbers, beets, basil, and a zucchini that's so large it could feed an army. Color me delighted!

Naturally, I went straight to work and put some of the bounty to good use - in this case, the poblanos, onions, garlic and basil. I made a hybrid curry that was as easy to prepare as it was delicious.

Chicken and Poblano Curry:
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
  • 4 small cloves of garlic, minced (or 2 large clove)
  • 2 large poblano peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 small to medium skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced into strips
  • 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. tandoori spice mixture
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • a handful of toasted cashew nuts
  • 1 tsp. tamarind date chutney (jarred)
  • 1 cup of light coconut milk
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • some shredded fresh basil for garnish
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan and when it is hot but not smoking, add the onions, garlic, poblano and jalapeno peppers, a pinch of salt, some freshly ground black pepper and a dash of crushed red pepper flakes, to taste. Stir-fry for approximately 4 to 5 minutes and add the chicken. Continue stir-frying for about 10 minutes or so, until the chicken is opaque and just beginning to color. Add the curry powder, tandoori spice, cayenne pepper, a handful of cashews, stir well to coat and saute for one minute. Add the tamarind date chutney and stir to combine. Add the coconut milk, stir well and allow the mixture to just come to the boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the lime juice, stir, taste and adjust the seasoning - adding more of anything you like.

Spoon the curry over some cooked brown rice and top with a generous handful of shredded basil. Serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve four. I doubt its very authentic, but it sure is delicious! This is a curry which nods at Mexico - the poblanos - and winks at China - the cashews - while tipping its hat to Thailand with the basil. Basically, I threw in whatever was handy and surprisingly, it works. It more than works!

We like to keep things spicy around here and this had just enough heat to make you stand up and take notice - yet not overwhelm. If you're heat-averse, you can certainly cut back on the cayenne and crushed red pepper flakes. Do as you see fit. Whatever you do, don't skip the basil, it really brings the dish together and adds a bright, fresh note that's welcome indeed.

BIG thanks to my bro for all the wonderful produce. Next up I'm tackling that gigantic zucchini ... stay tuned!

Bon appetite!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer Corn Pudding

This recipe began with an episode of The Barefoot Contessa ... during which I had at least two coronary events simply from watching her cook with all that butter and fat. Don't get me wrong, I loves me some Ina Garten; I love everything about her. When she featured her Sagaponack Corn Pudding on the show, several years ago, I knew immediately that I had to make it ... over. And so I did.

My inner fat cop took The Barefoot Contessa's recipe and adapted it to my style of cooking/eating. We are well-pleased with the results. The finished dish has all of the flavor and roughly half the fat. Win/win!

Summer Corn Pudding:
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 5 cups of fresh native (i.e. local) corn kernels cut off the cob (approximately 6 to 8 ears, depending on size)
  • 1/2 of a large Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup of fat free milk
  • 1 cup of fat free Half-and-Half
  • 1/2 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1 cup of 2% cottage cheese
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. snipped fresh chives
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese, plus a bit extra to sprinkle on top
  • paprika for dusting on top
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F and butter the inside of a 9 x 13 inch oven-safe glass baking dish.

Melt the butter in a very large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the corn, onions and shallot and saute, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Cool slightly and reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and half-and-half. Slowly whisk in the corn meal until just incorporated. Add the cottage cheese and whisk to combine. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, chives and parsely, whisking to combine. Add the reserved corn mixture and 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared baking dish, sprinkle the top with some additional cheese and dust with some paprika for garnish.

Place the dish into a larger pan (I used a big roasting pan) and fill the pan 1/2 way up the side of the dish with hot tap water to create a water bath. Carefully move to the oven and bake on the middle rack at 375 for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top begins to brown and the pudding has set through. A knife inserted into the center should come out clean when the pudding is done.

Once cooked, very carefully remove from the oven and even more carefully, remove the glass baking dish from the water bath. Hint: do not burn yourself! Serve warm.

As written, this recipe will serve 8 to 10.

Let me tell you, this dish is a show-stopper. My guests couldn't get enough of it! The finished pudding is light, creamy and bursting with the flavor of fresh corn. I'll be honest, I don't measure the corn by cup - I used 6 large ears this time - and I don't really measure the salt, pepper, herbs or cheese either. I cook by feel, so consider the recipe a guideline and do as you see fit.

The original recipe calls for fresh basil, rather than chives, so feel free to use whichever herbs you like best. I happen to adore the combination of chives and corn - though, doubtless, the basil would be equally wonderful. The most important thing here is not to over cook the corn when you are sauteing it. 3 to 4 minutes and not a second more!

A more thoughtful Diva might have photographed the dish when it came out of the oven. Alas, I was knee-deep in party prep at the time, so that didn't happen. I can assure you the finished product is as beautiful as it is scrumptious. You'll just have to take my word for it. The pudding can be served straight out of the oven and its equally good warm, at room temperature ... or even cold the next day. Not that you'll have much leftover, you won't.

With all due respect to the Contessa, I like my version better ... and so do my hips!

Bon appetite!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Light-Weight Edition

As mentioned yesterday, we're in the midst of a fairly wicked heatwave. My brain, she is fried. And, frankly, I don't much care to drink anything other than water or ice tea when the weather is this hot. Sad, but true.

I can't very well give you a recipe for water - amusing as that may sound - consequently, I'm falling back on an oldie but goodie today. A dieter's delight, friend to watchers of weight and counters of calories ... the good 'ole white wine spritzer. Pedestrian? Perhaps. Refreshing? Absolutely.

White Wine Spritzer:
  • chilled white wine of your choice
  • chilled mineral water, Perrier or plain seltzer
  • slices of lemon and lime
  • some frozen blackberries, blueberries or red raspberries for garnish
Place some ice into a large wine glass and over it pour equal amounts of white wine and seltzer. Squeeze in a bit of lemon, lime, or both and stir gently. Garnish the drink with a few frozen berries for color and wheel of lemon or lime. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

While I strongly recommend the blackberries or raspberries for garnish, blueberries were residing in my fridge. Waste not, want not - so there you go.

No doubt I've made some oenophiles cringe with this entry. Relax, I'm not suggesting you use that bottle of Corton-Charlemagne you've had cellared for the past six years. Rather I'm suggesting, for the calorie-minded among you, that this is a simple, refreshing way to enjoy a drink and not blow your diet. You'll have the flavor of the wine with half the calories of a full glass ... which, naturally, will allow you to have two!

Feel free to substitute some rose if that's your preference, or garnish with whatever fruits you like. The world's your oyster!

Dieting aside, I quite enjoy a spritzer now and then, particularly in the dead of summer. Without question, its the drink of light-weights ... Let's hope for a break in the heat so we can get back to some serious drinking next week!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dinner for Eight

When I finally write my Divalicious Guide to Entertaining, it will be entitled: "Only an Idiot Hosts a Dinner Party in August." Or, perhaps more cheerfully: "Only an Optimist Hosts a Dinner Party in August." Turns out I'm a little bit of both.

I did indeed throw a dinner party on Sunday night. It is, in fact, August ... and ... good grief, its hot as hell. We're finally being treated to a week of weather I had sincerely hoped to avoid. And try as I might to avoid cooking, some good friends were in town and a party was had. I fired up both my air conditioner and the crock pot, and got down to business.

Now, there's a popular school of thought which insists one should not try a new recipe when preparing for guests. Will anyone be surprised when I say that this is rule I've broken in spades? No? Right! In the kitchen at least, I'm fearless, a risk-taker, convinced of my own invincibility. Thus I threw caution to the wind, secured an enormous shoulder of pork and made something I've never cooked before ...

Chile Verde Soft Tacos:

For the Pork:
  • one 5 to 6 pound, boneless, pork shoulder
  • some Emeril's Original Essence seasoning blend
  • 2 large Vidalia onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 large jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 cup of chicken stock (I used Emeril's All Natural)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3/4 cup of bottle green chile sauce, any brand will do
Trim the pork shoulder of excess fat, then rub the entire surface of the meat with Emeril's Essence and let it sit while you slice the vegetables. Place the sliced onions, jalapeno, bell pepper, cumin, chicken stock, water and green chile sauce in the bottom of a large crock-pot (slow cooker) and add the seasoned pork shoulder. Slow cook on low setting for 8 hours, turning once or twice, until the meat is fork tender and falling apart.

Remove the cooked meat from the slow cooker to a cutting board and, using two forks, shred the pork. Place the shredded meat into a large, covered, dish - reserve and keep warm. Meanwhile, pour the accumulated liquid from the pot through a strainer, then run it through a de-fatting cup. Discard the fat and pour some of the strained liquid over the shredded pork to moisten. Reserve the remaining liquid, keeping it warm for use at table.

For the Tacos:
  • cooked shredded pork shoulder
  • some thinly sliced radishes
  • some thinly sliced red onions
  • plenty of chopped fresh cilantro
  • some shredded sharp cheddar cheese, or cheese of your choice
  • some wedges of fresh lime
  • a variety of hot sauces, Tabasco, Sriracha, Habanero, whatever you like
  • some fresh white corn or whole wheat tortillas, warmed
To assemble the tacos, place some shredded pork into a warmed tortilla, top it with a bit of radish, some sliced red onions, plenty of cilantro, and drizzle the whole shebang with a wedge of lime. Add some hot sauce of your choice, a bit of cheese if you like, roll up and inhale! Repeat, often!

Honestly, I can't say enough good things about this meal! It was one of the easiest and most delicious creations I have ever served. A bit of prep work, and your slow cooker will do the rest. I served family style, letting each guest dive into the offerings to create their own unique mix. I high recommend the radish/onion combo - and, personally, I don't think you need the cheese ... but my guests disagree. Serving the strained juices to pour over the meat at table is a nice touch. The liquid is so beautifully flavored you could almost drink it on its own. And for heaven's sake, please don't skip the hot sauce. We like the Sriracha, but anything you enjoy will do.

This was a fun and festive meal, made all the more so by the inclusion of the Emeril's goodies I received through the Foodbuzz Tastemakers program. They sent a bunch of us lucky bloggers some of Emeril's products to enjoy and I must say the Original Essence was a perfect addition to this dish. This was my first time working with Emeril's line. I used the Essence in place of a salt and pepper rub on the pork and it was fantastic.

Naturally we had some appetizers, dessert, plenty of wine and spirits as well. To round out the meal I served a large garden salad and an outrageously good fresh corn pudding. I'll be posting the corn pudding recipe on Friday ... stay tuned.

In this case, the risk yielded some delicious rewards. The food was magnificent and the party was a huge success. So, where do you stand on issue of trying a new recipe for guests? Do you stick with the tried and true, or are you a risk-taker like me? Curious Diva wants to know!

Bon appetite!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Old Bay!

Today's post is a BIG, delicious Thank You shout-out to The Food Addicts! Last month they hosted a fun, summery give-away, courtesy of Old Bay ... and I was lucky enough to win. Hooray! The gift pack included: Old Bay Seasoning, a Seafood Steamer Bag, an Old Bay Beach Towel, key chain bottle opener, a handy Old Bay Beach Bag, some great recipes and a fun Old Bay temporary tattoo! Honestly, it was like receiving a box of summer in the mail. You can see a picture of my winnings here ... and above, you can see what I did with it on Friday night.

While Old Bay may be more closely associated with crab, it puts me in mind of shrimp. Accordingly, we made a version of the classic shrimp boil; so festive and perfect for a steamy summer evening! This recipe is adapted from the one included on the back of the Old Bay Seasoning tin.

Old Bay Shrimp Boil:
  • 1/4 cup of Champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of white vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 of a large Vidalia onion, sliced thin
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 pound of large shrimp, heads removed, shells on
Combine the vinegars, water, Old Bay, onion and garlic in a medium sized sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and stir to coat. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and allow the shrimp to steam for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just cooked throughout. Remove shrimp, drain, and place into a covered dish to serve.

As written this recipe will serve 2 as a main course. I like to serve the shrimp with a splash of lemon, some spicy cocktail sauce and a bit of Sriracha sauce for kick. The shrimp were tender, beautifully seasoned, and thoroughly delicious! Best of all, this is a nearly no-cook meal. Slice a few onions, smash a little garlic and dinner will be on the table in under ten minutes - not to mention, its fun!

I took advantage of the "easy peel" shrimp offered at Fairway. They've still got their shells, but have been de-veined; and, once boiled, the shells will come away like magic. Make sure to have plenty of napkins at the ready ... this is a hands-on meal.

To round out the meal, I made some whole wheat garlic bread and a giant salad. Word to the wise: garlic bread photographs better than shrimp ... at least in my kitchen. What can I say? We were hungry and needed to get 'em while they were hot. Sorry! Don't judge a shrimp by its picture ... I can assure you they were as beautiful as they were scrumptious.

Thanks, again, Food Addicts! You haven't seen the last of the Old Bay here on Beach Eats ... there's more to come, indeed!

So, what's your favorite way to use Old Bay? Hungry Diva wants to know!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thirsty Thursdays: Recycling Edition

You don't need me to tell you that green is the new black. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose - this is a trend with legs for days. This much, we know. But, did you know that watermelon is the new strawberry?

Or, at least it is here in Divaland today. Why? Because its hot; because its summer; because its watermelon season ... and mostly because Elderflower Liqueur comes in a really BIG bottle.

The Watermelon Blossom:
  • 1 1/2 oz. good quality gin
  • 1 1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 1 1/2 oz. of fresh watermelon puree (see below)
  • a bit of plain seltzer for topping up
Place approximately 4 cups of fresh watermelon, seeded and cut into large chunks, into a blender and puree on high until smooth and liquefied. You may need to stop once or twice to push down the fruit, but it will liquify quickly.

Place some ice in a martini shaker and over it pour the gin, elderflower liqueur and watermelon puree. Shake well, until the shaker frosts, and strain into an ice filled tumbler or rocks glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

The elderflower liqueur blends so beautifully with the fresh watermelon. Its a match made in heaven; creating a light, refreshing late summer sipper. Be forewarned, the drink is on the sweet side, due to the watermelon. If you'd like to tone it down a bit, squeeze in a wedge of lime before serving. For those desirous of a non-alcohaulic version, simply blend some of the fresh watermelon puree with a bit of plain seltzer and some mint, a dash of lemon or lime and bottom's up!

Obviously, this drink is badly in need of a spot of green. Indeed, I had every intention of throwing a handful of mint into the blender while pureeing the melon (which, by the way, I think would be outstanding) and garnishing with a sprig. The lack of contrast bothers me so much, I was sorely tempted to swap in this picture of the original gin blossom instead.

The better angels of my nature prevailed.

Sadly, when I reached into my herb drawer for the fresh mint, the once green bunch had turned a decidedly unappealing shade of ... black. Go figure.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Power Lunch

Have you ever had something so delicious, so exactly right for the moment, that you subsequently wanted to eat it every day? (Hopefully, your answer is yes ... in spades.) Well, that happened to me last Wednesday.

The husband and I popped into The Madison Brewing Company, in Bennington, for lunch - a lunch so yummy I exclaimed: "I want to eat this every day for seven years!" He laughed, but I was only half joking. In fact, I set about recreating it as soon as we arrived home.

Today's post isn't so much a recipe as it is an ode to this dish; a shout-out to the kitchen at Madison Brewing. I'm sorry, and a bit shocked, to find that they don't actually have a website of their own - so I can't link you. But I can, and do, urge you to check them out if you find yourself in Bennington. They brew their own beer, (the variety changes seasonally), the service is warm and friendly, and the food is really, really good.

The Madison Brewing Company

428 Main Street

Bennington, VT

(802) 442-7397

No doubt you've heard of "the three martini lunch" ... but how about a three protein lunch? This simple little repast is packed with protein, thoroughly delicious, and 0h-so-satisfying. It will keep you full for hours. I can't remember what it was called on the menu, but I'm calling it ...

The Veggie Burger Supreme:

  • one veggie burger of your choice (I like MorningStar Farm's Spicy Black Bean)
  • some good quality hummus
  • some tabbouleh - traditional style, made with bulgar
  • lettuce
  • bean, alfalfa or any sprout of your choice
Cook the veggie burger according to package directions. I like to throw mine in the grill pan. When its ready, place it atop a bed of lettuce, spread on a nice thick layer of hummus, top the hummus with as much tabbouleh as you can handle and garnish the dish with a handful of sprouts.

As you can see, this time I forgot the sprouts ... but that won't happen again. They're too good to leave out. I like to drizzle the finished product with a bit of lemon, but you could certainly sprinkle it with sriracha or glaze it with green goddess dressing .... whatever floats your boat!

I suspect the veggie burger at Madison was homemade, it was too good to be pre-fab. That said, I'm well-pleased with the Spicy Black Bean patty. I don't like veggie burgers that taste like fake burgers, and this one doesn't. Use whichever brand you like, or, hell, make your own! Just make it. Really.

I did, however, make my own tabbouleh; this time with bulgar instead of quinoa. You can use the quinoa recipe, found here, and just substitute the cracked wheat. Alternately, any standard tabbouleh recipe will do.

It may not look like much, but this is a quick, healthy and delectable meal. I hope you'll try it! While I may not have eaten it every single day this week ... I'm running 3 for 5 and counting.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dinner in a Flash: Summery Soup Edition

Today's recipe isn't exactly new, in fact, I wrote about it last summer. But that was before I realized I was writing a food blog here; before I was smart enough to take pictures. And certainly before I was in possession of this nifty new serving set I picked up at Bennington Potters last week.

Because the lighting scheme in my kitchen is similar to a bat cave, the photo doesn't really capture the beautiful aubergine finish; its gorgeous. Everything at Bennington Potters is gorgeous. If you ever find yourself in the area, by all means stop in and browse around. The craftsmanship is exceptional, everything made by hand, and they will happily give you a tour of their studio. Its a wonderful place to spend an hour or so.

Anyway, my pretty new piece - coupled with yesterday's extreme heat- seemed like a good enough excuse to revisit this simple summer soup. No need to fuss with the slicing and dicing, you'll be using a food processor so a rough chop will do. Serve it with some crunchy tortilla chips and a nice big salad, as I did, and I promise you won't even break a sweat.

Zesty Red Bell Pepper Gazpacho:
  • 2 large red bell peppers, seeded and chopped coarsely
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped coarsely
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 small stalk of celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • one 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread, crust removed (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. celery salt
  • dash of Tobasco Sauce, to taste
  • 1 or 2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • minced fresh parsley or cilantro (or both!)
  • several wedges of fresh lemon
  • some crushed blue corn tortilla chips
Using a food processor, pulse the red peppers until they are pureed. Add the jalapeño, garlic, celery and carrots and pulse on high until the mixture is finely ground - stopping to push down the contents of the bowl as needed. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, lime and lemon juice and vinegar, and puree until smooth. Tear the whole wheat bread into pieces, add to the soup and puree on high until smooth.

With the food processor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube and allow the soup and oil to blend until smooth. Add the celery salt, a generous grind of fresh black pepper and the chopped cilantro and pulse until well combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding the Tobasco Sauce, if desired, and some Kosher salt if necessary. If the mixture is too thick, you may add @ 1/4 cup of water or so, if desired, and pulse again to combine.

Pour the soup into a large container, cover, and chill in the fridge for one hour (or up to 24 hrs.) before serving. Garnish the soup with the minced red onion, some chopped parsley or cilantro (or both!) and serve with a large wedge of fresh lemon to be sprinkled over the soup at table.

As written, this recipe will serve @ 6 as an appetizer, or 4 as a main course.

Careful readers will note the absence of cucumber - and this should come as no surprise. I'm not a fan. The recipe, however, is extremely flexible - so feel free to add or subtract what you will. Ditto for the spices and seasonings. I've made this soup dozens of times and I doubt I've ever made it the same way twice. Yesterday I included some Jim Beam Hot Sauce and a pinch of Hot Hungarian Paprika for fun. Taste and adjust to your own liking and the results will be magnificent, I'm sure.

Bon appetite!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Horses, Alpaca and Moose, Oh My!

I'm back from a week spent in sunny, Southern Vermont! A week filled with all sorts of animals, not much cooking, and precious little photography. Certainly, we ate ... our weight in amazing native corn to be precise ... but the Diva was definitely off-duty as far as food photography was concerned! Which, I suppose, is as it should be when one is on vacation.

Oddly enough, the majority of my pictures center around the exhibition of painted moose adorning the streets of Bennington, VT ... Moosefest '09, to be exact.

If you happened to catch the cows that grazed the streets of Chicago and New York a few years back, or the sheep in Pittsfield, Mass., you get the idea. Its the kind of fun, funky, public art that manages to simultaneously amuse and disappoint me. Visually, I'm a sucker for this stuff ... I mean, what's not to love about a whimsical, brightly colored moose?! Yet the art historian in me can't help but lament the fact that public art continues to be reduced to images that fail to challenge. But, I digress - and, really, that's a subject for another day, another kind of blog.

Our travels included a stop at the Alpaca Shack, located near the VT - NY border, where I learned more about these funny little creatures than I can even begin to recount. And where I met a charming llama, who - happily for me - fancies brunettes! His name is Charlie and he's pictured below with Taj Mahal, the black alpaca.

I bought some yarn, made from the fleece of Taj Mahal and some from Drake, a beautiful silvery gray alpaca, which is destined to be turned into a scarf by me later this fall ... a misshapen scarf, I'm sure!
Later in the week, we made a trip to the racetrack at Saratoga, and, for once, we both walked away winners! My patented betting system reached the pinnacle of success in the 7th race when both a gray and a "cat themed" horse finished first and second. I always bet the gray horses and I prefer to bet on those that have the word "cat" in their name. Trust me, it works ... you heard it here first.

Unbeknownst to me, the husband and I had both bet the same duo and we each won $105 on that race. Sweet. We stopped betting after that and thus ends my years long loosing streak at Saratoga. Hooray!

The balance of the menagerie includes: a beautiful turquoise hummingbird, seen outsite our living room window, a bunch of chickens that literally crossed the road in front of us, chipmunks, cows, more horses, a few goats, one lonely pig and ... one really fat mouse ... an uninvited guest in our home. Ack!

So that's my food-less report from the field. I'm back in action and heading for the kitchen. Stay tuned for a new recipe tomorrow.

Bon appetite!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Housekeeping: Extended Version

I'll just come right out and admit it ... I'm a very bad Diva. I'm off for the week and have found myself rather lacking in the queue department. I got nothin', zippo, zilch. I had every intention of typing my little fingers off so you'd have something to amuse yourselves while I take a week off ... and then four thousand obligations arose and now here we are. Feh.

I promise I'll do better next time, perhaps even line up a few guest bloggers, really, I mean it. Its a promise I'm making to myself and to you. Pinky swear!

In the meantime, feel free to browse the archives or ignore me completely - the choice is yours. I'll be back to regular posting next Monday, the 10th.

Have a beautiful, if Diva-free, week!