Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're coming down to the wire now, things are simmering, stuffing is defrosting, silver is being polished and wines being chilled. Its all coming together and I'm really excited about the big feast tomorrow! I've been cooking for weeks now and I'm ready to eat!

I'm not anticipating any disasters tomorrow, nor should you. But just in case, Woman's Day has graciously provided me with a few more links ...

Solutions for 11 Thanksgiving Disasters - Quick fixes for everything from gluey mashed potatoes to "help, the dog ate my turkey" ... let's hope no one needs that particular tip!

10 Ways with Leftover Turkey - Ten quick and easy way to re-purpose your leftover bird

Personally, I will be in a vegetative state on Friday ... my feet will be up and I'll be firmly glued to the couch having a much needed rest after the madness. If you're planning to brave the crowds and begin your holiday shopping, this link is for you ...

Whether you're cooking or dining elsewhere tomorrow, I wish you all a wonderful, blessed and very Happy Thanksgiving! May your plates be full and your belt be loose! ~wink~

I'll be back with a full recap on Monday.

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recipe for Herbed Bread Stuffing

There it is - a whole tray of the evil white stuff ... bread! It may be evil and it may be ordinarily off-limits, but there's no denying that plain 'ole white bread makes for some delicious stuffing!

Normally, the bread stuffing is left to the ministrations of Mama Diva, while I focus on the pork stuffing. This year, things are a little bit different. Mama and Papa Diva will be dining in CT with bro and his wife ... so it looks like the bread stuffing is up to me. And, I'm going to be honest, I cheated a little bit too. I mixed the bread, veggies and seasonings with some pre-packaged stuffing cubes. You can see the package in the background of that photo. So sue me, a Diva's got to take a little help where she can get it now and then.

Herbed Bread Stuffing / Dressing:
  • two 16 ounce loaves of plain white bread, or stuffing bread, unsliced
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 large onions, peeled and diced
  • 3 large shallots, peeled and diced
  • 6 large stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed well and sliced thin
  • some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • poultry seasoning
  • celery salt
  • 4 cups of packaged, seasoned stuffing cubes, such as Pepperidge Farm
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (or 1 tablespoon dried)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon dried)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • additional chicken broth for baking dressing
Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Slice the bread into thick slices, then tear the slices into roughly 1 inch pieces. Scatter the torn bread on a large, walled cookie sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, turning once or twice, until the bread begins to dry. Do not brown or toast the bread, you just want to dry it out a bit. Remove from oven and reserve.

Melt the butter in a very large stock pot and to it add the onions, shallots, celery and leeks. Season with a bit of Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, a generous sprinkle of poultry seasoning and celery salt, stirring well to combine. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring as needed, until translucent and tender but not yet browned, about 8 to 10 minutes or so. Add the seasoned bread cubes to the pan and stir well. Add the white bread and stir to combine, adding a cup of chicken broth to the pan to moisten. Continue stirring and adding a bit more chicken broth until the stuffing holds together and your desired consistency is achieved.

Remove from heat and add the chopped sage, thyme and parsley, stirring well to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper, or whatever you wish, if necessary. (At this point, the stuffing can be cooled, placed in a suitable container or zip lock bag, and frozen until needed. )

To Serve as Dressing: butter a 9 x 13 inch oven safe baking dish and transfer the stuffing mixture to the prepared baking dish, smoothing it out to form an even layer. Pour some additional chicken broth over the mixture to keep it moist, cover with foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 t0 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and heated throughout. Serve and enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 12 to 15.

Notes: While I do know that stuffing cooked outside the bird is called dressing, in my family its called stuffing regardless! If desired, you can certainly use this mixture to actually stuff your bird, and the excess can be baked off on the side as directed above.

I do not measure the salt, pepper, poultry seasoning or celery salt, nor do I measure the fresh herbs. I just keep adding stuff until it tastes right to me. Do as you see fit. If you're a big fan of thyme or sage, by all means add more. Generally, I prefer to use the fresh herbs, though there's no reason you can't use dried if that's your preference. Hey, its your holiday, live it up!

As for that packaged stuffing mix ... what can I tell you? Tough times call for tough measures! Besides, its not all that bad ... the mix did contain both whole wheat and white bread cubes, so its practically a health food. ~wink~

I'll be firmly ensconced in my kitchen for the next few days and likely out of action here on the blog. I'll be back with a full Thanksgiving round up next week and, hopefully, we can return to normal here for a short while - or at least until the Christmas madness kicks in.

So, are you taking any culinary short-cuts this week? 'Fess up in the comments ... I hate to cheat alone!

Bon appetit!

Friday, November 20, 2009

More Thanksgiving Recipes from Woman's Day

We're heading into the home stretch - Thanksgiving is only six days away! If you're anything like me, and judging from the comments this week - you are, that means there's still a ton of work to be done. There's silver to polish, little used wine glasses to wash, extra chairs to be found, and, oh yeah, I suppose people will want to eat something when they show up next Thursday too.

Fortunately, I'm prepared to help. If you're still cobbling together your menu and writing out your shopping lists for the weekend, this post is for you. Seems that someone from Woman's Day took notice of my post on the Make-Ahead Gravy yesterday and the magazine has been kind enough to pass on some links for me to share with you. And not just any old links either, this list is a veritable cornucopia of tasty ideas and tempting recipes that are sure to please! Just take a look ...

5 Great Gravy Recipes - including another version of the Make-Ahead Gravy

8 Unconventional Thanksgiving Side Dishes - including a to-die-for Corn and Leek Pudding recipe

9 Turkey Stuffing Recipes - including a quick and easy crock-pot stuffing that sounds like a keeper

4 Decadent Thanksgiving Desserts - including Mile High Pumpkin Meringue Tart. My sister in law has been making her own version of a pumpkin meringue pie for years now and it is amazing. If you've never had pumpkin meringue, you don't know what you're missing!

10 To-Die-For Thanksgiving Pies - including a rich and delicious Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

15 Holiday Cranberry Recipes - everything from salads to main courses and desserts, including a simply gorgeous Cranberry Sorbet

5 Pumpkin Puree Recipe Ideas - some unusual ideas for using pumpkin puree, including adding some to hummus, chili, and corn muffins

If you're a visual person, take a look a the whole shebang here: Woman's Day 2009 Thanksgiving Recipes and Ideas ... the pictures are sure to tempt you and that link includes ideas for appetizers, wines, easy clean-up tips and more!

I want to extend my thanks and gratitude to the people at Woman's Day for offering these links. Clearly, there's something here for everyone and you're bound to find a new family favorite tucked away in there somewhere. Thank you, Woman's Day and Happy Cooking, dear readers!

Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recipe for Make-Ahead Gravy

Come closer and pay strict attention, I'm about to divulge my greatest Thanksgiving Tip of all. Its the tip that preserves my sanity, the balm that soothes my soul. Its called Make-Ahead Gravy and its discovery was a revelation for me.

Now, I'll allow for the possibility that this is not a revelation for you. Perhaps you're more savvy or more brave than I - but up until 5 years ago or so, I had no idea that you could actually freeze gravy. It all started the year I was hosting an unprecedented 16 for Thanksgiving. I was terrified that I wouldn't have enough gravy to go around the table, much less any for leftovers. Panic stricken and desperate, I was flipping through a November issue of Woman's Day and low and behold there was an entire article on cooking in advance for Thanksgiving ... including the gravy. Color me hopeful ... and slightly dubious!

Turns out there was no need to worry; frozen gravy defrosts just fine - and though the texture may seem a bit strange at first, it all comes together in the reheat with the help of a wire whisk. I've long since lost the actual recipe, and I've adapted and refined the method as the years have gone on. This is my version and it is a God-send!

Make-ahead Gravy:
  • 4 large turkey wings
  • 1 large turkey leg
  • 1 large (or 2 medium) onion(s), peeled and quartered
  • 3 large shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup of Vin Santo, Sherry or Port Wine
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5 large whole sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 6 cups of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup Vin Santo, Sherry or Port Wine (this is in addition to the above)
  • 1 additional cup of vegetable broth
  • some water
  • 6 tablespoons of softened butter, or 2 tbsp. of fat from the pan drippings
  • 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the turkey wings and the leg in a large, heavy roasting pan, skin side up, and around them scatter the onions, shallots, carrots and parsnips. Pour 1/3 cup of Vin Santo, Sherry or Port Wine over the turkey and dust the entire pan with a bit of poultry seasoning, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dot the turkey parts with a bit of butter and place some sprigs of whole fresh thyme in and around the pan. Roast in the middle of a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and place the wings, leg and all of the vegetables into a large stock pot. To the stock pot, add 6 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of vegetable broth. Cover, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, deglaze the roasting pan: add 1/4 cup of Vin Santo, Sherry or Port and 1 cup of vegetable broth to the pan and heat over high heat, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. Stir frequently and allow the mixture to boil, reduce heat and continue simmering and scraping for 2 or 3 minutes, adding some water to the pan, if necessary, to keep things liquid. Remove from heat and pour the contents of the pan into a defatting cup. Allow the fat to separate, then strain the liquid only into a large sauce pan. Reserve until the turkey/broth mixture has finished cooking.

Once the turkey parts have finished simmering, remove them from the cooking liquid. Discard the bones and save the meat for another use if desired. Strain the broth into a container large enough to hold it and to it add the reserved pan juices. Stir to combine and reserve.

Make a beurre manie by combining 6 tablespoons of softened butter with 6 tablespoons of flour, mixing them together to achieve a thick paste. (Alternately, you could use the fat from the roasting pan, mixed with the flour, which is what I do.) Heat a large, heavy bottomed stock pot over medium high heat and to it add the beurre manie, stirring well with a wooden spoon to heat. Slowly add some of the reserved stock mixture, about a cup, raise the heat to high and whisk vigorously with a wire whisk until the mixture begins to thicken. Allow the mixture to come to the boil. Continue adding the stock slowly, whisking all the while, until all the stock has been added. Reduce heat slightly and boil gently, while stirring and whisking, for 4 to 5 minutes until the gravy begins to thicken and any lumps have been dissolved. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding some salt, pepper, a bit of sherry, or whatever you like, if desired.

Should you desire a thicker gravy, you can make an additional batch of beurre manie and add it little by little until your preferred consistency has been achieved. Once finished, strain the gravy through a mesh strainer into a covered, freezer-safe container and chill in the fridge until completely cool. Once cooled, transfer the container to your freeze and store until needed.

The frozen gravy will keep, in the freezer, for up to a month. To use, remove from freezer the night before needed and thaw in the fridge over night. Transfer to a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium to medium-high heat, whisking well to smooth the mixture, until hot. Serve and enjoy!

As written this recipe will yield approximately 5 to 6 cups of finished gravy.

I'll admit that there's a fair bit of work involved here, but I think its worthwhile. Spending an afternoon making a rich and wonderful gravy take some of the pressure off of the actual day of the holiday. I will still make a fresh gravy on the day of Thanksgiving and will combine it with my defrosted mixture. The result is one happy Diva and enough gravy to satisfy an army. Color me delighted!

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Odds and Ends-Thanksgiving Prep Edition

As you may have noticed, I've been MIA for a few days. My DSL modem conked out on Thursday - seems the Connectivity Gods have not been smiling on me of late. Its frustrating to say the least.

I'm behind in posting and way, way behind on my Thanksgiving prep. How can it be that the holiday is next week? Is that a joke? Did I miss the punch line?! Well, the joke's going to be on me ... or rather my guests ... if I don't get to work. So work, I will. Today will be dedicated to making my mother in laws's famous pork stuffing and Wednesday will be devoted to make-ahead gravy. Both items will take up residence in my freezer, once completed, and perhaps then I'll finally feel like I've got the holiday prep under control ... or at least begun!

Making a batch of flavorful gravy ahead of time is just one of my tricks for a less-stressed holiday. Let's be honest, people really like gravy - and I'm always worried that there won't be enough for everyone, so I make a LOT. Of course, I'll still make gravy on Thanksgiving day itself; I'll add it to my defrosted version and before you know it we'll all be swimming in gravy. More importantly, there will be plenty leftover for reheats.

I'll be posting the make-ahead recipe later in the week, perhaps on Thursday, after I've had a chance to snap a few pics. In the meantime, I thought I might direct you to some my other holiday offerings from last year:

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread - A simple and delicious quick bread that's just perfect for Thanksgiving morning

Pumpkin Pecan Waffles - The miraculous result of some leftover pumpkin puree

Glorious Gravy - A discussion of my Grandma's unusual method for making gravy

Its off to the kitchen for me ... what about you? Are you knee-deep in holiday prep? Do you like to cook in advance and get a jump start on the festivities? Tell me about what you'll be cooking this week for Thanksgiving ... curious Diva wants to know!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Left-over Magic, Sandwich Cubano Style

As you can see, we're experiencing some technical difficulties here in Divaland of late. The focus on my camera refuses to focus, even on the ISO setting, and its frustrating the hell out of me. I had grand visions and plans of a beautiful Cuban Sandwich photo, yet you're looking at ... that. Ugh, I'm sorry. It may be time for a new camera. In the meantime, let's eat!

I took the left-over pork roast, sliced it thin, warmed it in the remainder of the pan sauce and set about creating my version of one of the world's most delicious sandwiches. The Sandwich Cubano is a brilliant combination of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles, piled together on Cuban bread and grilled until crisp and toasted. Traditionally, the sandwich is made on a sandwich press, called a plancha - which is similar to a panini press. The key to a really good Cuban Sandwich lies in the pressing; it allows the ingredients to fuse together while creating the much desired crisp exterior.

Needless to say, I don't own a plancha. Nor do I own a panini press for that matter ... but I made it work. I used my trusty grill pan, then weighted the toasting beauties down with a cast iron skillet and my tea kettle filled with water! As you can see, the results were magnificent.

There are probably as many recipes for tasty toasted treats as there are people to eat them. This is my version ...

Diva's Sandwich Cubano:
  • some thinly sliced roast pork, warm
  • some thinly sliced ham
  • some aged Gruyere cheese, shredded or sliced
  • some Vlasic Stackers Zesty Garlic sliced pickles
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Emeril's Horseradish Mustard
  • olive oil for brushing the pan
  • butter for brushing the sandwiches
  • some Cuban, Italian or French bread, or long sandwich rolls
Heat your grill pan over high heat until hot but not smoking.

Slice your bread or rolls lengthwise and spread a bit of Dijon mustard on one side and a bit of Horseradish mustard on the other side. Layer some thinly sliced ham on the bottom half of the bread or roll and top with some pickle slices. Layer some thinly sliced roast pork over the pickles and top with some shredded or sliced Gruyere cheese and the remaining half of the bread or roll, pressing down on the bread to flatten the sandwich. Coat the top of the sandwich with a thin layer of butter.

Brush the grill pan with a bit of olive oil to form a thin coat and place the sandwiches, buttered side down, into the grill pan. Weight the sandwiches down with a cast iron skillet, or what have you, as seen above, and grill over medium-high to high heat until crisp and golden on one side. Butter the other side of the bread or roll, then flip the sandwich and continue to grill as directed above until both sides are crisp and golden brown and the cheese has melted. Serve immediately!

The mustard is by no means traditional, that's my spin and I'm sticking to it. You certainly don't need to use two kinds of mustard ... but I happen to like the combination. Do as you see fit. As for the ham, any variety you like will do. Just make sure its thinly sliced. In this case, I used some roasted ham.

You may also have noticed a disparity in the breads. The round roll is whole wheat and, again, by no means traditional. That's my personal choice, I made the husband's on a small, sandwich sized, loaf of Italian bread. As always, the choice is up to you.

I'm well pleased with the results of both my left-over magic and my improvised sandwich press. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. The sandwiches were wonderfully crisp and thoroughly delicious. I can't believe I didn't try this sooner ... though you can bet we won't wait long before having them again.

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Recipe for Basic Pork Roast

As the country's largest and most important eating holiday begins to loom, its likely that my posts here will become somewhat irregular. I'm trying to get both my guest list and my menu in order. Making lists, laying in supplies, digging out cherished family recipes and the like, its enough to make one's head spin.

And all the while, the husband continues to come home hungry and hoping to eat. What's a weary Diva to do? Why, cook once and eat twice ... this time, its pork roast!

Basic Pork Roast Recipe:
  • one 3 to 4 pound boneless loin of pork roast, center cut
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup Vin Santo
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning, or ground sage
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, if desired
  • pinch of ras el hanout spice blend
  • 1/2 of a large onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 large shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle the mined garlic with 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and using the flat of your knife, laid flat against the cutting board, mash the garlic to a paste. Continue scraping your knife over the garlic and salt mixture until the garlic has broken down to the consistency of a thick paste. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and over it pour 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.

To this mixture, add: the black pepper, poultry seasoning (or ground sage), chopped rosemary, chopped thyme, chopped parsley and a pinch of both crushed red pepper flakes and ras el hanout, if desired. Whisk well with small wire whisk to combine. Your mixture will look something like this:

Place the pork roast in the middle of a large roasting pan and, using a sharp knife, make several small slits in the top of the roast, pressing the point of your knife in to the depth of about an inch or so. Pour the Vin Santo (or dark rum) over the pork roast and allow it to sit for two minutes, then slather the entire roast with the reserved oil and herb mixture to coat.

Scatter some chopped onions, shallots and carrots in the bottom of the pan around the roast and place a few slices of onion on top to decorate, as seen above. Roast in the middle of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the size of your roast and the speed of your oven, or until the internal temperature of the roast reaches 165 to 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

One half hour before your roast is finished, add 1 cup of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth to the bottom of the pan and continue roasting until finished. Remove the roast from the oven, place on a cutting board and tent with foil, allowing the roast to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, scrape up the browned bits from the bottom and sides of the roasting pan, adding more broth, if desired, to deglaze the pan and achieve a thin sauce. Slice the roast and serve immediately, along with the roasted carrots and shallots, and topped with a drizzle of the pan sauce.

As written, this recipe will serve approximately 4.

Notes: the exact mixture of herbs and spices here is entirely up to you. I never measure and I always use whatever I've got on hand. This time it was rosemary, parsley and thyme ... next time, who knows? I tend to throw in a pinch of this and a dash of that and anyway you mix it, it all turns out well. Feel free to experiment here and create your own special blend. By all means, use the garlic and oil ... then play around with the rest of the mix. You can use this technique for any kind of poultry as well.

Stay tuned for the second iteration, wherein I'll create some left-over magic ... Sandwich Cubano style!

Bon appetite!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Chili Powder

When life hands you chilies ... make chili powder! Or at least that's what I did.

Recently, the husband's brother gifted him with a bunch of really, really hot chili peppers. They had been in the freezer since being harvested in late September and some of them were a little worse for wear. Not wanting them to go to waste, I decided that the best course of action would be to dry them in the oven and grind them into chili powder. Here's how I did it:

Step One: Wash and dry the peppers. Remove the stems and slit the peppers, lengthwise down the middle and pry open. If your chili peppers are very hot, wear rubber gloves during this process so the oils will not burn your fingers. Remove seeds, if desired, though I didn't bother. Once the peppers have dried, you can knock out most of the seeds before processing.

Step Two: Lay the peppers on a large, walled cookie sheet in a single layer and place them in middle of a pre-heated 175 F degree oven. (There are varying schools of thought on oven temperature, with some directions indicating a temp as low as 150 F degrees ... though my oven will not go that low. I set mine for 175 F and it worked out just fine.) Allow the peppers to dry in the oven for approximately 5 to 8 hours, or until they are completely dried and crisp to the touch, turning them over once or twice during the process.

Most of my peppers were completely dried at the 5 hour mark, likely because they had spent some time in the freezer. If drying very fresh peppers, you will likely need the full 8 hours or perhaps a bit more. Once finished, they should look a little something like this:

Step Three: Gently shake peppers to remove as many of the dried seeds as possible. Discard the seeds. Again, if you're sensitive, wear gloves during this process to protect your skin. Being the impatient sort of Diva that I am, I didn't bother to remove every seed. Hence, my final product looks a bit more like crushed red pepper flakes, rather than a pure powder. I'm ok with that, you can do as you see fit.

Step Four: Place the dried peppers into the bowl of a small food processor and pulse/process until finely ground. Alternately, you could use a mortar and pestle if you do not have a small food processor. Warning, be careful to keep your face away from the food processor when opening as the peppers will give off a very strong, sharp, hot scent. It made me sneeze ... a lot!

Your final product will look a little something like this:

Step Five: Transfer the ground mixture to a small, sealed jar and reserve until needed. The dried chili powder should keep indefinitely - provided that the peppers have been fully dried before grinding. Use as you see fit.

I'm well pleased with the results of my experiment. The finished powder is incredibly flavorful and, wow, its spicy! I can't wait to start cooking with it ... stay tuned for some hot stuff from the Diva next week!

So, have you ever dried and ground your own chilies? What were the results? Or, have you dried and ground any other spice or vegetable? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Taza Stone Ground Chocolate

And now for something completely different ... Hot Chocolate! And the big surprise is that its not spiked with anything other than a pinch of cayenne pepper. Honest!

A few weeks ago, the good folks at Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate reached out to me and offered a sample of their product. After taking a spin around their very cool site, I was more than intrigued. They are committed to producing a line of high quality, organic, chocolates in a socially responsible way. Yay, Taza!

Located in Somerville, Massachusetts, Taza was founded in 2006 and specializes in small batch "bean-to-bar" chocolate products made in the "traditional Mesoamercian" way. Meaning, the chocolate is minimally processed and ground by stone rather than steel. Taza works with small chocolate and sugar co-operatives around the globe to ensure fair wages and socially responsible practices and their operation is as green as green can be. Just take a look at this page from their website ... from recycled packaging to "human powered local delivery", they've really got it down. Color me impressed.

They sent me a disc of their Salted Almond Chocolate Mexicano and I put it to good use. Last night I whipped up a mug of hot chocolate using the disc and it was spectacular! Smooth, creamy, rich and delicious - this is not your average cup of cocoa. Its something more ... much, much more.

Spiced Hot Chocolate:
Using a box grater, grate one whole disc of Taza Chocolate Mexicano and reserve.

Heat the milk in a small sauce pan until hot and foamy, but not yet boiled. You want the milk to be hot, but not scaled. To the milk, add a dash of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and a small pinch of cayenne pepper, if desired, stir to combine and remove the pan from the heat. Add the grated chocolate and whisk vigorously using a wire whisk or molinillo for one to two minutes, until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is creamy and frothed. Pour into a mug and serve immediately, garnished with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

As written, this recipe will serve 1.

How good is this hot chocolate? So good I burned my tongue because I couldn't stay away from it and let it cool. So good I immediately went online and ordered more Taza Chocolate Mexicano. Really. Now let's be clear, although they sent me this product in hopes that I'd write about it, I would not recommend it here if I wouldn't buy it myself. And buy it, I did ... a lovely little sampler pack. I can't wait to try the other flavors.

I do realized that today is Thursday and some of you might, indeed, be thirsty ... so if you're of a mind, go right ahead and add a shot of booze to this already decadent hot cocoa. I'd recommend bourbon. With or without the shot, I urge you to try it. Taza Chocolate Mexicano is a high quality product that is so rich and velvety you'll become addicted with just a single sip. You've been warned.

At $4.50 per package, the Chocolate Mexicano may seem a bit pricey - though there are two discs per package which works out to $2.25 per cup of cocoa. I figure it this way, you'd pay at least as much in a coffee bar and, in this case, you're paying for a responsibly sourced product, produced in an environmentally sound facility. I think its worth it. I think I'm worth it ... and so are you!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Family Dinner, German Style

In case there was any doubt, let me state plainly ... I never met a carb I didn't like. Period. Just take a look at that photo of my plate. A bit of meat? Check. A truck load of spaetzle? Double check! Throw in a nice, herbed bread dumpling for good measure? Check again.

My name is Diva and I need to return to my diet. ~wink~

Our culinary tour of Germany concludes today; and, in essence, it ends where it began, with the first stop on our trip - a family party. Or, as they say in Germany - a family meeting. The husband is blessed to have relatives in Southern Germany and any time one of us "Americanos" comes over there's a party ... a BIG party.

This year it was held at The Gasthaus zur Krone in the lovely little town of Buchenbach. More than 30 of the relatives gathered to greet us and they treated us to an amazing afternoon of food, fun, beer and song!

Fear not, there were some vegetables. The meal began with a gorgeous salad bar, laden with all manner of fresh veggies and savory salads. The potato and carrot salads were a personal favorite. Once the plates had been cleared, there came forth from the kitchen enormous platters of savory roast beef, tender pork schnitzel, great heaping bowls of home-made spaetzle and the afore mentioned herbed dumplings. My stars, it was good! And made even better by the delicious gravy that we poured on *everything*!

And, this time, I did have dessert ... a lot of dessert. Each family made a special dessert for the occasion and the offerings were impressive!

There were all manner of fruit tarts, crumbles, buckles and more. A lemon chiffon cake, a mocha mousse cake, cookies, pastries, you name it - we had it. Oh and there was ice cream too - a "make-it-yourself" sundae bar, complete with warm caramel, strawberry sauce, and big bowls of whipped cream. Phew! Are you full yet?

Needless to say, a walk was in order. After the meal we strolled the town, then returned to the Gasthaus for rousing sing-along ... in German! And, needless to say, more beers. Let me tell assure you, the Germans know how to party.

I feel so fortunate to have such connections in other parts of the world. We were welcomed with such hospitality and warmth, I am truly at a loss to repay the overwhelming abundance of kindness. I can only hope that our German family will visit us here in New York some day so that I can return the favor.

And there you have a brief overview of The Family Meeting. Now its time for this Diva to have a meeting with her own stove. Its been so long since I've cooked a meal - I might have to Google my kitchen for directions!

Guten appetit!