Friday, December 3, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Festive Friday Edition

Yes, I do realize that its Friday today, but as we're kicking off the holiday cocktail party season, it only seems fitting to toast the weekend with a festive libation.

Last week, the Diva Family Thanksgiving celebration began with a lovely little sipper that's just perfect for any holiday gathering. I'd like to share it with you today.

This ruby red beauty features a seasonally appropriate mix of pomegranate juice and champagne (or sparkling wine), spiced with a subtle hint of ginger and mellowed with just a bit of orange juice.

Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail:
  • 2 cups pure pomegranate juice (such as POM Wonderful)
  • 4 tablespoons ginger syrup *
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine
  • some pomegranate seeds (arils) for garnish
In a small pitcher, combine the pomegranate juice and ginger syrup, whisking well with a small wire whisk to combine. Add the orange juice and stir to blend.

Fill a champagne flute 1/3 full with pomegranate mixture, then top with Champagne to fill. Garnish with a few pomegranate arils if desired. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

*A brief note about the ginger syrup: I used bottled ginger syrup (see above link), though you could certainly make your own simple syrup and infuse it with some fresh ginger, if you're feeling enterprising. If not, avail yourself of the bottled ginger syrup - its wonderful stuff.

Of course we did have turkey ...

and all the trimmings as well.

While the turkey was the star of the show, the pomegranate cocktail was a close second! Why it even received the Mama Diva Seal of Approval, so you know it must be good. I hope you'll try it for your next holiday brunch or cocktail party.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm cooking and cleaning and generally getting my Martha on today. Busy trying to cross things off my seemingly endless to do list and really looking forward to the festive meal tomorrow.

I'll be posting a holiday round-up next week. Just popping in to wish all of you and yours a wonderful, joyous, delicious, Happy Thanksgiving! May your cups runneth over and your waistbands be forgiving!

Enjoy the holiday!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipes

Here we are staring straight down the barrel of another Thanksgiving. And every year at this time, I find myself asking the same questions: "Who are these people and why must I continue to provide them with nourishment??"

I kid, I kid. These people are my family and I'm happy to provide them with nourishment. The trouble is, my people prefer to take their holiday nourishment in the exact same form every year. Not a single deviation would be welcomed. They want what they want, and the people will have their traditional foods this Thanksgiving ... as they have every other year since the dawn of creation.

Now, that wouldn't be so bad, were I not a food blogger and in need of fresh content! Hello, might we have some lovely crisp-roasted brussels sprouts instead of the green bean casserole? No. No, we can't. So what's a blogger to do?

Provide you with links to my previously posted holiday recipes. Perhaps you're a new reader and you've missed them the first time. Or maybe your people are amenable to a bit of deviation at the holidays. If so, color me jealous. In any case, consider this a "Best of Diva" Thanksgiving style. Enjoy!

Diva Family Thanksgiving Favorites:

Recipe for Make-Ahead Gravy - this one's a time saver and a life-saver.

Herbed Bread Stuffing - my take on a classic.

Cranberry Port Conserve - my all-time favorite cranberry sauce.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread - a seasonal treat with all the warm spices.

Pork Stuffing - a tender recreation of my mother in law's recipe.

So, tell me about your people. Do you switch up the holiday menu? Or are you part of a traditional tribe? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Joy of Cooking: Gingersnaps

Do you read cookbooks like novels? Does your staggering stack of culinary tomes make Imelda Marcos' shoe collection look like child's play? (And, by the way, I'm guilty as charged on both counts.) If so, you're not alone and I have fabulous recommendation for you, its called: Cookbook Lovers Unite. A brand new blog dedicated to celebrating the cookbook whore in all of us.

Cookbook Lovers Unite is a group of bloggers intent on treasuring the joys of the printed cookbook. Anyone can join in the fun and the rules of the group are simple. Twice a month, a theme will be posted on Cookbook Lovers Unite and bloggers are encouraged to make something from, and post about, a recipe from a book in their collection. All recipes must be from a printed cookbook, so no online recipes, word of mouth creations, or - well - you get the drift. Once you've posted, be sure to link your creation to the theme's original post via the linky widget provided. Its just that easy and just that fun. I hope to see you there!

I very much wanted to join the first group theme - Your First Love: Our First Theme - but I've missed the deadline. While I did, in fact, make a recipe from my first cookbook love, I just didn't have time to write about it ... so I'm doing it now. Consider this my way of introducing you to the Cookbook Lovers Unite project.

Cookbook wise, my first love is decidedly classic: The Joy of Cooking (1974 edition). I fell hard and fast for it while deep in the throes of a particularly violent episode of Chicken Pox. I was in my late teens - far, far too old for such an illness - and as such I was really knocked out, just spectacularly sick. Recovery was slow, scratchy, and hopelessly boring.

While doing hard time on the couch, mostly in front of the TV watching the 1984 winter Olympics, I casually picked a well-worn copy of The Joy of Cooking off my mother's cookbook shelf. Instantly charmed by the kitschy, retro illustrations, the book captured my attention far more than I expected; I read it cover to cover. And, more than that, it captured my imagination. I began to envision elegant dinner parties with chic canapes and fizzy punch. Or luscious, long-simmered stews, served bubbling hot from the oven on crisp winter nights. I began dog-earring the pages, creating my imaginary menus and longing to feel well enough to get cooking. Eventually I recovered and, if memory serves, I made my family a meal from Joy shortly thereafter.

I still have and treasure that battered old copy of Joy. Over the years, I've returned to it again and again ... for quiches, pot pies, French bread, and my all time favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. It truly is a classic and I continue to be charmed by its retro tone and whimsical presentation. I mean, c'mon, this edition contains recipes for: moose, beaver, and bear! Its a hoot!

To honor my first love, I decided to bake Gingersnaps. And, for once, I decided to simply make the recipe as directed. This was my first time using this recipe and I wanted to give it a chance before fiddling with it. Though I did add an extra 1/2 tsp. of ginger. Shush, don't tell.

Honestly, these aren't the Gingersnaps of my dreams. They're delightfully crisp, the texture is just prefect, but they're altogether too sweet for my tastes. Next time I will cut back on the sugar and increase the ginger. I intend to play around with it and report back. Stay tuned. Though if you enjoy a sweeter cookie, this baby's for you.

Lastly, as a nod to tradition, I'm presenting the recipe as written in the book. I find the distinct lack of instruction amusing. I hope you will too. Seasoned bakers will know to follow proper creaming / wet /dry ingredient technique here. (Basically, cream your wet ingredients, whisk together and beat in the dry, form the cookies and bake. ) As written this recipe provides only two steps with very little instruction. Given such brevity, its a wonder the book is 787 pages long!

Recipe from the 1974 Edition of The Joy of Cooking
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1. Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Mix ingredients until blended. Form dough into 3/4 inch balls. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 12 minutes.* As the ball melts down during baking, the cookie develops the characteristic crinkled surface.

Yield: about 10 Dozen 2 inch cookies

* Unless your cookie sheets are old and forlorn, there's really no need to grease the cookie sheets. I didn't and it worked out just fine. Do immediately transfer the baked cookies from the sheet to a wire rack to cool. That is a must!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Braised Red Cabbage

We may be nearing the end of October, but its never too late to enjoy a German classic in celebration of Oktoberfest. I may be a bit behind the curve with this one, as the classic Bavarian festival traditionally takes place in late September, but those in the know know I like to get my wurst on from time to time.

I've never been a huge fan of sauerkraut, especially of the pre-packaged variety, so I opted to pair some lovely little bratwursts with a traditional Bavarian side: braised red cabbage. This gorgeous dish makes a fine bed, and wonderful foil, for the savory links. It has just enough acid to balance the porky goodness and just enough crunch to keep things interesting.

Braised Red Cabbage:
  • 1 small head of red cabbage
  • red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup of thinly sliced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar (or granulated sugar, agave nectar)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and studded with 3 whole cloves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of Bavarian Seasoning, optional
  • small pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
1. Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage, cut it into quarters, and remove the core from all sections. Using a very sharp knife, slice the cabbage into thin shreds, one quarter at a time. As soon as each section is sliced, place the shreds in a large bowl and drizzle with a bit of red wine vinegar, tossing to lightly coat. This will help preserve the vibrant color. Repeat until all cabbage is sliced and tossed with vinegar.

2. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, saucepan over medium high heat and add the olive oil. When hot, but not smoking, add the cabbage and toss with tongs to coat. Continue tossing gently until the cabbage begins to wilt a bit, about 2 to 3 minutes, then add the apples and sliced onions and saute together for 1 minute.

3. Nestle the clove studded onion into the mixture and add the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste with the salt, pepper, Bavarian Seasoning, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come to the boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Taste the cabbage at the 30 minute mark. Adjust seasoning if necessary, adding more of whatever you wish. I happen to prefer a bit of crunch here, so I generally don't simmer beyond 30 minutes. If you prefer a softer texture, continue simmering for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until your desired texture is achieved.

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


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Sazerac Edition

It seems like a century ago, but, yes, I spent some time in New Orleans last month. It was our first time in the city and, quite frankly, I fell in love. That we would eat and drink well was a given, what surprised me was my deep affection for the city itself - or, more precisely, for the area know as The French Quarter.

Winding my way along the Quarter's sun-baked streets, seeking the shelter of its lush green balconies, I felt at home. Something about the gentile decay, the almost-but-not-quite-falling-apart-ness of the city, spoke to me. Seduced by each new and more beautiful vista, I felt the city wrapping its warmth around me like the arms of a would be lover, pulling me in for a kiss. Strange reference perhaps, but there's a subtle underlying decadence to almost everything in the French Quarter, so the metaphor seems to fit ... and I fell willingly into those arms.

And, in truth, the seduction didn't take long. It began an hour after I arrived, with my first sip of a Sazerac at The Sazerac Bar in The Roosevelt Hotel.

The Sazerac enjoys a long and much fabled history. So fabled, in fact, that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Fortunately, for our purposes, to do so is unnecessary. I happen to like the more popular story best, so I'll recount it briefly for you here. In this version, the Sazerac was invented by Antoine Amadie Peychaud, a New Orleans based apothecary, in 1838. Mr. Peychaud mixed a quantity of cognac with his health tonic - the substance we now know as Peychaud's bitters - and a bit of water and sugar. By 1870 or so, the drink had gained in popularity and, due to the tastes of the times, the cognac was replaced with Rye.

Somewhere along the way, a splash of absinthe was added to rinse the glass and when absinthe became illegal, it was replaced by Herbsaint, a pastis made in New Orleans. Phew! Still with me? Good. There's certainly more to this story and if you Google, you can read all your heart desires. At the end of the day, there's only one thing you need to know: this drink is enchanting.

The Sazerac Cocktail:
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1 1/2 ounces of rye whiskey
  • 1/4 ounce Herbsaint
  • 3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
  • strip of lemon peel
Pack an old fashioned glass with ice and reserve. In a second glass, combine the cube of sugar and 3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitter. Crush the sugar cube to dissolve, using a muddling tool or a bartender's spoon. Add the rye and a few cubes of ice and stir, briefly, to chill. Reserve.

Pour out the ice from the old fashioned glass and add the Herbsaint, turn the glass to coat, then empty the rest of the Herbsaint from the glass. Strain the reserved rye and bitters mixture into the coated glass, garnish with a strip or twist of lemon. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

A brief note on the recipe: I've used The Roosevelt's formula here, but if you do decide to Google, you'll find others. Some add a drop of Angostura bitters; some council the use of simple syrup, rather than the sugar cube; and some urge absinthe rather than Herbsaint for sake of tradition. As always, do as you see fit. If it seems easier for you, go ahead and use the simple syrup. In that case, I'd use about a teaspoon.

Like New Orleans itself, there's much to be discovered here. Each sip reveals a new twist, a new layer of flavor ... and the experience only intensifies as the drink warms. Sip slowly, savor it a bit, and you'll notice the layers. The herbal, faintly licorice flavor of the Herbsaint is present, yet doesn't overwhelm. The sweetness of the rye is tempered by the aromatic bitters, and end result is something magical. Its as enchanting as a stroll through the Quarter and as seductive as the city itself. I hope you'll try it.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Off to BlogHer Food '10

Seems I've been meeting myself coming and going lately what with all of this travel to and fro. I've had little time to cook, much less write about cooking. I hope to remedy that later this month ... but, for now, I'm off to BlogHer Food '10 in San Francisco.

I'm looking forward to catching up with old bloggy friends and meeting some new ones, and hoping to soak up some California sunshine as it been raining for days here on the East Coast.

I'm Going!

We had a blast in New Orleans and I do, indeed, have a special NOLA themed cocktail to share with you for the return of Thirsty Thursdays ... next week. I promise. You'll want to stay tuned, because its a real treat.

In the meantime, are you going to BlogHer Food '10 this weekend? If so, shout it out in the comments so I'll know to look out for you.

Cheers and see you next week!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Food and Wine's Chicken Scarpariello

Hard to believe it but I'm on the road again. In fact, I'm on my way to New Orleans. I'll be back next week and in the meantime, I've made a little something to tide you over.

Earlier this year, Food & Wine magazine began arriving in our mailbox each month. Curious too, since neither the husband nor I had signed up for a subscription. I suspect it may have something to do with our Carnegie Hall series, but in any case, I've certainly been happy about it.

We've both enjoyed paging through the magazine each month, but never quite got around to cooking from it ... until last Sunday, that is. The October 2010 issue is jam-packed with recipes too tantalizing to be ignored. We set our sights on the Chicken Scarpariello, page 120, and a finer choice I cannot imagine.

Redolent with the aroma of sauteed garlic and fresh rosemary, this dish really ups the anti on the traditional with the addition of some piquant Peppadew peppers. (For those unfamiliar, Peppadew are sweet, spicy, pickled peppers that typically hail from South Africa ... although mine hailed from Zabar's.) And, of course, you can never go wrong with that lemony tang that makes a good Scarpariello so inviting. In fact, I added even more fresh lemon juice to the sauce, because I'm such a fan.

For the most part, I followed the recipe - opting for some bone-in, skinless chicken thighs rather than the boneless, and adding a couple of skinless boneless breasts for myself as well. (Not a fan of the thighs ... neither the chicken's, nor my own.) I used whole wheat pastry flour, rather than all-purpose flour to coat the chicken, and I used perhaps 1 or 2 teaspoons of butter to mount the sauce, rather than the 2 tablespoons called for in the recipe. The results? Magnificent!

This was the most succulent, tender, and flavorful chicken dish I've made in a long, long while. Its going right into the rotation, Chez Diva, and I'm looking forward to making it again. You can find the recipe here ... print it out, then run, don't walk, to your stove and make it. Its just that good.

And don't say I never gave you anything.

Bon appetite!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vote Early and Often!

The voting for Project Food Blog has officially opened and I am asking for your vote.

While tooting my own horn and begging for votes is not something that would normally appeal to me, I humbly request that you take just a few minutes to cast a vote for my entry.

We food bloggers are a dime a dozen, you can't throw a matzoh ball without hitting one of us. We're everywhere - and I am but one small voice in a sea of thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands. And we all deserve to win.

The funny thing is, I've always considered myself more of an entertainer than a food blogger. Sure, I write about food and cooking, but my strong suspicion is that most of you reading me are here for a laugh, a chuckle, that slightly irreverent comment that makes you smile. Certainly, some of you are here for the cocktails, and perhaps a few of you are here for the recipes. I hope so. But more than that, I hope I brighten your day and make you laugh.

If I have, if I do, please consider throwing a vote my way. The prize is a stunning $10,000! And, as nice as that hefty check would be, I'm not really in it for the dough. I'd simply like to feel that what I do here is of value - and, who are we kidding, I'd also like to reach a wider audience. You can help make that happen!

Rules for voting are as follows:

You must be a member of Foodbuzz in order to vote. If you're not already a member, click here to register. Its free, its simple, and there are no strings attached.

If you are already a member, please click here to vote for my entry. You will be taken to another screen and just above my masthead you'll see a box entitled "Vote for this Entry" - simply click and vote.

Each Foodbuzz member is allowed 400 votes, though you can only vote once per blog. (So you can't really vote early and often. Boo!)

While you're at it, please take a moment to vote for some of my Foodbuzz pals as well:

Mo Diva of Food Snob

Christo of Chez What?

Steph of Steph Chows

If I've left anybody out, or you would like to be added to this list - please shout it out in the comments and I'll be happy to add you to the list. So many people have entered that I'm having a hard time keeping up and I don't want to leave anyone out!

Thanks, and good luck to all!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Project Food Blog Challenge #1: Ready, Set, Blog! ... Diva Style

If you've been out and about on the web these past few weeks, you may have noticed a significant number of posts with this very same title. Indeed, Foodbuzz is hosting a contest to find The Next Food Blog Star. Its called Project Food Blog and, like everyone else and their brother, I've entered it.

For the first challenge, I'm supposed to tell the world what defines me as a food blogger and why I should be the next food blog star. Certainly, I could have gone the expected route and written an expressive essay extolling my virtues both in the kitchen and behind the keyboard ... but that's not really my style. Instead I've taken the challenge to wax poetic literally. Very literally.

I've written you a poem, Diva-style. Its my belief that the judges should get to know both the content and the writer behind the contestant - and in my case they'll need to work at it a bit. The hot links tell the story of who I am, both as a person and a blogger. To read me is to know me - the rest is just icing on the cake.

Diva the Food Blogger: Big Ass, Even Bigger Personality

I've made you laugh,
I've made you cry;
I've confessed to killing my pot pie

I can make you drool
or make you think,
I can mix you up one bad ass drink

I'm creative and fun
I bake like a pro but I'm not imperious

In short and in summary,
to put it point-blank,
I'll be needing your votes to climb in the rank

I've got what it takes to advance quite far,
I believe I can be The Next Food Blog Star!

In the days and weeks to come, I'll be asking for you to vote for me. Details are yet to emerge but with nearly 2,000 entries, I'm going to need all the help I can get! (And, if need be, I'll ply you with appetizers and drinks.)

Good luck to all and enjoy the weekend. Cheers!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I'm back!

A rare view of the Diva ... bundled up against the cold.

Sailing towards Sawyer Glacier, Tuesday 8/31

Back from Alaska, that is, and we had a wonderful time! We actually got in around midnight on Saturday, but we are both out of whack and way off schedule from the time changes. Basically, I'm living on Alaska time ... but doing so in New York. Ack.

I don't expect to return to regularly scheduled blogging until next week, but thought I'd share a few quick pics from the trip with you. The highlights, if you will.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Tuesday 8/31

Mendenhall Glacier

We sailed Alaska's Inside Passage on the Norwegian Star. We left Seattle on Saturday, August 28th, and stopped in: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Prince Rupert, B.C. The ship also toured Sawyer Glacier, which was a highlight for me. Seeing Alaska, and its glaciers in particular, has been a major to-do item on my bucket list ... and I loved every minute of it!

View of the bridge as we depart sunny Seattle, 8/28

Skagway signpost, Wednesday 9/1

Floatplane and cruise ships in busy Juneau Harbor

This last pic really sums up the Alaskan cruise experience - a magnificent confluence of the sublime and the ridiculous ... the majesty of nature juxtaposed against the absurdly decorated cruise ships. I miss it already.

I'll be sharing more photos in the days and weeks to come. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I've got enough material for hundreds of Wordless Wednesdays to come. You've been warned.


Monday, August 30, 2010

I'm a Bad, Bad Diva

Much like this chandelier, I'm off-kilter. Tilted. A little bit skewed.

No, I'm not tipsy, drunk or stewed. In short, I'm on vacation. And I hope to have righted myself by the time you're reading this.

Will anyone be surprised if I admit that I haven't got a ready store of posts for you while I'm gone? No? Right! I'm a bad, bad Diva ... and its not because I don't care - I do. I really do.

It's mainly because in the weeks before I travel, I go crazy. And not the fun, hey-let's-do-shots-and-pretend-we're-25 kind of crazy either. I mean flat out, someone-call-the-authorities-lock-this-Diva-up-and-throw-away-the-key crazy.

Let's just say I have issues. I have issues with leaving my nest. Maybe its because I'm a Cancer, or because I'm a natural born worry-wort, but leaving home pushes every anxious button I've got ... to the extreme. The week before departure is a blur for me; a tortured haze of tears, Advil, and massive infusions of chocolate. That's just how I roll.

The only saving grace is that once I'm actually gone, I'm fine. I know I will relax and enjoy the holiday ... so long as I survive the 72 hours beforehand.

Suffice it to say that between crying jags, and what seems like 500 pounds of laundry, I haven't exactly found the time to write. Hang in there with me and I will return, sometime after Labor Day weekend.

Until then, be good - and if you can't be good ... call me, we'll go for drinks!


p.s. - Sadly, no, that's not my dining room. This picture was taken by mistake, in part of the building where I work. Kind of spooky, isn't it?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Almost Ratatouille

"August is the best eating month of year." So said the husband between bites of native corn and a succulent squash saute the other night. I couldn't agree more.

Farmers markets are fairly bursting with the goodness of the earth. The tomatoes are ripe and inviting, the squash more plentiful then anyone can handle, and, really, is there anything better than that first, crisp bite of tender, native corn? I think not.

To honor such bounty, and more particularly the glories of my bro's garden, I cooked up this little saute. Its almost a ratatouille, but not quite.

This zesty side dish comes together in a hurry and features a delicious mix of red onions, shallots, garlic, zucchini, yellow summer squash, red paste tomatoes and a few herbs and spices. Think of this recipe as an outline, merely a suggestion of method and mix, but feel free to jump off at any point and do your own thing. Have a few peppers lying about? Throw them into the mix. Fancy a more traditional ratatouille? Go right ahead and add some eggplant along with the squash. And don't worry your pretty little head about amounts here either - use what you've got, as long as it fresh, and the results are certain to charm.

Almost Ratatouille:
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled, halved and sliced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
  • small pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • medium zucchini, washed and sliced
  • medium yellow squash, washed and sliced
  • 2 medium to large red paste tomatoes (or any variety)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (a couple good pinches) herbes de Provence
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 cup of non-fat low-sodium chicken broth, plus extra if needed
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • some chopped fresh basil and parsley
1. Heat the oil in a large non-reactive skillet over medium-high heat. When it just begins to shimmer, add the shallots, onions and garlic and saute for 2 minutes or so, until the onions soften a bit and become translucent but not yet browned. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a bit of salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the zucchini and yellow squash and continue sauteing, stirring often, until the squash picks up some color.

2. Allow the squash to brown slightly, say 4 minutes or so, then add the chopped tomatoes, a few good pinches of herbes de Provence and about 1/8 teaspoon (or more to taste) of smoked paprika. Stir. Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and the white wine and allow the mixture to come to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes or so, allowing the flavors to meld.

3. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more of anything you wish. Just before serving, remove from heat and stir in some chopped fresh basil and parsley. Serve and enjoy!

The yield will depend on the size of your produce. In my case, I'd say it served 4, but your amounts may vary.

By all means feel free to dust the finished dish with some freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. And if you'd like a spicier dish, don't be stingy with that smoked paprika. I was going for subtle here, allowing the natural flavor of the veggies to shine through - but if you want to ramp it up a bit, I won't be mad at you.

Lastly, this dish only improves with age. A day or two in the fridge and the left-overs will be even more flavorful. Use them as a simple sauce for some freshly cooked whole wheat pasta and call it dinner.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Thank you! ... and a Question

I want to thank you all for your kind comments and words of affirmation on the new blog design. I have to admit I had a moment of panic the minute I hit that button and applied the changes to my blog. I've never been much good at change, and part of me missed that riot of noxious pink the moment it was gone.

For the sake of posterity, I'm preserving a bit of "Diva Pink" in the banner - at least for now. Or until I finally get off my ass and make a real header ... but don't hold your breath for that ... unless you've got 911 on speed-dial.

I've added a recent comments link in the column at right. I think it helps to foster a sense of community and I hope it will help you to more easily visit your fellow "Beach-goers" and discover some cool new blogs in the process.

Speaking of comments, I've had a spate of spam lately ... and a most insidious form of spam it is, too. Cloaked in the guise of semi-constructive / negative comments, this new form of spammer seeks to promote whatever it is they are promoting by pretending to be a person and leaving provocative comments - in hopes that readers will click on their name and be directed to their site. If you do, you'll be directed to any number of commercial websites. Its maddening!

I've been deleting them, but its happening with greater frequency.

I'm debating moving to comment moderation mode, but I'm not wild about the idea. I'm frequently away and I think it would be frustrating for you to post a comment in good faith, yet not have it appear for a few days. In particular, I'm concerned about weekends, when I'm rarely near a computer. Which leads me to my question of the day:

How do you feel about comment moderation? Would it frustrate you to leave a comment on a Friday and not have it appear until Monday? Would that inhibit you from commenting?

Please feel free to state your honest opinion in the comments. I want you to enjoy your experience here on Beach Eats and I appreciate your input.

Meanwhile, its pouring today and I couldn't be happier about it. The skies are gray, the temp is a shocking, and most welcome, 68 degrees at present and I am loving every minute of it. Such a relief after the relentless heat we've had this summer. I'd say its a perfect day for baking, but I'm consumed with more mundane and less tasty chores today.

I hope to have one or two yummy bites for you later on in the week, but for now, its back to the chores.

Happy Monday, and thanks again!

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Look!

I've been meaning to change the look of this blog for ages now. I think I'm over the pepto-bismol pink, and maybe you are too. So here we are.

I'm guessing this will be a work in progress and I fiddle and futz with it, tweaking to get the colors and the layout just right. Please be patient if the blog looks a little wonky over the next few days. It may take some time to work out the kinks.

I suppose at some point I'll get around to designing a header ... all in due time. Rome wasn't built in a day.

It seems I've somehow lost my print-fast button in the change over, so I'll be working on that as well. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Diva Cat Lucy and I wish you all a beautiful weekend!


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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Mysterious Mezcal Cocktail Edition

In search of a cocktail to launch the weekend, the husband found the formula for this drink last Friday night ... scratched out in haste on a post-it note, stuck to the front of one of my bar tending guides. Barely legible and cloaked in the mystery of my own particular brand of short hand - I obviously thought enough of it to save for later use, but didn't think to write down the name or the origin. More's the pity.

The husband promptly mixed up a batch and, honestly, we were stunned. This cocktail is so perfectly balanced, we fell instantly in love. It features an intriguing blend of mezcal, Aperol, tequila and sweet vermouth. A somewhat unlikely combination that yields the most delicious result.

At first sip, notes of tequila are present, followed by the inviting, herbal notes of the Aperol. The drink is quietly smoky on the finish, due to the mezcal, and that subtle hint of smoke is most pleasant, indeed! In fact, I'd go so far as to say this is my new favorite use for mezcal. I hope you'll try it!

The Mysterious Mezcal:
  • 3/4 ounce of Mezcal
  • 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth
  • 1 ounce Aperol
  • 1 1/2 ounces tequila
  • dash of orange bitters
Pour all of the above into a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Close the shaker and shake well, until the outside of the shake frosts. Pour the contents, ice and all, into a rocks glass - serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

I hope you'll try it ... and, if you do, you'll see for yourself that its an addictive little mix. You'll definitely want a second and possibly a third. Beware, though, it does pack a punch. You've been warned. ~wink~

I only wish I knew the origin of this drink. I've Googled my little fingers off and can find it anywhere. If you know the origin, please shout it out in the comments ... I'd like to give credit where credit is due.


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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Poblano Flecked Cornbread

Operating on the theory that you can never be too festive, too good looking, or have too many recipes for cornbread - here's another one for your files.

What? You've never heard that saying? That's my version and I'm sticking to it. ;)

Given the extreme poblano situation here, cornbread seemed like a good idea. Plus, you can't really serve chili without cornbread, right? Right.

Pressed for time, I opted to simply chop the poblanos and throw them into the batter as is. Tasty to be sure, especially if some of the peppers have a little heat, but it also occurs to me that roasting them would be a good idea. If you have the time and inclination, I'd suggest a brief roast before chopping. And, if you're looking to gild the lily, you might also choose to throw a handful of sharp cheddar into the batter. You can never go wrong with the chili/cheese combo.

Finally, this is my standard cornbread recipe. Its moist, crumbly, and not a bit too sweet. If you have a favorite cornbread recipe, by all means use it. I offer this as but one variation on a theme ... and there's always room for interpretation.

Poblano Cornbread:
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large (or 4 small) fresh poblano peppers, seeded and cut into small dice
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup non-fat milk
  • 1 large egg at room temperature, beaten
  • 1/4 melted butter
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, optional
1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour baking powder and salt. Whisk well with a wire whisk to blend. Add the diced poblano and stir to incorporate. Reserve.

3. In another bowl, combine the maple syrup, milk and beaten egg. Whisk well to fully incorporate. Add the melted butter and whisk again until thoroughly combined. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until just combined. Add the shredded cheese, if using, and fold in to distribute evenly.

4. Pour the batter into a buttered, 8 x 8 inch, oven-safe glass baking dish and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked throughout. Remove dish to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve and enjoy!

Bon appetite!

p.s. - Stay tuned for the return of Thirsty Thursdays tomorrow. I'll have an unusual and exceptionally delicious cocktail for you. You're going to like this one, I promise.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Chicken and White Bean Chili

Will this blog explode if I post one more chili recipe here? Probably. But that's a chance I'm willing to take. I've got a situation here.

My fridge seems to be breeding poblano peppers. Like tribbles. Only greener and more tasty.

I could swear Mama Diva brought down 2 or 3 poblanos when she came to visit recently. But then I blinked and there were 4. Blinked again and there were six. At last count, there were eight. Clearly, they're planning a coup. I'm not waiting around to see how this turns out. It's time for action. It's time to make chili.

Chicken and White Bean Chili:
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 large poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • pinch of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground chicken breast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Ancho or New Mexican chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • one 14.5 ounce can of Petite Diced Tomatoes with Jalapeno
  • one 15 ounce can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth, plus additional for simmering
  • chopped red onion
  • chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
  • shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt
1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skilled over medium-high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the onions, garlic, poblano peppers and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir and saute until the onions are translucent, but not yet browned, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the ground chicken and saute until no longer pink, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring and using a wooden spoon to break up into bite size pieces.

3. Add the chili powders, cumin and cayenne pepper and stir well to incorporate. Saute 1 minute, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken broth, stirring well to blend. Add the drained white beans, stir. Allow the chili to come to the boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour - adding a bit more chicken broth as necessary to keep things moist. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more of anything you wish. Serve garnished with any and all of the above and enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve 5 to 6, depending on portion size.

Notes: If you do not have poblano peppers, you may substitute green bell peppers, though the chili will not be as spicy. In that case, you might choose to add a diced jalapeno to ramp up the heat if you wish.

As for the chili powders, use whatever you have on hand, or whatever blend you like. No need to be too specific, I believe in cooking with what you've got!

I also believe in serving chili with cornbread ... and I'll tell you all about that later on in the week. Stay tuned.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Quick Roasted Tomato Sauce

When life, or your brother, hands you a bushel of tomatoes: make tomato sauce ... from scratch!

While slow-roasted is all the rage, sometimes there's no time for slow. Sometimes you need quick. I often need quick. Such was the case on Saturday night. Having returned from a long day at BlogHer, I was tired, I was hungry, and there were several, large, needing-to-be-used tomatoes on my kitchen counter - courtesy of my bro's magnificent garden.

I washed them, cored them, cut them in half, and popped them in the oven. The rest is history ... or, at least, the substance of today's post.

Quick Roasted Tomato Sauce:
  • 5 large tomatoes, washed, cored and halved
  • drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh basil, or to taste
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, or to taste
1. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a large, walled baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle on a bit of Kosher salt and some freshly ground pepper and roast in the middle of a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Or until softened slightly and just beginning to color. Remove from oven and allow tomatoes to cool for 10 minutes.

3. Using a food mill set over a large bowl, puree the tomatoes two halves at a time, until all tomatoes have been pureed. Discard the seeds and skin, reserve the pureed tomatoes. Add any tomato juice from roasting pan to the puree. Reserve.

4. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive sauce pan over medium high heat and to it add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the minced garlic, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, pinch of Kosher salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Stir and saute for one minute, do not allow the garlic to color. Add the pureed tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir well to incorporate.

5. Add the grated Parmesan cheese, the basil, and the parsley, lower the heat and allow the sauce to simmer, uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. Sauce will thicken a bit as it simmers, stir once in a while to prevent sticking. Prior to serving, taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more of anything you like.

6. Serve over cooked pasta with a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and some additional chopped basil and parsley for garnish. Enjoy!

Notes: The tomatoes used for this sauce were "Hungarian Hearts" ... they were enormous! Even larger than those pictured above. If your tomatoes are of lesser stature, use more. Ditto for my bro's garlic: its huge. We happen enjoy a garlic-y sauce, chez Diva, but your milage may vary, of course. Use as much or as little as you like.

The tomato paste is added to give the sauce more body. Fresh tomato sauce can be on the thin side. I find a bit of paste serves to improve the texture. The longer you cook the sauce, the thicker it will be - use your judgement. Its not rocket science.

Lastly, the more flavorful your tomatoes, the more flavorful your sauce will be. We loved the Hungarian Hearts, but if you can't find those, choose your favorite variety. Use the freshest and most delicious tomatoes you can find, their essential tomatoey-ness will only improve with time spent in a hot oven.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Things I Learned at BlogHer '10: A Re-Cap, of Sorts

Last weekend, 2,500 bloggers gathered at the Hilton New York for BlogHer '10. I was one of them. As a food blogger, I knew I'd be in the minority at this general conference, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Would the breakout sessions be useful for what I do? Would I be the only non-mommy blogger there? Would I do a better job taking photos and documenting this experience than I did at BlogHer Food?

In short: Yes, No, and No.

In general, I tend to find the conference experience somewhat overwhelming - and BlogHer '10 was no exception. So much to see, so much to do, so many people to meet; it all becomes a blur for me at some point. Hence, my continued inability to capture the experience in photos! I will, however, try to capture a bit of it in words.

Below, the highlights ...

The Top 6 Things I Learned at BlogHer '10:
  • Community Counts. Meeting and connecting with other bloggers continues to be the highlight of any conference experience for me. I met Lindsey who writes about interior design; and Erica who writes about modern day manners. I met women who write about writing; and women who write about their daily lives. I met still others who blog for corporations, or private industry, and, naturally, those who write about their children. I met women who tell their stories in words, and those who speak through pictures. And most of all, I met my friend Mo Diva, whom I've been meaning to meet for ages now! We had a blast together! Yay!
  • A Significant Number of Women Who Blog Are Named: Jen. Like this Jen, and that Jen, and even this Jenn. I enjoyed meeting them all!
  • Writer's Block is Writer's Block, Across the Board. It doesn't matter if you're a food blogger or a free-verse poet, writer's block sucks. Shaking out of it can be difficult, and the session on Writing Inspiration: Stoking Your Creativity offered several good and useful suggestions for doing just that. Hit up the link for the live-blog transcript of the discussion.
  • I Need a Better Camera ... And to Pay Attention While Taking My Pictures! And I'm working on that. I attended a really great photography session on day one, and have decided to bite the bullet and buy a DSLR and learn how to use it ... despite the fact that they terrify me. I've also learned that I need to do a better job of thinking before I snap the shot. It sounds silly when I read that back, but nevertheless, its true.
  • Its OK to Love Your Small Blog. Blogging is work; hard work, sometimes. The bigger the blog, the more the work. I'm a small fish in a HUGE pond and I'm OK with that. Why? Because I sat in a room with hundreds of others like me and connected to what they said. You can read about it here.
  • Never Underestimate the Power of Advil and a Really Comfy Pair of Flip-Flops. Dude, by the end of day one I was sore all over. Every part of me hurt. Hurt! The fact that I was laden with bags and bags of swag may have had something to do with it, or it could just be my age. I walked billions of miles in cute silver sandals on day one. Day two? Soft cushy flip-flops and Advil every 4 hours. Really. I mean it. I still haven't recovered.
Of course there's more, much more, but the hour grows late and this post grows long. I went, I saw, I learned, I connected ... and that's what conferences are all about - for me, at least. If you're reading this and you're a food blogger, I strongly suggest you make plans to attend BlogHer Food '10. I'll be there, and I can tell you from experience - its not to be missed. You might also choose to attend the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. And, if you're lucky enough to have the time and the resources, by all means do both.

If you're reading this and you're a blogger of a different feather, make plans for BlogHer '11 in San Diego ... oh, and don't wear heels!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Left-over Magic: White Pizza Edition

Sometimes - ok, often - my fridge is a disaster; full of left-over bits of this, and unused bits of that. If I've been cooking a lot, the shelves will be a melange of monkey dishes featuring half-cups of veggies, perhaps a solo portion of meat - the sum of which would not quite yield a full meal, much less dinner for two. I suspect I'm not alone in this.

At such times, the answer, my answer is: pizza. Pizza is the perfect vehicle for combining the stray portions of several meals ... with the added bonus that, ultimately, you feel like you're eating an entirely new meal. Sweet!

Such was the case last week, when I was itching to use the remains of that roasted zucchini and tomato dish, and the 1/2 cup or so of left-over chicken sausage and peppers. Ultimately, I decided to go with a white pizza, which turned out to be an inspired idea, indeed!

I took the easy way out and used purchased, prepared pizza dough - and to that, added a garlic-y white sauce, some seasoned low-fat ricotta cheese, the zucchini and tomatoes, the bits of sausage and peppers, and topped the whole thing off with shredded low-fat mozzarella and some Parmesan cheese. It was spectacular!

I'm not so much giving you a pizza recipe here today, as I am encouraging you to think creatively about your use of left-overs. I will, however, include a recipe for the garlic sauce and for the seasoned ricotta. The rest is up to you. You're smart, you'll figure it out.

White Garlic Sauce:
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 1 cup of fat-free Half and Half, at room temperature
  • 1/8 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of freshly ground nutmeg
1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat until melted. Add the minced garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, if desired, and saute stirring, for one minute. Add the flour and stir well to combine with the oils, saute for one minute.

2. Add the room temperature half and half and immediately raise the heat to high, whisk well to incorporate the roux with the liquid. Bring the mixture to a full boil and let boil, while whisking constantly, for a couple of minutes until the sauce thickens and is reduced to the consistency of Alfredo sauce. The thickened sauce should coat the back of a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low when properly thickened.

3. Add a pinch of Kosher salt, some freshly ground black pepper to taste, and a grating of fresh nutmeg if desired. Add 1/8 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and whisk to melt into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more of anything you like. Remove from heat, cover the sauce pan and reserve until pizza time. (Hint, be sure to whisk the sauce again prior to use to smooth as it may thicken further as it cools.)

Seasoned Ricotta Cheese for White Pizza:
  • one 15 ounce container of part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir well until thoroughly incorporated. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more of whatever you like. Reserve until ready to make the pizza, chilled in fridge if necessary.

Some rough directions for pizza assembly: spread crust with an even layer of white garlic sauce, top with dollops of seasoned ricotta cheese, using a fork to spread ricotta in an even layer. Pile on your pizza toppings (meaning use up your left-overs!) then top with a handful of shredded low-fat mozzarella and a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake in a pre-heated oven, according to pizza dough directions ... or your own pizza wisdom.

Of course, once you've turned the lonely bits and pieces in your fridge into a new and exciting meal, you'll sometimes - ok, often - end up with left-overs of your left-overs. Worse things could happen.

Bon appetite!

Monday, August 2, 2010

BlogHer '10 + Farm Fresh Garlic

No, BlogHer and garlic have nothing to do with one another ... at least not as far as I can tell. I'm simply using this photo as an intro to my question of the day. I'll tell you all about the garlic, in due course.

So, are any of you going to BlogHer '10 this Friday and Saturday (8/6 and 8/7) in NYC this weekend?

I am! If you'll be there too, please drop me a line in the comments so I will know to look out for you! I already know that Jenn from Savor the Thyme and Mo Diva will be there ... and I'm looking forward to meeting you both! Anyone else making the trip???

Though this is the general BlogHer Conference, and not the foodie edition, I figured I'd check it out - especially as I had such a good time at BlogHer Food '09. I'm looking forward to it and hope that some of my foodie pals will be there as well. Let me know if you're planning to attend!

As for the garlic, this is just a sample of my bro's summer 2010 offerings. He's harvested hundreds upon hundreds of sweet, succulent fresh garlic from his garden, and he was gracious enough to put together a sampler for me. Above from left: German White Garlic, Bavarian Purple Garlic, and Spanish Roja Garlic. Seen at the very end of the display are some lovely shallots - also fresh from his garden.

I've been having lots of fun incorporating the different varieties into our meals ... and I hope to tell you all about it ... soon. This week is a little hectic for me. Mama and Papa Diva will be here for the day on Wednesday and I'll be at BlogHer on Friday ... so my posting may be sparse.

Hang in there and stay tuned for the garlic themed dishes to come. On the menu for tomorrow: white pizza with garlic sauce. You won't want to miss this one ... it was spectacular!

Have a happy Monday!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quick and Easy Roasted Zucchini

The Diva's taking the easy way out today. So easy, in fact, that this isn't even my recipe! (Though, naturally, I've changed it up some.) I popped into a favorite farm stand this weekend and along with the bounty of fresh veggies, the stand had little Xerox copies of family recipes to go with. Sweet!

No doubt zucchini and tomatoes are in abundance right now, so its likely that you'll already have these ingredients on hand. This is a simple summer side dish, and the possibilities for variation are limited only by your imagination. Got some yellow squash? Throw it into the mix. Not a fan of grape tomatoes? Use cherries instead or leave them out and add some onion. Feel free to vary the seasonings as well, according to your taste. Its all good and all healthy too!

Roasted zucchini has a wonderful, caramelized flavor and the grape tomatoes are greatly improved by some time in the oven. Their flavor intensifies, adding a welcome piquancy to the dish. Its as delicious as is it easy!

Roasted Zucchini and Tomatoes:
  • 2 large zucchini, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, washed and left whole
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt-free seasoning, such as Mrs. Dash
  • Herbes de Provence
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Lightly brush the bottom of 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish with olive oil. Place the chopped zucchini and grape tomatoes into the prepared dish and drizzle with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the veggies with some salt-free seasoning, such as Mrs. Dash (any flavor you like), add a pinch of herbes de Provence, a small pinch of Kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss again to coat.

3. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes, stirring once about half-way through. Remove from oven and sprinkle dish with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve. Or, alternately, you may run the dish under the broiler for a moment or two to melt and brown the cheese before serving.

As written, this recipe will serve 6.

So what's your favorite way to serve zucchini? Hungry Diva wants to know!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Flour-less Peanut Butter Cookies

I first came across the notion of flour-less peanut butter cookies at book club. The year was somewhere around 2003 or 2004, and we were gathered at the home of a member, debating our next six months of selections. A few of us had brought along a dessert to share, and one of the offerings was an astoundingly rich and chewy peanut butter cookie. I knew I had to have the recipe.

Rather than write it out for me, M. rattled it off: 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of vanilla. That's it. That's all. In a word, I was amazed. I had no idea it was possible to make cookies without flour. That's just crazy talk, right? Wrong.

M. assured me that not only would this recipe work, she'd been making it since kindergarten! It was the first recipe she ever learned and she never bothered, never needed to write it down. I didn't either. I committed it to memory ... and there its stayed in my pretty little head, lo this nearly decade or so. I always intended to make the cookies, but somehow it never happened.

Well, Monday's weather was a chilly 88 degrees, rather than 98, so it seemed like a fine time to bake. I mentally dusted off M.'s recipe and set to work. I changed it up a bit too - using natural peanut butter, rather then a commercial (read - too sweet) brand; some brown sugar in place of the white; and ... because I'm me ... I added some chocolate chips for good measure.

They may not be the best looking cookies on earth, but they sure are tasty.

Flour-less Peanut Butter Cookies:
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, optional
1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Place the peanut butter into a mixing bowl and to it add the brown sugar. Stir with a fork until thoroughly combined. Crack in the egg and, again, mix with a fork until thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla extract and a small pinch of salt, then stir well with a fork until fully incorporated. The mixture will appear grainy - remain calm, all is well. Add the chocolate chips and mix in with a wooden spoon or spatula. Don't worry if the chips don't want to blend, you can mash them in when you form the cookies.

3. Scoop cookies by rounded teaspoon and roll slightly in between your palms to form, pressing in any errant chocolate chips. Place formed cookies directly onto a baking sheet, and press each down slightly. Continue until all cookies have been formed. You should have about 2 dozen.

4. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown at the edges. Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheet for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

As written, this recipe will yield 2 dozen small cookies. Recipe may be doubled.

Hint - if you choose to omit the chocolate chips, you may press the formed cookies down with the tines of a fork to create that traditional peanut butter cookie look. Also, if you prefer a sweeter cookie, by all means opt for the white sugar and use one full cup. And, if you prefer, you may also use a commercial brand of peanut butter in place of the natural stuff. Hey, its your cookie!

There are probably dozens, maybe even hundreds, of flour-less peanut butter cookie recipes floating around out there. This is my version of the classic.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Chicken Meatballs with Ariosto Seasoning

Its no secret that we're in the midst of an extraordinarily hot summer. Record highs have been set all over the country and here in the city, we've been living in a blast furnace; each day more hot and humid than the next. I'd say that its typical for July, except that we're on pace to have the hottest July on record. Ole.

My birthday fell smack in the middle of this unusually hot month and when dinner time rolled around, I wanted what I always want for my birthday meal ... despite the heat. I wanted meatballs.

Its long been a joke in my family that my birthday tends to be the hottest day of the year. It wasn't this year, but it was close. Regardless of the heat, I bowed to tradition; only this year, I lightened things up a bit. I chose to make chicken meatballs and I had a little help in seasoning them too.

Recently, the good folks at Ariosto seasonings reached out to me and offered me some samples of their seasoning blends. I happily accepted. Made in Milan, Italy, with Sicilian sea salt, Ariosto seasonings are one of Italy's top selling brands. They feature a delightful blend of herbs and sea salt, with no additives, MSG, or artificial ingredients. Ariosto sent me a wonderful assortment of their blends, and in this recipe I've used their: Insaporitore per Carni (seasoning for meat and chicken), Aglio e Peperoncino (a spicy blend featuring garlic and crushed red pepper flakes), and Insaporitore per Sughi al Pomodoro (seasoning for tomato sauce).

The results? Magnificent! Or, should I say, magnifico?! The sauce had a wonderfully spicy kick, due to the crushed red pepper flakes, and the meatballs were tender and perfectly seasoned. Mille grazie per tutti, Ariosto!

Spicy Tomato Sauce:
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon Ariosto Aglio e Peperoncino seasoning
  • one 7g packet of Ariosto Sughi al Pomodoro seasoning
  • one 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • one 8 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup good quality red wine
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1. Heat the oil in a large, non-reactive, sauce pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the minced garlic and 1 tsp. of Ariosto Aglio e Peperoncino seasoning and saute, stirring, for one minute.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot, stir well to combine, and allow the mixture to just come to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, while you make the meatballs. Stir once in a while, for good measure.

Chicken Meatballs:
  • 1 pound ground chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon Ariosto Insaporitore per Carni seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons salt-free grilling blend (I use Mrs. Dash Steak blend)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs
Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well - with clean hands, or a fork - to blend. Mix until fully incorporated. Mixture will be slightly sticky. Form the mixture into 12 even, round, meatballs and place on a large baking sheet when formed.

2. Bake meatballs in the middle of a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.

3. Remove from oven and transfer the meatballs to the sauce, stirring to coat. Cover the pot and allow the meatballs to simmer gently in the sauce - on very low heat - for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour, so the flavors will meld. Stir once in a while to ensure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Serve over cooked pasta and garnish with some chopped fresh parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

As written, this recipe will serve 6.

Careful readers will note the lack of salt in both the meatballs and the sauce. Since the seasoning blends feature sea salt, I found it unnecessary to use additional salt. Do as you see fit.

Ariosto seasonings are available online and in some specialty markets across the country. I look forward to trying their potato and fish blends, as well as future experimentation with the seasoning for meat. I really enjoyed the flavor of the sauce seasoning, and found the ease of use to be a real time saver - no need to measure or dust off a long list of herbs and spices ... its all right there in that happy little packet.

A brief word of caution regarding the Aglio e Peperoncino blend ... its spicy! Personally, I like it that way, but go easy if you're heat averse.

Lastly, if you're unable to find Ariosto seasonings in your neck of the words, feel free to reach out to the charming and delightful Mr. Saverio Lo Presti - you may contact him via email: - and he will respond immediately.

Buon appetito!