Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Spice & Ice Edition

Put on your extra sparkly tiaras, dear readers, because we've been invited to a cocktail party today ... and its a spicy one! In fact, its a virtual cocktail party in support of Kara Newman's delicious new book: "Spice & Ice."

I'll be honest, I jumped at the chance to get in on this. Apart from the fact that I love an unusual cocktail, the opportunity to work with Kara Newman (who's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Gourmet, and Wine Enthusiast to name but a few) is an absolute thrill for me. So thrilling, in fact, that I ran right out and picked up a copy of the book as soon as I heard about the event. Its lovely!

Spice & Ice is a chic little cocktail cookbook that deftly pairs all manner of spirits with a stunning assortment of spiced and spicy ingredients. With drinks named "Coco-Grenade" and "Sangria Scorcher" and ingredients such as harissa, wasabi and thai chiles, Newman's recipes are inviting to say the least. Today, I'm going to share with you her "Fall Spice Cocktail".

In Kara's words, "this drink falls more on the 'spiced' than 'spicy' side, of the spectrum. This sweet cordial pairs well with autumn pies and other desserts or makes a great sipper to enjoy fireside." We may be past Fall, but the winds are still wicked and the roaring fires still necessary, so I'd say its perfect for winter too!

Be aware that this drink calls for a little prep-work: you'll need to prepare the chipotle-orange syrup in advance. Trust me, its easy. It takes all of 15 to 20 minutes and you will be rewarded greatly for your efforts. If you're old enough to drink, you're old enough to delay gratification, right? Right. Let's get to it!

Fall Spice Cordial:
recipe reprinted from Spice & Ice with permission of the author
  • 1 ounce bourbon (I used Maker's Mark)
  • 3/4 ounce chipotle-orange syrup, recipe to follow
  • 1 ounce vanilla vodka or Navan vanilla cognac
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (I used Fee Brother's because that's what I had on-hand)
  • orange peel for garnish
Mix together all the ingredients, except for the orange peel. Shake together with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with the orange zest. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

Chipotle-Orange Syrup:
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 chipotle pepper
  • 2 strips dried orange peel, or fresh peel if dried is not available
  • 3/4 cup sugar
Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and add the chipotle pepper and orange peel. Cover and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve and add the sugar. Return to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour the syrup into a container and keep in the refrigerator.

Diva's notes: I used fresh orange peel, because my market didn't seem to have any dried. I don't think the drink suffered for it a bit. I also chose to use Navan, the vanilla cognac, because I simply do not enjoy commercial vanilla vodkas. If you're ok with them, or have made your own vanilla vodka, go for it. The Navan is pricey, no doubt about it, so opt for the vanilla vodka if you prefer. In future iterations, I'd probably substitute 1/2 cup of agave nectar for the sugar, but that is a personal choice as well.

So, how does it taste? Intriguing and delightful! The acidity of the orange tempers the sweet caramel notes of the bourbon; and the hint of chipotle provides a rather addictive bit of warmth on the finish. Simply put, it makes you want to take another sip - and that's the sure sign of a well-crafted cocktail. I loved it and you will too!

I'm not sure who else is on the guest list for this lovely little fete, but I know for certain that my friend Charmian Christie, from Christie's Corner, will be bringing something to the party. Monica Bhide, author of Modern Spice, will be there too. I can't wait to see what they've stirred up. Look for their offerings, as well as the others, on Kara Newman's Spice & Ice Blog. Come thirsty, its bound to be a delicious affair!

Many thanks to Charmian for connecting me with Kara, and to Kara for adding a little more spice to our weekly Happy Hour here on Beach Eats. If this drink is any indication, Spice & Ice is going to get a LOT of use, Chez Diva.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Champ ... Or, Diva's Mashed Potatoes

Pierre Franey gave me this recipe. It was hundreds of years ago and I've long since lost the stain-spattered copy. Battered and yellow, faded with time, that lovely little clipping made at least two moves with me before the Scotch tape wore out and the words began to fade. Luckily, I had the essentials memorized long before it started to disintegrate. Today, I'm going to share it with you.

To be honest, he didn't just give it to me, he gave it to millions of us. The millions of loyal New York Times readers who adored his every word. I'm guessing that was sometime back in the eighties - and I can tell you for certain I've been making it ever since. I've been making it for so long now that my family simply refers to the dish as: "Diva's Mashed Potatoes."

If memory serves, his recipe included basil and chervil ... but there's never any chervil around when you need it, at least not in my kitchen. And basil? Eh, where mashed potatoes are concerned, I'd rather do without. If I happen to have fresh chives, I'll throw them in. If not, no one cries - there's plenty of flavor going on in these potatoes as is. Nutmeg is essential for me, as is white pepper, neither of which appeared in the original.

I'm certain Pierre used cream, I opt for non-fat milk ... except during the holidays, when my inner fat cop relents. It began as his recipe, its become mine. The husband and I call it "champ", but its not champ at all. A proper "champ" has scallions and great knob of butter in the center. Fine additions both, use them if you like. Call it what you like, include whatever veggies you like, just make these potatoes ... and offer a little tip of your cap to Chef Franey. I miss him still, but I'm glad I've adopted his potatoes and given them a good home.

Diva's Mashed Potatoes:
  • 4 to 5 large russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed, peels removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk, non-fat milk, or heavy cream
  • salt, white pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
  • some chopped fresh chives, parsley or chervil, if desired
Combine the potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic in a large soup or stock pot and cover with water. Salt the water liberally, 2 or 3 good pinches of Kosher salt should do it, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 12 minutes. Test with a fork, potatoes are done when easily pierced. Drain and return all veggies to the pot. Return the pot to the stove and over medium-high heat, stir potatoes well to dry, for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the butter, mash well using a potato masher until desired consistency is achieved. Add milk (or cream) stirring well to combine, taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a bit of salt (if needed) and some ground white pepper and a dash of freshly grated nutmeg. Add some fresh chives, parsley or chervil if desired and stir to combine. Reheat gently, if necessary, and serve immediately.

As written this recipe will yield 4 servings.

It should go without saying that you should feel free to adjust the butter/cream/milk ratio according to your tastes. The important thing here is the mix of carrots, potatoes and onions ... its a winner and not to be missed. Plain old mashed potatoes are great ... and these are better, more interesting, more festive. Its hard to make out the glorious flecks of carrot in that pic, but they're there - doing their thing and lending interest to the mix. I hope you'll try it!

Apologies for the duplicate pic ... we finished the potatoes before I had a chance to shoot them solo. Maybe next time ....

Bon appetite!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Beef Tenderloin with Anise and Crushed Peppercorns

It sounds strange for me to say this, but in my 25 years of cooking, I've never made a roast beef dish. Pot roast, stews and beefy soups are always on the menu, Chez Diva - but an actual roast beef? Nope. Never. Not even once. Weird, huh?

Or maybe not. While the husband is a red meat guy through and through ... The Diva, not so much. I'll take poultry any, make that every, day. Not to mention, we couldn't be more dissimilar in terms of our desired doneness. Him: "I'll take mine raw." Me: "Burn it!"

Hence the problem.

My solution? A tenderloin. Sure, its pricey cut, but for us, its the perfect answer to the doneness dilemma. Slice off the thick (rare) end for him, save the skinny (well done) portion for me ... joy and happiness abound!

Roast Beef Tenderloin with Anise and Crushed Peppercorns:
  • 2 lb. beef tenderloin, tied at 2 -3 inch intervals
  • 2 whole star anise seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mixed peppercorns (black, green, white and red)
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • olive oil
Allow the beef to stand at room temperature for 45 minutes prior to continuing with this recipe.

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Grind the whole star anise and peppercorns together using a spice grinder, small food processor, or mortar and pestle, until they are crushed and powdery. Its ok if the peppercorns remain chunky, but you want the anise to be fully crushed. Remove to a small bowl and add a pinch of Kosher salt. Rub the entire surface of the tenderloin with the spice mixture to coat and allow the seasoned meat to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Heat a large, heavy, cast iron skillet over high heat and to it add some oil (I used olive oil) to coat. Sear the tenderloin on all sides until nicely browned, then immediately transfer the skillet to the middle of a pre-heated 425 degree oven. Roast for approximately 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the loin reads 125 degrees, for a nice medium rare. Adjust your cooking time as needed for your desired degree of doneness and according to the size of your roast - adding more time for a more well-done roast, etc. Use your judgement.

Remove from oven and allow the meat to rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before carving.

If desired, you may serve with a simple and flavorful pan sauce. I adapted this sauce from a recipe that appeared in the December 2007 issue of Bon Appetit.
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • two 3 inch sprigs of fresh rosemary, left whole
  • 2 tablespoons of Cognac
  • 2/3 cup Port wine (I used ruby port)
  • 1 1/2 cups of beef broth or stock
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of cold butter, cut into quarters
Melt the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed, skillet and to it add the shallots. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes, over medium-high heat. Add the rosemary sprigs and saute for 1 minute. Add the Cognac, raise the heat to high, allow the mixture to come to the boil, and once the Cognac has evaporated. Add the Port and the beef broth, stirring well to combine. Allow the mixture to boil and cook until reduced by half. Strain into a small sauce pan and return to heat, and season to taste with some freshly ground pepper. As the mixture simmers, add 1 tablespoon of cold butter, one small piece at a time, whisking well to combine after each addition. The sauce will thicken as you whisk in the butter. The finished sauce may be kept warm, covered, over low heat until you are ready to plate. Whisk well before serving.

As written, this recipe will serve approximately 4 - 5, depending on portion size. May be doubled as desired.

Honestly, this was one of the best meals I've had in a long time. The roast was tender and juicy and the anise/peppercorn combination is simply exquisite. Judging by the moans of pleasure coming from the husband's side of the table, I'd say he was in heaven. Color us both happy and well-fed, indeed.

I'll be submitting this to Dinner at Christina's new Friday Firsts feature ... pop on over and share your culinary firsts with Christina and her readers each and every Friday. Its bound to be a delicious romp.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Breakfast: Pompanoosuc Porridge Edition

Its Thursday and odds are you've come here expecting a drink ... instead, I'm offering you porridge. Hardly seems fair, huh? I mean, you've done nothing wrong, its not as if you need to be punished. And yet, porridge is on the menu - and you'll like it too, I promise. This porridge is in no way punitive

Honestly, this week has thrown me for a loop. With the holiday on Monday, then Ash Wednesday yesterday, my whole schedule has been out of whack and I have no idea how it got to be Thursday so soon. The calendar may say otherwise, but it feels like a Tuesday to me. And no one drinks on Tuesday, right? So, porridge it is.

To be clear, no one sent me this product or asked me to write about it. I paid for it myself and I'm talking about here because its something I use and enjoy. (Bonus, King Arthur, you're getting some free publicity. You're welcome.) This has become my go-to winter breakfast and I recommend it, highly.

Pompanoosuc Porridge is a yummy blend of Irish oats, bulgar wheat and flax. That's it, that's the entire list of ingredients. I came across this delicious mix while traipsing through King Arthur Flour's site and I couldn't be happier about my discovery. Its a wholesome, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs (and hopefully not your thighs!) breakfast that makes a really nice change from ordinary oatmeal. Plus, its fun to say! Say it with me: Pompanoosuc! See?! Fun. I can hardly stand the excitement.

Once you've calmed yourself, I suggest serving it thusly:
  • some cooked Pompanoosuc Porridge
  • 1/2 of a Granny Smith apple, chopped
  • some whole walnuts and pecans
  • agave nectar
  • cinnamon
Top the cooked porridge with the apples, walnuts and pecans, then drizzle the whole shebang with agave nectar and dust with some ground cinnamon, to taste. Grab a spoon and get busy.

One serving of porridge has 150 calories, 4 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. You'll get credit for a fruit with the apple, an extra punch of protein from the nuts, and the agave and cinnamon will make you smile. More importantly, you'll be full for hours. I can't think of a more delicious way to start the day.

Its economical too. At $6.95 per package, with @ 23 servings per bag, that rounds out to .30 cents a bowl. Sweet!

I'd tell you that "its a good thing" ... but that tagline belongs to someone else and I'm definitely not her.

Fear not, we'll be getting our drink on next Thursday as per usual. And hopefully, my schedule will return to normal next week too ... my stove is feeling rather forlorn.

So, what's your go-to winter breakfast? Chilly Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Diva Cooks: Tangled Noodle Edition

Obviously I didn't cook Tangled Noodle, or any noodles for that matter. Rather, I'm embarking on a new feature today - from time to time I'll be cooking the food of other bloggers and posting about it here. Let's face it, we all run across dozens of recipes every day that just beg for our attention. Meanwhile, we're so busy dreaming up recipes of our own, we rarely find the time to cook all those lovely dishes we've book-marked. Or is that just me?

I adore Tangled Noodle's blog. I feel like I learn something new every time I read it - and not just about food and cooking, but about life as well. She's fascinating and so are her recipes. Earlier this week, I was reading her post on the difficulties of eating local during a Minnesota winter and I was completely charmed by the pot pie recipe offered within.

And not just any pot pie either, a Honeyed Apple Turkey Pot Pie ... wow! Scanning the list of ingredients, I realized I had almost everything on hand - so off to the kitchen I went. Of course, I made a few changes too; mostly out of necessity and partly because I'm a bit of a freak. More on that later.

Towards the end of her post, Noodle suggested she might like to add leeks and possibly a turnip next time. I had both on hand, so done and done. Here's what went into my version:

3 strips of crisp, cooked bacon, crumbled
1 large leek, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
some Herbes de Provence
salt and pepper
1 lb. of ground turkey breast
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1/2 of a large yellow turnip, peeled, cubed and steamed until tender
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped, then sauteed with 1 tsp. butter and 1 tsp. of honey
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup beef broth
Puff pastry

I changed up the method of preparation a bit too - and this is where my freakishness comes in. Because raw turkey freaks me out, I browned it a bit first. I began by cooking the bacon. Once cooked, I removed the bacon, drained the fat and added a bit of olive oil to the pan. To it, I added the leeks, onion, celery and a pinch of Herbs de Provence and some salt and pepper. I sauteed until just beginning to color, removed the veggies from the pan, and then browned the turkey in the same skillet. I mixed the cooked veggies with the turkey.

Following Noodle's instructions, I layered the ingredients as per her description, up to and including the apples, substituting the turnips for the potatoes in her recipe. I then made another departure from the recipe, this one out of necessity. I had some beef broth on hand that needed to be used - so I made a roux out of 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of white whole wheat flour, in the same skillet, then added 3/4 beef broth to create a pan sauce. Once thickened, I poured the finished sauce over the pot pie mixture prior to covering the dish with puff pastry and baking it off.

The results? Outstanding! This is a truly spectacular pot pie! There is something so luscious about the combination of apples, bacon, turnips and leeks. The apple really adds something special; a slightly tangy, almost wine-like flavor that rounds out the whole dish. As the pie bakes, the veggies release more water, creating an incredibly flavorful sauce that's just right when soaked up by that yummy puff pastry.

Seriously, Noodle, this is one of the best pot pies I've ever had! Its a recipe I know I'll return to again and again. I love that you've used the ground turkey - something that wouldn't have occurred to me - and having only one layer of pastry crust makes it *slightly* healthier than my typical double-crust version. Not "Beachy" by a long shot, but absolutely perfect for this wicked winter weather. Adding the apple was truly inspired - I love this dish!!

My suggestion for the day: run, don't walk to Tangled Noodle's place and grab her pot pie recipe here. Tell her Diva sent you.

And, stay tuned ... you never know when I might cook you!

Happy Valentine's weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Crackers

Have you ever noticed that you can live your whole life without ever hearing a certain term, or about some product, or car, or movie, or book - and then, all of a sudden, BOOM, its everywhere?

Case in point: chia seeds.

Other than those freaky little Chia Pets, I've given zero thought to anything chia over these past 40-whatever years. Now chia seeds are everywhere, including my fridge.

It all started with this post on ChezWhat?, announcing the grand opening of his new store on OpenSky. I like to be a good neighbor, so I clicked over and started browsing around - lo and behold, I see he's offering chia seeds. Wait, what?! And beside the description, there's this mysterious comment: "What is your favorite way to add chia seeds to your diet?" Wait, what??

Not more than 24 hours later, I'm standing in the shallow end of the pool with my pal, Becky, and as we don our flippers, she asks me if I've heard about chia seeds. I laugh, then almost drown. Clearly the universe is trying to tell me something: I need more chia in my diet.

Turns out that chia seeds are kind of a super-food. They're high in fiber, protein and calcium; and they pack a powerful Omega-3 punch as well. Chia seeds have been shown to lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, and slow the breakdown of carbohydrates in the body due to their remarkable ability to absorb water. The list goes on and on.

Becky suggested a product called FitFlax - a blend of roasted flax and chia seeds. I wasted no time in hunting them down. So far, they've made their delicious way into my oatmeal and yogurt, dusted the top of a few salads - I'm tempted to put them in everything. They're wonderful! Not content to stick with the ordinary, this past weekend I turned them into crackers.

I used Joy Manning's cracker recipe, found on her blog, The Oyster Evangelist. I used 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup of King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour and added 1 1/2 tablespoons of FitFlax to the mix. Other than that, I followed Joy's recipe - though prior to baking, I dusted the top of my crackers with a bit of Fleur de Sel and some sweet paprika. The results? Magnificent! These crackers are crisp, crunchy, and thoroughly delicious. Frankly, they're addictive - I could probably polish off the batch in one go.

Joy suggests pairing them with some creamy, runny cheese ... drool ... but I'm here to tell you they're amazing all on their own. The roasted flax has a nice, nutty flavor and the chia seeds offer a flavor similar to poppy seeds. Winning combination to be sure and perfect for a cracker/flat bread. They're a terrific vehicle for hummus as well. I'm baking another batch today. Honestly, I can't recommend this simple and simply delicious recipe highly enough ... with or without the chia seeds. They're just.that.good.

The crackers take all of 15 minutes to make and the results are so much better - and so much better for you - than any store bought brand. Bonus - they're South Beach Friendly too. I hope you'll try them. Pop on over to Joy's blog and you'll find the recipe here.

So, what about you? Are you adding chia seeds to your diet or do you prefer to grow them on the terra cotta head of a former US President? Crunchy Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

p.s. - Please note that the seeds found in Chia Pet products are NOT suitable for eating.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spicy Asian Beef Noodle Bowl

I have no idea how authentic this dish is, or even from what country it might hail. I didn't ask for its passport - hell, I didn't even have a recipe. I simply assembled a bunch of stuff I like and started cooking.

The result? A big, BOLD, beautiful soup/noodle bowl that is sure to warm up even the chilliest of days.

Spicy Asian Beef Noodle Bowl:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound of lean beef sirloin, cut into small cubes
  • salt and pepper
  • one 14 1/2 ounce can of vegetable broth
  • 4 cups low-sodium beef broth or stock
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, peeled
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns, white or black
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili garlic paste/sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups of peeled, cubed yellow turnips (rutabaga) cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 small shallot, peeled and sliced
  • 8 - 10 large shitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of fresh baby spinach
  • 8 ounces of cooked udon or soba noodles (I used whole wheat udon)
  • some chopped fresh scallions for garnish
Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed soup or stock pot. Dust the beef cubes with a bit of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. When the oil is hot, but not yet smoking, add the seasoned beef to the pot and saute, to brown on all sides. Remove beef from pot, place in a small bowl, cover and reserve in the fridge.

Drain any excess fat from the pan and return the pan to the stove. Add the vegetable and beef broths to the pan, along with the onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, peppercorns, chili garlic sauce, honey, unseasoned rice wine vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Stir well to combine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and allow the mixture to come to the boil - then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove from heat and strain the broth into a large bowl though a fine mesh sieve to remove the solids and spices. Discard solids, return the broth to the pot and place over medium high heat. Add the carrots, turnip, and shallot to the pan, along with the reserved beef cubes. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the turnips are tender and cooked through out.

Meanwhile, brown the sliced shitake mushrooms in a cast iron skillet or some such pan. Once browned, add them to the soup.

Have ready some cooked udon or soba noodles. Just before serving, add the baby spinach to the soup and stir to wilt, about 1 minute. To serve: place some noodles in the bottom of a deep bowl and over them, ladle the finished soup. Garnish with some chopped fresh scallions, serve and enjoy!

Additionally, you might also choose to garnish this soup with some chopped fresh cilantro and a wedge of lime. As written, this recipe will serve 4 to 5.

The inspiration for this dish came from a meal I had at a local pan-Asian place that's long, long gone. I can no longer remember if they used turnips or sweet potatoes in their soup, but I love turnips, so there you go. If you don't, feel free to substitute the sweet potatoes.

Alternately, you could make this a vegetarian meal, by eliminating the beef and using all vegetable stock. I think it would be delicious.

This bold soup has a really nice, well rounded flavor. The warmth of the ginger, cinnamon and anise really enhance the broth and the carrots and turnips absorb all of that yummy goodness. There's a nice hit of heat on the finish, due that chili garlic paste, but its subtle and altogether pleasant. If you really like things hot, go ahead and add a bit more chili paste to your bowl as you serve.

This is a luscious and healthy meal in a bowl that's just perfect for these bitter mid-winter days. If this doesn't warm you up, I don't know what will. I hope you'll try it!

Bon appetite!

p.s. - I'll be submitting this to Kahakai Kitchen for Deb's famous Souper Sundays round up. Thanks, Deb!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Happy Weekend

I suppose everyone is gearing up for big game this weekend ... oddly enough, I'm not. There's a lot going on Chez Diva and we really don't have a horse in this race ... so no big Super Bowl plans to report on my end.

If you are gearing up to watch and host, I offer a few quick and easy recipes from the archives that might suit your snacking needs:

Herbed White Bean Spread - somewhat akin to hummus and really good when paired with raw veggies, pita chips or any kind of cracker.

Zesty Old Bay Dip - serve with chips for an unexpected and thoroughly delicious alternative to onion dip.

Creamy Spinach and Feta Dip - (pictured above) my personal favorite! This dip is so good - and versatile too. Its perfect paired with raw veggies and any kind of chip ... and I've even used the leftovers for a quick and easy pasta sauce. Bonus, its healthy too ... but don't tell your guests, they won't even notice!

This afternoon, I'm off to attend the grand re-opening of our local Ronald McDonald House's kitchen. Former Top Chef contestants Dave Martin and Andrea Beaman will be on hand to help inaugurate the new, state-of-the-art kitchen and they'll be doing a little mini-challenge with the kids. Should be fun!

Needless to say I'll post a full report next week. And, who knows, I might actually cook something and post about it then too. Stranger things have happened ... stay tuned!

So what are you up to this weekend? Are you hosting for the big game or stuffing yourself with someone else's chow? Curious Diva wants to know.

Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Its seems I've been on a somewhat unintended, yet rather necessary, little hiatus.

It all started with a book: "American Wife" - and once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. And while I was reading that, I should have been reading this: "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present." So this week, I've been curled up on the couch, a mug of hot tea by my side, and a copy of "When Everything Changed" in my hands. I've been hibernating and its delightful!

Delightful and productive ... I finished "When Everything Changed" yesterday afternoon, just in time for my book club's discussion of it tonight. Phew! I've been part of a book club for the past 12 years and I love it. Prior to joining the club, I probably wouldn't have picked up a book like this, as I vastly prefer fiction to non-fiction. But that's the great thing about a reading group, it stretches one's boundaries.

Written by Gail Collins, and published just last Fall, "When Everything Changed" is a remarkably informative history of American women's lives over the past 50 years. Chronicling everything from politics to fashion, the sexual revolution to changes in family dynamics, this book offers a broad yet intimate perspective on the struggle of women to gain parity in all facets of society. Collins uses a deft mix of historical record and personal stories to tell the tale; weaving together the accounts of "average" American women with those of the famous (i.e. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan - and even Sarah Palin, among others) to create a history that's as compelling as it is informative.

While I greatly enjoyed this book, I must say that I preferred Collins' first book in the series - "America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines" ... and I think its because of my age. I've lived through most of what was written in "When Everything Changed" and, save for the parts related to the early 1960's - I remember it all. "America's Women" begins with the history of our country ... and I'm not that old, so, consequently, it was more illuminating for me. It will be interesting to see how the rest of my group feels.

That said, I do recommend it. In fact, I recommend all three of the books I've mentioned. February is such a dreary month - though there's something almost inviting about that dreariness. The bitter temps and snowy skies seem to issue an invitation to simply curl up and read; to ignore the necessary and escape to other climes, other countries, other times. I've already succumbed to the siren's song of my next book: "Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris" ... and I probably don't need to tell you where I'll be spending the rest of this day ... mentally in Paris, physically on my couch.

I know I've got a foodblog to run here and I promise I'll get back to it. The husband will need to eat again at some point, after all.

For now, what are you reading? Curious and cozy Diva wants to know!

Happy Reading!