Friday, April 30, 2010

Chocolate Chunk Pecan Cookies

What happens when its nearly May and you have a leftover chocolate Easter bunny hanging around? Why you hack him up and make cookies out of him, of course!

Chocolate Chunk Pecan Cookies:
  • 1 and 2/3 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup melted butter (slightly less than 1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 7 ounces of milk or dark chocolate, cut into large chunks
  • 3/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • Fleur de Sel, for sprinkling, if desired
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda and whisk well with a wire whisk to combine. Set aside.

2. Pour the melted butter into the bowl of your electric mixer and add the brown sugars, beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the egg and beat on high until combined. Add the vanilla extract and continue to beat until incorporated.

3. Add the reserved flour mixture, by thirds, beating until just combined. Add the chocolate chunks and the chopped pecans and mix until thoroughly incorporated.

4. Using a small soup spoon, form mixture into 1 1/2 inch round balls, packing in the chocolate chunks where necessary, and place on an cookie sheet, roughly an inch or two apart. If desired, sprinkle the top of each cookie with a bit of Fleur de Sel and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 12 - 14 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cook.

As written this recipe will yield approximately 32 to 34 cookies.

Because I'm a salt freak, and because I generally find commercial milk chocolate too sweet, I opted to include the sprinkle of salt. My sacrificial Easter bunny was make of milk chocolate and I like the way the little crunch of salt offsets the sweet chocolate.

If you don't happen to have an extra bunny lying around, any form of chocolate chunk will do. I used a mix of light and dark brown sugar in these cookies, but either will do just fine. And, as always, I opted for my beloved King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour. While the resulting cookies don't exactly qualify as a health-food, I see no reason not to use a whole wheat product in place of all-puprose flour where possible. Your mileage may vary, of course.

If you've never worked with a cookie dough made with melted butter, I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised. The dough is velvety smooth and the finished cookies have a nice, almost faintly butterscotch flavor. They're wonderful.

Bon appetite!

p.s. - I'm submitting this recipe to Dinner at Christina's fun Friday Firsts Feature. Be sure to stop by Christina's place and check out all of the delicious "firsts" this week!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Scholastic Edition

Earlier this week, the husband and I took part in a wonderful class at the Astor Center. It was an evening devoted to learning about botanical spirits, conducted by master mixologists James Moreland and Jonathan Pogash. And the best part? It was a hands-on experience. We had the opportunity to not only taste a variety of botanicals, but to mix up our own cocktails with them as well. Sweet!

Without getting too technical here, botanicals are any plant or plant parts that are valued for their medicinal properties. A short list includes but is not limited to: juniper berries, cinnamon, chamomile, nutmeg, grains of paradise, anise, licorice, black pepper, etc. Perhaps the most well known botanical spirit is gin.

Botanical oils are used in the distillation of gin to build bridges back to the juniper berries which are the most predominant flavor component of gin. The botanical oils added to premium gins (such as Hendricks, Bombay Sapphire and G'Vine) bounce up and down on the tongue and hit the palate in different locations, giving the gin "stretch" - or a longer, more complex finish. Which is why I must and still insist that gin is far more interesting than vodka!

The following spirits also fall into the botanical category: amaro, vermouth, absinthe, Cherry Heering, and all forms of bitters. In the picture above, you can see my tasting flight, composed of G'Vine Gin, Luxardo Amaro, Luxardo Bitters, Carpano Antica Formula (a white vermouth) and Lucid Absinthe. Each was more delicious than the next, though I particularly enjoyed the Luxardo Amaro, the Caprano Antica vermouth, and the Lucid Absinthe.

After enjoying the presentation and the tastings, we got down to some serious mixing - beginning with a recipe for a classic "sour". Sour cocktails first appeared on the scene sometime back in 1862, and they are among the easiest cocktails to craft. A sour is the perfect way to enjoy almost any spirit because its so beautifully balanced. Feel free to substitute whiskey or vodka for the gin in the following recipe, if you so desire.

Classic Gin Sour:
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounce of gin
Pour the lemon juice, simple syrup and gin into a martini shaker and fill it with ice. Close shaker and shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

You'll note that the shot above shows half of a sour ... because I was so enthralled with this delightful little sipper, I was halfway through before I remembered to take a picture! This drink was made with Bombay Sapphire and it was exquisite.

Following the sour, we shook things up a bit by muddling a variety of fruits and herbs that were placed around our stations for use. In this case, I used some watermelon and fresh mint, while the husband grabbed some watermelon and fresh basil. Both were equally delightful! It may look like something of a mess in the glass, but it was getting late and by this time we were on our third drink! The presentation may have suffered, but I assure you, the drink was magnificent.

Recipe for a Basic Muddled Drink:
  • 3 wedges of fresh lemon or lime
  • 2 chunks of fresh watermelon
  • 10 fresh mint leaves (or 3 to 4 large basil leaves)
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces gin
Place the lemon or lime wedges, watermelon and mint (or basil) into the bottom of a martini shaker and muddle with a muddling tool, pressing up and down 4 to 5 times to extract the lemon juice and crush the watermelon and mint. Add the gin and fill the rest of the shaker with ice. Cover and shake briefly to combine, then pour into a tall glass. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

Here again, you may substitute vodka for the gin ... though I wouldn't! The fruit may be varied as well. I know that some members of the class used mango, rather than watermelon, and I'm sure that you could use a variety of fresh berries in season too. Experiment and have fun with this recipe!

I can't say enough good things about the Astor Center. The facility is magnificent, the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable, and James and Jonathan were outstanding instructors. There was no shortage of booze on hand, and each station was also provided with tumblers of water and a basket of fresh bread and cheese on which to nibble during the festivities. Plus, each participant was given a lovely little boozy swag bag to take away. Bonus! The Astor Center offers a wide variety of both food and spirits workshops and I recommend them highly if you are in the New York City area. I know I'll be back for another class and soon.

In other news, its come to my attention that there's another food blog offering a Thirsty Thursdays feature out there: Cafe Lynnylu ... so you can party hop. Be sure to stop by and see what Lynnylu is mixing up today and tell her Diva sent you!

I've got pages and pages of notes from the class on botanicals that I'll be sharing with you in the weeks to come. For now, why not give yourself a treat and mix up one of these yummy little sippers? Its Thursday and I know you're thirsty.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Key Lime Pie Recipe

We dined en familia, with the husband's family, at the home of my brother and sister in law on Saturday night and I made the dessert. A lovely Key Lime Pie, to be exact.

Key Lime Pie might just be my favorite kind of pie to make. Its easy, incredibly delicious, and the bright, tart flavor seems just right for early spring.

One of the nicest things about making this pie, is that the filling only requires four ingredients: egg yolks, lime zest, sweetened condensed milk and key lime juice. Of course, its the lime juice that really counts. Key limes are smaller and more tart than regular (Persian) limes and they are technically in season from May to September. If you are unable to find key limes in your market, you can always default to bottled key lime juice, as I've done here.

Key lime juice is generally available in specialty markets and in some grocery stores. In this case, I used Nellie & Joe's, which I found at Zabar's.

Key Lime Pie:
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • zest from 2 large limes, finely grated (you can use regular limes)
  • one 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup key lime juice
  • 9 inch graham cracker crust
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Pour the egg yolks and lime zest into the bowl of your standing electric mixer and, with the wire whisk attachment, beat them on high speed until the yolks are pale in color and very fluffy, about 5 full minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

2. With the mixer still running, add the entire can of sweetened condensed milk in a slow steady stream and continue beating, on high, for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

3. Lower the mixer speed to medium-low and add the key lime juice in a slow steady stream and mix until its just incorporated. Do not over mix.

4. Using a rubber spatula to get every drop, pour the mixture into the graham cracker crust, place the filled pie on a cookie sheet, and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the custard has set. (I baked mine for 20 minutes.) Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate. Keep pie refrigerated until serving, so it will stay firm. Serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream.

As written this recipe will yield one amazing pie!

And, just so we're clear, yes, that is a store bought graham cracker crust. So sue me, I don't enjoy making crusts. If you enjoy making crusts, by all means, opt for home made!

There are dozens and dozens of recipes for key lime pie in the world, each with the same combination of ingredients, though the amount of lime juice tends to vary. I like a tart pie, so I opt for more key lime juice. If you're unable to find either key limes or the bottled juice, you can substitute regular lime juice, though the flavor of the finished pie will be less tart.

I like to make the pie they day before I want to serve it, so the flavors will have a chance to develop as the pie rests in the fridge.

So, what's your favorite kind of pie to make? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Earth Day Edition

I'm fond of saying that everyone is thirsty on Thursdays ... but what if we were truly thirsty? What if we were the kind of thirsty that results from having no access to clean water?

Did you know that:
  • Less than 2% of the earth's water supply is fresh.
  • Only 1% of the earth's water supply is available for drinking. 2% is frozen.
  • 88% of deaths in the world result from illnesses borne of unsafe drinking water and inadequate water available for hygiene. 18% of all under the age of 5 deaths result from these same conditions, resulting in more 4,000 child age deaths (world wide) per day for lack of clean, fresh water.
  • The average American uses 140 - 170 gallons of water per day.
  • A leaky faucet can waste up to 100 gallons of water per day.
  • If you were to leave the faucet running while brushing your teeth, approximately 5 gallons of water would be wasted down the drain.
  • A dishwasher uses 9 - 12 gallons of water, while washing dishes by hand can use up to 20 gallons.
  • Every day in the United States we drink about 110 million gallons of water.
We are blessed to have the clean, available water we have in this country. Public water suppliers process 38 billion gallons of water a day for domestic and public use in this country and we are lucky to have every drop. While we may take a ready supply of clean water from the tap for granted, many in the world are not so fortunate.

Rather than posting a cocktail recipe today, I thought I would honor Earth Day by providing some simple ideas for water conservation.
  • Fix any and all leaky faucets.
  • Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full.
  • Store drinking water in the refrigerator rather than letting the tap run if you'd like a cool glass of water.
  • Re-use any left-over clean water for watering plants, or cleaning chores, rather than pouring it down the drain.
  • Do not use a hose to clean your sidewalk or driveway. Letting the hose run can waste hundreds of gallons of water. Instead, use a broom to sweep sidewalks and driveways.
  • Do not let the water run when you are shaving or brushing your teeth.
  • Water lawns and gardens during the early morning or late evening hours of the day, when the water is less likely to evaporate from the heat of the sun.
  • Take short showers rather than baths. A full bathtub requires an average of 36 gallons of water. Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you can save up to 150 gallons per month.
  • Replace large shower heads with water-efficient models.
  • Avoid buying and using recreational toys that require a constant flow of water.
  • Use a commercial car wash that recycles water.
  • Use water saving aerators on all of your faucets.
Obviously, this list is just the tip of the iceberg ... so to speak. There are hundreds of things, hundreds of little things, we can all do every day to conserve water.

Lastly, a few facts about bottled water:
  • $35 billion: the amount of money spent on bottled water in the most developed countries in the world.
  • 1.5 million: Barrels of crude oil used for making plastic water bottles, globally. This is enough oil to fuel 100,000 American cars for a year.
  • 2.7 tons: the amount of plastic used to bottle water, 86% of which becomes garbage and litter.
For the love of Mother Earth, buy yourself a re-useable water bottle, made of recycled materials, and use it. I know I can do better on this front ... how about you?

I suspect this information will not be new to most readers. I offer it as a simple reminder of how fortunate we are, and as a gentle invitation for each of us to do our part. While the tips offered may seem minor, they all add up and every drop counts. Be good and do your part, and I promise the Diva will reward you with a luscious cocktail next week.

So, how are you honoring Earth Day 2010? Feel free to add your water conservation tips and any other earth-friendly measures you've taken in the comments. Curious Diva wants to know.

Cheers and Happy Earth Day!

Statistical information for this article was complied from: The Mojave Water Agency, Planet Green, and the EPA

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Epic Waffle Fail

If you're thinking this is a picture of an epic waffle fail, you'd be right. I was betrayed by a new recipe last night.

While flipping through an old cookbook, Burt Wolf's "Eating Well", I came across a recipe for some oatmeal waffles. The batter seemed to have all of the necessary ingredients, and I was intrigued by the mix of whole wheat flour, cornmeal and rolled oats. But, darned if they weren't a squirrel-y bunch of waffles. They all wanted to stick ... even though I have a non-stick waffle iron.

Eventually, I got it right and we did dine upon waffles and Irish bacon for dinner last night. They were tasty, but I'm not going to offer the recipe. The batter was a bit too thick and I have a feeling it needed more fat. I'm going to play around with it before I post it here, because I do so love cornmeal in my waffles.

In the meantime, I will direct you to two other waffle recipes that recently peaked my interest. The first is Astra Libris' Perfect Whole Wheat Waffle ... these are the waffles I should have made! And the second is a delicious looking Multi-grain Waffle found on 101 Cookbooks - which boasts the addition of poppy seeds for a unique twist.

So, have you had any epic failures lately? Do tell. Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Signs of Spring

The wait is over. Bro's asparagus bed is in its third year of existence and, finally, we are able to harvest and enjoy the fruits of his labors!

The Diva even got in on the action and picked a few stalks herself. Now this is *my* kind of gardening ... someone else does all of the work and I reap what they sow! ;)

Honestly, it was the best asparagus I've ever had - tender, sweet, and thoroughly delicious! There is nothing like enjoying truly fresh from the garden produce. Talk about farm-to-table! Within minutes of picking the beautiful stalks, they were lightly drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and roasted quickly in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. They emerged emerald green, beautifully caramelized on one side, and incredibly tender. Not the least bit woody or stringy, like that stuff you often find in the grocery store.

Patience is not one of my virtues, but in this case, it was worth the three year wait. HUGE props to my bro and his mad gardening skillz. I know we'll be enjoying this asparagus bed for years to come.

Sings of Spring were all around the garden this weekend. A small, perfectly formed nest was found tucked away in the grape arbor beside the edge of the garden.

A riot of red and white tulips have raised their pretty heads among the gnarled vines. And bro's garlic patch looks like its ready to take over the world. Let the harvesting begin!

Bon appetite!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Green Tea Martini Edition

Ok, people, its clear we need to talk about this whole gin thing. I knew I was taking a risk when I selected gin for my first Thirsty Thursdays Cocktail Challenge. I knew that many of you have expressed a preference for vodka. But here's the thing: anything you can make with vodka you can make with gin ... and it will be better!

Why? Because gin is more flavorful. Because of the botanicals with which gin is made, it is inherently more flavorful - thus your cocktails will be more flavorful. Now, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against vodka, I quite like it, in fact. But if you're serious about cocktails, and heaven knows I am, then you seriously need to start working with gin.

Thus, I propose a little experiment for those interested. Today, I'm featuring a gin based green tea martini. My suggestion for experimentation is that you make this same drink twice - once with vodka and once with gin. Then decide for yourself which one tastes better. I know what I think, but your mileage may vary, of course.

Green Tea Martini:
  • 1 green tea bag
  • hot water
  • 3 ounces of premium quality gin (I use Hendrick's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 2 to 3 drops white vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • wheel of lemon for garnish
Place tea bag into a mug and over it pour some hot water, just to cover. Let sit for 10 seconds and remove tea bag. Place gin into small glass container and to it add the tea bag. Allow the mixture to steep for five minutes, then remove tea bag and discard it. To the infused gin, add 1/2 teaspoon of honey and stir to blend.

Place 2 to 3 drops of white vermouth into a martini glass. Swirl the glass to coat with the vermouth, then dump out any excess. Reserve the glass.

Fill a martin shaker with ice and over it pour the infused gin and the lemon juice. Shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts then strain into the prepared martini glass. Garnish with a wheel of lemon. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written this recipe will yield one amazingly refreshing cocktail.

The flavor of the green tea pairs beautifully with gin, especially Hendrick's. The lemon and honey round the whole thing out and, together, they form one ethereal elixir. Honestly, its a magical combination. I hope you'll try it!

I have to thank Kara Newman for highlighting the flash-infusing process on her blog a while back. She posted a recipe for a Daikon Green Tea-ni that looks absolutely smashing. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to try it. And I will ... soon. This time, however, I opted for the honey and lemon for the simple reason that my throat's been scratchy and tea with honey and lemon is the perfect cure ... made that much better by the addition of gin, of course!

Consider this my subtle plea to step away from the vodka bottle and give gin a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. And, hopefully, you'll be inspired to enter my April Thirsty Thursdays Cocktail Challenge.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Banana Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Muffins

Talk about feeling foolish ... I had every intention of entering last week's Blogger's Secret Ingredient Challenge (BSI). The secret ingredient, as chosen by Christina of Dinner at Christina's, was sour cream. Wonderful, I love sour cream. I knew right away that I wanted to bake something and I bought all of the ingredients to do so on Sunday.

I did not, however, make careful note of the challenge entry deadline. It was midnight on Sunday ... and I had planned to bake the muffins on Monday. Oops! No wonder I've never participated in BSI, I can't seem to get my act together!

And, meanwhile, I've got a bunch of bananas ripening on my counter and a tub of sour cream in the fridge. Let's get to it, shall we?

Better Late Than Never Banana Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Muffins:
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder, optional
  • 3 ripe bananas, peeled
  • 1 cup of reduced fat sour cream
  • 1 stick of butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Pre heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

1. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and Chinese Five Spice Powder. Whisk well with a wire whisk to combine and set aside.

2. Break the bananas into thirds and place the in the bowl of your food processor, pulse until chopped. Add 1 cup of sour cream to the bananas and process until combined and smooth. Reserve. (Alternately, you could mash bananas with a fork and whisk in the sour cream by hand.)

3. Using an standing electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well until light and fluffy.

4. Add the flour mixture by thirds, alternating with the banana mixture, beating only until blended, until all of the dry and wet ingredients have been added. Do not over beat. Add the mini chocolate chips and fold-in to incorporate, using a rubber spatula.

5. Grease a large muffin tin with butter and fill each cup 3/4 of the way up with batter. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 18 - 22 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked throughout. Baking time will vary depending on the speed of your oven. The muffins are cooked when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack. Serve warm.

As written, this recipe will yield 18 muffins.

While I may not have made them in time for the BSI challenge, I'm exceedingly glad I made these muffins period. They are spectacular! Moist, tender, just-sweet-enough, and full of that oh-so-luscious chocolate/banana flavor. They're so good I could smack myself!

As always, you should feel free to vary the choice of flour according to your needs. You can use 2 cups of all-purpose white flour, or any combination of the above. In addition, you may also choose to use 1/2 cup of agave nectar, in place of the sugar. If so, bake the muffins at 325 degrees F and begin checking for done-ness at 15 to 18 minutes.

The origin of these muffins is unclear. I found the recipe on a scrap of paper in my battered old recipe box and I've changed it up a bit by reducing the amount of sugar, using reduced fat sour cream and adding the spices. As far as the spices go, feel free to experiment. I love the subtle hint of warmth the Chinese Five Spice brings to the mix and cinnamon is always a must for me. Your mileage may vary, of course.

So, do you bake with sour cream? If so, what's your favorite way to include it? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Saturday Shopping

The weather was just gorgeous here this weekend, so we decided to head down to the Lower East Side for a bit of gourmet shopping. I was lucky enough to have a 20% coupon for some of the shops in the Essex Street Market, courtesy of Tasting - and we put them too good use!

If you haven't yet heard of Tasting Table, I urge you to take a look. On the main page, you can sign up for free daily "Epicurean Emails" that highlight everything you need to know about food, dining, wine, and cocktails in your area. There is a national edition as well as specific editions for: New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Naturally, we needed to fortify ourselves for the shopping excursion - so our first stop was The Meatball Shop on Stanton Street. The Meatball Shop has been getting a lot of press lately and, I'll be honest, I was a bit skeptical ... we all know how picky I am about meatballs. Happily, The Meatball Shop was everything I hoped it would be and more!

We chose to have our meatballs in the form of "sliders", so we could sample a couple of different offerings. I had one "Classic Beef" paired with "Classic Tomato Sauce" and one chicken meatball, paired with "Spicy Meat Sauce". Both were outstanding, but oddly enough, I preferred the chicken. Surprisingly, it had more flavor, perhaps due to the spicy meat sauce. The husband also had a classic beef and one "Spicy Pork" paired with "Parmesan Cream Sauce" ... which was also exceptional. In all cases, the meatballs were tender and juicy, and I love the soft little brioche rolls on which they were served.

I rounded out the meal with side of the roast vegetables of the day: honey roasted carrots with dates, mint and walnuts. Delicious! And we closed the festivities with one of their famous ice cream sandwiches. They make both the ice cream and the cookies in house and the choices are truly crave-worthy. Unfortunately, they were out of both the chocolate and caramel ice creams on Saturday, so the husband chose vanilla ice cream between brownie cookies ... and it was spectacular! If you're anywhere near NYC, I strongly recommend a visit to The Meatball Shop. Great atmosphere, friendly staff, and a really great menu. Take a spin around their site, you'll see what I mean.

Thus fortified, we set off to the market, coupon in hand, where our first stop was Saxelby Cheesemongers. Saxelby features artisinal American farmsted cheese, crafted by hand in small batches from local Northeastern dairies. Pictured left, is the Hudson Red (from Twin Maple Farm in Ghent, New York) - a luscious, tangy, raw cow's milk cheese, similar in texture and taste to Taleggio. At right, the Vermont Shepherd (from Major Farm in Putney, VT) - a raw, aged, sheep's milk cheese, similar in texture to a cheddar, with a nice, nutty, savory finish.

We enjoyed both with the truffle honey I mentioned last week and some lovely multigrain bread purchased at Pain D'Avignon at the Essex Street Market.

Cheese and bread procured, we then set off to Roni-Sue's Chocolates to get our hands on some of her unusual and delicious confections. We were lucky enough to score a taste of her famous buttercrunch ... which was so good we just had to buy some! And there was no way I was leaving Roni-Sue's without a bag of her infamous BaCorn - homemade caramel corn studded with candied bacon bits and roasted chile spiked peanuts. Oh ... my ... stars, this stuff is good! Too good to share, so get your own bag when go! Naturally, we also had to pick up a small box of her chile spiked chocolate truffles. I mean, really, chiles and chocolate, what's not to love? Each was more spicy than the next and all were insanely delicious. Take a spin around Roni-Sue's site and do some drooling of your own. She's well worth the trip downtown all on her own!

As if that weren't enough, we closed the day with a long walk across the Williamsburg Bridge and popped into Marlow and Daughters for some meat. Grass-fed, house-cut steaks, to be exact. A giant, half cow for the husband and the sister-in-law to split, and a petite something or other for the Diva! The husband grilled them up, while I prepared some insanely good roast pink and white potatoes - also purchased at Marlow. Fear not, we rounded out the meal with a healthy serving of steamed broccoli ... and finished it off with the chile spiked chocolates!

I'd tell you that I may never eat again - except that I ended up loosing 2 pounds this weekend - probably from all that walking!

And there you have a rather lengthy look at the tasty treats available on the Lower East Side. My thanks to Tasting for the 20% off coupons and to the husband and sister-in-law for sharing the excursion with me.

So, what was on your menu this weekend? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Challenge Edition

I'm excited to announce the first ever Thirsty Thursdays Challenge today! I mean, honestly, I've been doing all the bar tending work around here, its about time I let you in on the fun. I've been meaning to do this for ages now and this month, finally, its on!

Here's the scoop: each month the challenge will feature a specific spirit or ingredient and, to enter, you will be asked to create a cocktail using that spirit or ingredient. I will choose a winner and the winner will have the honor of choosing the next spirit or ingredient for the following month. At least that's the plan so far. Let's see how it goes, as the challenge may continue to evolve. And, hopefully, I'll find a sponsor for some prizes along the way.

The spirit for this month's challenge is: Gin.

Gin is a colorless, or white, spirit that is most often distilled from grains such as wheat or rye. Traditionally, gin is flavored with juniper and usually includes a variety of botanicals, such as anise, cinnamon, orange peel, coriander, lemon, lime, licorice, etc., depending on the brand. Gin pairs beautifully with almost any kind of fruit, and any kind of herb ... so think outside the box, or bottle, if you will.

Suggested pairings might include: pomegranate, apricots, blackberries, cucumbers, ginger, honey, sage, rosemary, basil, mint, cilantro, rose water, champagne or curry powder. It goes without saying that citrus fruits are particularly well suited to pairing with gin, but I've also had great success with strawberries and watermelon. (Click those links for recipes.)

The options are endless, so use your imagination!

The Rules:

1. Create a cocktail using gin as the base and write a blog entry about it. Post your entry sometime before midnight on Thursday, April 29th. Previous blog posts in which you've offered a recipe for a gin-based cocktail will be accepted.

2. Blog about your Thirsty Thursdays Challenge cocktail, including photos, and include a link back to Beach Eats:

3. Send an email entitled "Thirsty Thursdays Challenge" to:

The email must include the following information:
  • Your name
  • The name of your blog
  • The name of your cocktail
  • The link to your blog entry and a photograph of your drink
  • Entries must be received by midnight on Thursday, April 29th
You can still participate, even if you don't have a blog. Simply send an email with the above information, minus the blog stuff, and I will include you in the round-up.

The round-up for this month's challenge will be posted on Thursday, May 6th and a winner will be declared at that time. For this month, the winner will be lavished with praise and have the honor of choosing next month's spirit or ingredient. Prizes may appear in the future, stay tuned.

Entries will be judged on originality, creative use of ingredients, and Divaliciousness. Say what?! Divaliciousness = that certain je ne sais quoi that makes me want to make your drink.

So get out your martini shakers and mix-up something Divalicious ... I'm getting thirsty over here.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chicken and Rice Casserole

How's about a little Leftover Magic today?

If you're anything like me, a trip through your refrigerator will often yield a somewhat disjointed collection of leftover bits in need of use. Perhaps a handful of steamed broccoli, some cooked rice, an assortment of pepper halves, a handful of button mushrooms, and maybe even a lonely half chicken that needs a good home. Or at least that's what I found last Wednesday as I was trying to throw dinner together.

The lesson for today isn't so much about a recipe, as I doubt you'll have the same ingredients lounging around your fridge, as it is about recycling ... using bits and pieces of other meals to create a new and satisfying dish. I recognize that this recipe may be better suited to last week's cooler temps, but given the holiday weekend, you might just have some leftovers of your own.

Let's face it, casseroles are where all straggling bits go to glory; so use what you've got. You can make this dish with rice, or leftover noodles, or any kind of pasta. You can make it with turkey, chicken, ham or roast pork. You can leave the meat out and double up on the veg. Its all good and all delicious ... especially when topped with cheddar cheese!

Basically, we're talking about a technique here: saute some veggies, make a roux, add some liquid, protein and a starch, then bake. It couldn't be more simple or more comforting.

Amounts here are flexible, as are ingredients.

Chicken and Rice Casserole:
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 bell pepper, any color or a poblano, seeded and diced
  • 1 shallot, peeled and minced
  • 8 button mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence (or whatever seasoning you like)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • dash of curry powder, if desired
  • 3 tablespoons flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 1 1/2 cups of non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of fat-free Half and Half (or milk)
  • 1/4 cup of sharp shredded cheese, cheddar, provolone or Parmesan
  • 1 to 2 cups of cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
  • 1 to 2 cups of steamed broccoli florets, chopped
  • 3 cups of cooked rice (I used a brown and wild rice mix)
  • some additional sharp cheese for topping
  • some bread crumbs for topping
1. Add the butter and olive oil to a large skillet and melt over medium-high heat. Add the peppers, shallots and mushrooms and saute, adding a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, and a dash of curry powder, if desired. Stir and saute until the vegetables begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Add 3 tablespoons of flour to the pan and stir well to blend, continue to saute for 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth to the pan, raise the heat to high and allow the mixture to come to the boil, stirring well. Let the mixture bubble away until it begins to thicken, roughly 3 to 4 minutes, then add the fat-free half and half and 1/4 cup of sharp shredded cheese. Stir well to combine.

3. Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees.

4. Add the cooked chicken, the broccoli and the rice, stirring well to combine. Add more liquid, if it seems necessary. Transfer the mixture to a buttered casserole dish and top with some whole wheat bread crumbs and some additional shredded sharp cheese. Bake in the middle of a pre-heated 325 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until beginning to brown and hot throughout. Serve and enjoy!

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

So what's your favorite way to re-use leftovers? Hungry Diva wants to know.

Bon appetite!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Spring!

Looks like we're finally going to have Spring in New York and hopefully its here to stay!

I'm a bit late in extending my Spring holiday wishes to you all, but nevertheless, I hope you've enjoyed whatever celebrations were on the menu for you last week.

Naturally, the Diva family and friends did some celebrating yesterday. We had our traditional Easter gathering in Brooklyn again this year at the home of my Divalicious sister-in-law H.

True to form, the festivities began with some nibbles. A selection of luscious cheese from Marlow & Daughters - and some marvelous truffle honey to go with, purchased from Chez What's Open Sky shop. The truffle honey was a huge hit and was spectacular when paired with the cheese, particularly that goat's milk blue that you see on the middle of the board. Some spicy Bloody Marys rounded out the pre-dinner pickings.

I'll be honest, The Diva was definitely off-duty yesterday ... both in terms of cooking and photographing. I made my signature mashed potatoes and our traditional Easter cake for dessert and that's about it. While I started strong with the appetizer pictures, my enthusiasm for photographing the day's events wained as hunger set in.

I got a shot of our Seven Hour Lamb before it hit the table and one of my lambie cake ... and that's about it!

We certainly enjoyed the feast. The table was loaded with: Seven Hour Roast Lamb, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, roasted brussels sprouts, spinach and asparagus quiche, an Italian sausage pie, dinner rolls, corn and carrot muffins and my cranberry blood orange butter.

The day was so sunny and warm, we decided to have our dessert up on the roof deck, with a view of the Williamsburg Bridge. Mama Diva provided a delicious selection of cookies and I brought our traditional lamb cake ... which looks more like a Labradoodle than it does a lamb! But that didn't stop us from hacking into it ... take a look at the "after" shot ...

Rather barbaric, isn't it? For those interested, the cake was made using Wilton's Stand-Up Lamb pan. It couldn't be easier and if you're more enterprising than I am, you can actually make it look like a lamb if you dust off your piping bag. I told you I was off-duty last week!

Many thanks to H. for hosting such a wonderful feast and to W. for bringing the wine and Easter treats! I may never eat again! ;)

So, how was your weekend? Celebratory Diva wants to know?

Happy Spring!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Moonshine Edition, Part Two

As you may have guessed, its been a busy week in Divaland. I've had little time to cook and zero time to write. That said, its Thirsty Thursday, so you know we'll be getting our drink on! As promised, we're going to revisit that white whiskey today.

I wish I could take credit for this cocktail, but I stole it from Waldy Malouf ... or one of his bartenders, to be more specific. You see, the husband and I had occasion to dine at Beacon recently, and prior to dinner we sipped on a really delightful cocktail. I believe it was called the Irish Sage. Made with Jameson's Irish whiskey, lemon and fresh sage, it was perfectly balanced and altogether delightful. No sooner did I take my first sip than I decided to mix up my own version using the Hudson New York Corn Whiskey.

Basically, this is a whiskey sour with a twist - a bit of sage mixed into the simple syrup and muddled into the drink. I'd tell you that its a perfect drink for warm weather ... but we seem to be in short supply of that lately. So if you're feeling like you need a little sunshine ... why not take it in liquid form?

The Sour Sage:
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 - 5 large fresh sage leaves, torn (or mint)
  • 1 ounce of lemon sage syrup (recipe to follow)
  • 3 ounces of white whiskey (alternately, you could use brown whiskey)
  • dash of lemon bitters, if desired
Pour the lemon juice into the bottom of a martini shaker and drop in the fresh sage. Muddle well, with a muddling tool, until the sage is coarsely ground. Drop in some ice and over it pour the lemon sage syrup, the white whiskey and a dash of lemon bitters. Cover and shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Strain into an ice filled rocks glass, garnish with a fresh sage leaf or slice of lemon. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

Traditionally, whiskey sours are made with white sugar, often in cube form. As you know, I'm not a huge fan of drinks made with sugar, so I've gone the agave route here. If you prefer, please feel free to substitute 1/2 cup of granulated sugar for the agave nectar in the syrup recipe below. Alternately, you could use some mint in lieu of the sage.

Lemon Sage Syrup:
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3 two inch slices of lemon peel
  • 4 large whole sprigs of sage, torn
Bring all of the above to the boil in a small sauce pan. Cover, reduce heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, strain and let cool before using.

So, how does it taste? Like really grown-up lemonade! Its tart, refreshing and certainly intriguing. The flavor of the corn whiskey, while somewhat tempered by the lemon, is present and up front. You definitely taste it, but the white dog is complimented by the fresh lemon and made all the more interesting for the subtle hint of sage.

This drink would be a perfect little refresher for a hot, sunny day. Its not at all sweet and it certainly goes down smooth. If you prefer a sweeter drink, by all means opt for the granulated sugar, or increase the agave.

While I enjoyed my solo sips of white whiskey last week, I find that I vastly prefer it cocktail form. I guess I'm not man enough to handle the white dog all on its own ... but add a little lemon and that dog heels just fine! Woof!

Stay tuned for more explorations of white whiskey in future Thirsty Thursday posts. I've got a whole bottle of the stuff, so its time to get creative.