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!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interview with a Triathlete: Part Two

A happy triathlete, ready to celebrate!

At this point, some of you may be wondering why a food blog is devoting three days, three posts, to a triathlon? That's a fair question. Certainly, familial pride plays a part in the answer; but the greater answer by far lies in my belief that we are collectively inspired and uplifted by witnessing another person achieve his or her goals. While most of us may not dream of crossing a Triathlon's finish line, we do dream. We set goals. Whether its shedding a few pounds, cutting down on sugar or fat, or simply trying to move away from processed foods - you all have goals of your own. I share them.

Who knows, maybe after reading this you'll be inspired to: join a gym, run an extra mile, or enter a road race of your own? I hope so. Hell, even choosing to forgo that extra helping of ice cream is a victory of sorts! It is my hope in telling Heather's story that you will be inspired to dream a little bigger, reach a little farther, and know that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.

Completing an Olympic-length Triathlon is such a tremendous accomplishment! How did it feel to cross the finish line? What was going through your mind when you did?

I felt great, mentally and physically! I felt like I accomplished what I set out to do, from just a pure goal standpoint. Physically, I felt good; I wasn't sick or feeling bad in any way, and I was really happy about that. I spoke a little about this on Sunday, after the race, but I wanted to run this race for my mom - to embody what she lived, the way she lived, her strength, her mental toughness and determination. This race really represented what she meant to me and I wanted to honor those qualities in her by running it.

Crossing the line, I also felt really good about, and frankly overwhelmed by, the love and support my family and friends showed for me by making a point to be there for me throughout the race and along the course. You cross the finish line and have all those emotions coming at you at once - the sense of accomplishment, the love and support, the feelings for and about my mother - and you kind of cry a little bit. I teared up. Then again, I cry at "Old Timer's Day" at the stadium, so there you go!

Physically, how did you feel after the race and on the day following?

I really felt good. A little sore in my legs, they're a little tired, but I feel like I could have worked out on Tuesday - at least the upper body. Circumstances made that impossible, but I do think I'll work out tomorrow. I didn't need or take any Advil or anything, I've just been resting my legs a bit. Funny, I've definitely continued the tuna and ice cream cravings. I had both again yesterday! I slept well on Sunday night and am continuing to hydrate. Its one of the things you can really control - your hydration, and it makes a huge difference in your body's ability to perform. Hydration is critical, both for performance and recovery.

Do you think, having now achieved this remarkable goal, that you will be able to draw on this success in other areas of your life? In what way/ways will reaching this goal impact your life in general?

I think what you draw on after reaching a goal like this, is your ability to have confidence in yourself. I set a goal and I achieved it ... I can set other goals and achieve them too. What I like about sports in general, and for me in particular, is the ability to control the outcome. There's an element of control that people crave in their lives, but you can't control so many things ... and in sports, you can. I can prepare, I can research, I can control my outcome. I may not be able to control getting a date, but I can control my race performance! And I feel like that experience is completely transferable to my career as well.

I'm happy in my career and, having done this now, I feel like I can set in place a plan to better manage my career so I'm controlling it, not having it control me. Its not a knock on where I am now at all, but I've reached a point where I want to be the master of that ship ... and I feel like completing the tri gives me the ability to do that. Its kind of like that saying about New York - if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere - accomplishing a major goal gives you that same mental toughness, and you can draw on it at any time. I know now that I can take on a lot of mental and physical stress.

Do you think you'll run the 2011 Nautica New York City Triathlon? And do you have any advice for those who are just starting out and want to attempt a tri?

I would definitely do it again. I think I'll put my name in for the lottery - they've changed the way they're doing it next year. But in some ways it depends on where I am in my life at that time. If I do it again next year, I will set more specific goals for each leg, time-wise. The way these races work, is that you commit to doing it in November, but your training doesn't really start until April, so its hard to say where I'll be in my life at that time next year. It will depend on that. Its a huge time commitment. I want to do it, but I won't do it if I can't do it right.

As for starting out and attempting a tri, its different for everyone. The path I took was one of building confidence through sprint (half-length) tri's. I ran the Danskin 2 years ago, and another one last year. Its a good way to start. I found the path of doing sprints helpful, but it depends on individual personality. There's no doubt that doing sprints helps, especially in terms of the transitions and knowing what to expect during a race. Though, if you're really confident, and can immerse yourself in the training, you can start with an Olympic. Its all about having the commitment, time and energy to do it ... and advance preparation.

There are so many resources out there now - even on YouTube. You can actually watch YouTube videos on how to change out of a wet suit ... and I did! My advice would be to get as much information as possible - and the Internet is a great source. You can find everything you need online. Get involved in the "tri community" if you'd like to race - most sports shops have tri clubs, and you can find them online too. Its a very inclusive and supportive community.

If you're looking for a race in your area, check - they have a platform that all the national races hook into to calendar their events. Its a great resource.

You've always been athletic, do you think that gives you a leg up in racing? Or can anyone give it a shot?

I think being naturally athletic does give me a leg up, as does having played organized sports in high school and college. But I think it gives me more of a mental edge than a physical one. It gives me confidence in myself and makes me familiar with the process and what it takes. That said, I do think anyone can do a Tri, athletically inclined or not. The mental prep and the ability to follow a process are key.

I saw someone wearing a great shirt during the race. It said: "You never know if you don't Tri" ... and I believe that's true. From a physical perspective, if you train your body and eat right you can do this. (Assuming you're healthy, of course.) On the mental side, you can draw on past successes and experiences where you followed a process and ultimately achieved a goal.

Finally, what's next for you, in terms of competitive racing?

I think I'm going to do the Bronx half-marathon in August. I actually don't like running, so I feel like that's my challenge. Its 12 miles and the most I've ever done is 8. I feel like learning to run 4 more miles is do-able between now and next month. I've kind of been seduced by feeling healthy and loosing inches. I don't think I've lost weight - and that's fine, I wasn't trying to - but I've definitely lost inches. I'm in the best shape of my life ... and I like eating ice cream! You have to have balance!

Many, many thanks to Heather for allowing us into her head and for this glimpse into what its like to train for and run a triathlon. Even though I was supporting her throughout, I learned a lot from this interview and I hope you have too.

Traditional media does a wonderful job of highlighting the lives of professional athletes. That's a given. But I often feel they miss the mark when it comes to the every day athlete. Its the stories of these every day runners and racers that inspire me most - because while the pros get paid to do what they do, people like Heather (and like many of you) train within the context of their every day lives. They go to work, have families, friends, social obligations, etc., and still find time to achieve their goals.

This series is my way of saluting my wonderful sister in law, and saluting all of you every day athletes out there. Over 3,000 people ran in the NYC Triathlon on Sunday and the great majority of them were people like Heather. Every day athletes. If that's not inspiring, I don't know what is.


p.s. - On the menu tomorrow: chicken meatballs. Stay tuned and come hungry!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Winners! - 2010 Nautica New York City Triathlon Edition

Minutes away from the finish line.

I'll be honest, watching my sister-in-law compete in the 2010 Nautica New York City Triathlon last Sunday was one of the most thrilling events of my life. Watching someone you love achieve her goal is so inspiring and I couldn't have been more proud if I had run the race myself.

Not only did Heather finish the race - there was no doubt she would - but she did it with such style and grace, she almost made it look easy ... and she looked good doing it too! Heather, you are my hero!

Heather has graciously agreed to an interview with me so you can learn a little bit more about the race, what it felt like to run it, and how to prepare for a Tri. I hope you'll enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. And I hope you'll be inspired by this series too. As it turns out, the interview ran a bit longer than I had anticipated so I will present it in two parts.

Part One appears today, and Part Two will appear tomorrow. Fear not, we will return to our regular Thirsty Thursdays feature next week! As promised, I will also announce the winners of the Oceana water bottle give-away today at the end of this post.

I'll start with the obvious question: Swimming the Hudson ... as gross as it sounds? How did you feel once you jumped in and how did the swim go for you?

Well, its gross, but probably not as gross as the perception. There's a perception that the river is full of eels and garbage and toxic waste - but I didn't see any of that. The most unnerving thing about the Hudson is its taste. When you swim, you can't help but get water in your mouth and the Hudson is a mix of salt and fresh water. You definitely taste the salt ... mixed with a tinge of gasoline and motor oil! Its gross! I'll be honest, it turned me off.

I felt fine when I jumped in - I mean, I like water, I like swimming and its not like your skin starts tingling as soon as you hit the river. I was really anxious about it, prior to the race, but would feel more prepared for it if I did the race again. Despite all that, the swim went well for me because its such a fast current. The current gets stronger as the day goes on. I was on the early side of the current but it was still remarkably fast. That's the trade-off with the Hudson - it tastes awful, but it moves really fast!

You finished the race with an impressive time: 3 hours, 24 minutes, which was doubly impressive given the oppressive heat of the day. How were your transition times and did you feel like the weather was a factor for you in this race? Are you happy with your results?

I am happy with my results. I've been thinking about this a lot since Sunday - the goal I set for myself was to finish the race and feel good - not to finish in a set amount of time - and I did that. So I'm definitely happy. Heat was undoubtedly a factor (temps were in the 90s on Sunday), especially towards the end of the bike and certainly towards the end of my run. I ran almost 10 minutes slower than I usually do. Normally, I run 6 miles in under an hour, but on Sunday it took 1 hour and 4 minutes.

I was happy with the transitions, especially as I look back. My first transition, from the water to the bike, was 8 minutes. Initially that seemed long - but that transition area was 400 yards away from the end of the swim; plus you have to remove your wet suit, dry yourself off, put on your shoes, etc., it takes time. My second transition, from the bike to the run, was 3 minutes. I put a transition plan together prior to the race, so I felt really well prepared.

I spent 12 weeks conditioning my body for the race - and I put the same effort into forming a "race-day game plan", especially on the Friday and Saturday before the race. Nautica offered a transition over-view on the day before the race and I took them up on that. I wanted to physically see the area and know what to expect and how to navigate it. I knew the importance of forming a transition plan from past experience with sprint tri's, so I had a great foundation for how to prepare.

You've previously competed in two sprint (half-length) triathlons, but this was your first Olympic length race. Did the race feel twice as long?

Running the Danskin Sprint Tri two years ago gave me a strong foundation in terms of what to expect, how to prepare mentally, and planning for the things you don't think about like the transition plan and how to take off your wetsuit. You actually have to practice taking off the suit - multiple times. There wasn't anything that I did on Sunday that I hadn't done before - even eating GU (an energy gel which I really don't enjoy), so I knew what to expect and that helps.

It actually didn't feel twice as long! I don't know if that's because the Hudson is so fast - that may have made a difference. The bike started to feel a little long, probably because of the heat. But as far as the run goes, it kind of flew by. There were so many people along the course of the race, cheering, that you sort of lose track of how long you've been running. Prior to the race I was training six to eight mile runs - with no one cheering for me, and believe me, that can start to feel long. Having my friends and family out on the course cheering for me at different points along the way really sped it up.

It was obvious to me that you were really well prepared for the race. Can you tell us a little bit about your training schedule? Did you use a professional training organization?

I entered into a 12 week training program for this race. In order to join, you had to be able to complete a sprint tri - which means swimming 1/2 mile, biking 13 miles and running 3 miles - you had to come into the training being physically able to do those 3 things at those distances ... and I was. I was already in shape, so I didn't train for the training program, per se, I knew I could do it. During the 12 week program, I was working out 6 to 7 days a week, building on the distances of the swim, bike, and run that whole time. At the peak of training, I was doing everything at distances in excess of the tri; swimming more than a mile, biking an average of 30 miles (and up to 50), and running 8 miles.

There may have been times when I got only 5 days of training, but towards the end, I was more focused. You start to learn how to fit it all into your day as you get further along in the training. It becomes a routine. You find ways to get it done.

I trained with JackRabbit Sports in New York City. They're an athletic store that specializes in training for marathons and triathlons.

Since I'm running a food blog here, can you tell us about your pre-race meals? What did you eat while training and on the morning of the race?

I think the nutritional aspect is something that evolved with my training - I kind of took it for granted in the beginning, but it soon became obvious to me how important it is to eat well. Initially, I didn't really pay attention - I have a certain way of eating and drinking and in the beginning I didn't change much. But when you start training 6 to 7 days a week, you have to pay attention. I was starting to feel tired and unable to keep up; then I started to realize that the way I ate would play a big role in my performance - in my ability to perform. I did a little research about energy foods and the type of carbs you need for fuel. The popular perception is that its all carbo-loading with pasta - and while its true that you need more energy from carbs, pasta is not the only way to get it. I ate a lot of fruit. I really began to crave fruits and nuts - as well as dairy and ice cream. Carbs from those sources became important for me.

I didn't eat a lot of red meat during training, which is kind of odd because I love red meat, and I'm not necessarily giving it up. But I did phase off of it - I ate a lot of chicken and tuna fish sandwiches instead. I was literally craving fruit and tuna sandwiches every day! One of my friends joked that this race was my pregnancy in that way!

Pre-race, its important to store energy on the Friday and Saturday prior, Friday is actually the most important day. I had some pasta, fruit, a light protein, a little salad. Nothing too taxing. Its important not to introduce new foods or eat anything too spicy or challenging. You need to eat foods that are familiar and easy to digest.

The morning of the race varies from person to person. Some people don't eat at all, because it makes them sick, but I know I need to eat. I have a little race day breakfast ritual - I eat peanut butter toast and a banana. I'm used to it, its my go-to breakfast.

Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Heather tomorrow - when we'll discuss the elation of realizing a goal; the importance of water and how to begin working towards completing a triathlon. Trust me, its inspiring!

And now, our winners! As always, I used, to select the winners of our Oceana water bottles and they are ... drum roll, please .... comments number 15 and 13. Congratulations to Steph of Steph Chows and Wilma of Wilma the Pug! I'll be reaching out to you for your mailing addresses so that Nautica can send your bottles directly. Enjoy!

HUGE congrats to Heather and many thanks to the good people at Nautica for offering the give-away.


Disclaimer: Wilma is actually my furry niece and her mom (my other sister-in-law) is the writer behind her words. She really was the random winner of the second bottle and I am abiding by's choice. I just wanted you all to know, in the sprit of full disclosure!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Give-Away: 2010 Nautica New York City Triathlon Edition

This, my friends, is New York's mighty Hudson River and, on Sunday, my beloved sister in law will be swimming in it! No, she hasn't taken leave of her senses - rather, she will be one of more than 3,000 athletes competing in the 10th Annual Nautica New York City Triathlon; the only Olympic distance triathlon in New York City. Holy cow!

On Sunday, July 18th, athletes from 18 countries and 45 states will compete in a way that, quite frankly, boggles the mind. They will brave the mighty Hudson by swimming 1.5 kilometers (.9321 miles) through its turbulent waters, then bike 40 kilometers (24.85 miles) along the Henry Hudson Parkway, and finally, they will run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) through Central Park to complete the course.

Honestly, I can't even imagine the physical and metal fortitude it takes to enter such a race, much less complete it. I am incredibly proud of Heather, my sister in law, and much of our family will be out on the course cheering her on this Sunday. Yes, I know its Thursday and you're all thirsty ... but I'm taking the opportunity to honor Heather and all 3,000 of her fellow athletes with this post on the Tri today. I beg your indulgence ... and, oh, and you'll be rewarded for it, too!

In a happy coincidence, a representative from Nautica contacted me earlier this week to offer a lovely and appropriate give-away to celebrate the event. Knowing that I have a personal connection to the race, I jumped at the chance. Nautica has graciously offered to give-away a stainless steel water bottle (pictured above) to two of my readers. While many of us will likely not take on the challenge of an Olympic length tri ... we all have goals and face challenges ourselves. In recognition of that, and as a token of encouragement, I'd like to offer you the chance to take home an Oceana re-useable water bottle, courtesy of Nautica.

Rules of Entry:

1. Simply leave a comment on this post. You can tell us about a goal you've set for yourself, or simply (and hopefully) lend a kind word or two to cheer my sister in law on. (Go, Heather, go!)

2. The give-away will remain open until midnight on Tuesday, July 21st. Two winners will be chosen using and the winners will be announced on Wednesday, July 22nd. Winners must be willing to email me their mailing information so that the bottles may be shipped directly.

Disclaimer: The prize was provided by Nautica, but Nautica is not a sponsor, administrator, or involved in any other way with this give-away. All opinions expressed in the post are my own and not those of Nautica. Entrants must be 18 years of age or older and located in the United States and or Canada only.

I am thrilled to help spread the word about this remarkable and inspiring event. Towards that end, I'd encourage you to check out the following links, especially if you find yourself in New York City this weekend:

To Volunteer for the Race:

To View the Race:

If you're really brave and want to enter the lottery for a chance to compete in next year's race:

You won't see me diving into the Hudson any time soon, or ever for that matter, but you might see me out on the course cheering for Heather ... providing I wake up on time! ~wink~ If you plan to be here too, drop me a comment and let me know.

Heather has graciously agreed to an interview with me, to discuss her experience in running the Tri, and I will present that interview next week when I announce the winner on Wednesday.

My heartfelt congrats and very best wishes for luck to all who will compete this Sunday. I tip my tiara to all of you. Good luck and God bless!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quick Chicken Tostadas + Give-away Winner

I don't know about you, but when the weather is this hot and muggy, my interest in eating is limited ... and my interest in cooking is almost non-existent. It helps to have a few quick go-to summer meals that satisfy yet require little effort in terms of preparation. Today's Chicken Tostadas fit that bill in spades.

I came across this recipe several years ago in Bon Appetite. I no longer remember the month or the issue, nor do I follow a recipe, but this dish is such that the exact measurements hardly matter at all. Use what you've got, use this as a starting point, a guideline of sorts - and you'll be on your way to the dinner table in no time at all. Promise.

Quick Chicken Tostadas:
  • 2 cooked skinless boneless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/3 cup red onion, chopped
  • juice of 1/2 fresh lime
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 - 3 dashes Tabasco or hot sauce, optional
  • pinch of salt and a dash of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley)
  • 1 cup of prepared guacamole
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup black beans, canned, rinsed and drained
  • 4 small corn tortillas
  • shredded lettuce, romaine or red leaf
  • prepared salsa
  • herbed goat cheese, crumbled
In a bowl, combine the cubed cooked chicken, chopped tomatoes and chopped red onion. Stir to combine. In another small bowl, combine the juice from 1/2 of a large fresh lime and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, whisking well to combine. To this mixture add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper, then whisk well to combine and pour over the chicken and tomato mixture. Add the chopped cilantro and stir well to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Add the black beans to the guacamole and stir well to combine. If desired, you may add a dash or two of hot sauce and some additional lime juice to the mixture. Reserve.

Toast the corn tortillas in your toaster oven or bake in a 425 degree F oven until crisp and light golden brown. Remove from oven and place each tortilla on a serving plate.

To assemble the tostadas: top each tortilla with 1/4 cup of the guacamole and bean mixture and spread in an even layer, adding more if you desire. Top the guacamole with a layer of shredded lettuce and over the lettuce spoon some of the reserved chicken and tomato mixture. Be generous, this is dinner! Spoon some salsa over the top of the tostada and dot with some crumbled herbed goat cheese to taste. Serve immediately, with additional hot sauce and some wedges of lime for garnish. Enjoy!

As written this recipe will serve 4.

I generally used grilled chicken breast, though some roast chicken would do as well. As for the tomatoes, use what you've got: grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, any kind of tomato will work! And if you're enterprising, you could certainly make your own guacamole and salsa .... but sometimes its nice to take a little help where you can get it. Either way, you'll be rewarded with an extremely tasty meal that's every bit as delicious as it is easy to prepare!

Winner Announcement: The Xagave give-away closed last night, so I will announce the winner today. I used to generate a number and the winner is comment number 6! Deb said: "I'm so torn - lemon poppyseed bread, carrot pineapple cake or peanut rice crispy treats! Ah decisions, decisions and no idea what to choose!"

Good news, Deb, now you can try them all! I'll email you today for your address and the good folks at Xagave will be shipping off your package soon. Congratulations!!

I'll be hosting a different give-away tomorrow, so stay tuned, all.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Papa Diva Discovers the Wonders of Hummus

I've got to be honest, I don't know what's going on with my family. First, Papa Diva sends me a post he's written about hummus, then - just this weekend - Mama Diva divulged that she's flirting with the idea of becoming a vegetarian. Who are these people and what have they done with my parents?!

Now, its possible that you'd have to know Papa Diva to understand how funny this hummus business is. He's an Irish meat and potatoes kind of guy ... or so it seemed. But after a recent lunch with a friend, he's been waxing poetic on the wonders of hummus. Astounding! Now, of course, some of us have been eating hummus for years - but for him, its a new taste treat and he's taken such a shine to it that he's written our post for today. Take it away, Papa Diva!

P.S. - don't forget to enter my agave nectar + cookbook give-away. Contest closes at midnight on July 13th!
Diva Dad Goes Vegan ... for a Day

Recently, the Diva Dad attended a wooden boat show at Mystic Seaport with a longtime friend. The friend packed a lunch for himself and for the Diva Dad. The friend, Dave Niles, does not eat anything that had a face or a mother. We are talking serious vegan commitment here. Dave actually made the switch over to a fully vegan diet for health reasons and he is reporting very good results.

The Diva's very close friend, Olive, is also a vegetarian - I wonder if her name had something to do with the decision? The Diva's aunt Linda is also a recent convert. So we need to give these people some ink now and then ... it might just be a movement!

Back to the lunch - it was a hummus and pepper sandwich on a whole wheat bun. It was delicious and very easy to prepare. We are duplicating the sandwich herein. Mama Diva gathered the ingredients, made the hummus, and assembled the sandwiches.

Basic Hummus Recipe:
  • one 15 ounce can of chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 or 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, seeds removed
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling as garnish
  • ground paprika and chopped fresh parsley for garnish
In the bowl of your food processor, combine the drained chick peas, garlic cloves, salt, lemon juice and tahini paste. Process and pulse until smooth and fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon, tahini or salt according to your liking. Serve.

If serving as a dip, place the hummus into a serving vessel and drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top. Garnish with a dusting of ground paprika and some chopped fresh parsley.

Alternately, you may choose to prepare the Diva Dad's new favorite sandwich, as seen above. The peppers he prefers are small orange peppers. I usually associate small peppers with high heat, but this is not the case with these peppers. Preparation of them could not be more simple; no roasting, no caramelizing, no peeling. Just wash, cut open, remove seed and slice into strips. The peppers work well with the hummus, giving the sandwich much more interest.

Now I am aware that some people think any sandwich can be improved with a few slices of bacon - however we must remember that bacon had both a face and a mother. No bacon strips allowed here!

Many thanks, Papa Diva, for introducing us to this healthy lunch option! Of course it remains to be seen just how long Papa's fascination with the chick pea will last. Remember, this is the same man who recently wrote a post on grilling meat!

Naturally, I'll be submitting this post to Hey What's for Dinner Mom?'s Just Another Meatless Monday. Be sure to pop on over to Laura's place today and check out the other meatless meals on offer.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: June Challenge Round-up

Talk about short and sweet ... I had but one entry into my Thirsty Thursdays June Jalepeno Challenge! I think the heat may be getting to all of us! Fortunately, its a spectacular entry, as you will soon see.

If you recall, The Duo Dishes chose jalapeno as the ingredient for this month's challenge. While I had hoped for broader participation, given this interesting choice, I do understand that the summer is in full swing and things can be slow in the blogging world as a result.

The good news is that our sole entry is a spectacular one. Team Noodle, from Tangled Noodle, has triumphed again - offering up the Hot Fuzz for your spicy sipping pleasure. This gorgeous cocktail boasts an interesting twist on the jalapeno theme; using some chipotle infused tequila in combination with lime juice, peach schnapps and orange juice to create a fuzzy navel inspired margarita. A winning combination if there ever was one, I'd say.

As Noodle explains in her post, the peach/chile pairing is a natural: "this luscious stone fruit and piquant chili achieve a perfect taste combination of sweet and spicy, and is already a popular pairing in salsas, barbecue sauces and jams."

Run, don't walk, right over to Tangled Noodle and check out the recipe for their Hot Fuzz cocktail - I know you'll be as anxious as I am to try it.

Given the lack of participation this month, I've decided to suspend the challenge until fall. We will resume in September and Tangled Noodle will have the honor of choosing the next ingredient or spirit.

My deepest thanks to Team Noodle for being such good sports and taking up the challenge once again. Congratulations on an inventive and delicious creation!


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Xagave Nectar + Cookbook Give-Away

I'm one day behind again - and that couldn't be helped. The temperature was 103 here yesterday and I was feeling every bit of it. As it happens, my beloved computer is in the only un-airconditioned room of my home ... so now you see why my posting has been so erratic of late. I simply can't take the heat.

Its not much better today, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet ... literally, sweet, because the good folks at Xagave Nectar have generously offered to sponsor a give-away this week!

The makers of Xagave reached out to me after my post on the blackberry bundt cake and asked if I'd like to run a give-away and, naturally, I said yes.

One lucky reader will have the chance to win a package containing one 25 ounce bottle of Xagave Premium Agave Nectar and a copy of their marvelous cookbook: "Delicious Meets Nutritious." If you're new to cooking and baking with agave nectar, this is the book for you! Its chock full of recipes for every meal of the day, nutritional information, and a handy conversion chart for replacing the sugar in any recipe with agave nectar.

To get a better idea of this marvelous cookbook's range, just take a look at the free recipes offered on Xagave's site ... Brie Stuffed Chicken, Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies, luscious Spinach and Red Pepper Dip - if those don't tempt you, I don't know what will?!

Rules of Entry are as follows:

1. To enter simply browse the free recipes section at Xagave Nectar, then come back and leave a comment here telling me which recipe you'd like to try. You must complete this task in order to be eligible for the prize.

2. To gain a second entry, follow me and leave me a comment letting me know that you do. If you are already a follower, leave a comment letting me know.

3. To gain a third entry, Tweet about this give-away - then come back and let me know you've Tweeted.

One winner will be chosen by random number generator and the contest will close at midnight on Tuesday, July 13th. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, July 14th.

The contest is open to U.S. residents only and you must be willing to email me your name and address so that Xagave may send your prize directly.

Good luck and stay cool!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Red, White and Blue Sangria Edition

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, nor am I going to leave you thirsty this holiday weekend! In fact, I have a lovely, summery sangria to offer for your sipping pleasure.

Created on the fly by the husband, this refreshing sangria boasts a base of light, refreshing vinho verde, a hint of peachy goodness, and bright riot of summer berries to keep things feeling festive. While the recipe below is by the glass, you could certainly make this by the bottle or pitcher, but you'll need to play around with the measurements a bit.

For those unfamiliar, a brief word about the vinho verde. Literally translated "green wine", vinho verde is a Portuguese wine, from the Minho region, who's name refers to its youth rather than its color. Vinho verde is not meant to be aged, it should be consumed within a year of bottling, hence its description as a young wine. It is low in alcohol, feathery light on the tongue and slightly effervescent. The flavor is typically somewhat fruity, with notes of crisp green apple and lime.

Its light and refreshing, perfectly suited for use as an aperitif all on its own - and equally delicious when used to form this light sangria.

Red, White and Blue Sangria:
  • Vinho Verde
  • Peach Schnapps
  • Orange Bitters
  • Fresh Strawberries, hulled and halved
  • Fresh Blueberries
Fill a tall glass with ice and add some vinho verde, enough to fill 1/2 to 3/4 of the glass. Add 1 1/2 ounces of peach schnapps and a dash or two of orange bitters. Stir to combine. Add some fresh strawberries and blueberries to the glass and stir gently. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written, this recipe will serve 1.

In this case, we used some Vindigal Vinho Verde, which is quite excellent, but any brand will suffice. If you've not had a chance to try vinho verde, by all means check it out. Its the perfect summer wine - and, bonus, its generally low in price!

I expect to be back in full swing on the blog next week. We'll start things off with a yummy give-away on Tuesday, and later in the week I'll have a scrumptious fish taco on the menu, and a luscious chocolate review. Rumor has it that Papa Diva is working on a vegan post for us as well ... will wonders never cease?! Stay tuned!

So, what are you up to this weekend? Will you be grilling up a storm, relaxing poolside, or hitting the beach? Curious Diva wants to know.

Wishing a safe and Happy 4th of July to those who are celebrating!