Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Loch Lomond Edition

I like vodka. I've come to appreciate the fine points of a quality gin. But what I really, really like is scotch. If I'm having a drink, nine times out of ten, that drink will be a simple scotch and soda - slice of lemon, please.

That said, variety is the spice of life ... and I've got a cocktail feature to promote here. Knowing my never-ending quest for interesting and deliciously potent potables, my divalicious sister-in-law, K., was kind enough to gift me with a wonderful new mixology tome this past Christmas. 1001 Cocktails, published by Parragon Press UK, is a fantastic resource; and its beautifully photographed to boot.

While paging through the scotch section yesterday, I came across a recipe that peaked my interest. And, when I say peaked my interest, I mean I had all the ingredients on hand!

The Loch Lomond:
adapted from 1001 Cocktails
  • 2 ounces Scotch whiskey
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar*
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • slice or twist of lemon for garnish
Fill a martini shaker with ice and over it pour the scotch, agave nectar and the bitters. Cover and shake well, until the outside of the shaker frosts, then strain into a chilled cordial or small martini glass. Garnish with a slice or twist of lemon. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

*Traditionally, and as per the recipe in the book, this cocktail is made with simple syrup (a mixture of sugar and water). With relatively few exceptions, I tend to eschew drinks made with simple syrup - so in this case I've chosen to use agave nectar instead. If you prefer to go the traditional route - use 1 ounce of simple syrup in place of the agave.

A brief note about the bitters: The mixology world was rocked earlier this month by the revelation that we were in the midst of an Agostura Bitters shortage. Seems there was some kind of dispute between the House of Angostura and the manufacturer of the bottles. Long story short, Angostura has been hard to find. This is bad news for all of us and really bad news for the husband ... he puts them in everything!

Finding ourselves down to the last drops of bitters, Chez Diva, the shortage was a crisis indeed. It was all we could talk about for days. I quickly donned my thinking tiara and proffered a suggestion - a little out of the way wine shop in CT. We stopped in last weekend and happened upon a whole stash of the stuff. Needless to say, we bought the large bottle and are now back in business!

For those without a ready supply of Angostura, fear not, the shortage is expected to end next month. A new manufacturer has been secured and the people will have their bitters. And, really, the people can have their bitters regardless. Both Fee Brothers and The Bitter Truth market an aromatic bitters.

During the height of the crisis, I purchased a bottle of The Bitter Truth's Old Time Aromatic Bitters and its really quite good. A bit strong on the licorice notes, but delicious all the same.

Fine, fine, Diva, but what about the Loch Lomond?! How does it taste? Honestly, its delicious. The agave serves to mellow the scotch and the bitters pair beautifully with it. This is smart little sipper that would be perfect as an after dinner drink. I hope you'll try it.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maple Bacon Cornbread

If you're not already following 5 Star Foodie Culinary Adventures, you've really been missing out. Not only is Natasha an amazing and adventurous cook - hello, molecular gastronomy anyone?! - but she's also the host of a really fun event ... her popular 5 Star Makeover Challenge series.

Periodically, Natasha will invite her readers to put their spin on a specific dish or ingredient and she features all of the entries in one lovely, linky post. The entries are impressive and fun. Take a look at her 2009 Makeover recap, you'll see what I mean. This month, the challenge is cornbread.

Cornbread? You don't need to ask me twice! Muffins, pancakes, waffles ... you name it, if there's corn meal in it, I am totally there. And while the challenge is open to very broad interpretation - modern, healthy, fusion, ethnic, etc. - I didn't so much makeover my cornbread as make it better. Because everything's better with bacon, right?!

Maple Bacon Cornbread:
  • 1 cup of yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (I use grade B)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup of non-fat milk (or any kind of milk)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 4 strips of crisp, cooked bacon, crumbled
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk well with a wire whisk to blend. Reserve.

In another bowl, combine the maple syrup, butter, milk and egg. Whisk well to blend. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir with a spatula until just combined. Add the crumbled bacon and fold in to distribute evenly. Pour the batter into a buttered, oven-safe baking dish and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack, serve and enjoy!

Cornbread is best served hot, so if you don't use it right away, reheat gently in the microwave or a toaster oven ... then lavish with butter. ~wink~

Now, I'm not a fan of sugary, cupcake-y cornbread - so don't expect that kind of texture or flavor here. Rather, this is a tender, crumbly, slightly salty, slightly sweet little bite of deliciousness. And don't expect a gigantic hit of maple either - its there, almost as a top-note, adding a delicate hint of sweet that pairs beautifully with the bacon. In a word, its spectacular.

If you're not a fan of maple syrup, feel free to substitute 1/4 cup of granulated sugar for the syrup. If you're a huge fan of maple syrup - you could certainly glaze the top of the bread with a layer of it, after it comes out of the oven. I can also envision using maple sugar in place of the syrup, if you're so inclined.

I'm submitting this recipe to 5 Star Foodie's Cornbread Makeover Challenge and I can't wait to see the rest of the entries. They'll be posted on Tuesday, February 2nd. If you'd like to join the fun, head over to 5 Star's place and read the rules of entry here. Entries must be received by Monday, February 1st.

And now I'm off to make some chili to go with that cornbread. Dinner's at 7:30pm, don't be late!

Bon appetite!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sybarites Visit the Provinces ...

Papa Diva's mother often says: "If you're not living in New York City, you are camping out." While this may still be somewhat true, there are places in the provinces where one can dine very well indeed. The "provinces" refer to any area outside the five boroughs of New York City.

We must advise city dwellers that a local guide is essential. In this case, the guide is Diva's brother who lives in a hamlet known as Beacon Falls, in the heart of the valley region of Connecticut. He drives a pick-up truck, burns wood to heat his house and has three dogs. We're still looking for his plaid, flannel shirts. He's well on the way to becoming a full-blown yahoo, and is therefore qualified to sniff out culinary gems in the valley.

One such gem, frequented by our local guide, is Anna Donte's restaurant - located in the Union City section of Naugatuck. On Saturday evening, we ventured out into the provinces to celebrate Papa Diva's birthday at Anna Donte's ... and what a feast it was!

We began with an appetizer of broccoli rabe and sausage ... though, really, it was more of an entree. There was so much leftover that I'm recycling it for dinner tonight! The rabe was tender and sweet; and the sauce, delicious. The platter arrived surrounded by zesty garlic toasts that were just perfect for sopping up that sauce. Yum!

While Anna Donte's offers a full menu of Italian dishes, it seems they are most famous for their homemade ravioli. I can see why. Bathed in a succulent, fresh marinara sauce, these light-as-air ravioli are truly exceptional. The pasta is tender and the ricotta filling so creamy and delicious, each bite is a little bit of heaven. They're also really HUGE. Though they come six to a plate, I could only finish three - but not for lack of trying! I'll recycle the leftovers as well.

I understand that Anna Donte's also offers the ravioli frozen, to take-out and take home. Its probably a good thing that I don't live anywhere near Anna's ... I'd be a frequent customer!

Its funny how sometimes the least likely places offer the most amazing food. Located on a fairly desolate street and fronted with a rather modest exterior, it would be easy to drive right by Anna Donte's and miss the magnificence offered inside. I'm glad we didn't. BIG thanks to my bro for being our guide ... and BIG thanks to Papa Diva for writing my intro paragraphs today! This post is a Diva family affair and I'm grateful to both of you.

For those in the area - Anna Donte's is located at: 384 North Main Street, Naugatuck, CT. 203-729-6783. Reservations recommended, this place fills up. Please note, this restaurant is BYOB. They do offer soft drinks, but feel free to bring your own wine ... we did!

Now, dear readers, you might be wondering if I'll ever cook a meal again. Its been that kind of month here and I'll admit I've not been a frequent visitor to my own kitchen! That's all about to change and I will indeed be cooking this week. Stay tuned.

Bon appetite!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Hot Chocolate with Orange and Anise Edition

Yeah, I know, its not a cocktail ... but I'm cold, I'm cranky, and I'm hormonal. Deal with it.

Today is all about dealing with it. Dealing with stuff I don't like, stuff I don't wanna do, and people I'd rather do without. Life is like that sometimes. So when I say "deal with it", of course, I mean chocolate. I mean I NEED chocolate. Stat!

Cocoa with Orange and Anise:
  • 10 ounces non-fat milk
  • 3 strips of fresh orange peel, about 2 inches each
  • 3 to 4 whole star anise
  • 3 tablespoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • scant 1 tablespoon agave nectar, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 2 to 3 drops pure vanilla extract
  • grated nutmeg and or cinnamon for garnish, optional
Pour the milk into a small sauce pan and to it add the orange peel and whole star anise. Heat over medium to medium high heat until very hot, but not yet boiling.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder, agave nectar and water, stir well with a wire whisk to blend until a smooth paste is formed. Just before the milk begins to boil, remove from heat and add the cocoa paste - using a small spatula because you'll want to get every bit of that cocoa-y goodness. Whisk well with a wire whisk to combine and reheat gently if necessary. Add 2 to 3 drops of pure vanilla extract, stir to combine. Strain into a mug through a fine, mesh sieve and dust the top of cocoa with a bit of cinnamon and or freshly grated nutmeg if desired. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written, this recipe will yield one rich, delicious, intriguingly spiced cup of cocoa.

Chocolate and anise pair so beautifully together - its a stunning combination. And, c'mon, orange and chocolate are classic pure and simple. Each flavor is there, adding its bit to the mix, yet the finished cocoa will taste strongly of neither. There's a hint of orange in the back ground and the subtle spice of the anise adding air of mystery to the proceedings. Really, its delicious.

A brief word about the agave nectar - that's my choice, and I don't use much of it. If you prefer a sweeter cocoa, you could certainly use a tablespoon of sugar instead, or more agave if you like. Do as you see fit.

Lastly, if you really need a drink - go ahead and add a splash of Grand Marnier to mix. I couldn't hurt and might actually help!

One sip of this cocoa and I'm feeling more human already ... which is good news for the people who need to deal with me. Never underestimate the power of chocolate.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Meatball Rolls in Brooklyn ...

Have you any idea how difficult it is to hold a drink, eat an absurd amount of meatballs while standing up - packed into a room with hundreds of carnivorous hipsters - while trying to document it all in pictures ... and not spill anything in the process?

I mean, sure, I could have put down the drink ... but ... ya know. ~wink~

Suffice it to say my photographic coverage of Friday's Meatball Slap-Down at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg is lacking to say the least. By the time the proceedings got underway, I was so hungry that any good photographic intentions lost out to my strong desire to chow!

Held at the stylish and ultra-cool butcher shop, The Meat Hook, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last Friday's Meatball Slap-Down was certainly a feast for the senses! The Meat Hook's retail space is entirely charming - a treat for the eyes - full of all sorts of kitchen ware ... everything from old fashioned meat grinders to retro-chic CorningWare. The air was redolent with the inviting aromas of garlic, sauce and simmering meat; and the auditory component was supplied by a live dj spinning trippy tracks. Clearly, the scene was set for a great party.

But how were the meatballs? Dude, they were awesome! Let's get to it! Below, the list of entries in order of Diva preference ...

Frankie's Spuntino: Surprisingly, this meatball was my favorite. Rich and meaty, with a lovely soft, simmered texture, Frankie's meatballs were so good we couldn't stop eating them. All four of us went back to Frankie's for seconds and it came as no surprise that they were the winner. Both the crowd and the panel of judges agreed. Savory, delicious, perfect! Grade = A

Bamonte's: NYC's oldest Italian restaurant - and a long time favorite of the Diva family. I'll be honest, I expected Bamonte's to win ... and more than that, I expected to vote for them as my personal favorite. But, honestly, they were edged out just ever-so-slightly by Frankie's. Bamonte's meatball is a classic: a tender mix of beef, pork and veal that tastes like the meatballs of my childhood. Their texture is perfect, their flavor impeccable - and they'll always be a favorite for me. Grade = A-

Roebling Tea Room: A good, solid, contender - but nowhere near as good as Frankie's or Bamonte's. The Roebling Tea Room's meatball was fine, perhaps even good, but the texture wasn't exactly right - too coarse - and their sauce lacked oomph, it lacked zest. Rumor had it that they were shaving black truffles over their meatballs but I sure didn't get any and I'm positive that to do so is unnecessary. Meatballs are peasant food - they don't need no stinkin' truffles. Period. Grade = B

The Meat Hook: I wanted to like this meatball simply because The Meat Hook is such an awesome shop. Sadly, I just didn't dig it. The texture was all wrong: way too chunky and coarse, more like a sausage or salami than a meatball. And, sadly for me, I detected the distinct flavor of lamb. No, just no. We didn't go back for seconds. Grade = C

Roberta's: A Bushwick favorite, known for its pizza, I had high hopes for this meatball. Sadly, those hopes were dashed with the first bite. The texture was bad and the flavor was worse. Overly seasoned, with too much fennel, it tasted like like someone dumped half a box of salt into the mix. Not only did I *not* return for seconds, I didn't even make it through the first meatball. Revolting. Grade = D

Now, let's be clear - I'm a meatball fanatic and I come from a long line of meatball wizardry. My beloved Grandma Pam made the best meatballs on earth; Mama Diva's are amazing too; and my own are spectacular. So picky am I about meatballs, that I went to the smack-down expecting to only like one - Bamonte's. I was pleasantly surprised. Ultimately, I loved two of the entries, and liked a third. Color me delighted!

That said, there wasn't a single meatball there that I'd prefer over my own ... someday, I'll give you the recipe.

In summary, it was a great event. We had a blast and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. What a great way to kick off the weekend and I tip my cap to Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli of Frankie's Spuntino ...

Congrats on a well-deserved win!


Friday, January 15, 2010

Meatball Smack-Down ...

If anyone's looking for me tonight, I'll be at a meatball smack-down in Brooklyn! 5 of the borough's top meatball wizards will be competing for the title of "Best Meatball in Brooklyn" and proceeds will go to benefit The Brooklyn Grange Farm project.

Its bound to be wacky and, hopefully, delicious. I'd invite you to join me, but I just heard that its sold out. Expect a full report next week ... likely on Tuesday or Wednesday since I'll be away for the day on Monday.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Fizzy Bitch Edition

That's right, I said it - but not for shock value. Take a closer look at that picture ... Bitch Bubbly is the name of this sparkling rose from Southern Australia.

With its polka dot label and soda-style bottle cap, you might think this whimsical sipper is not to be taken seriously ... and you'd be wrong. Its actually quite delicious. Its got a fruity, yet not too sweet, finish and you just can't beat that rich red color. Plus, the bubbles!

We made this bitch part of our New Year's celebrations by turning it into a little champagne cocktail. Well, sparkling wine cocktail to be more precise, but you get the picture.

The Fizzy Bitch:
Pour the lavender syrup into the bottom of a champagne flute and to it add the orange bitters. Fill remainder of the glass with sparkling rose. Garnish with a festive orange twist. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

* No lavender syrup? No problem: you could use some ginger syrup, Creme de Cassis, or even some Grand Marnier. The point? Its just as fun to play with your champagne - er, sparkling wine - as it is your food.

Not up for experimentation? Fine, just pop the cap and drink this sassy little bubbly all on its own. Careful palates will detect notes of fresh strawberries, cranberries and a just a hint of rose. The subtle berry flavors really do play well with the lavender syrup, but this bubbling beauty goes down smooth all by itself.

The holidays may be over, but there's no need to put the champagne flutes away. When the offering is this much fun, who needs an excuse to celebrate?


p.s. - I was unable to locate a website for R - Wines of Australia, the makers of Bitch Bubbly. Its widely available for purchase online, Google it, and sells for less than $10 per bottle. We picked ours up at a local wine shop.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spices, Balsamic and Soap, Oh My!

Some women shop for shoes. Me? I shop for spices. It might even be fair to say that I collect them. While there's not a single pair of Manolo's or Louboutin's in my closet - my spice cabinet runneth over with all manner of sexy seasonings. You can keep your strappy sandals, this Diva prefers Penzey's!

Knowing that to be the case, the husband filled my stocking this year with all sorts of yummy, spicy treats. And that's good new for all of us. In the days and weeks to come, I'll be experimenting with these seasonings and creating some dishes that are sure to please.

Let's take a look at my newest editions, shall we?
  • Penzey's Herbes de Provence: a magical combination of rosemary, fennel, thyme, savory, basil, tarragon, dill, oregano, lavender, chervil and marjoram. This blend is magnificent, some might even say essential, for roasting a chicken. I'm also planning to use it in combination with that lavender syrup to create an unusual brioche. Stay tuned.
  • Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning: a fine companion for any meat or fowl, this intriguing mix combines crushed brown mustard seeds, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay and sage. I used it in my Savory Chicken Burgers and will soon be paring it with pork of some sort.
  • Penzey's Chili 9000: not your average chili powder, this one packs a spicy, yet slightly sweet, punch with its mix of ancho chili, cumin, garlic, cilantro, onion, paprika, cayenne, lemon peel, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cocoa powder, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, fenugreek, cloves, fennel, nutmeg, white pepper, anise seed, jalapeno, star anise and cardamom. Its complex to say the least! Obviously, it would be great in any kind of chili, but its also really, really good on popcorn.
  • Penzey's BBQ 3000: I actually put this one on my Christmas list. Why? One word: popcorn. If you've never had BBQ popcorn, you're really missing out. Its addictive! This particular blend contains: salt, paprika, black pepper, nutmeg, mustard, allspice, citric acid, garlic powder, ginger, sage, thyme, white pepper, cinnamon and some natural smoke flavor. I can't wait to try it on grilled shrimp.
In addition to the spices, my stocking also contained a lovely bottle of Carter & Cavero Fig Balsamic Vinegar. Carter & Cavero is a relatively new company, specializing in imported olive oils and vinegars. Located in Red Bank, New Jersey - with an out post in Long Branch as well - they offer a wide array of unique, handcrafted, gourmet items as well as tableware and even cosmetics (i.e. olive oil soaps).

I fell in love with C & C when I came across their wares while shopping at the Bryant Park Holiday Market this year. And the husband, wise as he is, made a return trip to Bryant Park to pick up a bottle of this delicious elixir for me. Infused with fig, this vinegar is outstanding when drizzled over some sharp cheese, such as aged Gouda or Pecorino Romano and would make, I'm sure, a lovely addition to any salad dressing recipe. I used it to glaze the Chicken Burgers and I'm sure it would be equally good as a marinade for some roast or broiled chicken. Its delicious!

Knowing how much time I spend in the kitchen, my darling sister in law K., slipped a lovely bar of Chef's Soap (pictured top left) from Connecticut Natural Soapworks into my stocking. Made from goat's milk and loaded with espresso beans and almond oil, among other things, this delicately fragranced soap is formulated to remove odors while keeping one's hands soft and smooth. Like it, I do!

Trust me, I'm not doing a commercial for Penzey's (or any other company) here - merely giving you a glimpse into my stocking and pointing the way to some wonderful kitchen products. The point? Spices are your friends - especially if you're either watching your weight, or stuck in a cooking rut. Spices are a wonderful low, and often no, calorie way to add flavor and interest to a dish. They're also really fun! Experimenting with a new spice or seasoning can go a long way towards easing the day-to-day cooking blahs.

So, what are some of your favorite spices and seasonings? Anything unusual that you'd like experiment with? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Recipe for Chicken Burgers with Mushrooms, Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions

On Friday night, I had what may well be the worst meal of my life. Forces combined to cause our merry band of four to dine at Pure Food and Wine - a raw, vegan restaurant in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. While I'm not going to write a full review, let me state simply: the food was appalling - and not because it was vegan.

I have nothing against vegan restaurants - in fact, quite the opposite. Long time readers may recall my delight in dining at both Hangawi (a wonderful vegan, Korean place) and Blossom Cafe, for example. Up until Friday night, every vegan meal I've ever had has been extraordinary. While our meal at Pure Food and Wine could indeed be called "extraordinary" ... its for all the wrong reasons.

I chose the trio of "pizzettes" as my second course (don't even ask about the first) and, honestly, I'm at a loss to describe them. Certainly, they were like nothing I've ever seen. The first of the trio had an unpalatable rosemary-ish "crust" topped with a paste of some sort that I can only describe a rancid. Yes, rancid. I'm quite certain this paste was made of some kind of nuts that had gone off. I wish I were kidding, I'm not. The paste was topped with halved grape tomatoes and something which bore a vague resemblance to shredded cheese. One bite was all it took for me to know that all was not well with this little creation.

I never made it to the other two unappealing circles of mystery which shared the plate. And my friend, who ordered the same dish, had to have the staff take it away simply because she couldn't bear the smell of that paste. Trust me, she was the wiser of the two of us - hours later I was regretting what little I ate of that mess.

It is, perhaps, unfair to judge a restaurant after only one visit. I realize that. But here's the thing - I can't envision a circumstance in which I'd be compelled to give this place a second chance. It was just that bad across the board. And, to make matters worse, its expensive. Needless to say, we were still hungry when we left. Feh.

As an antidote, I'm prescribing meat and plenty of it. Cooked meat - as in all the way cooked. People, there is a reason God invented heat and the grill pan. We need burgers. Stat!

Savory Chicken Burgers with Mushrooms, Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onions:
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 3/4 cup packed, diced fresh mushrooms (I used Baby Bellos)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper
  • pinch of Herbs de Provence
  • 1 pound ground chicken breast
  • 1/4 teaspoon Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning*
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup of shredded fresh pear
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons plain (unflavored) instant oatmeal
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used Fig Balsamic)
  • some sliced blue cheese (I used Gorgonzola Dolce)
  • some caramelized onions
  • some whole wheat rolls or a whole wheat baguette
  • lettuce
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and to it add the shallots, mushrooms, a pinch of salt and pepper and a pinch of Herbs de Provence. Saute until the shallots have become translucent and the mushrooms have softened and are beginning to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, reserve and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl combine the ground chicken, Bavarian Seasoning, poultry seasoning, rosemary, parsley, a bit of salt and pepper, the shredded pear and the reserved mushroom and shallot mixture. Mix well to combine. Add the beaten egg and the oatmeal and mix well to combine. Divide the mixture into 4 equal parts and shape into 4 patties.

Heat a grill pan over high heat and brush it with a bit of oil. When the pan is good and hot, but not yet smoking, add the chicken burgers and grill over medium-high heat, turning once, about 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until cooked throughout. Chicken burgers should be firm to the touch when done and fully cooked throughout. Brush the grilled burgers with a bit of balsamic vinegar on each side, then top with some sliced or crumbled blue cheese, cover the pan and allow the cheese to melt. Serve the finished burgers on whole wheat rolls or baguettes, topped with some caramelized onions and atop some crisp romaine lettuce. Enjoy!

*Notes: While not strictly necessary, the Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning is a really nice blend and well suited to this savory, earthy burger. Santa left me a jar of it in my stocking this year and enjoy it, I do! If you don't happen to have any, fear not, add whatever spices you like or simply proceed without.

I happen to like a bit of shredded pear in this mixture - it adds both flavor and moisture, which is altogether necessary when using ground chicken breast. You could certainly substitute some apple, if you like, in place of the pears. Do as you see fit.

Either way, you'll be rewarded with a slightly unusual, yet thoroughly delicious burger that's just perfect for the season. Its hearty, earthy and just completely scrumptious. I hope you'll try it!

So, have any of you had a meal at Pure? And, if so, how was it? Not that I'm likely to return, mind you, I'm just curious.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Mulled Wine Edition

Some people ruminate, others procrastinate; me? I like to mull. And by mull, of course, I mean wine.

Called Gluhwein in Germany, or Glogg in Norway, the tradition of adding spices, and often honey, to wine dates back for centuries. In those days, mulling was used as a way to pass off some less-than-fresh vino, using the spices to cover up the taste - today we mull for the fun of it. Or, at least we do Chez Diva.

Recently, I've been using the Mulling Spice blend from Williams-Sonoma - a wonderful blend of cinnamon chips, dried orange peel, whole allspice, whole cloves, cinnamon oil and orange oil. While you could certainly make your own mix from dried spices and such, I rather like the portability of the Williams-Sonoma tin ... as we like to take our mulling show on the road! We usually mull something at my father in law's house on Christmas Eve and then again at my parents' on Christmas Day. This year was no exception.

Mulled Wine:
  • 1 bottle (1 liter) of good quality red wine*
  • 2 tablespoons mulling spices
  • 1 small orange, quartered (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons agave nectar, or to taste
Pour all of the ingredients into a non-reactive sauce pan and gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the mixture is hot and fragrant. Do not boil, just simmer. Ladle the mulled wine through a fine mesh strainer into mugs, garnish with a slice of orange or cinnamon stick, if desired. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

*Almost any kind of wine will do, so long as its something you would ordinarily drink. Lately, we've been using Sant'Angelo Negroamaro, which I really enjoy.

Not a fan of wine? No problem, you can mull cider as well. Follow directions above, but omit the agave nectar. If you'd like to spike your cider - and, certainly, I hope you do! - feel free to use some dark rum, spiced rum, applejack brandy, Calvados, or even some vanilla vodka. Its all good and all delicious.

Hell, we've even mulled plain water in a pinch - I kid you not - and spiked the hot spiced water with brandy. Call it a toddy and no one will be the wiser. Its delicious!

A quick word about the agave nectar - I've used it place of the 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sugar that the Williams-Sonoma recipe indicates. Feel free to substitute some sugar for the agave, if that's your preference, but I would go easy - 1/2 cup sound like way too much to me. Your mileage may vary, of course. You could also choose to use some honey.

Mulled wine may be a Christmas tradition, Chez Diva, but the mulling need not end at Epiphany. In fact, I'll be mulling tonight ... a little incentive to help ease the taking down of the tree.

This is a fun and festive cold weather treat that should be enjoyed all winter long. I hope you'll try it!


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year - New Soup ...

Fasten your seat belts, I'm about to confess. At the risk of being ostracized from the community, I'm just going come out admit it ... I made another Rachel Ray recipe.

I'll give you a moment to smooth your feathers and calm your spirits.

Now I'll admit something else ... it was damn good. So good I've eaten it nearly every day since I made it. What is this mysterious concoction? Stuffed Cabbage Soup. More shocking than the fact that I've admitted to watching 30 Minute Meals, is the fact that I made this soup despite my dislike of stuffed cabbage. I can't stand the stuff. But, trust me, this soup is amazing.

Its rich, hearty and nourishing; just perfect for these blustery winter days we've been having of late. This is a soup to soothe your soul and warm the chill in your bones. And, wonder of wonders, its South Beach friendly ... I told you I'd return to my roots eventually!

Naturally, I've made some changes to the recipe. I swapped out some lean ground beef and ground turkey breast for the beef, pork and veal in the original recipe. And, I've upped the ante on the spices - a lot - among other things. Below is my version ...

Stuffed Cabbage Soup:
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef (sirloin)
  • 1/2 pound ground turkey breast
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of pumpkin pie spice
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole caraway seeds, crushed
  • 1 large, whole bay leaf
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small to medium sized head of Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced (core removed)
  • one 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup of unseasoned tomato sauce
  • two 14.5 ounce cans of non-fat low-sodium chicken broth
  • two 14.5 ounce cans of low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • some cooked whole wheat or egg noodles, or brown rice for serving
  • some chopped fresh dill
  • some chopped fresh parsley
Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large soup or stock pot until hot but not smoking. Add the ground beef and turkey and saute until cooked throughout and beginning to brown, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon and stirring as you saute. Add all of the spices, from the paprika through the bay leaf, stir to combine and saute for one minute. Add the onions, garlic and carrots and saute until the onions are translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring as needed. Add the cabbage and saute, stirring, until it begins to wilt - about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, vegetable broth and the red wine vinegar. Raise the heat and bring the soup to the boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Have ready some cooked whole wheat noodles, egg noodles, or brown rice. To serve, place the noodles or rice in the bottom of a bowl and over it ladle the finished soup. Garnish with a generous sprinkling of chopped fresh dill and parsley. Serve immediately.

As written, this recipe will yield 6 to 8 servings depending on portion size.

People, this makes a ton of soup! A ton of wonderfully flavored, 100% satisfying, delicious soup. We liked it so much we've been eating it non-stop ... and I'm going to be very sad when its gone. Please don't be put off by the long list of ingredients - this really is a quick fix meal.

The recipe suggests that the soup be served with rice (white rice to be specific) - but who wants rice when you can have noodles? Not me. Though, as always, do as you see fit.

I know I kid about Rachel Ray, but I have to admit she's got some great ideas - this unusual soup chief among them. Personally, I found the original version somewhat lacking in flavor and in need of an acid balance - hence the red wine vinegar and the trio of paprikas - but if you prefer something less bold, by all means go with the original version. We like to keep things spicy around here, so I'm well-pleased with my adaptation. I've also simmered the soup longer than the original recipe suggests. I think the longer simmer helps to build flavor.

Round out the meal with a big, fresh salad and you'll have a complete meal that's a welcome respite from all the holiday indulgences ... and a fine foil for the chilly temps! I hope you'll try it.

Bon appetit!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holiday Round-up ...

Good morning and belated Happy New Year wishes to all!

The husband and I spent a quiet New Year's Eve at home, which is just what the doctor ordered after an eventful holiday week. A couple of delicious steaks, some champagne at midnight and a few episodes of "The Honeymooners" marathon, was all this Diva needed to usher in the new year. I hope it will be a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous one for all of us!

This year we broke with tradition and dined on an amazing stuffed crown roast of pork for Christmas dinner. We ordered it from our favorite Italian market, Liuzzi's, and it was spectacular. All I had to do was pop it in the oven for a few hours ... then take all the credit! I made some mashed potatoes and steamed green beans to go with ... wow, it was heavenly! So good that we may well have a new holiday tradition in the making here. Yum!

Later there was mulled wine (pictured above) and all sorts of cookies, pies and desserts. Suffice it to say, our holiday was delicious in every way. And now its time to get back to business and back on the diet!

Stay tuned for some new and healthy recipes this week. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly feeling the need to detox a bit and return to a more simple - and sugar-free - way of eating!

Long-time readers will recall that this Diva is not prone to making resolutions. This year is no different - though I am planning to learn Spanish and have promised myself I'll finally get around to that blog redesign I've been planning for a year now. Only time will tell!

So, have you made an resolutions for the year? Or are you firmly in the non-resolution camp? Curious Diva wants to know.

Bon appetit!