Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Cucumber Edition

First off, this picture doesn't do this drink justice. To be honest, it never had a fighting chance. I was hot, tired and thirsty when I made it - and anxious to take the first sip. Patience never was one of my virtues. I wonder if cucumbers are patient?

If not, they need not worry, they're blessed with a host of other virtues sure to compensate. Cucumbers are crisp, brightly green in flavor, kinda tart yet a little bit sweet, and possessed of marvelous cooling properties. It is these cooling properties that intrigue me, in so far as mixology is concerned.

For my cucumber Challenge entry, I wanted to think outside the box a little bit and reach for something, perhaps, a bit unusual: Mezcal. And, no, I'm not talking about that rot-gut stuff of wormy legend. Today's Mezcal is a premium spirit and it is distinctly sans worm. We've been having fun mixing it up with Mezcal, Chez Diva, and I'm well pleased with the results. I'll offer a more detailed explanation of the spirit in subsequent posts - but for now, the simplest way to describe it is: a smoked tequila. Leaves of the agave plant are roasted over hot rocks and mesquite, which combine to lend a pronounced smoky flavor to the spirit.

Since we happened to have a bottle of Sombra Mezcal on hand, I looked to their website for recipe options and lo and behold, there was a drink entitled: Cool as a Cucumber. Sold! While the original recipe calls for some passion fruit nectar, I was unable to find any at my local market so I've substituted some papaya juice instead. The result? A crisp, refreshing cocktail with a slightly smoky finish. Magnificent!

Cool as a Cucumber:
recipe adapted from
  • 1 1/2 ounces Sombra Mezcal
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1 ounce papaya or passion fruit nectar
  • 3 cucumber slices
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 ounce ginger beer
  • some ground chile powder for garnish
1. Place the lime juice, agave nectar and cucumber slices into the bottom of a cocktail shaker and muddle with a muddling tool to crush slightly the cucumber and release its juice.

2. Add the Sombra, papaya (or passion fruit) juice, and the ginger beer and fill the shaker with ice. Cover and shake well until the outside of the shaker frosts. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into an ice filled rocks glass. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and sprinkle a bit of chile powder on top. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

I used some New Mexican chile powder, but anything with a slightly spicy kick will do. This little sprinkle may seem like a frivolous garnish, but do not skip it - that slight hint of spice really adds something special to the mix.

The cucumber, agave nectar and fruit juice combine to temper the smoke of the mezcal and the finished drink is remarkably smooth and balanced. While initial notes are slightly sweet and a bit green, the final note is softly smoky and thoroughly intriguing. This is a cool, crisp drink that's just perfect for the warmer weather. In fact, its almost like a cucumber margarita. A winning combination in my book. I hope you'll try it!

There's still time to enter this month's Thirsty Thursday's Challenge. Details to be found here, entries are to be posted and emailed to me by midnight on Monday, May 31st. I hope you'll join us!


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eggplant Rollatini

My word, there's an awful lot of chocolate going on here lately ... and I'm not even PMS, I swear it. Clearly, I need to step away from the coco bean and present something else before someone calls the authorities. On the menu today: eggplant rollatini.

Ever since 2006, I can't even think about eggplant rollatini without hearing the voice of Carmella Soprano in my head. Season six, episode five: "Mr. & Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request" ... to be exact. Carmella and Tony are at the wedding of Allegra Sacrimoni, and at one point, Carmella stands up and screams out: "Ton! The rollatine!" I about fell off the couch for laughing and immediately gave props to writer Terence Winter for the colloquial truncation of the word "rollatini". Where I'm from, and where Carmella was from, that word is pronounced "rollatine" ... and I'm not even from Jersey.

I can understand why she was so excited about it too - eggplant rollatini is a treat to be sure. The tender toothsome eggplant, the soft creamy cheese, a nice piquant tomato sauce ...what's not to like? A more luscious and inviting dish I cannot imagine! Now, I'm not going to lie, this one takes some time to prepare ... but it is well worth your effort.

Right off the bat, I'll offer a few short-cuts. If you wish, feel free to use jarred tomato sauce. I used some leftover Five Minute Marinara Sauce. Whichever you choose, you'll need 2 to 3 cups, depending on how saucy you like your rollatine. In this recipe, I've used fresh baby spinach, but feel free to use a package of frozen chopped spinach, if you're so inclined. Doing so will certainly save you some time - though, in my opinion, the flavor will suffer. Your choice. Just be sure to defrost the spinach and drain very well before use.

Bottom line - this is not rocket science and the finished dish is insanely good. So good, in fact, that you might just need to stand up and shout for joy a la Mrs. Soprano. Really. Its fabulous! I've reduced the fat and calories by baking the eggplant and using lower fat ricotta, so its healthy to boot.

Carmella, this one's for you.

Diva's Baked Eggplant Rollatine:
  • 2 large eggplants
  • 1 cup (or more) whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 5 ounce package of fresh baby spinach
  • one 15 ounce container of part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of 1% large curd cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • generous grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 to 3 cups Marinara sauce
  • some shredded low-fat Mozzarella cheese for topping
  • additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese for topping
1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Wash and trim the eggplants, removing both the stem and bottom ends. Slice the eggplants lengthwise into 12 even 1/4 inch slices. (Discard the first and last cutting of each as it will contain mostly peel.)

3. Coat a large cookie sheet with a thin layer of olive oil and reserve. On a large, flat plate, combine the bread crumbs and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, mix well. Dredge the sliced eggplant, one slice at a time, in bread crumbs, pressing firmly on each side to coat well. Place the coated eggplant slices onto prepared cookie sheet in a single layer and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes; turn slices over and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer or until lightly browned and tender. Removed cooked eggplant to a wire baking rack to cool. Repeat process until all 12 slices have been coated and baked.

4. While the eggplant bakes, prepare the spinach. Wash and drain spinach, then saute briefly in a non-stick pan over medium high heat until just wilted, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Remove cooked spinach from pan and place in a wire strainer or sieve to drain - pressing firmly with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much water from the spinach as possible. Once drained, cool slightly then chop into small pieces and reserve.

5. In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, cottage cheese, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, pinch of salt, black pepper, dried basil, granulated garlic and freshly grated nutmeg. Stir well to blend. Add the egg and stir well to combine. Add the reserved chopped spinach and stir well to combine.

6. Pour 1/2 of the marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish and reserve. To assemble the rolls: place once slice of baked eggplant on a plate and spread with approximately 2 heaping tablespoons of the ricotta mixture. (Use your judgement on the amount needed here.) Spread in an even layer and roll from the widest end to the narrow end to form the roll. Place the stuffed rolls, seam side down, into the reserved baking dish and continue until all the rolls have been formed. (Pictured above.)

7. Top the rolls with remaining sauce, to taste, and sprinkle some shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over the rolls. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil from the top of dish and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the dish is bubbling hot. Serve immediately!

As written, this recipe will yield 12 magnificent eggplant rollatini. I hope you'll try it!

You'll note that I haven't salted and drained the eggplant. For me, that step seems unnecessary. I don't find eggplant to be bitter and it adds one more step to an already lengthy process. Your mileage may vary, of course, so do as you see fit. If you choose to salt the slices, be sure to rinse well and pat dry before proceeding with the breading.

Buon appetito!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

You may want to file this recipe away for use later this summer, when your garden overflows with zucchini. Then again, this cake is so good, you may not want to wait.

If you're in the mood for a rich, moist, chocolaty extravaganza - this is the cake for you. And, bonus, you can count it as a vegetable! Well, not really, but you will have the added benefit of some nutritious zucchini to off-set your indulgence. I'd say that's a good deal; a very good deal, indeed!

I've adapted this recipe from The Flat Belly Diet Cookbook and I'm well pleased with the results. I've added some cinnamon and Chinese Five Spice powder to bump up the flavor, reduced the amount of oil, and altered slightly the composition of the flour. This is a quick, nutritious and wholesome splurge that's sure to satisfy even the most dedicated chocoholic.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake:
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (@ one large zucchini)
  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided in half
1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F and coat an 11'" x 8" baking pan with a light coating of butter or oil. (I did not have a pan this size, so I used a 9" x 9" glass baking pan and it worked just fine. Adjust the baking time accordingly depending on your pan size.)

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and Chinese Five Spice Powder, whisk well to combine and reserve.

3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the shredded zucchini until combined, then stir in 1 1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips.

4. Add the reserved flour mixture, by thirds, to the zucchini mixture and stir until just combined. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake in the middle of a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on pan size, or until lightly browned and cooked throughout. The cake is finished when a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (If you're using the 9 x 9 inch pan, the cake will need to bake for approximately 40 minutes. Less time will be needed for the 11 x 8.)

5. Remove cake from the oven and immediately sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips over the top of cake. (Pictured above.) Allow the chips to sit for a minute or two, until softened and melty. Spread the melted chips in an even layer across the top of cake to form frosting. Allow the frosted cake to cool for at least 45 minutes, prior to serving, so they frosting will set.

This cake comes together in a hurry - I'd say 15 minutes of mixing time - so its every bit as easy as making a boxed cake and its healthier to boot! Waiting for the frosting to set is the most difficult part of the operation. You'll need at least 45 minutes and even then, the chocolate will be runny. Once the cake has cooled entirely, the chocolate will firm up a bit, but will remain rich and creamy. Unused portions can be saved at room temperature or in the fridge, just be sure to cover tightly with some plastic wrap or foil.

The Greek yogurt and zucchini combine to lend the finished cake a wonderfully creamy texture and it is surprisingly moist. I like the flavor so well, I might even be inclined to skip the frosting and bake off the batter in the form of muffins next time. Stay tuned.

I'm submitting this recipe to Hey What's for Dinner Mom's Just Another Meatless Monday feature. Be sure to stop by Laura's place today and check-out the other meatless offerings!

Bon appetite!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: Milkshake Edition

Today's offering is by no means a health drink. Consider it a splurge and a somewhat off-beat way to enjoy bourbon - one of our featured ingredients for this month's Thirsty Thursday's Challenge.

Adult milkshakes seem to be on the rise. I've come across more than a few restaurants with boozy shakes on their dessert menus of late and the options really run the gambit. While bourbon seems to be the go-to milkshake spirit - it pairs well with both vanilla and chocolate - I've also seen some made with Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream liqueur, and Cognac as well.

For this particular shake, I've used a combination of Maker's Mark Bourbon and Navan, a vanilla infused cognac. My inner fat cop forced me to use some non-fat chocolate frozen yogurt in place of ice cream, but that's a personal choice. Opt for the ice cream if you're not fat-phobic, doing so will ensure a thicker, richer shake. Frozen yogurt tends to break down in the blending, so the texture will be thinner if you go this route.

Basically, you can add the bourbon, cognac or whiskey to any shake you make, but I will include a recipe for guidance. Its best to have the ice cream soften a bit so that it will blend easily. Leave it out on the counter for 5 to 10 minutes before making the shake.

Diva's Chocolate Bourbon Shake:
  • 1/3 cup of milk (non-fat, whole or soy milk will do)
  • 1 cup of chocolate ice cream (or frozen yogurt)
  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 1 oz. Navan
  • some chocolate syrup for decoration
Add the milk, ice cream, bourbon and Navan to a blender and mix well on high until blended, pulsing if necessary, for approximately 30 seconds. Sample the shake for texture, adding a bit more ice cream to thicken if desired.

Drizzle some chocolate syrup around the rim of the glass and into it pour your shake. Serve and enjoy, repeat as necessary!

As written this recipe will yield one shake.

While I always end with "repeat as necessary" ... this shake is mighty filling and one is probably all you need. Feel free to play around with both the flavor of the ice cream and the amount of bourbon as well. I happen to think an adult shake should taste like one - so in this recipe, the flavor of the bourbon will not be lost. Your mileage may vary, of course. Experiment and have fun with it!

If you don't happen to have any Navan on hand, you can leave it out and let the bourbon go solo, or replace it with 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract if you'd like a hint of vanilla. If you'd like a hint of orange, try some Grand Marnier.

Consider this my bourbon entry for May's challenge. I'm still working on the cucumber drink. Stay tuned.

I hope you'll join us with either a bourbon or cucumber themed drink for the May challenge. Details to be found here, the deadline for entry is midnight on Monday, May 31st.

So, are you a fan of adult milkshakes? If so, what's in yours? Thirsty Diva wants to know.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Off Topic: American Idol Rant

Yes, this is off-topic and completely out of left field, but there's something I have to get off my chest. I'm so shaken by the mediocrity of American Idol's final three that I literally can't move on until I take the opportunity to vent.

When you find yourself longing for the days of a Clay Aiken v.s. Ruben Studdard finale, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Fox could have chosen to air a test pattern for 60 minutes last night and I might have been more entertained; increasingly, I find myself wishing they had. Casey James, Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox collectively have about as much personality and charisma as mung bean. If you mashed all three of them together, I'm not even sure they'd make one complete performer, much less one of interest.

On the bright side, Casey James is H.O.T. - hot; and a talented guitarist as well. Give him an amp, put a band behind him, and he'll be alright ... because he's hot. He's nominally capable off some kind of watered down, bluesy vibe, but rather than showcase this, last night judges Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi saddled him with the incredibly limp (and really kind of creepy) "Daugthers" by John Mayer. If my life goes on as planned, I will never again have to hear this song, much less any other by John Mayer. Merciful Jesus, this is my prayer to you.

On the dark side, we have Lee Dewyze - this year's version of the "obligatory pale imitation of a rocker." If you've been watching, lo these many years, you've seen this character before ... and you've seen it played better by Bo Bice, David Cook, and even (heaven help me) Chris Daughtry. Lee is so utterly lacking in both self-confidence and stage presence that he hasn't even managed to convince himself that he's a musician, much less the me.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like the sound of his voice - when its on key - and I love his back story. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I'll be happy for him if he wins. He'll probably sound great on radio too, once the studio has a chance to clean up his pitch problems. My issue with Lee is lack of personality and passion ... that and the fact that Simon forced him to sing "Hallelujah" last night and he complied.

If anyone knows the "secret chord" that would "please the Lord" such that we would never again hear this song on this show - call me. Please. Collect, if you must.

And, finally, on the darkest side of all, we have Crystal Bowersox. She makes me saddest of all. In the same way that I wanted last year's Idol to be a slightly raunchy, sexual-shape-shifter with black nail polish and more eyeliner than Ellen DeGeneres (have you noticed her make-up lately?!) - I want this year's Idol to be a dreadlocked, single mother with giant tattoos and all the fashion sense of a bag lady. But the Idol Machine doesn't want what I want. It never does.

One look at Lee's ridiculously OTT blaze of glory lighting and the Gospel throngs behind him as he butchered "Hallelujah" told me all I need to know about who the Idol Machine wants as its victor. (A production so offensive, that were I not made comatose from boredom, I might have picked up the phone and voted 470,000 times for Casey out of spite alone.)

Sure, Crystal is not the most original performer by a long shot. Adam secured that spot last year and we all know how that turned out. I've seen dozens of Crystals busking for change in the subway ... and, no, I've never bought their cd's and I'm not likely to buy hers either. But I like her. I like the sound of her voice and I like that she doesn't fit the typical American Idol contestant mold. And, up until two weeks ago, I liked her performances too. But, clearly, this show has sucked the very life out of her. She's a shadow of her former self and that makes me sad.

As American Idol limps towards the finale, sputtering and wheezing as if in the throes of death - and no, I don't just mean Lee's vocals - I find myself becoming increasingly perplexed and furious. Where is the fun? Where is the joy? Instead of looking forward to next week's finale, I find myself dreading it. I'm not even sure I care who wins - and that's a first for me.

I'm not afraid to admit I like the show. Its cheesy and stupid and not at all in line with the music I typically favor, but up until now its always been fun. This year its just sad and boring. I haven't voted once and I haven't downloaded a single tune. Another first for me.

Show? Meet Mr. Shark. You might have noticed him while you were soaring over his head 13 weeks ago.

Apologies to all who don't watch the show and stay tuned for Thirsty Thursdays tomorrow. Heaven knows I need a drink after last night!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake

How's about a little something healthy today? Something rich and chocolaty and satisfying ... without any guilt!

This month, 5 Star Foodie Culinary Adventures' Make-Over Challenge is all about smoothies and shakes. Yum, I'm in! Natasha has asked us to submit a recipe for a smoothie or shake with a twist. Eligible entries include: malts, floats, shakes, smoothies, frappes, and more. Basically, any kind of chilled, blended drink will qualify and you are limited only by your imagination.

Entries are due by Sunday, June, 6th and the round-up will be posted Monday, June 7th. Oh, and there's a fabulous prize too - a HealthMaster Blender. How exciting! Pop on over to 5 Star's place and read the rules if you'd like to enter.

For my first entry, I've made a protein-rich shake that's sure to sure to satisfy. I've replaced the ice cream with a combination of silken tofu and Greek yogurt, and gilded the lily by flavoring it with my favorite combination ... chocolate and peanut butter. What could be better?!

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake:
  • 2/3 cup plain, unsweetened, soy milk
  • 2 oz. lite silken tofu
  • 3 oz. plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons natural peanut butter*
  • 2 or 3 teaspoons agave nectar, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 or 2 ice cubes, cracked
  • dash of ground cinnamon, optional
Combine all ingredients in blender and mix/blend on high until thick and creamy. Pour into a glass and serve.

* In this case, I used some agave sweetened peanut butter made by Earth Balance. If you're unable to find agave peanut butter, opt for the natural, unsweetened stuff, so as to keep the sugar in check.

This is a luscious, creamy shake that's just perfect for breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack, or dessert. It has all of the flavor of a traditional ice cream shake, minus the guilt, plus a healthy protein punch that will keep you full and happy. I'd say that's a winning equation ... and it looks like Diva Cat Lucy thinks so too!

Stay tuned for a possible second shake later in the week - I just might be offering an adult version for Thirsty Thursdays.

And speaking of adult beverages ... the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala was amazing! I had a blast ... though sadly there are no pictures to prove it. The space, while dramatically lit, was rather dark and my camera just doesn't cut it in low light. Suffice it to say, a good time was had by all and I'm already looking forward to next year's event! Hit up this link if you'd like some visuals. (I'm not in any of the photos, but you'll get a sense of the night.)

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

Bon appetite!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Happy Weekend!

This week has definitely been a bit crazy ... and it looks like things might get a whole lot crazier tonight ... in a good way!

If anyone's looking for me, I'll be at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic's Kick-Off Gala tonight at the New York Public Library. Woohoo! The City's premiere mixologists will be on hand working their magic and it appears that there will be food pairings as well.

The event is sold out, but if you've got a ticket and will be there ... keep and eye out for me or drop me an email so we can meet-up. Hint, I'll be the one wearing black. ~wink~

Even if you're not going to the Gala, hit up that link for a list of other festive, informative, and boozy events. The Manhattan Cocktail Classic runs from May 14 - 18th, with events in multiple locations.

Have a beautiful weekend everyone and I hope to be back to business as usual with the posting and commenting next week.


p.s. - If you're wondering about that drink in the picture, its my Lavender Lemon Martini and it is magical!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: May Challenge

If you read last week's post, then you already know the ingredients for this month's Thirsty Thursdays Challenge ... Bourbon and Cucumbers. The good news is that I'm not requiring you to pair them together!

Since we have two ingredients, you are free to choose either bourbon or cucumbers. If you're really daring and want to take a risk - go ahead and pair them. Who knows, maybe you'll create a new mixological sensation and become wildly famous. Maybe bourbon and cukes are a match made in heaven ... only time will tell.

So, a brief little primer on bourbon before we get to the rules.

Bourbon is an American whiskey distilled from fermented mash that's primarily (51% or higher) made of corn. Like most whiskeys, its aged in charred barrels to achieve its distinct brown color and to add to its flavor. In fact, in order to be classified as bourbon, the distilled spirit must be aged for a minimum of two years in new oak barrels that have been charred specifically for aging. Bourbon cannot be aged in used barrels; however, once the barrel has been used, it may be re-used to age scotch and or other spirits.

While bourbon can be made anywhere, the majority of American bourbon is made in the state of Kentucky. Popular brands include: Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark, Four Roses and Jim Beam, to name but a few.

Flavor descriptives often associated with bourbon are: sweet, smokey, vanilla, caramel, toffee, leather, molasses, maple, oak, brown sugar, apricot and almond. That list can go on and on, depending on the sensitivity of one's palate and the particular brand, of course.

Bourbon pairs well with: orange, lemon, vermouth, bitters, mint, peaches, butterscotch, grapefruit, ginger, grenadine, apricot, cherries, rosemary, honey, bacon, pineapple and maple.

And, so as not to leave our friend the cucumber out, let's take a moment to talk about pairing him up as well. In terms of spirits, I'd mix cucumber with almost anything clear ... vodka, gin, sake or shocou, etc., though you're by no means limited to that short list. Use your imagination!

Cucumber pairs well with: mint, cilantro, citrus, tomatoes, dill, parsley, chile peppers, pineapple, yogurt, lemons, limes and thyme, to name but a few.

So what are you waiting for ... get out your shakers and get mixing. The rules of the May Challenge are as follows:

1. Create a cocktail using either bourbon as the base or cucumber as an ingredient and write a blog entry about it. Post your entry sometime before midnight on Monday, May 31st. Previous blog posts in which you've used either bourbon or cucumbers in a cocktail recipe will be accepted.

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

3. Send an email entitled "Thirsty Thursdays May Challenge" to: ttchallenge[at]gmail[dot]com

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 Monday, May 31st
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'll include you in the round-up

The round-up will be posted on Thursday, June 3rd and a winner will be declared at that time. Said winner will have the privilege of choosing next month's spirit or ingredient. Good luck!

Special thanks to Tangled Noodle for choosing the cucumbers and to Suzy for choosing the bourbon. I can't wait to get mixing ... look for a new cocktail recipe next week!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Spicy Sweet Potato and Tomato Soup from The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook

First off, I want to wish a heartfelt, yet belated, Happy Mother's Day to all you beautiful moms out there! And especially to Mama Diva ... the greatest mom a girl could have! Love you the *most* Mama Diva! I hope you all had a spectacular day.

Talk about timing - no sooner did I post my Pitch Policy, when a copy of The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook showed up in my mailbox for review. And I couldn't be happier about it!

The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook, due to be released from Rodale Books on May 11, 2010, is the most interesting South Beach Diet cookbook to date. They have not only expanded their section of Phase 1 & 2 recipes, they've branched out to include some really fabulous ingredients as well. I was delighted to note the use of chickpea flour, flaxmeal and agave nectar, as well as a much expanded meatless meals section in this new offering. The book also includes a wide variety of ethnic meals, such as: Thai Vegetable Stew, African Red Bean Stew, and Coconut Shrimp Curry. All of which combine to make this not simply a "diet cookbook" but a cookbook that foodies can love as well!

A brief word about the diet before we move on. For those unfamiliar, the South Beach Diet is not a no-carb diet. While it is true that carbs are limited during the initial two week period (Phase 1), the intent of the diet is not to eliminate carbs but rather to encourage the choice of healthy, whole grain and high fiber carbs over simple sugars. And, honestly, you can skip the first phase and move right to Phase 2, if you like. Phase 2 allows for whole grains, whole grain breads and pastas, sweet potatoes, and more. In fact, I'm willing to bet that many of you are already eating the South Beach way without even realizing it.

Preceding the recipes, the book offers tips on budget conscious shopping, stocking your pantry, maximizing use of your freezer, as well as suggestions for: Meals for Two, Grab and Go Breakfasts and Lunches, and even Post Work-out Snacking. Its not only a cookbook, its a wonderful resource, dedicated to my favorite topic - eating well with an eye toward health.

Today, I'm featuring my take on The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook's Spiced Sweet Potato and Tomato soup. I have adapted this recipe from the book, changing both the method of preparation and the ingredients to suit my tastes.

Spicy Sweet Potato and Tomato Soup ... Diva's Way:
  • 1 1/4 pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
  • small pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • one 14.5 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes with jalapeno
  • 1 3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
  • 1/4 cup of grated aged Gruyere cheese
  • 2 tablespoons non-fat milk
  • some chopped fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish
  • some freshly popped popcorn for garnish
1. Using a vegetable steamer, steam the sweet potatoes until fork tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from steamer and reserve.

2. In a soup or stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and, when hot, add the shallots, carrots, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and a pinch of Kosher salt, and saute briefly, until the shallots are translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the ground coriander, the cumin, the Ras el Hanout, and the cinnamon and saute, stirring to blend, for one minute.

3. Add the entire can of diced tomatoes with jalapeno and stir to blend for one minute. Return the steamed sweet potatoes to the pot and add the vegetable (or chicken) broth, stirring to blend. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Remove the soup from the heat and, using an immersion blend, puree the soup until thick, creamy and smooth. (Alternately, you could use a blender or a food processor to puree the soup.) Return the soup to medium heat and add the shredded Gruyere cheese and 2 tablespoons of non-fat milk, stirring well, until the cheese has melted and is fully incorporated. Should the soup prove to thick for your liking, you may add a bit more broth to thin to desired consistency.

5. Serve immediately, garnished with some chopped fresh parsley or cilantro and some freshly popped popcorn to make it festive! Enjoy!

As written, this recipe will yield 4 (1 1/2 cup) servings.

The original recipe calls for the inclusion of "light spreadable cheese", rather than Gruyere ... but I just couldn't bring myself to add a processed cheese product to this lovely, wholesome soup. I've opted for the sharp Gruyere and a bit of skim milk here, but I'm certain you could leave the cheese and milk out altogether and still enjoy the marvelous flavor of this soup. The cheese does add a certain creaminess though, which is absolutely lovely. Do as you see fit.

This is a hearty, healthy, warmly spiced meal-in-a-bowl that is sure to satisfy and comfort dieters and non-dieters alike. I like so much I'll probably double the batch next time and freeze half for a quick reheat when needed.

I've also switched out the garnish, due to necessity ... the original calls for toasted pumpkin seeds, which would be fantastic ... but I didn't have any on hand. I've long enjoyed a bit of popcorn as a garnish for tomato soup, so I've resurrected that penchant here. Again, the choice is yours.

I'll be submitting this recipe to both Hey What's for Dinner Mom?'s Just Another Meatless Monday feature and Kahakai Kitchen's Souper Sundays feature.

Lastly, although I received my copy of The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook for review, it is a book I would have purchased myself, just based on the index alone. I recommend it to dieters and non-dieters alike and I can't wait to explore it further. Its absolutely ... Divalicious!

Bon appetite!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thirsty Thursdays: April Challenge Round-up

Clearly, its going to take more than one month to get my idea of a cocktail challenge off the ground. I only had two bloggers willing to take me up on my Gin challenge. Its ok, though, I'm not deterred. I'm in this for the long haul. And I'm especially not deterred because their entries were so fabulous!

First up, we have Tangled Noodle's Calama-Ginger Sipper - an intriguing mix of ginger infused simple syrup, calamansi juice and gin, plus a bit of tonic for topping up. (Pictured above.) For those unfamiliar with it, calamansi is a citrus fruit, native to the Philippines. Noodle describes it as a bit more tart than a lime but sweeter than a lemon ... and I am dearly hoping to find some calamansi fruit or juice in my neck of the woods so I can try this drink!

As you'll see in her post, Tangled Noodle had a bit of help in the mixology department from her husband, Mr. Noodle. I can't tell you much this thrills me, because I know that I've found kindred spirits in the Noodle household. I love the mix of citrus, ginger and gin here and I have no doubt this is one special sipper. Thank you both, Noodles, I can't wait to try this!

Next up we have a spicy take on a classic ... and its absolutely calling my name. Suzy, from Suzy's Goodies, took up the challenge and ran with it ... all the way to the Mile High State - she was in Colorado when she sipped this little beauty for the first time. This is Suzy's take on a dirty martini and its called the Mile High Martini.

Right off the bat, I love a Dirty Martini and I really love this one because its spicy. This inventive take on a classic features Bombay Sapphire Gin, dry vermouth, and the juice from some spicy marinated olives. The marinade included garlic and plenty of crushed red pepper flakes. You can see a few of the flakes floating gently atop the drink and, my, don't they look inviting? I know I want to take a sip ... ok, a lot of sips!

I'm eternally grateful to both Tangled Noodle and Suzy for taking up my challenge in such fine fashion. I tip my tiara to both of you for your truly Divalicious creations!

Now, I know I said I'd choose a winner when I first explained the challenge. Though with only two entries, that hardly seems fair. And frankly, I'm delighted with both entries. Accordingly, I'm declaring you both winners! You may each choose a spirit or ingredient for May's Thirsty Thursday's Challenge and our entrants - should we be able to drum some up - will have the option of choosing either.

Please state your choice of spirit or ingredient in the comments and I promise I'll do a better job of promoting the challenge next month so we'll have more participants.

As a bit of incentive, I'm going to close with the wise words of Tangled Noodle, in hopes that this will encourage the rest of you to get out your martini shakers and get mixing. In a recent email to me, Noodle said:

"I do wish people would realize the joys of the home cocktail! Why drop a fortune at a bar when you can pour those funds into great quality spirits and have such fun concocting new drinks to boot?"

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Guidelines for the May challenge will be announced as soon as the spirits are chosen. And, in the meantime, please stop by both Suzy's Goodies and Tangled Noodle and show their drinks some love. You can find the recipes for these enchanting cocktails via the links above.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Diva's Pitch Policy

Owing to a recent spate of email (read a ton) from a number of unusually persistent (read impatient) individuals, I have finally buckled down and written that Pitch Policy I've been meaning to draft for the last year and a half.

With deepest apologies to my regular audience, I beg your indulgence while we get this bit of necessary business out of the way today. Rest assured, we'll be back to recipes later in the week.

The idea for a Pitch Policy first came to me from a post on my pal Charmian Christie's blog, Christie's Corner. Her pitch policy is witty, funny, and comprehensive all at once and I thank her for putting the idea into my head ... what now seems like ages ago. I've borrowed heavily from her format ... so, again, thanks Charmian - I couldn't have done this without you!

Let me preface my own policy with the statement that I honestly do welcome invitations of all sorts from: PR agencies, publicists, publishing houses, Chefs, restaurateurs, local businesses and product manufactures, etc. This policy is in no way intended to discourage your reaching out to me; rather, my intent is to clarify both the types of offers I will and will not accept, and the manner and method by which I will respond to your invitation.

Diva's Pitch Policy:

With a name like The Diva on a Diet, you can well imagine that my email box runneth over with offers of all sorts of diet related products ... and it does, in spades. While I may indeed, at times, be "on a diet", I have firm set of rules about that which I will and will not write.

I am open to reviewing, writing about and highlighting:
  • Whole, fresh, real foods
  • Organically made products and food items
  • A very limited range of convenience products, such as canned broth, canned bean, canned tomatoes and the like
  • Healthy meals, healthy recipes, healthy snacks whose primary ingredients fall into the above categories
  • Diet and lifestyle tips, so long as they offer a well balanced approach
  • Books which offer nourishing recipes, made primarily from whole fresh real foods
  • Books which encourage a healthy, balanced approach to weight-loss and weight-management
  • A wide variety of cookbooks, so long as they contain recipes that encourage the use of fresh foods rather than prepackaged food stuffs
  • Other books which suit my tastes
  • Beauty products, so long as they are trusted brands
  • Alcoholic beverages which suit my tastes
  • Products, brands, gadgets and kitchen equipment etc., which I already know, use and trust
  • New products, brands, services and items which I deem to be of value and those which fall within the scope of my mission
My work on Beach Eats is intended to encourage readers to cook for themselves and to embrace a balanced approach to weight-management issues, where desired. Because of my commitment to cooking well, mostly from scratch ...

I will not write about:
  • Diet pills, diet supplements, get-thin-quick supplements or any kind of supposed miracle weight-loss scheme
  • Diet plans that involve prepackaged or pre-made foods
  • Food products which contain a frighteningly long list of sugary substances and chemicals
  • Books, websites, studies or weight-loss "guru" personalities that endorse radical or extreme measures of any kind. Again, no pills or supplements, including "natural" supplements, no weight-loss surgeries, no fad diets, no "meal replacement" diets, etc.
  • Quick-fix, miracle-cure beauty products
  • Companies, brands, products and services which do not fit within the scope of my mission, as decided by ... me
In summary and with relatively few exceptions: if I wouldn't buy it and or use it myself, I won't be endorsing it.

Diva's Mission: Eating well with an eye towards health. No gimmicks, schemes, pills, potions or magical machinations; just good cooking ... mostly from scratch.

Disclosure Policy:

I will state clearly that I have been given a book, product or item for review when and if that is the case. I have a full disclosure policy in this regard. Unless otherwise specified, it is safe to assume that if I'm writing about a book, product or item, I have bought it myself and I am writing about it because it is something I recommend.

As a general proposition, I frequently highlight brands and products that I use and enjoy. I do so without prompting. Unless otherwise stated, these recommendations are offered simply because I enjoy these products. In all cases, where a specific product has been given to me, that fact will be clearly disclosed.

I will not accept offers of money for writing about or recommending any product, service, item or restaurant.

I do accept samples and abide by the above disclosure statements in every case of such.

With the exception of an occasional guest post from a member of the Diva Family, I write this blog myself. If I agree to review your book, product, service or item, I will give my honest opinion. Period.

If I have a personal relationship with any author, publisher, manufacturer or agent, I will disclose that in my post.

Response Policy:

I like you PR people, I really like you! And I will respond to you ... eventually. My email box is somewhat out of control and it does take time for me to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. I try to set aside one day a week to respond to offers, though life being what it is, the week sometimes gets away from me. I beg your patience. If your offer falls within the above categories of that which I will consider - I will get back to you.

If, however, you're offering me some wacky pill that makes one's mouth taste like sour lemons in order to discourage one from eating (no, I am not making this up!), odds are I will not get back to you. I simply cannot respond to each and every offer and those which are decidedly outside my policy will likely go unanswered. Sorry.

If after all of this, you would still like to reach out to me - and I sincerely hope you do - you may reach me at the following address: divaonadiet[at]gmail[dot]com.

It is my pleasure to review, recommend and highlight that which falls within the scope of my mission and I look forward to working with you!

Finally, I reserve the right to edit, amend, review, revisit and revamp any portion or portions of this policy at any time.

The End.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Grilled Chile Lime Chicken

It may not look like much in the pan, but it was super tasty on the plate!

This quick and versatile recipe comes from the Knack Make it East Mexican Cooking cookbook and it couldn't be more perfect for the hot, summery weather of late.

While the original recipe calls for the inclusion of a whole, fresh jalapeno pepper, it turns out I didn't have any on hand, so I opted for some bottled chile sauce and a some green chile Tobasco sauce instead. I don't think it suffered one bit. The recipe also calls for dried chiles, which I did use, though I'm certain you could substitute 2 or 3 canned chipotle chiles and some of the adobo sauce, if that should be to your liking.

The same holds true for the citrus component ... out of limes? Opt for some fresh orange juice instead. This is a quick-fix meal with a taste that is sure to please. Experiment with the composition of chiles and have fun with it! There's room for broad interpretation here.

Grilled Chile Lime Chicken:
  • 3 large dried chiles, such as ancho or guajillo (I used both)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • juice of two whole limes
  • 1/4 cup of bottled chile sauce (I used "medium")
  • 2 teaspoons Green Chile Tobasco sauce
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • some wedges of lime and some chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
1. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles and place the chiles into a small bowl. Boil some water and pour over the chiles, just to cover. Allow the chiles to rest in the hot water for 30 minutes, so they will rehydrate.

2. Remove the chiles from water and reserve the liquid. Place chiles into a small food processor or blender. Add the garlic, the lime juice, the bottled chile sauce, the Tobasco, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, then pulse and process until the mixture is pureed, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add two to three tablespoon of the reserved chile liquid to thin the mixture.

3. Pour the puree into a glass baking dish or pie dish large enough to hold the chicken breasts in one layer. Add the chicken to the chile puree and turn to coat well on both sides. Pierce each piece of chicken with the tines of a fork several times all over to allow the marinade to penetrate. Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

4. Heat your grill or grill pan to medium-high heat and brush the grill with some oil. Remove the chicken from marinade, allow some of the access to drip off, and grill the chicken on both sides until cooked throughout, turning the chicken two or three times while grilling to ensure even browning. Chicken is fully cooked when the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees and the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from grill when cooked and garnish with some chopped fresh cilantro and a wedge of lime. Serve and enjoy!

A brief word about the Knack cookbook - its filled with more than 100 recipes for simple, traditional Mexican fare ... everything from basic salsas to refreshing Margaritas and more! I was not asked to review this book, nor is this a review, but I was sent this book my friend who works for the house which published it. While the structure of the book may take a bit of getting used to, the instructions for each recipe are spread out over two pages, the techniques are sound and the range of recipes is thorough.

If you'd like to go the original route, replace the bottled chile sauce and Tobasco with one whole jalapeno, seeds and stems removed. No doubt the resulting puree will be spicier, but I'm sure it will be equally delicious. I plan to make it that way next time.

And, will wonders never cease, this is certainly a South Beach-friendly recipe! I predict a concomitant rise in diet-friendly recipes here on the blog as temperatures continue to rise!

Bon appetite!