Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Making food fun for the kiddies

The Diva doesn't have any kids yet...but that doesn't mean she's ignorant to the struggles some parents have with getting the kiddies to eat their peas (and other foods). Enter, Constructive Eating's bulldozer pusher, fork lift fork and front loader spoon!

I think these are absolutely adorable, and it makes me wish there were more little tykes around for me to buy little holiday presents for! According to the company's web site (www.constructiveeating.com), the utensils are textured, have easy-grip handles and are modeled to scale. Parents can appreciate that they are dishwasher safe and are made with FDA-approved that are are PVC free, phthalate free and free of Bisphenol A (BPA).

The utensils come in a set that retails for about $15-$20 and can be purchased online from Creative Eating, or a number of other online retailers. You can find them locally at Kitchen Arts on Newbury Street in Boston (both as a set and sold individually).

A must for any pint-sized future foodie on your list!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Like clockwork, the changing fall leaves bring about this annual craving for butternut squash. Whether it’s mashed with brown sugar and butter or in these raviolis, I’ll take it any way I can get it. My recipe for butternut squash ravioli is stripped down, simple and no fuss. I cheat and use small wonton wrappers, but they are just as good – if not better – than using homemade pasta dough to make them. Also, by using store-bought wontons, it makes this recipe possible to throw together on a weeknight.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

For the Ravioli

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into half-inch cubes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh sage, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 package wonton wrappers
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

For the Sauce
4 tbsp butter (can be either salted or unsalted)
fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine squash, oil, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss well to combine and spread in one even layer on the baking sheet. Roast until tender and starting to brown, about 30-40 minutes. Remove any large pieces of sage and, using a potato masher or food processor, mash mixture until no large pieces of squash remain. Cool completely.

At a clean workspace, combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl. To make the ravioli, place a rounded teaspoon of the squash mixture in the middle of a single wonton wrapper. Using a small pastry brush (or your finger), moisten two edges of the wrapper with the cornstarch mixture.
Gently fold the wrapper into a triangle, joining opposite corners and taking care to remove any air bubbles and not push the squash mixture out of the edges. Using a sharp knife, trim the edges of the wonton, if necessary.

If not cooking immediately, place the completed ravioli on a parchment lined baking sheet or cutting board.

Freeze completed raviolis on a baking sheet for approximately 30 minutes or until firm and then transfer to a ziplock freezer bag.

To cook, bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Add a small handful of salt and return to a boil. In a small skillet melt butter over medium heat and add sage, salt and pepper and cook until butter begins to brown, about 3 minutes. In the meantime, add ravioli to the saucepan, one at a time, so that none overlap. When ravioli begin to float and turn translucent, remove from water using a slotted spoon. Transfer ravioli to the skillet and toss in butter sauce to coat. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes
Because these raviolis are a two-step process (roasting the squash and then assembling), it’s a good recipe to split up. I always end up roasting the squash and then tossing it in the fridge for a day or two before tackling the ravioli.

Since the squash is roasted and not boiled, it doesn’t get mushy or watery if refrigerated. That doesn’t mean you can’t make this with frozen squash or homemade mashed squash (or using some other type of squash) - I’d just recommend giving it some time to drain off or using cheesecloth to wring out some of the liquid. Trust me, you’ll be less likely to have ravs that fall apart when boiling.

I always end up with triangular ravs when I use wonton wrappers. You can use two wrappers to make a square ravioli, but I find the squares quite large and hard to handle when making and cooking. Personal preference.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A chill in the air makes for good soup in the pot

The weather's getting a little chilly up here in New England, so it's time to break out a few of my favorite soup recipes by Giada de Laurentis. I don't typically make a lot of Giada's recipes, but there are some that, with a few of my own tweaks, have grown to be staples in my kitchen.

Giada’s Italian Wedding Soup is a recipe that serves as a solid starting point for my own. It’s relatively simple and doesn’t require you to bake the meatballs before adding them to the soup. One less pan to clean, yea!

In my version, I swapped beef for turkey, add parsley for additional flavor and breadcrumbs to help keep the meatballs together while poaching. I also prefer escarole in my soups, but any greenery will do.

Italian Wedding Soup
Adapted from Giada de Laurentis

For the Meatballs
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 onion minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine
1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the Soup
10 cups low sodium chicken broth (or stock)
1 head of escarole, roughly chopped and rinsed well
Salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten

In a large bowl, combine the ingredients for the meatballs. Using a wooden spoon, gently mix ingredients until well-combined. Using teaspoons or gloved hands, make small, rounded meatballs about an inch in diameter, and set aside on a tray or cutting board.

In a large saucepan, bring broth to a simmer and add escarole. Return to a simmer and drop meatballs in one at a time, pushing gently to submerge. Simmer until meat is cooked through, about 8 minutes. When meat is cooked, season as needed with salt and pepper. Stir soup in a circular motion and slowly stream in beaten eggs. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes
I used my trusty cookie scoop to make the meatballs uniform in size. I finished them by rolling them between gloved hands and dropping them right into the simmering pot. Be gentle with the soup right after adding the meat or you’ll end up with lots of meatball pieces instead of little spheres. Not so pretty, but still yummy.

When it comes to streaming beaten egg into soup, I’m miserable (and its part of the reason why I haven’t included any pictures of the plated soup…it’s just ugly!). Ideally, you’re supposed to get the boiling broth moving in a circular motion and then add the egg in a thin stream so it cooks up all stringy (like the egg drop soup you get at the local Chinese joint). Mine just looked like obliterated egg particles floating in the soup. Hey, as long as it tastes good, right? Hopefully you’ll fare better.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fun...and food at the Topsfield Fair

Last weekend kicked off the 190th annual Topsfield Fair, America’s oldest agricultural fair, which continues through Monday. While New England holds quite a few firsts in the American History department, it’s somewhat surprising that an agricultural festival in a small town on the North Shore of Massachusetts can trump the Midwest and South – in many ways the heartland of America’s farming industry – by being the oldest. Go figure.

History and bragging rights aside, where else are you going to get to see the Royal Canadian Mounted Police do their musical ride!?!

Now, I’m not letting you get to the good stuff without another history lesson, folks, so snuggle up to the screen and read on. The Topsfield Fair was first started in 1818 by the Essex Agricultural Society, a group of farmers who wanted to “promote and improve the agricultural interests of farmers and others in Essex County.” It began as a series of cattle shows with exhibits and fairs held all over the county until, in 1910, it settled at what is now known as the Topsfield Fairgrounds in Topsfield, MA. Incidentally, the fairgrounds just so happens to be the same site where, in 1818, the original farmers gathered in Cyrus Cummings Tavern to form the Society.

Today, the Essex Agricultural Society has more than 1,200 members and the fair has been held annually since 1818 except for on six occasions, all mandated by government decree: it was suspended for three years during the Civil War and for three years, 1943-1945, during World War II.

What makes the Topsfield Fair so interesting, aside from the enormous gourds, blue ribbon steers and educational agricultural lessons, is the food – the prized local fare as well as the old, staple favorites that all of us, whether we’re six or ninety-six – look forward to when we enter the turnstiles. Lets take a look, shall we? Here are some fun facts about our favorite fair foods.

Cotton Candy
Different forms of Cotton Candy have been around since as early as the 1400s, when chefs in Europe added elements of spun sugar to desserts. The spun sugar was often thick and resembled blown glass rather than the light and fluffy Cotton Candy of today, but it was still malleable and took shape as webs, eggs, bird's nests, castles and other designs. In the 1800's, making Cotton Candy was a difficult and dangerous task. Loaf sugar (made from cane or beets) was combined with water and other ingredients and heated until just the right temperature and consistency. When ready, the candy maker would use a fork or whisk to pull the hot liquid out of pot and fling it in the air, cooling it quickly (just imagine the burns!). What we consider to be modern Cotton Candy was invented in 1897 by four men. John C. Wharton and William Morrison, a pair of Nashville candy-makers, developed a patented electric machine that used centrifugal force to spin and melt sugar through small holes. In 1900, Thomas Patton patented a gas-fired rotating plate to make Cotton Candy around a fork and debuted it at the Ringling Brothers Circus. Around the same time, Louisiana dentist Josef Lascaux made Cotton Candy available at his office (to drum up business, perhaps?). In 1904, Wharton and Morrison took Cotton Candy, or "Fairy Floss," as it was known at the time, to the St. Louis World's fair, where they sold 68,655 boxes for 25 cents a box, making a whopping $17,163.75 on the novel snack.

Candy Apples
Candy apples (or candied apples) first appeared in 1908, when Newark candy-maker William Kolb, experimenting with red cinnamon candy around Christmastime, dipped apples in the mixture and put them on display in the front windows of his shop. It soon became an annual item and spread all over the Jersey Shore and beyond. Today, the candy coating largely remains a combination of sugar, corn syrup, water, cinnamon and red food coloring that creates a hardened shell when it cools on the surface of an apple. In America, candy apples are typically found in the fall around Halloween, when apples are in season. A close cousin to the candy apple is the toffee or caramel apple, which was invented in the 1950's by Dan Walker, a sales rep for Kraft Foods. Just as yummy.

Funnel Cake
The Pennsylvania Dutch and Spanish generally battle for the title of creator of the funnel cake. But whether you're a batter frying German immigrant or a Churro fan from Mexico, you've certainly helped influence a nation's love for friend snacks. Funnel cake is made by pouring batter through a funnel and into hot oil in a circular web pattern and frying it until golden brown. Depending on the region, it can be served with powdered sugar, jelly or any number of other toppings.Because they are quick to make and must be served or eaten soon after frying, they are a popular staple at fairs, ballparks and other events. How is funnel cake different from fried dough? Well, fried dough and elephant ears are similar to funnel cakes in that they are fried in hot oil, but the batter for these treats is made with a yeast dough. Funnel cake batter is made with unleavened butter.

Corn Dogs
The corn dog dates back as early as 1929, with a "Krusty Korn Dog baker" appearing in the Albert Pick-L. Barth catalog of hotel and restaurant supplies. While it was likely born out of the rise of street vendors in the early 1900's, many lay claim to its invention. Carl and Neil Fletcher were the first to sell them at the Texas State Fair in the late 1930's;The Pronto Pup vendors were feeding hungry masses at the Minnesota State Fair in 1941; Cozy Dog Drive-in, in Springfield, IL, claims to have been the first to serve corn dogs on sticks, in 1946, and also in 1946, Dave Barham opened the first location of Hot Dog on a Stick at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California.

What's your favorite fare...at the fair?

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Diva explores The Omnivore's Hundred

Prompted by a call from my mother wondering why it hasn't appeared on the blog yet, I figured its time to post my results for The Omnivore's Hundred, a list of 100 foods "every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life," courtesy of the blog Very Good Taste.

For those of you who'd like to follow the bouncing ball and share the reaches of your gastrointestinal fortitude:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here linking to your results.

My list rounds out at 63. See below with witty commentary included:

1. Venison (mmm, venison meatballs)
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (for dinner, for breakfast, all the time!)
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (no way, Jose.)
7. Cheese fondue (cheese makes the world a better place)
8. Carp
9. Borscht (oh to vacation in Germany again)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari (yum)
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich (my trusty alternative to the same old turkey sandwich)
14. Aloo gobi (and still don’t really like curries)
15. Hot dog from a street cart (“Well I love that dirty water….”)
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle (I even got Picky Eater to eat these!)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries (right off the bushes)
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans (love with #3)
25. Brawn, or head cheese (cold, congealed meat from the head of a cow? gross.)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava (probably eat more than I should)
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (tried both, but not simultaneously)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (COLLEGE! Much more fun when made into Jello Jigglers)
39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (yes, I’ve tried a few chocolate-covered creepie crawlies)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (not yet, but definitely on the list! Tingle tongue, tingle!)
47. Chicken tikka masala (there we go again with the curry)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi (thank you, Air Japan, en route to Tokyo)

53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (blueberry ale and smooth going down)

59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (Rolaids anyone?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (stinky feet!)
66. Frogs’ legs (I’ll get around to it one of these days)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears, or funnel cake
68. Haggis (um….no.)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (last time I checked, still banned)
74. Gjetost or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (tea snob)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky (I’ll eat anything covered in chocolate)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (*sigh* someday.)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (does rabbit count?)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (horses are for riding, not eating)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (just the e-mail version)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Diva bakes a cake...from scratch.

Inspired by Deb's Project Wedding Cake undertaking over at Smitten Kitchen, I decided to try my hand at baking a cake from scratch for my mom's birthday. Prior to this, I was Duncan Hines' best friend and had never had even eaten good old baked-at-home scratch cake, let alone made one. Undeterred, I decided on vanilla cake with layers of dark chocolate ganache and raspberry curd and frosted with Swiss buttercream icing.

Go big or go home, I say.

A 45-minute car ride up to the family beach house in 90 degree heat made this first attempt at scratch cake even more exciting. Okay...maybe it's only a 3-layer birthday cake and not a 3-tier wedding cake, but hey, I still stressed.

I used Deb's vanilla buttermilk cake recipe, largely because her recipe notes are so detailed that it seemed practically foolproof (or perhaps I'm just foolish!). Unlike your favorite Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker cake mixes, scratch cakes typically require you to make two mixtures which are then combined. In this case, I made the flour mixture and the egg mixture, and then practiced my mad folding skills. Despite splatters of batter all over my kitchen, the cakes turned out beautifully.

Cooled cakes mean time to talk fillings and frosting. I decided to cheat on the chocolate ganache and used a jar of Shootflying Hill Sauce Co's Dark Chocolate Lover's Dessert Sauce, since it's amazing and probably better tasting than anything I could have thrown together in short notice. But more on Shootflying Hill later. For the curd, I knew I wanted something that was creamy and thick, but not full of seeds or reliant on whipped cream (no refrigerator space for the finished cake). In a nutshell, it meant a cooked sauce with lots of butter and egg yolks. Yum, but definitely not diet...

For the frosting, I was hell-bent on trying Swiss buttercream. If there's one thing I hate, it's an overly sweet icing, so this seemed like a nice change of palette. From my obsessive frosting research, I learned that it can be a finicky icing that takes a while to come together, but well worth the effort. With that in mind, I was determined not to give up if my Swiss buttercream turned to a curdily mess, setting the bowl in a large tray of ice in order to help it come together. Success!

Overall, the cake came out great, and there are already plans to bake another. Next time I'll likely double the icing recipe, since the one I used yielded just enough to cover the cake, but not as much as I would have liked. I'm also going to try freezing the layers right after baking in order to preserve the moisture, since I noticed that it dried out significantly from when it was baked and trimmed to when it was eaten (despite no complaints from the fam).

Dust off your cake pans and give it a try. The taste is well worth the effort.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
From Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Yields one three-layer 9-inch round cake

3 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix on low speed briefly to blend; then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk until well blended. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding it in completely after each addition. There will be 9 cups of batter; our 3 cups batter into each pan.

Bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Turn the layers out onto wire racks by placing a rack on top of a pan, inverting it, and lifting off the pan. Peel off the paper liners and let cool completely.

Raspberry Curd

Yields about 2 cups

3 half-pint baskets raspberries
1/2 C. sugar
4 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 t. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Puree the raspberries and put them through a fine strainer to remove the seeds. Measure 1 1/2 c. puree, heat it in a non-corroding saucepan, and stir in the sugar and butter. Taste and add the lemon juice to taste, or more sugar if needed. Whisk the eggs and egg yolks just enough to mix them, then stir in some of the hot puree to warm them. Return to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring until the mixture is thick and reaches a temperature of 170 degrees to ensure that the eggs are cooked. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until needed.

Swiss Buttercream Icing

Yields about 3 cups

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
26 tablespoons butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar in a large metal bowl over simmering water until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and use an electric mixer to whip egg mixture until it turns white and doubles in size. Add vanilla (or any flavoring you'd like to use) and begin adding butter a stick at a time. Whip until mixture forms a fluffy, smooth icing. Swiss buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container until needed. The icing may need to sit out to soften and may require additional whipping in order to spread.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Quick & Easy Panzanella

One of my favorite summer dishes is Panzanella, an Italian tomato salad that includes bread, fresh mozzarella cheese and really any variety of summer veggies you want. This is my summer staple for hot summer nights.

This week, I couldn't resist a pint of multi-colored cherry tomatoes that were at the Belmont Farmers' Market. They were so sweet, I'm actually kind of surprised there were any left for the salad by the time dinner came around. Good thing Picky Eater doesn't like fresh tomatoes (practically a sin!) more for me. I also managed to snag the last ball of fresh mozzarella from the cheese vendor getting ready to pack up his bay for the day...and the last baguette from the baker. Talk about timing. Panzanella was in the stars.

Panzanella is great because it's so versatile. It's been called "leftover salad" and for good measure. Got a piece of red onion in the fridge? Chop it up and throw it in the bowl. Cucumber? Sure, why not. Celery, bell peppers, boiled eggs, garlic, onion, tuna, chicken, lettuce and carrots are just a few on a long list of summer favorites that can find themselves tossed in Panzanella.

This time around, I wasn't in the mood for anything crazy. No bite of vinegar, no garlic or onion breath either. Just a simple salad infused with the flavors of basil and olive oil.

Quick & Easy Panzanella

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
1 small baguette, cubed
5-10 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium size bowl, combine all ingredients and toss until coated with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. To serve, toss salad and add additional oil or salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Return of Chef Louie

If you missed out on making your Restaurant Week reservations and you're still looking for some good eats this Thursday, head down to the Joshua Tree (formerly Tonic) at 1316 Commonwealth Ave in Brighton around 7 p.m. for the return of Chef Louie Night (formerly Iron Chef Louie).

It's the first Chef Louie Night in 2 years and is the last before Chef Louie Dibicarri takes the helm at the new Sel Del La Terre restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Here's how it works: vote at http://www.cheflouienight.com/ on a preselected list of themes and ingredients, none of which Chef Louie and his staff find out about until hours before the event goes down. $20 gets you in the door, drinking a complementary Level Vodka cocktail, and all you can eat at Chef Louie's buffet dinner of whatever was voted most popular.

Chef Louie started these little soirees in his Brookline apartment 7 years ago and grew them to fabulous dinner parties in some of Boston's finest bars and nightclubs.

Vote, RVSP and buy tickets at http://www.cheflouienight.com./

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Easy Weeknight Thai Lettuce Wraps

I'm frequently coming across recipes for Thai lettuce wraps (ala P.F. Chang's) but always find myself disappointed when the ingredient list is a mile long and so involved that there's just no way I'm going to tackle them for a weeknight meal. When Cooking Light printed a ridiculously easy and fast version in the current issue (August 2008) I simply had to share it, with some of my own little tweaks (see my recipe notes).

I took another cue from Cooking Light and made some sticky sushi rice to go along with these; in fact, the rice is actually good inside the wraps and topped with the chicken. It also makes the meal a little more substantial.

Thai Lettuce Wraps (Adapted from Cooking Light)

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 lb. ground chicken breast
3 tbsp. fresh mint, chopped fine
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped fine
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
4 tsp. Thai fish sauce
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
16 lettuce leaves
Lime wedges for serving

Wash lettuce leaves thoroughly and lay on paper towels or clean dish towel to dry.

Heat a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add water, onion and chicken. Cook until chicken is cooked through, breaking up the cooked pieces with a spoon. Drain, if needed, and remove from heat. Stir in mint, cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce and pepper. Stir well.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons of chicken into each lettuce leaf. Service with lime wedges, if desired.

Serves 4

Recipe Notes

Cooking Light's "Thai Chicken in Cabbage Leaves" recipe called for using napa (or Chinese) cabbage, not lettuce. I opted for lettuce, mostly because the napa cabbage at my farm stand was enormous and the Picky Eater at home won't touch cabbage with a 10 foot pole. As an alternative, a small head of Boston lettuce works, since it's kind of cup-shaped to begin with, or the larger outer leaves of endive make for a crunchy boat that holds its shape well (just save the smaller inner leaves in the fridge for your next batch of salad).

Lets talk about Thai fish sauce for a minute. Its a fabulously stinky brown liquid made from the juice of fish (typically anchovies) that have been salted and fermented over a period of time. Scared yet? Well, if you've ever had Thai food, Cambodian food, or Vietnamese food, chances are you've tasted Thai fish sauce. If it's not in your fridge, you can usually find it in the international aisle of your local grocery store for about $4. Don't worry thought, if you're throwing these together and don't want to drop the dough, soy sauce is a perfectly acceptable substitute (because its so salty, start off with about 2 tablespoons and gradually add a little more according to your taste preferences).

If you hate cilantro, leave it out. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I hate it in my guac, but happen to love it in these wraps.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Monday, August 11, 2008

New Look and Giveaway Winner!

Bear with me, folks, I'm attempting a little redesign! So, you may see some new functions and looks over the next few weeks as I bumble along and dust off my ancient graphic design and HTML skills. As always, suggestions and recommendations welcome.

Now, onto the fun things...we have a giveaway winner! This month's giveaway is an adorable apron and glove set courtesy of Carolyn's Kitchen: Out of 25 comments there were 20 eligible entries (no repeat entries, sorry!), and using Randomizer.org the lucky number turned out to be 20! So.....

.....Congratulations to Brian in Salt Lake City, Utah for winning this month's giveaway! Yay! Brian will receive the apron and glove set pictured above from Carolyn's Kitchen so he (or his significant other or sister or mom or whoever!) can cook ever so fashionably. E-mail me with your mailing address and I'll get it out to you this week.

To everyone else, thanks for playing...and thanks for all your new ideas! We'll start off with the request from Perilloparodies, who asked for a vegetable bread recipe that isn't the same old zucchini or carrot bread. Well, I have a recipe for Butternut Squash Bread that looks delish, and is more of a bread than a loafy cake. It's still untested in my kitchen, but I wanted to share:

Butternut Squash Bread
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F to 115 degrees F)
1 1/4 cups mashed, cooked butternut squash
1 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees F)
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7 cups all-purpose flour

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in water; let stand for 5 minutes. Add squash, milk, eggs, butter, sugar and salt; mix well. Gradually add 3-1/2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Shape into three loaves; place in greased 8-in. x 4-in. x 2-in. loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until tops are golden. Remove from pans to cool on wire racks.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Farmers' Market Finds: White Peach Pie

I recently stopped into the weekly Farmers' Market in Belmont and came across these beautiful little white peaches courtesy of Kimball Fruit Farm:

They weren't quite ready for eating, but would soften up nicely in a pie. A mini-pie that is, using my vintage Pyrex 6 inch pie plate...a perfect pie for two! I've scaled up my recipe for a full-sized pie.

White Peach Pie

For the crust
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes (2 sticks)
6 tbsp. ice water

For the filling
5 cups sliced peaches
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal and butter pieces are no larger than small peas. Add the water, and mix with a fork until the dough pulls together. Transfer dough to a work surface and shape into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill while preparing filling.

In a large bowl, combine peaches, sugar, flour and cinnamon and stir to combine. Let sit while rolling dough. On a floured surface, divide dough in half and roll out top and bottom crusts. Lay one crust in pie plate and leave dough hanging over edges. Pour peach mixture into crust, making sure that filling is evenly distributed. Add bits of butter to top of filling and cover with other dough round. Seal and flute edges and slit top of pie for venting.

Bake for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an addtiional 30 to 35 minutes until the crust is browned and the juice bubbles through the vents. If the edges start to brown, cover with strips of aluminum foil (or a pie shield) to protect from burning. Cool slightly before serving.

Don't forget this week's giveaway! I'm giving away a gorgeous apron and glove set courtesy of Carolyn's Kitchen. Comment here to be eligible to win!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Monday, August 4, 2008

It's Giveaway Time!

After a crazy food and baking-filled weekend complete with NO internet connection, I've got a backlog of photos, recipes and musings to collect and post, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, I've got a little treat for you all this week! I'm giving away a vintage-inspired apron courtesy of Carolyn's Kitchen. Carolyn West's sassy and saucy little aprons and coordinating gloves combine 1940's patterns with modern designs and the tease of a classic naughty pin-up.

Carolyn says it best, "I wanted to bring back the glamour, sexiness, and cuteness of a bygone innocent era. The gloves and fabrics are new and nicer - it's a new and improved version of the '40's. I let my imagination run, and originated the embodiment of that 40's girl in the apron and gloves, living in our ultra modern age. Suzy Homefaker slaves over a hot microwave for minutes at a time, constant hostess to all, in and around her kitchen, enticing temptress to you know who, you know where."

Many thanks to Carolyn for The Diva's first (hopefully of many) giveaway! One lucky winner will get Carolyn's Dorothy-style Breast Cancer apron with matching gloves, just in time to start your holiday shopping for this year! The Rules:
  1. Leave a comment that includes either a link back to your blog or an e-mail address so I can contact you.
  2. Tell me what you're cooking this week...or something you'd like to see ME cook or write about onthe blog.
  3. Only those with a U.S. mailing address are eligible to win (for shipping purposes).

Remember, commenting is open to anyone, but they are moderated, so it may take a little while to appear online. Comments will be numbered according to when they are posted (i.e., first post = #1) and the winner will be chosen using Randomizer.org.

Commenting is open until Monday, August 11, at 12:00 p.m. ET. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, August 12. Good luck!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Green Grocer Chic

If you're like me, you get to the checkout line at the grocery store when suddenly it dawns on you that the pile of reusable grocery bags you conveniently stash in the car are, conveniently, still. in. the. car.


Dilemma and, well, just plain bulky. If you're like me, you grab a basket and seemingly shop for enough food to feed a family of 8, convincing myself that it will all cram nicely in a one by two plastic basket instead of a cart. With all this food, where exactly are all those folded up canvas bags going to go anyway?

Well, on a recent trip to NYC, I discovered the solution to my problem: Envirosax. Envirosax are eco-friendly reusable polyester bags that fold up and roll up so tiny that they easily fit into your purse or pocket. They are sold individually or in pouches of 5 and hold an amazing 44 pounds of, well, whatever! In addition to being washable, they come in upwards of 30 colors and prints, so you can save the planet in style.

As always, it seems that high fashion comes with a high price tag, and Envirosax are definitely not your typical dirt cheap canvas or "plastic" grocery sack made from recycled soda bottles. A single bag will run you $8.50 and their pouch of 5 a cool $37.95.

Steep yes, but where are my Envirosax? In my purse, ready for the farm stand, grocery store or next trip to the pharmacy, never to be forgotten in the car again!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hands off the tomalley, people!

This week the FDA issued an advisory against the consumption of Maine Lobster tomalley due to dangerous levels of toxins that could lead to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP).

For clarity, tomalley is the "icky green stuff" in the body cavity of the lobster that acts as the liver and pancreas. Mmmm...

For further clarity, I don't know about you, but the liver of a bottom-feeding crustacean is not at the top of my list of things to eat in the first place. Just think about how your liver felt after a long night of drinking in college and then think about a lobster digesting a nice meal of dead fish and boat fuel before ending up on your plate. Alas, I digress.

The culprit responsible for hindering the consumption of green gooey (questionable) goodness? Likely the result of the summertime gift that keeps on giving, the red tide. Most shellfish and crustaceans store PSP toxins for 6 weeks following a red tide, however some can store it for 2 years.

Just so you know, Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning is no laughing matter. According to the FDA, "Symptoms of PSP include tingling and/or numbness of the mouth, face or neck; muscle weakness; headache; and nausea. In extreme cases, when large amounts of the toxin are consumed, these symptoms can lead to respiratory failure and death. Symptoms usually occur within two hours of exposure to the toxin. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention."

While a lobster's tomalley may be seething with toxins, luckily, the meet remains unaffected, so don that plastic bib and dig in!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Casting Call: Food Network

The Food Network is looking for America's worst home cooks for a new show that pairs hapless culinary failures with some of the best chefs from around the country. So if you or someone you know is miserable in the kitchen (we're talking burn-the-house-down miserable), sign up today!

More information can be found here.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Make Your Reservations!

As promised, dear readers, I deliver. Open Table is now accepting reservations for Boston's 2008 Summer Restaurant Week participants.

Go. Now! Make your reservations! I'm way ahead of you with 5, so go!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Reason to Eat Your Broccoli, Boys

Last week, scientists from the Institute of Food Research in England announced findings that suggest that broccoli can provide protection against prostate cancer. Study results showed that men with a gene called GSTM1 react well to a diet of large quantities of cruciferous vegetables, and that the byproducts of glucosinolates (of which broccoli has ALOT) can block some signals -- the cancer-causing signals, that is -- that are sent within cancer cells.

On a nerdier note (hey, I like the nerdy) the scientists used gene expression (a method often used in drug discovery) to measure and compare biopsy tissue from the prostates of pea-fed and broccoli-fed volunteers. It marks both a new application of gene expression and a new approach to performing dietary research.

Bottom line? Mom was right: eat your broccoli...it's good for you.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Restaurant Week Boston, Summer 2008

Boston's summertime Restaurant Week stint is on the calendar, though detailed information is still forthcoming. It will run two weeks in August, from the 10th - 15th and then again from the 17th - 22nd.

Per usual, 3-course lunches and dinners at more than 200 of the Boston-area's best restaurants will be priced $20.08 and $33.08 respectively.

Stay tuned to The Diva for additional details, or visit the Restaurant Week Boston site for more information. Don't forget, reservations are through Open Table and fill up fast!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sweet Balsamic Corn Salad

When it's hot and I don't feel like cooking and certainly don't feel like eating yet another green salad, I throw together a quick and easy corn salad that makes for a welcome change. The great thing about this salad is that its versatile. Most of the ingredients are readily available in the fridge during the summer months and you can make it with either fresh or leftover cooked corn, depending on what you have on hand (or what you prefer). Just make sure if you use cooked corn that it's chilled or at least room temperature. Also, you can serve it alone, or mixed with baby arugula or mesclun, depending on your mood.

Balsamic Corn Salad

3 ears of corn (raw or cooked)
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Using a sharp knife, remove corn kernels from the cob. Transfer to a large bowl and use fingers to break up any large pieces. Combine corn with red onion, parsley, oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Recipe Notes:

Depending on the size of the ears and your personal tastes, you may need to adjust the amounts of the ingredients. When I make it, it's more of a "toss a little of this, a little of that" type of measurement, so the amounts listed above are something of an approximation.

The salad should be coated but not drowning in oil and vinegar, so err on the side of caution when adding liquid. Also, the longer the salad sits before serving, the more natural juices seep from the corn.

I like this salad much better chilled, rather than room temperature.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A blast from the past: Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins

Before we get to the good stuff, a brief history lesson.

Jordan Marsh was a Boston-based department store founded in 1841 by Eben Jordan and Benjamin L. Marsh. With the rise of retail conglomerates, Jordan Marsh became part of Allied Stores (1931) and then Federated Department Stores (1988), a move that renamed all stores, including the flagship store in Boston's Downtown Crossing shopping district (pictured at left), Macy's.

The Jordan Marsh flagship store was home to the legendary Enchanted Village, an elaborate holiday display which, at times, spanned entire floor of the store in addition to its windows.

Perhaps even more legendary was Jordan Marsh's bakeries. Infamous, however, were the blueberry muffins.

A December 2004 Boston Globe article put it best: "For decades, any decent downtown shopping trip ended at Jordan Marsh, where the promise of a sugar-crusted blueberry muffin could make annoying children angelic."

Manning the ovens was John Pupek, who made the muffins by hand, one batch at a time. In the 1990's, when Jordan Marsh was no more, Pupek opened the Jordan Marsh Muffin Company in Brockton to fulfill the cravings of blueberry-muffin hungry Bostonians. He did so until closing up shop on Christmas Eve 2004.

Pupek may not be baking Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins any longer, but the recipe lives on.

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and cups sugar until light and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder and add to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Crush 1/2 cup blueberries with a fork, and mix into the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whole berries.

Grease 12 large muffin cups, including the surface of the tin (alternative: grease surface of tin and line tin with paper liners). Fill generously with batter. Sprinkle sugar over the tops of the muffins, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Cool 30 minutes before removing. Store, uncovered, because the muffins are so moist.

Yield: 12 muffins.

Recipe Notes:

I've seen versions of this recipe that call for different baking methods: 375 for 30 minutes, 450 for 5 minutes and then an additional 30 to 35 minutes at 375, etc. These variations have yet to be tested in my kitchen (give me time, I've got plenty of blueberries left).

Depending on how sweet your blueberries are, you may want to reduce the amount of sugar in the batter to one cup. When it comes to sprinkling sugar on top of the muffins, be creative! I used vanilla sugar and raw sugar on mine, but good old granulated sugar works just fine.

If your berries are particularly large, consider mashing up more than 1/2 cup. I'll likely do this the next time, since the whole berries can take over the batter and cause the muffins to fall after baking.

I came across a recipe that includes 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla, something that deviates from the original. Go for it, if it strikes your fancy. I prefer sans-vanilla.

For extra large muffins, chill the batter in the fridge for about 15 minutes before scooping into large muffin tins.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Diva Dines in San Francisco

Who says business travel can't be fun? I recently took in the sights of San Francisco, quite possibly the hilliest, food-filled city in the nation. When not working the trade show floor, it was time to hit the streets in search of two quintessential cuisines San Francisco is known for: sushi and mexican.

After a six-hour plane ride and the harrowing experience of San Francisco rush-hour traffic at the mercy of an unintelligible speed-demon of a cabbie, I entered Barracuda on Market Street in the Castro District. Barracuda offers "Japanese cuisine with influences from Peru and Brazil" enveloped in a swanky and modern bar/lounge atmosphere.

My dining companion and I started the meal with an order of Gyoza, Japanese dumplings filled with a pork mixture and deep fried (yes, we got deep fried dumplings at a sushi restaurant. Just deal.). The dumplings were perfect two-bite portions and suprisingly not greasy, despite being fried.
Naturally, they were gone fast. Real fast. And then it was on to the sushi!

Now, I know what you're thinking. Why the hell would you eat sushi on a business trip? Horrible images of raw fish-induced food poisoning and vomiting all over your client must be flashing through your mind. Don't get me wrong, it flashed through mine...and then I downed some spicy tuna, thanking God for my iron-lined stomach.
The night's sushi was nothing wacky or out of left field: spicy tuna rolls, California rolls and vegetable tempura rolls for a change of pace. Can you really go wrong with battered and fried veggies wrapped in sushi rice? It's like a healthy heart attack. At least, thats what I keep telling myself. The fish in both rolls was unbelievably fresh, and I often wonders why the sushi in Boston doesn't ever come close despite the city's close proximity to the ocean.

The following night it was off to the border to El Farolito in the Mission District, where I single-handedly ate a burrito that was bigger than my head. El Faolito is the kind of place that, if there were one in Boston, you'd find me there at 3 a.m. eating a giant burrito after a long night of drinking.

It's a place where the guys behind the counter don't speak English, you order by number or by pointing to the menu board, its cheap, yummy and you sure as hell don't want to think about what the kitchen looks like. But the food is good. My "con pollo" burrito was top notch and better than anything I've had outside of el Tejas.

Even better, they have three different types of salsa available for the taking, the epitome of which is the green salsa. I have no idea what's in it, but I ate it on chips, my burrito and licked it off my fingers. If the place weren't so busy I probably would have tried to make off with the vat.

Bottom line: best burrito ever. EVER.

Now I'm practically drooling on my keyboard.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Food Fashion

Food has to look good if you want people to eat it. And what goes hand in hand with that? A good lookin' cook. Lets face it, nobody wants food served on a grimy plate or cooked by the hands of a grimy looking person, either!

So, infuse a little fashion into your food!

On my last trip to the great state of Texas, I picked up this fabulously girlie apron at a specialty kitchen store in Plano. The lime green, frilly apron boasts, "I take life with a grain of salt, a wedge of lime and a shot of tequila."

Much to my surprise it's also available online through Target!

Now, this isn't your everyday down and dirty apron for preparing an entire meal, but rather something best left for the final, non-messy preparations before a party. Something you can do light work in but still look cute answering the door and greeting your guests as they arrive.

To show some love for the gents out there (after all, menfolk were once responsible for hunting and gathering and have been known to fire up a mean grill), there is some fashionable menswear appropriate for the grill. Take this manly NY Yankee set available at Amazon.com.

Hey now, no haters about the Yanks gear; your Diva lives with a Yanks fan and suspects she has more than a few readers from New York...

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Boxed wine...on the go!

Boxed wine. Oh, how it brings back memories. Memories of "sophisticated" college parties complete with solo cups full of pinot grigio and chianti that tasted more like rocket fuel than fermented grapes. Memories of tubing down the Guadalupe in Texas, passing around the poly-bag of white zinfandel (the color making it looking more like a catheter bag than pouch of wine) kept chilled -- sans box -- in the cool waters of the river.

Boxed wine has always been dogged by the stigma of being cheap and well, bad. But not anymore.

Enter Three Thieves..."three guys who threw centuries of tradition and knowledge of wine making out the window and, in the process, changed the wine industry forever."

Not only is it good wine, its good boxed wine. And they make it portable, in 1 liter and 250 milliliter packages that somewhat resemble those boxed stocks you see in the grocery store. The Thieves call it Bandit. I call it genius.

Big deal, right? Yes! It's reasonably priced (around $10 for both sizes), resealable, recyclable, doesn't hog your fridge and is less likely to spoil, since you're not buying 17 gallons at once!

Plus, the mini Bandits are perfect for picnics --and you know how much The Diva likes her picnics! No more trying to uncork a bottle incognito in the park and pouring on the sly!

Three Thieves Bandit wines can be ordered online at www.threethieves.com. In Boston, I've only seen them at Best Cellars, but check with your local liquor store!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

I know. Slacker blogger.

I know. I'm a slacker blogger. It's been a busy month or so between college graduations, holidays, family and friends in town and travel for work, so I haven't been able to sit down and tap out some entries. But, never fear! Things are finally settling down, so it's off to the races.

Stay tuned. More to come this week: events, new restaurant reviews, pics and more!!

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Okay, it's been a little over a month since I started actively blogging as The Diva and with this little work project coming to a close, I feel like it's time to take a pause from the food and reflect on what I've learned. What started as a somewhat mandatory project for work has morphed into something I look forward to doing. Let's just say I've graduated into the wonderful world of social media...
...and feel much like my hilarious friends Jim & Vieve felt after getting their diplomas in '05 (photo).

Enough hamming, onto reflection! First and foremost, blogging is fun. I read things and want to post them for other people to read and pass along. It makes my day when someone comments on my blog (go. now. comment.) and I like reading other people's blogs (hell, my fabulous new recipe for Oreos came from someone else's blog!). I figured out that Twitter is useful, fun and informative (for those of you who don't know, Twitter is like a public instant message that people can see and respond to). For a long time, I figured that I was an some whacked out foodie that got blank stares from all my friends when I complained about my pie crust not being flakey. With blogging and Twitter, I've found my own kind!!! Food writers, enthusiasts, culinary geniuses and people just like me. Hooray!

Bottom line? Don't go anywhere. Stay tuned, there's more of The Diva to come.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.