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.