Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Queens Cooking Divas

My friend Crystal who lives in Forest Hills organized a cooking club called the Cooking Divas. Our first meeting was today, which proved to not only be a fun but a learning experience. We, four women from Queens got together in a medium-for-New York City-sized kitchen and cooked our hineys off. The result was a delicious, healthful and a large three course meal. The recipes came from a plethora of sources including the Internet, Weight Watchers and from our imaginations.

Here's the yummyness that we produced--and consumed:

Butternut Squash Soup - This was Sue's idea and she executed it well. I believe that it came from Weight Watchers--and will only set you back 1 point if you're on the program. This soup is thick, healthy and filling. It contains tofu, which I thought was a unique touch that added heartiness. Enjoy the simple recipe below:

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 large (or 2 medium) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 large (or 2 medium) onion, peeled and diced
1 or 2 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 package of tofu (firm, silken or low fat - just not flavored)
2 - 2 1/2 cups of fat free chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Nutmeg and cinnamon to taste

Put the cut squash, garlic and onion in a large saucepan with the chicken stock and cook until the veggies are tender - about 20 minutes or so.

Do not drain. Add tofu and mix with immersion blender (or in a traditional stand up blender) until all is incorporated and the soup is smooth. Add spices and salt/pepper to taste.

The following two dishes came from two very good Food Network shows - Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian and Giada at Home. I love her recipes because they're manageable and tasty.

Herbed Chicken with Spring Vegetables - Crystal chose this one and collaborated with Sue and Yana on the preparation. The final product was delicious and so juicy. Cooking the chicken in its skin added flavor and personality to a simple dish. My only complaint was that there were too many herbs under the skin--next time around, I'd cut down the herbs by half. The veggies were especially delicious and so tender--they were flavored beautifully by the juices of the chicken. Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it.

Couscous Cakes - I saw this dish last week while watching Giada at Home and it caught my eye. While I love couscous on its own, I was curious to try it in a "fried cake" form. We liked it very much and I even added dried cranberries to it. A criticism about the recipe is that it needed more of a binding element. Next time I think I'll use 2 eggs instead of one because the cakes were hard to form and they fell apart easily. Aside from that, we liked them. Here's the recipe.

Mango Salad - This was improvised with ingredients that we already had in the kitchen, adding freshness to our main course. The mango was firm yet sweet and juicy, complementing the chicken and couscous without being too overpowering.

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Dried cranberries, diced (optional)
1/4 of a medium onion, diced
A small glug of white wine
A medium glug of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the ingredients in a medium bowl until well incorporated. You can serve this chilled or at room temperature.

Apple-Peach Crisp - Like the mango salad, this was also a product of our imagination. It was relatively healthy and used only a small amount of butter. One thing to add for next time would be to serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Ingredients (serves 4-5)
3 large apples, peeled, quartered and sliced (you can use any kind of apples that you like - we used Granny Smith and two types of red apples)
1 tbs of lemon zest
2 tbs of fresh lemon juice
2 ripe peaches, sliced
A handful of dried cranberries (optional)
A handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
A handful of light brown sugar and 1 more tbs for the topping
1 tbs of regular sugar
1/4 cup of rolled oats
A dash of ground cinnamon and a small sprinkling for the topping
1 tbs of unsalted butter, melted
1 - 2 tbs of all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the apples, peaches, lemon zest, lemon juice, cranberries, chocolate chips, cinnamon, brown sugar, regular sugar and unsalted butter. Mix until incorporated--but do not overmix. Place the mixture in a greased, square glass or ceramic baking dish. Top with rolled oats and cinnamon. Then take the melted butter and combine it with flour to form crumbs--sprinkle those on top of the fruit and oat mixture. Top with more brown sugar and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the fruit juices are bubbling and the top is browned.

Citrus Champagne Punch - And what would a cooking party be without a cocktail? Crystal made this innovative punch, which turned out beautifully--refreshing, strong yet pleasantly deceiving. It's a great, girly drink, which I'd love to serve myself on a special occasion. Try it out here.

Hope that you've enjoyed these recipes. I'll be sure to report back about my second Queens Cooking Divas adventure.


  1. Cool, good for you guys! I've been part of a cooking club for like 3 1/2 years and really like it, and have learned a lot. Hope yours goes as well. :)

    Re the chicken dish. Yeah, that sounds like too much herbs. I like to just bake chicken thighs, but with a pat of butter and a sprig of rosemary under the skin. (And S&P on top, of course.)

  2. Yeah the chicken was too heavy on herbs - thanks for your tips Harlan. I heard about your cooking club from Sooz, she said that you guys do some really cool stuff!



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