Avocado DOUBLE HAPPINESS: Avocado Pasta with Crab and Avocado Coconut Ice Cream!


Darlings!  It's time for the CREATIVE COOKING CREW CHALLENGE again and September's challenge is to pick an ingredient and present it as the star of the dish.... but you have to use it two ways, hot and cold!  So many ingredients come to mind, especially fruit,  that would work so well for this challenge but as always, I am trying to think of ingredients not usually used in a typical way to create two unusual and unique dishes!

As I had just picked up some lovely Donnie avocados from Bee Heaven Farm down here in Southern Florida, I pondered the many ways I've enjoyed avocados and the wheels began to spin.  I like the idea of avocado because it can be used in both sweet and savory applications.

But first, a brief explanation of the differences between the popular California Hass avocado and the many varieties grown here in Southern Florida.  Green avocados come in many varieties and are lower in fat, have a higher water content and are much larger when compared to their Hass counterpart.  The green avocados also have a sweet, delicate flavor which I've grown to love.  While Hass is the most commonly cultivated, in Florida you'll find myriad cultivars in different shapes, sizes, some even with red skin.  Take a look at some of them by clicking HERE.




Hardee, Hass and Donnie avocadoes.  Image courtesy of Bee Heaven Farm


When I chose our local avocado fruit as the STAR ingredient for my cold dish, I conjured up delights I'd eaten in my previous life as a Sydneysider.  Living in "Australasia," I was introduced to many styles of Asian cooking and fell in love with Indonesian food.  It was at the Java restaurant in Randiwick when I first tried es campur  for dessert at the encouragement of my Indonesian friend Mela who insisted that avocados taste great in desserts.

I was served a small bowl of shaved ice topped with lashings of condensed milk, shaved coconut and chunks of sweet, ripe avocado.  I had never had avocado in a dessert before and found the dish refreshing and delightful.  The coconut really worked with the creamy avocado and I ate the entire thing, knowing I'd be craving it again.




Avocado coconut ice cream with milk chocolate fudge topping and toasted coconut flakes

Already knowing that avocado and coconut would complement each other, I decided not to re-invent the wheel and looked online for ice cream recipes.  I decided on David Lebovitz's recipe, which included mostly coconut milk instead of whole milk with small amounts of cream and sugar.  

As luck would have it, I found that my ice cream bowl would no longer freeze, though I had it in the freezer for more than 24 hours, so I added the concoction to the freezer in a metal bowl, stirring it every once and a while.  While the avocado coconut ice cream tasted great, the texture came out slightly grainy and less creamy than I would have liked.  





The taste combination was as I had remembered it:  Lovely, buttery and not overly cloying!  I decided to be a little decadent and topped it with Sander's Milk Chocolate Hot Fudge, a childhood favorite I brought back from a recent holiday in Michigan.  The crunch of the toasted coconut and the smooth, sweet fudge were both perfect foils for the subtle avocado ice cream.  

For the hot dish using avocado, I kept recalling a memory of the first time I'd had avocado warm in a sauce, outside of the usual way I'd eaten in guacamole.  I was in my early twenties and dating a Canadian restaurant owner and remember him serving me a lovely curried avocado sauce over fish.  It was so light and delicate and I remember thinking to myself, "this is such an unusual way to eat avocado."  

But images of the delicious red curry avocado cream I had used for the duck taquitos a few months back, and it's cringe-worthy color, helped me to re-think the dish.  Even though I would be making an Indian-spiced curry sauce, it was too similar and too soon and I thought harder for a new application for the fruit. 

When I think of using an ingredient in an unusual way, I consider other traits it might share with other foods.  For me, avocado reminds me of butter, it's creamy, fatty and decadent, so naturally I begin to think of how I'd use butter in this dish?  Also, the flavor of avocado is very subtle, making it a very malleable ingredient like tofu, meaning it could be used in a number of ways.

The delicate nature of avocado and the afore-mentioned traits made me think of pairing it with one of my all-time favorite foods, crab.  The medium to carry these two delicate-tasting ingredients would be pasta!




The Donnie avocados were a whopping two pounds each, so I cut one in half, that would be plenty for a sauce!  Thinking of the Italian crab classic, "penne granchi," I decided to buy a high-quality artisanal "gigli" pasta in the shape of a lily flower, another short tube-like pasta.

I bought cream, fresh snow crab claws and lump crab  for the dish and then  I remembered I had some lovely Italian seasoned thick-cut bacon from Proper Sausages and diced some up and crisped it for a garnish.

I pureed the avocado and added a good dollop of cream and then salted to taste. The sauce, while very tasty, needed more depth of flavor.  So, I sauteed very thinly sliced cloves of garlic and then added the lump crab and legs only to warm and then added the hot pasta.  I gently mixed it together, careful not to break up the fragile crab pieces.   Then I plated it and garnished with the smoky bacon and The DJ and I dug in to our decadent dinner!




Avocado garlic cream sauce with crab over gigli pasta with smoky Italian-herb bacon garnish

The result was ABSOLUTELY DIVINE!  But oh SO RICH!  I barely got through my dinner, but the avocado sauce with the cream and crab were such a delicious combination of flavors, I managed to force it down!  While the bacon added a nice bit of crunch to the dish, I thought the smokiness overpowered it. The garlic, surprisingly, did not and lent the depth of flavor I was looking for. However, I was not happy with the plating.  While the texture of the gigli pasta was certainly pleasing to the palate, I thought it looked messy and inelegant as a dish.  I decided I would make it again and tweak it.





Devilishly delicious:  jumbo lump crab and Aslakan King crab combine with a garlic avocado cream sauce for a decadent starter


A week later, I decided to make the dish using fettuccine noodles.  I also was going to serve the dish as a small starter instead of as an entire main, it was just too rich to eat that much again.  I sent The DJ off to get a crab claw for plating but he misunderstood me and came back with Alaskan King crab legs, my favorite. So, whilst I didn't have the picture-perfect claw for the ideal plating photo, I would be enjoying chunks of sweet King crab in the dish instead of the more lightly-flavored lump from the can.    For added fruity flavor, I doused the pasta with Bertolli Premium Select Fragrante extra virgin olive oil,  lemon zest and chopped Italian parsley for a bright, green taste.

Result:  PERFECTION





Sweet (NOT SAVORY!) Tomato Cheesecake with a Roasted Tomato, Strawberry and Balsamic Vinegar Sauce!

 Luscious and delicious sun-dried tomato swirl cheesecake with a roasted tomato and strawberry balsamic vinegar sauce.


Darlings!  Ever since I ate at Top Cheftestant Stephanie Izard's "Girl and the Goat" in Chicago, I've been dreaming of using a typical vegetable in a sweet dessert.  

It was two years ago now since I first tasted that lovely deconstructed zucchini cake with mascarpone mousse, lemon eggplant and a divine tomato caramel!  It made me realize that yes, you COULD turn veggies into delicious and sweet desserts that were unique and unusual on the tastebuds and oh so very palatable.

Now, we've had our share of sweet food paired in savory dishes (watermelon feta salad comes to mind), how often do you use tomatoes in a sweet application?




This month's Creative Cooking Crew challenge would allow me to do just that, as the food of the month would be TOMATOES!


Now, I KNOW tomato is considered a fruit but rarely do we eat them that way.  And while I could have offered my dear readers a lovely, fresh tomato tart with goat cheese and mint, I wanted to really create a dish that was outside of the box. In just the same way that a cook will capture the sweetness of a pumpkin or sweet potato in a pie, I would do the same with the tomato and use it as dessert.

As I began to formulate my idea about  using the tomato in a sweet dessert, I thought about tomatoes and all of its uses and all of its forms.  I thought of the concentrated flavors of some fruit, like you'd find in fig paste or prunes, and that lead me to the idea of using a sun-dried tomato paste in a cheesecake.

As I turned the idea over in my head, I began to ponder making a sun-dried tomato ricotta cheesecake but I couldn't seem to get away from turning it into a savory dish.  Soon, I was thinking of adding basil and zucchini and eating it chilled on a salad plate and dressed with arugula. While it sounded truly delicious, it was NOT what I wanted to make. (another time, perhaps?)





At the same time, I wasn't sure I wanted to make an entire cheesecake using the rich, strongly-flavored sun-dried tomato paste, so I decided to do a take on the classic chocolate swirl cheesecake recipe found on the package of Nestle chocolate chips.  

Instead of using chocolate, I used about 3/4 of a jar of the paste and added a half a cup of sugar with a pinch of salt.  I tasted it.  MORE-ISH!  This was going to be yummy!

I followed the cheesecake recipe but I cut the sugar down by 1/4 of a cup and also added another pinch of salt to the plain batter.  Likewise, I added a pinch of salt to the graham cracker base, sticking to the original flavor and not the cinnamon graham crackers.







After swirling the dense tomato batter into the regular batter, I popped it into the oven and baked for about 50 minutes.  The middle was still jiggling when I took it out but I didn't want to over cook it and knew it would finish cooking on my counter top.  My intuition was right and it firmed up  just fine once the cake completely cooled.


While the cheesecake was baking, I put together some pre-roasted grape tomatoes, cut, ripe strawberries, sugar, another pinch of salt, water and a good glug of high quality Italian balsamic vinegar into a saucepan.   I cooked it down until it was reduced by half, then pureed the lot and strained it.  I tasted it again and again, and realized the strawberry flavor was very pronounced and the dark umami flavor that was underlying had to come from the roasted tomatoes.  It was incredibly tasty.





RESULT:  All I can say is WOW.  Seriously.  In fact, I was so impatient to try the cake, I ate it while it was still warm!  I'm so glad that I added the salt to each component of the dish, it stopped it from being overly cloying.  There were some lovely pieces of sun-dried tomato throughout my piece, which gave it texture, and I'm also glad that the concentrated flavors of the tomato cheesecake were mellowed by the swirls of plain cheesecake.  

The sauce was REALLY incredible, but honestly, I think the sun-dried tomato cheesecake was fine all on it's own.  I'm already thinking about other ways I can utilize this very original sauce, maybe even on simple vanilla ice cream?

Now that the cheesecake has chilled for a day, I can't wait to have another piece after dinner!  What would others say about it?  Husband thought it delicious, but he loves just about everything I cook.  In the morning, I will be bringing a piece to my gym trainer, who is a foodie that has eaten and traveled the world over, I know he'll appreciate it!  I'm looking forward to his reaction and comments!

Darlings, what is the strangest dessert you've ever eaten?  La Diva wants to hear all about it!  Here is THE LINK FOR THE Creative Cooking Crew posts all of their luscious tomato entries!  Ciao for now, darlings!






Thai-flavored Duck Taquitos with Coconut Red Curry Avocado Cream and Pineapple Jalapeno Salsa


TACO TACO BURRITO BURRITO......You may give me ALL of your taco-flavored kisses!

Darlings, now that the gourmet burger and slider craze has come to an end, the void is quickly being filled by upscale taco joints!  Well, at least it is here on Miami Beach.  Created and run by Texas-native and Haven South Beach executive chef Todd Erickson, Huahua's Taqueria leads the way with non-traditional taco offerings including a fried chicken taco.  It's so tasty that the decadent and crispy taco even ended up being featured, along with the restaurant, on The Cooking Channel's "Taco Trip" with Chef Aaron Sanchez back in April of this year.

And then local celebrity Chef Ralph Pagano launched Naked Taco at the Dream Hotel, serving a variety of unusual gourmet tacos including lamb with mint yogurt and poke tuna with mango salsa and wasabi cream.

Additionally, TeQuiztlan Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar, run by the same crew as the now defunct El Rancho Grande,  opened last year offering classic tacos and Mexican fare.  It's also been reported that yet another taco restaurant will be opening from Menin Hospitality (with Books and Books Chef Bernie Matz) called "Don Diablo," that is going to offer an amazing street taco concept that will serve late night diners.

Dat's a whole lotta tacos, amigo, and La Diva couldn't be happier!

Which brings me to this month's 

CREATIVE COOKING CREW CHALLENGE:  

You guessed it, the taco!


From one of the most bizarre South Park episodes ever where Eric Cartman's hand is really Jennifer Lopez!  


I have to be honest.  I really struggled with this concept because initially I just couldn't seem to wrap my head around a non-traditional taco.  I've been perfecting my skills at cooking traditional tacos like pork carnitas and a divine chicken taco in a home made roasted tomatillo sauce and all I could think of were traditional flavor combinations.  It had all been done before and done very well. 

But in time, my idea sprang forth like Wal-Mart shoppers on Black Friday.  I decided to fill the taco with something different, something not usually found in a taco.  That ingredient is DUCK. 

But no, it wasn't enough for me to just make a duck taco, I had to change up the seasoning as well.  I decided to go for an Asian-Mexican fusion for my taco.




I started off by marinating duck legs with tamarind, ginger, kaffir lime, red chilies, brown sugar and lime juice over night and then roasted until succulent and tender.  I tasted the duck and the flavor was not overpowering, but I could have eaten it all right then and there.  Reeling myself in, I separated the fat and skin leaving only the juicy pieces of meat.

Then I dressed the duck with a dressing of almost all of the same ingredients, heavy on the minced kaffir lime, red chili and a minced serrano chili and stuffed them inside artisanal corn tortillas.  For I was NOT going to make tacos, no amigo, I was going to make taquitos!  




I really like this brand of tortilla.  One day, I will make my own.  One day.

I rolled up all of the duck into the tortillas tightly and secured each with a toothpick.  I ended up with ten taquitos, ready to fry.  Then I made a pineapple salsa with jalapeno, red onion, cilantro and cucumber for a bit of cooling crunch.  (I had planned to put peanuts in and forgot!  DUH!)




I'd been wondering how to add a creamy element to the dish and thought that a red curry coconut cream would be delightful.  Then I thought, why not indeed add the red curry coconut cream to pureed avocado?  Into the processor went a gorgeous sweet red variety of avocado called a "Hardee."  I added the sauce and then tested.  O dios mio!  It was gooood.  Smooth, creamy, sweet and a lovely hit of heat from the red curry paste.  But the color?  Not so good.  "Imma gone eat it anyway," I thought to myself, "fugly or not."  It was still very tasty.




Thai-flavored roasted duck taquitos with coconut red curry avocado cream and pineapple jalapeno salsa.

RESULT:  After the first bite, my husband just said "Wow."  Wow, indeed.  They were good.  But NOT "damn good" and definitely could use some improvement.  Mistakes were made and I am not shy about telling you what my mistakes were.  First of all, I was insanely hungry when I made these, so that meant I was impatient.  And, because I was impatient, the oil got too hot and the taquitos browned too quickly.  Though still toothsome, I didn't quite achieve the crunch of a true taquito.   They were chewy.  I wanted a break-into-a-million-pieces kind of crunch!

Secondly, the pineapple salsa, while refreshing, just missed the mark.  It needed more depth of flavor.  Perhaps that would have come from the crushed toasted peanuts?   A dash of fish sauce?   I think so.  

Third, the color of the red curry coconut cream mixed with the pale avocado was unsightly.  Better to forego the addition of the avocado?  NAH.  Actually, this was my favorite part of the dish, so I could live with it.

But lastly, I just wasn't that thrilled with the duck taquito taste itself.  The roasted duck out of the oven was insanely delicious.  Once I fried them, it seems the flavors got lost and the meat could have just as easily as been from roasted turkey legs.  Duck is too expensive and gorgeous to not be able to discern it's delectable, gamey flavors.  Next time, I'd forego the taquitos and just use the roasted Thai flavored duck with the red curry avocado cream in a regular corn tortilla.  Truly, when it comes to using high quality ingredients a simple preparation is best.

And what about you, mi querido?  What would YOU have made to take the simple taco to a new level?  Tell La Diva all about it!  Here's the link to the round up of all of the taco entries with the Creative Cooking Crew! 

Adios, amigos!

Nashville-style HOT FRIED CHICKEN (OH, Yesssss!)


Darlins!   I gotta tell you sumpin'.  DIVA DON'T LIKE FRIED CHICKEN.  I don't.  Honestly!  I never buy it, I never order it out and I never make it.  When I was growing up and then throughout my adult life, whenever I was served fried chicken, I would take a breast, peel all the skin off and then eat the meat, tossing the fried skin away!  YEP.  I was wastin' that good, crispy fried chicken skin.  And I could have cared less about the wings and thighs, just save me a nice breast.  Chicken legs grossed me out.

BUT MY OH MY HAVE THINGS CHANGED.

Including my palate.  

Over time, as I continued exploring different dishes from various regions in my own country and the globe, I've learned to be more open-minded to trying new tastes and techniques and thus spreading my culinary wings.   And I'm so glad I have.






I had been toying with the idea of making fried chicken for some time now.  With the resurgence of interest in good ol' Southern cooking as well as actually moving to Southern Florida nine years ago, I thought it was high time I put aside my fried chicken hate.  I am, technically, a Southerner now.

Besides seeing various recipes cropping up about how to make "the perfect fried chicken," I started to notice recipes for another style of fried chicken called "Nashville Hot Chicken."  The recipe was enticing because La Diva likes it HOT and seeing as I love me some Buffalo chicken wings, I found this recipe that included tablespoons of cayenne pepper more than intriguing!  How hot would it be?  How hot can I take?  "BRING IT, BABY," I thought to myself.

And then along came the June issue of Bon Appetit and what did I find but a recipe for the Nashville (style) hot chicken!  This was more than a coincidence, this was meant to be. 





What is unique about this style of fried chicken is not the hot sauce-laced buttermilk marinade but the very spicy sauce you brush on the chicken after frying.  After seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper, you leave it in the fridge to get nice and cold.  Then you dredge the chicken pieces in flour, shake off excess, dip into the buttermilk mixture and then dredge again, shake and fry.  

When the chicken is done, you drain it and then slather on a heavy dose of spices mixed with the frying oil, including paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, chile powder and tablespoons of cayenne pepper.  TABLESPOONS!  This recipe called for six!  The mixture of spicy, sweet and salty is a perfectly delectable combination, almost guaranteeing addiction!  Serving the chicken over white bread with pickles completes the dish.




Here's a piece of steaming hot chicken wing for you to drool over.  Remember how I said that I used to only eat the chicken breast?  NO MORE!  I now LOVE dark meat.  First of all, chicken wings are really the bridge chicken piece to eating dark meat.  SERIOUSLY.  And then when I started to realize that if I cook the thighs and legs long enough, most of that gross fat that I hated would melt away leaving only succulent and tasty, moist chicken meat!  Try it yourself and see if you dislike dark meat.

Here's the recipe from Bon Appetit and a link as well.  Some of the commenters have suggested that this isn't the 'real' recipe.  Well, La Diva ain't gettin' into all that!  Like spaghetti bolognese, I'm CERTAIN that every family or chicken shack in Nashville has their own version.  But this one is from a Nashville restaurant that is pretty famous for making it, Hattie B's, so I'm going with it. And besides, it turned out delicious!






I cut the recipe in half for just the two of us.  (Diva doan need to be eatin' fried chicken for days, y'allmean?!)  Supposedly, you some people go even hotter by adding more cayenne.  I was fine with the three tablespoons, even though I could probably go much hotter, The DJ was happy as a pig in mud,  just the same.






RESULT:  HOT damn, this chicken is goooood!  AND I ain't lyin'!  The skin was nice and crispy, the combination of spicy and sweet flavors is totally addictive.   My suggestion for success is to use an instant read thermometer in order to closely monitor the oil's temperature as well as checking each piece of chicken well before the suggested cooking time was up.  This recipe is definitely not for the faint-hearted or for those dieting.

At suppertime, the DJ cranked out some good ol' blues music while we enjoyed our dinner al fresco on our balcony, not a word passed between us but mere grunts and moans of delight.  THAT'S HOW GOOD IT WAS.  The white bread is perfect for quelling the heat and the sweet bread and butter pickles were a great foil for the chicken too.

Do you see that coleslaw on my plate?  Well, most of it is there....because I couldn't be bothered to put down my delicious chicken and pick up a fork.  I was tempted to eat the slaw with my hands, but hey, I'm not that trashy!  But more importantly,  I am now a FRIED CHICKEN CONVERT.  I loves it.  But only once in a while, it's too dangerously addictive otherwise!

Ciao for now, darlings!

Super Spring Vegetable Ideas!




Pea risotto with pancetta, pea tendrils and a luscious swirl of lemon pistachio mint pesto!

Darlings!

After what could be called the most dreadful winter in years for many of you, I can say most assuredly that 

SPRING IS HERE!   

And not a minute too soon!  As a reward for suffering that brutal season, you'll find that all the lovely spring vegetables are in season now and are finding their way to the grocers' shelves. But don't hesitate, darlings, because their season is short!





PEAS


Darlings, your La Diva is NOT a pea lover.  The fact is, when I grew up and put my big girl panties on and moved out on my own (at only seventeen years old!), I decided that if I wanted to maintain a good healthy life, I should expand my palate and start eating a wider variety of vegetables, including the dreaded pea! 

I'd grown up being force fed those wrinkled, canned peas and no matter how many times my mother served them at dinnertime, I would try to get out of eating them by sneaking them under my dish.  Invariably, as mom would clear the plates from dinner, the peas would fall onto the table and so my ruse was discovered.   Those awful canned peas were one of the foods I refused to eat, no matter how long mom would make me sit at the dinner table after supper!

So, when I was out in the world as a young woman and could eat any thing I wanted, I realized that maybe I should give peas another go.  I bought the frozen, baby peas that guaranteed a fresher taste.  Gradually, I would add them to stews and casseroles and next thing you know, I was eating peas!  But, try as I might, I still couldn't suffer a big, ol' bowl of them on their own, I could only manage them mixed in with other foods.

But the FRESH SPRING PEA is different.  Delicate in flavor, tender and without any mealiness, these verdant orbs just pleasantly pop in your mouth, exuding a slight sweetness.  After trying the fresh peas, I was sold.  But fresh peas aren't available all year, so when I saw them at the grocery the other day, I grabbed them with nary a thought as to how I'd actually cook them.  I knew I'd figure out something delicious!

For inspiration, I put up a post on Facebook to gather ideas and my clever friends did not disappoint.  Someone suggested "risi bisi," which is a traditional Venetian dish that was similar to the idea I'd been mulling over using the peas with pancetta and risotto.   Since my three friends and I were all on the same page of ideas, I decided to make the risotto with the peas and crisped pancetta.

Another friend came up with the brilliant idea of putting the shelled pods into the risotto broth for more pea flavor.  Brilliant!  Still, it seemed like the dish needed a "bit of sumpin' sumpin," so I devised a sauce that would provide a flavor punch and complement the dish:  lemon pistachio mint pesto.  Divine!  The crisped pancetta adds a bit of salty, crunch and flavor, the peas add sweetness and "pop" and the risotto was creamy and satisfying!  This is a perfect one course supper that highlights the fresh peas and doesn't overpower their delicate flavor.





Baby artichoke sauteed with chicken breast, mushrooms, garlic, lemon, white wine and capers.

ARTICHOKES

Baby artichokes and artichokes are another lovely Spring vegetable I look forward to.   While I had mastered the art of making whole, large artichokes, usually stuffing them with bread crumbs, parmesan and prosciutto or maybe simply serving with a home made lemon mayonnaise, I'd always been a bit intimidated to make the baby artichoke and would always buy them canned.   Perhaps it was my naivete that lead to my apprehension, as I made them once without par-boiling them and they came out tough and undercooked on the grill.  But a quick look through my myriad cookbooks showed me how to easily process them.  

First, I cut off the top, peeled off all the tough outer leaves and then cooked them until fork tender.  Then I cut the baby artichokes into quarters and sauteed them along with chicken breast, mushrooms, garlic, white wine and capers and then tossed them into linguine!  A hearty dish that is not too heavy,  the earthiness of the mushrooms and artichokes and the briny salt hit of the capers combine to create a dinner packed with lemony flavor and a palate-pleasing texture. 





Baby golden beet salad over mixed greens of baby kale, arugula and dill with burrata cheese and toasted pistachios dressed with hazelnut oil and chocolate vinegar!

GOLDEN BABY BEETS AND MIXED SPRING GREENS

Beets are another vegetable I never liked as a child and only recently learned to love them.  The secret is to buy baby beets and then to roast them, which caramelizes them and releases their natural sugars.  I find the older, larger beets have a more "muddy" flavor, so now I try to get the freshest baby beets possible, usually from the farmers market.  

Springtime is when baby greens and lettuces come into season, and I love their tender texture and subtle flavors.  A green that you would normally cook, like kale, chard or mustard greens, are delicious when grown and served as "micro" greens in salads or as garnish.  They are simply young shoots of the plant picked before they are allowed to mature.

The fresh, creamy burrata cheese and golden beets are complemented by the velvety chocolate balsamic vinegar, while the toasted pistachios add crunch and go perfectly with the hazelnut oil.  This is an elegant salad to start off a special dinner or just to enjoy casually, you deserve it!





Fava beans with prosciutto in campanile pasta (bell shaped pasta) with parmigiano cheese shavings and lemon zest.

FAVA BEANS

Fava beans are a delight because they are so rare but also because they are so labor intensive and pricey that it makes them even more delicious when you make the effort to cook them!  Like lima beans, you need to strip them of their pods, then boil them, then release them from their outer skin and THEN you can do with them what you wish!  To La Diva, the bright, buttery and slightly sweet taste of a fresh fava bean epitomizes the flavors of springtime.

And because they are so labor intensive, a little can go a long way!  I love the way the bright green fava pops in this plate of pasta with salty prosciutto and lemon.




Just cooked fava beans are added to baby redskin potato and green beans, all cooked until just tender and then doused in a lemon thyme mint vinaigrette while still warm!


For more interesting facts about the ancient fava bean, click HERE.





ASPARAGUS

Here's a perfect dish featuring another springtime vegetable, asparagus. Quick and simple, I boiled penne pasta and while it cooked, I lightly steamed trimmed asparagus spears until just tender.   Asparagus when it's cooked properly, can be delightfully delicious, but if it's overcooked, it can be stringy and slimy, so take care not to overcook! 

 I cut the asparagus into bite size pieces, saving the tops for the garnish.  I like my penne "al dente," and tossed the hot pasta with fresh pesto and then added a half of a ball of freshly made burrata cheese!  Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a good dousing of a fruity, green extra virgin olive oil were all that was needed to complete this toothsome dish.

Darlings, have you noticed how green, light and lovely all of these dishes are? They are all made with fresh produce and packed with flavor in the simplest of ways:  a grating of lemon zest here, a caper there, a bit of salty cured pork is all it takes to highlight the flavors of these verdurous vegetables.  Do take advantage of these seasonal veggies, especially the peas and fava beans, which are impossible to come by later in the summer.

Darlings, what are YOUR springtime faves?  Do tell La Diva all about it!  Ciao for now!



BREAKFAST! Decadent Panettone French Toast with Fresh Orange Sauce with Apple Breakfast Sausage (and other FABULOUS breakfast ideas!)

Delectable, sweet lump crab meat sits upon a toasted whole wheat English muffin and is topped with perfectly poached eggs with lemony Hollandaise sauce! 



Darlings!  Joan Nova of the "Creative Cooking Crew" asks:  "What's for breakfast?  Show us what you would make for breakfast if you had weekend guests."

Well, honey, I don't need houseguests to create fabulous breakfasts! After a week of eating simple breakfasts before I hit the gym, on the weekends I look forward to creating a hearty morning meal, usually making it my favorite meal of the day!  

One of the best breakfasts I've ever been made was when I was a houseguest at my friend's mother's place in Birmingham, Alabama.   She was the quintessential hostess,   I'll never forget how we woke up from a most enjoyable sleep with down pillows that just hugged our tired heads, to a lovely aroma emenating from the kitchen.   

Waiting for us was a delectable spread of bacon, coffee, home made biscuits and sausage gravy, scrambled eggs and strawberry jam.  What a delight!  What made it all the more delightful was that we were all hungover, Mom included!  I appreciated her grand effort. From what I can remember, the night before included wonderful live jazz music and a whole lotta Scotch whiskey.  Mom had cracked me up by saying, "Laura, I'm a Christian lady and a Scotch drinker. And not necessarily in that order!" Good times!

I love having breakfast made for me, but sadly it doesn't happen often outside of a restaurant (though I'm currently training my husband for pancake duty!) For I am La Grande Breakfast Maker.  Because I'm good at it and mostly because I usually can't be bothered to wait that long to eat and get very crabby!

So, before I get to "the most decadent" breakfast, I thought I'd take you on a photo journey of some of my fave "breakies!"  (Aussie slang for breakfast, of course!)


One pan feeds many....

If you are having guests for breakfast or brunch and don't want to be standing at the stove making pancakes and eggs for everyone, I love to offer quiches and frittatas!  The beauty of both is that you can feed six people with one dish as well as serve it room temperature with a green mixed leaf or fruit salad.





Go on an make home made pie dough, but if you don't have the time or inclination, buy the pre-made and roll it out!   You can keep it in your freezer it will thaw out in just 10 minutes.   This quiche includes gruyere cheese and lightly steamed asparagus.  I cut the asparagus into bite size portions and keep a few to garnish the top!   Isn't it brown and beautiful?!





Frittata is an Italian dish I grew up eating and learned to make at an early age. And the best part?  I've never met anyone who doesn't like it!  I will sometimes make one in a lasagna tray with zucchini, potato and rosemary and serve it in bite-size squares at a party.  This lovely frittata includes sauteed rainbow chard from my garden.  

Have leftover veggies from dinner last night?  Throw 'em in!  Add a good grating of parmesan cheese to the eggs and your frittata will be brown, fluffy and delicious!


I won't make any bones about it:  I LOVE POACHED EGGS!!!  

Why?

Because they are so easy to make, especially for a crowd!  Did you know that you can pre-make poached eggs and re-heat them later?  Simply poach the eggs for one minute less and hold them in cold water in the refrigerator until you need them.  When you are ready,  simmer water in a pot and add the eggs, cooking for the last minute.  It's so simple!

When I poach my eggs, I make sure I use a pot with plenty of room for two eggs.  I crack the egg into a small bowl, not directly into the pot, and then swirl the pot around with a metal spoon and carefully drop the egg in.  Adding a dash of vinegar to the water before adding the egg will help to form perfect whites, the straggly bit you simply cut away.   Take them out with a slotted spoon and  serve over buttered toast.





Or, if you are so inclined, serve them over home made biscuits with sausage gravy, a  classic Southern dish!





These poached eggs sit atop a mix of chorizo sausage, potatoes and komatsuna, a Japanese green, from my garden.  Don't have komatsuna?  Then try spinach, chard or kale.


Omelets good enough for comp'ny!




I love to make a variety of omelets and this method can be used to make  impressive omelets for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.  I saute all ingredients ahead of time and put them aside on a dish and cover them to keep warm.  Then I separate several egg whites from their yolks and use a fork to break up the yolks.  I beat the whites until they are light and fluffy and then carefully fold them into the yolks.  I cook the omelet in a non-stick pan with a little olive oil, carefully flip the entire omelet over and then fill with my favorite toppings (this one included crisped prosciutto and green onions) and perhaps a little grated cheese.  I cook for another thirty seconds and then serve up this gorgeous, fluffy omelet.

Sometimes I will add sauteed mushrooms, snow peas, bean sprouts and julienned carrot for a light Asian style dinner.


Scrambles for the impatient...





Sometimes I don't want to be bothered with a fussy breakfast and want to make a quick and easy meal.  That's when a good ol' scramble comes in!  Simply saute any leftover vegetables or meat in the refrigerator and then add spices, herbs, cheese and beaten eggs.  This hearty version includes mushrooms, breakfast sausage, potatoes and green onions.


There is breakfast beyond eggs.....

Why limit yourself to eggs for a hot breakfast offering?  





For a different take on brunch, I made creamy parmesan polenta, cut it into squares and fried them up and then topped them with roasted baby grape tomatoes with garlic, sliced, caramelized Italian sausage and garnished with basil chiffonade and grated parmesan.  As you can imagine, not a bite was left!





My husband, "The DJ," has become the pancake and waffle maker in our house!  He has become more and more accomplished and I love it when he treats me to a scrumptious breakfast, all the more delicious because I didn't have to cook it.  But my husband found out the hard way:  You can't put raspberries into the waffle batter, they will burn and make a mess!  So, I made a quick blueberry sauce and  used it as a topping for buttermilk waffles and then garnished with mint leaf and mysore raspberries, a delicious tropical berry.  Elegant, beautiful and yummy!



But the most decadent breakfast of all......

La Diva’s Decadent Panettone French Toast with Fresh Orange Sauce and Pork Apple Breakfast Sausage


It all starts with a Hershey's chocolate panettone from Italy.  I've made this decadent breakfast for Christmas morning to delighted friends and family a number of times.  The buttery panettone with the heavenly orange sauce and pork sausage is a combination that is truly divine.

Sadly, I have NO GOOD photos of it, so you'll just have to simply imagine how wonderful it tastes.  Or better yet, MAKE IT for your special guests or even for yourself, you deserve it!







La Diva’s Decadent Panettone French Toast with Fresh Orange Sauce

Serves 4, double for 8

1 x 26.60 oz/750 g Italian Panettone (with chocolate chips)

4 eggs

1/8 c cream

1 t vanilla extract

1 t butter

1 t vegetable oil

butter for serving

Remove panettone from plastic wrap and remove all paper from sides and bottom.  Cut the panettone into half.  Set aside one half.  Cut in half vertically again.  Starting at the bottom of each quarter, cut into 1/2 inch slices, you should get six slices out of each quarter.

Mix eggs, cream and vanilla in a shallow bowl.  Heat up fry pan with 1 t butter and oil until melted.  Dip panettone into egg mixture and then add to pan.  Fry until golden on both sides, dot with butter and keep warm until all pieces are cooked and ready to serve.

Serve with orange sauce and pork apple sausage.

 Fresh orange sauce:

3 large navel oranges

1/8 c sugar

1 t butter

Peel all skin and pith away from oranges and section each orange, leaving skin.  Squeeze the juice from the orange skins into a small pot.  You should have about a quarter of a cup.  Add the sections of one orange to the pot, reserve the rest.  Bring to a boil and add butter and sugar, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Orange sauce should be reduced into a thick, chunky syrup.  Add rest of the orange sections, allow to warm briefly and take off heat until ready to serve.  Spoon over French toast.

Orange sauce may be made up to a day ahead, add fresh orange sections and re-heat on the day of serving.

 La Diva’s Pork Apple Breakfast Sausage

Serves 4, double for 8

1/2 lb. ground pork

1/2 lb. regular pork breakfast sausage* (in bulk)

1 small apple, grated

1 small onion, grated

1 T brown sugar

1 t dried sage

1/2 t poultry seasoning

1/4 t dried thyme

1 t kosher salt

1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1/4-1/2 t red pepper flakes

Vegetable oil for frying

Mix all ingredients together and form small patties, about 2 ounces each.   You should have about 9-11 patties.   Place patties on plate on parchment paper to reduce sticking.  Sausage can be made a day ahead until this point.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Heat up a large fry pan and coat the bottom with oil over a medium flame.  When pan is hot, cook sausage until brown and caramelized on one side, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Flip over and continue cooking 1 1/2 minutes more, take off heat and put on plate with paper towel.  Rest meat for 30 seconds and serve.  Enjoy with panettone French Toast!

* I've found my local grocer has cut the fat in the ground pork they sell, creating a very dry sausage.  If you grind your own meat or go to a butcher, grind the pork with a higher fat content and then you won't need the breakfast sausage, simply double the amount of ground pork.

Darlings, I hope you enjoyed my photo journey through Breakfastland!  And if you want to see ALL of the creative creations of our crew, please come back in a few days and I will post the link!

What is YOUR favorite breakfast, darlings?  Tell La Diva all about it!

Ciao for now!




NATURE BOYZ TROPICAL JUICES MIAMI STYLE at the Farmers Market

My purchase from the Upper Eastside Farmers Market:  Zak the Baker bread, Crackerman fig bread, sweet mini peppers, green beans, Thai basil, spinach, bananas, heirloom tomato, plantain, Asian eggplant and black sapote fruit.


Darlings!  Another weekend, another farmers market to check out!    A few weeks ago on a beautiful Saturday morn, we decided to ride our bikes over from Miami Beach to the Upper Eastside Farmers Market.  Every Saturday, you'll find Clive from Nature Boyz making freshly squeezed juices from local tropical fruits and sugar cane.










 Fresh stalks of sugar cane that will be used in tropical juices.




           





There is always a queue at Nature Boyz juice stand.  Behind the stand are boxes loaded with tropical fruits like papaya, pineapple, mangoes and limes.










When the coconuts are green, the flesh is more of a jelly consistency and will  not be used in the juice, only the coconut water.




The juice from the sugar cane is extracted using a machine, she puts the cane through, the juice comes out of the spigot and the cane is left flattened and dry.





Clive takes the sugar cane juice and blends up his delightful and exotic concoctions!




What's the special ingredient that makes Nature Boyz juices so good?

LOVE!


The Upper Eastside Farmers Market is on Biscayne Boulevard at 65th Street at Legion Park from 9am til 2pm.