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.

Protein Packed Breakfast: Quinoa, Kale & Egg Scramble with Fresh Turmeric

Quinoa, Kale & Egg Scramble with Fresh Turmeric, Garlic and Parmigiano Cheese

Darlings!  Here's a quick little MEATLESS MONDAY post to inspire you!  Today was one of those days where I "thought" I had nothing to eat in the house.  Being between pays with a light wallet as well as lacking motivation to go to the grocery store inspired today's lunch.

With a loaded pantry but a fridge with hardly any veggies or sandwich makings, I thought about just making scrambled eggs for lunch.  It was hardly an inspiring meal, so I thought about what I could add to it to "beef" it up.  I remembered one time taking left over quinoa and how good it was added to scrambled eggs.  I also had some kale and La Diva's fridge is never without garlic or parmigiano cheese!

I quickly put some quinoa into the rice cooker (what a fast and great way to cook it!) and in fifteen minutes, I had hot, cooked, high protein quinoa.  While the quinoa was steaming, I cooked chopped organic kale in a small amount of salted water on high heat.  After about five minutes, the water evaporated, I pushed the kale to the side of the pan, added  olive oil and then thinly sliced garlic and sauteed it all together until the garlic was fragrant and the kale just cooked.

In a bowl, I beat four eggs with a bit of water and grated in fresh turmeric and a bit of parmigiano cheese.  I added it to the quinoa and kale mixture and let it cook, turning over and cooking until just firm.




RESULT:  Pretty darn good!  All of the flavors worked well together and of course, I had to add lashings of sriracha hot chili sauce to further enhance my lunch!  I like adding quinoa to eggs because not only does it make the dish toothsome and more hearty, it adds protein and fiber and really fills you up! 

More protein comes from the eggs and kale as well as anti-inflammatory properties from the turmeric and the kale itself!  The amount of cheese added is nominal and adds more flavor but you don't have to add it at all if you want to make this dish dairy-free!  Give this a try for breakfast or lunch and you'll be satisfied for until your next meal!  (This was enough for two servings.)







And since it's SPRING and MEATLESS MONDAY, here's a two-fer for this post!  Penne pasta is cooked al dente and home made pesto is added to it.  Top with freshly steamed asparagus spears, Italian burrata cheese.  Now add sea salt to taste, grind some fresh pepper and drizzle with a fruity and green extra-virgin olive oil and you have a perfect, seasonable Meatless Monday dinner too!

Enjoy, lovelies!  Happy Spring!







The Perfect Bite: Sweet Plantain Coconut Risotto and Spicy Jerk Cod with Cilantro Lime Yogurt Sauce

My perfect bite for tonight:  Sweet plantain and spinach risotto with coconut milk, cod with jerk spices and a cooling yogurt, lime and cilantro sauce.

Darlings!  Once again the Creative Cooking Crew have offered the monthly theme and this time, Joan Nova of Foodalogue asks,"  The Perfect Bite:  What tickles your tastebuds?  Tell us....Show us."

The PERFECT BITE....instantly I thought about my time on ABC's "The Taste"back in September of 2012.  La Diva, along with 60 other contestants, was picked from over 7000 people to audition for the show.  The idea was to put forth to the judges the FINEST, TASTIEST BITE OF FOOD that could fit into one Chinese porcelain spoon.

I thought about all of the one bite dishes I'd made for guests and friends over the years and one kept coming back to me:  Oysters a la Carl.  Taught to me by my restauranteur boss Carl, an-ex pat from New York living in Sydney, and a dish I've made many times since.



Oysters a la Carl:  Oysters grilled with a garlic egg custard, olive oil, prosciutto, chopped arugula and parmigiano cheese.

I thought I had the perfect bite.  I thought I was a shoe-in!  While everyone and their mother was making Asian scallops or overly-fussy bites, my entry was an Italian version of oysters Rockefeller.  I HAD to get on the show!


The day had finally come.   With aplomb and confidence, I made my dish for the judges.  When it was my turn, the assistants took my dish for the judges to taste and I was led to a box on the set where the judges couldn't see me.  While I stood quietly in the box, they tasted my dish and I heard smacking, "oohing" and "I taste the sea...."  I beamed.  They liked my dish!  But it wasn't meant to be, the door opened and after a brief conversation, I got slammed for using seafood and cheese together (By Nigella Lawson!  Since when was she so dang picky?!)  Then Anthony Bourdain asked me if I was a professional chef?  (Hey, he thinks I'm a pro!!!)  But then immediately deflates me by telling me that I made the same mistake many professional chefs make, I "over-complicated" the dish.  "An oyster is a perfect thing..."  

ARGH!!!  You can read the whole sordid tale HERE!  And if you want to argue with me about pairing cheese with seafood, you can do that HERE!

Anyways, darlings, I'm NOT bitter, not in the least.....*%$$# Nigella %*#@in' stupid judges.....






Back to the challenge at hand.....

So, I started to think of a perfect bite and thought about food that I like together in a combination, it didn't have to be an appetizer.  

Some perfect bites I love are:


  • The day after Thanksgiving sandwich with soft, white bread stuffed with sage dressing,  thick turkey slices and lashings of luscious gravy......mmmm....that carb on carb bite.....


  • Al dente spaghetti twirled 'round your fork and impaling a moist, tender meatball full of parmigano cheese, basil, garlic and parsley all drowned in a tangy tomato sauce. 


  • Succulent braised short ribs, so tender that you can cut it with a butter knife, and onto your fork you skewer roasted parsnip and swipe some pureed celeriac swimming in a rich red wine and onion gravy.


  • Or how about something as simple as the most dense, rich chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache with a spoonful of pure vanilla ice cream?


  •  A crunchy cannoli case oozing with creamy, sugary ricotta dotted with freshly shaved chocolate with a hint of orange essence?





Darling, you see where I'm going with this!  To me, the perfect bite is the perfect bite ON YOUR FORK in combination with other flavors, textures and sides.  And if you are one of those people that don't like their food to touch on their plates, well, I just don't understand you; you will never comprehend the DIVINITY of a perfectly combined bite on a fork!







I had a plantain that I bought from the farmers market and I was wondering what to do with it.  This plantain, I found, was not a regular run of the mill plantain but a rare breed from Hawaii called the "hua moa," and it was shorter and stockier than the plantains I was used to getting at the local grocery.  For some reason, I thought it would be delicious in a coconut risotto.  I began to think about flavor combinations and what would go with my tropical risotto.  

In my Flavor Thesaurus, there is no entry for plantains, so I looked up 'banana,' and found that chicken would go very nicely with it...so why not a mild flavored fish like cod?

I marinated the fish in a home made jerk sauce and then whipped up a cilantro yogurt sauce with a grated onion, lime juice and seasonings.  For the risotto, I toasted the rice with a bit of coconut oil and used chicken broth and coconut milk adding the broth first and then the coconut milk at the end.  I cut the yellow, ripe plantain into small slices and fried them in coconut oil as well.  Once the risotto was cooked, I added the plantain and spinach chiffonade and stirred through lightly.   Instead of grilling the fish, I quickly seared it in more coconut oil, keeping the coconut flavor consistent throughout all of the components.




RESULT:  I was really so pleased with this dish!  The coconut rice was delicious and the plantain had just the right amount of sweetness and was not too cloying.  The jerk fish added heat that was a good foil to the luscious risotto and the yogurt and lime added a cooling element.  The perfumed and toothsome risotto topped with the flaky, juicy and spicy fish and smothered with the cooling lime cilantro yogurt sauce all together in ONE PERFECT BITE was a tropical delight.  All of the flavors really worked and I loved the texture too.  Of course, I always try to improve my dishes and next time I will cook the plantains in bigger pieces and then mash them up lightly, like I do pumpkin, in order to blend it into the rice for more thorough plantain flavor.

I think my Perfect Bite was a success!  Of course, a perfect bite is completely subjective, so darlings, what is your perfect bite?  Tell La Diva all about it!

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ROUND UP OF ALL THE ENTRIES!

Ciao for now, darlings!

Meatless Monday: Cauliflower, Chickpea and Potato Curry


Cauliflower, chickpea and potato curry over basmati rice

Darlings, I LOVE Indian food!  In fact, I love a lot about India....Indian music, Indian jewelry, Indian fabrics, Indian art, Indian movies and YES, even Indians themselves!

One of my first boyfriends was an Indian restauranteur nicknamed Chu Chu, and the only thing we had in common was that we liked to eat.   But for me, being with him was as exotic as India itself and dad never said a word except to tease him for his accent.   I'll  never forget when he took me to meet some family in Sarnia, outside of Windsor, Canada and  just over the Detroit River.  His aunt had made an Indian meal that was incredible, we ate it all with our hands and of course, I asked for seconds and the proud cook was only to happy to accommodate me!




The beautiful art of Philip Shadbolt, CLICK HERE TO BUY!

    
I first tried my hand at cooking Indian food at home long ago at seventeen years old when I attempted to duplicate a lamb and spinach curry, or saag gosht,  I'd eaten at a restaurant.  Back then I thought all one needed to make a curry was to add curry powder!   But as I became a more skilled and curious cook, I began to explore the myriad spices and herbs that encompass Indian cooking and its complex and rich flavor profiles.  

And to get those authentic Indian flavor profiles, one needs a lot of various spices and herbs to create the correct flavor.  I always keep cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods and garam marsala on hand but what about curry  leaves?  Or amchoor powder (which I do have now!) Or asafoetida?

When I don't have a lot of spices on hand, I might pick up a jar of Pataks curry paste to create a quick dinner, but I love to challenge myself by being able to create curries that are entirely home made.  And of course, nothing can beat home made flavor!





Farmer Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics and I with a bunch of fresh turmeric

A few weeks ago, I went to the Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market and found my friend Farmer Margie was selling fresh turmeric that day!  I'd seen it sold before and this time, I didn't hesitate and bought a bunch.  Turmeric is a root with deep orange flesh and from the outside, looks similar to ginger, though a bit more tender and is in the same family too.  I couldn't wait to try it!

In the last few years, I'd heard a lot about turmeric being very good for you as it's an anti-inflammatory in the body.  While it's been used medicinally for hundreds of years in Chinese and Indian medicine, only recently I had purchased some sold in supplemental form at a health food shop.

Apparently, foods that inflame the body can lead to ill health, so by eating foods that are anti-inflammatory, it can prevent disease and even is supposed to reduce heart disease risks, reduce triglycerides and blood pressure, as well as many other benefits.  

Read more about the health benefits of turmeric HERE!




This is turmeric in its natural root state and ground into a powder, as most people know it.  Photo courtesy of POPXO, Click HERE to read why over 500 million Indians eat this wonder herb! 

So, now that I had this wonderful, healing spice, what would I use it in?  The next day, I made a lovely rainbow chard and potato frittata and generously grated some into the eggs before cooking, giving the omelet a lovely, golden color.

I decided that I'd try making a modified version of aloo gobi, a classic Indian dry curry using cauliflowers and potatoes, but mine would also have chickpeas which adds protein and a satiety to the dish.

I started off by sweating some chopped onion, a minced jalapeno and added a good inch of grated ginger.  In a dry pan, I toasted cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant, then ground them in a mortar.  Using a microplane grater, I grated the fresh turmeric, skin and all, into the onion mixture as well.  I added salt and then about a half a cup of water, a bit of broth, but not much, as this was a "dry" curry, not a soupy saucy one.

Because I didn't want the cauliflower to over cook and disintegrate, I cut the potatoes into smaller chunks while leaving the cauliflower in large florets and tossed in the chickpeas.    I let it cook for about 20 minutes on low heat until the veggies were just cooked and the flavors had melded.

I tasted it and adjusted my seasonings and then served it up over fluffy basmati rice!




RESULT:  My curry turned out so good that I began to wonder why I don't take the time to make all of my curries with my own spices and pastes?  The addition of the fresh turmeric combined with the freshly ground spices gave the curry a more powerful flavor than if I would have simply used pre-ground versions.  The addition of the chick peas makes for a wonderful complement and I love how both the legumes and potatoes really soak up the spice's flavors. And as if the double carb of potatoes and rice wasn't enough, I toasted some pita bread and greedily scooped the curry into my mouth! 

FOR MORE MEATLESS MONDAY IDEAS CLICK ON THE LABELS BELOW OR THE MM LOGO ON THE RIGHT!

Have you had fresh turmeric, darlings?   What would you use this wonder spice in?  Tell La Diva all about it!  Ciao for now, darlings!


FEBRUARY RICE CHALLENGE: Sriracha Creamed Shrimp over Fried Black Rice Cakes with Sweet Corn "Bisque"

 Shrimp sauteed with brandy and doused in sriracha cream sauce over black and aborrio rice cakes in a corn "bisque" with red pepper and green onion garnish!

The Challenge

Darlings, once again the Creative Cooking Crew has offered the challenge for the month and this time, it's RICE.  "Rice is a simple, ancient grain with a variety of applications in many cultures.  What can you do to transform, elevate, modernize or creatively spotlight it in a dish?  That's your challenge for February."

And so the RICE GAUNTLET HAD BEEN THROWN DOWN and even though I'd been sick forever, it didn't stop the wheels spinning in my head to come up with an original dish using rice as a featured component.





Pondering

A few months ago, I noticed this black rice at Costco that was a whole grain and heirloom variety, curiosity piqued, I bought it and couldn't wait to try it.  Upon being cooked, the rice grains remained separated, it didn't have a high starch content.  The texture was slightly chewy, like a good quality pasta that had been cooked al dente, and the shiny, small black grains proved to be a lovely contrast to bright, stir fried vegetables of  orange carrot, yellow summer squash and green zucchini.  

Because the color was so stunning, the grains so shiny and the texture chewy, I thought it'd be an unusual choice for the challenge.   As I pondered about how I'd like to eat it, I came up with the idea of using it in a cake and imagined a crunchy, black rice cake loaded with shrimp, red peppers, green onions and spices, perhaps like a black rice fritter!

I began to research fried rice cakes and realized that if this dish was going to work, I would need to use a high-starch rice, sushi rice was preferred.   After picking the wrong tofu for a past challenge that caused my croquetas to barely hold their shape, I realized the ability to bind the rice together was important; I didn't want to waste time using a rice that wouldn't bind.

Still under the weather, I trudged to the grocery store, determined to get all my ingredients in one place, the last thing I wanted to do was to make a special trip to Fresh Market to get sushi rice.  Luckily, they had it at Publix, but the large volume and $8 price tag put me off.  "When would I use it again," I wondered?  Knowing I wouldn't be making sushi anytime soon and remembering my pantry was already bursting with multiple grains, rices and pastas, I opted to buy another short grain rice, Valencia, which is used in paella and only $2.






Doubts

As I began to formulate my recipe and consider cooking the rice, I started to have doubts about the Valenica's ability to bind and at the last minute switched to aborrio rice instead.  I made both rices separately, allowed them to cool to on a tray while I sauteed diced red pepper to soften for the cakes.  Into the rice I mixed a sugary salty rice vinegar and wine mixture along with the red pepper, green onion, kaffir lime and Vietnamese coriander.

I mixed together all of the aborrio rice with half of of the black rice and began to form patties.  But, they were falling apart already.  Not using all of the high starch rice was proving to be frustrating.  I added two egg whites to the mixture, formed the patties quickly and then put them in the fridge to cool.  When I went to fry the cold patties, they fell apart in the pan.  Back to square one, I put the tray of patties in the freezer and waited 15 minutes and fried again, this time I saw success!  I fried up the patties, while I made the corn chowder which I would use as a base for the dish.

I love my recipe for corn chowder and have made it many times, but this time, I would puree the lot and strain the soup into a smooth, satiny vegetable bisque, a perfect complement for the spicy shrimp that would adorn the crunchy cakes.  

With the chowder complete, I took large shrimp and sauteed them quickly adding a hefty swig of brandy and then doused them in a sriracha cream sauce invented by my talented friend Jill from Stella's Roar.   The sauce included wine, rice vinegar, lemon juice, shallots, cream and sriracha and the only modification I made was to add a dab of butter at the end to finish it!  It had a nice hit of heat but was not overpowering, the cream mellowing the spice.





 Regrets....I've had a few.....

Some food bloggers NEVER like to admit they make a mistake, their egos won't allow it.  But I've found over the years that many of my readers and fans really appreciate the realism of my posts, warts and all.  This humble admission helps my readers to identify with me, I'm only human too!  But I do it so that others can learn from mistakes that could be easily avoided.

First mistake:  Before I knew it, the onions that formed the base of the chowder were browned and caramelized, which changed the color of the soup from pure yellow to the ugly, darker yellow you see here.  Merely sweating the onions would have been enough. 

Second mistake:  After pureeing the soup and straining it, I had the loveliest, silkiest soup!  Now all I had to do was to reduce it a bit and finish with cream.   But guess who walked away from the stove and into her office to get something, got distracted and forgot all about the soup on the stove?  La Diva did, dumbass!  When I got back to the stove, the the soup was boiling furiously and broken, the texture thick and horrible.  Unwilling to accept defeat, I strained it again, but the silky texture was gone now, though it still tasted good.  Do I go to the store, get more corn and start all over again?  NO.  The texture and color was not perfect but this was already a time consuming exercise!  I would press on!

Third mistake:  Mixing the black rice with the aborrio was a pain in the butt!   Though I liked the texture and contrast the black rice lent to the patties, the next time I'd have to use a better binder or use a high starch rice only!  

Fourth mistake:  After frying up and testing the cakes, I was getting a bit sick of testing them after I plated the dish, I threw the other five I had left out.  I wasn't interested in eating them again!

Fifth mistake (are you kidding me?!):  I should have taken a photo of the fried rice cake on it's own for your viewing pleasure as they did look pretty good.  Ahhh well.....





RESULT:  In spite of my mistakes, I was pretty happy with this dish.  In the first photos, you'll notice that I didn't have the extra sriracha sauce but since I had plenty and really wanted that spicy flavor hit, I added more dollops onto the shrimp.  The flavor combination of corn, red pepper and shrimp is classic but the cakes themselves were delicious with hits of green onion and the strong presence of kaffir lime added a citrus note.  La Diva loved the crunch of the rice cakes and the toothsomeness of the black rice, however, The DJ wasn't overly thrilled with the texture (but he's not a fan of the black rice anyway!)  But that didn't stop him from inhaling the dish and next thing you know, two and half hours work ended with empty plates and a load of dirty dishes, pots and pans!

An Unexpected Surprise.....

The next day while I went into the fridge to get my Korean fried chicken wings that I'd been drying out, I noticed another tray of rice cakes!  I had forgotten about them.  I touched one and instantly, a few grains broke away.  I hurriedly put them into the freezer after deciding to fry up the rest to serve as a side for the wings.

As I gathered my salad ingredients and plated my salad, I thought "Why not put the crunchy cakes on the salad?"  So, I did.  I topped them off with a slightly warmed up sriracha sauce from the day before and then made an additional sauce using Salvadoran crema, Greek yogurt and a dash of cream to create a pourable dressing.  I garnished the cakes with green onions and tomatoes and served it as a first course.





RESULT:  Now THIS dish was really tasty!  In fact, I liked it much better than my original idea!  The crispy and chewy cakes were the right topping for a fresh mixed greens and herb salad.  The heat from the sriracha sauce actually was a great foil for the cool, creamy dressing!  I loved it!  And The DJ?  He liked the rice cakes better served this way as well!  With the improved second dish, I now felt justified in spending hours in the kitchen to elevate the ancient, heirloom grain RICE.

Darlings, what would YOU do with rice for this challenge?  Click HERE to see all of the creative rice entries!  Ciao for now, darlings!







A VERY Pretty Pasta with Prawns: Shrimp Linquine with Chard in Lemon Cream Sauce


Darlings!  Last weekend when the Internet was flooded with uber-macho food dripping with cheese, pork and cured meats, I decided to make a most delicate dish for dinner.  Yes, it was SuperBowl weekend and I was rebelling.   After witnessing "taco" stadiums and "sandwich" stadiums and myriad other food that should only be consumed at 2 am while drunk or in college, I had to wonder how watching a football game with friends has morphed into this over-the-top pig-out holiday?

Oh, my delicate Diva sensibilities!

While many of you know that I'm not one to shy away from a good hearty meal (like good steak and eggs!) or even some good ol' caveman cookin' (like my beef short ribs braised in red wine over pureed celeriac!) I don't make a point of making food too complicated or outrageous.  A simple chocolate cake with chocolate icing is just fine with me, no need to add bits of candy bars, sprinkles and drizzled with caramel or on a raspberry coulis.  When I see these everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipes, I wonder what the person is trying to cover up?  A lack of cooking skills?  I prefer cooking simple dishes with clean flavors using quality ingredients.

I also like to challenge myself by cooking with what's on hand without having to go to the grocery store.  A trip to my garden plot found me with a small bunch of rainbow chard, pansies and arugula microgreens.  In the fridge, I found a small amount of cream, lemons and white wine, in the pantry was a box of linguine and in the freezer large, peeled shrimp.

While the pasta boiled, I made a quick lemon cream sauce using butter, lemon zest, lemon juice and white wine, reduced it and then added the cream.  I cooked the chard quickly in boiling water and drained it, ready to be tossed in to the pasta at the last minute.  A large fry pan with olive oil was heated and when it got very hot, I tossed in the prawns and sauteed them until just cooked and pink and then added a bit of culinary brandy to finish it off.




Sauteed shrimps with rainbow chard in a lemon cream sauce over linguine with arugula microgreens and pansy garnish.

I always cook my pasta sauce al dente and let it finish cooking in the sauce, so I drained it and added it to the pan with the shrimp and tossed in the chard, making sure to mix thoroughly.  I added the lemon cream sauce and tossed the pasta and served it onto clean, white plates and garnished the dish with pansies and arugula microgreens.

The Result:  Light, luscious and lemony!  This elegant dish highlighted the food that it was meant to, not cover it all up with heavy sauces or cheese or too many ingredients that are fighting each other.  The shrimp popped in my mouth with the slightest hint of brandy and lemon, while the chard added bright flavor and nutrients.  The pasta was perfectly cooked and toothsome and the sauce light, a perfect antidote to heavy food, yet still comforting and satisfying.




Spicy Comfort in a Bowl: Andouille Sausage with mixed Vegetables over Pencil Cob Grits


Darlings!  Winter-time is the perfect time for a SPICY dish to warm your bones and your soul.  Even though I live in Miami Beach and it's in the high 70's at the tail end of January (c'mon don't be hatin'!) I still crave hearty, winter dishes.

La Diva is not one to throw away a scrap of food if I think I can use it in a dish and with a household of just two, many times I end up with small bits of vegetables languishing in the refrigerator.  In this case, I had half a zucchini, one baby bok choi (that somehow hid under the other veggies in my crisper and managed to avoid being stir fried last week!) and three mini sweet peppers that had to be used or thrown away.  Carrots, onions and potatoes are always on hand at my house along with canned tomatoes, those ingredients are always good as a starting point for any stew-like dish.

I started by sauteing carrots, onions, sweet peppers and garlic and then added a small can of diced tomatoes, a hot, little jalapeno from my garden got thrown in and fresh marjoram and lemon thyme.  While that was cooking, I sliced and diced a half a zucchini, the bok choi and a spicy andouille sausage and threw them in for about fifteen minutes, just enough to cook the vegetables and allow the meat to release it's salty, smoky and picante flavors into the broth.


Since I was turned on to them back in August, I've really been enjoying the rustic heirloom grits from Anson Mills in South Carolina.  A few weeks back I purchased some pencil cob grits,  which I'd never heard of or had used.  Back in the days of illegal liquor stills, pencil cob corn was the corn of choice for moonshiners.

Though they take a good 90 minutes to cook (unsoaked) they are well worth the effort.  They have a good texture to them, a bit of a bite, and I added butter, parmesan and fontina cheese to take the grits to the next flavor level.  Once you spoon them into a bowl, the grits firm up and make the perfect base for a number of dishes.





Andouille sausage and vegetables over creamy pencil cob grits!

When you are cooking with a jalapeno, one never knows how intense the heat will be!  That little chili pepper combined with the sausage to make one spicy dish!  The creamy, cheesy grits were the perfect accompaniment for this hot and lively "stew!"  Warm and filling, this dish is a bright note on a winter's night!

Ciao for now, darlings!



My Little Dumpling: Chicken Paprikash



Darlings!  It's a FRESH NEW YEAR and the Creative Cooking Crew is back and ready for all the foodie challenges thrown our way!  January's theme is DUMPLINGS!  And there couldn't be a more open and wide ranging food choice for this challenge than the dumpling.  

The dictionary states the definition for "dumpling" in these simple terms.   

dumpling (plural dumplings)


  1. A ball of dough that is cooked and may have a filling and/or additional ingredients in the dough.
  2. A term of endearment
                  My little dumpling. 



Now that the holiday feasting has passed, I too have become a "little dumpling." Because of all the heavy and white flour laden foods I'd been consuming in mass quantities over the holidays, I had a hard time getting started on this challenge.  This little dumpling doesn't need to eat any dumplings just now!  




These foie gras dumplings from Hakkasan at the Tropical Brunch I organized for Les Dames d'Escoffier were delicious.

It has been said that every culture has their own version of a dumpling and I'm certain that I've tried many of them!    Some of my all time favorite dumplings are the Chinese dumplings because they come in so many different fillings and shapes.  I'll never forget going to a trendy dumpling house in New York City years back to be treated to lovely little dim sum dumplings stuffed with delicate, pink shrimp and fashioned in the shape of bunnies and ducks.  The attention to detail in those expertly crafted dumplings along with their uniformity would always amaze me.  

Now that I grow garlic chives in my own garden, I often make gow gee dumplings using pre-made wrappers and then stuffed with a combination of pork and garlic chives with shaoxing rice wine, which adds a very authentic flavor.






    Home-maade potato gnocchi dumplings in blue cheese cream sauce are hubby's favorite!

    A few years back, I decided to get over my fear of DOUGH and started to tackle gnocchi.  I never realized how simple they were to make!   At the same time, I never realized how one could screw up such a simple dish so easily either!  Over processing roasted pumpkin the other day turned my gnocchi into glue!  I realized that one has to be in a certain state of mind to make gnocchi:  patient.




    For a different take on the usual boiled dumpling, I fried these gnocchi in butter and served with grated parmigiano cheese.



      Since I've been so busy with work and haven't had a lot of time to give to creating a new dumpling for the challenge, I was considering making a recipe that I created a few months back.  It's a Southwestern-style casserole with a savory base of sauteed poblano chilies, ground beef, beans, tomatoes and corn with spicy chilies, cumin and oregano.  I top it with my take on a new dumpling, which to me is actually a cornmeal biscuit with cheddar cheese and green onions and then baked.

      Was it a drop biscuit?  A cobbler?  Technically, it's still considered a dumpling!




      My Southwestern-style casserole with cheesy corn dumplings.



          Since my time has been engrossed with proposal writing for clients for team building, I decided not to tax my poor little dumpling head and make an old family favorite:  Chicken paprikash.

          Like spaghetti bolognese, it seems there are a number of ways to make this dish but all of them include sweet paprika, onions, sour cream and dumplings.  The Hungarian dumpling I've seen associated with paprikash is called "nokedi" and looks similar to spaetzle (a dumpling I've eaten many times but never made myself!)  My version of the dumpling is a bit larger.





            To start the paprikash, you saute several chopped onions with two tablespoons of sweet paprika, salt and pepper.  My recipe calls for shortening, but I use oil now.  The frying onions, chicken and paprika will fill your home with a comforting and heavenly scent.  After browning you add a bit of water or broth, cover and let it cook until it falls off the bone. For variety, I added mushrooms as well.  When the chicken is cooked, you add a cup of sour cream to the sauce to thicken it.

            While the chicken is cooking, make the dumplings using egg, flour, water and the rest of the sour cream.  These dumplings have a very sticky consistency and I used a small scoop to make it easier to get them into the boiling water as well as keeping them uniform in shape.  Once they float to the top, scoop them out and serve, they are ready!



            My version of chicken paprikash with dumplings!  

            Ahhhh......a family favorite.  The sauce is so delicious, you will want to eat it with a spoon to make sure you get every, single drop.  The dumplings are dense and plentiful and when I eat this, I always make sure to get a bit of dumpling with every single bite of chicken!  The sour cream adds a bit of tang as well as thickens the rich sauce.

            If you are looking for lovely and light, fluffy dumplings then these are not for you!  Though delicious, these dumplings are as heavy as lead and made for a good, solid meal for hungry people on cold nights!  Needless to say, The DJ, my husband, thoroughly enjoyed this meal as I don't make it often!

            Darlings, what is your favorite dumpling to make?  Or to eat?  Do tell La Diva all about it!  

            WANT TO SEE ALL THE TALENTED ENTRIES?  THEN CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ROUND UP!

            Ciao for now, darlings!


            Tropical Black Sapote OR the Chocolate Pudding Fruit





            Darlings!  WHAT is this magical fruit that looks and tastes like chocolate pudding?  Why, it's BLACK SAPOTE!  

            Now, I know I'm kicking a hornet's nest here but to me, black sapote does NOT taste like chocolate or chocolate pudding.    While the tropical fruit is nicknamed the "chocolate pudding" fruit because the texture looks just like chocolate pudding, it tastes nothing like chocolate.   I know there are people out there, some good friends actually, who will disagree with me.   But, seriously, you can't tell chocolate lovers that there is an actual FRUIT that tastes like chocolate, because like me, they will be sorely disappointed.  (Also, like I was when everyone was saying that carob tasted like chocolate, years ago when it was turning up in everything as a chocolate substitute.  Chocolate my ass!)




            Black sapote in three stages:  (left) Very ripe, ready to eat with a soft, mushy texture, (middle) starting to turn brown aka "ripe" and softening up, (right) unripe, hard and green.

            So, what DOES black sapote tastes like?  Nothing.  I don't find it to have a very strong flavor at all and I can't think of one thing it taste "like."  Like tofu, the fruit begs to be used, manipulated, flavored and tampered with because even though it doesn't taste like chocolate, it DOES have a wonderfully creamy texture and the fruit is plentiful here in South Florida.





            Here's a ripe black sapote about to be cut open and more in the bowl already skinned and seeded.





            Here's the inside of a ripe black sapote.   It's a pretty fugly fruit, isn't it?  And I have to wonder who decided to try one for the first time?!  There is bit of fiber down the middle with large seed pods around it.  I use a spoon to scrape out the flesh, including the fiber and then mash in a bowl.   The fruit has a sticky texture but is also creamy.   Now do you see why it's called the chocolate pudding fruit?  But I'm not going to dig into one and eat it with a spoon anytime soon!


            When I was getting a CSA from Bee Heaven Farms, I would get black sapote fruit in my share and that's how I was introduced to it.  But what to do with it? "Work it into something sweet," was the advice.  So, I made this recipe for black sapote oat bars, which are pretty damn good, which was invented by another CSA member and blogger William from Tinkering with Dinner.   Here's his original recipe and his updated version.  I've modified the recipe in red.

            BLACK SAPOTE OAT BARS

            1/3 cup vanilla sugar  (regular sugar)
            1 cup mashed black sapote  (1.5 cups works better, about five sapote)
            1/6 cup ground walnuts (1/4 cup)
            1/6 teaspoon ground cinnamon (1/4 t or omit)
            1 t high quality cocoa powder
            1 t vanilla extract
            blended together.
            1/6 teaspoon fine-ground coffee (1/4 t)
            and a pinch of salt.

            Base and Topping: 

            3/4 cup butter, softened,
            1 cup packed light brown sugar
            blended,
            and then mixed with
            1 1/2 cups rolled oats,
            1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
            and another pinch of salt.
            1/4 c coconut to top half of oat mixture

            That's half packed on the bottom of a buttered 9"x13" baking pan, then spread with the black sapote mixture. The other half is mixed with a small handful of crushed walnut bits and crumbled on top.

            All baked at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until light brown. 




            These look fabulous but there is a problem:  the oat and coconut topping are too dry.


            RESULT:  VERY GOOD, very easy and very tasty.  But also VERY CRUMBLY.  I think you need a good cup and a half of the fruit to give it more flavor in the midst of the oat crumble base and topping and also to give the bars a thicker layer of the sweet fruit filling.   I did find there to be a lot of waste from the crumble on top being too dry, it did not seem to adhere well and just kept falling off.   After cutting the bars up, I had a good cup of wasted crumbs and coconut.   I think I'd add the coconut and more butter to the topping to hold it together more, any bakers out there have any  other suggestions?





            These black sapote oat bars are very, very good!

            Also, I've omitted the cinnamon and added a teaspoon of chocolate and vanilla to enhance the "chocolate" properties of the fruit.  Taste?  Like a chocolately, figgy, date-like bar.  They are quite delicious actually.

            Darlings, have you ever eaten a black sapote?  What's your favorite way to prepare it?  Have you ever eaten them in a savory dish?  DO tell, La Diva all about it!

            Ciao for now, darlings!


            New Year's Food Porn: Starting the Year off RIGHT!


            January 3, 2014

            Darlings!

            This is what happens when you don't eat enough food to line your stomach before five hours of drinking on New Year's Eve.  You get up at 9 am New Year's Day and make the extra steak that you'd been wondering when you were going to cook because you are STARVING and after inhaling it all, head back to bed!

            I fried potatoes and then seared the boneless rib eye in a cast iron pan on both sides and then put into a 500 F oven for 3 minutes.  Fried up a couple of eggs in the steak pan and basted them and here's the result:  Hangover food fit for a caveman! (er, WOMAN!)  Yeah.....!!!

            Nothing like meat and fried potatoes and eggs to "do the trick."  You think I would have known better, being on older side of 50, I'm a "pro" at New Year's Eve partying.

            But, alas I did not line thy stomach with proper carbs, only protein and salad and paid the price.  Cheap champagne and vodka shots, two libations I KNOW better than to ingest, helped contribute to my downfall.

            So, in spite of creating a lovely dinner the day before for New Year's Day, we ate macaroni and cheese and meatballs out of plastic containers from The Fresh Market for our first dinner of the New Year.

            Shame, shame, that ain't no way to start the New Year!

            So, the next day, I made the meal I had planned for the day before.




            Turkey legs confit cooked in oodles of duck fat and then I crisped up the skin in more duck fat in my trusty cast iron skillet.  DIVINE!!!  This was my second time attempting the confit technique, the first time the turkey tasted great but I had problems with the skin getting all sticky and adhering to the pan.



            These deviled eggs made only with mayonnaise and a hint of the controversial white truffle oil were a hit on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve!


            This time, the skin crisped up perfectly without sticking and the end result was a delectable, melt in your mouth turkey with a lovely salty, herbal flavors and crispy, crunchy skin.  And because of that, I am now an official DARK MEAT LOVER!  I served this up with roasted sweet potatoes pureed with cream cheese and topped with blue cheese and praline pecan pieces.  The "just-cooked" green beans were a nice foil to the rich potatoes and turkey.




            ONE of the Christmas cookie platters I made including vanilla iced sugar cookies and Italian ciambellini (Italian Love Knots) made with fresh blood orange juice.

            The next day, sandwiches with the left over turkey on crunchy, ciabatta was absolutely heavenly!  This was a VERY SPECIAL TREAT and something I definitely wouldn't make all of the time.  I had to use 64 oz of duck fat to cover the turkey and the only reason I had that much was because I had purchased some for a client!  It's been strained for re-use and into the freezer it goes!



            This festive cookie tray included more vanilla iced sugar cookies, molasses crackles and the ever popular almond jam thumbprint cookies!


            And now, after swilling buckets o' al-kee-hol and eating rich foods, the diet is finally starting....tomorrow!  So enjoy this bow-chick-a-bow-bow food porn now.....while I lighten things up!

            Darling, what did YOU eat to start off your New Year?  Are you lightening up in the 2014?  Do tell, darling, La Diva wants to hear ALL about it!

            Ciao for now!