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.

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!