Caveman cookin'

So what IS caveman cookin'? To La Diva, it's making those wonderful meat dishes that are so delicious and succulent that you just have to pick up the meat and gnaw it right off the bone to get every juicy bit! Eating dishes like this takes me to a primordial place and I'm happy that I can let go of my manners and eat like a caveman every once in a while! So, what WAS the caveman dish I made last night?

I prepared the most DIVINE braised lamb shanks. Darlings, every so often, La Diva CRAVES the comfort foods that cook slow and long. I was having company for dinner and wanted to indulge my hard-working friends with a soul-satisfying weekend dinner on a week night. This recipe does take a good three hours to prepare and cook (half hour prep, 2 1/2 hour cook) but it is WELL WORTH IT. Your family and friends will love you well as not being able to stop themselves from sucking on the bones like a Cro-magnon!

Here are some notes before you start:
  • Use a good quality wine for this dish as it will be a main flavor component. I found a lovely French red syrah that I bought for under $10 and drank it with dinner as well.
  • Due to the volume of liquids used in this dish, I had to split it all up between two heavy bottomed pans. Of course, if you have a braising pan or Dutch oven, either would be perfect.
  • A lot of braising recipes call for tomatoes but I like the taste of the wine and feel it is less acidic without them.
  • This is an easy recipe with great results if you are patient.
  • THIS IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE: Before you do anything, you MUST pour yourself a glass of the red. It's vital that the wine is of good quality and La Diva feels that it may only be tested properly while sipping in a lovely fine glass while you chop the veggies! So, make sure you buy extra bottles!

(Click on photo to see all its meaty goodness!)

La Diva's braised lamb shanks

Serves 6

6 lamb shanks
1 750 ml bottle of quality red wine
2 c low sodium chicken broth
2 c low sodium beef broth
2 medium onions, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
10 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 large carrots, cut into thick rounds
a few sprigs of each fresh or dried: rosemary, thyme, marjoram or sage
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
extras: minced fresh parsley, lemon zest

Heat oil in a heavy large pot over a medium high heat. Salt and pepper shanks and brown on all sides for about 10 minutes. Remove and rest on platter.

Add onions, celery, carrot and garlic and saute until golden, about 10 minutes. Add herbs, wine and broth and then the shanks, making sure they are covered in the liquid as much as possible. Bring up to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for about two hours or until meat is tender.

Remove cover from pot and continue simmering for an additional 20 minutes. Carefully remove the meat and put into a warm oven while the sauce simmers for an additional 20-30 minutes, cooking until sauce is thickened. Remove shanks from oven and put into a large shallow bowl. Spoon the sauce over the meat and garnish with fresh parsley and lemon zest.

I served the shanks with pureed parsnips and potatoes with loads of butter and steamed Brussels sprouts. For dessert, a simple berry cobbler with natural vanilla ice cream. Darlings, you've not LIVED until you've savored a dish that took hours to prepare, the proof being the bone-gnawing of my guests (as well as my sidekick DJ Nevah L8 who looked so cute with that bone in his maw.) So, go on, darlings, release your inner caveman and partake in your primal past. GRrrrr! Ahem, I meant to say, Ciao!

Dolphin as Chef?

Today's article in the Sydney Morning Herald online edition provided enough evolutionary evidence to tie the most ardent Creationist's knickers in a knot! Apparently, some Australian female bottlenose dolphins display great culinary skill at de-boning cuttlefish before eating! This behavior has been observed by scientists repeatedly amongst the female bottlenose population in South Australian waters.

According to the article, "Female bottlenose dolphins have also been seen using sponges as tools in Western Australia, to protect their snouts as they probe the sea floor for food. In the first evidence of cultural learning among dolphins, a study in 2005 showed that mothers teach their daughters the trick of breaking off the sponges and wearing them." The article can be read in full here.

Next thing you know, those brainiac dolphins will be popping over anytime they want and asking you for your favorite tuna recipe and borrowing a cup of calamari! And so it begins! Be afraid, darlings, be very afraid. For more information on the dolphin's evolution and pending uprising, please click here. (La Diva has a wacky and dark sense of humor, darlings, so please indulge me for 10 minutes and take a look!) Ciao!

Study of mahi mahi, Israeli cous cous and zucchini in a saffron tomato broth

(Go on and click on the photo!)

Darlings! A few years back, La Diva enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Talula restaurant here on Miami Beach during Miami Spice week. The dish I remember was that of a mild crispy-skinned fish resting over Israeli couscous in a flavorful broth. Since I just bought some Israeli couscous and had a hankering for some fresh mahi mahi, I thought I'd try to duplicate the dish from memory.

But first, let's clarify a few things. Mahi mahi is also called "Dolphin" or "Dolphinfish." It is NOT a dolphin. The fish has a prominent forehead like a dolphin but that's as far of a resemblance as there is to good ol' Flipper! Feel better now, darling? Good! I picked up some fresh, wild mahi mahi at the grocery, asking the fishmonger to leave the skin intact. La Diva loves mahi mahi as it is a mild tasting, white-fleshed fish that is very meaty yet succulent. As for the Israeli couscous, it is not like the North African version but more like a larger pearl-shaped pasta, except it is toasted. Once again inspired from the weekly farm share, I had some tomatoes and zucchini to use up from the last week's bounty as well.

To begin: I took the two beautiful mahi mahi fillets out of the fridge, salted them and left them to rest. Then, I took a good pinch of saffron, put the threads into a small bowl and added about a half a cup of hot water. Meanwhile, in a small pan, I heated up a teaspoon of olive oil and lightly toasted about a quarter cup of Israeli couscous over a medium heat. When the couscous was browned, I added half of the saffron water and covered the couscous with chicken broth. I cooked the couscous until tender, about 8 minutes, and had to add a bit more broth so it would not dry out. After it was cooked, I took it off the heat and set it aside. I did not use salt as the broth would have plenty.

I then minced up one small shallot and a garlic clove and then sweated them in a saute pan with olive oil. Next, I added one small finely sliced zucchini and cooked for just a few minutes. From there I tossed in a few small tomatoes that I had quartered and then added the saffron water and a cup of the chicken broth. I kept this simmer over a low heat while I prepared the fish.

For the fish, I heated up a fry pan with olive oil and then seared the fish, top side down. After a few minutes, the fish formed a nice brown crust and I flipped over onto the skin side. (Leaving the skin on the fish helps the fish retain its moisture but also many people enjoy eating the skin, especially if it is crispy.) I continued cooking until the skin became crisp and then finished the fish in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for only a few minutes more. Take care not to overcook the fish by testing to touch. If it yields to your touch, it is not done.

Puttin' it together:

In shallow bowls, put a bit of the couscous into each bowl and then ladle over the top the zucchini saffron tomato broth. Now, place the crispy fish skin-side down on top and EAT!

Result: Very flavorful and tasty. DJ Nevah L8 actually went back for seconds of the fish, which is unheard of! The couscous is quite a fun texture to consume, as it is really lovely little pasta pearls. I really loved the flavor of this dish and the freshness of the fish made all the difference as there was no fishy taste at all, just juicy, subtle deliciousness! Seeing as this dish took all of 20 minutes to prepare, I'm definitely going to remember this meal and put it into my recipe file! Ciao!

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I saw a macaw!

(Click on photo to see both beautiful birds!)

Sunday was a beautiful day in Miami so La Diva and her sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 decided to go for a bike ride down to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for their annual chocolate festival. Old Cutler Rd. is a gorgeous street with a jungle canopy of huge fig trees, vines and other tropical flora that makes it so beautiful.  However, with single lanes for both sides, it's a bitch when there is an event at the garden and long lines of traffic is the norm.  To avoid this headache and keep our day pleasant, we avoid this altogether by parking at Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove and riding the five and a half miles down to the garden.  

As we were taking our bikes off the car, I heard a loud noise that sounded like a huge bird in the palm trees above me.  Living for years in Australia, I recognized the sound of a parrot but knew that it must be one large bird.  I'd only seen small wild parrots in Miami, especially the small green ones on Lincoln Road.  I finally saw it, not one but two huge macaws were in the palm trees just above our heads!  They were gorgeous!!!  

Apparently, Miami has a wild macaw population started from escaped birds from Parrot Jungle during a hurricane as well as released parrot pets from dim-witted owners.  We watched them for a few minutes while they raucously squawked and then suddenly, they were gone, flying to another place to eat, screech and make trouble.

Do the Canistel Cumbia!

Canistel or "egg fruit?" And what the heck is a cumbia? Honestly, darlings, before La Diva started to do this farm share, I'd never even HEARD of canistel, let alone thought I'd be eating it! But, I'm glad I have now as it is delicious! Bearing a texture similar to pumpkin or acorn squash, the fruit is a bright saffron yellow, the exact color of an egg yolk, hence the name. You can read more about the canistel here.

A few weeks ago, La Diva got two canistel in her farm share (grown right here in Southern Florida) and now the fruit is finally ripe! The fruit must be VERY, VERY SOFT before you can (or should) actually use it. If you eat the fruit when under-ripe, a milky sap will be exuded and you will most likely get a stomach ache.

Since the canistel DOES sport the texture and color of a hard-boiled egg, the fruit can be used in savory as well as sweet dishes. As I already had some left-over coconut milk in the fridge from last week's laksa and some recently purchased coconut from my fave Indian purveyor, coconut canistel muffins were in order!

After I mashed the fruit into a workable paste, I took a quick taste. Very strange and hard to put my finger on. The texture was like a pumpkin's but a bit more mealy than stringy. The taste? Semi-sweet and a bit hard to describe but definitely pleasant and mild.

Of course, there WAS no recipe on line for this combo so La Diva looked at a few pumpkin and coconut recipes and revised, adding and subtracting here and there. The following recipe is a combination of three recipes I found on the Web. If you LOVE coconut like La Diva does, give it a whirl, darlings, it's quick and simple.

"Caribbean" Print

La Diva's coconut canistel muffins

2 very ripe medium-size canistel (egg fruit, about 1 1/2 cups)
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1/2 stick butter, softened
1 c coconut milk
1/2 c milk
1 1/2 c flour
2/3 c coconut (I used unsweetened coconut, not the sweetened coconut flakes)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

Peel VERY RIPE AND VERY SOFT canistel, remove black seeds. Mash fruit in large mixing bowl. Cream butter into fruit and then add eggs and sugar, beat until well-mixed. Add coconut milk, milk and coconut, mixing after adding each ingredient. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda stopping to mix a little in at a time. Stir until ingredients are just mixed in and do not over-mix.

Fill an extra-large muffin tin with one cup batter per muffin. Bake at 350 F for 25-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 9 extra-large muffins.

RESULT: The muffins turned out very well and were moist and tasty. They had a slightly yellow color and the few bits of canistel that did not mash completely provided a taste of the mild fruit. I loved the coconut but I think for next time I'd like to try the canistel in a dish where the taste is more prevalent. The muffins were slightly sweet (which my sidekick DJ Nevah L8 LOVED) but if you want to reduce the sugar, you can by all means. My great auntie always told me as a general baking rule: If it's moist before you bake, it will be moist after it's done. With the inclusion of the mashed fruit, eggs, milk AND coconut milk, a moist muffin is guaranteed and these will be too hard to resist once you smell them baking!

Darlings, La Diva just got THREE MORE canistel in her farm share, which will be ready in a few more weeks. What about a savory dish next time? Any ideas? La Diva would LOVE your comments! Oh, I almost forgot. A cumbia is a traditional but hip-shaking dance from Columbia and it is fabulous! My favorite Columbian, Rodrigo, is going to teach it to me! Ciao!

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Sunset du Jour: 1-24-09

La Diva CAN'T live without: Maldon Crystal Sea Salt

Ahhh, the cold snap has broken, the skies are sunny and blue and life is back to normal on Miami Beach as the temperature has crept back up to the high 70's. Hence, a quick blog posting is in order so that La Diva may get out and enjoy the warm weather!

Darlings,when La Diva first discovered gourmet salt years ago, she didn't quite understand "what the big deal was" about these salts? How could they taste so different? Well they do, darlings, and Maldon Sea Salt is La Diva's hands-down favorite. Once these delicate little crystals explode in a crunchy salty goodness onto your tongue, you will never go back to using regular salt at your table!

Looking more like beautiful crystal pyramids than your usual salt grains, Maldon sea salt offers a pure salt taste without bitterness or chemical overtones. The salt is produced using traditional methods "by hand" in Essex, England and the Osborne family have run the company for generations. While there are a variety of gourmet salts readily available from around the globe, Maldon offers incredible taste for value. Darlings, this is NOT the salt to use in pasta water or to use liberally to soak up wine stains on the carpet: it's far too precious and pricey! At $8.50 for a 8.5 ounce box at Williams Sonoma, La Diva uses it for flavor at the table only! However, compared to the other gourmet salts on the market, La Diva finds Maldon to be good value for the money and uses it everyday in her poca cucina!

I could go on and on about the wonders and taste of this amazing product but why don't I let the experts tell you themselves? The Maldon Crystal Salt Company have a very informative website on their product including history and production. Quite fascinating actually, click here.

Darlings, La Diva MUST dash now, the boys are waiting for me poolside with icy bevvies and hot gossip! TA TA for now, darlings!
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The bartender HATES you!

Darlings, as well as being a sales and marketing exec forever, did you know that La Diva was a also a bartender for years and years? It's true and I did it for so long that at times it felt like a prison sentence! I've worked in a variety of establishments but as I got older and more experienced, I moved away from the ever-thumping night clubs and pubs and began working in fine dining restaurants as a cocktail bartender. Yes, darling a cocktail bartender, NOT A MIXOLOGIST. (La Diva LOATHES that word and feels that anyone that calls themselves one is a true WANKER!)

In any case, La Diva LOVES her cocktails as well as copious amounts of chardy and champers (of course) and was traipsing lazily around the Net looking for fellow libations lovers when I stumbled across these hilarious videos on You Tube. They made me think of times past when I felt exactly like the bartender in each and every one of these videos! Ahhh, memories!

Produced by "Generation Awesome" these dark and cynical videos explore the secret desires of your local bartender. They are titled "The Bartender HATES you!" and include 12 videos in the series. Numbers 9 and 5 in particular were enjoyed immensely by myself and DJ Nevah L8, who also dallied a bit as a barkeep in a journalist's pub back in Sydney. You can check them out here.

Enjoy, darlings, and remember to not only TIP your bartender but stop being so darn annoying to the poor dear! Happy Friday!

Barack O'Bollywood FEAST or curried eggplant puree (brinajal bartha)

Ok, Darlings, no kidding this time, Miami is suffering a cold snap! It was all of 57 degrees yesterday! And down to 32 F last night! La Diva even had to put the heat on!!! I know I sound like I'm whining and I am. I have no right to complain, after all I just came back up from the hot tub with a glass of red and my sidekick DJ Nevah L8. But don't hate me darlings, we all have our cross to bear and come summer La Diva will have to face the dreaded hurricane season! (On a serious note: I hope I get a farm share this week and there is no damage to the crops. Frostbitten fennel, anyone?)

Darlings, welcome to DAY THREE of the Barack O'Bollywood feast in celebration of the inauguration of President Obama! If you are anything at all like me, you are still in shock and awe of what has taken place....but happy and hopeful! La Diva is all about POSITIVE CHANGE!

Going out for a fine Indian dinner is always such a treat for La Diva and she loves all the fabulous food accompaniments that make eating Indian so special. I'm talking about the chutneys, the pickles and the raitas that you put on the table to add to your dishes to cool and enhance. Depending on what dish you make, these can include:

  • Pickles such as lime (very spicy) or eggplant (mildly spicy)
  • Chutneys are popular, especially mango chutney (sweet or hot) and can come in a whole slew of styles and flavors including tomato, mint and onion.
  • Desiccated coconut flakes: not the sickly sweet kind you use for cakes but simply dried coconut flakes, best bought in an Asian grocery.
  • Sliced banana
  • Raitas, like the chutneys, can come in a wide variety as well. They are yogurt-based and can include vegetables like cucumber or onion or even fruits like banana, pineapple and mango.
  • Sliced onions, cucumbers and tomatoes
  • Lemon wedges

Now, let's get to the dinner! I have to admit: IT WAS THE BOMB. Ok, that wasn't too humble but when it rocks, darling, it rocks! And this dinner rocked! DJ Nevah L8, being a Sydney-sider as well as having a true-blue curry-eating Englishman for a father, has had his share of authentic Indian fare. He was thrilled to have the home-made supper and immediately called his father to brag all about it. The flavors were divine, the vindaloo spicy without burning the roof of your mouth, the eggplant full of flavor and texture and the greens were spicy and smooth. But the best part about it was that it was all so easy to prepare. I didn't need a million ingredients and used many of the same spices yet every dish tastes so completely different. Isn't it amazing how that happens when cooking Indian food?

(don't forget to click on the photos!)

Here's the final recipe for the eggplant and then we'll talk about how to put it all together. Again, this recipe is courtesy of Charmaine Solomon from her cookbook: The Complete Asian Cookbook. By the way, I wrote to Charmaine the other day to tell her about my “shout out” to her on this blog and she wrote me back with appreciation! Yay! La Diva LOVES to praise others for their efforts and was happy to get a positive reply.

Eggplant puree or brinjal bartha

Serves 6

2 large eggplants
2 large ripe tomatoes
3 T ghee or oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 t finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 t ground turmeric
1/2 t chili powder
2 t salt
1 t garam masala

Wash and dice eggplants and tomatoes. It is not necessary to peel either. Heat ghee (or oil) in a saucepan and gently fry onion and ginger until they are soft and starting to brown. Add turmeric, chili powder, salt and garam masala and mix thoroughly. Add eggplant and tomato, stir well and cover. Reduce heat to low, cook until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally to prevent vegetables from sticking to the pan. Cook until liquid evaporates and puree is thick and dry enough to scoop up with Indian breads. Serve hot or cold.

La Diva's Barack O'Bollywood Feast included:


  • Indian beef vindaloo
  • Saag (pureed greens)
  • Brinjal bartha (eggplant puree)
  • Steamed basmati rice
  • Plain naan
  • Eggplant pickle
  • Mango chutney
  • Lime pickle
  • Cucumber mint raita
  • Red Stripe beer
We started the meal off with some papadom and yogurt with mint chutney. I made the papadom in the microwave, which is less fattening than frying but maintains the papadom's crispy texture. It's so EASY! I used the Whole Foods house brand of naan bread which I lightly oiled and grilled in a pan on the stove. I buttered it and kept it warm in wrapped foil. I was surprised at how well it turned out and tasted for pre-made bread! The cucumber mint raita was used with the beef vindaloo to cool the heat. I served the pickles and chutney with the main course, but we didn’t touch them, the dishes needed no extra condiments. Previous to the dinner, I had looked for Taj Mahal or Kingfisher beers, two favored Indian brews, but was not successful. So, instead served the Caribbean brand so popular in Jamaica, Red Stripe.

So, darlings, this wraps up the Barack O'Bollywood Indian feast! I hope you enjoyed our journey through the Indian sub-continent and would love your comments on your triumphs or trials. Namaste!

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Barack O'Bollywood FEAST or Indian puree of greens (saag)

Darlings, those inaugural festivities yesterday sure did look tiring! (and damn cold!) Ten balls?! Our new President should be called Gobama! Of course, we have to remember our new First Lady Michelle did it all in heels, naturally. The shoes were Jimmy Choo and I thought she looked FABULOUS!!!

So today we continue our celebratory feast for the President's inauguration and now we are onto the second dish of the meal. But first, darlings, I must tell you about the research I did. Once I broke away from the television for a mo', I trotted up to the Whole Foods Market as La Diva remembered seeing quite a few of the more obscure spices there not found in the usual grocery store. Indeed there was! Amongst some of the spices needed to prepare Indian dishes that I found were: turmeric, ground cardamom, cardamom pods, ground coriander and garam masala. No BLACK mustard seed but I did find the usual yellow (brown) mustard seed. The black mustard seed is apparently spicier and a bit harder to find, though I'm sure I can get it at the Asian grocery up north. I have the brown mustard seeds, so I'm going to give them a shot and see how it tastes.

Also found was a varied selection of Indian accompaniments and curry pastes, chutneys and pickles including mango chutney, lime pickle and eggplant (brinjal) pickle.

Over in the bakery, I found a few brands of pre-made roti and naan bread, including whole wheat and garlic flavors. La Diva is starting to think that you can get all of the ingredients necessary to make your Indian feast WITHOUT going to the Asian grocery! For those without the good fortune to have a local Asian purveyor, this is good news.

(click on ALL photos to enlarge, darling, they are beautiful!)

Again, this recipe is from the talented Southeast Asian cook, Charmaine Solomon's cookbook: The Complete Asian Cookbook.

Result: La Diva thought the saag recipe turned out well, considering I used brown mustard instead of the black seeds. Here's a hint Charmaine doesn't tell you in the recipe: put a lid on the pan when frying the mustard seeds as they pop like popcorn and you won't have any left for the dish if you don't cover them! Additionally, La Diva would like to point out that in Indian cooking you usually start out with "frying" the spices to release their flavors. Take care not to burn or you'll have to start again.

Even though La Diva enjoyed this recipe, alas, DJ Nevah L8 complained that it reminded him of baby food and was too mushy. But, that is his personal taste and as I've had saag many times (made with spinach, not the braising greens I used) it is consistent with the way the dish is supposed to be made and presented. As La Diva is a "texture" person herself, I tend to serve this dish with naan bread for scooping up. Which brings me to this interesting point: What's with all the carbs on the Indian plate? Besides Mexican, I can think of no other cuisine that utilizes so many starches on one plate: rice, naan bread, potatoes! Is this an American thang? In India do they serve one or the other? In any case, La Diva is a CARB QUEEN and is certainly not complaining!

Onto the recipe! I'd like to note that you can also make garam masala AND the panch phora yourself. However, that would DEFINITELY take a trip to the Asian grocery! I've included the recipe from Charmaine after the saag if you are game to try!

Saag (Puree of leafy greens)

Serves 4-6

1 lb. of spinach or other greens (La Diva used the pei tsai and other greens in her farm share)
2 medium turnip or 1 giant white radish
1 T ghee or oil
1/2 t black mustard sees or panch phora (I used the brown mustard instead)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 t finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t ground turmeric
1 1/2 t salt or to taste
1/2 t garam masala

Wash the greens, removing any tough stalks. Break the leaves into small pieces and put into a large pan with a sprinkling of water. Peel and dice the turnips or radish and add to the pan. Cover and cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft. Drain away any liquid and chop or mash the vegetables. Heat the ghee or oil and fry the mustard seeds or panch phora (don't forget to cover the pan!) for a minute, then add onion and ginger and fry on medium heat until the onion is soft and golden. Add chili, turmeric, salt and mashed vegetables. Stir and cook for five minutes, then sprinkle with garam masala, cover and leave on low heat for a few minutes longer until liquid evaporates. Taste and add salt or lemon juice if desired. Serve as an accompaniment to chapatis (Indian flatbread) or rice and curries.

(Go on darling, click on photo to see ALL the glorious spices!)

Garam masala:

4 T coriander seeds
2 T cumin seeds
1 T whole black peppercorns
2 t cardamom seeds (measure after removing the pods)
4 cinnamon sticks (3 inch sticks)
1 t whole cloves
1 whole nutmeg

In a small pan roast separately the coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. As each one starts to smell fragrant turn on plate to cool. After roasting, peel the cardamoms, discard the pods and use only the seeds. Put all into a food processor and blend into a fine powder. Finely grate nutmeg and mix in. Store in a glass jar with an airtight lid. Or just buy the damn stuff.

Panch phora:

"Panch" means "five" in Hindi and panch phora is a combination of five different aromatic seeds. These are used whole and when added to the cooking oil, impart the flavor typical of certain Indian dishes.

Combine 2 T each of black mustard seed, cumin seed and black cumin seed, 1 T each of fenugreek seed and fennel seed. Put into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake before use to ensure even distribution. No substitute.

Darlings, didn't you find dish two of our feast easy? The third dish tomorrow will prove just as simple and completes the meal. Check back tomorrow for the final recipe! Namaste!

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Barack O'Bollywood FEAST or Indian beef vindaloo

Darlings! La Diva has had SUCH A CRAVING for Indian food that she just HAD to make an entire dinner of Indian treats for such a special day! Today we get a brand new President, so a celebratory feast is in order! Please check out this video to get you in the proper frame of mind to continue!

Wasn't that FUN?! As La Diva finds Indian restaurants in Miami to be rare, mediocre and over-priced, she really finds it worth her time to make it herself. Years ago, when I first moved to Australia, I was introduced to the cookbook of a local culinary talent: Charmaine Solomon. Food columnist, cooking instructor extraordinaire and an exceptional cook and authority on Southeast Asian cooking, Charmaine's recipes are thorough and authentic. It is the springboard that started La Diva's education, love and understanding of Asian food. I've taken the next three recipes from her book:

The Complete Asian Cookbook

This book covers recipes from 16 countries including Thailand, India, Japan and China, and the book also includes the more obscure countries like Burma, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. It is my all-time favorite and most-utilized of all cookbooks and every dish I've tried has been a success. If you do decide to buy one as well, please invest in the hard-cover as you will reach for this invaluable book again and again and again!

Now, darlings, with Indian cooking, you DO need a variety of spices and pastes to which there is just no substitute. I found these recipes to be fairly easy without too many steps and without using too many obscure ingredients. However, you WILL most likely have to take a trip to the Asian grocery to get the spices. I have found a good Indian grocery store in Miami (there are a lot of Indians in the Caribbean):

Nu Sunshine Indo Pak Grocery
1813 NE 164th St.
North Miami Beach FL 33162
305 948 9856

I've made three dishes which I will share with you over the course of the next three days: a spicy beef curry (vindaloo, my all-time favorite), and two vegetable sides using the rest of the braising greens and a turnip (saag) and half of the eggplant (brinjal bartha) To get the fullest flavor, I try to always cook my meat curries the day before, so the flavors may meld. However, before you get frustrated and think to yourself, "I can't possibly do this!" just keep in mind that La Diva only cooks like this when she has time. Many times, I cheat and use Patak's curry pastes and can cook up a curry in a hurry! But, if you are ready to try something different and push the boundaries of your culinary repertoire, please, read on!

Beef vindaloo

Here is the recipe for the first dish, the beef vindaloo. I'd like to note:
  • Use the correct amount of meat, otherwise there will be too much vinegar.
  • Because of the high acid content, marinate the meat in a non-reactive bowl like ceramic. The author also suggests cooking in earthenware, enamel or stainless steel for the same reasons.
  • You may substitute the beef for pork or lamb. My recipe called for pork but I decided to use beef.
This is quite a spicy dish and you may cool it off with a bit of raita, a yogurt sauce. (recipe follows) Go on, darling, BE DARING and CONQUER!! La Diva is cheering you on!

Indian Beef Vindaloo

Serves 6-8

2 lbs. lamb, beef or pork (this is the time to use the fatty cuts that take a while to cook down)
6-8 large dried red chilies
1 c vinegar (coconut is preferred, if you can find it)
2 t chopped fresh ginger
2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 t ground nutmeg
2 t salt
2-3 T ghee or oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 T brown sugar, optional

Cut meat into cubes. Soak chillies in vinegar for 10 minutes. Any kind of vinegar may be used, but if using double strength cider vinegar, dilute with an equal quantity of water. Put chillies and vinegar, ginger and garlic into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add ground spices and salt. Marinate meat for two hours in this mixture.

Heat ghee or oil and fry onions gently until soft and golden. Stir frequently and cook until all liquid from onions has evaporated and the oil comes out. Drain meat from marinade and fry, turning cubes, until meat changes color, then pour in marinade, cover pan and simmer on low heat until meat is well cooked. Stir in sugar, if used. Serve hot with plain rice and accompaniments.

Cucumber Mint Raita

La Diva serves her spicy vindaloo with plain basmati rice and cucumber raita. Here's my version of the recipe:

La Diva's cucumber raita:

Peel one large cucumber and cut lengthwise. Using a small spoon, scoop out seeds and discard. Cut the cucumber into small dice. In a bowl, combine half of a large tub of plain, natural organic yogurt with cucumber. Grate one small white onion into bowl. Add a half teaspoon of each: ground cumin and ground coriander. Mix well and add salt to taste. If I have any fresh mint on hand, I chiffonade and add as well. I make this at least an hour ahead so the flavors of the onion and spices will meld. I grate the onion as opposed to dice as it gives a full flavor without having to bite into the onion! Use liberally over the vindaloo as a cooling agent!

See, that wasn't so hard was it? Check out my blog for the next couple of days to complete the Barack O'Bollywood Feast! Namaste!

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Why La Diva LOVES Asian food or It's time for Laksa!

Darlings, after reviewing my posts from the last couple of weeks, La Diva got to wondering: Why DO I cook so much Asian food? Well, after some hard thought I realized it all has to do with doing the dishes. Yep. La Diva LOATHES doin' THAT daily domestic! When you cook Asian, you tend to cook it in one pot....a wok! Less dishes! No sides to steam, mash or fry, it's all in one stir fry or curry! Besides that, what other way can you use up so many veggies in one dish in so many different ways? Likewise, as opposed to the "western" way of eating a piece of meat, a starch and some vegetables, you eat MUCH LESS MEAT when mixed with veggies in a stir fry.'s fun to do! Preparing, eating and enjoying Asian cuisine has SO MANY benefits. Besides the quick cooking method of stir fry retaining the vitamins and minerals of the ingredients, you are also able to use leaner cuts of meat. And then, there are the endless combination of Asian cooking styles: Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Vietnamese....pant, pant....It could take a lifetime to learn all the nuances of dishes from the Asian continent! I even have some Burmese and Laotian recipes!!

Having clarified that, darlings, I found myself with a hodgepodge of left-over veggies and frequently look to a stir fry to use up bits and pieces. I had a handful of mushies, two tiny zucchini, a generous supply of beansprouts along with tatsoi greens (Chinese) I just got in the new farm share. But, I've done an awful lot of stir fry lately so remembered in the pantry La Diva had a lone spice sachet of LAKSA paste. Laksa? Ok, many of you unfamiliar with Malaysian food might not have heard of laksa but it is certainly one of La Diva's all-time favorite dishes. I have slurped copius bowls of laksa in every Asian food court or Malaysian restaurant in Sydney countless times!

So, what exactly IS a laksa? Without getting too technical and proper, a laksa is a spicy coconut curry noodle soup, which is prevalent in Malaysia and Singapore. It includes some kind of noodle: from rice vermicelli, to fat Hokkien egg noodles to fine egg noodles (my preference.) The protein can be anything from chicken, fish, prawn or mixed seafood and there can be fried tofu cubes as well. I usually get a combo of chicken and prawn or just veggie and tofu. Most laksa will have coconut milk, however, La Diva remembers a hugely popular restaurant in Sydney that used regular milk to give the soup its unique taste and texture while significantly reducing the saturated fat content. Then, there is the plethora of fresh vegetables (broccoli, baby bok choy, baby corn, red pepper, mushroom, etc.) and crunchy bean sprouts all swimming in a lovely coconut milk curry broth. The final touch are the garnishes which can include cilantro, chili sambal and crispy fried onions.

While living in Sydney, La Diva made this dish many times from scratch as well as "cheating" and using the paste sachet. Since La Diva found one last sachet and doesn't have all the ingredients or patience today to make it from scratch, she's going to cheat and use the pre-made paste! The brand I have is called INDOFOOD Laksa instant seasoning mix which, oddly enough, is made in Indonesia! There are many brands though and you can find them, if you look hard, at the Asian grocery store. Many of them also say "Singapore coconut curry noodle paste."

To get started, I poach some shrimp and set aside. And, don't forget the mise en place! La Diva cuts up all the veggies and protein she'll be using BEFORE she starts the dish. Once you get going, you add the ingredients quickly and have no time for lolly gagging about cutting onions or such. (La Diva likes silly words like "lolly gagging" and will make any excuse to use them indiscrimnately, just because!) Like all curry pastes, the flavor must be released by frying it in some oil in a wok. After a quick fry for about 30 seconds or so, I then add some chicken broth, a can of coconut milk and add the vegetables in the order they require to cook, i.e., carrots first, then the zuke, the mushrooms and always the greens at the very end, just before serving. Cook on a medium to medium low heat, this is NOT a dish to furiously boil but one with delicate ingredients that need to be coaxed to release their flavors, not beaten and boiled into submission!

While the veggies cook, prepare the noodles according to directions, drain and put a single serving in each large Asian soup bowl. Add a good handful of the raw, washed bean sprouts. Now, add the protein to the wok and taste the soup. Remember, you will be adding more condiments "to taste" at the table, so don't go overboard with salt.

To serve up, ladle the hot soup into the bowls over the noodles and sprouts. Sit down and's time to garnish! Add some chili sambal, fresh cilantro leaves, fried onions, and perhaps some fish sauce. La Diva LOVES her soup spicy and always adds a bit of freshly sliced Thai red chilies in soy sauce. And, remember to serve the soup with a spoon AND chopsticks for easy eating and no drop left unslurped. Finally, no laksa supper would be complete without a cold Tiger lager beer!

Total wash-up tally: One wok, one pot, two bowls, two spoons, four chopsticks and a ladle ! Yay, Asian food!

La Diva's take on pasta fagioli

Well darlings, it's a coooooold winter's night in Miami and about to get colder! Ok, I lie. It's probably low 70's at the minimum right now but it's about to get down to the 60's!! BRRR!! Ok, I know that isn't squat compared to when I lived in Siberia, oops, I mean Chicago, but that IS COOL for weather here in Southern Florida. Darlings, even La Diva craves the cold-weather foods from her younger years in Michigan and Illinois and will find any excuse to make them again!

I had a TON of greens in my share this week and it WAS a bit chilly today so I thought a good hearty peasant soup was in order: Pasta fagioli, a traditional Italian soup of pasta and beans. However, today's version wasn't so much a soup as a "broth-y" pasta.

I started out sweating some onions and browning a good half a cup of diced pancetta. Ahhh, pancetta! It's what La Diva uses many times as a base when she wants to flavor dishes like soups, casseroles or pastas without the heavy inclusion of red meat or poultry. The great thing about pancetta, which is an Italian bacon, is that you can get so much flavor by using a small amount. For future flavorings, remember the pancetta!

So, the onions and bacon are browning in olive oil over a medium heat, I then add some garlic (which I always add towards the end so as not to over-brown and turn it bitter), a can of drained cannellini beans and about a half of a large box of fat free chicken broth. I bring it to a boil, get the pasta water going and wash the greens. Yes, the greens! Of course you know that La Diva gets the farm share each week, I am certainly eating plenty of so-very-good-for-you organic greens! Today I'm using a generic bunch of "braising greens" which certainly includes the pei tsai and some other red-stemmed plant! Reducing the heat to a simmer, I let the beans take in the flavor of the broth, bacon and vegetables for as long as it takes the pasta water to boil and pasta to cook....about 20 minutes.

The pesto....

Pesto for pasta fagioli? Why not? Since, La Diva has two huge bunches of cilantro and nothing to use it with for the next few days and as it goes off so quickly, I thought, why not make a little pesto with it? I got out my trusty food processor, put in a bit of parmeggiano reggiano and garlic and process until small and crumbly. (Now darling, I KNOW it's very tempting to buy the cheaper, domestic version of this cheese but for flavor, you REALLY MUST invest in the real thing! REAL parmeggiano reggiano is like a French champagne and the true Italian version comes from specific cheese-making regions of Italy, NOT from America. I find the domestic versions smell and taste like spew, so please, avoid like the plague!) Then I coarsely chop the washed cilantro (two bunches, down to to the stems) and add to the processor along with some extra virgin olive oil and pistachios. Yep, pistachios. I don't have any pine nuts and love the verdant color and flavor of the nut with the cilantro, so piquant and lively! From there I process a bit longer, adding more oil and a bit of salt to taste, until a smooth, bright green paste is formed. I have manage to get a generous cup of the pesto out of the processor and put a few tablespoons aside for tonight's dinner. The rest I put into a jar, covering the surface with extra virgin olive oil to preserve for another time.

As the pasta cooks, I add the greens for the last few minutes of cooking. I don't want to completely decimate the greens but slightly wilt them, keeping their leafy freshness intact. I decided to use orecchiette pasta, which is called that because "orecchio" means ear in Italian and the little disk-shaped pastas are meant to resemble ears. I use them for this dish because to me they look like little cups, perfect for holding the broth. And also because DJ Nevah L8 likes their chewy texture!

Ok, darlings, lets put it all together. I ladle a bit of the "soup" into a shallow pasta bowl. I add the pasta and give it a quick stir. Season with some sea salt, black pepper, and grate a bit more of the cheese on top. The final touch: a generous dollop of the cilantro pistachio pesto. The pasta fagioli was so flavorful on it's own, it truly could have done without the just added this gorgeous and lush brightness to the dish, really taking the flavor up "a notch." An easy, quick and satisfying dish for a winter's day....even if it is Florida!

By the way, darlings, La Diva wanted to show her appreciation to DJ Nevah L8 who TRIES SO HARD to help me by doing various techie things like take my food photos, shoot my videos and of course SPIN HIP BEATS at all my classes, so give him a bit of love and an "A" for effort!

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Grilled Tuna with slow-roasted tomatoes and mizuna over pasta with gremolata

"Fish again?" cried DJ Nevah L8 when I told him I was making tuna for dinner. Ahh, darling, don't despair, you WILL love it! Besides, we haven't had fish for days! La Diva has not been shopping yet and has managed to salvage a few items from the freezer, pantry and fridge....So, the challenge is on to work with what I've got! As you know, La Diva does not like waste and had an idea. I found some of those expensive little grape tomatoes in the fridge that were just starting to as not to be wasteful, I slow roast them. Into the oven they go (with a bit of olive oil) for a couple of hours on a low heat (225F) until they get lightly shriveled and release their juices. Roasting the tomatoes gives them a nice flavor, taking out any bitterness and releasing sweet juices. It's easy enough to do and you can continue doing other things as they roast.

I all but forgot about the mizuna in my farm share but there it was in the bottom of my fridge! Mizuna is a Japanese green with a peppery taste, kind of reminds me of arugula. So, mellow roasted tomatoes and peppery mizuna....hmm... That kind of flavor combo deserves to go with a hearty fish: tuna!

La Diva heated up her grill and seasoned the tuna steaks with extra virgin olive oil, garlic salt and a mix of Italian herbs, sea salt and pepper. I seared the steaks for three minutes and then took them off to "rest." Meanwhile, I got some thin spaghetti bubbling and coarsely chopped the mizuna. I tossed it in the pan with the still-warm tomatoes, that I had on a low heat. (I ended up cooking the greens a little too long and next time will just add them chopped to the cooked pasta!)

Meanwhile, La Diva made a quick gremolata for a hit of flavor and bring the dish together. Not familiar with gremolata? It's a classic Italian herb medley used to garnish Ossobucco and seafood and is a simple but flavorful combo of minced fresh parsley, garlic and lemon zest. La Diva used the dregs of Italian and curly parsley from her share, one garlic clove and a fair amount of lemon zest. Make sure you really mince all ingredients together, especially the garlic. The garlic is supposed to give a little "hit" of flavor, not enough for you to bite into with a bitter force!

So, how is La Diva going to put it all together? I put the pasta straight from the pot into bowls, all steamy and hot and cooked al dente of course. I then added the roast tomatoes and greens and gently toss, adding a bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I sprinkled a bit of the gremolata over the pasta and then slice the grilled and "rested" tuna and put over the top. I then garnish one last time with gremolata and a quick drizzle of beautiful, fruity-green extra virgin olive oil for a smashing finishing touch! The tomatoes impart a sweet and mellow juiciness while the greens give you a peppery hit! The garlic, lemon, parsley combo of gremolata add just the right amount of seasoning while the fish adds a "steak-like" heartiness! DELICIOSO, darlings!

As I tucked into my dinner, I looked across the table at DJ Nevah L8 and his plate was empty. La Diva had to laugh...I don't even think he remembered he was eating fish!

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Vegetarian Dee-lite! Asian omelette with vegetables

Darlings! La Diva is really trying to lighten up her dinners after all the rich holiday treats! Last night I made the most divine vegetarian omelette and thought, what a quick and delicious idea to share! "Oh no, not Asian again! I hear you say!" Now, now, it's very healthy for you and La Diva will soon enough focus on other food styles, so you better enjoy it while you can! Besides, La Diva still had half a head of cabbage left from her share and remembered this meal would suit perfectly! This is a dish that looks like a ton of food and you'll wonder how you'll eat it all...but you will and it will be satisfying but yet light!

Do you notice that La Diva gets all her food prepared and ready in advance? In order to be successful at cooking, especially stir fry, you must be organized! The French call it "mise en place" or "everything in place" such as veggies, meats, onions, garlic, etc, all in bowls, chopped and sliced and ready to be used to prepare the meal. The last thing La Diva wants is to see her dear readers scrambling about the kitchen with a smoking hot wok chopping last minute items while the veggies burn! So, get in the habit of preparing like the professional chefs do: mise en place!

For two people prepare:

2 cups of shredded cabbage (Asian, savoy but not purple!)
1 carrot grated
8 green onions thinly sliced on the bias
handful of mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
generous handful of snowpeas, trimmed and halved
1 1/2 cups beansprouts
Set aside.

Mince 1 small red, fresh chili (or you can cheat and use a tad of the chili out of the squeeze bottle!) and about 1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped. Set aside.

Out of the pantry:
vegetable oil
2 t soy sauce
2 t sesame oil
kecap manis or sweet soy sauce for serving. Set aside.

Finally, in a bowl beat four organic eggs with a small amount of water. You are now ready to WOK and ROLL, baby!

Heat a wok until hot and add a generous amount of the vegetable oil. Add ALL the veggies and chili and stir fry over high heat until the cabbage just begins to wilt, 2 or 3 minutes. Now add the soy sauce, sesame oil and cilantro and fry for another half a minute or so. Don't overcook, you want the veggies to stay crunchy!

Heat two more teaspoons of the vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan, add eggs and cook over high heat, lifting edges so all of the unset eggs cook. When egg is cooked, add all the veggies, flip omelette in half and (here's the tricky part!) cut in half and slide each serving onto warm plates! The vegetables will be over-flowing, so don't worry if they all don't quite "fit" into the egg! Drizzle generously with kecap manis and you will enjoy the most crunchy, healthy and divine dinner! (and La Diva BETS you get hooked on Kecap Manis too!)

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Chinese Pork and garlic chive dumplings or gow gee

Hello Darlings! La Diva LOVES dumplings! From Hungary to China to Japan and Southern America, I'm always amazed at just how many cultures include some form of dumpling in their native dishes. Today, we are going to focus on the Chinese dumpling or gow gee, the Cantonese version of the stuffed dumpling that is traditionally steamed (or fried) as opposed to the Mandarin jiaozi, which is boiled. Confused, darling? Click here for dumpling definitions!

While living in Sydney, La Diva devoured many a dumpling when she lived just down the street from an amazing Chinese restaurant that did dim sum daily. (In Australia, it's called "yum cha.") One of my all time favorite dishes were the garlic chive dumpling. Since La Diva scored some garlic chives in her farm share this week, she decided to try to make her own.

Now, there's something you should know about La Diva. She does not like to make her own dough. From puff pastry to shortcrust to wonton wrappers and pasta, La Diva believes it's best for others to pursue these efforts and wholeheartedly believes in purchasing these items for shortcuts whenever possible! La Diva just does not like frustration.

La Diva found a recipe online from her beloved Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, so click here to get started. But before you do, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. The recipe is for jiaozi, the boiled version. To make the dumplings gow gee, steam in a bamboo steamer. In the photo, you'll notice the steamer is lined with cabbage leaves. This prevents the dumplings from sticking to the bottom of the steamer.

2. For the dipping sauce: La Diva forgot to buy the black vinegar when shopping at the Asian market the other day. Therefore, I substituted a bit of balsamic with rice vinegar....but, it was only ok. And, be careful adding the chili oil, I found it was very hot.

3. La Diva didn't bother with the Chinese wine (shaoxing) and used a dry sherry instead and found the dumplings tasted just like she remembered without it. But, don't omit, the flavor comes through and really makes the dumplings taste authentic.

4. I bought the wrappers pre-made in the frozen section of the asian market. The brand is Twin Marquis and labeled "Dumpling wrapper (Hong Kong style.)" The hardest part for me was pinching the little dumplings evenly so they looked pretty and uniform! Must take a bit of practice!

5. I think you could easily substitute ground dark turkey meat for the ground pork for those that don't partake.

Final result for the dumplings: EXCELLENT!

Darlings, I'd like to take this opportunity to direct you, my dear readers, to another blog site La Diva is reading. Click here.

"Tinkering with Dinner" is a courageous food adventure where Bill shares his daily kitchen triumphs and trials. Bill gets a weekly farm share from the same farmers as La Diva and as great foodie minds think alike, had the same idea for his garlic chives but in a different version: the potsticker.

Hope your dumplings were divine, darling!
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La Diva's Night off!

Darlings. Notice the lack of the usual exclamation mark? La Diva is T-I-R-E-D. As you can well imagine, being FABULOUS is a whole lotta work. So, La Diva is taking the night off and her sidekick, DJ Nevah L8, is cookin' a simple but scrumptious dinnah of grilled Italian chicken breast with a fresh tomato and onion salad. La Diva is on the couch with a chardy and Top Chef will be on soon! Ahhhh.....I'm one lucky gal. Buh-bye!

La Diva CAN'T live without: Kecap Manis

La Diva went traipsing up north to her favorite ethnic grocery stores yesterday to replenish her dwindling supply of sauces, pastes, spices and other exotica that help La Diva's dishes reach FABULOSITY! So, I decided that every once in a while I will share with you, my darling readers, some of the places and products I LOVE.

Today's product: Sweet soy sauce or Kecap Manis!

I was turned onto this sauce by my crazy Dutch housemate in Sydney, Marcel! As you know, Indonesia was a Dutch colony and my dear friend was quite an excellent cook of Indonesian food. Marcel was gay, odd and quick with the double entendre, keeping La Diva in stitches! He used the sweet soy in a most divine sate sauce, which I just might share with you one day!

Kecap Manis is a dark and sweet soy sauce from Indonesia (surprise!), used in many dishes and is a primary flavoring component of Nasi Goreng or Indonesian fried rice. (for recipe, click on the link! Go on!) For those of you who are unfamiliar with the dish, nasi goreng is a fried rice dish, traditionally served with prawns and a fried egg on top. It is garnished with fresh tomato and cucumber slices and like all fried rice, the ingredients can vary. Sitting with a view of the steamy mist hanging over the rice paddies in the early morn, La Diva enjoyed nasi goreng daily for breakfast while in Bali.... Sigh...but back to the kecap manis!

The sweet soy sauce is made of palm sugar , soy beans, garlic, and star anise, among other ingredients, and has the texture and color of dark molasses. (Palm sugar is like maple sugar but made from palm trees, of course!) It is said that the modern word "ketchup" derived from kecap or ketjap, an Indonesian term for fermented sauces.

La Diva uses it to flavor marinades, stir fries, fried rice and omelettes or anything that needs a hit of salt and sweet! You can pick it up at PK Oriental Mart, a purveyor of asian groceries. 255 NE 167 St. N. Miami Beach, Florida. 305 654 9646

So, there you go and now you know! Ciao, darlings!

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Boba, a rare treat in Miami!

No, darling, it's NOT caviar, it's boba and it's FABULOUS! And La Diva has NEVER seen it in Miami! La Diva and her sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 were enjoying a leisurely (but hot!) bike ride bayside when I noticed a tiki stand selling bubble tea! I had to stop, as La Diva frequently indulged in the odd bevvie while living in Sydney and Los Angeles.

La Diva always sat with the groovy Asian girls at the colorful boba shops at the mall and in Chinatown in Sydney but was never quite sure where the exotic drink actually came from. After a bit of research, I found it actually originated in Tawain but is popular throughout Asia! Boba is a tea drink that has tapioca balls or "pearls" on the bottom. The pearls come in two sizes and many colors, please don't ask La Diva what else is in them! She just knows they are weird and wonderful. And...whoever invented this was thinking as boba drinks are provided with an extra wide straw to suck the gelatinous delights up!

Want to try one? Go on, darling, be brave! Check the tiki hut outside Bayside in downtown Miami in front of the carousel and you'll find the bubble tea vendor. A fiver will get you one large boba in mango or green tea latte (made without dairy) Not too sweet and very refreshing until suddenly you are hit in the back of the mouth with a tapioca pearl! FUN & DELIGHTFUL!
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Moon over Miami

Darlings, did you get to see the glorious full moon last night? La Diva's sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 took this photo from our balcony last night as it rose over the sea. Apparently it will be the biggest moon of 2009 but not as large as the one on December 10, which was the largest of last year. This happens because the moon does not revolve around the earth in an even circle but instead it follows an elliptical path, bringing it closer to the earth. The moon will appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter. Relish it before it wanes!

Farmer's Market tomorrow in Southwest Miami!

Darlings! La Diva loves nothing more than starting her Sunday with a strong cafecito and a guava pastelito and ambling about the farmer's market with her sidekick, DJ Nevah L8. There is something peaceful and invigorating about being around all that fresh and earthy goodness of the colorful farm produce! While La Diva loves chatting to the farmers, it's also a great way to meet like-minded foodies too!

YOU TOO can enjoy the farm fresh produce I've been eating up since November! Get on down to the South Florida Farmer's Market starting tomorrow, January 11th. The market opens at 8am and goes until 1pm at Gardners Market in Pinecrest, on SW 124th St. just east of the US 1. The market will be every Sunday during season. Enjoy!

CSA Food Challenge Day 7: CHẠO TÔM or Vietnamese prawn paste on sugar cane

Darlings! Do I have a special treat for you tonight! Did you know that La Diva lived in Sydney Australia for 10 years? Well, it was such a wonderful place to live, especially if you love Asian food as I do, and as it is so close to Southeast Asia, Australia has many transplants from Vietnam, Korea, Japan, China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, etc.

One of my favorite dishes that I enjoyed while living in Sydney was CHẠO TÔM or Vietnamese prawn paste on sugar cane. HUH? Actually, it's a not as strange as it sounds and as a cooking utensil, the sugarcane is downright practical. The sugarcane is cut and used like a skewer and the prawns (shrimp) are ground into a paste, like beef to hamburger. It's then seasoned and molded onto the sugar cane skewers and grilled. The sweetness of the sugarcane is imparted into the shrimp and the taste is divine!! But wait, that's not all! Now comes the fun part: you take the prawn off the skewer and put it into a softened rice paper wrapper with rice noodles, grated carrot and loads of herbs like Vietnamese mint and basil. Then you dip into a flavorful sweet and sour chili sauce and eat like a wrap! When you are done, you bite and suck on the sugar cane with all it's savory and sweet delights! It's divalicious, darlings!

La Diva scored some fresh sugar cane in her share a few weeks back and has a bit of green onions left along with a few prawns in the freezer. Are you game to try this exotic dish with La Diva?

Seeing as La Diva has had this dish many times in Vietnamese restaurants in her 'hood (yet lacking an authentic recipe) I searched the web and found a lovely blog by a lovely girl who happens to be Vietnamese and is living in Melbourne! Ahhh, an Aussie compatriot! I've found she has a simple and straight forward recipe for this dish, let's be daring and give it a whirl! La Diva will be here to guide you through it all!

As for the ingredients, I had everything in my pantry but the rice paper, however I find it is a most delicious and refreshing dish using lettuce cups instead! So I did. Besides the sugar cane, I had found all of the ingredients previously at the local grocery stores. Here are some hints for success:

1. Use oil on your hands when molding the prawn paste around the sugar cane as it is quite sticky.

2. Either barbeque or broil the prawn sticks as opposed to a counter top griller. You want the sugar cane to get hot and release its divine juices into the paste! And, all the better to suck the goodness out of!

3. La Diva served her wraps with diced cucumber, julienne carrot, green onion, cilantro and mint for a very authentic and fresh taste.

4. Rice vermicelli is also sold in Whole Foods as Annie Chuns Rice Noodles Original. It looks like a white angel hair pasta. Anh's site has some ideas on getting canned or frozen sugar cane.

Click here to get started!

Well, darlings, this completes the La Diva CSA Food Challenge! What a global adventure! We traveled through our tastebuds all in one week to Italy, Southern America, the Caribbean, China (with smatterings of Japanese!) and Vietnam! La Diva hopes she was able to tempt you to try some new dishes and produce! Tomorrow La Diva picks up a new allotment for the week and her culinary skills will be challenged once again to try new recipes while using all her farm-fresh veggies!

Comments, questions or contributions? Don't be shy! La Diva would love nothing more than to hear from YOU, darling!


CSA Food Challenge Day 6: Chinese pepper steak with komatsuna and shitake mushrooms

La Diva is so pleased! I've used up most of my fresh veggies and fish in the freezer this week and have stuck to my challenge of using what is on hand. But not today. La Diva had to pick up some beef for stir fry and shitake mushrooms for.....

Chinese Pepper Steak but with a La Diva twist! I'll be using my green pepper, green onions and the surprise ingredient komatsuna (Japanese green) from my weekly CSA vegetable share. La Diva loves a lot of veggies with her meat, lightens it all up. The komatsuna will freshen up the dish and add a bit of a light mustard flavor, though not overpowering.

Cut beef into strips and season liberally with salt, pepper, a dash of sesame oil, a tablespoon of canola oil and a teaspoon or two of Chinese five spice powder, set aside. DON'T BE TEMPTED to add soy sauce instead of salt. When you stir fry beef, you want it to sear and caramelize, not steam! So, avoid making a "wet" marinade, you can add the soy sauce at the table.

Cut pepper into strips, green onion into one inch pieces, one white onion, sliced, and coarsely chopped washed greens. In a smoking hot wok, add canola oil and then half of the meat. Stir fry until browned on all sides, move to side of wok and add the rest of the meat. Why do this, you ask? More meat means less heat! And to stir fry, you need the wok as hot as possible, so always cook the protein in small batches.

Now, add green pepper and white onions and stir fry for a about two or three minutes. Then add the shitake mushrooms and stir fry for another minute. Season to taste with a bit of salt and more Chinese five spice powder, if needed. Finally, add the green onions and komatsuna greens. Stir until just wilted, maybe 30 seconds. Serve immediately over brown rice and enjoy!

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CSA Food Challenge Day 5: Jamaican jerk shrimp and fish with braised callaloo and roasted acorn squash

La Diva out did herself, darlings! I really pushed myself to make a very spicy, Floribbean feast!

Challenge: Callaloo, the popular "spinach" of the Caribbean, acorn squash

Into the freezer again...boy, not much left....and take out a piece of fish and some frozen shrimp. La Diva is sticking to her challenge of using whatever is in her fridge, freezer or pantry to use up this week's farm share!

How about some sauteed callaloo with roasted acorn squash served over quinoa with grilled jerk fish and shrimp? Mmmm...sounds very tropical to me.

I start out with a jerk spice blend, mashing it in a mortar and pestle with fresh garlic, juice of half a lime and salt. About a half hour before cooking, I rub into the thawed fish and shrimp. Using an acorn squash from the last share, I dice into small chunks and roast with extra virgin olive oil until caramelized, about 15 minutes at 450 F. Meanwhile, using a bit of olive oil in a medium fry pan, I saute one minced small white onion, shallot and garlic clove until it sweats. I toss in the last fresh thyme sprig from the past share. (I'm using up every thing!) Finally, I add the chopped callaloo and simmer for about five minutes with a bit of chicken broth.

Time to heat up the grill and start the quinoa. Uh oh. La Diva didn't read the directions and now I find it will take way too long to cook, another 35 minutes!!! Scratch that idea, onto Plan B! Into the pantry I go and come out with a bit of couscous! The couscous cooks up quickly and now the squash is done.

I take the now-caramelized squash and add to the tender but still green callaloo. The shrimp and fish are done quickly and it's time to serve it all up, piling up the spicy fish and shrimp on the couscous which is mellowed by the callaloo and the roasted acorn squash. What a lovely combination, I'm proud that I'm tackling flavors and veggies I'm not familiar with!

DJ Nevah L8 nods at La Diva with approval: "Dose are some spicy scrimpies!" (now lickin' his chops!)cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach

CSA Food Challenge Day 4: Eggplant caponata over seared tuna steaks and rice

Darlings! Did you think La Diva forgot about you yesterday? Ah well, she did not, she just had company stay late! But, I didn't want you to miss out on my fantastic idea for using up more of the food share for the week as everyone truly enjoyed the dinner!

Challenge: eggplant and French Breakfast radish! Into the freezer I go....and find...tuna steaks.

When La Diva thinks of eggplant she thinks of caponata! Never heard of it? It's a very old dish from Sicily with about as many versions on how to make it as the good ol' Spag Bol! La Diva has Sicilian roots so thought it appropriate to include in today's challenge!

I find the easiest way to describe caponata as a chunky, savory eggplant salad that can be used like a relish, a salsa or as a topping for crostini or crackers! Stored in the refrigerator, it lasts for weeks and is served at room temperature. This is definitely a dish that is better the day after making. Darling, don't be shy, give it a try!

La Diva's Caponata

This is a recipe I do “to taste” so feel free to adjust to your own taste. Make sure the celery is cooked, this is not meant to be crunchy. This is a dish that's great to have on hand for a quick appetizer for unexpected company!

1 large eggplant, diced, salted, drained
2 ribs celery, diced
1 white onion, minced
1 small red pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 T capers, drained, coarsely chopped
1/2 c kalamata olives, drained, coarsely chopped
1/2 c green stuffed olives, drained, coarsely chopped
1- 2 T anchovy paste
8 oz. can seasoned tomato sauce
extra virgin olive oil
2 t sugar
2 t white wine vinegar
salt to taste (not too much, there’s a lot of salt in the olives and capers)
black pepper to taste
oregano to taste
1/2 c water
more extra virgin olive oil

Saute celery, onion and pepper in olive oil for five minutes and then add drained and salted eggplant and minced garlic. Cook for a few more minutes, 10 minutes total. Add the rest of ingredients and water and simmer over low heat, covered, for 25 minutes. Do not over cook eggplant, it should still be in chunks and not mushy. Texture should be soft and not watery but a nice consistency like a pickle or relish. There should not be much “sauce” left. At the end of cooking, I drizzle more extra virgin olive oil over it and then put into a jar.

Cool and store in the fridge, if you keep it covered with olive oil, it should keep for at least a month. Serve at room temperature with crackers, flat bread, crostini and it's just lovely as a bruschetta topping. La Diva's been enjoying it on English muffins!

However, for the challenge, La Diva made a lovely insalata misto with the fresh radishes! For the main course, I let the caponata come to room temperature and then served it over seared tuna steaks with a basil chiffonade garnish and rice. Savory and scrumptious!
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CSA Food Challenge Day 3: Barbequed chicken with sauteed red chard and sweet corn

Darlings! Day 3 of the challenge is here and La Diva's sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 (for dinnah!) is eagerly awaiting chow time. Again.

Ok, into the freezer I go and find....chicken thighs. I think I'll use the rest of the red chard and how about some sweet corn?

BBQ'd chicken with sweet corn and sauteed red chard, simple and satisfyin'!

La Diva always makes a rub for her bbq: mustard powder, brown sugar, cumin, chile powder, white sugar, garlic powder, oregano, salt, black pepper...... and marinates for one day. Also out of the refrigerator, I made a quick bbq sauce of ketchup, yellow mustard, HP sauce, honey, hot sauce and liquid smoke. Not bad in a pinch! La Diva is stickin' with her philosophy of doin' it herself and using what she's already got! I made the chicken under the broiler, adding the sauce at the end and repeating a few times until a nice glaze was formed.

I chopped the red chard and braised mildly in a small amount of broth. After 7 minutes, the chard has cooked down and the broth reduced, leaving the greens lightly salted and fresh-tasting. Just before serving, I sparingly drizzle with high quality extra virgin olive oil. (The small amount leftover will make it into an egg white omelette tomorrow morning)

Put it all together with some steamed just-picked sweet corn and you have a mighty fine dinner, sir, mighty fine. And I just caught DJ Nevah L8 lickin' his big ol', record spinnin' fingers!

I Beg Your Pardon!

Darlings, La Diva must clarify something immediately! Margie, one of the lovely farmers from Bee Heaven Farm and contributor to my weekly veggie share would like everyone to know that I am NOT participating in a co-op but a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture!

Margie says: "Co-ops run in a different way, people typically order stuff they want and the co-op buys it, perhaps after a wait to get enough quantity ordered, then people pay for what they actually get. The co-op buys food in bulk, normally from a distributor as a way to save money for the group as a whole.

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program is a completely different animal (or maybe vegetable ; - ), and it involves producers (farmers) only. It is a direct marketing model that gets food directly to the farm to the consumers. And contrary to most co-ops, you don't have a say in what you get- you get whatever is being harvested that week."

Indeed. Thanks, Margie!

For more info on this CSA go to:

CSA Food Challenge Day 2: Red chard risotto with Italian turkey sausage

Darlings, if you read La Diva's blog yesterday, it was all about the glorious food I get each Saturday from the farm co-op I support and the challenge of using all the produce throughout the week. Well, La Diva has further challenged herself by using only what's in her freezer or pantry with minimal ingredients from the grocery store! Every once in a while, the freezer and pantry need a good clean out!

Today's challenge: Red Chard

Full of iron, Vitamin C and all sorts of leafy-green goodness, the red chard is part of the Swiss chard family and looks the same except for the bright red stem and veins throughout the shiny, dark green leaves.

In the freezer I found two turkey Italian sausages and in the pantry....aborio rice! So, how about lovely, easy risotto for a cool winter's day?

La Diva whipped up a hearty but low calorie risotto using the stems and leaves of the chard making sure to add the stems first as they cook longer. I then browned the finely-sliced and cooked sausage links and added to the rice for flavor. Slicing the sausage will make it go further while reducing the calories and fat content as it's meant to be a "hit" of flavor and not a main component. Using 10 oz. of uncooked aborio, there was plenty of risotto as a main dish for four hungry diners.

I served the red chard risotto with a lovely, fresh insalata mista (mixed green salad) and a nice glass of chardy! Delicioso!

Check back tomorrow to see what other DELISH ideas La Diva does!