Manga mango madness!!!

La Diva loves the kooky and sometimes disturbing images of Manga! Those wacky Japanese!

Darlings as the skies open up daily and begin dropping buckets of precious water on the drought-ridden lands of Southern Florida, I can only rejoice in knowing that it is an indication that it is now officially mango season! Summer in Florida has started and the mangoes are dropping from the trees, ripe and laden and lush with peppery sweetness!

Want to know what's in season when in Southern Florida? Click here to find out!

In Southern Florida, mango season runs from May all the way to September. Yes, I know, it always starts out soooo good. You're in love with the mangoes, you eat them greedily, like you've never eaten anything like it before, letting the sticky juice run down your chin, hands and your arms. (the serious eating of mangoes is a messy business after all!) You eat them all is, in salsa, in cocktails and're done. You can't even look at another one! (Until next season, that is!)

Click on the photo to get the scoop on this kooky cookbook from the Japan-based Manga Culinary Institute!

Well, darlings, La Diva is one very lucky chica as I've scored a HUGE bag of the lovely tropical fruits from dear friends who are more than eager to get rid of the little buggers which are bursting from the tree in their backyard! La Diva will certainly be posting more recipes and info on the lovely mango as I've got a lot of them to use up!

Want to learn how to slice a mango into a little critter like this? Or how about just to eat? Chef Allan Susser of Chef Allens here in Miami will show you how in this informative little vid. He knows a LOT about mangoes, and heck, he even wrote an entire book on the subject! Click on the photo to check it out!

Easy and quick lemony Thai pasta!

Check out more traditional Thai paintings by Onepen here.
or click on the image to see the detail

Darlings, if you are anything like me, you came home from a weekend away to an empty fridge and a whole lotta 'catch-up!' La Diva had grand plans to ride her little bike to the grocery and pick up all the fixins for some summer salads but I left it too late and hence, the afternoon storms had already arrived, leaving me to use only what I had in the freezer or pantry!

Enter the Naples Pasta Company! La Diva scored some "lemon ginger fettuccine" from a dear friend who lives on Marco Island for my birthday and it's times like these I pull out "the good stuff!" According to the Naples Farmers Market website, the NPC "carries fresh pasta, 31 'flavors' of dried pasta, orzo, fresh mozzarella, fresh marinara and tomato vodka sauce, eight different kinds of fresh ravioli, gnocchi, and assorted desserts." When you only have ordinary ingredients to work with sometimes an extraordinary staple will enhance and uplift the entire dish!

Here's what I did for a quick weeknight dinner:

Click to see more detail darlings!

La Diva's Quick Lemony Thai Pasta with Chicken and Vegetables

Serves 2-3

1/2 lb. lemon ginger fettuccine
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 box frozen thawed snap peas or 1 cup fresh

1 inch lemongrass sliced thin

1/2 inch knob ginger, grated

3 green onions, sliced thinly
7 grape tomatoes, quartered

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small carrot, julienned

Darlings, don't forget your mies en place! Dice and chop everything before you begin to cook!

Bring pasta water to boil and cook pasta al dente, add a bit of butter and set aside. Meanwhile, heat oil in wok. When smoking, add chicken and salt generously. Add the lemongrass and keep stirring. Add garlic and the peas with a ladle of the pasta water. Grate the ginger directly into the wok, stir. If it gets dry, add a bit more pasta water. Now add all the remaining ingredients and stir in the cooked pasta. Add a small knob of butter and serve immediately!

Result: Quick, light and delicious! The lemongrass enhances the lemony flavor of the gourmet pasta and the carrots and green onions add that nice textural "crunch" that I crave. If I had a lemon, I would have zested some peel for a finishing touch but instead a knob of butter and a pinch of Maldon's salt crystals had to suffice!

La Diva is one of those people that manages to make something out of nothing and if you keep a well-stocked pantry, you can do the same. I usually keep a few frozen veggies for curries and the like and would have preferred fresh peas but hey, it was raining buckets so I lived with it! I also keep fresh ginger root and lemongrass stalks right in the freezer and use as needed. With the addition of the "fresh" ginger and the lemongrass to brighten up the dish, you get the lively flavor as if you had grown the herbs in your garden! Divine, darlings!

What do you whip up with pantry and freezer items in a pinch? La Diva would LOVE to know! Ta ta for now! cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party

They call me Stormy Monday....but it's Friday, so deal!

Darlings, you don't get LUSH tropical gardens without RAIN!!


Looking out over Biscayne Bay, a typical Miami summer storm

Hel-lo gorgeous creatures of the blogosphere! La Diva is in a particularly good mood today as I'm going out of town for the weekend to spend with dear friends in a quiet but beautiful place! Ahhhh, escape!

On Monday, my sidekick DJ Nevah L8 took a video of this magnificent electrical storm in Miami. Ok, ok I KNOW IT'S VERY BLACK but how can you realize the drama of an electrical tropical storm with bright lights? And besides, La Diva is going out of town tomorrow and wanted to post something before I left and guess what? I got nuthin'. Nada. Zilch. Zip. So, you get a video of the rain!!! Watch....and listen!

Southern Florida is especially lush, with tropical hammock canopies over the streets complete with air ferns and climbing vines as depicted in landscape paintings by local artist Federico Carosio.

I don't know about you but I find heavy rain, especially storms, to be incredibly exciting! When the clouds open up and it starts to rain buckets, La Diva rushes out like a little kid and puts her little face in it!

I remember my house in Sydney had a tin roof over the back porch and I used to love sitting out there during heavy rains, captivated. I would stare into my garden from the dry porch as the driving drops rat-tat-tatted like a drum on the roof and the blossoms were drenched with stems bent over by the force.

So, dig the rain, darlings, and remember, if it pours this weekend, it's the rain that makes it all green and lush! Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!!!

Ciao and have a wonderful weekend!

Sydney's Fratelli Fresh Providores Straordinario!!

Darlings, as you well know, La Diva had the most divine time while visiting her beloved Sydney, Australia recently. And, being the wino AND the foodie that I am, it's only natural that La Diva's nearest and dearest succumb to the myriad culinary delights of the city as well.

Enter Mama G, my dear friend, new mom, wine rep, partner in crime and lover of life in general who picked me up on my second day in town and whisked me to one of Sydney's hottest lunch spots: Café Sopra at Fratelli Fresh.

Once full of warehouses and now considered Sydney's burgeoning arts district, Fratelli Fresh resides in an old printer's building in the Sydney city suburb of Waterloo. The first floor boasts fresh produce, exquisite Italian cheeses and ciabatta bread.

Fratelli Fresh is quite an interesting joint. Known for supplying local restaurants with exquisite fresh and local produce, this Italian grocery store cum cooking school cum restaurant is truly a gastronome's gem. Founded back in 2004 by New Zealand native, restauranteur and online grocery entrepreneur Barry McDonald, the wholesale end of the business supplies over 80 chefs with top notch produce and products from Italy as well as running the retail outlet for Sydney's gourmands. You can read more about Baz's story and the beginnings of Fratelli Fresh here.

View of the first floor produce section. Go on and click on the photo, darlings, you know you want to see more!

Upstairs, there is a fantastic selection of risotto, faro, pastas, canned tomatoes, olive oils and just about anything a lover of Italian products would swoon over. The Fratelli Fresh website allows locals to order anything from the store online and also has information on what's fresh and in season. Click here to find out!

Sponsored by Electrolux, Fratelli Fresh offers FREE cooking classes. What La Diva wouldn't do to get some kitchen digs like this for my "small bites, BIG DRINKS" classes!

Known simply as "Nonna," this true Italian grandma shows La Diva how she makes her meat-stuffed ravioli for lunch at Café Sopra, of course. When it's gone, it's off the menu! Click on the photo to see Nonna in action!

The menu for the café is written in chalk on a huge blackboard against the wall and is full of Italian classics such as Lamb Ragu, Vitello Tonnato and Panzanella. Click on any photo to see more detail!

Mama G doesn't get out much and it's been YEARS since we saw each other so we heartily enjoyed a number of courses (all with the appropriate wines, natch!) but started off with a refreshing Campari and freshly-squeezed blood orange juice along with tender tiny zucchini flowers stuffed with five cheeses and deep-fried. Mmmmm...delicioso!!!

Going to Sydney anytime soon, darlings? Check out Fratelli Fresh in their new location in Potts Point, click here for both locations' retail and cafe hours.


(This post is dedicated to Amanda whom I miss and love dearly!!! Grazie molto, mama!)cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party

A study of salt Part 2...Australian Murray River Pink Salt

Sunset over the Murray River, Australia

Hello darlings!!! When La Diva was recently dining at a friend's home in Sydney, I was served this wonderfully delicate pink salt from the Murray River. It was subtle and fine and delicious and La Diva was so impressed that I had to get some! And learn more about it, of course!

The Murray River is Australia's largest river and creates a border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales and extends into South Australia as well. Click on the map to see full detail.

Saltworks is an American Salt Company based near Seattle, Washington. They supply premium grade specialty salts to the wholesale, retail, and consumer markets throughout the world. Here's what they have to say about this dee-lite-fully pink seasoning:

"Australian Murray River salt crystals are light & delicate peach colored flakes. They have a wonderfully mild flavor. The texture is ideal for use as a finishing salt. The crystals melt quickly and evenly making Murray River flake salt ideal for finishing, roasting, and baking. "

Pretty in pink, what's not to love?
"The Murray River is the greatest of Australia's rivers. The source of its water is the snowy Australian Alps. Salt is a natural feature in many Australian landscapes. The Murray-Darling Basin’s low rainfall and high evaporation have combined to concentrate salt in the groundwater. This salt is produced naturally from the underground brines in the Murray Darling Basin. A red pigment, carotene, is secreted from the salt tolerant algae. The underground saline waters have been laying dormant for thousands of years. By utilizing these waters the environment is improved and a beautiful salt is produced."

Backwater salt residue of the Murray River in South wonder it's pink!

I really loved the delicate flavor and texture of these light peach crystals but I found you have to use almost twice as much as Maldon. As for the Black Lava salt I wrote about in the last post, I found it very hard to crush in my finger tips so you get large bites of salt and it does not easily or quickly dissolve. I also found that it leaves a charcoal smudge on the fingertips, which La Diva does not like much. Again, I would use this more for drama more than practical use. I much prefer the taste and texture of Maldon and Murray River Pink salt.

Enjoy, darlings, and have a lovely weekend!
cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party

A study of salt....Black Lava Sea Salt from Hawai'i Part 1

Hello, darlings! You know how much La Diva just loves her gourmet salt and recently just received a package from a friend with something new to me: Black Lava Sea Salt. Cool. Since I just recently discovered Australian pink salt from the Murry River while dining at friend's in Sydney, I thought it was high time to post more about these saline delights!

Click on the photo to learn more about this product

The black sea salt is one that I found puzzling. Why was the salt black? I knew that some of the beaches in Hawai'i were black from lava but how could the salt be black? Well, it's because they add charcoal as an additive. Ahhh..... Why add charcoal, you ask? Good question, La Diva wants to know the answer as well.

I went to their website and it only said this:

Palm Island Premium Black Lava: "Hawaii Kai bonds only the highest purity, highest quality activated charcoal to our White Silver salt in order to create Palm Island Premium Black Lava. Dramatic and delicious, exciting and exotic, Black Lava is a must-have for every home chef."

The package itself says: "Black Lava contains pure activated charcoal, a proven anti-toxin and digestive aid, and is prized for its luxurious flavor and dramatic appearance-the ideal finishing touch for vegetables, roasts and barbeque."

Charcoal IS good as a natural aid for stomach and gas ailments (which we won't mention in detail here, darlings!) Also, it helps prevent the absorption of most poisons or drugs by the stomach and intestines.

Hey, if you really think charcoal is that great for your health, do what the Japanese do and use it as toothpaste! To learn more, click here.

But a luxurious flavor? Charcoal? I think not. I think it's pure marketing. Black sea salt sounds exotic and logical coming from Hawai'i after all. After a bit of research, I've seen other black sea salts with charcoal from Cyprus and even an Indian "black" salt called Kala Namak that really isn't black at all but a light pink and gray and contains no activated charcoal whatsoever.

Black sea salt: Dramatic and flavorful and chock-full of charcoal goodness!

According to the package, Some of the salt comes from Molokai (Hawaiian Sea Salt) while the company blends other salt (Natural Pacific Sea Salt) along with their "mineral-rich Ocean Essence" TM which includes ocean electrolytes, trace minerals and elements. Yeah, whatever, but DOES IT TASTE GOOD?

I have to say it does. The crystals are quite "salty" and comes on strong without any trace of a chemical taste. As it is so strong, I'm certain that a little will go a long way.

Salmon crudo with chili oil and Hawai'ian black sea salt......mmmmm

Aesthetically, the salt is divine, especially for finishing dishes with contrasting colors like cream sauces, eggs or yogurt. I'm lovin' it on this salmon crudo I found at foodmayhem and think that it would serve well for presenting and flavoring special dishes more than for every day dinners.

Darlings, come back mañana and we can discover all the delights of the Australian PINK salt from the Murray River! Ciao!

La Diva Cucina DOES Bachelorette Parties!!!

What your gorgeous bride-to-be BFF looks like!

Darlings, it's that time of year again! Yes, the sultry summer months are when many a bride will wed. And, YOU'RE stuck organizing the "hen's party!" What to do, what to do?

DON'T do the usual nightclub trot, with your Bride2B's crooked tiara and publicly drunken exploits!!! No, no, no, darlings! Time for something more FUN, PERSONAL and UNIQUE!

La Diva Cucina's "small bites, BIG DRINKS" class is the PERFECT SOLUTION!

What your soon-to-be-ex-BFF REALLY looks like!

Here's the deal:
  • Minimum of eight gal pals (must be over 21 years!)
  • Learn to make three cocktails and six (6!!) appetizers (yes, you can eat and drink them all!)
  • All done in a gorgeous designer kitchen
  • Fabulous door prize raffle
  • Take home recipe book jam packed with party throwing and bartending tips
  • And...with the fabulous DJ Nevah L8 (for dinnah!) spinning hip beats
Classes are three hours long and conducted with sass and pizazz! And, hey, while you and the gals are having fun, you won't even notice that you are learning to throw your own DIVALICIOUS cocktail party!


Fun and frivolity at La Diva Cucina's "small bites, BIG DRINKS" class!
(click to see more!)

Want the party to come to you, treasure? La Diva can come to your home and also arrange limos, manicures and more! Not a bachelorette? COME ANYWAY AND JOIN THE FUN!

Don't hesitate, darlings, as La Diva gets booked up quickly this time of year!!! Book this spesh event for your Bride2B and she'll love you forever!

Want to know more? Clickety-click:
La Diva Cucina.

See you there, darlings, La Diva can't WAIT to meet you! Ciao!cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party

Comfort Food for Dim Sum Sunday: Layered turkey meatloaf with sundried tomato, garlic and spinach

La Diva's all time fave: hot roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy!

Hello gorgeous dears! When one talks about "comfort food," a million different ideas and dishes come to mind. Wikipedia explains comfort food as: a variety of familiar, simple foods that are usually home-cooked or eaten at informal restaurants. COMFORT FOOD is SO SUBJECTIVE! And, to La Diva, it depends on so many variables: one's ethnic background, what time of year it is and am I hung over? Let's face it, darlings, a LOT of the comfort food I partake in is when I've over-indulged yet again with the too-easy-to-drink-chardy cask! (The Never-Ending-Gobstopper of whinos everywhere! Until it's gone, that is!)

Darlings, some of us even consider comfort food to come in a bottle!

Comfort food to La Diva could be something as simple as hot buttered noodles with freshly grated parmigiano cheese or scrambled eggs, potatoes and sausage with lashings of ketchup and buttered toast. At times it could be a hearty Cincinnati-style five way chili with pasta, chili, cheese, sour cream and onions or even a sophisticated version of mac and cheese with gruyère, truffle shavings and cream.

I guess anything goes for me as long as it includes lotsa carbs and meat. And some sort of fat.

Home-made five way chili....if you see the diner versions, you'll find about a cup more of the neon orange cheddar cheese piled on top, comforting Ohioans since 1922!

However, my all time favorite comfort food would have to be a hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy (mmm....gravy.....) Home-made or from the diner, La Diva loves it any way! My sidekick DJ Nevah L8's fave comfort food is steak and mash. Whatever food comforts you at whatever comfort food. Whatever makes you feel all good and safe inside and comfort food.

Heart attack in a bowl: Beef Sundae from some dude in Michigan (of course.) When did we degenerate into creatures that find comfort food eaten all in one bowl like slop for a pig? Plates? Forks? Hello? Egad!

So, for the Karmic Kitchen's weekly Dim Sum Sunday's theme today is "comfort food" and La Diva was up for the challenge.

Today, I made a Layered Turkey Meatloaf with Sun-dried Tomato, Garlic and Spinach!

I got this idea years ago when Chef Paul Prudhomme's Cajun meatloaf was all the rage. I had the original recipe as well as a modified and lower fat version made with dark turkey meat. This idea transformed from there.

Fresh from the oven! Make sure you don't dry it out by overcooking!

Here's what I did:

La Diva's Layered Turkey Meatloaf with Sun-dried Tomato, Garlic and Spinach

2.5 lbs. ground dark turkey meat (please don't try to save calories and use ground breast meat. It will be dry, dry dry.........cough....yeah, that dry.)
3/4 c plain bread crumbs

3/4 c milk (I use 2%)
2 eggs
1 large celery stalk, diced

1 medium onion, diced
2 bay leaves

Seasonings: 2 bay leaves, garlic salt, Italian herbs, oregano, garlic salt, salt and pepper
2 T ketchup
2 T butter

Sun-dried tomato layer:

6 dried tomato halves, reconstituted in 3 T hot water

2 T tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

Spinach layer:

1 box frozen spinach, thawed, drained and blotted with a paper towel
3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

Tomato topping:

2 T tomato paste
2 T ketchup
Season to taste: garlic salt, oregano, Italian seasonings

Also, 4 carrots, peeled, halved and then quartered

Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
Saute onions and celery in melted butter. Add bay leaves and seasoning to taste. Cook until translucent, about 10 minutes, set aside.

In a large bowl, add meat, breadcrumbs, milk and eggs. Add ketchup and salt and pepper to taste. (yeah, you can taste it, I swear it won't kill you!) Add the cooled veggies to the meat and discard the bay leaves. Mix well with hands and with a wooden spoon, divide the mixture in half. (Mixture should be very sticky. Like my great Polish Auntie always told me: "the moister the meat when it goes in, the moister when it comes out." So don't worry if it's a bit goopy.)

Lightly oil a lasagna pan and take half of the meat and form a square in the bottom of the pan. You should have some room on both ends with the square meatloaf in the middle. Set aside.

Take thawed, drained and blotted spinach and mix with all ingredients, set aside.

Chop softened sun-dried tomatoes and add to paste, adding the water used to re-hydrate the tomatoes. Season and mix well. Set aside.

Make tomato topping by mixing all ingredients together, set aside.

Now, comes the fun part! Let's put this baby together: CAREFULLY spoon over the tomato paste and spread over the top of the meatloaf. Drop spinach cheese mixture in spoonfuls and cover completely to finish second layer.

Now here's the tricky part. Since the meatloaf has a bit of a goopy texture, it's a bit hard to put the final layer on the spinach without mixing it all in. I take a bit of the meat mixture and flatten into my hands like an rectangular patty and then gently add the layer on top of the spinach. I do this until I've completely covered the entire meatloaf.

Finally, carefully spread the tomato sauce over the top of the meatloaf. Season with garlic salt, oregano and Italian seasonings. Add cut carrots to the side, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and salt and stick into the oven for about an hour. CHECK MEATLOAF at about 50 minutes., it might already be done! Once cooked through, let rest for about 10 minutes for easy slicing.

Moist and flavorful, this light and layered loaf is the perfect foil for creamy mash and roasted carrots! Go on and click to see closer!

RESULT: Yes, ok, I admit, it's a bit fiddly for a freakin' meatloaf. And yes, it was a bit of work to make the fillings but tasty home-made comfort don't come easy! (At least not in La Diva's house!) Well, darlings, you just KNOW this turkey loaf turned out DIVALICIOUS! I served it with buttered green beans and garlic mashed Yukon gold potatoes. I really like using the ground turkey as you still get that cozy-comfort, more-ish meatloaf texture with the high protein of turkey and a lighter version of meatloaf than the usual beef/veal/pork mix. Like Auntie says: a moist meat going in is a moist meat comin' out! Words to live by!

Enjoy, darlings, and DO TELL, what is YOUR FAVE COMFORT FOOD? I can't wait to hear all about it! Ciao!cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party