Dim Sum Sunday theme: PUMPKINS and SQUASH!

Woodcutting by R. Street. Click on his cool art to go to his website!

Hello, darlings! When La Diva was a kid growing up in Michigan, I always looked forward to autumn. To me, it meant a time for buying new school clothes, meeting new classmates and the excitement of new subjects and teachers. It meant apple picking at the cider mill and eating hot cinnamon sugar dusted doughnuts while chugging down cold, freshly-pressed apple cider! It was a time for picking out the perfect carving pumpkin at our local pumpkin patch and of course, autumn meant it was the season for one of every kid's favorite holidays: Halloween!

As daylight savings was over and it would get dark by five p.m., trick or treating was extra-scary in the Midwest, with the wind blowing the last leaves off almost barren trees creating a spooky, sinister silhouette! My brother, sister and I would rocket out the door as soon as night fell and we wouldn't come back home until 9 o' clock! And darlings, you KNOW we walked MILES to get a full pillowcase of candy! Ahh, what fun we had!

Our parents weren't worried about us, organized Halloween parties were rare, and we went to each and every house with a light on in our neighborhood! Shame on the poor fool without any candy for us as punishment was the usual "trick" of soaped windows or door bell ringing but honestly, we were more determined to get even more candy to care and moved quickly on to the next lit house! We were the last generation of the "free kids" that could still enjoy a sense of adventure and independence without constantly-hovering, over-protective parents controlling our play time!

Now that I live in Miami, I no longer have the cool, crisp air and changing leaves as a cue to autumn's arrival. The temperature drops from the 90's to the 80's and perhaps I am able to open my windows once in a while for fresh air! In spite of the local churches selling pumpkins, "fall," pumpkin carving and Halloween just isn't the same to La Diva amongst the ever-green coconut palms! (It could also be due to the fact that I have no kids and am in my 40's too! haha!)

And so this brings me to why I'm posting about pumpkins: Karmic Kitchen's Dim Sum SundayPumpkin/Squash Challenge. With all the varieties available, La Diva decided to go with butternut, as I find it to not have the stringiness of acorn squash and also has a firm texture and sweet taste. But first, a bit more info about PUMPKIN!

Here in Miami a very common type of pumpkin sold locally is called calabaza. It's grown in the Caribbean and South America and is a staple eaten year-round. The Cuban's make a fantastic flan out of it but it is used in many savory dishes as well.

The Japanese pumpkin is also called kabocha and is used frequently in tempura. The Japanese pumpkin is also very popular in Australia. Click on the photo to see more info!

This is a type of heirloom pumpkin that La Diva cooked most frequently while living in Australia.

La Diva really got familiar cooking with pumpkin while living in Sydney, Australia. As the Aussies don't celebrate Halloween (and their autumn is in March!) they eat other varieties of pumpkin year 'round. I've never seen an orange pumpkin over there but mostly the green varieties like the Japanese kabocha.

During a Sydney winter, just about every restaurant has pumpkin soup on their menu! It's economical and very earthy and comforting as a soup choice. For something a bit different, La Diva likes to make a Thai version of pumpkin soup using coconut milk, ground coriander, chili and ginger and it's divinely spicy!

Eating out in Australia, I've had pumpkin in Thai stir-fries and coconut curries, Indian vegetable curries and also most commonly with roasted leg of lamb for Sunday dinner!

Indeed, Lady "Flo" Bjelke Peterson, ex-Queensland Premiere Sir Joe Peterson's wife, was renowned for her incredible baking and cooking skills and was famous for her pumpkin scones! Received as a wedding gift, La Diva has Lady Flo's entire cookbook of traditional Aussie dishes and desserts but luckily, I found a link for her original recipe here.

One of the dishes that's become a favorite in La Diva's house is my roasted pumpkin risotto! I didn't choose to make pumpkin but roasted cubed butternut squash in extra virgin olive oil. Make a standard risotto (I use chicken broth but of course you can also use veggie stock for those pesky vegetarians in your life!) and once the rice is cooked AL DENTE, add butter, grated parmesan cheese and the squash. I add a tablespoon each of freshly chopped marjoram, chives and thyme and stir through carefully at the very end. SERVE and mangia!

La Diva's roasted butternut squash risotto

What's great about this dish, is that you can serve it as a nice vegetarian main all on it's own or you can serve it as a side dish. (I think some gourmet grilled chicken sausage would go great with it!) As pumpkin, squash and rice are cost-effective ingredients, this is also a great dish to consider as part of a tasty buffet for a crowd.

La Diva likes to serve the pumpkin risotto with crusty bread and a crunchy green salad for a satiating meal. (It's Big Fella Approved!) And, it's so delicious heated up the next day!

But wait, there's more!!!

La Diva's opened up the Dim Sum Sunday to her foodie fans on Facebook and received another FABULOUS entry for yummy pumpkin soup!

Pumpkin Soup...inspired by the hundreds of pumpkin soup recipes out there. Entered by Heather Gallagher from Michigan. (you know her, she's my cousin that gave everyone a home-made pie at her wedding?!)


2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

1 cup chopped white onion

1 cup crisp corn kernels (canned without salt is actually good if fresh is not available) frozen is too soggy

1 cup of diced potato (I have used frozen "potatoes o'brien" instead and it's not too bad!)

1/2 cup of diced/finely chopped red pepper
32 oz chicken stock (I taste a huge difference between real, homemade stock and stock from the store...but I've use the store bought stuff before and nobody else complained.)

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp ground sage

2 cups of cooked pumpkin (I have tried canned and fresh and I prefer canned for this recipe because of the consistency)
1.5 cups of whole milk or half & half
1/8 cup blue cheese crumbles

chives for garnish/topping
roasted, salted pepitas for garnish/topping


In a large dutch oven saute onion in the olive oil and butter until translucent and starting to develop a toasty brown around the edges. Toss in potatoes and cook until they are done and show some brown on the edges. Add corn, red pepper, black pepper and sage and cook all together for approx. 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer with vegetables for 15-20 minutes and then add the pumpkin, stirring gently.

Cook additional 5 minutes until heated through.
Add milk and the blue cheese and heat to desired serving temperature. Top with chives, additional blue cheese crumbles and toasted, salted pepitas.

Heather says: "This is not a labor intensive, absolutely 'by the recipe' type recipe. I have added different ingredients like crumbled bacon, walnut pieces, green onion on top, a little horseradish mixed in, some maple syrup mixed in, some hot sauce on top, etc. It lends itself to just about any kind of special taste you're craving. It's super healthy with sodium being probably the worst offender in the whole dish. It's also very low in fat."

Heather Gallagher's pumpkin soup with veggies, blue cheese and pepita garnish! YUM!

You know what I like about Heather's soup recipe? There is some body and crunch to it! Many times I've had pumpkin soup that looks and tastes simply like pureed pumpkin baby food! blech! I'm lovin' the addition of the veggies and pepitas for crunch and texture and La Diva thinks you can never go wrong adding a bit of cheese (or bacon!) to a dish for an extra hit of flavor!

Thanks Heather, great job!

If you want to get other FABULOUS PUMPKIN AND SQUASH IDEAS click HERE to go to Karmic Kitchen and then check out the comments. If you click on the commenter's name, it will take you to THEIR BLOG and you can see what they posted!

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, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment

When bears cook

Darlings, what does ONE DO when a bear wants to cook in your kitchen?!

Let him.

He's a bear and he can do what he damn well pleases!

Such was the situation La Diva found herself in yesterday when I was coughing furiously and could not get up from the couch after 10 frantic and long days of work! It's a shame too as La Diva had been SOOO LOOKING FORWARD to cooking dinner tonight as it would be a rare treat: A nice juicy NY strip steak! Troll laid down a culinary throw down a few weeks back for Steak and Potatoes and Diva was up for the challenge.

But, I can't stop coughing! And I had to STOP RUNNING AND DOING otherwise I'll never get better. So, Diva was laying on the couch when an offer to cook dinner came from my sidekick and personal deejay, DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah!)

He's a big fella and quite the sight cooking in my small kitchen. His nickname of Bear comes from his bear-like qualities: He loves honey and is a big and furry man but loving and gentle. And, in true bear-like fashion, Nevah L8 is ALWAYS SNIFFIN' about and looking for some good food to eat!! (and getting into trouble!)

Nevah L8 sniffin' and waitin' for some of La Diva's fine cooking!

So, darlings, today I'm turning over my kitchen AND BLOG to my dear sidekick, Nevah L8 to compete in Troll's Culinary Throwdown: Steak and Potatoes! (Diva will have to make her steak dish another time.....)

DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah) enters: NY strip crusted in sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, seared and rested. (La Diva's steak was cooked to medium rare perfection!) served with parmesan cheese mashed potatoes, sauteed shitake mushrooms and steamed asparagus!

La Diva would have liked a better shot and perhaps one of the cut steak to see how well cooked it was, but we were hungry and it's not nice to a keep a bear from the hot food he just cooked to take photos. Ticks him right off.

So good, I had to show it again! La Diva made this Birthday dinner for DJ Nevah L8 back in June: Filet mignon with home-made bearnaise sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach and leeks. YUM!

Want to see what everyone else made in the culinary throw down? Click here!

Bears LOVE sitting in the exit row on planes (more leg room!) To see what else bears love, click on the photo!

What a lucky Diva am I! Ciao for now, darlings, La Diva is heading back to the couch!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, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment

Did someone say PIE?!!!

Darlings, darlings, darlings!! When La Diva heard about the Karmic Kitchen's latest Dim Sum Sunday theme she got all excited as the challenge this week was all about PIES!!! And if there is anything you should know about La Diva is I LOVE PIE!!!

Here's what
Big Shamu said:

"Fall means many things but to me it means apple harvest and with apple harvest comes apple pie. This Sunday any pie will do, savory, sweet, even pizza. Grab hold of that bag of flour, chill that butter and dive into the mystique that is rolling out a flaky crust."

Is it better to use butter or lard for the dough? Glass or metal pie tins? Bakers debate!

Originally hailing from the midwest, La Diva also loves baking with apples in the fall. But, there is no apple harvest in Miami and the temperature is still in the 90's! It's kind of hard to get into the autumn baking spirit of things when it's still so hot and you have palm trees out your window.

In spite of the heat, La Diva was thinkin' to herself that it was HIGH TIME she made a pie too, but what to make? I love pecan pie. I love Key lime pie. Pumpkin pie. Lemon meringue pie. Peach pie, heck, pretty much any kind of pie but mostly I love a pie with a good, old-fashioned shortcrust pastry.

La Diva is not too fond of fake cheesecake pie or Key lime pie made with graham cracker crust. Or any pie made with boxed pudding or Cool Whip. Too chemical tasting for me. Ok, guess I'll stop naming pies now.

Dare I make my own dough? Does La Diva use butter or lard? Metal or glass pie pan? Questions, questions! Ah, but I answered my own question as I remembered I already had one pre-made Pillsbury pie crust in the fridge that had to be used and I only had one Pyrex plate. Dough issue solved!

But what kind of pie to make? Big Shamu had said something about trying out regional recipes. Key lime? La Diva LOVES it, but it was too predictable and I was hankerin' for something that I'd not had in a long time. Key lime pie (and every bastardized version of it) is on almost every restaurant's menu in the state of Florida!

I looked online and didn't really find too much inspiration for pie recipes indigenous to Southern Florida. And then I remembered the two bunches of perfectly ripe bananas I got in my weekly veggie share and seeing it's still so darn hot here, it was decided:

a cool and creamy banana cream pie was in high order!

Here's my beautifully delicious creation....banana cream pie! (No, I did NOT make it with Jell-O pudding!) You can click on it to get the recipe I used.

Isn't it gorgeous? But yet, it seemed to be missing something....I searched my fridge and cupboards for a proper garnish and came up with nada....

So, I served the pie. As it had only a few hours to chill, it came out a bit goopy, but was delicious. Not super sweet and with a mellow banana taste and cool and creamy all over a nice, crunchy, flaky crust. (Hey, that Pillsbury dough was pretty good!) So delightful was my banana pie, that my sidekick DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah) ambled back into the cucina to get himself another piece! Diva followed.

Pie on day two: now holding it's shape and just as delicious! Go on and click, darling, you KNOW you want to see it up close!

After eating the second piece of pie, La Diva returned to the kitchen and found sitting on the counter, staring me in my face was: the bowl of toasted coconut!!!! THAT was what the pie had been missing! And honey, eating that pie with the crunchy, nutty coconut with the creamy banana filling made me TRULY REGRET that I had two pieces without!

Isn't pie as American as hot dogs, baseball and Chevrolet? I hope I'm wrong, but La Diva thinks that pie making is becoming a lost art in this country. Remember the Andy Griffith Show? Aunt Bea was always making pies! (and some mischieveous character was always trying to steal them from her window sill!)

So, honeychile, getcho' apron and rolling pin and take yourself back to a time when people made pie cuz that's just what you did. And when your pie is ready and you plunge your fork into that flaky, buttery crust, you'll be so glad you made the effort.

To see more Dim Sum Sunday pies you can click here! Ciao for now, darlings!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, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment

Getcho' starchy freak on: A little CARB ON CARB action!

Darlings! LA DIVA ADORES CARBS. I do. And I'm NOT apologizing for it! Obviously, I don't think carbs are a bad thing. Not at all. And La Diva, being of Italian and Polish descent, loves her pasta and potatoes! When I smell hot, fresh bread, I could probably eat an entire loaf with butter all by myself. Rice, corn, pasta, bread, potatoes and sugar, of course, are the all carbs that La Diva loves! (is there any I've left out?!)

La Diva had a guest over for dinner when living in L.A. and she refused to eat my lovely mashed potatoes because she was avoiding carbs. La Diva thought it rather hypocritcal as the gal was drinking wine as well....ah well, more for me and DJ Nevah L8!

Well, what brought this up, you ask? Earlier today La Diva was considering making a certain Latin dish for dinner and while gazing at the yucca and plantain, I was reminded of a cooking show I once saw on the Food Network. I'm not sure if the chef was low-carb king George Stella, but I remember him saying he had Latin roots and exclaimed during a show: "Mexican food is the only food where they mix carbs with carbs all on one plate!"

A cornucopia of carbs: Fish taco in flour tortilla with corn salsa, side of rice and beans and more corn!

I thought about it and he's right. How many other ethnic foods commit the same carb crime? A typical plate of Mexican food will have beans AND rice AND tortillas made of flour or corn AND corn and bean salsa AND sometimes even corn on its own as well!

Although most people consider beans and legumes as proteins more often than a carbohydrate, they do have a lot of carbohydrates in them and consumption should be reduced for a low carb diet.

Who's idea was it to put rice in a burrito? Blech! La Diva is tired, sluggish and "full" just looking at it!

Now let's consider the socio-economic impact of the CARB ON CARB plate: it's cheap and filling, and is a cost-effective meal option. In the last few years La Diva has noticed burritos stuffed with rice as a standard filling at every American "Mexican" joint and Southwestern grill. If my memory serves me, burritos NEVER used to be served with rice but some sort of meat, beans, cheese and lettuce.

I think we can thank Taco Bell with their CHEESY BEAN AND RICE burrito and HALF POUND BEEF AND POTATO burrito for starting the carb on carb burrito trend. These places are trying to make their food less expensive as well as make them more filling to the customer while offering them on the "value menu"and therefore are creating an illusion of "better value" to the consumer.

But what other ethnic food type can boast a little CARB ON CARB action?

An Indian potato and pea curry is carb-laden deliciousness!

What about Indian? I've had plenty of potato curry over rice with naan bread! That's some triple CARB ON CARB action, a ménage à trois of carbohydrates and La Diva has NO PROBLEM whatsoever eating all those yummy carbs together. I've also had sweet potato and pumpkin curry served with rice! And of course the samosa is a small dough filled pastry made with potatoes as well as potato-stuffed naan bread!

A favorite Cuban delight for La Diva: Ropa vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce) with beans and yellow rice, sweet plantain (top) and fried yucca (side plate)

I know that Cuban food has a lot of CARB ON CARB plates. What about serving plantains with yucca? At all the Cuban restaurants here in Miami, one gets served fried yucca as well as sweet plantain AND a side of rice and black beans!

The Italians are guilty of the crime as well.

Thinly sliced potatoes on a thin-crust pizza.....Not exactly something La Diva craves but tasty all the same!

At various Italian restaurants, offerings of pizza, focaccia AND pasta all made with potatoes and rosemary are on the menu! I must admit, the pasta with potato is not my favorite CARB ON CARB combo and tends to be quite a heavy dish. I do, however like the potato pizza because they slice the potatoes super thin and the pizza crust is also crispy-thin and crunchy, so you don't get a thick slice of the potato on the thick bread as you would with some potato focaccia.

Traditional Italian gnocchi are made with potatoes and pasta is made from wheat but I can't think of one carb-laden sauce or ingredient I've ever seen with either starch. Why is it La Diva likes some CARB ON CARB action, like Indian and Mexican, but it seems like sacrilege for Italian food?

Mmmm....a childhood favorite: potato stuffed pierogi.

Eastern European food definitely has CARB ON CARB action with potato pierogi but I'm loathe to think of anything else? Potato kugel? Yep. Spaetzle with potato sauce? NAH! How about beef stew with potatoes and carrots served with dumplings? Yeah, that counts!

One time when La Diva was traveling through the Australian outback, we had stopped upon a remote desert town pub and were offered mashed potatoes AND chips (French fries) with our pub counter lunch. Of course I ate it! Mash AND fries on ONE PLATE?! Fresh veggies cost a lot to transport out to the desert so potatoes are a cheap substitute.

Finally, a funny CARB ON CARB story to leave you with. Years ago La Diva ran off to Vegas to get married and an ex-friend (or so I thought) had found out and invited herself to come along and join in my exclusive nuptial festivities. To keep the day simple, special and secret, I only invited one girl friend and my evil twin Tommy to come along. Since in those days I was not as honest and firm with people as I am now, I begrudgingly let her come in spite of my feelings of misgiving and dread.

Ok, while looking for angry bride photos, La Diva found this funny photo that is a REAL DOGGY WEDDING DRESS!! Oh dear, some people have waaaaaaay to much money and time! Click on the photo to see more silliness!

On my wedding day, La Diva was getting ready with self-invited stalker (SIS) and an invited gal pal (IGP) and was nervously pacing the room in her wedding dress just before walking down the aisle. I had on a beautiful 1940's vintage champagne silk gown. I was about to sit on the bed when IGP quickly and violently pushed me away from it! Startled and upset, I asked her why she did that?

"Because of THIS!" she snarled.

In her hand, held tightly and high above IGP's head was a


I glared at SIS. If I had sat on that, my dress, photos and day would have been ruined!!! Can you imagine us desperately trying to get yellow mustard and greasy chip stains out of vintage satin?!!!

Self-invited stalker grabbed the sandwich from invited gal pal and continued to eat it mumbling through sputtering Wonder Bread crumbs, "chomp, chomp, mmm, tayshtes good, mmm...chomp, chomp."

Diva thought her behaviour was tres disgusting on every level!!!

Who eats like that? Greasy fried chips on white bread?

Why would you put a sandwich directly on a hotel bed without a napkin or plate?


La Diva was not sure what horrified her more: the fact that her dress (and day) was almost ruined by someone she didn't want along in the first place


the fact the girl was eating a CARB ON CARB sandwich?

These are the enigmatic and baffling questions La Diva asked herself that solidified the reasons she discontinued the friendship in the first place.

So, darlings, do YOU have any CARB ON CARB stories YOU'D like to share with Diva? What are YOUR fave or least-fave CARB ON CARB dishes?

Ciao for now, darlings!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, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment