Happy Holidaze DARLINGS!!!

My CD cover designed by the very clever artist blogger K9! She's done CD covers for all our blogging buddies for the holidays, click on the photo to take you to her page!
La Diva is so very touched!

Darlings! Well, the magic of the holidays are in full force and I wanted to take the time to thank all my blogging buddies and readers for supporting my first year in the blogosphere! Yep, a year ago, my dear friend Thom (of Planet Fabulon FAME) decided that a Diva just had too much to say and share so created my very own blog page just for me! It was the best-est present a girl could ever get!!!

In all honesty, I struggled with my new blogging responsibilities. At first, I thought I HAD to post something every day and I turned into a computer freak chained to my Mac while my poor sidekick, DJ Nevah L8, was ignored! Then I realized I could adopt the philosophy of "quality over quantity" and learned how to post in a time frame that was comfortable for me.

When I started my blog, I vowed to never be negative. But some of my best posts with the most comments were from when La Diva was feelin' extra-snarky.

Some times I got bored with it all and forgot I had to write it! I even experienced a bit of writer's block.

In any case, it's been a wonderful journey and lookie at all the friends I've made from it, widening my circle of love around the country and around the world, making it smaller still. I still get fascinated by your posts and seeing as La Diva is such a nosy little thing, I love that you allow me into your world! I get to perve on everyone's gardens and shoe collections and interior design and families and homes and art projects and meals and politics and most importantly, I get to look into your hearts and heads!

So, thank you, darlings. You are ALL FABULOUS!

I'm going to try bread pudding with my panettone....I think it would work a charm!

Now, back to the task at hand! A reminder of a wonderfully decadent Christmas breakfast idea that I make each and every year: Panettone French Toast! It was my very first written post (Thom had got me started with copy and photos from an email blast!)

Enjoy and Happy Holidaze and a bountiful New Year to you all!

Peas and joy and all that, darlings! MWAH! x

CSA Mystery Box 12-12-09

Darlings! La Diva started out with the best of intentions. I really did. When I planned my weekly menu based on last week's CSA mystery box, I thought I came up with some creative and healthy options and was excited to try out the dishes. But, for some reason, half of the anticipated dishes didn't quite turn out the way I had planned. While the meals were certainly healthy, the taste and texture did not measure up.

Why does La Diva post kitchen failures as well as my (mostly!) successful dishes? So we can ALL learn from MY mistakes! I have realized that even the most seasoned chefs and experienced cooks make mistakes in the kitchen, are victims of poorly written recipes and sometimes, no matter what you do or how hard you try, the actual food might even fail you too! (or your understanding on how to use that food!) If you are a fan of the show Top Chef, you'd have seen the last episode with all of their kitchen mishaps. No cook is immune from sometime kitchen disasters and I post mine eagerly for commiseration and advice from YOU!

Weekly wrap up from Mystery Box 12-12-09:

Well, according to Farmer Margie and other CSA bloggers, you really need to COOK the betel leaf and use it sparingly (like a condiment) This salad was inedible and the betel leaf added a smoky, medicine taste that just did not work in a salad. BOO! However, after reading comments about the smoky but tasty flavor imparted by cooking the leaf in other dishes reported, an undaunted Diva will give it another shot. (That is if it makes it into the mystery box again!)

C'mon kids, your big bowl of MUSH is ready!
  • Vegan Thai green curry with stir -fried tofu, eggplant, green peas, water chestnuts and Thai basil: Thumbs DOWN.
I usually make this dish with beef instead of tofu but thought I'd switch it up and make a veggie version in my quest to be "healthier" and "green" by eating less meat. I often cook vegetarian meals and in order to satisfy my big bear-man side-kick, DJ Nevah L8, am conscious of providing the big guy with a satiating meal that will keep him from going back into the kitchen rummaging for more food an hour after dinner. Didn't work this time. While the flavor of the curry was great, I should have listened to my instincts regarding the "mush" factor. In spite of the addition of water chestnuts to give the curry a bit of crunch and texture, the bland, mushiness of the tofu and eggplant combo (even though I stir-fried them both before adding to the curry!) resulted in a less than appetizing main that was not satiating. Perhaps I should have thrown in some sugar snap or snow peas at the last minute instead of regular?

Yum, yum, yum! I always enjoy a good comforting risotto and this combo is a keeper! I sauteed the tougher green chard stems with white onions, celery and garlic before adding the rice and broth. I also sauteed the sliced sausage and add it at the end with the chopped green leaf part of the chard. Successful and satisfying!

The photo makes the dish look better than it tasted! And on top of it, the Brussels sprouts (which I usually LOVE) were bitter too! DRAT!
  • Fish baked en papillote with garlic tomato sauce served over braised greens on quinoa: Thumbs DOWN.
SOUNDED like it was going to be good, didn't it? Well, some of it was. The garlic tomato sauce was perfect and I cooked the quinoa in chicken broth for added flavor. But the greens were too bitter to be used in tandem with the fish and I ended up eating them separately instead of with the fish. And for some reason, this batch of flash-frozen tilapia fish I bought from Costco was unusually fishy and the Brussels sprouts were bitter as well . We both hardly ate the dinner.
Seeing as my weekly menus were just not turning out as expected, I ditched the idea to make pepper steak with chicken and instead did a satisfying stand-by that I knew would get excellent results: chicken fajitas! I make my own taco seasoning and added that to the strips of chicken and stir-fried with onions, red and green peppers and then simmered with a bit of water and thickened with Wondra. Wow. Best dinner all week!

  • Vegetable soup: Thumbs UP!
By the end of the week, I still hadn't used the green beans and as I needed the fridge space for my party last night, I knew a good veggie soup was in order. With a chicken broth base I used all the green beans, some crazy little purple potatoes I had, carrots, tomatoes and threw in some small French lentils. Simple goodness.

Notice I only posted photos of the dishes that DIDN'T turn out? That's because we ate the good meals too quickly to get in a photo opp while the other crappy meals languished on their plates!

Photo courtesy of Farmer Margie

CSA Mystery half-share box for 12-19-09:

  • Collard greens
  • White turnips and tops
  • Parsley
  • Green bell pepper (that is huge!)
  • One yellow squash and one zucchini
  • One very large tomato
  • Grapefruit
  • Avocado
And here's my ideas for the week!

  • Parsley and tomato: The parsley will be made into a refreshing tabbouleh salad for my lunch during the week: parsley, bulgur, tomatoes, onion and lemon! I never use mint in my salad but if I had some, I'd toss it in as this recipe does.
  • As a fairly "new" resident to the South (ok, I'm goin' on my FIFTH year here in Miami!) I STILL have not made grits and only made collard greens for the first time last season. I thought this recipe looked tasty and all I have to get from the store is a nice ol' hamhock for flavoring. This recipe is from Atlanta chef Hugh Acheson: Collard greens and grits.
  • Oh dear, my nemesis THE TURNIP! I say that because I find turnips to be a bit bitter and prefer the sweetness of a parsnip over a turnip and really struggled finding ways to enjoy this veggie last season. But, I vowed this year to be more creative in utilizing this vegetable and found a recipe for turnip gratin! I better use the greens too, Bill over at Tinkering with Dinner is sooo good at using his greens, I'll take a look at what he does with his!
  • Green bell pepper: Not sure what to do with this but it's sheer size makes me want to cut it in half and stuff it! We'll see.
  • Yellow squash and zucchini: I'm not sure if I'll use these as sides, in a stir fry or in a family recipe called simply Squash Stew! (Ok, my dad calls it some crazy bastardized Sicilian version of Italian and NO, we won't "go there!" "Zucca" means squash in Italian and his name for the stew is nothing like that, crazy Sicilian!) I use garlic, ground turkey (or beef) tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, kidney beans, squash, Italian seasonings and spinach and serve it all over a nice al dente rigatoni topped with freshly grated parmesan. Now that's a hearty winter meal!
What did YOU make with your CSA last week? What are YOUR ideas? Come on, TELL La Diva, I'm dying to know!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

Community Supported Agriculture: Southern Florida's growing season is here!

Hello Darlings! While it snows and temperatures are dropping all over the country, Southern Florida's growing season has just begun! And that means La Diva gets her weekly farm share or CSA (community supported agriculture)

Back in July, I paid my fave local farmers money to buy seeds and supplies to grow the crops. Later in the year when they start to harvest the crops, I get a weekly share. The down side is that if there are high winds, hurricanes or any damage to the crops, we all take the hit (but so do the farmers.) However, if all goes well, I get fresh, farm picked vegetables from farms within 100 miles of my home every week that are delivered to a convenient location. I get to eat what's in season but also farm fresh produce. Another benefit is I get to try unusual fruits or vegetables that are not normally available to me at the local grocer! Last year I tried sugar cane, black sapote and canistel fruit for the first time!

Garlic chives growing under a banana tree at Bee Heaven Farm courtesy of Miami Dish blog. Click on photo to take you there!

Last year, I started my CSA for the first time and decided to challenge myself by eating what was only in the fridge, freezer or pantry with my farm box and ONLY going to the market if it was absolutely necessary! This was an amazing challenge as it allowed me to clean out my pantry of a ton of food that I had been storing and also saved me quite a bit of money and cut down significantly on food waste! It also really got my creative juices flowing! (You can see all of last year's recipe ideas if you click on the CSA side link to the right) I urge you to give it a shot because if you are anything like La Diva, you've probably got a lot of food in your pantry that could be utilized or have forgotten about!

This year, I've decided that when I get my box, I'm going to try to think of a number of dishes I can make with the items and post them with updates on the dishes I make throughout the week. That way if any of my local readers want some inspiration on what to do with their farm shares after they pick them up, they can come to my site for ideas or add their own in the comments section!

Margie, of Bee Heaven Farms has started her own blog! Click on the link above to take you to her site. Her farm is in the "Redland" in Southern Florida and is about 40 miles southwest of Miami Beach!

Here's what La Diva got in her box today:

  • Green beans
  • Braising greens mixture (mizuna, tatsoi, kale, raab and more)
  • Eggplant
  • Green pepper
  • Green chard
  • Piper Betel leaves
  • Thai basil
  • Cucumber
  • Cherry tomato
Here are my ideas for dinner this week:

  1. Vegan dinner of Betel Leaf Salad with shredded Carrot and Thai green curry with tofu, eggplant, green peas, water chestnut and Thai basil
  2. Risotto with green chard and sun-dried tomato chicken sausage
  3. Fish baked en papillote with garlic tomato sauce served over braised greens on quinoa
  4. Chinese pepper "steak" using chicken breasts instead
I'll use the green beans as a side or cold in a salad and the cukes and tomatoes will go into our dinner salads. I just CAN'T WAIT to use the betel leaves! I've seen them in Thai and Malaysian restaurants in Australia but its the first time I saw them here!

If any of you have any of your own ideas, post 'em here! I CAN'T WAIT for your comments! 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

Culinary Throwdown Challenge: SALT (two ways)

Pink Salt Lake in Western Australia

Darlings, it's time to once again THROW DOWN in da kitchen! As La Diva was the winner of Troll's last challenge, SMOKE and FIRE, I got to pick the subject for the next throwdown. And I picked SALT. So, pour a glass of wine or get a shot of vodka, this is quite the lengthy post!

I picked salt because I think it's an ingredient that you can do so much with. Also, it seems that lately everywhere I look, I see a recipe or product that involves caramel paired with salt: David Leibovitz's salted peanut caramel chocolates, Himalayan pink salt caramels and to La Diva, the very first salt/sweet pairing I ever tasted, the good old fashioned toffee Heath Bar. Even Tiffani from Top Chef recently made a salted butterscotch pudding for a reunion show. I think it's a natural combination and I've been dying to try a savory/sweet recipe using salt.

Maple glazed cookies with kosher salt. They look good right? One of them could rot your teeth! Not surprising as the recipe calls for one cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of pure maple syrup. Click on the photo to see the recipe that some other blogger kindly posted just for me.

My first entry is for maple glazed cookies with salt from Martha Stewart's Everyday. Sounds good right? When I saw the recipe, it conjured up images of maple leaf cream cookies that I LOVED so much growing up as a kid in Michigan. I LOVE maple sugar, so I had to try them, especially since salt was not only IN the batter but also ON the cookie.

First of all, upon looking at the recipe, La Diva thought to herself, six ingredients? Easy-peasy, I'll knock these out after dinner like a champ. Well, it didn't turn out that way, in fact, baking them was almost disastrous!!!

First of all the recipe says to "drop" the cookies onto the baking sheet. Mine were so moist, I had to use my finger to "drop" each cookie. The suggestion to flatten each one with the bottom of a flour-dipped glass only lead to a mess and I gave up after the glass stuck to the cookie six times. Ok, into the oven they go for 15 minutes.

First batch came out nice, slightly brown on the edges. The next two trays went in and were meant to be moved after baking halfway and La Diva slipped and dropped a tray. Oops. 20 cookies down! The rest I burned even though the timer was still set for 15 minutes.

Third tray burned in less than 15 minutes. Hmmmm. Meanwhile, I'm meant to reduce a cup of pure maple syrup by a quarter. So, I get that simmering when all of a sudden, it boils over and creates a stinking, smoking burnt sugar mess all over my stove. The maple syrup takes forever to reduce and I realize that even when reduced by a quarter, its still WAY too thin for a glaze and I reduce by another quarter. I'm now starting to think about Ruth Reichl's comment about how too many recipes in too many magazines have not been tested properly making for more failure in the kitchen instead of success each and every time. (boy, I'm really starting to appreciate Gourmet even more post mortem...) As I started to glaze the cookies with the reduction, La Diva dripped a bit on her hand and almost fainted from the napalm heat. Better let it cool. La Diva was not happy.

When the reduction cooled a bit, I began to glaze a few of the cookies and added a bit of kosher salt. I tasted them. blech. They were sickly sweet. And that's coming from a woman with a huge sweet tooth! DJ Nevah L8 tried them. He swiped a bunch with his big paw and into his maw they disappeared. Hmmmm.....that really means nothing to me, that man'll eat just about anything.

I wisely decided not to glaze the rest of the cookies yet still tasted a lovely touch of salt from the teaspoon of coarse kosher salt that was added to the batter initially. Without the glaze, I didn't get as much maple flavor as the half cup added to the batter was quite subtle. However, it made the cookies edible and great with coffee. The salt and the sweet worked. I would not make these again and found it a waste of expensive maple syrup, but this recipe inspired me to try something else with maple and salt.

La Diva thought these vintage hula girl salt and pepper shakers to be a "hoot!" (For Sham and Making Space!)

I've been experimenting with salt encased cooking for a number of years now and was first introduced to the method back in Australia about a decade ago. It seems like a fancy, difficult and salty way to cook but that couldn't be further from the truth. It's actually quite easy and cheap producing excellent, if not succulent results. If done right, you'll get excellent flavor without saltiness. I usually encase one whole large fish or two rainbow trouts or a pork tenderloin and have used the coarse kosher salt in a variety of ways including making a paste with water or herbs and egg whites, either ways works fine. It was Troll's throwdown challenge of Steak and Potatoes that I got to thinking that making some salt-encrusted steak would be good.

I searched around the Web for some inspiration and found Tyler Florence's recipe for salt crusted New York strip steak. The reviews were not glowing. Mostly because of the complaint that the meat came out an ugly and unappetizing gray.

My recipe is an adaptation and revised version of Tyler Florence's recipe. Here we go....

One 3 inch cut double rib eye steak rested at room temperature. This one was 2.3 lbs. Preheat oven to 475 F.

Sear meat unseasoned on both sides until brown in a hot, heavy bottomed pan in canola oil. Take out of pan, let pan cool and wash. Set steak aside. Voila, NO GRAY STEAK.

In a large bowl add three cups of coarse kosher salt, two eggwhites and chopped herbs. I used dried thyme, two bay leaves, fresh parsley and fresh sage. Tyler used six egg whites and rosemary. Seemed like a waste of four eggs but I suppose if you feel more comfortable with a more wet paste, go ahead, as long as the salt holds together. I also did not add the suggested garlic or rosemary. I like the pure beef taste of my steak and find garlic and rosemary too overpowering.

Mix together with your hands into a paste.

Add steak back to cooled and washed pan. Add freshly ground black pepper to top of steak.

Carefully start to pile the salt closely around the steak.

Pat the salt onto the steak GENTLY, pushing it together and around the sides and forming a seal.

The salt herb paste should cover every part around and on top of the steak and form a seal. Since my steak was twice as thick as Tyler's, I decided to cook it twice as long. I cooked my steak for about 30 minutes and then allowed to rest for another 8. It will continue to cook in the case once removed from the oven. Tyler advises using a meat thermometer. I choose to "wing" it.

The salt crust will harden and brown. Remove pan from oven and let rest for about 8 minutes, the steak will continue cooking.

Slowly crack open the salt crust and carefully peel away. You want the salt to come off in chunks, not break apart and "salt" the meat!

Lift steak out and brush off excess salt.

Allow to rest AGAIN for another five minutes before slicing. RESIST THE URGE TO POUR PAN JUICES OVER STEAK! The juices in the bottom of the pan are now a super saline concentration. Instead, take a piece of fresh bread and sop up the juices and serve on the side of your steak. It will be salty, savory delicious! (One of the few things I remember my mom doing when SHE cooked steak!)

Steak is ready to slice and cooked to perfection!

La Diva's salt encrusted double rib eye steak served over horseradish and sour cream Yukon gold mash, gourmet mushrooms sauteed in butter and red wine, a piece of baguette soaked in salty pan drippings and fresh steamed green beans with buttah and more salt! LORDY!

RESULT: Damn, La Diva was pleased. And so was my sidekick, big bear man DJ Nevah L8. The texture of the steak cooked in this method was different and more like a prime rib. The steak was moist and loaded with juice that ran from the steak while resting. (You can use the juices from the 'rested' steak, however) The herb flavors were subtle. The steak was NOT SALTY but actually quite mild and allowed the true beef flavor to shine. Naturally, the steak was more well done towards the ends but perfect for two people with different preferences. The revised dish was definitely a success, I'd like to try this again with a beef tenderloin one day.

So, don't be frightened to try this technique as it produces a succulent dish. I was going to try salt roasted potatoes but ran out of time! Next time. Take a stroll around the web for more SALT encased recipes and inspiration, there's a lot of them out there!


La Diva loves these saccharine and silly vintage kitty salt and pepper shakers!

So, this next entry comes from my cousin in Detroit, Sherry Diez Lince. She's from my "mom's" side of the family and all my family from that side are all such wonderful cooks! I'm amazed she produced this on a weeknight! Thanks Sherry!

So Sherry chose her salt by using a salt cured product. Yep, that works! This is home-made prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks and served with cantaloupe and a nice glass of vino. Apparently there are a lot of Italians in Sherry's neighborhood and she wisely adopted one of them as her friend and scored an entire leg of it! Way to go, Sherry!

Making a dish like this takes time, patience and a lot of pans!

OMG, Sherry, that looks divine. I could eat it for breakfast right now! Pasta with home-made prosciutto, capers in salt, olives, jalapenos, habaneros and serrano chiles, garlic and clams. Dang, dat's a lot of hot chiles, girl, but what can you expect, her last name is Diez! I would say that the salt is covered by not only the prosciutto but also the cured olives and capers too. Sherry says: "My family loved it..but i did have to make a wimpy version!" I'll be over for either version! Clams and prosciutto, hmmm.....Great job and thanks for participating.

Ok, so when MOI gets a chance, she'll be comin' round to check out and judge all the entries. Don't forget to add "I'm up" in the comments section and be polite and check out other entries! Hope you had fun and challenged yourself, that's what this is all about!

(oh, and that new award sounds pretty cool too!!) Thanks for playing and ciao, 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

OOOOhhh, so THAT'S what POP Surrealism is! Aqua Art for Art Basel

Darlings, it's DIVA'S TIME OF THE YEAR! Art Basel week is my fave week of the entire year as Miami is just FLOODED with art oozing out of every nook, cranny and white tent from all over the city! Artists, galleries, collectors and culture vultures come in from all over the world to purchase and view stunning and thought-provoking creations for an entire week. Art Basel is really the "kick off" for the holiday party season in Miami and you know La Diva HAD to be in the heart of it all!

Art Basel takes place at the Miami Beach convention center but there are myriad satellite events and tents off the beach and in the Design District and Wynwood Arts district as well.

One of La Diva's favorite satellite art shows is Aqua Art in the Wynwood Arts District. The exhibition started out as a small show at the Aqua hotel on the beach with each "room" becoming an individual "gallery" representing art from around the globe. The show has grown significantly over the last few years and now is held solely in a large warehouse space over in Wynwood and is just exploding with the wackiest stuff you could possibly imagine!

La Diva taking a much needed break with a refreshing mimosa. It was unseasonably hot and humid this day and the air con was really being taxed!

Painted on the wall entrance to the warehouse gallery space of Aqua Wynwood.

Since I've been attending Art Basel since moving to Miami in 2005, I've noticed there is usually a congruent thread that runs through-out the art works on display. I see certain trends and themes that pop up amongst the artists each year and this year was no exception. Over the years I've noticed the following themes:

  • North American fauna: birds, wolves, deer and bear
  • Laser cutting of unusual objects. I saw an old wheelbarrow cut entirely using a laser, it was incredible
  • Resin mounting
  • Fabric and textiles, embroidery, crocheting or knitting over deer antlers and trees and other objects.
  • Mounting art using pins and pin heads

This year the common threads I noticed were:

  • Eighties flashbacks of collage and mixed media and loads of pop icon images, comic book style. Also the technique of outlining color in black.
  • Mutant art, things not depicted as they really are and organic animals, humans, bugs and objects morphing into something else.
  • Skulls and gas masks kept turning up as subject matter
  • Paintings done in layers and on several pieces of glass to create dimension and texture.
  • Classic Asian influences in contemporary art work such as Chinese dragons, Balinese monsters, koi fish, etc.

Some of the art is quite disturbing and I can't imagine it hanging from my walls on a permanent basis! However, ART is supposed to engage, shock, frighten and provoke emotion and thought as well as just realistically depict something beautiful. The art at Aqua really pushes the boundaries of imagination and also my comfort levels! So while La Diva doesn't necessarily comprehend some of the art (or even like it!) I am able to certainly still appreciate it and am constantly amazed at the imagination, cleverness and dedication of many of the artists being shown.

When I asked one particular curator about his collection of crazy and wacky art, I was told that the style is called "pop surrealism" also known as "lowbrow" art. I LOVE IT! You can read more info on pop surrealism here.

Much to my dismay, my once excellent camera is starting to fail me. In years past I've been able to capture the art in great detail and now I find my camera will barely focus!! You can click on most of the photos to see more detail but apologies for the lack of high definition!

This display was made entirely of beads on pins! The scene reminded me of Miami Beach with a beautiful city on the edge of a turquoise blue sea! Clever, clever!

Examples of mixed media pop art that reminded me of art from the 80's. Frankly, I've seen it done and done better by artist Peter Mars from Chicago, who has been leading the avant pop art movement for the last 20 years.

This just cracked a Diva up! Click on the photo to see more detail!

Examples of the Asian art influence!

Using black as an outline to color makes the colors POP!

This was one of our favorite exhibits! Kooky and colorful robots painted in miniature and providing an affordable option for novice collectors.

La Diva was tempted to make a purchase but I think the tiny paintings would be more visually impressive hung as part of a group. Yet, I like the idea of one tiny painting used like a small surprise in a certain spot where most work would be too large to be hung!

Another painting that we thought was a hoot! Go on and click to see more detail. (you know you want to!)

So darlings, Art Basel comes to a close after another frantic week of art, parties, music and overall FABULOUSNESS!! La Diva is spent and culturally satiated. For now.

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