WINNER OF THE CULINARY THROWDOWN: Caribbean!


Darlings! When La Diva heard that recent culinary challenge winner BamaTrav was picking "The Caribbean" as the next throwdown theme, I got really excited and myriad ideas churned through my brain.

After all, La Diva has the home field advantage by living in Miami.  While Southern Florida is not officially part of the Caribbean, my life and food is heavily influenced by our island neighbors and many ingredients indigenous to the Caribbean are readily available here.  Not to mention that I've been introduced to them via trips to Jamaica as well as through friends and neighbors who are originally from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Trinidad and Jamaica.




What's so nice about living in Miami is how close it actually is to the United States.  (You can click on all the photos to enlarge, darlings!)


While trying to decide what to make for the throwdown, La Diva thought about the flavor profiles of the Caribbean.  What spices to use? What produce says Caribbean?  What ingredients will create a tropical, island feel?

When La Diva thinks Caribbean, I think:

Coconuts, plantain, ginger, calabaza, callaloo, ackee, sugar cane, limes, okra, allspice, tropical fruits like sugar banana, guava, guanabana, jackfruit, sapote, shrimp, jerk chicken, lobster, goat, ginger beer, red stripe, annatto, rice, scotch bonnet peppers (habanero)  and of course, rum!  




 
Some of La Diva's ingredients for the throwdown with Miami and Biscayne Bay in the background.  Clockwise coconut milk, Bacardi rum, limes, green plantain, sugar cane,  jalapeno and scotch bonnet peppers, ginger, coconut.


The first thing La Diva knew I had to make was a cocktail!  I've always loved the Cuban mojito and its ingredients leave so much room for experimentation.  I've made champagne mojitos that are divine!  This time I wanted to concoct a coconut mojito.



A toasted coconut mojito with sugar cane and fresh mint garnish.

I eagerly hammered away at my fresh coconut, trying to break it open.  I wanted to extract some fresh coconut flavor out of it's succulent flesh  by muddling it along with the limes and mint.  But...it  was rotten!  Boo.  So, instead La Diva toasted some sweetened grated coconut I had in the pantry.  I also used brown sugar syrup and coconut milk to create my  toasted coconut mojito.  

It was quite pleasant with a light coconut taste yet the cocktail needs to be refined further.  The toasted coconut tasted great at first but as it sunk to the bottom of the glass, La Diva found the toasty coconut flavor had disappeared and left only a strange texture.   Naturally, that didn't stop me, DJ Nevah L8 or our guests from having three each!


 
WARNING:  HIGHLY ADDICTIVE FOOD!!!  La Diva's tostones and garlic mojito sauce

Another dish La Diva discovered when moving to Miami was the tostone!  Tostones are twice-fried green plantains and are almost always served with a savory dipping sauce.  You cut the plantains into about 1.5 inch pieces and lightly fry until just brown on both sides.  This softens them up and then you take the pieces and smash them in a tostonera, a paddle-like aid to work the plantain into nice, disk shapes and then fry them up to crispy, starchy goodness.

I did a post about preparing tostones back last year and since then, I'm getting pretty good at making them. (You can go to THIS LINK to learn how easy they are to make!)  Today, the dipping sauce of choice was a garlic mojito and may I just say that IT WAS THE BOMB and we could not stop eating it!  You can get the recipe for the mojito HERE.


 
Delightfully juicy chicken in a sweet molasses rum glaze tasted just as good as it looks.

Second course was a succulent and savory grilled chicken thigh in a molasses, rum and coffee glaze.  Oh my.    I used THIS RECIPE and then modified it:

  1. 2.5 T of molasses (instead of some crazy brown sugar Splenda!)
  2. Light rum instead of dark (it's what I had!)
  3. Grated ginger instead of chopped (I find pieces of things in glaze to fall off and make a mess on the barby!)
  4. And used finely ground fresh coffee instead of instant coffee granules.
I liked my version and the molasses really added some kick to the glaze! La Diva thinks that this glaze would also be absolutely divine on some sugar cane skewered shrimp.



 La Diva's jerk pork on sugar cane skewers!

So, for the main course, La Diva had a great idea!  I had a stick of sugar cane in my fridge  that I had bought for the sole purpose of making  CHẠO TÔM or Vietnamese prawn paste on sugar cane.  Chao Tom is a delicious Vietnamese dish that I discovered while living in Sydney.  You take ground shrimp and spices and mold it onto sugarcane skewers and then grill it.  Then you take the shrimp off and put into a lettuce wrap full of mint, shredded carrots and rice noodles and eat it with a dipping sauce.   Now take the sugar cane and suck all the gorgeous juices from the prawn and spices, that's the best part!   It's delicious, fun and a great, light dish.

As I've been either super busy or super sick lately, I hadn't had a chance to use the sugar cane.  I started to think of succulent shrimp skewered on the cane and grilled.  Great idea.  But, not the most original idea and various versions were all over the web.  So, La Diva had her own designs on the dish.

I decided that instead of the ground prawn, I'd use ground pork.  Instead of the Asian spices, I'd use jerk seasonings.  And instead of a dipping sauce I'd make a mango salsa and stuff the lettuce wraps with shredded carrot and cooling jicama!

 
 The tasty and spicy jerk pork sits in a lettuce leaf with mango salsa, jicama and carrot, waiting to be rolled up and devoured!  The cooling mango, jicama and carrot were perfect foils for the spiciness of  the scotch bonnet pepper I had added to the pork.  

I thought the dish was a success but I did one thing wrong:  I steamed the pork first like I do then I use prawns and it just made them tough.  When I was testing the seasonings earlier in the day, I had fried up a small amount and it tasted juicy and delicious.  So, next time, straight onto the grill they go!



The table is laden with Caribbean dee-lights!  From left top:  mango salsa, leaf lettuce, shredded jicama, toasted coconut mojito, shredded carrots, jerk pork grilled on sugar cane, molasses rum glazed chicken thighs and twice-fried plantains with garlic dipping sauce.  




Posh Star Island, a gated island community for movie stars, musicians and celebrities, sits regally in the foreground of stunning Magic City high-rises. 


RESULT:  Da-YUM!  La Diva and DJ Nevah L8 were very pleased and so were our guests.  Everyone really enjoyed the unique and refreshing way to enjoy the spicy pork, the chicken was just as juicy and tasty as it looked and the tostones were highly addictive.  We finished the meal with sweet and simple peach ice cream cones.  Overall rating:  SUCCESS!

If you want to see what everyone else did for their Caribbean throwdown entry, then CLICK HERE to take you to host BamaTrav's site and see who else participated in the throwdown.  Want to see WHO WON THE CARIBBEAN THROWDOWN?  Check back over the weekend!

Thanks to BamaTrav for hosting and to DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah) for the photographs! 

 

Want a little party music to go along with your Caribbean dinner?  Check out a fun and fave La Diva band from the 80's:  Kid Creole and the Coconuts!  Click HERE!   Dey fun and fabulous!

Ciao, darlings and cool runnings mon!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, www.ladivacucina.com, top chef

24 comments:

BamaTrav said...

WOW!! Good heavens mon why yu no invite aw bloguhs to feast wit yu? That all looks wicked. Very good, awsome presentation. I can almost taste it and the drinks...mmmmm...a few as the sun sets,no?

moi said...

The only reason I am not crying my eyes out RIGHT NOW is that at least I have had your tostones. And watched Matt Damon's Star Island manse wink on and off during the evening.

What a job you did, here, girl. Standing ovation.

MJ said...

Mistress MJ was in Cuba for a couple of weeks not too long ago and practially LIVED on mojitos.

Also, having several friends from the Caribbean who love to cook makes for good eating.

Karl said...

Good morning La Diva,

Wow is right! What a great spread!Everything looks so good, glad you could make time to play.

Heff said...

DAMN ! This entry is gonna be damn near impossible to beat !

Great job, La Diva !

Dani said...

WHOA!!! You did great Diva!

doggybloggy said...

wow - you did a great job everything looks so good - love the sugarcane skewers - I wish this was a pot luck because I would gladly trade some chicken to sample some of these delights.

Lazaro Cooks! said...

Awesome job. Great Miami spread. The mojito looks fantastic.

Have a great weekend.

Cheers!

LaDivaCucina said...

Thanks, y'all, I do appreciate your encouraging comments. (I do have a bit of an advantage living here though!)

Doing these throwdowns is a good excuse to have friends over as my guinea pigs! (they said they liked it!) Have a good weekend!

Floridacracker said...

You had me at jerk pork on SUGAR CANE skewers.
I love that idea.

Buzz Kill said...

Full throttle as always Diva. I could do without the mojito but everything else looks great. The tostones are remminiscant of a dish the Mrs and I had in Barbados. Love those plantains. The chicken is definitely doable for me. Maybe this weekend because I have chicken in the fridge.

The jerked pork skewers remind me of something Shamu did a couple of weeks ago. Classy looking dish.

I haven't seen all of the other dishes but I don't think anyone (not even Donna) can compete with this. Great write up.

intuitive eggplant said...

What a spectacular looking (and sounding) spread! Those lettuce wraps are awesome. And I must try making those tostones. Back when I thought I might finagle enough time to participate in this Smackdown, I had stumbled onto your earlier tostones post. Super job, Diva!!!

Boxer said...

Holy Mojitos, you did another amazing job... maybe your best yet?

That coconut mojito? Looks like heaven as does the entire meal.

Wow-zer. You be the winner, in my book.

smArtee said...

OMG...that is a feast for sure..i need to step up my game...This looks so devine...I think I would like to copy and paste the whole post...beginning with that Mojito...Mmmmm... Thanks for the great display of Caribbean Cuisine..and for the inspiration..!

Making Space said...

Yow, I've been missing some posts here. You had tostones with dipping sauce? Good goddess woman, that all looks fantastic!!! And how much do I love that you had a party too. Fantastico, mamita!

Jill said...

The food looks incredible...as always. I had totally forgotten about Kid Creole!

Have you ever made conch fritters? I tried once while we were living in Houston and I had access to Central Market....god I miss Central Market...anyway, they didn't turn out as I expected. I don't fry a lot...my inexperience may have had something to do with it. Or maybe it was just eating conch fritters in the middle of a city with no ocean in site!

LaDivaCucina said...

Thanks, Jill, no I have never made fritters and like you, don't fry stuff often. They do sell conch here though...might be an idea to try cooking it!

Velva said...

Holy cow!!!! I am drooling and I am left speechles. This is a wonderful spread of authentic Caribbean flavors.

I am going to make the mojito dipping sauce for the tostones. Thanks for sharing.

buffalodick said...

Nicely done! Great offerings and photos!

Buzz Kill said...

I sort of did your carribean chicken tonight. I put all of the ingredients for the sauce in a saucepan (except the fresh ginger) and prepped the chicken in oil, garlic salt and pepper. I put it all in the fridge with the intension of cooking it when the Pudge and I got home from soccer. Well the Mrs couldn't wait for that and she went ahead and grilled it herself. She didn't put the ginger in, but it tasted pretty good anyway. I think the ginger would have made the dish much better (and mesquite wood chips, which she doesn't know how to do). I took your advise on the molassas, coffee and rum but I had to use lime juice because I was out of limes. It was easy and I will definitely try it again.

Heff said...

Congrats, LaDiva ! You WON, HUN !

LaDivaCucina said...

Hey Buzzy, that's GREAT! I thought that chicken was the bomb! I'm sure yours turned out good, the ginger would have added some heat. Thanks so much for the feedback.

By the way, I got your joke about the "elegance" of the pork sticks! I thought the same, but what can you do? Tasted great!

Margie said...

oh, YUM!!! I love the idea of jerk pork on sugarcane skewers- opens up a whole 'nother world of possibilities... goat? lamb? hmmm... just had breakfast but still, I'm salivating!

intuitive eggplant said...

Congrats, Diva! Well-deserved!