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:
- 2.5 T of molasses (instead of some crazy brown sugar Splenda!)
- Light rum instead of dark (it's what I had!)
- Grated ginger instead of chopped (I find pieces of things in glaze to fall off and make a mess on the barby!)
- 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