You put de lime in de coconut!

Darlings, in 1969 La Diva was a cute little tow-headed tot of six years old and it was the year my mother decided to host an end of summer Hawaiian luau. My mom was the oldest sister amongst her six siblings and was the one who was always organizing fun parties and outings. My dad's father owned a cottage in Port Huron on Lake Huron not too far north of the suburbs of Detroit, and my mother invited all my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends for this big summer bash.

In her usual way of "going all out" for a party, Mom had organized everything for an authentic Hawaiian luau. I remember the men of the family digging a huge pit for a pig roast. Someone had made poi (how they found taro, I'll never know!) We were all sporting leis and even were drinking tropical drinks out of pineapples!

Cute as buttons and brown as berries: La Diva is the little one second from left with my arm around my baby sister and my brother is on the end and my cousins in the middle. We sooo enjoyed those pineapple drinks until we went into the light and saw they were swimming with gnats! Meh. A little extra protein didn't seem to hurt us!

Naturally, my mother's Hawaiian luau in Port Huron, Michigan was FABULOUS! And it made a baby girl Diva think of warm, tropical places where the sun shines all the time, palm trees grow and coconuts fall from the trees. I remember my father cracking open a fresh coconut for us to eat, bashing it with a hammer, coconut shells and milk splattering everywhere! I was eating coconut from the shell for the first time and loved it. In my little kid head, I knew that one day I wanted to find a tropical paradise and live where I could pick the coconuts from the tree.

Fast forward to late September 1991...

La Diva was enjoying a nice crisp chardonnay to go along with the crisp night on her back porch swing in Chicago. As I looked out over my garden, an overwhelming sadness came over me. I knew it would not be long before I would not be able to sit out here again, enjoying my garden and my porch swing, as winter was fast approaching. I would not be able to get my hands in the rich earth and garden anymore. I gazed upon my hip little Vespa. Soon, I would not be able to ride my scooter anymore. I looked towards my bike, knowing that it would also be stored in the garage for the long winter.

La Diva started thinking....."Hmmmm...winter is long in the Midwest, about six months of gloomy, gray and cold days. Six months is half a year and half a year is a long time to put up with gloomy, gray and cold. Why, half my life I can't be outdoors doing what I love!" It dawned on me that for a Diva to be truly enjoying life, I could no longer live in the harsh cold of Chicago and I started to plan my escape to Australia. By 1993, we had sold many of our possessions, packed what we could and were en route to Sydney.

La Diva welcoming the morning sun at Manly Beach, Sydney Australia March 09.

From that point forward, I have lived where the palm trees grow. Sydney has a temperate climate and Los Angeles enjoys a dry, Mediterranean climate. Both were lovely places to live and both had very mild winters but still, they were still too cold for La Diva to swim in the ocean in wintertime. Now that I live in Miami Beach, I can truly say I live in a tropical climate and do swim in the ocean in the middle of winter, in fact, I was in the sea only yesterday. In Southern Florida, we enjoy beautiful sunshine and mild temperatures (for the most part) year round and yes, coconuts can be picked from the trees on the beach. Sigh....

When I talk to people about my journey to find a tropical paradise, they laugh when I explain:

"If a palm tree don't grow there, Diva don't go there."


And so this brings me to the point of this breezy little wander down memory lane: Karmic Kitchen's Dim Sum Sunday topic of CITRUS.

While La Diva gets to enjoy the sunshine and the beach most days, many of my poor blogging buddies, friends and family are Vitamin D and sunshine deficient, freezing their buns off and craving the sunny, succulence of citrus during the long winters. You know, darlings, we really take it for granted that juicy, fresh oranges, clementines, lemons and limes are so plentiful any time of the year but it was not too long ago that eating an orange in the winter was considered a sunny treat.

If you can avoid temptation and eat only half of the pan the day you make them, that's good as La Diva thinks that they are even better when the custard sets and the tart flavor concentrates! Go on, darlings, click away and savor the citrus sunshine of Key lime coconut squares!

For my Dim Sum Sunday CITRUS entry I give you Key lime coconut squares. It has all my favorite ingredients in it, including a lovely Key lime custard. I found this recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald when I lived in Australia. I just love the yummy buttery crust with the tart custard and of course, the toasted coconut completes the tropical, citrus flavor profile.

The recipe actually calls for Persian limes, so if you can't get Key limes, don't fret. I just wanted to be masochistic and squeeze a million of the little buggers! They are only about the size of walnuts.

Click on the recipe to see larger. Castor sugar is super fine sugar. You can make this yourself by processing in a food processor or blender for a few minutes. The temp is for a pretty low oven about 320 F and then down to 300 F.

About now, you are probably thinking just how lucky my sidekick DJ Nevah L8 is, aren't you? Well, he only gets a a few squares this time as the bulk of these tart treats go to a couple of his cool co-workers that do my production bidding and help a Diva be her fabulous self for her video submissions! La Diva wishes she could pay all her debts with delicious desserts (Hello? Are you listening Visa?!)

Wanna see what other citrus dee-lights Shamu and other blogging buds came up with? Click HERE to take you to Karmic Kitchen. Don't be afraid to leave a comment. Or even try the recipes! Aloha, darlings!
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This season, Bourdain is OFF the leash!

"Somewhere an aging supermodel is crying..."

Those were the words that came out of Chef Anthony's Bourdain's mouth in his season premiere episode of "No Reservations: Panama." So, what prompted the snarkiness?

A recent romp to Panama brought back memories of days gone by and Tony found himself in a field filled with kilos of cocaine and watching Panamanian National Security destroy six tons of the confiscated drug. ( A "chance encounter" Tony claims.)

(PS: Shamu and Boxer may click HERE.)

"It looks like Keith Richards' bed spread in the 70's..."

(Click Tony's photo to find out what the hell he's talking about and watch him burn SIX TONS OF COCAINE in Panama!

In the latest episodes of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain is more irreverent than ever. He has openly made drug references in both his Panama and Istanbul shows, his first two shows of the season. He just doesn't give a $hit and La Diva is loving it.

In a Beevis voice:

"Heh, heh, he said cocaine...heh, heh..."

But seriously, his honesty and humility in saccharine TV land is so refreshing and you JUST KNOW those comments would never fly on the Food Network. The man is an open book!

And who doesn't love Zamir, Tony's hilarious Russian sidekick who shares so many hysterical, yet painful, episodes including the trip to Uzbekistan where Tony received his famous bone-cracking massage courtesy of the rambunctious Ruskie? Payback is a bitch...

Anthony Bourdain is "Snarkenstein" and Zamir is Dracula in their new cartoon "Alternate Universe!" Click on the photo to watch the video and laugh your ass off!

The Alternate Universe cartoon is hilarious and in true Bourdain style, pokes fun at the cheesy stereotypical props of the show. La Diva knows why Anthony made this. The Romanian episode WASN'T HIS BEST SHOW and the man is, ahem, embarrassed. How the hell Tony ended up at a lame Dracula-themed restaurant on Halloween, we'll never know. (Oh, but we DO know, it's all Zamir's fault! Read about it HERE! As Tony throws Zamir under the bus!) Bourdain promises more episodes of "Alternate Universe" to come. (And it sure beats the hell out of watching Andrew Zimmern getting hot oil dripped on his bald pate while sporting a loin cloth at a spa in India! EEEWWW TMI!!!)

Tony explains the "Alternate Universe" on his blog:

"There seems to be some understandable confusion with the announcement of our upcoming "web series", ALTERNATE UNIVERSE. Reactions varying between "WTF!!??" and " This time he's jumped the shark for sure." While shark jumping is always a danger--particularly since me and my partners take a perverse delight in flirting with just that with every new outrage (The family friendly Sardinia show being an example of a profoundly risky rub up against 'off-brand,' late-era Fonzarelli), these dark, nasty, frequently foul TWO MINUTE LONG web extras are not a replacement for NO RESERVATIONS. They are not a pilot for some new, family friendly, watered down follow on. They are instead brief, often violent, alt versions of NO RES--representing things we could never have done on the actual show-or the way things should have gone on the show--or animated acknowledgments of what already went terribly wrong on the show. Or, for example, my take on the network's "Travel Bug" promo campaign--about which I was, shall we say...dubious.

They'll appear on the fan site--for those who wish to click on them. I wrote the damn things--so there's nobody to blame but me if they're not as quick, nasty--and funny as I think they are. And I want to thank Andrew Zimmern and Samantha Brown in advance--for their extraordinarily good humored participation in one particularly lurid episode. I hope we don't freak out their fan base."

If you are like La Diva and crave a bit of vinegar with your food porn, watch out for Tony's next episode: BRITTANY this Monday night 10pm Eastern time. (Click HERE for a sneak peek!) If the first two shows are any indication of how the rest of the season is going to pan out, La Diva is ready for more raucous reports from the rowdy raconteur!

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CSA Mystery Box 1-16-10

Hello darlings! As you know, Florida farmers had a really tough time with the frost, wind and cold last week and it hit some crops pretty hard. When I agreed to participate in the CSA, I agreed to take the loss along with the farmers, so this week's share was not as bountiful as it usually is at this time of the year. And while my share is slightly smaller, the farmers still get the raw end of the deal.

Farmer Margie of Bee Heaven Farms did not escape Mother Nature's wrath, even with plastic covers the green beans might not recover and the tops of the tomato plants froze. (Click HERE to take you to her blog) I'm glad I really enjoyed the green beans from the past couple of weeks as I'm sure that I won't see them again this season. Not only will the shares be a bit, er, smaller or "greener" (as in tomatoes!) but you can bet you'll see price increases nationwide for any produce from Florida.

You can click on this photo to see the wee roasted turnips! There they are!

Roasted French breakfast radishes with sauteed chicken apple sausage and radish greens over farfalle paste. Well, well, well, this certainly was the surprise recipe of the week! Learning from my mistakes from last season, I knew if I was going to take advantage of using the radish greens, then I better use them immediately!

La Diva is no lover of radishes. I can eat them raw, with salt, or in a salad but only a I decided to roast them as I've had loads of luck enjoying beets, carrots and turnips after I have roasted them! This cooking method just seems to bring out the natural sweetness of just about the bitterest of vegetables! Besides, I just saw Chef Mario Batali serve white radishes cooked on the last Iron Chef, so I wanted to try them cooked as well as I'd never had them that way.

So, I roasted the radishes and thoroughly washed and chopped the radish greens. I sauteed the sliced smoked chicken apple sausage and greens seperately and then put it all together over the pasta, using a bit of the starchy pasta water to make a bit of a sauce. Like I said, I was REALLY surprised that this dish came out as good as it did. The sweetness of the sausage was a really good foil for the slight bitterness of the greens and radish. Believe it or not, I will make this dish again! Hooray for being adventurous!

I cut the mahi mahi filet in half and wrapped a leaf around each half. I cut one portion in half so you can see the salsa and hubby said my photo looked gross. Eh. Sometimes it's tough being with someone who's more of a perfectionist than me!!

With the betel leaves I made a baked Mahi Mahi wrapped in betel leaf with fresh plum tomato and tomatillo salsa with yellow rice.

The first thing DJ Nevah L8 said to me upon tasting this dish was:

"EEEEWWWW THIS IS TOO FISHY, I CAN'T EAT THIS" and spit it out onto his plate in front of me.

La Diva glared at him and replied:

"HELL NO, I KNOW that fish is fresh! EAT IT!"

I purchased it that day and smelled it myself before I even bought it. Apparently, hubby was not too appreciative of the smoky, medicinal flavor of the betel leaf. Yes, it did mellow with cooking but I must admit, I'm not that fond of them myself. Knowing how I feel about wasting food, hubby wisely took the leaf off and liked the fish much better! The salsa was quite tangy from the tomatillo, but pairing it with the betel leaf was not a match made in culinary heaven. It was ok, the betel leaf flavor is still very strong.

As Bill from Tinkering with Dinner pointed out in my comments from the last share, the betel leaf is also known as hoja santa leaf and used in Mexican cooking as well, so that's why I went with the Latin inspired flavor profile. It's supposed to have a "root beer" taste but I couldn't recognize it at all with the fish until the next day when I re-heated it for lunch. Ahhhhh....there it is.... Yet....IT STILL WAS NOT A HOME RUN in the La Diva recipe file. Meh.

The Japanese komatsuna (you can click on the word to get more info on this) and one green pepper was paired with shitake mushrooms and green onions for a Chinese style pepper steak stir fry over brown rice. I do love this combo and I think the shitake mushrooms are such a perfect, hearty mushroom to go with the beef. I still want to try making this with chicken though.

THUMBS UP! Breaded chicken cutlet, green beans with chimichurri and baked eggplant with ricotta and tomato sauce. This meal was definitely the HOME RUN recipe of the week!

One of my
eggplants was rotten inside, so I only had one to use. I DID end up using the left over chimichurri sauce on the green beans and hubby loved it! (he used the rest of the sauce every chance until it was gone!) I lightly pan fried them and then added a creamy layer of ricotta/parm cheese mixture and topped with some tomato sauce and fresh bread crumbs (all left over from the dumpling debacle) and baked them while I made a simple breaded chicken cutlet. Perhaps it was the freshly made breadcrumbs or perhaps it was the parmesan cheese, but this was one of the tastiest, juiciest breaded cutlets I've made to date. Just goes to show you how quality ingredients can really improve the flavor of a simple dish.

Black sapote oat bars were made out of the super ripe black sapote or "chocolate pudding fruit" from the share a few weeks back. This is Bill's recipe and I have played around with it twice. (Hey Bill, is there really such a thing as a 1/6 cup?!) This time I added a tablespoon of cocoa powder (to help along the chocolate pudding taste!) and omitted the coconut and nuts on top. They were just fine, tasty and a lot less calories!

That left me with two small green peppers. I followed fellow CSA and blogger Caroline's lead and decided to stuff them with sausage instead of the usual ground beef but instead of andouille, I made mine with a Latin twist and used Colombian chorizo. I cooked down the left over tomatillo/tomato salsa (from the mahi mahi) and chopped cilantro and added that to the rice mixture as well and stuffed the peppers. Afterward, I found I had just a bit of leftover black beans in the fridge and threw them into the rest of the rice for the bottom of the casserole. Pretty tasty stuff, (haha, get it, I said "stuff!" Sorry, La Diva is easily amused lately!) I even managed to eat the entire green pepper. (Naturally Nevah L8 left the shell! He just can't be coaxed!)

I forgot all about my poor little baby bok choy but not to worry, the CSA mystery box for this week is a bit light after the frost so I'll be using it at my first opportunity!

The lovely Marian took this photo, click on it to take you to her site!

This weeks half share mystery box includes:
  • Lacinato kale
  • garlic chives
  • carambola or star fruit (uh oh, mine came all bruised and battered)
  • two tiny clementines, hardly bigger than a walnut
  • 2 black sapote, one already ripe and one hard as a rock
  • cabbage...a sturdy, tough vegetable
  • tomatoes x 2, still under ripe and a bit pink
  • avocado, hard as a rock
La Diva doesn't mind at all getting some produce that is not ripe yet as it gives me time to use the more delicate produce like greens or the chives.

My kale looks more like this variety: Russian Red

Kale, kale, kale....I've heard you can fry kale....or I could try Shamu's recipe of kale and cranberries and bacon.....but I've got a whole bunch so I'm sure I'll eek out at least two meals of the kale! I might check the pantry, I think I have some white beans in there....a nice hearty cassoulet perhaps?

The garlic chives are going to be made into yummy Chinese dumplings or gao gee. Last season I took the recipe from Australian Gourmet Traveler and was very happy with the results. (though I want to work on my dipping sauce!) We don't get the garlic chives too often so I'm not going to waste this opportunity and make the dumplings!

Carambola and the clementines will be eaten in one go. By the time I cut off the rot from the fruit, I'll have about half left. However, I did come up with an idea for a salsa using the flowery, yet tart "star fruit" with pineapple, cucumber and basil...hmm.....

Cabbage again.....ooh, I've got an idea.....stuffed cabbages or Asian omelet this time? Not to worry, if I don't use it this week, it will surely last at least two more!

Tomatoes, I can always use but I must admit to being challenged by the avocado. Yes, I use it as a butter substitute on bread or could put in a Mexican soup or the usual guacamole but...what about serving it as a mash with something else? hmmm.....In any case, it most likely won't be ripe for at least four days, it's as hard as a rock! Good, gives me time to think and research something new!

PS: I've gotten a "call back" from the Master Chef competition I auditioned for yesterday and am now going on to the next step. And guess what? I'm not allowed to talk about it to you or the press! But, I think I'm allowed to say if i got on the show or not! Stay tuned and wish a Diva luck! (I could really use a break in the New Year!)

You can read more about the upcoming show HERE.

Ciao darlings, 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

Dumpling Disaster Does Double Duty!!!

Yummmm...home-made "malfatti" or "badly made" Italian spinach and ricotta dumplings!

Darlings, Karmic Kitchen's Dim Sum Sunday is back and the theme is Snowdays! The Big Shamu explains: "Do you have a special, warm the kids up after an afternoon of sledding hot chocolate? Do you heed the call of a huge bubbling soup pot? Have you ever made snow cream? Show us."

Well, since I'll be busy at an audition (!) on this Dim Sum Sunday (Jan. 17) I'm posting early. I have a date with Chef Gordon Ramsay and the producers of The Biggest Loser to try out for a new reality show called Master Chef. It's a contest for amateur chefs only, you can't work in a professional kitchen or have culinary training and the prize is $100K. I made my video submission on Sunday, have a dish in mind to make and have filled out the lengthy application which includes the question: What do you think of Chef Gordon Ramsay? "He seems intense but I've heard he's nice." GAH! Hope I don't get called a DONKEY! haha!

Anyway, I digress! Go to Sham's DSS link on the right side of my blog page to take you to see what everyone else did on the day! (By the way, what the heck is snow cream? I hope someone made some.)

It just sooo happens that it was the coldest it's been in decades in Southern Florida and we had temperatures down to the 30's at night! With that in mind along with the fact that I'm a Midwestern gal from Michigan, it doesn't take much to prompt me to make some good, comforting food perfect for a snow day.

This little snowman was made last weekend by a couple in central Florida. Don't believe we had snow in Florida? Click on the photo to take you to the story! Sunday had a high of 48 and in the 30's at night. While driving home on Saturday night, I saw something I'd never seen before. STEAM rising up all over the windy, choppy bay; the water was much warmer than the air!!!

Some of the best snow days of my young life came from the great Blizzard of '78! (Click HERE to see photos and story!) We lived on a semi-busy road that had frequent cars and our neighbor, Mr. Cavaliere, owned a construction company. After the snow, he came home with a huge bulldozer and plowed our street, putting most of the snow in his front yard. It created a mountain of snow as high as the house! Naturally, a 14-year-old tomboy Diva was out there sledding with her siblings and the neighborhood kids! The Cavaliere kids were the most popular kids on the block all of a sudden and we had 'free reign' over the street, as no car drivers were silly enough to venture out.

Four reviewers from Amazon gave this cookbook a thumbs up. I had failure with the first recipe but based on this new information, I'm willing to give the book another shot.

Seeing as it's the first Dim Sum Sunday of the year and it's sooo chilly out, La Diva decided to do dumplings. After all, what's more comforting than dumplings? And a type of dim sum IS a dumpling! I found the recipe for the Italian dumpling called "malfatti" in a cookbook a girlfriend had given me months ago. I was looking for new ways to use parsley and dill from my CSA when I came upon this recipe that called for an entire half cup of parsley (good to know!)

The dumplings were made from soft bread crumbs, ricotta and spinach, so I thought that would go perfectly with the roasted tomato sauce I made.

It was a not a quickie recipe. I bought a loaf of Cuban bread the day before and processed it to make the soft crumbs. I cooked the spinach and after it cooled, I squeezed out all the water and then put it into a bowl with the crumbs, egg, cheese and the other ingredients. The directions said to leave in the refrigerator over night and then cook them by dropping into boiling water. Hmmm...seems simple enough and I loved the idea of a spinach and cheese dumpling.

The next day, I heated up the roasted tomato sauce and made the dumplings into oblong shapes about 3 inches long and one inch wide as per the directions. I rolled them in flour and plopped six of them into the boiling water.

And watched in dismay as they all fell apart in front of me.

This is what I saw 30 seconds after dropping the dumplings in the boiling water. The directions did not say "gently drop," they did not say drop into "gently simmering" water but to drop into boiling water to form one layer. I did that.

This is my spinach ricotta dumpling or malfatti.

Just then, gal pal Jill calls and I tell her LA DIVA IS MIGHTY AGGRAVATED and what should I do? Especially since the dumplings were going to feed her and her fiance for dinner that night? She quickly and wisely said: Stuff 'em into shells. Ahhh, smart girl. I knew we were friends for a good reason!

And that's precisely what I did! I still had a good portion of the dumpling dough left, so I cooked the pasta shells, filled them and spooned the sauce over top, grated some parmesan cheese over it all and then baked it in a high oven until bubbling.

Result: Everyone loved them! I added some grilled Italian sausage and Jill made a fresh green salad and it turned out very well. I think the dumplings cum stuffed shells would have been a tad lighter without the bread crumbs, naturally, but the taste and the texture was still very light, not tough and perfectly satisfying on a very chilly Miami evening.

I find that any baked pasta dish to be incredibly comforting, warming and filling on a cold snowday. Another thing that's great about making baked pasta in winter is that you heat up the oven, making the house warm and cozy and then have yummy leftovers. Not to mention the welcoming smell that hits you when you finally get inside, all rosy-cheeked and chilled!

The two pasta photos I found on the Internet. I took the dinner to my friend's house, along with my camera, but we were all so hungry, we tucked in and forgot to take the photo!

So I bet you are wondering what the ever-frugal-La Diva did with this:

I tasted it. It was salty and tasty with a lot of spinach, cheese and bread crumbs in it. Could it be salvaged? La Diva was up for the challenge and was NOT going to waste half of the ingredients!

The day after the stuffed shells, La Diva bought some ground turkey and low sodium chicken broth. I had an idea.

The soup before it thickened up.

I made polpetti (you know, little meat-a-balls!) out of the ground turkey and left over ricotta cheese. I combined chicken broth to the existing dumpling "water" and added some cut carrots. I dropped the uncooked meatballs directly into the simmering broth along with a two generous handfuls of orzo pasta.

Ten minutes later I had soup. Twenty minutes later, I had THIS soup with a hearty thick texture. The meatballs were so tender and flavorful. DJ Nevah L8 asked for some parmesan cheese but I reminded him about all the cheese already in the broth and in the meatballs. He agreed that I was right, the soup didn't need it.

Result: Damn good and satisfying. A hearty soup, especially one with pasta and meatballs, is ALWAYS a good option for a snow day. And La Diva was happy to have salvaged the dumpling disaster without wasting a thing! I find a nice bowl of a hearty soup with substance to be the perfect comfort food after being in the snow or cold. Add some nice warm bread and buttah and the warm-your-insides (and outsides!) meal is complete.

Ciao for now and don't forget to visit the Great Shamu at Karmic Kitchen this Sunday! Ciao, darlings, 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

CSA Mystery Box 1-9-10

Hello darlings! I just LOVE Saturdays and picking up my CSA box! It's like Christmas every week although I do know that some of you think to yourself: "What the heck am I going to do with all of these vegetables?"

Honestly, La Diva has to sometimes REALLY push herself to come up with ways to creatively use all the produce within a week. It's challenging as I am trying to keep the meals healthy and low fat and naturally I don't want to go to the grocery for even more produce (if I don't have to.)

It's kind of like playing the brainiac tv show Jeopardy: I am making the ol' brain work hard to keep all of this in mind and come up with new dishes or try to remember dishes from past season. Thank goodness for the new search button on my blog!

So, here's the quick run-down from last week's share.

That big ol' tomato that I still had from the week before last was just crying out to be made into a lovely sauce. I cut it up into chunks and slow roasted it and along with some grape tomatoes I had (that were just starting to shrivel.) Slow roasting is super easy and brings all the natural sugars out. I added some rosemary sprigs, cut onion slices and garlic cloves and drizzled olive oil over the entire pan and roasted on a low temperature (220 F) for a few hours. Then into the food processor it went! I cooked the sauce on the stove a while longer and added a heaping tablespoon of home-made pesto I had left over and then pureed the sauce again. I used the sauce to top spinach and cheese stuffed shells for a hearty satisfying meal that works perfectly for a no-meat meal. (No, it's not my photo. I took this dish to a friend's for dinner and we served it up and ate it so quick, I had no time to shoot it!)

La Diva was a greedy little piggy and used the handful of oyster mushrooms sauteed with a bit of dill over toasted bagel halves! Yes, I could have bought more mushrooms and really made a star dish out of it but I'm not into buying MORE produce. Besides, eating mushrooms on toast for breakfast is a little habit I got into while living in Australia. I really enjoy it as a savory substitute for eggs. (the grapefruit was from the share before last.)

The dill is so difficult for me to utilize! It goes off so quickly and you really can't dry it, it ends up tasting like grass. Anyone have any ideas how I may preserve it better? I made a quick creamy dill dressing with mayo, plain yogurt, minced garlic and lemon and used that for salads.

The beets were roasted and topped with fresh dill in a feta and walnut side salad accompanied by a lamb steak made from lamb shoulder. I will not buy those again, they were soooo fatty. I wish the grocers here in the States would stock the lamb backstrap cut like they do in Australia. Imagine a nice, tender lean lamb strip like a pork tenderloin? Delightful, tasty and without all the fat! But because here in America or in the "land of waste" we just get all the prime parts of the lamb imported (like the chops) from New Zealand and Australia, so most of the lamb isn't even butchered here!

The dill was utilized again along with a few of the roma tomatoes and half of the cabbage head in an earthy, comforting European-styled casserole of pork chop, potato, cabbage, tomatoes and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Mmmm....perfect warm-your-insides food for the chilly days we had in Miami! (lowest temps in a decade and down to the 40's! That's unheard of!) Keep in mind when buying the pork to get the cut with the bone and a bit of fat. Mine were too lean and still a bit tough after an hour of cooking!

Thumbs UP! My fave meal of the week was home-made mojo criollo* marinated skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, mashed potatoes (with more parsley!), sweet plantain and old-fashioned coleslaw using the last half of the cabbage!

Believe it or not, the parsley from the share before was still in good form. So, what else to do with the herb but make a chimichurri sauce? Used extensively with Argentine barbeque, the sauce has about as many variations as good ol' bolognese. I picked this recipe because this is how I like my sauce. The home-made chimichurri was REALLY green and earthy and delicious! I have to admit, until I made it at home, La Diva was not a huge fan of it. Probably because every time I've had it, there was always WAAAY too much vinegar and who the heck wants to put vinegar on lovely grilled beef? Not me! The sauce will last a few days in the fridge and can be used it over chicken, fish or veggies!

*a simple marinade used in Caribbean cooking with sour orange juice, lime, garlic, oregano, ground cumin, olive oil. I also use the Goya brand pre-made.

The black sapote is ripe NOW so I better think of something to do with it quick or peel it and freeze the paste till I have time to ponder a recipe for it!

Oops! I forgot to credit Marian for this photo! She goes to the farm and takes them each week for the CSA box. Click on the photo to take you to her blog, she's got a post about the farm and what they do during these cold snaps!

CSA mystery half-share box 1-9-10:

  • green beans
  • bok choy
  • 3 green peppers (!)
  • komatsuna
  • French breakfast radishes with green tops (2 bunches!)
  • eggplants (2 small)
  • betel leaf
  • canistel
Woo-hee, it's gettin' tough already to come up with ideas quick-smart! I am a bit lost as to what to do with the green beans besides just eating them steamed with butter and salt. Yes, I could put them in soup or a casserole or a curry but I must admit, I just like my green beans plain and on the side! (I'm wondering how the rest of the chimichurri might be on the beans? hmmm....)

Bok choy is going to be stir fried, perhaps with a green pepper and the komatsuna? With chicken or beef? I remember liking the komatsuna last year...enter it into my search button for some more ideas! (The pepper steak with komatsuna combo is a real winner!)

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THE FREAKIN' GREEN PEPPERS? hmmm.....I'm not a huge fan of them and along with beets, radishes and turnips, La Diva is LEARNING TO LIKE THEM! haha! Any ideas are appreciated, I still have not stuffed them and these are not too big so that's an option!

Last season I made the mistake of wasting a lot of the greens that came with the tops of beets, radishes and turnips by not washing and using them before they wilted. Today I chopped them off the radish and washed them to be used TONIGHT! I'm thinking of a pasta with roasted radish and saute the greens with loads of garlic and a fruity olive oil. I just saw Mario Batali cook some white radish on Iron Chef, so I'm going to give cooking the radish a shot too. I suggest using all the greens as soon as you can.

With two nice sized eggplants, La Diva thinks its time once again to make me a nice caponata. And La Diva makes a mean one! (Click on the link to see my recipe.) Caponata is a very old and traditional Sicilian dish made from eggplant (like an Italian pickle) and is great to have on hand for unexpected company and as a savory snack served with crackers or served over fish (especially grilled tuna steak), chicken or rice!

The canistel or egg fruit will take a bit to ripen and I'm eager to eat them again! Such a mellow and strange flavor.....My coconut canistel muffins are da bomb!

And last, those nasty little betel leaves! haha! THIS TIME I'm going to cook the little buggers and not make the same mistake I did before, leaving them raw and unedible in a salad! I'm thinking I might wrap something in them??

That's it for today and I think that's quite enough! Fellow Miami CSA peeps, time to come forth and COMMENT! Ciao, darlings, La Diva can't wait to hear from you!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: LEEKS!

Eeeks leeks!

Darlings, La Diva is thinking of changing her name. Yep. I'm going to start calling myself:

La Diva "I-had-the-best-of-intentions!" Cucina. Because it seems lately, more often than not, that's what I find myself thinking and saying, especially when it comes to spreading my culinary wings.

I think I'm in a recipe rut and am truly feeling uninspired lately. Seems all I can think to make anymore is: risotto/soup/stew/stir fries. Yes, they are delicious but they are also dishes that I'm waaaay too comfortable with because they are all essentially one pot meals.

Take, for example, this culinary throwdown for leeks. I LOVE leeks. La Diva was excited. La Diva had ideas. But when it came time to execute, Dismal Failure reared its ugly head again. Sigh.

Ok, I'm REALLY being too hard on myself and being a bit of a drama queen (I AM a diva after all!) The dish did not fail, it was transformed from a dish that was kind of "okay" and a bit "safe" to begin with, into a dish that definitely was boring and predictable and one that I make on a regular basis. So much for challenging myself and taking a culinary leap off the edge!

When our last culinary throwdown winner, Allison from Tales from La La Land, picked leeks as the ingredient for the next throwdown, I had myriad ideas in my head but nothing solid. I took a gander at my cookbooks for inspiration and still, nothing really jumped out or made me think "Wow, I want to try that!"

Leeks in a terrine? No good, too many spring veggies that are not in season. Leeks served cold in a vinaigrette? Too boring. Braised leeks? PEDESTRIAN! Where's the challenge in that for a Diva? Oooh, how about in a gratin?! YUM! Yes! Sounds faboo but aren't you on a diet and do you really need to eat anything with more cream, cheese and breadcrumbs? Sigh. Okay, what else?

I found the recipe or Oyster Soup with Frizzled Leeks on Epicurious from 2003 AND in my new Gourmet cookbook that Ruth Reichl INSISTED was full of NEW recipes. A creamy little white lie, perhaps?

Ah yes, HERE'S WHAT I REALLY WANT TO TRY: Oyster soup with frizzled Leeks from Gourmet. Yes! I've been wanting to try making frizzled leeks and leeks are in the soup too, not just a garnish so, YUM, I'm in! But then La Diva notices that the recipe calls for a cup of cream, butter and SIX DOZEN OYSTERS and is enough for eight people. WAH! Yeah, I could cut the recipe in half but again, do I need to make double portions of something so rich in the New Year? (When you have a wedding to go to in less than two months and nothing fits in your Diva closet?!) Back to the drawing board...

Mushroom leek soup? Too mushroomy, I want LEEKS to be the star. And then, into my inbox comes David Leibovitz's recipe for potato leek soup. Perfectly timed.

But no. I've made that soup a hundred times and honestly, I've made three soups/stews in the last two weeks. NEXT! On to Epicurious I go....

How about this lovely recipe for Leek Fennel and Poppy Seed Tart? YES! Yes, I shall make a cheeky, leeky tart! Full of vegetables, only a cup of whole milk and a quarter cup of parmesan cheese on puff pastry. Not too bad calorie-wise! So, off on my little Diva bike I ride to get the leeks and other ingredients and get to the store and see NO LEEKS. Damn. Do I really want to make another trip to a grocery store on Sunday? NO! (You all just know how La Diva LOATHES going to the grocery store on a Sunday!)

I come home and look at the recipe again and just notice the six reviews. Uh oh. Four out of six are bad!

"run of the mill"



"soggy crust"

were some of the comments made. Sheesh. La Diva better re-evaluate this. So, I decide to change the recipe around and trade in the puff pastry for some pie crust. Back to another grocery store I go and this time, yes, SUCCESS, they have leeks a' plenty!

I made the crust in a 12 inch tart pan and then put the sliced leeks and fennel into a pan to roast on 450 degrees for a half hour. Already changing the recipe, I added olive oil as well as a bit of butter the recipe called for, knowing the veggies would stick otherwise on the high heat. I also had to take them out and turn them a few times otherwise the vegetables would burn. The recipe failed to tell you this but I roast my vegetables on high heat all the time and knew the delicate fennel and leeks would surely blacken beyond caramelizing on 450 without turning them once in a half hour! (Ruth Reichl was soo right when she said there are a lot of bad, untested recipes out there!)

So, the veggies come out to cool and this is just about where the Epicurious recipe ends and La Diva's recipe begins. To the veggies I added some crumbled bacon, used cream instead of milk (because I had it in the fridge and didn't want to waste it, God forbid, I THROW OUT a bit of cream! OY!) and used Jarlsberg cheese (again, because I had it) along with a bit of parmesan instead of just using the parmesan cheese. I omitted the poppy seeds altogether. So, in essence, my leek fennel poppy seed tart has really just morphed into a classic quiche, a mix of traditional quiche Lorraine and a leek quiche. Meh. Not quite the adventurous use of leeks I was looking for. Ah well, I started out with the best of intentions.

Click on the photo to take you to a really easy and delish recipe I made last season for creamed leeks and greens, a perfect side for steak!

So, how did it all taste? It was okay. I say okay because, usually I would use Gruyere cheese and found the Jarlsberg to be super bland in comparison. The taste was so subtle as to almost be a waste of calories and fat. (Honeychile, if La Diva is eating cheese, I want to TASTE the cheese! It's like eating cold french fries: what's the point?!) The leek and fennel combination was really very lovely and the subtle anise flavor of the fennel was just divine; I think the combo would make a great side braised and served with some fish. However, I don't think I was able to eek any more flavor or sweetness out of the vegetables by roasting them as opposed to simply sautéing them on the stove. I thought the roasting step to be too time consuming for the result produced. Besides, some of the reviewers suggested adding wine to the veggies for more flavor. Sounds good to me.

And as for the calories? With the addition of shortcrust, bacon, butter, cream, olive oil, cheese and eggs, I'm CERTAIN that the stupid Leek Fennel Poppy Seed Tart cum Quiche Lorraine Roasted Fennel Leek Quiche was even MORE CALORIES AND SATURATED FAT than the stupid oyster soup! DOH! (I hate when that happens!)

See what I mean? I started out with the best of intentions....

Dare I go back up to the shop for more leeks and try another recipe? No. I can't. I have an entire CSA produce box to get through and more will be here yet again on Saturday! Which brings me to my next point: I'm not sure I'll be participating in any more throwdowns in the near future. I have too many veggies that I've already paid for to be going back up to the market to get even more! (I'll do my best though as you know I have a competitive spirit!)

Cheeky leeky roasted peeky fennel quichie!

So, here's my entry and judge me if you will: Roasted Leek and Fennel Quiche. Meh. I hope the rest of you had more inspiring dishes! And thank you, Allison, for hosting the culinary throwdown! (Click HERE to take you over to see what Mizz La La Land and the others came up with!)

I googled 'fat diva' and this is what came up! Haha!

So, there you have it. An uninspired Diva. A dieting Diva. A depressed Diva. Okay, I'm really just kidding about being depressed but I need a SHOT of something as I just can't seem to get out of my recipe rut. On the positive side, La Diva recently acquired two new cookbooks (Gourmet TODAY and Yvonne Ortiz's "A Taste of Puerto Rico") and borrowed "Spain: A Culinary Trip" by Mario Batali from my neighbor as well as was given four more over the last year I've barely looked at. Time to get out of the comfort zone and embrace new challenges! 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

CSA Mystery Box 1-2-10

Hello darlings! How was your New Year's Eve? La Diva's was FABULOUS! I bet you think I was out in South Beach, partying up a storm at some delightful club don't you? Nuh-uh. I was working at a private dinner party for ten in the penthouse of the Murano Grande on South Beach. Yeah-uh. The penthouse had exquisite, sweeping views west towards the beautiful skyline of downtown Miami and the Port of Miami. Just below, gorgeous LED-lit yachts docked at the Miami Beach Marina illuminated the bay's water with vibrant blue, green and fuchsia. To the north there were views of the city of Miami Beach; the apartment provided excellent vistas for all firework and blue moon viewing!

We are pretty lucky down here on the beach as we get fireworks from all directions and have multiple shows going at once. La Diva was delighted to take a break at midnight and watch the throngs and fireworks from the comfort of the 31st floor! Poor DJ Nevah L8 wasn't quite so lucky as he was spinning at a restaurant in the ultra-crazy-busy Lincoln Road street mall. He loved it though and had masses of revelers dancing in front of the restaurant!

Well, it's been TWO WHOLE WEEKS since we got our last share as there was no share for Christmas weekend and I just picked up another share yesterday. But first, let's recap the failures and successes of the last mystery box.

Italian squash stew, a family recipe. It ain't pretty, but it's damn good!

Yellow squash and zucchini turned into Italian Squash Stew: Thumbs UP!

Recipe REMIX

Well, remember how I told you about veggie soup I made at the end of the week to use up all the green beans and the rest of the produce? I realized that those same vegetables make up half of the ingredients for my Italian squash stew. So, I browned ground turkey, garlic, added a shake of Italian spices and a bit of chicken broth, kidney beans and the squash. After the squash was almost cooked I added the left over soup (green beans, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes) and voilà, vegetable bean soup was transformed into zee squash stew! I tossed in the rest of some spinach at the last minute, served it over an al dente rigatoni, grated some parmesan cheese and it became a completely different meal. Since it was a bit chilly out that night, the squash stew was welcoming and warming for the body and soul. (Ok, so it was in the 60's. THAT IS chilly for Miami!)

Corn meal two ways: white grits with collard and turnip greens and turnips with polenta-crusted tilapia fish.

Collard greens, turnips and turnip greens turned into: Collard greens and grits. Thumbs UP!

I have to say, La Diva was very concerned about this dish, especially when considering the MUSH factor as we certainly had our fair share of mushy dishes the week before last! While I love it, big bear man DJ Nevah L8 is not a huge fan of polenta, so La Diva was not too sure how he'd take to eating grits. When I make something with that consistency, I try to pair it with food that is satiating and crunchy to off-set the soft texture in order to keep the big fella happy!

This combo worked like a charm and the compliments flew. At Troll's suggestion, I made the collard greens with the addition of the turnip greens and the turnip root and coincidentally, just read in my new Gourmet cookbook only the night before about the turnip/collard green combo! Paired it with some spicy polenta-crusted fish (Simply marinate fish in Louisiana hot sauce and then bread in seasoned corn meal or polenta) and DJ Nevah L8 was "on it like white on rice!"

Green pepper: White chicken chili turned chile verde turned yummy bean dip with cheese snacky-poo!

Recipe REMIX

I love recipes that morph into more than one dish like taking the vegetable soup and turning it into a hearty stew! As I thought about what to do with my HUGE green pepper, I thought about how good they are in chili. I make a simple white chicken chili that has a few jalapenos in it and thought about using the green pepper as well. I would usually chop up onions, celery and jalapenos and saute them after browning the chicken. But this time, I browned chopped chicken thighs and then into my new food processor added all the veggies, including an entire green pepper, and pureed it and then added it to the browned chicken thighs. I cooked this for a bit, added my beans, oregano and broth and this turned my WHITE CHICKEN CHILI into a GREEN CHICKEN CHILI and darlings, let me tell you, it was DIVINE. (yes, chili can be divine!)

Second recipe remix: after eating leftovers, I turn this chili into a tasty dip. Just heat up in a pot and puree, chicken and all, with an immersion blender, put into a bowl and top with green salsa and cheese and serve with tortilla chips! YUM.

Avocado and grapefruit: Avocado and grapefruit salad with feta and grilled shrimp dressed with pomegranate seeds and dressing: Thumbs UP!

We ate this for dinner the day after Christmas and boy, did those crunchy, wet greens and juicy grapefruit taste good after all the heavy, rich and salty food I'd had for the week of Christmas! I simply marinated the shrimp in Old Bay, fresh orange juice, garlic and olive oil and grilled 'em up. A very tasty and refreshing combo that works well with the creamy avocado and feta, tart pomegranate seeds and grapefruit and the succulent garlic shrimp.

Two days after Christmas, I was still craving fresh, crunchy vegetables and lighter fare, so I used the rest of the squash in a chicken and peanut stir fry.

As we had been eating out soooo much the last two weeks, I never did get to use the huge tomato and parsley! Perhaps a bruschetta or some tomato sauce? I'll let you know, both are still good (for now.) Overall, I was very happy with how all the dishes came out this week, but especially the greens and grits as I've NEVER made them before. And now that La Diva can call herself a "Suthunah," I should think about adding this dish to my regular recipe repertoire.

Photo courtesy of Marian from Redland Rambles blog. (Go on, click on the photo to go to her site!)

CSA Mystery half-share box for 1-2-10:

  1. Green cabbage
  2. Dill
  3. Roma tomatoes
  4. Black sapote
  5. Oyster mushrooms
  6. Beets (assorted varieties)
  7. Leaf lettuce (not pictured, but I think you know what it looks like!)
Well, seeing as La Diva REALLY EMBRACED the holiday season this year, I found myself saying "yes, please!" more often than "no, thank you!" I enjoyed lashings of Christmas Kringle pecan danish from Wisconsin, Italian panettone French toast, Christmas cookies by the dozen, chocolates truffles, smoked bbq pulled pork, three cheese scalloped potatoes, cocktail party food and wine, cocktails, cocktails, cocktails and a divine bottle of smoky Johnny Walker Blue Scotch. (Thanks Jamie!) Ah, yes, La Diva did not know the word "moderation" this holiday season and I totally enjoyed it without ONE OUNCE OF GUILT!

But now, I find I have to lighten up and dry out, La Diva has got to look super-sharp for a wedding in February! So, to further add to the challenge of "what to do" with my mystery box every week, I also want to "keep it light!" Any ideas would be MOST WELCOME! (especially for those darn beets and the fresh dill!)

Off the top of my head:

  • Lightly sauteed oyster mushrooms on some toasted sour dough or ciabatta bread for breakfast. These mushies look too good to mix with anything else and I only have a handful.

  • Beets: Since I discovered last season how darn sweet and tasty these earthy root veggies (that I used to just LOATHE!) can be just by roasting them, I'm going to do exactly that and toss them into a salad with feta and the leaf lettuce for dinner one night. And then what about the rest? I'll have to take a wander around the Web to get some inspiration.
  • Dill: So many things to do with this wonderfully aromatic herb but it wilts and fades so quickly! Perhaps I can use it freshly chopped and turned into sour cream or yogurt dressing and drizzled over the roasted beets? Or with glazed carrots? Or maybe in a lovely home made mayonnaise spooned over cool, poached salmon?
  • Green cabbage: I'm thinking a really tasty, healthy Asian-inspired omelet stuffed with stir-fried cabbage, bean sprouts and snow peas? And, I might even do an Asian slaw with it too.
  • Roma tomatoes are a bit under-ripe as Farmer Margie was worried about a frost coming. (It's supposed to get down to the 40's, pretty cold for the tropics!) I'll let them ripen and I think I'm going to make a savory sauce out of them to be used Pizza? Spaghetti? Or how about with some yummy polpettine? I'm glad to get some produce that doesn't have to be eaten right away!
  • The black sapote will need to sit and ripen a while before I decide what to make with it but last year I made some really tasty oat bars courtesy of Tinkering with Dinner. I added a bit of powdered chocolate to enhance its chocolate pudding qualities. Seeing as this is one of those tropical fruits that I'd never even tried until last season, I look forward to experimenting more with this exotic delight. When ripe, it has a texture like chocolate pudding, but like carob, don't be fooled! It certainly isn't chocolate or taste like chocolate but is mellow, creamy and mild, hence the choc pudding comparison.
Of course, I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions, don't hold back, especially you fellow Miamians doing the CSA. (my but you're a shy bunch!) Ciao, darlings!

(Don't see a link to some of the recipes? You can do a search on the box at the top right!)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