Meatless Mondays: Stir-fried Tofu, Cashews and Asian Vegetables in a Thai-style sauce



Darlings!  There are people out there that say that the amount of meat we consume on this planet is not good for the environment.  The beef  industry people say "Phooey, not true!"  The environmentalists insist it IS true.  What's a Diva to believe?  It is certainly a subject that begs for further investigation as well as the question:


Can you eat meat and still support the environment?


It's a question that La Diva struggles with in my attempt to get at "the truth."




Fortunately, I have found a recent article talking about just that.  It's an interview with Nicolette Hahn Niman, yes, THAT NIMAN from NIMAN Ranch.  Oh, not familiar with them?  When La Diva lived in California, I was introduced to their lovely, sustainably raised and high quality meats when I worked at Chef Norman Van Aken's wild west outpost "Normans" on Sunset Boulevard.  Additionally, the most  delicious and nitrate-free Niman Ranch bacon was sold at my beloved Trader Joes.  (Gawd, I wish TJ's would come to Flo-duh and give Publix a run for their money!)

You all know La Diva loves meat and thinks that eating high quality, organic meat (with the least amount of processing)  is vital to a well-balanced diet.  La Diva also loves bacon, salami, sausage, chorizo, pancetta, prosciutto, jamon, etc, etc. and believe that eating it (in moderation) to be one of the joys of life!  I, for one, DON'T believe that "everyone turning vegetarian" will save the planet or even be viable.  So, if you've been pondering how one can be a meat lover AND support the environment, read on. 

(Printed in its entirety from the Huffington Post website, including links)


"Can You Eat Meat and Still Say You Support the Environment?  
A Q and A with Rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman"  

by Chris Elam 
Program Director Meatless Monday


"The signs are everywhere. People are starting to quietly wonder, and to ask, even to demand information about where the food on their plate comes from. The truth too often is as unsettling as it is eye-opening, considering the rampant rise of factory farming. The question remains, though: are there other options available to us? Other less harmful systems we can support? Or, well, are we as a nation headed for Burger Armageddon?

In my quest to speak with experts directly involved with these matters, I thought to go to the source: ranchers. By ordering that steak, or hitting the drive-thru for that bag of burgers, who and what are we actually supporting? Following on from there, what advice could help those of us who live several steps removed from the food system?

I went to my friend, Ralph Loglisci, former Communications Director for the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and now Project Director for the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project. The timing was right as he'd spoken just recently with Nicolette Hahn Niman for the Livable Future Blog and Civil Eats.   She and her husband Bill run the BN Ranch in Northern California near the seaside, raising beef cattle on pasture as well as heritage turkeys. Bill founded the famous Niman Ranch Inc. known for its sustainable and humanely raised meats. Nicolette is a Renaissance woman of sorts -- new mom, writer, rancher and environmental lawyer.

Ralph Loglisci: You wrote an interesting piece in The Atlantic recently entitled "Can Meat Eaters Also Be Environmentalists?" Well, can they?

Nicolette Hahn Niman: Yes, definitely. The idea that it's a contradiction to be a meat eater and an environmentalist is a misunderstanding of the most ecologically sound food production systems - which, in my view, definitely involve animals. There's been a lot of media attention concerning the idea that meat production is environmentally damaging. That's because of bad practices that are rampant, such as total confinement systems with liquefied manure, use of hormones and feeding of antibiotics. Most of the meat being consumed in the United States today is being produced in environmentally damaging ways. The evidence is now irrefutable: these practices endanger the environment and public health.

I've been doing a lot of research into the role that animals play in rebuilding soils. And how grazing pastures are far better than any other agricultural land use in terms of erosion and in carbon sequestration. One thing I've become convinced of is that the best farming mimics nature. Natural ecosystems are all built on the relationships of sunshine, water, plants and animals. So, I would say that, actually, the most environmentally sound diet includes some meat, dairy and eggs.

RL: If that's so, are there ways to avoid industrially produced foods?


NHN: I wrote a thorough article in the Huffington Post on this topic back in November, which I'll try to summarize in a few words. The most important thing is to get closer to the source of your food. Try to learn how and where your food was produced. The easiest ways to do this are to try to buy directly from farmers through farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs [CSAs], farm stands and any place where you can get food directly from a farmer. Even so, I still encourage people to talk with the farmer about how the food is being produced, don't assume it's being raised in the way you want it to be.

I also think that growing some of your own food is a great way to get out of the industrial system. You can start a vegetable garden, even if you just have a terrace or a fire escape with a flowerpot with some tomatoes and some herbs. And if you have a yard, why not grow a garden, maybe with a flock of egg-laying hens? I think it makes a big difference to just start taking baby-steps away from the industrial food system.

Eating is something most of us tend to do without much thought. But the more you start paying attention to it, the more you realize it's something worth investing time in. Building delicious, healthy meals ends up being something that's incredibly rewarding and not a chore.



 This is just the kind of cr*p being offered that La Diva finds repulsive on a number of levels.  Burger King Japan’s 7-layered Whopper for Windows 7 release last October via "THIS IS WHY YOU'RE FAT."

RL: What's your advice for people who'd rather not eat industrially produced foods, but are limited either by higher costs or easy access?

NHN: Well, that's challenging because the whole industrial model has been successful at creating food that's cheap in terms of its cost at the grocery checkout. But our food is also cheap in the other sense of the word. It's lacking in quality -- these days it's less nutritious, less safe and less healthful than ever before. 

Generally you pay more for food raised on traditional and/or organic farms. Here again, raising some of your own food to the extent possible is one way to eat good food affordably. Also, doing more of your own cooking and baking as opposed to buying prepared foods. Whole ingredients tend to be cheaper than prepared foods. Also, eating fruits and vegetables when they're in season. You really notice this when buying directly from farmers, because in the season of plenty they usually have more than they can handle and the prices are lower. 

When you're talking about meat, learning how to use some of the less popular cuts (which are no less flavorful or nutritious), is a great way to save money. My husband Bill, who really knows meat, always talks about this. He says some of the tastiest, most nutritious cuts of meat are some of the most underappreciated. They're often a lot cheaper.

RL: Continuing with positive options, the Meatless Monday campaign of moderation, cutting back just one day a week, has erroneously come under attack for promoting the demise of all meat production. As a rancher yourself, what would you say to people -- to farmers even -- threatened by the campaign?

NHN: Bill and I are very supportive of the Meatless Monday campaign. Here's why: we think that to really improve the way food is being produced, and the way people are eating in this country, people should eat less meat and also better meat. All food from animals -- meat, dairy, fish, eggs -- should be treated as something special. Anyone raising food animals in the traditional healthy way without relying on industrial methods, drugs and chemicals, is someone who will benefit from people embracing this approach.


We think Meatless Monday is part of a shift in attitude about meat. Towards something that is precious, not something consumed without thought, or in enormous quantities.




RL: And finally, you've gained a great deal of praise for your book,"Righteous Porkchop, Finding A Life And Good Food Beyond Factory Farms." Michael Pollan is quoted as saying your book is, 'A searing, and utterly convincing, indictment of modern meat production. But the book brims with hope, too, and charts a practical (and even beautiful) path out of the jungle.' Instead of focusing on the indictment part, could you tell me more about the hope he mentioned?

NHN: Yes, I like focusing on the hope, too. A lot of my book is about farmers doing things the right way from the standpoint of the environment, animal welfare and human health. I firmly believe that it's a myth that this country cannot feed itself with traditional, non-industrialized farming. A lot of my book is dedicated to disproving that myth, and proving that traditional, sustainable farms are economically viable. 

But I think it's really important to keep in mind that our country is heavily subsidizing with public dollars the current form of industrial agriculture. If we really want a sustainable healthful food system, we need to take the dollars we're putting into agriculture and shift it towards good methods. I support the use of public funds for agriculture - but I don't understand why we're not putting it towards a food system that is environmentally benign and producing healthy food."



My Meatless Monday dish is:  

Stir-fried Tofu, Cashews and Asian Vegetables in a Thai-Style Sauce!



Darlings, here's a meal that you definitely won't miss the meat in!  Now that the Southern Florida growing season is over,  La Diva has joined Annies Organic Buying Club where I get a bi-weekly box of seasonal, organic vegetables.  This week's box was chock full of Asian veggies, so this stir fry included:  carrots, daikon radish, baby bok choy, zucchini, shitake mushrooms, sweet corn and green onions!  I also added some snow peas I already had.  Additionally,  I used a firm, cubed tofu and I always like to throw in some cashews for added crunchiness and protein!

Want to give my Thai style sauce a go?  Of course you do darlings, it's SO EASY and has all the Thai flavors you love:  sweet, spicy, sour and salty!   In a mortar, blender or food processor combine:

2-3 cloves garlic
1 small jalapeno or Thai red chili
1/2 c cilantro
2 T dark brown sugar (or palm sugar) 
juice of one lime
2 T soy sauce
2 T shrimp paste
1/2 inch knob of grated ginger
2 T water 

Blend until smooth and pour over stirfry at the very end and continue cooking for another minute. Serve over the steamed rice of your choice. 

DEE-LISH, darlings and Big Guy Approved!  The sauce has a nice tang and balance of flavor without too much spice or sweetness and bright citrus note from the lime and cilantro.  The tofu adds satiety to the dish and the cashews add extra crunch along with the "just cooked" veggies.  Believe me, you'll want seconds of this dish and why not?  It's low fat and full of fiber!

And, darlings, what did you think of what Nicolette has to say?  La Diva thinks her viewpoint makes sense.  I particularly liked her comments about the respect we should think about giving to the meat we eat, that it is precious and not to be consumed  without thought or in enormous quantities.  'Zactly!   I suggest you read her other article linked on this post, it really gives you "food for thought!"  Darlings, I'd love to hear your opinions on this.   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, www.ladivacucina.com, top chef
 

Manuka Honey is the Nectar of the Gods!


This honey blend is what I brought back from Australia and is not considered an "active" bacterial honey but it SHO' DOES TASTE GOOD!

Darlings!  La Diva is EXHAUSTED.  It's been one of those times where I've been working very hard on my business (and most times without pay but for PR)   And even though marketing, designing and conducting the weekly classes at the gourmet market has been great on many levels, it's taken up most of my time.  Also, I have had a sore throat every day for a month.  In the last three months, I've been sick for six weeks, been to the doctor three times, spent $400 on meds and three weeks in bed and am OVER IT. 

I've barely had time to write a blog or even check out your blogs.  The picnic throwdown almost sent me over the edge and I really should have begged off.  And then, my 18-year-old-I-think-I-am-grown-up-and-know-everything-except-how-to-print-my-own-boarding-pass-auntie-can-you-help-me-?-niece has been in town for a week and in between carting her around, I am working on a video to submit for yet another contest to have my own show on Oprah's new channel. 

Diva's been busier than a centipede in a toe countin' contest. And I don't even have kids.  Or a dog.  Or chickens.  Or a garden.  Whew.

But Diva must prevail and I am so sick of being sick.  What's a Diva to do?   I've been finding it helpful to take daily spoonfuls of manuka honey blend from New Zealand.  Before I went to Australia, I was watching a television show about bees and their sad plight and how they are disappearing. A New Zealand beekeeper claimed that manuka honey is the purest honey in the world and it caught Diva's interest!  I can believe it.  New Zealand is pretty isolated, not densely populated and has acres of pristine wilderness.

So, when I went to Australia, I HAD to get some manuka honey.   Now I know honey has healing properties.  I also know that it is an antibacterial, good for wounds and will never go bad.  La Diva knows honey has been used medicinally for centuries.  But what I didn't know is that you can buy it at the health food store in different strengths of antibacterial activity at 10+, 15+ or 20+. 


 

Here's what Comvita honey says about their product:  

"Comvita Manuka Honey is sourced from New Zealand's remote, pollution free native forests and is world renowned for its unique flavour. Comvita Manuka Honeys for both the table and the first aid cabinet are tested for the unique antibacterial properties which make New Zealand Manuka honey famous.

The NZ Honey Association has registered UMF® as a trademark so that the antibacterial activity of Manuka honey cannot be misrepresented. The UMF® number comes from a laboratory test for antibacterial activity, with the honey being compared with a standard reference antiseptic (phenol) for potency. UMF® 20+ would be equivalent in antiseptic potency to a 20% solution of phenol.

Manuka Honey which is tested and proven to have the UMF® (Unique Manuka Factor) is labelled accordingly.

To read research results on the effectiveness of this product, please (click here).

Contrary to popular belief, one of the best ways to heal a wound is to keep it moist – not dry, use Medihoney Antibacterial Medical Honey. Our Medihoney range is based on Medical Grade honey that has been sterilised for use on wounds.

Use only as directed. If symptoms persist, consult your healthcare professional."

 Apparently, you can buy the active manuka honey right here in the United States and I found a website that sells it from Orlando, Florida.  Click here.  I'm also pretty sure I've seen it for sale at Whole Foods Markets.





Yep, this is what manuka honey looks like!

Meanwhile, La Diva has been taking a spoonful of the honey each and every day.  The taste is unusual and not like any I've had before...sweet, naturally, but sort of....citrus-like with many floral layers.  In fact, I find it almost impossible to describe but very easy to eat!  I'm not sure if the manuka honey actually helped in healing my sore throat but certainly has made me feel better!  (as eating anything delicious usually does!)  And now, I have a chance to SLOW DOOOOOOWN and take care of other aspects of my business and life I've been neglecting.

Check out New Zealand's manuka honey the next time you are at a natural food or gourmet market, darlings, it is unique and good for you and the flavor is divine!


Ciao for now!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

Meatless Mondays: Quick Skillet Supper!

Organic free-range eggs bought in a Sydney supermarket.  No, La Diva didn't draw the little smiley face on the egg, she bought them that way and it made her smile too!


Darlings! 

I quite often cook eggs for dinner in various forms and find them quite comforting as a meal.  Many people in other countries don't eat eggs for breakfast but enjoy them mostly at lunch or dinner.  I wonder why Americans only think about eating eggs for breakfast? La Diva loves eggs for dinner and because it's something I always have on hand,  eggs can make a cost-effective and filling dinner!  A savory omelet, quiche or frittata with a side salad makes a quick weeknight dinner.

Over the years, eggs were given a bad rap and blamed for high cholesterol.  I'm glad that is no longer the popular belief.   Here's a bit more egg info La Diva found:

  • The egg is a low-calorie powerhouse. “The egg is a great source of nutrition and especially brain food,” says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, author of The Instinct Diet and professor of nutrition at the USDA Nutrition Center at Tufts University in Boston. “With only 80 calories per large egg and a useful 6 grams of protein, it can be scrambled or even fried with just a dab of butter and still come in at under 100 calories.”
  • Eggs have vitamins and other nutrients. Besides providing protein (making you feel full longer), an egg supplies many essential nutrients including vitamin A, the B vitamins B-12, riboflavin, and folacin, and the minerals iron, phosphorus, and zinc, along with choline and DHA, essential nutrients for brain health.
  • The egg has less cholesterol than we thought. It turns out early tests measured falsely high for the amount of cholesterol in an egg, unfairly giving it a bad rap. According to recent research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one large egg has 213 milligrams of cholesterol. Testing is also under way in the egg industry to see if that amount can be further reduced.
  • Egg whites can be part of your daily menu. It’s best to eat no more than three or four whole eggs per week, but egg whites have only 15 calories per egg, no cholesterol, and no saturated fat, so dieters can eat as many as they want. Not only that, egg whites taste better than store-bought egg substitutes.
  • Eggs make a great weekend breakfast. “One great role eggs can play is in making weekend food seem special without overdosing on calories,” says Dr. Roberts. “For example, scrambled eggs and whole-wheat toast or a fried egg and Canadian bacon on Sunday morning can become a special weekend breakfast without adding anything to calories beyond a regular weekday cereal meal.”
  • Eggs are an inexpensive protein source. Eggs are economical, especially when compared to steak or even a hamburger.
  • Eggs aren’t only for breakfast. “Think like the French and don’t dismiss eggs as a great dinner food,” says Roberts. “It takes a mere couple of minutes to whip up an omelet, so you can keep eggs in the fridge for quick dinners when you get home and are too tired to cook or go out. A two-egg omelet with a slice of whole-wheat toast and an apple or orange is a great weight control meal.”


Skillet Eggs Deuce with Spinach and Potatoes



 Simply slice two small potatoes and fry in a skillet with olive oil until brown. (nuke 'em for a minute or two first to expedite the cooking!)  Season the potatoes with salt, pepper and a bit of paprika and garlic salt.   Once both sides are cooked through, throw a handful of fresh spinach on top.  Once it begins to wilt, break two eggs over the lot and cook for another five minutes or until eggs are cooked as desired.  Salt and pepper and serve with buttered toast.  Mmmmmmm...simple and satistying, a favorite, La Diva comfort meal!


KUDOS TO BUFFALODICK FOR HIS MEATLESS MEAL LAST WEEK:   Cheesey broccoli casserole.  You can check it out HERE.

 Ciao for now, darlings!cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment, www.ladivacucina.com, top chef

Culinary Throwdown PICNIC BASKET WINNER!


 Darlings, LET'S NOT BEAT AROUND THE BUSH! The winner of the Culinary Thowdown PICNIC BASKET is:

LA DIVA !!!!!!   


Haha!  Just kidding.  Thought I'd bring a little smile to your face by "Pulling a Troll."

Well, in spite of bad weather, frantic schedules, torn apart kitchens and all around "life-just-got-in-the-way," we had a great turn out for this comp!  It was cool to see so many men participate (even though you weren't allowed to grill on the spot!)  And why wouldn't a PICNIC BASKET appeal to men?  After all, it seems like men really DO love the kind of food that is perfect for a picnic:  Sandwiches, steak salad, chicken fingers, deviled eggs and onion wraps.

Here's a wrap up of all the entries:


Doggybloggy:  Even though he'd been without hot water and a kitchen for weeks, Doggybloggy of Chezwhat? came back strong with TWO entries!  A comforting spinach and potato fritatta, brilliant in its simplicity and practicality AND a lovely little self-contained snack of potato gratin and gruyere cheese encased in prosciutto and puffed pastry.



Heff:  Made all by his lonesome self, Heff, of Heff's Bar and Grill, took many of us on a trip down memory lane with his entry of simple sammies made with Underwood Deviled Ham.  La Diva loved Heff's preference for REAL MAN's mayonnaise (no sissy reduced fat mayo here!) and the creative use of condiments.  Also, extra points for using a real pic-a-nic basket.  And Booze.  Booze ALWAYS GET EXTRA POINTS.




Buzzkill:  Buzzkill, of Buzz Kill's Buzzkill,  is the family man with a very busy schedule and a very picky family!  In spite of weather and work, Buzzkill was determined to participate and wisely chose his own beautiful backyard deck and some parboiled chicken to ease his way into the competition.  Buzzkill's classic entry was old-fashioned potato salad with a twist (including tomatoes and cucumbers) cole slaw and mesquite barbecued chicken.  Tasty and delicious and best of all, so close to the kitchen for clean up!  Dee-light-ful.  Extra points for effort, especially since he lost time by having to clean the kitchen first!



Moi:  Ahh Moi, always sooo classy and always sooo decadent with your food posts.   In spite of her looming deadline and 24-7 work schedule, Moi, of Bite the Apple, posted an entry that no picnic should be without:  fruit salad!  However, Moi took it to another level by adding home made meringue cookies and a yummy and rich lemon curd.   Simple yet so delicious.   Extra points for the beautiful outdoors setting!  (and of course for BOOZE!)



Buffalodick:  A new contender to La Diva Cucina but not to Heff's Bar and Grill, Buffalodick, of Opinions and Rectums, We all Got One!, took La Diva right back to her childhood outings at my grandpa's cottage in Michigan.   He offered a complete meal with starter, main course, sides and dessert including:  deviled eggs, onion wraps, potato salad, fresh strawberries with powdered sugar, shrimp salad sandwiches on croissants and peanut butter Rice Krispie squares frosted with semi sweet chocolate.  Wow!  La Diva liked how he relied on classic, "old school" picnic fare and extra points for making a full spread and also for the photos on the pic-a-nic blanket!




SandCastle Momma:  Well, in spite of bigger worries for Sandcastle Momma of epic proportions,  our lovely blogging buddy from the panhandle of Florida picnicked at her beloved beach EACH AND EVERY DAY for two weeks, knowing it would soon come to an end.  Instead of making her usual fried fish sammies, SC Momma diverted from her old standby to try something new and challenging, a mango gazpacho.  SC Momma not only gets extra points for her efforts but also for her determination and eating at the beach every day!  (no easy feat, if you ask La Diva!)



Eggy:  Mizz Eggy, as La Diva fondly calls her, of Eggplant to Go, went the whole hog for this competition and is one tough contender.  Despite bad weather and sick picnic buddies, Eggy came through strong with not just one dish, not two but NINE DISHES!!!  Eggy's entry included everything a picnic should:  something pickled, something salad, something cool and refreshing, fruit, pie and of course BOOZE!!!  Extra points for the stuffed-in-more-ways-than-one teddy bear and beaut setting.




BamaTrav:  Here's a guy that likes to cook and likes his food spicy!  Another entry of simple sammies, BamaTrav kicked up the good ol' fashioned tuna sandwich a notch or two by adding mustard, jalapenos and dill havarti on some yummy cheesy bread!  Extra points for the pic-a-nic basket, the promise of a bit of "slap and tickle" to some lucky lady and naturally for including BOOZE in his entry!
 

 
 

And the winner is......

EGGPLANT TO GO!!!!


Well, darlings, you can hardly be surprised.  Although we DO judge each contest on it's own, I have to say, Eggplant to Go made a monumental effort for the lobster throwdown only to be thwarted by disaster as her main dish dropped all over the floor!  Eggplant is a great, creative cook and does NOTHING by halves.  And is lucky to not only get a little help from her friends but has friends that love to cook and enjoy the food too!

Here's a closer look at her pic-a-nic goodies!

 
Eggy's savory egg n pancetta n figs n cheese loaf!


Marinated sausage and gruyere salad with rye bread croutons!





Georgia tomatoes, garlic ramps, blue cheese, asparagus and flank steak make up this colorful and certainly flavorful meaty salad.






CONGRATS TO EGGPLANT and a huge thank you to all the participants who entered!  For those that didn't make it to this challenge, we hope to see you  for Eggy's challenge?  What WILL SHE PICK?  

 

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, www.ladivacucina.com, top chef

Culinary Throwdown: PICNIC BASKET!

While I was looking for picnic photos, I came across this.  Hello, MJ?

Darlings, well, well, well, this almost turned into the competition that never was.  Like every one else, even La Diva had difficulty finding the right time to picnic!  Each time La Diva picked a day, I was thwarted by something, like pesky ol' work, social commitments, illness and bad weather! 

But Diva prevailed.

Originally, I had visions of a lovely sunset picnic for my personal deejay and sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah)'s birthday, laying on the grass in a lovely park down on the point of South Beach.  With incredible views of downtown and the Port of Miami, the spot I wanted is on the end of Biscayne Bay on Government Cut canal where all the large cruise ships leave to go out to sea.  But, it was not meant to be.  Recent afternoon showers made the ground wet and as our impending picnic hour loomed, more clouds threatened, thunder rumbled and the mozzies came out in full force!

The birthday picnic could not be rescheduled ONE MORE TIME.  La Diva bought the food.  And cooked.  Nope, it was now or never.

So, as our backup plan, we simply ate in our backyard in case the clouds opened up and drowned out our al fresco dinner.  Luckily, we have a pretty nice back yard right on the water on Biscayne Bay.


Star Island in the foreground and downtown Miami behind it makes for a sultry island-meets-city view from the pool/bbq area downstairs.  We had front row seats for the sunset surprise.


My picnic basket entry is:

Spicy chipotle chicken fingers with cucumber slaw, roasted sweet potato and black bean salad, refreshing fruit salad with feta, walnuts and basil and of course, white wine sangria!



The recipe for the chicken came from the Food Network, I had printed it up long ago and was culling my recipes when I found it and figured now was as good of a time as any to make it.  You can see the recipe HERE.

Notice that the recipe calls for "masa."  Masa is used to make corn tortillas and the like and no, I wasn't buying any for this recipe.  Nope.  I have enough stuff crowding my pantry left over from one time recipes and La Diva figured she'd "make do" with what I had.  Since "masa" is corn, I figured corn meal would be a good substitute, after all, I often use corn meal to bread my Cajun fish fillets.   So, off to the pantry I go and find: no corn meal.  Ok how about polenta?  NOPE.  OUT.  Then grits?  Ahhh....yep. I find that grits are a larger and more coarse grind than corn meal or polenta but what the heck?!  I added the grits to the panko breading mixture and voila, extra crunchy breading!  Moral of the story:  Use what you've got, don't go crazy trying to find something that might not be worth the effort or can be easily substituted.
RESULT:  I thought the chicken could have been even spicier as it had good chipotle flavor but it was quite subtle.  Next time I make this, I will not add the extra buttermilk and see how spicy it is, I think the added buttermilk is a waste.  I also used half the oil to fry the chicken as well.  But damn, yummy, crunchy and succulent, the chicken was nice.  The cooling cucumber slaw added moisture but it was not vital to the dish.   I also would have preferred a crunchier slaw as once I grated the cukes, they became slightly mushy.  Regular cole slaw would be the preferred choice next time.



Fruit salad:  I wanted to kick up good ol' regular fruit salad a notch by combining two recipes together.  I often make watermelon and feta salad over greens (or sometimes blueberries or strawberries) so why not combine them into a lettuce-free salad with the savory flavors of feta cheese?  I simply added watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, toasted walnuts, torn fresh basil and made a dressing of extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Nice, refreshing and a bit of zing!



The black bean potato salad is easy, cost-effective and quick.  And everyone likes it.  Simply dice sweet potato, toss with olive oil and roast in a high oven (450) until brown (you have to turn after 10 minutes and cook for another 10) and then let cool.  In a bowl add a can of strained black beans, add potatoes, fresh chopped cilantro and red onion.  I then dress the salad with lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and ground cumin.  I like to make this about an hour before serving to give the flavors a chance to meld.  YUM.


Finally, La Diva's white wine sangria.  I dunno, something about drinking red in the summer is SO HEAVY to me.  I get a magnum of a not too expensive (but not too cheap) white wine (this was a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc) and in a pitcher I add some rum (or vodka) for that KICK, top it off with Sprite and add various cut fruits.  This time I added cherries, grapes, strawberries, lemon and limes.  The more liquor you add, the more kick you'll get!  DJ Nevah L8 does not like white wine but the birthday boy was more than happy to swill my sangria down all night!


After the brief and intense sunset, we were awarded with a colourful sky of peach, pink and purple.

So, darlings, seems like most of you were super busy for this challenge like La Diva.    If you were able to participate, THANK YOU FOR YOUR EFFORT.  If not, there's always next time.   But for those that have entered, I ask that you be patient.  I have out of town guests coming  tomorrow and am working too.  I'll TRY to announce a winner as soon as possible but it might take some time for me to get to see youse!  I would like to announce the winner sometime over the weekend, so check back when you can!  Good luck to all!!!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





Meatless Mondays: Corn Cakes with Spinach and Hazelnut Salad

 Star Trek's Borg queen says:  "RESISTANCE IS FUTILE."  So, give in, darlings, I swear it won't hurt!


Resistance Darlings, why do we have so much?  Why is it when we are confronted with change, or the possibility to change, we resist SOOO much?

Let's take Meatless Mondays for example.  What's the big deal?

"My family won't participate."

"Why, I'll just die if I don't eat meat every day!"

"If I don't eat meat EVERY DAY, I'll turn into a tree-hugging, vegetarian!"

Okay, so La Diva is exaggerating!  But you get the gist.  Again, what I want to know is:  What's the big deal?


A fave line from vegetarian hippy Neil from the popular British 80's TV sitcom "The Young Ones."

To La Diva, Meatless Monday is just a convenient way to post about something I already do, going without meat was not a conscious effort on my part, as many times I don't eat meat for various reasons:

I crave refreshing salads made with vegetables  high water content and fiber.

Sometimes meat feels too heavy to eat for dinner.

I am in the mood for a carbohydrate-rich meal, like pasta or risotto.

And most of all:  I'm out of meat so will make do without.  (When you cook for a living, you DON'T want to shop any more than you have to!)



As far as saying:  "My kids/husband/wife/dog/parrot/whatever won't participate, they love meat."   La Diva says, don't forget:   YOU are the boss.  YOU are making the food.  YOU are running the kitchen.   Who ever said that mealtime was based on a family democracy?  La Diva's kitchen is a dictatorship.

"Darling family, this is what's for dinner, eat it."

'Nuff said.

 I often think the cooking parent will make assumptions on what their family will or won't do without even trying to divert from the norm (like the mother at my Earth Day demo that wanted to plate up my food sans veggies for picky kids, going against the entire point of the exercise.) Believe me, if the family is hungry and there is no other option, they WILL eat it. (And I can't tell you how many times my sidekick DJ Nevah L8 started complaining about a fish/veggie dish and then all of a sudden, his plate is clean and I have one backpeddlin' Bear Man asking for more!)  La Diva says if you make the meatless meal satisfying and tasty, will your family really miss eating meat ONE DAY?

Darlings, DON'T GET ME WRONG:  La Diva loves her meat.  Oh yes, the cavewoman in me loves meat and the bloodier, the better.   I don't think meat IS THE DEVIL and to blame for all of our health woes in this country, it is certainly only a part of a combination of various factors.


What puzzles La Diva is this attitude that we MUST eat meat every day.  And what if you don't?  You are going to starve?  I hardly think so.  Ohhhh!  I get it!  You WANT meat every day!  Yes, well, La Diva would like to drink champagne and eat chocolate every day but that ain't gonna happen either.  After living in Australia and being away from this country's "Bigger, Better, MORE" culture for 10 years,  I not only survived, but actually thrived.  And was consistently a good 10 pounds lighter than I've been since I have moved back to the United States.



Darlings, don't make a big deal out of this CHANGE if this is something you'd like to try.  I look at Meatless Mondays the same way as I look at cutting down on coffee or sugar or alcohol.   If you want meat on Monday, by all means, eat meat on Monday.  But maybe come Wednesday, consider making a pasta with a meatless tomato sauce.  The point is to eat less meat on a regular basis for your health and the planet's health (more on this later.) After all, making BIG change is always easier by starting with SMALL changes over time.

We have control over what we put into our bodies and as omnivores, our diets should be balanced and comprised of a variety of nutrient dense foods.   And when we eat too much of any ONE THING, disease and allergies can develop.  Moderation, is truly the key and going meatless one day a week is a simple way to eat moderately.  With more and more Americans succumbing to obesity,  heart disease and high food prices, we can no longer think about changing the way we eat and live, but MUST change.  Resistance is futile.

And now, here's my Meatless Monday recipe:  

Chili Corn Cakes with Spinach and Hazelnut Salad


RESULT:  Yum, yum!  Well, as per usual, La Diva made plenty of substitutions to this recipe (so I wouldn't have to shop!  heheh!)  I was out of corn meal and polenta and substituted grits,  I used almonds instead of hazelnuts (why ARE they so bloody hard to find anymore?) and chopped green onions instead of coriander (aka cilantro leaf.)  It still tasted mighty fine.  I have to say though, I thought the cakes were a bit dry but that was probably because I put in the last of the grits (about a 1/2 cup) and did not add any additional buttermilk to make up for it.  Doh!  I just added a bit more dressing!

What did DJ Nevah L8 think of the meal?  He actually asked for seconds!  He really liked the refreshing, tangy salad with the hearty corn cakes. Nice texture on the cakes too as I used organic corn that popped in your mouth.



 I got this recipe out of an Australian magazine years ago when I lived there and made this dish frequently. (Sorry about the size, it scanned larger but I could not get it to post any larger even though I increased the pixels! )

With fresh sweet corn coming into season along with healthy, green spinach, this dish is a winner for hot summer nights.  Ciao, darlings!

The "Around the World with La Diva Cucina" cooking class continues at Epicure Gourmet Market this Thursday with the Buonasera Supper!  Hint:  white cream truffle, polenta, sauteed gnocchi and ricotta are part of the plan! Want to know more?  CLICK HERE AND THEN GO TO UPCOMING EVENTS!
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

Don't forget: Culinary Throwdown: PICNIC BASKET!


Darlings!  Don't forget this is the last weekend before the culinary throwdown deadline for PICNIC BASKET!  Please post your entry and let me know by this 

 Wednesday, June 16th!

You can get more info HERE!


La Diva wants to know:  What type of picnic will YOU be posting about?  
A civilized scene such as this?






























Or perhaps this is more your speed?
 In any case, La Diva can't wait  hear all about it!
Good luck and Ciao!

Meatless Mondays: Orzo 'n' Feta

 La Diva is betting that the beef industry is just "having a cow" over the non-profit group Meatless Monday's ploy to get people to go meatless for one day.  Click HERE for more info.  (I think I have used this photo before.....hmmmmm)

Darlings!  I've been doing the Meatless Mondays for about a month now and only last week learned that there is an ENTIRE MOVEMENT dedicated to it.  La Diva had no idea.

According to the information on the Meatless Monday homepage:

"Our goal is to help reduce meat consumption by 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.  We are a non-profit initiative in association with John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health."

Hmmm....it seems innocent enough.  I DO agree with their philosophy and they DO have some pretty big names supporting them (like Chef Mario Batali and Martha Stewart.)   That works for me because one thing Diva is NOT doing is joining any radical, meat-hating group, THIS blog is not about politics and making people feel bad.  And nothing "chaps my hide" more than sanctimonious and misguided people pushing their crapola down my Diva throat.   La Diva is all about freedom of choice. (but try to make your choice an educated one, okay, Bub?)

However....It makes me sad that food in general, and how we source it, IS getting politicized and the more I learn, the more disheartened and politically outspoken I've become. 

In my research, I am finding that it's hard to get unbiased, non-partisan information that is based on FACT and not opinion.  (Bloody bloggers clogging up my searches!)  So, in upcoming MM posts, La Diva is going to raise some issues that I find bothersome and I will put it "out there" to you, my dear readers, and hear what you have to say about each topic.

Fair enough, darlings?

And now.....to the food!  My Meatless Monday entry is:  Orzo pasta and feta cheese!




Why did Diva make this tonight?  Cuz, it's what I had in the pantry!  I almost always have feta in the fridge.  Here's what I did:  simply take a saute pan, add a few inches of water and bring to the boil.  Add half a box of orzo and salt and cook for 10 minutes (constantly stirring)  The water will evaporate and the noodles will emit a creamy starch similar to risotto.  Add chopped green onions, butter, feta and a hit of red chile flakes.  Then stir through fresh spinach and serve.  That's it!

Result:  Creamy and delicious!  This is a satisfying meal that is quick and cost effective!    Tangy and tasty and filling, oh my.

Happy Meatless Monday, darlings!

La Diva's weekly cooking and cocktail class continues this Thursday with "Asian Noodle Market!"  Go to THIS LINK for more details!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




Turkish lunch on a Sydney Sunday


Darlings!

On a beautiful Sunday morn in Ol' Sydneytown, La Diva and galpal Lady Fifi headed off with excitement to the Everleigh Artisan's Market in the old Carriageworks in Redfern, near the city's center.  La Diva had a wedding present to buy and could think of nothing more perfect than a hand-crafted gift from Australia for her friends back in Miami!

The market place was outdoors but undercover and crammed with local artisans flogging their wares and hopping with punters ready to part with their cash!


Unfortunately, the Shopping Gods were not with La Diva that morning because after investigating every booth in the entire marketplace, La Diva came up empty handed.  Oh, there were beautiful things.  Many, many beautiful things.  Like jewelry.  And gorgeous hand-knit scarves.  And hats.  But, sadly, La Diva had to restrain herself (AND remind herself!) that I was shopping for my friend's wedding, NOT me!  And unfortunately, gifts for the home at the marketplace that were practical and reasonably priced were sorely lacking.




 I did find a few vendors selling hand silk screened tea towels and place mats.  But they wanted $25 for one tea towel.  $25 for a tea towel?  I'd be afraid to use it and would prefer to hang it on the wall for that price.  And $36 for two placemats!  I just thought to myself, for that kind of dough, I could get the happy couple Marimekko and it would have been much cooler.  Somehow I couldn't imagine my friends opening up a package of placemats and napkins for $100 and exclaiming:  wow!

The fact is, while many of the goods were certainly beautiful, the prices were exorbitant.  Now, now, you artsy types out there, don't get your knickers in a knot.  La Diva is all about paying people for their work fairly and as a jeweler that has sold at myriad art fairs myself, I know all about the time and love and labor put into items.  But, these were just not worth the very high price tags.


This abomination is what the Aussies call a tea pot cosy.  It is used to keep your tea pot warm as it brews.  As this was hand-knitted and adorned with a rosette, La Diva can only imagine that it's price was at least $50. To me, that's about as practical as a S'mores maker from Bed Bath and Beyond and  butt-ugly.  Pass.

As I wistfully gazed at yet another gorgeous piece from an artisan,  Lady Fifi says to me:  "Darling, do you REALLY need that little wisp of a silk scarf in that beautiful  turquoise that so suits your skin tone for $60?  When would you wear it?   You only wear a scarf once or twice in winter and you are coming into summer."

DRAT.  She's right, as usual.  Besides, La Diva already bought a nice little "remind-myself-of-my-fabulous-time-in-Sydney" gift for herself, a Rockpool Restaurant cookbook for $130.  Boo.

So, after a few hours of self-restraint and listening to my voice of reason (aka Fifi) La Diva resigned herself to the fact that I would leave empty handed, the task of securing a groovy wedding present would remain incomplete.  Boo.  What to do?



Let's have lunch!


Yes, Lady Fifi knows if there is one thing that will cheer a Diva up (besides shoes and cocktails!) it is a nice lunch.  She suggested we try the Turkish gozleme.  I was in.

Wikipedia describes gozleme as this:  "Gozleme is a savory traditional Turkish hand made and hand rolled pastry.  Fresh pastry is rolled out, filled and sealed, then cooked over a griddle.  The name derives from the Turkish word 'goz,' meaning 'eye.' "

All La Diva knows is that they smelled DAMN GOOD.  We'll take one, thanks.


The nice Turkish mama smiles for La Diva and the camera as she rolls up the dough.



Fillings of spinach, feta cheese and beef are added before folding the dough over.





















Onto the hot grill they go...









































This actually isn't a photo of our gozleme.  In my greed, La Diva ate it up in a flash before remembering to take a photo! Thank you Internet.



Our gosleme lunch was Dee-lightful!  The beef filling was steamy hot and delicious with a lovely, zesty spice.  A quick squeeze of lemon over the top added a bright note to the savory flavors.    Oh how I do miss my Turkish pide and gozleme here in Miami!  Perhaps La Diva will find a recipe online to recreate a favorite and very "more-ish" dish and sincerely thanks Lady Fifi for once again  helping Diva show restraint in her pocketbook but not in her stomach! 

Ciao, for now, darlings!

If you are looking for Miami cooking classes, then why not go "Around the World" with La Diva Cucina?  Every Thursday for the month of June at Epicure Gourmet Market, I'll be teaching fabulous foodies and friends how to make exciting, easy and tasty dishes from around the globe (all paired with matching cocktails, natch!)  Need more info, darling?  CLICK HERE!