Meatless Mondays: Falafel with cucumber yogurt sauce and tabbouleh salad


La Diva's falafel photos weren't quite as appetizing as this photo I found instead (and it looked so damn good and just like how my falafel turned out!)  Enjoy, darlings!

Darlings!  Trips back home to Michigan for La Diva always include loads of good eats and of course, this trip was no exception.   What does a Diva crave back in the "D?"  Well, White Castle Hamburgers, of course, and also something you might not expect:  the most excellent, fresh and authentic Lebanese food.

Syrian/Lebanese Christian immigrants came to Detroit in the late 1800's, looking for the chance to make $5 an hour at Henry Ford's factories.  Most of the Lebanese immigrants at the time came from the Mt. Lebanon area and then others followed from the various villages.   Other Arabs came too, including Palestinian/Jordanian, Egyptian, Moroccan and Iraqi (though they like to call themselves "Persian!")  Many of them settled just outside of Detroit in Dearborn but in the last two decades have spread north into the suburbs of Macomb and Oakland Counties.


Doesn't this FATTOUSH salad look excellent and summery?!  I am loving the fiery-colored sumac sprinkled over it, the spice really helps bring out the salads lemon flavors.   Sprinkle some over hummus too. This delicious bread salad is one of Diva's favorites and so easy to make.  Fattoush salad photo courtesy of Habeeb.com!

Since I had last visited Michigan two years ago, La Diva noticed that amongst all the doughnut and franchise restaurants that littered the generic street, kebab shops had sprouted in almost every strip mall along Van Dyke Ave.  When I lived there as a kid growing up on the East Side, there were only two  Lebanese restaurants outside of Dearborn that mattered,  The Sahara and Emily's Delicatessen, known for her meat and spinach pies.  

It was at the modest Sahara restaurant that La Diva had her first taste of authentic Lebanese food including the usual nutty hummus, tabbouleh salad, fattoush,  kibbe nayeh (raw ground spiced lamb with cracked wheat) and of course, the spicy, garlicy vegetarian falafel.  Eating these foods growing up seemed as normal to La Diva as eating spaghetti.

Having eaten Lebanese only twice while in Detroit  this trip and missing it already, my brother reminded me that a crunchy falafel in a fresh pita with cucumber sauce would make a great Meatless Monday dish.  Of course!  My brother insisted that making falafel with chick pea flour from scratch was the way to go, but darlings, lately I've been so pressed for time, La Diva is lucky to even find a moment to blog, let alone hunt down freakin' chick pea flour.  So, I bought a box mix.  




It was mighty tasty with the garlic and cumin flavors coming on strong.  Also, the sandwich was a filling, crunchy and flavorful dish for a Meatless Monday!  I served it up with some home-made tabbouleh and a quick cucumber yogurt tahini sauce for a quick and healthy dinner. Thanks for the suggestion, little bro!

If you are looking for recipes to make this home made, browse about the Internets, darling, as the hot tub is calling!  Happy Meatless Monday!


And on a somber note, my heart goes out to my blogging buddies that are suffering from heartfelt loss, dear Boxer and darling Dani.  Kisses and hugs to you both.   RIP Buffalodick, you will be missed by La Diva and your many followers.

Another cookbook? Ay ya yai! La Diva takes a look at Neil Perry's Asian cookbook "Balance & Harmony"




 
 Darlings, every time I go on holiday I always buy myself one nice gift as a souvenir to remind me of a wonderful trip.   The last time La Diva was in Sydney, I spoiled myself with a gift I had been wanting since I lived there:  a beautiful dark gray mabe pearl ring.  This time, I decided I was going to get a cookbook.  

"WHA??"

I hear you say....I know, I know, La Diva needs a cookbook like a hole in the head.  But  I realized that after almost ten years living in Sydney, I did not have one cookbook from a current Australian chef!

After hearing that my brother in law was going to get married at Sydney icon Chef Neil Perry's restaurant Rockpool, my mind was made up to check out his latest endeavor.


The book was cloth covered and came in a box and cost a mere $135 AUD.  With the Yankee dollar being so weak, it I ended up paying $120 USD for it!

Neil Perry's cooking style is what is called "Modern Australian" or "Mod Oz" for short.  It's a combination of traditional foods and dishes fused with Asian and European styles and usually includes fresh local seafood, produce and of course,  lamb.  Just like how Italian and Latin foods have embedded themselves within American food culture so as to not to be considered "ethnic" anymore, so too has Asian, Lebanese, Greek and Italian foods within the average Australian home.


Beautiful printing, artwork, paper and cloth binding all make up for an expensive but high quality and gorgeous cookbook.  I'm almost frightened to use it!


I really wanted a Neil Perry cookbook that featured recipes from his restaurant Rockpool, but after looking at the selection at his restaurant (and giving in to the advice of the effusive general manager on duty who recommended it,)  I found that Neil's foray into Asian cooking, the recently published "Food and Balance," to be beautiful and intriguing.  I already had a classic Asian cookbook by longtime chef Charmaine Solomon from about 20 years ago, but when I saw Neil's recipes, I decided it was time to explore a modern Asian cookbook.

The reviews of the book were great and the recipes started out from easy to the most advanced.  I  also wanted this book because it had the recipes for the food I wanted to make, like the popular Kung Pao Chicken and Tea and Spiced Smoked Duck.




The cookbook is full of gorgeous vintage Asian art prints.

Additionally, the book starts off with basic techniques and recipes including various curry and spice pastes and you know La Diva is always more than willing to further improve my Asian cooking skills and knowledge.  This chapter includes instruction for braising and boiling, steaming, stir-frying, deep-frying and of course tea-smoking!

The next chapter is more advanced and offers banquet menus, which I look forward to making for company in the future, and includes recipes on tofu and eggs, pork, beef and lamb, poultry, seafood, vegetables, noodles and rice and then finishes with fruit and "sweet things."


 
Deep-fried leatherjacket fish with three-flavored sauce



Of course, with well over a dozen books either given to me or bought by myself within this last year, La Diva has a WHOLE LOTTA COOKIN' TO DO.  However, I have special guests coming for dinner next week and I plan on tackling one of the many delicious looking recipes from this book.  Of course La Diva will let you know how it turns out!



 


Yes, of course La Diva had to get this book signed!  I missed meeting Neil at the wedding (I was gabbing, naturally!) and when I told the GM of the restaurant that I would like the book signed before returning to the U.S. he informed me that I had "just missed him" as he was on a plane to Japan, but he would try when Neil came back in a few days.  As luck would have it, I received a phone call later that very afternoon telling me to come and pick up my signed book, Neil had just "happened to come in" on his way to the airport!  Ah, yes, La Diva DOES get lucky sometimes!




This is one of my fave prints of the book!  

Darlings, I shall leave you with a quote from the back of the book, as Neil's sentiments echo my own:

"One of the things I love most about Asian food is that it is made for the shared table, and that is how I love to eat.  A bowl of rice, a few dishes, some friends and family and a nice glass of wine or two; I can't think of a better way to spend an evening."

'Nuff said.  Ciao, darlings!

Darlings, would YOU like to learn more about Asian cooking?  La Diva offers a fun and sassy "small bites, BIG DRINKS" class with Asian appetizers and paired with flavorful cocktails!  Click HERE for more info!
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Meatless Mondays: White Truffle Polenta with Creamy Gourmet Mushrooms

 
Polenta can be served soft like mashed potatoes or spread on a tray, cooled and cut into cakes for frying or grilling.

Darlings!  La Diva is baaaaaa-aaack!  And what a wonderful little holiday I had in Michigan.   I could not have asked for better weather, better hosts and better family and friends to play with. What fun I had! And now it's back to  the ol' grindstone.                   

In a previous post, I promised you a fabulous and elegant Meatless Monday dish, so here it is.  I made this as an appetizer as part of my "Around the World with La Diva Cucina:  Buonasera Supper" cooking series a few weeks back and thought it would make a wonderful meatless main dish served with a fresh salad of mixed greens and summer tomatoes.


 
Savini Truffle products are considered some of the finest on the market.


The menus for the classes were inspired by products sold in Epicure Gourmet Market.  I was intrigued by a jar of white truffle cream and thought about what I could make with it and decided that infusing polenta would make the best use of an expensive product while adding incredibly rich flavor to the dish.



 
 Sorry, darlings, none of these photos in the post today are mine. Unfortunately the dish was served and shoveled into hungry mouths before I even had a chance to photograph them!  However, this photo is very close to what my dish looked like.  Thank you Internets!


White Truffle Polenta with Creamy Gourmet Mushrooms

Serves six as an appetizer or cut into larger cakes for a main dish

Ingredients:

2 cups chicken broth
4 ounces instant polenta
3 t white truffle cream
12 oz. mixed mushrooms (portabello, cremini, shitake*)
1/2 c cream
1 T butter
Wondra quick mixing flour
Italian parsley, finely minced
olive oil
salt and pepper


Method:

Heat chicken broth to boiling and while constantly stirring with whisk, slowly add polenta, stirring and making sure there are no lumps.  Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring using a wooden spoon until polenta is cooked, about five minutes.  (BE CAREFUL!  Hot polenta tends to sputter so watch you don't get burned!)

Pour polenta over baking tray lined with parchment paper.  Using a spatula, form a rectangle loaf about an inch thick.  Let cool completely.

Clean mushrooms and slice into bite size pieces.  Heat oil in large saute pan, when hot, add mushrooms and let sit without stirring until brown, a minute or two.  Continue browning.  When cooked, season with salt and pepper, add butter and stir through.  Add cream and cook until slightly reduced, removed from heat.

Using a large clean knife, cut polenta into squares, about 3 inches in width and length (cut into four large pieces if eating as a main.)  Then, cut each piece in half lengthwise to form two thinner cakes from one piece.  Dust each cake with Wondra and shake off excess.

Heat oil in large fry pan.  When hot, add polenta cakes and fry until golden on each side.  Put two cakes on each plate, spoon over mushroom mixture and garnish with parsley.  Serve immediately.


* Do throw away the woodsy stems of the shitake mushroom and be sure to use a variety of mushrooms for more depth of flavor and texture.

RESULT:  Creamy polenta on the inside with a crunchy brown crust on the outside.  The truffle cream flavor goes a long way and adds an earthiness to the polenta.  The meaty mushrooms with the touch of added cream make for a delicious, decadent and filling meatless main meal that is impressive and elegant enough to serve guests.

Darlings, do you have a divine recipe for polenta?  Let La Diva know, I'd love to hear about it! Ciao for now!


If you want to book a FABULOUS PARTY where La Diva will come to your home to cook and entertain for you and your guests, please click HERE to go to my website for more info!
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La Diva's Gone Fishin'

Darlings!  I thought I'd have time to post my Meatless Mondays and other tasty tidbits but La Diva is having WAY too much fun with family and friends here in Michigan to spend time on the computer!  I've been catching up with long-lost cousins I've not seen in over 30 years! There has been plenty of laughter, reminiscing and marathon conversations out on the patio late into the night.

And do you know how sentimental La Diva gets about being back in Michigan?  Whenever I'm in town, I've gotta drink Vernors, eat Coney Island hot dogs and sleep with my windows open!  (a rare treat!)  I usually drive by the houses I've lived in when I was growing up and exclaim "Wow!  The house is so small!" as when you are a little kid, everything seems so large!  Also,  it's strange to try and recognize neighborhoods that have changed over the last 40 years and clues to the past can only be provided by the odd business sign that refuses to change with the times between the new Walgreen's and CVS drugs stores that have taken over every suburban corner.

On my first night here, La Diva was lucky enough to catch a mother deer and her three fawns crossing a small creek near my uncle's house in the 'burbs! I've seen cardinals, finches, robins, black squirrels, the odd hummingbird and those giant, fuzzy bumblebees that buzz around drunkenly.  I am also enjoying the delightful flowers from my childhood here:  coral bells, rose of Sharon and and big old fashioned roses full of fragrance.  Summer in Michigan is so pretty!

So, darlings, I'll be back NEXT MONDAY for my Meatless Mondays post and La Diva will be relaxed, refreshed and ready to go!  Ciao for now and have a great week!

"Around the World with La Diva Cucina" Cooking Series a Success!


Darlings!  For the month of June, La Diva was honored to work with Epicure Gourmet Market doing a series of cooking classes to highlight the store, its services, products and catering department but also to promote La Diva Cucina's culinary entertainment services for Epicure's catering clientele.



Epicure Gourmet Market is a Miami institution that carries a wide range of hard-to-find and upscale gourmet products, produce, meats, cheeses, wines and prepared food that any gourmand would relish (or anyone that loves good food, as proven by their loyal following.)  As I strolled around their new Sunny Isles store,  I was inspired by the variety of ethnic products on the shelves and decided a trip around the world with La Diva was in order. 

The first class was the Mediterranean Mezze Party with a focus on small plates including my very-more-ish-perfect-for-pre-dinner-with-a-sassy-little-drinky-poo fried and feta-stuffed olives, white bean puree and tomato crostini both paired with a tart and tangy pomegranate mint martini.  I've been told my pomegranate martinis are deadly...they go down easily but come with a kick!  POW!





For the second class, we took a trip to an Asian noodle market and La Diva enjoyed showing the class a different way to serve Asian noodles:  fried in a cake!  I served stir-fried chicken and Asian veggies in a peanut sauce over the crunchy cake and it was divinely different.  Also demonstrated was the classic Chinese dish sang choi bao or ground pork and veggies in refreshing iceberg lettuce cups.   La Diva showed the class how fresh and spicy Asian flavors can easily be replicated by the home cook and made with a lot less salt than the corner take-away!   The class ended with attendees enjoying an icy and refreshing lychee vanilla vodka slushie!  (posted last summer HERE.)


The Epicure's cafe in South Beach provided the venue for the Buonasera Supper and Summer in Morocco classes.

June 17th took us on a trip to Italy for an elegant but easy dinner starting with polenta cakes infused with white truffle cream, pan-fried and then served with gourmet mushrooms smothered in a light cream sauce.  (check back on Meatless Monday for the recipe!)   The main course was a unique and satisfying dish of sauteed potato gnocchi dumplings paired with fresh spring peas, zucchini and crispy diced pancetta all melded together with a delicate and mild ricotta cheese.   What?  You never thought about sauteing your gnocchi?  Well, why not?  Other dumplings are fried, sauteed and steamed, so La Diva thought I'd give the gnocchi a shot too.  Decadent and delightful, the sauteed gnocchi was transported from its usual soft texture to something you could bite into with a slight crunch, the crisped pancetta adding yet another textural element to the dish.



Finally, my "Summer in Morocco" class took on a tasty twist by using North African flavorings for a summer barbecue!   And for this class, the foodie community's curiosity was piqued with an attendance of 48 people!   La Diva started off the class demonstrating  how to make a spicy harissa-rubbed chicken breast grilled and then served over a fresh salad of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and cousscous with a cooling lemon tahini yogurt dressing!  The main course was a succulent grilled lamb skewer that had been marinated in preserved lemons and garlic and slathered with a luscious pistachio mint pesto!  On the side was a savory butternut squash salad of pearl couscous, golden raisins, preserved lemon, toasted pine nuts and bright Italian parsley, perfect picnic fare.  Light, spicy,  and cool, my recipes provided a unique diversion from the usual barbecue food and heavy African stews and tajines.




All in all, the classes were a success and La Diva is thrilled to partner with the esteemed Epicure Market.  The market has been serving the Miami community for 67 years in South Beach and then opened up their fabulous new store in Sunny Isles Beach two years ago.  The store was refurbished from the old Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House Restaurant and still boasts a cafe AND has kept the liquor license and bar!  Where else can you shop, have a nosh and drink a civilized glass of wine?  Epicure also does their monthly Doggy Brunch where you bring your pooch to eat for free and YOU can eat for half price!  Click HERE for more Epicure info.

Finally, La Diva's "Summer in Morocco" class was filmed by Julie Rosa of PBS's Southern Florida station WPBT2!  Julie and her brother, the cameraman, did a fine job of filming and editing the clip, click on the link below to check it out!  Muchas gracias, Julia and Channel 2!




For more class photos, recipes and information on La Diva Cucina services, click HERE.
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Precious Parcel Proves Past is Priceless!

 From the inside cover of my grandmother's cook book from 1947!  This colorful selection of petit fours is just the kind of photo La Diva would be fascinated with when looking at my mom's cookbooks when I was a kid.  The colors, the shapes, the intricacy of these delightful little cakes would have me wondering if they would taste as delicious as they looked.

 Darlings!  La Diva received a surprise parcel in the post this week and my curiosity was pleasantly piqued.  My cousin from Michigan told me a while back that she was going to send it to me and I had completely forgotten!  La Diva was so excited, because I knew it would contain possessions of my recently deceased maternal grandmother and it would hold treasures along with clues about her lifestyle.

I approached the heavy box like something unearthed from ancient times and carefully began unpacking each item with delight and wonder.  Most of the things in the box pertained to food (naturally!) and it was loaded with cookbooks.  Inside were a few vintage glass serving dishes,  most likely from the 60's,  a recipe for my cousin's lemon meringue pie, grandpa's favorite cocktail mixing spoon (a treasure!) and a box of Jiffy corn bread with an accompanying recipe book (I didn't know the Jiffy cornbread company was from Michigan?!  It's been produced by the Chelsea Milling Co. since the 1800's!)

A small gold box held a few pieces of grandma's costume jewelry, which I knew she loved.  It included a fabulous iridescent lime green rhinestone ring that really caught the light and La Diva can not wait to wear it.  The most precious item of all was my mother's prayer card with her death notice from the paper, carefully kept in a plastic sleeve with a pressed four leaf clover. 

The book booty were all from my cousin:  A Mario Batali cookbook, one on cooking with citrus, another one with sustainable fish recipes and a nice fat hard covered one called T"he Book of Hors d'Oeuvres and Canapes" (always USEFUL to a party-throwing Diva!)  Then there was the biographies of Julia Child called "Appetite for Life," Ruth Reichl's "Tender at the Bone," and "Julie and "Julia."  Wow.  La Diva scored, thanks CUZ!

But the most precious book of all came from my grandmother's house:  The United States Regional Cook Book that was edited by Ruth Berolzheimer and contributed to by dozens of home economists, home cooks and housewives.



I just LOVE books like this!  It was published in 1947 and is illustrated along with those ultra-bright and not-true-to-life food photographs.  Regional recipes from that time differ greatly from today with more of a focus on European food from the immigrants of Dutch, Scandinavian,  French and Spanish countries. 

Pawing through its pages, I wondered how often my grandmother had used this book?   After all, Heather told me Grandma had over 250 cookbooks!    Did my mother look at this book as a little girl as I looked at hers?  Was it a favorite?  Or a family standby used for a number of traditional recipes?   Or perhaps it was pulled out for some exotic recipe for a special occasion?  La Diva doubted it was a favorite.  Though the pages were faded and yellowed, it appeared not to have been used very much as the usual evidence of a well-thumbed cooking tome were missing:  dog eared pages, unidentifiable food stains and perhaps the odd coffee cup ring or wine stain.



The Auxiliary Recipes include classic kitchen basics:  icings, frosting, sweet and savory sauces, a variety of dumpling, dressings and stuffing recipes, all the classics of the time.  The cookbook is divided into regional styles of the United States and the book boasts that each section is like having a different cookbook.  

The last chapter of the "Cosmopolitan America Cook Book" contained global ethnic recipes like Himken Bayandi (Armenian Lamb with Eggplant), Neapolitan Spaghetti, Palestinian Sweet Potato and Prune Zimes.






Michigan Dutch?  I had no idea they made up so much of the population at one time in our state to be so influential in the cooking style.  Of course!  It's all coming back to me!  Holland Michigan, the tulip festival, wooden Dutch shoe souvenirs acquired on trips from my youth.....






You know what?  I kinda like the idea of putting a fat sausage into the sides of a good 'ol meatloaf for additional flavor.  These recipes are going to be so much fun to check out!  I love to see what we used to eat in our country.





Every chapter and region begins with a scenic print.




The book is peppered with vignettes like this one about the creation of the yummy fried corn cakes known as "hush puppies."  It's interesting to note the editor's choice of the term "darkies" as a completely normal way to describe African Americans.  





Take a look at these tantalizing technicolor tidbits!

La Diva is utterly enthralled with this book!  For the photos and the recipes that no longer mirror our culture, the ones that do,  for the stories and the commentary.  I will certainly treasure this.  Thank you, Cousin, not just for a book that is a culinary window to our past but also a personal link to someone I never knew but was a part of me.

Meanwhile, if any of my darlings out there is looking for a recipe from the past, perhaps for "Goose Livers in Jelly," "Broiled Elk Steak,"  "Gombo File" or maybe some "Valencia Tamale Pie," just let La Diva know, I'll be happy to share precious pieces of my time-worn tome!


FOR LA DIVA CUCINA RECIPE IDEAS, GO TO MY WEBSITE BY CLICKING HERE! 
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