Diva Does Dough meets Meatless Monday!


Darlings!  If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you would surely know by now that La Diva has a distaste for making dough at home.  And not just the dough you bake, but really any kind of savory dough consisting of flour, water and eggs.  (And no, darlings, we are NOT talking about cookie dough, unfortunately, La Diva has NO PROBLEM whatsoever with cookie dough.)

The fact is, La Diva cannot seem to consistently crank out decent dough like many others do without batting an eyelash, even those with much less kitchen experience, and that, my friends, IS THE BANE MY CULINARY EXISTENCE.   

After debacles battling with dried out, ripped sheets of phyllo dough,  too tough pie crust you couldn't cut with a knife (let alone a fork,) dumplings that crumble upon contact with boiling water or "hard as rocks" bread dough that never quite rose, La Diva has learned to just leave well enough alone and let all matters of dough making fall to more qualified, perhaps more experienced and definitely more patient haands.

It was with this resigned attitude that I found myself staring at two small but whole pumpkins in my fridge, taking up space on the bottom shelf in the rear, and going on week three of their residence.  La Diva was tired of pumpkin soup, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin mash, pumpkin curry and pumpkin pancakes.  What ELSE could I do with this sunny squash?  After all, I DO really love pumpkin but I love my fridge space even more and didn't want to extend its life any longer, it HAD to be eaten.  Not to mention the simple fact that La Diva had just bought a few bottles of wine and was out of room in the fridge!   (It's all about priorities, darlings.)




I don't know exactly what it was that reminded me of it but for some reason a dish from years ago popped into my little La Diva head.  I recalled dinners while living in Sydney, where we would enjoy delicate pillows of light and lovely pumpkin gnocchi.  Pumpkin.  Gnocchi.  Yes.  I had never actually made it at home though, for it was readily available at all the grocery stores. Dare I attempt dough yet again?  I DID have some success with my last challenge of making my own pasta....and my father insisted that home made gnocchi was EASY.   After all, HE actually makes his own and it's quite good, or so he claims.   I'd like to add that my father, like me, is not one known for his patience.  Hmmm.....

So, the ever-prevailing La Diva browsed about the Internets for a bit looking at ideas for semolina gnocchi, potato gnocchi and pumpkin gnocchi.  I found a recipe and some photos of another blogger who made a really easy pumpkin gnocchi using fresh pumpkin.  Her comments indicated success from readers and I decided, with trepidation, to try the dreaded dough once again.



La Diva LOVES this dark photo and oddly enough, understands the poor Cookie Monster's addiction.  I am in recovery for this myself.

The instructions were easy enough.  Cut about a pound of pumpkin into slices, douse with olive oil and put on a baking tray.  Ok.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until fork tender.  Ok.  Mash with fork.  Ah, no.  I took the skin off with a paring knife and while doing that, I noticed that the pumpkin, a Japanese Kabocha, was quite starchy and fluffly like a potato, a good sign.  I put it into my food processor and processed until it form a dough ball resembling a bright orange Play-Doh.  I removed it and then put the pumpkin into a bowl and by hand, mixed through some freshly grated nutmeg and a bit of salt.  Then I added one egg and about 100g of flour, making sure to knead all the ingredients in well.

The dough was kind of dry.  Uh oh.  I REALLY WANTED TO SEE SUCCESS!  And if La Diva knows one thing, if it's dry before it's cooked, chances are, it will be dry afterward.  I continued kneading anyway without adding any more flour.   I lightly dusted the granite counter top with a bit of flour, scooped a bit of pumpkin dough out with a tablespoon and rolled it between my hands and then on the counter, until it formed a thick, even rope.  I quickly cut 1/2 inch segments with a dough cutter and put the dainty pillows onto a flour dusted silicon mat and set aside.  That's it.

WHA?  THAT'S it?!

Yep.  All I had to do now was gently boil the little suckers until they floated to the top, scoop out with a slotted spoon and they was ready for a' saucin'! 

But what kind of sauce?  So many recipes called for pumpkin gnocchi to be served with brown butter and sage.  To be honest, darlings, I'm not a huge fan of the brown butter sauce.  Therefore, I like my butter melted but not browned, thank you.   I would certainly have preferred a rich, creamy gorgonzola sauce, but La Diva was not about to go to the store for one sole ingredient.  Also, my reasoning was that if the dumplings did not turn out, my investment of butter and a few herbs was negligible.  So, I simply served the gnocchi with melted butter infused with dried marjoram and sage and you know what?  It was just fine!  I added some freshly grated Pecorino and dug in.



RESULT:  Ahhhhhh......Little pillows of pumpkin loveliness!!!!  Divinity!  Heavenly!  Yummy!  What pleased La Diva SO MUCH was the light texture they had!  The dumplings were not gooey or gummy and certainly not tough.  The consistency was delightful and not the heavy, dense nuggets I thought they were going to be.  The subtle but effective herb butter sauce was perfect, as the focus could stay on the nutty flavor of the pumpkin.

Recipes indicated that after cutting the gnocchi,  putting a small indentation in each little pillow (with your finger or a fork tine) would allow the dumpling to capture more of the sauce.  La Diva found this step unnecessary and was certain it would drain the pittance of my precious patience, so I decided then and there that if I wanted to capture more sauce, I would simply eat the gnocchi with a spoon.  And I did.

La Diva was very, very satisfied with her tiny triumph!   And DJ Nevah L8 was especially so knowing that I had half of the darling dumplings frozen  and ready for the next luscious dinner.  And this time, YES, there will be gorgonzola cream sauce! 

Ciao for now, darlings!
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Four degrees of separation: Mexican corn!

When La Diva lived in Chicago, I would remember listening to the street vendors ringing bells like the ice cream man except they would walk through the neighborhood streets with small carts hawking delicious Mexican corn slathered in mayonnaise, lime juice, salt and chile powder!  Divine!


Darlings!  It all started with a sandwich challenge and a gift box of corn.  Intuitive Eggplant was lucky enough to get a lovely box of sweet and succulent Iowa corn from her sister.  Inspired by a post from fellow blogger DoggyBloggy at ChezWhat?, Eggy decided to try her hand at making Mexican corn.



This is what she came up with:  fresh Iowa corn slathered in a sauce made with mayonnaise, lime, salt and roasted red peppers.  Being the thrifty and resourceful cook she is, Eggplant used the feta cheese in her refrigerator instead of the traditional Mexican cotija cheese.  As you can see, the corn looks delicious.

That inspired Mizz Eggplant to use the sauce with shrimp and corn as an entry for DoggyBloggy's Culinary Smackdown:  Battle Sandwich.



Eggy put the Mexican corn and sauce on a sandwich using shrimp, tomato and cilantro and then served an accompanying and refreshing shrimp and tomato salad.

In turn, this then inspired La Diva, DROOLING OVER THE PHOTO, to realize that I had all the ingredients for that lovely salad: Key West pink shrimp, feta cheese, cilantro, tomatoes and fresh Florida sweet corn.  I would make that cooling combo for dinner that evening!  Here's what I did:

La Diva's Blackened Shrimp and Corn salad with Spicy Cilantro Dressing!

Serves two main salad course with loads of shrimp!

Shrimp:  Take one lb. of cleaned raw shrimp and dust with a combo of blackening seasoning and taco seasoning.  (I used my own home made blend using a mix of Mexican chiles guajillo, piquin and chipotle chile powders)  Heat grill and quickly sear shrimp on both sides, remove to plate.

Corn:  Remove kernels from one fresh corn cob and steam.  Allow to cool, set aside.

Salad:  On two plates add a mix of freshly washed and cooled salad greens, one tomato de-seeded and cut into 1/8 lengthwise, sliced avocado, cooled corn and top with blackened shrimp.

Dressing: 

In large, tall jug add:

1/2 cup cilantro, loosely chopped
juice of one lime
1 chopped jalapeno, seeds removed (if jalapeno is hot, use half)
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 T mayonnaise
1 T honey
salt and pepper to taste

Using an immersion blender, blend ingredients until smooth and frothy.  Season to taste and drizzle over salads.  Serve!


RESULT:  Spicy, refreshing, filling and pretty darn delicious!  Of course, I realized after DJ Nevah L8 took the photo that I forgot to add the feta cheese!  It was not missed.  The corn and shrimp, so very fresh, just pops in your mouth with juicy flavor and sweetness.  The tomatoes and avocado counter the spicy heat of the shrimp.  The dressing is bright and light, not too heavy, not too creamy and not too hot.  A wonderful combination of flavors for a perfect late summer supper.

This just goes to show you how one simple ingredient (corn!) used in a dish (Mexican corn!)  and one culinary challenge (Doggy's Battle Sandwich!) can go a long way to inspire La Diva and my foodie friends!  What inspires YOUR dishes, darlings?  Do you look longingly at food porn photos and try to recreate them at home?  Do tell!

Ciao for now!
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Culinary Throwdown: BATTLE SANDWICH!


Darlings!  Why is it that certain foods stick in your memory and will haunt you endlessly?  You know what La Diva is talkin' 'bout, a dish you crave and wish you could eat again and again?  THAT DISH to La Diva, my friends, is the Oporto Portuguese chicken sandwich known to Sydneysiders as the Bondi Burger.

Sydney, Australia is a true melting pot and boasts wonderfully diverse and authentic ethnic foods from all over the world.  As it happened, me and my sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah) lived within a mile of Little Portugal, the Sydney inner western suburb of Petersham, and enjoyed many a Portuguse chicken dinner from Petersham Charcoal Chicken.  The chickens are marinated, flattened and grilled and boast a spicy chicken taste that is deliciously succulent and juicy. The place has a license to print money and is always packed with punters ready to part with their dough for one of their chicken dinners.  It is the number one take away chicken joint in Sydney.

But the Portuguese chicken La Diva really fell in love with was sold in the form of a sandwich at Oporto in Bondi Beach.  Oporto was started by a Portuguese immigrant back in 1986 who adhered to the formula of:  "Let's just sell one item but damnit, we will do that one item right."  And he did.  All Oporto sold were chicken sandwiches and hot chips.  But not just any chicken sandwich, a spicy chile-slathered piece of flavorful chicken breast flattened thin and grilled and served up on a soft sesame bun with mayo, lettuce and mild cheese.

The secret is in the chile sauce.  The sandwich is spicy but the fieriness is tempered by the mayo and mellow and mild cheese and the cool aqueous lettuce.  Lines formed out the door for these spesh chicken burgers and at one time, you could only find them in a handful of locations.

Fancy restaurants, take away shops and retail stores line the popular Campbell Parade with exquisite views of Bondi Beach.  Don't have a lot of cash? Get some take away and sit on the expansive lawn behind the beach and enjoy the views while trying to fight off  dive-bombing seagulls!


And then La Diva noticed that other Portuguese chicken joints began popping up all over Sydney, trying to copy the famous Oporto chicken burger.  There was Nando's and Ogala and the last time I was in town, even the local milk bar was offering Portuguese chicken sandwiches.  La Diva was in heaven.  But then I moved back to the States and there was not one Portuguese chicken shack to be found.

Oh, but how La Diva missed the spicy succulence of those burgers.

In the last eight years since I've been back in the States, La Diva has been trolling around the Internet trying to find an authentic recipe to replicate the unique sauce and preparation of the chicken.  Were the breasts fried or grilled?  Some say grilled but I noticed they seemed to have a light coating of something on the chicken, perhaps coated in flour and then fried on a griddle?  They had a beautiful texture to them, and were either cut thin or flattened with a mallet, making them easy to eat and to take on as much of the chile sauce as possible.

I've yet to find an authentic recipe and even found some recipes calling for the use of sweet chile sauce (F*ckin' hell, Aussies put that stuff on EVERYTHING!) but I knew that just wasn't right.   There was NOTHING sweet about this sammie and those recipes were modified by wimps! Also, I wasn't so sure that the chicken was even grilled.  After all, not one blogger had mentioned the slightly crisp texture of the chicken breast that could only have come from a light dusting of flour.  Subtleties like that go unnoticed by the uncultured palates of some but certainly not by La Diva!




La Diva used to be able to "cheat" and when visiting back home, I would bring back bottles of Nando's Peri Peri sauce, the key flavoring component.   But then I ran out and getting glass bottles shipped from halfway around the world is expensive via air mail and my favor card from once-sympathetic friends back in Sydney was full up.  Time to make it on my own, experiment and get it right.

Interestingly enough, one of the key ingredients in the secret chile sauce is  the periperi chile (also spelled piripiri), an African bird's eye chile and used in a variety of Portuguese dishes.  And I just so happened to have some on hand!  I gathered up all things chile from my pantry and refrigerator and began my experiment.



Darlings, don't even THINK of using a knife and fork for this sloppy sandwich, a cold beer and plenty of napkins is all that is required.  (Fabulous view extra!)


Portuguese Chicken Sammie La Diva Style!

For two:

2 chicken breasts (I prefer organic)
2 T flour
2 large soft sesame hamburger buns (I used a crunchy water roll which made the burger harder to eat!)
Mayonnaise
2 slices mild cheddar or American cheese
leaf lettuce
oil for frying
salt

Chile sauce:

1 garlic clove, finely minced
Juice of half a lemon
1 t piripiri chile powder
2 T chile paste (I used Gourmet Garden Chile Pepper Spice Blend from the tube, in the produce aisle)
1 t Louisiana hot sauce
1 T white wine vinegar

Mix together in a shallow bowl and set aside.

Taking a very sharp knife, cut along the thickest part of the chicken breast lengthwise to create two fillets.  You should have four thin chicken fillets.  Using a mallet over plastic wrap, lightly pound chicken to flatten to about 1/4 inch thick.  Salt on both sides and dust lightly with flour, set aside.

Lightly toast buns, slather with mayo on both sides.  Put lettuce leaves on bottom and then cheese slice.  Your bun is ready for toppin' with the chicken!

Heat oil in skillet and when hot, add chicken breasts.  When golden brown, flip over and finish cooking.  Remove chicken from skillet and take each fillet, one at a time, and dip into the chile sauce, making sure to coat both sides.  Put two chicken fillets on each bun and top.



EAT!!!!


RESULT:  Ok, La Diva did not have an Oporto burger to compare the taste to but I believe I've eaten enough to know that  I did a FINE JOB replicating the flavors, a MIGHTY FINE JOB!  When I asked the DJ what he thought, he just looked at me, sauce dripping down his chin and nodded, chomping furiously.  One, two, three bites and it was gone!  His satisfied grin was good enough proof for La Diva!

If you like a spicy sammie, this is the ONE: simple, easy to prepare and full of flavor!  This ain't no sandwich for wimps, anyone wearing white or women who are too delicate to "pick up their food with their hands," this is a SERIOUS SANDWICH for serious sandwich eaters!

So, do you think La Diva is a contender for Doggybloggy's BATTLE SANDWICH?  Go to his site ChezWhat? over the next few days to check out all the entries and see the winner!!!

Darlings, do YOU want to learn how to cook with unique spices and learn new flavor profiles?  La Diva Cucina offers a variety of classes to suit!  Click HERE for more info!
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Thai Crab Filling Does Double Duty!



La Diva just LOVES the food styling in this photo and wish it was something I was better at (or had the patience for!)  From the food department at Harrod's Food Court.


Darlings!  Well, I promised you part deux of the Thai crab post and here it is!  The day after La Diva made those scrumptious Thai crab stuffed squash blossoms, I had an entire bowl left of the crab and fish mixture, all seasoned and good to go.  I knew I had to use it the very next day, I didn't want to risk letting the delicious crab spoil.

  The day before I experimented using a couple of dumpling wrappers.  I put a dollop of the crab into the middle of a round Chinese dumpling wrapper and then pinched the top together like a money bag.  I fried it and after a few seconds cooling, tasted it. Wow.  Succulent and divine and DANGEROUS with the hot crab juice squirting out!  YIKES!   Yep, these would make great party canapes!  But, La Diva was not about to eat a bunch of fried money bags for dinner.  I had to think of a healthier, less heavy way to utilize the rest of the crab meat.




Crab claw meat, full of flavor and cost effective, worked just fine in my dish!


I thought about using the dumpling dough again but this time I would steam them.  Or how about making a nice hearty pasta dough and doing a Thai crab ravioli?  Good ideas all, but I didn't want to  prepare anything too fiddly and time consuming for a Sunday dinner by making tons of tiny parcels.  Too much work for a lazy rainy day!

Hmmmm.....I could simply heat it and serve over rice with some julienne zucchini and carrot?  Nah.  Too simple and rustic.


And then, I got it:  Crab cakes!  YES!

All I did was take the mixture from the day before and added a whole beaten egg and since the seafood was so wet, I added two tablespoons of panko bread crumbs to help bind it all together.  I divided it  into four and formed patties.  I put them on a plate and into the refrigerator to chill for about a half hour.

I then made the coconut rice, which is so easy and divine tasting that it will fool you into thinking that it is more than just two ingredients!!  Simply combine one cup jasmine rice to one cup coconut milk  and cook as normal and you'll get a deliciously sublime rice that will grace any Asian meal.


While the crab cakes were chilling, I got started on the eggplant.



 
La Diva LOVES this mild but flavorful roasted chili paste from Thai Kitchen.  I get it at Whole Foods and use it to add depth of flavor, it doesn't add a lot of heat at all and I use it in my Asian orange blossom honey sauce that I serve kids, it's that mild!


La Diva's Stir-fried Eggplant with Garlic and Roasted Chiles

For two

  • Take half of a small eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and place in strainer.  Salt and let drain for half hour, blot with paper towel to remove all excess moisture.

  • Put enough oil in wok for deep frying.  When oil is hot, carefully add a handful of eggplant.  Don't add all the eggplant at once or you will crowd the pan.  I fried the eggplant in two batches.  When brown, remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Drain off all oil and set aside.

  • In mortar, smash two cloves garlic and add a heaping tablespoon of roasted chile paste.  Mix together.  

  • Get wok hot again and add garlic chile paste, stirring continuously and then add a dash of Chinese wine (Shaohsing) and continue stirring.  Turn heat to low and add the eggplant back, mixing the chile garlic paste through and then mash together lightly with a fork.  Make sure you do not mash completely and all ingredients are mixed through.  Serve at once.


The crab cakes look a little too toasty on the edges, don't they?  La Diva thinks the oil was a tad too hot for the delicate crab!  Still, they tasted excellent with a lovely CRUNCH!  I would have taken another photo of the steamy delightful inside but you know, hot crab cakes need to be eaten, not photographed!

RESULT:  WOW.  La Diva was very, very pleased with this entire exercise.  The texture of the crab cake was crunchy on the outside but moist flavorful crab on the inside, with true Thai flavors, of course.  The soft textured eggplant works great with the crunchy crab cakes and the moist, rich and mildly flavored coconut rice.  The eggplant with the garlic and chile really take the poor little eggplant to the next level and I felt this dish tasted like one of my fave dishes from the Java Indonesian restaurant in Sydney.  In fact, DJ Nevah L8, never much of a "slimy" eggplant fan (his words,) ate it right up!  See, just goes to show you, fry anything and you can please even the pickiest of eaters!  

I just love when a dish does double duty but this filling goes further than that with numerous ways to serve for appetizers OR dinner.  Definitely a winner!  Darlings, any ideas on what YOU would do with the Thai crab filling?  La Diva wants to hear!

DON'T FORGET PEEPS, THE CULINARY SMACKDOWN COMPETITION FOR BATTLE SANDWICH IS ON!!  IT IS BEING HOSTED BY DOGGYBLOGGY OF CHEZWHAT? AND THE DEADLINE IS MIDNIGHT, AUGUST 23. YOU CAN GET MORE DETAILS BY CLICKING HERE.

Miami Beach Storm: 8-15-10































Photos taken by Felix Pike 8-15-10

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Thai Crab STUFFED into SQUASH BLOSSOMS = DAYUM!

 
 Calabaza blossoms are what La Diva got for stuffin'!  Calabaza is a type of hard squash grown in Florida and the Caribbean and so naturally features in dishes from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, etc.  The squash I get down here is round like an orange pumpkin but has dark green skin with yellow stripes.

Darlings!  Well, dear readers, like many of you, La Diva was getting  very inspired by Chef Doggybloggy of ChezWhat? and Chef Dennis of More than a Mountful-A Culinary Journey, for all their deliciously creative posts using zucchini blossoms!  One post after another, I saw  the blossoms  stuffed, fried, put into lasagna and even into muffins.

And boy did it make La Diva MAD!!!

Why is that?  I hear you ask.

Because La Diva wanted to play with zucchini blossoms too and I could NOT FIND THEM ANYWHERE!  And I was getting mighty jealous that those lovely flowers were available in abundance up North and here in Flo-duh, not a petal to be procured or a flower to be found.  Another post would appear and another twinge of envy would creep in.  Damn.  I not only wanted to cook with them but I was now craving them.  After all, the last time I had a stuffed zucchini blossom was back in March at a fabulous Thai restaurant in Sydney.  Darling, those blossoms were so delicious that I DREAMED about them for weeks and would wake up with the pillow stuck to my face from all the drool!  (And believe me, a drooling diva is not a sight to see!)


 
From Yok Thai in Sydney:  zucchini flowers filled with minced prawn, battered and fried and garnished with chile, green onion, cilantro and peanuts! Crunchy, spicy, sweet delightful YUM.


Yes, darlings, La Diva would do her best to recreate that divine appetizer but without the blossoms available at any of the grocery stores, what was I to do?

How could I get my hands on some of those tasty, delicate flowers? 

La Diva did what I always do when I need to source something, I asked my Facebook friends!  And, wouldn't you know it, my fave farmer Margie from Bee Heaven Farms came through by telling me she had just delivered some farm-fresh calabaza blossoms to the Whole Foods Markets!

The flowers looked exactly like zucchini flowers but included only the blossoms with no tiny squash attached.  I got two packages of five, a small container of crab claw meat and a piece of tilapia, it was  time to go home and PLAY!

Here's what La Diva did:

I steamed the tilapia and let it cool,  then refrigerated for about a half hour.

In a mortar, I pounded 

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red bird's eye chile
  • 2 inch stalk lemongrass
  • 1/2 inch ginger, grated
  • 2 T grated palm sugar
  • zest from one lime 
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves cut into tiny strips

I poured half of the small container of crab meat into a bowl and then blotted the excess moisture out with a paper towel.  Using half of the fish as well, I flaked the tilapia, blotted with a paper towel and added to the crab.  Why didn't I just use the crab meat?  Because La Diva finds crab to be very rich and I wanted to extend an expensive product by adding the bland tilapia.  The crab claw meat also has a stronger flavor, so lends itself to this adaption perfectly.  It's also the most cost effective crab meat without using canned.

Of course, I didn't use lime juice but only the zest as I didn't want the acid from the juice to turn my crab mixture into mush!  The zest added the perfect amount of citrus brightness.  The kaffir lime leaf is a KEY COMPONENT to authentic Thai flavorings and if you can get your hands on some, triple wrap them in plastic and keep them in the freezer to be used as needed.

I mixed all the ingredients together in a bowl, being careful not to break the crab up too much, and added the egg white to help bind the mixture and then carefully, pulled the stamen out and stuffed those little buggers!  I found another blogger called Taste Buddy that goes through the stuffing process very well, you can see how she did it step-by-step by clicking HERE.  Be very careful not to rip the delicate petals.  I twisted the ends of the petals to "seal" them and then put in the fridge for about 15 minutes for them to chill and set.

I also borrowed Taste Buddies batter recipe:

2/3 cup flour 
1 c soda water

I whisked the batter in a bowl and set it aside while I heated the oil in my wok.  When the oil was hot, I carefully dipped the flowers in the batter and then lightly fried them and drained on a paper towel.


 

It just so happened that I had bought a green papaya at the Asian market the other day so I made some som tum or Thai green papaya salad.  I'm sure you've had it at the Thai restaurant before?  It's basically a papaya "slaw" with Thai dressing of lime juice, fish sauce, garlic and chilies and topped with crushed  peanuts and it can be served with raw green beans and tomatoes.  The salad has the Thai flavors of sour, hot and a bit of sweet and is delicious, crunchy and fresh, a perfect combo for the rich crab and fried batter texture.



RESULT:  Like I said, DAYUM.  AND I MEAN DAYUM!!!  This was more-ish, gorgeous, light yet rich tasting and very flavorful.  The stuffing tasted like it was entirely of crab and was quite mild.  The kaffir lime and lemongrass flavors really came through and La Diva hit a home run for authentic Thai tastes.  The refreshingly crisp salad was the perfect foil for the battered blossoms and though this would be served as a starter to a main course, we had this for our dinner.  It was luxurious and very satisfying.


Now doesn't that look DIVINE, darlings?  La Diva's Thai-style crab stuffed squash blossoms!! 

And now, Jealousy's ugly head has been squashed down to the  darkest depths of my psyche and La Diva can once again visit Chefs Doggybloggy and Dennis' blogs without stabbing pangs of  SQUASH BLOSSOM ENVY.  And best of all, I still had half of the crab and fish mixture left.  What did La Diva do with it?  Come back to my blog for the next post where you can see my Thai style crab doing double duty!   Ciao for now, darlings!

Want to learn how to make  delicious Asian dishes paired with sassy cocktails?  Take my Asian cooking and cocktail class, you can get info by clicking HERE!
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Routine DESTROYS La Diva's Soul


Darlings!  Well, that statement is a little dramatic, isn't it, even for a Diva?  Although, I have to admit,  dramatic or not, it's very true.  And it's a HUGE reason why I decided to work for myself.  I HATE doing ANYTHING on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.  It's not that I don't like to work every day, I work very hard on my business  and  get up and go to work each day just like a regular job.  But, I make a point of not doing the exact same thing every day and being an Army of One, I couldn't if I tried.  Each day brings a variety of tasks from marketing, to creating promotional materials, to inventing and testing recipes, writing proposals or to attending networking or industry events.

I remember a few years back while living in Los Angeles, I joined a small gym that was similar to Curves.  It was a circuit training circle, you worked out on one particular machine to the music and after so many minutes, the music would stop and you go to the machine on your right and work out for so many minutes, the music would stop and you go to the machine on your right and work out for so many minutes, the music would stop and you go to the machine on your right and.....well,  you get the drift. 

I quit after a month, I was bored out of my skull and it made me not want to work out ever again!  I felt like a little prancing poodle, running mindlessly in robotic circles, unable to think or motivate myself.  I dreaded going to that gym, so I canceled my membership and decided from that point forward to switch around the type of workouts I would do based on how I felt that day, how much time I had and what the weather was like.  Now I do exercise DVDs at home, swim laps in the pool, ride my bike around the beach and do yoga at the park.  It's good for a Diva to have variety.

And being part of a routine is why La Diva is having a difficult time writing my blog lately.  As I get busier with the responsibilities of La Diva Cucina Inc., I just don't have the time to do more than one or two posts a week.  I committed to posting about Meatless Mondays to the organization and I find it difficult to find the time to write additional posts on other dishes I make.  And Diva don't like that, not one little bit.

I love the Meatless Monday concept and will continue to be a participant.  After all, we "go meatless" at least once a week anyway; I don't find it difficult or feel the need to make a conscious effort to do this.  However, the pressure of HAVING TO POST a meatless dish each Monday IS difficult for me.   My Meatless Mondays dishes usually turn out delicious but for the most part , they are really less than spectacular, rustic and simple.  Many times, they are one-dish meals and not very exciting, so I feel they are not worthy of a post and a photo, especially when I have other dishes I've made that week that are much more interesting and successful.  Frankly, La Diva finds it boring to write about dishes that don't excite or challenge and BOREDOM is the dell knell for my creative juices.



In the past, I also found it difficult to write a daily CSA post when I was attempting to show other CSA subscribers what to do with their veggies by posting my own daily creations.  But that ended up killing my writing inspiration too,  I felt that because I had "committed' to it, that I HAD to write about it.  It made me resentful and instead of feeling like I had something I wanted to share with the blogging world and foodie friends, it made me angry that I HAD to write something I didn't really have the time to do.

And that's not good either.

I was going to start to get very serious in my posts about Meatless Mondays too.  But it was difficult to research as there is so much information (and misinformation) out there.  I also found that researching a topic at length and writing in serious style to really drain the joy out of my posts.  There are plenty of other people out there addressing serious subjects (Hello Lazaro!) and I'll leave it up to them to tell the world their important stories.  La Diva wants to be fun, silly and sassy while I continue on my culinary journey of constantly improving my cooking skills and techniques and embracing various ethnic foods and dishes.



It's not that I'm lazy, I'm just whimsical.  And yes, I have found that I DO loathe HAVING to write about something specific every week, the routine of it just kills my creativity and I find it repressive.  Could I ever write a weekly column?  It made me wonder.  Only if I had a lot of freedom within the topic or theme.  But at the same time, getting paid for something you must do can really change one's attitude!  What I DO know is that I am learning about my writing style, my own self and what I am willing (or not willing!) to do.  And that clarification, along with being "true" to myself, feels good. 

I write this blog primarily to promote my business, give me some industry cred as a chef and also promote a good internet presence, I DO write to express myself.  I blog because it's fun and because I want to teach and also because I want to learn.  I love my community and your comments.  But, if it ain't fun, it just ain't done.

And so with that, I conclude my Meatless Mondays weekly posts and they will now be relegated to a post only if I find them photo and post-worthy, just like any other dish I write about.   I have added a logo and a link to all my Meatless Mondays recipes and more on the right side bar.   

Some future post themes I am considering are the various ways to create tasty fish dishes as I find many people have a fear of cooking fish, especially whole fish.  But don't look for a weekly or monthly post on this subject.  Because if I "commit" to that, it will be the kiss of death!  Ciao, 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, next food network star

Bacardi's Flavored Rums Makes Summer Cocktail Concocting a Breeze!

Guess which rum was Diva's favorite?  Can you tell?

Darlings!  A few weeks ago, La Diva was about to head off to the pool to do laps when my phone rang.  Not recognizing the number, I let it go voice mail, and continued down to do my workout.  Upon my return, I checked the message, and to my surprise, found it was from a deliveryman wanting to confirm my address for a liquor delivery.

WHA?

To my knowledge, La Diva had no deliveries coming.  I called the deliveryman and was told he had a case of Bacardi rum in assorted flavors to deliver to me and wanted to confirm my address.

WHA?

I hurriedly gave him my address realizing at once that an industry compatriot who works for Bacardi was most likely behind this surprise package.  I had recently written him to tell him that I was still experimenting at perfecting my cherry basil mojito using Bacardi white rum.


One of the historic Bacardi buildings of Bacardi USA Headquarters in Miami.

The package arrived an hour later and, yep, there was an entire case of rum just waiting for La Diva to experiment with!   I checked out the selection and was delighted to find interesting new flavors as well as premium rums including Anejo and Select.  La Diva was mighty pleased!   Now, all La Diva had to do was to "stash" the goods in a secret hiding place until I returned from my holiday in Detroit as I was leaving the next morning!



Would you trust this thirsty bear to not drink an entire case of your rum while you were away on holiday?  Diva didn't either!!!


When I  got back ten days later, La Diva was eager to share the prize with her fave bearman and deejay, DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah!)  When I showed him the case of rum, he almost fainted.  I told him that a tasting was in order and he quickly agreed, running to the kitchen to get shot glasses.  

Here are my tasting notes:

Bacardi Anejo:  Pale golden color with a smooth taste, though quite strong, it is a delicious premium rum.  The Bacardi website says the anejo is "mixable" but we enjoyed it alone over ice.

Bacardi Gold:  La Diva is very, very familiar with this golden rum and has used it for years for a more rich, sugarcane flavor in cocktails.   I found the taste to be very similar to the anejo, smooth and strong, but would use this for cocktails when a darker, full-bodied rum flavor is required.


 The other groovy building of Bacardi USA Headquarters in Miami.  For more info on the history and preservation of the buildings, you can click HERE.

Bacardi Select:  This dark and sultry rum was definitely my favorite amongst the premium rums.  I prefer to slowly sip it over one ice cube like a good single malt scotch.  I imagine this to be an excellent cooking rum in desserts as well and had dreams of using it for Bananas Foster.  I say IMAGINE because we are already on our second bottle and have yet to do anything with it besides drink it over ice!


Bacardi Seven Tiki Spiced Rum:  This was La Diva's second favorite as this smooth and oh-so-mixable Fijian rum exuded flavors of vanilla, nutmeg and other spices.  While La Diva and the DJ were so very happy to drink this mellow, slightly sweet and flavorful rum on its own, I am certainly looking forward to creating a cool cocktail with it soon.  Any suggestions, darlings?


And now, on to Bacardi's flavored rums made with real fruit essences and natural flavors and of course, premium Bacardi rum.

You can check out all the Bacardi flavors and recipes by clicking HERE

Bacardi Razz:  I think that this flavor, along with the Limon and Orange, has been out for a while now.  While this rum had a good raspberry flavor, I personally found it to be too sweet for my palate.  I think the Razz would make an excellent flavoring agent in cocktails and would be refreshing with just soda or tonic water.


Bacardi Coconut:  La Diva liked this rum A LOT.  Unlike other coconut rums, this was not sickly sweet and exuded flavors of a true, natural coconut, not a chemical fake coconut taste.  La Diva CANNOT WAIT to try this in my coconut mojito and other tropical concoctions.  Highly recommended for cocktails!

Bacardi Big Apple:  Another rum flavor La Diva believes is targeted towards the younger set....and has the sour green apple flavor we have come to know from the apple martini craze a few years back.  If you like that taste, you will love this.  I did not.  But, do you think that will stop La Diva from finding a way to USE it and LIKE it?  Hell no!  Perhaps mixing with a liqueur or another flavored rum would do the trick?  We'll see, La Diva will keep you posted!

Bacardi Grand Melon:  Now even though I found this rum to be sweet, I DID like the excellent honeydew melon flavors.  Not too chemical or fake, I found the rum to be a more natural melon flavor and definitely not sickly and syrupy like Midori.  Definitely could mix some fun cocktails with this rum.


Bacardi Dragonberry:   The bottle says that the rum is flavored with the exotic dragonberry and strawberries.  Now, La Diva isn't quite sure what dragonberry tastes like but have read it's a cross between kiwi and pineapple.  However, all I could taste with this rum was a strong and sweet strawberry taste.  This rum would be great for mixing with cocktails but as a stand alone or with soda, it's a bit too sweet for me.  And now that I think about it, it might make a good base for a summertime fruit punch.    For more Dragonberry recipes, click HERE.

Bacardi Torched Cherry:  The label says Barbados cherry and torched aloe. Um yeah, what the heck IS "torched aloe?"  Eeek!  I've only had regular aloe juice and it was not very memorable.  Bloody marketing department taking liberties again!  And,  La Diva is not usually a fan of cherry flavor unless it's real, natural cherry flavor.  However......I loved this burnt cherry rum and found it solved my cherry basil mojito challenges! 

I had come up with the idea of a cherry basil mojito a few months back and was damn determined to perfect the concoction as I just KNEW it would be a complimentary combo.  But while La Diva tried using real cherries, frozen cherries, cherry preserves and basil sugar syrup to create a tasty cherry basil mojito, none of them was quite right.  One of the problems was that the flavor of limes in the mojito was overpowering while the lack of lime juice left the cocktail without any depth or anywhere near being a mojito.  With the cherry flavored rum, my problems were solved.  I simply muddle a few basil leaves with sugar and ONE lime wedge, added 1.5 ounces of the torched cherry rum and topped with soda.  Voila!  Cherry basil mojito!

Of course, this cherry rum was delicious with coke!  For more Bacardi Torched Cherry recipes, click HERE.

And finally, Bacardi Peach Red:  Another La Diva favorite and a rum that "tricked" me into liking it!  Like cherry, I find true peach flavor to be elusive in flavored liquors.  But, LA DIVA DID LOVE THE PEACH RED.  I wouldn't say it was a natural peach flavor and though sweet, I really enjoyed the flavor of this rum anyway.  I immediately concocted a delicious and refreshing summer cocktail with it:


The FUZZY ROJO!

La Diva's peachy cocktail:  The Fuzzy Rojo!  Summery and delicious without being too sweet.


La Diva's Fuzzy Rojo:

1.5 oz. Bacardi Peach Red rum
ginger beer
dash peach nectar
dash grenadine

In a rocks glass full of ice, add the rum and then a dash of grenadine (for color)  Now add a good dash of peach nectar (1/2 oz.) and then top with ginger beer.  Garnish with peach slice and enjoy! 
The Bacardi flavored rum range is an excellent way to make fun and flavorful cocktails without adding fruit puree or flavored sugar syrups, a time AND money saver.  While I found some flavors to be more natural tasting than others, and some to be more sweet and "girly," I think that all of the flavors can be used in myriad ways to create delicious drinks for summertime or anytime, really.

La Diva gives the Bacardi rums a HUGE THUMBS UP and is highly appreciative of the generosity of her Bacardi buddy Billy!  Cheers and ciao for now, darlings!

Do YOU want to learn to make cocktails like a professional mixologist?  La Diva teaches bartending tricks and more at her small bites, BIG DRINKS cooking and cocktail classes!  Click HERE for more info!
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, next food network star

Meatless Mondays: Coconut vegetable curry


 

Darlings, darlings, DARLINGS!!!  La Diva has been busy, busy, busy!  And here it is, sleepy summertime, and what is known as the "slow season" in Miami, and yet La Diva has been working her little culinary tail off!  And sometimes when you cook for a living and are busier than normal, the last thing you want to do is cook a complicated meal for dinner.

As per usual, what is in the fridge from my organic vegetable box dictates what I prepare for mealtime.  Today, I found myself with bits and pieces of veggies that begged to be used at once but was not really enough for a stand-alone side:  one fat carrot, a zucchini, a half cup of freshly shelled peas, redskin potatoes, green beans that were getting old and one lonely, tired turnip.  What to do, what to do?

And then it hit me:  a nice warm and spicy Indian vegetable curry would hit the spot.


"An Indian curry,"  I hear you say?  "Won't that be a bit a bit heavy for hot summer days?"


Honey, have you ever BEEN TO INDIA?  What do you think THEY eat in the heat?  I guarantee they ain't eatin' a delicate bowl of white gazpacho chilled soup!

Truth is, La Diva loves a good curry anytime of the year, it's easy, it's filling and so very tasty!  Top it off with a cooling raita yogurt sauce, serve over basmati rice and perhaps a chilled, peppery mango lassi and honey, you'll feel like you doing the mambo in Mumbai. 



I often use Patak's curry pastes for quick Indian inspired dinner with authentic flavors.


Here's what La Diva did:

La Diva's Coconut Vegetable Curry


Serves 4


1 small white onion
1 medium turnip, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 handful of green beans, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
4 medium redskin potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 large zucchini, cut lengthwise and cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup peas
2 T Patak's mild curry paste
1/2 cup water
1/2 can coconut milk
2 T vegetable oil

Heat oil in Dutch oven or large pot and saute onion until translucent.  Add curry paste, fry for 30 seconds while stirring, and then add water.  Add veggies in order:  turnip, carrot, green beans and potatoes.  Add coconut milk and bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a slow simmer.  Cook, covered for 30 minutes or until just fork tender.  Add zucchini and peas and continue cooking with cover off until zucchini is just cooked, 10 minutes.  Grate ginger over curry, stir through and then take off heat.  Adjust salt as needed.


Meanwhile, make enough basmati rice for four people.




Indians use yogurt to cool off their tongues and palate while eating spicy curries!  Another way to cool the palate is with the popular mango yogurt drink lassi.  This refreshing drink is easy to make and mangoes are in season now!  Click HERE to take you to a simple recipe.


La Diva's Quick Raita:

1 c plain Greek yogurt (low fat or non fat, I prefer Fage)
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into small dice
1/4 white onion, grated into bowl
1 t mint (dried or fresh)
1/2 t ground coriander
salt to taste

While the curry is cooking, mix all ingredients into a small bowl.  Salt to taste and serve over curry as needed.

 





La Diva's vegetable coconut curry over basmati rice with raita.  

RESULT:  Mmmmmm.... such a warm and comforting dish to La Diva and her DJ Nevah L8.  The mild curry spice is further mellowed by the addition of the coconut milk without any reduction in flavor.  I add a bit of spicy mango pickle to make mine hot and then put a dollop of raita on to cool it all off!   Yes, I make it hot to cool it off!   The turnips, usually bitter to me, lose their intensity under the curry spice, the potatoes are buttery and the carrots are sweet.  The dinner was an easy triumph and now my veggie drawer is empty and ready for today's veggie delivery!

Ciao, darlings!


Do you want to learn more about ethnic cooking styles?  My small bites, BIG DRINKS cooking and cocktail classes focus on various ethnic inspired dishes from around the globe!  Go HERE for more info. 
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