La Diva Cucina's Romantic Dinner for Two

 What is it about dining on the water that makes it so pleasant and romantic? This looks like a lovely spot!

Darlings!  About six weeks ago I was referred to a gentleman that was asked by his wife to cook her a romantic dinner at home by their pool for her birthday.  He confessed to me, "I can't cook," and being a smart guy, he did the right thing, he hired La Diva!  He told me they would like appetizers (my specialty!) so I proposed a menu of small plates with a light main course and dessert.

Here's the menu I created just for their special night:

Oysters a la Carl:  Freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, grilled with garlic and custard with prosciutto, arugula and parmigiano cheese

Orange and Rosemary Prosciutto-wrapped Shrimp

Grilled Diver Scallops with Macadamia Pesto over Roasted Tomato Sauce

Seared Mahi Mahi with Israeli Couscous and Zucchini in a Saffron Tomato Broth

Champagne Zabaglione with Fresh Fruit Compote


Oysters a La Carl:  Three is all you'll need of this scrumptious dish but I promise you will be longing for more!


This recipe I named after my dear old boss and restaurateur, Carl.   I was the cocktail bartender at his upscale brasserie in Sydney every Saturday night and we developed a close friendship revolving around our ex-pat status and a passion for delicious and decadent food.  He was a dear friend that left this planet much too early, so I make this dish in his honour, since he taught it to me.  

Growing up in an American family with Italian roots, we tend to not pair any cheese with seafood.   But just like Oysters Mornay, this combo with parmigiano cheese not only WORKS, but is super delicious and impressive!


 
Orange & Rosemary Prosciutto-Wrapped Grilled Shrimp: THIS is NOT the time to scrimp on the shrimp!  Use large shrimps leaving the tail intact and make sure the prosciutto is sliced super thin or it will overpower the delicate flavor of the prawn.  

At first I hesitated to include this dish as I would be repeating the prosciutto however, the combination of the Sambuca liquer along with the rosemary and orange zest in the marinade made for a completely different flavor profile.

La Diva found this recipe over at Sippity Sup and it sounded so unique and tasty, I just KNEW I had to try it!  Which brings me to a very good piece of advice:  never trial a recipe for the first time for company or a client.  I experimented with this dish for DJ Nevah L8 a few weeks back and he loved it!  (as did my clients, thanks GREG!)  For the recipe go HERE.



This little set up in Quintana Roo, Cancun, would do La Diva very nicely indeed!




Grilled Diver Scallops with Macadamia Pesto over Roasted Tomato Sauce:  I first developed this dish when living in Sydney, Australia, as scallops on the half shell and macadamias are so easy to obtain.


I would usually grill these right in their shells but since it's hard to get actual scallops that way here, I seared off the scallops in a pan, dolloped with the pesto and put under the broiler just for a few seconds to warm the macadamia pesto (sans parmigiano cheese!) 

For making at home, I usually would just roast the tomatoes with garlic, wine and herbs and plate it up, but because I wanted to make this look extra special, I pureed the sauce and then strained it to give it a very smooth texture and offer a less rustic presentation. 


Seared Mahi Mahi with Israeli Couscous and Zucchini in a Saffron Tomato Broth:  I actually had a dish of seared fish in a saffron broth with Israeli couscous at a restaurant here in Miami a few years ago and it inspired my own version of this elegant and light main course!

I would normally serve it with more broth but that only works best using a plate with more depth or a large shallow bowl.  Still, all of my plates came back clean, so no complaints, only compliments!



   How about this private poolside one bedroom suite in Bali, Indonesia?  "Um, DJ?  We are ordering room service!"



Champagne Zabaglione with Fresh Fruit Compote:  A light and decadent adult dessert as the perfect ending for an elegant, romantic meal!  

After four rich seafood courses, La Diva needed to finish off this meal with something that would not be too heavy.  So, naturally, I asked Moi, the consummate baker and dessert lover over at The Undaunted Baker,  and she recommended this zabaglione recipe.   Zabaglione is the Italian version of the French dessert sabayon.  It is a very light custard that is whipped but this version included sparkling wine (instead of the traditional Marsala wine) with whipped cream folded in.  I served it over a fruit compote of wine-drenched kiwi, pear, orange and raspberries.  Believe me when I say it was DIVINE!  (and super easy!)  You can find the recipe for it HERE.

Tip:  Don't be cheap with the bubbly and stick by the cooking wine rule of "If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it!"  Since zabaglione is Italian, I used an Italian Prosecco, but any DRY sparkling will do, but let it be of quality as it truly is the main flavor component of the zabaglione.

RESULT:  When I asked my clients if they enjoyed the service, they said, "It was perfect!"  When I asked them if they enjoyed the food, their response was "Are you kidding me?!"  And the plates came back clean as my proof!  La Diva was SO HAPPY to be the one to indulge and spoil this lovely couple for their celebration!  And the best part for them:  they are already at home, no driving and no clean up required!  A perfect, romantic dinner for two.

Ciao for now, darlings!

If you require the services of La Diva as your  PERSONAL CHEF IN MIAMI please click HERE for more info!

Heart Healthy Dim Sum Sunday meets Meatless Monday on a Tuesday!

Pretty cocktails ALWAYS grab La Diva's attention, what about YOU?

Darlings!  La Diva is going through one of her "dry" spells again...  Once again, I have too much on my plate!   (pardon the pun!)  I've been cooking for my business by testing recipes and furiously marketing my classes to get asses in seats, working on "optimizing" my website and forever being an Army of One working six days a week, and guess what falls by the wayside?  My poor blog!  When dinner constitutes a quick and easy stir fry (cuz I've been cooking all day) or a super simple pasta, it does not leave one feeling very inspired to write.  Sure the dinners taste great and are delicious, but blog worthy?  Meh.

And of course, Shamu over at Karmic Kitchen announced a new theme for her Dim Sum Sundays:  Heart Healthy.  Damn.  I had just made a spectacular seared mahi mahi in a light saffron broth only days before but didn't think to take any photos!  (Imagine that?!  Just cooking to EAT!  A novel concept!)

So, come Sunday, in my little Diva head I'm thinking to myself:  "I got nothin'.  And the boys at the pool are calling!"  It's always a tough choice:  "Hmmm.....cocktails by the pool with the boys in the sunshine or upstairs in my dark apartment, cooking, taking photos and blogging?"  Well, darlings, you know WHAT WINS in La  Diva's book!


 The boys at MY pool wear only slightly more than these hunks!  HA!

Hence, I find myself on a Monday with no dinner, no photos and nothin' to blog about!  Why, even my Australian archives are quickly diminishing!

And then DJ Nevah L8 comes home with our organic veggie box and inspiration flows anew!  And what a delight to behold too:  beautiful and bright carrots in purple, white and orange, big bodacious beets and the most lovely, fat radishes I've seen, all with greens intact!  And then I notice the cruciferous cauliflower and broccoli in the box and ideas begin to spill out like an ingenue's breasts at a Hollywood party.  Ahem.  Ok, I EXAGGERATE ever so slightly. (But I kept your attention, didn't I?!)


I am SO DIGGING Jayne's sassy little sandals!  Click on the photo to see MORE!

In reality, La Diva wanted to make something fast and healthy and since the chicken breasts I took out of the freezer were still as hard as a rock, the dinner would also be meatless.


La Diva's Quick and Satisfyin' Vegetable Barley Soup!

Here's what I did:

  1. Put half cup barley in salted water in rice cooker and cook until just done, leaving a bit chewy or al dente.
  2. Saute some chopped carrots, onions and celery in olive oil until tender.
  3. Season with favorite spices and herbs. (I was longing for a more exotic flavor instead of my stand by profiles of Indian curry or Italian seasonings so I went with a Lebanese baharat spice mix including paprika, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, cumin.  Divine!)
  4. Add 32 ounces chicken stock, bring to a boil and then simmer.
  5. Add a large handful of small, quick-cooking red lentils. 
  6. Added chopped white radish, broccoli and cauliflower florets.
  7. Toss in the cooked barley and let cook for another 10 minutes.
  8. At the end, adjust seasonings and stir through greens such as spinach or kale.  I used the fresh radish tops!
That's it!  And since the meal is low in fat and cholesterol and salt, I would say that this very heart healthy meal is completely suitable for Shamu's Heart Healthy Dim Sum Sunday AND for Meatless Monday, a two-fer!



Result:  MMMmmmmm garden fresh deliciousness!  La Diva was a wee bit concerned about the spices being too overpowering but was delighted to find the taste comforting and a far cry from my usual spice mix choices.  The barley and red lentils add a nice satiety to the dish as bread loaded with butter would kind of defeat the "heart healthy" purpose now, wouldn't it?

Want to see what everyone else made for their heart healthy option?  Click HERE to take you to Sham's site!  (so it's a few days late, DEAL, darlings!)

In the meantime, darlings, stay warm.  La Diva will be thinking of you on Sunday, when I'm down by the pool, slurping away on my cocktail with "my boys" in the sun! Ciao for now!


Want to learn how to be FABULOUS in the kitchen AND BEHIND THE BAR?  Come to my next small bites, BIG DRINKS cooking and cocktail class in Miami November 6th.  More details HERE!
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Herbie's keeps it SPICY, BABY!


Darlings!  One of my all time favorite stores in the entire world is an unpretentious little spice shop in the hip suburb of Balmain, in Sydney, Australia!  (Ok, I bet you thought Diva was going to say the Louboutin Shop in Bal Harbour?  Close second! haha!)  The shop is called Herbies, and Ian Hemphill, aka "Herbie," has been in the spice trade for over 40 years!



Boasting hundreds of spices, spice blends, salts and essences, a trip to Herbie's is every gourmand's nirvana!  La Diva had a very hard time choosing what to buy to take back home and was very, VERY tempted to take the 140g jar of Herbie's most exquisite vanilla bean paste that he blends himself.  For a mere $33 USD a jar, a baker would have access to pure vanilla bean seeds preserved with raw sugar and lemon juice, exacting much more flavor than extract and certainly a lot less hassle than buying and scraping the beans yourself!  Brilliant!  But... La Diva knew that meant in order to justify the purchase, I had to do a lot of baking!  (And Diva don't need to be baking a lot of sweets! hmpf.) 



Ian Hemphill was so very gracious posing with me and letting me take photos of his shop.   His lovely wife Linda, who was in the shop that day, was incredibly helpful, making sure all of my parcels were vacuum sealed so La Diva could go through United States Customs without any drama! ("Uh, no, sir, that's OREGANO!!")

As I was making my very special "Good-bye, Diva" dinner that evening, I asked Ian if he sold any fresh kaffir lime leaves.  He did not, but he did have dried.  Seeing the look of dismay on my face (as it would be another trip to the Asian grocer), he skipped out back and came back with a fragrant twig laden with the luscious leaves that he had picked off of his private tree.  And there was NO CHARGE!  I was forever grateful!

The hardest part about going to Herbie's is deciding what to buy!  La Diva always has to make sure to get what I cannot easily find here in the States, like Australian native spices such as wattleseed, native lemon pepper and lemon myrtle.  Also, other exotic and hard to find spices like black limes, which are used in Middle Eastern cooking, or baharat (known as Lebanese seven spice) or even fragrant spice mixes including cassia, cardamom and rose petals, which are combined to flavor cakes. 



Hemphill's skill at creating perfect spice blends is akin to a seasoned perfumer who blends essential oils to make a sublime perfume!  And for that reason, the shop specializes in hand blended spice packets making it easy for the novice or seasoned cook to recreate delicious dishes at home.  On the back of each packet a recipe is included along with an expiration date, as only fresh spices give the best flavor! 

Containing kaffir lime leaves, lemon myrtle, turmeric, salt, cumin, ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander seed, galangal, caraway and cayenne spices, the Balmain and Rozelle Spice mix is a La Diva favorite for seasoning corn meal for fried fish!  The lemon myrtle and kaffir lime really add a "zesty" brightness to the crumb breading and is perfect for seafood.

More faves are the Chaat Masala or Indian "all purpose seasoning" and Rendang Curry Mix including everything to make a divine Malaysian spicy beef curry!  It's a brilliant concept as I find that many people are intimidated going to ethnic grocery stores and also don't have the cupboard space to have so many different spices for one off ethnic dishes.  You can learn more about and order Herbie's hand blended spice packets by clicking HERE.



My bestie Lady Fifi has resigned herself to the fact that when La Diva is in town, loads of money will be spent at places shopping for things she had been trying to avoid........bwahahaaahaaa!


Gorgeously packaged spice packs make perfect Christmas gifts, especially for shipping!  Click HERE to see the Asian spice kit, Barbecue spice kit or even the Aphrodisiac spice kit!  And yes, you CAN order, they ship overseas!

Herbie's website is a FONT of information!  If you'd like to learn more about spices, he even has videos to answer your questions on "Herbie's TV!"   And if you want more spice references for your home, Herbies offers cookbooks, DVDS and even a spice dictionary! I sure do miss ol' Herbies spice shop but thankfully with the Internet, getting my Herbie spice fix is only a click away!  Go HERE to learn more about Herbie and his wonderful world of spices!

In the meantime, La Diva is going to tackle that Middle Eastern dish with black limes...mmm...

Ciao for now, darlings!

If YOU'D like to learn more about interesting spices and cooking why not do one of my hip Miami cooking classes?  In fact, there is ONE THIS WEEK!  Click HERE for more info for my "small bites, BIG DRINKS' cooking and cocktail class October 23.
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La Diva Cucina's small bites, BIG DRINKS Cooking and Cocktail Classes!


Darlings!  Have you ever wondered what exactly La Diva does?  What IS a culinary entertainer?   How does La Diva differ from other chefs teaching? And what makes La Diva's demonstrations and classes SO FUN AND UNIQUE?

Well, honeybunny, let La Diva fill you in!

La Diva has had dual careers in hospitality and advertising, sales and marketing.  I have worked as a cocktail bartender for years and am a self-taught chef that has been cooking since I was 8 years old.  I've also performed improv comedy at TheatreSports in Sydney, Australia and at Second City in Chicago, Illinois.  My combined experience allows me to be able to present cooking classes and demos in a way that many chefs aren't able to.

  • La Diva can SELL IT!
  • I am able to present the class in an easy to understand style making it entertaining and accessible for all levels of cooks.
  • La Diva shows you not just how to cook but everything you need to know to throw a fabulous cocktail party!
  • And finally, with her sassy sense of humor, LA DIVA MAKES IT FUN!


One of the ways I make the class fun is by offering instruction on how to make fabulous cocktails!  Every class starts off with a delicious, original La Diva cocktail that will  then be paired with an appetizer.  La Diva will teach you bartending secrets and tricks of the trade; my small bites, BIG DRINKS class is the only cooking class that will teach you how to make cocktails!



I conduct the classes at various locations including a designer kitchen, private homes, event spaces, hotels and my home in South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida.  Having a variety of options provides myriad entertainment choices for my clients.  By holding small, intimate classes at my home, I can offer more personalized instruction at times convenient to my clients.   Also, quite often my students love to keep the party  going by heading out to the clubs conveniently located in my neighborhood after class! 



 Living in some of the most vibrant cities in the world has allowed me to form a very unique culinary point of view!  I love to cook and teach Asian, Italian and Mediterranean foods but my repertoire is highly globalized.  So, due to popular demand, I have initiated themed cooking classes including:  Asian, Mediterranean, Vegetarian as well as my regular small bites, BIG DRINKS cooking class.    Soon I will be introducing:  Old School (think Madmen!), North African and Tropical cooking and cocktail classes!  You can check out all the themes by going to my website by clicking HERE.

video

Take a quick look at a sample of my class where I demonstrate how to make lettuce cups!  SO EASY, darlings!




In the previous photo,  I am showing how to cut iceberg lettuce into cups for the sang choi bao (Chinese lettuce wraps with pork and vegetables)  Here I am showing how to fill and wrap them into parcels for eating.



As all of you Top Chef crack monkeys know, a good chef ALWAYS tastes the food before serving!   (of course they are delicious!)



Classes are fun and social and La Diva encourages interaction between attendees!  When you attend one of my classes, you can sit back and enjoy or jump in and participate! (Do you expect me to cook AND make all of your drinks, darlings?!)


La Diva's students muddle together lime, sugar and Bacardi coconut rum for decadent coconut mojitos!




Another aspect to my classes that is unique and fun is the addition of my sidekick and personal deejay, DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah!)  He plays cool, downtempo beats adding to the hip, party vibe!   


 

Some events that are perfect for La Diva Cucina entertainment are:

  • bachelorette parties
  • bridal showers
  • family reunions
  • birthday parties
  • any event that requires fun and sassy entertainment combined with delicious food and drinks!


Have a more serious crowd?  Let La Diva entertain your corporate clients or staff with my "COMMUNICATIONS WITH LIBATIONS" cooking and networking class!  Instead of the tired, ol' hotel bar networkers, let La Diva break the ice and get people talking!  

Contact Laura Lafata at email or call 305 297 8121!


After a few cocktails, nibblies and laughs, friends are made and fun is had by all!  Don't believe me?  Check out my testimonials pages by clicking HERE or take a look at past event photos by clicking HERE!

La Diva Cucina is available to entertain at YOUR PARTY OR EVENT!  Click HERE for more info!

NEXT small bites, BIG DRINKS cooking and cocktail class* is OCTOBER 23, 2010.  1pm in South Beach!  Click HERE to pay online!

*You must be 21 or over to attend this class, thanks!

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Perfect Fall Fare: Caramelized Pumpkin & Sage Lasagna


Darlings!  One of the things I love most about pumpkin and squash are its versatility and certainly I've made enough dishes using them to attest to that.  I also love the shelf life of squash and pumpkin, it can sit in cold storage for months without any reduction in flavor or freshness when finally used.  Whenever I'm out of greens and fresh veggies, in the bottom of my refrigerator is usually a trusty pumpkin, patiently waiting to be cooked!

And like in posts past, La Diva found herself with a lovely red Kuri squash taking up WAY TOO MUCH SPACE in my crowded refrigerator and decided it was high time that I made something delicious with it.  The vegetable seems to make its way into my produce box every other delivery so I am ALWAYS looking for new ways to utilize it. 

A recent email from blogging buddy Mr. Peenee about a delightful pumpkin sage lasagna from a local San Francisco deli he frequented ignited my inspiration for this recipe. (Peenee's blog is always good to go to for a bit of snark and much-needed eye candy!)

Here's what La Diva did:

First off, put a large pot of water on to boil the lasagna noodles and heat the oven to 450 degrees.



Wash pumpkin, cut in half, scoop out seeds and gook and cut into slices leaving the skin on but removing the tough stems. 




 Put slices on silicon lined baking tray and douse liberally with extra virgin olive oil and salt on both sides.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.  (this is how the pumpkin gets caramelized when the natural sugars are released.) Turn over and continue cooking until fork tender and brown, about 15 minutes more.   Remove from oven and set aside.   Turn oven down to 375.




Make the ricotta cheese filling.  I used

  • one large tub of ricotta (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
Mix well and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the entire box of lasagna noodles to salted, boiling water and cook until just tender.  I usually go a minute under cooking time, remember it continues to cook in the oven.  (La Diva no likey mushy noodles!)  Strain and toss through butter or olive oil to prevent sticking.  Set aside.

Mozzarella:  It just so happened that La Diva went to the Farmer's Market looking for fresh goat cheese but alas, Hani, my favorite goat cheese maker, was not there.  So instead, I found some lovely and fresh bocconcini!  I bought two tubs.  When I got home, I drained the water off and roughly chopped it up, making about 2 cups.  (Darlings, of course you can use the shredded mozzarella from the store!  But if you get the chance to buy fresh, DO SO!)



Once the squash is cooked, put it into a food processor (leaving skin on) and add two tablespoons of sage.  Process until smooth and taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed.  As some squash can be quite starchy, I was concerned that the puree would be too dry once baked, so I added half of a cup of chicken broth to the puree for added moisture.  I had about two cups of pureed pumpkin.



Ooops!  I started making the layers and forgot to take photos!  I brushed a small amount of extra virgin olive oil on the bottom of a lasagna pan and added the first layer of noodles.  I cut one of the noodles into fourths and do a bit of patchwork so all layers have an entire layer of noodle reaching to the ends.

I then added a layer using half of the pumpkin and then half of the ricotta.  I then followed by a layer of noodles and then half of the chopped mozzarella.  I repeated the process.




Smooth the pumpkin puree over the noodles first.



Spread the rest of the ricotta mixture over the pumpkin.






The last layer will be noodles with the rest of the mozzarella with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmigiano cheese.  Dot butter around the top.  You should have four layers of noodle and will most likely have some left over.  DON'T THROW THEM OUT!  Cut 'em up into ribbons or squares and serve with tomato sauce like you would enjoy with any other pasta!


 MMmm......beautiful golden brown cheesy deliciousness, this more-ish lasagna is an inviting dish for a cool fall day.


Bake until golden brown on top and heated through completely, about 45 minutes.  Allow to set and cool for about 10 minutes and then serve.  You should have eight generous pieces.

I served this up with a simple mixed green salad topped with a lemon vinaigrette.  The citrus flavor really helps cut the richness of the dish!



 RESULT:  Hmmmm......very good, me thinks.  Very good indeed but yet....there were some things that I could definitely improve upon for next time.  For one, I found this recipe to be very cheese heavy, rich and just a tad greasy.  Now, I did send some to my vegetarian neighbor who said it was "just delicious."  And of course you know DJ Nevah L8 had no trouble downing two giant pieces.  But you know La Diva shows no mercy when creating a recipe.  It has to be perfect. 

While this recipe tasted just fine (and even better the next day!), I still think it had too much cheese for me, you know La Diva does not like rich food.  I think the next time I will use half of the mozzarella and instead create a bechamel sauce for the top.  Additionally, I thought I could definitely use another layer of pumpkin, the cheese kind of took over and a bit more sage would be appreciated as well.  I also think a sprinkling of crunchy pepitas would be divine!  Overall, the recipe was successful, but I'll certainly keep you posted with any modifications.

Delicious and filling for a cool autumn supper,  I guarantee your darlings will not miss the meat from a traditional lasagna!  Thanks for the inspiration Peenee!  (wish we were closer so I could bring some 'round! x)

For more cooking adventures, come to my cooking and cocktail class:  small bites, BIG DRINKS on Saturday, October 9 and October 23!  Click HERE for more info!
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