The Cooking Channel offers Worldly Flavours!

 Cooking Channel chef Luke Nguyen's Salt and Pepper Tiger Prawns!  Click HERE for the recipe!

Darlings!  Have you checked out any of the cooking shows on the Cooking Channel?  La Diva is loving it!  Why?  Because they air cooking shows, current and past, from all over the world bringing a more unique and global perspective than the boring pap that is currently being offered on the Food Network.  YAY!  Finally, some food La Diva can RELATE TO!



One of my fave shows is a blast from the past from when I lived in Australia back in the '90's.  In fact, when I left Chicago in 1993, there WAS no Food Network, so La Diva was weaned on cooking shows from the UK.  Watching Australian television is where I first learned of Jamie Oliver,  Nigella Lawson, Rick Stein and the Two Fat Ladies aka Clarissa Dickson Wright and the chain smoking, long, red varnished nail wearing Jennifer Paterson.

With Jennifer at the wheel of a motorcycle and Clarissa in a doublewide sidecar, the two chefs would galavant about the English countryside, stopping at schools and clubs, to make a feast using traditional culinary methods and only the best of local ingredients, while shunning supermarket produce. 


For more background info on these hilarious ladies and the beginnings of their unique show, click HERE.

Living up to their names, the large ladies are fun to watch and teach La Diva about a way of cooking that seems to be slipping away with today's busy cooks.  The meals they demonstrate are old time dishes like "deviled kidneys," "apple pandowdy"and "watercress mousse"  and many recipes feature ingredients like lard, treacle, offal and game.  Sadly, Jennifer passed away in August 11, 1999, after succumbing to lung cancer.  For more information on the Two Fat Ladies show and air times, click HERE.



Nigella Lawson of "Nigella Feasts" and "Nigella Express," brings food porn to new heights.  It's not because she's cooking anything truly gourmet, complicated or amazing, it's the sultry way she speaks, the descriptive words she uses and the luxurious attitude she has for cooking foods that satisfy her enormous cravings.  La Diva adores Nigella for these reasons and also for the fact that the gal offers no excuses for her ample curves and during her show there is NEVER any mention of calories or reduced fat, only scrumptiously tasty dishes that will satisfy.  Click HERE for air times and recipes featuring knockout Nigella.



Chinese Food Made Easy features Ching-He Huang, a Taiwanese born food writer and television chef.  With her show filmed in the UK, Ching-He demystifies Chinese cooking by using fresh local ingredients and updating and simplifying traditional Chinese dishes.  La Diva loves this show for a very simple reason:  The Food Network is sorely lacking in the Asian cooking show department and between Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen's "Luke's Vietnam" and "Chinese Food Made Easy," La Diva is able to get her ASIAN FOOD FREAK ON.  Check out Ching-He's show and easy recipes by clicking HERE or you can go directly to her own website by clicking HERE.




Everyday Exotic, hosted by Canadian chef Roger Mooking, is another La Diva fave because his cooking style is most like the way I enjoy cooking:  loads of spices while fusing various ethnic styles to produce highly flavored yet simple, comforting meals.  With family roots from China and Trinidad, Mooking's cooking approach melds exotic spices with every day dishes.  In each show he will feature an "obedient ingredient" like lychee, okra or star anise, and use the ingredient in three different dishes.  He's also quite a talented singer with a pleasantly raspy voice and a restaurateur in Toronto.  Check out air times and recipes by clicking HERE.

Darlings, what show on the Cooking Channel do YOU like and WHY?  Tell La Diva all about it, I am dying to know!  

Ciao for now, darlings!

The next La Diva Cucina small bites, BIG DRINKS class will be held at Fairchild Tropical Gardens on Thursday, December 9.  We will be doing "old school" apps and cocktails with a tropical twist!  Click HERE for more class info!
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La Diva LOVES Lemongrass!

 Lemongrass is usually sold fresh in bunches but you can get it frozen or in paste form as well.

Darlings!  La Diva is on a lemongrass kick and lately, I just can't get enough of it!  Since I am always getting questions about what lemongrass looks like, along with how to buy it, store it and use it, I've decided to post about this unique and divine herb.

Lemongrass is originally from India but you are probably most familiar with it when eating Thai or Vietnamese dishes.   The herb imparts a strong lemony smell and taste but without the acidity of regular lemon juice.  I usually ALWAYS have lemongrass on hand in my freezer or in a tube but now that the Southern Florida farmer's markets are open again, I've been able to get it fresh from the farm and have been using it as often as possible.  

The lemony flavor imparted from fresh lemongrass is the best, and also quite strong, but frozen or from the tube can work just as well, depending on what you are making.  You can also dry lemongrass, though I have never done it, and make a tea out of it.  I've had lemongrass tea and it is soothing and tasty.


Lemongrass stalks grow in a bushy bunch, is very easy to grow and is quite an attractive plant.  It's a perennial and grows to a height of two to three feet and needs very little maintenance. 

Lemongrass was part of my herb garden in my backyard in Sydney and I remembered it liked to be kept wet (but not soggy!)  I loved that I could simply chop off a stalk as I needed it.  You can learn more about growing it by clicking HERE.











Here you can see how the lemongrass separates into stalks near the roots.  The outer leaves of the grass are quite fibrous, so peel a few layers away before chopping.  You will only use the white part of the lemongrass, the rest is too tough to eat.  (see Farmer Margie's comment in the comment box.)  If using fresh lemongrass, you may first "bruise" it with the bottom of your chef's knife and then chop as finely as possible, this will help break down the tough fibrous husk.  Alternatively, you may leave the lemongrass in large chunks and then make superficial cuts to release the flavor.  Once the dish is cooked, you can simply remove the pieces.

 So, now that we know a little more about lemongrass, what does one DO with it?  Here's what La Diva's been doing with it!

EASY and FLAVORFUL

Flank steak marinated in lemongrass:  In a food processor add 1 chopped lemongrass stalk, 2  cloves garlic, about an inch of fresh ginger, roughly chopped, 1 tablespoon dried chile paste, 2 tablespoons sugar and process with a bit of water until it forms a smooth paste.  Slather on steak and marinate overnight.  Before grilling, scrape paste off and salt meat and cook until steak is just at medium.  You will LOVE the tangy flavor!  (La Diva doesn't see any reason why you couldn't do this with chicken or pork either!)

An EXOTIC TWIST to ITALIAN

The other day, I was going to make a stir fry with eggplant and Thai basil leaves but decided that on that night, I really needed something a bit more substantial and required the satiety of meat.  I didn't have anything on hand but a quick freezer search produced some spicy Italian pork sausage.  I decided to fuse Italian with Thai flavors and came up with lemongrass linguine with Italian sausage using stir fried eggplant, crumbled and browned sausage out of the casing and finely chopped lemongrass, chiles and garlic.  After sauteing all together, I added the al dente linquine, a bit of chicken stock and then tossed the fresh Thai basil leaves through it.  DJ Nevah L8 was addicted and ate the entire lot!

And then there is the dish I've made a few times in the last month, Sydney chef and restaurateur Luke Nguyen's lemongrass chilli chicken recipe (ga xao xa ot) and LA DIVA IS COMPLETELY ADDICTED.  I mean it, it's DAMN good!

Chef Luke Nguyen is my new fave chef these days!  Not only did I have one of the best modern Vietnamese dinners at his Sydney restaurant the Red Lantern, but I really enjoy how he demystifies Vietnamese cooking and ingredients on his show on the Cooking Channel.  The show is called "Luke's Vietnam" and is filmed throughout Vietnam with beautiful photography and scenery.   You can learn more about it by clicking HERE.

Okay, now back to this divine chicken!  Let me tell you something, we LOVE this dish.  It is super easy to make and is delicious.  Also, DON'T be tempted to use chicken breasts instead of the thigh, as you will be sacrificing flavor.  To be honest, I don't usually even LIKE chicken thigh meat but once you try this recipe, you'll be a convert for sure!  If you can't find the young coconut juice, not to worry, La Diva just used water and found the dish to be no less flavorful!

You can see a step by step video from his show and view the recipe by clicking HERE.  Watch the video before making the recipe as he will give you plenty of tips not included in the recipe!




Okay, darlings, La Diva found pork chops on sale so I made Luke's dish with "poke chop" instead of the chicken thighs.  (Just to show you how you can diversify these recipes and ideas!)   I also added some sliced baby bok choy to make it a home run meal in one!  DIVINE, darlings! (Go on and click on the image for extra-DIVINE-NESS!)



CONVENIENT and HASSLE FREE

La Diva LOVES this handy, pre-chopped lemongrass in a tube!  While I don't think this works for every dish in lieu of fresh lemongrass, it sure is handy, especially when La Diva needs a superfine texture and for this reason, I much prefer to use it in my Thai red curry pork meatballs over freshly chopped lemongrass.  It keeps in the refrigerator for a long time, is made from all natural ingredients, and best of all, you don't have to worry about finely chopping the lemongrass or getting any bits of the rough stalk in your dish!  This product is actually from Australia and is found in the produce department of the local grocery store.  You can get more recipes, including a fabulous idea for making lemongrass garlic aioli, by clicking HERE.

IT DOESN'T HAVE to be SAVORY

Finally, I also like using lemongrass in a sweet way besides just in savory dishes!  I make lemongrass ginger sugar syrup which is the main flavor component to my lemongrass ginger martinis taught at my small bites, BIG DRINKS cooking class!  Of course, I pair the cocktail with the Thai red curry pork meatballs.  I use the syrup for fruit smoothies as well as to flavor iced tea and am thinking it sure would be nice in a sorbet or perhaps a panna cotta as well!

EASY PEASY FREEZER STORAGE

 When lemongrass is in season or I find it at a good price, I buy more than I will use and then store the rest of it in the freezer, clean, dried and whole, in double freezer bags!  It will last for months without any diminished flavor and is ready for me whenever I get my lemongrass cravings!  (and just like frozen ginger, is very easy to chop frozen.)  HINT:  It is significantly cheaper to buy at the Asian grocery.

Well, darlings, I DO hope you enjoyed my little lemongrass lesson!  And I DO hope you will experiment with lemongrass and then tell Diva ALL ABOUT IT!

Ciao for now, darlings!

If you like Asian food and would like to learn more about it, why not do my "small bites, BIG DRINKS Asian cooking and cocktail class?!  Click here for more info!

FEAR OF FISH!!!!


Darlings, do you have a fear of fish?  La Diva isn't talking about the literal fear of fish or ichthyophobia, but actually the fear of COOKING fish, particularly WHOLE fish?

I think you do.  Admit it.  Ok, then, when was the last time you bought and cooked a whole fish, huh, HUH?!

Yeah, I thought so.

I think many people avoid buying whole fish because they are just plain ol' scared and unsure of what to do with it.  How do you clean it?  How do you buy it? WhaddyameanIgottatouchit?!  IT'S ALL TOO HARD!!!

Chill.  "There, there, darling." (pats head comfortingly)  La Diva will help EASE you out of your FEAR OF FISH once and for all.

And why whole fish anyway?  Well, why not?  It's about as silly as saying to yourself, why roast a whole chicken?  The whole fish is so flavorful and opens up so many more opportunities for cooking techniques you couldn't do with just a fillet.


When La Diva called Australia her home, I was exposed to so many types of fish and most of them were sold as whole fish.  To ask the fishmonger to fillet a whole fish for just a few pieces to sell is, well, wasteful.  You either buy the whole fish and he will clean them or you buy a fillet of something else.  So, really, I had much more choice and variety when I bought fish whole.  It's also usually fresher and certainly is cheaper by the pound as the more food is processed, the more costly it becomes.


 That strange "stuff" in the front of the cooler is actually local conch from the Florida Keys!

Sunday was the opening of Southern Florida's farmer's market season and you know La Diva HAD to be there.  I found this gentleman from the Islamorada Shrimp Company had several coolers of local seafood and when I saw he had hognose snapper, I jumped at the chance to buy it.  Why?  Because its local,  I NEVER see it at the grocery store and it looked fresh, smelled like the sea (and I love the delicate flavor and texture of snapper!)

Now, what to do with it?  Well, I just bought the most gorgeous fennel from Redland Organics so.......La Diva is going to braise the fennel and BAKE IT!

La Diva's Baked Hognose Snapper with Braised Fennel and Tomato


 Dat hognose sho' has a big mouth!  Wonder how many little fishies he can take at once?






 Fresh from the farm fennel along with a shallot, a handful of grape tomatoes and a clove of garlic will flavor the fish.

 Sweat the sliced fennel, garlic and shallot in a bit of olive oil,  then add a dash of white wine and a 1/2 cup chicken broth.  Braise on low heat for about 15 minutes or until fennel is fork tender.  Add more broth if it gets too dry, but don't add salt if you are using regular broth as reducing will make it salty enough.




 Cut all the top and bottom fins off, and the gills too.  Be careful, they can be pretty spiny and tough!  This fish was already scaled and gutted, but I gave it a good rinse anyway.  I scored the surface on both sides and salted the inside.




Push fennel to the side, add a few halved grape tomatoes and put the fish into the pan.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, add salt and pepper and then spoon some of the fennel mixture over the top, add another 1/2 cup of chicken broth.  Bake in a 375 degree pre-heated oven.  This fish was 1.5 lbs. and it came out beautifully after 20 minutes.

Carefully remove the top layer of fish onto a plate, making sure to get all pieces and taking off any visible bones.  Carefully remove the spine, head, tail and throw away, and put remaining piece of fish on plate.  This fish was very soft and fell into pieces.  That's ok!  Garnish with fennel fronds and spoon over fennel and tomato sauce.




RESULT:  I was pretty darn happy with the result.  I always love the concentrated anise flavor of braised fennel and it suits the mild, sweetness of this fish and does not over power its delicacy.  The skin was hardly an issue, very fine and offered no fishy taste.   I served this fish with buttered fingerling potatoes and honey glazed carrots but it would go great with a bit of rice or a wild rice mixture for more texture.

Now see, wasn't that EASY?  Sure it's a bit fiddly but so is eating chicken wings, ribs, oysters and crab legs, all stuff well worth the effort!  La Diva will be heading to the market again next Sunday and if there is some good pickin's from the sea, I'll see what technique I'll favor next time to help you get over your FEAR OF FISH!!!!

For more hints on how to buy fish and other fish information, click HERE.

ONLY A FEW MORE CHANCES TO LEARN SOME FABULOUS COCKTAILS AND CANAPES FOR THE UPCOMING HOLIDAYS!  CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE INFO!