Lighten up! Mahi mahi with walnut pesto over Isaraeli couscous and kale!



Darlings!  Well, with any regime to cut calories and lose weight, one must, I'm afraid, succumb to vigorous exercise to aid in shedding pounds and toning the body.  : (   La Diva knows this.  I feel better and stronger when I get more exercise.  La Diva knows this too.   I also know my clothes fit me better when I get regular exercise.  So, why do I have such a hard time starting?

La Diva has a bad habit of doing too much too fast and expecting results and progress to happen fast as well.  Every time I start an exercise program, I over-do it, get very sore and then get ill, which of course, puts me behind even more!  This time, I thought I'd "go slow" and only commit to  working out two times a week and then add more work outs as I get more fit and strong. I began my program last week and wouldn't you know it, that the last two times I wanted to work out, strange events thwarted my attempts.  I feel that the "spirits that be" are trying to sabotage my efforts!

While time and circumstances and busy business have been thwarting La Diva's attempts to a regular work out routine, the least I can do is eat lighter meals with a focus on eating lean proteins and filling up on veggies that are "good for you."    Looking in my fridge at the farm fresh kale and two nice meaty fillets of mahi mahi, I thought of a dinner idea that would provide that balance of eating light while being satisfying, low fat and nutritious. 

So, here's my second satisfying but LIGHT dinner idea: mahi mahi with walnut parsley pesto over Israeli couscous and kale!



I browned a small chopped onion in olive oil, added some Israeli couscous and tossed in a small handful of pine nuts and toasted the lot until it all turned a nice brown.  Then I added a bit of chicken stock and cooked the couscous until tender, about ten minutes.  I added a good tablespoon of finely minced preserved lemon, removed it from the heat and started on the greens.


After thoroughly washing the kale, I cut the leaves away from the tougher stem towards the root of the plant.  I cut the stems into small pieces and cooked for ten minutes in boiling salted water and then added the rest of the kale and cooked for another eight minutes until tender.  I drained the kale and set it aside.


Remember that walnut parsley pesto I said I had leftover from a dish that didn't work out a few weeks ago?  Well, I kept it covered with a thick coat of extra virgin olive oil so it was  just fine to use and I thought it would be perfect as a topper for the lovely mahi mahi.  I heated a convection oven to about 350 Farenheit.  Then, I salted the fish on both sides and slathered a nice amount of pesto onto the fish.  Into the oven it went until it was firm to my touch, about ten minutes.

The couscous was still pretty warm but I put it on a low heat, added a bit more broth and mixed the cooked kale through it to meld the flavors and ingredients.  I spooned it into a shallow bowl and carefully put the fish on top.  Then, I grated a bit of fresh lemon zest over the top and served!


 RESULT:  Very nice, very flavorful and very satisfying.  I thought that since the piece of fish was so small, I would need more couscous, but actually, I couldn't finish it, it was that filling!  Just goes to show you that my eyes are certainly bigger than my stomach and we don't need as much as we think we do!   The couscous paired with the kale very nicely as well as the walnut pesto and mild tasting fish.  The crunch of the pine nuts added a bit more texture and repeated the nutty flavor from the pesto.  And of course, the lemon zest on top and the preserved lemon were just the right  additions to add a bright citrus note and compete the fresh flavor profile.

While there IS a bit of fat in this dish from the olive oil and the nuts, both are monounsaturated and the nuts are also polyunsaturated.  I am using a concentrated flavor paste (the pesto) for the bulk of the flavoring;  I've not counted on the use of any cheese or butter (both with saturated fat and cholesterol) to make this simple dish delicious!  Remember that, darlings, small but CONSISTENT modifications to diet can lead to an overall big calorie reduction!

La Diva was so happy with this dish that I'm going to teach it at my very first one on one private class this week!  The class will feature "mahi mahi" and I'll also be teaching how to make blackened mahi mahi tacos, including the seasoning rub.  Grilled fish tacos are another "light" way to serve up a hearty and tasty meal!

What about YOU, darlings?  Do you have any tricks to making your meals lighter yet still flavorful? La Diva wants to hear all about it!  Ciao for now, darlings!


If you are in the Miami area and would like to take private cooking classes, contact La Diva for more info!

OTTOLENGHI new cook book

Darlings!  Another few months go by and another FABULOUS cookbook comes La Diva's way.  This time, my lurverly new sister in law sent this tome over as a Chrissy present from the UK.  Customs was especially thorough on overseas packages this year and it took almost six weeks to get here, a mystery since a book from a book purveyor would appear to be quite obvious, but yet the huge jar of stinky and very suss mussel tablets from the DJ's mum Downunder made it in just a few days without incident.  Go figure.

I open the cookbook and read:  "Ottolenghi:  A food shop, patisserie, deli, restaurant and bakery."  Intrigued, I read on.

 "Our food impulse:  We wanted to start this book with the quip, 'If you don't like lemon or garlic....skip to the last page.'"

"Hmmm"....I chuckled to myself, "Garlic and lemon AND a sense of humour?  We are off to a good start!"

The third page states the chefs' philosophy:  "We love real food, unadulterated and unadorned.  A chocolate cake should, first and foremost, taste of chocolate.  It doesn't have to involve praline, raspberries, layers of sponge, sticky liqueur and hours in the freezer.  Give us a clean chocolate flavour, a muddy, fudgy texture and a plain appearance."

Wha?!  Ok, that's it!  Who ARE these guys?


With all the over the top, complicated and fussy dishes being lauded by the food world currently, this is a joy for La Diva to read!  I, too, love pure, clean flavors and adore UNADULTERATED CHOCOLATE CAKE.   La Diva seems to recall an entire decade (the 80's, naturally)  where I could never get a plain ol' slice of PURE chocolate cake.  Every time La Diva would order a piece at a restaurant for dessert, it would be littered with strawberries or drowning in a pool of raspberry coulis.   To La Diva, the addition of the tart berries changes the chocolate experience entirely.  I'm sooo digging their attitude so far!





Curiosity fully piqued now, I continued reading and found that both chefs and purveyors of Ottolenghi are Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, two gay men who hail from the same city of Jersualem, but come from opposite cultures, one a Jew and the other a Palestinian.  Both moved to Tel Aviv but did not meet until years later after they had gone on to London.  They found each other and developed a friendship bound by their love of food and the shared ingredients they grew up with.  Crikey, the recipes haven't even begun yet and La Diva is already caught up in the exotic mystery of the authors!  Their meeting was so interesting that Gourmet did an entire article on it.  You can read about it HERE.

I skipped over to their favorite ingredients list and found in order:  salt, garlic, lemon and olive oil.  It takes some cojones to admit to loving salt these days but to proudly give  it high praise as your very fave ingredient?  Cool.  Further down the list was tahini, pomegranate, za'atar, passion fruit, maple syrup and feta cheese!  I have each and every one of those ingredients in my kitchen as I write this.  Wow.

In the next  section of the book, the chefs address "the fear of baking!"  Wha?  Did they write this book just for lil' ol' La Diva?  I was beginning to wonder...

But, darlings, I shan't tease you anymore, we MUST get to the recipes of this fabulous tome!  There are three sections to the book, Vegetables, Pulses and Grains, Meat and Fish and Baking and Patisserie.




La Diva just loved the styling of this photo of chargrilled asparagus, zucchini and manouri cheese, a Greek cheese made from feta whey.

Vegetables, Pulses and Grains:

Peaches and speck with orange blossom
Figs with young pecorino and honey
Aubergine (eggplant) wrapped with ricotta gnocchi with sage butter
Roasted butternut squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses
Caramelized endive with Serrano ham
Crushed new potatoes with horseradish and sorrel
Puy lentils with sour cherries, bacon and gorgonzola

oh my


This marinated turkey breast with cumin, coriander and white wine looks so much tastier than the insipid, gray piece of rubber that came out of my oven on Christmas eve last year!

Meat and Fish

Marinated rack of lamb with coriander and honey
Lamb cutlets with walnut, fig and goat's cheese salad
Roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey
Seared duck breast with blood orange and star anise
Seared tuna with pistachio crust and papaya salsa
Fried scallops with saffron potatoes, asparagus and samphire




The Ottolenghi philosophy on serving their food room temperature, prepared and served so fresh, no refrigeration is needed:  "It is a chilling experience to eat a cold sandwich, yet so many of us routinely do, and are almost oblivious to it because it is considered to be a necessary evil.  With most things prepared fresh, really fresh, there is no need to chill."  La Diva loves this as I loathe cold fruit, bread, cheese, salads, tomatoes, pie, cake, cheesecake....I guess I never really realized it until someone else put it into their words on paper, but I too prefer my foods to be room temperature so I can actually TASTE the pure flavors!




Ottolenghi's orange polenta cake makes you want to reach in and take a bite!  Imagine the bright, citrus flavors combined with the dense texture and flavour of polenta?  DIVINE!

Baking and Patisserie

Green olive loaf
Sweet potato galettes
Parmesan and poppy biscuits
Caramel and macadamia cheesecake
Pear and amaretto crumble cake
Pistachio shortbreads
Salty peanut and caramel macaroons
Individual plum clafoutis

le sigh.....

La Diva is so utterly thrilled with this cookbook, (even though I've yet to make a recipe!) because it is the first cookbook that truly mirrors many of my own cooking philosophies and culinary point of view.  I love to cook Asian but the other style I heartily embrace are the clean, lemony flavors of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/North African recipes and styles.    As I was traipsing around the Internets and doing research, I noticed that some of Yokam's cooking was being identified as Roman Jewish.  Considering that Yotam's grandmother was from Tuscany and his last name is Ottolenghi, oy, it makes perfect sense. 

What about YOU, darlings?  Do you have a distinguishable culinary point of view? Or a fave cookbook that mirrors your cooking philosophies?  Tell La Diva all about it!

NEXT COOKING CLASS: Valentine's Day: theme LOVE YOURSELF FIRST! Everyone welcome!  

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Yo! Mother Hubbard, is the cupboard REALLY bare?


Darlings, Wednesday was a cold, windy, gray day here in Miami Beach.  And by cold, I mean 63 degrees.  Okay, okay, I know you are calling me a big ol' whiner, "THAT'S NOT COLD," you say, "You should be in (Fill in the blank) __________________________  (Suggestions:  New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Boston, Atlanta), "NOW THAT'S COLD!" Yeah, yeah, I hear ya.  I'm from the Midwest and spent many days of my life freezing my little Diva patootie off, so I KNOW what REAL cold is, so shut yer piehole!  But, La Diva has acclimatized and the combination of gray, wind and cool temperatures sends La Diva spinning back into the vortex of her mind, remembering those endless Siberian-like winters in Chicago where I would "hole up" and "nest" for days, not leaving the house or getting out of my pajamas and ordering endless take away. 

And Wednesday felt just like that.   I had been away for a few days and needed to get some fresh veggies and was about to go to the farmer's market but it was icky out.  I didn't feel like driving.  Or being cold.  And most importantly, I had a good parking spot!  (You city folks will understand!)



So, instead, I went to my fridge to see what I could scrounge up for dinner and checked my inventory.  And you know what?  I thought to myself,  "I think I can get by til I can get to the Sunday farmer's market, yes, I can!"   Here's what I had:

Refrigerator:

One link of garlic kielbasa from the Geier's Sausage Kitchen in Sarasota
3 carrots
A half a bag of shredded carrots
A few potatoes
1 sweet potato
2 parsnips
A handful of sugar snap peas
Half a zucchini
A couple of stalks of celery
A few brown onions and a couple of cloves of garlic
A half a pint of cherry tomatoes
About 5 ounces of Hani's home made goat cheese that I'd bought a few weeks back
Walnut parsley pesto that I had made for another recipe

Pantry:

Can of coconut milk
Spaghetti pasta
Angel hair pasta
Half a bag of brown lentils
Half a bag of whole, raw peanuts
Basmati rice

Freezer:

Mahi mahi fillets
Half a bag of baby peas
Organic chicken breasts

Here's what a little ingenuity can do for you when you are cold, don't want to leave the house and got "nuthin'" to eat.

 Wednesday night:  Hearty Lentil soup with Root Vegetables and Keilbasa

I used an onion, celery,  potato, sweet potato, two parsnips, two carrots, the brown lentils, kielbasa and some mushroom stock paste, bay leaves, marjoram and thyme.  Nothing warms you up like a nice hearty bowl of soup with sausage!



 Thursday night:  Spaghetti with sauteed tomatoes with walnut parsley pesto and goat cheese.

This was super fast, filling and very delicious!  The walnut pesto was leftover from a spaghetti squash disaster over the weekend. (hint:  DON'T microwave a whole spaghetti squash, it will cook unevenly and retain a lot of water....uh, thanks, Gourmet!)  Luckily, I had the foresight to realize disaster was imminent and didn't bother to add any more of the pesto to the soggy squash and saved it, with a nice, protective coat of olive oil, for another time!



Friday night:  Chicken and veggie stir fry over noodles in a peanut sauce.

I used the organic chicken breasts, angel hair pasta, shredded carrots, sugar snap peas, zucchini and the red onions in the stir fry and made a sauce out of the raw peanuts with garlic, fish sauce, ginger and brown sugar in a food processor thinned with a bit of water.   Mmmmmmm....peanutty, crunchy, Asian noodle goodness!



 Saturday night:  Indian coconut curry with mahi mahi and green peas over basmati rice.

I used two mahi mahi fillets and the frozen peas with the canned coconut milk and Patek's Mild Curry Paste with onions, garlic, ginger and a dash of chile all served over fluffy basmati rice.   This was the fastest comfort food ever!  Just a quick saute of the onions, garlic and curry paste, add the coconut milk, the fish and extras, and voila!  Indian comfort food that is satisfying but not heavy in fifteen minutes!
 


 AND.....I made a BONUS galette with caramelized onions, goat cheese and the rest of the tomatoes!

Well, now, lookit that!   Are you seeing a pattern here, darlings?   I managed to get  ONE SAVORY TART AND FOUR delicious, different, healthy and most of all, warm and comforting one-bowl meals without going to the market!  It's not that I'm trying to be super frugal or lazy, but I realized as someone that loves to cook so many different foods, I have SO MUCH right here at home.  Lately, I have seen a lot of waste from over-buying fresh produce or buying MORE pantry items, when I could easily substitute something else.   In the past four days, I've managed to use what I had on hand instead of spending MORE MONEY needlessly!   (and now there's more money for wine!)

While people are talking about being "green" and buying "green," one of the first steps to LIVING GREEN is to reduce waste!  I'm learning to be much more conservative with my spending and buying, and as enticing as all the farm-fresh produce is at the markets, I  am using restraint.  

So, what about you?  What do YOU do to scrounge up a meal when the weather is inclement? Or to save money and "make do" with what's in your pantry, fridge or freezer?  Better dash, darlings, I MUST get to the farmer's market, now the cupboard is definitely BARE!

Ciao for now, darlings! 

For more recipes and cooking class info go to my website:  http://www.ladivacucina.com

Lighten Up!

Ryuichi Sakamoto by Andy Warhol

Darlings, do you remember in the 1980's how American trendoids were fascinated with ANYTHING that was Japanese?  La Diva remembers the  new wave band The Plastics, David Sylvian's band Japan, the multi-talented Ryuichi Sakamoto, and deconstructionist and avant garde fashion designers like Issey Miyake.  Along with the trends bowing towards Japanese pop culture came the mainstreaming of wasabi.

Wasabi, a Japanese horseradish usually served as a spicy accompaniment to sushi only in Japanese restaurants, made its way into snacks, dressings, oils, mayonnaise and most notably, into mashed potatoes. At the fashionable restaurants of the time, La Diva remembers chefs pairing wasabi mash with blackened, seared ahi tuna steaks.  The spicy hit of the wasabi in the creamy mash was a flavor surprise that complemented the strong taste of the tuna perfectly.

With the New Year in full force and La Diva definitely dieting, I've decided to use this classic pairing for a more waist-friendly, lighter, yet still satisfying version of a heavy and high caloric meal, good ol' steak and mash. 

Here's La Diva's version of

Seared Tuna Steaks with Wasabi Mash and Steamed Sugar Snap Peas dressed in Sesame Oil.*
 

Lightened mashed potatoes with wasabi:  Boil cubed potatoes in stock (I used mushroom) until fork tender.  Strain and keep some of the broth in the pan and as well as a bit on the side.  Mash potatoes with broth and a smidgen of low fat milk, adding salt and wasabi paste to taste.  Mash until a smooth texture is realized and moisten with more broth as needed.  The texture of the mash won't be as creamy as if you are using butter, cream or full fat milk, but you won't miss it one bit as these taters are so highly flavored from the stock and wasabi.


Lightened sugar snap peas:  Take stringy bits off peas and steam on top of potatoes until just tender, only a few minutes.  Over a plate, lightly sprinkle with sesame oil and sea salt.  The concentrated flavor of pure sesame oil means you don't have to use as much for full on flavor!


 Lightened ahi tuna steaks:  Get FRESH, blood red tuna steaks, not frozen.  These will be expensive but just like you don't eat a good quality steak every day, it's nice to splurge on a high quality protein like ahi tuna.  When buying the tuna, ask the fishmonger if you can smell it.  If there is any fishy smell, do not buy it.  For this kind of dough, you want it to be FRESH FRESH FRESH!  If they are already packaged, look at the packing date or have them open it for you.  Why not?  These two steaks were $20!

With a paper towel, blot any excess moisture from the tuna, lightly oil and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  Bring a heavy bottomed pan to smoking and add a bit of oil to the bottom of the pan (Diva forgot she was not blackening her tuna but searing it and forgot the extra oil and almost ruined her tuna steaks!)  Cook on one side without disturbing, about 2 minutes.  As you can see, the steaks are cooking from the bottom up, it's time to flip them over!  Carefully flip and allow to sear for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.  DON'T OVER COOK!  Remove the tuna to a cutting board, the fish will continue cooking while resting. 


For authentic Japanese flavor, sprinkle tuna with sesame oil and spicy togarashi, a blend of seasonings including Sichuan peppercorns, chile, black sesame seeds, orange peel and nori.  Allow to rest a few minutes before slicing and plating.  

Carefully slice tuna and fan over wasabi mashed potatoes.  Prudently season tuna with more sesame oil and soy sauce.  Serve immediately.


 Result:  This is one of La Diva's ALL TIME FAVE MEALS.  The tuna is so hearty and takes on a steak-like texture with a nice crunch from the seasoning mix.  The mash, while subtle in heat, is a mellow component that complements the spicy tuna.  This tuna is cooked medium rare and will MELT IN YOUR MOUTH and not have a fishy taste and a firm texture if you bought the tuna fresh.   The addition of extra sesame oil and soy sauce drizzled over the tuna imparts a sashimi-like flavor to the fish. The peas add a nice crunch to the plate, enhancing further the sesame flavors from the tuna.  A hearty, highly flavored and satisfying meal with a lot less calories and cholesterol than your average rib eye dinner with creamy mashed potatoes!  And, it's *Big Bear Man approved!

What do YOU do to lighten up your meals?  Tell La Diva, I need all the help I can get!  (PS:  Diva highly disapproves of fake chemical diet "food" and low fat dairy products, so don't even go there!)

Darlings, La Diva is escaping Miami for a few days to celebrate a  friend's birthday and to catch up with dear friends on the Gulf coast!  I'll be back to check y'all at the end of next week.  Have a lovely, LIGHT week, darlings!  Ciao for now!

Serenity at the Morikami Gardens



Trip to the garden
Flee Miami's tourist crowds
Sets tone for New Year.












Gently falling down
Water receptive and cool
Down stream leaf swims.












Quiet, placid pond
Is paradise to many
Cicadas, shut up!










Wind whispers sweetly
Creaking songs through bamboo grove
Softly leaves rustle.






 

Shadows glide in lake
Image of carp teases eyes
Is that really fish?







Flat river stones meet
Small gravel designed by rake
Simplicity rocks!










Water gliding on rocks
Wearing down while caressing
Just like a marriage.






Photos by DJ Nevah L8 ( 4 dinnah!) Haiku by La Diva

For more information on the Morikami Japanese Gardens click HERE.


(Don't despair, darlings, this is still a foodie blog.  I'll be back shortly with some fabulous dishes!)