Creative Cooking Crew Challenge: VEGAN

La Diva's Pureed Roasted Cauliflower, White Miso and Lemon Verbena Soup with Garnishes of Sauteed Komatsuna and Garlic with Lemon Basil Chiffonade, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Meyer Lemon Zest!

Darlings!  As if La Diva doesn't have enough on her plate, I've accepted the very kind invitation to join the Creative Cooking Crew established by Lazaro Cooks and Joan Nova at Foodalogue!  This is our first "throwdown" or "challenge" and the theme is VEGAN.

“In the spirit of eating lighter for the New Year (well, at least for a few days!!!), it’s time to create a healthy VEGAN dish.  Choose one of your favorite rich, heavy, fatty animal-protein based meals and give it a healthy VEGAN spin.”

I was told that this challenge isn't really a makeover but honestly, I don't eat a lot of fatty animal protein based meals......While I love to eat meat, I tend to not choose fatty cuts (once in a while a roast or ribs, maybe twice a year?) I do like my steak, chicken stir fries and pork tenderloin.  Personally, I don't really believe in "re-creating" veggies into meat, though the Chinese are amazing at it.  To me, it never really satisfies the desire to consume MEAT, it's like when someone says to a dieting person to eat an apple when they are craving chocolate.  It just can't compare.  So, I don't do it.  Meat is meat and that is that.

So, I thought about a vegetable dish laden with cheese and dairy and remembered my Christmas specialty of three cheese scalloped potatoes with blue cheese, cheddar, parmigiano cheese and milk. 

Da-yum!  Don't they look divine?!  They are and also they are divinely addictive, my husband and I could eat the entire pan (which is why I only make them at Christmastime!)

So, to put a vegan spin on the dish, I decided to do a play on the scalloped potato and do a version with pumpkin.  I sliced the pumpkin thinly and instead of adding milk with onion, I added coconut milk with shallots and crushed lemongrass.  

Additionally, I added a layer of fresh rainbow chard from my garden.  For a bit of crunch on top to simulate the browned cheese, I cooked up a middle Eastern super grain, freekeh, added coconut oil, unsweetened desiccated coconut and almond flakes and scattered it on top of the pumpkin.  I baked for about 45 minutes until brown and bubbly.

While the dish actually tasted great, the texture was all wrong.  First of all, the chard added a whole lot of water to the dish.   So much, in fact, that I had to drain a heck of a lot of it off.  Mistake.  I should have cooked and blotted the excess moisture out before adding the layer of chard.  In the end, it didn't add much flavor anyway, so I would not even bother with the chard if I made this again.

I served the scalloped pumpkin and chard with a pork tenderloin!  Husband was not fond of it.  While trying to create a crunchy breadcrumb-like texture with the freekeh, it tended to crisp up a bit too much in the oven.  To the point of not only being chewy but darn right tooth-crackin' crunchy.  Not pleasant.  Meh.

I was going to make the dish again and try to perfect it.  But with all the coconut and nuts, it was still quite a rich, fattening dish, while no cholesterol, saturated fat is saturated fat and coconut has a lot of it!

Instead, I decided to make a vegan soup that would be MUCH healthier.

Pureed roasted cauliflower soup with white miso and lemon verbena with sauteed garlic and komatsuna with lemon basil chiffonade, drops of a fruity, green extra virgin olive oil with a Meyer lemon zest for garnish.

DEE-LISH.  So, delicious in fact, that husband ate it without complaint!  I don't mind cooking vegan, though challenging, because you can't use any butter, eggs, milk or cheese, but still entirely possible to cook great dishes without any of that, especially if you eat a lot of Asian, as I do (but watch out for the fish sauce!)

Do YOU ever cook vegan, darling?  And no, I don't mean Tofurkey either!  Spread your culinary wings and give it a try and tell La Diva all about it!

If you need a bit of help, my friend and fellow Dame, Ellen Kanner has just put a very cool, interesting vegan cookbook with a foreward by Chef Norman Van Aken!  Available on Kindle too!

CLICK HERE to check it out and BUY!

Ciao for now, darling!

All the other vegan entries are now up and DO THEY LOOK GOOD!  Check out all the creative dishes from the CREATIVE COOKING CREW!

THE SCOOP on The Taste and La Diva

Darlings!  Well, THAT was interesting, wasn't it?  Of course I mean my TV debut on ABC's The Taste on January 22, 2013!

There were a few snippets of me at the beginning but near the end of the first episode, they finally showed La Diva in front of the judges.  Or not...I was barely on 10 seconds and was disappointed that the producers chose not to show my dish or play the interaction between myself and the judges.  So, La Diva's here to GIVE YOU THE REAL SCOOP!


So, what happened, Deeves?

Well, let's start with my dish.  The contestants were only given ONE bite to impress the judges. I cook such a wide variety of food and food styles, that it was very hard for me to narrow it down.  I thought about my Asian orange blossom honey shrimp, always a hit with my cooking class students, but after hearing that a number of contestants were doing "Asian" or "Cal-Asian" or "Vietnamese-Street-Food,"  I thought I'd give "Asian" a miss.

I also knew that everyone and their brother would be making scallops.  WHAT would people NOT be cooking that would be a perfect bite?  OYSTERS.  I decided that I'd serve up a dish that is already a delicious one bite that I'd made  many times before:  Oysters a la Carl.

This is a dish that me and my dear old boss, mentor and restauranteur, Carl Blance, would make for dinner parties when I lived in Sydney, Australia.  The dish is succulent and rich and was always met with delight from guests and we received many compliments.

When The Taste producers asked me which team I'd like to be on, I didn't hesitate:  Nigella's.  I've been watching this sexy, sultry self-made culinary expert since I'd lived in Australia and she was a gal I could really identify with.  If Nigella can "make it" in the food world being self-taught, why can't La Diva?  She'd LOVE my savory oyster bite and the whole La Diva brand.  I was ready to compete.

Truth be told, I really prefer my oysters in their pure, unadulterated state, RAW.  But I do love this recipe for special occasions and also as a "bridge dish" to those that don't like raw oysters.  Even non-oyster lovers love this dish and are game to try it.

Oysters a La Carl is comprised of freshly shucked oysters placed on a baking tray and then topped with an egg custard,  dash of extra virgin olive oil and a smidgen of minced garlic, chopped prosciutto, chiffonade of arugula and a sprinkle of parmigiano cheese.  Grill lightly until bubbly and brown and then serve immediately.  That's it.  And then wait for the compliments to roll in!

It sounds perfect, right?  Who could resist such a tempting bite?

I was ready.  I cooked my food calmly and plated it beautifully, even with the cameras in my face and the time constraints.  I was confident and ready.  The producers led me to another room, where I waited for my turn in front of the judges.

Suddenly, the cubicle door opens up from the platform stage and another contestant walks down.  I eagerly question:  "Did you make it?  Did you get on?"  Barely acknowledging me, the professional chef shakes his head dejectedly and then is lead through the double doors by another producer.   He looked like someone just shot his dog.  It was my turn now.  I carefully walked up the stairs in my Diva heels, stepped on the markers and waited in the cubicle for the judges to be served my dish.

(The following is paraphrased, by the way, this took place almost five months ago!)

As I was in the cubicle, I could not see the judges, but I could certainly hear them.  There was Nigella smacking away...chomp, chomp, chomp...."The sea, I can taste the sea....."

And then Anthony:  "Whaddya thinking, New Orleans?  (Meaning, am I from New Orleans?)  Is that bacon on there?  Is this a take on Oysters Rockefeller?"

I don't hear Ludo or Malarkey and I'm thinking my chances are pretty darn good!  I'm smiling!

Abruptly, the door opens and suddenly, there I am, facing the judges.  Except, they are so dang far away and I can barely see them.   Had I known, I'd have brought my newly purchased glasses!   And then, out of nowhere, I get a slight twitch on the right side of my face....twitch.  Twitch.  Twitch.  Please, tv cameras, please don't notice how nervous I am!

Anthony asks me my name and I tell them as well as my company name and what I do.  Right away, Malarkey says "Did you bake these in the shell and then transfer the cooked oyster to the spoon?"

I said, I did.  There was a dilemma as to what would work best: to cook the oyster right in the spoon or in the half shell?   I had been afraid the spoon would get too hot under the broiler and I didn't want to burn the chef's mouths.  It seemed logical to me to cook the oyster on the half shell and then carefully remove it and then transfer the bite onto the spoon.

Malarkey stammers:  "Ma-ma-my mouth is destroyed with a big chunk of oyster shell."  Immediately the dismay shows on my face as he slams his delicate little Ken doll hand on the red buzzer indicating that NO, I ain't gonna be on HIS team.   Oddly enough, I never heard him crunch on anything with the sensitive microphone...the shell couldn't have been THAT big!   Wow.  Okay.  A bit of oyster shell aside, Malarkey, I ask you, how does it TASTE?!

And now it's Nigella's turn!  And I'm smiling.  I'm rooting for myself, thinking, 'I've got this, she loved it, Nigella loves the home cook!  She said she could taste 'the sea!'"  But that was not the case....Nigella begins to purr, "While I lurve the whole idea of The Diva in the kitchen, I just CAHN'T, seafood and cheese, I CAHN'T, I JUST CAHN'T."

Nigella SLAMS the red button down.  Again, HOW DOES IT TASTE THOUGH?

Wha?  Are you freakin' kidding me?  My girl Nigella is NOT down with my fabu oysters?  Because of some imagined "rule" of not pairing cheese with seafood?  What happened to pushing our boundaries?  Since when are these judges, who'd I'd seen on Top Chef before, all of a sudden SO conventional?  Wasn't this supposed to be about THE TASTE of the bite, not some old fashioned pairing "rule?"

Thern it's Ludo's turn and all I hear is,  "mumble mumble, blah blah oui oui no no...."

Ludo SLAMS the red button down.

O. M. GEE.  It's up to Anthony Bourdain to pick little ol' La Diva?  Geez Louise, let there be an angel of mercy and let me get a break.  But knowing well Bourdain's notoriously tough stance, I was losing hope fast.

Anthony:  "What is the meat on there, is that bacon?"

La Diva:  "No, Anthony, that's prosciutto!" I say with a huge grin.

Anthony:  "Ahhh....are you a professional chef?"

La Diva, beaming:  "No...."  (thinking to myself, RIGHT ON, he thinks I'm a professional chef!")

Anthony:  "Well, you made the mistake many professional chefs make.  You overcomplicated the dish.  You see, an oyster is a perfect thing on it's own.  What else did you put with the oyster?"

I tell him about the garlic, cheese, custard, etc.

Anthony:  "It's too much.  You were ALMOST THERE, you were so close.  If only you went without the garlic and the cheese....."

SLAM goes Anthony's hand down on the red button.

Executive Chef Todd Erickson of Haven, Miami Beach and La Diva watch "The Taste" and commiserate!

And next thing you know, it was over and the doors were closing on my face.  What the hell just happened?

A very stunned Diva walked down the stairs and looked at the eager, confident faces of the next contestants.  They know by my face, I didn't make it and all gave me nods of sympathy, but at the same time, I realize they are happy to have one less person to compete against.  Bourdain's comments to me were ironic, considering I'd given the same advice to several other professional chefs that were going to be making bites with layers of ingredients, foam and what not, just the day before as we all discussed our dishes.  

I was whisked into another room and given an exit interview on camera.  "What's your next move?  Are you depressed? What are you going home to after this?"  the producers asked.  "No, not at all, I've got loads of proposals to write and a thriving business to get back to."  (and perhaps THAT'S why I didn't get more air time, I wasn't desperate enough?)  Another contestant and I are instructed to sit in a golf cart, waiting to be taken back to the bus to the hotel and I AM OVER IT.  I WANNA GET THE HELL HOME.  Tired of this game of "hurry up and wait," tired of being with large groups of strangers, tired of my shattered nerves, lack of sleep and too much criticism and most of all, tired of doubting myself when I KNOW what I'm capable of.  When I got back to the hotel, a mostly depressed crowd sat at the hotel bar, with faces full of regret and wondering what they could have done to change their outcome, while one girl, who'd made it on the show, celebrated with her family.   I didn't want to be a part of that pity fest so went up to my room and opened a bottle of wine I'd bought several days before.  It was 11 a.m.

That night, I rented a car and went to a friend's house and avoided the rest of the contestants to lick my own wounds.  The next day, as I sat on the plane with my new chef friend, both exhausted and drained, I dreamed of my husband's comforting arms and sleeping in my own bed, wondering if this "opportunity" was a mistake and would it make or break me?  Time would tell and January was a long way off.


Was the show really about the taste of just one bite?  Were the chefs expecting too much?  Do you think La Diva got robbed?  Were the judges unfair?  What do YOU think of the seafood and cheese debate?  You can read my thoughts and some very heated comments about that very subject by clicking HERE.

Ciao for now, darling!  (and don't worry to much about La goes on....and it ain't too shabby!) xo

La Diva's INSIDE SCOOP on ABC's The Taste by Laine Doss

The Taste premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC.  The show, 

basically The Voice with food, features a mashup of four 

celebrity chefs judging a host of chefs basedon only one single 

bite of their food.  As in The Voice, the four judges will not see 

the chefs before eating their food.

La Diva DEBUTS on ABC's "The Taste!"

ABC's "The Taste" with mentor judges Ludo Lefebvre, Nigella Lawson, Brian Malarkey and Anthony Bourdain

Darlings!  You heard it right, your La Diva is going to be on national television!    While it won't be the first time I've actually been on tv (I DID do a live segment for NBC's local news variety show Live Miami at 11 back in August, 2011) it will be the first time I've been on national television.  The show is supposed to be viewed in over 22,000,000 homes.  Dat's a lot of people, my friends.

I've now been approached a number of times to be in reality and/or cooking shows:

1.  After being flown to The Food Network's Chelsea studios in New York city in November 2010 for The Next Food Network Star, I found I didn't make the cut.  Me thinks the platinum blond hair was too close to Anne Burrell and Guy Fieri's.  (can't have THREE platinum blonds on The Food Network, after all!)  

2.  MasterChef:  I stood in line and auditioned, fed them my famous Thai meatballs and the local food judges loved them and loved me.  I went on to do more camera interviews until I was called back only to find out that I was disqualified.  Apparently the producers didn't know the rules themselves and one cannot compete as a home cook if their main source of income comes from preparing food.  Boo.  I was disappointed and would have LOVED to work with Chef Gordon Ramsay.

3.  The third show??? I can't remember the name but it was going to be for a competition for TV pitchmen, a la Billy Mays, and I was the only woman to try out.  I actually did quite well at the audition but they only picked one person from each city and it wasn't me.  Ah, well.

4.  Hell's Kitchen:  They called me and I said HELLS NO.  I'm not putting myself through that nonsense for any amount of money.

5.  The Next Food Network Star:  NO.  Been there, done that.  (La Diva ain't desperate, after all!)

6.  The Taste:  By this time, casting agents and culinary producers have heard of La Diva and approached me to be on the show.  Since I couldn't make it to the casting calls in New York or Chicago, I filled out an online application and submitted a 10 minute video of who La Diva is and why I would make a great contestant for the show.  I submitted it on July 5, 2012 and the producer called me the next day.  "I LOVE your video, I couldn't stop watching it and wanted to see more!  You are moving on to the next level!"

After a medical check, resumes submitted and background checks, I finally found out, only a few days before the actual filming began, that I was a contestant on The Taste!  La Diva was one of 60 contestants picked from over 7000 people who auditioned!  ABC, here I come!

I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.  Actually, I was pretty funny when I was filming for the show.  I was "kind of" a HAM and was scolded by one of the producers for talking directly into the camera (like I'm used to doing when shooting my own videos!) and I was told to NEVER do that!  A few re-takes later.....a subdued Diva complied.  Only just though.

So, in September on Labor Day weekend, I was flown out to Los Angeles to compete.  I sussed out my competition and recognized some faces from tv, my Facebook friends and also a local chef that I'd met once.  All super talented and good looking, I knew the competition was going to be FIERCE.

The premise of the show is for all cooks, home cooks, professional chefs, etc. to submit a BLIND taste on a spoon to the judges.  Everything you want to convey to them has to be in one very tasty bite.  If one judge only likes YOUR bite, they will put you on their team and you continue on to compete on the show.  If none of them like your bite, you get booted off, end of story, sent home, boo-hoo.

If you get picked, the judge that picks you becomes your mentor and you are on his/her team.  Each judge got to pick only four cooks/chefs each.  Thirty contestants auditioned on day one and La Diva was first to go as part of a group of four for the second 30 on day two.

A day before we competed, we were taken to Whole Foods to purchase our food.  The next day at the filmed audition, we were given a limited amount of time to gather all of our ingredients and equipment and to complete our dish.  I had to make four one bite spoons for each judge and then two extra plus a sample plate to be photographed, all while being filmed and questioned while three other contestants did the same thing.  Like other culinary reality shows, once time is called, you must stop, put your hands up and you are DONE.

Mmmmmmm....darlings, would you like some of my Marmite spaghetti?  Nigella Lawson's take on The Taste can be read HERE.






While I'm not allowed to tell you WHAT HAPPENS until after the show airs, I CAN tell you that the set was incredible.  I took some set photos and impressed my event producer husband with the lighting, rigging and hydraulic judging platform.

The rigging on this show was an event producer's wet dream.  

Additionally, there were multiple cooking stations with state of the art equipment, fully stocked pantry and myriad pots, pans, cooking equipment and utensils to choose from to aid in preparing our dish.  

All in all, I had a wonderful time and met some very cool people.  

 Malarkey by name, full of Malarkey by nature.  

Well, truth be told, at least the ex-Top Cheftestant Brian Malarkey is actually wearing proper shoes here.  When he was on set with me, he only sported flip flops with his cutesy, rolled up skinny jeans.  Not sure what to think of this cabana boy Ken doll.  Well, I DO know what I think of him but we'll leave that for the next post on "The Taste" after the show airs, won't we?  heheh.....

So take a look at a few teaser clips HERE and don't forget to watch La Diva on



And then we'll meet back here again to discuss the results at a later date, m'kay?  Ciao for now, darlings!