Showing posts with label CHALLENGE yourself. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CHALLENGE yourself. Show all posts

FEBRUARY RICE CHALLENGE: Sriracha Creamed Shrimp over Fried Black Rice Cakes with Sweet Corn "Bisque"

 Shrimp sauteed with brandy and doused in sriracha cream sauce over black and aborrio rice cakes in a corn "bisque" with red pepper and green onion garnish!

The Challenge

Darlings, once again the Creative Cooking Crew has offered the challenge for the month and this time, it's RICE.  "Rice is a simple, ancient grain with a variety of applications in many cultures.  What can you do to transform, elevate, modernize or creatively spotlight it in a dish?  That's your challenge for February."

And so the RICE GAUNTLET HAD BEEN THROWN DOWN and even though I'd been sick forever, it didn't stop the wheels spinning in my head to come up with an original dish using rice as a featured component.


A few months ago, I noticed this black rice at Costco that was a whole grain and heirloom variety, curiosity piqued, I bought it and couldn't wait to try it.  Upon being cooked, the rice grains remained separated, it didn't have a high starch content.  The texture was slightly chewy, like a good quality pasta that had been cooked al dente, and the shiny, small black grains proved to be a lovely contrast to bright, stir fried vegetables of  orange carrot, yellow summer squash and green zucchini.  

Because the color was so stunning, the grains so shiny and the texture chewy, I thought it'd be an unusual choice for the challenge.   As I pondered about how I'd like to eat it, I came up with the idea of using it in a cake and imagined a crunchy, black rice cake loaded with shrimp, red peppers, green onions and spices, perhaps like a black rice fritter!

I began to research fried rice cakes and realized that if this dish was going to work, I would need to use a high-starch rice, sushi rice was preferred.   After picking the wrong tofu for a past challenge that caused my croquetas to barely hold their shape, I realized the ability to bind the rice together was important; I didn't want to waste time using a rice that wouldn't bind.

Still under the weather, I trudged to the grocery store, determined to get all my ingredients in one place, the last thing I wanted to do was to make a special trip to Fresh Market to get sushi rice.  Luckily, they had it at Publix, but the large volume and $8 price tag put me off.  "When would I use it again," I wondered?  Knowing I wouldn't be making sushi anytime soon and remembering my pantry was already bursting with multiple grains, rices and pastas, I opted to buy another short grain rice, Valencia, which is used in paella and only $2.


As I began to formulate my recipe and consider cooking the rice, I started to have doubts about the Valenica's ability to bind and at the last minute switched to aborrio rice instead.  I made both rices separately, allowed them to cool to on a tray while I sauteed diced red pepper to soften for the cakes.  Into the rice I mixed a sugary salty rice vinegar and wine mixture along with the red pepper, green onion, kaffir lime and Vietnamese coriander.

I mixed together all of the aborrio rice with half of of the black rice and began to form patties.  But, they were falling apart already.  Not using all of the high starch rice was proving to be frustrating.  I added two egg whites to the mixture, formed the patties quickly and then put them in the fridge to cool.  When I went to fry the cold patties, they fell apart in the pan.  Back to square one, I put the tray of patties in the freezer and waited 15 minutes and fried again, this time I saw success!  I fried up the patties, while I made the corn chowder which I would use as a base for the dish.

I love my recipe for corn chowder and have made it many times, but this time, I would puree the lot and strain the soup into a smooth, satiny vegetable bisque, a perfect complement for the spicy shrimp that would adorn the crunchy cakes.  

With the chowder complete, I took large shrimp and sauteed them quickly adding a hefty swig of brandy and then doused them in a sriracha cream sauce invented by my talented friend Jill from Stella's Roar.   The sauce included wine, rice vinegar, lemon juice, shallots, cream and sriracha and the only modification I made was to add a dab of butter at the end to finish it!  It had a nice hit of heat but was not overpowering, the cream mellowing the spice.

 Regrets....I've had a few.....

Some food bloggers NEVER like to admit they make a mistake, their egos won't allow it.  But I've found over the years that many of my readers and fans really appreciate the realism of my posts, warts and all.  This humble admission helps my readers to identify with me, I'm only human too!  But I do it so that others can learn from mistakes that could be easily avoided.

First mistake:  Before I knew it, the onions that formed the base of the chowder were browned and caramelized, which changed the color of the soup from pure yellow to the ugly, darker yellow you see here.  Merely sweating the onions would have been enough. 

Second mistake:  After pureeing the soup and straining it, I had the loveliest, silkiest soup!  Now all I had to do was to reduce it a bit and finish with cream.   But guess who walked away from the stove and into her office to get something, got distracted and forgot all about the soup on the stove?  La Diva did, dumbass!  When I got back to the stove, the the soup was boiling furiously and broken, the texture thick and horrible.  Unwilling to accept defeat, I strained it again, but the silky texture was gone now, though it still tasted good.  Do I go to the store, get more corn and start all over again?  NO.  The texture and color was not perfect but this was already a time consuming exercise!  I would press on!

Third mistake:  Mixing the black rice with the aborrio was a pain in the butt!   Though I liked the texture and contrast the black rice lent to the patties, the next time I'd have to use a better binder or use a high starch rice only!  

Fourth mistake:  After frying up and testing the cakes, I was getting a bit sick of testing them after I plated the dish, I threw the other five I had left out.  I wasn't interested in eating them again!

Fifth mistake (are you kidding me?!):  I should have taken a photo of the fried rice cake on it's own for your viewing pleasure as they did look pretty good.  Ahhh well.....

RESULT:  In spite of my mistakes, I was pretty happy with this dish.  In the first photos, you'll notice that I didn't have the extra sriracha sauce but since I had plenty and really wanted that spicy flavor hit, I added more dollops onto the shrimp.  The flavor combination of corn, red pepper and shrimp is classic but the cakes themselves were delicious with hits of green onion and the strong presence of kaffir lime added a citrus note.  La Diva loved the crunch of the rice cakes and the toothsomeness of the black rice, however, The DJ wasn't overly thrilled with the texture (but he's not a fan of the black rice anyway!)  But that didn't stop him from inhaling the dish and next thing you know, two and half hours work ended with empty plates and a load of dirty dishes, pots and pans!

An Unexpected Surprise.....

The next day while I went into the fridge to get my Korean fried chicken wings that I'd been drying out, I noticed another tray of rice cakes!  I had forgotten about them.  I touched one and instantly, a few grains broke away.  I hurriedly put them into the freezer after deciding to fry up the rest to serve as a side for the wings.

As I gathered my salad ingredients and plated my salad, I thought "Why not put the crunchy cakes on the salad?"  So, I did.  I topped them off with a slightly warmed up sriracha sauce from the day before and then made an additional sauce using Salvadoran crema, Greek yogurt and a dash of cream to create a pourable dressing.  I garnished the cakes with green onions and tomatoes and served it as a first course.

RESULT:  Now THIS dish was really tasty!  In fact, I liked it much better than my original idea!  The crispy and chewy cakes were the right topping for a fresh mixed greens and herb salad.  The heat from the sriracha sauce actually was a great foil for the cool, creamy dressing!  I loved it!  And The DJ?  He liked the rice cakes better served this way as well!  With the improved second dish, I now felt justified in spending hours in the kitchen to elevate the ancient, heirloom grain RICE.

Darlings, what would YOU do with rice for this challenge?  Click HERE to see all of the creative rice entries!  Ciao for now, darlings!

Cooking with Boos!

Darlings!  Once again the Creative Cooking Crew has come up with a wonderful challenge for the month of October:  "Cooking with spirits!"  A "spirit" is an alocholic beverage containing ethanol and made by method of distillation....but Joan and Lazaro who host the CCC, have kindly allowed us to use beer, wine or any alcohol for the challenge.  And that means the possibilities are endless!

And CHALLENGING it was!  Why?  Because once I put my thinking cap on, I realized that while I often cook with al-kee-hol, I do not have as many original ideas as I'd like to give myself credit for.  I wanted to make a completely original dish, and even though I came up with one, dear Joan Nova of Foodalogue, used a combination of almost all of the same ingredients!  Believe me, it seems easy enough to come up with an idea, but to come up with an idea that's never been done before is harder than you think!  (Okay, YOU try it, smarty-pants!)

First to come to me were desserts that I've made and loved:

  • Rum cake!
  • Trifle with sherry!
  • Figs sauteed in butter and brown sugar with white balsamic vinegar reduction and sweet marsala over mascarpone cheese! (a new favorite dessert idea I've been toying with!)
  • Macadamia bourbon pineapple upside down cake!  (I made one for a dear friend's birthday once and we ate the entire thing while still warm, just us two, with forks and straight from the pan!)

A simple yet elegant dish I love to make for guests or clients, champagne zabaglione with a fresh fruit compote! 

I thought about main dishes I make with booze:

  • Chicken marsala!
  • Fried fish in beer batter!
  • Coq au vin (chicken in red wine!)
  • Gourmet mushrooms in sherry cream sauce over steak!

Large shrimp wrapped in procsiutto are marinated in a rosemary orange and sambuca sauce and grilled, a classic flavor combination!  I've since modified my recipe to pan-searing the prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and then sauteing the lot in a buttery, sambuca-drenched orange rosemary sauce!

La Diva demonstrating "Sauteed Radishes and Tops with Chicken Apple Sausage over Bow Tie Pasta" at the Fairchild Botanical Garden's "Garden to Table" Festival.  The recipe calls for sauteing the radish slices with a sweet, white vermouth!  EVERYONE loved the dish and said "I never tasted a cooked radish before!"  Using a sweet, white vermouth with the radishes took the bitterness away.  Get the recipe by clicking HERE!

Well, that little trip down memory lane was all fine and well but what was La Diva to make that is original and I've not made before?  I was back to SQUARE ONE.

A friend recently told me about her fish cooked in tequila  and I was intrigued.  But, I didn't want fish.....and I needed a good base.  "What goes good with tequila," I thought to myself?  I conjured up corn, red peppers and cilantro. YES!  But corn what?  Corn on top?  Polenta?  Corn pancakes?

Photo courtesy of Anson Mills
I had some lovely native blue corn meal from Anson Mills that I was dying to use!  Anson Mills grow heritage grains and the company suggests using their posted recipe to familiarize yourself with their product for the first time.  Their suggested recipe for the native blue corn was johnnycakes.  I loved the idea!  I will make native blue corn johnnycakes as my base for the dish.

The more I thought about making the corn cakes, the more I didn't like the idea of a dense fish on top, I wanted something lighter and sweeter.  So, I went with a cold-water lobster tail, a diver scallop and Florida pink shrimp.  I poached them all separately in a broth of tequila, water, onion, cilantro and lime slices. The seafood came out with the light scent of tequila and was very delicate.

I decided to make two sauces starting with a tequila lime butter sauce. I "sweated" shallots in butter and added minced cilantro, juice from half a lime and a large dash of golden tequila, then I reduced the sauce to half and  doused it with cream at the last minute.  It was wonderfully rich with a piquant taste from the tequila and lime juice.

I wanted to counter the richness of the tequila butter sauce with another flavor and also to help bring it all together.  So, I made a roasted orange pepper sauce.  Again, I started by sauteing the shallots and then processed them together with the roasted pepper and a healthy dash of home made aji amarillo sauce.  I put it through a very fine sieve and added a dash of cream for a rich, umami flavor profile.

Here it is all put together:  Lobster, scallop and shrimp poached in tequila served over a roasted orange pepper coulis on native blue corn johnnycakes with tequila lime butter sauce with  Peruvian choclo corn garnish and lime zest!

Let me tell you, darlings, this dish was decadent, rich in flavor and texture, but not too heavy!  The two sauces combined brilliantly, the roasted pepper sauce slightly sweet and spicy cutting through the zesty tequila lime butter sauce just as I'd expected it to.  My only complaint was that the johnnycakes did not hold together well and crumbled when you tried to fold one over a piece of succulent seafood!  Next time I would use my own recipe (with eggs!) and opt for a fluffier and thicker corn cake base.

Darlings, what are your favorite dishes to make with spirits?  Do tell La Diva all about it! CHECK OUT ALL OF THE CREATIVE DISHES BY CLICKING HERE!

Tickled to Pickle!

Darlings!  When the Creative Cooking Crew deemed the challenge for the month of September to "pickle it," I immediately frowned.  I'm not a pickle-food type person.  I am constantly pulling them off burgers and leaving the dill spear dejectedly in my deli basket while ploughing into a good corned beef sandwich.

I bought a jar of bread and butter pickles once and enjoyed them on a rare sandwich, but once they ran out, I never replaced the jar.  And I've had fried pickles before and really enjoyed them, but let's face it, you can batter and fry just about anything and I will eat it!

 Pickles and pickled food?  I can take 'em or leave 'em.

Upon researching this post, I had thought that Korean kimchi was pickled.  WRONG!  It's actually fermented!  Pickled and fermented vegetables and tofu to accompany my bibimbap from a Korean restaurant in Chatswood, a suburb of Sydney.  My Aussie gal pal tells me that fermented vegetables are all the rage there.  

But I refuse to let my own pickle snobbery and trepidation stop me.  No matter what challenge the Creative Cooking Crew throws my way, I look at  it as a good excuse to escape my culinary comfort zone.  So, I gave the whole "pickle it" idea a LOT MORE THOUGHT and in doing so realized that I do love something pickled and vinegary:  chili peppers!  La Diva loves jalapenos, pepper rings and even giadiniera!   And once I realized that quick pickling counts for the challenge,  more foods and doors were open to the pickling process. Now all I needed to open was my mind!

One of my most successful dishes:  pork carnitas with a quick pickle cabbage topping consisting of freshly shredded green cabbage, home-made habanero-garlic vinegar, salt, sugar and freshly-crushed coriander seeds.  The cabbage is utterly delicious with the rich, melt-in-your-mouth pork, especially when you bite into a lemony coriander seed.

But like many of my fellow CCC members, I am competitive and wanted to go beyond pickling the typical vegetable.  So, I decided to make a SHRUB, which in this case is a sweetened vinegar fruit syrup made from pickled fruit.  Shrubs were used centuries before for flavoring drinks and preserving fruits.  It's the original soda pop syrup!

I actually got the idea from a recent food magazine and you know La Diva, I'm all about "the bevvies!" (did you really think I'd pickle a food over making something for a cocktail, darling?!)  As any creative cocktail bartender, I enjoy learning about anything new or recycled to create exciting cocktails and drinks.  Apparently, the "shrub" has been rediscovered and is becoming popular to the modern mixologist at trendier restaurants.

So, La Diva began to research "shrub" flavorings and was excited to see some very interesting choices:  blood orange, black raspberry, elderberry, fennel apple rhubarb, even tomato.  La Diva began to imagine the possibilities!  As I probed further, I discovered even more unique shrub cocktails including:  beet and lemon, bourbon and peach and mint champagne shrub cocktails!

A few articles said that berries worked very well and as raspberries were on sale, my shrub decision was made.   I followed the directions carefully, sterilized my mason jar and put the washed berries into the jar and with the heated vinegar.  Apparently one must be careful and extra hygienic due to the chance of bacteria or mold forming.

The berries in the hot vinegar and sterilized jar, ready to go into the dark closet for three weeks!

I screwed the lid on tightly, put the jar in the corner of my office closet and waited.  After a few days, I checked on it and so far it looked good, no mold or bacteria seemed to be forming.  I left the berries there for over three weeks, the longer I could keep it, the stronger the shrubs flavor.

And then, it was TIME!!!!  Step two was to strain the berries and add sugar to the liquid, 1.5-2 cups of sugar was suggested.  I tasted the shrub with 1.5 cups and it was still so tart, it made me wince!  So, I added the additional half a cup and then allowed it to cool completely.  I threw out the berry mash, even though the article said the pickled fruit was good for chutney.  When I tasted a pickled berry on its own, it was unedible, the vinegar taste harsh and strong.

I poured a bit of the syrup into a teaspoon and tasted it.  And just like the  flavor combination of sweet and hot (think mango chili salsa) I found the taste very more-ish.  I liked it.  I immediately put some in a glass and topped it with soda and ice.   It was refreshing and sweet though not overly cloying.  The vinegar taste was noticeable but gave the syrup a depth of flavor not found in an herbal or fruit simple syrup.

The first combination I tried was vodka and the shrub topped with soda and garnished with mint.  It was very nice and refreshing, the shrub certainly carried the drink with the bland vodka.  The DJ tasted it and stated that it was a "very adult drink.  The vinegar takes it to another level."  I agreed.

I find that it's difficult to photograph drinks, so I like to use natural day light as much as possible.  We had a late afternoon gale and I was hoping to get some sunshine for this photo shoot.  My prayers were answered and I managed to get the last rays of sun over downtown Miami!

The second shrub cocktail I made was the shrub syrup topped with Prosecco.  Wow!  This was also a great drink.  Any bitterness from the Prosecco was erased leaving my palate with bubbly berry triple happiness!

My FAVORITE shrub cocktail included the raspberry shrub syrup, Bombay Sapphire gin, soda and a kaffir lime garnish.  I lightly crushed the lime leaf before putting into the drink to release its heady scent when I took a sip!   The floral aromatics in the gin paired perfectly with the slightly sour shrub. Heavenly! 

My ONLY regret is that I played it a bit "safe" by using the berries alone.  Next time I'll be adding crushed kaffir lime leaves and trying a tomato basil shrub!  La Diva thinks she'll be making many more of these shrubs (and wouldn't they make a divine dressing for salads?!)


Just tried the raspberry shrub in a dressing:  DIVINE!  It was a little sweet, so I added home made tarragon-garlic vinegar!  It was perfect on this salad of grilled chicken and blue cheese with raspberries over baby spinach and arugula!

Here's THE LINK to the recipe I used to make the shrub, I suggest you try it, it's so easy and the result was well worth the waiting time!


Stuff it! Another Cooking Challenge from the Creative Cooking Crew!

La Diva's ricotta cheese and basil stuffed zucchini blossoms in tempura batter over tomato coulis!

Darlings!  Well, the months are FLYING BY and it seems like it was only last week that the Creative Cooking Crew picked the theme of creating a one coloured dish! Eeeek!  Here it is, mid-July and I'm up early with my entry for the new theme of 


And that was the only rule!  And that means a LOT of freedom!   According to the dictionary, "to stuff" means to "cram with food."   For me, I take that quite literally but some people have different ideas of what "stuffing" actually means to them,  so there is a LOT of room for interpretation, especially amongst the Creative Cooking Crew!

Case in point:  I had just moved back to America from Sydney and was visiting a friend who had just finished culinary school in L.A.  She had just started a food service company where she'd make the meals for the week for certain clients.  Her first and only customer was her neighbor and one day I went with her to see what she'd make for a week's worth of food.  She told me she was making stuffed pork chops!

Damn, that sounded good!  What would she stuff them with, I wondered?  Apples?  Sage corn meal stuffing?  Mushrooms?

I sat in the kitchen next to the counter and watched her grab a box of Stove Top Stuffing, make it and then schmear it all over the top of regular pork chops that she hastily put into the oven.  THAT was her version of "stuffed" pork chops?   Needless to say, I was highly disappointed in her interpretation and use of pedestrian ingredients, especially since she had boasted about working with Wolfgang Puck in his West Hollywood Restaurant Spago.

Welcome to America, La Diva.  

The incident reminded me that back in my home country, especially in Los Angeles, you could find the gourmet along with the processed, the creme de la creme with the crap.   And the irony of a transplanted Midwestern chef choosing to serve a box of processed food for client when she lived in a state with some of the best  produce in the country was not lost on La Diva.  But let's get back to the topic at hand, STUFF IT!

For my STUFF IT entry, I decided to go back in time to a wonderfully decadent pairing of two of my favorite proteins:  steak and oysters!

I used this gorgeous double rib eye steak!

 Along with these Florida Gulf oysters, no sense in using Blue Points!  It's always best to shuck your own oysters right before use.


I'M going to stuff them into this bigass piece of meat and make me a good ol' CARPETBAG STEAK!

I seasoned the steak with olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper and my herb and spice mix.

The first and only time I'd eaten a "carpetbag steak" (also known as a carpetbagger steak) was at least 16 years ago when I was with my dear friend, boss and mentor, Carl Blance, who was a restauranteur and a foodie before anyone ever knew what the word was.  He had a gorgeous brasserie in an upscale suburb of Sydney, Australia and I was his cocktail bartender and partner in crime.  Carl and I were always talking food.  When we'd holiday together, Carl would ask me excitedly just after breakfast, "What should we do for lunch?"  

The DJ (for my new readers, my husband is DJ Nevah L8 4 dinnah and he sometimes spins at my cooking classes!) and I had been invited to stay with Carl and his partner, Graham, down on the family farm in Berry,  a lovely small rural community about 90 miles south of Sydney.

After marinating the whole oysters in worcestershire sauce, fresh lemon juice and a dash of cayenne, I stuff them into a pocket slit into the side of the thick steak.

We had been at the beach all day and we were having a ball, so by the time dinner time came, we were all quite hungry.  We dressed up and headed into town to find dinner and naturally, Carl already had a plan.  Many small towns in Australia have what is called the "Returned Services League" clubs, similar to a Veteran's club, but the RSLs are much larger and usually have restaurants and poker machines, meat tray raffles and is usually the only source of entertainment (besides the local pub) for many small town folk.  

I've traveled to many small towns in Australia and have found that the RSL club is a place that literally takes you back in the club's decor and by the food offered on the menu!  It was at the local Berry RSL (or "rissole" as Aussies like to jokingly call them!) where I'd seen the "Carpetbag Steak" for the first time and  I was intrigued!  I have to admit, I don't go much for surf and turf as I love the flavor of meat and seafood entirely on their own yet...something about this combo was very appealing to me.

I ordered it.

Using toothpicks, I sealed up the slit as best as I could.

The steak came with the usual sides of mash and salad.  I tucked in.  DIVINE.  The briny oyster added a subtle saltiness to the gorgeous Aussie Scotch fillet steak and the flavor was savory and mellow.  From that point on, I was hooked and ate every last bite, telling Carl that "we'd have to give this a try back home!"  But then I promptly forgot about it and never ate it again until like a light bulb above my head, it popped up bright from my memory.   Was dear, daparted Carl giving me a suggestion from the grave?   YES!  I would make the Carpetbag steak for my STUFF IT entry!

There seems to be a lot of discrepancy about when the Carpetbag steak was invented and by whom.  I've seen reports of it being served in the late 1800's,  when the term Carpetbaggers was coined.  Some say the origin of the dish is purely Australian, others say it's American.  An older gent I was speaking to at the meat counter told me it was none other than Peter Luger who invented the combo as Steak Kilpatrick in the early part of the century, but I think it was  around long before he put his stamp on it.

In Australia, the dish became popular in the 1950's, so it was oddly typical that I'd found it on the menu in a restaurant in the country RSL and thus, feeling like once again I'd stepped back in time.

I cut off the sharp points of the protruding toothpicks so they don't burn on the far, so good!

However, I had a problem and a big one.  In fact, I was thinking of scrapping the whole thing and waiting until the next day to make this special dish.   I had over done it the day before and woke up with aching shoulders and back, I didn't feel like cooking as I was in so much pain and exhausted.   I was so tired that I even took a rare nap on the balcony in the afternoon and was having a very lazy day. (Something this hyper Diva never does!)

But being the Diva that doesn't like to waste food, and because I wasn't sure if the oysters would make it in the fridge another day,  I lassoed the DJ into going downstairs to grill it for me. 

The oyster stuffed steak is ready for the grill!

Looking at the expensive and very thick cut of meat, he was a bit hesitant about his grilling capabilities and told me so.  "You'll be fine," I said.  Remember, just sear the outside and then turn it down to let it cook through.  DON'T over cook it, we can always cook it longer.  And don't burn it, I have to photograph it for my blog!"

It seemed like he was down there forever and I was getting concerned..    And then it bagan to storm and rain buckets when I heard him come through the front door.

And this is what he brought me.

Hmmmmm....."Looks a bit charred to me....," I said.

"The grill was super hot... and the oysters kept falling out!  I lost a few....!," said The DJ, frowning.

For reals?  Damn.  I couldn't hide my disappointment.

I cut the steak in half, giving him the larger piece with the bone and took the other piece.  It was VERY rare....almost blue.  I usually love my steaks medium rare, but lucky for The DJ that Diva is practically a cavewoman and the bloody meat presented no problem.  I didn't even mind the charred crust.  I greedily ate it up with my now pink mashed potatoes.  

The steak was still pretty tasty, in spite of the uneven cooking, but I knew I should have grilled it myself and it wasn't fair to be upset with The DJ.  This was "my thing" after all and he was just minding his own business on a Sunday, relaxing and enjoying a glass of red wine.

Losing some of the oysters in the grill meant that I hardly got any in my piece of steak.  So, it really didn't taste like a Carpebag Steak at all and I felt cheated.

And I was mad.  I had been SO LOOKING forward to it!

And to make matters worse, most of my photos came out blurry as well!  It just wasn't meant to be!

So, instead of throwing my husband under the bus about it, I admitted that it was my fault and I should have saved the dinner for me to make myself the next night when I was feeling up to it.  Moral of the story:  Buy more oysters for $4 damn dollars instead of letting a hungry and impatient husband improperly cook an expensive steak.

I could have made this again before the deadline, but Diva is going out of town next week and I sure as hell don't need to be eating any more steaks in the meantime! 

But now I've got Carpetbag steak on the brain and I WILL make it again soon, oh yes I will indeed!

In the meantime, take a look at the steaming inside of my delicate cheese stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms!  Now THOSE turned out perfectly!

I will be posting the round up after the deadline, so make sure you come on back here to see all the uber creative entries!

And do tell, darling, what do YOU like to stuff?  Ciao for now!

Creative Cooking Crew Challenge: What's in the BOX?

Can you guess what this is?

Darlings!  The Creative Cooking Crew is a Facebook group headed by Lazaro Cooks and Joan Nova, both uber talented and creative cooks.  Joan writes about food and travel and does recipe development while Laz, a local Miamian, pushes the boundaries with high end plates emulating the great French chef Joel Robuchon!  

A few months ago, they asked me to join the group and I happily accepted.

In the style of the tv cooking show "Chopped," we were "given" four ingredients to work with and had to incorporate all in one dish.

They were:

green apples
nut butter

 While many, naturally, thought of salad, I thought of dessert!  I'm TRULY not a lover of "all things bacon" and actually think that people have gone a bit overboard with their bacon love (it's full of fat, cholesterol and nitrates!!) but I do like it once in a while, though it MUST be made super crispy!

So, what EEEES THEES DISH, La Diva?

It's a caramelized apple bread pudding with a peanut butter sauce and maple syrup bacon garnish!

How'd I do it?

 I used the classic French dessert of Tarte Tatin as my inspiration and caramelized the apples in butter and sugar until a dark amber color.   I added a healthy dash of apple cider vinegar for a more sweet and sour taste!  It worked well!   Here you can see the caramelized apples on the right.

I used the apples as the base in the casserole and then did a basic bread pudding using challah bread, raisins, cinnamon and milk.   I baked it for about an hour and let it cool completely.  While it was baking, I made a simple sauce using egg, flour, milk and sugar and then two teaspoons of peanut butter.  It was nice and light in texture and sweetness with just a hint of peanut butter.

I baked apple smoked bacon in the oven and then just before it finished cooking, I drizzled maple syrup over it and continued baking for another five minutes.  I allowed the bacon to cool and then minced it up with a knife.

The bread pudding was spooned into bowls with the peanut sauce poured over the top and the bacon sprinkled lightly as a garnish.

RESULT:   HOLY COW!  What flavors, what decadence!  While I DID cut the sugar down by half (from 1.5 cups to .75 cup), this dish was already sweetened by the caramelized apples in the bottom and didn't even need THAT much sugar.  Of course the smooth, creamy peanut sauce with the crunchy salty hit of bacon sent my tongue over the top, it was THAT good.  But, honestly, for me, it was really too sweet and too much.  If I made this again, I would cut down the sugar in the bread pudding to quarter of a cup and omit the sauce and bacon (or maybe add some cooked bacon pieces to the caramelized apples?)


  Ciao for now, darling!

Meat and 'Taters: A Classic Comfort Food Combo

Filet Mignon with bearnaise sauce over mashed potatoes...

Darlings!  Well, the Creative Cooking Crew challenge for this month did a complete 180 from last month's vegan challenge to a theme La Diva is very comfy with:  Meat and Potatoes.

Having said that, I took a look at some of my dishes from the past few years and realized that I don't actually eat meat and potatoes very often!  In fact, it could be fish and mash or a Malaysian beef redang with rice or perhaps a lovely lamb ragu with home made pappardelle!

So to get you in the spirit, here's a bit of food porn from meals past to showcase some of my fave meat and potato dishes and then we'll get to the meat and potato challenge!

Polish kapusta with pork and keilbasa, potatoes and cabbage.....mmmmm....look at dat buttah and melt in your mouth pork!


Bow chick a bow bow!  YES!  That pork DOES taste as good as it looks!

Wow!  You can really see the difference in quality of the photos from my new camera (see pork above) to my old one (this photo!)  One of my all time fave winter dishes:  boneless short ribs braised in red wine with carrots over a creamy celeriac and potato puree.

Seared blackened ahi tuna steak over wasabi mashed potatoes, an 80's nouvelle cuisine classic.  While fish is not actually considered meat, this hearty fish is a healthy and low fat substitute for good ol' steak!

So, what WOULD I make for this month's challenge of meat and potatoes?  Originally I was going to make a lovely beef vindaloo with potatoes, but then I got busy, the beef was cooked and it was too late to add the potatoes!  Doh!

I started to think of other ideas.....rosti with some sort of savory meat topping?  Maybe a meatball encased in a fried potato?  A classic shepherd's pie?

And then after browsing through my latest issue of Food & Wine, I came across an enticing dish that I wanted to try:  Fresh chorizo and potato tacos! 

Sounds great, yes?  Cuz I know I loves me some fried poke and taters!

So, I made chorizo and potato tacos and guess what?  


I was disappointed, considering Food & Wine claimed they had "perfected it in our test kitchen" and was a "staff favorite."  Yeah, maybe for La Gringa but not for La Diva, they were bland, bland, bland!  Fresh chorizo is full of flavor and SPICE, but the seasonings were insipid and without kick. No picante, Pedro.

Even The DJ was disappointed and wanted to know what brand chorizo I was using as it wasn't full of the usual chorizo zest!  When I told him it was home made, he carefully suggested that I just buy the chorizo we both know and love next time.  I concurred.

Unless I'm just checking out a recipe purely for inspiration, I usually make it as it's written and then modify it if necessary.  I noticed that when I added the spices to the pork, it was not the right color for a spicy chorizo, and there was not nearly enough paprika.  And yet, I followed the "tested, staff favorite" recipe anyway.

Further to my dismay, after I cooked it, I noticed that the meat was D-R-Y.

This is the second time I've used pork from my local grocer and it was dry in a recipe.  Really?  What's the point of using ground pork if it has no flavor or fat?  Perhaps the butchers are grinding their pork a bit leaner these days, so next time I make this recipe (and I will make it again according to MY specifications) I will either just buy the pre-made Colombian or Nicaraguan chorizo that is so readily available in Miami or get the butcher to grind me pork with a higher fat ratio.

To combat the dry, I made a fresh salsa and spiced it up with home made habanero garlic vinegar.  And of course, I served the meat on top of freshly chopped, cool and crunchy iceberg lettuce, a trick I employ to lighten up heavy Mexican fare, especially cheese enchiladas!

The good thing about this recipe, is that you can easily feed a crowd, so in the future I would halve it for dinner for two or offer it for a taco party, but only after modifying it.  

But now, what does a Diva do with all of this bland, dry taco filling?


Yep, the pork and potato taco filling would make a perfect hash and a bed for poached eggs!  The next morning, I sauteed garlic and komatsuna from my garden (a  mild-tasting Japanese green similar to spinach) added some oil to a pan, sprinkled with a liberal dose of red pepper flakes and heated the mixture up.  The DJ was happy.  La Diva was happy.  Satisfied and with full bellies, we were both ready to start our Sunday!

The moral of the story?

Follow your instincts.  (and just buy the damn chorizo from the people who don't scrimp on the fat or flavor, the Latins!)

'Nuff said.  Ciao for now, darlings!

(I'll post a link to the other entries after the deadline, so come on back to check them all out, guaranteed to be creative and inspiring!)