Showing posts with label DECADENCE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DECADENCE. Show all posts

Nashville-style HOT FRIED CHICKEN (OH, Yesssss!)


Darlins!   I gotta tell you sumpin'.  DIVA DON'T LIKE FRIED CHICKEN.  I don't.  Honestly!  I never buy it, I never order it out and I never make it.  When I was growing up and then throughout my adult life, whenever I was served fried chicken, I would take a breast, peel all the skin off and then eat the meat, tossing the fried skin away!  YEP.  I was wastin' that good, crispy fried chicken skin.  And I could have cared less about the wings and thighs, just save me a nice breast.  Chicken legs grossed me out.

BUT MY OH MY HAVE THINGS CHANGED.

Including my palate.  

Over time, as I continued exploring different dishes from various regions in my own country and the globe, I've learned to be more open-minded to trying new tastes and techniques and thus spreading my culinary wings.   And I'm so glad I have.






I had been toying with the idea of making fried chicken for some time now.  With the resurgence of interest in good ol' Southern cooking as well as actually moving to Southern Florida nine years ago, I thought it was high time I put aside my fried chicken hate.  I am, technically, a Southerner now.

Besides seeing various recipes cropping up about how to make "the perfect fried chicken," I started to notice recipes for another style of fried chicken called "Nashville Hot Chicken."  The recipe was enticing because La Diva likes it HOT and seeing as I love me some Buffalo chicken wings, I found this recipe that included tablespoons of cayenne pepper more than intriguing!  How hot would it be?  How hot can I take?  "BRING IT, BABY," I thought to myself.

And then along came the June issue of Bon Appetit and what did I find but a recipe for the Nashville (style) hot chicken!  This was more than a coincidence, this was meant to be. 





What is unique about this style of fried chicken is not the hot sauce-laced buttermilk marinade but the very spicy sauce you brush on the chicken after frying.  After seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper, you leave it in the fridge to get nice and cold.  Then you dredge the chicken pieces in flour, shake off excess, dip into the buttermilk mixture and then dredge again, shake and fry.  

When the chicken is done, you drain it and then slather on a heavy dose of spices mixed with the frying oil, including paprika, garlic powder, brown sugar, chile powder and tablespoons of cayenne pepper.  TABLESPOONS!  This recipe called for six!  The mixture of spicy, sweet and salty is a perfectly delectable combination, almost guaranteeing addiction!  Serving the chicken over white bread with pickles completes the dish.




Here's a piece of steaming hot chicken wing for you to drool over.  Remember how I said that I used to only eat the chicken breast?  NO MORE!  I now LOVE dark meat.  First of all, chicken wings are really the bridge chicken piece to eating dark meat.  SERIOUSLY.  And then when I started to realize that if I cook the thighs and legs long enough, most of that gross fat that I hated would melt away leaving only succulent and tasty, moist chicken meat!  Try it yourself and see if you dislike dark meat.

Here's the recipe from Bon Appetit and a link as well.  Some of the commenters have suggested that this isn't the 'real' recipe.  Well, La Diva ain't gettin' into all that!  Like spaghetti bolognese, I'm CERTAIN that every family or chicken shack in Nashville has their own version.  But this one is from a Nashville restaurant that is pretty famous for making it, Hattie B's, so I'm going with it. And besides, it turned out delicious!






I cut the recipe in half for just the two of us.  (Diva doan need to be eatin' fried chicken for days, y'allmean?!)  Supposedly, you some people go even hotter by adding more cayenne.  I was fine with the three tablespoons, even though I could probably go much hotter, The DJ was happy as a pig in mud,  just the same.






RESULT:  HOT damn, this chicken is goooood!  AND I ain't lyin'!  The skin was nice and crispy, the combination of spicy and sweet flavors is totally addictive.   My suggestion for success is to use an instant read thermometer in order to closely monitor the oil's temperature as well as checking each piece of chicken well before the suggested cooking time was up.  This recipe is definitely not for the faint-hearted or for those dieting.

At suppertime, the DJ cranked out some good ol' blues music while we enjoyed our dinner al fresco on our balcony, not a word passed between us but mere grunts and moans of delight.  THAT'S HOW GOOD IT WAS.  The white bread is perfect for quelling the heat and the sweet bread and butter pickles were a great foil for the chicken too.

Do you see that coleslaw on my plate?  Well, most of it is there....because I couldn't be bothered to put down my delicious chicken and pick up a fork.  I was tempted to eat the slaw with my hands, but hey, I'm not that trashy!  But more importantly,  I am now a FRIED CHICKEN CONVERT.  I loves it.  But only once in a while, it's too dangerously addictive otherwise!

Ciao for now, darlings!

Rave Review: A New Spirit Product JUST for Cooking



Darlings!


One of the perks about being a blogger is you get invited to events in order to review products, chefs or restaurants.   After my last post about cooking with spirits titled "COOKING WITH BOOS,"  I was approached by a PR firm in New York representing a new spirit line for use in the kitchen only.   A lunch would be prepared at the lovely French restaurant La Gloutonnerie by Chef Christian Testa highlighting the new product line in his dishes and would I be able to attend?  I have to admit, I am pretty picky about whom or what I will write about and the main prerequisite to be reviewed is that I MUST like the product, so it's pretty rare you will find a review on this blog, but my curiosity was piqued.   A few days before I went to the Craft Spirits and Beer Show and was bombarded by whiskey producers from states you'd never associate whiskey production with like New York, Texas and Illinois, but this was a new and interesting spirit product:  Spirits I could cook with without losing flavor.  I RSVP'd to attend.





From the company website:  Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits  were designed by chefs to fulfill the need for premium culinary spirits in the kitchen. Unlike any other spirit, Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits are the first family of spirits crafted for cooking.  Whether you are a professional chef or someone who enjoys the pleasures of cooking you will notice the difference when you add Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits to your cuisine. 


Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits combine artisan tradition with scientific innovation to make the world’s first culinary spirits. Our ingredients are all natural and each spirit is heat stable, has no alcohol bite, low in congeners and low in sugar.  You will find each flavor to be balanced and consistent in cooking as any quality ingredient should be.





On the table for each person was a gift bag, a media kit and the menu.  As freshly baked rolls, pate and butter were set out, I ogled the menu, imagining the treats that awaited me in the chef's kitchen.

As we ate our bread, we talked to the inventor of the product, Jim Lindner, a scientist who explained how purchasing an old church in Nova Scotia, Canada and thus learning about the local bootlegging history of the area, had intrigued him to the point of spurring him on to create a new spirit product to which chefs could cook with.   He began to talk to chefs about cooking with spirits and the problems associated with it and then approached food chemists to see if his idea was even plausible.

Thus started the invention and multitudinous testing of Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits by talented and creative chefs from around the nation including Top Cheftestant Ron Duprat and Miami local Tim Andriola of Timo's Restaurant in Sunny Isles, FL.





Trinity, the brand's marketing manager, receives a sample of cognac and passes around one for each of us to try.  Meanwhile, the restaurant's manager heats up more of the same cognac to 190 degrees Fahrenheit.  We are encouraged to sample both.  I find that the cooked cognac has no depth of flavor and has lost it's wonderful, spicy vanilla notes.





Then, a sample of the Rave Review brandy is served while more is heated to the same temperature as the cognac.  We are given both to sample, all of us noting that there is no loss of flavor or depth, both samples tasting exactly the same whether heated or not.  The demonstration illustrated the loss of flavor by cooking with regular alcohol where one is essentially "re-distilling" the product by heating it up again.  It was a very good example of how their product is superior when used for cooking or baking at high temperatures vs. regular spirits.





The waiter brings out the first course:  creamy lobster risotto cooked with brandy.  It is just as delicious as it looks and the brandy flavor is detectable, though not over powering.  After eating up every bite of the chef's delicious risotto, we are invited to the kitchen to watch the chef demonstrate the next dish prepared with the product.





Chef Christian Testa showing us the bourbon flavor of Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits for use in cooking diver scallops.





After searing the scallops in butter and olive oil, Chef Testa adds green onions and grape tomatoes and then flambes with the Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits Bourbon flavor.  Just like when one cooks with traditional liquor, the pan ignites and flames shoot up as we all "ooh" and "ahh."  The aroma was just incredible.




The plated demonstration dish:  Seared diver scallops with green onion and tomato, veloute sauce with bourbon flavored Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits.




La Diva and inventor Jim Lindner.  Jim was affable and friendly, and obviously enjoyed answering our questions about his product line.





The same dish is served to the guests and it tasted decadent and divine.  Again, the bourbon flavor is evident yet subtle and absolutely delicious.  I mopped up every last bit of sauce with bread!






The highlight of the lunch:  a vanilla rum souffle!  When this was put down next to me, I greedily thought the entire dish was for moi!  HA!  The waiter served La Diva and then poured over a rich creme anglaise sauce, which he wisely left on the table.  

All of the courses were decadent and delicious, but more importantly, each highlighted what the Rave Review Original Culinary Spirit product was capable of.  Chef Testa did a remarkable job in using the product in classic dishes and elevating their flavors.






Currently, the Rave Review Original Culinary Spirit line comes in four flavors:  brandy, bourbon, hops and rum.  Other flavors are in the works, though Jim explains that more traditional spirits will be considered first, like wine over a spirit like tequila (Yes, I asked!)  Additionally, Jim is experimenting with spice liquors such as cumin, star anise and saffron.

Frankly, the product tastes great and I can't wait to experiment!  Another chef who attended has already been using the product and loves adding the brandy in her bread pudding and the bourbon with her short ribs.  Some recipes from the website include hops bread, Belgian waffles with hops, bourbon apricot pork tenderloin, grilled strawberries with brandy whipped cream and bourbon barbecue sauce.  I already have myriad ideas on how to use the product and will post the results here!  

Rave Review!™ Original Culinary Spirits are produced in Florida and are available retail in convenient 200ml size and for purchase for your restaurant’s kitchen in special 1 liter bottles.  To learn more about the product as well as purchasing for home or professional use, check out the super-cute website for Rave Review Original Culinary Spirits by clicking here.

Darling, what spirit would YOU use out of the line and in what dish?  Do tell La Diva all about it!  Ciao for now!

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 

STUFF IT!

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.

But Diva, I hear you say....WHAT, PRAY TELL, ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THOSE OYSTERS?!

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 time....by 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 grill.....so 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
vinegar
bacon
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?)

All the NEW POSTS ARE UP!




  Ciao for now, darling!

Seafood and Cheese: To "Pair" or "Not to Pair," That IS the Question!



Darlings!  Recently La Diva's cooking prowess was put to the test via a dish I cooked for a competition and was put in front of several esteemed judges.  It all came down to the taste of the dish in one bite.

La Diva thought long and hard about what to make and decided that a recipe using grilled oysters on the half shell, a recipe that I'd inherited from a restauranteur, ex-boss and dear friend of mine when while living in Sydney.  I named the dish Oysters a la Carl, after the man who taught it to me, Carl Blance.  The dish included an egg custard, extra virgin olive oil with minced garlic, prosciutto and arugula all on an oyster in the half shell and then topped with parmigiano cheese and grilled to a bubbling brown.  It's a creamy, savory, salty perfection of a dish, all in one beautiful bite.

Yours truly has served this dish numerous times and always with many gracious accolades!


"Delicious!"

"Divine!"

"I love this and I don't even like oysters!"





La Diva's "Oysters a la Carl!"  Creamy, savory and MORE-ISH!

I've been making this dish for 15 years and what's so great about it is that La Diva considers it a "bridge" dish for those that don't really eat oysters in their purest form, RAW.  This scrumptious dish is for those that love Oysters Rockefeller or Mornay, cooked with a hint of cheese!


BUT THE CHEF JUDGES HATED IT!


Comments ranged from

"No, I can't.  I can't "do" seafood and cheese."

to

"Why?  An oyster is already a perfect thing?"

and

"You were so close.  You should have left out the parmigiano."

Your La Diva was devastated.   I was made to feel like I'd committed a sin against humanity!   And here all along, La Diva thought the dish was a shoe in, a sure thing.  So, I took the criticism on the chin and thought to myself, "I call BULLSHIT" and began to ponder about all the cheese and seafood pairings I could recall!




AHH, the Sydney Rock oyster, in it's natural state!



What's all the fuss about cheese and seafood, you say?

Here's the thing:  traditionally, if you are Italian or an Italian American, it's considered a NO NO to pair seafood with cheese.  If you order Shrimp Fra Diavolo (spicy shrimp pasta!) in any good Italian restaurant, you will NOT be offered cheese to top your pasta.  In fact, the waiter would not only refuse but possibly sneer at the Philistine that dared to desecrate this dish of beauty by smothering it's delicate sea flavors with a pungent parmigiano or pecorino!






Okay.  I GET IT.  I KNOW.  And yes, when it comes to oysters, I AM A PURIST and I believe that LESS IS MORE.  But....if you know anything about La Diva, you know I'm an irreverant rule breaker!  Convention?  BAH!  BORING!

Now La Diva was irked.  Now I had a bee in my bonnet and it was buzzing bigtime.  What about ALL OF THE OTHER dishes that paired seafood with cheese?  

Oysters Mornay:  a bechamel sauce containing CHEDDAR CHEESE!

Oysters Rockefeller:  grilled oysters topped with PARMIGIANO CHEESE!





And what about the French classic dish of Coquille St. Jacques?  That is a grilled scallop on the half shell and includes the addition of gruyere cheese AND parmigiano cheese!  Are you telling me THE FRENCH don't know what they are talking about?  Harumpf!

Even the Greeks do it!  Anyone ever have that beautiful dish of shrimp in a tomato sauce with a piquant feta cheese?!  It's called "garithes saganaki," and it's one of my fave dishes!

Then, there's shrimp alfredo, shrimp and scallop enchiladas and the good ol' American tuna melt!  And let's not forget lox and cream cheese with bagels!  I'm starting to think this "no seafood with cheese" thing is a bit like three day  old fish...I AIN'T BUYIN' IT!




Off the boat direct from Italy, Chef Fabio Viviani approves of the Southern American classic dish of "shrimp and grits!" 

Of course it was only last winter that La Diva had the pleasure of meeting ex Top Cheftestant Fabio Viviani and posed the very same question to him:  "Fabio, what do YOU think of pairing cheese with seafood?"  He answered positively that there are many great dishes in America that do this, including the Southern classic dish of "shrimp and grits" which naturally includes good ol' cheddar cheese.

Well, it was too late now.  I could lament all I wanted but I still got slammed in the competition.

And then I saw it.  On FACEBOOK, a friend of Italian heritage had posted a delightful version of Lobster Macaroni and Cheese!  It looked DIVINE.  And there it was, right there in the title CHEESE.  Ha!   With LOBSTER!  Ha to the HA!   I could taste sweet, sweet vindication coming my way.




Yo, Gina!  Wanna try my oysters with parmeezhan cheese and proshut?

So, La Diva reached out to this friend.  After all, HE would know THE ANSWER to this age old question of whether it is "proper" or "right" to pair cheese with seafood!  His name is Mike Colicchio and he comes from an Italian American family, has been cooking with his family his entire life, has traveled to Italy countless times AND has a famous chef brother.   Cooking is his passion.   La Diva was certain that he would be a reliable expert on the subject.

So, I asked him and here is his response:

"I think the whole "no cheese and seafood thing" is total nonsense.  Why?  You can pair anything, offal chefs stuff their hearts with a mixture that includes cheese so what makes seafood and cheese so verboten? 

I have had sardines and provolone with olives and crostini and clams oregenato have parmesan and breadcrumbs.  I adore anchovy with pizza.  Isn't that mixing seafood with cheese?

I have been to Italy seven times.  I have been served pecorino cheese with spaghetti all vongole. (spaghetti with clams)

I have had this disagreement with my (chef) brother for years.  I really do bring my own cheese to his house on Christmas Eve.  Our Mom loves it also!"

Ahhh SWEET VINDICATION!  In fact, when this question was posted on his   thread, others came to my defense!  They, too, had eaten spaghetti and seafood with cheese!




Mike Colicchio's Lobster Mac and Cheese.  Yeah, it says CHEESE right there in the title and it looks GREAT!

So, while La Diva didn't win the competition, I DID win peace of mind.  And in this world of "thinking outside of the box" where individualism is lauded and creativity in the kitchen is king, isn't that what it's all about?  Convention is  boring and rules are made to be broken.

Ciao for now, darlings!








Jessie-Lou's FABULOUS and DIVINE Coconut Pound Cake http://www.ladivacucina.com

 Darlings!  Have you ever been given a recipe that sounds so damn good that you want to make up an excuse to try it as soon as possible?  That's exactly what I thought when my dear old friend Bobby put up a post on Facebook about his Grandma's old fashioned coconut pound cake, apparently it was to die for.   The recipe came from his Southern Grandmother who was from Alabama and baked her cakes "old school."  Hells yes,  La Diva HAD to have the recipe!

Now, I've known Bobby since he was twelve-years-old and because I'm like the big sister he never had, he was happy to share the precious recipe with me.  The next day, the recipe came to my inbox and I took a look at the famed cake. 

Two sticks of butter?  Yep, can't make a cake without buttah!

And 2/3 cup of Crisco?  Dang, I've not made a cake with shortening for donkey's years!

Three cups of sugar?!   Oooo-wee, dis gone be one sweet cake!  And that didn't include the ENTIRE BOX OF POWDERED SUGAR FOR THE FROSTING.  Holy cow!

FIVE EGGS?!  That's it.  This cake was going to be saved for a special occasion.  I filed the recipe away and then life, dieting and business took over and it languished in my computer files for months.



 Crack ho's need love (and coconut cake) too! 

And then one day a few months back, Bobby, who lives in an, ahem, "about-to-be-gentrified" neighborhood in Atlanta, posted about the his grandma's coconut cake again, this time about his experience giving a piece to a local crack ho, oops, I mean "one of the colorful neighborhood characters," who was more than appreciative.   Here's the story he told me:

"I used to feed her a hot meal when it was really cold and one time she got the cake along with some yummy soup! Her best wig nearly blew off! (She wears different wigs everyday because she is really a crack whore, and she don't want the popo knowin' who she is! She's kind of "undercover," or so she thinks). She charges $5 for a bj...

The best story is the local neighborhood helper guy (who I also used to feed) also got some cake one time too, and he shared it with his "auntie" who was really the mother of three drug dealers. She loved that cake so much she used to have her 'boyz' come knock on my door for special occasions (always her birthday) with a $20 in hand and ask me to "make her one of 'dem coconut cakes!'" I usually would make it, but never took their money. Those boys were rough, but sooooo shy when they would come knocking on my door for their mama's cake!"

That's what I love about Bobby, you can tell the boy's from Detroit and he's such a generous soul, Jesus would highly approve!

DANG.  Now La Diva had to try this cake.

And then Diva joined a gym, began working out and forgot about it again.  Until June, when it was the DJ's birthday, and I was trying to decide what cake to make him.  Now, the DJ is my sweetheart and he works hard at his job five days a week, driving 80 miles and day and many a weekend he spends doing La Diva stuff for my business.  So La Diva ALWAYS makes him a fresh, home made cake with his favorite ingredients for his birthday as a special treat.  Last year I made him a chocolate cake with peanut butter icing.  While it's one of the DJ's all-time faves, I wanted to treat him to something new.

And then I remembered Bobby's grandma's coconut cake!



 This is the shortening I used.  It's made from 100% Organic Expeller Pressed Palm Oil.

So now, La Diva had to go and buy me some shortening.  Darlings, I can hear you asking La Diva:  "What IS shortening anyway?"  Wikipedia states that "Shortening, in its most generic meaning, is any fat which is solid at room temperature and used to make crumbly pastry (from "short" being an old synonym to "crumbly").  Although butter is solid at room temperature and is frequently used for such pastry, the word "shortening" is seldom used about butter.   Originally, it was mainly used as a synonym to lard."  Therefore, beef suet, pork lard and Crisco are all considered to be "shortening" and used for baking.

You can read more about shortening HERE.



La Diva frosted the cake "old school" a la Betty Crocker, with loads of swirls and waves.   Perfect cakes are boring.

Jessie-Lou's FABULOUS and DIVINE Coconut Pound Cake

(Here is the original recipe but my modifications are in pink!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Take a bundt cake pan and butter and flour the pan.

2 sticks butter  (at room temperature)
2/3 cup Crisco  (I used organic shortening without trans fats)
3 cups sugar
3 cups plain flour
1 t baking powder
5 eggs  (at room temperature)
½ t coconut flavoring
1 cup milk
1 cup coconut

Cream butter and Crisco. Add sugar. Sift flour and baking powder and add eggs one at a time beating thoroughly with an electric mixer at medium high speed for about five minutes.  Add flavoring and milk and mix until well blended. Add coconut last. Bake 1.5 hour @ 325 degrees.  Because ovens vary, I would check the cake at one hour and every ten minutes until done.  I used a toothpick to test and it came out with crumbs on it, not batter.  I tend to "underbake" my cakes slightly so that they will be moist.  This cake in MY oven was finished and had a nice brown crust at one hour and fifteen minutes.  Allow cake to cool for a few minutes and then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting:

1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 box confectioners sugar  (that is one pound)
1 t coconut flavoring
¾ cup coconut
Let cream cheese and butter soften, mix all together and frost when cake is cooled completely.



So maybe now it's time to talk about Bobby's grandmother in Bobby's own words:  "Her name was Jessie-Lou Chandler and she grew up in Hartford, Alabama. She had nine children, lived her whole life in Geneva County, Alabama, and only flew on a plane one time in her life. Basically, grandma and grandpa were share croppers and they lived on some else's land doing all the work in the fields for the land owner.  Grandma  always had this cake ready for my mom whenever we came to visit.  It was her favorite  cake, as well as mine."

Well, guess what, Grandma?  Your cake is La Diva's favorite cake now too!  Thank you, Jessie-Lou Chandler, thank you for giving me a cake in it's full fat glory, the way cakes were supposed to be made, velvety moist and full of flavor. 



RESULT:  Ok.  Hold steady now.  THIS WAS THE TASTIEST,  MOST MOIST AND DELICIOUS CAKE I'VE EVER EATEN.  Seriously.  I was worried it would be too sweet.  Well, the frosting WAS sweet but not too cloying and naturally, the cream cheese cut some of the sweetness.  I was concerned the coconut flavoring (I only found imitation) would add a chemical coconut taste.  The coconut taste from the flavoring was subtle and necessary, and as there was coconut in the cake itself as well as the frosting, there was no chance of it tasting like anything but divinely decadent coconut.  The flaked coconut also added more moisture to the cake.  (as if it needed it!)

Darlings, this is NOT the cake to eat if you are worried about calories or cholesterol.  However, this IS the cake to bake for a special occasion or someone you love.  Now, the DJ, he LOVED his cake.  He LOVED IT SO MUCH that he refused to share it with anybody.  And La Diva HAD to get that cake out of the house as I had THREE PIECES in two days.  When I went to take a plate to the neighbor, he stopped me at the door, "Where you goin' with my birthday cake, woman?"  "Um, to Edgar's?  He's a single guy, I bet he doesn't get home made cake very often...."  "You are going to do no such thing.  He's not deserving of such a cake.  The cake stays here."  I meekly put the cake down.

Then, a few days later, as the cake slowly disappeared, I noticed that the spongy, velvety texture of the cake was still intact, this cake would be "fresh" for days.  We were down to a nice little chunk now and because I had posted photos of it on Facebook,  two friends mentioned it as soon as they came into my door when they stopped by my house for a visit....I soon found out it was NOT to visit La Diva, but to get a PIECE OF THE CAKE.  Charles, in particular, had been fantasizing about it ever since I had posted the photos. I split the last chunk into two, simultaneously upset about the cake finally being gone as well as relieved, and handed a plate each to my two friends.  And then I watched them devour it with faces of bliss and ecstasy.

Thanks, Bobby, for sharing, you are a dear.  And thanks to Grandma Jessie-Lou! Do you have a TO DIE FOR CAKE recipe?  DO tell La Diva all about it!  Ciao for now, darlings!