Cooking and Chef Recipes

Mex-Asian Chicken Meatball Soup with Crispy Tortilla Strips and Fresh Salsa

Divas Meatball soup

Note: Today's column is the final edition from our good friends Pam Brandon and Anne-Marie Denicole, the Divas of Dish. Their first column appeared here on June 20, 2009, and twice monthly since then they've offered wonderful, reliable recipes, expert cooking advice and entertaining tips. Like many of you, I looked forward to each new column and followed the easy instructions with the hope that the results would be as beautiful as the photo of the Divas' finished product. The 140 so past columns are always available on the Divas of Dish pages here on SJO. And, of course, there is the cookbook that started it all, "Culinary Confessions of the PTA Divas." 

Some would argue that soup is best served on a chilly winter day, but we disagree. In all its salubrious glory, soup is a year-round pick for your health, waistline – and wallet. Perfecting the pot is an opportunity to clean out the fridge with a deliciously creative spin.
A single one-pot wonder per week, teaming with fresh veggies, legumes and whole grains (think bulgar, quinoa and farro) is your go-to lunch on the fly, or a cozy, casual supper curled up with a book, a glass of wine--and a nice big spoon.

“Look-at-Me” Medley with Asparagus, Chopped Egg and Olives

Divas asparagus

Sweet asparagus, spring’s runway-slim veggie, is dressed to impress with a classic vinaigrette, accessorized with chopped egg and black olives for a crunchy, salty ménage a trois. And the green giant gets super-food status with no fat and no cholesterol.

Just a quick plunge in boiling water brightens the asparagus and gives it a crisp-tender crunch—or microwave for 3 to 4 minutes with about a tablespoon of water, salt and pepper, and a small drizzle of olive oil. (Broccoli can stand in for the asparagus, but be sure it’s crisp tender.)

Buca-teeny Pasta with Crispy Garlic, Caramelized Cabbage and Toasted Walnuts

Divas bucatini

Though tempting, it's probably not a good idea to down a big 'ol bowl of pasta every night. So it's time to get smart – you can have your noodles and slurp them with a yummy tweak or two.

Thinly sliced cabbage is the perfect playmate for noodles, seared to a slight crisp, caramelized in shimmering olive oil and garlic. Mixed with hearty bucatini, you get your carb fix, but in a smaller serving. Uncork a crisp white or a fruity red and say “cheers” to the new, buca-teeny you.

Roasted Corn Salad from the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, Courtesy of the Divas of Dish

Diva corn salad

Ah, it’s almost Florida Zellwood corn season (if weather cooperates, April is the month). And while there’s other corn in season, we hold out for the sweet, tender Zellwood version.

And it’s also the season for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, which not only celebrates blooms, but also edible plants with more than a dozen Outdoor Kitchens around World Showcase Lagoon for noshing March 2-May 30.

This Roasted Corn Salad is served with ribs at the festival’s Smokehouse Kitchen, but we think it’s great as a side with grilled fish or roast pork – or all by itself. It takes a little time to roast the corn in the husk, and to roast and peel the poblano, but you’re rewarded with intense flavors that make this dish sing.

Blushing Florida Fish Stew

Divas Fish Stew

February is as close to winter as we get in Florida, and when the temperatures dip, the divas love a simmering pot of stew. This version uses seasonal fish with just enough cream to make a rich, thin broth for sipping and dipping a crusty hunk of bread.

We used grouper, shrimp and clams, but you could add whatever seafood suits your fancy -- blue crab, oysters and scallops all would be delicious. Add a bright green salad and a crusty loaf of bread for a satisfying meal that’s a true taste of the Sunshine State.

Be My Brisket, for the Sweet and Smoky Valentine

Divas Brisket

So maybe you're over the whole hearts, flowers, and fatty chocolate foolishness. Maybe your current idea of romance is a bit less predictable, something juicy, primal, perhaps thickly sliced, cloaked in a sheen of perfectly caramelized glaze: brisket, the-ever elusive, nearly unknowable cut of beef that, not unlike a romance, demands patience and perseverance.

The brisket’s scarlet beauty seems to promise the most tender of relationships with a slow hand and some culinary wiles. Seduce her with a warm, saucy bath, both during and after cooking time, and then she's all yours (after 15 minutes of beauty rest, of course).

Glammy Black Bean and Chicken Chili Stew

Divas Glammy Chili

If your New Years' resolutions include a bit more "me time," this is the dish for you. Succulent morsels of chicken, savory black beans and sweet, yummy yams come together in one glorious pot that can be made a day ahead.

To go with, we recommend a simple, sliced avocado salad drizzled with lime. Complement the Southwestern nature of the nosh with warmed corn tortillas. Grab a bag from the grocery, then sear in a dry, smoking' hot pan until nicely speckled a deep, rich brown.

Pesto Edamame

Divas edamame pesto

January brings a resolution for clean eating, and this version of pesto made with protein-packed edamame fits the bill. Yes, there’s olive oil, but it’s the “good fat,” and a good measure of fresh Parmesan, but a little goes a long way.

This gorgeous green spread comes together quick in a blender or food processor, and you can mound in a bowl to serve with fresh veggies, or try it on toasted bread topped with fresh mozzarella, ripe Florida tomato slices and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Happy New Year!

The Beet Goes On Pistachio and Goat Cheese "Boats"

Beet Boats

Holidays are all about enticing nibbles, those easy appetizers that tease and flirt, yet don't require a huge commitment.

Slender, succulent endive leaves are the perfect, healthful stuffer. Using ingredients to reflect the colors and flavors of the season, we love these yummy little boats filled with finely diced beets, crumbled goat cheese and roasted pistachios. And with ready-steamed baby beets available in the produce aisle, this appetizer couldn't be easier.

Rosemary-Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Diva Shortbread Cookies

‘Tis the season for sweets, and this year the divas are indulging with a classic shortbread, but with a twist: a touch of fresh rosemary and a splash of rose water. Just enough mystery to leave your guests whispering, “what’s the secret ingredient in these addictive little cookies?”

This recipe was shared by a Florida herb farmer for Pam’s cookbook “Field to Feast,” and the fresh rosemary adds a fragrant, evergreen essence that’s perfect for the winter holidays. These cookies freeze beautifully, so you can bake ahead – then package them up in cellophane with a pretty ribbon for an edible hostess gift.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays!