It’s always a good time for burgers

You know how you have to be in a certain mood to eat sushi? Or a hearty plate of meatloaf? Or a tuna wrap from the deli? (Yes, I do sometimes actually want one of those, the kind that are a little goopy and squishy. Don’t judge me.)

Well, burgers, in my opinion, unlike all of those other foods and so many others, are something I could eat any ol’ time, no matter the weather, time of day, season, or physical state I’m in. (Hungover? Yes. Sick with a cold? Yes. Strong like bull? Two please.)

So when I was in Miami looking for a place to eat dinner with my mom, sister and boyfriend, and my best friend (who was also joining us) suggested LoKal, a new Coconut Grove burger joint and craft beer watering hole, I was all about it. Burgers aaaaand beer? DONE.

Now I can add reptile to my list of meats eaten after these tasty fried alligator strips

 To start things off right, and maybe in honor of my being back in the Sunshine State, we ordered a plate of something quintessentially Floridian that I had actually never eaten: alligator. Fat, juicy strips of tender white alligator meat were battered, fried and seasoned with Old Bay, and served with a tangy marinara sauce and spicy mayo. So did they taste like chicken? Yea, kind of. Were they good? Absolutely.

She may not be the prettiest burger, but the Frita makes up for it in pure guava-cheesey-bacon goodness!

The burgers all sounded good, if not completely over the top, with toppings like chili, tons of bacon, blue cheese and one that even came served on a doughnut. I’m a bit of an over-the-top eater myself, so I went with the Frita: a juicy, medium-rare (cause that’s how I roll) patty topped with guava jelly, bacon, crunchy potato sticks, and gruyère. At first I was a little sad because I couldn’t taste the guava, and really that’s what sold me on it, but a couple of bites in I got to it and all was forgiven. The jammy sweetness of the guava, mixed in with the salty crunch of the bacon, the crispy potato bits and the gooey, melted cheese all over that juicy, soft patty made for near perfect deliciousness!  And to make matters even better, LoKal’s patties, ground fresh in-house, are made from free-range, grass fed, hormone free cows, all of which makes me feel much better about the 5 million calories I ingested. Oh and instead of making me choose between regular and sweet potato fries, I was able to do 50/50… at NO ADDITIONAL COST. Can you believe it? All for just $11! In New York, that would’ve been pushing $20.

Key Lime pie, the best dessert to come out of Florida

In keeping with the Florida fat-kid theme, I went with the one thing I absolutelyhaveto have whenever I’m in town, key lime pie. LoKal’s was a huge slice of creamy, cool, zesty lime custard on a crunchy graham cracker crust topped with a fluffy mountain of fresh whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles. It had the all the rights amount of sweet, tart, tangy and creamy that make it one of my favorites. It was the perfect way to end a really affordable, easy and just damn-good burger outing. And really, I’m always in the mood for one of those.

LoKal Burgers & Beer on Urbanspoon

Beach bites in Miami

On a hot day it’s hard to go wrong with bite sized fried fish and a cold beer.

Last year, during one of my brief visits to Miami, Flaneur and I visited Key Biscayne, where we spent a lazy day on the empty beach at Bill Baggs State Park and had lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe, a sleepy little eatery and the only one in the state park. During our visit this past weekend, we went back to both the beach there and to the Lighthouse Cafe.

The food at the cafe isn’t anything particularly mindblowing. As one of my coworkers often says, “They’re not reinventing the wheel.” But it’s simple, decent food, and for me, nostalgic, reminding me of the things I actually do enjoy about Miami (like beach days and ocean breezes).

This time, to go along with a couple of frosty beers, we ordered a plate of fried majuas, tiny fish about the size of my pinky finger, battered and fried whole. The last time I’d had them was years ago, also on Key Biscayne but on another part of the island, after a day out on a boat. (Also on my small list of Miami likes.) With a sqeeze of lime and a big gulp of cold, crisp beer, these crunchy, fishy treats were a great snack for a hot but breezy February afternoon on the beach.

Murray’s pulls me in again

I have a little problem. I’m physically incapable of ever walking by Murray’s Cheese Shop without going inside. I don’t always buy something, but I always have to at least go inside and take a look, pick stuff up and sniff it, read labels and imagine gorging myself.

Last week, I was walking down Bleecker Street one afternoon on my way home from work, trying to hurry because I had an evening flight to catch to Miami with the boyfriend, when there it was, Murray’s. “Just five minutes,” I thought to myself. “Just a teeny tiny  look to see what’s new.” (Even though I’d just been there the week before.)

Murray's, you got me again. And not even with cheese!

As usual, I saw approximately 500 things I wanted to buy, but with a weekend out of town coming up, I couldn’t really justify most of them… except for one: quicos.

I’d never actually heard of quicos before but when I saw them on the table with the other sweets and chocolates, the description on the bag sucked me right in: “Corn kernels are soaked in water, then roasted or fried to make them super crunchy and addictive. To seal the deal, they’re also coated with chocolate and sprinkled with salt.” SOLD. I sensed potential for an amazing airplane snack.

Murray's quicos, my new favorite snack for airplane rides... or anytime really

A few hours later, while the other JetBlue passengers were munching on their complimentary nut mixes and Terra Blue chips, I pulled out my bag of Murray’s quicos. After just the first one it was decided: these were in fact, absolutely addictive. Both sweet and salty, with a crisp crunch from the bloated, fat little corn kernels, and a buttery chocolate that melts on the tongue almost right away, these were almost impossible to stop eating.

I knew I’d be sad if I finished them all and found myself in Miami without a Murray’s in sight, so I was actually able to save a few. It was enough to hold me over for the weekend, but now that I’m back in the city I’ll have to stock up next time I’m in the neighborhood and drawn by Murray’s magnetic pull once again.

Move over Pillsbury, I have a new favorite Doughboy

A good cup of joe and a good cupcake will do wonders for the soul. Trust me.

In New York— Manhattan specifically— I am, at any given moment, within a 45-second walk from a cupcake selling establishment. And this is ok with me. It’s more than ok. It’s marvelous. I like my cupcakes delicious, plentiful, and easily accessible, so the abundance of cupcakes shops in this city works well for me.

Perhaps the most famous cupcake hot spot in the neighborhood is Magnolia Bakery, which is about two blocks from my apartment, but it’s almost always packed and sometimes, when people are feeling especially batty, there’s even a line snaking out the door. But when a new place called Doughboy Bake Shop opened up a few months ago, also just a couple of blocks away, and they turned out to have really fantastic cupcakes, I was all about them.

On a recent lazy Saturday, I decided what I needed to put some pep in my step was a bit of caffeine…and hell, why not, a cupcake to go with it. First of all, a note on their coffee: it’s from Mud, which if you’re in New York, and you like coffee, you should have this coffee. It’s pretty phenomenal. As for the cupcakes, I’d had them before and they were always great, moist, fluffy with lots of icing.

On this particular weekend I went with an Oreo cupcake, which with it’s tall, fat swirl of creamy frosting and whole Oreo on top already looked intense, but little did I know just how serious it would be. I took it home so we could have some privacy (i.e. so I could unhinge my jaw like a python and practically swallow it whole) and as I was peeling off the baking wrap from the bottom, I discovered something awesome. Baked at the very bottom of the cupcake was…wait for it, waaaiiit for it… BAM! an entire OreoJust sitting there, waiting like the delicious little surprise that it was. I’ve had plenty of Oreo cupcakes, some with Oreo crumbles, others with chunks, but never an entire Oreo inside the cupcake.

A whole Oreo... INSIDE the cupcake. My kind of surprise.

I love that there are cupcakes everywhere in this city, but I especially enjoy that one of my new favorites is so dangerously close to my place, and that inside some of their delicious cupcakes are ENTIRE freakin’ Oreos waiting to be eaten!

Doughboy Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Marshmallows in the mail

An Elephant Ear marshmallow from 240sweet

Things I love probably more than the average person: getting things in the mail and marshmallows. True story. Both make me giddy and happy in a way I just don’t see often in other people. Which is why when the opportunity presented itself for me to get marshmallows in the mail, I was all over it.

I had read about 240sweet, a Columbus, Indiana brand of artisan marshmallows, on a food blog recently and then not long after I saw them on sale at A few days later BAM! Marshmallow madness in the mail! (And alliteration to boot!)

Salted caramel marshmallow: it'll make you question everything you think you know about marshmallows

Now, to call these marshmallows, which came in two flavors, Elephant Ear and Salted Caramel, just marshmallows, is something of a huge misnomer. These were massive, fluffy fat pillows of sugar and deliciousness. The elephant ear was a plump, soft square with a twinkling coat of cinnamon and sugar on top, giving it a little granular feel to the otherwise spongey softness. The salted caramel, though, was unlike any marshmallow I’ve ever had. Unlike the elephant ear kind which looked like a regular marshmallow in its even consistency throughout, the salted caramel was made almost in layers, which rich, sticky caramel oozing out from between the layers. It looked like some sort of dessert version of pork belly.

Thank God for the gas stove!

But my favorite way to eat marshmallows is lightly toasted over a flame, to give them the light crisp and smokey burnt flavor, so that’s exactly the end these bad boys met over my gas stove. Well, you can just imagine what happened when I toasted the behemoth salted caramel marshmallow: INSANITY. Complete mayhem in my mouth. It already had that sweet-salty combo I love so much, but then when it was burnt a little it added a delicious smokey edge to everything, and the caramel just melted to a warm, perfect stickiness.

Needless to say, these lasted all of about 15 minutes before they were devoured. But with a huge collection of flavors that includes banana pudding, sweet potato and ginger, and amaretto crunch, I might be getting lots of more packages in the mail.

Hey there, sweet stuff

Say what you will about Valentine’s Day, but I for one, am a fan. I mean, how could I not be when there are so many sweet things to be had? Yes, kisses, cuddles and hanky panky are fun but I’m talking the real sweet stuff: SUGAR.

Valentine's Day can't be anything BUT happy when it involves this.

Last year, my darling boyfriend got me doughnuts (from my favorite place to get them in the whole wide universe, Doughnut Plant) so this year I decided to take his idea and put an Italian spin on it. I schlepped it uptown to Bomboloni, an Upper West Side bakery specializing in— you guessed it— bomboloni, which for those of you who might not know, are the Italian cousin of the traditional filled doughnut, and came home with a box of six. Bomboloni are more round than American doughnuts, almost perfectly spherical, and back on the Boot, they’re covered in a sparkly dusting of sugar, with usually either cream or chocolate filling.

At Bombolini in the UWS (there’s also one in Rome), the bombolini come in a whole assortment of flavors and only one, which was actually called a bomba and was much bigger than the rest, had the traditional sugar coating. The others varied between caramelized sugar, chocolate glaze, confectioners sugar, crushed nuts and other toppings. In the picture above, the middle one is crème brulee, then starting with the red one and going clockwise: raspberry, banana, chocolate cherry, vanilla cream, and toasted marshmallow cream. We both agreed that our favorite bombolone, with its  bright, thick jammy filling, was the raspberry (even though in Italy I’m a cream girl through and through).

My Italian beau likes to complain that while he can get almost any food in the world here in New York, the Italian pastries, like bomboloni, are not as easy to come by. My box from Bomboloni was a nice way to prove him wrong and get a sugary treat all in one present. Made Valentine’s Day all the sweeter.

Living the dream

Coffee cake ice cream sample

I lived out one of my ultimate fat-kid dreams this weekend when the beau and I went to the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, Vermont. We originally went to Vermont not to eat ice cream but instead to get out of the city for a bit, see some of that Mother Nature people are always talking about, and do some snowboarding. But when I proved an absolute failure at snowboarding (not surprisingly), Flaneur indulged me with a trip to the tie dyed, cow happy, ice cream wonderland that is the Ben & Jerry’s factory.

Yes, I went on the tour. Yes, I had ice cream. Yes, I almost bought a tie dyed T-shirt. And yes, I was the happiest fat kid there. Did you know employees take home up to three pints a day? Madness! I know! Hey Ben, hey Jerry, are you guys hiring??

My second helping of ice cream: Seven Layer Bar

Needless to say, my favorite part of the tour was at the end, when everyone got a sample of a flavor not currently available for purchase because it’s still being worked on and taste tested by the flavor gurus whose job it is to concoct crazy combinations and wild flavors. (Coming up with things like Chunky Monkey, Phish Phood and Cherry Garcia? Heeellloooo DREAM JOB.) The sample during our tour was Coffee Cake, a creamy, slightly chocolatey tasting coffee ice cream with fluffy, sweet hunks of coffee cake swirled throughout. In the brief survey we filled out after tasting it, when I was asked if I would buy this ice cream in stores, I emphatically circled YES.

After the tour, as with most tours of anything, we were dumped out into the gift shop, where it took all of my strength and willpower  not to purchase an ice cream cozy. You know, like for a beer can but for a pint of ice cream instead, so you can comfortably hold it while digging into it. Genius, just genius.

And finally, because one serving of ice cream just wasn’t enough, I also had a small cup of Coconut Seven Layer Bar, a ridiculously delicious blend of coconut ice cream with coconut and fudge flakes, chunks of walnut, butterscotch swirls and graham cracker crumbles.

Like the mouse pad I also saw in the gift shop, “We came. We saw. We ate ice cream.” And it was awesome.

A bread pudding victory

I see foods in blogs, magazines, books and TV shows all the time that I want to eat, but rarely do I feel like actually making them. I usually just rather go the restaurant or store where they’re sold and cut straight to the chase. But every once in a while when the spirit moves me, I think, “You know what, I can make that.”

Earlier this week, while reading old entries of a blog I’m newly obsessed with (Cupcakes and Cashmere) I came across a recipe which the blogger had actually found in another blog I really like (Smitten Kitchen) where that blogger had adapted it from Gourmet magazine (ahh, the power of the interwebs): pumpkin freakin’ bread pudding. Mind. Blown.

So I immediately ran out and bought all the ingredients. I followed Smitten Kitchen’s variation of the recipe which you can find here, but instead of bourbon, which I didn’t have any of, I used a little bit of brandy. (Not pictured though.)

The ingredients

I put the butter and the bread aside and threw everything else (in their appropriate quantities, duh) into a bowl. But because I’m ever the rookie in the kitchen, I used a bowl that wasn’t big enough for me to whisk it all together without making a huge goopy mess, and ended up having to pour it into a big pot. Unnecessary steps are always part of the experience for me.

Mixing everything up

After melting the butter and coating the bread in it (a very hands-on step, by the way), I filled a square baking pan with the now slightly soggy, buttery bread. I will fully admit several pieces of bread never made it into the final version because I ate them along the way.

Warm, buttery bread cubes are hard to resist.

Next, I took the pumpkin-milk-eggs-spices mixture, which had been whisked together into a velvety, gold, sweet smelling cream, and I poured it over the bread cubes, using a spoon to make sure it seeped into all the corners and edges.

Nothing like a little creamy pumpkin bath.

The good thing about having a small apartment is that when you make something like this, the whole place smells like it. So while I waited for the bread pudding to set, I enjoyed the warm, spicy sweet smell that quickly filled the air. Once out of the oven, it didn’t immediately look very different than when it went in, but after poking it a bit I could tell the bread had soaked up the pumpkin mix and all of it congealed together to make bread pudding. (At which point, I may or may not have done a little celebratory dance.)

I wish the technology existed for you to be able to smell this.

While a scoop of vanilla or butter pecan ice cream would have been great, I took Smitten Kitchen’s recommendation and topped my chunk of pumpkin bread pudding with a generous dollop of vanilla greek yogurt. With its subtle sweetness and sour tang, the cool yogurt was a nice contrast to the warm, soft creaminess of the bread pudding. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m going to: this was a damn good bread pudding! Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

And voila! Pumpkin bread pudding!