Home with a croqueta preparada

I have yet to hear a compelling enough argument to make me want to move back to Miami, (especially when I keep reading headlines about the city facing serious climate-related issues and one day sinking into the ocean) but let me tell you, Cuban food always gets the closest.

Cuban is pretty much the unofficial cuisine of Miami and as I’ve said several times here before, I miss it all the time. For as many and as varied as the food options are in New York, there just don’t seem to be that many Cuban ones so I’m often left wishing I had what’s so easy to get in Miami.

But after moving to Crown Heights last fall I’m now just a couple of stops away from a Cuban spot I had been meaning to try for some time, Pilar, the Bed-Stuy restaurant named after the Brooklyn-built boat Ernest Hemingway had in Cuba. (Is that not a great name and explanation?)

The restaurant is cute and laid back, with a mellow vibe and just enough cool factor to remind you that you’re still in Brooklyn, but not so much that you wish you’d worn something different (’cause that’s a thing, for me anyway). The menu hits all the classics: cafe con leche, maduros, Cubanos (as in the eponymous sandwich), ropa vieja and vaca frita to name a few, but I knew what I was getting the second my eyes landed on it, the croqueta preparada.

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It’s a slightly ridiculous thing really: ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and my favorite part, croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes), all smeared with mustard and sandwiched between two pieces of Cuban bread, toasted and pressed together to make one tight, dense, absolutely delicious meal.

Pilar’s croqueta preparada was great, getting the combination of different flavors and textures just right: the crunchy buttery bread, bright, tangy pickles, the spicy bite of mustard, gooey, melted cheese, juicy ham and tender roast pork, and then the soft, breaded (’cause it’s the weekend so I say, yes carbs on carbs!) ham croquetas to round everything off.

I’m not exactly ready to move back to Miami after eating at Pilar, but that croqueta preparada was definitely to make me want to check out flights for a potential weekend there in the near future. And as my mom can attest, it’s not just anything that makes me want to do that.

All I want for Christmas is…

If you didn’t read that headline in a sing-songy Mariah Carey voice, you did it wrong. Go back and try it again.  

All of my favorite blogs and magazines have been posting holiday gift guides and I can’t get enough of them. I read ’em all, even the ones that don’t apply to me: gifts over $250, gifts for your unruly toddler, gifts for your totally sane parents. I love going through them and seeing all the cool stuff that’s out there, and I’ve even snagged a couple of ideas for presents I’d like to buy for a few people on my list. 

With that in mind, I put together a little holiday gift guide of my own. Now, this isn’t necessarily MY specific wish list, more just like a few fun, food-related presents (that I also would totally not be mad at finding underneath my Christmas tree). Cough cough. 

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Please, Santa?

*Cheese of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese: I’ve seen this one on a few lists and well, it’s because it’s amazing. Murray’s (i.e. my happy place) sends you three different cheeses to have at home, and it can be a one-time thing or a subscription to last however many months you want. 

*Whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano: Ok, now hear me out. I know this one’s a big-ticket item but seriously, this is the stuff dreams are made of. 

*Christmas doughnuts from Doughnut Plant: You’d have to either be a diabetic or just the Grinch himself to not love one of these adorable, festive doughnuts. Choose from the coconut snowman, the mint chocolate Christmas tree, or the gingerdough man. Or better yet, get all of them. Oh and throw in a creme brulee doughnut too, cause those are the best. 

*Marseille Amaro from Forthave Spirits: Not only is this distilled in Brooklyn, which gives it extra cool points, but amari are everywhere these days and a great addition to any bar. I’m putting this one on my to-buy-for-myself list. 

*The Best American Food Writing 2018: It’s not all about what you can consume with your mouth, you know? Sometimes you gotta feed your brain too, and find a little inspiration from really great food writing. 

*Fig and chocolate panettone: regular ol’ panettone is already one of the best parts of the holiday season, in my humble opinion, but one made with figs and chocolate? C’mon! Think of the french toast you could make with that! And you don’t even have to wrap it since panettone already comes in its own showy wrapping.

*Good olive oil in a cool tin container: After watching the first episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix recently, I was reminded of the awesome olive oil they have in Italy and how I want to be the kind of person who only keeps the good kind around, the really bright green, peppery, fresh stuff that you’d keep in a cool, rustic-chic tin container like this one. 

*Food of the Italian South, by Katie Parla: Part cookbook, part coffee table book, part travel inspiration, this book isn’t actually available until March but you can pre-order it now. When better to get a present than when you’re least expecting it, like no-holidays March?

Thank you, egg rolls

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and being grateful for the very many gifts and blessings in my life, I would like to take this opportunity to single out one of the newest additions into my life, one of those I’m most thankful for: the brunch egg rolls at Olmsted.

I’m totally serious.

I know I tend to be hyperbolic sometimes, but I’m not exaggerating when I say Olmsted, in Prospect Heights, might be one of my favorite restaurants ever, and those egg rolls, possibly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

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Me and the boy went for brunch on a recent Sunday specifically for the egg rolls but ended up loving everything else about the place. I mean, everything. I loved the small vegetable garden out back where you wait for your table (with heat lamps for colder weather), the different colored glasses and plates, their cool wooden bowls, the wall of plants, our seats by the bar overlooking the kitchen (best seats in the house, in my opinion) and especially the food…espeeeeeecially the egg rolls.

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Each egg roll was a crispy, golden fried shell oozing with scrambled eggs, bacon and Vermont cheddar, all whipped together into a creamy, fluffy breakfasty perfection. I’m sure it was just good kitchen skills that made the eggs that way but I think it might’ve also been magic. How else really, do you get eggs so light and creamy, so perfect? Unlike most of the egg rolls I eat with Chinese take out (which no shade to them because I love those too), these breakfast egg rolls weren’t greasy or oily, but were still fried to a nice crunch. And because I’m a sucker for packaging and presentation, Olmsted serves their egg rolls in a cute little holder, reminiscent of a french fry cup at a fast food spot, with a miniature, Olmsted-branded green tomato ketchup for a tangy, bright dipping sauce.

We had a couple of other really good dishes, and a delicious, desserty Irish coffee, but it was definitely the egg rolls that were my favorite.

I’m thankful for a lot this year, (and if you’re reading this, please know I’m especially grateful for that, too) but there’s a special little pocket of delicious gratitude in my heart that I’m saving just for Olmsted’s egg rolls.

New beer from old favorites

While I fancy myself a pretty adventurous eater, (hello, have you had bull testicles?) I tend to play it relatively safe when it comes to beer drinking. I’m a wheat beer girl, IPAs remind me of the time I accidentally sprayed perfume in my mouth, and anything too red or dark is a chore to drink. At most, I’ll go for citrus notes. I like beers that are light and crisp and go down easy. Boring, even.

:: Shoulder shrug ::

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A few casual afternoon beers

But even though it goes against everything I look for and prefer in a beer, the second I read about Grimm Artisinal Ales’ Sumi Babka— an imperial milk stout inspired by ding ding ding! You guessed it: babka— my mouth practically started watering.

Babka, you see, is one of my favorite things ever, especially the chocolate variety. That soft, doughy swirl of a loaf gets me every time. It’s good with coffee or with tea, topped with ice cream or just eaten one torn-off hunk at a time, and now it turns out, it’s also good in stout form.

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Dark and delicious

Made with cacao, salt and vanilla, the Sumi Babka has a smooth, velvety feel, noticeably chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so, never cloying or syrupy either. At 12% alcohol by volume, it definitely packs a punch but doesn’t taste super heavy or strong. I only didn’t have a second one because Grimm has such an interesting and fun assortment of brews,  I felt I had to make the most of my time and try different ones.

Next time I go, (which I’m hoping is soon because I was a big fan of Grimm’s brewery and taproom) I’ll skip the weiss selections I would normally go for (of which Grimm has several that look good) and beeline straight for that babka stout instead. I’ll just have to bring some chocolate babka with me to complete the experience.

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Beers and brownies… that’s a thing, right?

Side note: In lieu of babka, Grimm does have a pretty delicious chocolate-tahini brownie from nearby Mediterranean spot, Samesa. Speckled with sea salt flakes and made of a creamy, moist chocolate, it’s definitely a bit more on the dessert side than babka, but you know who’s not complaining about that? This girl right here.

Birthday blackout…cupcake version

Yesterday was one of my coworker’s birthdays, and as the office manager of sorts, I’m usually in charge of getting treats for in-office birthday celebrations. But you see, because my birthday was the next day, today, I thought, “Hmmm what do I want? Should we go with donuts? Maybe ice cream cake again? Cheesecake perhaps?”

In the end, I decided to keep it traditional and go with cupcakes, the sure-fire crowd pleaser. Oh, but not just any ol’ cupcakes. Nope, not on my watch. And not on the company dime, either. (Ha!)  Oh no no. If I was interrupting my regularly scheduled weekday healthy eating aaaand celebrating another year of life, it couldn’t just be a basic cupcake.

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I mean, how gorgeous is this cupcake? And friggin’ delicious, too.

Cue the lights! In my head, this is where the stage lights suddenly cut out and a bright white beam of light shines down, dramatically illuminating the perfect Brooklyn Blackout cupcake from Ovenly that I chose for myself. I mean, the office. The cupcake I chose for the office.

Ovenly’s Brooklyn blackout cake is perfection in baked good form. The cake is rich and moist without being heavy or fudgy. And the icing? I mean, it might be black magic. It’s perfectly smooth and mousse-like and tastes like a Barry White song for the tastebuds—sweet and sexy and fun, like you can’t help but close your eyes for a beat and shimmy your shoulders over its beautiful petal-like swirls of the richest, loveliest shade of black a New York girl like myself could ever want. (Note about the color, because a friend asked: it doesn’t come from dye but rather from black cocoa powder, which is basically cocoa powder that has been neutralized of most of its acidity, and in the process turned a dark, almost black color. It’s the same stuff they use in Oreos!)

As I suspected, the cupcakes were a hit, and I was extra happy when the birthday-celebrating coworker emailed me from his desk to tell me how awesome he thought they were. I was happiest today, however, when I walked in and there was one lone, delicious Brooklyn blackout cupcake still sitting on the kitchen counter, leftover from the day before. I swooped in and happily ate it for breakfast. It’s my birthday, after all.

New (to me) kind of ramen in my old neighborhood

During the four years I lived in Williamsburg and even the year before that when I was nearby in Greenpoint, I was always aware of the small, tucked away Japanese restaurant known as Okonomi by day and YUJI Ramen by night, but I never went. It was supposed to be great, everyone told me. Tiny, with only a few seats. No reservations. Great Japanese breakfasts till 3, then a new name and awesome ramen after 6. It was even on an episode of Master of None last year which is pretty much a stamp of approval from cool people in the food world.

But every time I walked by there was a crowd outside, people reading books or scrolling through their phones, all killing time till their tables were ready. So I kept putting it off, pretty much for four straight years, until my very last week in the neighborhood. On a random night in the middle of the week, alone as I made my way back to my mostly packed up apartment after a day of work and errands in the city, I thought on a whim, to see if there might be a spot for one.

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It didn’t look like any ramen I’d ever had but it immediately became one of my favorites.

And whaddaya know? There was. There were two actually, right at the bar, but almost immediately after I walked in, someone came in after me and took the other one, and not long after him several others popped in to be added to the waitlist. I hadn’t even ordered yet when I heard someone quoted 40 minutes for a table.

The menu was brief, which I, as someone who suffers from chronic menu indecision, appreciated. Pretty much just a couple of appetizers, a selection of ramen and a selection of mazemen, or ramen without broth.

Now, I love ramen, especially when the weather’s cold, or grey, wet and dreary like it has been for the past week here in New York. But the night I stopped by Yuji, a few days before Labor Day weekend, it was still steamy and hot outside and the idea of a brothless ramen sounded pretty perfect.

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The last couple of bites of a really delicious bowl of mazemen.

The bacon and egg mazemen I ordered was a beautiful bowl of yellow, ribbon-like noodles, thick-cut hunks of bacon, onsen tamago (pretty much a Japanese poached egg), mustard greens and bonito flakes (super thin dried, cured fish shavings). Before stepping away to let me fully geek out over my meal, the server had recommended that I stir everything up before digging in. I went for the egg first, poking it with a chopstick and letting the orangey-yellow yolk ooze out, seeping into the little spaces between noodles and bacon, sliding around the greens and bonito flakes that seemed to wiggle and shimmy in the heat rising from the bowl.

In the absence of broth, the yolk kept everything from being too dry and gave the noodles a silky, almost custardy consistency. The greens, meanwhile, added a green, peppery bite and the bacon, as it always does, a rich, fatty flavor. I wanted to savor every delicious bite and never reach the bottom of the bowl, but with no one to distract me and several people waiting for the very spot I sat in, I also couldn’t help slurping down every little bit of that mazemen in what felt like entirely not enough time.

My only regret at this point is letting all those years go by without trying this whole other type of ramen or without wolfing down a few more bowls of the particular bacon and egg version I had that night. I might live in a new Brooklyn hood these days, but I can tell you right now I’ll be back for those eggy, delicious noodles.

(Check out a little clip of the mazemen swirling action on my Instagram!)

A little charcoal to set myself right

You know, this business of eating all the time so I have material to write about (both here and on my new blog-specific Instagram account that you should definitely follow and aggressively like if you don’t already) is serious work.

I mean, no, not work work, because sadly no one’s paying me to do this (just yet) but a lot does go into it… and by “it” I mean my body. A lot goes into my body. A lot of food and drinks constantly go into my body.

And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but every once in a while, especially if it’s after a busy weekend or time spent out of town, I feel the effects: tired, bloated, a little more snug in my skinny jeans, and if I go for a run, leaden.

I try to clean up my eating, cut back on the bad stuff, and guzzle water, but sometimes I need a little something extra. This week, coming back from a long weekend in Miami, I turned to charcoal. Not the kind they use at the hospital to pump your stomach (because, shit, I’m not that bad) but the kind I’m starting to see more often these days, usually in drinks, which is how I had it.

According to what I’ve read on the interwebs— and by all means, please do your own research cause I’m far from a pro— activated charcoal, which you can take in capsule form or as an ingredient in something else, attaches itself to bad stuff in your system, be it toxins, gunk in your GI tract, booze, chemicals, etc. and helps your body flush it out, making it handy for detoxing, kidney filtration, bouncing back from a hangover or just cleaning the pipes after too good of a time had.

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When I saw a bottled charcoal chai on the menu at Inday, where I was ordering my lunch from earlier this week, I was immediately on board. Without fail I hit a proverbial wall every day around 2pm and with all the face stuffing, running around and not sleeping enough that I’ve been doing in the past week or so, I knew I was about to slam into that wall again.

Charcoal drinks can be offputting in appearance and this one was no different, looking pretty much like the water that fills my tub when I hand-scrub my sneakers after a few months of outdoor runs. But thanks to masala chai and honey, it had a mild, smooth flavor that was gently sweet and almost silky in consistency. I was full from lunch when I drank it some time after, and whether placebo or not, I it made me feel better, less full, more hydrated.

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Then this morning, as I ran out the door with beads of sweat all over my face from my sweltering apartment, I started to have an internal freak out thinking about what the subway was going to be like. To soothe my brewing anxiety and honestly just cool off a bit, I popped into Grass Roots Juicery for something to sip on the train. (Side note: a sign on their door said they were hiring and for a nano second I thought about it because I really do love them so much.)

Still feeling good about the charcoal chai, I picked up Grass Roots’ black lemonade, another inky beverage of activated charcoal, lemon, honey and cayenne pepper. Gimmick or not, this is one of my favorite drinks there and a real thirst-quencher that never disappoints. Unlike Inday’s subtle, softer drink, the black lemonade is bold and bright in flavor, with a little kick from the cayenne pepper and lots of sweet tang from the lemon and honey.

Yea, this could just be the latest “it” drink, another fad in the health world, but again, even if it only works as a placebo, it still works, right? Both drinks are good and I’ll definitley have them again when I’m feeling stuffed, heavy and overindulged… which I suspect won’t be too far in the future for me.