Delicious destination: Mexico City

IMG_1435When I convinced my friend Daphne to come with me to Mexico City for a long weekend, I had no doubt in my mind we’d have a great time.

I’d been to Mexico before, back what feels like three lifetimes ago in 2011, but to the Quintana Roo region known for its beach towns along the Carribean.

This time, however, I swapped the shorts and bathing suits for gym leggings and forgiving jeans with a lot of stretch because my plan to explore Mexico’s capital involved doing so mostly through as much of its delicious food as we could get through in the few days we were there.

Let me first say that three and a half days is barely enough time to put a dent in the neighborhood we stayed in, Roma, much less the whole city. But if you get the chance to visit Mexico City, be it for three days or three weeks, take it. GO. Eat everything.

From the tacos and tostadas to the pastries and sweets, the fruit and even the convenience store snacks, everything we ate was delicious (and so cheap!), but it was the first meal we had, molcajete at the Mercado Roma, that really set the tone for the rest of our trip: awesome.

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Made from porous volcanic rock, a molcajete is the Mexican version of a mortar, and the one we ordered was filled with wedges of grilled queso blanco, an assortment of meats— pork, steak, chorizo, nopales (cactus), charred peppers and onions, all served with a stack of warm tortillas. Like me, our molcajete was shaped like a little pig.

IMG_1433Assembly was DIY and deliciously simple: grab a floppy tortilla, plop down a bit of meat and maybe a little something else, an onion or a pepper, drizzle some salsa on it, give the whole thing a squeeze of lime, and enjoy. Almost every table we sat at had the same selection of condiments: a bowl of lime wedges and a few salsas and hot sauces for flavor tweaking and adjusting, and they never went unused. Our molcajete was delicious on its own, everything juicy and tender with a subtle char from the grill, but a little lime juice and hot sauce added just the perfect, zesty finishing touches.

A little sloppy but worth every bit of saucy, juicy mess, I couldn’t have planned for a better first meal in the city. And if you check back in over the next few days, I’ll tell you about some of the other great things we ate, which I’ll probably still be daydreaming about for months to come.

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?

An old Miami favorite becomes a new classic

If I had to name the one thing I miss most about living in Miami it would be pastelitos de guayaba y queso, the city’s ubiquitous Cuban pastries filled with guava and cream cheese.

Yea, that’s right. More than perpetual summer or beaches or family, I miss pastelitos. (On the off chance that my sister’s reading this: as you always so vehemently remind me, you don’t technically live in Miami. Now, ask me what I miss most about Broward County though…)

I’ve professed my love for them before but I’ll say it again: these pastries are some of the best, right up there with eclairs, cannoli, baklava and croissants. Pastelitos have the perfect combination of jammy, bright fruit flavors from guava, and sweet, creaminess from the cream cheese to go with flaky, buttery pastry dough. They’re great for breakfast or dessert or as an afternoon snack or even at 2am in the morning, slightly stale from sitting in a paper bag on the kitchen counter waiting for you all day after your flight from NY to Florida was delayed for hours.

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Guava + Cheese at The Salty Donut

I love them dearly which is why when my sister and I first walked into The Salty Donut, Miami’s first and outrageously popular artisanal donut shop in trendy Wynwood, and were initially struck with indecision and an overwhelming sense of “what do you get when you want everything,” I knew exactly what I was ordering the moment I laid eyes on it: the guava and cheese donut.

The Salty Donut uses what they call a 24 hour brioche recipe, creating a large cake donut that retains a soft, fluffy inside and a slightly crisper outside. Inside, a thick, generous filling of swirled guava and cream cheese, perfect in its evenness, oozed out with every bite. (Nothing worse than a filled donut with only a sad smidge of filling in the very middle. You have to eat around it wondering if maybe you got a dud and there’s nothing really there.)

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A lesson in how to make an absolutely delicious and perfectly filled donut.

The outside was coated with a thick cream cheese glaze and topped with crushed Maria cookies, another diet staple of anyone who grew up Hispanic in Miami, for a crumbly element to contrast the soft donut and its gooey inside. Salty’s donut is the decadent lovechild of a cake donut and a pastelito, a great way to bring an old classic up to speed on the trend of gourmet doughnuts, over the top pastries, and all things edible on Instagram. It borrowed all the right flavors and presented them as something delicious and fun and at least for me, nostalgic.

Now I have one more thing to miss when I think about Miami.

Pork rolling right into the weekend

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Ah, good morning indeed. 

If you looked at this first picture here and were thoroughly unimpressed, let me explain. That’s not the badly composed food pic you think it is, taken at a not-so-great angle with maybe not enough detail of the edible subject at hand and possibly too much uninteresting negative space behind it. Nope, that’s not it.

It’s a picture of a freshly made, just unwrapped, warm and toasty pork roll, egg and cheese about to get wolfed down from the comfort of a damn near magically comfortable hotel bed where I was burrowed underneath a fluffy white down comforter that because of the delicious powerful air conditioner in the room made every inch of it feel like the cool side of the pillow. THAT’S what that is.

And maybe because I’ve extended Meatless Mondays to be Meatless Monday through Fridays for about the past six months, or possibly because I never EVER eat in my room much less in my bed, or because this room was luxuriously cool unlike my room at home which even with the AC going only ever feels a degree below comfortable room temperature… but let me tell you, that pork roll in bed? It was DELICIOUS.

So what’s a pork roll and why was I eating one in a hotel bed? Well, it’s what they call a particular “processed pork product” (that’s per the interwebs) also known as Taylor ham in the fine and often maligned state of New Jersey, where the BF and I were for his birthday last weekend. It’s served on a big round Kaiser roll, which you can usually get seeded or not, and includes eggs and cheese. It’s the kind of thing you order at a bodega or a diner, a low budget, quick and easy eat, perfect for weekends and hangovers and enjoying in bed.

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When in Asbury Park, eat as the New Jerseyans.

The one in bed was from The Counter at The Asbury Hotel where we stayed for the weekend (and you should too sometime cause it’s a great little hotel and if you’re in NY, Asbury Park is a super fun, cute and easy-to-pull-off weekend getaway) but we also had one a different morning at Frank’s Deli & Restaurant, a great, no frills, old school diner near the beach. (A little fun fact for you: if you’re like me and still mourning the death of the great and so very sorely missed Anthony Bourdain, he ate here while filming a New Jersey episode of “Parts Unknown” a few years ago. And no, I didn’t know that before going. I like to think he’s just my spirit guide when I travel and eat out of town.)

I won’t eat them very often I don’t think, and even if the corner bodega started selling them in Brooklyn I certainly wouldn’t have them in bed, but the memory of enjoying them on a weekend away with the beau will always be delicious to me.

 

Mini version, massive deliciousness

My mom does this thing that probably only I find irritating: the woman loves to speak in diminutives, which in Spanish, exist for every freaking word. In English, a small table is just that, a small table. In Spanish, it’s una mesita. A small dog? Un perrito. A small house? Una casita. I don’t know why, but it just gets under my skin.

img_7896So when my roommate told me about these things called mofonguitos, the diminutive of the Carribean dish mofongo, I grit my teeth for a second and maybe got a twitch in my eye. When I saw the pictures, however, my only question was when are we having these?

And so we found ourselves at the very tippy top of Manhattan, squeezed into a small table at a no-frills place called Bombonada, while Spanish music blared from the kitchen and we stuffed our faces with one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, handheld versions of the normally plated mofongo.

img_7893Traditionally served as a heap of mashed fried plantain, topped with a stew-like sauce, cheese, rice and a protein of your choice, here the plantain mash was used to make palm-sized cups that were then filled with all manner of tastiness: shrimp, ground beef, pork, chicken, all saucy and juicy, topped with a thick layer of gooey, melted cheese.

At first glance, they kind of look like the potato skins from Friday’s that I so dearly loved as a kid, but these, totally different, were worlds better. We had a few different kinds, (not all photographed because honestly, they just weren’t on the table long enough to get their photos snapped before being devoured) but I think my favorite might have been the ground beef, because it was so rich and hearty, completely over the top and gluttonous.

Yes, the name still kind of grates on my nerves but when something is as ridiculously good as that, I could forgive an annoying name any day.

A burger for these impossible times

Now that the seemingly impossible’s actually happened, I need to take a break from all the doom and gloom and talk about something else for just a minute. Food’s always been a respite for me, and writing a form of therapy and distraction, so indulge me, will you?

Last week, when the world—while troubled and strange— didn’t seem quite as broken as it does now, I got around to eating something I’d been wanting since earlier this summer when it made its New York debut: an Impossible Burger.

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Oh, that flag.

Made by the creative wizards and scientists at Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods, their burger’s only available at three restaurants in California (two in San Fran and one in LA) and now at  Momofuku Nishi in Chelsea, where I had it.

The crazy thing about this burger, the impossible thing, is that even though it’s made entirely of all natural ingredients and not a single animal, it also looks and tastes like a regular ol’ hamburger made of ground beef. It has the same consistency, the same juiciness when you bite into it, the same reddish-pink inside and the same charring on the outside.

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Would you believe it? Not real meat!

Now, everyone who knows me knows I eat meat and burgers are some of my favorite, but I also love veggie burgers. To me though, they’re two different things. Until now.

Nishi’s burger is served on a soft potato roll and dressed like a pretty standard burger: lettuce, tomato, pickles, a smear of special sauce, and in my case, a slice of American cheese. A heap of crispy shoestring fries comes along next to it.

While I don’t think it’s the best burger out there, I do think it’s the closest thing to a beef burger that I’ve ever tasted in the world of veggie burgers. If I was trying to be vegetarian I would eat these all the time. Even as a meat eater, I’d definitely eat this again.

The fact that it uses way less natural resources like gas, water and land to create it, and also has  none of the crap like antibiotics and hormones that so much of our beef unfortunately has, makes it all the better.

In these impossible times, something enjoyable and less harmful to the world around it sounds pretty freakin’ good to me.

Mojo between sisters

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You really do.

No one eats with more reckless abandon while on vacation than I do. Add my constant treat-yourself mentality and you’re looking at a lot of calories consumed on any given out of town trip. Case in point: my recent jaunt to South Florida.

When my sister announced we were having donuts for breakfast Sunday morning, I was fully on board and off we went to Mojo Donuts in Pembroke Pines, the otherwise barren desert of strip malls and gated communities.

While I’m a lover of just a plain ol’ French cruller or a classic Boston cream, my sister loves really over-the-top  donuts, filled with jams and custards, crusted with all manner of confections and drizzled with syrups and sticky, sugary things.

Mojo was one hundred percent my sister’s kind of donut shop, but you know what? I thought it was pretty great, too.

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You really do.

For a light breakfast to start off a day that would end up with me in a bikini by the pool, we went with a red velvet, banana cream pie, pistachio mousse chocolate, cannoli, guava and cheese, and Nutella and bacon assortment of donuts.

Completely over the top? Uhm, yea. Gluttonous as all hell? Duh. Finger lickin’ good and a perflectly acceptable way to bond with your sibling over your shared love of carbs and sugar when you have little else in common? Absolutely.