Rainy day beach feast

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You know, just a colorful day at the beach.

If I’m at the beach and the sun is out in all its glory and so am I, letting it all (or most of it) hang out in a bikini and sunglasses,  I try to watch what I eat. (Puppy belly’s not a sexy look for me.)

But if I’m at the beach and the sky fills with dark clouds and then bursts open with buckets of rain, the way it did last time I was at the beach with friends, the only thing to do is head for cover… and food.  Since we were near the cluster of food stalls on Rockaway Beach’s boardwalk at 97th St., that’s where we ran, huddled under umbrellas while the rain blew in sideways.

There were lobster rolls, arepas, grilled cheese sandwiches and tacos, each stall sounding more appealing than the last, but it was the farthest one, the one tucked away at the very end, that we beelined to: the Bolivian Llama Party. (I told you I love llamas, no?)

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Nachos, Bolivian style.

First out were our Bolivian nachos, a gorgeous, colorful mountain of quinoa tortilla chips and plantain chips under and over pools of black beans, creme fraiche, cheese sauce, scallions, Llajua (a fiery Bolivian hot sauce) and magenta hued pickled onions. And to make a good thing great my friend added pulled pork. While I’m a fan of good ol’ fashioned lowbrow nachos, these were a fun twist, full of zest, flavor and spice.

To take our rain induced gorging up a notch (or three), we ordered the enormous triple pork sandwich, a delicious behemoth of tender roasted pig, thick-cut home cured bacon, and my favorite indulgence, pork belly, this one with just the perfect crackling edges to complement the fatty meat. Topping it all was a spicy mayo like sauce, shredded pickled carrots and cilantro, making this one of the messiest yet most-worth-the-juices-running-down-your-arm sandwiches I’ve encountered.

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A hot mess… in the sloppiest, best ways

For good measure, we also had a few orders of BLP’s papitas, or fries, some of the cilantro kind, crunchy and piping hot, tossed in garlic, white wine and pecorino and drizzled with a bright green sauce made from quiquina, a Bolivian cilantro, and then the queso papitas, also crispy and crusty, coated in a thyme, salt and aji mix.

We needed something to wash down all those delicious carbs and calories, so we also tried both of BLP’s homemade sodas, the golden maracuya, a bright, bubbly passion fruit lemonade and the I-want-a-lip-color-like-this mora-hibiscus soda made from blackberries and hibiscus flowers.

Sure, no one’s tan was any better than at the start of the day, and our hair was more rained-on frizzy than wind-swept beach wavy, but our bellies were happy and full, and mercifully hidden under our rain-spattered shirts.

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Burrata brilliance

Let’s just get right into it cause every moment you spend reading about anything other than BURRATA SOFT SERVE is a moment of your life that you are not living right.

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Burrata in a whole new delicious form.

Slight exaggeration? Yea, maybe, but let’s go back to that and repeat after me: burrata soft serve. Cue the clouds parting and a choir of angels singing and blowing their trumpets and the one playing the harp actually busting strings, cause again: burrata soft serve.

On the off chance you don’t know what burrata is, it’s a milky, semi-soft Italian cheese, kind of like mozzarella’s slightly sexier, cooler cousin. It’s actually made from mozzarella, but it’s creamier and more spreadable on the inside. If you don’t have lactose allergies and have functioning taste buds, you know how awesome burrata is.

It’s completely wonderful on it’s own but at Dominique Ansel Kitchen you can revel in its deliciousness in an untraditional form: soft serve ice cream. Piled high into a beautiful swirl of creamy goodness with just a subtle hint of tanginess in place of a more common vanilla base flavor, but not as sour as plain yogurt, the soft serve comes in a thick, not too crunchy but almost cookie like cone, delicately drizzled with balsamic caramel and sprinkled with little sprigs of microbasil. I wasn’t sure whether the teeny basil leaves were decorative or not but I ate them with my big mouthfuls of creamy, cold soft serve and they were delicious, bright and peppery.

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I don’t normally like surprises, but strawberry confit? I’ll take that any day!

But then, just as I approached the bottom of the cone, that sweet container of the final remnants of ice cream, I was hit with one last surprise: strawberry confit. Several juicy, plump, roasted strawberries just sitting in their milky, sweet soft serve. It was like an encore at an already awesome concert or an after-the-credits hidden scene after a great movie.

Cause if you ask me, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to ice cream. Just keep it coming. I’m looking at you, burrata soft serve.

Move over, madame

I hold as a universal truth in my heart that almost everything is improved by being topped with a fried egg. (Maybe not desserts, but you know what, if someone were up to the challenge of making one work, I’d be happy to try it.)

It was in the picturesque little town of Sintra, just outside of Lisbon, that for the umpteenth time, this proved to the be the case. A friend and I were a perusing the menu at Estrada Velha, a small bar along the main tourist-packed road, wondering if the shop owner who’d given us the recommendation had steered us wrong, when  amidst the sandwiches and salads, I saw something that caught my eye: a francesinha.

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Allow me to introduce you to the francesinha

A sandwich originally from Porto, on Portugal’s northern coast, a francesinha is basically a Portuguese spin on a croque madame or croque monsieur (madame being with a fried egg, monsieur without, though the francesinha doesn’t have different names for this.) Instead of ham and béchamel sauce, the francesinha, has different kinds of meat inside. The one I had in Sintra had thin slices of salami, roast pork and ham, and instead of béchamel, there was a layer of gooey melted cheese. Plopped right on top? My favorite and yours (or possibly just mine), a fried egg. Finally, taking one step farther away from the croque madame/monsieur, the francesinha came in a shallow pool of a slightly spicy, sauce, almost like a tomato soup.

The whole thing was a saucy, sloppy, wet, delicious mess best attacked with a fork and knife. The sauce,  really more of a tomato and beer broth, was perfect for soaking the bread in, softening everything and blending the flavors.

I’ve always loved a good croque madame but I think I just might like this Portuguese francesinha a bit more. Maybe my universal truth about fried eggs needs to also include a good sauce.

I miss cheese

Smitten Kitchen's beautiful and delicious hunks of parmesan, ready for her parmesan, kale and bean soup. I'm eating NONE of it.

Smitten Kitchen’s beautiful photo of delicious hunks of parmesan, ready for her parmesan, kale and bean soup. I’m eating NONE of it. (Cue the tears.)

It’s the 15th of the month, the halfway point of my vegan challenge.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit I did have one teeny tiny little bit of a slip-up the other night when my coworkers and I had dinner at the always delicious ABC Kitchen, where everything with the exception of about two sides, includes something non-vegan. There was no getting around it. I had to eat cheese, and some butter, and some cream. But I didn’t eat anything that used to have a face, so that counts for something, right?

Minor relapse aside, I’ve been a good little vegan. I haven’t been craving meat (not even bacon, really), daydreaming about ice cream or had the hankering for eggs that my roommate has been struggling with.

But dear, sweet, 8-pound, milk-loving baby Jesus do I miss cheese. Ugh, it kills me. Pecorino, cheddar, camembert, freakin’ Trader Joe’s light string cheese! I want them all. Alas, I’ll fight the urge. I’ll be strong. I won’t eat any more cheese for the rest of the month. But you better believe when February rolls around, me and cheese are getting back together, in a big way.

In the meantime,  here are some cheese related posts from the interwebs. Hope they make your heart all aflutter, like they did mine:

  • A caprese salad from Emiko Davies that almost makes me wish it was summer.
  • Cup of Jo’s skillet lasagna, because mascarpone and mozzarella are the stuff dreams are made of.

An old favorite in a new way

Even though I was born in Costa Rica and raised in Miami, mine wasn’t the typical Hispanic household. (My dad, a crotchety old Italian-American, is to blame for this.) We never salsa danced,  celebrated Noche Buena, or had abuelitos and dozens of assorted family members.

But if there’s one stereotype we absolutely perpetuated, it’s eating sweet plantains, or platanos maduros as my mom calls them.

They’re usually a side dish, served alongside rice and beans as I most frequently had them growing up, but really I could eat a whole mountain of plantains just on their own, I love them so much. So recently, during my visit to San Francisco, when I saw a burrito at The Little Chihuahua that was stuffed with plantains instead of meat, I HAD to have it.

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A not-so-great photo of a fantastic burrito stuffed full of sweet plantains

The Little Chihuahua’s plantain burrito is first of all, anything but little. It’s a hold-it-with-two-hands heavy affair of sweet fried plantains, black beans and rice, pico de gallo, roasted red peppers, sour cream, cheese, salsa, cilantro and onion.  And as I thought it might be, this burrito was freakin’ delicious. The plantains added a nice sweet flavor to the otherwise savory, zesty, spicier flavors and a soft, almost creamy consistency.

As a lifelong plantains lover, I would order this kind of burrito every time if places other than The Little Chihuahua had it. Add a plantain burrito to my long list of reasons for loving San Francisco.

The Little Chihuahua on Urbanspoon

A great day for a Great Hotdog Cookoff

Saturday had everything I ask of summer in the city: tolerable warm weather, cold beer and lots and lots of hot dogs. Bam! Just like that, recipe for a good time.

Along with the beau and a couple of friends, I spent Saturday afternoon in Williamsburg at The Great Hot Dog Cookoff,  stuffing my face full of hot dogs at this annual summertime event benifting the Food Bank for New York City. The cookoff included 24 teams of amateur chefs and 4 professionals (from places like Mile End Deli and Gramercy Tavern) all competing for Best In Show (judge fave) and Top Dog (crowd fave). For the price of admission you got four beers and unlimited hot dog samples from the different teams. I repeat: recipe for a good time, folks. Below, the highlights of a hotdogtastic Saturday in Brooklyn:

The Nick Mangold Over the Line Dog

This was probably my favorite of the many I had. A chili cheese dog of sorts, the “Nick Mangold Over The Line Dog” was a deep-fried (yea, I know) hot dog with spicy, sweet chili and here it comes… mini fried cheese balls that kind of resembled tater tots. A heart attack waiting to happen, but SO good.

Little Bundles of Joy

Re-imagining the traditional hot dog presentation, “Little Bundles of Joy” were like small hot dog empanadas, fried pockets of hot dog, mac and cheese, kimchi and chinese sausage. Double points for tastiness and new form.

Genereal Tso’s Hot Dog

Another tasty dog with interesting presentation was “General Tso’s Hot Dog,” a play on the Chinese restaurant staple, General Tso’s chicken. Battered and deep fried, this little dog was smothered in sweet and spicy sauce and topped with broccoli, sprouts and crunchy chow mein.

Pa-Pa-Ya Summer Roll Hot Dog

Also putting an asian spin on things was the “Pa-Pa-Ya Summer Roll Hot Dog,” which instead of a traditional bun came wrapped in Vietnamese style rice paper and took flavor cues from spring rolls and shrimp and papaya salads. It was light and clean, with zesty, spicy flavors.

The Reuben Dog

“The Reuben Dog” instead, took its inspiration from the Reuben sandwich, with almost all of the same ingredients that make the sandwich a classic: sauerkraut, corned beef, Russian dressing, gooey swiss cheese, and a rye bun. As a Reuben fan, I gave this dog two greasy thumbs up.

The Hot Dogiflette

Finally, when I was at the point of undoing the top button of my shorts while also breaking out into the hot dog sweats, I made room for one more, “The Hot Dogiflette.” Based on the french dish, tartiflette, this dog was served on a toasted baguette and topped with mashed potatos, sauteed onions,  herbs, melted cheese and sour cream. Kind of hard to eat and required a bit of a wait (probably because of all the ingredients that were painstakingly layered on there) but sacrebleu it was good!

While there were some I ate and just didn’t post here, there were still a whole bunch I didn’t try! That means, Hot Dog Cookoff, I’ll see you again in 2013!

Deep dish pizza: death by cheese

If during my few days in Chicago I had eaten at just one more pizzeria serving Chicago style deep dish pizza, I’m pretty sure my gravestone would now read, “Angie De Angelis, 1984-2012, Death by cheese.”

In visiting the Windy City, the plan all along was to stuff my face full of deep dish pizza, and let me tell you, stuff it I did.  For the sake of comparison, we had it twice in the four days we were there. The city has a handful of big names in deep dish pizza, several of which claim to be the original and all of which claim to be the best. Had I been there for about a month, I might have tried them all, but then like I said, I probably would have come back to New York in a coffin, reeking of cheese.

Lou Malnati’s Classic Chicago

Our first pizza was at Lou Malnati’s (Gold Coast location) where we ordered the “Malnati Chicago Classic” in the over- ambitious 12″ size (meant to serve three people). It was already a behemoth of a pizza, made with the famed house buttercrust (hello, extra calories) and what seemed like at least a gallon of juicy, sweet tomato sauce, but in addition to the  several pounds of cheese that went into this bad boy, the

A fat slice of the Malnati Chicago Classic

Malnati Chicago Classic also had a layer of meaty, hearty sausage hiding just under the layer of tomato. It came out still in its pan, and we wolfed it down almost immediately, fighting through the layers of cheese and sausage to finish with chunky tomato sauce dripping from our mouths and hands like there’d been a pizza massacre at our table. Now, let me be clear about this: the pizza was delicious. Completely over the top, gluttonous and obscene, but delicious. However, I was in a complete haze after eating it. There wasn’t even room for dessert. No dessert! That’s insanity! I felt Thanksgiving-style full for hours and well into the night, waking up every few hours thinking, “When is this feeling going to ease up??”

The deep dish pizza at Giordano’s, anyone other than serious cheese lovers need not apply

So you’d think that would be the end of it, right? But no. Like a drug, I needed more. So for round two of Chicago’s famed pies, we tried Giordano’s (near the Willis/Sears tower, though there are a whopping 43 locations in Illinois and even Florida). This time we went for lunch, figuring it would give us the rest of the day to burn off some of the tens of thousands of calories. Instead of bringing a topping into

Oh you know, just a plain ol’ cheese pizza.

the mix, we kept it simple and had a cheese pizza. Not that there was anything simple or minimal about just cheese. As we lifted out the heavy slices of pizza, each at least a couple inches high, thick, gooey globs of creamy mozzarella slowly poured out. It was in-tense. Seriously. So. Much. Cheese. That night, we didn’t have dinner! That’s how intense it was. And those of you that know me, I don’t just skip meals.

Chicago pizza, you win. I held my own, but long term, I don’t think I could hang. You’re delicious yes, but you’d be the death of me.