Saturday, August 29, 2015

Vayanse Para El Carajo for Brunch

No I'm not mad and yes I love you guys. That's why I'm sharing a great brunch spot with you. Raise your hand if you have ever had an amazing brunch, or any other meal for that matter, at a gas station? I bet most arms are down. I'm not talking about Diet Soda, mystery meat sandwiches or Ho Hos here. I'm talking upscale, Spanish food paired with fine wines. Well, over on 2465 SW 17 Avenue, there is a BP Station and hidden inside what is supposed to be a Food Mart, is El Carajo, a tapas and wine restaurant and its sister bakery. But don't let the exterior fool you. Once you step inside, you will experience what is generally known as the "El Carajo Factor", and you won't soon forget it. I know I'm still baffled by it, and I can only equate it to stepping into a culinary Twilight Zone where you momentarily escape the hustle and bustle of Miami and enter a quaint tapas bar in Spain.


Imagine stepping into this the next you go pump gas

This is not your ordinary Food Mart

The first time I ever went to El Carajo was many years ago when they were located on 57th Avenue. It was nice, and we had a great time "tapeando" with friends over wine. But then I heard the spot had moved to a gas station on 17th Avenue. Mind you, I wasn't overly excited about going to eat at a gas station, so time continued to pass before I returned and as I drove by there, I always wondered where it was, and how it looked inside. Seriously, from the outside, you can't even imagine what you are about to see when you go in.


No…Ashton Kutcher is not jumping out and you're not being punked.


Next time someone sends me Pa' El Carajo.. I'm coming here

So, once they launched their new Brunch service, I decided to take the plunge. I drove there, filled my tank with gas once I got to the station, and then walked in very cautiously (I Periscoped my adventure, by the way, so make sure you're following me on Periscope if you missed it) Anyway, the first thing I saw ( and smelled) was their bakery. It is situated right at the front and to the right, and you automatically know that you are not in Kansas anymore, Toto. But it is what your senses behold when you walk a few steps more that makes your jaw drop. Imagine a beautifully decorated, elegant restaurant, complete with a wine room and a bar, just waiting there to be discovered. I was floored. Literally, I was wearing new heels and I almost fell. But read on my friends.


Mimosa

We started with a Mimosa and took a look at their brunch menu. The El Carajo team obviously took great care in selecting a nice variety of dishes, both tapas and main plates, to offer during brunch. We decided to select a few of our Spanish favorites and began with their Huevos Estrellados and Croquetas Sazonadas. You can choose from either cod, ham, chicken, chorizo or bacon croquettes, and they are served with their homemade cilantro aioli, which is lick-the-spoon worthy. We went for their ham and codfish croquetas and they were mmm mmm good. I find that the traditional Spanish Huevos Estrellados dish (or Huevos Rotos as it is called in other places), is prepared differently everywhere. The meat that comes with it varies, as does the way the potatoes are cooked.  El Carajo's version is very flavorful; the eggs are served over grilled chorizo, and mixed with red onions and brunch potatoes. The whole delight is then drizzled with olive oil.


Huevos Estrellados

Ham and Codfish Croquettes

Next we tried an interesting tapa I always enjoy when I embark on Spanish adventures.  It's the Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Dates. I love the combination of the sweet dates with the salty, smoked bacon. Their version includes Spanish chorizo and it is fried to perfection. I couldn't come here and not sample a Spanish rice so we ordered the Arroz Temprano, an original recipe created by their team, consisting of Valencia rice, infused with… you guessed it, chorizo, mushrooms, and eggs, then seasoned with olive oil, peppers and onions. It was simple yet tasted amazing.


Bacon Wrapped Dates

Arroz Temprano

I told you they have a bakery at El Carajo, where they sell some pretty memorable macarons, but what left me begging for more were their Torrejas. Their Spanish style French toast took my breath away, and we drenched them in maple syrup shamelessly. Oh, if you like Crepes, they serve fresh ones, filled with strawberries, bananas and your favorite and mine.. Nutella.


Torrejas

If you haven't been to El Carajo and experienced this hidden gem inside a humble gas station, then you need to hurry and change that. Now that they serve brunch, you have even more of an incentive. For more information, visit their website or call them at 305 856-2424.


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Thursday, August 27, 2015

American Social Launches Their Social Spice

The other day I told you about a restaurant that was holding its very own spin on spice, and now I got another one for you. It's American Social, located at  690 SW 1st Court in Brickell.  American Social opened its latest location a little under a year ago (you may be familiar with the spot on Las Olas) and the place has become a nice hang out for cocktails and networking with colleagues or just catching up with friends. Situated on the water and sporting street art on its walls and columns, American Social has a nice view and ambiance that is relaxed, casual and trendy.






Priced at $34 per person, their Social Spice menu offers three different selections to choose from for both appetizer and entree, and one dessert. At first I was a bit disappointed that there was only one option for dessert, mainly because I wasn't sure I was going to like it. But more on that later....

The three selections you can pick from for the First Course are the Cuban Cigars, the Smoked Wahoo Fish Dip and the Pretzel Bites. We decided to go for the Cuban Cigars (how can you pass up a name like that?) and the Fish Dip. Both dishes were delicious. The Cuban Cigars were pretty much eggrolls stuffed with smoked ham, mojo roasted pork loin, Emmenthal swiss cheese, kosher pickles, carrot, and radish. They were served with a sweet pickled dijon dipping sauce. It was an interesting combination of ingredients that worked really well together.  The Smoked Wahoo Fish Dip was entirely addicting. My dining companion thought I didn't notice he was trying to distract me so he could dip while I talked. Nice try. Creamy and with a smoky fish taste, the house made dip made a great pairing with the carrot and cucumber; giving the appetizer a healthy boost.


Cuban Cigars

Smoked Wahoo Fish Dip
The Second Course options were Herb Roasted Chicken, Wild Caught Salmon and Bolognese. We chose the chicken and the pasta. Prepared with vin blanc, the herb roasted chicken was served over creamy polenta and topped with a ratatouille-like crown. Of the two however, my favorite was the Bolognese. I really enjoyed the flavorful Bucatini pasta, bathed in a bolognese sauce with ricotta and parmesan cheese, and mixed with a blend of ground brisket, short rib, chuck and wild boar. The dish was hearty and well put together.


Herb Roasted Chicken

Bolognese

I told you I'd get back to the dessert and here we are. You know I'm a chocoholic so when all I saw on the menu was a Wild Berry Cobbler I panicked a bit. I mean I like berries and I know there are plenty of chocolate free desserts out there that are amazing (I can probably dish out a list) but I usually like to pick. Well, I'm happy to report the cobbler was awesome. It was served warm, with a crisp streusel crust, raw brown sugar and seasonal wild berries. The treat was topped with vanilla ice-cream, and after a few spoonfuls, I wasn't scared anymore.  My adventure with American Social's Social Menu ended just like it started... on a sweet note.


Wild Berry Cobbler

For more information on American Social or their Social Menu, visit them online or call them at 305-570-4468.


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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stop Diabetes With Hass Avocados

This is part of a sponsored campaign with DiMe Media and the Hass Avocado Board.  However, all opinions expressed are my own.

Si bien este post forma parte de una campana patrocinada con DiMe Media y el Hass Avocado Board, las opiniones expresadas son mias. Esta advertencia se hace en cumplimiento de las Directivas de la Comision Federal de Comercio (Federal Trade Commission Guidelines), 16 C.F.R. Parte 255.


If your family looks anything like mine, then you know exactly what it's like to live in an age where both parents work outside the home, customs and traditions are passed on from los abuelos to los nietos, and holding on to the special moments in life is as essential to our well being as healthy eating and exercise. My family is originally from Cuba and I was raised with a very strong tie to my culture. I can tell you that if you ever watched an episode of Que Pasa U.S.A. on T.V., you witnessed what could be considered a pseudo reality show for my family. As an adult, I cherish that upbringing and I have tried to pass it on to my daughter.


One way I have done this is through food. Since I am not a stay-at-home mom, preparing healthy meals on a daily basis is not easy. Add to the equation the fact that as a food blogger I eat out several times a week and it could potentially be a recipe for disaster. We all know that Hispanics are twice as likely as non-Hispanics to develop Type 2 diabetes in the U.S., so it is imperative to find a way to eat well despite the hassles of everyday life. That's where my mom and those quick and easy nutritious recipes she used to make for us growing up come in.




You see Cubans love to eat but my mom always kept that flair she got from her grandmother for making delicious food that was healthy. She used fruit and vegetables to come up with dishes that made you feel like you were in the Caribbean - without the unhealthy additives. Since one of the ways to lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes is by maintaining a healthy weight, she found flavors from her homeland here in the United States and combined them in ways that provided "good fats" (monounsaturated fats) instead of the damaging saturated fats that raise our risk for disease.




I remember something we always had at home were avocados. We would cut them open, slice them and eat them straight up, with just a sprinkle of olive oil. They were delicious - especially if they were the Hass Avocados. Mom always said they were the healthiest food around and we didn't argue because we liked the taste. You know that phrase "Momma knows best"? They weren't kidding. Over 75% of the fat in fresh avocados is monounsaturated fat, making them a great substitute for food high in bad fat. Avocados are also sodium, cholesterol and trans-fat free.




Although she'd like me to believe it, my mom wasn't born with this knowledge. In her native Camaguey, my grandmother and great-grandmother knew this secret, so they'd take avocados and incorporate them into refreshing, tropical recipes. One of my favorites is the Avocado and Pineapple Salad, or how she calls it Guacamole Camagueyano. This is a tropical, bright salad that brings together the fresh flavors of the Pearl of the Antilles  right to your plate. It is easy and quick to make, so busy moms and dads don't have to worry about fitting a long cooking session into their already full schedule; yet they're providing their families with all the benefits they need: nutrition, fiber and dietary balance.




I would love to share my family's recipe for Guacamole Camagueyano with you, featuring the delicious Hass Avocados we all know and love. The great thing about this fruit, is that you can easily incorporate it into anything and reap its benefits. You can use it as a creamy pasta sauce, add it as a sandwich topper, make traditional guacamole or like my dad and I used to do often - eat it as a stand-alone snack.


Once you try my recipe, I would love to hear what you think of it. And you know what else I'd love? I'd love it if you shared some of your favorite avocado recipes so we can try them with our families too. I am going to be participating in a special 10-day photo challenge called #SaboreaUnoHoy and I invite you to follow it and join us for your chance to win prizes. You can visit http://www.saboreaunohoy.com/aguacatesydiabetes for more information and to find additional recipes using avocados. Oh and be sure to stay tuned to all my social media platforms for details on the #SaboreaUnoHoy 10-day photo challenge coming up soon.




Avocado and Pineapple Salad a.k.a. Guacamole Camagueyano


Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
2 medium Hass Avocados
Crushed Pineapple or Pineapple Chunks (fresh or canned) 


Steps:

Whisk the olive oil, lime and orange juices, sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper in a small bowl to combine. Add the onion and chopped garlic cloves and toss. Taste dressing for seasoning and set aside.

Cut the avocados lengthwise in half around the pit and remove the pit. Slice the avocado halves lengthwise into 1-inch-wide wedges and peel each segment by hand or with a paring knife. Cut the avocado wedges into 1-inch cubes.

Add the pineapple chunks and avocado cubes to a medium bowl and toss with the the dressing. Serve immediately and enjoy.











Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Miami Spice 2015 - Swine Southern Table & Bar

I'm sure you'll agree that nothing beats the smell of smoky, heartwarming BBQ. And I'm also sure that is exactly what you think about every time you walk down Ponce in Coral Gables. If you don't know what I'm referring to and you reside in Miami, you just haven't lived. Let me break it down for you. My next Miami Spice adventure happened at Swine Southern Table & Bar, located at 2415 Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

I'm sure I don't need to give you much of an introduction to this place. It is the sister restaurant of Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami Beach, and one of the popular eateries owned and operated by 50 Eggs Inc., Miami's very famous multifaceted, culinary and hospitality firm. But most people know Swine as that awesome BBQ place in the Gables that makes the whole street smell so good.


Swine's Miami Spice Menu

We ventured out here on a Thursday night eager to see what goodies awaited us on their Miami Spice menu. While the menu itself isn't huge, the portions are. Perhaps huge is an understatement. I'm talking leftovers for a couple of days. And not just food that you put away in the fridge and forget about, but leftovers that you are looking forward to coming home to the next day.

I started my evening sipping their Homestead Bound, a sweet concoction made with Absolut vodka, Veev acai, fresh strawberres, orange, lemon, mint and basil. Of course, this is not part of the Miami Spice menu but who comes to Swine and doesn't have one of their famous cocktails?




The menu itself consists of a choice from three appetizers, three entrees and one dessert. You might be thinking, just one dessert? Yes, but sometimes one is enough; especially when it is called Death By Chocolate. But back to the starters. We ordered the Fried Green Tomato and the 1855 Black Angus Burnt Ends, and suddenly I was back in my last road trip vacation through the deep south. The Fried Green Tomato was topped with a robust Winter Park Florida tomme, pea shoots and a delicious tomato chow chow relish. However, it was the Golden Nuggets of the South, or the Burnt Ends, that totally blew me away. These flavorful, juicy pieces of meat were drizzled in their ever famous Swine barbecue sauce and served with spiced corn nuts and a creamy cornbread foam. All I can say is that it's one of those things you have to experience at least once in a lifetime.


Fried Green Tomato

1855 Black Angus Burnt Ends

On to the entrees. We decided to try the Backyard BBQ Chicken and the Low & Slow Ribs. When our server brought the dishes to the table,  my jaw dropped. The ribs in particular were stacked at three levels. I couldn't wait to stick my teeth into them. They were mopped in an apple cider vinegar,  which kept the meat moist and falling off the bone, and seasoned with a mild competition rub. I also enjoyed the homemade pickles served with the ribs. The chicken was slow smoked and grilled, and coated with the same Swine BBQ sauce. It was served with charred okra and roasted marble potatoes.


Low & Slow Ribs

Backyard BBQ Chicken

Remember the Death By Chocolate I told you about? Well this is just about the moment in time we succumbed to the sweet, pleasurable finale. Let me just list the ingredients and you'll understand what I mean: a glass filled with a rich chocolate brownie, creamy chocolate pudding, crunchy cocoa puffs, smooth chocolate ice cream, and a decadent chocolate sauce. Do you see a pattern here?


Death By Chocolate

It's pretty obvious Swine Southern Table & Bar is a must-do for Miami Spice. It's got incredible, quality food and portions to match. For more information, visit their website or call them at 786-360-6433.


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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cafe Prima Pasta Puts A Spin on Spice

Some restaurants choose to go a different route during Miami Spice. They come up with their own Spin on Spice without actually participating in the official promotion. Such is the case with Cafe Prima Pasta, located in Miami Beach at 414 71st Street. They've put together a pretty creative menu and appropriately called it Miami Prima Menu.


The decor at Cafe Prima Pasta is authentic and makes you
feel like you are in Italy enjoying a fantastic meal.

We went out there to check out their Miami Prima Menu, and there were so many other dishes that sounded amazing, that we figured we'd loosen our belts and try a little bit of everything. At first I felt guilty at my limitless indulgence, but then I remembered that I owed it to you guys to be thorough, so I took one (or many) for the team.

Carpaccio di Manzo

The promotional menu offers several choices for each course, and it is offered during the same time frame as Miami Spice (August 1st- September 30th) at $39 per person.  For example, as an appetizer, you can choose the Carpaccio di Manzo, (which I highly recommend), consisting of thin slices of filet mignon, sprinkled with imported extra virgin olive oil, zesty lime and robust parmesan cheese. If raw steak isn't your thing, you can also pick the Carpaccio di Salmon, which is the fish version of this dish, or a Baby Exotic Salad, prepared with mixed greens, bufala, hearts of palm and artichokes. My dining companion chose the Eggplant Rollatini as his appetizer (of course - he had to share with me) and it was phenomenal. We thoroughly enjoyed the sliced eggplant rolled with ricotta and artisanal cheeses, served with a mixed green salad and marinara sauce.

Eggplant Rollatini

Their entrees are quite exceptional as well. You can sink your teeth into their Lobster Ravioli, served in a creamy saffron sauce and sing O Sole Mio with your eyes closed, or you can choose from the Veggie Ravioli, Veal Pizzaiola, or their Fish of the Day, which comes baked and served with tomatoes, capers, onions and kalamata olives. Now I have to stop for a minute and put in a good word for their Pear Ravioli.with Gorgonzola Cheese. It is not on the Miami Prima Menu, but listen to me, you have to come back for it. This could very well be the perfect ravioli, with an incredible texture and that sweet, savory and creamy quality we all look for in this dish.


Pear Ravioli with Gorgonzola Cheese

Dessert holds up to the rest of the game at Cafe Prima Pasta. You can choose their Tiramisu, or either one of their Tartufos, Negro or Bianco. The Tiramisu is simple yet intriguing, expertly created using an old family recipe and the Tartufo is fun, a signature Italian ice-cream dessert filled with raspberry syrup.

Tiramisu
Tartufo Bianco

You'll remember I told you we had a few other dishes not on the Miami Prima Menu just because..well..we are such foodaholics, and I'm also going to share them with you. When you go back for their Pear Ravioli, consider ordering their Fried Zucchini. My friends, you will thank me. I can eat these while watching The Bachelorette on TV.


Fried Zucchini

You might also want to check out their Porcini Risotto, which is prepared with fresh mushrooms and is unbelievably creamy or their Veal Piccata, sauteed with white wine, lemon and capers. Believe me, these two dishes will make a Cafe Prima Pasta fan out of you as well.

Porcini Risotto 

Veal Piccata

For more information on Cafe Prima Pasta and their Miami Prima Menu, visit them online here or call them at 305-867-0106.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Miami Spice 2015 - 15th & Vine at The Viceroy

My next Miami Spice adventure happened somewhere up above, a room with a view, if you will - and I was sitting at the perfect table according to Evan Benn from The Miami Herald. I sat at Table 62 at 15th & Vine in The Viceroy Hotel in Brickell and the experience turned out to be a multisensory one. Overlooking Biscayne Bay and the hotel's pool and patio, you can momentarily lose yourself in this place, both through your eyes and through your taste buds. The Viceroy Hotel is located at 485 Brickell Avenue,

View from Table 62

15th & Vine

Potato Gnocchi
Char Siu Braissed Pork,
Roasted Corn, Mushroom,
Green Onion
Summer Salad
Broccoli Rabe, Cauliflower,
Radicchio, Caramelized
Fennel, Potato and
Mustard Vinaigrette
The Miami Spice menu at 15th & Vine has a lot of options to choose from. For starters, you can pick from seven different appetizers, including an Heirloom Tomato Flatbread, Potato Gnocchi, Pulpo (Octopus) Salad, Summer Salad and Beet Cured Salmon. We sampled these dishes and I can tell you they are served in very generous portions. Of the five we tasted, my favorite were the Octopus Salad, (which was unbelievably tender and flavorful) and the Heirloom Tomato Flatbread. The flatbread was crispy, and I enjoyed the taste of the Buffalo Mozzarella combined with the Fava Bean Pesto. The other dishes were very original and interesting as well, and I would recommend that if there are several in your party, you each order a different one. It's a lot funner to sample them all since 15th & Vine has really outdone itself in providing variety to the menu.


Beet Cured Salmon Crudo
Summer Vegetable Ceviche

Heirloom Tomato Flatbread
Buffalo Mozzarella, Fava Bean Pesto
Pulpo Salad
Potato Confit, Mandarin Orange, Romesco,
Mustard Vinaigrette













The entrees are just as fantastic, with several options beckoning the palate. For example, the Cauliflower Risotto, prepared with roasted corn, pinenuts and broccoli rabe is wonderfully creamy and light.  The BBQ Pork Loin, served with sweet plantains, smoked rhubarb and gremolata is surprisingly moist and and tender. My top entree, however, was the Korean BBQ Braised Short Rib. This dish was spectacular and totally blew me away. The short rib practically melted in my mouth, and I loved rubbing it over the diakkon carrot puree, wasabi bone marrow and sugar peas.


Cauliflower Risotto
BBQ Pork Loin

Korean BBQ Braised Short Rib


Fried Apple Pie
S'mores Tart
Dessert offers three different options to satisfy your sweet tooth, and depending on your preference, you'll be happy with any of them. The Fried Apple Pie is the most traditional choice, served with a sour caramel sauce. The S'more Tart is a winner, if you love that sweet, tangy taste (which of course, I do). It's a roller coaster ride of passion fruit, bourbon vanilla or salted caramel mellow. And then there's my decadent pick: the Turtle Cheesecake.  My dining companion isn't usually into desserts (unlike me) and he couldn't put down the spoon. No, I wasn't happy. As a matter of fact, I was spooning faster than I could swallow to make sure he didn't eat it all. The cheesecake was refreshing, and had a nutty texture of candied pecans and Nutella crumble.


Turtle Cheesecake

So there you have it. Another Miami Spice adventure I highly recommend. We're halfway through August and there's so much to eat. Be sure to add 15th & Vine to your list. For more information, visit their website or call them at 305-307-5413.

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