Tag Archives: South American

{ Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde }

Turns out my spicy avocado dipping sauce was so good last night, that it was eaten at an unproportional rate with repect to my empanadas. I have left over empanadas, but no more sauce, providing me the perfect opportunity to experiement with cooking a new one. In keeping with the green theme, I decided to give roasted tomatillo salsa (aka salsa verde) a whirl tonight. I would love to say it is my own recipe, however, I stole it from Tyler Florence. And with this confession now out in the open, I say that it deserves two thumbs up and earns a respectiable place among my collection of favorite recipes.

This salsa combines the favors of roasted garlic, Spanish onions, sweet tomatillo tomatoes, spicy jalapeños, and lime juice to create a condiment suitable for topping any protein or corn product. You can put it over chicken, over pork, over seafood, over nachos, hell, you can even spread it on a piece of toast for a banging Mexican-inspired snack. It is flavorful, yet not overpowering, which makes it one of my new favorite condiments.

{ Ingredients }

  • 10 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1-2 jalapeños, stemmed
  • 1 spanish onion, quartered
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

{ To Make the Salsa Verde } Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the tomatillos in half (NOTE: you should have already removed the husks and washed them). Place them cut side down on a baking sheet. Add the garlic cloves, jalapeños, and onion to the tray and roast for 12-15 minutes.

Transfer the roasted vegetables and the juices from the pan into a food processor. Add the cumin, salt, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse the mixture until well combined but still chunky.

Adjust the seasonings to desired taste. I always add a couple dashes of tobasco for more spice, as well as extra lime juice.

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{ Beef Empanadas with Avocado Dipping Sauce }

I’ve been back in the States for about 1 month now, and have been taking full advantage of enjoying my much missed American grub (Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts, Wawa milkshakes, Five Guys burger’s, and the like). But then yesterday, a very unexpected thing occurred–I was struck by an empanada craving. This took me by surprise because I swore that I would never want another empanada upon leaving South America. Not because I don’t like them, but because I had consumed so many over my 6 months there.

Empanadas are the beating heart of Argentine cuisine, and the epitome of South American fast food. They are as beloved and frequently consumed as French fries are by Americans.  And, since you may have already gathered, I’m not one to deny myself food indulgences, I ate up empanadas like I would never be able to get them again after I returned home. I would start off the day with a ham and ricotta one from La Cocina, then grab a spicy chicken one from Na Serapia on my walk to class, and the Kobe beef ones from La Cabrera made a perfect appetizer before my gut-dropping, artery-clogging, 200mg t-bone steak.

Then after months of ordering empanadas out (everywhere from 5 star restaurants to hole-in-the-wall pizza dives that Guy Fieri only wishes he could find), I decided to try making them myself. I didn’t think they would be nearly as good as the authentic Argentine ones, but when they turned out equally delicious, I knew that I had embarked on something detrimental to my health (not to mention, slender physic). Empanadas were no longer something only savored outside of the home, they were a new refrigerator staple, my go-to drunk snack, and my favorite food to experiment with in cooking. I created all sorts of crazy empanada fillings and flavor combinations, and each one had a unique dipping sauce paired with it.

You see, dipping sauce was my American twist on the Argentine classic. Lets face it, we are a nation in love with condiments- a people that put ketchup and hot sauce on any and every thing, a generation of extra dressing on the siders, and yes, I’m talking to you, all my heavy handed salt shakers. Condiments are the cornerstone of American food. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the boutique burgers being served up in our country. Forget lettuce, tomato, and onion. We don’t want it unless its got foie gras, truffled mushrooms, carmalized onions, Kobe beef, and a price tag of about 15 dollars. Condiments = deliciousness.

So without further ado (sorry for my condiment digression), I present to you my recipe for spicy beef empanadas with DELICIOUS spicy avocado dipping sauce!

{ Ingredients }

For the Avocado Dipping Sauce:

  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 roasted jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Dash of Tobasco or Cholula hot sauce
{ Directions } Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Adjust seasoning to preference.

For the Spicy Beef Empanadas:

  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) of lean ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 beef bullion cubes
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 2 scallions, chopped (white & green parts)
  • 1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 20 pre-packaged frozen empanada shells (I use Goya or Saltena brands)

 { To Make the Beef Filling } Heat the vegetable oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, peppers, and kosher salt. Sautee until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the ground beef, breaking it up with back of a spoon. Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, tomato puree and beef bullion. Cover pot with a lid and allow to cook for 2 minutes.

Mix beef, stirring in scallions and chopped olives. Once the meat is cooked through, remove from heat. Allow to cool and then use for empanada or taco filling.

{ To Assemble the Empanadas } Defrost empanada shells and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or cooking spray.

Dip the tip of your finger in warm water and moisten 1/2 the rim of the empanada shell, making a half-moon motion. Spoon the empanada filling into the center of the dough and fold over half-wise, pinching the edges between your fingers so that the dough seals around the meat pocket.

Place the empanada on the prepared baking sheet and firmly press down on the edges with the back of a fork to enforce the closure.

Then, using a silicone brush, gently apply an egg wash (1 beaten egg + 1 tablespoon water) to the tops of the empanadas. This helps them to get shiny and golden in the oven.

Repeat this process until you have finished making all of the empanadas. Place the baking sheet into the oven and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes, until the tops are golden.

Remove from oven and serve with avocado dipping sauce.

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{ Cuban Ropa Vieja }

The beef in Argentina is ri-freaking-diculous. Its tender, juicy, and requires nothing except a little salt and charcoal to taste divine (and this is coming from an au poirve/bernaise enthusiast) So why is it so much better, you ask? Because the the cows in Argentina roam about in pastures and feed on grass all day. Unlike the cattle in the US, which are kept in tiny pens, unable to move around, being force fed steroid-enhanced grain day in and day out. Of course thats not to say you can’t find grass fed beef in the US at all, but it’s usually that little package of meat in the Wholefood’s fridge thats like double the cost of all the others. You stare at it for like 10 minutes straight, debating whether or not it will really taste $15 dollars better than the other cuts of meat. Ahhh screw it, you’d rather get 2 for 1 drinks at happy hour with that money….back in the case it goes.

But in Argentina there is no meat grade hierarchy, it’s all good. You just have to decide which cut of meat is your favorite– a task that is easier said than done since they utilize a lot more of parts of the cow than we do in the US. Sometimes, I think they try to use too many parts…I found brain to the right of my filet mignon yesterday…ewe!

Anyways, while I am here, I am attempting to make every beef recipe that is in my pinterest “grub” file (aka my “to cook” list) because I know that it is going to be damn good. Recipe number one: Ropa Vieja….a little tribute to Casa Larios in Miami, which I happen miss more than anything.

Ropa vieja is shredded flank steak stewed in tomato sauce with peppers and onions, usually served over a bed of rice with black beans (and gobs of hot sauce in my case!). So fa, this dish has not made an appearance in Argentina, and so tonight I decided to cook it myself. The meat was very was to cook, although the shredding takes a little elbow work (I enlisted the help of my roommate since I had to shred 1.1 kilos!). And instead of serving this over plain white rice, I made a lime cilantro rice with corn, beans, and tomatoes. Top the dish with a little sliced avocado and some fresh green onions, and disfruta los sabores de Cuba!

{ Ingredients for Ropa Vieja }

  • 2 1/2 pounds flank steak (or 1.1 kilos of entraña if your in south america!)
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 onions, 1 diced for sauce and one halved for broth
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 hot pepper, diced
  • 2 cups of canned diced tomato and their juices
  • 1 cup beef broth (from cooking meat)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, as desired

{ To Make the Ropa Vieja }

Place the flank steak, the onion, the carrot, and the celery in a large stock pot and cover the contents with water.

Add some kosher salt to to the water and bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for an hour or two, until the meat is tender.

Remove the meat from the pot and allow to cool. Then using two forks, or your finger tips, shred the beef and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium high heat. Sautée the chopped onion, garlic, onions, and peppers until the onion is translucent. Add the cumin and cayenne pepper, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes, beef broth, and kosher salt to desired taste (I also add a couple dashes of tobasco sauce, since I like my food spicy).

Add the shredded beef to the pan and continue cooking for another hour on a low heat. The consistency should be thicker than soup, more like a stew. Use tomato paste to thicken the sauce and extra beef broth to thin it out.


To serve Laddle the Ropa Vieja over plain white rice, or my cilantro lime rice, and top with sliced avocado. Or use the meat to make a delicious burrito filling, similar to a barbacoa.


**Remember: Ropa Vieja, like all soups and stews, develops more flavor the longer it sits. So this dish will taste better the following day, making it an ideal pre-made party food.

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Kendall’s Spicy Beef Taco Meat *****

Kendall’s Spicy Beef Taco Meat

Obviously this recipe gets 5 stars, considering it is my very own creation, which I have spent 2 years now perfecting. I could have posted it prematurely, but instead, I waited until I got everything just right before putting on the blog (be thankful for this because I experimented with a lot of different types of hot peppers, and lets just say several tears and sweat when into getting the measurements just right). The final recipe is not crazy spicy, but it packs a little heat. If you can handle the Fire hot sauce as Taco Bell, then you are fine. If you can’t handle the Fire hot sauce, then go lighter on the cayenne pepper and omit the jalapeno!

This taco meat is almost like a chili, because I let it stew in tomato sauce and chicken broth. It goes great on taco salads, nacho platters, over rice, and of course, on tacos!

The only piece of advice that I can give is make sure that you splurge and buy the lean ground sirloin meat. Yes, it is more expensive, but it is so much less fatty than the ground chuck. The one time I accidentally bought ground chuck, the meat was so oily it was almost inedible. The grease just coated my mouth.

Also, this meat freezes really well. I like to make it and put it in individual freezer containers and it lasts months. Just pop it in the microwave and defrost when you’re ready to eat it.

**This can be made with Ground Turkey as well, and if you like black beans, feel free to add a can (drained and rinsed)**

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1 16-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, 8 diced and 1/3 cup juices
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons of Worcheshire Sauce
  • 3 heaping tablespoons of chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 ½ lbs of ground sirloin
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock or beef stock
  • 2 Jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 4-5 shakes of Cholula hot sauce
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and allow to sautee for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the garlic and allow to sautee until fragrant (about 1-2 min), but do not let burn!!

Add the ground sirloin, Jalapeno, Worchesire sauce, Cayenne Pepper, Cumin, and Chili Powder, salt, and pepper and crumble meat using the back of the spoon. Keep moving the meat so that it starts to break apart and cook faster. Once the meat looks brown and crumbly, increase the heat and add the tomatoes and their juices and allow to simmer for 3 minutes. Add the chicken or beef stock and cholula hot sauce.

Reduce heat to medium and let cook uncovered for 15-29 minutes, until the sauce reduced slightly. (Note: Check the seasonings at this point, add more salt, chili powder, or cayenne pepper now if you need too. Remember, seasoning after something has cooked if not the same as seasoning while its cooking, you need to do this now!)

Removed from heat and serve!

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{ Homemade Churros with Cinnamon Sugar }

Homemade Churros with Cinnamon Sugar and Chocolate Sauce

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I decided to try my hand at making churros for the very first time. I know they aren’t technically Mexican, but they’re Spanish and delicious, and that’s an excuse enough for me! The recipe itself is super easy to make, but you do need a pastry bag and star-shaped pastry tip to squeeze the dough from. Cooking them is also a little bit of a process because hot oil frying always gets messy. However, the work is totally worth it because this recipe is delicious!!

When making the dough, it is really important that you whisk the constantly after adding the eggs to the flour mixture because the pot will still be warm and you don’t want the eggs to become scrambled eggs!

Also, it is very important that the oil is good and hot before you begin frying or the churros will be soggy. I like to test the oil temperature with a breadcrumb or small squeeze of dough first. You know it’s ready if it immediately begins to sizzle around the edges.

This recipe made about 20 small churros (4 inches each), and they were only the table for about 5 minutes before they were gone. I would definitely make these again.

{ Ingredients }

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, unsalted
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

{ To Make the ChurrosHeat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high flame.

In a small mixing bowl combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

Combine the water, butter, brown sugar, and salt in a medium sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and add the flour, stirring continuously until dough forms and mixture is well blended.

In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and vanilla extract and then add this to the flour mixture. (NOTE: this is where you need to use some muscle and keep stirring!! You do not want the eggs to sit in the warm pot and turn into scrambled eggs!)

Then fit a pastry bag (or 1 gallon freezer bag) with your largest star tip, and fill the bag with the dough.

Test the oil to make sure that it is hot enough and then squeeze dough straight into the pan. Allow to cook about 1 minute on each side, until golden brown and then turn with slotted spoon, and remove from oil. If you like your churros softer then don’t leave them in the oil as long, and if you like them crispy….let em’ burn.

Once you remove the churros from the oil with slotted spoon, allow to rest on plate lined with paper towels. You want to let some of the oil drip off. Then while still warm, roll the churros in cinnamon sugar mixture made earlier!

**If you want, you can also serve these with chocolate drizzle, which is really good. Or dip them in hot chocolate!

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Barrio Latino ****

16-oz Churrasco with Chimichurri, Served with White Rice, Black Beans, and Yucca

305.692.4455 
3585 NE 207 St
Miami, Fl 33180

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In just a few short weeks, I will be sipping Malbec and eating churrasco con chimichurri off the coast of Argentina. No, I’m not going on vacation. I am moving there….indefinitely (with Ariana, of course!). We have decided to become career gypsies while the US economy recovers…that sounds like a reasonable excuse, right? In the meantime, however,  I have been getting my churrasco fix at a restaurant right here in Miami, called Barrio Latino. They are located in both Aventura and now near Sunset in Miami, and they serve an outrageously good 16-ounce Churrasco for just $20. My favorite part is their homemade chimichurri sauce, which is a little bit unconventional because of its sweetness, but it is awesome. Included in the price are two sides, choices include: rice and beans, tostones, mashed potatoes, yucca, maduros, french fries, or baked sweet potato. I’ve tried almost all of them by now, and my favorites are the rice and beans, maduros, and baked sweet potato. Just as a disclaimer, the baked sweet potato is enormous…don’t tell me that thing is not genetically modified (see photo).

On days when I am really hungry, I also like to start with an appetizer. I suggest the Mariquitas (fried green plantain chips) with Mojo sauce. Their mojo sauce is as good as their chimichurri, but very strong in garlic…so be careful if you’re on a date!

Fried Green Plantains Chips (Mariquitas) with Mojo Sauce

I also love the Proveoleta Parrillera, which is a thick slice of imported Argentine provolone grilled until slightly melted and then drizzled with olive oil and topped with a roasted tomato. There is nothing better than hot cheese, in my opinion, and this shit is hello good! It is also great to put on top of the mariquitas!

Grilled Provolone Cheese Topped with Oven-Roasted Tomato (Provoleta Parillera)

Another great appetizer that I have tried is the Mollejas Al Limon, which are beef sweetbread grilled with lime juice. I was super hesitant to try these at first because sweetbreads refers to the glands of an animal (nice way to sugar coat the name, right?), but after I got over the fattiness of the texture, I realized that they were pretty delicious. Just make sure that you use a lot of lemon juice to help cut the fat taste.

In addition to the churrasco, I have also had the Vacio, which is a 20 ounce Argentine style Flank Steak also served with chimichurri and your choice of two sides. The Vacio is much thicker and juicer than the churrasco (which is a thin skirt steak), so it all depends what you are in the mood for. I usually prefer the skirt steak.

20-oz Vacio Steak and Chimichurri Served with Baked Sweet Potato, White Rice, and Black Beans

If you really cannot decide though, and you want to try a little bit of everything (or if you’re just obscenely hungry…have no shame), then order the Parrillada Argentina, which is a sizzling hot plate packed with Chorizos (sausages), Vacio, Mollejas al Limon, Morillas (blood sausages), and Churrasco. It also comes with your choice of four sides, and is certainly intended for two people to share. Check out my before and after photos….

La Parillada de Argentina when if was brought to the table…..

La Parillada Argentina when my friend and I were finished with it!

And, if you don’t want to do a full steak, I suggest the Ropa Vieja, which is a Cuban classic with shredded beef stewed in tomato sauce, served over rice with black beans and maduros (sweet plantains). Mix it all together, put a dash of Tabasco on it, and call it a day.

Ropa Vieja Served with White Rice, Black Beans, and Maduros

Love, love, love Barrio Latino. Great food, great prices, great service, and you will leave full. It is often a one meal kind of day for me when I go because I tend to over eat.

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Cafeina ****

Hot Passion Cocktail, made with rum, cointreau, fresh passion fruit puree, fresh citrus, and then jalapeno.

305.438.0792
297 NW 23 St
Wynwood, Fl 

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Every second Saturday of the month, there is an artwalk that takes place in the Design District here in Miami. The people who attend are just as interesting to look at as the art, and the alcohol is usually free. This being said, my roommate, Ariana, and I look forward to going every month. It is a nice change from the frat scene in the Grove, and it is probably the most “cultural” event that exists in Miami…sadly. Anyways, this Saturday we decided to grab some dinner at Cafeina before heading to the galleries.

Cafeina is certainly more of a bar/lounge scene than a restaurant (not suggested for a dinner date), but the food is surprisingly delicious! My girlfriends and I sat on a sofa around a low table and got started with a round of drinks—the hot passion cocktail, made with rum, cointreau, fresh passion fruit puree, fresh citrus, and then jalapeno. This drink reminded me a lot of the Chili Passion Martini from the Setai(which is my favorite drink ever) and so naturally, I loved this one too. Anything with jalapeno is good in my book.

Then for food we ordered up a Flatbread, made with artichokes, roasted chicken, tomato sauce, mushrooms, mozzarella, and hoisin sauce. The hoisin sauce was a really nice and unique flavor with the pizza, but I had some problems with the dough. The crust tasted like frozen pizza dough, which is unacceptable at any food establishment in my opinion. It had the cardboard texture of communion wafers that you receive on Sundays at mass. I don’t know about you, but personally, I’d rather my pizza not remind me of the body of Christ!

Flatbread, made with artichokes, roasted chicken, tomato sauce, mushrooms, mozzarella, and hoisin sauce

Next to be served were the Beef Empanadas served with spicy “criolla” sauce. These were awesome! It is hard to screw up anything meaty and fried but he dipping sauce that accompanied these took it to another level! I would definitely order these again.

Beef Empanadas with Spicy Criolla Sauce

Speaking of fried things, we also got an order of the Goat Cheese Croquettes made with homemade guava sauce. I knew I would compare these to the ones served at Sugarcane (which are my favorite and amazing!!), and these actually exceeded my expectation. They were very, very similar and the sauce was equally as delicious. We fork-fought over the last couple bites, and I shamelessly scraped he plate clean.

Goat Cheese Croquettes with Homemade Guava Sauce

Last but not least, we couldn’t resist ordering the Truffle Fries served with cilantro truffle mayo. The truffle oil was surprisingly good quality, considering the bucket of fries was only four dollars, and after polishing off the first order, we got a second! The mayo dip was an outrageous combination. Cafeina gets the value in good condiments and it takes their otherwise standard menu to an elevated level.

Truffle Fries with Cilantro Truffle Mayo

Overall, I really enjoyed the Cafeina experience. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and presentation of the food, considering it is more of a bar/lounge than restaurant and I thought that the atmosphere was perfect for starting off the night. They had artwork set up in the outdoor area and the people were very friendly. Just make sure that you make a reservation, especially if you want to sit outside!!! They fill up fast!

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Mercadito ***

Tacos Pescados, which were tilapia, chile poblano, and tomatillo-garlic mojo

786.369.0430
3252 NE 1st Ave
Miami, Fl 33137

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My roommate, Ariana, and I are always looking to get a deal—we call it finagling. We finagle our way into clubs and shows without paying, we finagle lower prices at clothing stores, and we love to finagle free food (this may be the reason that Whole Foods in Sunset stopped offering samples, our apologies!). However, when we can’t finagle food for free, we at least try to get it at a better price. So this week Ariana spent some time researching (a.k.a googling) weeknight food specials at local restaurants. She knew he found a winner when she came across Mercadito’s Taco Tuesdays! Mercadito is a very popular and trendy restaurant located in midtown, directly next to Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. They are known for their wide variety and changing seasonal menu of tacos, guacamoles, and salsas. The prices are fairly steep for Mexican fair—with pre-fix dinner costing $35 per person and lunch tacos costing 3 for $10.50—but on Tuesday nights you can get tacos for just $2.50 (minimum 2) and margaritas for $5. This was in our budget and so we tried it out for our first time this past Tuesday.

We started off with an order of Traditional Margaritas and an Auntie Ox, which is green tea infused vodka, passion fruit, agave, orange, and guajillo. The margaritas were stronger when ordered from the table than the bar, and Ariana claimed that the Auntie Ox was the best drink that she has ever tried yet.

Mercadito Traditional Margarita

Auntie Ox

Next we ordered a Traditional Guacamole, made with avocado, garlic, key lime, cilantro, and tomatillo pico de gallo and a Habanero Salsa made with grilled tomato, garlic, chile habanero, and lemon. The guacamole was very good and a good portion, but I thought that it was kind of ridiculous to have to pay $3 per little dish of salsa. We went through two dishes among three people, and we didn’t even get to use it on our tacos. Despite our waiter’s warning about the heat of the habanero salsa (which does sounds intimidating), we all agreed that the salsa was not spicy! It had a great flavor, but I still needed tobasco sauce to get my spice.

Traditional Guacamole made with avocado, garlic, key lime, cilantro, and tomatillo pico de gallo

Habanero Salsa made with grilled tomato, garlic, chile habanero, and lemon

As far as tacos go, we pretty much ordered every kind on the menu. First we got the Chicken Tacos, with grilled chicken, cactus salad, tomatillo salsa, and avocado. This was my favorite taco because I felt like it had the most toppings and flavor. Each bite was juicy and flavorful.

Chicken Tacos, with grilled chicken, cactus salad, tomatillo salsa, and avocado

Next were the Carnitas Tacos, with Michoacan style braised pork, chile de arbol coleslaw, and toasted peanuts. The flavor was almost Asian inspired on this taco, with the crushed peanuts reminding me of pad thai. The pulled pork was very tender and flavorful but the coleslaw was lacking.

Carnitas Tacos, with Michoacan style braised pork, chile de arbol coleslaw, and toasted peanuts

Then came the Tacos al Pastor, with chile ancho rubbed pork, grilled pineapple, and chile de arbol salsa. There weren’t a lot of components to this taco but it was yummy in its simplicity. The spice of the salsa was a nice contrast with the pineapple and the meat was very good.

Tacos al Pastor, with chile ancho rubbed pork, grilled pineapple, and chile de arbol salsa

As I loosened up my belt a notch, the next order of tacos were brought to the table—Carne Tacos, with skirt steak, grilled pear, shaved brussel sprouts, chile de arbol vinaigrette, and crispy leeks. I was the most excited for this particular taco because of how many components the menu described, but I found it very disappointing, because I felt like a lot of those items were missing or undetectable when served.

Carne Tacos, with skirt steak, grilled pear, shaved brussel sprouts, chile de arbol vinaigrette, and crispy leeks

And last but not least, we got an order of the Tacos Pescados, which were tilapia, chile poblano, and tomatillo-garlic mojo. I am not that big into fish tacos, but these were tasty…still not my thing though (pictured at top).

Overall, I thought that the portions were very small and that although the tacos were good, they were not mind blowing or sensational. I would have been just as happy (and a little better off financially) if I had just eaten a burrito from Chipotle. Also had the prices not been happy hour specials, I would have been dumbfounded when the bill arrived, because even with the happy hour menu, we ended up paying $35 per person! I think that the food is good and that the atmosphere is very pleasant, but I do not think it deserves the price it commands. I would definitely suggest trying the Mercadito experience, but only on a Taco Tuesday night.

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Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill *****

Strawberry Balsamic Cocktail with Vodka and Lime Juice (Right)  and Fresh Mojito (Left)

786.369.0353
3250 NE 1st Ave
Miami, Fl 33137

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Be careful what you wish for. It’s an age-old phrase that we have all heard a million times, myself included. All throughout my childhood, in fact, my mom was uttering these words to me. Warning me that one day, I just might get what I asked for and it might not turn out quite the way I had expected. However, being young and arrogantly confident (aka nieve and ignorant), I would dismiss my mothers advice with a roll of the eyes and shrug of the shoulders, telling myself that there was no way I would ever wake up a millionaire or regret it if I did become so lucky, for that matter! But tonight, 15 years later, I have finally come to heed my mother’s word of advice. Unfortunately though, I had to learn my lesson the hard way…through personal experience.

Now I assume that you are starting to wonder what it is that I wished for, and for those of you who routinely follow my blog (if you are one of these people, I thank you!) then you know what I wished for because I asked for it in one of my most recent posts. Scroll on down, if you please, and you will read:

“The more time I spend in Colombia, the more I fall in love with the country, the people, the food, and the way of life. Colombians aren’t chatting via their blackberrys, I-phones, facebooks, twitters, or any of the other million ways Americans have found to talk without being in each other’s physical company. Instead, they are gathering at cafes, neighbor’s houses, street corners, tiendas, and parks to enjoy the simple aspects of life that American’s so frequently overlook.”

I envied Colombian lifestyle and repeatedly told my friends and family, how I wished that I could live so disconnected from technology, without my facebook and blackberry. Now, of course a magic genie didn’t appear and grant me my wish this evening, but a hoodlum robber from Coconut Grove did!

This guy stole my phone, my I-pod, my wallet, my ID’s and credit cards, my car keys, my house keys, my textbooks, my entire 21st century life essentially. This weekend, I lived like a Colombian and learned the hard way that what works in Colombia, doesn’t really work in America. You can’t do anything without technology here.

To comfort myself during this time of loss and anger, I resorted to my usual coping mechanism….FOOD! I cooked a lot in my apartment and also found friends to dine out with. Last night I had the chance to get to Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Midtown, which I have wanted to try for quite some time now. It is a rawbar and tapas style restaurant, with everything from sushi and crudos, to desserts and specialty mojitos. This is a great place if you are going out with a large group of people, because everyone can try a bite of each thing, but caution: little plates do start to add up expense wise.

My first order of business upon arriving at Sugarcane, was getting a large alcohol beverage into my system. I certainly deserved it after my rough weekend!! I ordered the Basil Quencher, which had muddled Kiwi, crushed basil leaves, rum, and sugar. It came over ice in a tall glass and was a refreshing and unique spin on a traditional mojito. I enjoyed the pulp from the fresh kiwi and clean flavor of the basil, but I did prefer my second cocktail choice more, which was the Strawberry Balsamic with Vodka, muddled fresh strawberries, aged balsamic vinegar, and fresh lime juice. This was probably the second my delicious drink that I have ever tasted, right behind the Chili Passion Martini from The Setai Hotel in South Beach. The balsamic vinegar was aged to a perfect sweetness and it complimented the strawberry beautifully. Again, the pulp from the fresh fruit added a nice texture to the drink, and the lime juice was just the right amount of citrus tang to round out the flavors.

Basil Quencher with Muddled Kiwi, Fresh Basil Leaves, Rum, and Sugar

As far as food goes, we ordered a bunch of small plates to share, starting with the Goat Cheese Croquettes served atop a drizzle of Membrillo Marmalade. Given my love for anything goat cheese, I expected to enjoy these, but I didn’t think that they would be anything special since they are just fried balls of cheese. I was wrong though, because the membrillo marmalade added a really interesting a sweet flavor to the dish that took it from basic to inventive and unique.

Goat Cheese Croquettes with Membrillo Marmalade

Next we ordered the Kobe Beef Sliders with Tonkatsu and Fried Quail Egg. I love kobe beef and sliders, but I had no idea what tonkatsu was and I was a little scared of the quail egg, which I have never tried before. I see them in the supermarket sometimes and they freak me out, so I was apprehensive, but this little slider packed a ton of mouth-watering flavor and the quail egg was a perfect addition. I sank my teeth into this burger, allowing that delicate yolk to break and dribble right down my chin. It was divine and the tonkatsu (which I assume to be the sauce) was incredible and had a slightly peppery and spicy flavor. I asked for an extra side, which I proceeded to dunk my slider in with each bite!

Kobe Beef Sliders with Tonkatsu and Quail Egg

Next to arrive at the table was the Tuna Crudo Special with Black Sesame Oil, Marinated Mushroom, and Garlic Chip. The waitress highly recommended this dish, but I was rather unimpressed. I didn’t feel like it had enough flavor, unless you got a bite with the garlic chip, which were far and few between. The mushroom and herb garnish didn’t really enhance the flavor of the dish, although they helped with presentation. I regretted not going with my gut instinct and ordering the tuna tartar, but you can’t always win!

Tuna Crudo Special with Black Sesame Oil, Mushroom, and Garlic Chip

The last small plate we shared was the Korean Style Beef Short Ribs, which were really good. The plate came with six ribs total, but they were very small. I wasn’t really wowed by them, but the sauce they were in was tasty. Unfortunately, we got stuck ordering these primarily because they sold out of the Brussels Sprouts infused with Orange and Soy. I have heard that these are one of the best items on the menu, and a must try. I figure that they must be pretty incredible since they were sold out!

Korean Style Short Ribs

My favorite part of the meal though was hands down dessert! We ordered two different ones to share, including the Ricotta Cheesecake with Pink Peppercorn Nougat as well as the Torreja with Maple Carmel Apples and Cinnamon Ice Cream. The torreja, which is almost like a french toast, was by far the best. It was hot, soft, and gooey in the center yet crispy and well-done (but not burnt!) on the edges. The cinnamon ice cream was served with piecrust crumble all around it, and the maple carmel apple slices were just divine. The ricotta cheesecake was also very good, but I am Italian and like my mom’s traditional version better. This one was served with a carmelized sugar top, almost like a crème brulee, accompanied by vanilla ice cream and piecrust crumbles. The cake was very rich and creamy, but again, I prefer my mom’s homemade citrus version better.

Ricotta Cheese Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Pie Crust Crumbles

Torreja with Maple Carmel Apple and Cinnamon Ice Cream with Piecrust Crumbles

Overall, fabulous meal and I will definitely be going back. I could go back just for the strawberry balsamic drink and torrejas alone! Great place, and reasonably priced. They don’t use a lot of ingredients on each plate, but the food has a lot of unique flavor (with the exception of the tuna crudo special tonight). Also, don’t be afraid or overwhelmed by some of the culinary terms that they use. It sounds fancy, but in most cases it is just another way of saying sauce or garnish! Go to Sugarcane!!

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Arepas, Arepas, y Mas Arepas…con Carne, con Pollo, con Queso, y Huevoss

Arepa with Steak and Avocado

It’s a good thing that I came off of my no-carb diet for this vacation, because the staple of almost every Colombian meal is a flattened corn cake known as an arepa (definitely not allowed on the diet!). Prior to going on this trip, I knew that arepas were popular in Colombia, but I now realize that they account for about 50% of all meals. Seriously, if you’re being served a plate of food in Colombia, chances are that there is an arepa hiding somewhere on your plate. It could be hiding under your eggs, or buried under your meat, but it’s there…trust me!

I haven’t been in Colombia for more than 12 hours now, and I have already consumed more than three different varieties of these delicious corn cakes. I had my first one last night with Carne Machada (shredded beef), after a long night at the “Chupteria” (aka shot bar…I don’t know why these don’t exist in America!). And I must admit that guys sport the mullet hairstyle here as abundantly as arepas appear in the Colombian diet. I could not get over the number of rat-tails that I saw when I looked around the bar last night. I felt like I was trapped in a horrible 80’s film or something. And it wasn’t even a traditional mullet, it was more like a sea-horse hairstyle, where the hair gradually gets longer as it nears the center of the skull and the nape of the neck. I don’t know if this was their attempt at bringing the mullet into the 21st century or what, but it was still God awful. In fact, I would have almost preferred the traditional mullet, as like a vintage homage to the 80’s.

Anyways, let me end this tangent and get back to the food. My first arepa was actually disappointing, granted it was from a really budget-looking food window and only cost like $2 American dollars. It was far too overcooked and kind of charred on the bottom. The meat was the polar opposite of tender, in fact it had the stiff and sharp texture of hay. But did this stop me from drowning that bad boy in hot sauce and scarfing down the whole thing?

Most certainly not! Nothing a little hot sauce can’t remedy!

My second arepa was for breakfast this following morning at the hotel (pictured above), and that redeemed my experience from last night. It was fresh, tender, and delicious. Again, I ordered beef (this time skirt steak), and also avocado. The beef was seasoned just right and the avocado added a delicious creamy texture that mimicked cheese. The highlight of my breakfast though was my coffee and my Coconut Lemonade Smoothie. The coffee was divine, served with steamed milk and chocolate shavings. And the Coconut Lemonade was out of this world. It reminded me of a Pina Colada without the overbearing sweetness, and a lemonade without the mouth-puckering tartness. In fact, I want to start using Bacardi Limon in my Pina Coladas, because I think that will imitate the flavor of this drink. Incredible.

Coconut Lemonade Smoothie

Coffee with Steamed Milk and Chocolate Shavings

Also very good were the Fried Plantain Chips with Avocado Crème Fraise, which came out as a starter to the meal. They were not too oily and the dipping sauce was a perfect compliment to the salty flavor of the chip.

Plantain Chips with Avocado Creme Fraise

 

My third arepa, and so far the best of the entire trip, was enjoyed once we got to my friend’s Uncle’s house in the mountains. It was served with shredded chicken, stewed tomatoes, onions, and salsa picante. Unfortunately, I ate this one so fast that I forgot to even take a photo, but the reality is that no photo would have even done it justice. All of the food during our stay at the ranch this weekend (formerly owned by Pablo Escobar….how cool?), is being cooked Colombian natives named Marta y Maria. I only wish I could whip up the kind of things that they have been putting out for us to eat.

For those of you looking to get a delicious arepa in Miami, I suggest going over to European Corner in Sunset Place. Although it is a Venezuelan restaurant/market (don’t ask me why it’s called European Corner, when Venezuela is in South America…still beats me), they serve incredible arepas that I actually prefer over Colombian ones. My favorite is the Arepa con Carne Machada. They stew their meat until it is perfectly tender, and the flavor is ridiculous. The arepa itself is also delicious, and it’s never burnt! I usually get two because they are small, and make sure that you try some of the hot sauce (or creamy sauce, if spice isn’t your thing) because it adds another layer of flavor to the dish. To start, I recommend the Taquenos, which is queso blanco wrapped in bread dough and fried. They are perfect as an appetizer or even snack to go. And you must—I repeat, MUST—try the Passion Fruit Juice (parchita). It is the most delicious juice that I have ever tasted and I literally go out of my way to get it here at least 4 times a week.

The only downside to European Corner is that you need to be proficient in Spanish to avoid the “Gringo Tax” and ensure that you get what you want. Abuelito (the elderly man that owns the place) doesn’t exactly speak the best English and he will tack on a fee to your bill if you make him. I paid my dues all last year, and now I try to speak Spanish as best I can with him. I like to think I’m getting better because he now lights up with a smile and calls me “mi nina” when I walk into the store. Of course, the reality is that he is probably just happy because he knows I’m a “Gringa gorda” that will spend about $20 on my extravagant breakfast/lunch there. But hey, at least I pay what the Venezuelan’s pay now!

 

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