Miami Dining: El Mago De Las Fritas

July 8, 2013

El Mago De Las Fritas
5828 SW 8th Street, Miami FL
Phone:(305) 266-8486

Web Site: http://www.elmagodelasfritas.com

Twitter: @magodelasfritas

Since moving to Florida I’ve started to acclimate myself with the other local food bloggers. By far, the most serious blogger (and food truck fair organizer) in Miami has to be Sef Gonzalez, also known as “The Burger Beast.”

As his name suggests, he’s big on burgers and all kinds of casual dining kinds of stuff. I first learned about him when watching George Motz’s Burger Land show on The Travel Channel, where he was featured in an episode about hamburgers and food trucks in Miami.

Miami of course is known for a specific type of hamburger, the Cuban “Frita”. I’ve written about Fritas before, specifically El Rey De Las Fritas, which is probably the most well-known establishment serving this particular style of burger.

Lesser known is El Mago De Las Fritas (Burger Beast post), which is owned by another member of the same family. It only has one location, and a much more limited menu than El Rey. But it has its adherents and now that I have been there, I understand the allure of the place.

For the last couple of weeks Sef and I had been planning to hook up and to talk about stuff we could do together. He suggested we have breakfast on a Saturday at El Mago. Fritas for breakfast? Okay then.

The magic awaits at El Mago De Las Fritas on Miami’s Calle Ocho. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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The Sous Vide Cheeseburger Project

July 5, 2013

So, as many of you know, I was the co-Founder of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters.

In the last 10 years, the phenomenon of Sous Vide, or thermostatically controlled water bath cooking, has caught on like wildfire, much of it due to the popularity of a massive set of discussions on eGullet about it.

Despite this massive amount of discussion about Sous Vide, I had no interest in the subject for the longest time.

In fact, I felt it was so geeky and so elitist and pretentious that the only way I was really interested in enjoying food cooked using this method was in fine restaurants, which could afford the expensive thermostatically controlled water circulators ($1000+) and had the need to utilize it for large-scale cooking efforts, for which the technique and the technology was originally designed.

But as with any technology, price does come down. And in the 10 years since the original eGullet threads started, microprocessor-controlled Sous Vide cooking systems have dropped down in price dramatically.

How cheap? How about $99 for the Dorkfood Sous Vide controller now sold on Amazon, combined with a cheap hot plate/cheap rice cooker or an electric crockpot and a package of Zip-Lok bags?

I was sent the Dorkfood controller to review by the manufacturer — I’ll have a more technical write up on ZDNet about it shortly.

But let’s get to the meat of the matter: Anyone with the willingness to do so can now cook Sous Vide, with minimal skill, budget and debugging required.

First of all, why would you want to Sous Vide anything? Well, the advantage is that you can cook a vegetable or a protein to its finished cooking temperature. Once it reaches that temperature, it is perfectly cooked. Because you are cooking it in a sealed bag in a water bath controlled by a computer, you have no loss of juices and the meat does not dry out.

The flavors using this process are absolutely intensified because you are cooking the meat in its own juices.

While Sous Vide is often used for extremely expensive cuts of beef, fish, seafood and poultry to cook right “on point” like the guys on Top Chef do, you can also use it to make the juiciest rare cheeseburger known to man.

And if that isn’t worth forgiving me for using a fancy French technique on the 4th of July to cook an All-American Cheeseburger, I don’t know what is.

You want to make one of these? Follow my lead, young Sous Vide padawans. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Recipe: Pasta a la Gandolfini

June 21, 2013

James Gandolfini, who passed away at a tender young age of 51 this week, was an actor who played film and TV characters that were bigger than life.

More often than not, they were the “Bad Guys”. But from all accounts I have heard, especially from those who knew him personally, Gandolfini was a kind, gentle and generous man that respected everyone who he worked with. I never met him. I wish I did.

Gandolfini will always be known for his role in playing the modern-day Italian-American New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, a thug with a heart, a family man, and a man with considerable weaknesses and great personal demons.

He was brutal, as a Mafia Don should be, but he commanded respect and he was obviously a guy that appreciated the good things in life. Like Gandolfini.

So for Gandolfini, who like his alter-ego Tony Soprano also grew up in the Garden State, in the exact Bergen County area I lived in for 22 years, I wanted dedicate a dish to him.

This is what I came up with — a  pasta twist on the classic Italian-American sausage and peppers that is seen in summer festivals and pizza restaurants as a sandwich all over the New York and New Jersey metro area.

But like Tony Soprano, this one has a bite.

The recipe is also somewhat heart-healthy as it only uses a small amount of oil. Given the circumstances of Gandolfini’s passing, he’d probably not want you to go the same way.

This dish calls for fresh ripened tomatoes (plum, if you can get them) and fresh basil. Don’t even bother to make it unless you have these.

Pasta a la Gandolfini

Servings, 2

1/2 Box of Dried Pasta (6oz) , Whole Wheat preferred

3/4lb  fresh Italian sausage, hot or sweet. If sweet add chile pepper flakes.

1 Tbps Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 White Onion, sliced

1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced

4 or 5 Cubanelle Peppers, sliced

1 Habanero Chile or other very hot chile pepper, fresh, julienned

4 Garlic Cloves, julienned

1 cup diced ripe tomatoes, preferably a variety from your garden

1 handful of fresh basil leaves (also from your garden)

Grated Parmigiano Cheese to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Cook pasta of your choice in salted boiling water to al dente consistency while you prepare the condimenti.

Remove sausage from casing if using links. Brown in large non-stick pan and drain to remove excess fat. Set aside in large bowl.

Using a silicone basting brush, brush a scant amount of olive oil in the pan, saute the onions and peppers of each type individually, adding to the bowl with the sausage as soon as you get some char marks and is just barely cooked.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan, along with the sliced hot chile pepper and garlic. Stir for 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Once again, just cook until they barely wilt. Add the reserved ingredients back to the pot.

Reserve about 1/2 cup water when you drain the pasta. Add the pasta and the water to the pan and toss to combine with other ingredients.

Remove from heat, add the basil, black pepper & cheese.  Toss and serve.


NJ Dining: Holsten’s

June 20, 2013

With news of James Gandolfini’s passing, I thought that I would pay respect to the man by bringing back some older content about the restaurant that will always be remembered for the place where the iconic TV series that defined the actor’s career met its end.  — JP

NEW: Click for Hi-Res Slide Show

Holsten’s
1063 Broad St, Bloomfield, NJ
(973) 338-7091

Web Site: http://www.holstens.com

Holsten’s, as depicted in the final scene of The Sopranos. (HBO)

There was a time back in the not so distant past where the typical activity for dating teenagers on a Friday or Saturday night was to head down to the local Ice Cream Parlor or Malt Shop, sit down at the counter, share an Ice Cream Soda or a malted with a hamburger and fries, and then go out and see a B picture at the drive-in. As my grandparents and my parents used to tell me, there once were many such malt and ice cream soda shops, but few of these American originals survive today.

One such place that seems to have resisted the destruction of these quaint landmarks of the 1950’s is Holsten’s, in Bloomfield. Opened in 1939, going there is literally like being sent back in a time machine to observe the social habits of pre-WWII and 1950’s American youth. The menu of ice cream treats and food items it serves are totally retro.

This is not by design like one of the newer established 50’s chains like Johnny Rockets or Cheeburger Cheeburger, but because it has ALWAYS been that way — it is the Real Deal in every respect. The prices are also remarkably cheap, and while there only are about a dozen or so varieties of ice cream, all of them are made in-house and are very fresh.

Holsten’s Storefront.

You don’t need to be the Jersey mob boss to appreciate the old-time ice cream at Holsten’s. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Florida Dining: Jersey Dawg

June 11, 2013

Jersey Dawg Food Truck
(305) 582-8849

Web Site: http://www.jerseydawg.com

Twitter: @jerseydawg201

Jersey Dawg Food Truck, parked in the Shell Station on the corner of Cypress Creek Road and Powerline in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

I’m frequently asked, “Is there life after Jersey?”

It was almost one year ago that Rachel and I packed up what remained of our belongings and set forth in a Volkswagen to South Florida. We got on the New Jersey Turnpike, and drove until it became I-95.

A week later, we found ourselves in the Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach area. Which we now call home.

I’ve made my choice and I’m very happy with it. The weather is fantastic, I have a lovely home. The food down here is great. I have no complaints.

Well, maybe one or two.

There are certain types of food items that are either difficult or impossible to find in South Florida. You either have to go to great lengths to get them, or they just plain do not exist. And there’s certain things I fully accepted I would never have again, unless I returned home.

Like New Jersey-style hot dogs and sliders.

I mean, you don’t even think such a thing would exist here, so you don’t go looking for it. Sure, we have some really good burger and dog places. We even have a food blogger down here that specializes in it. He’s practically a celeb.

But these are substitutes and not full-blown replacements. The only way you can replicate this kind of food is to have the exact ingredients and to prepare it exactly the same way. By someone who is intimately familiar with such things.

So when I heard about Jersey Dawg, a new food truck that recently started doing Jersey-style hot dogs and sliders, I couldn’t wait. I hadn’t had either one in a year.

Yes, fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more. 

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Florida Dining: Announcing the Off The Broiler Meetup Group

June 1, 2013

If you’re a foodie based in South Florida, don’t miss out on our new Meetup group, Off The Broiler Dining Adventures. My plans for this new group are ambitious — I intend to have group dinners and special food events at least once per month, at restaurants and venues selected by yours truly.

Joining our Meetup group is free. As we did with previous dining events in the NY Metro Area, we’ll be planning dinners in Broward, Palm Beach and Dade County/Miami with set (as well as a la carte) menus and will need to secure reservations, so please be sure to notify the event organizers at least a day before if you need to cancel.

You must participate in this group to be notified of upcoming events and to reserve your places at these dinners, as we have no other way of tracking attendance.


Seattle Dining: 8oz Burger Bar

May 28, 2013

8oz Burger Bar
1401 Broadway  Seattle, Washington 98122
(206) 466-5989

Web Site: http://8ozburgerbarsea.com

I have often been told that my food phototographs resemble hardcore pornography, and it’s clear that there are primitive, sexual urges at work when I post on this blog.

Guilty. As. Charged.

Frankly, I don’t know any self-described foodies that also aren’t extremely sexual people. The love of food and the love of sex are tightly interconnected things, because they both stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain.

It probably shouldn’t surprise you either that every person that I have met who has been involved in the porn industry in some form or another has been without exception, also a foodie.

And so it came to pass that a few years ago, in the course of my writings for ZDNet, I made the acquaintance of the founders of MiKandi, an independent, Seattle-based app store for Android smartphones and tablets. And I quickly found out these people are also hardcore foodies.

[Did I neglect to mention that MiKandi also specializes in porn applications and content for your Droids? No? Alrighty then.] 

So whenever I’m in Seattle, and I want to find seriously good places to eat, and people to share it with me, the first person I call is Jen McEwan, co-founder of MiKandi.

“You really should check out the 8oz Burger Bar on Capitol Hill.”

I’m thinking, okay, burgers. I mean, I love burgers, but it doesn’t sound particularly exotic or sexual. Not like say, Sushi, or classic French cuisine. But hey, if Jen likes them, they must make one hell of a burger.

Main Dining Room at 8oz Burger Bar in Seattle, Washington.

Indeed, burgers can be sexual. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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