My quick and easy chicken pasta!
One of my last nights at home I decided to make my favorite pasta recipe for my mama dukes. I invented it a few years ago with a little inspiration from my stepmom (she really should have her own cooking show), and now I make it anytime I want a hearty meal made easy. It's perfect to eat on a hot summer night with a cool glass of your favorite white wine.
Pasta ingredients and my hand-painted wine glass filled with Riesling:)
1 small can diced black olives
1 large can quartered artichoke hearts

1 large can halfed mushrooms
angel hair pasta
chicken strips (seasoned however you like)
1 small can Classico tomato pesto

1. If you've got a George Foreman I suggest you bust that baby out. If not, throw a little olive oil in a saute pan, let it heat up, and then place the chicken strips in.
2. As they start to get cookin' begin boiling the water for the pasta, and toss it in when the water is ready.
3. Once the chicken is cooked almost all the way through, take it out of the pan and cut the strips into bite size chunks.
4. Put the chicken back in the pan, and this time add in the mushrooms.
5. Check on the pasta, it should be done by now.

My saute pan is large enough to mix everything right in, but if yours isn't transfer the chicken and mushrooms into a LARGE bowl.

6. Add artichokes, olives and pesto.
7. Mix it up, baby!

I like to defrost garlic bread to eat along with it, but the meal is pretty filling all by itself.
Portobello & Vine Ripe Tomato Sandwich
A few days ago I was looking for a place to have a  quick lunch and stumbled upon Grim's Grill on Flagler Avenue. Honestly, I don't normally frequent Habana Plaza, but I'm definitely glad I decided to stop by.

Grim's has 17 high definition television sets that broadcast every premium sports channel imaginable. It's spacious with comfortable booth seating and happy hour specials every day of the week.

I felt semi-healthy with my Portobello and Vine Ripe Tomato Sandwich. The brie, balsamic and chopped basil made me feel luxurious and were the perfect compliment to the dish. Their hand cut french fries were just the right crispiness and width.
Sliders with Bacon & Cheddar
I tried a bite of a friend's Sliders with Bacon & Cheddar and the seasoned beef hit the spot with its tender flavors. Also, anything paired with bacon is automatically delicious.

Grim's Grill opens at 11:30 a.m. every day.




Key West's newest Asian inspired tapas restaurant, Taku, exudes upscale elegance without being stuffy. The menu is as delicious as it is playful, and the staff is chic yet friendly. Located at 613 1/2 Duval St. and run by the same owner as the Rooftop Cafe, Taku's dishes come in small, medium or large portions.

I was lucky enough to be accompanied to dinner by one of the mastermind's behind Dopecityheroes.com, a visual entertainment database of Key West's unique and unrecognized arts. Rob and the gang are heading out on the road soon for a six month tour, so he's gotta get in good eats while he can. Also, he took all the photos. (If you think they're good you should go to the site and check out his videos, they're even better.)
Kombu Cured Tuna with a Passion Fruit Vinaigrette, Fleur de Sel and Red Chili Sorbet
Our first dish of the night, the Kombu Cured Tuna ($7), came courtesy of sous chef Ryan Shapiro. The inspiration for the dish came from the cookbook of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, and involves pressing the tuna filet between two pieces of seaweed, Shapiro said.

The tuna melted the second it touched my tongue, while the seeds of the passion fruit vinaigrette added an unexpected crunch. The tangy and sweet combination of the vinaigrette and red chili sorbet rounded out the flavors of the dish. 
Lemongrass Chicken Lollipops and a Dragon's Breath Saketini
We were so stoked to get the second course that we forgot to take a picture until it was practically devoured (oops). The Lemongrass Chicken Lollipops ($6) had just the right amount of crunch on the outside with a tender, juicy middle. The presentation made it fun to eat and the by the end of the meal the Smoked Chili Dipping Sauce was licked clean off the plate.

The night of my 21st birthday the restaurant was kind enough to stay open for my friends and I to buy a round of drinks. My official birthday drink was Taku's best -- the Dragon's Breath Saketini ($8), raspberry Sake with lavender syrup, flowers, raspberries and fresh squeezed lemon.
Seared Rare Duck Breast with a Five Spice Foie Gras Emulsion
We finished out the night with the Seared Rare Duck Breast ($18) paired with a Five Spice Foie Gras Emulsion. Now I've never had duck before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I thought it was a little tough to chew, but full of flavor.
The Half Shell Raw Bar is truly a taste of Old Key West. With great drink specials and seafood so fresh they catch it daily, you can't go wrong. Located in the Historic Seaport of the Key West Bight, this historic fishhouse is as close to the ocean as it gets.
Raw oysters
Come in during happy hour and get 25 cent oysters. So succulent and fresh, they melt in your mouth like butter.
Grouper & Fried Oyster Po Boy with a side of potato salad.
The restaurant's $12 Po Boy's with old-fashioned Cuban bread are filling and flavorful. My friend Deanna and I cut ours in half and swapped. The fried grouper was tangy yet refreshing dipped in a garlic and lime aoili. This was my first time trying fried oysters, and I have definitely become a lifelong fan. So soft and moist, I was always surprised to bite in and find delicious oyster underneath the not-too-crispy crust. I preferred to not dip them in anything and just enjoy the natural flavor of the dish.
Grouper Po Boy with coleslaw.
Now, I must admit I don't like coleslaw so I didn't try it, but I hear Half Shell has some of the best on the island. For those that want something heartier than just a sandwich, the restaurant offers combination platters with generous sides. They also have great calamari and conch fritters.
My semi-ghetto fryer setup.
Sorry for the mini-sabbatical. I'm home in the fabulous Florida Keys and it's hard for me to even stay on land let alone sit in front of a computer in this gorgeous weather. Luckily, today is a bit overcast and I'm coming out of my lazy stupor.

One of the best birthday gifts I received for my big 2-1 a few days ago was a bag of "goliath grouper" aka as jewfish, a massive bottom feeder that is delicious to eat. Yes, I know it's illegal, but all the evidence has already been eaten.

For as long as I can remember my grandmother has breaded and grilled whatever catch we bring home. Now don't be fooled, frying up fish is an art -- an art I've practiced many times (I own my own deep fryer for goodness' sake.) Here are some of my tips and tricks for getting your fish to turn out golden and crisp without being too greasy or falling apart.

First: Marinating your fish is important. I use a mojo flavored marinade that is infused with lots of good Cuban spices like garlic and sour orange. It doesn't have to sit too long, but definitely let it have time to soak in the flavors.

Second: The breading doesn't just stick to the fish. You should mix together a few eggs and a splash of milk. Dip your filets into the mixture before coating them in the breadcrumbs.

Third: The type of breading is crucial. No matter what you do make sure to use cracker meal. You can mix it together with something like bread crumbs or let it stand on its own, but without it your breading is likely to fall off. This is also where you can put your various spices such as garlic and adobo.

Fourth: Ideally you would use a deep fryer, but pouring oil into a pan also works. Throw 'em in and let them cook depending on how crunchy you want them to be. Pour lime juice on top for that extra zing of flavor.

TIP: Make sure you place them on a plate with lots of napkins underneath to soak up the excess oil.
Mahi with yellow rice, black beans & plantains
For more than 20 years, El Meson de Pepe has been a Key West tradition. The Cuban-style eatery, located on Wall Street down by Mallory Square, is family owned and operated.

It can be somewhat touristy because of it's location, but don't let that fool you. The restaurant itself is rich in Key West history with old local photos and memorabilia. Walk through and browse mini-exhibits that set you back in Key West circa 1940s. When the old men smoked their cigars and played domino's until the wee hours.

I went with my mom and some old family friends for some of our favorite dishes. The service wasn't all that great, but when the food finally arrived it was well worth the wait.

Recently, they've started doing tapas style dishes (my favorite) so of course we had to order a few. They didn't come until after our entree's, but we made room for them anyway.

The Masitas de Cerdo Frita could have been an entire meal. The fresh pork cubes were marinated in traditional Cuban seasonings and fried to a golden perfection. Now normally I prefer my plantains the traditional way, cut chunky with a sweet glaze, but I decided to try the Tostones, green plantains that are flattened and refried. They have a completely different taste and texture. Where one is moist, the other is crunchy, where one is sweet, the other is salty. Both still make my mouth water.

My Mahi Mahi con Salsa de camarones came topped with a shrimp Cuban creole sauce that had just the right seasonings to bring out the flavor of the fish. Mixed together with yellow rice, black beans and plantains, this dish was rich in both flavor and texture.

Pictures of the dishes didn't come out too great (sorry!) but everyone else enjoyed their meals as much as I did.

My mom got the Churrasco a skirt steak grilled and flavored with a tangy onion-garlic sauce. That beast was pretty big and there was not a single thing left on her plate when the meal was over. The same goes for my mother's friend, Noelle, her shrimp sauteed in garlic, olive oil, lemon and white wine were absolutely devoured.

There are other places in Key West that I prefer to go for good Cuban food, but if you want someplace with as much history in the building as there are in the entrees then El Meson is the place for you. They also have live music and dancing almost every night of the week.
For the past few days I have been recuperating from my wisdom teeth surgery at my dad's house. I love coming here because it's like coming to a spa. My stepmother spoils me rotten by cooking delicious healthy meals, I wear a robe non-stop and I get to lounge around and watch hours upon hours of the Food Network. 

After days of eating nothing but soup, I was a bit hesitant when I emerged from my cave to find a steaming bowl awaiting me at the lunch table. Boy was I wrong. This white chili recipe is quick, easy and delicious. I even went back for seconds. Rich and full of flavor, you can't go wrong with this comfort classic. (As you can tell I'm into comfort foods these days.)

16 oz chicken broth
2 cans of cannellini
 beans (aka italian white beans)
1 chicken breast, cut into small chunks (any kind you like, but I recommended the mojo marinated one from Publix)
1 onion, sauteed in olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 small can of mild green chilies

Throw it all together and let it simmer until the beans are cooked to your liking. 

For extra deliciousness: Add shredded cheese and a dollop of salsa on top! Also try adding crushed tortilla chips or sliced avocado.
So... I got my wisdom teeth out on Thursday... and let me tell you I was NOT prepared. Not only does it feel like someone is constantly drilling into my gums, but I now have a new appreciation for my chompers and all places that offer mushy foods. The following is a list of my recommendations in case you ever find yourself in the same predicament:

1. Applesauce: Seriously. Get the largest jar possible and snack often. I love Mott's "Natural" line that is sugar free. Want something other than apple? Spice things up by trying their other fun flavors like mango or pear. 

2. Smoothies: My first day out of surgery I went straight to Planet Smoothie. I don't know if it was just too cold or if the girl didn't know how to make it because I cried trying to eat it. I was totally ready to swear of smoothies completely when I decided to try Tropical Smoothie Cafe. Their Blimey Limey was tangy and fresh with just a hint of lime that didn't overpower the rich strawberry flavor. The best part? The person taking care of you can get actual food, too. They have wraps, flatbreads, salads and bistro sandwiches, plus new papaya inspired smoothies. 

3. Soup: Over these past few days I think I have tried every kind of soup made, ever. From Campbell's condensed to McAlister's Deli I promise there is a soup to match anyone's taste palette. My hands down favorite is McAlister's broccoli and cheddar. Rich and creamy with manageable chunks of broccoli you can't go wrong with this all american comfort food. And it wasn't that nasty fake tasting cheese-- it was the real deal. It went down smoothly and warmed me up from the inside out.

4. Frostys: When you're feeling down and out and need a little pick-me-up a Wendy's frosty is perfection. Soft-served and not too cold this age old classic comes in chocolate or vanilla and can make any situation instantly better. 

5. A good nurse: Okay, okay I know this one isn't food related, but it makes all the difference. When you get your wisdom teeth out make sure you've got an amazing person to take care of you. I honestly don't know what I would have done without mine. Find someone willing to drive you around and scope out all the mushy food in the area. Also, make sure they have lots of patience and can make you laugh when you start to cry because your teeth hurt so damn bad. It also doesn't hurt if they're good looking-- just sayin'. 

I'm now on Day Five and starting to be able to semi-chew real food. I hope to be recovered ASAP, but until then I guess I will just have to scope out more mushy options.

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