Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and a Cenote!

Mexico Part 3: My throwback to my Mexico trip wouldn’t be complete without another picture of Octopus!

This pulpo carpaccio from indigo beach club is a delicious lunch at Indigo Beach Club's restaurant in Playa del Carmen

This carpaccio de pulpo from Indigo Beach Club  in Playa del Carmen looks out of this world doesn’t it? Especially with the pineapple pieces and a little spicy kick from the sauce. So much yum! Lunch with a beach view is probably one of my favorite pastimes.

A view from the beach at Playa del Carmen in Mexico near the Indigo Beach Club.
Playa del Carmen’s beach. Lovely sunset views with seagulls flying over the Caribbean sea.

What’s fun about the beach in Playa del Carmen is it takes you on adventures. After our visit to the beach club, we took ourselves on a leisurely stroll along the sand until we ended up, sort of by accident, at the ferry terminal to Cozumel. Visiting the island hadn’t been in our plans for the day, but since we were at the ferry and it was leaving in 15 minutes, why not?

In Cozumel, we sipped on margaritas at a cantina along the waterfront, watched the last cruise ship take off, and researched restaurants to visit. Our choice: Kondesa. Their lovely garden setting combined with perfectly cooked seafood made for a special evening!

Cozumel's sign in the city center of Cozumel, Mexico. An island in the Caribbean near Playa del Carmen.
A view of the Caribbean sea from the island of Cozumel in Mexico.
The streets of Cozumel overlooking the cruise ships. A pretty sunset view in the island of Cozumel.
A restaurant in cozumel that serves seafood and caribbean and mexican fusion food. The restaurant has a pretty garden setting and makes for a romantic night out!

Although… that doesn’t mean we didn’t have to run back to the ferry  😂 The last ferry was scheduled to leave around 10pm and I think we made it there with one minute to spare.

A trip to the Yucatan wouldn’t be complete without visiting a cenote and that we did! My last pictures are of Cenote Azul, which are a quick taxi ride from Playa del Carmen. Cenotes are natural pools filled with fresh water and are of course, great for swimming! It was fun spending a few hours there and swimming with a few fish as well!

Cenote Azul in Playa del Carmen Mexico is one of the closest cenotes next to the city. It's a great place to swim in the Yucatan.
Cenote Azul is a great place to swim in the Yucatan. It's between Tulum and Playa del Carmen.

I bet you want to visit Mexico now! I know I definitely want to go back soon!

A view of Cancun from a plane in the Yucatan, Mexico. Cancun's strip is a sight to see, especially during sunset!

If you loved this post, you will love my other posts about my visit to the Yucatan. Check out Playa del Carmen or Bust and Tulum: Coastal Cliffs, Centuries-old Ruins, and Octopus. Oh my!

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Tulum: Coastal Cliffs, Centuries-old Ruins, and Octopus. Oh my!

Mexico Part 2: Tulum! Coastal cliffs, centuries-old ruins, and octopus, oh my!

Octopus at Encanto Cantina in Tulum, Yucatan, Mexico.

Tulum is one of those locales that you know is a special place once you step foot on its soil. While we didn’t have much time in town, Adrian and I were swept away.

Selfie at the tulum ruins

Not literally off the cliffs with breathtaking views of the Caribbean sea or anything.

But figuratively? We were enthralled with its natural beauty, itss rich history [the ruins are a must-see]….

…. and you guessed it, the FOOD!

Octopus tacos at encanto cantina in tulum mexico

Yep, Tulum offers coastal cuisine at its finest - like the octopus from Encanto Cantina? Oh so YUM! Or maybe you want a little turf with your 🐙? No problem. Steak gorditas have got you covered.

We’re looking forward to spending more time in Tulum on our next visit to the Yucatan. Until then, we’ll be dreaming of its warm breezes and fresh seafood!

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Breakfast Pizza with Real California Milk Mozzarella Cheese

What do you do when you want to eat well but you’re dying to make pizza? You make pizza with Real California Milk mozzarella cheese and butternut squash pizza crust, of course! 

But this isn’t just any pizza. It’s pizza FOR BREAKFAST. It not only has the eggs and cheese that many of us crave in the morning, but it’s one seriously nutritious breakfast that will keep you fueled and satisfied throughout the bulk of your day.

While Real California milk mozzarella cheese provides a sustainable source of essential nutrients, such as calcium and protein, I love the substitution of the butternut squash pizza crust for regular pizza crust because the added pop of color (to taste the nutrition rainbow!) and the benefit of fiber makes it a no-brainer.

Are you ready to make your next breakfast epic? Make this and I’m sure you’ll want to make it again and again

Breakfast Pizza with Real California Milk Mozzarella Cheese

Time: 35 Minutes
Serves 4

[Sponsored}

Ingredients
1 (10 oz) frozen butternut squash pizza crust
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
¼ lb sweet Italian sausage
⅓ cup sliced red onion
1 medium fennel bulb, cored, halved, and sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp thyme, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup tomato sauce
4 oz shredded Real California Milk mozzarella cheese
2 eggs, scrambled

Directions
Preheat a baking stone in the oven to 450 F. Add pizza crust on a lined baking sheet. Bake from frozen for 10 minutes. Turn pizza over and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until golden. Remove crust from oven and set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Set sausage aside in a bowl.

To the same skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add red onion and saute for 3-4 minutes until softened, scraping up any browned bits. Add fennel, garlic, thyme, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes, until fennel begins to soften. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is tender and golden, about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat.

On a pizza peel, top pizza crust with tomato sauce, Real California Milk mozzarella cheese, fennel mixture and sausage. Pour egg scramble over the toppings and transfer the baking stone. 

Bake pizza for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the crust is lightly browned. Remove from heat. Allow pizza to cool slightly and serve warm.


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Rye Bread Toast with Real California Milk Fromage Blanc and Cherry Tomatoes

Need a quick snack that’s tasty and nutritious? Look no further than this rye bread toast with Real California Milk fromage blanc and cherry tomatoes!

While I grew up loving cheese toast as a child and have a battle scar on my pinky to prove it (trying to cook the dish as a 5-year old didn’t go exactly as planned when my smallest digit bumped into the broiler) -- I have to admit that this is the upgraded, adult version that is much more tasty!

Real California Milk cheeses are brimming with a sustainable quality that I absolutely love. That’s because California dairy farm families help ensure people have access to quality, sustainable and nutrient-rich foods. Plus, as a dietitian, I know recipes like this help add to the recommended servings of dairy that are essential for a healthy diet.

According to a recent study, consuming two servings of dairy per day (compared to a half serving) was associated with a reduced risk of total mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, major cardiovascular disease, and stroke. You can read more about that here.

So, what are you waiting for?! I dare you to toast yourself to good health with this tasty Real California Milk snack recipe!

Rye Bread Toast with Real California Milk Fromage Blanc and Cherry Tomatoes

Time: 10 Minutes
Makes: 4 snack servings

[Sponsored]

Ingredients
4 slices sprouted rye bread
5 oz Real California Milk fromage blanc
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
Zest and jucie of ½ lemon
1 tsp thyme, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp capers

Directions
Toast rye bread and keep warm.

In a small bowl, add fromage blanc, garlic, thyme, lemon juice and zest. Stir to combine and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Spread fromage blanc mixture over toasted rye bread slices and top with cherry tomatoes and capers. Serve immediately.


If you loved this recipe, you will love my recipes for Passion Toast, Mushroom & Brie Stuffed Pastry Wreath, and Beet Rueben Sandwich!

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Polenta with Sausage, Peppers, Fennel, and Real California Milk Cheese

This polenta with sausage, peppers, and fennel is outstanding. For so many reasons, if I may add.

To start, I experimented with using Real California Milk queso blanco and dry jack instead of the Italian standards - fontina and parmesan.

The flavors came out even tastier in my opinion because Real California Milk cheeses are where it’s at! Not a bad way to add to the three recommended servings of dairy per day by many trusted health organizations, right? You can read more about that here!

My second bragging right: Adrian and I made the polenta from scratch.

When I mean from scratch, I mean we grew Anasazi corn in our garden last summer and dried it. Seeing that we had some sitting on the shelf in a glass jar, we pondered what we’d do with it THIS time. In the past, we’ve made corn and wheat tortillas, a labor of love, so our goal this time was ease and simplicity.  

“How easy is it to make your own polenta?” we wondered. I found out that it’s easier than it sounds. Simply grind corn kernels to a fine consistency and you’re good to go.

Last but not least, I decided to add acorn squash to boost the nutrition! It worked like a charm. Did I mention that we grew the acorn squash and harvested it in JANUARY? That’s quite unusual for the Northern Hemisphere...

What can I say, it was a special polenta recipe.

You can make your own special polenta by following the recipe below!

Polenta with Sausage, Peppers, Fennel, and Real California Milk Cheese

Time: 1 Hour
Serves 4

[Sponsored]

Ingredients
12 oz pre-cooked Italian Chicken Sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 red bell pepper, seeded, thinly sliced
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, quartered, then cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup fennel fronds, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 habaneros, seeded and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups Real California heavy cream
1 1/3 cup fine-ground polenta (not instant)
1/2 cups shredded Real California Milk queso blanco
1/4 cup Real California Milk Dry Jack, grated
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

To Garnish
Grated Real California Milk Dry Jack
Chopped parsley

Directions
Set oven rack to the top top position. Preheat broiler.

In a medium bowl, toss the  chicken sausage, bell peppers, shallot, fennel, fennel fronds, habaneros, garlic, olive oil, and sherry vinegar. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Transfer vegetables to a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes, until softened. Stir vegetables and roast for another 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a large pot. Place squash in a steamer basket and steam for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft. Allow to cool slightly and puree squash in a blender with 1/4 cup cold water.

Return squash puree to the pot and add chicken broth, heavy cream, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Slowly stir in the polenta and reduce heat to medium. Continue stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes, until the polenta is tender and creamy.

Stir in queso blanco, dry jack, and nutmeg to the polenta and allow cheese to melt. Season to taste w/kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Add polenta to bowls and top with sausage and vegetables. Garnish with dry jack and parsley if desired.


If you loved this recipe, you will love my recipes for  Osso Bucco, Avocado Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, & Pizza Two Ways!

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Playa del Carmen or Bust!

Adrian and I went to Playa del Carmen for Christmas, so I figured it's about time to share the pictures from our trip. Here's part 1 of 3: Tacos, huaraches, and posole, oh my!

In Playa, we feasted on al pastor tacos at El Fogon. The style is so different from what I've eaten in the US. The marinated meat is literally cut off of a vertical spit like gyros in Greece and served simply over a tortilla with melted cheese, yum!

One of the cooks at El Fogon added to the taco excitement by doing a little dance after he sliced off a piece of meat and catching it mid-air. What a pro.

We also tried the chorizo tacos, which were equally simple, and again, very different from the Mexican food I’m used to in California.

Between swimming at the beach and lounging at our pool at HM Playa del Carmen….

We managed to save room in our bellies for huaraches and posole at El Jurado!

I've only ever tried huaraches once and I knew that if the Yucatan'a tacos were so different from San Francisco's, the huaraches would be too. In case you don't know, "huarache" means sandal in a two Mayan languages (Purépecha and Nahuatl) because the dish is shaped like a shoe.

But that's where the similarities end, because these huaraches' ingredients were served on heavenly pillows of masa with refried beans. So incredible.

Last but not least, Adrian and I made friends with a lot of iguanas. This guy, I'll call him Fred, lives outside the parking lot at HM Playa del Carmen and is fed daily by staff. What a lucky guy!

Stay tuned next time for Tulum! I have so many great pictures to share 😃


If you enjoyed this post, check out my IG posts on my trips! Portugal Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Panama Part 1, Part 2, Part 3!

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Salmon Tikka with Everyday Dal Red Lentils

You might have guessed this by now, but discovering fresh and flavorful ways to cook at home is by far my #1 hobby!

One of my favorite brands to cook with for years has Maya Kaimal, so I couldn’t be more excited to see their products carried at Whole Foods Market 365 in Concord, CA. My local 365 carries Maya Kaimal’s most delicious (and vegan!) Everyday Dal pouches along with some seriously amazing Indian simmer sauces.

To celebrate, I made salmon with Maya Kaimal’s Tikka Masala sauce over Everyday Dal Red Lentils. The result: easy AND tasty! In the blink of an eye, you will have scrumptious dinner at your table with this recipe.

What’s even neater is that for the entire month of February, both of their product lines are on sale when you buy two!

Salmon Tikka with Everyday Dal Red Lentils

Time: 35 Minutes
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 (4 oz) Atlantic salmon fillets
1/3 cup Maya Kaimal Tikka Masala Indian Simmer Sauce
8 oz Greek yogurt
2 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (10 oz) pouches Maya Kaimal Everyday Dal Red Lentils

To Garnish
Cilantro leaves
Lime wedges

Directions
In a medium bowl, combine salmon and simmer sauce. Allow to marinate for 20 minutes.

Preheat broiler.

In a small bowl, add yogurt, cilantro, coriander, cumin, garlic, lime juice, and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer salmon to a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil for 10 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145F. Remove from heat.

Squeeze lentils into a small pan and heat over low heat until warmed through, about 3-5 minutes.

Divide lentils between plates. Top with salmon and garnish with yogurt, cilantro, and lime wedges.


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Mushroom & Real California Brie Stuffed Pastry Wreath

What could possibly be better than an edible wreath? Especially wreath made of puff pastry and Real California Milk brie! It’s as delicious as it sounds and couldn’t be more perfect for the season.

Fun fact: The word wreath is derived from an old English word that means “to twist.” The definition couldn’t make more sense when you think about this wreath. It’s not only easy, but a lot of fun twisting around the puff pastry to form this cute holiday design.

Real California brie is an amazing cheese that melts in your mouth and is even better because it’s high quality and made with milk from real dairy farmers in my home state! Plus, Real California cheeses make for an excellent dose of protein, which is an important building block in your body.

I may not be psychic, but I do have a prediction for you: Your family will make this inviting and warm holiday spread with Real California Milk very soon!

Mushroom & Real California Brie Stuffed Pastry Wreath

Time: 40 Minutes
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

[Sponsored]

Ingredients
2 tbsp Real California Butter
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups baby spinach
2 tbsp thyme, chopped
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
12 oz wedge Real California brie cheese, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 egg, beaten

Directions
Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring until soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Cooking in two batches, stir in half the mushrooms, spinach, thyme, and sherry. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté mushroom mixture until the liquid is absorbed. Add mushrooms to a medium mixing bowl. Repeat process with second batch, adding additional butter if necessary. Allow mushrooms to cool.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry into a round that is 1/4-inch thick. Transfer pastry to a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a large cookie cutter as a guide or a medium bowl, lightly score a 6-inch round in the center of the pastry without cutting all the way through. Make four cuts into the round to form 8 triangles.

Divide the mushroom mixture along the outer round. Evenly distribute 8 slices of brie over the mushroom mixture. Take the tips of each pastry triangle and wrap over the brie, pressing the pastry into the outer edges of the dough to seal. Top with the wreath with 8 additional pieces of brie. Brush the pastry lightly with egg and transfer to the oven. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Allow the pastry to cool on the oven rack for 5 minutes. Serve the wreath on a platter. Get ready to dig into some Real California cheesy yumminess!


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Avocado Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Fromage Blanc

You may think that pasta with summer squash doesn’t sound very seasonal. But somehow in the Bay Area, it is! My garden is still growing tomatoes and squash, even if not at a very fast rate.

I was craving this bright pasta, not only because it’s delicious, but I love that the colors are aligned with the holidays. It’s basically a present to anyone’s tummy because, for one thing, the avocado sauce is phenomenal.

If you have time to make this 30-minute pasta during this crazy holiday week, I highly recommend it! If summer squash isn’t available, you can use zucchini.

Pro Tip: Feel free to substitute queso fresco or greek yogurt for fromag blanc.

Avocado Pasta with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Fromage Blanc

Time: 30 Minutes
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 lb small summer squash or zuchinni, quartered vertically, sliced into ¼-inch wide wedges
1 tbsp fresh thyme, roughly chopped
4 tsp garlic, roughly chopped, divided
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup basil or epazote leaves, packed
4 garlic cloves, whole
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 avocado, cut into chunks
1 cup fromage blanc
4 green onions, light and dark green parts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
24 oz fresh pappardelle pasta
Pecorino cheese, for grating

To Garnish
Basil leaves, roughly chopped
Red pepper flakes
Grated pecorino cheese

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Add tomatoes, squash, thyme, and 3 tsp garlic to a baking sheet in a single layer. Toss with 2 tbsp olive oil to combine. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Roast vegetables for 25 minutes, turning halfway through, and continue cooking until the tomatoes have burst and the squash is tender.

In a small saucepan, heat ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, basil leaves, garlic cloves, and red pepper flakes over very low heat (below a simmer) for about 20 minutes, until the garlic is golden. Allow basil oil to cool.

Add avocado, fromage blanc, 2 tbsp olive oil, green onions, 1 tsp chopped garlic, lemon juice, ½ lemon zest, and ½ tsp kosher salt to a food processor. Pulse until the sauce is smooth.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pappardelle and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Return pasta to the pot.

To the pasta, gently stir in the avocado sauce, basil oil, and roasted vegetables. Add ¼ cup reserved pasta water at a time if necessary to thin the sauce.

Add pasta to plates and garnish with chopped basil leaves, red pepper flakes, and pecorino cheese.


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Pork Black and Bean Stew (Frijol Con Puerco)

If you’re looking for something different from the usual, try this Pork Black and Bean Stew! It’s spicy, comforting, and definitely hits the spot when it’s cold outside.

Not only is the stew pretty easy to make - the pork almost does the braising itself, but it’s a great way to get in your serving of beans for the week! Beans pack in tons of folate and have a bunch of fiber to boot! Not a bad way to balance out a meat stew.

I like my Mexican food spicy - so I used Spiceology’s sweet and spicy habanero blend. It’s super yummy and builds flavor that is different, and in my opinion, more rich than just using cayenne. You can make this stew as spicy or as mild as you like it. It’s going to turn out good no matter what.

Pork Black and Bean Stew (Frijol Con Puerco)

Time: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Saveur

Ingredients
2 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2" cubes
1⁄2 cup canola oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp Spiceology habanero powder, or more to taste
2 medium white onions, thinly sliced
1 lb. dried black beans, soaked overnight
4 sprigs epazote or cilantro
1 lb. plum tomatoes, cored
1 medium jalapeño
2 baby radishes, very thinly sliced, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, to garnish
Cooked white rice, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving

Directions
Season pork on all sides salt and pepper.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add pork to the pan, and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork to a plate. Cover and set aside.

Add two-thirds of the garlic, the habanero powder, and one-quarter of the onions to pan, and cook, stirring until soft, about 5 minutes.

Return pork to pot along with beans, epazote, and 8 cups water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans and pork are tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and jalapeño, and cook, turning as needed, until blackened all over, about 12 minutes. Allow jalapeño to cool. Stem and remove seeds if desired.

Transfer tomatoes and jalapeño to a blender along with remaining garlic and onions, and purée until sauce is smooth.

Return skillet to heat and add remaining oil; when the oil is hot, add sauce, and fry, stirring constantly, until sauce is slightly reduced, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and keep tomato sauce warm.

To serve, transfer beans and pork to a large, deep serving platter and drizzle with tomato sauce. Top with radishes and cilantro leaves, and serve with rice and lime wedges.


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