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That’s My Jam: Avocado Ice Cream with Strawberry Jam Swirls

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Can it be real? Avocado ice cream with strawberry jam swirled throughout? Does that actually taste unbelievably delicious? All fair questions you are probably asking yourself.

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The answer is a resounding shout-it-to-the-rooftops “WHOAYEAH”

We each sampled about a half-dozen of Salt and Straw’s creative flavors. I had a hard time making a decision. Usually one or two flavors stand out and I can make a decision relatively quickly, but their brownie/candied nuts/caramel/brittle mix-ins had me confused and greedy. I wanted everything!

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But Sam and Cortney had had the avocado ice cream before in Portland and both ordered it, so I followed suit. And it was the best choice I could have made.

After eating too many tacos at Grand Central Market, I was really in the mood for something lighter. The avocado ice cream is almost like a sorbet, both in texture and lightness of flavor–it’s creamy but not rich. The fruity strawberry jam swirled through the ice cream adds the bit of sweetness that the ice cream would be lacking on its own.

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Any of the flavors at Salt and Straw would be an excellent option as every ingredient is sourced locally and the combinations are playful.

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If you happen to find yourself in LA at 240 N. Larchmont Blvd., do yourself a flavor and order a scoop or three.

http://www.saltandstraw.com

Beautify in Bangkok

Thailand’s huge draw for me lies in the food, friends, and culture. Bangkok, in particular, is quivering in colors and sounds. From the street vendors squeezing fresh bright orange mandarin juice, to the colorful Hindu temples and Thai wats, to the whizzing motorcycle taxis, to the women who sell fragrant jasmine flower wreathes for offerings, Bangkok keeps your senses buzzing.

But aside from the main reasons I love going to Bangkok, there’s a very girly part of me that loves it for another reason. I’m talking about a bit of pampering! In Thailand, I often get 1-2 (okay, sometimes 3+) massages a week. At $6/hour at my local massage shop, why wouldn’t you? You make the time to spend that kind of money! It’s pretty rare that I get a massage in the states, so while I’m in Thailand, I overstock my body with massages so I can think fondly of them once I’m back in New York.

One of Thailand’s main draws for foreigners is medical tourism. Many people come for plastic surgery, sex changes or hip replacements. I haven’t taken so much advantage of that yet (besides an MRI and an occasional teeth cleaning), but I do enjoy some of the minor procedures many Thai women enjoy: eyelash extensions or perms, facials, manicures and pedicures, etc.

Julia and I love to get a facial after a few hard weeks backpacking in the jungle, scouring the mossy floors while foraging for plants, and sleeping with wild animals that screech in the night. Whew, exhausting! Does that sounds like we deserve pampering? What if we told you that we just had a day to putz around Bangkok and nibble some good bits and then head to the mall to scrub ourselves clean? Does that still merit an afternoon of facials and back rubs? That second scenario is actually a bit more like what usually happens…

Here’s a video from our favorite mall, MBK, where you can make all your beautiful beautifying dreams come true.

Duck Dynasty: A Thirty Year Old Street Stall

Last month when I was in Bangkok with my sister Julia, I ran her all around the city, making sure she tasted all of my favorite snacks and street food finds. I was most excited about this little gem that my friend Nhoi had shown me a while back.

In Thailand, I’ve eaten many an item that’s been flavored and scented with the powerful seasoning called five-spice. I’ve had pork shanks, chicken legs, pig trotters and duck intestines–anything can be braised in this five spice magic. But this restaurant truly serves some of the best five-spiced duck I’ve ever tasted.

If you’re in Bangkok and up for the adventure, take the BTS (or Sky Train) to the Wongwian Yai station. Once at street level, hail a tuk-tuk and ask to go to “Jarernrat soi 26 (yee sip hok).” You’ll be so happy you did.

Squid Roe: It’s a Hard Life

I have rap lyrics running through my head as I’m thinking about squid roe…

It’s a tough life for a squid egg. Snatched from the sea before life has even started, squid babies fulfill their destiny on a grill or in a frying pan.

How do you want it

How does it feel

Growin up as a n**** in the cash game

Livin in the fast lane

I’m for real

Squid eggs are not consumed in the West. Have you ever tasted squid eggs? The first time I saw these juicy gems, I was in Bangkok (of course). I stopped at a street vendor and pointed to a grilled item next to a large squid and asked what it was. The woman struggled to pronounce “babies?” in English. Up until that point in life, I had never pondered the idea of squid babies. I mean, of course I logically know that squids have got to procreate like every other living thing, but it had just never crossed my mind, since we only eat adult calamari in the States.

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees

And the flowers and the trees

And the moon up above. Let me tell you about Cephalopod love.

Cepholopods do what the birds and bees do, but the result is a sausage-like bunch of eggs that the Thai’s have figured out how to consume. And oh what a treat they are.

IMG_20141212_192423692Squid “babies”, or squid roe, is like the veal of the sea. The sacks of eggs are creamy and tender, never developing into snappy adults with the characteristic rubber band texture (if cooked improperly). Whether pan fried or grilled, squid roe is rich and buttery, and more delicious than a fully realized squid.

4446_108120653464_3195665_nIf you come across a street vendor, you will usually find squid of all ages. There are grand daddy giant squids grilling right next to punk teenager squids getting fired up right next to slumbering baby squids. Depending on your taste for meaty calamari, you can judge by size. The bigger the squid, the meatier the flavor (that’s what he said).

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“And if you don’t know, now you know…” – Notorious B.I.G

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Sweet Potato Noodles and Winning

I opened up my spiralizer today and now I just can’t put it down. Who knew that spinning veggies through a grater could be so much fun?

10926462_10153445580538465_136758977122973713_n-1This evening I just wanted a quick bite and couldn’t be bothered to go out shopping. Actually, I wasn’t even hungry, but I wanted to churn something on that zoodler! So I did the whole kitchen raid thing and went with the Five Ingredient Fix mentality à la Michael Symon on The Chew. I sorted through the fridge and pulled out the kale and bacon (because those ingredients obviously go together) a jalapeno, half a lemon, and a sweet potato from the counter.

Ingredients:

2 slices bacon, cut into half inch slices

1 tsp coconut oil

1/2 large sweet potato, skinned

1/3 bunch kale, destemmed and rinsed (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 jalapeno, sliced thinly (use to taste)

1 T Red Boat fish sauce

1/2 lemon, juice

I wrote this recipe while channeling Rocky Balboa, so please read with the appropriate accent.

Toss the bacon slices into a ceramic pan over medium-low heat to rendah.

IMG_20150117_204813138_HDRZoodle the skinned sweet potato on the large noodle grater and mahvel at the beautiful spirals.

IMG_20150117_203502462Chop the kale and slice the jalapeno thinly. “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”

IMG_20150117_204551070_HDRBy the time the ‘noodles’ are sliced and the veggies chopped, the bacon just needs a little pushin’ around. I called it some names and shoved it around the pan like the big bully I am in the kitchen. Once it was nice and crisp, I removed it from the pan and set it aside, shaking my spoon and murmuring that I’d deal with that fatty later.

I added a teaspoon of coconut oil to the pan and cranked the heat to medium-high. I added the sweet potatoes and kale and gave the veggies a run for their money. I added a scant tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce to the pan and tossed it all around. The veggies took about 4-5 minutes to cook.

IMG_20150117_205448591_HDRI tested the noodle as I would a real spaghetti noodle. I plucked a sweet potato noodle out and bit it with my front teeth to make sure it was tenduh. The seasoning was right, it just needed a bit of a kick.

I took the veggies off the heat, added the bacon back in, added the jalapeno and squeezed in half the lemon. I gave the veggies a quick 1-2 and knocked it into a bowl.

IMG_20150117_210227019_HDR“But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth.”

This quote is for life, and for bacon-y sweet potato noodles and kale. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about…

Sunshine and Rainbows: A Soup that Brightens a Grey Day

I woke up this morning to the rain and grey and decided it was time to make rainbow soup.

IMG_20150118_111952260Actually, that sounds like it’s from Sesame Street…

I woke up this morning to the rain and grey and decided to make zucchini soba. Does that sound classier?

I made stock last week (out of pork neck bones and chicken wings) and it resulted in a rich and gelatinous stock. I’ve been sipping it like a healing beverage all week, but now I could put it towards a loftier use.

Ingredients:

1 zucchini, spaghettified on the smallest grater of a spiralizer

1 radish

2 scallions

1 small knob of ginger, peeled

4 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces

3-4 small broccoli florets

1 egg

2 cups broth or stock of your choice (veg, miso, chicken or pork are all good options)

coconut oil

mushroom soy sauce

black vinegar

togarashi

serves 1

I spiralized my zucchini, julienned the ginger, and sliced the scallions and radishes thinly. I scissored the seaweed into thin strips and soft boiled an egg (what’s better than a soft-boiled egg?). A soft boiled egg is an egg that’s gently placed in boiling water for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Immediately drain and run under cold water. Let the egg sit under cold water until ready to use.

Over medium-high heat, add about 3 teaspoons of coconut oil to a pan, and once melted, add the shiitakes. Make sure the mushrooms are all in contact with the pan so they can brown. Don’t touch the mushrooms and let them cook for 1-2 minutes. Once they’ve started to brown, shake the pan and then add the broccoli. I add about 3-4 dashes of the mushroom soy sauce, which is enough to season everything and add a bit of steam to the pan to help cook the broccoli. If the pan smokes too much, turn the heat down. The veggies take about 5-6 minutes total. Once they’re cooked, remove from the pan so they stop cooking.

Bring the stock up to a simmer and adjust seasoning. I like to add a few dashes of the mushroom soy sauce as well, about 2-3 teaspoons, and some black vinegar, about a teaspoon. Both these ingredients can be found in an Asian grocery store. Season to taste.

Drop the zucchini noodles in the simmering stock. This is a pretty quick process and you don’t want to overcook the noodles. Keep the stock at a gentle simmer. Do not let it boil. It takes about 2-3 minutes for the zucchini to become tender, and the noodles will soften a little more even after you take the pot off the heat.You can peel the egg while the noodles cook, then carefully cut it in half.

Pour the noodles and soup into a bowl. Add all the garnishes: ginger, radish, scallion, seaweed, mushrooms, broccoli and egg. I dash Togarashi, a Japanese chili condiment, over the whole bowl.

Slurp the rainbow!

Sweet Street Treats: A Bite of Adventure

I adore Flushing, Queens NY. The moment you come up from the train station you get the sensation that you might as well have just come off a flight. Most every sign advertising a restaurant, coffee shop or magazine store is written in Chinese characters. It’s a true place of discovery and of getting lost. Each store requires a peak and a poke-a-round: this one sells loose herbal teas, this one seared and steamed dumplings, and this one has a man grinding his elbow into someone’s foot…ah yes, a foot reflexology shop.

I get a huge rush from traveling, and it starts the moment I get off a plane and am unfamiliar with my surroundings. It’s like solving a puzzle, but there are more serious and enjoyable consequences when you eventually find out how the pieces fit together. Finding a place to stay and then getting my first food recommendation– there’s a piece. Sitting down to a meal and successfully ordering (most likely by pointing at someone else’s food)–another piece. Converting the price of my meal back into dollars and realizing I only spent $2 on breakfast–a scrumptious piece of the puzzle. Finding my way back to my lodging using public transportation–that’s a big moment, like finding the piece that slipped under the sofa. All of these pieces end up coming together, and after several days, these loose bits form the completed picture of the once scattered puzzle. And the picture is  brushed with vivid colors and dramatic images, and you can practically smell and hear what’s going on. Traveling comes with surprise adventures, new ingredients, chance encounters, beautiful scenery and new friendships that all combine to form the best puzzle you’ll ever put together.

Many of those experiences can be had in Flushing (hotel accommodations at the Comfort Inn are available!). I actually have good friends, Maya and Nolan, who occasionally do staycations in Flushing over the weekend so they can get away from the city and really take time to eat and relax. Flushing is like my kiddy puzzle–you know, the ones where you fit the circle in the circle space, and the square in the square space. It’s not a challenge like traveling the continent of Africa from South to North (check!), but it still gives me the same giddy feeling of being in another land.

I was walking around Main St. the other day with my friend Danny when we walked past this gentleman on the street.

IMG_20141112_123359032_HDR He was selling a kind of fruit dessert, not unlike miniature caramel apples. The fruits were tart and a bit soft, almost like guava, and they were coated in a hard candy shell. They were presented skewered on a stick and wrapped with edible rice paper. I had to buy one. We each took a bite, trying to figure out what we were eating. We chewed and nearly cracked our teeth on the big brown pits, but were excited by the unique flavors, textures, and beautiful presentation. It felt naughty eating the rice paper wrapping…like we were two chubby kids who couldn’t wait to tear into our present, so instead chomped through the paper to get at the sweet bits. It felt so greedy, and so good.

We were very happy we stopped to check out what looked like strange Christmas ornaments.

IMG_20141112_123508659It’s surprises like these that make you want to keep exploring. It can be a train ride to an outer borough or a flight half way around the world. Flushing, NY or mainland China–it’s all part of the puzzle that makes life more interesting.

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A Taco from A-Z: Alphabet City’s Zaragoza

I went to Zaragoza’s this afternoon to pick up a few Mexican ingredients. My friend Sam took me to this little deli in Alphabet City several years ago, and I haven’t been back since. I’m making tacos for dinner tonight and figured it could be fun to revisit this tiny bodega and see if it lived up to my memories. So I made my way to the East Village to load my bag with dried chilis, corn tortillas and Mexican spices.

IMG_20141001_131639267 While I was searching for my ingredients, a man came in and placed an order. I turned to watch Martinez, the store owner, quickly put together four giant burritos behind the tiny space of the front counter. He layered seasoned rice, pinto beans, spicy pork, crema and lettuce, then adeptly folded the burrito in the same small styrofoam container he plated it in. He smothered the burrito in salsas, a patriotic nod to his mother country.

IMG_20141001_132451111I hadn’t intended on eating anything while there, but his braised goat and spicy pork tacos were too tempting to pass up. I ordered a plate and sat in the back of the bodega for a quick snack.

IMG_20141001_133335488_HDRYou don’t go to Zaragoza’s for service or ambiance, but it’s charming and special in it’s own “hidden gem” kind of way. And Martinez’ smile doesn’t hurt.

Zaragoza’s, between 13th and 14th Street on Avenue A

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Raan Jay Fai, Do or Die

This evening I went back to Raan Jay Fai for maybe my sixth time. I came here for the first time about five years ago…and that was the beginning of my love story for Jay Fai. Jay means ‘sister’ in Thai-Chinese and Fai means mole, as in a beauty mark (not the subterranean mammal). Sister Mole does indeed have a very prominent mole on her face and I love that she’s embraced it as the namesake of her restaurant.

But mole story aside, this woman is one incredibly tough and talented cookie. She’s 68 years old and wields a wok more skillfully than anyone I’ve ever watched cook. It could have to do with the fact that she’s been cooking here for 50+ years. I am in complete awe when I think of how many pad kee maos or tom yum koongs she has cooked. When you watch Jay cook, it’s like watching a perfectly orchestrated symphony. She practically dances around her small outdoors kitchen, adding oil to the blazing hot wok, putting together her basket of seafood for each ordered dish, blanching seafood, coordinating with the servers, and doing this all while standing over two fires that whip and blaze flames that would otherwise summon firefighters in the States.

As a cook myself, I look to her like an aspiring film student would look to Steven Spielberg, or a young singer would look to Madonna. Jay’s the ultimate- she’s got talent and longevity, and she makes things that you put in your mouth and result in joy! What’s better than that?

We sat at a table just off to her side and watched her cook every single dish for every customer with precision and accuracy. She let’s the noodles scorch just enough, catching the wok, so they’re smoky but not burnt. She adds each bit of seafood so that the shrimp, squid and scallops are each cooked to the proper done-ness.  And she adds the basil leaves in at the last moments so that they only slightly wilt but don’t disappear with the heat of the wok. After 50+ years, she’s got it dialed in.

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The first dish we ordered is also my most favorite dish, pad kee mao. Though she made the portion large enough for three, I would have happily eaten this dish all by myself. It’s honestly nothing shy of wonderful.IMG_0534

We also ordered her tom yum koong, which is very different than most versions I’ve had. The broth is clear and boldly seasoned, veering on the side of salty, but not. It’s finished with a strong twist of lime. It’s a punch-to-the-jaw kind of soup.

We tried a dish that she’s also known for called congee hang, or dry congee. I was a bit stupefied by the idea because congee is rice that is cooked in either water or broth until it’s porridge-like, even soup-y…so I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. But basically it’s like a congee that has been cooked down until it’s incredibly thick, almost paste-like. It comes with Maggi to season at the table, and with the addition of a few orange chilies in vinegar, it perks up. It’s a nice dish, but I don’t think I’d order it again.

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Another stellar dish she does is seafood fried in a black pepper sauce. Let me just say that you’d be a silly, silly person for coming to Raan Jay Fai and not ordering this.IMG_20140901_204342407IMG_0543

It was Nhoi’s and Danny’s first time eating here and it was fun to watch their faces as they watched Jay Fai cook. They both are cooks as well, so I thoroughly enjoyed watching them watch her with the same adoration. You can’t help but watch her with reverence, if not worship!IMG_0551

So the next time you’re in Bangkok, head over to Mahachai Rd. and look for this bare bones shop. Next door there is a wildly popular phad thai place that’s also wildly overrated. Skip the temptation to see what all the crowds are gathering for and instead sit in the calm atmosphere of a woman who is about to cook you one of the best meals of your trip. I guess you technically won’t die if you don’t try her food, but I would say that you kinda missed the point of living… ;)IMG_0578  10660413_878092675552276_185476796_n  

Taste the Day, and Then Keep on Tasting!

This is what a Sunday looks like when you’re an avid eater in Bangkok. Parental supervision advised. Do not try this at home.

As Giada de Laurentiis would say, “I eat a little of everything and not a lot of anything.” Perhaps she thinks she sounds wise, but perhaps she’s never eaten Thai food. You can’t just nibble Thai food. The flavors are too big and bold to just let them sit there sadly on the plate like limp pizza. Thai food demands you to take notice and eat it. The fire is too hot and if you stop eating, you’ll have trouble breathing (sometimes). So the only option is to keep eating.

And keep eating is what we did all day yesterday.

We started off our lunch with some of our favorites: som tam with red mussels, pla ra (fermented fish) relish with steamed veggies, and sai ua, an herb-ed packed sausage.

IMG_20140831_155256IMG_0476This fine young man took care of all things grilled.IMG_0486Som tam pa, or jungle papaya salad. IMG_0482

Jackfruit relish.IMG_0481Mushroom relish with steamed and fresh vegetables.IMG_0480Raw beef laap.IMG_0478The name of the Northern style restaurant.IMG_0487And then we went to Chinatown’s Yaowarant road.

10511669_877534065608137_3917513520456470656_o IMG_0509 IMG_0498Nhoi wanted to take me for kuay jap, and honestly, I wasn’t that excited. I didn’t want to be rude, and I trust her taste judgement, so I went along with the suggestion. I had been taken once before for this soup and thought it only mildly interesting. But Nhoi stated it was one of her favorites, so I imagined there had to be some value to it.

We sat down at a table that was only feet away from the busy traffic and ordered a couple of bowls. I dipped my spoon in to the clear broth and upon first sip, knew this was worth eating. Kuay jap is a porky filled soup filled with intestines, liver, tongue and kidney and topped off with lots of white pepper. It was so fantastic that instead of sharing, like we had planned, we each had our own bowl!IMG_0502The other vendor right next to our table was selling gelatinous fish maw soup, so we had one of those too.IMG_0500 IMG_0503After many brothy, savory things, we moved on to dessert. We had khanom buang, both the sweet and savory versions. The batter is smoked with an incense candle, which makes the crispy taco-like shell headily fragrant. It was the perfect note to end on.IMG_0515Except we didn’t end there! We tracked down a well known stall that makes the simple yet wildly popular dessert of toasted white bread with coconut custard. This young man, pictured below, slathers white bread with margarine. It’s then toasted until it’s crunchy on the outside yet doughy soft on the inside. It’s then slathered in your choice of topping. This dessert is warm, crunchy, soft, and when you squeeze it, it oozes your choice of sweet eggy custard. What’s not to like?IMG_0523 Our favorite was the chili jam custard.IMG_20140831_204127902A day on the town with Nhoi and Tapooh may result in a some tighter fitting pants, but the zings and zips that happen in your mouth along the way make up for it!