Sellou

Instagram Post 6/21/2019

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Since food tour season is in full flower and there are some new businesses in the neighborhood, I decided to revamp my Middle Eastern Bay Ridge ethnojunket. Did you know that Bay Ridge and Beirut are cognates? Just kidding.

One of the treats along the route is sellou (سلّو, aka sfouf or zmita), a unique unbaked Moroccan sweet made from toasted flour and ground almonds, sesame seeds, sugar or honey, cinnamon, and anise; as you’d expect, recipes vary from family to family. At Nablus Sweets, 68-12 5th Ave, Brooklyn, I spotted a huge brown mountain of it and purchased a small knoll, broken here into two little hillocks. It’s soft in texture, somewhere along the cookie<–>brownie continuum but drier, crumbly but crunchy from nuts – just break off a chunk and enjoy, perhaps with a cup of tea. If your knowledge of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sweets is informed primarily by honey drenched baklava and kanafeh, give this one a try (available particularly around Ramadan); I highly recommend it.
 
 

Nishallo

Instagram Post 6/7/2019

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On a recent ethnojunket through Brooklyn’s Little Odessa, we visited one of my favorite venues, Tashkent Market at 713 Brighton Beach Ave. One of my goals on these food tours is to introduce guests to tasty food they’ve never sampled before, but this item was new to me as well and like everything else in their extensive array of prepared foods, it was home-made. Needless to say, I was compelled to buy it, take it home, and research the heck out of it.

Nishallo (aka nisholda) is an exceedingly sweet dessert that’s native to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and prepared exclusively during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Made primarily from sugar, whipped egg whites, and water, it’s a dead-on ringer for Marshmallow Fluff (as you’d expect from the ingredients) if perhaps a bit classier because of a touch of star anise and/or licorice root. It makes its appearance as part of iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daily fast. Frequently used as a dip for the flatbread naan, it’s particularly appropriate after 17 hours of abstention from eating because its high sugar content jumpstarts the metabolism.

Are you interested in tasting something new and delicious from another part of the world too? Check out my ethnic neighborhood food tours! Click here to learn more.
 
 

Black Label Donuts

Instagram Post 6/1/2019

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Winner Winner, Donut Dinner! Okay, maybe not dinner, but deliciously filling and definitely a winner. More specifically, the winner of the “Best in Show: Sweet” category at the recent World’s Fare 2019.
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There are two elements that make Black Label Donuts so special. The champions (IMHO) start with a 24 hour cold fermented brioche dough (Richard Eng, the culinary master behind these creations, knows his carbs) and the ever-changing gourmet flavors that are uniquely creative like matcha crème brûlée, rosemary lemon/olive oil curd, lavender blueberry, azuki ichigo (red bean/strawberry) and sake kasu cherry. Shown here are the Japanese Elvis – banana brioche, torched bananas, and smoked bacon with a peanut butter-miso glaze – and the Kalamansi Buttermilk Lime. Both were outstanding.
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Currently, they’re only available in pop-up format, so follow them on Instagram @blacklabeldonuts and on facebook.com/BlackLabelDonuts. And wherever they are, get there early, because they sell out fast!
 
 

Janie’s Pie Crust Cookies

Instagram Post 5/31/2019

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Every now and then, some genius comes up with a brilliant idea for combining two beloved baked goods into a single treat, a portmanteau of pastry if you will. The cronut comes to mind. That marriage often begets lesser, more commercialized offspring which will remain nameless here. But sometimes a star is born unto this hallowed union and it is this miracle of which I bring good tidings.
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Okay, so I got a little carried away. But that’s what happened at the press event for 2019’s Queens Night Market when I tasted Janie’s Pie Crust Cookies. Resting on a foundation of flaky pie crust, topped with buttery, crumbly, caramelized streusel and filled with just the right amount of gooey pecan magic to balance it off (cherry and chocolate pecan are available too), Janie’s cookies comprise the best parts of the pie and they’re heavenly. (Oops, there I go again.)
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Janie’s personal story is the stuff of which legends are made; visit her website janiebakes.com to learn more or follow her on Instagram @janiebakescakes, but even better – taste for yourself. You can find her and her life-changing cookies (there’s a poignant reason they’re called that) at the Queens Night Market: head to the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Saturdays from 5pm to midnight until August 17 and again from September 28 to October 26.
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Say Hallelujah! 😇
 
 

Paris Sandwiches – Desserts

Instagram Post 5/23/2019

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And while we’re on the subject of Southeast Asian desserts, a quick stop at Paris Sandwiches, 213 Grand St in Manhattan’s Chinatown, home to a variety of bánh mì, the popular Vietnamese sandwich, yielded this trio of treats – from top, clockwise: sticky rice with banana and coconut milk, sweet corn and sticky rice, and pandan tapioca pearl with banana and coconut milk. We always stop by for a bánh mì during my Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunkets because there’s even more to Chinatown than great Chinese food!
 
 

Songkran Festival

Instagram Post 5/22/2019

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Songkran is Thailand’s New Year and last month there were two opportunities to celebrate along Woodside Ave in Elmhurst, Queens where we found this treat. IMO, it manages to incorporate each of the most fundamental elements of Southeast Asian sweets into a perfect singularity: pandan, sticky rice, coconut milk, and durian.

Combine them, and the result is to dessert as Euler’s Identity is to mathematics. And if you know what I’m talking about, we can be best friends forever. 😉
 
 

Goji Berry Osmanthus Cake

Instagram Post 5/19/2019

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Osmanthus and goji berries often pair up in desserts like this one, Goji Berry Osmanthus Cake (although I’m hard pressed to call it a cake), from Double Crispy Bakery at 230 Grand Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I’ve seen it elsewhere, executed with more finesse TBH, but I was passing by, it was pretty as always, and I wanted to play with lighting it from beneath, so here we are.

The translucent jello-like bar doesn’t acquire its bounce from gelatin, but rather agar-agar or konyakku. Agar-agar comes from red algae; konyakku is made from the corm of the konjak plant and manifests in Japanese yam cake and shirataki noodles.

Bright red goji berries (aka wolfberries) are sweet, usually found dried, and are prized for their purported health and medicinal benefits.

Used throughout Asia, osmanthus shows up in tea and tea blends as well as jams, liquors, and sweet desserts; it has a floral fragrance with a subtle flavor – I’d describe it as somewhere along the apricot—leather continuum, if there were such a thing. Also found dried, the corolla opens into adorable, tiny, four-petaled yellow flowers when reconstituted.

But really, all I wanted to do was take this picture – not deliver a bloomin’ excursus on Asian botanicals!
 
 

Little Egypt Restaurant

Instagram Post 5/12/2019

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Little Egypt Restaurant, 66-28 Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, featured a special dessert coinciding with Mother’s Day: Om Ali (you might see umm ali), أم على. The phrase translates as “Ali’s mother” and of course, fables abound as to its name. Essentially Egypt’s answer to bread pudding (only better if you ask me), it’s made with phyllo dough, milk (and occasionally, richer dairy considerations) and sugar, sometimes elevated by raisins, nuts, and cinnamon. There are legions of recipes for this traditional Ramadan treat; that day, our delightful version came with sour cream and ground nuts on the side for garnish, ad libitum.
 
 

Cuccio’s Bakery

Instagram Post 5/5/2019

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Stumbled upon at Cuccio’s Bakery, 320 Avenue X in Brooklyn’s Gravesend: slices of rainbow cookies wrapped around a dense, fudgy chocolate rum ball.

Ya know ya wanna.
 
 

Max & Mina’s

Instagram Post 4/22/2019

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Since we’re in the middle of Passover and warm weather is inching ever closer, I can think of no better time than to recount the story of my pilgrimage to Max & Mina’s Ice Cream at 71-26 Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. That they’re kosher is beside the point – and their over-the-top decor showcasing covers from 60’s era Mad Magazines, cereal boxes, and other memorabilia against a seaside themed subplot is just the tip of the icecreamberg. It’s the seemingly infinite roster of unique, unusual flavors they’ve created over the years that’s their claim to fame.

If you can name it, and even if you can’t, they’ve probably made it: Cotton Candy Pop Rocks, Pancake Chip, Sponge Bob, Circus, Snickers, Bourbon, Merlot, Coffee & Doughnuts, every breakfast cereal I can think of like Rice Krispies, Cap’n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs and Quisp. (Remember Quisp? I wonder if they did Quake.) If your taste runs to the more conventional, there’s always Mint Chip, Pumpkin, Nutty Pistachio, Peach, Rum Raisin, Key Lime Pie and the like. This trio comprises Peanut Butter Pie, Blackberry, and Egg Nog. I’d name more but Instagram limits me to 2200 characters. I’m told that they also have chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.

So how does Passover factor in? In a nod to Judaica, past flavors have included Nova Lox, Herring, Horseradish, Cholent (a Sabbath stew), Esrog (the yellow citron that’s part of the Jewish holiday Sukkot) and Macaroon. But not only plain macaroon, oh no. How about Chocolate Macaroon, Coffee Caramel Macaroon…the list goes on. Horseradish gets a similar facelift from strawberry and blackberry infused versions as well, and their Babka ice cream really takes the cake.

Note that when you go (and it would be a shonde if you don’t), none of these flavors may be available, presumably to accommodate the latest experiments, but I can guarantee that they’ll be replaced by as many equally intriguing offerings in a rainbow of flavors, colors, and textures.

So nu, what are you waiting for?