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! 😇
 
 

La’Maoli

Instagram Post 5/30/2019

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Over the next few days, I’ll show you some pix from the over-the-top feast that was the 2019 World’s Fare a couple of weeks ago in Flushing.

Cuisine from Antigua and Barbuda doesn’t get enough love around these parts, and La’Maoli represented the Caribbean island nation swimmingly. You’re looking at sunbathed ducana and saltfish, and of everything I tasted that day, this brought the biggest smile to my face.

Ducana, a sweet Antiguan specialty, lies somewhere along the dumpling<–>pone continuum and is made from grated sweet potato, coconut, sugar and spice, coconut milk and sometimes raisins; it’s wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled until firm (and yes, I took a bite out of one so you see inside). Saltfish is dried salted cod, cooked with onion and tomato (I’ve seen this called “buljol”) and can often be found keeping company with ducana. I neglected to ask about the greens, but I suspect it was “chop-up”, another local dish, consisting of okra, eggplant, and spinach. Each item complemented the others perfectly and all went far beyond the definition of delicious.

Not to take anything away from the other terrific vendors there (more photos to come tomorrow) but La’Maoli’s food was unsurpassed. They’re caterers and they pop up at events from time to time, so follow them on Instagram @lamaoli_ to find where they’ll be – and I bet you’ll find that big smile there too.
 
 

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. 😉
 
 

2019 World’s Fare Preview

Instagram Post 5/15/2019

 
If you’re a hardcore international food freak like me, you know that The World’s Fare is happening for the second year on May 18th and 19th at Citi Field in Queens. Check out their website for information and a complete rundown on the more than 100 participating vendors from as many cultures. I’ve tasted scores of wonderful dishes from dozens of these folks throughout the year at weekly events and pop-ups as well as at last year’s World’s Fare and I can attest to the fact that this is an expertly curated show. But today, I want to give a special shout-out to three vendors who not only do amazing work but are actually friends of mine IRL.

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What can I say about Moon Man’s unique Indonesian treats that I haven’t already said? A regular at the Queens International Night Market, my friend Nigel Sielegar crafts authentic delectable Indonesian desserts like coconut pancakes, cassava cake, steamed pandan cake and much more – and they taste as good as they look. Don’t miss Moon Man’s booth!
 
If you’re not from Spain, you probably think of paella as Spain’s national dish; if you do hail from Spain, you know it’s the heart and soul of Valencia. Not merely a rice dish, it requires know-how, special equipment, and the passion to do it right, and the folks from In Patella score points for all three. Specialists in authentic paella catering, this weekend they’ll reinforce their mission to dispel myths about what paella is and isn’t.
 
Dua Divas is a collaboration of two of my favorite vendors from the New York International Food Bazaar held monthly at St. James Parish House, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst: Taste of Surabaya and Pecel Ndeso. They’ll be offering nasi kuning, klepon, satay, and martabak telur. Don’t know what those are? Head over to their booth and find out! (For now, I’ll just tell you that they’re all delicious. 😉)

See you this weekend!
 
 

NY Indonesian Food Bazaar

Instagram Post 5/14/2019

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Two treats from the New York Indonesian Food Bazaar held approximately monthly at St. James Parish House, 84-07 Broadway in Elmhurst.
Pempek are Indonesian fish cakes (you might see empek-empek) made from ground fish (usually mackerel) and tapioca flour. This dish is pempek kulit which includes minced fish skin in the dough (kulit means skin); it’s customarily served with a spicy sweet and sour sauce and chopped cucumber for balance. Don’t let the idea of fish skin put you off – just try it!


Mie Tek-Tek – stir fried noodles with onion and egg; tek-tek is the onomatopoeic word for the sound the wok chan (spatula) makes as the chef taps it against the wok while preparing this dish. On the side, just above the spicy peppers, are krupuk, colorful deep fried crackers that provide a crispy counterpoint to the supple noodles.

The next NYIFB event will take place on June 8, but if you can’t wait until then to taste this delicious cuisine, check out Dua Divas at the World’s Fare, May 18th and 19th at Citi Field in Queens.
 
 

Angkor Cambodian Food

Part six in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a recent event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or even order online.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Chrouk Metae Paik Kouk (Spicy Jicama Slaw)

Saich Ko Chrawkak (Beef on a Stick)

If you live in an area where Cambodian food is not well represented (and that’s true even here in New York City) and you’re interested in doing a little quick and easy (yes, really) Cambodian home cooking, these are the products for you. At last year’s Fancy Food Show, I met Channy Chhi Laux, the founder of Angkor Cambodian Food, a San Francisco based company that specializes in authentic Cambodian spices, pastes and sauces and had a delightful conversation with her about her company and her personal history.

Those of you who follow me know that I’m an avid home cook with a focus on international cuisine, so I knew I had to try Channy’s products and she provided me with jars of Chrouk Metae (Cambodian Hot Sauce) and Lemongrass Paste (Kroeung). The photos above are the results of my experiments, and I can tell you that they were simple to prepare and tasted as good as they look.

You can get the recipes and order these (and more) ingredients on their website, https://www.angkorfood.com. And while you’re there, be sure to read the remarkable story of Channy’s life as a thirteen year old survivor of Cambodian genocide and her subsequent emigration to the United States.


 
 

Ayoba-Yo

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Part five in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a recent event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or even order online.

South African food doesn’t get enough love but the folks from Ayoba-Yo are changing that; their marketing material states that the term ayoba-yo is used to express amazement, agreement, and approval and they’re hoping that’s how you’ll react when you sample their wares.

At the top of the first photo is biltong, air-dried, grass-fed beef jerky slices: yielding and flaky with a light, tangy seasoning featuring salt, coriander seeds, Worcester powder, pepper, and vinegar; it’s also available in a spicy version with cayenne and chili powder added. The texture falls somewhere between jerky and chipped beef. Because it’s air-dried rather than cooked in some fashion, it’s not fatty or greasy and comes across as rather healthy.

Below the biltong is droëwors, South Africa’s jerky. These beef sticks are drier than the average Slim Jim with a pleasant seasoning that’s not overwhelming; black pepper, cloves, coriander seeds, salt and vinegar figure into the mix.

You can learn more about Ayoba-Yo and order their products at https://www.ayoba-yo.com.
 
 

Ethnic Ice Cream at the Fancy Food Show 2018

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Show Floor

Part four in a series of reports.

Some folks look forward to the annual celebration of their birthdays or anniversaries; for me it’s the occasion to cover America’s largest food and beverage trade show right here in New York City, Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show. (Check out full coverage and a description of a recent event here.) Aside from the fact that it affords the chance to hob and nob with other professional foodies, see what products and brands are trending and poised to make a breakthrough, and get a sense of what the industry thinks the marketplace is craving, it gives me the opportunity to turn you on to new products to watch for locally or even order online.

Here are just a few of the exhibitors who featured ethnic ice cream at last year’s event.

Japan: Mochi is a traditional Japanese food originally made from short grain glutinous rice that’s pounded and molded, often into chewy flattened orbs. Frequently a confectionary, its sphere of influence has extended far beyond the perimeter of its source. A new version was created about 35 years ago that wraps mochi dough around ice cream. This contemporary edition, technically called mochi ice cream, has become so popular that it’s often simply referred to as mochi.

Several companies displayed their renditions at the convention including Mr. Mochi, Mochi Cream, My/Mo, and Bubbies, a Hawaiian contender. Flavors ranged from red bean, green tea, black sesame, and lychee to Kona coffee, chocolate peanut butter, and mango along with the more routine vanilla and strawberry among others. Note that in some cases, the ice cream core carries the flavor unassisted by the somewhat neutral mochi coating, but sometimes the doughy wrapper is infused as well and further enhances the experience. Look for these and other brands in Asian markets, particularly those that highlight Japanese goods. And while you’re there, take note of the seemingly infinite array of Japanese and Korean pops, bars, and ice cream novelties as well (melon is a popular flavor).

Korea: In terms of world flavors of American style ice cream, Noona’s, (noona means “big sister” in Korean) exhibited heritage flavors like toasted rice, golden sesame, black sesame, turmeric honeycomb and green tea.

Latvia was at the Fancy Food Show as well making a push to pop into the American marketplace with at least four brands of Latvian ice cream available in tubs, cones, pops, and bars with intriguing varieties like orange & macarons, raspberry-pomegranate, and black balsam & blackcurrant (shown here). In addition to ice cream, the Latvian company Speka offered several varieties of curd snacks. Curd snacks are not unlike a cross between an Eskimo pie and chocolate covered cheesecake; individually wrapped, they come in an assortment of flavors from chocolate and vanilla to the more esoteric blueberry, blackberry, and raisin. They’re currently available as Russian/FSU products in markets throughout the city, with a high concentration in Brooklyn, of course; always a high point on my ethnojunkets along Brighton Beach Avenue, Brooklyn’s Little Odessa.

 
 
For more about ethnic ice cream, please check out my comprehensive and perennially updated post, July is National Ice Cream Month! Celebrate Globally!

The Case of the Uncrackable Case

(One of my “Very Short Stories” that never fails to resonate this time of year. If you enjoy reading it, there are more in the column on the right side of my home page.)

Gong Xi Fa Cai! The callithump of Chinese drums and cymbals played havoc with my ears as the pungent miasma of spent fireworks assaulted my nose. “These are my people!” I beamed. An equal opportunity celebrant, I was in my element.

I picked my way through the ankle-deep sea of technicolor metallic streamers and confetti. “Looks like a dragon exploded,” I mused. Shuffling from market to crowded market, each festooned with the accoutrements of the holiday, I searched for authentic goodies with which to welcome the Chinese observance of the Lunar New Year in style.

Definition: Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is a dazzling two-week long celebration occurring in January or February, a banquet for the soul that is laden with more symbolism than a Jungian interpretation of a Fellini dream sequence inspired by a Carlos Castaneda novel.

The shape of the holiday’s foods suggests their analogue: dumplings are crafted to resemble Chinese gold or silver ingots, long noodles emblematize a long life, melon seeds epitomize fertility. Color plays a significant role as well: mandarin oranges allude to the color of gold. Sweets are often tinted red, the color of good fortune in Chinese culture.

But nothing is more traditional to the Chinese New Year banquet than food-word homophones. As any precocious third grader will tell you, homophones are words that sound alike but have different meanings (for, four, and fore in English, for example). At these festive gatherings, a whole fish will be served, because the word for fish (yu) is a homophone for surpluses. Also gracing the table will be Buddha’s Delight, a complex vegetarian dish that contains an ingredient the name of which sounds like the word for prosperity.

(We don’t have that kind of thing in western culture, but maybe we should. Imagine if you rang in the New Year at an American restaurant by ordering the surf ‘n’ turf, a certain portent that this would be the year that you meat your sole mate.

Just don’t wash it down with wine.)

And no traditional food is more important than the ubiquitous Chinese New Year delicacy, nian gao, a glutinous rice cake sweetened with brown or white sugar and a homophone for “high year” — with the connotation of elevating oneself higher with each new year, perhaps even lifting one’s spirits.

Now, I had seen nian gao dished up and steamed in aluminum pie pans in every market in New York’s five or so Chinatowns. But one particular variation packaged in a six-inch wide container shaped like a Chinese ingot (as many items are this time of year) caught my eye and beckoned to me. As I inspected it more closely, I realized that I could not for the life of me fathom how it open it! This fact alone was sufficient bait; I stood in line with my fellow revelers, paid, and took it home.

With bugged-out eyes and a glower that betrayed both puzzlement and frustration, I turned the semi-translucent vessel over and over again like someone who had reached a cul-de-sac with a recalcitrant Rubik’s Cube. The object was fashioned of two mirror image concave pieces of plastic fused together — plastic somewhat thicker than that of the average shampoo container — too thick to squeeze easily, for sure, and inseparable along the seam. I could make out an air bubble which migrated as I shifted its orientation, so I had a clue as to the texture of its contents — typical semi-firm glutinous rice cake, perhaps with a little syrup around it. Searching for an instruction manual, I found that Google had abandoned me: either no one else on the planet had ever encountered these contrivances or everyone else on the planet buys them every year and I am the only soul who is too inept to persuade them to yield their bounty. There was a tissue paper-thin label stuck to the bottom that showed the “best before” date as May, so even allowing for my customary procrastination, I had some time to solve the mystery. As long as that case remained closed, the case was not closed.

Wait a minute. What if some sort of key was hiding beneath that slip of a label? A slot to pry the two halves apart or a helpful arrow embossed on the obdurate plastic? Slowly, carefully, I began to peel back the label. THHHHPPP! The tiny air bubble instantly expanded to fill half the case as air rushed inside. Could it be that this gossamer leaf was the only protection the rice cake had from the elements, furry predators, and me? Such was the fact.

But then, I was confronted with a further conundrum. Lurking beneath said label was a hole the size of a half dollar. (Remember those?) This carapace was obviously a mold constructed so that its contents would delight the eye when served. But the only way I could see to get to the goods inside was to dig the stuff out with a fork! Not what they intended, I was certain. Somehow, there had to be a way to pry the halves apart without damaging the springy contents.

I hooked my thumbs on either side of the hole and yanked. Gnrrgh! Nothing. I laid it on the kitchen counter and pressed down with as much muscle as I could muster hoping that it would split along some weak, unseen fault line without damaging the contents. Again, it did not succumb to my efforts. I grabbed my nastiest knife and attempted to slice through the case along the seam. Nope, that’s not it either, I thought as I licked my finger where I had cut myself when the blade slipped.

Silently, the ingot mocked me. Was it designed this way on purpose? Some sort of arcane object lesson about anything worth achieving is worth struggling over? Or conversely, was it perhaps trying to tell me that I would never achieve riches, no matter how much I persevered?

Frustrated, I stashed the thing in a corner of my fridge. Days passed. The days melded into weeks. It was time to begin plans for Thanksagaingiving.

Definition: Thanksagaingiving is a joyful, annual family ritual. Not content to celebrate the merely dozens of diverse international and American holidays, each with its own panoply of tempting traditional foods, I created one more.

Over many years, I have developed, tweaked, and perfected an elaborate Thanksgiving menu that I prepare annually, much to the delight of my clan. And over those many years, we would ask ourselves, why don’t we do this more often? Pondering the possibility, we recognized that just about every month has some delectable holiday or seasonal foods associated with it. But there is that frigid, desolate chasm between Chinese New Year and the promise of tender spring vegetables that cries out for a joyous — and delicious — festival to uplift us from our disheartened doldrums.

Enter Thanksagaingiving. When we give thanks. Again. And rerun the whole November spectacle.

Invariably, each day as I loaded the fridge with more ingredients for our feast, it became necessary to move the Chinese ingot around to make space for the latest bounty. Now onto the second shelf, the customary residence for leftovers, now far back into the lower left corner where that jar of homemade boysenberry jam had been languishing for the last three months, now precariously balanced on a tall bottle of pandan syrup lying on its side in the least accessible corner — where the ingot unfailingly teetered, slipped, and fell, locking its neighbors into an exasperating jigsaw of jars and urns that prevented anything from being extricated from the shelf.

I had no choice but to toss it.

Thanksagaingiving came and went. We happily devoured our Roast Turkey with Chestnut Cornbread Stuffing, Dandy Brandied Candied Yams, Maple Sugar Acorn Squash, Corn Pudding, Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Bacon, and the subsequent procession of turkey sandwiches, turkey tetrazzini, turkey burritos, and turkey soup.

The fridge was once again barren. Wistfully, I gazed at the empty spaces that my forlorn little nian gao had been sequentially evicted from. Had I forsaken it prematurely? Would one more hour of negotiation have solved the mystery? Nostalgically, I remembered all the time we had spent together getting to know each other.

But then, I realized that all was not lost — come next Chinese New Year, I could purchase another ingot-encased nian gao and try again. I felt my spirits lifting.

And suddenly, I comprehended what had come to pass without my even being aware of it. In the light of that existential moment, the words “come next Chinese New Year, I could purchase another…and try again” echoed in my mind — and the cosmic meaning of this episode, the raison d’être for this tortuous journey became brilliantly clear:

It had been the maiden voyage of a new annual tradition!

 


(And speaking of maiden voyages, please join me on one of my ethnojunkets, food-focused walking tours through New York City’s many ethnic enclaves. Learn more here.)
 
 

Yu Sheng/Lo Hei Prosperity Toss

Instagram Post 2/12/2019

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A self-professed equal opportunity celebrant, I relish the prospect of participating in international holiday traditions and Chinese Lunar New Year abounds in them. I was delighted to take part in one such ceremony recently, Lo Hei, also known as Prosperity Toss, which got its start in southern China and migrated to Singapore and Malaysia.

It entails an elaborate ritual involving particular foods selected for their cultural symbolism, the most important being fish in the form of a Cantonese raw fish salad. The Chinese word for fish, yu (魚), is a homophone of the word for abundance; Yu Sheng (literally fresh fish and the name of the dish) stands in for increasing abundance.

Shredded raw vegetables and seasonings, each with its own meaning based on appearance or name, are added one by one with appropriate phrases corresponding to each; good luck, wealth, eternal youth and the like appear in turn.

It climaxes with all participants tossing their ingredients in the air, the higher the more propitious, and chanting “Lo Hei” (pick it up) along with auspicious phrases for a bountiful New Year. Of course, the activity is more like vigorously tossing a salad where no ingredients are actually lost in the process: it’s the symbolism that counts.

Components:
Fish; Vegetables; Seasonings

The finished plate, dressed and tossed.

At Shun Deck Restaurant, 2332 86th Street, Brooklyn, all parts of the fish are used and are served in several courses. Very sustainable.

Skin; Fried bones (plenty of meat on these); Fish heads, collars, and tails. (Congee, rice gruel also made from the fish, is not pictured.)

恭喜發財! 新年快乐!