Tag Archives: food

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Puerto Rico: Part I


My good friend is leaving for Puerto Rico today, so to follow through on a last minute promise, here is my version of what’s good in Puerto Rico–to eat, see, and enjoy–based on the three months I lived there in 2007. The first installment is about an area of San Juan I frequented regularly:


On Thursday and Friday nights, the bars surrounding this market plaza are so packed with locals that the crowds spill out into the street, where they dance to live music, gather around tables with beers and fried seafood, and socialize beneath the large trees that line the plaza. I was there about twice a week, but it was usually at midday, instead of midnight.

This is because the Placita de Santurce is also home to a farmer’s market where you can find the best fresh fruits and veggies in the city. Inside the plaza’s turn-of-the-century structure, you can find everything from red bananas to yellow avocados. One vendor sells exotic herbs like yerbabuena, wild tarragon, and Puerto Rican lemongrass—all especially good for flavoring cocktails like mojitos.

A selection of fruits fresh from the market: guamas de la india, platanos, papaya, bananas and pinapple

My favorites from the Placita: guamas de la india, platanos, papaya, bananas and pineapple.

Another yummy add-in for mojitos is my favorite Puerto Rican fruit: guama de la India. Native guamas grow on trees, inside large green pods that look like giant peas. But in the summer, they are out of season, so, to keep up with year-round demand, another kind of guama tree was imported from India. Its fruit looks like an orange teardrop with tender white flesh inside—and the taste is like nothing else. It has the fresh, pine-y taste of juniper berry, the tartness of lychee, and the sweetness of Muscat grapes. You can’t go to PR without trying one…or twenty.

The Ramirez family sells guamas at their large stand in the center of the market. They also sell rum bottles full of homemade aji (spicy pepper sauce), which make for great souvenirs. Continue reading


Feed the Models!


All the diet-conscious baking I have been dabbling into paid off this week when a friend asked me to bake some goodies for her friend–the Director of a well known modeling agency–to share with his office.

For this, I wanted to focus on fresh ingredients that would bring a lot of flavor without a lot of fat. From left to right, they were: coconut layer cake with guava filling and tofu cream cheese frosting; lemon layer cake with homemade lemon-yuzu curd filling and shiso leaf; and almond spice layer cake with mango mousse filling. I also made a box of my signature vegan banana carob brownies.

Here are some guidelines for giving your own favorite recipes a healthy makeover:

• Use pureed fresh fruit to replace some of the sugar in a recipe and add flavor.

• You can also substitute 1 ¼ cup brown rice syrup for every cup of sugar in the recipe. It is a natural alternative to sugar and is less sweet. It also metabolizes more slowly so that you don’t get the spike—and subsequent crash—in energy that comes from regular sugar. Agave syrup works the same way, but is slightly more expensive.

• Decrease or omit butter in a recipe by adding other ingredients to give moisture and richness, like fruit puree, ground nuts or seeds, or small amounts of canola or olive oil.

• Nuts, when ground fine in a food processor, can also be used as a substitute for flour to make gluten-free cakes. Almonds and hazelnuts both make delicious cakes when used in conjunction with brown rice flour, which you can make at home by grinding the rice in a food processor or blender until it becomes a fine powder. Use a ratio of 1:2 for lighter cakes, and 1:1 for denser, richer cakes.

• For vegan cakes, you can substitute vegetable oil for butter and coconut milk for milk. Since coconut milk has its own fat, you can also decrease the amount of oil added to the recipe ¼ of a cup for every cup of coconut milk added.

• Look for products that have minimal or no preservatives and additives. Also, stick to ingredients that are the least processed, like unbleached flour or sea salt.

• Tofu adds body (and protein) to frosting when substituted for butter. Here’s a simple and really yummy recipe for chocolate tofu frosting. But keep in mind the following, which I learned the hard way: confectioner’s sugar has the OPPOSITE effect on tofu than it does on butter. Instead of thickening, it will create a runny, gooey mess. Use a small amount of agave syrup instead.

• To thicken mousse without egg yolks or gelatin, you can use agar flakes, which are odorless and flavorless–even though they are derived from seaweed. For every leaf of gelatin called for, substitute ¾ tablespoon agar flakes (I know, random, but it works). Next time I think I’ll try to grind the flakes to a powder for a smoother consistency.

Stay tuned for my vegan brownie recipe!

Mitsuwa Madness: An Illustrated Adventure


On Friday afternoon, Kristen and I met at gate 51 of the Port Authority Bus Station on 42nd Street. Our destination–the sole stop on the minibus departing from gate 51–was Mitsuwa, a huge Japanese supermarket in Edgewater, New Jersey, perched on the banks of the Hudson River directly across from Harlem.

I had read about Mitsuwa on Serious Eats, while searching out taiyaki, the fish-shaped, golden griddle cakes I was hooked on in Singapore, Continue reading

Kuma Inn, Coming to A Corner Near You

Three cheers for Brooklyn! It looks like we are going to get our own Kuma Inn outpost. Kuma Inn is a Japanese/Pan-Asian Tapas place on the LES…it’s one of those sign-less, up the stairs and through the magic curtain type of places I love so much. And home of the magic dancing bonito flakes!

My friends Sky and Jessica took me there last year. When we walked in, there was a tiny kitchen where I could see King Phojanakong’s and his sous chef at work. To my surprise, they looked up, smiled and said “Hi.”

The small dining room was low lit and intimate. I don’t remember everything we ordered, but I do remember we ordered multiple times, got the seared Aji tuna…twice, and finished three bottles of white wine (it’s BYOB). Maybe that’s what made our above Oyster Omelette so magical…

I love my dumplings

Love those dumplings

By the end of our meal, Bob Marley was playing at party volume, and we danced right in our seats. We were among the last to leave, and when we did, the chefs–still perched in their little corner kitchen–bid us a friendly farewell.

I heard the menu at the new Kuma will be slightly different. I can’t wait to see what other surprises await! Stay tuned…

(Thank you, Sky, for the video/pic.)

UPDATE: Edible Manhattan Magazine did such a fun food shopping tour of Chinatown with King and he took them to my beloved beef jerky palace! They don’t have the food map on their website, but you can read the article.

Make Your Own English Muffins

image courtesy of KingArthurFlour.com

Someone from my new favorite baking blog, at the King Arthur Flour test kitchen, posted this recipe for home made breakfast sandwiches. They look too good to pass up! Click the picture for the recipe, and let me know if you try.

And the Cheapest Sublime Snack Award Goes to…


Where most snacks can be sampled – endlessly – for $0. That’s right: FREE SNACKS IN NEW YORK!! And they are awesome!

I have walked by this cute little shop so many times. If I’d only known, they would have posted my picture inside the door by now, with the caption “RED ALERT.”

My friend Cassie and I stumbled in there after lunch at my beloved Doyers today. I was in the mood for something sweet and crunchy and figured this would be my best bet, since all I had to spend was the loose change in my purse.

AJ, as I have nicknamed it, has an old-timey feel, thanks to oak paneling and gold accents- where rows of neat plexiglass boxes stand at the ready, chock full of a rainbow assortment of dried meats and fruits, and more exotic candies than you can shake a pixie stick at.

A little bowl atop each box offers up bite-sized tastes of what’s inside.

Goodies like:

Candied kumquats!
Coffee infused prunes!
Shrimp peanuts!
Candied tomatoes!
Dried olives!  
Fruity beef jerky! 

And, let’s not forget my favorite: mixed pumpkin and almond cracker. I even PAID to take some with me.

Other items that weren’t free, but I’ll be back for:

Grape marshmallows!
Chocolate candy-covered sunflower seeds! 
Gummi hotdogs!
Seaweed cookies! 
Kiwi gummi bears!
Pencil-shaped tubes of flavored caraageeanan! (Um, not…


Aji Ichiban
37 Mott Street @ Pell

$6 Lunch and Pomegranate Cotton Candy

As I struggle to find my identity in the food world, like a teenager, I go through phases where I become totally absorbed with one particular thing. There was the ramen phase. Then came the picnic phase, and from that bloomed the lunch box phase.

I was mostly interested in bento boxes, but then one day, in Patel Brothers, I became transfixed by a shelf of shiny metal tins, in stacks of three, each stack fastened with a locking handle. I wheeled my cart over, picked one up, and took it apart.

It seemed like the perfect way to transport a sumptuous feast for one – with ample, separate compartments for an entree, side dish, salad, bread, or even soup – but it was too bulky to carry around every single day.

When I got home, I did some research. I found out that they were called tiffins, and, like bentos, they came in many shapes, sizes and colors, but, unlike any other lunch box, tiffins had their own, extraordinary system of transport. Continue reading