Category: Ingredient + Produce Features


I called in sick for 3 days last week because of coughing attacks. I wasn’t feverish so I doubt it was full-on bronchitis, but I definitely felt very unsexy. Add that to the snowstorms we’ve been having here in New York City and it’s been a very taxing winter.

When Fast Company released their 2014 list of Most Innovative Companies, it included Luvo, a company that brought together chefs, nutritionists and doctors to come up with restaurant-quality food you can zap in your microwave or heat up in the oven. I was curious to try the food and how much different they could be from the lifeless quick meals I see a lot of co-workers heat up too often in the office. I was stuck at home with cabin fever and it was the perfect week to feed myself something quick without sacrificing the taste.

My favorite was the orange-mango chicken with green-tea infused whole grains and steamed kale and broccoli. I would usually forego whole grains, but in this case it gave the dish a really good chewy texture. I also tried the nine-grain pilaf with sweet chile beef and it also came with the sturdy kale and broccoli. (That’s the photo below and that’s how it looks like straight out of a heated pouch. Not bad, right?) It was so much better than the Chinese takeout beef you like but always feel guilty about. The chicken chili verde was also tasty and it came with polenta with pumpkin seeds; the black beans made it more savory.

All 3 definitely tasted more healthy than I am used to as far as lunch options go and it felt good to eat them especially when I was feeling under the weather. I was surprised at how green the vegetables were coming out of a pouch I heated up for half an hour in the oven–I do not have a microwave at home anymore–and how much color each dish had. The combination of ingredients may sound too good to be true but they work well together. My only complaint? I’m a growing girl and I needed 2 of these just for one sit-down lunch!

If the food quality is not enough for you, you have to commend the packaging: the box is made from 100% recyclable paperboard and the pouch contains unbleached paper from 20% pre-consumer waste; soy or waterless inks were used for printing to cut down on resources and pollution.

Related post/s:
Luvo is one of Fast Company’s 2014 Most Innovative Companies
Find out where to buy Luvo

Cheese Ambassador

Now that I’ve passed the intermediate certificate course at the International Wine Center for Wines and Spirits: Looking Behind the Label, the next goal is to learn more about cheeses. I jumped at the chance to try Cheese Ambassador’s Mediterranean package just to get me started at home.

I remember when I was younger (ahem) and I didn’t know much about cheese. My college professor brought in a platter of fruits and cheeses during the last day of Western Literature class and I mostly crinkled my nose at the stinkiest kinds. I was curious, however, how other people were devouring the wedges as if they were candy. I wanted to really like cheese and I didn’t know how to change my palate. Fast-forward several years later and I was in Amsterdam living with friends for a week. There was always cheese on the table before dinner. I knew I just had to try all of them to find out what cheese was all about. Back then, it wasn’t just Dutch Gouda I tasted; there was a crumbly blue, a creamy Brie and a few hard Italian cheeses. I ended up liking them all and proceeded to buy small wedges of them whenever we would go to the park to enjoy the last few hours of Dutch light.

Ever since then, I would stop by Di Palo’s for my monthly supply of cheese or pick up a wedge here and there from other stores whenever I see something I’ve never tasted before. But now that I work in Connecticut, it’s been difficult to run all over the city before the stores close. Enter the Cheese Ambassador where I can buy the Mediterranean Collection with three types: the Tipsy Goat from Spain, Port Salut from France and one of my favorite cheeses of all time, Piave from Italy. The American Collection includes an Aged Gouda, an Amish Cheddar and a Cave-Aged Blue cheese. Both packages sell for $34 on their Web site.

They make great gifts for both cheese beginners and fanatics. They’ve managed to package them nicely that when my box was delivered to work, I had to pull in several of my co-workers so we can do a fun taste test in the office kitchen.

Here’s the round-up:

Tipsy Goat from Spain:
– tangy
– melts-in-your-mouth goat goodness
– sharper than your average goat cheese
– tastes like socks (I’d have to disagree, but this guy probably just needs to stop eating his socks)

Port Salut:
– smooth, buttery and mild; reminds me of Laughing Cow
– smooth and simple;
– rich and creamy like Brie
– soft, spreadable, sweet and buttery; you can make shapes with it! (And he really did played with the cheese like Play-Doh!)

– nutty, robust, reminiscent of Parmigiano
– like a creamy Parmigiano
– even better than Parmigiano; rich and nutty
– savory; nose like Manchego

Related purveyor/s:
The Cheese Ambassador has your cheese!

Washugyu from Japanese Premium Beef

I had the biggest smile when I walked in Japanese Premium Beef yesterday. The space is Thomas Keller-immaculate–just like the type of kitchen I dream of having. The hipster-looking Japanese guy introduced me to the beef on display while the other guy sliced fresh-looking meat in the back on a butcher block.

Washugyu is a crossbred of Wagyu and Black Angus raised in Oregon under the supervision of breeder and feed programmer Tad Yano. The cow not only inherits Tajima blood–one of the black Wagyu cattle breeds in Japan–but is also fed using a genuine Japanese feeding program that doesn’t use antibiotics or any other growth promotants.

All the cuts on display looked fresh and mouth-watering. The ribeye I inquired about, which was as big as my palm, was $24 at $49.99 a pound. A New York striploin goes up to $59.99 a pound. You don’t have to spend so much when you go though. I was able to pick up a row of thinly-sliced beef tongue for $7.50, and ground beef perfect for your high-maintenance burger-loving friends is available at $4.99 a pound.

Back home, I heated some oil on a frying pan and seared the tongue for a few seconds before flipping them over to sear a second more. I immediately removed them to a plate, sprinkled with salt and freshly-squeezed lemon. It was only 1pm but I was already enjoying a very good dish of beef tongue with a glass of 2008 Robert Oatley rosé–sometimes life is very good to me.

I’ll pick up one of those beautiful ribeyes during my next visit, but I’ll also make sure to buy some cheek meat to try and replicate a Babbo dish I love.

Japanese Premium Beef is at 57 Great Jones Street off Bowery. They are open 7 days a week from 10am to 8pm. Call them at 212/260.2333 to ask if they have freshly-sliced beef tongue before you go.

Searching for a Good Taco: Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Look what you did, Jase said as he pointed to the window. It was snowing even though the weather channel reported rain for the day. It wasn’t taco-eating weather but we had work to do: we will find a good taco in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Sunset Park, Brooklyn experienced its heyday during World War II when the Brooklyn Army Terminal employed more than 10,000 people to help ship to American troops. Like any other neighborhood, it reach its peak and lost its allure to families who wanted to move to the suburbs. All of a sudden, the rowhouses that would remind you of San Francisco were no longer valuable. By 1990, 50% of Sunset Park’s population consisted of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Today, Brooklyn Chinatown is along Eighth Avenue, while Seventh is favored by Indians from Gujarat and Fifth Avenue by Mexicans. It was this detail that made me drag Jase to the main drag to search for a good taco.

I had a small list and I gave the Jase my usual rules: a chorizo taco is a good start, but we’ll order the weirdest thing they have available. Jase had his, too: No head, no tripe, no eyes, no ears. I nodded to say, Yeah, yeah, yeah, because I know I’ll try my best to convince him to eat them anyway. Luckily for him, the trucks were nowhere to be found because it was the middle of the day and most of the hole-in-the-walls were covered with plywood. We ended up walking from 44th Street to 55th and ducking in each place that didn’t look too fancy.

1. Tacos Nuevos Mexico III, 44-10 Fifth Avenue, 718/686.8151

Where was I and II? This was the first place we spotted as soon as we turned the corner on Fifth Avenue. It was past noon and we were famished. Upon confirmation that they were open for business–no one was inside and the kitchen looked sparkly clean–we sat down and ordered one carnitas taco and one chorizo. Two of each came and all four were slathered with wet guacamole. I like avocados; I just don’t like them in my tacos because they end up hiding the flavor of the meat. I realized I hadn’t done this taco search in a while that I forgot to let the waitress know that guacamole and sour cream were no-nos. In any case, the carnitas were very soft and fatty, while the chorizo was salty and spicy. We devoured them with Diet Cokes and we were very satisfied with everything, guac and all.

2. Tacos Xochimilco, 45-01 Fifth Avenue, 718/435.7600

The lengua, or beef tongue, at Xochimilco tasted like it had been cooking for hours. It was sweet and it fell apart at each prod of a plastic fork. The tripe was surprisingly delicious. I am used to having them a little chewy with its natural offal taste included, but this one was just right. Jase ended up liking the tongue, too: Like Mom’s Sunday pot roast.

3. La Guera, 46-03 Fifth Avenue, 718/437.0232

La Guera had the cheapest of all the tacos we tasted. A small one cost us $1.25 when we thought the $1.50 at Xochimilco was already a good deal. But you get what you pay for: the pastor taco tasted too earthy here; a little bit dry, with only a small chunk of pineapple and a spritz of lime juice to save it. The buche, one of my favorite types of taco, or the stomach, was just a load of flavorless fat.

4. Tacos California, 46-16 Fifth Avenue, 718/439.1661

I usually avoid restaurants that bill itself as “authentic” but we were getting full and the snow had turned to steady rain. We needed to stay dry and warm, so we went in here to take a break while a Mexican soap opera blasted overhead. We ordered a taco that was called an enchilada with “spicy pork” in parentheses. From my understanding of fast foods, enchilada is a bigger tortilla stuffed with anything as long as tomato sauce is involved. I was right, but it was awkward to eat because it was half the expected size. Notes of paprika and cumin were included, two of my favorites spices, but the tomato definitely tasted like it came from a can. Jase refused to try the cabeza, or the head, which was too bad because it was the restaurant’s saving grace. It was fatty and gelatinous and full of flavor–my lips were coated in natural fat soon after.

5. Tulcingo, 55-20, Fifth Avenue, 718/439.2896

By the time we entered Tulcingo, Jase and I were giving up. I felt defeated after just six tacos, but alas, good things must come to an end. Every place we went to had orejas, or ears, on the menu, but only Tulcingo actually had them. The last time Jase and I had pigs’ ears, they were fried, and he wished these were, too, instead of just boiled to death. But I did like the crunchy cartilage even if the skin felt more like Jell-O in my mouth. The chorizo here was mediocre, though I liked how it was spicier than the first one we had.

All in all, we had some good tacos but nothing that blew me away. We split one Negro Modelo to end our late lunch date and toasted to our rainy Mexican day in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Looks like it’s time to take a trip out west to satisfy my taco craving this year.

Related post/s:
More Sunset Park Brooklyn taco photos on Flickr
Background on finding the best taco in New York City project
El Barrio in East Harlem had some good tacos without the guacamole

M & I International Foods

M & I International Foods is the place to go to for Russian imports and other Eastern European produce here in New York City. “Brighton Beach” came from a naming contest that reminded the developers of a beach resort in Brighton, England. In the 1950s, the neighborhood welcomed its first settlers of second-generation Americans from Holocaust survivors. Twenty years later, refugees from the former Soviet Union started calling it their own Little Odessa.

After the long subway ride from the upper west side, we finally reached the Brighton Beach stop on the Q. The weather was damp and gray, but I couldn’t imagine a more perfect setting to stay in one place and eat. And then I realized I didn’t bring my camera! Ack! Good thing Cameron brought hers and it saved the day.

Pickles and Slaws:

I love a good slaw. Take away the mayonnaise and I’ll eat crunchy cabbage with bite. I also couldn’t get enough of their cucumber pickles. I ended up taking home two pints and they were all gone three days later.


I love me some herring, but for the sake of pacing ourselves and trying something new(ish), I opted for the trout, the sturgeon and the sardines instead. The trout was smoked and naturally sweet; the sturgeon salted and dried; the sardines icky and fishy. We pulled the guts out and I just couldn’t finish eating it. Somehow, it was very different from a refined slice atop sticky rice and some nori.

Fat and Meats:

I’ve looked forward to the Russian lardo ever since I watched the Andrew Zimmern episode about New York City. Because everyone behind the counter at M & I only speaks English when prodded, I found it painful to ask the surly old lady to slice it for me like prosciutto. Our plastic utensils didn’t help slice through the large chunk of fat when we tried to consume it at the store, but it was so lovely when I got home! One swipe of my Global knife and the Dr. and I were picking at it and drinking it with a bold red wine. It’s still in the fridge, but we’ve been doing damage ever since.

The smoked belly was one of the prettiest things I saw at the store. I mean, just check out the mustard seeds on it! As expected, each small bite was soft and fatty, but very succulent and sweet.

Probably the best thing we ate all day was the pressed beef tongue. You’ll devour it as fast as we did if you could just get past the gristly look of it. Don’t let the appearance fool you, though. The texture is smooth and jelly-like and each slice goes down like a well-cooked piece of beef.

Warm Food:

Upstairs in the small café, we pointed at a few pieces to try: baba ghanoush, bell peppers and eggplants, cabbage leaves stuffed with pork, potato lattkes stuffed with chicken and mushrooms.

There were plenty of freshly-baked breads, phyllo-wrapped everything and interesting-looking pastries made of honey, almonds and apricots. I even drank a coriander soda that tasted like a watered-down Robitussin. (No, that wasn’t good.) Four hours later, we’ve gone up and down the three-level grocery and deli store and have sampled all kinds of familiar and not-so-familiar delicacies from very far away places. All we had to do was take the subway.

M & I International Foods is at 249 Brighton Beach Avenue in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

Related post/s:
M & I International Foods photos on Flickr
Where to buy international produce and groceries in New York City