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Burgers At The Nomad Bar

What makes a good burger? Most would say – a medium-rare, perfectly juicy patty, a buttered and toasted sesame-flecked bun, an onion/tomato ring, fresh lettuce and perhaps, a fried egg with a runny center are what burgers should be like. If I was handed that one, I’d be happy.

But what, let me ask, makes a great burger? No wait – the greatest burger you’ve ever eaten?  Let me tell you about two.

This magical pair of burgers reside in a restaurant called The Nomad Bar. Loud, usually crowded, and largely filled with the kind of crowd that makes me feel very mature and wise for being in my thirties, The Nomad Bar is part of The Nomad Hotel, but it has its own separate (slightly hidden and mysterious) entrance at 10 West 28th Street. Although it’s known for its inventive cocktails, I believe this restaurant houses the best burgers I’ve eaten in New York City.

Burgers, New York, foie gras, beef burger, chicken burgerBurgers for the food ‘Nomad’ in you

Let’s get right down to it, shall we? The two burgers are the Dry-aged beef with cheddar, red onion and special sauce ($18) and the Chicken with foie gras, crispy skin and black truffle mayo ($17). Beef first (because, you know, beef) – the patty is the thickness of both buns combined, the beef is pink (it’s always cooked medium-rare so don’t even ask for any other way), and when you take that first bite you realize it’s the most tender, juicy, buttery, delicious bite of meat you’ve ever tasted. The patty is so flavorful by itself, but touched with that special sauce and the bite of the onions, it transforms into something quite ethereal. Now for the chicken – I know many of you are thinking, “That’s not a proper burger. It’s chicken. Which is almost a vegetable”, and on any other day I would wholeheartedly agree. Burger means beef. But this chicken burger is the one, very special exception to the rule. The patty is a combination of ground chicken and foie gras which gives it that very decadent umami flavor that is punctuated and elevated by the black truffle mayo. With each bite you also get the crunch from the crispy chicken skin, which, let’s be honest, is the best part of the bird.

Other than the burgers…

Now these burgers are small (slightly larger than sliders), and expensive, but when a single bite is so soul satisfying, less is really more. The burgers come with pickled vegetables and I’d recommend you also order the shoe-string French fries ($9). Definitely order a cocktail or two as well – my recommendations are Hot Lips (Jalapeno-infused Tequila, Mezcal, vanilla, lemon, and pineapple, ($16)) or the Gentlemen’s Exchange (Rye whiskey, Suze, Foro Amaro, Vermouth Di Torino, cold brew coffee, Absinthe and bitters ($18)). If you’re a fan of an Old Fashioned, ask for the off-menu, Improved Whiskey cocktail.

Burgers, New York, foie gras, beef burger, chicken burger, old fashioned, cocktailsThere is one other item on the Nomad menu that sounds rather promising – it is the $36 Chicken pot pie with black truffle and foie gras. I have a feeling it will be reminiscent of the burger, just creamier. But that is a treat for another time. For now I am content to have tasted two perfect, magical burgers.

 

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Green Butter: Why Avocados Are Awesome

The first time I tasted an avocado I was in my twenties. It was at a restaurant I don’t really remember otherwise. I do remember the dish though – it was guacamole. And as I dipped my cheese-dust covered nacho into that bowl of green, studded with red tomato chunks and green cilantro leaves, I knew I was about to experience something special. That first taste of that very unusual combination of freshness and creaminess in one mouthful is why avocados have now become one of my favourite ingredients.

Say hello

Avocados are essentially large, spherical berries that are wrapped in a rough skin and contain a single round pit or seed. They are cultivated in tropical and Mediterranean climates across the world and are used in different cultures in a multitude of dishes. An extremely versatile ingredient and oftentimes lovingly called “green butter”, there are many different types of avocados available, including the Mexicana, Guatemalan and West Indian varieties.

Avocado Shopping 101

Choosing a perfectly ripe avocado at the supermarket requires unreal amounts of talent. Buying them in bulk is out of the question because you wait for them to ripen and suddenly, out of the blue, they’ve become over-ripe and brown sitting on your counter. There is a trick though: if you peel off the little nub at the narrow end of the avocado, the colour of the skin below that will tell you if your avocado is ready to consume. If its green it’s under-ripe, if it’s brown, it’s probably over-ripe and mushy, but if it’s a yellowy tone, then it will be perfect. If you need to ripen avocados, placing them in a brown paper bag quickens the process. If you already have a bunch of ripened avocados, putting them in the fridge will make them last longer.

Avocados, guacamole, toast, cake frosting, avocado oil, butterGreen goodness

Avocados will almost always be on those lists you see everywhere that talk about “Top 10 healthy foods” or something like that. Those lists are annoying, but they’re right about the avocados. These green spheres are extremely high in fiber and contain double the potassium you’d find in a banana. They are also stuffed full of good things for your body like vitamin B6, Vitamin E, monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and loads of healthy fats. Avocados also contain 11 kinds of carotenoids (including Violaxanthin and Neoanthin) which fight some types of cancer and heart disease. To get the most of these nutrients, health experts recommend you peel your avocado, rather than scoop out the flesh because all the goodness lies very close to the skin.

Cooking with avocados

Avocados can be enjoyed in so many ways – quick and complex, sweet and savoury, refreshing and decadent. It’s one of the many joys of cooking with this fruit – the possibilities are endless.

Oh so classic

For beginners, there are some very basic, yet classic recipes with which it’s almost impossible to go wrong. Try these first if you’re an avocado-newbie.

Avocados, guacamole, toast, cake frosting, avocado oil, butterGuacamole – Peel and mash avocados. Mix in chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, lime juice, salt and pepper. Adjust quantities according to taste. Chill and serve with nachos.

Avocado Toast – Toast two slices of bread. Peel and mash avocados with lime, chili flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture over toasted bread and drizzle over extra-virgin olive oil to serve.

Other tips: Add chopped avocado to salads, smoothies, tacos and eggs.

Un(usual) suspects

Because of their versatility, avocados often make an appearance in dishes you would have never thought, making them healthier and tastier. Here are a few.

Avocado Truffles – Mash one ripe avocado with about ¾ cup dark chocolate chips (melted) and a dash of vanilla extract. Mix well and place in the refrigerator. Once cool, form into 10-12 balls and roll until smooth. Roll each ball in cocoa powder and serve.

Avocado Devilled eggs – Scoop out the yolks from 12 boiled and halved eggs. Mix the yolks with 1/2cup mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon mustard, the flesh of one ripe avocado and salt and pepper to taste. Place the filling in a piping bag and pipe into the hollowed out egg whites. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Other tips: Swap potatoes for avocado and make baked fries, make a creamy avocado risotto and even avocado naan bread.

Avocados, guacamole, toast, cake frosting, avocado oil, butterGreen recipes

Is it really possible to turn decadent recipes into healthy ones just by switching to avocados? The answer is a surprising and overwhelming yes. Here is how you do it.

Avocado chocolate frosting – Blend together the flesh of 2 ripe avocados, 1/2cup cocoa powder, 1/2cup honey, 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and ½ teaspoon of salt. Spread over cake or cupcakes to serve.

Avocado ice-cream – Blend together the flesh of 2 ripe avocados with 3/4cup milk and 3/4cup condensed milk. Spread into a pan, freeze for 4 to 5 hours and then scoop out and serve.

Other tips: Use the blender to make avocado mousse and pudding, or try an avocado cheesecake!

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The Most Romantic Restaurant in New York

I promise it’s only a coincidence that I’m reviewing what’s been called “New York’s most romantic restaurant” in the same month as Valentine’s Day. I actually dined at One if by Land, Two if by Sea on my first anniversary, a month ago. The restaurant is classic in many ways and for us, that was the draw. First off, it’s old. It opened as a restaurant in 1910, but the building itself is steeped in incredible history. In the 1700s it was a carriage house, in the 1800s it was a pub and finally in the 1900s until now, a beautiful, fine-dining establishment. Elements from the building’s history are very much a part of the current dining experience at One if by land. The place is beautifully lit with candles and two (real!) fireplaces; there is an old grand piano, an elaborate staircase and the best part – a ghost! Apparently the ghost of the previous owner has been sighted by several wait staff; a few even having left their job because of the creepiness (win!).

We had called the restaurant ahead and told them it was our anniversary, so once we arrived, we were led to a beautiful corner table –aglow with candlelight and decorated with red roses. The wait staff was an appropriate mix of eager and inconspicuous, except for a one who came and asked us if we were Bengali because he was. We nodded enthusiastically and then in our native language he recommended a few dishes from the prix-fixe only menu. He was rather adorable, I thought.

Table at One if by Land, Two if by Sea
Our table at One if by Land, Two if by Sea

We decided to go for the three-course, $98 per person option, with an additional appetizer because we couldn’t choose only two (we’re greedy like that). To begin we had the Cipollini Onion Soup en Croute, the Foie Gras Terrine (which had an additional $5 supplement) and the Pan seared Veal Sweetbreads. The soup was a delight for the eyes first – it came in a boat-shaped shallow dish, topped with flaky puff pastry. Once you stuck your spoon in, there was a creamy mix of blue crab, Gruyere and caramelized onions underneath. The Foie Gras was like meat-butter, as expected. Adorned with a smear of smoked plum jelly and micro-greens, it was perfection spread on toast – brioche in this case. Our third appetizer was more for me than my husband because I love all the un-loved parts of animals – the liver, gizzard, heart, intestines, brain – let me at it and I’ll eat it happily. He doesn’t, unfortunately. For the uninitiated, sweetbreads are organ meat from the thymus gland and pancreas, in this case of a calf. The dish was plated so beautifully, it almost looked as pretty as a dessert – four pieces of fried sweetbreads (achingly smooth and creamy inside), interspersed with roasted cauliflower, sitting on cauliflower foam, the plate dotted with curry oil and tamarind gel.

For our mains we went with the Orange Jalapeno Glazed rack of Pork and the Slow Braised Short Ribs. The pork was caramelized and juicy and came with fingerling potatoes and parsnip chips. The impressive and very tender braised ribs sat on a bed of mashed carrots, was accompanied with horseradish butter and beet greens, the whole topped with fried onions. Both servings were incredibly generous and I couldn’t even finish mine; probably because of my greediness with the appetizers.

Veal sweetbreads
Veal sweetbreads

To end, it was the Pear Tatin (poached pear, coconut crumble, mascarpone mousse and hazelnut crème) and the Blanc et Noir (crème fraiche mousse, hazelnut mousse and orange compote). To be perfectly honest, the desserts didn’t impress like the first two courses – they were perfectly ordinary. I am convinced however that patrons don’t visit One if by land, Two if by Sea for the food, they visit it for the classic, romantic setting, the rich and varied history, the feeling the place evokes and the memories it allows. Valentine’s Day or not, this is a beautiful restaurant to experience with your partner at least once in your lifetime.

 

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Top Ten Traditional Christmas Treats

When it comes to food Christmas is a time of sharing and indulgence. Here, I pick my top ten traditional Christmas treats.

  1. Mince pies – These little baked treats used to be filled with meat (hence the word “mince) but now are filled with dried nuts and fruit. Traditionally, they were made in an oval shape to represent the crib Baby Jesus was born in! Children often leave out a mince pie for Santa Claus when he comes a-visiting. These mini pies are often topped with a cut-out piece of pastry like a star or a leaf, and dusted with sugar before serving.christmas, eggnog, mince pies, mulled wine, pigs in blanket, candy cane, yule log, fruit cake, gingerbread cookies, hot toddy,
  2. Mulled wine – A winter classic, this warmed wine drink is most popular where it is most cold. Recipes either call for orange slices or a whole orange pierced with cloves to be simmered over low heat with other spices like cinnamon and star anise. A generous dose of rum or brandy is often added to make it extra special.
  3. Fruit cake – Also known as Christmas cake, this dry fruit and nut laden dessert is a part of most homes during Christmas. The fruits are often prepared, chopped and soaked in rum months ahead of the actual baking time. Traditionally, the cake is covered in marzipan and decorated with holly and cranberries.
  4. Gingerbread cookies – Who doesn’t like the slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor of gingerbread? Especially when baked into delightful gingerbread men or an elaborate gingerbread house! The cookies get their characteristic dark brown colour from a mixture of molasses and dark brown sugar.
  5. Hot toddy – Often remembered in times of sickness (usually a dad-recommended cure for a mild cold or flu), a Hot Toddy is often drunk at Christmas time for its warmth and honey-laden flavor. Typically made with a Bourbon, but often with Scotch or brandy, this drink is sweetened with honey and livened up with lime juice.
  6. Glazed ham – A traditional Christmas dinner always needs a show-stopping centerpiece and a beautiful glazed ham is just that. Crisp crackling crust gives way to succulent and tender, perfectly pink slices of ham that are as juicy as they look. The original recipes often use pineapple (a classic pairing with ham) but more modern recipes use a mustard, honey and brown sugar glaze that works even better.christmas, eggnog, mince pies, mulled wine, pigs in blanket, candy cane, yule log, fruit cake, gingerbread cookies, hot toddy,
  7. Spiked eggnog – One of those love-it-or-hate-it Christmas drinks, basic eggnog is made from milk, sugar and whipped eggs. While that may make some gag, others enjoy this chilled, frothy drink that is made even better with the addition of a shot of your liquor of choice. It’s typically topped with a dusting of nutmeg and/or cinnamon and served in cup-type glasses.
  8. Candy canes – Used very often as decorations, edible candy canes are as delicious to eat as they are to gaze upon. The typical red and white swirls indicate a peppermint flavor, although now they are available in practically any flavor of your choosing. The unique shape has a story – the creator wanted the treats to represent the sticks the shepherds carried when they came to visit Baby Jesus.
  9. Pigs in blankets – Christmas parties need special appetizers and none are better than Pigs in blankets. Once you get over how cute the name is (still trying), you can begin to appreciate the mini sausages that are lovingly wrapped in pastry and baked to a golden, crispy brown. Variations include dates wrapped with bacon (Devils on Horseback) or oysters wrapped with bacon (Angels on Horseback).
  10. Chocolate Yule Log – This gorgeous Christmas dessert was inspired by the tradition of burning a special log of wood at the hearth during Christmas. Made to look like a miniature log, with grooves and holes (that’s why chocolate works best to match the colour), this roulade is filled with buttercream and chocolate. A perfect end to a Christmas dinner!
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See Spot, Run!

Imagine your happy place. Everyone’s is different; mine is my living room at home, sharing a drink with my Dad, my Mom saying something about me eating too little, annoying my brother and our dog scurrying around our feet, wanting to be petted. Oh! And cupcakes, there are always cupcakes in my happy place.

For a serious dessert lover, Spot Dessert Bar would be a definite happy place contender. Located in the middle of a busy street packed with Chinese restaurants and touristy souvenir shops, this tiny space has the longest serpentine line outside at all times. Tables are limited, and often, you have to share one, but when you taste what’s on offer, you don’t care whether it’s Beyoncé next to you or your grandmother, because you’re transported to dessert heaven.

Chef Ian’s Exotic Creations
Iron Chef Ian Chalermkittichai is the head pastry chef at Spot and he is known for infusing traditional American desserts with an Asian twist, turning them into unpredictable, yet very delicious treats. His creations include unusual ingredients such as green tea and yuzu and even that popular drink made with evaporated milk, Thai iced tea. Crafted with beauty and imagination, each dessert at Spot is an exquisite work of art that you are most certainly drinking with your eyes as much as you are eating with your mouth.

We tried their #1 seller first, Chocolate green tea lava cake. On a charcoal plate sits a mini molten cake, covered in green tea dust and dark chocolate pearls, next to which is a smooth scoop of green tea ice cream nestled on a bed of walnut soil, topped with a buttery tuile.

chocolate_green_tea_lava_cake
Chocolate green tea lava cake

A gentle sweep of the spoon through the cake slices it open and out pours a thick, gooey mess of molten chocolate and green tea sauce. The flavour of matcha (green tea powder) is very dominant in this dessert, and the dark chocolate compliments it well. The ice cream, though smooth, also has the powdery mouth feel of matcha that goes beautifully with the lusciousness of the melted chocolate inside the cake, while the buttery tuile adds a much needed element of crunch.

Next, we sampled Golden Toast. This was a mini loaf of buttered white bread, sectioned into 6 pieces, and deep fried until golden brown before being covered in powdered sugar. Rubbing shoulders with this decadent fried loaf is a scoop of condensed milk ice cream, a generous dollop of whipped cream and fresh-cut strawberries.

golden_toast
Golden toast

The bread itself is fluffy and soft inside, almost like air had been whipped into it, while on the outside, it was crisp, dark brown and wonderfully buttery. The way to eat this right is to break off a section of warm bread, spoon some rich and creamy condensed milk ice cream over, add a dash of cream, top with a strawberry and shove into your mouth. That union of hot and cold, fried and fluffy, and sweet and buttery will transport one to dessert heaven.

Abundant Seasonal Specials
Spot Dessert Bar is known not only for its innovative desserts, but also for its regular menu changes, based on seasonal ingredients and inspirations. For our third dessert, we choose their summer special, Lychee panna cotta. Delicate flavours and bright colour highlight this dessert consisting of flat circles of panna cotta – just lightly flavoured with lychee, pale white in colour and with hollowed out centres (also placed on the plate).

lychee_panna_cotta
Lychee Panna Cotta

The centres were filled with a slightly tart raspberry sauce at the table. The dish also had two scoops of raspberry sorbet, which were sitting on a small pile of milk dust, and covering the centre of the plate was a pale rose water sauce that brought it all together; summer on a plate.

Signature Desserts
Spot also has cupcakes, cakes, cookies and an array of drinks on offer, but it’s safe to say that no one leaves without trying one of their exquisite signature desserts. Priced between $8 and $15, they make a perfect end to any meal. However, the very best way to have a complete dessert experience at Spot is to order the Omakase, which is essentially a tasting menu of all the desserts on offer. Try it with 3 or 4 friends so you can taste a little bit of everything. Unusual, inspired, beautiful and bright, Spot Dessert Bar could most certainly become your new happy place!

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What The Men In My Life Taught Me About Food

Growing up, the kitchen was a magical space. The sound of the knife moving deftly on the board, the steam from the pressure cooker hissing, and the myriad mixed smells of spices would enthral me. On special occasions when the house would fill with extended family and close friends, the space of the kitchen would expand into other rooms of the house; vegetables were chopped at the dining table, peas were shelled on the bed, and rice for biryani was dried on newspapers in the balcony.

When I think back, it was during these times that I most remember the men in my family and their relationship with food.

Unlike many Indian homes, I have had the good fortune of growing up with men who enjoy cooking and are actually very good at it. My oldest memories are of my grandfather using a hand-cranked meat-grinder to mince pork and make homemade sausages. I would lean over the edge of the table, my head just making it above it, and watch him in awe as spiral “worms” of ground meat emerged and fell into a large bowl. I suppose that’s why, to this day, I have no aversion whatsoever to raw meat.

My Father The Baker

My father has been an influential food mentor in my life. As a child, I remember him hollowing out a watermelon and then putting the chopped fruit back in with loads of ice-cream, before giving me and brother spoons to dig in. It was the most creative and delicious thing I had eaten.

Christmas cake
The many Christmas cakes my father bakes each year

He taught me what it means to achieve perfection in the kitchen; cutting vegetables in an excruciating yet wonderfully precise and uniform manner, hand-whisking large amounts of cream until stiff peaks were attained and showing no signs of exhaustion, making up to 300 fruit cakes at Christmas to share with friends and family, and baking the best gooey walnut brownie that never fails. I learnt from him that good food requires time, energy and consistency. I also learnt from him, that food and family are inseparable.

Emotion and food

My brother who is a few years younger than I, has only recently learnt to cook a few basics himself, a consequence of living alone and far from home. Growing up together, he was always the fussier one with very defined likes and dislikes. To this day, he picks out pieces of tomato from any dish because he doesn’t like them. His favorite things to eat include homemade momos, which he can eat 50 of in one sitting, and Mom’s mutton biryani which we have often fought over. He taught me that food often prompts in us extreme emotional responses of love and hate and that’s because food is a powerful thing.

Friends and sharing

When I began college and started working, I made several male friends who cooked, experimented with food and enjoyed food as much as I did. One introduced me to all the wonderful Old-Delhi food that costs next to nothing and tastes like it’s been cooked for kings. Another showed me how to milk a cow and more importantly not gag when the freshly-squeezed, warm milk goes down your throat. With yet another, we used to play a game of ‘What’s in the fridge?’ taking turns to cook adventurous and unpredictable meals from a poor, frugal student’s stock of ingredients. Needless to say, these were wonderful men who taught me a lot about food and life. There is nothing that strengthens friendship more than sharing a meal you have cooked together.

Instinctual food

About a year ago I married a man who loves cooking. If there is one piece of advice I can give a woman about choosing the man she will marry it is this, marry someone who loves food. My husband never uses a recipe and seems to use spices through sight, touch and the untranslatable notion of ‘andaaz‘ (gauging). Equally at ease making a bhindi aloo sabji or an avocado chocolate mousse, he cooks because he enjoys it and that is the only reason to do it.

The men in my life have taught me to love and respect food, for where it comes from, in all its raw and earthy goodness and for what it can transform into. They have taught me that food means discipline, perfection, adventure, unpredictability and most importantly, sharing.

Someone once said:

“Women belong in the kitchen.
Men belong in the kitchen.
Everyone belongs in the kitchen.
The kitchen has food.”

Those are wise words if I’ve ever heard them.

 

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10 Ingredients to Cook with this Fall

Fall (or Autumn as some people know it in their part of the world) is a fleeting season where everything is pristine for a few moments before the much-dreaded winter is upon us. In my mind, fall is about yellow-orange leaves, cozy sweaters, long walks and comfort food. There’s just something about the season that calls for warm, hearty meals that soothe the soul and feed the heart. Here are some of my favorite fall ingredients and recipe ideas for each to make both nourishing and delicious meals and celebrate this wonderful time of the year.

Pumpkin

Carbonada en Zapallo. Argentine Beef Stew in Pumpkin
Carbonada en Zapallo. Argentine Beef Stew in Pumpkin

This (most commonly) orange vegetable is the highlight of Halloween, but is such a versatile fall favorite. Pumpkin pies are a classic Thanksgiving/Fall dessert but it’s also great in stews, roasted with olive oil, mashed or even in a risotto. Use sugar pumpkins for baking and roasting as they are firmer and less stringy. Also, don’t forget to roast the seeds to use as a garnish or snack.

Butternut Squash

Butternut squash soup, with parsley and croutons
Butternut squash soup, with parsley and croutons

Similar to the pumpkin in some ways (in Australia it’s considered a type of pumpkin), butternut squash has a longer shape, is easier to peel and has a sweet flavor. My favourite way to eat it is to roast it and blend it into a thick soup seasoned with garlic and herbs. If pureed, it works well in lasagnas and other pasta dishes as a creamy sauce that holds everything together.

Red Wine

Grilled beef steak with red wine sauce
Grilled beef steak with red wine sauce

I know what you’re thinking; red wine is great any time of the year right? That may be true, but fall presents the opportunity to drink it warmer and sweeter, when it’s cold outside. Try it with rum, honey, oranges and spices as a warm mulled wine or as a thickened sweet syrup drizzled over cheese. The classic Coq au vin is an excellent way to pair red wine with chicken to produce a flavor-packed fall meal.

Cheap Cuts of Beef or Pork

Raw beef brisket
Raw beef brisket

Beef brisket or pork shoulder are relatively cheaper cuts of meat and improve in texture and flavor by slow cooking. All they need is a quick spice rub and a sliced onion or two, let your slow cooker do the rest over several hours. Once done, you’ll have tender, falling-off-the-bone meat that can be used in sandwiches, tacos, added to soup or eaten with a fresh salad.

Mushrooms

Fresh mushrooms / champignons
Fresh mushrooms / champignons

There are so many types of mushrooms to choose from, each one with its own unique texture and flavor. Grilled Portobello mushrooms are almost meaty. They grill beautifully and can be used as an alternative to burger buns. Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent addition to noodles or soup to easily amp up flavor. Dried Chanterelles, Morels or Porcini mushrooms that must be rehydrated before cooking can be used to make rich, thick sauces to add flavor to pastas and risottos, or even a simple broth.

Sweet Potato

Boiled sweet potato
Boiled sweet potato

For those who swear by regular potatoes, I’m just going to say – give sweet potatoes a chance and you will be converted. These gorgeous orange potatoes can be used to do pretty much anything you’d do with regular potatoes but their sweetness and slightly fibrous texture makes eating them so much more satisfying. Try them as a mash, fries, gnocchi, hash, or even chips.

Beans

Different varieties of beans and legumes
Different varieties of beans and legumes

You can’t think of fall, without Chilli, can you? Both kidney beans and black beans are great for chilli, and paired with a fresh salsa it makes a hearty meal that will keep you going for hours. Baked beans in tomato sauce is a wonderful addition to an elaborate breakfast, and black beans go great paired with avocado and lime. Other combinations to try are borlotti beans with polenta, and white or butter beans cooked with vegetables or in an enchilada.

Maple syrup

Maple Syrup
Maple Syrup

For those who find honey too sweet, maple syrup is a godsend. This sticky syrup is traditionally eaten with pancakes but use it to glaze your carrots, sweet potatoes and even bacon and watch it transform your dish. Maple syrup is also great for sweetening nuts, adding sweetness to cakes and cupcakes, and it pairs wonderfully with fish like salmon. Try this magical, 3 ingredient recipe comprising coconut cream, cocoa powder and maple syrup for a delicious chocolate mousse you won’t forget easily.

Apples

Baked apples with raisins and nuts
Baked apples with raisins and nuts

One of the most versatile fruits, apples are a fall-favourite because they improve with baking and roasting. Use them in pies, crisps, cobblers, puddings and cake but remember, it’s blasphemy to serve these desserts without whipped cream! Stuffed roasted apples with raisins and nuts, and caramel apples on a stick are festive treats that can make the end of any meal rather special.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon sticks
Cinnamon sticks

A classic flavor pairing with apple, cinnamon is used to flavour everything from mulled wine to chilli. Cinnamon rolls make a warm and comforting breakfast, hot chocolate on a cold fall evening is much improved with a dash of cinnamon and even a Moroccan tagine of lamb can be spiced with cinnamon to add another subtle layer of flavour. Mix cinnamon and sugar together to make the best sweet buttered toast you’ve ever eaten.

Slow-cook, roast or bake these comforting and delicious fall ingredients and make the most of this warm and golden season before it bids us adieu.

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Top 5 Cupcake Stops In New York

I’m always suspicious of people who don’t like cupcakes. I mean, come on! They’re mini cakes with frosting and sprinkles. What’s not to love? I remember the first cupcakes I had ever tasted.  There were six on a white plate, risen to a beautiful golden brown, topped with a delicate twirl of vanilla buttercream the colour of pale sunshine, and covered in a shower of rainbow sprinkles. I fell in love that very instant.

To me, cupcakes are the perfect dessert. They are presented individually, which accounts for a certain degree of neat sophistication. They’re easily adaptable to any flavour or taste, and give their makers a chance to dress them in beautiful sprinkles or edible glitter as a finishing touch.

Here are the top 5 most popular cupcake joints in New York.

                                           Magnolia Bakery  

Magnolia, Cupcake to try-Carrie cupcake and Hummingbird cupcake
Magnolia, Cupcake to try-Carrie cupcake and Hummingbird cupcake

Made famous by the TV show ‘Sex and the City’, this little bakery always has a line all the way down the street from it. Although most patrons are tourists, many locals have specific favourites they keep returning for.  The Devil’s Food cake (with caramel meringue) and the Hummingbird (banana, pineapple and pecan) are some of its top sellers. Magnolia does the classic cupcake well, a standard cake base with buttercream and many variations on that. They have specials that change every day, and monthly specials as well. This month, it’s their Blueberry lemon cupcake with lemon cream cheese icing that’s the star. Other desserts, such as the banana pudding, are also very popular.

Cupcake to try: Carrie cupcake and Hummingbird cupcake

Location: 401 Bleecker Street (and others)

Baked by Melissa

Baked by Melissa took New York by storm with their tiny, beautifully decorated, almost too-cute-to-eat cupcakes that came in every flavour and colour imaginable.
Baked by Melissa took New York by storm with their tiny, beautifully decorated, almost too-cute-to-eat cupcakes that came in every flavour and colour imaginable.

Cupcakes are already mini cakes, right? Then what are mini cupcakes? They’re the cutest things ever! Baked by Melissa took New York by storm when the first shop opened in Soho in 2009. People went nuts for the tiny, beautifully decorated, almost too-cute-to-eat cupcakes that came in every flavour and colour imaginable. And because they’re so tiny and adorable, most patrons walk out with 24 assorted cupcakes that look like a rainbow exploded in a box. Baked by Melissa introduces unique flavours each month, like Lemon Cuparon (lemon cupcake with a lemon macaron on top) and Cookies in Milk (white milk cupcake with a cookie centre and cookie cream frosting).  They also make cupcakes that are completely dipped and covered in chocolate, they come in flavours such as Pink velvet, Peanut butter fluff and Double cookie.

Cupcake to try: Tie-Dye, Cookie Dough and Peanut butter jelly.

Location: 110 Fulton Street (and others)

Crumbs Bake shop

One of the oldest cupcake bakeries in New York (opened in 2003), Crumbs is known for its signature size cupcakes, which are about double the size of a standard cupcake. Crumbs also makes a Colossal Cupcake, which is practically a mini cake in the shape of a cupcake. This bake shop has a loyal fan following, who return for their favourites, such as the rich chocolate Blackout cupcake and the light green and minty Grasshopper classic. They also do mini taste boxes in packs of six or twelve for those who like a little taste of everything.

Cupcake to try: Blackout, Apple Cobbler and Grasshopper

Location: 40 Broad Street (and others)

Sprinkles

Calling themselves the ‘world’s first cupcake bakery’, and opening doors in Beverly Hills in 2005, Sprinkles has to its credit a few other cupcake ‘firsts’. Their travelling food truck called Sprinklesmobile is a first-of-its-kind cupcake truck, and when they introduced the world’s first cupcake ATM, cupcake lovers went berserk with joy. Sprinkles specialise in classic cupcakes made with the best ingredients possible, although they do have some intriguing flavours on the menu, such as the Chai Latte cupcake. Sprinkles also makes gluten-free and vegan variations of their signature red velvet cupcake, as well as an adorable doggie cupcake topped with yogurt frosting for those who can’t say no to their four-legged babies!

Cupcake to try: Banana dark chocolate and Red velvet

Location: 780 Lexington Avenue

Baked

Known and loved for their perfectly cakey-fudgy brownies, it is a little ironic that Baked has some of the best cupcakes in town because the creators, Matt and Renato, wanted to ‘Open a great American bakery that is not a cupcake shop’. Their vanilla cupcake is simple and delicious, which is a rarity, while their chocolate one (Sweet and Salty) is made better with sea salt and salted caramel to compliment and contrast the sweetness.  Some other interesting flavours include the Green tea, an almond cake with green tea buttercream; the Raspberry lemonade, a lemon cake with raspberry jam and lemon curd and Citrus Passion fruit, a white cake with orange and lime and a passion fruit buttercream. All their cupcake flavours are also available as full-size cakes too.

Cupcake to try: Sweet and Salty

Location: 359 Van Brunt Street (and others)

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Reviews

Ibby’s Falafel

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]omfort food means different things to different people – a mother’s biryani, a college dhaba’s samosa or even salty chips, straight from a bag. For me, in a new city where I’ve lived only four months, my current comfort food stop is a walk down the street, a tiny restaurant called Ibby’s Falafel.

Serving an array of Middle Eastern dishes, Ibby’s Falafel is located at Grove Street Jersey City, nestled between some Indian grocery stores and nail salons.  When you walk into the tiny cramped space (half of which is covered with tables and chairs), you’re immediately greeted with that familiar and deeply comforting aroma of roasting meat. There are framed reviews up on the walls, alongside the brief menu, and often, there is Middle Eastern music playing in the background that makes you wish you knew how to belly dance.

Through the day, a wide demographic of people walk through Ibby’s doors. Hungry office-goers who need a quick lunch, tired moms who don’t want to cook lunch and students on a budget. Open until midnight, Ibby’s is also an extremely popular post-drinks joint in Jersey City to eat in after a long night of dancing.

Classic Middle Eastern Delicacies Aplenty!

The most popular items on the menu are the Falafel sandwich and the Shawarma sandwich (chicken or lamb).  The falafels are fried to order and then nestled in a soft, warm pita envelope that has generous fillings of shredded lettuce with onion slivers and fresh tomato chunks and finally doused with a creamy tahini sauce.

The chicken and lamb shawarmas are both well-spiced and full of flavour, but I do enjoy the “meatier” taste of the lamb. The spinning meat grillers that rotate tirelessly all through the day make the spiced and marinated meat slightly charred and crisp on the outside, yet gorgeously tender and juicy on the inside. These sandwiches are an easy to-go meal and most patrons drop by to pick one up for a quick meal. Those who can handle the heat often add a lashing of Ibby’s hot sauce to the sandwich. This sauce is not for the faint-hearted, though – it looks and tastes like a pure red chilli paste. There is also the option to get the shawarma as a platter with salad instead of tucked in bread as a sandwich.

Fitness Freaks Are Not Left Out

Ibby’s also specialises in Middle Eastern salads that are a great choice for the health-conscious. In particular, the Fatoush salad that’s piled high with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, pita croutons, olives and dressed in vinegar, lime and olive oil is deliciously fresh and perfect for a summer lunch.

No Middle Eastern restaurant worth its salt has anything less than outstanding, poetry-inducing hummus, baba ghanoush and tzatziki, and Ibby’s has certainly got their’s right. Their hummus is a thick, creamy chickpea puree with hints of garlic, lime and sesame, while the baba ghanoush is a generous portion of roasted and lightly charred eggplant flesh, blended with parsley, onions and lime. The yogurt-based tzatziki goes well with meat, and has a strong garlic flavour that I love. My standard order at Ibby’s is the lamb shawarma with a side of the baba ghanoush so I can smother the rich eggplant dip onto my meaty shawarma before every delicious mouthful.

Ibby’s also does lamb and chicken kebabs on the skewer, but I don’t think they’re a patch on the shawarmas. Other popular items on the menu include stuffed vine leaves (filled with seasoned rice and mint), ful madammes (fava beans cooked with cumin and finished with lime and olive oil) and tabouli (a fresh couscous and vegetable side dish).

Sweet Treats to Please Every One

For such a small restaurant, Ibby’s certainly does not disappoint on the dessert front. They have a few specialties that are baked fresh every day. Whether it is the classic Baklava (filo pastry speckled with nuts and drizzled with honey), the small bites of Mabrouma (twisted filo dough cups topped with assorted nuts) or their signature rice pudding crowned with plump raisins and dusted with cinnamon, there is enough to choose from, to end with a sweet treat.

The Middle Eastern flavours of Ibby’s Falafel have become, to me, a comfort on more weary days. On days I miss home, the spices in the lamb and the garlic in the tzatziki remind me of mother’s mutton biryani and raita. It’s both strange and wonderful how, as we grow up and travel, new tastes and flavours bring us comfort, joy and remind us of home. For many in this neighbourhood, like me, this small restaurant with honest, delicious food is like a piece of home.