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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Tacos in a Tortilla Factory and Other Brooklyn Mexican Tips

You’ll find no fresher tortillas than the ones used for tacos at Los Tortilleria Mexicana. This tortilla factory in Bushwick’s bustling Mexican section has a taco stand right on the premises, turning out tasty $2 tacos and tostadas, reports anneyuki. Grab a table, settle in for lunch, and watch the crew pack tortillas by the case.

Some of those tortillas might be bound for nearby Tacos La Hacienda, which serves cheap, authentic Mexican food plus standard diner fare in a silver dining car. Look for specials like chicken in mole poblano and pork ribs in green sauce, advises guide boy.

Los Tortilleria Mexicana [Bushwick]
271 Starr St., between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas Aves., Brooklyn

Tacos La Hacienda [Bushwick]
96 Wyckoff Ave., near Hart St., Brooklyn

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Tacos in NYC
Just moved to East Williamsburg/Bushwick–where should I eat?

A Surprising Sirloin Salad at Keens

The rarely mentioned steak salad at Keens is eminently houndworthy and probably not what you would expect. It’s a smallish piece of aged prime sirloin, maybe a ten-ouncer, with a salad on the side. The salad is nothing special, reports Paul Lukas, but the steak is fantastic. “Among the best small steaks I’ve had in the city,” he adds, “and I didn’t feel like I had to take a nap immediately afterward. Recommended.”

It’s $23 and available only for lunch or in the Pub Room.

Keens Steakhouse [Herald Square]
72 W. 36th St., between 6th and 5th Aves., Manhattan

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“Steak Salad” at Keen’s

This May Be the Perfect Mooncakes

While most mooncakes are mass produced and packaged for international distribution, Taiwan Gourmet Deli’s are hand-made daily with freshly ground ingredients including dates, green beans, and red beans. They’re made with just the right amount of lard, and very few preservatives, ipsedixit says. Taiwan Gourmet Deli’s specialty are green pong moon cakes, white with a flakey crust.

Diamond Bakery in San Gabriel and Queen’s bakery in Chinatown both are both worthy mooncake makers with a large variety of flavor options. There are so many different fillings it’s hard to choose. Red bean, date/walnut, and mixed nut with ham are current favorites, says jenn. For the freshest mooncakes get them before October 6th, the official start of the Moon Festival.

Family Pastry’s sells a large variety of fresh moon cakes, says monku, who considers their plump, pork-filled, baked charsu bao the best around.

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You looking for good MOON CAKES? Read on …

Sticky Thai Dessert Situation

Sticky rice with fresh mango is a great example of the “whole is more than the some of its parts” principle–a few simple ingredients, and a brilliant result.

The Wat Thai Temple’s serves one of the best sticky rice with mangos around. The mangoes are never less than perfectly ripe, says monkey. On weekends from 11 AM to 3 PM. $3 will get you a pint of sticky rice, a whole mango and a small cup of coconut cream; $5 gets you double. Go to the booth with the longest line, they have the best mango with sticky rice, Kain Natayo adds.

Tuk Tuk Thai sometimes serves it as a special and it’s so good, says echo eater.

Chandra makes a very good version using the most succulent and delicious mangoes, WildSwede says. Saladang’s version is worth checking out too, says charmo.

Bhan Kanom Thai is a small Thai snack shop that makes pretty good sticky rice and mango, although the mango isn’t as fresh as its’ precut. As a bonus, pick up a package of their completely delish green mango slices with sticky sauce, just don’t eat too much or your stomach will regret it, says igj. They also make a great version of kanom krok and sweet black rice too.

Siamese Garden makes excellent sticky rice with mango, and the rest of their menu is solid too.

The sticky rice and mango at Cafe Talesai is the one outstanding dish on an otherwise mediocre menu, says omotosando.

Tuk Tuk Thai Restaurant [Midtown]
8875 W. Pico Blvd., Robertson, Los Angeles

Wat Thai Buddhist Temple [East San Fernando Valley]
8225 Coldwater Canyon Ave., Roscoe, North Hollywood

Chandra Thai Restaurant [Pasadena-ish]
400 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena

Saladang Song [Pasadena-ish]
383 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

Bhan Kanom Thai [Thai Town]
5271 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

Bhan Kanom Thai [East San Fernando Valley]
12714 Sherman Way, North Hollywood

Siamese Garden [Beaches]
301 Washington Blvd., Venice

Cafe Talesai [Beverly Hills]
9198 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills

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sticky rice with mango?

Chard: It’s Green

Chard is one of those dark leafy greens packed with fiber and nutrients–you know, the stuff that we’re always being told to eat more of. Luckily, it’s also delicious–provided you don’t mind a bit of bite to your greens (though chard is definitely milder than, say, kale). You’ll find green, ruby, and rainbow chard for sale; they’ve all got green leaves, but their ribs and stems differ in color (rainbow is green, ruby, and gold-ribbed chard bundled together). Both stems and leaves are good eating, but stems need to cook longer. There are two main recipe schools: parcook, then finish with a brief saute, or don’t parcook, but add liquid and braise.

It’s best to parboil chard, believes jen kalb, who says the ribs can sometimes turn gray when steamed or sauteed. She adds that if the stems are thick, it’s best to pull some of the strings from the outer layer and cut them into smaller pieces before proceeding.

Chard’s great in minestrone, jen adds: the ribs never lose their crispness. Will Owen says chard enhances any variation of lentil soup–vegetarian, meat based, simple, or complex: “the earthiness of both lentils and chard intermingle and enhance each other.” Add chopped chard for the last hour or so of simmering, and put a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice in your bowl at the table.

Alan Divack calls his prep “Korean-ish”: shred and and boil the chard; put the stems in, cook about 3 minutes, then add the leaves and cook for 5 minutes more. Drain, refresh in cold water, and squeeze dry. Mix sesame oil, white sugar, salt, and cayenne or Korean red pepper in a serving bowl to taste. Add chard and stir well.

Chop rainbow chard and parboil in a little chicken stock. Once the chard is softened, add some olive oil, sea salt, lemon zest, and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Great mixed into orzo that dressed with olive oil, parsley, and more lemon zest to taste, says MaspethMaven.

phoenikia offers this variation a classic Italian spinach preparation: saute 2 cloves of minced garlic in 2 or 3 Tbsps. of olive oil, then add 1/2 cup pine nuts, and sautee a bit more. Add 6 or7 cups of parboiled, drained, chopped chard to the skillet, along with 3/4 cup of raisins soaked in warm water for 5 minutes to plump, then drained. Sautee for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

JasmineG cooks a dish she says is terrific as is, but also makes a great topping for pasta shapes like penne–it’s especially pretty over pasta if made with rainbow chard: cut the stems and ribs from a bunch of chard, and chop them and the leaves up (keeping them separate). Put just enough olive oil in a big skillet to coat the bottom and add some minced garlic and red pepper flakes, then add the chard stems and some water and cover. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the leaves and more water, cover again for about 3 minutes. When the chard is tender, add feta, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, some grated pecorino, and salt and pepper, and toss it all together.

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Chary of chard

Five Spice Powder for Fish and Sweets

Chinese five spice powder is most commonly used when cooking duck and other meats, but Chowhounds offer tips for using it with fish and in dessert-y preps.

rootlesscosmo rubs five spice powder on the exposed flesh of a salmon fillet, then pan-sears the fish, skin side-down, for a few minutes, and finishes in a 400 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes until done. Meaty white fishes like halibut stand up well to assertive five spice powder, says lunchbox, who recommends dredging halibut in flour seasoned with five spice and sauteing.

For sweets, “anything sweet that you would add cinnamon to is better with five spice,” preaches lunchbox. He poaches pears for tarts in ruby port and five spice powder. DGresh sautes ripe plantains in a mixture of butter and oil, sprinkling with five spice powder when they’re nearly done. babette feasts loves five spice powder in gingerbread.

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Non-Meat recipes for 5 spice powder

The Venerable BLT

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato on toast is just about the perfect sandwich, and easy to make. Most prefer the bacon to be crisp enough that it breaks with one bite. Thick-sliced crisp bacon will give you even more bacon flavor.

Those who like a chewy texture use a hardy baguette that will hold up to the ingredients.

macca says it’s a great sandwich to take on road trips. Put each ingredient in its own container, take along some mayo in the cooler, and assemble when it’s time to eat. (If you’re camping, the bacon can be cooked just before making sandwiches.)

An alternative to sliced tomatoes is tomato relish. It’s nice for variety, says ipsedixit. Fried green tomato is good too. Serve before the tomatoes get soggy.

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How do you prefer your “B” in your BLT?

Favorite Foods by Mail

Shopping online is fast and convenient, and a great way to get something special or products you can’t find locally. Here are links for some favorite online purveyors.

Bazzini Nuts in New York is a wonderful source for mixed nuts. You can get them packed in a great-looking tin with a picture of an elephant holding a peanut in its trunk; it would make a nice gift. Five pounds of mixed nuts (without peanuts) is about $30, reports Niki Rothman.

Here you can buy cashews spiced with piri piri.

Lobel’s butcher shop in New York City has beautiful and expensive meat.

Zingermans Deli is great for everything, says Tripper. Olive oil, vinegar, cheese, are all top quality. They also make great gift baskets.

pickawicca highly recommends lobster pot pies from Hancock Lobster. They’re expensive, but packed with chunks of lobster. A great special-occasion entree.

Wolferman’s has super-thick English muffins in amazing flavors. They taste a bit cakey, like soda bread. The fruit spreads are great too, saysIvecch

For fresh wild mushrooms, go to Aux Delices.

And for game, try D’artagnan.

Get your spices from Penzey’s. Or try the Spice House in Chicago. Not everything is listed on their site; just tell them what you’re looking for. They’re nice folks, too, says Bananna A.

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favourite mail-order food

What to Do with Plain Yogurt

What to Do with Plain Yogurt

Drink it, make cheese with it, cook with it instead of sour cream or buttermilk. READ MORE

Sweet, Sour, Salty, What?

Sweet, Sour, Salty, What?

Americans have historically hated bitter tastes, while other cultures loved them. Until now. Chefs are playing with bitter in new ways, and U.S. diners are finally appreciating it. READ MORE