Category Archives: Spanish/Latin American

Spanish/Latin American - Travel Beauty - Travel Feasts

All about my Costa Rica trip!

May 22, 2015

I’m still nostalgic over my trip to beautiful Costa Rica. Since then, I’ve had a few people asking me about details about what I did, and where I stayed so I figured I’ll do a round up here to make it easier on everyone ☺.

Poás Volcano



WHERE WE STAYED
(in order of day):
Double Tree Hilton (San Jose)

Lobby at the Double Tree in San Jose


Outdoor pool at the Double Tree hotel


Hotel Presidente (San Jose)

Hotel Presidente


Volcano Lodge (Arenal)

Welcome drinks at Volcano Lodge


Outdoor pools at the Volcano Lodge

Note: One place to avoid if you’re going to Arenal is Arenal Paraiso Resort & Spa. We kept coming back to our room to find animal droppings on our bed, so we had to shift over to Volcano Lodge really late at night.
Parador Resort & Spa (Punta Quepos/Manuel Antonio)

Parador Hotel


That view!


*This was by far our favorite hotel – beautiful heated pools, scenery, spa, and gym.
Club del Mar (Playa Jaco/Jaco Beach)

Club del Mar


Club Del Mar at night


WHAT I PACKED
:
Pack plenty of comfy workout clothes (I depended on leggings), sneakers (or water shoes) for rafting, and canyoning, and extra bathing suits. By the end, every single thing I brought was drenched. There was almost no day where we didn’t get wet, either from activities, or from light rainfall.


Toiletries
:
Travel shampoo
Moroccanoil serum (travel size)
Dove travel size body wash
Sunscreen (I brought Neutrogena’s and L’Occitane’s Jenipapo Oil with SPF 15 for all over just because it smells amazing)

Makeup
:
Tarte Lights Camera Lashes Waterproof mascara
Tarte Skinny SmolderEyes Waterproof Eye Liner
Becca Beach Tint (for lips and cheeks)
Revlon PhotoReady Insta-Fix Makeup


WHAT WE DID
:
Day 1 and 2
Visited the Doka estate to learn about how they pick and process coffee.

Doka Estate


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Showing the difference between different coffee roasts


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Botas Lagoon near Poás Volcano


Went to the active Poás Volcano which was probably one of the most beautiful natural beauties I’ve ever seen.

Hiking after Paos


Views on the way to La Paz


Stopping for fresh strawberries on the way


From there, we went on another hike to La Paz Waterfalls Garden.

On the way to see the waterfalls


Toucans!


Macaw amore


Butterfly garden


Midday showers right when we started eating lunch


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Mountain lion


Spotted jaguars


La Paz waterfall


Day 3
White Water Rafting on the Pacuare River with Rios Tropicales. I’ve never rafted before, but this three-hour journey was one of the most crazy and memorable things we did.

White water rafting with Rios Tropicales


.


The river is a Class III-IV, which makes it pretty rough but the guides were excellent and took care of everyone (and yes some rafts flipped over – you have to be prepared for anything on the river!). When you have moments of calm, the scenery is breathtaking, and there’s even a part between canyons you can jump off the raft and swim.

One of my favorite parts of the experience -- rafting in this serene space between canyons

Day 4
Canyoning tour, hike in Arenal National Park, and an all night soak in hot springs in the Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort.

Canyoning was another fun trip for us. We were strapped into a harness and started from the top of a waterfall where we were taught to repel off the rocks and then led through a trail that consisted of unexpected submersion and what they jokingly called a Costa Rican tsunami:

Canyoning!


Where's Shy?


We changed the pace for the hike where we learned about the most famous Arenal Volcano, and were finally led straight to Tabacon’s hot springs. This was such a treat after all our hikes and rafting from the day before (which we were thoroughly sore from). The spa uses water that’s naturally heated from the Arenal volcano. It’s the most relaxing experience ever, plus they have a full buffet waiting for you after you’re done swimming.

Hike to Arenal Volcano before dipping in the hot springs


Day 5
Private transfer to Manuel Antonio, a beautiful beach town. I should note here that of all the physically demanding things we did, nothing got to me except this 5 hour car ride of winding roads and mountains. I almost got really car sick half way there, I had to switch places with the guy in front just because I was getting so dizzy. But anyway – the good part is we were greeted with cool watermelon juices and warm face towels right when we got to Parador Hotel. We had the day off to enjoy the pools at the resort. The second day we took a hike at the Manuel Antonio rainforest, where we got to spy on sloths, snakes, monkeys, lizards, and toucans. We ended the hike at a beach where we were able to rest and lay out for a little while.

Day 6

This was supposed to be our day off, but my friend Fatima and I visited the tour desk at the hotel and booked ziplining and horse back riding through the jungle. The horse back riding trail ended at the most beautiful waterfall where you can swim if you want (realistically there’s not a lot of space to swim, although the water is shallow enough if you want to try).

Zipling fun


Horse back riding


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Riding to waterfalls

Day 7 and 8
Jaco beach. This was supposed to be another beach day for us, but Jaco is more of a surfer’s beach. The water was at low tide when we got there, and it’s mostly dark sand and rocks. Here Fatima booked surfing lessons and I rented a boogie board for the day.

WHAT WE ATE
Most of our meals were included with the tour and we ate a lot of rice and beans, eggs, potatoes, and fresh fruits (pineapples, guavas, and watermelon), which I surprisingly never got sick of.

Burritos and nachos at Jaco


Fatima and I started a bad habit of having cake and tea every night at Parador too…

Nightly rituals


I also have been really recommending the tour company who put our itinerary and accommodations together so last minute for us – Lars at CRS Tours was amazing and on call whenever I needed him while I was there too. If you want to book your tour through them (at a very reasonable price), email him at lars.s@crstours.com (our Adrenaline & Relaxation package inluded bilingual guides, a SIM card for your phone, and plenty of meals).

Last sight on the way to the airport!

PURA VIDA!!



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Shy
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FOOD - "The Delicious" - Mexican - Spanish/Latin American

Otto’s Tacos in the East Village

December 14, 2013

I always say good Mexican food is not NYC’s forte, which  may not necessarily be true for long. I have a short list right now — Tacombi in Nolita is up there; Oficina Latina has good bites and a fun atmosphere; La Esquina (must try their queso). Now there’s a brand new joint on the block: Otto’s Tacos in the East Village which just opened last month. I stopped by a couple days ago to check it out with my friend Feeny, and got the run down of the menu from owner Otto Cedeno himself (he’s real! And you’ll likely catch him there).

Otto's Tacos. Source: Instagram

The food, which I’ll get to in a minute, was among many highlights to the story. Maybe not so surprisingly, Otto was influenced by his LA-roots for the west coast style mini tacos (although rooting for the Lakers may be his strongest connection to Cali these days).

The more surprising part is Otto’s background comes in tech (he was the head of Operations and Production at Livestream), not necessarily a culinary one. But, he explained, his passion for the NY neighborhood he’s been residing in on and off since he was a teenager, and of course, really good Mexican food is what drove him back to set up shop on the corner of 9th and 2nd Avenue. “I said it has to either be in the East Village or I’m not doing it at all,” Otto said. Is it for the cool factor? I ask, considering East Village does boast some of the best restaurants. He replied that it was to give back to the area he lived in for so long. It really is as much about the tacos as the neighborhood for him.

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Guacamole

THE TACOS

The tacos are served on a homemade corn tortilla that are prepared right in the front of the taqueria. They come filled with your choice of carne asada (beef), chicken, pork, shrimp, or mushroom and chef suggested sauces (which you can customize if you’d like).

Carne asada (beef) tacos


Chicken tacos

Feen got the beef and chicken and I opted for the shrimp and mushroom. Everything was bursting with layers of  flavor — Feen said the beef was the best she’s ever had and the chicken was just as good, and I can say the shrimp and mushroom didn’t disappoint either.

Shrimp taco


Mushroom tacos

It’s hard to lose with fresh chopped vegetables like onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, and seasonings done so right that you probably wouldn’t even notice that there was no cheese topping them (note: none needed). The thicker-than-flour corn tortillas also gave the tacos more density in every bite.

Corn tortillas

MASA FRIES

They serve the standard guac and chips but the masa fries is one of their strong points of differentiation from other Mexican places — when was the last time you’ve been to one and saw fries on the menu? These aren’t any normal fries either.

Masa Fries

Instead of going the usual potato route, Otto’s makes them with the same masa corn flour. The recipes was a serendipitious mistake — Otto said chef Joe Lonigro was making masa and when they didn’t turn out right, threw them in the fryer. Masa fries were born. These are paired with chipotle mayo sauce which makes everything taste even better — unless you don’t like chipotle mayo (in which case, what’s wrong with you?).

HORCHATA

Mexican Coke and Horchata

Made in house daily, a fresh and sweet rice milk and cinnamon drink that almost tastes like dessert…

CHURROS

…until you realize you can also have dessert with their churros and dulce de leche dipping sauce.

Churros

And might I add, nothing on the menu is more than $3.50. You would be doing a disservice to yourself by not stopping by. Otto’s definitely brought sexy good Mexican food back to a city that never tires of bragging all the amazing cuisines here.

Now, if he can only do something about those Lakers… (JUST KIDDING, OTTO!)


Restaurant Info:
Otto’s Tacos

141 2nd Ave.
at 9th Street
New York, NY 10003
646-678-4018
East Village


REPORT CARD
Meal: Dinner

Occasion: Checking out the new restaurant
Price: $
(Out of three stars)
Ambiance: *** (no frills and casual for a bite-and-go. Just a few communal tables and bar stools)
Food: ***
Service: ***
Would I go back?: Yes!


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FOOD - "The Delicious" - Homemade - Mexican - Recipes - Spanish/Latin American

Recipes: Chicken enchiladas, creamy corn esquites, and guacamole

November 21, 2013

I’m nervous to cook a lot of things for a big party, but chicken enchiladas — chicken enchiladas I can do. My friends and I basically stole adopted the recipe from our resident chef in college, Hana Khan. I remember she used to bake tandoori chicken like it ain’t no thang and we all continued to be impressed with how she worked her way around the kitchen in those early years while we were still trying to figure out our left foot from our right.

Mexican food night!

The creamy enchiladas are pretty easy to make (thanks to some shortcuts), but it has a couple of moving parts. Rafia decided to make guacamole and corn esquites (creamy corn) to compliment the main course, and I think it all worked pretty well together! I also loved how she turned the shells of the avocados she used to make the guacamole as little holders for the corn (presentation, people!). Here are all the recipes:

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

(makes about 15 enchiladas)

Ingredients:

1 lb Chicken breast
Red chili powder seasoning
Cajon seasoning
8 oz tub of sour cream
2 Campbell’s cream of broccoli soup
Tortilla wraps (they usually come in packs of 8, so I get two of them)
Medium or hot salsa (depending on preference…I use medium just to be safe)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Canola oil (to fry chicken)

Directions:

1. Cut chicken breast into small cubes and start seasoning with red chili powder and cajun seasoning right away. I just do it by eye, and make sure all the chicken is full coated, but think it’s about 2 tbs of each seasoning.

2. I then put it all in a Ziplock bag to marinate. I let it marinate overnight in the fridge. If you don’t have that much time, you can just let it sit for an hour or two.

3. In a sauce pan, pour canola oil (about 1/4 cup), and let it warm. Start frying the chicken once it’s warm. After frying all the chicken, place in a plate and keep aside til you make the sauce.

4. In a separate pan or pot, pour sour cream and cream of broccoli soup. Mix it together and warm til the sauce thickens. Then, add the chicken to the mixture.

5. Pre-heat oven to 350. Then use a rectangular baking pan (13×9-inch ones are ideal) for tortillas. Make sure the bottom is greased well.

6. Once the sauce/chicken mixture is ready, spoon about 1/4 cup of the mixture and place a little in each tortilla. Fold over filling and roll up in the tortilla. Place tortilla in pan (seam down). Place each tortialla side by side in the pan.

7. Once each tortilla is placed side by side to fill the pan, take a spoon and spread the top with the salsa. Then, sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted on top.

CORN ESQUITES (CREAMY CORN)


Ingredients

1 pack of frozen corn
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons cojita cheese (or you can use crumbled queso fresco or mild feta cheese)
Cilantro
1 white onion
Olive oil (to sautee onions)
Cayenne pepper or ground chili powder, for sprinkling
1-2 jalapeno peppers
Salt, for sprinkling

Directions:

Chop the white onion. Heat olive oil in a sauce pan and sautee onions. Then, add corn and continue to satuee and salt to taste. Next, add a cup of water, cayenne pepper and let it all cook until water evaporates. When corn is tender, mix in mayo, butter, jalapeno peppers and cilantro. Sprinkle with cheese.


GUACAMOLE


Ingredients:

4 ripe avocadoes
1/4 cup thinly sliced grape or cherry tomatoes (or mangoes if you’re feeling adventurous)
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
Coarsely chopped cilantro, to taste (about a 1 1/2 teaspoon)
Juice of one half lime (tip: you can grill it in a skillet (it enhances the flavor and warm limes produce more juice)
1/2 teaspoon each cumin and chili powder (or to taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients except the avocadoes, salt and pepper to give the flavors a chance to meld for a half hour or so. Mash the avocadoes with a fork so there are whole pieces of avocado and then gently fold in the other ingredients. Serve immediately.


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Breakfast/Brunch - FOOD - "The Delicious" - Homemade - Recipes - Spanish/Latin American

Easy breakfast recipe: Huevos Rancheros

June 23, 2013

One of my favorite things to order when I go out for breakfast is Huevos Rancheros. Every restaurant I’ve been to has its own twist on the dish, which makes it a little more interesting to order. I always wanted to try making it myself at home. Recently at work, I came across a cookbook that had an easy enough recipe to follow. I thought it was a good place to start as a huevos-rancheros-at-home newbie. I kind of whipped this up out of memory because I didn’t have the book on me, but it actually turned out pretty great.

Ingredients for Huevos Rancheros



WHAT YOU NEED: (Serves: 4)

– 4 eggs
– Corn tostada tortillas (the book recommended buying the ones you can bake, but these ready-made corn tortillas I got from the Mexican grocery store were totally fine and cuts down cooking time)
– A can of black beans
– Salsa (good old Tostitos chunky salsa is great)
– 1 cup cheese (Mozarella is a good choice for this recipe, and you can get it pre-shredded to save time, but I just used whatever I had at home which was this block of cheese)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Empty the salsa and beans on separate non-stick frying pan and warm over medium heat simultaneously.

Heat beans and sala in separate pans

2. While the two are heating, start shredding the cheese. When the salsa starts boiling, it’s time to add the eggs. I like to make a little room with a wooden spoon in the salsa, and then I crack the egg right into the little space. If you’re cooking 4 eggs, crack one in each corner.

Frying eggs in the salsa

3. Now make sure you cover the eggs with a lid. Really important to cover it or else the top of the eggs won’t cook through properly.

Cover the eggs to cook

4. When the eggs firm up a bit, add the cheese, and cover again.

Eggs should firm before you add cheese


Add mozarella cheese

5. While the eggs are still cooking, lay the tostadas in a plate. Take a large spoon to spread the cooked black beans over each tostada.

Top tortillas with black beans

6. After the cheese is completely melted on the eggs, take a spatula to scoop up each egg, and lay it on top of the tostadas. Since they will be completely covered with cheese, you have to kind of just remember where each egg is placed, but they should be easy to scoop up since they should be thoroughly firm and cooked at this point.

Topping tortillas with eggs

7. Add a little pepper and salt, and serve.

Finished huevos rancheros!


OPTIONAL
: I serve with a side of chipotle corn that you can get at the grocery store. I first cook the corn, then whatever is left in the pan of the salsa/cheese mix, I’ll add the corn to that and serve on the side. Guacamole is also a good side to the dish. You can even mix the black beans and corn together and place on the tortilla before hand. It’s really up to you.


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FOOD - "The Delicious" - Mexican - Spanish/Latin American

Tacombi in Nolita

February 16, 2013

Because I’m constantly trying to discover new restaurants in the city, I rarely return to the same ones (unless, per my made-up rule, I bring someone new). But there are times I have “moments” with certain restaurants — my go-to’s that I like to bring everyone to since I’m pretty sure they’ll leave the meal feeling more than satisfied. My current relationship for this very reason is with Tacombi in Nolita. The first time I went, per my friend Sadia’s suggestion, it was a blistering cold night. One of those nights that we probably would have ended up ordering in at either of our apartments, but I figured I could use a change of scene. The moment I walked into Tacombi, I felt like I left the cold city far behind. It felt like a beach party in here:

Inside Tacombi


The WV van in which they serve food from their home base in Mexico


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Menus

It had a very fun, very non-pretentious vibe. The menus came out on a slip of paper, and we quickly ordered guacamole and the corn esquites to start.

Guacamole and chips

When it came out, the waitress told me not to forget to squeeze the lime on the corn and mix it up before we ate it. Both were so fresh and especially appreciated the spicy chili powder mixed in with the corn.

Corn esquites served in a cup

Whenever I go to a new place, I use Foursquare to see what ‘tips’ other diners have left, and the crispy fish tacos where overwhelmingly popular. I found out later from the owner that according to their sales, the crispy fish tacos are the most popular item on their menu — people order double of that amount than the next item (the chicken taco). I’m usually not one for fish, but I had to give it a try. I order that and the shrimp taco.

Crispy fish (tilapia) taco


Shrimp taco

The tacos are small, but extraordinarily satisfying. I was already obsessed with the food, ambiance, and service that I came back a couple more times in the course of the next few weeks with more friends. Honestly, I don’t feel like Mexican food is NYC’s forte, as say places in California based on the places I’ve eaten at so far – and Tacombi made me regain my faith that there is hope. Everything is so fresh and tasty. Completely coincidentally, I was invited to come for a food tasting a week later, where I met the owners and chef (an adorable Luis Aguilar Puente, whom Tacombi brought over straight from Mexico after owner Dario Wolos was overwhelmingly impressed with the sauce he prepared in the food he ate…albeit during Sandy, but Luis didn’t complain about the timing), and learned more about the food.

Mini samples of Tacombi's tacos

This time I sampled the food under the guidance of Dieter Wiechmann (Tacombi’s co-owner) on what house-blended sauces I could try with the tacos. Seriously, the tacos are already good on their own, but the sauces bring it to a whole other level! Dario explained to me later in Mexico they are huge on sauces. “Anyone can cook decent chicken or meat, but what really sets one dish from another are the sauces you eat with them.”

Tacombi sauces


Fish taco with chipotle hibiscus flower sauce

I tried some of the green chili sauce with the shrimp (superb), and interestingly enough, Dieter recommended the sweet sauce with the fish (mind-blowing).

Yes, I helped myself to more corn esquites ;)


Fish ceviche

I also tried the fish ceviche (I know, I don’t even know who I am anymore). It comes with chips and saltines — with the latter is how they traditionally eat it in Mexico. I couldn’t believe how much I even liked the citrusy fish here. I feel like Tacombi was really challenging my taste preferences, and I’m happily converting. Just out of curiosity, I asked Dieter if he eats here everyday (I kinda always wondered if restaurant owners do), and he confirmed my suspicion. “The thing is, all the ingredients are really fresh but also made with really simple ingredients so even after eating here day after day, I won’t feel like I’m feeling sick of my stomach is having enough.” Plus, what better way to test out quality control but to have to owner order from the restaurant daily?

Veggie taco with avocado and mushroom


Taco of the week

Right now, they are running a special taco of the week — the week before was octopus (which turned out to be immensely popular), and they were also testing out lamb. The most dishes might make it to the regular menu, but they’re taking it by week to experiment.

Barrels of fruit drinks and horchata


Drink sampling

I should also mention the refreshing, light drinks they serve which I was able to get a tasting of. The horchata (rice milk with cinnamon), herbal hibiscus, watermelon, and pineapple are richly refreshing (the hibiscus is the only one that is more bitter, but loaded with antioxidants…it’s more of a mood drink) all which I can only tell will be even more in demand come spring and summer time.

Horchata

And PS, none of the tacos on their menu are over $6. Consider this deal sealed…I think I can make an exception to my restaurant rule for some places.

Coffee to go (Co-owner Dieter designs everything in the restaurant, from tables to the little stamps on their coffee cups)


REPORT CARD

Meal: Lunch and Dinners
Price: $
(Out of three stars)
Ambiance: ***
Food: ***
Service: *** (Staff here have always been INCREDIBLY nice)
Would I go back?: Over and over again.

Restaurant Info:
Tacombi

267 Elizabeth St.
at E. Houston St.
New York, NY 10012
(917) 727-0179
Nolita

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FOOD - "The Delicious" - Mexican - Spanish/Latin American - Travel Feasts

Frida: Mexican Cuisine at the Americana Mall

November 15, 2012

Hurricane, winter storms, and the generally miserable weather on the east coast warrants a visit to California. And MAYBE my friends Yasir and Sarah moving out here had something to do with it. But 70s (aka perfect) and sun made it a little bit of a selfish vacation to get away from the madness in the city. I don’t think I realized how many people are out here but my days already have been full of good company, including having brunch yesterday at Frida at the Americana mall with the lovely Nadia of Sweet Pillar & Co..

Burrito Vegetariano


Burrito Vegetariano


Burrito Mazatlán

We split a burrito vegetariano (sautéed asparagus and zucchini with white rice, black beans, lettuce, sour cream, queso fresco and guacamole, wrapped in a flour tortilla) and burrito mazatlán (sautéed shrimp in a chile-pasilla orange sauce, onions, lettuce, and guacamole wrapped in a flour tortilla. Served with rice and beans). Without meat, you would think it would fall short but both burritos were fresh, tasty, and in the case of the mazatlan, spiced perfectly. We finished off with green tea and a very strong, but well-timed, latte.

Plus with plenty of outdoor seating, we felt like we weren’t missing the extremely beautiful day I was hoping for…even after sitting there comfortably for four hours. Time flies with good food and good company!


REPORT CARD

Meal: Lunch
Price: $$
(Out of three stars)
Ambiance: ***
Food: ***
Service: *** (no one bothered us for taking our sweet time and there was no pressure to order more than we could finish)
Would I go back?: Yes

Restaurant Info:
Frida

750 Americana Way
Glendale, CA 91210
(818) 551-1666


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