Tacolandia x Tabasco

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Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Tacolandia, courtesy of 2016′s sponsor, Tabasco. I enjoy teaming up with brands that I use in my every day life, and if you have ever eaten with me, you know how much I love hot sauce, especially Tabasco’s Chipotle Hot Sauce. It’s perfect splashed on a Ensenada-style fish taco or chorizo and eggs in the morning – the flavor pairs just right with the Mexican food in my life. I was curious to see how Tabasco would be incorporated at Tacolandia and was in awe with how Chef Ray Garcia created one of the best tacos at the festival by marinating brisket with Tabasco’s Chipotle Sauce. His savory creation sat atop a blue corn tortilla with pickled onions and micro cilantro. If you had the opportunity to devour this taco, you know how incredible it tasted. It was SO GOOD!

To my excitement, I got my hands on Chef Garcia’s recipe for his Chipotle Brisket Tacos (photographed above). Now both you and I can make it at home. Click on more… to read the full recipe.

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SoSPA at Sofitel St. James

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One of my stops while in London was the Sofitel St. James, a beautiful hotel within walking distance of the palace and central to some crucial shopping in the city, like Dover Street Market, which was but a few steps around the corner. I checked into this property for a few nights as I was invited to experience the luxuries of the SoSPA and I was eager to relax, as I had been traveling non-stop for the entire month of April. At the Sofitel St. James, the spa completely removes your from the stresses of the outside world. My spa visit while in London was ideal, as I felt totally rejuvenated after my session. I’ve learned from experience, that while traveling, it’s essential to get some sort of wellness treatment – it’s essential in keeping your levels up. As I stepped into SoSPA, I knew I was about to truly unwind and I was ready.

After taking a look at the spa’s impressive menu, I decided to choose a classic deep tissue massage with their traditional hamam, which I was not familiar with, but it enticed me.
The traditional hamam service offers 45 minutes of the North African tradition of purifying and cleansing the skin with olive rich black soap. After I was gently washed atop a heated marble table, I stepped into an adjoined steam room to open my pores and to cleanse my skin further. The masseur welcomed me back to the heated marble table where she then scrubbed my entire body with a kassa glove, followed by a Moroccan massage, and then the application of a special Marisa Berenson oil made exclusively for the hotel. After that treatment, my skin had never felt softer or more luxurious.

Like my time in the spa, my stay at the Sofitel St. James was very relaxed. The rare times I was found in my room and not running around the streets of London, I was resting comfortably in my hotel robe, hotel slippers, and noshing on a lovely plate of treats left so kindly left for me. My room had a doorbell so that I wouldn’t be disturbed and a very large bathtub for me to escape into a mountain of bubbles, courtesy of the lovely selection of Hermès products found in all of the Sofitel St. James’ rooms. I was truly luxuriating while recharging my batteries, which is exactly what I need from a hotel when I check in.

Sofitel St. James, 6 Waterloo Pl, London SW1Y 4AN, United Kingdom

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Hornitos® Grapefruit Rosemary Refresher

Hornitos Tequila Cocktail

Hornitos® Rosemary Refresher

Hornitos® Cocktail Recipes

Making cocktails for friends and family is something I take great joy in. I am always on the lookout for new recipes, stemware, and try to stay up to date on the hottest garnishes. When I hit the liquor cabinet to create my very own masterpiece, the first thing I reach for is a bottle of tequila or mezcal. Some might suggest that being Mexican American surely has some influence on my preferred alcohol choice, but I also like to think it’s the smooth taste of tequila that really makes it #1.

When I drink tequila, I need something that’s easy to toss back. When I got my hands on a bottle of Hornitos® Tequila Plata – 100% blue agave, double distilled, untouched by wood barrels, and unmarked by aging, I knew I was in for a treat. I wanted to compliment its floral and herbal notes, which meant I was thinking citrus. Having the good fortune of living in sunny California and having access to some of the best grapefruit, oranges, and lemons, it was fun recreating this recipe, and from ingredients found in my very own backyard no less. If you are looking for a cocktail that looks beautiful and will impress, without breaking too much of a sweat, this Rosemary Tequila Refresher is the look.

Enjoy your bottle of Hornitos® Tequila Plata with the following recipe:

Ingredients
1 part Hornitos® Tequila Plata
1 1/2 parts freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 parts rosemary simple syrup
1/4 parts freshly squeeze lime juice
1 spring of rosemary
Sugar
Water

Combine the Hornitos® Tequila with grapefruit juice, lime juice, and rosemary simple syrup. Stir the ingredients until they are well blended, then add ice and serve chilled. Don’t forget to garnish your beautiful cocktail with a sprig of rosemary!

To make the Rosemary Simple Syrup

Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook at medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. Lightly roll the rosemary between your hands to awaken the aromatic oils, then add to the syrup. Continue to cook for 10 more minutes. Let the syrup cool to room temperature. It’s up to you whether you’d like to strain the rosemary sprigs or not. Recipe adapted from Kara Newman’s “Cocktails for a Crowd.”

Hornitos Cocktail Recipes

MUNCHIES Carlos Salazar is here to show us how to make another creative cocktail, the tequila gimlet. A new take on the classic cocktail, using just tequila, lime and simple syrup.

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Eating at LAX

Loteria Grill at LAX

Tacos made with fresh corn tortillas will forever rule my heart. It makes me happy that Los Angeles International Airport now offers a variety of taco options – like these from Loteria Grill – for hungry travelers like myself, in addition to all of their new restaurants. As much as I plan on jet setting in 2016, sustenance will be of great importance. I am so excited to see all of the new rollouts at the airport – having free wifi, delicious food, and a comfortable place to chill is extremely important to me when I travel. #LAXishappening

You can check out all the exciting additions and renovations at LAX for your next arrival or departure here.

A Splash of Bailey’s

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When I want to have a cocktail, I often treat it as the dessert at the end of my day. Opening up my drink cabinet would reveal that I love tiki drinks and liqueurs, libations with a very a far gentler taste and satisfy my cravings. I’m also a woman who likes to keep it simple, so if I can easily mix a couple ingredients together and have it taste delicious, the more time I can spend enjoying it.

Chilled Baileys with a splash of cream is always a good move, resembling sweet liquid silk with each sip – over ice or keep it neat, that’s up to you. I always thought this cocktail would be the perfect accompaniment to donuts and cakes, so I made it a reality. If you want to take it next level, serve this perfect Bailey’s creation with a donut atop the glass – when I dip, you dip, we dip! Dunking never felt so adult.

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Zodiac Vodka

Thinking back, I realized that vodka was the first sip of hard alcohol I ever had. I was in Las Vegas with my family celebrating my sister’s 21st birthday, needles to say, the turn up was real. My Mom liked a vodka tonic every time we found ourselves in Sin City and I took this as an opportune moment to give it a try. To my surprise, I really liked it!

Now decades later I was given a really beautiful bottle of vodka and I found myself thinking about how I could make it delicious for myself in 2015. Having a quality product like Zodiac Vodka, which is organic, gluten-free, and made in the USA, I had to do it justice with a quality cocktail. As I often do, I looked to my very own backyard for which ingredients I could utilize in my recipe. Nothing beats fresh fruit and herbs for a nice refreshing summer drink. Lemons? Check. Lavender? Check. I had just received some strawberries in my CSA and so it all came together so naturally. Whip up some lemonade, muddle some fruit & lavender, pour some vodka over ice. Voilà!

Zodiac Vodka x NJ in LA

#buongiornoamerica

Lavazza Coffee, #buongiornoamerica

Have you ever set an alarm clock and upon waking were greeted by a handsome Italian man, located in Milan, singing you a good morning song? I can now officially check that off of my list.

I had no idea what to expect when Lavazza, the vibrant coffee company out of Italy, sent me a hand crafted alarm clock, with a specialized app, that would wake me up and connect me with someone on the other side of the planet. And now, much to my surprise and excitement, I see I have landed in this upbeat Lavazza commercial. Maybe I should start sleeping in makeup? Ha! Take a look at this super fun spec and see if you can spot the personalized “Buongiorno Natalie” poster.

Along with my beautiful alarm clock, I was sent a cool new Keurig Single Server Brewer with a variety of Lavazza coffee pods. I have enjoyed trying out all of the flavors, especially over this holiday season; the Classico Roast (pictured above) paired nicely with these dark chocolate covered pretzels that I made with my family. #buongiornoamerica

The Fare Trade // Giveaway

The Fare Trade x Natalie James

Last week I was psyched to be the guest editor on The Fare Trade’s blog and this week I am happy to announce that I am hosting a giveaway of their beautiful bounty of artisanal foods. Each month offers a whole new curated selection and November includes the following: Seafarer Spice Blend, Spicy Harissa, Blueberry Conserva, Brown & Wild Rice, Maple Bourbon Pickles, and assorted caramels. An added bonus is that they include recipe ideas in each box! I love that.

About The Fare Trade: To deliver the country’s most flavorful, hand-crafted ingredients to you each month. A re-inspired “culinary members’ club” to connect the food community at large and strengthen the relationships between consumer, purveyor, and chef.

One winner will be chosen at random, all you have to do is 1) follow The Fare Trade on Instagram and 2) leave a comment. It will be shipped to you and then you can enjoy all it has to offer. Easy peasy!

Night + Market Song, Silverlake

Night + Market Song, located on the busy Eastside strip of Sunset Blvd in Silverlake, is my favorite Thai restaurant in Los Angeles – if not for the คอหมูย่าง pork toro (grilled fatty pig neck) alone. Without a doubt, they are preparing some of the best Thai dishes this city has ever seen, and when it’s flavor bombs you are seeking to drop on that tongue, pull up to this pink splashed establishment and get ready for a total sensory experience. For those who might be intimidated about the spice factor you so often hear about in any conversation about Night + Market, I must report I was unphased by the heat. I should have also prefaced that by saying I was born and raised in the SGV and have Sichuan pepper corns flowing though my blood system;  my friend Ike, who was so kind enough to take me on this delicious dinner was sweating bullets on the other hand. I was quick to dig in and when I raised my head to give the thumbs up, I saw the beads of sweat rolling off his forehead. It was a beautiful culinary moment.

This is the kind of restaurant that I love most, one that is steeped in rich family history, recipes, and flavors. Opened by 32 year-old chef Kris Yenbamroong, who has no formal culinary training, but instead has life-long experience from growing up in a family-owned restaurant, he aims to bring the most authentic Thai food to the people. I am throwing up the emoji pray hands because I’m grateful for it! I loved everything we ordered, let me count the ways. And who could say no to a bright pink wall with a vintage Cindy Crawford gazing deeply into my eyes?

So what did I eat? With any Thai meal, your girl is hot for the chicken larb salad (photo directly below). While everyone was thinking the party was going up with Pad Thai at their local jawn (kinda boring y’all), yung NJ was devouring as much chicken larb as she possibly could. It’s the lime + chile combination that goes after my sweet Mexican American heart every time. The chicken larb at N+M Song was exactly what I hoped it would be – a nice pucker brought on by the lime paired with chili, and a much smoother flavor with the chicken to balance it out. May I suggest this is the perfect summer salad? Sure we are in Fall, but I’m still right. In my dream universe I’d be lime queen, sitting down with a tall glass of Vietnamese soda chanh muối  and a large bowl of chicken larb. What a kingdom that would be! I digress.

Back to that pork neck, the stuff dreams are made of. Salty like bacon and fatty just how your mother likes it, this dish is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had the privilege of eating. Once I took a bite, although knowing many more delicious plates were on their way out, I had fantasized about my entire meal being plates upon plates upon plates of savory pork neck. Not to be neglected was the simple plate of coconut stick rice, which is a glorious vehicle for picking up the other bites. You simply tear off a piece, mold it in your hand, and scoop up whatever delicious snack you have in front of you. Rounding out the rest of our Thai paradise was a generous portion of the Crispy Rice Salad, made with soured pork, raw ginger, onion, peanuts, cilantro, chile. I love spicy and crispy so this was a no brainer. Bright notes in each bite, each one bringing you closer and closer to buying a ticket to Thailand once you leave the restaurant. Last and certainly not least, CURRRRYYYYY. The Khao Soi Gai with chicken was the move, made with curried noodles and topped with fresh cilantro, purple onion, & chili. This was the spiciest of the dishes of the night and a great way to end dinner – after everything was either eaten or boxed up to go, there were still a hint of Thai curry lingering in my mouth.

Night + Market Song, 3322 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Night Market Song chicken larb, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song porkneck, Best LA Food Blog

Night Market Song coconut rice, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song, Best LA Food Blog

Night + Market Song interior, Best LA Food Blog

night + market song curry, Best Food Blog LA

Portsmouth, Whittier

When doing research for my oyster guide this summer, I finally made my way over to Portsmouth, located in Whittier. As a native SGV’er it was nice to eat this kind of meal much closer to home. I brought my mother as my date for Sunday brunch, just a few days before I left for Chile, and what a delicious meal it was. First thing I noticed was that almost everyone inside was Latina/o, which made me feel great and right at home. The vibe was welcoming and very chill, with The Smiths (a Chicano favorite) playing over head and beautiful streams of natural light flooding the restaurant’s large windows. We passed the oyster wrapped counter and took a seat at a steal picnic bench and began perusing the menu.

Oysters were priority ($2.50 each, $1.50 happy hour) and we quickly ordered up a selection of their freshest babies, including Naked Cowboys out of NY and DD Cup, Malpeque, & Dark Beach out of Washington. My mother and I both share a love for seafood so we found ourselves tickled at the menu options – ceviche, lobster, crab, shrimp, we started foaming at the mouth. After much consideration, we thought it would be criminal not to order the brunch favorite: Puerto Nuevo Lobster, with chorizo refried beans, rice, salsa and homemade flour tortillas. I must admit, lobster isn’t my typical go to, but it came highly recommend by our server and we could not deny its beauty as well.

My favorite dish was the Seared Salmon Ceviche with pickled cucumber, red onions, arugula & jalapeño vinaigrette. The flavors were vibrant and crisp, I loved every single bite. As I write this I’m starting to dream of its incredible taste; this is one of the best ceviche dishes around. This is what Mexican food tastes like! After eating my way through various Mexican cities over the past couple of years, I now have an understanding of fresh Mexican cuisine, especially when it comes to the realm seafood. Portsmouth totally gets it.

Portsmouth, 13103 Penn St, Whittier, CA 90602

Best Food Blog, Portsmouth Whittier, Best Travel Blog

Portsmouth Whittier, Best LA Food Blog

Portsmouth Oysters, Happy Hour Oysters LA, Best LA Food Blog

Portsmouth Ceviche Tostada, Best LA Food Blog

Portsmouth Brunch, Best LA Food Blog