29 February, 2012

Mmm, Me Gusta...Oh Those Crazy YouTube Cooks And Their Internet Shows!

Mmm, Me Gusta ("I Like [It]" in Spanish). Well, the acting may not be great, and the Intro for this particular episode on how to make a spicy salsa called molcajete (go all the way to the bottom of that linked page for more info) was a bit much, but nonetheless I like this weekly YouTube food show. It is by a swanky Mexican-American gal named Claudia from Southern California who understands how important it is to hold on to cultural food traditions and the memories that surround them. I also want to support ladies who are cooking and making their own videos about it. The episode above was the premiere for her third season. I also enjoyed the three episodes below (in order) that were inspired by a dish of quail in rose petals from the movie Like Water For Chocolate; a little trip Claudia took to South By Southwest (SXSW) 2010 in Austin, Texas that I like since I will be moving to that city myself in a few months; and a comedy of errors about how to make horchata (cinnamon and rice drink), a favorite beverage of mine. I guess I do like it!

27 February, 2012

Perplexing Produce #1 - The Tayberry

Yes, I am one of those food nerds. If I encounter a new food when I go to a grocery store or farmers market that intrigues me, I actually squeal with delight, take photos of it, or even Google it on my iPhone for more info. Therefore, I have decided to start a new "column" of sorts on The Eatable Life. It is called "Perplexing Produce" and it is dedicated to examining and explaining specific fruits and vegetables that are uncommon, underused, unappreciated, or unheard of altogether in most of the United States. Now I realize that certain regions of the country, particular ethnic communities living within the U.S., or world travelers may, in fact, be familiar with some of the produce that I feature in the column, but nonetheless are in the minority and so deserve greater attention. All that said, let's get started!

For the first Perplexing Produce selection I have chosen the tayberry. These hybrid berries are a cross between the Aurora blackberry (also called a bramble) and the generically-named European raspberry called only by its number: 626/67. They are tart in flavor with lots of seeds. Their red-purple hue is gorgeous - a perfect color  amalgamation of the two berries they originate from. Loganberries are also a hybrid of blackberries and raspberries with a similar puckering flavor. Tayberries were first produced in Scotland in 1980 and named after the Tay River, which happens to be the longest river in that country and known for its beauty. In California they come into season in the middle of summer and only for about six weeks. Tayberries are also very delicate when purchased fresh since they are picked only when they are ripe enough to fall off the vine. That means that not many farmers grow them and the ones who do often sell them straight away to local chefs for special seasonal dishes, or canners for making jams. They are naturally high in pectin so are great for canning. For more info on tayberries, check out the links here and here.

I found a jar of tayberry jam at a hip neighborhood café named Local 123 that alongside Fair Trade and single-origin coffees, always stocks locally produced food items for sale. That is where I discovered my little jar of yum that was manufactured by a canner working out of a shop just blocks from my apartment in Berkeley! It is called INNA jam (haha, get it?), and I have seen their name around town because their Pluot (a favorite fruit of mine) and Fresno Chili (I love spicy and sweet combinations) jams have peaked my interest before. I could not resist the Tayberry jar though since I had never even heard of such a thing and needed to learn more. All I can say is...DELICIOUS! The tangy-sour pop of flavor, coupled with a flowery scent and slight crunch due to the seeds, is wonderful! So far I have only sampled the jam on fresh bread with butter, but I imagine it would also work well in a sauce for pork, or as a substutute for lingonberry jam to go with Swedish meatballs. Any other ideas? Yeah for the tayberry!

25 February, 2012

What I Ate Today...For Lunch.

It's fog free and in the upper 60s here in the Bay Area...and it is February! So with all the good weather, I was feeling festive and for lunch today I craved food that was spicy and fresh. After digging around in my fridge, here is what I came up with: a corn quesadilla of red chard, radicchio, fresh jalapeños, black olives, and two cheeses...and a (relatively) local Naval orange for dessert! Here is the ingredient list and how I made it (although I make things up as I go and appropriate proportions to fit one person or so that I have left-overs, so I do not measure - adjust to your taste):

  • Corn quesadillas
  • Garlic - crushed
  • Leafy greens (I used red chard but kale, spinach or collards would work also) - torn into smaller pieces
  • Radicchio lettuce (you could also substitute with another spicy lettuce like arugula) - also torn like the greens
  • Jalapeños - roughly chopped
  • Black olives - smooshed into small pieces
  • Fresh cilantro leaves ("coriander" to you Europeans) - chopped and split into two portions
  • Milder white, meltable cheese (I used Emmental Swiss cheese, a stronger kind of Swiss, but you could use mozzarella, Monterey Jack, etc.) - shredded
  • Queso Cotija (a white, Mexican cheese that is very salty, dry and crumbles easily - Queso Manchego, Parmesan or even feta cheeses are good replacements) - crumbled or finely shredded
  • Other options that would work: corn, fresh tomatoes, canned/jarred nopalitos (cactus leaves/pads)
  • Fresh lime wedges
  • Avocado slices
  • Salsa (I chose a hot, chunky variety of a popular Mexican brand called Herdez that is found all over the U.S., but green Tomatillo salsa or your own homemade kind also works great)
  • Piece of fresh fruit
  • Extra hot sauce if so desired
  1. Either lightly brown the tortillas in a little corn, canola or sunflower oil, or pop them in the oven so that at least one side of each tortilla is toasted (the sides that the veggies and cheese will rest on) to prevent the tortilla from getting too soggy.
  2. While the tortillas are getting warm, saute the garlic in the oil for about 10 seconds (since it is crushed it will take less time to cook), then add the leafy greens, lettuce, olives, jalapeños and half of the cilantro leaves. Cook until leaves are wilted, but not mushy.
  3. Once tortillas are ready, place one in a warm, lightly oiled skillet and layer meltable cheese, greens, dry cheese, and the rest of the cilantro, followed by the other tortilla on top. Cover with a lid and cook on medium heat. 
  4. Put salsa in a ramekin or little bowl and arrange the accompaniments on the plate.
  5. Flip the quesadilla about four times (two times on each side) to further brown the tortilla and melt the cheese.
  6. Serve hot. Enjoy!
Ingredients inside the quesadilla before everything melts together.

**For a cheat sheet on the types and names of other Mexican cheeses try the link here. P.S., the Spanish word "queso" = "cheese" in English**

21 February, 2012

Hot Diggity...It's Mardi Gras!

King Cake. Image courtesy of sfweekly.com.
And today is Fat Tuesday (also known as "Shrove Tuesday" in other parts of the globe), the last day of celebrating before (as traditional Catholicism dictates) you start fasting for the Lenten season. In some countries (like in Brazil where it is called "Carnaval") and U.S. cities (like New Orleans), folks have been partying it up for a week and it all culminates today. So if you already hit your budget for having Mardi Gras fun, go ahead and break open the piggy bank in order to find enough change to have one more colorful cocktail, plate of jambalaya, or piece of king cake! Here are some suggestions for places to go in San Francisco, where you can get king cakes in the Sunset neighborhood of town, and try these links here and here for some more history on the holiday. Follow the links below and to the right for traditional foods and inspired libations to bring a little Mardi Gras fun into your own kitchen!

Image courtesy of CHOW.com.

16 February, 2012

What? Butterbeer (From Harry Potter) Is Non-Alcoholic? We'll Have To Remedy That!

Image courtesy of wizardingworldpark.com.
I had no idea! I mean, when I read about and watched the Harry Potter teenagers drinking something with the word "beer" in it while in a pub, I was a little taken aback. Personally, I do not have a problem with a youngster having a little wine with their family at dinner or a weak beer at a wedding, but in most of the United States (especially in urban California) you would NEVER see anyone under the age of twenty-one in an establishment that exclusively serves alcohol! [For anyone unfamiliar with our drinking laws here, in most states, a minor (anyone under twenty-one) can not even set foot in a venue selling alcohol unless food is also being dished out.] And then I remembered that ginger beer is neither beer, nor alcoholic as well. Hmmm...I was still intrigued. 

Now admittedly, I was equally thrown off by the fact that butterbeer is not something that is actually drunk in the United Kingdom (silly American!) even though (according to Wikipedia) there were references to "buttered beer" in a book called The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, published in London in AD 1588 and made from beer, sugar, eggs, nutmeg, cloves and butter back in Tudor times. Another old recipe published by Robert May in AD 1664 from his recipe book The Accomplisht Cook, calls for licorice root and anise seeds to be added. I guess that means that I will not be drinking pumpkin juice or firewhiskey like in the books/movies either. Dang-it!

Image courtesy of wizardingworldpark.com.

But wait! Butterbeer DOES exist! Apparently J.K. Rowling said in an interview with Bon Appétit magazine that the drink that she sort of invented, tastes a bit like butterscotch. Well, there are lots of Harry Potter fans out there and even more foodies, so armed with Rowling's incite and the old recipes of yore on one hand, and on the other hand some creativity and yearning to have their favorite imaginary world come to life, butterbeer was born (again)! It is now even served at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Orlando in Florida where the recipe was taste tested and approved by Rowling herself.


Still image from video courtesy of hungrynationtv.com.
A really neat video blog that I came across called Working Class Foodies has taken it upon themselves to make their own version of butterbeer in addition to making an instructional film about it so that you can do it yourself at home (see above). Oh, and they made it "adult style" by adding some bourbon! They even have links to butterbeer food pairings at the end! This brother and sister team in New York City consisting of Rebecca and Max Lando - and their dog Humphrey - have done some other smashingly good videos that I also highly recommend, like learning how to braise short ribs or make pumpkin waffles.

FYI...I imagine dark rum would also work nicely in the butterbeer, or you could reduce the brown sugar and add an amaretto (almond liqueur) like Disaronno, Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur), or rich Bailey's Irish Cream. Also, I did find a site called Castles & Cooks that has gone about creating a few recipes for alcoholic beverages either talked about in the books/movies (like firewhiskey), or made them up entirely in homage to some of the story's characters. I'll have a "Dark Mark" please!

14 February, 2012

You Want A Chocolate Treat For Valentine's Day? Drink Beer!

Image courtesy of newbelgium.com.
Okay, here's my Valentine's Day post in as minimal and non-clichéd/sticky-sweet way as I can think of: a re-post of someone else's creative V-Day food/drink ideas! CHOW is one of my favorite foodie sites and after all of 4.5 seconds of scanning their front page, I found a post that satisfied what I was looking for. Here is what I (they) have to say (by the way, my vote is for the "Lips of Faith Series Cocoa Molé" one by New Belgium Brewing):

PS...If you feel cheated by this post due to the lack of attention I paid to the silly feelings of lovey-dovey nostalgia for teddy bears (that will only gather dust), and roses (wrapped in generic plastic film and bought at a drug store) because Hallmark would have you believe such things are necessities on this day, follow the link below where you will find a little V-Day food game courtesy of CHOW that will distract you from your discomfort with a proper alternative to all the hubbub.  

Feeling lucky? Click on the title link above to see what your sun sign says about your what you should eat for V-Day dinner. The image below is what my spin said about me and my guy! 
 Both images courtesy of chow.com.

(And for the record, I am in a committed relationship with a wonderful man, so all the cynicism does not stem from a subconscious reaction to feeling jilted on a day dedicated to "amor." On the contrary! I just hate when I see people buying crap that is supposed to represent "love" because they feel they have to in order to get a contrived expression of affection in return. Expressions of endearment should be shared EVERY day to the ones you love, not just once a year on a day that actually was meant to honor one or more martyred Christian saints named Valentinus. Now do you see where the association to red comes from? Kisses!)

**An addendum to my rant above** Replace me with the voice of the "men" in this spot-on article in San Francisco's 7X7 Magazine, and you will see that I am not alone in my lack of enthusiasm for Valentine's Day.

10 February, 2012

Health: A 360-Degree Approach To Being Happy

Now don't get me wrong, I do occasionally indulge in Spree candies (especially the chewy kind), Reece's Cups (dark chocolate is my favorite) and entire meals saturated with duck fat, but in general I try to keep everything in balance: food, exercise, nights out on the town, libations. That said, I also am an overachieving Undergraduate student in her last semester at a competitive university, so I equally struggle to get enough sleep, cross off everything on my To Do lists, keep my stress levels in check, eat well 100% of the time, and exercise and practice yoga as much as I would like to. That being the case, sometimes a gal just needs to just stop and recharge! 

Image courtesy of nomoredirtylooks.com.

I accidentally came across a blog recently called No More Dirty Looks that has helped remind me of this, as well as to give me some realistic, thoughtful advice as to how to make things in my life function a little smoother through natural products, good food and by listening to my body. The blog even has coupons on products that they have tested and deem worthy of promotion! Here is a blurb about the writers taken from their blog: "Siobhan O’Connor [Senior Editor at Prevention magazine in New York and contributing editor over at GOOD magazine] and Alexandra Spunt [a freelance journalist, marketing consultant, and former head of the branding team at American Apparel in Los Angeles] are the co-authors of No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics. They are also natural beauty experts and consultants who speak regularly on the topic in the media and at events. But they’re also regular women who are passionate about safe and sustainable beauty, and want to help other women make the best choices available."

Image courtesy of nomoredirtylooks.com.
So what did they have to tell me that was so great? Let's start with this blog post here that talks about ways of cleansing your digestive system that do not involve fasting or questionable powders. Then there's this one that offers clear guidelines for how to meditate that are neither intimidating nor preachy. This post here rightfully tries to scare the be-Jesus out of men concerning the toxicity of many of the skin products that they often use on their bodies. For many of us stress is a constant stumbling block that can also reek havoc on our skin, but as this post points out there are solutions for re-stabilizing those irritations. And I liked this and that one too because they listed ways to manage stress, including taking a proper vacation. Finally, I loved this post about ten things you can do with coconut oil.

Image courtesy of nomoredirtylooks.com.

Well, one blog cannot solve all of my problems, but at least now I feel like I have a few folks cheering in my corner who have bona fide interest in improving health and happiness, and therefore provide me with some tools so that I can translate that general knowledge into what will work in my own little life bubble. Wow - I can already feel a smile coming on! Swell!

06 February, 2012

Homework Libations

I know, I know! Drinking alcohol while studying is not something I should necessarily be promoting, and before your get the impression that I'm one of those lightning-liquid-learning lushes, I rarely do this. I am, however, in my last Undergraduate semester at UC Berkeley, writing and shooting for TWO Senior film theses, and in general need to reduce my stress. So...here goes: I will have a Happy Hour beverage at a favorite local cafe Local 123 AND do some homework AND be productive darn it! I wrote this blog after all didn't I? In order to compensate for my digression, as soon as I publish this post I will be researching scholarly articles on the effect that social media has had on human interactions, especially regarding food consumption and restaurants (think "pop-up" restaurants, food trucks, the resurgence of farmers markets, etc.). But for now, I just want to share with you all the tasty beer that I sampled: Drake's 1500 Pale Ale. Clean, not too hoppy, medium alcohol (5.5%), and perfect for an early evening of putting my nose to the grind stone. Happy homeworking!