Archive for May, 2010

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May 18 2010 Published by under Random

Since I know some of you are printing out the recipes. I included a printer friendly version link at the end of each post. Just click on “Print this Post.”

If you like the site please leave me a comment. I would be glad to know if you enjoyed the recipes. If you make them, tell me how they turned out. I really appreciate the feedback. You can write comments in either english or spanish.

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Taco Bell Tostadas

May 18 2010 Published by under Food

If there is one restaurant you will never find in Mexico, it is Taco Bell. There have been two attempts to open franchises in Mexico, and both attempts have failed. The reason for this is that nothing in Taco Bell’s menu resembles Mexican Food. Even though you will see that a Taco Bell has menu many choices, it is usually the same prepared ground meat as the main ingredient. The difference in the menu items is the meat enclosure that can be a hard corn shell, a soft flour tortilla, or a corn basket.

Taco Bell Tostadas

Taco Bell Tostadas

The first time I took my family to Taco Bell I told them not to think about tacos, but to think about deluxe prepared nachos. With that introduction they knew what to expect and surprisingly they enjoyed the meal. I personally like the prepared ground beef that is the basis for most of Taco Bell’s menu.  Even though I know it is a badly Americanized version of a Mexican dish, the same could be said about fast-food Pizza. If you remember the old chihuahua commercials, you know that “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”  After several experiments to find a decent substitute recipe for the ground beef I came with the following. Notice that in the picture I used tostadas which are the same thing as taco shells but flat.

For the Prepared Ground Beef

1 Lb Ground Beef
1/4 Cup Flour
1/2 Tablespoon Chili Powder
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon of Onion Powder
1/4 teaspoon of Garlic Powder
1/2 Cup of water.

Mix the ground beef, flour, chili powder, paprika, salt, onion powder, and garlic powder in a bowl. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes. In a large frying pan, add the meat and the water. Cook over medium heat until the ground beef is cooked throughly and browned.

For the Fillings and Shells

1/2 Cup Diced Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Diced Onions
1/2 Cup Red Bell Peppers
1 Cup of Lettuce
1 Cup  Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 Can of Baked Beans
Sour Cream
Salsa

12 Tostadas or Taco Shells or Soft Tortillas

Scoop the meat into the Taco Shells. Add Tomatoes, Onions, Lettuce, Red Bell Peppers, Beans and Cheddar Cheese according to personal preference. Add a dollop of cream on top. If you want to spice it up add a spoonful of Salsa. You can use tostadas, or soft flour tortillas to make different types of tacos. If you are throwing a party, you can even use nachos chips and make Deluxe Prepared Nachos with the same ingredients.

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Macaroni and Cheese

May 17 2010 Published by under Food

If you lookup comfort food in the dictionary you will probably see a picture of macaroni and cheese. I have never met a kid that does not like macaroni and cheese. It was a favorite dish of mine when I was young, and it is now a favorite dish of my family. Macaroni and cheese recipes are known to come from Italy since medieval times.  Ever since, they have been a common recipe in most households.

Macaroni and Cheese

Instant macaroni and cheese dishes never tastes as good as a home-made one. Even the ones that come with a ready made cheese sauce instead of cheese powder are really not that good. After searching for a better alternative, I came up with the following recipe.

For macaroni and cheese

8 Cups of Water
1 1/2 Cups Elbow Macaroni
2 Tablespoons of Butter
3/4 Cups Evaporated Milk
1 1/4 Cups Cheddar Cheese
2 Eggs
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper

Add 8 Cups of water and 1 Tablespoon of salt to a medium boiling pot. Once the water reaches a boil, add the elbow macaroni to cook for 7 to 10 minutes according to your desired tenderness. Drain in a heat resistant colander. Rinse the pasta with cold water to stop it from cooking. Keep the pasta in the colander. Melt the butter under low heat in the empty boiling pot. Return the pasta to the pot. Coat pasta with the melted butter. In an mixing bowl, add the eggs, milk, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Whisk it throughly. Add it to the pasta mixture. Continue cooking under low heat and gradually add the cheese while stirring. Turn off the heat once you have a creamy sauce. Optional — You can add bits of ham, hotdog sausage, bacon bits to give it a different flavor.

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It’s Sushi Friday again…

May 14 2010 Published by under Food

Well it is Sushi Friday again, and we kept with the tradition. As an appetizer we had some miso-shiru soup. We had avocado covered unagi (eel) rolls, spicy tuna roll, and ebi (shrimp) cucumber roll, and sake (salmon) cheese and capers roll. It was very fresh, and it all tasted great.

Unagi Avocado Roll

Unagi Avocado Roll

As some of you want the recipes, it is very hard to explain sushi making in one sitting, so today I will show you how to make Sushi Rice. I hope you come again for another Sushi Friday were I will continue with the Sushi recipes.

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Sushi Rice

May 14 2010 Published by under Food

Rice is one of the most important ingredients in the world. It is the basic food staple for many countries. In Japan rice is not only a main dish, but it is also used to make rice vinegar, mirin, and sake. The Japanese have several words for rice. It is called okome when it is not cooked. Meshi, or Gohan is the name for rice when it is cooked or when it indicates that rice is the main ingredient of the dish. You can not have an authentic Japanese meal without rice, but most importantly you need rice in order to make Sushi Rolls for Sushi Friday.

Sushi Rice

There is a special preparation that is required to get perfect Sushi Rice. The rice has to have a special texture and consistency so that it holds its shape when it is formed into Sushi rolls. You need to use Short Grain Rice, which is package as Sushi Rice in the supermarket. The package can say Calrose, Blue Rose, or Kokuho Rose which is a sushi rice variety from Northern California. Kokuho Rose is my favorite type of short grain rice, and the only one I use for Sushi.

For Sushi Rice
2 cups of Sushi Rice
2 1/4 cups of water
Sushi Rice seasoning

First of all place the rice in a large bowl. Rinse and scrub the rice with cold water until the water that runs off is crystal clear. It will take four to five washings to remove the cloudy water. This removes the powdered bran and talc that sushi rice is shipped with. Rinse all the water completely. Add the measured amount of 2 1/4 cups of water. Let the rice stand in the water for at least 30 minutes. After the water and sushi have rested, put the ingredients into a steel pot with a tight fitting lid preferably made of glass so you can see through. Turn on the heat to high until the water in the pot is boiling. When you see the bubbles forming in the water reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let the rice stand for an additional 15 minutes. Place the rice on a wooden or glass container. Season with the Sushi Rice Seasoning. Be careful no to add too much seasoning or your rice will turn out gooey and very wet. Fan the rice to dry it out. Cover with a damp cloth.

For the Sushi Rice seasoning
1/2 cup Rice Vinegar
2 1/2 Tablespoons Mirin
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon Dashinomoto

Combine all ingredients in a pan. Place it on low heat till all the ingredients are dissolved. Let it cool. Store in a container in the refrigerator. This recipe will work for several sushi rice preparations. Use 4 Tablespoons of sugar to substitute for Mirin. You can also buy ready made Sushi Rice seasoning.

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Apple Pecan Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

May 13 2010 Published by under Food

This salad is a recent invention of mine that combines ingredients of several other salads that I like. It draws its main inspiration from the famous Waldrof Salad. I use three different lettuces to give it variety of color and texture. The romaine lettuce to add to the salad’s crispiness which is further magnified by the apples and the walnuts. Red and green loose-leaf lettuce give the salad some contrast in color, and make it a sweeter, softer flavor that blends perfectly with the honey and the ash covered goat cheese.

apple pecan salad

Apple Pecan Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Instead of using grapes, like in the traditional Waldrof salad , I preffer raisins. I also omit the mayonnaise dressing in favor of a Honey Mustard Vinaigrette. To top it all up I sprinkle some chopped walnuts, and ash covered goat cheese to give it some tang. Overall I could say that this salad is a very fresh take on contrasting flavors and textures. It is crisp,soft, tangy and sweet all at once. If there is an ingredient that brings the whole salad together it is the pecans. The pecans server as an earthly flavoring that stands in middle ground to balance the crisp from the soft, and the tangy from the sweet. It is crisp,soft, tangy and sweet all at once.

Per request of my readers, I will post the recipe. If you enjoy it please leave me a comment in the bottom of this post.

For the salad
2 cups of Romain Lettuce
2 cups of Red Loose-Leaf Lettuce
2 cups of Green Loose-Leaf Lettuce
1/3 cup of Raisins
1/4 cup of Pecans
3 Apples
3 0z Soft Goat Cheese (ash covered optional)

Wash and disinfect the three types of lettuce. A good tip is to wash the lettuce in ice cold water to give the salad more crispiness. Rinse off the water. Hand shred the lettuce to bite size pieces and add to a big bowl. Peel and core the apples, and cut them up into 3/4 of an inch pieces. Add the apples to the bowl. Chop the pecans in half or into quarters depending on your preference and add to the bowl. Finally add the raisins to the bowl and toss the salad to mix all the ingredients. Serve into plates. Make sure to have good portions of all the ingredients. Add the goat cheese in small slices to the served plates and drizzle with the honey mustard vinaigrette according to your own taste.

For the Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
1/4 cup of Honey
3 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar  (Cider or Red Wine Vinegar can substitute)
1 clove of garlic (optional to taste)
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
3 Tablespoons of Virgin Olive Oil
1 pinch Kosher Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
(to taste)

Add the honey to a medium size mixing bowl. Add the vinegar and the mustard and whisk until fully integrated. Finely mince the clove of garlic. I would say that the garlic is optional because some people do not enjoy it.  Add the kosher salt and grind some black pepper to the mixture. Whisk it once more. Continue whisking and slowly add the olive oil. You can vary the amount according to the thickness you want for the salad dressing. If you add more oil it will become thinner. If you prefer a thick dressing add less. Same goes for the honey. If you prefer it sweeter add more honey. The final result should be an emulsion that does not separate.

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Meat Pie

May 11 2010 Published by under Food

This meat pie  is a variation on a dish my grandmother used to make. It is one loved by all my family. We call it “empanadas árabes.” The variation is that empanadas are usually a single serving small meat pie. I prefer to make a large meat pie which tastes the same and it is easier to serve.

Meat Pie

Meat Pie

The filling consists on ground beef being sautéd to golden brown to intensify the flavor, and then cooked over tomatoes, caramelized onions, and white wine. It is the white wine that gives this dish its special taste and aroma. It all goes inside a flaky dough crust and sent in to the oven to bake. Even though it is very hot in the summer to do this kind of baking, the taste of the dish is worth it.

Dedicated to the loving memory of my Grandmother Salma.

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The Digital Age Problem – Pictures

May 09 2010 Published by under Technology

Files, or rather too much files is the problem of the digital age. Hard drive space is very cheap now, and it is very easy to amass a whole bunch of information, much more than you ever need. I have a collection of several terabytes of assorted files, with no good method to organize the madness. (a terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes or 1 million megabytes). When I need a file it is a chore having to look for it all over the place. We need a better solution to this digital problem.

This problem has so many angles that I will take it step by step stating all the problems associated with having too much information in this digital age. This is not a problem unique to me since it the typical problem any family with computers, digital cameras, mp3 players, and video recorders will have. All these devices produce digital content and therefore a lot of files. The more digital devices you have the more content you have to sort out. This problem is also to be encountered in a small business with multiple emails, documents, powerpoint presentations, worksheets among other things. Every computer in the small business produces a lot of files and when you extrapolate this to the large enterprise which have computers in the hundreds or thousands the problem becomes colossal.

Returning to my problem first of all let us start with the files I have, and the types of files I need store. So to state my case let me start with my pictures.

Pictures
Filetypes: ( .jpg, .gif, .raw, .dng, .tiff )

When I take a picture I will usually take three or four just in case one is not good enough. The days of being stingy with your 12 or 24 shot camera roll are over, and you can shoot till your heart’s content. With the availability of cheap 16Gb SD or cards you can take all the pictures you want, even at the highest resolution. You will probably run out of several camera batteries before you fill one card. Then you bring it home and sync it all to your computer and have 200 to 300 assorted pictures per event. The truth is that you will probably never sort them, since this takes a lot of time. Then you have the problem of deciding how to do it. You can sort the files by date, you can sort the files by event, or by place, or by person. If you have a fancy new cell phone with GPS you can even store them by global coordinate. The problem is that a hierarchy filesystem will only let you sort in one way. That is either you start naming your folders by date, by person, by event, or by place. You have to decide which method you are going to choose before you start to sort, and if halfway you decide another sorting method was better, then tough luck, you will have to start all over again.

Then you have the different formats, you can have lossy compression in JPG, or GIF which depending on the setting you choose can leave a a good quality to a mediocre one. Most cameras only store in the JPG format but when you get to higher end devices you have other options. For example you have the RAW format which is the purest form of your digital picture. This format stores the information exactly how it is recorded by the camera’s sensors. It really hard to call RAW a file format since every camera manufacturer implements RAW in its own incompatible way. Yo have to develop it (figuratively speaking) and process it before you can use this file format. Then you have the digital negative DNG format. This is the photographic industry’s attempt to fix the RAW format, it still is in its infancy but at least it is a standard. This has all the advantages of the RAW format that is to store the images in their purest form, plus it is supposedly compatible between manufactures. Finally there is the TIFF format, which is also a very high quality picture format used by computer scanners, and usually required by graphic designers in order to produce printer quality results. In my collection I have all 5 types of formats, and there isn’t a single computer program that can manage them all. (most of my problems are with incompatible RAW)

Then you have several versions or revisions of the same files. This happens because you did some photoshoping to fix the colors of the picture, or maybe just did a small crop to get a relative or two out of the way. So now you have two copies of the file. Since when you do destructive editing you never know if you want the original for another edit. So you keep the original also. Then you want it on your picture frame, or on your screen saver. You now generate size and format specific copies for those purposes. Now your picture file multiplied again, and now you got several different sizes and several different formats of the same file.  It seems your files keep multiplying like rabbits in spring, you need a method to keep track of all of this or pretty soon you have an unsearchable digital picture collection.

Any photographer reading this will probably say that there are programs that store this metadata I am talking about. Embedded in Windows, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, Apple Iphoto, and online services like Flickr, Picasa, Shutteryfly, all have methods to store and keep track of some of the metadata. In the tests I have made all of them have severe  problems. First of all, even though all of them solve to some extent the tagging and search of all of the metadata in your pictures there are problems associated with this. In one of my earlier experiments with Photoshop Elements, I manually started tagging Places, Persons, Events on the pictures and it was okey, until the database of the program crashed. Then on my second attempt the metadata information was lost in an Photoshop Elements upgrade.  Then there is a question of vendor lock-in. Manually tagging the pictures is an extremely time consuming event, which in a perfect world you should only require to do once. But this is not a perfect world and there is currently no way to exchange the information if you for example would like to change from Adobe to Apple, so you are in a vendor locked in or you have to start tagging all over again. This is even made worse since vendors like Canon prefer to sync with the Canon software, and devices like the iPhone prefers to sync with Apple iPhoto. Not to say that they won’t sync with anything else but you will lose some of the metadata if you do not use the preferred program.

Now getting back to the software, they have made no provisions for multiple users, or networked computers. In my house, there are three people that generate pictures from different cameras, and camera phones, each with their own computer. There is no centralized way to do this, since the programs in question only work in standalone mode, and not in a networked mode. (I tried several experiments to trick the network mode but all ended up in corrupted databases) Therefore, the three other people that could help me tag all the pictures can not do it from the comfort of their own computer, and there is little incentive to do so, since only ONE computer would have the correct metadata and search capabilities. Also as your collection grows to like over 50Gb most of the software programs become increasingly slow. Online solutions fare no better, because first you will have to trust the online cloud. My pictures are one of the few digital items that are not replaceable, and trusting them to a third party is not exactly what I would consider idea. Then you have the privacy issue. I consider all my pictures private, unless I decide to publicly share them. With a third party you will never know who has access to your pictures. Finally, most of the online services tend to compress the pictures to save space, this is not good if I need the pictures in an archival quality. Overall online services do not seem to be an appropriate solution either.

So the current status of my picture collection is over 50Gb of  all messed up files scattered between several computers. In the semi centralized sever where I store most of my pictures I have some folders based on events and others based on persons which is a chaos in its own right, plus an increasingly unmanageable folder called Unsorted that is growing to exponential proportions. Since I already mentioned that my pictures collection is non-replaceable I need to backup it. This is a chore since I can only readily do this for the centralized location. All other users in my house know that if it is not in the server, it wont get on the backup. This will certainly cause a problem in the future when either I upgrade the machine, or a hard drive crashes. There must be a better way to solve this.

This is the first part of a series where I will detail all the problems of having too much information in the digital age. Please feel free to comment if you believe that I missed something.

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