Thursday, December 31, 2009

Barcelona Dining

I went to Barcelona, Spain mainly for the wonderful food that it is known for. My wife wanted to see the Antoni Gaudi's architecture, but if you ask me, it was a bit too "gaudy" for my tastes.

Pretty much all people of Spain have their dinners starting at 9pm. To keep from starving, most people duck into tapas bars in the early afternoon to tide themselves over. Tapas or Pinchos bars are like Spanish equivalent of a dim sum restuarants. Everything you order comes in small portions on a piece of bread or a skewer. If you're interested in saving money, these are the places where you want to load up on. Our tapas bar of choice is Cerveceria Catalana located on C/ Mallorca, 236. It was great because we could sit down and bring our baby's stroller in unlike other tapas bars that only have stools and standing room. You can see my order of grilled shrimp on a stick. It was grilled to perfection. I'm not a fan of shrimp, but if I had grown up eating this my opinion would probably change. Everything looks good here. I only wish I could have tried it all.

Of course, any food journey would be incomplete without a visit to the local market, which Barcelona has in spades. We first went to the Mercat Sant Josep (aka La Boqueria). This is probably the most popular market for tourists to visit. We visited one of the ham merchants who gave us a free slice of Jamon Iberico (Iberian Ham) to try. The pigs that made up this ham were fattened up on acorns in the forests of Spain for months before slaughter. This imbues the ham with a green nutty flavor that you can only find in Spanish hams. We later went back to this merchant to purchase 5 euros of meat and 5 euros of cheese. Unfortunately, trying to convey what we wanted with our limited Spanish was quite a struggle but we managed to score some ham, salami, and some manchego cheese (which turned out to be a good surprise). We then ate at one of the counters setup in the market. The place on the right seems to serve everything on a plate of french fries with some herb infused oil. I had the squid, which was quite good, but didn't quite feel like a meal.

The highlight of the trip had to be our visit to the Michelin rated Alkimia restuarant. I have to say, that in all the places I've been to (including other Michelin rated places), this has been the best. Too bad I felt too awkward to bring a camera, but just take a look at their food here. It really looks like that, and it tastes even better! I have to say though, that you should always get the fixed course or tasting menu of any fancy restaurant because that's their chance to showcase what they can do. Here, you get a choice between two fixed course menus, but unfortunately everyone at the table has to pick the same one. We chose the cheaper one only b/c the dishes sounded more appealing to us and we couldn't have been more happier. The bill still came out to around $200 USD for 2 with a glass of wine for each of us so if you're gonna spend that kind of money, pick what you like. At this level of restaurant, just because it costs more doesn't mean you'll like it any better.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

French Chicken in a Pot

This is a great simple recipe that I saw on America's Test Kitchen.

I simplified their version even more and the taste is still unbelievable.
I only have a 3.5 qt Le Crueset dutch oven but I still wanted to do this recipe

Serves 4
1 whole roasting chicken (4 1/2 to 5 pounds), giblets removed and discarded
1 tablespoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion , chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)
6 medium garlic cloves , peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dryed rosemary

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
Combine salt and pepper in a small bowl (this will be the dry rub).
Rinse the chicken and pat as dry as possible with paper towels.
Sprinkle the salt and pepper mixture all over the chicken making sure to add some to the cavity.
Heat oil in the dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the breast side of the chicken for about 5-8 minutes. Meanwhile dice the onion and add it to the dutch oven. Add garlic, rosemary, and the bay leaf. After the breast side has browned nicely, flip the bird and brown the bottom side for another 5-8 minutes. Finally, cover the dutch oven with aluminum foil and place the lid on that to ensure a good seal. Place in the oven for approx 1-1.5 hrs until desired tenderness.
Once cooked, you will see lots of liquid released by the cooking process. Remove dutch oven from oven, remove the chicken, set it aside, and cover loosely with foil. Strain the liquid from the dutch oven through a strainer and skip off the fat. Add any drippings that have come off the resting chicken to the strained liquid or jus. At this point you can season the jus to taste and serve with the chicken.

Update: If you have a convection oven with some sort of "speed bake" technology, then its better to set the temp to 225F and use that feature. I also increased the salt content to a full tablespoon. I found that a bit extra salt helped to bring out the flavors even more.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How NOT to use a jointer

This "expert" must be thinking that his fingers aren't worth the $5 it takes to buy a set of push blocks. The problem is that the cutter might grab the wood and shoot the board out from under your hands. Now if your hands are over the cutter at that time guess what's gonna happen. Remember this machine doesn't slice off fingers that can be sewn back on. It makes hamburger! Beyond that he has no eye protection, no respiratory protection, no blade guard, long sleeves that could get caught in the blade. Of all the safety precautions he should be talking about, he focuses on hearing protection. That's still important but probably the last precaution you should be worrying about.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Is Obama asking you to snitch on your neighbor?

I see a lot of conservatives are in an uproar about the White House providing an email address where you can send "fishy" emails and websites that may be providing misinformation about the health care reform bills. If you haven't heard of this, I would suggest you read it from the horse's mouth here: before you come to a conclusion. The key line is
"If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to"
However, if you read the entire blog entry, you'll see that they use the word "chain email" instead of just "email" everywhere except one. Guess which line was picked up by the right wing? Anyone with a basic understanding of English would know that these "fishy" emails are referring to the chain emails that are being spammed around the internet.

The question we should be asking is not "what is the gov't gonna do with this info?", but "what kind ok info is the gov't expecting to get?".

You see, the best indication of what someone will do with solicited info, is the type of info that they are likely to get. Let's take for example if a husband asks his wife for her dress size? The husband's expecting her to say a number and from that you might infer that he's gonna buy her a dress or outfit. Even though there is a relationship between shoes and dress sizes, he obviously wouldn't be buying shoes with that info.

Now let's look at what the White House wants. They only want stuff that "seems fishy to you". Does "fishy" mean dissent or rejection to you? Remember, the citizens have to play along in order for a snitch hotline to work. If someone you knew said they didn't like the health plan, would that trigger your "fishy" meter? If you got an unsolicited chain email from someone you didn't know trying to convince you of something, then that would be fishy.

Is it okay for the gov't to keep a record of "fishy" emails? I would say that anyone chain mailing information not matter what that information is, should not be immune from being noticed by the gov't. Even if there wasn't a flag address, does a chain mailer know that somewhere down the line, the chain wont extend to some white house official's email?

Still not convinced? Would you believe that another gov't agency wanted you to send them fishy emails. Know which one?... the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Remember those emails about Nigerians wanting to deposit money into your account? They wanted you to send them "fishy" emails like that. Is this just a ploy by the FTC to get you to tell them whose cheating on their taxes? Maybe if you're a conservative.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Watch out Ansel Adams, My first HDR photo

Ansel Adams is like the Michael Jordan of photography. His technical brilliance combined with his keen artistry was what made him legendary. One thing that he understood was that film had the ability capture a greater range of light intensity than could be reproduced on the print. In the darkroom, he could dodge and burn different areas of the image to reduce overexposed areas or bring out more details in dark areas. Today most of us are more than happy to turn the switch to full auto and let the camera do everything for us. This is unfortunate, because with just a little work and a little equipment, we can do things that would make Adam's jaw drop.

What is HDR? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. In this case we're referring to the range of the light intensities across the image. We call light the intensity that passes through a specific area luminance. Think of a sheet of wire mesh being held up in the air. If you measure the light going through one of the squares in the mesh, then divide that by the area of that square opening, you get luminance. Now imagine that you're looking at a shiny motorcycle at high noon w/ lots of chrome. The glint and glare reflecting off the chrome is blinding you but you can still see the texture of the street in the shadow caused by the bike. Roughly speaking the difference in luminance between these extremes is about 1 to a billion. HDR is basically the ability to measure, store, and display this wide range of light information.

So what's the problem? Everything. Our cameras, file formats, and displays are all limited in terms of dynamic range Our cameras will let you capture highlights while losing the shadows or vice versa. The digital image files we normally use only store about 256 different levels of intensity. Finally, our monitors and prints can't reproduce the same level of contrast that we experience in real life

How do I use HDR then?
We can solve each of these problems individually. Using a tripod, you can take the same photo at different exposures (I like to vary only the shutter speed). Some cameras even have a setting for this called "auto exposure bracketing". I usually do 3 shots at -2, 0, +2 EV. With these photos (in RAW format) I combine the luminance data into a single HDR friendly file format using a free program called Qtpfsgui. This solves the first 2 problems. Now we need a way to view these HDR images. If you had $49k to spare you could buy one of these or we can try to approximate this information on our LDR devices using a technique called tone-mapping. It makes some compromises to bring out the details in areas that would have been lost. With Qtpfsgui, you can do this part too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

America's Next, Next, Next,.....Next Top Model

We took a couple photos of my daughter today. I'm really pleased with how they turned out. This set makes her look like a posing fashion model. I guess anytime you get some wind blowing into the hair you're gonna get that cliche fashion model shot.

Monday, February 09, 2009

My B-day Present

My beautiful wife got me this awesome chair from EQ3 known as the CHAPMAN Office Chair. Its both stylish and comfortable. Link to it here.

Originally, I was going to get the West Elm swivel leather desk chair, but that turned out to be too stiff and not all that comfortable. Luckily, the EQ3 store was next door and this chair was only marginally more expensive, but much more stylish and pleasant to sit in.