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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Venezuela in London: Mi cocina es tuya


Venezuela in London: Mi cocina es tuya – Café Latino, Crystal Palace


Between the pubs and print shops of Westow Street in Crystal Palace is a fantastic little restaurant serving authentic Venezuelan cuisine. Mi cocina es tuya (My kitchen is yours) bills itself as London’s only Venezuelan restaurant – perfect for our World in London series.. If you know better, let us know in the comments below!
I went to meet husband-and-wife team Alexis and Mary yesterday to sample their coffee, and find out about their unique eatery. What started as an events catering business with a stall in Camden Market now has a more stable base in this Crystal Palace restaurant. During the past three years, Alexis and Mary have served their traditional Venezuelan cuisine all over London, from the Carnaval del Pueblo to the Venezuelan Embassy. For the last seven months, they’ve been concentrating on developing Mi cocina es tuya.
The menu offers delicious-sounding empanadas (patties), asado criollo (grilled beef and rice) and arepas (corn bread with beef, chicken or cheese). The most popular dish, Alexis tells me, is the Pabellón de carne: beef, black beans, rice and fried plantains.
“At first, finding the right ingredients was difficult. For example, this hallaca is a traditional Christmas dish, but it’s wrapped in banana leaves.” He shows me an intricately bound parcel of dark green leaves. “But, you can’t just buy banana leaves in Asda! Now, we’ve found out about the right vendors in Brixton, at the market, and we can make hallaca. Similarly, you can’t get the chilli beef for Pabellon de carne in a normal supermarket. Now, we go to a Columbian butcher in Brixton. It tastes just as good as the meat in Venezuela.”
As well as the traditional food, Mary and Alexis are proud to show me their Venezuelan drinks. Mi cocina es tuya is one of the few places in London you can enjoy typical Latin drinks like Malta, Sugarcane with lemon, and Cocada, which, I’m told, is like coconut milkshake, but much nicer.
“People are often surprised that our food is like food from Trinidad and Tobago, or Caribbean food. But really, we’re from the same part of the world. Chilean, Peruvian, Columbian, all Latin American people that come here will see and recognise the products we sell.”


Indeed, as well as being a lovely place for a traditional Venezuelan breakfast of Perico (scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes, onions and coriander, black beans, cheese and arepa, or corn bread – much healthier, I’m assured than the Traditional English they also serve), Mi cocina es tuya is also something of a Latin American deli. You can by the white or yellow “PAN” cornflour, as well as Malta drinks and other typical delicacies.
With guitars and maracas hanging from the walls, as well as plenty of gorgeous pictures of Venezuela itself, I think Mi cocina es tuya is a fantastic representation of Venezuelan London. And the wonderful hospitality of Alexis and Mary means I’ll be back for more. That, and the promise of trying some Dulce de tres leche next time!
Visit Mi cocina es tuya – Café Latino at 61 Westow Street Crystal Palace, London, SE19 3RW. If you know any other examples of Venezuelan culture in London, let us know in the comments below.
Venezuela in London: Mi cocina es tuya – Café Latino, Crystal Palace – Visit London Blog

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Rangali Snorkel Maldives

Snorkeling on the shore reef off the Water Villas on Rangali Island, Maldives
Rangali Snorkel Maldives @ Yahoo! Video 
Rangali Snorkel Maldives

Rangali Snorkel Maldives




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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Dark Art of Beef - NYTimes.com

Asado Negro in the NY Times!!!


The Cheat: Dark Arts

This week’s recipe is a raggedy Christmas number out of Venezuela called asado negro. It requires a fat roast of beef that is simmered for a long time in dark caramel, its sweetness tempered by vinegar. The result is sticky and unctuous beneath a cloak of peppers, onions and leeks. It looks mysterious and bold on the plate and at the start of a New York winter can conjure some degree of Latin American humidity and joy.
Asado negro has its primary home in Caracas, where it is often served during the holidays, alongside fried sweet plantains and white rice, with perhaps a tart green salad for contrast. The meat is napped in blackness that comes not from fire or smoke but from the absorption of all colors into one, a color as deep as space itself.
It is beef the color of a velvet dinner jacket seen across a dark lawn at midnight. It makes mockery of pot roast. And, as we shall see, it is exceedingly simple to make.
Hold on: blackened beef? I first had the dish at a restaurant called Mohedano, a flash place in Chacao, the relatively prosperous part of Caracas that is a stronghold of opposition to Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. The neighborhood supports restaurants and shopping centers and has plenty of gated parking lots guarded by men with guns. It recalls Miami crossed with the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with a few blocks of London and Mexico City thrown in for good measure.
Mohedano’s chef, Edgar Leal, runs the restaurant with his wife, Mariana Montero de Castro, with whom he has also had a restaurant in the United States. They served asado negro as part of a tasting menu designed to highlight the traditional flavors of cosmopolitan Venezuela.
Leal is an irrepressible figure in his restaurant, a ham who cooks with grace and precision, a character out of Stoppard, the gourmand existing within the privation of a repressive state. “It looks burned,” he said of his asado negro, laughing as he often does, as he placed the plate on a table. “But you see what you think.” Then he put on a stage whisper: “It’s not burned at all!”
The beef was cut thin, against the grain, and it glistened with moisture. The sauce cloaking it was dark and deep in flavor — with a strong, nutty sweetness, yes, but a bracing sort, far from cloying and leading only to the desire for more.
Leal cooks his asado negro with papelón, the solid block of unrefined cane sugar that is known by various names across Latin America (boiled sugar-cane pulp, essentially, formed into small blocks that can be broken into shards or grated into drinks or sauce). Papelón makes for excellent asado negro, and if you can find some at your local market — where you’ll most likely discover it listed as panela or piloncillo — go ahead and use it for your own.
But you can also cheat, which, as Chávez might say, is the way of our nation. Norman Van Aken, the Miami chef and restaurateur who has done much to bring the flavors of the Caribbean and South America to the United States, and who included a recipe for asado negro in his excellent 2003 cookbook, “New World Kitchen,” said in a telephone interview that the home cook could replicate some of the complexity of papelón by making a dark caramel out of plain white sugar and water, then adding a few teaspoons of brown sugar at the end.
“Asado negro is not a dish that’s centuries old,” Van Aken said. “As near as we could figure it in our research for the book, it goes back to the 1960s or ’70s. You can definitely mess around with it a little and make it your own.”
And so we begin with caramel, a chemistry-class lesson for the home. Sugar is dissolved in water and heated until the water evaporates and the sugar molecules break down, turning heavy and dark. Add to this sticky pool some vinegar and dry red wine, which impart savory, acidic notes to what will amount to a braising liquid, as well as some brown sugar for rustic depth. Pour the liquids carefully, for the caramel will spatter and hiss. Then allow the sauce to become whole again, stirring occasionally.
Now we sear the beef, creating a crust on the bottom of the pan that will add heft to our meal, a beefy intensity to counter the sugars and acids. Removing the meat from the pot for a moment, we sauté a great deal of garlic and onion, celery and leeks, then combine these with the seared beef and the caramel sauce under a swirl of sliced bell peppers, and push the covered whole into the oven for a few hours. Some crazy magic happens in there.
Plain white rice dressed only with a pat of butter is the best starch with which to pair this meal. You might try to locate some ripe plantains as well, to slice into coins and fry gently in oil until they turn the same golden brown as the caramel you started with. (In a pinch, you can use bananas, though they are a great deal more fragile and sweet than a ripe plantain, and require close attention in the pan, lest they turn to mush.)
Leal adds a rustic Venezuelan salad to the plate, with fresh hearts of palm, avocado and diced tomato. You might do the same, but at this time of the year, you would most likely disappoint yourself: December tomatoes in the United States are generally a grim affair, to say nothing of our canned hearts of palm and rock-hard avocados. Better to find some hothouse lettuces — Van Aken suggests something peppery in the area of watercress or arugula — and to dress these in a lime vinaigrette.
There’s a new Paul Simon song out, “Getting Ready for Christmas Day.” It’s all strummy guitar and thumping Delta blues, Simon’s muted trumpet of a voice singing about money and war, the pain of family and the release that comes to all of us somehow, religious or not, on Christmas Day. This would make a fine final accompaniment to the dinner itself, along with some dark beer or a strong zinfandel, slightly chilled.

The Dark Art of Beef - NYTimes.com

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fantasy island FT.com / Travel

Fantasy island

By Felix Milns
Published: December 3 2010 22:56 | Last updated: December 3 2010 22:56
Laucala Island
He may own two Formula One motor racing teams (one of which has just won the world championship) but Dietrich Mateschitz is not to be found among the champagne-swilling motorsport set in Monte Carlo. The 66-year-old Austrian businessman founded the Red Bull energy drink company, expanded it into a business with a turnover of more than €3bn and created one of the world’s most visible marketing campaigns. There are Red Bull football teams from New York to São Paulo, an aircraft racing championship and Red Bull-sponsored athletes in sports from snowboarding to surfing, cycling and canoeing.
Yet despite being a master of creating publicity for his brand, Mateschitz is known for shunning the limelight (so much so that it’s often said that he bought Austria’s leading society magazine purely so he could avoid appearing in its pages). So, when it comes to holidays, there’s only one choice – a private island.
Seven years ago, Mateschitz was on business in Fiji and was told by his lawyer that one of the country’s most exclusive islands was for sale. When he set eyes on Laucala Island, he was instantly smitten.
A mountainous 12 sq km island in Fiji’s northern Lau chain, Laucala is surrounded by a calm lagoon of the deepest blue, encircled by a reef. Its coves, curves, contours and long stretches of white sand beaches are the very essence of the South Pacific.
In private hands for more than a century, it was initially run as a coconut plantation by a British family before being sold to Malcolm Forbes, of Rich List fame, in the 1970s. Forbes kept the island as a private retreat, with a small plantation house and staff quarters, for entertaining the likes of the Rockefellers and Elizabeth Taylor, so it remained undeveloped until Mateschitz bought it from Forbes’ heirs in 2003.
Since then, Mateschitz has been developing Laucala into a paradise retreat complete with numerous high-octane boys’ toys in keeping with Red Bull’s adrenalin-fuelled image. Only 25 super-luxe villas are spread along 4.2km of coastline, all sharing facilities that could happily service a large hotel. Moored off the jetty are a dive boat, three sailboats, a waterskiing boat, a game-fishing pleasure cruiser and three lightning-fast jet skis. “The best way to get a real sense of the scale of the island is by jet ski,” says an instructor.
The diving and snorkelling are superb, with 40m-plus visibility. The island has 25 dive sites – look out for schools of hammerhead sharks – and is only a half-hour boat trip from the White Wall, Fiji’s top diving location. It is definitely worth the trip – you drift along a 60m-high wall covered in iridescent lavender and white corals before swimming through a narrow passageway into a garden of corals in a thousand shades of purples, lilacs, yellows and reds.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hold the brownies! Bill could limit bake sales

Incredible!!! as if they had nothing more important to do!!!! - And anyways, if bake sales are the most popular way to raise money, it must be that it is the only one that works!!!  Fools!!

Hold the brownies! Bill could limit bake sales

WASHINGTON – Don't touch my brownies! A child nutrition bill on its way to President Barack Obama — and championed by the first lady — gives the government power to limit school bake sales and other fundraisers that health advocates say sometimes replace wholesome meals in the lunchroom.
Republicans, notably Sarah Palin, and public school organizations decry the bill as an unnecessary intrusion on a common practice often used to raise money.
"This could be a real train wreck for school districts," Lucy Gettman of the National School Boards Association said Friday, a day after the House cleared the bill. "The federal government should not be in the business of regulating this kind of activity at the local level."
The legislation, part of first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to stem childhood obesity, provides more meals at school for needy kids, including dinner, and directs the Agriculture Department to write guidelines to make those meals healthier. The legislation would apply to all foods sold in schools during regular class hours, including in the cafeteria line, vending machines and at fundraisers.
It wouldn't apply to after-hours events or concession stands at sports events.
Public health groups pushed for the language on fundraisers, which encourages the secretary of Agriculture to allow them only if they are infrequent. The language is broad enough that a president's administration could even ban bake sales, but Secretary Tom Vilsack signaled in a letter to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., this week that he does not intend to do that. The USDA has a year to write rules that decide how frequent is infrequent.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the bill is aimed at curbing daily or weekly bake sales or pizza fundraisers that become a regular part of kids' lunchtime routines. She says selling junk food can easily be substituted with nonfood fundraisers.
"These fundraisers are happening all the time," Wootan said. "It's a pizza sale one day, doughnuts the next... It's endless. This is really about supporting parental choice. Most parents don't want their kids to use their lunch money to buy junk food. They expect they'll use their lunch money to buy a balanced school meal."
Not all see it that way.
Palin mocked the efforts last month by bringing a plate of cookies to a school speech in Pennsylvania. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said the federal government "has really gone too far" when it is deciding when to hold bake sales.
Some parents say they are perplexed by what the new rules might allow.
In Seminole, Fla., the Seminole High Warhawks Marching Band's booster club held a bake sale to help send the band's 173 members to this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. One of the bake sale's specialties: New York-style cheesecake, an homage to the destination they'd pursued for 10 years.
"Limiting bake sales is so narrow-minded," said Laura Shortway, whose 17-year-old daughter, Mallory, is a drummer in the band. "Having bake sales keeps these fundraisers community based, which is very appealing to the person making the purchase."
Several school districts and state education departments already have policies suggesting or enforcing limits on bake sales, both for nutritional reasons and to keep the events from competing for dollars against school cafeterias. In Connecticut, for instance, about 70 percent of the state's school districts have signed on to the state education department's voluntary guidelines encouraging healthy foods in place of high-sugar, high-fat options.
Under those rules, bake sales cannot be held on school grounds unless the items meet nutrition standards that specifically limit portion sizes, fat content, sodium and sugars. That two-ounce, low-fat granola bar? Probably OK, depending what's in it. But grandma's homemade oversized brownie with cream cheese frosting and chocolate chips inside? Probably not.
One loophole in Connecticut: The nutritional standards apply if the food is being sold at a bake sale, but not if it's being given away free, such as by a parent for a child's birthday.
"If a mom wants to send in cupcakes to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, that would not be subject to the state guidelines," said Thomas Murphy, a spokesman for the state's education department.
In New York City, a rule enacted in 2009 allows bake sales only once a month, and they must comply with nutritional standards and be part of a parent group fundraiser.
Wootan says she hopes the rules will prompt schools to try different options for fundraising.
"Schools are so used to doing the same fundraisers every year that they need a strong nudge to do something new," she says. "The most important rebuttal to all of these arguments is that schools can make money other ways — you don't have to harm kids health."
___
Associated Press writer Stephanie Reitz contributed to this report from Hartford, Conn.

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