Overview of Oolong Tea Varieties

Oolong tea is an extremely popular variety of traditional Chinese tea. Although the oxidation level is somewhere between black and green tea, most varieties taste more like green tea than black—however, oolong lacks the grassy taste that is often characteristic of green teas, instead usually being brewed strong and bitter with a sweet aftertaste.

Oolong tea can be broadly classified in two main categories, based on the region in which the tea is grown.  Within these broad categories a great deal of variation exists.

1: Oolong teas from Fujian province, China

The most famous oolong teas are grown in Fujian’s Wuyi Mountains, on what are known as the tea cliffs. Among these the most well-known is Da Hong Pao (in Mandarin, “Big Red Gown.”) The myth behind the name is that during the Ming dynasty, tea from this bush cured the mother of the emperor; in gratitude he sent many splendid red robes to cover the bushes. The tea from this tea bush is highly prized, and it is considered one of the best teas of China. Other famous teas from the Wuyi Mountains include Rou Gui, Tie Luohan, Shui Jin Gui, and Bai Ji Guan.

Tie Guanyin, grown in Anxi in southern Fujian, competes with Da Hong Pao in reputation. The name translates to Iron Guanyin, Guanyin being the name of the bodhisattva of compassion within Chinese Buddhism. Tie Guanyin is very light for an oolong, with low levels of oxidation; this lends it a delicate flavor profile with little of the astringent grassiness of typical green teas. Like Da Hong Pao it also has a myth associated with it: one day a poor farmer came across a run-down temple to Guanyin, and decided to clean it up and light some incense—all he could do because of his poverty. Guanyin later appeared to him in a dream, guiding him to an infant tree bush that would later produce the wonderful tea.

2: Oolong teas from Taiwan

Tea has only been cultivated in Taiwan for about 150 years, but the quality can reach that of the best mainland teas. Famous teas from Taiwan include Dongfang Meiren (Eastern Beauty) and Ali Shan (Mount Ali). Dongfang Meiren is noted for its sweet, fruity taste and the brightness of its red coloration; Ali Shan is also fruity and sweet, but has instead a lovely golden hue.  Taiwan is also known for successfully growing a number of teas that were originally cultivated in Fujian, including Pouchong and even Tie Guanyin.

Reference:
1. Oolong tea – Wikipedia
2. Oolong Tea – Guide to Oolong Tea Types – Canton Tea Co

Most Important Basic Table Manners

From a family of restaurant owners, my parents always instilled in us the importance of having excellent table manners. Not just because we owned restaurants and were in the public eye, but because table manners is an important value to instill in all family members.

The 10 most important basic table manners that people can have are:
1.) Chew with your mouth closed
2.) Do not talk with your mouth full
3.) Always use your napkin
4.) Do not lick your fingers
5.) Do not pick off someone else’s plate
6.) Do not reach over someone else
7.) Always say “please” and “thank you”
8.) Do not burp loudly and draw undue negative attention
9.) Thank the hostess for an excellent meal
10.) Don’t eat the last of something without asking if someone else wants it first

There is nothing more disgusting than someone chewing with their mouth open; nobody wants to see what you are chomping on and if your mouth is open, then chances are you are chewing loudly. This is a no-no. In addition, if your mouth is full and someone is asking you a question, swallow your food and then respond. Your napkin should always be on your lap if you are female and either at your neckline or at your place setting if you are male.

One of the most terrible habits some people have is licking their fingers. I know that barbecue sauce tastes delectable, however, if you are eating something that is a bit messy, the napkin is your resource. From a restaurant server’s point of view, if you are licking your fingers and do not wash your hands before you see a friend enter the restaurant, and go to shake his/her hand, you are passing germs onto that person.

If the person next to you offers something from their plate, either use your fork to push the food to your own plate or have that person do it for you. Picking off of someone else’s plate looks bad. In addition, if there are veggies or other items on the table, served countrystyle, ask someone near those items to pass them to you.

“Please” and “thank you” are those words that parents should teach children from an early age. If you have never been taught these words, it is sad. Thanking the hostess and/or server for their hospitality and meal is common courtesy.

While burping loudly in some cultures is acceptable, please remember it is not acceptable in all cultures. It can be a way to draw attention, and for children, sometimes, they find it humorous. It is not humorous in adults.

Finally, if there is a last, lonely item of food left on a platter, it is common courtesy to ask if others at the table would like it first before taking it. In most cases, people will abstain and it is yours.

These are just tips from a restauranteer’s point of view.

Reference:
1. Top Ten Table Manners – The Emily Post Institute, Inc.
2. 13 Basic Table Manners – Advice with Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee

How to Shuck Shellfish

Back in the good old days in the 1800’s, shellfish shucking was a very challenging and tedious task. Men back then, responsible for shucking oysters, clams and scallops had to rely on their quick handling skills in order to earn their decent living. It was not unusual therefore, to find several piled up shells in front of the homes of these hard workers . Several immigrants were responsible for shellfish shucking and many Cape Verdians were recruited by various demanding shucking plants. According to the book Good Tidings, by Barbara Brennessel, a proficient shellfish shucker was able to shuck between 500 to 800 oysters in an hour!

The definition of the verb ”to shuck” is to simply ” remove the shell”. Nowadays, anybody equipped with the right tools and using the correct technique may shuck shellfish. It is important to note that not all shellfish is shuck in the same matter. An oyster is shuck in a different manner than a clam. Also, different types of shucking knives are available depending on the type of shellfish shuck. Following is the standard way to shuck shells along with the utensils needed.

In order to shuck shells therefore you will need:

-A Shucking Knife

-A scrubber

-Gloves

-A bowl

Step 1 You Should Shuck Only Shut Shellfish

Before starting to shuck any shellfish you want to make sure you only shuck live shellfish. Why waste time on a dead oyster? In order to do so you must check for liveliness. A good way to know is by tapping on a semi-open shell to check if anybody is home. If the shellfish is alive and well, it will quickly shut. If it does not react, discard it as very likely the shellfish is dead. Another good way to check for liveliness is by dropping the shellfish on the counter. Upon hitting the counter, it should shut once again.

Step 2 Give the Shellfish a Good Bath

Now is the time to clean up those shells. Wash the shells under tap running water and then grab a good firm brush with firm bristles and scrub down the shells. You want to remove all the seaweed that tends to deposit on the shells.

Step 3 Shuck

In order to shuck you can wear gloves or use a towel to protect your hands. A pot holder will do as well. Place the bowl under the shellfish you will be working on to collect the juices which may be used at a later time. Grasp the shellfish by sitting the deeper side of the shellfish on top of the palm of your hand. Slip the edge of the shucking knife in the shellfish hinges with a back and forth movement and then with a twist pop the shellfish open. Carefully collect the meat by scraping both the top and bottom shells. Now the seafood is ready to enjoy.

*Warning: Even though the process in theory may appear to not be much challenging, it may take some practice to master the decent art of shucking shellfish. Do not get discouraged: with lots of practice and time, you may become an experienced and looked after, shucker.

*Consideration: if the process of shucking shellfish appears to be too daunting, there are fortunately short cuts: the most obvious is to ask your fishmonger to shuck the shellfish for you and the least obvious is to simply place the shellfish in a pot and allow them to open naturally.

Step 4 Enjoy the Gifts of the Sea

While oysters are great simply savoured with a spritz of lemon, nowadays there are more and more oyster bars serving a variety of sauces and dips. Oyster crackers are a classic that are often served as well. Such crackers were invented back in 1847 by Adam Exton, for the purpose of dipping them in oyster soup. Indeed, these crackers have the great quality of holding well in soups without getting soggy.

As seen, the art of shucking does not need to be intimidating nor daunting. Once you get a hang of it, you will get better and better. If the work seems to be a bit challenging or tedious, it is important to note that the task of shucking shells quickly is forgotten and pays off once, these deliscious fruits of the sea are enjoyed.

Reference

Good Tidings- The History and Ecology of Shellfish Farming in the Northeast by Barbara Brennessel,

Reference:
1. How to Shuck (Open) Oysters | Washington Department of Fish …
2. Shucked – definition of shucked by The Free Dictionary

How to Choose a Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is described as the most popular red wine and the oldest grape variety used in wine; although it is a difficult grape to grow and deal with in the winery. Pinot Noir is a lighter colored and flavored red wine. The name Pinot Noir is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black”.

In selecting a Pinot Noir wine, pay attention to several criteria such as its region, climate, flavor, year, age, food and price.

By region

The best quality Pinot Noirs are found in Burgundy, France, as well as California, Oregon, USA, and New Zealand. Other countries which grow Pinot Noir are Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, and Switzerland.

By climate

Pinot Noir grape is quite tolerant of the climate with warm days and cool evenings, although, it can be richer when it is grown in cooler and more humid climates.

By flavor

Pinot Noir’s complex aroma has hints of ripe grape, black cherry along with the spices of sassafras, cinnamon, and mint. Its various flavors broadly arrange from fruit (cherry, strawberry, raspberry, rape tomato), floral (violet and rose petal), spice (rosemary, cinnamon, peppermint), terroir (mashroom, earth, truffle, leather, meat), herbal (beet, oregano, green tea, black olive), light oak (vanilla, coconut, sweet wood) and heavy oak such as oak itself, smoke, toast and tar.

By year

1994 Magnificent year; fleshy ripe fruit

1999, 2000 and 2002 were the best years for growing Marcassin Pinot Noir with highest scores

The 2003 growing season was warm and dry. Wines from this vintage are nicely colored with concentrated ripe fruit flavors and aromas.

2006 Excellent year for growing Pinot Noir. Wines fleshy and forward with adequate balance of acidity and fine-grained tannins.

By age

2001 Pinot Noir makes outstanding vintage with wines of character and finesse.

1996, 1998 and 1999 Good vintage, best names should age well

The good choice of vintage wines is 2001 Pinot Noir Vintage Reserved Willamette Valley and Cristom Pinot Noir Jessie Vineyard 2003

By food

Pinot Noir is best paired with simple and rich foods such as grilled salmon, roast beef, or any dish that features mushrooms as the main flavor element. Other main dishes that match well with Pinot Noir include lamb, pheasant, and duck. It also pairs well with vegetables and baked or grilled chicken.

By price

Acacia Pinot Noir, Carneros 2002 $20
Aromas of bright red cherry and cinnamon spice are followed by flavors of dark, complex fruit with a lilt of decaying leaves and mushroom/mineral.

Bouchaine Pinot Noir “Gee Vineyard” Carneros, Napa Valley 2000 $50
Spiced inspired aromas of black cherry and mineral, and then there are flavors of cheerful red and black cherry, licorice, strawberry jam, complex spice and beautiful mineral elements.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir, Russian River 2002 $13
Fruit forward aromas of strawberry jam and lots of spice, then flavors of very ripe strawberry and red cherry with a touch of cinnamon follow.

Happy choosing! Enjoy your Pinot Noir!

Reference:
1. How to Pick a Good Pinot Noir: 4 Steps (with Pictures)
2. How to pick a pinot: a beginner's guide to pinot noir – Good Food

Product Reviews Aquamira Water Bottle with Filter

The folks at Aquamira are fond of saying that “the goal of technology is to preserve life.” This mission statement may be more applicable to their emergency tools and military products than water bottles, but their philosophy is rooted in the fact that they believe people should be able to safely drink water anywhere. And that is good news for cyclists.

Take clean water with you wherever you go

Staying hydrated can be a problem for cyclists; you either need to carry lots of water or make your bottle last the trip. The Aquamira water bottle with filter allows you to drink clean water wherever you are. And the best part is that it doesn’t even need to be full when you leave the house.

Quality and innovation

The 22-ounce Nalgene water bottle is excellent quality, and it has everything you’d expect, including a push-pull valve and flip cap, and it’s sized for most bottle cages. But that’s no different from any other water bottle on the market. The true innovation is the Aquamira microbiological filter.

Fill the bottle from any water source, insert the filter, screw on the lid and drink. The filter removes up to 99.9 percent of harmful bacteria and pathogens, including giardia, cryptosporidium and E. coli, down to 3 microns — and it does it while you drink. If you’re worried that the water may be more contaminated, a couple of Aquamira water treatment drops should do the trick.

The filter itself is made of thick porous plastic, which traps the bacteria. Activated carbon improves the taste and removes any chemicals in the water, leaving you with clean, safe drinking water.

I know what you may be thinking — it’s either expensive or they get you on the filters. Not so. Each filter will treat 190 liters of water (save your fingers — that’s 292 refills), and at a suggested retail price of US$24.95, it’s a steal.

And it leaves you to worry about more important things, like getting in shape for your next big cycling trip … Majorca, anyone?

Reference:
1. Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: McNett Aquamira Water Bottle …
2. REVIEW AND TEST OF THE AQUAMIRA WATER BOTTLE – YouTube

Pros and Cons of a Du Jour Menu

A Du Jour menu is simply the restaurant’s meal, or meals, of the day.  There are of course ups and downs to ordering your food this way.  Below are some of the pros and cons of ordering from the Du Jour menu.

Pros of ordering from a Du Jour menu

The biggest pro of ordering from a Du Jour menu is that you normally get a great discount on the food compared to like-dishes.  This is not always the case; however the savings are sometimes up to 50% off of the regular meal price, or even more. 

Secondly the Du Jour menu usually rotates the restaurant’s best meals, or most popular meals.  This could save you a lot of time when trying to figure out what to order at a new restaurant.

Thirdly, and this goes along with the first point, is that Du Jour menu items normally also come with more food for your money.  They usually include the base meal at a discounted price, and then include free sides or extra sides.

Lastly it is likely the Du Jour menu meals will always be fresh if the restaurant is busy, as there will be people taking advantage of the deal.

Cons of ordering from a Du Jour menu

Sometimes the Du Jour menu item or items are foods you aren’t quite sure about – whether this is because you don’t know the ingredients, the taste, or generally what to expect.  The waiter or waitress could help you to an extent, but often times he or she will not be able to fully describe what you are getting.

Another downside to Du Jour menus is the serving size, which was also a pro.  The reason for this is that sometimes they are advertised as lunch sized meals, so be sure to check.  If this is the case it means you are actually getting a smaller portion than the regular meal.  If this is the case, then it is a con of Du Jour menus, if not, then it is a pro.

And then, again, to touch on a pro is the freshness of the food you are getting.  Like stated above, if the restaurant is busy then chances are you will be getting fresh, hot food.  If the restaurant is dead or slow, however, you may be getting some food that has been sitting under a heating lamp for some time. 

Conclusion

To wrap this up, the main thing that will separate the pros from cons in a Du Jour menu are completely dependent on what you observe, with the exception of not knowing what the meal is.  Du Jour menus are an amazing way to get a good meal for a good price; however there are definitely some downsides to ordering this way.

Reference:
1. The psychology of menus | Life and style | The Guardian
2. Chefs de France Menu – EPCOT World Showcase – Disney World

Reasons for using Instant Coffee

Instant coffee is the java junkie’s worst nightmare, at least that is what most of them will tell you. For these folks, the taste, color and consistency of instant coffee is all wrong and they refuse to even have it in their home. If you are one those “coffee snobs”, then read on to learn about some of the uses of this misunderstood product.

Cooking/baking

From stews to roasts to chocolate cake, instant coffee can be the secret ingredient that makes a dish “pop” with flavor. As with any type of seasoning/spice/flavoring, a little can go a long way. Using instant coffee can create a “Mocha” flavor in your favorite chocolate cake recipe, and what coffee lover doesn’t enjoy mocha? For meat lovers: combine instant coffee granules with salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder or whatever seasonings you like and rub on meat before cooking/baking/grilling. Try adding instant coffee to your favorite chili recipe for a taste experience you will not believe!

Convenience

Okay, most coffee drinkers would rather gouge their own eyes out than sit down to a morning mug of instant coffee, this is a well known fact. However, instant coffee is much easier to reach for than brewing an entire pot in the coffee maker (especially if you only have time for one cup). Instant coffee is faster than waiting for a pot to brew. It is also good when you want an evening cup of coffee, but do not want to brew a pot (trying to figure out how much coffee to put in the coffee maker for 1 cup is nearly impossible). Instant coffee is now available in convenient 1 cup packets, how super easy is that? 

Travel

How many times have you went on a trip and ended up staying at a hotel that did not furnish in room coffee? Probably more times than you care to admit! Instant coffee can come to the rescue at those hotels, saving you the hassle of having to get dressed and go to the lobby or coffee bar when you first get out bed. Okay, admit it, you visit friends and/or family members who do not own a coffee maker, nor do they even drink coffee…ever. This is always a pain in the caffeine system, right? Well, instant coffee can come to the rescue here too! You can take your jar of instant, make a cup or two and be somewhat happy and they do not have to feel guilty for not having a coffee maker. You can even take instant coffee with you on camping and fishing weekends! 

Price

Here is the big reason instant coffee is useful in some situations: affordability. Taking a packet of instant coffee to work with you and using hot water there to make a cup of coffee is so much cheaper than stopping and picking up a coffee at your favorite coffee house. Add up how much you spend in a month on coffee house coffee, and then figure out how much you would spend on buying a few packets of instant coffee. The amount might shock you! 

Coffee drinkers around the world turn their noses up at the mention of instant coffee, but the truth is, it does have its useful perks. You may not prefer to drink a cup of instant coffee, but it can end up being very handy having some in the kitchen or pantry. Try it in your favorite chocolate cake recipe, to add a twist of flavor, and see what you think! Instant coffee will never be as good as a freshly brewed pot of regular coffee, but it works in a pinch.

Reference:
1. Instant coffee
2. Here's How & Why You Need to Use Instant Coffee – Food Hacks

Pineapple Pasta Salad

This salad recipe is a great crowd pleaser. A meal in itself, this pasta salad is filling as well as nutritious.

For a Sunday brunch as a starter or a side dish for barbeques, it is refreshing.  The use of fruits in this recipe makes it uniquely sweet and tangy at the same time.

All my friends’ children love this salad, in fact during cookouts I prepare it on demand. Many times I vary the recipe by adding boiled corn or parboiled carrots. This is a really colorful dish that sits attractivly on the dinner table. It is so easy to prepare that new cooks and even children can try their hand at it. This is one salad recipe that will come out perfect first time itself.

Pineapple-Pasta Salad with Nuts Recipe:
Ingredients:

½  a can pineapple
2  apples
1 boiled potatoes
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup cashew-nuts roasted
1 cup macaroni
1 cup bell peppers (red, yellow, green mix) chopped
4 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tbsp yogurt
1 tsp olive oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Method:
1    Chop the pineapple into bite sized pieces.
2    Peel, core and chop the apples to bite sized pieces.
3    Peel and cut the potatoes to bite sized pieces.
4    Mix all the fruits and vegetables in a large bowl, refrigerate.
5    Boil the macaroni in salted water till almost done, drain, mix in the olive oil-to keep the pasta from sticking together and keep
6    Mix together yogurt and mayonnaise, add salt and pepper to the mixture.
7    Mix together the chilled fruit and vegetables with the macaroni.
8    Before serving, toss in the dressing.
9    Garnish with the raisins and cashew-nuts.

Serve chilled.

Reference:
1. Hawaiian Pasta Salad – Spend With Pennies
2. Hawaiian Pasta Salads on Pinterest | Cold Pasta Salads …

Prices Increase Mcdonalds Corporation

The word is out; McDonald’s is raising its prices in 2011.  For two years they kept their prices down on their existing menu and added new items: flavored coffees and healthier food choices in their list of foods.  All this effort eventually made them one of the top five fast food chains in the world. The European and Asian markets both have recorded bottom line increases for their company. Alas, all good things come to an end.

Why raise prices now? Simple economics; the recession is slowly coming to be a distant memory. Gas prices are up, food growers raise their prices, and so are the local supermarkets. Being hit from all sides, the whole nation is raising prices. McDonald’s lost some million plus dollars in the recession due to a lack of construction and renovation of stores. They also lost money to added charity contributions to local communities to help out those in need of immediate foods. We have to keep in mind the unemployment rate went up by at least ten percent in the last two years. McDonalds’s stepped up and helped out when they could.

I wonder what the new McDonald prices will look like. Will the Value Menu be set at $1.10 plus tax, or will it have fewer items? Will the increase affect the healthier menu items? As we all know, the healthier we try to eat, the more expensive. Can we win for loosing?

The price hike is probably justified. They are planning to build more restaurants, renovate their older stores, and of course, don’t forget the gas price increase. That has stopped the growth of many companies and caused many price adjustment increases.

We the consumer can only hope that this is a year of minor adjustments. Hope for no more increases for at least a year. We can also wish that the increases will be small.

The good thing we can say about McDonald’s, whether in an inflation situation or not, they have really good food, it is still a family oriented establishment; catering children’s birthday parties, child friendly menus and proportions. A menu list for everyone, even the most restrictive diets like most low-carb diets, I usually order the salad. They have a strong community friendly attitude with McDonald’s Night, an outlet for school fundraiser, monetary donations to Women’s Haven and other non-profit organizations, and they offer job opportunities for our youth; to learn the value of work ethics and making money. Heck, I should go to work for McDonalds.

All in all, no matter what we may think of McDonald’s Corporation, we have to look at the big picture of their mission. They are here to make money, but they do care for their communities.  

Reference:
1. McDonald's Gets More Expensive, Turning Off Some Diners …
2. The McDonalds by me raised their Sausage McMuffin price from …

Quick and Easy Mexican Food

Pastel Azteca or Aztec Cake is easy, fulfilling and a big hit every time you cook it. I warrant it! Everyone will want the recipe, and rave about it. It can even be different every time. How cool is that? A dish with a thousand faces. LOL

Okay, okay, enough talking; I know you’re hungry.

You need:

2 shredded chicken breasts or thighs (thighs will add more flavor)
1 can of corn
2 cups of sour cream
1 can of green salsa (green tomato)
1 can of roasted green peppers
6 to 10 tortillas
2 cups of shredded Chihuahua cheese (Monterey Jack)
Refried beans

How to make it:

Use a rectangular glass container (Pyrex). Coat it with a thin layer of sour cream. Arrange 5 or 6 tortillas to cover the bottom. You may need to cut one in half to get the corners. Spread half of the shredded chicken on top. Coat the chicken with half the corn, half the green peppers, 1 cup of sour cream, salsa to taste and 1 cup of cheese. Start all over. Begin with the tortillas to cover that first layer. Then throw the rest of the chicken, and so on. Be sure to spread the cheese at the end so it deliciously melts on top of everything else and makes the dish look luscious! Heat it in the oven at 300 F for about 30 minutes or until it’s hot, and the cheese has melted. Serve it with refried beans on the side. (And a big tasty Mexican beer)

How to make it different:

Use garbanzo beans instead of corn.
Use a mix of green and red peppers.
Use beef or pork instead of chicken (Or a mix, why not?)
Use red salsa instead of green.
Throw in an avocado. (What a good idea!)
Throw in a can of green peas too!
Use your favorite kind of cheese.

Reference:
1. Quick-Fix Mexican Food Recipes – Southern Living
2. Quick and Easy Mexican Recipes – Cooking Light