Video of the day: a goaty guide to pronouncing foreign cheeses

The holidays are Cheese Season. At no other time of the year are cheese and specialty food shops as thronged by dairy-seeking customers. They’re hungry for a fix or searching for a gift, recipe ingredient, or the makings of a cheese plate. Cheese is love, and one of the easiest, most elegant ways to kick off a cocktail party or conclude (or make) a memorable meal.

With that in mind, the folks at Culture: the word on cheese magazine (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) have produced this clever (and utterly adorable) video to aid you in pronouncing some of those delectable but tricky foreign cheeses from France, Spain, and Switzerland. Happy Hoch Ybrig, everyone!


Five sustainable alternatives to turkey this Thanksgiving or holiday season

thanksgiving turkeyIf you expected to see “Tofurkey” anywhere in this article, you clearly aren’t familiar with my work. Nope, no textured vegetable protein here.

As a kid–an obnoxiously picky eater, at that–turkey was on my lengthy list of foods to avoid. I suspect it was the notoriously dried-out birds of my youth that caused my aversion. Today, I like turkey, but it’s honestly not one of my favorite eating birds: I much prefer a good roast chicken or a game bird.

Game birds–both wild and farmed–are popular throughout much of Europe, especially in the UK, France, and Italy. Goose and duck are frequently seen in Asian cuisine, depending upon the country and region. And now, game birds are growing in popularity in the U.S.. Quail and duck aren’t difficult to find on menus, but there’s also squab, guinea hen, partridge, wood pigeon, etc.. Some birds, such as goose, heritage breed turkeys, or wild game birds may be seasonal or require order well in advance; just to give you an idea, the turkey farmer at my local market has people start signing up for Thanksgiving birds in March.

If you can’t find these birds at your local farmers market on butcher shop, you can order them online. The important thing is to ask or research how the animals are raised, and make sure it’s in a humane, ecologically responsible manner (see end of article for more information).

With the proliferation of farmed birds (mostly small-scale operations) in the U.S., I’m hard-pressed to recommend you shoot yourself some dinner (although I’m behind roadkill), but hunting is a discussion for another day. For the record, while I don’t participate in it myself, I support hunting wildlife as a means of population control, as long as the animal in question is fully utilized.

As for you city slickers, just be aware that wild birds are much stronger in flavor, less tender, and in most instances need to hang for a few days so the proteins can break down and render the meat edible. So put away your bird call and shotgun unless you have the experience and permits, and do your shopping locally or online. No muss, no fuss, and trust me, plucking birds is a serious pain in the ass. Farmed birds are bred for more tender meat, are usually hens (also more tender and mild), and a great choice even if you’ve never cooked anything beyond a chicken breast.

Do note that goose and duck, are very fatty (the extra padding helps keep these aquatic birds buoyant) and you’ll need to render the fat before you can cook the meat. The key to successfully preparing most birds, however, is to not overcook them. Your butcher or any number of cookbooks will be able to tell you how to prepare them. Some good resources: Nose to Tail Eating (Ecco) by Fergus Henderson, and River Cottage Meat Book (10 Speed Press) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Sourcing information for all of the following bird species can be found at the end of this article.

1. Goose
Goose was once a British Christmas dinner favorite (oddly, turkey is now the bird of choice), and it’s still popular in Germany. According to esteemed food writer Joan Nathan of Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook (Random House), German Christians traditionally ate goose for Christmas, and Jews cooked it for Hannukah. In her book, she provides a lovely family recipe for roast goose stuffed with chestnuts and apples that would make any Thanksgiving table proud.

[Photo credit: Flickr user turtlemom4bacon]thanksgiving turkeyGoose is considerably more fatty than other birds, so it’s not a good choice if you’re watching your cholesterol or calories (stick with white meat turkey). But it’s that layer of fat that makes the meat so succulent and juicy. It’s very rich, so a little goes a long way; ideal if you’re feeding a crowd.

2. Pheasant
The Common Pheasant is native to Asia, but there are over 30 subspecies that have been introduced all over the world as a game bird; it’s naturalized in Europe. In the U.S., we’re most familiar with ring-necked pheasant: the males are striking, with emerald- and crimson-colored heads. Farmed pheasant is growing in popularity on menus, and is similar to dark chicken meat in flavor

3. Quail
While tiny and full of bones (imagine gnawing on a giant hummingbird drumstick), quail is a great choice if you’re having a small gathering because you can serve one bird per person. They’re very dainty and require simple preparation. Just butterfly them, thread on skewers and toss on the grill, or pan-fry. Quail meat is dark, juicy, and non-gamey; it pairs beautifully with dried fruit such as figs, dates, or cherries. Toss grilled quail atop some bitter greens dressed with a bacon vinaigrette, add some plumped dried fruit, and let the cooking juices wilt the greens. Dinner is served.

4. Duck
Duck is commonplace on fine-dining menus nationwide. While technically white meat (as is goose), it’s similar to red meat: rich, rosy, and juicy with burnished, crackling skin. Many people are intimidated by cooking duck, but it’s one of the easiest alterna-birds to work with, especially if you just use breast, thigh, or leg meat. Breasts will have a thick layer of fat beneath the skin; you’ll need to score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern to help the fat render (Don’t throw it out! Store it in a clean, sealed jar, and use it to fry potatoes or other foods for extra crispy goodness). Grill or saute breasts; legs take well to braising or confit.

There are three main breeds of duck sold commercially: Pekin, Muscovy, and Moulard. Pekin are the most tender and mild, while Muscovy are large, meaty, and stronger in flavor. Moulard are a Pekin/Muscovy cross; they’re larger, more fatty, and stronger in flavor than Pekin, and are usually raised for foie gras.

5. Squab
A more civilized term for pigeon, these aren’t your standard “rats-with-wings” variety. Squab are eating pigeons, and the meat is similar to duck–very juicy and rosy in color, with an almost livery flavor. Think of it as a smaller duck in terms of cooking technique.

Speaking of park pigeon, when I lived in the Bay Area, there was a semi-factitious activist group advocating the consumption of the out-of-control resident pigeon population (something I’d be completely behind if these birds weren’t such carriers of disease). To prove their point, they cooked up a bunch of captured birds in a San Francisco park one day and had a well-documented pigeon picnic. I’ve always found that hilarious.
thanksgiving turkey
Sourcing

Even if you decide to just stick with turkey or switch to chicken this holiday season, the most important thing–besides technique–is to start with a great bird. It’s worth the extra expense to get a pasture-raised animal that’s been supplemented with exercise, sunshine, plant matter, and foraged bugs. You’ll taste the difference, but it goes beyond just flavor.

Industrially-raised poultry (i.e. chicken and turkey) are the taste equivalent of Styrofoam with bland, watery meat plumped with saline solution; their feed is often supplemented with arsenic to produce pinker meat and act as a growth promotant and antiparasitic. They’re hybridized to grow quickly and possess outrageously oversized breasts (because that’s the part most people prefer to eat). Factory farming is also an inhumane, environmentally devastating industry with far-reaching impacts upon human health (Click here for more information on sustainable-vs-industrial turkey farming).

Sonoma County Poultry sells Liberty Ducks (actually a strain of Pekin ducks adapted to a slower, less stressful growing process) ships nationwide. Grimaud Farms of California’s San Joaquin Valley sells Muscovy duck and guinea fowl online

D’Artagnan is a well-regarded purveyor of specialty foods. They have a strong focus on sustainability and humane poultry and game bird production and procurement, and sell farmed quail, pheasant, quail, goose, squab, poussin (technically, young chicken, although sometimes game hens are sold under this name); capon (castrated rooster, which makes for flavorful, tender meat); guinea hen, and wild Scottish wood pigeon, grouse, pheasant, and Red-legged partridge online

Mad Hatcher Poultry
in eastern Washington produces quail, squab, poissin, and quail (heritage turkey and rabbit, too).

[Photo credits: roast goose, Flickr user Herman Saksono; cook, Laurel Miller]

How to Buy and Cook Duck Legs

SkyMall Monday: Money Maze & Bilz Pinball Game

Bilz Pinball Money Maze Game SkyMall MondayThe holiday season is in full swing and everyone is looking for the best gifts for friends and family. The SkyMall Monday headquarters is filling up with presents for our favorite people. Sometimes, though, you simply have no idea what to get for someone. No matter how much you rack your brain, you just can’t come up with the perfect gift for someone in your life. Whether it’s your coworker, mailman or mistress, you may realize that they’re better off picking out their own gifts. That’s when you need to suck it up and give them a gift card or, if you want to limit them only by their imagination, cash. However, gift cards and cash can seem cold, easy and, possibly, lazy. Not on your part, that is. You were generous. Cash and gift cards are easy for the recipients. Make those people earn their gifts by forcing them to solve a puzzle to get to that sweet consumer gold. Thanks to SkyMall, now your friends and loved ones will be able to cherish the greatest gift of all: humility. Because, after a few glasses of eggnog and with everyone staring at them, they’re going to have a hard time freeing those gift cards from the Bilz Pinball Game and Money Maze.

While there may be no greater holiday thrill than opening a giant wrapped box to find exactly the gift that you were hoping for (oh yes, I remember getting my original Nintendo very well), as an adult there is a simple joy in receiving cash. I mean, it’s money. It sure as heck beats underpants, a hideous sweater or a Two and a Half Men box set. The down side of receiving cash is that it lacks the oohs and ahhs elicited by flashier gifts. If you want the recipient of your monetary gift to be the center of attention, there’s no better way to do so than by forcing them to solve a puzzle to get their hands on their holiday booty.

Think it’s perverse to require someone to solve a puzzle to receive their holiday gift? Believe that it’s not in the Christmas spirit to make someone earn their presents? Well, seems to me that complaining about your gift might just put you on Santa’s naughty list.

Money Maze Bilz Pinball SkyMall MondayThe Bilz Pinball Game and Money Maze also serve another wonderful function: They allow the gift-giver to avoid shopping for holiday cards. Normally, you would put cash in a greeting card. Have you gone to a stationery store to shop for cards during the holidays? Christmas songs are blaring, the shelves are in complete disarray thanks ravenous customers and the employees are counting down the days until their seasonal position is eliminated by slashing marks into their wrists. In other words, it’s not the most pleasant retail environment. By putting the cash in one of these puzzles, you save yourself the time and depression of having to shop for cards. It’s a win-win.

This year, stop trying to figure out what everyone on your list wants for Christmas and Chanukah. Just get them all cash and lock it in either the Bilz Pinball Game or Money Maze. They’ll be sure to thank you when they’re done muttering obscenities under their breath while trying to solve the puzzle that is holding their gifts captive. Frankly, if you have to endure their company at yet another holiday party, the least you can do is make them get carpal tunnel while navigating their gift.

Happy Holidays!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Gadling’s Gift Guide: $51 – $250

The holidays are upon us, and you seem to be reading our fine little travel blog. The confluence of these two facts suggest you might be in the market for some travel-themed gifts this holiday season. But what do you get for that discerning traveler on your list that won’t break the bank? With the rotten economy and all, you’re not made of money at the moment.

That’s where we come in. We’ve polled our team of travel experts here at Gadling and pulled together the following list of travel goodies priced between $51-$250, all travel tested and blogger approved. Have a scroll down below and of course, feel free to add your own travel-themed gift suggestions in the comments below.

Peek Personal Email Device

You may remember Scott’s review of the Peek from this past August, when he gave the device solid marks all around. For those that are not familiar, the Peek is handheld email device powered by the T-Mobile network. For only $99.95 for the hardware and then $19.95/month you get simple, easy to use access to all your email.

Frequent travelers looking for an unlimited email device will be pleased with the Peek’s features. Sure, the Peek isn’t for everyone. Those looking for Blackberry or iPhone-style functionality will find it lacking in features. But the device’s no-frills capabilities may ultimately be more appealing to those who are less technologically inclined because of this simplicity. Not to mention it has no monthly contract commitment unlike those fancier devices.

Where: www.getpeek.com and at Target stores nationwide
Price: $99 for the hardware, $19.95/month thereafter

Osprey Porter 46

You tend to go through a lot of travel bags when you write for a travel website. Whether it’s business travel, a quick jaunt home to Chicago for the holiday, or a 2 week trip to Japan, most of my bags have been through a literal trial-by-fire. Now, after burning through all manner of business-style rolling suitcases, shoulder-sling duffel bags and over-the-shoulder backpacks, I’m ready to declare a winner. It’s Osprey’s Porter 46 backpack.

What is it about the Porter 46 in particular that gets me so fired up? The best part for me is the size. Specifically designed to fit the exact maximum airline carry-on size restrictions, the Porter 46 ensures you’ll never have to check luggage again. I’ve fit this sucker on everything from Boeing 747’s down to those tiny Embraer regional jets, and it always has been able to squeeze into the overhead.

I’m also a big fan of the Porter 46 configuration. Unlike most typical backpacks, it opens like a duffel bag, with a zipper on the “top.” This prevents the annoying situation with most backpacks where you have to dig all the way down the bottom to find your toothbrush. No such issue here. I also really like the Porter’s backpack setup – the straps fold completely into a zippable compartment on the backside, ensuring nothing will get snagged on a conveyor belt if you do decide to check the thing.

Where: Head to the Osprey website to find a dealer online
Price: Though the Porter 46 retails for $99, I’ve seen it as low as $75 depending on where you look

Icebreaker Travel Shirt

Traveling sometimes means making do without the necessities. But that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be able to look good and be comfortable while doing it. Enter the Icebreaker Superfine140 travel shirt. This ultra-lightweight fabric shirt is crafted from an ultra-fine merino thread, which ensures that it dries quickly and is extremely breathable.

These two properties of the Icebreaker offer an added bonus – they are very resistant to body odor. Internal consensus from the Gadling staff has it that the shirts have lasted as long as 15 days without taking on any kind of “funky smells.”

While Gadling does not endorse the extreme avoidance of regular personal hygiene, we are willing to give our readers the benefit of the doubt. Anybody looking for a versatile base-layer and all-around good travel wear should give Icebreaker a look.

Where: www.icebreaker.com
Price: $69.99

Gravis Hobo Messenger Bag

For the past 5 years, I have been on a relentless search for the best messenger bag. I wanted something that looked sharp enough to take with me to work, but not so corporate looking that I couldn’t take it with me when I was out and about on the weekends and traveling. That’s why when I stumbled on the Hobo Bag by Gravis, I knew I had finally found my choice.

While there are a number of great messenger bag makers out there, I like the Gravis Hobo Bag because of the multitude of pocket space inside. This includes a separate compartment for a laptop, as well as smaller zippered pouches for any small personal necessities. It works equally well day-to-day as well as while you’re traveling, holding items like a small camera, an umbrella and perhaps a change of clothing. I also particularly like the quirky patterns – while the exterior of my bag is white and black, the interior is made up of a pattern of robots, donkeys, elephants and monkeys (weird combo, right?). The ones online have similar colorful or more simple styles to them, leaving you free to pick a design that best matches your own style and needs.

Where: www.gravisfootwear.com or www.ebags.com
Price: $50 for the medium size, $75 for the large

Blackberry Curve by T-Mobile

Earlier this year, Scott mentioned a unique feature of T-Mobile’s Blackberry Curve phone. Not only does the Curve let you make calls over the normal wireless network of T-Mobile, it’s also equipped for Wi-Fi calling in areas where traditional cell phone service is not available. Basically this means you can make phone calls anywhere in the world over a local Wi-Fi connection, even if you have no service or are roaming in whatever country you happen to be visiting. If you’re not interested in going through the process of unlocking your phone to use it in other countries, this can be a godsend.

T-Mobile is also fairly generous when it comes to their Blackberry international data plan. For only $19.95 per month, you can send and receive as many emails as you want in other countries, with no hidden data charges.

Where: www.t-mobile.com/shop/phones
Price: $99 after instant discount and mail-in rebate, $449 without

SeV Quantum Jacket

I can never have too many pockets when I’m traveling. Between my wallet, a digital camera, a guidebook, a cell phone, my music player and all those other travel doodads we all like to have, your pants end up bulging with stuff. In September, we reviewed the SeV Quantum Jacket, noting its versatility for gear junkies. Between the jacket’s main body and sleeves it’s got 28 pockets for your digital and analog paraphernalia.

But it’s not just the many, many pockets that make this jacket a snap. It’s also got small openings throughout the fabric for something called the “personal area network,” allowing you to connect wires and cables from a device in one pocket to those in another. The Quantum also includes touch-screen accessible pockets for fans of PDA’s, iPhones and the iPod Touch.

Combined with the jacket’s breathable and water resistant shell and the optional fleece and you’ve got one tough, durable piece of outerwear.

Where: www.scottevest.com
Price: $250

iPod Touch – 8GB

Have you heard of this crazy iPod gadget? I hear they’
re totally popular now. OK, OK…you probably know all about the iPod, iPhone and iPod Touch at this point. Rather than dwell on the obvious, let’s talk about why the iPod Touch might be the perfect digital media solution for all you travelers out there.

First and foremost, the iPod has built-in Wi-Fi. If you’re not looking to spend $5 bucks at the internet cafe every time you want to check email during that trip to Spain, the iPod Touch lets you log on, surf the web and send a hello to the family without breaking the bank. Second, it has all the digital music, game and movie-playing goodies you’ll need to keep you entertained on those long plane or bus rides.

And perhaps most useful of all, you can even turn the IPod Touch into a “personal digital guidebook.” Let’s say I’m going to be touring around Seattle during the day. Instead of lugging around that Frommer’s book all day, you can just pull up the Wikitravel (or Gadling) page on your iPod Touch. Now even when you move out of Internet range you’ve got all the information pre-loaded and at the flick of a finger.

Where: http://store.apple.com
Price: $229 for 8 GB

No Reservations: Seasons 1, 2 and 3 on DVD plus Book

If there is one travel TV show that has kept us consistently entertained and delighted over the past few years, it’s definitely No Reservations. Say what you will about the Amazing Race or Bizarre Foods – the fact of the matter is no travel show on television is as consistently hilarious, interesting, blunt and entertaining as No Reservations.

If that someone special in your family is dreaming of some travel this holiday season but won’t be able to go there in person, why not buy them a couple seasons worth of No Reservations on DVD and the behind-the-scenes book? You can get the complete First, Second and Third seasons on Amazon.com. Yes, we admit – we are 100% in the tank for Anthony Bourdain.

Where: www.amazon.com
Price: $69 for Seasons 1, 2 and 3 and the No Reservations book

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