Cheesey Street Foods Of Latin America

With the possible exception of Argentina, most people don’t associate Central or South America with cheese. Like all of Latin America, these countries are a mix of indigenous cultures, colonizing forces, immigrant influences, and varied terroir, climatic extremes, and levels of industrialization. They possess some of the most biologically and geographically diverse habitats on earth. As a result, the cuisine and agricultural practices of each country have developed accordingly.

The use of dairy may not be particularly diverse in this part of the world, especially when it comes to styles of cheese, but it’s an important source of nutrition and income in rural areas, and a part of nearly every meal.

While writing a book on cheese during the course of this past year, I tapped into my rather obsessive love of both street food and South America for inspiration. As I learned during my research, the sheer variety of cheesey street snacks from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego are as varied as the ethnic influences responsible for their creation. Read on for a tasty tribute to queso.

Arepas: These flat little corn or flour cakes from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama may be grilled, baked, boiled, or fried. They’re usually stuffed or topped with a melting cheese, but may also feature meat, chicken, seafood, egg, or vegetables.

Anafres: Essentially Honduran nachos, composed of giant tortilla chips, refried beans and melted cheese. Named for an anafre, the coal-fired clay pot the dish is served in.

Pupusas: This Salvadorean staple is similar to an arepa: a thick, griddled corn cake stuffed with meat, cheese–usually a mild melting variety known as quesillo–chicarrones (pork cracklings), or queso con loroco (cheese with the buds or flowers of a vine native to Central America).Choclo con queso: Boiled corn with slices or a chunk of mild, milky, fresh white cheese may not sound like much, but this roadside and market staple of Peru and Ecuador is irresistible. The secret is the corn, which is an indigenous Andean variety with large, white, nutty, starchy kernels. It’s satisfying as a snack all by itself, but it’s even better between bites of slightly salty queso.

Empanadas (empadinhas in Brazil): Perhaps the most ubiquitous Latin American street food, riffs on these baked or fried, stuffed pastries can be found from Argentina (where they’re practically a religion) and Chile to Costa Rica and El Salvador. The dough, which is usually lard-based, may be made from wheat, corn or plantain, with fillings ranging from melted, mild white cheese to meat, seafood, corn, or vegetables. In Ecuador, empanadas de viento (“wind”) are everywhere; they’re fried until airy,filled with sweetened queso fresco and dusted with powdered sugar.

Quesadillas: Nearly everyone loves these crisp little tortilla and cheese “sandwiches.” Traditionally cooked on a comal (a flat, cast-iron pan used as a griddle), they’re a popular street food and equally beloved Stateside.

Provoleta: This Argentinean and Uruguayan favorite is made from a domestic provolone cheese. It’s often seasoned with oregano or crushed chile, and grilled or placed on hot stones until caramelized and crispy on the exterior, and melted on the inside. It’s often served at asados (barbecues) as an appetizer, and accompanied by chimmichuri (an oil, herb, and spice sauce).

Queijo coaljo: A firm, white, salty, squeaky cheese from Brazil; it’s most commonly sold on the beach on a stick, after being cooked over coals or in handheld charcoal ovens; also known as queijo assado.

Croquettes de Queijo: Cheese croquettes, a favorite appetizer or street food in Brazil.

Coxinhas: A type of Brazilian salgado (snack), these are popular late-night fare. Typically, coxinhas are shredded chicken coated in wheat or manioc flour that have been shaped into a drumstick, and fried. A variation is stuffed with catupiry, a gooey white melting cheese reminiscent of Laughing Cow. Like crack. Crack.

Queijadinhas: These irresistable little cheese custards are a popular snack in Brazil. Like Pringles, stopping at just one is nearly impossible.

Pão de queijo: Made with tapioca or wheat flour, these light, cheesy rolls are among the most popular breads in Brazil.

[Photo credit: Empanada, Flickr user ci_polla; food vendor, Provoleta, Laurel Miller]

Daily Pampering: Panasonic’s new 3D camcorder

Oh, this is a sexy little piece of technology!

Panasonic recently unveiled its newest HD camcorder, the HDC-SDT750. Now, you can turn your boring old vacation videos into an experience even your friends will love (well, they’ll love it more than the old-school slides you used to show).

Endgadget recently reported on the debut it’s quite stunning. Thanks to a 3D conversion lens that is snapped onto the camcorder, you can unleash your inner-James Cameron on your next outing. When your filming is complete, view the 3D coverage on the camera or hook the 3D stills up to an SD card and play them off of AVCHD-compatible Blu-ray players. Note: 3D glasses not included.

The SDT750 will be available in October for a cool $1,399.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Product review – Creative Vado HD pocket high definition camcorder

In this product review I’m going to introduce you to the Creative Vado HD pocket camcorder.

The Vado HD is one of a long lineup of pocket camcorders that has recently hit the market. Last year I reviewed one of the first pocket HD camcorders; the Kodak Zi6. Since then, several other manufacturers have released their own product.

Creative is no a newcomer to the consumer electronics market – they have been making audio and video products for ages, and I still have happy memories of owning my first Sound Blaster audio card back in 1989.

As far as camcorders go, the Vado HD is tiny – at just 3.9″ x 2.2″ at just 0.6″ thick and 190 grams, it is one of the smallest on the market.
On the front of the camera is a small protruding lens, and on the rear is where you’ll find its 2″ display, D-Pad control and play/delete buttons. On the side of the Vado HD is an audio/video jack and a mini-HDMI connector hidden behind a plastic dust cover.

On the bottom of the camera is a regular tripod screw port and a flip-out USB connector.

The Vado HD is powered by an internal rechargeable battery pack, rated for up to 6 hours of video recording.

Inside the camera is 8GB of storage space, which is sufficient for about 2 hours of HD+ recordings. The memory is not expandable, so you will need to move clips to your computer when you are in need of more space.

As far as recording quality goes, the Vado HD is quite simply stunning. I’ve used several of these little cameras in the past, but none really produced anything I’d consider worthy of replacing a “real” camcorder. The Vado HD does 3 things I’ve not seen from any other camera in this class:

  • Audio is impressive
  • Low light recordings are actually usable
  • Video quality really looks “high definition”

Audio is actually better than impressive – even when I used the camera in a really tough location (a large stadium with a dolphin show), it picked up all the noises brilliantly. As far as recording in low light goes – it still won’t be a replacement for a camera with night vision, but in a room with just a couple of regular lamps I was able to make a very decent recording.

The camera records video in 720p with the H.264 video codec format. When set to its highest quality setting, you’ll be able to record up to 2 hours in “HD+ and 4 hours in the regular HD format. When set to VGA (low quality), the camera can record up to 8 hours. Zoom is provided through a 2x digital zoom, which I don’t really recommend as it lowers the quality of the clips.

I’ve made several video clips showing the recording quality, and I’m sure you’ll agree that this is quite acceptable for a $230 HD video camera. I’ve seen worse from a $600 DV (non HD) camera.

Creative Vado HD Demo from Scott C on Vimeo (be sure to click the “HD” button).

(Click here for the HD version of the clip, sorry for the poor quality and stuttering, YouTube does not handle HD clips very well).

As you can see – video quality is actually very good, not “professional HD camera” good, but certainly good enough for your vacation video clips.

The Vado HD retail package makes the camera even better. Creative include a Mini HDMI cable and a silicone case as well as a USB extension cable.

The camera charges using USB, so no additional charger is required, though they do sell extra batteries and chargers if you feel you may need some more juice on the road.

Once you have made your recordings, you have several ways to watch them. The first, and easiest is to plug the camera into your TV using the included HDMI cable. Playback over HDMI is of course in HD, and you only need a single cable for video and audio. The second option is what you’ll want to use to archive and edit all your video clips – using your PC.

The first time you plug the Vado HD into your computer, it installs Vado Central, a simple video viewing application. From within Vado Central, you can instantly upload your clips to Youtube, Photobucket or Box.

The best part about Vado Central is that you do not need to install anything on your PC – which means you should be able to use it at the local Internet Cafe, airport lounge PC or restrictive work laptop. Vado Central also has the ability to grab captures of video files and turn them into photos, as the camera itself does not feature still imaging.

If viewing and uploading is not enough, you can also install a basic video editing suite, which allows you to make quick but fairly creative videos in a matter of minutes. The application offers a couple of video effects and the ability to add some background music, but it is not as flexible as a full video editing package. Naturually you can also import and edit the clips in any third party video editing package capable of working with H.264 video files.

The Creative Vado HD costs $229 and is available directly from or your favorite electronics retailer.

Daily deal – Pinnacle PCTV HD TV stick for Mac and Windows

My daily deal for today is perfect for anyone who has ever been stuck at the airport, or found themselves getting close to death by boredom in a hotel room.

This Pinnacle HDTV USB key plugs directly into your laptop (or desktop) computer, and instantly provides access to (HD)TV programming on your computer.

The device comes with a small magnetic HD antenna, an antenna adapter, a remote control and a travel bag. Once the software is installed, you’ll be able to tune into any local “over the air” programming. More advanced users can even connect the PCTV stick to their digital cable connection.

The included software allows your PC to function like a DVR, which means you can record TV and watch it when it suits you best (like on your next flight).

This product usually retails for about $110, but currently has it on sale for just $69.99 with free overnight shipping!

Keep in mind though, Woot deals only last one day, and when they are sold out, they don’t come back, so if you are interested in this product for yourself, or as a gift, order soon!

Product review – Kodak Zi6 pocket HD video camera

Welcome to my product review of the new Kodak Zi6 pocket video camera. This pint sized camcorder is capable of recording video in HD, which translates to a resolution of 720p at a maximum of 60 frames per second.

The Zi6 has a pop-out USB plug, which means you don’t need any cables to transfer your video recordings to your computer. It also has video ports for connecting to a regular TV or an HDTV.

The camera is about the size of a late 90’s mobile phone. On the rear of the camera is a spacious 2.5″ display, 2 buttons and a small joystick for controlling the various features. On the bottom of the Zi6 is a regular screw-thread for using the camera on a tripod or other mount.

On the front is of course the lens, as well as a button for the pop-out USB connector. The Zi6 operates off 2 regular AA batteries, and Kodak have included 2 rechargeable batteries as well as a charger in the box.

On the left side of the camera is the battery compartment, SD slot cover and a slider switch, for putting the lens in macro mode. On the right of the unit is the USB connector and the ports for AV and HD video connections.

Operating the camera couldn’t be easier; you slide the power switch on the top, and in about 2 seconds, you can start recording. Startup, shutdown and record are all accompanied by some funny sound effects. The Zi6 has a fairly limited built in memory, which is only sufficient for about 30 seconds of video, the first thing you will want to do, is purchase an SD memory card. The Zi6 has support for SD and SDHC (high capacity) cards, which means you’ll be able to add fairly large memory cards for very little extra cash (8GB cards can be found for around $30).

When the camera is turned on, you can either instantly start recording, or you can switch the video recording mode. By moving the joystick left or right, you cycle between the 4 different settings; photo, VGA, HD and HD60. Moving the joystick up and down controls the digital zoom. The buttons to the left and right of the joystick are for reviewing and deleting recordings.
Included in the box of the Zi6 is the camera itself, a Kodak branded charger with 2 AA batteries (pre-charged!), AV and HD cables, a manual and a CD containing a version of the Arcsoft video editing package.

Now, on to the most important part of the camera; video quality. Let me open immediately by letting you know that the Zi6 will not be replacing a professional grade HD camcorder any time soon.

Recordings in the 2 HD modes are quite decent, but you will immediately notice that every little bump and jitter becomes quite apparent. The camera struggles a little dealing with transitions from light to dark and takes about 4-5 seconds to make the adjustment. My best results were when I used the camera on a small tripod. Audio is sadly quite poor as there is no wind noise cancellation, nor will you find a microphone input jack. Also, don’t expect to use the camera in any kind of low light environment.

I have uploaded an HD recording which should give you a decent idea of what to expect. You’ll see that the quality is not comparable to the kind of HDTV you get from your cable company, but it is certainly better than making a video with your regular digital camera (You’ll need to click on the “HD” button to view it in HD).

Recordings on the Zi6 are made in the H.264 system and can be played back on most powerful computers. Kodak recommend a computer with a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 or higher.

Included with the camera is a version of Arcsoft Media Impression for making some basic edits of the recorded media. This software is PC only, so Mac users are on their own. The software allows you to import all the video clips to your PC, and upload them to Youtube or convert them to a different format.

It is clear to me that Kodak it out to conquer the market, and that they are gunning for Flip, who currently rule the world of pocket camcorders. I’ve used several of these small camcorders in the past, including the Flip, the Sony Net-Sharing cam and the Creative Vado as well as several lesser known Chinese brands, but the Kodak emerges as the clear winner.

There are a couple of shortcomings with the Zi6; The USB plug pops out a little too easy. Often when I grabbed the camera from my pocket, I’d press the front button, making the plug pop out.

The plug also lacks rotation; on my PC I used one of the front mounted USB plugs, which meant I had to plug the camera in upside down. I would have preferred a small USB extension cable or a rotating USB connector.

The low light performance of the camera is quite bad; anything outside or in a bright room will be fine, but don’t expect any usable recordings in a dim room.

Finally in my list of complaints; would it have hurt Kodak to include an SD card? The 128MB memory in the camera is barely enough for 30 seconds of recordings, and with memory prices at an all-time low, even a 2GB card would have been a nice thing to include.

Other than that, it is hard to complain about a good quality camera capable of recording pretty decent HD video for just $179. Between the use of regular AA batteries, the ability to connect to your home (HD) TV, quick startup and extremely easy operation it is clear that Kodak have a very competent little camera here, and I’m sure they’ll be found under many Christmas trees this holiday season (just remember to include a memory card!). The Kodak Zi6 is available in pink and black, and can be purchased directly from the Kodak store.