Eugene Eats: Membrillo Latin Cafe

I have always enjoyed trying new things as well as new foods.  I inherited the trait from my dad who would always encourage my brother and I to “try something new” when we were out to eat. My dad would always encourage us to never eat the same thing twice. At the time I would want to order my favorite dish, but now looking back, I’m grateful. Growing up, my family almost never ate at chains or “American” food restaurants. Instead my palette was exposed to exotic Indian curries or spicy Thai food dishes. I thought this was normal to be exposed to ethnic and international cuisines. That was until I moved to college where some of my friends had never even tried pad thai or ventured outside the land of burgers and fries. I am so lucky to have grown up in a “foodie family” and have been able to try new international cuisines.  I often think of my dad while out to eat and his “trying something new” phrase sticks in the back of my mind.

I am not that familiar with Latin American cuisines, but ever since watching the movie “Chef” I have wanted to try Cuban food.There has been a lot of hype around a new Latin cafe in Eugene called Membrillo. Yelp reviews rave of the unique menu options and deliciously prepared specialties. Today I went with my roommates for brunch and was blown away by the unique flavors and cozy ambiance.

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I ordered the Picadilla, which is a traditional Spanish and Latin American dish(see picture above). Membrillo described it as a Latin sloppy Joe. It is a “tomato braised ground beef sofrito and potato hash + two sunny eggs & toast”. I have never had anything like it before-it was mouth-watering.  The meat mixture had green olives, beef,  and a spicy chili flavor. When the waitress was describing it, I thought it would be a little heavy in the morning, but was surprised it was actually very light and was perfect drenched over a potato hash. The runny sunny side eggs on top were a great flavor combination.

I went with my roommates and everything from the steak and eggs, to the latin omelette, to the dulce de leche latte, was delicious. By far one of the most unique and flavor breakfast places in Eugene. The only down side was that there are only a few vegetarian breakfast options.

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Tortilla Espanola, Photo: Jenna Barasch

Membrillo was also a great experience because of the laid-back ambiance and friendly service. The chef and owner came out and greeted us once we were seated and gave us some menu recommendations as well as background on the restaurant. Never before have I had the chef of a restaurant come personally introduce himself. The chef, Cory, grew up in Miami where Cuban cuisine was, and still is, popular. After working at a local brewery-Falling Sky, he broke off to start Membrillo. Also all of the ingredients at Membrillo are fresh. While we were finishing up our meal we saw Cory, the chef, come back with a giant container of fresh vegetables from the farmers market that was happening across the street.

In addition to the traditional Latin fare, Membrillo has a very personal, cozy atmosphere, There are only a few tables and you are seated very close to the kitchen. It feels more like you are in someones dining room rather than a restaurant. It has the true “cafe” feel. The hand painted ceramic coffee cups, cute yellow quince logo, and small cozy atmosphere add up to a quirky Eugene hot spot.

Honestly, I can’t wait to go back and ‘try something new’!

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Best Kitchen Gadgets

I’m in the kitchen a lot. Whether creating an elaborate meal inspired by one of my travel adventures or rushing out the door and needing to whip up a quick and easy breakfast, the kitchen is my domain. It is a place where I feel safe and truly look forward to cooking and baking. I think that people are most intimidated by cooking because of the amount of different tools and kitchen gadgets involved. However, you do not need fancy immersion blenders, egg separators, or butter slicers to cook a meal. Although there are a bunch of expensive and even silly kitchen gadgets there are really only a few essential tools you absolutely need  in your kitchen “toolbox”.

1. Metal Spatula

This is a must in every kitchen. A metal spatula is so useful. Whether frying eggs, flipping pancakes, or checking on pot stickers, the ability to flip and transport ingredients is priceless. Although I have worked with rubber spatulas in the past, those tend to be very flimsy. A metal surface allows for stability and support and really allows you to “get under” the food. I prefer the ones that are slotted-especially when working with foods in oil or other liquids. Amazon: $8.99

 

 

2. Whisk

Besides being the most whimsical named kitchen tool, a whisk is fundamental for any baker. Whisks are ideal for beating eggs, blending salad dressings, and dissolving solids in liquids. A whisk allows air to be beaten into a liquid and is also a great easy tool for getting out lumps. The upper arm muscle is just a plus. Amazon: $4

3. Good Knife

I didn’t realize the importance of a sharp knife until after I moved away from home. Having a sharp knife that is comfortable in your hand, and one of good quality is very imperative. Being able to chop, dice, Julienne, cube, and cut ingredients to their correct size is a main component to many different food preparations. Investing in at least one high quality knife will make a world of difference in your cooking adventures and one that you will use over and over again. Amazon: $9

4. Wooden Spoon

This may seem like a no brainer, but a wooden spoon is very useful and one of my most used kitchen tool. It is so versatile. Whether stirring a brownie batter, stirring stir-fry’d veggies, or retrieving pasta from boiling water, a wooden spoon will be necessary to any cook. Amazon: $6

5. Measurements

Although it is easy to guess or estimate specific amounts of ingredients, having the right and proper measurement can decide the fate of how your food will turn out. Following a recipe is imperative when cooking and especially baking. The best part is that you can really never measure wrong as long as your ingredients are level. Having a good set of dry cups, liquid, and a teaspoon/tablespoon set is a prerequisite before getting into the kitchen. Cup and Measuring spoon set Amazon: $9 and Glass liquid measuring Amazon: $12

Eugene Eats: Tacovore

With my winter term of senior year closely coming to an end, I am trying to cherish every experience. That includes taking new classes, taking advantage of on campus lectures, biking through new trails, and of course eating new food. I am on a mission to try as many Eugene restaurants, bakeries, coffeehouses, and food experiences before I leave this place that I now called home.

Last Friday night, I ventured over to the restaurant Tacovore,  aka taco heaven,  based on a recommendation from a co-worker. I thought, “tacos-cool, yum, sounds good”. I was looking forward to it, but didn’t think tacos were anything to get too excited about.  How wrong I was. Tacovore is way more than just tacos. It is the bustling atmosphere, amazing specialty creations, and variety of mouth-watering  salsas that make Tacovore truly a unique spin on a Mexican food classic.

Walking into Tacovore the ambiance is something that is truly memorable. Long dark rustic wood community tables are along the middle of the room while servers weave themselves in and out with bowls of fresh chips balanced on their arms. The menu is a series of chalkboard blocks displaying the daily specials. Instead of table numbers, Tacovore uses a Spanish word with a picture. The space was filled with laughter and chatter, and when we left the line was out the door!

ullSizeRender_2Tacovore specializes in Tacos. They have a set menu with 10 original tacos and then have daily specials in addition. I decided to try three tacos along with their chips and salsa.

  • -Carnitas: Smoked crispy Carlton pork with orange, Serrano chilies, jicama, cilantro and house made crema
  • -Chorizo: Chorizo pork with avocado, radish, pico de gallo, and cilantro
  • seasonal Veggie: Roasted carrot and butternut squash, kale, pickled onion, and lime crema

My views on tacos have officially changed. My favorite was the carnitas. The shredded pork was tender with a robust spicy flavor and  combined with the citrus orange slices and crunchiness of the jicama was divine! Also, the corn tortillas, which are made in-house, were fluffy and very fresh . I also really enjoyed the seasonal veggie taco. It was a unique twist on the typical taco and had some wonderful earthy flavors from the kale and butternut squash. Before eating I thought three tacos did not seem like enough to be full, however with the chips and salsa because of the rich fillings, two would have been perfect.

One of my favorite things about Tacovore was their salsa bar. They had around 8-10 home-made salsas to try. They had varieties including tomatillo, pineapple, siracha, chipotle, and Verde. I could tell that they used premium ingredients, and I enjoyed tasting and sampling the different varieties.

With their lively atmosphere and  unique combinations Tacovore should not be missed!

Cooking Oils

Cooking oils are a staple in any household. Originally they were used as a healthier alternative to butter. Many of us are accustomed to the common vegetable/canola oil or the popular olive oil, but there are many other different varieties that are used for different cooking methods and have different health benefits. Oils are used in baking, stir-frying vegetables, roasting chicken, or can even be a great base for a homemade salad dressing. The uses are endless, however each oil has a specific “smoke point” and different nutritional values.

According to Wikipedia a Cooking oil, “is plant, animal, or synthetic fat used in frying, baking, and other types of cooking. It is also used in food preparation and flavoring that doesn’t involve heat, such as salad dressings and bread dips, and in this sense might be more accurately termed edible oil.Cooking oil is typically a liquid at room temperature, although some oils that contain saturated fat, such as coconut oil are a solid” (Wikipedia)

Whether you are baking, cooking, or adding flavor or any meal knowing the differences between oils and their different health and nutritional benefits are important to recognize. Whole foods has a great nutritional guide, as well as Eating Well on which oils they recommend for different purposes. Here are some classic  oil staples as well as some new ones to incorporate into your pantry.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is Pressed from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. It can retain a high-heat when cooking since 90% of the fatty acids in it are saturated. The oil remains a semi-sold at room temperature, but can lasts for months without spoiling.  It has also been linked to overall reductions in blood lipid content and helps promote a healthy digestive tract. It is rich in fatty acids with can help improve cholesterol and help kill bacteria.  It is great melted down to its true oil form for baking. It does have a slight coconut taste, so if sensitive to that flavor, be aware.

Recommended: High heat frying, popcorn, hash browns, cookies

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a Mediterranean staple. The most important factor when buying olive oil is to make sure it is “extra virgin” which has to do with how the olive is pressed. While I was in Italy, I participated in an olive oil tasting. The best olive oils are from one origin or country and have a grassy taste.  Olive oil is great for cooking because it is known for its heart healthy effects. It is key to the Mediterranean diet and is one of the most versatile and popular oils to cook with. Tip: it is most flavorful in its raw form.

Recommended: Dip for bread, drizzled on bruschetta

Canola Oil

One of the least popular in terms of dieting and healthy eating, but one of the cheapest items on the market is canola oil. It has fatty acid and omega-3s and low saturated fat contents. This oil is perfect for baking. The oil is not actually that bad for you, however, canola oil needs to go through very harsh processing methods which is where the bad rep comes from.

Recommended: Cakes, muffins, other baked goods

Avocado Oil

A pricy alternative that can best be compared to olive oil. It is pressed from avocados and can be used cold or heated. Its texture is smooth with a slightly nutty flavor. It is primarily monounsaturated (more than 50%) which is a heart healthy choice, with some saturated and polyunsaturated mixed in.

Recommended: Use it in salad dressings or sautéed fish

Grape Seed Oil

Extracted from the seeds of grapes and  a byproduct of the wine-making industry. This oil along with other nut oils (Sunflower, Almond, etc) are not suitable for cooking but rather to be consumed raw. This oil is also high in polyunsaturated fats, which can lower blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

Recommended: Salads, dipping sauces

Red Palm Oil

One of the newer oils on the market and coconut oil’s cousin, is red palm oil. This oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree. This oil contains a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. That bright-orange hue indicates the presence of carotenes—more than ten varieties, including alpha-, beta-, and lycopene. Although there are other varieties, red palm is the best because it is rich in Vitamin E, coenzyme Q10.

Each of these oils have their own unique flavor and nutritional benefits. Incorporating different oils into your diet and eating habits can be beneficial to see which one best suits your needs. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the following sites. Resources: Greatist, Eating Well, Whole Foods, Authority Nutrition,

Food Advertisements

Food advertisements are constantly evolving. However I have noticed that especially within the chocolate and candy industries that the advertisements are getting more whimsical and wacky. Instead of going the classic “indulgence” route, the following three food advertisements deal with a change in personality and persona of the character(s) when consuming the specific food products.

1. Oreo’s Red Velvet Mini Series

Oreo just released a series of 30-second ads to promote their newest cookie flavor: Red Velvet. These ads are placed perfectly before valentine’s day.  AdWeek writes how the Oreo cookie is presented as an ‘awkward aphrodisiac for strangers’, “The brand says they’re meant for people who aren’t psyched about Valentine’s Day….And whether or not Red Velvet Oreos will actually get you laid, one thing is for sure: More people should carry fanny packs with cookies in them.”(AdWeek)

This food advertisement is using sexuality and persuasion. The ’90s cartoon drawings and cheeky elevator-esque music only add to the romantic and cliché tone. Although cute and funny, the ad is hinting on that if you eat that Oreo you could possibly fall in love. Which brings up the question-Is this ethical to relate a cookie to these types of claims?

2. Snickers: Sports Illustrated Ad

Snickers has done many “You’re not you when you’re hungry” ads in the past. Most of them have been TV commercials highlighting a particular person turning into various different characters. Once they have eaten their snickers bar, then they transform back to normal. This particular print ad (above) will appear on the back of sports illustrated magazine.  Invoking the idea that models turn into a Medusa-“whom models apparently act like when they haven’t had a Snickers in a while.”(Adweek)

Again, humor is used as a tool in food advertising. What is interesting to me is that no where on the ad is the snickers bar seen, nor their logo displayed. Because this campaign has been running for a while, people are familiar with this idea.  There is a direct relationship with eating snickers and “returning to normal”. Without a snickers bar, the model looks evil, mad, and even a little scary. Her facial expression and snake-like clothing with snakes on her head add to the image. Eating a snickers bar will transform her back into her normal happy model self. The relationship between eating a specific kind of food and transformation of physical and mental identity is important to recognize.

3. Mars Bar ‘Winning’ TV Ad

This TV commercial shows two men competing and comparing the cleverness of their dogs. One shows that his dog has learned how to jump. The other, and the one with the mars bar, demonstrates this his dog can casually play the flute to a ’80s theme song. At the end, the guy with the flute-playing dog fists the air and the words “Winning” appear on the screen. FastCoCreate says, “It’s the small victories in life that carry us through the day-to-day grind. Though, as triumphs go, the one in this ad for chocolate brand Mars is a little more unusual than snagging the last seat on the subway ride home.”

The weirder the better for chocolate candy bar commercials. Competitiveness, cute dogs, and Miami Vice music apparently make for a great ad. This does not directly relate to the actual chocolate candy bar itself however, but is making the connection between buying and eating a mars bar and ‘winning’ .

Celebrity Chef Craze

Before Food Network expanded to the empire it is today, I can remember watching and interacting with food related media content in my early childhood. I have distinct memories of  watching and re-watching  rented VHS cooking videos from the library.  I would rent the same VHS video year after year. The video was a gingerbread house demonstration. An elderly lady would go through the steps on how to make and design a gingerbread house for Christmas. I was simply memorized by her movements, and enjoyed watching her delicately ice the rooftop. I was obsessed with watching her create a food masterpiece.

Gingerbread houses, led me to Food Network TV and Rachael Ray. Ray was the first host I remember distinctly watching. To me, she was someone I wanted to be. We had the commonality of a shared name, and her dinnertime creations seemed effortless and astounding. I tested her “30-minute meal” challenges on my family.  Today the enjoyment continues and my consumption of food related media content, cooking shows, and slight obsession with celebrity chefs such as Rachael Ray has grown.

But what really is a celebrity chef? The word celebrity has connotations of a crazy, out of control Kim Kardashian or a famous actress Jennifer Anniston. And the word chef is a career position that requires several years of schooling and intense study of the preparation of food. So how do these two roles collide? According to Wikipedia a Celebrity Chef is, “ a kitchen chef who has become famous and well-known. Today celebrity chefs often become celebrities by presenting cookery advice and demonstrations via mass media, especially television.” (Wikipedia)

However, I think it is much more than being “well-known” but one who has a cult following in viewers and products. It is not only enough to have your own TV show; but now restaurants, cooking utensils, cookbooks, and even your own food products.

Time goes into detail about various realms of stardom, “In a world in which what and how we eat have become fetishized, celebrity chefs are finding new ways to harness their star power — and not just to make money. … In the Food Network era, the phenomenon of the celebrity chef has utterly transformed the restaurant industry and, in the process, changed the very nature of how we eat.”(Time) This article from Time continues to argue that food media is one of the main reasons we as Americans are alienated and distant from our food.

As I mentioned previously, celebritys harness their “star power” through their product lines such as cookbooks. Cookbooks prove a unique facet because we as readers assume that we are getting inside knowledge to their recipes. However in reality, the cookbook is more of a promotion of the celeb chef themselves. In a research study of the analysis of celebrity cookbooks, Author Christine Mitchell analyzes the differences of female vs. Male cookbooks:

In contrast to such warm, encouraging cookbooks by the female chefs, those by the men do little to support the reader’s ego. They support the authors’ egos quite well, however, as both Lagasse and Flay talk about their restaurants and television shows. But neither man works to give his readers a sense of accomplishment or knowledge. Both books reveal much about their authors, but little about cooking as an activity to cultivate.“(Mitchell)
Cooking shows, food media, and the fame of celebrity chefs are quickly growing. It is more that just sharing a simple dish with a viewer or teaching them how to cook. Instead it is self-promotion, consumerism, and the expanding of a star’s brand.