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Things I learned from Rick Bayless

Disclosure: I was compensated by Negra Modelo to attend this event, post about it on social channels, and write this blog post. 

I'm not going to mince words about it: Sometimes being a food blogger has pretty awesome perks. Like when your go-to Mexican beer approaches you with an opportunity to take a culinary tour of the Mission District with Rick Bayless, and pay you for the privilege. Twist my arm. 

We kicked our tour off at a well-known "Mexicatessen" on 24th street, a place I know well thanks to my affiliation with Edible Excursions. (Note: Due to some regulations, I cannot name the places we went to. I know, weird.) This place receives enormous amounts of dry corn on a roughly biweekly basis, which they grind and mix with water and lime (calcium hydroxide, not the fruit) in a process called mixtamalization. This unlocks the bioavailability of nutrients in the corn. They then use this mixture, called masa mixtamalisada, to make fresh tortillas, huaraches, sopes and other delicacies — all by hand. This is my go-to spot to buy fresh corn tortillas, crema salvadoreia, and fabulous salsas.

La Palma Mexicatessen

(Sidebar: Come take our tours in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley! If you book a private tour for a group of 8 or more, you get a free tour for two for yourself. I'm just one of a whole fleet of awesome guides with Edible Excursions.)

Piping-hot huarache stuffed with cheese and herbs, topped with grilled flank steak and cabbage? Don't mind if I do. (Washed down with Negra Modelo, of course.)

Huarache at La Palma

Speaking of flank steak, our next stop was a nearby meat market, family-owned for more than 40 years. The second-generation owner, Salvador Vazquez, explained that until the '70s, the beef commonly used for carne asada was not widely available in America outside Latino markets. In the mass market, it was usually thrown in with other less desirable cuts for ground beef, but in Mexico, it's treasured for its intensely beefy flavor. A friend observed Vazquez carving out the section of the cow containing a few cuts of thin, flat steaks for use.

Salvador Vasquez flap steak

He asked Vazquez what these cuts were called, and for lack of a good translation called it "flap meat." The friend asked him to show a colleague, who turned out to be a rep with IBP, and before long flap steak became available as a grocery store cut across the country. What was once considered all but a disposable cut is now marketed as flank and skirt steak, and for a premium price at that. 

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Local lager love

dpaul and I see eye to eye on many things, but beer is not one of them. He prefers very light lagers and pilsners. Most of these I find at best uninteresting and at worst, in the case of Stella…

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Drink me: Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Despite my name, I am comprised of at best 1/16 Irish blood, perhaps significantly less than that, but that doesn't deter me from enjoying the holiday. If you're planning to partake this St. Paddy's Day, please do not debase yourself with weak beer tainted with green food coloring. You'll respect yourself more in the morning if you opt for a lovely Guinness. Or, if like me you live in the Bay Area and want to go a bit more local, quaff a pint of my new favorite beer, Russian River Brewing Company's Pliny the Elder.

Like a lot of Northern California microbrews, Pliny is heady and hoppy; but unlike too many other hop-headed beers that offer nothing beyond one-noted bitterness or, worse, a metallic tinge, Pliny is rich and complex. Sure, it's hoppy, but it's layered with bright, refreshing notes of citrus, delicate sweetness of orange flower blossoms and elderflowers, and a healthy waft of the evening breeze in Humboldt County. Or so I'm told. At any rate, it's balanced and utterly drinkable.

My friend Julie has been waxing rhapsodic about this beer for a while now, but I only recently had the pleasure of partaking at a recent installment of Book Club at Toronado. Suffice to say, it was love at first sip.

As for the name? While Pliny is best known for having witnessed, and died during, the eruption at Vesuvius, Pliny wrote a significant work titled simply, Naturalis Historiae (Natural History), an encyclopedia cataloging a mangificent array of understanding of the natural world. Among his achievements in his work as a natural scientist was to give hops its botanical name, or so sayeth the brewers themselves. And this beer's hoppy application is as fitting a tribute as any.

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Seems the drink du jour in the media these days is the michelada. Aside from the beauty shot in this month’s GQ, there’s equally mouthwatering references on pretty much all my favorite boozy blogs:

  • MattBites finds it the only way to enjoy his cerveza;
  • Sloshed! sampled three different beers just to be thorough;
  • The Spirit World eyes a couple alternative preparations;
  • Anita at Married …with Dinner delved into its history last Turkey Day; and
  • Camper was way ahead of the curve, calling this drink’s rising star fully two years ago, and is now on a campaign to bring it back as a brunch favorite.

The timing was good. With an upcoming visit to the in-laws in Kentucky (where we are now) this struck me as the perfect beverage to ply on less-than-experimental palates. With an ingredient list of un-scary and familiar ingredients — Mexican beer, lime, Worcestershire and Tabasco, basically — it promised nothing less than refreshing goodness for the inevitable hot, muggy days.

Alas, my cool micheladas were met with a tepid response. No one — including DPaul — liked the flavor the Worcestershire sauce imparted. To which I say, ¡más micheladas para mí! Personally, I thought the balance of sour-salty-hot was perfectly delicious, and certainly slapped a hearty coat of red lipstick on the Corona pig. It’s a quaffable, refreshing brew that I could happily kick back more than a couple of on a sultry afternoon. Still, I will admit it pays to have a light hand with the Worcestershire.

I look forward to trying this again with Negro Modelo, my preferred Mexican beer. I would have used it this time, but our options out here in the wilds of Kentucky are … limited. And for DPaul, I’ll just pull back on the Worcestershire and Tabasco for the classic chelada. (Actually, he rather liked the Tabasco. So does that make it a semichelada?)

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Mmmm … beer

Bit of a bummer, but I didn't know until today that February is Strong Beer Month here in good ol' Ess Eff. Brew pubs and bars around the city are showcasing their heaviest, strongest beers, such as barleywines and imperial…

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