Archive for September 3rd, 2008

Most hated question

As you know, I try to help out people with my video tutorials. But the dumbest question that someone could ask me, and usually I am asked via email, IM or on forums, is this:
How to export my video to get the best possible quality“.

If I was to take that question literally, the right answer would be “use a lossless codec, like Huffyuv, or uncompressed”. This would create a file that’s several GBs per minute.

But that’s not what these people want as an answer. They usually ask this question meaning how to export in a codec that it’s viewable at a reasonable bitrate, and it’s web (youtube/Vimeo), DVD, PS3/XBoX360, and PC friendly — and by retaining a good visual quality.

Problem is, there is not a single format or way that covers well all these viewing platforms. Depending what the user wants to do, different options or codecs must be used. In general though, h.264/AAC in the MP4 container, progressive, is the best way to export. In detail (assuming HD camera):

DVDs: just use the way your video editor usually exports for DVDs. On Sony Vegas for example, you export separately audio (AC3) and video (mpeg2 template), and the Sony DVD Architect app puts them back together.
Vimeo: 1280×720 at 4-5 mbps MP4. Example.
iPod/iPhone/YouTube: 640×360 at 2mbps MP4 is more than enough. Adapt tutorial above.
PS3/XBoX360: Same as Vimeo above if you own a 1080i TV, or 1920×1080 at 12 mbps if you own a 1080p TV. These devices don’t support h.264/AAC in MOV btw, but only in MP4.
PC/Mac: Like Vimeo if your computer is not very fast, or in 1080p if it is.

Of course, then there’s the problem of your video editor not supporting h.264/AAC in MP4, in which case you might want to investigate XViD AVI or WMV. No matter the codec used, just use the same bitrate/settings as discussed above.

If you don’t use an HD camera, then it gets more complicated as PAL/NTSC use different resolutions and there’s the point of 4:3 vs widescreen. Some ideas here.

So next time you want to ask me this question, always tell me four things:
1. Format that video was shot (e.g. miniDV PAL 50i, HDV NTSC PF24).
2. Aspect ratio of the said video (e.g. 4:3, widescreen).
3. Video editor or video tools owned.
4. Target viewing platform.

Delicious recipes for Christian Orthodox fasting

I am not religious at the slightest, but my brother’s family is. They were fasting during the first 15 days of August (Orthodox Christians usually fast before Christmas, Easter and leading to Mother Mary’s day). Greek Orthodox fasting disallows all blood animal products, meaning that eggs, dairy and meat from fish/birds/mammals are disallowed, but shellfish are allowed (because they have nothing that resembles red blood — obviously a convenient technicality even if the Bible mentions pork and shellfish as unclean in general). On Good Friday, olive oil is disallowed too.

As a kid I was forced to fast for Easter (usually just the week before), and I hated every minute of it (even if I loved the Easter time in general). Truth is, while my mother is an excellent cook, she has a limited repertoire when it comes to recipes and ingredients. She only wants to eat and cook the recipes passed to her by her mother. She is extremely closed-minded regarding new ingredients and tastes (I can easily picture her face of disgust when I mention mushrooms or shellfish, for example). This severely limited our tastes during the Holy Week, making it almost as unbearable (on purpose, I suppose) as the tortures Christ had to undergo for the week.

So here are some very nice recipes I have gathered that could really make the fasting time pleasant. They are all Mediterranean-inspired, and delicious, all carefully cooked by Kalofagas — a Canadian Greek cooking blogger. Some of the recipes might include some dairy elements, but these can easily be omitted without diminishing the taste of the dish.

Mussels Saganaki With Mustard. Omit the feta cheese. Great with mushroom wild rice.
Vegetarian pizza, with non-dairy (fasting) cheese (sold in some places in Greece). I did this twice for my brother and his wife in August. I used non-dairy hard cheese, bell peppers, chili peppers, tomatoes, olives, onions. Mushrooms are equally nice but unfortunately in my home area, Epirus, very few people trust mushrooms so I didn’t use them.
Prawns saganaki. I cooked this last night! It was delicious. Omit cream cheese.
Prawns Tourkolimano. Again, omit feta cheese.
Grilled Sesame Scallops. Great when served with some pasta or fries.
Tomato Fritters (omit the egg) and Kolokithokeftedes (again, use fasting cheese). Serve with a fasting dip, like the Macedonian Makalo (which is the Greek version of ketchup), or Hummus.
Tagliatelle With Zucchini, Tomato and Fresh Herbs. Add some stir-fried shellfish or mushrooms to make this recipe even better.
Potato Salad for Good Friday (no olive oil). And another potato salad too.
Vegetable soup.
Briam Florinis.
Thai Green Curry With Scallops & Shrimp. Might be a bit difficult to get all the ingredients in Greece.
Soup With Mussels and Ginger. Omit the heavy cream.
Greek Chickpea Soup. Substitute chicken stock with vegetable stock (note: not all vegetable stocks in the market are vegetarian).
Scallops Provencal.
Shrimp With Capers and Dill
Octopus and Pasta Bake
Cuttlefish Lemonato, and Artichokes a la Polita
Dolmades Gialantzi
Black-Eyed Pea Salad, and Octopus With Vinegar
Ladenia (Greek pizza)
Kampanoules With Peppers and Basil (omit the cheese)
Seafood Pasta
Shrimp With Mastiha liquer
Cuttlefish With Saffron and Potatoes
Melitzanosalata (Eggplant Salad)
Spanakorizo. Another local variety asks for more spinach, and some lemon too.
Rice salad
Shrimp Salad With Avocado and Pasta Shells
Roasted Red Pepper Dip
Imam Baildi
Rice Salad
Leonidio, Tsakones and Eggplant (replace feta cheese with tofu)
Fassoulotavas Makedonikos
Shrimp and Pasta

And of course, there are all the “normal” Greek fasting foods, ranging from bean soups to lentils (in this lentils recipe omit the sausage, and use olive oil), and from yemista (use some olive oil) to green beans (use some olive oil).