Ten Things: Cusco & Urubamba / Only In South America

Highlights from our recent trip to Peru with LAN Airlines. Today is all about Cusco and Urubamba.

Urubamba, Sacred Valley Of The Incas
The largest town in the Sacred Valley Of The Incas, Urubamba is only an hour away from Cusco and makes a great stopping point in acclimating yourself to the area.  Miles and miles of scenic pastures, blue and purple mountains, and sun and fog illuminate the ancient valley, which is nothing short of breathtaking. There’s not much to do here other than marvel at the views and visit with Urubamba’s locals, and that’s fine with me. However, we were lucky enough to stay at a new property run by Peru’s small boutique hotel group Inkaterra called the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba. Built in the style of a traditional Hacienda, the main lodge has a few rooms with larger casitas nestled at the foot of the mountains out back. Having just opened this summer, we didn’t have a chance to visit the casitas but the elegantly tranquil lobby and restaurant and bar were absolutely perfect. It was a perfect place to rest once the altitude sickness took over. And it did.



Located on the outskirts of the city center of Cusco, this Citadel dates back to the 1100s when it was started by the Killke culture and subsequently taken over by the Inca in the 13th century. Jaw-dropping stones of ungodly weight and shape rest in delicate grooves that make up the walls of the citadel, and yet know one know exactly how the large monoliths were fit together so precisely. A quarry in the area answers the question of where the stones came from, but the rest is a mystery that will leave you scratching your head. I can’t tell you how many “aliens from outer space” jokes were made. Definitely worthy of a visit.



Plaza De Armas
Located in the middle of heart of Cusco, the plaza is surrounded by cathedrals, historic buildings, shops and restaurants, and is a vital center of Cusco. It’s a great stroll and apparently I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take a photo of it with my camera! At least I have my iphone. Trust me, it’s gorgeous.


Mercado Central de San Pedro
I’ve been told to expect the unexpected at Cusco’s largest market, and I wasn’t let down! This open-air market seems to go on forever, filled with produce stands, baked goods, home items, soup counters, colorful varieties of corn, all sorts of quinoa, toys, souvenirs and potatoes. Lots and lots of potatoes! You can also find a variety of other things in the streets and alleyways outside of the market, and it just seems to go on forever. Colorful and lively, it’s easy to spend a chunk of time wandering around, and stop by the juice bars at the front for a Beer Smoothie. That’s right, fruit juice and beer, called Especial Con Malta. Delicious!


Inkaterra La Casona
Located a few blocks from the main square in Cusco, you’ll find Inkaterra La Casona, a 16th century mansion that has been restored and outfitted with 11 suites done all done in traditional Peruvian style with modern touches. Quiet and elegant, the salon, dining room and guest rooms all surround a beautiful courtyard that makes this hotel feel open yet private. Hands-down one of the best properties I haven’t ever rested my weary traveling head on, and it easily makes my top five favorite hotels in the world.


Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun)
There are Incan temples, then there’s Temple Of The Sun, which was the richest of all temples built. Covered in gold which represented the sun, this site was eventually looted and destroyed by the invading Spaniards who then proceeded to built a church and convent on top. Some of the Incan stonework remains, but no sign of gold is to be found, unfortunately. However, looking at Incan masonry up close and touching it leaves you with a sense of awe as to how such artistic precision was even possible without modern-day tools. I was told their work at this site specifically is studied by builders and architects and I can see why. My mind was blown.



If the altitude introduced us to the consumption of coca leaf tea, then Peruvian culture introduced us to a whole variety of other types of tea for us to enjoy. So many different types of mint, fresh chamomile, lemon verbena and other plants were steeped in warm water, sweetened and sipped while enjoying the view, and trying to replicate it at home just isn’t the same.


Train to Machu Picchu
There are a few different ways to get to Machu Picchu, and luckily for us we took the scenic route with Perurail. With curved glass windows, Perurail affords you with a phenomenal view of the passing scenery  which includes rivers, snowcapped mountains and an on-board fashion show. That’s right, a fashion show featuring local Alpaca wool apparel modeled by the crew. You can’t miss it. There are a few other surprises too.


What, you didn’t think I’d visit Peru and not catch a glimpse of these beauties, did you?


My entire trip to Peru would have been worth it if the only photograph I took was of Luciana. While walking around the market I instantly saw her from across the aisle, and spent most of my time at her stall while she graciously sampled juices and answered questions. “I would have worn earrings today had I known you were taking my picture!” she said, but if you ask me, nothing more was needed from such a beautiful woman like her. My heart be still!


Up next: Visiting Machu Picchu!

Ten Things: Lima, Peru / Only In South America

Highlights from our recent trip to Peru with LAN Airlines. Today is all about Lima!

Central dances within the top 10 of best restaurants in the world, depending on who you ask. Chef Virgilio Martinez’ creative use of local ingredients reflects the abundance of indigenous ingredients available to Peru, while the plates conjure up ideas from the forest floor all the way up to the mountains. The clean sleek room and glass-walled kitchen make for a modern multi-course experience, with a stellar wine list that veers a bit more global than the food.


Astrid y Gaston
When the stars align and every sense is astonished and entertained, the concept of fine dining pays off for me. This would be Astrid y Gaston, Gastón Acurio’s sprawling restaurant located within a white colonial building that fuses old charm with modern flourishes. Under the healm of Diego Muños Velasquez (a man who’s worked in some of the world’s finest kitchens), the food is inventive, unexpected, joyful, and delicious. Quite simply one of the best meals and experiences I had in Lima, hands down. I love this place.


Mate de Coca
Known as a way to deal with altitude sickness as well as put a little zip in your step, mate de coca, or coca leaf tea, really does improve one’s condition with a pleasant, herbal-y green taste. And yes, this is the leaf of the coca plant, and yes,you can chew on it and yes, that’s what cocaine is. I mean, cocaine takes a few additional steps to make or something like that. I’m no scientist. But I do miss it. DID I MENTION IT PICKS YOU UP!?!?


Colors and Textures   
To say I was looking forward to patterns and textures would be an understatement. With my camera in hand I tried to snap as many beautiful moments as possible. In fact, I’m pretty sure that specific Peruvian pink has left an indelible mark on the part of my brain that processes color. It’s just so gorgeous. Not to mention the walls, trees, walkways and building. Sigh. It was so beautiful.


Day Tour with Lima Gourmet
Visiting Lima? You’ll want to call on the fine folks at Lima Gourmet to show you around. With visits to markets, coffee shops and cafes, you’ll see the city through local eyes as well as get a few cultural lessons in the process. If you’re lucky, you may even take a ceviche-making class as well as learn to make a Pisco Sour. And if you’re not good at it like me, you’ll have to make another. Oh wait, that was no good either. Can I make another one? Well shoot. One more try.




Pisco Sours, Chilcano, Chicha Morada
Pisco, made in Peru and Chile, is a brandy made from grapes that’s distilled into something very delicious, very unique, and very strong. Indispensable in cocktails, it can also be added to ginger ale with a dash of lime juice to make Chilcano, which might just be the most refreshing cocktail in all of Peru. And if you don’t imbibe, not to worry, you can always order Chicha Morada, a drink made from purple corn that’s been boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. It’s utterly fantastic, but you haven’t lived until you’ve had sangria made with Chicha Morada. See? Always puttin’ booze in it, I am.


Chifa & Nikkei
With a huge influx of both Japanese and Chinese immigrants to Peru over 100 years ago, you can’t miss the the ways both cultures have been blended into Latin America in such a seamless way. Interestingly enough, both groups have retained their cultural ties to their cuisine in the form of Chifa and Nikkei. Chifa, or Peruvian-Chinese, can be found everywhere, while Nikkei, or Peruvian-Japanese, features the unique presentation and use of Japanese ingredients in its food. Sure, there are a million blends of both cuisines all over the place, sometimes skewing a little bit more Peruvian or South American at times, but it’s refreshing to see the distinction has been preserved. And as a Latino who loves all things Asian, well, I had a hard time saying goodbye to this food!



El Pan De La Chola
Give me a great bakery any day and I’m a happy man. Now give me that same bakery with beautiful design with hipness to spare and I might just never leave. I mean, if you serve fantastic bread and breakfasts that consist of avocado toast or roasted tomatoes with burrata and bread, I mean really. REALLY. Sigh. What a fantastic place from owner and baker Jonathan Day.



La Mar
This restaurant from Gastón Acurio is an homage to the cevicherias of Lima, the places that serve the freshest fish in a no-frills setting for lunch. And you simply cannot visit Lima without enjoying the national dish, ceviche. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and certainly not the ceviche I eat in California. Peruvian ceviche is a God among dishes, it’s magic lives in the freshness of its fish and the simplicity of its ingredients: fish, lime juice, onion, some peppers, some corn. It’s mind-blowingly perfect, with La Mar featuring a variety of different types of seafood in Ceviche-style preparations. A killer cocktail list, too. Another one not to miss in Lima!


The Markets! The Seafood!
I saved this for last when it could have easily been items 1 through 100 on a list. You see, Lima markets defy explanation when it comes to freshness, taste, and color. What appears as a basic avocado is anything but, and the same can be said for the peppers, the melons, the cherimoya, the passion fruit, I could go on. It almost feels like some strange daydream, where one bite tastes better than you thought it would, but hey, it’s a dream, right?. But in Lima, it’s not.

There’s an expanded flavor to these things, a subtlety I’ve never experienced before in items I thought I knew. An avocado tastes more like an avocado, a cherimoya is creamier, a pepper is sweeter, I could go on and on. And what about those potatoes? With over 3,000 varieties grown in Peru, you can see how they know what they’re doing when it comes to fruits and vegetables. THREE THOUSAND!


And that brings us to the seafood markets, which were the most sparkling I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world (and I’ve been to dozens on almost every continent!). The tale that was told to us is that the locals do not eat seafood for dinner, with the reason being that anything past noon is too late when it comes to freshness. Talk about being adamant about their seafood!


As a seafood lover this made me happy, and I’m already looking at my calendar trying to get back to Lima just for this alone.

Central Restaurant
Astrid y Gaston
Lima Gourmet
El Pan De Chola
La Mar

Up next: Visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu

The Magical Land of Peru with LAN Airlines / Only In South America


Verdant hills as colorful as the textiles.  Miles and miles of coastline. Altitude that stops you dead in your tracks. Ceviche and pisco. And even more pisco. Of course I can only be talking about the magical land of Peru, which I was fortunate enough to visit last month with my partners-in-crime, Adam and Gaby. We were in South America once again with LAN Airlines on a mission to discover and explore the gastronomic capital of Lima before heading to Cusco and Machu Picchu, all the while taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of everything we could. I feel like we only scratched the tip of the surface during this Only In South America experience!

Our trip began in Los Angeles with a direct flight to Lima in LAN’s Premium Business Class. LAN was everything I wanted it to be. Spacious cabins, courteous service, with a robust in-flight entertainment service that made the trip a breeze. And yes, there were mandatory bubbles enjoyed before take-off. Have you met me?

Waiting at LAX; on the flight to Lima. Always sippin'.

Waiting at LAX; on the flight to Lima. Always sippin’.

We arrived in Lima just in time for a quick night’s sleep before beginning our Only In South America adventures. Check back tomorrow for our highlights from Lima, Peru!
Thank you to LAN Airlines and all our wonderful hosts. My bag is still packed and I cannot wait to return.

Where have I been?

Hi friends! Hard to believe it’s been a few months since posting, but I wanted to tell you that I’m here! In fact, I didn’t really go anywhere, I’m still out and about! Keeping busy with work, preparing for a great summer filled with tons of backyard bbqs and cocktail hours, and some upcoming travel to Hawaii, Peru, Dubai and the South Pacific. Whew!

But I think we should really stay in touch.

If you’re a snapchat user, please feel free to add me and I shall do the same! I’ve had a great time snapping some spontaneous moments, including tons of behind the scenes images from my work as a photographer. You can take a photo of this within snapchat and add me!



I am sure you are on Instagram, yes? I’m loving it and will be posting tons and tons of  upcoming travel shots. Check it out! My instagram: mattarmendariz




And of course, I’m still here and on twitter @mattarmendariz so please stop on over and say hello!

Guacamole Video

Hi friends! Happy 2015! I almost forgot to share this quick video I made with my bff Gaby! I’ve been dabbling with video lately, there are a few things I’m excited to share when I can, but in the meantime this should be a tasty kick off for Superbowl, yes? As always, you can find some deliciously brilliant recipes at What’s Gaby Cooking, and three words: Parmesan Pretzel Knots. Yes, please.


Gaby Guacamole Master 15 seconds final from Matt Armendariz on Vimeo.

31 Days Of Pie, Day 31: Gaby’s S’more Pudding Pie

31-days-opening-100pxDay 31 of 31 Days of Pie is Gaby’s S’more Pudding Pie, via Joy.

Well here we are at the last day of our 31 Days Of Pie. I won’t bother with a count, but I’m sure there were dozens of eggs, pounds and pounds of butter, endless calories, and tons of wonderfully sweet moments throughout the month. I don’t know about you, but I’m beyond excited to ring in 2015 and see all the wonderful things it will bring. I saved this pie for last because I think it’s one of the most beautiful pies I’ve ever seen thanks to Adam, and it comes from the world’s-best-friend-anyone-could-ever-hope-to-have Gaby by way of Joy, another fantastic friend of mine. It has a little bit of everyone in it, and it sums things up about how I feel about pie: they bring people together. And thank you for reading and commenting about this pie thang, it’s been so much fun!


Gaby’s S’more Pudding Pie

So Gaby says she took a few recipes from Joy’s latest book and crafted her own creation. This pie is the result. And it is FANTASTIC. Thank you, Gaby! Thank you, Joy!

For the Graham Cracker Crust
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pinch salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Chocolate Pudding Filling
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces dark chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Marshmallow Meringue
5 egg whites
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ¾ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

For the Graham Cracker Crust
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine the crumbs, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the melted butter and stir until evenly combined.
3. Dump the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie dish and press evenly along the bottom and up the sides to form the crust.
4. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.
5. Remove the crust from the oven and let cool completely.

For the Chocolate Pudding Filling
6. In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt. Whisk to combine. Add the milk and continue to whisk. Place over medium low heat and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, bring the mixture to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low, and cook for 2 minutes while whisking until very thick. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, butter and vanilla. Stir to combine. Transfer pudding to the cooled pie shell and refrigerate for 2 hours.

For the Marshmallow Meringue
7. In a heatproof bowl, whisk everything together except vanilla. Put bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk for 5 minutes until sugar dissolves. Transfer to a stand mixer and mix on high for 5 minutes until stiff peaks. Add vanilla and fold to combine. Carefully pile the meringue on top of the cooled pie. Using a kitchen blow torch, torch the outside of the meringue until toasty and brown. Serve as needed.

Wishing you the most enjoyable 2015 filled with peace and love! And food!

31 Days Of Pie, Day 30: Key Lime Pie

31-days-opening-100pxDay 30 of 31 Days Of Pie is a lovely Key Lime Pie from America’s Test Kitchen.

Our 31 Days Of Pie is drawing to a close, and yes, I am sad to see it go! Will we stop making pies? Never. Will we take a quick break from them? Most likely, but I’m sure it won’t be long. Today’s pie comes from America’s Test Kitchen, and happened rather last minute as we looked at the calendar and realized we made 30 pies, not 31, over the course of the month. We were at home enjoying down time and not at the studio, so this pie was whipped up quickly at home and photographed in the backyard. A quick sidenote: I’m always trying to keep myself busy creatively and realized “hey! I have the afternoon off! hey! it’s sunny! hey! I want to photograph a little backyard vignette!” I’ve included that photo and it also explains why this luscious key lime pie doesn’t match the series all that much. But no biggie, right? As with all things America’s Test Kitchen, it works and is delicious. Whenever you crave that zippy zing of citrus I hope you’ll think of this.


Key Lime Pie from America’s Test Kitchen

Lime Filling
4 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 cup lime juice from 3 to 4 limes
4 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Graham Cracker Crust
11 graham crackers, processed to fine crumbs (1 1/4 cups)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Whipped Cream Topping
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 lime, sliced paper thin and dipped in sugar (optional)


1. For the Filling: Whisk zest and yolks in medium bowl until tinted light green, about 2 minutes. Beat in milk, then juice; set aside at room temperature to thicken.

2. For the Crust: Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix crumbs and sugar in medium bowl. Add butter; stir with fork until well blended. Pour mixture into 9-inch pie pan; press crumbs over bottom and up sides of pan to form even crust. Bake until lightly browned and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

3. Pour lime filling into crust; bake until center is set, yet wiggly when jiggled, 15 to 17 minutes. Return pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours. (Can be covered with lightly oiled or oil-sprayed plastic wrap laid directly on filling and refrigerated up to 1 day.)

4. For the Whipped Cream: Up to 2 hours before serving, whip cream in medium bowl to very soft peaks. Adding confectioners’ sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, continue whipping to just-stiff peaks. Decoratively pipe whipped cream over filling or spread evenly with rubber spatula. Garnish with optional sugared lime slices and serve.

Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

31 Days Of Pie, Day 29: Lemon Meringue Pie

31-days-opening-100pxDay 29 of 31 Days Of Pie is Lemon Meringue Pie from Kate McDermott, Art Of The Pie.

I refused to let our 31 Days Of Pie go by without one Lemon Meringue. Of course, it’s not just any Lemon Meringue, but a Lemon Meringue from Kate McDermott’s grandmother Geeg. It’s a perfectly balanced pie which earned her the title The Queen Of Lemon Meringue. It’s certainly majestic and for me I’ll never need any other recipe for a lemon meringue. Thank you so much Kate for being you! And to Geeg, too!


Lemon Meringue Pie from Kate McDermott, Art Of The Pie

1 pre-baked single pie crust

For the Filling
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
½ cup lemon juice
1-1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon butter
3 egg yolks, fork beaten
zest of 1 large lemon

For the Meringue
5 egg whites
⅓ cup sugar
pinch of salt


For the Filling
1. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt.

2. Add the water and constantly stirring with a whisk, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 2 more minutes while continuing to whisk. Don’t be afraid to whisk vigorously as it gets thicker.

3. Take ¼ cup of the hot mixture and stir it into the fork beaten egg yolks. Return to this to the saucepan and cook for 2 more minutes or until the mixture is thick.

4. Stir in the butter, lemon juice, and zest and cook for another minute.

5. Immediately pour into the pre-baked pie crust.

For the Meringue

1. In a clean and cold bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric handheld beater or a stand mixer.

2. Add the pinch of salt, and the sugar while you mix.

3. Lift the beaters out when you can see soft peaks in thick foamy waves. That’s when it’s done.

4. Put the meringue on the hot lemon filling starting at the edges first. Make sure the meringue reaches all the way to the edge of the crust so there are no gaps.

5. Then add the rest of the meringue in the middle so that the filling is completely covered.

6. With the handle of a spoon or the blade of a knife, pull up some soft peaks.

7. Place in a preheated 375F oven for 6 minutes.

8. Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.

Recipe from Kate McDermott, Art Of the Pie


31 Days Of Pie, Day 28: Deep Dish Pumpkin Meringue Pie

31-days-opening-100pxDay 28 of 31 Days Of Pie is a Deep Dish Pumpkin Meringue Pie from Martha Stewart

Let’s call this pie what it really is: A Majestic Pie. It combines a few favorites (pumpkin! meringue!) into a towering holiday beauty. And even after photographing a month of pies I did manage to oooh! and aaaah! a few times over this.  It’s as beautiful as it is flavorful, and this baby is going into our standard pie rotation.


Deep Dish Pumpkin Meringue Pie from Martha Stewart

For the Crust
1 small disk Pate Brisee
All-purpose flour, for surface

For the Filling
3 large eggs
1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the Meringue
2 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make the crust: Roll out pate brisee to a 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Fit dough into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Trim edges, leaving a 1-inch overhang; fold edges under and crimp as desired. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Line crust with parchment, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until edges just start to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment. Bake until crust is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Whisk together eggs, pumpkin, evaporated milk, brown sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the nutmeg in a large bowl.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until center is set but still slightly wobbly, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool in pie plate set on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours (preferably overnight).

Just before serving, make the meringue: Combine granulated sugar and egg whites in the heatproof bowl of a mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Transfer bowl to mixer, and whisk on medium speed for 3 minutes. Raise speed to high, and whisk until stiff glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes more. Dollop meringue onto pie, and spread using a swirling motion.

Hold a small handheld kitchen torch at a 90-degree angle 3 to 4 inches from surface of meringue. Move flame back and forth until meringue starts to brown.

Recipe from Martha Stewart