Small Bundles

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Sometimes the things you love to get don’t arrive in big elegantly wrapped packages. Oftentimes the most amazing things fit in the palm of your hand – your wedding ring, a fresh Italian white truffle, a cherished photo of family members, and in my case, two new things I got today that I simply must share:

Bindi
This is Bindi, the latest addition to our family. She’s the little sister of one of our current dogs – same parents, different litter. Eight weeks old and one pound of happiness. It doesn’t get any better than this.

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This is an incredibly small grilled cheese sandwich that someone gave me today. I couldn’t eat it, I could only stare at its diminutive size and smile. Besides, how often does someone walk up to you and hand you miniature sandwiches? Now fill a suitcase with these things and we’re getting somewhere.

footnote: Not to worry. My upcoming food adventures will not involve Bindi; unless, that is, it involves leftovers for her to eat.

What’s That Smell?

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* This posting has been updated. Notes are at the end *

My partner Adam has always been such an accommodating soul. He didn’t utter a peep when a catering company trekked through our home for 3 days for a photo shoot. He doesn’t complain when he becomes my unofficial recipe tester sans payment, and he graciously accompanies me on food journeys from our neighborhood all the way to South America, never once complaining or fussing about the things I put him through. He even skinned a cow’s head and removed the eyes because I just couldn’t do it.

I’ve oftened wondered when the breaking point would arrive, when he’d say “Ok Matt, enough is enough”,  forcing me to silently acquiesce and put down the knife/pen/computer mouse and give in.

Today, it happened. And I can’t believe it was over a piece of fruit.

Bye bye, Durian.

My bright ideas and desire to taste as much as humanly possible led me to my local Asian market to stock up on this large, powerfully pungent fruit. Anthony Bordain seemed to enjoy it on his recent television program, and one of my best friends from Indonesia swore I’d find it just as pleasurable as she did.

“Oh yes, it smells a little bit, but I know you’ll love it. You eat some pretty far out stuff.”

I guess I can officially put down Durian as one of the things I tried but just couldn’t get into it. And believe me, I tried. Durian, a large, spikey fruit, is native to Southeast Asia and is tough on the outside with a creamy, white soft flesh inside. It’s not the creamy, custard like texture of the flesh that got to me, and the fruit’s flavor notes weren’t bad either. The fruit’s demise seemed to be its smell, a combination of sour and sweet and rotten and oniony.  I now know the reason durian is banned in many public places, and I can’t say I’d disagree with them.

I don’t dare malign the food of another culture, after all, my people enjoy some pretty far out foods. But to say that the Durian smells like death warmed over, a combination of sweet and sulfuric compounds that have been put into a blender and left to age in a city sewer in August would be an understatement.

Call me uninitiated, a foreigner, whatever. I’ll gladly accept it when it comes to the pleasures of Durian. I tried to like it, I really did. However, Adam wasn’t as accepting.

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“This cannot live here,” he said, referring to our kitchen. “You’ve got to get rid of this. This has got to go. Now.”

And with that, I took one last bite in an attempt to convince myself that I could love it as if I grew up with it.  And you know what? I failed. I couldn’t do it.


What are your thoughts on Durian?

**update** I want Anantya and Rosa to know that I apologize.

Whoa. I was totally and unnecessarily harsh on the fragrance of Durian. If there’s a food that warrants such reactions from people I like who truly love it then I can’t so easily dismiss it.  And I am going to give it another try. Very soon. After all, I am a person who loves tripe, and if you’ve ever prepared that at home, well, it has a smell all its own. Maybe I just need to ease into it. Slowly.  VERY S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Did I say S-L-O-W-L-Y ?

Will you forgive me? :)

Weekend Bites

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Computer Love: Thanks to the blessings of technology I am actually in transit to San Francisco as I post this. God bless computers.
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File Under Obsessive: Long Beach’s local Thai favorite Baiplu has seen us three times this week. Please ruin my Jan Pu and Deep Fried Trout next time so I can have an excuse to stop coming in. Clearly self-control isn’t working.
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Gluttony Loves Company, Part 2: Yet another 24 hour jaunt in San Francisco. Let’s see how many meals I can cram into a day. Rest assured that oysters from Zuni will be included.
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Bienvenidos! Amy is back from Cataluña and I can’t wait to jump into her reports from one of my favorite corners of the globe. Welcome back – we missed you!
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Happiness is: An unexpected case of Navarro wines arriving in the mail. Now if I can have AOC’s bacon wrapped dates delivered to my door I’d never have to put shoes on nor leave the house.
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David Blaine who?  Give me a case of Tim’s Habanero Potato Chips to photograph. I can make every bag disappear in a matter of days.

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Try pressing option and then "U": We all agree that mistakes on press releases can be funny, but if you’re going to poke fun of one’s typographical shortcomings at least spell Häagen-Dazs on your own site correctly, for crissakes. Made up word or not, you’re the professional food writer, after all.

Pitcher Drinks

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Picture this: you’re enjoying a wonderful outdoor party. Great food and libations are flowing freely, laughter spills through the air, things are good. You notice one of your guests in need of a refresher, so you run back to the kitchen for another round.

Fast forward about 40 minutes. You’ve just burned 3,000 calories, your neatly pressed party outfit is covered in booze and sweat, and all of a sudden this party you’re hosting doesn’t feel like much to celebrate.

A major reason for summer get-togethers is to well, get together, not to spend time in the kitchen playing bartender.  That’s why pitcher drinks are the perfect solution.

I love a good martini, a freshly muddled mojito or caipirinha, a perfectly proportioned mint julep, but when it comes to quantity it’s just easier to subscribe to the "make-ahead-in-batches" school of thought. It works, it’s just as tasty, and more importantly  it keeps you out of the kitchen and with your guests. And I don’t know about you, but my mixing skills get progressively sloppier the more I’ve had to drink, and sloppy Matt equals bad cocktail and messy counter. Why go through the trouble?

An important thing to remember with pitcher cocktails is that they will be diluted with ice; this requires your basic drinks to be made a bit stronger in flavor than usual.  But don’t think summer sipping has to be super heavy like the rum punch pictured. Drinks lighter in alcohol are just as good and cocktails need not knock you off your feet with the first sip.

Here are a few of our favorites to make in large quantites when we’re entertaining. Or heck, even when I’m home alone!*

Basic Rum Punch
This recipe is the basis of a basic rum punch and can be modified based on your flavor preferences. It’s so basic and hard to fumble but be forewarned – rum punch hides a hefty kick underneath its sugary sweetness.

1 quart orange juice
1 quart pineapple juice
1 quart club soda
6 ounces of freshly squeezed lime juice
1 liter of white rum

Mix ingredients and taste for quantity. Keep tasting. Taste again. Sip some more. Why is the room spinning? Once mixed it’s best to refrigerate until ready. Serve over ice and garnish with maraschino cherries or lemon and lime wedges.  Are you sure you tasted it first?

White Wedding Sangria
This was served at our wedding last year and always delights a crowd, hence the name. Not that we have anything against Billy Idol…. It is fruity, sweet, on the lighter side and can be made more like a cooler if you increase the juice.  Frozen fruit is key here as it keeps the drink cold and stops from becoming too mushy in the liquid. Frozen pre-cut fruit works fine or you can do it yourself.

1 bottle of white wine, something fruity like Chenin Blanc works well
1 cup frozen diced peaches
1 cup frozen diced mango
1 red delicious apple, cored and cubed
1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeds removed
8-12 ounces fruit nectar (anything like peach or passionfruit or guava works)

Mix the wine and nectar in a large container, add apples and refrigerate for at least one hour. When you’re ready to serve add the frozen fruit, give it a stir and serve over ice. Garnish each glass with a slice of lemon.

Minted Vodka Lemonade
I never listened to those wise sages that said "Oh Matt, careful with all that mint in your garden and trim it back or you’ll be sorry."  Well who’s laughing now suckas? Ok, they are, since I have more mint than I know what to do with. But this is a great recipe no matter what. I’ve found that vodka is the most versatile spirit when entertaining and isn’t usually associated with those crazy stories like "Oh Matt I can’t have tequila cuz this one time in Cabo I –insert innapropriate act here–"  or "Gin? You kidding me? I turn into a — insert word here –".

1 packed cup of fresh chopped mint leaves
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups of vodka

Combine the mint and sugar in a container and then pour in vodka and lemon juice. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours and then remove from fridge and strain the mixture into a new clean container. When you’re ready to serve pour over crushed ice and garnish with a few whole mint leaves.

Noteaboutvodka
I’m not a man of absolutes, but I’m going to put my foot down here. For heaven’s sake, do whatever it takes and splurge on a high quality vodka, please?  Sure, it’s an odorless clear distilled spirit, but the cheap stuff is a no-no and should never ever be used. Ever. Got that?

As with all these cocktails the key is continous tasting along the way. No, I’m not trying to get you drunk, but you must taste along the way. Now if you’ll excuse me I must lie down.

*I’m kidding! Well…sorta.

It’s Totally Cheating

Cheating
… to post a picture and pretend it’s a blog entry. Yes, I know this, and yet I just had to do something.

Things are still crazy for me and I have yet to unravel the big ball of yarn that is called LIFE, but soon I’ll be back with some pretty wacky and delicious entries. To those who have written, you guys ROCK MY WORLD and make me happy.

In the meantime, get outside, enjoy a glass of wine, feel some sun on your skin and remember that life is meant to be lived and not stuck behind a computer scheduling photo shoots and hiring and firing stylists and photographers (I think you can tell why I’m so frustrated, no?)

Much love to all of you…..

-matt

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Last Sunday involved copious amounts of rosé, friends, sunshine and grass between my toes. HEAVEN.

Back In A Few!

Back

Some crazy deadlines and projects all decided to make themselves due at the same time. Can you imagine that?

I’ll be back shortly!

Under The Cherry Moon

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Mother Nature is a wonderful woman. She gives air, sunshine, water and land and only asks us to respect her and take care of her offerings. She also silently requires us to cater and tolerate her whims. I understand the deal. It’s a dance we’ve been doing since the beginning of time.

However, right now, Mama Nature has one-upped us and I just can’t sit here in silence a moment longer. Every year, right about now, I get giddy with excitement over the season’s first California cherries. Yes, I know that in just a bit I’ll be able to indulge my cravings in Pacific Northwest cherries (which are always utterly fantastic) but seeing the first little crimson splash of a California cherry lets me know that a long, wonderful summer is on the way.

Well folks, those cherries are here. And you’ll need to rob a bank to enjoy them.

My produce guy informed me that cherries are here but cost a pretty penny due to a variety of factors. They’ve never been cheap, but when they cost $15.99 a pound one is more inclined to wait just a few weeks to see what happens. I’ll hit the farmer’s market in Santa Monica this weekend to get some more info, and if all else fails I know there will be new arrivals in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I bit the bullet and indulged this week and in order to compensate for the cash spent I’m available for laundry, dog walking and dance lessons. I do a mean electic slide.

Easy Cherries Jubilee
As much as I love cherries I’m not particularly gung-ho about cherry desserts. And I won’t even touch the stuff out of a can. However, I do love ice cream. And fresh cherries. This is my easy take on Cherries Jubilee and is simple and quick. I omit the arrowroot and cornstarch found in other recipes as I don’t mind it not so thick. It never lasts too long anyway.

Ingredients
2 cups of fresh pitted cherries
1/2 cup of sugar
1 pint of vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup Cognac

Method
Using a non-stick pan, cook pitted cherries and sugar over medium heat for 8-9 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. In a small pan, heat the cognac. Once heated, light and pour the flaming cognac into the cherry mixture in the skillet. Spoon flaming cherries with their syrup over the vanilla ice cream in four dessert bowls. Work fast and please use caution when igniting the cognac.

Really Seriously Stuck

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Some interesting facts about Matt:

Did you know…

•  That I was born on February, Friday the 13th at 3:13pm and that I’m left-handed, born with a bifid uvula and gay? The horrors!

• That I had my first job at age 7 and at various times I’ve been employed as a tour guide, an actor, a go-go dancer, and a photographer?

• That I play piano and violin? I come from a very musical family.

• That I can barely comprehend html, coding, RSS feeds and all the things people like my friend Mike  do so well?

Ok, let me just come out and say it: I really wish my brain would understand all things online. With the exception of entering a URL I don’t know much and I’ve always been envious of others who are so well versed in the world wide web. With that said I’ve received a few emails about the new site and some small technical issues that need attention. And I thank you so much for that. And I also want to thank Mike because I am doing my best to butter him up for help. He’s brilliant.

So bear with me, I’ll get everything up and running soon.

Love,

A man whose imperfections and shortcomings you’re bound to adore sooner or later,

Matt

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Oh, Oyster!

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Don’t ask me why but oysters always seem to get pushed into the back
corners of my mind when it comes to ideas for appetizers or when I
crave seafood. It’s not as if I don’t love them and that they don’t
rank high up on my eating scale. Perhaps it’s because it can be a tiny
bit difficult to find high quality fresh oysters (keyword: fresh), and
let’s face it, splitting open those shells with speed and finesse does
take practice.

Sometimes I wonder how much of a strange kid I was, graciously accepting of anything my dad urged me to try. I remember eating pickled pig’s feet with him at the dinner table,
devouring hunks of blue cheese on salads and eating raw oysters with
tabasco when I was 5 years old. My father knew where flavor was at, and
damn it he was going to pass it on! Thanks, Dad!

Thirty years later I still love that briny, ocean-y flavor in whatever form. Fried,
baked or smoked, oysters never fail to bring a smile to my face, and
when consumed raw it’s one of the few foods that just stops me dead in
my tracks, temporarily silencing me for a few seconds (no easy feat!),
eyes closed, head tilted back, savoring every last bit of complex
flavor contained in that shell.

Sometimes salty, sometimes fruity, sometimes creamy, always delicious. It’s as if you’re tasting the ocean.

Here
in the US most of the fresh oysters consumed can be broken down into
three basic classifications: Atlantic, Pacific and Olympia. Atlantic
oysters tend to be larger with much more defined salinity. Pacific
oysters originated in Japan and are much more refined in flavor; some
describe them as creamy with mineral notes. And Olympia oysters, from
the Pacific coast, are smaller with a much more distinguishable flavor
and aftertaste. Within these categories are numerous varieties
(Kumamoto, Malaspina, Caraquet, Pugwash, etc.) and all are equally
tasty. There a size for every taste, but generally the smaller and
younger the oyster the more subtle and delicious.

Ok, now the
safety issue. Well, make that safety issues. First, you may have heard
that oysters should only be consumed in the months that end in an "R".
October, September, you get the picture. No one seems to know exactly
where this came from and there are theories, but consider it a tale.
I’m eating oysters in June, pure and simple. Now, the second issue
should be addressed with honest concern Like all things fun,
pleasurable or tasty, eating raw oysters involves some risk. That risk
is called Vibrio vulnificus and it’s very real. According to the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration, there were a recorded 282 cases of
serious illness between 1989 and 2000 that involved the Vibrio
vulnificus bacteria. About half of those cases involved death. This
nasty bacteria is found in warm coastal waters and is not a result of
pollution and does not affect the color, taste or smell of the oyster.
If you’re a relatively healthy individual you can bounce back from a
case of Vibrio vulnificus, but if you’re at risk it’s best to skip raw
oysters entirely. Or you can cook them completely; heat destroys the
bacteria.

Ok, back to raw oysters… are you still with me?

One
of my favorite sandwiches is an oyster po’boy, with all its fried
goodness on a light bun with tangy dressing. However, when it comes to
eating high quality oysters at home, well, I leave them naked. I want
to taste as much of their subtle flavor as possible, enhancing them
with only the smallest amount of tabasco or mignonette sauce. Of
course, if you’re going to smoke or fry oysters or devour Oysters
Rockefeller you want to start with a good quality oyster, but to dress
them up and have the little guys compete with other flavors is just
cruel if you ask me.

The freshest way to enjoy oysters
involves shucking them yourselves. Anything canned or in a glass jar
just doesn’t cut it when it comes to freshness. Choose oysters that are
tightly closed, discarding any that have opened. Let your nose be your
guide. Do they smell fresh? Get a bad oyster and you’ll immediately
know it’s not right. Not an enjoyable experience.

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To
shuck an oyster you’ll need a sharp knife with a good handle,
preferably an oyster knife. You’ll also want a small kitchen towel to
hold the oyster. I’d love to tell you about the time "someone" I know
didn’t use a towel and ended up with dozen of small cuts on both his
bloody hands, but that would just reveal my oyster naivaté. Can’t do
that! Wrap the oyster in a towel and insert the knife on the bottom of
the oyster. You’ll need quite a bit of power here, the oyster’s
muscular grasp on its home is quite impressive. Once the tip is inside
the shell gently move it around the entire oyster, loosening the shell.
Keep the shell steady and level as you do not want to spill the liquid
inside–this is flavor, folks! Once completely opened gently remove the
oyster from the shell by cutting through its attachment. It’s a fine
dance of balancing, cutting, prying and opening, but after a few
oysters you’ll get the hang of it. And if mess up, eat the oyster! No
one has to know.

Enjoy the oysters immediately by
serving on a bed of ice. Keeping them as cold as possible is important,
too. And enjoy them however you like–with a bit of horseradish, a
simple mignonette, a dash of tabasco, cocktail sauce or just a simple
squeeze of lemon.

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Matt’s Super Basic Mignonette Sauce
This
French sauce is so easy to create and is ready immediately. You can add
a dash of salt but keep in mind that oysters can be very salty. I like
to keep it simple.

INGREDIENTS
2/3 cup vinegar (red, white, champagne, sherry, tarragon, use any kind you like)
3 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black or white pepper
dash of salt to taste

METHOD
Combine all ingredients and chill. Spoon over oysters on the half shell and enjoy.


Disclaimer:
I am not a doctor, a scientist or nutritionist. Please proceed with
caution and if you have any questions about shellfish, oysters, clams
and seafood and their safety please consult your doctor.

Matt’s Personal Opinion Of Organics & Marketing This Very Second

Because I’m up to my eyeballs in the design of a package for a new
organic milk and I’ve just finished re-reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma
again, I’m opting out of photos and words and giving you an artistic
representation of how I feel about the organic industry and those who
market organic foods (I believe I am a part of that group as well.
Color me guilty as charged.)

P.S. I’m thoroughly qualified to
make fun of organics as I started my career with Whole Foods Market
many, many, many years ago back in the original location. Keep your
angry emails to yourselves, folks. I’m just venting!

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