Interview

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But I’m no expert:
I’ve been a wee bit reluctant to point you to an interview with the fabulous Stephanie Simpson at I Speak Film blog. Why? Well, as much as I love participating I’m a bit humbled and embarassed by interviews that I do, for no other reason than I feel goofy being asked questions about photography when I feel I have .0000000000000000089348900072070700389797297981% of knowledge and skill compared to so many other brilliant artists I know.

But Stephanie is a pure joy and her blog is jam packed with amazing information. It’s become a favorite site of mine and you should really check it out.

The interview is here.

But I should give credit to the amazing people I work with and who have taken the time to answer all my non-stop questions. I sincerely thank you and value you more than I can ever say.

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When Bloggers Get Together: I’m really excited about next week. After weeks (ok, months) of emails and planning I am finally getting to meet the one-and-only Lara of Still Life With. Between you and me, she thinks she’s coming to town to meet me and do a little q&a, but actually I’m going to be asking her a million questions and writing about it. She’s wonderful, talented, sharp, and if you’re looking for food photo resources she should always be your first stop. Always.

I LOVE HER!!!!!!! (There I go with the multiple exclamation points. I can’t help it, and if you’ve met me in person you know how I am loud and jump up and down when I get excited. It’s kinda the same thing.)

Tomato Sorbet

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To say I can become fixated on a certain item enough to call it an obsession would be an understatement. It’s a habit I’ve tried breaking numerous times in the past, but my brain and personality seems to function in this manner. I can’t think of a better example than heirlooms. Yes, I’ve written about them before, I’ve enjoyed them to the point of exhaustion lately, but I just can’t get enough. Is it before I know in a month they will all be gone? Is it my brain’s way of telling me to suck in as many of these tender beauties as I can so that mid March I can fondly remember what a real tomato tastes like? I wish I knew. But every time I’m at the market I can’t help gravitate towards the baskets and displays of the gorgeous crimson, lime, pink and yellow orbs. It’s as if nothing else exists right now.

It’s obvious my other half is on the verge of tomato fatigue.  I’m not there yet myself, but if I time it just right it will happen when the last of the summer’s best heirloom tomatoes start dwindling in.

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Lately I’ve been cooking from The Heirloom Tomato Cookbook by Mimi Luebbermann. Although my preference is towards heirlooms in their raw, natural state I was curious to see what else could be done with them. These recipes are fantastic, never taking the tomato too far and always remaining true to its delicious flavor profile.

Heirloom Tomato Sorbet
From The Heirloom Tomato Cookbook

This recipe for Heirloom Tomato Sorbet is so simple and easy, perfect for those heirlooms that have become a bit dinged up in transit or have become overripe and weepy. Next time around I will probably add half the amount of sugar so that the sorbet could be more in the middle of savory & sweet–right now it’s just plain sweet!

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon (optional)

In a blender, pureé the tomatoes until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve.

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and salt. Stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the tomato pureé, vinegar, pepper, and wine, if using. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Makes 1 quart.

Hot Dog Days

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One of the things about being a food lover, as I’m sure you can attest to, is maintaining the stacks of magazines, books, clippings and notes that you keep over the years. However organized one strives to be, inevitably things go misplaced. That’s what happened to me as I sifted through 13 years of materials in my library trying to find a recipe that I swore I saved somewhere. But right when I was about to give up and throw in the towel of frustration, I came across a tiny note I wrote to myself many years ago.

It read “Panamanian Hot Dogs.”

Now, I can’t really remember where it came from and if it is really Panamanian, but I do remember the recipe as if it was yesterday. But why Panama? Did an acquaintance once tell me that’s how she enjoyed her dogs back home? Did I read a report? This rusty noggin was confused.

By the way, if you’re reading from Panama, call me.

The small bit of paper opened a floodgate of memories, of hot dogs and cookouts and meals at home where, yes, we had hot dogs. And then it made me think of my better half, a man so in love with hot dogs that we cannot pass by a burger stand, a Wienerschnitzel, a ballpark, without him automatically saying “Mmmm. I love hot dogs” as if he had just been hypnotized by a magician.

If you subscribe to Adam’s logic regarding hot dogs, they truly are the perfect food. Meat and bun, assorted condiments, easy to eat and so easily personalized. And if your concerns of strange animal parts and saturated fats make you shy away from dogs, it’s easy to replace it with turkey or vegetarian meat alternatives, which sometimes I actually prefer. A hot dog in any form tastes good.

In trying to find out about the origins of this Panamanian Hot Dog, hot dog recipes began to flood my brain. I thought about all my years living in Chicago, devouring Chili Char Polishes from Wiener’s Circle. I thought about hot dogs from Sonny’s, a little neighborhood tavern in Galveston, Texas we’d visit as kids. I thought about the Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs with Jalapeños and Mayonnaise that can be found from Latino vendors all over the streets of Los Angeles. And that was it. The rusty noggin clicked and I decided that the week would be devoted to America’s favorite – The Beloved Hot Dog.

Over the years I’ve had to write fun clever advertising copy about the history of the hot dog, who stakes claim to the original dog, which European immigrant brought it with them through Ellis Island, etcetera etcetera etcetera blah blah blah. Enough! At this point it does not matter. What matters is that they are here, they are one of man’s greatest inventions and I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t like hot dogs. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.

I’m waiting.

Oh, ok, back to Hot Dog Week at Chez Matt.

Because of my love for the dog and the fact that I had a few recipes I wanted to try I decided to begin the tradition of Hot Dog Week.  Yes, a different dog every day. And this is just as good a time to start as any as it’s been too hot to cook. I didn’t really have to do much persuading around the house in order to celebrate Hot Dog Week.  Because of the increased caloric intake of eating hot dogs five nights in a row, we did what all professional eaters do. We trained. We planned. We drank water. We took it easy leading up to the event. We restricted fat and calories, knowing we were about to quickly ramp up. We did it right. Remember, we’re professional big boys.

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Monday’s festivities began with all beef dogs, steamed, and served on a fresh hot dog bun with mustard, relish and ketchup. This is the kind of hot dog you’d get a game. So deliciously plain in all its basic glory. Nothing fancy, but just right.  I was tempted to squeeze some fancy smoked onion mustard I had in the fridge, but didn’t. Just plain old yellow stuff for this dog.

Ingredients: All beef franks, bun, yellow mustard. Maybe some relish or ketchup. Maybe.

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Chili with anything is good. Chili on top of a hot dog? Even better. These reminded me of the hot dogs my mom would make about twice a year for us on Friday nights. Needless to say it was a treat. Take a standard wiener and bun and top with chili.

There’s really no way to mess this up.

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Midweek and we found ourselves ramping up for my favorite part of the first annual Hot Dog Week. It was no coincidence, I simply saved the best for last! Now, for those of you who have never had a Chicago-style hot dog, let me tell you, it’s completely different. At first odd and strange, they grow on you after time (eat enough and you can say that literally.)  The addition of cucumbers, salad peppers, tomatoes and celery salt may make you scratch your head, but please, please, let’s applaud the efforts of those who are at least trying to increase some fresh veggies into their diets. Even if it is on top of a hot dog.

The combination of hot dog and cool, crunchy veggies actually makes this one of my favorite hot dogs ever. Unfortunately I didn’t have the proper bun when I made this at home – it should always be a poppy seed bun.

Ingredients: Poppy seed bun, beef frank, cucumber spears, pickle spears, mustard, tomato slices, sport peppers, chopped onions, celery salt. Absolutely no ketchup. Got that?

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If you live in Los Angeles and venture out past 8 o’clock to a bar, club or just work the corner of Santa Monica & Highland in heels and a wig (you know who you are) then you certainly know all about an LA-style hot dog. Its street name does conjure up pejorative thoughts, but hey, so what. Sold from food carts by street vendors at night, this hot dog is wrapped in bacon, grilled, and dressed on a greasy bun with grilled onions, freshly grilled jalapeños and mayonnaise. It is simply dangerous street food on so many levels. And you know what? It’s so utterly spectacular and terrible that you can’t help but love it. I mean really love it.  Like obsess about it. But you should enjoy it, as you don’t know where it came from, if it was even sanitary or if you’ll end up in the emergency room. But like most street food sold in nefarious corners of a city, you take your chances. What is life without a delicious little gamble?

Ingredients: You can’t possibly make this as good as you’d find on the street. But you can come close by wrapping bacon around a frank, cooking it and topping the hot dog with grilled onions, grilled jalapeños and cold, creamy mayonnaise. I don’t even want to think about cholesterol right now.

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I’m still stumped about the origins of this hot dog. But that doesn’t really matter. The addition of savory grilled onions, pineapple chunks and crushed potato chips make this hot dog an all-in-one affair, complete with a side dish (your chips) and your desert cup (the pineapple.)  It definitely gives you the sweet and salty action, and it’s fun to eat, in a very messy kind of way. Those pesky chips!

Ingredients: Buns and weenies, topped with grilled onions, pineapple chunks and crushed potato chips. You could use ketchup or mustard if you wish, but I like it as is.

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In conclusion: Our first annual Hot Dog Week was a smashing success, and I can no longer fit into my work pants. I wish I could say I don’t want to see another hot dog for quite some time, but that’s just impossible. I’d do it all over again if my doctor would let me.  Now it’s back to light fare for a bit, but I’ll certainly still be dreaming of dogs.

Weekend Bites

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Burgers Galore: The LA Times reports that burgers have taken over Los Angeles, with souped up versions appearing at higher end dining establishments all over town. Kobe, wagyu, duck breast, brie, carmelized onions, monkfish – If it can be made you bet it will make its way into a burger. Personally you’ll never hear of me growing weary of this food trend, even if that means having to wait a little longer behind botoxed foreheads at the Counter.

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Bits & Crumbs:  Sara Dickerman of Slate Magazine ponders the state of Gourmet Magazine’s covers. She calls them somber, I call them quiet. But I must admit a few red flags were raised when my current issue arrived recently; a big crumbly cobbler. Nothing else.

If anything, it seems like an attempt to separate itself from the other food publications out there, and to just put a simple cobbler on the cover? Takes balls, that’s all I’m sayin’.

Speaking of Gourmet, I might actually be persuaded to approach the boss and attend the Gourmet Institute’s 4th annual weekend of seminars, tastings and behind-the-scenes glimpses of Gourmet Magazine. If only Bobby Flay wasn’t there. I’m not saying another word.

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Everything Down Under:
  I’m gearing up for a promotion focusing on the land down under for G’Day LA, also known as Australia Week here in Los Angeles and New York. Australia Week is January 11-20, 2007, and it’s an event produced by The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade, Qantas Airways and Tourism Australia. It’s always a blast to promote anything Australian, and the people I’ve met and will be working with are some of the most amazing people I know.

Unfortunately, I have never been to Australia (even though my Aussie sister-in-law keeps begging us to visit), so if you’re reading this from down under don’t be surprised if I email you and ask you some questions. All in the name of research!

Two words I would practically sacrifice my life for: TIM TAMS.

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Sticker Shock: A scientist in Arizona has developed a sticker for fruits and vegetables that changes color when the food is ripe and ready to eat. Excellent idea. However, I’d like to see a sticker that:

• Reminds me that I have 3 minutes left to eat an $8 organic heirloom before it melts away completely.

• Signals that the pint of figs I purchased will not make it another 12 hours before becoming a soggy banquet room for a gnat family reunion.

•  Lets me know that the hunk of aged Parmesan in my fridge I forgot about has dried and become a doorstopper or paperweight.

• Gently reminds me that 6 cups of coffee daily is no substitute for pure clean water.

• Scours and cleans my shower daily.

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O! how I faint when I of you do write!
Since starting mattbites only a few months ago I’ve been invited to a few openings, received quite a few cases of swag, had some dinners comp’d, talked to a few publications, had articles translated into Italian and Japanese, been interviewed 3 times and judged a photo contest. Whew! I only do this because of my passion for food, but the extras? Oh my god, totally unexpected and fun.

But the best part? Finding out a friend I lost touch with 10 years ago has been reading for some time and just emailed me. Kate, I love you and have missed you so much and I’m glad the world of academia has found you. Even if you are an expert on some balding playwright who wore funny collars and made dirty jokes.

I’ll never forget your tales of working on an orchard and having a chicken fall in love with you and following you around the field. Knowing my Kate it’s easy to see why Emily Chickenson was so enamored of you.

Gioia Cheese Co.

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Driving down the industrial avenue I felt a bit nervous as I shuffled for parking among the nondescript warehouses. This part of Los Angeles, South El Monte to be exact, is unfamiliar territory to me, but that wasn’t the reason I was so nervous. My nerves were on edge because I was going to meet Vito Girardi of Gioia Cheese Company, a third-generation cheesemaker and the man behind burrata, the cheese so many of us are crazy about.

In case you don’t know, I am obsessed with this cheese. Now, my obsessions seem to wax and wane over the years, but this cheese has a hold on my soul.

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Burrata is a relatively new cheese from Italy, having only been created over the past 80 years. It has been made in California since 1993, when Vito Girardi decided to give burrata production a try. If you’ve tasted it you will probably understand what the fuss is all about. Imagine a ball of stretched fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream and tender threads of mozzarella. When you slice into burrata the cream slowly trickles out, begging to be scooped out and topped on just about anything. Or even enjoyed alone (guilty as charged.)

And then there’s the taste. Oh my heavens, the taste. Sweet, clean, pure, with grassy fresh flavors throughout. It’s like eating the most amazing mozzarella and tasting the freshest milk at the same time. And it’s a taste like no other.

But here’s the rub, and a good reason you may not have ever seen nor tasted burrata: it has an extremely short shelf life.  A five day shelf life, to be exact.

“I had no idea this cheese would become so popular – everyone wants some!” Vito told me. Of course,  articles in Saveur Magazine and full page features in the Los Angeles Times have only created more demand for this cheese.

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I’ve met cheesemakers before and I was prepared for the no-nonsense, let’s-get-down-to-business-so-I-can-get-back-to-my-job type of personality (the wonderful Ig Vella comes to mind.) Vito was a welcomed surprise. A tall, lean man with silver hair, this third-generation cheesemaker was gracious and jovial, taking the time to show me around, telling me a bit of his family history in Italy and how every year the demand for burrata seems to grow. His milk arrives fresh daily from Chino, and after pasteurization he begans various cheesemaking processes. He makes fresh mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone and burrata, with burrata being the last stage of his cheese production (he needs all the elements completed beforehand so that he can assemble the balls of burrata by hand.) He ships all over the United States, with restaurants being his largest customers, followed by only a handful of retailers that sell his cheese. The fact that he is a small cheesemaker coupled with the incredibly short shelf life of his fresh product means that there is a demand and waiting list for his product, but expanding and growing too fast isn’t in his future.  Adding preservatives to his cheese will never be an option, and just recently he added another burrata maker to his facility, where over 2,000 pounds of the celestial cheese are made every day, not counting his other products.  That’s quite a difference from the 10 to 15 pounds of burrata Vito would make at the family shop in Gioia del Colle in Italy.

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Hearing all this only excites me, especially considering that us Southern California folks can get his cheese the same day it’s made, customers across the country are already entering the 2nd day of their 5-day window. Not that it’s a competition. I’m just saying, that’s all.

Like with all things that are sublime in their natural state, burrata is best enjoyed as simply as possible. I asked Vito about chefs cooking with it and he simply shakes his head. I wouldn’t call it blasphemy exactly, but pretty darn close. Because of its unique flavor, burrata served with rich, ripe tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt is heaven. Tossed on top of pasta works too, and it’s great served with roasted beets. Lately I’ve been digging it with super ripe sliced peaches and a crack of black pepper. But my favorite way of eating this cheese is slightly room temperature, right out of the container. I can polish off an entire 1 pound ball in no time, and if this was any other food I’d probably lie about doing that. But with burrata? I have no shame.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a meeting with my mouth, a fork and some burrata. My love affair is back on with no sign of ever ending.

TGFB.

And The Winner Is…

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The results are in for this month’s Does My Blog Look Good In This?  photography contest, and let me tell you, each image submitted was a winner. As a judge I had a difficult, no, INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT time scoring as I could have easily given everyone a perfect scored based on effort alone. I guess that makes me a bad judge. So what? I like to see the goodness in everything :)

Speaking of goodness, go see the winners at Grab Your Fork. Helen has done an amazing job collecting our scores, posting the results, and putting the whole contest together this month. She’s fun, amazing , and joy to work with and I’d like to give her a big giant hug right now.

A big giant congratulations to the winners and to everyone who entered. Just knowing how much passion, dedication and knowledge everyone put into the contest leaves me truly in awe.

I worked with Helen on the icons for contestants.  I can finally reveal the chosen design as well as some other treatments that were part of the first draft. It was a great way to exercise my old skills as a graphic designer. And what do you know? It’s like riding a bike! Thanks to The Lady Miss H for the opportunity. I promise not to be so homeboy next time (inside joke! inside joke!)

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Small Farms, Big Heart

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I’m just so  happy I could scream!

Wait. I am screaming.

My friend Tana of the site I Heart Farms has been featured as the Typepad Featured Blog. Typepad is the blogging service we both use. I can’t think of anyone more worthy of a feature than Tana.

I have a huge space in my heart for this woman and her blogging endeavors. In case you haven’t seen her site, I heart Farms introduces the world to the farmers and food producers of Northern California and beyond. She visits farms and farmers, shedding light on their admirable efforts, and also lets us know of restaurants and chefs who support local and sustainable agriculture.

In this day when superstar chefs grace the covers of magazines and food bloggers focus on the latest hyper-trendy restaurants with unnatural zeal, it’s nice to know someone cares about the people who have dedicated their lives to growing and crafting the food we love.