We’ll Tak A Cup Of Kindness Yet

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It’s early morning, December 30, a bit chilly and the house is quiet and free of ridiculously tiny dogs running underfoot. It’s a good time to reflect on what a magical year 2006 has been, and a good time to wish you a very happy and healthy 2007.

How will you be ringing in the New Year? Big raucous festivities or quietly indoors with someone special?

Our tradition involves a quiet night at home with the pooches, some champagne, music and perhaps an old movie. I enjoy ringing in the new year with peace and quiet– every other time of the year is crazy enough!

(But that doesn’t mean I don’t step out on the porch to bang a few pots and pans!)

2006 couldn’t have been a more blessed year. I made new friends, both professionally and personally, with so many people around the world that are so talented and gracious that my heart has been touched forever. It was also the year that old friends I lost touch with appeared again – Meredith, Kate, Jesse, Mardi, Brian – all through blogging. You guys have all made me so happy!

I hope that 2007 brings you joy, peace and tons of love.  I hope that those living in the Middle East find a glimmer of peace, our men and women fighting a war come home safe to their loved ones, and that we put aside all our differences – black, white, gay, straight, Christian, whatever – and realize that we’re all just humans sharing a planet together.

As far as resolutions, why make something I know I’ll only break? But I do have goals: communicate more, learn to become a better photographer, do a cookbook, see my family frequently, challenge myself creatively and give back to others as much as humanly possible. If these excess 20 pounds around my midsection disappear, well, I’d be thrilled, but I’m mighty comfortable in my own skin and only wish to be happy, healthy and loved.

Here’s a big hug from me and my family to each of you around the world.

Un prospero nuevo año to everyone!

Bloody Delicious – Get it?

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At least I didn’t say "orange you glad….?"

Blood oranges are my winter equivalent of summer’s heirloom tomatoes.
They’re at their best just once a year, which means I always feel the
need to cram as many as possible into my mouth and the mouths of
others. Sometimes I wish I felt the same way about navels and
valencias, but alas, I do not. Is it a color bias? Gosh I hope not.

Blood oranges get their color from something called Anthocyanin, a
pigment that’s usually found in flowers and other fruits and
vegetables. It’s what gives petals that deep red, blue or purple color,
and for some reason Mother Nature decided to include it in this citrus
variety. Thank you, girl!

There are three types of blood oranges: Tarocco, Sanguinello and Moro.
The moro is grown here in California and is said to be the sweetest of
the three varieties. For me the most exciting part, aside from their
flavor, is the first time you cut into the orange. Deep crimson
droplets leak out, giving way to dark flesh that can take you by
suprise if you’re not expecting it. The colors of blood oranges can
vary from crop to crop, and even inside an individual fruit you may get
a beautiful uniform hue or speckles of red, purple and orange.

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But the best part is the flavor. Less acidic and "fruitier" than
regular oranges, they’re pleasantly sweet with notes of raspberries and
blueberries. To me they taste like fruit punch, which is why I love the
juice in cocktails and mixed drinks (geez Matt, must it always be about
the booze?)
Of course you can use blood oranges the same way you’d use
standard oranges, but that beautiful gorgeous color will affect
whatever you are preparing.

Not like that’s a bad thing :)

Things I’d Like To See in 2007

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Consider it a wish list, if you will. I don’t anticipate any of these
happening immediately, but hey, this is my wish list and I can dream if I want to,
dream if I want to.  Here’s to a very happy, healthy and delicious 2007
to each and everyone!

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1. David Lebovitz’ guide to Paris — in book form!

You know him,
you love him. I idolize him. But not just for his culinary experience
and skills as a cookbook author. Over the past year David has given us
incredible insight about being an American living in Paris. His entries
are hilarious, eye-opening, filled with stories of bureaucratic red
tape and lessons about patience, paperwork and food (including the
occasional foot shaving and accidental hair removal tales). I know
we’re all eagerly anticipating his newest cookbook in the spring, but
for the record let me say that I’d be the first person lining up for 72
hours outside a bookstore, unbathed and dressed in trash bags just
waiting for my copy.

Please David, please?

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2. Rachael Ray enters a convent, never to be seen or heard from again.

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Oh stop your boos and hisses, you know you secretly wish it too.

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3. Books from Melissa and Bea

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Blogs are wonderful. They inform, they
engage, they entertain. However, you can’t put a blog on a shelf, wrap
it and mail it as a gift, or make notes and carry it with you for
years. That’s why I’d like to see books from my two favorites, Melissa
of Traveler’s Lunchbox and Bea from La Tartine Gourmande.  What they do transcends the
every day food blog.  It’s hard to curl up with a lap top and cup of
tea when I read their latest entries, which is why I think they need
books immediately.

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4. Extreme Local eating challenges – cuz piety rocks, y’all!!!

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It’s my hope
that the eating local challenge will cause a rash of foodies to lose
their minds and attempt to outdo each other by only eating within a
200-yard radius, then immediately blog about it to feel good about
themselves and the environment. Do I hear a 100 foot radius, anyone?
Anyone?

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5. Cities will pay attention to more important pressing matters than banning certain foods.

I
don’t think a municipal ban on something like trans fats is a bad thing
exactly, as we could do without them entirely. But cities banning foods
like foie gras is just plain silly and a waste of time, energy and
money. It’s so obvious to state it here, but I’d really like to see
city councils and certain politicians go back to doing what they were
hired to do and leave the food to the professionals. If you’re so
concerned with health and the welfare of all living creatures, limit
the number of fast food places we have and pour money into education.
Now that’s a start.

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6. Sandra Lee goes away.

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7. Cupcakes go on vacation. For a very, very, very long time.

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I know the trend
is over, but it still trickles in here and there. I love cupcakes. I
mean I LOVE CUPCAKES. But if I photograph another one or eat one more
I’ll pull out what little hair I have. Let them go on vacation until
2010 or so. My eyes (and waist) will thank you.

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8. Regina Schrambling says something nice and sweet about someone.

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9. My 2nd attempt at cooking Barbacoa is met with success.

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This past spring
I had a great idea – try to cook barbacoa de cabeza in my backyard.
It’s a traditional Mexican method of wrapping a seasoned cow head in
burlap, cooking it in the ground overnight and uncovering some of the
most tender, succulent meat you’ve ever tasted. But it didn’t work. The fire-that-you-can’t-see-or-monitor burned out. And
it took me 2 days to dig a hole in the ground. And cleaning a 30 pound
head is gruesome (thanks, Adam!) And my back still hurts from digging. And trying to
find a reputable cow’s head ain’t easy. Did I mention it’s gruesome?
All of a sudden harvesting my own snails seems easy.

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10. No one in the world goes hungry. Ever again.

Being a part of this month’s Menu for Hope III meant so much to me. We raised a significant amount of money to feed people, but so much more can be done. The irony is that we’re up to our eyeballs in more food than we could ever possibly eat while so many go to bed hungry. Even in my own country. I vow to do more to help others in the coming year, and I’m already looking forward to the next Menu of Hope and it’s my wish that we’ll outdo ourselves yet again.

Happy new year, friends!

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A note: Folks, no hate mail, please. This is all meant in fun and it’s satire,
I’d never want anyone to disappear under mysterious circumstances.
Ever. But I meant what I said about David, Bea and Melissa. Sure did.

My sad, funny, little gougeres

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This is why I’m so not a baker.

After spending some time reading one of my favorite sites on earth, I was inspired to get in the kitchen and bake after a long day at work.  I had everything needed to make these savory little bites, but I did not have a romantic, historical connection to these lil French pastries like one of my idols Bea did.  And I was ok with that. In fact, I only recently tried Gougeres for the first time this year, and it was one of those moments where I had to slap myself silly and wonder why our paths didn’t cross sooner. I’ve always loved cream puffs and profiteroles, and everyone knows my love of cheese, so it was a natural.  But for some odd reason, I know of no bakery near me that makes them, so I rolled up my sleeves and got busy.

I found a very simple recipe in Sunset Magazine, that symbol of fine Western living where people are happy, slightly outdoorsy and where everyone lives in beautiful spacious homes. Somehow they skipped over me, but it’s cool Sunset, I’m ain’t hating on ya – I’m far too busy these days anyway.

Hehe, yea right.

The method is simple enough. Take basic choux pastry, add cheese, and voila! Irregular, alien-like blobs are yours in no time! Ok, so I admit they weren’t as pretty as I’ve seen, but anything with cheese is delicious, and as funny as my sad little gougères looked, they tasted just fine. They puffed up, hollow as should be, filling the house with that undeniable smell of cheese. Now I know why they’re enjoyed with champagne and wine. Me, well, I couldn’t make up my mind, so I had both.

Gougères from Sunset Magazine
Preheat over to 425°. Heat 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture comes to a simmer.  Turn heat to low, add 1 cup flour, and stir vigorously until mixture forms a ball that pulls away from pan sides, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Add 5 eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously after each. Dough will separate after each addition, keep stirring until it forms a smooth paste. Stir in 1 cup grated gruyere, 1/2 cup grated parmesan, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper. Drop mixture in heaping tablespoonfuls onto 2 buttered baking sheets. Bake until puffed and brown, about 30 minutes. Cut slits in sides of puffs, return to oven, and lower heat to 350°. Bake for 10 minutes. Makes about 50.

Chicken, With A Little Extra

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Chicken

I don’t normally sound the alarm over here at mattbites. I want this to
be a nice, warm, feelgood joint free from alarmist scenarios. But I
just read on Consumer Reports that an "analysis of fresh, whole
broilers bought nationwide revealed that 83 percent harbored
campylobacter or salmonella, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne
disease."

Those numbers get even more dire when they looked at organic, natural, free-range and air-chilled birds that cost a bit more.

Eighty-three percent? Even with those so-called cleaner chickens? People, we’re talking dirty birdies here.

Ok, let’s understand one thing. This bacterium gets into our
little chickies because they root around and eat stuff. All kinds of
stuff. It’s normal. In fact, a lot of these bacteria are are always
present. It’s our duty to make sure we prepare our poultry correctly so
that the harmful bits and pieces go away, leaving us with a juicy,
delicious bird that won’t cause gastrointestinal distress.

And what happens when you don’t cook it properly? Well, you
serve it to someone like me, who then feels ill about 8 hours later but
figures it will run its course, which it doesn’t. And then you spend 1
1/2 days in the hospital with a severe case of campylobacteriosis and
an IV drip, wondering what you did to make the universe hate you so
damn much.

(And this, gentle readers, was in my 20’s when I was a
healthy, strapping young Latin stud. Imagine if I was elderly?
Forgetaboutit!)

Since we all love food and share a basic
knowledge of proper preparation I’m not going to harp on the steps
necessary for a safe, clean kitchen, but it bears posting:

• Store chicken at 40° F or below. If you won’t use it for a couple of days put that bird in the damn freezer.


Separate raw chicken from other foods.
Immediately after preparing it,
wash your dirty grubby chicken-juiced hands properly with soap and
water and clean anything raw or touched. Adam is a freak about this
one, and when cooking we set out poultry cutting boards, poultry dish
towels, poultry knives and poultry cookware that remain separate from
everything else.


USE A MEAT THERMOMETER! No, seriously. I wouldn’t dream of going
without it now. How else am I going to know that my bird has reached
165 degrees? This is the number required to kill bacteria. Learn it,
live it, love it.

Read more here.

I guess this means I won’t be posting my recipe for Chicken Tartare or Poultry Sashimi any time soon. Damn.

Ok, Just One More. But That’s It.

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This is a true story.

Today as I walked into my office I was immediately confronted.

“Hey Matt, my mother-in-law taught my daughter Courtney to make homemade cream puffs! I brought some in today, would you like to try them?” she asked.

Why, certainly!

“Hey Matt, you’ve really gotta try this Almond Toffee Bark I made last night,” said another coworker.

Well, ok, I responded.

“Hey Big Boy, there are Krispy Kremes in the conference room,” teased another.

Not anymore,
I thought.

“Oh! I forgot! She also taught her how to make homemade donuts! They took forever and they look funny but they’re really good! Have one!” screeched coworker #1.

And I did.

Do you want to know what’s worse then everyone being clever and crafty and baking and frying during the holidays? It’s being born without one ounce of self control.

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A Few More Days Left!

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Over $29,000.00 has been raised for Menu For Hope III – an outstanding amount to aid global hunger. There are so many amazing gifts to give and receive – have you found the perfect one yet? Don’t forget to check out our hosts who have full details. And in case you want some amazing honey and some delicious goodies, here’s my offering!

Head over to Chez Pim for more information!

Wow. What a Terrific Year!

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Mattsaic


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  Around this time last December I decided to get off my butt and start a blog. I had some goofy ideas,  a camera, and way too much time on my hands and it seemed like a great idea.

It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.

A year later I find myself loving and enjoying it more than I ever thought possible.

I want to say thank you.

Thank you to those of you who have read mattbites and left comments, emails and happy wishes. Thank you to my fellow food bloggers who inspire me and welcomed me into their corner of cyberspace, and thank you, the readers, who actually try to comprehend the ramblings contained here. I realize there are thousands upon thousands of blogs out there and I’m honestly humbled that you take the time to read mine.

I know some talk about the impersonal nature of cyberspace, but I say hogwash. I’ve met some of the most amazing people through mattbites and I’m hoping I continue to make these connections in the future.

To David, Aun and Melissa–I can’t even put into words how much you guys mean to me. You three are my idols on so many levels.

And thanks to my partner Adam, who has given me the love, space and encouragement to be as creative as I can be. No one could ever ask nor find someone better to share their lives with. I’m blessed.

From the bottom of my heart – happy holidays and thank you.

Now let’s eat!

Capirotada. CA-PIRO-TA-DA.

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The holidays mean tradition. And where I grew up that meant tamales, buñuelos, and my favorite– Capirotada. And since I don’t have a small army to assemble homemade tamales I usually opt for easier endeavors that are just as delicious.

Capirotada is a dish with a rich legacy. Also known as Mexican bread pudding, Capirotada is a dessert with as many variations as you can imagine. There is no one definitive recipe, it’s open to many broad interpretations. Perhaps this is why I enjoy it so much; it’s always different no matter where you go. But no matter where eat it, you can be assured that you’ll find the one ingredient that makes it Capirotada through and through: cheese.

Yes, cheese.

Capirotada is traditionally served during Lent. My grandmother would make it a few times a year or whenever she found herself with a surplus of stale bread, and without fail it would disappear in seconds. There’s something about that savory bite of cheese hidden within the flavors of cinnamon, cloves and raisins. It’s a natural pairing, even if I did think it was strange as a child. Ah, how tastes change, no?

The history of the Capirotada is long and complex. As with many Mexican dishes, Capirotada traces its roots back to the old world, where various centuries-old Spanish cookbooks mention its predecessor. Even further back we see a distant relative mentioned by the Romans entitled Sala Cattaba, a mixture of bread, liquid (more on this later), savories such as vegetables, fowl, meat and fat, and a dressing that made of mint, pepper, celery, pennyroyal, pine nuts, vinegar, honey, water and cheese. Throughout history, this potted bread pudding has changed over time, but it has always managed to keep its sweet & savory element intact.

Fast-forward a couple of hundred years. It’s not clear exactly when the Capirotada made its official crossover into the world of sweets, but legend has it that meat was omitted sometime during the 19th century, mostly for religious observances. It’s this version that you’ll find throughout Mexico–if you’re lucky, that is. José Luis Juárez López, a food writer from Mexico, says that Capirotada is in danger of extinction and isn’t a part of too many food celebrations today. Certainly disheartening.

Present-day recipes of Capirotada can often leave you confused. You’d be hard pressed to find matching recipes no matter where you looked, as ingredients, quantities and preparation methods can vary from cook to cook. There is a general consensus, however, which states that Capirotada includes bread, a liquid, some solids in the form of raisins and nuts, and of course cheese (hallelujah Matt screams!)

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Bread forms the basis of this dish. It’s the foundation. As I mentioned earlier, my grandmother always used stale bread as it seems to hold up better. If you’re using fresh bread you’ll want to toast it before using it. Capirotada is usually made with Bolillos, small round loaves of bread found in Mexican markets. Once stale they make the perfect texture for bread pudding.

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A sauce must be made to pour over the chunks of bread. This liquid is basically made of water, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks, reduced to a syrup and strained. Variations include the addition of anise tea or a piloncillo, The piloncillo, a small cone of dried unrefined brown sugar, is the Mexican secret incredient and can be found in Latin markets. To me it’s what makes my Capirotada. You may also notice that Capirotada uses a sugar syrup and not cream and eggs like other bread puddings. But fear not, it’s still delicious.

The beauty of this dish is its personalized nature. I am content with the sole inclusion of raisins, but feel free to add currants, pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, even fresh or dried fruit.

Then there’s the cheese. Yes, cheese. A nice cheddar freshly shredded tastes delicious and is more subtle in this dish than you might imagine. Similar to apple pie with a slice of cheddar on top, cheese in this bread pudding really shines and adds dimension. Besides, it’s not Capirotada without it! Other recipes call for Queso Añejo, Seco or Ranchero, but I find a simple cheddar works just fine.

Black pepper, chopped tomatoes, onions and bay leaves can be added. No, your browser hasn’t accidentally taken you to another recipe. We’re still talking Capirotada here, folks. Personally this is a tad bit different for me and not at all the way I grew up eating it. But experiment and try it, you might just like it!

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Mexican desserts aren’t known for their over-the-top sweetness. If you prefer your bread pudding on the sweeter side simply adjust the sugar level in the liquid.

Ingredients
3 cups of water
3 large cinnamon sticks
3 to 4 Pilloncillos (if not available you can substitute 1 1/2 cups brown sugar)
3 to 4 oz raisins
4 bolillo rolls (found in Mexican markets) or 1 loaf  french bread, cut into pieces
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Method
In a saucepan, bring water, sugar and cinnamon sticks to a boil then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes. Break bread into small 2 inch pieces (if using fresh bread you’ll need to toast it beforehand) and place in a baking dish and sprinkle with raisins and half of the shredded cheese. Strain the syrup liquid, removing the cinnamon sticks, and pour the syrup over the bread until well absorbed. Top with remaining cheese and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until syrup is absorbed. This dish may be served warm or cold and topped with fresh whipped cream or ice cream. Enjoy!

This post first appeared in May 2006, but it’s the holidays and so delicious it’s worth repeating!