A Menu For Hope – Still Going!

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Can you believe it? Over $16,000 has been raised for this year’s Menu For Hope in just five days. This is an incredible amount of money for such an excellent cause, but there are still many great gifts just waiting to go to good homes out there!

For more info and to view the impressive array of dazzling gifts, check out Chez Pim.

Notes About Photography

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I was inspired and motivated by Lara’s recent post on Still Life With… about photography. You should spend some time on her site if you’re interested in digital food photography, if you haven’t already. The information, tips and techniques she’s shared with us all have been invaluable. She’s one amazing photographer and it makes me happy to call her a friend.

Several times a week I get questions via mattbites and my Flickr account about photography. “Which lenses do you use?” and “What’s your lighting source?” are the basics, as well are first-time camera buying questions. I try to answer all those emails, but since it’s the season for sharing I thought I’d create an entry here for everyone.

I picked up a camera for the first time and took my first picture a little over 2 years ago, and while that may seem recent it’s not. I’ve been an art director for 15 years, and in my career I’ve been on hundreds of photoshoots and spent countless hours with photographers. Over the years I observed, asked questions, and absorbed quite a bit of information about photography–it turns out it was the best classroom I could have had. When I began shooting I already had a network of colleagues, fellow photographers and friends I could turn to for advice and questions. In fact, it’s no secret that I only know .00000000289% about photography in the traditional sense, but I love everything about it and learn something new every day.

I am by no means an expert, a fact I want to make perfectly clear. I could never compare to the photographers I’ve worked with in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They’re the masters, I’m simply a student. Having said that I’ll jump right into what I use to take a photo.

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Equipment
I shoot with a Canon 5 D, a full-frame, 12.8 megapixel camera. I love this camera more than anything and have only good things to say about Canon. Previously I used a 20 D and a Rebel, which are both excellent cameras. If the 5 D (or higher models) are in your budget then I’d definitely encourage you to go that route. If not, Canon’s other models are still excellent investments.

If I’m out and about I shoot to a 2 or 4 gigabyte card, but if I’m in my studio I’ll shoot straight to my Mac. I use Phase One’s Capture One Pro to shoot, and my images are displayed on my laptop where I can adjust color or contrast and check my focus. Capture One’s overlay feature also allows me to check for logo and headline placement since I shoot many images for work (ads, magazines, etc.)


Lenses
For food photography I’m partial to my EF100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. It’s sharp, clear and lets me get in close when needed. I also like my EF 50mm f/1.8 lens – it’s a cheapy but has served me well.  When I want a particular look, one that allows me  to play with my plane of focus, I’ll shoot with my 90mm Tilt / Shift lens. It’s quite a bit of fun. When I’m traveling or outdoor and a super sharp file isn’t required I’ll use my 28-200mm. It allows me to zoom in and stay out of the way.


Film Vs Digital?

Although I love the immediacy of digital, I have also shot medium format film with a Contax and Mamiya camera. Polaroid backs, film magazines and light meters are fantastic things, but to me I have a hard time seeing the difference in the end now that digital has improved so much.

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Lighting
When it comes to food, natural light just can’t be beat. Food simply looks better that way, in my humble opinion. Because of my job, I review submitted professional photographer’s portfolios on a regular basis, and there are only a handful of food photographers out there who can harness strobe in a way that doesn’t look cold or artificial. Sunlight is simply more pleasing, but it’s ever changing and can require you to think fast on your feet.

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In order to coax light where I need it, I’m never without foamboard, reflectors and diffusers. Even simple paper can work when set up properly.  The goal is to soften and wrap the light as much as possible (depending on the desired effect).  Full harsh sunlight is tough (again, unless that’s what you’re going for.)

And for the record, yes, I’m quite the sucker for backlighting.

If I use strobes . . .
I use them extremely judiciously when it comes to photographing food. Or I go all the way, practicing the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy. See the fruit below.

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Post-Processing
I do my post processing in Adobe Photoshop and Bridge. Sometimes color correction, balance, contrast, cropping and sharpening is needed; sometimes it ain’t. For me there’s just no rule and it’s on an image-by-image basis. For example, the pancake image at the beginning of this post (in the collage) is straight out of the camera – nothing was done. But the pluot shot a few lines up required sharpening and a boost of extra contrast. I don’t believe in over manipulation; I do believe in using what we have to get the best image possible.

RAW vs JPEG
It really all depends. If I’m shooting for work and my image will be reproduced on a poster or in an ad in the LA Times I’ll shoot raw so I can have as much information as possible. Other times where it’s not so crucial JPEG is fine with me.

I hope that answers some questions you may have about what I use to take my photographs. If you have any other questions feel free to email or IM me.

Happy Holidays!

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Well, I wanted to update these digs for some time now but I’m woefully template and html ignorant. So I just rearranged and redecorated – just in time for the holidays! And yes, this is a self-portrait of me eating a mattbites business card, which really has absolutely nothing to do with anything at all. But I’m goofy (and bored) like that.

I hope you’ve checked out Menu For Hope!

Menu For Hope

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I’m so thrilled and excited to be participating in this year’s Menu For Hope. This event raises funds to support the United Nations World Food Program which provides hunger relief those those around the world in need. Last year a whopping $17,000 was raised for Unicef, which is an incredible amount.

How does it work? If you make a $10 contribution at First Giving you’ll be entered to win your choice of prizes that have been donated by food bloggers all over the world. The list is exciting, unique, and jam packed full of one-of-a-kind gifts that would make amazing holiday presents – and they all support a worthwhile cause!



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This year I’m contributing a gift basket of delicious goodies from Valley Produce Company from Australia. Australian products from an American in Los Angeles, you ask? Well, yes. These award-winning items come from my friend, Chef Christopher Smith and his company, and to say I’m obsessed with his truffle infused honey would be an understatement! In fact, Chris hunts for his own truffles in France and keeps his own bees, too. It’s absolutely heavenly on cheeses, drizzled on prosciutto, and I even like it drizzled on bread and chicken. Also included are his rich fruit pyramids which are great served with cheeses. I’ve been giving his products as gifts for the last few years because they’re delicious, and they come from a man so passionate and sincere about his craft. You can’t beat that.

Here’s what’s in the basket:

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Fig & Almond Pyramid, Pear & Hazelnut Pyramid, Apricot & Pistachio Pyramid

These fruit pyramids were voted "Best Product of the Aisle" at the 2004 Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and contain over 1 pound of reduced fruit. Yes, they’re flavorful indeed and excellent with bries, blue cheeses and VPC’s Crackerthins.

Plain and Black Pepper Crackerthins
These are premium water crackers that are perfect with cheeses, the fruit pyramids and pates. They’re super thin and super crunchy.

Olivia’s Chocolate Panforte
Made by hand with Belgium bitter-sweet coveture chocolate, freshly roasted hazelnuts & almonds and glace fruit (peach, apricot, kiwi, fig & orange). Slice into this panforte and enjoy with coffee or tea – it’s heavenly.

Truffle Infused Honey
I’m including two jars of this heavenly product because I love it so much. Each 4.2 oz jar contains 2 grams of fresh black Perigord truffles from France in Red Gum & Clover Honey with a dash of White Truffle oil. Serve it over stilton, enjoy with prosciutto, duck, and with fresh figs and pears.

So here’s what you do:

1.   Go to the donation page here.

2.   Make a donation, each $10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice.  My Valley Produce Company  Gift Basket is UW05 .  Please specify which prize or prizes you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation.  Do tell us how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for UW01 and 3 for UW02.

3.   If your company matches your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

4.   Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win.   Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

5.   Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 when we announce the result of the raffle.   (The drawing will be done electronically.   Our friend the code wizard Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for the wicked application that will do the job.)

For a full listing of gifts, make sure to visit the event’s creator, Chez Pim or visit the west coast round up hosted by the lovely Sam of Becks & Posh.

The fine print:  These delicious items have traveled far enough, so the winner of this item must reside in the United States.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Music To Dine By

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Now beings the season of the Dinner Party. It’s not as if we lock our doors and close our blinds during the rest of the year, but when we have guests over for dinner in the summer it’s much more of a free-form affair, spent wandering from the patio to the kitchen to the grill. With a dinner party, it’s always a more structured evening, complete with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dinner. And a dinner party is my greatest extravagance.

(Next to cheese and dogs. And cameras. And travel. I’ll shut up now.)

Just like the talented and always entertaining Jennnifer says about dinner parties, I love the process of the entire event–the planning, the cooking, even the cleaning. And one element that always gets special attention is the music.

I grew up in a home where music was played every day and it is a big part of who I am. Of course I’d love to have a grand piano and gather around it with martinis as I played some Bacharach, but until that happens I’m content with loading my favorite selections onto the iPod and tucking it away while it does its thing.

God Bless Technology.

Matt’s Favorite Music For Dinner Parties
You’ll always hear some of these artists at some point in the evening if you come over for dinner. And remember, music makes the perfect holiday gift.

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1. Bud Shank
I adore the brilliance of Bud Shank, an American saxophonist who doesn’t play the sax as much as makes it sing in a sweet and sultry tone. This man has been making music for years and has quite a library to chose from.

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2. Cal Tjader
If there was a religion that worshipped this man I’d join in a second. I’d be a Tjaderite of the highest order and willingly give 10% of my income to him. Ok, I exaggerate, but hello, have you met me? Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr. played the vibraphone, and in some circles is considered the grandfather of Latin Jazz, which is funny when you consider he was a Swedish guy from Missouri. Anyway, I could spend about 2 years talking about him and his career, but I think you should go listen to some of his music. Cal makes me happy.

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3. Jobim
As in Antonio Carlos Jobim. As in the name we are giving our first child. Known as Tom to his friends, Jobim was a Brazilian composer, pianist, singer, and one of the originators of bossa nova. The man is a genius and I am going to cry right now. I love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love him.

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4. Luiz Bonfá
Another Brazilian composer, Bonfá was a guitarist that had a huge influence on the world of bossa nova as well as Samba-canção, a slower type of samba music from Brazil. This man dedicated his life to music, and his career spanned numerous musical endeavors from his home in Brazil to the United States. He makes me wish I could play the guitar.

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5. Bajofondo Tango Club & Gotan Project
This category of music, known as Electrotango, is the fusion of electronica with traditional acoustic tango music. If you’re scratching your head right now you’re having the same reaction I did initially. Electro What? Tango What? But the result is lovely, sexy and sophisticated, and is helping to reintroduce tango to audiences.

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6. Buena Vista Social Club
This album has always been close to me since it was released years ago. In fact, it never really goes out of rotation in my world. Take first-class Cuban musicians, more soul and heart than is humanly allowed, and mix thoroughly. Buena Vista Social Club is transcendent.  Of all the music I own I encourage you to seek this one out if you haven’t already.

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7. Gloria Estefan – Mi Tierra
I’m not particularly a big fan of Ms. Estefan’s pop stuff, but this Spanish album from 1993 updates Cuban classics and finds her sounding her best when backed by a mambo ensemble. It’s good stuff, really good stuff. But you’ll want to dance. O cantar. Si señor!

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8. Lisa Shaw – Cherry
Smooth. Sultry. Sexy. When I need a good beat in my life I always turn to my favorite, Lisa Shaw. A New Yorker via Canada, Lisa has been THE voice of soulful deep house music for years –no one even comes close. Cherry is her first full-length album on Naked Music, the label that produces some of the grooviest dance music on the planet. Put this CD on when you need a modern beat rooted in slightly retro grooves, and prepare to swoon to Lisa’s always understated, always delicious voice. And grab a cocktail.

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9. Nina Simone

What is a dinner party without Nina? Nothing, I tell you. You might as well grab a TV tray and sit down in front of “Deal or No Deal.”  Anything from The High Priestess of Soul is appropriate, except “Strange Fruit”.  Talk about a crowdkiller.

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10. Anything Hotel Costes
Ok, so the hotel might be nice (I’ve never been), but I’m referring to the music compilations that they’ve issued over the past few years. Mixed by DJ Stéphane Pompougnac, these compilations are always interesting and make the perfect background for cocktail parties. In a world of chill compilation copy cats, this is the real deal and worth checking out.

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What albums do you dig while dining? I wanna know!

Yes, seriously. Really.

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It does work. Oh my goodness does it ever. Each and every time.

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Cropped_update The New York Times has some additional information about the No-Knead Method that, like everyone else, we’re crazy about. Having made about 8 loaves so far with success (even adding extra ingredients like nuts and sugar), it’s nice to see some additional information. It’s crazy good, yo.

That’s one stunning lobster.

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The CrustaStun: "the individual shellfish is placed on a sprung lower steel plate resting in a shallow bath of brine (sea-water concentration) and the lid closed. The Operator simply presses a button. The Unit is pre-set to deliver the required duration of electric current to produce instant anaesthesia and kill within 5 seconds in the case of Lobsters and Crayfish and within 10 seconds in Crabs."

I’m seeing a co-branding marketing opportunity between the CrustaStun and Whole Foods Market!

Permanent Puckerface

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If you’re anything like me, your relationship with citrus fruits
usually went no further than the occasional twist in a martini or fresh
lime juice for homemade margaritas (do you see a pattern here?) Sure,
they add zip and zing to just about everything, have been used by
people the world over for hundreds of years and prevented traveling
sailors from coming down with that awful Barlow’s disease, but
seriously folks, how exciting could citrus fruits REALLY be?

It was a work assignment a few years ago that made me fall in love with winter citrus. I
had to put together a small winter citrus guide, complete with recipes,
history, varieties and flavor profiles. I ate my way through cases of
Meyers, crates of clementines, bags of pomelos, devouring key limes and
kumquats and everything in between. Rest assured this boy wasn’t ever
gettin’ scurvy, that’s for damn sure. What developed after that project
(along with a permanent sour puckerface) was a true appreciation of
citrus. I experimented in the kitchen, testing and making things like
Texas Grapefruit Pie (’twas horrible, don’t ask, and I’m even from
Texas), homemade limoncello, Moroccan-style preserved lemons, Mexican
candied orange slices, satsuma dressing, grapefruit pomander, the list
goes on. I squeezed, juiced, zested and baked myself to a Vitamin C
nirvana. Some things were quite delicious, other recipes were ruined by
citrus’ uncanny ability to bully just about everything else it comes in
contact with. Live and learn, live and learn.

The color of
citrus fruits only develop in climates with a cool winter, which is why
a huge percentage of American grown citrus comes from California, Texas
and Florida. Winter citrus is beginning to trickle in now, and some of
the more unique varieties are coming to market as we speak, so it’s
time to get in the kitchen and start experimenting. Out of everything I
tested, one salad recipe became a favorite in our house, and during the
peak of winter citrus season I can’t help but prepare this at least
three times a week. I’m obsessed with it. My friends laugh at me and
wonder how on earth something so simple can yield such spectacular
flavors, but come on people, it’s from Alice Waters, one of the
pioneers of fresh, simple California cuisine. If you make this and
don’t like it, well, I just don’t know what to tell you. You’ll make me
sad.

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Alice Waters’s Avocado, Grapefruit, and Curly Endive Salad with Citrus Dressing

6 small heads curly endive
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1 lemon
1 orange
Salt
2 grapefruit
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 avocados

Wash and spin dry the curly endive. For this salad, use only theblanched hearts and save the green leaves for cooking greens.

Peel the shallot and dice it fine. Let macerate with the vinegar, 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice and orange juice, and a pinch of salt.

Cut away the grapefruit peel, all the pith below, and the membrane around the grapefruit flesh. Then cut the sections free, carefully slicing along the membranes. Peel a little lemon and orange zest and finely chop enough to make about 1/4 teaspoon of each.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, whisk the olive oil into the shallot mixture. Add the orange and lemon zest and taste. Add more olive oil or lemon juice if necessary. Cut the avocados in half lengthwise. Remove the pits. Using a sharp knife, cut the avocados into lengthwise slices about the same size as the grapefruit sections, keeping the skin on. Scoop out the slices with a large spoon. Toss the curly endive and grapefruit sections in a bowl with about two thirds of the dressing. Taste the salad and add more salt if necessary. Arrange on a platter or individual dishes. Distribute the avocado alongside the endive and grapefruit, season them with a pinch of salt, and drizzle the rest of the dressing over them.

Serves 6

Matt’s
notes: I prefer bibb lettuce (also known as Butter or Boston Lettuce),
as the endive texture can be a bit too curly and then you have dressing
all over your mouth. Oh heck, just skip the greens altogether and eat
the grapefruit and avocado tossed in the dressing. Lord knows I’ve done
that a thousand times.

KitchenAid, I love you.

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In this day and age of endless voicejail  voicemail, limited warranties, shoddy customer service (need I go on?) it warms my heart that a company could treat their customers so well.

I’m talking about KitchenAid, who not only makes a superior product that we couldn’t live without, but managed to replace a worn-out 4-year old mixer given as a wedding gift.

You can read about it here, via The Consumerist.

If you’re like me or my other half, not a day goes by that you don’t pass by your KitchenAid and smile, wink, or sigh. It’s truly a wonderful product. And some of us have been lucky enough to have the full KitchenAid experience! Color me jealous!

Yay for KitchenAid!

Are You Serious?

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Seriouseats

Today is the launch of a pretty cool new food site that you must check out. Serious Eats is put together by some groovy folks and promises to be a whole lot of fun. I was invited to check it out a few weeks ago and today is the official launch –  it’s full of information and all sorts of delicious bits.

Head on over, sign up, and give Serious Eats a big tasty welcome!