This is how we roll…

Roll

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There are benefits to being married to the world’s best partner. He’s fun, he’s got groovy tattoos*, he juggles three demanding dogs and a job and he likes to surprise me with tasty treats after long days at work. In fact when I got home yesterday he made carnitas. Carnitas! Damn if this white man hasn’t perfected Tex-Mex and Mexican food, slowly working his way through Chile Rellenos, Mole, Tortillas and Enchiladas. You taste his cooking and realize it’s made with love and talent. Thank god for my big redhead, and thank god I love to eat.

I don’t remember what we were talking about but the other day I made a comment about my disdain for those mall-type cinnamon places. They make cinnamon rolls as big as your face that are purposely practically raw and so sweet you either get a stomach ache or your teeth begin to rattle in your head. Cinn-a-Raw or Cinn-a-Blech or whatever you call them. I know some people love them but I am not one of them, and trust me, I can get down-and-dirty, no food snob here! I like things a bit more balanced, which explains why I’m crazy about half-sweet desserts and the latest craze for sweet-with-salty. After going off as I’m used to do doing (opinionated? stubborn? me? me?) Adam mentioned a recipe for cinnamon rolls that are neither too sweet nor too raw, and since they are made at home from scratch one can control the level of doneness, right down to the frosting. I said "Well knock yourself out, babe!" and in true Adam fashion he took the challenge with spirit and grace.

I just didn’t know how long it would take.

As you may know, I don’t really bake. I eat. And boy am I ever good at that. But Adam is precise, paying attention to every nuance and step, right down to closing off the kitchen and turning on a space heater so that his dough will rise on a chilly Southern California afternoon. If that’s not pure love then I shall never know it, I am convinced.

After slaving away in the kitchen over two batches of fresh cinnamon rolls while I played clean up crew (it’s all about give and take, working together and compromise, ya know!), I was face to face with warm cinnamon rolls, freshly frosted and ready to eat. Of course I had to take pictures and asked Adam to whip up a frosting I could drizzle for a photograph, and wouldn’t you know it he was accomodating. His rolls were so perfect I didn’t even know which image I wanted to post, hence the collage of cinnamon-y goodness.

After packaging some extra rolls up for his mom and our friend, I finally enjoyed what I was craving thanks to the generousity of my man. And can I tell you what he did with the leftover cinnamon rolls? He made bread pudding. My heart be still.

Glazed Cinnamon Rolls from Baking Illustrated
The book says that since cinnamon is the predominant flavor you should use a high-quality cinnamon. You should always use high quality spices, I say.

Dough
1/2 cup milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 large egg plus 2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups (20 to 21 1/4 ounces) unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface

Icing
8 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

Filling
3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. For the dough: Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan or in
the microwave until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat and
set aside until the mixture is lukewarm (about 100 degrees).

2.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together
the water, yeast, sugar, eggs, and yolks at low speed until well mixed.
Add the salt, warm milk mixture, and 2 cups of the flour and mix at
medium speed until thoroughly blended, about 1 minute. Switch to the
dough hook, add another 2 cups of the flour, and knead at medium speed
(adding up to 1/4 cup more flower, 1 tablespoon at a time, if
necessary) until the dough is smooth and freely clears the sides of the
bowl, about 10 minutes. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work
surface. Shape the dough into a round, place it in a very lightly oiled
large bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm,
draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. For
the icing:
While the dough rises, combine all of the icing ingredients
in the bowl of a standing mixer and blend together at low speed until
roughly combined, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and mix
until the icing is uniformly smooth and free of cream cheese lumps,
about 2 minutes. Transfer the icing to a small bowl, cover with plastic
wrap, and refrigerate.

4. To roll and fill the dough: After the
dough has doubled, press it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured
work surface. Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into a 16 by 12-inch
rectangle, with a long side facing you. Mix together the filling
ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle the filling evenly over the
dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border at the far edge. Roll the dough,
beginning with the long edge closest to you and using both hands to
pinch the dough with your fingertips as you roll. Moisten the top
border with water and seal the roll. Lightly dust the roll with flour
and press on the ends if necessary to make a uniform 16-inch cylinder.
Grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Cut the roll into 12 equal pieces
using dental floss and place the rolls, cut-side up, evening in the
prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm,
draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

5. To
bake the rolls:
When the rolls are almost fully risen, adjust an oven
rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the
rolls until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into
the center of one reads 185 to 188 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes. Invert
the rolls onto a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Turn the rolls
upright on a large serving plate and use a rubber spatula to spread
icing on them. Serve immediately.

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*PSA for the day: Many people with tattoos and body modifications are intelligent, educated people. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, even art directors! It’s always ok to ask someone about their tattoos and big earlobes–always. It’s not always polite to stare and point. Modifications like big earlobes and piercings have been practiced globally for thousands of years and I always find it strange that people still freak out about it in this land of plastic surgery and facial reconstruction. Remember, we’re all the same inside!

I’m tired, damnit!

Tired

No joke. In the past 24 hours I have:

• read two cookbooks

• finished a freelance design job

• photographed a superhero

• edited 102 photographs from this past weekend’s photoshoot

• accepted a freelance gig art-directing a really cool cookbook as well as a gig shooting an ad campaign for a handbag company featuring one of my bestest girlfriends

• flew to Las Vegas for 2 hours and back home for a meeting with some nice folks from Apple Computers

I owe a few of you some emails, one of you some recipe recommendations, and two of you phonecalls. When I decompress from the shock of everything I will get back to you. I’m going to sleep for 3 days now. What a day! Nighty night!

The Kitchen Sisters

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I probably can’t convey the excitement running through my bones when I found out that the Kitchen Sisters would be having an evening of sonic adventures featuring bits and pieces of their Hidden Kitchen series as well as Lost & Found sound. I probably can’t convey my giddiness either when one of the producers emailed me to make sure I would stop by. As if she even had to ask? Can I stop drooling now?

I have tried unsuccessfully to describe the Kitchen Sisters to friends, but if you are a fan of NPR then you probably already know them and their award-winning stories about community, underground and hidden kitchens, street-corner cooking and eating traditions. Or as they say, how "communities come together through food". I’m sure glad they have mission statements on their website because I either start laughing or crying uncontrollably when I think of their story-telling. And why? Because these women have captured that unreported slice of life, that bit that goes unnoticed, and they do stellar work in bringing it to everyone to share. It’s fun, happy and touching. They love people and food, I love people and food. How on earth can you not love that?

In fact, part of my stumbling block in describing what they do involves the fact that their work is so rich and so full of meaning that it leaves me speechless. HELLO? Have you met me? I am never at a loss for words. EVER. But with these gals, you betcha.

So, this Thursday night they will be at The Hammer Museum for an evening that is billed as "a night of radio, readings, guest stars and some secret, below-the-radar, Los Angeles hidden kitchen cooking." And it is FREE. I said FREE. This is Los Angeles–nothing is free.

(And another reason I’m so boyishly excited is that the evening will be hosted by Renee Montagne, the only woman who wakes me up every morning and keeps me company on the way to work five days a week!)

There’s tons of information about The Kitchen Sisters on their website, and you can hear more of them on NPR. For information on the event, visit the UCLA web site.

If you see me with my camera in hand and a box of tissues in the other, please, say hello! But please, don’t miss this very special event!

The Kitchen Sisters will be at the Hammer Museum this Thursday, March 29 at 8pm. The address is 10899 Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles.

Orange Blossom Sugar

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Sometimes it’s the tiny little things in life that bring the most joy.

I always get so excited when my trees start waking up from months of
dormancy. Even though our orange tree (known forever as "Granny’s
orange tree") never really loses its deep green leaves, it has its own
way of letting you know that it’s kicking into high gear.  Every year
around this time buds begin to appear, and within a day or two these
creamy, supple pods begin to open up into beautiful little flowers. And
even if you were inclined to bury your head in the sand and ignore the
seasonal shift, orange trees let you know their intentions by perfuming
the entire yard with a heady, intoxicating fragrance of orange
blossoms. It’s literally the most soothing and luxurious smell I can
think of and far from the tart, acidy flavor of the fruit (if I’m
comparing smells and tastes, mind you). It’s much closer to honeysuckle
than orange. And if the scent drives me crazy in the best of ways, I
can only wonder what it does to bees!

I’ve thought about pitching a tent underneath the tree for a few nights
so that I won’t miss out on the blossom’s short lifespan. Once my
little buds open into flowers they only have a few days; they fall to
the ground and fruit begins to grow. While I love my citrus fruit, it’s
the special little blossoms that make me so happy and fill my heart and
my senses with pure, unbridled pleasure. In this crazy haphazard world
we live in I think it’s important to step back and breathe in the
things that mother nature gives us, no questions asked.

While citrus is known for its staying and preservation power, the
delicate orange blossoms don’t last long. About the only way to
continually experience the scent of orange blossoms is to trek to my
nearest Whole Foods and buy a bottle of essential oil, but that’s not
quite the same thing, is it? After some quick poking around I
discovered I could use the blossoms to infuse their essence into sugar
and water and continue to enjoy their unique flavor. And it couldn’t be
easier.

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Orange Blossom Sugar

If you have an orange tree or can get blossoms now is the time to do
this. Make sure the blossoms are untreated and come from an unsprayed
tree–you don’t want chemicals here. Rinse 2 to 4 small flowers and
allow to dry completely. Gently bruise a few petals and place them in a
glass jar that has been filled halfway with 1 cup of sugar. Cover the
petals with the remaining sugar and store in a dark cool place for 3 to 5 days.  Check periodically, you can let it go a bit longer but be
forewarned that a little goes a long way! Discard the blossoms once
done and keep your sugar tightly sealed.

A teaspoon in iced tea gives it a new dimension. it’s great sprinkled
over fruit and gives it just a hint of orange blossom, and this weekend
we’re going to experiment with a creme brulee using our infused sugar.
I’ll let you know how it goes.

RISK VS REWARD

Risk
If this isn’t the funniest and most clever bit of writing I’ve seen lately I don’t know what is. This man is a genius, and even if I don’t agree with all the points (I’d never call a clementine an imposter, hell no!) I have to say it’s spot-on.

Absolutely brilliant and guaranteed to make you chuckle.

If only all food writing was this direct.

(Justin, I couldn’t find an email for ya, so if you are opposed to this type of linkage then please let me know!)

Chop Talk

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Let’s just get something out of the way, shall we?

I love this salad.

Pure love.

As funny as it sounds, I really am a salad kind of guy. I love greens in all shapes and forms, raw or cooked, and sitting down to a big bowl of leafy lettuces actually gets me a bit excited–believe it or not. But I must admit that there are moments when, as sublime as it can be, a bowl of lettuce with a simple vinaigrette doesn’t quite hit the spot.

Unfortunately those times are more often than not.

Here’s my remedy: a chopped salad. A chopped salad is nothing more than chunky bits of ingredients, all relative in size, tossed in a dressing. That’s it. It really couldn’t be any easier, and it’s a great way to enjoy some veggies without having to make a complete meal. Everything’s in the bowl already.

I have a quick-and-easy version of my own, but when I came across a recipe from Jar restaurant in the LA Times for their version of a cobb salad I knew it was going to be a winner. Anything with prosciutto has my name all over it, and crunchy cabbage and raw fennel are right up my alley. And you know what? This salad is better than I expected it to be, thanks to an intensely flavored dressing that features champagne and rice vinegar. The olives, oregano and thyme lend a mediterranean feel, and the roasted chicken makes this salad an entire meal. Unlike many other things I test, I kept sneaking back to the fridge to eat just a little bit more of this salad, and sadly it disappeared all too quickly.

So there you have it. Perfect for a mid-week meal. Mom, seriously, try this salad. You’ll love it.


Jar Restaurant’s Chopped Salad

Vinaigrette Ingredients
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Dash dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper

1. Mix the Champagne vinegar, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Makes 3/4 cup.

Salad Ingredients
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1/4 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup shaved fennel
2 teaspoons chopped Sicilian green olives
1 1/2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced and torn into 1/2-inch ribbons
1 cup shredded roasted chicken
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley

1. Combine cabbage, carrots, celery, onion, fennel, olives, prosciutto, chicken and feta. Mix well with vinaigrette. Top with parsley.

Weekend Bites

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Why I Love Blogging: Thanks to a very special angel named Ellie I am now snacking (ok, inhaling really) Tim Tams from the land down under. Expect a special jar very soon, my friend!
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Speaking of Jars: There are jellies waiting for me at home from one of the nicest bloggers I have ever met over at Chicken Fried Gourmet. His special family recipe will be meeting a batch of Adam’s homemade biscuits and I’ll end up with a messy face and full belly for sure. And I couldn’t be happier.
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Ford’s Unfulfilling Station: Last night we headed out to dinner with friend and food stylist extraordinaire Will Smith (check out this month’s Bon Appetit magazine for an adorable photo of Will in the opening pages). We headed to Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City–the spot owned by Harrison Ford’s son Benjamin–and damn it, I really wanted it to be better! It’s a cute comfortable space, but my fish and chips were soggy, Adam’s beef cheeks were lackluster and the fried clams were so-so. I hate wanting to like something so much only to have it fall short. Maybe it was an off night.
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In The Pink / No Self Control: Ok, I’m a little late to the Pinkberry craze that is sweeping the southland, but there is a new location opening in Long Beach so I’ll see first-hand what all the fuss is about. But then again maybe not. Thanks to David’s recommendation our Cuisinart ICE-50 arrived and now there’s no need to head out for ice cream when a batch can be made so easily. Thanks a whole lot, DAVID (can you hear the sarcasm here as I eat another pint?)

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Congratulations to Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen!, the winner of the 2007 Bloggies, Best Food Category. And thank you to everyone who voted for Mattbites, too. I’m still thrilled that I was one of the other 4 blogs nominated! Can you believe it?

Brine Divine

Brinedivine

If you look in the dictionary under the word "impatient" you’ll most
likely see my picture a few rows down. My disdain for playing the
waiting game is a big reason why I don’t pickle, bake, brew or preserve
too well, although I have aced the sauté, grill, and fry like nobody’s
business. So you can imagine my dilemma when I first learned about
brining meat. There were numerous knuckle biting moments when I had to
accept that soaking meat for what seemed like an eternity really did
yield a more flavorful, juicy bite. I may not have learned to deal with
sitting around doing nothing, but I have certainly surrendered to the
divine brine.

Brining is soaking poultry or pork in salted, seasoned liquid prior
to cooking. It’s similar to marinating, but this process actually
changes the texture of the meat. And it’s very simple. Depending on the
brine and the cut of meat, the process can occur overnight or in as
little as a few hours in your fridge–and the results are spectacular.
The meat is juicy and flavorful, seasoned from within. And the best
part happens when you grill: you’ll get that desired smoky char on the
outside with a tender, moist texture on the inside. I don’t know about
you, but I have a hard time achieving both when I grill if I don’t
brine.

Janet Fletcher from the San Francisco Chronicle summed it up perfectly: "Because
there’s more salt in the brine than in the meat, the muscle absorbs the
salt water. There, the salt denatures the meat proteins, causing them
to unwind and form a matrix that traps the water. And if the brine
includes herbs, garlic, juniper berries or peppercorns, those flavors
are trapped in the meat, too. Instead of seasoning on the surface only,
as most cooks do, brining carries the seasonings throughout."

Bingo! And there you have it.  So next time you’re working with pork chops, try your hand at brining. It’s divine.


Vanilla Brine for Pork

Bookcover

Vanilla? Yes. Vanilla. It imparts a subtle intriguing flavor on the
pork. This recipe comes from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce
Aidells and Denis Kelly.

Ingredients
9 cups hot water
2-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
6 (1-1/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch thick) center-cut loin pork chops
thermometer

Method
Stir the hot water, vanilla, sugar, and salt together until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Add the black pepper. Cool to below 45 degrees F. in the refrigerator.

Trim any excess external fat from the meat. Submerge the pork in the
brine in a large bowl or small crock. Make sure the meat stays under
the surface during curing by using a heavy plate to weight it down.
Refrigerate the pork in the cure. The chops should take 4 to 6 hours in
the brine.

To test flavor of brined pork, cut a small piece off the meat, pat it
dry and pan-fry it. If the meat is sufficiently flavorful, remove it
from the brine, let it come to room temperature and grill. If not,
leave it in the brine and test again later.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
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Online brining resources:

story at sfgate.com

Cooking Light

The First Signs Of Spring

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Just some random scenes from our backyard. It always fills me with such joy when I see spring appear.

This post is dedicated to my friend Pouke who inspires such beauty and makes me happy :)

1/2 Full or 1/2 Empty?

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Ben the Blogger posts a question for the Bubba Gump Corporation. After ordering a juice spritzer without ice at the movie-based restaurant he was surprised to receive a glass that was half full.

I’m an eternal optimist, but in this case I think his glass was half empty.

You can read about his "interaction" here.

I have a question for Bubba Gump, too:  why?

So readers, we all dine out and some of us even work in the service industry. I’m interested in your opinion on this. What do you think?