4 Spring Coolers

Modified

Spring is one of my favorite seasons. Leaves and blossoms quietly sneak
up on you, the days get longer
and warmer and you can’t help but feel happy and jovial when mother
nature taps you gently on the shoulder and reminds you how amazing she
is. And now that spring is almost here and the grill’s been cleaned
after months of hibernation, it’s time for get-togethers and grill
parties. I’m doing my best to save the true grilling for summer,
holding back on full-flavored meats and ribs and doing nice springtime
things like salmon and plenty of happy little spring vegetables. It’s
sometimes difficult not to jump the gun when you live in a place with
mild seasons. However, one thing I won’t need to wait on is having a
selection of pitcher drinks to everyone to enjoy.

Last
year I wrote about some tasty make-ahead drinks that went well with
really hot days, but this time around I’m going to tone it down just a
bit. We can always get crunk in July. Oh, and please remind me never to
use the word crunk again. I’m almost 40 for pete’s sake.

These
drinks are a bit lighter in alcohol than a big pitcher of mai tais or
margaritas. It’s most likely due to the fact that I am getting older
and the stronger spirits tend to shake me up a little bit too much for
my liking. I enjoy a lighter, constant level of innebriation that
begins at 10am. I mean really, who doesn’t? But still, they are
alcoholic and should be enjoyed in moderation.

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Campari_cooler

I’m a huge fan of campari and aperatifs in general. There’s something
so grown up about them. Plus I crave that sweet, herbal bitter flavor
and love the balance when it’s added to fruit juices or soda water.
This recipe is adapted from Donna Hay and calls for blood orange juice
but I’ve found that regular orange or tangerine juice works just as
well. Serves 4.

3/4 cup Campari
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1 cup orange juice
lime wedges for garnish

Mix ingredients and pour over ice.

Japanese_grapes_type

This drink is an adaptation of a cocktail we discovered last month at
Home Hotel in Buenos Aires. It’s different and delicious – I’d never
even think of using sake as a base for a drink! I’ve veered from their
version a bit by omitting vodka and adding white grape juice for a tiny
bit of extra sweetness. Serves 4.

1/4 cup simple syrup
1 1/2 cups dry sake
1/2 cup white grape juice
32 or so grapes, but who’s counting?

Add 8 sliced grapes to a glass and muddle gently to release some juice.
Add ice. Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over the grapes and
ice.

Ginger_lemon_pimms_type

Zesty and gingery, this ginger lemonade is a slight adaptation on the
Pimm’s cup, one of my favorite things on the planet. Add extra freshly
grated ginger if you want to knock your socks off, but hopefully you’ll
be outdoors wearing sandals so your socks will already be off. So
nevermind.

2 cups lemonade
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 cup Pimm’s
lemon wedges for garnish

Mix ingredients and pour over ice. Garnish with lemon wedges and a sprig of mint.

Melon_cooler_type

It’s hard to mess up with this one. Toss chunks of melon into the
freezer ahead of time and use them to keep your drink cool. I am fully
aware it’s not really melon season but I didn’t want to wait. Serves 4.

1 1/2 cups fruit nectar (available in cans or glass bottles, but it’s not fruit juice but nectar we’re talking about here)
1 1/2 cups lemon lime soda
1 cup melon liqueur

Mix the ingredients and pour over ice. Add the frozen chunks of
cantaloupe or honeydew to make your glass really pretty. Que bonita!

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A note about ice… I am a stickler about the proper ice in my drink. The drinks above all call for crushed ice, but not superfine crushed ice and not big giant chunks, either. Somewhere in the middle should do just fine.

A Simple Solution…When you’re playing bartender you should always keep this on hand. Simple syrup is your friend! I repeat, simple syrup is your friend!
It’s the perfect way to add a dash of sweetness to drinks without
having to stir and wait, stir and wait, stir and wait…you get the
idea. Combine 1 part sugar to 1 part water and heat until dissolved.
it’s that simple.

Add more, add less…These drinks are all basic approximations and not written in stone. Add more syrup if you want them sweeter, use different fruit juices for new combinations, whatever you like. Just make sure you enjoy them in good company – that’s an order!

 

Pizza On The Grill

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I’m in the process of moving stuff over from the old mattbites site to here. I apologize for the redundancy and thank you for those who left comments back in the day. If I knew how to move them over here I would, but clearly I ain’t got no game in the programming HTML department and this will have to suffice.

Did any of you read the Serious Eats feature on broiled pizzas, using an inverted skillet and broiler to create a crispy crust? It’s a method that supposedly yields that ever elusive crust – crunchy and crisp without being burned. The secret is the high temperature that is achieved with a preheated skilled. I haven’t tried it, but I’m not sure I have a pan that would fit into our broiler. However, I have figured out a way to get that perfect crust, and in order for this to work you gotta take it outside.

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Pizza. It’s such a subjective food. In this country I’ve seen the discussion of thin crust versus deep crust turn violent. I’ve seen people terminate friendships over toppings. And I’ve seen intelligence whittle down to one-syllable expletives over the origin of pizza. It’s a battle that I quietly and politely escape, watching from the sidelines, offering nothing more than silence.

I’ll keep my mouth shut, thank you very much.

Of course if you ask me I’ll happily tell you, in detail, that my favorite type of pizza involves the thinnest of crusts, no more than 3 toppings usually, baked quickly in the highest of temperatures. To me, pizza doesn’t have to be a 40-minute affair that’s baked in a pan big enough for paella, deep-dished to high heaven with 13 pounds of sausage and peppers and enough gooey cheese to clog the arteries of a small army. Don’t get me wrong, I lived in Chicago for many years and can eat my weight in deep dish. But at home it’s a different story.

It wasn’t until my first few visits to Europe that I realized how spontaneous, how simple and pleasurable a small, quick pizza can be. However, recreating the perfect crust and combination of unique ingredients proved to be a bit challenging. I was willing to give up the experience of eating with friends while staring into the Mediterranean ocean and drinking wine (somehow my backyard doesn’t quite compare), but damnit, I wasn’t going to give up the flavor. I was on a mission.

Three ovens, 4 pizza stones and two BBQ grills later I do believe I’ve come close.

It’s all about the grill.

As it turns out, pizzas baked in high temperatures and dry heat taste the best. There’s a reason why pizzas are baked in big brick and stone ovens, and until I win the lottery and have one installed in my home, I’m sticking with my BBQ grill. BBQ Grills reach a much higher temperature than home ovens, and it’s this temperature that makes all the difference in a thin, crunchy delicious crust or a sad, chewy one. And in case your wondering, no, it doesn’t make your pizza taste like a big giant BBQ’d slab of ribs, but come to think of it, that wouldn’t be all that bad!

Pizza protocol for outdoor grilling is a slight bit different. You can’t simply load up toppings on your crust and call it a day. No, it doesn’t work that way. A grilled pizza crust must be brushed with olive oil, grilled quickly until nice large bubbles appear, carefully flipped and repeated. You’ll have to really keep an eye on it too, as it only takes a few minutes over medium heat. Once you’ve done this you can place your toppings on the crust, but I’m not that daring. I remove the crust from the grill and add my ingredients off of the flame. Ouch.

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If you’re using sauce, it pays to heat it up a little bit before it hits the crust. Add your ingredients, and remember that less is definitely more. Once dressed, place back on grill, close the cover and cook for 3-5 minutes. Check underneath the pizza after a few minutes for desired doneness. The crust should be a nice, brown color. And if you’re using herbs, they can be placed on top right before serving so that they don’t become back and burned. (Although I’ve noticed that due to the high heat of the grill and the very short cooking time it’s ok to add herbs before grilling. They’ll be just fine.)

I’m not an exact type of cook and that is why these are all basic guidelines without a recipe. Besides, everyone has their favorite dough recipe and preference for pizza toppings. After all, it’s fun to experiment, isn’t it? If you make a mistake (as I have thousands of times), well, just eat it. You’ll be too busy to argue about the history of the pizza with your mouth full.

Paul, Have I Told You I Love You?

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Bottleart

Ok, get this: what if one of your best friends, a self-proclaimed francophile who spends several weeks a year tasting and buying wine in France (tough job I know), continuously sends you unexpected bottles of various French wines in the mail in an effort to seduce you enough to accompany him on his next trip to France?

I’d say the recipient is a pretty lucky fellow.

And the answer is a resounding YES.

Here’s to your 35th birthday next year. Where did the years go?

Paul, if we don’t say it enough, we love you and cherish you. And J. Wade, too. You mean the world to us.

That’s all.

Meme

Indulge

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My sad little wishes were answered. I’m late but I’m here! I will be the first to say I don’t mind memes at all. They are fun and make you think outside of the box.

Here are some things you may not have known about me. Since I know many of you only through cyberspace, please pay particular attention to #5. When I say I talk too much I mean I really talk too much. Like I wake up talking. I go to sleep talking. Sometimes about important stuff, sometimes just stuff I read about during the day, other times I make stuff up. And if I’ve had coffee then oh boy watch out. My mom says I began speaking at a very early age but I grew up around tons of adults so it makes sense. Adults tried to avoid me because i wouldn’t shut up, politely leaving the room while I trailed after them, pretending to not understand me, etc. How terrible is that? Boy, I sure love talking!  What? Shut up now? Ooops, sorry.

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1. I’m completely self taught.  I dropped out of college after 2 semesters to travel (which I did), but never went back. I wouldn’t recommend this as I could never stress the importance of an education enough. But considering over the years I’ve worked up the ranks to become a graphic designer, an art director, a creative director, a photographer and a marketing director… I don’t think I did half bad.

2. From stinky cheese to freaky organs, I will eat anything. Anything except marizpan.

3. I have a bifid uvula, fell out of a 2-story window as a toddler, ate glass as a kid, am left-handed and was born on Friday the 13th. You might call me unlucky, but personally I know I have been blessed with the greatest life two people could ever give a child.

4. I love to dance, particularly cumbias and salsas. I will never – repeat, never – turn down an opportunity to shake it on the dancefloor. Keep this mind should you ever see me at a party or reception.

5. My bad personality traits involve my need for constant stimulation and work – I don’t relax often enough. As a result I can be intense, neurotic, overbearing and annoying. Plus I talk too much. But I’m hoping you’ll still love me anyway :)

Seeing that everyone has been tagged with this meme I will let it go quietly into the night. Au revoir!

Interview: Jeff Kauck

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Jk1

I am continuing my series with photographers and stylists here on Mattbites.com. Why? With so much attention focused on celebrity chefs and restaurants, both in the media and through blogs, I think it’s important to turn the camera around and meet the artists who create all those gorgeous, mouth-watering and inspirational cookbooks we buy.

Food photographers are an interesting and passionate bunch. They are just as exact as a classically trained chef when it comes to their work, but underneath the technical requirements you’ll often find artists, foodies and true bon vivants. Heck, who wouldn’t want to be around people like that, I ask?

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I met Jeff Kauck recently through Mattbites and became captivated by his work like no other. As a photographer working in Chicago, Jeff has worked on cookbooks like The Spiaggia Cookbook, Williams-Sonoma Mastering Pasta and Williams-Sonoma Mastering Soup. He is also a 2005 James Beard Photography nominee and contributed to the 2006 James Beard award-winning book The Cook’s Book.  To say he’s only a food photographer misses the true artistry of his work. Jeff creates imagery that exudes elegance and serenity, using color, shape and form to engage without overwhelming the viewer. And no matter how artistic and beautiful his work is, cookbooks must engage the reader and inspire them to eat and cook. Jeff does exactly that. And the best part? He’s one amazingly nice guy.

MB:  How long have you been shooting?

JK:  Professionally for 29 years.

MB: Why do you shoot food?

JK: Food is something you can enhance, put in a place, create a mood and get the senses stirring. I love that.

MB: Your work is fresh, open, accessible and inviting. Do you have a philosophy on how you like to capture food?

JK: I try to start with a memory that really inspired me. Maybe it’s a place, a smell. Maybe a color or feeling of light. I get a clear picture in my mind, then build from there. I also gravitate towards highlights. Watercolor painters usually paint from the mid-tones up. Oil painters usually from the mid-tones down. I try to shoot pictures from the mid-tones up.

MB:. I understand that you are a painter and approach your photography in that manner. How has your background as a fine artist helped you in your photography career?

JK: Mostly with lighting. The great painters are masters of light. The shadows of Frederick Frieseke. The color lift of Claude Monet. The genius of Mary Whyte are constant inspirations.

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MB:  Do you cook at home? Have any favorite places to eat in Chicago?

I love to cook and bake. Spiaggia, Salpicon, Custom House, Green Zebra, Avec, Spring, West Town Tavern, Sweets and Savories, Japonais, Mia Francesca are places I frequent.

MB:. Having worked on tons of ad campaigns and photo shoots I understand the process of conception, planning, shooting and producing. However, the cookbooks you’ve worked on are major affairs. What do you enjoy most about working on cookbooks? What are your least favorite parts? And are you filled with pure satisfaction when you get to hold a completed book in your hands? Or are you sick and tired of it by that point and ready for the next project?

JK: A passionate chef and crew is so addictive. My least favorite part is that many times the magic of the original photography is lost in the printing. Most of the time I am filled with satisfaction, but occasionally I’m screaming “what the *^&$# did they do to our hard work! And I’m always looking for the next great project. I’m really lucky that I take pictures for a living. Truth be told, I’ve only “worked” a few days in my entire career.

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MB:  You have a series of three images in the travel category of your web site. The image is composed of some type of palm tree fruit over huts on the beach, a palm leaf with light shining through it and a grilled fish with citrus slices. These images have now been permanently burned into my brain and shall never go away – I thank you for that. I wish I was inside those images right now. Can you tell me a little bit about those?

JK: Beer, Mexico, beer, Mexico. Seriously nothing more then that.

I love to walk around searching for photos. Which for me is very different from making photos. So I was walking around Mexico while on vacation and those pictures where there. I just took snap shots.

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Leave it to a true artist like Jeff Kauck to create works of art from just snap shots!

Online at Jeff Kauck Photography.

And a very special thanks to Jeff for taking the time out of his schedule. All photos on this post © Jeff Kauck Photography.

Wearisomely Verbose Churros

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Churros

Oh, how neglected I am. Apparently I was skipped over for the "5 things" meme, and I’m so so very sad. See this tiny tear and crack in my beating heart? Ok, not really. But had I been tagged I would have told you that I don’t really have a big sweet tooth like some others I know. I appreciate desserts and confections, but they are not my weakness. Grill it, slather it in sauce, salt it, deep fry it or top it with cheese and you’ll see my food version of kryptonite, but it sure ain’t sugar.

Of course, every now and again I’ll veer of my usual path and fixate my tastebuds on a lil something sweet. I remember my first taste of salted caramel a few years back and couldn’t get enough. Right now I seem to be riding a small dulce de leche wave, but having spent a few weeks in Argentina you cannot blame me. As I mentioned in previous posts, those wacky Argentines serve it with everything, and I had to beg and plead with them to not serve it to me as I just couldn’t take one more bite! (that’s the part where I say "wink wink" and down another spoonful while talking about how I don’t really like sweet stuff, har har har.)

Thanks to current TSA regulations involving travel I wasn’t able to stock up on jars of dulce de leche as I planned. There were triple checkpoints in the airports in South America that involved the inspection of every single piece of carry-on luggage of every passenger right before you boarded the plane, and as a result there went the suntan lotion, bottled water and a few small jars of dulce de leche. It’s not a big deal when you consider safety, but a word to every single North Americans who threw a fit about it while every other South Americans stood by patiently and gracefully: shut the hell up! MY GOD! Stop acting like an idiot! YES, they are checking bags again and YES you are 1st Class passenger who has to stand in the same line with me and YES you are dumb for flying halfway around the world only to get on a ship and cruise around for 10 days without getting off the boat and interacting with other dumb Americans and would you PLEASE quit bitching about it and making THIS American look bad because they world ALREADY hates us ENOUGH JESUS H. CHRIST PLEASE SHUT THE FRIGGIN HELL UP!!!!!!

Ok, where was I? Oops. I got a bit riled up. Sorry for the Jesus reference in that manner.

Oh yes, my precious dulce de leche. I promise there’s a recipe in here. I swear.

Luckily living in such a big sprawling melting pot like Los Angeles I’m able to find almost anything, so it only took a car trip to Tito’s Market in El Monte to find a pretty good selection of Argentine dulce de leche, alfajores, cheap bottles of Malbec from Mendoza and some tasty empanadas. Locovores will surely hate me when they discover that I drove 23 miles for a jar that traveled 5,000 miles so guess what? No dessert for you!

Once home, we sat around for a few minutes before trying to decide the best way to enjoy our imported sweet stuff. I was happy with just a spoon, but that’s not really civilized, is it? Like only he can, Adam consulted a few cookbooks and before long churros magically appeared. Churros are crunchy bits of heaven that originated in Spain but are popular in Mexico for dessert and usually served with hot chocolate for dipping. Now, who doesn’t like fried dough that is dusted with sugar and cinnamon? I sense an impending disaster at Chez Armendariz now that I really know how easy they are to make and I don’t have to drive to a flea market or Disneyland to get a fix. And they really are much better made fresh. And in this case, they are only made better by dipping into dulce de leche, which is really what making churros was all about. Boy I took FOREVER to get to that point, didn’t I?

I don’t get out much.

Churros
Adapted from "Mexican" by Jane Milton. I was surprised how thick the dough was for churros, and it might take a few tries to get a perfect-looking piece. But you get to eat the mistakes, and I promise they taste just as good.

Ingredients
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 egg yolks
oil for deep frying
powdered sugar & cinnamon for dusting

Method
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside. Bring the measured water to a boil in a saucepan, add the salt and brown sugar, stirring constantly, until both have dissolved. Remove from heat, add all the flour and baking powder and beat the mixture continuously until smooth.

Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set the batter aside to cool. You can use a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle to get the perfect churro shape, or you can use a churro maker. Who knew there such things? Facinating!

Pour oil into a deep-fryer or-suitable saucepan to a depth of about 2 inches. Heat to 375"F, or until a cube of dried bread, added to the oil, floats and turns golden after I minute.

Spoon the batter into a churros maker or a piping bag. Pipe five or six 4-inch lengths of the mixture into the hot oil, using a knife to slice off each length as it emerges from the nozzle.

Fry for 3-4 minutes or until they are golden brown. Drain the churros on paper towels while cooking successive batches, then arrange on a plate and dust with sugar and cinnamon. After that dip generously until all your dulce de leche has disappeared and your teeth hurt.

 
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