weekend bites

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• Books books books! This weekend is the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the campus of U.C.L.A. There’ll be a panel on Saturday at 10am called "Food Fight: When Did Eating Get Controversial?" with Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, Barry Glassner and moderated by Russ Parsons. There will also be cooking demonstrations by chefs Govind Armstrong and Nancy Silverton, among others. For more info check out the website.

• I am the luckiest boy on earth: This month I get to brunch with Kevin and hang with Keiko as she returns to Los Angeles for a shoot. I’m also dining with someone very special next week and I also get the chance to chill and talk shop with the incomparable Lara when she heads down south. And who says Los Angeles doesn’t have culture?


• Super Fantastic:
I’ve slowly been working my way through Heidi’s book, Super Natural Cooking. I plan to fully blog about this in the next few weeks–as soon as I stop hyperventilating from the pure mindblowing beauty of this book. Heidi’s outdone herself and the book is simply gorgeous, not to mention delicious. My next tattoo? Heidi’s name across my arm.

• You know what’s cruel? When certain writers talk about charming fish boys at their local market and unshaven strapping cheese men and don’t bother to provide photographic evidence. That’s all I’m saying on this topic. Ahem.

I can’t leave well enough alone…

Well

The noodle is strrin’, the creative juices were flowin’, and I was itching to do something to the blog. Anything. Something. I just can’t leave well enough alone and felt the need to futz. Maybe I’ll get bored with it and change it. Maybe it will languish for months, quietly begging for an update. Who can say?

I think that as a creative person I’m just not happy unless my fingers and mind are engaged, and having wrapped up a few freelance jobs just this week left me a bit antsy. I should probably get in the kitchen and occupy myself by testing a few new recipes from the books that have piled up. Or I could watch a movie and drink some wine.

Let’s hear it for bouts of fidgetiness!

Fiscallini

Fiscalini

Back in 2003 I fell in love with Modesto’s Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar. Until that point I pretty much ignored the American-made counterparts and relied on the real deals when I hankered for the beloved British cheese. There were tons of other great California and American-made cheeses that didn’t encroach upon one of the world’s most favorite cheeses. However, my first bite of Fiscalini was indeed an epiphany. This farmstead cheese is aged for 18 months and wrapped in bandages, and because it’s made with the milk obtained from animals located on the farm it’s unique and unlike anything else. It’s tangy, complex, and a perfect mature cheese. Perfect perfect perfect perfect!

I wasn’t surprised when it won the 2004 American Cheese Society Silver Medal Awards; it’s one of the best American cheeses you can taste. However. I am completely giddy to hear it recently won 2 gold medals and 1 silver medal in the cheddar categories in London at the 2007 World Cheese Awards.

Winning the Wyke Farms Trophy for best extra mature cheddar in the world is no easy feat, and the website says it’s the first time in the 20 year history of the WCA that this trophy has been granted to someone outside of Great Britain.

An American cheese winning best extra mature cheddar? People, this is an amazing feat! And it’s an amazing cheese! I suppose this means I’ll have to stop by the market tonight, grab a hunk and celebrate for dinner.

I mean, it’s the least I can do, right? 

Way to go, Fiscalini!

Garlic Day

Garlic

I’ve been juggling a few projects these past few days and before I knew it today was half over. Normally that’s a good thing, but this time around I forgot to wish everyone a very happy National Garlic Day. I mean, really, who knew?

Tonight I think I’ll recreate these photos I took last week, bake a few heads of garlic and enjoy their roasted nuttiness with a drizzle of olive oil and a baguette. Pure heaven – and I won’t have to worry about vampires!

Have a good one, everyone!

Making Chow Chow

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Growing up in Galveston, Texas with parents who love good food gave me a
million food memories. Chief among them are shrimp po-boys, fried
oysters, endless Tex Mex and one little particular sandwich I’d always
insist on grabbing from the Old Strand Emporium. Without giving too
much of a history lesson about this "interesting" island off the gulf
coast, Galveston was home to a booming port and bustling city during
the end of the 19th century. While many things have come and gone, the
Emporium is still there. Think high ceilings, Victorian-style general
store with tons of candy. You can see why it was one of my favorite
places to visit as a kid, but it wasn’t for the sweets or soda. It was
for one particular sandwich that has been stuck in my head for over 30
years.

This sandwich-that-I-pine-for is like no other.
Wrapped in foil and meant as a grab-and-go selection, it was a savory,
salty spread layered between a fresh baguette. It was sweet, a bit hot,
with a salami-esque and relish-style flavor that begged to be enjoyed
with a cold Dr. Pepper (or Mr. Pibb, even better!) My mouth waters just
thinking of it. I’ve asked just about every Galvestonian I know,
including family members, but the response is usually the same: "Oh, I
remember those sandwiches! Sure were good. I have no idea what it was."

Of
course that’s never the answer you want to hear, so after the trail
went cold I decided I was going to have to pick up the phone and call.

"I
know this sounds crazy, but my parents would buy a particular sandwich
from the Emporium when I was a kid. This was 30 years ago and I have no
idea if you still make it," I asked.

"Oh, sure, of course. We
still make it. And it’s a secret recipe. About the only thing I can
tell you is that it’s made with Chow Chow. And that’s it." replied the
voice on the other end.

My initial reaction was frustration, but
then it hit me: she said Chow Chow! Knowing this I could rely on memory
to get close enough to replicate it!

And then it hit me again. What the hell is Chow Chow?

I
had to stop for a moment and run through the list of marinades,
dressings, pickles and relishes that litter my brain. It wasn’t easy,
but after making a few funny faces and scratching my head the secret
ingredient came up and I began to remember it as a Southern thing. Some
sort of vegetable and pickle relish that can be made with anything on
hand, although cabbage and onions are key. It’s a familiar taste and
just slightly different. This would explain the sweet and tangy flavor
of the sandwich I grew up loving and I was going to do my best to make
it again. From memory.

The Chow Chow mission started and I found
a very basic recipe for it but wouldn’t you know little old impatient
me would have to wait a month before tasting it. Because it’s a
vegetable relish it takes 4 weeks to pickle, not to mention the week it
took me to track down a batch of green tomatoes. But waiting did the
trick, and my first bite of my homemade chow chow relish made me wonder
why it wasn’t a regular ingredient in my cupboard or fridge. Green
tomatoes, green cabbage, red bell peppers. onions, spices, sugar and
vinegar create a luscious, tangy, crunchy slaw that is neither too
sweet nor too salty. It’s just perfect and it stays crunchy, and the
large dice of vegetables means it’s not mushy and pretty damn hearty. I ate half a jar just standing there before I could even start the
sandwich.

I love the moments of discovery you can find in the
kitchen. What originally started out as an attempt to recreate a
sandwich led me to what I might consider one of the best condiments
I’ve ever tasted. Over the course of a few days I discovered that chow
chow is phenomenal on hamburgers and Adam found out how delicious it is
on a hot dog. I can’t wait to serve it alongside barbecued meats like
ribs and chicken. But it doesn’t have to be all meat – it’s even great
on top of plain white rice. I’m sad to report that the jars of my new
favorite relish are almost gone. Time to track down more green tomatoes!

Chowchowartwork

Chow Chow Relish
I’ve read that Chow Chow was perfect way to save
random vegetables from a farmer’s harvest as it can be made with a
mixture of almost anything. This recipe features unripe green tomatoes
but a quick google search will yield a million variations. I recommend
a rather good-sized chop here as you can always go smaller once your
Chow Chow is ready. You can’t go backwards. And my next batch may
include a few chili pepper flakes for added heat. This recipe for Chow
Chow Relish makes 4 pints.

Ingredients
4 cups chopped cabbage
3 cups chopped cauliflower
2 cups chopped green tomatoes
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
1 cup chopped red bell peppers
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons celery seeds

 

Directions
1.
Combine the chopped cabbage, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions and
green tomatoes in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and let the mixture
stand 4 to 6 hours in a cool place.

 
2. Drain the vegetable mixture well. Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard, turmeric, ginger, celery seeds and the mustard seeds in a large saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes. Add vegetable mixture and simmer 10 minutes longer. Bring to boil.
 
3.
Pack, boiling hot, into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch head
space. Adjust lids and process 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Let
rest in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks before opening.

Recipe adapted from Pat in Phoenix…thank you!

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Chow Chow Salami Spread
Ok,
so it may not be exactly like the sandwich of my youth but it comes
pretty damn close. And even if it didn’t it sure tasted good. I’m not
trying to malign salami on sandwiches, but am I the only person who
finds it hard to eat if it’s not sliced paper thin? You take one bite
and end up pulling it out of the sandwich if you don’t make the effort
to bite all the way through, and then the slice flops around and hits
your chin and you end up looking silly as you shove it into your mouth
with your fingers. Anyone? Anyone? Just me? Ok, nevermind. This spread
is tangy, flavorful, and easy to eat. Too easy. Perfect for picnics. Or
any time of day, say breakfastlunchordinner.

Ingredients
4 ounces sliced salami
1 cup chow chow relish, drained (see recipe above)
1 cup shredded provolone cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Directions
In
a food processor process salami until it’s fully chopped into small
pieces. Remove from processor and repeat with the chow chow relish.
Once processed remove the relish and do the same with the provolone
cheese to create smaller pieces. Once all ingredients are processed
combine them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and mix
thoroughly. Depending on the moisture and age of the salami you can add
more mayonnaise or a tablespoon of the chow chow brine if your sandwich
spread is too dry. Spread onto a sliced baguette and enjoy.

 

Hello Paul!

Paulgraphic

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How many of you have your own personal wine guru, someone who guides
and advises you and introduces you to the most delicious bottles of
vino you’d ever taste?

I do. And his name is Paul.

I’m
the first to admit that I am woefully ignorant when it comes to wine,
and it’s a reason I choose not to blog about it. I drink a glass every
day with dinner and I have a very basic textbook understanding of
varietals, but I’m on the amateur side of the wine discussion. And I’m
ok with that. I’ve had the pleasure of touring and staying at numerous
wineries over the years (a perk of being in the food bizz indeed!) and
have met some amazing wine folks, but I’ll still admit that I’m
intimidated by it all. And I’m not afraid to say it. That’s where Paul
comes in.

Paul is our best friend and has been working around
wine for years. He spends several weeks a year in France tasting,
buying and sampling, and if I didn’t love him so much I’d be green with
envy. Wait, I still am. But perhaps the reason I’ve never educated
myself further is because Paul is always there for me, asking me what
I’ve enjoyed lately and introducing me to things that really blow my
mind. Whether we’re sitting around his pad in San Francisco sipping
Bordeaux or bringing along a new favorite to dinner when he visits us
in Los Angeles, I can always expect to enjoy some incredible wines
whenever I’m with Paul.

Now Paul is sharing his thoughts-and his
good taste- with the blog world with his new blog Champion Wine. It’s
still very new and Paul admitted he didn’t know how long he would
maintain the momentum of a blog, but reading his first few posts it’s
clear he has a lot to say and won’t run out of ideas any time soon
(yes, I’m gingerly applying pressure to you, Paul). I’m looking forward
to his opinions (he’s got tons, trust me!) and personal stories as well
as the nice images he takes of French winemakers who for some reason
always seem to be easy on the eyes. Maybe that’s because, just like the
wine, Paul picks the best ones every time.

Please send Paul twinkles (if you’re an old skool whole foodser you might get that reference) along with well wishes by visiting his site at Champion Wine.

Michelada


Micheladagraphic

Or "how I learned to enjoy beer through spices and genetic counseling"

Excuse me, but I may have jumped the gun a bit on this beer recipe.
Cinco de Mayo isn’t until next month, but with all the Mexican recipe
testing that has been happening at our house I just assumed it would be
ok to pre-drag out the festivities a bit…even if Cinco de Mayo isn’t
as big of a celebration as September 16th. But then again, do I really
need an excuse to get my party on? I don’t think so. Besides, I really just want
to get something off my chest.

I’ve always been a fan of a good bloody mary. Heck, I’ll even enjoy a
bad one. I’m easy that way. The combination of spirit, heat, ice, and a
kick has always done me right. Add to the concoction some edibles in
the form of olives and celery and yes, I’ll skip lunch and have
another, thank you for asking! However, in a newly revealed fact that
is sure to cause damnation among my family members (all of which read
this lil ole site), I must publicly "come out" about something.

No, it’s not that, silly. Ain’t a closet big enough to contain me.

I’m talking about cerveza.

That’s correct!

I don’t drink beer!

Now before my family disowns me (I have a brewmeister for a
brother-in-law, even)
I want you to know that I have tried to enjoy
beer. Believe me, I have tried! And if you think it’s strange for a
chubby latino who savors family get-togethers and mariachi music to not
drink beer then I must tell you that you couldn’t possibly be more
perplexed than I. Convinced it’s a genetic defect, I know that
somewhere in the universe there is a strand of DNA with an extra beer
nobbly bit on it that was supposed to be mine, damnit, and had my
parents let me drink beer as a toddler than we could have identified
this abnormality much earlier and I could be enjoying a relatively
normal life instead of the wine-and-rum swigging (not together!) ways I
have learned to embrace as a pathetic substitute.

Thanks Mom, thanks Dad. Really, thanks.

But maybe I should go easier on Ben and Helen.

Two years ago next month we traveled to Austin for our wedding. Seeing
as it was our "committment ceremony" weekend we splurged and stayed at
the San José on South Congress. If you’ve been to Austin I have no
doubt you’ve either been there, seen it, driven by, or heard that it’s
quite simply the coolest place to stay. And it is. My description could
never do it justice–it’s just a groovy, magical place. And when I
wasn’t freaking out over the fact that I was about to get married or
that the photographer was running late I learned to calm my nerves by
heading to the bar and ordering a beer-based drink called a Michelada
on the advice of a friend. I was sure it was going to be disgusting and
unpalatable.


Beer with what? Tabasco beer what? Salt? Ice cubes? Shut the hell up.

And then I remembered my friend mary– miss bloody mary. It all made sense.

As if the clouds parted and a boozy angel brought down a frosty mug, I
took my first sip of the cerveza preparada expecting to be horrified. I
had the opposite reaction; it was cold, flavorful, salty, delicious and
filling. So I had another one. And then another one. And before long I
wasn’t so nervous about exchanging vows in front of my entire friends
and family. And in case you’re wondering, no, I wasn’t drunk the day of
the ceremony…that happened 13 minutes after it was over, silly.

While I may sip a beer now and then, it doesn’t take much to get me to
whip up a batch of Micheladas. You probably have all the elements in
your kitchen: salt, pepper, a lemon or lime, some ice cubes, soy sauce
or maggi seasoning and a dash of hot sauce. Just squeeze one lime into
a glass, add a dash of black pepper, a few shakes of tabasco and soy
sauce, ice cubes and top with beer. Because it’s such a regional
recipe, I’ve seen variations that involve tomato juice, v8 or even
Clamato. Celery sticks even. It’s hard to mess it up, really.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some family damage control to tend to.
And if you’re in Austin, make sure to stop by and say hello to my
friend Bobby at the San José Hotel and ask him about his monkey bread.
I’m craving it right now.

Along with a michelada.

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Dear Mommy and Daddy, you know I am only being silly. I don’t blame you for a thing. If anything, I might fault you for making me so incredibly handsome and athletic. Hahahahahaha I crack myself up sometimes!

In Awe of the Choke

Artichoke_graphic_mattbites
From last year and the old site comes a blog entry about artichokes. Since it’s artichoke season I wanted to repost it here in the new digs, and luckily the early deep freeze a few months didn’t ruin everything. Wahooooo!

My first foray into a closer relationship with artichokes began as a work assignment. Drive to Lompoc, California, chat with a farmer, get some pictures and get back to Los Angeles without becoming a part of the daily human-and-metal gridlock. Coffee in hand, I raced up the 5, beating traffic and made it with a few minutes to spare.

Until that point, I categorized artichokes as one of those foods shrouded in history, enjoyed by Romans and Greeks but not necessarily an everyday part of my kitchen. Spiky, thorny, gorgeous yet inhospitable, my little mind was about to be opened to the joys of this thistle.

I spent the day with Steve Jordan. Steve is a man who knows his chokes. In fact, his level of knowledge is quite intimidating. Serious, polite and quiet, Steve is a forth generation California farmer who has been growing artichokes for over twenty years. California grows the majority of artichokes consumed in the United States, and they’ve been grown here since the 1800s when Italian immigrants brought them to the west. The coastal weather of areas like Lompoc and Castroville are perfect for artichokes, and here they thrive like crazy.

Steve maintains over 550 acres of green and purple artichokes, and when he’s not tilling and toiling the land he spends time in Italy, the artichoke’s country of origin, to meet with other artichoke farmers and share ideas and information. He’s even a member of the global artichoke congress - who knew?

Steve_duo

I always thought an artichoke was an artichoke was an artichoke. Boy, was I wrong. Steve actually spends many years nurturing, testing and growing various types of artichokes, many of them starting from European seedlings and spending time in his lab before making their way to the field. It’s important to note that his artichokes are not genetically modified, thank goodness. If he discovers a variety he likes and believes can do well commercially then he plants it, although it takes anywhere from 2-7 years before it will end up on our tables. Over the years he’s developed green and purple artichokes like the Campania, Fiesole and Lyon and he’s always on the lookout for new, delicious varieties.

Then there’s the taste. An artichoke fresh from the field is like a green gift from heaven, full of delicious, grassy flavor that is delicious by itself, even raw. Lightly steamed, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, drawn butter or a simple aioli and I could skip just about everything else and be a very happy man.

I’m happy to say that artichokes are now a part of my regular routine. Steamed, baked, stuffed, grilled or dipped, you basically can’t go wrong with a hearty, fresh artichoke. I think those Romans were on to something indeed.

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Mattbites_choke_butterMy favorite way to devour an artichoke is to steam it and eat it with aioli and butter. Cholesterol what? If you have a particularly spiney choke you can snip off the tips with kitchen shears and rinse it well. Make sure to remove the excess water as it can sog down the choke when you steam it. Steam for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the artichoke. Enjoy warm and please, make a mess. It’s much more fun that way.

Weekend Roundup

Weekend

Moxie
It’s Sunday evening and I have been the recipient of about 48 April
Fool’s Jokes, all of which I fell for completely in my current
condition of gullibility. But hey, go easy on me, would ya? This past
week has been so topsy turvy, full of future projects, wheeling and
dealing with the big boys, personal assignments and making sure I’m
spending enough time with a very demanding 3 pound female chihuahua who
demands my attention and refuses to walk on the ground. Yep, she’s daddy’s girl indeed.

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1. All Things Argentina 

Is it a coincidence that the following all appeared in my home last
week: a flyer for a local Mexican food chain featuring "milanesa", a
squeeze bottle of dulce de leche (yes, SQUEEEEEEZE bottle), Pillsbury
Frozen Medialunas (who knew?!?!) and the announcement of Dulce De Leche
Frappucinos from Starbucks. I still have frequent flyer miles… don’t
tempt me.

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2. Kitchen Sisters

If Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva were any sweeter or nicer I’d have to
poke my eyes out and slap myself silly. Seriously though, how two
people can welcome you with open arms, hug and kiss you and make you
feel as if you’ve known them your entire life will always puzzle
me.Nevertheless, their event at UCLA’s Hammer Theater was one of the
highlights of my life. Sharing stories of hidden kitchens read by Alan Zwiebel, Renee Montagne, and Taylor Negron was pure
entertainment, and I honestly believe what these two women are doing
transcends food and connects us all on a human level. While it seems
everyone is chasing the celebrity chef du jour or pulling hair for
reservations at the latest hotspot, it’s good to know there’s a world
of food and shared experiences being captured by Davia and Nikki. You
guys absolutely rock.

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3. Spring Brunch

Spending the afternoon with an accomplished restaurant reviewer and
food writer along with a former editor of Bon Appetit and Architectural
Digest
was pure heaven and furthers my belief that:

1) Women are the
superior gender and should rule the country, world, planet galaxy  universe.

2) Grace, manners, intelligence and wit are a few characteristics that
my generation could stand to learn.

I’m still swooning over these two
women…I’m beginning to sense a pattern here. Denise, if you are reading this, we want to thank you for a great afternoon.

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4. Aperture

A few have asked what the Apple thing was all about, and now that it’s
done I can share. I am a charter member of the Aperture Users
Professional Network, a group that provides services for the Mac-based
photographer in three key areas: education, training and support (the
group works closely with Apple). My friend David Schloss, formerly of
Photo District News, started the group in March and it’s really taken
off. I know this is photography/techie news and not quite in the food
realm, but so many of you have asked about photography and the secret
project that I decided to mention it here. To be one of the
photographers invited to participate in this group literally blows my
mind… I’m in the company of Pulitzer-Prize winner Vincent Laforet,
National Geographic shooter Jim
Richardson, Bill Frakes,
landscape photographer Edward Riddell, and a few others. I would never
in a million years ever ever ever ever ever ever ever even dare to
compare myself to these geniuses who have been shooting for decades,
but as the only food photographer in the group I’m nevertheless
flattered.

If you are a mac head like I am, I wholeheartedly recommend Apple’s
Aperture. I use it constantly and if you are a
photographer–professional or blogger–it’s definitely worth checking
out. You can visit the Aperture Users Professional Network here. 

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5. From the Oh-my-god-I-am-going-to-slap-someone department:

Want to
ruffle the feathers of bloggers who review restaurants? Write about it
in your local paper with some unflattering comments about
qualifications and experience and the entire world falls apart.
Granted, one doesn’t need a degree to review restaurants, but I find
the whole kerfluffle self-serving and utterly annoying. I don’t really read restaurant reviews and I don’t pay any mind to bloggers who review
restaurants – that is unless I personally know them. Hey, it’s just my
opinion and I’m sure I’ll get hate mail, but I can’t wait for the dust
to settle on this one.