Bits & Bites

You know it’s been forever and then some since I’ve done any Bits & Bites. I think I’ll change that by posting on Fridays and give you senseless information you couldn’t possibly need. What do ya think? It’s ok, you can groan and roll your eyes.

A Homemade Life

molly-bookOne of the best things about being a blogger is that you get to beg, moan, cry, throw a tantrum or two and drunk-email until the object of your affection responds sometimes get advance copies of books. I know it doesn’t come out until next Tuesday but right now I’m reading Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. Like many others the world over she has captured my heart and mind with her angelic words.  I told her last month it’s pretty remarkable when you finally meet a writer and they match the sensibility and beauty of their work; it’s like a double-whammy and it makes you love them even more. So yea, that’s Molly. I get goosebumps when I read anything she writes.

And Confidential To Ms. Wizenberg: The Pointer Sisters have nothing on me. Wait til I see you next time. AUTOMATIC.

So These Chinese, Jewish, Mexican and Vietnamese Food Bloggers Walk Into A Bar…

bahamas11I’ll be gone for a week somewhere sunny on an Island with my boo and a selection of my favorite bloggers (including one who claims he’ll be wearing a speedo and if you don’t think I’ll have like 4 cameras nearby to capture that then you clearly don’t know me well enough).  I’m sure we’ll all be writing about at some point. I don’t want to reveal too much but I wouldn’t be surprised if a) we return 25 lbs heavier b) no one ever speaks to me again after I try to do the electric slide post-daiquiri or c) the entire island boards up and flees after seeing me in a bathing suit on the beach. Latin Blubber, that’s all I’m sayin.

Ok, maybe I won’t take a camera after all.

Now offering Repentance:  Spring, Purified or Mineral Varieties Available.

Ok, so no one has actually written to complain about a joke I made on Twitter about ditching my job(s) as an art director and photographer to become a Water Sommelier. That’s right, I said WATER SOMMELIER. But afterwards I felt really bad and low about it. I shouldn’t make fun of something as important as the job of someone who educates the public about the merits and differences of bottled water. And if you could see my face right now you’d know exactly how I feel about this.

Clearly I’ll Never Be Hip Enough, Tall Enough, Or Bearded Enough To Live In Brooklyn

nytimesBut that doesn’t mean I don’t want to taste everything mentioned in this New York Times article.

Pork, pickles, chocolate? Yes please.

If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Juice It

tropicana-284I have mad respect for package designers. To me it’s one of the most difficult areas of graphic design. Yes, I’ve designed many a package in my day and no, I never liked it. You have to balance the design with a buttload of legal requirements while trying to make clients and the public happy. No thank you! Having said that I don’t take pleasure in seeing a brand relaunched only to be taken down a few months later. Did I like the Tropicana redo? A bit, yes. Did it look like a generic store brand? Absolutely. But I don’t drink orange juice so what do I know.

It’s Like Me Sending You A Christmas Card Addressed To Mary When Your Name Is Lisa

Dear PR Lady: I am sure you are absolutely lovely, I really am. And I know you value what you do. That’s why I’m telling you that you absolutely cannot send cut-n-paste press releases to me. Why? Because it shows you don’t really read my site and that 5 of my other blogger friends received the exact same email, probably more. I know this because we share emails and chat regularly. You know how that makes feel? Cruddy. So don’t do it. If you want any of us to pay attention to your brand and/or client then please make it personal. Class dismissed.

I’m Totally Digging My Canon 5D Mk II Because It’s So Rad.

canonI’ve joined the cool kids club! Lara loves hers. Matt loves his. Even Charles loves his. Now I can say I’ve joined the cool kats club and have my own 5D Mk II. Now let me say that I’m a firm believer that it’s not the camera that makes the photographer so don’t think you have to rely on technology to be creative. But this camera is sweet with its 21-megapixel full frame and live view and a bunch of other cool features.  And that high definition video feature everyone’s going ga ga over? Pretty damn incredible.

Tell me: would you like me to post more photo stuff on mattbites.com? I’d be happy to write about tips and tricks if it doesn’t bore you to death. I tend to be a photo geek sometimes all the time.

Times Online

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Wow! I want to thank the Times Online for selecting this blog as one of their Top 50 in the World! I’m completely humbled to be in the list at #7 and proud to be featured alongside some of my favorite food bloggers, I really am. I am proudly wearing a perma-grin right now.

timesonlinemattOver the next few months they’ll be featuring interviews with food bloggers from around the world. I’m thrilled to be the first in the series. You can read it here.

Woot Woot!

Aguas Frescas

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Can I pleeeeeeeeeease meet the man or woman who invented Agua Fresca? I’ve got a hug, a kiss, a handshake and a future newborn that I’d like to name after them. I’m serious.

Ok, so perhaps I’ll never meet the person who decided to add fresh chunks of fruit to water and ice. I realize this drink has been made for generations, served in restaurants and on the streets throughout Mexico. And in case you haven’t tried an Agua Fresca it’s perhaps the perfect drink. It’s the antithesis of the cloyingly sweet, syrupy fruit drink. It’s light and refreshing with just enough sweetness to keep you interested. And I happen to think they just taste better as the ice has melted in the glass and diluted the drink just a wee bit more. You’ll see them in taquerias all over the place, usually in big glass jars with that unmistakable gorgeous pink or green color, depending on the variety served up that day.

We’ve been running around East Los Angeles quite a bit lately and our taco and mole journeys inspired us to come up with a few aguas frescas ourselves. The beauty of this recipe is that you can use any fruit you have on hand, adjusting the sweetness and intensity to your liking. Remember that it’s not supposed to be a powerful, fruity drink but a refreshing, thirst-quenching sip. I can’t wait for summer to roll around as I think they’ll be perfect with the sweet and smoky flavors of barbecued meats and summer salads. I love the contrast that aguas frescas bring to a meal.

Pineapple Ginger Agua Fresca
It’s so interesting to me how pineapple and ginger become light and delicate without losing their flare when diluted with plenty of ice and water. This is a gorgeous drink and perhaps my favorite. These drinks are made in two parts: simple syrup and then blended fruit.

Ginger Simple Syrup
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 pieces of fresh ginger cut into coins

Bring water and sugar to a boil and then add the pieces of ginger. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain and discard the ginger.

For the Drink:
4 cups fresh pineapple with 2-4 cups of water to blend
8-10 cups of water

Puree the fruit and water in batches and then strain to remove any seeds or pulp. You can use a fine sieve or cheesecloth and you’ll want to get as much solids out of the liquid. Add the simple syrup to the strained liquid and then dilute with 8 to 10 cups of water. At this point you can adjust the sugar and water levels to your liking. Serve over plenty of ice and enjoy immediately.

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Cucumber Lemongrass Agua Fresca
Ah, my heart be still! This is a beautiful flavor and elegance in a glass. I love the color and freshness of these flavors together. Again, you’ll be doing this in two parts: a lemongrass simple syrup and pureed cucumbers.

Lemongrass Simple Syrup
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
4 pieces of lemongrass, smashed and chopped

I use a wooden rolling pin to beat and smash the lemongrass. Bring the water and sugar to a boil and then add the pieces of lemongrass. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain and discard the lemongrass.

For the Drink:
4 cups of chopped english cucumbers (skin on) with 2-4 cups of water to blend
8-10 cups of water
1/4–1/2 cup fresh lime, to taste
pinch of salt

Puree the fruit and water in batches and then strain to remove any seeds or pulp. You can use a fine sieve or cheesecloth and you’ll want to get as much solids out of the liquid. Add the simple syrup to the strained liquid and then dilute with 8 to 10 cups of water. At this point you can adjust the sugar and water levels to your liking. Serve over plenty of ice and enjoy immediately.

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Strawberry Thyme Agua Fresca
I love strawberry anything and the thyme gives it an herby note that adds character. It’s delicious.

Thyme Simple Syrup
1/2 cup loosely packed thyme sprigs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 water

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and then add the thyme. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain and remove the thyme.

For the Drink:
4 cups of fresh or frozen strawberries with 2-4 cups of water to blend
8-10 cups of water

Puree the fruit and water in batches and then strain to remove any seeds or pulp. You can use a fine sieve or cheesecloth and you’ll want to get as much solids out of the liquid. Add the simple syrup to the strained liquid and then dilute with 8 to 10 cups of water. At this point you can adjust the sugar and water levels to your liking. Serve over plenty of ice and enjoy immediately.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Matt With Date

Self Portrait, 2006

Boy, what a week it’s been.

I had the best of intentions as I approached this blog post. It began as tips and ideas for the 14th but then the press releases and emails started flooding the inboxes of just about everyone. Eat This Chocolate! Try This Oyster! Shuck It Yourself! Paint It Red! Jump In A Bubble Bath With Rose Petals! It began to overwhelm me and I figured you’d know exactly what to do for Valentine’s Day. You need no help from me.

And then this week kicked my butt, pure and simple. I photographed a national ad campaign for a Very Big Brand (it went well!) while simultaneously juggling the normal responsibilities of home life while my significant other worked out of town again. What’s left of me today is a shell of my usual upbeat self.

And Friday is my birthday.

So as I crawl off into the sunset in search of sleep and quiet serenity this weekend I hope you manage to spend Valentine’s Day enjoying it exactly the way you want to. Cupcakes? Fried Chicken? Foie Gras? Red Themed Foods? Fancy Restaurant? Whatever. None of it matters as much as telling that special someone that you love them, cherish them, and that they make your life complete.

Oh, and never heed the advice of a grumpy lonely man with an inflatable doll.

Sad Lost Pencils And This Time I’m Not Gon’ Cry

Bits O Cheese

Years ago when I was a round nugget of a child running around in terry-cloth shorts I had a book I read to myself many times over. It involved some Amphibian or Owl With Shoes who lived inside a mushroom or hollow tree. I can’t remember much of the story but the one thing that stuck in my brain was that on many occasions this anthropomorphic critter would find himself without food or drink and would simply chop an onion or think about sad things in order to create his own version of tear tea.  I remember being disgusted by the thought of sipping one’s own saline tears but that didn’t freak me out as much as the things he’d think about to coax the tears out of his eyes and into the kettle. Torn books, uneaten mashed potatoes, no internet (ok I added that) and stubby chewed-up pencils that were no longer needed and left to roll behind the oven, never to be seen again.  As a kid I could see those pencils laying there waiting to be found, just looking up at the ceiling thinking “I’m still good! Please! Anyone, I Can Still Make Notes And Drawings For You, I Promise You! Please? I’ll be good!” and wouldn’t you know I would begin sobbing every single time I got to that damn part of the story! Here’s where it gets bad – and you might want to stop reading here – the lead character would fill his pot up, wipe his eye, smile and exclaim something like “Tea’s Ready!” and flutter away.

What the hell? Did you really get my 5-year old emotions in a tizzy so you could have tea and then just walk away smiling? What about me? What about those pencils? They are still there, tiny and little, craving the warmth of a human hand!  That hasn’t changed just because your thirst has been sated!  You goshdarn son of a bitch dirty bird!

As you can see, I am still deeply affected by this story and really had no idea I’d be writing this with a tear down my cheek and my heart beating like crazy. I’m good though, thanks. Let me take a quick break.

(matt taking a break)

Ok, I’m back. So, how does this have to do with my blog entry? Well you see, this story would always pop into my head when I’d reach into my cheese drawer. And what a cheese drawer it is. I’m a cheese freak with almost always a full drawer of assorted cheeses. I’d take a slice or chunk, grab a baguette, grate some over pasta, and use my various bits of cheese until they’re down to nothing and then I’d delicately wrap up my spent pieces back in wax paper and return them to the fridge where before long I had a collection of rinds and chunks too small to be of much cooking use. And then I begin to think of those pencils and that Owl or Mosquito or whatever it was and I close the door quickly, telling myself that at least my cheese bits are safe and cold and taken care of. Because no matter what I could not throw them away!

Fortunately a few years ago I was sharing this story with a friend who not only recommended I seek professional help regarding my issues with lost pencils but also told me about Fromage Fort. Can I tell you how Fromage Fort has changed my life? Pieces of random cheeses are mixed with wine, garlic, sometimes butter and perhaps some herbs, resulting in an intensely flavored (the “fort part!)  cheese spread that’s terrific with toast points, bread or vegetables. I like to safeguard my pencils, er, I mean, cheese remnants and make this for parties and luckily no one has caught on that it’s made from leftovers. Until now, that is.

But hey — at least I nurture and love my leftovers and unused pieces with great affection, taking care of them until the salty, savory end.

Unlike some self-centered owls I know.


fromage-fort-blog

Fromage Fort

You can use almost any cheese you have on hand but be gentle if it includes any from the blue family (Cabrales, Roquefort, Gorgonzola) as they tend to overpower the mix. And for the love of god do not use Velveeta. And if you’re like me throw a bit of caution to the wind and cut off any mold that has grown on your hard cheeses but never use any soft cheeses that have gone moldy. That’s not a good thing but I am not a scientist or health professional so tread carefully and don’t blame me for nuthin’- that’s my disclaimer.

1/2 pound of cheese pieces (without the rinds)
1/2 garlic clove
1/4 to 1/2 cup of white wine (depending on the desired texture. Crumbly or spreadable? You decide!)
freshly ground black pepper

In a processor add the cheese bits, garlic and white wine and process until fully blended. Depending on your cheeses and their moisture level you may need more or less white wine. I tend to eyeball it until it resembles a cheese spread. Feel free to add herbs and I’ve even seen some recipes that include butter because clearly this spread isn’t rich enough, right? Once fully mixed place into small ramekins or a bowl. Enjoy!

Supporting Good Food with Evan Kleiman

I’m a very big fan of all things KCRW. I get a huge amount of my news from public radio as well as my music fixes from guys like Raul Campos and Jason Bentley (I like to dance, what can I say). And most importantly KCRW gives us Good Food, that wonderful program on all things food hosted by Evan Kleiman.  The Good Food podcasts are always on my ipod with me during morning jogs and I’d feel lost without my market reports from Laura Avery (although I could do without that Jazzy Intro Music as it drives me bonkers but that’s then again it does make me wanna do jazz hands while running which I’m sure makes me look insane but it could be worse). And just because I’m in Los Angeles and KCRW is here doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyed by folks all over thanks to the miracles of podcasting and streaming radio.

Good Food is public supported radio and that means they rely on us to keep them going.  Anything helps to keep this excellent program on the air and if you can it’d be great to donate. Here’s a message from Evan herself!

Please help support Good Food and the other programming on KCRW by going to kcrw.com/join or calling 1-800-600-KCRW and giving what you can. If you listen during the pledge drive, you can also take advantage of additional premiums on top of the Fringe Benefits Card.

A big giant thanks to Jonah from la.foodblogging for bringing this to the blogworld and to Evan herself for giving us such a unique and valuable program.