Cemita Discovered. I’m late. So very late.

new-cemita-graphic2

Considering Mexico is a huge country with a million and one regional variances in food (both home cooking and street food) it’s no wonder why it’s hard to feel as if I know the food. I mean, I know Mexican food because it is what I grew up eating but then again I don’t really know Mexican food. Not when we’re talking about the entire country. Perhaps if I was Rick Bayless or Diana Kennedy I could fashion myself an expert but outside my world of Tex Mex food I sometimes feel as if I barely know a thing. And I’m comfortable with that.

You want to know what I’m not comfortable with? Regional Mexican specialties in my own city that I haven’t tried. Make that regional Mexican specialties just up the freeway from me. As in East Los Angeles.

Right next to downtown, East LA isn’t a neighborhood that I can claim I visit regularly. Heck, most of Los Angeles isn’t on my daily radar for me and so many others I know. We’re spread out, we’re congested, we’re busy and all those other excuses come to mind. But I received a call from Jamie Oliver’s production team a few weeks ago as they were looking for places for an upcoming show. I didn’t feel comfortable passing along my dusty list of favorites that I hadn’t been to in about 5 years and knew a refresher was in order. We made our way up the 5 freeway with my list of favorites and a few new places to check out.

The best suggestion came from my friend Anita from Married With Dinner. Now I’d normally suffer from guilt and a slight sense of shame when an out-of-towner recommends places to eat. But this is Los Angeles. I have yet to meet a person who knows everything about the Southland. Even my beloved husband, a Southern California native, can give you a list of neighborhoods he’s never been to.

But all this is besides the point. The point is this: I am embarrassed and ashamed that a certain sandwich has existed all these years right under my nose. The sandwich is called a Cemita, or Cemita Poblana as it hails from Puebla, Mexico. And clearly I missed the bit by our own hero Jonathan Gold in the LA Weekly. It’s all water under the bridge now because I’m quickly making up for my ignorance. Sesame seeded egg roll meets carnitas or milanesa and is joined by slices of avocado and mexican white cheese. Maybe some sauce. And this is where heaven begins. Because for me I’ve never really been a fan of tortas, the Mexican sandwiches, but this right here is different. To me that soft egg bun makes all the messy difference in the world. Adding chiles or jalapeños will give you heat, your tastebuds will give you pleasure, the rest is history.

Or a newly learned history, that is.

Cemita de Carnitas
Again, no recipe here but more of a serving suggestion. It’s a sandwich and that means exact measurements are never in order. You can add a bit of this and a little bit more of that, but make sure you are using a seeded egg roll. In the photo I made mine with brioche and purists can hate me later but let me tell you it was fantastic. Que rico.

Carnitas
sliced avocados or guacamole
Oaxacan string cheese or Panela, found in Latin markets
Sliced Onions
Perhaps some chiles
Perhaps some salsa roja

Put all the ingredients between the bun. Like a sandwich. I even added lettuce because I needed texture. Inhale.

Wahoo Escabeche

fish-escabeche

So where were we? Oh yes, our boating trip. I wanted to share the recipe for our catches of the day. But not my catch, unfortunately. You see,while Jaden and Adam and others on the boat caught gorgeous and hefty wahoo,  I only came back with a mean barracuda and a concussion. But it wasn’t the fish’s fault. Something about rocky seas, a trap door and a broken noggin, but I am ok now, I swear.

Even though I grew up on the gulf coast of Texas, decades of urban living have removed any memories of fishing and foraging adventures I had. While I’m happy to tour the urban farm now and again and take nice drives out of the city there’s really nothing like being in the middle of the ocean catching your own dinner. It was exhilarating to say the least but the best part? Handing over your catch to skilled and talented chefs who respect your hard work and whip up some amazing dishes right before your very eyes.

sean-with-fish1After our boat returned we were all treated to a food demo from Chef Sean Bernal of The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami. Club Med assembled quite an array of chefs for the Food & Wine Event and it was a pleasure meeting Sean. He shared his recipe for Wahoo Escabeche, a dish of vinegared vegetables and fish and told us that it reminded him of the Puerto Rican flavors of his youth. Unfortunately it wasn’t a flavor of my latin youth but you better believe I’m doing my best to make up for lost time.

I have a hankering for anything pickled, vinegared, soured and crunchy. This recipe does all that but with finesse, imparting a slightly herbal flavor and a tinge of heat. Of course you don’t need to use wahoo for this recipe; any fatty fish will do. But you absolutely do not want to use a lean fish, you got that? Add extra heat if you like and give the recipe time to develop its flavors. It’s worth it.

Wahoo Escabeche from Chef Sean Bernal of The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami, Florida.

If you can’t get wahoo no worries; any fatty fish like mackerel will work just fine.

10 ounces wahoo fillets, cut into 4 inch pieces
salt and pepper
1 cup flour for dredging
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 white onion, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
1 scotch bonnet chili, seeded and minced
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup extra olive oil, divided
1 bay leaf
6 allspice berries

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Using just half of the olive oil, sauté the green bell pepper, red bell pepper, onion, carrot and chili until sweet and softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and set the mixture aside.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish in flour. Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and when the oil is hot, lay the fish fillets in the pan. Cook the fish for 2 minutes, flip and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove the fish when they are about halfway cooked through (the vinegar will cook the fish the rest of the way)

Place the fish in a nonreactive pan and spoon vinegared vegetable mix over and around the fish. Refrigerate overnight. 20 minutes prior to serving, remove the pan from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Serve at room temperature.

fishing-boys

(Even though it would have eaten me in a second I tried to show some love to my barracuda. In fact I named it Nancy Ann Wilson. Adam caught the biggest wahoo but didn’t give it a name other than “Dinner!” Photos of us of by my homegirl Diane of White On Rice Couple.)

Catching Dinner in the Bahamas

Some things to note about this video:

1) I have never edited a video in my entire life. Please go easy on me.
2) Flip Cam + Moving Boat = some choppy filming.
2) Jaden screaming “WORK IT! WORK IT!” is one of the highlights of my ENTIRE trip!
4) Wanna know what we did with the fish we caught? Stay tuned.

Now enjoy…

Recipe for the fish coming up!



Bits & Bites: Friday, March 13

New and Improved, 10% Softer and Sweeter

bonapp1Last month in PDN Magazine, Bon Appetit’s Design Director Matthew Lenning said “I hate pretty food pictures.” I think that explains the past year’s visual jolt. Harsh, in-your-face, strobed-to-the-nth-degree, it was a radical departure from the previous look and feel and although visually arresting it became a huge turn-off to me. The food just didn’t look appetizing and hello, you’re a food magazine after all. After having received plenty of reader mail, I’m happy to see a softer side of the “new” Bon Appetit, slight edge maintained within the pages. Don’t get me wrong: I have friends that shoot for the new BA as well as friends at Condé Nast and I shall always be a loyal reader, but it was even a bit too much for me. Just being different for different’s sake isn’t always the smartest move, I think. Balance people, balance!

adamgraphic550

A New Site!
For the folks who know me and my significant other personally you’ll know that Adam prefers being away from any spotlight and camera lens. He’s insanely talented and really the perfect husband: if you need it he can do it. So he’ll have to forgive me for announcing to the world that he has a new web site, adamcpearson.com. He’s an amazing food stylist and much of the food you see on mattbites is a collaborative effort (Obviously if it’s an ugly shot you can be sure I did it solo).  If you’re looking for a food (and prop!) stylist and are not intimidated by giant surly redheads covered in tattoos then he’s your guy. Children love him, actually. I do too!

What I’m Reading
booksI’m currently alternating between two books: Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows by Kathleen Collins and The Foie Gras Wars by Mark Caro. It’s fascinating to see how food television programming has changed over the years and quite a refreshing look at what it says about us. As far as The Foie Gras War is concerned, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut about this topic. I’m straddle the fence about it and it’s nice to read such a smart account on how foie gras became such a cultural food fight. I’m still undecided about it, though.

Photography Updates
3329156830_805245e578_oI was overwhelmed and joyed by the comments and emails about photography posts here on Mattbites. I’m working on some specific things to write about here but if you have anything you’d like me to cover specifically then feel free to email me! Coming up: Point and Shoots vs dSLRs, What Gear I Use (the refresher course), All About Light, and a few other things I’m working on for you.

Thanks to Elise from Simply Recipes for the photo of me. I’m missing you already, Elise!

avo-matt

I’ll Never Thing Of Avocados The Same Way Again
Earlier this week I toured an avocado grove just a few miles south of where I live. It was for an upcoming project I’m working on and perhaps some of the most beautiful land I’ve seen in Southern California. I’ve said it before here but it bears repeating: farmers and growers are a special bunch and deserve our respect. I work in my air-conditioned office and studio pushing pixels around all day while the true heroes bust their backs growing, tending and harvesting those tropical gems for us. If I haven’t said it enough, THANK YOU. You shall never ever hear me complain about the price of an avocado. Ever.

Tan & Happy

Bloggers In The Bahamas

After a trip back home that felt more like a journey around the world (Diane can vouch for this), we’re finally home with sunkissed memories and a sunburn here and there. Oh, and a mild concussion for me. But I’ll tell you more about that later. I’m fine, really I am.

I want to thank Kate and Morgan and the entire Club Med team for such a wonderful week filled with great food and company. And I want to thank Jaden for putting it all together for us. It’s remarkable how it felt like one big happy family and getting to know my fellow bloggers outside of chat windows and skype conversations really centered me and gave me the big dose of Happy that I really needed. I’ll be posting stories about the trip in the next few weeks as I have around 16 gigs of images to edit. Whew!

And she’ll probably slap me for saying this, but Elise of Simply Recipes is one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever met.

And yes yes yes, there actually is a Thong Picture floating around the internet. Maybe I’ll post it someday.

(And a big thanks to Alex Perelman for snapping the photo of me in the above collage. The rest were taken by yours truly, pre-konk on the head)




A Lebovitz Isle

Lebovitz Isle
Let’s make one thing clear: Club Med Bahamas makes you want for nothing. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that there are too many choices. Hungry? There’s food from sunrise to sundown. Thirsty? I can’t count the bars. In need of physical activity? You can snorkel, fish, scuba, yoga, you name it. And herein lies the problem: give me too much choice and I end up making none. Which I suppose isn’t a bad thing when you and your comrades decide to have long afternoon beach parties, the biggest decision being who to sit next to in order to catch up or who has the highest SPF. And since we’ve set up camp directly next to one of the outdoor bars the drink of your choice is only a sandy stumble away.

While soaking up the sun I’ve managed to consume some pretty decent cocktails. Both frozen and on the rocks margaritas, mai tais and piña coladas with an occasional Kalik thrown in for good measure have hit the spot, but it was during a drink run with the incomparable David Lebovitz that I discovered my new island favorite.

David appeared to be having the same dilemma I was having. When you can have everything you can’t think of anything. Does this happen to you? Luckily the ever charming American-Living-In-Paris came up with the most satisfying cocktail. I’m not sure if the bartender didn’t quite understand his request at first (you know there are a million and one languages being tossed around these resorts at any given moment) or if they were just being snooty but after a quick explanation we were both sipping on my new favorite drink. Yes, you could call it a Bellini or Spritzer or anything else really, but I’ve dubbed it A Lebovitz Isle. Why? Because you see David has this amazing presence when he walks into a room. Or onto a Veranda. And his legions of fans swamp him once they realize it’s him. Or that he might have a thong underneath his pants. And somewhere during this Bahamanian excusion this place has been referred to as Lebovitz Isle, as in “Welcome To Lebovitz Isle.”  And if you think I am going to let you make a Hervé Villechaize reference and then point at me you are wrong. Dead wrong. Nothing personal against him and yes, I do look pretty fierce in a white suit but for god’s sakes I’m not that short. Am I? Am I?

Lebovitz Isle
You need French or Brazilian pop music playing in the background, a tropical breeze and a group of fellow bloggers all around you to make this cocktail really work. And while a champagne flute is best it’s just dandy in a plastic solo cup since you’ll be enjoying it at the pool near hundreds of Parisians in thongs.

1 part pineapple juice
3 parts sparking wine or Champagne

Mix both liquids together and serve chilled. Garnish with pineapple slices, drunk food bloggers, a camera crew, hot Asian babes massaging your feet or sand in your buttcrack.

Walking around Cockburn Town, Bahamas

Matt in the Bahamas

While on a walk through Cockburn Town this morning with  Adam, Elise, Jaden and Diane we came across some of the most beautiful brightly colored buildings that dotted the coastline of the village. It was a sensory overload in the most delightful way possible — the sun, the water, the breeze and my friends. Diane snapped this photo of me and I don’t think I’ve been this relaxed in oh, about 39 years. And for once it’s a shot of me without an inflatable doll, something on my head or dressed in something ridiculous. My mom is gonna love it.

Bahamas

one-the-beach

Howdy everyone! We’re currently in San Salvador, Bahamas (otherwise known as Columbus Isle) and having a fantastic time. We’re here as guests of the Club Med Food & Wine Festival and having such a splendid time.  I never thought I’d be able to appreciate those inclusive all-in-one type of vacations but seriously, the color of the water alone is making this excursion worth it. Not to mention the food. And the wine. And my fellow bloggers who I’m here with, getting to know and love through plenty of beach time. I almost forgot what it was like to communicate with words and not instant messages!

I’ll be updating on the trip later. We’re on day 2 of the Food & Wine Festival and folks, if I can make it through the end of the week I’ll be a happy, fat(TER) man than I am this very second.  A super-rich, amazingly satisfying barbecue dinner last night from chefs Ted Reader and Dr. BBQ himself Ray Lampe was really over the top (smoked duck confit, foie gras and crispy pork skin in one dish alone, I tell ya) so I think I’m gonna take it easy the rest of the day. Enjoy some of the snapshots I’ve taken over the past 2 days, I’m sure there will be many more and I’m still waiting to get that shot of a certain American-Living-In-Paris-Frollicking-In-A-Banana-Hammock. I’m not leaving this island until I do.

folks-on-the-beach

adam-with-beer

balls

picking-stick

french-fries

rosesverandawahu

pier