The Chocolate Adventure Contest

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I don’t know about you but I’m still coming down from the high of last week’s festivities at BlogHer 09. The event in San Francisco exceeded everyone’s expectations and it was so humbling to be in the presence of so much talent. I spoke on two panels about photography with two of my favorite authors and bloggers, Heidi Swanson and Lara Ferroni.

On the tail end of this amazing experience I wanted to announce some exciting news: I’m joining John Scharffenberger, Chef Elizabeth Falkner, Alice Medrich and Tutti Foodie’s own Lisa Schiffman as judges for The Chocolate Adventure Contest. This contest from Scharffen Berger and Tutti Foodie encourages you to create an inventive recipe for any course––appetizer, entreé, dessert, or even a drink––using Scharrfen Berger chocolate and at least one adventure ingredient.

And what are these ingredients, you ask?

  • Fresh mint (any varietal)
  • Crystallized ginger
  • Pandan leaf
  • Banana leaf
  • Sumac
  • Raw honey
  • Cacao nibs
  • Fresh or whole dried chili pepper
  • Malbec
  • Peanut butter
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Rice flour
  • Papaya
  • Cumin
  • Paprika (any varietal)
  • Smoked sea salt

Ok, so now you can see why I’m just a wee bit thrilled to join these amazing folks and taste the one-of-a-kind creations I know you’ll create? The grand prize includes $10,000 for the winning recipe in both the Sweet and Savory categories and some swell second place prizes. We’ll be judging on creativity, taste, ease of preparation and whether the recipe reflects a spirit of adventure.

You’ll find more information at Chocolate Adventure Contest along with the complete rules of the contest and how to submit your recipe. You have until January 3, 2010 so please, get on this!

The official kick off is tomorrow with Chef Elizabeth Falkner in New York at The Institute of Culinary Education. If you were lucky enough to sign up and attend in person or via the webcast you’ll hear all about the event.

Have fun!

P.S. Please excuse my very large round face on this page. Clearly I will spend more time with Photoshop’s Liquefy next time.

Putumayo Brazilian Café Giveaway

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First things first: I have never been to Brazil. And I am terribly ashamed to admit this to you.  And you’d think with the amount of times we’ve headed to South America we could at least stop by and pay a visit. But no, I haven’t been. And it’s not only on the top of my list but every Brazilian friend I have basically says the same thing: “What on earth are you waiting for?” That’s an excellent question.

Not a lot of people know that before I stepped into the world of food & design I really wanted to pursue a career in music.  Music was an integral part of my world growing up and just about everyone in my family plays a musical instrument. After years of piano and violin lessons I was bitten by the design bug and threw all my creative efforts into graphic design although I still like to play the piano on occasion. But now it’s really just to annoy others with terrible renditions of Carpenters, Yvonne Elliman and Britney Spears songs.

Some of my earliest musical memories involve sitting on the floor while my dad played Brazilian records. It was that time in musical America where jazz had been fused with Brazilian compositions and for a while it seemed our house was filled with João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luis Bonfa and a roster of other Brazilian composers and musicians. Listening to the music never failed to put a smile on my face as I picked out the few words I understood while my dad usually strummed his guitar along to the music. Perhaps this is why I have an affinity towards Brazilian pop, choro, samba, and especially bossa nova. Put this on and it’s impossible for me to not start swaying. My mood lifts and I drift off, even during those painfully heartbreaking songs. This is a genre filled with spirit, elegance, simultaneous complexity and simplicity, with musical structures no one can even come close to.

When my friend Kaveh at Putumayo asked if I’d be interested in receving a copy of their Brazilian Café complilation I couldn’t hit my reply button fast enough. He made sure to tell me that the CD booklet contained a recipe but really, it was the music alone that excited me.  And now that I’ve been listening to it I thought it’d be great to give away a few copies and share all the sonic goodness.

Putumayo puts out some amazing titles and I’ve been a fan of the label for quite some time. Each compilation focuses on a region or genre of music and is a great first course in discovering new global favorites. With Brazilian Cafe, Putumayo brings together a terrific selection of jazz, samba and bossa nova by up-and-coming artists and it’s been in heavy rotation on my ipod lately.

Next to amazing music, I think the single best thing about Putumayo is its dedication to assisting many non-profits based in the countries whose music they share with the world. There’s a complete list here.

61khzJ06fWL._SL500_AA240_I’m glad Kaveh was open to sending me a few extra CDs when I asked if I could give a few away. And to my surprise he included an additional CD called Picnic Playground from Putumayo Kids, a collection of food-themed songs in English, Spanish and French. I haven’t listened to it yet but I can only guess it’s fun and fantastic.

I’m giving away 5 copies of Putumayo’s Brazilian Cafe + Picnic Playground to the first 5 folks who leave a comment. I’ll email you for your address and send them to you shortly. Promise me you’ll sip a Caipirinha as you enjoy the music, ok?

Olive Oil Cake & My Lack Of Baking Charm

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I find it difficult to believe that it’s been exactly one year to the day that I appeared on the Martha Stewart Show. I made my version of alfajores with her, a recipe I make well and still get asked about regularly. In the past twelve months I’ve done some pretty groovy stuff and even headed back to Argentina where I got lost in the Dulce De Leche aisle of various supermarkets. But you know what I haven’t done much of in a year?

Bake.

And that makes me sad. But I only have myself to blame.

I’ve made tons of jokes about my lack of baking skills. Don’t get me wrong, I know my way around the kitchen and cook regularly and I can eat sweets and pastries with the best of ‘em. But when one of your sexiest, speedo-wearing pals is an accomplished baker and writer, well, you tend not to tread into that area much. And I find it’s much easier to blame him than own up to the fact that I am an impatient baker, an inexact baker, a sloppy baker, all the qualities you mustn’t have when baking.

Another reason is that my husband, a man so particular and exact, wears the baking hat in our family. When you are paid to make food look its best for others you tend to pay attention to minute details, another quality a baker must possess.  Me? If I can’t see it and keep an eye on it I forget about it. There are plenty of burnt muffins and cookies in my past to prove my point. Conversely, I can show you some amazing sauces, grilled items and sautés made under my watch, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve made a promise to myself to bake more, to rely less on instinct and more on precision. I aspire to be like my girl Kristina who actually sets Saturdays and Sundays aside to bake, when she’s not traveling or offering me advice. I want to be like my friend Jerri back in Austin (Wade, Bobby, remember her?) who never showed up without a tray of something she baked with pounds and pounds of love. I want to be like my friends who toss around baking measurements and terms with the greatest of ease during a casual conversation.

I simply must bake more.

A few days ago I decided to force myself away from the computer and into the kitchen to make something, anything. I remembered a  simple slice of olive oil cake I had a few years ago, quite humble in its sweetness and free from all the fuss of layers and toppings. The memory stayed with me for a long time as it reminded me of the pan dulce I grew up eating. Pan dulce, or Mexican sweet breads, are the various pastries and cakes you see in Panaderias. They’re not very sweet, a fact that I can appreciate as an adult but something I absolutely detested as a child. Funny how things change over time, no?

I settled on a recipe from Saveur. Their version, inspired by a visit to the Valpolicella region of Italy, would be my selection. I was thiiiiis close to trying Mark Bittman’s recipe but felt like being lazy and wanted to skip the glazing step and go for a light sprinkle of powered sugar. That’ll be my next try as I promise to bake more, follow directions and take time to pay attention to the rules and measurements. Life isn’t always about guesswork. I guess.

Olive Oil Cake from Saveur Magazine

The fine folks at Saveur suggest using a cake pan and ramekin combo to bake in; I skipped the extra step and just went with a bundt pan. Worked for me.

1 tablespoon butter for greasing
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
4 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use a high quality oil here, it matters!)
2/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other citrus-flavored liqueur (Matt’s notes: with no Grand Marnier on hand I used a smaller amount of amaretto liquer. While I gave up some citrus notes it was still wonderful to have those hints of amaretto)
1 tablespoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease an 11-cup bundt pan with butter and dust with flour. Set prepared pan aside.

2. Beat eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add remaining 3 cups flour, lemon zest, oil, milk, and liqueur and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add baking powder and stir until thoroughly combined.

3. Spoon batter into bundt pan and smooth out top with the back of the spoon. Bake until cake is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack to let cool completely, in its pan.

I certainly plan on making this again, I love these types of cakes. Do you have any favorite Olive Oil cake recipes I should try?  Let me know!

Spicy Black Bean Chipotle Dip

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I’m not quite sure I’m ready to give up my summer. It’s already obvious the days are growing shorter and I know cooler weather is right around the corner. In a last ditch effort to hold on to summer I had a little get-together, almost as a way to say goodbye to all that the warm summer gives us and hello to new experiences, new meals and new recipes. Ok, so maybe it’s not that bad after all!

This is a Spicy Black Bean Chipotle Dip that I absolutely love. I wanted to make something that that be served as a dip but also be flexible. And mostly because I wanted to find a way to use the vegetarian chorizo that I love so much. If you’ve never tried it please do. It’s packed with so much flavor and cooks the exact same way a Mexican pork chorizo does. I don’t have to tell you that it’s less in saturated fat and cholesterol and for a boy like me who has to be careful not to morph into El Gordito that means something. But since I’m driven by flavor I still feel like I’m eating chorizo.

(and FYI: we’ve prepared this recipe side by side with both pork and vegetarian chorizo and you can’t tell the difference. Take that!)

Oh, and another reason I love this recipe so much is because it’s not just perfect as a dip but also spread on tortillas or bread for tortas or cemitas. The chipotle flavor adds mild heat, the texture of the beans holds things together and it’s definitely something you can use in a variety of ways. You can make your own black beans if you have them but canned black beans work perfectly and saves time.

Spicy Black Bean Chipotle Dip

2 15-oz cans of black beans (1 can drained, 1 can undrained)
6 oz pork or vegetarian chorizo
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon coriander
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 whole chipotle in adobo plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
juice of 1 lime

Place 1 whole can of the black beans with liquid in a food processor with chipotle and 1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat and cook onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add all spices and garlic to the onions and cook 1 more minute until fragrant. Remove from heat and add onion spice mixture to the food processor with the beans. Process until smooth.

In the same skillet heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over medium high heat and cook the chorizo until slightly crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining can of black beans and ½ cup of water, stir to combine. Immediately add pureed bean mixture and cook over medium heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stiry in lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl, makes about 3 cups. Can be served cold or room temperature. Garnish with long cilantro sprigs or lime wedges. Aye que purdy!

Announcing Food Blogger Camp & Free Trip Give-Away!

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I’m going to try not to use words like “Yipeeee!” and “wowwza!” to describe how excited I am about this. Some food bloggers, a few you may know, have teamed up with Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico for the first ever Food Blog Camp.

This event in January includes Diane Cu and Todd Porter, Michael and Donna Ruhlman, me and my partner-in-crime Adam Pearson, Dianne Jacob, Jaden Hair, Elise Bauer and David Lebovitz.

Seminars include Food Writing With Your Senses, Best Blogging Practices, Building A Better Blog with Multimedia, From Blog To Book, and even Food Photography and Food Styling.  You can read more about them on the Club Med Insider site here.

In addition to the seminars there will also be some pretty nifty activities like a walking tour of the Zijuatanejo market, a visit to the fisherman’s market, as well as meet-and-greets with local farmers to talk about their sustainable agricultural practices. I’m pretty sure there will be some gorgeous sunsets thrown in there for good measure, too.

Hope to see you there! And make sure to check below to find out how to win a trip to the Food Blogger Camp!

To sign up, visit the Food Blog Camp booking page.

1. At the bottom of the page, click where it says Click Here to Book

2. Use Login: blogger, Password: 160606, to get the special ‘Food Blog Camp’ discount price of $599 to $999 US based on double-occupancy for this all-inclusive trip.

3. There will be a drop-down menu so choose ‘Ixtapa’, and type in the dates: January 9-16, and 7 days for length of stay. You can come for less days, or all of them. (3-day packages are $599.) The booking page will open showing the discounted price just underneath the regular price. (It will say “Best Available Offer: Food Blogger Camp”) A slightly-higher price may be shown if you’re basing your search on single-occupancy. The $999 US 7-day price is based on double-occupancy.

Other questions*? Call 1-888-WebClub

Win a Free Trip!

Club Med is giving away a place free to one participant. Included will be all seminars, room, meals, and beverages. Airfare from anywhere in the continental United States is included. To enter, all you need to do is to leave a comment here, and if you wish, at any of the websites of the other participants listed below, and/or by following Club Med Insider on Twitter.

The more sites that you post on, the more your chances are of winning. Although you can comment at each of the sites, only one comment per site. Entrants who make more than one comment per site will be disqualified.

SteamyKitchen.com

DavidLebovitz.com

WhiteonRiceCouple.com

DianneJacob.com

Ruhlman.com

Clubmedinsider.com

(Please note that due to time differences, the various participants will be posting their entries at various times. Kindly be patient and when they do post, you’re welcome to leave a comment there to enter the contest.)

The contest begins now and ends on Sunday September 13, 2009 at 11:59 p.m EST (US). A winner will be drawn at random from the participating websites and the Twitter followers on or around September 15, 2009. Winner may bring a guest for the discounted price of a double occupancy room. Their airfare is not included.

This event is open to all food bloggers and the winning includes attendance at all the seminars. When you leave your comment, please leave a link to your blog in the URL.

Please read the contest rules before entering. If you do register and end up being the winner, your payment will be refunded.

For more information, check out the Food Blogger Camp website.

And please note that due to the number of entries I won’t be able to answer any questions personally about the contest. For booking or other questions, please call 1-888-WebClub

(and the photo above was taken earlier in the year in the Bahamas and isn’t representative of who will be in Mexico. Although it’s pretty darn close!)




Top 10 moments in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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Images of San Juan and Culebra

I just returned from a very quick trip to Puerto Rico. My complete post on eating will be up shortly but in the meantime I’d like to offer you my favorite Top 10 Moments from my weekend in La Isla Del Encanto.

10. La Gente, La Gente, La Gente

smiling-girlShow me some nice happy smiling faces from any place I’m about to visit and I’ll show you a good trip. Those two things go hand in hand, San Juan was no exception. There is that warm generosity and respeto you find in Latin culture and throwing beautiful beaches and warm tropical water into the mix can only make you happier. Add to this citizens who are so extremely proud of their island and you can see why amazing people make it worth visiting.

9. Puerto Rico Food & Wine Festival

Getting to see and taste a side of Puerto Rico I never knew existed was amazing. The 3rd Annual Puerto Rico Food & Wine Festival was held at the PR Convention Center, complete with vendors and exhibits that reminded me of the annual G’Day LA event put on Australia Week or a small Fancy Foods exhibit. Emerill Lagasse was this year’s big draw along with Wilo Benet, Eric Villegas, Rafael Barrera and Alexis Torres. I must admit that I could have used more Puerto Rican vendors in the mix but I did appreciate the free-flowing wine and most of the food. Highlights included lots of pig and chicharrones (could you ever go wrong?) and a Peruvian pulpo (octopus) in an olive sauce that was out of this world. Imagine a slightly purple cream sauce that surrounded tender bites of octopus with a very definitive kalamata olive flavor. Everyone in the group kept returning for more. You have to see Adam’s photo to understand it.

8. Mofongo

mofongoMonfongo is what I call a perfect food. I’ve spent many years eating good-but-not-quite-perfect monfongo. Who knew I actually had to travel to San Juan to get it? We had lunch at Raices Restaurant and it was a delightful experience. Plantains are mashed and seasoned with garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings and served with shrimp, chicken or beef.  It’s tropical and familiar, garlicky and sweet, warm and cool,  everything I love about Latin food. We ate ours with beans and rice, topping it off with the small bowls of herbally chimichurri on the table. I was in heaven. Heavy? Yes. Perfect? Double Yes.

7. Amateur Gourmet

adam-on-boatHey, what’s with me having to travel 3,379 miles to the Caribbean just so I can finally meet Adam Roberts for the very first time? I’ve been reading him for years! Well no matter, it could have been March in New York so perhaps I’ll shut my mouth.  But now I know why he’s so popular, the guy is just adorable. And he was my snorkel buddy.We lovingly kvetched about blogging and shared family moments and culinary experiences while soaking in the happy tropical sunshine. We also compared farmer tans and while I certainly don’t mean to poke fun of adorable Jewish boys from New York City there really isn’t any excuse why this Mexican boy sported one, too. Que lastima.

6. Sangria

Ok, someone, anyone, please let me in on the secret of Sangria making in Puerto Rico. Is it something in the water? Every sip I savored was better than the last, a refreshing drink minus any of the cloying sugary sips  that seem to be so ubiquitous in sangria made by anyone other than yourself. Apparently I’m hanging out in bad restaurants in Los Angeles. I need to head back to San Juan I guess. It’s closer than Spain.

5. The View From My Hotel Room

beachI would have done without hot water, electricity and an extremely dreamy bed (but not wifi!) just for the view alone. And thanks to the Marriot I actually had all of the above. And pleeeeese people, ain’t nobody paying me to say this: the staff were super friendly, the room was super clean and the view was maaaaarvelous. Just watching the sunset from my balcony made the Red Eye worth it.

4. Flamenco Beach

flamenco-beachI understand why ratings and caveats were thrown out before we reached this beach but honestly, no amount of “best of” lists or top-whatevers could have prepared me for this intimate expanse of beach. Flamenco Beach is located on Culebra Island, about 17 miles east from Puerto Rico. It was perfectly amazing with soft white sand and warm blue water and completely unexpected. I’ve seen some beaches in my lifetime and I gotta say this takes the cake.  Sorry, Galveston (laugh track goes here).

3. Snorkeling

I’ll be honest: our day was meant to be spent just a bit differently than it went down (see Amateur Gourmet for the sour, queasy proof) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make the most of it! Nonsense! I stripped off my shirt, grabbed the snorkel and mask and jumped into some of the best water I’ve ever felt. It was warm, clear, and loaded with beautiful tropical fish and coral reefs. As I swam around I kept thinking “Boy, I’m gonna burn the shit out of my neck and shoulders and wow, I could sure go for some sushi right now.”

2 My travel companions

27084058With apologies to my male readers of the heterosexual persuasion (all 4 of you and my father, I’m sure), I do believe one of life’s inequities for you involves me getting to meet and hang with gorgeous women all over the world. This trip was no different. And when I say gorgeous I really gorrrrrrgeous, and when I say gorrrrrgeous I mean reallllly gorrrrgeous. Not that I’m objectifying them because I’m not. This group of travel writers and public relations professionals made me feel like the luckiest man on earth. Because I am. And please do not get me started on Desiree, our organizer, as my heart flutters just being in her presence. She’s one special woman.

1. Luquillo Beach Kiosks

kioskosTired, sundrunk and just drunk in general (just me, I mean) we made our way to Los Kioskos, located along Route 3 in Luquillo. This is the sort of place I dream of––rows and rows of garage-style restaurants open to the street, serving local food and drink. We worked our way from one end to the other, sampling local favorites like bacalaito and tostones con jueyes, my absolute favorite. It was so amazing to have such a delicious crash course in local food. As if I wasn’t stuffed enough we ended up at El Jefe Burgers, owned by Tim & Cheri Blackford who moved to Puerto Rico a few years ago and decided to open a restaurant that serves food they can’t get on the island. The burgers were delicious, the sides amazing, and the sangria out of this world. We sat and ate burgers as it rained over the amazingly verdant terrain and I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was in that moment of time.

A very special thanks to Jody and Desiree for planning and being our guides and to the San Juan Marriot for making this all possible.  And Charyn, you rocked my world. Call me next time you’re in LA.