Happy Holidays!

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Would you believe I have to recycle a holiday image from 2 years ago because I was too lame to produce another one? And yes, it was quite a production. But it’s the thought that counts, no? And this year we are wishing you and your families the warmest holiday season and a very prosperous 2010! Enjoy the day and make sure you tell your loved ones how much you love them. Do it. I mean it. We love you all!

-Matt, Adam, Cholula, Bindi, Moxie and Birdie (the cat, making a very special holiday guest appearance!)

Chocolate Adventure Contest –There’s Still Time To Enter!

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With the holidays in full swing I just wanted to remind you that you have a little bit of time left if you’re entering the Chocolate Adventure Contest from Scharffen Berger! 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 and yes, I’m one of the judges!

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. You can read my previous post about the contest here.

I can’t wait to taste all the amazing entries.

Chocotorta a la Adam

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Oh Chocotorta, how I love you!

I learned of Chocotortas during our last visit to Buenos Aires from Maricela from Pip In The City. I met her through blogging and we immediately fell in love with her gracious hospitality. We had brunch at Olsen, walked around Buenos Aires, and invited her over to our room at Home Hotel for a small party. She brought a chocotorta, a very simple no-bake layered “cake” consisting of chocolate cookies, dulce de leche and cream cheese. Did you get that folks? Cookies, dulce de leche and cream cheese? Needless to say this cake––a favorite of kids and mothers-who-cannot-bake––disappeared in a matter of minutes. Scratch that. Seconds.

“It’s the recipe moms make when they can’t bake. You cannot mess it up” she told me.

Now that really sounds like my kind of dessert. Excluding my adapted alfajores which I have mastered and a few cakes and cookies, I’m still trying to understand baking. When a cake recipe doesn’t require an oven you better believe I’m gonna try that first. Or at least nudge the hubby to try it.

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Ok, so here’s the deal. I didn’t seek out to adultify this Argentine dessert. I’m not one of those people who needs to dress something up and make it cute. Nor did I mean to defile or fancy something that was just fine as it was. Because it’s delicious and fun and quick and easy. But after a few emails with Marcela to double check some chocotorta facts it became clear that some macgyvering would be required on my end. I had most of the ingredients for the chocotorta on hand as we stocked up at the supermercado in Buenos Aires but realized I’d be missing one of the filling ingredients. She recommended adapting the recipe and after a quick consultation with my food-styling better half we decided on adding cream to the mixture; it’d be too thick otherwise.

“I have another idea as well. Let’s add booze,” Adam said. In an effort to include more alcoholic beverages to my diet I agreed. Before long Adam was reaching for Kahlua, hazelnuts and a baking sheet and I knew he’d be adding his own touch to the cake. I moved over. I was not about to stand in his way.

Rather than build the chocotorta in a loaf pan Adam worked his food styling magic by creating little individual stacks of kahlua-soaked cookies layered with the cream cheese and dulce de leche spread. They were topped with an impromptu hazelnut brittle and before long these individual chocotortas were gone. And when I say gone I mean that I ate them all. And I’m not even really a sweetfreak. Or so I think.

Maybe it was the booze?

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Chocotorta a la Adam
1 can of dulce de leche
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
chocolate cookies, see note
1/2 cup Kahlua coffee liqueur

For The Brittle
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 cup hazelnuts, whole

About the Cookies: We used a brand we brought back from Argentina that are thin, square and not overly sweet. You could use just about any cookie provided it’s the biscuit type and not a big honkin’ sweet one.

Dulce de leche filling:
Beat the cream until soft peaks form. Add cream cheese, dulce de leche and whisk until smooth. You want a very light consistency, quite different from the super thick viscosity of regular dulce de leche.

Hazelnut Brittle:
Grease a cookie sheet. In a skillet cook the sugar, water and lemon juice on high heat until amber in color, remove from the heat and mix in the hazelnuts. Pour the hazelnut mixture onto greased cookie sheets to cool, making sure to spread out the nuts to create individually coated nuts that you can use as garnish. Crumble a few of them to top the chocotorta.

Assembly:
Dunk the cookies in the coffee liqueur, and dunk liberally!  Once soaked pipe the filling in between the cookie layers. You don’t have to do beautiful baby dollops like the photo, you can just use a plastic baggie with the corner cut off to pipe the filling on top. Kind of like a s’more. Once layered repeat until you have a nice little stack. Give them a little time to set as this allows the cookie to become even softer from the Kahlua which makes it a bit easier to eat. Top with crumbled candied hazelnuts.

Because this is a no-bake recipe you don’t need to be exact. Taste along the way, just be careful with the brittle part of the recipe. I have no idea how many this yields because I was too busy eating along the way. And if by chance you oversoak and your cookies become mush (which did not happen to me but I suppose it could), well, tough. It’s still gonna taste good.

Menu For Hope 6: Food Styling & Photo Workshop from Matt

6a00d83451bc0669e20120a6f07819970b-800wiYes, it’s that time again! It’s Menu For Hope 6, the annual fundraising campaign started by Pim and hosted by a revolving group of food bloggers around the world. Each December, food bloggers from all over join the campaign by offering a delectable array of food-related items for the Menu for Hope raffle. Anyone – and that means you too – can buy raffle tickets to bid on these items. For every $10 donated, you earn one virtual raffle ticket to bid on an item of your choice. At the end of the two-week campaign, the raffle tickets are drawn and the results announced on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18.

Last year I hosted the West Coast and it’s was a such an honor. This year our West Coast honor duties are being performed by my friend, the beautiful Shauna of glutenfreegirl.com. I want to thank her for all the hard work it takes to keep us all gathered and happy. THANK YOU SHAUNA!

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This year I’m so thrilled to offer a 2-day Food Styling & Photography Workshop (Item Code: UW01) held at my studio in Long Beach on March 13th & 14th, 2010.  I’ve teamed up with the amazing Denise Vivaldo of Food Fantastics to bring you a workshop filled with great ideas, tips and hints, and practical photo applications all centered around food!  We’ve held two workshops already at my studio, hosting sold-out weekends with some of the most amazing food bloggers and soon-to-be food bloggers in attendance. But don’t take my word for it, read all about the workshops here and here.

So what will we be doing? I’m glad you asked! On Saturday we concentrate on using professional styling techniques to:

  • cook for the camera
  • plate food to show it at its best
  • garnish effectively
  • use only edible styling methods
  • hold and refresh food

On Sunday we focus on digital photography and how to improve your photos through:

  • camera angle and selective focus
  • shooting with available light
  • the use of fill cards and reflectors
  • when to supplement available light
  • the use of props (and trust me, you’ll have fun with my props!)

Make sure to bring your camera, your ideas and your energy! And for the fine print: Winner is responsible for travel to Long Beach as well as accommodations. Lunch and class materials for you will be provided by Matt Armendariz. In lieu of class scheduling and winner’s schedule a personal day of food styling instruction and food photography at the studio can be offered as an alternate. Same conditions apply.

So how do you get in on this unique raffle bid item?

To Donate and Enter the Menu for Hope Raffle

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list.

2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.

3. Please specify which bid item you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code.

Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 – 2xEU01, 3xEU02.

4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.

5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

Check back on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18  for the results of the raffle.

Thanks for your participation, and good luck in the raffle!

Feel free to email me with questions or leave them in the comments about the workshop but please note that I’m unable to answer any questions about bidding or the raffle itself. Make sure to check in with your regional host for those types of inquiries.

Genie In A Bottle? Her Name Is Colatura.

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When you live, breathe, eat and sleep food, it can sometimes be hard to muster excitement. This doesn’t mean I’ve grown weary of food and all it involves, it just means that it takes a little extra or a tiny bit of sumthin’ sumthin’ to really knock my socks off. Not that they need constant knocking off. They don’t. I’m happy with plain most of the time.

The pleasures of food and discovery happen when you least expect it. I can remember a moment 20 years ago when I had my first Meyer lemon and I thought the earth would swallow itself. My mind was expanding with each taste of that glorious citrus and I knew life would never be the same. The same can be said of having Jamon Iberico de bellota, a proper supplì, even Wisconsin cheese curds for the very first time. I can count those moments on one hand.

Last month in Italy I had another one of those moments at dinner. It was a fish dish with a very simple aioli––or so I thought. It turns out that the aioli was made with Colatura, an extremely flavorful Italian condiment made from fish and salt. My eyes must have given my excitement away as our dinner neighbor Fabio looked at me and said “It’s Colatura. There’s Colatura in here.” He explained how it’s made, telling me fish sauce has been used for thousands of years in Italy.

“You mean like Garum?” I asked.

“Exactly” he replied.

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I’ve read that Colatura is a relative of Garum, that pungent fish sauce made by fermenting fish in the bright Italian sun. But if Garum is the loud in-your-face uncle, Colatura is the mannered and finessed younger cousin. It’s made by taking anchovies and layering them with salt in wooden barrels. A weight is placed on top and as the fish lose their liquid it becomes mixed with salt and collected underneath, resulting in a light amber liquid that’s lighter in color and flavor than your standard fish sauce. It takes a few months to gather the essence but it’s worth the time and effort.

Now before you email me and call me an Asian fish sauce hater, please note that I’m a fan of all types of fish sauces. They make their way into my cooking and if you know me I put Nuoc Mam on anything and everything (flank steak and potatoes, watch out). But with Colatura, well, it’s magic. What else explains how fish and salt go in but Grand Umami Magic comes out? It truly is a magical genie in a bottle.

Regretfully I left Italy without picking up a bottle (I think I was drunk at the time). I kept kicking myself after I got home and realized nothing would work in its place. I wanted some and I wanted it badly. Luckily Zingerman’s came to the rescue, stocking bottles with a price that reminds you of how special it is just in case your tongue forgets. But you know what? It’s totally worth it. There’s nothing like it.

I used mine as Zingerman’s recommended and mixed it with a little olive oil, red chili flakes and parsley. Spaghetti cooked al dente was tossed with the fragrant golden mixture and I felt like I was back in Naples. There’s just enough fish essence to create intriguing flavor and add salt to the pasta,  similar to adding an anchovy to dressing or sauces.

I have vowed never to be without this stuff in my pantry. Obsessed? No way.

Spaghetti with Olive Oil & Colatura

Trust your cooking instincts on this recipe, folks. Cook your spaghetti as you like and toss with a sauce made of 3 tablespoons high quality olive oil, 1 tablespoon Colatura, chopped garlic, chopped parsley and red chile flakes. You can adjust the quantities based on your preferences but start light on the Colatura. A little goes a long way. I haven’t tried this on greens like spinach or chard yet but I can only imagine how delicious it is on vegetables.

Matt’s Notes: I haven’t seen it in many specialty or gourmet markets here but purchasing Colatura from Zingerman’s is a safe bet. Those folks are awesome.