The Posts That Never Made It

About two years ago someone once said something about me that at first made me laugh but then got under my skin. The comment was along the lines that I live a “highly art-directed life”, meaning it’s all pretty and most things I do are glossy and stylish and there’s no room for imperfection. HA! They surely don’t know me well enough, that’s for sure. Just like everyone else I can be messy, my life is filled with imperfect moments and if you’ve seen my junk drawers then you know I’m only human. If anything I’m very good at self-editing, I think this comes from a marketing and design career where stories and ideas and images go through rounds and rounds of edits before being made public. Every now and then I begin blog posts that never quite make it; either they burn out like a firecracker or get killed in my random editing process (read: laziness). Or sometimes they are just too racy. But today I thought it might be fun to share some of the things that weren’t quite ready for prime time. Today I’m sharing The Posts That Never Made It.

Thank god I never posted this. It was a post about my uppity thoughts on ribs and barbecue in general. I’ll still maintain that I know a little sumthin-sumthin about barbecue because I’m from Texas and we alllllll know our barbecue. But then I realized that if I proclaimed that I knew what was best about grilling meats that I’d never be able to say “Oh, you know, I’m not sure, let me try what you’ve got cookin’ up there.” And then I realized that I’d probably never get invited to North or South Carolina.  So I scratched the post completely but don’t think it we meet in person I won’t secretly give you my very biased opinion about it. Cuz I totally will.

I shot these little sweet treats last year for a greeting card company.  I still think they are some of the prettiest little treats I’ve shot but there wasn’t really a story behind it so I pulled it. I was going to tell you at the time that I ate about 16 small cheesecakes that were left in my fridge and how sick I felt afterward thanks to a slight dairy intolerance but that’s not really appetizing, is it?

I created these graphics for a post I wrote about banning anything sexual when writing about figs. And then I realized that in my ranting the post itself became sexual and well, I could lose the millions I make off this blog in corporate sponsorship! But seriously, where do I get off telling writers how to write when I can barely string together a sentence? I’d probably be irritated if a writer told me how to make pictures, ya know? Plus that photo is kind of, well, um, you know. If you saw it at high res you’d scream. Or smile. Enough Matt, stop! Next!

See this Strawberry Trifle? Well, it’s just whipped cream, strawberries, vanilla pudding and spongecake. And it can all be store-bought. And while I’m ok with writing recipe suggestions I couldn’t get a certain semi-homemade someone out of my brain. And then I realized at this point in my career I can’t really poke fun of anyone because a) it’s not nice and b) I should know better and c) inevitably someone knows someone-who-knows-someone-who-knows-you-know-who will read it and all that jazz. It’s just not good form I’ve decided. But I will not let this post go without telling you about the joke I made that involves an image of me on top of this woman. See? My mind is still stuck in 2nd grade dirty humor.

And finally, I toyed with the idea of a Mattbites mailbag from the submitted questions from This was a test I did but felt it was a bit clunky. The audio was muffled, I said “um, ah” way too many times, and the videowork is really amateurish. Plus I said “my twitter account” like someone who doesn’t understand the internet, like “my faceplace page” or “my tweetspace” or something like that.  It’s lived hidden on Vimeo for the past two months but in the spirit of this post I figured “why not?” And maybe, just maybe, I’ll work on my video chops and actually answer more questions.

Grilled Corn with Feta & Lime Vinaigrette

Summer is around the corner but you really don’t need me to tell you this. We’re about to embark on High Grill Season, a time of year marked with non-stop outdoor recipes, summer sides and grilled meats. We’re all bound to go overboard during summer and you know what? That’s fine with me. Because if any season speaks to me about the bounty of food it’s certainly summer.

What I love most about summer cooking is that it gives us certain cooks a pass on formality.  A little of this, some of that,  it’s a good time to veer just a teeny bit from the exact science of cooking. Perhaps this is because the cooking wildcard known as The Grill can’t be controlled but coaxed, befriended but never bossed. I’m sure some folks with expensive built-in outdoor gas grills may have better luck with this but me? I don’t have that. I’ve learned to love  a flame that acts like a mischievous child — give it the right upbringing and it behaves. Ignore and neglect it and it”ll disappoint you and disappear.

When I head outdoors to cook I’m usually armed with very little other than food & tongs. There might be a spray bottle near to keep flare-ups down but I like to keep it simple during summer. Those big and bold warm-weathered flavors don’t really need a lot of fuss. I think a perfect example of this is grilled corn, its sweet flavor really only needs a little bit of salt and pepper. Or a simple vinaigrette that we whipped up last weekend when testing a few recipes. Corn is grilled, drizzled with vinaigrette and then sprinkled with feta. It’s a riff on one of my favorite salads and it works marvelously.

Grilled Corn with Feta & Lime Vinaigrette

No no no, I am not about to give you measurements for this because my brain is full from writing recipes for a book. But trust me, it’s not hard to do. Grill corn to your liking, with husk or without, soaked or not. Once cooked, drizzle or brush with a vinaigrette that’s two parts olive oil to one part fresh lime juice and just a tiny bit of lime zest. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese and chopped cilantro on top, season with a bit of cracked black pepper and salt if you’d like. That’s it. It couldn’t be easier.

Cookbook Reviews: Get Your Grill On!

I’ll tell anyone who will listen to me that I’m a warm weather kind of cook. I love being outdoors, I love grilling and I love summer. I’m particularly excited about this current installment of the Mattbites Cookbook Reviews with Kristina. Damn if this girl didn’t knock it out of the ballpark with this review which features both grilling and burgers. It’s abundant and now I want a beer! Enjoy it!

When we moved into our current home 5 years ago, we brought our little sad deck grill with us.  We had friends over several times, and in the winter we even had people over and cooked in the fire in the fireplace. It was the best food, the best fun. And then we stopped.  I’m not sure why.  Our little sad grill is still outside, sadder than ever.  But a few months ago, when browsing Amazon, I started to see book titles which I fancied.  And I started to remember some great grilling books I already had and thought I’d go grill shopping and resuscitate my love for the grill.  Eating outdoors really opens up the opportunity to have more people over than perhaps you can accommodate inside.  Everyone can help out, and it’s just a great time all around.  So hopefully this GIANT round up has something in here that will be useful for your next get together.

The Good Stuff Cookbook:  Burgers, Fries, Shakes, Wedges, and More by Spike Mendelsohn with Micheline Mendelsohn (Wiley 2010; photography by Joe Shymanski). This is the first book by Top Chef competitor and owner of the Good Stuff Eatery in Washington DC, Spike Mendelsohn.  I like to think of this book as an all in one Burger Party manual.  It is very well organized into the different elements of a burger shop– from the sauces to the sides, the fries, the burgers, the shakes, and then the desserts, something I really appreciate about the book– I don’t have to dig for recipes, I know right where to find what I need.  You could use this book to set up a DIY burger party for your friends– offering the ingredients to compose various burgers in the book, or you could use it to make great food for yourself. Either way, it’s pure fun!

Burger Parties: Featuring Winning Recipes from Sutter Home Winery’s Build a Better Burger Contest by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed Press 2010; photography by Dan Mills) If Spike’s book is a burger joint, this is the white table cloth burger book.  It is compiled of menus built around a burger theme (Burgers in Paradise, Jamaican Me Hungry, Sip and Slide, Southeast Asian Odyssey, Summer and Smoke, etc.)  So what you have in this book is not just a fab burger recipe per chapter, you have all of the antipasti, sides, and desserts to accompany them, around the theme, as well as the wine pairings!  Of all the grilling books I brought in for a colleague to choose from for a gift to someone who regularly grills, she chose this one as the most well-rounded for a complete dining experience.

The Burger Meisters:  America’s Best Chefs Give Their Recipes for America’s Best Burgers, Plus the Fixin’s by Marcel Desaulniers (1994 Simon and Schuster) This book won the James Beard Award for the Best Book on a Single Subject, and it deserved it!  This is based on a PBS series of the same name.  In addition to burgers made from everything ranging from beef to chicken to fish to veggie, you also have sides (slaws, salads, fries of different types), and even buns and some sweets as well.  I turn to this when I want to make something different for myself or friends.  My book is so used, the spine is falling apart!  Some of my favorite recipes in the world were written by Marcel Desaulniers, especially chocolate ones, and he has helped me make them work when I’ve been stuck.  (his email address is goganache -at- and he’s available to help with his recipes, just write if you too get stuck!)

Pig:  King of the Southern Table by James Villas (2010 Wiley; photography by Lucy Schaeffer) To borrow a phrase from the Waffle House menu, this book is all about pork:  scattered covered chunked and smothered.  If you don’t like pork, skip to the next book!  But me, I’m from Nashville.  I used to have my father meet me at the airport with an extra hot (spicy) pulled pork sammich from Mary’s Pit BBQ.  I love sausage.  I love bacon.  I think that the best cure for vegetarianism is a barbecued pork rib, dry not wet.  This book is all of that and more in 300 artery-hardening recipes using all cuts of pork (and there’s a cute little diagram at the beginning to show you what eating high on the hog really means), and it’s really really southern. It’s grits, biscuits, casseroles, hushpuppies, succotash, stews, burgoos, roasts, hams, if it’s pork or has pork in it, it’s here.  And it’s also Southern culinary history and background.  This book reminds me of family and home.

John Torode’s Beef and other Bovine Matters (2008 Quadrille; Photography by Jason Lowe) While it is possible to get other good cuts of meat in Italy, a good burger the way the Lord intended one to be made just can’t be found here.  So whenever I go to London, I try to get at least one good one in.  John Torode is the owner of Smith’s of Smithfields, a restaurant which stands directly in front of the Smithfield meat market, and he sells one of the best burgers in London.  John knows beef, and his and his book distills this knowledge in diagrams, photos, and explanations from the different breeds of cow to how to purchase, the cuts and carving the meat, and the preparation.  It starts with the basic beef stock and goes through all manner of recipes which have beef elements, from arancini with ragu, to beef wellington, salted beef sandwiches, yorkshire pudding, and everything in between.  It’s very British, mind you, but if there’s a recipe with “beef” in the title, it’s here.  This is every much a reference book as it is a cookbook.

John Torode’s Chicken and other Birds (2009 Quadrille; Photography by Jason Lowe).  I know, I just told you that John Torode knows beef, and here he is talking about chicken!  Guess what?  He knows birds too!  I have included this book in our round up because of the variety of recipes that are prepared on the grill for all different sorts of birds, including a fair number of kebabs and a chicken burger that will knock your socks off (it has sausage in it of course, but you can experiment without it!).  This book is pure cookbook, not at all the reference book that beef is.  But if poultry is your shtick, this is worth flipping through.

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (2010 EBury; photography by Jonathan Lovekin) Admittedly, this should have gone into the vegetable book reviews, but I thought it appropriate to keep a book in this round up for those people who don’t eat meat.  This is not a grilling book, but it is an amazing vegetarian resource which you can use to prepare accompaniments to the food which comes off the grill– AND there are grilling recipes in here.  Preparing any dish from this book will make you everyone’s new best friend, trust me.  Ottolenghi is the food shop you will hear so many people rave about who have visited London.    The recipes are based on the author’s weekly column in the Guardian weekend magazine called the New Vegetarian, and just looking at them makes me hungry:  Caramelized garlic tart, globe artichokes with crushed broad beans, chard and saffron omelettes, soba noodles with aubergine and mango, black pepper tofu.  It goes on and on.  The photography by Jonathan Lovekin (who has done Nigel Slater’s beautiful books) is also so very inviting.  Vegetarians looking to add great recipes to their repertoire, Plenty, and Yotam’s column at the Guardian are fantastic resources.

Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned:  A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill by Elizabeth Karmel (Wiley 2009; photography Jamie Tiampo). I was introduced to Elizabeth Karmel by Rose Levy Beranbaum a few years ago, after telling Rose I was looking for some amazing women in the food profession to interview.  Elizabeth is the Queen of the Grill, and I blindly trust anything she says about grilling.  If it can be grilled (and believe me, it can), she has grilled it and can tell you how to maximize its flavor through soaking, slathering, or seasoning.  This book is a comprehensive book of rubs, sauces, butters, marinades, brines, dipping sauces, techniques, tips, and any other vital information about how to uses these elements on your food.  It is a handy paperback size and the perfect grilling reference.  I got this book last year, and admit that I haven’t felt such an affinity for a grilling book since I bought Steve Raichlen’s BBQ Bible years ago.  If you’re going to grill, ever, you should have a copy of this tucked away.  You can find Elizabeth at Twitter, get her weekly recipes from and or find her out and about on the national BBQ circuit.

Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (2010 Andrews McMeel) I love community generated cookbooks.  I think it tells you so much about people and their cultures.  I’m a huge fan of Junior League Cookbooks for snapshots of culinary history and how people ate at any one given time.  The Kansas City Barbecue Society is the world’s largest organization of barbecuing and grilling enthusiasts, and they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary with this book.  If you are curious about the world of competitive grilling, you want some award winning recipes for barbecue (so you know they’ve been tested and are good), like to have a quick reference for grilling temperatures for doneness, or you just like to peek into the history and stories of a group of people with a common interest, you’ll really like this book. Earlier editions of this book even have the calorie breakdown of recipes, but this edition has swapped those out in favor of very useful technical information about equipment, safety tips, barbecuing terminology, metric conversions, etc.

Seven Fires:  Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann with Peter Kaminsky (2009 Artisan; photography by Santiago Santo Monllor) This 2010 IACP Cookbook Award nominee deserved all the attention it got and more.  This is the elegant and captivating story of the relationship Francis Mallmann, one of Argentina’s most revered food professionals, has developed with grilling throughout his life.  It is his story about the history of a place, its people, and culture.  Seven are the types of fires which “form the backbone” of Argentine cuisine: Parrilla (cast iron grate over coals), Chapa (flat piece of cast iron set over a fire), Infiernillo (two fires with a cooking level in between), Horno de Barro (similar to an outdoor bread oven), Rescoldo (cooking by covering in warm embers and ashes), Asador (method for cooking whole animals), Caldero (large cast-iron kettle or dutch oven).  This book has ample recipes for cooking according to all these methods, and the sides and other dishes which go along.  This is primarily a meat-lover’s book, however, there are plenty of vegetarian dishes included.  One of my favorite recipes is neither: the Cast-Iron Seared Octopus with Murcia Pimenton.  Served with grilled potatoes, you will never forget this.  Just one look at this book and you will understand Matt’s love affair with Argentina.

Planet Barbecue! An Electrifying Journey Around the World’s Barbecue Trail by Steven Raichlen (2010 Workman; Photography by Ben Fink, Penny de los Santos, Anastasios Mentis, Steven Raichlen.  Food styled by Jamie Kimm and prop styled by Sara Abalan). I confess that when I saw Penny’s tweet that she worked on this, the book was instantly in my Amazon cart!  And now that I have it here, I can say that I am over the moon with my ‘crime of passion’.  I bought Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue! Bible when it came out and it’s my Barbecue reference.  I’m not going to lie and tell you that if you already have the B! Bible, you need this– the two are quite similar in their geographic coverage, and I can’t really tell if this is a result of the same travels he did for the first book,or if he traveled the world again to write this one. But Planet Barbecue! covers 60 countries vs 25 in B!Bible (albeit fewer recipes), Planet B! has a more “authentic” feel to the recipes, and more variety of recipes, and most important, there are photos!  Mouth-watering photos and how-to photos.     I am especially liking Jose Andres’ grilled bread with chocolate, sea salt, and olive oil!!  One book just seems more ‘modern’ than the other, although there is not any exact recipe overlap. So I’d say if you find yourself in front of both of these books, choose one or the other…unless you need both.

Favorite Strawberry Shortcake

I’ve toured enough strawberry fields and interviewed enough growers in my lifetime to realize this: sometimes strawberries blow your mind and sometimes strawberries leave you with that “meh” feeling. And the difference isn’t something you spot visually – sometimes even the most anemic-looking berries can pack a flavor punch while large beautiful red ones can leave you wanting more.

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