Heidi’s Super Natural Every Day

I’m at a loss for words as I sit down to write a very quick review of Heidi Swanson’s latest book Super Natural Every Day. There is nothing that could come from me that would tell you what you don’t already know about Heidi and her writing and photography.

It’s perfect.

For once I’m not trying to speak in superlatives here and I really mean it when I say this book is perfect.  I’ve been carrying it around showing it to friends and family and find myself saying something over and over again.

“It feels good, doesn’t it?”

When I think about it, I’m not sure how to explain my statement. There’s the tactile element, similar to her last book in that the soft coated stock wraps around the beautiful images printed on uncoated paper. There’s the graphic design and typography that adds but never distracts, and then there are the photographs.

Oh, those photographs.

They inspire me. They take me places. They make me dream of soft light and quiet conversations, something I’m all too short on as I try to do way too many things all over the world.

This book makes me catch my breath.

And of course there are the recipes. Heidi writes recipes that are blend of comforting flavors and good-for-you ingredients, all with dashes of global influences that keep me (and millions of others) yearning for more. There’s nothing I don’t want to eat from this book, and I’m not the least bit embarrassed to tell you that I began with the alcoholic beverages first. Ok, maybe I’m slightly embarrassed.  But light Heidi says, they’re light and fizzy, not hard and heavy. I like that.

There are no ways around this next sentence: YOU NEED THIS BOOK. You must have this book. If you don’t already, that is. It inspires me and I hope it does the same for you. I’m pretty confident it will.

 

Chickpeas & Dandelion Greens
One of the first recipes I made from Super Natural Every Day was the Chickpeas & Dandelion Greens. I’m a greens freak and I’ve been on a chickpea kick lately so it seemed like a natural combination. It’s simple yet filling, and anything with lemon zest, salt and red pepper flakes is going to make me smile. Heidi recommends using any green that looks tender and fresh so if you can’t get dandelion greens then don’t worry.

2 cups / 10 oz / 280 g cooked chickpeas (see page 215), or 1 (15-ounce / 425g) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Fine-grain sea salt
3 or 4 handfuls of young dandelion leaves, stems trimmed
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Put the chickpeas in a medium bowl.

Take out a large skillet, and, while it is still cold, add the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and 2 big pinches of salt. Stir over medium heat until the garlic starts to sizzle; it should not begin to brown. Toss the dandelion greens into the skillet and stir until they begin to wilt, 15 seconds or so. Stir in the lemon zest.

Pour the greens over the chickpeas and toss. Taste, and add a bit more salt if needed. Transfer to a platter and seve warm or at room temperature.

serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish

Tinto de Verano
Heidi calls this drink sangria’s “dressed-down cousin”.  Made of only three things, cheap red winem, sparkling lemonade and plenty of ice, I knew I had to give this recipe priority in anticipation of plenty of summer entertaining. It does not disappoint and is the perfect warm weather sip.

Ice cubes
1 (750ml) bottle inexpensive Spanish red wine
Sparkling (naturally sweetened) lemonade or any not-too-sweet lemon-lime beverage
Fresh lemon slices

Heidi says: Fill each glass with as many ice cubes as will fit. Add 1/2 cup / 120 ml wine and 1/2 cup / 120 ml sparkling lemonade to one glass, then stir. Taste. It should be light and refreshing and not overly “juicy.” Sometimes the cheap wine you get here in the States is very concentrated and grape-y. If that is the case, you’ll need to dilute your tinto with a bit more sparkling lemonade. Fill the remaining glasses, stir, garnish with lemon slices, and serve.

serves 4 to 6

Both recipes reprinted with permission from Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen by Heidi Swanson, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

 

 

 

 

Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan

This quick book review will most likely be biased. I’m cool with that. And I’m owning my bias in a big way, here’s why:

  1. My husband works out of state several weeks a month.
  2. I am from Texas. Mr. Yonan is from Texas.
  3. Mr. Yonan is affable, sweet and smart, and has a chapter on tacos.
  4. Tacos.

While 1 through 4 are major reasons why I love this book so much, they’re not the only reasons why Joe Yonan’s Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures In Cooking For One. is currently rocking my kitchen. I met Joe, the Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, in person last year at IACP when I was presenting a talk on food photography. You can imagine my surprise when we started chatting about being from small Texas towns, and if you’re from a small Texas town there are some things that only others could from Texas could understand and appreciate. Plus Joe spent time in Austin, my 2nd hometown, so you can see the affinity I have for Joe.

But let’s talk about his book. Beginning with a very amusing story about a Facebook comment Joe received about his “Cooking For One” column in The Washington Post, this book celebrates something many of us do on a regular basis when we sit down to a meal created for ourselves. And I’m of Joe’s mindset: there’s nothing wrong with having a wonderful group of friends and family to share meals with, but when you are alone you needn’t be without good food. And this is why (along with #1 above) that this book resonates so much with me. I cook for myself more than you would possibly realize.

For me, cooking solo relies on some of my favorite things to cook: stir fries, grains and beans, anything with tortillas and plenty of roasted or grilled vegetables. Now that Joe’s written a book on this subject, well, I’m elated that I’ll be able to cook from it and still be treated to so many of my favorites: sandwiches, tacos, a whole chapter on eggs (YES!) as well as pizzas and pasta. I’m a huge fan of making pizzas when I’m home alone and plan on diving into the pizza chapter today while the other half is working in Chicago.

And yes, the recipes are written in quantities meant for one, with plenty of information on ways to put leftovers to great use and how to dress up the meal with condiments.

Did I mention there’s a chapter on tacos?

I still haven’t decided what I love most about Serve Yourself: the variety of stellar recipes or Joe’s humor that opens and closes the book. I couldn’t stop laughing about the stories of his relationships past, all shared with humility and humor and I’d probably be the first person to buy a book he wrote on that subject alone. Joe is hilarious.

Joe’s Spicy Hummus

With all my banter about tacos you’d think I’d pick a recipe from that chapter. Nope. I can’t get past his recipe for Spicy Hummus which I not only had at the studio when I photographed it for this post but have made 2 times since then. It’s delicious with a slight kick, I’ve been digging it with sliced cucumbers as my choice of dipping vessel, spread on toasted lavash and also on everyday sandwiches. I am officially in chickpea mode and this hummus is perfect.

 

Makes about 2 cups

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
2 cups cooked chickpeas, preferably homemade (page 45), rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chickpea cooking liquid or water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons tahini, plus more as needed
Juice of 1 lemon
1 plump clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Pour the oil into a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and pimenton. Cook, stirring or shaking the pan frequently, until the spices are very fragrant, about 30 seconds. (Be careful not to let the spices burn.) Turn off the heat and let cool.

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, cooking liquid, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Pour in the oil and red pepper flakes from the skillet. Process until smooth. Taste, adjust the salt if necessary, and add more cooking liquid or water if you want the hummus thinner or more tahini if you want it thicker.

Eat immediately, or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Reprinted with permission from Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One by Joe Yonan copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

 

Ben Holtz of California Avocados Direct and a Giveaway!

Last week I headed down to San Diego with the delightful Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking to visit Ben Holtz, avocado grower and super duper nice guy. I found out about Ben through an email introducing me to his company, California Avocados Direct, at about the same time many of my blogging pals were getting boxes of hand-picked avocados in the mail. Rather than just send a few emails back and forth we decided to see if Ben would let us visit. if there’s anything you know about farmers and growers it’s that they are some of the most polite and open people on the planet and love sharing what they do. So on a sunny Monday afternoon we piled in the car and paid Ben a visit.

I didn’t share this with anyone at the time, but knowing how freakishly in love with avocados Gaby actually is, I had some concerns that she’d just start running off in the middle of the field into a grove of avocado trees and then I’d have to ask Ben if he had an ATV I could borrow to try to find her and once I did I imagined she’d be stuck in a tree like a mad woman inhaling avocados, one hand holding on to a branch for dear life while the other arm smashed avocados all over her body as she emitted that high pitch monkey squeal whenever I’d get too close. You think this is a stretch but you do not know how she feels about avocados, do you? I do believe this scenario could happen.

But all kidding aside…

We were both captivated by Ben’s story of growing up on the family farm and being around avocados his entire life. His mother Mimi and father Ed, a farmer as well, still live on the land today. Ben and his brother Daniel graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with degrees in Bio Resource and Agricultural Engineering and it’s this level of knowledge that Ben shared with us as we walked through acres and acres of beautiful avocado trees.

Presented with technical information that my brain could never retain, we learned about the life cycle of avocado trees, which trees yield the best fruit, the importance of bees, how a tree is grafted and what it takes to bring avocados to market. As we sampled fruit and drove around, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am to be able to have the opportunity to ask Ben firsthand these questions and to spend time in such a beautiful place. Even if I had to keep an eye on my friend so she wouldn’t disappear.

But about those boxes of avocados. That was the real reason we were there as I wanted to know more about them. As a way to generate revenue due to the increased water costs Ben recently had the creative idea of hand-selecting pristine avocados, packaging them up and sending them directly from the grove to a customer’s doorstep, all while embracing social media as a way to share his story. I like that idea in theory, but I loved it in person: he literally walks out into his special private reserve, handcuts avocados, snaps a photo of him doing it and sends the fruit along with the photo.

Ben’s hands are the only ones who touch your fruit. I’m not sure anyone else can make that claim with supermarket avocados, but even if they could the magic factor is missing: the delightful Ben Holtz.  And because of him, you’re getting perfect fruit each and every time. And trust me, you don’t really know what heaven is until you cut open an avocado while sitting underneath 30 year old trees and tasting its flesh, unadorned. Ben has superb avocados. And I should know, I’m sitting here eating one as I type this story!

Let’s have a little tour of the ranch, shall we? And make sure to read about the little giveway at the end of this post!

Without bees there is no avocado pollination. I ventured pretty close to the bees to get this photo, one apparently wanted to come home with me.  Here’s a shot Gaby took of me photographing the bees. I’m giving you an Underwear Warning.

Ben’s Office: I think I could used to this sweeping view. And on the right is what I call the magic tunnel, a corridor of tall avocado trees that still bear fruit. The cooler temperature underneath the trees as well as the cleaner air was quite noticeable. I want to live there.

Here’s Ben plucking pristine avocados to personally package and post. How’s that for alliteration? On the right is a small avocado plant that’s sprouted from an avocado seed that’s been on the ground covered in rich ground covering. The trees love this cool damp covering; thanks to their shallow root systems, they need it.

****** A Giveaway! ****** Gaby and I are both giving away 1 fabulous box of 15 Hass Avocados from Ben and California Avocados Direct! All you have to do is leave a comment here at mattbites telling me your favorite way of using an avocado. Heck, just tell me how much you love them, I’m easy! I’ll randomly select one comment and announce it this Friday, April 22nd, just leave a comment any time from now until Friday 8am PST.  And this giveaway is twice as nice when you head over to Gaby’s site to enter, too.

Also, Ben has been such a gracious host and offered a one-time 30% discount from now until tomorrow at midnight (Tuesday, 4/19 PST) on any of your California Avocado orders. Make sure to enter “GabyandMatt” during checkout to take advantage of this limited offer.

All The Fine Print: I never want you to question my motives. Because of this I want you to know that one of my most beloved clients is the California Avocado Commission and  I photograph many of their recipes for their website. My visit to Ben, a grower of California Avocados, came via a press release from them and that’s when Gaby and I both put on our thinking caps. I personally purchased the avocados I am giving away on this post, this is not a sponsored blog post. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things: The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches

I would like to tell you how much I love my job.

I love it thissssssssssssssssssssssssssssss much. Why? Because not only do I get to work with food almost every day and with people I love, but because once in a while there are projects like Susan Russo’s The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches that just make life so deliciously fun.

Susan, of the lovely blog Foodblogga, asked me at the beginning of last year if I would photograph her upcoming book on sandwiches. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate a sandwich, including myself, so I immediately said yes.  I was really looking forward to working with her and Quirk and I was also really interested in the challenge of photographing over 125 sandwiches for one single project.

It is an encyclopedia, after all!

Here are the 10 things I learned while photographing this book:

10.  When Food Stylist Extraordinaire Adam Pearson Uses Real Ingredients, The Photographer Can Eat Every Sandwich.

I take what I do seriously and felt it was my duty to taste every single sandwich after photographing it. What did I learn? That I love almost every sandwich. Some more than others.

9. Putting Butter On Bread And Layering French Fries Across It Is God’s Way Of Telling You The World Is Just Right.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Chip Butty. I don’t really need to tell you any more, just look at it. Love it.

 

8. You Can Never Appreciate Fantastic Teammates Enough. You Just Can’t.

An ambitious shooting schedule takes work but with experts in the kitchen it’s nothing but smooth sailing. I’ll sound like a broken record yet again when I say working with Adam and Jenny is a dream come true. Thank you both!

 

7. It’s Ok To Eat The Same Sandwich All Day Long.

There was a late addition to the sandwich book in the form of Campanile’s Fresh Burrata Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Chickpeas, burrata and prosciutto on one sandwich? YES PLEASE. Not only did I gobble down the photo sandwich but we went home and made it for dinner. I suggest you try it.

6. I Wish I Didn’t Love This So Much.

It’s ham and swiss with jelly (and/or mustard) on a doughnut.  That’s right, that’s what I said. And I freaking love it. No shame in my game, y’all. For the record I made myself mighty uncomfortable by eating 3 of these in a row and I don’t suggest you do the same.

5. I Laugh Like A 3rd Grader Every Time I Say “Hot Brown”.

I’m gonna leave it at that. **UPDATE** I totally don’t mean to malign a delicious sandwich, please don’t take it that way! I’m just juvenile, that’s all.

 

4. Working With Quirk Books Is A Dream.

This was my first project with Quirk, the book publisher from Philadelphia. It was a dream. Gracious editors, fun designers, and a working relationship that I valued tremendously. In fact, I even did another project with Quirk Books after The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches. Maybe I’ll tell ya about it sometime :)

 

3. I Greatly Improved My Sandwich Shooting Skills.

You’d think shooting a single-subject book with very specific design parameters would be limiting. It’s quite the opposite and I enjoy the challenge of trying to see the same things in new ways. It really keeps me on my toes!

2. Bacon Does Make Everything Better. On A Sandwich It Makes It Exponentially Better.

I know, let me tell you something you don’t already know.

 

1. See Number Two.

 

Thanks to Susan, Margaret, and Jenny for allowing me to work on such a fun book! And with love and respect for Adam and Jenny, my team for their talent, dedication and culinary chops. Working with you two helps me to be a better photographer and person. I mean that. And I’m not just saying that because I’m married to the stylist!

 



Learning About Pie, Learning About Myself

I woke up like I do any other morning, except for a nagging dream that came to me in my sleep and wouldn’t disappear until I did something about it.

I needed to learn how to make pie.

Now I have no idea where this came from. But the way the whole thing worked out I’m beginning to see that this yearning for pie came from a higher power, or at least from deep inside my subconscious. And it needed to be addressed.

In my dream I became adept at taking summer fruit, putting it into a pie made with love and then handing them to others to enjoy, to share, to eat. I gave them to friends and strangers at picnics, made a few for our summer outings, and had one on the counter for anyone that stopped by and wanted a piece. I suspect this is exactly why people make pies but me? My pie skills were embarrassing. So embarrassing that I shied away from making them for others. How could I make something for others when clearly there are pie makers with generations of experience, expertise and knowledge?

It turns out my adventure – and my feelings of pie self-worthlessness – had absolutely nothing to do with pie and everything to do with me.

I love giving. No, really, I try to live my life with an open heart and give more than I take. But sometimes I feel that even though what I give comes from my heart, it’s wrapped inside digital 1’s and 0’s, delivered from a computer or measured in megapixels, bits, and blogging templates. I sometimes hide behind it, for reasons I cannot explain. Maybe my pie dream was life’s way of telling me to step away from the computer, to wander away from wifi, and share with my hands and my heart.

And maybe it was to learn about myself.

I sent out a quick tweet looking for pie guidance. Friends responded, all pointing to the one and only Kate McDermott from The Art Of Pie, Pie Maker and Teacher who is “Making the world a better place, one pie at a time.” Well hello there, Understatement. What Kate is doing may appear to be pie making on the buttery, flaky surface, but underneath there’s love, compassion, acceptance, and peace swirling around that sweet, fruit filling.

And oh how I needed it.

We arrived at our pie class after a quick sunny drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Kate splits time between Washington and California, making my pie pilgrimage that much easier. When Kate greeted us at the door it was as I had known her for years, but having plenty of mutual friends tends to do that. In a sense I already knew her and her pies from spending time on her website, but what can’t be translated easily on the internet is heart, spirit, and kindness. Look them up in a dictionary and I’m pretty sure you’ll see photos of Kate.

Adam brought along our required pie making tools, I brought along nervousness, apprehension and doubt. How will I make a pie with a master? Will she be like Lita Nillen, my 5th grade piano teacher whose favorite word was “NO!” which she uttered every time I played the wrong note, which was all too often? Will she be all smiles until I flub something up? More importantly, why was I so concerned, working myself up so much that I almost wanted to leave before I even arrived?

Why?

Before I had a chance to even think about it, Kate looked deep into my eyes and I immediately felt comfortable. Hey, I might be ok and learn something instead of relying on my usual toolkit of bad jokes, self-deprecation and humor.

I’ve made it this far, pie don’t fail me now.

A few hours of mixing, of squeezing butter and lard and flour made me feel at home. My questions were taken to heart, always answered with an explanation that combined love, humor, insight and science. No question was trivial, no concern deemed too silly. I ticked off my mental checklist of questions and realized something strange happens: when you are close friends with chefs, bakers, stylists and famous people like this you sometimes keep things to yourself for fear of nagging your best buds about shop talk. Wait, am I the only one that does this? Please tell me I’m not.

But of course I should know better. Food people are some of the most generous people on the planet. Kate exemplifies this.

A few hours of baking, laughing and some teary-eyed moments revealed pies that sang from the heavens, of angelic fillings and perfect crusts that proved why pies exist: to feed and bring people together. It’s not convenience food, it’s not meant to eat in your car or by yourself. It’s meant to share, to connect, to love, and I will forever thank Kate for helping me see this.

 

 

So what exactly did I learn about pies and myself in my time with Kate? Lest I ever forget some of the most important lessons I’m sharing them here. If you came looking for pie tips, tricks and recipes, well, you’re going to have meet Kate. I insist. But should you decide to take Kate’s class, you might find that the lessons learned aren’t so much about pie as much as they are about you. For that I’m eternally grateful.

When making pie, all ingredients must be chilled. Including you.
Science says that keeping the bowl, the fats and even your flour cold yield the best results. Science also says keeping yourself cool, relaxed and chilled makes everything better. And this was Kate’s #1 Rule and perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned. I’m hoping to incorporate more Chilled Matt in everything I do. I’m sure my body and spirit will thank me.

Put an intention in the bowl. Put an intention is everything you do.
I watched Kate put happy thoughts and an intention into her mixing bowl. It gave everything meaning and purpose and I have no doubt it makes everything taste sweeter. Imagine if we all did everything with some lovin’ and happy thoughts behind it? Imagine if we made every simple act count? I’m sure it requires thought but I can’t think of a single act that could make life sweeter than that.

Worrying about cracks in your dough before you even make a pie is senseless.
Boy, am I guilty of this. I always call this the “what-ifs” as in “what if this photo doesn’t turn out the way I need it to” or “what if I’m late and ruin the surprise” or, well, you know where I’m going with this. Worry and concern in front of a situation that might not yield worry and concern is just futile. Don’t do it. Enjoy each moment and hope for the best. Because… (see next rule)

Just Make Pie.
I could think of a million reasons to not make pie: Would it be good enough? Would my crust be a soggy mess? Or I could just get in the damn kitchen and do it. And this is what Kate means when she says this. Why make it difficult? Just make pie. Do it. It’s only pie.

You’re making the pie. It’s not the other way around.
I witnessed Kate slap dough onto the counter, lovingly yet forcefully pat it into place, and mend gaps and cracks in crusts during the class. She was in charge of her pie, no matter what it was trying to do. There’s a very important lesson to be learned here: a myriad of ingredients, processes, steps and science could be seen as daunting if you let it take over. Just like life. You’re in charge of your own destiny. Plain and simple.

Adjust Your Attitude First, Recipe Second.
I had minor freakouts over textures and shapes and worried they weren’t turning out properly. Kate sensed my nervousness and simply asked me to readjust my outlook. And you know what? A deep breath, a mental repositioning and nice words of encouragement were all I needed to continue or fix something. Had I not listened I would have tried to fix what was inside the bowl without ever looking at what was wrong outside of it.

Irregularity, differences, odd shapes, sizes and varieties all make a single pie taste great.
I was shocked when I asked Kate which apples make a great pie. I was equally shocked when I asked what sizes fit well into pies. “All of them!” she replied, stating that soggy pieces, firm pieces, tart pieces and sweet pieces all have a place together under the crust. They all help to make one delicious pie. And it gave me pause; there’s room for everyone and everything in this world, no matter how different we are. That’s some heavy, tasty stuff, isn’t it?

Words of gratitude, appreciation and love for the one and only Kate McDermott. Thank you for sharing so much with us and with the world. You made it one of the best days of my life and I’m well on my way to learning the gift of pie. And world, if you have a chance to learn with Kate, please do. Follow her on twitter here. Her website is The Art Of Pie.