Adam’s Chef Knife Roll

A few months ago Adam was complaining that he didn’t have a proper way to transport his knives from home to the studio and across the country when he works. He found tons of nylon plasticky commercial generic knife rolls out there but if you know him personally you know that a) he requires durability and b) he’s got a bit of fancy-pants niceness to him! He likes good stuff. He was thrilled when he found Steve from Leather-Worker.com online and ordered his custom handmade leather knife roll. It wasn’t as cheap as the nylon versions out there but it was very affordable for the craftsmanship put into it. And it’s gorrrrrgeous. When it arrived I asked Adam if I could snap some photos of it to send to Steve and perhaps get the word out about this beautiful product. So there you have it!

I also figured now would be a great time to post about it since it’s the middle of summer and you’ll have plenty of time to order one before the holidays. Steve’s made a few for some very famous chefs and I think anyone with a knife collection would be happy to carry them in this beautiful roll, wouldn’t you? You can visit him at Leather Worker and tell him Matt sent ya!

Fine Print: Nope, not a paid advertisement, this post. We purchased the roll, I photographed it for free and sent the images to Steve to have them because I love helping artists out! There you have it!

10 Things I Learned About Louisiana Seafood (and a Sno Ball)

A few weeks ago we returned from a fantastically action-packed yet relaxing trip to Louisiana. While most of our time was spent in New Orleans, we were able to see a few places like Houma, Venice and Slidell, thanks to the Louisana Seafood Board. This trip was called the Food Blog Masters and let me tell you how much of an honor it was to be included in the roster of attendees. Sponsored by Louisiana Seafood, we ate more shrimp and crawfish than you could imagine while spending time learning about the seafood industry, the challenges it currently faces, and having a fantastic time with my blogging friends and the people of Louisiana. Did I mention I ate until my pants no longer fit?

With all kidding aside, what’s happened to the gulf coast of Louisiana in recent years isn’t anything to laugh about. With hurricane Katrina and the aftermath causing such notorious damage as well as the Deepwater Horizon accident, this part of the world has faced life and death situations that would destroy almost anyone. But not Louisiana. As I found out during my second trip to the area this year, Louisiana is resilient, determined, strong as hell, and putting things back together. Talk to anyone and notice: they aren’t going anywhere and refuse to be down about what life has given them. I’ve yet to find sorrow in any face I’ve met, only perseverance and acceptance and a welcoming spirit that makes me always ask “How on earth can people collectively deal with such shit and come back out on top?” And yet come back out on top they do.

The markers of these past events trickle into conversations on occasion. You can still see painted X’s on homes in the 9th ward as well as hear tales of oil spills and ecological disasters. But to focus on these two events would be a mistake, a disservice to the people who call Louisiana home. They are much greater, much better than anything mother nature or BP could throw at ‘em, much stronger than you or I could imagine. They are a special bunch of people who smile constantly and greet you as if you are family. They are proud of who they are and what they do, no matter the sacrifices that must be made to live in a region that gives but also takes away.

In a word, they believe in what they do. With all their hearts. And for me to share that with you in whatever way possible is a gift. I truly believe this.

So let’s bring it back to the seafood. I’m going to admit my culinary bias right now by telling you I grew up on the gulf coast. I have always known that the seafood from that part of the world packs more flavor than other seafood I’ve tasted and I’ll take a Gulf shrimp over any other any day of the week. Still, I wanted to do my best to remain open-minded about seeing how everything works first hand. And what did I learn? I discovered that Louisiana seafood is safe to eat, tested regularly, and that the hysteria that surrounded the BP oil spill can sometimes be blown out of proportion. For the doubters who are reading, I’ll say this: I won’t make a strong case to persuade you, I’m not confident enough with my words and believe that you will need to read, research and come to your own conclusion. I want you to have your own opinion. I can only tell you that personally I have seen and tasted what i feel is safe and will always implore you, my readers, to form your own opinion. It’s very easy for someone to say that my outlook was influenced by a trip sponsored by the Seafood Board but I’d hope you’d know me by now when I say I am speaking honestly and from my heart. That’s about the best I can give ya.

 

10. Go ahead. Embrace the classics.
There’s a reason why the ettoufees, the gumbos, the sazeracs are classics. Don’t go wrong and miss them. Trust me on this. Which is why over the course of the day my list included 5 different types of gumbos, crawfish etouffee, muffalettas, a shrimp po-boy, an oyster po-boy, bananas foster, fried oysters, fried shrimp, a crab boil, a crawfish boil, barbequed shrimp (Louisiana-style, mind you), shrimp salad, barbequed oysters, lots of snapper, flounder, sashimi, turtle soup, this list goes on and on. Just do it and don’t think twice. You’ll be happy you did.

9. There are 4 seasons in Louisiana: Crab, crawfish, oyster and shrimp.
And maybe this was a folkloric adage said to the group in slight humor but I don’t think so. Luckily we were able to eat across all these seasons and enjoy the absolute best the state has to offer. My faves? Shrimp and crab, without a doubt.

8. Louisiana Seafood is safe to eat.
We spent time with Mike Voisin, 7th generation oysterman and CEO of Motivatit, as well as other experts in the industry. What did I learn? Louisiana seafood is tested more now than it ever has been and is safe to eat. However, there are some that don’t believe the message and that’s ok. Again, I encourage you to reach out and ask questions and discover for yourself. But I have no issue with buying, cooking and serving it to my friends and family. I honestly believe it is safe to eat.

7. A Sno Ball in The Heat Of Summer Cools You Down

I was quite aware of the cultural significance of a New Orleans snowball from Hansen’s Sno Bliz but I still didn’t know how completely perfect they are. I’d never had one! The softest, fluffiest ice is shaved into a cup, topped with your choice of syrup flavors (everything from standard to exotic) and then topped with ice cream, marshmallows, cherries, you name it, giving you the perfect refreshing summertime snack with just enough oooph to elevate it to someplace higher than your basic sno-cone. I’ve seen trickles of Sno Balls appearing in a slightly modified version here in Los Angeles and it’s a trend I will gladly stand behind.

 

6. Fishing and Crabbing is hard work. Unless you do it with professionals. Attractive professionals.
I can have your permission for this blog to veer into juniorhighschoolgirlmode, right? Thank you for that. Because you’ll want me to share this moment with you. TRUST ME. See above.

Ok, enough of that. Back to being serious. Going out in the LA heat with the sun beating you up is hard work, and doing all that while fishing or lifting crab cages swiftly for a living makes what I do a luxury. It’s grueling tough work in the Louisiana sun that is passed down from generation to generation. To so many families here fishing is their life and I will never look at another piece of Louisiana seafood on my plate the same way. Respect.

5. Referring to myself as “The Reluctant Fisherman” isn’t really working for me so much anymore.

I grew up near boats on the gulf coast but I never claimed to have the urge to fish. I always left that to others who enjoyed it. Yet these past few years have seen me fishing in the Caribbean, in Mexico, in Louisiana and next week in Alaska which makes me think that a) I’m kind of enjoying this and b) I might have to start thinking of myself as the Not-Very-Good-But-Still-Down-To-Give-It-A-Try Fisherman. Yep, that works for me.

4. There’s no problem that can’t be solved by a crawfish boil.
Think about it: It’s an opportunity that requires communal eating, a chance to let guards down and be messy with others, and a meal that’s always always enjoyed with beer. These things instantly make all things better. And what could possibly make a crawfish boil even better than this:  Heading back up with your tray for seconds, that’s what.

3. To cook the food of Louisiana — no matter where you are — requires a knowledge, understanding, and an affinity of her history. Without this and you’re outta luck.
We spent a Saturday afternoon listening and visiting with Chef John Folse, a Louisiana culinary icon, as he spoke about the state of Louisiana seafood and Cajun and Creole cooking. The biggest thing I took away from the afternoon is that one must consider all of Louisiana’s rich history in order to successfully understand where each thing comes from in the kitchen. Spanish, Italian, French, African, Caribbean, Native American…it’s all there. Learn it and you’ll unlock they key to cooking Louisiana cuisine.

2. Jambalaya is best when made by Kristen Preau, a/k/a Jambalaya Girl of Cook Me Somethin’ Mister
Here’s a recipe for you: Daddy’s recipe, a special blend of spices, world’s biggest smile from the sweetest girl, some heat and sausage. Mix it up and what do you have? Kristen’s roving Jambalaya, something she does all over the place for gatherings and occasions. You’re not allowed to taste the final dish until you’re willing to join in on the chorus of (yell this VERY loudly!): “YUM YUM COME AND GIT YOU SUM!” I did my best but somewhere there’s a video of Marla Meredith of Family Fresh Cooking giving it her all and folks, trust me when I say this girl has it down like a native! I’ll pay good money for this video…. anyone? anyone?

And one last thing: can we get Jambalaya Girl to California, please?

1. I would and could eat Louisiana-style Barbequed Shrimp every single day of my life.

No, this isn’t a ketchupy thrown on a grill type of shrimp but a regional specialty that involves butter, garlic, oil, herbs and shrimp that results in a savory, silky dish that allows plenty of bread dunking into the sauce after you’ve devoured the shrimp. And I’m going to let you know that I am the type of guy that eats the entire shrimp: shell, head, all of it. I tell you this because I’m tired of being embarrassed with dining pals as I crunch away, always fending off questions about my missing shrimp shells. I know I’m not the only person that does this, right? But anyway, back to the recipe. I think this is one of my favorite Louisiana recipes of all time because it hits all the flavor points that excite me. I’m really missing it and hope to make it at home after I get my hands on some Louisiana shrimp!

Footnote: My friend Brooke Burton of FoodWoolf covered many excellent points about the seafood industry in her round up of the trip. I encourage you to read it.

Fine Print and Full Disclosure: This trip was furnished by Louisiana Seafood Board. I was not paid to write or to furnish my opinions, images or views.

Izabo “Summer Shade” Music Video

Ok, just in time for summer comes this music video from the band Ibazo. I found out about it when the director Eran Shushu Spanier emailed and asked me to check it out. Needless to say I completely fell in love with the tune and the video and I really want everyone to check it out. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at an ice cream cone the same way again but that’s fine with me! Eran took a few minutes to graciously answer some questions about the band and the video. Check it out after the video!

Grab a seat, turn up your speakers and check it out!

Matt: OH MY GOODNESS. I love this video. The music, the colors, the kids, the direction, the ice cream, the mustaches, all of it! It’s awesome!!!!

Shushu: Wow! My mother didn’t give me as many compliments as you!

Matt: What?! She didn’t? Well she better. She must. This is the most fun and snappiest video I think I’ve seen in years. Years!

Shushu: I’ll let her know, lol…

Matt: How did you become involved with the band?

Shushu: My sister gave me their CD way back and I really liked their music. Then 2 years ago I had an idea for a music video using iphones. I hadn’t any experience in direction (as I am a copywriter) but I decided to give it a chance. And so I got the band members’ number and set up a meeting. They loved the idea and from here to there this video was born.

And so, this year they wanted me to come up with a new idea for their Summery song from their upcoming album and that’s how the mustached ice creams were born.

Matt: What amazing direction, truly! Where did the idea come from?

Shushu: Well, ice cream is practically a major food group for me and even though I don’t have a mustache (girlfriend doesn’t approve), I think it’s a really awesome thing. So I just put one  and one together…

Matt: Where did you film the video?

Shushu: We filmed it here in Israel, in downtown Tel-Aviv. All the children and the crazy mustached Ice Cream Man all came voluntarily as we didn’t have much budget.

Matt: Were you able to eat tons and tons of gelato and ice cream?

Shushu: Oh yes! The ice cream (23kg) and the ice cream factory was given to us for free (!!!) by an amazing guy that runs one of the most amazing ice cream places in Tel-Aviv called Vanilglia. Yet because it was a hot day we needed to make face ice cream out of mashed potatoes and artificial colors.

Matt: Oh yes, the good old fake ice cream in the summer sun recipe! Shushu, thank you so much and now I think I need to plan a visit to Tel-Aviv and Vanilglia! Thank you!

 

Making Stuff with Avery Labels

MATT’S NOTE: There have been numerous requests for my template art as well as inquiries about the Limoncello bottles. Unfortunately I am unable to share the art. The bottles, purchased at World Market, haven’t been available for quite some time and I haven’t seen them since I purchased them a few years ago. Thanks so much!

Can I confess something to you? Will you promise not to tell anyone?

I am a Closet Crafter.

That’s right. I’ve got drawers full of labels, paint, brushes, gluesticks, scissors and hole punchers for those moments when I feel the creative streak hit me. I even made my own label for a gift I gave Paula Deen back in May. But it’s not often that I get out the craft box as crafting does require a certain amount of time and effort and the only reason I keep my crafting status in the closet is because I’m no where near as good as so many of my crafting amigos.

As part of my involvement with Martha’s Circle I was thrilled when they reached out along with Avery Labels and asked if I’d be interested in creating something with their products. It was perfect timing: I had limoncello I made earlier in the year that was ready to give out as summer gifts as well as a batch of simple syrups I made to take to an afternoon cocktail party. Rather than just give blank bottles I said “yes!” to the opportunity to use a variety of Avery labels for my lil gifts. I knew they’d look professional, polished yet still retain a handmade feel.

I raided my prop closet for various bottles with lids that would fit the project. I knew I wanted oval labels for the front of my simple syrups bottles. These little bottles were filled with sugar, water and various fruit and herbs that were all cooked together and allowed to cool. Set on the bar, all you need is a splash of soda water, a spirit like vodka or gin or rum, a few teaspoons of simple syrup and lots of freshly cracked ice for a very easy simple drink.  Give it a stir and enjoy. I’m not one to fuss during the summer months, ya know.

I opened the word templates, saved as a PDF and then imported them into Adobe Illustrator where I would have more control over the design. But it's not necessary!

Using Avery Easy Peel Print-to-the-edge Kraft Brown Round labels I created a template that I downloaded from them and modified my art in Adobe Illustrator. It’s moments like this where I’m glad I have a background in graphic design!

(But even still, it’s not difficult, trust me. Avery makes this so easy and it only took minutes!)

After I filled my bottles with the various simple syrups all I had to do was peel and stick. So easy. The most difficult part was making sure they were even but I got it pretty close.


 

The second part of my project involved bottling up some of the limoncello I made back in January. This Italian concoction is made from fresh lemon peel, vodka and sugar; it’s allowed to sit for several weeks (turning often), then strained and bottled. The sweet, lemony syrup is great over ice, in iced tea, cocktails, drizzled over ice cream, you name it! And like so many things it always tastes better when you make it yourself.  Because a little goes a long way, I didn’t need large containers for gifts. But I wanted to try a small hang tag to go around the neck of the bottle so I used Avery Printable Tags for Inkjet Printers. They were pre-cut and only required a simple feed through my color laser printer to make (I used a template I downloaded from Avery). Couldn’t have been easier!  I finished the bottles with decorative string and a round white blank label with a handwritten date that it was made on.

 

Everything came out great and it makes me happy to give them as gifts. Even if everyone will probably be too drunk to remember them. Oh well!

 

Thank you Avery Labels for letting my Inner Crafter come out and play!

Want to put your best brand forward and enter for a chance to win prizes from Avery? You can! Visit the Best Brand Forward Contest for details and how to enter. The 1st Prize winner will receive $5000 and your brand and product will appear in an upcoming issue of Martha Stewart Living. Pretty fantastic if you ask me! There are also 2nd and 3rd place prizes so get up on this y’all!

The Fine Print: Avery sent me the product of my choice for this project and I was compensated for designing, creating and photographing my creations. The concept, design, execution, and opinion of Avery Products is my own. Thankyouverymuch!

Kitchen Wisdom, Volume 1

Over the past few weeks as I’ve been doing media and press for my book, On A Stick!, there’s one question that sometimes gets asked after the usual “why sticks?” People ask if I have any culinary or cooking background, to which I say “Are you kidding me? You think I’m masochistic enough to work in a kitchen?!?” Ok, I don’t really say that. I just answer that all my knowledge of cooking comes from a lifetime in the kitchen with family. My grandmother, my mother, my father, my chef friends, my farmer friends, you name it – if I can glean something from them I will.

Many lessons have been learned through trial and error which I suppose is a good way to learn. I’ve made many mistakes and continue to make many mistakes (you should have seen my Korean song pyeon I tried to make the other day, I don’t even wanna talk about it). I thought I’d begin a series of things I’ve learned along the way and subject you to some bad illustrations I painted. Sometimes you just have to step away from the camera and change things up a bit. Ladies and gentleman, I give you MattBites Kitchen Wisdom Volume 1.

Kitchen Thermometers Are Your Friends.

There was a time when I tried to wing everything. The result? Soggy fried foods, destroyed melted sugar gloop, burnt butter (which isn’t a bad thing exactly but you know what I’m saying). And since deep frying plays a big part of On A Stick!, it’s important to know your temperatures and know when you’re where you want to be. Kitchen thermometers help with this. And they also help with roasting and baking so that you know when things like turkey and chicken are ready. We keep a variety of them in the drawer next to the oven and I’m not picky. Yes, some work better than others but I wouldn’t dream of being without a few in our kitchen.

 

Don’t Cook In The Nude. Don’t Fry In The Nude, More Importantly.

My handlers and the team of mattbites advisors have advised that I remain silent on the experiences that led to #2 in this entry. Suffice it to say that frying and cooking in the nude is not recommended, no matter how tall or short you are.  Trust me on this one.

One Good Sharp Knife Helps Tremendously.

When I visit friends who don’t cook or fess up that they don’t enjoy cooking I always ask them about their knives. Inevitably they’ll pull out a cheap $6.99 knife or something from the dollar store and say it’s their main prep knife. I’ll then do one of two things: buy them a very nice knife as a gift or tell them where to get one. You need the proper tools to be successful in the kitchen and a very good knife is the perfect place to start. You can skimp on other things in my opinion but you must begin with a good knife. It’s even more important than #1.

A Sandwich Made By Someone Else Will Always Taste Better Than One You Make For Yourself. Accept This.

You know what I’m talking about here. And I can’t figure out why and trust me, I’ve spent many sleepless nights thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make a sandwich for myself when I’m home alone. In fact, ever since shooting The Encyclopedia Of Sandwiches I’ve learned to appreciate making them for myself. But it still doesn’t come close to having someone else do it. It just doesn’t.

Never Buy Premade Salad Dressings. There Are No Exceptions To This Rule.

You must pay taxes, death is certain, and bottled salad dressings are a waste of time and money. These are the absolutes of life. And at the risk of offending my fine friends in the food industry I really mean it when I say that there’s just no reason to ever buy a bottled salad dressing. EVER. Nope, convenience and lack of know-of is not an excuse. Because nothing comes close to putting a few simple ingredients in a jar, emulsifying them and seasoning it to your liking. And when you think about the costs involved you can’t help but skip the dressings aisle next time you’re at the supermarket. Keep a good olive oil on hand (not too strong), a few great mustards, some vinegars and herbs and spices and you’ll have salad dressing in about 45 seconds.

 

Okay folks, what about you? What have you learned to be your culinary truths in the kitchen? I would really love to know!