Jordan Winery Estate Tales magazine photo shoot: Behind The Scenes

Before you settle into this post and video, please:

1) Forgive my spastic, forever gesticulating body language. I swear I can be calm. Sometimes.

2) What really looks like Jazz Hands was only me talking about a large plate with tiny food (my pet peeve).

3) No insects were killed in the making of this video.

4) I’m fully aware that I sound like Minnie Mouse when I speak.

I do want to thank the lovely folks at Jordan Winery for the opportunity to join them on their Estate Tales magazine photo shoot for the 3rd year in a row. It’s such a joy to spend time with them and see all the new things they do for their customers. As a business owner myself I’m touched that they place such an emphasis not only their product but on their customers, too. I can’t wait to return and see what’s in store!

Thanks to the entire Jordan team, and also to my beautiful assistant who provided the necessary support to pull off all this hard work in such a grueling environment. Tee hee.

A Very Simple Goodbye Summer Bruschetta

This post is presented by San Pellegrino. I’m digging this content series as they focus on moments in food as seen through an Italian angle. What a great way to think about past trips to Italy, right?

Let’s not talk about this past summer.

I mean, let’s.

Pros: Sunny, Warm, Daylight. Cons: Sunny, Warm, Daylight.

This will most likely be the only time I will willingly complain about summer. You see, it was brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L. Hot. Abnormally hot. And while I’m a warm weather kinda guy of the highest order, it was just too much. I’m happy to say things have since cooled down.

Because of the heat and calendar obligations, I spent most of the past 2 months tucked inside my studio working, moving into a new home, and doing my best to avoid the heat. Somewhere in the process I missed one little star of summer.


It wasn’t until I realized I hadn’t had my share of summer tomatoes until I was in Sonoma shooting at Jordan Winery. With an organic garden located below the estate, the realization hit me as I was staring smack dab at dozens of tomato plants. It hit me again when lunch was served (a platter of heirlooms with basil) and again at dinner (more tomatoes with vinaigrette and hair-thin slices of onions). I decided that I must make up for my tomato deficit by eating as many as possible over 3 days, and let me tell you I was in glorious tomato nirvana.

Standing in the chateau of the winery transports you to Europe, and getting my fill of tomatoes reminded me of a trip we made a few years ago to Don Alfonso on the Sorrento Coast. Every morning for breakfast, fresh garden tomatoes were served on top of toasted bread alongside a variety of pastries and jams. Tomatoes for breakfast? Is this normal? Does it matter? All I can say is that I loved the tangy, acidic savory contrast against of platter of sweets. It was heavenly, and when I got back I decided to embrace what’s left of summer by creating this bruschetta for breakfast. Enjoyed with tea or a cappuccino it’s a perfect breakfast, or for that moment after breakfast that’s not quite a brunch.

There is no recipe for this, just some guidelines for this dish. You’ll want to use the best possible tomatoes you can find, and don’t even think of making this dish in winter. And if you hurry, you can still find some great tomatoes, but they’re going fast. If necessary, quickly blanch the tomatoes to remove their skins, although it’s not necessary. A little salt, a tiny bit of olive oil, and perhaps a drizzle of honey. Maybe a basil leaf or two. No, this isn’t your full-flavored, pack-with-garlic-and-basil bruschetta that you might enjoy for dinner but a simpler, quieter version that is at home next to sweet things. And when it comes to bread, don’t skimp.
See you next summer, summer. And try to cool it a bit, will you?

Brought to you by San Pellegrino. Enter now for a chance to be one of five winners of a FIAT 500. Plus, you could win great Italian-inspired prizes in S.Pellegrino’s Live In Italian On The Go Sweepstakes.

Book Reviews!

Oh my, I’ve been bad and haven’t posted these reviews from Kristina in some time. K, please forgive me. But they’re as good as ever, I promise. Take it away, Kristina! –mattt

I’ve been away for a long time.  The last time I was writing, there was almost three feet of snow on the ground.  Now it’s hotter than the fourth of July.  Which, actually isn’t all that true, because I spent the fourth of July in Nashville, and it was 105F then.  It’s just 104F here in Rome now.  Summer to me is all about American food.  I don’t know why.  In winter, I really crave all the Italian stuff.  In summer, I crave the freedom and simplicity of a barbecue and a great cobbler.  Even though we’re nearing the end of summer, the temps still feel like the peak, so this week, I’m doing American cookbooks, plus one.

Here’s the plus one:  

POLPO:  A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts) by Russell Norman; Bloomsbury 2012.  Photography by Jenny Zarins.  Don’t wait for this book to be released in the US.  Buy it now from the UK.  It’s that good.  I bought this a few weeks ago and a day hasn’t passed that I haven’t had it in my hands.  From the binding to the cover and graphic design, to the photography, and most importantly the recipes, this book is my #1 book of the year.  The meticulous care that went into making this book is exactly what went into making Polpo the restaurant.  Norman’s intro concludes with a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery which he feels described the dishes in his restaurant Polpo in London: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  He kinda got it right on the money.  I am guessing this is a Venetian cookbook (of sorts) because not all the recipes are Venetian, but it doesn’t matter.  You will love the pizzette, polpette, risotti, fritto misto, pork belly with radicchio and hazelnuts, cod cheeks lentils and salsa verde, warm octopus salad, bigoli in salsa, and everything else.  Norman has scraped up almost every single dessert made in Italy, except for the Neapolitan and Sicilian ones, too.  And has even included a few cocktails.  All in all, if you could have only a few Italian cookbooks, you’d never get tired of this one.  Ever.  You can see more about the design of the book and the inner pages on the designer, Praline, website.

I will admit that my first experience at Polpo in London was 90% negative (the 10% is that they have the best Dark & Stormys I’ve ever had), but knowing everything that has gone into the restaurant, its menu, and seeing these recipes has totes made me believe it was some weird fluke and I can’t wait to go back!

Now on to America

People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop by Nathalie Jordi, David Carrell, and Joel Horowitz;  Ten Speed Press 2012.  Photography by Jennifer May.  Last year’s Paletas by Fany Gershon holds a special place in my heart, but People’s Pops is inching its way in.  This is a fruit lovers book.  It’s full of popsicles made with interesting fruit and herb combinations such as plum/yogurt/tarragon, blueberry/cardamom, blackberry/rose, and apricot and salted caramel (I know salted caramel isn’t an herb!).  The heat doesn’t seem to be subsiding, so you may as well make some part of it enjoyable!

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl and Griffith Day; Artisan 2012.  Photography by Squire Fox.  Summer is all about American food to me.  Cheryl Day (or “Shurl” and we say in the south) and her husband Griffith run a bakery in Savannah, Georgia.  They have put together the quintessential American baking book.  Cinnamon sticky buns, brown sugar banana bread, apple brown betty, sterling cheesecake.  There’s a savory section too!  I loved the vintage and homemade feel to this book so much, I had to buy a copy for my family.  If you love American baking, you’ll love this book.

Martha’s American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation’s Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast by Martha Stewart; Clarkson Potter 2012.  Photography various artists.  Last year’s My Family Table by John Besh featured American classics at their finest.  It remains one of my favorite books in the category.  Now that regional American food is having a bit of a revival, I think any basic collection of American cooking books would be enriched by this volume.  This is basically the best of Junior League recipes meets Martha Stewart, and is everything you love and hate about US cuisine.  Sloppy Joes, skillet cornbread, Hoppin’ John, pigs in a blanket, pecan cheese balls, “moon pies” (a recipe to make similar cookies), layered dips, ribs…  This is a very good gift for anyone who enjoys American food and wants all the ‘classics’ in one volume.

The Great American Cookbook: 500 Time-Tested Recipes: Favorite Food from Every State by Clementine Paddleford, edited by Kelly  Alexander; Rizzoli 2011.  No photography.  This is an edited version of How America Eats by Clementine Paddleford.  It took her 12 years to write and is based on over 2,000 interviews with Americans all over the US.  This is an encyclopedic collection of recipes from every state.  It’s a trip in time to many dishes I’ve never heard of and would probably never eat!  Nonetheless it is a valuable archive of the history of food in the USA.  This is more a reference book for authenticity and historical/cultural curiosity than a book you’re likely to cook from.  All the same if you’re someone who likes stories and food, you’ll love this book.  And if you’re like me, and you like to compare recipes and see how they differ from place to place, you’ll also love this.

Martha Stewart’s Cooking School this weekend on PBS

Wow, it’s hard to believe it was 4 years ago that a certain someone was on Martha’s old show as it seems like yesterday. But this weekend we see the premiere of Martha’s new series on PBS titled Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. I’ve screened 3 episodes already before the debut and while it’s definitely not breaking any new tv ground, it’s nice to just sit back and see what Martha does best: teach. And if you’re like me, a refresher is always appreciated.

Stylistically, it’s almost a hybrid of her last show (without the guests) and her previous Living program that ran from 1993 to the early 2000’s.

Check your local PBS listings to find airing times. No Big Bird political jokes :)


The Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest!

Can you believe it’s that time again? That’s correct, I’m thrilled to announce the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest which launched this week! And if you’re up for the adventure, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and invite you to enter the fabulous, 6th annual Chocolate Adventure Contest.  So go ahead: invent, create, explore the boundaries of your own culinary imagination. This year the contest accepts entries in one category—Sandwich Cookies—for  the chance to win a $25,000 grand prize.

Sandwich cookies. As in HEAVEN. And I say heaven because again this year I’ll be tasting all the delicious entries alongside my fellow judges early next year.  And I happen to love sandwich cookies (alfajores, anyone?).

To be eligible, combine any Scharffen Berger chocolate with one or more of 12 select “adventure ingredients” (yerbe mate, coconut cream, tapioca flour, corn meal, pine nuts, sweet potato and other ingredients native to cacao-belt countries) in an original recipe. Whether whoopie pie, macaron, s’mores, ice cream sandwich, alfajores or any other sandwich cookie—you can enter up to 10 recipes total.  More information at

So get those creative, cookie-minds started, folks! The $25,000 prize is nothing to laugh at, and you can enter up to 10 recipes.

I want to thank Lisa at TuttiFoodie and the folks at Scharffen Berger for including me again. And Alice Medrich. Because I love her. Oh heck, and Chef Elizabeth Falkner. And Angie from Bakearella. And John. Ok, I’ll stop now.

Get busy!