Only a few more days to enter!

Psst…I couldn’t let the year end without reminding you that the Chocolate Adventure Contest is coming to and end! But not to worry, you have until January 2nd to enter, so I hope you get those last minute entries in!

You certainly don’t want to miss  a chance to win $25,000 from Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and TuttiFoodie.com, do you?

I’m returning as a judge this year with the incomparable Angie of Bakerella and I’m so excited to see her and to taste all the amazing and delicious entries!

Visit Chocolate Adventure Contest for any last minute info you might need, details, and how to enter if you haven’t already.

Happy new year and good luck!

 

 

The end of quite a year!

No grandiose statement. No recap, no top 10 list. Just a simple wish that 2013 brings you health, happiness, peace and plenty of moments that make life worth living.  I want to thank each and every one of you for reading this blog, it means so very much to me. Now, go relax, make something delicious, have a sip or two of champagne, and I’ll see you in 2013!

I love you!

(image by me for Cooking Channel, please click through for some great drink ideas!)

 

Saeco Review + Easy Tiramisu!

The email landed in my box asking if I wanted to try the Phillips Saeco Syntia, a fully automatic espresso machine from Philips. I don’t even want to tell you the number of automatic espresso machines that have lived on my counter over the past twenty years, some good, some not so good. What begins as a promising machine usually ends up in gadget fatigue, re-packed and stored somewhere else while I go back to my French press, Chemex or Nespresso because functionality and convenience win out.

To say I was dubious would be correct, but I also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try this machine out. It’s not cheap, but reading the specs interested me: the ability to use my own beans, grind it fresh, steam milk, and pour a variable length shot of espresso were all things I wanted. So the machine arrived, a bit larger than I thought it might be, and I got busy.

I made cappuccino after cappuccino, espressos in the morning, flat whites (or my sad attempt, I should say!) in the afternoon, and Americanos when I ran out of milk (it happens).  I waited for the moment when I’d glance over at it, the sheen of SHINY!NEW!DEVICE!TO!REVIEW! would fade away, and it’d get packed back up and shipped back out, like they all do.

But I dig this machine. As in, it’s staying.

It’s easy to review a machine for flavor, to judge the quality of the grind, extraction and steam abilities. It’s another to review it for its longevity, in a practical situation, and decide if it’s a kitchen device you’d want.  So I put off this review as long as possible, using the machine at home for a month and then another two at the studio, where it went through the ringer of shoots, clients, crew, and friends. It was well worth the terse emails from the account executive checking in on this posting ( “ASAP” was used quite a bit). What did I learn? It makes great espresso and it’s easy to use.

The Good Stuff
The fact that it’s a solid bean-to-cup process makes me rate this machine well, as freshness counts in coffee. It grinds with a ceramic grinder and conveniently dumps the grounds into a chamber that’s easy to empty. The one touch functionality is impressive, and there’s not much else to figure out. Simplified interface and limited buttons and a dial make it easy to use, and it cleans itself regularly (keep an extra cup handy for the water output).

The pannarello arm for steaming milk works well, much better than several automatic devices I’ve tried. This seems to be a losing point for most automatic machines as they never heat quickly or powerful enough, that’s not a problem with the Syntia. And the fact that it’s completely removable for cleaning is awesome. You’ll want to do yourself a favor and pick up a steam pitcher and thermometer for accuracy.

The Bad Stuff (and it’s not that bad, actually…)
It’s slightly temperamental when it comes to water levels in the chamber and error messages lighting up, at least on my machine. But making sure everything is emptied and supplied in the water chamber and bean storage is easy enough, and if that’s the most nitpickiest thing I can say about the Syntia then that’s pretty good. Oh, and you’ll need to give yourself some time to set it up, just a warning. And please remember this: it will never taste like a shot of espresso made from a manual machine but for home use and convenience it’s absolutely perfect.

 And now, something tasty for the holidays

I wanted to create something simple and easy using the Syntia, and the fact that this year alone I think I’ve photographed 15 to 20 different trifles, Eaton Messes, and other layered desserts made me think that a super quick and easy Tiramisu would be best. These gorgeous little kinda-tiramisus were created by Adam, and I love the fact that they are individual servings, for festive reasons, ya know. There is no official recipe here and yields might be tricky, but you’ll have to do your best to figure it out. And if you have any leftovers that don’t fit in individual glasses them that’s when you put them in a big giant bowl and grab a spoon. Very delicious, very trifle.

Easy Sorta Tiramisu I mean, it’s easy, it’s sorta Tiramisu

For the Coffee
1 cup espresso
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
¼ cup powdered sugar
For The Mascarpone
8 oz mascarpone
1 cup lightly whipped whipped cream
½ cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons of the Coffee Mixture

Ladyfingers
Milk chocolate for shaving

Mix the coffee mixture until well blended, reserving a few tablespoons for the mascarpone. Soak the ladyfinger cookies in the coffee until absorbed. In the meantime, lightly blend the mascarpone, 1 cup of whipped cream, sugar and 2-4 tablespoons of the coffee mixture in a bowl.

In your individual glasses, layer the ladyfinger cookies, blended mascarpone, and top with shaved chocolate. You might need to break the cookies to fit your glass, but you can eat any leftover pieces as you assemble.

The Legal Stuff We Must Disclose: The Phillips Saeco Syntia was sent to me for review. This post was not paid for nor sponsored, all opinions, photographs and recipe are my own.

Mattbites Gift Guide 2012

 

Iit’s that time! And since we’re all in Giftland this month I wanted to add my personal favorites to all the holiday gift guides that are out there.

However, I wanted to let you know one little thing: this Gift Guide is not entirely food-focused but made up of the things I love. As in absolutely adore. No kind of ‘meh, they aiight” kind of gifts here but all things that I personally use and would give as gifts. Heck, many of them have been given as gift, and now that I am looking at it I’m realizing it’s pretty darn tech-y, if I do say so myself!

1. Empire Mayonnaise Company
Um, hello, jars of mayo as gifts? If they’re from Brooklyn’s own Empire Mayo Co. than yes. I was given a jar as a gift and I’ve been a repeat customer ever since. Do yourself a favor and try the Black Garlic Mayo. Earthy, creamy, full of the umami goodness you get from black garlic. My favorite way to eat this stuff is with French fries or on a sandwich made of big fat slices of soft bread, pieces of roasted chicken and ample amounts of mayo. Heaven.

2. Piebox
Adam was on a CB2 shoot in Chicago when he met Adrienne Blumthal. She is the creator of PieBox and when I saw it my jaw dropped: gorgeous raw pine, handcrafted into the perfect pie transportation system! I love ours, it always elicits the best oohs-and-ahhs and just gets better with use. If you love pie, well, you’re going to love Piebox.

3. Further
A chance handwashing post-pizza at Mozza left me obsessed with this soap. In fact, I got up from my table and walked back into the restroom to find out more about it. And that’s how my love affair started. But the best part is Further’s story:  made here in Los Angeles from waste grease from restaurants where it’s refined, processed, scented naturally then returned to the restrooms of restaurants from where it came. Can you believe it? But if you’re a scenthound like me it’ll be the gorgeous clean, aromatic scent of olive, bergamot and grasses that’ll hook you. I love this stuff!

4. Whitelines Note Book
As computery-and-social-media-Mac-y as I am, I am a HUGE writer. As in penmanship and paper, I am forever a copious notetaker.  I get antsy if I don’t have a way to jot down my ideas as I travel, as a way to take notes during pre-production calls, and to remind myself of the things that I tend to forget. Yes, I can remind myself electronically, but I actually love writing and I’ve got the handwriting to prove it, too! That’s where Whitelines come in, as I’m a fan of the lightly ruled paper that doesn’t distract.  And the paper itself is tinted a light grey which is easy on the eyes.

5. Travel Smart Conair Adapter
I’ve got a bag of strange adapters with missing parts, broken prongs and empty travel cases that accumulates every time I travel. Every Single Time. However, I’m pretty happy about this adapter, which came very highly recommended from a friend. All in one. Which is great since sometimes I don’t remember what I need when I travel and I no longer need to do the “what plug will I need for Asia/Australia/South America” google search.

6. Roku Streaming Projector
Oh goodness, how much do I love this gadget? Part Roku-box, part projector, it’s so small and compact, allowing me to put it into my bag and take places. Places where I want to take it out, hop onto a wifi signal, and fire up Roku and Netflix for instant movie times.  A part of me still feels it’s a novelty gadget, but I’m fine with that. It’s fun.

7. Fireside Candle from Anthropologie
I’m not much of a scented candle guy at home but there’s something about this candle from Anthropologie that’s drives me wild.  Notes of patchouli and cinnamon live slightly underneath cedar wood and smoke, and it smells like the world’s best fireplace. Plus I love the colors of the candle tin, making it a welcome addition to my office and living room.

8. K-tor Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator
I’m going to tell you one thing about me, and it’s embarrassing: I have this unnatural fear of not being able to charge my iphone.  I have a million chargers in every bag, in every place I work, not to mention a variety of battery packs tucked along the way. I purchased the K-Tor Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator to add to my arsenal, and then something mighty awful happened called Hurricane Sandy. So many people were without power and unable to access their technological lifeline, and it made sense to me: I live in Earthquakelandia and this device will be added to my emergency supply kit. No, I’m not a Doomsday Prepper by any means, but I did grow up in Texas with hurricanes and it’s an easy thing to miss, that power thing. This handcrank generates electricity and can power a phone, ipad, digital camera, rechargeable light, etc. (but it does take work, fair warning). It could make a useful gift.

 9.  Joos Portable Solar Charger
Ok, so see item #8. But I swear I purchased this for that camping trip I have yet to take, but no matter, I love this thing. Especially here where it’s sunny, all it takes is 1 hour of sun to charge my iphone and ipad.  It’s so easy to use, constructed well, and I can use it just about anywhere.

10. The Strongheart Fellowship Program and the Akawelle Necklace
I met one of the founders of the Strongheart Fellowship Program on a photoshoot recently and was quite captivated by their mission. They identify the most resilient, brightest young people that have been affected and displaced by the world’s conficts and brings them together in a safe place to learn, heal, nurture and excel. I was given a necklace created by Lovetta Conto of Liberia, who creates a line called Akawelle Jewelry of leaf pendants made from spent shell casings that were fired during the war. To take something from such a violent act and turn it into a thing of beauty is to be reminded that it’s “possible for new life to arise from something as terrible as war”, as Lovetta says herself.

 11. Chevron Napkins from Pine Cone Hill
I am obsessed with these napkins. Bold and graphic with a wonderful weight, they photograph beautifully but of course that’s not why I plan on giving them to friends this holiday season. They’re just bright and cheerful, and the orange rocks my socks. Thanks to Pine Cone Hill for sending me samples!

12. Fifty One And A Half Ceramics
Full Disclosure: Yes, those plates in the photo actually say “mattbites” because the wonderful Monika Dalkin made them for me. She is the mother of my bestie Gaby of WhatsGabyCooking and a very wonderful artist. Her pieces not only photograph well but make superb gifts, for the plate-lover or ceramics-collector in your life. They make me happy.

13. X-Rite Photo ColorChecker Passport
There’s this thing in digital photography called Color Temperature, which is the scale in which light is measured. It’s sometimes blueish in color, sometimes yellow, depending on the light source and environmental conditions. This tool allows photographers to set their color temperature to a neutral point by snapping a photo of it and adjusting it in camera or computer. And when you shoot with natural daylight in a variety of conditions, it’s important. In fact, I never travel without this little hard case swatch of colors. It’s a great tool (and gift!) for photographers.

 14. Anything From American Spoon
First, this catalog. OH MAN THIS CATALOG. It’s beautiful. Second, their products. Their artisanal fruit preserves, spreads and condiments from Northern Michigan are so well loved and revered that you cannot go wrong sending anything from them to your friends and family. I love them. I love Michigan.

15.  Grado Labs SR 80 Headphones
It couldn’t only be the retro minimalist styling of these headphones that grabs me, it’s their sound, too. And I was on a mission to find a pair of great-sounding headphones for under $150 (because yes, they can be expensive!). Crisp treble, deep base, light and comfortable, these work great at home or on the road as their light and easy to store. Definitely a nice treat for a music lover on your list.

16. C Salt Gourmet’s Pistachio Cherry Chocolate and Pine Nut Pistachio Brittle
This hometown product from Long Beach, California, was a revelation the first time I tried it. As far as brittles go, it’s hands down my favorite these days. You can email C Salt for special orders or find it locally in Southern California at a handful of retailers. You’ll love it, trust me.

17.  Focus On Food Photography For Bloggers
Excuse me, could you pick up that Shameless Plug I just dropped? Right there, behind you. Thanks. Now, forgive me for saying so, but there’s this book that someone just wrote about creating food photographs for blogs. And the book, while aimed at bloggers, has tons of tips and examples that not only apply to the beginners but to everyone else. And it’s cute and little and was written and photographed out of love. For you. And for anyone else that might appreciate reading about food photography. I’m pretty sure the author will thank you for buying it.

 

 

Drunk The Halls

My phone kept beepin’ n blippin’ last week as my episode with Paula Deen was on holiday repeat. I am officially a RERUN (and all I need is Shurl and Dee, bonus points if you get it). Repeating isn’t so bad, and if it was good once then it should be good twice, as they say. SHALIMAR! Good lord I need more coffee. Where was I going? Oh yes. This. This post from 2006 is an oldie-but-goodie and since I still have a growing collection of corks it might be time for Wreath Number 2, the 2012 edition. I’m gonna get on that. Cheers!

I am married to the craftiest man on earth. He can prepare anything in the kitchen, decorate as if his life depended on it, coordinate classically (even covered in tattoos, I might add), walk in 6-inch acrylic heels (I cannot) and paint a face like nobody’s business. There’s really not much he can’t do, so when he mentioned an idea he saw for holiday wreaths using wine corks I knew I was in for a special treat. Tacky? Yes. Ingenious? Absolutely. Luckily for him I drink wine on a daily basis so there’s no shortage of corks here! Next I hope he builds a greenhouse for me in the backyard with all the bottles I’ve emptied enjoyed–or at least a pretty little scaled down Taj Mahal that extends from our backyard in LA County to the bottom tip of the Baja Peninsula.

All you need are:
a wino husband
lots of corks (he used 151)
a gluegun
toothpicks
wreath frame, found in craft stores

Put on some Jimmy Smith or Vince Guaraldi, skewer corks with toothpicks and dab the end with glue and insert into wreath frame. Stand back, admire, and realize that you are now out of corks and must immediately replenish your supply.

Book Reviews!

Here are some holiday book reviews from the one and only Kristina Gill. There are a few titles that didn’t make it into this review but will be in next time, but in the meantime enjoy this review which happens to include some of my favorite recent titles, too! — Matt

It has been crazy busy these past few months for me, in a good way.  That hasn’t stopped me from periodic shopping frenzies on Amazon to make sure I get my favorite authors’ latest books, fill cravings with others, and spend some time reading through review copies.  Knowing how the end of year usually goes, we might not have time for another round of reviews in 2012, so I thought I’d get in a longer list.  Between this list and October’s reviews, you have my absolute favorite books of 2012;  One exception is Katie Quinn Davies’ new book, which I have not yet had the opportunity to see, but knowing Katie it’s the bomb.  I’ll have it at the top of my list for the next reviews.

This week is a collection of books that I just want to eat from.  Now.  -Kristina

 The Kitchen Diaries II by Nigel Slater (4th Estate 2012; photography by Jonathan Lovekin).  I really don’t think more is needed in this review than the title and author’s name.  The more cookbooks I read, the more I am certain in my choice of Nigel Slater as my favorite author.  Kitchen Diaries, a year long journal of what Nigel Slater ate, is one of my favorite cookbooks along with Slater’s Tender Volume I and II, and a select few others.  Kitchen Diaries II joins that elite group.  Nigel Slater’s cooking is intuitive, simple, what’s on hand;  There is very little in this book I wouldn’t eat, and I wish, somehow, he could adopt me so that I could eat dinner (and lunch) at his house every day.  A lattice work pie of plums and raspberries, five-spice chicken and pea shoot salad, pulled pork baps with carrot and galangal slaw, Nigel’s chocolate muscovado banana cake, crab and coriander cakes, another wonderful sandwich (mushrooms, grated cheese), spiced lentils with mint labne…  Slowly cooking through this book will be a pleasure.  Kitchen Diaries II is the perfect book, and will be used and re-used by anyone who owns it!

 Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (published by Ten Speed Press in the USA 2012; photography Jonathan Lovekin and Adam Hinton)  For those of you unfamiliar with the food prepared by Yotam and Sami, this third cookbook goes back to their native Jerusalem and draws upon traditional recipes, as well as modern ‘improvements’ on traditional recipes, and new creations which are inspired by the flavors and foods of traditional Jerusalem cuisine.  Herein you will find recipes using eggplant, chickpeas, tomatoes, spice and spicy pastes, couscous, chicken, garlic, eggs, cumin, cardamom, yogurt, citrus, mint, rice, walnuts…  There are soups, one pot meals, fish dishes, desserts — yes desserts, wonderful desserts.  I could eat food from this book every day and never tire of it.  I love the depth of flavors and textures and the colors of the dishes.  For some reason, I can’t explain, I feel alive when I connect with the food from Ottolenghi, whether in their shops or their books.  And none of it is complicated or difficult to make.  You can have stunning results without risk of failure.  In addition to food photography, there are very many editorial photos of the food culture of Jerusalem.  This is a book for anyone who loves food.  It is a special treat for people who love to be transported to another country/city/culture through images and recipes.

Wahaca Mexican Food at Home by Thomasina Miers (Hodder and Stoughton 2012; photography by Malou Burger and some by Tara Fisher)  I loved Thomasina Miers first book, and somehow became obsessed with making Mexican food at home, so I had to go out and buy her second book also.  Up front I will say that I resisted SO LONG because seeing Oaxaca spelled Wahaca is just…the worst.  But what do they say?  Don’t judge!! So I didn’t, and was rewarded.  This book is one recipe after another of food I want to eat:  Corn pancakes with avocado cream and crispy bacon, crispy prawn taquitos with spicy avocado salsa, fiery little chicken tostados, black bean and chorizo empanadas, sweet potato gratin with thyme, chilli, and feta, mole amarillo, and octopus ceviche.  There are chapters on drinks, desserts, side dishes, soups…  Many of the recipes are based on experiences Thomasina had while living in Mexico for many years and running a food business there.  The photography is sublime also.  Perfect for anyone who wants to make Mexican food at home!

 

Fire in my Belly by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2012; photography by Angie Mosier)  Most of you have the fortune of knowing Kevin from Top Chef, and another lucky few know him in person.  I know him only through his recipes.  His first book, Fire in my Belly, is a book that really made me say Wow.  Laid out like my senior college year book (that’s not a bad thing!  I was on Yearbook staff!), this book is rich with personal details, explanations, and most importantly recipes.  I was genuinely impressed by the breadth of food covered, not just American, but internationally inspired, like Livornese fish stew (cacciucco), and shawarma, and of course what you’d expect like biscuits (with step by step tutorial), sausage (make your own), banana pudding, and then more original fare like buttermilk marinated fennel with satsumas and jalapeños, brûléed grapefruit with Greek yogurt, African squash tart with whipped eggnog topping, savory fig tart.  There are so many recipes here,  My favorite design element of the book is the table of contents.  This is a good all around cookbook.  Would make a perfect gift for someone who wants to be able to cook healthy food as well as “junk food” or something heavy from time to time.

Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga (Little Brown 2012; photography by Aran Goyoaga).  Aran, best known for her blog Cannelle et Vanille, has published her first cookbook about her family’s journey to gluten-free cooking.  Looking through the pages, you can see that Aran has put her heart and soul into making this book which is a mix between new recipes and recipes from her blog.  Though Aran’s recipes on the blog have veered far from her trained pastry chef beginnings, it is precisely in that area that her book shines:  coconut and lemon soufflés, frozen pistachio nougat mousse, coconut cream cookies, coconut doughnuts (I love coconut), lemon buttermilk and olive oil madeleines.  This isn’t the only place it shines– Aran includes recipes which are quite refined like leek and chive flan with smoked salmon, herbed lamb meatballs in coconut milk, creamy red lentil & squash soup with purple potato chips and scallops, fennel and brown butter risotto with parsley pesto.  This book demonstrates Aran’s knowledge of food and a real cooking ability.  It is a perfect book for a gluten-free family with time to dedicate to making seasonal and nutrient rich food.  It is also the perfect book for anyone who is interested in original gluten-free sweets guaranteed to work!

 

Real Snacks by Lara Ferroni (Sasquatch Books 2012; photography by Lara Ferroni)  Lara did one of my favorite little books about doughnuts a couple of years ago, so I knew what to expect when I heard about Real Snacks.  This book, like doughnuts, punches way above its weight in every category– aesthetics, recipes, variety, and nostalgia.  All your childhood favorites are here:  twinkies, Hostess cupcakes, powdered donettes, caramel corn, fig newtons, goldfish, moon pies, sugar wafers, pop tarts, thin mints, cheez-its…  The mindboggles!!  I really can’t believe Lara has put this together!  Gluten-free and vegan options make it accessible for everyone.  This book is worth every penny, and would be tremendously appreciated by anyone who loves baking!

Salty Snacks by Cynthia Nims (Ten Speed Press 2012; photography by Jennifer Martine)  Coincidentally, this book could totally work as the savory companion to Lara’s Real Snacks. Salty Snacks runs the gamut of salty treats– pretzels, chips of all types, grissini, crackers, savory waffles, savory cookies, and dips to accompany them.  Between the two of these books, you should never buy processed snacks again.  This book is perfect for anyone who loves to entertain or who loves to have high quality snacks on hand for any occasion.    Photography by Jennifer Martine is beautiful as always.