Summer Sangria

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Dear Sangria, hey sorry about going so Rosé-crazy that I forgot all about you. I’ll fix that. Starting today. You see, some friends are coming over and you’ll be perfect to have around. Chilled wine, the best of summer fruit, some mint or basil from the garden… DONE! I might even need to have you arrive BEFORE the other guests, if that’s not too much of an imposition.

Summer Sangria from Martha Stewart

In a pitcher or large bowl, combine 6 cups assorted fruit (such as mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, and apricot), sliced or cut into pieces, 1/4 cup thinly sliced peeled fresh ginger, 1 to 1/2 cups fresh basil or mint leaves, and 1/2 cup orange-flavored liqueur. Mash gently with the back of a wooden spoon until basil is bruised and fruit releases juices. Add 1 bottle (750ml) chilled dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, and 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon). Stir to combine. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to 1 day. To serve, add ice.

Winter Citrus, Revisited. Again.

Winter-Citrus-2013-Opener-Matt-Armendariz

There’s really not much left I can say about citrus. Particularly, how I feel about citrus. I’ve talked about it for years via my annual citrus round-up, and if I had my way I’d probably write a whole damn cookbook on citrus fruit. I totally would.

Matt-Armendariz-Citrus-Ring-550I think I’ve run out of words to describe the fruits of the Rutaceae family; I’ve used all the zippy and zings, tangy and tarts to last a lifetime. Besides, do you really need me to tell you what a lemon tastes like? Um, no. I’m pretty sure just about everyone knows what they taste like and how indispensible they are to cooking.  In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a cuisine that doesn’t include citrus in one way or another.

To me, it’s that citric acid that makes food come alive, but it also doesn’t need to knock you over, either. It can add balance to a dish, cause a chemical reaction, preserve, intensify and enchance, and it’s also an equal opportunity ingredient, happy in both sweet and savory dishes. To me it’s one of life’s absolutely perfect things.

So how have we been enjoying these beauties at our place? In so many ways. I thought it’d be fun to put together a few suggestions for all those lemons and limes that are their peak right now. Oh, and grapefruit and tangerines. And kumquats and tangelos. And, and…

 

Margarita-2013-Matt-Armendariz

MARGARITAS, ANYONE?

As luck would have it, one plentiful lime tree stands smack dab in the middle of our new yard. We moved just in time to become intoxicated by the lime flower blossoms (and if you’ve ever need proof as to whether miracles exist, lean in and smell that tiny mighty flower). The blossoms gave way to fruit, so much fruit! It seems like I couldn’t give the limes away fast enough, but being the resourceful guy that I am, I opted for a giant batch of margaritas. You can keep your neon-gree fake mixes, thankyouverymuch. A real margarita could not be easier, nor more satisfying. It goes like this: lime juice, a fantastic tequila, simple syrup or any orange-flavored liqueur like triple sec or Cointreau. I’ve been known to skip the last ingredient, which is just fine if you ask me.

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FRIED LEMONS AND POTATO CHIPS

We recently finished an assignment for Food & Wine Magazine, and one tempura recipe included in the shot list used tempura-battered lemon slices. We were all so collectively bowled over by what happens to a battered and deep-fried lemon – it’s more amazing than you’d think! Incorporating that premise into snacktime yielded these chips with fried lemon slices tucked throughout.  You’ll want beer to enjoy with these things (they’re simply dipped in tapioca flour and fried), and if you need more zing, simply spring with an equal blend of lemon or lime zest and salt. Easy.

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PALOMA

Oh my sweet Paloma, you are a beautiful thing, aren’t you? You make me wish I lived on a grapefruit plantation. And while this Mexican cocktail is usually served with Mexican grapefruit soda and tequila, I’m going straight to the source by mixing fresh grapefruit juice, sparkling water, along with plenty of simple syrup and crushed ice. And good tequila. Fly away, Paloma!

Update: About a day after this post went live a box of Texas Rio Star Grapefruit arrived on my doorstep. Can I tell you how amazing they are? I plan on remaking a batch of Palomas with the sweet juice of these grapefruits, which I learned are only grown in Texas. Thanks for sending, Kymberly, and hugs to everyone back in Texas!

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SWEET CHILI LIME SAUCE

Oh, this is cheating. Ok, let’s not be so harsh. This is doctoring.  Which I’m not opposed to doing if it’s easy, delicious, and let me bring more flavor to the party. In this case, a few teaspoons of fresh lime juice and garlic added to bottled sweet chilI sauce makes an excellent dipping sauce for grilled shrimp and squid. OH AND LOOK, THESE THINGS ARE ON STICKS! I wonder what gave me that idea. I really do.

Oh, and don’t forget squeezes of fresh lime before serving!

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STEAK & NUOC MAM

You may know the Vietnamese condiment made from fish sauce, sugar, chiles and lime juice as the umami-rich dipping sauce of spring rolls, bánh xèo and bánh bèo, among other things. But this FREAKING MAGIC SAUCE (yes, emphasis mine) makes an appearance at our house all the time. ALL THE TIME. Especially when meat like slow roasted pork, flank steak or grilled chicken are on the menu. I use Andrea’s recipe all the time, which can be found here.

But I don’t usually stop there. I’ll add tiny amounts to a bowl of beans, sprinkle it over pasta, and even add it to my guacamole. It’s my fave.

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CITRUS CURD

Juice + eggs + sugar + butter + heat = curd. And it’s fantastic on just about everything. Cakes, scones, cakes, you name it. In this case Adam made these beautiful little citrus curd meringue tarts and well, they disappeared. INTO MY MOUTH. A very easy little shell was blind baked and cooled, then filled with lemon curd and topped with meringue.  A quick torch to brown the peaks of meringue came next, and then some blackberries finished it off. Tart, sweet, buttery, berry, oh lord these things didn’t stand a chance.

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CANDIED KUMQUATS

Oh really, this cannot be easier. All you need is time and a few ingredients. And thanks to Pim for the inspiration for this: simmer covered kumquats in water and sugar and a little vanilla bean and a dash of salt for about 2 hours, then uncover and reduce so that you’re left with an amazing citrus syrup. That is all. Seriously. The fruit turn soft and delicious, losing any bitterness they may have had from the long soak. Enjoy the kumquats on dark chocolate cake, on a cheesecake, or along with the syrup over vanilla ice cream.

Alrighty my friends, what’s your favorite thing to do with citrus? I’d love to know! I’m thinking 2014 already!

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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.

Life’s Little Luxuries: Everyday Celebrations

The following is a post inspired by Häagen-Dazs® ice cream, encouraging life’s little luxuries. It’s about taking a step back and enjoying all that’s important and delicious in life.

When I began writing about this topic, I thought it’d be easy. I was going to start by saying that even though the vacation is months away or that long weekend getaway isn’t even on the books yet that there were a few things you could do to have some fun. I knew I had certain rituals to make a Wednesday seem special (it’s a bottle of champagne enjoyed with a roasted chicken), but when I posed the question of Facebook it became an entirely different post.

What did I find? I discovered that there were dozens of people, some personal acquaintances and some not, who don’t need an excuse, a blog post, or even a reason to celebrate what matters most to them. There are people so filled with life that it spills out and flows all around them, people that really know what matters most (hint: it can’t be bought!) and people who love life so much that there is always a celebration or party wherever they may be.

Even on a Monday.

Heck, these people are my role models!

I discovered that Monica will pile the kids into the car and head out to the nearest ice cream place and eat huge sundaes for dinner, just to make an ordinary day extraordinary. The thought of this brings the world’s biggest smile to my face, can you imagine how it’d make you feel as a kid? I adore Monica and know this isn’t an everyday event, it’s for those special moments when you throw caution to the wind and really do something fun as a family. I think a spontaneous Sundae Supper is going to be a tradition over here.

 

I learned that Sherri Jo will have a weeknight fondue with the family in the middle of the living room with a great movie and plenty of special drinks (cocktails for the adults, mocktails for the kids), even in the fancy glasses! You want to talk about celebrating life! This is a party of the “just because” variety, and it makes me realize that when you love life and your family you always have a reason to celebrate. I can hear the laughter and see the smiles from here! Besides, melted cheese? Oh Sherri Jo I love you…

 

My friend Ellen of Neat Productions (who also happens to be my Photographic Guardian Angel, fyi) tells me a very special tale that all business owners and freelancers will appreciate: she takes her lunch outside, complete with silver tray and beautiful china. On a regular day. Because her husband is a freelancer as well, they do not discuss work things during their outdoor break, instead taking the time to sit under a tree and enjoy the meal before them as well as each other’s company. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to enjoy lunch this way, it’s usually a rushed affair where I barely stop to acknowledge my surroundings. I aspire to incorporate a bit more Ellen into my life, and I’m starting with this very simple way of celebrating life’s little luxuries.

 

Stephanie had an excellent way to make your day special, and it seemed to be enjoyed by a few others as well: breakfast for dinner. There were a few times as a kid we did this too, and it always made me smile. I can’t really explain why, something about changing things up with food makes it automatically special, or maybe it’s sitting down to a plate of fluffy pancakes for dinner that makes life special. It’s all about the celebration.

 

Denise tells me of a tradition that must immediately be incorporated into my life: Champagne Fridays. These tastings happen one Friday a month and involve tasting (and enjoying) a new champagne at home. As a bubbles lover this sings to me, and I love the idea of taking something so regular and elevating it into something elegant at home. And since we’re on the adult beverages tip, I can’t find a better example of someone who knows how to celebrate better than my friend Dana Robinson, who was my very first friend when I moved to LA over 10 years ago. She’s also my ITG (International Travel Girlfriend), but what I admire most is her longstanding tradition of creating a luscious bloody mary bar at home on Sunday mornings. Just because. Laying out great ingredients, a good vodka, gorgeous glassware and inviting friends over makes for a perfect weekend. PERFECT. And when I think about the afternoon nap that must follow afterwards, well, this is really what life is all about, isn’t it?

And Other discoveries? Grady makes sure to enjoy dinner with a beautiful place setting, napkins, and real flowers on the table. Diane keeps fresh flowers at her office on Mondays. Elizabeth and her boys give each other awards at dinner: “Best Mom”, “Best Cookie Eating” and have indoor picnics. Many others celebrate with Pizza Nights, Burrito Nights and Taco Nights (hell to the yes here, folks!). And my dear friend Linda keeps special ingredients on hand (homemade pâté!) which she will enjoy with a baguette and champagne followed by macarons on days that prove to be a challenge.

I sincerely want to thank all the people who took the time to share the special moments in their lives that celebrate everyday through food and drink. If these aren’t surefire ways to celebrate and enjoy life’s simple pleasures then I don’t know what is. Now I’m off to find some champagne!

Winter Citrus, Revisited

This is a story about winter citrus. More specifically, it’s a story about finding a day to play in a photo studio, complete with beautiful props and gorgeous styling. It’s a story dedicated to free form (there are no recipes here!), to abundant light, to taking it slow and easy during the new year, but mostly it’s a story about bright happy little fruit that inspires me.

As we enter another year (and I blog another year longer), I always come to citrus in January. Maybe because citrus represents the best of what the world has to offer. Maybe it’s the fruit’s inherent sparkle, the zing it brings to all things sweet and savory. Maybe because it’s not necessarily fleeting, but like a good strong friend that makes you smile because you know it has your back. Am I anthropromorphizing too much? Indeed I am. But I can’t help it. I guess I’m just tapping into the thousands and thousands of years that we have embraced lemons, limes, and oranges, and they are as much a part of our world as the air that we breathe.

It’s also a story about the things we like to make using citrus.

I develop a certain kind panic when I realize I’m out of lemons in my kitchen. Next to garlic, some sea salt and a few good knives, I feel like I should always have lemons on hand just in case. A quick search of my archives reveals why: lemon cupcakes, lemondrops (the adult cocktail, thankyouvermuch), lemon roasted just-about-anything, vinaigrettes, sparking sodas, my list goes on. Swap the lemon for a pomelo or blood orange and I’ll keep going. I can’t stop. The following ideas and recipes are ways we love to use citrus at home. And like I mentioned before, there are no recipes, and I hope that’s ok with you. Consider these images as starting points for future kitchen excursions. It’s January, we should all take it easy for just a little while longer, don’t ya think?

Mini Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Yes, I am starting with dessert first. Begin with lemon or vanilla cupcakes, scoop out a tiny bit of the center, pipe in lemon curd and top with Italian meringue. Torch the top ever so slightly. Devour like a madman. Oops, that was me, sorry.

 Raw Vegetable Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

You can feel the crunch now, can’t you? Raw, crisp veggies and a handful of garbanzo beans drizzled with  a vinaigrette made with lemon juice, champagne vinegar, shallots, olive oil, Dijon mustard, a teensy amount of grated lemon peel, a pinch of sugar. It could not be easier. And you know how I feel about pre-made dressings and vinaigrette. Why would you when this is just so easy? Bonus points: you can use this as a dip and on sandwiches and subs.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Hey, this looks familiar, don’t it? That’s right. A buttercake is layered with lemon curd, once again topped with meringue and torched. It was as delicious as it was pretty.

Pink Lemonade

Pink lemonade is your standard lemonade with a splash of cranberry juice for color. It’s how it gets its pink. I’m all for it, but I like to add a small amount of grapefruit juice for tartness and – in the tiniest amount possible – a pinch of sea salt. Too much ruins it, just a tiny bit adds some depth. You must have plenty of ice. Must.

 Oven Roasted Trout

Sliced lemon wedges, sprigs of thyme, sea salt, whole trout. Dinner is served. And as a whole fish kind of guy it’s moments like this when I value a really great relationship with a fishmonger. Although I’m no stranger to getting out there and catching it myself. Lemon and fish is a natural combination but you know what’s a better combo? This dish and my mouth.

Lemon Roasted Chicken

Oh, you beautiful bird, you. The stuff simple and easy dinners are made of. We always roast our chicken with slices of lemon (with larger halved lemons inside the cavity), shallots, salt, pepper, and just about any kind of fresh herb you have on hand. You can make it even better by making a gravy from the lemony pan drippings. And you see those potatoes? They’re roasted red potatoes topped with ricotta and lemon zest. Roast first, give ‘em a squeeze to break them open, top to your heart’s content. Literally a perfect dinner.

Candied Citrus Cake

Something that couldn’t be easier but with fantastic citrus flare. A traditional butter cake with candied lemon, orange, and blood orange slices with spoonfuls of syrup.  To candy the citrus slices, boil and rinse three times to reduce bitterness then simmer in a mixture of equal parts sugar and water for 45 minutes, until translucent. Arrange cooled slices on top of the cake and spoon over the syrup.

Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

What? Yet another sweet treat? That’s right. Because we were inspired by citrus sweets while at the studio we didn’t mind going into sugar-overload. Just use common sense, please. These cupcakes use plenty of lemon juice and zest in the cake, with just a very simple vanilla buttercream on top along with some happy sprinkles. Bright and happy, just like I like my desserts.

 How do you like to use citrus?

Many thanks to my gorgeous better half who styles with such grace and flair. Thanks to Found Vintage Rentals for the amazing furniture props. I live for these creative playdates! All photos and prop styling by yours truly.



Banoffee Pie Madness

 

One of the best things of being a food photographer is the access to new tastes, flavors and recipes. Because 100% of what we do at our studio is actually edible, you’ll find me on set most days asking this series of questions to Adam, my food stylist partner:

 

a)     I’ve got the shot. Can you review it and tell me if there’s anything you’d like to change?

b)    Ok, fantastic. Looks great. We’re done. Can I eat this?

 

I can’t really remember a day where I haven’t dug into a casserole or broken off a piece of bread or stolen a cookie. I often tell myself that it’s part of my job and that I actually should know what things taste like. When I photograph a cookbook it’s inevitable that people will ask me what the process was like and if there was a favorite recipe. Why shouldn’t I be prepared?

(sidenote: yes, I actually did taste every single recipe made from Jenny’s upcoming book and let’s just say you should be as excited as I am for it come out)

Recently a rather unfamiliar dessert landed on my shooting surface. Ok, let me back up. Unusual for me. But then again I’m not a Sweets kinda guy, generally. But this item, Banoffee Pie, is an English favorite that we were shooting for Cooking Channel and it really caught my attention.

Let’s see…bananas, check. Cookies, check. Coffee, check. Condensed milk made into caramel? Double check. I knew I was gonna try this. And something told me I was gonna like it.

Holy crap.

How have I gone 41 years without ever taking a bite of this? Adam’s assistants were particularly jazzed, knowing how fun and tasty Banoffee Pie is. But me? I was a Banoffee Virgin, new to the combination of tastes and are all individually my favorites.

Was it over the top? Yes. Was it super sweet? Indeed. Do I crave it all the time now? Hell to the yes.

I danced around the studio with whipped cream on my face and kept saying “Imagine Banoffee This! Imagine Banoffee That!” I think I was reprimanded slightly by my team, told to re-focus and reminded that we had plenty of more recipes to shoot. Our day was far from over.

When I got home I furiously jotted down ideas and notes, then asked my dear sweet partner if we could one day return to the studio, play around with banoffee ingredients, photograph them, them shamelessly eat them until we collapsed.

He obliged.

So what did I discover? Banoffee ingredients make me happy. They work well introduced into a variety of formats. And that I will probably never get tired of bananas + caramel + cookies/crust + whipped cream + coffee.  For reals, y’all.

Add this combination to the top of a cupcake and what do you have? Insanity.  Any cupcake will do but you’ll probably want to introduce a flavor that compliments a traditional banoffee pie. Banana cupcakes, vanilla or espresso could totally work. Top them with chocolate frosting, sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top, a dollop of whipped cream, a banana coin and a small graham cracker. Drizzle with dulce de leche. Stuff into your face.

 

 

Could graham cracker crumbs, dulce de leche, cream, chocolate and bananas make a delicious parfait? Absolutely. It’s rich, I’m telling you, so you might want to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream :)

 

Yes, I am a stickler for that panino/panini format, I can’t help it. At any rate, spreading banoffee ingredients on bread, tucking some banana slices in there and then pressing on a grill or panini press gives you a sweet, breakfasty type sandwich (although the sensible me shudders at the thought of eating something like this for breakfast). Still, it’s fun, delicious, and even better if you top it with a dollop of whipped cream.

Sigh. Oh, banoffee milkshake, you were my favorite. For some reason all these things in a blender with ice cream just sing. You could get a lil fancy and top with chipped cream, chocolate shaving and a drizzle of caramel if you wanted. Again, vanilla ice cream is a good start, but could you imagine butter pecan or any type of banana ice cream? I think I need to stop dreaming up ways to use these ingredients. I will no longer fit into my pants.

I happen to love Maggie’s Banoffee Pie that she made for us during our Palm Springs retreat when I told her about my new found love for the stuff. If you’re looking for her delicious recipe you can find it here.



Adam’s Scary Apples

spooky-apples

No it’s not Halloween Déjà vu here! Since we get so many requests and comments about these Scary Apples I’ve decided to rerun them for this year’s Halloween. Kind of a greatest hits, right? Enjoy! And Boo!

Full confession: When I was about 4 or 5 years old I was so utterly terrified of Halloween that I once ran from the dinner table to the bedroom where I locked myself inside it for 20 minutes while Trick or Treaters came to the front door of the house. I’m not sure why I did that exactly as I wasn’t normally a timid or shy child; I think my dramatic exit had more to do with the fact that I enjoyed that sense of fright, darkness and mystery that rolls around every October. I like to be scared when I know nothing bad will actually happen.

This explains my interest in fright nights, scary movies, haunted houses, macabre scenarios, you name it. I think there’s a part of all of us that likes that thrill…why else would we visit haunted houses, watch slasher films, and listen to Paris Hilton songs and videos?

Not that I’ve done the latter. Even that’s too scary for me.

When I mentioned to Adam that I wanted to do my first Halloween blog post about a cocktail I tried he quickly informed me that it would neither be a) exciting b) deep enough or c) have enough pizazz. “What’s so exciting about a cocktail, all by itself?”  he asked. I could see his point as there are tons of others who focus on spirits and do a much better job. Besides, this drink wasn’t anything exciting or thrilling but perfect for the grown-ups at any Halloween party. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll help you out” said Adam.

Wow. Was my drink really that lackluster that it needed help? Apparently so.

He grabbed his car keys, ran to the store, came back but not before making a detour to the front yard where he began tugging at one of the trees. My partner isn’t a man of a thousand words (which must be why we’re a great match) but sometimes stoic and methodical. He was up to something I could tell but I didn’t quite know what.  When he returned to the kitchen he ransacked his baking shelf, took out the candy thermometer, a sheet pan and began his kitchen alchemy.

What happened next was pure magic.

I walked back into the kitchen to find the most beautiful candied apples before me.  Black glossy cinnamon-scented candied glass enveloped small apples, twigs became their handles, and a few shockingly red candied apples only made their black counterparts more ominous. It was halloween on a silpat, a spooky forest that completed my cocktail.

drinks-and-apples

I had no choice but to have him bundle up the apples, head to the studio with me where I knew exactly how I wanted to photograph them. They joined my new favorite black wine goblets from Juliska in an eery still life that still gives me the chills when I look at it. Only this time there’s no need to lock myself in my bedroom.

Red & Black Candy Apples

8-10 medium sized apples
8-10 wooden twigs, twimmed
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup of water
several drops of cinnamon flavored oil
1/4 teaspoon of red food coloring
1/4 teaspoon of black food coloring
Clean and dry the apples. Try to remove as much of the wax as possible. If you purchase them from your local farmer’s market then chances are they have not been treated with the food grade wax that makes then shine. Remove any stems or leaves and insert a twig into the end of each apple. To facilitate easier twig entry you can carefully sharpen the end of the twig or use a candy stick to create a guide hole. Set apples aside.

Heat and stir sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan until sugar has dissolved. Boil until the syrup reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Don’t go over 310 degrees or your candy burns and then you’ll be sad.

Remove from heat and stir in flavored oil and food coloring.

Dip one apple completely in the syrup and swirl it so that it becomes coated with the melted sugar candy. Hold the apple above the saucepan to drain off excess. Place apple, with the stick facing up, onto a baking sheet that’s greased or lined with a silpat. Repeat the process with the remaining apples. If your syrup thickens or cools too much, simply reheat briefly before proceeding. Let the apples cool completely before serving.

A note about the black apples: Lighter colored apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious) work well in making the red appear bright and glassy; darker apples like red delicious help the black candy appear as dark as possible. Muy spooky!

Also, Adam made one batch with red food coloring and after he had a few red apples he reheated the candy mixture and added black food coloring. Adding black to red will make it darker. He repeated the dipping process. Black food coloring can be found online or at specialty baking stores.

Matt’s Winter Cocktail

I only call this winter because it has the flavors of pomegranate, apple and pear. Other than that it’s really just a sweet excuse to get drunk. The pinch of pumpkin pie spice in the drink gives it a holiday flair but it’s subtle. You can use dry ice to make it spooooky if you make a large batch of it but I don’t recommend putting dry ice into an individual glass if you want to keep your lips. Serves 2.

2 oz Pama Pomegranate Liqueur
2 oz Pear Vodka
4 oz Apple Cider or Juice
tiniest teensiest pinch of Pumpin Pie Spice

Add ingredients and crushed ice to a shaker and blend well. Empty drink and ice into a glass and get your drunk on.

Tea in Seoul

We couldn’t have picked a better day to immerse ourselves in Korean tea shops than a day filled with brisk temperatures and a slight chilly rain. It made our check ins of tea houses much more cozy even though we were on a seriously ambitious mission to sip and sit in a combination of traditional and modern establishments.

We started at Miss Lee, a colorful and playful tea house washed in bright colors and natural woods. If I was looking for a quiet austere place for tea this sure wasn’t it! We arrived for an early lunch of bento boxes with a variety of teas. There’s something to know about the world of Korean tea:  it’s not necessarily always based on traditional tea plants and their leaves. It’s a world that encompasses fruits, seeds, twigs, roots and leaves, not to mention some grains and barley and rice. The flavors of a rainbow are all here, from sour and astringent to candy-like and sweet. One of my favorites was Omijacha, made from the dried berries of the Schisandra chinensis and called the Five Flavors tea because it has sweet, salty, bitter, sour and pungent notes. Served either hot or cold, Korean teas are consumed for health and vitality but to me some are just plain fun: give me a cup of Yujacha (citron) any day for dessert and I’d be a happy man.

I’m a quick learner and noticed you can’t really head out for any kind of social activity without food being involved. It reminds me so much of my childhood and my culture that this whole Korean thing makes total sense to me. With an endless “BRING IT!” attititude we ordered lunch as well as some snacks to enjoy with our tea. My favorite? A Korean-style bento box with rice, seafood, egg and sausage. It was fantastic but it was the yakgwa that rocked my lil world. A soft, semi-chewy cookie made from wheat flour and sesame oil, it’s formed into assorted shapes (often a flower) then fried before being dunked in honey. The result is chewy sticky cookie that is perfect with tea. They’ve since moved to the top of my cookie list for sure. A fried cookie? Come on now, really!

After Miss Lee we visited a few other tea houses, each markedly different. Over various glasses of iced omijacha and warm herbal tea we absorbed the environment as many others did – relaxing and catching up, laughing, exchanging stories. It was heavenly, I’m telling you!

We ended up at Old Tea Shop in Insa-Dong, a location that couldn’t be more quintessential tea shop if you tried. Walking up creaking old stairs to a dark cozy room, we took a seat at a table that nestled you in a way that made you feel as if you’re never leaving or you’ll want a nap, whichever comes first. Over cups of citron and cinnamon tea, we had a few more snacks as we listened to the shop’s birds sing in the window.

Our afternoon tea excursion had to be one of the sweetest, most relaxing afternoons I’ve spent in recent memory. It made me realize how wonderful it is to slow down, visit with friends, eat more snacks, laugh, smile, and really enjoy ones surroundings. And it helped me to brush up on Korean phrases. Practice makes perfect!

Speaking of practicing languages, later in the day we were approached by students working on an assignment. The task? Find a Westerner, interview them and complete a form in English. Being a short and brown man you’d be surprised how easy I can blend and adapt in surroundings. Try that when you’re a tall redhead with tattoos and you can see how you might stick out. Score one for the students!

I will also share this in case you are in need of a good reason to get your heart to melt: take elementary school students, put them on a field trip, stick Adam in the vicinity and see what happens. They flock to him, practicing English words and phrases like “Hello!” and “How are you?” along with tons of waves from across the street. The Big Red Head stops to practice phrases with them, smiling the entire time. Talk about Cuteness Overload.

Food Blog Camp 2011 in Mexico


Well hello there! We just got back from a week at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico where we we attended and instructed at the 2nd Annual Food Blog Camp. To say it was a marvelous experience would be an understatement; it was heavenly! We enjoyed the company of our blogging family and met many new wonderful people, all immensely talented. In fact, I think the greatest thing about teaching is that I learn so much and I always come home energized, challenged and satisfied.

So what was this whole Food Blog Camp about? It’s a series of workshops, hands-on demonstrations and plenty of quality one-on-one time with some leaders and legends of the blogging world. And no, I don’t consider myself either, I’m just lucky enough to be invited so I can usually do something that will embarrass myself!

The camp was held at the luxurious Grand Velas in Riviera Maya. Astonishing architecture, lavish accommodations and stunning views of mangroves and ocean became the backdrop to our daily activities. I’m actually a bit hesitant to even call it a “camp”: there were no cots, no bunks and definitely no need to rough it over a campfire in the mountains. This was first class all the way.

During the day we all shuffled into Grand Velas’ beautiful conference hall for classroom style lectures and presentations. Plenty of information, questions, and insight with tons of valuable nuggets to take home and implement. I always enjoy these brain-flexing sessions.

Ah, the beautiful and gracious team known as White On Rice Couple. They are our dear friends, and any time spent with Todd and Diane are moments for learning what true dedication, professionalism and talent look like. They are the real deal and I knew attendees would have an amazing time learning from them. They spoke on the technical aspects of food photography from camera angles to aperture and shutter speeds, providing real world examples that really cement their ideas home. I love learning from these two, it’s exhilarating.

After the first part of their presentation we all headed into the grand hall to put many of these practices into motion. We also had an opportunity to work with various breakfast items and Kerrygold Butter, one of the Camp’s gracious sponsors.

Sally and Kent Cameron discuss camera settings. I adore those two.

Smooth, slick and thoroughly entertaining. That's Michael Procopio for you.

The second part of Todd & Diane’s workshop involved a hands-on, breakout session that literally had my jaw dragging on the floor. The entire camp took over one of the resort’s phenomenal restaurants for an afternoon of photography. But this wasn’t just about snapping photos of our food; we were there with the entire restaurant staff, closed to the public, with cooking demonstrations and tables set so that every student could experience the restaurant environment.

If you’ve ever had a photo assignment in a restaurant you know it’s a tough job. You never get to indulge your photographic desires because chefs are simply too busy, you don’t want to interrupt the diners’ experience and — this is the worst — there’s never great light! However, this opportunity simply blew me away and I kept running around telling people how lucky we were to be able to do this. I also told them that this type of thing will probably never happen again, it was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Restaurant staff, chefs and servers were our models while wine and appetizers were passed around to enjoy. Wait, was I supposed to photograph them too?

Michael snaps Lucy and Gaby while balancing a glass of wine. He must have taken my previous photo class.

Here’s the lovely Jaden of Steamy Kitchen leading a discussion on brands, blogging and her best practices. I’m loving the stacked chairs.

Another wonderful session included David Lebovitz. He spoke about finding your unique niche and voice as well as the history of hand puppets and shadows which I found completely fascinating! This one is called La Paloma.

Speaking of David, I think he really enjoyed this year’s camp. When you are a successful author and blogger you are always working and I’m glad he managed to find a productive spot at the resort from which to work.

This is a food blogging event so you better believe everyone is wired to the gills! Because my mama didn’t raise no fool I always manage to sit with the beautiful women. Always. Jealous?

Jaden, Diana, Carrie, Gaby and Brooke. I love them all so very much.

After all the workshops were completed (and my apologies to Elise as I cannot find my images of her as I write this, damnit!) it was time for sun and fun. And food. Plenty of food.

And beer. Icy glasses of beer. Enjoying one and staring at the beach or laughing with your friends makes life that much better.

Poolside con cerveza. Photo by Gaby Dalkin.

Not the most glamorous shot of food I know, but still. Tons of ceviche, pulpo, lobster, salsa, guacamole and jalapeños. Not in the photo are the piles of corn tortillas nearby. AMEN.

If there are two things that stand out for me this past week it’s definitely Cochinita Pibil as well as these Huitlacoche Quesadillas. This fungus is known as Corn Smut and while it’s name is less than glamorous it has a distinctive, earthy citrusy flavor that I absolutely love. And if you serve anything small and cute on a little plate I’m pretty much going to love it by default. There you have it.

Speaking of love, you all know one of my best friends Gaby of what’s gaby cooking, right? Not only is she my blogging buddy but my dear friend and I really think someone upstairs is watching out for me by allowing me to have such a special person in my life. She radiates love. And she’s the only person on the planet who can match my love of avocados and guacamole, spoonful by spoonful.

Gaby, Marla of Family Fresh Cooking and Carrie of Deliciously Organic. Powerhouses, all of ‘em. And Carrie just celebrated the release of her first book. Congrats, Carrie!

And there I am with my Adam, the man with those famous knuckles. We also taught a workshop on food styling and photography that was part presentation and part hands-on at Azul, one of the Grand Velas restaurants that overlooks the beach. For a wonderful summary of our session check out Jason and Shawnda’s post at Foodie Bride called The Greatest Job In The World.  Hey, I think I agree!

There were so many great moments from Food Blog Camp and it’s hard to cover them all. I think one of the best moments was captured on my iphone one afternoon as we swam and laughed by the pool. Thanks to everyone for indulging me with the Film Strip Hand Wave. Here’s a little movie I’ve put together.

A special thanks to Kate, Grand Velas and Kerrygold. We’re really looking forward to next year!

For more round-ups from Food Blogger Camp 2011 please sure to visit these peeps!