Coquito For Christmas

Last week while visiting with our banker (yes, there are some things you just have to actually go inside a bank branch, apparently) we got on the topic of food. Naturally. We were trading names of favorite restaurants, talking about the holidays, when our banker mentioned how he couldn’t wait to enjoy his family’s Christmas coquito.

As a Puerto Rican in Los Angeles I could only imagine the lengths he must go through in order to enjoy his food. Because unlike Chicago or New York or even Miami, we fall short when it comes to Puerto Rican food. Miserably short. I’m glad I spent years in Chicago, eating lechón and mofongo regularly and ever since my first trip to Puerto Rico last year I’ve realized how sad it makes me that it’s a bit harder to find here. But enough of the sad story. Back to that coquito!

I’ve never made coquito myself, the creamy sweet coconut concoction that’s a cousin to traditional egg nog.  Egg yolks, cream of coconut, spices, condensed milk and rum are blended then chilled and POW – it’s sweet and powerful! I must confess that I like it a bit more than standard egg nog and have decided that I’ll make it an annual tradition during Christmas starting this year. And I promise to toast my banker each time I make it!

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!

Coquito adapted from allrecipes.com

3 egg yolks
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
1 can cream of coconut (14 oz)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
½ cup white rum
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a double boiler, combine the egg yolks and evaporated milk. Stir to mix well and keep stirring. Cook until the mixture reaches 160˚F. Kitchen thermometers sure come in handy!

Transfer the egg and milk mixture to a blender and add all of the remaining ingredients. Blend for 30-45 seconds and then pour into a container. Chill for 4 hours to overnight. When ready to serve, pour into small glasses, shot glasses work just perfectly. This stuff is SWEET. Garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg if you’d like.

How about some images of Christmas trees at our house? This year’s theme was pink and then some! Thanks to Teri Lyn Fisher for the use of her Rollei!

Harvest in Reims with Veuve Clicquot

I was back home for only 3 days when I had to repack and head back to France. While the thought of jumping back and forth between Los Angeles and Paris might normally make me frown just a tiny bit, legs cramped and eyes bloodshot, I willingly jumped at this chance. Why? Because I wasn’t just heading back to Paris to see the sights or eat more butter (though I did plenty of both) but to join Veuve Clicquot for the harvest in Reims, the Champagne capital of the world.

While I’ve raised my glass many times for a toast, my knowledge of Clicquot was only half-full. Like many others it only takes a glimpse of that tell-tale swatch of yellow and anchor logo to recognize the brand, but how much did I really know about Clicquot itself? Not much. I was destined to change all that.

I’m not a wine writer so I’ll give you the very special Mattbites summary of Veuve Clicquot. Founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron, the business was passed on to his son François Clicquot who married a woman named Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin. François died in 1805, leaving the company to his wife. It was Madame Clicquot who made great strides with the business, in fact standardizing many processes when making champagne. It’s a fascinating bit of history and quite impressive setting foot where all this happened.

Every year in September, weather permitting, the grapes are picked, crushed, and stored, beginning a process that changes depending on whether the house is creating their Brut Regular Label or some of their other varieties like Rosé, the Vintages, or La Grande Dame.

Since the champagne grapes are harvested only once a year in a very short window of time I was warned I’d need every bit of energy for Reims. I figured an excellent way to fortify myself was by joining the marketing team of Veuve Clicquot for dinner at Hotel Le Meurice in Paris the night before. The ample slab of foie gras and a glass of the 1995 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve was just the thing I needed, although after a long flight from Los Angeles I did find myself wanting to lay on the couch and fall asleep for a bit. Sorry! Clearly the presence of Jacques Chirac and his wife across the room wasn’t enough to keep the jet lag at bay.

The next morning we hopped on the highspeed TGV train to Reims. I wasn’t thrilled about the 7:15am roundup in the lobby but the promise of hearing the TGV train announcement jingle all but made up for it. Look, don’t laugh but I’m rather addicted to it, much to the disappointment of my travel companions of last week. But don’t take my word for it, you can listen to it here.

And to think there’s even a dance remix of it.

We arrived to the chateau, joining a group of journalists, photographers and food bloggers for coffee and pastry before receiving an introduction from the winemakers themselves. We also got a crash course on picking grapes, what to look for, what to reject and what not to do. I felt a little bit nervous at this point. Are they really going to make us pick grapes? Won’t I just be donning a hat, clippers in hand, posing for a photo opp before being whisked away to a 4-hour lunch? Nope. We were there to work.

How to pick champagne grapes for Veuve Clicquot: Grab a basket and snips. Lift grape leaves to reveal beautiful clusters of perfectly round green grapes, cut at the top and gently remove the rejects if they are present in the cluster. Sneak a taste. Heaven. Repeat, making sure to stagger your position with the person across from you as to not snip their fingers. Those vines can be dense.

Repeat, moving down the row until your basket has been filled. Empty your basket into a wheelbarrow and return to the row. Sneak more grapes when needed and soak up the bright French sun while admiring the view. Acknowledge the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of picking champagne grapes for an esteemed champagne house and that those grapes will eventually make their way into a bottle. Heck, they might even make their way into a Reserve, only to be aged and enjoyed years after you’ve gone back to the real world.

Done!

Of course I’m simplifying the entire process and there’s a whole world beyond just plucking grapes off a vine. The magic happens after the pressing and the real science and art happens during blending. More on that in a bit.

We all worked up quite an appetite so we headed into the garden for aperitifs and champagne, of course. This was quite possibly the best post-work break I think I’ve ever experienced. Scratch that, this was the best post-work break I think I’ve ever experienced. After the sips we went inside for lunch where we were joined by winemaker Cyril Brun and given an opportunity to ask anything and everything we’ve ever wanted to know about champagne and Veuve Clicquot.  This is France so lunch was followed by cheese, naturally, something that excites me to the point of tears. I would move to a country that eats wedges of cheese with nothing. Ok, maybe a few pieces of bread but that’s it. I no longer feel so alone in my naked cheese consumption.

Ok, so all those grapes we worked so hard to pick? They were loaded onto trucks and taken to the presses located very close to the vineyards. This is important because the fragile grapes must be pressed as quickly as possible, with minimal transportation as to not bruise or jostle the grapes. And because the champagne is made from both black and white grapes, getting the harvest to press quickly is imperative for color reasons as well.

The grapes are dumped into a giant vat and the press is lowered, a very efficient and non-technical process that squeezes the juice into reservoirs down below. It takes a few minutes and tons of pressure to press, with random grape escapees lost during the process. Samples are taken, readings are made, the overwhelming heady aroma of grapes and juice fills the air.

From here the grape juice is taken and allowed to do its thing. I’ll fast forward over the entire champagne process but just know there is a level of control and quality at every stage. You can’t get anything past these guys.

Because champagne is a wine there is an art of blending involved. This was a fascinating step to see when we headed to the Veuve Clicquot tasting lab and met with Francois Hautekeur, one of Veuve Clicquot’s winemakers. After a crash course in geography and blending, we tasted the various single components that go into a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut, noticing the individual characteristics of each grape along the way. I loved this part. Fleshy flavors meet fruit meet chalky notes, all which will age together and become a beautifully nuanced champagne.

Once blended the champagne must go through its second fermentation process. This happens in Clicquot’s caves, located deep underneath the earth in Reims. Hundreds of thousands of bottles are stored here, a cool constant temperature maintained throughout the vast expanses of tunnels and small rooms. It was a beautiful space and not like any cave I’ve ever seen.

As I was flying back home to Los Angeles I kept thinking about the biggest revelation I had during my time in Reims: champagne is wine. It’s not just some special, esoteric drink (although it certainly can be) meant only for weddings and toasts, but something that can be enjoyed in the same manner as wine. Granted, it can sometimes be a bit expensive and certainly nothing I could afford to drink every day of the week but I might just be celebrating a bit more often with champagne from now on.

Thanks to the entire team at Veuve Clicquot and a special thanks to Nima Abbasi. As per the FTC Blogging Regulations this trip was hosted by Veuve Clicquot and no payment was received.




Cherries: A few days in Traverse City, Michigan


Last week I was invited by the Cherry Marketing Institute to join them and a few others at the Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan. I haven’t visited in over 10 years and have always heard how beautiful Michigan is in the summer but the real reason I wanted to go was because I’ve never once had a Tart Cherry. That’s right, I said it.  Sure, I know Bings and Raniers and all our other delicious sweet cherry varietals but a true sour Michigan Cherry had always escaped me. And after spending a few days with cherry experts, researchers, growers and enthusiasts I know why: they’re just too fragile and don’t ship well. At least not in their fresh state. But more about that later.

[Read more…]

Chocolate Adventure Contest –There’s Still Time To Enter!

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With the holidays in full swing I just wanted to remind you that you have a little bit of time left if you’re entering the Chocolate Adventure Contest from Scharffen Berger! The grand prize includes $10,000 for the winning recipe in both the Sweet and Savory categories and some swell second place prizes. We’ll be judging on creativity, taste, ease of preparation and whether the recipe reflects a spirit of adventure and yes, I’m one of the judges!

You’ll find more information at Chocolate Adventure Contest along with the complete rules of the contest and how to submit your recipe. You have until January 3, 2010. You can read my previous post about the contest here.

I can’t wait to taste all the amazing entries.

How Not To Behave Like A Glutton In Rome

Rome-Graphic

We’ve just returned from a quick trip to Rome. It was an amazing adventure filled with food, wine, stellar company and a few amazing side trips that I’ll be blogging about shortly. But in the meantime, please enjoy this guide to not letting your eyes and stomach get the best of you while roaming around the city. Because folks, I only have your best interests in mind and would hate for you to pack on an additional nine pounds  (you read that right) while visiting this amazing city. Let this be a lesson to you and plan accordingly. I happen to do gluttony very, very well. I’m sure the Pope would have something to say about that.

In all sincerity there is pure pleasure in being surrounded by people so passionate about the food of their country.  We were never short of suggestions and everyone was so gracious about explaining what makes their food so special. For me it was an eye-opening experience and one I hope to relive again very soon.
.Food-4-Up

Ignore the Three Dinner Rule

Was it sheer excitement? Stupidity? Taking advantage of a good thing? You decide. But having three dinners in one night might have something to do with it. But could you blame me? With our useful guide and best friend Kristina we found ourselves stopping for pizza on the street, salumi, cheese and wine (with snacks!) and some gelato before ever making it to the restaurant. And then dessert.  I’ve been on Tapas Crawls in Spain before but I really outdid myself here.

Cappucino-&-Cafe

Don’t Drink Five Cappuccinos A Day Out Of The Realization That You’ll Never Have Anything So Perfect Ever Again.

And this doesn’t even touch the shots of espresso I had after that. But when you are in a place that does coffee so remarkably well, each drink served with such perfection you can’t say no. And that seems to be the way things go for me in Rome: familiar and comforting but executed perfectly, like a dream where nothing bad happens. That doesn’t mean one is immune from bad food in Rome (a dinner of mediocre pizza confirms this) but chances are you can’t go too wrong with coffee here.  And because of this I’ve been sufficiently caffeinated the entire time. Hallelujah.

Gelato-Blog

Skip Eating Tons Of Gelato For “Research” Purposes.

I’m in the food business. I have a food blog. I owe it to myself to eat as much gelato as possible so that I have a decent point of reference when discussing it with others, right? It was this excuse that I hid behind as I sampled my way through gelaterias across Rome. And while some were significantly better than others I will most likely never tire of ANYTHING. NOCCIOLA. EVER.

innocenti-fornaio

Lose Control When Passing Every Pasticceria

You could do what I was not able to do and pass every pastry shop along the way, stopping only when you are hungry for something sweet. Or you could dart into each shop “just because”, picking up a handful of pastries because who knows if you’ll ever see them again. My hands-down favorite was the Plum & Cherry Crostata from Innocenti, flat little tarts of crisp buttery pastry sandwiched around tangy fruit jam.  And those brutti ma buoni cookies were absolute heaven.

matt-eating-pizza

Pizza On Every Street Does Not Mean EAT Pizza On Every Street. Or Don’t Let That Supplì Go To Waste.

Pizza Culture in Rome was quite different than what I am used to. Because of this I needed to stop several times throughout the day and sample as much Pizza al Taglio  as I could fit into my mouth. These large, long pieces of pizza are cut to order, depending on how much or little you want. A favorite was Broccoli e Salsiccia and Marinara with anchovies. Wrapped up in paper, these square pieces of pizza would have satisfied my hunger perfectly had I ever been hungry. I never was and I wonder why.

wine-and-bar

You Needn’t Stop In Every Wine Bar In Rome Just Because You Can.

I told myself that between photographing the ancient ruins and walking for miles that I worked up a wicked thirst that could not be quenched by water but only special grapes that have been pressed, aged, bottled and served in glasses with stems. And my god my little self-lie worked! Each day there were quick visits to local wine bars, some hip and trendy and some just regular spots. I stuck to Italians the entire trip (natch!) and not once made notes of what I drank. Sad, isn’t it? Guess I must return and do it all over again, this time with pencil and paper.

Fruits-&-Vegetables

Overloading On Fruits & Vegetables Doesn’t Count As Gluttony. Or Does It?

And that is because they are good for you! And you know what makes them better? When they’re battered and fried.  Let’s just say I became close friends with lots of Fritto Misto. And yes, I’d do it all over again in a second. Now if you’ll excuse me I must unbutton my pants.

Thanks to my friend Kristina for the piggish photo of me licking an anchovy off my lip. More Italy to come shortly!

The Chocolate Adventure Contest

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I don’t know about you but I’m still coming down from the high of last week’s festivities at BlogHer 09. The event in San Francisco exceeded everyone’s expectations and it was so humbling to be in the presence of so much talent. I spoke on two panels about photography with two of my favorite authors and bloggers, Heidi Swanson and Lara Ferroni.

On the tail end of this amazing experience I wanted to announce some exciting news: I’m joining John Scharffenberger, Chef Elizabeth Falkner, Alice Medrich and Tutti Foodie’s own Lisa Schiffman as judges for The Chocolate Adventure Contest. This contest from Scharffen Berger and Tutti Foodie encourages you to create an inventive recipe for any course––appetizer, entreé, dessert, or even a drink––using Scharrfen Berger chocolate and at least one adventure ingredient.

And what are these ingredients, you ask?

  • Fresh mint (any varietal)
  • Crystallized ginger
  • Pandan leaf
  • Banana leaf
  • Sumac
  • Raw honey
  • Cacao nibs
  • Fresh or whole dried chili pepper
  • Malbec
  • Peanut butter
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Rice flour
  • Papaya
  • Cumin
  • Paprika (any varietal)
  • Smoked sea salt

Ok, so now you can see why I’m just a wee bit thrilled to join these amazing folks and taste the one-of-a-kind creations I know you’ll create? The grand prize includes $10,000 for the winning recipe in both the Sweet and Savory categories and some swell second place prizes. We’ll be judging on creativity, taste, ease of preparation and whether the recipe reflects a spirit of adventure.

You’ll find more information at Chocolate Adventure Contest along with the complete rules of the contest and how to submit your recipe. You have until January 3, 2010 so please, get on this!

The official kick off is tomorrow with Chef Elizabeth Falkner in New York at The Institute of Culinary Education. If you were lucky enough to sign up and attend in person or via the webcast you’ll hear all about the event.

Have fun!

P.S. Please excuse my very large round face on this page. Clearly I will spend more time with Photoshop’s Liquefy next time.

Announcing Food Blogger Camp & Free Trip Give-Away!

food-blogger-camp-intro

I’m going to try not to use words like “Yipeeee!” and “wowwza!” to describe how excited I am about this. Some food bloggers, a few you may know, have teamed up with Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico for the first ever Food Blog Camp.

This event in January includes Diane Cu and Todd Porter, Michael and Donna Ruhlman, me and my partner-in-crime Adam Pearson, Dianne Jacob, Jaden Hair, Elise Bauer and David Lebovitz.

Seminars include Food Writing With Your Senses, Best Blogging Practices, Building A Better Blog with Multimedia, From Blog To Book, and even Food Photography and Food Styling.  You can read more about them on the Club Med Insider site here.

In addition to the seminars there will also be some pretty nifty activities like a walking tour of the Zijuatanejo market, a visit to the fisherman’s market, as well as meet-and-greets with local farmers to talk about their sustainable agricultural practices. I’m pretty sure there will be some gorgeous sunsets thrown in there for good measure, too.

Hope to see you there! And make sure to check below to find out how to win a trip to the Food Blogger Camp!

To sign up, visit the Food Blog Camp booking page.

1. At the bottom of the page, click where it says Click Here to Book

2. Use Login: blogger, Password: 160606, to get the special ‘Food Blog Camp’ discount price of $599 to $999 US based on double-occupancy for this all-inclusive trip.

3. There will be a drop-down menu so choose ‘Ixtapa’, and type in the dates: January 9-16, and 7 days for length of stay. You can come for less days, or all of them. (3-day packages are $599.) The booking page will open showing the discounted price just underneath the regular price. (It will say “Best Available Offer: Food Blogger Camp”) A slightly-higher price may be shown if you’re basing your search on single-occupancy. The $999 US 7-day price is based on double-occupancy.

Other questions*? Call 1-888-WebClub

Win a Free Trip!

Club Med is giving away a place free to one participant. Included will be all seminars, room, meals, and beverages. Airfare from anywhere in the continental United States is included. To enter, all you need to do is to leave a comment here, and if you wish, at any of the websites of the other participants listed below, and/or by following Club Med Insider on Twitter.

The more sites that you post on, the more your chances are of winning. Although you can comment at each of the sites, only one comment per site. Entrants who make more than one comment per site will be disqualified.

SteamyKitchen.com

DavidLebovitz.com

WhiteonRiceCouple.com

DianneJacob.com

Ruhlman.com

Clubmedinsider.com

(Please note that due to time differences, the various participants will be posting their entries at various times. Kindly be patient and when they do post, you’re welcome to leave a comment there to enter the contest.)

The contest begins now and ends on Sunday September 13, 2009 at 11:59 p.m EST (US). A winner will be drawn at random from the participating websites and the Twitter followers on or around September 15, 2009. Winner may bring a guest for the discounted price of a double occupancy room. Their airfare is not included.

This event is open to all food bloggers and the winning includes attendance at all the seminars. When you leave your comment, please leave a link to your blog in the URL.

Please read the contest rules before entering. If you do register and end up being the winner, your payment will be refunded.

For more information, check out the Food Blogger Camp website.

And please note that due to the number of entries I won’t be able to answer any questions personally about the contest. For booking or other questions, please call 1-888-WebClub

(and the photo above was taken earlier in the year in the Bahamas and isn’t representative of who will be in Mexico. Although it’s pretty darn close!)




Top 10 moments in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Collage

Images of San Juan and Culebra

I just returned from a very quick trip to Puerto Rico. My complete post on eating will be up shortly but in the meantime I’d like to offer you my favorite Top 10 Moments from my weekend in La Isla Del Encanto.

10. La Gente, La Gente, La Gente

smiling-girlShow me some nice happy smiling faces from any place I’m about to visit and I’ll show you a good trip. Those two things go hand in hand, San Juan was no exception. There is that warm generosity and respeto you find in Latin culture and throwing beautiful beaches and warm tropical water into the mix can only make you happier. Add to this citizens who are so extremely proud of their island and you can see why amazing people make it worth visiting.

9. Puerto Rico Food & Wine Festival

Getting to see and taste a side of Puerto Rico I never knew existed was amazing. The 3rd Annual Puerto Rico Food & Wine Festival was held at the PR Convention Center, complete with vendors and exhibits that reminded me of the annual G’Day LA event put on Australia Week or a small Fancy Foods exhibit. Emerill Lagasse was this year’s big draw along with Wilo Benet, Eric Villegas, Rafael Barrera and Alexis Torres. I must admit that I could have used more Puerto Rican vendors in the mix but I did appreciate the free-flowing wine and most of the food. Highlights included lots of pig and chicharrones (could you ever go wrong?) and a Peruvian pulpo (octopus) in an olive sauce that was out of this world. Imagine a slightly purple cream sauce that surrounded tender bites of octopus with a very definitive kalamata olive flavor. Everyone in the group kept returning for more. You have to see Adam’s photo to understand it.

8. Mofongo

mofongoMonfongo is what I call a perfect food. I’ve spent many years eating good-but-not-quite-perfect monfongo. Who knew I actually had to travel to San Juan to get it? We had lunch at Raices Restaurant and it was a delightful experience. Plantains are mashed and seasoned with garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings and served with shrimp, chicken or beef.  It’s tropical and familiar, garlicky and sweet, warm and cool,  everything I love about Latin food. We ate ours with beans and rice, topping it off with the small bowls of herbally chimichurri on the table. I was in heaven. Heavy? Yes. Perfect? Double Yes.

7. Amateur Gourmet

adam-on-boatHey, what’s with me having to travel 3,379 miles to the Caribbean just so I can finally meet Adam Roberts for the very first time? I’ve been reading him for years! Well no matter, it could have been March in New York so perhaps I’ll shut my mouth.  But now I know why he’s so popular, the guy is just adorable. And he was my snorkel buddy.We lovingly kvetched about blogging and shared family moments and culinary experiences while soaking in the happy tropical sunshine. We also compared farmer tans and while I certainly don’t mean to poke fun of adorable Jewish boys from New York City there really isn’t any excuse why this Mexican boy sported one, too. Que lastima.

6. Sangria

Ok, someone, anyone, please let me in on the secret of Sangria making in Puerto Rico. Is it something in the water? Every sip I savored was better than the last, a refreshing drink minus any of the cloying sugary sips  that seem to be so ubiquitous in sangria made by anyone other than yourself. Apparently I’m hanging out in bad restaurants in Los Angeles. I need to head back to San Juan I guess. It’s closer than Spain.

5. The View From My Hotel Room

beachI would have done without hot water, electricity and an extremely dreamy bed (but not wifi!) just for the view alone. And thanks to the Marriot I actually had all of the above. And pleeeeese people, ain’t nobody paying me to say this: the staff were super friendly, the room was super clean and the view was maaaaarvelous. Just watching the sunset from my balcony made the Red Eye worth it.

4. Flamenco Beach

flamenco-beachI understand why ratings and caveats were thrown out before we reached this beach but honestly, no amount of “best of” lists or top-whatevers could have prepared me for this intimate expanse of beach. Flamenco Beach is located on Culebra Island, about 17 miles east from Puerto Rico. It was perfectly amazing with soft white sand and warm blue water and completely unexpected. I’ve seen some beaches in my lifetime and I gotta say this takes the cake.  Sorry, Galveston (laugh track goes here).

3. Snorkeling

I’ll be honest: our day was meant to be spent just a bit differently than it went down (see Amateur Gourmet for the sour, queasy proof) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make the most of it! Nonsense! I stripped off my shirt, grabbed the snorkel and mask and jumped into some of the best water I’ve ever felt. It was warm, clear, and loaded with beautiful tropical fish and coral reefs. As I swam around I kept thinking “Boy, I’m gonna burn the shit out of my neck and shoulders and wow, I could sure go for some sushi right now.”

2 My travel companions

27084058With apologies to my male readers of the heterosexual persuasion (all 4 of you and my father, I’m sure), I do believe one of life’s inequities for you involves me getting to meet and hang with gorgeous women all over the world. This trip was no different. And when I say gorgeous I really gorrrrrrgeous, and when I say gorrrrrgeous I mean reallllly gorrrrgeous. Not that I’m objectifying them because I’m not. This group of travel writers and public relations professionals made me feel like the luckiest man on earth. Because I am. And please do not get me started on Desiree, our organizer, as my heart flutters just being in her presence. She’s one special woman.

1. Luquillo Beach Kiosks

kioskosTired, sundrunk and just drunk in general (just me, I mean) we made our way to Los Kioskos, located along Route 3 in Luquillo. This is the sort of place I dream of––rows and rows of garage-style restaurants open to the street, serving local food and drink. We worked our way from one end to the other, sampling local favorites like bacalaito and tostones con jueyes, my absolute favorite. It was so amazing to have such a delicious crash course in local food. As if I wasn’t stuffed enough we ended up at El Jefe Burgers, owned by Tim & Cheri Blackford who moved to Puerto Rico a few years ago and decided to open a restaurant that serves food they can’t get on the island. The burgers were delicious, the sides amazing, and the sangria out of this world. We sat and ate burgers as it rained over the amazingly verdant terrain and I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was in that moment of time.

A very special thanks to Jody and Desiree for planning and being our guides and to the San Juan Marriot for making this all possible.  And Charyn, you rocked my world. Call me next time you’re in LA.

Yo Party People, Summer Fest Is In The House!

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Well hello there! Do you know what time it is? It’s Summer Fest! And what is Summer Fest, you ask? It’s a 4-week celebration of fresh-from-the-garden food including recipes, growing tips, even tricks for storing and preserving summer’s best.  And I’m very excited to be hosting this year with Margaret Roach of A Way To Garden. If you remember, last year the fest began with Margaret and Deb Puchalla and was such a fun way of “getting” together and talking about food and the bounty of the garden. More than that, it was filled with useful information and was such a great resource to me.  I joined in during a few weeks and was pleased when Margaret asked if I’d be interested in participating again. How fast can one say yes?

Since Margaret is the professional type and spent years in publishing and me, well, I’m just a Career Troublemaker, I’m gonna let her tell you the 411:

HOW OUR CROSS-BLOG SUMMER FEST WORKS:

Summer Fest 2009 is a four-week, cross-blog celebration co-created (alphabetically listed) by A Way to Garden, Matt Armendariz of Mattbites, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple, with guest appearances from Shauna and Daniel Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl, Simmer Till Done’s Marilyn Pollack Naron, and Paige Smith Orloff of The Sister Project.  And from you—that’s critical. Your contributions are desired, and needed.

THE 2009 SCHEDULE:

  • Tuesday, July 28: HERBS. Any and all.
  • Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS FROM TREES (also known as stone fruits, but we won’t scream if you toss in a berry or another fruit, promise).
  • Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK (either or both, your choice).
  • Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK. How do you like them love apples?

HOW YOU CAN JOIN IN:

summerfest-badgeSo now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting Tuesday July 28, you can contribute in various ways, big or small. It’s up to you: Contribute a whole post, a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:

Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on Margaret’s blog at A Way To Garden, and then go visit the collaborators and do the same.

The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and some pretty great dialog starts simmering.

Or think bigger: Publish entire entire posts of your own, if you wish, and grab the juicy Summer Fest 2009 tomato badge (illustrated by Matt Armendariz of Mattbites).

Get in on the fun: Come comment, link to things from your own archives or the archives of your favorite blogs, post entire recipe in comments or on your blog.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how a Summer Fest works. Isn’t that grand?

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small cocktailThe kickoff subject this week is HERBS, and I chuckled just a bit when Margaret said “Any and all” because I pictured her in a ’78 van emblazoned with super graphics and a bubble window while riding along with Cheech and Chong. Of course we’re talking about delicious happy culinary herbs so I’ll put my overactive imagination to rest.

Man, if there’s one thing I can grow it’s herbs. Ok, maybe one doesn’t really grow herbs as much as let them do their things, and that’s fine with me. Of course my tiny herb patch is an embarassment when you look at the garden of my friends Todd & Diane but then again my cooking needs are modest in comparison to those two. I’ll need a sprig or two to finish a dish or a chopped handful to add to an omelette, but where I really believe my herbs shine are in my cocktails.

What? You didn’t think I wasn’t going to bring all this back to booze, did you?

• MINT Well there’s a reason it’s called a Mint Julep in the first place. And you cannot make a Mojito without it.  But my cocktail mint love doesn’t end there. I love springs of mint as garnish with vodka and soda, mixed into daquiries and just about any place where I want a bright dash of unexpected flavor.

• BASIL Ooh child, let me tell you something: basil was meant to be used in cocktails. You can make Basil Mojitos, add it to strawberry puree and vodka, put it in a martini, and it’s fantastic in a bloody mary.

• CILANTRO Ok, so there’s that love/hate thing with it so I don’t use it often. But I do love the long tall springs in a bloody mary or I’ll use it for garnish when it begins to flower. Que purdy.

• DILL Well, maybe I spoke too soon. I only know of one cocktail that uses dill and it’s call — wait for it — The Real Dill. It has tequila, vodka, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, English cucumber and a sprig of dill. It’s kinda nice but not my favorite.

• THYME and bonus points for LEMON THYME Thyme Bellinis, Berry Thyme Margaritas, Cucumber & Thyme Martinis, you catch my drift? I’m in love with Thyme in my drinks. It gives an herbal note without being too strong and seems so perfectly suited for spirits.

• ROSEMARY If there are a million ways to feature rosemary in a cocktail I wouldn’t know it. I’m stuck on one: A Rosemary Salty Dog. I’ll go so far as to say it’s a stellar drink that has spoiled me from an original. Seriously folks, try this:

Ingredients
1 grapefruit wedge and kosher salt
one 1-inch piece of rosemary sprig, plus 1 sprig for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 ounces fresh red grapefruit juice
1 1/2 ounces Hendrick’s Gin
ice

Method
Moisten the outer rim of a martini glass with the grapefruit wedge and coat lightly with salt. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the 1-inch rosemary sprig with the sugar. Add the grapefruit juice, gin and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into the martini glass and garnish with the rosemary sprig.

What else what else! Do you have any interesting uses for herbs in your drinks?

SUMMER FEST AROUND THE WEB:

• Want to know how to grow and preserve a year of parsley? Margaret is your gal!

• My good friends Todd & Diane of White On Rice Couple give us a primer on Vietnamese herbs. H-E-A-V-E-N-L-Y is all I can say.

• A wonderful twist to traditional pesto using peanuts and basil with my gorgeous friend Jaden of Steamy Kitchen




Cherry Sidecar

cherry-sidecar

There are three types of people in this world: those that like cherries, those that like cherry-flavored, and those that like neither (or both, which makes this category 4 I suppose).  I’m wedged into the latter but have slowly learned to appreciate the seasonal gift of fresh cherries.

Please don’t get me wrong. There are no agendas, no personal allergic antedotes, nothing of the sort. Growing up fresh cherries weren’t a part of my family menu. To us, cherries were the gloopy, glossy globes that didn’t need a cherry pitter but a can opener. Something tells me that’s not quite the way Mother Nature intended them to be enjoyed but purely an act out of mankind’s thifty desire to preserve their short season.

It’s only been the past few years that I’ve learned to have my way with fresh cherries in the kitchen and that has resulted in a slight cherry crush. I don’t want to eat cherry pie or clafoutis unless you can convince me you made it yourself and please for the love of god keep any fauxcherryanything far away from me. That includes Luden’s.

Still, I can’t help but get a teensy bit excited when I see cherries.

Last week the man and I decided to go to a nice quiet dinner to celebrate. Adam had never been to Hatfield’s and I couldn’t think of a more perfect place for a nice, not-so-flashy dinner.  Considering we were coming from the Bazaar where we met up with friends from Miami for a cocktail and you can see why this is all hella juxtapositiony n stuff.

May I interject something here? Please go to Hatfield’s. Just go. Quinn and Karen Hatfield have created one of the sweetest experiences you could have and there’s a reason why this place is a favorite in Los Angeles. Trust me.

Back to cherries. Hatfield’s had a Cherry Sidecar on the menu and since all their other cocktails are fantastic I knew this would be as well. One became two, two became three, Adam told me to use my inside voice, the food was delicious, I said I didn’t want dessert but it came with my meal, I ate it and part of his, and that is this story! Fun, isn’t it? Ok, not really. But I did manage to ask how the drink was made and both our server and Karen were very forthcoming.

I tried recreating the drink at home with pretty good results. Of course it wasn’t Hatfield’s but pretty damn close. For my drink I infused about a pound of pitted and split cherries into brandy and put that in the fridge for 5 days. If you follow me on Twitter you know that I was sneaking little sips daily, shhhh!  When it finally have enough cherry-ness to it I made a simple cherry reduction: 1 pound of pitted cherries, 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. I let it simmer for about 20 minutes and then cooled it. Once cooled I put it in a blender and strained the liquid and discarded the solids, returning my cherry syrup back to the fridge.

I followed the basic sidecar proportions and mixed 1 1/2 oz of brandy, 1/2 oz of cherry puree and 1/2 oz of freshly squeezed lime juice. I can’t figure out what I love more about this cocktail: the fact that it mixes seasonal fruit with booze or the fact that it is one of the most beautiful colors when mixed.

And I didn’t even need a can opener!