Tart Cherry Hand Pies

 

The note inside the package from American Spoon stopped me in my tracks.

“Hope these preserved cherries bring fond memories of your trip to Michigan’s Cherry Festival.”

The timing was perfect, actually. Not only is it National Cherry Month, but the chilly weather (even in California!) and non-stop work schedule made me long for a few days in Traverse City, Michigan, eating cherries and basking in ridiculously long summer days.

 My trip to this part of Michigan in 2010 goes down as one of my favorites ever taken. I heard from so many Michigan natives after that post, many of you from Traverse City, and I can shamelessly tell you that I am jealous of you. That’s right, I’m not afraid to admit it. Jealous of the sunshine during summer, the smiles and conviviality, the lake, and most importantly, those cherries.

Oh, those cherries.

My pantry has a permanent place for dried tart cherries as well as a few jars of preserves, but as luck would have it I was completely out of the preserves when my box from American Spoon arrived. I call this Perfect Timing.

Realizing we only had a few days left to celebrate Cherry Month, Adam whipped up a crust of butter, cream cheese and a little bit of brown sugar. Tucked inside the dough went American Spoon’s Fruit Perfect, they baked and cooled before a Vanilla Bean Glaze was brushed and drizzled on top. I photographed them, using every ounce of my being to hold back devouring them. I double checked my camera’s memory card, realized my shots were good to go, and ate a few without hesitation.

And then I ate more.

Oh Michigan, I really do miss you.

Tart Cherry Hand Pies

For The Dough
4 oz butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

For The Egg Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

For The Glaze
1/2 cup powered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 vanilla bean, sliced and seeds scraped out

For The Filling
about 10 oz Fruit Perfect Sour Cherries from American Spoon

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cold butter and cream cheese until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the dough just comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to just a little over 1/8″ thick. Cut the dough with 4.5″ cookie or biscuit cutter.
Continue rolling the scraps until all the dough is used. Make sure to keep the dough covered once cut. This recipe will yield 12 dough circles.

To fill the pies, lightly brush the edges of the dough with egg wash, place about 1 teaspoon of Sour Cherries in the center. Fold dough over and press lightly to remove air. With a fork crimp the edges, dipping the fork in flour to prevent sticking. Once you have filled all the pies place in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425˚.

Remove from refrigerator and brush with remaining egg wash and with a sharp knife cut two slices in the top to vent. Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes until golden brown and cherry filling is bubbling out. Remove from oven and let cool on a cooling rack. When the pies have cool, brush or drizzle glaze on.  Serve at room temperature.

By the way, have you seen the American Spoon catalog? They live in my permanent collection of beautiful printed catalogs and if you can get your hands on one I really urge you to do so. Breathtakingly beautiful they are.


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.



November’s Everyday Food

Hi folks! Just a little quick post to tell you know about this month’s Everyday Food Magazine! I’ve got a quick little feature as well as a new favorite holiday side dish that I will be serving this year! It’s Sweet Potato Fries with Brown-Butter Marshmallow Sauce and you can find it on page 33 of the November issue!

There’s also a few extra questions in the ipad version of Everyday Food as well as the blog, You can read it here! As usual the magazine is filled with fantastic recipes appropriate for the season and I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to make the Turkey & Mashed Potato Potpie that is on the cover. Heck to the yes.

A very special thanks to Anna Last and Merritt Watts! And thank you to Monika Dalkin of Fifty One And A Half for the gorgeous handmade platter!

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.



Green Chile Biscuits with Chorizo & Chipotle Gravy

Or the Uncondensed Title: Green Chile, Parmesan and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits with Chorizo & Chipotle Gravy. Whew!

While I can overeat with the best of them, a Hearty Breakfast Boy I am not. It slows me down and makes me feel sluggish which is why I usually stick to a banana and some peanut butter. Sometimes oatmeal, occasionally an omelette.

These rules change if we’re talking brunch, though. My little peckish early morning hunger turns into a full-fledged giant appetite after I’ve been up for a few hours. Or automatically after 10am.

This recipe is something Adam came up with last Sunday, the first lazy day we’ve had together in quite some time. He just returned from 17 days in Wisconsin, working on a project while freezing his ass off. He had an idea for changing up his biscuits and gravy to which I replied “Oh gosh, I’m not sure about that. I think you’ll have to make it so I can try it.”  Of course I was sure about it, you can’t really mess up biscuits and gravy, can you?

The results were fantastic. Adding green chile, parmesan chunks and black pepper to biscuits rocked my socks off, incorporating chorizo and chipotle to gravy made my eyes roll back into my head. And while I would be fine with only these two things, Adam decided to throw caution to the wind and layer scrambled eggs and bacon into the biscuit and then top with a little bit of queso fresco. BREAKFAST SCORE! Thank god it was 11am.

Green Chile, Parmesan and Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits with Chorizo & Chipotle Gravy

For the Chipotle Gravy:
6 oz pork chorizo
2 chipotles in adobo, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups milk, warmed

In a sauce pan over medium high heat cook the chorizo and chipotles together until cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir until melted, add flour and cook 1-2 minutes. Whisk in milk and continue to stir. Bring to a boil so that the gravy will thicken. Serve over biscuits.

These biscuits are so good that you might not even need gravy. Seriously.

Green Chile Parmesan Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup diced green chiles
¼ cup of Parmesan cubes (¼ inch cubes or chunks)
1 cup cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450˚ F.  In a large mixing bowl combine all the dry ingredients, whisk or stir to combine. Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture until crumbly. Make a well in the center, place chopped chilies and cheese in the well and pour buttermilk over. Stir until it comes together and makes dough.

Turn the dough out onto lightly floured surface and, with floured hands, give it a quick knead, a few times should do it.

Pat the dough into a 1-inch thickness and cut out biscuits with a 2 1/2” cutter. Keep reshaping and cutting the dough until you have 9 biscuits. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat and place in hot oven till puffed up and golden brown, around 15-18 minutes. Serve warm!

Optional: Throw caution to the wind and sandwich scrambled eggs and bacon inside the biscuit. You probably won’t need to eat for 2 days afterwards. And cans of Chipotle in Adobo can be found in Latin markets.

Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Yea, so I’m still continuing with Thanksgiving sides and apparently I’m still on this Chipotle kick. I can’t help it. A part of me thinks I might have taken a quick ride on a time machine back to the 1990s when everything went chipotle, but to skip over its smoky personality because of fashion would be a disservice to my table. So while I was experimenting with recipes recently like this Chipotle Sweet Potato Spoon Bread I did that’s over on the Cooking Channel I decided to do a simple mashed sweet potato with a nice dose of chipotle. It’s far from an original concept, I’ll give you that. But it’s delicious and a nice change. Plus if you’re inclined to do a different type of turkey this year (something with an Asian or Cajun flavah) then these sweet spuds will be maaaaaaarvelous.

Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Since I’m on a Food Network/Cooking Channel tip here, I’ve based this recipe on Alton Brown’s recipe. Not much changes, it’s literally quite simple, but I might add the teeeeeeeeniest tinnnnnnniest bit of extra adobo sauce for added flavor. And when looking for chipotles you’ll find them in a can packed in sauce, referred to as “chipotles in adobo”.  You will always find a few cans in our pantry. Oh, that sounded like I was giving you our stash, didn’t it? I wasn’t. You’ll have to buy them yourself.

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (you can use salted, it’s fine, just taste as you go along so you don’t oversalt!)
1 whole canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce from the can
1/2 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter, see above)

Put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender and cooked. Drain and return the potatoes to the pan and add butter, peppers, adobo sauce and salt, if needed. Mash them up well, mixing ingredients. Serve immediately. So simple.



10 Things To Do In Singapore

A few months ago I had the pleasure of taking a very quick trip to Singapore. I tried to be punctual in posting but if you’ve been there you’ll understand this: it is a country obsessed with food, layered in such rich cultural dimensions that summing up what they do is quite a challenge. My head is still swirling from the flavors and concept of Singaporean cuisine and when people ask me what my favorite thing was I stop dead in my tracks. It’s quite hard to convey the magnitude of its food. Better to just jump into this mindblowing experience where food and flavors are king. I’ll try to do my best.

I arrived in the middle of the night–3am to be exact. I’m quite good on planes, taking advantage of the down time to rest but what I wasn’t prepared for was the heat. Now I’m a Texas boy from Galveston Island, humidity and heat never phase me. But when you don’t prepare for Mother Nature’s hot wet tongue lapping at the back of your neck in a way only Asia can do it throws you for a loop.

Singapore, nestled at the base of the Malay Peninsula, is a modern country-state located about 85 miles north of the Equator. With Malaysia and Indonesia as neighbors, Singapore has a population of nearly 5 million and is the only Asian country with English as its official language. Those are the easy facts for me to tell you. Next is what makes Singapore so unique: the people. Multicultural and composed of Chinese, Malay, Indian and a variety of everyone else, it’s the makeup that is reflected on the streets and on every plate. It’s incredible.

The cosmopolitan, traditional and first class converge in Singapore, and one only needs to spend a few days hopping around this country to realize this. Glistening skyscrapers dot the sky while swanky stores nestle tree-lined streets, all pristinely maintained and clean, clean, clean. But I didn’t come here to shop. I came here to eat. And I hope you’ll believe me when I say I’ve never eaten so well or consumed so much in 4 days as I did in Singapore. Here are my Ten Things To Do In Singapore.

10. Have Breakfast with KF Seetoh

Singapore’s culinary expert and author KF Seetoh  joined me for breakfast where we discussed all things Singapore and this is where I got my crash course on Hawker stands. More on this in a bit. KF is the go-to man when it comes to food in this country. As a former photographer and writer, he’s mapped out food and hawker dining like no one else. He’s been a guide to almost every chef who has visited Singapore and I pinched myself when I found out he’d be joining me for breakfast. Ok, so I realize I was in a very special situation thanks to the Tourism Board and not everyone can have breakfast with him. But you know what’s the next best thing? His Makansutra Singapore guidebooks. Armed with a healthy appetite and one of these books and you’re good to go. But not before finishing that breakfast…

9. Have A Soft Boiled Egg And Kaya Toast For Breakfast Which Will Blow Any Other Breakfast Away Except For Maybe #8

Mr. Seetoh, with his wildly animated persona, insisted that I must try a plain soft boiled egg. Barely cooked, set aside and then dunked in hot water when ordered to finish the cooking process, the egg is cracked into a small saucer and sprinkled with soy sauce and white pepper. What happens next can’t be described: you slurp the silky egg as warm unctuous flavors melt into your mouth and down your throat, the salty and peppery notes highlight what has to be one of life’s most delicious moments. And in an instant it’s gone. This is the dish that KF tells me caused Chef Rick Bayless to freak out over, asking why eggs weren’t eaten this way back in the United States. I was left asking myself the same question. I didn’t want to stop, I had a few until I was warned to save room for the Kaya Toast.

Kaya, a pale-greenish jam of coconut, egg, sugar, and pandan leaf, is a sweet spread that’s layered on top of toast.  It is simultaneously familiar and exotic, an ingredient that ought to be on top of the breakfast list no matter where you live. As if my morning couldn’t get any better, KF ordered fried bread that was dunked in egg and topped with copious slices of butter and Kaya. A turbo-charged French toast, served with plenty of Kaya to eat alongside. Quite possibly the most perfect thing I’ve ever tasted.

8. Eat Congee

Conjee, a porridge of rice that’s gone beyond cooked, topped with a variety of shreds of pork, fish, peanuts, green onions and a century egg became my morning ritual (can you have a ritual in only 4 days I wonder?—matt)  Amazingly simple in its complexity — or would that be complex in its simplicity? I don’t know. I do know that I would eat this every morning if I had my druthers. Satisfying and to the point. I’ve found good places for Conjee in Los Angeles but it’s not quite the same experience as being in Singapore. Now I can’t wait to return to other parts of Asia and experience conjee all over again.

7. Visit 25 Degrees Celsius Café and Bookstore

While many stop by this gorgeous small café for a bite to eat and coffee or tea I must admit it was the front of the house that did me in. Cookbooks. Gorgeous cookbooks from floor to ceiling. And I’m a sucker for cookbooks. Did I mention cookbooks? I have mad respect for cookbook bookstores, there just aren’t enough out there in this world. 25 Degrees Celcius, 25 Keong Saik Road, +65.6327.8389.

6. Stay at New Majestic Hotel When You Need A Dose Of Chic, Hip and Style

When you are a frequent traveler you experience a wide variety of accommodations. In my travels I try to select the smaller places instead of giant behemoths – they’re easier to navigate, much easier to connect with people and get insider information about the city. However, sometimes the smaller places can lack amenities or features. New Majestic Hotel gets everything right. Located in Singapore’s historic Chinatown, this 30-room hotel features artwork from local artists in each room, but you may just end up spending quite a bit of your time in the lobby that opens up onto the street. Or in New Majestic’s restaurant, headed by Chef Yong Bing Ngen, which features modern Cantonese cuisine in a gorgeous room of various green hues. I think I was equally enamored of the restaurant’s space as I was with the pool, which just happens to be on top of the restaurant. The pool came in quite handy as one of the few ways to cool off and escape the insane humidity between excursions. And for those athletic types, there is a small gym and yes, I did manage to get my running in every morning. How else was I going to keep up my jam-packed eating schedule? 31 Bukit Pasoh Road, 6511 4700

5. Eat Quintessential Singaporean Dishes Several Times

I considered including this twice on the list as I can’t stress this enough. And if you live in a place like I do where it’s next to impossible to get these items then you’ll know why this is important. First, you can’t visit Singapore without having Chili Crab, a dish that consists of crabs in a piquant chili sauce that’s not extremely hot but tangy and sweet. Unfortunately I have no photos to share because I left my camera in my hotel room but I think it worked out for the better: Chili Crab is a deliciously messy affair that must be eaten with fingers.

Next up is Carrot Cake. No, this isn’t your cream cheese topped slice of cake but a dish made of fried daikon cake with preserved radish, eggs, onion and sometimes a dark chili sauce. Unctuous, savory and unique, I’m not sure I’ll ever find something like this in my neck of the woods. You simply must try it.

And do not think of leaving Singapore without a Laksa or two. This coconut-based curry soup is about as perfect as you can get. While there are several varieties and regional differences, the version I had was rich and sweet with thick tender rice noodles. My first slurp of laksa made me realize that heaven can indeed be found inside a bowl.

4. Visit The Markets

You’ll most likely eat more food in Singapore than you’ve enjoyed anywhere else and will find yourself in need of a walk. I highly suggest visiting the markets like Tekka Market and Smith Street Market to absorb the sights and sounds of these bustling shops. Herbs, fruits and vegetables, fish, eels, frogs, curries, fresh coconut, durian, candlenuts, palm sugar, I could go on and on. And if by chance you do get hungry walking the aisles there’s always food right around the corner. This is Singapore, after all.

3. Take A Cooking Class With Ruqxana At Cookery Magic

Iif you’re looking for cooking lessons featuring authentic Asian recipes in a real Singaporean home them you must enroll in a class at Cookery Magic. This was a highlight of my trip, and watching Ruqxana spin around the kitchen preparing food and explaining unique local ingredients created memories I’ll always cherish. For a second I closed my eyes and felt like a child again at my grandmother’s house, the smell of food and sounds of cooking around me as she managed a delicious level of chaos around her. And like all real schools I felt like I got something out of this class with Ruqxana: I learned how to toast Belachan and also how to make Perkedel Ayam. I’ll be blogging about this recipe in a few days, you’ll definitely want to stick around for this one. Visit her website Cookery Magic.

2. Spend Time With The New Guard

Ok, so they’re not so new anymore, but this generation of chefs is doing some amazing things with food. I was fortunate enough to spend time with Janice Wong of 2am dessertbar, Malcolm Lee of Candlenut Kitchen and Willin Low of Wild Rocket during my visit, and while they’re all doing something a bit different from each other I was impressed by the passion and dedication these chefs possessed. Not to mention their ages. Chef Wong’s dessert restaurant is sleek, elegant and accessible, with wine and dessert pairings that wowed me. She lives and breathes food and I was actually a little bit in awe of her presence. Chef Malcolm Lee’s Peranakan restaurant is all heart, focusing on family dishes that are served in a modern, airy environment. What I loved about Chef Lee was that he’s only interested in serving the best Paranakan (the cultural combination of Chinese and Malay) dishes of family heritage and nothing else. To him his vision is singular and unique. And Chef Low of Wild Rocket, a former lawyer who found his way into food, sums up everything I love about chefs. It’s instinctual to him, all very much meant to be. His restaurant was the perfect spot for lunch with its modern takes on traditional Singaporean food, his dish of Laksa Pasta left me obsessed.

1. Experience Hawker Stands, As Many As You Can

Street food enthusiasts, take note: there is no place on the planet that does this better than Singapore. Ok, so Saveur says it’s not exactly on the street (years ago the government moved them quasi-indoors for health and safety reasons), but no matter. What you’ll find are indoor and outdoor stalls upon stalls of food vendors scattered throughout Singapore, creating mind-blowing meals that run the gamut of cuisine from Indian to Malay to Singaporean. It’s more than a destination place, Hawker stands are a way of life for many, a place for inexpensive meals eaten throughout the day. And let me tell you: these people love to eat. You can practically stop any person and ask them about food, their favorite selections and where to go; they’ll all share their favorites. For this I will forever love Singapore.

According to KF Seetoh, Hawker Stands came to be as a way to feed the workforce. They provided sustenance at inexpensive prices, eventually leading the way for a society that heads out to eat more than they stays in to cook. And for this “nation of food lovers” as KF calls it, it makes perfect sense. If I had access to this abundance of food I’d probably never cook either.

And if you are planning on tackling the Hawker centers yourself, bring an empty stomach and a copy of Makansutra, KF’s guide to street food and restaurants of Singapore.

Special thanks to the Singapore Tourism Board, the New Majestic Hotel, Aun Koh and Su-Lyn Tan, Wong Wee Tee and the one and only KF Seetoh. Get your butt to Singapore immediately people. It’s unbelievable.




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.

Genie In A Bottle? Her Name Is Colatura.

Pasta-Con-Colatura-Blog

When you live, breathe, eat and sleep food, it can sometimes be hard to muster excitement. This doesn’t mean I’ve grown weary of food and all it involves, it just means that it takes a little extra or a tiny bit of sumthin’ sumthin’ to really knock my socks off. Not that they need constant knocking off. They don’t. I’m happy with plain most of the time.

The pleasures of food and discovery happen when you least expect it. I can remember a moment 20 years ago when I had my first Meyer lemon and I thought the earth would swallow itself. My mind was expanding with each taste of that glorious citrus and I knew life would never be the same. The same can be said of having Jamon Iberico de bellota, a proper supplì, even Wisconsin cheese curds for the very first time. I can count those moments on one hand.

Last month in Italy I had another one of those moments at dinner. It was a fish dish with a very simple aioli––or so I thought. It turns out that the aioli was made with Colatura, an extremely flavorful Italian condiment made from fish and salt. My eyes must have given my excitement away as our dinner neighbor Fabio looked at me and said “It’s Colatura. There’s Colatura in here.” He explained how it’s made, telling me fish sauce has been used for thousands of years in Italy.

“You mean like Garum?” I asked.

“Exactly” he replied.

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Colatura-Bottle-Blog

I’ve read that Colatura is a relative of Garum, that pungent fish sauce made by fermenting fish in the bright Italian sun. But if Garum is the loud in-your-face uncle, Colatura is the mannered and finessed younger cousin. It’s made by taking anchovies and layering them with salt in wooden barrels. A weight is placed on top and as the fish lose their liquid it becomes mixed with salt and collected underneath, resulting in a light amber liquid that’s lighter in color and flavor than your standard fish sauce. It takes a few months to gather the essence but it’s worth the time and effort.

Now before you email me and call me an Asian fish sauce hater, please note that I’m a fan of all types of fish sauces. They make their way into my cooking and if you know me I put Nuoc Mam on anything and everything (flank steak and potatoes, watch out). But with Colatura, well, it’s magic. What else explains how fish and salt go in but Grand Umami Magic comes out? It truly is a magical genie in a bottle.

Regretfully I left Italy without picking up a bottle (I think I was drunk at the time). I kept kicking myself after I got home and realized nothing would work in its place. I wanted some and I wanted it badly. Luckily Zingerman’s came to the rescue, stocking bottles with a price that reminds you of how special it is just in case your tongue forgets. But you know what? It’s totally worth it. There’s nothing like it.

I used mine as Zingerman’s recommended and mixed it with a little olive oil, red chili flakes and parsley. Spaghetti cooked al dente was tossed with the fragrant golden mixture and I felt like I was back in Naples. There’s just enough fish essence to create intriguing flavor and add salt to the pasta,  similar to adding an anchovy to dressing or sauces.

I have vowed never to be without this stuff in my pantry. Obsessed? No way.

Spaghetti with Olive Oil & Colatura

Trust your cooking instincts on this recipe, folks. Cook your spaghetti as you like and toss with a sauce made of 3 tablespoons high quality olive oil, 1 tablespoon Colatura, chopped garlic, chopped parsley and red chile flakes. You can adjust the quantities based on your preferences but start light on the Colatura. A little goes a long way. I haven’t tried this on greens like spinach or chard yet but I can only imagine how delicious it is on vegetables.

Matt’s Notes: I haven’t seen it in many specialty or gourmet markets here but purchasing Colatura from Zingerman’s is a safe bet. Those folks are awesome.