Flying the Qantas A380: An Interview with Chef Neil Perry

Image courtesy of Qantas Airways

Rosemary Lavosh Canapés with Eggplant Dip. Thai style Larb with Squid, Shallots, Galangal and Lime Dressing. Confit Duck Cassoulet with White Beans and Sausage. Rack of Lamb with Pearl Barley, Cauliflower Puree and Harissa. These are not the offerings of your latest local fine dining establishment but menu items for Neil Perry’s Qantas International Inflight Dining. And while the discussion of airplane food usually leaves so much to be desired, there’s no sense of irony in this program: it’s robust, delicious, and extremely ambitious. I was lucky enough to spent a few minutes asking Australia’s beloved chef how he brings quality ingredients and Australia’s best to diners at 36,000 feet in the air.

Matt: In-flight diners are treated to a Rockpool-designed meal on Qantas flights in first and business class. Have you ever included items that might veer away from this and come from your travels around the globe or say Spice Temple directly?

Chef Perry: Absolutely – I travel a lot and am constantly inspired by the food everywhere I go. That said, nothing would get a slot on a Qantas menu if it was not Rockpool style in terms of quality.  Some of our Rockpool dishes have been translated to work in the sky. Travel is the greatest gift – it is my single greatest source of inspiration for my menus for Qantas and in all my restaurants.

Matt: I’ve read that our palates are affected by altitude and flying conditions. Has this had any affect on how you prepare a menu for in-flight dining?

Chef Perry: Yes, we are constantly doing checks from the ground to mid air and beyond to ensure that the levels of taste are consistent.  If it tastes good on the ground it will taste good in sky.

Matt: What have travelers really responded to? Is there a single menu item that works well?

Chef Perry: The classic steak sandwich has become something of a signature dish in the sky – I’m not sure we can ever take it off the refreshment menu. For the most part though, our customers enjoy quality, unfussy food – the best produce cooked simply and beautifully, as is the Rockpool way.

Matt: Because menus are created on two different continents, how does one ensure quality control?

Chef Perry: The Rockpool Consulting group was created to help us control just this. I have a committed team of food professionals who create the menus, test the menus and spend a huge amount of their year travelling to the catering centres both domestically and internationally to ensure the quality of our product is both excellent and consistent across the board.This also carries through to service inflight where we consult in both business and first class.

Thank you Chef!

Hamilton Island Great Barrier Feast

Will it be ok with you if I claim a compressed holiday schedule blended with a healthy dose of jet lag as to why I am only getting around to writing about my quick trip to Australia two weeks ago today? I came home after a 4-day trip and jumped immediately into 4 photo shoots. FOUR. The dust has settled, I’m reviewing my images and expanding my notes and wanted to share with you what a stellar time I had.

With an sleep mask, a bag full of magazines and two sets of headphones I boarded a V Australia flight from Los Angeles to Sydney (which was fabbbbbbulousss) to attend the Hamilton Island Great Barrier Feast, hosted by qualia resort in what must be one of the most beautiful parts of our planet.  Hamilton Island is a part of the Whitsundays, a collection of islands located off the central coast of Queensland, Australia. Rugged, verdant, with dark green peaks jetting out of teal blue water, it is a tropical paradise not far from the Great Barrier Reef. You might remember that this was the winner’s location for the Best Job In The World contest a few years back.  I see why. I was prepared for beauty, I wasn’t prepared for extreme beauty.

With 60 individually designed pavillions, qualia sprawls out over several hilly acres, making its way to the edge of the island at Pebble Beach. With dozens of awards under its belt, including 2011’s Australian Gourmet Traveller Award for Best Australia Resort as well as Best Spa, there’s a relaxed elegance to this entire place that I find right up my alley. Fusing a very laid back and carefree attitude with service of astronomic levels  provides the best of all worlds.  And driving around your own little golf cart certainly helps.

I began my mornings very early (I’m not one to miss a sunrise, especially when it rises over mountains that I can see from bed), usually with a short walk around the property and along the beach before heading to one of the pavilions for breakfast. The view each morning allowed me to absorb one of Australia’s most unique qualities: her light. Without getting too technical here (and boring you non-photographer, color-temperature measuring types), let me just say that the quality of light in Australia is beyond words. For this boy from The Golden State who has ample daylight most of the year, just seeing how the sun works down under was enough to cause me to snap photos, make notes, and marvel in its glory.

But really, let’s talk about those rooms.

I’m confident I’ve made enemies of friends and relatives after sharing via instagram and facebook my room. It’s been brought to my attention that in order to maintain these life-long valuable relationships I’ll need to bring them back to qualia, specifically this room. I’m a giver, consider it done. But you can easily see what I’m talking about when you see the room.

With apologies to housekeeping, a chair and power strip found their way into the massive tiled bathroom, where a sink counter became my temporary desk, the room doubling as a spontaneous office. It’s not that there wasn’t a proper desk on the other side of the suite, it’s just, well, I’ve always told myself I could live in a well-appointed luxurious bathroom, and I was pretty sure I was out to prove it.

One thing: bathing in not bathing with a view of the Whitsundays from a window like this. Don’t kid yourself. Human necessities become acts of grandeur.

Not that the rest of the room wasn’t worth it. Especially the bottle of Veuve Clicquot waiting for me.

As much as I could have hid in my room all day and night (with its own pool, thankyouverymuch), I loved getting out and meeting the other media attendees for lunch as the kick off for the Great Barrier Feast. If you’ll allow me to generalize here, here’s the thing about Australians: I love them. The whole bunch. Their spirit, their humor, their attitude, it’s all right by me. So I enjoyed a delicious lunch, sat back and listened to the lively conversation from Simon Thomsen, food writer and critic and emcee of the event. Also in attendance were James Halliday, Australia’s leading wine critic, Sally Webb, an editor from Murdoch, and many other journalists and editors, making for such a fantastic time. With all that food talk I was in heaven.

This year’s Great Barrier Feast was a weekend of amazing dinners, two Electrolux Masterclasses with Australian award-winning chef Dan Hunter, and plenty of delicious wines from Robert Oatley Vineyards selected by James Halliday. Not a stranger to the resort + food experience weekend, the Great Barrier Feast stands out above so many events in its ability to provide an experience that straddles education & excellent food with relaxation and pure chillness.  Try beating that.

Like a good American blogger I did my research on Chef Dan Hunter in lieu of making it to his restaurant Royal Mail in Dunkeld, Australia (that’ll be my next trip to Australia!) In a place seemingly near nothing (it’s 3 hours west of Melbourne), Dan creates cutting edge cuisine with a razor-sharp attention to ingredients and preparation. With impressive experience (spending time at Mugaritz in Spain as well as at some of the world’s finest restaurants), life at rural Royal Mail allows him to farm and grow his own produce, not to mention it also affords him the opportunity to walk to work and do his own thing. But what impressed me most was Dan’s singular vision and commitment to local ingredients. After enjoying Saturday night’s dinner prepared by Chef Dan and his team, I was eager to ask him about his vegetable-driven, beautifully plated dishes.

After explaining to him that my day job is as a food photographer, I asked him about aesthetics, something I’m pretty keen on.

Chef’s response: “I think food needs to seem untouched. I live in a very natural environment. I wake up in the morning, I open my bedroom curtains and I see trees and mountains, kangaroos, my dog. I have a shower, I have breakfast, I walk to work, I walk down a hill, across a creek, through a fruit orchard and I see clouds, trees, leaves, my vegetable garden. What I don’t see is structure. I see irregular, naturally occurring things. So when I put food on a plate, I’m putting natural things down and it seems silly to me to try to construct it too much. I say this to my chefs all the time: we want it to look untouched, as if the hand of man hasn’t been there. I mean, think of a forest with leaves on the ground, branches falling…it’s still beautiful. Imperfection in what we do and see are sometimes the most beautiful things.”

Speaking of nature, I may have gone off the food path with my request to tour the property with one of the lead gardeners. After walking around scratching my head with internal questions like “What on earth is this?” and “Oh wow look at that”, I knew I had to spend some time with someone who could answer my questions about the trees, plants and flowers. I said this place was paradise, right?

I must admit it was hard to leave qualia, but I was looking forward to my night in Sydney and checking out the new Darling Hotel.  If you’re thinking of attending the next Great Barrier Feast held again at qualia then lucky you. It’s a fantastic place. If you can break yourself away from that bathtub.

My blogger fine print: many thanks to qualia, V Australia, and everyone at Hamilton Island. Big California West Coast hugs to Michael Shah, Katie Cahill, Jill Colins (omgiloveyou!), Sophie Baker (omgiloveyoutoo!) and Debra Kelman Loew. As per FTC disclosure requirements, transportation and accommodations were provided.  Opinions expressed are authors own. All images © Matt Armendariz except tomato image in Chef Dan Hunter collage used by permission, © Andrea Francolini Photography.

 

Delicious Conversations: A Little Night Music

This post is part of an ongoing discussion sponsored by San Pellegrino and their “delicious conversations” series as seen through the lens of food. This entry is about two of my favorite things: food and music. Wait, three favorite things if you count Dinner Parties!

Jobim, Getz, Peterson. Those names are equally at home in my kitchen as much as salt, lemons and olive oil. Growing up in a musical household where almost everyone played an instrument meant the sounds and songs from all over the world floated along with the aromas coming from the kitchen. They were symbiotic, forever meant to be enjoyed together in my world.

Fast forward to adulthood. My relationship with food has become my career, but it rarely exists without a soundtrack. If I’m photographing, there’s music. If I’m cooking, there’s music. If I’m writing, there’s music (but very very quietly, I might add). Like so many with a passion for cooking and music, it’s an integral part of my world.

Music playing casually seems to take on a whole new level of importance when we begin to talk about The Dinner Party. The playlist almost becomes a guest, as carefully thought out and planned as the party menu. The right mix can soothe, can excite, and relax and it can certainly annoy (for all the right reasons, but we’ll hear from Marc in a second).  Raucous tunes played over a formal meal might annoy; the same playlist at a David Chang joint might just hit the spot. Context is key.

Realizing I’m not the only one who spends a significant amount of time creating playlists for dinners and parties at home, I turned to the great big world of social media and a few fellow cooks and bloggers to find out what makes their metronome tick when it comes to dinner parties, cooking and music. I just happened to snag a professional music critic and rockabilly musician in the process and their answers illustrate just how thoughtful food and music lovers can be.

My guests included Sarah Kieffer of Threaded Basil and Vanilla Bean Blog, Sabrina Modelle of The Tomato Tart, Marc Schermerhorn of Baketard,  PR Goddess & photographer  Candice Eley and her husband, music critic and writer Jeffrey Terich of Treblezine.com.

I asked Marc  if he has a process for putting together playlists for dinner parties. If you know Marc you know he’s quite “spirited” and his answers didn’t disappoint :) Marc says “For me, it depends on the theme and the guests. At the basic level, if I’m doing some type of regional cuisine, I’ll generally try to play something that goes with it, but without falling into a complete stereotype (like playing mariachi music for a dinner with a mexican menu). iTunes has been great for finding recommendations for pop or jazz singers in different countries or regions with which I have little familiarity. That’s what I do when I’m trying for something elegant. Or on the safe side, I’ll play jazz or blues for a sit down dinner. Other times, I might choose music to torture my guests on purpose; for a friend’s 40th birthday dinner here we played calliope music all night and had a clown theme because she hate clowns. Again, it goes with the audience most of the time.”

See, what did I tell you?

When it comes to putting together playlists, Sabrina not only has a formula but offers a few tips: “ I do marry my music to my dinners and gatherings. I love jazz, and it’s my go-to music. Female vocal jazz like Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, and Chris Connor makes the perfect backdrop for a fun yet sophisticated evening. I also love the feel of bossa nova for a larger crowd where people might not exactly know each other. A great trick when you want to have music, but not disrupt conversation is to go for something foreign. Bossa nova, vintage and modern French pop, and 60’s Italian tunes all make a great cocktail party.”

I asked her to share a few of her favorite artists as well. “I love Nouvelle Vague when I’m puttering around the kitchen. Melody Gardot is also fabulous for both cooking and entertaining. Julie London, Blossom Dearie, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, Chris Connor, June Christy, Dean Martin. My favorite barbeque/outdoor entertaining music comes from a label called Wild Records out of LA- they’re traditional rockabilly with an uninhibited and a sexy edge. I like that in music, in food, and in a party too.”

When it comes to spending time in the kitchen, I asked Candice and Jeffrey how it works out for them. She says that while she doesn’t always listen to music when she cooks, she does love having it on most of the time. “My husband is a really big vinyl buff, and we have a great record player that is just outside of the kitchen entry. I think vinyl is the only way to listen to music while you cook. If I’m baking (it’s my “escape” activity), I’ll put on something kind of lush and thoughtful, like Bat for Lashes or The National. If I’m prepping to have people over, it will probably be something more like Cut Copy to get me psyched and in a good mood. And for whatever reason, old school classics from the late 70s/early 80s like David Bowie or Talking Heads seem to be what I reach for if I’m making dinner for just me and Jeff on a weekend evening.”

And in an answer I can certainly understand, I asked Marc if he listens to music while he cooks. His answer? “Constantly. I get twitchy in a quiet house, much to my partner’s dismay.”

Next I asked my fellow music lovers if they thought food has its own soundtrack. Does jazz equal a free-form recipe, while a well-structured classical tune might represent a difficult pastry? Do they tie certain recipes and certain tunes together?

Sabrina said “Oh definitely.  I am in love with pastry doughs. When I make pie crust, or biscuits, or other things that involve getting all floury, I love to listen to 1950s women rockabilly, country, and blues. I make these things without modern machines, and I always wear an apron. The music completes the 1950s housewife fantasy. I also use music to inspire my cooking. Maria Callas & I hang when I bring home Spanish ingredients. It’s the Bollywood Channel on Pandora when I’m feeling Indian. The relationship is really symbiotic.”

And our resident critic Jeffrey: “ I think food does have its own soundtrack, but it’s open to interpretation depending upon the person listening/dining. I associate punk rock with New York style pizza, for one, but not everyone might see it that way. A steak might go well with standards or jazz. Burgers pretty much go with everything, though I tend to like hip-hop for barbecue fare.

No matter if it’s the Ramones or REO Speedwagon (c’mon you 80s lovers, don’t pretend you don’t sing them at the top of your lungs!), one category reigns supreme when it comes to Dinner Parties: it’s definitely all that jazz. Sarah was speaking my language when she said “I put on a lot of jazz at dinner parties.  Lovely jazz with a little bit of swing like Ella Fitzgerald, Melody Gardot, Miles Davis, Blossom Dearie, Oscar Peterson Trio. This is what I listen to especially when its just me cooking. For dinner parties I like to sneak in some electro jazz and there are some great Brazilian artists that have some good groove like Ceu, Seu Jorge, Bebel Gilberto, and Rosalia de Souza, just to name a few. Other artists with some groove are St. Germain, Koop, Feist, verve remixed series, and Nicola Conte.  And for quieter tunes I have several albums I love like Chet Baker Jazz in Paris, Blossom Dearie Jazz in Paris, Peggy Lee Trav’lin Light,  Nat King Cole The Essentials, and Stacey Kent Raconte-moi. Really quiet is Gonzales Solo Piano.”

Ah, Solo Piano. One of my favorites from Gonzales, Sarah!

And Jeffrey’s thoughts on when things don’t always work?

“Generally speaking, right off the bat, certain genres or styles are probably automatically disqualified just because they don’t lend themselves well to a social gathering. I love ambient/glitch stuff like Fennesz and Tim Hecker, but that’s really something better suited to headphones and solitude. Plus abrasive stuff like Swans that will make your guests uncomfortable, and a lot of metal would be inappropriate. That said, it’s not entirely out of the question… last year we had a housewarming party of sorts and we played some Motorhead, which pleased our guests! Then it comes down to how many guests we’re having over, what kind of meal we’re having, what season it is, etc. A smaller crowd in winter will be more conducive to quieter, low key music, while a summer gathering with more people will be a lot more punk rock. After that I just start dragging in songs to iTunes playlists that I think go well together, that flow and seem to make sense together. It’s really just like making a good mix for someone, and I’ve been doing that since high school, so this just adds an extra element to that.”

I sincerely want to thank my amazing subjects for opening their hearts and heads and answering my questions about music and food. I could talk about this for hours! And thanks to San Pellegrino for inspiring the conversation through their Delicious Moments series! And tell me: what are some of your favorite tunes for dinner parties? I’d love to know!

Delicious Conversations: Cooking With Someone You Love

This post is part of an ongoing discussion sponsored by San Pellegrino and their “delicious conversations” series as seen through the lens of food. I chose to participate because the idea of delicious moments with friends and family and food conversations that generate chatter interest me. Plus I was able to pick the topic and interview some of my favorite people. For my first post I’ve decided to write about something I hold close and dear – cooking with someone you love.

 

As a guy who has always known his way around a kitchen and been comfortable cooking at an early age, I’ve always known importance of cooking for myself. Spending my early 20’s in Chicago and then San Francisco, I didn’t always have the means to dine out daily and found the simple act of cooking for myself or roommates necessary. Soon the necessity became a pleasure as my access to stellar ingredients and unique global flavors incorporated themselves into my cooking.  I felt like a whole new world opened up to me, thanks much in part to the abundance of California fruits and vegetables and the numerous farmers’ markets practically in my backyard.

No matter how enjoyable I found cooking for myself, it really wasn’t until I hitched up with my better half and found myself with more space and resources (who says getting old always has to suck?) as well as the ability to step back and take my time with cooking. While this may seem like a luxury (All! That! Time! To! Cook!), it wasn’t necessarily so; it was a mandate, a requirement that bettered my relationship, my palate and my pocketbook – not to mention my soul.

So what is it specifically about cooking with someone you love that I, well, love? For starters, togetherness. In an era where we spend time commuting and computing (neither with much actual face time, I’ll add), being in the kitchen together unites us emotionally and physically. Hey, we have to eat, we have to cook, why not do it together? And as any cook will tell you, there are those moments where you’re so focused on the food that it’s easy to let the stress of the day take a backseat for just a moment. In our case, cooking means music & wine (sometimes more wine than music, if I’m being honest), and the act of putting food on the table isn’t a chore as much as a moment of therapy and reflection.

When we are in the kitchen together it just feels right. We file into our respective roles: me doing prep, clean-up and side dishes, the food stylist doing the main. However, if we’re talking pizza or grilling I usually step up to the plate, leaving more nuanced things like the precise world of baking to someone who actually reads measurements. Don’t look at me.

All in all, we have our routine. It works and usually yields some delicious results. But don’t assume all is glittery and happy in Kitchenville; we still have our disagreements but remarkably they never happen when we’re cooking together. Thank goodness considering there are fires and knives, that’s all I’m sayin’.

I decided to ask my neighbors, the lovely Wade and Brittany (that’s them up above), what it’s like when they cook together. As some of our most dearest friends, we’ve bonded over meals, cooked together, dined out, gabbed over ingredients and forged a wonderful friendship with two super cool peeps. I knew they cooked together several nights a week, but I wanted to find out why.

“Because we have to and our place is really small!” Wade said. “And also because we enjoy spending time together. He loves to cook, I love to eat” added Brittany, zeroing in on exactly what motivates me to cook with my partner. I imagine it’s also what motivates others.

“I cook every day,” he says,  “and because I’m health conscious and it’s hard to eat out everyday. And also I can use fresh ingredients. You can go out and spend lots of money on a meal that can disappoint. I can cook much better than many of the meals I’ll eat in a restaurant. But when we cook together, well, it’s beneficial because we both share a love of healthy eating and spending time together.”

I asked them if there’s a certain flow when they are in the kitchen together, and after a Lucille Ball joke made by Wade and a slap on his arm from his wife, I learned that they have certain tasks but that it all depends on the meal.

While a quick glimpse into their world showed me how similar we are, I decided to call in the big guns – my parents – who are celebrating 50 years of marriage this year. As food lovers, excellent cooks and the people who taught me to cook, I knew they’d be able to provide some insight as to what they get out of cooking together.

“We are together, for one thing. And we work well together and enjoy each other’s company” my dad says while my mom echoes his words.

“Plus I get to kiss your mother whenever I feel like it,” he adds.

I sure hope cooking, living and laughing together is the recipe for a life of happiness. I’m looking forward to 50 years with Adam…and then some!

 Ok folks, so let me ask you: do you cook with your wife/husband/bf or gf/significant other? What do you get out of it? Or must you make them go far away when you’re in the zone? I’d love to know.

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!

Good Bite’s Weeknight Meals: The Cook Book

We photographed a book last year for Good Bite as well as contributed a few recipes along with some of our dearest friends. Now that the book is almost here I wanted to share a wonderful ‘lil video about the project.Please excuse the fact that my head looks ginormous.

http://youtu.be/Xx48cMOSwFM

 

I’m lucky enough to have an early copy (Thanks Justin!) and it’s a very beautiful book. It’s available for pre-order at Amazon. Thanks to Adam and Emily for the amazing food and prop styling as well as agreeing to work with me. I hope you still like me.

Twitter Chat Tomorrow…with prizes!

Hi everyone! I promise I’ll get back to some recipes and food soon enough but in the meantime I wanted to let you know that I’ll be doing a twitter lunch chat tomorrow, Wednesday June 8th at 10am PST/1pm EST with Ziplist. We’ll be talking about the book, photography, general stuff and I promise to not be obnoxious!*  There will also be a few books and prizes to give away so I hope to see you there!

You can follow me on twitter here. My twitter name is MattArmendariz.

Muchas gracias, y’all!

*yea right

Ben Holtz of California Avocados Direct and a Giveaway!

Last week I headed down to San Diego with the delightful Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking to visit Ben Holtz, avocado grower and super duper nice guy. I found out about Ben through an email introducing me to his company, California Avocados Direct, at about the same time many of my blogging pals were getting boxes of hand-picked avocados in the mail. Rather than just send a few emails back and forth we decided to see if Ben would let us visit. if there’s anything you know about farmers and growers it’s that they are some of the most polite and open people on the planet and love sharing what they do. So on a sunny Monday afternoon we piled in the car and paid Ben a visit.

I didn’t share this with anyone at the time, but knowing how freakishly in love with avocados Gaby actually is, I had some concerns that she’d just start running off in the middle of the field into a grove of avocado trees and then I’d have to ask Ben if he had an ATV I could borrow to try to find her and once I did I imagined she’d be stuck in a tree like a mad woman inhaling avocados, one hand holding on to a branch for dear life while the other arm smashed avocados all over her body as she emitted that high pitch monkey squeal whenever I’d get too close. You think this is a stretch but you do not know how she feels about avocados, do you? I do believe this scenario could happen.

But all kidding aside…

We were both captivated by Ben’s story of growing up on the family farm and being around avocados his entire life. His mother Mimi and father Ed, a farmer as well, still live on the land today. Ben and his brother Daniel graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with degrees in Bio Resource and Agricultural Engineering and it’s this level of knowledge that Ben shared with us as we walked through acres and acres of beautiful avocado trees.

Presented with technical information that my brain could never retain, we learned about the life cycle of avocado trees, which trees yield the best fruit, the importance of bees, how a tree is grafted and what it takes to bring avocados to market. As we sampled fruit and drove around, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am to be able to have the opportunity to ask Ben firsthand these questions and to spend time in such a beautiful place. Even if I had to keep an eye on my friend so she wouldn’t disappear.

But about those boxes of avocados. That was the real reason we were there as I wanted to know more about them. As a way to generate revenue due to the increased water costs Ben recently had the creative idea of hand-selecting pristine avocados, packaging them up and sending them directly from the grove to a customer’s doorstep, all while embracing social media as a way to share his story. I like that idea in theory, but I loved it in person: he literally walks out into his special private reserve, handcuts avocados, snaps a photo of him doing it and sends the fruit along with the photo.

Ben’s hands are the only ones who touch your fruit. I’m not sure anyone else can make that claim with supermarket avocados, but even if they could the magic factor is missing: the delightful Ben Holtz.  And because of him, you’re getting perfect fruit each and every time. And trust me, you don’t really know what heaven is until you cut open an avocado while sitting underneath 30 year old trees and tasting its flesh, unadorned. Ben has superb avocados. And I should know, I’m sitting here eating one as I type this story!

Let’s have a little tour of the ranch, shall we? And make sure to read about the little giveway at the end of this post!

Without bees there is no avocado pollination. I ventured pretty close to the bees to get this photo, one apparently wanted to come home with me.  Here’s a shot Gaby took of me photographing the bees. I’m giving you an Underwear Warning.

Ben’s Office: I think I could used to this sweeping view. And on the right is what I call the magic tunnel, a corridor of tall avocado trees that still bear fruit. The cooler temperature underneath the trees as well as the cleaner air was quite noticeable. I want to live there.

Here’s Ben plucking pristine avocados to personally package and post. How’s that for alliteration? On the right is a small avocado plant that’s sprouted from an avocado seed that’s been on the ground covered in rich ground covering. The trees love this cool damp covering; thanks to their shallow root systems, they need it.

****** A Giveaway! ****** Gaby and I are both giving away 1 fabulous box of 15 Hass Avocados from Ben and California Avocados Direct! All you have to do is leave a comment here at mattbites telling me your favorite way of using an avocado. Heck, just tell me how much you love them, I’m easy! I’ll randomly select one comment and announce it this Friday, April 22nd, just leave a comment any time from now until Friday 8am PST.  And this giveaway is twice as nice when you head over to Gaby’s site to enter, too.

Also, Ben has been such a gracious host and offered a one-time 30% discount from now until tomorrow at midnight (Tuesday, 4/19 PST) on any of your California Avocado orders. Make sure to enter “GabyandMatt” during checkout to take advantage of this limited offer.

All The Fine Print: I never want you to question my motives. Because of this I want you to know that one of my most beloved clients is the California Avocado Commission and  I photograph many of their recipes for their website. My visit to Ben, a grower of California Avocados, came via a press release from them and that’s when Gaby and I both put on our thinking caps. I personally purchased the avocados I am giving away on this post, this is not a sponsored blog post. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little sumthin’ from Adam on the CB2 Blog!

Well if this doesn’t make me smile from ear to ear then nothing will! Today my extraordinary husband and food stylist Adam Pearson makes an appearance on the CB2 Blog and it’s a fantastic interview!

When Adam mentioned that he’d be working with CB2 in January I was thrilled. As a fan of their stores and decor (that’s me on top of a few of their tables at home which I got in trouble for, thanks Adam), I knew the Adam + CB2 pairing would be a match made in heaven. Modern and affordable furniture, beautiful photography, brighty happy stores…I do love all things CB2. His contribution as food stylist was an outdoor Mexican fiesta for 12 guests and his recipes will be featured on their blog over the next few weeks.

Make sure to visit their blog and read the interview with Adam! Thank you, CB2!

Follow CB2 and Adam on twitter if you’d like!

Power Foods

You’d never know by looking at my chubby exterior, but during the week we focus on a variety of healthy meals at home in an effort to balance the overindulgence, tastings, and big dinners that usually fill our weekends. And even if it weren’t for this health focus, if anything it’s to give my palate a rest from overactivity. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy sacrificing flavor because I do not; I need meals that incorporate great tastes as well as make me feel fantastic.  When I read that the editors of Whole Living Magazine were compiling their best recipes that feature the healthiest ingredients possible I knew I’d be in for a treat. And Power Foods doesn’t fail.

The book contains recipes that incorporate key ingredients that are not only delicious but good for you — things like berries, tomatoes and nuts. These foods have a tremendous impact on our health but none of that means a thing if you can’t find ways to actually prepare them and like them, a key to maintaining a successful diet. Power Foods gives you hundreds of ideas, but a favorite thing for me is the inclusion of the book’s Golden Rules, a collection of best practices for shopping and the kitchen.

The book begins as a guide to these foods, providing a visual glossary as well as information on buying, storing and eating these healthy ingredients. From there the book is packed with recipes and so much valuable information. And it covers almost anything you’d be looking for, from breakfast and soups & stews to main dishes and desserts.

I had a few minutes to chat with Alex Postman, Whole Living Editor-In-Chief, about Power Foods, some of her favorite recipes from the book as well as our mutual love of kale.  Thank you, Alex!

Matt: What are your favorite recipes from the book?

Alex: One recipe I love is for breakfast: the egg, kale, and ricotta on toast (p. 82). It’s a delicious, nutritious way to start off the day with vegetables, especially one that can be a bit challenging to incorporate beyond dinner!

Staple you’re eating this winter:

Lentil, carrot, and lemon soup with fresh dill (p. 152)
It works for me because it’s only five ingredients, it takes just 30 minutes, it gets its fresh flavor from lemon juice and dill—so healthy! And fiber-rich lentils lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar. You can make a double batch and freeze it. My kids eat it too.

Winter salad: oranges with olives and parsley (p. 174)
It’s so easy to make and the surprising combination of oranges, olives, and paprika gives citrus a whole new level of taste.

dinner: roasted salmon and parsnips with ginger (p. 208)
I rarely cook fish but this one is so easy and versatile, as are many of our dressing, sauce, and marinade recipes. This one’s tamari-ginger dressing is great to have on hand for fish, vegetables, and tofu.

Any specific power foods you love?

Well, again, I love kale. I didn’t always love it, but now I know how to cook it right. It’s low in calories and super dense in nutrients, including vitamins A, B, C, and K, and fiber, iron, and calcium. It’s also versatile: you can bake it and make chips, eat it raw shredded in a winter salad, blend it in a smoothie, saute it as a side. The options are endless.


I must admit that I wasn’t always a fan of kale. During my early years cashiering at Whole Foods I kept my distance from it, it seemed too tough and leafy. But like you I know how to cook it properly and do love it! What else?

Quinoa is my new favorite. Believe it or not, quinoa is one of the most highly searched terms on Wholeliving.com—I think this seed (it’s not a grain) is having a bit of a moment! It’s the only plant-based complete protein, and it’s high in vitamin B and magnesium, two nutrients that can help reduce the frequency of migraines. Plus, one cup packs more than 5 grams of fiber. And it’s gluten-free since it’s technically not a grain.

Any that you weren’t eating enough of but now incorporate into your diet?

Quinoa (benefits above). I’ve also found that it’s a great food for any time of the day, especially breakfast when you can cook it like oatmeal: Simmer the quinoa with milk and top it whatever fruit you have, and then sprinkle with cinnamon, nuts, and honey.

These power foods are all nutritional superstars, yet the book never once feels like a “health” book. How do the editors create recipes that seem so obviously flavor-driven yet good for you?

Our philosophy lies in creating balanced recipes comprised of whole, nutritious ingredients. Once you stop focusing on low-calorie this and zero-sugar that, and start eating real, unprocessed foods, you can let the recipes speak for themselves. Plus we wanted to make the photography really mouthwatering.


Amen to that! What is the best way to incorporate these key power items into everyone’s daily diet?

The beginning of the book lists “the golden rules” for wholesome eating. (Download, print, and post them on your fridge: http://www.wholeliving.com/photogallery/power-foods-book#slide_20.) These are what the editors see as the ten pillars of maintaining a healthy and conscious diet, including when to insist on organic, buy grains in bulk, and think of fruits and vegetables in terms of the rainbow—and eat them often!

The book is right up my alley, I love to cook and I love every single incredient (there’s nothing Power Foods that I do not want to eat!)  However, what do you say to those who proclaim that they’re too busy to cook, to make the recipes in the book? Any advice to get them into the kitchen?

It all starts with meal planning. If someone gets off work and still has to schlep to the grocery store before she can make dinner, ordering takeout is probably the more appealing option. Find recipes in the book that you’ll actually want to cook (not hard!) and shop for a week’s worth of meals. Once you have everything you need, many of our recipes take 40 minutes or less in the kitchen. And new cooks won’t feel intimidated by lengthy, exotic ingredient lists; our recipes typically call for easy-to-find pantry staples.

We just said goodbye to 2010 and all those crazy holiday meals. Going forward, what is the best way to enjoy Power Foods and make sure we are cooking and eating the right stuff when the holidays want us to overindulge?

All of our healthy recipes emphasize fresh ingredients that are naturally detoxifying—low in sugar and full of fiber and antioxidants—and are therefore a good option to balance the gluttonous holiday months. We need to learn that feeling “full” doesn’t need to feel like being stuffed, and that we don’t always need sugar at the end of the meal. Use the months before the holidays to build a strong habit of cooking and eating healthy ingredients. Your body and mind will feel so good that you won’t even be tempted by that second slice of apple pie at Thanksgiving—or, even better, you won’t feel guilty about it if you’ve been eating well all year.

Thank you Alex!

Papaya, Endive, and Crabmeat Salad from Power Foods. Serves 4

Matt says: I love the combination of sweet and crunchy with seafood, and this salad hits the spot. I also love how the sweet crabmeat tempers the slight bitter note of endive’s flavor. There’s no cooking and it’s simple to prepare, you’ll only need to slice-n-chop a little bit. I probably don’t need to mention the health benefits like vitamin C and beta-carotene, right? This salad uses grapeseed oil for its dressing, known for its vitamin E and flavonoids. Score.

1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
coarse salt
1/2 large papaya (Mexican or Solo, about 1 pound), peeled, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large Belgian endive, halved lengthwise, cored, and cut into matchsticks (about 3 cups)
1/2 English cucumber, very thinly sliced
3/4 cup jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over and rinsed

Whisk together ginger, lime juice, grapeseed oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add diced papaya, endive, cucumber, and crabmeat; gently toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Reprinted from the book Power Foods from the editors of Whole Living.  Copyright © 2010 by the editors of Whole Living.  Photographs copyright © 2010 by Romulo Yanes.  Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.