Have you entered the Chocolate Adventure Contest yet? Hurry!


Surely you’ve entered, right? I mean, it’s $25,000 Grand Prize for the wining recipe! And you can read all about how to enter the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker contest as well as this year’s adventure ingredients here. And this year it’s all about bars, which I’m pretty excited about. I’ll be judging the contest again this year and absolutely cannot wait! But remember,  the contest ends January 2, 2014, which is right around the corner. Since we’re all in our kitchens baking and making sweet things this is a perfect time to enter!

Visit chocolateadventurecontest.com for official rules and entry form.  See more about the contest here, too. Hurry! Enter!


Are you up for an adventure? It’s chocolate. Yes. Chocolate.


Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of year again. The time when I ask you to dust off that kitchen counter (not that it was dusty, right?), conjure up that sweet creativity, and put those thinking caps on.


Because it’s time once again for The Chocolate Adventure Contest!

As I’ve done for the past few years, I’m joining TuttiFoodie.com and Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker for one amazing contest, and this year I’m particularly excited about the category. Well, I’m always excited, but this year, well, yes. Bring it.

It’s all about bars!

You. Chocolate. And a special ingredient. Are you up for the adventure?

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and TuttiFoodie.com invite you to show your spirit of adventure. Combine Scharffen Berger chocolate with one or more of 12 adventure ingredients to create an original bar recipe.

So what constitutes a bar?  The category is large! Brownies. Blondies. Seven-Layer Bars.  Cookie-Based Bars. Ice Cream Bars. Handcrafted Candy Bars. Chocolate Bark. And so much more. You get the picture. The big giant delicious picture. And the magic happens when you incorporate the Adventure Ingredients, because, well, that’s the competition. But trust me, you’re gonna love them.

Turbinado Sugar
Fresh Pomegranate
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Peppercorn (any type—black, green, red)
Pandan Leaf or Pandan Leaf Extract
Coconut Milk, Cream, Butter or Oil
Oat Flour
Sesame Seeds (black or white)
Fresh Croutons or Crostini

This year I’ll be judging along with John Scharffenberger, Alice Medrich and Angie Dudley of Bakerella. OH MY GOD I LOVE THESE PEOPLE. And the fact that I get to eat chocolate all day and judge, well, it’s tough. See my face? Tough I say.
You can enter the Chocolate Adventure Contest here, and make sure you’ve entered by January 2, 2014. This gives you a few months to come up with your winning creation, because the grand prize is so worth it. The Grand Prize is $25,000 plus a copy of Seriously Bittersweet and Essence of Chocolate. There are also Culinary Honorees:  10 Honorees awarded an iPad Mini. So you can’t NOT enter, if you’ll allow me to use a double negative there.

I’m excited to taste your creations!

Visit chocolateadventurecontest.com for official rules and entry form.

Bar images by yours truly, styled by the amazing Adam C. Pearson.

Only a few more days to enter!

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

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

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

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

Happy new year and good luck!



The Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest!

While you may still be a bit overstuffed from Thanksiving, this is a perfect time to remind you that we’re officially in holiday mode which means S-W-E-E-T-S!  And I really do want to remind you as well that the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest is well under way!

You’ve entered, right? What do you mean you haven’t? What?

Get on it!

This year the category is Sandwich Cookies, and if that’s not exciting enough, there’s the chance to win a $25,000 grand prize. That’s a lot of cash!

To be eligible, combine any Scharffen Berger chocolate with one or more of 12 select “adventure ingredients” (yerbe mate, coconut cream, tapioca flour, corn meal, pine nuts, sweet potato and other ingredients native to cacao-belt countries) in an original recipe. Whether whoopie pie, macaron, s’mores, ice cream sandwich, alfajores or any other sandwich cookie—you can enter up to 10 recipes total.  More information at www.chocolateadventurecontest.com.

So get those creative, cookie-minds started, folks! The $25,000 prize is nothing to laugh at, and you can enter up to 10 recipes.

Thanks to Scharffen Berger and TuttiFoodie.com!

US Army Culinary Arts Competition

This post originally appeared in 2010. I am rerunning it this Memorial Day weekend in remembrance of all those who have served.

Matt’s Forward: I wanted to offer a recap of the day I spent with the US Army and cover this event objectively. I wanted to view myself as a reporter of some sorts, documenting the day through words and images. But as I spent the afternoon at Fort Lee in Virginia I had a hard time removing myself from the people I met and the stories I heard. I was touched in a way that I did not expect, surrounded by passionate people who have not only dedicated their lives to the culinary world but also to the service of my country. Walking onto that base made me realize that there are people who feel so strongly about service and putting their lives on the line for the sake of others and I was blessed to meet them. It was a gift for me and changed who I am. The men and women who serve this country deserve every ounce of respect I can muster.  Thank you to everyone I met and to the US Army for inviting me to attend.

Ask me to participate in any type of competition and chances are my face will give away my thoughts on such things. While I’m the poster boy for Team Playing I just don’t fare too well when it comes to competing against others.  The competitive spirit is lost on me and I’m just more comfortable sitting at the judging table or the cheering from the sidelines.  But attend a competition? You bet. When an invitation to attend the 35th Annual US Army Culinary Arts Competition in Fort Lee came across my desk, I knew I had to say yes. The US Army? A guest? Me? I guess that makes me official now.

I arrived in Virginia with just enough time to take myself out to dinner the night before the Competition.  I thought Mexican food would be a decent choice, it’s nice to see the regional differences in Mexican cooking throughout the United States. However, here’s one thing that has no place in any Mexican restaurant, be it border town or East Coast.

A colorful "margarita", complete with soap foam, I think.

I’d like to say this was some kind of instant Margarita mix but you can see it’s not. Part Prell® Shampoo with dashes of Palmolive® and something resembling tequila, this was much more Tropical Three Mile Isle ‘Rita than the worst Long Island Iced Tea I’ve ever had the misfortune of drinking. But I finished it and since I’m not a restaurant reviewer I won’t even discuss the food. It made me sad.

The next morning began bright and early on the base at Fort Lee. I met with Matthew Montgomery, Fort Lee’s Media Relations Officer and drove to the competition hall. It was finally my way to get all my geeky military questions out of the way like “Does the Army use Macs?” and “Will you help me with military acronyms, please?” He indeed helped me with titles as well as answered my questions about technology. I promised not to nag too much and besides, I was really there for the food and competition.

When I walked into the field house, basically a large gymnasium outfitted with everything a culinary competition could ever need, I immediately sensed the spirit of competition and energy. One corner was silently busy with timed competitions, Army chefs busy cooking away while being rated and reviewed by judges. Another section housed the MKT, the portable kitchen that’s deployed in the field to feed solders (more on that in a bit). Another area was designated for the Culinary Institute of America, a partner with the US Army. In fact, the army sends soldiers to the CIA regularly to learn and hone their skills. Those skills benefit their unit and the entire culinary endeavors of the military.  And lastly, the center of the auditorium was filled with the cold and hot displays of food. Rows and rows of food were presented for judging, each dessert or appetizer neatly sealed and shellacked to keep people like me from poking, prodding and eating. It was a visual treat to see so many things in one place but also completely unfair; if you’re going to pass around trays of appetizers then please, for god’s sake, let me eat!

Two Words: Marzipan Snake

So, what is this competition exactly? It’s a tradition that spans 35 years and all branches of the US Military. Every year the competition brings together chefs from the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines as well as the National Guard and Army Reserves. It’s their way of improving the quality of food service and training for all the services and also a way to recognize excellence in the culinary arts. All cooking is done using standard equipment, the same equipment used when they’re deployed in the field.  That’s right – no fancy set ups, no walk-ins, no high-end kitchens at this competition. And it also happens to be the largest culinary competition in the entire United States. That’s right – the largest.

On the left side of the field house the Student Team competition takes place. It’s for both junior team members and apprentices. It’s a two phase competition that tests the chefs’ basic culinary skills and their ability to execute a four course menu. Phase one involves an 80 minute challenge in which the chefs race against the clock to complete various culinary tasks like butchery, classic vegetable knife cuts and pastry techniques. Phase two is a preparation and service of a four course meal with only 90 minutes to complete from beginning to end.  I tried not to get in the way of this timed competition even though the Army gave me a big fancy press pass. And even though these young soldiers are focused and concentrating I think I did manage to get a few smiles for the camera afterwards.

One of the bigger events during the competition is the Field event. This consists of five members that are required to cook a three course meal for 80 customers using the containerized kitchen, or CK. They not only plan their meal and prepare it but also serve it to the public. Finally, I get to eat! As if that’s not enough, they only have a certain amount of time for the entire event and must complete their event while simultaneously sharing the area with another competitor. During my visit it was the Army vs Marines. I ate on the Army side of the room, I wonder how the Marines did. My meal of lobster bisque, lamb over polenta and tiramisu was great and enjoyable. Secret: it completely exceeded my expectations.

Because I’m a food geek I was particularly interested in the logistics of it all.  It’s a highly efficient operation with separate cooking areas, sanitation, dishwashing and food storage. It can all be set up wherever the Army is deployed and in fact the containerized kitchen only takes about an hour to set up and 30 minutes to break down. And no matter what needs to be done – grilling, baking, sautéing, boiling – it can all be handled in the CK.  Pretty nifty, I think.

Grilling, baking, sauteeing: it can be done here

A separate tent houses all the sanitation action

I was pretty fascinated by the sanitation station and asked how hot the temperature of the water was in the portable sinks. “Put your hand in there and find out” was the snappy answer I received along with a cute little grin, thankyouverymuch.

I want to offer my sincere gratitude to the US Army for allowing me to visit Fort Lee, Virginia and the Culinary Competition.  A special thanks to Matthew Montgomery, Fort Lee’s Media Relations Officer; U.S. Army CW4 Russell D. Campbell, Chief of the Advanced Food Service Training Division Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCoE); and CW4 Robert Sparks, Chief of Advanced Food Service Training Division Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCoE).

FTC Disclosure Statement: Travel and accommodations provided by The United States Army.

Elevate a Classic Dessert with Scharrffen Berger Chocolate: The Winners!

Last February I went to San Francisco to judge the “Elevate a Classic Dessert with Scharffen Berger Chocolate” contest, and as usual it was an afternoon filled with some amazing recipes and great company. I loved participating for the 3rd year in a row as a judge, and this year’s theme really worked it out: how do you improve on a classic? Rather then finding far-fetched dessert ideas, this year’s contest challenged participants to take a classic, add their take, yet keep it delicious and true to the essence of the dish. I’m happy to say that while all the finalists were good, the top 3 really stood out.

Here are the winners from this year! Congrats to everyone!

The Grand Prize (and $10,000!) went to Jennifer Daskevich for her Indulgent Chocolate Lovers’ Whoopie Pie with Coconut Pecan Filling and Ganache Drizzle. While it sounds over the top (IT WAS!), it was balanced and elegant, and surprisingly not too sweet. If there’s anything I dislike more it’s sugar for sugar’s sake. Not so with this winner. Congrats, Jennifer!

Second prize was a Malted Chocolate Ice Cream with Pretzel Bark. Oh jeez was this fantastic.

Third place went to Linda Wang for her Tall, Dark, and Sophisticated S’Mores recipe which was not only beautiful but fun to eat. I loved that they looked like ‘lil burgers.

Thanks to all the wonderful folks at Scharffen Burger for including me again this year as a judge, and a special thanks to my fellow judges John Scharffenberger, Alice Medrich (looooooove this woman), the amazing Chef Elizabeth Falkner, and Babette Pepaj of Bakespace.com.

You can find more information and the recipes for the winning entries at Scharffenberger.com.





Exploring Vancouver Like A Local!

Hi friends! Color me giddy, thrilled and senselessly excited: I’m partnering up with the fine folks at Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure (American Express Publishing) and the Canadian Tourism Commission to announce a rather jam-packed event I’m participating in.  I am still putting the final details on everything but can finally announce it!

When I was asked by the great folks at Food & Wine Magazine if I’d like to sign on for a this project my answer was an immediate yes. As a traveler I am the first to sheepishly admit that I have never been to Canada.


Ok, I’m glad I got that off my chest. I’m embarrassed by the fact that I’ve been all over the world yet have never set foot in my neighbor’s country. Flown over countless times, stood right next to it, known and loved many of her inhabitants, and yet this boy has never taken the time to explore all it has to offer. I’m glad I have an opportunity to change that.

Here’s where the Canadian Tourism Commission and their new site Explore Canada Like A Local comes in.  I created my own list (I’m still adding to it as we speak!) on this new site of places I’d like to visit. I was given free reign and the option to pick any place in Canada. I decided on Vancouver for a few reasons (Chinese cuisine and sustainable seafood the two chief items) and then began to compile my list. It’s pretty thorough but me? I’m always up for a challenge. With camera and empty stomach in tow I’m going to work my way through them like a champion.

But here’s where things get really exciting. Not only will I be blogging about my trip to these fantastic places but you can actually enter the Explore Canada Like A Local Sweepstakes and win my trip! Of course you can select the two others bloggers participating if you’re more of the backpacking and adventure type but really, we’ve got some eating to do, right? The winner will receive an all-expenses paid trip to be as much of a glutton as I am, following my itinerary along the way.

And if you wanna check that out you can do so right here.

I’ll be heading to Vancouver mid-November to begin my exploration so check back to see the images, tweets, and reports on my visit. The sweepstakes is open now and ends December 15, 2011.

See you in Vancouver! (Kari, get ready. Please.)


You guys know I’m on twitter right? You can also find me on Facebook where I tend to post embarrassing things about myself or worse, where people put photos of me caught off-guard or bent over looking fat on my Wall. God bless social media.



Calling All Bakers!

Calling all bakers! I am so happy to announce the Scharrfen Berger Elevate A Classic Dessert with Scharffen Berger Chocolate Contest! For the third year in a row I am returning as a judge for this fantastic contest and I must tell you that this year will be an amazing event, no doubt about it.  To be a part of it again is truly an honor!

In the past I’ve joined judges John Scharffenberger, Chef Elizabeth Faulkner and the amazing Alice Medrich to taste such amazing creations using adventure ingredients as well as cupcakes. This year the theme is all about taking a classic dessert and elevating it to extraordinary heights using Scharrfen Berger chocolate. And it’s this year I’m so amped up over because I have no doubt there will be creative, unique and delicious entries from all over the place. Cakes, cookies, pies, you name it…with the category being classic desserts the sky is the limit!

The extraordinary Chef Elizabeth Falkner toasts some sweets at last year's Scharffen Berger contest.

Now here’s what you really want to know, I’m sure of this: the first prize is $10,000 and a collection of Scharffen Berger Chocolates as well some amazing books. The winning recipe will also be featured on Scharffen Berger‘s website and I’m pretty sure I’ll be blogging about it, too. And can I tell you that judging this contest literally takes everything out of me? You have no idea how brilliant and phenomenal the entries are and when something is fantastic there’s a look everyone gets on their faces and we all agree. Of course there’s always an underdog during judging but believe me when I tell you eating chocolate is a very serious job. Ok, I’ll stop smiling now :)

Oh, and there’s also a fantastic $7000 2nd Place Prize as well as a 3rd Place Prize of $3000.  Those recipes will also be featured on Scharffen Berger’s website.

What’s this all mean for you? It means I hope you hurry and get into that kitchen to start creating your own masterpiece. Head over the website to find out more about the contest and all the official rules. You have until January 2, 2012 to enter. Do not delay, I am looking forward to tasting your creation!

On A Stick! My new book is out today! And a giveaway!

My sister Angela got her book yesterday. Thanks Amazon!

Well whatddayaknow? Today is the relase of our first book, On A Stick!

I’m thrilled, elated, a bit nervous but happy that this book hits store shelves today. It was an incredibly fun project that required some state fair visits, tons of research and plenty of taste testing and you should know I gave 150% of myself to this book. Especially the tasting part :)

On A Stick! is a book about – wait for it, wait for it – FOOD ON A STICK. Ok, I’m being silly and knew you’d figure that part out, but this book is where high brow meets low brow, where favorite recipes meet new fangled ideas in some fun and silly ways. Are you seeing the parallel between me and the book? God I sure hope so!

When I began to discuss the idea with Quirk, my publisher, I knew there’d be so many fun moments in store but I also knew it’d be quite a bit of work to produce a cookbook. While I’ve photographed several books for others, this was the first that landed on my shoulders but you should know it was a team effort. None of it would have been possible without my rock, my live-in stylist and my husband Adam. And the same goes for Jenny Park, my tester, writer and assistant stylist. And also to Haley White, my intern at the time, who kept me company and provided valuable assistance and feedback during the process.  And also to our friend Eddie Vasquez who helped me sample item after item after item at a State Fair last year. Who says I don’t take my work seriously?

Top: Adam and Eddie conduct serious research at the San Diego State Fair last year and yes, they are Fine Art. Bottom: Adam enjoys a Hot Dog Covered In French Fries in Seoul, South Korea last week. The work never stops!


But back to the book!


I did my best to cover all my favorites on a stick, from party food to street-fair food to appetizers and desserts. And because there’s that natural thing that happens when you have food on a stick – you simply must dunk or dip it – I included several recipes for dips, marinades and sauces.

And then there are the photos. Fresh off of Susan Russo’s The Encyclopedia Of Sandwiches, I began to rub my eyes and pound my fists a few times as the challenges of photographing food stuck on sticks began to wear me down. It wasn’t easy! Luckily Margaret McGuire, Editor Extraordinaire, was there every step of the way to assist and inspire me with words of encouragement. And with Adam’s styling I think we pulled it off.

Let’s have a look at a few of the book’s images, shall we?

Chicken and Waffles On A Stick.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept of Chicken & Waffles then you need to get up on this! Based on the dish I love at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles I wanted to put it on a stick and drown the whole thing in syrup. Oh. My. God. No, you shouldn’t eat this everyday but for something different on a stick I do love it.

Coconut Shrimp. Not everything in the book is on a giant long stick reminiscent of state fair cuisine. These tender shrimp are dipped in shredded coconut and fried, a flavor combination creation in Heaven above. Serve with mango salsa and you have yourself a cute little appetizer. They pair wonderfully with cocktails, I’m telling you.

Fried Pickles. Oh puhleeese quit looking at me that way. You know you want some. And if you love them already then you know where I’m coming from. Again, excellent with cocktails or beer. Not that I drink all that often.

This Panzanella on a stick was the very first recipe I wrote and tested. I took them to a 4th of July bbq last summer (it’s been that long already!?) to test on a crowd and you know what? They loved them. It’s fresh, summery, with enough chewy croutons to give these skewers some substance. Secret admission: I was kinda hoping people didn’t like them so I could eat them all myself. I’m serious.

Popcorn Balls. Is there anything better than a sticky face and sticky hands? Not really. When we shot these I told Adam to leave them on my computer stand just in case I needed to photograph them again. I AM SUCH A LIAR! I left them there to eat over the course of the day which I did. Sticky camera and mouse be damned.

Fruit Salad Skewers. These make me happy. They’re easy to assemble and great for kids, but you know the best part about them? The fluffy sweet sauce that they’re dipped in. I’m going to leave it at that and encourage you to make them. And invite me over.  I’ll bring extra sauce.

Spaghetti & Meatballs On A Stick. When I traveled around with my advance copy of the book this photo was always met with laughter. Was it good laughter or bad laughter? No one would tell me. But go ahead, laugh if you want, this dish is delicious, silly, a bit labor intensive but guaranteed to make you, um, smile. C’mon, it’s on a stick. Enjoy and delight in the silliness of it all! Besides, it’s the only time you’ll be able to eat spaghetti and meatballs with one hand while holding a glass of red wine in the other. Another drink reference, must I see someone about that?

There are so many more recipes in this book, not all silly, either.

To celebrate the release of On A Stick!, I’ll be giving away 5 autographed copies! All you have to do is leave a comment below, it can be stick related or you can tell me how much you love corndogs, I’m easy! Just leave a comment and next Monday, May 9th I’ll pick 5 winners and write sweet nothings in your book and mail them to you! EASY! Unfortunately you must be in the United States to win and must leave your comment by 9am PST time on Monday the 9th. I’m so excited to send some lucky winners a book that I may just throw in a few secret surprises!

Visit Amazon.com to buy your copy today!

Judging The Cherry Contest

A few weeks ago I headed down to sunny and beautiful San Diego (which I am loving more than humanly possible these days but more about that later!) to judge the Powered By Red recipe contest from Choose Cherries. Stop right there, I know what you’re thinking: “you have to head down to one of the most beautiful cities in America, hang out with lovely people, taste plate after plate of delicious recipes, pick a winner and come home and my god that has got to be the most difficult thing ever! Poor you!” And you’re right, but I hope you know the lengths I’ll go through for you. Why? Because I love you. And I love tart cherries.

Yours truly with the wonderful Dr. Wendy Bazilian

My affinity for these little beauties began last year when I visited Traverse City, Michigan with the Cherry Marketing Institute. It opened a whole new world to me and I haven’t been able to kick my tart cherry fixation ever since. When the opportunity came to judge the recipe contest alongside Dr. Wendy Bazilian I immediately said yes. And I’m glad I did because spending the afternoon with the lovely Dr. B. eating cherries was just what the doctor ordered! Ok, not really, she didn’t order anything but had she, well, I would have done it. Because she rocks. And so does Dr. Jason Bazilian.  And while she’ll tell you all about the health benefits of tart cherries, I shall tell you about their flavor: tart, tasty, perfect. Now you can see why I was excited about the recipes.

So many cherry recipes to taste!

I arrived in San Diego while the recipe finalists were being plated. There were 3 plates of everything, in three categories: Novice, Student, and Professional.  I skipped breakfast and opted for an apple on the way down so you better believe I was ready to eat. And eat we did. We tasted ice cream, panini, ribs, bread pudding, and many other dishes featuring cherries, but there were three clear winners that emerged from the pack. In fact, it was almost unanimous! Let’s check out the winners, shall we?

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Sweet & Spicy Tuna with Cherry Cabbage by Jaime Brown-Miller of Napa, California. This recipe entry won in the novice category but you wouldn’t know it. It was by far one of the more interesting uses of dried tart cherries and really provided a nice balance to a bevy of entries that sometimes focused on all things sweet. Plus cherries and red cabbage together? No, really, amazing. It works. I fully plan on making the slaw come summertime. And the sriracha on the tuna? Love love love.

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Cherry and Lamb Tagine by Paige Adams of Chicago, Illinois. From the Student category, this winner was just lovely. It managed to feature cherries in a recipe that was heavy (but not heavy-handed) on spices but still let the cherries compliment the entire dish. It was delicious, lovely, and nice to see lamb make an appearance. And according to the recipe tester it was simple to prepare.

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Cherry Basil Orzo Pasta from Chris Bugher of Huntington, West Virginia. This recipe won the Professional category and it literally only took one bite for Dr. Wendy and I to glance at each other and smile. You know, sometimes the simplest ideas work and stand high above the rest – this was a perfect example. Just look at that little ingredient list, there’s really nothing too it but the fresh flavors of dates, feta, basil and tart cherries. A very happy combination. This pasta dish will certainly become an outdoor summer favorite and I can see it pairing well with barbeques of all sorts. Thank you, Chris!

To get the recipes for these winning entries please visit Choose Cherries. I’d love to know what you think if you decide to make any of them. And thanks to the folks at Choose Cherries!