Palm Springs Getaway and learning some stuff


If you tried texting, calling or emailing me last week chances are you a) never heard back from me or b) reached my voicemail. This was fully intentional as I took some time to head to Palm Springs with the hubby and 3 of the world’s greatest women who just also happen to be our best friends. I purposely unplugged as much as possible, recharged my spirit and spent 5 days just being a lazysonofagun. It’s been exactly 1 year ago since the last time I did anything like this, and I’m continually amazed how a few days with people you love – I mean truly madly love – can erase the crazy from 12 months of everyday life.

Something magical happened when we were together. While my housemates all happen to be powerhouses of blogging and writing, there was an effort made to relax and have fun. We fell into a very relaxed vibe that touched on shoptalk, motivation, sharing dreams and experiences, and aligning goals for the future. No, this wasn’t the booze talking, quite the opposite. We were in a space where dreams were allowed to bubble up to the surface, a place where ideas intersected and became actions. In a sense, we created a salon, to borrow the lovely Brooke Burton’s idea of what our trip became. It also involved wigs. But more on that much later :)

My re-entry into reality was not only smooth but welcomed, and that’s how you know it went well. I felt as if I learned about my friends and myself this past week as new ideas swirling around and found a home.  As I began to assemble my photo collage I thought I would share the things I learned and am still learning. While it’s not exactly food related I still think it’s worth sharing. I hope you agree!

10.  Have your own salon
While you’re correct in thinking curlers and perms, I’m referring to the old 17th century term as an event where people gathered to learn more about each other. Sure, they were fussy and ornate and a tad pretentious, but no other word seemed to come to mind for our trip, and trust me, there was nothing fussy nor pretentious about our gathering. But it made me realize how wonderful it felt to be with other food bloggers discussing our craft without limits– no tracks, no panel on ethics or paid posts, no corporate sponsors, no seminars or entry fees. It was a good old-fashioned get-together, something I think should happen much more often. Go for it, I say. Call up your friends and enjoy each other. You’ll learn so much.

9. Silliness Is An Asset
I’m the first to admit I’m silly, loud, obnoxious. But there’s something so refreshing, so liberating about being able to just be silly with your friends. There’s photographic evidence that will most likely surface one day, but here’s an example.

Kids shouldn’t be the only ones who get to play dress up. Are you with me?

8. Make A Non-Agenda. Let it Be.
Step back and take a look at how micro-managed our lives are. Playdates, meetings, errands, deadlines, conferences, book proposals, travel, 9-to-5’s, I could go on. And while we need structure to keep things orderly we can certainly unplug from that grid now and then. And when we do it’s miraculous. Restorative. So give yourself a day, an hour, whatever you can spare to do nothing, to just be. Do that with friends and family and it gets even better.

7. Cooking Together Strengthens You. It Saves Your Wallet.
When you put people that love to cook in one house for a few days you’re bound to create some memorable meals. And we did, all for a significant amount cheaper than dining out. And it was natural, fun, easy, but bonding in a way I wasn’t expecting. I cannot wait to cook again with my friends!

6. Laugh As If Your Life Depends On It. Cuz It Does.
We all know laughing is good for our bodies. And while this does relate to #2 it also goes much further. We laughed until we were cried and melted away the stress of everyday life. Easing blood pressure, increasing brain activity, boosting immunity, releasing endorphins, there’s a reason why they say laughter is the best medicine.

5. Wear Sunscreen
As a child of the 70s (we had bain de soleil commercials, for pete’s sake!) who is now on the precipice of middle age, I’m allowed to wave the finger and tell you to wear sunscreen. No, there are no exceptions. A little sun is fine  but too much? No bueno. Wear it.

4. Appreciate The Silence.
You’d think with all the laughing and silliness that there’d be no moment for peace and stillness. Not the case. You know you are in stellar company when you can just sit with others and read, play on a laptop, stare at the mountains, etc., all in silence. It’s pretty powerful.

3. Tell Your Friends How Much They Matter. Do It Now.
If you are reading this I’m issuing you an order: send an email, make a phone call, text a message, write a postcard — whatever! — to a friend and let them know how important they are to you. Without being morose let me just say that there have been plenty of great people around me lately who have left this planet for brighter pastures and yes, it’s inevitable. It’s life. Please don’t wait to tell someone what they mean to you. Do it today.

2. Close The Laptop. Play A Game.
Curiously enough, the internet went out the last day of our mini-vacation. For a group of connected bloggers this surely spelled frustration but you know what? We were fine. Totally fine. Because a) we had our phones which were mini-computers anyway and b) we made an effort to not spend so much time plastered to an LCD screen. We made sure to bring tons of games (Uno, anyone?) and realized two things:

1. Gaby Dalkin completely turns into an astute, savvy, and competitive card player you’ll be intimidated by. You’ve been warned.

2. No amount of tweeting, facebooking, or checking in will ever compare to sitting face to face at a table with people. Never. Ever. And I’m a social media hound so trust me when I say this. I mean it.

1. Cherish Your Friends. Most Importantly, Be A Friend.
I’ve already begged you to call someone and tell them you love them. But I’m closing out my list because I realized one little thing: to have friends you must be a friend. Make yourself available, listen, look into the eyes of your friend, and be there. Truly be there. You don’t have to say a word, just lend a hand and an ear. Quit talking about yourself, what you’re doing, where you’re going, how “blessed and honored and humbled” you are* and just be there for someone. The rewards are greater than anything else in this world.

*yes, I’m guilty of all of the above.

Making Stuff with Avery Labels

MATT’S NOTE: There have been numerous requests for my template art as well as inquiries about the Limoncello bottles. Unfortunately I am unable to share the art. The bottles, purchased at World Market, haven’t been available for quite some time and I haven’t seen them since I purchased them a few years ago. Thanks so much!

Can I confess something to you? Will you promise not to tell anyone?

I am a Closet Crafter.

That’s right. I’ve got drawers full of labels, paint, brushes, gluesticks, scissors and hole punchers for those moments when I feel the creative streak hit me. I even made my own label for a gift I gave Paula Deen back in May. But it’s not often that I get out the craft box as crafting does require a certain amount of time and effort and the only reason I keep my crafting status in the closet is because I’m no where near as good as so many of my crafting amigos.

As part of my involvement with Martha’s Circle I was thrilled when they reached out along with Avery Labels and asked if I’d be interested in creating something with their products. It was perfect timing: I had limoncello I made earlier in the year that was ready to give out as summer gifts as well as a batch of simple syrups I made to take to an afternoon cocktail party. Rather than just give blank bottles I said “yes!” to the opportunity to use a variety of Avery labels for my lil gifts. I knew they’d look professional, polished yet still retain a handmade feel.

I raided my prop closet for various bottles with lids that would fit the project. I knew I wanted oval labels for the front of my simple syrups bottles. These little bottles were filled with sugar, water and various fruit and herbs that were all cooked together and allowed to cool. Set on the bar, all you need is a splash of soda water, a spirit like vodka or gin or rum, a few teaspoons of simple syrup and lots of freshly cracked ice for a very easy simple drink.  Give it a stir and enjoy. I’m not one to fuss during the summer months, ya know.

I opened the word templates, saved as a PDF and then imported them into Adobe Illustrator where I would have more control over the design. But it's not necessary!

Using Avery Easy Peel Print-to-the-edge Kraft Brown Round labels I created a template that I downloaded from them and modified my art in Adobe Illustrator. It’s moments like this where I’m glad I have a background in graphic design!

(But even still, it’s not difficult, trust me. Avery makes this so easy and it only took minutes!)

After I filled my bottles with the various simple syrups all I had to do was peel and stick. So easy. The most difficult part was making sure they were even but I got it pretty close.


 

The second part of my project involved bottling up some of the limoncello I made back in January. This Italian concoction is made from fresh lemon peel, vodka and sugar; it’s allowed to sit for several weeks (turning often), then strained and bottled. The sweet, lemony syrup is great over ice, in iced tea, cocktails, drizzled over ice cream, you name it! And like so many things it always tastes better when you make it yourself.  Because a little goes a long way, I didn’t need large containers for gifts. But I wanted to try a small hang tag to go around the neck of the bottle so I used Avery Printable Tags for Inkjet Printers. They were pre-cut and only required a simple feed through my color laser printer to make (I used a template I downloaded from Avery). Couldn’t have been easier!  I finished the bottles with decorative string and a round white blank label with a handwritten date that it was made on.

 

Everything came out great and it makes me happy to give them as gifts. Even if everyone will probably be too drunk to remember them. Oh well!

 

Thank you Avery Labels for letting my Inner Crafter come out and play!

Want to put your best brand forward and enter for a chance to win prizes from Avery? You can! Visit the Best Brand Forward Contest for details and how to enter. The 1st Prize winner will receive $5000 and your brand and product will appear in an upcoming issue of Martha Stewart Living. Pretty fantastic if you ask me! There are also 2nd and 3rd place prizes so get up on this y’all!

The Fine Print: Avery sent me the product of my choice for this project and I was compensated for designing, creating and photographing my creations. The concept, design, execution, and opinion of Avery Products is my own. Thankyouverymuch!

Kitchen Wisdom, Volume 1

Over the past few weeks as I’ve been doing media and press for my book, On A Stick!, there’s one question that sometimes gets asked after the usual “why sticks?” People ask if I have any culinary or cooking background, to which I say “Are you kidding me? You think I’m masochistic enough to work in a kitchen?!?” Ok, I don’t really say that. I just answer that all my knowledge of cooking comes from a lifetime in the kitchen with family. My grandmother, my mother, my father, my chef friends, my farmer friends, you name it – if I can glean something from them I will.

Many lessons have been learned through trial and error which I suppose is a good way to learn. I’ve made many mistakes and continue to make many mistakes (you should have seen my Korean song pyeon I tried to make the other day, I don’t even wanna talk about it). I thought I’d begin a series of things I’ve learned along the way and subject you to some bad illustrations I painted. Sometimes you just have to step away from the camera and change things up a bit. Ladies and gentleman, I give you MattBites Kitchen Wisdom Volume 1.

Kitchen Thermometers Are Your Friends.

There was a time when I tried to wing everything. The result? Soggy fried foods, destroyed melted sugar gloop, burnt butter (which isn’t a bad thing exactly but you know what I’m saying). And since deep frying plays a big part of On A Stick!, it’s important to know your temperatures and know when you’re where you want to be. Kitchen thermometers help with this. And they also help with roasting and baking so that you know when things like turkey and chicken are ready. We keep a variety of them in the drawer next to the oven and I’m not picky. Yes, some work better than others but I wouldn’t dream of being without a few in our kitchen.

 

Don’t Cook In The Nude. Don’t Fry In The Nude, More Importantly.

My handlers and the team of mattbites advisors have advised that I remain silent on the experiences that led to #2 in this entry. Suffice it to say that frying and cooking in the nude is not recommended, no matter how tall or short you are.  Trust me on this one.

One Good Sharp Knife Helps Tremendously.

When I visit friends who don’t cook or fess up that they don’t enjoy cooking I always ask them about their knives. Inevitably they’ll pull out a cheap $6.99 knife or something from the dollar store and say it’s their main prep knife. I’ll then do one of two things: buy them a very nice knife as a gift or tell them where to get one. You need the proper tools to be successful in the kitchen and a very good knife is the perfect place to start. You can skimp on other things in my opinion but you must begin with a good knife. It’s even more important than #1.

A Sandwich Made By Someone Else Will Always Taste Better Than One You Make For Yourself. Accept This.

You know what I’m talking about here. And I can’t figure out why and trust me, I’ve spent many sleepless nights thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make a sandwich for myself when I’m home alone. In fact, ever since shooting The Encyclopedia Of Sandwiches I’ve learned to appreciate making them for myself. But it still doesn’t come close to having someone else do it. It just doesn’t.

Never Buy Premade Salad Dressings. There Are No Exceptions To This Rule.

You must pay taxes, death is certain, and bottled salad dressings are a waste of time and money. These are the absolutes of life. And at the risk of offending my fine friends in the food industry I really mean it when I say that there’s just no reason to ever buy a bottled salad dressing. EVER. Nope, convenience and lack of know-of is not an excuse. Because nothing comes close to putting a few simple ingredients in a jar, emulsifying them and seasoning it to your liking. And when you think about the costs involved you can’t help but skip the dressings aisle next time you’re at the supermarket. Keep a good olive oil on hand (not too strong), a few great mustards, some vinegars and herbs and spices and you’ll have salad dressing in about 45 seconds.

 

Okay folks, what about you? What have you learned to be your culinary truths in the kitchen? I would really love to know!

 

 



A Few Days At Four Seasons Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo

Earlier this week I returned home from a few days in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. As a guest of the Four Seasons Costa Rica in Peninsula Papagayo, I joined a small group to experience the resort as well as do a little bit of volunteer work and sight-seeing in one of the planet’s most beautiful locations.

It was my first time in Costa Rica, a country that left me speechless (even what little I saw of it!) Beautiful, safe, warm and loving, I understand why so many of my friends are repeat visitors to this Central American country. There’s an immediate dose of relaxation that hits you the moment you exit your plane in Costa Rica. It’s the kind of vibe that can only be made in a place such as this. It’s as if the natural beauty of the country flows through the veins of its citizens in a way you feel internally. And this city dweller was ready to absorb it, too.

I arrived in Guanacaste to wet heat, neither oppressive nor friendly. With my documents in order I slid through customs in record time and met a driver who graciously met me with a cool towel and a bottle of water before we drove the 40 miles in darkness. And by darkness I mean the thick black patches of night you can’t find in a city. Would the coastline be a few miles behind this dark swatch of night? Rolling pastures? Fields of sugar cane? Mountains in the distance? I guess I’d have to wait until morning to find out.

I assembled the mojito ingredients that were waiting for me in my room: ice, lime juice, Costa Rican Rum, freshly plucked mint leaves and a bamboo muddler and sugar cane swizzle stick. It was exactly what I needed after two flights and 1 delay and man oh man did those mojitos go down smoothly. I was pretty exhausted and climbed into the bed of my villa.

Remember when I said I arrived in the darkness of night? I had no idea what was beyond my deck but I could sense there was a hillside below. It just sounded that way.

Well folks, I woke up to this.

Yea. A crazy unbelievable view of the ocean and lush coastline with a few islands off in the distance. And I spent many moments just staring at the view, listening to the wildlife and realizing how beautiful this place is. And I went swimming.

Speaking of wildlife, I was surrounded by some beautiful creatures.

These little guys snuck into my room looking for food. They’re called Urracas (magpies) and they were loud. Yet beautiful.  And these capuchin monkeys were also outside my window one morning and started screeching after I laughed at something in my usual shrilly tone. Who knew?

The next morning we toured the property, getting to check out all the programs and amenities of the Four Seasons. It’s a gorgeous resort with beautiful rooms set in the hillside. Numerous restaurants, breathtaking views, with one of the best rooms I’ve ever stayed in (outdoor shower, hello!), it’s easy to see why this resort wins accolades and awards. The service? Perfection. And if you go, you must visit the spa. Promise me that. I also loved that it was so family friendly and included tons of activities for children and teens as well as really beautiful spots for the parents to get away. Not that parents need to get away from their children. Or maybe they do. I don’t know. Ask me in a few years.

After touring the resort we headed to the Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour in Guanacaste to go ziplining through the trees. Or to Face Fears And Death While Dangling Above A Waterfall. Friends, you should know that I got no joy out of this activity at all. In fact, I got stuck between two platforms because I was braking too much. And at that moment in time my worst fears came to life and I realized I would rather be in any other situation than where I was, period. I will never do it again. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t learn from it. It conquered no fears, crossed nothing off a proverbial bucket list. But I’m glad I tried it. There you have it.

Photo provided by the instructors. I only LOOK like I'm enjoying it.

 

This is much more like it.

Pretty soon my travel mates and I were safely back on ground and ready for much safer activities.

Speaking of travel mates, have I introduced them? It was a great group of people, including Kelly Bensimon, Danny Seo, Bradley Irion, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere and blogger and writer Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored.

And yea, if the name Kelly sounds familiar it’s because you might know her as a Real Housewife Of New York on Bravo.  God I love that woman.

 

I think the greatest highlight of the trip involved working with the Four Seasons and their program called Creciendo Juntos, or Growing Together. This program began in 2001 as a way of pairing up guests of the Four Seasons Costa Rica with locals in need. In an effort to create a more meaningful travel experience, Four Seasons and Peninsula Papagayo created custom-designed volunteer programs based on a visitor’s goals, budget and time schedule. For example, we headed to a small school outside the resort and painted a fence that surrounded the entire school. We were greeted by students and learned that the kids were bummed out that their modest school looked as if it has seen better days. If there’s anything about Costa Rica you should know it’s that there is almost a 96% literacy rate and education is king. It’s a right for all its citizens and they do not take it lightly. Knowing how important it is to everyone it made sense that the kids deserved a nice new paint job as they all love coming to school. They’re some of the brightest, most beautiful kids I’ve ever seen and it was an honor to participate in the program.

After covering ourselves in paint we spent a few minutes with the kids and I snapped away.

 

Kelly radiates positivity and as a mom she couldn’t help hugging and loving these beautiful girls.

Bradley, Kelly’s hairdresser as well as NYC stylist to the stars, created an ad hoc salon in the middle of the courtyard and braided one of the student’s gorgeous long locks. It was such a special moment in time and the feeling of love and reciprocity filled me  with overwhelming emotion. I had such a wonderful time!

 

And then there was food! Let me eat beans and rice everyday and I’m a happy man. And I think I did, actually, including a wonderful casado which consisted of fish and shrimp over cabbage with rice and beans, plantains and a cuajada cheese, a very mild-tasting salty cheese. And then there was the limon mandarina, a green round citrus fruit that resembled a very unripe orange with a yellow-orange flesh and bitter acidic taste. Limon Mandarinas are prized in ceviche making as it’s super acid flavor “cooks” the fish and imparts a flavor like nothing else. Man it was delicious.

I’m also happy to report that I did my share of Costa Rican coffee drinking, all of it excellent. The Four Seasons set up a small coffee tasting with Café Britt and we sampled their various roasts from their different product lines. Thanks to Carlos for the lesson!

 

Our last dinner before leaving involved a dinner from Chef Michael Brough, the Executive Chef who has been with Four Seasons for many years. Dedicated to procuring and using local ingredients, my mind was blown from the selection of fruits, vegetables and cheeses that we ate during a long leisurely dinner that was interrupted by some pesky moths who wouldn’t take no for an answer. But no matter, we were able to dine both inside and outside that evening – the best of both worlds.

Caracol, one of the resorts many restaurants, sits inside Bella Vista Clubhouse which is a quick shuttle ride from the main lobby. A garden is kept here for the restaurant where many herbs and vegetables are grown. The chef’s fresh flavors were impressive and knowing so much of it came from only a few feet away was splendid.

I didn’t want my stay to end but reality was calling. Even though I only saw the smallest portion of Costa Rica we cannot wait to return to explore more. It truly was an amazing experience and I look forward to returning and participating again with Four Season Costa Rica’s Growing Together program.

Special thanks to Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo and to the people of Guanacaste, Costa Rica.


Muchísimas gracias, LA Weekly!

Well thank you so very much, LA Weekly! I must tell you that it’s quite an honor to be recognized by LA Weekly as Best Of The Web: Best Food Porn (Mom & Dad, it’s not what you think, call me and I’ll explain it).  You know what else I’m completely jazzed about? The winner of Best Food Blog is Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA, one of my all time favorite blogs on the entire planet! You’ll sometimes hear me randomly tweet my love for Bill and his blog, I’ve even gone so far as stating he needs a key to the city for his contribution to the world of food. I couldn’t be more honored to be in his company along with the colorful winners in such a variety of categories.

Thank you thank you thank you!



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!

10 Things: The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches

I would like to tell you how much I love my job.

I love it thissssssssssssssssssssssssssssss much. Why? Because not only do I get to work with food almost every day and with people I love, but because once in a while there are projects like Susan Russo’s The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches that just make life so deliciously fun.

Susan, of the lovely blog Foodblogga, asked me at the beginning of last year if I would photograph her upcoming book on sandwiches. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate a sandwich, including myself, so I immediately said yes.  I was really looking forward to working with her and Quirk and I was also really interested in the challenge of photographing over 125 sandwiches for one single project.

It is an encyclopedia, after all!

Here are the 10 things I learned while photographing this book:

10.  When Food Stylist Extraordinaire Adam Pearson Uses Real Ingredients, The Photographer Can Eat Every Sandwich.

I take what I do seriously and felt it was my duty to taste every single sandwich after photographing it. What did I learn? That I love almost every sandwich. Some more than others.

9. Putting Butter On Bread And Layering French Fries Across It Is God’s Way Of Telling You The World Is Just Right.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Chip Butty. I don’t really need to tell you any more, just look at it. Love it.

 

8. You Can Never Appreciate Fantastic Teammates Enough. You Just Can’t.

An ambitious shooting schedule takes work but with experts in the kitchen it’s nothing but smooth sailing. I’ll sound like a broken record yet again when I say working with Adam and Jenny is a dream come true. Thank you both!

 

7. It’s Ok To Eat The Same Sandwich All Day Long.

There was a late addition to the sandwich book in the form of Campanile’s Fresh Burrata Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Chickpeas, burrata and prosciutto on one sandwich? YES PLEASE. Not only did I gobble down the photo sandwich but we went home and made it for dinner. I suggest you try it.

6. I Wish I Didn’t Love This So Much.

It’s ham and swiss with jelly (and/or mustard) on a doughnut.  That’s right, that’s what I said. And I freaking love it. No shame in my game, y’all. For the record I made myself mighty uncomfortable by eating 3 of these in a row and I don’t suggest you do the same.

5. I Laugh Like A 3rd Grader Every Time I Say “Hot Brown”.

I’m gonna leave it at that. **UPDATE** I totally don’t mean to malign a delicious sandwich, please don’t take it that way! I’m just juvenile, that’s all.

 

4. Working With Quirk Books Is A Dream.

This was my first project with Quirk, the book publisher from Philadelphia. It was a dream. Gracious editors, fun designers, and a working relationship that I valued tremendously. In fact, I even did another project with Quirk Books after The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches. Maybe I’ll tell ya about it sometime :)

 

3. I Greatly Improved My Sandwich Shooting Skills.

You’d think shooting a single-subject book with very specific design parameters would be limiting. It’s quite the opposite and I enjoy the challenge of trying to see the same things in new ways. It really keeps me on my toes!

2. Bacon Does Make Everything Better. On A Sandwich It Makes It Exponentially Better.

I know, let me tell you something you don’t already know.

 

1. See Number Two.

 

Thanks to Susan, Margaret, and Jenny for allowing me to work on such a fun book! And with love and respect for Adam and Jenny, my team for their talent, dedication and culinary chops. Working with you two helps me to be a better photographer and person. I mean that. And I’m not just saying that because I’m married to the stylist!

 



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!





Giveaways, Updates, Fun Stuff!

I went to Avery Island, Louisiana. More on that shortly!

Well it just feels as if I haven’t blogged a darn thing lately! Please excuse my tardiness. There have been many things to do, places to go, and photos to snap that have all kept me away. But with things like Twitter and Facebook I suppose I’m never really away, am I? At any rate, this is one of those posts that lump a bunch of stuff together and I guarantee by the end of it you’ll be sick of me.

But please pay attention. Please. There are some nifty things happening in this here post and you might be able to win stuff. Keep reading.

So long, farewell…

Folks, can I just tell you how wonderful it’s been being a Spice Islands Flavor Explorer? My stint is almost up (rumor has it that a pretty fantastic guy is taking over the reins) but I just wanted to take a moment to say how I’ve had so much fun in the kitchen with Spice Islands over the past 3 months. It’s been a pleasure dreaming up recipes using their high quality spices but perhaps my favorite moments have been using their all natural Vanilla Extract. While many other brands add corn syrup, Spice Islands vanilla beans from Madagascar are carefully processed, resulting in an extract that doesn’t need anything but vanilla. Seriously though, try it and taste it for yourself.

But just as important as the flavor are the people at Spice Islands. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and it’s been an honor to meet such dedicated people behind the brand. Sometimes I wish everyone could get to know them!

As a quick farewell, I’ll be giving away five Spice Islands samplers, filled with a few of my favorite spices in a beautiful lil Trunk. Check out all this spicy goodness:

Spice Islands pure vanilla extract
Spice Islands ground cardamom
Spice Islands Chinese five spice
Spice Islands smoked paprika
Spice Islands Telicherry black peppercorn
Spice Islands sea salt

From the Martha Stewart show. How cute is that?

 

I really want you to get in your kitchen and try these spices (if you haven’t already!) so leave a comment below to win. I’ll randomly select 5 folks from the comments section and while you’re always free to leave comments please note that a) I’ll be picking a winner on Friday, March 11th and b) you must live in the United States. There you have it!

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I’m on Food(ography) with Mo Rocca, March 20th on the Cooking Channel at 9pm EST.

You might remember a post I wrote about taping a segment for an upcoming show. I can now tell you the show was Cooking Channel’s own Food(ography) and it will air Sunday, March 20th at 9pm EST. Some of you may now that I’m a regular contributor to Cooking Channel’s Devour The Blog but this segment was all about blogging, photographing and styling food. I’ve been told it’s a good segment but I have no idea how fat my head and giant cheeks will look on camera or how I’ll sound like Minnie Mouse when I speak. I’m a bit scared to see it.

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Speaking at SXSW

Will you be in Austin next week for South By Southwest? I hope so. I’ll be speaking on a panel this Monday, March 14th titled “The Moguls Of Food Porn”. I’ll be joining a few others discussing food and photos and it promises to be thrilling. The darling Addie Broyles has written a great round-up of food things happening during SXSW and if you want to read more about my panel please check it out here. I hope by the time you click this my photo will have been added. I’ve been a very very very bad panelist and only uploaded my photo recently, shame on me.

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Appetites for the Ipad

I wanted to update this section about the app that I worked on called Appetites because I wanted to share with you all that it was named App of the Week by Apple! How’s that? I happen to think it’s pretty damn phenomenal.

Let me tell you a little bit more about Appetites. Some of my favorite food bloggers, myself included, are in this app, Gaby (What’s Gaby Cooking), Nick & Blake (The Paupered Chef), Stephanie Hau (Like My Spoon), Adrianna and Caroline (A Cozy Kitchen) and Gabi (BrokeAss Gourmet). We all shared some of our favorite recipes with you!

What’s great about this app is that I believe that Appetites is about learning to cook and taking away the intimidation from getting in the kitchen. What also got me excited about the project was that I would get to teach some of my most loved dishes in a brand new format. And trust me, you can make them too.

In January, Appetites was the only app to win a Best of Show award at Macworld.

Appetites is filmed from the chef’s perspective so you can cook right along with us in the kitchen! Each recipe is broken down step-by-step which makes it easy to follow.

Here’s my video:

And here are some of my recipes you’ll find in Appetites:

Spicy Black Bean Chipotle Dip – http://vimeo.com/20313985

Tortilla Soup – http://vimeo.com/20313911

Vegetable Crumble – http://vimeo.com/20313814

Fromage Fort – http://vimeo.com/20313697

Agua Fresca – http://vimeo.com/20313311

Cemita – http://vimeo.com/20313192

Appetites is now available on iPad and coming soon for the iPhone. I hope you’ll check it out – http://appetitesapp.com and on the App Store at http://bit.ly/appetites_appstore

Enjoy it!


A Cherry Contest from ChooseCherries.com!

There must be something about cherries in the air today. First I noticed this great post from Adam Roberts involving his secret stash of sour cherries. Then the other half handed me a bowl of granola with dried tart cherries in it for breakfast. These things both happened as I wanted to announce a recipe contest with Choose Cherries because as you know I’m in love with tart cherries. LOVE. Sure, there are those health benefits like antioxidants (they contain about the same amount as blueberries, did you know?) but most importantly the biggest health benefit is the smile you get on your face when you eat a real piece of tart cherry pie.

(I’m sure some legal department will come after me for making that last claim but whatever, try eating a piece of cherry pie right now and see if you don’t smile. I’m sure Mr. Roberts is grinning from ear-to-ear…him and his damn February sour cherries! Am I jealous? Absolutely.)

Last year I visited Traverse City, Michigan for the annual Cherry Festival and when they asked if I’d help get the word out about this contest I had to say yes. It’s open to everyone, just submit your original cherry recipe via the website for a chance to win $500, a set of high-performance cookware in Cherry Red as well as the chance to have your entry photographed professionally for their site. The great news is that there will be three winners this year but you better hurry as the contest is only open until February 20th, 2011. Winners will be announced March 1, 2011.

Check out Choose Cherries’ web site for full contest information and good luck!