Best Job (and drink!) In The World

By now you might have seen the links and press releases as Australia relaunches its Best Job In The World program. Imaging spending your days in Australia, experiencing the best it has to offer, and actually getting paid for it. But this time there are six slots open, and in a variety of different positions:

• Lifestyle Photographer (Melbourne)

• Chief Funster (New South Wales)

• Outback Adventurer (Northern Territory)

• Park Ranger (Queensland)

• Wildlife Caretaker (South Australia)

• Taste Master (Western Australia)

HELLO? Having seen a big part of Australia (including Hamilton Island and qualia, thankyouverymuch), I can guarantee you that you’ll enjoy it, no matter which position you’re after.  And even though I’d personally go for Taste Master or Lifestyle Photographer, I also fell in love with South Australia and Kangaroo Island. So please apply so I can read all about it, ok?

And speaking of Kangaroo Island and South Australia, Southern Ocean Lodge is has announced their second KI Food Safari, to be held this August. Billed as a “hedonistic food-lovers’ journey”, this event is a hands-on, get-out-and-get-dirty exploration of Kangaroo Island with some stellar Australian chefs and personalities (and yes, Maggie Beer will be there!) It’s not cheap, mind you, but having spent time in Kangaroo Island and never wanting to leave Southern Ocean Lodge I can tell you that you’re in for an extremely special event with a fantastic group of people. Oh my goodness, the clean pure flavors from that island blow my mind, I’m not kidding. Certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

SOL-Graphic-Blog

And now that I’ve fully stoked my love for Australia (you can read about it here and here and here, if you’d like!), I thought I’d close out this quick little post with one of my favorite drinks. OF ALL TIME. It’s simple really, and extremely Australian, for reasons I don’t know why. But if you imagine sipping this with your best Aussie buds, laughing and hanging outside in the sun, you’ll easily see why it’s a favorite. It’s simple and refreshing without being boring, and I couldn’t get enough of it. There are ready-made versions you can buy, and ordering it at a bar will most likely feature a pre-made lemon or lime soda. But I choose to make it from scratch (except the bitters, which you could totally make yourself, too). This version borrows its base from a citron presse, and there are no required quantities: Just lemon sugar syrup, soda water, and dashes of bitters. And plenty of ice.

Damn, I need to get back to Australia as soon as humanly possible.

 Lemon Lime Bitters

lemon-lime-bitters-final

It’s simple, really: soda water, lemon and/or lime syrup, about 5 to 7 dashes of bitters, and ice. For the lemon simple syrup, mix the zest of two lemons with 2 cups of sugar and enough water to cover, about 2 cups. Cook until thoroughly dissolved then let cool. The syrup will turn yellow and will taste oh-so-delicious! In a glass pour the lemon simple syrup over ice, then top with soda water and then dashes of bitters. You can do more if you want more of that herbally bitters flavor, and you can increase the syrup if you like things sweeter. Garnish with a lime wedge or the citrus peel, whatever you like. Enjoy!

 

Carrot & Sunchoke Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

Carrot & Sunchoke Salad

I’m perhaps one of the most happy-go-lucky kind of guys when it comes to food. I eat everything, enjoy a wide variety of foods, and can find something to eat just about anywhere I am. This ease disappears when I talk about pizza and my world view becomes nothing short of black and white. But only with pizza. Stay with me here.

I will eat the fanciest of hamburgers. I will eat the trashiest of hamburgers. In this case, I like the high brow and I can get down with the low brow, too. But pizzas? Forget it. I’ve spent half of my life consuming gummy, bready, greasy, gross pizza and I just won’t do it anymore. In fact, I haven’t in twenty years or so. Because once you taste a Neapolitan-style pizza (my personal benchmark) it’s hard to go backwards. There’s a balance of ingredients, a simplicity in its construction, and to me it gets no better.

My apologies to my Chicago deep-dish pizza loving’ friends. I’m really mean that.

Anyway, when I tend to find my idea of pizza perfection I will visit regularly. It could be a bakery in Rome, a take-away window in NYC, or in this case my local pizza place in Long Beach called Michael’s Pizzeria. I’ve written about it before, and it’s one of my standard go-to places here in town. And for the longest time I refused to veer from their margherita pizza.

But one day a salad on the menu caught my eye, and now it seems to be the only thing I want to eat (in addition to my pizza). Picture this: winter root vegetables, pancetta, roasted pumpkin seeds and herb buttermilk dressing. It’s clean, flavorful, crunchy,  with a fantastic balance between the sweet & earthy and the tangy and salty.

Salad Collage

My attempts to recreate this salad at home (I’m sure they’re sick of me at the restaurant) were met with delicious success. And honestly, it couldn’t be easier to do, because if you can boil water then you’ve got it made. And while it’s based on winter root vegetables like parsnips and carrots, you could use just about anything, really. In my case they were gorgeous carrots from the farmers market, sunchokes sliced thin with a mandolin, purple shaved brussels sprouts and a delicious tangy, flavorful buttermilk dressing with fresh oregano, garlic and onions. Oh, and a tiny bit of lemon juice, too.

buttermilk-dressing

There are no exact measurements, and there’s no cooking as the ingredients are raw, excluding a super quick blanch of the carrots. But you wouldn’t have to if you didn’t want to. This salad is a fantastic snack or a simple start to an easy supper, and goes great with thin, restrained, quick pizzas. ahem.

Carrot & Sunshoke Salad With Herb Buttermilk Dressing
based on Michael’s PIzzeria’s Insalata Invernale.

Baby carrots, whole
A few sunchokes, sliced super thin
Brussels sprouts, sliced super thin
Pumpkin seeds, optional

Buttermilk Dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 small clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped onion
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and scrub clean the sunchokes, then slice paper thin. I used a mandolin for uniformity. Slice the brussels sprouts as well, but it’s ok if the outer leaves fall off as you’ll want to use those as well. Quickly blanch the carrots by placing them in boiling water for a minute or two. Don’t overcook them as you want them to remain crunchy. Once cooked, add the carrots, sunchoke and brussels sprouts slices to a large bowl.

For the dressing: combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender and process until fully incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables with the buttermilk dressing, a little bit at a time to make sure they’re covered evenly, but hey, don’t go overboard and make this a big old gloppy, swimming mess, ok?



Saeco Review + Easy Tiramisu!

The email landed in my box asking if I wanted to try the Phillips Saeco Syntia, a fully automatic espresso machine from Philips. I don’t even want to tell you the number of automatic espresso machines that have lived on my counter over the past twenty years, some good, some not so good. What begins as a promising machine usually ends up in gadget fatigue, re-packed and stored somewhere else while I go back to my French press, Chemex or Nespresso because functionality and convenience win out.

To say I was dubious would be correct, but I also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try this machine out. It’s not cheap, but reading the specs interested me: the ability to use my own beans, grind it fresh, steam milk, and pour a variable length shot of espresso were all things I wanted. So the machine arrived, a bit larger than I thought it might be, and I got busy.

I made cappuccino after cappuccino, espressos in the morning, flat whites (or my sad attempt, I should say!) in the afternoon, and Americanos when I ran out of milk (it happens).  I waited for the moment when I’d glance over at it, the sheen of SHINY!NEW!DEVICE!TO!REVIEW! would fade away, and it’d get packed back up and shipped back out, like they all do.

But I dig this machine. As in, it’s staying.

It’s easy to review a machine for flavor, to judge the quality of the grind, extraction and steam abilities. It’s another to review it for its longevity, in a practical situation, and decide if it’s a kitchen device you’d want.  So I put off this review as long as possible, using the machine at home for a month and then another two at the studio, where it went through the ringer of shoots, clients, crew, and friends. It was well worth the terse emails from the account executive checking in on this posting ( “ASAP” was used quite a bit). What did I learn? It makes great espresso and it’s easy to use.

The Good Stuff
The fact that it’s a solid bean-to-cup process makes me rate this machine well, as freshness counts in coffee. It grinds with a ceramic grinder and conveniently dumps the grounds into a chamber that’s easy to empty. The one touch functionality is impressive, and there’s not much else to figure out. Simplified interface and limited buttons and a dial make it easy to use, and it cleans itself regularly (keep an extra cup handy for the water output).

The pannarello arm for steaming milk works well, much better than several automatic devices I’ve tried. This seems to be a losing point for most automatic machines as they never heat quickly or powerful enough, that’s not a problem with the Syntia. And the fact that it’s completely removable for cleaning is awesome. You’ll want to do yourself a favor and pick up a steam pitcher and thermometer for accuracy.

The Bad Stuff (and it’s not that bad, actually…)
It’s slightly temperamental when it comes to water levels in the chamber and error messages lighting up, at least on my machine. But making sure everything is emptied and supplied in the water chamber and bean storage is easy enough, and if that’s the most nitpickiest thing I can say about the Syntia then that’s pretty good. Oh, and you’ll need to give yourself some time to set it up, just a warning. And please remember this: it will never taste like a shot of espresso made from a manual machine but for home use and convenience it’s absolutely perfect.

 And now, something tasty for the holidays

I wanted to create something simple and easy using the Syntia, and the fact that this year alone I think I’ve photographed 15 to 20 different trifles, Eaton Messes, and other layered desserts made me think that a super quick and easy Tiramisu would be best. These gorgeous little kinda-tiramisus were created by Adam, and I love the fact that they are individual servings, for festive reasons, ya know. There is no official recipe here and yields might be tricky, but you’ll have to do your best to figure it out. And if you have any leftovers that don’t fit in individual glasses them that’s when you put them in a big giant bowl and grab a spoon. Very delicious, very trifle.

Easy Sorta Tiramisu I mean, it’s easy, it’s sorta Tiramisu

For the Coffee
1 cup espresso
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
¼ cup powdered sugar
For The Mascarpone
8 oz mascarpone
1 cup lightly whipped whipped cream
½ cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons of the Coffee Mixture

Ladyfingers
Milk chocolate for shaving

Mix the coffee mixture until well blended, reserving a few tablespoons for the mascarpone. Soak the ladyfinger cookies in the coffee until absorbed. In the meantime, lightly blend the mascarpone, 1 cup of whipped cream, sugar and 2-4 tablespoons of the coffee mixture in a bowl.

In your individual glasses, layer the ladyfinger cookies, blended mascarpone, and top with shaved chocolate. You might need to break the cookies to fit your glass, but you can eat any leftover pieces as you assemble.

The Legal Stuff We Must Disclose: The Phillips Saeco Syntia was sent to me for review. This post was not paid for nor sponsored, all opinions, photographs and recipe are my own.

Breakfast with Picky Palate

Ch-ch-ch-changes.

I’ll spare you the tale of Work, because that would seem like I’m complaining. I am not. Lots and lots of things have changed in the past few months, all great things that are keeping us really busy. Perhaps the biggest thing is that we bought a house. A lovely beautiful California Spanish-style home built in 1928, and it could not be more California if it tried. It’s sweet, quaint, and I’ll share some before-and-after photos just as soon as we’re done with decorating, which at this rate should be by 2037.

Although we moved in 3 months ago, we’ve had no time to enjoy the new digs. In fact, these past two weeks have been the first time we’ve been home together with a somewhat regular schedule, and all those things one does are starting to happen again: cooking dinner, sitting on the couch, grabbing a book and sitting next to a window and reading, organizing a garage. I am loving these life activities, and with the way things have been they are just like mini-vacations to me. I never thought I’d say that but it’s true. And considering what’s happening to a huge chunk of the country right now, to have a regular life with a roof over one’s head and working utilities is a blessing. A huge blessing.

This morning I’ll be able to do something I’ve wanted to for a long time: I will make breakfast. In my new kitchen. For us. Novel, ain’t it? But this breakfast will be the first that doesn’t involve two slices of bread and a razor thin smear of Marmite. It will be leisurely, satisfying, and made from The Picky Palate Cookbook: 133 Recipes for Even Your Pickiest Eaters by Jenny Flake. Jenny’s new book just hit the store shelves right before halloween, have you seen it? It’s as lovely as Jenny is, packed with delicious recipes that are neither daunting nor fussy, they’re just right and will surely get you in the kitchen cooking.

And when I say everything is delicious, I mean it. How do I know? I photographed it!

And yes, I am trying to remain as objective and partial as I can, but to know Jenny is to love her so you’ll have to excuse my bias, ya know.

This morning we’ll be digging into this Streusel Baked French Toast, which I’m pretty sure I ate the entire pan, if memory serves me correctly. You can’t blame me.  And in the next few weeks I’ll see if I can run my favorite recipe from the book, something that had me drooling and freaking out from its deliciousness. In the meantime, there’s a new kitchen waiting for me to get busy. Hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

Streusel Baked French Toast from The Picky Palate Cookbook by Jenny Flake; John Wiley & Sons. Photograph © Matt Armendariz.

1 12.5-ounce French baguette
8 large eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Maple syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F and spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Cut the baguette into 1/2-inch slices and layer in the prepared baking dish. Add the eggs, milk, heavy cream, 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, the vanilla, cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to a large bowl, whisking to combine. Pour over the bread.

3. Add the remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, the flour, butter, cinnamon, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to a medium bowl. With a fork or pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is combined with the flour and the mixture resembles small peas. Sprinkle evenly over the bread. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the eggs are set. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Serve drizzled with maple syrup.

Many thanks to Jenny and Justin! And to help those still in need from Hurricane Sandy, the American Red Cross makes it easy to donate online.



A Very Simple Goodbye Summer Bruschetta

This post is presented by San Pellegrino. I’m digging this content series as they focus on moments in food as seen through an Italian angle. What a great way to think about past trips to Italy, right?

Let’s not talk about this past summer.

I mean, let’s.

Pros: Sunny, Warm, Daylight. Cons: Sunny, Warm, Daylight.

This will most likely be the only time I will willingly complain about summer. You see, it was brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L. Hot. Abnormally hot. And while I’m a warm weather kinda guy of the highest order, it was just too much. I’m happy to say things have since cooled down.

Because of the heat and calendar obligations, I spent most of the past 2 months tucked inside my studio working, moving into a new home, and doing my best to avoid the heat. Somewhere in the process I missed one little star of summer.

Tomatoes.

It wasn’t until I realized I hadn’t had my share of summer tomatoes until I was in Sonoma shooting at Jordan Winery. With an organic garden located below the estate, the realization hit me as I was staring smack dab at dozens of tomato plants. It hit me again when lunch was served (a platter of heirlooms with basil) and again at dinner (more tomatoes with vinaigrette and hair-thin slices of onions). I decided that I must make up for my tomato deficit by eating as many as possible over 3 days, and let me tell you I was in glorious tomato nirvana.

Standing in the chateau of the winery transports you to Europe, and getting my fill of tomatoes reminded me of a trip we made a few years ago to Don Alfonso on the Sorrento Coast. Every morning for breakfast, fresh garden tomatoes were served on top of toasted bread alongside a variety of pastries and jams. Tomatoes for breakfast? Is this normal? Does it matter? All I can say is that I loved the tangy, acidic savory contrast against of platter of sweets. It was heavenly, and when I got back I decided to embrace what’s left of summer by creating this bruschetta for breakfast. Enjoyed with tea or a cappuccino it’s a perfect breakfast, or for that moment after breakfast that’s not quite a brunch.

There is no recipe for this, just some guidelines for this dish. You’ll want to use the best possible tomatoes you can find, and don’t even think of making this dish in winter. And if you hurry, you can still find some great tomatoes, but they’re going fast. If necessary, quickly blanch the tomatoes to remove their skins, although it’s not necessary. A little salt, a tiny bit of olive oil, and perhaps a drizzle of honey. Maybe a basil leaf or two. No, this isn’t your full-flavored, pack-with-garlic-and-basil bruschetta that you might enjoy for dinner but a simpler, quieter version that is at home next to sweet things. And when it comes to bread, don’t skimp.
See you next summer, summer. And try to cool it a bit, will you?

Brought to you by San Pellegrino. Enter now for a chance to be one of five winners of a FIAT 500. Plus, you could win great Italian-inspired prizes in S.Pellegrino’s Live In Italian On The Go Sweepstakes.



2 Really Easy Salads

You know what my latest pet peeve is? People who talk about how busy they are. “I’m just so busy I haven’t had a moment to blog!” or “Things are so hectic I just haven’t had any time to update!”  You know what? We’re all busy. And you can’t be that busy if you still have time to tell us how busy you are. We get it.*

SOAPBOX OFF! Now that I’ve shared that with you I myself am going to try to do better and not complain about time or the things happening behind the scenes of my life. Because it’s quite a bit, a doozy even, in a good way though. And I love every minute of it and won’t/can’t/shan’t complain.

Having said that, I had two ideas for salads pop into my mind because it’s summer and I cannot be bothered with cooking just right now. I mean I can’t be bothered with Summer Main Dish cooking: ribs, burgers, whole chickens, you know what I mean. I’m happy just eating bowls of side salads right about now. Less time in the kitchen, you know. Something about being busy. And these salads are more ideas than anything else, really.

First, I roasted sliced grapes with a little olive oil until soft, then I sprinkled a bit of feta on top. Ok, two things (plus oil) don’t really make a proper recipe, but then again, it’s super fast and easy. And it tastes like perfect roasted fruit, plums even, and while I probably couldn’t eat an entire bowl of this, it’s marvelous once it’s on a plate with anything smoky/garlicky/sticky/salty. Oh man, it really is. It’s the perfect compliment to probably any grilled meat you might be cooking. That makes me happy. Plus I love feta. You could add more to it, really.

The next salad is one I could easily eat an entire bowl of. And I did, after shooting this photo. It’s a Corn, Frico and Dill Salad, and there are no measurements, you just gotta eyeball it. About the most difficult component in this salad is making frico, those small little discs of melted parmesan that come out just like cheese crisps. They get crumbled into fresh corn kernels, tossed with freshly chopped dill, a few tablespoons of olive oil and done. You can add a bit of salt and pepper if you’d like, but the cheese is mighty salty enough.

There you have it. Simple salads that take no time to prepare, leaving you with enough time to run out of time. Did that make sense?

Roasted Grapes & Feta
Slice grapes and toss with a bit of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 375˚ or until soft, you decide. Let cool and sprinkle crumbled feta on top.

Corn, Frico and Dill Salad
You can roast ears of corn, grill them, boil them, whatever. Once cooked, slice off the corn and toss with crumbled frico and a few tablespoons of fresh dill. Add some olive oil and dig in.

For the frico: Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan onto a baking sheet that’s been lined with parchment or a silpat. Because you’ll be crumbling them you don’t have to be too careful about making perfect pretty circles. Bake at 350˚ for around 10 minutes, but keep checking as you don’t want them to burn (they’ll taste slightly bitter). Let cool and crumble into the salad.

*I have been this person before. I apologize.



Chili Rubbed Salmon with Cilantro Avocado Salsa

A wonderful reader left a comment about my Copper River Salmon story and asked for a recipe. Well  have I got one for you! This recipe is courtesy the California Avocado Commission and just happens to be photographed by, oh, you know. Written by Amy Sherman, I remember shooting this last year (or year before?) like it was yesterday, it really was a beautiful dish that tasted so fantastic. Give me salmon with California avocado and I’m a happy boy. Enjoy it!

Chili Rubbed Salmon with Cilantro Avocado Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 ½ Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 ripe, Fresh California Avocado, seeded and diced
tsp. jalapeño, seeded and minced (or to taste)
1 ½ Tbsp. chili powder
½ tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 (6-oz) wild Copper River salmon fillets

Place tomatillos in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove tomatillos and when cool enough to handle, roughly chop them.

Combine the tomatillos, onion, cilantro and lime juice. Gently fold in the avocado and add jalapeño. Season with salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine chili powder, cumin, sugar and salt. Sprinkle fish with spice mix.

Heat a large oven-proof nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Cook the salmon rub side down for 2 minutes then flip and place pan in the oven for about 5-6 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer fish fillets to plates and top with the Cilantro Avocado Salsa.

HERE COMES THAT DARN DISCLOSURE AGAIN: California Avocado Commission is my client. I did not get paid for this post. Yay avocados!

 

Photographing the new Food Network Cupcakes! App

What do you get when you combine 1400 cupcakes, delicious recipes, a team of talented folks, a week of photography, 50 lbs of butter and sugar and plenty of code and technology?

Food Network’s Cupcakes! App, and folks let me tell you how incredible the entire experience was. This app for the iPad contains more than 100 cupcake and frosting recipes, and if I was a glutton I’d tell you I actually tasted most of them. But I’m not (wink wink) and I only tried 99 or so, give or take one or two.

Now that the app is out it’s such a delight to sit back and scroll through the recipes and watch the videos, but there was quite a bit of work that goes into making an application of this magnitude. Lots of meetings, plenty of discussions, and that’s just before we even set foot into the studio to begin the main photography. Once we were in our groove it became a wonderful yet serious endeavor, with dozens of cupcakes baked, frosted and decorated, sets constructed, frames animated, images approved, and so on. This doesn’t even count the amazing design work that happened after photography, and trust me when I say this as I’m sure I could be biased: it’s one fantastic  application.

And the recipes? Solid and thorough, tested like crazy from the Food Network kitchens in New York. One day I’ll even share with you my favorite cupcake from the entire app (hint: it’s savory, not sweet!). But first you’ll need to buy the app from itunes. You’ll love it.

Until then how about some behind the scenes images?

A messy studio is a productive studio. Well, that’s what I kept saying as we began to be overrun with these sweet treats. And props. And surfaces. Since shooting this we’ve expanded the studio, thank goodness. But there is something fun about being up to your eyeballs in cupcakes, even if the powers-that-be kept their eyes on you so that you wouldn’t eat them.

Here we are working on one of the animations from the application. Have you seen it? I still chuckle every time, it’s adorable. And the cupcakes are delicious. I keep saying there’s a skinny elf in this image over on the computer but really, that’s just Armando who came in from NYC to assist and save the day on numerous occasions. I love you, Mando!

Look, it’s the elf again. The application not only contains recipes but tips and tricks about frosting as well as having the right gear on hand to create many of the cupcakes. Here’s an extreme overhead shot.

Adam works on another animation, this time featuring candy bees and a hive made out of cupcakes. Quite possibly my favorite bit of the application.

For a week the studio became a fine-tuned cupcake factory (we even installed a 3rd oven!), and batches of cupcake cooled throughout the studio. It was quite a sight to see.

Here’s Alexis, Adam’s assistant extraordinaire. I asked her to perform double duty and hand model for one of these scenes. You couldn’t ask for a better person to work with, we love her so much. She doesn’t even slap me when I print out photos of her from facebook and stick them to the kitchen ceiling. Not yet, at least.

More cupcakes awaiting their close up!

You know you’re fancy when you’re building custom-made props and boxes for cupcakes, right? Of course, them gems deserved nothing less. And when you can’t find exactly what you need you make it yourself, no?

And lastly, here are a few more screen shots from the app. You can buy yours from the iTunes store here. Thanks so much to Deb and Mory and everyone at Food Network. A very special thanks to the design team for making such a beautiful and intuitive application, it’s an honor to be involved! Now go eat a cupcake!

 

 

 

Artisanal Grilled Cheese Sandwich (thank you Susan!)

Last week I gave a studio tour to 40+ photograph students from Long Beach City College. For the past few years I’ve been a proud member of the advisory committee for the photography department, and it tickles me to no end to meet with the students. This year’s group was particularly bright and full of insight, asking tons of valuable questions that ran the gamut from studio management and self-promotion to the logistics of photographing food. I made sure to have the books we’ve shot on the table for the students to see, and later someone asked me about The Encyclopedia Of Sandwiches. It was at this point that I admitted, like I always do when people ask, that I actually took one or more bites of every single sandwich from this book.

Yes, you read that right. I tasted every single sandwich.

Because this was actually work, I’ve prepared a highly scientific flow chart to show you the studio’s exact process.

Now, if you’re a sandwich lover it’s probably a dream job you’re thinking, and you’re correct. Susan Russo, my friend and the book’s author, covers every base when it comes to sandwiches, from the traditional to more off-the-way types of concoctions. While I would gladly repeat the entire process, I’m pretty happy enjoying one particular sandwich from the book. And I’ve been meaning to tell you about it for quite some time.

This recipe for Artisanal Grilled Cheese comes from Chef Mark Peel at Campanile, a place that’s been a favorite of mine (as well as a client!) for years. It’s not the easiest sandwich in terms of labor and ingredients, but trust me, it’s one of the most delicious. Then again, find a grilled cheese sandwich that’s NOT delicious and I’ll show you, well, I’m not sure what I’ll show you. I’m too busy eating sandwiches.

 Artisanal Grilled Cheese Sandwich
3 to 4 garlic cloves, sliced, plus 2 whole garlic cloves for rubbing bread
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
8 ounces cherry tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 slices sourdough bread
1 pound burrata cheese, cut into ¼-inch slices
4 ounces chickpeas
Salsa Verde (see recipe below)
4 slices prosciutto

  • Preheat over to 500˚F. In a skillet, add garlic and 1 cup cold water, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Drain garlic and return to pan; 1 cup cold water, cover, and bring to a boil again; remove from heat. Drain water and pat garlic dry. In the same pan, heat oil over medium heat and fry 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to burn it.
  • Spread cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Toss with chickpeas and salsa verde.
  • Grill or toast bread slices. Transfer to a serving plate and rub with garlic. Place 2 to 2 cheese slices on each bread slice. Top each with one-quarter of the tomato-chickpea mixture and 1 slice prosciutto. Sprinkle with fried garlic chips. Makes 4 open-faced sandwiches.

 

Salsa Verde
3 or 4 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed well, backbone removes, and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon capers, rinsed and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh marjoram leaves
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh lemon juice, to taste

  • Using a mortar and pestle, pulverize anchovies, capers, garlic, and salt to a smooth paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, thinly chop ingredients and smash with the flat of a knife; you can also use a small food processor to puree them.
  • Add parsley, marjoram, and mint and continue pulverizing to break down herbs. Slowly add olive oil, stirring well to combine. Just before serving, season to taste with salt and lemon juice. Makes about 1 cup.



Roasted Acorn Squash with Ricotta & Honey

You might remember we were on a slight squash kick recently. It coincided with a visit to one of my favorite restaurants here in Long Beach, Michael’s Pizzeria. I’ve said a million times that I don’t really “do” restaurant coverage because a) it’s overdone and b) it’s not my thing. I think the irony is that I get to eat in some of the most amazing places all over the damn globe and could probably have a blog over just restaurants alone, but again, it’s best left for others. Having said that, when I do write about a restaurant it’s because I find it pretty special and/or I’ve graciously stolen a recipe to inspire me at home. This is one of those cases on both accounts.

A few things you will not engage me on unless we are best friends and in the comfort of my own home: religion, women’s reproductive rights, politics, and who makes the best pizza. I’m no dummy. Each topic is loaded with sensitivity, opinion, and weighs a million tons. I’m better off just smiling and talking about pretty plates and napkins and puppies.

When it comes to pizza, I will not argue with you about what you like or who makes the better pie. Why waste my time? I will, however, tell you that I prefer a thinner crust, only a few high quality toppings, and fired quickly at a high temperature. See? How evasive was that? Truth be told, meet my few easy requirements and chances are I’ll enjoy it. Which is why I prefer pizza napoletana. Keep your deep dish, pal.

Wait. Why on earth am I talking about pizzas and birth control when I meant to discuss acorn squash? Oh yes, Michael’s.

This little pizzeria in Long Beach makes a really delicious Neapolitan pizza just the way I like it. A very nice dough that walks the line between chewy and crunchy, a perfect tomato sauce made in-house and wonderful mozzarella on top. We visit weekly, take friends, parents, and just anyone else we can drag along. It’s casual and right up my alley. And in an effort to break my MPOP Rule (that’s Margherita Pizza Only, Please), I decided to try a few new little appetizers on the menu, one which included this baked acorn squash.

One half of an acorn squash is baked in a small cast iron skillet and then topped with honey, ricotta, and nutmeg. It’s marvelous in its sweet simplicity. I mean, it’s damn near perfect. So perfect that I had to steal it and make it at home while we’re in the middle of winter and hard squash season.  We made one with ricotta, and another with burrata. We both fell in love with the burrata version but you really can’t go wrong with either. This makes a wonderful side dish, I’d pair it with something smokey or salty as it’s definitely on the sweet side.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Ricotta (or Burrata!) and Honey adapted from Michael’s Pizzeria

2 acorn squash,  seeds removed and cut into quarters (leave the skin on!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

10 oz fresh ricotta or 8 oz burrata.
2-4 tablespoons honey
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F.

2. Cut squash in half, remove seeds, cut each piece in ½  for a total of 8 wedges.

3. Place squash on baking sheet and coat with olive oil salt and pepper.

4. Roast in oven for 45-50 minutes until soft and toasty.

5. Let cool slightly, spoon on a dollop of ricotta or chunk of buratta, drizzle with honey and grate fresh nutmeg on top. Serve immediately.

Michael’s Pizzeria is located at 5616 East 2nd Street in Long Beach, California, 90803. Their website is here.