Primal Pastures’ Let’s Build A Farm Together!

Folks, I’m not sure I’ve ever asked for your help so earnestly (well, except for asking you to look the other way about my cheese and wine consumption, but that’s a whole ‘nuther story).

Today, I’m asking if you’ll join me in helping out this Kickstarter.

I know I know, it does seem like everyone is kickstarting just about anything and everything these days, but here over at our pad we tend to support food endeavors that are unique, have a vision, and will create work and sustenance for others. And when it comes to Primal Pastures, well, this is definitely something that we can get behind that benefits not only us but the environment and our health.

So, here’s a little bit more about Primal Pastures.

“In 2012, we launched a humble little ranch operation in Temecula, California. We did this with a dream of producing premium grade, healthy and happy poultry, beef, lamb, pork, and turkey raised locally, sustainably, and responsibly by healthy farmers for healthy families. Starting on one acre of pastureland, we began to raise 54 free-range, pasture pure, primal chickens and accrued a waitlist of more than 100 families before the first batch of birds was even ready. Although our farm has grown since then, we have still never been able to catch up with the demand for local, high quality meats.”

Their Kickstarter campaign runs until September 8th, and I’d be so eternally thankful and happy if we can all contribute and help them reach their goal of $40,000.00. Check out Primal Pastures on Kickstarter here.

Thank you thank you thank you! And thanks to Sasha Kanno for being my utterly fabulous neighbor :)

Full Disclosure: I have no financial interest or relationship with Primal Pastures — I only believe in what they do and wish them to succeed!

Caroline Wright ‘s Cacio e Pepe and a giveaway!

9780761174936_p0_v1_s260x420I can’t exactly remember when I met Caroline as this whole online food world introduces you to so many people on a regular basis. But I do remember this: instant connection. Bright. Fun. Sharp. All the qualities I love in friends, and the fact that she knows food made it all the better.

So when she told me she was writing a book , Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, I couldn’t help but get excited. But little did I know this book would actually help me. As in I-need-something-quick-n-easy-but-still-delicious kind of help, and early on while reviewing the galley of the book I noticed myself actually cooking from it. And it’s not that I don’t mean to cook from the books written by my friends, but after spending all day in the studio with food I don’t usually get excited enough to step into our kitchen at home. Caroline has changed this.

 I wrote her a quick email and thanked her for really amazing solid recipes that feature ingredients that get me excited. And then I thanked her for the Cacio e Pepe recipe that has literally become a staple for us. As in once-a-week, as in super easy and delicious. And while I’ve tried quite a few recipes for this dish that features a delicious play between cheese and black pepper, I must tell you that this is my favorite and you will absolutely want to follow her steps for toasting. It makes all the difference in the world. Seriously.  (And yes, I was lazy once and tried to skip it and it just wasn’t the same, trust me on this).

Matt-Pasta

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook 1 pound spaghetti according to package directions. Drain the pasta (reserve 3/4 cup pasta water) and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Place 2 teaspoons black peppercorns and 2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns in the pan and toast until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Place the peppercorns in a mortar and crush with a pestle until coarsely ground. Transfer the pepper to a medium bowl with 3 large egg yolks and 2 packed cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

When the pasta is done, stir 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water into the egg mixture, add the pasta, and toss to coat. Stir in the remaining pasta water, if needed, to reach the desired consistency. Season with salt, and serve immediately.

Excerpted from Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, Copyright 2013 by Caroline Wright. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. New York. All Rights Reserved.

I’m giving away a copy of her latest book, Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals, to a random commenter below. Leave a comment, I’ll pick a random number, and the book shall be yours!

Caroline Wright is a food writer, editor, recipe developer and tester, food stylist, and photographer who works for Cooking Light, Real Simple, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Women’s Day, and Oxmoor House, among others. A former food editor at Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, she is a graduate of the prestigious Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne.

Pie Day

I’m busy packing for a quick trip to Vermont tomorrow (four words: Maple Syrup Everything, Please!) but in recognition of National Pie Day today I thought I’d post some shots we did last week in the studio. Leftover berries and fruit never go to waste with us! And yea, it’s a galette and not a pie, although they are pretty much the same in my book.

Fruit For Galette fruit 2 mattbites galette

 

The end of quite a year!

No grandiose statement. No recap, no top 10 list. Just a simple wish that 2013 brings you health, happiness, peace and plenty of moments that make life worth living.  I want to thank each and every one of you for reading this blog, it means so very much to me. Now, go relax, make something delicious, have a sip or two of champagne, and I’ll see you in 2013!

I love you!

(image by me for Cooking Channel, please click through for some great drink ideas!)

 

Life’s Little Luxuries. With Cheese!

The post is sponsored by Häagen-Dazs® ice cream, encouraging life’s little luxuries. It’s about taking a step back and enjoying all that’s important and delicious in life.

Last week’s post explored ways of celebrating with friends and family. I was overwhelmed with the responses and learned so many great ways to celebrate life’s little luxuries through food and gatherings. This week I wanted to explore a little bit more but get just a wee bit more intimate. And no, there’s no need to cue the Barry White. Unless you want to!

This week I turned to my friends, my parents and even yours truly to  find out how we share the everyday moments and make them special.

First, I asked my neighbors and friends Brittany and Wade, two of the loveliest people you’d ever meet. Filled with so much style, love and light, they exemplify what two people in love mean to me: they’re forever planning weekends together, they’ll spend an afternoon hiking, a weekend camping, or an early morning hitting a museum for an exhibit. They love life, they love each other, and you just never feel like your interrupting (oh god I think we all know those couples, right? Well it’s not Wade & Britt).  I asked Brittany what they’d do to celebrate at home and the type of meals they enjoy, and luckily she wrote about their Valentine’s Day tradition on their blog. It involves making handmade ravioli, and if I know them it also means a fantastic wine and great music in the background. I’ve written about them before, and I want to thank them for being such great friends.

Speaking of role models, it’s time to introduce my parents. Married 50 years this past December, they’re not only loving people but they raised THE BEST MOST AMAZING SON ANY TWO PEOPLE HAVE EVER RAISED. (Jeez I couldn’t even pull that off, could I? You can stop rolling your eyes now.) But back to Benjamin and Helen. In many ways I’m continually moved by the love they have for each other, and how just being together on a weeknight is reason enough to celebrate with a good meal. I rang my mom up to find out what makes a special meal for the two of them, and being as cute as she is her answer was “Well it depends on the season.” I told her to pick summer since it’s right around the corner, and her answer illustrates how taking something so simple can be extraordinary. “Well we’d definitely head outside and grill vegetables, and since steak is best for special occasions we might cook that too. But not a big steak. Add a nice crispy salad, we don’t need a starchy side, and a fantastic beer for your father and a glass of prosecco for me and we are set.” And the thought of a wonderful meal between the two of them on a long summer night in the hill country of Texas makes me realize how wonderful life really is when you share it with the love of your life.

Speaking of the love of my life, what would we do here at home to indulge in life’s little luxuries? Honestly it’s not oysters on the half shell, lobsters or anything typically fancy. When you work with food daily at the studio we tend to prefer something easy, silly, fun and comforting, or a combination of all those things. But the meal we always come back to is fondue, and it’s served us well: it’s our New Year’s Eve traditional party dinner, complete with friends and tons of beer. It’s a simple meal for two of us, complete with champagne. It’s so easy yet feels so special, and I was really inspired by Sherri Jo’s revelation that her family has a weeknight fondue. So here’s to Sherri Jo and to celebrating life’s simple pleasure’s through food. And also to Wade and Brittany and to my Mom & Dad for showing the world what love — and good food — is all about.

 


Matt’s Cheese Fondue
This recipe is from my book, On A Stick!, and I can make it with my eyes closed. Which is good because I usually turn off all the lights and light candles and blast Dusty Springfield when I make this. I don’t know why, it just makes me feel so 60s. I mean 1960s, y’all.

Cheese Sauce:
1 2⁄3 cups dry white wine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 cup grated Jarlsberg (or other Swiss) cheese
1⁄8 tsp pepper
1 cup French bread, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1⁄2 cup broccoli florets, blanched
1⁄2 cup cauliflower florets, blanched
1⁄2 cup quartered slices of salami

1. Make the cheese sauce: Bring wine and garlic to a simmer in a medium saucepan; whisk in cheeses until sauce is smooth. Season with white pepper to taste.

2. Transfer to a fondue pot set over a lit candle. (If using an electric style, set it to low.)

3. Arrange bread, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and salami on a platter. Serve with forks alongside fondue pot, stirring sauce occasionally to maintain a smooth, uniform texture.

Note: this amount makes enough for a party, reduce if it’s just for 2.

Cheese Shop at the OC Mart Mix and That Sandwich

Dear ever-so-helpful nice gentleman at Cheese Shop at The OC Mart Mix,

It is not my intention to take the sandwich you served us and make it my own. No way. But from that first bite it was difficult to get it out of my head. I might even say it’s the perfect sandwich. A triple cream cheese, Marcona almonds, a drizzle of honey, that perfect baguette, they’re all just so damn perfect together. And I completely understand your point of it being the perfect picnic sandwich; it’s perfect on the warm side, perfect on the chilly side. How many sandwiches can claim that?

Did I mention you have a marvelous store inside that groovy food mall in Costa Mesa? Yep, you do.

My Latest Favorite Sandwich

You don’t need a recipe for this. Take a baguette, slice it in half, layer a few slices of a triple cream brie, scatter some marcona almonds on top, then drizzle with honey. Place bread on top and dig in. It’s that simple. And do me this one favor: taste it first and marvel in its simplicity before you try to get all fancy and add anything else. It doesn’t need it.

On a Cookbook Assignment in Belize!

If you follow me on twitter and facebook you might have seen some updates involving a jungle, a camera, a “few” mosquito bites and a cookbook. That’s because I and the  illustrious team of Adam Pearson and Gaby Dalkin headed to Belize to work on a project titled “Flavors Of Belize”. It’s a book about the traditional cuisine of Belize, a wonderful big delicious melting pot of cultures and flavors. I can’t give away too much about this book so I’ll leave it at this: Belizean cuisine is delicious and I’m looking forward to its release early next year.

With so much focus and attention to detail going into each image I was remarkably surprised that it was also so thoroughly covered from the other side, too. These days it’s not unusual to craft a behind-the-scenes video or story from all the moments that happen around a cookbook. I must admit that I adore working on books, the creative freedom and time spent really allows you to work together as a team, to enjoy it without a team of nine art directors standing around you staring at your monitor and asking you to move this, move that. Not that I don’t love each and every one of my clients, ya know :) But sometimes projects are so magical that you feel nothing short of bless from above for being a part of it. That was certainly this project. The people, the production, the friends we made will forever stay in my heart.

And I’m pretty sure the bug bite scars will stay on my legs for quite some time. More on that later*.

We arrived in Belize City and then headed to Chan Chich, a jungle lodge and nature reserve located in northwestern Belize in the Mayan jungle. This 130,000 acre private nature reserve is located in Orange Walk on the Gallon Jug estate and is more breathtaking than I could ever describe. If you’re a naturalist, researcher or bird watcher than you simply must go. We didn’t have much time to absorb nature, we were there to work and got to it immediately!

After a few Belikins, of course.

We stayed in a beautiful lodge, nestled directly in the center of the grounds. As usual I had a difficult time sleeping in due to the fact that I really wanted to explore my surroundings as well as the calls of the birds and monkeys all around us. Just look at how beautiful this place is.

One of the most impressive things to me were the unearthed Mayan mounds all around us, literally outside our door. Because Chan Chich is situated in La Selva Maya and is also private property, these historical hills have never been unearthed and remained untouched.

When it came time to work, the main building’s gorgeous deck became our studio. With perfect ample light, a verdant backdrop and a few clouds passing by, we photographed half of the book in this location before heading back to the city.

 

Thanks to the amazing Olivera Rusu, there were many amazing behind-the-scenes photos taken during the whole process. Here we are working, and judging from the smiles on our faces you can probably tell how the shoot went.

These images © Olivera Rusu

We took a few side trips to villages in the area to meet with locals and document their food culture. This was such a fantastic part of our journey but you’ll have to wait for the book to see what we photographed. Let’s just say it was quite the experience!

Image © Olivera Rusu

It takes a village! One thing I’ve learned about being a photographer is that you cannot be shy. With so many cameras, iphones, and video all around you’re never quite sure who’s filming what. Sometimes it feels more like a tv or film production than a food shoot but there’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

We all took our turns in front of the camera, giving some background about the project. Filmmakers and cinematographers Autumn and Jeff Bierman worked on the production as well and it was nice to meet our Los Angeles neighbors in Belize. WE LOVE THESE TWO PEOPLE. It’s unreal how cool and incredible they are.

Here they are reviewing some footage and also interviewing Adam for his segment. I’m pretty sure Autumn is concerned about being eaten alive by insects. Adam was already scratching.

I mentioned the journey from jungle to city was quite an adventure, right? Thanks to wet unpaved roads it took almost 6 hours and caused our van to get stuck in the mud. With no cell service we were in quite a bind until a good Samaritan arrived on the scene. He pulled us out and we were on our way! Note to self: next time make sure your van is stranded in front of a Four Seasons or W rather than the jungle.

 

I’ll make sure to keep you posted about the book’s release. I can’t wait to share so many Belizean recipes that we fell in love with!

 

With so much love and gratitude for the team, I want to thank everyone involved on this project and to the lovely people of Belize. Especially Tanya, Shelly, Wayne and Carla!

*About those bugs: EATEN ALIVE. I was. When people tell you to take every precaution available, wear long pants, bring ample protection, please heed their warnings.

San Diego and Coastal Living

Back in January I took a few roadtrips to San Diego in order to photograph a story for the April issue of Coastal Living Magazine. I had to wait a few months until after the story ran to share the outtakes and I’m finally glad I can do so.

First, let me tell you something: I love Coastal Living magazine. Second, I AM CRAZY ABOUT SAN DIEGO. So put those two things together and you’ll see why this was a dream assignment. D-R-E-A-M. Not only did I get to spend a beautiful crisp morning at the Little Italy Farmers’ Market but I was also able to photograph a variety of fantastic restaurants for the story. And meet some amazing folks, too!

Some of you may recognize this guy from Top Chef. It's Chef Brian Malarkey or as I call him the man with the world's biggest smile. His restaurant Searsucker is spacious, comfortable and delicious.

The story, written by Jacquelyne Froeber, was about a few days spent in San Diego and the fun things to see and eat. And eat. And eat more. Because there really are some delicious things happening there.

To my friends and readers in San Diego: you are lucky. Damn lucky. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Here are a bunch of more images that didn’t make the story. Enjoy!

Happy faces from the Little Italy Farmers' Market. Heck, I'd be smiling too if I lived in San Diego!

How much do you love a farmers' market that combines locally grown fruits and veggies along with locally caught nibbles like fresh oysters and uni ceviche? I LOVE MY JOB!!!!!!!!

Survey Says: A True Story from The Mall

She was old but sharp and I knew she identified me yards before I even noticed her standing there. With a sweet smile and grey hair, she was the kind of woman just nutty enough to have 3 or 7 cats but sweet enough to make apologies for her behavior. She held her clipboard like it meant the world to her.

“Excuse me sir, do you speak Spanish?” she asked. “Not very well,” I replied, causing her to slow down on her list of pre-anticipated responses. Her pencil fumbled to find a new section, and once she did she began all over again as if I hit a secret reset button.

“Do you like hot dogs?”

In 30-something years I don’t think I’ve ever missed the opportunity for a smirk or off-colored response to that question; with this woman it didn’t seem appropriate. I said “But of course. Why? Are you inviting me over?”

She glazed over my answer, clearly not a part of her programmed assignment, and asked if I’d be interested in participating in a focus group for a new food product. Call me a sucker, but I’ll find almost any opportunity to make myself available for a marketing survey or questionnaire if it pertains to food. With 20 years of food marketing behind me I guess it’s just in my blood, and I’m just naturally curious to see what the big food manufacturers have up their sodium, preservative-laden sleeves. Besides, if anything I’d have a free lunch at the mall and it just sounded more fun than strolling through Bed, Bath and Beyond. It might take my mind off of asking why I was there in the first place.

She led me into a makeshift office, a space I imagined once held a lounge for part-time security guards or some generic Jewelry Pagoda or Earring Palace or Bracelet Temple. At that point she passed me off to another employee, a young Latin man with a stature and face not normally seen outside of a Mexican calendar. Instead of a shield and javelin, this Aztec warrior was armed with pens and release forms. I obliged as my mind raced with images of him saving a curvaceous goddess in a flawless feather headdress on top of a mountain–with perfect make up no less.

He asked me a variety of questions like “When was the last time you had a hot dog?”  and “How often do you eat hot dogs?” and “Do you like the following:?” before stumbling on the word panini. I took a moment to explain what it was to my new warrior friend because I know for a fact there were no Panini presses in Tenochtitlan. He deserved some slack. I explained the semantic difference between panini and panino and how it irks me before I completely interrupted myself.

“Hey, wait, I’m in the food business. I’m biased. Am I still allowed to participate?”

“I don’t see why not,” he answered after ruffling through some papers. Nothing jumped out. We proceeded.

“I’m going to have you answer these questions here on this computer. When you get to page 5 click ‘ok’ and we’ll bring out the food item for you to taste and rate.”

I answered questions about my buying habits, realizing they aren’t really average American food buying habits mainly because of what I do. I’m not trying to be uppity at all, it’s just that I’m not the poster child for frozen convenience foods and novelties from any of the big chain retailers. About the most I can do is the occasional Trader Joe’s frozen pizza although France’s Picard sure does make it look glamorous, no?

I reached the page that would allow me to taste this creation, and I’m not gonna lie, y’all: I was excited. After answering some question about not being physically or morally opposed to foods cooked with microwaves the Warrior brought over a pretzel dog on a paper plate, one small napkin and one tiny plastic cup of water. I was instructed to sip, then taste, then make notes, then sip again and taste as often as necessary in order to complete the questionnaire. I dutifully proceeded.

Over the past month I have tasted over 1,500 various dishes created by complete strangers. I have dug deep into my brain for words, expressions and phrases to use when describing all these flavors. As a judge for the open casting calls for Gordon Ramsay’s Masterchef Season 2 I’ve traveled from Boston to Portland tasting and rating food created by television hopefuls with dreams of fame sparkling in their eyes. It’s been both scary and exhilarating and if there wasn’t a pesky non-disclosure form involved I’d probably tell you more about it. But I share this side job with you because at no point in my life have I felt more ready to taste this secret pretzel dog, more willing to offer my opinion on the future of its success, and more happy that its presence in the marketplace didn’t rely on a complex set of scores and algorithms filled out by me.

Boy was I wrong.

How would you rate the color of this pretzel dog? What did it taste like? Was it overly salty? Not salty enough? How likely would you be to purchase this product for your family, 1 being not likely at all with 5 being very likely? What was the texture of the meat? At $3.49 for two would you consider this a value? The questions wouldn’t stop. I bit, I clicked. I clicked, I chewed.  And like Bill Bixby to Lou Ferrigno, I was pushed too far.

The marketer in me came out.

“I’m sorry,” I wrote, “but I cannot see how this is supposed to be a Pretzel Dog when all I see is a wiener wrapped in dough. There are no baked folds nor twists characteristic of a pretzel, and sampled without the meat there is no flavor, no joy. Could you not have added color or shine to this so-called pretzel? Large flecks of kosher salt? Heck, large white flecks of fake something, anything, to signal my brain that this is a pretzel? At best it looks like a wiener wrapped in flesh-colored dough, and at worst it looks like something from a movie* I’ve seen. You asked.”

I finished by selecting the “Complete Survey” button, realizing I didn’t really offer an opinion on flavor. But when you think about it, these foods are never really about flavor as much as they are about portability, ease, and salt. Tons of salt. I began to hope that the consumer of a product like this would remember that it’s not that different than a hot dog, a food that offers you two choices: meat and bun. Two opportunities to buy the best of both and not get suckered into a buy-one-you-must-accept-the-other-of-our-choosing.

I told the Warrior that I was finished, he took my half-eaten pretzel dog away and led me to another counter. I waited a few minutes, realizing I wasn’t going to get that free lunch I was hoping for and that I’d have to brave the mall once again for what I originally came for.

“Here you go, Mr. Armendariz. Thank you for your participation today.”

I couldn’t believe it. A check in the amount of Four Dollars. I could drive through a car wash, I could get a latte, I could buy a taco. There were many things I could do with those four dollars but I can tell you this: I won’t be saving it in order to buy any Pretzel Dogs in my future.

I said goodbye to the Warrior, tempted to tell him that if focus groups and surveys didn’t work out he could always model for covers of romance novels. I could totally see it.

I waded through disorganized metal folding chairs and exited the mall office. As I left I passed the little old woman with her clipboard again as I heard her ask another passerby “Do you speak Spanish?”

I hope they like pretzel dogs.

(* in 8th Grade health class. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for thinking otherwise.)